You are here

... continued

Personal History

I am writing as one who had been a trinitarian from the time I became a Christian at the age of 19—a time which spans over fifty years. During the nearly four decades of serving as pastor, church leader, and teacher of many who have entered the full-time ministry, I taught trinitarian doctrine with great zeal, as those who know me can testify. Trinitarianism was what I drank in with my spiritual milk when I was a spiritual infant. Later, in my Biblical and theo­logical studies, my interest focused on Christology which I pursued with considerable inten­sity. My life centered on Jesus Christ. I studied and sought to practice his teaching with utmost devotion.

I was in a practical sense a monotheist, devoted to a mono­theism in which Jesus was my Lord and my God. Intense devotion to the Lord Jesus inevitably left little room for either the Father or the Holy Spirit. So, while in theory I believed in there being three persons, in practice there was actually only one person who really mattered: Jesus. I did indeed worship one God, but that one God was Jesus. The one God revealed in the Old Testament, namely, Yahweh, was in practice replaced by the God Jesus Christ, God the Son. A large proport­ion of Christians function as I did, so they can easily under­stand what I am saying here.

About three years ago I was pondering the question: How can the gospel be made known to the Muslims? I discovered that my Christ­ianity was accompanied by some kind of prejudice against the Muslims which had to be overcome if I was to understand them and reach out to them. But I also soon realized that the moment I said anything about the Trinity, or said that Jesus is God, all commun­ication with Muslims would cease abruptly. The same, of course, is true for the Jews. So how could they be reached?

We have already noted Jesus’ words, “this gospel of the kingdom must first be preached to all nations and then shall come the end…” (Mt.24:14). One need only look at the situation in the world to see that it is extremely difficult to preach the gospel in Muslim countries, of which there are many. The same is true of Israel. What that means in terms of Jesus’ words in Mat­thew 24 is that the end cannot come, and he cannot return, because the gospel cannot be preached to these nations.

Most Christians seem to be hardly aware of, or concerned about, these things. Accordingly, there is hardly any concern about reaching the Mus­lims. Most Christians know next to nothing about Islam and are, in any case, not interested about them or their salvation. In general, there seems to be little spiritual fire or zeal in the churches. Is there a deeper spiritual problem within the church itself which is at the root of this?

If we consider the relationship of Islam to Christianity in history, we recall that it was only three hundred years after the Nicene Creed was established in the church (proclaiming God as consisting of three persons rather than one) that the “scourge” of Islam appeared on the scene of world history. Islam pro­claimed once again the radical monotheism which had been proclaimed in the Hebrew Bible. From then onwards, Christianity, which had expanded rapidly throughout the world during the first three centuries of the present era, now fell back before the advancing forces of monotheistic Islam. Is there a spiritual message in this for us? If so, can we discern it?

One thing that I could see was that I needed to re-evaluate whether or not we Christians are really monotheists. Have we really been true to the Biblical revelation? The large number of books produced by Christian theologians trying to explain and to justify “Christian monotheism” already indicates a problem: Why is so much effort needed to explain or justify this kind of “monotheism”? As I was rethinking this question of “Christian monotheism” I looked again at an academic monograph on this subject which I had in my possession. It was a collection of essays by trinitarian theologians both Protest­ant and Catholic. I soon noticed that these writers had something in common: they were clearly uncomfort­able with mono­theism; some were openly critical of it.

When I examined my own thoughts, I too realized that my trinitarian­ism was at root incompatible with Biblical monotheism. It became necess­ary for me to carefully re-examine this crucial matter. When one believes in three dis­tinct and coequal persons, each of whom is indivi­dually God in his own right, who together constitute the “Godhead,” how can one still speak of be­lieving in “the radically monotheistic God” (Yahweh) revealed in the Hebrew Bible—unless one is using the term “monotheistic” in a sense fundamentally different from that in the Bible? (The term “the radically monotheistic God” is here borrowed from an article by Professor David Tracy of Chicago in the book Christianity in Jewish Terms, 2000, Westview Press, pp.82,83; the book consists of essays by Jewish and Christian scholars.)

Up until then I had confidently believed that I could readily defend trinitarianism on the basis of the New Testament texts so familiar to me. But now the more pressing question of evangelism was: How were these texts to be explained to Muslims who sin­cerely want to know Isa (as they call Jesus) and are even prepared to read the Gospels, which are endorsed by the Qur’an? To my surprise, once I began to put aside my own preju­dices and precon­ceptions, and re-evaluate each text to see what it is actually saying, and not how we as trinitarians had interpreted it, the message which emerged from the text proved to be different from what I had supposed it to be. This was especially true of John 1:1. Because of my deeply entrenched trinitarianism, this process resulted in a long struggle (and a lot of hard work) to get to the truth of the Biblical message. Some of the results of those efforts are put forward in this book. Let each reader carefully evaluate it for himself or herself, and may God grant you His light without which we cannot see.

When I first faced the challenge of reevaluating my trinitarian­ism in the light of the Bible, and then sharing that light with all who wish to see it, I thought I was alone in taking this stand. But when preparing this manuscript for publication I was surprised to come across the work of the renowned theolo­gian Hans Küng and to discover that he had already declared that the doctrine of the Trinity is “unbiblical” in his large work entitled Christianity: Essence, History, and Future, which was published in 1994. Now I have discovered that he is not the only prominent Catholic dog­matic theologian who has made this affirmation. The systematic theo­logian K-J Kuschel, in an in-depth study titled Born Before All Time? The Dispute over Christ’s Origin published in 1992, had made the same point. It is certainly most encouraging to find such unantici­pated support from unexpected quarters, especially from scholars of such out­stand­ing quality and courage. And although work on the present manuscript was already approaching complet­ion, I obtained their books in time to be able to insert a number of quotations from them into this work.

On the subject of the Trinity for example, in a section under the heading “No doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament,” Professor Küng states unequivocally, “Indeed throughout the New Testament while there is belief in God the Father, in Jesus the Son and in God’s Holy Spirit, there is no doctrine of one God in three persons (modes of being), no doctrine of a ‘triune God’, a ‘Trinity’.” (Christianity, p.95)

The obstacles we face when considering Biblical Monotheism

(1) The first obstacle is the need to deal with multitudes of preconceptions due to our indoc­trination: For example, we speak of the Spirit as “he,” be­cause when we read the New Testament we see the Spirit referred to in this way. Most Christ­ians, being unfamiliar with Greek, do not know that the word for Spirit, pneuma, is neuter and should therefore be translated as “it”. Even after having learned Greek we still speak of the Spirit as “he” because according to trinitarian doctrine the Spirit is a distinct person who is coequal with the other two persons in the Trinity, the Father and the Son. This, of course, is the reason why all translations depict the neuter word pneuma as “he”. It has nothing to do with proper linguistics but every­thing to do with Christian dogma.

The same is true of the idea of “Trinity”. In India there are a multi­tude of gods, but there are three at the top of the Indian pantheon. These three share in the same “substance” of deity; other­wise they would not be consid­ered gods at all. If those in India who worship these three supreme gods are called polytheists by Christians, in what way is the Christian trinitarian con­cept fundamentally different from the Indian? Is it simply because the three persons in the Christian trinity are more closely related to each other, i.e. as “Father” and “Son” (what about “Spirit”)? Indoc­trination has the powerful effect of making us insist that trinitarianism represents monotheism—some­thing which true mono­theists like the Jews and the Muslims reject. If we still have a modicum of logical think­ing left in us we would see that: if there is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit then, obviously, there are three Gods according to this dogma. Yet we seem unable to face up squarely to the plain fact of the matter! Here we see the power of indoctrination and its capacity to overpower logical thought.

To those who have seen indoctrination at work, this is not something new. This kind of thing has been at work even in relatively recent history: The crazed idealism of Nazism and its dream of build­ing a thousand-year utopia, the ful­fillment of which required (among other things) the exter­mination of the Jews, considered by them to be the scum of humanity infecting the human race, or at least the Aryan race. Only indoctrination by means of intense propaganda could induce people to think such insane thoughts.

There are also many who have experienced the kind of brain-washing made familiar by Stalinist communism. People were permitted to think only in a predetermined way; any other way would bring severe penalt­ies, including incarceration and death.

When it comes to restricting free thought, the church itself has a long record of this kind. Once it had established doctrines, such as the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds in the 4th and 5th centuries, dissent was prohibited on pain of excommunication which, in effect, meant condemning a person to hell. Nothing could be more serious than that, not even physical death. This kind of ecclesiastical oppression developed into crude physical torture, often culmin­ating in death, during the time of the notorious Inquisition which the church inflicted upon those they had condemned as heretics.

Even today there are not a few Christians who think that they have some kind of divine right to label other Christians who do not share their doctrinal views as “cultists,” “sectarians” or, as before, simply “heretics”. Thus these self-appointed defenders of the (their) faith carry on the long tradition of the Gentile church with its inter­necine doctrinal conflicts, which can hardly be to the glory of God in the eyes of the world, not to mention how God looks at it.

But quite apart from the strong external pressures to conform to a particu­lar dogma is the fact that we ourselves have been con­vinced that this doctrine is true. All our Christian lives we have learned to read the Bible in a particular way as being the only right way to understand it. So now it only makes sense to us in that way and, conversely, everything we read convinces us further that the way we were taught is the right way. It thus becomes a self-reinforcing development of our faith in our parti­cular doctrine, espe­cially as we become teachers ourselves and teach others this doctrine, trying to find even more convincing explanations than we ourselves had been taught. Here I speak from my own exper­ience as a teacher.

The practical result of all this was that when I read the New Testa­ment, I inevitably saw every passage in the way I had learnt it, but which was further strengthened by new arguments which I had developed myself. As any diligent teacher aims to do, I tried to make the trinitarian case as con­vincing as possible. I had both learned and taught the Bible as a trinitarian book; how could I now understand it in the light of mono­theism?

Take, for example, the well-known text so constantly used by trinita­rians to “prove” that Christ is God the Son, Philippians 2:6-11. Prof. M. Dods summed it up (as trinitarians would do) like this: “Christ is repres­ented [in this passage] as leaving a glory he originally enjoyed and returning to it when his work on earth was done and as a result of that work” (The Gospel of St. John, The Expositor’s Greek NT, p.841). The “glory” which Christ left was the “divine glory,” as Dods states in the next sentence of his com­mentary.

That is how we all understood this text as trinitarians. It simply does not occur to us that this interpretation is the result of reading a lot of things into the text which are simply not there. The word “glory,” for example, occurs nowhere in this text (or even in this chapter) in relation to Christ, much less the term “divine glory”. By the term “divine glory” is meant not the glory of God the Father (see Phil.2:11) but of “God the Son,” a term which appears nowhere in the Scriptures. Dods’s key words “leaving” and “returning” also do not exist in this passage, but are read into it. To say, as Philippians 2:6 does, that he “did not count equal­ity with God a thing to be grasped” (ESV, etc) is not at all saying the same thing as “leaving” his “divine glory”.

Moreover, the passage in Philippians 2:6-11 says absolutely nothing what­ever about Christ’s “returning” to the “glory he orig­inally enjoyed” (Dods). What it does say is something quite differ­ent, as one should be able to see for oneself: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil.2:9). There is no suggestion that he was merely receiving again what he already had before; to say this is to render meaningless his being “highly exalted” by God.

Thus there is practically nothing in Dods’s summary of the Philippian text that actually derives from the text itself! Trinitar­ianism is simply and unabash­edly read into it. Yet as trinitarians we took no notice of these serious discrep­ancies between our interpret­ations and the Biblical texts we were supposed to be interpreting. This was the result of not really knowing how to read the text in any other way than that which we had been taught. Here we shall not study Philippians 2 in detail (we shall return to it later; some points in this well-known passage will illustrate the fact that we habitually read the Bible through trinit­arian glasses).

Apart from this difficult problem of practically having to re-learn how to read the Bible in a new light, that of monotheism, there is also the demotivat­ing factor of reckoning with the external pressures of being labeled a “heretic,” which is intimidating for most Christians. That some­one who proclaims that the Bible is monotheistic because it is the word of “the only true God” can be labeled a “heretic” by the Gentile church shows just how far the church has strayed from the word of God.

Only the God-given courage to face up to the truth, indeed to love the truth at all cost, will enable us to go forward to know Him who is “the God of truth”. I shall, therefore, conclude this section with the words of Isaiah 65:16, “So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.”

(2) Apart from the serious problems of indoctrination and peer pressure, there is the equally serious problem that we no longer possess the ideas and con­cepts which were familiar to those who first read the NT: common con­cepts such as Logos, or Memra, Shekinah, and above all the Name of God, Yahweh. These are now alien to most Christians. To understand the Bible, these concepts need to be learned, and for many people this in itself is a challenge.

Few Christians today know something as basic as the fact that God’s Name in the Hebrew Bible is “Yahweh,” which the Jews out of reverence read as “Adonai,” which means “Lord”. It is generally translated as “Lord” in most English Bibles (the New Jerusalem Bible, which has “Yahweh,” is a notable exception). Hardly any Christian knows how frequently the Name “Yahweh” appears in the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call “the Old Testament”). They are surprised to learn that it occurs 6828 times. When the shortened form of the Name is counted (as in Hallelujah, where “Jah” stands for Yahweh and Hallelujah means “Praise to Yahweh”), the number of occurrence rises to around 7000. No other name is even remotely com­parable to this frequency of occurrence in the Bible. This makes it perfectly clear that Yahweh encompasses both the center and circumference of the Bible; He is essentially its “all in all” (1Cor.15:28).

It also needs to be noted that “Yahweh” is also found in the NT, especial­ly in the many places where the OT is quoted. “Adonai” (the Jewish metonym of “Yahweh”) occurs 144 times in the Complete Jewish Bible. In the Salkinson-Ginsburg Hebrew New Testament, “Yahweh” occurs 207 times.

But the matter goes far beyond the statistical frequency of Yahweh’s Name in the Bible. The extraordinary beauty of Yahweh’s character as revealed in the Bible is something that few Christians have perceived. The beauty of His character as seen in His com­passion, His wisdom, and His power as used for man’s salvation, is revealed already in Genesis, where we can also observe the astonish­ing level of intimacy of His interactions with Adam and Eve, whom it seems He regularly visited in the “cool of the day” (Gen.3:8) in the Garden of Eden, which He had “planted” (2:8) for them. After they had sinned, He even made gar­ments with which to cover them instead of the flimsy fig leaf covering that they had made for themselves (Gen.3:7,21).

Yahweh’s compassion and saving power are seen on an enormous scale when He rescued the people of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt. He led some 2,000,000 Israelites through the fear­some desert to the land of Canaan, provid­ing for their every need for 40 years. We shall consider these things more fully in Chapter 5; here we only mention that these same qualities of Yahweh’s char­acter are revealed again, in the gospels, in the life and actions of Jesus Christ, in whom the whole fullness of Yahweh dwelt (Col.1:19; 2:9).

(3) Even talking about “God” becomes a problem because to trinitarians the word can refer to any one of three persons or all three together. God is thus a triad, that is, a group of three entities or persons. We cannot even speak about God as Father without the trinitarian assuming that we are talking about that one third of the Trinity who is called “God the Father,” or even about Jesus as “Father,” because many Christians also apply this title to him. How then can we even speak of “the only true God” without being misun­derstood by trinitarians? It seems that the only way available to us is to speak of the true God by the name He revealed Himself: “Yahweh,” or even as “Yahweh God” (YHWH elohim), a term which occurs 817 times in the OT.

Some important historical facts

It is a fact of history that the trinitarian Nicene Creed was established in AD 325 (and the creed of Constantinople in AD 381), 300 years after the time of Christ. That is to say that trinit­arianism became the official creed of the church three centuries after the time of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is likewise a plain historical fact that Jesus and his apostles were all Jews, and that the church when it was first established in Jerusalem (des­cribed in the book of Acts) was a Jewish church. What this means is simply that the earliest church was composed entirely of monotheists. Scholars frankly acknowledge “the strict monotheism of the N.T. (in John, see in particular 17:3),” to use the words of H.A.W. Meyer (Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of John, p.68).

What this means is that when we understand the NT monotheis­tically, or expound it in this way, we are doing so in complete accord­ance with its true character. This is how the NT is properly under­stood or expounded. Therefore, when we speak of John 1:1 or any other part of the NT in mono­theistic terms, we have absolutely nothing to justify, no case that we need to defend.

The NT is not a trinitarian or polytheistic document which we are now trying to explain monotheistically. If we were doing this, we would have to justify our actions or defend our case. But it is precisely the reverse that is true. In regard to the NT, it is trinitarianism that is on trial: it will have to explain why it has taken the monotheistic Word of God and interpreted it in poly­theistic terms, thereby utterly distorting its fundamental character.

But are trinitarians not monotheists? As trinitarians we argued that we are monotheists, not polytheists, because our faith is in one God in three persons. We closed our eyes (and ears) to a fact that should have been perfectly obvious: If the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, and all three are coequal and coeternal, then the conclusion is inescap­able that there are three Gods. So how did we manage to maintain that we still believe in one God? There was only one way: the definition of the word “God” had to be changed—from a “Person” to a divine “Substance” (or “Nature”) in which the three persons share equally.

The plain fact is, however, that the God of the Bible is undoubtedly a very personal Being and was never merely a “substance,” no matter how wonderful that substance might be. Yet trinitarianism has changed the Bibl­ical concept of God by daringly introducing polytheism into the church under the guise of “mono­theism”. In so doing they changed the meaning of the word “God”.

The Subtle Shift from Monotheism to Trinitarian Tritheism

We have already noted the historical fact that there was an interval of 300 years from the time of Christ to the time of the Nicene Creed. During those three centuries a fundamental change had slowly but surely taken place in the church: it had moved from monotheism to polytheism. The historical reason for this change is not difficult to understand. As the early church, empowered by the Spirit of God, proclaimed the mono­theist Gospel dyn­amically throughout the poly­theist Greco-Roman world and many came to the Lord, many Gentile believers who came into the church did not leave their polytheistic way of thinking entirely behind them. With the growth of the church throughout the world, Gentiles came to predominate in the churches, until finally the Jews con­stituted only a minority in most churches outside Palestine. By the mid­dle of the second century, when Christianity had parted from Judaism, the break with Biblical monotheism became a reality in fact if not in name.

By the early third century AD it was hard to find a single Jewish name among the regional leaders (then called “bishops”) of the church. The church was now firmly under Gentile leadership. These leaders had grown up in a religious and cultural environment where there were “gods many and lords many” (1Cor.8:5, KJV). The “gods” and “lords” of the Greek and Roman relig­ions were basically deified human beings who were honored by the multi­tudes as heroes. “So from humans into heroes and from heroes into demi-gods the better souls undergo their transition; and from demi-gods, a few, after a long period of purification, share totally in divinity” (Plutarch [c. AD 46-120], quoted in Greek-English Lexicon, BDAG, θεότης). Alexander the Great and some of the Roman emperors were hailed as gods.[1]

Whatever other reasons there may have been for the church’s having gradually but steadily moved away from its original mono­theism (cf. Jews and Christians: the parting of the ways AD 70 to 135, ed. James D.G. Dunn), it is clear that with the Creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople, promulgated three centuries after Christ, Christ was now proclaimed to be God, coequal and coeternal with two other persons in the Godhead. God was now no longer one personal Being but a group of three coequal persons. This meant that the very meaning of the word “God” had changed from being one div­ine Person into three divine persons sharing one divine “substance” (Latin, substantia; Greek: hypostasis; also, ousia [2]). Thus the Biblical proclamation fundamental to the Biblical faith in both the OT and the NT, expressed clearly in the words: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord (Yahweh) our God, the Lord (Yahweh) is One” (Dt.6:4; Mk.12:29), was changed in essence to: “Hear, O Church, the Lord your God is THREE.”

With this change the very character of Biblical monotheism, in which one personal God is revealed, is changed to a “monotheism” in which “God” is not one person but one “substance” shared by three persons.

Already as early as the beginning of the third century, Origen, the prom­inent “father” of the Greek Church and teacher at the catech­etical school at Alexandria, declared, “We are not afraid to speak in one sense of two Gods, in another sense of one God” (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p.129). “We are not afraid to speak…of two Gods”: How bold, or should we say, how daring?! The floodgates of polytheism (under the thinly disguised veil of “trinitarian mono­theism”) were now boldly thrown open. Within barely 200 years from the time of Christ, the Gentile church daringly defies Biblical monotheism, and begins its long tradition of double-talk: “in one sense…in another sense”. In which senses? In terms (in the sense) of persons, the Gentile Christian God is/are two (or three, officially since AD 381); in terms of sub­stance: one. But let it be clearly under­stood that as far as the Biblical revelation is concerned, whether of the Old Testament or the New, there are no two Gods (or three) in any sense what­soever. Those who care about Biblical truth will reject the trinitarian double-talk, recognizing it for the falsehood that it is. There is only one true God, and His Name is Yahweh. Anyone who preaches another God besides Him will surely answer for it on that Day.

Although changing the way the word “God” is defined and understood is an extremely serious matter, the seriousness of the matter does not end there. What happens in the trinitarian declar­ation is a flat contradict­ion of the divine revelation that “Yahweh (the Lord) is ONE,” Deut.6:4. Yahweh is one Being, one Entity, one Person, as is clearly seen in the Hebrew Bible; and it is no different in the New Testament, as we shall see. Therefore, the meaning of the oneness of God in the Bible is not something open to negotiation or compro­mise.

The meaning of Yahweh’s oneness is defined with absolute clarity, and is not amenable to compromise of the kind that suggests that His oneness is “a unity in diversity” with the idea that it might include another one or two persons besides Yahweh. The Scripture declares unequivocally that: “the Lord is God; there is no other besides him” (Deuteronomy 4:35). Or, in Yahweh’s own words, “there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:21,22). “No other” is reiterated three times in these two verses alone. It is repeated many times more elsewhere in the Scriptures; we shall have occasion to return to these passages later in this study.

Most notably, the trinitarian declaration flatly contradicts Jesus’ own affirmation of Deuteronomy 6:4 that Yahweh is one. On the occasion when a scribe asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus ans­wered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12:28-30) Who “the Lord your God” refers to is absolutely clear; in the Old Testament it is a standard form of reference to Yahweh where it occurs over 400 times.

Yet that group of church leaders at Nicaea, who presumably acknow­ledged Jesus as “Lord,” were not afraid (as was Origen) to contradict their master and demanded that the church must believe that God is more than one person. This reminds us of Jesus’ words, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) When the master teaches that God is one, what should his true disciples’ response be? And when we don’t do what he tells us, can we not expect to hear him say, “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Mt.7:23)? Or do we imagine that he will be pleased with us because we elevated him onto the same level with Yahweh, much like the people who wanted to crown him king against his will in John 6:15: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself”?

As trinitarians we exalted Jesus to Yahweh’s level even though he himself never once claimed to be God, just as Philippians 2:6 says that he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”. Interestingly, the Greek word translated “grasp” in this verse is precisely the same word tran­slated “take by force” (harpazō) in John 6:15 quoted above, by which a link between the two passages can be seen. Jesus never made an attempt to seize forcibly, or grasp at, equality with God. We shall return to Philippians 2 later in this work.

Trinitarianism also insists on making the Spirit of the Lord (Yahweh) a distinct person from Yahweh. For anyone somewhat familiar with the Old Testament, this is something strange. Jews must wonder whether Christians really have any understanding of the Bible at all. To argue that the Spirit of Yahweh, God’s Spirit, is a person distinct from Him is like arguing that “the spirit of man” (1Cor.2:11; Prov.20:27; Eccl.3:21; Zech.12:1), man’s spirit, is a distinct individual who lives in or with him as another person! This might be perceived as true by someone who suffers from schizophren­ia, but to sug­gest that this is the case with God borders on lunacy if not something worse, like blasphemy.

“God is Spirit” (Jn.4:24) as Jesus said, yet we do not hesitate to declare that God’s Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, is actually a different person from Him. The tragedy is that as trinitar­ians we have become so accustomed to this sort of teaching that we are no longer capable of seeing its absurdity. Surely, we assure ourselves, we are not that stupid. The problem is not stupidity but spiritual blindness—and we thought that it was only the Jews who were struck with blindness (Eph.4:18; Rom.11:25 KJV, esp. with regard to Jesus as Messiah)!

Since the Bible is unquestionably monotheistic in the Biblical sense (and therefore a monotheistic exposition of it requires no justification what­ever, as noted above), what follows is an attempt to learn how to understand the Scriptures as it was meant to be understood: monotheis­tically. This is no easy task for someone as steeped in trinitarianism as I had been. But it is something that, by the grace of God, and for the sake of grasping His truth, must be done. It is time for us to “examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord (Yahweh)” (Lamentations 3:40; NIV).

Trinitarian “Monotheism”

The fact is that trinitarian “monotheism” can only qualify as monotheism by changing the definition of the word “mono­theism”. It is rather like saying that an angel is a human being by changing the meaning of the term “human being” to include angels. This is like changing the rules of the game by placing the goal posts farther apart and scoring your points. This can hardly be con­sidered acceptable to those, like Jews (and Muslims), who know that this kind of argu­ment­ation is a denial of the radical, uncompro­mising monotheism of the Word of God, the Scriptures.

So how can trinitarianism, which claims that God is not one person but three coequal persons, still claim to be monotheistic? Well, to put it simply, by changing the meaning of “monotheism” in such a way that the one God is not understood as being one Person but one “substance,” the substance of deity or “godhead”. Encarta Dictionary defines “godhead” as the “state of being God or a god: the nature or essence of being divine; also called ‘godhood’”. All gods in polytheism are gods because they share in the “state of being god,” that is, in the “substance” of godhood. How else could they be gods? Likewise, we are human beings because we share in a common man­hood; we share the “substance” of humanity. How else would we be human beings?

Thus, what trinitarianism has done is that it has reduced the word “God” from being a reference to the Lord God of the Bible to a group of three beings sharing the divine “substance” of godhood, rather like three men sharing the “substance” of manhood (“state of being a man,” Encarta). “God” is reduced to mean a “state of being,” not a person. The God revealed in the Bible is de-person­alized into a divine “substance” in order to make way for two other divine persons to share in that “one substance”. This one sub­stance, or nature, is trinitarian “monotheism”.

Whether the trinitarian realizes it or not (and he almost cer­tainly does not), when he prays to his “God” he is not praying to a specific person but to a “state of being” in which he believes there are three persons. Little wonder that a few pray to the Father, and probably most pray to Jesus (as I did), and many pray to the Holy Spirit (as the charismatics do).

Where, then, does this distorted concept of monotheism come from? Trinitarians, of course, claim that it comes from the New Testament. John 1:1 is the single most important verse they use for their case. For this reason we shall study this verse in great detail in this work. If this verse cannot be shown to endorse trinitarianism, then the case for this dogma collapses. Other verses in the NT which trinitarianism also relies upon will be considered. These include a portion of Philippians 2, a part of Colossians 1, some verses in Heb­rews 1 and in the book of Revelation; but the trinitarian interpret­ation of these passages depends heavily on its interpretation of John 1:1, so once the meaning of this verse is clarified the meaning of the other passages is relatively easier to grasp.

The purpose of this work has something much more important in view than the refuting of trinitarian dogma. The refutation of trinitar­ianism clears the way for the proclamation of a wonderful revelation that has been obscured by trinitarian doctrine, namely, that the one true God—who revealed Himself by the Name Yahweh (YHWH), the “I am that I am” (Ex:3:14), who through the great prophet Isaiah proclaimed that He would come to His people (Isaiah 40), and who through the last OT prophet Malachi declared that He would suddenly (unexpectedly) come to His temple—He did indeed come in the person of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in all the Gospels. It is this mind-boggling revelation which trinitarianism has ob­scured. It is the first (and only) Person who came into the world in Christ, not an alleged “second person”. We shall go into this more fully after the trinitarian interpretation of Scripture has been evaluated.

Why do Christians believe that there is a Trinity?

Clearly, if there were even just one verse in the Bible which plainly and explicitly states that “Jesus Christ is God” the whole matter should there­with immediately be settled, and no further discussion would be necessary. But the fact is: there is no such statement in the Scriptures. That being the case, why don’t we close the case on trinitarianism because of insufficient evidence? Well, the matter is not quite that simple; a long and complex church tradition lies behind it. Why do Roman Catholics believe in the Trinity? They believe in it because it is the official doctrine of the Catholic Church. For the Roman Catholic the church is God’s voice on earth. If you hope to be saved, then you must unconditionally accept what the church teaches.

That the leaders of the Catholic church are God’s represent­atives on earth, authorized to execute what they consider to be God’s will in regard to all matters of faith and practice in the church, is something that goes back a long way in church tradition and history. Accordingly, a group of church leaders (called “bishops”) gathered at Nicaea in AD 325 under the sponsor­ship of the Roman emperor Constantine (who claimed to have become a Christian but was not baptized until just before his death). Constantine placed on them the momentous task of deciding on the different and conflict­ing views about Jesus Christ and how he was related to God, which were current in the church at the time and which were threatening the peace and unity which he had hoped to establish in his empire.

The church leaders at Nicaea (there was considerable tension among them) finally came up with what we know as the Nicene Creed in which the deity of Jesus was declared to be what Christians must believe. On what was this declar­ation based? This is the important question that needs to be asked. Was it based on the Bible, or at least on the NT? No, there is not a single reference to the Bible anywhere in this creed. So on what authority was it based? It was based on the authority of these church leaders, who considered themselves as acting in God’s Name on behalf of His church.

This sole authority of the church in all matters of faith and practice was first challenged only a few hundred years ago (in the 16th century) by Mar­tin Luther, who himself was a Roman Catholic and, indeed, an Augustinian monk. How dare one lowly monk stand up against the might of the vast Catholic establishment? Luther dared to do this on the basis of the New Testament which he had devoted himself to studying. While reading Paul’s letters he had noticed the phrase “justified by faith”. He came to realize that this contradicted the teaching of the Catholic church of his day which taught the acquiring of “merit” as a means of obtaining for­giveness of sins. On this truth of justification by faith Luther took his courageous stand against the whole might of the established church; and out of this bold stand the Reformation was born.

Although the phrase “justified by faith” occurs only a few times in Paul’s letters (Rom.3:28; 5:1; Gal.2:16; 3:24), the idea expressed by that phrase has a wider basis in Paul’s teaching on salvation, as also in New Test­ament teaching. The enormous significance of Luther’s courageous stand meant that from then on the teachings of the church could be called into question on the basis of the Scriptures, the word of God. The church and its leaders could no longer contin­ue to arrogate to themselves the authority to pontificate on all matters of faith and practice without needing to answer to the word of God. Unfortunately, this is still not the case in the Catholic Church even today, for the authority of the church (i.e. its leaders and its tradition) still takes precedence over the Scriptures.

Luther’s whole attention was taken up by the matter of “justification by faith”. One can only wonder, given his commit­ment to the supreme authority of the Scriptures for the church, what he would have thought of the question we started with at the beginning of this section—“Why do Christians believe in the Trinity”—when nowhere in Scripture can the phrase “Jesus is God” be found?

In the absence of explicit statements about Jesus being God, all that the church can use to argue for the doctrine of the Trinity are those verses which seem to imply Jesus’ divinity. It is upon this weak found­ation that this doctrine is built, and it is these verses which we need to examine in what follows. Moreover, what the average Christian usually does not know is that there is no unanimity among scholars about the meaning of many of the key verses on which trinitarianism is built. These scholarly discussions are often found in learned books and articles which are generally inaccess­ible and/or largely unintelligible to the lay person. Most Christians assume that the case for trinitarianism is “cut and dried,” settled long ago beyond dispute. They would, therefore, be sur­prised to read a statement such as the following in Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon: “Whether Christ is called God must be det­ermined from John 1:1; 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Rom.9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb.1:8f, etc.; the matter is still in dispute among theologians.” (Greek-English Lexicon, θεός, sec.2).

But if the phrase “justified by faith” is explicit in Romans and Galatians as Luther had seen, the declaration that “the Lord is one” is certainly no less explicit, and it resonates throughout the Old and New Testaments. Jesus spoke of it as the “first” or “most important” com­mandment (Mark 12:29).

In conclusion: The fundamental difference between trinitarianism and monotheism

As we proceed with the study of Scripture in this book, it is of the greatest importance to grasp clearly that what we are engaged in is not merely a study of different inter­pretations but a funda­mental difference of ways of thinking on the spiritual level, a total differ­ence of the point of view from which Scripture is looked at and, indeed, everything else. We either look at every­thing mono­theistically, that is from the truth that every­thing comes from the one true God and returns to Him such that He is the sum and circumfer­ence of everything that exists—He is thus the focal point of our lives; or we look at everything polytheistically, that is from the point of view that there is more than one God or more than one person who is God. Then the question becomes: which one of these is the focal point of our lives?

Trinitarianism speaks of three persons who are all equally God, and then goes on to claim a place in monotheism by changing the definition of God into a “divine nature”, “substance”, or “Godhead” in which the three persons all share; which means, of course, that this “Godhead” is not at all identical to the one and only personal God of the Bible. Where there is belief in more than one person who is God, that is polytheism by definition. What we need to realize is that trinitarianism is in essence, therefore, a different faith from Biblical monotheism. So we are not here dealing with the relatively simpler matter of Biblical interpretation, but with the far more profound matter of Biblical faith. In other words, what is at stake is true or false faith, not just true or false interpretations of the Bible. True or false faith, according to the Scriptures, is a matter of life or death.

If the experience of the Israelites is taken as a point of refer­ence, then the transition from polytheism and idolatry to mono­theism is not an easy one. It clearly involves what the Apostle Paul calls “the renewing of the mind” (Rom. 12:1,2). This is not something that we can accomplish simply by changing our way of thinking on the rational or intellectual level. There has to be a change on the spiritual level if it is to have any real depth, and this can only be done by God’s own work in us.

We know from experience how difficult it is to change a habit. As trinitarians we were trained to understand any given passage of the Bible from the trinitarian perspective, which was often the only per­spective we knew. We habitually looked at every verse from the point of view of trini­tarian interpret­ation. Even if we could finally see that a different inter­pretation is the more correct one, that in itself does not resolve the deeper question of the kind of faith which gave expression to that inter­pretation. So, again, the question is not merely what is the correct inter­pretation of the many texts but, ultim­ately, which one is the true faith.

In the following chapters the trinitarian interpretation of the texts will be drawn from authoritative trinitarian reference works. It will become evident time and again that the interpretation of the texts is inevitably governed by the beliefs of the writers. In other words, it is not the Scriptures which govern the belief or dogma, but the dogma which governs the interpretation. This is usually done quite uncon­sciously (as I know from experience) because of the belief that it has to be understood in this way, that is, we believed that this was the only right way to understand it. There was, of course, never any intention to deceive our­selves or others; it was our faith that deter­mined the way we understood things. Hence, as we have seen, it is at root a matter of faith.

[1] In fact, as is well known, some Romans also had no problem to include Jesus as a god among the many gods of the Roman pantheon. What angered them was the refusal by the early Christians to acknowledge the emperor as a god. This resulted in several episodes of persecutions of the Christians, because their refusal to worship the emperor was considered as evidence of disloyalty to Rome. But Christ­ians, for their part, were surely not too unhappy that some Romans were willing to honor Jesus as a god along­side their other gods. And if even the pagans were prepared to acknow­ledge the great­ness of Jesus by giving him a place among their gods, why should (Gentile) Christians not be willing to honor him in like manner, that is, as God? This helped to pave the way to trinitarianism.

[2]Hupostasis and ousia were originally synonyms, the former Stoic and the latter Platonic, meaning real existence or essence, that which a thing is.” J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p.129.



(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church