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Nontrinitarianism refers to belief systems within Christianity which reject the mainstream Christian doctrine of the Trinity, namely, the teaching that God is three distinct hypostases or persons who are coeternal, coequal, and indivisibly united in one being, or essence (from the Greek ousia). Certain religious groups that emerged during the Protestant Reformation have historically been known as antitrinitarian.
According to churches that consider the decisions of ecumenical councils final, Trinitarianism was definitively declared to be Christian doctrine at the 4th-century ecumenical councils, that of the First Council of Nicaea (325), which declared the full divinity of the Son, and the First Council of Constantinople (381), which declared the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
In terms of number of adherents, nontrinitarian denominations comprise a small minority of modern Christianity. By far the three largest nontrinitarian Christian denominations are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons"), Jehovah's Witnesses and the Iglesia Ni Cristo, though there are a number of other smaller ones, including the Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Dawn Bible Students, Living Church of God, Oneness Pentecostals, Members Church of God International, Unitarian Universalist Christians, The Way International, The Church of God International and the United Church of God.
Nontrinitarian views differ widely on the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Various nontrinitarian philosophies, such as Adoptionism, Monarchianism, and Subordinationism existed prior to the establishment of the Trinity doctrine in A.D. 325, 381, and 431, at the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus. Biblical and historical evidence point toward first-century followers of Christ not having worshipped Jesus as equal to God. Nontrinitarianism was later renewed by Cathars in the 11th through 13th centuries, in the Unitarian movement during the Protestant Reformation, in the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, and in some groups arising during the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century.
- 1 Beliefs
- 2 History
- 3 Points of dissent
- 3.1 Scriptural support
- 3.2 Questions over the alleged co-equal deity of Jesus
- 3.3 Terminology
- 3.4 Holy Spirit
- 4 Inter-religious dialogue
- 5 Purported pagan origins of the Trinity
- 6 Christian groups with nontrinitarian positions
- 7 People
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
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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 Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus of Rome 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.
The Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition 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". Although the nontrinitarian view eventually disappeared in the early Church and the Trinitarian view became an orthodox doctrine of modern Christianity, variations of the nontrinitarian view are still held by a small number of Christian groups and denominations.
Various views exist regarding the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Those who believe that Jesus is not God, nor absolutely equal to God, but was either God's subordinate Son, a messenger from God, or prophet, or the perfect created human:
- Adoptionism (2nd century A.D.) 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).
- Arianism – Arius (AD c. 250 or 256–336) believed that the pre-existent Son of God was directly created by the Father, that he was subordinate to God the Father. Arius' position was that the Son was brought forth as the very first of God's creations, and that the Father later created all things through the Son. Arius taught that in the creation of the universe, the Father was the ultimate Creator, supplying all the materials, directing the design, while the Son worked the materials, making all things at the bidding and in the service of the Father, by which "through [Christ] all things came into existence". Arianism became the dominant view in some regions in the time of the Roman Empire, notably the Visigoths until 589.
The third Council of Sirmium in 357 was the high point of Arianism. The Seventh Arian Confession (Second Sirmium Confession) held that both homoousios (of one substance) and homoiousios (of similar substance) were unbiblical and that the Father is greater than the Son (this confession was later known as the Blasphemy of Sirmium):
"But since many persons are disturbed by questions concerning what is called in Latin substantia, but in Greek ousia, that is, to make it understood more exactly, as to 'coessential,' or what is called, 'like-in-essence,' there ought to be no mention of any of these at all, nor exposition of them in the Church, for this reason and for this consideration, that in divine Scripture nothing is written about them, and that they are above men's knowledge and above men's understanding;"
- Psilanthropism - Ebionites (1st to 4th century AD) observed Jewish law, denied the virgin birth and regarded Jesus as merely a prophet.
- Socinianism – Photinus taught that Jesus, though perfect and sinless, and who was Messiah and Redeemer, was only the perfect human Son of God, and had no pre-human existence prior to the virgin birth. They take verses such as John 1:1 as simply God's "plan" existing in the Mind of God, before Christ's birth.
- Unitarianism views Jesus as son of God, subordinate and distinct from his Father.
- Many Gnostic traditions held that the Christ is a heavenly Aeon but not one with the Father.
- Those who believe that the heavenly Father, the resurrected Son and the Holy Spirit are different aspects of one God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons:
- Modalism – Sabellius (fl. c. 215) stated that God has taken numerous forms in both the Hebrew and the Christian Greek Scriptures, and that God has manifested himself in three primary modes in regards to the salvation of mankind. His contention is that "Father, Son, and Spirit" were simply different roles played by the same Divine Person in various circumstances in history. 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 Son and within the souls of Christian believers). In light of this view, God is not three distinct persons, but rather one Person manifesting himself in multiple ways. Trinitarians condemn this view as a heresy. The chief critic of Sabellianism was Tertullian, who labeled the movement "Patripassianism", from the Latin words pater for "father", and passus from the verb "to suffer" because it implied that the Father suffered on the Cross. It was coined by Tertullian in his work Adversus Praxeas, Chapter I, "By this Praxeas did a twofold service for the devil at Rome: he drove away prophecy, and he brought in heresy; he put to flight the Paraclete, and he crucified the Father."
- Those who believe that Jesus Christ is Almighty God, but that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are actually three distinct almighty "Gods" with distinct natures, acting as one Divine Group, united in purpose:
- Tri-theism – John Philoponus, an Aristotelian and monophysite in Alexandria, in the middle of the 6th century, saw in the Trinity three separate natures, substances and deities, according to the number of divine persons. He sought to justify this view by the Aristotelian categories of genus, species and individuum. In the Middle Ages, Roscellin of Compiegne, the founder of Nominalism, argued for three distinct almighty Gods, with three distinct natures, who were one in purpose, acting together as one divine Group or Godhead. He said, though, like Philoponus, that unless the Three Persons are tres res (three things with distinct natures), the whole Trinity must have been incarnate. And therefore, since only the Logos was made flesh, the other two Persons must have had distinct "natures", separate from the Logos, and so had to be separate and distinct Gods, though all three were one in divine work and plan. Thus in light of this view, they would be considered "three Gods in one". This notion was condemned by St. Anselm.
- Those who believe that the Holy Spirit is not a person:
- Binitarianism – people through history who believed that God is only two co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father and the Word, not three. They taught that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct person, but is the power or divine influence of the Father and Son, emanating out to the universe, in creation, and to believers.
- Marcionism – Marcion (AD c. 110–160) believed that there were two deities, one of creation and judgment (in the Hebrew Bible) and one of redemption and mercy (in the New Testament).
- Other concepts:
- Docetism comes from the Greek: δοκέω (dokeo), meaning "to seem." This view holds that Jesus only seemed to be human and only appeared to die.
Modern Christian groupings
- American Unitarian Conference started as a reply to Unitarian Universalism becoming 'too theologically liberal'. They refrain from social activism and believe religion and science can improve the human condition.
- Associated Bible Students believe that the Father is greater than the Son in all ways, and that the Trinity doctrine is unscriptural. They hold to beliefs similar to Jehovah's Witnesses.
- Christadelphians hold that Jesus Christ is the literal son of God, the Father, and that Jesus was an actual human (and needed to be so in order to save humans from their sins). The "holy spirit" terminology in the Bible is explained as referring to God's power, or God's character/mind (depending on the context).
- Church of God General Conference (Abrahamic Faith).
- Cooneyites are a nontrinitarian Christian sect who split off from the Two by Twos sect in 1928 following Edward Cooney's excommunication from the main group. Cooneyites deny the Living Witness Doctrine; they have congregations in Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
- The Iglesia ni Cristo (Tagalog for Church of Christ) view is that Jesus Christ is human but endowed by God with attributes not found in ordinary humans, though lacking attributes found in God. They further contend that it is God's will to worship Jesus. INC rejects the Trinity as heresy, adopting a version of unitarianism.
- Jehovah's Witnesses teach that only God the Father, Jehovah, is the one true almighty God, even over his Son. They consider Jesus to be "the First-begotten Son", God's only direct creation, and the very first creation by God. They give relative "worship" or "obeisance" (homage, as to a king) to Christ, pray through him as God's only high priest, consider Jesus Christ to be Mediator and Messiah, but they believe that only the Father is without beginning, and that the Father is greater than the Son in all things; only Jehovah the Father therefore is worthy of highest worship or "sacred service". They believe that the Son had a beginning, and was brought forth at a certain point, as "the firstborn of all creation" and "the only-begotten". They identify Jesus as the Archangel Michael, mentioned in the Bible at Jude 9. They believe he left heaven to become Jesus Christ on earth, and that after his ascension to heaven he resumed his pre-human identity. This belief is partly based upon 1 Thessalonians 4:16, in which "the voice of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ is described as being that of an archangel". They also cite passages from the books of Daniel and Revelation in which Jesus and Michael take similar action and exercise similar authority, concluding these scriptures indicate them to be the same person. They do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a person, but consider it to be God's divine active force.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as Mormonism, teaches that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct beings that are not united in substance, a view sometimes called social trinitarianism. Members of this church believe the three individual deities are "one" in will or purpose, as Jesus was "one" with his disciples, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute a single Godhead or a Divine Council, and are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. Because their official belief is that the Father, Son, and Spirit are each "Gods" in one Godhead, Mormonism is said to hold a form of tri-theism. Some view Mormonism as a form of Arianism. Like Arianism, Mormons believe that God created Christ, that he is subordinate to God the Father and that Christ created the universe. However, Mormon doctrine varies significantly from the teachings of Arius. Mormons also do not subscribe to the ideas that Christ was unlike the Father in substance, that the Father could not appear on earth, nor that Christ was adopted by the Father, as found in Arianism. Mormons assert that the classification of deity in terms of a substance was a post-apostolic corruption, and that God differs from humans not in substance, but in intelligence. While Mormons regard God the Father as the Supreme Being and literal Father of the spirits of all humankind, they also teach that Christ and the Holy Spirit are equally divine in that they share in the Father's "comprehension of all things".
- The Members Church of God International believes in the divinity of Christ but rejects the doctrine of Trinity. They believe in what appears to be a Subordationist viewpoint in which Jesus Christ, is the Father's only Begotten Son (in Romanized Greek: monogenestheos, meaning "only-begotten god").
- Oneness Pentecostalism is a subset of Pentecostalism that believes God is only one person, and that he manifests himself in different ways, faces, or "modes": "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) are different designations for the one God. God is the Father. God is the Holy Spirit. The Son is God manifest in flesh. The term Son always refers to the Incarnation, and never to deity apart from humanity." Oneness Pentecostals 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, viewing it 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".
- Denominations within the Sabbatarian tradition (Armstrongism) believe that Christ the Son and God the Father are co-eternal, but do not teach that the Holy Spirit is a being or person. Mainstream Christians characterise this teaching as the heresy of Binitarianism, the teaching that God is a "Duality", or "two-in-one", rather than three. Armstrong theology holds that God is a "Family", that expands eventually, that "God reproduces Himself", but that originally there was a co-eternal "Duality", God and the Word, rather than a "Trinity".
- 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 his 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.
- Unitarian Christians and Unitarian Universalist Christians are Holy Spirit Unitarians[clarification needed].
Nontrinitarian doctrine often generates controversy among mainstream Christians, as most trinitarians consider it heresy not to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. At times, segments of Nicene Christianity reacted with ultimate severity toward nontrinitarian views. Following the Reformation, among some Protestant groups such as the Unitarians and Christadelphians, the same views have been accommodated.
Members of Unitarian Universalism may or may not identify as Christian. Traditionally, Unitarianism was a form of Christianity that rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Unitarianism was rejected by orthodox Christianity at the First Council of Nicaea, an ecumenical council held in 325, but resurfaced subsequently in Church history, especially during the theological turmoils of the Protestant Reformation. In 1961 the American Unitarian Association (AUA) was consolidated with the Universalist Church of America (UCA), forming the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Most nontrinitarians take the position that the doctrine of the earliest form of Christianity (see Apostolic Age) was nontrinitarian, but (depending on which church) believe rather that early Christianity was either strictly Unitarian or Binitarian or Modalist, as in the case of the Montanists, Marcionites, and Christian Gnostics. For them, Early Christianity eventually changed after the edicts of Emperor Constantine I and his sentence pronounced on Arius, which later followed by the declaration by Emperor Theodosius I in the Edict of Thessalonica, 'cunctos populos' of February 380 that Christianity as defined in the Nicene Creed was the official religion of the Roman Empire. A year later the Second Ecumenical Council confirmed this in a slightly revised Creed.
Because they believe 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 and the results of the Council of Chalcedon as essentially political documents, 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 (see Caesaropapism).
Although nontrinitarian beliefs continued to multiply, and among some peoples were dominant for hundreds of years after their inception – e.g. Lombards, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals – Trinitarians eventually gained prominence in the Roman Empire. Nontrinitarians typically argue that the early nontrinitarian beliefs of Christianity, e.g. Arianism, were systematically suppressed (often to the point of death), After the First Council of Nicaea, Roman Emperor Constantine I issued an edict against Arius's writings which included systematic book burning. In spite of issuing this decree, Constantine soon ordered the readmission of Arius to the church, removed those bishops who, like Athanasius, upheld the teaching of Nicaea, allowed Arianism to grow within the Empire and thus to spread to Germanic tribes on the frontier, and was himself baptized by an Arian bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedia. His successors as Christian emperors promoted Arianism, until Theodosius I came to the throne in 379 and supported Nicene Christianity.
The Easter letter that Athanasius issued in 367, when the Eastern Empire was ruled by the Arian Emperor Valens, defined what books belong to the Old Testament and the New Testament, together with seven other books which is to be read "for instruction in the word of godliness"; at the same time it excluded what Athanasius called apocryphal writings, falsely presented as ancient. Elaine Pagels writes: "In AD 367, Athanasius, the zealous bishop of Alexandria... issued an Easter letter in which he demanded that Egyptian monks destroy all such unacceptable writings, except for those he specifically listed as 'acceptable' even 'canonical' – a list that constitutes the present 'New Testament'". Some nontrinitarians say that the condemned writings were Arian books.
Nontrinitarians also dispute the veracity of the Nicene Creed based on its adoption nearly 300 years after the life of Jesus as a result of conflict within pre-Nicene early Christianity. Nontrinitarians (both Modalists and Unitarians) also generally say that Athanasius and others at Nicaea adopted Greek Platonic philosophy and concepts, and incorporated them in their views of God and Christ. Nontrinitarians also cite scriptures such as Matthew 15:9 and Ephesians 4:14
The author H. G. Wells, later famous for his contribution to science-fiction, wrote in The Outline of History: "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."
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.
The Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics describes the five stages that led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 in the Nicene Creed, which specifically states the son of God is as immutable as his father.
- 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.
- The addition of the Filioque to the Nicene Creed, as accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.
Following the Reformation
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Following the Protestant Reformation, and the German Peasants' War of 1524–1525, by 1530 large areas of Northern Europe were Protestant, and forms of nontrinitarianism began to surface among some "Radical Reformation" groups, particularly Anabaptists. The first recorded English antitrinitarian was John Assheton (1548), an Anglican priest. The Italian Anabaptist "Council of Venice" (1550) and the trial of Michael Servetus (1553) marked the clear emergence of markedly antitrinitarian Protestants. Though the only organised nontrinitarian churches were the Polish Brethren who split from the Calvinists (1565, expelled from Poland 1658), and the Unitarian Church of Transylvania (1568–today). Nonconformists, Dissenters and Latitudinarians in Britain were often Arians or Unitarians, and the Doctrine of the Trinity Act 1813 allowed nontrinitarian worship in Britain. In America, Arian and Unitarian views were also found among some Millennialist and Adventist groups, though the Unitarian Church itself began to decline in numbers and influence after the 1870s.
Points of dissent
Nontrinitarian Christians of Arian or Semi-Arian leaning contend that the weight of Scriptural evidence leans more towards Subordinationism, that of the Son's total submission to the Father, and of Paternal supremacy over the Son in every aspect. They acknowledge and confess the Son's glorious and high rank, at God's right hand, but teach that the Father is still greater than the Son, in all things.
While acknowledging that the Father, Son, and Spirit are essential in creation and salvation, they argue that that in itself does not necessarily prove that the three are each co-equal or co-eternal. They also contend that the only number clearly ascribed to God in the Bible (both Testaments) is the number "one", and that the Trinity, literally meaning a set of three, ascribes a co-equal threeness to God that is not explicitly Scriptural.
Critics argue that the Trinity, for a teaching described as fundamental, lacks direct scriptural support. Upholders of the doctrine declare that the doctrine is not stated directly in the New Testament, but is instead an interpretation of elements contained in it that are seen as implying the doctrine that was formulated only in the 4th century. Thus William Barclay, a Church of Scotland minister, says: "It is important and helpful to remember that the word Trinity is not itself a New Testament word. It is even true in at least one sense to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is not directly New Testament doctrine. It is rather a deduction from and an interpretation of the thought and the language of the New Testament." And 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". 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." 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."
Speaking of legitimate theological development, Catholic historian Joseph F. Kelly writes: "The Bible may not use the word 'Trinity', but it refers to God the Father frequently; the Gospel of John emphasized the divinity of the Son; several New Testament books treat the Holy Spirit as divine. The ancient theologians did not violate biblical teaching but sought to develop its implications. ... [Arius's] potent arguments forced other Christians to refine their thinking about the Trinity. at two ecumenical councils, Nicea I in 325 and Constantinople I in 381, the church at large defined the Trinity in the way now so familiar to us from the Nicene Creed. This exemplifies development of doctrine at its best. The Bible may not use the word 'Trinity', but trinitarian theology does not go against the Bible. On the contrary, Catholics believe that trinitarianism has carefully developed a biblical teaching for later generations."
Questions over the alleged co-equal deity of Jesus
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Nontrinitarians such as Jehovah's Witnesses point to several occurrences in the Scriptures where Jesus is purportedly shown to be lesser, or subordinate to God the Father. For example, at John 14:28, Jesus stated that "the Father is greater" than he (John 14:28). Other examples include: Jesus claimed that his teachings were not his own, but had originated from his Father (John 8:28); Jesus disavowed knowledge of God's appointed time, stating that only the Father knows the day and the hour (Mark 13:32); the apostle Paul wrote that Jesus "learned obedience" from his Father while in heaven (Hebrews 5:8); Jesus questioned being given the title of "Good Teacher" in order to give credit and honor to his Father (Mark 10:17,18); the Scriptures identify the "one God out of whom all things are" as being separate from the "one Lord, Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 8:6); that Christ the Son is called the "firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15); Christ the Son, the Amen, is called "the beginning of God's creation" (Revelation 3:14); that Jesus referred to ascending to "my Father, and to your Father; and to my God, and to your God" (John 20:17); and that Jesus Christ referred to his Father as "the only true God." (John 17:3)
Additionally, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 when saying in Mark 12:29 "'The most important [commandment] is this: Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD.'" At Deuteronomy 6:4, the plural form of the Hebrew word "God" (Elohim) is used, generally understood to denote majesty, excellence and the superlative. Additionally, the Tetragrammaton name for God (YHWH, Yahweh, or Jehovah) appears twice in this verse, leading to the rendering: "The LORD [YHWH] our God (Elohim) is one LORD [YHWH]." Therefore, nontrinitarian Christians such as Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as certain Jewish scholars, point to Deuteronomy 6:4 (Shema) as essential to the belief in a singular (and therefore indivisible) supremely powerful God. 
Raymond E. Brown (1928–1988), American Catholic priest and Trinitarian, wrote that Mark 10:18, 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, and 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"; that Gal 2:20, Acts 20:28, John 1:18, Colossians 2:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:12, 1John 5:20, Romans 9:5, and 2 Peter 1:1 are "texts where, by reason of textual variants or syntax, the use of 'God' for Jesus is dubious"; and that Hebrews 1:8-9, John 1:1, and John 20:28 are "texts where clearly Jesus is called God".
Trinitarians (who hold that Jesus Christ is distinct from God the Father), and nontrinitarians who hold Jesus Christ as Almighty God (such as the Modalists), say that 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) 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 by citing "the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3), placing Jesus in an inferior position to the Father even after his resurrection and exaltation. They also cite Acts 5:31 and Philippians 2:9, indicating that Jesus became glorified and exalted after ascension to heaven, and to Hebrews 9:24, Acts 7:55, and 1 Corinthians 15:24, 28, regarding Jesus as a distinct personality in heaven, still with a lesser position than the Father, all after Christ's ascension.
Views on allegedly trinitarian passages in scripture
Nontrinitarian Christians such as Jehovah's Witnesses argue that a person who is really seeking to know the truth about God is not going to search the Bible hoping to find a text that he can construe as fitting what he already believes. They say it is noteworthy at the outset that the texts used as “proof” of the Trinity do not explicitly teach co-equality or co-eternity in any clear formulation, and also that most of those Verses in question actually mention only two persons, not three; so nontrinitarians say that even if the trinitarian explanation of the texts were correct, these would not prove that the Bible teaches the Trinity.
John 1:1 – The contention with this verse is that there is a distinction between God and the Logos (or "the Word"). Trinitarians contend that the third part of the verse (John 1:1c) translates as "and the Word was God", pointing to a distinction as subjects between God and the Logos but an equivalence in nature. Some nontrinitarians (Jehovah's Witnesses, specifically) contend that the Koine Greek ("kai theos ên ho logos") should instead be translated as "and the Word was a god", or as what they see as the more literal word-for-word translation from the Greek as "and a God was the Word", basing this on the contention that the section is an example of an anarthrous, that is, "theos" lacks the definite article, meaning its use was indefinite - "a god", which could denote either Almighty God or a divine being in general. Nontrinitarians also contend that had the author of John's gospel wished to say "and the Word was God" that he could have easily written "kai ho theos ên ho logos", but he did not. In this way, nontrinitarians contend that the Logos would be considered to be the pre-existent Jesus, who is actually distinct from God. The argument being that the distinction between the Logos and the Father was not just in terms of "person", but also in terms of "theos".[self-published source] Meaning that not only were they distinct persons, but also distinct "Gods", given the fact that the second occurrence of "theos" was an indefinite noun; and that only the Father was treated as the absolute "Theos" in John 1:1. The argument being that only one person is actually referred to as the Absolute God, "ho Theos", in John 1:1, that person being only the Father, not the Logos.[self-published source] Alternatively, others argue that the Greek should be translated as "and the Logos was divine" (with theos being an adjective), and the Logos being interpreted as God's "plan" or "reasoning" for salvation. Thus, according to Modalists, when "the Logos became flesh" in John 1:14, it is not interpreted to be a pre-existent Jesus being incarnated, but rather the "plan" or "eternal mind" of God being manifested in the birth of the man Jesus. Others still consider a suitable translation of the verse to be "and what God was the Word was."
John 10:30 – Nontrinitarians such as Arians believe that when Jesus said, "I and the Father are one," he did not mean that they were actually "one substance", or "one God", or co-equal and co-eternal, but rather that, according to context, which was that of shepherding the sheep, he and the Father were "one" in pastoral work, the thought being a "unity of purpose" in saving the sheep. Arians also cite John 17:21, where Jesus prayed regarding his disciples: "That they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may be in us," adding "that they may be one even as we are one". They point out that Jesus used the same Greek word (hen) for "one" in all these instances and assert that since Jesus did not expect for his followers to literally become "one" entity, or "one in substance", with each other, or with God, then it is said that Jesus also did not expect his hearers to think that he and God the Father were "one" entity, either. Rather, Arian nontrinitarians insist that the oneness that was meant in that context was a oneness in divine work, mission, love, and purpose.
John 20:28-29 – "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"". Since Thomas called Jesus God, Jesus's statement appears to endorse Thomas's assertion. Nontrinitarians typically respond that it is plausible that Thomas is addressing the Lord Jesus and then the Father. Another possible answer is that Jesus himself said, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" (John 10:34) referring to Psalm 82:6-8. The word "gods" in verse 6 and "God" in verse 8 is the same Hebrew word "'elohim", 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", and can also refer to powers and potentates, in general, or as "God, god, gods, rulers, judges or angels", and as "divine ones, goddess, godlike one".
2 Corinthians 13:14
2 Corinthians 13:14 – "The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of you." It has been argued by Trinitarians that since, in this verse, all three "Father, Son, and Spirit" are mentioned together in Paul's prayer for Grace on all believers, and are obviously essential for salvation, that they must make up one triune Godhead, and must therefore be co-equal or co-eternal. Nontrinitarians such as Arians reply that they do not disagree that all three are necessary for salvation and grace, but nowhere in the passage is it explicitly said that all three are co-equal or co-eternal, or even have to be. They argue that it is simply a circular assumption that just because they are mentioned together and are important, that they must ipso facto make up one co-equal Godhead.
Philippians 2:5-6 – "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [or "which was also in Christ Jesus",] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped" (ESV). The word here translated in the English Standard Version as "a thing to be grasped" is ἁρπαγμόν. Other translations of the word are indicated in the Holman Christian Standard Bible: "Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage" [or "to be grasped", or "to be held on to"]. The King James Version has: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." An Internet commentator criticizes the King James Version for conveying a thought that was basically the opposite of what was actually said, and says the text means: "Let this mind be in you, which also was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped after".
Hebrews 9:14 – "How much more will the Blood of Christ, who through an eternal Spirit, offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works, that we may render sacred service to the living God?" Most nontrinitarians admit that the Holy Spirit had no beginning, but believe it is not an actual person like the Father is. Nontrinitarians also agree that all three are essential, but contend that it is obvious that God the Father is ultimate, and is the one who is ultimately reached, and therefore, although all are divine and essential, the "living God" the Father is still greater than the other two entities. And that a "co-equal trinity" is still not explicitly taught in the passage, but only inferred or assumed.
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Nontrinitarians state that the doctrine of the Trinity relies on non-Biblical terminology, that the term "Trinity" is not found in Scripture and that the number three is never clearly associated with God necessarily, other than within the Comma Johanneum which is of spurious or disputed authenticity. They argue that the only number clearly unambiguously ascribed to God in the Bible is one, and that the Trinity, literally meaning three-in-one, ascribes a co-equal threeness to God that is not explicitly biblical.
Nontrinitarians cite other examples of terms not found in the Bible; multiple "persons" in relation to God, the terms "God the Son", "God-Man", "God the Holy Spirit", "eternal Son", and "eternally begotten". While the trinitarianism term hypostasis is found in the Bible, it is used only once in reference to God [Heb 1:3] where it states that Jesus is the express image of God's person. The Bible does not explicitly use the term in relation to the Holy Spirit nor explicitly mentions the Son having a distinct hypostasis from the Father.
All agree that the First Council of Nicaea included in its Creed the major term homoousios (of the same essence), which was used also by the Council of Chalcedon to speak of a double consubstantiality of Christ, "consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood". Nontrinitarians accept what Pier Franco Beatrice wrote: "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. In the years of the outbreak of the Arian controversy, Lactantius might have played a decisive role in influencing Constantine's Hermetic interpretation of Plato's theology and consequently the emperor's decision to insert homoousios in the Creed of Nicaea."
Trinitarians see the absence of the actual word "Trinity" and other Trinity-related terms in the Bible as no more significant than the absence in the Bible of the words "monotheism", "omnipotence", "oneness", "Pentecostal", "apostolic", "incarnation" and even "Bible" itself. and maintain that, "while the word Trinity is not in the Bible, the substance of the doctrine is definitely biblical".
Nontrinitarian views about the Holy Spirit differ in certain ways from mainstream Christian doctrine and generally fall into several distinct categories. Most scriptures traditionally in support of the Trinity refer to the Father and the Son, but not to the Holy Spirit.
Unitarian and Arian
Groups with Unitarian theology such as Polish Socinians, the 18th–19th-century Unitarian Church, Christadelphians conceive of the Holy Spirit not as a person but as an aspect of God's power. Christadelphians believe that the phrase Holy Spirit refers to God's power or mind/character, depending on the context.
Though Arius himself believed that the Holy Spirit is a person or high-ranking Angel, that had a beginning, modern Arian or Semi-Arian Christian groups such as Dawn Bible Students and Jehovah's Witnesses believe, the same as Unitarian groups, that the Holy Spirit is not an actual person but is God's "power in action", divine "breath" or "energy", which had no beginning, that he uses to accomplish his will. They do not typically capitalize the term. They define the Holy Spirit as "God's active force", and they believe that it proceeds only from the Father.
Armstrongites, such as the Living Church of God, believe that the Logos and God the Father are co-equal and co-eternal, but they do not believe that the Holy Spirit is an actual person, like the Father and the Son. They believe the Holy Spirit is the Power, Mind, or Character of God, depending on the context. They teach, "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". Mainstream Christians characterise this teaching as the heresy of Binitarianism, the teaching that God is a "Duality", or "two-in-one", rather than three.
Oneness Pentecostalism, as with other modalist groups, teach that the Holy Spirit is a mode of God, rather than a distinct or separate person in the Godhead. They instead teach that the Holy Spirit is another name for God the Father. According to Oneness theology, the Holy Spirit essentially is the Father, operating in a certain capacity or manifestation. The United Pentecostal Church teaches that there is no personal distinction between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
These two titles "Father" and "Holy Spirit" (as well as others) do not reflect separate "persons" within the Godhead, but rather two different ways in which the one God reveals himself to his creatures. Thus, the Old Testament speaks of "The Lord God and his Spirit" in Isaiah 48:16, but this does not indicate two "persons" according to Oneness theology. Rather, "The Lord" indicates God in all of His glory and transcendence, while the words "His Spirit" refer to God's own Spirit that moved upon and spoke to the prophet. The Oneness view is that this does not imply two "persons" any more than the numerous scriptural references to a man and his spirit or soul (such as in Luke 12:19) imply two "persons" existing within one body.
Latter Day Saint movement
In the Latter Day Saint movement, a collection of independent church groups that trace their origins to a Christian primitivist movement founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, the Holy Ghost (usually synonymous with Holy Spirit.) is considered the third distinct member of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), and to have a body of "spirit," which makes him unlike the Father and the Son who are said to have bodies "as tangible as man's." According to LDS doctrine, the Holy Spirit is believed to be a person, with a body of spirit, able to pervade all worlds.
Latter Day Saints believe that the Holy Spirit is part of the "Divine Council", but that the Father is greater than both the Son and the Holy Spirit in position and authority, but not in nature (i.e., they equally share the "God" nature). According to official Latter-day Saint teaching, the Father, Son, and Spirit are three ontologically separate, self-aware entities who share a common "God" nature distinct from our "human" nature, who are "One God" in a nonmathematical sense (just as a husband and wife are supposed to be "one" in a nonmathematical sense). Because of this, some view Latter-day Saint theology as a form of "tri-theism."
However, a number of Latter Day Saint sects, most notably the Community of Christ (second largest Latter Day Saint denomination) and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), and those sects separating from the Community of Christ and Church of Christ, follow a traditional Protestant trinitarian theology.
The Unity Church interprets the religious terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit metaphysically, as three aspects of mind action: mind, idea, and expression. They believe this is the process through which all manifestation takes place.
As a movement that developed out of Christianity, Rastafari has its own unique interpretation of both the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit. Although there are several slight variations, they generally state that it is Haile Selassie who embodies both God the Father and God the Son, while the Holy (or rather, "Hola") Spirit is to be found within Rasta believers (see 'I and I'), and within every human being. Rastas also say that the true church is the human body, and that it is this church (or "structure") that contains the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity doctrine is integral in inter-religious disagreements with the other two main Abrahamic religions, 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, although accepting virgin birth. The concept of a co-equal trinity is totally rejected, with Quranic verses calling the doctrine of the Trinity blasphemous.
The rejection of the Trinity doctrine has led to comparisons between nontrinitarian theology and Judaism and Islam. For example, in an 1897 article in the Jewish Quarterly Review, Montefiore describes Unitarianism as a bridge between Judaism and mainstream Christianity, calling it both a "phase of Judaism" and a "phase of Christianity". With respect to Islam, early Islam was originally seen as a variant of Arianism, a heresy in Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, by the Byzantine emperor in the 600s. In the 700s, many Arians in Spain considered Mohammed a prophet. In the mid 1500s, many Socinian unitarians were suspected of having Islamic leanings. Socinians praised Islam, though considering the Qur'an to contain errors, for its belief in the unity of God. Bilal Cleland claimed that "an anonymous writer" in A Letter of Resolution concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation (1693) states that Islam's greater number of adherents and military supremacy resulted from more closely maintaining correct doctrine than mainstream Christianity.
Trinitarian Christians comprise the vast majority of religious believers in the Christian tradition. Because many Trinitarian Christians consider that the doctrine of the Trinity is an indispensable part of the faith, Nontrinitarian believers are often held by Trinitarian believers not to be Christians at all.
Purported pagan origins of the Trinity
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The ancient Egyptians, whose influence on early religious thought was considered profound, usually arranged their gods and goddesses in groups of three, or trinities: there was the trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, the trinity of Amen, Mut, and Khonsu, and the trinity of Khnum, Satis, and Anukis.
Some nontrinitarians[who?] also say that a link between the doctrine of the Trinity and the Egyptian Christian theologians of Alexandria suggests 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.
They say that there was much pagan Greek and Platonic influence in the development of the idea of a co-equal triune Godhead, many basic concepts from Aristotelian philosophy being mixed and incorporated into the Biblical God. As one piece of evidence, they say that Aristotle himself wrote: "All things are three, and thrice is all: and let us use this number in the worship of the gods; for, as Pythagoreans say, everything and all things are bound by threes, for the end, the middle, and the beginning have this number in everything, and these compose the number of the Trinity."
The words thus attributed to Aristotle differ in a number of ways from what has been published as the philosopher's original text in Greek, which for instance has nothing corresponding to "let us use this number in the worship of the gods" before the mention of the Pythagoreans. They differ also from translations of the works of Aristotle by scholars such as Stuart Leggatt, W. K. C. Guthrie, J. L. Stocks, Thomas Taylor and Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire. The independent but concordant translations by Guthrie and Stocks of what Aristotle, in his On the Heavens, wrote about what he considered to be the only three dimensions are considered "good English translations", and a comparison with them of the words above attributed to Aristotle shows how the latter diverges.
The Guthrie translation is: "Magnitude divisible in one direction is a line, in two directions is a surface, and in three directions is a body. There is no magnitude not included in these; for three are all, and 'in three directions' is the same as 'in every direction'. It is just as the Pythagoreans say, the whole world and all things in it are summed up in the number three; for end, middle, and beginning give the number of the whole, and their number is the triad. Hence it is that we have taken this number from nature, as if it were her laws, and we make use of it even for the worship of the gods."
The Stocks translation is: "A magnitude if divisible one way is a line, if two ways a surface, and if three a body. Beyond these there is no other magnitude, because the three dimensions are all that there are, and that which is divisible in three directions is divisible in all. For, as the Pythagoreans say, the world and all that is in it is determined by the number three, since beginning and middle and end give the number of an 'all', and the number they give is the triad. And so, having taken these three from nature as (so to speak) laws of it, we make further use of the number three in the worship of the gods."
Some antitrinitarians note also that the Greek philosopher Plato believed in a special "threeness" in life and in the universe. In Plato's work Phaedo, he introduces the word "triad" (in Greek τριάς), which they translate as "trinity". This was adopted by 3rd and 4th century professed Christians as roughly corresponding to "Father, Word, and Spirit (Soul)". Nontrinitarian Christians contend that such notions and adoptions make the Trinity doctrine more suspect, as not being Biblical, but extra-Biblical in concept.
As evidence of this, they say there is a widely acknowledged synthesis of Christianity with Platonic philosophy evident in trinitarian formulas appearing by the end of the 3rd 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.
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.
Advocates of the "Hellenic influences" argument attempt to trace the influence of Greek philosophers, such as Plato or Aristotle, who, they say, taught an essential "threeness" of the Ultimate Reality, and also the concept of "eternal derivation", that is, "a birth without a becoming". They say that theologians of the 4th century AD, such as Athanasius of Alexandria, then interpreted the Bible through a Middle Platonist and later Neoplatonist filter.
The argument is that many of these 3rd- and 4th-century Christians mixed Greek pagan philosophy with the Scriptures, incorporating Platonism into their concept of the Biblical God and the Biblical Christ. These advocates point to what they see as similarities between Hellenistic philosophy and post-Apostolic Christianity, by examining the following factors:
- 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.
- The neo-Platonic trinities, such as that of the One, the Nous and the Soul, are not considered a trinity necessarily of consubstantial equals as in mainstream Christianity. However, the neo-Platonic trinity has the doctrine of emanation, or "eternal derivation", a timeless procedure of generation having as a source the One and claimed to be paralleled with the generation of the light from the Sun. This was adopted by Origen and later on by Athanasius, and applied to the generation of the Son from the Father, because they believed that this analogy could be used to support the notion that the Father, as immutable, always had been a Father, and that the generation of the Son is therefore eternal and timeless.
- The synthesis of Christianity with Platonic philosophy was further incorporated in the trinitarian formulas that appeared by the end of the 3rd century. "The Greek philosophical theology" was "developed during the Trinitarian controversies over the relationships among the persons of the Godhead." Some assert that this incorporation was well known during the 3rd century, 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 4th century, Marcellus of Ancyra, who taught the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were one person (hypostasis), said in his 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."
Again in the doctrine of the Trinity, the ecclesiastical conception of Father, Word, and Spirit finds its germ in the different Stoic names of the Divine Unity. Thus Seneca, writing of the supreme Power which shapes the universe, states, 'This Power we sometimes call the All-ruling God, sometimes the incorporeal Wisdom, sometimes the holy Spirit, sometimes Destiny.' The Church had only to reject the last of these terms to arrive at its own acceptable definition of the Divine Nature; while the further assertion 'these three are One', which the modern mind finds paradoxical, was no more than commonplace to those familiar with Stoic notions.
Christian groups with nontrinitarian positions
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