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?
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.