Talking About the Doctrine of the Trinity

Talking About the Doctrine of the Trinity June 27, 2019

As many people who read my blog know, I was a Trinitarian for twenty-two years. The church doctrine of the Trinity means that God is one essence existing as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. I then read myself out of this in the Bible, entered into a deep investigation of the matter over the next 25+ years, and self-published a 600-page book about it in 2008 entitled The Restitution of Jesus Christ. (It can be purchased at my website kermitzarley.com.) In this book I cite over 400 authors, most of them being Bible scholars. This book is mostly about the Bible. I show that it identifies Jesus as a man and not God. To do this, I address thoroughly all of the critical Bible texts about this matter. Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity is only briefly addressed in this book. In the history of the development of Christian doctrine, the Catholic Church first established its assertion that Jesus is God, and its doctrine of the Trinity was formulated much later on this basis.

The Unitarian movement emerged in Europe during the early 1600s as a result of Enlightenment and in opposition to Trinitarianism. Unitarians rightly claimed that the Bible only identifies the Father as God; thus, it does not identify Jesus as being fully God. But Unitarians did not agree on the subject of Jesus dying on the cross to atone for our sins. Most Christians, as I do, have claimed this teaching is absolutely essential to Christianity. And by the twentieth century, Unitarians had become Universalists.

There is a small but growing anti-Trinitarian movement of professing Christians who identify themselves mostly as Biblical Unitarians and fewer who identify as Christian Monotheists. The former are more centered on the Bible than earlier Unitarians were. The latter use their moniker to suggest that Trinitarianism is not genuine monotheism. I am sympathetic to this movement. Yet I prefer to call myself “a One God Christian.”

I wrote the following piece to help people in this movement as they discuss theology with Trinitarians. I encourage this be done rather than the two groups disassociating.

Who are we talking to?  If we One God Christians talk to someone untaught, we should only present our viewpoint without mentioning Trinitarianism unless asked to do so. But if we talk to Trinitarians, who often don’t know their Trinitarianism that well, we should know enough about it to interact sufficiently with them. But we should understand that the main issue is not the doctrine of the Trinity; rather, it is whether or not the Bible says Jesus is God. Most historians relate that the doctrine of the Trinity was developed due to the previous Church dogma that Jesus is God. Many leading Trinitarian scholars now admit that the Bible does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity. They assert that it is a deduction from the Bible and admit that it was developed by post-apostolic church fathers over a period of more than 250 years. Some therefore concede that the Bible does not make belief in this doctrine a necessary requirement for salvation as the Catholic and Protestant churches have done. We should try to keep the conversation focused mostly on the Bible.

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The doctrine of the Trinity is that God is one essence existing as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Some Trinitarians, especially Roman Catholics, add “consubstantiality,” which means “same substance.” These concepts were established by church fathers using certain words peculiar to their native Greek language. (The RCC put back “consubstantiality” into their mass in late 2011.) Only eight NT texts mention together God/the Father, the Son/Jesus/Jesus Christ, and the Spirit/Holy Spirit. None have information relating to the later church teaching of the Trinity, and they have several different orders of these three in which some do not mention God/the Father first. And of course, “trinity,” “three in one,” “three Persons” and the like are not in the Bible.

When did the doctrine of the Trinity originate? The above definition of the doctrine of the Trinity was not developed until the late fourth century. Many historians and Christian theologians erroneously claim that this standard church doctrine of the Trinity was established at the First Ecumenical Council, the Nicene Council, in 325. On the contrary, the nature of the Holy Spirit did not become a serious topic of discussion among church fathers until decades later, during the 360s and 370s. Thus, the Catholic Church officially established its doctrine of the Trinity at its Second Ecumenical Council which was held at Constantinople in 381. Before that, a few church fathers taught their own doctrine of the Trinity, but they were different than the doctrine of the Trinity which the Church made official in 381 and has prevailed ever since.

What is the main subject? Salvation! What is most important to inquirers is that they want to know how to be saved and whether or not they are saved. This involves God forgiving our sins and giving us eternal life. Here are the two main questions: Does the Bible say Jesus is God? Must a person believe Jesus is God in order to be saved?

Why is this subject so important? It is so important because the institutional church has made it important by declaring that a person must believe that Jesus is God in order to be saved. The Catholic Church decided this declaration at its Council of Nicaea in 325. This Council produced the Nicene Creed which proclaims that a person must believe that Jesus is “very God of very God,” meaning Jesus is just as much God as the Father is, or that person is “anathema”—condemned to hell. Now, Jesus said at the Last Supper that the most important thing for his disciples to do was to love one another. He said to them, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13.34-35). So, all Christians should try to understand what the Bible requires for salvation and thus what makes a person a disciple of Jesus. Loving the disciples of Jesus is the strongest testimony we can make to the world about the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Trinitarian Christians who reject us One God believers, deeming that we are not saved, will be ashamed about this at The Judgment. (Some of us One God Christians don’t call ourselves “unitarians” due to the use of this term in history. Most original Unitarians did not affirm Jesus dying for their sins, and modern Unitarians are universalists.)

What does the Bible say we must do to be saved? Main texts: Jn 3.3, 14; 12.44; Ac 16.30-31; Rom 10.9-10; 1 Cor 15.1-5; 1 Jn 5.1. Also, we are saved by believing in Jesus’ name, which in Hebrew is Yeshu(a): Jn 1.12; 2.23; 3.18; 1 Jn 5.13; 3.23. Yeshu(a) means “Yhwh saves.” So, Yhwh saves through Jesus of Nazareth. Yhwh is God’s name in the Hebrew Bible (OT). It can be pronounced Yahweh, Yahveh, or Yehvah.

Can Trinitarians Be Saved? Absolutely yes! Most of the above texts say people are saved by believing that Jesus is their Savior since he died on the cross for their sins and arose from the dead. Some Bible texts add that people are saved because they believe Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, and that he is the Son of God. Most Trinitarians wrongly interpret Jesus being the Son of God to mean he is God. On the contrary, since the Bible identifies some men and angels as “sons of God,” Jesus being the Son of God just means that he had an extraordinary relationship with God. Plus, the Bible sometimes applies “Christ” and “Son of God” to Jesus interchangeably. Finally, a person must to some degree make Jesus “Lord” of their life by following him. Many Trinitarians believe all of this about Jesus and live a life honoring God, the Father, and Jesus.

How can we One God believers converse with Trinitarians on this subject? There are surely many different ways. One way is to ask, “Do you believe God is one person or more than one person?” If they say three persons, we could ask, “then do you believe Jesus is God?” After they say “yes,” we could respond, “then why don’t the gospels ever quote Jesus saying “I am God” or words to that effect? They might say Jesus claimed he is God in Jn 10.30 when he said, “I and the Father are one.” We should be prepared to prove how Jesus didn’t mean he was God in that text. We also could cite various NT passages which declare that only the Father is God, so that Jesus can’t be God, esp. Jn 17.3, 1 Cor 8.4-6, and Eph 4.4-6. We could include Mk 12.28-34 and Jn 5.43-44. Then, we could mention that Jesus worshipped this one God, calling him “my Father,” even “my God” (Mt 27.46/Mk 15.34/Ps 22.1; Jn 20.17; Rev 3.2, 12). We conclude saying Jesus isn’t God but he had a God—the Father. We could add Paul’s texts which declare “the God and Father of the/our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15.6; 2 Cor 1.3; 11.31; Eph 1.3, cf. v. 17). The main texts knowledgeable Trinitarians cite are: Jn 1.1c; 1.18; 10.30; 20.28; Phil 2.5-11; Rom 9.5; Tit 2.13; 2 Th 1.12; Heb 1.8-10; 2 Pt 1.1; and 1 Jn 5.20. We should know these well and be able to explain them sufficiently in accordance with our viewpoint.

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