Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Doctrine of the Trinity: Fact or Fiction


For nearly 2,000 years the church has taught the doctrine of the Trinity. Astoundingly, nowhere in the Bible can we find the word Trinity, and even the concept of three beings in one heavenly majesty is just as difficult to come by in the Scriptures.

Jay P. Green’s Classic Bible Dictionary says about the word trinity, "This is not itself a Biblical term, but was a term coined by Tertullian to refer to this whole concept under one word" (p. 483). The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature says forthrightly, "Respecting the manner in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit make one G-d, the Scripture teaches nothing, since the subject is of such a nature as not to admit of its being explained to us" ("Trinity," p. 553).

The doctrine of the Trinity is often defined in the following terms: "The holy trinity is one supreme being existing in three persons, all equal in rank and in eternity and having the same substance, all united in one G-dhead." When pressed to explain it from the Bible, clergymen usually respond with something like, "It is a great mystery and no one can really understand it." This leads us to ask, would Yahweh give man a key teaching that could not be understood? How could He teach us a concept that is absent in the Scriptures?

Regardless of these facts, the belief in a co-equal and co-eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is so pervasive and ingrained that few any longer question its origins and legitimacy. It has even become a test belief to determine whether one is of the faith called Christianity.

An exhaustive review of Scripture and history reveals the simple fact that the Trinity teaching was unknown to the early New Testament assembly. That the doctrine of the Trinity is a "revealed doctrine" foreign to the Scriptures is supported by many authorities, including the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Under the article Trinity we read, "The term ‘Trinity’ is not a biblical term…In point of fact, the doctrine of the Trinity is a purely revealed doctrine…As the doctrine of the Trinity is indiscoverable by reason, so it is incapable of proof from reason" (vol. 5, p. 3012).

This authority is not alone in its insight. Another explains that the whole notion of a Trinity emerged from heated disagreement and dispute: "The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies… The council of Nicaea in 325 stated the crucial formula for that doctrine in its confession that the ‘Son is of the same substance…as the Father,’ even though it said very little about the Holy Spirit…By the end of the 4th century…the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Trinity).

Both secular historians and Bible scholars readily admit that the doctrine of the Trinity was not official church teaching until the council of Nicaea in the year 325 of our common era. The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. 14, concedes, "The formulation ‘one G-d in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century… Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective."

What an amazing statement! The early Apostolic Fathers had no concept of a triune relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is also freely admitted that the doctrine was not established until 400 years after the Savior’s resurrection. This fact can only cause us to ask, if this were a key truth known by Yahshua the Messiah and the apostles, why is there no evidence of it in their teachings or writings? And if the doctrine of the Trinity is not of Biblical origin, where did it come from? 

Pagan Trinities Are Many

Surprisingly, the idea of a triune deity is very ancient, and can be traced back to ancient Babylon. "Will anyone after this say that the Roman Catholic Church must still be called Christian, because it holds the doctrine of the Trinity? So did the pagan Babylonians, so did the Egyptians, so do the Hindoos at this hour, in the very sense in which Rome does" (The Two Babylons, by Alexander Hislop).

Hislop’s statements are supported in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, "Although the notion of a divine triad or Trinity is characteristic of the Christian religion, it is by no means peculiar to it. In Indian religion we meet with the trinitarian group of Brahma, Siva, and Visnu; and in Egyptian religion with the trinitarian group of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, constituting a divine family, like the Father, Mother and Son in mediaeval Christian pictures" (Trinity, p. 458).

A question few ever stop to ask is, why is the Trinity a belief held firmly by most of Christendom, while it is completely lacking in the Bible’s teachings? The historian Will Durant offers this startling explanation, "Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it…The Greek language, having reigned for centuries over philosophy, became the vehicle of Christian literature and ritual; The Greek mysteries passed down into the impressive mystery of the Mass. Other pagan cultures contributed to the syncretist result. From Egypt came the ideas of a divine Trinity" (The Story of Civilization, Vol. III).

This blending in of paganism, which was so characteristic of the early church, changed Christianity forever. Like the development of the Trinity, many practices and beliefs of today’s church developed over time, clearly not taught as precepts in the Scriptures.

A Son Unequal to His Father

What does the Bible actually say about the relationship between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit? Does any evidence for the Trinity exist in the New Testament? The answer is a resolute no. The first problem found in the Trinity doctrine is that the New Testament says expressly that the Father is greater than the Son. Yahshua called Yahweh His "Father" for the simple reason that Yahweh was superior to and preceded the Son in existence—as do all fathers.

The doctrine of the Trinity says that the Son is both co-equal to and co-eternal with the Father, while the Scriptures maintain quite the opposite.

Yahshua the Messiah Himself affirmed that he was not co-equal with the Father, but was in submission and subjection to the Father. "You have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If you loved me, you would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I" (John 14:28, emphasis added). One cannot be equal with another if the other is greater.

Yahshua again confirms his submission to his Father in John 10:29, " My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand." In His own words Yahshua confirms that the Father is superior to everyone, including the Son Himself.

The Apostle Paul confirms Yahshua’s subordinate relationship to the Father. "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Messiah; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Messiah is Yahweh" (1Cor. 11:3). See also Mark 13:32, Matthew 20:20-23, John 5:19, and John 10:29.

The Son Is Not Co-Eternal with the Father

These passages pose a problem — but not the only problem — with the Trinity. The definition of the Trinity states that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-eternal. This assertion is another misunderstanding, developed from the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.

John of Patmos wrote the Book of Revelation under the direction of Yahshua the Messiah. Yahshua inspired John to write that Yahshua the Messiah was the first ever creation of the Father. "And unto the angel of the assembly of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of El" (Rev. 3:14).

If Yahshua was created by His Father how then can the Son and Father be co-eternal? Knowing that one existed prior to the other, reason alone would conclude that a co-eternal relationship between the Son and Father is illogical. Proverbs 8:22-25 tells us, "Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth."

Scripture clearly states that only Yahweh, the Heavenly Father, has immortality and is the only one who ever possessed immortality within Himself. "Who only has immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting" (1Tim. 6:16). This statement can only apply to Yahweh, the Father. This is further proof that a co-eternal relationship between the Son and Father cannot be scripturally established.

The Meaning of Elohim

Much confusion over the Trinity has developed from the Hebrew word "elohim." The term elohim is in the oldest Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts and is therefore a legitimate title for the Heavenly Majesty.

There is a total lack of evidence in the Bible to say that the term "elohim" represents the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, however. The word is a collective noun, masculine in gender, denoting more than one mighty one — yet indicating no particular or precise number. One concordance gives the meaning of elohim this way: "Elohim, G-d (plural of majesty; plural in form but singular in meaning, with a focus on great power); g-ds (true grammatical plural); and person characterized by greatness of power, mighty one, great one, judge" (Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance).

Proof for the existence of more than one mighty one in the Heavenly Host can be found at the beginning, in Genesis 1:1. "In the beginning Elohim [mighty ones] created the heaven and the earth." Many suppose that this is evidence for a triune deity. However, the term elohim simply means more than one, like family, school, or board. Each of these words describes a collective relationship, but does not designate a specific number. Although technically plural, it is sometimes used for the Father alone.

Also, the term elohim is not limited in reference to supreme or supernatural beings. Moses was compared to an elohim in Exodus 4:16.

The term "elohim" is even applied to pagan deities. "So Yahweh alone did lead him, and there was no strange elohim with him" (Deut. 32:12). The title "elohim" is used in many different ways, and for that reason it is impossible to conclude a triune relationship in the Heavenly Majesty from this word.

The Power of Yahweh

The doctrine of the Trinity states that the Holy Spirit is a separate being, and part of the "Holy Trinity." The phrase "Holy Spirit" is from the Hebrew ruach ha qodesh. The word spirit is derived from the Hebrew word ruach, which occurs 389 times in the Old Testament. That includes 232 times when it is used for "spirit," 92 times for "wind," and 27 times as "breath" in the King James Version.

Note the definition of the word ruach: "The basic meaning of ruach is both ‘wind’ or ‘breath,’ but neither is understood as essence; rather it is the power encountered in the breath and the wind, whose whence and whither remains mysterious…2. ruach as a designation for the wind is necessarily something found in motion with the power to set other things in motion…The divine designation also apparently has an intensifying function in a few passages: ruach elohim (Gen 1:2) and ruach yhwh (Isa 59:19)" (Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, "Ruach").

This lexicon also states that ruach implies a power that is within the breath and wind, which is connected to the Name YHWH or Yahweh. The Holy Spirit is the power emanating from Yahweh, the Heavenly Father. It is Yahweh’s power that puts all things into motion. It is Yahweh’s power through His ruach ha qodesh that breathes life into His creation and makes living things live.

The Greek word for Spirit is pneuma, which shares a mirror definition with the word ruach. "Pneuma; to breathe, blow, primarily denotes the wind. Breath; the spirit which, like the wind, is invisible, immaterial, and powerful" (The Complete Word Study New Testament, "Pneuma").

It can be further demonstrated through Scriptures that the Holy Spirit is not a separate being, but an inanimate power that proceeds from the Father. In Isaiah 32:15, 44:3, and Acts 2:17 the Holy Spirit is described as being poured. How can a being be poured into another? Titus 3:5-6 and Acts 2:33 testify that the spirit is shed. How can a being shed itself onto another? The Spirit is also described as something that can be stirred up, 2Timothy 1:6; quenched, 1Thes. 5:19, and renewed, 2Cor. 4:16. These attributes are far more fitting for a power than a person.

In addition, there are several key facts that must be acknowledged when discussing the Holy Spirit that show that the Spirit is not a person:

• There is no evidence in Old or New testaments that the Father or Son communicate with the Holy Spirit. Paul never addressed the Holy Spirit in the salutations of any of his letters, as he did the Father and Son.

• There is no instance where anyone prayed to the Holy Spirit.

• Nowhere in the scripture is the Holy Spirit called the "third person." If the Holy Spirit were a separate being, as are the Father and Son, then it should at least have a personal name as do Yahweh the Father and Yahshua the Son! Yet, it remains nameless.

• We know that Yahshua was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20), therefore if the Holy Spirit were a person then Yahshua prayed to the wrong "father" in John 17 and other places.

Alvan Lamson, author of The Church of the First Three Centuries, offers a summation as to the legitimacy of the Holy Spirit in composing part of a Trinity. "…we must look, not to Jewish Scriptures, nor to the teachings of [Yahshua] and his apostles, but to Philo and the Alexandrine Platonists. In consistency with this view, we maintain that the doctrine of the Trinity was of gradual and comparatively late formation; that it had its origin in a source entirely foreign from that of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; that it grew up, and was ingrafted on Christianity, through the Platonizing Fathers…"

Before delving into the next discussion, we must first understand the origin of the New Testament and why certain words were translated as they were, leading some to infer that the Spirit is a sentient, individual being.

Why Pronoun "He" Is Used for Spirit in N.T.

Scholarship typically has believed that the New Testament was originally written in koine or common Greek because the oldest known New Testament manuscripts are all written in Greek. Yet, there are many scholars who are now refuting this idea (see Documents of the Primitive Church, Dr. Charles Torrey; The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Dr. Albert Schweitzer; Complete Jewish Bible, David Stern; Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 96, Dr. George Howard).

One reason scholars question a Greek New Testament original is because of the New Testament’s grammar. Linguistic authorities admit that the New Testament has poor Greek grammar but excellent Hebrew grammar. This is even more the case for the four Evangels and the Book of Revelation. A growing number of scholars are convinced that the Evangels, along with Revelation, were all originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, a close dialect to Hebrew.

There are also other indications that most, if not all, of the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Consider some key facts: the twelve apostles whom Yahshua appointed were common men. Some were fishermen, others tax collectors, but none were considered scholars.

It is documented from the well-known Hebrew historian Josephus that the Greek language was largely foreign to the Hebrew people in and around Galilee where Yahshua spent His life and ministered. This first-century priest said of himself, "I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness" (Antiquities, Book XX, Chapter XI).

Josephus was one of the most educated Hebrews of his time, yet he was mostly unfamiliar with the Greek language. Now if a learned man like Josephus hardly knew the Greek language, how could the uneducated apostles know the Greek tongue, and even know it well enough to write fluently on many difficult subjects? These were not Greeks but Hebrews from rural Israel, therefore they spoke their native tongue, Hebrew or Aramaic. If they spoke Hebrew or Aramaic then they obviously wrote their New Testament books and letters in that language as well.

Why is this fact important?

The Hebrew and Aramaic languages have no "it" or neuter gender; therefore all nouns are either masculine or feminine. If the four evangels were originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic that would explain why in the New Testament the Holy Spirit is referred to by the masculine "he" and "him" and not "it" (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Paul, a Hebrew, also would have written in Hebrew to the Hebrew-speaking Jewish converts in far-flung places like Rome and Galatia and his letters would reflect the same use of the masculine pronoun.

Two Problematic ‘Trinitarian’ Passages

There are two New Testament passages popularly used to support the doctrine of the Trinity. The first is Matthew 28:19: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (KJV).

The Jerusalem Bible questions whether the formula given for baptism here is inspired or liturgical (added later by the church). The Hebrew version of Matthew omits the verse entirely. And although the passage is found in the three earliest known Greek New Testament manuscripts, without any original New Testament manuscripts in existence we have no evidence to substantiate that the present form of Matthew 28:19 is accurate.

One reason Biblical scholars question the originality of this passage is that it conflicts with the other formulas given for baptism in the New Testament. In all other instances baptism is done into the singular name of Yahshua (see Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16; Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27). The Companion Bible makes special note of this: "To some, perplexity, and even distress, is caused by the apparent neglect of the disciples to carry out the [Master’s] command in Matthew 28:19, 20, with regard to the formula for baptism. …Turning to Acts and onwards, they find no single instance of, or reference to, baptism in which the Triune name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is employed. On the contrary, from the very first, only ten days after the injunction had been given, Peter is found (Acts 2:38) commanding all his hearers including those of the dispersion to be baptized in the name of [Yahshua the Messiah]" (p. 206, Appendix 185).

A second reason why biblical scholars are skeptical of Matthew 28:19 is because of conflicting historical documents. Eusebius of Caesarea is known as one of the greatest Greek teachers and historians of the early church. He lived approximately between the years of 270 CE and 340 CE. In citing Matthew, Eusebius omitted the Trinitarian formula found in Matthew 28:19. "The facts are, in summary, that Eusebius quotes Matthew 28:19, 21 times, either omitting everything between ‘nations’ and ‘teaching,’ or in the form ‘make disciples of all nations in my name,’ the latter form being the more frequent" (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics).

The Jewish New Testament Commentary says, "Although nearly all ancient manuscripts have the trinitarian formula, Eusebius, the Church historian, who may have been a non-trinitarian, in his writings preceding the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E., quotes the verse without it. Most scholars believe the formula is original, but papers by Hans Kosmala (‘The Conclusion of Matthew,’ Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute, 4 (1965), (pp. 132-147) and David Flusser (‘The Conclusion of Matthew in a New Jewish Christian Source,’ ibid., 5 (1966-7), pp. 110-119) take the opposite view" (note on Matt. 28:19, p. 86).

Obviously, Eusebius did not recognize the current form of Matthew 28:19. Instead of quoting the phrase, "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," he most often used the phrase, "in my name," which would agree with all other accounts of baptism in the New Testament.

The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, p. 380, further reveals that Justin Martyr, another church father, was also possibly ignorant of the present form of Matthew 28:19. "Justin Martyr quotes a saying of Chr-st as a proof of the necessity of regeneration, but falls back upon the use of Isaiah and apostolic tradition to justify the practice of baptism and the use of the triune formula. This certainly suggests that Justin did not know the traditional text of Matthew 28:19."

The second passage in question is 1John 5:7. "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one." Most biblical scholars will admit that 1John 5:7 was a later addition to the New Testament. In other words, this passage is not found in the oldest Greek New Testament manuscripts.

Note the following on 1John 5:7: "During the controversy of the 4th cent. over the doctrine of the Trinity the text was expanded - first in Spain ca. 380, and then taken in the Vulg. - by the insertion: ‘There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one.’ A few late Greek manuscripts contain the addition. Hence it is passed into the KJV. But all modern critical editions and translations of the NT, including RSV, omit the interpolation, as it has no warrant in the best and most ancient manuscripts or in the early church fathers" (The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, note on 1John 5:4-12).

The Jerusalem Bible note on 1John 5:7-8 says, "Vulgate vv. 7-8 read as follows "There are three witnesses in heaven: the Father the Word and the Spirit, and these three are one; there are three witnesses on earth: the Spirit the water and the blood’. The words in italics (not in any of the early Greek MSS, or any of the early translations, or in the best MSS of the Vulgate itself) are probably a gloss that has crept into the text."

There should be no question regarding the faulty rendering of 1John 5:7-8. Historically, along with modern scholarship, it is freely admitted that this passage is a later addition to the original New Testament manuscripts. This passage, along with Matthew 28:19, cannot be used to establish the doctrine of the Trinity.


From both the inspired Word of Yahweh and Biblical scholarship, the error of the Trinity is exposed. It is freely admitted through historical and present scholarship that the Trinity was not established during the time of the Apostles, but took an additional three hundred years to become firmly established in the church. This occurred at a time when the church was assimilating many people of pagan beliefs, most of whom held to a Trinity teaching in their heathen background. Like so many beliefs practiced by mankind, the Trinity was developed through syncretized theology, and not by the inspired Word.

Yahweh’s Word admonishes us to prove all things (1Thess. 5:21, Acts 17:11). It is the responsibility of each to work out his or her own salvation (Phil. 2:12). It is critical that we study our beliefs and understand whether they are inspired of Yahweh or are man-made ideas developed through tradition.

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Elyssa Durant, Ed.M.
Nashville, Tennessee

"You may not care how much I know, but you don't know how much I care."

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