Is Trinitarianism Properly Defined as God Existing In or As Three Persons?

Is Trinitarianism Properly Defined as God Existing In or As Three Persons? October 9, 2015

For the past 35 years, I have been a student of church and para-church doctrinal statements, also called creeds. These statements, which usually consist of numbered articles, almost always contain an early article about the traditional church doctrine of the Trinity. I have observed in these creeds that the most common method of defining the doctrine of the Trinity goes something like this: “The one God exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” What churches mean to say by this statement is that the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons who exist equally and eternally as one being who is God. But is that what the above statement says?

I was a Trinitarian Christian for twenty-two years, and I believe the above statement does not adequately express the traditional church doctrine of the Trinity. The critical word in this above definition is the preposition “in.” Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul taught clearly that God was “in” Jesus, yet that does not make Jesus God.

When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” his Jewish opponents “took up stones again to stone him” (John 10.30-31 in NRSV and throughout). Why? They thought he was blaspheming God. They explained, “you, though only a human being, are making yourself God” (v. 33). Notice that Jesus didn’t reply by saying he was man and God, or a God-man. But that’s what the church doctrine of Trinity says which was first formulated 350 years later and then made official at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. Rather, Jesus replied that he merely claimed to be “God’s Son” (v. 36).

But then Jesus added something that most Christians either don’t understand or don’t emphasize enough. Jesus said, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (v. 38). Scholars call this the Mutual Indwelling. Herein, Jesus explained what he meant by saying, “I and the Father are one.” Thus, he did not mean by this that he and the Father are one in essence as prominent defenders of the Nicene Creed, especially Athansius, have argued. This is affirmed by Jesus’ use of the same word “one” (Greek hen) when he later prayed concerning his disciples, “Holy Father, protect them . . . so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17.11). And he soon repeats it and elaborates, “so that they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (vv. 22-23). It is clear here that Jesus is speaking of unity in relationship, not the same essence, and that must be what he meant in 10.30.

Soon after Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” he spoke likewise to some of his disciples, saying, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?. . . Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14.9-11). When Jesus said this, he did not mean he is the Father. It is most important to understand this because many Christians have not; rather, they have thought that Jesus was saying he is the Father. The Father being “in” Jesus merely means the Father dwells in Jesus; thus, it does not mean that Jesus is the Father. It is the same with the above statement that many Trinitarians use to define their doctrine of the Trinity.

The Apostle Paul taught likewise, saying “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 4.19). Moreover, Paul’s favorite expression for identifying followers of Jesus was that they were “in Christ.” So, Paul taught that we believers mystically dwell in Jesus, and Paul also taught the converse, that Jesus dwells in us. For Jesus had already taught, “They who have my commandments and keep them are they who love me; and those who love me will loved by my Father, and I will love and reveal myself to them…. Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14.21, 23). So, the Johannine Jesus said this right after he taught the second time about the Mutual Indwelling. This indwelling of Jesus and the Father in their people further shows that the Father being “in” Jesus does not mean he is the Father or God.

The Catholic Church formulated the doctrine of the Trinity. And both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches have always rightly explained that Jesus is not the Father. Rather, they have always well stated that Jesus and the Father are two distinct, thus separate, individuals or Persons. That is what the official Catholic doctrine of the Trinity teaches. Sebellianism and today’s United Pentecostal Church have taught that because God is one, the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are not three Persons but three manifestations or modes of the one God. This truly is not Trinitarianism.

But saying God is IN the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is not Trinitarianism either. Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity that the Catholic Church made official at Constantinople–without using the word “Trinity” I might add–is that God exists AS three Persons (actually the Greek word hypostasis), and they are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

As a Trinitarian, due to my Bible reading I became disturbed about what Jesus said in Matt. 24.36/Mark 13.32, which I have mentioned multiple times on this blog. It caused me to make a very serious study about the identity of Jesus, which I call “my personal quest for the real Jesus.” Then in 1982, I changed to believing that the Bible teaches that only the Father is God so that Jesus is not God, yet he is everything else the church has proclaimed about him. Twenty-six years later I published my findings as a 600-page book entitled The Restitution of Jesus Christ. In this book I cite over 400 scholars. The one I cite most is Murray Harris and his book, Jesus As God. Murray Harris understands very well how to define the doctrine of the Trinity and its associated classical Incarnation as this title of his book reveals.

So, I think many Christians, perhaps most, improperly define their doctrine of the Trinity. But then, this teaching is a baffling, irrational complexity. According to it, one is three, and three is one, which is irrational. It says God is three Persons, but the these three Persons are not three Gods, which also is irrational. And the Trinitarian response to such objections is that their doctrine is a “mystery” that is impossible to understand. Oh, that’s a nicety that anyone can throw in to butress their nonsensical presuppositions. But most of all, I don’t think the doctrine of the Trinity is in the Bible.

The only reasons I believed in the doctrine of the Trinity for twenty-two years is that I was younger then and not a mature student of scripture, that’s what my church taught me, that’s what almost all professing Christians believed in my lifetime, and that’s what almost all Christians have believed for 1600 years. But since the word Trinity is not even in the Bible, and most leading, contemporary Trinitarian scholars concede that the doctrine of the Trinity is a theological deduction and therefore not expressly taught in the Bible, I think its high time for Christians to fully examine this doctrine in light of the Bible. And I think we Christians are living in a world that is increasingly demanding that we do this very thing since there is a growing clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam, which latter affirms as Jews do that God is numerically one and thus is adamantly opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity.

…………….

To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book,  with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.

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