The Trinity—Should You Believe It?
DO YOU sincerely believe in the Trinity? Hundreds of millions in Christendom do. Perhaps you have always thought of it as based on the Bible. Do you know exactly what it is? Do you understand it? Can you explain it?
The Athanasian Creed, one of the earliest complete statements of the Trinity, explains it this way:
“The Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. . . . the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. . . . So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God. . . . In this Trinity none is afore or after other; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal together, and coequal.”
So according to the Trinity doctrine, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are coequal in power, authority and eternity. But the critical question is this: Did Jesus Christ and his apostles believe and teach the Trinity? If we believe that they did, we are faced with a number of very puzzling questions.
At Mark 13:32, Jesus Christ said: “But of that day or that hour [of God’s coming execution of judgment] no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”* (See the box, “Why Are They Missing?” on page 7.) But if the Father and the Son are coequal, how could the Son be ignorant of things the Father knows? ‘Jesus had two natures,’ some will answer. ‘Here he is speaking as a man.’ And, yet, even if that were so, what about the “Holy Ghost”? If it is the third person of the Trinity, why does it not know? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And the “Holy Ghost” is part of the Trinitarian chain.
Similarly, on an earlier occasion Jesus had said: “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son.” (Luke 10:22) Once again, what about the “Holy Ghost”? If it is a conscious part of the “Godhead,” coequal with the Father and the Son, why does it not know?
More than 20 years after Jesus died and ascended to heaven, the apostle Paul wrote: “‘For who has known the mind of the Lord [the Father] so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16) How is it possible to have “the mind of Christ” and yet not know “the mind of the Lord”—if the Father and the Son are coequal?
At Proverbs 8:22-24 we read: “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth.” The early Christians clearly understood that this description applied to Christ. As Trinitarian scholar Edmund J. Fortman writes: “Paul applied it [Proverbs 8:22-31] to the Son of God. The Apologists used it to prove to Gentile and Jew the pre-existence of the Word and His role in creation.” (Compare Colossians 1:15-17; Revelation 3:14.) But if Jesus had a finite beginning, was “created,” “set up,” “brought forth,” though long before his earthly birth, how could he be coequal with the Father in eternity? Additionally, only a creature (hence, one who had a beginning) could say: “I live because of the Father.”—John 6:57.
Jesus repeatedly referred to the Father as “my God”—even after his return to heavenly glory. (Matthew 27:46; John 20:17; Revelation 3:2, 12) Only an inferior, a worshiper, can refer to another as “my God.” But why is it that not once do we find the Father addressing the Son as “my God”? And why is it that we never see the Father or the Son addressing the “Holy Ghost” as “my God”?
Thought-provoking questions, would you not agree?
Why Was There No Reaction?
If we think that Jesus Christ believed and taught that he was equal to God, something else is rather puzzling: Why do we not read in the “New Testament” about the effects that would necessarily have resulted from such a teaching? What effects?
First, consider how such a teaching would have affected Jesus’ disciples. In the beginning, they must have considered Jesus to be a mere man. (Compare Mark 6:3.) Then, at some point, Jesus supposedly revealed to them that he was God himself. How would they have reacted? How would you react if you suddenly found yourself standing next to God?
Considering such a prospect, Andrews Norton, one of the first professors at Harvard Divinity School in the 19th century, exclaimed: “With what unspeakable astonishment should we be overwhelmed!” And if a person really learned that he had been in the physical presence of God, “how continually would it be expressed in the most forcible language, whenever we had occasion to speak of him!”
But, in all honesty, as you read through the Gospels do you see this astonished reaction in Jesus’ disciples? ‘That is why the truth of it was gradually revealed to them by Jesus,’ some may say. Why, then, is there no trace of such astonishment even in the letters of the “New Testament,” which were written years after Jesus’ death and resurrection? Puzzling, is it not?
Besides this, there are other consequences that would necessarily have resulted had Jesus taught that he was God. For the Jews, who believed that “the LORD . . . is one LORD,” it would have been blasphemous to suggest that Christ was equal to God as the second person of the Trinity. (Deuteronomy 6:4) This raises two questions.
(1) Why do we not find the writers of the “New Testament” explaining, clarifying, illustrating and defending this unbelievable doctrine over and over again for the benefit of believing Jews? No teaching would have required more explanation!
(2) And why do we not find unbelieving Jews, who bitterly and passionately opposed Christianity, attacking the doctrine that to them would have been abhorrent? No doctrine would have been surrounded by more controversy!*
Thus, Professor Norton observed:
“It appears, then, that while other questions of far less difficulty (for instance, the circumcision of the Gentile converts) were subjects of such doubt and controversy that even the authority of the Apostles was barely sufficient to establish the truth, this doctrine [the Trinity], so extraordinary, so obnoxious, and so hard to be understood, was introduced in silence, and received without hesitation, dislike, opposition, or misapprehension.”
Puzzling, to say the least!
So why was there no clarifying by the “New Testament” writers? No attacks by Jewish opposers? Because neither Jesus nor his apostles taught what is commonly believed in Christendom—the Trinity! Where, then, did the Trinity doctrine come from?
The Trinity—God Honoring?
‘The Trinity was later received by tradition, though not taught in Scripture,’ some may argue. Yet, how does this harmonize with Paul’s words at Galatians 1:8: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed”?
The Bible warned of an apostasy from true Christianity, saying: “In later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1) Since, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the Trinity teaching was not fully developed until “the last quadrant of the 4th century,” we ask: Is it possible that the Trinity doctrine is a result of apostasy from true Christianity? Could the Trinity in reality be a ‘doctrine of demons’?
Surely a determining factor would be the fruitage of the doctrine. When accused by the Jews of ‘having a demon,’ Jesus replied: “I have not a demon; but I honor my Father.” (John 8:49) So what about the Trinity teaching? Has it brought you closer to the God of the Bible? Has it honored God by bringing people closer to him? What do the facts show?
“The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is extremely difficult to explain, and nobody understands it,” admits Catholic clergyman Robert I. Gannon. In order to have a basis for faith, thinking persons require explanations that satisfy the logical mind. Is there not something wrong with a concept of God that cannot be explained? Can God be honored by a concept of him that “nobody understands”? True Christians must know the God whom they worship. There is no room for mystery!—John 17:3.
Then, too, far from bringing people closer to the Father, the Trinity doctrine has caused him to be supplanted. In the Protestant tradition, this has led to the Father’s being relegated to a position of near-total obscurity. Ask anyone to whom they are referring when they say “Praise the Lord!” and they will invariably answer, “Why, Jesus Christ, of course!”
Closer to God—Or to Mary?
In the Roman Catholic tradition, the effect has been further compounded by the veneration of Mary as the “Mother of God,” “Mediatrix of all Graces,” “Co-redemptrix of man” and “Queen of Heaven”—all logical consequences of the Trinity teaching! As the New Catholic Encyclopedia explains: “Mary is truly the mother of God if two conditions are fulfilled: that she is really the mother of Jesus and that Jesus is really God.”—Italics ours.
Illustrating the extent to which the Father has been pushed into the background, Arnold Toynbee in An Historian’s Approach to Religion quotes 17th-century French Huguenot Pierre Bayle, who satirizes that God handed the universe over to Mary:
“From that day onwards, God had no longer interfered in anything, but had relied, for everything, upon Mary’s vigilance; that orders had been despatched to several angels to notify on Earth this change of government, in order that Mankind might know to whom and in what style they were to address themselves in future in their acts of invocation; and that they were . . . not to address themselves to the Virgin Mary in the capacity of a mediatrix or of a subordinate queen, but were to address themselves to her as the sovereign and absolute empress of all things.”
What, then, do the facts show? This: The Trinity doctrine has not honored God by bringing people closer to him. Instead, it has grossly misrepresented God. Thus it is apparent that those responsible for its development had apostatized from true Christianity.
Where Did It Come From?
Actually, trinities of gods long preceded Christianity, being common in ancient Egyptian and Babylonian mythology. How did the idea creep into Christendom? The History of Christianity, published by Peter Eckler, explains:
“If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism of the first Christians, (who differed from their fellow Jews only in the belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah,) was changed, by the Church of Rome, into the incomprehensible dogma of the trinity. Many of the pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and idealized by Plato, were retained as being worthy of belief.”
“Worthy of belief”? Do you agree? Jesus Christ clearly stated that his true disciples must “worship the Father in . . . truth.” (John 4:23, 24) Yes, our worship must be in harmony with the truth found in God’s Word, the Bible. This includes acceptance of Jesus Christ as “the Son of God,” not God the Son! (John 20:31; 1 John 4:15) It requires that we firmly reject all pagan religious falsehoods. The magazine that you are now reading has, for over a hundred years, helped millions of sincere people to worship ‘in truth’ the one God, “Jehovah the Sovereign Lord.”—Psalm 140:7, New World Translation.
Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.
Some may point to John 5:17, 18, where it says: “‘My Father is working still, and I am working.’ This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” However, John is describing what the unbelieving Jews incorrectly thought Jesus meant, that he was “making himself equal with God.” This is evident from the fact that they also incorrectly accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath.—Compare Matthew 5:17-19.
[Blurb on page 6]
Why do we not find opposing Jews attacking the doctrine that to them would have been abhorrent?
[Box on page 7]
Why Are They Missing?
Regarding the timing of the “great tribulation,” Matthew 24:36 reads, according to the Authorized Version, or the King James Version: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” Notice that the words “nor the Son” are omitted although they appear in many other translations. Why are they missing? Evidently this verse worried Trinitarians! For how could the Son not know things the Father knows—if they are coequal? Commenting on Matthew 24:36, The Codex Sinaiticus and The Codex Alexandrinus, published by the trustees of the British Museum, explains: “Sinaiticus and Vaticanus [Bible manuscripts] add nor the Son after heaven, apparently the original reading which was removed through fear of doctrinal misunderstanding.”
[Picture on page 4]
Representation of the Trinity in 14th-century Saint Peter’s Catholic Church in Tagnon, France
[Picture on page 8]
Did you know that triads of gods long preceded Christianity?