Trinitarianism has long championed the formula that there is “one being in three persons”, arguing that an important distinction exists between “being” and “person” in respect to God and the trinity. Without this distinction, we are told there is no understanding the orthodox doctrine of the trinity. Here, I want to ask some questions about this important subject, that trinitarians should be able to provide good answers for. If good answers do not exist, then I suggest that this indicates the falsehood of the doctrine of the trinity.

Individual, or Generic Being?

Is the being of God an individual being, or a generic being? That is, is this single being an individual, concrete entity, or is this being an abstract, impersonal nature, such as can be shared by many individuals? An example of the former is an individual man; the latter, human nature, the set of properties which define an individual as being human.

For Those Who Answered ‘Individual Being’:

To those who answer that the being is individual, I ask:

Firstly, are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each this one individual as each being a distinct part of the whole being, or is each person equal to the entire individual being?

If one answers that each person is only a part of this one being, then they are a partialist, not a trinitarian, and these questions are not aimed at them; I would ask them only how it can be that the Father is repeatedly equated to the whole one God (Jn 17:3, Eph 4:6, 1 Cor 8:6), if He is only the third part of the one God?

If one answers that each person is equal to the entirety of this one individual being, then I must ask how the three persons are three persons, and not all one another? That is, if each of the three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, each are the whole individual divine being, then it must follow that each person is each other, must it not? For if A=C, and B=C, then it follows necessarily that A=B; and so, must it not be true, by this sound logic, that the Father will be the Son, and the Son the Spirit, and the Spirit the Father? If this is so, the I must ask in what sense there are three persons at all, inasmuch as if three things are numerically identical to each other, they are not numerically three things at all, but only one thing? Will this not make the whole Trinity one person who is called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

I further ask, is this one individual being impersonal, or personal?

If the being is impersonal, then this one being cannot be the YHVH presented in the Old Testament scriptures, can it? For YHVH is always presented as personal: speaking and hearing, knowing, seeing, loving and hating, acting, reasoning, etc; how can an impersonal being do all these things? Is such an impersonal divine being ever mentioned in the Bible?

If then it is answered that this one being is a personal being, then I will simply ask, is there any term we have to denote a personal being? Surely the word ‘person’ denotes just this; how then is this being, which is supposed to be a thing categorically distinct from ‘persons’, not itself a person? Wouldn’t this overthrow the entire person-being distinction within the trinity, making the trinity one person in three persons, which is an obvious falsehood as it is a contradiction?

Perhaps a trinitarian will answer that the being is a person according to the normal meaning of the term ‘person’, but the three “persons” of Father, Son, and Spirit are not really “persons” according to the normal definition of the term ‘person’, but are something else, and thus there is no contradiction; I will ask what they are then? Are they modes of manifestation, or of subsistence? Are they mere causal relations? Are they just a part of a person, like a center of consciousness? Whatever they are, if they are not ‘persons’ according to the actual meaning of the word ‘person’, then why bother calling them persons at all? Is this not deceptive? Would it not be more honest and clear to simply call them three modes, or three subsistent relations, or three consciousnesses, of this is what they are actually believed to be?

If the belief actually held is that God is one person with three modes or personalities, is this not modalism, rather than trinitarianism?

If the actual belief is that there is one person in which there are three consciousnesses, modes, or causal relations, then why not make this your formula, instead of using the formula “one being in three persons”? Why keep using this orthodox trinitarian language, if it does not represent what you believe? Would this equivocation not seem to present one as a lying modalist, who simply does not want to be called a modalist while in fact they are one?

Finally, I will ask, is not the proper definition of a person ‘a rational individual being’? If this is admitted, then is it not an obvious contradiction to say that one individual being is three rational individual beings? Would this not mean that, when ‘person’ is used according to its normal meaning, that there must always be a 1:1 being-person ratio, when by ‘being’ we mean individual being? For instance, is there any discernible difference between a human being and a human person?

For Those Who Answered ‘Generic Being’:

To those who answer that the one being which is in three persons is a generic being, a nature, I ask:

Is this nature the one God, or is the one God one person of the Trinity, the Father?

To the one who responds that this nature is itself the one God, I ask:

If the nature, which is an abstract and impersonal set of properties, is the one God, then isn’t the one God impersonal? Can such a belief in an impersonal God be reconciled with the Bible, which speaks of the one God as personal? The one God, YHVH, speaks and hears, acts, loves, hates, lives, knows, and is always portrayed as a rational and personal being- how then can one say that YHVH is an impersonal nature?

To the one who responds that the one God is one person of the Trinity, the Father, I ask:

What reason do we have to think that the one God has a nature? Perhaps some reference to a “divine nature” in the Bible will be referenced as proof; but I then ask, how do we know that this is not a mere anthropomorphism, like so much other language in scripture which applies human and bodily characteristics to God in a strictly figurative sense? Do we actually have any biblical basis for supposing that within God, as within us, there is a true distinction between person and nature, individual and universal?

If this difficulty can be overcome, then I ask how can this nature be shared by three distinct individuals, when scripture tells us that the one God is unique, having none alike to Him, and is incomparably greater than all (Isa 46:5, Job 23:13, Ps 40:5)? How will YHVH be unique, with none his equal, as the scripture says, if He is actually one of three of a kind, having two others who are exactly identical to Him in all essential properties?

I will also ask, how can there be three infinite persons? For infinitude is always said to be one of the properties included in the divine nature; how then can multiple individuals possess this nature, when, according to the very nature of things, there can only be one infinite? Is not the property of infinitude (like so many other attributes of God) such that it may only be possessed by one person? And if this is so, then would this not prove that even if God has a nature as distinct from His person, that this nature is incommunicable?

I will also ask how a person who shares the nature of God could become incarnate and take on a second nature, a human nature, when one property of the divine nature is immutability? Now a nature, being a set of properties, has no concrete existence in itself, but simply defines the qualities of an individual entity, such as a person. Therefore, whatever properties are proper to a nature, must characterize the individual person who possesses that nature; and therefore, to have a nature of which one property is immutability, must mean that the person possessing the nature is himself immutable. How then, if the Son possessed the same nature as the Father, and is therefore a person characterized by being unchanging, can he have taken on a human nature which he did not previously possess, without changing? Is there any reasonable definition of ‘change’ which could allow an individual to go from having only one set of ontological properties, to then having an additional set of ontological properties which he did not previously possess, and not count this as a change to that individual? How can one go from not being human, to being human, without changing?

If this generic being, as a nature, is shared among the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then how can we understand the Son to possess this nature, when He has become a man, adopting another set of ontological properties in addition to those he previously possessed? What keeps these two sets of properties in Christ distinct, as two sets of properties, two natures, rather than one? After all, it is confessed that the person of Christ is only one individual who possesses each of these natures- if then each nature exists not in two distinct entities, but in the very same individual, why are they not simply counted as one set of properties, as one nature? When we assess the nature of any individual creature, we ascertain its nature by seeing what set of properties that individual possesses, do we not? And the sum of all the definitive ontological properties that any creature possesses, are its nature, are they not? Why then do we not look at the one individual person, the incarnate Jesus Christ, and do the same, seeing him as having one nature encompassing all the ontological properties he has in common with both God and with man? On what basis may these two sets of properties be said to remain two sets, when they both exist in one and the same individual? And if they are only one set (since no individuating principle can be found to make them two distinct sets), then wouldn’t the Son only actually possess one nature, which is neither identical to that of God, nor to that of man? Or all that to say, how can one mix red paint and blue paint together in one can, and claim that this can of paint is dual-colored, having both red and blue paint, rather than purple?

If the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same natural properties, including invisibility (for the Father is plainly declared to be invisible many times), then why do trinitarians say that Jesus was seen prior to his incarnation as the angel of the LORD, and as the “word of the LORD”? How can Jesus be a “visible YHVH” as compared to the Father as the “invisible YHVH”, if the Son shares the Father’s nature, and with it, the attribute of invisibility?

If the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same natural properties, including omniscience, then why did no one but the Father know the day or hour of the Son’s return? If the Son knew from one nature but not the other, then as a person possessing both natures, how did he still not know, based on his divine nature? Does this not indicate that Jesus did not possess any nature which has the quality of being omniscient, or else he would have known? Perhaps one will say that this can be explained by the incarnation somehow- very well, then why did the Holy Spirit, who was not incarnate, also not know the day or hour of Christ’s return, if he possesses the same omniscient nature as the Father? For the passage says that no one knew but the Father alone, necessarily excluding all other persons.

Finally, if the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three individuals sharing one universal nature or property which is Godhood, then how are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not three Gods? Notwithstanding that the Father is unique as the uncaused Cause and Fountain of divinity, and that He alone is Most High, having authority over even the Son and Spirit, must there not still be at least one sense, (viz, according to nature or essence) in which the three persons constitute three Gods, even if in some other senses (viz, according to causation and authority) there is only one God, the Father?

Conclusion

All in all, I’ve asked a lot of questions here. But I’m convinced they are good questions, worth answering. More than that, I am convinced that hidden in the answers to these questions is the reality that the trinity is false, and no attempt to avoid criticism by distinguishing between persons and being can save it. The Bible does not present us with such a convoluted mess of fine distinctions to try to figure out Who God is- rather it tells us plainly that He is one, YHVH, God Almighty, the God of Israel. This God is clearly one person, one rational individual being- and He is Father to another rational individual being (that is, another person), His Son, the man Jesus Christ our Lord.

One comment

  1. Hi Andrew. Since Alex asked me to comment on this, I’ll just give my answers in a sort of dogmatic way (i.e., not trying to argue for then, just stating them. And apologies if, for this reason, I sound curt, which I don’t mean to.)

    1. Generic being

    2. The One God is the Father, not the divine nature / generic being

    3. What reason do we have to think God has a nature? Because He exists, and everything that exists is something-or-other, otherwise what would it even mean to say that it “is” (exists)?

    But furthermore, even if it were meaningful and possible (two big assumptions) for something to *be* without being anything in particular, it isn’t clear that it would matter, since clearly at least all created, non-god things have natures. To say that the Son and Spirit have the same nature as the Father is just to say the nature of the Son = the nature of the Father, etc. So, if the nature of the Father = the empty set, we would just have the result that the nature of the Son = the empty set, and it would have the same practical import. It just isn’t obvious how saying that the divine nature = the empty set would result in any kind of problem.

    And again, that’s assuming that it makes sense to say that there is something that has no nature. Here is just another wrinkle. Surely it is not possible for God to not know something, or for God to try to do something, but fail. That seems to mean that He is *by nature* all-knowing and *by nature* all-powerful. So, even if we can’t fully spell out *what* His nature is — and as an Eastern Orthodox, you don’t need to convince me of *that*! — it certainly seems that omniscience and omnipotence are aspects of His nature.

    As far as the distinction between God’s essence and existence, as an Orthodox, I certainly would affirm that the divine nature is in some sense simple, but the more extreme, Western view of divine simplicity you are suggesting seems neither Biblical, nor even intelligible, at least to my mind.

    4. “If this difficulty can be overcome, then I ask how can this nature be shared by three distinct individuals, when scripture tells us that the one God is unique, having none alike to Him, and is incomparably greater than all (Isa 46:5, Job 23:13, Ps 40:5)? How will YHVH be unique, with none his equal, as the scripture says, if He is actually one of three of a kind, having two others who are exactly identical to Him in all essential properties?”

    God the Father is unique (and greater than everything else), because only He is *a se* or *uncaused*. Nothing else in the universe is. (But causation is a relation, not an intrinsic (monadic) quality. So, it isn’t part of a “nature.”)
    1) Necessary, Uncaused beings = God (the Father) (and nothing else)
    2) Necessary, but Caused beings = the Son and Spirit (and nothing else)
    3) Contingent beings = you, me, angels, rocks, trees, everything else.

    5. “I will also ask, how can there be three infinite persons? For infinitude is always said to be one of the properties included in the divine nature; how then can multiple individuals possess this nature, when, according to the very nature of things, there can only be one infinite?”

    I don’t see how this is according to the very nature of things. Why couldn’t there be three infinite persons?

    “Is not the property of infinitude (like so many other attributes of God) such that it may only be possessed by one person?”

    It at least isn’t immediately obvious to me why that would be so.

    6. “I will also ask how a person who shares the nature of God could become incarnate and take on a second nature, a human nature, when one property of the divine nature is immutability? Now a nature, being a set of properties, has no concrete existence in itself, but simply defines the qualities of an individual entity, such as a person. Therefore, whatever properties are proper to a nature, must characterize the individual person who possesses that nature; and therefore, to have a nature of which one property is immutability, must mean that the person possessing the nature is himself immutable. How then, if the Son possessed the same nature as the Father, and is therefore a person characterized by being unchanging, can he have taken on a human nature which he did not previously possess, without changing? Is there any reasonable definition of ‘change’ which could allow an individual to go from having only one set of ontological properties, to then having an additional set of ontological properties which he did not previously possess, and not count this as a change to that individual? How can one go from not being human, to being human, without changing?

    If this generic being, as a nature, is shared among the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then how can we understand the Son to possess this nature, when He has become a man, adopting another set of ontological properties in addition to those he previously possessed? What keeps these two sets of properties in Christ distinct, as two sets of properties, two natures, rather than one? After all, it is confessed that the person of Christ is only one individual who possesses each of these natures- if then each nature exists not in two distinct entities, but in the very same individual, why are they not simply counted as one set of properties, as one nature? When we assess the nature of any individual creature, we ascertain its nature by seeing what set of properties that individual possesses, do we not? And the sum of all the definitive ontological properties that any creature possesses, are its nature, are they not? Why then do we not look at the one individual person, the incarnate Jesus Christ, and do the same, seeing him as having one nature encompassing all the ontological properties he has in common with both God and with man? On what basis may these two sets of properties be said to remain two sets, when they both exist in one and the same individual? And if they are only one set (since no individuating principle can be found to make them two distinct sets), then wouldn’t the Son only actually possess one nature, which is neither identical to that of God, nor to that of man? Or all that to say, how can one mix red paint and blue paint together in one can, and claim that this can of paint is dual-colored, having both red and blue paint, rather than purple?”

    All of this seems to me to really be about christology, and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with triadology as such. I’m not saying it isn’t important. But it’s pretty clearly just a different subject. To see why, consider that there are Nestorians and Monophysites who affirm the doctrine of the Trinity (at least Monarchical Trinitarianism), but would not affirm that Christ is one hypostasis with two natures. Again, I’m not saying that christological dispute isn’t important. It’s just that it doesn’t really have to do with the doctrine of the Trinity directly. IMHO, honestly, BU’s would do better to just drop the talk about the Trinity, and maybe even the label “Unitarian” (which sounds like it’s supposed to be opposed to “Trinitarian”) and just focus on christology. Maybe even adopt a different label that makes it clear that the real issue isn’t actually about the Trinity at all, but just about the incarnation and the nature of Christ.

    7. “If the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same natural properties, including invisibility (for the Father is plainly declared to be invisible many times), then why do trinitarians say that Jesus was seen prior to his incarnation as the angel of the LORD, and as the “word of the LORD”? How can Jesus be a “visible YHVH” as compared to the Father as the “invisible YHVH”, if the Son shares the Father’s nature, and with it, the attribute of invisibility?”

    “Invisibility” can be predicated as an intrinsic quality (e.g., air is invisible, dirt is visible). But it can also be predicated as a relation (e.g., someone asks a sniper, concerning an enemy who is moving, “Is the target visible?” The sniper responds, “the target is no longer visible.” That doesn’t mean he’s invisible like the invisible man. It just means he is bearing a certain relation to the sniper, and probably a relation to some kind of barrier, like a wall, such that he can’t be seen given those circumstances.)

    Consider what we might call the metaphysics of holiness in the Bible. Note that what the KJV typically translates as “Most Holy” is literally “Holy of Holies,” the same as the word for the inner sanctum of the temple. Note that whatever is “Most Holy” (Holy-of-Holies) is not only Holy itself, but *causes* other things to be holy things.

    Exodus 29:37 “Seven days thou shalt make an atonement for the altar, and sanctify it; and it shall be a **Most Holy** altar: **whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy**.”

    Exodus 30:29 “And thou shalt sanctify them, that they may be **Most Holy**: **whatsoever toucheth them shall be holy**.”

    Leviticus 6:17-18 “It shall not be baken with leaven. I have given it unto them for their portion of my offerings made by fire; it is **Most Holy**, as is the sin offering, and as the trespass offering. All the males among the children of Aaron shall eat of it. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations concerning the offerings of the LORD made by fire: **every one that toucheth them shall be holy**.”

    Leviticus 6:25-27 “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the sin offering: in the place where the burnt offering is slain the sin offering shall be slain before the LORD; it is **Most Holy**. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. It shall be eaten in a holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting. **Anyone who touches its flesh will become consecrated**…”

    Consider the myth of King Midas, who turns everything he touches to gold, which sounds awesome, except now he can no longer touch his daughter without killing her. God forbid there were no barriers between King Midas and everything else in the world. Or worse yet, what if the Midas Touch not only caused things to take on the intrinsic *nature* of gold, but also caused them to take on *the causal power* to turn other things to gold? It would follow that everything in the world would turn to gold. Not something we want. Because some things aren’t gold and we don’t want them to be.

    Likewise some things aren’t holy and we don’t want them to be (consider, sometimes you need to use the bathroom. Would you want to use a page from the bible as toilet paper? Probably not.)

    Ezekiel 44:19 “And when they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers. And they shall put on other garments, **lest they transmit holiness to the people with their garments**.”

    So, according to what appears to be the biblical metaphysics of holiness, we have:
    1) what is Holy-of-Holies, a category of things that are not only holy, but *cause* the things they touch to be holy.
    2) regular, garden-variety holy things. These are still holy. Just because they don’t cause other things to become holy doesn’t mean they aren’t themselves holy. They just don’t *cause* other things to become holy.
    3) non-holy things.

    Why bring up the metaphysics of holiness?

    Suppose God (the Father) is not only divine, but causes the things He “touches” to be divine. That may not be something we would want, or could survive, without being sinless. “Our God is a consuming fire.” At least in the Orthodox tradition, the thought is that Heaven and Hell are not objectively different states of affairs, but that God Himself is experienced as light and warmth by the saints (like, e.g., Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), but as a consuming fire by the sinner (e.g., the Babylonians).

    I can’t go into detail explaining and defending the view right here. But the point is that it may be that the Father’s unique causal property means He cannot come into direct “contact” with anything created. Then it would be His (relational) property of causing divinity (being the “Most High” and “God-of-gods”) that prevents Him from coming into direct “contact” with created things — not His (monadic) property of being divine. (In just the same way that, a thing that is “Most Holy” / “Holy-of-holies”) needs to be kept away from certain things, but because of its relational / causal feature of *transmitting* holiness, not because of its monadic / intrinsic property of holiness itself.)

    If that’s so, then the Father would be “invisible” due to His personal (relational) property, rather than His generic essence.

    Again, I can’t take the time right here to defend the view, but am just stating it to make the point that — even if someone doesn’t accept it — it isn’t contradictory or impossible.

    8. “If the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same natural properties, including omniscience, then why did no one but the Father know the day or hour of the Son’s return? If the Son knew from one nature but not the other, then as a person possessing both natures, how did he still not know, based on his divine nature? Does this not indicate that Jesus did not possess any nature which has the quality of being omniscient, or else he would have known? Perhaps one will say that this can be explained by the incarnation somehow- very well, then why did the Holy Spirit, who was not incarnate, also not know the day or hour of Christ’s return, if he possesses the same omniscient nature as the Father? For the passage says that no one knew but the Father alone, necessarily excluding all other persons.”

    Without getting into two-minds christology or anything, I’m just not convinced that the Son doesn’t know the day or the hour in the first place. The passage is not in John at all, and the synoptics differ in ways that make me doubt this is the right interpretation.

    In Mark (probably written first), it *could* be translated as “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, except the Father” (which is the standard translation). But it could also be read as, essentially, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, if not [for] the Father.” I.e., it can be read as just meaning that the Son’s knowledge of the day and the hour is *contingent upon* the Father (which makes sense from a monarchical Trinitarian perspective). It depends on whether you take “ei mh,” literally “if not” to mean “except” (which it does often mean, although it doesn’t make much sense in this context) or its literal meaning “if not” and take the last clause to be sort of hypothetical. So, Mark is a little ambiguous.

    In Matthew (probably written next), at least in the Byzantine majority text (which I prefer over any of the reconstructed versions), the text has been changed from the ambiguous construction in Mark, to “the Father alone,” which would then not be ambiguous, except that at the same time the reference to the Son has been deleted (at least, again, if you go with the Byzantine majority text, which I do). So, why, when Matthew makes the grammar around the Father more clear, does he delete the reference to the Son?

    In Luke (probably written next), the whole verse has just been deleted. Why?

    To me, this says that people were already misinterpreting this verse (in just the way that they do today), and so Matthew deleted the reference to the Son, and ultimately Luke just cut it out of his version altogether.

    In any case, even if one isn’t convinced by the same considerations as I am, I think these verses are *at best* none too clear. Or at least not *as* clear as statements like:

    John 16:30, “Now we are sure that thou knowest all things” and
    John 21:17, “Peter… said unto him, ‘Lord, thou knowest all things’…”

    Those verses are pretty hard to square with the idea that Jesus, in fact, does *not* know all things.

    9. “Finally, if the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three individuals sharing one universal nature or property which is Godhood, then how are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not three Gods? Notwithstanding that the Father is unique as the uncaused Cause and Fountain of divinity, and that He alone is Most High, having authority over even the Son and Spirit, must there not still be at least one sense, (viz, according to nature or essence) in which the three persons constitute three Gods, even if in some other senses (viz, according to causation and authority) there is only one God, the Father?”

    No, for multiple reasons. I will just give the simplest here, though, to save myself some time typing (sorry! it’s just late, and this is getting long.)

    The word “god” does not mean “a being with the same nature as God the Father.” (You’ve made this point yourself in some posts about Isaac Newton. Gregory of Nyssa cites numerous scriptural examples on this point, and you can find all of that in my dissertation. “The gods of the gentiles are demons,” the Witch of Endor “saw gods” when she brought up Samuel. “God stands in the congregation of the gods.” “The Lord executed judgment on all the gods of Egypt,” etc. None of these gods had the divine nature, the same nature as God the Father. So “god” must not mean “being with the divine nature.”) So, the inference directly from three beings of the same nature as God to three gods is not sound.

    Here’s an analogy. At least at one point, in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Yoda is apparently the only Jedi Master. Suppose we found out that Yoda had a son who is the spittin’ image of Yoda. Maybe his name is Bob. So, there is the One Jedi Master (Yoda), and the Son of the Jedi Master (Bob). It doesn’t follow that there are two Jedi Masters. There could be. It’s just a separate question.

    A better analogy might be a king. He could have a son, who, like all sons, is of the same nature as himself. That doesn’t mean there’s more than one king. In fact, he could actually give his son power of attorney, if he wanted to, and share his power with his son. But there wouldn’t be more than one king, even though there would be a being with exactly the same qualities and (in relation to us, at least) the same authority.

    OK, I think that’s all for now. Apologies again if anything about the tone in this post is offensive, or if I’ve left any typos or blank spots I meant to go back and fill in later. I just wanted to get this done before I went to sleep.

    Take care,

    Beau

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