What does the Bible teach about the Trinity? – A response to GotQuestions’ article.

I briefly explained the historical development of the Trinity doctrine to my daughter.  I started with the church fathers of the first three centuries, through the tumultuous events of the fourth century, with a brief overview of the history there-after.  She then apparently did some reading, and sent me a reference to the GotQuestions article – What does the Bible teach about the Trinity?  In the current article, I respond section by section to that article.

All bold, underlining, UPPERCASE, font sizes and italics in this article were added by myself.  Bible quotes are mostly from the NASB.

Gotquestions wrote:

The MOST DIFFICULT THING about the Christian concept of the Trinity is that there is no way to perfectly and completely understand it. The Trinity is a concept that is IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANY HUMAN BEING TO FULLY UNDERSTAND, let alone explain. GOD IS INFINITELY GREATER THAN WE ARE; therefore, we should not expect to be able to fully understand Him.

Though we can understand some facts about the relationship of the different Persons of the Trinity to one another, ultimately, it is incomprehensible to the human mind. However, this does not mean the Trinity is not true or that it is not based on the teachings of the Bible.

God is infinite.

In response, I certainly agree that we are unable to understand God.  The LORD Himself declared:

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts
” (Is. 55:8-9).

We will NEVER be fully able to understand Him, even in eternity, because HE EXISTS WITHOUT CAUSE.  He exists beyond time, space and matter.  All else exist because He exists.  All things came forth from Him and exists within Him.  We can accept that He is infinite, omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent, but our finite minds cannot comprehend these things.  We are like a lone wanderer building a small fire at night in the desert.  In the light of the fire, we can see our immediate surroundings, but we can see NOTHING of the expanse of the earth.  We similarly know only a tiny bit about God, BUT WE UNDERSTAND NOTHING of His infinite greatness.

Trinity Concept

However, we must distinguish between God and the Trinity concept. The Trinity concept is A HUMANLY DEVISED THEORY about the nature of God and the relationship between the Father, the Son, the and Holy Spirit.  Gotquestions claims that the Trinity concept is BASED ON THE BIBLE, but it is nevertheless a human interpretation of the Bible, and therefore fallible.  We, therefore, MUST TEST THE TRINITY CONCEPT AGAINST THE BIBLE.

But before we do that, it is the purpose of this article to evaluate the Trinity doctrine in a different way, namely to ask whether it makes logical sense.  This is the playground of philosophers.  Over the centuries, some of them have argued that the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself, and for that reason, cannot accurately reflect Bible revelation, for TRUTH DOES NOT CONTRADICT ITSELF.  Listen to Trinities podcasts 2 and 3 for arguments for and against the logical consistency of the Trinity doctrine.  Those podcasts discuss the Athanasian Creed, which is how the Trinity Concept was formulated more or less in the fifth century.  That creed was used throughout the middle ages and is considered important even to this day.

Three Persons, But One Being

Gotquestions defines the Trinity concept as follows:

The Father is God,
the Son is God, and
the Holy Spirit is God—
but there is only one God.

The Trinity concept is accused of being contradictory because it says that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct and different Persons with different wills, but one and the same Being:

Different

We agree that they differ, for example:

The Son is BEGOTTEN from the Father,
the Holy Ghost PROCEEDS from both the Father; but
the Father is NOT BEGOTTEN and
does NOT PROCEED from any other.

Further examples of differences between them are:

The Son “is seated AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD” (Col. 3:1).  Stephan said, “I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD” (Acts 7:56).

Jesus said, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). THIS MEANS THAT THEY HAVE DIFFERENT WILLS.

One Being

In the Trinity doctrine they are one and the same Being, for the Athanasian Creed declares:

We are compelled … to acknowledge
every Person by himself to be God …
(but we are) forbidden by the catholic religion; to say,
There are three Gods.

The Trinity doctrine does not teach that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three parts of God.  It teaches that “EVERY PERSON BY HIMSELF TO BE GOD.”  In other words, whatever we can say about the Father, is also true about the Son, and vice versa.  To quote the Athanasian Creed:

Such as the Father is;
such is the Son; and
such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father is Almighty;
the Son Almighty; and
the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet
they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty.

More than one Almighty Being is logically impossible.  They are, therefore, only “one Almighty.”  Thus, we can represent the Trinity concept with the equation:

God  =  Father  =  Son  =  Holy Spirit.

One would, therefore, be able to say that the Son is also the Son’s Son.  To say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three different Persons, with different origins, but one and the same Being is analogous to saying that Peter, John, and James are three persons, but one being.  The Athanasian Creed states that we are “forbidden … to say, There are three Gods,” but just saying that does not make it right.  It does not undo the logical contradiction of the doctrine.

Modalism

Since they are one, the obvious implication is that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three names for the same Being.  This is what some church fathers believed.  They viewed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different “modes” or “manifestations” of God.  This is known as modalism or Sabellianism, but was rejected by the small “c” catholic church.

Christ’s Dual Nature

A further contradictory element of the Trinity theory is that Jesus is both FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN.  This is the teaching that He has both a human and a divine nature.  That makes Him a binary being, comparable to the view that God is a trinity.

This was the primary focus of the Chalcedonian Creed of 451.  This creed responded to the question:

If Jesus is “very God of very God,” WHY DID HE NOT KNOW THE DAY AND HOUR OF HIS RETURN?  WHY DOES ONLY THE FATHER KNOW THAT  (Mat. 24:36)?

And why does the New Testament so consistently present Him as
subordinate to God, the Father?

The Chalcedonian Creed explains the subordination statements in the New Testament by saying that Jesus was speaking from His human nature.  Opponents of this theory point out that that then means that Jesus was not telling the truth when He said that He does not know, for in His divine nature He actually knew.  And if that was not a true statement, HOW CAN WE RELY ON ANYTHING ELSE THAT HE SAID? 

Furthermore, if Jesus had both a divine and a human nature, THEN HE NEVER REALLY DIED and nobody died, for only His human nature died, which was part of Him.  But His death is a fundamental part of the gospel.  This theory causes more problems than it solves.

Religious Persecution

The Athanasian Creed starts and ends with the following words:

This is the catholic faith;
which except a man believe truly and firmly,
HE CANNOT BE SAVED
.


Which faith unless every one do keep whole and undefiled,
WITHOUT DOUBT,
HE SHALL PERISH EVERLASTINGLY
.

This is a ridiculous claim.  In the first place, people are not saved by believing a doctrine.  They are saved by God’s grace through faith in Him.  They are saved when they love and support God’s suffering people (Mt. 25:34-40).

Secondly, Athanasius MADE A VERY TECHNICAL AND CONTRADICTORY STATEMENT OF BELIEVE A TEST OF TRUE FAITH.  And these were not idle words.  The Roman Empire was not known for religious tolerance, and after the emperor became the de facto head of the church, early in the fourth century, the church slowly adopted the character of the Roman Empire.  For example, immediately after the Nicene Creed of AD 325, a number of dissenting bishops lost their jobs and were exiled.  Constantine also destroyed all of Arius’ books and threatened to kill all people who hide his books.  Over the many years since that time, many Christians were persecuted for not accepting the prevailing theory of the nature of God.

Michael Servetus

Christianity.com has an article on Michael Servetus, who was burned for heresy in the town where Calvin was the pastor.  Michael was quite an astute scientist.  He studied mathematics, geography, astrology, and medicine. Gaining fame as a physician, he came close to discovering the pulmonary circulation of the blood.  In 1531 Servetus published a work called the Errors of the Trinity. Both Protestants and Catholics found the work blasphemous, and the emperor banned the book.

Michael continued to criticize Calvin and stated that, to believe in the Trinity, is to believe in the spirit of the dragon.  Calvin wrote to a friend that if Servetus ever fell into his hands, he would not allow him to get away alive.  Roman Catholic authorities arrested Michael for heresy. He escaped, however, and fled toward Naples by way of Geneva where Calvin was a pastor. He entered a church where Calvin was preaching, was recognized, and arrested on charges of blasphemy and heresy.  Calvin insisted with the rest that Servetus must die, but urged that in mercy, Servetus be executed by the sword, not by burning.  Servetus was nevertheless burned to death on October 27, 1553.

The Christianity.com article attempts to exonerate Calvin for his involvement, but his part in killing Servetus should really bother Calvinists, for Calvin did that after writing one of the most influential systems of theology the Christian faith had ever seen.  What does that say of the spirit of his work?

Things that have not been revealed

The Trinity doctrine attempts to explain THINGS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN REVEALED and is, therefore, a sin.  For example, the cornerstone of the Nicene Creed is the statement that the Father and Son are of the same substance (Homoousios).  Where is that revealed in the Bible?  And where is it revealed that the Son has both a human and divine nature?

Add the persecuting spirit, which entered the church in the fourth century, after it became the official state church, to doctrines based on things that have not been revealed, and we have a deadly combination.

Summary

Gotquestions stated that the most difficult thing about the concept of the Trinity is that there is no way to perfectly and completely understand it, for we are unable to understand God.  However, that statement confused two things:

      • God, and
      • The concept of the Trinity

The Trinity concept is a humanly devised theory about the nature of God, and WE MUST TEST IT AGAINST THE BIBLE.

This article claims that THE TRINITY DOCTRINE CONTRADICTS ITSELF because it claims that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons, but one and the same Being.  And if the Trinity concept contradicts itself, then it is not an accurate reflection of what the Bible teaches.

The Father and Son as different Persons with different wills.  The Bible also reveals the Son as subordinate to the Father; not only when He was on this earth, but still today and in all eternity.  How then can they be one single Being?

The Trinity doctrine does not teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three parts of God.  It claims than each of them is the entirety of the One True God.  But it still claims that they are three different Persons.

Gotquestions argues that we cannot understand this because we cannot understand God, but it is proposed here that the Trinity concept is not consistent with the Bible.

A further contradiction in the Trinity theory is that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.  This argument is used to explain why the Bible presents Him as NOT KNOWING ALL THINGS and as SUBORDINATE TO THE FATHER.  But, if this was true, then Jesus did not tell the truth when He said that He does not know, for in His divine nature He actually knew.

The Trinity doctrine is a very technical and ambiguous theory, but still, the church made it a test of the true faith and persecuted dissenters.  The Trinity doctrine tries to explain things that are not fully revealed in the Bible.  Combining that with persecution is the spirit of the beast.

The next article in this series discusses Hebrews 1:8, which Gotquestions uses as evidence that Jesus is God.

 

Christology of the Long Lines Creed reflects the general view of the first centuries.

The fourth-century saw a huge controversy about the nature of Christ.  The Arians proposed Him to be a created being.  Others believed that He was eternally begotten.  A flurry of councils and creeds followed, all trying to explain who Jesus is. The Fourth Century website lists 17 councils, from the Nicene Creed of 325 to the Constantinople creed of the year 381.  Some concluded that the Son is equal to the Father.  Others, particularly the councils in the eastern part of the empire (Antioch), made Him subordinate to the Father.  None of the creeds presents the Son as a created being, as the Arians proposed.

Christianity in the Fourth Century

The Creed of the Long Lines, also called the Macrostichs, is one of those creeds.  In response to the Nicene creed of 325, the Greek-speaking Bishops at Antioch formulated the creed in the year 344.  Their leading scholar was Eusebius of Caesarea; the famous church historian and philosophical grandchild of Origen (185/6–254).

The three main Christian centers in the Fourth Century

In the next year, the bishops in Antioch presented their creed to the Latin speaking Bishops in the western part of the empire.  Avoiding, as far as possible, controversial, non-biblical language, the eastern bishops hoped that their creed would be acceptable all around, even to partisans of the 325 creed at Nicaea.  This creed is informative as far as the school of thought at Antioch goes.

The Long Lines Creed is discussed here because it contains some very important and valid concepts and also reflects the views generally held in the church before the fourth century.  The creed proposes that the Son had a beginning and that He is subordinate to the Father, but still manages to conclude that He was begotten, rather than created, and always existed.

The Long Lines Creed can be found at Fourth Century.  Dr. Tuggy discusses it in podcast 172.

One God

The creed begins as follows:

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, the Creator and Maker of all things, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.

This is the standard opening of all creeds, including the Nicene and later creeds.  This formulation is found in the earliest known baptismal creeds of the second century.  It a remnant from the past (the centuries before the fourth) when the church generally still believed the Father to be the “one God.”  The Trinity theory, in which the monotheistic God of the Bible consists of three equal Persons, was only developed in the fourth century.  But even after the Church generally accepted the Trinity doctrine, this opening phrase was retained due to its strong traditional status.

The Son

The creed continues:

And in His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, by whom all things were made, in heaven and on the earth

The phrases in bold are discussed below, using the explanations in the latter part of the creed.

Before all ages

Firstly, the Son was begotten “before all ages:

Later, in the anathemas, the creed reads:

Those who say, … that there was a time or age when He was not, the Catholic and Holy Church regards as aliens. … Yet we must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun … with the Father … we acknowledge that the Father who alone is Unbegun … and that the Son hath been generated before ages.

The Father “generated” the Son because He was “begotten from the Father.

It states that the Father had no beginning (is “unbegun”).  But the Son had a beginning (is not “co-unbegun”).

Arians claimed that the Son was created at a specific point in time, and consequently that there was a time when He did not exist (“was not“).  This creed rejects that notion, saying that “the Son hath been generated before ages.” In other words, the Son had a beginning, but that beginning was before time.  Therefore, there never was “a time or age when He was not,”

The creed later adds that “through Him, both times and ages came to be.”  The Bible teaches that the Father created “all things” through the Son.  In Eastern thinking “all things” include time, and God created time through the Son.

Conclusions

To add a personal perspective: Concerning time, the Son is like the universe, for the universe had a beginning but always existed, because time was created when the universe came into being (in my view) and because there is no such thing as time before time began.  There never was a time when the universe did not exist.

The creed avoids the well-known phrase “eternal generation” with respect to the Son, but the thought is clearly present.

The Nicene Creed was designed to refute the Arian view.  The Long Lines Creed objects to the Nicene creed, but its claim that there never was a time when the Son did not exist, shows that it also objects to Arianism.

In summary, the Son had a beginning but always existed, because God created time through Him.

Begotten from the Father

Secondly, the Son was “begotten from the Father:

From God

The creed denounces “those who say, that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God.”  The word “from” appears three times in this sentence.  Perhaps the Arians claimed that God created Jesus “from nothing, or from other subsistence.”  In contrast, the eastern bishops claim that Jesus is “from God,” which is another way of saying that He was “begotten from the Father.

Generated

Concerning the Father, the creed asserts:

The divine Word teaches that the Ingenerate and Unbegun, the Father of Christ, is One.
We acknowledge that the Father who alone is … Ingenerate, hath generated inconceivably and incomprehensibly to all

In other words, the Father was not brought into being by any other being (is “ingenerate”).  He, therefore, exists without cause.  He exists by Himself.  Concerning the Son the creed declares as follows:

We must not consider the Son to be … co-ingenerate with the Father … the Son hath been generated before ages, and in no wise to be ingenerate Himself like the Father, but to have the Father who generated Him as His beginning; for ‘the Head of Christ is God.

Therefore, in contrast to the Father, the Son has been generated, namely by the Father, when He was “begotten from the Father:

Not created

Later the creed says:

We do not understand Him (the Son) to have been originated like the creatures or works which through Him came to be, for it is irreligious … to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him … For divine Scripture teaches us really and truly that the Only-begotten Son was uniquely generated.

The Son is here called “the Creator,” but notice the word “through.”  The opening phrase of the creed identifies the Father as “the Creator and Maker of all things.”  The Bible says that God created all things through the Son (John 1; Hebrews 1; Colossians 1).  The Father is the Force and Cause of creation.  The Son is the Means or Hand through which God created.

The Son Himself was not created, but was “uniquely generated.”  This means that the creed makes a distinction between created and generated, similar to people who create things but beget children.

Conclusions

The Nicene Creed uses the term ousios (substance or essence), claiming that Jesus is “of one substance with the Father,” and therefore that the Son is equal to the Father.  Although the Long Lines Creed says that He is “from God,” and “begotten,” it avoids the term ousios.  It does not use that term even once, probably because the Bible never says that the Father and Son have the same substance.  Since the Long Lines Creed presents the Son as subordinate to the Father, it does not use the ousios argument.

In summary, the Son was not created, but was begotten by the Father.

God From God

Thirdly, the Son is “God from God:

His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God

True God

The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “true God (the Son) from true God (the Father),” but the Long Lines Creed omits the word “true” in both instances.  It refers to Jesus only as “God from God.”  This is consistent with John 17:3, which declares the Father to be the only true God.

Only the Father is God

The creed defends itself as follows against an accusation of polytheism:

In confessing three realities and three Persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, (we do not) therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only, the God and Father of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone gives this to all others generously.

In other words, we must not talk of three Gods because only the Father exists by Himself, without beginning or cause, and gives existence to all other things.  There cannot be two Ultimate Beings, for an Ultimate Being is the Cause of all else.

The Son is subordinate.

The quote above refers to “Gods three.”  The following similar statement in the creed interestingly refers to “two Gods” and to a Triad:

Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the Most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being Head over the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be, and granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will. 

The Father alone, therefore, is “Head over the whole universe wholly.”  The Son is “subordinated to the Father.”  Only one monarchy or reign exists.  The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father.  Partisans of the Trinity theory would argue that Jesus is functionally subordinate to the Father, but not ontologically (by nature of being).  However, this creed does not make that distinction.

God of the Old Testament

The ancients used the Greek word theos (god) for all gods.  Even exalted people are called gods; even in the Bible.  See the Meanings of the Word THEOS.  The Long Lines Creed explains as follows why it identifies the Son as theos:

In saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only Ingenerate, do we (not) therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages … for He it is, to whom the Father said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’ (Gen 1:26), who also was seen in His own Person by the patriarchs, gave the law, spoke by the prophets, and at last, became man …

The creed, therefore, refers to the Son as God because “He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him” (John 2-3).  Furthermore, the creed argues, whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it was the Son who was seen.  For that reason, it is proper to refer to the Son as God, but we must not confuse Him with the Uncaused Cause, who is the Father alone.

Conclusions

In this context the translation “Triad” (see above) is appropriate.  A translation of “Trinity” would have been anachronistic, for this creed does not present God as three divine Persons of one divine Being.  Rather, it thinks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a hierarchical group of “three realities and three Persons,” where only the Father is the ingenerated Source of all else, who also generated the Son.

Origen, the philosophical father of the bishops in Antioch, once said that he does not hesitate to talk of God in different senses. He said that just like man and his wife are one in flesh, and Christ in His followers are one in spirit, so the Father and Son are one in God.  Both are God, but not in the same sense, for only the Father is the uncaused Cause of all else.

This explains how we should understand the statement “God from God.”  The easterners probably would have preferred to say “God from true God,” but they attempted to stay as close as possible to the wording of the Nicene Creed, which declared the Son to be of the same substance (homo-ousios) as the Father.  The Nicene Creeds used that term to present the Son as equal to the Father.  The Long Lines Creed, on the other hand, like many of the other creeds of that era, presents the Son as subordinate to the Father.

The famous statement (“Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness”) is quoted from Genesis 1:26.  Some dispute that God was talking to the Son, saying that God spoke to His angels, but others object and say that man was not created in the image of angels, but in the image of God.  The Son Himself “existed in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6).

Holy Ghost

The creed continues:

And we believe in the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete, which, having promised to the Apostles, He sent forth after the ascension into heaven, to teach them and to remind of all things.

This creed has a very scanty treatment of the Holy Spirit.  Similar to the Bible, this creed never explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit as God, or as God from God.  To the contrary, the phrase “three Gods” in the following implies that the Holy Spirit is not God:

The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods

The Same

The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that Father and Son and Holy Ghost are the same.  This is aimed against Modalism, which is the theory that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three modes of God and not three separate Beings.

The creed justifies this view by saying that, if the Three were the same, then the unlimited and impassible (incapable of suffering or feeling pain) Father has become limited and changeable when the Son became a man.  Rather, the Father, who sent the Son, remained unchangeable when Christ was incarnated.

By Choice

The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that the Father had no choice but to beget the Son so that He begat the Son unwillingly.  It says that God is absolute and sovereign over Himself and generated the Son voluntarily and freely.  In saying this, the creed responded to some other voices from that era:

Those that view Jesus as equal to the Father sometimes propose that it was not the Father’s will to generate the Son, but that the Father ‘always’ was the Father and the Son ‘always’ was the Son.  (“Always’ is perhaps not the best term, if in our view God exists outside time.)  Perhaps the Long Lines Creed responds to this view and proposed that the Father begat the Son by will to emphasize that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.

Another possibility is that the view, that God made all things through the Son, and that the Son is the God of the Old Testament, may create the impression that the Father is an un-personal Force and not a separate Person with His own will.  Perhaps the Long Lines Creed reacted to such a view.

Inseparable

Who is Jesus?  This is the question in these creeds.  He is the Son of God, is worshiped with God, received from God to have life in Himself and to judge the world, and He identifies Himself as the First and the Last.  So, what is His relationship with God?  The church had to struggle with this question.  The Nicene Creed went to the one extreme by declaring the Son to be of the same substance as the Father.  It is not possible to postulate a higher level of unity between Father and Son.

Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea and the bishops in the Antioch—the focal point of Christianity in the eastern part of the empire—recognized the Son as generated by and subordinate to the Father.  They also identified the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not as one Being, as in the Trinity theory, but as “three realities and three Persons.”  The Long Lines Creed, therefore, does not accept that they are one in substance.  In its place, they offered the following:

We do not … separate Him from the Father … For we believe that they are united with each other without mediation or distance, and that they exist inseparable; all the Father embosoming the Son, and all the Son clinging to the Father, and alone resting on the Father’s breast continually.

These words are probably true, and an interpretation of passages such as:

I and the Father are one” (John 10:29), and
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

On the other hand, similar to what the Bible consistently does, this creed identifies the Father alone as God, and the Son as subordinate to Him.  This is true even of the gospel of John and Paul’s writings, in which we find the highest Christology of the New Testament.

An Attempt at Reconciliation

The Christian church originated in Jerusalem, but in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.  In the fourth century, however, after Christianity became the official Roman religion, the church in Italy became powerful in influence and authority.

In the closing section of the creed the bishops in Antioch state their purpose as “to clear away all unjust suspicion concerning our opinions, … and that all in the West may know, … the audacity of the slanders.”  This implies that the easterners were criticized before the powers in Rome, and through the creed, the bishops in Antioch attempted to reach out and clarify their position.  It is for that reason that it has these long-winded explanations and therefore is called the Long Lines Creed.

The Long Lines Creed attempts to remain as close as possible to the position of the bishops in the West, as reproduced in the Nicene Creed, to avoid to be seen as Arian and to be modest and to only use Scriptural language.  But the bishops in Italy rejected the creed.

Summary of the view of the Long Lines Creed

The Father had no beginning, while the Son had a beginning.  The Son, nevertheless, always existed, for the Father created all things through the Son.  Since “all things” include time, God also created time through the Son.  There, consequently, never was a time or age when the Son did not exist.

The Father was not brought into being by another being.  He alone exists without a cause and gives existence to all other things.  The Son, in contrast, exists because of the Father.  He was not created but was uniquely begotten from the Father.

The Son is God, for He existed in the form of God.  Whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it actually was the Son who was seen.  But the Father is the only true God.

The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father.  The Father is the ultimate Head over the whole universe.

They are two separate Beings, but the Father and Son exist inseparably.  As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”

Conclusion

As stated above, at least 17 creeds, with contradicting explanations of who Jesus is, were formulated in the fourth century.  Eventually, the Nicene Creed, as adjusted by the 381 creed, became generally accepted.  But we should not be persuaded by this consensus:

Firstly, this view of Christ differs from the view that was dominant in the earlier centuries.

Nicene Creed
Emperor standing behind the church fathers

Secondly, these creeds were produced after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, after the power base in the Church shifted from Jerusalem and Antioch in the East to Rome in the West, and after the emperor became dominant in the formulation of doctrine by calling and chairing councils.  As can be seen in the anathemas that were attached to the fourth-century creeds, and by the aggressive and insulting tone of writings of Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief defender of Trinitarianism at the time, these creeds were produced with an air of dictatorship and intolerance.  (Listen to podcasts 169 to 171 on Trinities.)  These creeds made an end to religious freedom and shifted persecution from persecution of the church to persecution by the church.

The Apostle Paul lamented that the Corinthians would follow those who abused them and even slapped them in the face (2 Cor. 11:20).  Carnal people respond to carnal strength and carnal leadership.  By the biblical definition, the church in this era became carnal.  Christ Himself demonstrated Christian leadership when He went to the cross. In Revelation 3, He stands outside the door of His own church knocking to see if any will open to Him. He does not force Himself on us.  Our only leader must be Christ.  When leaders compel Christians to accept a doctrine, they are not leading people to Him. The Truth is a Person.

John 1:1c usually reads, “The Word was God.” Is this the correct translation?

Summary

John 1:1This article argues against the translation, “the Word was God.

God and THEOS

For some people, “God” is the Trinity, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three Persons in one.  For others the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three persons, but three modes of the same one Person.  Still others believe that the Father alone is God.

The word translated “God” is THEOS. While “God” refers to one specific Being, THEOS is a common noun for all gods.  To identify the only true God, the Bible provides additional identification; often by adding the definite article HO before THEOS.

In John 1:1b the Father alone is God.  This is the consistent pattern in the New Testament.  In sentences that refer to both the Father and the Son, translations refer to the Father alone as God.  This implies that Jesus is not God.

The term THEOS appears more than 1300 times in the Bible. In only seven instances does THEOS possibly refer to Jesus.  Furthermore, the original text or the translations of these seven instances are all disputed.  And even if Jesus is called THEOS, that does not mean that He is God, for THEOS also has other meanings.  The New Testament therefore does not present Jesus as God.

The Missing Article

The wording “the Word was God” assumes a definite THEOS, but THEOS in 1:1c lacks the definite article, and therefore seems to be indefinite:

One might argue that THEOS lacks the article to identify this as the predicate in the phrase, and that THEOS in 1:1c should be understood as definite.

Some people use Colwell’s rule to argue that THEOS in 1:1c is definite, but Colwell’s rule cannot be applied to John 1:1c, for his sample was limited to predicates that were identified beforehand as definite.

Research has shown that predicates in the special grammatical construct of John 1:1c, are primarily qualitative in force.  Qualitative predicates attribute the nature or qualities of the noun to the subject, e.g. “that man is a real tiger.”  This does not mean that that man is literally a tiger, but that he has tiger-like qualities. In John 1:1c it would mean that Jesus has God-like qualities, but that does not justify the translation “the Word was God,” for that identifies Jesus as God.

Some propose that Jesus is fully divine and has the same substance and nature as the Father, but that means that Jesus is God, and is not consistent with the finding that Jesus is called God is a qualitative sense.

Conclusion

The following objections to the translation “the Word was God” are therefore raised:

1. It interprets THEOS as a definite noun, while THEOS in 1:1c lacks the definite article.
2. Research has shown that THEOS in John 1:1c carries a qualitative force, and therefore describes Christ’s nature or qualities; not his person.
3. Since the Word “was with God,” a distinction is required between the THEOS in 1:1b and the THEOS in 1:1c.
4. The New Testament uses “God” for the Father alone.

It is highly significant that Jesus is described as THEOS in the first verse of John, which may be seen as a summary of the entire book, but the translation “the Word was God” goes beyond the grammar or the context, and is based on the Trinity theory.

Introduction

This is an article in the series on the translation of John 1:1c.  The previous articles are:

1. Introduction;
2. Who is “the Word?”
3. Meanings of the word THEOS
4. The translation: “the Word was a god;” and
5. The argument that THEOS is a count noun;

The purpose of the current article is to argue against the translation “the Word was God.

God

Firstly, what is does the phrase “the Word was God” mean?  It has different meanings for different people:

Merriam-Webster defines Trinity as “the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead.”  In this view Jesus is God just as the Father is God.

Modalism is the doctrine that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three modes or aspects of one single “God;” not three distinct and coexisting Persons of the divine Being.

Unitarianism “is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity.”  “Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate.” In this view, “God” refers to the Father alone, and does not include the Son.

The translation “the Word was God” is consistent with the Trinity theory and with Modalism.  In a previous article “the Word” was identified as Jesus, but Unitarianism identifies “the Word” as God’s plan and wisdom, which also brought forth His Son.

THEOS and God

John 1:1Consider, now, the Greek text.  The original Greek text did not contain spaces between words.  Neither did it have periods, commas, semi-colons, etc.  Converted literally to English, the second and third parts of John 1:1 could be presented as:

THEWORDWASWITHTHEGODANDGODWASTHEWORD

The translator has to parse the text; after which it might read:

THE WORD WAS WITH THE THEOS
AND THEOS WAS THE WORD.

From this we note the following:

THEOS is not the same as “God.”

We use the English word “God,” with a capital G, for only one specific Being.  The word “God” functions as the name of the only true God, just like Peter and Paul are names for humans.  The word “God,” in other words, is a proper noun, and is a synonym for the Old Testament name of the Creator: YHVH (pronounced Jehovah or Yahweh).

The word translated “God” or “god.” in the New Testament, is THEOS.  The Greek word THEOS does not have the same meaning as “God,” for THEOS is a common noun that is used for all gods, including false gods and idols, for instance:

1 Corinthians 8:5 … indeed there are many gods (THEOI) and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God (THEOS), the Father …

THEOS is therefore similar to our word “god.”  To refer to one specific deity, or even to the only true God, requires additional identification.

HO THEOS is “God.”

John 1:1In the New Testament, for example in John 1:1b, that additional identification is often provided in the form of the definite article preceding THEOS.  HO THEOS identifies this as one specific god.  Which god that is must be determined from the context, but given the context of the Bible, unless contrary identification is provided, HO THEOS refers to the only true God.

To translate “HO THEOS” from Greek, we drop the article and capitalize the G.   This applies to John 1:1b as well.  (For a more detailed discussion, see the article THEOS.)

Only the Father is “God.”

But HO THEOS (God) refers to the Father only.  This is seen in John 1:1b, where we read that “the Word was with THE GOD.”  THE GOD therefore refers to the Father and 1:1b means that Jesus was (in the beginning) with the Father.  By translating this phrase as “the Word was with God,” the translators imply that Jesus is not God.

This translation is consistent with the pattern in the New Testament.  The New Testament consistently makes a distinction between THEOS and Jesus.  This is discussed in the article Jesus is not God.  For example:

Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul wrote, “There is no God but one. … there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1. Cor. 8:4-6).

John saw, “no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).

The following verse explicitly describes Jesus as a “man,” in contrast to the “God:”

I Tim. 2:5 “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

The word THEOS appears more than 1300 times in the New Testament.  In many instances similar to those quoted above, HO THEOS is contrasted with Jesus, indicating that the Father alone is called God, and that Jesus therefore is not called God.

Jesus is called God.

Dr. Murray Harris, in his authoritative book “Jesus as God – The New Testament use of Theos in Reference to Jesus,” was only able to identify seven New Testament passages where Jesus might be called THEOS.  (He allocated different levels of certainty to different texts.)

The best known is John 1:1, which is discussed in the current series of articles, and where the current article argues that Jesus should not be called “God.”

Another example is Romans 9:5, where 50% of the 28 translations of this verse, as listed by BibleHub, translates this verse in such a way that it makes a distinction between God and Jesus.

Still another example is Thomas.  He refused to believe that Jesus rose from death (John 20:25), but when He saw Jesus, exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (v28).  It is a bit ridiculous to propose that Thomas, in two seconds, changed from not believing that Jesus rose from death to believing that Jesus is God.

These and others are discussed in the article, Jesus is called God.  It is not possible to prove that the Church, when the New Testament was written, thought of Jesus as God.  Just think of the absurdity of it: More than 1300 times “God” refers to the Father alone and only in seven disputed instances is Jesus perhaps called God.  The first Christians worshiped Jesus, but not independent of God.  It was only in the later centuries that the Church had to deal with the apparent contradiction between the pervasive monotheism of the Bible and Christ’s extremely elevated position.

Conclusion: Since the Bible consistently uses the title “God” for the Father alone, it is not appropriate to apply the same title to Jesus in John 1:1c.

THEOS in 1:1c lacks the article.

This is the crux of the dispute about the translation of John 1:1.  Since “God” is a proper noun, a possible objection to the wording, “the Word was God” is that this is a definite translation of an indefinite noun (THEOS).  In this section we attempt to explain the lack of the article before THEOS in this phrase.

English articles

English has both definite (“the”) and indefinite articles (“a” and “an”):

A definite noun identifies a particular instance.  For instance, when we say, “the rock” or “the man” or “the god,” we have a particular rock or man or god in mind.

An indefinite noun identifies any instance of a group or class.  For instance, “a man,” means any one instance of mankind.  Similarly, “a god” would identify any one instance of the gods.

Greek Articles

The Koine Greek of the New Testament has definite articles, often translated as “the,” but no indefinite articles.  Thus, a Greek writer could use of the article to make a noun definite.  The absence of the article usually signifies indefiniteness.  Therefore, whenever we come across the indefinite “a” or “an” in an English translation, these words were inserted by the translator.

Articles in John 1:1

This distinction between definite and indefinite nouns is relevant to John 1:1c, for THEOS in 1:1b has the article.  This phrase literally reads, “THE WORD WAS WITH THE GOD.” It therefore refers to one specific god.  THEOS in 1:1c, on the other hand, lacks the article.  In the absence of other information, one would assume that that is an indefinite THEOS, which would mean:

That it must be distinguished from the articulated THEOS in 1:1b.
> That it cannot be translated “God,” for “God” is a definite noun.
> That it could be translated as “the Word was a god.”

But before we propose conclusions, let us consider further why THEOS in 1:1c lacks the article.

Word Order is Reversed.

John 1:1c reads: THEOS ÊN HO LOGOS.
Literally translated, it means: GOD WAS THE WORD.

The first task of the translator is to identify the subject of the clause.  In English, word order identifies the subject and object.  ‘Dog bites boy’ is not the same as ‘boy bites dog’.  Greek does not use word order to differentiate between types of nouns.  It uses other techniques:

In phrases with action verbs, Greek uses different word endings (word cases) to identify the subject and the object of the sentence, both of which are nouns.  John 1:1 gives us an example of word endings.  It reads, “The Word was with God (TON THEON), and the Word was God (THEOS).”  THEOS and THEON have the exact same meaning.  The different word endings do not change the meaning of the base word.

In phrases with linking verbs (such as ‘is’ or ‘was’) the subject and object nouns are in the same case.  In such phrases, if one noun has the article and the other does not, the noun with the article is the subject (Dana and Mantey, p. 148; McGaughy, p. 50; etc.).

Greek can consequently switch the word order around and it would still mean the same thing.

John 1:1c is an example of a phrase with a linking verb (“was”).  THEOS and LOGOS are therefore in the same case.  But since “the Word” (HO LOGOS) has the article, and THEOS does not, LOGOS is the subject and THEOS is the object.  To translate this phrase to English, where we like to put the subject first, the phrase is reversed and it becomes, THE WORD WAS THEOS.

The question then is, does THEOS in 1:1c lack the article to indicate that THEOS is the predicate in this sentence?  Should THEOS in 1:1c therefore be understood as definite?

Collwell

Supporters of the translation “the Word was God” attempt to use Colwell’s rule to show that THEOS in 1:1c is definite, but this is not a valid conclusion.

Special Grammatical Construct

John 1:1c has a special grammatical construct to which special rules apply.  This construct is called a preverbal anarthrous predicate nominative:

Preverbal: The predicate precedes the verb.
Anarthrous: The predicate lacks the article.
Predicate: A predicate is a noun that says something about the subject.  In John 1:1c (“The Word was THEOS”), “the Word” is the subject, “was” is a linking verb and THEOS says something about the subject.  THEOS is therefore the predicate.
Nominative: this is the case in which the predicate appears in such Greek structures.  This is not important for our discussion.

Colwell’s method

Colwell selected a number of predicates which he beforehand identified as definite on the basis of the context.  Analyzing them, he found, in this special grammatical construct, as in John 1:1c, that such definite predicates usually lack the article.  He therefore concluded that such predicates may be definite, depending on the context.

Some supporters of the translation “the Word was God” read Colwell as conforming that all predicates in such grammatical constructs are definite or usually definite.  But this is an invalid assumption, for Colwell’s sample was limited to predicates that were identified to be definite.  His sample was not representative of all predicates in such constructs.  He was therefore only able to make a statement about definite predicates (see Dixon, pp. 11-12).  His rule does not say anything about other predicates.  It is not valid to reverse his rule to read that predicates without the article (in such constructs) are definite.

Conclusion: Colwell’s rule does not apply to John 1:1c because his sample was limited to predicates that were beforehand identified as definite.

THEOS in John 1:1c is used qualitatively.

Qualitative nouns

Grammarians distinguish between definite, indefinite and qualitative nouns.  Definite and indefinite nouns have been defined above.  They identify or classify the subject of the sentence.  Qualitative nouns signify neither definiteness (a specific instance of a group), nor indefiniteness (any instance of a group). Rather, they attribute the nature or qualities of the noun to the subject of the sentence, e.g. “that man is a real tiger.”  In this way it is possible to describe a person, who is not actually a god, but a human being who is admired by many people for his or her superhuman abilities, as “a god.”  In this case “god” is used in a qualitative sense; it does not identify the person as one of the gods.

Research

Harner and Dixon found that 80% of the predicates in the special grammatical construct, of which John 1:1c is an example, are qualitative.  Harner wrote:

“We have seen that anarthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may be primarily qualitative in force … In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.”

This finding means that 1:1c does not classify Jesus as “a god” (indefinite).  Neither does it identify Jesus as “the god” (definite).  However, the translation “the Word was God” interprets THEOS as definite, for “God” is a name.

Fully Divine

In the first centuries, after the New Testament was written, the Church had to deal with the fact that the Bible dictates monotheism, but that Jesus is sometimes described with divine attributes.  Different views developed in the Church.  After the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion, it took control over the Church.  However, the Arian controversy (about the deity of Christ) caused disagreement in the Church, and that the Empire would not tolerate.  Caesar Constantine therefore called a Church Council in the year 325 in which the dominant view was adopted and the minority was slandered, excommunicated and banned.  The Nicene Creed, formulated for the year 325 Church Council, stated that Jesus was of the same substance and nature as God.  The Nicene Creed thus declared Jesus to be be God.

Since THEOS is most probably used with a qualitative force in John 1:1c, it ascribes god-like qualities to Jesus.  Trinitarians often takes this one step further and claim that the Son possesses all the attributes of God, with the emphasis on “all.”  They sometimes use the words of the Nicene Creed (same substance and nature) to describe the relationship between God and Jesus.  In other words, they argue that the Word fully shares the essence of the Father, though they differ in person.

But to say that Jesus possess the same substance and nature as God goes beyond a qualitative force.  It is to say that He is God.  Then it is not longer a qualitative statement, but a definite one.  For example, when we say “that man is a tiger,” we cannot argue that he has the same substance and nature as a tiger, for then he is a real tiger.  Rather, what we are saying is that he is as tough as a tiger.

Conclusion

The following objections to the translation “the Word was God” are therefore raised:

The English word “God” is a name for one specific being.  In other words, “the Word was God” interprets THEOS as a definite noun.  But in the Greek of 1:1c THEOS lacks the definite article.

John 1:1c has a special grammatical construct.  Grammarians have concluded that predicates in such constructs are primarily qualitative in force.  This implies that THEOS in 1:1c denotes Christ’s nature or qualities; not his person.  The translation “the Word was God,” in contrast, interprets THEOS as definite, for “God” is a name and not a quality.

Considering the immediate context, the Word “was with God” (1:1b).  This requires a distinction between the THEOS in 1:1b and the THEOS in 1:1c.

An analysis of the word THEOS (God) in the New Testament shows that this is consistently used for the Father only.  To apply this as a title to Jesus as well, is contrary to how the Bible uses the title “God.”

Trinitarian Interpretation

If “God” refers to the Father alone, the statement that “the Word was God” (1:1c) is Modalism, for then it means that Jesus just is the Father.  But since the Trinity theory has been the dominant theory since the fourth century, it is fair to assume that this is what the translation is based on.  However, to translate THEOS in both 1:1b and 1:1c as “God” contradicts the grammar and the context.

It is, nevertheless, highly significant that Jesus is called THEOS right in the first verse of John; in the context of “the Beginning,” when all things were created (v3).  John 1:1 serves as the introduction to and summary of the entire fourth gospel.

People may find it hard to accept, but John and Paul and Hebrews declared that Jesus existed before He became a human being, and that God created all things through His Son.  He is before all things (Col. 1:17).  Nevertheless, the New Testament maintains a clear distinction between Him and God.  In the centuries after Christ the Church struggled to reconcile these concepts and formulate the Nicene Creed that describes the Son as “true God from true God.”