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Nontrinitarianism (or Antitrinitarianism) includes all Christian belief systems that reject as unscriptural, wholly or partly, the doctrine of the Trinity—the belief that God in the Bible is three distinct persons in one being, and that these three persons are eternal and equal in nature, authority, and knowledge.

Nontrinitarian persons and groups do not generally use the term nontrinitarian to describe themselves.[citation needed] Unitarians have adopted a name that speaks of their belief in God as subsisting in a theological or cosmic unity. Modern nontrinitarian views differ widely on the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Various nontrinitarian views existed from the time of Jesus, such as Adoptionism, Monarchianism, and Arianism, which existed prior to the formal definition of the Trinity doctrine in AD 325.[1] Nontrinitarianism was later renewed in the Gnosticism of the Cathars in the 11th through 13th centuries, in the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, and in some groups arising during the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century.



All nontrinitarians take the position that the doctrine of the earliest form of Christianity (see Apostolic Age) was not Trinitarian. Typically, nontrinitarians believe Christianity was altered as a direct and indirect consequence of the edicts of Emperor Constantine I, which resulted in the eventual adoption of Trinitarian Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. Because it was during a dramatic shift in Christianity's status that the doctrine of the Trinity attained its definitive development, nontrinitarians typically consider the doctrine questionable. Nontrinitarians see the Nicene Creed as an essentially political document, resulting from the subordination of true doctrine to state interests by leaders of the Catholic Church, so that the church became, in their view, an extension of the Roman Empire.

Although nontrinitarian beliefs continued to multiply, and among some people (such as the Lombards in the west) were dominant for hundreds of years after their inception, the Trinitarians gained prominence in the Roman Empire. Nontrinitarians typically argue that the primitive beliefs of Christianity were systematically suppressed (often to the point of death), and that the historical record, perhaps also including the scriptures of the New Testament, was altered as a consequence. Nontrinitarian followers of Jesus fall into roughly four different groups:

  • Those who believe that Jesus is not God, but that he was a messenger from God, or prophet, or the perfect created human. This view was espoused by ancient sects such as the Ebionites. A specific form of nonrinitarianism is Arianism, which had become the dominant view in some regions in the time of the Roman Empire. Arianism taught about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but held that the Son was not co-eternal with the Father. However, Arians did not consider worship of Jesus to be wrong.[2] Another early form of nontrinarianism was Monarchianism.
  • Those who believe that the heavenly Father, the resurrected Son and the Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of one God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons in God himself. This is a doctrine known originally as Sabellianism or modalism, although it is explained somewhat differently in the churches that now hold these beliefs. Examples of such churches today are Oneness Pentecostals and the New Church.
  • Denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement (including the largest, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) teach the divinity of God the Father, his son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; however, they also teach that the godhead is composed of the three distinct, separate persons. Conversely, some of the movement's denominations are Trinitarian.[citation needed] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct individuals,[3], but that they act together in perfect unity of purpose as a single monotheistic entity (the "Godhead") for the common purpose of saving mankind, Jesus Christ having received divine investiture of authority from the heavenly Father in the pre-mortal existence.
  • Denominations within the Sabbatarian Church of God tradition, who accept the divinity of the Father and Jesus the Son, but do not teach that the Holy Spirit is a being. The Living Church of God, for example, teaches, "The Holy Spirit is the very essence, the mind, life and power of God. It is not a Being. The Spirit is inherent in the Father and the Son, and emanates from Them throughout the entire universe". This view has historically been termed Semi-Arianism or Binitarianism.


According to The Outline of History by H. G. Wells: "We shall see presently how later on all Christendom was torn by disputes about the Trinity. There is no evidence that the apostles of Jesus ever heard of the Trinity at any rate from him."

Nontrinitarians claim the roots of their position go back further than those of their counterpart Trinitarians. The biblical basis for each side of the issue is debated chiefly on the question of the divinity of Jesus. Nontrinitarians note that in deference to God, Jesus rejected even being called "good", that he disavowed omniscience as the Son,[4] and that he referred to ascending unto "my Father, and to your Father; and to my God, and to your God", and that he said "the Father is the only true God." Additionally, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 when saying in Mark 12:29 "The most important one (commandment)," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one."

Siding with nontrinitarians, scholars investigating the historical Jesus often assert that Jesus taught neither his own equality with God nor the Trinity (see, for example, the Jesus Seminar).

The text of the Athanasian Creed states that the three are "coequal"; this is the term actually used in the doctrine. One might consider co-owners of a business as being equal owners but with different roles to play in operating the business. Nontrinitarians dispute this, citing a statement by Jesus where he stated his explicit sub-ordinance to the Father: "for my Father is Greater than I" (John 14:28).

The also state that the Nicene Creed was established approximately 300 years after the time of Jesus on earth as a result of conflict within pre-Nicene early Christianity. Nontrinitarians also cite scriptures that warn the reader to beware the doctrines of men (e.g. Mat. 15:9; Eph. 4:14).

The Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics describes the five stages that led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.[5]

  1. The acceptance of the pre-human existence of Jesus as the (middle-platonic) Logos, namely, as the medium between the transcendent sovereign God and the created cosmos. The doctrine of Logos was accepted by the Apologists and by other Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, such as Justin the Martyr, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Ireneus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Lactantius, and the 4th century Arius.
  2. The doctrine of the timeless generation of the Son from the Father as it was articulated by Origen in his effort to support the ontological immutability of God, that he is ever-being a father and a creator. The doctrine of the timeless generation was adopted by Athanasius of Alexandria.
  3. The acceptance of the idea that the son of God is homoousios to his father, that is, of the same transcendent nature. This position was declared at the creed of the First Council of Nicaea, which specifically states the son of God is as immutable as his father.
  4. The acceptance that the Holy Spirit also has ontological equality as a third Person in a divine Trinity and the final Trinitarian terminology by the teachings of the Cappadocian Fathers.
  5. The addition of filioque to the Trinitarian creed, as accepted by the Roman Catholics.

Points of dissent



Trinitarians say that "the doctrine of the Trinity is [...] a deep mystery that cannot be fathomed by the finite mind."[6] Criticism of the Trinitarian doctrine includes the argument that its "mystery" is essentially an inherent irrationality, where the persons of God are claimed to share completely a single divine substance, the "being of God", and yet not partake of each others' identity. Nontrinitarians claim that the perplexity of the Trinitarian arguments, which have included the use of philosophy, is contrary to the Biblical principles of simplicity and clarity in doctrine.[7].

The also contend[citation needed] that the doctrine of the Trinity ignores Aristotle's three Laws of Thought:

  • Law of Identity, for example: [A = A] must always be true
  • Law of Noncontradiction, for example: [A = B] and [A <> B] cannot both be true
  • Law of Excluded Middle, for example: [A = B] is either true or false; there is no middle ground (half-truth/ half-false)

Jehovah's Witnesses believe it is a contradiction to say that knowing "the only true God" (John 17:3) is a requirement of everlasting life, and that God is simultaneously an unknowable "mystery".[8]

Scriptural support

Critics argue that the Trinity, for a teaching described as fundamental, lacks direct scriptural support, and even some proponents of the doctrine acknowledge that direct or formal support is lacking. The New Catholic Encyclopedia says, "The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught [explicitly] in the [Old Testament]", "The formulation 'one God in three Persons' was not solidly established [by a council]...prior to the end of the 4th century". Similarly, Encyclopedia Encarta states: "The doctrine is not taught explicitly in the New Testament, where the word God almost invariably refers to the Father. [...] The term trinitas was first used in the 2nd century, by the Latin theologian Tertullian, but the concept was developed in the course of the debates on the nature of Christ [...]. In the 4th century, the doctrine was finally formulated"[9]. Encyclopædia Britannica says: "Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). [...] The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. [...] by the end of the 4th century, under the leadership of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocian Fathers), the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since."[10] The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: "One does not find in the NT the trinitarian paradox of the coexistence of the Father, Son, and Spirit within a divine unity."[11] The question of why such a central doctrine to the Christian faith would never have been explicitly stated in scripture or taught in detail by Jesus himself was sufficiently important to 16th century historical figures such as Michael Servetus as to lead them to argue the question. The Geneva City Council, in accord with the judgment of the cantons of Zürich, Bern, Basel, and Schaffhausen, condemned Servetus to be burned at the stake for this and his opposition to infant baptism.

Divinity of Jesus

For some, debate over the biblical basis of the doctrine tends to revolve chiefly over the question of the deity of Jesus (see Christology). Those who reject the divinity of Jesus argue that Jesus rejected being called even "good" in deference to God, in the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-18; Matthew 19:16-17; Luke 18:18-19), disavowed omniscience as the Son, "learned obedience" (Hebrews 5:8), and referred to ascending unto "my Father, and to your Father; and to my God, and to your God" (John 20:17). They also dispute that "Elohim" denotes plurality, noting that this name in nearly all circumstances takes a singular verb and arguing that where it seems to suggest plurality, Hebrew grammar still indicates against it. They also point to statements by Jesus such as his declaration that the Father was greater than he or that he was not omniscient, in his statement that of a final day and hour not even he knew, but the Father (Mark 13:32), and to Jesus' being called the firstborn of creation (Colossians 1:15) and 'the beginning of God's creation,' (Revelation 3:14) which argues against his being eternal. Raymond E. Brown wrote that Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19, Matthew 19:17, Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46, John 20:17, Ephesians 1:17, 2 Corinthians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3, John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, 1 Timothy 2:5, John 14:28, Mark 13:32, Philippians 2:5-10, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 are "texts that seem to imply that the title God was not used for Jesus" and are "negative evidence which is often somewhat neglected in Catholic treatments of the subject."[12]

The Iglesia ni Cristo states that the doctrine of Christ's divinity is a man-made teaching, a dogma that is not biblical but was invented by the Catholic Church in the 4th century through the First Council of Nicaea. They believe that Jesus was sent by God to establish the church with Jesus as its head. Jesus himself did not believe in his own divinity as citing an instance in the Bible where he prayed to God and mentioned that the Father alone is the only true God. After Jesus went to heaven, his disciples did not preach the divinity of Christ. This doctrine came to being after all the apostles died and the faithful followers died as a result of persecution. Jesus and some apostles had prophesied that the church would be struck by wolves in lambs' clothes, who would not spare anyone.

Trinitarians, and some nontrinitarians such as the "Modalists" who also hold to the divinity of Jesus Christ, claim these statements are based on Jesus existence as the Son of God in human flesh; that he is therefore both God and man, who became "lower than the angels, for our sake" (Hebrews 2:6-8, Psalm 8:4-6), and that he was tempted as humans are tempted, but did not sin (Hebrews 4:14-16). Some nontrinitarians counter the belief that the Son was limited only during his earthly life (Trinitarians believe, instead, that Christ retains full human nature even after his resurrection), by citing 1 Corinthians 11:3 ("the head of Christ [is] God" [KJV]), written after Jesus had returned to heaven, thus still placing him in an inferior position to the Father. Additionally, they refer to Acts 5:31 and Philippians 2:9, indicating that Jesus became exalted after ascension to heaven, and to Hebrews 9:24, Acts 7:55, 1 Corinthians 15:24, 28, regarding Jesus as a distinct personality in heaven, all after his ascension.


Christian Unitarians, Restorationists, and others state that the doctrine of the Trinity relies on non-Biblical terminology. The term "Trinity" is not found in scripture and the number three is never associated with God in any sense other than within the Comma Johanneum of disputed authenticity. Detractors hold that the only number ascribed to God in the Bible is one, and that the Trinity, literally meaning three-in-one, ascribes a threeness to God that is not biblical.

Several other examples of terms not found in the Bible include multiple "persons" in relation to God, the terms "God the Son" and "God the Holy Spirit", and "eternally" begotten. For example, a basic tenet of Trinitarianism is that God is made up of three distinct persons (hypostasis). The term hypostasis is used only once in reference to God in the Bible (Hebrews 1:3), where it states that Jesus is the express image of God's person. The Bible never uses the term in relation to the Holy Spirit nor explicitly mentions the Son having a distinct hypostasis from the Father.

As regards the major term homoousios (of the same essence), which was introduced into the Creed at the First Council of Nicea, Pier Franco Beatrice stated: "The main thesis of this paper is that homoousios came straight from Constantine's Hermetic background. [...] The Plato recalled by Constantine is just a name used to cover precisely the Egyptian and Hermetic theology of the "consubstantiality" of the Logos-Son with the Nous-Father, having recourse to a traditional apologetic argument. [...] Constantine's Hermetic interpretation of Plato's theology and consequently the emperor's decision to insert homoousios in the Creed of Nicaea."[13]

Trinitarians maintain that these ideas are implied within scripture and were necessary additions of the Nicene Era to counter the doctrine of Arianism.

Holy Spirit

It is also argued that the vast majority of scriptures that Trinitarians offer in support of their beliefs refer to the Father and to Son, but not to the Holy Spirit.


The Trinity doctrine is integral in inter-religious disagreements with two of the other major faiths, Judaism and Islam; the former rejects Jesus' divine mission entirely, and the latter accepts Jesus as a human prophet and the Messiah but not as the son of God. The concept of trinity is totally rejected, with Quranic verses terming the Trinity as blasphemous. Many within Judaism and Islam also accuse Christian Trinitarians of practicing polytheism—believing in three gods rather than just one.

Supporting scriptures

Among Bible verses cited by opponents of Trinitarianism are those that claim there is only one God, the Father. Other verses state that Jesus Christ was a man. Although Trinitarians explain these apparent contradictions by reference to the mystery and paradox of the Trinity itself, some nontrinitarians argue that there is little, if any, biblical basis for the Trinity.[14] Nontrinitarians cite scriptures such as the following as being contrary to the Trinity doctrine.

One God

  • "And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:"(Mark  12:29)
  • "Jesus said to him, 'Away from me, Satan! For it is written: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only."'" (Matthew  4:10)
  • "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (John  17:3)
  • "For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (1Corinthians  8:5-6)
  • "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1Timothy  2:5)
  • "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." (James  2:19)
  • “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’t If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (John  14:28)

Son and Father

  • "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark  13:32)
  • "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." (John  1:18)
  • "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (John  14:28)
  • "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John  17:20-23)
  • "Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John  20:17)
  • "He who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall never go out of it: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God: and I will also write upon him my new name." (Revelation  3:12)
  • "But he (Stephen), being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." (Acts  7:55-56)
  • "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." (Colossians  1:15)
  • "Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all." (Corinthians  15:24-28)
  • "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:" (Revelation  3:14)

Holy spirit as gift of God

  • "(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet [given]; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)" (John  7:39)
  • "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; " (John  14:16)
  • "But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (John  14:26)
  • "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:" (John  15:26)
  • "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." (John  16:7)
  • "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: " (Acts  2:17-18)
  • "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts  2:38)
  • "And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts  10:45)
  • "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." (Romans  8:15)
  • "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." (1 Corinthians 2:12)
  • "This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Galatians  3:2)
  • "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Galatians  3:14)
  • "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." (Galatians  4:6)
  • "In whom ye also [trusted], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise," (Ephesians  1:13)
  • "And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." (1 John 3:24)
  • "Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." (1 John 4:13)
  • "He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 4:8)

Old Testament

  • I saw in the night visions, and, behold, [one] like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. (Daniel  7:13)
  • Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (Psalms  110:1)
  • But when the people of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera. The same Hebrew word is used both to translate "savior" and "deliverer". If God is the only true savior, as is Jesus, according to the Trinity doctrine, then the term "savior" or "deliverer" could not apply to anyone else. This would then imply a contradiction to the Trinity doctrine or imply that Jesus had been sent to Earth prior to events in the new testament. (Judges  3:15)

Ontological differences

Alternate views

There have been numerous other views of the relations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the most prominent include the following.

Early Christian

  • Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries: The Christian Apologists and other Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, having adopted and formulated the Logos Christology, considered the Son of God as the instrument used by the supreme God, the Father, to bring the creation into existence. Justin the Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus and Tertullian in particular state that the internal Logos of God (Gr. Logos endiathetos, Lat. ratio), that is his impersonal divine reason, was begotten as Logos uttered (Gr. Logos proforikos, Lat. sermo, verbum) and thus became a person to be used for the purpose of creation.[15].
  • Arius (AD ca. 250 or 256 - 336) believed that the Son was subordinate to the Father, firstborn of all creation, but that the Son did have divine status.
  • Ebionites (1st to 4th century AD) believed that the Son was subordinate to the Father and nothing more than a special human.[citation needed]
  • Marcion (AD ca. 110-160) believed that there were two deities, one of creation / Hebrew Bible and one of the New Testament.
  • Modalism states that God has taken numerous forms in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and that God has manifested himself in three primary modes in regards to the salvation of mankind. Thus God is Father in creation (God created a Son through the virgin birth), Son in redemption (God manifested himself into the begotten man Christ Jesus for the purpose of his death upon the cross), and Holy Spirit in regeneration (God's indwelling Spirit within the souls of Christian believers). In light of this view, God is not three separate persons, but rather one God manifesting himself in multiple ways. It is held by its proponents that this view maintains the strict monotheism found in Judaism and the Old Testament scriptures.
  • Many Gnostic traditions held that the Christ is a heavenly Aeon but not one with the Father.
  • Docetism comes from the Greek: δοκηο (doceo), meaning "to seem." This view holds that Jesus only seemed to be human and only appeared to die.
  • Adoptionism (2nd century AD) holds that Jesus became divine at his baptism (sometimes associated with the Gospel of Mark) or at his resurrection (sometimes associated with Saint Paul and Shepherd of Hermas).

Famous Christians

  • Isaac Newton is generally thought not to have believed in Trinitarianism.[16] He listed "worshipping Christ as God" in a list of "Idolatria" in his theological notebook.[17] However, he never made a public declaration of his faith.[18]

Modern Christians

  • American Unitarian Conference started as a reply to Unitarian Universalism becoming too liberal theologically and becoming less Christian. They refrain from political endorsements and believe religion and science can improve the human condition. They do not include non-Christians and have a deist population.
  • Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church rejects the doctrine of the Trinity as an extra-Biblical error. They believe that the Father and Son are two distinct and separate beings. They reject the idea of the Holy Spirit as a person in the same sense as the Father and Son, believing it to be the shared essence, power, characteristics, presence, and life of those two.
  • Christadelphians believe that God is the Father, and that Jesus is his literal son.[19] They believe that Jesus was totally human, and needed to be so in order to save people from their sins.[20] In Christadelphian belief, the words "Holy Spirit" in the Bible refer to God's power, by which he does everything,[21] and God's holy character/mind,[22] depending on the context of the passage the words are in—in either sense, the Holy Spirit is not considered a person.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) hold that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct individuals,[23] but act together in perfect unity as a single monotheistic unit (the "Godhead") for the common purpose of saving mankind, Jesus Christ having received divine investiture of authority from the heavenly Father in the pre-mortal life. Mormons have sometimes referred to the Father, Son, and Spirit as a "Divine Group" or "Team", comprised of three separate though united "Gods" or "Divine Beings", making up one godhead. The Latter-day Saint doctrine on the Godhead began to be established with the First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1820[24] and found its final form in a revelation received in 1843.[25] They believe this view to be supported by New Testament scriptures, including the circumstances surrounding the baptism of Jesus[26] and Christ's prayers to God. Christ's statement that he and his Father are "one" is interpreted to mean one in purpose, which they believe the apostles were also to join (after their resurrection) as Christ prayed in his intercessory prayer: "...that they may be one, as we are".[27]
  • Iglesia ni Cristo believe that the "Heavenly Father" is the only true God, who created all things. Jesus Christ is human in nature but was endowed by God with attributes not found in ordinary man. God has attributes not found in Jesus. God's will is for man to worship and honor Jesus Christ.[28]
  • Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the pre-existent Son of God was the first and only direct creation of God, that the Son was created and begotten of God, and that God used Christ in the making of everything else. They point to the fact that Jesus Christ was called the "Son of God", "Only-begotten", and "First-begotten" on a number of occasions, and that he claimed that he himself had a God over him, even after his exaltation and ascension to heaven, as proof that Christ is indeed subordinate to the Father, and came after the Father in time and rank. They also believe that Jesus was made "God" and "Lord" only by the Father's permission and power. They teach that only the Father is the Almighty God.[29] They believe that the holy spirit is not a person but God's "active force", which he uses to accomplish his will.[30]
  • Oneness Pentecostalism is a subset of Pentecostalism that believe God is only one person, and that he manifests himself in different ways, faces, or "modes". They believe that Jesus was "Son" only when he became flesh on earth, but was the Father prior to his being made human. They refer to the Father as the "Spirit" and the Son as the "Flesh". Oneness Pentecostals reject the Trinity doctrine as pagan and unscriptural, and hold to the Jesus' Name doctrine with respect to baptisms. Oneness Pentecostals are often referred to as "Modalists" or "Sabellians" or "Jesus Only".
  • Swedenborgianism holds that the Trinity exists in one person, the Lord God Jesus Christ. The Father, the being or soul of God, was born into the world and put on a body from Mary. Throughout his life, Jesus put away all human desires and tendencies until he was completely divine. After the resurrection he influences the world through the Holy Spirit, which is his activity. Thus Jesus Christ is the one God; the Father as to his soul, the Son as to his body, and the Holy Spirit as to his activity in the world.


  • Some Rastafarians accept Haile Selassie I, the former (and last) emperor of Ethiopia, as Jah (the Rasta name for God incarnate, from a shortened form of Jehovah found in Psalms 68:4 in the King James Version of the Bible), and part of the Holy Trinity as the messiah promised to return in the Bible.
  • In Islam's holy book, the Quran, Allah (God) denounces the concept of Trinity (Qur'an 4:171, 5:72-73, 112:1-4) as an over-reverence by Christians of God's Word, the prophet and messiah Jesus Christ son of the virgin Mary, while maintaining Jesus as one of the most important and respected prophets and Messengers of God, (2:136) primarily sent to prevent the Jews from changing the Torah, (61:6) and to refresh and reaffirm his original message as revealed to Moses and earlier New Testament prophets. The creation of Jesus is framed similar to the creation of Adam out of dust, but with Jesus' birth meaning his creation excludes male human intervention rather than creation completely without human participation (3:59). Belief in all of the aforementioned about Jesus as a prophet (5:78), as well as belief in the original gospel and Torah and belief in Jesus' virgin birth (3:45) are core criterion of being a Muslim and Quranic criterion for salvation in the hereafter along with belief in the Prophet Mohammad and all the prior prophets.
  • The Urantia Book teaches that God is the first "Uncaused Cause" who is a personality that is omniscient, omnipresent, transcendent, infinite, eternal and omnipotent, but that he is also a person of the Original Trinity—"The Paradise Trinity" who are the "First Source and Center, Second Source and Center, and Third Source and Center" or otherwise described as "God, The Eternal Son, and The Divine Holy Spirit". These personalities are not to be confused with Jesus who is also one with God, but not one of the Original Personalities of His Original Paradise Trinity. Each one of the Original Holy Trinity is a separate personality, but acting in function as a divine and First Trinity.

Pagan origin

The Church is charged with adopting pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and adapted to Christian thinking by means of Greek philosophy. As evidence of this, critics of the doctrine point to the widely acknowledged synthesis of Christianity with Platonic philosophy, which is evident in Trinitarian formulas that appeared by the end of the third century. "The Greek philosophical theology" was "developed during the Trinitarian controversies over the relationships among the persons of the Godhead."[31] Roman Catholic doctrine became firmly rooted Hellenism, allowing an essentially pagan idea to be imposed on the Church, beginning with the Constantinian period. The neo-Platonic trinities, such as that of the One, the Nous and the Soul, are not a trinity of consubstantial equals as in orthodox Christianity. However, the neo-Platonic trinity has the doctrine of emanation, a timeless procedure of generation having as a source the One and being paralleled with the generation of the light from the Sun. This was adopted by Origen and applied to the generation of the Son from the Father, because he wanted to support that the Father, as immutable, always had the Son with him, and that the generation of the Son is therefore eternal and timeless. This formula was accepted by Athanasius and others and became an official doctrine of the Church.[32] The Gentile (non-Jewish) culture of Bible times suggests that miraculous events were attributed to "gods".[33]

Nontrinitarians assert that Catholics must have recognized the pagan roots of the Trinity, because the allegation of borrowing was raised by some disputants when the Nicene doctrine was being formalized and adopted by the bishops. For example, in the writings of 4th century Catholic Bishop Marcellus of Ancyra, On the Holy Church, 9:

"Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God...These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him 'On the Three Natures'. For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes and Plato." (Source: Logan A. Marcellus of Ancyra (Pseudo-Anthimus), 'On the Holy Church': Text, Translation and Commentary. Verses 8-9. Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Volume 51, Pt. 1, April 2000, p.95 ).

Such a late date for a key term of Nicene Christianity, and attributed to a Gnostic, they believe, lends credibility to the charge of pagan borrowing. Marcellus was rejected by the Catholic Church for teaching a form of Sabellianism.

The early apologists, including Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Irenaeus, frequently discussed the parallels and contrasts between Christianity, Paganism and other syncretic religions, and answered charges of borrowing from paganism in their apologetical writings.

Pagan basis

Many nontrinitarians have long contended that the doctrine of the Trinity is a prime example of Christianity borrowing from Indo-European pagan sources.[citation needed] According to them, very early in the Church's history a simpler idea of God was lost and the incomprehensible doctrine of the Trinity took its place due to the Church's accommodation of pagan ideas. In support of this, they often compare the doctrine of the Trinity with notions of a divine triad found in ancient pagan religions and even in modern Hinduism.

Those who argue for a pagan basis note that as far back as Babylonia, the worship of pagan gods grouped in threes, or triads, was common, and that this influence was also prevalent among the Celts, in Egypt, Greece, Rome. In ancient India, the concept of the trio—Brahma the creator, Shiva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver dates back to millennia before Christ. They allege that after the death of the apostles these pagan beliefs began to invade a more exclusively Jewish form of Christian doctrine. At the very least, they suggest that Greek philosophy brought a late influence into the creation of the doctrine.

Some nontrinitarians find a direct link between the doctrine of the Trinity and the Egyptian theologians of Alexandria, suggesting that Alexandrian theology, with its strong emphasis on the deity of Jesus, served to infuse Egypt's pagan religious heritage into Christianity. They charge the Church with adopting these Egyptian tenets after adapting them to Christian thinking by means of Greek philosophy.[34] As evidence of this, they point to the widely acknowledged synthesis of Christianity with Platonic philosophy evident in Trinitarian formulas appearing by the end of the third century. Hence, beginning with the Constantinian period, they allege, these pagan ideas were forcibly imposed on the churches as Catholic doctrine rooted firmly in the soil of Hellenism. Most groups subscribing to the theory of a Great Apostasy generally concur in this thesis.

Some have pointed to the Comma Johanneum (the portion of 1 John 5:7-8 that does not appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts) as an explicit statement of the Trinity. However, the authenticity of the passage is in doubt, and is not found in what modern scholars regard as the "best" or oldest manuscripts; secondly, it suggests that the unity "in heaven" is one of agreement, rather than of essence[citation needed]—and therefore the verse does not distinguish Trinitarian belief.

Other nonunitarian nontrinitarians point to John 20:28-29, to support their view that Jesus was God in the Bible: "And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed""(NKJV). Since Thomas called Jesus God, Jesus' statement appears to endorse Thomas' assertion (though it is plausible that Thomas is addressing the Lord Jesus and God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead). Raymond E. Brown in Does the NT call Jesus God? notes on this passage: "... the contention of Theodore of Mopsuestia [c.400] that Thomas was uttering an exclamation of thanks to the Father finds few proponents today." "Dominus et deus noster" (Our Lord and God) was a title used by the Roman Emperor Domitian. Regarding this usage, Jesus Himself said, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?"[35]" referring to Psalms 82:6-8, "I have said, Ye [are] gods; and all of you [are] children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations."[36] The word "gods" in verse 6 and "God" in verse 8 is the same Hebrew word "'elohiym"[37], which means, "gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative"[38] and as "God, god, gods, rulers, judges or angels"[37] and as "divine ones, goddess, godlike one"[39]

Hellenic influences

Advocates of the "Hellenic origins" argument consider it well supported by primary sources. They see these sources as tracing the influence of Philo on post-Apostolic Christian philosophers - many of them ex-pagan Hellenic philosophers - who then interpreted Scripture through the Neoplatonic filter of their original beliefs and subsequently incorporated those interpretations into their theology. The early synthesis between Hellenic philosophy and early Christianity was certainly made easier by the fact that so many of the earliest apologists (such as Athenagoras and Justin Martyr) were Greek converts themselves, whose original beliefs had consisted of Hellenistic philosophical religion.

Stuart G Hall (formerly Professor of Ecclesiastical History at King's College, London) describes the subsequent process of philosophical/theological amalgamation in Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church (1991), where he writes:

The apologists began to claim that Greek culture pointed to and was consummated in the Christian message, just as the Old Testament was. This process was done most thoroughly in the synthesis of Clement of Alexandria. It can be done in several ways.
You can rake through Greek literature, and find (especially in the oldest seers and poets) references to ‘God’ which are more compatible with monotheism than with polytheism (so at length Athenagoras.) You can work out a common chronology between the legends of prehistoric (Homer) Greece and the biblical record (so Theophilus.)
You can adapt a piece of pre-Christian Jewish apologetic, which claimed that Plato and other Greek philosophers got their best ideas indirectly from the teachings of Moses in the Bible, which was much earlier.
This theory combines the advantage of making out the Greeks to be plagiarists (and therefore second-rate or criminal), while claiming that they support Christianity by their arguments at least some of the time. Especially this applied to the question of God.

Philo himself had been influenced by Plato’s Timaeus, in which he called the logos “the image of God” and “the second God”. Many Trinitarians today are emphatic in their insistence that John's gospel deliberately makes use of the term "logos"[40] because (according to them) he was fully aware of its Philonic meaning, and expected his readers to understand this. Some Trinitarians even go so far as to say that John himself was responsible for using the term in a new and especially religious way.

Philo's work reveals his dependence upon the Hellenic view that God Himself could not be directly responsible for the creation - for how could a perfect being produce an imperfect world, or the mutable derive from the immutable? The Greek solution was to propose the existence of a secondary divine being - the Demiurge - which, although tremendously powerful in its own right, was a little lower than God Himself (being neither perfect nor immutable in the absolute sense), and could therefore be safely associated with the creative process. To the Greeks, this arrangement was both a logical and philosophical necessity, and Philo - following his Hellenic inclinations - emphasizes it strongly in De Opificio:

The Absolute Being, the Father, who had begotten all things, gave an especial grace to the Archangel and First-born Logos (Word), that standing between, He might sever the creature from the Creator. The same is ever the Intercessor for the dying mortal before the immortal God, and the Ambassador and the Ruler to the subject. He is neither without beginning of days, as God is, nor is He begotten, as we are, but is something between these extremes, being connected with both.

Here, then, was a Greek concept that may have influenced formation of the Christian Scriptures. Instead of abandoning their philosophical preconceptions, they were able to import them into their new religion. It is therefore easy to understand the attractiveness of the Philonic model among Greek converts to Christianity.

The idea was warmly received by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen and Arius (to name but a few), who successfully developed it over several centuries.

To quote again from Hall's Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church:

Justin’s ‘creed’, as we saw, spoke of a transcendent God and Father, of his Son (with the angels), and of the Spirit of prophecy. This triple confession is in line with what we know of the baptismal formula.
But when we look at the theology of the apologists, we find that generally their thought is ‘binitarian’ rather than ‘Trinitarian’: it speaks of God and his Word, rather than of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The term ‘Trinity’ was not yet in use in the Church.
Theophilus is the first to use the Greek word for Trinity (trias, triad), when he takes the first three days of creation as signifying the trinity of ‘God and his Word and his Wisdom’ (To Autolycus 2.15), and Tertullian soon after 200 was using the Latin trinitas of God.
If we suppose that the baptismal confession and central Christian belief was in a threefold form, we have to account for the binitarian thought of Justin and those like him. The most obvious explanation is that their apologetic is directed towards Greek thought. They began from what appeared to be common ground.
Among the Greeks, a familiar notion was the thought of an utterly transcendent, perfect, unmoving God, and of a second, mediating, active being responsible for the created order, whether as its superior governor or as its immanent soul.
Such a theology was being propounded, for instance, by the Platonist Albinos in Asia Minor at the same time that Justin was himself there, before he moved to Rome.

Quite apart from any philosophical reasons (which were certainly influential in their own right), the church preserved the Philonic writings because Eusebius of Caesarea labeled the monastic ascetic groups of Therapeutae and Therapeutrides - described in Philo's De Vita Contemplativa - as Christians (which they were not.) Eusebius also promoted the legend that Philo met Peter in Rome, while Jerome (AD 345-420) even lists him as a church Father. None of this was true, but in time (via church tradition) it came to be accepted as historical fact. Thus, through a series of pious frauds, Philo's work was eventually elevated to the level of honorary orthodoxy.

One standard reference for the "pagan origins" hypothesis is Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons. It is charged that the book is poorly researched and badly written while being well referenced and powerfully presented. Critics contend the book contains a multitude of errors easily overlooked by the untrained eye, and say its popularity among nontrinitarians is a result of uncritical acceptance.

Controversy over status

Most nontrinitarians identify themselves as Christian. In this regard The Encyclopædia Britannica states, "To some Christians the doctrine of the Trinity appeared inconsistent with the unity of God....They therefore denied it, and accepted Jesus Christ, not as incarnate God, but as God's highest creature by Whom all else was created....[this] view in the early Church long contended with the orthodox doctrine."[41] This view (nontrinitarian) “in the early church”, still supported by some Christians, generates controversy among mainstream Christians. Most trinitarians considered it heresy not to believe in the Trinity.

Christianity is typically understood as an oxymoronic Trinitarian monotheism in its God-concept, although the theological and philosophical work needed to differentiate this from tritheism is significant, if not impossible. This difficulty is so great that non-Christians who make the attempt are often left with a view of Christianity as being a faith of tritheism or quadratheism when dealing with Roman Catholics and their focus on the Virgin Mary Mariology. Some scholars get the general sense that the Cappadocian Fathers, who developed the idea of Trinity, were themselves not entirely convinced of its truth. However, some framework was needed to reconcile the centrality of Jesus for the Christian experience with the figure of YHWH or "Abba" of which Jesus was a representative, and the best option at that time was this trinity idea. In any discussion of early Christianity, it is important to remember that a small sect like Christianity needed to show itself as quantifiably different from that which came before and the surrounding culture in general. In order to accomplish this, a standard theology was needed. With this theology, the group could define itself and rally around a central cause or figure. This made the faith strong, but after the faith grew beyond the danger of being destroyed by Rome, it also made the faith somewhat myopic when it came to dissenting views.

At times, segments of Nicene Christianity reacted with ultimate severity toward nontrinitarian views. At other times, especially among Protestants, the same views have been accommodated. See the related section of the Unitarianism article for a more detailed discussion.



See also


  1. ^ von Harnack, Adolf (1894-03-01). "History of Dogma". Retrieved 2007-06-15. "[In the 2nd century,] Jesus was either regarded as the man whom God hath chosen, in whom the Deity or the Spirit of God dwelt, and who, after being tested, was adopted by God and invested with dominion, (Adoptian Christology); or Jesus was regarded as a heavenly spiritual being (the highest after God) who took flesh, and again returned to heaven after the completion of his work on earth (pneumatic Christology)" 
  2. ^ HISTORY OF ARIANISM, Alexandria and Arius: AD 323-325
  3. ^ D&C 130:22
  4. ^ see John 8:28 "Then Jesus said unto them, When you have lifted up the Son of man, then ye shall know that I am he and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things."
  5. ^ W. Fulton, .”Trinity”, Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, T. & T. Clark, 1921, Vol. 12, p. 459.
  6. ^ Evans, W., & Coder, S. M., The great doctrines of the Bible, Moody Press, Chicago 1998, c1974, p. 26.
  7. ^ "How Is the Trinity Explained?" Should you believe in the Trinity?, Watchtower Bible and Track Society, New York. Retrieved in April 1, 2008.
  8. ^ "Should you believe in it?" Should you believe in the Trinity?, Watchtower Bible and Track Society, New York. Retrieved in Jan 26, 2010.
  9. ^ John Macquarrie, "Trinity," Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. Retrieved in March 31, 2008.
  10. ^ "Trinity," Encyclopedia Britannica 2004 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. Retrieved in March 31, 2008.
  11. ^ Jouette M. Bassler, "God in the NT", The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, New York 1992, 2:1055.
  12. ^ Theological Studies #26 (1965) p. 545-73, "Does the NT call Jesus God?"
  13. ^ "The Word "Homoousios" from Hellenism to Christianity," Church History, Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church History, Vol. 71, No. 2, (Jun., 2002), pp. 243-272.
  14. ^ AUC Christian Beliefs
  15. ^ Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press, 1984, Vol. 1, pp. 159-161• Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, The University of Chicago Press, 1971, Vol. 1, pp. 181-199
  16. ^ Avery Cardinal Dulles. The Deist Minimum. 2005.
  17. ^ Pfizenmaier, T.C., "Was Isaac Newton an Arian?" Journal of the History of Ideas 68(1):57–80, 1997.
  18. ^ Snobelen, Stephen D. (1999). "Isaac Newton, heretic : the strategies of a Nicodemite" (PDF). British Journal for the History of Science 32: 381–419. doi:10.1017/S0007087499003751. 
  19. ^ Flint, James; Deb Flint. One God or a Trinity?. Hyderabad: Printland Publishers. ISBN 81-87409-61-4. 
  20. ^ Pearce, Fred. Jesus: God the Son or Son of God? Does the Bible Teach the Trinity?. Birmingham, UK: The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association Ltd (UK). pp. 8. 
  21. ^ Tennant, Harry. The Holy Spirit: Bible Understanding of God's Power. Birmingham, UK: The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association Ltd (UK). 
  22. ^ Broughton, James H.; Peter J Southgate. The Trinity: True or False?. UK: The Dawn Book Supply. 
  23. ^ Section 130:22
  24. ^ History:11
  25. ^ Section 130:22
  26. ^ Matthew 3:16-17
  27. ^ John 17:11
  28. ^ Manalo, Eraño G., Fundamental Beliefs of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) (Iglesia ni Cristo; Manila 1989)
  29. ^ Is God Always Superior to Jesus? - Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site
  30. ^ The Holy Spirit-God's Active Force - Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site
  31. ^ A. Hilary Armstrong, Henry J. Blumenthal, Platonism. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.
  32. ^ See John Laird, Cosmology and Theism, Ayer Publishing, 1940, 1969, p. 119• Deepa Majumdar, Plotinus on the Appearance of Time and the World of Sense: A Pantomime, Ashgate Publising, 2007, p. 77, 78• Ν. Λούβαρις, Ιστορία της φιλοσοφίας, Ελευθερουδάκης, τόμ. 1, p. 156• Paul M. Blowers, “Creation,” Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Taylor and Francis, 1999, p. 299· James Orr, The Progress of Dogma, James Clark and Co., 1901, 2002, p. 86.
  33. ^
  34. ^ 'At times he forms one of a trinity in unity, with Ra and Osiris, as in Fig. 87, a god with the two sceptres of Osiris, the hawk's head of Horus, and the sun of Ra. This is the god described to Eusebius, who tells us that when the oracle was consulted about the divine nature, by those who wished to understand this complicated mythology, it had answered, "I am Apollo and Lord and Bacchus," or, to use the Egyptian names, "I am Ra and Horus and Osiris." Another god, in the form of a porcelain idol to be worn as a charm, shows us Horus as one of a trinity in unity, in name, at least, agreeing with that afterwards adopted by the Christians--namely, the Great God, the Son God, and the Spirit God.'—Samuel Sharpe, Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity, 1863, pp. 89-90.
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ a b
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ Example: Greek word #3056 in Strong's
  41. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica 1942 edition p.634 "Christianity"

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