Does Christianity Require Belief in a Trinity?
ALL major religions of Christendom accept the Trinity doctrine as an article of faith. The more than 250 churches belonging to the World Council of Churches confess “the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
While the views of the various religious bodies belonging to this fellowship vary radically, all are required to be in agreement that the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” are but “one God.” Hence, rejection of the Trinity doctrine is, in effect, regarded as a rejection of Christianity.
Though not belonging to the World Council of Churches, the Roman Catholic Church likewise adheres to belief in the Trinity. Of this teaching, Catholic theologian Walter Farrell noted:
“The mystery of the Trinity, as God has told it to us, is the mystery of three divine persons, really distinct, in one and the same divine nature: coequal, coeternal, consubstantial, one God. Of these persons, the Second proceeds from the First by an eternal generation; the Third proceeds from the First and the Second by an eternal spiration. . . .
“The Trinity is a mystery; no doubt about it. Unless we had been told of its existence, we would never have suspected such a thing. Moreover, now that we know that there is a Trinity, we cannot understand it. The man who attempts to unravel the mystery is in the position of a near-sighted man straining his eyes from the Eastern Shore of Maryland for a glimpse of Spain.”
The words of this theologian imply that it is impossible to know the God whom one worships. But that is not in agreement with Jesus’ words to a Samaritan woman: “You worship what you do not know; we [Jews] worship what we know.” (John 4:22) Though the Jews never viewed God as a trinity, Jesus Christ could still say that they knew what they were worshiping. Those accepting the Trinity doctrine, however, cannot explain or understand whom they are venerating. God is a great mystery to them. Does this not suggest that something is amiss in trying to speak of God in terms of a mysterious Trinity?
The previously quoted Catholic theologian indicated that it would be impossible to have come up with the idea of the Trinity apart from divine revelation. If that were so, why do even non-Christian religions teach a trinity concept? On the basis of his studies, Professor E. Washburn Hopkins said of the trinities of Hinduism, Buddhism and Christendom: “The three trinities as religious expressions are identical. . . . One may say: I believe in God as godhead, and in the divine incarnation, and in the creative Holy Spirit, as a Christian, a Vishnuite, or a Buddhist.”
Noteworthy, too, is the fact that the trinity of Chinese Buddhism is defined in a way that is practically identical to what professed Christians say. We read:
“The Three are all included in one substantial essence. The three are the same as one; not one, and yet not different; without parts or composition. When regarded as one, the three persons are spoken of as the Perfect One (Tathagata). There is no real difference [between the three persons of the trinity]; they are manifestations, different aspects of the same unchanging substance.”—Origin and Evolution of Religion, p. 348.
Surely no one would claim that such belief in a trinity makes a Buddhist or a Hindu a Christian. The fact that non-Christian religions can frame their belief in terms similar to the language of Christendom’s theologians nullifies the claim that only the God of the Bible could have revealed this doctrine. No Buddhist nor Hindu would admit that this is the source of his belief. Well, then, did Christendom’s churches get the basis for their doctrine from the God identified in the Bible?
The word “trinity” does not appear in the Holy Scriptures. True, the ‘Father, Son and holy spirit’ are mentioned together. (Matt. 28:19) But does this in itself imply the existence of a trinity? A family might consist of a father, a mother and a son. Yet no one would say that they are a trinity, with each family member having equal authority, knowledge and power.—Compare Matthew 2:19-21.
But someone might reply: ‘The “New Testament” goes far beyond just naming the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” together. It teaches the Trinity doctrine.’ Is that the case?
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, after discussing the theological development of the Trinity, states: “The impression could arise that the Trinitarian dogma is in the last analysis a late 4th-century invention. In a sense, this is true.” Does the “New Testament” provide the basis for this invention? Does it, for example, reveal Jesus Christ to be equal with God?
Jesus Christ never made such a claim. He recognized his Father as his God. To Mary Magdalene, Jesus said: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.” (John 20:17) He looked to his Father as the source of his authority, saying: “The Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds the Father doing.”—John 5:19.
Rather than hint at equality, the Scriptures clearly point to Jesus’ subjection to his Father. We read: “The head of the Christ is God.” (1 Cor. 11:3) “The Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone.”—1 Cor. 15:28.
Then, too, if the Father, Son and holy spirit were equal and constituted one God, a sin against the Son would also be a sin against the Father and the holy spirit. But this is not so. Jesus Christ said: “Every sort of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven. For example, whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the holy spirit, it will not be forgiven him.”—Matt. 12:31, 32.a
So, then, can the Trinity doctrine be viewed as Christian? No, for it denies the clear Biblical statements that Jesus Christ is the “Son of God,” the “firstborn of all creation” and the “beginning of the creation by God.” (John 20:31; Col. 1:15; Rev. 3:14) It falsely claims that he is coequal and coeternal with the Father.
True Christianity, therefore, requires that we reject the Trinity doctrine as false, as an “invention” of sinful men. We should worship the Father as the only true God, and do so through his firstborn Son Jesus Christ, the One who occupies the first place among all of God’s intelligent creatures.—Col. 3:17.
a For a detailed Scriptural discussion, see the booklet “The Word”—Who Is He! According to John and the book Aid to Bible Understanding, pp. 918-920.