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Don Stewart :: What Are Some Common Misconceptions about the Trinity?

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Don Stewart

There are a number of common misconceptions about the doctrine of the Trinity that need to be addressed. These misconceptions are 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 church adopted. There are a number of points that need to be made to refute this accusation.

The Doctrine Is Derived From Scripture

First, the Trinity is derived from Scripture not 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.

Some Christians Are Misinformed About The Trinity

Second, 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.

Which Source Influenced The Doctrine?

Third, 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.

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, not one God as 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.

The Trinity Was Not Derived From Pagan Concepts

Fifth, the 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 Christ came. India, where Buddhism and Hinduism arose are too far removed geographically. There are no credible source where the doctrine could have come from.

The Logic Does Not Follow

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 the Trinity was influenced by them. 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

When the Trinity is referred to as a "mystery" it is a mystery in the biblical sense of the term - that is a sacred secret. A mystery in the Bible does not mean something that cannot be understood. A mystery is something that was previously unknown but now revealed. Paul wrote to the Colossians.

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

This truth about the Gentiles being part of the church, the body of Christ, was something that had not been revealed in the Old Testament. The "mystery" was unveiled during the New Testament era.

We Cannot Comprehend Everything

Having said that it does not mean that humankind can comprehend everything about the Trinity. 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. However 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 said.

If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own (John 7:17).

Paul attempted to explain the mystery of God to the people.

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ (Colossians 2:2).

Misconception 3 The Trinity Doctrine Is Unreasonable

Although the doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to comprehend, it is not unreasonable. While some of the truths with respect to the Trinity are beyond human reason they certainly are not contrary to reason. Reason, however, should not be our final test of truth. Reason is flawed by sin. A person who does not accept the Bible as the true revelation from God has no reason to believe the Trinity but those who accept the Scripture as God's 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 – 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. This has led some to the conclusion that belief in the Trinity is not biblical.

However, the word "theology" is not found in the Bible either. 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 term. 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.

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. Since there is no developed teaching concerning the Trinity, it is argued, that the New Testament does not teach this doctrine.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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

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 personalities. 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. 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 Was Invented By The Church

The charge is often made that the doctrine of the Trinity is something that was formulated long after the apostles died. Supposedly it is a product of the thinking of early Christians – not the Bible.

The Term Was Used Early

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. Trinity comes from the Latin word trinus, meaning threefold.

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 believers.

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 – 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 – 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 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 - 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 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.

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 defined and clarified. One must be precise with their terms and definitions to gain an understanding of this doctrine.

Summary

There are a number of misconceptions that must be cleared up when considering the doctrine of the Trinity. The following points need to be made. The Trinity is not a pagan idea. It is based upon what the Bible has to say about the nature of God. There is no credible evidence that the Trinity was borrowed from any pagan belief. The Trinity doctrine is difficult for humans to comprehend but not impossible. The mystery of the Trinity means it is a truth that was formerly secret that God has now revealed to humanity. 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 doctrine of the Trinity does not destroy the oneness of God. Much confusion surrounds the word person with reference to the Trinity. The three members of the Trinity are persons in the sense of distinct personalities not separate individuals. 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. 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.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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