Friday, 27 February 2015

Responding to Popular Anti-Trinitarian Arguments

     Clear and effective communication is possible only when those involved define, understand, and employ the same terminology in the same way. We therefore begin with clarifying some key words and concepts.

Definition of Terms:

     Monotheism is the belief in only one God, in contrast to the multiple gods of polytheism (cf. Ex. 20:3; Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; 1 Kgs. 8:60; 1 Chron. 17:20; Isa. 43:11; Zech. 14:9; Gal. 3:20; Jas. 2:19; etc.). However, there is significant disagreement among monotheists as to how God is to be understood and explained. Unitarianism is the view that God is a single Person or entity, the concept generally held by orthodox Jews and Muslims. Binitarianism is the idea that the one God is comprised of two divine Persons (the Father and the Son),1 espoused by 7th-day Church of God groups such as the General Conference of the Church of God (7th day), United Church of God, Living Church of God, and a few splinter groups of the Worldwide Church of God. Trinitarianism is the belief that the one unified God is comprised of three divine Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit)2 and has been considered the orthodox view of most mainline believers throughout church history.
     Seeing that strict unitarianism is very difficult to harmonize with the overall teachings of scripture, it is no surprise that a wide variety of unitarian subgroups have proliferated. Sabellianism, named after the 3rd-century theologian Sabellius,3 is the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same Person, espoused by the United Pentecostal Church and various other so-called “Oneness Pentecostals” or “Jesus-Only Pentecostals.” Arianism, named after Arius of Alexandria (ca. 250-336), the first on record to have promoted this view, is the idea that Jesus the Son was created by God the Father and is therefore inferior in essence to the Father. A form of this doctrine is held by religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and various Unitarian sects. Socinianism is a view maintaining that Jesus did not exist until he was conceived by the virgin Mary.4 This theological concept is named after the 16th-century Italian theologian Fausto Sozzini (Lat. Faustus Socinus) and was popularized in Poland. Modern-day proponents of this view include the Unitarian Church of Transylvania (also Poland and England), the Christadelphians, and the Church of God General Conference.

Responding to Popular Anti-Trinitarian Arguments:

     1. The word 'trinity' is not in the Bible. Well, the word “Bible” is not in the Bible. Neither are terms such as "monotheism," "incarnation," “omniscience,” "omnipotence," and “providence,” but these words do convey biblical concepts. Irrespective of the descriptive terminology that might be employed for communicative purposes, the question should be whether or not the words convey biblical truth. Perhaps English terms such as Godhead, Divine Nature, Divinity, and Deity are to be preferred.

     2. The concept of trinitarianism is at variance with the biblical doctrine of monotheism. This is a false antithesis. The concept of trinitarianism conflicts with unitarianism but not with monotheism (see definitions above). Monotheism is the belief in only one God, which is a conviction held by both trinitarians and unitarians. The unitarian concept is God as a single entity, while the trinitarian concept is one God (the Divine Nature) consisting of three distinct personages (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) in perfect unity. Trinitarianism is not the same as tritheism (belief in three separate gods). Note one of the primary differences in the way in which certain passages of scripture are interpreted by unitarians and trinitarians. When unitarians read about “God,” they are thinking of one Person; when trinitarians read about “God,” they allow the context to determine whether one or more divine Persons are intended. When a unitarian imposes his view of God on the text, and reads it with a misconstrued idea of the trinitarian view, he makes nonsensical arguments like: “How could Jesus be his own father?,” or “Was God speaking to himself?,” etc.

     3. The trinitarian doctrine originated in the 3rd–4th centuries along with other Roman Catholic heresies like transubstantiation, indulgences, maryolatry, etc. This argument is similar to the sabbatarians’ accusation that Roman Catholicism (viz. Constantine) is allegedly responsible for changing the Sabbath to Sunday. It is a smoke-screen diverting attention from the real issue of what the Bible says. What about the history of the unitarian beliefs of sabellianism, arianism, and socinianism? If modern-day advocates of these teachings claim the Bible as the source of their beliefs rather than Sabellius, Arius, or Socinus, it is disingenuous to make shallow and misleading historical claims about the alleged origin of trinitarian beliefs.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Some have claimed that the 2nd-century Melito of Sardis held this view, but this is disputed. By the 381 Council of Constantinople, it was a topic of debate and its proponents (a.k.a. “semi-arians”) rejected both arianism and trinitarianism.
     2 This doctrine was affirmed in the 2nd-century writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Theophilus of Antioch, and in the 3rd-century writings of Tertullian of Carthage.
    3 This idea has at times been attributed to Theodotus of Byzantium (ca. 190), but the first on record to have promoted it is Sabellius of Libya (ca. 215-220). He denied the concept of the triune Godhead and maintained that the designations Father, Son, and Holy Spirit merely denote different capacities or manifestations of the same divine being. The 16th-century Spanish Reformer Michael Servetus reaffirmed this teaching (resulting in his execution by Calvinists in Geneva), as did the 18th-century Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.
     4 This doctrine was espoused as early as the 4th century by the Pannonian bishop Photinus.

Image credit:    


  1. That's the problem with debate. Arguments are not proof. Analogies are evidence. When reading the Scriptures we find out that there is one God who is indeed One. That is the natural reading of the text. In fact that is the status quo. There is no need to deal with the issue of the trinity since it does not appear in the text.

    When we only focus on what is written then as said above, we do not have to deal with the idea of a trinity, since this would mean imposing it upon the text. Usually I hear that my "anti-trinitarian" proof texts (and this is funny since you don't really need any) does not disprove the trinity. My response is that on a level of argument, you cannot disprove anything, since debates and arguments are endless streets. This is why Paul says to avoid these "vanities".

    Further my answer is that the trinity as you call it does not even feature unless it is imposed on the text.

    So for the record the prophets and apostles proclaimed: One God, the Father.

    So apart from arguments and conjectures no one gets around this foundational fact. Arguments only benefit the ones who hold the false view.


    1. Dear Joseph,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to this article. I’ve been out of the country, with limited access to the Internet, so I apologize for the delay of this response.
      You say, “Arguments are not proof” and “only benefit the ones who hold the false view.” Let me remind you that an argument (in the context of this discussion) is simply a stated reason for supporting the validity of an idea, something that Jesus, his apostles, and NT writers did extensively (Matt. 12:11-12; 23:31-32; Gal. 3:16; etc.).
      As you make reference to “the natural reading of the text,” would you consistently apply this principle to the biblical texts that indicate a plurality within the one God? (e.g. Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; etc.). Note that the Hebrew word elohim that is translated “God” 2,570 times in the English OT (Gen. 1:1-31; 2:2-22; 3:1-23, etc.) is the PLURAL form of el. What would be the “natural reading” of these texts? When you appeal to “the status quo,” surely you understand this is an extremely weak foundation upon which to build your case (cf. Matt. 7:13; 1 Pet. 3:20; etc.).
      When you flippantly dismiss the trinity doctrine, alleging that it has been imposed on the biblical text, you are discounting the fundamental role of systematic theology, and I invite you to read the article, “The Triune Godhead” (linked above). Since you claim that “analogies are evidence,” this article might be helpful.
      When you allude to Paul’s warning to avoid “vanities,” I assume you have in mind passages such as 1 Tim. 4:7; 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:14, 23; Tit. 3:9. But these verses are talking about disruptive issues that generate senseless bickering. Surely seeking to understand God’s revelation of himself does not fit into this category.
      Finally, the following statement you’ve made is overly simplistic: “the prophets and apostles proclaimed: One God, the Father.” But the OT prophets did not have God’s full revelation, which was completed in the NT (cf. Matt. 13:17; Mark 4:22; Acts 17:30; Eph. 3:3-11; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). Furthermore, if only “the Father” is the “One God,” what about the NT affirmations of Jesus as God (e.g. John 1:1-3; 5:18; 10:33; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Rev. 1:8, 17-18; 22:12-13)? And why is the Holy Spirit also depicted as deity (Matt. 28:19; Acts 5:3-4) possessing divine attributes (Heb. 9:14; 1 Co. 2:10; Is. 40:13-14; Ps. 139:7-10; Gen. 1:2; Job 26: 13; 33:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; Ro. 8:11; Mt. 12:31)?
      In Deut. 6:4 [the monotheistic ‘Shema’ of Judaism] the word “God” is translated from the plural elohim, so how can the plural elohim be “one”? The two Hebrew words translated “one” in the OT are (1) yachid = “only, solitary, only one” (Gen. 22:2, 12, 16; Judg. 11:34; Jer. 6:26), never used in reference to deity; and (2) echad = “unite, join together” (Gen. 2:24; 41:1, 5, 25; Deut. 6:4), used in reference to deity and signifying a compound unity.
      So for the record, when the entirety of the biblical revelation is evaluated and harmonized, the foundational fact is (a) one God (Deut. 6:4); (b) the one God is the Divine Nature (Acts 17:29) consisting of three divine Persons (Matt. 28:19); (c) the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share the same essence and collectively comprise the one Divine Nature. Again, the article noted above (and also linked above) systematically clarifies what the Bible teaches about this complex doctrine.
      Thank you for your attention.