A challenging article re: Trinitarian thought.


I think this refers mainly to ONE in the above post.
From Wm. Ellery Channing. I don’t think that this essay (this is only an excerpt) or any other single work will settle the case, ever, one way or t’other.
But this is a very clear, moderate, and thoughtful presentation on the subject, and not to be taken lightly:

We object to the doctrine of the Trinity, that, whilst acknowledging in words, it subverts in effect, the unity of God. According to this doctrine, there are three infinite and equal persons, possessing supreme divinity, called the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Each of these persons, as described by theologians, has his own particular consciousness, will, and perceptions. They love each other, converse with each other, and delight in each other’s society. They perform different parts in man’s redemption, each having his appropriate office, and neither doing the work of the other. The Son is mediator and not the Father. The Father sends the Son, and is not himself sent; nor is he conscious, like the Son, of taking flesh. Here, then, we have three intelligent agents, possessed of different consciousness, different wills, and different perceptions, performing different acts, and sustaining different relations; and if these things do not imply and constitute three minds or beings, we are utterly at a loss to know how three minds or beings are to be formed. It is difference of properties, and acts, and consciousness, which leads us to the belief of different intelligent beings, and, if this mark fails us, our whole knowledge fall; we have no proof, that all the agents and persons in the universe are not one and the same mind. When we attempt to conceive of three Gods, we can do nothing more than represent to ourselves three agents, distinguished from each other by similar marks and peculiarities to those which separate the persons of the Trinity; and when common Christians hear these persons spoken of as conversing with each other, loving each other, and performing different acts, how can they help regarding them as different beings, different minds?
We do, then, with all earnestness, though without reproaching our brethren, protest against the irrational and unscriptural doctrine of the Trinity. “To us,” as to the Apostle and the primitive Christians, “there is one God, even the Father.” With Jesus, we worship the Father, as the only living and true God. We are astonished, that any man can read the New Testament, and avoid the conviction, that the Father alone is God. We hear our Saviour continually appropriating this character to the Father. We find the Father continually distinguished from Jesus by this title. “God sent his Son.” “God anointed Jesus.” Now, how singular and inexplicable is this phraseology, which fills the New Testament, if this title belong equally to Jesus, and if a principal object of this book is to reveal him as God, as partaking equally with the Father in supreme divinity! We challenge our opponents to adduce one passage in the New Testament, where the word God means three persons, where it is not limited to one person, and where, unless turned from its usual sense by the connexion, it does not mean the Father. Can stronger proof be given, that the doctrine of three persons in the Godhead is not a fundamental doctrine of Christianity?
This doctrine, were it true, must, from its difficulty, singularity, and importance, have been laid down with great clearness, guarded with great care, and stated with all possible precision. But where does this statement appear? From the many passages which treat of God, we ask for one, one only, in which we are told, that he is a threefold being, or that he is three persons, or that he is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. On the contrary, in the New Testament, where, at least, we might expect many express assertions of this nature, God is declared to be one, without the least attempt to prevent the acceptation of the words in their common sense; and he is always spoken of and addressed in the singular number, that is, in language which was universally understood to intend a single person, and to which no other idea could have been attached, without an express admonition. So entirely do the Scriptures abstain from stating the Trinity, that when our opponents would insert it into their creeds and doxologies, they are compelled to leave the Bible, and to invent forms of words altogether unsanctioned by Scriptural phraseology. That a doctrine so strange, so liable to misapprehension, so fundamental as this is said to be, and requiring such careful exposition, should be left so undefined and unprotected, to be made out by inference, and to be hunted through distant and detached parts of Scripture, this is a difficulty, which, we think, no ingenuity can explain.


For the rest of that, as well as his considerations of the unity of our Lord, I’ll just post the link:
americanunitarian.org/unitar … ianity.htm

My purpose in these posts is selfish - I want to understand, and I have been unable to - as concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation. I’m hoping to shake loose some new thinking on my part by stimulating those who are pro/con on these important issues.

Far and away, Channing is, for me, the clearest expositor on the questions.
But I am really, really willing to be taught otherwise.


Dave, I will give you some more subnumeration quotes tomorrow. I have found some. In the meantime, I want to show you another consideration concerning the earliest teaching on the trinity…

While we today think of the trinity only from the perspective of the 4th and 5th century councils, such as Nicaea and Chalcedon, the earlier christians had much more freedom to explore the Godhead without the fear of being labeled a heretic. This position is shown in the commentary given by Origen on the different views of the trinity that were then entertained:

These 3 clauses of Origen were the earliest acceptable boundaries in which the dogma of the trinity was communicated (Justin Martyrs, and later, Nicaean views, were equally compatible within Origens outline). Notice that the third clause is the position (or doubts) which Paidion holds. This was an acceptable view in the 3rd century, but today it is conceived in terms of heresy. It is our modern post-Nicaea view of the trinity, insisting that it alone is fundamental to Christianity, which is truly heresy (or rather, to be rejected). Most people who discuss the trinity are speaking in reference to the Nicaean Creed, which is quite unfortunate. The definitions of the trinity from the 2nd and 3rd centuries encompass a far greater array of views which were all orthodox. One of those most frequent orthodox views were subordinationism and subnumeration. The Godhead had a clear hierarchy, and many of the earliest fathers had emphasized the order of the Godhead in very clear terms. The 4th century church, which adopted a universal pope, statues, bribery, violence, pagan churches, forgeries, celibacy for clergy, Mariology, etc, had also adopted a dogma on the trinity which is devastatingly wrong.

Dave, I firmly believe in the trinity, but the Catholic version of the trinity is just as wrong as their version of Mary, the rosary, celibacy and statues. I am a Catholic, I was baptized as Catholic, so I do not hate catholics. We were the first sect of the church to become recognized as the “institutional church”. Like any sect, we manipulated the scriptures and the teachings to accommodate our own misconceptions. The early Protestants were not very well educated on the 4th century history, nor on the earlier teachings of the 2nd and 3rd centuries fathers. They knew of them mostly through the eyes of Eusebius and Jerome. They were not able to discern the great drift that occurred with the earliest church. This drift is enormous, yet difficult for so many to acknowledge. The implications seem too astounding, so they are swept under the carpet. It makes no difference to me. This is not my hobby-horse. If people want to be confused, that is their problem. I had enough problems just surviving life, so I am not too worried that others are still caught in this diabolical dogma conundrum. God helps us all anyway, whether we are Catholic or Protestant. It is only from the perspective of accuracy, which is my personal agenda. It doesn’t bother me that others believe that the pope was truly chosen by Christ to rule over the entire church, and that the pope is infallible, and that this pope has decided most of the dogmas of the existing churches up until now. Everyone is free to believe whatever their heart desires. I have rejected these teachings on the basis of seeking accuracy, and my understanding of the trinity is based on the same objective.



If the object is to distinguish Him from the Father, why not refer to Him as “The Son of God” as the scripture does? For He is the ONLY begotten Son of God.

When NT uses the phrase “ho theos” (the God) without any other modifiers of “God”, it ALWAYS refers to the Father, and never to the Son.
NOWHERE does the phrase in the NT refer either to the Son or to the holy spirit. And NOWHERE in the scripture does the word “God” refer to a Trinity.


And a practical consideration also:

True piety, when directed to an undivided Deity, has a chasteness, a singleness, most favorable to religious awe and love. Now, the Trinity sets before us three distinct objects of supreme adoration; three infinite persons, having equal claims on our hearts; three divine agents, performing different offices, and to be acknowledged and worshipped in different relations. And is it possible, we ask, that the weak and limited mind of man can attach itself to these with the same power and joy, as to One Infinite Father, the only First Cause, in whom all the blessings of nature and redemption meet as their centre and source? Must not devotion be distracted by the equal and rival claims of three equal persons, and must not the worship of the conscientious, consistent Christian, be disturbed by an apprehension, lest he withhold from one or another of these, his due proportion of homage?

Again this is not THE proof against trinitarian thought, but it is clearly a sober assessment of this part of the subject.


BTW, I’ve contacted the moderators and welcomed them to reign in my ‘fixation’ on this subject if they feel I’m running wild. :smiley:
I can get carried away; and I don’t want to do anything if it is not edifying to the Body of Christ.
Let me know if this is causing waves - Christian unity in love is more important than anything else.


Paidion, within reason, we are all free to use whichever language we wish to describe God. If the term ‘God the Son’ is offensive to you, then don’t use it. That is the point of my previous post; we have a freedom to use certain language (or not use certain language) as our understanding permits. We don’t need to reel in the polar extreme and forbid the usage of certain terms.

The use (or disuse) of the definite article, “the”, before God does not prove or disprove the identity of God. This idea, that the absence of the definite article made the reference to a lessor god, was first introduced by E.W. Bullinger and Bishop Middleton. This idea is shown to be false in scripture in Luke 1:35 where “Holy Spirit” and “Most High” are both without the definite article. In Matthew 3:16 - the Holy Spirit is referred to without a definite article, and in Luke 3:22 - with a definite article. Again, in John 7:39 the Holy Spirit is referred to with the definite article, and in Acts 1:5 the Holy Spirit is referred to without the definite article. Also in John 14:26 the Holy Spirit is referred to with the definite article.

Professor Gordon Fee explains why there is a distinction of the usage of the definite article:

Colored emphasis added…

This ‘definite article’ theory was not used by the early church fathers to distinguish between persons of the Godhead, and it should also be rejected today. It is sit on very shaky ground, and it is contradicted by scripture itself.

Again, this is a very unstable argument. The trinity is a word which describes the unique relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are many different models of the trinity that can be used, even the one that you use, Paidion, which rejects the Holy Spirit. I personally had problems with the term because of its association with gnosticism, as the 2nd century gnostic (and bishop), Valentinus, had proposed a model of the trinity which was eventually adopted by the bishops of Rome, and it is very close to the Nicene model of the trinity that the entire churches have now succumbed to, as confessed by Marcellus of Ancyra:


It was Valentinus who opened the can of worms and poisoned the trinity well. 2nd and 3rd century Roman bishops, Zephyrinus and Callistus, had first entertained the gnostic trinity; but that alone does not disqualify the usage of the term. There is no need to throw the baby out with the dirty bath water. The term can be used to describe the Godhead as I understand it, as well as it can be used to describe the Godhead as you understand it. The problem lies in the word association, not in the word itself.

Another non-biblical word that is frequently used by christians is incarnation. The fact that the word is not found in scripture does not negate the usage of the term.



What is ‘the Godhead’?


Acts 17:29

Romans 1:20

Colossians 2:9


Def: the essential being of God.
That’s a ‘good enough’ definition?


Yes, it is a term that represents the entire domain of God rather than the individual persons of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.


Certainly we’re free to do that. No one is preventing us from using “Turnip” or any other word.

I’m not offended. I simply think it does not correctly describe the Son of God.

To the best of my knowledge, no one is forbidding the usage of ANY term.

Of course not, but it clearly denotes the Father, only true God, whereas the concept of Trinity seems to be a mere man-made invention which we find nowhere in scripture (I am not referring to the word “Trinity”, but to the concept).

I don’t think those two men invented the idea. Clearly in some cases the absence of the article DOES refer to a lesser god (Acts 12:22, 26:6).
In other cases the word “theos” without the article or any other modifier refers to the QUALITY of being divine, such as the second occurence in
John 1:1 (Note: there is not a “definite” and “indefinite” article in Greek as there is in English. There is just an article.)

This doesn’t prove anything about it, since “the idea” doesn’t apply to words other than “theos”. However, having said this, let me affirm that I do not believe that “theos” without the article necessarily refers to a lesser god. The second occurence of “theos” in John 1:1 refers to the Logos, the Son of God, and He is no less divine than the Father. Nevertheless, He is secondary in POSITION. He always obeyed the Father both here on earth and in His pre-incarnate state. And in the end when everything comes under His dominion, He will turn the kingdom over to the Father that God (the Father) may be all in all! (I Cor. 15).

It still stands that when “theos” is used WITH the article (and no other modifier) it ALWAYS refers to the Father alone. He is “the God.” Jesus is divine. He may be called “God” in the generic sense, but He is not “the God”. In His prayer to the Father, Jesus addressed Him as “the only true God.” (John 17:3)


Fair enough. Thanks for your comments.


A late, and brief, contribution to this thread.

I have to admit that I find the work of analytic philosophers on the doctrine of the Trinity and the Incarnation virtually useless and perhaps even dangerous. Dangerous because it treats Trinity and Incarnation as logical problems to be “solved,” I find this approach utterly foreign to the Church Fathers who sought to articulate the two doctrines. In my judgment the trinitarian and christological dogmas. as defined by the ecumenical councils, set forth a grammar for Christian discourse and doxology. The Fathers knew full well that the dogmas involved paradox and antinomy, but they were convinced that the data of revelation required this.


“they were convinced that the data of revelation required this.”

I’m not at all certain about that, but I am certain that analytic philosophers, striving for conceptual clarity, can be a very helpful part of the discussion. You do not find them helpful, and that’s fine. I do, I respect their work, and they are trying to solve a problem. So were the Fathers, and they used every analytic tool they could and might have welcomed even more.
It’s not like the problem has been ‘solved’, after all, whether you consider it analytic or not…

There is certainly a very open question as to whether revelation requires this.


Great comment, akimel. I thoroughly agree with you.



The trinity says God is one in essence and three in persons. The problem people have in trying to understand it is that they are using the rational mind of either/or thinking. Paradoxes are not either/or. This is where you have to go beyond the dualistic mind into the both/and. Reality is full of paradoxes. People are a mixture of both good and bad, living and dying. We are a mixed blessing. Paradox is hidden and obvious, everywhere and always - unless you have repressed one side of your very being. There’s no need to try to understand the trinity with the rational mind. It’s a mysterious paradox.


Have I stirred up a controversy here by a simple appreciation of the hard work of analytic philosophy?

Steve if you totally agree with Akimel’s post, I am surprised - not at the ECF recognizing a paradox, even I, a non-expert, recognize that.
But at the unnecessary and unfounded dismissal of other philosophers - that does not ring true.
You both are incorrect in that dismissal and you need to study further.

As to the ECF - I have an appreciation for them - but I do understand and appreciate the work of those trying to elucidate the paradox more completely.
I am not or ever will be a second century Christian - the fights of today must be waged by well-intentioned and God-gifted philosophers as well, learning from all those giants whose shoulders they stand on.

We are all working for God’s glory.


Hi Dave, I don’t think I was dismissing other philosophers generally, but I do so in relation to understanding the trinity, and I think akimel summarized the problem succinctly when he said:

I have personally found much of modern theology to be closer to philosophy than they are to biblical theologians. It is only my opinion, but I think that the modern theologian struggles with faith in the biblical account, and they seek assistance from secular philosophy to accommodate their own lack of spiritual clarity. It is often easier to get a consensus among secular philosophers than it is to understand biblical revelation. From my observation, as the church had fallen into greater secular compromise, they have done so with equal and opposite loss of spiritual comprehension. This was seen particularly from the 4th century onwards, where many church doctrines became entwined with secular reasoning. Even today, you can become a minister or church leader in exactly the same manner in which one becomes a science teacher, or an electrician. The boundaries of the sacred and secular have become blurred, and there are none more confused than the modern philosopher/theologian. I think they have lost the teaching of the early church almost completely. Only a small resemblance remains. Just my opinion. :slight_smile:



I value your opinion, Steve. Thanks for clarifying.