- The Biblical Definition of the Trinity
- The Arguments for the Trinity
- Argument for the Trinity #1: Yahweh is Unique
- Argument for the Trinity #2: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are Distinct Persons
- Argument for the Trinity #3: The Holy Spirit, a True Person
- Argument for the Trinity #4: The Deity of the Persons – Section 1: The Father and the Spirit
- Argument for the Trinity #5: The Deity of the Persons – Section 2: The Son
- Argument for the Trinity #6: The Deity of the Persons – Section 3: More of the Son
- Argument for the Trinity #7: The Deity of the Persons – Section 4: Still more of the Son
- Argument for the Trinity #8: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 1: Plurality in One God
- Argument for the Trinity #9: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 2: The Word of Yahweh
- Argument for the Trinity #10: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 3: The Name of Yahweh
- Argument for the Trinity #11: How the Old Testament Prepared God’s People for the Trinity – Section 4: The Angel of Yahweh
- Argument for the Trinity #12: The Proper Understanding Defense
Misrepresentation of an opposing position is common. Often, it is just easier to paint a simplistic picture of what you oppose and attack that, but it doesn’t actually mean anything in the long run. If we consider things logically, if something is true, the only way to argue against it is to get some relevant facts wrong. Sometimes that is just supporting information, but a very common mistake is to get wrong the position being attacked.
Now, I am very aware that misrepresentation happens on all sides of all issues. Even someone who is correct can represent their opponent’s position incorrectly. What I am saying is that truth cannot be refuted, and so any argument against it logically cannot be sound. There must be something false in it.
This article will shift a bit from what has come before. The previous articles in this series have established the biblical foundation and nature of the Trinity. Here, we will be looking at the concepts themselves and their relationships. I will also go over arguments against the Trinity to show one thing: that virtually every argument against the Trinity itself misrepresents the Trinity. I would even go so far as to say that every argument I’m aware of, against the Trinity itself, not only misrepresents the Trinity, but has to do so to make any sense.
To see how this is, let’s consider again the definitional truths of the Trinity.
1. Yahweh is absolutely unique in being the creator of all things, the redeemer of Israel and all people, and the only one worthy of true worship and devotion. There is no other God like Yahweh.
2. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are personally distinct from one another.
3. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God, meaning they possess deity, that which makes God to be god, and all attributes of Deity.
4. The Person of the Son, having taken on Himself a human nature in addition to the deity already possessed, has since had two natures fully, meaning that he possesses all human attributes in addition to the divine attributes, though without sin.
All of these statements are taught in the Scriptures, as we have already said. As I’ve said before, if someone believes all of these statements to be true, that person is a Trinitarian, however else they may explain the relationships of these statements or how they see them fitting together. For example, some, like John MacArthur, would have a problem, linguistically with calling the second Person of the Trinity “Son” in His preincarnate state, but affirm that He has always existed as a Person distinct from the Father and that second Person became human for our redemption. The difference is only linguistic.
In addition to these statements themselves, there are implications of these statements that Trinitarians generally agree on. We generally hold that the Persons, being distinct, can function in different capacities and submit to one another in those roles, without there being any inequality in nature. We also generally have no trouble understanding that Jesus, having two natures, is equal with the Father in His deity, but in His humanity, He relates to the Father how any righteous human being should, by worshiping and praying to the Father and calling Him “my God”, etc.
It’s basic argumentation. You can argue against a theological position on various grounds, such as appeal to Scripture, appeal to logic by attempting to show a logical contradiction inherent in the system, etc. However, if the argument you employ depends on someone first rejecting something foundational to their position in order to work, don’t be surprised if you don’t get taken too seriously by the other side.
Examining the Challenges to the Trinity
Let’s look now at some arguments against the Trinity and its aspects. As a former Unitarian, I am most familiar with their arguments, but we will look at some from other perspectives as well.
“Saying God is three-in-one is illogical”
This argument misrepresents the Trinity by not allowing Trinitarians to define how they believe God to be three and how they believe God to be one. The most common way I am aware of is for Trinitarians to say that God is one in being, but three in Person. It is explained that all things have being, from rocks to people to God, and there is just one God, but He is surely great enough that His being can be shared by three Persons.
Another way I’ve heard recently is that you could even say that God is one in Person, but in a different way than He is three in Person. This one is a little harder to understand, but handles the charge that the Bible presents God as “one Person” in the Old Testament rather handily. It just agrees, but says that He is not three Persons in the same way that He is one Person. That this works logically is easy to prove. Consider if you had a glass with exactly three ice cubes in it. There is one way that it is true to say “The glass has one ice cube in it”, and there is another way that it is true to say, “The glass has three ice cubes in it.” It does indeed have at least one ice cube, but it has a total of three. There is a different way in which it contains one than the way it contains three.
This is not an analogy of the Trinity, but it shows that there is no logical contradiction between saying something is one and saying something is three unless one also says that it is one and three in the same way. Regardless of the explanation, as long as the Trinitarian says that God is one in a different way than He is three, while holding the other definitional statements to be true, there is no contradiction and the Trinity is logical. The only way the argument can work is by insisting, falsely, that Trinitarians hold God to be one and three in the same way.
“There is only one God, so the Trinity must be false.”
By now the misrepresentation of this argument should be obvious. The way it is often presented is something like, “Trinitarians say the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. That sounds like three gods to me!” Regardless of how it sounds to a non-Trinitarian, any statement like this is simply false about what Trinitarianism is. Foundational to the Trinity is that there is only one God, that the Persons share the same being and are the same God, not separate Gods.
“Jesus had the human attribute of ___________, therefore He can’t be God”
Part of what Trinitarians believe is that Jesus was fully human. That means having all of the human attributes, so the only position this would refute is one that said Jesus is God, but not really human. Since that isn’t Trinitarianism, this argument doesn’t even address Trinitarianism.
“The Jews didn’t believe in the Trinity, so it can’t be true”
Trinitarians don’t think the Jews believed in the Trinity. Trinitarians understand that God has revealed Himself progressively. What He didn’t do was reveal anything about Himself that contradicts the Trinity. As we’ve seen, the ancient Jews did believe things completely incompatible with Unitarians, who are the chief proponents of this argument.
“Trinitarians say the Persons are coequal, but Jesus was under the Father regarding _______.”
As we’ve stated, within the functions of redemption, the Trinity is fully compatible with certain types of subordination. Also, as a human being, Jesus would be expected to worship and pray to the Father. This argument depends on Trinitarians denying any subordination, which we do not.
“Jesus died, but God cannot die”
This is the same argument as the one above about any other human attribute. Jesus died a human death, because He was human, but he also said no one could take His life, that He would lay it down. If He isn’t God, then there is at least one who could take His life, God Himself.
“Jesus is the Son of God, not God the Son”
Of course He is the Son of God, which has various possible meanings, none of which contradicts the Trinity. It was a title for the King of Israel, which Jesus is. It was a name for divine beings in some Old Testament passages, but Jesus is the “unique” Son of God, so stands above those other sons. The only way to make this an argument against Jesus’ deity is to insist that part of the definition of “the Son of God” is someone with that title is not God, but that is assuming what you are setting out to prove, which is circular reasoning, and, of course, Trinitarians to not accept such a definition.
I could continue, but it gets pretty monotonous after a while correcting the same misunderstandings again and again. I don’t claim this defense to exhaustively answer every possible objection to the Trinity there could be, but I do find it astonishing how much it answers. When I was studying the Trinity in an effort to defeat it as a Unitarian, it actually took quite a while before I actually understood the Trinity. When I did, I discovered just how bad all of my arguments were, since none of them really had any relevance to the actual Trinity.
When you are left with no arguments against the Trinity and a mountain of Scripture teaching every essential detail of the Trinity, what do you do? If you are a Christian who wants to conform your beliefs and actions to what God has revealed, and not try to fit the Bible into your own unbiblical ideas about what fits your own made-up “logic”, you believe in the Trinity. You submit your fallible thinking to that which is infallible, God’s own words.
I pray this journey has been helpful to you and you have either found the truth or found a firmer foundation in it. Let us learn to speak of God with the proper reverence, and don’t worry so much about having all the answers about how it should all work in nice, neat categories. For any reader, Trinitarian or non-Trinitarian, who thinks you have everything nailed down, I promise that you do not. I will close this series with a passage that I believe reflects the end result of what a fully biblical Trinitarianism looks like in the exhortation to believers to trust God more. I will highlight some of the phrases and ask the simple question of any reader. Could you ever say or write something like this without explaining what you mean by the many ways you are referring to the Father, Son, and Spirit, as Paul does, or would you try to edit yourself to make it all “clearer”? Thank you for your time.
But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also make alive your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.