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Home: Articles / Bible Studies: Theology

"Responding to Common Objections to the Trinity"
By Fred Butler

I have had many discussions and debates with anti-Trinitarians, both in person and over the internet.  All of their arguments stem from a hatred of Christianity, but they are easily refuted.  These are the most common arguments against the Trinity put forth by the apologists from various pseudo-Christian groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, United Pentecostal Churches, and the apologists from Islam.

 

1) The word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. 

 

Response:  That is true.  The word “Trinity” is simply meant to be a summary word that encapsulates the whole of what the Bible teaches about God’s Being and the person’s comprising that Being.  The objection can be turned back upon the objector as well.  For instance, the United Pentecostal Churches will teach that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all manifestations of one God, or perhaps modes; but the words manifestation and mode is never used in the Bible in reference to God.  The issue is not that the word “Trinity” is found in the Bible, but that the word defines clearly what the Bible teaches. 

 

2) The doctrine of the Trinity comes from pagan origins.

 

Response: There are two important things to note.  First, paganism teaches a plurality of gods, not one God as the Christians do, thus the objection is false from the start.  Secondly, those individuals who make this objection are either ignorant of the history surrounding the theological and Christological controversies that occupied the Church in the first four centuries, or they have been intentionally taught error by their non-trinitarian group that revises the truth of Church history. 

 

Some facts about the Trinity from Church History –

 

  • As early as the first century, just 50 years after the apostolic church, Christian men like Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Melito of Sardis, were discussing the foundational elements of the Trinity in their writings.  Each of them recognized One, eternal Being who was God, and three distinct persons who were each co-eternal and co-divine. 

 

  • Three notable false teachers, Noetus (ca. 190), Praxeas (ca. 200), and Sabellius (ca. 263) all taught heresy concerning the nature of the Godhead.  They would either deny the distinction between the three persons, or reject the co-eternality of the three persons.  Heretics are marked by causing schisms in a Church because they depart from the truth.  If the foundational doctrines of the Trinity were unbiblical and not taught by early Christians, then these men were not heretics, because they had no foundational truth from which to depart.  In fact, what is interesting to note throughout Church history, is that God has used heretics and their heresies to stir up the Christian Church to affirm once and for all, biblical doctrine. 

 

  • Orthodox Christians wrote against such heretics and defended biblical truth.  The Church father Tertullian wrote against Praxeas and was the first to use the word “Trinity” to describe the person’s of the Godhead.  Justin Martyr and Hippolytus also wrote against heretics who denied the Trinity.  The defense against heretics by men such as these shows that the early Christians had a biblical understanding of the one, true God and the person’s of the Godhead. 

 

  •  In the centuries that followed, the doctrines of the Trinity that the early Christians always affirmed were articulated in various important creeds that defined the orthodox teachings of the Christian Church concerning the Trinity. 

 

3) The Doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly taught in scripture.

 

Response:  This is an argument that is put forth from a position of ignorance of the Bible.  Usually, the false teachers who make this claim have a superficial understanding of the scriptures and the Christian faith.  They only know that passages their anti-trinitarian group teach them, and even then, those passages are taken out of context and misapplied.  As we have seen, the Bible does lay down the foundational doctrines that form the teaching of the Trinity.  Christianity did not invent the Trinity and then make the Bible teach it.  The Trinity is affirmed by the proper application of biblical hermeneutics and exegesis.

 

A handful of OT passages affirming a tri-personal God. 

 

Genesis 1:26,27 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness….” “So God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him…”

 

Note the plural pronouns that are used to describe God.  Moreover, it is important to realize the verb make is plural in the original Hebrew.  How are we to explain these two verses?

 

Anti-trinitarians respond in 2 ways:

 

  • This is God and angels creating.   However, it needs to be pointed out that angels are never described in scripture as being able to create like God.  They are understood as being created by God, just as man is a created by God.  Furthermore, the words image and likeness are both singular, meaning that man is not created in the image and likeness of both angels and God.  Man is only created in the image and likeness of God. 

 

  • This is an instance of the plural of majesty.  God is believed to be speaking as a monarch over all the He has already created.  The problem with this argument is that only modern era monarchs spoke in such a manner, and even then, very few of them used such an expression.  There is no biblical instance where a king or ruler spoke for the people in a plural fashion. 

 

The only conclusion is that God is speaking with plural pronouns, because he is a tri-personal God comprising the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  This plural use by God is also found in Genesis 3:22, Genesis 11:7-9, and Isaiah 6:8.

 

Genesis 19:24 Then YHWH rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from YHWH out of the heavens.

 

This verse makes a distinction between two separate YHWHs:  One on earth calling down fire and brimstone, the other in heaven sending forth the fire and brimstone.  The only conclusion that can be drawn is what the council of Sirmium declared: “God the Son brought down the brimstone from God the Father.”

 

Deuteronomy 6:4, The Shema Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord.

 

This is an all too familiar verse for Jews and Christians alike, and yet it establishes that God is one, tri-personal being.  The important word in the verse is one.  In Hebrew, there are two main words used for one:

 

-          yachid – meaning absoluteness, or only one as in “absolute singularity.”

-          echad – oneness in the sense of unity. Echad is used in Genesis 2:4 to describe how the man and woman will be one (echad) flesh.  Two individuals becoming one.  Second Chronicles 30:12 speaks of God giving the people one (echad) heart.  Several people with one, unified heart.

 

It is the word echad that is used in Deut. 6:4.  God is described as one Lord in the sense that He is one, unified Lord.  In other words, God is one being, composed of three distinct, yet unified persons. 

 

The Angel of the LORD passages

 

Occasionally, throughout the Old Testament, the mysterious Angel of the LORD (mal’ ak YHWH) figure appears.  This Angel of the LORD is different from a regular angel, because he lays claim to divine attributes and prerogatives.

 

Genesis 16the Angel of the LORD found Hagar who had been cast out by Sarai.  After promising to bless Hagar’s descendents, Hagar addresses this Angel as the LORD (YHWH, God’s personal name) who spoke to her. (Gen. 16:13).

 

Genesis 21 – God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to Him.  Before Abraham could do so, the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham out of heaven and said, Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. (Gen. 22:12) The Angel of the LORD identifies Himself as the God of Abraham. 

 

Exodus 3:2-6 – The Angel of the LORD appears to Moses in a burning bush and identifies Himself as the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.

 

These are just three passages identifying the Angel of the LORD with the God of the Bible.  There are many more that could be considered.  It is clear from the host of passages that describe this Angel that He is a divine person, and what is more, God at times differentiates Himself from Him, while at the same time, the Angel maintains His divinity.  The only biblical understanding of this figure is to conclude that He is a pre-incarnate appearing of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity; what is called a Christophany. 

 

4) Many passages in the NT teach that Jesus is lesser than God, or that God created him.  For example,

    John 14:28 – “I am going to the Father, for my Father is greater than I.”

    Colossians 1:15 – “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”

 

Response:  Three problems riddle this objection: 

 

  • First, the objection does not take into consideration the context where such verses are found.  It also does not utilize the principles of proper exegesis and hermeneutics to understand these kinds of verses, nor consider the whole of what the Bible teaches about the Trinity.

 

  • The objection does not consider the functionality of the persons of the Trinity.  In other words, the Bible reveals that each person has a specific role, or function, within the Trinity.  This functionality is seen in Ephesians 1:4-14 where each member of the Trinity has a role in the salvation of men.  The Father decrees the eternal purposes and elects men to salvation, the Son redeems those elect men, and the Spirit sets His seal upon them and sanctifies them in holiness. 

 

  • The objection does not take into account the role of Christ’s incarnation, and the use of incarnational language by the biblical writers.  When the Son became man, he put on human flesh and limited the use of his deity to fulfill the will of the Father (John 6:37-44) and depended upon the Spirit for His ministry.  In his incarnation, Jesus would speak of God from the vantage point of a man. 

 

 

 

Bibliography for further independent study:

 

The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief  – James R. White

The Trinity: Evidence and Issues – Robert Morey

 

(For the stout of heart)

The Doctrine of God – John Frame

No One Like Him – John Feinberg

 

Jesus: Divine Messiah – Robert Reymond  This book is primarily a study on the person of Christ, but important in highlighting the Old and New Testament’s teaching on Christ’s deity and incarnation.

 

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