Saturday, August 29, 2015

Defending the Trinity

Answering Common Objections
to the Doctrine of the Trinity

Author: Ben Rast
Source: Contender Ministries - August 23, 2005

Though the doctrine of the Trinity is quite biblical, many Christians find themselves unable to adequately answer the attacks on this doctrine by other monotheistic religions such as Islam and Judaism, as well as polytheistic and henotheistic religions such as Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (henotheism is the belief in multiple gods, but the worship of only one).  Few Christian doctrines are attacked so viciously as the doctrine of the Trinity.  This aspect of the nature of God is awe-inspiring and wonderful.  As Christians, we should be prepared to explain it to unbelievers and to defend it against attacks.  As you will see, most arguments against the Trinity are weak and unable to stand up to biblical scrutiny or an appeal to logic.  If you witness to a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, or a Muslim, some of these arguments are likely to come up, and it’s vitally important that you are able to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15), demolish these arguments (2 Corinthians 10:5), and contend for the faith (Jude 3,4).

I have covered the biblical supports for the triune nature of God in a previous article, “A Comprehensive Biblical Defense of the Trinity.”  If you have not read that article, I encourage you to do so before moving on to this one.  In it, I provide biblical proof for the following points:
1.      There is only one God
2.      The Father is God
3.     Jesus is God
4.     The Holy Spirit is God
5.      The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons.

Before addressing the most common objections, it’s important to make sure that we are starting with an accurate definition of the Trinity.  Many who oppose the Trinity do so with a faulty understanding of the definition.  Simply put, the doctrine of the Trinity states that there is one true God, and within that God there are three co-equal and co-eternal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each Person of the Trinity is distinct from the other, but all three comprise one God.  Various heresies arise when this definition is distorted, and I covered some of them in the previous article.  Now that we start from a common definition, let’s turn ourselves to some common objections.

1.  The word “Trinity” isn’t found anywhere in the Bible!

True enough, the word “Trinity” isn’t found in the Bible.  A similar argument is used by theological modernists who assert that the term “homosexual” is a modern word that didn’t exist at the time the Bible was written, therefore the Bible can’t condemn homosexuality.  I think most people will agree that the Bible STILL condemns homosexuality, even thought this particular English word wasn’t used in the Greek or Hebrew texts.  Interestingly, the word “pornography” is similarly absent from Scripture, but we are still able to view the biblical teachings on sexual morality, coupled with Jesus’ teaching that a man who looks at a woman with lust commits adultery with her in his heart to recognize that pornography is sinful.  The word “theocracy” is not found in the Bible, but the concept can be found there.  The absence of a word does not preclude its teaching in Scripture.

Critics also argue that no single verse of Scripture clearly teaches the doctrine of the Trinity.  While many single verses provide excellent evidence for the triune nature of God (see the previous article), it is true that this doctrine is not capsulated in a single verse or passage of Scripture.  The Bible is not titled, “Christian Doctrine for Dummies.”  It is sometimes necessary to look at the teachings of Scripture as a whole.  When we allow ourselves to do that, we can see that the Trinity is quite Scriptural.

2.  The Trinity doctrine is confusing, and God is not the author of confusion.

1 Corinthians 14:33 in the NIV states in part, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”  In the spurious New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the verse similarly states, “For God is [a God], not of disorder, but of peace.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons will frequently cite this verse when arguing against the Trinity.  After all, the concept of a triune God can be confusing.  They argue that such a confusing doctrine must come from Satan, since God is not a God of confusion or disorder.  Yet such an argument is illogical.  That humans cannot fully understand the nature of God simply means that we are finite created beings who do not possess the mind of God.  The Bible is clear that such confusions are to be expected:

-   “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’– Isaiah 55:8-9

-   “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!– Romans 11:33

-   “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

Many aspects of God’s nature are hard, if not impossible, for the human mind to comprehend.  For example, infinite concepts give me a headache.  If I try to comprehend the concept of an infinite sum, I get a headache.  If I try to really comprehend the eternal nature of God (without a beginning or an end), I get a headache.  My finite human mind simply cannot comprehend eternity beyond the vague concept.  I’m not alone in this either.  While Jehovah’s Witnesses will use the confusion argument against the Trinity, they contradict themselves in other areas.  In the Watchtower publication Reasoning from the Scriptures, they acknowledge this confusion after citing Psalm 90:2, referencing God’s eternal nature: “Is that reasonable? Our minds cannot fully comprehend it.  But that is not a sound reason for rejecting it.” [1]

As is so often the case in arguments by cultists and heretics, they have divorced 1 Corinthians 14:33 from its context to use it in the fashion they desire.  It is vital that we read Scripture in context to gain a proper understanding of it.  Let’s put this verse back in its appropriate context, including verses 26-33, 39-40:
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.  Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.  The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace….Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”
When placed in context, we can see that this passage is talking about how our worship should be orderly.  Paul is trying to put the gifts of tongues and prophecy into their proper usage and eliminate the confusion that can result in a service when these gifts are used improperly.  Just as there is no discord within God, so there should be no discord or confusion in our worship of God.  Putting Scripture in context allows us to read it the way the authors (and the Ultimate Author) intended us to do so.

3.  The Trinity is a pagan concept adopted by Christianity.

This is one of the most common arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity.  I’ve heard it expressed often by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Usually, the person using this argument has no evidence to back up this assertion, but on rare occasions they do.  Unfortunately, it is equally rare that a Christian is prepared to “demolish” this argument.  It can be done easily by an appeal to facts and logic.

The argument typically is expressed that certain pagan cultures, such as the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians, developed a Trinitarian belief in places far removed from the birthplace of Christianity and predating it by thousands of years.  Therefore, it’s logical to conclude that these pagan doctrines were introduced into Christianity hundreds of years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  However, this isn’t exactly true.

The Babylonians and Assyrians did NOT develop a Trinitarian theological dogma.  Rather, they believed in triads of gods who headed up a council of other gods.  In other words, whereas the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that ONE GOD is comprised of three co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Babylonians and Assyrians believed that three separate gods formed a leadership over other gods.  In this, their beliefs more closely resemble the polytheistic/henotheistic beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.  Mormon doctrine holds that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate gods in leadership over this world.  Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jehovah God created Jesus – a lesser god, and that the Holy Spirit is simply Jehovah’s active force in this world.  These beliefs are closer to the ancient pagan beliefs than is the Trinity doctrine, which is strictly monotheistic.  Moreover, the separation of early Christian development from these pagan beliefs with respect to time and geography make it highly unlikely that the pagan beliefs played any role in the Church’s clarification of the Trinity doctrine as found in the Athanasian Creed.  This creed reads, in part, “This is what the catholic faith teaches: we worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity.  Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance.  For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit.  But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty.  What the Father is, the Son is, and the Holy Spirit is.  The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated.  The Father is boundless, the Son is boundless, and the Holy Spirit is boundless. The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal.  Nevertheless, there are not three eternal beings, but one eternal being.  So there are not three uncreated beings, nor three boundless beings, but one uncreated being and one boundless being.  Likewise, the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, the Holy Spirit is omnipotent.  Yet there are not three omnipotent beings, but one omnipotent being.  Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  However, there are not three gods, but one God.”  It should be noted that “catholic” in the early centuries was used to describe universal and orthodox Christianity long before the Roman Catholic Church existed as such.  The creed continues in this manner.  Athanasius did not fabricate this.  Rather, he summarized the teaching of Scripture. 

Association based on similarities is faulty logic.  Pagans (and indeed practically all ancient cultures on earth) have a legend concerning a global flood.  Does this negate the truthfulness of the global flood described in Genesis?  Does this mean the Genesis account was “borrowed”?  Of course not.  The ubiquity of the flood story actually buttresses its truthfulness, even though other cultures don’t have all the details correct.  Furthermore, some pagan cultures have a “messiah” legend that has similarities to the gospel.  However, there are also differences in these stories.  We can take joy in the fact that these legends haven’t the accuracy of the Bible as verified historically and archaeologically.  Similarities don’t impart guilt.  Therefore, similar pagan doctrines in triads of gods are not the same as the Trinitarian doctrine of Christianity, and it is baseless to assume that the Trinity was “borrowed” from paganism.  It’s simply not true.

4.  Jesus calls the Father, “the only true God,” therefore Jesus cannot be God.

This is an interesting argument often raised by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  This argument, as we will see, is self-defeating for them.  This argument refers to Jesus’ words to the Father in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  Critics argue that the Father cannot be the “only true God” if Jesus and the Holy Spirit can also claim to be God.  The thinking is illogical.  First, Jesus’ words do not exclude the Son and Holy Spirit from also being the only true God.  They DO exclude Jesus and the Holy Spirit from being separate gods.  In other words, if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus cannot also be a true God and the Holy Spirit cannot also be a true God (distinguishing them as separate gods rather than simply separate persons).  If we understand the true nature of the Trinity, we can acknowledge that the Son and Holy Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal persons that comprise the one true God, and John 17:3 does not counter that.  However, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons believe that Jesus is a separate god, and Mormons believe that the Holy Spirit is yet another god.  In the Mormon New World Translation, John 1:1 states, “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” (emphasis added).  Mormonism’s founding prophet taught, “In the beginning, the head of the gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it.”[2] Now if a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness wants to claim that this verse teaches that the Father alone is the only true God, then Jesus and the Holy Spirit must be false gods.  If that is true, the teachings of the LDS prophets and the New World Translation must be wrong. 

5.  Jesus prayed to God in the garden, so Jesus can’t be God.

This statement has needlessly stumped some Christians, though not for long.  It is a misleading generality to say, “Jesus prayed to God.”  To be more precise, we should say that Jesus (The Son) prayed to The Father in the garden.  While it is true that there is only one God, it is equally true that God exists as three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  During His earthly ministry and being subject to a mortal body, Jesus willingly endured the limitations of man.  As such, it should come as no surprise that He communicated with The Father through prayer!  This does nothing to diminish the deity of Jesus Christ or to contradict the monotheistic nature of God. 

6.  The Bible says that God is ONE!

This argument, which attempts to disprove the triune nature of God based on unity, is based largely on two verses:

-"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." – Deuteronomy 6:4   -"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one’.”Mark 12:29

Deuteronomy 6:4 in the New World Translation says, “Listen, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.”  We’ve gone into detail in other articles about the fact that “Jehovah” is not a word that appears in the Bible, but is rather a modification of Yahweh.  One way to read the last phrase with some of the Hebrew intact is “Yahweh (Jehovah) our elohim is one Yahweh (Jehovah).  The Hebrew words themselves are “Yahweh elohim echad Yahweh.” The NIV footnote for this verse lists a few possible ways to translate this verse based on its grammatical construct.  Echad means “one” or “only”.  Because of the construct, this verse could be translated as it is above, or as “The LORD our God is one LORD,” “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one,” or “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.”  I think the best of these translations can be assessed by observing the context of the passage.  In Deuteronomy 5, Moses had just presented the Israelites with the Ten Commandments.  One sin that marked these people was their habit of turning to idolatry (golden calf ring a bell?).  As we read down in chapter 6, we see that this is still the focus and concern at this point.  In verses 14-16 we read, “Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.”  This is a very clear exhortation for the Israelites to abandon their worship of multiple “gods.”  Therefore, the most reasonable way of interpreting Deuteronomy 6:4 is “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.”  This establishes that only Yahweh is the true God.  All other “gods” are false and must be rejected.  Deuteronomy 6:4 does not exclude God from being triune in nature.  Mark 12:29 is simply a recitation of Deuteronomy 6:4 with the intent of that verse intact – we have one and ONLY one God!

Yahweh is our elohim, Yahweh alone.  In my previous article on the Trinity, I established Scripturally that not only is the Father Yahweh, but Jesus is also Yahweh.  Similarly, the deity of the Holy Spirit reveals He is also Yahweh.  In this article and the previous one, I have addressed some of the most common objections to the doctrine of the Trinity.  The teaching of the Word of God is clear.  There is one God.  God exists in three co-equal and co-eternal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Each of these three are rightfully called God, yet each is distinct from the other.  The absence of one convenient summary of this truth in Scripture does not negate its truthfulness, nor does it mean this truth is not found in Scripture.  God has revealed this wonderful truth to us through His Word.  The question is, are we listening?


1. Reasoning from the Scriptures (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989), p. 148.
2. Joseph Smith, Jr., The King Follett Discourse (Salt Lake City: Joseph Lyon & Associates, 1963), p. 9.

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