Great Commission Church of God
ARTICLES

"The Trinity - Examined"
by Terry Bruns



This article was written in response to questions sent in by you, our readers. Several of you have asked if there were any scriptures that prove the existence of the "trinity." The simple answer is "No" - chiefly because the Bible does not support such an idea. Even proponents of the trinity doctrine will admit that there is no scriptural evidence for this "doctrine." They say it is a matter of faith and call it a "mystery". But the Bible says we are to "prove all things", so that is what this article will attempt to do. To begin, we will present some background information and scriptures which speak about the nature of God and define the role of the Holy Spirit. Then we'll finish by answering some specific questions which have been asked.

Greek Gender Problems:

Much of the confusion among English-speaking peoples (and in English translations of the Bible) regarding the nature of the Holy Spirit centers on the Greek language's use of gender pronouns. Greek, like the Latin based Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, etc.), uses a specific gender for each noun. Every object, animate or inanimate, is referred to as being either masculine, feminine or neuter.

In these and other languages, a noun's gender is usually arbitrary and has nothing to do with whether it in reality refers to something masculine or feminine. For example in French a book, livre, takes the masculine pronoun in speech and is referred to as a "he." Likewise in German a girl, mädchen, is referred to in the neuter sense as an "it" and the Latin farmer, agricola, would have been referred to as a "she" since it is a feminine noun. By contrast, English nouns use pronouns that are directly related to the meaning of the noun, whether masculine, feminine or neuter.

In the New Testament, the words used most often in reference to the Holy Spirit are a mixture of masculine and neuter. The Greek word parakletos is translated "Comforter" or "Helper." The comforter that Christ promised He would send to the disciples in the 14th, 15th and 16th chapters of John is a masculine word and thus would be referred to by the pronouns "he," "him," "his" and "himself" throughout those chapters. However, this is strictly a grammatical tool and not a statement on the nature of the Holy Spirit.

The other word used most often of the Holy Spirit is the Greek word pneuma. It is translated as "breath" or "spirit" and means breath, breeze, wind or spirit. It is the root of our modern word pneumatic, meaning pertaining to or operated by air or wind. Pneuma is a grammatically neuter word and thus should be referred to in English by such neuter terms as "it," "its" or "itself."

The translators of the King James Version, influenced by their own belief in the Trinity doctrine, generally mistranslated pronouns referring to pneuma as masculine rather than neuter. There are a few exceptions in the KJV in which the translation was properly handled, such as Romans 8:16, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."

Later English translations of the Bible, following the lead of the King James Version, translated references to the Holy Spirit as masculine, thus it is almost always referred to as "he" or "him" in modern versions. But let's get over this grammatical bump and really take a look at how the scriptures describe the Holy Spirit.

Unity with the Father:

A main point of trinitarianism is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one. While there are no scriptures stating such a thing, there are verses speaking about the unity of the Father and the Son. However, these cannot mean that they are somehow "two-in-one" (or three-in-one if you sneak the HS in there) any more than the scriptures speaking about a man and a woman coming together and the two become one means that a husband and wife are now some kind of composite organism. This simply means one in purpose, united in goals, thoughts and aspirations.

Read John 17:21-22, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:" First, notice Jesus talks of the glory He had with the Father. No mention of sharing any glory with the Holy Spirit. But more important, He is asking His Father to make them "one" again and to make the disciples "one" in the same way. The disciples did not become part of some "trinity" with other beings, but they did unite in mind, in purpose and in love - the same as Jesus and His Father.

Part of the trinity doctrine is that the three-in-one beings making up the godhead are co-equal. But notice this plain statement in John 14:28, "Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I." Did you catch it? Jesus said His Father was greater than He was! This disagrees with a basic tenet of the trinity doctrine.

There is another well known passage of Scripture that indicates the Holy Spirit is not a co-equal member of a Trinity. Sometimes called the Unpardonable Sin, this verse is found in Luke 12:10, "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost[Spirit] it shall not be forgiven." If the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all equal members of a Trinity, this woulnd not make sense. We will see why Christ said this later on.

Ignored by Christ and Disciples:

Christ taught many things and had opportunities to include the Holy Spirit as being a part of "God" along with the Father. But He did not do this. Instead, He consistently left the Holy Spirit out of such lessons. Notice the following plain scriptures:

  • John 17:3, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."
  • Matthew 11:27, "All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him."
  • John 5:19, "Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise."

No mention of a co-equal relationship with the Holy Spirit in these passages.

The other New Testament writers did no better in acknowledging the Holy Spirit as a co-equal member of a trinity. The reason? It is not a co-equal member of a trinity. John wrote:

  • 1 John 1:3, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ."
  • 1 John 2:22-23, "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: but he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father."
  • 2 John 1:9, "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son."

In all of these fundamental scriptures on the nature of God, no mention is made of the Holy Spirit.

In almost all of Paul's epistles, he begins or ends with a doxology along the lines of "Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." The same is true of the epistles of Peter, James, John, and the other minor letters. These is no mention of the Holy Spirit in these salutations. The only exception is in 2 Corinthians 13:14 where Paul closes with "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost [Spirit], be with you all. Amen." Here he is hoping for the communion of fellowship of the Spirit to be with those to whom he is writing. This does not imply that the Spirit is a person, but rather, something all believers hold in common.

When these writers spoke of God, they always mention the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, but no mention is made of the Holy Spirit as being a part of that loving family relationship. The most telling of these omissions is from the words of our Lord Himself in John 17 when He is praying to the Father about their soon to occur reunion. If there had ever been a "trinity" you would think that Jesus would desire to be reunited with the Father and the Holy Spirit. However, no mention of the Holy Spirit is made by Him. Read John 17 in its entirety and see for yourself.

The Power of God

The Holy Spirit, rather than being a distinct person, is spoken of in the Bible as being God's divine power. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, in its article on the Holy Spirit, describes it as "the manifestation of divine presence and power perceptible especially in prophetic inspiration" (Vol. 3, Doubleday, New York, 1992, p. 260).

Did you ever consider why Jesus called The Father by that title if the Holy Spirit were a "person" of a trinity? After all, the scripture says He, Jesus, was conceived by the action of the Holy Spirit. But notice the wording in Luke 1:34-35, "Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." The Holy Spirit is here called the "power" of the Highest. If the Holy Spirit is the power and force that the Godhead (now the Father and the Son) uses to carry out their will, then this makes perfect sense. If it is a person in a trinity, then we have a contradiction.

In speaking of sending the Holy Spirit to the disciples, notice the words used by Jesus Himself in Luke 24:49, "And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." Again, the Holy Spirit is referred to as "power". Paul told Timothy that it is the "spirit of ... power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). In Luke 4:14, it is recorded that Jesus Christ began His ministry "in the power of the Spirit." In speaking of the Holy Spirit, which would be given to His followers after His death, Jesus told them, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you ..." (Acts 1:8). Other scriptures that refer to the Holy Spirit as the power of God are Zechariah 4:6 and Micah 3:8.

The Holy Spirit then is shown to be the very presence of God's power actively working in His servants. The apostle Paul's desire was that the members of the church in Rome would "abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit," in the same way that Jesus Christ had worked through him "in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God" (Romans 15:13, 19). We see here that Jesus worked His miracles through the Holy Spirit. Notice these plain scriptures: "And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all" (Luke 6:19) and "But Jesus said, 'Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me'" (Luke 8:46).

Clearly, the Bible supports the concept that the Holy Spirit is the power by which God accomplishes His will. This is why Jesus said blasphemey against the Holy Spirit would not be forgiven. The Holy Spirit is the very power of God, given to bring us to repentence. If we deny that power of God, there is nothing else in the universe to bring us to salvation! We will examine the role of the Holy Spirit as it relates to the "Unpardonable Sin" a little later in this article.

Some Honest Questions Answered:

Matthew 28:19

Some of you have asked what it means to be baptized "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." This is of course a well known quote from Matthew 28:19. It would seem at first glance that here we have a scripture which actually supports the trinitarian formula.

However, it is our firm belief that this text does not represent the original words of Christ, but instead was a gloss added by trinitarian copyists sometime in the late fourth century. Because all manuscripts now in existence contain this phrase, most scholars believe it to be original. However, there are several scholars who dispute whether or not this phrase is original - such as Hans Kosmala ("The Conclusion of Matthew", Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute, 4 (1965), pp. 132-147) and David Flusser ("The Conclusion of Matthew in a New Jewish Christian Source", ibid., 5 (1966-7), pp. 110-119).

As I said, all extant NT manuscripts contain the traditional phrase. However there are no manuscripts which date from earlier than the fourth century. Eusebius, the church historian of the early fourth century, does not include this phrase in his quote of this verse preceding the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The writings of Justin Martyr, a second century author, also seem to indicate that the "trinitarian" formula was a later addition.

This article cannot possibly cover this topic in detail, however there are two other web sites (neither associated with the Great Commission Church of God), which contain an edited reprint of a publication which was originally written in 1961 and titled "A Collection of the Evidence For and Against the Traditional Wording of the Baptismal Phrase in Matthew 28:19," written by Pastor A. Ploughman of Birmingham, England. This fascinating study can be found at either the Soul's Harvest Church or the Jesus Messaih Fellowship web site.

But let's get back to our study and notice one obvious problem with Matthew 28:19. If it were meant to be a formula for baptizing, then somebody should ahve told the apostles and the New Testament church because there's no evidence in Scripture that they ever used it. Notice the following passages:

  • Acts 2:38, "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]"
  • Acts 8:16, "(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus)"
  • Acts 10:48, "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days."
  • Acts 19:5, "When they heard [this],they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."

All of these scriptural examples show that baptism was done in the name of Jesus Christ - not the questionable trinitarian formula found in Matthew 28:19.

The Comforter (Parakletos)

Others have written concerning the "Comforter" or "Helper" that Jesus promised, wondering if the Holy Spirit is a seperate and distinct "person" of a trinity, why does Jesus say "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you." (John 16:7 NKJV)? The word Jesus used for this "Helper" is the Greek parakletos which can be translated as "comforter", "helper" and also "advocate". It's meaning is one who pleads another's cause before a judge, as a defense lawyer or a legal assistant - an intercessor or mediator.

Now if this "Comforter" is another separate person in a trinity, we have another conflict with these next two scriptures:

1 John 2:1, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:"

1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;"

The word translated "advocate" in 1 John 2:1 is "parakletos", the same one used for "comforter" in John 14, 15 and 16. But here we see it is clearly speaking about Jesus Christ. The word in 1 Timothy 2:5 is "mesites" and can mean 1) "one who intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or form a compact, or for ratifying a covenant; 2) a medium of communication, arbitrator. Clearly, both of these words are talking about the same idea and that function of helper or advocate or mediator is fulfilled by Jesus Christ alone.

Now it is universally accepted that when Jesus promised the "Helper" or the "Comforter", He was speaking about the Holy Spirit. By putting together Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8, we see that Jesus told the disciples that they would receive power when He was referring to the soon coming Feast of Pentecost, when they would receive the Holy Spirit. But how can Jesus be the one and only mediator and advocate between God and man, when He promised to send the Holy Spirit to be that mediator and advocate? It is only by understanding the Holy Spirit to be the Power by which the Father and Son act that we can reconcile this problem. Jesus Christ is our mediator, our advocate, our parakletos by or through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let's look at a different passage of scripture concerning this topic over in Romans 8:9 NIV, "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. " We see the Spirit spoken of as being "of God" and also "of Christ". Both of these members of the God family accomplish their will be the power of the Holy Spirit. But if this Holy Spirit is a separate being or person, why does the very next verse begin "And if Christ be in you,..."? This indwelling of God and Christ is by the Holy Spirit.

Notice again the words of Jesus as He promises the "comforter" to His disciples" in John 14:16-18 NKJV. This time, I will correct for the Greek gender mistranslation: "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that it may abide with you forever-- the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither sees it nor knows it; but you know it, for it dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." It is Jesus, not another "person" of some trinity, that is living in us. How? By the power of His Holy Spirit!

Once again, who is going to live with us and in us? John 14:23 NKJV, "Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We [the Father and the Son - no Holy Spirit is mentioned here or anywhere else] will come to him and make Our home with him."

The Unpardonable Sin

Many have asked, "What exactly is the "Unpardonable Sin" and How does the Holy Spirit figure in?" Rather than prove the trinity, this scripture does the most damage to the concept of a "three-in-one" God. Again, a fundamental aspect of the trinity is the belief that the three person comprising God are co-equal. If this passage were going to support the idea of the trinity, it would not treat blasphemy against the Holy Spirit any differently than that against the Father or Son. By making this a special case, Jesus is clearly indicating that there is something different about the Holy Spirit which prevents one who denies its power from receiving forgiveness.

The reason is simple, once one understands that the Holy Spirit is not a person in a trinity, but the power of God. There is only one way we can ever overcome our carnal nature and follow the lead of Jesus Christ - the captain of our salvation - and that is to allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. Notice Romans 8:14, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." and also verse 16, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:"

Jesus told us that we are to strive for perfection (Matthew 5:48). Paul put it another way in Ephesians 4:13, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:" But how do we measure up to Jesus Christ? "The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master" (Luke 6:40). So we are to be like our master, Jesus. Now some may say that Jesus did it all for us and their is nothing for us to do. But Jesus Himself said "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12).

Now Jesus said this right before He spoke about sending the Holy Spirit or Comforter. But we have just showed that this is really Jesus living in us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit - the Power of God and of Christ. Again we see it is Jesus living in us in 1 John 2:6, "He that says he abides in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." And we see again that we need to walk as Jesus walked. But remember Romans 8:9 told us "...Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." and verse 14 says, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God."

So how can we walk as Jesus walked, how can do as our master did, how can we become perfect as Jesus commanded if we deny the very power that enables us to do so? If we blaspheme (slander, ridicule, speak evil of) the Holy Spirit, how can we be led by it? If we don't allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit of God, we cannot become the sons of God. Jesus was telling us that our sins, even against the Father and the Son, can always be forgiven, if we repent and allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit. But since this is the very power which, dwelling in us, can bring us to "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ", then by denying it, we denying the only power in the universe which can bring us to salvation.

This is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is know as the "Unpardonable Sin."

CONCLUSION:

The Bible speaks about God bringing "many sons unto glory" (Hebrews 2:10) and that we will be "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17) and we are to be "the children of God" (Gal. 3:26) and that Jesus is not ashamed to call us "brethren" (Hebrews. 2:11). These are all terms used of a family - and that is what the Bible consistently addresses "God" to be - a Family. God is a family that we have been invited to become a part of.

The Bible teaches us that we are saved by Christ's life (Romans 5:10), if we walk as he walked (1 John 2:6), because He suffered as an example for us to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21 and Romans 8:17). To do this, we must allow ourselves to be led by the power of the Holy Spirit, thereby becoming literal sons of God (Romans 8:14-17). This receiving of the Holy Spirit is only a begetting by God, not actually being yet born. Jesus said we must be born again (actually "born from above" - John 3:3), but we know this has not yet occurred (1 John 3:1-2), but will happen when Jesus returns (1 Corinthians 15:49-53).

This subject is very complex and can be difficult to understand. While I've tried to be clear and concise in this article, I realize that more questions may have been raised than answered. If you would like to explore this topic in greater detail, I encourage you to check out some of the fine articles which can be found on the Bible Study Web Site (You have questions - The Bible has answers). Visit this award-winning web site and do a search on the word "trinity".


Last Updated:
March 5, 2011