Does the Doctrine of the Trinity Correctly Define the Godhead? by Clifford Readout, Jr.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a theological construct of relatively early Roman Christianity (c. 220-325 A.D.), based on Philo's philosophical definitions of the Logos (Word) in the prologue of the Gospel of John. The doctrine has evolved through the centuries to be refined and recorded in the written doctrinal statements of the various denominations into a definition of the Godhead which states that God has eternally existed as three separate and distinct Persons, who are, always were, and always will be, co-equal, co-eternal, co-powerful, and co-present. These three Persons are called "God the Father," and "God the Son," and "God the Holy Spirit." God the Father is neither God the Son or God the Holy Spirit; God the Son is neither God the Father or God the Holy Spirit; and God the Holy Spirit is neither God the Father or God the Son, but all Three mystically share the same "substance." It further states that "God the Son" was sent by "God the Father" to be the sacrifice to atone for human sins. It resolves the Scriptural conflicts created by the doctrine by including some statement to the effect that the doctrine is not explainable by human reason, cannot be comprehended by human reason, but is not contrary to human reason, rather, it is a "divine mystery" which must be accepted by "faith."

The Doctrine of the Trinity is very close in idea to various pagan theologies dating back to ancient Babylonian idolatry, but finds its entry into Christianity through adoption of ideas contained in Greek philosophy. (Philo, mentioned above, and others, notably Tertullian.) The earliest record of Trinitarian terminology is found in the writings of Tertullian (c. 220 A.D.), who also wrote, in his "Against Praxeas," that the majority of Christians rejected his ideas as idolatry, holding instead to "the Monarchy," i.e. the doctrine that there is only One Person who is God, that He is a Spirit, and that He became flesh to be the Saviour. The doctrine of the Trinity was codified by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. to satisfy the demand of Emperor Constantine to reconcile the teachings of Arius and his followers, who denied the Deity of Christ, with the rest of Christianity which held firmly to the exclusive Deity of Jesus Christ. The resulting compromise satisfied neither camp, but became the single issue which determined "orthodoxy" under the rule of Rome.

It is not simple to determine the understanding of "early Trinitarians." First, it is difficult to determine just when there were "early Trinitarians." We can determine when "modern" Trinitarianism came into being, but the designation "early" makes it subject to varying interpretations. (This problem is explained in more detail in problem three, following). Second, it is difficult to determine what anyone in the past understood about anything! We can only look closely at the words they employed to write their doctrines, and try to determine what those words must have meant to them. We can do this linguistic work with the help of the scholars. But that brings us to the third problem: It is in the nature of believers to be anachronistic in their historical research, that is, people tend to read back into history their present day understanding, and attribute it to those they are looking back at, and interpreting their words accordingly. (This simply demonstrates that the Bondage of Belief is the strongest bondage known to men. It is possible to believe a lie, but you cannot know a lie. Only truth can be known. And it is only by knowing the truth that we can be freed from the Bondage of Belief.) So, a Trinitarian will see in the historical accounts evidence of his own belief, and so will the Oneness believer. Intellectual honesty is more rare among theologians than it should be! However, it is not impossible to be intellectually honest, and to avoid anachronistic errors. Fourth, there is the problem of the nature of historical evidence. All histories either have developed, or will develop, through a three-fold process:
  1. they begin as the biased account of the winner of a conflict;
  2. they undergo revisionist alterations when that winner no longer dominates the process;
  3. finally historians far removed from the time and events sort through the tainted records trying to determine what really happened.
Since history is generally written by the "winners," they often do not preserve any original records of the thinking of the "losers," except as "adversarial testimony." In other words, all we know about many of the theologies now considered to be heretical comes from the negative comments written about them by those whose doctrine came to dominate as orthodoxy. That makes it difficult to determine what the heretics really believed. Nevertheless, adversarial testimony can sometimes do more to discredit the orthodoxy than it does the heresy. Again, intellectual honesty is required to come to any sound conclusions. Only the intellectually honest theological historian can render an honest judgment about another's conclusions, but he will be roundly condemned if his judgment does not confirm the beliefs of the others!

Tertullian (c. 180-220 AD) wrote that most believers rejected his concept of a "trinity" because they believed that there was no division in the Godhead, nor any plurality of persons. This would indicate that his own concept is very close to that held by most official Trinitarian doctrine today. It is, however, very important to note that Tertullian's ideas were rejected as being idolatrous by the large majority of Christians of his day. His "heresy" was not official doctrine until the codification of certain terminology at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, followed by "refinements" and additions in later councils, particularly Chalcedon in 451 AD. But, it can be argued, with significant support from the historical records, that not even the bishops who formulated the doctrine at Nicea would have considered Tertullian's concept orthodox. There was discussion and disagreement about terminology among them, but they were faced with an impossible task, i.e. to reconcile the Arian doctrine with that of the rest of Christianity. Their intent was to officially establish the Deity of Christ as orthodoxy, while answering the arguments of Arius against Christ being God.

One of the primary words chosen by the council was the Latin word "persono," the word translated into the English, "person." However, the Latin word persono was a theatrical term, meaning "mask," and derived from the verb meaning "to speak through." Roman drama was performed by one actor, regardless of how many characters were in the story. The one actor would play all the parts. He would signify which part he was playing by holding up a "persono," or mask which represented that particular character, and "speaking through" that mask the character's lines. Then he would hold up the persono of the next character, and speak through it the next character's lines. And so on. This makes it apparent that the word "person" was not intended to mean "individual center of consciousness" as it is commonly understood today. Thus, it appears that Tertullian's concept of a plurality of individuals in the Godhead was not the intent of the language drafted at Nicea. It wasn't until later councils incorporated other philosophical concepts, such as Philo's "logos" musings, that "persono" was morphed into meaning "individual" in the manner of modern Trinitarian doctrine.

Many Trinitarian historians have acknowledged this. There are other words in the original Nicean Creed which opened a door to theological difficulties. And the various camps of bishops there had several points of contention about such terms. It happens that those of the bishops who would now be considered to have been Modalistic Monarchians (very close to modern Oneness theology), and who were the largest minority among the bishops at Nicea, left without consenting to the creed because of the possible misunderstandings allowed by some of the terminology.

All this indicates that "early Trinitarians" (assuming agreement with the modern definition) were originally a small and unorthodox (heretical) minority until after the Council of Nicea in 325 AD adopted the terminology which would give rise to definitions accepted today. But, if we are to label all who could accept the original meaning of "persono" as "early Trinitarians," then it is manifest that their doctrine has little in common with modern Trinitarianism. They were much closer to the Oneness view than to the Trinitarian. This is made even more manifest when one discovers that the original Nicean deliberations almost totally excluded mention of the Holy Spirit. The "Third Person" was written into the "Nicean Creed" by later councils.

The doctrine of the Trinity has been changed several times through the centuries since it was first codified by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Because of its mystical and contradictory terminology it has been given various definitions by various groups based on subjective objections raised by their leadership.

The doctrine of the Trinity was never a part of the thinking of any of the OT writers, at least as far as can be determined from the many documents recording their words. No significant tenet of the doctrine exists in their prophecies. Rather they are adamant in their insistence on the exclusive, indivisible, and absolute deity of Yahweh.

The NT writers promoted the idea that God is One, a Spirit, and He became flesh by means of the incarnation and virgin birth. Historians of both the Church and Christian doctrine acknowledge this fact. To the NT writers, Jesus Christ is the Almighty God manifest in flesh, not one of three persons in the Godhead.

Proponents of the doctrine of the Trinity, forced by the historical record to acknowledge these facts, strive to circumvent them through theological innovations, most drawn from philosophical musings:
  1. The "primitive church" (led by the Apostles, whose understanding the Lord had opened, and who were to teach everyone else...see Luke 24:45, Matthew 28:20, etc.) was ignorant of the truth, God having chosen to reveal it progressively to succeeding generations. Today, they say, we understand the most important doctrines far better than they did.
  2. The doctrine of the Trinity exists as a divine mystery, which can neither be understood or explained by rationality, and must be accepted by "faith." It is something which can only be believed, but not known.
  3. The contradictions contained within the terminology of the doctrine of the Trinity are necessary to avoid certain heresies condemned throughout Christina history. The doctrine offers no explanation of how the contradictions actually are not contradictory other than that they are part of the "divine mystery." 
My conclusion is that the doctrine of the Trinity was not part of the understanding of the Apostles, and when its terminology was first formulated, it was not intended to convey the concepts of Tertullian, which are the foundation of the "official" doctrine of the Trinity. I do not think there is any significant difference between Trinitarian doctrines then and now, but I also do not believe that the theologians of those days should be considered Trinitarians, either.

Interestingly enough, the adoption of the Doctrine of the Trinity marks an tremendous change in Christian history. Prior to 325 A.D. Christians were persecuted by pagans, and others who rejected the exclusive Deity of Jesus Christ as God manifest in flesh. Within fifty years of the adoption of the doctrine of the Trinity, Trinitarian Christians were persecuting anyone who would not accept the doctrine of the Trinity. It seems to me like something went wrong.

I think there are better, and more scriptural ways to define the Godhead than the doctrine of the Trinity. The following statements express a more scriptural confession of the doctrine of the Person, Identity, and Name of God:
  1. God is One. Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; et al.
  2. God is a Spirit. John 4:24; Ephesians 4:4; et al.
  3. God (who is a Spirit) became a Man. Exodus 15:2; Isaiah 12:2; Psalm 118:14 - 21; John 1:1, 14; 2 Corinthians 3:17; et al.
  4. The Man God became is identified by the Name “Jesus,” with various other titles added: “The Lord Jesus,” “Jesus Christ,” “The Lord Jesus Christ,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” etc. Luke 1:31; Matthew 1:21; Acts 8:16; 10:36; 11:17; 22:8; et al.
  5. The Man God became was fully God in the Absolute sense through “the mystery of godliness,” which is the Incarnation. Thus, the Man God became is “God with us,” “the Mighty God,” “the Everlasting Father,” and “the Almighty.” 1 Timothy 3:16; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6; Revelation 1:8; etc.
  6. The Man God became was also fully Human in the Ultimate sense through the seed of the virgin woman of the lineage of Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David, yet totally without any sin nature because He was also God Incarnate. Genesis 3:15; Genesis 49:10; 1 Kings 8:26 - 27; Acts 2:30; Romans 9:5; Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 4:15; etc.
  7. As a Man, He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man; learned obedience, suffered, died by crucifixion, was buried and rose again the third day. Luke 2:52; Hebrews 5:8 - 9; 1 Corinthians 15:1 - 4; et al.
  8. As a Man, the scriptures use the following titles to designate His Deity (Godhead) and Humanity:
    1. “The Son of God,” 1 John 4:15; 1 John 5:20; et al.
    2. “The Son of Man,” Matthew 12:8; John 5:27; et al. 
The One True and Almighty God became a Man called The Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is both the One and Only Lord God Almighty and the Human Messiah, called “the Son,” who gave His life to redeem us. Elohim (God) hath made that same Yeshua’ (Jesus) whom ye crucified both Yahweh (Lord) and Messiah (Christ). The Lord Jesus Christ is not part God and part Man. He is not part of God. He is fully, completely, and exclusively God in the Absolute sense, and also fully, completely, and absolutely Human in the Ultimate sense. In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. He is not a “second person” in the Godhead. There is no other God or “Divine Person” than He. Beside Him there is no Saviour. Acts 2:36; Colossians 2:8 - 10; et al.

It is fully as serious an error to detract from or deny His Perfect and Ultimate Humanity as it is to lessen or dilute His Absolute and Exclusive Deity. He is both fully Human and fully God. This is one factor of His Uniqueness and Incomparability. There is none like Him!

© 2000 Clifford H. Readout, Jr.

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1 comment:

Silas Z said...

God is A spirit

Joh 4:21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father.
Joh 4:22 Ye worship that which ye know not: we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews.
Joh 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers.
Joh 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Reminder of definitions

Greek word of spirit:


From G4154; a current of air, that is, breath (blast) or a breeze;...

Hebrew word for spirit:


From H7306; wind; by resemblance breath, that is, a sensible (or even violent) exhalation; figuratively life

(Luke 24:39 ESV) See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

[Jesus gives a demo of a resurrected body]

Question: Is Jesus teaching "God the Holy spirit and there is a binity"
Suggested Answers: Having explored 100s of versus from Genesis to Luke the obvious answer is No. Jesus is talking of worship and it is a commonly held view that God lives inside a temple or church building and worshippers pay a visit to God when these visit these places. Therefore the location becomes important and the sanctify of the place becomes significant. Jesus is teaching the woman the place of worship will no longer be important but that we would worship in truth and spirit or mind. We should connect to God via mind i.e. our spirit and not flesh and physical building because the being of God is a spirit [i.e. not flesh and bones].

There is no reference in the Old and New covenant writings that people ever prayed 'TO' the holy spirit. They prayed to God IN the spirit. The prophets of of Old did not have confusion of God and his working through the spirit. As a man's spirit is subject to a man so is God's spirit subject to him.

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)