The Long, Strange Story of the Trinity

The Long, Strange Story of the Trinity June 10, 2013

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity claims one God in three persons. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it: “In the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another.”

Unity but also distinct? Three but also one? That makes no sense, so let’s go to the source and read about it in the Bible.

And the Bible says …

Though the Trinity is one of the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity, the Bible says nothing about it directly. Did Paul and the apostles define God in a trinitarian fashion? If the Trinity is essential to a proper understanding of Christianity as the modern church claims, the ancients’ silence on the matter suggests that it is a later invention.

That’s not to say that one can’t use the Bible to form arguments in favor of various relationships between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Several interpretations competed in the early centuries of the church.

  • Was Jesus merely a good man, adopted by God (Adoptionism)?
  • Are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit just labels for the different roles of one being (Sabellianism or Modalism)?
  • Was Jesus created by God and subordinate to him (Arianism)?

These are all plausible interpretations, justifiable with Bible passages, but they are heresies today. It took about two centuries for the doctrine of the Trinity to enter the debate (through Tertullian), and it took almost two more centuries of haggling for the doctrine to mature into its present form and sweep away its competitors at the First Council of Constantinople (381).

While still a cardinal, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI was asked if he was bothered by many Catholics ignoring papal dictates. He said that he was not, because “truth is not determined by a majority vote.” But a majority vote is exactly how doctrines like the Trinity came into being.

Comma Johanneum

You know how I said that the Bible says nothing directly about the Trinity? For completeness, we should address this:

For there are three that testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. (1 John 5:7)

The part in italics is called the Comma Johanneum (a “comma” is a short clause). The oldest and most reliable manuscripts do not show the Comma. It appears first in a few 7th-century Latin manuscripts and only centuries later in Greek manuscripts. Unlike much of the rest of the New Testament, it doesn’t appear in the letters of early church fathers, many of whom would’ve delighted in supporting their position with such a quote.

It is agreed by scholars to be an addition to the original.

What is the Trinity?

Lots of analogies have been proposed for the Trinity. Maybe it’s like water, which has the three states of solid, liquid, and gas. Or like a person who can be spouse, parent, and employer. But this is modalism—God acts in different modes at different times.

Okay, then maybe it’s like an egg, which has shell, white, and yolk. Or like time, which has past, present, and future. Or like the Borromean rings in the picture above that only compose a linked whole when all three rings are present. But this is Partialism, the claim that the three persons of God are three separate parts.

Given the clear history of conflict on this question and the many discarded explanations, you’d think that heretical analogies wouldn’t be offered.

Most Christians simply say that it’s a mystery and admit that we can’t understand it. Contrast that with the monotheism celebrated by Islam. The shahadah, the basic creed of Islam, says, “There are no deities but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”—simple and unambiguous.

A few questions raised by the Trinity doctrine

Instead of the convoluted and unintelligible Trinity, why not simply embrace the polytheism? My guess is that first-century Christians so valued Jewish monotheism that this tenet couldn’t be dropped. As the stature of Jesus increased over time, from a good man adopted as messiah by God (as told in Mark) to a being who was there at the beginning (John 1:1), they were stuck with fitting the square peg of the divinity of Jesus into the round hole of monotheism.

Why not then have a duality, Yahweh + Jesus? The problem is that two is the number for male and female, which was not the symbolism they were going for. Perhaps the Holy Spirit, initially just a bit player or merely a synonym for God, was elevated into the Trinity. And even this is flexible. While the idea of Mary as Co-redemptrix is not Catholic doctrine, it has threatened to become so at various periods in the church’s history.

And now let us close …

The typical Christian response to a contradiction is to find a way to make both claims true. This is never clearer than with the Trinity. The Bible says that there is one god, but it also says that Jesus existed since the beginning of time. So they must both be true! But what first-century Christian would rationalize this with the doctrine of the Trinity?

Or, take this from the other direction. Explain the Trinity to first-century Christians and ask if they buy it. If you imagine that they do, you have a new problem: why the vitally important doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t explained in the New Testament.

The Trinity is a Christian mystery—something that can’t be explained by reason alone. A supernatural explanation is necessary. (This raises the question: If it doesn’t make sense, why accept it? But let’s set that aside.) Apologists often admit that they will just have to ask God about it when they get to heaven.

That humility is laudable, but how about some of that in other areas? If you don’t trust yourself to make sense of the Trinity, why imagine that you correctly understand God’s position on polygamy, slavery, and genocide when the Old Testament gives clear support for them? Why imagine that your evaluation of abortion and gay marriage is correct when the Bible doesn’t address these topics directly?

If only the Trinity were a frequent reminder for Christians to be humble in their claims, it would be valuable for everyone.

See also:God Has Many Names, But Do We Need One More?

It is too late in the day for men of sincerity
to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticism
that three are one and one is three,
and yet, that the one is not three, and the three are not one.
— Thomas Jefferson (letter to John Adams, 1813)

Photo credit: Johansson

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  • avalon

    My favorite part of the Catholic encyclopedia article is this:

    “The Vatican Council has explained the meaning to be attributed to the term mystery in theology. It lays down that a mystery is a truth which we are not merely incapable of discovering apart from Divine Revelation, but which, even when revealed, remains “hidden by the veil of faith and enveloped, so to speak, by a kind of darkness” (Constitution, “De fide. cath.”, iv).

    As regards the vindication of a mystery, the office of the natural reason is solely to show that it contains no intrinsic impossibility, that any objection urged against it on Reason. “Expressions such as these are undoubtedly the score that it violates the laws of thought is invalid. More than this it cannot do.”

    • Wow. And people who accept this actually drive cars and pay taxes and vote. They can use reason.

      • They, do just not on these subjects. It’s cognitive dissonance, a partition of the mind. Some like Martin Luther actually made this blatant, talking of the “magisterial” (determining truth) vs. the “ministerial” (deriving from pre-determined truth) uses of reason. Naturally, he opposed the former, calling it “the Devil’s whore.”

        • I’m not sure I’d heard of that distinction by Martin Luther before, thanks.

          Here is Wm. Lane Craig expanding on that topic (and by “expanding,” I mean “putting his foot in his mouth”).

        • Yes, Craig quotes Luther directly about reason (though without the “Devil’s whore” bit, unsurprisingly). Foot-chewing is his wont, I’d say.

        • Yes, Craig quotes Luther for that, while omitting the “Devil’s whore” part, and foot-chewing is his forte.

    • smrnda

      This seems to just be a roundabout way of saying that a ‘mystery’ is something that doesn’t make sense, but which is declared not to be nonsense but theologically valid by some sort of ex cathedra statement.

      • “Mystery” = “something that we want to be true but reason won’t give us.”

    • RichardSRussell

      I liked Archie Bunker’s take on it: “It’s not supposed to make sense! It’s faith! Don’t ya know what faith is? Faith is when you believe somethin’ that nobody in their right mind would believe!”

  • Jayn

    “He said that he was not,
    because “truth is not determined by a majority vote.” But a majority
    vote is exactly how doctrines like the Trinity came into being.”

    I was saying to a friend a few months ago that as I’ve learned a bit about the history of the church, especially in the early days, I have to wonder–especially being Christian myself–if we’re not missing something, if some truths didn’t get removed from doctrine during the political machinations of the institution. What if the ‘true’ church was one of the variations that didn’t survive? I know some people would say that the truth would survive simply by virtue of being the truth, but I see no reason to assume that’s the case and my personal theology certainly allows for a God who would let us lead ourselves astray. Not that I was ever particularly observant, but this makes it harder for me to take any religious authority as being right without question. God may be infallible, but humans aren’t and at it’s heart any church is a human institution, using a book that has been handed down through human means.

    • Jayn:

      What if the ‘true’ church was one of the variations that didn’t survive?

      That’s my question as well.

      I know some people would say that the truth would survive simply by virtue of being the truth

      I wonder if they have any evidence of this. We’ve uncovered some errors in the Bible (the Comma Johanneum, for starters), but why pretend that they’ve all been removed? At the very least, the Christian must concede that, even if he pretends that today’s Bible is perfect, there were people confused by false biblical teaching like the long ending of Mark. God apparently does allow false Bible teaching.

      • There were many Gospels the Church did not accept, since they preached teachings which differed (usually Gnostic). Even the Gospel of John that you mention was not accepted initially, but its great popularity meant it later became canon. So much for truth not being determined by a majority vote.

        • SparklingMoon-

          There were many Gospels the Church did not accept,
          ”They whimsically declare some books to be divine and others to be forged. They judge these four Gospels to be authentic and the rest(about fifty-six of them)forged. But this belief is based on mere guesswork and speculation, rather than on any concrete evidence. They have had to make these decisions by themselves,for there is a marked discrepancy between these and the other Gospels.

          Researchers, however, believe that it is not possible to determine which of them is actually forged and which is not. This is why, on the occasion of King Edward’s coronation, the Church fathers of London presented him
          with the books which they presume to be forged along with the four Gospels, all bound in one volume.Now, if these books had really been forged and were unholy, would it not be sinful to bind the holy and the unholy in a single volume?

          The fact is that these people are unable to say with any degree of conviction whether any of these books are authentic or forged, and everyone goes by their own opinion.The fact is that only Divine revelation has the authority to prove the truth or falsity of past scriptures. Any account confirmed by Divine revelation has to be true, even though some ignorant ones declare it otherwise. Similarly, the account which Divine revelation rejects, has to be false,even though some people declare it to be true.” ( Fountain of Christianity by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad P-10-11)

        • This is not even to mention the fake Pauline Epistles and plagiarism of the Gospels from each other, which even Christian Biblical scholars now admit to. That said, I’m not sure how Mirza proposes authenticating things with divine revelation. The Quran also shows many signs of human origins, from spelling mistakes to plagiarism.

        • SparklingMoon-

          The Quran also shows many signs of human origins,

          For example ?

        • I gave some above. Specific examples can easily be found by searching on Google. Many scientific errors also feature in it prominently. Naturally this is true of the Bible as well.

        • busterggi

          Show me a Koran that was not produced by human beings – an actual physical divine original.

        • What good is “Divine revelation” when everyone disagrees on what it says?

        • SparklingMoon-

          What good is “Divine revelation” when everyone disagrees on what it says?
          Everyone do not disagree on a divine revelation that proves its divine origin through God’s law of nature and through powerful signs and shows God and His attributes to be in accord with the same law of nature which is the result of God’s ‘action’ in this world and is imprinted in human nature and conscience.

          No doubt,there are some people who show their disagreement for divine revelation and they may be two kind of people: one who really have not understand some parts of this revelation and second who already in their minds have decided to reject it in all conditions (even their hearts accept the truth of this revelation).

          The big difference between the revelation of the Quran and other religious books is that its words of revelation are safe in the same words as were revealed to Prophet of Islam and the Holy Books of other religions are mixed with revelation of Prophets and human made explanations

          and changes and it has made difficult for their followers to find truth about the revelation of their prophets.Revelation of the Quran and the safety of its words has made it possible for all other religions to sort out the revelation of their prophets from the human made changes of their books.

        • Moon:

          No doubt,there are some people who show their disagreement for divine revelation and they may be two kind of people: one who really have not understand some parts of this revelation and second who already in their minds have decided to reject it in all conditions (even their hearts accept the truth of this revelation).

          Sure, from your standpoint, you’ve got it all figured out and the other guy is wrong. Problem is, that’s just what he thinks as well.

          The big difference between the revelation of the Quran and other religious books is that its words of revelation are safe in the same words as were revealed to Prophet of Islam and the Holy Books of other religions are mixed with revelation of Prophets and human made explanations

          A bold claim. Why imagine that it’s true?

        • SparklingMoon-

          A bold claim. Why imagine that it’s true?
          No doubt it is ‘A bold claim’ but keeps an evidence of truth. There are thousand improvements that the revelation of the Quran has made in the person and the teachings of different prophets. There are only example of two prophets of Israel to prove the truth of this bold claim.

          Prophet David is called an adulterous in the Bible. According to its descriptions a lady Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah) becomes pregnant by David after an adulterous affair and he gives order for the death of her husband, (Uriah) and after his death takes the widowed Bathsheba as his wife and from this lady has born a Prophet and king Solomon. Is there exist any descriptions in the Bible that make him clear of these blames?

          A person who is adulterous and killer according to these human made descriptions of Old Testament and on the other hand in New Testament Jesus is called by an angel a” heir to the throne of David” (Luke 1: 32- 33 ). How can a person get truth about this throne of David for Jesus was sent to heir?

          It is the revelation of the Quran only that clears Prophet David from all unjust condemnations that had been later entered by his opponents. God declared about him: ”O David,We have made thee a vicegerent in the earth” (38: 21) and a vicegerent is called by God to a person who is a complete copy of Him and who tried to maintain His attributes among others through his noble practice. And this declaration of ”vicegerent” of Prophet David confirms that he was a highly spiritual man among the prophets of Israel and he was so noble that his spirituality was bestowed by God to Jesus as a heir.

          The Quran further claims about his attributes in the words of God:”Our servant David, man of strong hands; surely he was always turning to God. And We strengthened his kingdom, and gave him wisdom and decisive judgement” (Quran 38:18)

        • And a false belief system might also make improvements in the lives of its believers. This simply argues that Islam is useful. Doesn’t make it true.

    • JohnH2

      That is the exact position of my church, which incidentally also rejects the Trinity. Not only did the true church not survive but it has been restored and additional revelations from God have been received. I am, obviously, a Mormon.

      • busterggi

        Yes but your church claims that Jesus and the Lone Ranger road the Old West together – not any more historically true.

        • JohnH2

          If you are going to go for strange claims then could you please actually come up with something real? It really isn’t that hard at all and not doing so just shows laziness.

        • As an aside, I remember Wm. Lane Craig justifying why some of the noncanonical gospels shouldn’t be added to the canon. He basically said, “Have you read these things?!” He talked about the talking cross in the Gospel of Peter, and his audience laughed with him.

          My response: Have you read your own Bible? Talking snakes, talking donkeys, raising from the dead–it’s crazy stuff. Craig lives in a glass house in this situation.

        • busterggi

          Are you saying that Mormonism no longer claims that Jesus came to visit the great Hebrew empire that covered North America two thousand years ago? Because I recall that as one of its central dogmas.

        • JohnH2

          “the great Hebrew empire that covered North America two thousand years ago”

          The numbers and distances mentioned within the Book of Mormon at no point suggest that the group of Hebrews could reasonably be considered an empire, let alone a great one, and certainly didn’t cover North America.

          Jesus Christ did visit the Americas; That in itself is a part of the doctrine that God continues to have dealings with men, the visit itself is highly significant but largely the purpose was to teach the people in the Americas much of what was taught during Christs earthly ministry.

          Your question though is completely unrelated to the claim that “Jesus and the Lone Ranger road the Old West together”, which is what you said.

        • John: I thought that N. America was unpopulated until the Hebrews came in roughly 600 BCE. Is that right?

        • JohnH2

          There is no reason to think that based on the Book of Mormon, and many reasons to think that was not the case. For one there were the Jaredites previously which appear to have been at least at some points in their history a large empire. That civilization was destroyed by civil war sometime around 600-500 BC or so, but the destruction of a civilization is not the same as the destruction of all people. They probably came to the Americas sometime around 3000 BC.

          The Nephites who wrote the record were cultural imperialists and fond of writing of themselves as though they were the best thing ever, when internal evidence suggests otherwise. They also call everyone that doesn’t join with them as Lamanites, which is clearly a blanket term for a wide range of people based on a few passages in the Book of Mormon, even if it also appears to have referred to a particular group as well.

          You know how you read the Bible and it talks about the kingdom of Judah as the best thing ever and both internal evidence and archeology suggests that they were a bunch of very backwater hicks? It is largely the same situation in the Book of Mormon. (Which makes sense considering that Lehi left Jerusalem in 600 BC making him of a tradition probably related in some ways to the group that rewrote the history of Judah and Israel (and the books of Moses) into the largely propaganda piece that we have today)

        • OK, so when the Hebrews got to the New World, it was already inhabited by Jaredites? What does the LDS church say about where they came from?

          I thought the 600 BCE civil war was Nephites vs. Lamanites. No?

        • JohnH2

          Yes, the Jaredites were already there, and given that Nephi builds a temple shortly after coming to the Americas then certainly other peoples as well. The Jaredites claim to have come from the tower of Babel per the book of Ether in the Book of Mormon.

          No, 600 BC is when Lehi left Jerusalem, the Jaredites were destroyed sometime after that point which didn’t affect the Nephites as they were south of the Jaredites territory. The Nephites were destroyed in 384 AD.

        • OK, thanks for the history lesson. There’s a lot to it, I can see.

        • John Bell

          You forgot to put quote marks around history.

        • My dedication to completeness compels me to note (in response to the reference to the Book of Ether) that Mark Twain called the Book of Mormon “chloroform in print.”

        • SparklingMoon-

          Jesus Christ did visit the Americas;……. to teach the
          people in the Americas much of what was taught during Christ earthly ministry.
          Jesus Christ ( Son of Marry)who had appeared 2100 years ago in Jerusalem according to the Prophecies of Old Testament was a Messiah only for twelve tribes of Children’s Israel to maintain them on the teachings of Torah .

          Jesus says that Mo ses had prophesied about his coming. He said:”For had ye believed Moses ye would have believed me;for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (John 5:46-47)

          His ministry as a prophet was confined by God to the children of Israel before his birth as the spiritual heir to the throne of David and was to reign over the house of Jacob. (Luke 1: 32- 33 ).

          He also directed his disciples to give his message only to twelve tribes of Israel: These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them saying,Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matt. 10:5-6)

          A prophet always says and does what is directed by God. He clears the conception of the character of his ministry by sayings:” I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matt. 15:22-28)

          Jesus was the last prophet in Israel, a believer in Moses and all the prophets of Israel who followed after Moses. He was bound by the Mosaic law and adhered to it. He had no authority, to abrogate the Mosiac law or any part of it. This he made quite clear in his declaration: ”Think not that I am come to destroy the law,or the prophets: I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, not one letter, not a dot, will disappear from the law until all that must happen has happened. (Matt. 5:1 7-19)

          It seems in the light of above existed claims of Jesus in Gospels that the person who had appeared in America for Mormon, in the name of Jesus, was not the same Jesus (Son of Marry ) whose ministry was confined to twelve tribes of Israel only. Otherwise the followers of Mormon should provide a proof from history about the existence of the people of Israel in America at that time, for Jesus had visited America to fulfill his claimed mission to maintain Mosaic Law among them.

        • JohnH2

          The people in the Americas were of the twelve tribes of Israel, though Jesus in his grand commission did tell the twelve after his resurrection to teach all of the world. Jesus was the Lamb of God, and the Son of God, and did fulfill all the requirements of the Law of Moses providing the law promised by Moses which is to be written in our hearts.

          I know that God will provide additional witnesses when He deems it necessary to do so. I can not blame any man for not believing the story because were it not for the witness from God I would almost certainly not believe the story.

        • These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

          Thus sayeth the Good Book (Matthew 10:5–6).

        • SparklingMoon-

          Jesus… did fulfill all the requirements of the Law of Moses providing the law promised by Moses which is to be written in our hearts.
          Jesus was also among the people of Israel therefore he must have to fulfill all the requirements of the Law of Moses.

          Mosaic law ,four thousand years ago , was revealed only for twelve tribes of children of Israel. It has no claim for universal Law for all human beings. This law was given to Prophet Moses for the People of Israel only whom he made free from the yoke of the slavery of Pharaoh of Egyptian.

          It states in the Old Testament about Mosaic Law: And the voice of the Lord came to Moses out of the Tent of meeting, saying,Give these orders to the children of Israel (Leviticus1:1)These are the orders which the Lord gave to Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sina (Leviticus 27;34)

          From the very first verse to the last one this Mosaic law o addresses to the children of Israel only. Neither Moses nor his after coming Reformer Prophets for Mosaic Law in the progeny of Israel,had made any claim for the universality of this Law. Jesus, the last Prophet among the people of Israel who was sent to reform and maintain it among the people of Israel, also had strictly confined its message to the people of Israel only and had never called other people for its practice.

          Again and again Jesus said to his followers that he was sent to the world only to give as much guidance as the people of his own time could bear. And for complete teaching he had prophesied about an other prophet who would appear after him with universal teachings and his teachings would not only confirm his truth but also would stay forever with mankind .

          ”But the comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14-26)

          He further said: Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will sent him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. … I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. How be it when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.. and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:7-14)

        • SparklingMoon-

          Jesus was the Lamb of God, and the Son of God,

          Jesus had never called himself a son of God or part of God in the sence as is considered by the followers of Trinity. His first and foremost mission was to call people to God Almighty: This is Eternal Life to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3)

          In Luke 1:32, he is called the son of the Highest and in 1:35, the son of God; but these expressions in the Bibel are used for many other people like prophets and righteous believers also : Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. (Matt. 5:9) and even are called God: I
          have said, ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
          (Psalms 82:6) because of having a spirituality of their natures that makes a resemblance between them and their God.(as a physical son makes a resemblance to his physical father)

          Second, ”Jesus was a humble and selfless person who did not even want to be called ‘good’.It is written in the Gospels that someone said to Jesus “O Good Master!”, but he said, “Why callest thou me good?” And how wonderfully do the words which he uttered at the time of the crucifixion testify to his belief in the Oneness of God. With the utmost humility, he had cried, Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?, “My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?” Can any reasonable person believe that he who supplicated to God with such humility, and considered Him to be the Lord and Master, could himself have claimed to be God?”( Fountain of Christianity by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Quadian India P-53

        • JohnH2


          You are arguing against the trinity with a Mormon, which you should realize that Mormons believe something very different from the trinity.

          God calls Jesus His Son and it is said in scripture that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son in the flesh. We are all children of the Most High in a very real sense, but Jesus was the Son of the God in every sense.

          The fulfilling of the Law of Moses could only have happened by the One that gave the Law to Moses, the Lamb slain from before the foundations of the world. Jesus is not God, the Father, but He is a member of the Divine Council, our Lord, our Saviour, and our God, there is no other Lord nor Saviour beside Him.

        • These aren’t prophecies. You’d laugh at them if they weren’t making claims that you wanted to be true.

    • RichardSRussell

      “What if the ‘true’ church was one of the variations that didn’t survive?”

      What if there never was such a thing as a true church at all? Since there’s absolutely no way whatsoever to tell what the “true church” actually IS (or was), how would we know the difference?

      • As an aside, Bart Ehrman, in his work on the early Christianities, talks about the proto-orthodox version of Christianity–that is, the one that would become orthodox.
        Robert Price argues instead that that wasn’t one of the early candidates, that the first “Christianity” that any modern time traveler would recognize wasn’t back in the 30s but wouldn’t appear until many decades later.

  • The doctrine of the Trinity is a valiant attempt to capture the nondual
    nature of Reality in the dualistic language of human beings who perceive
    themselves to be separate from God, from one another, and from the rest
    of creation. While (IMO) it is taken to totally irrational extremes in the
    creed of Athanasius, I don’t have too much trouble with the older creeds
    (though I probably interpret them in a somewhat heretical way). As I
    see it, God creates by his Word (the Divine intelligence) and is, at the same time,
    incarnate in his creation (archetypically in Jesus, but actually in each of us). And we — though appearing separate in time and space and having become lost in thought (our prodigal adventure) — we eventually recognize ourselves to be One
    in the Spirit with God, with one another, and with the whole of
    creation (which is, by extension, the body of Christ).

    The Oneness of God is emphasized Judaism (Shema Yisrael), but Philo of Alexandria laid the foundation of the Doctrine of the Trinity (see See also “The Divine Unity of the Shema in Hasidic philosophy” (Wikipedia).

    The Oneness of God is emphasized in Islam (Tawhid),
    but even there we have the doctrine of “the perfect man” which seems to
    compromise the sharp divide between human and Divine and introduce the
    idea of relationship into the life of God (see “Al-Insān al-Kāmil” in Wikipedia and compare, also, the hadith, “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known and so I made the world). It seems that God’s self-knowledge is in some way enabled or enhanced in and through relationship.

    So, while I agree the doctrine is an oddity, I think it continues to contribute positively to our understanding of reality (if we consider it loosely and imaginatively rather than strictly and dogmatically).

    • Yeshua:

      The doctrine of the Trinity is a valiant attempt to capture the nondual
      nature of Reality in the dualistic language of human beings who perceive
      themselves to be separate from God, from one another, and from the rest
      of creation.

      That, or the whole thing is just religious hocus pocus.

      we e ventually recognize ourselves to be One
      in the Spirit with God, with one another, and with the whole of
      creation (which is, by extension, the body of Christ).

      Or perhaps we delude ourselves?

      So, while I agree the doctrine is an oddity, I think it continues to contribute positively to our understanding of reality (if we consider it loosely and imaginatively rather than strictly and dogmatically).

      It points to a place that doesn’t exist, as far as I can tell.

      • MichaelNewsham

        Word association:

        Family: father, ______, child.

        If you filled in the blank with ‘ghost’ you’re a Christian

      • Echoing the words of Rumi, John Astin sings:

        Out beyond ideas of right and wrong
        there is a field where I will meet you
        When the soul lays down in that grass
        The world’s too full to talk about
        When the soul lays down in that grass
        The phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.
        [Listen Online:]

        Can you can step beyond that which you “think” or “believe” (or
        disbelieve) and simply abide in the One in Whom we live and move and have our being? So doing, the oneness (or not-twoness) of reality is evident (and even on a purely intellectual level, it is difficult to deny that reality is both one and many). Moreover, if we communicate, that which is intuited to be One must also be acknowledged as a vast community of Spirit — One Life Divine! Good news– take up your cross –the kingdom of heaven is at hand! 🙂

        • Yeshua: This is theology. Do you have evidence?

        • [Yeshua: This is theology. Do you have evidence?]

          It’s not so much theology as it is a “pointing” to that which is with us always… The “light of the world” — “the light in which we see light” — the aware presence without which the entire universe would simply be the night in which all cows are black!

          I understand that your public persona– and that of many of your readers –does not allow you to give serious consideration to the idea of God. But from time to time, when you have opportunity, just notice the space between your thoughts… Listen to stillness… Be aware of the silence between each breath you breathe, the stillness between each heart beat… Notice what is left when ideas of “me” and “my beliefs” are allowed to subside… Notice _______

          I certainly don’t insist on calling _______ Divine, but once _______ is fully appreciated, the idea of God may regain a bit of its currency. (Not to worry, however–this is not to say that the idea of God will be beyond criticism. So I assure you that you won’t be out of a job!).

          Now, assuming what is being pointed to is acknowledged and appreciated, then there may be a place for theology. It will not, however, be done in defense of an institutional religion or orthodox set of doctrines, but as a set of conceptual training wheels that may help people to see and appreciate the light (with it having been made clear, from the get-go, that the map is not the territory and the word water is not the substance that quenches our thirst).

        • What is this ___ ? Is it the Christian god? Why isn’t it the Satanist’s god?

        • Be still and know…

        • Pattrsn

          So step 1. Believe, which will lead you to step 2. which is believing, and then you will know it’s the truth because you’ve convinced yourself it’s the truth.

          Minor issue, this apparently works with any religion. Or is that your point, all religions are equally meaningful/meaningless or all equally true? ie the oneness of reality?

        • No intellectual belief or commitment is necessary. Simply pause the incessant mental commentary and notice the “aware presence” in which life unfolds. That is the presence of God (or if you prefer, Reality). To the best of my knowledge, most if not all cultures include one or more set of teachings that *point* to the Way, the Truth, and the Life that we are — that “I Am”.

          The words “faith” and “belief” are very confusing. Here is my take on them:

        • Pattrsn

          How did you decide that this “presence” was aware and that it is a “god”?

        • I didn’t say it is “a ‘god’ ” — I refer to it as God, but I do not insist that you do so. If it were not for awareness, we would not be having this conversation. No beings can appear apart from the light of awareness. Drawing a distinction between “awareness” and “the contents” of awareness is a first movement toward the recognition of their seamless
          unity (nonduality). Thinking about this merely prolongs the sense of duality (it must be seen, not analyzed or conceptualized). The thinking mind will always be there when you need it, but you will learn that you are not what you think…

        • Pattrsn

          If it were not for awareness, we would not be having this conversation. No beings can appear apart from the light of awareness

          Now you seem to be defining god as consciousness.

          but you will learn that you are not what you think…

          That’s funny because one thing that meditation has taught me is that I am what I think.

        • By “aware presence,” do you mean something that looks plan-like? Whatever it is, what is unexplained by natural explanations (coincidence; our mental bias toward seeing patterns, even when none exist; etc.)? That is, why is a supernatural explanation necessary?

        • As long as you insist on analyzing reality, all you will see is clippings from your conceptual scissors. I suggesting that you sheathe your analytic knife– just temporarily –and notice “Amness” — the “I Am Presence” — the One in Whom we live and move and have our being. I will grant you that “Whom” may be rather poetic or metaphorical, but this is an intimate reality that is not so far from any one of us…

          I make no distinction between the natural and the supernatural — there is only NOW:

  • smrnda

    I think I’ve realized that there’s no such thing as monotheism. Monotheists tend to believe in multiple supernatural beings, and I see no reason why a monotheistic god isn’t just the most powerful or leader of the gods, kind of like Zeus, and the angels, demons, devils and other such things are smaller, less powerful gods.

    • I was going to respond, “But aren’t Muslims monotheists?” but then I think they have demons in their supernatural universe.

      • Demons (djinni, from which we get “genies”) and angels.

      • SparklingMoon-

        I was going to respond, “But aren’t Muslims monotheists?” but
        then I think they have demons in their supernatural universe.
        All religions have the same message of monotheism but later had been changed by other people. The basic purpose of this message of monotheism is to make people free from all worldly fears. Prophets,always,present what is easy to conceive It is the interference of later coming people who turn their natural message into unnatural and supernatural by complicated explanations. when it becomes difficult for people to find the true face of God by this human interference then always God send his prophets to reform His messages for His people.

        In Islam also exist such people who,like the people of other religions, try to introduce unnatural conception in theology. Islam keeps the base of all its conceptions on the revelation of Quran. Revelation and the law of nature have no contradiction as both have one origin and that is God Almighty.Islam describes nothing unnatural about demons.There are descriptions about Satan or Ablees or Djinn but there is explained nothing supernatural about them as presented by some Muslim people.

        The word ”djinn” is used for hidden things and that are ‘bacteria’ (as some of them are beneficial and some of them are dangerous for a human) In old times there were no telescope to see them but as they existed therefore religions had used such words to make realize, the people of their ages, about the existence of these different kind of hidden creatures.

        ”Satan’s not a person but a force exists in human nature. According to the information of Islam in man’s nature and composition there have been included two forces and they are both opposed to each other and it is so in order for a person to be tried and tested and,with a successful outcome, to become deserving of God ‘s nearness. Of the two forces, one pulls man towards goodness and the other invites man towards evil. The force that pulls towards goodness is called angel and the force which invites towards evil is called ‘Satan’.

        The descriptions of ‘Abeles’ in religious books refer to ‘Pride’ that is a part of all human nature. It is an angelic attribute in its origin when is used on its right place but becomes harmful when is used to confront the revelation of God.

        The supernatural explanations of religious terms of some people has, no doubt, turned religions into fiction but the time has passed away when religious books were in the hands of few people and they used to inform others as much as wanted from these books and used to force others to accept their explanations of these books. The people of this age are lucky as the books of their religions are available for all people equally to read them personally and to find truth about their religion and about their live God.

    • SparklingMoon-

      I think I’ve realized that there’s no such thing as monotheism.
      Monotheists tend to believe in multiple supernatural beings.
      Religious and historical traditions mention that the patriarch Abraham came from Mesopotamia, and migrated west with his Hebrews followers, and settled along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, in the area now known as Palestine. Abraham brought with him the idea of a monotheistic belief, an idea that would later prove to endure for a long time in the area. Monotheistic belief emphasized on the moral demands and responsibilities of the individual and the community towards the worship of one God, who was ruler over all. Moreover, a belief in one God stressed the idea that God had a divine plan for human history, and the actions and ideals of His chosen people were inextricably tied to that divine plan. (The Heritage of World Civilizations, p-C-1,56)

      Abraham, who is recognized as the founder of their faith by all three religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Abraham’s followers passed down this tradition generation after generation, strengthening and unifying the people in the Palestine area with the belief in God and the covenant made with His chosen people. It was the 13th century B.C. that the personage of Moses proved to be a great unifying force that was to
      quite literally forge the nation of Israel. It was during the time of Moses that the concept of the covenant was reiterated and reinstated amongst the descendants of Abraham.

      The importance of this covenant can be recognized from a close scriptural analysis of all three religions. All three branches of the original monotheistic beliefs introduced by Abraham into the Palestine area recognize and account for the event in their religious scriptures:

      And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord,….And he took the book of the
      covenant, and read it in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.(Exodus: 24:4 6,7)

      Similarly, the religion of Islam also recognizes the covenant of the Hebrews with God. O children of Israel! Remember My favours which I bestowed upon you, and fulfil your covenant with Me, I will fulfil My covenant with you, and Me alone should you fear…..(Quran:2:41)

      Amongst diverse conglomerate of varying polytheistic cultures and
      beliefs, emerged a single great tradition that was to later fuse the
      foundations of three great religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These three religions can all be linked to one common religious tradition that goes as far back as the time of the patriarchal prophet Abraham.These three religions had the unifying concept of monotheism:

      ”faith in a single, All-Powerful God who is the sole Creator, Sustainer and Ruler of the universe.(The Heritage of World Civilizations,p-56)

  • Mick

    Christians don’t give a damn about the technicalities of their religion. I’ve spent my whole life poking fun at their idiotic beliefs and when they finally run out of answers, almost every one of them has walked away saying, “Well I still believe in god anyway.”

    • As if that’s something to be proud of.

    • Kodie

      I think of it the same way I think about how I am with science, how most people, at best, are about science – not really. Theology and science are both studious subjects and most people just have a cursory knowledge of both or either. They depend on experts to digest it all and feed it to them. This is probably how most people reconcile science with religious beliefs, or become confused when something posing as science differs with science. Science does have that credibility, but a lot of people can’t tell actual science from pseudo-science or alternative imaginings that use science as a cover.

      Science can be very difficult to understand – first you have the scientific method at all to comprehend and the terminology. Then you have published studies that can be mysterious to read if you don’t know how to look at them, and doing such, anyone can write or publish (in some kind of journal, if not a valid scientific one) a scientific jargon-filled, numbers and statistics-warping proof of anything. I had a friend who considered himself very bright, but when it came to arguments, he could find an article to support the position he already had, and in his mind, made his arguments more intellectually substantial than someone who disagreed with him but found no study to support their argument. He just wasn’t great at sorting through the facts on the page as he was at finding the bottom line, whether ultimately true or not.

      Then you have the popular journalism that most people digest. It reports and sometimes misreports some astounding factoids with links to studies (or not) but which few people take the time to look at. TV programs like “Dr. Oz” or “The Doctors” on daytime or some cable shows may distribute sound medical advice along with invalid entertainment “medicine” like chakras or psychics or snake oil supplements, etc. This is the science most people consume.

      Just for the record, I am more likely to deny some scientific fact on the reservation that it may be true if I knew more about it, rather than believe more things than are true, just because someone who may be a doctor or scientist says them. Science can be very weird and hard to understand or believe, but I think more people believe science to have the credibility that religion seems to lack, which is why so many religions try to pose as science to prove they are real to people who are more like me – they don’t really understand all of it and need to rely on experts to translate it for them. They are the same with theology – no more do they understand religion except for what they are fed. They didn’t make up all those terrible arguments either. They don’t have the capacity to think that hard about it all, but when they read it, it just makes sense for them because it’s worded carefully to be convincing. Science has the same efforts made, to put what they’ve studied in plain language so that people can understand it, but in no way make it very plain to understand why it’s fact opposed to fiction.

      I would not say religious people alone are not giving a damn about the technicalities. They don’t (and I don’t think most people do) have the intellectual capacity to comprehend the technicalities of theology or science. From the way outside, both of them can suggest some pretty crazy unbelievable things, and that’s what taking it on faith means – you have to go by the experts and authorities and figure it does make more sense to them.

      • Mick

        Here is the early church father, Tertullian, in his ‘De Carne Cristi’:

        “And the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd. And he was buried and rose again; the fact is certain because it is impossible.”

        That’s not a Christian taking something on faith, that’s a Christian deluding himself and his readers.

        • Kodie

          That’s neither here nor there. Most Christians figure, I suspect, like most ordinary people do, the difficulty in understanding comes from the complexity of it, and also of science, whether they ostensibly reconcile faith and science or deny it to preserve their faith. The latter have picked a side no matter how unreal it seems. Even without anti-evolution propaganda, for example, the science side can appear equally unreal or pseudo-science can be received equal to actual science, for all the know or don’t know. They are not digging deep into either theology or science, they’ve just picked a side, or pick-and-choose. Without understanding it, it can seem pretty crazy that humans are related to chimpanzees, as it can seem plausible that you have to load up on pomegranates to ward off cancer because a doctor on tv is selling it, and “he would know better than I.”

          I don’t know what it’s like to believe in Jesus rising from the dead or a sky daddy manipulating things to fall into place for me or lead me in a particular direction. That doesn’t seem the least bit compelling for me, but I imagine for people who are prone to believe it, it’s more because they find it harder to believe we’re alone “down here” left to our own devices to figure it out. Most people do not have a daily confrontation with figuring out a lot of things for the whole of humanity and just consume information given to or sought by them according to their preferences and intellectual capacity. Most people are confronted with universal aspects like losing a job, rearing children, or helping their aging parent. People seem to rely on the constancy of Jesus in their lives moreso than giving it a deep thought, just like most people use computers and smartphones than know how they do all the things they can do.

          I think most people reconcile their respective mysteries by supposing that someone knows the complicated ins and outs of it and get on with their day. It is hard for me to understand if most Christians really do think it’s true because it’s weird. It’s more true for Christians because of other logical fallacies like appeals to tradition, popularity, and emotion, not necessarily in that order. Is it true that cellphones work because they’re weird? 9 years ago, my phone couldn’t take a picture. In the 1980s, my family gathered around a digital alarm clock purchased as a gift to my older brother to watch the numbers change, and when my dad was a kid, he couldn’t talk on the sole telephone for a family of 6, located in the front room of a 3-story house, if one of his neighbors was already on the line. He was really keen on cell phones as soon as they became culturally ubiquitous but really slow to be convinced it was ok if it was also a camera, much less anything else. The truth can be too weird or overwhelming or even magical, like fire. Most people just dive in anyway!

        • Mick

          Kodie says, “That’s neither here nor there.”

          It’s interesting though, isn’t it?

        • basenjibrian

          Kodie has a point. Has anyone who is not a Math Genius tried to wrap their minds around current thinking in physics? Such as the very popularized but serious Extreme Physics issue of Scientific American?

        • And how do you respond to thinking like this? He’s coming right out and saying, “Hey, don’t bother with reason or logic ’cause I have no use for that. I have my conclusion and all I care about is rationalizations to support that conclusion.”

  • KarlUdy

    Bob, a discussion on these lines is just not complete without this video

    • Brilliant!

    • watcher_b

      and it looks like this was made by a Christian organization. The irony of it all!

    • Greg G.

      Thanks, Karl. I saw that a week or so ago and my favorite line was the snake farming at the end. After reading Bob’s article and watching it again, I was able to enjoy the commentary at another level. The more you know, the more humor you can enjoy!

  • KarlUdy

    I also must mention that Mark is very clear on Jesus’ identity as God. The idea that the early church gradually attributed Jesus greater status is nothing more than an atheist myth.

    • You’re saying that Adoptionism can’t be argued using Mark?

      • KarlUdy

        Only by arguing from silence. Remember also that several of the Pauline epistles date either before or around the same time as Mark, and Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians (which all are generally dated to the 60s) are rather explicit in their high Christology.

        • busterggi

          And considering they are likely forgeries I consider them more than useless.

        • Karl:

          Argument from silence?? Mark makes this quite plain. You start with John the Baptist baptizing Jesus! This is no problem if Jesus is an ordinary (though quite good) man that God adopts. Initially, Jesus is lower than John.

          But modern apologists have to explain away why God has to be baptized by a man, and Matt. and Luke attempt to do so. (And why would a person of the Trinity need the dove of the Holy Spirit? A person, on the other hand …)

        • KarlUdy

          Luke just repeats things exactly as they are in Mark. Matthew adds 2 verses re John’s reluctance to baptise Jesus.

          Jesus is not initially lower than John. In Mark 1:7, 8 John makes it clear that the one who comes after him is greater than he is. This is before the baptism.

          Anyhow, you are making the case for adoptionism by what Mark doesn’t say, not by what he does, which was my point about the argument from silence.

          And the fact that adoptionism is not supported by contemporary Christian documents doesn’t help your case at all.

        • Mark has Jesus baptized by John. QED.

        • KarlUdy

          So do Matthew and Luke. Would you use Matthew and Luke to put forward adoptionism?

        • Matt. and Luke come later. The changes they make to the story are the changes you would make if you were to write a new ‘n improved Mark–they have Jesus justifying the crazy notion of him getting baptized.

          So what is your point? You’re aware of the idea of Adoptionism. Are you saying that proponents got the idea from someplace besides the Bible, or did they get it from the Bible?

        • KarlUdy

          Luke doesn’t change the baptism account. Would you use Luke to promote adoptionism?

          I don’t think the idea of adoptionism came from the Bible. The links between adoptionism and canonical Scripture are tenuous at best

        • Who’s talking about Luke (besides you, I mean)? Adoptionism is an easy conclusion to draw from Mark.

        • KarlUdy

          You say that John baptizing Jesus is evidence for an adoptionist view. Luke also has a baptism account that does not differ from Mark’s. Yet Luke is not put forward as promoting an adoptionist view of Jesus’ deity. Why not?

  • Greg King

    Very interesting. I always had problems with the trinity, I haven’t thought a lot about it, and reading this makes me think of it more, and I see how contradictory the trinity is. I saw a show titled Jefferson’s Secret Bible on the Smithsonian. I see programs, on the History Channel and Military Channel, that focus on Jesus, the Bible. I haven’t watched these shows because I don’t like being lied to, it annoys me. When they focus on the Holocaust, I think they leave out how Christian beliefs influenced Hitler, but I could be wrong on that. Usually they say he was a socialist.

    • Did anyone see the recent Bible miniseries (History Channel)? It looked good, but I didn’t have the time, unfortunately.

      • Greg King

        I will see if I can’t bring it up on demand. If I can, and get myself to watch it, I will let you know I saw it.

  • Greg King

    “The trinity is a Christian mystery…” I am very tired of this answer when it is brought to the attention of a Christian that their faith or beliefs contradict themselves. God is not all good and all knowing. He does or lets horrible things happen to innocent babies, children, adults. God is not all knowing because, if I am to believe the Bible is the word of God, he didn’t know racism is immoral. The evidence and logic clearly, there is no mystery, support that their Christian defined God doesn’t exist. I try not to point out the obvious, but to some believers this isn’t obvious.

    • What can you do if someone is determined to believe something by justifying it as a “mystery”? And yet they safely cross the street using the same reason as the rest of us do. Weird.

      • Greg King

        I am dizzy right now. As of late, looking at monitor makes me dizzy easily, my brain is in a fog right now, so I can’t seem to come up with a good answer to your question, so I will try and remember to come back when I don’t feel so dizzy. I am sure there is an obvious answer, but I fail to see it. I guess I should be more open to watching the History Channel and Military channel, but I do think they tend to rewrite history, but maybe if I watch them more I will see that I am just being ignorant.

        • Greg: My question was rhetorical; don’t worry about it.

          Agreed about the “History” Channel. Lots of their stuff is pretty shallow.

        • Greg King

          Now that I read it with a clearer mind I can see that it’s rhetorical. Yep, what can you do, this is true.

        • Bob Calvan

          Hi Bob,
          Is it possible you could be wrong about everything you know?

        • Hey–my old buddy Bob C.! Welcome back.

          Yes, I could be wrong.

  • Kellen Connor

    I’m reminded of my reaction to a homily I listened to where the main argument for the Trinity was that it was too weird and nonsensical for a human being to come up with it… so of course it must be true and could only have been divinely revealed to man.
    My first reaction was, “A being with every imaginable power decides he wants to be three dudes at once. That’s not a divine mystery. That’s every soccer mom’s dream come true.” And then I challenged a friend to see how many things we could come up with that made less sense than the Trinity.

    Basically, if I have a harder time understanding why David Hasselhoff was on Broadway one time than your divine mystery… you have failed at mystery.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    So, a lot of logic-chopping simply falls aside if one simply says that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each distinct persons, and that their unity is a unity of purpose, intent and will. This is the view advocated by Mormons, by the way, and they take a whole lot of abuse on account of it. But it aligns perfectly well with the Bible and doesn’t require conceptual incoherence in the explanation.

    • The idea of the Trinity is embarrassingly indefensible, IMO. If I were a Christian, I’d vote for either modalism or polytheism. This “I guess I’ll find out when I get to heaven” makes no sense–of what use is Christianity if not to explain to Christians the essentials of the religion, here and now?

      • trytoseeitmyway

        I agree with all that. That’s why, as a Christian, I follow a faith that doesn’t require me to get all wrapped up in that indefensible muddle.

        Of course I am sure that you’d tell me that there are OTHER indefensible aspects to my belief. *grin* When I was an atheist myself, that’s what I would have said. But at least my little religion doesn’t get into this particular bit of confusing sophistry.