Response to criticism of "What is the Trinity?

by Matt Slick

CARM is a magnet for attacks on orthodox doctrine.  Following is an email I received.  It is an excellent example of false interpretive principles and poor logic.  I have reproduced the email (with permission from its author).  The original article he attacks on CARM is in black text. His comments are in brown.  I have added my comments for this page in green.  Let's see how he did:

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"On the CARM web site at http://www.carm.org/doctrine/whatisthetrinity.htm, we find the following explanation of their concept of the trinity.  I have added my thoughts in the Blue writing to help them clarify what they are trying to say.  I hope this helps the folks at CARM.  Howard Mazzaferro

What is the Trinity?

The word "trinity" is a term used to denote the Christian doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Each of the persons is distinct from the other yet related in essence.

DISTINCT, a. [L. See Distinguish.]
1. Literally, having the difference marked; separated by a visible sign, or by a note or mark; as a place distinct by name.
2. Different; separate; not the same in number or kind; as, he holds tow distinct offices; he is known by distinct titles.
3. Separate in place; not conjunct; as, the two regiments marched together, but had distinct encampments.
4. So separated as not to be confounded with any other thing; clear; not confused.

Each is divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the Godhead.

Col. 2:9, "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."

This person seems to be a oneness believer--the error that God is not a trinity of persons but is one person.

When Col. 2:9 says that the fullness of the Godhead is dwelling bodily in Christ, it is not saying that all of what God is is dwelling in the body of Christ.  If this were the case, then the entirety of God would be located in a single human body, and God would not exist anywhere else in the universe.  This is, of course, problematic.  Furthermore, we know in Luke 22:42 that Jesus prayed to the Father.  This proves that the totality of God's existence was not located in the body of Christ since Christ was praying to the Father in heaven.

Therefore, we conclude that the fullness mentioned is speaking about the fullness of deity; that is, that Jesus is divine in nature as well as human in nature--not that all of God's essence, totality, nature, existence, etc., was confined to the space of Christ's body.

Each has a will, loves, and says "I" and "You" when speaking.  The Father is not the same person as the Son who is not the same person as the Holy Spirit who is not the same person as the Father.  Each is divine, yet there are not three gods but one God.  There are three persons individual subsistences or persons.  The word "subsistence" means something that has a real existence.  The word "person" denotes individuality and self-awareness.  The Trinity is three of these though the latter term has become the dominant one used to describe the individual aspects of God known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

According to Trinitarians Jesus was raised from the dead in the same human body that he died in.  After his resurrection, he was glorified and he ascended to Heaven with his human body.  Therefore, does the totality of the trinity reside in Jesus human body or does Jesus human body reside in the one spirit being God?

In this last paragraph, he has demonstrated that he does not understand the concept of the Trinity.  It is correct to say that Jesus died, rose, and ascended into heaven physically.  This is standard Christian doctrine.  However, when he asks, "does the totality of the trinity reside in Jesus human body or does Jesus human body reside in the one spirit being God," he demonstrates a deep lack of understanding regarding the incarnation of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

First of all, the doctrine of the Trinity states that Jesus is the word become flesh--not the Trinity become flesh.  The word which became flesh as Jesus is the second person of the Trinity--not the totality of the Trinity.  This clearly shows that the critic fails to properly understand what the Trinity is.

Included in the doctrine of the Trinity is a strict monotheism which is the teaching that there exists in all the universe a single being known as God who is self-existent and unchangeable (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8).  Therefore, it is important to note that the doctrine of the trinity is not polytheistic as some of its critics proclaim.  Trinitarianism is monotheistic by definition, and those who claim it is polytheistic demonstrate a lack of understanding of what it really is.

  • The Trinity
    • God is three persons.
    • Each person is divine.
    • There is only one God.

Let us apply some simple logic: According to the above, the following should be true as well.

  • The Trinity
    • God is three persons
    • Each person is divine
    • There is only one three persons.  Hmm?

Apparently, this person cannot follow simply logic and constructs an error in order to attack something. This is a strawman fallacy--as well as bad logic.

To say that God is three persons is not illogical.  It is simply a statement, and there is no logical prohibition to this possibility.  To say that each person is divine is to say that each has the quality of divinity.  But to jump to the fallacious statement, "There is only one three persons," is completely illogical as well as nonsensical.

As I've demonstrated above, this person does not understand the Trinity and has not been able to construct a logical refutation of the Trinity doctrine.

Many theologians admit that the term "person" is not a perfect word to describe the three individual aspects/foci found in God.   When we normally use the word person, we understand it to mean physical individuals who exist as separate beings from other individuals.  But in God there are not three entities--nor three beings.  God, is a trinity of persons consisting of one substance and one essence.  God is numerically one. Yet, within the single divine essence are three individual subsistences that we call persons.

  • Each of the three persons is completely divine in nature though each is not the totality of the Godhead.

If the Bible calls the Father God, Jesus God, and the Holy Spirit God and if these uses of God (Theos) are not the totality of the Godhead (True God), what word means the totality of the Godhead?  Doesn't the Bible call the Father 'the only True God?'  This sounds like the Father is the totality of the Godhead to me.  In addition, do not Trinitarians say Jesus is Jehovah (Jehovah being the name of the Total Triune being).  They also say the Father is Jehovah.

  • Each of the three persons is not the other two persons.
  • Each of the three persons is related to the other two but are distinct from them.

The word "trinity" is not found in the Bible.  But this does not mean that the concept is not taught there.  The word "bible" is not found in the Bible either, but we use it anyway.  Likewise, the words, "omniscience," which means "all-knowing," "omnipotence," which means "all-powerful," and "omnipresence," which means "present everywhere," are not found in the Bible either.  But we use these words to describe the attributes of God.  So, to say that the Trinity isn't true because the word isn't in the Bible is an invalid argument.

Maybe if CARM would take some time off from criticizing true Christians and actually read the Bible, they would not make such ridiculous statements as this.  The etymology of the word Bible informs us that it comes from the Greek word biblos.  Thayer Definition for biblos is:  1) a written book, a roll, a scroll.  And get this, the word DOES appear in the bible a number of time.  An especially interesting verse is Mark 12:26 where it is usually translated as the 'book of Moses' and it would not be a far stretch to read this as the 'Bible of Moses.'

Does this person actually think that the word "Bible" occurs in the Bible?  It does not.  Note that I did not say the Greek word "biblos." I said the English word "Bible."  The criticism I initially responded to in my paper was dealing with the objection that the English word "trinity" does not occur in the Bible.

This person has failed to make the distinction and has demonstrated, yet again, a failure to think clearly when addressing the issues.

Is there subordination in the Trinity?

There is, apparently, a subordination within the Trinity regarding to order but not substance or essence.  We can see that the Father is first, the Son is second, and the Holy Spirit is third. The Father is not begotten, but the Son is (John 3:16). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 5:26).  The Father sent the Son (1 John 4:10).  The Son and the Father send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26).  The Father creates (Isaiah 44:24), the Son redeems (Gal. 3:13), and the Holy Spirit sanctifies (Rom. 15:16).

This subordination of order does not mean that each of the members of the Godhead are not equal or divine.  For example, we see that the Father sent the Son.  But this does not mean that the Son is not equal to the Father in essence and divine nature.  A wife is to be subject to her husband, but this does not negate her humanity, essence, or equality.  By further analogy, a king and his servant both share human nature. Yet, the king sends the servant to do his will.  Jesus said, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).   Does this mean that the one sent must, therefore, be of different nature than the one who sent him?  Of course not.

Apparently, there are different versions of the trinity out there, which one is the Truth?
Gregory Thaumaturgus. In his Ekthesis tes pisteos composed between 260 and 270, he writes:
There is therefore nothing created, nothing subject to another in the Trinity: nor is there anything that has been added as though it once had not existed, but had entered afterwards: therefore the Father has never been without the Son, nor the Son without the Spirit: and this same Trinity is immutable and unalterable forever (P. G., X, 986).
As far as the examples of the wife and the King, First the examples use two beings to try to describe one being.  How would this work?  In addition, just a few paragraphs up we are told, 'God, is a trinity of persons consisting of one substance and one essence.'  Wouldn't this example be closer to CARM's purpose if it were re-worded to say, 'a king and his servant are persons consisting of one substance and one essence.'  Now we are getting somewhere, just add another person and we have a true schizophrenic human trinity for our example of the Trinitarian's God.  In addition, if we go back to the original examples of the wife and the king, CARM has only proven that two or more distinct beings CAN share the same nature.  CARM still has yet to prove that in the Bible sharing a nature MUST mean the same being.

It is interesting that this person tries to cloud the real issue of whether or not the doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the Bible or not.  He goes to Thaumaturgus (I confess I've never even heard of him before) as he tries to infer confusion.  But, the doctrine of the Trinity is that there are three persons in one God.  Note that in my comment above I said, "There is, apparently, a subordination within the Trinity." This is true, and most theologians agree.  In fact, the scriptures listed substantiate this.  Yet, the critic ignores the scriptures and tries to focus on some ancient person.

The king and servant example is meant to demonstrate that difference in position does not mean difference in nature.  Note that this critic mistakenly says "wife and king."  Apparently, he didn't read this very carefully--yet he is ready to criticize it. The problem with this person is that he fails to see the point that is made.  Instead, he constructs a difficulty that the illustration was not meant to address.  I don't blame him since he is looking for anything to criticize.

Finally, I was not attempting to prove that "in the Bible sharing a nature MUST mean the same being."  That isn't it at all.  I have tried to answer an objection of position by using the analogy of a King and a Servant and demonstrated that differences in position does not necessitate difference in nature which I again clarify in the next paragraph.  That is the point and the critic has failed to grasp it.

Critics of the Trinity will see this subordination as proof that the Trinity is false.  They reason that if Jesus were truly God, then He would be completely equal to God the Father in all areas and would not, therefore, be subordinate to the Father in any way.   But this objection is not logical.  If we look at the analogy of the king and in the servant, we certainly would not say that the servant was not human because he was sent.  Being sent does not negate sameness in essence. Therefore, the fact that the Son is sent does not mean that He is not divine any more than when my wife sends me to get bread, I am not human.

Is this confusing?

It is confusing to someone like this critic who applies false logic, misreads the text, and is only looking for something to criticize without applying adequate analysis.

Another important point about the Trinity is that it can be a difficult concept to grasp.  But this does not necessitate an argument against its validity.  On the contrary, the fact that it is difficult is an argument for its truth.  The Bible is the self-revelation of an infinite God.  Therefore, we are bound to encounter concepts which are difficult to understand--especially when dealing with an incomprehensible God who exists in all places at all times.  So, when we view descriptions and attributes of God manifested in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we discover that a completely comprehensible and understandable explanation of God's essence and nature is not possible.  What we have, however, done is derive from the Scripture the truths that we can grasp and combine them into the doctrine we call The Trinity.  The Trinity is, to a large extent, a mystery.  After all, we are dealing with God Himself.   It is the way of the cults to reduce biblical truth to make God comprehensible and understandable by their minds.  To this end, they subject God's word to their own reasoning and end in error.

CARM must have missed these Scriptures when writing this.

Jeremiah 31:34 '34 'And they will no more teach each one his companion and each one his brother, saying, 'KNOW Jehovah!' for they will all of them know me, from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them,' is the utterance of Jehovah. 'For I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.'

The critic underlines "they will all of them know me."  The verse is not talking about us comprehending the nature of God as a Trinity, which is what this conversation is about.  Instead, the verse is dealing with knowing God, who He is, and being in relationship with God.  Therefore, this person has mistakenly used Jeremiah 31:34.

I do not know for sure, but it is apparent that this critic is using the New World Translation produced by the Watchtower Organization--Jehovah's Witnesses.

John 10:14-15 '14 I am the fine shepherd, and I know my sheep and my sheep know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I surrender my soul in behalf of the sheep.'

When God speaks of knowing us, He is speaking of a saving relationship.  The Bible says that God only knows believers--not unbelievers. "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27); and " . . . The Lord knows those who are his," (2 Tim. 2:19); and, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?'  23And I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'' (Matt. 7:21-23).  Of course, God knows who everyone is--He is omniscient. But God is showing us that when He says He knows us, He is referring to a salvation relationship. See also, Gal. 4:8-9.

This person has failed to understand the biblical pattern of "knowing" that is reference between God and those who are redeemed.

KNOW  1. To perceive with certainty; to understand clearly; to have a clear and certain perception of truth, fact, or any thing that actually exists.

Nice dictionary definition. But, God uses the term to describe a salvation relationship of a person in relation to God as I demonstrated above.

The following verses are often used to demonstrate that the doctrine of the Trinity is indeed biblical:

  • Matt. 28:19, Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (Again, If CARM did more Bible reading they would not provide the wrong verse number.  Anyway, Matt 28:19 does not say anything about all three being God or the same God.  What it does say is that the roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit need to be recognized for salvation.)
    • Excuse me, but people do make typo's don't they?  The critic does not even address the fact that Jesus refers to all three persons at once.  Instead, he tries to demand of the verse a Trinitarian statement. The Trinity is arrived at systematically by looking at the whole of scripture. The above verse is simply demonstrating that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are mentioned together under "the name"--not "the names."
  • 1 Cor. 12:4-6, Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects but the same God who works all things in all persons. (No definition of a trinity here either. The word 'same' is probably what is exciting the folks at CARM).
    • Same basic mistake here as above.  He is not accepting the fact that the three are mentioned together by Paul.
  • 2 Cor. 13:14, The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. (Hmmm, Let me get this right, mention three things in one sentence and they become the same thing, cool!)
    • It is unfortunate that this person is not dealing with the issue of three persons.  We see that all three are mentioned here.  Of course, we do not derive the whole doctrine of the Trinity from these verses.  Instead, we do it by recognizing that each of the persons share attributes attributable only to God.  See The Trinity Chart for proof of this.
  • Eph. 4:4-7, There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. (1+1+1+1+1+1+1=7 Oh no! we have over extended our trinity).
    • Anyone who reads his comments should be able to see the obvious error he has made.
  • 1 Pet. 1:2, "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure." (Yep, were back to mentioning three things that add up to one.)
    • I have not stated that three things add up to one nor do any Trinitarians.  Please note that this person is not dealing with the issue of what the Trinity really is.  He has misrepresented it and applied fallacious logic in analysis.
  • Jude 20-21, "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life." (Boy, these incomprehensible mysteries are taxing my brain, I had better rest now.)
    • Perhaps this person, while he is resting, should read a book on logic.

I wonder if this masterpiece of mess was written by Matthew J. Slick, the President of CARM.  You know he graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity.  How cool is that!  Today in History says, the initials CARM originally meant:

Calling    All   Religious   Morons

Please notice that in the conclusion of this person's faulty analysis that he then mocks the name of CARM.  This is not how apologetics is done.  He should be more precise in his analysis and not make the mistakes that he did.

He needs to focus more on logic and scripture, and he needs to not impose upon the text of God's word (or my writing)--things that are not there.

 

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