Monday, May 9, 2011

The Absurd (and Unbiblical) Trinity

Borromean rings are sometimes
used to symbolize the trinity.
The idea that God is "triune," or "three in one," is one of the strangest doctrines of the Christian faith. It states that there exist three separate "persons"—the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit—who are simultaneously a single being, God. The three beings are equal in power, and although they play different roles within Christianity, they have identical "nature" and "substance."

Christians are very particular about this dogma. It's not that there are three gods, they insist—that's tritheism. Nor that there is simply a single god—that's unitarianism. Nor that the three persons are simply aspects of a single god—that's modalism. And it's not that the Son is a "son" in the sense that of being created by the Father—that's Arianism. Nor that Jesus wasn't fully human in addition to being fully divine—that's docetism. All of these views, along with many others, are seen by mainstream Christians as heretical.

Not only does the doctrine sound strange, it's also not explicitly stated anywhere in the Bible. Nowhere do the scriptures use a term like "trinity," and nowhere does they say anything like "God consists of three persons: Father, Son and Spirit." Instead, theologians have inferred this by piecing together verses throughout the Bible. One would think that if trinitarianism were true, God would simply say so instead of beating around the bush. The mere existence of the Comma Johanneum suggests that the trinity is nowhere to be found in scripture:
"For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one." (1 John 5:7-8)
The italicized phrase was not part of the original text. It's a later interpolation; we know because it's not found in any of the early manuscripts, and the early Church fathers only used the text immediately surrounding it when trying to prove the doctrine of the trinity. The very fact that someone felt they had to add to the Bible to substantiate this doctrine implies that it wasn't all that evident to begin with.

To be fair, there are certainly verses that support this concept—for instance, Jesus says in John 10:30 that "I and the Father are one." However, there are also many verses that seem to explicitly go against the concepts associated with the trinity. For example:
The different persons of God want different things and have different knowledge. One is in some way inferior to another, and the power of one stems from another. One doesn't even seem to be a "person" at all. It's not looking good for the trinity based on the Bible alone. There's better support for the "seven Spirits of God" (whatever those might be) than there is for a triune deity.

Pictured: the trinity.
Not pictured: logic.
Even if the Bible supported the trinity, though, the concept would still be incoherent. First, terms used to refer to the trinity, such as "person" and "nature," seem to be poorly defined. In what sense are the "persons" different if they share identical "natures"? And second, Christians generally accept that, for instance, God can't create a rock so large that he can't lift it—that would be not just physically but logically impossible. Yet then they turn right around and say that the Father, Son and Spirit are numerically identical with God but not with each other. This is a direct violation of the transitive property (e.g. if a=b & b=c, then a=c), and is just as logically impossible as the rock-lifting example.

Christians will point and laugh at the strange beliefs of other religions, even as they take their own for granted. I did it myself for all too long. Yes, the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha is patently ridiculous, and I certainly have no qualms with identifying it as such—but Christians ought to take a look at the plank in their own eye as well.

10 comments:

  1. Tim,

    Me Catholic, you atheist.

    I too am seeking what you call

    "some useful insight into both the power and the limitations of the human mind..."

    Thanks for helping me with the post!

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  2. No problem! Best of luck to you; I hope you find what you're looking for.

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  3. Hi Tim,

    I came across your blog while searching for "Trinity" diagrams.

    "My Reasons for Leaving Christianity" is an interesting subtitle. I realize if you've "left" Christianity, then Scripture is not your authority, and you are more familiar with the Bible than most Christians, but consider the following verse:

    1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

    My prayer for you is not that you will return to "Christianity", but that you will one day be converted by God's Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ to become a Christian.

    Sorry if this comment is unwelcome, and I understand if it doesn't get posted. I realize I have likely overstepped my bounds for "guest comments" on someone else's blog, and I'm not one to leave comments normally. For whatever reason, I feel compelled to write to you. If you care to discuss anything with me elsewhere, my blog is dozierdon.blogspot.com

    Don D.

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  4. Don,

    It's funny you should say that! I actually have a post on that very topic.

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  5. Thanks for directing me to your post Tim.

    I've heard Dan Barker in debates and am quite familiar with his story, as well as others like him. Rather than being true atheists who say "there is no God", most people like Dan are really agnostics, or they still know in their hearts He exists, but are saying "No, God!" In other words, by "saying" you no longer believe, you can then free yourself to live as your desires dictate, without having to answer to anyone (or any God). As soon as someone admits God exists, they also realize they are subject to Him. And they don't want to be subject to anyone, because "sin is fun"...but for a season!

    I would like to have more dialogue with you via email, this blog, my blog, or some other venue in the future if you like. If not, I'll let this, my second comment, be my last contact with you.

    Take care,
    Don

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  6. Don,

    It seems to me that we're at an impasse. If I could let you look inside my head to show you that my former belief and current nonbelief are sincere, I would. But I can't.

    All I can do is give you an analogy. Imagine if someone claimed that you and others like you secretly realize that the Hindu god Ganesha exists, but you're actively rebelling against him because you don't want to acknowledge his power over you. Wouldn't you find that patently absurd, and perhaps even a little insulting? That's how atheists feel when you make those kinds of claims about us.

    You've made a very strong claim—that you know what's in the heads of people around you better than they themselves do—with no evidence to back it up. You've made a claim that's ridiculous, annoying, and has an extremely low probability of being true. So even in the overwhelmingly unlikely event that you happened to be right, I would refrain from saying things like that to people in the future. It accomplishes nothing except to alienate those you're reaching out to.

    I know you mean well, so I don't really take offense, but that's my advice to you. I hope you take it to heart.

    —Tim

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  7. Fair enough, but just know that as a Christian, I can never "refrain from saying things like that", out of love and concern for people's eternal souls. Consider the words of one of your fellow atheists, Penn Jillette...

    . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you -- there is a certain point where I tackle you -- and this is more important than that." Penn Jillette (atheist -- Penn and Teller).

    above quote from:

    http://raycomfortfood.blogspot.com/

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  8. I understand that you're concerned about people going to hell. I'm not necessarily telling you that you should stop preaching about salvation. What I'm saying is that the way you're going about it is terrible. Telling people that they're just rebelling against God, when they themselves know perfectly well that's not the reason for their unbelief, is an instant turn-off.

    ...Jeez, I can't believe I have to tell evangelical Christians how to evangelize. On second thought, I don't want Christianity to grow anyway, so maybe it's in my best interest to tell you to continue in your current approach. Just keep doing what you're doing, Don. ;)

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  9. :)

    Thanks Tim,

    I would love to keep responding back and forth with ya, but its your blog, and I'm a "guest", and I appreciate you allowing me the space on your comments thread!

    Don

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  10. I can't believe Don showed you a site with Ray Comfort on it. Ray Comofort prefers to make fun of atheists and people who don't agree with him. For a better website and a safer exploration of the Christian faith, I would recommend:
    http://arewomenhuman.me/2011/03/29/mark-driscoll-is-not-god/

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