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11. Further Reflections on Trinitarianism

Chapter 11

Further Reflections on Trinitarianism

My earlier book, The Only True God, dealt with the subject of biblical monotheism, and for the most part in contradistinction to trinitarianism. Much of what I have to say about trinitarianism has already been covered in that book and in the earlier chapters of the present book, notably those on the four pillars of trinitarianism. In this chapter, I reflect on a few more things about trinitarian teaching.

How long did it take for the church to move from true monotheism to pagan polytheism?

Scholars speak of the “parting of the ways” between the church and Judaism as being around A.D.135, that is, around the time of Bar Kochba’s failed revolt against Roman rule, a tragic uprising that had received the blessing of the famous rabbi Akiba. But this “parting of the ways” is basically a historically convenient way of referring to the separation of the church from Judaism, the tragic result of which was that the church would soon lose its connection to its Jewish roots, notably the Jewish commitment to monotheism.

But well before that separation, pagan polytheism had already begun to influence the message of the gospel almost as soon as the gospel had landed on pagan soil. Early signs of this process is seen in the book of Acts. In the early stages of their gospel ministry, Paul and Barnabas were adhering to the principle of “to the Jews first”. But when the Jews rejected their message, they declared to them that from then on, they will proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (13:46). Yet in 14:1 we find them preaching to the Jews again, this time in a synagogue in Iconium. Their preaching elicited such hostility from both Jews and Gentiles that Paul and Barnabas had to flee to Lystra (14:5-6). There in Lystra, Paul healed a man who had been lame from birth (v.10). The healing drew the attention of the people but not the kind that Paul welcomed, for they were soon rushing out to worship Barnabas as Zeus and Paul as Hermes (v.12).

Zeus was no minor god. The Greeks revered him as the father of gods whereas Hermes was believed to have healing powers. [1] Barnabas was evidently the older looking of the two and probably wore a full beard that made him look like the Zeus portrayed on coins and statues. Hermes, on the other hand, was usually pictured as beardless, and this evidently matched Paul’s appearance. Even the priest of the temple of Zeus believed that Barnabas was Zeus, and came out to offer him a sacrifice (v.13)!

The point is this: The Gentiles of the city of Lystra, located in modern-day southern Turkey, were more than willing to deify Barnabas and Paul, and to worship them as gods. We can now see why Gentiles would later in history so readily deify Jesus and believe in him as God. The events in Lystra took place even before the council of the apostles (Acts 15) held in Jerusalem around the year 60, some 30 years after Jesus’ earthly ministry. It therefore comes as no surprise that by the end of the second century, the leaders of the western church were already preaching Jesus as God.[2]

The official deification of Jesus did not come until the fourth century, probably because for a long time the Jews were still a considerable force in the churches of the major cities such as Rome, and were still a strong voice for monotheism. They were a declining majority and later minority in the churches, yet they could not be ignored. By the end of the third or the start of the fourth century, the Jews were no longer a voice for monotheism in the western churches, hence the bold assertions of Christian pagan polytheism as represented in the Nicene creed of 325 and the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed of 381. While holding to a token and nominal monotheism, these creeds were in reality promulgating a distortion of Biblical monotheism.

Anachronistic use of “God the Son”

It was not until the Council of Nicaea of 325 that Jesus was officially declared to be coequal with God the Father. Hence it was only after Nicaea that Jesus could be spoken formally as “God the Son,” a reversal of the biblical “Son of God”. Therefore applying the term “God the Son” to any period before Nicaea would be anachronistic. Furthermore, it was not until half a century later, in 381, that the Holy Spirit was declared as being coequal with the Father and the Son by the bishops at the Council of Constantinople summoned by another Roman emperor, Theodosius I, who in addition decreed that trinitarian Christianity be the sole religion of the Roman Empire. Since trinitarianism was not formally and officially established until 381, applying the term “trinity” to the New Testament is likewise anachronistic.

What does this mean for our study of the New Testament Jesus? Any attempt to do a comparative study of the biblical Christ vis-à-vis the trinitarian Christ who wasn’t even heard of in the time of the New Testament, having come into official existence some 300 years later, would be an absurd exercise in anachronism. What is the basis for comparing the Christ of the NT with the deified Christ of the western Hellenistic church some 300 years later? How can a Christ who was fabricated centuries after the NT be legitimately compared with the wonderful and unique Christ revealed in the NT?

What we did as trinitarians, including myself for many decades, was to search for some legitimation or justification for the trinitarian Christ of a later century, in the New Testament. But the New Testament “evidence” that we pressed into service for supporting the much later trinitarian model of Christ proved to be so meager and exegetically untenable that I now feel conscience-bound to declare publicly that the trinitarian Christ is biblically false. Trinitarians constantly harp on the same few proof texts such as John 1:1-18, Philippians 2:6-11, and what little else in the New Testament they can fall back on.

It is time that we recognize, though this may be hard for those of us who have zealously promoted trinitarianism for much of our lives, that trinitarian doctrine is simply false and, even worse, has concealed the glory of the biblical Christ in such a way that it could put our salvation at risk.

Another injurious effect of trinitarian dogma is that it has sidelined, marginalized, and practically eliminated the one true God of the Bible to the extent that most Christians don’t know who Yahweh is. By contrast, when a Jew speaks of God as Adonai, he is aware that he is referring to YHWH. He may be unsure of the exact pronunciation of YHWH but he knows that the four letters of the Tetragrammaton represent the name of the one true God. But the Christian has no idea of who the Father is, for in trinitarianism, God the Father is not the one and only God, but is one of three persons in the Godhead, and therefore has a vague and largely unknown identity.

Why a triplicate God?

What sense does it make to have God in triplicate? The God revealed in the Bible is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and eternal. Then trinitarians came along and declared that there are three such persons. No, they declared two, then three. This took place early in church history because of the polytheistic influence of the Greeks and Romans who worshipped many gods. By their polytheistic standards, Jesus is eminently qualified to be a god. So at Nicaea in 325, they officially deified him. Up to that point in time, the church as a whole had managed with having one divine person—God—but now they had two. A few decades later, they realized that they had omitted “God the Spirit,” so at Constantinople they included the Spirit as a third divine person. Notice that it was a decision made by a council! So we are talking about man-made gods who are not gods in Scripture.

What is the point of deifying the one called the “man Christ Jesus” (1Tim.2:5)? If God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal, what difference does it make to have two such persons, much less three? If one is omnipotent, God is already omnipotent. If one is omniscient, the other two won’t know anything beyond what the first already knows. If one is omnipresent, the other two cannot be at a place where the first is not. As for omnipotence, what difference does it make to have one or two or three? Multiplying omnipotence by three equals omnipotence; multiplying infinity by three equals infinity.

That the church had managed without an official second or third person until the 4th century raises a few questions. If the church had been managing without the two additional persons, why were they added in the first place? And if the church could add a person to the Godhead as it wishes by decree, what in principle would prevent another from being added in the future? The one who comes to mind is the Virgin Mary who in Catholicism is worshipped by many and is known as the Mediatrix just as Christ is the Mediator. [3] With the rising status of women in modern society, the clamoring for the inclusion of a woman in the Godhead might not be farfetched.

The theological basis for adding a female divine person might be found in James D.G. Dunn’s comment (NIGTC, Col.1:16) that Sophia (wisdom) is a principle equivalent to Logos (word) insofar as they are the means by which the universe came into being (cf. Proverbs 8 and Philo’s De Cherubim). If the Logos could be deified, and indeed has been deified, why not Sophia? Could she not also be of the substance of God? If trinitarians see no problems with having two gods and later three gods called persons, why should there be a problem with having a fourth? In any case, many Catholics already worship Mary. Already since ancient times, churches have been built for her. If she is de facto an object of worship, the next “logical” step would be to deify her, which is in fact what many Catholics have done even if official Catholic doctrine has not gone that far. Thus trinitarianism moves inexorably from one error to another. It has eliminated the one true God, Yahweh, and replaced Him in stages by other gods who are called “persons”.

The trinitarian brand of “monotheism” has one God in triplicate. But if the one and the three are coequal, there would be no real difference between them except in name and function. To have one is to have all. Giving a different name to each person changes nothing in reality. What advantage do trinitarians have with their three gods, or three who are each fully God, over the one true God of the Bible? None whatsoever! Worse, they have misrepresented the glorious God as revealed in the Scriptures. What they teach is a lie about the living God, the creator of all things, and they will have to answer for it on the day of judgment.

But the situation is even more dire in terms of mankind’s salvation. Trinitarianism has three persons in one God, the three being coequally God and co-eternal and immortal. How then can “God the Son” die for our sins? In trinitarian dogma, God the Son took on the human body of Jesus by incarnation, yet according to the teaching that prevailed at early trinitarian councils, the human spirit of Jesus was replaced with the spirit of “God the Son,” supposedly resulting in a person who is true God and true man. But a true man cannot be simply a human body without a human spirit. The trinitarian reason for rejecting the existence of a human spirit in Jesus is that if it were included, there would be two persons in Jesus, a notion that even trinitarians agree is untenable. (It is also an admission that Jesus’ body alone or Jesus’ human nature alone does not make a person, otherwise Christ’s two natures would mean two persons in Christ.) Hence trinitarianism does not allow the human part of Jesus to have a human spirit. But a human body without a human spirit cannot atone for man’s sins. Adam and Eve’s sin was not committed primarily by the body but by the heart and mind.

Since the trinitarian Jesus is not a true man but is “God the Son” who, being God, is immortal, how could he die for man’s sins? Thus trinitarianism leaves man without salvation, without the forgiveness of sin, without the hope of eternal life. This is the wretched truth about trinitarianism. The issue that confronts us is not just a debate over doctrine but a matter of eternal life and eternal death.

If there is any trinity in the New Testament, it would be the unholy trinity of the dragon (Satan), the beast, and the false prophet (Rev.16:13; 20:10). Coming out of the mouths of the unholy trinity are three unclean spirits (Rev.16:13) who form their own unholy trinity. These spirits are described as “demonic spirits” who have the power to perform impressive signs. Their power is so great that they are able to convince the world leaders to fight the Almighty God at Armageddon (16:14,16). United in force and purpose, they wage war against the one true God Yahweh. The fact that the only trinity in the Bible is the unholy trinity, reveals the depth and scale of the trinitarian deception.

Trinitarians constantly search for any scrap of evidence for the deity of Christ, yet all they really need is one or preferably two incontrovertible and unambiguous statements from the Bible such as “Jesus Christ is God from everlasting to everlasting” or “Jesus is the only true God” or “Jesus is the eternal God of Israel” or “Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” or “Christ Jesus is Yahweh God” or “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the second divine person of the triune Godhead,” and that would have settled the matter. But the solid fact is that there are no such statements about Jesus, yet there are hundreds and hundreds of such statements about Yahweh God (except, of course, the last statement about the triune Godhead). Why can’t we accept this fact? If facts don’t matter, then something else must be motivating trinitarian doctrine. What is it that causes us to reject the plain teaching of Scripture? Perhaps it is spiritual blindness, or a blind loyalty to a tradition which we have been taught and which we uphold even at the cost of nullifying God’s word (cf. Mt.15:3,6; Mk.7:9,13).

Trinitarian errors in regard to the Holy Spirit

From what Father John L. McKenzie, a trinitarian, admits about trinitarianism—namely, that the trinitarian terms used of God are Greek philosophical terms rather than biblical terms, and that terms such as “essence” and “substance” were “erroneously” applied to God by the early theologians—it is clear that the God of trinitarianism is not the God of the Bible. When trinitarians speak of God, they are not talking about the one true God of the Bible but a trinity of three coequal persons whose existence cannot be found in the Old or New Testament except by twisting a few Scripture verses.

In trinitarianism, God the Father is the first person of the Trinity whereas in the Bible, He is the one and only God whose name is Yahweh (rendered Lord in most Bibles). The only person in the Trinity who has a name is the second person, Jesus Christ, also called “God the Son” (an inversion of the biblical “Son of God”). The name “Jesus” in Hebrew means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation,” yet the biblical Yahweh has no place in trinitarianism! Who is Yahweh? Some have gone so far as to say that Jesus is Yahweh. But this would mean that Jesus is God to the exclusion of the Father, for there is no God besides Yahweh: “I am Yahweh, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isa.45:5).

The trinitarian distortion of words extends to the word “spirit”. In trinitarianism, the Holy Spirit is the third person. But since “God is spirit” (John 4:24), where is the necessity of positing a third person called “God the Spirit” (yet another term not found in Scripture)? Paul doesn’t think of the Spirit of God as a separate divine person but as the very spirit of God Himself:

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1Cor.2:11, ESV)

Paul is saying that “the Spirit of God” relates to the person of God in the way that the human spirit relates to the human person. Here most Bibles (ESV, NASB, NIV, NJB, HCSB) capitalize “Spirit” in “Spirit of God,” indicating that they take this as a reference to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. If this is the case, then God’s thoughts would be hidden from the other two persons in the Trinity—God the Father and God the Son—for Paul specifically says that no one knows God’s thoughts except the Spirit of God! But the problem disappears once we understand that the Holy Spirit is the very spirit of God, just as the human spirit is the very spirit of a human being.

The Bible uses the word “spirit” in several related senses. But when portrayed in personal terms, the Holy Spirit is not a third person distinct from God the Father, but is the Spirit of the Father, as seen in the following parallel (highlighted in boldface):

… do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. (Mk.13:11, ESV)

… do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Mt.10:19-20, ESV)

This vital connection between the Father and the Spirit is also brought out in an important verse, John 15:26, in which Jesus speaks of “the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father” (or “goes out from the Father,” NIV). In the Greek text, “proceeds” is in the present continuous tense, a nuance that is captured in the Complete Jewish Bible (“the Spirit of Truth, who keeps going out from the Father”). Hence the Father is the constant source of the Spirit much like a fountain is a constant source of water (cf. Jn.7:38-39, which speaks of the Spirit as “rivers of living water”). It means that the Spirit has no independent existence apart from the Father who is constantly sending forth the Spirit. Jesus doesn’t say that the Spirit goes out from “God” but from “the Father”. Hence there is no biblical basis for the trinitarian assertion that “God the Spirit” is ontologically a separate person from God the Father.

The Old Testament often depicts the Spirit as God’s power in action, e.g., Zech.4:6 (“not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says Yahweh of hosts”) and Micah 3:8 (“I am filled with power, with the Spirit of Yahweh”). This fact is known to many trinitarian scholars.[4] The New Testament often portrays the Holy Spirit in terms of God’s power.[5] Jesus himself functioned “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk. 4:14).

The trinitarian Jesus is “another Jesus”

Trinitarianism distorts biblical terms (e.g. by inverting the biblical “Son of God” into the unbiblical “God the Son”) and borrows terms from philosophy and theosophy (e.g. homoousios from Gnosticism). It is not surprising, therefore, that trinitarian teaching is of a different spirit from Biblical teaching, and that the trinitarian Jesus is of a different spirit from the NT Jesus.

Having a “different spirit” is something that the Bible attaches great importance to, and it can be a good thing or a bad thing. It is a good thing if the different spirit is different from the ways of the world, and a bad thing if it is different from the ways of God. In the positive sense of the term, Yahweh says, “But my servant Caleb … has a different spirit and has followed me fully” (Num.14:24). In the negative sense, Paul speaks of a “different spirit” in connection with “a different gospel” and “another Jesus”:

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. (2Cor.11:4, ESV)

Why were the Corinthians so susceptible to accepting “another Jesus” that they would put up with the deception so “readily”? Here the Greek for “another” means “different in kind” (BDAG, allos).

We see a worse situation in the Galatian church—worse because what was dangerously imminent among the Corinthians had already become a reality among the Galatians (Gal.1:6-9). They were deserting God and turning to a different gospel: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (v.6). Evidently this hadn’t yet happened in Corinth but only in Galatia, hence the triple if in 2Cor.11:4. But Paul foresaw that if and when a different Christ is preached among the Corinthians, they would accept him as readily as had the Galatians. It is something that could happen to any church over time. Paul’s concern over this is expressed in the word “afraid” in verse 3:

2 Corinthians 11:2-3 2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (ESV)

Paul sees the Corinthians as a church betrothed to Christ that is on the brink of turning away from him. It is a warning that applies not only to the church in Corinth but to the universal church of God, for it too is betrothed to Christ. The church in Corinth, like the seven churches in Revelation, is a representative church in the Bible. In Paul’s analogy, Eve is parallel to the church, the bride of Christ, and Adam is parallel to Jesus, whom Paul calls the last Adam a few chapters later (1Cor.15:45).

Paul’s dire statement about the church in Corinth was eventually fulfilled in Christendom as a whole. As might be foreseen in the statement, “you put up with it easily,” the serpent’s deception eventually became a reality among the Gentile believers in Christendom. Paul’s fear that what had happened to Eve might also happen to the church at large was prophetic. The final outcome was inescapable given that the Corinthians were so inclined to put up with a different Christ, a different spirit, and a different gospel. If that was already true in Paul’s time, how much more so a century later when Gentile believers began to outnumber Jewish believers (the true monotheists), reducing them to a small minority?

Why did the Corinthians and the Galatians so easily accept a different Christ, a different gospel, and a different spirit (that is, different from the Spirit of Yahweh) from those Paul had preached to them? Was it not because they, like Eve, had allowed themselves to be deceived by the cunning of “the serpent” (Satan) and to be led “astray” (v.3)?

Something must have convinced them that the different Jesus was better than the one Paul had preached to them. Given the pagan background of most Gentile believers (who were a sizable minority in the churches outside Palestine, e.g., Corinth in Greece and Galatia in Asia), this could prove to be easier than expected. As for the Galatians, Paul was “astonished” at how quickly they were deserting God who had called them, and were turning to another gospel—a gospel that, like the different Jesus, is different in essence. Paul saw that the Galatians had apostatized and the Corinthians were going the same way. Apostasy is principally a sign of the last days, yet it was a reality as early as 30 years after Jesus’ earthly life (cf. Heb.6:4-6; 10:26-31).

Many equate the act of deserting God with abandoning the Christian faith to become an atheist or agnostic, but that is not what we see here. In Galatians 1:6, “deserting him who called you” is defined as “turning to a different gospel” and accepting “another Jesus” (2Cor.11:4). It shows that those who desert God would usually remain religious and not become atheists.

We don’t know the specifics of this different Jesus apart from his being the central figure of a different gospel. Since the Galatians had turned to this other Jesus, they would have some idea of what he was. The same could be said of the Corinthians who found this different Jesus more appealing than the one whom Paul had preached to them. In the case of the Corinthians, from hindsight and looking back at church history, we can surmise that this different Jesus, in contrast to the biblical Jesus, was probably a divine being because the divinity of persons was something that appealed strongly to the Gentile mindset. If the Roman emperors could be worshipped as gods, why not Jesus? In fact, within a hundred years after Paul, a divine Jesus was being boldly preached in the Gentile world.

Putting one’s faith in a different Jesus means a change of allegiance, commitment, and loyalty. Paul was astonished that the Galatians were “deserting” God who had called them in the grace of Christ (Gal.1:6). The Greek word for “deserting,” metatithēmi, is defined by BDAG as “to have a change of mind in allegiance, change one’s mind, turn away, desert”.

Paul feared that just as Eve was deceived by Satan, so the church will be led away from a pure and sincere devotion to Christ. To grasp the deception, we need to see its content. What is the nature of the deception of Eve by Satan the “serpent”? To answer this question, we look at the Genesis account of the temptation. Here is Yahweh’s command to Adam:

And Yahweh God commanded the man, saying, “You are free to eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

In the next chapter is Eve’s recounting of what God had said about the fruit of the tree, and the serpent’s reply to her:

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” (Genesis 3:2-4, ESV)

Satan flatly contradicted God’s declaration “you will surely die” with the counter-declaration “you will not surely die,” forcing Eve to choose between two conflicting statements, and between believing God and believing Satan. In the end she chose to believe Satan!

More than that, in choosing to believe Satan, Eve was implying that God was withholding something good from her that Satan wanted her to have. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen.3:5). The serpent switched between the physical and the spiritual, knowing that Adam and Eve will not die physically, at least not right away.

What was Satan’s bait? “You will be like God”. But weren’t Adam and Eve already created in God’s image? Yes, but Eve wanted to “grasp” for something greater: equality with God. By contrast, it is said of Jesus in Philippians 2:6 that he did not consider equality with God a thing to be “grasped,” an action word that might describe the plucking of fruit from a tree. Equality with God is much more than having the “form of God” (Jesus) or being created in the “image of God” (Adam). Adam and Eve wanted to gain the knowledge (“the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”) that would make them “like God” at a deeper level. Hence the fundamental allure of the temptation is the deification of man, and this gives us some idea of the nature of “another Jesus”.

Adam, unlike Eve, was not deceived (1Tim.2:14). What would this mean but that Adam deliberately grasped for equality with God? In contrast to this rebellious act is Christ’s attitude described in Phil.2:6 (“did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped”), which means that Philippians 2 cannot be understood in isolation from the events in Genesis 2 and 3. But whether deceived or not, Adam and Eve had taken a significant step towards deifying themselves by disobedience. God Himself says that they had indeed acquired the knowledge of good and evil (Gen.3:22).

Barabbas at the trial of Jesus

When Paul told the Galatians that they were deserting God, he didn’t mean that they had stopped believing in God to become atheists or agnostics, but that they were following a different Jesus and believing a different gospel. In the case of the Corinthians, this gospel was preached by “false apostles” who were not appointed by God (2Cor.11:13). Apostasy is seldom the outright rejection of belief and religion, but is often a rejection of the biblical Jesus.

Something of a parallel nature took place at Jesus’ trial at which the Roman governor Pontius Pilate did not find Jesus guilty of any indictable offence, much less an offence worthy of crucifixion. Barabbas, a violent criminal, was also at the trial (Mt.27:16). The crowds, stirred up by the religious leaders, demanded that Jesus be crucified even if it meant the release of Barabbas.

It is noteworthy that Barabbas is called “Jesus Barabbas” according to an ancient textual tradition of Mt.27:16,17, as noted in ISBE.[6] Attributing the words “Jesus Barabbas” to scribal or copying error is unconvincing. It is more likely that the word “Jesus” was struck out.

The textual evidence for “Jesus Barabbas” in Mt.27:16 is strong enough for the name to be included in a few modern Bibles such as NRSV (“Jesus Barabbas”), NET (“Jesus Barabbas”), Complete Jewish Bible (“Yeshua Bar-Abba”), and NIV 2011 (“Jesus Barabbas,” but not NIV 1984).

When Jesus was put on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Jews had chosen “another Jesus” though for reasons different from those for the Gentile choice of another Jesus. It seems that everyone, Jew or Gentile, wants a Jesus other than the one Yahweh God has provided. The rejection of Jesus in favor of Barabbas is recorded in all four gospels, indicating its spiritual importance, and is condemned by Peter (Acts 3:14).

But the comparison doesn’t stop there. “Barabbas” comes from Aramaic “Bar-abba” which means “son of the father”. Irrespective of who the “father” may be in the case of “Barabbas” (the aforementioned ISBE article suggests “master or teacher”), the parallel between “son of the father” and Jesus “Son of God” is unmistakable. Is this pure coincidence? There are no coincidences in God’s word. Through Jesus’ trial at which the Jews chose another “son of the father” over the one divinely appointed, Yahweh God had foretold that the church will one day choose a different Jesus from the one He had chosen to be His Christ, the Savior-King of the world.

Antichrists in John’s letters; the Gnosticism factor

It is not only in Paul’s letters that we see references to enemies of the church who operate within the church such as those who teach another Jesus or a different gospel. John too had to confront a different Christ who functioned as “antichrist,” a term that also includes those who proclaim the antichrist and his different gospel (the following verses are from ESV):

1 John 2:18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.

1 John 2:22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.

1 John 4:2-3 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

2 John 1:7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

A generation ago, some scholars believed that these “deceivers” came from the ranks of Jewish and non-Jewish Gnostics who were active before, during, and after the time of the apostolic church. Gnosticism—which is theosophical speculation driven by Greek philosophy, and teaches a gospel based on secret “knowledge” (gnōsis)—attracted a large following and became a threat to the church.

The so-called “super apostles” at Corinth (2Cor.11:5; 12:11) were challenging the authority of the apostle Paul, and gained the support of many. The German scholar Walter Schmithals wrote, “There can be hardly any doubt that the Gnostic opponents and the ‘superlative apostles’ are identical” (The Office of Apostle in the Early Church, p.178). But scholars today are less confident about the exact nature of Gnosticism during the time of the apostolic church.

Many commentators say that those who deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1John 4:2-3) are the “docetists,” that is, those who teach that Jesus only had the appearance of being a human but was not human. But the word “docetist” is just a descriptive term that does not name or identify any specific group. Who exactly were these alleged “docetists” in John’s day? The Gnostics? Who was John describing with such strong words as “deceivers” and “antichrist”?

But did the Jesus of trinitarian dogma really “come in the flesh”? In other words, is he a true human being? How can he be a true man if he is “God the Son” who is coequal with God the Father? How can a preexistent Christ be a true human being? That is possible only by reincarnation. The only fundamental difference between preexistence in reincarnation and preexistence in trinitarianism is that of hope and purpose: In the case of reincarnation, one hopes to go from lower to higher in the ladder of existence; in the case of trinitarianism, the purpose is to go from higher to lower in order to be a servant.

Gnosticism’s later connection with trinitarianism lies not only in the fact that the originally Gnostic term homoousios (one in substance) had become the pivotal word of Nicaea over the objections of some bishops, but also in the Gnostic denial that Christ is a true human being who had come “in the flesh”. Gnosticism, like what is called docetism, teaches that Jesus’ body had the illusion of being flesh, but was not flesh. For this reason, Gnosticism had little use for the teaching of the cross.

But Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1Cor.1:23), indicating that those who preach a “different gospel” do not preach the message of the cross, in contrast to Paul’s emphatic teaching on the cross: “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal.6:14).

Gnosticism’s appeal in the early church lies in the fact that although its teaching is fundamentally in conflict with New Testament teaching, it uses terms which come directly from the vocabulary of the New Testament: knowledge (gnōsis, 1Cor.8:1,7), wisdom (sophia, 1Cor.2:7), fullness (plērōma, Eph.1:23), philosophy (philosophia, Col.2:8, a verse that according to ISBE article Philosophy indicates “the first beginnings of Gnosticism in the Christian church”; cf. 1Tim.1:4).

The infamous name of Simon Magus is historically associated with Gnosticism. A Bible reference says, “The name of Simon Magus occurs frequently in the early history of ‘Christian’ Gnosticism, and there has been much debate as to whether the Simoniani, a sect that lasted well into the 3rd century, had its origins in the magician of Acts 8.” [7] Simon Magus, who associated himself with the apostolic church and even got baptized in it, was a miracle worker or “magician” who is mentioned in early extra-biblical documents. His prominence in his day can be seen in the book of Acts:

9 Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10 and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” 11 And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts. 12 But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. 13 Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. (Acts 8:9-13, NASB)

Here Simon is called the “Power of God” (v.10) which in Luke 22:69 is a metonym of God. This is probably because of the signs and wonders that Simon performed through “magic” (v.9) and “magic arts” (v.11), by which he was regarded as a manifestation of God. This shows how easily a human being can be deified or seen as an epiphany of a god.

The trinitarian Jesus is different from the biblical Jesus

Nicaea, the crowning triumph of Gentile polytheism, was a radical departure from the spirit and character of the New Testament, and culminated in the deification of Christ. In stark contrast, the Jesus of the New Testament does not seek equality with God. But the Gentiles, in defiance of the mind of Christ, triumphantly declared him to be coequal with God. It was a direct defiance of the spirit of the biblical Jesus, who at no time ever claimed equality with his Father, but said to the contrary that “the Father is greater than I” (Jn.14:28). This is a statement that I, in my trinitarian days, was anxious to explain away despite several other NT passages that express the same truth. But because the Gentile Christians were so keen to make Jesus the central object of worship, they were driven in their idolatrous zeal to exalt “the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim.2:5) to the level of deity.

Jesus even rejected for himself any attribution of good: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mk.10:18; Lk.18:19; cf. Mt.19:17). Jesus bluntly told the rich young ruler that “good” is an attribution that belongs only to God, and can be used of others only in a diminished and non-absolute sense. From this we see that Jesus would never accept an attribution that rightly belongs to God alone (“No one is good except God alone”).

Trinitarians cannot and do not deny that Jesus is a man, so what is their problem? Their problem is that they want to say that Jesus is “not just” a man but is “God the Son,” the second person of the Godhead who became incarnate in Jesus. That is because in trinitarianism, the real person functioning in Jesus is “God the Son” (the reversal of “Son of God”) whereas the man Jesus is just the human nature that was attached to God the Son by incarnation. This is one of the reasons why, as trinitarians, we didn’t really care much about Jesus as man. To our minds, God the Son—the real person in Jesus—is everything that we needed or wanted Jesus to be.

But we overlooked something fundamentally important: a God who can die is not the God of the Bible, for Yahweh God is immortal and can never die. This means that the God of trinitarianism cannot possibly be Yahweh, the God of the Bible. A God who dies and rises again has more in common with the dying-and-rising gods of the pagan beliefs that were prevalent in the world of the early church.

Nicaean formulations such as “God of God, Light of Light” and other lofty descriptions are nothing more than direct echoes of Greek philosophy and religion. A central concept in Gnosticism is the emanation of divine beings, usually of the lesser from the greater. Yet at Nicaea it was decreed on pain of anathema that the Second Person emanates from the First Person, much as light emanates from a source of light. This teaching comes directly from Greek philosophy.

If “God the Son” of trinitarianism is to have a plausible connection to “God the Father” within the framework of eternity, the conclusion cannot be avoided that the Son derives his existence from the Father in some way or else there would be no reason for him to be called the Son. This genuine difficulty, acknowledged by some trinitarians, has led to the concept of eternal generation, by which the Son eternally proceeds from the Father, much as light is emitted continuously by the sun. But this philosophical concept doesn’t solve the problem because it still doesn’t explain the use of the word “son”. The fact remains that the Son derives his existence from the Father in some significant way, and this is true even if we bring in eternal generation. Therefore, in this important sense, the Son is not equal to the Father.

According to scientific cosmology, in the distant future the sun will collapse and no longer emit light as it does now. Hence it is possible for the sun to exist as a singularity [8] without emitting light. In view of the finite life of the sun, the analogy of the sun is inadequate to establish the doctrine of “eternal generation” or the concept of Jesus as “Light of Light” especially in this age of scientific knowledge but also in the time of the early church (in view of 2Pet.3:10, “the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved”). God is certainly light, but that is principally in terms of moral purity and spiritual enlightenment. God’s moral character is not something that can be properly compared to the light that radiates from a burning object such as the sun. But in the end, what really matters is that the doctrine of eternal generation is based on concepts that are not found in Scripture.

Christ’s subjection to God

Jesus says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all” (John 10:29). Here he specifically says that God the Father is “greater than all” (cf. “greater than all gods,” Ps.95:3). This would mean that the Father is greater than Jesus, for the word “all” would include Jesus who is a distinct person from the Father even in trinitarianism (cf. Athanasian Creed). This is not an isolated statement but is confirmed by other statements such as “the Father is greater than I” (Jn. 14:28). God is greater than Jesus for the fundamental reason that God is greater than man.

“A slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent greater than the one who sent him” (Jn.13:16). In speaking of himself as slave and messenger, Jesus is explaining how he functions in relation to the Father, for he repeatedly speaks of himself as his Father’s slave (doulos) but also as the one sent by the Father. [9] Jesus uses the word “greater” to explain both connections to the Father.

What does Jesus mean when he says, “the Father is greater than I”? That statement cannot possibly be true in trinitarianism in which “God the Son” is coequal in every respect with God the Father. Jesus’ statement, together with similar statements such as “the head of Christ is God” (1Cor.11:3), was an embarrassment to me as a trinitarian because it directly contradicts the central tenet of trinitarianism: the coequality of the Son with the Father. But the doctrine of coequality is patently false according to the statement, “the Father is greater than I”. Jesus refused to grasp at or seize equality with God (Phil.2:6), yet we trinitarians are spiritually deaf in our determination to crown Jesus as Almighty God.[10]

Elihu’s reminder to Job that “God is greater than man” (Job 33:12) is so obvious that it is just a platitude. Yet this platitude seems to be the only reasonable way of understanding Jesus’ statement, “the Father is greater than I”. It amounts to an assertion that Jesus is man and not God. The trinitarian argument that Jesus’ divine side is greater than Jesus’ human side entirely misses the point because the comparison is not between the alleged “two natures” of Jesus but between Jesus and “the Father”!

The statement “the Father is greater than I” is a clear rejection of the coequality of the Son and the Father. Against the trinitarian claim that Christ is God and coequal with the Father, the New Testament affirms that the head of the post-resurrection Christ is God: “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1Cor.11:3, ESV). There is no mention whatsoever of any coequality of the three persons of the Trinity. Paul says that Christ is subject to God (Yahweh) just as believers are subject to Christ. Paul doesn’t simply say that the head of Christ is “God the Father” but that the head of Christ is “God”.

In saying that Christ is subject to God, we are not denying Christ’s supreme and universal authority. Indeed he himself says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt.28:18). But note the tiny but mighty word “given”. Someone had given him his supreme authority in the first place. Hence there is one exception to his supreme authority, and it lies in the fact that Christ has no authority over God:

For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. (1Cor.15:27, NET)

Trinitarians and non-trinitarians agree on what Paul is saying here, that God is the exception to Christ’s authority over all things. This is not debated and is even made explicit by NIV’s rendering of this verse, “it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ”.

From the immediate context of this verse, we know that Paul is speaking of two persons: “God the Father” (v.24) and “the Son” (v.28). Hence it is specifically God the Father who has put everything (except God himself) under the feet of the Son.

We note three things from this verse (15:27). Firstly, Christ’s authority is not an innate authority but is something that was conferred on him, that is, “given” to him by God (Mt.28:18). Secondly, Paul uses language that makes a clear distinction of persons, God on the one hand and Christ on the other, indicating that God and Christ are two different persons. Thirdly, the word “everything” which occurs twice in this verse, 1Cor.15:27, goes a long way towards explaining the meaning of the word “all” in “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt.28:18), namely, by qualifying that the “all authority” given to Jesus does not include authority over God. In other words, what is implicit in Matthew 28:18—that Christ is subject to the Father because of the word “given”—is made explicit in 1Cor.15:27, as also made explicit by the risen Jesus in Rev.2:27: “I myself have received authority from my Father”.

In the next verse, Paul says again that Christ will be subject to God:

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him (God) who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1Cor. 15:28, ESV)

Paul is not merely saying that Christ has no authority over God (a statement that could theoretically allow for coequality), but more forcefully that Christ will be subject to God, which is a clear rejection of the supposed coequality of Jesus and his Father.

Finally, a striking conclusion can be derived from v. 24:

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1Cor.15:24)

Here “the end” is an eschatological reference to a future point in time. When in the future? The context (vv.21-23) makes it clear that “the end” (v.24) will come only after “the resurrection of the dead” (v.21), a glorious event that has not yet taken place in our time. But when the end comes, Christ will hand the kingdom over to his God and Father (v.24), to be followed by the subjection of the Son to the Father (v.27). The chronology is crucial because it tells us that the end will inaugurate a permanent state of affairs in which the subjection of the Son to God (v.27) will continue for all eternity! Even the fervently trinitarian ESV Study Bible concedes that “this verse (1Cor.15:28) shows that his subjection to the Father will continue for all eternity.”

Frédéric Louis Godet, Swiss theologian and trinitarian, rebukes those who use “ingenious methods” to evade Paul’s plain teaching of the subjection of the Son to the Father:

“Then shall the Son also himself be subject,” etc. The words can only be taken as they stand. The attempts to explain them have usually been nothing but ingenious methods of explaining them away. Of these the one usually adopted by the Fathers is limiting the statement to Christ’s human nature (Jn.5:26,27,30) and mediatorial kingdom (1Cor.11:3, “the head of Christ is God”). In dealing with this subject, we can easily “darken counsel by words without knowledge,” and hide an absolute ignorance under a semblance of knowledge; but everything we can say in “explanation” of this self subjection of the Son to the Father is simply involved in the words that follow, “that God may be all in all”. All things … shall be subordinated to the Son, and the Son to the Father. (Corinthians, vol.1, on 1Cor.15:28, from the French).

 

The rise of trinitarianism and the confusion in “Lord”

In New Testament times, the Jews living in Palestine spoke mainly Aramaic along with Hebrew. There were also Jews who spoke mostly or even exclusively Greek; these Greek-speaking Jews are called “Hellenists” in Acts 6:1; 9:29; 11:20. Many of them used the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Most of the quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament are taken from the LXX, the main Scripture of the Greek-speaking believers of the early church. A result of this development, along with the LXX’s suppression of the name Yahweh, is the eventual disappearance of Yahweh’s name in the church.

Fortunately, the Aramaic-speaking and Hebrew-speaking Jews who were acquainted with the Hebrew Bible were aware of the name YHWH. But this was not necessarily the case with the Greek-speaking believers. Even so, this was not yet a serious problem because the church was still rooted in biblical monotheism, notwithstanding the replacement of “Yahweh” with “the Lord” in the LXX. Most Jewish believers, whether they were Aramaic-speaking or Greek-speaking, knew that “the Lord” in the New Testament writings would sometimes refer to Yahweh, notably in quotations from the Old Testament, but also in many other contexts. They also knew that Jesus was “Lord” in a different sense after he had been raised from the dead by God’s power. Peter proclaimed in his Pentecost message: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Since it was God who made Jesus “Lord,” Jesus is Lord indeed.

A serious problem arose in the mid-second century when the deification of Jesus began to take root in the Gentile churches, as reflected in statements by Melito of Sardis, and not long afterwards in the better known figure of Tertullian from the start of the 3rd century. Once Jesus had been deified, some Gentile believers started putting their faith in two Gods (ditheism) or two divine persons in one God (binitarianism), these being intrinsically the same. This created much confusion in the use of the word “Lord,” which was applied indiscriminately to Yahweh and to Jesus. Ironically, later trinitarians would use the title “Lord” as applied to Jesus to prove that he is God! By circular reasoning, trinitarians are using the trinitarian error they created in the first place to prove the same trinitarian error.

The Gentile church eliminated the name “Yahweh” because the name does not fit into the trinitarian scheme of things. In trinitarianism, God the Father is one of three persons whereas in the Bible there is no God besides Yahweh (Isa.45:5). The trinitarian elevation of Jesus to Almighty God has eliminated any practical need for a God other than Jesus. Moreover, Jesus has a name, but God the Father and God the Spirit do not. God the Father is simply the Father of Jesus Christ, and His role is defined by his relationship to God the Son. And since the Son is said to be coequal with the Father in every respect, if we already have the Son why do we need the Father? As trinitarians, we paid our respects to the Father but did not really need Him, for Jesus is all-sufficient. In English-language Bibles, with a few exceptions such as NJB, Yahweh’s name has disappeared altogether.

Given the confusion in the church over the conflating use of “Lord,” it is best to return to speaking of God as Yahweh instead of simply Lord. There is no prohibition in the Bible against speaking of the one true God as Yahweh.

That Jesus has a Father already rules him out as God

The New Testament speaks of Yahweh as the Lord, the God, and the Father of believers. Significantly, Yahweh is all of these things to Jesus, e.g., “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). There is no biblical problem in referring to Yahweh by these three titles (Lord, God, Father) even in relation to Jesus.

Paul likewise speaks of “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.15:6; 2Cor.1:3; 11:31; Eph.1:3; cf. 1Pet. 1:3). If Jesus is really God, then God would be the God of God.

The very fact that Jesus has a Father already rules him out as God. That is because Paul speaks of “one God and Father of all” (Eph.4:6). In other words, there is only one God, and that God is the Father of all. Therefore anyone who is not the Father of all is not God. But Jesus is certainly not the Father (not even in trinitarianism), much less the Father of all. God’s people are not called “sons of Jesus” or “children of Christ,” nor do they cry out, “Abba Christ!” On the contrary, 1John 5:18 says that we are “born of God” and that Jesus was “born of God”—in the same sentence.

Melito of Sardis, early precursor of trinitarianism

Only a hundred years after Barnabas and Paul were worshipped as gods in Gentile country (Acts 14:12), Melito of Sardis was already halfway to trinitarianism. Given the pagan polytheistic culture in which he grew up, Melito could talk of “God put to death” without the slightest realization that to speak of the death of the one true God is to commit blasphemy.

Melito of Sardis was not a trinitarian but a binitarian (one who believes that there are two persons in one God), for he did not view the Holy Spirit as a third person. Melito also taught that there are two “natures” in Jesus, the human and the divine. This makes Melito one of the early forerunners of the trinitarian creeds of the 4th and 5th centuries.

Melito lived around mid-second century and died c.190. He was the bishop of Sardis in the Greek-speaking province of Asia, located in today’s Turkey. His voluminous writings, most of them lost, are clear evidence that the deification of Jesus had already started by the 2nd century, indeed only slightly more than a hundred years after the death of Christ, and certainly well before the Council of Nicaea in 325.

The following two excerpts from the writings of Melito, as compiled at http://www.cogwriter.com/melito.htm, are taken from Ante-Nicene Fathers (vol.8). In the following excerpt, Melito teaches the deity of Christ, and that Christ was God put to death:

God who is from God; the Son who is from the Father; Jesus Christ the King for evermore… He that bore up the earth was borne up on a tree. The Lord was subjected to ignominy with naked body—God put to death, the King of Israel slain! (The Discourse on the Cross, verses IV, VI)

In the next excerpt, Melito says that Jesus is true God, that Jesus is at once God and perfect man, and that his deity is hidden in his flesh of humanity:

For the deeds done by Christ after His baptism, and especially His miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the Deity hidden in His flesh. For, being at once both God and perfect man likewise, He gave us sure indications of His two natures: of His Deity, by His miracles during the three years that elapsed after His baptism; of His humanity, during the thirty similar periods which preceded His baptism, in which, by reason of His low estate as regards the flesh, He concealed the signs of His Deity, although He was the true God existing before all ages. (The Nature of Christ, 760)

Bob Theil, the one who compiled the above information, says:

Melito was not a unitarian. He considered that Jesus was God (though a God who hid some signs of His deity) and the Father was God—this is a binitarian view. It should be noted that Melito never referred to the Holy Spirit as God … Since all legitimate scholars recognize that early Christian leaders did not support modern trinitarianism, those interested in the faith that was once for all delivered for the saints, would not accept the idea of that the true faith was gradually revealed. (italics Theil’s)

Bart Ehrman, in the eighth of his Great Courses lectures, refers to Melito of Sardis and his Easter homily. The deification of Christ was fully established in Melito’s teaching, indicating that by the mid-second century, the deified Jesus had become entrenched in the Gentile church. Thus “the parting of the ways” must have begun earlier than had previously been supposed.

The deification of Jesus and anti-Semitism

A fearful consequence of Jesus’ deification is a rabidly anti-Semitic charge that Melito of Sardis had hurled against the Jews: that of the murder of God. It is not hard for us to imagine the consequences of this accusation made by Melito and some other early church fathers, notably the hatred and violence against the Jews that it later incited in Europe. The deification of Christ with its radical departure from Jewish monotheism had became a breeding ground for anti-Semitism. Surely the early roots of the Holocaust are to be found here.

Some have observed that anti-Semitism among the early church fathers grew markedly more hostile starting from the 4th century. [11] This was the century in which took place the Council of Nicaea of 325 (which decreed binitarianism) and the Council of Constantinople of 381 (which decreed trinitarianism, the first time in history that such a thing had ever happened). Whether there were other reasons for the increase in anti-Semitism can only be surmised, but there is nothing else of historical or religious import in the 4th century that could easily or plausibly account for the marked rise in anti-Semitism.

Some early trinitarians and church fathers, both Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene (“Ante-Nicene” means before Nicaea), made strongly anti-Semitic statements in their writings and public declarations. An important work on the anti-Semitism of the early church fathers is Robert Michel’s Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust. Here are a few excerpts from the book regarding some of the prominent church fathers of that period:

… [to most early church fathers] all Jews were forever responsible for murdering God. And so the Jewish people were abhorrent and any injustice done to them, short of murder, according to Augustine, was justified—and even murder was sometimes justified. (p.2)

Jerome claimed that all Jews were Judas and were innately evil creatures who betrayed the Lord for money. John Chrysostom called Jews deicides [murderers of God] with no chance for “atonement, excuse, or defense.” (p.5)

The fourth-century theologian Ephraem of Syria called the Jews circumcised dogs; John Chrysostom called them circumcised beasts… Tertullian suggested that God intended that the circumcision would identify the Jews so that they could never reenter Jerusalem. (p.22)

Like most of the fathers, Tertullian’s anti-Jewish conclusions were often both emotional and cruel. In his De Spectaculis, he gloated and exulted, imagining how Jesus would punish the Jews. (p.26)

[Jerome] argued that God had given the Jews their Law deliberately to deceive them and lead them to their destruction. (p.26)

One Sunday, Ambrose [4th century archbishop of Milan, one of the four original doctors of the Catholic Church] preached a sermon on the Church and Synagogue attended by Emperor Theodosius, who had recently been excommunicated by him and was now repentant and very much open to his influence. Face to face with the emperor, Ambrose reproached him for his action in support of the Jewish claims, arguing that it was a moral act to burn synagogues and if the laws forbade it, then the laws were wrong. Refusing him communion, he threatened that the emperor and his sons would be excommunicated again unless he rescinded his penalties against the incendiary bishop. In the end, Theodosius promised to do what Ambrose demanded. (p.33)

John Chrysostom was an enormously influential preacher. Hitler expressed his admiration for the anti-Jewish ideas of “all genuine Christians of outstanding calibre,” among whom he counted John Chrysostom. (p.35)

Chrysostom wanted these useless Jews killed. Just as animals that refuse to pull the plow are slaughtered, so Jews “grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: ‘As for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.’” Lest we miss his point about murdering the “useless” Jews, Chrysostom repeats it, adding a reference to Luke 19:27, which, he claims, refers specifically to a command of Jesus that the Jews be murdered. Chrysostom later justified such an atrocity by arguing that “what is done in accordance with God’s will is the best of all things even if it seems bad… Suppose someone slays another in accordance with God’s will. This slaying is better than any lovingkindness.” (p.35)

It should be noted that the author of this book, Robert Michel, bears no hostility to Jesus Christ, and in fact speaks positively of him, expressing high admiration for his teaching of the cross, self-denial, and love for fellow man:

… the theology of the cross (theologia crucis) is based on Jesus’ statement in the Gospel of Matthew (16:24–5): “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This belief required the Christian faithful to follow the moral teachings of Jesus concerning all human beings even at the risk of their own lives … the theology of the cross underscores the solidarity of suffering among all human beings, Gentile and Jew. Analysis of Christians who helped Jews during the Holocaust, for instance, reveals many different motivations for their behavior, but most of these motives derive from the model of human behavior found in the Judeo-Christian morality of Jesus of Nazareth.

The anti-Semitic statements of the early church fathers can be found in scattered places in Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 volumes) and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (28 volumes). A few anti-Semitic statements, expressing mainly theological hostility, are included on pages 375-378 of David Bercot’s Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs; here are a few statements by the early church fathers (with volume and page numbers from Ante-Nicene Fathers):

The Jews had formerly been in covenant with God. But being afterwards cast off on account of their sins, they began to be without God. Tertullian (c.197), 3.247

A sign that she [Israel] has received the bill of divorcement [from God] is this: that Jerusalem was destroyed along with her what they called the sanctuary. Origen (c.245), 9.507

Since the coming of Christ, no prophets have arisen among the Jews. For they have confessedly been abandoned by the Holy Spirit. Origen (c.248) 4.614

The wicked synagogue is now cast off by the Lord God. He has rejected His own house. As He says: “I have forsaken my house; I have left my inheritance.” Apostolic Constitutions (c.390), 7.451

 

The temptation of Jesus

As regards the crucial topic of temptation, trinitarianism reduces it to meaninglessness in the case of Jesus because Jesus, who is supposedly God, cannot be tempted to sin at all. As James 1:13 states unequivocally, “God cannot be tempted by evil”. The trinitarian understanding of the temptation of Jesus collides with the biblical fact that he was “tempted in all respects as we are” (Heb.4:15). In making the temptation of Jesus meaningless, even farcical, we were so blinded by trinitarianism that we could not see the obvious.

But the New Testament declares that Jesus is a man, a true human being who was tempted like us in every respect. That being so, how could Jesus have faced every temptation in life without having once failed? The trinitarian’s answer to this question has the effect of reducing it—and the central struggle of human life—to meaninglessness, for if Jesus is God, then he cannot be tempted, much less succumb to sin. It would be unconvincing to say that Jesus empathizes with our moral and spiritual struggles, or with our painful defeats in these struggles, when he himself can never fall and doesn’t even need to struggle, since no temptation can ever bring down God. This makes Jesus’ humanity irrelevant for us.

The protestations of trinitarians notwithstanding, their Jesus is really nothing more than a human body taken over by the second person of the Trinity. The Jesus of trinitarianism has no human will, but even if he did, it would have been so dominated by the will of “God the Son” that the human will can only operate within the divine will. So even if Jesus had an independent human will (which in any case is denied in trinitarianism), it would make no difference because it is impossible, within the same person, for the human will to operate independently of the divine will of the second person of the Trinity. In church history, theological problems such as this one arose from the supposed God-man constitution of Jesus, and led to bitter conflicts within trinitarianism, notably over Nestorius’ teaching of two persons, human and divine, in Christ.

But temptation—a life and death struggle with sin—is an inescapable part of the believer’s daily life. It is when we triumph over sin by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit that we move towards the perfection to which we have been called. And Jesus is the perfect man precisely because of his total victory over sin.

But this powerful truth is reduced to shambles in trinitarianism. If the Christian is asked why Jesus is perfect and sinless, the usual answer would be, “Because he is God, and God is perfect”. No matter how hard trinitarians try to decorate Jesus’ humanity to make it look more like ours, the fact remains that in trinitarian dogma, the human Jesus is really just the human body of the incarnate God the Son. If asked whether this sinless Jesus could in theory have sinned as a human being, trinitarians would have to answer “no” because it is impossible for God to be tempted, much less to sin. In any case, Jesus is already perfect in both his natures because of his God-man union, so any attempt to spoil his perfection by tempting him to sin would be futile and pointless. Satan must have been stupid even to try! That is why we say that trinitarianism reduces the temptation account into something farcical.

But the real Jesus—the biblical Jesus—is very different because he battled sin to the point of sweat and tears, which wouldn’t have been necessary if he were the God-man of trinitarianism.

The biblical Jesus, in his pleas to his Father Yahweh, “was heard in that he feared” (Heb.5:7, KJV). What did he fear? Physical death? Certainly not, for Jesus was the one who said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt.10:28) What Jesus feared was not death but the mortal danger of succumbing to sin and thus failing the mission of redeeming mankind from sin. I am confident that whatever fear Jesus had, it was not for himself, just as Paul (who had the mind of Christ, 1Cor.2:16) was willing to be accursed for the sake of his fellow Jews, exchanging his soul for theirs (Rom.9:3).

But with the weight of mankind’s redemption resting on his shoulders, Jesus could still fail on his part, notwithstanding the benefit of Yahweh’s indwelling presence in him. We might not be able to understand the weight of responsibility that rested on his soul, but we are fully aware of the frightening possibility of moral failure even in the case of one who is indwelt by Yahweh’s Spirit and can therefore avail of God’s power for victory over sin. We thus have a glimpse of the wonder and magnificence of Jesus’ triumph over sin. It was through the sufferings from many trials and temptations over the years that he attained perfection to become the Perfect Man.

Jesus is the victorious Last Adam in contrast to the First Adam. His victory over sin secured the redemption of mankind, hence the resurrected Jesus became a “life-giving spirit” (1Cor.15:45).

Finally, to appreciate the confusion typical of the trinitarian understanding of the temptation of Jesus, here is an eye-opening excerpt from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (which has the distinction of being the top selling systematic theology in the world today).

[Start of excerpt from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, chapter 26, section A4:]

We also must affirm with Scripture that “God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13). But here the question becomes difficult: if Jesus was fully God as well as fully man … then must we not also affirm that (in some sense) Jesus also “could not be tempted with evil”?

… At this point we are faced with a dilemma similar to a number of other doctrinal dilemmas where Scripture seems to be teaching things that are, if not directly contradictory, at least very difficult to combine together in our understanding. For example, with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity, we affirmed that God exists in three persons, and each is fully God, and there is one God … The Bible tells us that “Jesus was tempted” and “Jesus was fully man” and “Jesus was fully God” and “God cannot be tempted.”

… the following solution is more in the nature of a suggested means of combining various biblical teachings and is not directly supported by explicit statements of Scripture. With this in mind, it is appropriate for us to say: (1) If Jesus’ human nature had existed by itself, independent of his divine nature, then it would have been a human nature just like that which God gave Adam and Eve. It would have been free from sin but nonetheless able to sin. Therefore, if Jesus’ human nature had existed by itself, there was the abstract or theoretical possibility that Jesus could have sinned, just as Adam and Eve’s human natures were able to sin. (2) But Jesus’ human nature never existed apart from union with his divine nature. From the moment of his conception, he existed as truly God and truly man as well. Both his human nature and his divine nature existed united in one person. (3) Although there were some things (such as being hungry or thirsty or weak) that Jesus experienced in his human nature alone and were not experienced in his divine nature (see below), nonetheless, an act of sin would have been a moral act that would apparently have involved the whole person of Christ. Therefore, if he had sinned, it would have involved both his human and divine natures. (4) But if Jesus as a person had sinned, involving both his human and divine natures in sin, then God himself would have sinned, and he would have ceased to be God. Yet that is clearly impossible because of the infinite holiness of God’s nature. (5) Therefore, if we are asking if it was actually possible for Jesus to have sinned, it seems that we must conclude that it was not possible. The union of his human and divine natures in one person prevented it.

But the question remains, “How then could Jesus’ temptations be real?” The example of the temptation to change the stones into bread is helpful in this regard. Jesus had the ability, by virtue of his divine nature, to perform this miracle, but if he had done it, he would no longer have been obeying in the strength of his human nature alone, he would have failed the test that Adam also failed, and he would not have earned our salvation for us. Therefore, Jesus refused to rely on his divine nature to make obedience easier for him. In like manner, it seems appropriate to conclude that Jesus met every temptation to sin, not by his divine power, but on the strength of his human nature alone (though, of course, it was not “alone” because Jesus, in exercising the kind of faith that humans should exercise, was perfectly depending on God the Father and the Holy Spirit at every moment). The moral strength of his divine nature was there as a sort of “backstop” that would have prevented him from sinning in any case (and therefore we can say that it was not possible for him to sin), but he did not rely on the strength of his divine nature to make it easier for him to face temptations, and his refusal to turn the stones into bread at the beginning of his ministry is a clear indication of this …

What then do we say about the fact that “God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13)? It seems that this is one of a number of things that we must affirm to be true of Jesus’ divine nature but not of his human nature. His divine nature could not be tempted with evil, but his human nature could be tempted and was clearly tempted. How these two natures united in one person in facing temptations, Scripture does not clearly explain to us.

[End of excerpt from Grudem’s Systematic Theology]

What more can we say? In the final analysis, Grudem’s attempt to arrive at a solution to the problem that he himself raises is not really a solution at all but merely an extended delineation of the nature of the problem itself. The illustrations that he uses, such as that of the human Jesus struggling by himself with some assistance from the divine Jesus who serves as a backstop, still portray Jesus as two persons, human and divine, even if Grudem uses the language of “two natures” rather than “two persons”.

The Son does not know the time of his coming

What about Jesus’ supposed omniscience? As God the Son, does he know everything? Questions have actually been raised in Bible studies as to how Jesus might sit for a university exam on physics or chemistry without studying (to use a modern-day scenario) or whether an omniscient Jesus would need to learn anything at all. Did the infant Jesus know Sanskrit, Ugaritic and ancient Chinese? Or a future language such as English? We must bear in mind that in trinitarian dogma, the infant Jesus was fully God and fully man. But how can one who knows everything be a true human being when it is impossible for any man to know everything? Jesus himself provides a clear answer to our question:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36, NIV, also Mk.13:32)

The Son doesn’t even know the time of his own coming! If Jesus is indeed “God the Son” who is coequal in every respect to the Father and is therefore omniscient, this verse would be inexplicable.

Only the Father knows the day and the hour because He is the one who determines Jesus’ coming. This fact presents no difficulty to those who understand that Jesus is true man, but is problematic to those who insist that Jesus is God. If there is just one detail that Jesus doesn’t know, then he is not omniscient and not God. The trinitarian argument that this is some kind of internal arrangement within the Godhead for the passing of knowledge does not make sense. It also makes no sense to say that Jesus’ human nature does not know everything his divine nature knows, within the same person! This explanation is common in trinitarianism. For example, Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology (section 26C3a) says:

On the one hand, with respect to his human nature, he had limited knowledge (Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52). On the other hand, Jesus clearly knew all things (John 2:25; 16:30; 21:17). Now this is only understandable if Jesus learned things and had limited knowledge with respect to his human nature but was always omniscient with respect to his divine nature, and therefore he was able any time to “call to mind” whatever information would be needed for his ministry. In this way we can understand Jesus’ statement concerning the time of his return: “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). This ignorance of the time of his return was true of Jesus’ human nature and human consciousness only, for in his divine nature he was certainly omniscient and certainly knew the time when he would return to the earth.

The fatal problem with Grudem’s explanation is that Jesus specifically said “only the Father” knows. Jesus wasn’t talking about his own divine nature versus his human nature. His declaration that he does not know the day or the hour would, in trinitarianism, be true of both his natures—divine and human—since “only” the Father knows. The word “only” is problematic to trinitarians for yet another reason: It rules out the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, as one who knows the day and the hour.

We are then left with two possibilities: either Jesus is not God, or God is not omniscient! The former is biblically correct but unacceptable to trinitarians, whereas the latter is blasphemous.

In the way Grudem depicts Jesus’ two natures, the human and the divine, they are functionally two separate persons, even two separate spirits, within the one Christ. Although Grudem speaks of two natures, the more accurate term for his depiction of Christ is “two persons”. The manner in which trinitarians switch back and forth so glibly between Jesus’ human nature (which can be tempted and does not know the hour) and his divine nature (which cannot be tempted and knows the hour) is clear proof that Jesus cannot be both God and man simultaneously. But in trinitarianism, the two natures coexist in Jesus continuously without interruption.

If the Father knows the hour, why shouldn’t the Son also know? It is not just a question of why Jesus functionally doesn’t know, but why he shouldn’t know. But the biblical picture clarifies everything. Just as the Father determined when Jesus will be born into the world in “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) and in accordance with God’s promise (v.23), so Jesus’ return will be at a time the Father determines according to His own eternal purposes; it is not a matter of the Son coming to earth whenever he chooses.

Communicatio idiomatum: an attempt to explain the God-Man

To understand the trinitarian idea of the incarnation by which the second person became the God-man, we need to give a brief account of the trinitarian attempt to explain how a person who is both God and man at the same time can even be functional. This question had led to much debate and controversy, even violence, in the early days of the church. The history of this conflict is not directly relevant to our discussion; we will only say that in the end, one side defeated the other, but not without entailing considerable conflict. [12]

We now briefly examine the idea, proposed by some early church leaders, of communicatio idiomatum, a Latin term which means “the communication of idioms,” with “idioms” meaning the innate or essential characteristics of a person.[13]

How do God and man relate to each other within the God-man Jesus Christ? How do they identify with each other if they are different in essence or substance or nature, since one of them is divine and the other is human, the two united as one person? The idea has been proposed that the characteristics of the one nature are transferred or “communicated” to the other nature in this union, reciprocally.

It is hard to arrive at a precise definition of communicatio idiomatum because the ancient writings which originally proposed the concept gave little explanation of it beyond the bare statement that the divine attributes of God the Son are communicated to the human Jesus in whom he is incarnate, and also in the reverse direction from the man Jesus to the divine Christ. If one is pressed for the specifics of the communication of attributes, one can say at most that the qualities (“idioms”) of the second person of the Trinity are transferred to the human Jesus, including qualities such as God’s power, wisdom, justice, and so on.

But one of the inalienable attributes of the divine essence is immortality. This fundamental attribute would have to be transferred to the man Jesus, for is it possible to communicate only some of the divine qualities and not the others? From what is known of the communication of idioms, there is no suggestion that only some of the qualities are transferred while the others are not, if this is even possible.

We see ever more clearly the problems of the idea of the communication of idioms. For example, if the man in whom the second person is incarnate was made immortal by that union, then obviously he could not have died for our sins, in which case God’s plan of salvation would have been subverted. In the attempt to resolve the contradiction of death and immortality in the same person, the Gentile church leaders went so far as to say that the second person of the Trinity, who is fully God, died for our sins in any case. It turns out that to these Christians, the immortal God is not so immortal after all!

Another example: Since God Almighty is omnipotent, would it not be blasphemous to speak of Him as weak? If God the Son is of the same substance as God the Father, he would also be omnipotent and could not in any sense be described as weak. The point is simple: If he is weak, he is not God. If he is Almighty, he is not man. If he is mortal, he is not God. If he is immortal, he is not man.

In the skewed logic of trinitarianism, God the Son is really two incompatible opposites thrown together into a bipolar Jesus who is both mortal and immortal, both man and God, and therefore both mortal man and immortal God. Anyone who can believe this twisted and contradictory doctrine will not find it hard to believe any error that comes along his way. It must have taken an impressive power of persuasion to pull off this deception, not just on a few individuals but on great multitudes throughout church history. This causes one to wonder if the persuasiveness of the deception comes from some supernatural force. We are reminded of the words in Revelation: “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev.12:9). What it means is that no one, no matter how intelligent or educated, can escape from the paralyzing grip of spiritual deception. Spiritual perception, on the other hand, involves “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” by God (Eph.1:18), enabling the heart to see the liberating light of His truth.

The second person of the Trinity—the one who supposedly died on the cross—clearly cannot be Yahweh who in Scripture is most definitely immortal. That being the case, who exactly is this God called the second person of the Trinity? And whom have trinitarians been worshipping ever since their dogma became the official doctrine of the church in the fourth century? This question is becoming ever more frightening.

Few Christians know anything about the frightening theology that undergirds trinitarianism. There are other aspects of this theology that make little or no sense, but I won’t go into them at this time except to ask: In the exchange or intercommunication of qualities, what human attributes can be transferred from man and added to God? Does man have any quality in his essence and nature to communicate to the essence and nature of God? Can anything be added to God in any way? How can man’s weakness, for example, be transferred to an omnipotent God whose very omnipotence would, in any case, neutralize the weakness? This is an example of what I mean by the absurd nature of the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum.

The idea of the God-man was frankly unintelligible even to the trinitarians who proposed it, and who then tried to explain the relationship of Jesus’ two natures with concepts such as hypostatic union and communicatio idiomatum to make sense of the contradiction. This is the sort of thing that we trinitarians vainly expended much time and effort in.

But the nature of the biblical Jesus makes perfect sense. He is someone we can identify with and look up to as our triumphant example who inspires us. Weak though we are, God will strengthen us in the inner man, and empower us to triumph over all obstacles through Jesus Christ even though given our many weaknesses, we will not attain perfection in this life as Jesus had. Even the great apostle Paul acknowledges, “Not that I am already perfect … but I press on toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ” (Phil.3:12,14).

From all this, we can only stand in awe at the magnificent triumph of Yahweh in Christ, who attained what was hitherto impossible to any human. While all believers, through God’s mercy, have been given the privilege in Christ of becoming the sons and daughters of God, only Jesus can be rightly called “the only Son of God.”

The distinction of wills within the Trinity

Whereas the self-giving love of the biblical Jesus is straightforward and easy to understand in terms of his voluntary act of the will, the same cannot be said of the trinitarian Jesus. It would, for example, be problematic if it is the trinitarian Jesus who says in Gethsemane, “Not my will but yours be done.” Who is the one uttering the words? Is it God the Son who is speaking to God the Father? If so, this would create the problem of a distinction of wills within the Trinity, in which the second person submits to the will of the first person after an intense struggle. With such a sharp distinction of wills within the Trinity, how can we still speak of the three as being of one essence when there are three distinct wills that are not necessarily in perfect alignment until an inner struggle unites them as in the case of Gethsemane? By contrast, the statement “Not my will but yours be done” would be easy to understand if it had come from the man Christ Jesus in speaking to his Father who had sent him to accomplish the salvation of mankind.

The problem doesn’t stop there because in trinitarianism, the obedience of “God the Son” to God the Father is strictly internal to the one-essence God, and cannot be properly described as “obedience to God”. This internal obedience has no bearing on the important statement in Romans 5:18-19 that what is crucial for man’s salvation is an obedience in terms of man’s relationship to God rather than an internal relationship within the Trinity.

If trinitarians say that the one speaking at Gethsemane is the human Jesus in whom “God the Son” is incarnate, the result is equally disastrous: Who is Jesus speaking to when he says “Your will be done,” God the Son or God the Father? In either case, there are two distinct wills within Jesus: the will of the man who said “Your will be done,” and the will of God representing Jesus’ divine nature, leading to the impossible situation of two wills within the God-man. And since the will cannot exist without a person, this would mean that Jesus is not one person but two!

This is precisely one of the intractable problems that the early trinitarians got entangled in and tried to get out of. To avoid the unacceptable idea of two wills and therefore two persons in the God-man, which would create a schizophrenic Jesus, it was decreed that it is the divine God the Son rather than the man Jesus who is central to the God-man constitution and whose will acted solely in Jesus at Gethsemane. This doesn’t solve the dilemma because it would mean that Jesus’ human nature lacks an operative will, in which case he (or it) would not be a complete human being since every human being has an independent human will. (Trinitarians say that Jesus is fully man, an assertion that requires Jesus to have a human body, a human spirit, and a human will.) This illustrates what we have been saying all along, that the trinitarian Jesus is not a human being as we know human beings to be. This takes us back to our observation that the obedience of “God the Son” to God the Father is internal to the Trinity, and has no bearing on the crucial matter of man’s salvation that is said in Romans 5:18-19 to hinge on man’s obedience to God, the biblical Yahweh.

According to the Alexandrian theology which triumphed over the Antiochene theology in the early church, there is no separation within the God-man between the divine God the Son and the human Jesus. Yet it is God the Son who constitutes the real person in the God-man whereas the man does not represent the will of the God-man. As a fervent trinitarian puts it, “He had the appearance and flesh of a man, but the characteristics, power and nature of God.”[14]

But if trinitarianism gives Jesus a human spirit in order to resolve this dilemma, there would be two spirits in him, divine and human, and therefore two persons in Jesus! [15]

Again trinitarianism is caught on the horns of a dilemma for which there is no resolution, thereby exposing the falsity of the doctrine, for all falsehood contains within itself the inevitable self-contradiction that becomes the seed of its own destruction once it is examined.

The tragedy is that most Christians don’t know that the trinitarian Jesus, the God-man, is a man-made fabrication constructed from bits and pieces of the New Testament, creating a divine person who does not exist in the Bible, namely, God the Son which is “Son of God” violently turned upside down or the wrong way around. In short, trinitarians have constructed a theological idol that they bow to in worship, and demand that others do the same.

Dear trinitarians, if Jesus Christ is God as you say he is, then you and I are still in our sins without the hope of salvation, for an essential attribute of God is immortality, which means that he cannot die for our sins. But if God could die, he would not be God. Yet he cannot be true man because you say he is also God. The human part of Jesus has no human soul or spirit because you have replaced it with the spirit of God the Son. In this case, Jesus’ death cannot atone for your sins or mine.

Why are so few saved?

After having taught the Bible for several decades, one day it came to me as a shock to realize that neither I nor any other trinitarian could quote one verse from the New Testament or the Bible as a whole, in which the central trinitarian title of Jesus, “God the Son,” is found—not one verse! The same is true of the other major trinitarian title of Jesus: the second person of the Trinity. That this title is not found in the Bible is to be expected since the word “Trinity” itself does not exist in the Bible. In short, the very existence of “God the Son” cannot be demonstrated from the pages of the Bible. Yet the amazing thing is that we could talk about, preach about, teach about, think about, and write volumes about, a person whose very existence in the pages of Scripture we could not demonstrate!

How had this come about? I was wondering about this when I looked back at a long career of preaching and teaching and writing. It is said that hindsight is 20/20, and this particular instance of hindsight sends a chill down one’s spine when one looks at the pages of history. Looking at the early centuries of the church, we see a faith being built on a Jesus who exists nowhere in the Bible and who was subtly fabricated in a manner that steadily strips him of his Jewish monotheistic roots. It reminds us of what Jesus said about the last days, that believers must be on their guard because even the elect, the chosen ones, will be deceived (Mt.24:24).

There are approximately two billion Christians in the world today, and they make up one third of the world’s population. [16] Given the triumph of Christianity in the world, at least in terms of the number of adherents, why does Jesus say that only a “few” will be saved (Lk.13:23-24)? How do we understand his statement? For all the talk of the dominance of trinitarian Christianity, I have never heard any trinitarian address this spine-chilling question: Why of all the billions will only a “few” be saved?

The question is not hard to answer if we grasp the appalling fact that the vast majority of believers in the world today have been deceived in a most tragic way. Is there any other answer to this dreadful question that aligns with Jesus’ statement that only a few will be saved? How can the multitudes be saved or go through the narrow gate of life if they place their faith, their trust, their hope, on a trinitarian Jesus, God the Son, whose existence cannot be found in the Scriptures of life?

Faith in the trinitarian Jesus will nullify the hope of salvation. This is not to be taken as a blanket statement that all trinitarians will be condemned and all non-trinitarians will be saved, for there are other spiritual principles in divine judgment (such as one’s level of the knowledge of the truth). Yet it is hard to evade the biblical fact that idolatry—whether trinitarian idolatry or any other—will have eternal consequences.

Our present discussion is not just an academic debate over doctrines that have no bearing on our eternal welfare; we are dealing with a vital spiritual matter in which one small error will have eternal consequences. The fearful truth about trinitarian error, properly called heresy, is that it diverges completely from the biblical truth.

All the fullness of the deity

In trinitarianism, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, became incarnate as Jesus Christ. But God the Son is only one of three persons and therefore cannot embody “all the fullness of the Deity” which is mentioned in Colossians 2:9: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (NIV).

Only the biblical Yahweh, the one true God, has “all the fullness of the Deity”. And only the indwelling of Yahweh in the man Christ Jesus correctly explains Colossians 2:9. Once again the trinitarian error is exposed.

Paul’s statement that the fullness of God—indeed all the fullness of the Deity—dwells in Christ bodily, is paralleled in the fact that God’s people are also filled with God’s entire fullness: “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph.3:19).

God’s dwelling or indwelling in Christ is “in bodily form,” a remarkable truth that comes out also in Colossians 1:19 (“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”). The “bodily” indwelling of God in Christ is totally different from the trinitarian union of the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human, in one person. This concept has led to the problem of how a God-man can even be functional, a difficulty that in turn led to the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum, a highly philosophical concept that attempts to explain how the two natures interrelate with each other. This doctrine is not based on anything in the Bible but is a man-made concept invented to solve a man-made dilemma.

Scripture offers no support for the doctrine of the two natures, the divine and the human, united inseparably in Christ, by which Jesus is true God and true man. In 451, this unbiblical doctrine was promulgated by the creed of the Council of Chalcedon (the town of Chalcedon was located in Bithynia, in today’s Turkey). The attempt to prove this idea using John 1:14 (“the Word became flesh”) is erroneous because trinitarians assume without basis that the Word (logos) refers to the supposedly preexistent Christ. The fact is that logos is never identified with Jesus in either John’s Prologue or the rest of the New Testament. [17] The supposed equivalence of the logos and Jesus is simply forced on the word of God.

The concept of the hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures, the divine and the human, is not only unbiblical but also unintelligible. Wikipedia article “Hypostatic Union” puts it politely: “this union is held to defy finite human comprehension”. But nonsense in its formal sense also defies comprehension, for if something makes logical sense, it can be comprehended. But the incomprehensibility of the hypostatic union is not something that would seriously trouble trinitarians because they would usually shunt the issue into the realm of “mystery” despite the fact that unintelligibility is not the biblical meaning of mystery. Paul uses the term “mystery” to speak of things hidden in the past but which are now revealed by God.

Only two types of union of persons are found in the Bible: the marriage union of man and woman by which they become one flesh, and the spiritual union of God and man by which they become one spirit (1Cor.6:17). The Bible never speaks of a hypostatic union, a trinitarian invention that in itself created much bitter conflict in the early church over what it means.

Scripture, on the other hand, gives us a wonderful vision of God dwelling in His people, whose bodies serve as His temple on earth. God is found in His people, for the fullness of Yahweh that indwells Jesus also indwells His people: “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph.3:19). As is often the case in Paul’s teaching, what is true of Jesus is also true of God’s children.

“I am”

In our trinitarian days, when we saw Jesus’ “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel, we immediately assumed that Jesus was declaring himself God. In our minds there is no need to prove that Jesus is God, for Jesus declared it himself. Of course none of us thought that the blind man healed by Jesus was claiming to be God when he said “I am” to those who asked him if he was the blind man they had known all along (John 9:9). The most discussed “I am” statement in John’s Gospel is the one in the last verse of the following passage:

51 “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:51-58, ESV)

The disputation with the Jews [18] started with Jesus’ declaration, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (v.51). The key statement is, “if anyone keeps my word”. The word which Jesus spoke, as he pointed out many times, was not his own but the Father’s. To obey God’s word is life, to disobey it is death, as the Jews would know from their own Law. In Jesus’ discussion with the Jews, the key message was the keeping of God’s word. Jesus had the authority to proclaim God’s word because he kept it: “I do know Him and I keep His word” (v.55). Like Moses, Jesus proclaimed God’s word, but at a higher level than Moses. Jesus’ age, which the Jews overestimated to be nearly fifty, was irrelevant to the issue; Moses was around eighty when he confronted Pharaoh at God’s command (Ex.7:7).

The main theme of this incident is God’s word delivered to the Jews through Jesus. Yet trinitarians are interested only in what they suppose are the key words, “Before Abraham was, I am”.

A proper reading of John 8:58 would take into consideration the fact that the standalone “I am” in John 8:58 (i.e., without an explicit predicate nominative) is also found in verses 24 and 28 of the same chapter (all verses from ESV):

Verse 24: I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins

Verse 28: When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me

Verse 58: Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.

In verses 24 and 28, the word “he” (see the underlined) is not in the Greek. Hence all three verses have the standalone “I am” in the Greek. Most Bibles (ESV, KJV, NET, NIV, NRSV) legitimately and plausibly add “he” to verses 24 and 28 to complete the intended meaning of the “I am” statements (“I am he”). Yet these Bibles don’t do the same for verse 58.

What is Jesus saying about himself when he says “I am he” in verses 24 and 28? Some trinitarians take it to mean “I am God,” but others are aware that this reading would be problematic in v.28 because it would make the “I AM” function under the authority of another person, which can hardly be true of the Almighty “I AM”. Hence some trinitarians (plausibly) read verses 24 and 28 to mean, “I am the Messiah,” which would align with the explicitly stated objective of John’s Gospel, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (Jn.20:31). Even John Calvin, a trinitarian, says that it would be a “mistake” to take “I am” in v.24 as a reference to “the divine essence of Christ”; Calvin emphatically takes it as “I am the Messiah”.

If in fact verses 24 and 28 declare Jesus to be the Messiah, what about verse 58 (“before Abraham was, I am”)? Could it likewise be a declaration that Jesus is the Messiah? This is reinforced by v.56, “your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day,” which most trinitarians understand to mean that Abraham had a vision of the future Messiah.

 

But if we take John 8:58 as a reference to Yahweh, namely, the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14, then there would be two main ways of understanding this.

One way is to say that Jesus is identical with Yahweh the “I AM”. But this would be problematic to those trinitarians who rightly see Yahweh as being God the Father and not God the Son. If Jesus is Yahweh, that would exclude the Father as Yahweh (in view of Dt.6:4, which says there is only one Yahweh) and even as God (in view of Isa.45:5-5, which says there is no God besides Yahweh).

“I AM” is not a general name of God but the specific name of Yahweh (“I AM has sent me to you,” Ex.3:14). If Jesus claimed to be the I AM, he would be claiming to be Yahweh God. Jesus who did not grasp at equality with God (Phil.2:6) would now be publicly declaring himself the only true God of Israel. Any such intention on the part of Jesus can be ruled out by Phil.2:6, but equally by the fact that only Yahweh is God (Isa.45:5).

The other way of explaining John 8:58 is the one that harmonizes with the entire John’s Gospel: In John 8:58, Yahweh is speaking directly through Jesus, saying to the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I AM”.

Earlier in history, Yahweh similarly revealed Himself to Israel as the “I AM,” through Moses:

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex.3:14)

But in John 8:58, Yahweh spoke His own Name to Israel, not from a burning bush but through Jesus the one sent by God. This is strengthened by v.28 of the same chapter in which Jesus says that he “speaks just as the Father taught me” (Jn. 8:28). This is similar to the earlier case of John 2:19 in which God spoke directly through Jesus: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (this special case will be discussed in the next chapter).

All this harmonizes with the fact, repeated many times in John’s Gospel, that Jesus speaks the very words of the Father:

“The word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:24, ESV)

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49-50, ESV)

 

The Jews misunderstood the Lord Jesus when he said to them, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” (Jn.8:56) So they asked him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (v.57)

But Jesus did not say he had seen Abraham, but that “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day”—namely, the day of Jesus’ exaltation as God’s Messiah (a view which is held by many trinitarians). Abraham was given a glimpse of the future Messiah and rejoiced at what he saw. Abraham was, after all, a man who looked “to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb.11:10). This is the heavenly city from which Christ will reign over the universe as Yahweh’s regent.

Jesus never said that Abraham had seen him with his physical eyes but that Abraham saw “my day,” which is taken uncontroversially by trinitarians and non-trinitarians alike to mean that Abraham, by faith, caught a glorious vision of the coming Messiah’s ministry of salvation.[19]

A comparison of “before Abraham was, I am” with the other “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel [20] shows that the former is fundamentally different from the latter. The general “I am” sayings are portraits of Jesus as the light, the door, the resurrection, and so on, but the “I AM” statement in John 8:58 is unique and stands on its own.

Supplementary comment (optional reading)

Many take Jesus’ “I am” declaration in John 8:58 as a claim to deity because of its similarity to the words, “I am who I am,” spoken by Yahweh in Exodus 3:14. If we limit our analysis to the Greek text (the NT and LXX) and not the Hebrew (the MT), then the equating of the “I am” of John 8:58 (“before Abraham was, I am”) with the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14 cannot be sustained purely on the basis of similar vocabulary.

Among the many instances of “I am” in John’s Gospel, one was spoken by the blind man who had been healed by Jesus. When the people asked him if he was the blind man they had known all along, he answered, “I am” (John 9:9). Most English translations expand this into something like “I am he” or “I am the one” or “I am the man”. In the Greek, egō eimi (ἐγώ εἰμι) which the man spoke is the same as the “I am” spoken by Jesus in John 8:58. In the LXX, a similar use of the standalone egō eimi is found in 2Sam.2:20 (Asahel said “I am” to Abner).

But there is another Greek construction for “I am”—ho ōn (ὁ ὤν)—which is different from the egō eimi spoken by Jesus. In Ex.3:14 of the LXX when Yahweh said “I am who I am,” the first “I am” is egō eimi whereas the second “I am” is ho ōn. Yahweh did not simply say egō eimi (“I am”), He said egō eimi ho ōn, usually translated as “I am that I am” or “I am who I am”. In other words, Yahweh’s “I am who I am” in Ex.3:14 is longer than Jesus’ “I am” in Jn.8:58. In the “I am who I am” of Ex.3:14, the first “I am” (egō eimi) merely introduces the second and definitive “I am” (ho ōn). Historically it is the second “I am” (ho ōn) and not the first (egō eimi) that was apparently a byword for “God” among some Greek-speaking Jews (e.g. Philo’s Life of Moses, and Cambridge Companion to Philo, p.198).

Similarly, in Exodus 3:14, when Yahweh instructed Moses to say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you,” the “I AM” is the definitive ho ōn rather than the egō eimi that Jesus spoke in John 8:58.

Since our distinction between egō eimi and ho ōn is based on the Greek and not the Hebrew, does it have any relevance for Exodus 3:14 (“I am who I am”)? Perhaps, and for an unexpected reason. In Revelation 1:4 (“who is and who was and who is to come,” which is uttered by God and not by Jesus), John appends ho ōn in the nominative to the preposition apo even though apo calls for the genitive. This striking grammatical anomaly may be an intended allusion to Exodus 3:14. The possibility that John is making a heightened distinction between the common egō eimi and the (possibly) theologically significant ho ōn in Revelation 1:4 means that Jesus’ use of egō eimi rather than ho ōn in John 8:58 may be significant, and may give less support to the trinitarian view of this verse than is supposed by trinitarians.



[1] See Wikipedia articles “Zeus” and “Hermes” for masterly discussions on these two well-known Greek gods.

[2] Examples of the early deification of Jesus in the second century: “Yet, nevertheless, He is God, in that He is the First-Begotten of all creatures” (Justin Martyr, c.160); “God was put to death” (Melito, c.170); “He is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this” (Irenaeus, c.180). A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, pp.94,95, ed. David W. Bercot.

[3] Most non-Catholics are unaware of the high status of the title Mediatrix which is competently explained in the Wikipedia article “Mediatrix”: “The title Mediatrix is used in Roman Catholic Mariology to refer to the intercessory role of the Virgin Mary as a mediator in the salvific redemption by her son Jesus Christ, and that he bestows graces through her.” The same article cites a statement on the “Mediatrix of Mercy” made by Pope John Paul II: “Thus there is a mediation: Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings. She puts herself in the middle, that is to say she acts as a mediatrix, not as an outsider, but in her position as mother.”

[4] Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (1984), article Holy Spirit, says: “In the OT the spirit of the Lord (ruach yhwh; LXX, to pneuma kyriou) is generally an expression for God’s power, the extension of himself whereby he carries out many of his mighty deeds.”

[5] Lk.1:35; 4:14; Acts 1:8; 10:38; Rom.15:13,19; 1Cor.2:4; Eph.3:16; 1Th.1:5.

[6] ISBE, article “Barabbas,” says: “Origen [the greatest textual critic of the early church] knew and does not absolutely condemn a reading of Mt 27:16,17, which gave the name ‘Jesus Barabbas’ … it is also found in a few cursives and in the Aramaic and the Jerusalem Syriac versions.”

[7] Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, article “Simon Magus”. For Simon Magus as a prominent Gnostic in early church tradition, see Wikipedia articles “Simon Magus” and “Gnosticism and the New Testament”.

[8] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (p.66) and The Universe in a Nutshell (pp.23-23), two-in-one edition, Bantam Books, New York, 2010.

[9] The declaration “he who sent me” occurs many times in John’s gospel, including 10 times in chapters 6 to 8 alone: 6:38,39,44; 7:16, 28,33; 8:16,18,26,29.

[10] Compare John 6:15, “perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain”.

[11] David Rokeah’s Antisemitism Through the Ages (p.57) and Robert Michel’s Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust (p.19).

[12] For an account of this protracted conflict, see Philip Jenkin’s Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years. The book’s long subtitle is not meant to be facetious or comical but factual; the author holds professorships at two American universities.

[13] Some define communicatio idiomatum as “the communication of the properties or predicates” (e.g. Westminster Dictionary of Theologians, ed. Justo L. González, p.256), which is equivalent to “the communication of idioms”.

[14] Clarence M. Beard, The Only True God, p.179, 1956. This book, written from a trinitarian perspective, is largely concerned with the issues of science and religion that were current more than half a century ago.

[15] The idea that Jesus has a human spirit was proposed by the bishop Nestorius who was later condemned as a heretic by Cyril of Alexandria and others at the First Council of Ephesus in 431. See The Jesus Wars.

[16] This number comes from two encyclopedias of religion, both dated 2007. The Encyclopedia of World Religions (p.87) says: “At the beginning of the 21st century, Christianity was the world’s largest religion. Some 2 billion people, about a third of the world’s population, were at least nominally Christian or of Christian cultural background.” World Religions: Almanac (vol.1, p.119) says: “In addition to being possibly the most divided religion in the world, Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with 2.1 billion followers. Believers live around the globe, but the heaviest concentration of Christians is in Europe and North and South America. The United States contains the most number of Christians, with 85 percent of the population, or 225 million people, who claim to be Christians. Other major areas of Christian population include Europe, with about 550 million; Latin America, with about 450 million; Africa, with about 350 million; and Asia, with about 310 million.”

[17] Not even in Rev.19:13 where the “Word of God” refers not to Christ but to God in the familiar OT picture of God as the “Lord of Hosts” or “Lord of Armies”. The word “blood” in the same verse refers not to Christ’s blood but the blood of God’s vanquished enemies. In fact, the next two verses (14,15) portray the Word of God as the One who leads “the armies of heaven” and whose sword is used to “strike down the nations,” culminating in the corpses of kings, captains, mighty men, and horses (v.18). The title “Lord of Hosts” (literally “Yahweh of Armies”) occurs about 240 times in the OT, and in each case “the Lord” is literally “Yahweh”. (On Rev.19:13, see TOTG, Appendix 6.)

I.H. Marshall, trinitarian, suggests that “the Word of God” in Rev.19:13 does not refer to Christ: “After [John’s] prologue, Jesus is no longer referred to as ‘the Word’” (A Concise New Testament Theology, p.187). On p.220, Marshall says: “The unique use of the title the Word of God (Rev 19:13) reminds us of John 1:1-14 and 1 John 1:1-4, but it is not clear whether the rich background of these two verses is needed to understand the usage in Revelation.”

[18] Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon, Ioudaios (Jewish, Judean), says that John “ascribes to Jesus and his apostles language in which they distinguish themselves from the Jews, as though the latter sprang from an alien race”. We need to be careful about making excessive statements of this kind which can have undesirable and even dangerous ethnic and religious implications. We should bear in mind something that Jesus said about the Jews: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (Jn.4:22)—hardly a statement that is hostile to the Jews. Paul evidently did not see anything in Jesus’ teaching that was hostile to the Jews, for in Paul’s thinking it is always “the Jews first” (Rom.1:16; 2:9,10), both in reward and in punishment.

[19] Most trinitarians hold this view of John 8:56. NIV Study Bible says, “Jesus probably was not referring to any one occasion but to Abraham’s general joy in the fulfilling of God’s purposes in the Messiah, by which all nations on earth would receive blessing.” Thomas Constable says that Jesus “fulfilled what Abraham looked forward to” and that Abraham’s vision was a “prediction that God would bless the whole world through Abraham”. Expositor’s Bible Commentary says, “Abraham had a preview of Jesus’ ministry and rejoiced in it.”

[20] I am the bread of life (John 6:35), the light of the world (8:12), the door of the sheep (10:7), the good shepherd (10:11), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way and the truth and the life (14:6), the true vine (15:1).

 

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