“Why isn’t the Trinity in the Bible?”

Theology / Biblical Studies

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Recently I post a blog entry called “A (genuine) Generous Orthodoxy.” In it, I mentioned in passing that I wouldn’t rule out a non-trinitarian from being “saved” with any kind of certainty. Shortly afterwards, I received an email from someone who does in fact deny the doctrine of the Trinity yet still identifies as a Christian.

This fellow had a question for me, although it had nothing to do with my post on generous orthodoxy. The question was: If the Trinity is such an essential doctrine, why isn’t it explicitly taught all in one place anywhere in the Bible? Why is it the kind of thing that you can only understand by inferring it from a whole bunch of statements in the Bible and then trying to synthesise those statements into a coherent system? Why couldn’t the biblical writers just state it plainly and simply in one utterance, especially if it’s so important?

I think there are several things to say in response to the question, and in answering the question I think we gain a better understanding of the nature of systematic theology, as well as – in my view – the relative importance that we attribute to certain doctrines. What I have to say here is not about whether the doctrine of the Trinity is biblical or not (although it is).

The first issue arises as soon as we say “If the doctrine of the Trinity is so important, then how come…” What do we mean by “so important”? In my earlier post on a generous orthodoxy, I expressed my view that standards of orthodoxy are not things that give us certainty about who is “truly saved” and who isn’t. They are more like safety standards that indicate what the truth is like, and we stray from them at our own risk. Whether a person accepts the doctrine of the Trinity is, I think, important in the sense that it reveals what they think God is like (or not like) in a metaphysical sense because God actually is a Trinity if I and historic Christianity are correct, but I am in no position to say that it gives us a guarantee about whether a person is accepted by God or not. Its subject matter is important of course, because the subject is God (which is about as important as subjects can be!), but it’s not important because a wrong answer sends you down the chute to hell.

So let’s forget the whole “if the doctrine of the Trinity is so important” part. What about the main thrust of the question? Why isn’t the doctrine of the Trinity spelled out succinctly in any one place in the New Testament (I refer to the New Testament because it would be completely unreasonable to expect the Old Testament to teach the doctrine of the Trinity before the birth of Christ)? My answer is something like this: Why would it be? To have that expectation is, I think, to misunderstand the reason that the Bible was written in the first place. I think that systematic theology has value, but the New Testament wasn’t written as a textbook on systematic theology. The New Testament’s purpose was far simpler than that. It was to announce that in Christ God has fulfilled his promise in sending a saviour, that Jesus is that saviour, to recount the events surrounding Jesus as saviour, and to provide guidance to the early community of the followers of Jesus on how to live as the people of God in the world.

Is there theology in the midst of this? Yes, absolutely, but that is not the focus. Even the Apostle Paul, the most prolific theologian in the New Testament, was primarily concerned with pastoral matters such as Christian living (also called practical theology) rather than more recondite theology. In 2 Timothy 3:10-17 he wrote to the young disciple Timothy, and this passage has become famous as an expression of the inspiration of Scripture. Yet look at Paul’s focus on what Scripture is for:

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

From start to finish here, Paul’s concern is with following God by living for him. How has Timothy followed Paul’s teaching? By imitating his conduct and even enduring persecution. Who will endure suffering? Those who live a godly life. Yes, there is mention of the factthat Timothy should continue to believe the things taught to him, but then in the grand finale, that classic list of the things that Scripture is useful for, what do we find? Teaching, reproof and correction. What sort of teaching, reproof and correction? What’s the function of these things? It comes in the very next line: so that the man of God will be competent, equipped for every good work.

Let me anticipate one response: I am not saying that the biblical writers never ever taught specific theological truths. Sometimes they did. They taught about the resurrection of the dead. They taught about immortality. They taught about why we have the practices of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (although the concern here is fairly practical too). No doubt we can think of other examples. But the main reason we have the Scripture is not so that we can be schooled in every theological detail.

Here’s an example: Divine omniscience. Doctrines of divine omniscience, just like doctrines of divine ontology (of which the Trinity is one) come in at least several forms. Is God’s knowledge propositional or intuitive? Does God exhaustively know the future? What role does creaturely freedom play in God’s knowledge? There exists a range of possible understandings of divine omniscience. One of them is true, but there is no place in the Bible where one of them is set out and explicitly stated to be true. The same is true of doctrines of divine providence.

Does this mean we should reject all versions of divine omniscience (and providence) as unbiblical? Of course not! The expectation here just misunderstands the purpose of the Scripture. The fact that a given biblical writer did not take a break from his purpose as described earlier to lay out a doctrine of divine omniscience does not mean that he didn’t hold any doctrine of divine omniscience. That’s merely an argument from silence. What we need to do is look at the overall convergence of biblical evidence where it is available, which will not be all in one place. Any doctrine of divine omniscience is going to be an inference from a whole range of biblical considerations.

The same is true of the doctrine of the Trinity. There was no occasion in, for example, the letters to new churches, for the writer to break out into a discourse on divine ontology and the substance of God. Just as with other doctrines (such as divine omniscience), we have to step back and look at the overall convergence of evidence. This is the role of the theologian. This is how Christian theologians systematised the doctrine of the Trinity. It was never a case of proof texting. Instead it required patience and care, drawing out the biblical teaching from a range of authors on a range of different occasions, and coming up with models that made sense of all the data considered as a whole.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 51 comments… add one }
  • Jonathan October 30, 2010, 2:28 am

    Yes, with respect to the bigger picture, neither of us wants to say that absolutely correct belief is essential to salvation, rather, that it is in close relationship to it.

    As an aside specifically on the Trinity – this is an especially tough one and, for me, personally challenging. With you, I tend to agree that God will be far more gracious and generous concerning our misunderstandings than a rigid adherence to creedal orthodoxy might suggest. Perhaps if we’re orientated in the right direction towards the centre (creedal orthodoxy), that will be sufficient – the Apostle’s Creed seems like a low bar to set/consider here. On the other hand, as you noted, the conception of God we advocate has radical implications for all of our other doctrines/ideas. For example, to trinitarians, the monistic God of Oneness Pentecostalism ends up undermining the incarnation and the atonement. Whereas, the Mormon conception of ‘God’ looks basically polytheistic to those of us within an orthodox tradition. It’s very often the corollaries that follow on the coat-tails of a non-trinitarian view of the Christian God which all add up to, at the very least, being dangerously close to placing oneself outside the pale. As such, I’d be very reticent about making any direct statements that a wrong view about who God is won’t have any soteriological implications. It’s all horribly complex and I’m glad that these ultimate decisions are left in the hands of our merciful God.

    It’s perhaps worth nothing that the very depiction of God’s reaching out to rescue us in the NT is itself triadic, even if it’s not set out systematically. In your brief outline, you [ahem ;-)] ought to have included something about the work of the Spirit which is essential to the NT writers’ story of redemption. E.g., Paul’s summary – Gal 4:4-7: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

    It’s all very difficult and depends solely on the character of God. But again, that brings us straight back to our conception of who the Christian God is in the first place. In the end, it is only the Triune God who gets us to the God of the generous orthodoxy we both want to advocate.

  • David A. October 30, 2010, 3:44 am

    I agree with your assessment of the Bible. And this is why we have the Church.

  • JDGadsden October 30, 2010, 3:59 am

    An alternative answer might be that the New Testament was written to address the problems that the church of the time was having, much of which was under heavy oppression. Collecting the works together for posterity was an afterthought. (The Gospels may have been an exception, but even then those are biography, not textbooks) Example, Philippians 2 very clearly addresses Jesus’ divinity, yet the thrust of the passage isn’t to clarify theology, but to teach on humility using Jesus as the prime example.

  • Patrick Navas October 30, 2010, 4:56 am

    I respectfully challenge Dr. Peoples’ entire thesis. The writers of the New Testament never taught the Trinity because they didn’t believe it or have any consciousness of its existence. The doctrine of the Trinity, along with the entire concept of “systematic theology,” is a post-biblical development, a human invention, foreign to the Bible and uncessary for authentic Christian faith and spirituality. The Bible explicitly tells us that the “one God” is “the Father” (1 Cor. 8:6; John 17:3) and repeatedly presents “Jesus” as a figure entirely distinct from “the only true God.” The Bible plainly tells us that Jesus is God’s Son, the Messiah. What would be the point of calling Jesus God’s “Son” if they wanted us to believe Jesus was God himself? That’s not a very clear or effective way of communicating to us that Jesus is “God.” The term “God” does apply to Jesus the Messiah on a few occasions, but this would have been expected, for the Scriptures already clearly establish that an individual can be called “God,” “a god” (or “gods”) based on the authority/power that God has invested them with, as in the case of Moses (Ex. 7:1), the king of Israel (Psalm 45:6), and the ancient judges of Israel (Psalm 82:6; Compare John 10:30-36). Jesus, the Messiah, was given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28) and can rightfully be called “God” in light of the authority/power he posesses as the Messiah of God, yet we know he is not literally Almighty God simpply because he has one who is God to or above him, even in his “God” status (Hebrews 1:8-9). Almighty God could never have a “God” to or above him. That’s what makes him the Almighty God. But Jesus does have a God above him, as the Scripture plainly and repeatedly tell us.

    I wrote a book that documents how, essentially, every text Trinitarians use to “put the pieces of the Trinitarian puzzle” together are used incorrectly. Divine Truth or Human Tradition? (available on amazon or authorhouse websites). I would have been happy to engage Dr. Peoples in a dialogue or debate on his program, but he was unwilling. I’d be happy to share the fruits of my research with anyone interested: patrick_navas@yahoo.com

    Best wishes to all,

    Patrick Navas

  • David A. October 30, 2010, 8:40 am

    It’s certainly a post-biblical development but it’s a development of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit.

  • The Atheist Missionary October 30, 2010, 11:36 am

    Patrick wrote: “The doctrine of the Trinity, along with the entire concept of “systematic theology,” is a post-biblical development, a human invention, foreign to the Bible and uncessary for authentic Christian faith and spirituality.”

    My friend, you’re almost there. The Bible is a human invention.

  • Matt October 30, 2010, 12:03 pm

    TAM, atheism is a human invention.

  • Glenn October 30, 2010, 12:43 pm

    Patrick, I think your fear of “systematic” theology is unwarranted. In every area of life when we are not talking about the Bible we think systematically. We draw inferences from a range of sources and harmonise them. This is how we do science and history. It is how we live our lives – so why should we decide to treat the Bible differently? That seems very unnatural.

  • Glenn October 30, 2010, 12:45 pm

    David – my assessment of the Bible, as I indicated, is that it does teach the Trinity. It just doesn’t squeeze it all into one sentence.

  • Patrick Navas October 30, 2010, 12:57 pm

    Dave:

    The role of the “church” is not to “develop” doctrine but to accept, live by, and uphold, the doctrine revealed by God through Jesus and his apostles. The Trinity, of course, did not form part of this doctrine.

    Glenn:

    I have no “fear of systematic theology,” only the awareness that “systematic theology” often produces doctrines that are unbiblical and uneccesary. I have no problem with drawing inferences and harmonizing data. I do it all the time in my study of the Scripture. But by no means to I have the authority to make authoritative pronouncements or formulate doctrines that the Scriptures don’t.

    Please re-read the Scripture arguments I presented in my original post. That is the pont that really matters.

  • Patrick Navas October 30, 2010, 12:58 pm

    correction: “by no means do I have the authority”

  • Glenn October 30, 2010, 1:32 pm

    Patrick: “I have no problem with drawing inferences and harmonizing data.”

    Great! Then you have no problem in principle with systematic theology, in spite of your earlier comments.

    The Scripture references you gave were part of your effort to show that the doctrine of the Trinity is not true. But the point that really matters here is the explanation of why we should not simplisitically expect that each concept that we believe will be contained in one succinct proof text. Nobody should approach the Bible that way, and that is the important thing to take away from this.

  • Patrick Navas October 30, 2010, 2:37 pm

    Glenn,

    As I said, my approval and practice of drawing inferences and harmonizing data is not an endorsement of “systematic theology.” As I said, my problem with “systematic theology” is that it has made dogmatic pronouncments where Scripture has not.

    Every essential Christian doctrine that I’m aware of is contained in one succint proof text.” God created the world. Jehovah/Yahweh is his name. Jesus is his Son and Messah. God sent Jesus to be the savior of the world. Jesus died for our sins. God raised Jesus from the dead. God made Jesus Lord. There is one God, the Father. The Father is greater than Jesus. The Father is the God of Jesus. God is love. God is holy. God is one. The greatest commandments: Love God and love neighbor. Justification is by faith and not by works of the law. The gospel/good news is about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Repent and be baptized.

    Each one of these doctrines is clearly and succinctly spelled out in Scripture. I can cite one particular verse for each one to prove it.

    The obvious point is that if the Scripture writers wanted us to believe something, they made a specific point to explicitly tell us.

  • Patrick Navas October 30, 2010, 2:39 pm

    or I should have said, “when the Scripture writers wanted us to believe something, they made a specific point to explicitly tell us.”

  • Glenn October 30, 2010, 3:00 pm

    As I said, my approval and practice of drawing inferences and harmonizing data is not an endorsement of “systematic theology.”

    The trouble is that this is an acceptance of systematic theology. It is to accept that not everything is going to be handed to us like we’re in Sunday school, and sometimes you have to look across all the data and draw conclusions by way of inference.

    You might not like calling this systematic theology, but it’s still systematic theology. I have given a perfectly good explanation for why not everything we believe needs to be contained in a proof text. I even gave another example besides the doctrine of the Trinity – divine omniscience. You certainly haven’t shown that we should reject all doctrines of omniscience, and you’ve offered no principled reason to require that all other beliefs must be contained in proof texts.

    I guess what I’m saying is that we’re not children. Proof texting works for them when you want to introduce kids to simplistic ideas that don’t require any explanation. But when we grow up and mature in our thinking, those who continue to insist on proof texting are regarded as the very kinds of fundamentalists who distort and tarnish the reputation of the Christian intellect. As I’ve said – that’s not how we live life in any other area, so it is unnatural and unjustified to suddenly turn on the “short attention span” switch when it comes to the Bible. Dumbing down theology into itty bitty proof texts is not for me.

  • Mike Felker October 31, 2010, 4:14 am

    I can certainly sympathize with the desire to formulate doctrines in order to be clear in what we believe in distinction from others. Otherwise, if we only stick to using scriptural language, then we won’t get anywhere. But I do think it is important that we limit our formulations as much as possible to those very things that the Bible formulates. This is why I believe that the formulation of the Trinity is unnecessary. What questions cannot be answered if one neglects to use the Trinity formulation? In other words, could you answer the following questions without appealing to “God is a Trinity?”

    1. Is Jesus eternal or created?
    2. Is the identity of YHWH limited to one person?
    3. Did Jesus preexist?
    4. Is Jesus YHWH?
    5. Is Jesus identified as theos and in what way?
    6. Was Jesus involved in creation and what does that entail?

    I’m of the conviction that any of these questions and more can be answered sufficiently without an appeal to the Trinity. Furthermore, if one must rely on such formulations as the Trinity to answer a question, could it be that perhaps we shouldn’t enter into a question where the Bible is silent?

    Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not denying the Trinity per say. It may very well be that the Trinity formulation is true and exactly what God would describe Himself as. But I am cautious to venture into such formulations when the Bible is quiet on such.

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 4:51 am

    Glenn,

    I agree that, as students of the Bible, we “look across all the data and draw conclusions by way of inference,” something we do in every day life. But that is one thing. “Formulating doctrine” and making “dogmatic pronouncments” that the Scriptures don’t is another.

    As I said in a previous post, as professed Christians, it is not our role or responsibility to “formulate” doctrine, but to simply accept, live by, and reiterate the doctrine that has already been given to us by our Teacher, Jesus, and the Scriptures, what Jude described as “the faith that was once for all delivered to the holy ones” (Jude 1:3).

    “You might not like calling this systematic theology, but it’s still systematic theology. I have given a perfectly good explanation for why not everything we believe needs to be contained in a proof text.”

    Since every essential Christian teaching is contained in what you call a “proof text,” (one straightforward statement), I don’t see the relevance of your point.

    “I even gave another example besides the doctrine of the Trinity – divine omniscience. You certainly haven’t shown that we should reject all doctrines of omniscience, and you’ve offered no principled reason to require that all other beliefs must be contained in proof texts.”

    None of us are obligated to hold or articulate some kind of formal doctrine of “divine omniscience” that goes beyond what Scriptures says. As for me, I accept everything the Scriptures tell me about God’s knowledge. We don’t even need terms like “omniscience” to articulate the truth about God. We can simply affirm whatever the Scriptures reveal about God’s knowledge without coming up with some kind of formulation or “theological” language or categorization that the Scriptures themselves do not give to us. The Bible tells us very specific things about God’s knowledge. The Bible, however, says absolutely nothing about God’s alleged “triune” nature. Your comparison between what you call “divine omniscience” and “the Trinity,” therefore, is invalid.

    “I guess what I’m saying is that we’re not children. Proof texting works for them when you want to introduce kids to simplistic ideas that don’t require any explanation.”

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean about the practice of “proof texting.” My point is, the Scripture do clearly teach us a multitude of propositions and truths about God and his Son in simple, straightfoward statements, giving us knowledge we never otherwise would have had. How do I know that “God is love” is an authentic Christian teaching? Because the Bible explicitly says so, in one particular “proof text” (actually two). How do I know that “Jesus died for our sins” is a genuinely Christian doctrine? Because the Bible explicitly tells me. How do I know that God is “one”? Because Deuteronomy explicitly says so, and because Jesus specifically quoted this text with approval, and even included it as part of the “greatest commandments” (Mark 12:29).

    By this I’m not in any way suggesting that further study of the Scripture will not shed more light on these truths, or give us a greater understanding and appreciation for them, but there is nothing at all “childish,” or “simplistic,” or “fundamentalist,” about adhering, calling attention to, and prioritizing what the Scriptures directly reveal to us as essential, and committing ourselves, in modesty and humility, to what they teach.

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 5:10 am

    Hi Mike,

    You wrote:

    “If we only stick to using scriptural language, then we won’t get anywhere.”

    I respectfully disagree. Sticking to the language of Scriptures is, in my view, the wisest thing we could possibly do. The Scripture uses the language it does for a purpose, to communicate the truths about God. For example, the relationship between Jesus and God is clearly made known by the familar and easy-to-understand terms of a “Father” and a “Son.” Were my small children to ask me, who is Jesus or who is God?, I would tell them, “Jesus is God’s Son. God is his Father.” That would be enough, and it would be completely true, from a scriptural perspective.

    But I do think it is important that we limit our formulations as much as possible to those very things that the Bible formulates. This is why I believe that the formulation of the Trinity is unnecessary. What questions cannot be answered if one neglects to use the Trinity formulation? In other words, could you answer the following questions without appealing to “God is a Trinity?”

    1. Is Jesus eternal or created?
    2. Is the identity of YHWH limited to one person?
    3. Did Jesus preexist?
    4. Is Jesus YHWH?
    5. Is Jesus identified as theos and in what way?
    6. Was Jesus involved in creation and what does that entail?

    You are right, Mike. All fo these questions can be answered without an appeal to the Trinity, and apart from a Trinitarian sense.

    1. Is Jesus eternal or created?

    The Bible never uses the word “eternal” (in the sense of ‘without beginning’) to descrive Jesus, nor does it use the wrd “created.” Matthew does speak of a “beginning” of “Jesus.” So we know, at least, that the man Jesus had a beginning. I personally don’t use the word “created” to describe Jesus. I stick to the language of Scripture which does tell us that he was “born” and that the life he has within himself was “granted” or “given” to him by his Father.

    2. Is the identity of YHWH limited to one person?

    Yes, but the name of YHWH is, in certain instances, given to others, like the angel in the Exodus account (‘my name is in him’ Exodus 23:21). Evidently the name was even given to Jesus (John 17:11, possibly at Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 1:4), but I’m not completely sure if that is the intended meaning of these texts.

    3. Did Jesus preexist?

    We know that he at least existed in the form of the logos.

    4. Is Jesus YHWH?

    No, Jesus is YHWH’s Son (John 8:54), but he is the exact representation of YHWH’s being, so much that to see him is to see YHWH.

    5. Is Jesus identified as theos and in what way?

    Yes, but he’s the kind of theos that has a theos above him (Hebrews 1:8-9). The same cannot be said of the Almighty/Most High theos.

    6. Was Jesus involved in creation and what does that entail?

    Jesus was involved in the creation spoken of in Hebrews 1, John 1, and Colossians 1. He was the one “in” and “through” the creation in view was created.

    Patrick

  • Mike Felker October 31, 2010, 6:14 am

    Patrick, you disagree that we should do more than just quote Scripture, but yet your response was not limited to Scripture quotations. For instance, where is the phrase, “Jesus was involved in Creation” found in Scripture? Obviously, “biblical unitarians” would disagree with this, since they don’t believe Jesus was involved in Creation. Yet, you rightfully made this statement in order to describe more accurately what you believe. You simply cannot get past this, for otherwise Mormons, JW’s, unitarians, Trinitarians would all be saying the same thing if we are left with only quoting Scripture. And if i’m not mistaken, your 500+ page book has more than just Scripture quotations. You use your own words and language to describe what you believe the Bible to teach. We all do this and there is no way around it. But my point is that we be careful with how far our formulations stray away from biblical language.

  • Mike Felker October 31, 2010, 6:16 am

    By the way, Glenn, if there’s a way to subscribe to the comments via email so that I don’t have to keep coming back to check the responses, that would be very helpful 🙂

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 6:46 am

    Mike,

    Thank you for your willingness to interact. Your comments, however, unfortunately reveal a sever misunderstanding of my point.

    I never said or meant that we should not “do more than just quote Scripture…”

    We can certainly have conversations and engage in discussions using whatever language is appropriate and necessary. My obvious and clearly-stated point was that we should not formulate official doctrines or creeds that the biblical writers do not, particularly when it comes to essential Christian teachings and the matter of salvation. That is to say, the Bible has very clear and specific things to say about how we must be “saved.” Since acceptance of the Trinity doctrine is not among the things the Bible has to say concerning salvation or essential Christian teaching, then neither should we have anything to say.

    “For instance, where is the phrase, “Jesus was involved in Creation” found in Scripture?”

    Mike, I was only answering your question. Again, I never said that we should somehow rigidly restrict everything we say to biblical verses. To say that “Jesus was involved in creation” (something the Bible clearly reveals) is hardly comparable to dogmatically declaring “God is three in one, and you must believe this in order to be a true Christian and be saved.”

    Obviously, “biblical unitarians” would disagree with this, since they don’t believe Jesus was involved in Creation. Yet, you rightfully made this statement in order to describe more accurately what you believe.

    It is a fact that Jesus is shown to have been involved in the creation presented in these texts. Even “Biblical Unitarians” acknowledge this point. They just interpret many of the texts to refer to the new creation, as opposed to the original Genesis creation. Or they might say that the biblical writers could describe Jesus as having a role in creation since Jesus was the “word made flesh” and God made the world through his “word,” which became a man (and a person) at the miraculous virgin birth.

    “You simply cannot get past this, for otherwise Mormons, JW’s, unitarians, Trinitarians would all be saying the same thing if we are left with only quoting Scripture.”

    I am not, in any way, trying to “get past” having discussions about the meaning and interpretation of the Bible. But we can and should “get past” promoting official doctrinal creeds and formulations that aren’t presented to us in the Bible. The Bible already has its own “creeds” (direct/formal statemetns of faith). Extra-biblical creeds are unecessary, especially ones that are do not faithfully reiterate the Bible’s teaching, like the Trinity doctrine.

    “And if i’m not mistaken, your 500+ page book has more than just Scripture quotations. You use your own words and language to describe what you believe the Bible to teach. We all do this and there is no way around it.”

    You are absolutely right, but this does not compromise or contradict my point on any level. I wrote a 500 page book because Trinitarians use a multitude of Scriptures to “formulate” their doctrine. The point of my book was to demonstrate that the way these texts are used and interpreted by Trinitarians is erroneous. But instead of “formulating” some official doctrine that the Scriptures don’t, and telling others that they have to accept such in order to be saved, I simply call attention to the doctrines already “formulated” in the Scriptures and point out the need to stick with these exclusively.

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 6:53 am

    Forgive me for the typos and spelling mistakes. Here is the revised version.

    Mike,

    Thank you for your willingness to interact. Your comments, however, unfortunately reveal a severe misunderstanding of my point.
    I never said or meant that we should not “do more than just quote Scripture…”

    We can certainly have conversations and engage in discussions using whatever language is appropriate and necessary. My obvious and clearly-stated point was that we should not formulate official doctrines or creeds that the biblical writers do not, particularly when it comes to essential Christian teachings and the matter of salvation. That is to say, the Bible has very clear and specific things to say about how we must be “saved.” Since acceptance of the Trinity doctrine is not among the things the Bible has to say concerning salvation or essential Christian teaching, then neither should we have anything to say.
    “For instance, where is the phrase, “Jesus was involved in Creation” found in Scripture?”

    Mike, I was only answering your question. Again, I never said that we should somehow rigidly restrict everything we say to biblical verses. To say that “Jesus was involved in creation” (something the Bible clearly reveals) is hardly comparable to dogmatically declaring “God is three in one, and you must believe this in order to be a true Christian and be saved.”

    “Obviously, “biblical unitarians” would disagree with this, since they don’t believe Jesus was involved in Creation. Yet, you rightfully made this statement in order to describe more accurately what you believe.”

    It is a fact that Jesus is shown to have been involved in the creation presented in these texts. Even “Biblical Unitarians” acknowledge this point. They just interpret many of the texts to refer to the new creation, as opposed to the original Genesis creation. Or they might say that the biblical writers could describe Jesus as having a role in creation since Jesus was the “word made flesh” and God made the world through his “word,” which became a man (and a person) at the miraculous virgin birth.

    “You simply cannot get past this, for otherwise Mormons, JW’s, unitarians, Trinitarians would all be saying the same thing if we are left with only quoting Scripture.”

    I am not, in any way, trying to “get past” having discussions about the meaning and interpretation of the Bible. But we can and should “get past” promoting official doctrinal creeds and formulations that aren’t presented to us in the Bible. The Bible already has its own “creeds” (direct/formal statements of faith). Extra-biblical creeds are therefore unnecessary, especially ones that do not faithfully reiterate the Bible’s teaching, like the Trinity doctrine.
    “And if i’m not mistaken, your 500+ page book has more than just Scripture quotations. You use your own words and language to describe what you believe the Bible to teach. We all do this and there is no way around it.”

    You are absolutely right, but this does not compromise or contradict my point on any level. I wrote a 500 page book because Trinitarians use a multitude of Scriptures to “formulate” their doctrine. The point of my book was to demonstrate that the way these texts are used and interpreted by Trinitarians is erroneous. But instead of “formulating” some official doctrine that the Scriptures don’t, and telling others that they have to accept such in order to be saved, I simply call attention to the doctrines already “formulated” in the Scriptures and point out the need to stick with these exclusively.

  • Mike Felker October 31, 2010, 10:03 am

    Patrick, thanks for clarifying that for me and my apologies for misunderstanding you. For the most part, I think I can agree with what you said here. I think where our disagreements lie is in the exegesis of specific texts. But this was not necessarily what the post was about, so this is probably something we might discuss elsewhere if the opportunity arises.

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 10:51 am

    Again, Mike, thanks for remaining in contact with me and continuing to engage in dialogue.

    You wrote: “I think where our disagreements lie is in the exegesis of specific texts.”

    In that case, would you or anyone here, care to offer a few texts that you believe to be the strongest supports for the Trinity (with accompanying, concise exegesis)?

  • The Atheist Missionary October 31, 2010, 10:55 am

    I think I’ll quit my job, desert my family and devote my life to displaying the following sign at sporting events around the world: 1 Corinthians 15:14. What do you think? I bet I can find 12 disciples.

  • Glenn October 31, 2010, 11:42 am

    Mike, I think your points 1-6 on Jesus are precisely the tpes of considerations that theologians used to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity.

    I can live with your stance, because it doesn’t say that a doctrine is unbiblical if it’s not spelled out explicitly in one place. That’s the erroneous stance that Patrick has taken here.

    That’s the subject here, rather than the subject of whether or not the Trinity is a correct doctrine (although I can see that Patrick is trying hard to get us to talk about the Trinity itself instead of theological method).

    Also – I have just installed a plugin that allows you to subscribe via email to comments on this thread. Just tick the box below the comment box. The more general feed subscription options are in the right hand side panel where it says “subscribe to this blog.”

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 12:14 pm

    My Stance, Glenn, as already explained, doesn’t end with “the Trinity isn’t explicitly taught; therefore it is unbiblical.” That is only the foundational point that, at the very least, ashows the reasonableness in questioning its validity, since the very doctrine rests not un direct biblical teaching, but on the formulations and interpretations of men. But the Trinity is not unbiblical simply because it’s not formally taught by Jesus or his apostles; it’s unbiblical because the Bible teaches a different doctrine, namely, that the “one God” is “the Father.”

  • Andrew October 31, 2010, 12:28 pm

    “Atheism is a human invention” – LOVE IT!

  • Glenn October 31, 2010, 2:24 pm

    Patrick: Do you then withdraw your challenge (which you emailed me) about the fact that the Trinity is not taught in one place in a succinct statement?

    Unless you withdraw that challenge, then you are indeed taking the erroneous stance that I have described.

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 3:16 pm

    No, Glenn, I do not withdraw the very significant point I made (that Trinitarians wrongly attempt to trivialize) that the Bible does not present the doctrine of the Trinity in one formal statement of faith. This is a fact. That is to say, the Bible does not “teach” the doctrine of the Trinity. But the Bible not only does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity in one statement, it does not teach the doctrine implicitly or by necessary deduction (and all the texts Trinitarians use to infer the Trinity concept are used wrongly). Rather, the Bible explicitly teaches, in more than one formal statement of faith, that the “one God” is (not the Trinity but) “the Father,” and consistently presents Jesus as someone other than, or completely distinct from, God. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (Jesus, John 14:1).

    As I said, my case goes far beyond the point that the Bible does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity in one text, although the fact automatically discredits the claim that it was a doctrine “taught” by Jesus, the apostles, or the Bible as a whole. If the Bible doesn’t make it a point to teach it, then why should we?

  • Glenn October 31, 2010, 3:34 pm

    Patrick, then you are indeed using the argument you want to distance yourself from.

    You regard it as “very significant” that the doctrine of the Trinity is not summed up in one succinct statement in the Bible. I understand that you also believe that even by way of inference from all the evidence, the Bible does not teach the Trinity. But I want to press you on this. When you emailed me you indicated that the fact that the Bible does not present the doctrine of the Trinity in one succinct statement shows something.

    The fact is, you attribute significance to this simplistic and invalid argument. You really should withdraw it. The fact that the Trinity isn’t contained in one succinct statement is irrelevant for the reason I explained in this blog entry. You certainly haven’t indicated any good reasons to reject my reasoning here. By clinging to that argument you are indicating a simplistic, nay a fundamentalist use of the Bible. It makes your hermenuetical method appear suspect, and undermines the persuasive value of your case as a whole. Why not just get rid of the poor and invalid arguments, and just hold on to (what you take to be) the actual exegetical arguments instead?

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 5:05 pm

    Glenn,

    I appreciate your tone, but for a reason I truthfully can’t comprehend, you are failing to see what is actually a very simple yet remarkably significant point, the signficance of which cannot be denied. Again:

    According to “orthodoxy” God is not just “one” (the Father) but “three-in-one” (Father, Son and Holy Spirit united in one being), and that a person must accept this doctrine in order to be a true Christian. The traditional creeds even say you have to accept it to be saved, though I realize that your belief does not take it that far.

    Given that the biblical writers did in fact make it a deliberate point to clearly teach us the most important truths of the Christian faith (God created the heavnes and the earth, God is one, God is love, Jesus is God’s Son, God so loved the world, Jesus died for our sins, God raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus is the Messiah, the greatest commandments are love of God and love of neighbor, etc.), it is absolutely significant that they never made it a point to tell plainly tell us what is arguably the most important “truth” of all, that God is not, mysteriously and amazingly, one being in three “persons.”

    Even notable trinitarian apologists have been able to discern the rather obvious disparity that exists between the claim that the Trinity is true and essential and the fact that it is never plainly taught in the Bible. For example, Millard J. Erickson, a highly regarded evangelical professor and expert on the Trinity, rightly observed:

    “[The Trinity] is not clearly or explicitly taught anywhere in Scripture, yet it is widely regarded as a central doctrine, indispensable to the Christian faith. In this regard, it goes contrary to what is virtually an axiom [that is, a given, a self-evident truth] of biblical doctrine, namely, that there is a direct correlation between the scriptural clarity of a doctrine and its cruciality to the faith and life of the church.” (Millard J. Erickson, God in Three Persons, p. 11. Emphasis added)

    The question, however, is this. It is claimed that the doctrine of the Trinity is a very important, crucial, and even basic doctrine. If that is indeed the case, should it not be somewhere more clearly, directly, and explicitly stated in the Bible? If this is the doctrine that especially constitutes Christianity’s uniqueness, as over against unitarian monotheism on the one hand, and polytheism on the other hand, how can it be only implied in the biblical revelation? In response to the complaint that a number of portions of the Bible are ambiguous or unclear, we often hear a statement something like, ‘It is the peripheral matters that are hazy or on which there seem to be conflicting biblical materials. The core beliefs are clearly and unequivocally revealed.’ This argument would appear to fail us with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity, however. For here is a seemingly crucial matter where the Scriptures do not speak loudly and clearly.
    Little direct response can be made to this charge. It is unlikely that any text of Scripture can be shown to teach the doctrine of the Trinity in a clear, direct, and unmistakable fashion” (pages 108-109)

    The other point that, for some reason, you have ignored, is that I have not only already made a general exegetical argument in my original post, but I have written a 500 page book entirely devoted to exegetical arguments (which I have invited you to read and would gladly send you for free), and have explicitly invited the participants on this board (including yourself) to offer a few texts believed to be the strongest in supporting the Trinity, so that I could offer an exegetical response. Don’t forget that I also invited you to debate the subject on your program.

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 5:08 pm

    correction: Given that the biblical writers did in fact make it a deliberate point to clearly teach us the most important truths of the Christian faith (God created the heavnes and the earth, God is one, God is love, Jesus is God’s Son, God so loved the world, Jesus died for our sins, God raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus is the Messiah, the greatest commandments are love of God and love of neighbor, etc.), it is absolutely significant that they never made it a point to plainly tell us what is arguably the most important “truths” of all, that God is, mysteriously and amazingly, one being in three “persons.” In other words, they failed to plainly disclose the most important fact regarding God’s very nature and identity.

  • Patrick Navas October 31, 2010, 5:13 pm

    Just in case I failed to make this clear, the second statement about the Trinity is also by Millard Erickson, a Trinitarian apologist who, as I said, clearly acknowledges the obvious disparity that exists between the claim that the Trinity is true and essential and the fact that it is nowhere plainly taught in Scripture:

    “The question, however, is this. It is claimed that the doctrine of the Trinity is a very important, crucial, and even basic doctrine. If that is indeed the case, should it not be somewhere more clearly, directly, and explicitly stated in the Bible? If this is the doctrine that especially constitutes Christianity’s uniqueness, as over against unitarian monotheism on the one hand, and polytheism on the other hand, how can it be only implied in the biblical revelation? In response to the complaint that a number of portions of the Bible are ambiguous or unclear, we often hear a statement something like, ‘It is the peripheral matters that are hazy or on which there seem to be conflicting biblical materials. The core beliefs are clearly and unequivocally revealed.’ This argument would appear to fail us with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity, however. For here is a seemingly crucial matter where the Scriptures do not speak loudly and clearly. Little direct response can be made to this charge. It is unlikely that any text of Scripture can be shown to teach the doctrine of the Trinity in a clear, direct, and unmistakable fashion” (God in Three Persons, pages 108-109)

  • Glenn October 31, 2010, 5:28 pm

    Patrick, what isn’t really clear here is why you think I haven’t understood you. I most certainly have understood you.

    According to you, the Trinity is absolutely vital if true, and all such doctrines must be clearly taught (in one place, apparently) in the Bible. The Biblical writers taught the important truths this way, you say, but they did not teach the Trinity this way.

    I get it. I got it right from the start, and I have continuously faithfully represented your claim. There is no need to add new long comments explaining that this is your stance. This was never in doubt, and I never showed any signs of failing to understand this, Patrick.

    The problem, as I have showed, Patrick, is that this is a false way to think about theology and Scripture. Since it is false, this argument can be ignored. Now, you think you also have arguments against the Trinity derived from some passages. Fine, use those in your anti-Trinitarian endeavour (for example, your book written against the Trinity). But don’t use this argument, because it is a very weak one.

    I do not know why you still think I don’t understand your argument. I do.

  • Patrick Navas November 1, 2010, 3:14 am

    Glenn,

    Thank you for adding a point of clarification. So we’ll just have to disagree on this point then. In my estimation, if one understands that there is already a biblical pattern/precedent of teaching important/essential doctrines clearly, then that should naturally raise a red flag in a person’s mind in reference to a doctrine said to be essential yet never plainly taught in Scripture. My point in quoting Erickson was that he is not only an esteemed evangelical professor but a strong Trinitarian like yourself. Yet even he could recognize the disparity I have attempted to point out between that claim that the Trinity is true/essential and the fact that it is not plainly or directly taught by Jesus or the Bible in general.

    I can tell you quite honestly, even if I were a Trinitarian, I would easily be able to acknowledge, “Yes, even though I believe the Trinity to be true and essential, I do find it a bit surprising that a doctrine this important and central (the very identity of God), was never plainly taught in Scripture, as every other important doctrine was.” For you not to be able to recognize the validity and reasonableness of this point, and to dismiss it as “very weak,” is altogether incredible in my estimation. But what more can I say about this point?

    Now, you have raised the issue of the actual exegetical arguments. Okay, that’s the point I’ve always wanted to get at anyway, and that is in fact the very purpose of my book, to examine all the major Trinitarian arguments and “proof texts,” and to show how the arguments are erroneous and how their “proof texts” do nothing to advance the Trinitarian cause. So I invite you or anyone on this board to concisely share your strongest “exegetical” arguments in behalf of the validity of the Trinity. What makes you so certain that the “one God” is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or “One God in Three Persons” or “Three in One”?

  • Patrick Navas November 1, 2010, 3:35 am

    Glenn,

    Forgive me for going back to this point, but I just realized I could offer you an analogy that might resonate with you better, given your non-traditional views on the subject of “hell,” a view I also share.

    You might compare my point about the Trinity to the following point about “hell” as “never-ending torture.”

    If the doctrine of “hell (as never-ending torture in fire)” was true, why didn’t God warn Adam and Eve in the garden with words like, “In the day you eat from the tree your soul will surely burn in the flames of hell throughout all eternity without the possibility of relief”? Why did God only tell them that the consequence of their disobedience would be that they would “die”?

    Or instead of misleading us by telling us that the “wages of sin is death,” why didn’t Paul say what was even more important for us to know, “the wages of sin is everlasting, conscious torment in hellfire”?

    Or why didn’t Jesus say, “do not fear those who are able to kill the body but not the soul; rather, fear him who is able to eternally torture your soul in the fires of hell”?

    Or ther prophet Ezekiel. He said, “the sould that sins will die.” Why didn’t he say “the soul that sins will burn in hell forever,” if that was the actual biblical truth?

    The same point of reasonableness applies to the Trinity. If God is a Trinity, why didn’t Paul say, for example, “to us, there is one God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” If he said that, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation/debate. As we know, he said something else (1 Cor. 8:6).

    Thank you for you patience.

  • Glenn November 1, 2010, 5:53 pm

    Patrick – those arguments that you used for the sake of analogy fail. Those are texts that, according to me, teach something that contradicts the traditional doctrine of hell and teach something else in its place.

    That is very different from saying that the doctrine is suspect because it isn’t explicitly stated in a succinct way. Similarly, I appreciate that you feel that there are passages of the Bible that conflict with the Trinity. But that’s not the same as saying that the doctrine is suspect because no text succinctly and explicitly teaches it.

  • Patrick Navas November 2, 2010, 3:00 am

    Thank you again for the point of clarification.

    Of course, I would similarly say, in reference to the Trinity, “Those are texts [1 Cor. 8:7; John 17:3; John 14:28, Hebrews 1:3, etc.] that, according to me, teach something that contradicts the traditional doctrine of [the Trinity] and teach something else in its place.”

    Is anyone willing to offer any texts or “exegetical” arguments that serve to plainly establish the truthfulness of the Trinity?

  • Curtis S November 2, 2010, 8:44 am

    Glenn,
    It seems that I can now subscribe to these comments separately but only if I leave a comment, therefore…..comment. Now I can get the updates. lol

    Thanks, in the future I’ll probably just say “comment for subscription.”

  • Mike Felker November 2, 2010, 4:09 pm

    Patrick, I would say i’d offer an exegetical case for the Trinity if I were the one who is defending the Trinity formulation 🙂

    My arguments would be based along the question: what attributes and characteristics uniquely identify one as YHWH in contrast to all other reality? And if it turns out that Jesus fits even one of these identifying marks, then He is YHWH by identification. But if Jesus meets one or more of those identifying marks, but is not to be identified as YHWH, then YHWH would no longer be unique in those things.

  • Glenn November 2, 2010, 9:50 pm

    Of course, I would similarly say, in reference to the Trinity, “Those are texts [1 Cor. 8:7; John 17:3; John 14:28, Hebrews 1:3, etc.] that, according to me, teach something that contradicts the traditional doctrine of [the Trinity] and teach something else in its place.”

    Yes, but that wasn’t the issue that brought your analogy up. I have always been clear (with no need for extra points of clarification) about the issue: The issue is that of theological method not whether or not the Trinity is true.

  • Paul D. November 4, 2010, 9:55 pm

    Patrick, I’d just like to say that I’ve enjoyed your comments very much. You have some of the very same concerns I do, particularly concerning the doctrine of the Trinity and systematic theology in general.

  • Patrick Navas November 7, 2010, 4:02 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Paul. I was surprised that, given that the Trinity is alleged to be central to the Christian faith, no one (including Dr. Peoples) was willing to defend it from the Scriptures.

  • {Tim} November 7, 2010, 6:38 pm

    Patrick, maybe that’s because this blog post wasn’t actually about whether the trinity is TRUE, but rather about whether IF it were true it ought to be taught explicitly in one single passage. As Glenn said, it’s about the method not the content.

  • Glenn November 7, 2010, 7:54 pm

    Patrick, you are engaging in false bravado. As I have clearly told you, this post is about a dubious theological method. I did not name you as the person who has this poor method, but you’ve basically named yourself.

    This was never about you or whether or not your theology is correct. If people wish to know that, then thanks to your now doubled publicity they are free to buy your book.

    This blog was about how not to do theology.

  • Patrick Navas November 8, 2010, 12:36 pm

    Dr. Peoples,

    Let’s be fair. I wasn’t aware that your blogs were somehow limited to one very particular topic. I thought we were talking about the Trinity in general, whether it was true or not, scriptural or unscriptural. I made a simple request. If the Trinity is true and central to the faith, can someone offer a few exegetical arguments on its behalf? No one did. This was a surprise to me. I even offered a concise summary of my position, with scriptural support. No one attempted to challenge it.

    I thank you for your time and for the extent to which you were willing to discuss the topic.

    Best wishes,

    Patrick Navas

  • Mike Felker November 8, 2010, 1:06 pm

    Glenn, because I would be interested in seeing some interaction between Patrick and other Trinitarians, perhaps in a future blog you could provide some exegetical arguments towards some of the elements of the Trinity doctrine?

    Patrick, I understand your desire to discuss this and there is nothing wrong with requesting a discussion. But I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here simply because no one will interact with you. It is very likely because everyone is doing their best to stay on topic; and that topic not being whether the Trinity is exegetically sound. I’m sure if the topic were about that, some people would gladly interact with you.

  • Geoff November 8, 2010, 5:44 pm

    @Patrick,

    Perhaps because you’ve nothing new to offer?

  • Tim May 27, 2012, 5:40 am

    I believe that this comment is consistent with the original intent of this post.

    Mike Felker said on November 2, 2010:

    “My arguments would be based along the question: what attributes and characteristics uniquely identify one as YHWH in contrast to all other reality? And if it turns out that Jesus fits even one of these identifying marks, then He is YHWH by identification. But if Jesus meets one or more of those identifying marks, but is not to be identified as YHWH, then YHWH would no longer be unique in those things.”

    This is false – Jesus would need to fit ALL of the identifying marks of YHWH in order to be YHWH by identification. A dog has two eyes, I have two eyes, that does not make me a dog. For me to be a dog, I would need to fit ALL the identifying properties of “dog-ness.”

    This is the problem that many who question the trinity have with the doctrine; that there are unique identifying properties of God that Jesus does not possess. It is a simple ontological proof to show that Jesus is not God following this line of reasoning.

    -Regards-

  • Glenn May 27, 2012, 10:32 am

    “This is false – Jesus would need to fit ALL of the identifying marks of YHWH in order to be YHWH by identification.”

    Agreed – As long as by “identifying marks” we mean no more than “all the necessary conditions for being Yahweh, where those conditions are also sufficient for being Yahweh.” Trinitarians certain don’t have to maintain that Jesus is Yahweh in Yahweh’s totality (although they might consistently do so). They might instead – and I suspect many do – maintain that Yahweh is a Tri-une being, so that Jesus is not all of Yahweh, even though he is (to use more philosophical terms) of “one substance” with Yahweh.

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