About five years ago, I read the New Testament from the book of Matthew to Revelations for the first time. I mostly did this because I was starting to get into conversations with one of my Baptist friends, and it was involving Biblical matters. I figured since I disagreed with her on pretty much all theological stances, I should at least have a good idea of the book she was using: especially since I was using it, too. :)
Now, I have never believed in the Trinity. As she is a Baptist, she does, and that is one of the things we discussed. It’s another reason why I read the Bible, because I figured if the Trinity is a ‘make or break’ case for Christianity, it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
After completing the New Testament, I could see what verses were used to support the Trinity, but was also left with an incredibly unsettled feeling. Part of it was because of the following:
John 10:30 of “I and my Father are one” is often used to show that Jesus was claiming to be God. However, the support Jesus uses of that statement when the Jews try to stone him is from John 10:34: “Jesus answered them, “Isn’t it written in your Torah, “I have said, “You people are Elohim’”” If He called ‘elohim’ the people to whom the word of Elohim was addressed [and the Tanakh] cannot be broken, then are you telling the one whom the Father set apart as holy and sent into the world, ‘You are committing blasphemy’ just because I said, “I am the son of Elohim’?”
Jesus does not say that he is God in that statement – the Psalms he pulls from, where God addresses others as ‘Elohim’ is proof of that, because other humans are addressed as gods. (There’s also the fact that there’s no definite article in front of ‘theos’ where the Jews say he’s claiming to be God, and thus the interpretation runs ‘You are claiming to be a god’).
When the fact that Jesus later prays that his disciples be as one just as he and his Father are one is added into the mix, then the “I and my Father are one” completely loses any Trinitarian support for me.
There’s adding what Paul defines as the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15: what he received was that Christ died for our sins, in according with the Tanakh, he was buried, he was raised on the third day in according with the Tanakh and was seen by Peter, the Twelve, more than 500 and him. Nowhere here is part of the ‘good news’ that God becoming flesh. There’s also the sense that given that Paul was Jewish, to go from a Unitarian God to a Trinitarian God should’ve been much more apparent in his letters, and flat-out stated, given that this is a big reason why the Jews regard Christianity as polytheistic (and they were willing to die for the belief in the one God – this is a striking change, and yet there’s nothing). But there’s not, and even in his prayers, he is praying to the Father through Jesus Christ, or directing his prayers to the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ – and yet in today’s churches, the prayers are directed to Jesus, not the Father.
There’s Acts, where what’s proclaimed in the second chapter is that Jesus was a man demonstrated to be from God, and such.
There was the sense from other Trinitarian verses that there were a multitude of explanations for them, many of which were simpler than the Trinity. All of this combined with my sense that the Trinity itself was incredibly vague, led me to do much research.
I’m currently in the process of reading The Divine Truth or Human Tradition? A Reconsideration of the Roman Catholic-Protestant Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? By Patrick Navas (not a Trinitarian, as one might guess), and he put into words why I was so unsettled after reading the New Testament for the first time.
Sola Scripture is essentially that all Christian beliefs and practices must stem directly from the Bible. The second coming does this. The resurrection does this. Jesus dying for sin does this – all are clearly and explicitly stated in the Bible.
The Trinity is not. That is what I found so unsettling about the New Testament. Take any concept of the Trinity and try and find it in the Bible: co-equal, same substance, God the Son, God Incarnate, Jesus as the second person of the Trinity, the Father as the first person of the Trinity, God-man and so on.
As one scholar say:
“As early as the 8th century, the theologian St. John of Damascus frankly admitted what every modern critical scholar of the New Testament now realizes; that neither the doctrine of the Trinity nor that of the two natures of Jesus Christ is explicitly set out in Scripture. In fact, if you take the record as it is and avoid reading back into it the dogmatic definitions of a latter age, you cannot find what is traditionally regarded as orthodox Christianity in the Bible at all.” -- Tom Harpur, For Christ’s Sake
Which is the situation I ended up in when reading the New Testament for the first time. And the book didn’t just quote from this scholar, but from all sorts of Trinitarian scholars who admitted that it is not clearly or explicitly taught in the Bible. He also went through the different ways in which the Trinitarian verses are interpreted, but many of them seem to re-write what the verses actually say, rather than letting the verses speak for themselves. The author himself offered interpretations that seemed simpler, honestly, and were along the lines of what I was already thinking before reading the book.
For example, everyone’s favorite: John 1
“When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was [Also translated as ‘the Word was God’ The Greek grammar gets fun here, in terms of the lack of definite article and such. I would advise looking up both viewpoints, as they’re too long to type here]. The Word, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be.”
First problem: how is God defined in this paragraph? When it says that the Word dwelt with God, God cannot refer to the Trinity, because the Word is considered part of the Trinity. So it must be God the Father. However, if it goes on to say that the Word was God, then ‘God’ used there can no longer refer to the Father, because the Word is not the Father. It can’t mean ‘trinity’ because the Word is not the Trinity. So it would be construed as the Word was ‘God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.’
However, the verse itself is no longer standing on its own. Outside qualifications have been applied, including the definition of ‘God’ changing between the two lines.
Second concept: God first created in Genesis, through speaking. “And God said, Let there be light.” This completely ties into God’s Word being at the beginning (of our concept of time, and thus at the beginning of the creation of this finite reality), because the first thing God did was speak, and through that Word, all was created.
Just for fun, another one from Philippians 2
“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” It goes onto say he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, humbled himself, obedient to the death and because of this, God exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, every tongue should confess he is Lord to the glory of the Father.
Okay, first – it does not say that at the name of Jesus, everyone worships Jesus. It says at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father. This gives the Father glory, which is why everyone is doing the action.
Second – the concept of form. I know Trinitarians often go with the idea of 'essence'. I disagree, because the word itself goes with outward appearance in the other circumstances. The verse also later says that the son takes the form of a slave – outward appearance. He never takes the ‘essence’ of a slave, but human likeness and appearance. The use of the word ‘form’ is supposed to build off each other, and thus remain consistent.
Third –When I first read this, I didn’t read it as Christ was equal with God, but rather Christ wasn’t going to grasp/seize/try and gain something not previously possessed in terms of equality – he was going to do what Adam did not do, which was grasp at the equality. The whole verse is basically about humility. Plus, if Christ is co-equal with God, then how can we have the same attitude as Christ? Considering ourselves co-equal is simply not done. The whole point of the same attitude is humility/obedience, and part of that is not seizing at equality with God.
Fourth – it simply says that Christ emptied himself. Emptied himself of what? Emptied himself to the point of humility, so that he didn’t seize/grasp equality with God?
Fifth – Christ and God are separate here. Christ is exalted precisely because of obedience, and thus God gave him a name above all other names. Why would any of this be necessary if Christ was already co-eternal? To me, the straightforward reading is that Christ was exalted because of his actions and obedience to God, and was not exalted prior.
If you gave someone who had no knowledge of Christianity, who was essentially a blank slate, a Bible, they would reach the conclusion of the second coming, and dying for sin, and the resurrection, and Jesus being the Son of God. What that person would not walk away with is any concept of the Trinity as understood today. The person may or may not reach the conclusion that Jesus is God, dependent on how they read the use of the word god in the Tanakh (as in, Moses is referred to as ‘elohim,’ the angels are referred to as ‘elohim’ other people in Psalms 82 as ‘elohim’). But shouldn’t the person be able to, if sola scripture is sufficient enough to reach all doctrines of Christianity? Shouldn’t the Trinity as it is just leap off the pages?
Note: I am fully aware of all the verses used to support the Trinity. Before anyone responds with one of those verses, asking how I would interpret it, I would ask that they either try to locate this book, or another book that deals with the concept of the Trinity from this viewpoint. Or look at the verses again, and see if there’s another possible interpretation behind them. Or just look at different Bibles, to see the variety of ways in which those verses were translated. If you have done so, and wish to comment, okay. But please indicate in your comment that you have an understanding of the alternative interpretation.