There seems to be something of a divide within Eastern Orthodoxy today on one of the most fundamental issues of the faith- the identity of the one God. Many Eastern Orthodox theologians and laypeople believe that the one God is tri-personal or triune, comprised of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together in a single being. Others, however, following an older tradition, have embraced a triadology that is fundamentally unitarian, believing in the one God as only a single person, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus; in their view, the Son and Holy Spirit share a generic nature with this one God, but are numerically distinct from Him. The Eastern Orthodox call this idea that the one God is only one person, the Father, ‘the Monarchy of the Father’ and don’t like the ‘unitarian’ label- but disputes over wording aside, it’s the same idea.
The history behind this divide is a long one, stemming ultimately from what some Eastern Orthodox have called a “patristic renaissance” in the last few centuries, in which many Eastern Orthodox have sought to return to their roots by going back to the Greek Church fathers for instruction. Prior to this the Eastern Orthodox Churches experienced several centuries of oppression by Muslim rulers which lead many EO clerics to get their training in western seminaries, often giving their theology a bit more of a western tint. The ‘patristic renaissance’ ostensibly serves to correct this some, and to reground Eastern Orthodox thinking back in their own unique heritage. The result has been that some have rediscovered ‘the Monarchy of the Father’ among those ancient writings, and now there is a significant push to bring this doctrine back into the spotlight in Eastern Orthodox triadology.
Trinitarianism (the belief in a triune God) has been deemed by the proponents of the Monarchy of the Father as an invention of the Latin church, the result of serious misunderstanding of orthodox and creedal triadology, while in their view, the Greek churches faithfully upheld Monarchian Triadology at least into the time of Photius I in the ninth century. In other words, they see trinitarianism (the belief that the one God is triune) as a uniquely western error, developing in the late fourth century, that was not accepted by the Eastern churches generally. Others such as myself, and more notably, Dr. Dale Tuggy, have argued that while the doctrine of a triune God is indeed a late doctrinal development coming at the end of the fourth century, it is not a uniquely western error. Dr. Tuggy argues persuasively in his most recent paper that from the end of the fourth century the doctrine of a triune God had proponents in the East, among the most influential bishops of the time, such as Gregory Nazianzen. For political reasons this doctrine was not expressly affirmed at the council of 1 Constantinople in 381, but can be found in several eastern sources well before Photius I, as Dr. Tuggy outlines in his paper.
I recently became aware of an additional source showing this, and wanted to share it here. There was an Eastern bishop active in the late sixth and early seventh century named Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who wrote an encyclical letter detailing, among other things, what he regards as the orthodox understanding of the Trinity. In it, he speaks clearly of the one God as the entire Trinity- that is, a triune or tri-personal God:
“Nor as the one God is a Trinity and is recognized and proclaimed as three hypostases and worshipped as three persons, Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, is he said to be contracted or compounded or confused, that is, by coalescing himself into one hypostasis and combining [himself] into one person that cannot be numbered.” (Sophronius of Jerusalem and Seventh-Century Heresy, p. 77)
Notice that the one God is directly stated to be a trinity of three persons, that is, a single ‘tri-personal God’. The one God that is described as a trinity here is also a single “he” and “himself”, further solidifying that the one God here is presented as an individual, not merely a generic nature shared by three individuals. Put in more technical terms, the unity of being ascribed to the Trinity here is an individual/numerical consubstantiality, not a generic consubstantiality.
“The Arians’ impiety divides the one God into unequal gods and partitions the one Godhead into dissimilar godheads, and separates the one lordship into three heterogeneous lordships.” (ibid, p. 77)
This criticism of Arianism only makes sense in a context where the one God is regarded as the entire Trinity together, rather than the person of the Father in particular. The Arians are said to divide the one God into unequal parts- that is, they make the three persons of the triad unequal and different. That means that it’s the triad, all three persons together, that are being spoken of as singly being the one God here.
“As, therefore, we have been taught to think of one God, so too we have received the tradition of confessing one Godhead; and just as we have learned to worship three hypostases, so too have we been instructed to glorify three persons, not acknowledging the one God apart from the three persons, nor understanding the three consubstantial persons in the Trinity -that is, Father, Son, Holy Spirit- as being distinct from the one God.” (ibid, p. 79)
At first this almost makes it sound like there’s a difference drawn between the one God and the one Godhead, but it rather seems to be the case that these are being equated- the belief in one God is articulated as belief in a single Godhead that exists as three persons. This is confirmed when we see him speak of hypostases and persons in a similarly confusing way, almost as if he is drawing a distinction between them- but obviously he is not. The one God for him just is the one Godhead that exists in three persons, and the three hypostases just are the three persons. The declaration that all three persons of the Trinity -Father, Son, and Spirit- cannot be understood as distinct from the one God is utterly incompatible with the Monarchy of the Father, in which the Son and Spirit are as distinct from the one God as they are from the Father, because in that view, the Father just is the one God.
The fact that one of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs in the early sixth century articulates the doctrine of the Trinity this way is a death-blow for the view that the doctrine of a triune God was a purely western mistake, not embraced by the Eastern churches. A Greek Patriarch in Jerusalem speaks the same way Augustine and the Roman Popes speak in the West. But, there’s more- this letter was also accepted by Pope Agathos I, in an official capacity:
“We have also examined the synodal letter of Sophronius of holy memory, some time Patriarch of the Holy City of Christ our God, Jerusalem, and have found it in accordance with the true faith and with the Apostolic teachings, and with those of the holy approved Fathers. Therefore we have received it as orthodox and as salutary to the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and have decreed that it is right that his name be inserted in the diptychs of the Holy Churches.”
That’s important because that letter by Pope Agathos I and his rulings in it -including the official reception and approbation of Sophrinius’ letter- was adopted by the so-called 6th ecumenical council, the 3rd council of Constantinople, later in the seventh century (see the acts of that council, including that letter, here).
This means that Patriarch Sophronius’ statements about one God who is three persons (a ‘triune God’), quoted above, end up not only expressing his own opinion, but are also part of the official canonical teaching of an ecumenical council, the rulings of which are considered binding upon the Eastern Orthodox churches. This lays waste to the notion that the doctrine of a tri-personal God was limited to the Latin church while the Greek churches kept themselves clean from it; it’s on the books for both, by way of the ruling of an ecumenical council.
This has lots of implications for the Eastern Orthodox church. It means that they did (like the Roman church) experience a development of doctrine in which they changed from a belief in the one God as being only a single person, the Father, to believing that the one God is a ‘triune God’ consisting of Father, Son, and Spirit together. Further it demonstrates that their conception of consubstantiality developed from a view of generic consubstantiality (a shared nature among three individuals) to an individual consubstantiality (where Father, Son, and Spirit are just the same individual). That doesn’t look very good for the claim that their views have not changed over time, nor does it comport well with the supposed infallibility of these “ecumenical” councils, since (as many modern EO like to point out) the earliest “ecumenical” council, Nicea, did not affirm this doctrine, but rather affirms the Monarchy of the Father/unitarianism. This reveals a serious conflict within Eastern Orthodox tradition itself, as the teachings of their bishops and councils disagree with each other.
Monarchian Trinitarianism states that if Jesus is really, truly, or properly God’s Son, this must entail the Son sharing a generic nature, genus, or species with God the Father, since this is the case in all generation that takes place within creation; men beget men, horses beget horses, and thus God must beget God. But while insisting that Jesus’ sonship to the Father must entail a shared nature because of the parallel with begetting in creation, they deny almost all other elements of generation of offspring that we see in creation, including all notions of corporeality, sexuality, and temporality.
Monarchian Trinitarians present their christology as being very simple and natural- just the plain, obvious meaning of what it means for Jesus to be God’s Son. Yet, this isn’t actually the case; really, they want to use only one aspect of human procreation, namely, that a son shares a nature/species with his father, and reject most other significant parallels, like the temporal implications that a father is prior to his offspring, or the corporeal and sexual connotations that accompany taking such language literally. This decision to say that some parallels with generation in creation must also be true in the case of God and His only-begotten Son, while freely disregarding others, seems totally arbitrary.
If the generation of the Son is literally the same as that of humans, then it must be bodily, sexual, and temporal, as well as communicate a species. But if we can say that three of those things cannot apply to God, because of how different God is from men (being incorporeal and eternal), then why not say the same for the fourth category, communication of a nature/species, as well? Monarchian Trinitarian views on the Son’s generation seem to arbitrarily pick one aspect of generation to apply to God and Jesus, while arbitrarily rejecting all others, with no scriptural or rational justification for these decisions.
One significant hidden assumption of Monarchian Trinitarianism that plays into this is the assumption that the one God has a kind, or species, like creatures do, which may be passed on to an offspring. But this assumption appears to have no greater warrant than assuming that God is corporeal, which Monarchian Trinitarians rightly reject. This hidden assumption that God has a nature He passes on to others should not be taken for granted, as it runs directly contrary to the scriptural revelation that God is incomparably greater than all; His greatness is not merely that he is, like Adam to mankind, the first of a given species, but He is rather said to have none like Him, none with whom He can be compared. This must certainly prove false if God has a Son which is essentiality identical to Him, the way Seth was to Adam.
But this notion that God has a species to be passed on by procreation is, at the end of the day, simply assuming that God is like men. Why would the one God, who has neither beginning nor end, and is unlike His creation, Who has no need for procreation, have a species or a nature to pass on to offspring? Certainly, a lot of philosophers and theologians have speculated that this is not the case. For instance, an important element of ‘classical’ Greco-Roman theism is that God is simple, meaning, He is uncompounded of parts and there exists no real distinction within Him between any one part of Him and another (because there are no such parts). If such a theory holds true, then it follows that God could not be divided into ‘person’ and ‘essence’, such that a distinction could exist within Him between that which constitutes His individual identity and that which constitutes His generic and sharable nature or species. Without such an internal distinction in God, eternal generation will be impossible; for without a distinction between God’s personal identity and God’s nature, it would not be possible for God to share the latter with His offspring while retaining the former exclusively to Himself. Either both would be shared, making the Son the same individual identity as the Father and thus no son at all, or else neither could be shared, since they are indistinguishable and inseparable, actually being one and the same thing within a truly simple being.
Of course, the idea that God is simple is more philosophical than biblical, and many have challenged it on rigorous philosophical and exegetical grounds. But even if the doctrine of divine simplicity is not correct, even the fact that it may exist as a possibility serves to illustrate the point that we aren’t justified in simply assuming that God has a nature or species or essence distinguishable from His person. While it certainly true that it is universal among creatures for a father to pass on a species to a son in procreation, there is no reason that the same must be so for God (just as we would say in respect to the corporeal, sexual, or temporal nature of creaturely generation). We must recall that God created various beings, men, and animals, to reproduce each after their kind, just as He made them male and female with the ability for sexual reproduction, and gave them bodies. All of these things are part of the way they are designed, and the reproductive aspects exist for the continuation of these species upon the death of their parents. But an immortal, eternal, uncreated, and incorporeal God has no need for any of these features, including a communicable species.
When we further consider how differences between God and His creatures might impact the possibility of God having and passing on a communicable species to a literal offspring of some sort, we find the idea appears quite improbable. Firstly, we must consider that if it is indeed necessary and proper to the Father to generate the Son, as Monarchian Trinitarians claim, then it would seem that this necessity to generate another would be quite essential to Him. If that is so, then when His essence is communicated to another, it would appear that it must include this necessity of begetting another; which should lead to the offspring likewise eternally generating another offspring, and so on and so on infinitely. This infinite chain of gods will result in far more than a trinity of persons. If the Father’s generation of the Son were merely a voluntary act of will (as such generation is with creatures), then we might well be able to imagine the process stopping, due to God’s willing it to, at only one Father and one Son. But since Monarchian Trinitarians deny that the Father’s generation is an act of will, and instead make it a necessary and eternal function of the Father, this solution will not be available to them.
Secondly, we must consider that there is no obvious sense in which all the “essential” attributes of God are communicable. Many a theologian and philosopher have argued convincingly that it is an impossibility for there to be more than one infinite entity, for example, making the property of infinitude incommunicable; but of course, the Father generating a Son that is equally infinite, makes two infinites. ‘Classical theism’ argues this is impossible according to the very nature of infinitude, but Monarchian Trinitarianism proposes exactly this anyway. Because humans were designed by God to have a communicable kind or species to pass on to their offspring, of course all essential human properties are communicable; but we have no reason to think this is the case with God, Who has properties (like infinitude) that are far different than those found in creatures.
In sum, then, we find that the “plain and simple” christology of Monarchian Trinitarianism is anything but that. There is nothing straightforward about insisting that God must father a son in exactly the same fashion as a man begets a son, and then turning around and denying almost all similarities between the two. There’s nothing ‘so simple a child can understand’ about the one God having a communicable species like men do that He passes on in the generation of the Son, while this generation is totally unlike that of men in so many other respects, that really, if anyone extends the analogy the slightest bit further, such as proposing that God is corporeal or that the generation is temporal, they are cast straight into the realm of heresy. A child would not make such distinctions so as to arbitrarily pick out co-essentiality from sonship while leaving aside all the other connotations sonship carries. We can’t say it’s a simple matter of looking at what a father-son relationship is in creation, and then go and say it isn’t really anything like the father-son relationships we see in creation. Yet this is precisely what many Monarchian Trinitarians appear to do.
We would do well to recall that the inspired writings of the Old Testament, which should provide our background for understanding the New, never present divine sonship as ontological; men like Solomon and David were called ‘the son of God’ as well as the future Messiah (who was always foretold to be a man, a descendant of David). Yet obviously David and Solomon are not eternally begotten by God, even though they’re each able to be plainly spoken of as God’s son. That’s because ‘son of God’ was a kingly title, indicating the position of Israel’s king as God’s ‘right hand’ ruler, himself subject to the God of Israel, but after Him exalted by God over the whole earth. Thus the coming Messiah was foretold to be, like David, God’s Son; not as being eternally begotten by God as some sort of identical clone of God, but as God’s specially appointed human king over the earth. When we look at what the scriptures mean by the title ‘son of God’, it becomes clear that there is in fact no implications of a shared nature or ontological generation from God at all.
‘Monarchian Trinitarianism’ is a view that has begun to gain some traction in recent years, especially among the Eastern Orthodox, largely as a result of going back to the fourth century pro-Nicene church fathers and learning from them. Church fathers like Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nyssa have been especially influential in modern articulation of this view. Monarchian trinitarians typically look to Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers’ controversial interpretations of the Nicene Creed as authoritative for catholic Christianity, and interpret the Bible through a lens of these fathers’ interpretive tradition.
The result is a good aggregate of the views of these fathers, who didn’t always agree with each other on the details or carry the same emphases. Monarchian trinitarians consider themselves ‘trinitarian’ because they believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three equally divine persons; however, they also believe that the one God is only one person, the Father. This doctrine is variously called either ‘unitarianism’ or ‘the monarchy of the Father’, but the basic idea is much the same; the one God and the only uncaused person is Father specifically out of the three persons.
In Monarchian Trinitarianism, however, the Father being the one God does not mean that the Father alone is divine or alone possesses the attributes of the one God, but rather that only the Father is uncaused. In all other respects, the Son and Spirit are taught to be equal and generically identical to the one God. The Son and Spirit are believed to be two distinct individual beings, or persons (not merely distinct personalities or modes), who bear this generic identicality to the one God because they are eternally, and each in a unique fashion, caused by the one God; the Son by means of generation, and the Spirit, in a markedly unimaginative use of language, by ‘spiration’.
But lest one reason that just as three persons with a human nature are three humans, the three persons of the monarchian trinity, sharing a divine nature, are three Gods, Monarchian Trinitarianism throws in a few more caveats to ostensibly solve the problem of having two too-many deities. Firstly, the Son and Holy Spirit are said to share the mind and will of God the Father. What’s meant by this is debatable; the question of whether this patristic language should be taken more along the lines of some sort of numerically singular hive-mind the three persons share, or if it should be taken as a generic identicality of will and mind (as in the case of the divine nature shared by the persons) seems unclear. But either way, the idea that you can’t count three minds and three wills is thought to help prevent us from being able to count three Gods. Additionally, Monarchian Trinitarianism teaches that all three persons perform all actions performed toward creation together in a single token action. That means not simply that the three cooperatively perform actions together, but that somehow, while being three distinct individuals, they each do the exact same thing, in the most specific sense imaginable. What prevents the simple fact that the persons are individuated from each other by the fact that they are three individual beings (hypostases) in the first place from making this joint non-individuated performance of single token actions impossible? Good question, but one to which this author has found no good answer.
What are we left with then, overall, from this doctrine? That what makes the one God special and makes Him the one and only God is not that He alone is divine, nor His special attributes like omniscience, omnipotence, and immutability, but merely the fact that He is the uncaused original amid what are effectively two clones -two other beings produced from Him which are identical to Him in every way, and just as old as Him, while being distinct individuals from Him. These two clones think what He thinks and want what He wants, and act with Him in every action; but the Son and Spirit in this system are by all account no different in any meaningful way than if God had two clones.
The obvious problem with this is, how does this not make three Gods? If human cloning were a reality, a man and his two clones would not be one man, but three men. And no matter how absolutely generically identical they might be in attributes and characteristics, they will always be distinguishable from one another as three men by the fact that each is a distinct individual human being from the others; they are, to put it in church-father language, three hypostases. So long as having a human nature makes you human, then no matter how identical this man and his two clones are, and no matter how much they pal around together and do the same stuff and think the same way, they shall always remain three men. So likewise if there is any sense in which a person having a divine nature makes them God -which is exactly the sense in which pro-Nicene church fathers like Hilary of Poitiers and Basil of Caesarea said the Son and Spirit were God- then the three persons of Father, Son, and Spirit all having a divine nature will make them three Gods. One of these persons being the uncaused original and the other two being carbon-copies of that original makes little difference here; three individuals of the human nature remain three men, and three individuals of the divine nature would be three Gods.
The fact that this view is in a very real sense tritheism is one of the greatest obstacles this view faces. But lets’ suppose for sake of argument, for a moment, that this tritheism issue were resolved by the aforementioned hive-mind and shared token actions among these three persons; somehow, and in no way which appears to really be the case, this made it impossible for us to count three Gods of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Are there any other significant problems with what Monarchian Trinitarianism proposes?
The answer must be yes, if we consider the scriptures’ teaching that the one God is unique and incomparably greater than all to be of any importance. Monarchian Trinitarianism will affirm this, of course, in a very heavily qualified sense; the Father is first, not in time, but in logical priority, and gets the glorious title “one God” pinned on Him like a token badge to distinguish Him from His two clones, as being the original from which they are atemporally multiplied. In this sense alone, the Father is said to be greater than the Son and Holy Spirit. But at the end of the day, the original in a threesome comprised of himself and two clones is hardly unique. To say that ‘there is none like him’ would be a patent and unconvincing lie. Yet the God of the scriptures declares, quite truthfully, that there is none like Him: “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,” (Isaiah 46:9). Again and again in the scriptures this important truth of God’s total uniqueness is reiterated (see Deut 33:26, Ps 40:5, 86:8, Isa 40:18, 46:5, Job 23:13). This truth that the one God is unique, incomparably greater than all, and has none like Him, is too central to the glory of God proclaimed in the scriptures to be ignored. No view of Jesus and the Holy Spirit which jeopardizes this important truth can be acceptable to those committed to believing all that scripture teaches. However logically plausible one will deem Monarchian Trinitarianism to be, it is rendered utterly incompatible with the scriptures by making the one God out to be nothing more than one out of three of a kind, the original alongside two identical clones.
That Monarchian Trinitarianism says the Father is technically unique in being uncaused is not enough- as the Monarchian Trinitarians are quick to point out in their debates against Eunomians, unique causal relations are not sufficient to make the persons substantially different from one another; despite these differences in causation, the persons of the the Monarchian Trinity are all essentially equal and exactly alike. Yet in stark contrast to this, the one God proclaims that there is none alike to Him; He is unique not merely in some heavily qualified sense, like being the uncaused original who serves as a basis for two identical clones who are exactly alike to him in all ways except that they are clones, but in an absolute and unqualified sense. We must note that in scripture the uniqueness of God is never limited to God’s unique attribute of being uncaused, but is broad, absolute, and unqualified. In the Monarchian Trinity, it is not the person of the Father Himself that is unique in any way, but merely His origin (or lack thereof) that is unique. But there is nothing about Him in His own being that is unique compared to the Son and Holy Spirit. This does not agree with scripture in the slightest. “Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, And Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You.” (Psalm 40:5 NASB)
It’s an important part of both trinitarian, Arian, and semi-arian christology that Jesus Christ pre-existed his humanity and played some role in the creation of the universe described in Genesis 1. For many Arians and semi-arians especially, belief in Jesus as creator is an important part of the reason they believe that Jesus literally pre-existed in the first place. Those who deny Jesus’s alleged literal pre-existence point out that in the Hebrew scriptures, a single person, the God of Israel, takes credit for creation, and emphatically states that He created alone (Isa 44:24). The book of Revelation echoes this same teaching, which I’d like to briefly highlight here.
Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, 6 and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there will be delay no longer,Revelation 10:5-6 (NASB)
Notice here that an angel swears by someone- a person, which we see from this entity being called a “Him” and a “who”. This “Him” is the Creator of all things; and that this single entity performed the rational action of creating further shows us that this is a single person; a person, after all, is simply a rational individual being. Since this is a single entity who has performed an a rational action, the subject here can be seen to be a person, by definition, even aside from the explicitly personal language used.
We must notice then that this single person is described by no other descriptor than “Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it”. Now if there were two or more persons of whom this description were true, then we could not know who is being referred to here; yet, obviously this is intended to tell us the identity of the one the angel swore by. This only makes sense, and is only useful, if there is only one person of whom it can be said that they are the Creator of all things. We may note that it begins by simply describing this person as one Who lives forever; but since this is a description that would fit many persons, the additional disambiguation is added that this is He who made all things. Yet this disambiguation is futile and fails to actually clarify the identity of the person the angel swore by at all if in fact both the Father and Jesus were involved in the work of creation. In such a scheme, we are left wondering who is referred to here, with no possible resolution. The fact that this text assumes that there is only one person who created all things, the God of Israel, and that He can thus be uniquely identified by this descriptor, is a serious problem for those who believe that Jesus the Messiah literally pre-existed and acted in the creation of the universe.
And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7 and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”Revelation 14:6-7 (NASB)
Here we see another clear example of the same thing we observed above; mankind is told to worship “Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters”. That there is a single person (a single “Him” and “who”) whose identity can be disambiguated by this description assumes and implicitly communicates to us that there is in fact only one person, the person spoken of here, who created all things. Since all hands acknowledge that the Father is the Creator of all things, and this sort of language in Revelation limits us to understanding that only one person created all things, we must therefore conclude that the Father alone is the Creator of all things; Jesus did not play a role in the creation of the universe.
This holds serious implications for those whose christology depends on Jesus being involved in creation in order to demonstrate his pre-existence. Like God said through Isaiah, we find here that only one person, the God of Israel, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus the Messiah, created all things, which undermines the very core of the distinctive features of trinitarian, Arian, and semi-arian views on creation and christology.
In several debates between Biblical Unitarians and trinitarians, the argument has been brought forward by trinitarians that Biblical Unitarians are guilty of “assuming unitarianism”; it is suggested that rather than deriving their unitarian beliefs from the Bible and/or sound reason, unitarians instead begin with the assumption that their views are true, and only by working backwards find what appears to be support for their views in the Bible. If one did not approach the Bible with the pre-supposition of that the one God is only one person and that Jesus Christ is a man, one would not find it there, these trinitarians argue. This is a very common trinitarian argument- is there a good answer to it?
In this post I want to look at some of the “assumptions” Biblical Unitarians are guilty of which lead them to find their views in the Bible, and show that these cannot fairly be painted as mere assumptions being forced upon the text of scripture. Rather I will argue that these are observations arising from the Bible itself, meaning that any support for Biblical Unitarianism arising from these observations will in fact constitute biblical evidence for the Biblical Unitarian position. I hope to show here that we do not in fact read unitarianism into the Bible, but derive our doctrines from it.
“Assumption” #1: A mediator is a third party who intervenes between two parties.
Here Biblical Unitarians are accused of unfairly insisting that a mediator must be a third party intervening between two parties, rather than an individual who somehow is both parties. Is this true? Are Biblical Unitarians stealthily shoehorning our own unitarian assumptions into passages like 1 Timothy 2:5, which tell us “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (NASB)?
The answer becomes clear when we consider what a mediator is by definition: a go-between between two or more parties; mediation by definition involves occupying a middle position between these various parties. In the case of these being two parties between whom there is a mediator, the mediator then, by definition, must be a third party, numerically and individually distinct from the two parties between which mediation is taking place. Anyone is welcome to look up the words ‘mediator’ and ‘mediation’ in the dictionary to verify these claims.
What’s that mean for Unitarians? It means that all Biblical Unitarians are doing is looking at what the words the Bible uses mean, and accepting that as the meaning of the text. God chose to reveal Himself to us using human language, and Christianity teaches that He was successful in this endeavor. Although God is infinite and transcends the limits of human language, He is able to -and in fact does- reveal truth to us using our terms. When He does so, we need to look at what those human terms denote to know what God is telling us. That’s all Biblical Unitarians are doing here; we look at the fact that the Bible tells us that Christ is a mediator between the one God and man, and therefore is by definition a third party standing between God and the rest of mankind. That’s merely looking carefully at what the Bible says and its necessary implications, and believing it, not reading anything into the Bible.
A trinitarian here might suggest that a biblical author such as Paul would be free to invent their own terms, or use terms in new ways, especially if they are seeking to describe something new for which there is not yet an established terminology. This is valid. However, in such a situation, we must expect the biblical author to give us some indication that he is using the term in question in a new or different way; if he does not, then we have no valid reason to assume the term means anything different than what it normally does; we are reasonably required to understand the term within the limits of its normal use and meaning, unless indication of such an exception is made. Therefore, in instances like 1 Timothy 2:5 where no such indication of redefinition is given, we are to understand the term according to its established meaning- which of course, inherently involves the mediator being a third party between the two parties between which there is mediation.
I’d end by pointing out here that not only are Biblical Unitarians being unfairly accused of reading their ideas into the Bible here, but also that their accusers make such accusations hypocritically. When we stop and examine what trinitarians do with the Bible’s teaching that Jesus is the mediator between God and the rest of mankind, we immediately see that they will often attempt to redefine what a mediator is, present an alternative meaning for ‘mediator’ which is not valid, and altogether dismiss the actual meaning of the word, all because the passage’s meaning does not fit with trinitarianism. Nothing from the text indicates the word here is being used in a special way, to mean something other than what it definitionally means; to argue it is appears to be nothing more than special pleading. This is a great example of someone attempting to read their own views into the text of the Bible, the very things they accuse Unitarians of doing.
“Assumption” #2: A son is a numerically distinct individual besides the one whose son they are.
Our method here will be the same as it was in addressing the last accusation; all we need do is stop and consider what sonship is, definitionally. If all Biblical Unitarians are doing is assuming that the Bible is using the words it speaks according to their meanings, this can hardly be considered assuming unitarianism; instead, its simply assuming that the Bible means what it says, and that this is a reliable representation of the truth.
So what’s it mean to be a son? For one to be the son of someone denotes a relation between that one and another individual- a son and a parent. One individual relates to the other as its son, the other relates to the one as its parent. This inherently and necessarily involves the son and parent to be two distinct individuals, since it is a relation between two individuals by definition. Naturally, this relation involves not only a social relation between the two individuals, but also a causal relation, where the son is begotten or born from the parent, and the parent is cause of the son. At its most basic level, a son is simply a male offspring of an individual. Sonship however can simply be used to denote the social relation itself, aside from causation, as in the case of adoption. Either way, though, sonship universally and definitionally involves a relation between one individual and another.
So then, when the Bible in the Old and New Testament identifies the Messiah, Jesus, as the Son of God, we have to ask what these words signify. According to their established meaning, that Jesus is the Son of God tells us that Jesus Christ is another individual besides God, who relates to God as his Father. In the case of Jesus, this father-son relation not only involves the social aspects of sonship (like inheritance), but also causation; we are told that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, on account of his being miraculously caused by God in Mary via the agency of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). If Jesus is really the Son of God (the only true God -Jn 17:3), then he is then necessarily and by definition an individual distinct from God, who relates to God as another, namely, his Father.
If this isn’t what being ‘son’ signifies in relation to Christ, why? We have acknowledged that a biblical author could, if they wished, use a term in a unique or new way; but we also noted that such a significant change in how a term is used would require explicit explanation. Otherwise, using the term in a different way would be equivocation, and risk being both confusing and deceptive. The fact is, we are never given a reason to think that Jesus’s sonship is somehow definitionally different than what sonship normally is. All Biblical Unitarians are doing here then is making observations off of what the words of the Bible mean; saying that the usage of terms here is exceptional and that they do not mean what they normally do will be nothing but special pleading, unless biblical justification were given for a change in meaning. Wanting to insist that sonship does not denote what it always definitionally denotes because that does not fit with trinitarianism sounds not only like special pleading, but attempting to read one’s own theological assumptions back into the Bible, the very thing these trinitarians are accusing Biblical Unitarians of doing.
“Assumption” #3: YHVH, the one God of the Bible, is only one person.
This one really gets to the heart of the debate between trinitarians who say YHVH, the one God, is three persons, and Unitarians, who insist that YHVH, God Almighty, is only one person. Do Biblical Unitarians read the Bible with this assumption, or is this idea derived from the Bible? Its worth noting here that the answer is actually ‘both’. The fact is, everyone reads the Bible assuming their preconceived theological ideas are true, whether they are trinitarian or unitarian. No one is going to come to the Bible pretending they do not actually believe whatever they understand the truth to be. The difference between trinitarians and unitarians here will then not be whether we assume our positions are true when we come to the text of scripture, but which of our positions is derived from scripture. When someone comes to the Bible without presuppositions in favor of either view, which way does the Bible direct them to go?
We may start here by noting that trinitarians and unitarians both agree that YHVH is a single being, so let’s begin there. YHVH is one entity, one being. What sort of being is YHVH? I will argue that it is clear throughout the Old Testament that YHVH is a personal being. YHVH is referred to using personal language, such as personal, rather than impersonal pronouns. YHVH can be related to; He knows and is known, He acts, He speaks, He loves, has wrath, etc. There can be no doubt that YHVH is personal. We also already noted that YHVH is one individual being. Now we must put these together: is there any particular term human language has to denote a personal being? Indeed, this is exactly what the term “person” is. So, is YHVH a person? Absolutely. As a personal being, YHVH is obviously a person. That’s why all through the OT, the one God, YHVH is spoken of using not only personal pronouns, but specifically singular personal pronouns. He refers to Himself using terms denoting a single self; and when others speak of Him or to Him, they use singular personal language. The one YHVH of the Old Testament scriptures then is presented throughout those scriptures not as an impersonal being, but as a personal being- that is, as a person.
Now, while this explanation is clear, it is a little too imprecise for my comfort. Simply defining a person as a personal being, while not incorrect, does not satisfactorily explain the matter in the sort of precision this discussion often requires of us. So I will note that definitionally, a person is ‘a rational individual being’.
Let’s break down that definition in detail: a ‘being’ is simply an entity; an entity may be either individual or generic. For example, we may speak of human nature, a set of ontological properties which define what it means to be human, as an entity, but this abstract entity is generic or universal, finding existence in many individuals. And individual entity on the other hand would be, for example, an actual human being; this is not an abstract, generic entity, but a concrete individual subsistence. A person is not an abstract nature, but a specific individual entity, that is, an individual being. However, not all individual beings are persons, but only rational individual beings. Classically the idea here is that by rational, we mean to indicate only those being which possess higher rational faculties capable of abstract reasoning; a cow, therefore, is not a person, despite the fact that it is an individual being; whereas a man, or an angel, since they are individual beings which are rational in nature, are persons. Thus we arrive at our definition that a person is a rational individual being.
Is then YHVH a rational individual being? That is, does He meet the technical definition of a person? Yes, He does. That He is an individual being we see again and again; He is clear that He is one entity, and trinitarians and unitarians agree on this. But He is also rational, able to think reason, possess wisdom, speak, and even knows all things. So then, YHVH, God Almighty, the one God of the Old Testament, is clearly a person, according to the standard definition of a person.
A trinitarian may object here, and attempt to argue that other definitions of ‘person’ and ‘being’ must be found which would better fit with their doctrines. This however, we must not allow. It is not Biblical Unitarians who first introduced ‘ousia’ and ‘hypostasis’ into theology proper, but trinitarians, or rather, the Logos-theorists who preceded them. Trinitarians opted to continue using this language employed by the unitarian subordinationists of the third and fourth century, and to make it an integral part of their creedal definitions. If then they will insist on using the terms ‘being’, and ‘person’, they must use them according to their actual definitions. Otherwise, we must politely ask them to not bother using these terms at all, as it only serves to horribly obscure their meaning, and throws the entire discussion into confusion, when they seek to use terms like ‘person’ to denote something other than an actual person.
If anyone doubts the legitimacy of this definition, as with ‘son’ and ‘mediator’, I welcome them to consult common dictionaries. I would also illustrate the validity of these definitions by giving a more familiar example: what is the difference between “a human being” and “a human person”? None exists; they refer to the same exact thing. That’s because all humans are by nature rational, and so, all individual beings which are human, being rational, are persons. Or to return to our much simpler explanation we started with, all human beings are personal. Thus, every human being is a person. This all serves to illustrate the relation of ‘being’ to ‘person’, as classically understood, laid out above.
YHVH then, the God of Israel, the Most High, the Creator of all things, is not only one being, but one person, according to what the very word ‘person’ signifies by definition. Since YHVH is only one rational individual being, and not more than one, He is only one person, not more than one.
All this means that the Unitarian view of God, as being only one person, is not merely a presupposition which we impose upon the Bible; it is a truth which is unavoidably present in the Bible itself, clear to anyone trying to look objectively at the matter. All we have to do it look at how many entities God is: one. And is this entity individual? Yes, thus it is one. Is this entity rational? Indeed, all knowing and all wise. This God, then, the God of the Old Testament, is only one person. Now, if we approach the New Testament with the base assumption that the one God is the same one God in both the Old Testament and the New- an assumption which can be proved from many passages- then we will find that the one God is only one person in the New Testament as well. One passage we may note is John 8:54:
Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you [Jews] say, ‘He is our God’;John 8:54 NASB
Who did the Jews Jesus here interacted with claim as their God, except YHVH, God Almighty, the God of the Old Testament? But Who then is YHVH, the God of the Old Testament, in relation to Jesus? “My Father”, is what Jesus calls Him; the person Jesus calls “my Father” is the one the Jews call their God, that is, YHVH God Almighty. This is exactly what Biblical Unitarianism teaches: the one God is only one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. The one God of the Jews, YHVH is equated with someone trinitarians acknowledge is a person here, the Father. So again, we have confirmation that YHVH is a person. But we are not left wondering who that person is in relation to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Son of which God? YHVH, the God of the Bible. We have already addressed that as Son, Jesus is distinguished as another individual besides His Father.
We find then that the trinitarian accusation of ‘assuming unitarianism’ is an empty and pointless response to unitarian arguments; in fact what trinitarians making this charge are really taking issue with is that unitarians are taking biblical language at face value, and understanding the words the Bible uses according to their standard meanings, rather than according to some sort of special definition contrived to accommodate the doctrine of the trinity. As we saw above, the unitarian understanding that God is a single person and that Jesus is another numerically distinct individual besides the one God is something derived directly from the language of the Bible itself, any not merely an assumption foisted into the text by unitarians; rather, we find it is trinitarians who are repeatedly having to try to get around what the Bible is saying due to their assuming trinitarianism.
I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dr. Dale Tuggy for his podcast, Trinities. For those not already familiar with Dr. Tuggy:
“Dr. Dale Tuggy served as Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia for some 18 years. He has taught courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy. Dale Tuggy has a PhD from Brown University. He has authored about two dozen peer-reviewed articles and book chapters relating to the Trinity and other topics in analytic theology and philosophy of religion. He is the producer and host of “The Trinities” podcast which explores theories about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Dr. Tuggy is the author of the book “What is the Trinity? Thinking about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and has published an extensive collection of literature including writings from the early biblical unitarian movement in the United States.” 
If you aren’t already familiar with the Trinities podcast and the accompanying blog, they are well worth your time, as Dr. Tuggy covers a wide range of trinity-related topics including the development of the doctrine of the trinity and logical and exegetical problems for various trinity theories. It’s excellent material and I highly recommend it, along with his book and papers.
The podcasts are available here (and can also be found on Youtube):
In the interview, we talked about my personal background coming from a nominally Christian family, through my rejection of God and Christianity in favor of ‘science’ and atheism and my dabbling in Buddhism, before being exposed to the Bible and the biblical gospel for the first time in my early teens, when I believed, repented, dedicated myself and my life to God, and was baptized in 2009 at the age of 15. Following that we discuss the many twists and turns of my theological journey as a Christian, from my time as a confused but basically unitarian new believer, to being a modern semi-modalistic trinitarian, to my time as a monarchian trinitarian following the beginning of my in-depth study of the trinity in 2014, sparked by my discovery of Justin Martyr’s unorthodox views on God and Jesus. Following that we talked about my journey through ‘catholic’ Reformed Presbyterianism to my near-conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, and my return to Protestant principles like sola scriptura, leading to my abandonment of Nicene trinitarianism at first in favor of Homoian/Logos-theorists views, and then finally to adopting the purely human christology of Biblical Unitarianism. Along the way we discussed numerous theological issues related to these various theologies.
If nothing else strikes you in listening, I hope that in my testimony you see God’s glory displayed in how gracious he has been to someone so undeserving as myself. I also hope that my own journey and observations on various views about God and Jesus might be helpful to others who are currently working through the same issues.
 The biography provided for Dr. Tuggy on the 21st Century Reformation website for the recent debate between Dr. Tuggy and Chris Date.
Something I’ve long noticed in popular trinitarianism is that one of the worst and most damaging effects of much trinitarian doctrine is that the Father is dishonored. Not only does trinitarian doctrine do all it can to deny the uniqueness of the Father as the one God of the Bible, the Almighty, the Maker of all things, by instead ascribing all of these glories to a triune being of which the Father is but one person among three equals, but also, there is a trend caused by this to simply ignore the Father, and to exalt the Son above the Father. While it is insisted that absolute and unqualified equality between the persons of the Trinity is of the utmost importance, in fact, this is almost never the case- one person ends up practically, if not officially, being treated and thought and spoken of as supreme and more central than the others; for the average trinitarian, this person is Christ, who is for them “God the Son”.
This can be seen in all sorts of things; in worship songs and hymns, in prayers, in sermons, in books, in systematic theologies, in doctrinal statements of churches; in all these, a clear trend can be seen: one person of these three supposedly equal persons get’s the bulk of the attention, praise, and thought of modern professing Christians- Christ.
This can just easily be observed by the reader for themselves- in any average trinitarian church, the worship songs, whether hymns or contemporary, will generally almost exclusively focus on the person of Christ. Sometimes other persons will get thrown in as well, but this is to disastrous effect just as often as not- modalism, or confusing the Father and Son with each other as though one person, abounds in such songs. Even when the Son is not being thanked for being our loving Father who died on the cross for us, and the songs more strictly focus on Jesus, the results are still problematic: Jesus is exalted with the highest exaltation possible. He receives every name and title of the Father, and is frequently spoken of in supreme and exclusive terms: for example “you alone have saved us”, “you alone have made us”, ascribing absolute supremacy to Christ and ‘most high’ and ‘incomparable’, etc. These sorts of statements, when left totally unqualified, actually elevate the Son over the Father- unless the Father and Son are simply rolled into one person. But so long as some real personal distinction is admitted between them, ascribing absolute supremacy to the Son without any qualification implicitly places the Son over the Father.
The same problems exist in prayers, but sometimes seem even more pronounced. I long ago lost track of how many times I have heard some well-intentioned trinitarian thank the Father for dying for us. And the same problem of exalting Christ to the very highest possible position often comes up in prayer as well, and with it, the same problem: if Christ is absolutely supreme over all, is he another besides the Father, or are they the same person? If they are the same person, then it’s pure modalism we are dealing with; if they are distinct, then the Son has been, at least implicitly, elevated above the Father.
In sermons and books, it’s again easy to observe the centrality of Christ, often to the near exclusion of the Father. I don’t have any formal study showing this, but it would be my educated guess that if trinitarian churches were polled, it would be found that the vast majority of sermons focus on Jesus with very little focus on the Father. The same can be said for Christian books.
When we come to systematic theologies and doctrinal statements, it becomes clear that Jesus receives far more focus than the Father. The standard breakdown of such books and statement is this (and feel free to crack open a couple systematic theologies and see what I’m saying): a long section is devoted to ‘God’; under which is treated the existence and attributes of God, and then the trinity, or, how this God that was just spoken of as if He were as single person for many chapters is in fact not a single person, but three persons. Then, the systematic theology or doctrinal statement will either move directly on to christology, the section on the Son, which is followed by pneumatology, the section on the Holy Spirit, or, on rare occasion, a small section will appear between theology and christology on the Father. The difference in length of this section compared to the others, when it exists at all, speaks volumes to the point I am making here: the Father, robbed of His true identity as the one God of the Bible, and made out to merely be one of three equal persons within the one God, is practically ignored. Sometimes He basically gets a brief ‘shout-out’ as the one Who plans and sends, but then that’s about it, usually. In more archaic systematic theologies and older statements, there may also be some statement that the Father is the source of the other persons of the trinity by eternal generation and procession, but these are often not given much attention or well explained, and on the popular level, these doctrines are frequently rejected and/or totally unknown.
All this means, to sum up, that Christ is worshipped by song, prayed to, preached about, written about, systematically studied, and defined in theological detail far more than the Father or the Holy Spirit. While the persons of the trinity are insisted to be absolutely “equal”, in practice this simply is not the case. The Father is practically forgotten, eclipsed by the Son, and often only bothered to be mentioned at all for sake of His roles in relation to the Son. Meanwhile Christ is central and treated as absolutely supreme.
Christ’s centrality is typically seen as a good thing, and to an extent, it is a good thing according to the Bible. God has exalted Christ, and wills that to him, as to God, every knee should bow. But the key difference is that in New Testament Christianity, Christ is exalted to the glory of the Father, and it is always the Father Who remains ultimately central and supreme (Phil 2:11). It is Christ who is exalted by God to the Father’s right hand, not the Father to Christ’s right hand; it is the Father Who sends the Son and Spirit, not the others sending Him; and the Son has the Father as his God, not the other way around. Whether the subordination of Christ be ascribed to economic differences in the trinity, or to an incarnation, or to Christ simply being a human Messiah and Son of God as is actually the case, it’s undeniable that a clear subordination of Christ to the Father exists throughout the New Testament; one that does not end with Christ’s exaltation to God’s right hand, either. On this point we may firstly note that ‘the right hand of God’ is obviously a position that is exalted above all else, yet subordinate to God. But secondly, we may consider that it was well after the ascension and exaltation of Christ that Paul the apostle wrote that “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3), and tells us that in the end, Jesus, though greatly exalted by God, will be perfectly subject to God (1 Cor 15:28), the Father forever being supreme over all. In the New Testament, like in modern churches, there is no equality of Father and Son: but the great difference that in the New Testament, the Father is supreme, and the Son subordinate to Him- something modern trinitarians turn on it’s head, in practice, if not in official doctrine.
The result of all this is that the one God of the Bible is horribly neglected by most professing Christians. Since they have Christ as their one God, as the second person of God, what need is there for them to go to the Father? The one God is the one God, and if Jesus is the one God, then why go to the Father at all? Whereas the New Testament presents us with Jesus as the way by which men can approach God the Father, today’s trinitarians seem to have no desire to do so; for them, the Father is not the ultimate destination and Jesus the one who makes it possible for us to get there, but is himself the final destination in place of God. All of this results in people generally having a horribly muddled view of God, Christ, and Christianity. By exalting Christ above God, they effectively present Christ a rival to God, rather than as the loving and obedient Son and Servant of the one God, who always does what is pleasing to the Father and is perfectly subject to Him. The real Jesus Christ is our perfect example of love and obedience to God, our human king anointed by God, our High Priest who by the sacrifice of his own blood brings us to God- it is this Jesus who is worthy of all the praise, honor, and glory we see him receive in the New Testament. A Jesus who instead of being the humble and obedient Messiah, Servant, and Son of God acts as God’s rival and is worshipped and honored in place of Him is not the real Jesus, has no basis in the Bible, and is more a monstrous idol than a fitting object of love and praise. Trinitarians need to stop presenting Jesus as the usurper of God’s throne, worship, and glory, and go back to the Bible to see that while Jesus is absolutely worthy of worship and honor, his role is not that of the Father, but that of the one by whom we approach the Father. “This is eternal life, that they may know You [Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (Jn 17:3 NASB).
In some recent interaction with Presbyterians I again encountered the claim that it is a violation of the first commandment to reject the trinitarian doctrine that God is three persons in favor of the ‘unitarian’ doctrine that the one God is only one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s an odd charge, in my opinion, because the text of the first commandment seems to obviously present God as a single person:
Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.Exodus 20:1-3 NASB
I just want to make a few brief observations here. Firstly, we may note that “God” in this passage is clearly a title indicating a relation, not an essence. The LORD is said to be Israel’s God in verse two; if this refers to an essence or nature, it makes no sense, but if ‘God’ is a title signifying dominion, this fits perfectly. After all, what would it mean exactly for YHVH to be Israel’s divine essence? Does Israel possess a divine nature, so that Israel consubstantial with the Trinity? Or is Israel God incarnate? The Bible has no concept of God as an essence, but rather applies ‘God’ as a title which, as the titles ‘lord’ and ‘king’, denotes dominion, power, and authority. With this meaning in mind there is nothing enigmatic about YHVH being Israel’s God; YHVH is not making an ontological claim about an essence, but declaring Himself to have authority, power, and dominion over His people Israel by being their God.
This also removes the mystery of verse three; for if ‘God’ here is an essence (as the trinitarians must think), and there is only one such divine essence, then the command of verse three is oddly put, at best. To have no other ‘divine essences’, which do not exist, before the one divine essence that is predicated of Israel, is an odd and practically unintelligible commandment. But if we understand that ‘godhood’ is dominion, and that there were on account of dominion and authority many lesser beings called ‘gods’ (Hebrew ‘elohim’, ‘mighty ones’), including both men and angels (Ps 82, compare Jn 10:34; Ps 8:5, compare Heb 2:7,9), then the command to put no other god ahead of YHVH is not so strange at all. In fact, this verse assumes that there are other beings, creatures of YHVH, that can justly bear the title ‘elohim’/’god’, and that YHVH, as being absolutely supreme over them all as the “Most High God” and “God of gods” is to be infinitely preferred above all others. While honor may be given to other ‘gods’ -human rulers and kings, and even to angels- the Almighty God, YHVH, the God of Israel, is to honored, loved, served, and worshipped above all others, with all the heart, mind, and soul (Mk 12:29-30).
Secondly, I’d like to note that YHVH the one God of Israel, the God of gods, can be clearly seen to be only one person here. Scripture doesn’t leave us guessing on how many persons YHVH is: in verse two, we read that YHVH is an “I”, a “Who”, and in verse three, a “Me”. These singular personal pronouns denote a single person in very clear terms. But note what else we can see about YHVH, just from these three short verses: YHVH is a living being, Who brought this nation He is now speaking to out of slavery in Egypt. He is no abstract essence, no lifeless principle or mere idea, but a living individual being, able to act and save His people. We also see that this being is a rational being: He speaks and acts intelligently; indeed, His wisdom is far beyond man’s comprehension. For our purposes here, it’s important to note: YHVH is here portrayed as a single rational individual being; that’s precisely what a “person” is by definition. That’s just the standard philosophical definition of a person, what the word ‘person’ means and has meant for centuries. A person is a rational individual being: and YHVH, the God of the Bible, the God of Israel before Whom we are to have no other gods, is one such rational individual being: a single person.
That conclusion is of course precisely what unitarians believe and have been endeavoring to help people to see from the scriptures. For trinitarians, on the other hand, this is quite a mess. Where is God’s triunity? Why does God imply only one person Who is the supreme object of worship and devotion, if indeed there are three worthy of equally supreme devotion? How can the one God be one person, as He is clearly presented as here, if He is actually three? Why isn’t ‘God’ here, which is being used in reference to the one God, referring to an essence like the creeds say it is supposed to? Perhaps one will also wonder why, in so beautifully revealing Himself to the people He had chosen and redeemed for Himself, God didn’t choose to show them His triunity? Why did God leave His people in darkness about His identity? Why leave them with the misapprehension that He is only one person, if He is really three?
The Westminster Larger Catechism, commenting on the first commandment, finds many possible violations of it, among which are these:
“…ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions… of [God]”WLC 105
We must wonder, in light of this, at the peril the wording of this commandment itself must then have placed God’s people in; for (in the Presbyterian interpretation) while forbidding them that it is a grave sin to misapprehend or misunderstand their God, or to be ignorant of Him, the commandment itself furnishes them with (to the trinitarian) a misleading notion of God’s identity, such that can only leave them confused, ignorant of God’s true identity, and entertaining false and mistaken opinions concerning Him; for the whole lot of these Israelites, if they simply believed what was spoken to them in a straightforward manner, were positively unitarians, and comprehended their God YHVH to be a single rational individual being, that is, one person. But if, as the trinitarians hold, God is in fact three persons, then the command itself must represent, according to their strict interpretation if it, a sort of sinister trap, whereby God will at once trick His people into a false view of Him by speaking as if He is a single person, while at the same time forbidding thinking such as a grave sin of “ignorance”, “misapprehension”, and “false opinions”.
While the trinitarian must wrestle with why God would not only mislead His people into thinking falsely about Him, but also at the same time make it a grave sin to so think falsely about Him, unitarians are able to simply affirm the plain reading of the passage we noted above. If believing the straightforward teaching of scripture that the Lord God Almighty is one person is the sin of ‘misapprehension and false opinions’, we latter-day unitarians find ourselves in good company in committing it, seeing as not one of the prophets or apostles, nor the Lord Jesus Christ himself, can be found innocent of it, all of them having been duped, apparently, by God’s sneaky way of presenting Himself as though He is a single person when in fact He is not. The shema has deceived us all; from Moses, to David, to Jesus, to Paul and Peter, no one until Augustine and his trinitarian comrades in the late fourth century were clever enough to see through the misty statements of scripture with the clarity to discern the indefinable mystery that God is not a single person, but three of persons in one individual God.
All jesting aside, there is indeed serious misapprehension and ignorance of the true God afoot here; but this cannot be said to be on the part of those who, holding the scriptures in high esteem, refuse to trade the clear revelation of God that He is one person for the traditions and doctrines of men saying that He is three. We must take our stand not on the creeds of catholicism, but on the confession of our Lord, that this is eternal life: to know his Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (Jn 17:3).
“We must obey God rather than men.”-Peter and the apostles, Acts 5:29
“Test all things; hold fast what is good.”-Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV)
Jesus answered [the Jews], “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’;John 8:54 (NASB)
For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,1 Timothy 2:5 (NASB)
Trinitarianism makes a lot of self-contradictory claims: on the one hand, trinitarians typically affirm that the one God is immortal, immutable, invisible, un-temptable, all-knowing, etc; but at the same time, they propose that this one God, in his second person, died, changed, was seen, was tempted, and didn’t know certain things. This is an obvious logical contradiction- for the same subject to be said to be un-killable yet be killed, un-temptable yet be tempted, etc, is just obviously a contradiction and a falsehood; and so, this simple line of reasoning about the attributes of God in contrast to the attributes we see Christ had is frequently used to show that the doctrine of the trinity is false. Jesus Christ cannot be the one God if his attributes differ so widely from those of the one God; the difference makes it obvious that the one God is one, and Jesus Christ his human Son is another.
But trinitarian apologists have been working hard to try to answer this, ever since the doctrine of the trinity was invented. It’s an obvious problem for them; and solution has typically been to try to find some way that God can be both immortal, and have died, be immutable, yet have changed, etc. The solution is typically sought through incarnation theories- something about the second nature the second person of the one God assumed allows these things, it’s conjectured. Other theories abound as well though, such as proposing that due to divine timelessness, God can be eternally be two opposite things, like mortal and immortal, because technically He wouldn’t be these things at the same time, thus arguably escaping the charge of being a contradiction.
But here is a serious problem with all these explanations: this trinitarian reasoning used to try to save the doctrine of the trinity from logic is a terribly slippery slope; any trinitarian argument that says that although God is immortal He can die, will generally also lead to the same logic for all God’s attributes; allowing that He can be both evil and good, all knowing and ignorant, unchanging and changing. After all, if God being incapable of dying doesn’t actually mean he cannot die, then on what basis can we say that God being incapable of sinning means that He will never actually sin? If God’s immortality is the kind of immortality where one can still die, and God’s immutability is the kind of immutability where one can still change (which, of course, is in truth no real immortality or immutability at all), then how do we know that God’s goodness is not the kind of goodness where one can still commit evil? How do we know that God’s holiness is not the sort of holiness which allows one to be defiled? How do we know that God’s perfection isn’t the sort of perfection that allows flaws and errors?
Once you reach immutability with this reasoning, it all implodes though. If God can change, that is, in His very nature and character, then revealed religion is worthless, as we have no idea if God will even be good tomorrow. If one responds that He is trustworthy, we may respond that if He can change then He might well not be trustworthy tomorrow. If He can change then He might be unfaithful to His promises. Thus scripture assures us, in the context of those promises, that God does not change, so that we may rest assured in them (Mal 3:6). But if God may be the opposite of anything He is, then we cannot make any certain assertion about God, and what is true of Him now could be false the next minute. In short, these trinitarian arguments would prove too much: they would be an argument for deism rather than the trinity.
And so then, the trinitarian defense of their contradictions is a slippery slope: if God can be temptable although untemptable, mortal while immortal, change while unchangable, etc, then these statements about Him mean nothing, and it would reasonably be just as possible that while being good He might be evil. This trinitarian logic taken to it’s logical ends, if true (which it isn’t) would destroy Christianity and all revealed religion. Our ability to positively assert truth about God would be lost entirely, for anything we say He is, He might in fact turn out to be the opposite; we will have lost out ability to speak meaningfully about God at all.
Of course, sometimes trinitarians seem to affirm this point already- they like to point to the supposed insufficiency of human language to speak accurately about God, whenever they find human language making things to concrete for them to sip their contradictions through unnoticed- which is fairly often. But this point is as slippery of a slope as the one noted above; if our human words are truly incapable of accurately relaying truth about God, then God’s endeavor to reveal Himself to us through human words, in the scriptures, and in the oral teachings of the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, has failed. I reiterate again: if human words cannot accurately communicate truth about God, then God has failed, because this is precisely what God has set about doing. If we believe that God is too wise and too powerful to fail, and trust that He knows what He is doing a great deal better than we do, then we will rather need to accept that revelation- which always comes to us in human language- as an accurate and truthful way of communicating truth about God. As God is ultimately the Maker of man and of human language, we ought not be surprised that He has allowed and designed things such that it is capable of communicating truth about Him.
The alternative to this is deism; if we believe in God, the Supreme Being, but deny His ability to accurately reveal Himself in the main way that He has set about doing so, viz, through human language, then we will be forced to be totally agnostic about God. Our reading that He is good will not mean much, when by now, for all we know, He has already taken on another nature that is evil, and so is now both good and evil. Or, for all we know, He took on an imperfect nature alongside His perfect one, and is now as flawed as we are. These trinitarian defenses, then which all depend on proving that God can actually in some way be the opposite of the way He is, don’t actually help the doctrine of the trinity at all, because the logical end of this reasoning is to deny the validity of special revelation about God altogether. This is something trinitarians need to take to heart; this is a clear reductio ad absurdum for most or all trinitarian attempts to justify how an immortal person can die, and an un-tempable God can be tempted by evil, etc. Yet without these sorts of arguments, trinitarians are left with logical contradictions that are as serious as they are numerous, all of which work to show us that the doctrine of a triune God is false. If we are really committed to the reality of meaningful and accurate divine revelation from God through words, as we have in the scriptures, then we will need to find a better explanation for the biblical data we have been given than what the doctrine of the trinity can provide us with.