7 Myths About Trinitarian Theology
There are various groups today that deny the Trinity. Many of these groups actually consider themselves Christian. However, sound theology dictates that a denial of the Trinity is a denial that God is, and always has been, Maximally Great. It also causes problems with other branches of theology, such as soteriology, eschatology, Christology, Pneumatology, anthropology, and hamartiology. Difficult questions arise in each of these areas when the Trinity is denied. For example, if Christ was not truly God (as Jehovah's Witnesses claim), then he would have been born with the same sin nature as we were, and therefore unable to be the Second Adam and atone for our sins. If the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the same Person, then other heresies appear to be necessarily implied, such as Patripassionism. Both of these are also unbiblical, since the Trinity is taught in Scripture, while these two heresies are not. Tritheism denies the stress that Scripture places on the fact that there is only one God. Each of these views is heretical, and are contrary to orthodox Christian belief. However, where these views flourish, there are typically myths floating around these circles regarding Trinitarian theology. In this post, I would like to address some of the more common myths that I have heard.
1. Trinitarian theology was invented at Nicaea.
It is commonly asserted among groups like the Oneness Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses that Trinitarian theology was invented at the Council of Nicaea. This is usually accompanied by another myth of something along the lines of Constantine influencing the Council of Nicaea in such a way as to lead it to Trinitarian conclusions. However, this is not the case. There are several significant issues that are often ignored here. First, Trinitarianism is taught clearly in the New Testament, which predates Nicaea. Second, and importantly, Constantine I, the Roman Emperor who called the Council of Nicaea, was concerned about unity within the Church, because disunity would affect his empire in a negative way. During and after Nicaea, Constantine appears to have actually favored the Arians, believing that the decision of the Council would contribute to disunity. The idea that Constantine favored the Trinitarian faction at Nicaea is simply historical fiction. Third, the father of Latin theology, Tertullian, was able to argue the doctrine of the Trinity approximately a century before Nicaea. The most reasonable conclusion from these facts is that Trinitarian theology has been part of the Church from its inception, and Arianism was simply an attempt to overthrow the theology of Jesus and the apostles. Praise God it failed.
2. Trinitarian theology actually teaches three gods.
This is a myth that conflates the idea of person with the idea of substance. The argument goes something like this: 1+1+1=3. Therefore, if there are three persons in the Trinity, then there are three gods. However, this fails to understand the distinction between a person and substance. Trinitarian theology teaches that there is one God, one substance. However, there are three persons who share equally in this divine nature: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To imply that Trinitarianism is tritheism, and then to attack tritheism in an attempt to attack Trinitarianism is to straw man Trinitarian theology. In other words, those who do such things are not attacking Trinitarian theology. They are attacking a figment of their own imagination.
3. Trinitarian theology does not align with Scripture.
As I have mentioned above, this is not the case. I have written briefly on the Scriptural basis for the Trinity elsewhere. Suffice to say for now that Scripture tells us seven things:
1.There is one God.
2. The Father is God.
3. The Son is God.
4. The Holy Spirit is God.
5. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit.
6. The Son is not the Father or the Spirit.
7. The Spirit is not the Father or the Son.
The only reasonable conclusion one can come to regarding these statements is the doctrine of the Trinity.
4. Trinitarian theology is logically contradictory.
It is false to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is logically contradictory. I have pointed out elsewhere that not only is the doctrine of the Trinity not logically contradictory, but that, at least if one understands God to be a Maximally Great Being, then any theology that denies the Trinity winds up in logical contradiction. In other words, those who deny the Trinity have two logical options: Either imply that the god they worship is not Maximally Great, or else change their minds and affirm the Trinity. I see no way to avoid the implications in this regard.
5. Trinitarian theology was not taught by the apostles.
This, again, fails for the same reason the argument that Trinitarian theology does not align with Scripture fails. It fails precisely because we see the 7 statements mentioned above in the writings of the apostles in the New Testament. Since two things are the case, it becomes hard to affirm this myth:
1. The evidence suggests that the apostles wrote the books ascribed to them. And,
2. The New Testament books written by the apostles imply Trinitarian theology.
Anyone who suggests otherwise is simply wrong.
6. Jesus did not understand himself to be divine.
This is one of my favorite myths, because it is blatantly false. The following are some (among many) things that Jesus did and said that make it clear that he was claiming divinity:
1.) Jesus claimed to forgive sins, which was a prerogative of God.
2.) Jesus accepted worship, which would be blasphemy unless he were God.
3.) Jesus taught and performed miracles with an authority that no mere human has.
4.) Jesus referred to himself as the "Son of Man," which was an allusion to Daniel 7:14, in which a "Son of Man" is given authority and power, and is worshiped in the presence of God. Unless you believe that God would allow blasphemy in his presence, then there is no plausible way to avoid the implications of this self-description of Jesus.
5.) Jesus claimed pre-existence with God (John 17:5).
6.) Jesus alluded, again, to Daniel 7:14, claiming divinity for himself while he was in front of the Sanhedrin placed under an oath to God (Mark 14:61-64).
7.) Jesus claimed that he and the Father were one (John 10:30).
It gets even worse for those who claim that Jesus never claimed to be divine. Not only did Jesus claim to be divine, but:
1.) His disciples understood him to be divine, so much so that they worshiped him.
2.) The enemies of Jesus understood his claims to be divine so much so that they tried to kill him on multiple occasions.
3.) Many in the crowds that followed Jesus appear to have understood his claims to be divine.
4.) On no occasion do we see Jesus correcting someone who treated him as divinity.
While Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims like to make the claim that Jesus never claimed to be God, this myth runs contrary to all of the evidence.
7. The Trinity is not practical.
The last myth is one that may be heard even on the lips of those who affirm the Trinity. Many people tend to separate theology from practical reality. In reality, the two are meant to go hand in hand. And they do. The Trinity is practical in several ways, not the least of which is that we are to model the type of love that we see in the Triune Godhead in our own lives. That is, we are called to love God with everything we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is exactly what we see modeled in the Godhead. So yes, the Trinity is practical. The problem is our tendency to separate theology from practical reality.