Who is God? One, Two or Three?
The Trinity That Defies Explanation
What could be more important than knowing God? What could be more serious than knowing the wrong God? Are you prepared to lay aside everything you think you know about God and seek His face anew one more time?
God knows us intimately, perfectly: every thought, good or bad. God yearns for us to know Him and urges us to seek His face (2 Ch 7:14, Psa 27:8, Psa 105:4, Amos 5:8). The Bible tells us that the very purpose of the promise of eternal life is that we should know God.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
What does the Bible not say is the nature of God? It does not say that He is an old man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud. It does not say that He is the captain of an alien star ship who left life on this planet millennia ago and then warped off into the universe. It does not say that God is a triune being consisting of a Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Yet, each of these characterisations of God have been embraced by some people, despite the fact that none are described in the Bible. Each of these ideas incorporate human deduction based upon concepts that are external to the Bible. That much is factually true. This article simply questions, with regard to the Trinity, whether that deduction is reasonable and right.
When I began to read the Bible I held no particular opinion about the nature of God, although my perspective of Jesus was that he was born in a manger some 2000 years ago. The idea of Jesus’ pre-existence was new to me. As I read articles and commentaries alongside my Bible study, I was introduced to the Trinity concept, but struggled to understand it, or to see it reflected in God’s word. I turned to teachers like Billy Graham for clarity. He said,
When I first began to study the Bible years ago, the doctrine of the Trinity was one of the most complex problems I had to encounter. I have never fully resolved it, for it contains an aspect of mystery. Though I do not totally understand it to this day, I accept it as a revelation of God.
Peace with God Billy Graham 1953
I was not impressed. For the Trinity to be a revelation of God He would have to actually reveal it, but nowhere in the Bible does He do that. How can something that is never stated be a revelation? My Bible tells me that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). It did not seem plausible that God would put obstacles in the way of knowing Him: to make Him any more difficult to discern than He already is to our inferior perception. God says He wants us to know him. Daniel tells us that God is the revealer, not the concealer, of mysteries:
… No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries …
and Jesus tells us that the Father sent him specifically to reveal the Father (although interestingly not the third party of the Trinity, the Spirit) to chosen individuals, which apparently did not include Billy Graham.
… no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
The fact that amongst Trinitarians there are at least half a dozen different interpretations as to what the Trinity actually is, also does not inspire confidence. Despite this, anyone who questions it is labelled a heretic and worse. This indescribable, incomprehensible phenomenon just is!
The most popular version, represented by the figure on the right, describes three separate, autonomous beings which together are supposedly the entity we call God. If this portrayal is accurate, then God is a committee of three with no leader, one third of which died and was raised again, presumably by one or both of the other two. Jesus would have to have prayed (Matt 26:36) and cried out (Mark 15:34) to alternate versions of Himself. If Jesus is equal to the Father and the Spirit, was he mistaken when he said that his Father is greater than Himself (John 14:28)? If Jesus is God, how is he a mediator between God and men (1 Tim 2:5)? The questions and contradictions are endless.
This characterisation of God made no sense to me. To accept the Trinity I would have to mentally contort plain language: to read something that isn’t there. But why do so many others believe it?
I was reminded of those pictures that hide an object. You would probably never see it unless someone pointed it out to you, but once they have, it is impossible to look at the picture again without seeing it. Is this why Trinitarians believe what they do? Have they been shown the hidden wolf and now cannot unsee it?
Yet, I stressed, who am I to argue with the great thinkers and theologians of the past 1700 years? Fortunately I remembered the example set by the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and Paul’s instruction to Timothy:
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15
Had I missed or misunderstood a key teaching or is the truth something quite different?
The Origin of the Trinity
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
1 Corinthians 8:6
God is the Father, says Paul and He is the one (only) God. There is also Jesus Christ. Paul misses the perfect opportunity to introduce the Holy Spirit in this explanation of God as, it seems, he always does. Far from describing it, Paul implicitly denies the Trinity.
God constantly warned the Children of Israel to observe the first commandment and not to worship other gods instead of Him as the nations round about were doing at the time. It turns out that many of those other gods, from around 2300 BC, were triune. One example is Osiris (Nimrod), Isis (Semiramis, Nimrod’s wife and later, mother) and Horus (their Son). In Babylon, this triad was known as Ninus, Ishtar and Tammuz. In Rome a similar triune deity was called Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The phenomenon appears to be common all over the world, another example being the Hindu God comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Later (427-347 BC), Plato set out to define God. He would have been heavily influenced by the trinity-based religions all around him. It is no surprise then that He postulated a god of three elements: the supreme being, the soul of the universe and the spirit. Plato’s definition received wide acceptance according to Robert M Grant in his book, God and the One God.
Another, Egyptian philosopher, Philo, lived before, during and after the life of Christ, yet he appears to have been ignorant of, or ignored, the teachings of Jesus. His work is also said to have been greatly admired. His magnum opus, influenced no doubt by Plato, included the proposition that God consisted of the Demiurge (father, creator), Mother (knowledge) and Son (the “world”). This appears to be the nonsense upon which the early Trinitarian theory was built.
The evidence that these apostate forces were already at large throughout the life of Paul is plentiful – Acts 17:16-, 1 John 4:1, Jude 3, 2 Thes 2:7, etc. These forces were, as Paul feared, weakening the body of Christ and subverting the minds of believers who were happy to “bear with” it.
For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
2 Corinthians 11:4
What Emerges From The Age Of Shadows Is Two Churches
Study of the history of early Christianity is quickly obstructed by what has been variously called, the darkness, the age of shadows or the dead period: that time (70-140 AD) during which little is known about the progression of the apostolic church. In The Story of the Christian Church, Jesse Lyman Hurlbut wrote,
…Of all the periods in the history, it is the one about which we know the least… For fifty years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises, about 120 AD with the writings of the earliest church fathers, we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The extent of the subversion soon becomes clear. In fact, what emerges from the age of shadows is two churches: a much-diminished apostolic church based upon the teachings of Jesus and a literal interpretation of the Bible, and various forms of Gnosticism which favour an allegorical interpretation. Gnostics believed that salvation was obtained through a secret source. That source was not the Jesus of the Bible who offers salvation to all, but a spirit-only Jesus accessible only to a “pneuma” possessing, privileged few. Matter (creation), said the Gnostics, was the work of an evil inferior God, Philo’s Demiurge, the “Father” of their triune being.
Both before and after those fifty dark years, heretical forces had impacted the church. 3 John 9-10 describes John’s dismay at the damage to an Asia Minor congregation by one, Diotrephes. In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon observes that the Jerusalem congregation were forced to renounce the Ten Commandments or be banished from Jerusalem. It is unquestionable that all over the Christian world, initial followers of Jesus were being corrupted as men sought to wrestle power out of Christ’s hands into their own. Paul saw this as a spiritual war to be waged against the Satanic enemy:
(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
2 Corinthians 10:4-5
The enemy soon began to organise into a rival doctrine labelled, “orthodox”. The apostolic church was persecuted and marginalised. As the pagan, Easter holiday was levered into Christianity, John’s pupil and successor, Polycarp wrote,
Oh good God, to what times hast thou spared me, that I must suffer such things.
Throughout the first 300 years of Christianity, the warring factions of the Roman Empire shared power, doing deals amongst themselves for rulership over this or that territory. The objective of subjugating the people to the will of Rome was hampered by the Christians who themselves were factionalised and warring. The various rulers saw persecution of Christians as a means of minimising their power through fear.
Meanwhile, the divisions in the church came to a head when two leaders of the church in Alexandria took differing positions over the nature of Christ and in particular his role in Salvation. Although both were influenced by the then modern philosophical concepts that had crept into Christianity, Arius was the more faithful to the teachings of the apostles, basing his ideas on his teacher’s, Lucian. Opposing him was Athanasius who followed the ideas of the late Origen, a Platonist and Stoic, steeped in the teachings of the Gnostics. This instability in the church threatened political stability.
In 306 AD Constantine the Great became Emporer. He was a great intellect and set about strengthening the power of Rome through, fiscal, administrative and political reforms. He recognised the danger that the Christians posed to government and, although a Pagan himself, sought a way to bring Christians on side. He ended state persecution of Christians and instituted the Council of Nicea (Thursday, 20 May to Saturday, 19 June AD 325) with a clear political objective: ending the tensions between Christians and ingratiating himself with them. The central question at the Council was not the Trinity and the outcome only set the stage for its eventual acceptance; nevertheless it was a seminal event in the formation of modern Christian doctrine.
The Emperor Provided Them All With Plenty Of Food
Much of what we know about the Council comes from Eusebius of Caesarea, also known as Eusebius Pamphili, who was a historian of Christianity, exegete, and Christian polemicist. He became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima about 314 AD. He was a scholar of the Biblical canon and is regarded as an extremely learned Christian of his time. His account reads, in part:
The most distinguished of God’s ministers from all the churches which abounded in Europe, Africa, and Asia assembled here. The one sacred building, as if stretched by God, contained people from [a long list of nations]. There were more than 300 bishops, while the number of elders, deacons and the like was almost incalculable. Some of these ministers of God were eminent for their wisdom, some for the strict living, and patient endurance of persecution, and others for all three. Some were venerable because of their age, others were conspicuous for their youth and mental vigor, and others were only just appointed. The Emperor provided them all with plenty of food.
A flavour of the discussion can be gleaned from this account from Benjamin Wilkinson’s Truth Triumphant:
A great trouble arose, since there are two terms in Greek of historical fame. The first, homos , meaning ‘identical’ and the second, homoios , meaning
‘similar’ or ‘like unto’ […] The spelling of these words is much alike. The difference in meaning, when applied to the Godhead, is bewildering to simplehearted believers. Nevertheless, those who would think in terms of homoiousian, or ‘similar,’ instead of homoousian, or ‘identical’ were promptly labeled as heretics and Arians by the clergy. Yet when the emperor, Constantine, in full assembly of the Council of Nicaea, asked Hosius, the presiding bishop, what the difference was between the two terms, Hosius replied that they were both alike. At this all but a few bishops broke out into laughter and teased the chairman with heresy.
Of Constantine, Eusebius writes,
The Emperor listened to them all patiently, impartially and attentively, considering everything that was said. He spoke in support of one side and then another, and that way gradually softened the bitterness of the conflict with his mildness and affability. He spoke to them in Greek language, because he was not ignorant of it and managed to be both interesting and persuasive. He convinced some with his arguments, and won round others by entreaty.
One great “achievement” of the Council was agreement over the date of the pagan holiday of Easter which could now be incorporated into Christianity, thereby making Christianity more palatable to pagan ears.
This article is insufficient to cope with the minutiae of the arguments, but consider: this is the atmosphere in which a founding principle of modern Christianity was born! The Bible itself played little part. In short, it was a power play between two heretics in a world of mysticism, philosophy and politics, directed and orchestrated by a pagan. The outcome eventually came down to a vote of compromise – and as it turns out, the least heretical lost! Years later in 381 AD The Council of Constantinople finally declared the Trinitarian doctrine of the equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son. Also among the council’s canons, and presumably of equal importance, was one giving the bishop of Constantinople precedence of honour over all other bishops except the bishop of Rome, “because Constantinople is the New Rome.”
The Trinity doctrine is a political compromise! This teaching, upon which virtually the whole Christian world bases its understanding of God, exists only because Pagans won a vote! Eusebius, who voted in favour of the eventual outcome, wrote a long, toadying letter to his church to explain why he had supported a concept that he actually disagreed with.
Now, saddled with the job of explaining the inexplicable, modern theologians come up statements such as the above Billy Graham quote, and this from the International Bible Encyclopaedia to try to justify it:
The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when it is crystallized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. Or, to speak without figure, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assemble the disjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection.
Or this by Gregory Nazianzen:
No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me… When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light.
A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff
Is it too strong a condemnation of such statements to call them drivel? I think not. The relationship between God and Jesus, Father and Son, is stated over and over again in the Bible, yet Christians refuse to accept it. What blindness is this?
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
1 Corinthians 8:6
Paul tells us to stop complicating things and understand that belief is simple. Faith does not require great intellect or philosophy. The truth is as simple as it is written. Satan loves to complicate, distract and mislead and his work is evident in the history of the church from the very moment of ascension – and worse is yet to come.
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:3