The Development of the Doctrine of the Trinity

Trinitarians frequently claim that the trinitarian theology has been essential to Christianity from the beginning; whatever changes or developments there have been, we are told, are only refinements in the way this doctrine is expressed, and not changes to the actual doctrine itself. These claims, however, must be seen as representing either an ignorance of what the theological landscape of the early church actually looked like, or else brazen disregard for historical truth. We may easily recognize in the writings of the early fathers a clear development of doctrine respecting the identities of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and the relationships between them, involving not only massive changes in terminology, but also substantial changes to the underlying concepts themselves.

Firstly, we must note that early Christian writers, until the middle of the fourth century, were nearly unanimous in affirming that the one God is one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ [1]; the main exceptions to this being gnostics and modalists [2]. Early Christianity was home to a great deal of diversity, and while views that would lead into later trinitarianism developed slowly throughout the second through fourth centuries, the majority of Christians did not believe that Jesus literally pre-existed [3]. Development in the direction of trinitarianism was advanced in the second century by the logos-theorists and apologists, such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian. Departing from the majority of Christians, they asserted that Jesus Christ was the logos and wisdom of God, begotten by God prior to or at the time of creation [4]. Writers in this era spoke of the Son as being both ‘begotten’ and ‘created’ by the Father, using these terms interchangeably [5]. The Son was viewed as being subordinate to the Father in several senses: as being chronologically after the Father [6], owing his existence to the Father [7], being under the authority of the Father and serving the will of the Father [8], not sharing the the transcendent divine attributes of the Father [9], and as being lesser than the Father in honor and glory [10]. The Logos was seen as God’s instrument in the creation of the cosmos, and although this Logos was the Image of God who shared God’s own likeness, the Logos could do things that were, due to the transcendence of God, impossible for the one God to do, like appear to men as the Angel of the Lord [11]. Although this Logos was “God” and “Lord”, he was expressly stated to be numerically distinct from the one God [12], ‘the Maker of all things’ [13], ‘the Most High’ [14], and ‘the Almighty’ [15], (all of which titles were reserved for the Father) and was sometimes referred to as ‘another God’ and a ‘second God’ besides the one God, the Father [16].

In the third century, Origen elevated the Son to the status of being co-eternal with the Father by popularizing a view called ‘eternal generation’, which came to eventually replace the temporal view of the Son’s generation held by earlier proto-orthodox writers [17]. Origen also helped shape the language that would later be used to articulate trinitarian doctrine, including the use of the term ‘hypostasis’ to refer to a single discrete individual being, declaring that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three hypostases [18]; only the hypostasis of the Father, the one God, however, was uncreated, with the Son being the greatest and eternal creature of the Father, and the Holy Spirit being next, having been created by God through the Son [19].

In the fourth century previously existing tensions between Origen’s views and the views of earlier logos-theorists boiled over in the Arian controversy. Arius was condemned for denying the Son’s eternality (as so many logos-theorists had) [20], and the Son was declared to be ‘of the same essence’ as the Father in the Nicene Creed. This vague terminology was employed to exclude Arius and his followers, but did not have a single clear meaning, but rather had many possible interpretations, acceptable to the many different non-Arian viewpoints represented at Nicea. In the following decades, however, fierce controversy broke out over how the term was to be understood. The term ‘homoousias’, ‘same being’, could be understood to either indicate generic sameness of nature among multiple individuals (as the alternative “semi-arian” term ‘homoiousias’ also indicated), or to indicate that the Father and Son were one individual [21]. Recognizing the latter as modalistic [22], the conservative majority of bishops opted to replace the Nicene formula with another that could not be taken in such a modalistic way; this found expression through a number of non-nicene councils; for a couple decades, the Nicene Creed was totally repealed, and the pro-nicenes appeared to have lost [23]. During this time important changes took place within the pro-nicene camp; whereas previously the pro-nicenes had advocated that ‘homoousias’ should be understood and accepted only in a generic sense [24], some pro-nicenes began to adapt nicene theology to affirm by this term that the Father and Son were together the same individual being and the same one God [25].

In this same era, some pro-nicene bishops began to advocate the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is also God and co-essential with the Father, thus introducing the concept of a trinity of persons all sharing one divine being; up until this point, a great deal of diversity had existed on how the Holy Spirit was viewed [26]. By 381, with the older generation of pro-nicenes like Athanasius dead, a newer generation had taken the helm of the pro-nicene party, and for the first time in history advocated a triune God, or one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [27], repudiating the older view that the one God is uni-personal, the Father, and that the Son is a numerically distinct individual besides Him [28]. Due to a change in imperial politics, this small party was thrust into power, and was thus able to define orthodoxy for the entire Roman Empire. While many bishops continued to hold a subordinationist christology and/or denied the Godhood of the Holy Spirit, the opinion of these conservatives was ignored, and the new revised ‘Nicene Orthodoxy’ became the official trinitarian orthodoxy of the church moving forward. Enforced by the sword, dissent was slowly killed by force as the Roman Empire crumbled and, with the eventual defeat of (the previously ‘orthodox’) Homoian unitarian subordinationism among the Barbarians in the 8th century, Europe entered the Dark Ages firmly trinitarian [29].

Ultimately the fact that trinitarianism as we know it today is the result of a long and painful process of theological evolution is unavoidable from the historical data. Leaving behind the Bible’s own answers to questions of christology, proto-trinitarian speculation resulted in centuries of bitter infighting among professing Christians, which was only finally resolved by the violent intervention of Roman Imperial authorities in favor of the newly christened ‘orthodoxy’ of trinitarianism. The history of this development sees one significant conceptual change after another, with those holding to an older stage of development quickly becoming the heretics of the next generation. It is the job of those seeking the true religion of Jesus and his apostles to distinguish between these later wildly speculative developments and the religion of the Jewish man, Jesus the Nazarene.

——

Footnotes

[1] See the ‘rule of faith’ as attested to by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen, as well as the Creed of Nicea, the Macrostich, the Homoian Creed, all of which begin with the confession “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” as well as a collection of testimonies from the writings of various nicene and ante-nicene fathers available here. See a comparative chart of the ‘rule of faith’ as given by various early authors here.

[2] “I know that there is one God, Jesus Christ; nor except Him do I know any other that is begotten and amenable to suffering.” Zephyrinus (d. 217 CE), a Sabellian, as recorded by Hippolytus in Refutation of All Heresies, Book 9. Gnostic denial of the identity of the one God with the Father, and the ‘catholic’ unitarian position against this, is especially clear in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies.

[3] “For there are some, my friends,” I said, “of our race [Christians], who admit that He is Christ, while holding Him to be man of men; with whom I do not agree, nor would I, even though most of those who have the same opinions as myself should say so; since we were enjoined by Christ Himself to put no faith in human doctrines, but in those proclaimed by the blessed prophets and taught by Himself.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, 48) “A second class are those who know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, considering that the Word made flesh is the whole Word, and knowing only Christ after the flesh. Such is the great multitude of those who are counted believers.” (Origen, Commentary on John 2.3)

[4] See Justin Dialogue With Trypho Ch 61 and 129; Theophilus of Antioch To Autolycus, 2.22; Tatian Address to the Greeks, Ch 5.

[5] See Tertullian, Against Hermogenes Ch 3 and 18; Origen, Commentary on John, 2.6.

[6] See Novatian On the Trinity, Ch 31; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Ch 10, and Against Noetus, Ch 10-11; Tertullian, Against Hermogenes Ch 3.

[7] See Justin, Dialogue With Trypho Ch 29, 61, 62, 128; Novatian On the Trinity Ch 31; Origen Commentary on John 2.6; Tatian Address to the Greeks, Ch 5; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Ch 10.

[8] “When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 29) “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things— above whom there is no other God — wishes to announce to them.” (Ibid, Chapter 56) See also Justin Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 29, 56, 60, 61, 113, 125, 126, 127; “Moreover, the Son does nothing of His own will, nor does anything of His own determination; nor does He come from Himself, but obeys all His Father’s commands and precepts; so that, although birth proves Him to be a Son, yet obedience even to death declares Him the minister of the will of His Father, of whom He is. Thus making Himself obedient to His Father in all things, although He also is God, yet He shows the one God the Father by His obedience, from whom also He drew His beginning.” Novatian On the Trinity, Ch 31.

[9] See Justin Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 56, 60, 127; Irenaeus Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching; Tertullian Against Praxeas Ch 16; Novatian On the Trinity Ch 17, 18.

[10] See Tertullian Against Hermogenes, Ch 18.

[11] See Justin Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 56, 60, 127; Irenaeus Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching; Tertullian Against Praxeas Ch 16; Novatian On the Trinity Ch 17, 18.

[12] “You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit.” Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129; see also Ibid, Ch 128.

[13] “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things— above whom there is no other God — wishes to announce to them.” Justin Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56.

[14] “Grant that there may be some individuals among the multitudes of believers who are not in entire agreement with us, and who incautiously assert that the Saviour is the Most High God; however, we do not hold with them, but rather believe Him when He says, “The Father who sent Me is greater than I.” We would not therefore make Him whom we call Father inferior — as Celsus accuses us of doing — to the Son of God.” Origen Contra Celsum, 8.14.

[15] See the ‘rule of faith’ as attested to by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen, as well as the Creed of Nicea, the Macrostich, the Homoian Creed, all of which begin with the confession “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”. See a comparative chart of the ‘rule of faith’ as given by various early authors here.

[16] “And although we may call Him a second God, let men know that by the term second God we mean nothing else than a virtue capable of including all other virtues, and a reason capable of containing all reason whatsoever which exists in all things, which have arisen naturally, directly, and for the general advantage, and which reason, we say, dwelt in the soul of Jesus, and was united to Him in a degree far above all other souls, seeing He alone was enabled completely to receive the highest share in the absolute reason, and the absolute wisdom, and the absolute righteousness.” Origen, Contra Celsus, Book 5.39; see also Justin, Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 56.

[17] See Origin First Principles, 1.4, compare Novatian On the Trinity, Ch 31; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Ch 10, and Against Noetus, Ch 10-11; Tertullian, Against Hermogenes Ch 3.

[18] See Commentary on John, 2.6 and 10.21.

[19] “We consider, therefore, that there are three hypostases, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and at the same time we believe nothing to be uncreated but the Father. We admit, as more pious and as true, that the Holy Spirit is the most honored of all things made through the Word, and that he is [first] in rank of all the things which have been made by the Father through Christ. Perhaps this is the reason the Spirit too is not called son of God, since the only begotten alone is by nature a son from the beginning. The Holy Spirit seems to have need of the Son ministering to his hypostasis, not only for it to exist, but also for it to be wise, and rational, and just, and whatever other thing we ought to understand it to be by participation in the aspects of Christ which we mentioned previously.” (Origen, Commentary on John 2.6)

[20] “But as for those who say, ‘There was when He was not’, and, ‘Before being born He was not’, and that He came into existence out of nothing… or is subject to alteration or change, these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.” (Anathemas of the Nicene Council) While Arius possibly innovated in saying that the Son was created ‘ex nihilo’, out of nothing, he was certainly not the first to teach that there has been a point before the person of the Son existed, see footnote #6.

[21] Hilary of Poiters clearly distinguishes between these multiple ways of taking ‘co-essential’ in his De Synodis. That Hilary acknowledges that what he and the pro-nicenes actually mean by ‘same essence’ is the same thing as the later so-called ‘semi-arians’ meant by ‘like essence’ is very significant, for this reveals that at this time, ‘like essence’ was not considered heresy by the pro-nicenes, but just was only rejected by them as being a poor way of expressing the same idea they intended by ‘same essence’. Later condemnation of the ‘Homoiousian’ ‘semi-arians’ by triniatarians, then, really represents a condemnation of the early pro-nicenes like Athansius as well, since they acknowledged an agreement of doctrine with these “semi-arians” in all but wording. See also Athanasius, De Synodis, 41.

[22] Even Hilary, Athanasius, and Basil recognized a numerical or individual unity of essence as Sabellian, (that is, modalistic). “For neither do we hold a Son-Father, as do the Sabellians, calling Him of one but not of the same essence, and thus destroying the existence of the Son.” Athanasius, Statement of Faith. And Basil the Great said “This term [co-essential] also corrects the error of Sabellius, for it removes the idea of the identity of the hypostases, and introduces in perfection the idea of the Persons. For nothing can be of the same substance with itself, but one thing is of same substance with another.” (Letter LII) These quotes demonstrate that the numerical or individual sense of ‘co-essential’ was seen as Sabellian, and that Athanasius and Basil saw the term’s intended meaning as a generic unity of nature only. They were sure that the term ‘homoousias’, despite being open to this Sabellian meaning, would always be properly qualified as a conceptual equivalent to ‘homoiousias’; we see that within only the span of a generation, however, their pet term was already being taken in the modalistic sense that their opponents warned it would be.

[23] A number of local councils first contravened the Nicene Creed, before finally, in 359, the then ‘ecumenical’ councils of Ariminum & Seleucia officially took the Nicene Creed off the books and replaced it with the ‘Homoian’ formula, which eschewed the philosophically dense language of ‘ousia’ in favor of simply defining the Son as ‘like the Father’ and allowing a more ante-nicene view, like that of the logos-theorists, to flourish again for a brief time.

[24] See Hilary, De Synodis, 66-72, Athanasius De Synodis 41, and footnote #22 above.

[25] See Hilary in On the Trinity, where we can see his drastic departure from the careful anti-Sabellian qualification he gave in his earlier De Synodis. “I and the Father are One John 10:30, are the words of the Only-begotten Son of the Unbegotten. It is the voice of the One God proclaiming Himself to be Father and Son; Father speaking in the Son and Son in the Father.” (On the Trinity, Book 2). See also the writings of Marius Victorinus and Gregory Nazianzen.

[26] “But of the wise men amongst ourselves, some have conceived of him as an Activity, some as a Creature, some as God; and some have been uncertain which to call Him, out of reverence for Scripture, they say, as though it did not make the matter clear either way. And therefore they neither worship Him nor treat Him with dishonour, but take up a neutral position, or rather a very miserable one, with respect to Him. And of those who consider Him to be God, some are orthodox in mind only, while others venture to be so with the lips also. And I have heard of some who are even more clever, and measure Deity; and these agree with us that there are Three Conceptions; but they have separated these from one another so completely as to make one of them infinite both in essence and power, and the second in power but not in essence, and the third circumscribed in both; thus imitating in another way those who call them the Creator, the Co-operator, and the Minister, and consider that the same order and dignity which belongs to these names is also a sequence in the facts.” Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 31. We see here that Gregory, a Cappadocian and one of the leading figures arguing for the view that the Holy Spirit is God, makes no attempt to claim his position as the historical orthodoxy of Christians, but freely admits great diversity of opinion on the matter. Of those who thought the Spirit was a creature, we may especially recall the influential Origen, see Commentary on John 2.6.

[27] See Augustine’s writings in On the Trinity and in his Debate with Maximinus (a Homoian), wherein the one God is expressly treated as a single personal entity who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. See also Hilary in On the Trinity, where we can see his drastic departure from the careful anti-Sabellian qualification he gave in his earlier De Synodis. “I and the Father are One John 10:30, are the words of the Only-begotten Son of the Unbegotten. It is the voice of the One God proclaiming Himself to be Father and Son; Father speaking in the Son and Son in the Father.” (On the Trinity, Book 2). See also the writings of Marius Victorinus and Gregory Nazianzen on the Trinity, and the later pseudo-athanasian creed which came to summarize this modalistic trinitarianism.

[28] This repudiation of the view that the one God is one person, the Father of Jesus, and Jesus another distinct from the one God, can be seen especially in Augustine’s interactions with Maximinus in their Debate, and in the ruling if the council of Rome in 382 as recorded by Theodoret; see Church History, 5.11. Eunomius’s reaction to the nicene victory under Theodosius I also indicates that the opponents of the Nicene party saw themselves as arguing against a theology which taught that the one God is triune, and not particularly the Father; so also with Maximinus in his debate with Augustine.

[29] See the proscriptions of heresy in the Theodosian code. Byzantine anti-heresy laws gradually strengthened against all non-trinitarian views, as the Western Roman Empire fell to the Homoian Goths and Vandals, giving a brief respite of religious liberty, before the restored rule of catholics under the Franks again brought strict medieval ante-heresy laws, forcing non-trinitarians underground until the Protestant Reformation.

Arguments For Unitarianism Church History

Isaiah 44:24 and Jesus as Creator

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb,

“I, the LORD, am the maker of all things,

Stretching out the heavens by Myself

And spreading out the earth all alone,”

Isaiah 44:24, NASB

In this verse, we see YHVH, God Almighty, the God of Israel, testifies to the truth that He is the Maker of all things. As this verse is typically interpreted, it says that YHVH did this alone, by Himself, without the assistance or aid of another.

Trinitarians make an interesting argument using this verse:

P1) If YHVH alone created all things, and

P2) Jesus Christ was involved in the creation of all things, then

C) it follows that Jesus Christ is YHVH, the one God.

Trinitarians seem to have overlooked something very important in this verse though: YHVH is described here as only one person. That’s no mere assumption, but something we can clearly see from the passage itself: YHVH is obviously a single individual being here (“the one”), and as this being both speaks and intelligently creates, this being meets the definition of a person (a person is by definition a rational individual being). Not only does YHVH here obviously meet the standard definition of a person, but the language He uses to speak of Himself is expressly singular and personal, clearly communicating by this grammar that He is a single person. YHVH here is a “Who”, an “I”, “the Maker” (not Makers), and He says He has stretched out the heavens “by Myself”. It is beyond doubt that YHVH described in this verse is a single person.

But here we see the problem this poses for trinitarians: this argument would not prove a multi-personal triune God, but a uni-personal God who is both Father and Son; that is, given that YHVH is only one person here, the argument presented above would prove modalism, not trinitarianism, if true. If YHVH is not only a single being but also a single person, as we saw above, and this person YHVH is identified with the Father (which no one denies), then proving that Jesus Christ is also this same YHVH will have proved too much- the Father and Son will be one and the same person. The trinitarian argument fails then, precisely because its end result is not actually trinitarian at all.

It gets worse for the trinitarian though: if we follow the logic of this argument in reverse, we find that this proves that Jesus is not YHVH, the one God. That is, we know from the Bible that the Father and Son are not the same person- and trinitarians openly acknowledge this. So if this argument gets us to this false conclusion, then there must be something wrong with the trinitarian syllogism. Either the argument itself isn’t valid (its conclusion does not follow from the premises), or else, if it is valid, then since we agree the conclusion is false (since the conclusion is modalism), then we must also agree that the argument must be unsound: at least one premise must be false.

If we examine the trinitarian syllogism, we find that the argument is valid: if YHVH alone created the universe, and Jesus created the universe, then Jesus is YHVH. The logic here works, and it’s necessarily true that if each premise is true, then the conclusion that Jesus is a uni-personal YHVH, and so by extension, is the Father, must be true. Since that conclusion is agreed by both trinitarians and unitarians to be false, that means that for sure, at least one premise of the trinitarian argument must be false.

I would suggest that the first premise is just too clear to deny; we have the verse this is proved from, Isaiah 44:24, right in front of us in this discussion. YHVH says that He alone, by Himself, made all things -what more could YHVH have said to communicate that He alone, by Himself, without the aid of any other, made all things, had He wanted to communicate this? Premise one is sound, and we may note, is already agreed upon by both trinitarians and Biblical Unitarians.

That only leaves premise two then as the culprit, which say that Jesus created the universe; we are forced to the conclusion that Jesus didn’t actually create the universe. We can actually restructure and modify the trinitarian syllogism to show this more clearly:

P1) If YHVH alone created the universe;

P2) and YHVH is only one person;

P3) and YHVH is the Father;

P4) and the Father is not the Son

C) then it follows that the Son did not create the universe, and is not YHVH, God Almighty.

Since trinitarians acknowledge P1, P3, and P4, they would probably try to deny P2; but as we saw above, the text of scripture doesn’t allow for this. P1 and P2 are both equally clear from Isaiah 44:24, and the verse cannot be used as proof of P1, without also proving P2. That means that the argument is sound, and the conclusion follows: Jesus, the Son of God, did not create the universe, and is not YHVH, God Almighty. Rather, the Maker of all things, YHVH, the one God, is one person only, the Father alone.

Arguments For Unitarianism

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

That YHVH is One Person and Jesus Christ Another, Proved from Acts 4:24-30

And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,

And the peoples devise futile things?

26 ‘The kings of the earth took their stand,

And the rulers were gathered together

Against the Lord and against His Christ.’

27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”

Acts 4:24-30 NASB

In this passage we read a prayer of the apostles Peter and John after they had been released from prison, and had been threatened by the Sanhedrin. In it, we have a window into the theology and christology of these two preeminent apostles, and of the early church in general. Of particular interest here is the fact that they quote Psalm 2:1-2 in their prayer, as having been fulfilled in the events that they had witnessed surrounding Jesus the Nazarene, thus giving us an apostolic commentary on Psalm 2.

Of note firstly is that in Psalm 2, the title “Lord” is used as a filler for the proper name of God, YHVH. Given that, if we interpret this prayer as being consistent with itself, we may reasonably understand ‘Lord’ throughout the prayer to be a filler for this name. Sometimes people run away with this idea of ‘Lord’ being a replacement for YHVH, and subsequently read the name ‘YHVH’ into many texts where the authors likely never intended it, but only intended to say ‘Lord’, the equivalent of ‘Master’. But here, especially given the connection with Psalm 2, I will suggest we have good reason to see ‘Lord’ as a placeholder for the divine name YHVH.

We may note then that the prayer begins by addressing YHVH as the Creator of all things- “the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them”. The person being prayed to is the one Creator, then, the same YHVH Who said “I, the LORD, am the Maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone” (Isa 44:24 NASB). If all things were made by this one Creator, then it follows necessarily that He alone is uncreated. The person being addressed here as YHVH then is the Supreme Being, the one uncaused Creator of all things, the God of Israel.

They next make mention of what YHVH spoke by the Holy Spirit through David, and quote the first two verses of Psalm 2. Note the end of verse two: the rulers were gathered together “against YHVH and His anointed” (that is, His Christ), who is also identified as “Your holy Servant Jesus”. Here we have nothing less than Jesus Christ being clearly distinguished by the apostles Peter and John as another person besides YHVH, the one God, the Maker of all things.

We must read the passage so, since it’s obvious that the anointed and the Anointer cannot be one and the same person, or that the servant of one cannot be the same with the one they serve. The anointed of YHVH is clearly one besides YHVH here, one who He has acted upon to anoint as His Messiah. And in calling Jesus the Servant of YHVH, YHVH and Jesus are again clearly distinguished; since it’s obvious that the servant and the one served are persons distinct from one another, according to the very definition of the term ‘servant’.

We have here then the testimony of two leading apostles, that the Lord Jesus Christ is another person besides the one God, YHVH, the Maker of all things. Let us note, lest any trinitarian try to escape these conclusions, that if Jesus were here said to have been anointed by the Father, any trinitarian would regard it as a proof that Jesus is a distinct person from the father; if Jesus had here been called the Servant of the Father, likewise, no trinitarian would shy from declaring, against modalism, that this is proof that Jesus is another person besides the Father. But here we have something far less comfortable for the trinitarian: Jesus is not merely said to be the anointed of the Father, or the Servant of the Father, although he is these things, but is clearly said to be the anointed and Servant of YHVH, the Maker of all things. Just as much, then as such statements would rightly be said to prove that Jesus is a distinct person from the Father, so these statements prove that Jesus is not YHVH the Maker of all things, but another person distinct from Him.

Later in Psalm 2, we further read that the Messiah, or anointed, of YHVH is His Son:

“He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.”

verse 7

Notice, then, that Jesus Christ is not simply said to be the Son of the Father, but of YHVH. It is clear, here, that YHVH is indeed a person, the Father of Jesus, not a multi-personal being. YHVH here is spoken to as a person: “You made”, “Who… said” “You anointed”. This YHVH created, planned and purposed, anointed, spoke, healed, and is being asked to intervene on behalf of men- it is obvious from these things that the YHVH being spoken to is a person.

But perhaps a trinitarians will still try to object, despite all the evidence, that this is a ‘being’ and not a ‘person’ denoted here by the name YHVH. Why then is a ‘being’ spoken to as a person, then? It is granted that YHVH is a being; but is this being a personal or impersonal being? If it is impersonal, then how does it speak? How does it create, or act, or heal? Why pray to an impersonal being? Undoubtedly the being spoken of here is a personal being. We must then ask, does any peculiar term exist which denotes ‘a personal being’? The word ‘person’ denotes just such a thing. To say that the YHVH spoken of here then is truly a person could not be more appropriate.

We must recall that a person is, according to definition, a rational individual being- and YHVH here clearly fits that description. That YHVH is spoken of as one singular entity here, anyone will admit: that is, He is an individual being. That YHVH is ‘rational’ is clear from the fact that He speaks, purposes and plans, intelligently creates, etc. By definition then, YHVH here is indisputably a person. And this person is clearly distinguished from Jesus Christ, who is the “Anointed”, “Servant”, and “Son” of this person.

We see then that for the apostles Peter and John, the one God, YHVH, the Supreme Being, the Creator of all things, is only one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ is a person wholly distinct from YHVH. And, of course (lest the trinitarians try here to insert their cavil of distinguishing being and person) that to be a distinct person means that he must necessarily be a distinct individual being also; for a person just is a rational individual being, as we have said. To be another person, then, is to be another rational individual being; and so we see that the one God is one rational individual being, and Jesus Christ is another.

Finally, a brief thought experiment: if the doctrine of triune God were true, and YHVH God Almighty were one being that is three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then how would this passage read? Would this prayer, and Psalm 2 quoted in it, make any sense? Is a triune YHVH an interpretive option? Let us consider, if YHVH is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then it follows that: Jesus Christ will be the Anointed of the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and of himself; Jesus Christ will be the Servant of not only the Father, but also the Holy Spirit, and also, of himself; and finally, Jesus Christ will be the Son, not only of the Father, but also of the Holy Spirit, and also, of himself. This is very obviously both impossible and utterly contrary to the teaching of the Bible; Jesus was not anointed by Himself; and to suppose that Jesus has the Holy Spirit as a second father, is quite absurd; and how absurd is it to suppose that anyone could be their own servant, or their own Son, such that Jesus should be a servant and Son to himself? Yet let us mark well, that if YHVH the God of Israel, God Almighty, is three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then for Jesus to be the Anointed, the Servant, and the Son of YHVH will require all of the absurdities mentioned above.

It is clear then, that not only is the trinitarian position foreign to the text of the Bible, but would make the passage’s meaning totally unintelligible and contradictory here. We must stick to what is clear from the text: YHVH, the Creator of all things, the one God, is one person, and Jesus Christ is His Anointed, His Servant, and His Son, another person and individual being distinct from the one God.

Arguments For Unitarianism

The Quaternity Argument

Dr. Dale Tuggy recently posted on a very important subject, one I’ve been trying to draw attention to here for quite some time: that most trinitarians view the Trinity itself as a person, creating a fourth divine person. You can read his post here. The result of such a view is that the Trinity is not truly a trinity, but a quadrinity, and that the one God of the Old Testament is not the same person as the one God in the New Testament.

After all, according to trinitarians the one God of the Old Testament, YHVH, is supposed to just be the Trinity. And if the Trinity is indeed a self or person in its own right, then since this person or self is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together, it is distinct from each (since the Father, for instance, is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together). But in the New Testament, this person has disappeared- the one God is always identified as one person of the Trinity, the Father (Jn 17:3, Eph 4:6, 1 Cor 8:6). So now we will have a situation where the one God of the Old Testament and the one God of the New Testament are not the same person, but two different selves or persons. While “God the Trinity” is the one God of the OT, in the NT we can only find “God the Father” identified as the one God.

This is why I have suggested before that in some respects, this semi-modalistic, four-person trinitarianism is really ancient gnostic heresy repackaged- after all, denying the identity of the one God of the OT with the one God of the NT, the Father of Jesus, was one of the main crimes of ancient gnostic heresies, something ancient writers like Irenaeus repeatedly argued against.

I’d also like to comment briefly on something the trinitarian Dr. Tuggy interacts with in his article says:

God acts and speaks as one quite a bit. Scripture affirms God is one. It also affirms God is three by identifying three distinct persons as God.

Andrew Schumacher

Here we read what I think is a pretty standard line for trinitarians, that the Bible presents God as one, but also as three. As I’ve noted elsewhere, this isn’t actually the case: while the Bible is explicit from cover to cover that God is one, we lack any statement in any book of the Bible that God is three. That is in itself a reason to be unitarian and not trinitarian, since to be unitarian is simply to affirm what the Bible actually states, and no more, while to be trinitarian involves not only believing something never stated by the Bible, but in particular something never taught by the Bible which actually contradicts what the Bible does teach. After all, it is a contradiction for the same individual thing to be numerically one and three.

But note the attempt to shoehorn in that the Bible teaches God is three: he says that the Bible teaches God is three by ‘identifying three distinct persons as God’. Firstly, we may note that one of these persons, the Holy Spirit, is never clearly identified as God– something which must be a major embarrassment to trinitarians. But secondly, even if the Spirit, like the Son, was sometimes called ‘theos’, ‘God’ or ‘a god’ (both are equally legitimate Greek translations), this would not be the same thing as saying that the Son and Spirit are the same one God. That is to say, showing that three persons are each God in some sense and showing that the one God is three persons are not the same thing.

That’s because the Bible freely speaks of there being “many gods” in a lesser sense; for example, human judges and rulers in Israel were called “gods” (Ps 82, Jn 10:34-35), and likewise angels are also called “gods” (Heb 2:7, compare Ps 8:5). So according to the Bible, there’s no contradiction in there being one God, YHVH, God Almighty, Who is the “Most High God”, “the God of gods”, and there being in a lesser sense “many gods” (1 Cor 8:5). So, if the Messiah (who is always described simply as a man) is a God, and if the Holy Spirit were a God (something that cannot be shown from the Bible), this would still fit well within a unitarian framework- nothing about it would imply that the one God is multi-personal.

For a trinitarian to show that the one God is multi-personal, despite the way scripture constantly speaks of Him as a single person, they will need to do more than show that other persons besides the Father (Who is explicitly equated with the one God several times) are called “God” or “a god”; they will need to show that the Bible actually says that the one God, the Supreme Being, YHVH, is more persons than one, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. This, they cannot do.

Arguments For Unitarianism

The Passion of Christ: God’s Self-Sacrifice?

In a couple of recent public debates between Trinitarians and Biblical Unitarians on the Trinity, an argument has come up from the trinitarian side that I would like to address here. The argument is this: the passion and death of Christ is not God’s sacrifice of another, but God’s self-sacrifice for us. This is then praised for its beauty, its show of love and its demonstration of humility. This is something, according to these trinitarians, that Biblical Unitarianism misses, much to its own hurt. But here I want to ask the question: is this idea of God’s self-sacrifice biblical?

The answer to this is short and simple: no- the Bible repeatedly and explicitly tells us not that God gave Himself for our sins, but that He gave His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ:

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. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:16-18 NASB

Notice the clarity here is this most famous verse: God gave who? God so loved the world that He gave Himself? No; God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Now, anyone can understand that a son is not one and the same with the one whose son they are, but must be another; for the very nature of sonship is to denote a relationship between two different individuals, as being father and son.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Romans 5:8-11 NKJV

God demonstrated His own love for us how? By who dying for us? The trinitarians in these recent debates want to answer ‘God!’. But what does the Bible say? God demonstrates His own love for us by Christ’s death for us. We are reconciled to God, not through His own death, we are told, but through the death of His Son. And His Son is, of course, another besides Him, or else he is no real Son at all. This passage is clear in telling us that we are reconciled to God through the death of a third party, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

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. 14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.

Acts 3:13-15 NASB

Notice that the one God raised from the dead was not God Himself, but another “the one whom God raised”. Who is this? The Prince of Life, God’s servant Jesus Christ. Notice that Jesus is hear clearly distinguished from YHVH, the one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as being His servant. No one is their own servant, but to be a servant of someone denotes a relationship between two distinct individuals.

“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— 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

Acts 2:22-24 NASB

Who got nailed to the cross and raised from the dead, God, or another, according to Peter here? Clearly another, Jesus the Nazarene. We are told that God performed wonders and signs through him; an action which again shows that they are two distinct beings, as it would be meaningless to say that one performed an action through their own self. Here we see clearly again that the one who died for our sins is not the one God, but another, His Son, Jesus Christ.

There are many other passages we might go to as well. To the claim that God redeemed us with His own personal sacrifice and not through a third party, we may simply quote 1 Timothy 2:5 (“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” NASB) and be done with it, but all these other texts quoted above only serve to irrefutably demonstrate the point that much more clearly. God did not suffer and die for anyone’s sins, and He didn’t sacrifice Himself. Rather, the Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins and sacrificed Himself for us.

If we value the beauty and nobility of self-sacrifice, let us look to Jesus, the Son of God, who willingly gave himself up for us in obedience to the Father. Here we see not only a glorious example of great humility, as the Christ of God suffered and died like a common criminal, but also a glorious and noble example of obedience, as Philippians 2:8 points out:

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:8 NASB

If we instead say that God gave Himself for our sins, we lose this example of obedience; God is not subject to another, to obey another. But Jesus Christ the Son of God gives us the perfect example of willing obedience to God, in dying for our sins according to God’s plan.

We must remember that our notions of what is beautiful or noble don’t trump truth. If God had really died for our sins, then we would have to appreciate the beauty of that. But if God didn’t die for our sins- if another besides God died for our sins- then there is no beauty in this falsehood that God died for us. In fact, we would be so far from advancing what is beautiful and noble, that we would be robbing the one who did suffer and die for us the glory due him. Jesus Christ the Son of God must get the glory for what He has done for us; it is unacceptable to rob him of that glory, by ascribing the extremely noble and praiseworthy things he has done to another, Who in fact did not do them.

While hoping to glorify God, these trinitarians are greatly dishonoring the Lord Jesus Christ. That is not pleasing to God, Who wills that on account of his obedience and sacrifice, Christ should be highly exalted to God’s right hand, should receive the name above all names, and should have every knee bow to him. All this is to the glory of the Father (Phil 2:11); if we really want to glorify God, we must stop ascribing the work of Christ to God, and glorify Christ for his amazing accomplishments, which is, we are told, to the glory of God Who sent and empowered him. In this way, we will honor both Christ and God, according to the will of God.

There remains just two more things I’d like to briefly note in relation to this trinitarian argument we are addressing. Firstly, God is immortal, and to be immortal simply means you cannot die. Trying to define death in some special way here won’t help, because being immortal means that whatever death is, God doesn’t do it. God is the living God, and is immutable, unchanging; so then, He always lives, and never dies in any way, for a living unchangeable being must always and eternally live. Any experience of death would both mean that God had changed, and that He was mortal; but we are told that God never changes (Mal 3:6), and that He is immortal (1 Tim 1:17). It should be obvious then that its not even a possibility that God died on the cross for our sins. Rather, as the Bible says, the man Jesus Christ the Son of God gave Himself for us.

Secondly, I want to note how very modalistic this trinitarian argument is. This really goes to demonstrate what I have frequently tried to draw attention to, that most modern trinitarians are actually modalists. For them, Father, Son, and Spirit are all just the same rational individual being; and of course, a rational individual being is simply a person. Now, traditional trinitarian language prevents them from calling this being, this ‘triune God’ or ‘tri-personal God’ a “person”, but when you get down to the actual concepts in play, they believe that this entity is a single person which is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, for them, the Son dying is the self-sacrifice of the one God, because the Son just is that one God, that one individual who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Of course, if the Son just is the one God, however, then the Son isn’t really the Son of God at all. A son must be another besides the one whose son they are; a father-son relation necessarily denotes a relationship between two individuals. So if Jesus Christ just is the one God, he is not in any real sense the Son of the one God. Denying that Jesus is the Son of God, of course, is extremely problematic:

The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

1 John 5:1-12 NASB

Its precisely because modalism denies the Son of God, and with it, the gospel and all true Christianity, that the early church rightly identified modalism as a dangerous heresy.

Of course, if the Son just is the one God, and the Father also just is the one God, then the Son just is the Father, too. This is the rational outcome of trinitarian dogma, but its a forbidden conclusion; a good trinitarian is not allowed to reason that far. But the logic holds; if A=C, and B=C, then A=B; if the Father and Son are both identified with the entirety of the same individual being, then the Father is the Son and the Son is the Father, meaning, there really is no father-son relation at all. Father and Son become, logically, interchangeable titles for the same person.

In conclusion, then, this ‘trinitarian’ argument falls short; not only does it lack support from the Bible, but is contradicted by the Bible, which is clear in telling us that another besides God, namely His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, died for our sins. Not only this, but the argument implicitly denies God’s immortality and immutability, by claiming that the living God died. Finally, we may note that this argument would better suite a oneness pentecostal or modalist of some stripe than it would someone truly holding to a nicene trinitarianism. Most trinitarians, of course, do not hold to a nicene trinitarianism, but are very modalistic in their theology, meaning that sadly, this argument will probably remain popular among trinitarians for some time to come.

Arguments For Unitarianism

A ‘Weak Link’ of Trinitarianism: the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

The orthodox/creedal doctrine of the Trinity is a complex doctrine, composed of many important and essential elements. It consists of important assertions about the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and about all three together. Under each of these four broader headings can be found a number of important asserts pertaining to each, adding still more complexity. Within this complex doctrine of the Trinity, there are many weak points. We might examine trinitarian equivocation on the term person; the utter absence of any description of God as being multi-personal or triune in the Bible, and the fact that the Bible clearly reveals that God is only one person, the Father of Jesus Christ; the problematic fact that the Bible tells us Jesus’s origin, and it isn’t in ‘eternity past’; or the issue that the Bible defines divinity as relational and functional, not ontological or essential. There is no one single ‘weak point’ of the traditional doctrine of the Trinity; at many of its most important junctures, the doctrine falls apart under unbiased scrutiny, and is shattered to pieces by the Bible’s own contrary teaching about Who God is, and who the Lord Jesus Christ is.

But one important weak-point of the doctrine of the Trinity is the quarter or so of the overall doctrine which deals with the Holy Spirit. For the trinitarian, the Holy Spirit must be the third person of the one God, co-eternal and co-essential with the Father and the Son, perfectly knowing all that God knows, and a participant in every action of God. Yet, this understanding of the Holy Spirit is utterly foreign to the Bible. The Holy Spirit is presented by the Bible not as being a person of or in any way a part of the one God, but as a person entirely distinct from the one God; the Holy Spirit is presented as not knowing all things as God does; and the Holy Spirit simply cannot be proved to be God in any sense from the Bible.

Firstly we note that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from the one God. For a closer look at why we ought to understand the Holy Spirit to truly be a person, see here. That this person is distinguished from the one God (Who is only one person, the Father), we may turn to John Biddle’s twelve arguments demonstrating that the Holy Spirit is not the one God, a few of which I hope to review in this article. These arguments show us that the Holy Spirit is not individually and numerically identical with the one God, but is genuinely another rational individual being (viz, a person) besides the one God. We shall address arguments pertaining to the notion that the Holy Spirit, as a distinct individual from the one God, shares a generic essence or divine nature with the Father, below.

Here are a few of Biddle’s arguments:

Argument 3:

He that speaketh not of himself, is not [the one] God.

The Holy Spirit speaketh not of himself.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit is not [the one] God.

The minor premise is clear from Joh. 16. 13. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (NASB) The major premise is proved thus: God speaks of Himself; therefore if there be any one that speaks not of himself, he is not God. The antecedent is of itself apparent; for God is the primary Author of whatsoever he doth; but should he not speak of Himself, He must speak from another, and so not be the primary, but secondary author of His speech; which is absurd, if at least that may be called absurd, which is impossible. The consequence is undeniable. For further confirmation of this Argument, it is to be observed, that to speak or to do any thing not of Himself, according to the ordinary phrase of the Scripture, is to speak or do by the shewing, teaching, commanding, authorizing, or enabling of another, and consequently incompatible with the supreme and self-sufficient Majesty of God. Vid. John 5. 19. 20, 30. Joh. 7. 15, 16, 17, 18, 28. John 8. 28, 42. Joh. 11. 50, 51. John 12. 49, 50. John 14. 10, 24. John 15. 4. John 18. 34. Luke 12. 56, 57. Luke 21. 30. 2 Cor. 3. 5.

Argument 8:

He that changes place, is not [the one] God.

The Holy Spirit changes place:

Therefore, the Holy Spirit is not [the one] God.

The Major premise is plain: for if God should change place, he would cease to be where he was before, and begin to be where he was not before; which everteth his Omnipresence, and consequently, by the confession of the adversaries themselves, his Deity. The Minor premise is ocularly apparent, if following the advice of the adversaries, you will but go to Jordan; for there you shall have the holy Spirit in a bodily shape descending from heaven, which is the terminus a quo; and alighting upon Christ, which is the terminus ad-quem, Luke 3. 21, 22. Joh. 1. 32. Neither let any man alledge, that as much is spoken of God, Exod. 3. and chap. 20. and Gen. 18. For if you compare Acts 7. 30, 35, 38, 53. Gal. 3. 19. Heb. 2. 2, 3. and chap. 13. 2. with the foresaid places, you shall find, that it was not God himself that came down, but only an Angel, sustaining the Person and Name of God; which hath no place in the history touching the descent of the holy Spirit.

Argument 9:

He that prayeth unto Christ, to come to judgement, is not [the one] God.

The Holy Spirit doth so:

Therefore, the Holy Spirit is not [the one] God.

The Major premise is granted. The Minor is evident from Revel. 22. 17. compared with the 12 verse. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”… He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”” (NASB). Neither let any man think to elude this proof, by saying, that the Spirit is here said to pray, only because he makes the Bride to pray: for when the Scripture would signify the assistance of the Holy Spirit in causing men to speak, it is wont to affirm, either that the Holy Spirit speaks in them, as Matth. 10. 20. or that they spake by the Holy Spirit, as Rom. 8. 15. We have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, Abba, Father. But here it is expressly said, that the Spirit and the Bride say, Come; not the Spirit in the Bride, nor the Bride by the Spirit.

The interested reader is referred to Biddle’s complete presentation of his arguments, linked above, for more arguments demonstrating that the Holy Spirit is not the one God, but another individual being besides the one God.

We may also here note that the Holy Spirit, by the admission of all trinitarians being a person distinct from the Father, does not, according to the Lord Jesus Christ, know all things:

But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

Mark 13:32 NASB

If no one but the Father alone knows the day or the hour, and the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from the Father, then it is plain that the Holy Spirit does not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return. In the case of Jesus saying that he does not know, in this passage, the trinitarians have the cavil of appealing to his having two natures or of having emptied himself somehow, and arguing that he both knew and did not know at the same time. But never do we read of the Holy Spirit undergoing an incarnation, or of emptying itself. Yet the Holy Spirit did not know this, but only the Father did. This disproves the trinitarian claim that the Holy Spirit, as person of triune God, shares one mind with the other persons of the Trinity, and knows all things. God is omniscient; the Holy Spirit is not. This shows that the Holy Spirit is not individually the same as the one God, Who knows all things, and also, according to the logic of the trinitarians, shows that the Holy Spirit is not co-essential with the Father at all, as to be omniscient is considered an ‘essential’ attribute of God, which any person who has the same generic essence must then also possess.

The Holy Spirit, then, is shown to not be individually the same as the one God, but distinct from Him. Some primitive forms of trinitarianism, however, would have no problem with such a proposition; they would simply assert that the Spirit is generically co-essential with the one God, the Father, and so shares a common nature with the Father and is “true God of true God”. This point we have already shown false, by the fact that the Holy Spirit is not omniscient, something which, according to trinitarians, is an attribute of the divine essence, and must be possessed by any person co-essential with God the Father.

However, we may also simply note that there is no basis for supposing the Holy Spirit is generically co-essential with the Father in the Bible. In the case of Jesus, trinitarians twist passages that call Jesus “God” or “a god”, and say that the divinity Jesus possesses is essential and ontological. This is not the case; deity in the Bible is always relative, relational, and functional; it is not a species or essence. However, in the case of the Holy Spirit, unlike that of Christ, there are simply no passages of the Bible from which one might prove that the Holy Spirit is God. In no text of scripture can it be shown that the Holy Spirit is called “God” or “a god” such that this confession might be twisted to support the notion that the Spirit shares a generic essence with the Father.

On this point, we must note what most trinitarians will readily acknowledge in any other circumstance, that a passage of the Bible which may be interpreted as supporting any doctrine x, if it can also validly be interpreted as not supporting doctrine x, cannot be ushered as proof of doctrine x. Yet, trinitarians ignore this when it comes to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit; in a scramble to find something, anything, in the whole Bible which would identify the Holy Spirit as God, they come up empty-handed. Therefore, they typically appeal to a couple of passages which absolutely do not prove that the Holy Spirit is “God”, but which, with some difficulty, may be interpreted as calling the Spirit “God”, as one of multiple valid interpretations. That is, these passages can be read as calling the Holy Spirit “God”, but can also be interpreted validly as saying no such thing. Therefore, neither of them can in any way honestly be represented as proof that the Holy Spirit is God.

These passages are Acts 5:3-4 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”

Acts 5:3-4 NASB

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NASB

The first passage can best be read as being based upon the notion that God was working in the apostles by the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit He had given them. Since God worked through Peter by the agency of the Holy Spirit, to lie to Peter was to lie to the Holy Spirit working in Peter; and by lying to the Holy Spirit who was acting as God’s agent, also lied to God. There is simply no need, and no basis in the text of the passage itself, for saying that “God” here in verse four is being used in reference to the Holy Spirit. While this interpretation cannot absolutely be ruled out, it is an unnatural reading, given how throughout the Bible the Holy Spirit is distinguished from God, and is not a necessary interpretation. Since this text can ultimately be taken either way, however, no trinitarian can rightly claim that this is proof that the Holy Spirit is God.

If we understand God to act in prophets and Christians through the agency of the Holy Spirit He has given us, then of course the Spirit would be involved in the incident in Acts 5. The passage can easily be understood as saying that by lying to Peter, they lied to the Holy Spirit working in him; and by lying to the Spirit by which God worked through Peter, they lied to God. The same sort of dubious logic trinitarians wish to use here, which ignores the possibility of acting through an agent, will equally ‘prove’ that the Holy Spirit is an angel in Acts 10:19-22 (NASB):

“While Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 But get up, go downstairs and accompany them without misgivings, for I have sent them Myself.” 21 Peter went down to the men and said, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” 22 They said, “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.”

Acts 10:19-22, NASB

Lest we dismiss this identification of the one who appeared to Cornelius as an angel as an error on Cornelius or his servants’ part, we may also note that Luke calls this person an angel earlier in the chapter, in vs 3 and 7. Who had Cornelius send for Peter then? The Holy Spirit says he sent the men personally, yet Luke says an angel is the one who appeared to Cornelius and had the men sent. Is the Holy Spirit identified as an angel here? Certainly, that’s a possible reading (just as reading the Holy Spirit as being identified as “God” in Acts 5 is a possible reading), yet this cannot be proved to be what the passage is saying; the Holy Spirit could have worked through an angelic agent to send the men, and so, not be identified here as an angel. The same concept of agency used here allows us to understand that the Holy Spirit and God are two distinct persons in Acts 5 though; if Acts 5 is “proof” that the Holy Spirit is God, Acts 10 is equally “proof” that the Holy Spirit is an angel. The fact is, neither proposition can truly be proved from either passage, but only remain possible, yet unnecessary, interpretations.

The second passage trinitarians try to usher as proof that the Holy Spirit is God, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, is best understood as referring to the Holy Spirit only by “Spirit”, and to be referring to Jesus as “Lord”, and the Father as “God”. This follows the pattern of the way Paul speaks all throughout his epistles, where “God” is used for the Father, “Lord” for the Son, and “Spirit” for the Holy Spirit. We see this pattern in places like Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Corinthians 8:6, and in many, many other places.

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

Ephesians 4:4-6, NASB

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 8:6, NKJV

If we simply read 1 Corinthians 12 in conjunction with the rest of Paul’s writings, it seems the most natural and reasonable reading is that Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus, and God the Father in this passage, and is not applying the titles “Lord” and “God” to the Holy Spirit. Someone can argue that its possible to interpret these titles as being applied to the Spirit here, and that is technically true. Although it is neither the best nor the most natural reading, the passage can be interpreted that way; but this is only one possible interpretation, and not a necessary conclusion from the text. That means that this text, like Acts 5, cannot honestly be claimed to prove that the Spirit is God, but the most that can be said is that such a reading is one possible reading.

We see then that there is no passage from which a person may prove that the Holy Spirit is ‘God’ or ‘a god’. Even if there were such a passage, this could not rightly be taken as a statement of co-essentiality; but no such passage exists anyway. There is not even a verse that trinitarians can twist on this subject to claim to have proved that the Spirit is co-essential with God the Father.

This point, in itself, if rather damning for trinitarianism. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link; if the ontological divinity of the Holy Spirit cannot be proved from the Bible, then, since this is a necessary component of orthodox trinitarianism, neither will it be possible to ever prove the doctrine of the trinity from the Bible. This might not bother Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, who are fine with merely saying that the Spirit’s divinity is “suggested” or implied, but never stated in the Bible, and who can simply rely on tradition as a substitute for revelation on this point, without being inconsistent with their theological system. However, for Protestants, who deny that tradition is of equal authority with the Bible, this poses an enormous problem; if the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be proved from the Bible, as is shown by the absence of any biblical proof for the Holy Spirit being God or ontologically divine, then the doctrine of the trinity is simply not to be accepted. If we will base our doctrinal beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit on the Bible itself, and eschew other sources as unreliable, then we must reject the doctrine of the Trinity.

The trinitarian doctrine of the Holy Spirit is then seen to be one of the weakest pillars of trinitarian orthodoxy; the doctrine of the ontological divinity of the Holy Spirit is as essential to orthodox trinitarianism as it is weak and indefensible from scripture. This doctrine is rarely examined in depth, probably precisely because it is felt to be so weak. Trinitarians must stop ignoring this problem and the massive implications it holds for the doctrine of the trinity; our concern must not be to defend ‘orthodoxy’, but to faithfully believe what God has revealed about Himself, His Son, and His Holy Spirit.

Arguments For Unitarianism