- Answering Unitarian Arguments #7: The Word Study Defense
- Answering Unitarian Arguments #6: The Shaliach Defense
- Answering Unitarian Arguments #5: The Argument from History
- Answering Unitarian Arguments #4: Argument from Scriptures that Describe Jesus as a Distinct Person or as a Human Being
- Answering Unitarian Arguments #3: The Argument from Scriptures Teaching One God
- Answering Unitarian Arguments #2: The Argument from Jewish Unitarianism
- Answering Unitarian Arguments #1: The Argument from Logic
One fascinating thing to study is the distinction between arguments and motivations. We believe all kinds of things in our lives, and when we begin to look at why we believe what we believe, there have been many studies that have shown that the actual reasons, or motivations, for our beliefs are often different from the arguments we employ to support our beliefs or seek to convince others. More than any other argument in this series, I feel that the argument from monotheism, belief in only one God, may be the chief motivator for Unitarianism. When Trinitarians talk about three who are God, to the Unitarian, this just sounds like polytheism. This gut reaction, more than anything else, I believe, is the reason for the animosity toward the Trinity that many Unitarians express.
Fundamentally, the argument I’m addressing here is different from the argument from logic in that it is an appeal to the many Scriptures about the uniqueness of God that they feel any Trinitarian complexity threatens to overthrow. It is not simply the argument that one isn’t three, or something like that. That was addressed in the first part of this series.
In this article, we will examine some of this argumentation, specifically from those who argue from the Scriptures for one God as an argument against the Trinity. We will then examine the Scriptures to see how it is that the Bible affirms this truth in light of everything else it affirms.
Scripture is full of many statements about the uniqueness and exclusivity of Yahweh when it comes to His nature and our worship of Him. And true to the idea that it is this uniqueness that motivates the Unitarian position more than anything, if you look at examples of Unitarians explaining their position in situations that encourage or require brevity, such as in summary statements of what Unitarians believe, or in statements made in debates when time is restricted, you find a pattern that reveals this motivation.
John Schoenheit, in discussing Mark 12 and the Shema, says this:
At that point Jesus should have further engaged the Pharisee so he could have a chance to understand the compound unity of God and the doctrine of the Trinity. Why didn’t he? The simple answer is that Deuteronomy 4:35 and 6:4 teach a simple truth: there is one God, Yahweh, and He alone is to be our God. That is the simple point that is being made in both the Old and New Testaments.
Dan Gallagher, who is also a part of Schoenheit’s organization, states it this way in a video called “What Do Biblical Unitarians Believe?”
I’ve frequently been asked, “What do biblical Unitarians believe?” It’s quite simple when we break down the phrase “biblical” and “Unitarian”. “Biblical”, referring to the fact that we believe in the Bible, and “Unitarian”, which refers to our belief in one God. We use the term “Unitarian”, our belief in one God, to distinguish ourselves from Trinitarians, who believe that God is one, in three Persons.
This frequent practice of contrasting the Trinity with the belief in “one God” is what leads me to believe that this is the most prominent motivation for Unitarianism. There is a desire to protect monotheism, and the Trinity, though it is defined monotheistically, is seen as threatening what they seek to protect. Indeed, Unitarians will correctly describe Trinitarian belief, and in the very next breath draw a contrast that isn’t, logically, a contrast at all by saying that the Trinity is different than what they believe because they believe in “one God”. It is truly curious to witness. The examples I’ve given do not come from theological lightweights or newcomers. These are people who have been addressing this topic for many years and spent countless hours of study preparing for their roles as leaders in the Unitarian movement. They are the experts, but quite often incorrectly describe the difference between what they believe and what Trinitarians believe.
As a Trinitarian, I would describe the belief in one God as one of the things Trinitarians and Unitarians technically have in common. All you have to do is look up a few dozen or a few hundred websites of evangelical churches and look for their statement of faith. If they affirm the Trinity, which virtually all do, that affirmation includes a statement of belief in one God. The actual difference between Trinitarians and Unitarians is regarding the nature of God. Is He a Single Person only, or a God existing in three Persons? This seems so obvious, and Unitarians do acknowledge frequently that the Trinity is the belief in one God in three Persons, but will then draw this distinction that isn’t a distinction.
I don’t think that this practice happens because they are purposefully trying to misrepresent the Trinity. Rather, the desire to protect monotheism is so strong that it leads the Unitarian to see any plurality being ascribed to God as an affront to monotheism. And of course, at this level of argumentation, no further response is needed but to remind the Unitarian that Trinitarians do believe that Yahweh is One. He alone is God. This is not a point of actual contention. This should be sufficient to move the conversation to the actual disagreement, and leave misrepresentations out.
So, where does this leave the Unitarian in terms of Scriptural arguments from “one God” passages? If a passage says there is just one God, then can’t the Trinitarian just affirm it and move on? In many cases, yes one can. If the Unitarian literally has no further argumentation to address than the fact that a verse says there’s only one God, then there isn’t anything to say beyond explaining that this does not actually challenge the Trinity in any way. Sometimes, however, there is an argument based on that Scripture that really does need to be addressed. This happens when the argument is that the Scripture in question is said to affirm that there is only one Person who is God. Anthony Buzzard does this with several texts.
Anthony Buzzard, in an article titled “Who is the One God of the Bible?”, begins this way:
Pick up a Bible and ask the simplest and most basic of all questions: Who is the One God of the Bible?
Deuteronomy 32:39: “See now that I, even I, am He and there is no God besides Me.”
Isaiah 43:11: “I, even I, am the LORD [Yahweh] and there is no Savior besides Me.”
Isaiah 44:6: “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, ‘I am the first and I am the last; and there is no God besides Me.’”
Isaiah 44:8: “Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no rock; I know not one.”
Isaiah 45:5: “I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God.”
Isaiah 45:6: “That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord and there is none other.”
Hosea 13:4: “Yet I am Yahweh your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but Me, and besides Me there is no Savior.”
Deuteronomy 4:35: “To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him.”
Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord…”
Mark 12:32 (the scribe agreeing with Jesus): “Right, teacher, you have truly stated that He is One; and there is no one else besides Him.”
It is perfectly obvious that Jesus confirmed the age-old creed of Israel. As every Jew knows this creed asserts that the true God, the God of Israel, is One Person — certainly not three!
I will stop the quote there, because this really is the entire argument up to this point. In the next couple of lines, he makes a couple of different arguments, but does not elaborate on these passages. Since he takes his conclusion here to be “perfectly obvious”, let’s look at what’s being said in the passages he cites. All these verses indeed affirm the uniqueness of Yahweh and contain verbiage that there is no God “Besides Me” or some equivalent. Then we have his conclusion, that God “is One Person – certainly not three.” So, do these passages teach what Buzzard says they teach?
If you’ve read some of my other articles, you know that I do value putting statements into logical form to test validity of arguments and such. I don’t say that this can handle all situations, but this is one where I think it would be instructive. What Buzzard does here is what many others miss, in that he does assert Unitarianism as belief that God is one Person, as opposed to just belief in one God. This helps us to look for the logical connection, if there be any, between the Scriptures quoted and Buzzard’s conclusion. So, what would the argument he is making here look like, based solely on what we have looked at so far?
- God repeatedly says there is no God besides Him
- What God says is true (implied)
- Therefore, God is just one Person, not three.
So, is this argument valid? No, it is not. The conclusion just doesn’t have any connection to the premises. The Scriptures quoted, and by extension the first premise, do not say anything about how many Persons exist in God. They only say that there is just one God. This is something Trinitarians also affirm. So is it possible I’ve misunderstood Buzzard’s argument? This particular paper does offer, later on, a possible connecting fact that he believes connect the “one God” passages with his “one Person” conclusion. Singular personal pronouns.
You don’t have to watch many videos or read many things Anthony Buzzard writes before you come across his argument that there are thousands of singular personal pronouns that refer to God and therefore God is a single Person. He says that here as well:
He is presented as one personal being, denoted thousands and thousands of times by the personal pronouns in the singular, I, Me, Thou, Thee, He, Him. In the Bible the word three never occurs in connection with the One God.
We can forgive if he didn’t say this before stating his conclusion, but does it do the work he wants it to do? Buzzard doesn’t explicitly say it here, but has said that “singular pronouns indicate a single Person” other times. So how does that relate to the passages he cited? The only real connection comes not in the fact that these are statements of exclusivity, but merely in the fact that they use singular pronouns. So, we have to basically start over with a new argument:
- Scripture uses singular personal pronouns to refer to God
- If Scripture uses singular personal pronouns to refer to x, then x is a single Person, and no more.
- Therefore, God is a single Person, and no more.
So, is this argument valid? Yes, it is. But is it sound? Soundness requires all the premises to be true. Unfortunately for Buzzard, the second premise is demonstrably untrue. Consider the following texts:
Isaiah 41:8 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you, the offspring of Abraham my friend
Jeremiah 3:3 Therefore rain showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come. Yet you have the forehead of a woman prostitute, you refuse to be ashamed.
Jeremiah 3:6 Then Yahweh said to me in the days of Josiah, the king, “Have you seen what apostate Israel has done? She has gone on every high hill and under every leafy tree and she has prostituted herself there.
This is only a small sample of texts that refer to a group, in this case the nation of Israel, as a single person. The way the argument above is stated, even one counterexample shows the premise to be untrue. Buzzard may try to say that he has thousands of examples of single pronouns and I can only marshal a handful of counterexamples, but that would be a terrible way to interpret Scripture. He says above that there is no Scripture that applies “three” to God. If that’s a good argument, then I can provide one against his singular pronoun argument: There is not a single Scripture that explains that if you have a lot of texts that use grammar a certain way, this can be used to overthrow other Scriptures that use grammar a different way. If it is all God’s words than we should not be pitting one Scripture against another, and assume that the number of Scriptures that say something is relevant. If God says something once, it’s just as true as if He says it a thousand times.
The second argument I want to address from Buzzard, that is repeated by many other Unitarians, is the argument from John 17:3, which he makes later in the same article already quoted.
Centuries later, after church councils had invented iron-clad creeds and imposed them on the faithful, Augustine came face to face with Jesus’ definition of God as the “only one who is truly God.” What was he to do? The church by then had lost Jesus’ creed. It propagated everywhere belief that God was three Persons. That innocent sentence in John 17:3 stated that God was a single Person, not three Persons. Here is Augustine’s “solution.” He wrote: “The proper order of the words is ‘that they may know You and Jesus Christ, the only true God'” (Homilies on John).
So, Buzzard quotes Jesus as saying that the Father is the “only one who is truly God”, and concludes that Jesus “stated” that God is a single Person. Both of these statements are demonstrably false, and one wonders why someone would continue to perpetuate an argument that is so simple to completely refute. First, his quotation is a misquotation of John 17:3, which actually says:
John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
First, textually, this is not a disputable verse, so we’re not looking at Buzzard favoring one Greek text over another. Second, grammatically, what does “only” refer to? It refers to the word “God”. It does not refer to the word “You”, which in turn refers to the Father. While many other Unitarians are happy to quote the verse as it is and just assume it supports their view. But look closely at what is being said:
Virtually Every English Translation: “You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ…”
Buzzard’s version: “You, the only one who is God, and Jesus Christ…”
Anthony Buzzard moves “only” to modify a different noun than it modifies in the actual text, and this is important. If it modifies “God”, it simply affirms that there is only one true God, and that the Father is identified as that God. This is consistent with Trinitarian theology, which affirms the same, also accepting passages that affirm that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are also identified as the one, true God. In other words, this verse contains no language against the Trinitarian statement, “The Father is the only true God, and the Son is the only true God, and the Holy Spirit is the only true God, for the only true God is Triune.” Buzzard needs “only” to modify “you”, but it just doesn’t.
Sometimes, other Unitarians have argued that if we change out the term “God” for something we’re familiar with, like “President”, and say something like, “you, the only President…”, we would not expect that there’s another person who also fits that description. But notice what has happened here. The argument is that, since something would be the case as it relates to people, it must be the case as it relates to God. This type of argument, by analogy to human categories, is also fairly common among Unitarians. But again, by what Scripture do they insist that God must fit into the human category they are arguing from? By what necessity of logic? This is nothing but an argument from expectation, like what we saw in part 1 of this series. The weakness of this argument is why Buzzard seems to feel the need to misquote, rather than quote, this verse in support of the Unitarian position, but then, of course, he is no longer arguing from Scripture.
Finally, Anthony Buzzard argues that because there isn’t a Scripture that uses the number three to refer to God, the Trinity must be false. This, and any argument like it, is a fallacious argument from silence. It is imposing his own standard of what would count as evidence onto the text of Scripture. The fact is, that there is also no Scripture that uses the phrase “one Person” with reference to God, Buzzard’s many misquotations of Scripture notwithstanding. There is no Scripture that uses the term “impersonal” to speak of the Holy Spirit. There are no Scriptures saying “is not God”, or “I am not God” or any equivalent with reference to Jesus. Considering the examples of apostles and an angel having to stop people from worshipping them, one could argue that, if a person we are supposed to call “master and “savior”, who we can worship and pray to, and who is King of kings and Lord of lords, and who is the beginning and the end and has numerous passages about Yahweh applied to Him …would it be unreasonable to expect a simple clarification that He isn’t God, despite all these indications that He is? Alas, the key Unitarian belief that Jesus is not God is never stated in Scripture. Of course, you don’t read or hear Trinitarians arguing for the Trinity based on lack of texts denying Jesus’ Deity. Rather, Trinitarians argue from positive statements in Scripture that Jesus is God. However, this argument from silence is ever-so-common among Unitarians. As you can see, if your argument can be turned against you this easily, it probably doesn’t prove what you think it does.
So, in summary, we have seen that, far from proving the Trinity false, Scriptures that affirm the uniqueness of God are supporting one of the definitional statements of the Trinity. At best, it is an irrelevant exercise, since this is a belief Trinitarians and Unitarians have in common. At worst, due to the stated practices of Unitarians in praying to and worshiping Jesus, despite believing Him not to be God, there could possibly be charges of idolatry or blasphemy that could be charged against the Unitarian. Either way, even though this is such a strong motivator for Unitarian belief, it turns out to be one of the weakest arguments for it of all that are employed against the Trinity.