If you are undecided on a particular point of theology, and especially a big one, like the Trinity, there is a way to evaluate the arguments that can begin to point you in the right direction. This is an observation that I think constitutes a sort of inductive argument toward the Trinity. It has to do with comparing what it would look like if either side is right or wrong about their interpretations of passages.
This is an observation that also involves looking at numbers of passages or arguments from passages, and that is why it is inductive, since it isn’t so much about who’s right about a given passage. Rather, it is a work of compiling a list, so to speak, of passages that both sides utilize, where, if one side is right, the other can just concede the passage, while if the other side is right, the entire debate is basically over. Call these passages “must defeat” passages. They are typically used by one side, and if the other has no answer to them, they are basically sunk.
For example, if the Trinitarian is right about what John 1 means, the entire Unitarian position is false. If the Unitarian is right about John 1, then, on most of those interpretations, the Trinitarian position is not rendered false. Rather, the propriety of appealing to that passage to support the Trinity is disproved. The Trinitarian can concede a passage like this and still say that the weight of other passages still supports his view. So this is a “must defeat” passage for the Unitarian.
On the other side, if the Unitarian is right about a passage like John 17:3, and it really is saying that only the Father is God, then the entire Trinitarian position would be false. And likewise, if the Trinitarian is right about that passage, it doesn’t disprove Unitarianism. It just shows a particular Scriptural argument as being unsound. This is a “must defeat” passage for the Trinitarian.
Of course, I don’t necessarily mean the passage must be defeated, but rather the common interpretation of the passage by one’s opponent must be wrong, or the entire debate is lost.
I’m not looking at the merit, per se, of each argument, but rather, investigating which side has more Scriptural arguments that, if right, end the debate. Now, there are different ways to count them, but I would mainly just count the actual Scriptural passages or statements in Scripture each as an argument.
I would anticipate that if you are a Trinitarian, you believe you have more passages like this than the Unitarian, and I would think the Unitarian believes the same thing. And I can see how each side might think this. Trinitarians often point to passages that teach the deity of Christ or that the Holy Spirit is a Person to make their case. There are a lot of passages. The Unitarian typically points to passages that teach that there is only one God or that God has no equals or that speak of the humanity of Christ. There are a lot of passages on those things, too.
However, a lot of the passages a Unitarian might consider to be on his side, if all it really does is teach one God or the humanity of Christ, do not really say anything specifically about the Person of the Father or Son, or only affirm Jesus’ humanity, which Trinitarians affirm as well. The issue with these kinds of texts is not with the Unitarian being wrong about their interpretation of the text, but rather the Unitarian being wrong about the Trinity, such that the Trinitarian and Unitarian actually have the same interpretation of the text itself, and the Unitarian is just mistaken that the text says anything against the Trinity. This applies to a lot of texts. Virtually any text that teaches that there is just one God, along with any text that simply affirms Jesus being human.
Now, not all texts Unitarians appeal to are like this, and there really are some that a Unitarian can interpret in such a way as to defeat the Trinity if they are right. While texts like 1 Timothy 2:5, which refers to “the man Christ Jesus” do not really teach Unitarianism, since both sides affirm that Jesus is a man, other texts, like 1 Corinthians 8:6, which says, “one God, the Father…and one Lord, Jesus Christ”, can be interpreted in such a way as to deny the Trinity, and that interpretation must be defeated for the Trinity to be true.
Finding who has more of these passages doesn’t necessarily prove one side right, but it does show a tendency of Scriptural language to favor that side. So, how do we go about counting them. I could do so manually, and I think it would be instructive.
I think, however, that it can be done in another way. When someone holding to a theological position recognizes the existence of “must defeat” passages, the passages typically get treatment by that side of the debate, with defeaters being offered to the arguments of the other side. This person will typically offer up the Scriptures that support his position as well. Where do we see this? We can look in books, websites, Youtube channels, etc. to find them.
So, here’s a way to count who has to deal with more “must defeat” passages. Find books, and look up websites that support that view, and peruse to see how many distinct Scriptural arguments are offered in support of the position, versus the number of arguments that person is deflecting. You can do this on your own, but here are some recommendations.
Rob Bowman’s Institute for Religious Research website’s Trinity section
What do you notice at these websites? The Trinitarian sites spend much more time establishing multiple arguments for the Trinity, and only have a handful of Unitarian texts to attempt to handle, while the Unitarian sites have entire, large sections devoted to the many Trinitarian Scriptural arguments they have to address, while they cite comparably few Unitarian texts to make their case.
Of course, you may think my recommendations are biased. And of course they are. But I challenge you to review multiple examples, and you will find the same trend. Again and again, the Trinitarian side mostly makes positive Scriptural arguments and has comparably few passages about which they have to deal with the Unitarian on, while the Unitarian side is constantly on the defensive when it comes to the Bible. It is at such a level that you will often hear Unitarians talking just about the Trinitarian passages and their counters, hardly ever touching on anything that specifically supports their view.
I would contend that this is a major problem for Unitarians. If your position is biblical, then why would most of your dealing with the text of Scripture be on the defensive? Why would your view have to spend so much more time defending itself from the Scriptures? And remember that this isn’t just about counting passages, but realizing how often it is that you must be right or your theology is completely wrong, versus how often it is that, even if you are wrong, there’s no threat to your theology. The Trinitarian could be wrong and quite a large number of passages that they talk about and it wouldn’t render the Trinity false, only that the verse in question is not really as supportive as he thought. On all those same passages, however, the Unitarian cannot be wrong, even once, or Unitarianism fails. That is no small thing.
Now, I think this kind of analysis can also apply to other areas of theology, but I won’t spend time going over those here in detail. What I have found, though, is that, the clearer the Scriptures are about an issue, the more you find that one side more often makes positive arguments from Scripture, while the other more often makes defenses against those positive arguments. When an issue isn’t quite so clear, you have both sides dividing their time roughly equally between working with texts they think are supportive, while explaining how texts that seem unsupportive really don’t defeat their position. Again, whatever the situation, I don’t think this analysis guarantees the truth or falsehood of a theological position, even if the offense/defense analysis is very lopsided. Nor do I think that it shows a particular debate is unsolvable, just because this analysis is more even. It’s just another way to look at the issues and should inform us about the general leanings of Scripture.