Monday, January 20, 2014

Problematic Passages Used In Defense of the Trinity

originally posted 9/12/14

While I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, there are some passages and arguments that shouldn't be used by modern defenders of the doctrine. Or if used, must have the right qualifications, caveats or defense so that one's arguments aren't dismissed for being overly simplistic or unsophisticated.

For the most part I'll list some passages which older works in defense of the Trinity unfortunately used. Sometimes because they didn't know better. Or because objections against the Trinity weren't as developed then as they are now. Or because of advances in scholarship which now undermine or weaken such appeals and arguments. By older works I'm referring to books like John Owen's Vindication of the Trinity, Edward Henry Bickersteth's book The Trinity and other such works.

Hopefully, readers of this blogpost will learn not to make the same mistakes.

Sometimes the problem is that the passages are ones which modern scholarship now recognizes as containing important textual variants. Either because a variant is clearly not original. Or because there are alternative variants which have nearly the same likelihood of being original. If the former, then those verses no longer should be used to support the doctrine of the Trinity. If the latter, then arguments should be made as to why such and such variant are original and how to properly interpret them.  [e.g. John 3:13; 1 Cor. 15:47; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 John 5:7; Rev. 1:11]

Modern critical texts [hereafter MCT] don't have "who is in heaven" in John 3:13. So, this can't be used as a knockdown argument for Christ's omnipresence or His continuing to be in heaven in some sense during His time on earth.

MCT in 1 Cor. 15:47 don't have "the Lord from heaven."

 MCT in 1 Tim. 3:16 don't have "God was manifested in the flesh." Though, an argument could be made that it's possible the original was "God."

MCT don't have 1 John 5:7, and rightly so. It's almost certain that it is an interpolation, and therefore should never be used to defend the doctrine of the Trinity.

MCT in Rev. 1:11 don't have Jesus saying "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last..." However, an argument can be made for the probable likelihood that Jesus is the one speaking in Rev. 22:13 where the speaker does refer to Himself using all three synonymous phrases, "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end"


Sometimes the problem might be a dispute regarding Hebrew vowel pointing. For example, whether the second "Lord" in Ps. 110:1 as we have it in most English translations should be pointed to be "adon" or "adonai."

Does Ps. 2:12 refer to the "son" or not? Does Zech. 12:10 refer to "me" or "him" in Hebrew? If passages like these (and others) are appealed to, then arguments using them must anticipate common objections to those passages by Unitarians. They need further elaboration on the part of Trinitarians as to why such verses rightly support the doctrine of the Trinity.

Sometimes the problem is translational. For example, the KJV translates "teacher" as "master" in Matt. 23:8-10. At the time when it was originally translated the word "master" did have "teacher" as one of its meanings. However, though they should have known better, some older defenses of the Trinity used this passage to refer to Christ as "master" in the primary sense of "Lord" or "owner," rather than teacher as the original Greek has it and as was originally meant by the translators of the Authorized Version (i.e. the King James Bible). These types of arguments fail because of a misunderstanding of a translation. Thus, often leading to the fallacy equivocation.

There are other translational issues that many people are aware of nowadays which absolutely must be addressed such that verses traditionally used to defend the Trinity must not be appealed to naively. (e.g. John 1:1, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Acts 20:28;  Heb. 1:8; 1 John 5:20 etc.).

There have also been advances and discoveries in theology, theological distinctions, philosophical theology, historical theology, Biblical theology, archaeology, Ancient Near East studies, 2nd Temple Judaism, 1st century Roman and Palestinian history (et cetera) which also are not addressed in older works. On the other hand, older works often deal with issues (in some senses) in a much more in depth and thorough manner than many modern works precisely because there was less to master in the learning and education of those times; and they had plenty of time to think and read deeply about theological matters without the constant distractions of modern technology.

 Many of the above are issues (among others not mentioned) which are in addition to the main issue of interpretation. By committing some of the above mistakes one not only weakens one's credibility, but might actually inoculate people against the doctrine of the Trinity when they find out the weaknesses of the arguments used. There are many stories of people who claim to have once believed in the doctrine of the Trinity but no longer do so because their faith in the doctrine was easily disturbed or refuted by informed Unitarians or skeptics. All because they had believed in the doctrine of the Trinity based on bad or weakly supported traditional and/or naive arguments and evidences.

Some arguments and evidences are better than others. Defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity need to convey this to Non-Trinitarians and how the case for the Trinity is not based on a few strong passages and arguments but on many, many, many passages and arguments which have varying degrees of importance and strength. Oftentimes doubters and objectors to the doctrine need to be overwhelmed with the super abundant evidences for the doctrine of the Trinity before they can eventually see its truth and how the doctrine makes most sense out of ALL the relevant data.

Despite the above mentioned deficiencies in older defenses of the doctrine of the Trinity, the full deity of Christ, the full deity of the Holy Spirit (etc.), many older works are nevertheless still useful and informative biblically, exegetically, theologically, philosophically and historically (etc.).





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