The vast bulk of Christian denominations, representing the overwhelming majority of Christians, subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity—which, boiled down to its essence, is “one God in three persons.”
Non-Christian monotheists such as Jews and Muslims commonly charge Christians with believing in three gods (a form of polytheism) based on this Trinitarian doctrine.
However, there are also some Christian groups and denominations that consider Trinitarianism to be a belief in three gods.
The various “Swedenborgian” denominations, which accept the Christian theology of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), are among those denominations.
Trinitarians say that they believe in one God. Why, then, do many people, including some Christians, think that Trinitarians actually believe in three gods?
The Athanasian Creed: Think “three,” say “one”
Here is a quote from the Athanasian Creed, which is accepted as authoritative by the bulk of Christian denominations, showing that the situation is more complex than simply saying that the Trinity is one God:
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.
This statement perfectly encapsulates the fundamental contradiction in the doctrine of the Trinity, and the reason why every Christian theologian who expounds on it admits that it is a mystery that cannot be understood by the human mind, but insists that it must nevertheless be believed.
The practical reality is that in thinking of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each as distinct “persons” of God, the mind of the believer inevitably thinks of them as three different beings. This is really thinking of three gods, no matter how vigorously the believer says “one God” with the lips. Each person of God is given a distinct role, and they are conceptualized as interacting with one another as distinct personalities.
Trinitarians picture three gods in their mind
To illustrate this picture of three gods in the minds of those who believe in the Trinity, let’s look at how the Trinity is depicted in Christian artwork.
In Western Christianity, the Father is commonly pictured as an old bearded man, the Son as a young bearded man (often on the cross or associated with the cross), and the Holy Spirit as a dove. For example:
In Eastern Christianity, artwork depicting the Trinity often simply has three human figures. For example:
Clearly, though the lips are saying “one,” the mind is thinking “three.” But as the Athanasian Creed says, the church forbids the faithful from saying, “There are three gods.” Therefore faithful Christian Trinitarians will always say, “There is one God.”
And yet, that’s not what they are picturing in their mind.
As shown in thousands of depictions in Christian artwork, in their mind Trinitarians are picturing three figures, or three gods, not one.
Swedenborg on the polytheism of the Trinity of Persons
Here is how Emanuel Swedenborg articulates this contradiction between what the mind is thinking and what the lips are saying based on the Athanasian Creed. This is from True Christianity #172:
At a conceptual level, the idea of a trinity of divine persons from eternity (meaning before the world was created) is a trinity of gods. This idea is impossible to wipe out just by orally confessing one God.
The following words in the Athanasian Creed make it very obvious that a trinity of divine persons from eternity is a trinity of gods:
The Father is one person, the Son another, and the Holy Spirit another. The Father is God and Lord, the Son is God and Lord, and the Holy Spirit is God and Lord. Nevertheless there are not three gods and lords; there is one God and Lord. Just as Christian truth compels us to confess each person individually as God and Lord, so the catholic religion forbids us to say three gods or three lords.
This creed has been accepted by the entire Christian church as ecumenical or universal. Today everything known and acknowledged about God comes from it. Those who took part in the Council of Nicaea that gave birth to this posthumous child called the Athanasian Creed had no other concept of the Trinity except a trinity of gods, as any can see who merely keep their eyes open as they read it. Since that time they have not been the only people thinking in terms of a trinity of gods; the Christian world thinks in terms of no other Trinity because its whole concept of God comes from that creed and everyone now lives in a faith based on those words.
I submit it as a challenge to everyone—both laity and clergy, laureled professors and doctors as well as consecrated bishops and archbishops, even cardinals robed in scarlet and in fact the Roman pope himself—that the Christian world nowadays thinks of no other Trinity except a trinity of gods. You should all examine yourselves and then speak on the basis of the images in your mind.
The words of this creed—the universally accepted teaching about God—make it as clear and obvious as water in a crystal bowl. For example, the creed says that there are three persons, each of whom is God and Lord. It also says that because of Christian truth, people ought to confess or acknowledge that each person is individually God and Lord, but that the catholic or Christian religion or faith forbids us to say three gods or lords. This would mean that truth and religion, or truth and faith, are not the same thing; they are at odds with each other.
The writers of the creed added the point that there is one God and Lord, not three gods and lords, so that they would not be exposed to ridicule before the whole world. Who would not laugh at three gods? On the other hand, though, anyone can see the contradiction in the phrase they added.
Certainly, due to the insistence of the Bible and the Church that there is one God, Christians who believe in the Trinity will always emphatically say that there is one God.
But no matter how many times they say this, the concept in the minds of those who believe in the Trinity is of three divine beings. This amounts to thinking of God as three gods, regardless of any abstract metaphysical statements about their being “one in essence,” and regardless of the continually repeated statement that the three are one God.
In short, Trinitarians are actually thinking of three divine figures even though their lips are saying “one God.”
Swedenborg simply calls a spade a spade. He points out the practical reality that the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons is a polytheistic doctrine—that even though its adherents have been trained by the church to say, “There is one God,” in reality they are picturing and worshiping three gods.
(Note: This post is an edited and slightly expanded version of an answer I originally wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here. I am now posting it on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life to follow up on a recent series of comments on the article, “Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?”)
For further reading:
- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?
- Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
- The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus
That’s what I’ve been saying all along! (Quote from the Pink Panther)
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Some things just have to be said!
Do you the same can be said about *any* theology that accepts Jesus as God incarnate? We talk a lot about God on this blog, but from a Christian perspective, we do the same when we talk about Jesus; so how does Swedenborg’s theology manage to not see ‘two Gods when thinking and speaking of God’? Also, what’s the difference between God, in the way that he is discussed in Swedenborg’s theology, and ‘The Father’, as referred to in the Trinity of persons?
Swedenborg’s theology does indeed manage not to see two (or three) gods when thinking and speaking of God. For an explanation of how it does this, please see: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
Maybe God (The Father) never meant that Jesus himself should be worshipped to begin with. Ditto for the Holy Ghost. That would solve this Trinity who should everyone worship conundrum.
I mean Swedenborg sure doesn’t make it any easier to understand the puzzle.
I’ll posit this then. If everyone worships one entity, God The Father, I don’t think anyone in heaven come judgement day is going to condemn them for it. Afterall worshiping that one entity even to the exclusion of Jesus himself can’t even make Jesus angry for he himself worships him as well apparently.
Hi Frankly Frank,
What you’re talking about is Unitarianism. They are Unitarians because they reject the Trinity of Persons, but more specifically, they consider only God the Father to be God, and reject the divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. So although they are generally Christian culturally because of their origins in Christian society, they are not theologically Christian. And by now most Unitarians (now Unitarian Universalists) have left behind even the original Christian tendencies and biblical foundations of their theology.
And yes, Swedenborg makes it much easier to understand the puzzle. No holding mutually contradictory concepts of God in one’s mind is required. I have explained Swedenborg’s idea of God to everyone from 5-year-olds to 95-year-olds, and they are all able to understand it quite easily. Swedenborg explains how each one of us is in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26–27), so that we ourselves are walking demonstrations of the “Trinity” in God. Very easy to understand. See: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
Yeah but when we’re worshiping WHO exactly SINGULARLY should we worship? Only ONE God remember is to be worshipped.
I can’t think of two things EXACTLY at the same time. Therefore I can’t think of God the Father and then simultaneously think of Jesus the Saviour as being the same supreme entity because each has a separate name and ultimately a purpose. Our minds equate one person to one name. That’s how we’re wired. If you say 3 names and 3 persons or essentially 3 faces of that one person are involved but there’s only one God then we need to really play a sort of mind trick. I don’t care what Swedenborg says on that one.
So I propose as an alternative to all those mind bends that from now on “God” is to be addressed as “God-Jesus”. Or if you’re into the brevity thing, “Godj”. Or if you’re NOT into the brevity thing, “Goderino”.
Before there was a Jesus people addressed him as “God”. He spoke to them as “God”. He apparently never corrected them to him by his proper game if indeed Jesus is also God. I don’t think it’s all that important honestly what we call God. The truly important thing to think however is that there’s only ONE God and ONE Creator.
Ok so assuming that now we’re at least all on one same page that there’s ONE supreme being, or The Creator. As a quick side note, I’ve heard it said that even hyper-advanced extraterrestials have told humans that’s how they think of God and address him, as The Creator.
That’s my heretical opinion. And Godj forgive me if I got it wrong.
Hi Frankly Frank,
If you don’t care what Swedenborg says, there’s not much I can do for you. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
Just be aware that Swedenborg fully solves the “Trinity problem,” and that his solution is simple, comprehensive, elegant, internally consistent, and fully in accord with the various statements in the Bible.
Btw have I ever told you I absolutely hate, detest, loathe, and kinda dislike your auto spell checker?
Hi Frankly Frank,
To my knowledge, WordPress has no auto spell-checker. Are you sure you’re not dealing with the spell-checker on your own device?
It’s not that I don’t care what he says. He has some interesting views and good things to say. On this particular subject though I don’t agree with his opinion.
Hi Frankly Frank,
I was responding to your statement, “I don’t care what Swedenborg says on that one.”
What Swedenborg says about the Trinity is vitally important to his entire theology. If you say that you don’t care what he says about the Trinity, you’re saying you don’t care about his theology.
And that’s fine. You don’t have to care about Swedenborg’s theology.
But you’re making a lot of statements based on Trinitarian theology that neither I nor Swedenborg holds to, criticizing and rejecting those statements about the Trinity, and then saying, “But I’m not going to pay any attention whatsoever to what you believe about the Trinity. I don’t care about that.”
You say, “Our minds equate one person to one name. That’s how we’re wired.”
No, that’s not how we’re wired. As a matter of fact, we humans use multiple names for people all the time. “Linda,” “sweetie,” “the Boss,” “Lala,” etc., etc., etc. Each one refers to specific aspects of or feelings about the person. But we are still talking about one person.
The Bible uses human terminology to refer to various parts or aspects of God. It never says there are three of ’em. It never says those different names are “persons” of God, any more than we would say that our various nicknames for our loved ones and friends are different “persons” of that person.
Jesus refers to himself by many different names: Lord, Master, Teacher, Son of Man, Light of the World, and so on. The Gospel narrators use even more names for him. Does that mean he has that many “persons” in him? Should we consider Jesus to be a Multinity of Persons because of all the different names applied to him?
It is a crude and superficial interpretation of the Bible to think that the various names applied to God, including Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, refer to distinct Gods and Lords (as the Athanasian Creed puts it), or to distinct “persons” of God.
Now to more directly answer your earlier question, “WHO exactly SINGULARLY should we worship?”
My answer as a Christian is that the singular Divine Person that we should worship is the Lord God Jesus Christ. I see God as one, I picture one Person of God in my mind, and I see Jesus Christ as that one God who has become present with us. See: The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus
Hi, Lee. As a Trinitarian, I don’t think of three gods as “the Trinity”, any more than I refer to a cup of coffee as three things. A cup of coffee, with milk and sweetener, is single yet has three entities; similarly, the Trinity is an entity made up of three parts. I consider myself to be a Trinity made up of body, soul and spirit, made in God’s image, following the principle set by Watchman Nee and also the book of Leviticus where there are three sacrifices.
I cannot remember if I commented on this before; at seventy three years of age, my memory gets a big rusty; but the Trinity appears in a number of places in the Bible, although in some it is based on the Canaanite family of gods.
However; we must still return to a cup of coffee… or a stew, or a computer, or anything that is made from the sum of its parts. The Trinity is a single being made from three other entities. No problem.
Thanks for your comment.
If that is how you think of the Trinity, then you are not a Trinitarian as it is defined in the Athanasian Creed and therefore in the vast bulk of Christianity. You are, in fact, more in line with Swedenborg, who says that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three “essential components” (Latin: essentialia) of one God (see True Christianity, #166-169). Swedenborg teaches that God is one in essence and in person (see True Christianity #2).
If you read the Athanasian Creed, you will see that if it were talking about a cup of coffee, it would instead say that:
This is what the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons teaches about God. I’m not making this up—except, of course, the “cup of coffee” part. 😉 Read the Athanasian Creed for yourself, and you will see.
The Doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, as defined in the Athanasian Creed, does not teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each components of one “cup of coffee.” That’s what Swedenborg teaches.
In a lot of fundamentalist literature and evangelist broadcast there’s often the story of penal substitution. It always makes it sound like at some point Jesus was, or currently is, a seperate person who could physically sit across from God and play a game of checkers. We know it doesn’t really work like that.
It seems that The Holy Spirit, while important, gets refered to a lot less than the other two. He’s even depicted as only a dove in the above painting. This question might take too much room to answer here, but I’m curious about Swedenborg’s more specific definition of the Holy Spirit versus what may be widely taught by other denominations. Obviously as said here it’s not a person of God – but maybe an aspect of God?
We’ve talked before about how we as humans are a trinity – mind, body, & soul. This is a reflection of our creator. Is the Holy Spirit the presence of Divinity that we feel – that comes from understanding and love of the truth? It’s been a while since I’ve brushed up on this particular, and I’d love to hear your input. Thanks!
Yes, that’s a bigger question than I can deal with in a comment. But I’ll link some articles that deal with it below.
Though Swedenborg does sometimes use the soul, mind, and body “trinity” in describing human beings—especially in his book Marriage Love—more commonly he uses the soul, body, and actions trinity. This is the one he commonly uses in explaining the Trinity in God:
If the soul, mind, and body trinity were substituted, the order of assignments would still be the same, but “body” would especially mean the body as a means of speaking and acting what the soul prompts it to say and do through the thinking mind.
Pending an article specifically about the Holy Spirit (don’t hold your breath waiting!), here are some articles that deal with Swedenborg’s concept of the Holy Spirit at least briefly:
In some of these articles you’ll need to scroll down to get to the relevant sections.
See also this question and answer on Christianity StackExchange: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in Swedenborg’s soteriology?
I hope this helps!
Ok. What I meant by how we’re “wired” when it comes to names as they are reserved solely to the spiritually divine is that when one says “Creator” or “The Creator” one is addressing the “person” of God The Father. No other divine entity that I am aware of in the bible shares that name or grandiose description. No one in the bible calls him nicknames, or terms of endearment, akin as we lightly do with people. And if they do call him those on earth it still has nothing to do with his divine and supreme nature which is reserved solely to Him, as God The Father of which there is only one.
Anyway I could’ve been clearer on what I meant.
However to that other “person”, personality, or character as depictedly shown in the bible who is known mainly as Jesus Christ, or as subsequently known also as Redeemer, Saviour, Lord, we know who that is distinctly by name. And so there lies the crux of this Trinity confusion.
My ultimate point here and it make be shocking to many is that IMO calling God The Father and substitute his clearly distinct personage with Jesus Christ is wrong and misleading.
I will leave you with this to ponder.
The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to his Father, God The Father. If he had meant this to be prayed only temporarily until after he died then he would’ve said so. In effect, he told his disciples that this was the perfect prayer not only for their time but for eternity.
He never said, even though I will return to God The Father after I die here, to the one who sent me, when you pray this perfect prayer you will be praying to me as if I were God The Father.
There’s only One person you should worship through the conduit that is Jesus Christ, and that is God The Father. You should not worship Jesus Christ as if he is God The Father. You should pray through him and by him you then pray to the Father as he himself did and still does. He is the advocate, the only way by which we can approach God The Father, or the sole Creator.
That’s why he Jesus Christ, indeed Lord to us here on earth, but he is not God The Father, The Creator. Even he himself said that no one including himself that was and was to become is good.
You really should read the articles I linked for you.
As a matter of fact, God is called by many different names, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. And many of the names reserved exclusively for God in the Old Testament, such as Savior, Redeemer, and “I Am,” are also used to refer to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. For some examples of this, see the section titled “There is one God, and Jesus Christ is that God” in the article, “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach.”
The Gospels are written such that those who do not want to see Jesus Christ as Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:20-23), can do so. But for those whose eyes are open to see it, the Gospels make it perfectly clear that that’s who Jesus Christ is.
Lee, with all due respect read the Lord’s Prayer. What does it SAY as you rightly point out to many others regarding the bible on other topics.
Especially the…. “hallowed be thy NAME.”
Discounting God the Father’s name and replacing it with Christ’s is an affront to Him. Calling the Son of Man as equal to God the Father is also an affront to Him. I can say this with 1,000% certainty. I can say this because even Christ, the Son of Man, said that ONLY God the Father knows the hour when he will establish his kingdom on earth.
Since Christ IS the Son of Man while on earth and in heaven how can he say that?
And show me please where does it specifically SAY in the bible that Jesus Christ while he lived on earth ever said he IS one and the SAME as God the Father? He said he is ONE with the Father. He never said he IS the Father. So if you know otherwise where in the bible does it SAY that?
No Swedenborg interpretations either please. Or for that matter anyone else’s including yourself. I just want to know where it SPECIFICALLY SAYS all these things in the bible.
Again Christ is NOT to be worshipped. ONLY God the Father is to be worshipped THROUGH Christ and through Christ’s name in prayer and in action through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is likewise not to be worshipped in the same vein as God the Father. If one worships Christ one is in effect attempting to worship TWO Gods and is inherently as much in error as the Protestant Doctrine you vehemently condemn.
Frankly Frank… Are you by any chance, Mormon? You seem to agree that Jesus is “indeed Lord to us here on earth, but he is not God The Father, The Creator.”
…Jeremiah23:23&24 gives us a glimpse of the unfathomable magnitude of the Father/Soul essence of God… In time, that essence took on a natural heredity through the agency of Mary so that He could encounter forces of evil (influences of hell) on their own terms, and restore equilibrium between the two promptings (heaven’s influence, and hell’s)…
Having taken on our human heredity, He became “one with us,” and could therefore serve as an example. Each temptation conquered, distanced Him from the “natural” He’d taken on thru’ Mary, and drew Him closer to His goal, union with His Soul… The final and most grievous temptation of all, was His impending death by crucifixion… With conquest of even that, His ties to the natural (thru’ Mary) were forever and completely broken, and He was one with the Father… Matthew28:18 captures the moment, “All authority is given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
The parts you’re having trouble with are times that He hadn’t yet made the break with the natural, times when He was still in transition, times when He hoped we’d use Him as an example of where to turn to when we feel hopeless, and defeated… We should pray to the Father, which was not Him YET, but soon would be…
Remember that Isaiah foretells the coming of Jesus… Chapter 9 verse 6 says, “Unto us a Child is born; Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, EVERLASTING FATHER, Prince of Peace.”
Wishing YOU peace… LC…
BTW, I also have questions for Lee, but I’m too tired now… I’ll ask them later… = )
No I’m not Mormon. Likewise peace to you.
Let me say this to help clarify things. Often the usage of being changed into the state of “One” with another person is to connote that that person is now no longer identifiable as they used to be, whether by name or spiritual condition. But if you see where the bible such as in Mark 10:8 where a man will cleave to his wife and become “One” does NOT mean that the man now loses his maleness or the name which denotes his masculinity, or for that matter his identity. Likewise for the female. So even though they are now spiritually one in flesh they are still two separate persons and roles.
As Swedenborg himself has stated, if you are born male you stay male in heaven same as for females.
So names are important especially when they identify divine entities. God the Father IS God, the only supreme being and the ONLY Creator. Jesus Christ is NOT God but rather the conduit through which God the Father is to be known. The Lord’s Prayer unquestionably proves this and most importantly comes directly by the mouth of Christ himself. Read what he SAYS!
Essentially this whole Trinity misinterpretation and confusion stems from the erroneous perception that Christ is equal to God the Father because he is “one” with the Father. As the foregoing Mark10:8 example of man and wife shows however it does NOT mean that they are now a blend of genders or welded together persons to the extent that they are no longer separately and distinctly identifiable as they once were BEFORE they became husband and wife. Again, the same applies to God the Father and the Son of Man, or Christ. The fact however that Christ is also called “Lord” does NOT mean that he is also God the Father. What it means is that He is Lord to us because he REPRESENTS the WAY to know God the Father as he said by being the way, truth and life. God the Father gave Christ the AUTHORITY to intercede for us to know Him but again did not mean that we should substitute Christ for God the Father.
When you pray, you pray THROUGH Christ to do God the Father’s will as Christ himself prayed and still prays.
I’ll repeat this once more that the KEY is to understanding is as to what Christ SAYS in the Lord’s Prayer. Christ SAID, Hallowed be THY Name, NOT hallowed be MY name. The Trinity “conundrum” is already solved through the lips of Christ in that it has ALWAYS meant that it was about ONE God, God the Father. The Son of Man Christ as SENT by God the Father to redeem mankind, and the Holy Spirit which is the Power that comes from God the Father THROUGH Christ who then then redeems mankind through the authority given to Him by God the Father completes the Trinity. Just because Christ is the Son of God was never meant to also make him God, The Creator
Bottomline, making Jesus Christ into the EQUAL of God the Father in every aspect is erasing the hallowed and distinctly reserved NAME of the Father himself. That would be an affront to the Father that Christ never said nor would ever imply.
Hi Frankly Frank,
I have already responded about the Lord’s Prayer, and about the general issue of Jesus praying to the Father, in this comment below.
I also referred you to an article that talks about the dual nature of Jesus Christ while he was here on earth—which clarifies many otherwise very confusing and seemingly contradictory passages in the Bible on the issue of whether Jesus was human or divine. Here is the link again: If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?
To be clear, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not the same thing. In this Swedenborg agrees with the traditional doctrine of the Trinity of Persons: The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.
Where he disagrees with the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons is that each of these are not distinct “Persons” of God, but rather are distinct “essential components” of God, just as we human beings have soul, body, and action, each of which is an essential component of who we are. In the very same way, our soul is not our body, our body is not our actions, and our actions are not our soul. And yet, the three of these together make one person, not three people. Without any one of them, we are not a complete person. In fact, without any of them, we are not a person at all.
So I do agree with you that we should not confuse the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit with one another.
Where I disagree is that I believe the Father is in Jesus Christ as his own soul, the Son is in Jesus Christ as his body, or human presence, and the Holy Spirit flows from the Father (the divine soul) through the Son (the divine body) out into the universe and into individual human beings.
That is why I refer to God as the Lord God Jesus Christ. Because all three are one in Jesus Christ. But as I mentioned in my comment linked above, it is in Jesus Christ after his life on earth was over, and he had “ascended to the Father” (John 20:17).
When he made that statement in John 20:17, he had not yet ascended to the Father, and so there was still some separation, hence his addressing the Father as “my God.” And yet, his followers and disciples already saw him as God, as shown by Thomas addressing him just a few verses later as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for saying this, but accepted that statement from him, only giving him a hard time for having to see him to believe that he was “his Lord and his God”:
And in Matthew, after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples worshiped him—and once again he did not reject such worship, as the angel in the book of Revelation did when John tried to worship the angel, who told him instead to “worship God” (Revelation 19:10, 22:9-10). Jesus had no such qualms about being worshiped:
If Jesus allowed his disciples to worship him, and the angel told John that he should only worship God, then it’s clear enough that Jesus is God.
Further, Jesus here tells his disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And we know from the book of Acts that his disciples baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. See Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5. Either the disciples were disobeying the Lord’s own final, direct commandment to them, or baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ is baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I could go on, but I’ve already covered the overall subject in this article: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
There are many, many indications and direct statements in the Gospels that Jesus Christ is, indeed, God with us. Not just an emissary or mediator for God, but God himself present with us in human, personal, form.
Yes, you could interpret the “oneness” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being similar to the oneness of a husband and wife. But that’s not how the Bible itself presents it.
And incidentally, Swedenborg says that from a distance, a married couple in heaven looks like one angel, and married couples are commonly referred to as one angel. But yes, they do retain their individual selves, male and female.
The oneness that exists among the Father (God’s soul) the Son (God’s body) and the Holy Spirit (God’s words and actions) is much closer than the oneness that exists between married couples. It is not so much like a married couple as it is like our own soul, body, and actions, which are integral parts of the single person that we are.
One other thing Locsun where I say that Christ said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life is that then Christ most importantly also says, NO ONE comes to the Father except THROUGH me. That what Christ said not only applied to earth then and in the future as it applies even after he physically left the earth to return to the Father but that this is also the eternal things to come in heaven. Christ will always be the Son of Man, the Son of God, and you will always know him Him as Saviour and Lord who is the ONLY way to know God the Father. But again, he is does not replace God the Father with himself and never said so.
Hi Frankly Frank,
More briefly on this one:
We come to the Father only through Jesus Christ because the Father is the unknowable divine core, which no human being can approach directly, whereas Jesus Christ as “the Son of God” is the human presence of God, which we humans can approach. It is only through God’s human presence as Jesus Christ, whom Swedenborg calls “the Divine Humanity,” that we can come to know the nature of God, and have a relationship with God.
This is precisely why praying to the Father for the sake of the Son, and similar prayer formulas by traditional Christians, are completely mistaken. We cannot pray directly to the Father because we cannot directly know the Father. We should pray to the Lord God Jesus Christ, picturing him as a human being who is also divine and is indeed “God with us.”
Oh, and you mention Isaiah. If indeed as you interpret that verse to prove that Jesus would BECOME God the Father then why didn’t Christ say in the Lord’s Prayer which is PERFECT, that to wit…..
“As Isaiah the prophet said, I who am God the Father….”
Who are you to believe more, Isaiah an OT prophet or Christ himself directly in the Lord’s Prayer? And please don’t tell me that Christ meant this prayer only for those who asked how “we” should pray. The “we” also included Christ himself and was and is how he approached God the Father as evidenced on earth in prayer and also his relationship WITH and to God the Father in heaven, yet again not AS God the Father himself.
Remember there is only ONE God, ONE Creator, and ONE Father of all things created both on earth as it is in heaven.
Hi Frankly Frank,
About the Lord’s Prayer, Christ didn’t say “we.” He said “you”:
And in Luke it is specifically in response to a request from the disciples that he teach them to pray:
There is no “we” here. It’s all about Jesus telling his disciples how they (“you”) should pray. For the full context and prayer, see: Matthew 6:5-13; Luke 11:1-4.
There is no record anywhere in the Gospels of Jesus himself praying the Lord’s Prayer to the Father. Only these two passages in which he tells his disciples that this is how they should pray. In short, the Lord’s Prayer does not prove what you say it does.
However, it is true that Jesus himself prays to the Father on several occasions. Locsun already mentioned the reason for this.
For a fuller version, please see: If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?
Short version: During Jesus’ lifetime on earth he had a dual nature: a finite human nature from his human mother Mary, and an infinite divine nature from his divine Father, God—who was his own inner soul. His conscious awareness alternated between these two natures throughout his life on earth. When he was conscious primarily of his finite human side, he talked and prayed to the Father as if to a separate being. When he was conscious primarily of his infinite divine side, he spoke of himself and the Father being one. This is also the state he was in when he was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James, and John (see: Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36).
It was only after his life on earth was complete that he became fully one with the Father, a process that the Gospel of John calls “being glorified.”
But I recommend you read the full article, which explains these things in more detail, and provides supporting references to the Bible, as well as explanatory quotations from Swedenborg’s writings.
Ok but you similarly ask as in the error of Protestantism with the Trinity that we somehow think ONE God but we really are thinking TWO gods if Jesus the Son is also The Father! Can’t be done with three ( Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) and it certainly can’t be done with just two either! You can’t condemn the Protestant Trinity and yet have a log in your eye as well!
So again as I ask above WHERE does Christ SPECIFICALLY SAY that He IS God the Father? The answer comes not from interpreting many biblical “sources” which “indicate” that he IS God the Father. Frankly no one else in the bible is AS qualified to say what Christ IS in relation to God the Father as ONLY Christ himself can say what He is. And he SAYS it many times. He IS the Son! And most importantly everything that Christ said or did or thought or felt was PERFECT. But Isaiah, nor Paul, nor Swedenborg, nor anyone else is.
So then, who are you going to believe is telling you the PERFECT truth in the bible them or Christ?
And if he were God the Father then why does Christ SAY in Matthew 24:36….”But about that day or hour NO ONE knows NOT EVEN the angels in heaven NOR The Son, but ONLY the FATHER.”
Now how could Christ say that in his short time on earth AND also say it for the future AFTER his ascension to heaven after his death? Remember he is in heaven right now. What you would have to interpret from that to get there is that if as you say Jesus IS God the Father then God the Father himself doesn’t know the day or the hour! Absurd!
Furthermore extrapolating that because Jesus didn’t stop his disciples from worshipping him that all the hoards of people that knelt before him when he walked by conducting miracles should’ve also been rebuked en masse by Christ for doing so. Christ knew that they didn’t completely understand who he was and so allowed them to “worship” him. When he cured someone, they expectedly fell down before him in simple awe and reverence but he let it go because he knew that directly THROUGH him and his actions which were both PERFECT and without sin they unknowingly and innocently were in effect worshipping God the Father of which Christ ALWAYS glorified and represented then and in the future.
Hi Frankly Frank,
You really should read the article, “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”
Jesus Christ is not the Father, and I never said he was. That would be like saying that Frankly Frank is Frankly Frank’s soul. That’s not how it works. Your soul isn’t you. It’s part of you.
Jesus is not the Father. Rather, the Father is in Jesus, and anyone who has seen (truly seen) Jesus has seen the Father, because Jesus is the human presence of the Father, who dwells within Jesus, and Jesus also dwells within that inner divine soul. Similarly, if I want to know the soul of Frankly Frank, I must get to know the human presence of Frankly Frank: his words and actions, his expressed feelings, his character and personality. That is the only way I can approach, get a sense of, and have a relationship with, the soul and spirit of Frankly Frank, which is within Frankly Frank, and in which Frankly Frank dwells.
As I said previously, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct. They are not the same as each other. But all of them are in and from Jesus Christ as he is after his resurrection, and even during his lifetime on earth, though the connection was not quite as strong then because of the finite human nature that he still had from his human mother.
This is light years away from Catholic and Protestant theology, which holds that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons of God. I see them, rather, as human names for different parts of one Person of God. I do not picture three. I picture one Divine Being, having the equivalent of the human soul, body, and actions. I do not picture you, Frankly Frank, as three people because you have a soul, body and actions. Neither do I picture the Lord God Jesus Christ as three beings, but as one.
Hi Frankly Frank,
About Jesus calling himself “the Son of God,” he rarely does so in the Gospels. Mostly just a few times in the Gospel of John. Others call him the Son of God, and the narrator calls him the Son of God, but Jesus’ own most common way of referring to himself is “the Son of Man.” This refers to the way prophets were commonly addressed in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, and also emphasizes his humanity.
About Matthew 24:36, where do you get the idea that he is applying this to his future knowledge when he has ascended to the Father? The text doesn’t say that. It uses the present tense. The Son does not now know the day or the hour. Jesus said this before he was fully glorified and fully united with the Father. He was still limited by his finite human side from Mary. So he did not yet have all of the knowledge that the Father has.
Btw you REALLY lost me on this correlation is thus causation leap of logic.
You said, “If Jesus allowed his disciples to worship him and the angel told John that he should only worship God, then it’s clear enough that Jesus is God.”
Really I should unquestionably believe this because the angel says “God” and you presumably “think” that the angel really really meant Jesus? Then why didn’t he SAY Jesus instead of you filling in the rest? How do you come to that absolute conclusion from what the angel SAID? How can you tie those two things from what a bunch of monumentally imperfect disciples erroneously worshipping Christ because they barely understood him to begin with and now all of a sudden that must clearly mean that Jesus IS God the Father!?
Hi Frankly Frank,
You’re making my statements to be much more absolute than they actually were. I didn’t say it is “unquestionably” this way. I said it is “clear enough.” If you prefer to believe that Jesus is not God, you’re perfectly free to do so. That is what Unitarians believe, and they are good people.
I believe that the Gospels were written the way they were, without absolute statements such as “Jesus is God,” precisely so that people who are not able to accept that Jesus is God would still be able to read and benefit from the Gospels, and from Jesus’ teaching and example.
I had intended to come back to this soon after you had posted it, not because I necessarily have anything new to add to the comments that inspired this post in the first place, but rather I did want to introduce a new angle to the discussion that we haven’t really touched upon. There’s been plenty you’ve said and that has been written on the Biblical and logical basis behind the Trinity of persons, but setting aside the question of whether it is Biblical or logical (though, again, I have yet to see what rule of logic it violates so as to be ‘illogical’), what we haven’t talked about is the explanatory power of the doctrine, and there are some truly beautiful, profound *philosophical* explanations of the Trinity.
We are created in the image of God, and it is because God exists as a community of three loving persons that human beings can exist as a community of loving persons. A Triune God explains why we, as humans, are able to love. It explains our desire for fellowship and community. In a very real and profound way, the Trinity is a call for us to complete ourselves through each other.
But perhaps most profoundly, it explains why God loves in the first place. All Christians of all varieties would agree that God is infinitely, ceaselessly loving, but to love is to give of oneself to another- so who did God love before there were created beings? It doesn’t seem acceptable to see love as something that just resides dormant with God until there is an object for it, as it would at least seem intuitive to us that God is always, actively loving. The answer, according to the Trinity of persons, is that it was the three members of the Godhead who are always, actively loving each other- emptying themselves into the other while simultaneously being filled by the other- in which God was and is always loving.
Now I know that Swedenborg was not a unitarian, and accepts a different idea of the Trinity, but does his understanding of the Trinity possess the same awesome explanatory scope of the Trinity of persons? I should add that I’m not asking rhetorically so as to make a point, but rather wondering how Swedenborg’s theology accounts for these questions of Divine love and the human condition.
It’s a good question.
And it shows just how little trinitarians really understand God or how creation works.
First, the Bible doesn’t say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loving one another before creation is the basis of our mutual love for one another.
Second, this idea is clearly polytheistic. It supports the whole thesis of the above article. Three “persons” of God all loving one another and talking to one another are three gods. Plain and simple.
Third, if God were one, then this would be divine love of self. And God’s love is not self-love.
Fourth, the Bible says that male and female were individually made in God’s image. So each one of us is in the image of God, meaning we each have the same components within us that God has within God. So it’s not just humans collectively loving one another that’s in the image of God. Every individual is also created in the image of God. And human individuals do not have three persons in them.
Fifth, there is no “before creation” if you think of that temporally. Time and space are properties of the physical universe. There was never a time when God was alone, with no one to love. God exists in a timeless, spaceless state, from which God spun out time and space. For God, all of time and space are present in a single view and experience. For God, there are always beings to love outside of God, because for God, all things that to us are past, present, and future are present in the eternal present in which God lives.
Swedenborg speaks directly about these and related issues in Divine Love and Wisdom.
Seems like you’re having a familiar but always fascinating conversation about a subject that seems to almost be pretty routine around here! I wanted to briefly touch upon your responses to my last post, and then add some of my thoughts to the ongoing discussion you’re having now.
When you talk about what the bible does and does not say, do you think you’re leaving adequate room to entertain what the bible is and is not ‘saying’? We accept so many claims about what the bible is saying without those words being explicitly mentioned, but we accept this because those claims are things we can reasonably *infer* from the text. So when you say that ‘so and so is not said in the bible,’ are you also saying that is not reasonably inferred from what it actually *does* say?
You also remark that the idea that God’s self love is theologically objectionable, but Christ was God incarnate, who also loved the Father- doesn’t that qualify as self love, then?
Your final point of God being out of time, with all past, present, and future being instantly viewable to Him, is very interesting. But I’m wondering, how can God be affected by what happens in time if He is out of time? God is affected by our actions and prayers, which suggests He is *in* time with us. I know this is probably a bigger and more complicated subject for this discussion, but the issue of God’s relationship to time is one that has been taken up by a number of philosophers, and it sounds as though Swedenborg’s claims on the matter corresponds with the ‘b-theory’ of time, where, past, present, and future are all simultaneous, though most Christian philosophers defend the ‘a-theory’ of time, which has a tensed, linear flow.
About the Bible saying or not saying something:
What I’m saying is actually simpler than that. I’m just talking about the plain, literal meaning of the Bible. I’m saying that if you read the words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in the Bible, nowhere does it say, for example, “A person is justified by faith alone” or “Jesus paid the penalty for our sins,” in those words or in any other words that mean the same thing. It’s not about inferring meaning. It’s about what the Bible does and doesn’t say in its own plain words.
Of course, in some instances we will infer meanings based on what the Bible says. But it must actually be based on what the Bible says, and not read things into the text that aren’t there.
So for example, if the Bible says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24), we should not read it and say, “It means, ‘Jesus paid the penalty for our sins in his body on the cross.'” That’s simply not what that sentence in the Bible says. The most we could say is that we are going to interpret it to mean that (although I believe this interpretation would be incorrect). But we can’t say that it says that, because it simply doesn’t say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.
Further, I am saying that when it comes to the key issue of what we need to believe and do in order to be saved, the Bible should—and does—state these things clearly in its own plain words, without the need for inferring things or for interpreting it. All we need to do is read what it says in its plain literal meaning.
To believe otherwise is to charge God with incompetence in conveying to us the critical knowledge we need in order to be saved and spend eternity in heavenly bliss rather than in the torments of hell. I do not believe God requires human beings to interpret the message of salvation that the Bible delivers. He just needs us to read and heed that message.
Of course, there are many other things in the Bible that do require interpretation to understand. But not the basics of salvation. That message is delivered to is in clear and plain language throughout the entire Bible.
About Christ loving the Father, this could be said of him while he was living on earth and still not fully divine. At that point he still had a finite part that was derived from his human mother. And that part of himself could have a relationship with God as “other.”
But once he completed his “glorification” process, which happened at the time of his death, and especially when he “ascended to the Father,” there were no longer two beings or consciousnesses that could interact with one another. There was and is only one divine consciousness, which is the Lord God Jesus Christ.
About God, time, and change:
Our prayers do not actually affect God, if by “affect” you mean “change.” God cannot change, because God is not in time and space. What happens, rather, is they make the unchanging and unchangeable being of God more able to flow out into us and into those we pray for, because prayer opens up channels of communication with and receptivity to God.
If a leaf unfurls itself and turns itself toward the sun, the sun does not change at all. But the leaf receives more of the sun’s light and warmth because it has presented to the sun a larger surface onto which the sun can shine. Our prayers are like our mind unfurling its leaves and turning them toward the sun.
I do believe that God feels joy in being able to flow into us more fully. But that doesn’t change the nature of God. It only makes it possible for God to express God’s nature more fully in the people whom God has created.
Does this atemporal, unchanging depiction of God run dangerously close to a kind of deism, where God is likened to the sun, who shines His warmth upon us at all times, and of whom it is incumbent upon us to turn toward in order to absorb more and more of His warmth?
While that was my original conception of God upon arriving to this blog, it didn’t feel like an especially dynamic one, for it’s hard to have a personal, two-way relationship with the sun.
The sun reflects God’s nature, but does not fully express it. The sun is a ball of thermonuclear fire. God is a being of infinite love, wisdom, and power.
There is nothing deistic about God’s relationship with the universe. God is continually creating everything in the universe every nanosecond. Creation doesn’t happen from a temporal beginning, but from a causal beginning from the inside out. God is in the closest possible relationship with everything and everyone in creation at every moment.
The question for us is whether or not we recognize and accept that relationship. And if we do, then our relationship with God becomes closer because our willingness and acceptance makes it possible for the relationship to be closer.
God always flows into the organic physical and spiritual components that make us up, at every moment, because otherwise we would instantly cease to exist. But when it comes to our conscious relationship with God, God always flows in precisely as much as, and in the way that, we consciously accept God’s presence in us. Any less, and God would be withholding love, which God never does. Any more would overwhelm us and destroy our freedom and our humanity. So God always flows in precisely as much as we open the door for God to flow in. This is expressed poetically in the book of Revelation:
But does God ‘react’ to us? If we can picture the sun’s rays as emanating Divine love, goodness, and wisdom, then I think we have a meaningfully expressive (though always woefully inadequate) analogy for God, but the thing about the sun is that it doesn’t respond to us, we respond to it- the sun emanates, we absorb as much as we open ourselves up to (or can take).
Likewise, if God is a being that simply flows into us, how can that relationship then be a dynamic two-way one? If God does indeed react to us, then it indicates that God is in a different state at one time than He was in another, thus changing, and thus in time.
These are all very good questions.
About the sun vs. God:
First, obviously God has conscious awareness, whereas the sun does not. So God is aware of everything on which God shines, whereas the sun is unconscious, blind, and not self-aware. When the sun’s rays shine on something, the sun is not aware of it. But when God’s love shines on something or someone, God is aware of it.
But second, as with the sun, the flow is always from God to creation, and not the other way around. In fact, the flow is always from higher levels to lower levels, and not the other way around. So the higher level acts, and the lower level reacts. When it comes to human beings, this leads to a type of paradox in which we act as if we are acting on our own, but in fact we are acting from God. And the feeling that we are acting on our own is a necessary illusion so that we can be a distinct individual in our own right and therefore be capable of having a relationship with God.
Swedenborg says many mind-bending things about this phenomenon. Here is one such statement, from True Christianity #588:
To relate this more directly to your question, here is that last part in an older and somewhat more literal translation:
In other words, in our relationship with God—and in fact, in God’s relationship with every created thing—the flow is always in one direction: from God outward.
This would seem to mean that the relationship cannot be mutual. But that is not the case. And the reason it’s not the case is precisely that unlike the sun, God is aware of God’s love, wisdom, and power flowing out, where and how it is being received, and where it is not being received.
To use another analogy, think of a municipal water system. The water always flows in one direction: from the water tower out through the pipes to the individual customer. Water never flows from the customers to the water tower. And yet, the water tower is “aware” of the water flowing out. And the water utility is aware of the usage of every individual customer. If all of a sudden every customer just stopped using water, the water plant would have to stop pumping to fill up the water tower, revenues would go down, and so on.
In a similar way, in our relationship with God, although the flow is always one way, so that God is always the active force, and we are always recipients who receive and react to that active force, God still is fully aware of precisely how much of God’s love, wisdom, and power each one of us receives. And this “affects” God in the sense that God experiences greater joy in giving us greater love, wisdom, and power, and in our willingly receiving it. So although nothing flows from us to God, our receptivity or lack thereof still is felt by God. This makes the relationship mutual even though the flow is always in one direction.
I’ll respond about whether this changes God in a separate comment, on your follow-up one.
I also do think it bears mentioning that God feeling or more greatly expressing His joy also implies a kind of temporality; that is, He is in a different state than He was before, therefore in time, while His nature is immutable and unchanging.
This begins to push the limits of what we humans can comprehend.
While we are living here on earth in our physical body, our mind is largely engaged in time and space, and we think in temporal and spatial terms. Even when we are able to lift our mind above the physical into the spiritual, it is still engaged in the spiritual analogs of time and space, which involve progression and development in our thoughts and feelings. We are never capable, either as humans on earth or as angels in heaven, of raising our mind to the divine level, which is God. We are material / spiritual beings. God is a divine being. So although we can see reflections and gain an approximation in our minds of the nature of God, we can never directly or fully experience or grasp what it is like to be God. We can never fully understand how God experiences things; we can only see reflections of it in our own physical and spiritual experiences.
I add this as a preface because I’m going to say some things that honestly, I don’t fully understand, nor can any of us fully understand, because they go beyond our ability to understand. They are at best reflections and approximations of how God experiences these things.
At the core of God, what in biblical terms is called “the Father,” there is no change at all. There is only eternal, unchanging love. It is a love that always flows outward, never inward. It is in fact the point from which all love, and everything that exists, flows. It is also the center of God’s awareness, which is God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom also never changes. It is always perfectly at one with God’s love.
God’s love and wisdom feel and see everything that to us is temporal and spatial in a single, eternal experience and view. To “the Father,” all things are present in an eternal present. There is no past or future. There are no things that happened earlier, and no things that haven’t happened yet. All things are seen in an eternal now. As an analogy, although we might be in the middle of a cross-country journey, God is seeing the whole journey—both the part we’ve already done and the part that is ahead of us—on a sort of divine Google Maps in which the entire journey is all laid out in a single view.
So from the perspective of God’s divine core, there is no change. There can’t possibly be change, because all that to us ever has been or will be, everywhere in the universe, is eternally present with God in a single view and experience.
And yet, the Bible tells us that God entered into time and space in the form of Jesus Christ, lived out a life that began with conception and progressed through birth, childhood, adulthood, and ended in death (which, of course, was followed by the Resurrection and Ascension). So God lived out a human life here on earth, subject to and changing in time and space.
And contrary to traditional Christian trinitarian doctrine, Swedenborg states explicitly that before the Incarnation (Jesus’ birth and life on earth as a flesh and blood human being), there was not a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes, there were the divine attributes of love, wisdom, and action that are expressed in the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But before Jesus’ birth, there was no Son, nor was there any Holy Spirit. There was the spirit of God flowing out, but this was not the same as the Holy Spirit of the New Testament, which flows from the Father through the Son.
So from our human, time-bound perspective, God changed because of the Incarnation. Whereas before God was only divine, now God is what Swedenborg calls the Divine Humanity. God added a human nature through living on earth as Jesus Christ. How this all worked would take far too long to explain here. For that, you’d need to read the first few chapters of True Christianity.
And yet, Swedenborg also says that Jesus’ entire “glorification” process, which was Jesus’ inner life while he was living on earth, is fully expressed in the Scriptures—including in the Old Testament, which was written before Jesus was born. In fact, a large swath of Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg’s detailed spiritual commentary on the books of Genesis and Exodus, is devoted to telling the sequential story of Jesus’ inner glorification process via the inner meaning of the stories in Genesis from Abraham through Joseph.
How could Jesus’ inner life be told in texts that were written before he was born?
The answer, Swedenborg says, is that to God, all events that from our perspective are in the future are in the present. God’s view is not limited to our past, as ours is. God sees all things, past, present, and future. So God was able to tell Jesus’ inner story in the books of the Old Testament because to God, that story was not a future, unknown thing, but rather was a present, known thing.
This means that even though God did enter into time and space in the form of Jesus Christ, and lived out a sequential life that involved changing through time, for “the Father,” or the core of God, that entire sequence, not to mention everything else before and after it in time, is a present reality. For God, there was never a “time” when the experience of living out a life on earth was not a present reality. For God, that entire life as Jesus is part of God’s eternal experience in the eternal present in which God lives.
This means that in everything God does that to us is past, present, or future, Jesus Christ is a present reality on God’s side of that action. God’s experiences as Jesus Christ are present in everything God does, including what God did before coming to earth as Jesus Christ.
This, as I said at the beginning, pushes the limits of what we humans, with our time- and space-bound perspective, can comprehend. But put simply (?!), what appears to us to be changes in God is, from God’s perspective, not change, because God is present in and aware of all of it at once from an eternal awareness outside of time and space.
And if you can fully understand that, I’ll step aside and let you write this blog from now on! 😉
I wanted to follow up with this discussion, though it runs a bit alongside the one we’re currently having, and touches on related but different issues. Earlier I raised the question about how God could be perfectly loving before their were created persons, with the Trinitarian answer being that God must exist as a community of persons. Here is the argument summarized at the end of one of William Lane Craig’s articles in defense of the Trinity:
“God is by definition the greatest conceivable being. As the greatest conceivable being, God must be perfect. Now a perfect being must be a loving being. For love is a moral perfection; it is better for a person to be loving rather than unloving. God therefore must be a perfectly loving being. Now it is of the very nature of love to give oneself away. Love reaches out to another person rather than centering wholly in oneself. So if God is perfectly loving by His very nature, He must be giving Himself in love to another. But who is that other? It cannot be any created person, since creation is a result of God’s free will, not a result of His nature. It belongs to God’s very essence to love, but it does not belong to His essence to create. So we can imagine a possible world in which God is perfectly loving and yet no created persons exist. So created persons cannot sufficiently explain whom God loves. Moreover, contemporary. cosmology makes it plausible that created persons have not always existed. But God is eternally loving. So again created persons alone are insufficient to account for God’s being perfectly loving. It therefore follows that the other to whom God’s love is necessarily directed must be internal to God Himself“.
Craig raises two important, related points here: that it is God’s essence to love, but it is not of His essence to *create*, and that because it is not of His essence to create that we can imagine a world in which no created persons exist. So to try and use created persons as the basis for God’s perfect love is to make Him dependent on creation, and makes His creation part of His essence. This is an argument in defense of The Trinity that’s made from natural theology, to which I really don’t have an adequate answer. And if it can’t be answered, in my mind, it would spell the death knell to any unitarian conception of God. Looking forward to your thoughts, Lee!
I’ve heard this argument before. But it involves a misunderstanding of the nature of God and of the eternity of God in relation to the temporality of creation.
I’m with Craig through the parts about the nature of love being to love another being. But from there on his argument falls apart.
First, with God there is no distinction between his nature and his free will. God’s free will is the same thing as God’s love. What God loves, God freely wills, and what God freely wills, God loves, and both are the essential nature of God, which is love. So to say that something is the result of God’s free will but not of God’s nature is nonsensical. There is no such thing as something that is the result of God’s free will but not of God’s nature. Everything God does is the result of God’s nature and God’s free will.
Craig’s statement, “It belongs to God’s very essence to love, but it does not belong to His essence to create” has the same problem. If it belongs to God’s very essence to love, then it also belongs to God’s very essence to create beings to love. Craig seems to be invoking some hair-splitting philosophical notions about the nature of God’s essence that I see no basis for in scripture or in reality.
Craig then goes on to say, “So we can imagine a possible world in which God is perfectly loving and yet no created persons exist.” Yes, we can imagine such a world theoretically. But:
We can imagine all sorts of hypotheticals in an attempt to disprove some proposition. But the guideline for reality is reality, not hypothetical reality. And I believe Craig’s hypothetical world in which no created beings exist is an impossibility given the nature of God as expressed in what God actually did, which was to create a universe containing other beings to love.
Craig then goes on to say:
And here is where Craig’s lack of understanding of the nature of God’s eternity in relation to the temporality of the created universe comes in.
God’s eternity means that God exists outside of time. So for God there was never a “time” before the creation of the universe, nor will there ever be a “time” after the physical universe is gone, assuming it has a temporal end. God did not have to wait around all alone through a pre-eternity of time until God finally created a universe with beings to love. Rather, in the eternity of God’s experience, the entirety of the created universe is eternally present. So for God, every being ever created in what is our past, present, and future is a present reality and a present being whom God loves in God’s eternal present.
In short, it is due to a failure to understand the nature of God, of God’s eternity, and of time in relation to God’s eternity that trinitarians have come up with this argument that there must be a Trinity of Persons in God so that God has someone to love.
I don’t think citing art is a proof that all trinitarians must necessarily think of three gods. And you actually did not deal with the difference between person and substance in their historical context. Though it is admittedly possible and probable that some think of three God’s honestly you do not have a solid argument. Basically you are saying so because they must think so. What Athanasius says just means do not mistake the 3 persons for different gods. Unless you can show me that he meant otherwise your point is moot. And accusing all Christians who do believe in the trinity as necessary conceptual polytheism is unfounded because they don’t act like polytheists at all. Polytheists don’t act like trinitarian Christians do in their worship and honestly polytheists theology just doesn’t look like trinitarian theology. Personally I think the doctrine has problems if you take it as a comprehensive picture of God but really you have not represented what they believe well at all. For instance there is art that doesn’t have 3 individuals. Still on the art you have chosen to interpret three forms as representing three separate beings. Is this really what the artist has in mind and isn’t there freedom of artistic expression. Perhaps you are don’t understand how their art is. Art is also never a complete replica of what is being seen in the minds eye. It’s a mediator not a perfect mirror
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
Mainly, I reproduced some very common forms of Christian art depicting the Trinity to illustrate Swedenborg’s statement that in the minds of trinitarians there is really an image and concept of three separate figures, which amounts to picturing three gods. Yes, the figures in the artwork could be conceived of as symbolically representing three different aspects of a single God. But I don’t think that’s how the vast bulk of trinitarians think of God. Instead, they think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three distinct beings, even if they are somehow mystically said to be “one in essence.” The reality is that the vast bulk of trinitarians picture three gods in their minds, even if their lips always say “one God.”
It is true that this Christian polytheism is not the same as pagan polytheism. That’s because Christians are taught that the three are one—and that does have an effect on their thinking. So Christian polytheism is sort of a halfway step between pagan polytheism and true Christian monotheism. I believe that the Trinity of Persons was an accommodation of Christian theology to the pagan, polytheistic world in which Christianity took root. We know from history that although the original followers of Christ were Jewish monotheists, the great spread of Christianity happened in pagan, polytheistic lands. This, I believe, is why the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons arose and became the reigning doctrine in Christianity.
I could go on, but instead I will refer you to other articles in which I discuss these subjects:
If, after reading these articles, you still have responses or questions, please feel free to make further comments here.
Thanks Lee for your gracious response. I am reading and rereading the links you provided me so I don’t get them wrong. There’s a lot of information there. So far though even though I do agree with aspects of it overall I remain unconvinced by the Swedenborg’s type of Christianity. Maybe we can set up a correspondence on it. As for this particular issue I have a few responses but to keep it brief I am only gonna hit on one point. You said we should think of trinitarianism as a half way step between true Christian monotheism and polytheism. I believe this is completely wrong on two counts. When we compare the theological content of the trinitarian dogma to any polytheistic theology they are remarkably different. You cannot find one example of polytheism that is theologically similar to orthodox Christianity. Secondly, trinitarians and polytheists also do not act alike in things like worship and ethics. If trinitarians are conceptual polytheists why don’t they act like them? Why do they think one way and act like another? Finally polytheism and monotheism are so ontologically and theologically distinct there is no half way step. To even propose a compromise between them is to thoroughly misunderstand one or the other or both. A quick point about the assimilation of paganism into Christianity. During the controversies that cause the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity pagan worship was not the issue. If we are talking about influence historically speaking it is rather Christianity that influenced paganism causing it’s decline. You are begging the question. Sorry for such a long, tedious and jaunty response. Thanks again for your time
I would be happy to continue our correspondence here as long as you find it useful.
It is true that Christianity had a bigger influence on paganism than the reverse. Although to be fair, I should add that it was Islam that finished the job that Christianity had started of stamping out pagan polytheism in the lands of the Bible, and turning the whole region monotheistic. And I believe that was necessary in part because Christianity had adopted a little too much of pagan polytheism and practice—especially with its invention and adoption of the doctrine of the Trinity in the third and fourth centuries.
It is clear that paganism had an effect on Christianity from many signs and indications beyond the Trinity of Persons. For example, the two key Christian festivals, Christmas and Easter, are re-workings of the longstanding pagan winter solstice and spring equinox celebrations, respectively. Easter eggs and the Easter bunny are straight out of pagan fertility rituals. And the lights and trees of Christmas also draw more from pagan solstice celebrations than from Christian scripture. Christianity absorbed much pagan symbolism and ritual into its own festivals and worship rituals, Christianizing it in the process, but still retaining much from the former pagan symbolism and worship practices.
As with these festivals, Christianity influenced the doctrine of the Trinity more than paganism did. The Trinity is nominally one God, and trinitarians insist that they worship one God, which is contrary to pagan polytheistic beliefs. And yet, as with these festivals, paganism also influenced the Christian concept of God, introducing an element of polytheism into a religion that in its roots and origins in Judaism was strictly monotheistic. The farthest back we can trace the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons is to Tertullian in the third century. It took that long for the influence of pagan polytheism to seep into Christianity and lead to a doctrine that separated God into three persons, or personalities.
What was going on is that Christianity was moving into a world that was not entirely ready for it. That’s why Jesus said:
As Jesus himself, then his original apostles, then those who had been taught by his original apostles successively left this world, the message became attenuated, then institutionalized, then politicized, and Christianity as a whole fell away from the original Gospel message and began adopting dogmas such as the Trinity that are stated nowhere in the Gospels or in the entire Bible, but in fact are contrary to many plain teachings of the Bible.
As for why Christians think one way and act another, that’s inherent in the internal contradiction within trinitarian theology itself. This contradiction is present quite explicitly in the very creed that provides the primary definition of the doctrine:
In short, Christians are taught that they must think three, but say one. That is the answer to your question, “Why do they think one way and act like another?” It is because they are taught that they must think in terms of three Persons, each of which is God and Lord, which is tantamount to thinking in terms of three gods, while speaking, and by extension acting, as if there were only one.
And yet trinitarian worship commonly does speak and act as if there are three, using formulas such as praying to the Son for the sake of the Father, or praying to the Father for the sake of the Son, or asking the Son to speak to the Father for them, as if they were two separate individuals, personalities, and gods speaking to one another. I did not grow up being taught the Trinity of Persons, so when I first encountered this sort of prayer among traditional Christians, I was confused, and wondered why they were treating the Father and Son as if they were separate gods talking to one another.
So yes, Christianity did have more of an impact on paganism than the reverse. Christianity rooted pagan polytheism out of Europe and parts of the Middle East—and Islam took care of the rest of the Middle East and northern Africa several centuries later. And yet, pagan polytheism did also leave its mark on Christianity, as explained above.
Hi Lee. You’ve raised a lot of issues so I’ll try and respond as concisely as I can. The first thing is you have still not adequately defended your claim that trinitarian faith is polytheistic. I countered with if that was true why do they not behave like polytheists? Your response is because of the alleged inherent contradiction. That explanation is itself contradictory. We know humans act consistently with their beliefs. If their behavior is not consistent with what they profess then what they professed was not an accurate representation of what they believe. This principle is used in history, law, psychology and other disciplines. Especially when you consider something like speech act theory, speech is itself is an action consistent with the thoughts of an individual when considered with other actions. Trinitarians say they are monotheists and act like monotheists but you say they think polytheisticaly? It just doesn’t seem to add up. Also you did not deny that there is a sharp distinction between polytheism and monotheism. You cannot have one or the other. This monotheistic behaviour is true of the majority of trinitarians throughout the ages so there is no empirical evidence that ALL trinitarians think of three gods. When I was a hardcore trinitarian the idea of more than one god never crossed my mind and having studied it even more closely and rejected the details of the doctrine, I still do not think it means three gods. There is also no analogue, that I am aware of, in any polytheistic theology past or present. Polytheistic faiths bear a lot of resemblance to one another but with the trinity we see many marked differences and very few similarities. Either there is one God or many. You can’t have it both ways. Also you never refer to the historical setting of the doctrines development. Historians like NT Wright have shown it is historically plausible for the doctrine of the Trinity to have developed from the Bible. You have not been able to cite one specific historical example of a pagan feature on any aspect of the doctrine. Tell me the pagan religion and show that this aspect is similar to this part of the doctrine. Also if it is polytheistic why is the doctrine not formulated in pagan theological language. I think you have fundamentally misunderstood the trinity.
To respond to all of this would require a book, not a comment! And I doubt that responding point by point would get us anywhere anyway. You, of course, are free to believe as you wish. And if you disagree with me, I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. This article and the others I linked you to speak for themselves.
I am curious about your saying, “When I was a hardcore trinitarian . . .” Do you no longer consider yourself a trinitarian? Or are you a trinitarian, but just not “hardcore” about it anymore? In particular, if you no longer consider yourself a trinitarian at all, I am wondering: Why you are defending that doctrine?
As to how the doctrine of the Trinity developed, I believe it was due to materialistic rather than spiritual thinking. Clearly the New Testament speaking of a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit all as God is a bit of a head-scratcher if we think of it in human, materialistic terms. Among human beings, fathers and sons are distinct individuals. So from a material, human standpoint, saying that there is God the Father and God the Son would mean that God is two people. The Holy Spirit, being literally a “holy breath,” is a little harder to pin down.
After a few centuries had gone by, Christians leaders were not thinking spiritually, but materially, about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament. And so they had to think of them as distinct individuals. And yet, the Bible is insistent that there is only one God. So they couldn’t say that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three gods. The compromise they came to was the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons. But this was necessary only because they failed to think in spiritual and divine terms, and thought in material and human terms instead.
About “persons,” the original Latin word used by Tertullian and the rest of the Latin fathers is persona, whose root meaning is “a mask.” This leads me to believe that the Trinity of Persons is in essence a modalist belief: that one God appears in three different ways. However, trinitarians cannot admit to being modalists either, because of the controversy with the Sabellian modalists and their being labeled as heretics by the dominant group. So really, the Trinity of Persons has a very confused and murky origin. It has more to do with warring factions than it does with any seeking for truth.
However, the effect was to give a material-minded institutional Christianity a way to believe in the Bible despite the fact that they could not understand it in a spiritual way, as was originally intended. So in that way, in addition to being a halfway measure between monotheism and polytheism, it was a stopgap measure to keep institutional Christianity faithful to the Bible even though it had long since descended into a worldly and political focus. Under God’s providence, this stopgap measure was for the sake of the common people, who, for better or for worse, would have to look to Christianity for their spiritual sustenance and support.
So even though the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons is absolutely false, there is a reason under God’s providence that the institutional Christian Church adopted it. Of the mass of heresies that arose especially in the third and fourth centuries, when Christianity became worldly, politicized, and corrupt, it was the least damaging, and was most able to work for the purpose of keeping material-minded people faithful to the Bible and to God in their own way.
In reality, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not persons or masks at all. That is a human way of thinking of things. God is a divine being. Human, material characteristics don’t apply to God. For lack of a better word, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different parts of God. But all of this is explained in the article: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
Let me add this. You have also not actually engaged in the doctrine itself specifically the meaning of person and substance in the doctrine. Persons in trinitarian theology does not mean an individual. It is a technical term and you must go back to its original context to understand.. You cannot quote someone saying it’s not three gods and say it is tantamount to three gods based on a denial not an affirmation. Also claiming pagan influences on Christianity is not the same as saying there are pagan influences on trinitarian theology. Christianity is more than a doctrine. Also the examples you cited of pagan influence are historically untenable. You could make more of a case for Christmas being more pagan influenced but even that is shaky. As for Easter it is categorically not of pagan origins. Easter is from the passover celebration and what Jesus accomplished from the very beginning of Christianity. No professional historian today makes that claim about Easter as pagan. I have a post on Easter on my blog if you want to no more. The influences on these festivals are mostly medieval European folklore in already Christianised cultures. Also Islam did not completely stamp our paganism. Also the comment about what Islam did as necessary I think is irresponsible. If you are aware of Islamic history and the violence and intimidation they used to spread their religion you would never say what they did was a good thing
Yes, of course Islam had violent origins, and parts of it have returned to those violent roots even today. And yet, Christianity also has its own sordid history of violence, oppression, and corruption. So charging Islam with violence while ignoring many centuries of Christian violence is, quite simply, the pot calling the kettle black.
I’ve responded to some of your other points in earlier comments.
Mostly, I’m interested to know: Are you engaging in this conversation because you want to defend the Trinity of Persons, or are you engaging in it because you’re looking for an alternative to trinitarian thinking? Or for some other reason?
No one brought up the issue of violence done in the name of Christ and I reacted to what you said because you said it as if it was a good thing. As for the responses I have had to reiterate because the key issues I don’t think your answers were satisfactory. The reason I am doing this is because I don’t think you have represented the doctrine accurately. Personally I am quite satisfied with my position. I don’t agree with the details of the doctrine of the Trinity. Some aspects I think are fine
Contrary to an earlier statement you made, people very commonly think and act in ways that conflict with their nominal beliefs.
For example, Protestants nominally believe that we are justified or saved by faith alone, but they also commonly believe that if we sin, or fail to do good works, we will be damned to hell. Their theologians have fancy ways of bridging this gap, saying that good works are the fruits of faith (something the Bible never says), and that good works show that our faith is real. But in reality your average Protestant does not really believe that we are saved by faith alone, because in action they believe that if they wish to be saved they must not sin, and they must do good works.
People also commonly misunderstand their own beliefs, or paper over inherent contradictions in their own beliefs.
Trinitarians insist that they are monotheistic. And yet their own creed states that they must see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each as God and Lord, while orally confessing one God due to the restrictions placed upon them by their church. This is an inherent contradiction in the doctrine itself, which is expressed in the very creed that most clearly defines the doctrine.
I’m not saying that Christian trinitarians act like pagan polytheists. But just because one is not culturally pagan, that doesn’t mean one is not a polytheist. Mormonism posits multiple deities, and Mormons do not behave like pagan polytheists either. Catholics commonly invoke Mary and the saints as if they were lesser deities. Do you consider Catholics to be like pagans?
What I’m saying is that the concept and picture in the mind of trintarians is of three distinct beings, each of which they consider to be God. And that picture in the mind of three divine beings is a form of Christian polytheism. Saying that the three Persons of God are “one in essence” doesn’t cover over this polytheism any more than a child recognizing that his or her father and mother always present a united front means that the two of them are one person. Two or three beings acting in common with one another does not make them one being. It makes them three beings working together. And that is precisely the picture of God that your average trinitarian has.
Your average trinitarian has no idea what it means that the three Persons of God are “one in essence.” And I don’t believe even highly trained, seminary educated trinitarians really know what it means. It’s just something they must say in order to avoid being labeled polytheists.
The reality is that even trained trinitarians themselves, in the end, consider the doctrine to be “a mystery.” That’s another way of saying that human beings cannot understand it. In other words, the most highly trained trinitarians themselves admit that they cannot understand their own doctrine.
They justify this by saying that God’s nature is beyond human understanding. And yet, this is an excuse that can be used to justify any irrational, crazy, and insane notion about God. If God is fundamentally unknowable, why stop at three? Why not take every single name for God in the Bible, and call it a distinct “person” of God? Why not take the various emotions, some of them conflicting, that God expresses in the text of the Bible and consider each one of them to be a person, persona, or mask and appearance of God?
It is true that we humans cannot fathom the full reality of God. And yet God has designed the universe, and us human beings, as a reflection of God. In Biblical terms, God created humans, both male and female, in the image and likeness of God. This means that on our own level, we have everything in us that God has in God on God’s level. So if God is “a Trinity of Perons,” then we human beings should also be “a trinity of persons.”
And yet, we are not a trinity of persons. Each one of us is one person with various parts, or aspects, or to use Swedenborg’s term, essentialia, or “essential components” that together constitute the single person that we are.
The Trinity of Persons is not only non-Biblical, but it actually contradicts what the Bible does tell us about the nature of God, in this case as expressed in the nature of the human beings whom God created in God’s image.
The actual trinity in God isn’t hard to understand at all. It is not a mystery. I can easily explain it to a five-year-old. In fact, I’ve explained it to people of all ages, from young children to elders, and none of them has had any trouble understanding it very clearly. It’s easy to understand because each one of us, created in the image and likeness of God, contains the same trinity that God does. So we only have to look at ourselves and how we are made in order to understand the trinity in God. Once again, this is all explained in the article: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
And as I explained in the previously linked article on the biblical basis against the doctrine of the Trinity, since there is a much simpler, more understandable, and more biblically based alternative to the “mystery”—or really, the self-contradiction and irrationality—of the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, there is simply no need whatsoever for the doctrine of the Trinity as it is held to in traditional, institutional Christianity.
I think it’s easy, amidst all these criticisms of the Trinity of persons, to get the mistaken impression that Swedenborg was anti-Trinitarian, but a Trinity of components was something he most certainly believed in, and I’m curious as to what kind of biblical support we have for seeing Swedenborg’s view of the trinity as held among the Biblical authors and earliest Church Fathers. The Bible never uses the term, and never explicitly formulates the doctrine, but all non-Unitarian Christians accept that trinitarian language is certainly used in the New Testament and even foreshadowed in the Old Testament, so do we have reason to believe that these authors and, say, pre-Tertullian fathers viewed this the same way?
I also think kwadwobeng makes an important point when he counters by saying that the development of the Trinity existed independent of the dynamic relationship between Christianity and the declining paganism. Scholarly debate continues as to the Biblical basis behind the doctrine, but nearly all scholars accept that the formalization of the doctrine emerged in response to prevailing theological controversies, and that would seem to contrast with Christianity trying to reach some kind of compromise with paganism by making itself more palatable to their polytheistic sensibilities. They may have been thinking more materialistically, as you say, but compromising with polytheism doesn’t seem to be on their agenda, especially since it’s easy to see how you can lift a doctrine of *persons* from the Trinitarian language in The Bible.
I don’t know enough about the early church fathers to say what they all believed doctrinally about God. But it does appear that Tertullian was the first to formulate anything like what became the Trinity of Persons. His particular formulation was rejected, but the “persons” idea was adopted.
My general sense is that the earliest Christians of the first century or so after Christ didn’t spend a lot of time trying to work out the technicalities of the exact nature of God, Christ, and so on. They were much more focused on Christian life than on Christian doctrine. Once the focus began shifting from life to doctrine, though, the controversies began, and the church began to decline spiritually even as it grew numerically.
I should add that in traditional Christian circles, “the Trinity” and “trinitarian” mean a Trinity of three Persons in God, and believing in that sort of Trinity. If you were to say to traditional Christians, “Swedenborg was not anti-trinitarian, he simply rejected a Trinity of Persons,” that would be a non-sensical statement to them. The most likely response would be something like: “You really don’t understand what the Trinity is, do you?”
On your second point, I’m not saying that Christianity was seeking a compromise with paganism in formulating the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, I’m saying that although Jesus’ original followers were almost all Jewish-born, and therefore naturally monotheistic in their thinking, the great growth of Christianity happened among pagans, so that most of the early Christian theologians came from pagan backgrounds, and lived in pagan lands. They therefore had pagan influence in their thinking, which made it easier for them conceptually to formulate a doctrine that was in essence a Christianized form of polytheism.
Regarding the theology of the earliest Christians (however informal it was), I guess I’m wondering what ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ meant to them. If Swedenborg says this represents a Trinity of components and not persons, then it makes us wonder if that’s indeed how those first Christians viewed it, especially since they accepted Christ as God incarnate.
My understanding is that Swedenborg, while devoting a bit of time to his explanation of the Trinity, nevertheless sees it as a non-essential, secondary doctrine, but if we are made in the image of God, then it seems *very* essential since that same Trinity of components resides within us, and therefore provides a profound insight into our own spiritual nature.
I suspect that the earliest Christians simply didn’t have a very clear idea of what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were, but that it didn’t matter all that much because they were caught up in the joy of salvation and their relationship with the Lord Jesus, and with sharing that good news with others.
Certainly the Gospels give much evidence that Jesus’ own disciples were quite confused about exactly who he was. But it seems that they did gain a growing conviction that he was “God with us.” And it was “doubting Thomas” himself who, after the resurrection, and after his doubts were overcome, addressed Jesus as “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
I suspect the people of that time period simply didn’t have the capability of really understanding the nature of God as being expressed in the Divine Humanity, or Jesus Christ. And that neither the New Testament nor the early church fathers give us any really cogent accounting of it not only because that wasn’t their focus, but because their minds were not sufficiently developed conceptually and philosophically to be able to see and understand it. After all, Jesus said to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).
This was an earlier era. These people were making the transition from the paradigm of ancient Judaism to the paradigm of Christianity. And for the most part, they still had at least one foot back in the old paradigm. It would take many centuries of further intellectual development before people were ready for a fuller understanding of the nature of God. And that, I believe, is why God called Swedenborg to his task at the time God did.
And yes, understanding the exact nature of God, the Trinity, and so on really aren’t essential to salvation. That’s yet another reason why the Bible does not labor to provide a precise explanation of these things. In fact, when Swedenborg articulates the basics required for Christians to be saved, he still uses the “Son of God” language, suggesting that believing simply that Jesus is the Son of God is sufficient for Christians to be saved.
Our numbers of late (non-trinitarian Christians) are growing rapidly. Perhaps a sign that the day is drawing near? Only The Father knows.
“But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more”. – Luke 12:48
I am 62 years old. I read this above scripture, and I think of myself standing outside, and away from mainstream Christendom primarily because of the trinity doctrine, and of course so many of the other doctrines I know are not of biblical truth. I see myself as one who has been given at least a bit of a larger measure of truth, which I now am responsible to uphold at least by not involving myself in all of the acts of worship that are such a primary part of congregating, and worship in the Orthodox Church.
Yet, at the same time I think of many Russian Orthodox people I know, and have known my entire life who are incredibly faithful, and who have lived a Christ centered life around their genuine worship who believe so strongly in the central non-negotiable belief, in the Deity of Christ, the Mother Of God, in their saints who they believe intercede on their part, and the dozens of other various acts of worship. Are they less Christian than I am? Am I more Christian than they are?
Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment and question.
It’s important to understand that there’s Christian doctrine, and there’s Christian life—and that what makes us Christian is not our doctrine but our life. Jesus said:
Jesus did not define his disciples by their beliefs but by whether or not they lived with love toward one another. So my view is that the people who show real, Christian love for others day in and day out are the ones who are most Christian.
It’s not that beliefs and doctrine aren’t important. But they are important only as they lead and guide us to live lives of love, kindness, and service toward our fellow human beings. Wrong doctrine and faulty beliefs can get in the way of that. Good doctrine provides better help and guidance toward a good life. But even people who believe in faulty doctrine, if their heart is in the right place, can be good Christians because they live the way Christ taught us to live.
About correct vs. faulty doctrine and their effects, please see: Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?
About worshiping with people who have faulty doctrines, that, of course, is a personal decision. For some people it is just too difficult to sit through a service where falsehoods are being preached. On the other hand, a good congregation is a gathering of good people—and there is power in gathering together with people whose hearts are in the right place even if their heads may not always be.
I hope these thoughts are helpful to you.
Thank you for your input. It is a fear I have of displeasing our Heavenly Father by going back as it were to the falsehoods, yet I do yearn for “congregating”. At the same time, I think that perhaps where I now am is in the wilderness, and knowing that God is with me, “miserable man that I am” , and that is OK as God was with his people in the wilderness so many centuries ago, and that was OK too.
You’re welcome. As I said, you’ll have to make up your own mind about whether to attend a congregation even if your beliefs are different. For some people it works. For others it doesn’t.
If you do decide to attend a congregation, I would recommend continuing to read and learn and develop your own beliefs so that you don’t lose what you’ve gained. And to think of the church, not as a place to learn doctrine, but as a place to worship God and be in God’s presence together with other people of faith.
And don’t worry too much about displeasing God. God isn’t finicky and narrow-minded. What God wants is for us to continue to grow in love for God and love for our neighbor. All the rest is just bric-a-brac and window dressing.
What does Swedenborg say about this verse from Christ himself?
Jesus is say convert people in the name of the trinity.
Didn’t Christ mostly refer to god as his father, himself as his son, and sending a helper (Holy Spirit).
Is there a book Swedenborg authored about the doctrine of the Trinity?
Yes, Swedenborg wrote a book about the Trinity and most of the rest of his major doctrines: “True Christianity.” The first three chapters are devoted to the Trinity in the one Person of God. For a simplified version, see the link at the end of my next comment.
Here is the full wording of the Great Commission:
First, notice that Jesus says that all power has been given to him. Does this mean that the Father now no longer has any power? That would be the logical conclusion if the Father and the Son were separate people. It would be like a king abdicating his throne and passing it on to his son while retiring himself.
Then, as you say, Jesus says to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And do you know whose name the disciples baptized in?
Now, either the Apostles disobeyed Jesus’ final command to them, or baptizing in the name of Jesus is baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, just as Swedenborg said.
There is one God, in one Person, who is the Lord God Jesus Christ. In that one Person of God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For more on this, please see: “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”
This is the creed my church uses
That’s the Western variation (with the Filioque clause) of the 381 AD version of the Nicene Creed. According to Swedenborg, the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, which produced the first version of the Nicene Creed, was the beginning of the downfall of the Christian Church because that’s where the heresy of the Trinity of Persons began to be established as official church dogma.
the church seems to put such belief in these old creeds and handed down traditions of the church and seem to have forgotten the bible is Gods holy word, Jesus confronted the devil with it is written not church doctrine. a very simple solution to the trinity is it is made up and never existed until the 3rd century. there is God Yahweh, creator of all Genesis 1, there is his son who came into existence with his birth as recorded in the gospels, he had a beginning as a man, he is called the 2nd Adam, who had a beginning. God is spirit John 4:4 and he has given us his gift of holy spirit which is our connection to God how he communicates with us. also it is the incorruptible seed from Peter. So there is no triune God head but God whom we worship and his son whom we honor, who we also call Lord because he is our Lord but he is not our God. To say that a unitarian does not believe in or stand upon the Bible is hypocritical for the trinity cannot be found in Gods word but only inferred by mans mind.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughts. No, as you say the Trinity as invented in the third and fourth centuries, and believed in most of Christianity, is not taught or found in the Bible.
We do have a different view on who the Son of God is, however. In our view, “Son of God” is more metaphorical than literal. Jesus, in our understanding of the Bible, is indeed “God with us,” meaning God come to earth in person. But that’s a big subject! For the basics, please see:
Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
If there is no god the Father, who was the disembodied voice speaking, saying this is my son?
There is God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s just that they are not separate “Persons”—something the Bible never says. Rather, they are different parts or aspects of a single Person of God. However, during Jesus’ lifetime on earth, there was an apparent separation because Jesus still had his finite human side from his human mother Mary. Here are some articles that explain this in more detail:
I hope this helps.
But who was the disembodied voice
Speaking that the people heard?
It was God. God is not limited to our human capabilities, nor is God limited by the time and space of the material universe. God is present everywhere, at all times. God can speak whenever and wherever God wants to speak. God can be in Jesus at the same time as God is speaking from heaven, just as God can be present with you and me at the same time, and with people on the opposite side of the earth at the same time. If God wanted to speak in an audible voice to people in Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, and Australia during the time God was living a life on earth as Jesus Christ, God would be perfectly capable of doing that.
So if I understand the “Trinity” according to Swedenborg correctly, the Father is this incomprehensible essence that transcends time, space, and even the spiritual world, while the Son is a “humanoid” manifestation of the Father in a finite form that people can relate to the Almighty through?
(and the Holy Spirit is the workings of the Almighty?)
In general yes. However, instead of “a ‘humanoid’ manifestation of the Father,” it would be more accurate to say “the human manifestation of the Father.”
Keep in mind that according to Genesis 1:26–27, we are human because God is human, not the other way around. In reality, God is the only fully human being. We are imperfect copies.
This means that when God the Father, or the eternal Divine Being, manifested as a human being, it was not some alien form that God adopted in order to interface with us humanoids. Rather, it was God’s own human form expressed on an outward level.
Initially, there was indeed an admixture of our finite humanity in Jesus due to his having a finite human mother. But by the time of the Resurrection, nothing was left of that finite humanity. It had become fully divine. This is why after the Resurrection it was possible for some of his followers not even to recognize him initially, even though they had been with him constantly for several years during his period of ministry. And yet, he was still fully and recognizably human, even though he was now fully divine.
That is not because we are human and God had to appear in a form familiar to us. Once again, we are human because God is human, and not the other way around.
I just can’t understand how there can be one person in god, when reading the bible, it certainly reads and sounds like there are three persons under one godhead. The orthodox view is called the Monarcy of the father.
Of course, you are welcome to believe whatever you want to believe. But the Bible simply never says that God is three persons under one godhead. It says many times that God is one. It never says that God is three persons. If as the article you linked says, “The belief in the Holy Trinity belongs to the essential basics of Christianity,” then why does the Bible never mention this “essential basic”?
I suppose I could go into this in more detail here, but I’ve already posted many articles about this on the blog, some of which are linked at the end of this one.
In the end, you’ll have to make up your own mind.