The Trinity is a Slippery Slope to Heresy and the Doctrine Did Not Exist Among Earliest Christians

The Trinity Doctrine and the Earliest Christians: Trinity Endangers the Soul and the Earliest Christians Held to a Non-Trinitarian Monotheism

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

The earliest followers of Jesus, i.e., his immediate disciples and those that followed them, had absolutely no theological concept that remotely resembled Christianity’s Trinity that took centuries to develop and the innovated doctrine was– as is historically certain –divorced from Jesus’ ministry by a hundred years or more. That the disciples of Jesus believed in a Jewish or unitarian monotheistic view of God is a fact of history that cannot be ignored. Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Dr. James Leo Garrett Jr. in recognising this fact writes:

“The New Testament writers did bear witness to a relationship involving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but they did not define or elaborate upon the precise nature of that relationship… Leonard Hodgson has insisted that “Christianity began as a Trinitarian religion with a unitarian theology.” This was true in the sense that Christians inherited from Judaism and retained a basic monotheism.” [1]

Although Garrett believes that signs and clues to the Trinity were already present in the writings of some New Testament writers like John and Paul, in the above quotation there is clear recognition on his part that those that came first or the first followers of Jesus (i.e., when “Christianity began…”) inherited, without alteration or modification, “from Judaism and retained a basic monotheism.” Whatever “Trinitarian religion” may mean, according to Leonard Hodgson, whom Garrett cites, the first Christians were indeed unitarian in theology. This puts to rest the myth that typically crops up in evangelistic circles and apologia that claim that the Trinity go back to earliest Christianity.

It is also important to pay close attention to the first line of the quotation as it necessarily implies that the New Testament does not actually teach the Trinity because, even though some of the writers of the New Testament demonstrate that there is a relationship between the three persons, none of them define or explain what that relationship actually is.

The late Scottish theologian, Dr. William Barclay, who was a minister of the Church of England and Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow, concurs that the New Testament does not actually instruct its readers regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, the belief is built on the interpretations of theologians based on their understanding of what they read and encounter in scripture. In short, according to Barclay, the Trinity stands on men’s interpretations and is not directly revealed by sacred scripture. To put it even more plainly, the Trinity became a doctrine not because the Bible says so but because men, reading the Bible, say so. Barclay writes:

“It is important and and helpful to remember that the word Trinity is not itself a New Testament word. It is even true at least in one sense to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is not directly New Testament doctrine. It is rather a deduction from and an interpretation of the thought and the language of the New Testament.” [2]

Though believing in the Trinity himself, Barclay readily and candidly admits that it is the most elusive and difficult doctrines in Christianity. So difficult is the doctrine, that like many other theologians dealing with the topic, he recognises serious pitfalls that await those that may try to unpack the belief in order to understand it. The risk is such that in his estimation one small misstep may lead to heresy which according to any religion, makes the soul eligible for damnation. Noting those difficulties and dangers of explicating the doctrine, Barclay writes:

“It might well be true to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is the most difficult of all Christians doctrines. It is easy enough to state; it is not difficult to say that God is Three in One and One in Three; it i not difficult to speak of three persons and of one substance in the godhead; but when we try to explain and interpret these statements in intelligible terms, then almost anything that one can say suffers the danger of running into some kind of heresy.” [3]

So the doctrine is easily said but remains completely inexplicable and to attempt to make sense of it opens up dangers too heavy to risk. If Barclay’s warning is taken to heart, then the Trinity must be described as a slippery slope to heretical beliefs.

Points to remember:

1. The earliest followers of Jesus, namely his disciples and those that were their immediate disciples, held to a unitarian view of God and did not know anything about any form of Trinity. According to Trinitarian belief, such a concept is completely in error because God in reality is a Triune God (three persons in one God) and not one that is conceived in a unitarian framework. As far as the evidence goes, there is no indication that the earliest Christians shifted from their unitarian view of God to a Triune view. If the latter was the correct belief, then, Jesus, being the greatest and wisest teacher to have walked this earth, would have surely corrected the erroneous belief of his students and put them on the right track. How could a great teacher purposefully ignore his beloved students’ error in the most fundamental aspect of their vocation (that is to say theology is the crown of faith or religion and to get that right is the most important thing of all) and leave them in their error till the day they leave this world? Perhaps the only sensible answer is that they were not in error after all and so, there was nothing for their master to correct.

2. The doctrine of the Trinity is not plucked out directly from the Bible. And although the authors of the New Testament, some of whom, mention the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and indicate that these three have some kind of a relationship, none of the authors explains or defines in their writing the actual nature of that relationship. In a nutshell, the writers of the New Testament show zero interest in having their readers or audience learn the doctrine of the Trinity.

3. The doctrine may be easily stated as a formula but when it comes to making sense of what the formula says, most people, due to the profound difficulty inherent in the concept, would probably end up wrongly understanding it and therefore fall into heresy which endangers their soul.

Notes:

[1] Garrett Jr., J. L. (1990). Systematic Theology, Volume 1: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical. Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers. p. 315

[2] Barclay, W. (1998). The Apostles’ Creed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 201

[3] Ibid.

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