Common Trinitarian Arguments
The following statements represent some of the most popular claims we have heard from Trinitarians. (More coming soon)
Click on each claim to view our answer.
CLAIM: “Jesus had to be God to forgive sins”
ANSWER: The truth is that Jesus did not have to be God to forgive sins, he simply had to be given the authority to do so. As Jesus explained throughout the Gospels, God had done this very thing: “All authority has been given to me” (Matt 28:18). He informed his audience many times that the authority he carried originated not within himself, but in another: “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment” (John 12:49). Evidently, it was God giving Jesus the right to say and do what he did: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). Therefore, since “Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands” (John 13:3), he confidently forgave sins on earth and knew that they would also be forgiven in heaven with God.
Observe the story of the paralytic in the Gospels: In Mark chapter 2, Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. Christ’s enemies object saying, “Why does this man speak this way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Instead of simply saying, ‘That is correct. I am God,’ Jesus says the man will be healed “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v. 10). When the paralytic was healed, it validated Jesus’ claim, not to be God, but to indeed have the proper authority as the Son of Man (a human being). The Gospel verifies this with the crowd’s reaction: “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matt 9:8).
Of course, there are still those today who claim, like the Pharisees, that a man could not have the authority to forgive sins. However, there are also those who gladly recognize, like the crowd, that God has indeed bestowed this power on the man Jesus Christ. The popular argument that 'Jesus had to be God to forgive sins' unfortunately reflects an alignment with the opinion of Christ’s enemies, not with his followers.
Incredibly, we find that Jesus is not the only man who truly forgave people's sins; the Apostles were also given this authority. In John 20:23 the risen Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.' ” Just as God had given Christ authority, the Lord Jesus gave the disciples the same power: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:18). The loosing of sins by the Apostles on the earth would truly affect their pardon in heaven with God as well. These men did not have to be God to perform this, and neither did Jesus. They simply had to be given the right.
CLAIM: “Jesus is God because he performed miracles, even raising people from the dead”
ANSWER: We will answer this argument with a question-- Name this biblical figure: He raised the dead, had power over the waters, and miraculously multiplied loaves of bread to feed a crowd. The answer is… Elisha the prophet. Elisha raised a boy from the dead (2 Kings 4:32ff), parted the waters by striking them with a robe (2 Kings 2:14), and multiplied loaves of bread to feed a hungry multitude (2 Kings 4:42). Of course, Elisha wasn’t God. Neither were the disciples of Jesus who also raised the dead and did many other incredible miracles (Luke 9:1-2, Acts 2:43). In fact, Jesus told his disciples that all of his miracles weren’t anything that they couldn’t do themselves. He even expected his followers to do greater wonders than he did: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will also do; and greater works than these he will do...” (John 14:12).
Jesus actually denied personal authorship of his works many times, ascribing them to another: “the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10 KJV). He even explains that he has no ability himself: “By myself I can do nothing” (John 5:30), and “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself” (John 5:19). Of course, the doer of all these things was God, and God was not Jesus.
The Apostles explained after God raised Jesus from the dead, that it had always been God, working through a man, who performed these miracles: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). Others recognized that it was because God was with him, not because he was God, that all of these miracles were taking place at his hand. Nicodemus confessed: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). The message of the earliest Church was not that Jesus’ miracles were a testimony that he was God, rather, that they proved he was commissioned by God, that God was with him: “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the holy spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Without God’s anointing (bestowing) of power upon Jesus, he would have been unable to do anything on his own, and is therefore not the all-sufficient, Almighty God himself.
CLAIM: “Jesus had to be God to pay for mankind’s sins”
ANSWER: Curiously, while this is popular conjecture, it is rarely accompanied by Scriptural argument. This is because there is no verse in the Bible that says Jesus had to be God to atone for man’s sins. The Bible actually does make a requirement of the Messiah in this regard: that he had to be a man. Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every way… so that he might make propitiation for their sins.” When God created the Messiah, he did not make him an angel or any kind of supernatural being, but a real human being, just like his brothers. He could not have a God-nature, or an angel-nature, otherwise he would have ceased to be like his brothers in every way. Evidently, if he were fundamentally different from the rest of mankind, he would not qualify as a valid sacrifice or representative. Again, there is no verse that says 'only God could pay for mankind’s sins.' The Bible says quite the opposite:
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man… how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many… For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:12, 15, 19 NIV)
Furthermore, many Trinitarians say that on the cross, only the man nature died while the God-nature didn’t. This argument actually proves that only humanity needed to die to pay for humanity’s sins. This is the Biblical Unitarian position. Trinitarians who use this argument join us in demonstrating that Jesus did not have to be God to pay for our sins, since in their view, the God nature did not actually die to pay for them. We should seriously question any claim that "God died to pay for sins." The Bible says that God is immortal (1 Tim 6:16), meaning that whatever "death" is, God cannot do it. Orthodox Trinitarianism stipulates that the one person in Christ is the person of God; so if the person of God did not die, then we struggle to see how anyone really died on the cross in the Trinitarian system. The Bible never says that God died. Neither does it say that the person of the Son's abstract "human nature" died; the Bible says it was "the Son" that died himself (Romans 5:10). In God's eyes, this very human death of a very human person was sufficient for the atonement of human sins.
CLAIM: Jesus is God because he received “worship” in the New Testament
ANSWER: Many individuals are worshipped in the Bible; powerful men, kings, angels, and God all clearly receive “worship.” The Greek word for worship, proskuneo, and the Hebrew, shacah, both literally mean to bow down before or to prostrate oneself. Throughout the Bible the same words are used for both God and important figures who are not God. The idea that Jesus is God because he is "worshipped" has been assisted by the fact that many Trinitarian translations of the Bible suffer from a theological bias which causes them to translate the word proskuneo as “worship” only when used of God or Jesus, but as “bow down” when used of other men.
The truth is that both God and men were "worshipped" in the Bible, though they were evidently not all worshipped, or paid homage, in the same way or to the same degree.
In the ancient cultures of the Bible, "worshipping" before someone was a common way of demonstrating respect and adoration, and was not reserved only for God. When the King James Version translators encountered the Greek word proskuneo in the year 1611, they correctly chose the word “worship,” which was still a commonly used honorific for men in their own day. Today however, the word “worship” has been transformed into a particular sort of religious homage reserved for God alone. Despite the change in meaning, when proskuneo is used of God or Jesus, many Trinitarian translators return to the KJV’s outdated rendering because it appears to support their theology, and their belief that only God can receive worship. One scholar recognizes that many popular translations “revert to the KJV’s ‘worship’ inappropriately.” This is done “under the pressure of theological bias… the translators seem to feel the need to add to the New Testament support for the idea that Jesus was recognized to be God” (Dr. Jason BeDuhn, Truth in Translation, p. 44).
For example, when the biased translators find the word proskuneo used towards a rich man (Matt 18:26), they render it “bowed down.” When the same word is used towards Jesus, they render it “worshipped” (Matt 2:11). In Revelation 3:9, Jesus says the he will make the wicked come and “worship” at the feet of Christians (KJV). Of course, modern Trinitarians translate this as “bow down” (NASB), since they believe worship should only be given to God. Yet we find in the Bible that the people of Israel themselves are to be “worshipped” and even prayed to by their enemies (Isaiah 45:14). Abraham also “worships/bows before” the people of the land (Gen 23:7), as well as God (Gen 22:5). Despite the current meaning now given to the word "worship", the activity it describes in the Bible was not reserved for God alone.
To “bow down,” “pay homage to,” or “worship,” the man Jesus is therefore right and biblical if he is not worshipped “as God.” The Son of God, the Lord Messiah, should be honored as the rightful King of Israel alongside of the Father, who is the only true God (John 17:3). We argue this has always been the case for God’s chosen king. In the Old Testament, King David was worshipped alongside of God: “And all the congregation blessed the LORD God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the LORD, and the king" (1 Chron 29:20 KJV).
We therefore honor or bow before the Lord Jesus as the exalted King of Israel, but not as God. That particular honor is reserved for the Father alone.
CLAIM: “Jesus is God because his name means ‘God with us’ ”
ANSWER: This claim refers to a special name given to Jesus at his birth: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23 KJV). It is important to note that this name can also be translated “God is with us,” as several popular translations have rendered it. This name, like many Hebrew names, is figurative. For example, Peter is given the name “rock” by Jesus in Matthew 16:18, not because Peter is a rock, but because of the foundational testimony about Christ that Peter gave. This name “Emmanuel” was given to the Messiah as a sign to God’s people that he had not forgotten them or his promise to Abraham, and to describe the presence of God that would be with Israel through his Son.
The prophecy about this name is originally found in Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” This prophecy was given to Israel in a time of great distress, when foreign enemies had completely surrounded her (Isaiah 7:2). In the midst of this trouble, God was sending a message to his people that he had not forgotten them.
When the Messiah was born, Israel was once again in a dark period of oppression from foreign powers, namely, the Roman occupation. In this difficult time, God provided the sign: “God is with us!” After Mary learned of the coming child to be called Emmanuel, she immediately sang a song which reflects the understanding that the name was given as symbol that God had remembered his promise to the children of Abraham: “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors” (Luke 1: 54-55 NIV). After the child’s birth, he was taken to Zechariah who also recognized that it proved God had remembered to bring “salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies” (Luke 1:71-74). Indeed, God had not forgotten them. He would now come near to them through the word and work of his beloved Son.
The Bible says that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), even his “exact representation” (Heb 1:3). Indeed, Jesus so perfectly demonstrated the character and power of God, that it could be said: “The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me” (John 12:45 NIV). Jesus explained that he did nothing in and of himself (John 5:30), but instead “the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10 KJV). Paul agrees in 2 Corinthians 5:19 “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” Note that it does not say God was Christ. Instead, God was in him (John 14:10), and with him (Acts 10:38), and working through him (Acts 2:22). Jesus does not have to be God himself to manifest God among us. Through his beloved Son, his appointed representative, God came to his people to provide them with hope and salvation.
CLAIM: “The Hebrew word for God (elohim) shows a distinction in the Godhead”
ANSWER: Some Trinitarians have said that the Hebrew word for God, elohim, which carries the plural ending “im”, denotes the existence of more than one person in the Godhead. But does the plural form of the word elohim (translated in English as God, god, or gods) really require a plurality of gods, or that the God of the Bible is himself made up of more than one personality? To make such an inference, without doubt, is to overstep the bounds of Scripture. As a respected Trinitarian scholar affirms, “To conclude a plurality of persons from the name itself is dubious" (Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, 1999. p. 58).
While elohim is used in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to multiple divine beings (Jer. 25:6), it also is used of divine beings that are singular in number. The Philistine god Dagon, who was not a trinity, is called elohim: “His hand is severe on us and on Dagon our god (elohim)” (1 Sam 5:7). (See: Souvay, Charles. "Dagon." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.)
Elohim is not the only noun in Hebrew that can exist in plural form but carry a singular meaning. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar presents several examples: “zequim” (זְקֻנִ֖ים)– “old age” (Gen 44:20), “panim” (פָּנִים) – “face” (Num 6:25), and “ne’urim” (נְּעוּרִֽים) – “youth” (Psalm 127:4). These words all carry the plural ending “im” but describe singular subjects. We understand the meaning of these rare plural forms by the singular adjectives which surround them. Speaking specifically about elohim, Gesenius comments: “The language has entirely rejected the idea of numerical plurality in 'elohim’ (whenever it denotes one God).... [This] is proved especially by its being almost invariably joined with a singular attribute" (Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910. p.398-399.)
"Elohim" cannot be taken out of its context and be expected to retain the writer’s intended meaning. The strict unity of the one God, not the plurality, has always been the hallmark of the biblical Deity (Deut 4:35, Deut 6:4, Mark 12:29, Gal. 3:20, etc).
CLAIM: “Sincere people have believed it for centuries, they couldn’t all have been wrong”
Answer: Jesus warned his followers: "enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matt 7:13-14).
There have been many sincere followers of every religion known to man. Today there are roughly 1 billion Hindus, and Hinduism often said to be one of the oldest religions in the world. Of course, the excess of time or numbers in no way guarantees truth. Historically, many beliefs about science and medicine have been endorsed and mandated by the Catholic church, and their places in accepted "orthodoxy" were maintained for centuries before brave individuals arose to challenge the status quo. If you are a Protestant, imagining how the Christian majority could be wrong about dogma should be easy; Protestants already believe that the Catholic Church led millions of faitful believers astray for ages. We should not forget that at one point, even the great Reformers were a radical and extreme minority, and still are a minority compared to the RCC.
Our responsiblity is not to worry about whether our denominational forerunners were correct or not, but to make sure that we ourselves are on the right track and moving forward to help others here and now. Jesus is not as concerned with what "the people" think as he is with what you believe. He asked his disciples: "Who do the people say that I am?" And after they'd provided a variety of answers, Jesus narrowed his question: "Who do YOU say that I am?" This is the intensely personal question that Jesus is asking everyone. We would do well to make sure our answer aligns with Peter's: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matt 16:15). It is this precise answer alone which Jesus endorsed as being revealed by God (v. 17).
For Christians, we must always make sure our beliefs are in keeping with the Messiah's teaching, not with the majority opinion. Our number one question should be: "What did Jesus believe? What did he say?" The Jewish Shema of Deut 6:4 was revealed as the personal creed of Christ in his dialouge with a Jewish scribe, as he told the man that the greatest commandment is to "Hear O Israel, the YHWH is our God, YHWH is one Lord" (Mark 12:29). According to Jesus this is the proper foundation for our understanding about God; it is not a matter of sincerity, but accuracy, obedience, and submission to the teachings of Christ. Jesus taught that his followers should not only know God, but himself as well. In John 14:1 he says: "believe in God, believe also in me." In fact, we are told by Jesus in John 17:3 that eternal life is knowing the Father as the only true God and knowing Jesus as His Messiah and apostle (this sentiment is echoed throughout the New Testament: John 14:1, 1 Cor 8:6, 1 Tim 2:5). That God is one, and that Jesus is the one God's Messiah, are the simple and foundational articles which must comprise the framework of our faith.
Jesus taught that God was looking for the true worshippers who would worship the Father "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24). That sincerity is not enough is nowhere clearer than in Jesus' warning in Matt 7:21-23: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’" The will of God is, of course, to believe in Jesus and his message (John 6:29; John 8:31). Despite any cost to our reputation or relationships, the truth offered by Jesus must be counted as our greatest treasure.