Probably the strangest Christian doctrine is that of the Trinity: that there is only one God, but there are three ‘persons’ in this one God. According to this doctrine, each of these three persons is entirely God by himself; and yet, it insists, there is only one God (see above diagram). This is a classic case of ‘blind faith’: faith that is diametrically opposed to reason (or evidence). Why do Christians believe such irrationality? Christians claim that God’s nature was revealed by God himself in their Bible. This article explains, both biblically and historically, why Christians have come to believe such an oddity: termed a mystery, which, by doctrinal definition, “defeats human understanding.” As my blog contends, blind faith, if examined carefully, usually boils down to superstition.
The Christian God
In the Bible, the Old Testament book of Isaiah portrays God declaring,
“I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me.” (Isaiah 45:5, KJV)
“Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his [Israel’s] redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. … Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no [other (ISV)] God; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44: 6, 8, KJV)
So clearly, according to the Old Testament, there is only one God. However, in the New Testament, in John’s gospel, we read that also Jesus is God; it has,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine)
Later, in the same chapter, the evangelist John makes it very clear that by the “Word” he means Jesus because he writes,
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, KJV, emphasis mine)
How do Christians reconcile these two concepts? That there is only one God, but that Jesus is God too. Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians believe in the so-called Trinity, and they declare it a ‘mystery’ that “defeats human understanding.” Maybe, however, there is no mystery at all. The problem stems from the belief that every verse in the Bible is infallible; the solution to the riddle may simply be that the Bible is fallible: that one should not assume that every verse in it is true. (It doesn’t necessarily mean that we should trash the Bible.)
Interestingly enough, on the other side of the religious fence, although Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe the Bible to be infallible, they do not believe that Jesus is God. This, therefore, constitutes a major rift in the interpretation of the same Bible. Now, how do Jehovah’s Witnesses reconcile Isaiah’s and John’s seemingly conflicting verses? Their translation of the first verse in John’s gospel is a little different; they have,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god [divine (note)]. (John 1:1, NWT, emphasis mine)
So, they claim that the contradiction between the two biblical texts in Isaiah and John is only apparent and can be reconciled by ‘proper’ translation. Oddly enough, however, the original Greek text uses the same word for “God” and “divine/a god” in the above verse (except for the case difference required by Greek grammar). (Bible Hub: “Interlinear,” accessed July 23, 2021) I honestly do not really understand what Jehovah’s Witnesses mean by “a god” or “divine” in their translation of the first verse of John’s gospel—except what ordinary folk, like you and I, think they mean. Still, of all Christians, I think they have the best understanding of who (or what) Jesus is. I just don’t agree with them that Jesus existed before his birth: that he is the incarnated Archangel Michael, as they contend. (Wikipedia: “Jehovah’s Witnesses Beliefs,” accessed August 8, 2021.)
Whatever translation one adopts, the word used in John’s gospel is misleading: typical of a human book, I’d say. If it were truly God writing John’s gospel, he would not have used the word “God/god” for a created supernatural being like an angel, say: he would have used a word like ‘spirit.’ Personally, I disagree with both Jehovah’s Witnesses and most of Christianity: I contend it is simply a biblical contradiction, like the many examples I list in the chapter (of more than fifty pages) on “Bible Contradictions,” which I give in my book Faith and Reason (pp. 15–73).
Moreover, although Mormons (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) also revere the Bible, they believe that the three persons in the ‘Godhead’ are distinct, but that they think and act alike with a common purpose or will. I believe something similar too, but I do not believe (as they contend) that the Father has a perfect physical body as Jesus has: I believe the Father is a ‘spirit’ like the Holy Spirit. Nor do I believe there is a Heavenly Mother, or that the Father was once a man, or that people can become divine as Jesus did. (Wikipedia: “Mormonism,” accessed July 23, 2021)
What is important to realize for our discussion of the Trinity, is that the first of the four canonical (official) gospels written, Mark’s (around 70 CE, NAB, p. 69)—and consequently probably the most authentic—does not narrate Jesus’s infancy: it only portrays him as an adult and claims he is the “Son of God”; it has,
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God ….” (Mark 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine)
This begged the question of the early Christians: how is it, exactly, that a human became the ‘Son of God’? So, the next two canonical gospels written afterward, Matthew’s (around 80 CE, NAB, p. 10) and Luke’s (around 90 CE, NAB, p. 96), try to answer this question by telling us that Jesus was the ‘Son of God’ from his conception: they give us an infancy narrative of Jesus adding that the Holy Spirit impregnated his mother Mary. So far, so good, miracles do happen occasionally, and possibly God decided to conceive a special person for us: one who thinks and acts exactly like him, I presume.
However, this was still not enough for the early Christians. For some reason, they started to believe that Jesus existed with God even before his birth: so, initially, they identified him with God’s ‘Wisdom’ or ‘Thought.’ Consequently, the last of the canonical gospels written, John’s (around 100 CE, NAB, p. 144), declares Jesus existed “in the beginning” (John 1:1, KJV) of the Creation (of the earth and the universe), and that God sent him on earth to tell us all about himself. Thus, John identifies Jesus with God’s “Word”: naturally, words are the expression of one’s thought or wisdom.
Of course, the divinity of Jesus claimed in John’s gospel does not make much sense in today’s concept of God. It may have been understandable, however, in John’s time since many considered even the living Roman emperor, although human, to be ‘divine’: as biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan tells us in his book God and Empire (p. 19). We shall see exactly why this happened under “First-Century Divinity” below.
In their zeal, over time, the early Christians tried to extol Jesus more and more, until they eventually made him a god (or rather God) like the Roman emperor. Of course, being the last gospel written, John’s gospel lends itself to being the least authentic. (For starters, the number of eyewitnesses still alive, who might have questioned inaccuracies, decreases with time.) In fact, Jesus’s divinity is only claimed in John’s gospel: one does not find such a claim in (Saint) Paul’s undisputedly authentic letters (written approximately between 50 and 60 CE) or in any of the other three gospels—the synoptic Gospels.
In trying to emphasize Jesus’s importance, the evangelist John ended up making him greater than he really was. However, it backfired on him because Christianity, later believing his book to be infallible, came to the absurd conclusion of the Trinity: that is, roughly, that there are three ‘gods’ in the one God. The three gods in the Trinity are probably best described like Siamese twins (triplets rather) or possibly like the three-headed Greek mythological monster, Cerberus. It is significant to add, here, that at the time the Trinity was defined in 381 CE, Christians were still highly influenced by Greek philosophy and mythology.
As I already pointed out, all this mess stems from the assumption that every biblical verse is infallible: Christians promoted a simply human book to divine status; but Christianity is not a ‘truth factory.’ The whole mystery of the Trinity would be no mystery at all if one were to concede that the Bible is fallible.
I don’t believe Jesus pre-existed from the beginning of the universe (or earlier) even though a handful of verses in the New Testament, mostly from John’s gospel and a couple of later writings, say so. (See John 1:1, 14, 30; 8:24, 28, 56–59; 10:30–33, 37–38; 13:19; 14:20; 17:5, 21–24; 18:5–8. 20:27–28; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1.) Why? Primarily, because they are the least authentic. Again, if one were to simply forget about the initial assumption, the axiom that the Bible is totally infallible, it would be easy to come to the right conclusion: namely, that Jesus did not exist before his birth—like every one of us.
I think that what the evangelist John tried to convey in his text was the concept that Jesus is most like his Father (God): he is like a chip of wood taken from a large tree, and so he is of the same ‘substance’ as his Father—but not physically, of course, since God is a spirit. He is as close as a human could possibly get to being like God. Having said this, I contend Jesus was still totally human, and his existence only started when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in his mother Mary’s womb—no more.
Now, is there any biblical support for my opinion? Surprisingly enough, there is quite a bit.
(1) To start with, the early Christians believed God exalted Jesus to his right hand, but only after his resurrection. For example, in his undisputedly authentic letter to the Philippians (written around 55 CE, NAB, p. 301), Paul writes,
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form [essence (AMP), nature (NIV)] of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of ‘Jesus’ every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, KJV, emphasis mine)
Note: According to Greek philosopher Plato (c.428–c.347 BCE), the form is an imitation of an ideal or a concept: like drawing a circle or a triangle, say. (Wikipedia: “Theory of Forms” accessed July 23, 2021)
Observe the word “exalted” in this passage. Had Jesus been God, how could he be exalted any higher? Paul, probably like John, perceived Jesus as closest to the nature of God : like a son is to his father; in fact, Jesus was known as the ‘Son of God.’ Paul too recognizes Jesus as the ‘Son of God’ in another of his undisputedly authentic letters, the letter to the Galatians (written around 50 CE, NAB, p. 283), but not exactly God—there was only one God for Paul; he has,
“When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in [to (ISV)] me, that I might preach him among the heathen [gentiles (ISV)]; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.” (Galatians 1:15–16, KJV, emphasis mine)
(2) Moreover, the Acts of the Apostles (written around 120 CE, The Historical Jesus, p. 432) portrays the apostles’ leader, Peter, about fifty days after Jesus’s resurrection, addressing the crowd that gathered following the commotion at Pentecost (the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian community) as follows:
“‘Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain …. this Jesus hath God raised up [from death], whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by [to (ISV)] the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost [Spirit], he hath shed forth this, which [what] ye now see and hear.’” (Acts 2:22–23, 32–33, KJV, emphasis mine)
Again, notice the clause “being to the right hand of God exalted” and the phrase “a man” (not ‘a god’). Was Peter being heretical, then? Of course not, the source of this speech is probably from very early Christianity; at which time Christians simply thought of Jesus as a special person: notice the phrase, “a man approved of God.” But later, there was a concept ‘evolution’: trying to understand how, exactly, Jesus was so closely related to his Father.
Indeed, the so-called heretics later known as Adoptionists believed that Jesus was totally human, but God divinely adopted him at his resurrection, his baptism, or his birth without compromising his humanity or susceptibility to pain and suffering in any way—allegedly because he had to suffer to deliver us from original sin. (Freeman, p. 147) But this was still not good enough for the later Church.
(3) Furthermore, John’s gospel has, “My Father is greater than I [Jesus].” (John 14:28, KJV) How can one be more specific in stating that Jesus was not exactly God? The Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible tries to explain this embarrassing, contradicting verse as follows:
“It is evident, that Christ our Lord speaks here of himself as he is made man: for as God he is equal to the Father. (See Philippians 2:5–11) Any difficulty of understanding the meaning of these words will vanish, when the relative circumstances of the text here are considered: for Christ being at this time shortly to suffer death, signified to his apostles his human nature by these very words: for as God he could not die. And therefore as he was both God and man, it must follow that according to his humanity he was to die, which the apostles were soon to see and believe, as he expresses [in the next verse] ver. 29: ‘And now I have told you before it come to pass: that when it shall come to pass, you may believe.’” (John 14:28n, DRC, emphasis mine)
Notice the clause: “as God he could not die.” Presumably, however, neither does a human soul; and we still talk about a person dying. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus is supposedly one person in whom both divinity and humanity are inseparable. Therefore, when Jesus says “I,” it should include both his divinity and his humanity: just as when a person says “I,” it includes both his soul and body. There was no need for any explanation whatsoever because when a person dies we assume, or believe, that one’s soul does not die; likewise, both Jesus’s soul and alleged divinity would not die with him. The lengthy explanation the Douay-Rheims Bible gives here is only an indication of another biblical contradiction.
Both God and Son of God
Recall that, in the first verse of his gospel, the evangelist John says that Jesus is “God.” But toward the end of his gospel, he also has,
“Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20: 30–31, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice then that, in the same book (John’s gospel) the Bible says that Jesus is “God” and at the same time he is also the “Son of God.” How can one reconcile these two statements? The two clauses: “the Word (Jesus) was God” and “Jesus is the Son of God” cannot be simultaneously true: the same person cannot be both God and the Son of God when there is only one God. Clearly, we have another biblical insolubility—a contradiction—if not a real mess!
The Roman emperor Octavian (63 BCE–14 CE) was the adopted son of the well-known general and politician Julius Caesar. Octavian was the first and probably the most famous of the Roman emperors, he was later known as Caesar Augustus (Latin for ‘venerable’) in Jesus’s youth. (Wikipedia: “Augustus,” accessed July 24. 2021)
In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Crossan notes that Roman poets of Augustus’s time, like Virgil (70–19 BCE), Horace (65–8 BCE), and Ovid (43 BCE–17 CE), deified the emperor, even while he was still alive (p.19). These poets found no problem identifying a living human with a divine being. Their reasoning was axiomatically simple: since the gods run the world, and Caesar certainly runs the world, Caesar must be a god (p. 20). The reader will therefore appreciate that the concept of a ‘god’ in the first-century (BCE/CE) Roman Empire was far removed from our current concept of God, the Creator of the universe.
Crossan then asks the reader to imagine being given the following description of a person that lived in the first century CE: people called him ‘Son of God,’ ‘God from God,’ ‘God,’ and ‘Divine’; and he was bestowed various titles like ‘Savior of the World,’ ‘Liberator,’ ‘Redeemer,’ and ‘Lord’ (p. 28). Naturally, Crossan adds, most people familiar with Western tradition, especially Christians, would automatically identify him as Jesus of Nazareth. However, Crossan points out, all these terms and titles were given to someone else before Jesus was even born: they all addressed the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus (p. 28).
Moreover, the term euangelion (Greek for ‘good news’), which was first coined in the Gospels by the evangelist Mark, was a news flash: a piece of Roman propaganda extolling the actions of the Roman emperor (or the legions). In the Gospels, it referred to the imminent coming of the kingdom of God on earth: a ‘kingdom’ of justice, truth, love, and sharing, where God ‘rules’ in our ‘heart.’ Mark writes,
“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel [good news (NIV)].’” (Mark 1:14–15, KJV, emphasis mine)
Note: Also Paul used the word euangelion, even before Mark, but for Paul it had a different meaning from that in the Gospels: namely, that Jesus resurrected from the dead, and that his followers will also be resurrected to live eternally. (Riches, accessed July 25, 2021)
Crossan therefore concludes that, to first-century-CE Romans, all the above constituted an identity theft of the Roman emperor, which was equivalent to high treason; he writes,
“Christians were not simply using ordinary titles applied to all sorts of people. … They were taking the identity of the Roman emperor and giving it to a Jewish peasant. (p. 28)
Who was, may I add, executed as a revolutionary by the Roman state. So, when we hear of Christians being persecuted, thrown in arenas with wild beasts, and burnt alive in ancient Rome, they weren’t exactly innocent in the eyes of the state: they were considered a menace to the state and to humanity in general since Rome ruled practically the whole known world. Moreover, they did not believe in the Roman gods; they believed in one God (like the Jews): so, they were considered ‘atheists’ of some sort and therefore enemies of the religion of the state.
The crucial question is therefore: were Christians provoking the Roman Empire by their attitude? All in all, I would say yes; even though Jesus presumably taught,
“‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” (Mark 12:17, KJV)
Since the Gospels were written in the Roman Empire and for its people, their message was, naturally, watered down a little.
Christians certainly challenged polytheism (many gods) with monotheism (one God); but the Jews also believed in one God, and they were still tolerated and even respected in the Roman Empire. However, Christians were also challenging Roman theology and Roman ideology. As Crossan points out, Jesus, Paul, and John of Patmos (the author of the book of Revelation) did not challenge the Roman Empire militarily, economically, or politically: they stood no chance of defeating it that way; but they did challenge it ideologically (p. 15). Their doctrines may not have been intentionally directed as a head-on attack on the state, but, inadvertently, it created an intellectual revolution in the Roman Empire that eventually toppled it—turning it Christian.
As Crossan further explains, the sequence of Roman theology consisted of: religion, war, victory, culminating in ‘peace’—the famous Pax Romana. Christians challenged this philosophy because violence usually breeds more violence. Normally, victory does not bring about peace; it either produces the utter destruction of the vanquished (which one can hardly call peace) or it only produces a rest period in which the vanquished prepare for escalated violence to avenge themselves—if possible. What Jesus taught was an alternate method of achieving true peace; his sequence was: religion, non-violence, justice, followed by peace. In other words, justice would automatically be conducive to true peace: this was the basic message of the kingdom of God. The coming of this kingdom to the world was what the ‘good news’ of the Gospels was all about. Indeed, the original Latin meaning of the word ‘salvation’ was deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss. This concept of peace through justice is the subject of Crossan’s entire book God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now. Notice especially the subtitle of his book (p. 29).
Therefore, when the evangelist John says that Jesus was God, we must not take it out of its context of the first-century-CE Roman Empire: at which time all the emperors were considered gods—without question; subjects even had to offer sacrifices to the emperors. To come up with the concept of God being a Trinity, almost three centuries later (in 381 CE) just because of a few verses in John and a couple of other later New Testament authors, is to take the concept of ‘god’ or ‘divine’ in the first-century-CE Roman Empire out of its context.
However, still, this whole argument does not excuse the Bible from its fallibility: it only shows there is a ruinous danger in promoting human scriptures to divine status.
There are no Old Testament scriptures saying that God is a ‘trinity’: they all say there is only one God. However, Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE) believed that God’s Trinity is implied in the words “us” (and “our”) in the Genesis verse which portrays God saying, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26, KJV, emphasis mine) as well as in the verse, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22, KJV, emphasis mine), after the serpent had told Eve, “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5, KJV) However, as I show under “Evidence” in my article “Adam and Eve—Original Sin,” Genesis’s author sloppily carried over these words from a previous myth, the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” while adapting it to a monotheistic setting. Indeed, despite these two Genesis verses, the Jews—who are the authors of the Old Testament—always believed that God is one.
The concept of God being a trinity, therefore, started in the New Testament: it is strictly a Christian invention. I contend it all started unintentionally with Paul: in his undisputedly authentic Second letter to the Corinthians (written around 57 CE, NAB, p. 266), he has,
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost [Spirit], be with you all.” (Second Corinthians 13:14, KJV)
To Paul, therefore, Jesus is up there with God and the Holy Spirit. Why? Jesus is “God’s Son,” Paul tells us in his undisputedly authentic Galatians:
“When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in [to] me, that I might preach him among the heathen [gentiles]; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.” (Galatians 1:15–16, KJV)
Consequently, Paul thought that Jesus was even higher than the angels: in his undisputedly authentic letter to the Philippians, he writes,
“At the name of ‘Jesus’ every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” (Philippians 2:10, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice the phrase “things in heaven.”
Now, all four evangelists confirm Jesus is the “Son of God,” Matthew, however, also adopts Paul’s doxology (liturgical formula) at the end of his gospel:
“Jesus came and spake unto them [his apostles/disciples], saying, ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost [Spirit].” (Matthew 28:18–19, KJV, emphasis mine)
Still, it is only the last gospel written (John’s) that actually claims Jesus is also God. As we have seen, apparently, John wanted to convey the concept that Jesus’s character was the exact image of his Father, God, and he also wanted to elevate Jesus higher than the Roman emperor, who was considered divine. However, centuries later, Christianity ended up misinterpreted the first verse of his gospel.
The early Christians did not consider Jesus to be God. In fact, as I have already shown earlier, in Philippians, authentic Paul writes that God exalted Jesus’s name (Philippians 2:9). Had Paul thought Jesus was always God, he would not have used the word “exalted”: to both Jews and Christians, God cannot possibly be exalted any higher. We have also seen that Acts too portrays Peter declaring that Jesus was a “man” (Acts 2:22) and saying that Jesus was “exalted” to God’s right hand. (Acts 2:33) So, also to the evangelist Luke (who was also the author of Acts) Jesus was “a man” not a ‘god’ or ‘God.’
So the basic question is: how could later Christians go so wrong? As I have argued, most of the problem originated from the fact that Christians considered the entire Bible to be God’s Word and that every single verse in the Bible is infallible. However, as I show clearly, in my book Faith and Reason in the chapter on “Bible Contradictions,” (pp. 15–73) not every verse in the Bible can be reconciled with every other. Consequently, Christianity ended up with a total mess.
In his book AD 381, ancient Greece and Rome historian Charles Freeman shows convincingly that the Trinitarian doctrine was a historical rather than a theological development—AD 381 (i.e., 381 CE) was the year the Trinitarian doctrine was supposedly finalized: he introduces his book with,
“The story, as this book hopes to show, is well documented, but an alternative narrative, that the Church itself came to a consensus on the nature of the Godhead, is still the dominant one in histories of Christianity. The ‘consensus’ approach glosses over the violent antagonisms the debates over doctrine aroused and the pre-eminent role the [Roman] emperors played in their resolution.” (p. 2, emphasis mine)
Notice Freeman’s phrase “well documented.” He concludes his book with,
“The Church was forced by sheer weight of imperial power to acquiesce in a doctrine that had not come to fruition and that, if debate had been allowed to continue, might never have. … The aim of this book has been to reveal what has been concealed.” (p. 204, emphasis mine)
Notice the phrase “what has been concealed.” Of course, one needs to read the whole book to be convinced of what Freeman says here: I strongly recommend it. (I draw extensively from Freeman’s book in following section.)
According to Freeman, the family estates of the Roman emperor Theodosius I (347–395 CE) were in Spain (p. 11), where the majority of Christians believed God the Father, Jesus his Son, and the Holy Spirit were ‘of equal majesty’ (pp. 26, 103). When Theodosius became emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, it was threatened by invasion in the east from the Persian Empire (p. 5) and in the north by the nomadic, Germanic Goths, who were refugees displaced by another nomadic people, the Asian Huns (p. 6). As soon as Theodosius became emperor of the East in 379 CE (p. 15), he must have thought it would be a good idea to unify the whole Roman Empire against these threats by having one common religious belief; so he imposed his own Western belief on everyone else: even though theological discussions were still very hot in the East. The Roman-cultured West was still not up to par with the Greek-cultured East on both debate and theology: hence their simplistic view of the three persons being ‘of equal majesty’ (pp. 29, 35, 105, 157).
Although Theodosius had no theological background (p. 103), apparently to assert his authority over the weakened Roman Empire (pp. xvi, 25), he issued the following edict in 380 CE from Thessalonica, in modern Greece, to the people of Constantinople (Istanbul, in modern Turkey), the then capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire:
“It is Our will that all peoples ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans … this is the religion followed by bishop Damasus of Rome and by Peter, bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity; that is, according to the apostolic discipline of the evangelical doctrine, we shall believe in the single deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost [Spirit] under the concept of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity. We command that persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of catholic [true/universal] Christians. The rest, however, whom We judge demented and insane, shall carry the infamy of heretical dogmas. Their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by Divine Vengeance, and secondly by the retribution of hostility which We shall assume in accordance with the Divine Judgement.” (Williams & Freill, Theodosius, p. 53 (emphasis mine); Theodosian Code, 16:1, 2.) Notice the most important theological phrase “of equal majesty,” the concept of first-century divinity in the phrase “the divine Peter the apostle,” which still persisted in 380 CE, and the derogatory phrase, “demented and insane,” which was applied to those who disagreed: totally uncharacteristic of the religious tolerance practiced in the Roman Empire a few decades earlier. This edict was totally unprecedented (pp. 25–26, 47).
Historically, there were four synods (local—not ecumenical or universal—councils) (pp. 94, 105–106) of bishops trying to resolve the so-called mystery of the Trinity; three of which took place after Theodosius’s edict quoted above. All four synods took place in modern Turkey: at Nicaea in 325 CE, at Constantinople in 381 CE, at Ephesus in 431 CE, and at Chalcedon in 451 CE (pp. xviii, xix, 198). One might safely add that the Trinitarian issue remained unresolved after these four synods and is still basically unresolved even today.
What we nowadays call the Nicene Creed was, in fact, put together in Constantinople in 381 CE, that is, after Theodosius’s edict was issued (pp. 205–206). According to Freeman,
“My description of the Council of Constantinople … might appear shocking to those who have been brought up on the idea that it deserved the status of an ecumenical council or achieved a consensus on the Trinity. However, the contemporary accounts suggest otherwise. One of its own chairmen, Gregory of Nazianzus, has left a graphic … account of the chaos, and the fact that the Council was not even able to publish its revised version of the Nicene creed in the hostile environment of Constantinople speaks volumes.” (p. xviii, emphasis mine)
Freeman adds the following revealing details regarding the Council at Nicaea in 325 CE:
“Nicaea was a Greek council, with virtually no participants from the Latin-speaking west of the [Roman] empire. In the west, Christians tended to refer to the three members of the Trinity in rather general terms, such as ‘of equal majesty’.” (p. xix)
Yet, interestingly enough, the actual text of the Council at Nicaea in 325 CE, does not even say that the persons of the Trinity are ‘of equal majesty,’ especially regarding the Holy Spirit. Here’s the actual text:
“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance (ousias) of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance [consubstantial] (homoousion) with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down, and became incarnate and became man, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and dead, And in the Holy Spirit. But as for those who say, ‘There was [a time (Freeman, p. 205)] when He was not,’ and, ‘Before being born He was not,’ and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis [essential nature (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)] or substance (ousias), or created, or is subject to alteration or change—these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes [declares heretics].” (Early Church Texts: “The Creed of Nicaea” accessed July 25, 2021)
Regrettably, as Freeman points out, our current version of the Nicene Creed was not even published by the Council of Constantinople in 381 CE; yet, it was dogmatically adopted later by the Church after its historical circumstances were totally forgotten (p. xviii).
According to Freeman, apart from one possible exception where bribery by Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, Egypt, might have led to a personally desired outcome, it was the Roman emperors who had actually defined Christian doctrine. This definition was then incorporated into the legal system so that orthodoxy was upheld by both secular and Church law, and heretics were condemned by the state (p. 155).
The first and probably most challenging objection to the Trinitarian doctrine came from Arius, a presbyter (priest) of Alexandria, Egypt. He argued that if Jesus is the Son of God the Father, there must have been a time when the Son did not exist. Consequently, the Son cannot be eternal like the Father: which means that the Son cannot be ‘of equal majesty’ to the Father: in other words, the Son must be subordinate to the Father. Moreover, if Jesus is not eternal, he must be a creature; God the Father must have created him: Jesus could not possibly pop into existence on his own if he did not exist for some time beforehand. Arianism, therefore, makes much more sense than our current Christian doctrine as formally given by the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
“We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the ‘consubstantial Trinity.’ The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: ‘The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God.’ In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215): ‘Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.’” (p. 63, ¶ 253)
Needless to say, this is a lot of words with no real meaning: no one can really understand the above paragraph; however, Christians claim that one cannot really understand the nature of God, but that God’s nature was revealed to us in the Bible. Again, according to the Catholic catechism,
“The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the ‘mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God.’ To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament. But his inmost being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit.” (p.60, ¶ 237)
Now, in my book Is the Bible Infallible?, I prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Bible is fallible; but let us, for the moment, assume the Bible is indeed God’s revelation, and see whether the concept of a triune God is supported by scriptures.
In his 1531 book On the Errors of the Trinity, Protestant theologian Michael Servetus writes,
“To me not only the syllables but all the letters and the mouths of babes and sucklings, even the very stones themselves, cry out there is one God the Father and [as a separate being (Freeman p. 194)] his Christ, the Lord Jesus. … Not one word is found in the whole Bible about the Trinity nor about its persons, nor about the essence, nor the unity of substance, nor of the one nature of the several beings, nor about the rest of their ravings and logic chopping.” (MacCulloch, pp. 184–88)
Regrettably, the Protestant theologian and reformer John Calvin had Servetus arrested and burnt as a heretic. (Freeman, pp. 194–95)
I agree with most of what Servetus writes here as far as the Old Testament is concerned; however, I think there is a significant body of evidence in the New Testament of Jesus’s alleged divinity, possibly even of his consubstantiality with the Father especially in John’s gospel (See John 1:1, 14, 30; 8:24, 28, 56–59; 10:30–33, 37–38; 13:19; 14:20; 17:5, 21–24; 18:5–8. 20:27–28; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1). For example:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine)
“Jesus said unto them [the Jews], Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself.” (John 8:58, KJV, emphasis mine)
“‘I [Jesus] and the Father are one.’” (John 10:30, KJV, emphasis mine)
“‘If I [Jesus] do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.” (John 10:37–38, KJV, emphasis mine)
“Thomas answered and said unto him, ‘My Lord and my God.’” (John 20:28, KJV, emphasis mine)
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13, KJV, emphasis mine)
“Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (Second Peter 1:1, KJV, emphasis mine)
According to biblical scholar John Crossan, both Titus and Second Peter were written after 120 CE: that is, even later than John’s gospel (The Historical Jesus, pp. 431–33); in other words, Jesus was already mythologized, as in John’s gospel, by then.
However, on the other hand, the concept of ‘subordination’ is also strewn all over John’s gospel, which is the main gospel that declares Jesus God.
“‘Ye have heard how I [Jesus] said unto you [disciples], “I go away, and come again unto you.” If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, “I go unto the Father”: for my Father is greater than I.’” (John 14:28, KJV, emphasis mine)
“‘For I [Jesus] came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.’” (John 6:38, KJV, emphasis mine)
“Then said Jesus to them [the disciples] again, ‘Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.’” (John 20:21, KJV, emphasis mine)
“‘Neither pray I [Jesus] for these [disciples] alone, but for them also which shall believe on [in] me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.’” (John 17:20–21, KJV, emphasis mine)
John has so many more verses stating that Jesus was “sent” by the Father: see John 4:34; 5:24, 30; 5:36, 37; 6:38, 39, 40, 44, 58; 7:16, 28, 29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 11:42; 12:44, 45, 49; 13:3, 20; 14:24, 31; 15:21; 16:5, 27–28, 30; 17:3, 7–8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21). I don’t have space for all of them—especially since one such verse should suffice. I shall only give one more quote, a triple dose, just to convince the reader.
“Jesus cried and said, ‘He that believeth on [in] me, believeth not on [in] me, but on [in] him [the Father] that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on [in] me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which [who] sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.’” (John 12:44–49, KJV, emphasis mine)
Sending, or commissioning, someone to do something is a sign of superiority, as is the case with John the Baptist, whom God ‘sends’ to baptize; the same way Jesus ‘sends’ his apostles to evangelize the world.
“‘Verily, verily, I [Jesus] say unto you [disciples], the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.’” (John 13:16, KJV, emphasis mine)
“John [the Baptist] bare record, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him [Jesus]. And I knew him [Jesus] not: but he [God] that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, “Upon whom thou shalt see the [Holy] Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost [Spirit].”’” (John 1:32–33, KJV, emphasis mine)
Yet, there is not a single biblical verse in which the Son (or the Holy Spirit) ‘sends’ the Father to do something. (Freeman, p. 166)
So, how do Christians work around all these verses? They contend that since Jesus allegedly has two natures (human and divine), in the verses above, he was speaking as a human, not as a divine being. As if, when one speaks, one has the option of speaking as a physical or as a spiritual being at will. Jesus was one person: therefore, when he says “I,” it includes both his humanity and his alleged divinity. Whatever Christians want to believe, the Bible says that Jesus is subordinate to his Father: their ‘interpretations’ are not what the Bible actually says.
The Holy Spirit
The Old Testament does not really say anything about the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit. There are biblical verses that may seem to: like at the very beginning of Genesis:
“The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2, KJV, emphasis mine)
But, for example, the New American Bible renders the literal phrase “the spirit of God” or “the breath (ruah) of God” in this verse as “a mighty wind” (New American Bible Genesis 1:2n); it renders the verse as,
“The earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2, NAB, emphasis mine)
The Hebrews (or the Jews) never considered God as complex, a duality, or a trinity; for them such a concept would be “not purely monotheistic.” (Wikipedia: “Holy Spirit in Judaism,” accessed July 26, 2021)
The New Testament portrays the Holy Spirit being ‘sent’ by the Father and/or the Son, and so, according to the scriptures, he is presumably inferior to both the Father and the Son.
“‘I [Jesus] will pray the Father, and he shall give you [disciples] another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.’” (John 14:16–17, KJV, emphasis mine)
“‘But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost [Spirit], whom the Father will send in my [Jesus’s] name, he shall teach you [disciples] all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.’” (John 14:26, KJV, emphasis mine)
“‘But when the Comforter is come, whom I [Jesus] will send unto you [disciples] from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which [who] proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.’” (John 15:26, KJV, emphasis mine)
“‘Nevertheless I [Jesus] tell you [disciples] the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.’” (John 16:7, KJV, emphasis mine)
“‘[Jesus] being assembled together with them [the apostles], commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, “which,” saith he, “ye have heard of [from] me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost [Spirit] not many days hence.”’” (Acts 1:4–5, KJV, emphasis mine)
“‘[Jesus] being by [to] the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost [Spirit], he hath shed forth [upon us] this, which [what] ye now see and hear.’” (Acts 2:33, KJV, emphasis mine)
Notice particularly the theological clause “who proceeds from the Father,” which might also be interpreted as ‘consubstantiality’ with the Father.
The later heresy known as Macedonianism contended that the Holy Spirit is not a divine being. (Freeman, pp. 68, 206) In 1054, the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the other persons of the Trinity caused the great schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church: the latter saying that the Holy Spirit ‘proceeds’ from the Father alone, and the former saying he ‘proceeds’ from both the Father and the Son. Both churches professed that we cannot know the real nature of God, yet they thought one word, filioque (Latin for “and the Son”), was sufficient to sever the Christian Church in half. For the sake of argument, I think the Orthodox Church is right if one follows scriptures:
“‘But when the Comforter is come, whom I [Jesus] will send unto you [disciples] from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which [who] proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.’” (John 15:26, KJV, emphasis mine)
The gospel text says clearly that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father”; it does not say “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”
In short, scriptures don’t say the persons of the Trinity are of equal majesty—far from it—but there seems to be some kind of close relationship between them which might be interpreted as consubstantiality. However, I still contend that John simply wanted to elevate Jesus to a level higher than the Roman emperor, who was deemed ‘divine’ by his subjects—coupled with his inability to express himself adequately with the right ‘technical’ words, so to speak. Later New Testament authors, naturally, followed suit.
In my opinion, probably all of the so-called ‘heresies’ make more sense than our current Christian belief. Regrettably, though, many have lost their life for trying to understand the alleged divinity of Jesus and the so-called procession of the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, the Christian Church says that we cannot really understand the nature of God; on the other hand, it killed the people who disagreed with it.
Personally, I like to keep things simple: I believe there is only one God. Jesus was totally human and did not exist before his birth: he was God’s Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit through Mary; on him God endowed miraculous powers. The Holy Spirit, according to the Nicene Creed, is “the giver of life”—life’s connection with the supernatural (God).
Note: By this last observation I do not mean to infer that everything in the Nicene Creed is correct; for example, as I argued above, the Bible disagrees with the Nicene Creed: it does not say that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Nor do I believe that Jesus is “God from God” or “light from light” (Catholic Online: Prayers. “The Nicene Creed,” accessed July 26, 2021). Light is a physical entity: it is a form of energy; so it is not divine. However, in the fourth century CE, people did not understand much about light: they figured that light and darkness were synonymous to good and evil, respectively. The Gnostics, the Essenes, and the Manicheans were obsessed with light: they thought it was some form of divine substance (Freeman pp. 158, 160–61), and the Nicene Creed text confirms this.
Still, the above is all academic, anyway: I have shown clearly in my book Is the Bible Infallible?, that the Bible is not God’s Word; it is only a human book, and so, it contains no divine revelation whatsoever about God or the Trinity.
The Trinitarian doctrine, as my blog contends, is a classic example that if faith is not supported by reason or evidence, it is simply superstition. There are no scriptures written by God himself; there are no divine revelations: all scriptures were written by ordinary humans. The only thing we probably all have from God is our reason. Now, “to err is human, but to persist is diabolical”; yet the Church does it all the time: it never retracts dogmas, as science does from time to time. However, unlike the Church, Science has everyone’s respect: if the Church doesn’t change its diabolical persistence in error soon, there will be nobody left in its pews.
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