Do You Have to Believe in the Trinity to be Saved?

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According to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, if a person claims to be a Christian but does not believe in the Trinity, he is not saved. Is that the truth? Not from the evidence in the Bible. [1] In fact, the evidence in Scripture is that a person can be saved without even knowing about the Trinity. Before we discuss the issue further, however, we need to know the definition of the Trinity according to orthodox theologians. This is important because some Christians think they are Trinitarians simply because they believe in the Father, the Son, and a being called “the Holy Spirit.” But that is not the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and together these “three Persons” make one God; and these three are co-equal and co-eternal, the Son having been “eternally begotten” of the Father, and Jesus being simultaneously 100% God and 100% man.

We of Spirit & Truth Fellowship International have encountered Trinitarians who say that a person will be saved if he believes that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man, even if he does not believe the full doctrine of the Trinity. First, that is not the doctrinal position of the Orthodox Church, and second, the Bible never says that believing Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man is necessary for salvation. Non-Trinitarians assert that a person can be saved without believing in the Trinity, and demand, as did Martin Luther during the Reformation, that we be convinced from Scripture that what Trinitarians teach is true. Perhaps a good question to begin this study is, “When did God start requiring that a person believe in the Trinity to be saved?”


The Old Testament

The Old Testament does not teach the Trinity, or even set forth clearly that the Messiah would be God. Therefore it is unreasonable to think that someone back then had to believe it to be saved. [2] There is no evidence of anyone knowing about, or believing in, the Trinity in all the Jewish literature before Christ, including the Old Testament, the Jewish targums and commentaries, the Apocrypha or other apocryphal literature, or the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It is well known that the foundational tenet of the Old Testament faith was, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” (Deut. 6:4 – KJV), and the Jews fiercely defended that faith against polytheism of all kinds. There are some singular verses that many Trinitarians today say point to the doctrine of the Trinity underlying the revelation of the Old Testament, but none expound it clearly enough that anyone would have formulated the doctrine of a Triune God from them, and there is no historical record that anyone did (which is good evidence for the validity of our point that all those verses have a non-Trinitarian explanation).

Some Trinitarian scholars are aware of the fact that the Old Testament does not teach the Trinity. The distinguished Trinitarian scholar Bertrand de Margerie writes:

“…contemporary exegetes [Bible teachers] affirm unanimously that the Old Testament did not bring to the Jewish people a clear and distinct Revelation of the existence of a plurality of persons in God. In this they agree with the clear and frequent affirmation of Fathers such as Irenaeus, Hilary, and Gregory of Nazianzus: that the doctrine of the Trinity is revealed only in the New Testament.” [3]

Since many Trinitarians admit that the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament, there are both Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians who agree that before Jesus’ ministry a person did not have to believe in the Trinity to be saved.


The Four Gospels

We have seen that both Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians agree that a person living during the Old Testament did not have to believe in the Trinity to be saved because there was no presentation of the Trinity in the Old Testament for them to believe. However, orthodox Trinitarian doctrine is that during the ministry of Jesus, and afterward, a person had to believe in the Trinity to be saved. This means that if Jesus or the Apostles wanted anyone to be saved, they had to teach the person more information than was revealed in the Old Testament. If the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine is correct, then we should see a clear presentation of the Trinity in Scripture, but we do not, nor is there any record that Jesus, or anyone else, ever taught the doctrine of the Trinity to anyone in order to get him or her saved.

To know what people during the time of Jesus had to do to be saved, all we have to do is read the Gospels. Before we go any further, however, it is helpful to understand what the Jews at the time of Jesus were expecting about their Messiah. Some of their expectations were correct, and some were incorrect. Some of their correct expectations were that, the Messiah was going to be a human empowered by God. He would be from the line of Abraham (Gen. 22:18), from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), a descendant of David (2 Sam. 7:12 and 13), a Lord under Yahweh, the God of Israel (Ps. 110:1), [4] and he was to be one of their own people: “Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them…” (Jer. 30:21). They were also correct in that they were not expecting their Messiah to be a “God-man,” a “Person” of the Godhead, or a part of a Triune God. The first-century Jews were incorrect in not expecting their Messiah to be born of a virgin, which is why the angel had to instruct Mary about it (Luke 1:34 and 35). They were also incorrect in thinking the Messiah would not die (Matt. 16:21 and 22; John 12:32-34).

When it came to the first century Jews not expecting the Messiah to die, Jesus worked very hard to correct that misunderstanding, teaching over and over that he must die (Matt. 16:21, 17:9, 20:19 and 28, 26:2, 12 and 27-32). But there is not one single account of Jesus correcting anyone’s belief that he was a fully human Messiah. Never did he say he was part of the Trinity, or that a person had to believe in the Trinity to be saved. Furthermore, the first century Jews believed that “the Spirit of God” or “the Holy Spirit” was not a separate Person in the Trinity, but was another name for God, just as Yahweh, Elohim, or El Shaddai, were other names for the one true God. When Genesis 1:2 mentions “the Spirit of God,” Jews correctly believed it was another name for God or a reference to His invisible power at work. Yet there is no record of Jesus ever trying to “correct” them and show that the Holy Spirit was a third Person in the Trinity. That is very solid evidence that they did not have to believe in the Trinity to be saved.

If Jesus had taught that a person had to believe in the Trinity to be saved, the perfect time for him to have done so would have been when a young man came to him and asked, “…Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). If this young man had to believe in the Trinity to be saved, this was the time to say so. Instead, Jesus said, “…If you want to enter life, obey the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). Jesus further instructed the man that if he wanted to be “perfect” (which Mark 10:21 equates as having treasure in heaven) he should sell his worldly possessions and follow him (Matt. 19:21). Jesus never said to the man that belief in any aspect of the Trinity was necessary for salvation.

Another time Jesus could have easily taught the Trinity, or even that he was God, was when he traveled through Samaria, the district north of Jerusalem and south of Galilee. The Samaritans were not Jews, but foreigners who had been brought into the area and had adopted some parts of the Jewish religion. The Jews regarded them as horrible pagans and pretenders, and had nothing to do with them. When Jesus met the woman at the well in Samaria, she said she knew the Messiah was coming (John 4:25). However, her understanding of the Messiah would have come from the Old Testament and what her tradition taught, so when Jesus said, “…I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26), she never would have concluded that he was somehow God, or part of a Triune God. If she needed to believe that to be saved, Jesus would have taught it to her, as well as to the people from Samaria who came to meet him after the woman told them about him (John 4:41). However, there is no hint in Scripture he ever mentioned the Trinity. Did he ignore their need for salvation? Of course not. What is evident from this record is that a person did not have to believe in the Trinity to be saved.

Another example of a person being saved without believing in the Trinity is the immoral woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears while he was eating. All Jesus said to her was, “…Your sins are forgiven” and “…Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48 and 50). Are we to believe that somehow this Galilean Jewess knew that Jesus was part of a Triune God, and by knowing that she gained salvation? Such an assumption would be to stretch the record beyond credible limits. The woman was a sinner, not a theologian, and if she went to synagogue at all, which is questionable, she would have known about the Messiah only from what the Old Testament taught. There is no reason to believe that she somehow pasted together statements Jesus had made to build a case for the Trinity, and then believed it. She, like millions of Old Testament believers before her, was saved without believing in the Trinity.

Theologians build the doctrine of the Trinity with verses pulled from all over the Bible, but only a few actually spoken by Jesus can even be used to support it, and none of those mention “the Holy Spirit” in any decisive sense as being a distinct “Person.” [5] Furthermore, each statement Jesus made that modern Trinitarians use to paste together their case for a Trinity has an alternative, non-Trinitarian explanation. This is important, because although a person who already believes in the Trinity might think that what Jesus said supported the doctrine of the Trinity, someone who never heard of the Trinity would understand what Jesus said in a totally different way.

A good example of this was when Jesus said, “…if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24). Some Trinitarians see this statement as supporting the Trinity, but someone who did not know that doctrine would understand the statement in light of what he knew and believed, especially if what Jesus said made sense in terms of the beliefs he already held. In the case of John 8:24, the Jews he was speaking to were expecting a human Messiah and that people who rejected him would die in their sins. What Jesus said fit their understanding perfectly. Jesus had to have known that, so if he was trying to say that anyone who did not believe in the Trinity was unsaved, he did a poor job of making his point. He certainly never stated that if someone does not believe in the Trinity, he would die in his sins.

If a person did need to believe in the Trinity to be saved, we would expect that Jesus would have been at least as aggressive in teaching that as he was about correcting other erroneous beliefs of his day. For example, we mentioned earlier that Jesus plainly taught his disciples that he had to die, even though they were not expecting it. He also corrected the Sadducees concerning the resurrection very plainly, telling them, “You are in error” (Matt. 22:29). Time after time he openly corrected the errors believed by the people around him. In the Sermon on the Mount he corrected many erroneous teachings, including the people’s misunderstanding about love, revenge, adultery, divorce, and anger, often saying, “You have heard that it was said…But I tell you…” (Matt. 5:21-44). But never in that important teaching that spans three entire chapters in Matthew does he correct their ideas about him being a real human being, or teach them about the Trinity, which he would have if it was necessary for people to believe that to be saved. After all, which is the more important theological mistake, being wrong about anger, taking an oath, and praying in public, or being wrong about the true nature of God?

If the Trinity were a true doctrine, and especially if a person has to believe it to be saved, we would have expected Jesus to say something in the Sermon on the Mount such as this:

“You have heard that it was said” that God is One, “but I tell you” that God is a Trinity, one God made of three distinct Persons. [6] “You have heard that it was said” that the Messiah will be one from among you, “but I tell you” he will be more than that, he will be God incarnated in human flesh. “You have heard that it was said” that the holy spirit is the invisible spirit power of God, “but I tell you” that Holy Spirit is much more than that, he is the third Person in a Triune Godhead.”

Are we to believe that Jesus openly and plainly corrected errors in people’s understanding about many different issues while never correcting people’s erroneous thinking that he was the human Messiah they expected, and not a “Person” in a Triune God, especially if their error meant they were not saved? That makes no sense. He did not even correct his closest disciples about the Trinity. When Jesus asked Peter, “…Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15), …Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16). Peter believed Jesus was the Christ he had been taught about in synagogue and was expecting, not that he was God in the flesh who was part of the Trinity. Yet Jesus did not correct Peter, but instead complimented him on his insight, saying he was “Blessed” (Matt. 16:17).

Jesus never taught the doctrine of the Trinity or told anyone he had to believe it to be saved. Furthermore, he never corrected anyone’s belief that he was the human Messiah they expected and not part of a Triune God. When he taught about himself from the Old Testament, as he did in Nazareth when he quoted from Isaiah (Luke 4:18 and 19), he never even hinted that there was more to believe about him than the Old Testament scriptures taught. Nor did he ever correct anyone’s understanding about the Holy Spirit. All this is conclusive evidence that Jesus did not teach that a person had to believe in the Trinity to be saved.


The Book of Acts

The book of Acts records the teachings of the Apostles and disciples as they spread the good news of Jesus. It is reasonable that if the doctrine of the Trinity were a truth not revealed in the Old Testament but necessary for Christian salvation, it should be clearly taught in Acts. After all, many Trinitarians believe that for an unbelieving Jew or pagan Gentile to be saved, he must believe in the Trinity. The book of Acts, then, is a proving ground for what unbelievers need to know in order to be saved. So what do we see in Acts? In all the sermons in the book of Acts there is not one presentation of the Trinity.

What Acts does record very clearly is that Jesus was a man, the servant of God, who was God’s anointed (“Messiah” in Hebrew, “Christ” in Greek), who died, whom God raised from the dead and exalted, and who will be the future King and Judge of all mankind. Furthermore, those who hear and believe that message get saved without hearing anything about the Trinity. Time after time Paul and others went into Jewish Synagogues and taught from the Old Testament about the Messiah, explaining that Jesus was the Messiah the Old Testament spoke of, and that teaching was enough to get people saved. There is not one record of Paul or others saying that what the Old Testament taught about the Messiah was not enough for salvation.

What follows are summations of teachings in the book of Acts when believers preached the Word of God in order to get people saved. Almost every record listed below includes something that a speaker actually said to convince the audience about Jesus. If a record in Acts simply notes that someone such as Paul taught, but it does not record what he said, or if the purpose of the conversation was not about getting someone saved, the record is not included in the list below. Each will show that there was no presentation of the Trinity, or that believing it was necessary for salvation.

Acts 2:14-36. Peter spoke to the crowd of unsaved Jews in the Temple on the Day of Pentecost, just 50 days after Jesus was crucified. These Jews did not live in Israel, but had come to Jerusalem from the far reaches of the Roman Empire, including Parthia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete, Arabia, and parts of what today is the nation of Turkey (Acts 2:9-11). They had not heard Jesus or the Apostles teach. All they knew about the Messiah was from the Old Testament and traditions about him, none of which included the doctrine of the Trinity or Jesus being God. Thus it is fair to conclude that if they needed to believe in the Trinity to be saved, someone would have to teach them about it. On Pentecost, however, Peter presented Jesus as a “man approved of God” who was crucified and whom God raised from the dead, much of which he backed up by quoting the Old Testament. Peter never mentioned the Trinity or Jesus being God, yet about three thousand people got saved that day. This is conclusive evidence that on the Day of Pentecost, the start of the Christian Church, a person did not have to believe in the Trinity to be saved.

Acts 3:12-26. Peter spoke to a crowd that had gathered in the Temple because a lame man had been miraculously healed. This crowd gathered inside the Temple, so they would have been Jews or interested Gentiles who were not saved. That means that they had either not heard, or had rejected, earlier presentations about Jesus being the Messiah, including the one taught close to the very spot where they were standing on the Day of Pentecost. [7] Peter taught these unsaved men and women that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob glorified “His servant Jesus.” He further taught that Jesus had died and God had raised him from the dead. He also quoted Deuteronomy 18:15, that Christ was to be “a prophet like me [Moses].” There was nothing in Peter’s teaching about the Trinity or Jesus being God, and yet so many people were saved that the number of Christians in Jerusalem grew to 5,000 men, not counting the women and children (Acts 4:4).

Acts 4:8-12. Peter spoke to the Jewish rulers and elders, and taught that although they had crucified Jesus of Nazareth, God raised Him from the dead. He did not make any presentation of the Trinity or Jesus being God. These were mostly the same men who were at Jesus’ trials, and there is no record in Scripture that any of them believed what Peter said and got saved.

Acts 5:29-32. Peter and the Apostles were again brought before the Jewish rulers, and Peter again presented to them that although the Jews had killed Jesus, God had raised Him from the dead and set him at his right hand as “Prince and Savior” (Acts 5:31). Nothing Peter said referred to a Trinity of co-equal, co-eternal beings in a Godhead. The vocabulary of “God” raising up Jesus and setting him at His right hand fit exactly with what these leaders already believed about the Messiah from the Old Testament, because Peter spoke of two separate beings, a ruler (God) and His “right hand man” (Jesus), not one Being in three persons. This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus is then referred to as the “Prince,” not “God.” As when Peter was before the rulers earlier, there is no record that any of them got saved, but if they had believed Peter, they would have been saved without knowing anything of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Acts 7:2-53. Stephen made a presentation to the Jewish rulers, and gave a history of Israel. Like Peter had done (Acts 3:22), he quoted Deuteronomy 18:15 that the Messiah would be a prophet from among the people. He asserted that they had killed the “Righteous One,” and then spoke about the vision he had that Jesus was at the right hand of God, something the Jews would have clearly understood to mean that Jesus was now God’s second in command. Stephen was trying to win the Jews to the Christian faith, and he did so without mentioning the Trinity or that Jesus was God. Furthermore, no one in his audience would have ever thought that Jesus was “co-equal” to the Father when Stephen spoke of him being raised by God and now at God’s right hand.

Acts 8:30-39. Philip the Evangelist was told by an angel to meet, and speak with, a eunuch from Ethiopia, which he did. The Ethiopian was reading from the book of Isaiah, and Philip began there and told him the Good News about Jesus. The eunuch believed and was baptized with no hint that Philip tried to teach him about the Trinity or that Jesus was God. Actually, if you think about it, how could Philip have presented the Trinity? All the Ethiopian had were scriptures from the Old Testament. How would he have reacted if Philip had said, “Well, we know the Hebrew Scriptures present Jesus as a Messiah from the line of David, but actually he was God incarnate, 100% man and 100% God, and you have to believe that to be saved”? Because the Old Testament never said the Messiah would be a God-man, the eunuch would have dismissed Philip as being very misguided in contradicting the Scriptures. What we learn from the record of Philip and the eunuch is that the eunuch got saved without ever knowing about the Trinity.

Acts 9:3-6, 17 and 20. The Apostle Paul became a Christian when the Lord Jesus himself appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Paul was a trained Rabbi and was expecting the Messiah, but he had resisted the Christian teaching that Jesus was that Messiah. Meeting Jesus proved that Jesus was the Messiah he had been expecting, but there is nothing Jesus, or Ananias who prayed for Saul, said about the Trinity or Jesus being God, so there is no reason to believe Saul had to believe it to be saved. Furthermore, immediately after being saved, Paul went into the Synagogue and taught. Like all new converts, Saul would have been very enthusiastic about his new beliefs, but there is no mention that he mentioned the Trinity. Instead, he taught what he himself had just come to know, that Jesus was “the Son of God.”

Acts 10:34-43. At the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, Peter taught the Gentiles gathered there that Jesus died, but God raised him from the dead. He taught how God had anointed Jesus with holy spirit (there is no article “the” in the Greek text), made him Lord, and appointed him as Judge. He did not mention the Trinity or say that Jesus was God, but the Gentiles who listened to Peter were saved and filled with the power of holy spirit right in the middle of his teaching.

Acts 13:16-41. Paul spoke in a synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, a Roman province in what today is the country of Turkey. He addressed the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who were gathered there, and taught a very effective salvation message. He gave a short history of the Jews, showing that Jesus, a descendant of David, was the Savior, crucified by the Jews, raised from the dead by God, and that he showed himself alive to many of his disciples who testify about him. He further taught that God now offers forgiveness of sins through him. Many people were saved. There is no mention that Paul taught any of the concepts of the modern Trinity, such as that Jesus was God, or incarnated, or co-equal with the Father, or that there was a “Person” referred to as “The Holy Spirit.”

Acts 15:1-29. In this record, a dispute arose between Paul and members of the Pharisees who claimed circumcision and observance of the Law was necessary for salvation. A council at Jerusalem was convened specifically for the purpose of discussing what was necessary for the Gentiles to be saved—Gentiles whose belief system had no conception of a Trinity. The decision of the council was to “…not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (15:19) and “…not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements” (15:28), which were to abstain from food offered to idols, blood, strangled animals, and sexual immorality. Neither the doctrine of the Trinity nor the divinity of Christ was mentioned as necessary for salvation.

Acts 16:30 and 31. Paul and Silas were put in jail in Philippi and were miraculously released when an earthquake hit the area. The jailor asked, “…Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This is a very important question for this study, because if someone must believe in the Trinity to be saved, Paul should have said something about it. Instead, Paul responded, “…Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Acts 17:1-4. In this record, Paul arrived in Thessalonica, went into the synagogue, and “…reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ…’” (Acts 17:2-4). Paul taught from the Scriptures, which in a synagogue at that time were only the Old Testament. Thus, Paul could not have mentioned anything about the Trinity, which, as we have seen, was not in the Old Testament. Instead, Paul showed that the Messiah had to suffer, die, and rise from the dead, all easily shown from the Old Testament, and then he made the case that Jesus was the Messiah. The result was that some of the Jews were won to the faith, along with a “large number” of Gentiles, including a number of the prominent women of the city. There was no mention of the Trinity, yet many were saved.

Acts 17:10-13. Paul and Silas traveled from Thessalonica to Berea, went into the Synagogue, and spoke to the Jews. This is a very important record for our study because it specifically states that the Jews of Berea were more noble than the Jews of Thessalonica because they searched their Scriptures, the Old Testament, to see if what Paul and Silas were saying was true. However, we have already seen that the Trinity is not in the Old Testament, so what the people of Berea would have seen was that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies and then believed he was the Messiah and gotten saved. They would not have seen in their Old Testament that Jesus was one Person in a Triune God.

Acts 17:22-31. Paul went to Athens and spoke to the Greeks. He taught the resurrection and lordship of Christ and said: “For he [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed….” Paul said God proved His point by raising Christ from the dead. Paul’s short message was effective, because there were a few men who believed. They got saved without ever hearing anything about the Trinity.

Acts 18:1-5. Paul went to Corinth, and as in many other cities, went into the synagogue to speak about the Lord Jesus. Scripture is clear that Paul was “…testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:5), and there is no mention that he taught the Trinity.

Acts 18:24-28. Apollos was an eloquent man who knew the Scriptures. He also had been given instruction by Aquila and Priscilla, who themselves had been personally taught by Paul. He helped the believers by publicly showing from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ, something he would have shown from the Old Testament. There is no mention of any aspect of the Trinity.

Acts 22:3-21. Paul spoke to a crowd at the Temple in Jerusalem. His testimony was cut short, but nothing he said even hinted at the doctrine of the Trinity. He spoke of “God” (not “the Father”) and the Righteous One (the Messiah), which would have agreed with what the Jews believed from the Old Testament, that there was one God, and His Messiah, not that the Messiah was somehow also God.

Acts 25:13-21. Governor Festus was speaking with King Agrippa. This is a very important record for our study, because neither of the two men was saved. Festus was relating to Agrippa what Paul had said to him, and why the Jews were angry at Paul. Festus says that Paul is disputing with the Jews about “…a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive.” Festus did not believe what Paul said, but he understood that Paul was saying Jesus had been raised from the dead. This record conforms completely to the other places in Acts that record what Paul taught about Jesus, which was that he died on the Cross, but God raised him from the dead. The evidence from this record is that Paul was not teaching the Trinity, which would have been so different from what Festus had ever heard that he surely would have mentioned it to King Agrippa.

Acts 26:2-23. Paul told King Agrippa that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead and proclaimed as a light to “…his own people and to the Gentiles.” Paul was trying to get King Agrippa saved, and pressed him to believe, saying, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do” (Acts 26:27). Agrippa realized Paul was trying to get him to be a Christian, and responded, “…Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). Agrippa could have become a Christian that very day had he believed Paul’s message, yet Paul never mentioned the Trinity, a pre-existent Christ, or that Jesus was God. Anything foreign to the Old Testament such as that would only have confused King Agrippa. Paul’s message of salvation came from “the prophets,” who did not mention the Trinity.

Acts 28:23. In this short but powerful record that closes the book of Acts, Paul is trying to convince the Jews of Rome “about Jesus” from the Law and the Prophets, which we know do not present the Trinity. Had Paul tried to convince those Jews that Jesus was both man and God using the Old Testament, they would have considered him out of his mind. What we need to pay close attention to is that a person could be saved by believing only that Jesus of Nazareth was the one who fulfilled those things that the Old Testament clearly taught about the Messiah: that he would suffer and die, be raised from the dead and be exalted to second in command under God Himself.


Paul and the Jews in Acts

There is another way that Acts reveals Paul was not teaching the Trinity: The Jews and even some Jewish Christians who still followed the Mosaic Law constantly harassed the Apostle Paul. In some cases they even followed him from city to city and stirred up the people against him (Acts 17:13). When Paul was in Jerusalem, James told him about all the Jewish Christians who were still zealous for the Law (Acts 21:20), and when Paul was in the Temple, Jews who knew him shouted, “…Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place…” (Acts 21:28). The Jews accosted Paul about all kinds of issues, including differences about the Law, circumcision, and Jesus being the Messiah, but they never once accused him of going against their monotheistic teaching and speaking about a Triune God.

Anyone who has studied the history of the Jewish nation under Greek and Roman domination knows that the Jews were so fiercely monotheistic that there had been riots and rebellions over the issue of idols, and even the Roman eagle, in Israel. Had Paul been teaching that their God was not one God, but a part of a Trinity, that surely would have aroused their anger and come up as an issue in the book of Acts. After all, it would have been at least as important as circumcision, which comes up in both Acts and the Epistles. The fact that at no time in Acts or the Epistles is there any Jewish opposition to the Trinity is very good evidence that it was not being taught by early Christians and was not essential to salvation.


Conclusion from Acts

After reading and studying the entire book of Acts and looking for evidence about how a person gets saved, we must conclude that no one had to believe in the Trinity. Furthermore, Acts is the record of the rise and expansion of the Christian Church, so what holds true in Acts should be true for the entire Church Age.


Romans through Revelation: The Rest of the New Testament

We have now seen that a person did not have to believe in the Trinity to be saved during the Old Testament times, and we have also seen from the Four Gospels and Acts that people got saved without believing in the Trinity or even that Jesus was both God and man. In studying the Epistles we see more of the same; that there is no clear expression of the doctrine of the Trinity from Romans through Revelation, and no evidence anyone had to believe it to be saved. God’s plan of salvation through faith in Christ is presented many times without a single verse saying a person has to believe in the Trinity to be saved.

Scholars freely admit that the Trinity is never presented as a complete doctrine in the New Testament, but rather is built from scattered verses. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states, “In the NT there is no explicit statement of the doctrine….” [8] The New Bible Dictionary says: “…it is not a Biblical doctrine in the sense that any formulation of it can be found in the Bible….” [9] The Holman Bible Dictionary is very clear: “The New Testament does not present a systematic presentation of the Trinity. The scattered segments from various writers that appear throughout the New Testament reflect a seemingly accepted understanding that exists without a full-length discussion.” [10] Theologians admit that the New Testament does not state what the Trinity is, i.e., that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three co-equal, co-eternal “Persons,” together making one God, and that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man. Furthermore, there is no clear teaching that a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved.

If a person had to believe in the Trinity to be saved, we would expect to find that clearly stated in the book of Romans. Theologians commonly teach that the theme of Romans is God’s plan of salvation. Some assert that the theme is justification by faith, and that certainly is a major aspect of the Epistle, but the NIV Study Bible well states what is generally thought of as the major theme of Romans: “…Paul’s primary theme in Romans is the basic gospel, God’s plan of salvation, and righteousness for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike (1:16 and 17).” [11]

We agree with orthodox theologians that the plan of salvation and righteousness for all mankind is the theme of Romans, but it never presents the doctrine of the Trinity or states that a person has to believe Jesus is God to be saved. Could it be that the one book in the New Testament whose theme is salvation never clearly teaches how to get saved? The answer to that question is an obvious “No.”

Romans 10:9 is perhaps the clearest presentation of how to get saved in the Epistles:

Romans 10:9
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

This instruction does not require one to even know about, much less believe, the Trinity in order to get saved. However, according to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, simply obeying the above verse will not get a person saved, because to be saved he must believe that Jesus is not just “Lord,” but “God,” 100% man and 100% God, and co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

It is safe to say that Paul penned the book of Romans to the people in Rome in the confidence that if they believed and acted on what they read, especially Romans 10:9, they would be saved. It is also safe to say that Paul knew that Rome was filled with Jews who had only the Old Testament and traditions about the Messiah to rely on, and Gentiles who knew nothing about the Jewish Messiah at all. It is also important for us to remember that the first century Jews and Gentiles would have thought about Jesus being “Lord” in terms of their culture. Although modern Trinitarians assert that in the context of Romans, “Lord,” means “God,” no Roman Jew or Gentile in the first century would have believed that. “Lord” was a term for boss, owner, husband, or ruler. The Romans had many “lords,” and they were not “God.” Without clearer instruction on the matter, no Roman would have read “Lord” and thought it meant “God, the creator,” especially since Romans 10:9 also says “God” raised this “Lord” from the dead. A simple and straightforward reading of the verse presents two beings: God and the Lord Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. There is no Trinity, and no mention that the God and the Lord in the verse are both parts of the same Triune God, and that a third “Person” in the Trinity is missing from the verse.

Could it truly be that a non-Christian could read the book of Romans, believe its message, and not be saved? We say, “No.” The book of Romans clearly shows that Jesus was the Messiah, that he died for the sins of mankind, and that God raised him from the dead, and anyone who believes it is saved. There is just no logical way to read Romans, knowing that it was addressed to the first century people in Rome to get them saved, and say that they would have to believe in the Trinity to be saved.

Perhaps the next best book after Romans to study to see if a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved is Hebrews. The content of Hebrews tells us that it was addressed to Jews (or Jewish Christians) who were intimately familiar with the Old Testament. Every chapter is packed with Old Testament references, and there is much discussion about the Law. Hebrews teaches that obeying the Law will not get people saved, but what will is faith in Jesus, the one who died for our sins and is now our living High Priest, elevated even higher than angels.

The Jews fiercely held to the Law, which was given by Moses. To persuade them to let it go and move on to something else, God would have to offer something “better,” and that is a major theme in Hebrews. [12] Hebrews teaches that God has done something in Jesus that is “better” than what He had done in the Law. [13] Jesus is specifically said to be better than angels (1:4); he brings a better hope (7:19); guarantees and mediates a better covenant that is founded on better promises (7:22, 8:6); is a better sacrifice than those offered under the Law (9:23); reminds people of better possessions in the future, including a better future country (10:34, 11:16); offers a better resurrection (11:35), brings something better for us than the Old Testament believers had (11:40); and his blood speaks better than the blood of Abel’s sacrifice (12:24). Hebrews also shows (without specifically using the word “better”) that Jesus was a greater High Priest than Aaron (4:14-5:10) and ministers in a better sanctuary (9:11-14).

Clearly, the book of Hebrews is trying to get people saved or to understand their salvation, and change their attitude toward the Law. It follows the pattern for salvation that we see in Acts and Romans in that it shows that Jesus died for the sins of the people, was raised by God, and is Lord. It never says that believing the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah is not enough to get someone saved, never says the prophecies about the Messiah were telling only a part-truth about God and the Messiah, never presents the doctrine of the Trinity, and certainly never states that a person has to believe in the Trinity to be saved. [14]

In conclusion, without addressing each epistle in the New Testament, it is enough to say that they set forth the same plan of salvation as Acts, and never teach that a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved. If the book of Acts and the New Testament Epistles, the very foundation of the Christian Church, do not say that a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved, then Christians should take that as the true doctrine of the Church and not insist that a person has to believe in the Trinity to be saved.


The Creeds of Christendom: The Doctrine Develops

We can see the developing and increasing influence of the doctrine of the Trinity in the increasing complexity of the creeds of Christendom, and the clarity with which they promote the Trinity. A creed is a formal and fundamental statement that clarifies a position, and determines who is “in” and who is “out” of the community defined by the creed. It is a type of statement of beliefs. The creeds are important because their content reveals what issues were being debated at the time the creed was written. For example, if a creed mentions baptism, that was important to the group. If it does not, then likely baptism was a non-issue, either because everyone agreed about it without debate, or because it was not important to the group.

One of the earliest creeds in Christendom is the well-known Apostles’ Creed. Its date is not known, but we assume from its simple structure and content that it pre-dated the theological debates that raged in the fourth century. The later creeds are much more complex and specifically address the issues of their time. The Apostles’ Creed does not mention the Trinity or any fundamental part of the doctrine of the Trinity, such as Jesus or the Holy Spirit being God. Christians who confess the Apostles’ Creed believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Lord, who died and whom God raised from the dead, much like the teachings we find in the book of Acts. It seems conclusive that the authors of the Apostles’ Creed did not consider belief in the Trinity necessary for salvation.

The Nicene Creed was developed in the fourth century, likely in 381 by the Council of Constantinople, and by that time much of the Trinitarian doctrine was more clearly developed. It states that the Son was “eternally begotten” and one Being with the Father. It also mentions that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to be worshipped and glorified. Despite the clear Trinitarian doctrine of the Nicene Creed, it does not state that a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved. This makes sense in light of the time period in which it was written. At that time many people in the church believed in the Trinity, but many did not. Although many Christians have heard of Emperor Constantine, who presided over the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and was a Trinitarian, most people are not aware that his son Constantius, who was the Roman emperor after him (337 to 361), was not a Trinitarian, and actually was known to persecute Trinitarian bishops. The point is that the doctrine of the Trinity was not settled in the Church yet, so it makes sense that a creed published in the late 300s would include the doctrine of the Trinity but not demand that one had to believe it to be saved.

By the time the Athanasian Creed was written, likely in the late fifth or early sixth century, more than a hundred years after the Nicene Creed, the situation in Christendom had changed. Trinitarians had become firmly in control of the Church, and non-Trinitarians were routinely persecuted, which is why, looking backward through history, there seemed to be so few of them during the Middle Ages. In contrast to the earlier creeds, the Athanasian Creed plainly states that a person had to be a Trinitarian to be saved. It was written in Latin, so English translations of it differ slightly, but it clearly reflects the conflict going on in the Church during the fourth and fifth centuries about the formulation of, and belief in, the Trinity. We know that because the one subject it covers in great detail is the Trinity, and how its members relate to each other. The Athanasian Creed clearly states that a person who does not believe in the Trinity, or the incarnation of Jesus, or that Jesus is both God and man, is not saved, and this man-made document expressed what became the uncompromising teaching of the Orthodox Church.

The Athanasian Creed, and pronouncements similar to it, proliferated through the Middle Ages and were maintained by the Roman Catholic Church, and then by the Protestant Church. Although there was a great resurgence of non-Trinitarian believers at the time of the Reformation, they were persecuted and even put to death by both Roman Catholics and Protestants. Many of their writings were burned, but thankfully a few survived and are available today, giving us a window into non-Trinitarian thought during the Reformation.

The constant persecution of non-Trinitarians resulted in their becoming a miniscule minority through the Middle Ages and Reformation, and in the modern church, something that most churchgoers greatly misinterpret. Most people believe there are so few non-Trinitarian believers because their doctrinal position is weak, but that is drawing the wrong conclusion. The truth is that most who openly shared their faith were killed or persecuted, or were told the Trinity was a mystery they could not understand, and so the vast majority of them learned to be quiet about what they believed. The persecution of non-Trinitarians continues today, and the vast majority of them keep their beliefs to themselves so they will not be ejected from Christian meetings, called “unsaved” (or worse), and rejected by other Christians they have befriended.


The Modern Church

The Sinner’s Prayer

Like the Medieval Church doctrine, the modern Orthodox Church doctrine is that a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved, but on a practical level there is some serious double-mindedness going on in the Church. This is true, first when it comes to evangelism and winning new converts, and second, in assuring that long-time Christians believe in the Trinity and are actually saved.

When it comes to evangelism, Trinitarian evangelists and pastors teach the salvation message in a simple way, just as was done in Acts, and believe their teaching saves people. For example, Trinitarians all over the world say they get people saved by having them pray what is referred to as “the sinner’s prayer.” Although it varies somewhat from church to church, it goes something like this:

“Heavenly Father: I come to you in prayer asking for the forgiveness of my sins. I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart that Jesus is your Son, and that he died on the Cross at Calvary that I might be forgiven and have Eternal Life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Father, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead and I ask you right now to come in to my life and be my personal Lord and Savior. I repent of my sins and will Worship you all the day’s of my Life. Because your word is truth, I confess with my mouth that I am Born Again and Cleansed by the Blood of Jesus! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” [15]

This prayer clearly shows the double-mindedness of Trinitarians because thousands of them use it to get people saved in their churches, while at the same time their doctrine says it will not get someone saved because it does not teach the Trinity. We non-Trinitarians say that based on the teaching of the New Testament, anyone who prayed and believed the above prayer is saved. We say that this practice of the Trinitarians is correct, and it is their doctrine that is in error.

The second evidence for double-mindedness among Trinitarians concerns long-time members of the Church who do not believe the Trinity because they either do not know what it is, or they do not understand it and thus do not really “believe it,” they just more or less ignore the whole doctrinal position. Spirit & Truth Fellowship International is openly non-Trinitarian, and we have been in many discussions and debates with Trinitarians since our inception in 1989. Our experience is that a significant percentage of those who attend Trinitarian churches openly confess that they do not know what the Trinity is, or when questioned, cannot define it accurately. In our experience, many churchgoers think the Trinity is simply that there are three beings, the Father God, the Son, and a being called “the Holy Spirit.”

Many of the supposed Trinitarians we have encountered do not even believe that Jesus is God, much less that he is one of three Persons in the Trinity, all of whom are co-equal and co-eternal and who together make up the One God of Christian orthodoxy. If orthodox Trinitarian doctrine is correct, imagine the sad plight of these churchgoers on the Day of Judgment. They would stand before the Judgment Seat, expecting to live forever with Jesus because they believe God raised him from the dead and have confessed him as Lord. But instead of being granted everlasting life, the Righteous Judge condemns them to everlasting death, saying they were not really saved because they did not believe in the Trinity.

We assert that if the pastors of local churches really believed that a person had to believe in the Trinity to have everlasting life, they would teach it in great detail; regularly have sermons, classes and seminars on it; make sure that all the elders and deacons were well versed about it; and sit with new converts and any new members of their church to confirm that the person was actually saved. The actions of Trinitarian churches around the globe are speaking louder than their manual of doctrine. It seems clear that, in reality, leaders in the modern church do not really think a person has to believe in the Trinity to be saved.

We of Spirit & Truth Fellowship International have encountered a number of people in the Church today, including pastors, who believe that the Trinity is true but admit that it is not clearly presented in the Bible, and thus say that one need not believe it to be saved. These Trinitarian Christians have seen that there is no command to believe in the Trinity, and admit non-Trinitarian believers into their churches and fellowships as brothers and sisters in Christ.


The Manifestations (or “Gifts”) of the Spirit and Salvation

The modern Church is waking up to the spiritual power Christians have, and many in different denominations are manifesting the power of God by speaking in tongues, prophecy, words [messages] of knowledge and wisdom, and healing. More and more Christians are seeing that the verse, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues…” (1 Cor. 14:5), is for all Christians. Although speaking in tongues used to be considered something done only by Pentecostals and Charismatics, now people from very diverse denominations and groups are speaking in tongues, even in the Roman Catholic Church (these are referred to as “Charismatic Catholics”).

It is widely admitted that the power to speak in tongues comes from God to those who are saved. Speaking in tongues, then, should be one of the great proofs of who is, and who is not saved, and if non-Trinitarians are not saved, they should not be able to speak in tongues. But many non-Trinitarian groups have members who do speak in tongues. In fact, Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian groups are similar when it comes to speaking in tongues, because some do and some do not. However, if speaking in tongues is an evidence of the presence of the spirit, and thus salvation, which we assert that it is, the fact that people who have accepted Jesus as their Lord, but who are non-Trinitarians speak in tongues is very solid evidence they are saved.


Conclusion

Most Christians assert that the Bible teaches the way of salvation. However, if orthodox Trinitarian doctrine is correct, the Bible does not clearly teach how to be saved because it never clearly teaches the Trinity. Could it be that we have to teach a “more complete” message to get people saved than did Jesus, Peter, or Paul? Could it really be the case that a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved, even though there is not one clear presentation of it in the entire New Testament? Certainly not. We assert that the message of Peter, Paul, and others was enough to get their audiences saved and there is no evidence that God, after the book of Acts, somehow changed the rules so that now a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved.

The book of Acts makes it clear that when the early Christians presented Jesus Christ to the unsaved, they taught that he was a “man approved of God” who was crucified but whom God raised from the dead and who now is our Lord. This simple message has been getting people saved for some 2000 years now, and there is no evidence in Scripture or in the practices of churches around the world that one has to believe in the Trinity to be saved. We reject the decision made by men in the Church, somewhere around 500 A.D., that a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved, even though that decision and belief has been supported by Church tradition for centuries now. It is the Word of God, not tradition, that lives and abides forever.

Like the great reformers of the Protestant Reformation, who demanded to be convinced from Scripture that a doctrine is true, we demand that Trinitarians show us from Scripture that a person needs to believe in the Trinity to be saved. If they cannot do so, we respectfully submit that they retract this doctrine. Christians will never be able to achieve what our God wishes, that “…we all reach unity in the faith…” (Eph. 4:13), until Trinitarians stop demanding that to be considered Christian a person must believe something that cannot be proven from the Bible. It would be a wonderful thing if Trinitarians would draw their doctrine as well as their practice from the Word of God and welcome non-Trinitarian Christians as part of the family of God.


Epilogue

In the above study we have shown from Scripture that a person does not have to believe in the Trinity to be saved. However, there is another point we feel compelled to make. If the Old Testament does not teach the Trinity, if Jesus never taught it, if no one in the book of Acts ever taught it, and if the Epistles do not clearly set it forth, can it really be that the Trinity is right doctrine? Can it be that the very foundation of the Christian faith is a doctrine that is never once set forth clearly in Scripture, but is gathered from isolated texts? God very clearly sets forth the foundational tenets of the Christian faith, including salvation, redemption, righteousness, the character of God (that He is love, light, merciful, etc.), the fallen nature of man and the need for a Savior, and the work of the Messiah. Which makes more sense, that God is clear about the foundational tenets of the Christian faith except the most important one, the Trinity, which must be gathered from isolated texts, or that the Trinity is actually a man-made doctrine, built from verses that can each be explained in a non-Trinitarian way? To us, the answer to that question is clear.

Going strictly by the evidence in Scripture, the correct biblical doctrine is the one that can be clearly seen in the Old Testament and was confirmed again and again in the New Testament. There is one God. He is spirit, so His invisible power and nature are known as the holy spirit (or the Holy Spirit). God had a Son, the Messiah, who we know as the Lord Jesus Christ, who was of the lineage of Abraham and David, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, was raised from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of God. All of this was taught in the Old Testament and confirmed many times in the New Testament without once being corrected to include the idea of a Triune God. There is no reason not to believe that simple message is the correct biblical doctrine.

[For further study, please read our article titled What About John 1:1?, and our explanation of verses commonly used to try to support the Trinity.]


Endnotes:

1. Let us say at the outset, which we will restate later in the paper, that some Trinitarians do not believe the official position of orthodox Christianity, which is that a person must believe in the Trinity to be saved. Back to top

2. Some people would assert that Isaiah 9:6 sets forth that the Messiah would be God, but there are other ways that verse can and should be understood, and there is no record of any Jew expecting the Messiah to be God. Besides, Isaiah was written almost 750 years before Christ, and the vast majority of the Old Testament believers lived and died before that time. See our book: One God & One Lord, Appendix A for an explanation of Isaiah 9:6 that fits within the monotheistic framework of the Old Testament. Back to top

3. Bertrand de Margerie, The Christian Trinity in History, Translated by Edmund J. Fortman. (St. Bede’s Publications, Petersham, Mass. Originally published in French in 1975, copyrighted 1982), page 3. Back to top

4. Psalm 110:1, when properly understood, is one of the great pieces of evidence in Scripture that Jesus was human and not “God.” See our book: One God & One Lord, Appendix A, Psalm 110:1 Back to top

5. Some people might claim that Matthew 28:19, about baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and “Holy Spirit” is proof of the Trinity, but it clearly is not a teaching of the co-equality and co-eternality of the three. A first century person knew of the “holy spirit” as the spirit that God gave, which was spirit life and power (Num. 11:17), not a “Third Person” of a Trinity. Back to top

6. The “You have heard that it was said” and “but I tell you” are in quotes because that is the exact format Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount (cp. Matt. 5:21, 22, 27, 28, 31 and 32, etc.). Back to top

7. Tradition teaches that the Pentecost experience happened in the Upper Room, but it happened in the Temple, as a close study of Acts will show, and as more and more scholars are attesting in their writings. Back to top

8. Walter Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Books, Grand Rapids. 1984), p. 1112. Back to top

9. J. D. Douglas, ed. New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (Tyndale House, Wheaton, IL. 1982), p. 1221. Back to top

10. Trent Butler, ed. Holman Bible Dictionary (Holman Bible Pub., Nashville, TN. 1991), p.1372. Back to top

11. NIV Study Bible (Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI, 1985), p. 2161. Back to top

12. The NIV text note on Hebrews says, “Hebrews could be called ‘the book of better things….’” NIV Study Bible (Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI, 1985), p. 2346. Back to top

13. The verses referred to as “better” use the word “better” in the KJV. Other versions may use “better,” or another word such as “superior.” Back to top

14. Some theologians argue that Hebrews 1:8 says Jesus is God, but that would not be the natural way a Hebrew would read the verse. The word “God” in Hebrew, Aramaic, and most other Semitic languages, was not used exclusively of the Father God, but was also used of angels, judges, or people representing God, and that is the clear context here, because Hebrews 1:9 says that the “God” in verse 8 has his own “God,” which is certainly true of the Lord Jesus, who, as a man with God’s authority, would be called ”god” but still have a God over him. For more on Hebrews 1:8, see our book: One God & One Lord, Appendix A, Hebrews 1:8. Back to top

15. This particular prayer was taken from a website near the top of the list of search results when Google was searched for “the sinners prayer,” a search that returned more than 500,000 results, which is indicative of how many churches use the sinner’s prayer to bring people to salvation. Back to top