The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).[1]

 

Virtually all non-Christian cults (esp. Muslims, Oneness believers, and  Jehovah’s Witnesses) reject the doctrine of the Trinity and teach that the early church had no such concept of a triune God, but rather they held to a unitarian concept of God (i.e., God existing as one person). Because of a great lack of study in the area of Patristics (i.e., church Fathers), these groups normally assert that the origins of the doctrine of the Trinity first emerged at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

So vast is the evidence that the early church envisaged a tri-personal God and not a unitarian.

 

Patristic authority,  J. D. Kelly observes: 

“The reader should notice how deeply the conception of a plurality of divine Persons was imprinted in the apostolic tradition and the popular faith. Though as yet uncanonized, the New Testament was already exerting a powerful influence; it is a commonplace that the outlines of a dyadic and a triadic pattern are clearly visible in its pages” (J. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 88; emphasis added).   

 

QUESTION: What do these pre-Nicaea (A.D. 325) patristic sources: the Didachē (c. A.D. 70); Clement of Rome (96); Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (107); Mathetes (130); Aristides of Athens (140); Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (150); Justin Martyr (151); Athenagoras of Athens (175); Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (180); Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon; 180); Clement of Alexandria (190); Hippolytus (205); Tertullian (213);  Origen (225); Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (253); Novatian (256) Dionysius, bishop of Rome (262); Gregory Thaumaturgus, the Wonder-worker (260); Methodius, bishop of Olympus (305); and Lactantius (307) have in common?- ANSWER: They all clearly affirm the biblical doctrine/concept of the Trinity and/or the coequality and coeternally of the divine person of the Son “with” the Father.         

 

Partial list (emphasis added on most citations): 

 

Didachē (viz. “The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles”; c. A.D. 70):

 

After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [running] water. . . . If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (7.1).

 

 Clement bishop of Rome (c. A.D. 96). 

Clement of Rome wrote an epistle to the original Corinthian church. He was perhaps the same Clement who was Paul’s close companion mentioned in Philippians 4:3. Schaff comments of Clement of Rome: “Clement, a name of great celebrity in antiquity was a disciple of Paul and Peter, to whom he refers as the chief examples for imitation. He may have been the same person who is mentioned by Paul as one of his faithful fellow-workers in Philippi [Phil. 4:3] (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, op. cit., chap. 13, Ecclesiastical Literature of the Ante-Nicene Age, and Biographical Sketches of the Church Fathers, sec. 152).

Eusebius in his History of the Church (III:4) says that “Clement too, who became the third bishop of Rome, was Paul’s co-worker and co-combatant, as the apostle himself testifies.”

 

Clement’s salutation (To the Corinthians), he clearly differentiates God the Father from the Lord Jesus Christ:

The Church of God which sojourns in Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you, and peace, from almighty God through Jesus Christ, be yours in abundance.

 

Ignatius bishop of Antioch (c. A.D. 107):

 

Ignatius bishop of Antioch was another apostolic church Father. What he says should be considered; after all, he was leader of the original church at Antioch:

 

There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made [agennētos]; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible, even Jesus Christ our Lord (Letter to the Ephesians, 7).

 

Clearly, Ignatius does not see the Father and the Son as the same Person. In the same letter, he distinguishes the Father from the Son and the Holy Spirit:

Nevertheless, I have heard of some who have passed on from this to you, having false doctrine, whom you did not suffer to sow among you, but stopped your ears, that ye might not receive those things which were sown by them, as being stones of the temple of the Father, prepared for the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, making use of the Holy Spirit as a rope, while your faith was the means by which you ascended, and your love the way which led up to God (ibid., 9).

 

Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, [cf. John 17:5] and in the end was revealed. . . . He, being begotten by the Father before the beginning of time, was God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and remains the same for ever. . . . . (Letter to the Magnesians, 6).

 

What is also noteworthy is the striking parallel in this portion of Ignatius’ letter and John 17:5. Ignatius states: “Jesus Christ, who ‘before the ages’ [pro aiōnōn] was ‘with the Father’ [para patri] and appeared at the end of time.” Specifically, both John and Ignatius use para with the dative denoting a marked distinction between Jesus and the Father and both use the preposition pro (“before”) to indicate that their distinction existed from eternity—“before time.”

Thus, Ignatius following the apostolic tradition envisages Jesus Christ as being para (“with/in the presence of”) the Father— pro aiōnōn (“before time”)—, which again is consistent with Trinitarianism, not Oneness unitarianism. As John does, Ignatius grammatically affirms the preexistence of the person of the Son who shared glory “with the Father” before time.     

 

For our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed [in His glory]. Christianity is not a thing of silence only, but also of [manifest] greatness (Letter to the Romans, 3).

 

Hermas (c. A.D. 120)

Hermas was perhaps the same Hermas whom Paul sends greetings to in Romans 16:14, around the year A.D. 57. Eusebius says of Hermas: “But as the same apostle, in the salutations at the end of the Epistle to the Romans, has made mention among others of Hermas, to whom the book called The Shepherd is ascribed” (History of the Church, 3.3).

In The Shepherd, Hermas writes in clear contradiction to the Oneness unitarian doctrine of the non-eternal Son: “The Son of God is older than all his creation, so that he became the Father’s adviser in his creation. Therefore, also he is ancient” (Ninth Similitude, 12).

Aristides of Athens (c. A.D. 140): “[Christians] are they who, above every people of the Earth, have found the truth, for they acknowledge God, the creator and maker of all things, in the only-begotten Son and in the Holy Spirit” (Apology, 16).

 

Polycarp bishop of Smyrna (c. A.D. 130-150)

The beloved Polycarp bishop of Smyrna, who claimed he had been a Christian for eighty-six years, was also, according to Irenaeus and Eusebius, a disciple of the Apostle John. In his last prayer before he was martyred, Polycarp glorifies not a unipersonal God, but rather a tri-personal God: the Father and His beloved Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit:

O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 14).

 

 

Mathetes (c. A.D. 130)

In his Letter to Diognetus, Mathetes, who claimed himself “having been a disciple of the Apostles,” speaks clearly of the eternality of the Word, not as the Father but as being sent from the Father:

I do not speak of things strange to me, nor do I aim at anything inconsistent with right reason; but having been a disciple of the Apostles, I am become a teacher of the Gentiles. For which s reason He sent the Word, that He might be manifested to the world…This is He who was from the beginning, who appeared as if new, and was found old, and yet who is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints. This is He who, being from everlasting, is today called the Son. . . . (Letter to Diognetus, 11).

 

Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 160)

Throughout the content of his literature, Justin Martyr, consistently distinguishes the persons of the Trinity. Justin here naturally quotes the Trinitarian baptismal formula:

Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are reborn by the same manner of rebirth by which we ourselves were reborn; for they are then washed in the water in the name of God the Father and Master of all, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit (The First Apology, 61.1).

 

Consistent with Trinitarian theology, Justin points out that the Lord’s usage of first person plural pronouns (*which are actual plural verbs in the Hebrew) in the OT was God the Father conversing with someone, “numerically distinct from Himself,” that is, another person:

“Let Us make,” –I shall quote again the words narrated by Moses himself, from which we can indisputably learn that [God] conversed with someone who was numerically distinct from Himself, and also a rational Being. . . . (Dialogue with Trypho, 62).    

 

Justin Martyr refers to Jesus’ eternality (as Son) and as being “even numerically distinct [kai arithmō heteron]” from the Father:

 

And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom. . . . And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same. . . . (ibid., 128).

 

Athenagoras of Athens (c. A.D. 175)

I will state briefly that He is the first product of the Father, not as having been brought into existence (for from the beginning, God, who is the eternal mind [nous], had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos; but inasmuch as He came forth to be the idea and energizing power of all material things, which lay like a nature without attributes. . . . The Holy Spirit Himself also, which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun (A Plea for Christians, 10).

Athenagoras wonders how any man could declare someone as an atheist, if they speak of “God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit”:

Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists? (ibid.).

For, as we acknowledge a God, and a Son his Logos, and a Holy Spirit, united in essence, – the Father, the Son, the Spirit, because the Son is intelligence, reason, wisdom of the Father, and the Spirit an effluence, as light from fire; so also do we apprehend the existence of other powers, which exercise dominion about matter, and by means of it (ibid., 24).

 

Theophilus bishop of Antioch (c. A.D. 180)

 Theophilus seems to be the first person to mention the term “Trinity” (triados) when describing God:

 But the moon wanes monthly, and in a manner dies, being a type of man; then it is born again, and is crescent, for a pattern of the future resurrection. In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man (To Autolycus, 2.15).

 

Irenaeus bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon; c. A.D. 180)

It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor any one else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these [beings], in order to the accomplishing of what He had Himself determined with Himself beforehand should be done, as if He did not possess His own hands. For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, even the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness;” He taking from Himself the substance of the creatures [formed], and the pattern of things made, and the type of all the adornments in the world book (Against Heresies, 4.20.1).

 

Irenaeus rightly refers to the Word as the “Son” who he says, “was always with the Father,” which sharply opposes the unitarian view of God:

I have also largely demonstrated, that the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father; and that Wisdom also, which is the Spirit, was present with Him, anterior to all creation, He declares by Solomon: “God by Wisdom founded the earth, and by understanding hath He established the heaven” (ibid., 4.20.3).

As it has been clearly demonstrated that the Word, who existed in the beginning with God, by whom all things were made, who was also always present with mankind, was in these last days, according to the time appointed by the Father. . . . For I have shown that the Son of God did not then begin to exist, being with the Father from the beginning; but when He became incarnate, and was made man (ibid., 3.18.1).

The Church, though dispersed through the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God. . . . (ibid., 1.10.1).

Following, Irenaeus speaks of God the Son as distinguished from the invisible Father:

and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him [Jesus], and that He should execute just judgment towards all. . . . (ibid.).

 

When one examines the entirety of Irenaeus writings, the great truth of the Trinity shines forth.

 

Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 190):

I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant; for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father” (Stromata, Book V, Ch. 14)

 

Hippolytus (c. A.D. 205)

For us, then, it is sufficient simply to know that there was nothing contemporaneous with God. Beside Him there was nothing; but He, while existing alone, yet existed in plurality (Against Noetus, 10). Note the Greek: monos ōn polus ēn (lit., “alone existing [yet] plurality/many was”).

 

Tertullian (c. A.D. 213)

He commands them to baptize into the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, not into a unipersonal God. And indeed it is not once only, but three times, that we are immersed into the Three Persons, at each several mention of Their names (Against Praxeas, 26).

 

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (253): “One who denies that Christ is God cannot become his temple [of the Holy Spirit].” (Letters 73:12).

 

Novatian the Roman Presbyter (c. A.D. 256)

The Roman Presbyter Novatian wrote extensively on the doctrinal basis of the essential Trinity. He argued, from the Scriptures, that Jesus was God, but not as the Father. He clearly shows that the eternal Son interacted with the Father as he draws from Genesis 19:24, where we read that YHWH sent fire from YHWH:

Whence also, that there might be no doubt but that it was He who was the guest of Abraham on the destruction of the people of Sodom, it is declared: “Then the Lord [YHWH] rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah fire and brimstone from the Lord [YHWH] out of heaven.” But although the Father, being invisible, was assuredly not at that time seen, He who was accustomed to be touched and seen was seen and received to hospitality. But this the Son of God, “The Lord rained from the Lord upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire.” And this is the Word of God. And the Word of God was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and this is Christ. It was not the Father, then, who was a guest with Abraham, but Christ. Nor was it the Father who was seen then, but the Son; and Christ was seen. Rightly, therefore, Christ is both Lord and God, who was not otherwise seen by Abraham, except that as God the Word He was begotten of God the Father before Abraham himself (“De Trinitate,” in Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity, 18).

 

Novatian appeals to Philippians 2:6-11 to show again that the Son, the eternal Word, was not the Father:

“Who, although He was in the form of God,” he says. If Christ had been only man, He would have been spoken of as in “the image” of God, not “in the form” of God. . . . The Son of God, the Word of God, the imitator of all His Father’s works, in that He Himself works even as His Father. He is—as we have declared—in the form of God the Father. And He is reasonably affirmed to be in the form of God, in that He Himself, being above all things, and having the divine power over every creature, is also God after the example of the Father. . . . Yet He obtained, this from His own Father, that He [the Son] should be both God of all and should be Lord, and be begotten and made known from Himself as God in the form of God the Father. He then, all though He was in the form of God, thought it not robbery that He should be equal with God. For although He remembered that He was God from God the Father, He never either compared or associated Himself with God the Father, mindful that He was from His Father, and that He possessed that very thing that He is, because the Father had given it Him (ibid., 22).

 

Against the modalism of Sabellius, (Oneness doctrine)  Novatian writes:

that many heretics, moved by the magnitude and truth of this divinity, exaggerating His honours above measure, have dared to announce or to think Him not the Son, but God the Father Himself. And this, although it is contrary to the truth of the Scriptures, is still a great and excellent argument for the divinity of Christ, who is so far God, except as Son of God, born of God, that very many heretics–as we have said–have so accepted Him as God, as to think that He must be pronounced not the Son, but the Father. . . . This, however, we do not approve; but we quote it as an argument to prove that Christ is God, to this extent, that some, taking away the manhood, have thought Him God only, and some have thought Him God the Father Himself; when reason and the proportion of the heavenly Scriptures show Christ to be God, but as the Son of God; and the Son of man, having been taken up, moreover by God, that He must be believed to be man also. (ibid., 23).

 

Novatian lays out Scripture as his main point of argumentation against the modalists, again using Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 19:24, which opposes Oneness believers:

For thus say they [the modalists] If it is asserted that God is one, and Christ is God, then say they, If the Father and Christ be one God, Christ will be called the Father. Wherein they are proved to be in error, not knowing Christ, but following the sound of a name; for they are not willing that He should be the second person after the Father, but the Father Himself. And since these things are easily answered, few words shall be said. For who does not acknowledge that the person of the Son is second after the Father, when he reads that it was said by the Father, consequently to the Son, “Let us make man in our image and our likeness;” and that after this it was related, “And God made man, in the image of God made He him”? Or when he holds in his hands: “The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrha fire and brimstone from the Lord from heaven”? Or when he reads (as having been said) to Christ: “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of me, and I will give Thee the heathens for Thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Thy possession”? Or when also that beloved writer says: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on my right hand, until I shall make Thine enemies the stool of Thy feet”? Or when, unfolding the prophecies of Isaiah, he finds it written thus: “Thus saith the Lord to Christ my Lord”? Or when he reads: “I came not down from heaven to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me”? (ibid., 26).

 

Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria (262):

The Son alone, always co-existing with the Father, and filled with Him who is, Himself also is, since He is of the Father . . . neither the Father, in that He is Father, can be separated from the Son, for that name is the evident ground of coherence and conjunction; nor can the Son be separated from the Father, for this word Father indicates association between them. And there is, moreover, evident a Spirit who can neither be disjoined from Him who sends, nor from Him who brings Him. . . . Thus, indeed, we expand the indivisible Unity into a Trinity; and again we contract the Trinity, which cannot be diminished, into a Unity . . . For on this account after the Unity there is also the most divine Trinity . . . And to God the Father, and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen (“Epistle to Dionysius Bishop Rome,” 5-9 in Works of Dionysius, Extant Fragments [in Philip Schaff, The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325]).

In Defense of Dionysius 9, Athanasius says of Dionysius’ letter to the Roman bishop (with the same name): “[Dionysius rightly] acted as he learned from the Apostles.”

 

Gregory Thaumaturgus the Wonder-worker (c. A.D. 260)
 
As with Dionysius of Alexandria, he was a pupil of Origen, and his Declaration of Faith, which is accepted as genuine, is a stunningly positive and definite Trinitarian treatise. Again, years prior to Nicaea:

There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is His subsistent Wisdom and Power and Eternal Image: perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son. There is one Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of Deity, Efficient Word,) Wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and Power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal and Eternal of Eternal. And there is One Holy Spirit, having His subsistence from God, and being made manifest by the Son, to wit to men: Image of the Son, Perfect Image of the Perfect; Life, the Cause of the living; Holy Fount; Sanctity, the Supplier, or Leader, of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all. There is a perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty, neither divided nor estranged. Wherefore there is nothing either created or in servitude in the Trinity; nor anything superinduced, as if at some former period it was non-existent, and at some later period it was introduced. And thus, neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abides ever (A Declaration of Faith).

 

Methodius of Olympus (c. A.D. 305)

Writing in the very early fourth century, Methodius’s work was widely read and highly valued. Jerome refers to him several times as does Epiphanius, Gregory Nyssen, Andrew of Caesarea, Eustathius of Antioch, and Theodoret. He is definitive as to his doctrine and, of course, extraordinarily Trinitarian in his view of God:

For the kingdom of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is one, even as their substance is one and their dominion one. From wich huch Whence also, with one and the same adoration, we worship the one Deity in three Persons, subsisting without beginning, uncreated, without end, and to which there is no successor. For neither will the Father ever cease to be the Father, nor again the Son to be the Son and King, nor the Holy Ghost to be what in substance and personality He is. For nothing of the Trinity will suffer diminution, either in respect of eternity, or of communion, or of sovereignty (Oration on the Psalms, 5).

 

The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, explains Methodius, were in divine accordance in purpose and will, being inseparable:

Whence also in this place they are not only said to hymn with their praises the divine substance of the divine unity, but also the glory to be adored by all of that one of the sacred Trinity, which now, by the appearance of God in the flesh, hath even lighted upon earth. They say: “The whole earth is full of His glory.” For we believe that, together with the Son, who was made man for our sake, according to the good pleasure of His will, was also present the Father, who is inseparable from Him as to His divine nature, and also the Spirit, who is of one and the same essence with Him (Oration concerning Simon and Anna on the Day that they met in the Temple, 2).

 

Lactantius (307)

When we speak of God the Father and God the Son, we do not speak of them as different, nor do we separate them, because the Father cannot exist without the Son, nor can the Son be separated from the Father, since the name of ‘Father’ cannot be given without the Son, nor can the Son be begotten without the Father … [T]hey both have one mind, one spirit, one substance; but the former [the Father] is as it were an overflowing fountain, the latter [the Son] as a stream flowing forth from it. The former as the sun, the latter as it were a ray [of light] extended from the sun” … “We, on the other hand, are [truly] religious, who make our supplications to the one true God. Some one may perhaps ask how, when we say that we worship one God only, we nevertheless assert that there are two, God the Father and God the Son–which assertion has driven many into the greatest error … [thinking] that we confess that there is another God, and that He is mortal … [But w]hen we speak of God the Father and God the Son, we do not speak of them as different, nor do we separate each, because the Father cannot exist without the Son, nor can the Son be separated from the Father” (Divine Institutes, 4:28-29).

 

Many more could be presented that undeniably show, within the proper context of the writers cited, that the early church prior to Nicaea collectedly embraced the concept of the Trinity and rejected both polytheism and Oneness unitarianism in all forms. They saw and taught that the one true God was triune—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—three distinct coequal, coeternal, and coexistent persons. This is the Faith of the OT believers and the NT church.

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Athanasius, in his Statement of Faith, put into plain words the doctrine of the indivisible and inseparable tri-unity of God:

 

“We believe in one Unbegotten God, Father Almighty, maker of all things both visible and invisible, that hath His being from Himself. And in one Only-begotten Word, Wisdom, Son, begotten of the Father without beginning and eternally; word not pronounced nor mental, nor an effluence of the Perfect, nor a dividing of the impassible Essence, nor an issue; but absolutely perfect Son. . . . We believe, likewise, also in the Holy Spirit that searcheth all things, even the deep things of God (1 Cor. ii. 10), and we anathe-matise doctrines contrary to this. . . .For neither do we hold a Son-Father, as do the Sabellians, calling Him of one but not of the same essence, and thus destroying the existence of the Son. Neither do we ascribe the passible body which He bore for the salvation of the whole world to the Father. Neither can we imagine three Subsistences separated from each other, as results from their bodily nature in the case of men, lest we hold a plurality of gods like the heathen. For neither is the Father the Son, nor the Son the Father. For the Father is Father of the Son, and the Son, Son of the Father. The Father, possessing His existence from Himself, begat the Son, as we said, and did not create Him, as a river from a well and as a branch from a root, and as brightness from a light, things which nature knows to be indivisible; through whom to the Father be glory and power and greatness before all ages, and unto all the ages of the ages. Amen.”

 

 

 

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NOTES

[1] Note that the repetition of the Greek article (tou, “the”) and the conjunction (kai, “and”) in this passage: lit., “of the [tou] Lord Jesus Christ . . . and [kai] . . . of the [tou] God and [kai] . . . of the [tou] Holy Spirit. . . .” Grammatically, this construction (viz. Granville Sharp’s Greek rule #6) indicates a distinction of persons. Same with Matt. 28:19: lit., “in the name of the [tou] Father and of the [kai tou] Son and of the [kai tou] Holy Spirit.”

 

It is usually alleged by unitarian/unipersonal (i.e., groups that believe God exists as one sole person, thus denying the Trinity[1]) that the OT is entirely unconscious to the idea that God is multi-personal—the one God. Remember, that the divine truth and the way in which God unfolded that truth in the history of redemption has been progressive. Thus, as it has been asserted that the OT is the NT concealed, whereas the NT is in fact, the OT revealed.

So while such truths as the incarnation, the substitutionary atonement of the Redeemer exist primarily in the shadows of OT narrative, poetry, prophecy and their fulfillment in the fuller revelation of the NT, is perfectly consistent in the singular theme of God’s purpose among men: His work of salvation in Christ, to the praise and glory of His grace (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). The doctrine of the Trinity as defined in the fourth and fifth-century creeds is not contained in the OT, in terms of the specific doctrinal language. But, it does not follow to assert that because the OT utilizes different language than that of post-Nicene language, that this somehow militates against the notion that the Jews did, in fact, envisage God as multi-personal.

Monotheism & the Word “One”

As stated, groups such as Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and of course, Oneness believers are functionally defined as unitarian, for their commitment to absolute unipersonalism/unitarianism, which maintains the notion that God is unipersonal (i.e., one divine Person). This is, of course, why these groups flatly reject the doctrine of the Trinity—thinking that the Trinity is three separate Gods. However, in Hebrew there were various words that could be translated as “one” and the word that speaks of God being “one” (in the OT), every time, is echad (אחר, e.g., Deut. 6:4).

As many have pointed out, the term echad can indicate compound or composite unity—not necessarily absolute solitary oneness, as in Genesis 2:24, for example: “Adam and Eve became one [echad] flesh” (also see Gen. 11:6; 2 Chron. 30:12). Further, the word in the OT lingua franca, which does strictly signify absolute solitary oneness, is yachiyd (cf. Ps. 68:6), but this term is never once applied to God. If God were an absolute lone unipersonal Deity, as anti-Trinitarians assume, surely the biblical authors would have used the term yachiyd to say that God is “one,” but they did not, they exclusively used echad.

The Plurality of Persons Expressed

Aside from the first person plural verbs, nouns, adjectives, and prepositions used of God in the OT (i.e., “Let Us,” “Make Our,” “[One] of Us,” et al; cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 3:22; 11:7-9; Isa. 6:8; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; 54:5 [lit. Heb., “Makers,” “Husbands”]; also “Maker” is plural in Ps. 149:2 and Job 35:10; Prov. 30:3 [qadoshim, lit., “Holy ones”; same with LXX–hagiōn]; Eccl. 12:1 [li. Heb. “Creators”]) to underscore the multi-personality of God. Similar with Jesus’ usage of first person plural verbs (eleusometha, “We will come,” and poiēsometha, “We will make”) to both Himself and His Father, in John 14:23 clearly distinguishing Himself from His Father). Note both Gen. 1:26 (LXX) and John 14:23 contain the same plural verb of poieō (“to make”). Thus, OT clearly presents Yahweh as multi-personal. Thus, because God is tri-personal He can be described as both “Maker” and “Makers” and as “Creator” and “Creators.” He is one Being, not one Person—a point that is repeatedly demonstrated by the OT authors.

The idea that God is an undifferentiated unipersonal Being is simply foreign to the OT message itself. Note some examples below: poieō

 

Yahweh to Yahweh

In Genesis 19:24, we read of the LORD’s wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah:

The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the LORD [Yahweh] He rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD [Yahweh] out of heaven (vv. 23-24). 

Notice that it was the Yahweh, who rained brimstone and fire from the Yahweh out of heaven. Two distinct divine Persons called “Yahweh,” nothing more nothing less, if of course, you take Scripture on its own merit. But Unitarians cannot do so; their allegiance to their prior assumption that “God is unipersonal precludes even the possibility that such evidence might be considered objectively.

Psalm 45:6-7: Elohim to Elohim

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows.

Not only do we have a clear multi-personal reference of Elohim (“God”) speaking to Elohim in direct address, but, the writer to the Hebrews applies this very text to the “Son” (not the Father), who Oneness teachers say is not God—only the Father is God. 

The author of Hebrews quotes the Father directly addressing the “Son” as ho theos, “the God.” For God (the Father) speaking to God (the Son) is consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity; two divine Persons differentiated from one another, yet each equally identified as “God.” God the Father speaking to God the Son.

Also see Daniel 7:9-14

The Angel of the LORD

We also see clear multi-personal references of God as we read of “the angel of the LORD [Yahweh]”. This angel was not some indefinite angel, one among many. This angel, who was called “the angel of the LORD,” claimed that He was “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod. 3:6). When Hager encountered the angel of the LORD (cf. Gen. 16:7ff.) being frightfully responsive (due to of Exod. 20:19: “for no man can see Me and live”), said to Him, “You are a God who sees . . . Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” (16:13). There are many “angel of the LORD” references (e.g., Gen. 22:9-14; Exod. 23:20-21; Num. 22:21-35; Judg. 2:1-5; 6:11-22; etc.). Most significant is the account recorded in Judges 13:1-25 where Manoah and his wife (Samson’s parents) dialogued with this angel. And when Manoah discovered that it was “the angel of the LORD” he declared to his wife, “We will surly die, for we have seen God” (v. 22).

The “angel of the LORD” was clearly identified as Yahweh to those who interacted with Him. Yet in Zechariah 1:12, however, we find the angel of the LORD (who claimed to be Yahweh throughout the OT) praying to the “LORD [Yahweh] of hosts,”—Yahweh praying to Yahweh.

 

All these OT plural descriptions of the one Yahweh can only be consistent with monotheism in the context of Trinitarianism.

 

The biblical doctrine of the Trinity is arguably the pinnacle of God’s self-disclosure to mankind. From the multi-personal references of God in the OT to the personal distinctions between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit expressed in the NT (cf. Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14), the triune nature of God has been well established. Despite this evidence, however, it seems that the preaching and teaching of the truth of the Trinity is largely absent from many Christian pulpits. Moreover, though some notable scholars have produced worthy contributions on the subject there appears to be a definite lack of ecclesiastical material, apologetic literature and other resources affirming and defending the doctrine of the Trinity.

The biblical conclusion: God in three Persons

When we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ we must proclaim the truth of God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. When the person of the Son is detached from the Trinity, the very Being of God is confounded. To deny the Trinity denies the person of the Son, and thus, the very essence of God: 

22 “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23).

Notes

[1] E.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, Jews, Muslims, etc. etc.

John 17:3: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” The one true God has revealed Himself as three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Oneness Theology is non-Christian

Oneness Christology is a clear and major departure from biblical orthodoxy. Similar to Islam, it teaches a unitarian/unipersonal (i.e., one person) concept of God. Hence, the chief Oneness Christological divergences from that of the biblical teachings are as follows:

  1. Oneness Christology denies the unipersonality and deity of the Son. It teaches that “Jesus” is the name of the unipersonal deity. Accordingly, the “Son” merely represents the human nature of Jesus, while “Father/Holy Spirit” represents the divine nature of Jesus—thus, the Son is not God, only the Father is (cf. Bernard, Oneness of God, 1983: 99, 103, 252). 
  1. Along with the deity, Oneness Christology denies the preexistence and incarnation of the Son, and thus, His role as the Creator (cf. Ibid., 103-4; Magee,Is Jesus in the Godhead or Is The Godhead in Jesus?, 1988: 25). By denying the preexistence of the person of the Son, Oneness doctrine rejects the incarnation of the divine Son holding to the erroneous notion that it was Jesus as the Father, not the Son, who came down and wrapped Himself in flesh, and that “flesh” was called “Son” (cf. Bernard, Oneness of God, 106, 122).

In sharp contrast to Oneness Christology, Scripture presents clearly and definitely that the distinct person of the Son 1) is fully God (cf. Dan. 7:9-14; John 1:18; 5:17-18; Phil. 2:6-11; Heb. 1:13, 8, 10; Rev. 1:8, 17), 2) was the Creator of all things (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10-12), 3) eternally coexisted with and is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. Gen. 19:24; Dan 7:9-14; Matt. 28:19; John 17:5; 2 Cor. 13:14; 2 John 1:3; Rev. 5:13-14), and 4) became fully man in order “to give His life a ransom for many” (cf. John 1:1, 14; Mark 10:45; Phil. 2:6-11). This is the Jesus Christ of biblical revelation. 

Jesus Christ is the only mediator and intercessor between God the Father and human beings. The Jesus of biblical revelation is the divine Son, the monogenēs theos who always is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), a personal self-aware subject, distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Hence, in biblical opposition to Oneness Christology, Jesus is not the Father, but “the Son of the Father” (2 John 1:3).

Worshiping the unipersonal God of Oneness theology is neither worshiping the true God in spirit nor truth. The Oneness concept of God is fundamentally the same as Islam: a unipersonal deity with no distinction of persons. The true God of biblical revelation is triune—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is and has been the historic biblical position and foundation of the Christian religion.

As discussed, the absence of the article before the first personal noun in the Pauline salutations, clearly distinguishes the Persons of the Father and the Son. Even more, the real personal distinction between the Persons of the Trinity is well observed in constructions where the article is repeated before all of the personal nouns.1 For example, Reformed theologian B. B. Warfield shows that the repeated article in Matthew 28:19 demonstrate that the three Persons are numerically distinct and are under the one Name: Jehovah:

He commands them to baptize their converts ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.’ The precise form of the formula must be carefully observed. It does not read: ‘In the names’ (plural)—as if there were three beings enumerated, each with its distinguishing name. Nor yet: ‘In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,’ as if there were one person, going by a threefold name. It reads: ‘In the name [singular] of the Father, and of the [article repeated] Son, and of the [article repeated] Holy Ghost,’ carefully distinguishing three persons, though uniting them all under one name. The name of God was to the Jews Jehovah, and to name the name of the Jehovah upon them was to make them His. . . . (Warfield’s brackets).2

A “repeated article,” Harris explains, “shows unambiguously that nouns are separate items.”3 As well, Paul’s grammar clearly denotes a presentation of three distinct Persons—not three modes of a unipersonal deity:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [tou kuriou Iēsou Christou], and [kai] the love of God [tou theou], and [kai] the fellowship of the Holy Spirit [tou hagiou pneumatos] be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).

In Revelation 5:13, the Father and the Lamb are presented as two distinct objects of divine worship, differentiated by the repetition of the article tō:

“To Him [tō] who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb [kai tō arniō], be blessing and honor and glory and dominion for ever and ever” (emphasis added).

There are many other passages where this “construction of distinction” (viz. Sharp’s rule #6) applies, clearly demonstrating the real distinction between the three Persons of the holy Trinity (e.g., Matt. 28:19; 1 Thess. 3:1; 2 Thess. 2:16-17; 1 John 1:3; 2:22-23).

Subject-Object Distinctions: Simply, if Jesus and the Father were not distinct cognizant Persons, we would not expect to find a clear subject-object relationship between them:

After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water . . . behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My [subject] beloved Son, [object] in whom I [subject] am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17; emphasis added; see also 17:5).

“I [subject] glorified You [object] on earth, having accomplished the work which You [object] have given Me [subject] to do” (John 17:4; see also Luke 23:34, 46).

The Father and the Son stand in an “I”–“You” relationship of each other; the Son refers to the Father as “You” and Himself as “I.” The Father likewise refers to Jesus as “You” and Himself as “I.” The Son personally relates to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the reverse is altogether true of the Father and the Holy Spirit relating to each other.

Salvation is predicated inextricably on the Tri-Unity of God. Scripture knows of no other God. God the Father infallibly saves according to His mercy whereby the sinner is regenerated by means of the Holy Spirit, through the God the Son, Jesus Christ:

He [God the Father] saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6).

Also, as pointed out in several places, the OT uses plural verbs, nouns, adjectives, and prepositions to describe the one Being of God.

http://www.christiandefense.org/article_Trinity in the OT.htm

Notes

1 As seen above, in constructions involving multiple personal nouns linked by kai and the first noun lacks the article; each noun must denote a distinct person (viz. Sharp’s rule #5). However, when multiple personal nouns in a clause are each preceded by the article ho and linked by kai, each personal noun also denotes a distinct person (e.g., 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Thess. 3:11; 1 John 1:3; 2:22-23; Rev. 5:13). This rule is known as Sharp’s rule #6 (cf. n. 39 above; also cf. Sharp, Remarks on the Uses of the Definite Article). Pertaining to Sharp’s rule #6, I had consulted Professor Daniel B. Wallace as to the question of its absoluteness and its utilization against the anti-distinction of the Modalists. He expertly affirmed that predominately (not absolutely; cf. John 20:28) the rule does provide a valid case against Modalism. Clearly, this rule indicates, particularly in Trinitarian contexts where all three Persons are juxtaposed in the same verse, a personal distinction between the three Persons of the Godhead.

2 Warfield, Biblical Doctrines, 204. Pertaining to the same passage (Matt. 28:19), Warfield further explained that

With stately impressiveness it asserts the unity of the three by combining them all within the bounds of the single Name; and then throws up into emphasis the distinctness of each by introducing them in turn with the repeated article: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Authorized Version). These three, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, each stand in some clear sense over against the others in distinct personality: these three, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, all unite in some profound sense in the common participation of the one Name” (ibid., 153-54).

3 Harris, Jesus as God, 310.

Salvation is predicated inextricably on the Tri-Unity of God. Scripture knows of no other God. God the Father infallibly saves according to His mercy whereby the sinner is regenerated by means of the Holy Spirit, through the God the Son, Jesus Christ:

He [God the Father] saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6).

As seen above in Revelation 5:13 the “Lamb” and the “Father” are presented as two distinct objects of divine worship:

“To Him [tō] who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb [kai tō arniō], be blessing and honor and glory and dominion for ever and ever” (emphasis added).

And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen,”

And the elders fell down and worshiped.

*Note: “To Him” (the Father) and “the Lamb” (the Son) are grammatically differentiated by the repeated article, tō, (“the”) in which precedes both nouns and are connected by the one conjunction, kai, “and” (cf. Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 John 1:3; cf. Sharp’s rule #6).

Distinction was indisputably in the Apostle John’s mind as he distinguishes the Father and the Son (“the Lamb”). Further, in 1 John 1:3, John shows that believers have fellow-ship with BOTH the Father and the Son. The Apostle John repeats the Greek preposition meta to show that the Father and Son are distinct from one another:

we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with [meta, meta] us; and indeed our fellowship is with [meta, meta] the Father and with [meta, meta] His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3).

In his Trinitarian benediction, Paul grammatically emphasizes the distinction (viz. by the repetition of the article tou, “the”) between the three divine Persons:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [Iēsou Christou], and [kai] the love of God [tou theou], and [kai, kai] the fellowship of the Holy Spirit [tou hagiou pneumatos] be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14; cf. Matt. 28:19).

Although the doctrine of the Trinity is presented clearly in the Scripture – plainly: One God revealed in three coequal coeternal distinct persons. However, we must keep in mind that biblically the unregenerate man “cannot” hear the words of God (cf. John 8:47) nor does he have the spiritual ability to come to Christ; he not able to do so (cf. John 6:37-40, 44; Rom. 8:7-8). 

Thus, in spite of the arguments of Oneness advocates against the triune God and the the person of Christ, it is the gospel that must be proclaimed to them–, which the power and ordained means of God for setting them free from the darkness of Oneness theology and bringing them to the true Jesus Christ, as He wills.             

Oneness devotees are taught assertively that the Trinity is a false pagan doctrine. They commonly misrepresent the Trinity as the belief in three separate Gods. Does this idea sound familiar? Well it should if you have dealt with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and have read Watchtower literature. Jehovah’s Witnesses (and other unitarian groups) broadcast the same assertion against the doctrine of the Trinity.

We shall consider the most frequently cited objections concerning the doctrine of the Trinity; followed by a biblical and logical response. While these objections are considered within the Oneness framework, it should be noted that these arguments are not confined to the Oneness position. That is, most of these criticisms share a common bond with all anti-Trinitarian groups. In fact, many of the anti-Trinitarian assertions are the very ones used by the fourth century heretic Arius of Alexandria, who, as mention earlier, taught that Jesus was created: “There was [a time] when He was not,” Arius proclaimed. Accordingly, the Christian church universally condemned Arius’s teaching first at the Council at Nicaea (A.D. 325).

Interestingly, note this near identical statement to Arius from Oneness authority and author David Bernard: “There was a time when the Son did not exist” (Oneness of God, 105; a simple and clear refutation against Bernard’s anti-Trinitarian assertions is provided below). 

The differences between Trinitarian theology and Oneness theology are much more than mere semantics (as many assert). The God that Scripture presents is tri-personal. Scripture presents that the three persons share true intimate loving fellowship with each other before time. The Father shows genuine love by sending His real Son, God the eternal Word; divine Mediator between God the Father and man, to die on the behalf of His people. In contrast is the Oneness unipersonal deity (the Father mode). This God lived before time in absolute solitude, having no loving fellowship, no relationship, or no communication with anyone or anything.

In Oneness-unitarian doctrine, the unipersonal deity (the Father), came down Himself, and put on or wrapped himself in flesh without actually becoming flesh- thus, the Father Himself dwells in the incarnate Christ. The Oneness idea of God, then, temporally manifested in the roles or offices of “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit,” but accordingly these roles are only temporary, they are not features of his real nature.

We can never know this modalistic deity as to his real nature only observe what role or mode he decides to project at any given time. Hence, he is the God of illusions, the pretending God, since these roles, modes, or offices, are not part of his real nature.

Let us now analyze some of the primary objections of the Trinity, which are taught and utilized by millions of Oneness teachers and followers. After which we will then examine the specific arguments postulated by the UPCI’s most prolific voice and writer, David Bernard, from his most popular Oneness doctrinal book, The Oneness of God:

The Trinity is three separate Gods

RESPONSE: This is a typical straw man argument that misrepresents the doctrine of the Trinity by assuming that Trinity means three Gods. The biblical doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there are three coequal, coeternal, coexistence, distinct persons who share the nature of the one God. Three separate Gods is not Trinitarianism, but tritheism, which is how the Mormons view the Godhead!

The Trinity is from Pagan origins

RESPONSE: This is an argument of false cause (misrepresents the cause of something). In pagan constructs, they always worshiped and believed in three separate gods. The Trinity asserts one eternal true God revealed in three distinct inseparable persons. The doctrine of the Trinity is indigenous only to Christianity. The burden of proof rests squarely on those folks who make this kind of assertion—merely asserting something does not prove anything.

Only the Father is the true God:

Malachi 2:10, 1 Corinthians 8:6 teaches that the Father is the divine nature (God) of Jesus.

RESPONSE: We have already dealt with this assertion. This is an argument ad ignorantiam, that is, an argument from ignorance. To say that only the Father is God completely ignores the fact that the Son is also “God.” Jesus’ apostles frequently called the Son theos (“God”) (e.g., Matt. 1:23; John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Thess. 1:12; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20). As observed in detail, in Hebrews 1:8, God the Father directly addresses the Son as ho theos (“the God”).

Reminder: Oneness teachers will agree that Jesus was called “God”; however, as they teach, he was only called “God” when he was acting in the Father mode. This then prompts a most difficult questing for Oneness believers: How can the Father call the Son “God” when in Oneness doctrine the Son (when juxtaposed with the Father in the same context) was merely the man, the human nature of Jesus, which was not God?

The absence of the Holy Spirit in many passages:

For example, in all of Paul’s salutations: “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus” (e.g., Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; etc.).’

RESPONSE: This is yet another argument from ignorance. First, the salutations of Paul clearly grammatically distinguish Jesus and the Father–cf. Sharp rule #5, which state when there are multiple personal nouns in a clause (here, God the Father the Lord Jesus Christ) that are connected by kai (“and”) and the first noun lacks the article, each noun must denote a distinct person (Sharp, 1803: 12-14). Paul’s salutations read (Gal. 1:3 for example): charis humin kai eirēnē apo theou Patros hēmōn kai Kuriou Iēsou Christou, lit., “Grace to you and peace from God Father of us and Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice that there are no articles (“the”) proceeding the two personal nouns- “Father” and “Lord.” Paul includes them in the opening of every one of his epistles (e.g., Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2 (partial); 1 Thess. 1:1 (inverted); 2 Thess. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; and Philem. 1:3).

Second, there are many places in Scripture where all three persons are mentioned—in the same verse (e.g., Matt. 28:19; Luke 1:35; 10:21; John chaps. 14-16; Rom. 15:16; 4; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 4:4-6; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5-7; Jude 19-21; etc.). Over sixty-five times the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in the same context:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

“For through Him [di’ autou] we both have our access in one [en heni] Spirit to the Father [pros ton patera] (Eph. 2:18; note the different prepositions: dia, en, and pros, which clearly denotes a distinction of persons).

“Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfast of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit. . . . ” (1 Thess. 1:3-5).

“Trinity” is an unbiblical term

RESPONSE: To assume: what is not stated must not be true is an argument from silence. Further, to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true because the exact word “Trinity” is absent from the Bible is self-refuting. For if that kind of reasoning were true, then, by way of argument, it would necessarily follow that Oneness doctrine could not be true. For in the original Hebrew and Greek text Oneness terms like, “manifestations,” “modes,” “offices,” “unipersonal,” “monad,” etc., are not contained in Scripture either. Such reasoning is absurd, of course. For even the Oneness position acknowledges, as has just been demonstrated, that simply because a particular word is not contained in Scripture that we cannot use that term to communicate a truth of God.

What is not at all considered is that terms like, “incarnation,” or “self-existent,” are not mentioned in Scripture and both are biblical truths which all Oneness believers agree upon. If we were only limited to strict biblical words, then when teaching out of the New Testament we would have to use only Koine Greek words that the New Testament authors used!

Employing extra-biblical terminology does not violate the rules of sola-Scriptura, (Scripture alone) which says Scripture alone (i.e., teachings therein) is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church, as long as the extra-biblical terminology is wholly consistent with Scripture. Thus, the early church would use extra-biblical terminology to explain and define the biblical data revealed within the pages of the Holy Writ.

In other words, “Trinity” is merely a precise doctrinal word that defines the biblical revelation that is so overwhelmingly found in Scripture: God the Father sent God the Son, the eternal Word (cf. John 1:1; 6:37-40; 17:5) in which He became flesh (cf. John 1:14; Rom. 1:3-4). After which God the Son died in the place of sinners (cf. Rom. 8:32; 2 Cor. 5:17-21) whereby His death provides full atonement for the sins of His people (cf. Matt. 1:21). God the Father and God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit to empower the church, and dwell with and sanctify the believer (cf. Titus 3:5-7):

“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me” (John 15:26).

Again, this point must be understood: We cannot confuse the biblical data with doctrinal words that define that data. Hence, the doctrine of the “Trinity” was derived from the Scriptural data. Biblical scholar Benjamin B. Warfield explains the difference:

“The term “Trinity” is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Person, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. . . . And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture that the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when is it crystallized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. . . . In point of fact, the doctrine of the Trinity is purely a revealed doctrine.2

Warfield further explains as to why the “un-Biblical” word “Trinity” is utilized to describe the biblical relation of God:

“Precisely what the New Testament is, is the documentation of the religion of the incarnate Son and the outpoured Spirit, that is to say, of the religion of the Trinity, and what we mean by the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but the formulation in exact language of the conception of God presupposed in the religion of the incarnate Son and out poured Spirit.”3

Weak arguments: the so-called plural pronouns

Trinitarians typically use Genesis 1:26 where God said, “Let Us make man in Our image” (as well as Gen. 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8) to say that the three persons are communicating. But this cannot be verified. The use of plural pronouns is simply: “plural of majesty.” The queen of England can use the same terms, “We are not amused,” and no one would ever say that she is three.

RESPONSE: First: There are No clear biblical examples of a plural of majesty in the OT. This is yet another straw man argument. The Trinity does not rise and fall on the usage of plural terms. Christians historically have believed in the doctrine of the Trinity because it is squarely based on the biblical exegesis of the text itself:

There is one true God, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and further, the three persons are clearly differentiated from one another. All the persons in the Godhead interact with each other in a loving intercourse, even before time. Plural terms (see below) are used of the one true God, and, as we have seen, Jesus used first person pronouns to refer to Himself and third person pronouns to refer to the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. John chaps. 14-16).

That is why Christians have believed in the doctrine of the Trinity. Moreover, the usage of Hebrew plural nouns (“Our image”; Gen. 1:26);  plural adjectives (“of the holy ones”; Prov. 30:3);  plural verbs (“let Us make,” “come let Us,”  “your Makers, “your Husbands,” “now your Creators”; Gen. 1:26; 11:7 Isa. 54:5; Eccl. 12:1); and plural prepositions (“of Us”; Gen. 3:22) referring to the one God cannot be jettisoned away because Oneness and unitarian teachers sneer at those passages. In point of fact, the early church used Genesis 1:26-27 (“Let Us,” “Our”) to demonstrate distinction between the Persons of the Godhead. Take for instance the early church document the Epistle of Barnabas (c. A.D. 70-100):

“If the Lord submitted to suffer for our souls, even though he is Lord of the whole world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, ‘Let us make man according to our image and likeness,’ how is it, that he submitted to suffer at the hand of men?”4

Christian defender Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 160) comments on the meaning of “us” in Genesis 1:26:

“God speaks in the creation of man with the very same design, in the following words: “Let us make man after our image and likeness. . . .” From this, we can indisputably learn that God conversed with someone who was numerically distinct from Himself, and was also a rational Being.”5

Early church apologist, Theophilus (c. A.D. 180), declares:

“Let Us make man in Our image, after our likeness,” Now, to no one else than to His own Word and Wisdom did He say, “Let Us make.”6

Irenaeus bishop of Lyons (c. A.D. 180) quotes Genesis 1:26 to explain the distinction of Persons in the Godhead before time:

“For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by who, and in who, freely and spontaneously, He made all things. He speaks to Him, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness.”7

While the doctrine of the Trinity does not solely rest on Genesis 1:26 or any other first person plural reference, it can be shown that the early church understood the passage in a Trinitarian context indeed. In addition to Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8, we must also consider Jesus’ use first person plural verbs (eleusometha, “We will come,” and poiēsometha, “We will make”) to both Himself and His Father, clearly distinguishing Himself from His Father as in John 14:23:

“If any one loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and we will make Our abode with him.”

The two plural verbs here (eleusometha, “We will come” and poiēsometha, “We will make”) present no difficulty in a Trinitarian context; only if the starting point is modalistic do these passages have to be unnaturally explained away. In fact, Note both Gen. 1:26 (LXX) and John 14:23 contain the same plural verb, poieō (“to make”).

The Trinity doctrine did not emerge until fourth century:

RESPONSE: To be sure, this is an argument from ignorance. First of all, it is completely misleading to say that the doctrine of the Trinity did not emerge until the fourth century. In the East, as early as A.D. 180, church apologist Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, first uses the term “Trinity” to describe God:

“In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity [triados] of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.”8

And in the West, around A.D. 213, the brilliant church theologian and polemicist, Tertullian of Carthage, uses the term “Trinity” (Lat. trinitas, the cognate of the Gk. term triados):

“As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons. . . .”9

Again, it is true the exact English word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. But, as we have seen, this is a meaningless objection since there are many words that are justifiably used to communicate the truth of God, not specifically utilized in the Hebrew or Greek text (e.g., “incarnation,” “self-existent,” “omnipresence”; etc.). The point being that the Christian church has used many extra-biblical terminology words to convey divine revelation. Sola Scriptura is not simply adhering to the words of Scripture, but it is also being faithful to the teaching of Scripture. Regrettably, far too many people are deceived into thinking that the latter must be rejected if it does not incorporate verbatim the language of the former.

Descriptive theological words do not necessarily have to be the exact words form the original languages to communicate a biblical truth. The reason that the Protestant church rejected (and rejects) the dogmas of Roman Catholicism is that Rome holds to the position that the Word of God is contained in both “tradition and Scripture.” Hence, Catholic doctrines like Purgatory, praying for the dead, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, ex cathedra, (i.e., the infallibility of the Pope), etc., are not doctrines derived from Scripture (the written Word), but rather church tradition.10 For these teachings are foreign to Scripture. Thus, the Protestant church repudiates that claim whereby holding to Scripture alone11 as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church—Scripture is sufficient.12 “Do not,” Paul says, “go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6 NIV).

We are dealing, therefore, with the biblical data for the Trinity. Again, the precise terms to which define the data (viz. formularized doctrine) came later. So the assertion that the Trinity did not emerge until the fourth century confuses the doctrinal word “Trinity” with the biblical data of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which, as we will enjoy shortly, the early church envisaged. They did not see God as a single undifferentiated Being, but the God who revealed Himself as tri-personal.

The Assertions of David K. Bernard

As mentioned, UPCI representative and prolific Oneness author David K. Bernard, near the end of his book The Oneness of God (pp. 290-93), proposes a list of twenty-six “Trinitarian contradictions” in his endeavor to somehow disprove the doctrine of the Trinity. Under the title, “Contradictions,” Bernard opens this section by saying:

The basic problem is that trinitarianism is a non-biblical doctrine that contradicts a number of biblical teachings and many specific verses of Scripture. Moreover, the doctrine contains a number of internal contradictions. Of course, the most obvious internal contradiction is how there can be three persons of God in any meaningful sense and yet there be one God (290).

Bernard’s criticism is very direct. It is leveled with conviction, and it bears a striking similarity to most objections concerning the Trinity. But is there any truth to the claim? Does the objection accurately represent the position it is supposed to be addressing, or does this criticism incorporate fallacies of logic, and in most cases, wholesale misrepresentations concerning the Trinity? I trust that a careful and thoughtful examination of each of Bernard’s objections will reveal that, in point of fact, they stem not from the former, but clearly on the latter.

Bernard: “Did Jesus Christ have two fathers? The Father is the Father of the Son (1 John 1:3), yet the child born of Mary was conceived by the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:18-20; Luke 1:35). Which one is the true father? or is the Holy Spirit Jesus’ Father (Luke 1:35)?”

RESPONSE: Obviously, Bernard’s misunderstands Trinitarian theology. “Father” is clearly a relational term. In 1 John 1:3 (and other passages), God the Father is Jesus’ Father in view of their relationship, not His biological father in which is a concept found in Mormon teaching, but foreign to Trinitarian truth. In a sense, however, it can be said that the Holy Spirit is His father in that He was the means (ek) of how Jesus was conceived (cf. Matt. 1:18: heurethē en gastri echousa ek pneumatos hagiou [lit. “She was pregnant by the agency of the Spirit Holy”]; emphasis added). Grammatically, the preposition ek (“by”) followed by the genitive pneumatos (“Spirit”) indicates agency.

Bernard: “How many spirits are there? Are there three as in trinitarian theology?: God the Father is a Spirit (John 4:24). Jesus is a Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17). And the Holy Spirit is a Spirit by definition. But the Bible says there is only one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4).”

RESPONSE: Bernard completely misapprehends the doctrine of the Trinity at this point. Christian theologians have stressed this point over and over. That is, the Son is both fully God and fully man. This is wholly unlike the Oneness view, which sees the divine nature as the Father and the human nature as the Son. Moreover, it highlights one of the most frequent errors utilized by those who attack the full deity of the Son. Namely, they are, categorically, arguments against the full humanity of the Son, as opposed to actual arguments against the full deity of the Son. There are not three separate Spirits. This must be drummed in the minds of Oneness thinkers: God is purely spirit; He cannot be divided up into thirds or parts. Hence, since God is unquantifiable, indivisible, and inseparable– the three distinct Persons or Selves share the nature of the one Being of God.

Accordingly, early church theologian, Tertullian, repudiates the suggestion that the distinction between the Three involved any division of separation; it was a distinctio not a separatio (separation).13 Wherever the Being of God is, all of God is there. He cannot be divided into three separate spirits or Beings. Ontologically, the Being of God is an omnipresent spirit. That is why Jesus can say:

“We [the Father and Himself—the Son] will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).

Bernard: “If the Father and Son are coequal Persons, why did Jesus pray to the Father? . . . Can God pray to God??

RESPONSE: Bernard, along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, confuses Jesus’ position as man with His nature as God. Hence, this type of argument is a categorical fallacy (i.e., confuses categories: Jesus’ deity with His humanity). By nature, Jesus was always subsisting as God (cf. John 1:1a: ēn [“was”]; Phil. 2:6: huparchōn [“subsisting”]). At His incarnation, it was the Person of the Son, who voluntarily emptied Himself (heauton ekenōsen; recall the reflexive pronoun heauton: “Himself He emptied”), by taking the nature of man (morphē doulou labōn). So, of course, Jesus in His humility can look to the Father in glory and pray:

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).

Yes, Jesus has two natures: divine and human. That is, the Son is both fully God and fully man. This is wholly unlike the Oneness view, which sees the divine nature as the Father and the human nature as the Son. Moreover, it highlights one of the most frequent errors utilized by those who attack the full deity of the Son. Namely, they are, categorically, arguments against the full humanity of the Son, as opposed to actual arguments against the full deity of the Son. Bernard makes these same categorical errors throughout his writings.

Bernard: “How can there be an eternal Son when the Bible says that He was begotten, clearly indicting that the Son had a beginning? (John 3:16; Hebrews 1:5-6).”

RESPONSE: Regrettably, this is an objection based on an English term, and not on the actual meaning used by the New Testament authors. Ignorant of biblical languages, Bernard, in full agreement with Jehovah’s Witnesses, thinks that the word “begotten” means created or born at some point in time. As fully addressed (see Ho monogenēs huios, “The only begotten Son”) the word translated “begotten” (e.g., KJV; NASB) comes from the Greek word monogenēs: monos, meaning, “alone” or “only” and genos, meaning, “kind” or “type.”14 Hence the NIV reads: “one and only Son” (John 3:16; cf. John 1:18; Heb. 11:17). Monogenēs is clearly a relational term when Jesus is called the “only begotten,” as in, say, John 1:18. Here He is called “unique God” who explains or reveals God the Father (cf. John 14:6-11; also cf. Isa 6:1ff. with John 12:40-41). It would be much more useful to have Bernard engage the actual meaning of the term monogenēs than to confuse his readers with definitions foreign to the intent of the New Testament authors.

In their effort to show that the Son had a beginning, Oneness teachers also assert Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5 (“Today I have begotten [gegennēka] You”). This assertion was firmly dealt with (Go Here). To review, the term “today” (cf. Heb. 1:5; 5:5; and Acts 13:32-33) is clearly a relational term: He was openly declared to be the Son referring to His Messianic kingship, not His deity. His Sonship was openly declared at several different times throughout His life (e.g., at His baptism [Matt. 3:16-17]; the Transfiguration [Matt. 17:5]; at His resurrection [Acts 13:33; Rom. 1:2-4]). As stated, if the phrase in Hebrews 1:5, “Today I have begotten You” excludes Christ from existing before Bethlehem, then the same quotation in Acts 13:32-33 would exclude Him from existing before His resurrection!

Bernard: “If the Son is eternal and existed at creation, who was His mother at that time? We know that Son was made of a woman (Galatians 4:4).”

RESPONSE: Who was His mother at the time? This is a non-sense question. The answer is as above: “Father” was a relational term, not literal as in LDS theology. Bernard’s arguments go from bad to worse—which only confuses the issue.

Bernard: “If the Son is eternal and immutable (unchangeable), how can the reign of the Son have an ending? (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).”

RESPONSE: Discussed previously, Scripture teaches that His earthly Messianic Kingdom will end, not Jesus’ position as Son. There is no passage that provides for that assertion. Bernard begs the question by arguing that the actual Sonship will have an end without proving it from one single biblical passage. It is the Son who will sit on His own throne in Revelation 3:21. It is to the Son that the Father can say, “Your throne O God [ho theos] is forever and ever . . . You [the Son] are the same, and Your years will not come to an end (Heb. 1:8, 12; emphasis added).

Bernard: “Whom do we worship and to whom do we pray? Jesus said to worship the Father (John 4:21-24), yet Stephen prayed to Jesus (Acts 7:59-60).”

RESPONSE: Failing to understand that the Trinity teaches that God is one Being, Bernard again confuses the doctrine by this implication. We can worship all three; each of the Persons are fully divine. When one worships the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit are also worshiped. This point must be driven to maximum repetitiveness: God is unquantifiable—He cannot be divided into parts. The three persons of the Trinity are not separate Beings where one can be worshiped or prayed to and the others excluded; rather they are distinct. God is one Being, not three Beings. Only because God is tri-personal do we find in Scripture that all three persons are the objects of prayer and worship. Example, in Revelation 5:13-14 there are two distinct objects of divine worship, the Father and the Son:

“And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “’To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ 14 And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.'”

Note: “To Him who sits” (tō kathēmenō [lit. “to the one sitting”—the Father]) “and the Lamb” (kai tō arniō—the Son) are grammatically differentiated by the repeated article (“the”), which precedes both nouns and are connected by the one conjunction kai (“and”; see: “Grammatical Distinctions”).

Bernard: Can there be more that three persons in the Godhead? Certainly, the Old Testament does not teach three but emphasizes oneness. If the New Testament adds to the Old Testament message and teaches three persons, then what is to prevent subsequent revelations of additional persons?

RESPONSE: Bernard here assumes what he has yet to prove—namely that “oneness” means that God is unipersonal. Monotheism simply means, one God, that is, one Being. Moreover (as we will see), the Jews did not envisage a unipersonal God. Further, the abundance of first person plural verbs and plural words that God applied to Himself are clear multi-personal references:

“Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the LORD God [Yahweh] has sent Me, and His Spirit” (Isa. 48: 16; emphasis added; see also Ps. 45: 6-7; Hos. 1:7).

Militating against this very objection, as we will examine more carefully in the sections that follow, are the Old Testament passages where Yahweh (“LORD”) is referring to and interacting with Yahweh 15 Example:

“Then the LORD [Yahweh] rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD [Yahweh] out of heaven. . . .” (Gen. 19:24). 

Lastly, due to Bernard’s unitarian assumption: God is one equals God is one Person, he cavalierly asserts that the doctrine of Trinity “adds” to the Old Testament “message,” moving him to ask: “What is to prevent subsequent revelations of additional persons?” However, he errs in his reasoning to assume that the Trinity “adds to the Old” Testament.” The Old Testament firmly establishes that God is multi-personal (e.g., Gen 19:24; Isa. 48:16; Ps. 45:6-7; Hos. 1:7; etc.)16.

Moreover, in reference to Bernard’s, question (“What is to prevent subsequent revelations of additional persons?”), I would point out first that Scripture presents only the divine persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as the true God (ontologically). Second, the tri-personality of God did not first emerge in the New Testament. As if to think that the New Testament authors “added” two more persons to the Old Testament unipersonal God as Bernard suggests. The references to the Father and the Son may find their fullest expression in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, but the foundation for the tri-personalism of God is clearly laid in the Old Testament:

Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fist? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know! (Prov. 30:4; cf. Ps. 2:7, 12; 102:25).

Therefore, to speak of “adding to the oneness of God” is only Bernard’s pre-decided conclusion that the Old Testament God was unipersonal in which he argues there from.

Bernard: “Are there three Spirits in a Christian heart? Father, Jesus, and the Spirit all dwell within a Christian (John 14:17; 23; Romans 8:9; Ephesians 3:14-17). Yet there is one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4).”

RESPONSE: Again, Bernard misapprehends the doctrine of the Trinity ad nauseam, which does not teach that there are three separate Spirits or three separate Beings. See above response to Bernard’s assertion: “Whom do we worship and to whom do we pray?”

Bernard: “If Jesus is on the throne, how can He sit at the right hand of God? (Mark 16:19). Does He sit or stand on the right hand of God? (Acts 7:55). Or is He in the Father’s bosom? (John 1:18).”

RESPONSE: Bernard makes a grave mistake in hermeneutics: figuring that terms like “throne,” “right hand” and “bosom” are to be taken in a literal wooden sense. I spent countless hours with Mormon missionaries explaining to them that terms like the phrase “right hand of God” could not mean that God has a literal “right hand.” For Scripture indicates that God the Father is invisible without body parts (cf. Col. 1:15: tou theou tou aoratou, lit. “the God the invisible one”; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16).

Think about it, if “right hand” means God’s (the Father) literal right hand, then, when He says, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet,” (Matt. 22:24; Heb. 1:13; 10:13) would imply that God would literally make Jesus’ enemies a giant footstool comprised of millions of His enemies! Obviously, the Bible, like any literary work, is composed of various kinds of style, speech, etc. And it clearly uses, at times, figures of speech, metaphors, and euphemisms to communicate various principles or truths. We certainly do not take Jesus literally when He says that He is the “door,” or the “vine,” do we? In the same way, then, “right hand” was a Jewish idiom that meant position of authority, as demonstrated many times in Scripture (e.g., Deut. 33:2; Ps. 20:6; 110:1; Matt. 26:64). Finally, it is rather odd that Bernard would even appeal to this passage. For in a strange case of irony, this passage actually poses a tremendous problem for Oneness adherents. Specifically, how is it that Jesus can be at the “right hand” of the Father if they are the same undifferentiated Person.

Bernard: “Is Jesus in the Godhead or is the Godhead in Jesus? (Colossians 2:9 says the latter).”

RESPONSE: First, Bernard completely ignores the historical setting as to why the book of Colossians was even written. As discussed, Paul wrote the book for the express purpose of refuting the docetic brand of Gnosticism. Recalling, they held to a dualistic system: God (the supreme deity) is purely spirit and “matter” (flesh) is inherently evil. The thought of, in their mind, God dwelling in “flesh” was revolting. Consequently, Paul demolishes this idea by first declaring that Jesus created all things. These gnostics denied that a “good god” would ever create something as evil as “matter.” In defense, Paul claims that not only did Jesus create “all things” (i.e., all matter) but also He is the “Supreme God,” who lives in actual flesh! (sōmatikōs). Unless we understand the historical background to this letter, we will not be able to properly exegete the passage.

Second, Colossians 2:9 reads: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of Deity in bodily form.” In dealing with the passage, consider first that the Being of God is inseparable and indivisible (see “Colossians 2:9”). Hence, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in all of the three Persons. The verse does not say that the Godhead only dwells in Jesus. Remember, Paul’s emphasis was to refute the Gnosticism and specifically exalt the Person of Jesus Christ as God in the flesh (theotētos sōmatikōs [lit. “Deity bodily”]). As Jesus prayed: “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21).

Jesus had a different view of the Godhead than that of UPCI writers, namely that according to Jesus, He is in the Godhead (“I in You”) and the Godhead is in Him, which is in solid harmony with Trinitarian doctrine—not Oneness.

Bernard: “Who raised up Christ from the dead? Did the Father? (Eph. 1:20), or Jesus (John 2:19-21), or the Spirit? (Rom. 8:11).”

RESPONSE: Since God cannot be separated; we would expect to find that all three Persons were involved in all the works or operations of God (i.e., the economical [see n. 17 below] and soteriological Trinity [see: “The Soteriological Trinity ]). For example, as seen, in the Bible we read that the Father created (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6), the Son created (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17), and the Holy Spirit created (cf. Job 33:4). And yet, Isaiah 44:24 says that the LORD created all things alone, by Himself. This is entirely consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father created all things through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence, any of the three Persons can say, “I created all things alone because I am fully God.”

Bernard: “If the Son and the Holy Ghost are co-equal persons in the Godhead, why is blasphemy of the Holy Ghost unforgivable but blasphemy of the Son is not? (Luke 12:10).”

RESPONSE: Bernard here makes another category mistake. He confuses ontological Trinity (essence or nature) with the economical Trinity (works/functions).17 He thinks that Trinitarianism teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are identical as their function or position. But this is not so. As I have pointed out, Scripture teaches clearly that the three Persons do have different functions—economical Trinity. The three Persons of the Godhead are co-equal ontologically (in terms of essence or nature). But they have different functions and perform different tasks.

For instance, Acts 4:12 states that “there is no salvation in no one else.” So, does that mean that Jesus’ authority was superior to that of the Father because the Father is not included in the passage? Or, in 1 Corinthians 12:11, when we read that spiritual gifts were distributed by the Holy Spirit, “as He wills” does this mean because there is no passage that says the Father distributes these types of sign gifts that the Father is not “coequal” or less divine than the Holy Spirit? Not at all, for difference in function does not equal difference in nature. Consider the differing roles that husbands and wives share in the covenant of marriage. Given the argument, are we to actually assume that because the husband is the “head of the wife” that he superior in nature than that of the wives (cf. Eph. 5:23). Or, even the differences in function between the employer and the employee, would one seriously see these differences in function as necessitating an inequality in nature?

Thus, as with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, the scribes were attacking the very Agent of God, the Holy Spirit, who was working through Christ: they said that Jesus was possessed by a demon (cf. Mark 3:30). Here again, though, the argument actually works against the Oneness position itself. For if God is unipersonal, that is, one person, how can anyone blaspheme only the Holy Spirit without blaspheming the Father and Son? Of course, Jesus did not say this, rather He clearly pointed out that blaspheming the Holy Spirit, not the Father or Himself, was an “unforgivable sin.”

Bernard: “If the Holy Ghost is a co-equal member of the trinity, why does the Bible always speak of Him being sent from the Father or from Jesus? (John 14:26; 15:26).”

RESPONSE: God the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 5:3-4; Heb 10:15-17) is omnipresent, so then clearly the passages that speak of the Holy Spirit as “being sent” cannot mean that the Holy Spirit can truly be absent from or limited to locality. That the Holy Spirit was sent refers to His relationship with believers (cf. Joel 2:28-29; Acts 1:5, 8; 10:15-17, 45). However, Bernard contradicts himself here. On page 128 of his book, Bernard tries to explain who the Holy Spirit is:

“The Holy Spirit is simply God. . . . There is only one Spirit of God. . . . If the Holy Spirit is simply God, why is there a need for this term? The reason is that it emphasizes that He who is a holy, omnipresent, and invisible Spirit works among all men everywhere and can fill, and indwell human lives.”

So, since Bernard teaches that the Holy Spirit is God and is omnipresent, how is it that this Spirit, assuming Bernard’s position, can be sent by the Father (who is the same Person as the Holy Spirit) according to John 14:26? That the Holy Spirit was “sent” clearly indicates that He is distinct and not the same Person as the senders—namely the Father and Jesus (cf. John 15:26).

Standing Groundlessly

It should be fairly clear that the objections most leveled by the Oneness position are really shallow lacking any real substance at all. Equally clear is the great lengths that Oneness teachers will go (Bernard in particular) in avoiding the plain meaning of the text, in defense of the sine qua non of their position: namely, that God is unipersonal.

Even more, misapprehensions, and in many cases, misrepresentations of the doctrine of the Trinity, have been the core reason as to the abundance of unbiblical and illogical arguments.

The word “Person”

Before concluding, there is one more Oneness objection that should be dealt with: the term “persons” to describe the three Members of the Godhead. Since Oneness believers assert God to be a unitarian/unipersonal deity who has not revealed Himself in three distinct persons, they repudiate the term “person” when Christians use it to describe the Members of the Trinity. Yet, it is just here that Bernard engages in special pleading, for in his book, The Oneness of God, he appeals to this very term in describing Jesus Christ: “He [the Son] is the incarnation of the Father (the Word, the Spirit, Jehovah) not just the incarnation of a person called “God the Son” (304).

Moreover, as we saw, question 11 of the UPCI tract, “60 Questions on the Godhead with Bible answers” uses the word “person”: “Does the Bible say that all the Godhead is revealed in one person? Yes, in Jesus Christ. II Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:19; 2:9; Hebrews 1:3” (emphasis added).

Also, question 56 of the same tract uses the word “person” to describe the unipersonal God of Modalism: “Can Trinitarians show that three divine persons were present when Jesus was baptized by John? Absolutely not. The one, omnipresent God used three simultaneous manifestations. Only one divine person was present–Jesus Christ the Lord” (emphasis added).

One of the problems that many Oneness believers have when they hear the word “person” (as used by Trinitarians) is that they limit the word to one and only one meaning: a human person or people, which is a fallacy of equivocation (i.e., equivocating terms that have multiple meanings).

Simply, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are presented in Scripture as three self-aware (or self-conscious) Subjects or Egos who exist in an “I”-“You” personal relationship, being fully cognizant of each other. They use personal pronouns to refer to each other (e.g., “He,” “Him,” “His,” “You”) and refer to themselves as egō (“I”). Furthermore, the Members of the Trinity enjoy personal attributes, not the least of which is the attribute of love (to say nothing of other attributes like their hatred of sin, etc.). In terms of love, they have eternally existed in a loving intimate fellowship with each other. Is this not what we read from the lips of Jesus Himself (e.g., John 14:16, 26; 17:5ff.)?

The early church had no problem utilizing personal terms to communicate the Three in the Godhead. That is why, historically, the church Fathers, in defining the Trinity, used “persons,” not as we would use it today (and therein lies much of the confusion)—denoting individuals or people. Rather, the term was used to simply communicate that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit were distinct from each other, yet personal and self-aware. These definitions became more crucial as the presence of false teaching continued to attack the Person of Christ. Hence, the early church had to delineate and define the doctrine of God so as to defend against these heresies that crept into the church. The churches in the West utilized per-sona (Lat.; from per [“through”] and sono [“speak”]), and the churches in the East used the term hypostasis (Gk). In his refutation and polemic against Modalism, early church theologian Tertullian was not reluctant to use the term “Person” (persona) to refer to the Members of the Trinity:

Whatever, therefore, was the substance of the Word that I designate a Person, I claim for it the name of Son; and while I recognize the Son, I assert His distinction as second to the Father.18

But almost all the Psalms which prophesy of the person of Christ, represent the Son as conversing with the Father—that is, represent Christ (as speaking) to God. Observe also the Spirit speaking of the Father and the Son, in the character of a Third Person: “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit You on my right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool. . . . ” Still, in these few quotations the distinction of Persons in the Trinity is clearly set forth. For there is the Spirit Himself who speaks, and the Father to whom He speaks, and the Son of whom He speaks (emphasis added).19

it was because He had already His Son close at His side, as a second Person, His own Word, and a third Person also, the Spirit in the Word, that He purposely adopted the plural phrase, “Let us make;” and, “in our image;” and, “become as one of us” . . . He distinguishes among the Persons: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him.”20

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are, as Origen stated, “three Persons” (hypostaseis).21 What Athanasius says about the Spirit, we should observe, rounds off his teaching about the Trinity. “The Godhead, accordingly to this conception, exist eternally as a Triad of Persons . . . sharing one identical and indivisible substance or essence.”22 Augustine, teaching on the Trinity, explains how the usage of the term “persons” applied to the Trinity was appropriate, but at the same time should not be misunderstood:

For, in truth, as the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, and that Holy Spirit who is also called the gift of God is neither the Father nor the Son, certainly they are three. And so it is said plurally, “I and my Father are one.” For He has not said, “is one,” as the Sabellians say; but, “are one.” Yet, when the question is asked, What three? human language labors altogether under great poverty of speech. The answer, however, is given, three “persons,” not that it might be [completely] spoken, but that it might not be left [wholly] unspoken.23

Reformation leader John Calvin puts it this way:

“But to say nothing more of words, let us now attend to the thing signified. By person, then, I mean a subsistence in the Divine essence,—a subsistence which, while related to the other two, is distinguished from them by incommunicable properties. By subsistence we wish something else to be understood than essence. For if the Word were God simply and had not some property peculiar to himself, John could not have said correctly that he had always been with God. . . . Now, I say that each of the three subsistences while related to the others is distinguished by its own properties. . . . I have no objections to adopt the definition of Tertullian, provided it is properly understood, ‘that there is in God a certain arrangement or economy, which makes no change on the unity of essence.’—Tertull [ian]. Lib. contra Praxeam [Against Praxeas]” 24.

Earlier still, the three great Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil’s younger brother Gregory of Nyssa) appealed to the analogy of a “universal and its particulars” (Basil): The universal being the one Being (ousia) or essence and its particulars being the three Persons (hupostases). Jesus Himself was not at all hesitant to apply personal pronouns to refer to His Father and to refer to the Holy Spirit (e.g., see John chaps. 14-16).

To summarize, the word “person” was and is used to describe the three Subjects, Selves or Egos of the Trinity for the following reasons:

1. In Scripture, personal pronouns are used to refer to each of the three Members or Selves of the Trinity.

2. The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit all possess personal attributes; they are intellectual, emotional, self-aware (or self-conscious) Subjects or Egos that are cognizant of their own existence and each other. They interact and have fellowship with each other; even fellowship and loving intercourse before time. Moreover, each Person referred to Himself as egō—“I” and used first person plural verbs (eleusometha, “We will come,” and poiēsometha, “We will make”) to both Himself and His Father, clearly distinguishing Himself from His Father (John 14:23); and referred to the others as “He,” “Him,” “His” or “You” (cf. John chaps. 14-16).

3. A seen, when the Father and Jesus are interacting, in the same context, we find clear subject-object distinctions, which clearly indicate that the three Persons are differentiated from each other (e.g., Matt. 3:16-17; John 14:16, 26; 2 Cor. 13:14). After all, in light of the above is there a better word to denote the Members of the Trinity? Thus, the church has enjoyed utilizing the word “Persons” to define the tri-unity and Being of God.

 

notes

1 “The Word became [egeneto] flesh” (see: “John 1:14”).

2 Benjamin B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1929), 133.

3 Ibid., 146.

4 Epistle of Barnabas, 5, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers [hereafter ANF], vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899).

5 Justin Martyr, The First Apology, 61.1, in ANF, vol. 1.

6 Theophilus, To Autolycus, 2.18, in ANF, vol. 2.

7 Irenaeus, A Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So-Called [Against Heresies], 4.20.1, in ANF, vol. 1.

8 Theophilus, To Autolycus, 2.15.

9 Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 2, in ANF, vol. 3.

10 This was clearly proclaimed in the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification:

If anyone says that people are justified; either by the sole imputation of the righteousness (justitia) of Christ or by the sole remission of sins . . . or even the grace by which we are justified is only the favour of God, let him be anathema (Canon XI; emphasis added).

11 The Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura does not teach that truth cannot be found outside of Scripture; however, it is Scripture alone that is theopneustos (lit. “God breathed out”; 2 Tim. 3:16). It is Scripture alone (the apostolic teachings) that the church was built upon (cf. Eph. 2:20). Hence, Scripture alone, not tradition, is fully sufficient for salvation. “For divine Scripture” says Athanasius (c. A.D. 359), “is sufficient above all things” (Athanasius, De Synodis, 6, ed. Philip Schaff, in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, [hereafter NPNF] vol. 4, 2nd ser. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953]; cf. Contra Gentes).

12 Dr. John MacArthur provides a working definition of the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura:

Sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It does not claim that all truth of every kind is found in Scripture. . . . It only means that everything necessary, everything binding on our consciences, and everything God requires of us is given to us in Scripture (John MacArthur, “The Sufficiency of the Written Word,” in Sola Scriptura!: The Protestant Position on the Bible [Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995], 165-66).

13 J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1978), 113; cf. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 9. Tertullian explains further:

Bear always in mind that this is the rule of faith which I profess; by it I testify that the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other, and so will you know in what sense this is said. Now, observe, my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that They are distinct from Each Other (ibid., 9).

14 As pointed out (Go Here), it is universally agreed that the term monogenēs carries the precise meaning of “only kind,” “unique one,” or “one and only.” See: Ho monogenēs huios, “The only begotten Son.”

15 The English word, “LORD” in the Old Testament was originally translated from the Hebrew word “YHWH” and with the later addition of vowels (“Yahweh”) is known as the Tetragrammaton, which carries the meaning (being a derivative of the Heb. verb hawâh [“to be”]) the Eternal One, i.e., the Divine Name. However, post-exile Jews apparently lost the correct pronunciation of the term. Hence, in fear of mispronouncing the “Divine Name” when reading aloud the Scriptures, they would substitute YHWH for “Adonai” which was a variant reading for “Lord” (“to rule over”).

16 For example, God is said to be “Maker” and “husband in Isaiah 54:5, but both words are plural in Hebrew (lit. “Makers,” “husbands”; see also Ps. 149:2 where “Maker” is plural in Heb.; lit. “Makers”). Moreover, in Ecclesiastes 12:1 the word “Creator” is plural in Hebrew (lit “Creators”). See: “The Multi-Personal God in the Old Testament and Oneness Theology”).

17 The economical Trinity teaches that each of the three persons has different roles or functions yet are working together—harmony of operation: It was God the Son, and not the Father nor the Holy Spirit who died whereby providing the substitutionary atonement (cf. Rom. 8:32). It was God the Holy Spirit who was “sent” by the Father and the Son (cf. John 14:26; 15:26). To illustrate further, the Jehovah’s Witnesses will argue that because Jesus said that the “the Father is greater that I” (John 14:28), Jesus could not have been be equal with the Father. Committing that same categorical fallacy as Bernard indulges in, the Jehovah’s Witnesses confuse Jesus’ position, that is, His functional subordination as man, with His essential essence or nature as the eternal God (cf. John 1:1; Phil. 2:6). As man, He prayed to the Father; He said, “the Father is greater than I”; He even called the Father “My God” (John 20:17). As the eternal God, though, the Son can apply the divine name to Himself: “I AM” (egō eimi; cf. Mark 6:50; John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8; see Gk.).

18 Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 8.

19 Ibid., 11.

20 Ibid., 12.

21 Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 129.

22 Ibid., 258.

23 Augustine, On the Trinity, 5.9, in NPNF, vol. 3.

24 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.6, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

NOTE: many of the Trinitarian objections made by the JWs are typical of virtually every anti-Trinitarian group. This section does however focus on the Watchtower’s booklet Should you Believe in the Trinity. For more exegetical responses to other anti-Trinitarian objections and assertions see: Oneness Objections to the Doctrine of the Trinity.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (i.e., the corporate name of the Jehovah’s Witnesses; hereafter JWs) prints enormous amounts of books, pamphlets, and literature teaching their members that the doctrine of the Trinity is a false doctrine. The JWs are taught that the Trinity doctrine originated from the Devil, and promulgated by the Catholic Church. To be sure, JWs have a gross misunderstanding of the doctrine, hence, since the early twentieth century the Watchtower has consistently taught that the Trinity is a false:

How strange that any should attempt to misuse and pervert these our Lord’s words, to make them support the unreasonable and unscriptural doctrine of a Trinity–three Gods in one person (Studies in the Scriptures, 5:76).

Never was there a more deceptive doctrine advance than that to of the Trinity. It could have originated only in one mind, and that the mind of Satan the Devil (Reconciliation, 101).

Most JWs carry around with them their most popular handout booklet (and study guide) called: Should you Believe in the Trinity (hereafter SYBT). If you have ever discussed the Trinity with them, you probably have been given this booklet. The booklet provides the bulk of most arguments that they use against the “deceived Trinitarians” thus many dedicated JWs memorize the arguments stated in the SYBT.

Thirty-one pages of arguments against the “dreaded” doctrine of the Trinity. Chalk-full of misquotes and selective citations from various Encyclopedias, Dictionaries and biblical scholars. Additionally, the SYBT contains a mega-dose of blatant misrepresentations of early church Fathers, historic revisionism and doctrinal deviations. But yet to the JWs, the SYBT booklet is their gun-of-choice study guide to annihilate the “evil” Trinitarians. You might ask, why would they take this booklet seriously when it contains so much disinformation? The reason being: JWs do not practice independent research outside the libraries of their Kingdom Halls (the place where the JWs assemble). At the end of the SYBT booklet, it concludes by saying:

There can be no compromise with God’s truths. Hence, to worship God on his terms means to reject the Trinity doctrine. It contradicts what the prophets, Jesus the apostles, and the early Christians believed and taught. It contradicts what God says about himself in his own inspired Word (31; under the title “Reject the Trinity”).

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES: OBJECTIONS TO THE TRINITY

(Based on the Watchtower publication: SYBT
and other standard arguments used by JWs)

OBJECTION #1: THE WORD TRINITY

The SYBT says that the word, “Trinity” is not in the Bible.”

RESPONSE: As mentioned above In point of fact, virtually all anti-Trinitarian groups make this same objection.

To assume: what is not stated must not be true is an argument from silence. Further, to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true because the exact word “Trinity” is absent from the Bible is self-refuting. For if that kind of reasoning were true, it would then follow, that Watchtower doctrine could not be true, for in the original Hebrew and Greek text Watchtower terms like, “theocracy,” (which they claim their under), “Jehovah,” (Note: “Jehovah” is an Eng. transliteration. Orig. Heb. had no vowels only consonants. Thus, the English term “Jehovah” is not contained in Scripture either. It also does not follow that because a particular word is not contained in Scripture that we cannot use that word to communicate a truth of God.

What is not at all considered is that even terms like, “Bible,” (a Lat. term) or “self-existent,” are not mentioned in Scripture and both are biblical truths, which all JWs agree upon. If we were only limited to strict biblical words, then, we would have to, when teaching out of the New Testament, use only Koine Greek words that the NT authors utilized! Employing unbiblical words does not violate the rules of sola-Scriptura, which says Scripture alone is the sole infallible “rule of faith” for the church, as long as the unbiblical words are wholly consistent with Scripture. Holding firm to Scripture, the early church would use unbiblical words to explain and define the biblical data revealed within the pages of the Holy Writ.

In other words, “Trinity” is merely a precise doctrinal word that defines the biblical revelation that is so overwhelmingly found in Scripture: God the Father sent God the Son; the Eternal Word, in which He became flesh (cf. John 1:1; 6:37-40; 17:5). After which God the Son died in the place of the believer whereby His death provides full atonement for the sins of His people (cf. Matt. 1:21; Rom. 8:32), and God the Father and God the Son sent the God the Holy Spirit to empower the church, and dwell with believers: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me” (John 15:26).

Again, this point must be understood: We cannot confuse biblical data with doctrinal words that merely define that data. The doctrine of the “Trinity” was derived from the Scriptural data. Biblical scholar Benjamin B. Warfield explains the difference:

Precisely what the New Testament is, is the documentation of the religion of the incarnate Son and the outpoured Spirit, that is to say, of the religion of the Trinity, and what we mean by the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but the formulation in exact language of the conception of God presupposed in the religion of the incarnate Son and out poured Spirit. (Benjamin B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1929, 146.)

Thus the Tri-Unity of God is based on biblical data. The formulation of doctrinal words, however, came later when Christians, developed the precise term “Trinity” that simply defined the biblical data, because of the heresies that denied the biblical data in some way or other. As with the doctrinal terms like “Substitutionary Atonement,” “Incarnation” or even the term “Gospel.” All these terms came later after the apostolic age, which the church used to define the revelation or data that is clearly contained in Scripture.

Moreover, salvation is completely dependent on the Tri-Unity of God (i.e., soteriological Trinity). Example: The Covenant of Redemption, that is, all that the Father gives to Christ will come and He will raise them up at the last day (cf. John. 6:37ff). That Jesus is the Mediator between God (the Father) and man (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5) can only be true if Jesus is God and is a distinct Person from the one He is mediating for. Again, this point must be understood: we cannot confuse the Scriptural data of the Trinity with the doctrinal word, “Trinity” that defines the biblical data.

OBJECTION #2: PAGAN ORIGINS

The book also asserts, as do most anti-Trinitarians, that the doctrine of the Trinity is derived from pagan sources.

RESPONSE: This is a fallacy of false cause (misrepresents the cause). The Trinity is an utterly unique Christian doctrine. Pagans worshipped and believed in many gods (as with the Mormons) hence, the references in SYBT to the so-called parallelisms of the pagans were to THREE separate gods NOT one God in existing in three distinct Persons.

OBJECTION # 3: CHURCH FATHERS

The SYBT booklet asserts that the early (Anti-Nicene; before the Council of Nicene; A.D. 325) church Fathers did NOT believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. The JWs booklet quotes from the Anti-Nicene church Fathers: Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 160); Irenaeus (c. A.D. 180); Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 195); Hippolytus (c. A.D. 205); Tertullian (c. A.D. 213); and Origen (c. A.D. 225). However when we refer to actual statements contained in many works (e.g., The Anti-Nicene Fathers, found at most city libraries and seminaries) clear is the fact: the SYBT booklet grossly misquotes or misrepresents what they said and believe. Not surprising is that the SYBT does not provide the addresses of the citations; for obvious reasons.

RESPONSE: This an argument from ignorance. They all, unequivocally, believed in the full Deity of Christ (the quotes below are from the Ante-Nicene Fathers [hereafter ANF], (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; 1885-1887; reprint, 10 vols. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994).

Ignatius bishop of Antioch (c. A.D. 105). The SYBT does not quote him, however, Ignatius was an early church Father that was a disciple of the Apostle John.

God Himself was manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life (1:58).

Continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ, our God (1:68).

I pray for your happiness forever in our God, Jesus Christ (1:96).

Justin Martyr (A.D. 150). The SYBT booklet says that Justin called Jesus “a created angel” (p. 7). Justin did call Christ an angel, however only in the sense that He came as a messenger, to the people of the Old Testament (e.g., the angel of the LORD who spoke to Moses and claimed to be the “I AM”; cf. Exod. 3:14ff; see ANF, 1. 223). The English word “angel” has the denotative meaning, in both Hebrew and Greek, as simply “messenger.” Jesus certainly was active in the Old Testament as a “messenger,” and that is what Justin meant. John 1:18 says: “No man has ever seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus in the Old Testament interacted with the people of God (e.g., angel of the LORD; the Rock that accompanied the Israelites, see 1 Cor. 10:4).

Never once did Justin say or infer that Christ was created only the converse is asserted: Jesus Christ was the Eternal God. But again the quotes in the SYBT booklet are without addresses. Let us read what Justin really said:

He deserves to be worshipped as God and as Christ (1:229).

For Christ is King, Priest, God, Lord, Angel and man (1:221).

The Father of the universe has a Son. And He, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God (1:184).

David predicted that He would be born from the womb before the sun and moon, according to the Father’s will, He made Him known, being Christ, as God, strong and to be worshipped (1:237).

Next, the SYBT cites Irenaeus bishop of Lyons (c. A.D. 185), as saying that Jesus was inferior and not equal with the Father. However Irenaeus clearly believed and defined the full Deity of Christ:

I have shown from the Scriptures that none of the sons of Adam are, absolutely and as to everything, called God, or named Lord, But Jesus is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, Lord, King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word… (1:449). 

Thus He indicates in clear terms that He is God, and that His advent was in Bethlehem… God, then, was made man, and the Lord Himself save us (1:451).

He is God for the name Emmanuel indicates this (1:452).

Christ Himself, therefore, together with the Father, is the God of the living, who spoke to Moses, and who was also manifested to the fathers (1:467).

He was man, and He was God. This was so that since as man He suffered for us, so as God He might have compassion on us (1:545).

Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 195) who is cited as saying that Jesus, was not equal to the Father. But read what he actually said:

He is God in the form of man. . . the Word who is God, who is in the Father, who is at the Father’s right hand. And with the form of God, He is God (2:210).

The Word itself, that is, the Son of God, is one wit the Father by equality of substance. He is eternal and uncreated (2:574).

Hippolytus (c. A.D. 203) is cited as believing that prehuman Jesus was created. But notice what this great Christian apologist really stood for and believed:

Having been made man, He is still God for ever. For to this effect, John also had said, ‘Who is and who was, and who is to come–the Almighty.’ And he has appropriately called Christ the ‘Almighty’ (5:225)

They killed the Son of their Benefactor, for He is co-eternal with the Father (5:220)

For, as the Only-Begotten Word of God, being God of God, He emptied Himself, according to the Scriptures… (5:167)

The Logos alone of this One is from God Himself. For that reason also, He is God. Being of the substance of God. In contrast, the world was made from nothing. Therefore, it is not God (5:151).

Therefore, a man . . . is compelled to acknowledge God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus the Son of God–who, being God, became man, to whom also the Father made all things subject (Himself excepted)–and the Holy Spirit; and that these are three [Persons] (5:226).

“Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” By this, He showed that whoever omits any one of these three, fails in glorifying God perfectly. For it is through this Trinity that the Father is glorified. For the Father willed, the Son did, and the Spirit manifested (5:228).

Tertullian Carthage (c. A.D. 213) is cited next as saying, “there was a time that the Son was not” ( 7). However, what Tertullian meant (in his argument against the Modalism of Praxeas) was that he believed the Word was the Eternal God but yet distinct in His Person from God the Father, and that the Word took on the title “Son” which was a common belief among many church Fathers (esp. the apologists). That Tertullian said that Jesus was created or came to be (in terms of His existence as a Person) is completely and diabolically distorting what Tertullian meant. In fact, it was Tertullian that first coined the word “Trinity” (Lat. trinitas, the cognate of Gk. triados) in the West. Odd that the SYBT booklet would even cite this church Father. Tertullian taught:

For the very church itself–properly and principally–the Spirit Himself, in whom is the Trinity [trinitas], of the One Divinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (4:99; emphasis added; cf. Against Praxeas).

This opens the ears of Christ our God (3:715; cf. ibid.).

Surely I might venture to claim the very Word also as being of the Creator’s [Father] substance (3:356; cf. ibid.).

Now, if He too is God, for according to John, ‘The Word was God,’ then you have two Beings– One who commands that the thing to be made, and the other who creates. In what sense, however, you ought to understand Him to be another. I have already explained: on the ground of personality, not of substance. And in the way of distinction, not of division. I must everywhere hold only one substance, in three coherent and inseparable [persons] (3. 607; cf. ibid.).

It should be noted as well that in the East, as early as A.D. 180, church apologist Theophilus bishop of Antioch first uses the term “Trinity” to describe God: “In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity [triados] of God, and His Word, and His wisdom” (Theophilus To Autolycus 2.15, in ANF, vol. 3).

Origen (c. A.D. 228) was also cited by SYBT as denying that Jesus was God. However, Origen contradicts these Watchtower assertions: The Word that was in the beginning with God (who is also very God) may come to us (4:449). Also, 

The Son is not different from the Father in substance (9:336).

Saving baptism was not complete except by the authority of the most excellent Trinity of them all. That is, it is made complete by naming the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this, we join the name of the Holy Spirit to the Unbegotten God (the Father) and to His Only-Begotten Son (4:252).

The above is a mere set of examples of the massive collection of the libraries of quotations and apologetic works of church Fathers teaching and defending the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity are massive. To the church Fathers, teaching, and defending the Deity of Christ and the Trinity was extremely important to them. Many of them spilled their own blood defending these doctrines. Why? Because in Trinity is how God revealed Himself to man: FATHER, SON, and HOLY SPIRIT.

The SYBT ends this page entitled: “What the Ante-Nicene Fathers Taught” by this: “Thus, the testimony of the Bible and of history makes clear that the Trinity was unknown throughout Biblical times and for several centuries thereafter” (p. 7).

Unknown?

OBJECTION #4: THE TRINITY DOCTRINE DID NOT EMERGE
UNTIL FOURTH CENTURY:

RESPONSE: To be sure, this is an argument from ignorance. First of all, it is completely misleading to say that the doctrine of the Trinity did not emerge until the fourth century. As seen above, in the East, as early as A.D. 180, church apologist Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, first uses the term “Trinity” to describe God:

In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity [triados] of God, and His Word, and His wisdom (Theophilus, To Autolycus, 2.15).

And, noted above, in the West, around A.D. 213, the brilliant church theologian and polemicist, Tertullian of Carthage, uses the term “Trinity”: “As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity [trinitas] placing in their order the three Persons. . . .” (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 2, in ANF, vol. 3).

Again, it is true the exact English word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. But, as we have seen, this is a meaningless objection since there are many words that are justifiably used to communicate the truth of God, not specifically utilized in the Hebrew or Greek text (e.g., “incarnation,” “self-existent,” “omnipresence”; etc.). The point being that the Christian church has used many extra-biblical terminology words to convey divine revelation. Sola Scriptura is not simply adhering to the words of Scripture, but it is also being faithful to the teaching of Scripture. Regrettably, far too many people are deceived into thinking that the latter must be rejected if it does not incorporate verbatim the language of the former.

Descriptive theological words do not necessarily have to be the exact words form the original languages to communicate a biblical truth. The reason that the Protestant church rejected (and rejects) the dogmas of Roman Catholicism is that Rome holds to the position that the Word of God is contained in both “tradition and Scripture.” Hence, Catholic doctrines like Purgatory, praying for the dead, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, ex cathedra, (i.e., the infallibility of the Pope), etc., are not doctrines derived from Scripture (the written Word), but rather church tradition.10 For these teachings are foreign to Scripture. Thus, the Protestant church repudiates that claim whereby holding to Scripture alone11 as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church—Scripture is sufficient. “Do not,” Paul says, “go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6 NIV).

We are dealing, therefore, with the biblical data for the Trinity. Again, the precise terms to which define the data (viz. formularized doctrine) came later. So the assertion that the Trinity did not emerge until the fourth century confuses the doctrinal word “Trinity” with the biblical data of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which, as we will enjoy shortly, the early church envisaged. They did not see God as a single undifferentiated Being, but the God who revealed Himself as tri-personal.

OBJECTION #5: THE CHURCH FELL INTO TOTAL APOSTASY

JWs assert that the Early Christian church fell into Complete Apostasy after the death of the Apostles.

RESPONSE: This is an argument from ignorance. When did so-called apostasy happen? What year? In point of fact, there is not a shred of anything that would indicate or even infer that the entire Christian church fell into apostasy. The verses that they use say that only “some” will fall away or that “many” will abandon the faith but never once does Scripture say that ALL will apostatize. To assert this notion is an “easy-out” for JWs that say that: The original Christian Church did not teach Jesus was God. Both Mormons and JWs maintain this idea of a total apostasy only to avoid the truth that the early Christians taught what Christians believe today: THERE EXIST ONE TRUE GOD and JESUS IS THE ETERNAL GOD DISTINCT FROM HIS FATHER.

If the early Christian church apostatized, why do we read in Revelation 2:1ff. that the Ephesus church was commended by God for not tolerating wicked men and testing those who claimed to be apostles but were false. And we read of six other functioning Christian churches. The point is this: the Apostle John wrote Revelation, in or around A.D. 70-90!– no more than forty or sixty years after the resurrection Christ!

So, did the entire Christian church fall after that? How could this happen? What does that say about the condition of the early Christians? Where they so spiritually bankrupt that they suddenly fell to paganism? Or suddenly just quit believing? What does that say about God? Could He not hold His own church together? Where is the evidence for this?

That the whole Christian church is even able to fall-away is notion that is sharply refuted by the apostles and Jesus Christ Himself:

Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. . . . And Jesus answered and said unto him. . . . “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:16-18; KJV).

“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20; emphasis added).

Jesus promised that He would never leave His church, nor would the gates of hell come against her. Likewise, the apostle Paul explains: “To him [Jesus] be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Eph. 3:21). In contrast to the assertions made by the JWs, that His teachings were somehow lost, Jesus made a clear promise that His teachings would indeed last: “You did not choose me, but I choose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last” (John 15:16; emphasis added). As seen above, the church Fathers from Ignatius, to the great defender of the Trinity, Athanasius, and after, believed and taught that: Jesus Christ was the eternal God Creator of all things.

Think about it, if there were no true Christians until the JWs emerged (1870), then, would it not follow that we would find distinctive Watchtower theology somewhere in church history? We have records of virtually every teaching that was prorogated from the first century. Where in church history though were the teachings of the JWs? And of course the Mormons (who make the same church fell in total apostasy claim) have the same problem: where was distinctive LDS doctrine before Joseph Smith (1830)?

Historically, we do have records of virtually every promulgated theology. However we do not have ANY historical record of distinctive Watchtower theology. Hence, are we to believe that for over 1800 years Jehovah did not have a witness until Charles Taze Russell (JW’s founder) came on the scene? The only teaching that even resembles Watchtower theology (esp. Jesus as a created being) was Arianism.1 Accordingly, the Christian church roundly and sharply condemned Arianism because it denied Jesus Christ as eternal God, as the JWs teach.

OBJECTION #6: THE TRINITY IS THREE GODS

Most JWs grossly misrepresent the doctrine of the Trinity by asserting that the Trinity is three separate Gods.

RESPONSE: Again, this a typical straw man argument. The doctrine of the Trinity is not three Gods. The doctrine of three Gods is tritheism, not Trinitarianism. Three Gods is how Mormons view the Godhead. The foundation of the Trinity is pure ontological monotheism: ONE GOD. One Being revealed in three distinct Persons, coexistent, coequal, and coeternal.

OBJECTION #7: THE TRINITY IS ILLOGICAL

The SYBT says that the Trinity is, “Beyond the grasp of human reason” (4). And that God is, “Not a God of confusion” (ibid.). From that line of thought, JWs will argue that Trinity cannot be true, it too confusing.

RESPONSE: For something to be illogical, it would have to contradict reason. The doctrine of the Trinity does not contradict reason. The Trinity is not 1 person in 3 persons or 1 God in 3 Gods. It does not follow that because something is not completely explicable that it cannot exist or cannot be true. For example, many of the formulations in physical science, not contrary to reason, and may be apprehended (though it may not be comprehended) by the human mind.2 Does anyone completely understand how light travels? Does it travel as a wave, corpuscular or quantum phenomenon? Yet, we believe in the reality of light, even though we cannot totally comprehend it.

The Trinity may not be totally comprehendible, but we can surely apprehend how God has revealed Himself to us through Scripture: There is ONE TRUE GOD; the Father is God the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. And the three are clearly differentiated. One God revealed in three distinct Persons. We cannot simply put God in easy-to-understand categories to gratify our feeble minds. We are called to worship God how He revealed Himself to us in His Word, anything less, is not worshipping, or honoring the true God.

The JWs reject the Trinity and hence they reject God. God is tri-personal He is not a unipersonal God as taught by the JWs. They are without excuse:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” (Isa. 40:28).

 

Notes

1, Early in the fourth century, Arius of Alexandria, postulated his teaching that Jesus was a different substance (heteroousios) than that of the Father. He used some of the same argumentation that the JWs use today. And of course, Arianism was completely refuted as heresy at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325).

2, Example taken from: Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, An Answer to Jehovah’s Witnesses (Baker House Books, Grand Rapids Michigan), 17.