Questions For Trinitarians About the Being of God

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.

Arguments For Unitarianism General

Why the Doctrine of the Trinity is Incompatible With Protestantism

Protestantism as a whole is founded on certain doctrinal assumptions which underly the entire Protestant system; these assumptions form a common basis from which various strands of Protestantism begin, and then branch out into a wide variety of different doctrinal traditions. Among these most basic Protestant doctrinal foundations stand two especially important pillars: the perspicuity of scripture, and sola scriptura. The perspicuity of scripture is the idea that the Bible is, at a basic level, understandable to the common Christian; it is clear enough that any well-intended Christian may come to it and upon serious and sincere inquiry into it, clearly understand at least the most basic doctrines of the Christians faith. While some things will be harder to understand, the basic gospel and rule of faith will be abundantly clear to anyone. Sola scriptura is the notion that we ought to generally base our understanding of Christian doctrine on practice on the Bible alone; other sources lack the reliability and authority the Bible has, and so, cannot be used as a basis for our Christian doctrine and practice.

The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is antithetical to both of these foundational Protestant doctrines. The doctrine of a triune God is said to be “the central mystery of Christianity” by its proponents; yet this is hardly compatible with the perspicuity of scripture for the central dogma of the Christian faith to be a mystery. Proponents of the trinity declare that ‘if one denies the trinity, they will lose their soul; it they try to understand it, they will lose their mind’. How, if the doctrine of the trinity in itself as a doctrine cannot be understood, can it be understood clearly from the Bible?

We must note that historic and creedal trinitarianism always declares that faith in the doctrine of the Trinity is required for salvation; that means that this cannot be dismissed as some tangental point of doctrine. According to the pseudo-athanasian creed, one who does not “so think” about the Trinity will be eternally damned to hell for his heresy. The doctrine of the trinity is, according to trinitarians, absolutely central and foundational to genuine Christianity. If that is so, then according to the perspicuity of scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity must be clear from the Bible- so clear that any well-intended reader would ascertain it from study of the Bible. It should be obvious that this is not the case at all, however. The doctrine of a tri-personal God is utterly absent from the Bible; so far from being a clear and unavoidable teaching of the Bible, it’s one that no one would even think of on the basis of the Bible alone- tradition is absolutely required to supply the ideas.

For evidence of this, one need look no farther than the early church. For the first couple of centuries, we have no record of any Christian asserting that the one God is tri-personal; not one. Assertions that Jesus literally pre-existed as a divine being, calling Jesus “God” etc, cannot be counted as a valid substitute for this, as Arianism would happily embrace such language as well. Indeed, most the early “proto-orthodox” writers are simply Arians of one shade or another, regarding Jesus as created by the Father, and being in some sense after the Father chronologically. Ancient assertions that Jesus is the “one God” on their own will not help either, when the reader sees that these confessions came from the lips of Sabellians, who denied that the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons. If the doctrine of a triune God were clear from the Bible, how did the church miss this “clear” mystery for a few centuries? And how could the intense fourth and fifth century debates over the trinity and incarnation have ever occurred over such a clear mystery? How could at times the majority of bishops miss something so clear?

The very fact that the doctrine of the trinity is a “mystery” should make it plain that it is inherently contrary to the perspicuity of scripture. There is no such thing as a ‘clear mystery’- a ‘clear mystery’ is a contradiction in terms. Yet this contradiction is exactly what magisterial Protestantism has attempted to embrace by accepting both the mystery of the trinity and the perspicuity of scripture.

The doctrine of the Trinity is equally a problem for sola scriptura, for similar reasons. We have already addressed that the doctrine of the trinity is absent from the Bible, and that on the basis of church history alone, the honest trinitarian must admit that even if he thinks the doctrine is hiding somewhere in between the lines of the Bible, it at the very least is not clearly articulated in the Bible the way the perspicuity of scripture would demand that such a central and foundational doctrine must be.

Where then is the doctrine articulated clearly? Where must one go to discover the line between trinitarian orthodoxy and heresy? Not the Bible, certainly, but the rulings of councils and historic creeds. These creeds and conciliar rulings, however, are not part of the Bible, and yet are vital and necessary for ‘orthodox’ trinitarianism. This blatantly contradicts sola scriptura, though; how can a Protestant say that something outside the Bible is necessary for understanding basic and foundational Christianity? And not simply for understanding it, but for knowing where the lines between what is regarded as basic and foundational Christianity and damnable heresy lie?

It makes total sense that those who reject sola scriptura and appeal to councils, creeds, and popes as authorities alongside scripture can consistently regard Arianism and various deviations from creedal trinitarianism as heresy, and exclude these from their churches; but how can Protestants do this? The lines between heresy and orthodoxy on the basis of which they wish to exclude certain ‘heretical’ groups do not exist in the Bible; they can only be found outside the pages of scripture in tradition. Here we see the inconsistency- a Protestant cannot appeal to such tradition as having binding authority, and yet, must do precisely that to exclude trinitarian heresy. Only by the exclusion of such heresy can proper trinitarianism be maintained; and so, it will appear that tradition is utterly necessary to maintain the doctrine of the trinity in a church. Yet this is inconsistent for a Protestant, who has taken his stand on sola scriptura, and rejected the notion that ecclesiastical tradition holds any binding authority.

Consideration of these facts will show that it is unreasonable for anyone to attempt to be simultaneously Protestant and uphold creedal trinitarianism. One of these or the other must go, if a person will be consistent- and there is no virtue in inconsistency.

The suggestion of this author is to jettison trinitarianism. Sola scriptura and the perspicuity of scripture are both true, and aren’t the problem here. The problem is Protestants not acting consistently with these foundational principles by hanging onto teachings about God and Jesus that God has never revealed. To be Christian is, at a foundational level, to follow Christ Jesus, and so our understanding of Who God is and who Jesus is needs to match with, and be instructed by Jesus’s own teaching on the matter. The Bible is not unclear in teaching us to believe in one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ; but until we are willing to actually base our beliefs on scripture, rather than the inventions of men, this will remain obscure for many professing Christians.

General

Is the Trinity Necessary For Salvation?

What does a person need to believe to be saved?

To Christians this is an important question; not so that we can bash people over the head with the label ‘heretic’ who don’t meet that standard, but for sake of evangelism to the world. We are, after all, called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19); one of the church’s greatest missions on earth, and one of the greatest ways she shows her love for her Lord, is to seek the salvation of the lost. This is something that should be near and dear to the heart of all Christians then, firstly as we ourselves know the great value of salvation, which should motivate us to share that with others; and secondly, if we genuinely love God and the Lord Jesus Christ, we will genuinely love and care about our fellow man as They do, and desire man’s salvation, to the glory of God.

The question of ‘what does a person need to believe to be saved?’ then, is very important one to be able to answer, if we are going to try to reach the lost. Faith is of course required for salvation; it is upon grounds of faith and repentance that scripture teaches a person may be baptized as a Christian and received into the fellowship of the church. But faith in which doctrines is required? Scripture, after all, teaches many doctrines; which together comprise “the faith handed down once for all”, as Jude calls it (Jude 1:3). Yet, scripture does not teach that a person must know and believe everything revealed in the holy scripture to be saved.

Rather scripture distinguishes between doctrinal ‘milk’ and doctrinal ‘meat’; there are some doctrines suited for new believers, who are not spiritually mature or discerning, and some that are suited for more mature believers. Less mature believers, which scripture at times refers to as “carnal” and ‘immature’ may not be able or willing to accept the ‘meatier’ doctrines of the faith right away; yet scripture does not for that reason declare these believers to be any less true Christians than those who are more mature. Scripture itself then distinguishes between parts of the faith which are required for all Christians to believe, and those which are not required to be saved, but are to be learned and accepted by the spiritually mature.

“Concerning him [Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” Hebrews 5:11-6:2 (NASB)

The “faith handed down once for all”, then, is much broader than what scripture calls the “gospel” or “foundation”. The gospel, or foundation, is what is must be known and believed in order to be saved; its acceptance is required for Christian baptism or reception into the church as a believer. The other doctrines of the faith are not required for Christian baptism, yet, they are true, revealed doctrines, that can be known with certainty to be true on the basis of the holy scriptures. These ‘meaty’ doctrines cover a much wider variety of topics than the gospel does, and include more detail on topics that are aspects of the gospel; and these doctrines, as true, known, revealed doctrines, are worthy to be taught, preached, believed, and known by Christians as important parts of that faith handed down once for all. Yet, their importance and value does not make them part of the gospel; and while knowledge and assent to them can be reasonably expected to accompany growth as a Christian, as one matures in their understanding and studies the scriptures, they are never to be added to the gospel as something which must be known and believed in order to be saved.

For when answering the question, ‘what must a person believe to be saved?’, we can err in one of two ways in answering this question, by either setting the bar too high, and requiring more of people than God does, or by setting it too low, and thereby giving people a false assurance of salvation when they have not met God’s standard. Both are serious problems; adding to the gospel can do great harm by making someone to trust in something other than the provision God has made for their salvation to save them; it can also simply set a stumbling block before them to accepting the gospel at all.

An example of this is found in the ‘Judaizers’, early Christian teachers who taught that in addition to believing the gospel preached by the apostles, a person must also be baptized and observe the law of Moses to be saved. This addition to the gospel, if believed, would cause a person to not only trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation, but also their works of fleshly circumcision and law-keeping; and by causing a person to not trust solely in God’s provision for them, could jeopardize their own salvation, scripture tells us (Gal 5:4). In response to these teachings, the apostle Paul wrote:

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel more than what we have preached to you, he is to be anathema! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel more than what you received, he is to be anathema!” Galatians 1:8-9 (NASB)

The above anathemas, or, declarations of curses, are one major motivation for us to not add to the gospel. Besides the great harm doing so can cause to others, scripture tells us that the one who preaches a gospel more than what the apostles taught is anathema, or accursed. This does not include merely the particular additions of the false teachers Paul was dealing with, but any addition to the gospel. That includes other works besides circumcision and those of the Mosaic law, as well as false doctrines. But let us also note that in addition to works and false doctrines, true doctrines which are not part of the gospel would be equally prohibited; for it is just as much an addition to the gospel to preach some revealed, true doctrine, that God has given as ‘meat for the mature’ as part of the gospel, as it is to add anything else to it.

This serves to greatly highlight how important the distinction between doctrinal ‘milk’ and ‘meat’ is then; for to mix them up, and to give doctrinal meat to spiritual infants as something that they must know and believe in order to be saved, may not only present an enormous stumbling block to those who are being saved, but may cause us to fall under the anathemas given by the apostle Paul. We may not add anything to the gospel of Christ, as preached by His apostles- even true doctrines which have been handed down by those same apostles as part of the Christian faith. We may not safely lay any other foundation, or preach any other gospel, than what the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ preached. Thus we have very good reason to want to be careful that we do not add anything to the gospel.

But we must avoid the opposite extreme of detracting from the gospel as well; for if we risk great injury by adding to it, we must remember that a watered-down gospel poses an equally serious problem; there are things scripture tells us must be believed by a person in order to be saved, in order to qualify for Christian baptism, or to be received into Christian churches as a brother in the Lord. A watered down version of this, missing some required component, will not be able to save a person.

An example of this is the Docetist heresy faced by the early church during the lifetime of the apostles. These false teachers taught that the Lord Jesus Christ had not really come in the flesh; He was, according to them, a mere phantasm or spirit of some kind, which although it appeared human, was not human. And so, they detracted from the gospel preached by the apostles Christ’s real humanity, and with it, His real suffering and death on our behalf, and His real bodily resurrection. In short, they preached a different Christ than the apostles. Although they would have affirmed parts of the gospel, their denial of other parts of it disqualified them from really being Christians in the eyes of the apostles; for scripture teaches that in order to be saved, one must believe the entire gospel. Thus 2 John 7:10 tells us Docestists were to be regarded as antichrists and false teachers, and to be rejected from Christian fellowship.

All this should highlight how important it is to get the gospel right; if we preach a gospel less than that of the apostles, it is insufficient to save; and if we preach a gospel more than the apostles, we ourselves are anathema. So scripture presents this as something which we must get right, neither adding to nor subtracting from the gospel.

What then, is the gospel? It is not, as we have said, all things taught in the scriptures; for many of those doctrine, while part of the Christian faith, are not part of the foundation, the gospel, required for Christian baptism, but are intended to be learned and known by those growing into spiritual maturity. And it certainly does not include anything not delivered in the holy scriptures; for although we may speculate about things not revealed, no such thing can be part of the gospel, for we have the gospel preached by the apostles repeated many times in the scriptures, full, and complete. The gospel is then, that simple message preached by the apostles, which men, upon believing and repenting towards God, could receive Christian baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). It then must surely include faith in “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”; and as we read earlier, the foundation includes teaching regarding “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” (Heb 6:1-2 NASB). The gospel is likewise summed up by Paul:

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (NASB)

The good news of God’s coming kingdom, over which Christ is God’s appointed king, is also an important aspect of the gospel:

“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” Matthew 4:23 (NASB)

“But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” Acts 8:12 (NASB)

This may sound like a lot, but ultimately, this gospel is simple. Combined with the teaching of the apostles throughout the book of Acts, we might sum up the gospel, or doctrinal “foundation” of Christianity as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible;

And in the man Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, our Lord, Who was crucified, died for our sins, and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead; Who ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from which He shall come to judge the living and the dead;

And in the Holy Spirit;

And in the resurrection of the flesh, eternal judgement, the kingdom of God and Christ, and the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. Amen.

This simple creed may sound familiar as the ‘rule of faith’ so frequently referred to by early church fathers in their writings as the doctrinal standard of their day. Creeds like this would typically be used as baptismal creeds; a summary of a person’s faith in Christ to be recited at the time of baptism. Belief in said faith and repentance from one’s sins was the only requirement for baptism for the remission of sins, and with it, reception into the Christian church.

This summary encapsulates the message found throughout the book of Acts as preached by the apostles. It includes all the elements of faith listed in Hebrews 6 (faith towards God, in the resurrection of the dead, and in judgment with eternal consequences), and the main points of Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, including the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It includes faith in the only true God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ; for one can hardly believe that Jesus is the Christ of God, the anointed of God, without believing in the God whose Christ and Son He is. “For He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:20-21 (NASB). It includes all that according to Jesus is necessary for eternal life; “This is eternal life, that they may know You [Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 (NASB). In short, it includes everything that scripture reveals to us is part of the gospel, everything that during the ministry of the apostles, a person was expected to know and believe in order to be a Christian.

Its just as noteworthy what is not included here as what is. Notice that it does not include any teaching that a person needed to become a member of one particular church; in baptism a person became a member of the body of Christ, and as such, was qualified to become a member of a local church, but membership within a certain local church was not part of what saved a person. Likewise, while acceptance of a gospel other than that of the apostles could cause a person to “fall from grace”, and trusting in any other gospel was dangerous, notice that the gospel preached by the apostles did not include any very detailed teaching on soteriology. A person was to understand that they were receiving salvation, including forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit, as a gift from God on the basis of their faith in the gospel and their repentance; but the detailed mechanics of soteriology were not included in the gospel. For instance, when Peter preached to the Jews in Acts 2, or to the gentile Cornelius and his household in Acts 10, detailed breakdowns of God’s foreknowledge and predestination never seem to have entered the discussion, although scripture includes teaching on these subjects.

Its also worth considering what teaching about the Trinity is included in this apostolic gospel. Faith in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one God, the Maker of all things, was included; and although with many audiences in the book of Acts this point was able to be assumed and built upon by the apostles without much explanation, we see that when Paul preached to those not familiar with the Old Testament and the God of the Bible, he spent considerable time beginning his presentation of the gospel with an explanation of Who the one God is, as we see when he preached to the Athenians in Acts 17.

Regarding the Lord Jesus Christ we may note that his humanity is frequently asserted, as are the details of his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and the good news of his kingdom. His role as God’s appointed Christ, Lord, King, Savior, and Judge features heavily in the apostles preaching, and the fact that God will judge all men through the Lord Jesus Christ is emphasized much.

But it is very noteworthy that there is basically no mention whatsoever of the Lord’s pre-existence or divinity in any sermon in the book of Acts, or in any of the first three gospels; He is only spoken of as a man empowered, appointed, and sent by God. This indicates that even if these doctrines are true, delivered as part of the faith handed down once for all, they are not part of the gospel, or something required to be known and believed to be saved. The fact that, according to the book of Acts, basically everyone who heard the apostles preach would have been entirely ignorant of these doctrines when they were baptized for the remission of sins and reconciled to God, shows us that they are not part of the gospel which must be known and believed to be saved.

Finally it may come as a shock that while belief in the Holy Spirit can seen to be required by the baptismal formula’s inclusion of the name of the Holy Spirit, basically no detail about the Holy Spirit seems to have been required to be known or believed. Bare belief that, in addition to God and His Christ there is also a Holy Spirit, seems to have been enough for the apostles to view someone as having sufficient faith to receive baptism. Notice that not only is the Holy Spirit never explicitly taught to be God or to possess a divine nature, but it is also never even clarified that the Holy Spirit is a person. The personhood of the Holy Spirit is taught by scripture, and can be known with certainty to be a true doctrine; yet this is never shown to be a point emphasized as necessary to be understood in order to be saved.

Its noteworthy that the details of trinitarian doctrine are absent from the gospel. Of course there is an enormous amount that God has revealed to us about Himself, His Son, and His Spirit; there is much scripture says concerning the relationships between these persons, their roles, their attributes, etc. Yet these truths are not therefore part of the gospel, but are rather valuable truths revealed to us that we may grow in the knowledge of God and Christ as we mature in the faith. And if those many details revealed in scripture pertaining to these things are not part of the gospel, how much less could anyone rightly think that any extra-biblical speculation, or mere theories, or plausibilities, which are not revealed in the scriptures themselves, are part of the gospel?

Whatever one wishes to guess or theorize about concerning the nature of the Son or the Holy Spirit, or if the Son was begotten by the Father before the world was and literally pre-existed his conception in Mary, or other such questions, cannot even be regarded as truly being part of the Christian faith, unless they are delivered as such in the Bible; much less can they be considered to somehow be required of anyone for salvation, or made a requirement to be imposed upon a person without which they cannot receive Christian baptism, or be admitted to, or remain a member of, a Christian church.

Those then who believe such doctrines to be required for salvation should examine themselves and their beliefs closely, to see if these things they say are necessary for salvation really have warrant from the scriptures as such. For despite whatever any council or pope may have said, the anathemas of the apostle Paul, or rather, the Lord Jesus who spoke by him, will be of more weight than any decision of theirs; and when God has declared that no man may add to the gospel of His Son without being accursed, let us not suppose that popes and councils may have made it otherwise, or done anything to controvert what the Lord has said. Anyone who adds to the gospel preached by the apostles is, according to the scriptures, anathema; let us each beware lest that be us.

Finally, let us beware of any doctrine which so contradicts the rule of faith as to deny any part of it; for just as the Docetists denied the humanity of the Lord Jesus, and the Gnostics denied the Father of the Lord Jesus, teaching that He is not the one God, the Almighty, the Maker of all things, but that He was one of multiple Gods, and another besides the Maker of all; so too other false teachings have since arisen which deny the gospel as well.

Today there are still some who deny the true humanity and death of the Son of God; there are many who deny that the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only true God; modalism is today a rampant heresy, deceiving many, which, by making God and Christ one and the same, denies the Father and the Son, the first article and the second article of the rule of faith. For one does not believe that Jesus is the Christ of God, if they believe that He is the God Whose Christ He is supposed to be; and they do not believe that He is the Son of God, if He is the same God Whose Son He is supposed to be. For these do not really believe in a Christ of God or Son of God at all, but simply believe in a God which takes on Himself the role of Christ, who may be called both Father and Son.

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What is Biblical Unitarianism?

What is Biblical Unitarianism?

In the name “Biblical Unitarianism”, “Biblical” denotes faith in the Bible; serving to distinguish from Unitarian Universalists, a liberal non-Christian group. “Unitarian” simply refers to the belief that the one God of the Bible is only one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. A “Biblical Unitarian” then is a Bible-believing Christian who believes that the God of the Bible is one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than a Trinity of three persons. Biblical Unitarians believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, but do not believe that they are all one God; rather, the one God is the Father alone.

Biblical Unitarians note that in the Bible, God is never spoken of as being a Trinity, or as being multiple persons. Rather, they note that all throughout the Bible, God is always spoken of as a single person, indicated by the use of hundreds of singular personal pronouns, and that the one God is expressly equated with the person of the Father alone several times:

Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

1 Corinthians 8:4-6 NKJV

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

John 17:1-3 NKJV

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 1:24-25 NASB

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6 NASB

These passages of scripture all expressly equate the one God of the Bible with only one person, the person Jesus calls His God and Father. Biblical Unitarians note that Jesus never claimed to be the one God, but rather taught things which clearly distinguish Him as another person or being besides God:

“Believe in God, believe also in me.” -Jesus, John 14:1 NKJV

“Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.” -Jesus, John 8:54 NKJV

“I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” -Jesus, John 20:17 NKJV

Biblical Unitarians thus conclude that Jesus is not the one God of Israel, but another person and being besides the one God- His only-begotten Son, His appointed Christ, the one mediator between God and man, as the following texts say:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” -John, John 3:16 NASB

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him.” -Peter, Acts 3:13 NASB

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” -Peter, Acts 2:36 NASB

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” -Paul, 1 Timothy 2:5 NASB

Biblical Unitarians note that the apostles call Jesus a man, repeatedly, and without qualification; for this reason, Biblical Unitarians confess that Jesus Christ is a true man, fathered uniquely by God in the womb of Mary, by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Not only did Jesus’s apostles call him a man, but he also called himself a man -and so do the Old Testament scriptures:

“But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” -John 8:40 NASB

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—” -Peter, Acts 2:22 NASB

“Because [God] has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” -Paul, Acts 17:31 NASB

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” -Isaiah 53:3 NASB

Thus the simple confession that the one God is one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that Jesus is the human Son and Christ of God, forms the heart of Biblical Unitarian faith in God and Christ.

But what about the traditional doctrine of the Trinity? That there exists one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Biblical Unitarians note that besides the fact that this doctrine is absent from the Bible, it also conflicts with several things the Bible teaches. If we have to choose between tradition and scripture, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29 NASB). We must “Test all things, and hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess 5:21) rather than simply believing something because it is traditional. Biblical Unitarians note that the doctrine of a triune God is incompatible with some of the Bible’s clear teachings about God and Jesus. Where the doctrine of a triune God teaches that the Father and Son are equal and identical, the Bible repeatedly marks God and Jesus as distinct and different from one another:

  1. God is the Almighty (Greek “Pantokrator”, meaning, ‘Ruler over all’); He is supreme in authority over all (Rev 4:8, 2 Cor 6:18). Jesus is subject and obedient to the Father as His God, and so is not supreme over all in authority (1 Cor 11:3, 1 Cor 15:28).
  2. God is uncaused, the Maker of all things. Jesus is caused by the Father, as the very name ‘Son’ implies; He also expressly declares that He lives because of the Father (Jn 6:57).
  3. God is immutable, meaning He is eternally unchanging. He is also not a man, for the Bible says “God is not a man” in Numbers 23:19, and “For I am the LORD, I do not change” in Malachi 3:6. Thus it is impossible that God would have gone from not being a man to being a man, as this would obviously be a change in God. This contradicts the Trinitarian teaching that the one God became a man.
  4. God is invisible, having never been seen by man, and is declared to be incapable of being seen (1 Tim 6:16). “No one has seen God at any time.” -1 John 4:12 NKJV. Yet Jesus Christ was seen.
  5. God is omniscient; He knows all things absolutely (1 Jn 3:20). Jesus declares plainly that He did not know something, which only the Father knew: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” -Mark 13:32 NKJV. If only the Father and no other person knows this, then the Father alone knows all things; and so, the one God, Who knows all things, must be only one person, the Father, and no other.
  6. God is immortal; He is not subject to death (1 Tim 1:17). Whatever death is, an immortal being, by definition, cannot experience it. Yet Jesus Christ died (and rose from the dead); and this is a central part of the gospel. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8 NKJV
  7. God cannot be tempted by evil”; yet Jesus “was tempted in all things” (Ja 1:13, Heb 4:15).
  8. Jesus is the Christ of God; that is, the anointed king, prophet, and priest of God, sent and empowered by God. Is the one sent by God the same as He Who sent? Is the one who is anointed the same as He Who anoints?
  9. Jesus is the Son of God; and no son is the same individual being as their father.
  10. Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, and by definition, no mediator is a party to their own mediation. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” -1 Timothy 2:5 NKJV. Notice, Jesus is simply described as a “man”, not a “God-man”, as trinitarianism says.
  11. Jesus is the Lord appointed by God over the universe, subject to God. “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” -Acts 2:36 NKJV. A person who is the one God has no need to be made Lord by God, for God has always been Lord.
  12. Jesus is the High Priest of God; a high priest worships His God, and is necessarily distinguished from the God whose priest he is. “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” -Hebrews 4:14 NKJV.

Biblical Unitarians note that these truths about God and Christ make it impossible to reasonably believe that they are together one being or one God. Rather, the one true God, the God of the Bible, is only one person, the one Jesus Christ calls His God and Father.

Arguments For Unitarianism General

Is the Holy Spirit a Person?

The personhood of the Holy Spirit is something many Christians assume. Because we are well used to the idea of the Trinity being a group of three persons, many people come to the texts of scripture with an a priori assumption that the Holy Spirit is person, and that wherever the Spirit of God is mentioned, that is understood to refer to a distinct person from the Father and the Son.

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The Meaning of the Term ‘God’

That the Father is the one God is important to know, for scripture reveals it; but it is important to know not only that these words are true, but what those words mean according to the scriptures. How, after all, can the Father be the “one God” (1 Cor. 8:6), while the Son is also called God (Jn 1:1)?

To answer this question it is important to understand what the term “God” even means in itself. It is a term used very frequently throughout the scriptures, not only for the Supreme God, the Father, the “Lord God Pantokrator” (Rev 4:8), but also for beings as low as men and angels. As Jesus noted in John 10:35 “He [God] called them gods, to whom the word of God came”, speaking of a psalm where the men of Israel were called “gods”. In Psalm 82:1 “God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods”, calling created angels gods. Paul is well aware of this when he writes “For even if there are many called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”

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Samuel Clarke on Why Classical Trinitarianism is Not Tritheism

(From Clarke’s answer is recorded in the the fourth edition of Samuel Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity and Related Writings.)

OBJ. “Three Divine Beings – must needs be conceived as Three Gods, notwithstanding any Subordination of the Second and Third Being to the First; or else we must free the Pagan World from the Absurdity of Polytheism, and the Guilt of Idolatry; these being generally, if not always, founded upon a Subordination of many Deities to the One Supreme.”

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