Can you be a Christian and Not Believe in the Trinity?

I want to talk about God and Jesus and their relationship, but I don’t want to argue about it, for arguments have been going on for a couple thousand years. I do, however, wish to present some evidence to give you something different to think about, because while most large modern denominations claim God is part of a Trinity, not all think that way.1 Although some theologians glean the idea of a Trinity in the Gospels, it wasn’t an idea that was taught.

The reader must understand that this study is not meant to start a new debate, but is only presented to lend credible evidence, that can be used to discern a logical answer. You must make up your own mind, for that is what God expects of you, but it really doesn’t matter, one way or the other, in order to be saved by Jesus’ sacrifice.

Now, the first thing many will say about not believing in the Trinity is that one can’t be a Christian if you do not believe in it, but when asked, they can’t show where in the Bible that claim is made. And the second thing many will say is that one must belong to a cult, if they believe such an un-Christian thing. Of course, we all know what a cult is, right? To most, it is any group of people that believe differently than they do.

Another thought that is brought up is “If Jesus is not God, how do you explain John 1:1? ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’”2 While that verse is used by Trinitarians to strengthen their cause, there are many more verses indicating the opposite opinion, but that verse, and others, will all have to wait for another article, because the research would make this essay much too long.

From Where Did the Trinity Idea Come?

Christian Trinity

Historically, the thought of a Trinity derived its basis from Greek philosophers of the third century AD, before the first four (of seven) church councils were called to settle the controversial issue of the relation between Jesus Christ and God his father. The Greek philosopher, Plotinus, believed in three higher principles, each one more sublime than the preceding. He taught that these principles were: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. “His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics.”3 And even in older civilizations, there had been trinities in the religions of India, Phoenicia, Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria. We can see, therefore, that although the Trinity is characteristic of the Christian religion, it is by no means peculiar to it.

The great Christian debate about the relationship between God and Jesus began a few hundred years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when the Egyptian priest and Christian theologian, Arius of Alexandria, argued that “if the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not.”4 Arius did not like that Christian theology was being too freely mixed with Greek paganism, from which the Trinity idea came, and his statement has since been known as the Arius doctrine.

This theological conflict triggered great contention in the Christian world and led to the calling of the first ecumenical council of the Church, which centered upon the nature of the Son of God, and his precise relationship to God the Father.5 Eventually, the ecumenical councils adopted a Trinity doctrine, which says the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Together these three make one God or Godhead. They are all the same and are all equal.

Hindu Trinity

Although the ecumenical councils finally settled on a Trinity doctrine, Arianism was still popular, and continued in many countries and regions for hundreds of years, as well as with some still today. Basically, Arianism is the belief that the preexistent Son of God was directly created by the Father, and that he was subordinate to God the Father. “Arius taught that in the creation of the universe, the Father was the ultimate creator, supplying all the materials and directing the design, while the Son worked the materials, making all things at the bidding and in the service of the Father, by which “through [Christ] all things came into existence.”6 It was along this line of thought that Paul said Christ was in existence even before the world was created. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15–16)

In a similar, but very modern thought, Frank Lloyd Wright,7 the famous American architect, is credited with construction of more than 500 homes and commercial buildings, most of which still stand today. But he was not the one who manually constructed them; he designed and others built by his plans. That may be a mediocre example, but you get the idea. For being the firstborn,8 Jesus was God’s only direct creation and, thereafter, he used Jesus as the instrument through which everything else was created. This did not mean that Jesus was a co-creator with his Father, but only a servant of God, who carried out the Almighty’s will. Jesus always credited his Father with creation (see Matthew 19:4).

What About the Holy Spirit?

Egyptian Trinity

Even more problematic has been that of the Holy Spirit – who or what is it. The English word spirit can mean a wide variety of things. Usually, in the Bible, it is translated from Greek and Hebrew to mean ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ and by several extended meanings: ‘dominate feeling,’ ‘spirit persons,’ and ‘vital or active force.’ It is important, also, to understand this word has been “used from ancient times to describe the experience of divine power working in, upon, and around men, and understood by them as the power of God.”9 A popular Bible dictionary states that the Holy Spirit is the power or presence of God in nature or with individuals and communities, inspiring or empowering them with qualities they would not otherwise possess,10 as in the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The idea of the Holy Spirit being part of a Godhead was not in the minds of the earliest Church members and it developed slowly, largely in response to controversies over the relation of Jesus Christ to God the Father.11 The place and character which the Holy Spirit now possesses in Christianity can be credited to ideas established long after the death of Jesus Christ. While it can be said that the Holy Spirit reflects personality (that of God and all who display his attributes), it is obvious, from scriptural research, that the Holy Spirit is not a person.

Conclusion

The Trinitarian doctrine is not rational; it just doesn’t make any sense. One would think that if the Trinity is correct, the Bible would present clear evidence in scripture and explain it throughly. There is no record of the Trinity doctrine ever being taught and, for being such an important part of Christian doctrine, it is striking that the word Trinity does not even appear in the Bible. Despite the fact that John 10:30 suggests equality between God and Jesus, and although there are a few “other New Testament texts where God, Jesus, and the Spirit are referred to in the same passage (e.g., Jude 20-21), it is important to avoid reading the Trinity into places where it does not appear.”12

Although most Christians in the world, today, believe in the Trinity and that Jesus and God is the same person, serious Christians are more interested in discerning accurate knowledge from biblical research than any preconceived man-made doctrine or dogma. To these people, truth is more important than tradition. During the days when Christ’s apostles lived, the Gospel was taught with accuracy, but after their death, it did not take very long for the truth to become eroded with falsehoods and corrupted with politics.

Greek Trinity

Erosions of biblical truth grew like a cancer, slow but sure. Little-by-little, inaccuracy crept in as the gospel message of Jesus Christ became more and more popular. In an effort to increase the church membership, many pagans were brought in, and with the pagans came pagan ideas. Rituals began to replace serious Bible study and differences in opinion soon became the basis for growth of various creeds and sects. Over the span of many years, man-made rites became time-honored tradition. It is not surprising that pagan ideas are still connected with Christian religions.13 The historian, Will Durant, was right on the mark when he stated that Christianity did not destroy paganism – it adopted it.14

Christian leaders then became powerful forces in the Church as well as in politics; religious beliefs, many times, were dictated by the state. These facts, however, are not surprising considering biblical warnings.

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will….” (2 Peter 1:20)

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words.” (2 Peter 2:1–3)

The evidence indicates that God Almighty is the Father. The Son of God is Jesus Christ, begotten by the Father. The Holy Spirit is not a person or entity, but is God’s great power – his invisible, active, penetrating, and vital force. The Trinity is definitely not biblical truth and is completely a man-made concept.

But whether you, or I, or others believe in the Trinity really isn’t critical to being saved. There was a specific reason for Jesus’ human birth, life, death, and resurrection, of which I wrote about before (see reference).15 If you live as a Christian and believe he died for your sins, then you are a Christian, for the Bible says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John3:16, NKJV)

Copyright © 1992, 2017, Dr. Ray Hermann
OutlawBibleStudent.org

This is a revision of the publication The Trinity: Fact or Fiction? copyright © 1992 by Ray Hermann.

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References & Notes

  1. Religions that do not believe in or teach a Trinity: United Church of God, Church of God International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Unitarian Universalist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and many minor groups, such as Living Church of God, Assemblies of Yahweh, Christadelphians, some Pentecostal groups, among others.
  2. Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), ©1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  3. “Plotinus,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 15 July 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plotinus
  4. “The Dispute of Arius with Alexander, his Bishop,” Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, retrieved 23 July 2018), http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.ii.iv.v.html
  5. “Arius,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 28 June 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arius
  6. “Nontrinitarianism,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 21 June 2018), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nontrinitarianism
  7. “Frank Lloyd Wright,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 26 July 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Lloyd_Wright
  8. Greek: prōtŏtŏkŏs, (Strong’s G4416), meaning: first-born, first-begotten.
    Strong, James, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).
  9. Dunn, James D., Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), vol. 1, p. 986.
  10. Achtemeier, Paul J., (Ed.), Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1985), p. 401.
  11. Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, (USA: Funk & Wagnalls, Inc., 1986), vol. 13, p. 166.
  12. Schowalter, Daniel N., The Oxford Companion to the Bible, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 782–783.
  13. Hermann, Ray, “Sun Worship, Sex in the Bible, and Church Steeples: A Brief History of Pagan Rituals and Traditions Carried into the Christian Church,” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 19 March 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/sun-worship-sex-in-the-bible-and-church-steeples-a-brief-history-of-pagan-rituals-and-traditions-carried-into-the-christian-church/
  14. Durant, Will, Caesar and Christ, (The Story of Civilization Series), (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944), vol. 3, p. 595.
  15. Hermann, Ray, “What do you mean, Christ died for our sins?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 31 December 2017), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/what-do-you-mean-christ-died-for-our-sins/
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4 thoughts on “Can you be a Christian and Not Believe in the Trinity?”

  1. I always believe in the Trinity but I see your point of view. It is something to think about. I did not know so many religions has Trinity too.

  2. I never believed in trinity but always afraid to tell people at church. You right it don’t make sense. I tried to make sense of it. I do feel better knowing some others feel the same as me.

    • Thanks for sharing your feelings. I’ve been a Christian minister, counselor, teacher, researcher, and writer, but sometimes people still tell me I’m not a Christian for questioning this doctrine. Like I stated, believing the Trinity doctrine isn’t of crucial importance to being saved. I hold nothing against people who do, or do not believe. All will become clear, one day . . . we will be either right or wrong. I look forward to being corrected, if necessary.

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