What Do Scholars Say About the Trinity?

It is customary for students of the Bible to refer to Jesus as God and to insist that belief in a Trinity of three co-equal, co-eternal Persons in the One God is the hallmark of true faith.  Many recognized Bible scholars do not think, however, that Jesus is called God, in a Trinitarian sense, in the Scriptures.  Distinguished experts on the Bible, past and present, maintain that the doctrine of a Tri-personal God is nowhere taught in Scripture.

Is the Trinity in the New Testament?

  • "No Apostle would have dreamed of thinking that there are three divine Persons" (Emil Brunner, Christian Doctrine of God, Dogmatics, Vol. 1, p. 226).
  • "Theologians agree that the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity" (Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 15, p. 54).
  • "The New Testament writers...give us no formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, no explicit teaching that in one God there are three equal divine persons.... Nowhere do we find any Trinitarian doctrine of three distinct subjects of divine life and activity in the same Godhead" (Fortman, The Triune God, pp. xv, xvi, 16).
  • "Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament" (The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 1985, Vol. 11, p. 928).
  • "As far as the New Testament is concerned one does not find in it an actual doctrine of the Trinity" (Bernard Lohse, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966, p. 38).
  • "The New Testament does not contain the developed doctrine of the Trinity" (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, Zondervan, 1976, Vol. 2, p. 84).
  • "The Bible lacks the express declaration that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are of equal essence" (Karl Barth, cited in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, above).
  • "Jesus Christ never mentioned such a phenomenon, and nowhere in the New Testament does the word Trinity appear. The idea was only adopted by the Church three hundred years after the death of our Lord" (Arthur Weigall, The Paganism in our Christianity, G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1928, p. 198).
  • "Primitive Christianity did not have an explicit doctrine of the Trinity such as was subsequently elaborated in the creeds" (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2, p. 84).
  • "The early Christians, however, did not at first think of applying the TRINITY idea to their own faith. They paid their devotions to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and they recognized the...Holy Spirit; but there was no thought of these three being an actual Trinity, coequal and united in One" (Arthur Weigall, The Paganism in Our Christianity, p. 197).
  • "At first the Christian faith was not Trinitarian…It was not so in the apostolic and sub-apostolic ages, as reflected in the New Testament and other early Christian writings" (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings, 1922, Vol. 12, p. 461).
  • "The formulation ‘One God in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century.... Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective" (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. 14, p. 299).
  • "Fourth-century Trinitarianism did not reflect accurately early Christian teaching regarding the nature of God; it was, on the contrary a deviation from this teaching" (The Encyclopedia Americana, p. 1956, p. 2941).
  • "The New Testament gives no inkling of the teaching of Chalcedon. That council not only reformulated in other language the New Testament data about Jesus’ constitution, but also reconceptualized it in the light of the current Greek philosophical thinking. And that reconceptualization and reformulation go well beyond the New Testament data" (A Christological Catechism, Paulist Press, p. 102).\

Is Jesus God?

Jesus never said "I am God."  He always claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God.

  • "Jesus is not God but God’s representative, and, as such, so completely and totally acts on God’s behalf that he stands in God’s stead before the world…The gospel [of John] clearly states that God and Jesus are not to be understood as identical persons, as in 14:28, ‘the Father is greater than I’" (Jacob Jervell, Jesus in the Gospel of John, 1984, p. 21).
  • "Apparently Paul did not call Jesus God" (Sydney Cave, D.D., Doctrine of the Person of Christ, p. 48).
  • "Paul habitually differentiates Christ from God" (C.J. Cadoux, A Pilgrim’s Further Progress, pp. 40, 42).
  • "Paul never equates Jesus with God" (W.R. Matthews, The Problem of Christ in the 20th Century, Maurice Lectures, 1949, p. 22).
  • "Paul never gives to Christ the name or description of ‘God’" (Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, Vol. 1, p. 194).
  • "When the New Testament writers speak of Jesus Christ, they do not speak of Him nor do they think of Him as God" (J.M. Creed, The Divinity of Jesus Christ, pp. 122-123).
  • "Karl Rahner [leading Roman Catholic spokesman] points out with so much emphasis that the Son in the New Testament is never described as ‘ho theos’ [the one God]" (A.T. Hanson, Grace and Truth, p. 66).
  • "The clear evidence of John is that Jesus refuses the claim to be God…Jesus vigorously denied the blasphemy of being God or His substitute" (J.A.T. Robinson, Twelve More New Testament Studies, pp. 175, 176).
  • "In his post-resurrection heavenly life, Jesus is portrayed as retaining a personal individuality every bit as distinct and separate from the person of God as was his in his life on earth as the terrestrial Jesus. Alongside God and compared with God, he appears, indeed, as yet another heavenly being in God’s heavenly court, just as the angels were — though as God’s Son, he stands in a different category, and ranks far above them" (Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 1967-68, Vol. 50, p. 258).
  • "What, however, is said of his life and functions as the celestial Christ neither means nor implies that in divine status he stands on a par with God Himself and is fully God. On the contrary, in the New Testament picture of his heavenly person and ministry we behold a figure both separate from and subordinate to God" (Ibid., pp. 258, 259).
  • "The fact has to be faced that New Testament research over, say, the last thirty or forty years has been leading an increasing number of reputable New Testament scholars to the conclusion that Jesus...certainly never believed himself to be God" (Ibid., p. 251).
  • "When [first-century Christians] assigned Jesus such honorific titles as Christ, Son of Man, Son of God and Lord, these were ways of saying not that he was God but that he did God’s work" (Ibid., p. 250).
  • "The ancients made a wrong use of [John 10:30, "I and the Father are one"] to prove that Christ is...of the same essence with the Father. For Christ does not argue about the unity of substance, but about the agreement that he has with the Father" (John Calvin, Commentary on John).
  • "The Pauline Christ who accomplishes the work of salvation is a personality who is both human and superhuman, not God, but the Son of God. Here the idea, which was to develop later, of the union of the two natures is not present" (Maurice Goguel, Jesus and the Origins of Christianity, Harper, 1960).
  • "Jesus is never identified simpliciter [absolutely] with God, since the early Christians were not likely to confuse Jesus with God the Father" (Howard Marshall, "Jesus as Lord: The Development of the Concept," in Eschatology in the New Testament, Hendrickson, p. 144).

Is the Holy Spirit a Third Person?

It is completely misleading to read into the Bible a third Person, the Holy Spirit. "The spirit of Elijah" (Luke 1:17) is not a different person from Elijah. Nor is "the Spirit of God" a different person from the Father. The Holy Spirit is the operational presence of the mind and influence of God as well as His character. It is God extended to His creation.

  • "Although this spirit is often described in personal terms, it seems quite clear that the sacred writers [of the Hebrew Scriptures] never conceived or presented this spirit as a distinct person" (Edmund Fortman, The Triune God, p. 9).
  • "Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find any clear indication of a Third Person" (The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912, Vol. 15, p. 49).
  • "The Jews never regarded the spirit as a person; nor is there any solid evidence that any Old Testament writer held this view…The Holy Spirit is usually presented in the Synoptic gospels (Matt., Mark, Luke) and in Acts as a divine force or power" (Edmund Fortman, The Triune God, pp. 6, 15).
  • "The Old Testament clearly does not envisage God’s spirit as a person…God’s spirit is simply God’s power. If it is sometimes represented as being distinct from God, it is because the breath of Yahweh acts exteriorly…The majority of New Testament texts reveal God’s spirit as something, not someone; this is especially seen in the parallelism between the spirit and the power of God" (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. 13, pp. 574, 575).
  • "On the whole the New Testament, like the Old, speaks of the spirit as a divine energy or power" (W.E. Addis and Thomas Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary, 1960, p. 810).
  • "The third Person was asserted at a Council of Alexandria in 362...and finally by the Council of Constantinople of 381" (A Catholic Dictionary, p. 812).
  • "[Matt. 28:19] proves only that there are the three subjects named,...but it does not prove, by itself, that all the three belong necessarily to the divine nature, and possess equal divine honor…This text, taken by itself, would not prove decisively either the personality of the three subjects mentioned, or their equality or divinity" (McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature, 1987, Vol. X, p. 552).

Is the Trinity in the Old Testament?

  • "There is in the Old Testament no indication of distinctions in the Godhead; it is an anachronism to find either the doctrine of the Incarnation or that of the Trinity in its pages" ("God," Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 6, p. 254).
  • "Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity" (The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987, Vol. 15, p. 54).
  • "The doctrine of the Trinity is not taught in the Old Testament" (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. XIV, p. 306).
  • "The Old Testament tells us nothing explicitly or by necessary implication of a Triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.... There is no evidence that any sacred writer even suspected the existence of a [Trinity] within the Godhead.... Even to see in the Old Testament suggestions or foreshadowings or ‘veiled signs’ of the Trinity of persons, is to go beyond the words and intent of the sacred writers" (Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune God, Baker Book House, 1972, pp. xv, 8, 9).
  • "The Old Testament is strictly monotheistic. God is a single personal being. The idea that a Trinity is to be found there is utterly without foundation." (L.L. Paine, A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism, Houghton Mifflin and Co, 1900.)
  • "There is no break between the Old Testament and the New. The monotheistic tradition is continued. Jesus was a Jew, trained by Jewish parents in the Old Testament scriptures. His teaching was Jewish to the core; a new gospel indeed but not a new theology…And he accepted as his own belief the great text of Jewish monotheism: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God" (L.L. Paine, A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism, Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1900, p. 4).
  • "The Old Testament can scarcely be used as authority for the existence of distinctions within the Godhead. The use of ‘us’ by the divine speaker (Gen. 1:26, 3:32, 11:7) is strange, but it is perhaps due to His consciousness of being surrounded by other beings of a loftier order than men (Isa. 6:8)" (A.B. Davidson, "God," Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. II, p. 205).
  • "From Philo onward, Jewish commentators have generally held that the plural [Gen. 1:26, ‘Let us make man....’] is used because God is addressing his heavenly court, i.e., the angels (cf. Isa. 6:8). [This is also the explanation given by the NIV Study Bible] From the Epistle of Barnabas and Justin Martyr, who saw the plural as a reference to Christ, Christians have traditionally seen this verse as foreshadowing the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author" (Gordon Wenham, Word Commentary on Genesis, p. 27).


compiled by Anthony Buzzard, originally posted at focusonthekingdom.org

  • References
    1. Anthony Buzzard, Restoration Fellowship, http://focusonthekingdom.org/articles/trinity.htm