A Skeptic's View of the Trinity

Post Reply
User avatar
steve
Posts: 3362
Joined: Thu Aug 21, 2008 9:45 pm

A Skeptic's View of the Trinity

Post by steve » Sat Jun 06, 2015 8:12 pm

I received and responded to the following email correspondence today:

Hello Steve

The following is my opinion of the Trinity. I believe that the Old Testament teaches that there is only one God. I also believe that the New Testament teaches that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In my opinion this is the best example of a contradiction in the Bible.

I speculate that two thousand years ago Judaism was competing with the many poly-theistic pagan religions of the Roman Empire. For some reason the human psyche is attracted to poly-theistic religions. Early Christianity was a response to the influx of poly-theistic pagan religions. Christianity was a way to adopt some pagan aspects and yet retain some Jewish aspects. The drinking of blood is something very pagan for example. The exclusiveness of a religion ("you shall have no other Gods before me") is something very Jewish for example. Rather than joining some pagan religion, some Jews just simply invented a new one.

Alec


------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hi Alec,

Thanks for sharing your ideas. Your theory seems somewhat plausible. However, other theories seem equally, if not more, plausible. We can rest somewhat comfortably if our theories seem merely plausible. We rest less comfortably with such theories if we are concerned to discover truth, since many plausible theories are not necessarily true.

The trinity does indeed strike many readers as a contradiction in scripture—and where a contradiction exists, something must be false. In fact, it is in the very nature of the case that when two propositions contradict each other, one or both must be false. They cannot both be true.

To determine whether this is an example of contradiction in the Bible, we would need to establish that the Old Testament's assertion that there is only one God, and the prima facie teaching of the New Testament that there are three divine entities, can not both be true. You and I are certainly not the first two people to attempt to take on this conundrum. In fact, some of the most brilliant minds in history have puzzled over it and attempted to harmonize all the data. The traditional trinity doctrine is one solution that has satisfied many, and still does. It affirms, with the Old Testament, that God is, in one sense, "One" (actually this is repeatedly affirmed in the New Testament, as well). The doctrine also affirms, what seems to be taught in the New Testament, that God is, in another sense, “Three.”

If I say that God is One, in a certain sense, and then I say that God is Three, in the same sense, I seem to be hopelessly involved in a contradiction. This is why Christian theology has never opted for this way of stating things. Consider: my family is one, in a sense, but seven people, in a different sense. The Bible says that the husband and wife become, in some sense, "one flesh." Yet, there is no suggestion that they cease to be two individuals. If we speak of any entity as “one,” and then as “three,” we must inquire: In what sense “one,” and in what sense “three”? Most Trinitarians believe God is One (as they say) in “substance," but also Three in "persons." This is not more contradictory than the uncontroversial claims I made, above, about my family. It is a view that can be rejected, as insufficiently proven, but it is not a bunch of self-contradictory nonsense.

I have a different opinion from yours as to how the trinity doctrine emerged in the New Testament. If the best historical records are to be trusted, Jesus made divine claims for Himself in a social context where everyone agreed (including Him) that there is only one "God." At the same time, Jesus spoke of His Father as both "God" and as a separate Individual from Himself. Now, Jesus must have understood how these two facts can coexist (even if we never manage to figure it out!), unless He was simply an incoherent babbler. Whatever may be said for or against Jesus, few would deny He was a great teacher—which would not be the case if He was an incoherent babbler. I think He knew what He was talking about, even if His disciples did not understand. He obviously was saying that He and His Father were, in a sense, One—and in another sense, Differentiated (even as I might say about my wife and myself—though probably meaning it differently).

Jesus also differentiated His Spirit “in some sense” from Himself (I might speak of my "spirit" as distinct from other aspects of myself—as when one, in speaking, differentiates between his thoughts and his emotions). Adding the Spirit into the mix certainly served to further muddy the waters, and the attempt to understand all of these statements made by the same Person is where the speculations about the trinity began (where they may end has not yet been seen).

I think the New Testament, which frequently reaffirms the monotheism of the Old Testament, simply has brought to light something of the complexity of God's nature—just as adults may come to see the nuanced complexity of their parents’ personalities more clearly than the way they perceived them in their childhood. This makes good enough sense to me.

The alternative suggestion, viz., that certain Jews were attracted to polytheism, and so they invented a new three-god religion, which they then marketed to Gentiles, seems fraught with difficulties:

First, because the same Jews that formulated Christianity affirmed monotheism as staunchly as did Moses or any Old Testament prophet. This means they did not believe in three gods, no matter how difficult it may be for us to tease out their actual beliefs about Him;

Second, because the highly separatist mentality of Jews, and their contempt for Gentiles, renders it highly unlikely that they would offer any religion of their making to welcome Gentiles as equals into their system;

Third, because those wishing to add new gods to their lives could easily have adopted any existing polytheistic system of their preference, instead of trying to convince their dyed-in-the-wool Jewish countrymen, to embrace some new brand of polytheism, while simultaneously hoping to attract polytheistic Gentiles to monotheism. Why not just adopt one of the existing offerings? It takes a special creative genius, and enormous energy, to create and successfully launch a new, viable religion that will stand the test of time. It takes an almost fanatical sincerity of belief in the system to induce one to die for it, as Christianity’s founders did.

If the New Testament writings were not so strongly monotheistic, your theory might seem to present fewer obstacles to acceptance. Certainly, there were those who thought similarly to you about it when the movement first arose. The probable reason that Trinitarian views of the early Christians prevailed over alternatives like yours may principally be due to the trinity’s comparative lack of contradictory and counterintuitive assertions.

It is good to hear from you. Feel free to further interact on these points.

Steve Gregg

User avatar
Paidion
Posts: 5015
Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:22 pm
Location: Back Woods of North-Western Ontario

Re: A Skeptic's View of the Trinity

Post by Paidion » Sun Jun 07, 2015 3:21 pm

I have no doubt, Steve, that your response gave the man something about which to think.
The following is my opinion of the Trinity. I believe that the Old Testament teaches that there is only one God. I also believe that the New Testament teaches that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In my opinion this is the best example of a contradiction in the Bible.
If I were replying to these assertions, I would ask the writer to tell me why he believes that the New Testament teaches that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. For in actuality, no part of the New Testament teaches any such thing.

It is true that the expression "one God" occurs in the Old Testament, twice, in Malachi 2:10,15.

The New Testament affirms that there is "one God" THRICE: I Cor 8:6, Eph 4:6, and I Tim 2:5.
None of the three denotes one compound God, a Trinity.
In all three cases, the "one God" denotes the Father alone.

Also, in His prayer, Jesus calls His Father "the only true God." (John 17:3)
Paidion

Man judges a person by his past deeds, and administers penalties for his wrongdoing. God judges a person by his present character, and disciplines him that he may become righteous.

Avatar shows me at 75 years old. I am now 82.

User avatar
dizerner
Posts: 1221
Joined: Fri Jun 27, 2014 4:43 pm

Re: A Skeptic's View of the Trinity

Post by dizerner » Mon Jun 08, 2015 8:21 am

It is true that the expression "one God" occurs in the Old Testament, twice, in Malachi 2:10,15.

The New Testament affirms that there is "one God" THRICE: I Cor 8:6, Eph 4:6, and I Tim 2:5.
None of the three denotes one compound God, a Trinity.
In all three cases, the "one God" denotes the Father alone.

Also, in His prayer, Jesus calls His Father "the only true God." (John 17:3)
This is to me, the strongest objection to the Trinity in Scripture. You have encapsulated the best Scriptural argument against it. My answer, not that you would care, is distinguishing between God in office and God in essence. Because I actually do believe the Father alone is God in office, but we can clearly see in Scripture that the Spirit and Son shares his attributes. It appears there is, amazingly enough, rank within the Godhead, even though they are equal in essence.
~ Classical Arminian Christian Mystic ~

User avatar
Paidion
Posts: 5015
Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2008 10:22 pm
Location: Back Woods of North-Western Ontario

Re: A Skeptic's View of the Trinity

Post by Paidion » Mon Jun 08, 2015 5:06 pm

Actually, Dizerner, I do care about your answer. It's a thoughtful answer and one I have never encountered before. Though I don't think Paul and Jesus make this distinction when they speak of "one God," I still respect your thoughts in trying to defend Trinitarianism in this way.
Paidion

Man judges a person by his past deeds, and administers penalties for his wrongdoing. God judges a person by his present character, and disciplines him that he may become righteous.

Avatar shows me at 75 years old. I am now 82.

MMathis
Posts: 195
Joined: Fri May 25, 2012 11:15 am

Re: A Skeptic's View of the Trinity

Post by MMathis » Tue Jun 09, 2015 2:11 pm

In Mark 16

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.


Who was sitting next to whom? I always understood the Trinity to be very simple. God became man as Jesus and the voice in your head telling you that you're doing something wrong is the Holy Spirit.
MMathis
Las Vegas NV

alaskazimm
Posts: 26
Joined: Sat Jan 31, 2009 12:06 am

Re: A Skeptic's View of the Trinity

Post by alaskazimm » Tue Jun 09, 2015 2:24 pm

Here's an article that I found explains the Trinity in an understandable way. To be sure there is still much mystery in the Trinity, but I don't think it has to be an impenetrable enigma. Essentially, what the author argues for is that Jesus is God's wisdom personified. Just as our words come from us and are a part of us, yet subordinate to us - so is Jesus to the Father. Now think of your words (or wisdom) taking on human flesh.

http://www.tektonics.org/jesusclaims/trinitydefense.php

Post Reply

Return to “Christian Evidences & Challenges”