Discussion with Christians about The trinity..

Discussion in 'Muslim <---> Christian Dialogue' started by Abu Sarah, Feb 5, 2007.

  1. Abu Sarah
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    Abu Sarah Allahu Akbar Staff Member

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    ......welcome Here.....

    ..to who's believe in the trinity..


    The trinity is the essence of shirk. The trinity that the later Christians have fabricated has no evidence in reason and fitrah (the innate nature of man), and there is nothing to support it in the divinely-revealed Books which Allaah sent down.

    The trinity is mentioned in the Qur’aan, but that is by way of refutation and proving it to be false, and describing the one who believes in it as a kaafir and mushrik.

    Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
    “Surely, in disbelief are they who say that Allaah is the Messiah, son of Maryam (Mary)”
    [al-Maa'idah 5:17]

    “Surely, disbelievers are those who said: ‘Allaah is the third of the three (in a Trinity).’ But there is no Ilaah (god) (none who has the right to be worshipped) but One Ilaah (God —Allaah). And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall on the disbelievers among them”
    [al-Maa'idah 5:73]

    “And the Jews say: ‘Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allaah, and the Christians say: Messiah is the son of Allaah. That is their saying with their mouths, resembling the saying of those who disbelieved aforetime. Allaah’s Curse be on them, how they are deluded away from the truth!
    They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allaah (by obeying them in things which they made lawful or unlawful according to their own desires without being ordered by Allaah), and (they also took as their Lord) Messiah, son of Maryam (Mary), while they (Jews and Christians) were commanded [in the Tawraat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)] to worship none but One Ilaah (God — Allaah) Laa ilaaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He). Praise and glory be to Him (far above is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him)”
    [al-Tawbah 9:31]


    Ibn al-Qayyim said:

    This is the attitude all the people of misguidance with their leaders and followers. When a monotheist (believer in Tawheed) disputes with the ignorant Christians and points out that their trinity is false and self-contradictory, they say, “The answer is with the priest.” The priest says, “The answer is with the archbishop.” The archbishop says, “The answer is with the patriarch.” The patriarch says that the answer is with the three hundred and eighteen clergymen who gathered at the time of Constantine and enjoined upon the Christians this trinity and shirk which contradicts sound reasoning and religion…
    Miftaah Daar al-Sa’aadah, 2/148.



    Allaah mentions describing their words and commanding them to believe that He is One (Tawheed) and to believe that ‘Eesa (Jesus) is a Messenger and not a god.

    Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said:

    Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
    “O people of the Scripture (Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allaah aught but the truth. The Messiah ‘Eesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more than) a Messenger of Allaah and His Word, (‘Be’ — and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Rooh) created by Him; so believe in Allaah and His Messengers. Say not: ‘Three (trinity)!’ Cease! (it is) better for you”
    [al-Nisa’ 4:171]

    In this verse Allaah referred to ‘trinity and incarnation, and forbade both of these beliefs. He states that the Messiah is only “a Messenger of Allaah and His Word, (‘Be’ — and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Rooh) created by Him”. And He says, “so believe in Allaah and His Messengers”, then He says, “Say not: ‘Three (trinity)!’ Cease! (it is) better for you”.
    Al-Jawaab al-Saheeh, 2/15

    peace,
    islamicfajr
  2. Qadir236
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    Qadir236 New Member

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    Surely if Jesus was God then if Jesus died on the cross, for however long, God died too, at least some of him and I cannot reconcile that idea in my head. Hence, I believe in the Islamic view.
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  3. Absolute truth
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    Absolute truth لا إله إلا الله

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    Trinity, The Innovated Doctrine
    The New Encyclopædia Britannica:
    "Neither the word Trinity, nor the explicit doctrine as such, appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord' (Deut. 6:4). . . . The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. . . . By the end of the 4th century . . . the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since."-(1976), Micropædia, Vol. X, p. 126.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia:
    "In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together. The word [tri'as] (of which the Latin trinitas is a translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A. D. 180. . . . Shortly afterwards it appears in its Latin form of trinitas in Tertullian."

    The New Catholic Encyclopedia:
    "The formulation 'one God in three Persons' was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century. But it is precisely this formulation that has first claim to the title the Trinitarian dogma.
    Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective
    ."-(1967), Vol. XIV, p. 299.

    The Encyclopedia Americana:
    "Christianity derived from Judaism and Judaism was strictly Unitarian [believing that God is one person]. The road which led from Jerusalem to Nicea was scarcely a straight one. Fourth century Trinitarianism did not reflect accurately early Christian teaching regarding the nature of God; it was, on the contrary, a deviation from this teaching."-(1956), Vol. XXVII, p. 294L.

    Nouveau Dictionnaire Universel:
    "The Platonic trinity, itself merely a rearrangement of older trinities dating back to earlier peoples, appears to be the rational philosophic trinity of attributes that gave birth to the three hypostases or divine persons taught by the Christian churches. . . . This Greek philosopher's [Plato, fourth century B.C.E.] conception of the divine trinity . . . can be found in all the ancient [pagan] religions."-(Paris, 1865-1870), edited by M. Lachâtre, Vol. 2, p. 1467.

    John L. McKenzie, S.J., Dictionary of the Bible:
    "The trinity of persons within the unity of nature is defined in terms of 'person' and 'nature' which are G[ree]k philosophical terms; actually the terms do not appear in the Bible. The trinitarian definitions arose as the result of long controversies in which these terms and others such as 'essence' and 'substance' were erroneously applied to God by some theologians."-(New York, 1965), p. 899.

    The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Metzger and Coogan), pages 782-3:
    "Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine, it is striking that the term does not appear in the New Testament. Likewise, the developed concept of three coequal partnersin the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the [Bible] canon. ... It is important to avoid reading the Trinity into places where it does not appear."

    The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Colin Brown, editor), Volume 2, page 84:
    "The Trinity. The NT does not contain the developed doctrine of the Trinity. 'The Bible lacks the express declaration that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of equal essence and therefore in an equal sense God himself.. And the other express declarations is also lacking, that God is God thus and only thus, i.e., as The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These two express declarations, which go beyond the witness of the Bible, are the twofold content of lthe Church doctrine of the Trinity.' (Karl Barth, CD, I, 1, 437). It also lacks such terms as trinity (Lat. trinitas which was coined by Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 3; 11; 12 etc.) and homoousias which feature in the Creed of Nicea (325) to denote Christ was the same substance as the Father."

    The Illustrated Bible Dictionary:
    "The word Trinity is not found in the Bible . . . It did not find a place formally in the theology of the church till the 4th century."

    The Encyclopedia of Religion:
    "Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity." And the New Catholic Encyclopedia also says: "The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught in the O[ld] T[estament]."

    The Triune God, Jesuit Edmund Fortman:
    "The Old Testament . . . tells us nothing explicitly or by necessary implication of a Triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. . . . There is no evidence that any sacred writer even suspected the existence of a [Trinity] within the Godhead. . . . Even to see in [the "Old Testament"] suggestions or foreshadowings or 'veiled signs' of the trinity of persons, is to go beyond the words and intent of the sacred writers."

    The Encyclopedia of Religion:
    "Theologians agree that the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity."

    Jesuit Fortman:
    "The New Testament writers . . . give us no formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, no explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons. . . . Nowhere do we find any trinitarian doctrine of three distinct subjects of divine life and activity in the same Godhead."

    The New Encyclopædia Britannica:
    "Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament."

    Bernhard Lohse, A Short History of Christian Doctrine:
    "As far as the New Testament is concerned, one does not find in it an actual doctrine of the Trinity."

    The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology:
    "The N[ew] T[estament] does not contain the developed doctrine of the Trinity. 'The Bible lacks the express declaration that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of equal essence' [said Protestant theologian Karl Barth]."

    Yale University professor E. Washburn Hopkins:
    "To Jesus and Paul the doctrine of the trinity was apparently unknown; . . . they say nothing about it."-Origin and Evolution of Religion.

    Historian Arthur Weigall:
    "Jesus Christ never mentioned such a phenomenon, and nowhere in the New Testament does the word 'Trinity' appear. The idea was only adopted by the Church three hundred years after the death of our Lord."-The Paganism in Our Christianity.

    "Primitive Christianity did not have an explicit doctrine of the Trinity such as was subsequently elaborated in the creeds."-The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.

    "The early Christians, however, did not at first think of applying the [Trinity] idea to their own faith. They paid their devotions to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and they recognised the . . . Holy Spirit; but there was no thought of these three being an actual Trinity, co-equal and united in One."-The Paganism in Our Christianity.

    Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics:
    "At first the Christian faith was not Trinitarian . . . It was not so in the apostolic and sub-apostolic ages, as reflected in the N[ew] T[estament] and other early Christian writings."-Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics.

    The Formation of Christian Dogma (An Hisjtorical Study of its Problems), by Martin Werner, professor ordinarious in the University of Bern:
    "The significance of the Angel-Christology for the Post-Apostolic period, from the point of view of doctrinal history, lies in the fact that it stood in the way of lthe developement of a homoousian doctrine of the Trinity in the later rthodox Nicene sense, owing to its fundamentally Subordinationist character. Angel-Christiology and the Trinitarian dogma of Nicaea were in this respect absolutely incompatiable. (137) Arianism [editor: unitarianism] was doomed. It had indeed, with its reference to Scriptures and the old tradition of the Church, good arguments as its disposal. ... Modalism had criticised the accepted Trinitarian doctrin of the Churchas a doctrine of three gods. (160)
    "Every significant theologian of the Church in the pre-Nicene period, had actually represented aSubordinationist Christology. (234)
    "Consequently one now began to talk of a divine 'Trinity'. In the Nicene confession-formula of A.D. 325 this concept had been, significantly, lacking. 'Tinitas' = Trias did not signify a kind of 'unity of three', but simply 'threeness.' (252)
    "By means of the union of the Logos with a complete human being, the three Persons of the Trinity were increased by a fourth, a human Person. From being a Trias it became a Tetras. ... It was seen from Phil. ii, 6 ff. that the Apostle Pul in no way taught in terms of a scheme which differentiated the Two Natures." (266)
    "The course of the age-long dctrinal conflicts of the Early Church shows, for example, that the Trinitarian and Christological problems were by no means effectively settled by the doctrinal decrees of Nicea (325) and Chalcedon
    (451)."

    Tom Harpur , "For Christ's Sake":
    "What is most embarrassing for the church is the difficulty of proving any of these statements of dogma from the new Testament documents. You simply cannot find the doctrine of the Trinity set out anywhere in the Bible. St. Paul has the highest view of Jesus' role and person, but nowhere does he call him God. Nor does Jesus himself anywhere explicitly claim to be the second person in the Trinity, wholly equal to his heavenly Father. As a pious Jew, he would have been shocked and offended by such an Idea....(this is) in itself bad enough. But there is worse to come. This research has lead me to believe that the great majority of regular churchgoers are, for all practical purposes, tritheists. That is, they profess to believe in one God, but in reality they worship three.."

    When Jesus was on earth, Judaism was the only purely monotheistic religion in the region, having become surrounded by endless waves of "trinities" from the surrounding nations of the Romans, Greeks, Babylonians and Egyptians. So, why did Jesus (pbuh) chose to allow the very first generations after him live and die never having heard of any "trinity,"till the enlightenment came to the creed-writers and neo-platonic philosophers of the fourth century CE?
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  4. Absolute truth
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    Absolute truth لا إله إلا الله

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    The world around us, our very existence, everything, we owe it all to our Creator. God also sustains all life. Imagine what would happen if God withheld the rain, or blotted out the sun; life would cease to exist. Now, can you imagine if you gave someone a really expensive gift and they didn’t thank you, or perhaps even worse, thanked someone else? What would you think about that person? God is our Master; we are but His servants. Our love, obedience and reverence are His rights upon us.

    It’s important to note that God is not in need of our worship; God is free of all needs. If the whole of humanity were to collectively worship God, it would not increase Him one iota. Similarly, if the whole of mankind were to cease worshipping God, it would not degrade Him one iota. God existed in all His majesty and splendour for an eternity before He created man. God does not need our worship, but He deserves it.

    Thankfulness and gratitude is a key aspect of worship. This is why it’s so important that we worship God properly, that we give Him His due reverence. Is it possible to have a meaningful relationship with a stranger? Would anyone want a relationship with the wrong concept of God? As you can see, in order for our worship to be effective, we need to know who God is. This is why the question of who Jesus is, what his true nature is, is so important. Thus, we begin by looking at the Christian concept of God.

    THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY

    When it comes to the nature of God, beliefs differ significantly across the various denominations of Christianity. The most popular belief, promoted by the vast majority of churches in the world, is that God has a triune nature. This is the doctrine known as the Trinity, which defines God as one Being who exists eternally as three distinct persons — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Put simply, it is “one God in three persons”. The persons of the Trinity are not to be confused, so the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. All three persons of the Trinity are said to be co-equal and co-eternal, and “each is God, whole and entire.” However, each person is said to have a different role when it comes to how God relates to the world. For example, in God’s plan of salvation for mankind, the Father is said to have sent the Son, Jesus, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. The Holy Spirit is said to sanctify believers, inspiring Christians in their day-to-day lives.

    Here is a diagram that is commonly used by Trinitarians to summarise the doctrine:

    [​IMG]

    A key element of the doctrine of the Trinity is the incarnation of God. This teaches that the second person of the Trinity, the Son, took on human flesh in the bodily form of Jesus. Thus, when Mary gave birth to Jesus, God entered into the creation. Jesus is said to be the God-man, who has two natures – one divine, one human. Jesus is said to be both fully God and fully man. As a result of the incarnation, humanity has been permanently incorporated into the Godhead; the Son will forever have an inseparable divine and human nature. Jesus’s humanity is not something that can be discarded or dissolved back into the Godhead. Even after his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back to the Father, Jesus will forever exist in heaven as a glorified man, albeit God at the same time. Here is a diagram which summarises this concept:

    [​IMG]

    As a Muslim, I was raised to believe in the pure monotheism of Islam that teaches God is one, not only in essence, but also in personhood, and that God is distinct from human beings. So, it took me a long time to grasp the Trinitarian concept of God. It turns out that I’m not alone in struggling to grasp the Trinity. According to scholars of Christianity and defenders of the Trinity, many Christians who profess to believe in the Trinity in fact do not understand the doctrine. Dr James White, one of the foremost apologists for the Trinity today, wrote the following:

    “For many Christians, the Trinity is an abstract principle, a confusing and difficult doctrine that they believe, although they are not really sure why in their honest moments.” [1]

    This is evident when one discusses the doctrine with the average Christian. In my experiences of interacting with Christians, a common way of trying to explain the Trinity is the use of elaborate analogies.

    The following examples are quite commonly put forward:

    – The Trinity is like the three parts of an egg: the shell, the white and the yolk.

    – The Trinity is like three forms of water: ice, liquid and vapour.

    – The Trinity is like a man who can exist as a father, a son and a husband, all at the same time.

    Such analogies, however, are highly problematic. The egg analogy doesn’t work because the doctrine of the Trinity states that each person (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is fully God. One wouldn’t say that the shell is fully an egg, the white is fully an egg or that the yolk is fully an egg. It is only the totality of the three parts (shell, white and yolk) that make a complete egg. The water analogy doesn’t work either, because it implies that God first manifested Himself as Father, then as the Son and then as the Holy Spirit. These ‘forms’ are temporary and never co-exist, thus violating the principle of the doctrine that the persons eternally co-exist. Finally, the man analogy also fails to encompass the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit aren’t simply three functions or roles of God, they are said to be three distinct persons.

    The simple fact is that no analogy will ever be complete. Although this is not appreciated by the average Christian that I encounter on a day-to-day basis, it is something that is fully acknowledged by Christian theologians who freely admit that the Trinity cannot be explained. Many theologians have abandoned all hope of deriving a deep understanding of the doctrine and have resigned themselves to classifying it as a holy mystery. The Catholic Church states: “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” [2]. The Catholic Church defines mystery in theology as something that remains veiled in darkness:

    The Vatican Council has explained the meaning to be attributed to the term mystery in theology. It lays down that a mystery is a truth which we are not merely incapable of discovering apart from Divine Revelation, but which, even when revealed, remains “hidden by the veil of faith and enveloped, so to speak, by a kind of darkness.[3]

    Reconciling the plurality of the godhead, a threeness, within a monotheistic framework, continues to be one of the great challenges faced by Trinitarians. If Trinitarians embraced the polytheism that is inherent in the doctrine and explained it for what it really is – three Gods and not one – then there would be no confusion. The doctrine is inexplicable because Trinitarians try to reconcile a concept of threeness into a monotheistic context which does not, and cannot, fit. How can anyone, or anything, be three things and one thing, all at the same time? The fact is that the Trinity is something that believers must accept on blind faith; it cannot be rationalised.

    The doctrine of the Trinity is also problematic when we consider the purpose of revelation, which boils down to guidance – the books of God were revealed in order to guide mankind. If guidance results in confusion (or misguidance), then it defeats the purpose of revelation. If the Trinity were some inconsequential aspect of Christian theology, then perhaps its mystery wouldn’t be an issue. But it isn’t; so entrenched has the belief in the Trinity become that it is the litmus test for whether or not a person is considered to be orthodox. Rejecting any aspect of the doctrine is enough for a Christian to be condemned as a heretic. Evangelical scholar Harold Lindsell and seminary professor Charles Woodbridge wrote the following:

    The mind of man cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. He who has tried to understand the mystery fully will lose his mind; but he who would deny the Trinity will lose his soul. [4]

    There you have it, “deny the Trinity and you lose your soul.” This reveals a fundamental paradox with the doctrine: why would God reveal something that cannot be fully comprehended, and yet tie our salvation to it? What should we make of all this in the light of the purpose of revelation? Revelation is an opening up, an uncovering. How can the Trinity be a revelation when the most learned of biblical scholars write that it is a mystery? That is double-talk which directly conflicts with the very purpose of revelation: guidance.

    Today, faith and the Trinity are synonymous in Christian thought. In fact, they are so intertwined that you would think the Trinity must have always been the dominant belief going all the way back to the early Church. As we are going to see, this could not be further from the truth.

    THE DIFFERENT VIEWS OF JESUS IN THE EARLY CHURCH

    Very early on in Christianity, almost from the beginning, different Christians in different churches in different regions had different views of Jesus. Here are some of the views about Jesus that existed in the first few centuries of Christianity:

    1. Jesus was purely human.

    This is the view that Jesus was born a human being with no divine aspect whatsoever. One such early Christian group that held this belief were the Ebionites. The word “Ebionite” is from Hebrew Ebyonim meaning “poor ones”. The Ebionites were Jewish followers of Jesus and were concentrated in Palestine and its surrounding regions. The Ebionite Christians believed that
    Jesus was the Jewish Messiah sent from God to the Jewish people in fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures. They also believed that to belong to the people of God, one needed to be Jewish. As a result, they insisted on observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, and circumcising all males. Their insistence on staying Jewish should not seem peculiar from a historical perspective, since Jesus and his disciples were Jewish, as were the earliest Christians who were also Jewish followers of Jesus. At this early point, Christianity was a Jewish phenomenon. It was not yet a separate and distinct religion, but rather a sect of Judaism. It seems that the only thing that distinguished these early followers of Jesus from any other Jew was their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. The Book of Acts attests to their continued regular attendance at the Jewish Temple, as well as the goodwill they had from their fellow Jews, which would have been impossible had they preached that Jesus was God incarnate, a belief which is seen as blasphemous in Judaism:

    And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. [Acts 2:44-47]

    From what we know of the beliefs of the Ebionites, they saw Jesus as the adopted Son of God. They held that Jesus was born human and that he became God’s son by adoption during his baptism, being chosen by God because of his sinless devotion to the will of God. It’s important to note that, for the Ebionites, Jesus did not pre-exist and was never an object of worship because they believed he was inferior to God.

    Many scholars believe that such views about Jesus were held by the earliest Christians. A New Testament scholar, Professor Bart Ehrman, states: “… adoptionistic Christologies can be traced to sources that predate the books of the New Testament.” [5]

    2. Jesus was purely divine and not human at all.

    This view is an opposite extreme to that of the Ebionites. It is the belief that Jesus had no human aspect at all and was purely divine. One such group which held these beliefs were the Marcionites. Unlike the Ebionites, the Marcionites represented a highly attractive religion and had many pagan converts. Potential converts from among the pagans were not flocking to the Ebionite form of religion, which involved restricting activities on the Sabbath, giving up pork and other popular foods, and men getting circumcised. The Marcionites, on the other hand, had a comparatively easy religion to follow as it was avowedly Christian with nothing Jewish about it. In fact, everything Jewish was taken out of it as they had trouble reconciling what they saw as a wrathful, vengeful God of the Old Testament with the loving, merciful portrayal of God in the New Testament. They went so far as to even exclude the Jewish books of the Old Testament from their Bible.

    The Marcionites believed that Jesus was not truly a part of this material world. He did not have a flesh-and-blood body, and was not actually born. Although he appeared to be human, his human form was merely an illusion. Jesus was purely divine with no human aspect whatsoever.

    3. Jesus was both human and divine.

    There were numerous sub-groups within this category. One group, known as Sub-ordinationists, believed that Jesus was divine and that he was created by God the Father; thus, Jesus was not equal to the Father but subordinate to him. Origen of Alexandria, the most prolific Christian writer in history with over 1,000 books, was a Sub-ordinationist.

    Another group believed that Jesus was always divine and that when Jesus became human he became an additional person. So, Jesus existed as two beings: the man Jesus of Nazareth who was human and the Christ who was completely divine. People who held this belief are known as Separationists.

    A third group believed that Jesus was always divine and when he became human he took on an additional nature. So Jesus is one person with two natures, one divine and one human. This is the Trinitarian view of Jesus that ultimately became orthodoxy. Today, it is the mainstream position in Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The official position of these churches is that all the other groups, with their different views about Jesus, are heretics, deviators from the truth of the orthodoxy of Trinitarianism.

    Is it fair to casually dismiss these other views of Jesus as heretical? They can’t be considered heretics from an early Church perspective because, as we’ve seen, there were many competing views about Jesus. During the first three centuries, Church doctrine had yet to be fixed. To take one example, Trinitarians like to quote early Church Fathers like Tertullian (155 – 240 CE) who spoke of a “trinitas” (Latin for ‘threeness’). They cite them as proof that the Trinity was the standard belief of Christians in the early Church. However, such claims are misleading. When we properly examine the writings of individuals like Tertullian, we find that this is not the case:

    For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as He Himself acknowledges: “My Father is greater than I.” In the Psalm His inferiority is described as being “a little lower than the angels.” Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son. [6]

    In other words, one of the earliest sources in the early Church who spoke of a ‘trinity’ never actually taught a doctrine of three co-equal persons. Tertullian’s understanding of Scripture was that the Father and Son cannot be co-equal, which goes against modern Trinitarianism. At this early stage in history, the doctrine of the Trinity was still in its infancy, so any talk of the Trinity being orthodoxy is not only anachronistic, but also a gross oversimplification. Many of the doctrine’s finer details had yet to be formulated. This is why historians refer to the early Christians who believed in the deity of Jesus as “partially Trinitarian”, or “proto-Trinitarian”, as the doctrine hadn’t yet been fully developed. Another issue with labelling these other views of Jesus as heretical is that proto-Trinitarianism wasn’t even necessarily the majority belief in the early Church. Indeed, historians think that, at one point, there were more non-Trinitarian Christians than so-called orthodox Trinitarian believers. We can find evidence of this in the writings of Tertullian who commented:

    The simple, indeed, (I will not call them unwise and unlearned,) who always constitute the majority of believers, are startled at the dispensation (of the Three in One)… are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods… [7]

    Tertullian wrote the above in a chapter in his book “Sundry Popular Fears and Prejudices. The Doctrine of the Trinity in Unity Rescued from These Misapprehensions”. This indicates that the proto-Trinitarian view was a minority belief in the early Church, which the masses rejected on the grounds that it was polytheistic. Another piece of historical evidence is a sermon delivered by the fourth century bishop Gregory of Nyssa:

    If in this city you ask a shopkeeper for change, he will argue with you about whether the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you enquire about the quality of the bread, the baker will answer, ‘The Father is greater, the Son is less.’ And if you ask the bath attendant to draw your bath, he will tell you that the Son was created ex nihilo [out of nothing]. [8]

    Gregory’s wry comment is fascinating for what it says and what it implies. It suggests that ordinary tradespeople and workers felt perfectly competent to debate abstract theological issues. Gregory’s shopkeeper questions whether Jesus is “begotten or unbegotten” – that is, whether he is a creation of God or the Creator Himself. The bath attendant says that he was created “out of nothing”, meaning that he was brought into existence like the rest of God’s creatures. And the baker asserts that Jesus is separate from, and lesser than, God. All of these views go against the Trinity and seemed to be the popular belief among common people.

    Proto-Trinitarianism was not even necessarily the default position of the bishops of the Roman Empire in the middle of the fourth century. For example, the high-ranking bishop of Constantinople, Macedonius, endorsed a non-Trinitarian position:

    Towards the middle of the fourth century, Macedonius, Bishop of Constantinople, and, after him a number of Semi-Arians, while apparently admitting the Divinity of the Word, denied that of the Holy Ghost. [9]

    One of the most astounding historical facts about the Trinity is that the earliest Church Fathers who promoted a proto-Trinitarian belief (such as Tertullian and Origen) were all later condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as heretics. On the other hand, Church Fathers such as Ignatius, Polycarp and others, who taught a binitarian (not Trinitarian) view, are today considered to be saints by the Roman Catholic Church. This demonstrates the frivolity of assigning labels like orthodox and heretic in the early Church, as the orthodoxy of one age can (and did) become the heresy of the next.

    We need to be more nuanced in our discussion of these subjects. We shouldn’t evaluate these different views about Jesus as a popularity contest, but rather on the strength of the arguments that each view puts forward. We’ve seen that early Christianity was widely diverse, and that different groups of Christians in the ancient world held varying, even contradictory, points of view about the nature of Jesus. By the sixteenth century, the Trinity had a virtual monopoly in Christian thought. So dominant was the doctrine of the Trinity that toeing the line of orthodoxy was a matter of life and death. Michael Servetus was a sixteenth century Spanish theologian whose interpretations of the Bible brought him into conflict with the Church. In 1531 CE, Servetus published the book “Errors of the Trinity”, in which he said those who believed in the Trinity were really Tritheists (believers in three gods). He was condemned as a heretic and burnt alive atop a pyre of his own books [10]. How did the Trinity go from being just another belief about Jesus to a position of absolute dominance to the point where dissent could cost you your life? We will now turn our attention to the tides of history to see just how the Trinity came to be the dominant, orthodox position of Christianity today.

    HOW THE TRINITY BECOMES ORTHODOXY

    Earlier, we saw how Christianity started out as a small movement within Judaism. When Christianity eventually spread to Gentiles (non-Jews), how was the religion perceived by the general Pagan populace in the Roman Empire? By 300 CE, Christians had accounted for approximately 10% of the Roman population, according to some estimates [11]. Up until that point, Christians had been a persecuted minority. This persecution culminated in the passing of legislation which compelled Christians to sacrifice to the Roman gods or face imprisonment and execution [12].

    The coming to power of the Roman Emperor Constantine was a major turning point for Christianity. After his victory, Constantine supported the Church financially, granted privileges such as exemption from certain taxes to the clergy, promoted Christians to high-ranking offices and returned previously confiscated property to the churches [13]. Under the influence of Constantine, the Christian movement gradually underwent its major transformation from a previously underground, and even criminal, movement persecuted by the general Pagan populace into an officially-sanctioned religion of ‘first rank’ within the Roman Empire. Both Paganism and Christianity were now legal religions, with their respective adherents vying for power in the Roman Empire.

    Perhaps the defining moment of Constantine’s reign came with the Arian controversy. In the early fourth century, a debate raged within the Church with regard to the nature of Jesus and his precise relationship to God. Arius, a priest and theologian, and bishop Athanasius, a Church Father, were the chief proponents of both sides of the debate. Athanasius was a Trinitarian who promoted the idea that Jesus was equal to God, whereas Arius promoted the idea that Jesus was in fact a creation of God and therefore inferior to God. A major contention for Arius and his followers, the Arians, with regard to the Trinity was that if the Son were equal to the Father, then there would be more than one God. These disagreements about the nature of Jesus and his relationship to God deeply divided Christianity in the Roman Empire into two opposing theological factions. It’s important to note that neither side was a niche group; in the fourth century, Arianism had the upper hand in the Eastern, Greek-speaking part of the Roman Empire, while the Trinitarians dominated the Western, Latin-speaking part.

    Council of Nicea

    Emperor Constantine, seeking to unify the Church, convened the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. The question to be settled was, “Is Jesus absolutely equal to the Father: always existing and of the very same substance, or not?” Bishops from all over the empire were summoned to the council where their differences would be debated with the aim of reaching agreement. This was the first time in Christian history that such a council had convened. Constantine told the delegates that they would enjoy the climate and also, with a hint of menace, that he intended to: “be present as a spectator and participator in those things which will be done” [14]. It must be noted that Constantine was not interested in doctrinal purity; his motivation for calling the council was merely to assure the political stability of his empire. Constantine himself said: “When I heard of your division, I was convinced that this matter should by no means be neglected… I shall feel my desire fulfilled only when I see the minds of all united in that peaceful harmony… Put away all causes of strife, and loosen all knots of discord by the laws of peace.” [15]

    The Council of Nicea had three points of view represented at the meeting: the strict Arians, the semi-Arians and the strict Trinitarians. The strict Arians were a small minority who were led by Arius. They believed that Jesus is inferior to God and rejected the notion that Jesus is of the same substance as God. The strict Trinitarians were also a small minority and they were led by Athanasius. They opposed Arianism because it questioned the deity of Jesus. The vast majority in attendance, however, took a middle position between Arianism and Trinitarianism. They were led by Eusebius of Caesarea and are referred to as “Semi-Arians”. They rejected the Trinitarian doctrine that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance. About this council, Church historian Philip Schaff wrote:

    In reference to the theological question the council was divided in the beginning into three parties. The orthodox party… was at first in the minority… The Arians or Eusebians numbered perhaps twenty bishops… The majority, whose organ was the renowned historian Eusebius of Caesarea, took middle ground between the right and the left… [16]

    This is further evidence that the Trinity was not the orthodox position of the early Church, since the majority of bishops attending had not held a pro-Trinitarian, anti-Arian view before the council.

    The council proceedings caused the mood of the undecided majority to move towards an anti-Arian view. Because of this sudden swing away from Arianism, the goal of the council quickly shifted from seeking compromise to condemning Arianism in no uncertain terms. Since it was difficult to do this on scriptural terms alone, the bishops decided to formulate a creed that specifically excluded Arianism from the scope of Christian belief. Key to it was a concept found nowhere in the Bible: homo-ousios (from the Greek ‘homos’, meaning “same”, and ‘ousia’, meaning “essence”). The anti-Arians wanted to insert this concept of Jesus being of the same substance as God into the official creedal statement of the Church. This anti-Arian clause was proposed by Emperor Constantine himself [17]. Arius and his followers refused to accept it because they believed that Jesus was created by God and therefore they were materially separate from one another. Notice that the contention was not about passages of the Bible, but rather philosophy. This further reinforces the point that the Trinity is not a biblical concept but rather extraneous to the Bible. The Church had to come up with terms of “philosophical” (pagan/Greek) origin in order to explain it, as former Pope Benedict XVI states:

    In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop its own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: “substance,” “person,” or “hypostasis,” “relation” and so on. [18]

    Faced with the awe-inspiring presence of the emperor, there could be little opposition: the majority of the bishops on the council ultimately agreed upon a creed, known thereafter as the “Nicene Creed”: “[The] majority eventually acquiesced in the ruling of the Alexandrians [trinitarians]; yet this result was due… partly to the pressure of the imperial will.” [19]

    When the creed was finished, eighteen bishops still opposed it. Constantine at this point intervened to threaten with exile anyone who would not sign for it. Two Libyan bishops and Arius still refused to accept the creed. All three were exiled [20].

    Although Constantine is usually remembered for the steps he took towards making Christianity an established religion in the Roman Empire, it would not be wrong to consider him as one of the chief driving forces behind the Nicene Creed. It was he who proposed and perhaps even imposed the expression homo-ousios (“same essence”) on the Council of Nicea, and it was he who provided government aid to the so-called orthodox and exerted government pressure against non-conformists [21].

    Councils of Rimini and Seleucia

    The Council of Nicea, however, did not end the controversy, as many bishops of the Eastern provinces disputed the concept of homo-ousios, the central term of the Nicene Creed. The debates among these groups continued and resulted in numerous meetings, and no fewer than fourteen further creedal formulas between 340 CE and 360 CE, leading the pagan observer Ammianus Marcellinus to comment sarcastically: “The highways were covered with galloping bishops.” [22]

    Emperor Constantine’s sons, among whom the empire was divided after his death, became even more embroiled in the theological disputes. The emperor in the West, Constans, sided with Nicea, while the emperor in the East, Constantius, was anti-Nicea. Thus, a pattern was being set for political interference with theological issues on the part of civil rulers. Whether Arianism or the Nicene Creed had the upper hand at any particular time depended upon which one had the favour of the respective emperor.

    With the death of Constans in 350 CE, his anti-Nicea brother Constantius became the sole ruler of the Empire. In 359 CE, he summoned two councils, one in the East at Seleucia and the other in the West at Rimini. These councils were attended by more bishops than at Nicea and were thus more representative of the entire Church. Like his father Constantine before him, Constantius also involved himself in the council proceedings, exerting pressure on the bishops attending. An anti-Nicean, pro-Arian creed was adopted, and thus Arianism gained the upper hand in the Roman Empire. Writing about these councils, Saint Jerome remarked that the world “awoke with a groan to find itself Arian” [23]. The balance of power was now in favour of Arianism, and it looked like it had triumphed over Trinitarianism. So, if Trinitarians want to argue that today orthodoxy is on their side on the basis of popularity, then at one point Arianism was in the dominant position and was therefore orthodoxy!

    Council of Constantinople

    The seeming triumph of Arianism was short-lived. In 381 CE, the Council of Constantinople was summoned by Emperor Theodosius I. The main business of the council was to re-establish the doctrine that had been set forth in the Nicene Creed. They did this by writing a new creed to remove some of the language of the Nicene Creed that had proven controversial and problematic. This council “sealed the final adoption of the faith of Nicea by the entire Church” [24]. So, the Nicene Creed, first set out on the Council of Nicea 55 years earlier, was ultimately victorious over Arianism.

    It’s important to note that on earlier councils, for example the Council of Nicea, they did not specify that the third person of the Trinity existed; they simply said they believed in the Holy Spirit. While the Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the tenets of the faith which were established in Nicea, one specific area where the doctrine of the Trinity had developed was related to the Holy Spirit. The divinity of the Holy Spirit was an important issue, as the Church debated and formalised its emerging view of the Trinity. The council attributed a number of things to the Holy Spirit, such as a divine title, ‘Lord’, and supreme worship equal to that rendered to the Father and the Son. Thus, the Holy Spirit was voted as the third Person of the Trinity. It should be pointed out that the disciples of Jesus had all been dead for hundreds of years before this position was agreed upon. The Catholic Church states: “The apostolic faith concerning the Spirit was announced by the second ecumenical council at Constantinople (381 CE).” [25]

    Trinitarian and evangelical scholar Harold Brown gives some reasons for the slow adoption of the Holy Spirit as a person of the Trinity:

    The language of the New Testament permits the Holy Spirit to be understood as an impersonal force or influence more readily than it does the Son…The attempt to develop an understanding of the Holy Spirit consistent with the trinitarian passages…came to fruition at Constantinople in 381. There were a number of reasons why the personhood of the Holy Spirit took longer to acknowledge than the Son: (1) the term pneuma, breath, is neuter in general and impersonal in ordinary meaning; (2) the distinctive work of the Holy Spirit, influencing the believer, does not necessarily seem as personal as that of the Father…in addition, those who saw the Holy Spirit as a Person, were often heretical, for example, the Montanists; (3) many of the early theologians attributed to the Logos or Word, the revelatory activity later theologians saw as the special, personal work of the Holy Spirit. [26]

    In other words, we can understand that:

    1. A doctrine close to what modern Trinitarians teach about the Holy Spirit was not widely accepted until over 300 years after Jesus.

    2. Normal understanding of the Greek of the New Testament suggests that the Holy Spirit is impersonal – not a person. This is in contrast to the portrayal of the Father and the Son.

    3. The idea of treating the Holy Spirit as a person, as Trinitarians do today, was often associated with heretical groups in the early Church.

    4. Early Christian theologians contradicted the current Trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit because they used to assign its functions, such as revelatory activity, to the Son.

    At the close of the Council of Constantinople, Emperor Theodosius issued an imperial decree declaring that the churches should be restored to those bishops who confessed the equal divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:

    …let us believe in the one deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgement they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation and the second the punishment of our authority, in accordance with the will of heaven shall decide to inflict… [27]

    Historical scholar Jonathan Roberts wrote:

    Until Theodosius commanded his subjects to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, and enforced his commands upon them by the most inhumane ways, that doctrine was rejected and resisted by the Greek and Roman followers of the Christos… That so senseless and unnatural doctrine should have been forced upon any people, by any means, however tyrannical is a mystery even more mysterious than the arithmetic that can make one three, and three one. [28]

    Thus, Arianism was officially outlawed. It was extinguished not by the force of scriptural truth, but by the force of imperial involvement. After over 55 years of battle, the Nicene Creed permanently gained the upper hand and Trinitarianism became the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Council of Chalcedon

    Even after Arianism was defeated, debate raged on about the nature of the incarnate Jesus as he walked upon the earth. While the Council of Nicea focused on the precise relationship of the Son to God the Father, the question that now had to be settled was: did Jesus have a single nature, meaning a mixture of human and divine, or a dual nature – human and divine, both distinct and not blurred together?

    In 451 CE, the council of Chalcedon was summoned to address the nature of Jesus. The bishops arrived at the understanding of the two natures of Christ in one person. They adopted the Creed of Chalcedon, which stated:

    We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [coessential] with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

    This concept of a dual human and divine nature in the person of Jesus is known as the Hypostatic Union, an essential component of modern Trinitarianism. Yet, it wasn’t until the Council of Chalcedon that we saw the emergence of an official doctrine of the Trinity in a form that is recognisable with what Trinitarians believe in today. This took place in the fifth century, over 400 years after Jesus.

    Evangelical theologian and professor Wayne A. Grudem sums this up as follows: “[A] precise understanding of how full deity and full humanity” argues Grudem, “could be combined together in one person was formulated only gradually in the church and did not reach the final form until the Chalcedonian Definition in a.d. 451.” [29]

    Some reflections on the Church councils

    Regarding these various Church councils, I’d like to share with the reader some personal reflections:

    1. The Trinity, as it is believed in today, did not emerge as the official doctrine of the Church until over 400 years after Jesus. Yet, today it is considered to be so pivotal to mainstream Christianity that anyone diverging from this is labelled a disbeliever or member of a cult. How central to the early Church could a doctrine, not fully formulated until a much later date, actually be? One would expect that anything that was truly fundamental to the Christian faith would have been clear and accepted by the Church from the first century.

    2. The doctrine of the Trinity did not come into the Church easily, but rather through a great deal of dispute. Every fundamental aspect of the doctrine – the relationship of Jesus to God, the deity of the Holy Spirit, the dual nature of Jesus – was borne out of council proceedings spanning over a century. These were not dominated solely by scriptural discussion; politics and philosophy played significant roles.

    3. Imperial involvement played a large part in determining which theological view was dominant at any given moment. Emperor Constantine was not a minister or even a theologian, but a political figure. However, he was a pivotal figure in establishing the Nicene Creed. To him, it was not a matter of true doctrine, but what was politically expedient. If Constantine or any subsequent emperors had favoured Arianism, then the tides of history could very well have turned in its favour and Arianism could be orthodoxy today!

    So far, we have analysed the Trinitarian claim to orthodoxy from the historical angle. We will now look at the Bible to see whether it can stake a claim to orthodoxy from a scriptural standpoint.
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    IS THE TRINITY BIBLICAL?

    Is the Trinity Biblical? To many people, this may sound like a strange question; in fact, many of the Christians that I interact with assume that everything they have been taught in church is based on the Bible. Is this really the case with the Trinity, is it Biblical? Through my research I was surprised to learn that the term ‘Trinity’ is not found anywhere in the Bible. Such terminology appears only in the writings of Church Fathers, much later in history. The position of the Catholic Church is that the term ‘Trinity’ was first mentioned late into the second century, about 150 years after Jesus:

    In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together…The word trias (of which the Latin trinitas is a translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A.D. 180… Afterwards it appears in its Latin form of trinitas in Tertullian. [30]

    Its absence from the Bible is striking when one considers that this is the core doctrine of Trinitarianism. The Oxford Companion to the Bible, which has entries from over two hundred and sixty Bible scholars and academics from leading biblical institutes and universities in America and Europe, states: “Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine, it is striking that the term does not appear in the New Testament…” [31]

    I often ask Christians about the absence of the term “Trinity” in the Bible. A common response that I receive is that, although the specific word “Trinity” is not present, its concept is found throughout the New Testament. When we examine the New Testament, is it really the case that there is a concept of God being three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are co-equal and co-eternal? Since the Trinity is a fundamental doctrine, it’s not unreasonable to expect to find a clear statement from the Bible that comprehensively defines the doctrine of the Trinity as it is believed in today. In my experience, the most common pieces of evidence put forward are the letters of Paul and the Gospels of John and Matthew. Here are some typical examples:

    For in him [Jesus] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. [Colossians 2:9]

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [John 1:1]

    Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. [Matthew 28:19]

    Let’s analyse each of these statements in turn to see if they are genuine proof texts for the concept of the Trinity as it is taught by the Church today. We will first deal with the statement by Paul: “For in him [Jesus] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” [Colossians 2:9]. When one looks at other writings by Paul, we find mention of God “dwelling” in individuals other than Jesus: “and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” [Ephesians 3:19]. Here Paul prays that believers will be filled with “all the fullness of God”. Clearly, Paul is not implying that believing Christians are literally divine persons. In other places, Paul talks of there being government in the Godhead, he gives a hierarchy of authority and responsibility: “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” [1 Corinthians 11:3]. Here Paul evidently states that the Father is the head over all creation, including Jesus. Remember that the doctrine of the Trinity states that Jesus the Son and God the Father are co-equal, which of course conflicts with Paul’s hierarchy of the Father as being the head of the Son. Even if we were to accept that Paul’s mention of “Godhead” in Colossians 2:9 indicates a plurality in the nature of God, can we conclude that God is three persons from this statement? We cannot; it is in fact ambiguous because it could mean two or more persons, there’s no reason to conclude three. Nor is there any mention of the Holy Spirit, so Colossians 2:9 is insufficient as it does not comprehensively support the concept of God being three persons who are all co-equal and co-eternal.

    Now, if Paul had really believed in there being three persons in the Godhead, then he would have mentioned all three members in his letters to the churches – he never did. Paul mentioned the Father and Jesus in every introduction of every letter he wrote (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Hebrews 1:1-2), but he never mentioned the Holy Spirit. If Paul were a Trinitarian, then such an omission is astounding. Clearly, Paul did not believe in a Triune God.

    What about the Gospel of John, does it represent a proof text for the Trinity? The alleged proof text cited earlier was the following: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [John 1:1]. At face value, this may seem like conclusive evidence of Jesus being God, because Trinitarians interpret the Word to be Jesus and the verse apparently states “and the Word was God.” The English translation that this particular version of the Bible has chosen is subjective. If one was to analyse the original Greek of the New Testament, one would find that it is far less clear. The English word translated as “God” (“and the Word was God”) lacks the definite article in Greek, so the verse can also be translated as “and the Word was divine” or “and the Word was a god”. Origen of Alexandria, a teacher of Greek grammar of the third century and arguably the most important theologian and biblical scholar of the early Greek Church, wrote about the use of the definite article in John 1:1:

    In some cases he [John] uses the article, and in some he omits it… He uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos [Word] is named God…. The true God, then, is ‘The God’” [32]

    Origen concluded that John’s intention in omitting the definite article was to show that Jesus is not truly God. Because of the ambiguity of John 1:1, we cannot use it as a basis to establish the divinity of Jesus. If we are serious about understanding Scripture, then we must interpret any ambiguous statements by an author in the light of their clear statements. The following verses of the Gospel of John provide the correct context for interpreting John 1:1:

    After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” [John 17:1-3]

    Notice that Jesus is said to pray to the Father, evidently identifying the Father as the only true God to the exclusion of himself, the Son. If Jesus really were part of a Trinity, then he would have said “the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the only true God.” Remember that the doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all fully God. Yet, Jesus isolates the Father as the only God to the exclusion of himself. Church Father Augustine, one of the greatest Trinitarian theologians in history, was so disturbed by these verses that he resorted to manipulating them in order to protect the doctrine of the Trinity. It was so difficult for Augustine to harmonise John 17:3 with his belief in the doctrine of the Trinity that he restructured the verse to make the Father and the Son equal in divinity. Augustine, in his “Homilies on John”, changed the wording of John 17:3 to say: “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent, as the only true God.” [33] Notice how Augustine grouped the word “Jesus” with “Thee” (“Thee and Jesus Christ”) in order for both the Father and Jesus to be identified as “the only true God”. Compare this to what John actually says: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”, which distinguishes Jesus from God. Augustine’s change was subtle, but it seriously distorted the original meaning of the words in order to make Jesus equal to the Father in divinity.

    With regard to this statement from the Gospel of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” [Matthew 28:19]. Now this verse does have Jesus mentioning the three persons of the Trinity; however, it says nothing about their relationship with one another. It does not say that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all equal, nor does it say that they are all eternal, or that they are even God. Just mentioning the persons collectively does not equate to the doctrine of the Trinity, as even Muslims believe in the persons of God Almighty, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (whom we believe is the angel Gabriel). What’s interesting about this verse in the Gospel of Matthew is that there are serious doubts about whether Jesus ever uttered the words attributed to him. The reason is, if Jesus really did say those words, then shouldn’t we expect his loyal disciples to obey his command and baptise people using the formula that Jesus instructed? Although the Gospel of Matthew does not have any instances of disciples carrying out baptisms, other books of the New Testament, such as the Book of Acts, contain many such instances, and not once does any disciple baptise in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Rather, they consistently baptise in the name of Jesus only:

    So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. [Acts 10:48]

    And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his [Jesus] name.’ [Acts 22:16]

    Unless one is going to argue that the disciples of Jesus intentionally disobeyed him, then this indicates that the disciples were not aware of any such instruction, and therefore it is very likely that Jesus never uttered the words attributed to him in the Gospel of Matthew. We find support for this conclusion in the writings of the third century historian Eusebius. He wrote prolifically, quoting many verses of the New Testament in his writings. The verse in question, Matthew 28:19, is one that he happens to have quoted numerous times. However, he never quotes it as it appears today in modern Bibles, but always finishes the verse with the words “in my name”. For example, in his writings about the persecution of early Christians, we read:

    But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them, “Go ye and make disciples of all the nations in my name.” [34]

    We can be confident that if the New Testament Eusebius had in front of him read “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, he would never have quoted it as “in my name”. Thus, the earliest manuscripts must have read “in my name”, which explains why the disciples used those exact words and not a Trinitarian formula when performing baptisms.

    This is the case with all such proof texts put forward by Trinitarians. At best, they only allude to the divinity of Jesus, but this is only when they are taken in isolation. When we go beyond a superficial reading of Scripture, what we find is that all such proof texts fall short in comprehensively supporting the concept of the Trinity as it is believed in today. When Trinitarians try and argue for the divinity of Jesus as conclusive proof of the doctrine of the Trinity, they miss a big point. Even if, for the sake of argument, we grant the claim that there are some statements in the New Testament which can be interpreted to imply that Jesus is divine in some capacity, this in no way takes away from my point about the Trinity: nowhere do we find a clear definition of the doctrine of the Trinity, the idea that God is one Being consisting of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are all co-equal and co-eternal.

    The fact is that nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit mention of any such Trinitarian formula. Nor is God ever spoken of using terms like ‘Being’ and ‘Persons’ which is the language used by Trinitarians. These are not only my personal conclusions after years of study into the Bible, but also the findings of Christian scholarship. The Oxford Companion to the Bible, written by Bruce Metzger, one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th century, and containing entries from over two hundred and sixty scholars and academics from leading biblical institutes and universities in America and Europe, states: “…the developed concept of three co-equal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the canon” [35]. Likewise, the New Catholic Encyclopedia explains that the doctrine of the Trinity is a product of history, developed over centuries:

    There is the recognition on the part of exegetes and biblical theologians, including a constantly growing number of Roman Catholics, that one should not speak of Trinitarianism in the New Testament without serious qualification. There is also the closely parallel recognition on the part of historians of dogma and systematic theologians that when one does speak of an unqualified Trinitarianism, one has moved from the period of Christian origins to, say, the last quadrant of the 4th century. It was only then that what might be called the definitive Trinitarian dogma ‘One God in three persons’ became thoroughly assimilated into Christian life and thought…it was the product of three centuries of doctrinal development.[36]

    The New Bible Dictionary, an evangelical Trinitarian source, states that while the concept of God becoming man is present in Scripture from the perspective of how it relates to our salvation, the authors of the dictionary concede that the theological formulation of the doctrine is puzzlingly absent in the New Testament:

    The only sense in which the New Testament writers ever attempt to explain the incarnation is by showing how it fits into God’s overall plan for redeeming mankind…This evangelical interest throws light on the otherwise puzzling fact that the New Testament nowhere reflects on the virgin birth of Jesus as witnessing to the conjunction of deity and manhood in His person—a line of thought much canvassed by later theology. [37]

    If the Trinity is the true nature of God, why does the New Testament not clearly support it? If this doctrine is so important, then shouldn’t it be evidently explained all over the New Testament, like other doctrines such as the death of Jesus for our sins and his resurrection from the dead? The doctrine must be read into Scripture – it is not derived from it. It is not developed from clear scriptural references, but rather by beginning with a premise and then proceeding to develop “proofs” from ambiguous statements in Scripture.

    Any speculation about ambiguous verses of the Bible can be put to rest when we look to the clear, explicit statements that Jesus made regarding God’s nature.

    Prophet JESUS PREACHED PURE MONOTHEISM

    There is an interesting incident in the New Testament where Jesus seems to affirm the theology of the Old Testament. One of the Jewish teachers of the law approaches Jesus and asks him which of the commandments is the most important:

    “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

    “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

    When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. [Mark 12:28-34]

    This incident was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to correct misconceptions about God’s nature and give the Jewish teacher of the law a Trinitarian understanding of God being three co-equal and co-eternal persons. As you can see, the exact opposite is the case; by quoting the Old Testament commandment about God being One, a direct quote of Deuteronomy 6:4 (“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”), and by agreeing with the Jewish teacher’s interpretation, Jesus is affirming an understanding of God that is purely monotheistic and rejects all notion of God being a Trinity. Not only is the Jewish teacher’s wisdom about God acknowledged, but also Jesus goes so far as to compliment him, saying that he is close to the kingdom of God.

    The reason why Jewish people do not believe in a Triune God is that He is never presented as such in the Old Testament. This is not surprising, given that God is described in purely monotheistic terms throughout the Old Testament. The Prophets of the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Noah and Moses, never preached that God is a Trinity. Their core message was simple: there is one God who is unlike His creation and He alone deserves our worship. Does it make sense that God sent countless Prophets, over a span of thousands of years, with a consistent message of pure monotheism, and then all of a sudden reveals that He is a Trinity, a radically different message which contradicts His previous Prophets’ teachings?

    How do Trinitarians explain this juxtaposition between their beliefs and the portrayal of God in the Old Testament? They claim that God reveals Himself gradually in stages; this is known as the concept of “Progressive Revelation”:

    The things that God revealed to humanity were not all given at once. His revelation was given in stages… Progressive revelation means that God did not unfold His entire plan to humanity in the Book of Genesis or, for that matter, in the entire Old Testament. The Old Testament revelation, though accurate, is incomplete. The fullness of certain teachings cannot be found in the Old Testament. [38]

    This is the idea that the sections of the Bible that were written later contain a fuller revelation of God, compared to the earlier sections. So, the New Testament is to be used to better understand and interpret the Old Testament. Such an explanation must be rejected because the progression from a purely monotheistic concept of God, who is unlike His creation, to a Trinity where God becomes His creation, is anything but gradual. Rather it is a radical overhaul of everything that came before it. Moreover, such an appeal creates more problems than it tries to solve. Because of Progressive Revelation, the Trinitarian concept of God’s nature is, and continues to be, open to development. For example, when Trinitarians say that God is plural in personhood, how do they know to stop at three? Why not four or five? We’ve already seen that there is no verse in the Bible that says there are only three divine persons. At best, one can say that only three have revealed themselves to the Church so far. But how do you know there isn’t a fourth lurking in the shadows, ready to reveal themselves? For example, couldn’t it be revealed that Mary is also God, perhaps the Mother in the Godhead? Or could it later be revealed that the Holy Spirit is in fact seven persons and not just one (see Revelation 1:4 which mentions “the seven spirits before his [God’s] throne”)? To reiterate, there is no explicit mention of ‘three’ either by name or concept, so with Progressive Revelation, there’s nothing to stop God becoming four or more persons at some point in the future. Thus, Trinitarians can never lay claim to having a correct understanding of God, because they can never know for certain that God has revealed the full picture about Himself.

    The New Testament touches upon an incident with Jesus and a fig tree in the Gospel of Mark:

    The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. [Mark 11:12-14]

    Such an incident makes no sense in the light of the Trinitarian claim that Jesus is God. God is All-Knowing, so if Jesus really is God, then that would make him the creator of fig trees, in which case how could he have not known that it was not the season for figs? Moreover, why would God curse the fig tree for doing something He himself willed it to do? If Jesus is God, then wouldn’t it have been more befitting of him to command the tree to bear fruit? Why ruin a perfectly good tree? Come fig season, this tree would have had fruit and others could have eaten from it.

    Some Trinitarians try to get around this problem by claiming that the verses about the fig tree and its lack of fruit are not to be taken literally but rather as a symbol of the nation of Israel and its lack of faith. Now, if the fig tree represents Israel in this particular incident, then this creates a problem. Notice that Mark makes it clear that the fig tree was not defective but just that it wasn’t the right season, yet Jesus admonished a perfectly functioning fig tree for obeying God’s law by producing figs in certain seasons. This would mean that Israel was being punished by God for obeying him! Such interpretations must be rejected because Mark very clearly gives us the reason as to why Jesus approached the fig tree: “Jesus was hungry.” It doesn’t say that “Jesus approached the fig tree because he saw an opportunity for a parable.”

    From the perspective of Trinitarian theology and the dual nature of Jesus, it would have been the limited human nature that made the mistake and the divine nature that had the power to curse the fig tree. However, this situation presents us with some difficult questions with regard to the interplay between the divine and human nature – why did the divine nature not inform him that there were no figs instead of acting upon the mistake of his human side? Is this a case of the human nature overriding the divine nature? Is such a thing possible?

    Furthermore, such incidents bring to light the many paradoxes of the Trinity. For example, how can God be All Powerful and yet have weaknesses such as hunger? Such attributes are mutually exclusive. It would be like being asked to draw a square circle. Such a task is impossible, because each has incompatible properties: a shape cannot have four corners like a square and no corners like a circle at the same time. Yet, such paradoxes are what Trinitarians have to believe in in order for Jesus to not only be God, All Powerful and All Knowing, but also human with limitations such as hunger and possessing limited knowledge.

    From this incident we can see that when it comes to the knowledge of Jesus, it seems that the divine nature is either lacking or completely absent. How then can the claim be made that Jesus is fully God? From what we’ve seen it seems that Jesus is human but not divine because he lacks essential attributes of God, such as possessing All Knowledge.

    The fig tree incident is by no means an isolated case. Jesus plainly says elsewhere that the Son and the Holy Spirit do not know the hour, meaning the time of the Day of Judgement, but only the Father: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” [Mark 13:32]. From this we can see that the divine shortcomings of lacking All Knowledge aren’t just restricted to Jesus; the Holy Spirit also lacks God’s perfect knowledge. How then can the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be said to be co-equal, as the doctrine of the Trinity teaches? If the Father possesses knowledge that the Son and the Holy Spirit lack, then the Father is a greater person of God than both Jesus and the Holy Spirit, in at least one area: knowledge.

    In conclusion, we can see that the New Testament paints a picture of God and Jesus that is at odds with Trinitarian theology.

    RECONCILING THE TRINITY WITH REASON

    God is perfect in His knowledge, so it stands to reason that His true revelation will also be perfect. When we move beyond a basic understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity and dig beneath the surface even just a little, we will find that it is full of contradictions and inconsistencies. For example, the Bible says God is eternal and unchanging:

    Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. [Psalm 93:2]

    Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. [James 1:17]

    The Bible supports the notion that God does not change; indeed, God cannot change, because He transcends time altogether. Now the Trinitarian claim that God became flesh at the incarnation poses a problem. If the Son took on a dual nature, that is, a limited human nature alongside his divine nature, whilst at the same time still being God, then the implication is that in becoming man, the nature of God changed. The doctrine of the incarnation seems to contradict the Bible’s statements that God is eternal and unchanging.

    Trinitarians try to get around this issue by arguing that at the incarnation, nothing changed about God, and a human nature was merely added to God’s divine nature. They reason that, since the two natures did not mix, the divine nature did not change at all in this “joining” and so God remained the same.

    Can this be considered valid reasoning? Well, if God ‘added’ a new nature to Himself, then that is a change in state. Was God always a man? He was not. Did God later on become fully human? The answer, according to Trinitarian theology, is yes. Adding anything to oneself is clearly a change. To claim otherwise is nothing more than philosophical wordplay.

    To illustrate why this is the case, let’s take the example of a human being called John. Consider a hypothetical scenario in which God granted John a second nature – a divine nature. You can see that this scenario mirrors the incarnation; John took on an additional divine nature, much like Trinitarians believe God the Son took on an additional human nature. Even if John’s first nature, humanity, remains unchanged and separate from his divinity, would you ever conclude that John has undergone no change at all? Would any reasonable person argue, “well, John hasn’t really changed in nature, his original finite human nature is only being complemented by an additional infinite nature.” Evidently, for anyone to claim that John, going from mere mortal to master of the universe, has undergone no change would be absurd.

    Yet, the Trinitarian doctrine represents exactly the same scenario. In becoming divine, John has changed from one state (not being God) to another (being God). This mirrors the incarnation where God is said to have become flesh, which also entails a change from one state (not being human) to another (being human). The end result for both Jesus and John is the same; they’ve both become God-men. The only difference was their direction of change (God God-man v.s. man God-man). We must conclude that the incarnation involved an intrinsic change to the Son, and since Trinitarians claim that the Son is God, the implication is that God has changed. This directly conflicts with the Bible’s statements that God is eternal and unchanging.

    More issues with the doctrine of the incarnation emerge when we consider God’s perfection. God is perfect in every way possible; both Muslims and Christians believe this to be true. Recall that Trinitarians believe that, at the incarnation, God entered into the creation as a human being in the form of Jesus. Humanity has been permanently incorporated into the Godhead; the Son will forever have an inseparable divine and human nature. This is in contrast to the nature of the Godhead before the incarnation, with all persons of the Trinity being purely divine into eternity past. This raises some uncomfortable questions. Since God is the pinnacle of perfection, then there is no need for Him to become anything. If God is perfect and something needs to be added to His nature, then doesn’t that mean He lacked something before? Which state is considered more “godly”, the pre-incarnation God, or post-incarnation God? You can see that the doctrine of the incarnation puts Trinitarians in a blasphemous predicament.

    We’ve seen that such contradictions and inconsistencies are rampant throughout Trinitarian teaching. Can such a theology really be a true revelation from God when He is perfect in His knowledge?
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    THE INFLUENCE OF PAGANISM ON THE TRINITY

    We’ve seen that the Trinity is not present in the Bible in either name or concept, and that its claim of a Triune God not only conflicts with the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, but it is also inherently contradictory and inconsistent and therefore unlikely to be God’s perfect revelation. So, where did the Trinity come from? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the world into which Christianity was born and developed. The disciples, the first believers in Jesus, were Jews. In fact, Christianity started out as a movement within Judaism. Like Jews since the time of Moses, these first believers kept the Sabbath, were circumcised and worshipped in the Temple: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.” [Acts 3:1] The only thing that distinguished the early followers of Jesus from any other Jews was their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, that is, the one chosen by God who would redeem the Jewish people. Today, many Christian scholars agree that the authors of the New Testament, such as Matthew, were Jewish believers in Jesus. The influence of Judaism on the New Testament is important because it helps us to correctly understand its message. The New Testament is full of terminology like “son of God”. Such language is interpreted literally by Trinitarians to mean that Jesus is God the Son, but is this correct? What was the intention of the Jewish writers of the New Testament when they used such language? What did these terms mean at the time of Jesus?

    When we turn to the Old Testament, we find that such language permeates its pages. For example, Moses calls God “Father”: “Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” [Deuteronomy 32:6]

    Angels are referred to as “sons of God”: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.” [Job 1:6]

    The Old Testament even goes so far as to call Moses a god: “And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet” [Exodus 7:1].

    The Israelites are also referred to as “gods”: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High’” [Psalm 82:6]. What we can conclude is that such highly exalted language was commonplace and was intended to serve figurative purposes; it is not a literal indication of divinity. Even as late as the end of the first century, when the New Testament writers started penning their accounts of the life of Jesus, Jewish people were still using such language figuratively. In a conversation between Jesus and some Jewish teachers of the law, they say to Jesus: “…The only Father we have is God himself” [John 8:41]. The Gospel of Luke calls Adam a son of God when it recounts the lineage of Jesus: “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” [Luke 3:38].

    Jesus even says that anyone who makes peace is a child of God: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” [Matthew 5:9]. If the New Testament writers understood such language to be a claim to divinity, then they would have used it exclusively in relation to Jesus. Clearly, it denotes a person that is righteous before God, nothing more.

    The turning point in history came when Christianity ceased being a small movement within Judaism and Gentiles (non-Jews) started to embrace the faith in large numbers. We need to look at the pagan world of the Gentiles in order to understand the mindset of the people that received the New Testament message. Since the time of Alexander the Great, Gentiles had been living in a Hellenistic (Greek) world. Their lands were dominated by Roman armies, with the Roman Empire being the superpower of the world at the time. The Roman Empire itself was heavily influenced by Hellenistic religion, philosophy and culture. Greek gods and goddesses, such as Zeus, Hermes and Aphrodite, as well as Roman gods and goddesses, like Jupiter, Venus and Diana, dominated the landscape. There were temples, priesthoods, and feasts dedicated to the patron god or goddess of a city or a region; statues to the deities dotted the forums of the cities. Even rulers themselves were frequently worshipped as gods.

    Gentiles from such a polytheistic background would have naturally understood Christian preaching about the “son of God” in the light of a Greek or Roman god having been begotten by another. We can see this mindset manifested in the New Testament. In the Book of Acts, there is an incident where the Gentile crowds think that Paul is a Greek god because he heals a crippled man:

    When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”

    Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.

    The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. [Acts 14:11-13]

    It is worthy of note that Paul and Barnabas did not take this opportunity to explain that it was not they but rather Jesus who was God come in human form. Such a clarification is what you would expect, if Trinitarian beliefs about Jesus are correct. Instead, they argued against such pagan beliefs and practices:

    But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:

    “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. [Acts 14:14-15]

    Here we see that the Greco-Roman peoples that Paul and Barnabas were preaching to were in the habit of taking humans for gods. Despite Paul protesting that he was not a god, the people persisted in their belief: “Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them” [Acts 14:18]. From this example we can see that, according to Christian history, it was a common practice for people to attribute divinity to other humans. Inspite of Paul openly denying being a god, the people continued to worship and sacrifice to him. We can conclude that, even if Jesus himself rejected being God at that time, the mindset of the people was such that they would still have found a way to deify him. This is not an isolated incident, as we read elsewhere that Gentiles believed Paul was a god because he survived a bite from a venomous snake:

    Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.

    The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.

    Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.

    When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.”

    But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.
    The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. [Acts:28:1-6]

    With this background in mind, it’s easy to see how Judaic phrases like “son of God” took on a different meaning when transported out of their Jewish monotheistic context into pagan Greco-Roman thought. The Trinity doctrine arose neither in a vacuum, nor strictly from the text of Scripture. It was the result of the influence of certain beliefs and attitudes that prevailed in and around the Church after the first century. The Church emerged in a Jewish and Greek world, and so the primitive Church had to reconcile the notions it had inherited from Judaism with those it had derived from pagan mythology. In the words of historian and Anglican bishop John Wand, “Jew and Greek had to meet in Christ.” [39]

    It’s interesting to note that the Greco-Roman religions were filled with tales of gods procreating with human beings and begetting god-men. The belief that God could be incarnate, or that there were sons of God, was common and popular. For example, the chief god in the Greek pantheon, Zeus, visited the human woman Danae in the form of golden rain and fathered Perseus, a “god-man.” In another tale, Zeus is said to have come to the human woman Alcmena, disguised as her husband. Alcmena bore Hercules, another “god-man”. Such tales bear a striking similarity to Trinitarian beliefs of God being begotten as a man. In fact, the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr, considered a saint in the Catholic Church, said the following in response to pagan criticisms that Christianity borrowed from their beliefs about the sons of God:

    When we say that the Word, who is our teacher, Jesus Christ the first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he was crucified and died and rose again, and ascended to heaven, we propound nothing new or different from what you [pagans] believe regarding those whom you consider sons of Jupiter.[40]

    According to ancient Roman myth, Jupiter was the king of all the gods. Here Justin Martyr is telling Roman pagans that what the Christians believe about Jesus being the son of God is nothing different from what they believe about the sons of the god Jupiter. That the Church Fathers’ conception of the Trinity was a combination of Jewish monotheism and pagan polytheism can be seen in the testimony of Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century bishop who is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. He also happens to be one of the great figures in the history of the philosophical formulation of the Trinity doctrine. He wrote:

    For the truth passes in the mean between these two conceptions, destroying each heresy, and yet, accepting what is useful to it from each. The Jewish dogma is destroyed by the acceptance of the Word and by belief in the Spirit, while the polytheistic error of the Greek school is made to vanish by the unity of the nature abrogating this imagination of plurality. [41]

    The Christian conception of God, argues Gregory of Nyssa, is neither purely the polytheism of the Greeks nor purely the monotheism of the Jews, but rather a combination of both.

    Even the concept of God-men who were saviours of mankind was by no means exclusive to Jesus. Long before Jesus was born, it was not uncommon for military men and political rulers to be talked about as divine beings. More than that, they were even treated as divine beings: they were given temples with priests who would perform sacrifices in their honour. In Athens, for example, Demetrios Poliorcetes (Demetrios the Conqueror of Cities, 337–283 BCE) was acclaimed as a divine being by hymn-writers because he liberated them from their Macedonian enemies:

    How the greatest and dearest of the gods are present in our city! For the circumstances have brought together Demeter and Demetrios; she comes to celebrate the solemn mysteries of the Kore, while he is here full of joy, as befits the god, fair and laughing. His appearance is solemn, his friends all around him and he in their midst, as though they were stars and he the sun. Hail boy of the most powerful god Poseidon and Aphrodite! For other gods are either far away, or they do not have ears, or they do not exist, or do not take any notice of us, but you we can see present here, not made of wood or stone, but real. So we pray to you: first make peace, dearest; for you have the power…[42]

    The Athenians gave Demetrios an arrival that was fit for a god, burning incense on altars and making offerings to their new deified king. It must be pointed out that, as time passed by, he did some other things that the Athenians did not approve of, and as a consequence they revoked their adoration of him. It seems that, in the days before Jesus, divinity could be stripped away from human beings just as easily as it was granted. Perhaps the best-known examples of God-men are the divine honours bestowed upon the rulers of the Roman Empire, starting with Julius Caesar. We have an inscription, dedicated to him in 49 BCE and discovered in the city of Ephesus, which says this about him [43]:

    Descendant of Ares and Aphrodite

    The God who has become manifest

    And universal savior of human life

    So, Julius Caesar was described as God manifested as man, the saviour of mankind. Sound familiar? Now, prior to Julius Caesar, rulers in the city of Rome itself were not granted divine honours. But Caesar himself was – before he died, the senate approved the building of a temple and statue for him. Soon after his death, his adopted son and heir, Octavian, promoted the idea that at his death, Caesar had been taken up to heaven and been made a god to live with the gods. There was a good reason that Octavian wanted his adopted father to be declared a God. If his father was a God, then what would that make him? This deification of Caesar set a precedent for what was to happen with the emperors, beginning with the first of them, Octavian himself, who became “Caesar Augustus” in 29 BCE. An inscription, which survived from his lifetime and was found in the city of Halicarnassus (modern Turkey), calls Augustus [44]:

    …The native Zeus and

    Savior of the human race

    This is yet another example of a divine saviour of mankind. Now, Octavian happened to also be the “son of God” by virtue of his divine father Julius Caesar. In fact, Octavian became known as ‘Divi filius’ (“Son of the Divine One”). These, of course, are all titles widely used by Christians today to describe Jesus. We must realise that the early Church did not come up with these titles out of the blue, for they are all things said of other men before they were said of Jesus. For early Christians, the idea was not that Jesus was the only person who was ever called such things; this is a misconception. The concept of a divine human being who was the saviour of mankind was a sort of a template that was applied to people of great power and authority. We’ve seen that the history of paganism is littered with such examples, and Jesus was just another divine saviour, in a long list of divine saviours who had preceded him.

    THE STATE OF THE TRINITY TODAY

    What is the situation with the Trinity today? Even after numerous councils and centuries of discussion and debate, there is still major disagreement among Trinitarians over the doctrine. The biggest issue relates to the Holy Spirit. As we’ve seen, the equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son was established on the Council of Constantinople in 381 CE. While the council concluded that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father, it said nothing concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son. Here is the last section of the Creed of the Council of Constantinople:

    And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

    who proceeds from the Father,

    who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.

    Note that the second line only specifies the Father. This section of the creed was later translated into Latin with the addition, “and the Son”:

    And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

    who proceeds from the Father and the Son,

    who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.

    This addition to the creed is known as the Filioque (Latin for “and the Son”), a phrase that has been the subject of great controversy between Eastern and Western Churches. Whether one includes that phrase, and exactly how the phrase is translated and understood, can have important implications for how one understands the central Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

    Eastern Churches believe that it proceeds from the Father only, whereas Western Churches believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. Here is a diagram which illustrates the difference:

    Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches reject the Filioque because it makes the Holy Spirit a subordinate, or a less important member of the Trinity. Thus, in their view it compromises the co-equality of the Persons of the Trinity. This issue is responsible for the largest schism in Church history. It divided Christianity into Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Differences over this doctrine still remain as a point of contention to this day [45].

    Such lingering doctrinal disagreements are only one aspect of the issues with the Trinity today. Even after centuries of evolution and fine tuning, Trinitarians still walk a tightrope of heresy. To demonstrate this point, let us consider the question of who suffered and died on the cross, was it God or man?

    If a Trinitarian claims that it is God who died, then this contradicts the Bible which teaches that God is immortal and cannot die: “I lift my hand to heaven and solemnly swear: As surely as I live forever” [Deuteronomy 32:40]. This is why many Trinitarians believe that it was only the human side of Jesus that suffered and died, as the crucifixion is only meaningful with reference to his human nature; you cannot crucify the divine nature. However, in doing so, Trinitarians separate the divine nature from the human one at the crucifixion. The problem is that this violates the creed that was adopted on the Council of Chalcedon which states that Jesus is:

    “…acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly…”

    Recall that the Chalcedonian Creed, today considered orthodoxy in the Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches, established that Jesus has a dual nature, with his divine nature and his human nature being eternally united (the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union). So, when Trinitarians state that it is only the human that died in Jesus, they are isolating the human nature from the divine one on the cross. Trinitarians are separating the natures of Jesus that are supposed to be eternally united, thus falling into heresy. We can see that every Trinitarian falls into some form of heresy in relation to the crucifixion, either by taking the view that it was the divine side of Jesus that died on the cross, which is in clear contradiction to what the Bible teaches about God’s immortal nature, or by believing that only the human nature of Jesus was crucified, a violation of the “orthodoxy” of the Chalcedonian Creed. Trinitarians cannot avoid being involved in heresy; in practice, they almost have to decide which heresy they’re going to commit. You have to walk on such a sharp edge that you’re going to fall on one side or the other.

    Today, such confusion is rampant throughout the Trinitarian doctrine. This is in spite of centuries of doctrinal fine-tuning by numerous Church councils and the collective efforts of the most brilliant minds that Christendom has had to offer. Is this really God’s perfect revelation, or is it the fallible teaching of man? God’s true guidance is surely perfect, free of conflict. This problem of holes appearing in one area of theology in the light of other areas is another sign that the doctrine of the Trinity is man-made. The whole doctrine is a patchwork; it joins things which cannot be joined, and the seams are always showing. Could this really be God’s final revelation, would mankind be left to linger in the darkness of confusion until the Day of Judgement? As we will see in the next chapter, God has sent forth a light to guide us back to the truth.

    References:

    [1] – James White, “Loving the Trinity,” Christian Research Journal, vol. 21, no. 22.

    [2] – Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 234.

    [3] – The Catholic Encyclopedia, Constitution, “De fide. cath.”, iv.

    [4] – Harold Lindsell and Charles Woodbridge, A Handbook of Christian Truth, pp. 51-52.

    [5] – Ehrman, Bart D., The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: the effect of early Christological controversies on the text of the NT; New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 48.

    [6] – Tertullian, Against Praxeas, chapter 9 – The Catholic Rule of Faith Expounded in Some of Its Points. Especially in the Unconfused Distinction of the Several Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

    [7] – Ibid., chapter 3 – Sundry Popular Fears and Prejudices. The Doctrine of the Trinity in Unity Rescued from These Misapprehensions.

    [8] – W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity, p. 636.

    [9] – Mansi, III, col. 560.

    [10] – Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin: A Study in the Shaping of Western Culture, 1990, pp. 118-120.

    [11] – Keith Hopkins, A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity, p. 191

    [12] – W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity, p. 319.

    [13] – R. Gerberding and J. H. Moran Cruz, Medieval Worlds (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004) pp. 55–56.

    [14] – Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity, p. 214.

    [15] – Emperor Constantine as quoted in History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, p. 626.

    [16] – Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 3, pp. 627-628.

    [17] – Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity, p. 214.

    [18] – Catechism of the Catholic Church, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, p. 74.

    [19] – Encyclopedia Britannica 14th ed., vol. 16, pp. 410-411.

    [20] – Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God, p. 83.

    [21] – Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, pp. 332 – 333.

    [22] – Ammianus Marcellinus, as cited by Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), III:632.

    [23] – Charles D. Levy, The Arian Christian Doctrines: The Origins of Christianity, p. 78.

    [24] – The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. 1. Arianism, by V.C. Declercq, p. 793.
    [25] – Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, p. 72.

    [26] – Harold Brown, Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, p. 140.

    [27] – Theodosian Code XVI.1.2. Cited in Bettenson H, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, London: Oxford University Press, 1943, p. 31.

    [28] – Roberts JM. Antiquity Unveiled: Ancient Voices from the Spirit Realms Disclose the Most Startling Revelations, Proving Christianity to be of Heathen Origin, University of Michigan, May 21, 2007, p. 468.

    [29] – Grudem, Systematic Theology: Chapter 26 – The Person of Christ, 1994, p. 554.

    [30] – The Catholic Encyclopedia, “De pud.”, xxi.

    [31] – Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (eds.), The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993) pp. 782 – 783.

    [32] – Origen, Commentary on John, Book II, chapter 2.

    [33] – Homilies on John, tractate CV, chapter 17.

    [34] – Eusebius, Book III of his History, Chapter 5, Section 2.

    [35] – Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (eds.), The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993) pp. 782-783.

    [36] – The New Catholic Encyclopedia – vol. 14, p. 295.

    [37] – New Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI, 1975, p. 559.

    [38] – See article by Don Stewart, BlueLetterBible.Org (accessed 22/11/2015): https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_1203.cfm

    [39] – John William Charles Wand. 1955. The Four Great Heresies, p. 39.

    [40] – Justin Martyr, The First Apology, Chapter 21.

    [41] – Dr. H Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, pp. 361-363.

    [42] – Angelos Chaniotis, The Ithyphallic Hymn for Demetrios Poliorcetes and Hellenistic Religious Mentality, p. 160.

    [43] – Iris Sulimani, Diodorus’ Mythistory and the Pagan Mission: Historiography and Culture, p. 288.

    [44] – Hans-Josef Klauck, Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide To Graeco-Roman Religions, p. 296

    [45] – Walter Kasper, The Petrine ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in dialogue: academic symposium held at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, p. 188.

    (This is written by Abu Zakariya and was taken from islamreigns.wordpress.com)

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