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Nontrinitarianism (or antitrinitarianism) includes all Christian belief systems that disagree with the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, the teaching that God is three distinct hypostases and yet co-eternal, co-equal, and indivisibly united in one essence or ousia. According to churches that consider ecumenical council decisions final, the teaching was infallibly defined at the third Ecumenical Council (First Council of Ephesus). Nontrinitarians disagree with the findings of the Council for various reasons, including the belief that the Bible as they understand it takes precedence over creeds, or that there was a Great Apostasy prior to the Council. Nontrinitarians represent a small minority of Christianity.

Nontrinitarian views differ widely on the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Various nontrinitarian views, such as Adoptionism, Monarchianism, and Arianism, existed prior to the formal definition of the Trinity doctrine in 325 and 360 AD, at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople.[1] Nontrinitarianism was later renewed in the Gnosticism of the Cathars in the 11th through 13th centuries, in the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, and in some groups arising during the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century.

Modern nontrinitarian groups or denominations include Unitarian Universalist Christians, Bible Students, Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Friends General Conference, Iglesia ni Cristo, Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter Day Saints, Oneness Pentecostals, and the United Church of God.


Forms of nontrinitarianism

Most nontrinitarians identify themselves as Christian. There are some groups that do not describe themselves as either Christian or Trinitarian.

Forms of Christian nontrinitarianism

The Encyclopædia Britannica states, "To some Christians the doctrine of the Trinity appeared inconsistent with the unity of God....They therefore denied it, and accepted Jesus Christ, not as incarnate God, but as God's highest creature by Whom all else was created....[this] view in the early Church long contended with the orthodox doctrine."[2] Although this view (nontrinitarian) eventually disappeared “in the early church” and the trinitarian view became an orthodox doctrine of modern Christianity, variations of the nontrinitarian view are still held by a small number Christian groups and denominations.

Nontrinitarian followers of Jesus fall into roughly five different groups:

  • There are those who believe that Jesus is not God, but that he was a messenger from God, or prophet, or the perfect created human. One version of this view was espoused by ancient sects such as the Ebionites. A specific example of this form of nontrinitarianism is Arianism which had become the dominant view in some regions in the time of the Roman Empire. Arianism taught about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but held that the Son was not co-eternal with the Father. However, Arians still maintained that Jesus was divine and did not consider worship of the Son to be idolatrous.[3] Another early form of nontrinarianism was Monarchianism.
  • Those who believe that the heavenly Father, the resurrected Son and the Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of one God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons in God himself. This is a doctrine known originally as Sabellianism or modalism, although it is explained somewhat differently in the churches that now hold these beliefs. Examples of such churches today are Oneness Pentecostals and the New Church.
  • Some denominations, such as Mormonism, teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not only distinct persons, but also distinct beings. Rather than being united in substance, these denominations believe they are united in other ways. For example, in Mormonism, the three individual deities are thought to be "one" in will or purpose, as Jesus was "one" with his disciples.[4]
  • Denominations within the Sabbatarian tradition (Armstrongism), who accept the divinity of the Father and Jesus the Son, but do not teach that the Holy Spirit is a being. The Living Church of God, for example, teaches, "The Holy Spirit is the very essence, the mind, life and power of God. It is not a Being. The Spirit is inherent in the Father and the Son, and emanates from Them throughout the entire universe". This view has historically been termed Semi-Arianism[dubious ] or Binitarianism.
  • Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Jehovah is the only true God, worthy to be worshipped and served (Matthew 4:10, John 4: 23,24, 17:3). They consider Jesus to be the only begotten Son and the first creation of God (Colossians 1: 15, John 3: 16). They do not believe that Jesus is Almighty God. While they do give relative "proskyneo" to Christ, and pray through him as "Mediator" and "Messiah", they believe that only the Father is without beginning, and that the Father is greater than the Son; only Jehovah therefore is worthy of worship. They do not believe that the Holy Spirit is God. They believe in the existence of an active force, spirit or power of the almighty God Jehovah (Luke 1:35).

Nontrinitarian doctrine often generates controversy among mainstream Christians as most trinitarians consider it heresy not to believe in the Trinity. At times, segments of Nicene Christianity reacted with ultimate severity toward nontrinitarian views. Following the Reformation, among some Protestant groups such as the Unitarians and Christadelphians, the same views have been accommodated.

Forms of non-Christian nontrinitarianism

  • Members of Unitarian Universalism may or may not identify as Christian. Traditionally, unitarianism was a form of Christianity that rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. Unitarianism was rebuffed by orthodox Christianity at the First Council of Nicaea in a Synod meeting of the bishops in 325, but resurfaced subsequently in Church history, especially during the theological turmoils of the Protestant Reformation. In 1961, the American Unitarian Association (AUA) was consolidated with the Universalist Church of America (UCA), forming the Unitarian Universalist Association
  • In Islam's holy book, the Quran, Allah (God) denounces the concept of Trinity (Qur'an 4:171, 5:72-73, 112:1-4) as an over-reverence by Christians of God's Word, the prophet and messiah Jesus Christ son of the virgin Mary, while maintaining Jesus as one of the most important and respected prophets and Messengers of God, (2:136) primarily sent to prevent the Jews from changing the Torah, (61:6) and to refresh and reaffirm his original message as revealed to Moses and earlier New Testament prophets. The creation of Jesus is framed similar to the creation of Adam out of dust, but with Jesus' birth meaning his creation excludes male human intervention rather than creation completely without human participation (3:59). Belief in all of the aforementioned about Jesus as a prophet (5:78), as well as belief in the original gospel and Torah and belief in Jesus' virgin birth (3:45) are core criterion of being a Muslim and Quranic criterion for salvation in the hereafter along with belief in the Prophet Muhammad and all the prior prophets. In short God is seen as being both perfect and indivisible. He can therefore have no peer or equal. Jesus, being God's creation, can never be considered to be equal with God or a part of God. To do so is considered by Islam to be blasphemy. (112:3)

History of nontrinitarianism

All nontrinitarians take the position that the doctrine of the earliest form of Christianity (see Apostolic Age) was nontrinitarian. Typically, nontrinitarians believe Christianity was altered by the edicts of Emperor Constantine I, which eventually resulted in the adoption of Trinitarian Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire during the reign of Theodosius I. Because it was during a dramatic shift in Christianity's status that the doctrine of the Trinity attained its definitive development, nontrinitarians typically consider the doctrine questionable. Nontrinitarians see the Nicene Creed as an essentially political document, resulting from the subordination of true doctrine to state interests by leaders of the Catholic Church, so that the church became, in their view, an extension of the Roman Empire.

Although nontrinitarian beliefs continued to multiply, and among some people (such as the Lombards in the west) were dominant for hundreds of years after their inception, Trinitarians gained prominence in the Roman Empire. Nontrinitarians typically argue that the primitive beliefs of Christianity were systematically suppressed (often to the point of death), and that the historical record, perhaps also including the scriptures of the New Testament, was altered as a consequence.

Some scholars investigating the historical Jesus assert that Jesus taught neither his own equality with God nor the Trinity (see, for example, the Jesus Seminar).

Nontrinitarians also dispute the veracity of the Nicene Creed based on its adoption nearly 300 years after the life of Jesus as a result of conflict within pre-Nicene early Christianity. Nontrinitarians also cite scriptures such as Matthew 15:9 and Ephesians 4:14 that warn the reader to beware the doctrines of men.

The author H. G. Wells, later famous for his contribution to science-fiction, wrote in The Outline of History: "We shall see presently how later on all Christendom was torn by disputes about the Trinity. There is no evidence that the apostles of Jesus ever heard of the Trinity, at any rate from him."

The question of why such a central doctrine to the Christian faith would never have been explicitly stated in scripture or taught in detail by Jesus himself was sufficiently important to 16th century historical figures such as Michael Servetus as to lead them to argue the question. The Geneva City Council, in accord with the judgment of the cantons of Zürich, Bern, Basel, and Schaffhausen, condemned Servetus to be burned at the stake for this and his opposition to infant baptism.

The Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics describes the five stages that led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.[5]

  1. The acceptance of the pre-human existence of Jesus as the (middle-platonic) Logos, namely, as the medium between the transcendent sovereign God and the created cosmos. The doctrine of Logos was accepted by the Apologists and by other Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, such as Justin the Martyr, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Ireneus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Lactantius, and the 4th century Arius.
  2. The doctrine of the timeless generation of the Son from the Father as it was articulated by Origen in his effort to support the ontological immutability of God, that he is ever-being a father and a creator. The doctrine of the timeless generation was adopted by Athanasius of Alexandria.
  3. The acceptance of the idea that the son of God is homoousios to his father, that is, of the same transcendent nature. This position was declared in the Nicene Creed, which specifically states the son of God is as immutable as his father.
  4. The acceptance that the Holy Spirit also has ontological equality as a third person in a divine Trinity and the final Trinitarian terminology by the teachings of the Cappadocian Fathers.
  5. The addition of the Filioque to the Nicene Creed, as accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

Points of dissent

Scriptural support

Critics argue that the Trinity, for a teaching described as fundamental, lacks direct scriptural support, and even some proponents of the doctrine acknowledge that direct or formal support is lacking. The New Catholic Encyclopedia says, "The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught [explicitly] in the [Old Testament]", "The formulation 'one God in three Persons' was not solidly established [by a council]...prior to the end of the 4th century".[6] Similarly, Encyclopedia Encarta states: "The doctrine is not taught explicitly in the New Testament, where the word God almost invariably refers to the Father. [...] The term trinitas was first used in the 2nd century, by the Latin theologian Tertullian, but the concept was developed in the course of the debates on the nature of Christ [...]. In the 4th century, the doctrine was finally formulated".[7] Encyclopædia Britannica says: "Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). [...] The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. [...] by the end of the 4th century, under the leadership of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocian Fathers), the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since."[8] The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: "One does not find in the NT the trinitarian paradox of the coexistence of the Father, Son, and Spirit within a divine unity."[9]

Questions over Jesus as "Almighty God"

The debate over the biblical basis of the Trinity revolves primarily around the question of the divinity of Jesus. Those who reject the teaching that Jesus is true God argue that Jesus himself questioned even being called even "good" in deference to God in the parable of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-17), said that the Father is greater than he is (John 14:28), disavowed omniscience as the Son (John 8:28; Mark 13:32), "learned obedience" (Hebrews 5:8), was called the 'firstborn of all creation' (Colossians 1:15) and 'the beginning of God's creation' (Revelation 3:14), referred to ascending to "my Father, and to your Father; and to my God, and to your God" (John 20:17) and that he said "the Father is the only true God" (John 17:3). Additionally, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 when saying in Mark 12:29 "'The most important [commandment],' answered Jesus, 'is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.'" It has been pointed out[by whom?] that in the original Greek in Mark 12, there are no "plural modifiers" in that Greek word for "one" (eis), but that in Mark 12 it is simply a masculine singular "one".

They[who?] also argue to show that "Elohim" (literally "gods") does not hint at any form of plurality, but rather to majesty pointing to the Hebrew dialect and grammar rules that render this title in nearly all circumstances with a singular verb. Raymond E. Brown who remained a devout catholic and trinitarian nevertheless wrote that Mark 10:18, Matthew 27:46, John 20:17, Ephesians 1:17, 2 Corinthians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3, John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, 1 Timothy 2:5, John 14:28, Mark 13:32, Philippians 2:5-10, and 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 are "texts that seem to imply that the title God was not used for Jesus" and are "negative evidence which is often somewhat neglected in Catholic treatments of the subject."[10]

Trinitarians, and nontrinitarians who also hold Jesus Christ as Almighty God (such as the "Modalists"), claim these statements are based on Jesus' existence as the Son of God in human flesh; that he is therefore both God and man, who became "lower than the angels, for our sake," (Hebrews 2:6-8) and that he was tempted as humans are tempted, but did not sin (Hebrews 4:14-16). Some nontrinitarians counter the belief that the Son was limited only during his earthly life by citing "the head of Christ [is] God" (1 Corinthians 11:3), placing Jesus in an inferior position to the Father even after his resurrection. They also cite Acts 5:31 and Philippians 2:9, indicating that Jesus became exalted after ascension to heaven, and to Hebrews 9:24, Acts 7:55, and 1 Corinthians 15:24, 28, regarding Jesus as a distinct personality in heaven, all after his ascension.


Nontrinitarians state that the doctrine of the Trinity relies on non-Biblical terminology. The term "Trinity" is not found in Scripture and the number three is never associated with God in any sense other than within the Comma Johanneum of disputed authenticity. They argue that the only number ascribed to God in the Bible is one, and that the Trinity, literally meaning three-in-one, ascribes a co-equal threeness to God that is not biblical.

Several other examples of terms not found in the Bible include multiple "persons" in relation to God, the terms "God the Son" and "God the Holy Spirit", and "eternally" begotten. For example, a basic tenet of Trinitarianism is that God is made up of three distinct persons (hypostasis). The term hypostasis is used only once in reference to God in the Bible[Heb 1:3] where it states that Jesus is the express image of God's person. The Bible never uses the term in relation to the Holy Spirit nor explicitly mentions the Son having a distinct hypostasis from the Father.

Regarding the major term homoousios (of the same essence), which was introduced into the Creed at the First Council of Nicea, Pier Franco Beatrice stated: "The main thesis of this paper is that homoousios came straight from Constantine's Hermetic background. [...] The Plato recalled by Constantine is just a name used to cover precisely the Egyptian and Hermetic theology of the "consubstantiality" of the Logos-Son with the Nous-Father, having recourse to a traditional apologetic argument. [...] Constantine's Hermetic interpretation of Plato's theology and consequently the emperor's decision to insert homoousios in the Creed of Nicaea."[11]

Trinitarians maintain that these ideas are implied within scripture and were necessary additions of the Nicene Era to counter the doctrine of Arianism.

Holy Spirit

It is also argued that the vast majority of scriptures that Trinitarians offer in support of their beliefs refer to the Father and to Son, but not to the Holy Spirit. Some nontrinitarians, including Jehovah's Witnesses, believe that the Holy Spirit is not a person but the active force of God.[12]

Non-Trinitarian views of the Holy Spirit

Non-trinitarian views about the Holy Spirit differ in certain ways from mainstream Christian doctrine and generally fall into several distinct categories.

Unitarian and Arian

Groups with Unitarian theology such as Polish Socinians, the 18th-19th Century Unitarian Church, Christadelphians conceive of the Holy Spirit not as a person but an aspect of God's power.[13] Christadelphians believe that the phrase Holy Spirit refers to God's power or mind/character, depending on the context.[14] Though Arius himself believed that the Holy Spirit was a person or high Angel, modern Arian or Semi-Arian Christian groups such as Dawn Bible Students and Jehovah's Witnesses believe, the same as Unitarian groups, that the Holy Spirit is not an actual person but is God's "power in action", like God's divine "breath" or "energy", that he uses to accomplish his will and purpose in creation, redemption, sanctification, and divine guidance, and they do not typically capitalize the term.[15] They define the Holy Spirit as "God's active force", and they believe that it proceeds only from the Father.[15] A Jehovah's Witness brochure quotes Alvan Lamson: "...the Father, Son, and... Holy Spirit [are] not as co-equal, not as one numerical essence, not as Three in One... The very reverse is the fact."[16]

Modalist groups

Oneness Pentecostalism, as with other modalist groups, teach that the Holy Spirit is a mode of God, rather than a distinct or separate person from the Father, but instead teach that the Holy Spirit is just another name for the Father. According to Oneness theology, the Holy Spirit is the Father. The United Pentecostal Church teaches that there is no personal distinction between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[17]

Latter Day Saints

In the Latter-day Saint movement, the Holy Ghost (usually synonymous with Holy Spirit.)[18] is considered the third distinct member of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Ghost),[19] and to have a body of "spirit,"[20] which makes him unlike the Father and the Son who are said to have bodies "as tangible as man's."[21] According to LDS doctrine, the Holy Spirit is believed to be a person,[21][22] however having a body of spirit, he is able to pervade all worlds.[23] Mormons believe that the Holy Spirit is part of the "Divine Council" or "Godhead", but that the Father is greater than both the Son and the Holy Spirit.[23]

Other groups

The Unity Church interprets the religious terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit metaphysically, as three aspects of mind action: mind, idea, and expression. They believe this is the process through which all manifestation takes place.[24]

As a movement that developed out of Christianity, Rastafari has its own unique interpretation of both the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit. Although there are several slight variations, they generally state that it is Haile Selassie who embodies both God the Father and God the Son, while the Holy (or rather, "Hola") Spirit is to be found within Rasta believers (see 'I and I'), and within every human being. Rastas also say that the true church is the human body, and that it is this church (or "structure") that contains the Holy Spirit.


The Trinity doctrine is integral in inter-religious disagreements with two of the other major faiths, Judaism and Islam; the former rejects Jesus' divine mission entirely, and the latter accepts Jesus as a human prophet and the Messiah but not as the son of God. The concept of trinity is totally rejected, with Quranic verses calling the doctrine of the Trinity blasphemous. Many within Judaism and Islam also accuse Christian Trinitarians of practicing polytheism—believing in three gods rather than just one.

Supporting scriptures

Among Bible verses cited by opponents of Trinitarianism are those that claim there is only one God, the Father. Other verses state that Jesus Christ was a man. Although trinitarians consider these apparent contradictions part of the mystery and paradox of the Trinity itself, some nontrinitarians argue that there is little, if any, biblical basis for the Trinity.[citation needed] Nontrinitarians cite scriptures such as the following as being contrary to the Trinity doctrine.

One God

Below are some scriptures nontrinitarians[who?] use to claim that there is only one God, the Father.

  • "And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:" (Mark 12:29)
  • "Jesus said to him, 'Away from me, Satan! For it is written: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only."'" (Matthew 4:10)
  • "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (John 17:3)
  • "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5)
  • "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." (James 2:19)
  • “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (John 14:28)

Son and Father

Below are some scriptures nontrinitarians[who?] use to show that Jesus is inferior to God, and was a creation.

  • "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32)
  • "No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." (John 1:18)
  • "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." (John 14:28)
  • "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23)
  • "Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:17)
  • "He who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall never go out of it: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God: and I will also write upon him my new name." (Revelation 3:12)
  • "But he (Stephen), being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." (Acts 7:55-56)
  • "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." (Colossians 1:15)
  • "Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he "has put everything under his feet." Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all." (1 Cor. 15:24-28)
  • "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:" (Revelation 3:14)

Holy spirit

Below are some scriptures nontrinitarians[who?] use to claim the Holy Spirit is inferior to God. Some nontrinitarians[who?] use the below scriptures to endorse that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, rather than a "person".

  • "(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet [given]; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)" (John 7:39)
  • "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; " (John 14:16)
  • "But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (John 14:26)
  • "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:" (John 15:26)
  • "Nevertheless I tell you 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)
  • "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: " (Acts 2:17-18)
  • "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38)
  • "And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 10:45)
  • "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." (Romans 8:15)
  • "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." (1 Corinthians 2:12)
  • "This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Galatians 3:2)
  • "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:14)
  • "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." (Galatians 4:6)
  • "In whom ye also [trusted], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise," (Ephesians 1:13)
  • "And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." (1 John 3:24)
  • "Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." (1 John 4:13)
  • "He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 4:8)

Old Testament

  • I saw in the night visions, and, behold, [one] like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. (Daniel  7:13)
  • Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (Psalms  110:1)

Ontological differences

Views on allegedly Trinitarian passages in scripture

Nontrinitarians[who?] argue that a person who is really seeking to know the truth about God is not going to search the Bible hoping to find a text that he can construe as fitting what he already believes. They say it is noteworthy at the outset that most of the texts used as “proof” of the Trinity actually mention only two persons, not three; so nontrinitarians claim that even if the trinitarian explanation of the texts were correct, these would not prove that the Bible teaches the Trinity.[25]

John 1:1 - The contention with this verse is that there is a distinction between God and the Logos (or "the Word"). Trinitarians contend that the third part of the verse (John 1:1c) translates as "and the Word was God", pointing to an equivalence between God and the Logos. Nontrinitarians contend that the Koine Greek ("kai theos ên ho logos") should instead be translated as "and the Word was a god", basing this on the contention that the section is an example of an anarthrous, that is, "theos" lacks the definite article, meaning its use was indefinite - "a god". Nontrinitarians also contend that had the author of John's gospel wished to say "and the Word was God" that he could have easily written "kai ho theos ên ho logos", but he did not. In this way, nontrinitarians contend that the Logos would be considered to be the pre-existent Jesus, who is wholly distinct from God. Alternatively, others argue that the Greek should be translated as "and the Logos was divine" (with theos being an adjective), and the Logos being interpreted as God's "plan" or "reasoning" for salvation. Thus, when "the Logos became flesh" in John  1:14, it is not interpreted to be a pre-existent Jesus being incarnated, but rather the "plan" of God being manifested in the birth of the man Jesus.

The text of John 1:1 has a sordid past and a myriad of interpretations. With the Greek alone, we can create empathic, orthodox, creed-like statements, or we can commit pure and unadulterated heresy. From the point of view of early church history, heresy develops when a misunderstanding arises concerning Greek articles, the predicate nominative, and grammatical word order. The early church heresy of Sabellianism understood John 1:1c to read, "and the Word was the God." The early church heresy of Arianism understood it to read, "and the word was a God."

David A. Reed[26]

John 10:30:- Nontrinitarians believe that when Jesus said, "I and the Father are one," he did not mean that they were equal. They quote John 17:21,22 where Jesus prayed regarding his followers: “That they may all be one,” and he added, “that they may be one even as we are one.” Nontrinitarians endorse Jesus used the same Greek word (hen) for "one" in all these instances. It is pointed out that Jesus did not expect for his disciples to literally become "one" entity, in which case it is said that Jesus also did not expect his hearers to think that he and God were "one" entity either.

John 20:28-29:- "And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed"". Since Thomas called Jesus God, Jesus's statement appears to endorse Thomas's assertion. Nontrinitarians typically respond that it is plausible that Thomas is addressing the Lord Jesus and then the Father. Another possible answer is that Jesus himself said, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" (John 10:34) referring to Psalms 82:6-8. The word "gods" in verse 6 and "God" in verse 8 is the same Hebrew word "'elohim",[27] which means, "gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative"[28] and as "God, god, gods, rulers, judges or angels".[27] and as "divine ones, goddess, godlike one"[29] The first explanation is perhaps the most plausible, in that the Greek forms used in the text do not denote two descriptions of one personage, but two personages described separately. A nontrinitarian would link this witnessing of Thomas to Jesus's saying that, to paraphrase, "He who sees me, sees the Father", and would point out that this text affirms the doctrine that Jesus is Lord but only God is deity, and hence the Lord of Jesus. Because "no one can come to the Father except through me (Jesus)", it is necessary however to call Jesus lord (a requirement of belief in the New Testament), which is exactly what Thomas did when he believed.

Objection to mystery

Some non-trinitarians say[30] the mystery of the Trinity is a hindrance to cultivating a personal relationship with God as encouraged at James 4:8 and quoting[31] 1 Corinthians 14:33 (“God is not a God of confusion”, Revised Standard Version).

Trinitarians say[32] that mystery is acceptable because nobody can comprehend the fullness and goodness of God (Romans 11:33-36).

Alternative views

There have been numerous other views of the relations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, including the following.

Early Christian

  • Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries: The Christian Apologists and other Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, having adopted and formulated the Logos Christology, considered the Son of God as the instrument used by the supreme God, the Father, to bring the creation into existence. Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus of Rome and Tertullian in particular state that the internal Logos of God (Gr. Logos endiathetos, Lat. ratio), that is his impersonal divine reason, was begotten as Logos uttered (Gr. Logos proforikos, Lat. sermo, verbum) and thus became a person to be used for the purpose of creation.[33]
  • Arius (AD ca. 250 or 256 - 336) believed that the Son was created by and subordinate to the Father, but that the Son did have divine status.
  • Ebionites (1st to 4th century AD) believed that the Son was subordinate to the Father and nothing more than a special human.
  • Marcion (AD ca. 110-160) believed that there were two deities, one of creation / Hebrew Bible and one of the New Testament.
  • Modalism states that God has taken numerous forms in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and that God has manifested himself in three primary modes in regards to the salvation of mankind. Thus God is Father in creation (God created a Son through the virgin birth), Son in redemption (God manifested himself into the begotten man Christ Jesus for the purpose of his death upon the cross), and Holy Spirit in regeneration (God's indwelling Spirit within the souls of Christian believers). In light of this view, God is not three separate persons, but rather one God manifesting himself in multiple ways.
  • Many Gnostic traditions held that the Christ is a heavenly Aeon but not one with the Father.
  • Docetism comes from the Greek: δοκέω (dokeo), meaning "to seem." This view holds that Jesus only seemed to be human and only appeared to die.
  • Adoptionism (2nd century AD) holds that Jesus became divine at his baptism (sometimes associated with the Gospel of Mark) or at his resurrection (sometimes associated with Saint Paul and Shepherd of Hermas).

Famous Christians

  • Isaac Newton is generally thought not to have believed in Trinitarianism.[34] He listed "worshipping Christ as God" in a list of "Idolatria" in his theological notebook.[35] However, he never made a public declaration of his faith.[36]
  • See People below.

Modern Christians

  • Unitarian Christians and Unitarian Universalist Christians
  • American Unitarian Conference started as a reply to Unitarian Universalism becoming too liberal theologically. They refrain from political endorsements and believe religion and science can improve the human condition. They have a deist population.
  • Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church believe that the Father and Son are two distinct and separate beings. They hold that the Holy Spirit is the shared essence, power, characteristics, presence, and life of those two.
  • Christadelphians hold that Jesus Christ is the literal son of God the Father, and that Jesus was an actual human.[37] The "holy spirit" terminology in the Bible is explained as referring to God's power, or God's method of thinking[38] (depending on the context).
  • Mormonism teaches that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are three separate beings, united in will or purpose, but not united in substance.[39] See God in Mormonism.
  • The Iglesia ni Cristo (Tagalog for Church of Christ) views Jesus Christ as human in nature but endowed by God with attributes not found in ordinary humans and that likewise, God has attributes not found in Jesus. They further contend that God wants humans to worship Jesus.[40]
  • Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the Son of God is unique in being God's only direct creation, before all ages; that God subsequently created all things through the Son; and that Jesus remains subordinate to God. They claim that references in the Bible to Jesus as "the firstborn of all creation", "the only-begotten Son", and his claim of having a God over him, even after his resurrection and exaltation to heaven, support their nontrinitarian viewpoint.[41] They also believe that Jesus was made "God" and "Lord" only by the Father's permission and power. They teach that only the Father is the Almighty God, and that Jesus Christ wants us to worship and serve only Jehovah. (Matthew 4:10, 6:6 ) References to the "holy spirit" in the Bible are understood by Jehovah's Witnesses to refer to God's "active force": the means by which God accomplishes what he wills.[42]
  • Oneness Pentecostalism is a subset of Pentecostalism that believes God is only one person, and that he manifests himself in different ways, faces, or "modes":

    "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) are different designations for the one God. God is the Father. God is the Holy Spirit. The Son is God manifest in flesh. The term Son always refers to the Incarnation, and never to deity apart from humanity.".[43]

    They believe that Jesus was "Son" only when he became flesh on earth, but was the Father prior to his being made human. They refer to the Father as the "Spirit" and the Son as the "Flesh". Oneness Pentecostals reject the Trinity doctrine as pagan and unscriptural, and hold to the Jesus' Name doctrine with respect to baptisms. Oneness Pentecostals are often referred to as "Modalists" or "Sabellians" or "Jesus Only".
  • Some forms of Quakerism hold universalist views.
  • Swedenborgianism holds that the Trinity exists in one person, the Lord God Jesus Christ. The Father, the being or soul of God, was born into the world and put on a body from Mary. Throughout his life, Jesus put away all human desires and tendencies until he was completely divine. After his resurrection, he influences the world through the Holy Spirit, which is his activity. Thus Jesus Christ is the one God; the Father as to his soul, the Son as to his body, and the Holy Spirit as to his activity in the world. Swedenborgians have also been referred to as "Modalists".

Claimed pagan origins

Many nontrinitarians contend that the doctrine of the Trinity is a prime example of Christianity borrowing from Indo-European and Egyptian pagan sources.[citation needed] According to them, after the death of the Apostles their simpler idea of God was lost and the doctrine of the Trinity took its place due to the Church's accommodation of pagan ideas.

Those who argue for a pagan basis note that as far back as Babylonia, the worship of pagan gods grouped in threes, or triads, was common, and that this influence was also prevalent among the Celts, as well as in Egypt, Greece, and Rome[citation needed]. In ancient India, the concept of the trio—Brahma the creator, Shiva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver dates back to millennia before Christ. At the very least, they suggest that Greek philosophy brought a late influence into the creation of the doctrine.

Some nontrinitarians[who?] also find a link between the doctrine of the Trinity and the Egyptian Christian theologians of Alexandria, suggesting that Alexandrian theology, with its strong emphasis on the deity of Jesus, served to infuse Egypt's pagan religious heritage into Christianity. They charge the Church with adopting these Egyptian tenets after adapting them to Christian thinking by means of Greek philosophy.[44] As evidence of this, they point to the widely acknowledged synthesis of Christianity with Platonic philosophy evident in Trinitarian formulas appearing by the end of the 3rd century. Hence, beginning with the Constantinian period, they allege, these pagan ideas were forcibly imposed on the churches as Catholic doctrine rooted firmly in the soil of Hellenism. Most groups subscribing to the theory of a Great Apostasy generally concur in this thesis.

The early apologists, including Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Irenaeus, frequently discussed the parallels and contrasts between Christianity, Paganism and other syncretic religions, and answered charges of borrowing from paganism in their apologetical writings.

Hellenic influences

Advocates of the "Hellenic influences" argument attempt to trace the influence of Hellenic philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria on post-Apostolic Christianity, which then interpreted the Bible through a Neoplatonic filter. These advocates point out the similarities between Hellenistic philosophy and post-Apostolic Christianity, by examining the following factors:

  • Philo himself had been influenced by Plato’s Timaeus, in which Plato called the logos “the image of God” and “the second God”.[45]
  • Philo's work reveals his dependence upon the Hellenic view that God Himself could not be directly responsible for the creation - for how could a perfect being produce an imperfect world, or the mutable derive from the immutable? The Greek solution was to propose the existence of a secondary divine being - the Demiurge - which, although tremendously powerful in its own right, was a little lower than God Himself (being neither perfect nor immutable in the absolute sense), and could therefore be safely associated with the creative process. To the Greeks, this arrangement was both a logical and philosophical necessity, and Philo - following his Hellenic inclinations - emphasizes it strongly in De Opificio:

"The Absolute Being, the Father, who had begotten all things, gave an especial grace to the Archangel and First-born Logos (Word), that standing between, He might sever the creature from the Creator. The same is ever the Intercessor for the dying mortal before the immortal God, and the Ambassador and the Ruler to the subject. He is neither without beginning of days, as God is, nor is He begotten, as we are, but is something between these extremes, being connected with both."

  • Stuart G Hall (formerly Professor of Ecclesiastical History at King's College, London) describes the subsequent process of philosophical/theological amalgamation in Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church (1991), where he writes:

"The [Christian] apologists [such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus] began to claim that Greek culture pointed to and was consummated in the Christian message, just as the Old Testament was. This process was done most thoroughly in the synthesis of Clement of Alexandria. It can be done in several ways. You can rake through Greek literature, and find (especially in the oldest seers and poets) references to ‘God’ which are more compatible with monotheism than with polytheism (so at length Athenagoras.) You can work out a common chronology between the legends of prehistoric (Homer) Greece and the biblical record (so Theophilus.) You can adapt a piece of pre-Christian Jewish apologetic, which claimed that Plato and other Greek philosophers got their best ideas indirectly from the teachings of Moses in the Bible, which was much earlier. This theory combines the advantage of making out the Greeks to be plagiarists (and therefore second-rate or criminal), while claiming that they support Christianity by their arguments at least some of the time. Especially this applied to the question of God."

  • The neo-Platonic trinities, such as that of the One, the Nous and the Soul, are not a trinity of consubstantial equals as in orthodox Christianity. However, the neo-Platonic trinity has the doctrine of emanation, a timeless procedure of generation having as a source the One and being paralleled with the generation of the light from the Sun. This was adopted by Origen and applied to the generation of the Son from the Father, because he wanted to support that the Father, as immutable, always had been a Father, and that the generation of the Son is therefore eternal and timeless.
  • The synthesis of Christianity with Platonic philosophy was further incorporated in the trinitarian formulas that appeared by the end of the 3rd century. "The Greek philosophical theology" was "developed during the Trinitarian controversies over the relationships among the persons of the Godhead."[46] Some assert that this incorporation was well known during the 3rd century, because the allegation of borrowing was raised by some disputants when the Nicene doctrine was being formalized and adopted by the bishops. For example, in the 4th century, Marcellus of Ancyra, who taught the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were one person (hypostasis), said in his On the Holy Church, 9:

    "Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God...These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him 'On the Three Natures'. For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes and Plato."[47]



See also


  1. ^ von Harnack, Adolf (1894-03-01). "History of Dogma". Retrieved 2007-06-15. "[In the 2nd century,] Jesus was either regarded as the man whom God hath chosen, in whom the Deity or the Spirit of God dwelt, and who, after being tested, was adopted by God and invested with dominion, (Adoptian Christology); or Jesus was regarded as a heavenly spiritual being (the highest after God) who took flesh, and again returned to heaven after the completion of his work on earth (pneumatic Christology)" 
  2. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica 1942 edition p.634 "Christianity"
  3. ^ HISTORY OF ARIANISM, Alexandria and Arius: AD 323-325
  4. ^ See Daniel C. Peterson, "Mormonism and the Trinity," in the journal of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, "Element" 3:1-2 (Spring/Fall 2007).
  5. ^ W. Fulton, ”Trinity”, Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, T. & T. Clark, 1921, Vol. 12, p. 459.
  6. ^ New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) Volume XIV p.299
  7. ^ John Macquarrie, "Trinity," Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. Retrieved on March 31, 2008.
  8. ^ "Trinity," Encyclopaedia Britannica 2004 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. Retrieved on March 31, 2008.
  9. ^ Jouette M. Bassler, "God in the NT", The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, New York 1992, 2:1055.
  10. ^ Theological Studies #26 (1965) p. 545-73, "Does the NT call Jesus God?"
  11. ^ The Word "Homoousios" from Hellenism to Christianity, by P.F. Beatrice, Church History, Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church History, Vol. 71, No. 2, (Jun., 2002), pp. 243-272. (retrieved @
  12. ^ What Does God Require Of Us (published by Jehovah's Witnesses) lesson 2 paragraph 3 "What, though, is the holy spirit? It is not a person like God. Rather, it is God's active force.—Psalm 104:30. "
  13. ^ The Unitarian: a monthly magazine of liberal Christianity ed. Jabez Thomas Sunderland, Brooke Herford, Frederick B. Mott - 1893 "We believe in the Holy Spirit, man's sole reliance for guidance, safety, or salvation, not as a separate person, entity, reality, or consciousness, existent apart from man or God, but as the recognizing sympathetic inter-communication in love between God and the human soul, the direct converse or communion of man's consciousness with Deity."
  14. ^ Broughton, James H.; Peter J Southgate. The Trinity: True or False?. UK: The Dawn Book Supply. 
  15. ^ a b "Is the Holy Spirit a Person?". Awake!: 14–15. July 2006. "In the Bible, God’s Holy Spirit is identified as God’s power in action. Hence, an accurate translation of the Bible’s Hebrew text refers to God’s spirit as “God’s active force.”" 
  16. ^ "Is It Clearly a Bible Teaching?", Should You Believe in the Trinity?, ©1989 Watch Tower, p. 7, Reproduced here.
  17. ^ Peter Althouse Spirit of the last days: Pentecostal eschatology in conversation p12 2003 "The Oneness Pentecostal stream follows in the steps of the Reformed stream, but has a modalistic view of the Godhead"
  18. ^ Wilson, Jerry A. (1992). "Holy Spirit". In Ludlow, Daniel H.. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Mcmillan. p. 651. ISBN 0-02-904040-X.,3768.  "The Holy Spirit is a term often used to refer to the Holy Ghost. In such cases the Holy Spirit is a personage."
  19. ^ McConkie, Joseph Fielding (1992). "Holy Ghost". In Ludlow, Daniel H.. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Mcmillan. p. 649. ISBN 0-02-904040-X.,3766.  "
  20. ^ D&C 131:7-8 ("There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.")
  21. ^ a b D&C 130:22.
  22. ^ Marion G. Romney (April 1974). "The Holy Ghost". Retrieved March 30, 2011. 
  23. ^ a b Millennial Star. XII. October 15, 1850. pp. 305–309. Retrieved March 30, 2011. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Reasoning from Scriptures, Watch Tower bible and tract society page 411 para 4
  26. ^ David A. Reed. "How Semetic Was John? Rethinking the Hellenistic Background to John 1:1." Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2003, Vol. 85 Issue 4, p709
  27. ^ a b
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ The Watchtower December 1, 2006 page 6 "The engrafting of the Trinity was a masterstroke of the antichrist, for this doctrine shrouded God in mystery and blurred his relationship with the Son. (John 14:28; 15:10; Colossians 1:15) Just think, how can one “draw close to God,” as encouraged by the Scriptures, if God is a mystery?—James 4:8." online edition
  31. ^ Should You Believe in the Trinity? (brochure arguing against the Trinity published by Jehovah's Witnesses), 2006 printing, page 5 online edition
  32. ^ The Mystery Of God Incarnate by Paul D. Adams
  33. ^ Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press, 1984, Vol. 1, pp. 159-161• Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, The University of Chicago Press, 1971, Vol. 1, pp. 181-199
  34. ^ Avery Cardinal Dulles. The Deist Minimum. 2005.
  35. ^ Pfizenmaier, T.C., "Was Isaac Newton an Arian?" Journal of the History of Ideas 68(1):57–80, 1997.
  36. ^ Snobelen, Stephen D. (1999). "Isaac Newton, heretic : the strategies of a Nicodemite" (PDF). British Journal for the History of Science 32 (4): 381–419. doi:10.1017/S0007087499003751. 
  37. ^ Flint, James; Deb Flint. One God or a Trinity?. Hyderabad: Printland Publishers. ISBN 81-87409-61-4. 
  38. ^ Broughton, James H.; Peter J Southgate. The Trinity: True or False?. UK: The Dawn Book Supply. 
  39. ^ Mormons believe in what is sometimes called "social trinitarianism," meaning the three beings of the Godhead are blended in heart and mind like extremely close friends, but are not one being. Bushman, Richard Lyman (2005), Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, New York: Knopf, p. 6, ISBN 1400042704 .
  40. ^ Manalo, Eraño G., Fundamental Beliefs of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) (Iglesia ni Cristo; Manila 1989)
  41. ^
  42. ^ The Holy Spirit-God's Active Force - Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site
  43. ^ David K. Bernard, THE ONENESS OF GOD, Chapter 12. TRINITARIANISM: AN EVALUATION, Table 11: Trinitarianism and Oneness Compared.
  44. ^ 'At times he forms one of a trinity in unity, with Ra and Osiris, as in Fig. 87, a god with the two sceptres of Osiris, the hawk's head of Horus, and the sun of Ra. This is the god described to Eusebius, who tells us that when the oracle was consulted about the divine nature, by those who wished to understand this complicated mythology, it had answered, "I am Apollo and Lord and Bacchus," or, to use the Egyptian names, "I am Ra and Horus and Osiris." Another god, in the form of a porcelain idol to be worn as a charm, shows us Horus as one of a trinity in unity, in name, at least, agreeing with that afterwards adopted by the Christians--namely, the Great God, the Son God, and the Spirit God.'—Samuel Sharpe, Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity, 1863, pp. 89-90.
  45. ^ Philo of Alexandria, On Providence (Fragment 1), cf. the preservation of this fragment in Eusebius of Caesarea's Praeparatio Evangelica 7.21.336b-337a
  46. ^ A. Hilary Armstrong, Henry J. Blumenthal, Platonism. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD.
  47. ^ Logan A. Marcellus of Ancyra (Pseudo-Anthimus), 'On the Holy Church': Text, Translation and Commentary. Verses 8-9. Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Volume 51, Pt. 1, April 2000, p.95
  48. ^ Neusner, Jacob, ed. 2009. World Religions in America: An Introduction, Fourth Ed. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 257. ISBN 978-0-664-23320-4
  49. ^ Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin. 1998. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Active New Religions, Sects and Cults, Revised Ed. New York, New York: Rosen Publishing Group, p. 73. ISBN 0-8239-2586-2
  50. ^ Walker, James K. (2007). The Concise Guide to Today's Religions and Spirituality. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers. pp. 117–118. ISBN 978-0-7369-2011-7

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