What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?

The theological basis for this article

This answer is based on the Bible interpretations and Christian theology put forth by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).

  • This theology is not unitarian as that is usually defined, because Swedenborg stated that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all fully divine, and are God.
  • This theology is not trinitarian as that is usually defined, because although Swedenborg stated that there is a Trinity in God, he denied that the Trinity consists of three persons, but stated that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a single person of God.
  • It is also not modalist, as explained in this article.

Though Swedenborg’s theology has been identified with many earlier theologians and heresies rejected by Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christianity, a closer examination shows that his theology fundamentally disagrees with every such theology or heresy that has been attributed to him. To the best of my knowledge as a lifelong scholar and teacher of Swedenborg’s theology, his solution to the problem of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit presented in the Bible as being one God is unique in the history of Christian thought. It skips over all the creeds, and relies on the Bible’s own statements.

Though it is beyond the scope of the question and this answer to present a full explanation of Swedenborg’s doctrine of a Trinity in one person of God, it will be necessary to provide a brief sketch of it at the end in order to properly answer the question.

The definition of “Trinity”

Also in order to properly answer the question, it is necessary to be specific about the meaning of “the Trinity” as it is almost universally defined in Christianity today.

“The Trinity” does not mean merely an acceptance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as God. Rather, it specifies that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each distinct persons of God.

The most compact definition of the Trinity as almost universally accepted in Christianity today is:

One God in three persons.

Beyond that, the definition of “Trinity” as used in most Christian theologies gets less unanimous and more conflicted. However, it is commonly stated that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share a single substance or essence, which is expressed in three distinct persons or hypostases.

The question as asked is:

What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?

This response is based on the above widely accepted definition of the Trinity.

Note that though in this answer I will often refer to the doctrine of “a Trinity of persons,” if I simply refer to “the doctrine of the Trinity” or “trinitarian doctrine,” I am referring to the same doctrine, as defined above.

This response is not based on prooftexting

While I am perfectly capable of prooftexting with the best of ’em, I doubt that anyone who has spent any significant time reading pro-trinitarian and anti-trinitarian debates has not already read whole volumes of selected verses from the Bible purporting to demonstrate one position or the other. I suppose that if all the arguments were put together, nearly every verse in the entire Bible that says anything at all about God has been brought forward both in support of and against both positions.

And yet, each side of the debate still continues to believe that its position is correct while its opponent’s position is incorrect based on the Bible.

In short, prooftexting the Trinity has already been done, and has failed to produce any significant results.

Therefore though this response will necessarily make reference to the Bible from time to time, my main approach will be to take a broader view based on the Bible as a whole, and why, from the perspective of Swedenborg’s theology, trinitarian theology as adhered to in most of Christianity today does not have a sound Biblical basis.

The Trinity is not taught clearly, if at all, in the Bible

The primary Biblical basis for disbelief in the Trinity is disarmingly simple:

The specific teachings that distinguish the doctrine of a Trinity of persons in God from competing doctrines are not taught clearly, if at all, in the Bible.

  • The word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible.
  • The word “persons” is never used in reference to God in the Bible.

I am aware that this has been stated many times. Even defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity commonly admit these things.

However, I do not think that such defenders fully realize the force of these facts.

The Bible is the primary source and basis of Christian doctrine

All of the major Christian denominations consider the Bible to be the first and foremost authority in the church.

Even the Roman Catholic Church, though it also asserts the authority of the church itself on doctrinal matters, still holds the Bible as the primary authority on matters of Christian doctrine, and generally argues that its promulgated doctrines are either supported by, or are at least not in conflict with, the Bible.

The doctrine of a Trinity of persons in God is held by all the major branches of Christianity (Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) to be a fundamental doctrine of the church. The Athanasian Creed, in which that doctrine is most clearly articulated of any of the widely accepted Christian creeds, after spending most of its text explaining that doctrine, states:

This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.

In other words, the Athanasian Creed, which is accepted as doctrinally correct in most of Christianity, states that unless a person believes that there is a Trinity of persons in God, that person cannot be saved.

Now, here is the problem with that:

As any honest defender of trinitarian doctrine will admit, the doctrine of a trinity of persons in God is not clearly and unmistakably taught in the Bible. And yet, it has been adopted as fundamental to Christianity and to salvation by the vast bulk of Christian churches, clergy, and theologians.

How can a doctrine that is not clearly articulated in the Bible be essential to salvation?

How can a doctrine that took several centuries of debate and dissension among human theologians to establish as the primary doctrine of Christianity (see my article, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) be considered fundamental to Christian belief, and necessary for salvation?

Such a position impugns both the Bible and its divine Author as being incapable of providing the clear, basic teachings necessary for salvation.

It holds that God’s Word alone is not sufficient to provide faithful Christians with what they need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. By implication it claims, instead, that the Bible must be “helped” by human theologians in order to get its teachings into a form that is effective in saving the faithful.

I fully understand that there are some Christian doctrines that require human interpretation of the Bible in order to be seen and understood. However:

Any doctrine that is essential to Christianity and essential to salvation must be clearly present in the plain words and teachings of the Bible, without the need for interpretation by human theologians.

Quite simply, the doctrine of a Trinity of persons in God fails that test.

Not only is it not clearly taught in the Bible, but it was not even clearly formulated until several hundred years after the last books of the Bible were written.

At minimum, then, the doctrine of a Trinity of persons in God must be rejected as being fundamental and necessary Christian doctrine.

Since that doctrine is not taught clearly, if at all, in the Bible, any claim that Christians must believe in it, or that it is essential to Christian belief, cannot be sustained based on the general principle that the Bible is the primary source of Christian belief, and provides all of the teachings necessary for salvation.

The Trinity is at best a secondary, non-essential doctrine

Based on all of this, the most that can be claimed for the doctrine of the Trinity is that it could be accepted as a secondary, non-essential doctrine of the church.

However, I am not aware of any Christian branch, church, or denomination that considers the Trinity to be a secondary doctrine. All of the trinitarian churches that I am aware of consider it to be fundamental, primary Christian doctrine. If they were asked to relegate it to secondary status, they would vigorously defend it as a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, if not the fundamental doctrine of Christianity.

Therefore the doctrine of a Trinity of persons in God as it is promulgated and held to by all of the major groups of Christians that believe in it cannot be supported in the doctrinal position that they give it because it fails the test of being clearly taught in the Bible.

It is not necessary to Biblically disprove the Trinity

Based on the above argument, it is not necessary to disprove the doctrine of the Trinity of persons using Biblical citations, as has often been attempted—and just as often refuted.

All that’s necessary is to show that it is not clearly and unequivocally taught in the Bible as necessary for salvation. And I have yet to see any cogent, Bible-based argument that the Bible itself teaches that it is necessary to believe in a Trinity of persons in God in order to be Christian and to be saved.

So the crux of this response is that the burden of proof rests on trinitarians to show that this is a clear, unequivocal teaching of the Bible, without a belief in which a person is not Christian and cannot be saved.

I do not believe it is possible to show such a thing based on the Bible.

Just a few Bible texts to illustrate the above response

I stated above that I would avoid prooftexting. That is still my intention. I do not claim that the following quotes prove the position of Swedenborg’s theology. (I also in no way believe that it is necessary for a Christian to accept Swedenborg’s theology in general, or his formulation of the Trinity in particular, in order to be saved.)

However, if I do not provide at least some quotes from the Bible, it may seem that this response doesn’t really answer the question. So here are a few to whet your whistle.

I stated earlier that:

  • The word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible.

It is not fundamental to this argument to reject the idea of three-ness in God. As I said at the beginning, Swedenborg accepted the idea that there is a Trinity in God—though not as it is usually defined.

However, it is quite striking that whenever a number is specifically attributed to God in the Bible, that number is always one. Just two examples, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4)

and:

I and my Father are one. (John 10:30)

There are no corresponding verses that state that God is three.

Yes, I am aware of the statement in 1 John 5:7:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

However, the Comma Johanneum, spanning 1 John 5:7-8, is now widely accepted by Bible scholars as a later, most likely post-Nicene, addition to the Greek text of the Bible from Latin sources. In other words, it was most likely added to the Bible after the doctrine of the Trinity had been formulated by Christian theologians.

So it now seems quite clear that the one and only verse in the entire Bible that even approaches a trinitarian formula is a later addition, and not part of the original text of the Bible. (And even if it is accepted as genuine, it still doesn’t say that there are three persons in God.)

The fact of the total absence from the Bible of any statement clearly attaching the numeral “three” to God invalidates the Trinity as fundamental Christian doctrine.

I also said earlier that:

  • The word “persons” is never used in reference to God in the Bible.

This is even more telling as to the lack of a Biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity.

Proponents of the Trinity can argue that there are “threes” associated with God, such as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

But they cannot point to a single verse in which those three are called “persons,” individually or collectively.

The reality is that the language used in Christian formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity is not based on the Bible. Rather, the wording commonly used is based primarily on ancient (non-Christian) Greek philosophers, sometimes as formulated in Latin rather than in Greek.

The very fact that this doctrine could not be properly formulated without borrowing vocabulary from non-Biblical sources should give pause to those who believe that it is a fundamental Christian and Biblical teaching.

In particular, words such as “persons,” “essences,” “hypostases,” and so on, as they are used in trinitarian formulations, are derived from Greek and Roman philosophy, not from the Bible.

Does this mean they are wrong?

Not necessarily.

But it means that the formulation of the doctrine had to rely on non-Biblical sources in order to provide a statement of it that was satisfactory to Christian theologians and the major branches of Christianity.

The Bible never calls the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit “persons.”

And yet, stating that they are “persons” is fundamental to the doctrine of the Trinity.

This should establish that the primary basis of the doctrine of the Trinity is human philosophy and reason, not the Bible.

As I said previously, if the Trinity were claimed only as a secondary doctrine, that would not be a major problem. But since it is claimed as an essential doctrine of the church, a belief in which is necessary for salvation, it is invalid because it is based on human reason and interpretation, not on the plain language of the Bible.

There is a solid, Bible-based alternative to Trinitarian doctrine

The Christian theologians who developed and established the doctrine of the Trinity were facing a tough challenge. As recounted in scholarly histories of the doctrine such as this one, the doctrine of the Trinity as now accepted in most of Christianity was formulated primarily in response to Arianism, which in effect denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit by saying that they were created rather than eternal beings.

The challenge was to develop some doctrine that accepted Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as fully divine without rejecting the nature and role of each. The result, over time, was the doctrine of the Trinity.

Perhaps the most cogent argument in favor of this doctrine is not that it is clearly taught in the Bible (because it isn’t), but rather that it is (as is commonly believed) the only doctrine that fully accepts the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as presented in the Bible, maintaining that all three of them are God.

In order to do that, trinitarian doctrine defined each of them as “persons,” and stated that all were equally eternal, infinite, and divine.

It is often claimed by trinitarians that this is the only possible doctrine that could be derived from the many statements about God throughout the Old and New Testaments.

However, I believe that Swedenborg presented a superior doctrine, more soundly based on the Bible’s entire presentation about God, in the form of a doctrine of a Trinity in a single person of God.

If there is a doctrine that preserves the full divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that harmonizes with all of the statements about them in the Bible while maintaining that they are fully one, and not unbiblically “three persons,” then the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is the only fully Bible-based doctrine about God falls to the ground.

That doctrine also becomes unnecessary and not to be believed because it introduces non-Biblical concepts that are not needed to formulate a doctrine of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that is fully based on the Bible’s own statements about them and about God in general.

Offering a full presentation of that doctrine would be far beyond the scope of this response, and would swell it to massive size. For those interested, please see my readable, plain English presentation of it in the article, “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?” And for Swedenborg’s own far more extensive and theological presentation of that doctrine, see his work True Christianity.

However, to complete this argument, here is a thumbnail sketch, with some reference to its Biblical basis.

Swedenborg’s doctrine of a Trinity in one person

In Genesis 1:26 we read:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”

And God proceeded to do just that in Genesis 1:27.

Since we humans are created in God’s image, our nature should, in a finite way, reflect God’s infinite nature.

This means that if there is a Trinity in God, and humans are created in the image of God, then there must be a trinity in us as well.

According to Swedenborg, this is precisely the case. There are three essential parts of a human being without which we would not be human:

  1. Soul
  2. Body
  3. Actions

(“Actions” includes what we say or write as well.)

These are all common Biblical concepts.

This forms the basis for a simple, clear understanding of the Trinity in one divine Person of God:

  1. The Father is the divine soul.
  2. The Son is the divine body, or human manifestation.
  3. The Holy Spirit is all of God’s words and actions flowing out from God.

We would never say that there are three “persons” in a human being because that human being has three essential parts: soul, body, and actions.

Similarly, if God has a divine soul, which is the Father, a divine body, which is the Son, and a divine proceeding or flowing outward, which is the Holy Spirit, we would never say that there are three “persons” of God. Rather, we would say that there is one God with three essential components.

Another way of formulating the Trinity in God is:

  1. The Father is the divine love, which is the underlying substance or soul of God. (1 John 4:8 and 4:16 state that “God is love.”)
  2. The Son is the divine wisdom, which is the expression or human presence of God. (John 1:14 states that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.”)
  3. The Holy Spirit is the divine proceeding, which is God’s truth and power flowing out into the universe, and to humans and angels. (John 14:26 says, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything.”)

If we think of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in this way, many otherwise confusing statements in the Bible make perfect sense.

For example, the highly philosophical opening statement in the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18) becomes a luminous poetic expression of God expressing himself through his eternal Word, which was made flesh (human) as Jesus Christ.

It also makes perfect sense that Jesus said “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), since Jesus is the human presence and expression of the Father, which is his inner divine soul.

And of course, when Jesus says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), that also makes perfect sense.

Swedenborg’s doctrine offers a better, more Biblical alternative

Much of the language applied to God in the Bible is poetic and symbolic rather than literal and technical. If we consider God’s problem in attempting to convey lofty spiritual and divine ideas to us dense, materialistic human beings, we can perhaps understand why the Bible uses metaphors such as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” in describing God.

However, if we interpret these metaphors as Swedenborg does, as referring to distinct essential components of one God in a single divine Being, or Person—components that are commonly reflected and described throughout the text of the Bible itself—then everything that the Bible says about God, and about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, falls beautifully into place.

This, of course, barely scratches the surface. It may raise more questions than it answers. But I hope it is enough to show that there is a coherent, Bible-based alternative to the widely accepted brain-bending and logic-defying doctrine of a Trinity of persons in God.

And if there is another doctrine that affirms the full divinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while seeing them as fully and unequivocally one, just as the Bible says God is, then that doctrine must be seen as more in accord with the Bible’s statements about God than the trinitarian doctrine that took hold in Christianity only in response to the Arian Controversy that erupted in the fourth century of the Christian church.

(Note: This post is an edited version of an answer I wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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29 comments on “What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?
  1. Mafuta Pula Metsing - the Augury Harbinger says:

    Reblogged this on Ai Kant Spal Kwit and commented:
    Isaiah 9:6 & 11:2. So simple.

  2. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    It may or may not surprise you to learn that many Christians even in the Evangelical theological community don’t necessarily believe that believing in a Trinity of persons is necessary for salvation. Most if not all would consider it essential to Christianity, so much so that to not accept it is to prevent one from truly being a Christian, but many also believe that it is only necessary that a person accept the Lordship of Christ so as to be saved. In that regard, Oneness Pentecostalists, Modalists, and other members of what they would call a heretical persuasion have a shot at salvation.

    Moving along, I don’t think the absence of the word ‘Trinity’ in the Bible is a reasonable grounds to dismiss the doctrine as Biblical. There are plenty of doctrines about God that we accept as Biblical whose terms are never explicitly used: omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. We accept those things because those are the terms because those are the only ways we can make sense of the Biblical data. Likewise, if the Divine activity in the Bible is through three distinct yet unified persons (and I’m not necessarily suggesting it is), then it doesn’t matter if a word like ‘Trinity’ never comes up, as it was simply used in the formal codification later on.

    Finally, something I’m wondering. You mention that The Trinity, from a Swedenborgian perspective is, at best, a non-essential secondary doctrine. Yet, doesn’t The Great Commission necessitate an understanding of what The Trinity is? If The Great Commission is so important so as to be called such, wouldn’t you need to get The Trinity right in order to fulfill it? This doctrine- whether it be persons or components- strikes me as being a way bigger deal than secondary if that’s true.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      Yes, many Protestants do not in practice require a belief in the Trinity of Persons for salvation, even if some of their key creeds, such as the Athanasian Creed, do require a belief in the Trinity of Persons for salvation, and even if their theology of atonement and salvation (penal substitution) requires a Trinity of Persons in order to work. The actual faith of good-hearted Christians is commonly far better than the creeds and formulations that they verbally adhere to.

      On your second point, Swedenborg also uses the word “Trinity.” However, although he defines a Trinity in God, he would be considered non-trinitarian by traditional trinitarian Christians, since he rejects a Trinity of Persons in God, which is the fundamental idea of the traditional Nicene Trinity adhered to in the vast bulk of traditional Christianity. My point in this article is not that a Trinity can’t be supported from the Bible. Clearly it can. My main point is that a Trinity of Persons is nowhere stated or defined in the Bible, so that to make it a fundamental tenet of Christian faith is to put human formulations above the text of the Bible in determining the Christian faith.

      Finally, about the Great Commission, I presume you’re referring to this verse:

      Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
      (Matthew 28:19)

      However, when we look in the Acts and the Epistles to see in what name the disciples baptized, we find that they always baptized in the name of Jesus. See, for example, Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; Romans 6:3. There is not a single instance in the entire New Testament of anyone being baptized with the formula “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” From this we can conclude either that:

      1. The disciples disobeyed the Lord’s final, explicit commandment given to them,

      or:

      2. Baptizing in the name of Jesus is baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

      I’ll take option 2.

      This, in fact, is one of the arguments that Oneness Pentecostals make for rejecting the Trinity of Persons, and believing that Jesus Christ is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Swedenborgians express it somewhat differently, as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being in the Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

      But the main point is that if we put the Great Commission—which is the only place in the New Testament that mentions the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one sentence—together with the actual practice of the Apostles who received that commission, the clear conclusion is that they did not see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being some sort of separate “Persons” of God, but as being in the one Person of Jesus Christ—just as Swedenborg taught 1,700 years later.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        I was about to refer you to a StackExchange answer on Protestant perspective on the salvation of non-Trinitarians, but it was one that you yourself had commented on, so I’m pretty sure you’re already aware as to the lack of any essentially universal opinion on the matter. 😉

        I don’t really have too much to add on the topic, besides of course thanking you for your response, and to point out that the response to these Oneness objections is that the Disciples were not baptizing solely in the name of Jesus by, but rather a closer reading of the passages in question show that they were referring to the *authority* of Jesus in the Baptismal act. They were then, in effect, Baptizing according to the same formula laid out by the Great Commission.

        I’m not sure if this clarification does much to advance the discussion between Trinitarians and Non-Trinitarians (in the sense that the word is traditionally used), because they would both agree that they were Baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and The Holy Spirit, and I doubt anyone would deny that they did so in Jesus’ authority- but the question still comes back, again, to the meaning of ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’

        • Rami says:

          Hi Lee, one other thing. Does the word ‘in’ when we read the phrase ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ carry any special significance in Swedenborg’s understanding of The Trinity? As generally described earlier, the word ‘in’ can mean by an authority (‘stop, in the name of the law!’), but it can also mean ‘into.’ Most Christians would see this as them entering into a personal relationship with the Trinity of Persons, thus taking on the ‘family name’ of God as referred to in Ephesians. Is there a type of relationship when dealing with Swedenborg’s description of The Trinity?

          A lot of my questions are posted with a bit of concern that they’re just questions I could have answered myself by just picking up a book (and I think that’s the case with a large number of the ones I ask here), but maybe this is one that requires someone with a larger compendium of knowledge on the subject.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          I’ve been recommending all along that you pick up the books and read them. I can answer your questions here and there, but to really get and comprehend the full picture, given the depth and specificity of your questions, sooner or later you’re just going to have to read Swedenborg for yourself. There’s really no substitute for that for those who want to delve deeply into these matters.

          I recall one former parishioner in particular saying that she liked my sermons, but it was at our weekly reading and discussion groups that she really came to grasp the teachings of the church. What we did at those groups was simply read and discuss various books, sometimes from the Bible, sometimes from Swedenborg, sometimes collateral literature. Perhaps I should figure out a way to accomplish that online. The trick is getting people together in real time online. Otherwise there’s no way of knowing if people are actually doing the reading. And if they’re not, it frustrates the whole purpose of the group.

          Meanwhile, I continue to recommend that you pick up the books for yourself, and read them.

          About “in”: Prepositions are notoriously difficult to pin down. They have many meanings and shades of meaning depending upon the context. Once an argument starts to hinge on the meaning of a preposition, you can be pretty sure that those engaged in that debate have completely lost track of the big picture and are hopelessly tangled in minutiae. If you’re really interested, you can read the whole compendious definition of the Greek word translated “in” here.

          I’m not sure quite what you mean by “a type of relationship when dealing with Swedenborg’s description of The Trinity.” In Swedenborg’s theology, our relationship is with the Lord God Jesus Christ. There is no confusion of persons, no praying to one “person” of God for the sake of another “person” of God, etc. There is one God, not three. We have a relationship with that one God in the one person of Jesus Christ. The Father is in him, and the Holy Spirit comes from him. There is no “family” of God, except that we humans, if we are willing, are God’s children and God’s family.

          But if there’s something else you meant by this, please let me know.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Yes.

          But as I said, the fact that the disciples baptized in the name of Jesus after being commanded by Jesus himself to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit strongly suggests that they did not take his commandment as referring to some three “persons” in God, but saw the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being in the risen and glorified Jesus Christ.

          They had spent three years with him before he was fully glorified. He then appeared to them for forty days after the resurrection before ascending up to heaven:

          After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)

          During that time they experienced him in a way that most of them had not before. (Peter, James, and John had briefly seen him transfigured before his crucifixion.) If they had any doubts about his divine nature before, those doubts were now erased as he appeared and disappeared regardless of locked doors, gave them “many convincing proofs” about his victory over death, and spoke to them further about the kingdom of God.

          Even if they did not have any fancy theological framework, they did have powerful first-hand experience of Jesus as their Lord and their God. When they baptized in the name of Jesus, they were not disobeying Jesus’ final command and commission to them. Rather, they were baptizing in the name of the one who was and is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit present with them—and with us.

          In other words, the strong evidence is that the Lord’s own Apostles did not see God as split into three persons, but rather as being fully present in the one person of Jesus Christ, whom they knew personally.

  3. reikster says:

    Im sometimes kind of confused about trinity because there are verses like john 14:1. Doesnt this passage clearly separate God and Jesus (believe ALSO in me)? It seems to suggest that Jesus isnt God.

    • Lee says:

      Hi reikster,

      First, during Jesus’ life on earth he was not fully God. He had both a divine (God) part and a finite human (non-God) part. So it would not have been correct to simply refer to him as “God” during his earthly lifetime. For more on this, please see these articles:

      Next, if you continue reading in John 14, you will see that Jesus himself makes it clear that he is not a different person from the Father:

      Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

      Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. (John 14:8–14)

      If the Father and the Son were two different persons, this would make no sense. One person is not in another person. One person does not dwell in another person. What Jesus says here makes sense only if the Father and the Son are different parts of one person, as explained in the articles, “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?

      And finally for now, it is important to understand that Greek, like many other languages, makes frequent use of “hendiadys,” a figure of speech in which two words that describe different aspects of the same thing are put together with the word “and” between them. For example, the common New Testament phrase “God and Father” does not mean that God is a different being than the Father. Rather, it is using two different words to describe the one God.

      When you see “and” or “also” (which is usually a translation of the same Greek word, kai, “and”) in the Bible, it isn’t necessarily talking about two different things or beings. It may just be using two different words that describe different aspects of the same being or thing, with “and” in between them. The linked Wikipedia article on “hendiadys” gives a few examples of this from different parts of the Bible.

  4. Brandon says:

    It’s fine to deny the Trinity of persons in such a way though you’re misunderstanding the Nicene creed and the original Greek meaning when the word “persona” began to be used about God. The real issue, though, is that each of the 3 in the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, and the Father are all put forth as God but they each have their own distinct qualities. That’s all the Biblical basis you need for Trinity of persons because once you enter the realm of explaining how that is you’ve broken with Scripture, whether you put it forth as each making up a part of God or them being a “persona” of God. At the heart of the Nicene creed was not an acceptance of a particular vision of how the Trinity worked but a denial of Arianism which taught that the Son was not fully God. The early church allowed for diversity in such matters because the mystery of how God can express Himself in 3 distinct ways.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brandon,

      Yes, the Council of Nicaea was convened to combat Arianism. And Arianism was indeed worse than what that Council came up with, because Arius in effect denied the divinity of Christ, and if Christ is not divine, then the Christian church is a mere deception with no content. Christianity is the worship of the Lord God Jesus Christ. And if Jesus Christ is not divine, then he is not a proper object of our worship.

      However, the solution that the Council of Nicaea came up with was not biblical, and it was not correct. Nowhere does the Bible ever say that there are distinct “persons” of God, even in the original sense of the Latin word persona, which is a “mask,” or in your terms, a way that God expresses himself. This, in fact, is modalism, and it is contrary to what the Bible teaches about the Father and the Son.

      The Bible tells us very clearly that no one has ever seen the Father at any time, but that the Son has made him known. Therefore the Father is not “a way that God expresses himself,” because the Father is not an expression of God, but the core being of God. The Son is the unique expression of God the Father. That’s why the Bible calls him God’s only Son, and why Jesus tells us that no one comes to the Father except through him.

      So no, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three distinct ways that God expresses himself. That is contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible. Rather, the Father expresses himself in and through the Son, and the Holy Spirit is that expression of God flowing out into the world and into human hearts and lives. This is what we know from carefully reading what the Bible says, and taking it to heart. The doctrine of the Trinity of Persons contradicts these clear teachings of the Bible about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

      For more on this, please see:
      What is the difference between the Swedenborgian and Oneness Pentecostal doctrines of God?

      • Brandon says:

        The idea of persons is indeed a human understanding of what the Biblical corpus reads, but to say its not taught in the Bible and then forward something else that is also not taught in the Bible(the idea that either God or humans are composed of “parts” of spirit, soul, and body) directly is hypocritical. The Bible teaches that each of the three members commonly refered to as “persons” in the Trinity is God but it ALSO teaches that they are distinct from each other. All Nicea dealt with was whether Jesus was God in actually, with the primary question being whether He was “homousia” or some other form of the Greek word substance. It was the Chalcedonian definition that introduced the concept of personhood(though still not the word) and also established the deity of the Holy Spirit as the orthodox teaching. The mystery of Trinity is exactly how Jesus is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and the Father is God while not being identically the same. In other words, all Trinity is saying is that “the Father” refers to something different from “the Son” but each of those refers to God, and there is only one God. The issue is with the English word “person” which has a subtly different meaning from the Greek word “persona” which is somewhere between a character in a play and a live person. But Nicea didn’t establish Trinity of persons, its central question was the deity of Christ and what sort of “substance” He was made of.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Brandon,

          Nicaea set Christianity on the path toward the Trinity of Persons. Constantinople moved it farther along that path. And the Athanasian Creed was the final step in that path toward three persons, and thus three gods, despite its lip service to one God. At each step, more errors were introduced.

          Three persons was not the only error. A Son born from eternity was another significant error, made explicit in the Constantinople revisions. It is very clear from the Bible account that the Son was born in time, not from eternity. In the Old Testament, there is no divine Son. If the Son had been born from eternity, there would be a God the Son in the Old Testament as well.

          Yes, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from each other. So are our soul, body, and actions. But our soul, body, and actions are not “persons” in any sense of that word, classical or modern. They are, rather, essential parts or components (neither word really captures it properly) of one person. And so it is with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The comparison is legitimate and biblical because Genesis 1:26–27 informs us that God created humans in God’s own image and likeness. And do I really have to demonstrate from the Bible that human beings have a soul, a body, and actions? This is pretty basic, and it is present throughout the Bible.

          Meanwhile, since we are created in God’s image, if God has a trinity, then we must have a trinity. And we do not have a trinity of persons within ourselves that are one in essence but three in person. So right from the very first chapter of the Bible, the Bible rejects the idea that God is a Trinity of Persons.

        • Brandon says:

          I agree that Nicea set theology to the development of the doctrine of Trinity, but the central question of it was whether Jesus was truly God, a lesser god, or something else entirely. The ideas behind the Trinity are not only Biblical, they’re expressed in early Christian writings such as the epistle of Barnabas that relates the very Trinitarian understanding of Genesis where God said “let us make man in our image.” Trinity doesn’t teach three gods, and that’s where the distinction between “persona” and “person” comes in because its not the same thing. Splitting God into parts doesn’t fare any better Biblically than turning it into modal expressions and that’s where the need for mystery comes in, as God is beyond human comprehension. God is clearly presented as simple in both the Old and New testament not a composite being. Your last argument doesn’t hold either, because just as an image of us doesn’t share every characteristic of us such as being 3-dimensional we as an image of God can and do still lack essential characteristics of God. My contention isn’t that you absolutely have to understand God as a Trinity of persons but to reject it and then insist on an equally philosophic and theological understanding as the “true” picture is hypocritical. All of the elements for Trinity are within the Bible, though men trying to make sense of the Bible have expressed the truths therein in limited human terms and thus the Trinity was elaborated. The key element to Trinity is that it is fundamentally a mystery, something held in tension. It affirms the distinctness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but does so with other theological commitments such as the simplicity of God. Trinity is one God, not three. Trinitarian belief simply doesn’t cut the gordian knot of Biblical doctrine.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Brandon,

          Obviously we humans cannot understand the full depth and infinity of God. That is beyond the capabilities of our finite minds. But what God has revealed to us about himself is not hard to understand. The Trinity of Persons makes a “mystery” out of something that really isn’t all that mysterious. The very fact that even its proponents admit that they can’t really understand it should be a warning sign.

          And no, God is not presented as “simple” in the Bible, clearly or otherwise. Besides, saying that God is a Trinity of Persons flatly contradicts the idea that God is “simple.” The whole doctrine consists of self-contradictory philosophical castles in the air. It’s not biblical, and there is no good reason to believe it except the authority of various human theologians and councils. I will take the Word of God over human tradition every time.

          The idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like our soul, body, and actions is not an “equally philosophic and theological understanding.” It is pragmatic, concrete, easily understandable, and harmonious with everything the Bible says, including Colossians 2:9: “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (KJV), and also Jesus’ own words to Philip:

          Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

          Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (John 14:8–11)

        • Brandon says:

          You call it pragmatic and such, but you miss my criticism of it. The crux of your criticism of the Trinity seems to be that it is not expressly stated in the Bible, yet you forward an idea that is also not expressly stated in the Bible. Your formulation of spirit, soul, and body as humans or God is not something the Bible states but something a human being has conceived of to explain what is in the Bible, so it is philosophic and theological not Biblical. In the same way, the Trinity is an explanation of what is found in the Bible and it is an analogy. When theologians speak of the Trinity they are speaking of the inner experience of God, something we cannot even begin to fathom which is why they call it a mystery. But what the Bible reveals gives us an analogy we can use, and you fundamentally misunderstand the analogy because you do not understand what is meant by “persona” and take it to mean the English word “person”. Persona was the word for masks that actors would wear in order to indicate that they were playing a different characater in a play, and the idea behind it is that while there is a clear distinction between the characters the performance is a new creation. A modern example would be that Harrison Ford, Han Solo, and Indiana Jones are all the same person. Yet Harrison Ford is not Han Solo or Indiana Jones, and neither Indiana Jones or Han Solo are each other. They share essential characteristics but they have their own distinctions and existences. It’s an analogy and it approximates for us something we cannot understand but it is what centuries of theological debate arrived at as the most acceptable analogy for what Biblical revelation states.

          As for whether God is presented as simple, there is a theological debate to be had but in making God a complex being you compromise the deity of Christ and turn Him into a created being that existed only for a short period of time. Then you also must explain what the difference between a “spirit” and a “soul” are and show where the Bible teaches them among a myriad of other things that must be demonstrated for your analogy to hold Biblical weight. Denying the simplicity of God compromises a number of other attributes of God, primarily His transendence and His imminence so you’d need to propose how those are rescued as well.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Brandon,

          I am well aware of the meaning of the Latin word persona. I work with Latin texts every day as part of my profession.

          My objection to the Trinity of Persons is not only that it is unbiblical, but also that it is irrational, self-contradictory, and impossible. And that it is polytheistic.

          Swedenborg’s Trinity, on the other hand, is not only harmonious with everything the Bible says about God, but is also rational, internally consistent, and not only possible, but something we humans experience within ourselves every day.

          There is no reason whatsoever, other than blind faith in church authority, to believe the Trinity of Persons, and many, many good reasons to believe in a Trinity in the one Person of the Lord God Jesus Christ.

        • brandon says:

          It seems to me that Swedenborgs is the polytheistic rendering since it creates a division in which you have the Father who is God proper and Jesus Christ who is God but a lesser god because he came into existence at some point so does not share all of the qualities of God such as immutability. Not even to mention that the entire basis of it is human conception and not what the Bible teaches, as I don’t see anywhere in the Bible the idea that either God or human beings are composed of different parts known as the “soul” “spirit” and “body.” Trinity, when properly understood, is in no way polytheistic. “Irrational”? I wouldn’t say as such, simply beyond our conceptual abilities because it speaks of the inner life of God something that is entirely foreign to our experiences. To say that Jesus Christ is the Father exactly is to deny what the Bible says as Jesus repeatedly speaks of how He did not come to do His own will but the will of the Father, and it doesn’t seem to me that is what you are saying but if it is then you are in more serious error than I understood you to be. My belief in Trinity doesn’t come from a belief in the authority of the church it comes from struggling with what is written in the Bible with all of its various tensions. Your solution to split God into parts renders many of the basic attributes of God void, not least of which is His immutability such as when He says “I the LORD do not change.” and it seems to be coming from detaching Jesus statement “I and the Father are one” from the context in which He speaks of the disciples as being one as well, which renders the word to being unified in purpose since obviously the disciples are not a single entity made up of disparate parts.
          In splitting God into parts you compromise the deity of Christ in other ways, as well especially when you say that the Son was not an eternal son but one that came into existence. That violates statements such as “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” and the whole of John 1. By cutting the gordian knot of God’s inner experience and solving the mystery you’ve compromised key truth and made god into an image of yourself rather than bending to His chosen self-revelation.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Brandon,

          Before presuming to point out the errors of my position, I would recommend that you learn what my position is. There are plenty of articles here that explain it. When I’m back on my computer, I’ll link some of them for you. It’s not really worth answering all of your objections, because I have done so in dozens of articles here, which you are very welcome to read. That way you will be speaking based on understanding rather than on ignorance, and conversation with you will be more fruitful.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Brandon,

          As for your Harrison Ford analogy, it is yet another example of the reality that the Trinity of Persons is in fact a modalist belief.

          And as for divine simplicity, it is denied in the Bible every time the Bible speaks of God’s arms, legs, eyes, ears, eyelids, and so on. The God of the Bible is a God with parts. And all of God’s parts are uncreated, infinite, and eternal.

          Divine simplicity is simply another unbiblical, irrational, and impossible idea cooked up by human beings who had no real concept or understanding of what they were talking about. It is a mere philosophical castle in the air, which has no foundation in the Bible or in reality.

        • Brandon says:

          The Harrison Ford analogy is not modalist, as the characters are not quite simply different expressions of Harrison Ford. They share the essential characteristics in being a single being but Han Solo is his own distinct thing rather than simply Harrison Ford. The analogy fails because Han Solo exists solely in the minds of men as a fiction, as all analogies fail if they’re taken too literally. Modalism is that it is precisely the same thing being expressed in different facets with no distinction between them beyond appearance. Trinity is that there are real things that separate the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in God’s inner life but when taken from the outside “compose” a single being. The Oneness of God is an absolute attribute while Trinity is relational.

          We’ll be getting too deep in the weeds for this format to debate divine simplicity, but it seems to me that compromising one of God’s attributes compromises them all. If He has parts, especially parts such as “body,” “soul”, and “spirit” then He is subject to change, one moment in the body one in the spirit and another in the soul.
          Back to your analogy, you still have not broached demonstrating that the idea that humans, let alone God, are composed of a “spirit” “soul” and “body.” This is contrary not only to my experience of reality, but I also don’t see how it can be derived from the Bible. Care to explain the Biblical basis for belief in this sort of division within humans and then God?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Brandon,

          It is not possible to have a reasonable conversation with you if you don’t even pay attention to what I am saying. I didn’t say the Trinity is God’s spirit, soul, and body. I said it is God’s soul, body, and actions.

          And about the modalism of the Trinity of Persons, it is demonstrated by the very point you make about the original meaning of the Latin word persona. The basic meaning of that word is “mask.” A mask is a different appearance or role of the same underlying being. That’s modalism.

          And if it’s not modalism, then it is polytheism. At least the modalist understanding of the Trinity, even if it is incorrect, is not a belief in three gods.

        • brandon says:

          My apologies for missing that you said actions not spirit. This does somewhat change things, but not by much. The problem now becomes with characterizing the Holy Spirit as God’s “actions” which makes the Holy Spirit not really a part of God at all since actions are an entirely different species from us. There’s also the issue that the Holy Spirit is refered to as the comforter/advocate which gives it/Him a personal character that actions simply do not have.
          If it is understood as a thing in itself it is modalism, but the idea behind it is that the characters themselves take on a life of their own and become a reality. That’s why I chose to represent it using an actor with iconic and well developed characters. There are things we can say about Indiana Jones that, while springing from Harrison Ford’s essence, cannot be said of Harrison Ford and vice versa. Yet when we consider the very essence of the characters there is no separating them from the person. It can become a modalist understanding if taken too far, but that’s because it’s an analogy and analogies are always lacking from what the thing is in fact.
          I have never heard a proper Trinitarian conception that is polytheistic, though I have heard plenty of people who do not understand what Trinity is refering to as taking it polytheistically. Especially since nearly every theologian who discusses the concept makes it clear that the sense in which God is 3 is His self-experience and that the Trinity concept is nothing more than an attempt to make sense of what He has chosen to reveal of that relationship in the Bible. Critics take it not as an analogy, which it is and admits by constantly refering to the mystery(which is not our ability to comprehend but the fact that it’s speaking of how God experiences God).

        • Rami says:

          Hi Brandon,

          I agree that your analogy of Harrison Ford vis the roles he plays fails, but it doesn’t seem as though you’ve taken that failure to its logical conclusion, which is, in effect, Modalism.

          I’m open to being wrong about this objection, but the fact that these characters possess no ontological substance of their own (as you point out) renders them, in mechanical effect, as different expressions of the same thing, which in this case are just different roles (or masks, if you will) taken on by the same person, who *does* possess substance.
          The only noteworthy difference between the analogy of the actor and the theology of modalism, that I can see at least, is that playing a role isn’t seen in quite the same functional terms as do the different modes of Modalism, but that aside, I feel hard pressed to see how the analogy is different in any meaningfully ‘mechanical’ way.

          So you’re right in that the analogy of ‘same actor/different character’ fails to do justice to the Trinity of Persons on account of those characters possessing no material substance, but it’s in the nature of that failure that also lends itself to a Modalist one.

        • brandon says:

          Rami,
          While it certainly *can* lead to modalism the error with modalism is one of degree rather than kind. The idea of Trinity of persons is meant to be taken as an analogy, and nothing more. To extend the analogy into an ontological reality is where the error comes in. What I am saying is not a reference to the roles Harrison Ford plays, but that those characters are very real in the lives of the people who have watched them. There are behaviors expected of Han Solo that no one would expect of Harrison Ford, but are entirely within who Han Solo is. But Han Solo’s existence cannot be separated from the essential properties of Harrison Ford and anyone else who plays the character of Han Solo is bringing a different reality to the role. Han Solo in the movie Solo is not the same Han Solo that was embodied by Harrison Ford but a new character entirely with essential attributes coming from the actor who played him.

  5. tammi85 says:

    How do you explain
    John 3:16, if god isn’t a trinity? God is giving his son for the world

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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