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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Trinity: One God in Three Persons

Don Stewart :: What Are Some Common Misconceptions People Have about the Doctrine of the Trinity?

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What Are Some Common Misconceptions People Have about the Doctrine of the Trinity?

The Trinity: One God in Three Persons – Question 4

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important teachings in all of Scripture. Unfortunately, there are a number of common misconceptions that people have about this teaching. These need to be addressed. They can be listed as follows:

Misconception 1: The Trinity Is a Pagan Idea Adopted by Christians

It is often charged that the doctrine of the Trinity is a pagan idea that the early church adopted. Supposedly, the church adopted the idea of the Trinity from non-Christian beliefs. The Bible, they say, does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity.


There are a number of points that need to be made to refute this accusation. We can address them as follows:

1. The Doctrine of the Trinity Is Derived from Scripture

First, the Trinity doctrine is derived from Scripture alone. It does not come from some pagan religion or some devilish doctrine. The source of the teaching is from the Bible itself. The doctrine of the Trinity is an attempt to explain what God has revealed to us in His Word. It comes solely from the Bible.

2. There Is No Pagan Source That Influenced the Doctrine

Second, there is the matter of which source supposedly influenced the Trinity. Candidates such as the religions of ancient Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria have been mentioned, as have Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Yet these religions are radically different from one another in their beliefs. Thus, there is no unanimity of opinion on the subject as to where the Trinity doctrine was derived.

There is something else which needs to be mentioned. These supposed derivations of the Trinity from pagan concepts come either too early, or too late in history, or are too far away geographically.

For example, comparison to the worship of three gods in Egypt and Babylonia will not work. These gods were worshipped two thousand years before Jesus Christ came. India, where Buddhism and Hinduism arose is too far removed geographically to have had any influence. There is no credible human source where the doctrine could have come from. None.

3. Some Christians Are Misinformed about the Trinity and Wrongly Explain the Doctrine

Third, while some Christians may have made comparisons of the Trinity to pagan beliefs, the Bible does not. The Trinity is strictly a biblical doctrine. Those who attempted to compare the Trinity with teachings in other religions either do not understand the doctrine of the Trinity or what the other religions teach concerning the nature of God.

4. The Idea of Three Gods Is Not the Trinity

Fourth, the fact that there were a number of ancient religions that worshipped three gods is irrelevant. These gods were separate gods. They are not one God as we find in the Trinity.

Furthermore, the three gods worshipped in these cultures were usually the chief gods. There were many other gods these people worshipped apart from the chief ones. The similarity of the number three proves nothing with respect to derivation or influence.

Finally, there is a logical fallacy involved. The fact that some ancient religions may have had some similar beliefs to the Trinity does not mean they are the same or that they influenced the Trinity. Similarity does not mean the same.

Therefore, the idea that the Trinity was somehow influenced, derived from, or borrowed from pagan concepts does not fit the facts.

Misconception 2: The Trinity Doctrine Is a Mystery That Is Impossible to Understand

One of the misconceptions about the Trinity goes something like this: since we cannot comprehend the Trinity, we should not believe it.

It is true that our natural faculties cannot comprehend how one can be three and three can be one. The doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to understand. It is tough to find human terms that would express how God is able to be both a unity and three distinct Persons at the same time.

Response: Whether We Understand It or Not, the Bible Teaches the Doctrine of the Trinity

However this is not the issue. There are many facts that we, as humans, are not able to fully understand. The Trinity is one of those things we must accept by faith because the Scripture teaches it. It should not be rejected because some find it difficult to comprehend. A basic understanding of the Trinity is certainly possible. Therefore it is imprecise to say that the Trinity is impossible to understand. Humans can understand many things about the Trinity without having a complete understanding.

We can know the truth about God if we so desire. Jesus made this clear. He said,

“Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own.” (John 7:17 NLT)

If we wish to know, we can know.

The Apostle Paul attempted to explain the mystery or God’s secret plan to the people. He stated that we can understand it. He wrote the following to the Colossians:

My goal is that they will be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have full confidence because they have complete understanding of God’s secret plan, which is Christ himself. (Colossians 2:2 NLT)

While he is not directly speaking of the doctrine of the Trinity the thought is still the same. Since God has revealed these things about His nature we should be able to have some understanding of His truth. Therefore, we can know certain things about the Trinity even though our knowledge may not be exhaustive.

Misconception 3: The Trinity Doctrine Is Unreasonable

This objection is similar to the previous one and it is very common. Not only is the doctrine of the Trinity accused of being impossible to understand, it is also accused of being contrary to reason. We are told by some people that the Trinity doctrine should be rejected because it does not make sense.

Response: Human Reason Should Not Be Our Guide: God’s Divine Revelation Should Be

Although the doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to comprehend, it is certainly not unreasonable. While some of the truths with respect to the Trinity are beyond human reason, they not contrary to reason.

Reason, however, should not be our final test of truth. Human reason is flawed by sin. A person who does not accept the Bible as the true revelation from God has no basis to believe the Trinity, but those who accept the Scripture as God’s divinely inspired Word can do no other but accept this truth. The key issue is, “Is the Trinity taught in Scripture?” The answer is yes. However the Scripture does not attempt to explain the Trinity. Indeed, it simply declares it.

Misconception 4: The Doctrine Cannot Be True Because the Word Trinity Is Not Found in the Bible

It is true the word Trinity is not found in the Bible. It is a theological term, not a biblical term. This has led some to the conclusion that belief in the Trinity is not biblical.

Response: Many Correct Theological Terms Are Not Found in Scripture

It is true, the precise word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture. Yet this does not mean that the doctrine is contrary to Scripture. The idea of the Trinity is represented in many places and the term Trinity best expresses what the Bible says about God’s nature. We should not necessarily reject any word or phrase that attempts to explain what the Scripture teaches merely because the Bible does not use the term.

For example, the word “theology” is not found in the Bible either. However, theology means “the study of God.” No one doubts that the Bible teaches theology because the precise term is not used. In the same manner, the Trinity is taught in Scripture without the use of the specific term. Moreover, it is not the specific word Trinity that is the issue. The real question is, “Does the teaching about the Trinity conform to what the Bible says about God’s nature?” That is the real issue.

Furthermore, if we use this type of logic, then we should reject the Book of Esther as being part of Scripture since the name of God is not found in the book. Since it does not use God’s name, should we assume that it does not teach us about Him? Esther certainly shows the providence of God without using His specific name. Likewise, the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity without using the actual term.

Misconception 5: The Trinity Doctrine Cannot Be True Because It Is Not Explicitly Taught in Scripture

The doctrine of the Trinity is not found in any explicit statement in Scripture. There are no formal doctrinal statements that define, or teach the Trinity. Terms such as “Trinity,” “three Persons,” and “one substance” are not found in the New Testament.

In addition, nowhere do we find the Bible saying that God is one in essence but three as to Persons. Since there is no developed teaching concerning the Trinity, it is argued, that the New Testament does not teach this doctrine.

Response: The Doctrine of the Trinity Is Taught in Scripture

While the exact terms that Christians use to describe the Trinity are not found in the New Testament, the ideas in which these terms express are clearly there. We must appreciate the fact that the Bible can teach doctrines in ways other than in direct statements. The truth of the Trinity is found by comparing what the Bible itself says about the nature of God. The basis of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity is certainly found in Scripture.

Moreover, what the Bible teaches about the nature of God assumes that God is a Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity should not be rejected because a formal, or explicit, statement is lacking, or because the belief is not fully developed.

The term Trinity is a limited term because it emphasizes the three distinct Persons but not the oneness, or unity of God, within the Godhead. There is a German term, Dreieinigkeit, that says it better. It means “three-oneness.” Unhappily, English does not have such a term.

Misconception 6: The Trinity Denies the Oneness of God

It is often charged that the Trinity doctrine denies the existence of only one God because the Trinity consists of three Persons.

Response: God Is Still One in His Essence in the Doctrine of the Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity does not mean there are three different gods, or three separate gods. God is one essence, one substance. He is not a being made up of three separate parts. The three Persons are united; they do not have separate existence.

Neither is God three separate individuals. The doctrine of the Trinity does not make Jesus a second god and the Holy Spirit a third god. There is only one God. The three members of the Trinity are equal in substance. Therefore the doctrine of the Trinity does not deny the oneness of God.

Misconception 7: God Cannot Be Three Persons and One Person at the Same Time

It is often assumed that it is impossible for God to be three and one at the same time. Consequently, the Trinity doctrine is rejected.

Response: This Is How God Describes Himself

One of the problems in understanding the Trinity has to do with the English word “person.” Since the word person can be used in two different senses it can cause confusion when explaining the meaning of the three Persons of the Trinity.

When Christians speak of God as “three Persons” they are not saying that God is three separate entities, or there are three parts of God. God is one substance, or essence. He cannot be divided into parts and the doctrine of the Trinity does not divide God into parts. The doctrine of the Trinity recognizes one God who exists in three distinct persons, or centers of consciousness. We can also say that there are three personal self-distinctions. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are eternal personal distinctions within the nature of God. In this sense God is indeed three Persons.

However, there is another sense in which the word “person” is used. When the God of the Bible speaks, He usually speaks as “I,” as one person. When humans pray to God, they pray to Him as “you” in the singular, never the plural. God is never referred to as “they” or “them.” He is always “He,” “Him,” or “You” in the singular. This reflects the fact that He is a single, personal being. If the word person is used in the sense of a unique, individual being then God is one person in that sense of the term.

The word person can possibly be misleading because to us it implies separate beings. Three persons to us would be three different beings. However, person seems to be as good a word as we have that can express what the Scripture teaches.

Consequently, God can be described as “three Persons” or as “one Person” depending upon how the word “person” is being used. The traditional Christian usage of Person focuses on the distinction of the three members of the Trinity.

Misconception 8: The Trinity Doctrine Was Invented by the Church

The charge is often made that the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated one hundred years after the apostles died. Supposedly it is a product of the thinking of early Christians, not the Bible. It is a doctrine of the church not a doctrine from Scripture. Today, we do not have to believe it merely because the church has held to it in the past. However the facts say otherwise.

The Term Was Used Early in Church History

The term Trinity comes from the Latin word trinus, meaning threefold. The earliest use of the word Trinity is found by the church father Tertullian (A.D. 166). It is not certain when the term was invented.

Christians Believe in the Unity of God

The early Christians had a basic belief in the unity of God. They believed in only one God. However, they were faced with the clear teaching of Jesus as to His identity. He claimed a position of equal authority to the Father. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God could guide, teach believers, and dwell in them.

The church was then faced with the following facts. The Bible teaches there is only one God. Although God is a unity, He is a compound unity made up of three distinct Persons. They are God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The only reasonable conclusion to make is that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are the one God. This is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine was not invented by the church rather it was the result of understanding what the Bible had to say concerning the nature of God.

The Trinity doctrine was true from the beginning but its importance was not appreciated at first. This should not be of any concern. Not every important theological issue arose immediately in the church. The apostles may not have used the term Trinity, but the totality of their teaching clearly presents God as a Trinity.

The Great Creeds Acknowledge the Trinity

Church creeds are statements of belief that were formulated to express what Christians believe. They were usually written in response to some false teaching that arose. The creed clarified the truth about the faith. While the creeds are not to be considered as equal to Scripture they do provide an insight for us about what the Christians believed. There are three great creeds to which Western Christianity confesses. They are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed, which is the earliest statement of Christian beliefs, does not mention the Trinity. It is a very compact formula. If this was the only creed written, then one might assume that the Father alone is God and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are lesser in character for only the Father is referred to as divine in the Apostles’ Creed. However the creed was not anti-Trinitarian. The issue was simply not covered.

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed was written in A.D. 325 and added to in A.D. 381. It is clearly Trinitarian in outlook. It states that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all divine and of one substance or essence.

The Athanasian Creed

The Athanasian Creed came centuries later. It was named after the fourth century defender of the Trinity, Athanasius. It is even stronger with its statement about the Trinity. The Creed says, “So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three gods, but one God.”

The church came to this conclusion on the Trinity based upon what the Bible teaches about the nature of God.

Conclusion: Misconceptions Are Usually Based upon Misunderstanding of the Doctrine

Almost all of the criticisms laid at the doctrine of the Trinity are a result of a misunderstanding of the belief. This is why it is crucial that the doctrine of the Trinity be properly defined and clarified. One must be precise with their terms and definitions to gain an understanding of this doctrine.

Again, the key issue is this: Does the Bible teach the doctrine of the Trinity? A careful examination of Scripture shows that it does.

Summary – Question 4
What Are Some Common Misconceptions That People Have about the Doctrine of the Trinity?

The Trinity doctrine is important to properly understand. However, there are a number of common misconceptions that must be cleared up when considering the doctrine of the Trinity. The following points need to be made.

To begin with, the Trinity is not a pagan idea. It is based upon what the Bible has to say about the nature of the God of the Bible. There is no credible evidence that the Trinity was borrowed from any pagan belief. None whatsoever.

The Trinity doctrine is difficult for humans to comprehend, but not impossible. In addition, the Trinity doctrine is not contrary to reason. Reason, however, should not be the ultimate test as to what is true and what is false. The Trinity doctrine is believed because the Bible teaches it.

The doctrine of the Trinity does not destroy the oneness of God as some have wrongly claimed. The doctrine of the Trinity plainly says that only one God exists. It does not teach that there are three gods.

Much confusion surrounds the word “person” with reference to the Trinity. The three members of the Trinity are Persons in the sense of distinct centers of consciousness but they are not separate individuals. God is one in His essence but within that one essence there are three distinct persons. While this is difficult to comprehend this is what Scripture teaches about the nature of God.

While the Trinity is not formally or explicitly taught in Scripture, the church did not invent the doctrine of the Trinity. The church only recognized what the Bible taught on the subject. In fact, the Trinity doctrine resulted from putting in a systematic form what the God of the Bible has said about Himself.

Although the term Trinity is not found in the Bible the Scripture teaches one God exists in three distinct Persons.

Finally we must note that criticisms of the Trinity are based mostly upon misconceptions of what the Bible has to say about the subject. Indeed, a proper understanding of the doctrine will clear up these misconceptions.

How Can Understanding the Doctrine of the Trinity Affect the Way We Live the Christian Life? ← Prior Section
Does the Bible Teach That Only One God Exists? Next Section →
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