From Academic Kids

Nontrinitarianism or antitrinitarianism is the doctrinal description applied to rejection of the Trinitarian doctrine that God subsists as three distinct persons in the Holy Trinity. As the notion of the Holy Trinity is not of particular importance to nontrinitarians, persons and groups espousing this position generally do not refer to themselves affirmatively by that term, although some nontrinitarian groups such as the Unitarians have adopted a name that bespeaks of their belief in God as subsisting in a theological or cosmic unity. Though modern nontrinitarian groups all reject the doctrine of the Trinity, their views still differ widely on the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.


Forms of Nontrinitarianism

Nontrinitarian followers of Jesus fall into roughly three different groups.

Some deny that Jesus is God, instead believing that he was a messenger from God, or Prophet, or the perfect created human. This is the view espoused by ancient sects such as the Ebionites, and modern day Unitarianism. A related belief is Arianism, which was a variant belief eventually rejected by the church. This is the belief that Jesus is divine, but is a created being, created by the Father before all else, and therefore of lesser status.

Others believe that the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are simply three manifestations of one God, and not distinct persons at all. This is a doctrine known originally as Sabellianism. An example of such a church today is Oneness Pentecostals.

Several denominations within Mormonism (including the largest, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) accept the divinity of Jesus, but believe the three persons of the Trinity to be more clearly distinct entities than the conventional trinitarian conception. Some critics within Christianity have characterised this as tritheism.

Origins and basis for Nontrinitarianism

Nontrinitarians claim the roots of their position go back further than those of their counterpart trinitarians. Some ancient sects, such as the Ebionites, said that Jesus was not a "Son of God" but rather an ordinary man who was a prophet, a view of Jesus shared by Islam. The biblical basis for each side of the issue is debated chiefly on the question of the divinity of Jesus. Nontrinitarians note that in deference to God, Jesus rejected even being called "good", that he disavowed omniscience as the Son, and that he referred to ascending unto "my Father, and to your Father; and to my God, and to your God", and that he said "the Father is the only true God." Trinitarians, on the other hand, find plurality in Old Testament details like the term, "Elohim", and argue for example that Jesus accepted worship, forgave sins, claimed oneness with the Father, and used the expression "I am" as an echo of the divine name given to Moses on Mount Sinai. As in similar theological disputes, few are persuaded to convert and most tend as a rule to cling to the convictions they received within their own upbringings.

It is sometimes claimed by nontrinitarian groups, especially anti-catholic ones, that the doctrine of the Trinity was 'invented' by the Catholic church.

Alleged pagan basis for Trinitarianism

Many nontrinitarians have long contended that the doctrine of the Trinity is a prime example of Christianity borrowing from pagan sources. According to them, very early in the Church's history a simpler idea of God was lost and the incomprehensible doctrine of the Trinity took its place due to the Church's accommodation of pagan ideas. In support of this, they often compare the doctrine of the Trinity with notions of a divine triad found in ancient pagan religions and even in modern Hinduism.

Those who argue for a pagan basis note that as far back as Babylonia, the worship of pagan gods grouped in threes, or triads, was common, and that this influence was also prevalent in Egypt, Greece, Rome and even in ancient India where the trio of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu were being worshipped centuries before, during, and after Jesus. The concept of the trio, the creator, the maintainer and the annihilater dates back to millennia before Christ. They allege that after the death of the apostles these pagan beliefs began to invade Christian doctrine.

Some nontrinitarians find a direct link, for example, between the doctrine of the Trinity and the Egyptian theologians of Alexandria, suggesting that Alexandrian theology with its strong emphasis on the deity of Jesus served to infuse Egypt's pagan religious heritage into Christianity. They charge the Church with adopting these Egyptian tenets after adapting them to Christian thinking by means of Greek philosophy. As evidence of this, they point to the widely acknowledged synthesis of Christianity with platonic philosophy evident in trinitarian formulas appearing by the end of the third century. Hence, beginning with the Constantinian period, they allege, these pagan ideas were forcibly imposed on the churches as Catholic doctrine rooted firmly in the soil of Hellenism.

Thus, while first and second century Christian writings do reflect a certain belief that Jesus was one with God the Father, nontrinitarians contend that after that point in time the nature of that oneness evolved in the Church's hands from a pervasive coexistence into a complete identity.

Hellenic influences on Christian thought

Advocates of the "Hellenic origins" argument consider it well supported by primary sources. They see these sources as tracing the influence of Philo on post-Apostolic Christian philosophers - many of them ex-pagan Hellenic philosophers - who then interpreted Scripture through the Neoplatonic filter of their original beliefs and subsequently incorporated those interpretations into their theology. The early synthesis between Hellenic philosophy and early Christianity was certainly made easier by the fact that so many of the earliest apologists (such as Athenagoras and Martyr) were Greek converts themselves, whose original beliefs had consisted more of philosophy than religion.

Stuart G Hall (formerly Professor of Ecclesiastical History at King's College, London) describes the subsequent process of philosophical/theological amalgamation in Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church (1991), where he writes:

The apologists began to claim that Greek culture pointed to and was consummated in the Christian message, just as the Old Testament was. This process was done most thoroughly in the synthesis of Clement of Alexandria. It can be done in several ways.
You can rake through Greek literature, and find (especially in the oldest seers and poets) references to ‘God’ which are more compatible with monotheism than with polytheism (so at length Athenagoras.) You can work out a common chronology between the legends of prehistoric (Homer) Greece and the biblical record (so Theophilus.)
You can adapt a piece of pre-Christian Jewish apologetic, which claimed that Plato and other Greek philosophers got their best ideas indirectly from the teachings of Moses in the Bible, which was much earlier.
This theory combines the advantage of making out the Greeks to be plagiarists (and therefore second-rate or criminal), while claiming that they support Christianity by their arguments at least some of the time. Especially this applied to the question of God.

Philo himself had been influenced by Plato’s Timaeus, in which he called the logos “the image of God” and “the second God”. Many Trinitarians today are emphatic in their insistence that John's gospel deliberately makes use of the term "logos" (Example: Template:StrongGreek) because (according to them) he was fully aware of its Philonic meaning, and expected his readers to understand this. Some Trinitarians even go so far as to say that John himself was responsible for using the term in a new and especifically religious way.

Philo's work reveals his dependence upon the Hellenic view that God Himself could not be directly responsible for the creation - for how could a perfect being produce an imperfect world, or the mutable derive from the immutable? The Greek solution was to propose the existence of a secondary divine being - the Demiurge - which, although tremendously powerful in its own right, was a little lower than God Himself (being neither perfect nor immutable in the absolute sense), and could therefore be safely associated with the creative process. To the Greeks, this arrangement was both a logical and philosophical necessity, and Philo - following his Hellenic inclinations - emphasises it strongly in De Opificio:

The Absolute Being, the Father, who had begotten all things, gave an especial grace to the Archangel and First-born Logos (Word), that standing between, He might sever the creature from the Creator. The same is ever the Intercessor for the dying mortal before the immortal God, and the Ambassador and the Ruler to the subject. He is neither without beginning of days, as God is, nor is He begotten, as we are, but is something between these extremes, being connected with both.

Here, then, was a concept which would bridge the gap between Greek philosophy and the Christian Scriptures, allowing the Hellenic philosopher-theologians to understand Christianity in the context of their own cosmological views. Instead of abandoning their philosophical preconceptions, they were able to import them into their new religion. It is therefore easy to understand the attractiveness of the Philonic model among Greek converts to Christianity.

The idea was warmly received by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen and Arius (to name but a few), who successfully developed it over several centuries.

To quote again from Hall's Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church:

Justin’s ‘creed’, as we saw, spoke of a transcendent God and Father, of his Son (with the angels), and of the Spirit of prophecy. This triple confession is in line with what we know of the baptismal formula.
But when we look at the theology of the apologists, we find that generally their thought is ‘binitarian’ rather than ‘trinitarian’: it speaks of God and his Word, rather than of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The term ‘Trinity’ was not yet in use in the Church.
Theophilus is the first to use the Greek word for Trinity (trias, triad), when he takes the first three days of creation as signifying the trinity of ‘God and his Word and his Wisdom’ (To Autolycus 2.15), and Tertullian soon after 200 was using the Latin trinitas of God.
If we suppose that the baptismal confession and central Christian belief was in a threefold form, we have to account for the binitarian thought of Justin and those like him. The most obvious explanation is that their apologetic is directed towards Greek thought. They began from what appeared to be common ground.
Among the Greeks, a familiar notion was the thought of an utterly transcendent, perfect, unmoving God, and of a second, mediating, active being responsible for the created order, whether as its superior governor or as its immanent soul.
Such a theology was being propounded, for instance, by the Platonist Albinos in Asia Minor at the same time that Justin was himself there, before he moved to Rome.

Quite apart from any philosophical reasons (which were certainly influential in their own right), the church preserved the Philonic writings because Eusebius of Caesarea labeled the monastic ascetic groups of Therapeutae and Therapeutrides - described in Philo's De Vita Contemplativa - as Christians (which they were not.) Eusebius also promoted the legend that Philo met Peter in Rome, while Jerome (345-420 CE) even lists him as a church Father. None of this was true, but in time (via church tradition) it came to be accepted as historical fact. Thus, through a series of pious frauds, Philo's work was eventually elevated to the level of honourary orthodoxy.

One standard reference for the "pagan origins" hypothesis is Alexander Hislop's The Two Babylons. It is charged that the book is poorly researched and badly written while being well referenced and powerfully presented. Critics contend the book contains a multitude of errors easily overlooked by the untrained eye, and say its popularity among nontrinitarians is a result of uncritical acceptance. A critique of the Hislop hypothesis (written from a non-trinitarian perspective) is available here. (

Debate over Nontrinitarianism's Christian status

Although most nontrinitarians identify themselves as Christian, many trinitarians disagree that nontrinitarians are Christian. These trinitarians believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is so central to the Christian faith that to deny it is to reject Christianity entirely. The nature of the dispute tends to revolve chiefly around the issues of whether belief in Jesus as a distinct personage still reveres Jesus as divine and whether this belief can confer salvation. Nontrinitarians point out that John 3:16 says nothing about belief in the Trinity.

Nontrinitarian groups

* Independent affiliates of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Other groups which reject the Trinity doctrine

Notable nontrinitarian people

External links

  • Christology ( - series of articles and essays on a Christadelphian discussion forum.
  • Critique of The Two Babylons ( - written from a nontrinitarian perspectivede:Antitrinitarier

pl:Antytrynitaryzm ja:反三位一体論


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