Oneness apologists are constantly developing new arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity, to which Christians should know how to respond (see “Footloose Theology of Roger Perkins” pertaining to the adjective heis and John 10:30.   

One such argument states that in the NT, the Greek masculine adjective heis (“one”) always means “one person.” Thus, passages such as Mark 12:29; 1 Tim. 2:5; etc. teach that God is “one person.” However, the Oneness-unitarian so-called semantic rule is clearly refuted by the fact that heis appears in Galatians 3:28 referring to many:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you [humeis, 2nd per. plural] are [este, plural verb] all one [heis] in Christ Jesus.”

Further, this Oneness notion completely backfires at 1 Corinthians 8:6, which contains a double usage of heis. If heis always means “one person,” as Oneness advocates argue, then, the “one [heis] God, the Father” is one person and the “one [heis] Lord, Jesus Christ” is another (distinct) divine person, which is consistent with Trinitarianism, not Oneness:

“yet for us there is but one [heis] God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one [heis] Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (cf. Deut. 6:4)

Throughout the OT, we frequently encounter the “angel of the Lord” (or, “angel of God”—as used interchangeably[1]). The term translated “angel” in both Hebrew (malak) and Greek (aggelos) simply means “messenger.” Although, we find many occurrences and classes/ranks of “angels” in both the OT and NT (some by name/description such as Michael, Gabriel, Satan, sons of God, cherubim, seraphim, etc.), the angel of the Lord in the OT was not a mere “created” angel (as asserted by the JWs). Rather, He was identified as, and claimed to be, YHWH, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” “God.” While all unitarian groups (esp. Muslims, JWs, and Oneness Pentecostals) oppose any implication of the deity and thus preexistence of the Son, Jesus Christ, the biblical evidence points to the preincarnate Christ as the identity of the angel of the Lord. Note below some of the more significant examples:

HAGER: In Genesis 16, Hager encountered the angel of the Lord in the desert. In verse 10, the angel of the Lord said to her: “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” In verse 11, the angel of the Lord refers to YHWH in third person: “Because the LORD has given heed to your affliction.” However, note Hager’s words to the angel of the Lord in verse 13: “‘You are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’” First, she addresses the angel as “a God who sees.” And second, she acknowledges that she “remained alive here after seeing Him,” thus echoing Exodus 33:20, where YHWH says, “no man can see Me and live!”

ABRAHAM: In Genesis 18:1-2, we read that “the LORD [YHWH] appeared” to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre. “When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him.” Chapters 18 and 19 provide some interesting things pertaining to the preincarnate appearance of Christ as the angel of the Lord—YHWH Himself. First, Genesis 18:1-2 indicates that YHWH had appeared to Abraham. Second, one of the visitors had told Abraham: “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son,” which Sarah laughed since she “was old advanced in age” (v. 11). Lastly, verses 13-14 identify one of the visitors as YHWH: “And the LORD [YHWH] said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ ‘Is anything too difficult for the LORD [YHWH]?’” Also note verses 16-17, where the men spoke of Sodom and Gomorrah: Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. The LORD [YHWH] said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do.”

After Abraham’s interesting dialogue with YHWH (cf. vv. 22-33), we read in chapter 19:1: “Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.” Here, only two of the visitors are mentioned. After the two men repeatedly warned of the coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, verses 23-24 indicate that

The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then the LORD [YHWH] rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD [YHWH] out of heaven (emphasis added).

Literal Hebrew: “Then YHWH rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire FROM the YHWH FROM [min- preposition] Heaven.”

This point cannot be missed. YHWH did something (rained brimstone and fire) from another YHWH in heaven! This can only be consistent with biblical monotheism in the context of Trinitarianism.[2] The angel of the Lord (preincarnate Christ) was one of the visitors; He is called YHWH, and He did something on behalf of another YHWH (the Father) “out of heaven.” Even more, the Targum[3] rendering of Genesis 19:24 reveals the identification of the angel of the Lord as the “Word of the Lord”:

And the Word [Memra] of the Lord had caused showers of favour to descend upon Sedom and Amorah, to the intent that they might work repentance . . . . Behold, then, there are now sent down upon them sulphur and fire from before the Word of the Lord from Heaven. . . . (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan; emphasis added).

MOSES: We all are familiar with Moses’s encounter with the angel of the Lord in Exodus 3:1-6: “Then the angel of the LORD appeared to him” (v. 2). Yet verse 4 indicates that it was “God” who “called to him from the midst of the bush.” Throughout the account, the angel of the Lord is used interchangeably with “God.” Further, in verse 14 (in the LXX), the angel of the Lord claimed that He was the Eternal One—egō eimi ho ōn (lit., “I Am the One/Being”); and in verse 6, He affirmed to Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Notice Moses’ response to Him: “Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

GIDEON: In Judges 6:11-24, Gideon also encountered the angel of the Lord[4]: “The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, ‘The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior’” (v. 12). However, because “the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (6:1), the “LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years” (v. 1), which prompted Gideon to ask the angel of the LORD: “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian” (v. 13). However, the response of the angel of the Lord in verse 14 clearly identifies Him as YHWH: “The LORD looked at him and said, ‘Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?’” As in other places, the angel of the Lord is referred to as YHWH (“LORD”). After “the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight” (v. 21), Gideon reveals his understanding that the “angel” to whom he was speaking was not a mere angel, rather, as he stated: “Alas, O Lord God! [Adonay YHWH]. For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face” (v. 22). And the Lord Himself said: “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die” (v . 23; see Exod. 33:20).

MANOAH: In Judges 13, we find the angel of the Lord announcing to Manoah and his wife of their coming son, Samson, a “Nazirite to God.” Verse 16 (and v. 21) indicates that Manoah knew that this angel was not an ordinary angel, but the angel of the Lord, YHWH Himself. Manoah had wanted to prepare some food for Him, but the angel of the Lord said to Manoah: “‘Though you detain me, I will not eat your food, but if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD’ For Manoah did not know that He was the angel of the LORD.”

Attesting even more as to the identity of the angel of the Lord, not only as YHWH, but as the preincarnate Christ, is the response the angel of the Lord gave after Manoah had asked of His name in verse 17: “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful [Heb. piliy/paliy]” (v. 18). In Isaiah 9:6, the name of the coming Messiah will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father [or father/possessor of eternity], Prince of Peace.” The Hebrew term translated “Wonderful” (pele) is from the same root word (both from pala) as in Judges 13:18: “seeing it is wonderful.” No created angel can claim this name of Himself. This claim is certainly consistent to the many claims Jesus made and titles ascribed to Him in the NT, which were claims that only YHWH made and titles ascribe to YHWH alone in the OT (e.g., “First and Last”[5]; egō eimi [“I am”][6]; “Lord of glory”[7]; “only Lord”[8]; etc.). 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)—seeing that the angel of Lord was God.

There are many other angel of the Lord references in the OT (cf. Josh. 5:13-15;[9] Num. 22:22-35; 2 Kings 19:35; etc.). However, the examples mentioned above are more than sufficient in showing that the angel of the Lord was identified as YHWH Himself and as the preincarnate Christ. This view has been concurred by early church Fathers and most biblical commentators throughout church history. In sum,

1. As countlessly revealed in the NT regarding the personal distinctions between Jesus and the Father (and the Holy Spirit) there is a marked distinction between the angel of the Lord and God/YHWH—i.e., two divine speakers/persons both identified with divine titles (i.e., YHWH, God, “the God of the fathers,” etc.).

2. In Colossians 1:15 and 1 Timothy 1:17, Paul explains that God the Father (as with the Holy Spirit) is an invisible spirit, which “no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16, as confirmed in John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12). Hence, it is quite implausible that the angel of the Lord is the Father or the Holy Spirit.

3. In Zechariah 1:12, the angel of the Lord (who had been claiming to be YHWH since Genesis) is now praying to the “LORD [YHWH] of hosts.” As stated, YHWH praying to “another” YHWH can only be consistent with biblical monotheism in the context of Trinitarianism (cf. Gen. 19:24). We find the same in the NT, where God the Son prays to another divine person, God the Father (cf. Luke 10:21-22; John 17:1ff.).

4. Unitarian groups (esp. Muslims) frequently assert that the angel of the Lord was merely a “divine agent” as with Moses, judges, prophets, created angels, etc., but not God Himself. This assertion, however, is clearly refuted by the fact that no agent of God ever identified himself as “YHWH,” “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” “Wonderful,” etc.

5. Lastly, many who encountered the angel of the Lord identified Him as God in which they feared for their life: “We will surly die, for we have seen God” (Judg. 13:22; cf. Gen. 16:13; Judg. 6:23).

The angel of the Lord was not an indefinite created angel. Rather, as He claimed, He was the “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”—YHWH, yet a distinct person from another YHWH (cf. Gen. 19:24; Zech. 1:12). In the highest probability, the identity of the angel of the Lord was the pre-incarnate Christ, God the Son. As revealed in the NT, He mediates and intercedes for the people of God, on their behalf— not as a mere created agent, but as YHWH Himself, second person of the Holy Trinity.

NOTES

[1] Cf. Judges 6:20.

[2] The Trinitarian force of this passage sharply disproves any unitarian view of God.

[3] The Targum was an ancient Aramaic translation providing explanations and paraphrases of the Hebrew OT. In the post-exilic period, Aramaic began to be broadly spoken in the Jewish community in conjunction with Hebrew. Further, throughout the OT, the Targums identifies “the angel of the Lord” with the Memra (“Word”) of the Lord—pointing to the background of John’s Logos doctrine.

[4] Again, as with other places, here the angel of the Lord is used interchangeably with the “angel of God” (cf. vv. 20-21).

[5] Cf. Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; and 48:12. In the NT, only Christ claims to be “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13).

[6] In such places as in the LXX of Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10; and 48:12, YHWH alone claims to be the “I am” (egō eimi). As with the divine title, “the first and the last,” only Christ Himself claims to be the absolute “I am” (egō eimi, John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19 et al.) To recall, at Isaiah 41:4 and 48:12, both divine titles, “I am” and “the first and the last” are contained in the same verse!

[7] In Acts 7:2, Steven declared, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham.” Whereas in 1 Corinthians 2:8, Paul calls Jesus, “the Lord of glory,” which is a title of full deity (see 1 Sam. 15:29 where YHWH is called “the Glory of Israel”).

[8] Biblically, there is only one true Lord and God—YHWH. In Jude 1:4, Jesus is called ton monon despotēn kai kurion, “the only Master and Lord.”

[9] Especially note verses 14-15: “[Joshua] said, ‘No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, ‘What has my lord to say to his servant?’ 15 The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” This is exactly what the angel of the Lord said to Moses in Exodus 3:5: “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Nowhere in Scripture is it even implied that being in the presence of mere angels is “holy ground” in which one must remove his sandals. John the Baptist speaks of the coming Christ before whom he is “not fit to remove His sandals” (Matt 3:11). Thus, John saw the presence of the Christ, as God incarnate, sacred.

Never was there a more deceptive doctrine advanced than that of the Trinity. It could have originated only in one mind, and that the mind of Satan the Devil (Reconciliation [Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1928], p. 101).

Since the beginning of human history, the nature of God (i.e., how He revealed Himself) has been furiously attacked (esp. ontological monotheism).[1] Though, one of the first heresies that emerged in first century church was that of the Judaizers.[2] And the second heresy that the early church dealt with was that of the Gnostics.[3] Both of which were thoroughly refuted by the apostles in there writings.[4]

Jesus was clear on the subject: eternal life is to have “knowledge” of the true God (cf. John 17:3; 8:24). And Scripture presents that there is one true God who revealed Himself in three coequal, coeternal, and coexistent *distinct* persons—thus, God is Triune. The biblical data is undeniable. But many today (and historically) deny, in some way, shape, or form, the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not speaking of some peripheral, non-essential doctrine here: The belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to ones salvation, for it is how God revealed Himself—the very nature or essence of His essential Being, the only true God.

If one removes the Son from the Trinity (in any way), the Son is reduced to either to a created being (as with, for example, Oneness believers and Jehovah’s Witnesses [JWs]) or the Son becomes a “separate” God (as in Mormonism). The Trinity is the biblical explanation of how there is one God and yet the Son is presented as both Creator[5] and “God” (theos)[6] distinct from the Father and Holy Spirit who are likewise presented as God.[7]

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Main Objections to the Trinity[8]

Also, see JWs_Objections in which deals specifically with the Trinitarian objections made by the JWs. And see here Oneness_Objections in dealing with some of the specific Trinitarian objections made by the Oneness Pentecostals.

However, virtually all anti-Trinitarians utilize the same arguments as delineated below:

The Trinity is 3 separate Gods

This is a typical straw man argument that misrepresents the doctrine of the Trinity by assuming that “Trinity” means, three “separate” Gods. The very foundation, however, for the doctrine of the Trinity is *monotheism*: there exists only one true God (one Being, not one Person). As seen, the doctrine of the Trinity states that there are three *distinct* coequal, coeternal, and coexistent Persons who share the nature of the one true God. The belief in three separate Gods is not Trinitarianism, but tritheism, which is how the Mormons view the Godhead.

The Trinity is from pagan origins

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

“Trinity” is an unbiblical term

This is a very popular objection especially among JWs. For the JWs to argue that the Trinity is not true because the exact word “Trinity” is absent from the Bible is self-refuting. If that kind of reasoning was true, then, the JWs would have to admit: the “Trinity” cannot be pagan, for the word “Trinity is not found in any pagan sources either. Further, if the *non-biblical words = false doctrine* argument were true, then, the Watchtower[9] [WT] must be a false religion for distinctive words that describe their organization are not contained in the Bible either such as “theocracy.” Even the mispronounced and mistransliterated term “Jehovah” was not found until the early thirteenth century, as admitted by the WT.[10]

It is also self-refuting for Oneness advocates to pose the same argument. For many Oneness doctrinal terms that denote the Oneness concept of God are not found in Scripture either (e.g., “manifestations,” “modes,” “offices,” “unipersonal,” “monad,” etc.).

So on one side, both Oneness believers and JWs argue that the “Trinity” cannot be true because the exact term is not contained in Scripture, but on the other side, they both will assert the opposite: non-biblical terms can be used to justify their distinctive doctrines, which they say are biblical.[11] In point of fact, and what is not at all considered, is that terms like, “incarnation,” “self-existent,” etc. are not mentioned in Scripture and both are biblical truths, which by the way, all Oneness believers agree upon.

If we were only limited to strict biblical words, then, when teaching out of the NT, we would have to use only Koinē Greek words that the authors used! Employing extra-biblical terminology does not violate the rules of sola-Scriptura (Scripture alone), as long as the terminology is consistent with Scripture.

In other words, the term “Trinity” is merely a precise doctrinal word that defines the biblical revelation that is so overwhelmingly found in Scripture: There exists only one true God. Scripture also presents that there are three distinct Persons[12] who share the nature of the one true God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the church has used the term “Trinity” to describe the biblical data as with “incarnation” (cf. John 1:14) or God’s self-existence (cf. Ps. 90:2) all of which are biblical concepts. Again, this point must be understood: We cannot confuse the biblical data with doctrinal words that define that data.

The Trinity doctrine did not emerge until the 4th century

This is an argument from ignorance. First of all, the term was first used in the East as early as A.D. 180 to describe God by early church apologist, Theophilus, bishop of Antioch.[13] Further, it is completely misleading to say that the doctrine of the Trinity did not emerge until the 4th century.[14] This is a meaningless objection—for it confuses *doctrinal terms* with biblical revelation (as discussed above). The question of what is and what is not biblical is not determined by doctrinal terms, but rather the exegesis of the text. For a term to be “biblical,” it must be substantiated by the clear biblical data—i.e., what is stated in the pages of Scripture. Thus, we are not, as Paul instructs, to “go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6 NIV).

Scripture presents God as triune. As Christians, we must present a positive affirmation of the gospel (i.e., the true God) and a biblical defense to those who oppose it.[15] For this glorifies God. The JWs spend literally thousands of hours teaching (in literature and personal interaction) against the Trinity. In 2006, they conducted over six million Bible studies every week worldwide! Thus, we must take the time to accurately present the doctrine of the Trinity (the one true God) in our gospel presentation. Pastors especially should be mindful that by never mentioning the Trinity, it is nearly as bad as rejecting the doctrine itself.

NOTES

[1] Ontological (by nature) monotheism (one God) is the doctrine that there exists only one God by nature (cf. Deut. 4:35; Jer. 10:10-11). Mormons, although, claim that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are “one God,” but only in the sense of “unity,” not one in essence. But, as they assert, these three are three “separate” Gods, with the Father as the head God in whom they worshiped alone—thus, the Mormon view of the Godhead. But whether one or more Gods are worshiped is irreverent, the question is: how many true Gods exist? The fact that the Mormons believe that many “true” Gods exist, therefore, categorizes the Mormon people as overt polytheists (the belief in many true Gods) and hence, non-Christian. Not only in the OT, but in the NT as well, strict monotheism was strongly asserted (e.g., Mark 28:29; John 17:3; 1 Tim. 2:5).

[2] Simply, the Judaizers taught that one had to practice the OT law, rituals, ordinances, etc. (esp. circumcision), to obtain salvation. And this, was the primary reason as to why Paul wrote to the Galatians.

[3] The Gnostics (from gnōsis, meaning “knowledge”) held to a dualistic system: spirit was good and all “matter” (esp. flesh) was inherently evil; some even taught that “matter” did not exist; it was illusory—as with the theology of Christian Science today. Both the Apostle John and Paul specifically refuted this teaching (esp. in Col. and 1 & 2 John).

[4] As seen above.

[5] E.g., Isa. 9:6; John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17)

[6] E.g., John 1:1, 18; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:3, 8-10

[7] Of course, the OT and NT teaching of “one God” (i.e., monotheism) does indicate or equate “one person” as *unitarian* groups such as Jews, Muslims, JWs, Oneness Pentecostals, etc. presuppose. Monotheism simply means “one God” (viz. “one Being”). To argue that “one God” equals “one person” is to argue in a circle. It assumes what is meant to be proven.

[8] These examples, however, are not necessarily in order of usage. Further, this is not an exhaustive list, only a sample of some of the main objections that are utilized most commonly by anti-Trinitarians.  

[9] That is, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which is the organization of the JWs.

[10] The WT publication, Aid To Bible Understanding, states:

The first recorded use of this form [Jehovah] dates from the thirteenth century C.E. Raymundus Martini, a Spanish [Roman Catholic] monk of the Dominican Order, used it in his book Pugeo Fidei of the year 1270 C.E. (Aid To Bible Understanding, 1971, pp. 884-5).

For more information on the term “Jehovah” see www.christiandefense.org/Article on Jehovah.htm

[11] In logic, this kind of argumentation is called “special pleading” for it “pleads” to or argues only one side of the evidence while ignoring the other side.

[12] The Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit are called “persons” for the simple fact that (a) they all possess *personal* attributes (e.g., they communicate, make decisions [viz. a will], exercise emotion, etc. also referring to themselves as “I” (egō)—the hallmark of personhood. Even more, Jesus used first person pronouns (“I”) to refer to Himself and third person pronouns (“He,” “His”) to refer to the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. John chaps. 14-16). Note that anti-Trinitarians such as JWs have no problem seeing the Father as a person, but the same evidence that demonstrates the personhood of the Father can be equally applied to the Son and especially the Holy Spirit. The JW’s are taught that Satan is a person because he communicates, however, that is true of the Holy Spirit at many places (e.g., Acts 10:19; 13:2) and yet they deny the personhood Holy Spirit due to their prior theological commitments: the Trinity is a false doctrine, thus, the Holy Spirit is merely Jehovah’s active non-personal force.

[13] Cf. Theophilus, To Autolycus, 2.15, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers [ANF], vol. 2. And the term “Trinity” was first used in the West around A.D. 213, by the brilliant church theologian, Tertullian of Carthage (cf. Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 2, in ANF, vol. 3).

[14] Many falsely assume that the doctrine of the Trinity was not developed until the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325). But the Trinity was not even discussed there.

[15] E.g., Titus 1:9, 13; 1 Peter 3:15; etc.

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.”

 

However, aside from the biblical passages where Jesus claims that He is God (cf. John 5:17-18; 10:26-33; the egō eimi [“I am”] affirmations [John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8; etc.) and the passages where He is presented as God by His apostles (cf. John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 1 Cor. 2:8; Phil. 2:6; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20; Jude 4; Rev. 22:13), and presented as God by the Father (cf. Heb. 1:6, 8, 10-12) the Son possesses the very attributes of God:

  • He has power to forgive sins (cf. Matt. 9:6)
  • He is greater than the temple (cf. Matt. 12:6)
  • He is Lord of the Sabbath (cf. Matt. 12:8)
  • He is the King of a kingdom and the angels are His, He gathers His elect (cf. Matt. 13:41; Mark 13:27)
  • He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (cf. Matt. 16:13-17)
  • He was to be killed and raised from the dead (cf. Matt. 17:9, 22-23; 19;26:2; Mark 8:31; 9:31; Luke 9:22; 18:31-33; John 2:19ff.)
  • He is omnipresent (cf. Matt. 28:20; John 14:23)
  • He is omniscient (cf. John 2:24-25; 6:64; 16:30; 21:17)
  • His is omnipotent (cf. Matt. 8:27; 9:6; 28:18; Heb. 7:25)
  • He gave His life as a ransom for many (cf. Mark. 10:45)
  • He gives eternal life (cf. Luke 10:21-22; John 5:21; 10:27-28)
  • He is the monogenēs theos, “unique/one and only God” that came from heaven (cf. John 1:18; 3:13)
  • He pre-existed with and shared glory with the Father (cf. Micah 5:2; John 1:1; 17:5)
  • He is Immutable (cf. Heb. 13:8)
  • He was worshiped as God (cf. Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; John 9:35-38; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:13-14)

Virtually every New Testament book teaches the full deity of the Son, Jesus Christ, explicitly or implicitly. This is exegetically seen in passages such as the ones mentioned above. The biblical evidence is massive. Jesus declared in John 8:24: Ean gar mē pisteusēte hoti egō eimi apothaneisthe en tais hamartiais humōn (lit., “For if you should not believe that I am [egō eimi] you will perish in your sins”).

As with all religious groups that are “unitarian” in their theology (i.e., maintaining that God exists as one Person), Muslims reject the Trinity chiefly on the basis of their false notion as to what the doctrine actually teaches. As with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals, Muslims see the Trinity as teaching three separate Gods. Thus, because of their misrepresentation of the doctrine, Muslims see Allah (Arabic for “God”) existing as one Person. Hence, naturally they reject the deity of Jesus Christ falsely concluding if Jesus were God, then, there would be more than one God. Mohammad’s misconception of the Trinity is quite evident, which can be seen in many passages of Islam’s most sacred book, the Koran:

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah taught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah. . . . (Sura 4:171; Yusuf Ali’s translation; emphasis added).

They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them (Sura 5:73; Yusuf Ali’s translation).

Note: the Arabic term for [Holy] “Trinity” (al-thaaluuth al-aqdas) is not contained in the Koran. Because of his incorrect notion of the Trinity (as three gods), Ali added the term “Trinity” into the text. While some other translations do contain “Trinity” others though are consistent to the actual Arabic word translating it as “three” (e.g., Sura 5:73: “They have truly disbelieved those who say: Lo Allah is a third of three”).

Therefore, the verses referenced above in the Koran, do not actually condemn the doctrine of the Trinity: for, as indicated, there are no actual references to the “Trinity” in the Koran.[1] They are speaking against tritheism (three Gods), and thus not Trinitarianism—one God revealed in three distinct co-equal, co-eternal, co-existent Persons. The condemnation of the belief in the tritheism mentioned in the Koran (as well as polytheism) is shared by both Muslims and Christians. Therefore, we need to show Muslims that claiming that the belief of the Trinity equals the belief in three Gods is a false claim that misrepresents the Trinity. In doing so; Christian-Muslim dialogue can progress a lot further.

So, before presenting the concept of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity to Muslims (or any other anti-Trinitarian group) you must first deal with the unitarian/unipersonal assumption: i.e., God existing as one Person. For this is the theological starting point of groups such as Muslims, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, etc. It must be emphasized over and over: The very foundation of the doctrine of Trinity is ontological Monotheism—one God by nature (cf. Deut. 6:4; Jer. 10:10-11.)

 

The 3 Biblical Truths of the Trinity

1: There is only one God.

2: There are three Persons or Selves that are presented as God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

3: The three Persons are distinct from each other.

Conclusion: The three distinct Persons share the same nature or Being of the one God.    

 

First Truth: Monotheism. God is presented as one Being – not one person.

Passages which speak on “one God”  (e.g., Deut 6:4; Isa. 44:6-8; Mark 12:29-30; 1 Tim. 2:5 et al) reveal that God is one Being. However, unitarian groups such as Muslims, JWs, Oneness Pentecostals etc. read into “one” God as “one” person. Through the OT and NT,plural nouns, verbs, adjectives and plural prepositions are applied to the one God (cf. Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; 54:5; Eccl. 12:1 [see Heb.] et al). Also, in places such as Gen. 19:24, we find Yahweh on earth acting on behalf of Yahweh in heaven (as we see in the NT where the divine Son interacts with God the Father (e.g., John 1:18; 6:37-39; 14:23; 16:28; 17:5; Heb. 1:8, 10-12).                

  

Second truth: Scripture presents that Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are God and worshiped as God. 

 

Jesus: 

1. Jesus is God (ho theos, “the God) and seen as the Yahweh of the OT: e.g., John 1:1-3; John 1:18; John 20:28; Colossians 2:9; Philippians 2:5-11; Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 (see Granville Sharp’s Greek Grammar Rule #1); Hebrew 1:3; and esp. V. 8 and 10-12. Further, He was presented as the great “I am” (egō eimi); viz. at John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, and 8 (in light of places in the OT such as Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 48:12 – where Yahweh is referred to as egō eimi, “I am” in LXX).  

2. He was presented as the YHWH of the OT.

The NT authors clearly envisaged Jesus Christ as the Yahweh of the OT. Hence, they often cited OT passages referring to Yahweh and applied them to Jesus Christ: e.g., compare Joel 2:32 with Rom. 10:13; Isa. 6:8 with John 12:41; Ps. 102-25-27 with Heb. 1:10; Isa. 45:23-24 with Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 8:12, 13 with 1 Pet. 3:14, 15; etc. (see also Jesus is Jehovah: Old Testament passages of Jehovah applied specifically to Jesus Christ in the NT).

3. Jesus is Creator: e.g., John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 8-10. 

4. Jesus claimed He was fully God: Although Jesus never literally stated, “I am God,” Jesus’ claims to deity were much stronger and clearer than if He had said, “I am God.” In fact, some of Jesus’ claims to deity were only used of Yahweh alone: John 5:17-18; John 10:26-33 (cf. Duet. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 48:12; Ps. 95:7); the seven “I am” (egō eimi) affirmations stated at John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, and 8.

5. Jesus is worshiped in a “religious context” which was reserved for God alone (cf. Exod. 20:5): e.g., Dan 7:14; Matt. 14:33; 28:9; John 9:38; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:11-14.– See Christ Worshiped as God

6. Jesus possesses the SAME attributes as God the Father, for example:

  • Creator (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:10-12)
  • Raises the dead and gives them life: John 5:21: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (cf. John 6:37-40, 44).
  • Omnipresent (cf. Matt. 28:20; John 14:23; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20).
  • Omniscient (cf. John 2:24-25; 6:64; 16:30; 21:17).
  • Omnipotent or all-powerful (cf. Matt. 8:27; 9:6; 28:18; Heb. 7:25).
  • Eternal (Pre-Existing) (cf. Micah 5:2; John 1:1; 8:58; 17:5).
  • Immutable (cf. Heb. 13:8).

To recap, Scripture then presents in the clearest way that Jesus Christ is God (yet distinct from the Father, cf. John 1:1b; 17:5), Creator, worshipped in a religious context, and possesses the same attributes as that of God the Father.

 

The Holy Spirit is God: e.g., Acts 5:3-4; the Holy Spirit also possesses the attributes of God:

  • Eternal, having neither beginning nor end (cf. Heb. 9:14),
  • Omnipresent, being everywhere at the same time (cf. Ps. 139:7).
  • Omniscient, understanding all things (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-11).
  • Omnipotent (cf. Luke 1:35).

The Holy Spirit is a Person: e.g., the Holy Spirit communicates (e.g., Acts 10:19-20; 13:2; Heb. 3:7-11; 10:15-17); personal pronouns (“I,” “He”) are applied to Him (cf. Acts 10:20; John 16:13-14); possesses “personal” attributes (e.g., He has a will [cf. 1 Cor. 12:9-11]; emotions [cf. Eph. 4:30]; intelligence in that He investigates [cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-11; Rom. 8:27]; He intercedes/prays [cf. Rom. 8:26]; He can be lied to [cf. Acts 5:3]; He can be blasphemed [cf. Mark 3:29-30]; He issues commands [cf. Acts 13:4; Acts 16:6]; He gives love [cf. Rom. 15:30]). See also: God the Holy Spirit: The Third Person of the Trinity


Third Truth: The three Persons are distinct from each other: e.g., John 1:1b. 17:5; Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 13:14; 1 John 1:3; Rev. 5:13.[2] See also: Grammatical Details.

As mentioned, additionally, in the OT, God is presented as multi-Personal: e.g., Gen. 19:24; Isa. 48:16; Hosea 1:7; Eccl. 12:1 (Heb. “Creators”); Isa. 54:5 (Heb. “Makers”; see also: The Multi-Personal God in the Old Testament and Oneness Theology)

In conclusion then, Scripture presents a tri-personal God. The Trinity is God’s highest revelation to mankind. In John 4:23-24, Jesus told the Samaritan woman that God seeks those who worship Him “in spirit and truth.” In truth, God is triune. Worshiping a unipersonal God or three separate Gods is not worshiping Him in truth. The issue being that the truth of the Trinity, the self-disclosure of God to men, is found in nearly every page of the Holy Scriptures: There is one God, and there are three distinct, coequal, coeternal, and coexistent, self-cognizant divine Persons or Egos that share the nature of the one God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

Notes

[1] Historically, these verses are no doubt referring to a heretical so-called Christian sect called Mariyama or Collyridians who existed within the same geographical location and period as that of Mohammad. This sect held to a form of Tritheism, worshipping Mary and her Son both of which were believed to be two separate gods besides God.

[2] Specifically, Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 13:14; 1 John 1:3; and Rev. 5:13 (and there are many others) distinguish the Persons in the Trinity. This is due to their grammatical construction—namely, the repetition of both the article (ho, “the”) and conjunction (kai, “and”). For example, note the literal reading of 2 Cor. 13:14: “The grace [of] the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love [of] the God, and the fellowship [of] the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.” Or the literal reading of Rev. 5:13: “[to] the one sitting upon the throne and [to] the Lamb. . . .” Here, the Father (“the one sitting”) and Christ (“the Lamb”) are personally differentiated by the repetition of the article “the” (ho) and conjunction “and” (kai).

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.