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Gospel Disproofs #7: Counting heads

The doctrine of the Trinity is a rich source of gospel disproofs, due to the inherently self-contradictory nature of the doctrine. For today’s installment, I’ll just pick one of the problems: counting the number of persons in the Godhead. According to the official doctrine of the Church, there is only one God, and this singular God consists of three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christians repeat this doctrine to each other and to their children over and over until they can believe it without even thinking, but if you do stop and think, you’ll realize this notion has some major pronoun problems.

The problem is that in the Bible, God is routinely referred to as a Him, third person singular. According to the doctrine of the Trinity, however, God is not a Him, He is a Them. That is, God is not a Person (singular), He is three Persons (plural), which means that it is wrong to refer to Him as a Him. What’s more, God Himself is mistaken when He refers to Himself as “I”, because the Trinity makes God into a “We,” due to the plural persons involved. To refer to Himself as “I” is for one of the Persons to make a distinction between Himself and the other two Persons (because the Trinity requires keeping the 3 persons distinct).

This is a problem, because God is said to have used the pronoun “I” in Isaiah 45:5-6.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other;
Besides Me there is no God.
I will gird you, though you have not known Me;
That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
That there is no one besides Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other…

Is this the Father saying there is no other besides Himself? Or is the Son making that distinctive claim? Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit? One of them claims to be the only God, and He distinguishes Himself from the other two by using the first-person-singular pronouns “I” and “Me,” so there’s at least one person in the Godhead Who believes Himself to possess a unique deity that no one else has.

Two possible solutions might be proposed to this problem. One would be to simply ignore it, as a lot of Christians do. “The Trinity is a mystery,” they say, and by that they mean that it cannot be understood by men, so we should just overlook the problems. Great line for a con man to use, isn’t it? “Your story contradicts itself!” “Oh well, that’s ok, it’s a mystery, so the problems don’t count.” Sweet, automatic gullibility.

The other possibility is to try and say that when God says “I”, He is referring to the singularity of monotheism, not to the number of actual Persons who are God. Unfortunately, this approach reduces Isaiah 45 to mere babble. The whole point is to deny the plurality of Gods, but if by that we really mean that multiple Persons are divine, we’ve changed the concept of “God” from being an individual, singular Person Who can call Himself “I,” to a collective category of multiple Persons, each of Whom is equally God. But that’s polytheism: the idea that divinity is a characteristic shared by multiple distinct divine persons. Trinitarian monotheism becomes the idea that there is only one “race” of gods, which is hardly a denial of polytheism.

It’s an unsolvable problem. After literally thousands of years of referring to God as a (singular) Person, Christians can’t break the habit of believing that God is a person (singular). Even after the Church officially declared that God was three Persons, Christians still think of Him as one Person, and refer to Him in the singular. According to Trinitarian teaching, that’s a miscount, and a denial of orthodoxy. The “personal God” of evangelical Christianity is not really a person. And it was the Church that decided He wasn’t—in order to make Jesus part of the Godhead too.

Comments

  1. sumdum says

    I thought there was actually very little support for the trinity concept in the first place? Wasn’t one of the key verses a later addition or misstranslation or something like that?

  2. mikespeir says

    It seems to be kind-of a hive mentality. Not to get too theological, but are individual Borg units distinct persons? Inquiring minds are hungry to know!

  3. Kaintukee Bob says

    When I was christian, I resolved it thusly: Prior to the birth of Jesus, there was God (singular). Pursuant, there was God and Jesus, a physical aspect of the deity, possessing limited knowledge thereof and able to directly commune to request knowledge or miracles which were beyond him. Upon death (or 40 days after rising, whichever) Jesus ceased to exist, and became the Holy Spirit.

    The Holy Spirit is the term for an aspect of God upon the Earth, acting directly.

    At that point, I simply stopped thinking. Now, it seems like a pretty big load to choke down.

      • Kaintukee Bob says

        In the old days, I would have been Catholic, and would have been indoctrinated by them instead of Protestants :-P

  4. CJO says

    I thought there was actually very little support for the trinity concept in the first place? Wasn’t one of the key verses a later addition or misstranslation or something like that?

    1 John 5:7 (the epistle, not the gospel) is definitely an interpolation, as it appears in no Greek manuscripts and is a minority reading even in the Latin maqnuscripts. And while there’s no manuscript evidence for Matthew 28:19 (“The Great Commission”) being an interpolation, the wording is unique in the gospels and is nearly word for word the earliest Trinitarian formulation found in the Nicene Creed. There are no manuscripts before the 3rd century, so if it was inserted it would have been early in the history of Trinitarianism, but it could easily still be an interpolation. If the original reading was just “baptize in the name of the Father” it would have looked like a pretty glaring omission to a proto-Trinitarian scribe, as the first development toward Trinitarianism was the identification of Jesus with God, already well under way with the final redaction of the gospem of John (if not the earlier versions) c. 120 CE.

  5. round guy says

    Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness Genesis 1:26

    When I was a Christian I had someone tell me this verse hinted at the trinity. I tried to accept that flimsy bit of evidence but soon admitted to myself the whole thing was just a bunch of crap.

  6. Tige Gibson says

    The Trinity is a rationalization (excuse) for assigning Jesus deity when there is already One God, while disarming the accusation of convenience, because two would have looked suspicious.

    The context can only be understood as a group of men arguing, and the resultant doctrine, decided by men, is one which appeases as many of the different sects as possible. At the time, the Gnostics were still significant and the need existed to settle the question of whether Jesus existed physically or spiritually. Christians have always had psychotic nutcases, impossible to satisfy extremists, in their midst. Conciliatory doctrines were added even though those sects would never accept them. Once those voices were wiped out there was no longer any motivation behind these doctrines, but the doctrines can’t simply be tossed out. Obviously people have forgotten why.

    Much like today, with accommodationists trying to get fundamentalist Christians and really everyone else to agree on something. There has never been a possibility of settling with extremists. It is irrelevant what terms we might be willing to agree to or what doctrines we might be willing to accept because in the end, the extremists have an unwavering dictate from God. Their only condition is for us to accept their view outright and they hold us at gunpoint waiting.

  7. prochoice says

    I have forgotten which of the gospel writers (or was it Paul in one of the epistles?) slanders the heathens, who believe in 3 goddesses who are one.
    But the Maid, the Mother and the Hag are the stages of womanhood, hinting to rebirth (which also might be a symbol for hereditary traits people of old could watch) and if one knows that it is about symbols, Wiccan (trying to re-create erased prechristian wisdom) ideas make some sense.
    In Comment 3, mikespeir described the mental technique how these tales and symbols evolved through time and culture – until the book religions began their bloody justification of violence.

    I do not know whether it is sad that it is necessary to debunk concepts like “trinity”, or I should be glad that we are no longer burned on the stake for using our little heads.

  8. sunsangnim says

    It’s 3, 3 gods in 1!

    As Mitch Hedberg once said,
    “2 in 1 shampoo… 2 in 1 is a bullshit term, because 1 is not big enough to hold 2. That’s why 2 was created. If it was 2 in 1, it would be overflowing… the bottle would be all sticky and shit.”

    Thus sayeth a drugged up stand-up comedian who had a lot more sense than any of the theologians who wrote the Bible or interpreted it.

  9. says

    The Trinity was explained to me in Sunday school like the states of water: liquid, solid, and gas. The thing about being God is that the One can be in three different states at the same time, because He is God. It made perfect sense to a kid who still believed in Santa.

  10. Gregory says

    First off, I feel the need to be clear: the doctrine is a crock, but we can at least point to the correct crock.

    Part of the problem is that the theology was written in Greek, not English, and that the terminology came with a very large body of Roman and neoClassical philosophy that is not commonly taught nowadays. Properly, the doctrine of the Trinity says that there are three hypostases in one ousia.

    Hypostasis has had a number of definitions; the one used by early Church theologians meant the distinct, core characteristics that survived change, its identity. Translated into Roman philosophy, hypostasis is very similar to substantia, which is used with forma to define the central doctrines of the sacraments.

    Ousia is a very ancient philosophical principle, derived from the feminine present participle of the verb “to be” and thus translatable into English as “(her) existence.” It is used very widely in a lot of different contexts; the one used by early theologians had the sense of something that existed as a complete entity. This unity of existence is why God is referred to in the singular rather than the plural: one ousia means one being.

    So saying that the Trinity is “Three in One” is an error, although a very common one. The theology actually says that there are three identities that share a single existence.

    Adding to the confusion is the theology of “hypostatic union,” which states that the Son actually has two hypostases, one that is human and one that is divine. In other words, there are actually FOUR hypostases: the Father, the Human Son, the Divine Son and the Holy Spirit.

    Still nonsense, but at least we can laugh at the right nonsense.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Right, and in particular if you use that terminology, you still come up with the conclusion that God is not a hypostasis (an unchanging identity) but is in fact three hypostases, which isn’t really less of a problem than calling Him (er, Them) three Persons.

  11. says

    The trinity never bothered me overmuch, and it doesn’t strike me as the most telling blow against Christianity. What I grew up believing was a metaphor described by the [later-disgraced] comedian/preacher Mike Warnke…

    “All you have to do to understand the Trinity is to contemplate cherry pie. Now, with good cherry pie, the filling is supposed to stay runny. You can cut that pie and the filling is just going to flow right around the knife so that when you serve it you have to flip it out of the pan really quick. Now, God says “you can divide my crust, because I know you can’t take me all at once, as long as you understand that I’m still One God.”

    It’s all just doublethink, but it’s relatively modest doublethink. I don’t think the argument will get much traction.

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