[What follows is a lively exchange between a former “Biblical Unitarian” (the belief in one God, and that Jesus is not “God the Son,” but the Son of God) who has now become a Trinitarian (the belief in a “three-in-one” God), and the authors of our book, One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith. We make it available as a brief glimpse into the debate on this subject that has been raging since the doctrine known as the “Trinity” was constructed by Roman Catholic theologians from about 300-450 AD.]
Letter to the Authors of One God & One Lord
Considering the vast numerical disproportionality between Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians in the past 1700 years since the Council of Nicea, I would not make the fallacious argument that truth is determined by the majority. I know that truth is determined by the Word of God, period. But such disproportionality is at least interesting, because, presumably, (a) the Spirit of God has been at work throughout all generations of Christians as much as it is at work today (given Christ’s promise to us that the Gates of Hell shall never prevail against His Church) and (b) in each generation of Christians there have been at least a few who have studied the Scriptures as thoroughly as anyone alive today and, on the basis of their reading of the text, reached a conclusion opposite yours about the person of Christ.
You may, of course, dispute the latter supposition. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that anyone could read the writings of Gregory of Nyssa, St. Augustine, Jonathon Edwards, George Whitfield, John Wesley, and E.W. Tozer, to name a few giants from across the ages, and afterward assert that their knowledge of Scripture was not rich, profound, and admirable. Yet all were ardent Trinitarians.
One might suppose, of course, that the Trinity was so deeply entrenched in Church tradition that none of them questioned it. Or perhaps they did question it in their minds but feared saying so because of the threat of persecution. These are fine-sounding propositions, but all are intrinsically unproveable. One is therefore left to hypothesize that such august thinkers, and many others, (a) studied the Scriptures to know Christ and determined to believe the Trinitarian view of His nature because it was the best and most natural explanation of the most verses, (b) sold the truth about Christ down the river because of tradition or fear, or (c) were intellectual imbeciles and missed what was so plain in the text of Scripture despite writing voluminously on every conceivable facet of the topic over many decades.
Since the men I mentioned were brilliant beyond dispute, I imagine you would suggest that (b) is correct. Yet to believe (b), one must also believe that such men cared more about their reputation than they did about the written and Living Word. Perhaps such an uncharitable view of our forebears’ character is amenable to you. I, however, have spent far too long around Trinitarians to question the ingenuousness of their piety. Seeing Trinitarians’ love for Christ with my own eyes has prompted me to search the Scriptures on my own and rethink my former views, which were identical to yours. My journey of thought required great struggle and persistence, but the peace it brought to my life in the end was worth all the effort and sacrifice.
This is especially true in this instance, since I am intimately familiar with your position about the person of Christ and have determined that such a position is scripturally and existentially unsatisfactory, and you are quite sure that position is correct. If nothing else, I wish you to know that believing in the Trinity has purloined nothing of value from my life. Quite the contrary: now I am free to read the Gospel of John, Philippians 2, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1 and 1 John 1, among other passages, without bending my mind to explain away the text. Moreover, I am free to associate with and affirm the intellectual honesty and profound faith of untold millions of my brothers and sisters throughout the world and throughout history who have held unwaveringly to the conviction that Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God as well as Lord and Christ. To me, belief in the Trinity is a great blessing. It is the truth as I see it. God bless you all.
Response from the Authors of One God & One Lord
God bless you too. It is indeed a fact that since the 5th century the vast majority of Christian leaders and teachers have been, and still are, Trinitarians. And we agree that the numerical disproportionality is interesting, in the same way it was interesting when the vast majority of people on our incredibly round earth believed it was flat. Let the record show that (a) there was no belief in a “Trinity” prior to the 5th century, and (b) since the 1960s a significant and growing number of distinguished theologians have vigorously disputed it.
As for your proposition (a) in paragraph 2, given the history of the Church, we are not sure how we can know that the spirit of God was as much at work during the 2d-5th centuries, the Dark Ages, etc., as it is today. We know that the reciprocal relationship that God designed with believers means that His holy spirit cannot work unless Christians cooperate and do their part, because that spirit is a gift that they must use, not vice versa. And we also know that wrong teaching hinders people from properly responding to the Word of God. Having said that, we’d say there is a good possibility that the added light available today may mean that God can work more effectively now than He has been able to in certain historical time periods.
Nonetheless, your citing the “gates of hell” not prevailing against the Church (ekklesia) is misplaced. First, Jesus was not speaking of the Christian ekklesia, for he knew nothing about it. That church, his “body” of which he would be “the head,” was not revealed until the Apostle Paul wrote of it in his latter epistles. Second, “gates” are not an offensive weapon, Samson notwithstanding. Third, “hell” is a grievous and mythologically influenced mistranslation of hades, which there should have been rendered as “the grave” or “gravedom.”
Jesus was saying that the gates of the grave will not stand against his raising the ekklesia of Israel (as per Ps.22:22, et al) from the state of death and delivering them from its dominion. Of course the same thing holds true for his raising the Christian Church—all those who have died will prevail against the “gates” of the grave by rising from the dead and breaking through them.
As for proposition (b), we would again remind you that the doctrine of the Trinity was not formulated until several centuries after Christ and the apostles. Should we not then wonder if the doctrine is actually a part of the “apostle’s doctrine” believed and practiced by the early Church? If it is such an important doctrine that to reject it is to be thought unsaved (clearly stated in the Athanasian Creed), then we would have to doubt the salvation of the apostles who failed to teach it. Your desire to elevate later theologians as “brilliant” does not carry as much weight as the simple testimony of Scripture and the example of the early Christians. Indeed, their “brilliance” of the theologians you cited was part of the problem. They presumed to articulate church doctrine with unbiblical terms like homousian, revealing that they thought biblical language was insufficiently precise to support their doctrine. We should hold in suspicion any crucial Church doctrine that cannot be articulated using biblical terms.
Without the aid of “brilliant” theologians adding their ideas, which were often mixed with pagan notions, we find it impossible to honestly derive a three-in-one deity from the text of Scripture alone (and that is why it took nearly four centuries for details of this fable to be hammered out by church councils and infiltrate the Church). In order to come to the belief in a “Trinity,” you must first be influenced by hearing the Trinitarian slant on the verses, and that leads us to our take on your proposition (b). May we suggest that those men you mentioned may not have studied the subject of what they call the Trinity as thoroughly as you assume. If we consider how much work was done on it in, say, the 1000 years up until about 40 yrs ago, there may not be that much. Why?
First, because until the 14th century, very, very few people had any access to a Bible. Second, because the Roman Catholic Church had pretty much determined that only “heretics” would question the “Holy Trinity,” and many who did were, threatened, banished, and even put to death. As opposing voices were silenced by the sword or by ecclesiastical and social isolation, and the Trinitarian dogma prevailed, most believers, scholars included, just took it for granted. We daresay that when all is said and done, we will find out that many others thought it made no sense, but figured it wasn’t worth it to buck the system.
Furthermore, the theology of the day was that church doctrines did not necessarily have to make sense. For example: “Transubstantiation” (the belief that the communion bread and wine turns into the actual body and blood of Christ); “The Assumption of Mary” (the belief that Mary ascended bodily into heaven; “Papal Infallibility” (the belief that whoever is Pope cannot be wrong, even if he directly contradicts a previous (infallible) Pope). Church leaders believed that doctrines about spiritual matters did not have to make sense, and so the “Trinity,” with its myriad self-contradictions, was easy for them to embrace.
Therefore, few people were questioning it, so there was no reason to defend it. As far as we can see, it has been in the past 40 years that much more emphasis has been given to it, more songs written about it, etc. And of course we think that is because the doctrine has been increasingly questioned during this time, due in part to textual work that has uncovered many blatant Trinitarian forgeries like 1 John 5:7 and others that we reference in our book, One God & One Lord, Appendix N., Textual Corruptions Favoring the Trinitarian Position.
You spoke of the “intellectual honesty” of Trinitarians, and no doubt that is true of most, but the fact remains that there are egregious textual forgeries pertinent to this debate, andnone of them were to advocate the Unitarian perspective. We’re sorry, but we cannot agree, because, given the genuine evidence, it certainly appears that the intellectual dishonesty is on the part of Trinitarians. If you would like to research this for yourself, there is at least one book that has been written on those forgeries, The Textual Corruption of Scripture, by Bart Ehrman (Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1993).
Furthermore, by the admission of nearly every Trinitarian we’ve ever met, heard speak, or read, no one can either understand or explain it, and Trinitarians can’t even agree among themselves on certain elements of the doctrine, so it is no wonder that there is not more teaching on it. That might cause people to ask questions about it for which there are no solid scriptural answers.
As for propositions (a), (b), (c) in paragraph 3, no, we would not pick (b) as being true for the majority. When the Lord comes, he may not sit us all down before a giant blackboard like in the first grade and write on it, “Hello, my name is…”, but if he does declare that he is Jesus and not God, the majority of the crowd will be shocked. If that is the case (and of course we believe Scripture makes it clear that it will be), yes, we honestly do think that there will be a number of ministers and leaders to whom the Lord will say something like: “Now Bob, you knew the Trinity made no sense. Why were you afraid to go against the crowd and at least pursue an alternative?” And livelihood or reputation will not be a sufficient excuse.
As for the vast majority of Christian leaders through the centuries, we would never question their sincerity or their love for God, and of course we do not think they were imbeciles. Intellectual brilliance is not the issue. You can have a high IQ and still be unknowingly blinded to spiritual matters, especially when you have never heard of or considered a rational alternative to what was fed to you from the moment of your Christian birth. Add to that the very powerful intimidation factor still prevalent in Christian circles toward those who would dare to question this myth, and you have a formula for group-think acquiescence. Gwen Shamblin of Weigh Down Workshops found out how quickly the Trinitarian establishment can turn on you. She had enjoyed great mainstream success with her ministry, which then vanished virtually overnight, not because there was something wrong with what she was teaching about weight loss and food as an idol, but because she was no longer spiritually “kosher” because she doubted the Trinity.
It’s kind of a toss up as to what is the most egregious aspect of Trinitarianism. We guess it might be its idolatrous elevation of two other beings to the position of “God,” but for us it is how it so greatly diminishes the magnitude of our dear Lord’s heroism on our behalf. If Jesus is God, or anything other than a true human being, it is not at all impressive that he did what he did, because nothing is hard for God. And, of course, we cannot possibly identify with a “God-man” or expect to do the works that he did.
We are challenged to find a palatable way to say how absolutely inconceivable we think it is that you said (while speaking of why people arrived at a Trinitarian perspective) that they found it “the most natural explanation of the most verses.” Let us simply say that on the contrary, it requires Olympic quality linguistic acrobatics, not to mention the injection of many non-biblical terms into the argument, to come up with the incredibly unnatural and patently mythological idea of a “Trinity” from the pages of Scripture alone.
For example, “son” means what everyone knows it means, which is a male offspring of a father, period. Not so with Jesus, however, because, according to Trinitarian theology, he was not created by God, even though God is his “father.” No, Trinitarians tell us, Jesus was “eternally begotten” and therefore has been around as long as God has. He “pre-existed” his birth. Well, there goes the standard definition of another simple word, “birth,” because birth is when one’s existence begins. So Jesus “pre-existed” his existence. It is not superior intellect that causes one to arrive at such “non-sense,” because true intellectualism flows with logic and reason.
And you mentioned that you can now read Hebrews 1 “without bending your mind to explain away the text.” Then please explain how Jesus can be God, and also have a God referred to in vs. 9 as “your God who anointed you”? To us, that is truly mind-bending. Just as human representatives of God in the Old Testament were called “gods” (Ps. 82:1,6, et al), so Jesus, God’s most vivid representative, is occasionally called “god” (Ps 45:6; Isa. 9:6; Heb. 1:8). The capital “G”(od) in English bibles is another erroneous translation, as a simple study of this subject clearly shows. In the aforementioned teaching, we show that in John 10:31ff, when the Jews railed on Jesus, saying that he said he was God, he had the perfect opportunity to just say, “Yes, I am!” Of course, he instead corrected them by saying that he was the Son of God.
Thank you for your feedback. We trust you will continue to search the Scriptures, as will we.