Christians who don’t believe God’s a trinity.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 May

God’s a trinity. Jesus is God, his Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; yet there’s only one God, an idea which shoulda sunk in after read in the Old Testament about the Hebrews trying to worship multiple gods. Nope, there’s just the One God—and these three are the One God.

And that’s a hard concept for a lot of people. It’s a paradox, and they simply can’t allow God to be a paradox: God is reasonable, rational, logical. Not impossible. And when we’re trying to explain our belief in God to other people, it’d help a whole lot if he didn’t sound impossible. So they downplay trinity as much as they can… and in some cases, dismiss it altogether. God, they insist, is not a trinity.

Some of these people happen to consider themselves Christians. Sometimes really good Christians, as opposed to Unitarians who consider Jesus and his teachings to be optional. They actually strive to follow Jesus’s teachings. They just… don’t really care for the trinitarian idea. Lots of them lean more towards modalism, the belief God isn’t three people (or in theologian-speak, “persons”), but has different modes—and sometimes he’s the Spirit, sometimes the Father, sometimes Jesus.

Problem is, modalism—and any other theory about God which denies the idea of trinity—is inherently flawed. We Christians didn’t just make up the idea of trinity. We found it in the bible. We tried to explain it, couldn’t, and came up with a doctrine which states what little we do know… and likewise what we can’t say trinity is, ’cause it goes too far, and it’d be wrong. God’s not a three-headed, three-bodied, three-pronged being. He’s not a committee of three gods which speak in union, like the Mormons posit. He’s not one guy with three personalities, like someone with dissociative identity disorder whose three alters happen to also be nice guys. He’s not working in three modes.

These alternative ideas are wrong, and often so wrong it gets in the way of people’s relationship with God. (And may get in the way of their salvation.) That’s why we call ’em heresies.

Of course people regularly, incorrectly think “heresy” means bad. (Usually ’cause certain cultish heretics are really bad people.) So they’re gonna be offended by my calling them heretics. “I’m no heretic. You are. You’re the heretic. Trying to get people to believe in three gods…” No I’m not; three gods is a heresy too.

But okay, in the interest of fairness I’ll present their point of view. Generally they stick to five points.

1. “Trinity” isn’t in the bible.

In the scriptures, God never, ever describes himself as a trinity. He describes himself as One. Dt 6.4 A lot.

’Cause he had to, remember? The Hebrews kept worshiping other gods. Their polytheist neighbors worshiped multiple gods, and the Hebrews figured there was nothing wrong with them doing likewise. They could worship the YHWH the LORD on sabbath and the holidays, and any of the Baals the rest of the time. Pagans believe different gods specialize in different things, so if you need help with fighting Egypt and Amalek you definitely want the LORD on your side, but if you just need help with weather and crops, you’d go to Baal Hadad. For fishing and calm seas, Baal Dagon. For lots of children, Baala Astarte. Plus if you wanted to party, the Baals would let you get drunk or stoned, and have ritual sex with temple prostitutes… so the LORD had that to compete with. (Still kinda does.)

In this, I admit I gotta agree with the non-trinitarians.

Hey, if we’re gonna emphasize any of God’s attributes, we should stick with the ones he emphasizes. And God’s oneness is most definitely one of his favorites. The LORD is One. Any other beings which we call gods, no matter how mighty they might be, are nowhere remotely close to the same level as the LORD in power, holiness, goodness, benevolence, love, and rightness. We’re instructed to worship no other god but him, Ex 20.3 and that’s absolutely right. One God. Period.

So yeah, bible never makes mention of a trinity, or flat-out tells us God’s a trinity. But like I said, we deduced he is from the bible. And no, we didn’t quote a lot of verses out of context to come up with the idea of trinity; they’re absolutely in context. Jesus is God, Jn 1.1 the Holy Spirit is God, Ac 5.3-4 and Jesus’s Father is God, Jn 8.54 so… we got three people who are the One God. You don’t have to use the word “trinity” to find the trinity in the bible.

2. The doctrine of the trinity isn’t in the bible.

Non-trinitarians will likewise point out the doctrine of the trinity—the explanation ancient Christians came up with to say what, at the very least, trinity is—isn’t in the bible either. Nowhere does it say how God’s a trinity.

The ancient Christian doctrine basically states the following about God:

  • He’s a trinity: One God, three people/persons.
  • The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. None are lesser gods, created gods, nor subordinate gods. The Father didn’t make the Son and Holy Spirit. The Father only begot the Son, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father (and the Son, among western Christians).
  • The people aren’t interchangeable with one another. Father isn’t Son; Son isn’t Spirit; Spirit isn’t Father.
  • The people of the trinity are not greater nor lesser than one another. They are worshiped and glorified together, and equally.
  • God is one οὐσία/usía, “substance, essence, the substrata underlying all process and change in nature, being.” Not three usías.
  • God the Father, in contrast, is an ὑπόστασις/ypóstasis, “substance, essence, foundation, person.” As is the Son and Holy Spirit. God is three ypóstaseis, not one.

To non-trinitarians, these statements are wholly unnecessary; there is no trinity, just One God. And where’s the biblical basis for saying God is three ypóstaseis in one usía? Or that the people aren’t interchangeable? Or that they’re co-equal?—’cause Jesus regularly submitted to his Father, and doesn’t this make it look like they’re not equal?

Again, I’ll concede to the non-trinitarians that yeah, the scriptures say nothing about three ypóstaseis in one usía. Plus, these Greek words are very close synonyms to one another; it’s kinda like saying “three felines, one cat.” What, are you trying to make it sound even more like a paradox?

Actually yeah, the ancient Christians were. Because they were okay with trinity being a paradox. We oughta learn to be okay with it too. Non-trinitarians don’t bother.

But parts of this doctrine do come from bible, ’cause it’s all based on bible. Jesus is regularly described as the only-begotten son of God, Jn 3.16 so defining the difference between the Father and Son as “one begets, the other’s begotten,” is wholly valid. Same with the Spirit proceeding from the Father. Jn 15.26 The doctrine isn’t trying to make any further, more complicated distinctions; begetting and proceeding is plenty.

3. Jesus appears subordinate to God.

Non-trinitarians love to point out how Jesus describes God as his Father. Jn 20.17 The Father is the One True God, Jn 17.3 and Jesus submits himself, and seeks the will of, this God. To them, God being subordinate to God doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Likewise there are plenty of verses in the New Testament where the Father isn’t called “God the Father,” nor “the Father”—he’s simply “God.” And there’s only one God… and then there’s Jesus. Who’s Lord, 1Co 8.6 but the authors of scripture don’t usually and consistently describe him as God. Jesus is described as sitting by God’s throne, not on it. He 12.2 Or standing at God’s right hand. Ac 7.55 So to non-trinitarians, there’s God, and there’s Jesus… and Jesus looks like someone who’s not so much God.

Okay, that’s fair. The scriptures aren’t so much about Jesus’s divinity, as they are about how the only way to accurately know God is through Jesus. Jn 14.8 But the scriptures do affirm Jesus’s divinity, Pp 2.5-6 and state he’s highly exalted above every other name. Pp 2.9-11 The Son is king of God’s kingdom, He 1.8 lord of all creation, and should be worshiped as God, same as his Father.

Any apparent subordination was only because Jesus became human—“and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself.” Pp 2.8 KJV When Jesus found himself in our situation, he did as we should. Now that Jesus is in a new situation, at God’s right hand, he no longer has to behave that way. But because the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, of course they’re gonna submit their plans to one another. Jn 3.35, 5.20 They’re never gonna go against one another. They’re One. Jn 10.30

4. The Johannine Comma isn’t in the original 1 John.

There’s a verse certain Christians love to quote, which “proves” the trinity:

1 John 5.7 KJV
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Problem is, this is a variant which scholars call “the Johannine Comma.” (In Greek, a κόμμᾰ/kómma is a snippet; a short clause.) This particular snippet isn’t found in the earliest copies we have of 1 John. What the early copies have instead is—

1 John 5.7 NASB
For there are three that testify:

—and that’s it. Some overeager scribe, wanting to insert the trinity into the bible, did it, and it got added to the Textus Receptus and King James Version. But it’s not legitimately what John wrote.

Since this variant has been debunked, non-trinitarians figure the whole idea of the trinity is therefore also debunked. Which is like figuring one typo in the dictionary means you’d better throw out the whole dictionary.

I don’t even use the Johannine Comma to prove God’s a trinity. Never have. Far easier to explain, “Jesus is a person; his Father’s another person; the Holy Spirit’s yet another person; all these people are described as God. And yet there’s one God.” With appropriate proof texts to back up their personhood and godhood—and that there’s one God. Does the job way more effectively than saying, “According to 1 John 5.7, the Father, Word, and Spirit are one.” Okay fine, but now you have to explain how they’re different people, and you haven’t done that. Me, I’d much rather start with that.

5. Trinity is a paradox, and God doesn’t do paradoxes.

This is the argument I hear the most from non-trinitarians: God would never require his people to believe something which isn’t logical, rational, nor believable. He’d never ask us Christians to believe something so on-its-face contradictory as 3 = 1. It makes us sound like we have no respect for reality and reason.

And yeah, that is a risk—that we’re gonna sound mad, and that non-trinitarians are gonna mock us for believing it. Kinda like they already do.

But it’s false to say God doesn’t do paradoxes. False to say God can’t do the unbelievable. False to say God can’t be unbelievable, like transcend time and space, or have no limits to his knowledge and power (other than the ones he puts on himself, of course). False to say, because he only grants us partial knowledge for now and tells us to trust him, God would never require his people to believe something which we perceive as illogical or irrational.

A paradox may be something we can’t wholly understand or figure out… and that’s okay. It’s okay for God to appear paradoxical! If we can’t figure out how God is both one and three, scientists aren’t doing any better in explaining how light is both a wave and particle. Doesn’t stop ’em from doing cool things with light. Shouldn’t stop us from doing cool things with God.

So, there’s the non-trinitarian point of view. If any non-trinitarians have any other arguments you use, please let me know. (Not that I’m naïvely expecting to argue you out of your beliefs, but I wanna make sure I get your view—and the trinitarian view—right.)