Biblical Objections to the Trinity

By James M. Rochford

Critics of Christianity also raise many biblical objections against the doctrine of the Trinity. If the critic could show that the Bible doesn’t teach the Trinity, then this would discredit this doctrine. But can the critic demonstrate this? Each objection should be considered carefully.

Deuteronomy 6:4

(Deut. 6:4) “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”

This passage doesn’t require that God is Unitarian. The Hebrew word “one” (ʾeḥad) often refers to a plurality within a unity:

  • Day and night (two parts) were called “one” (ʾeḥad) day (Gen. 1:5).
  • The first human couple (two humans) are called “one flesh” (ʾeḥad, Gen. 2:24).
  • Fifty gold clasps are called “one” (ʾeḥad) unit (Ex. 26:6, 11).
  • A cluster of grapes (many parts) was called “one” (ʾeḥad) cluster (Num. 13:23).
  • The two separated nations of Israel were called “one” (ʾeḥad) nation (Ezek. 37:17, 22).

This doesn’t mean that the term “one” (ʾeḥad) requires plurality within a unity. Rather, the term allows for this usage. Consequently, it would be irresponsible to use this passage to claim that the one God cannot exist in three persons.

Numbers 23:19

(Num. 23:19) God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent.

The focus of this text isn’t on the humanity of God but on the veracity of God. In context, the prophet Balaam was being told to curse Israel. But he states that he cannot speak falsely on behalf of God because God cannot lie. Balaam isn’t giving a theology of the possibility of the incarnation. He is simply stating that God doesn’t like humans do. Moreover, if we want to get technical, Balaam is speaking in the present tense: “God is not a man.” At this point in history, God didn’t take on a human nature. That didn’t come until the incarnation. So, at most, this text is affirming that God is currently not a man—not that he never could take on a human nature.

Isaiah 9:6

(Isa. 9:6-7) A child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness.

Critics argue that this passage cannot refer to Jesus because it calls him the “Eternal Father.” How can the Son of God be called the Father?

This Hebrew phrase literally means, “the Father of Eternity.” Similarly, Jabal was called the “father of those who dwell in tents,” and Jubal was the “father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (Gen. 4:20-21; c.f. 1 Pet. 3:6; Jn. 8:44 for similar usages). Of course, this means that these men were the originators of these things. In the same way, Jesus is the one who brings eternal life to people, or it could be that he is “the creator of time, the author of eternity.”[1]

Luke 18:19

(Lk. 18:19) Jesus says, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”

The 4th century heretic Arian used this as a proof-text for denying Jesus’ deity.[2] However, the context for this passage is self-righteousness: the rich young ruler believes that he is as righteous as God and deserves eternal life (v.21). Jesus is calling this man’s view of righteousness into question. When the man calls him “good,” Jesus is basically asking the question, “Do you realize what ‘good’ really is? It’s based on the holy and perfect character of God!” In other words, Jesus was admonishing this man for throwing around the term “good” in such a cavalier way. The greeting “Good Teacher” was “not in use among the rabbis because it ascribed to man an attribute possessed only by God.”[3] Put simply, Jesus was not denying that he was God; instead, he was calling this man’s view of goodness into question.

Furthermore, we can turn this argument on its head. If Jesus is perfectly good, and only God is good, then it would follow that Jesus is God.

John 10:30

(Jn. 10:30) “I and the Father are one.”

Oneness Pentecostals claim that Jesus is claiming to be the same person as the Father. That is, Jesus is claiming to be “the father incarnate.”[4]

The concept of being “one” implies unity—not identity. The word “one” (hen) is neuter—not masculine. If John had used the masculine form, this “would have suggested that Jesus and the Father are one person.”[5] However, by using the neuter (hen), Jesus was “not arguing for a oneness of personalities or personae… but rather something akin to a oneness of purpose and will.”[6]

The grammar describes multiple persons. Jesus uses a plural form for the expression “I am” which can be literally rendered, “We are” (esmen). Thus, the verse literally states, “I and the Father we are one.”[7] This implies a diversity of persons. Later, Jesus uses the same expression to refer to the essential unity of the church (Jn. 17:11, 22-23).

The Jews tried to stone Jesus because he was claiming to be God. After all, there would be nothing blasphemous about a rabbi claiming to be in one purpose with God’s will. These religious leaders understood that Jesus was claiming to be God (Jn. 10:33). After all, the context refers to the divine action of saving and protecting believers (Jn. 10:25-29).[8]

John 10:34-36

(Jn. 10:34-36) Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?”

This doesn’t mean that Jesus believed in many gods. Jesus was making an a fortiori argument based on his citation of Psalm 82. In the psalm, the unjust judges were called ‘gods’ because they were able to dispense judgment over the people. Jesus was saying, “How much more should I be called God for my authority?” In the original passage, the “gods” die (Ps. 82:7). Jesus could hardly consider these people to be divine.

John 14:28

(Jn. 14:28) Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I” (Jn. 14:28).

Jesus was equal with God in nature, but not in office. Jesus submitted to the will of the Father, rather than asserting his own will (Lk. 22:42). Similarly, just as a human father and son are both human in nature, they are not equal in authority.

When read in context, Jesus is speaking about returning to the Father in heaven. Later in the book, he says, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (Jn. 17:5). In other words, Jesus is looking forward to going back to being with God in heaven. Jesus temporarily gave up his glory (Jn. 17:5; Phil. 2:6), but he is looking forward to regaining it (Phil. 2:9-11). This is what prompts him to say that the Father is “greater” than him.

John 17:3

(Jn. 17:3) Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

Critics argue that Jesus could not call the Father “the only true God” if he is also God. If the Father is the only true God, then this would mean that Jesus isn’t God. But this isn’t the case.

First, this one passage cannot overturn the many passages that teach the deity of Christ in John. Repeatedly, John affirms that Jesus is God—often in the strongest of terms (Jn. 1:1-3; 5:17-18; 8:58; 10:30-31; 20:28). Therefore, it would be quite odd if this one passage overturned the repeated testimony of Jesus’ deity in John’s gospel.

Second, if Unitarians use this logic consistently, it leads to bizarre conclusions. Consider parallel examples. Jude wrote that false teachers “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Does this mean that God the Father is not our Master and Lord? Jesus said, “No one is good expect God alone” (Mk. 10:18). Does this mean that Jesus is not good? Yahweh says, “There is no savior besides Me” (Isa. 43:11). Does this mean that Jesus is not our savior? Do you see the problem? If we applied this interpretation consistently, we would face utterly bizarre theological consequences. Right away, we can see that something is wrong with this hermeneutic.

Third, Unitarians beg the question with their interpretation. That is, they assume Unitarianism—that God is one being and one person. If God is only one being and only one person, then this would exclude Jesus as being God. However, if God is three persons, then Jesus could call the Father the only true God—just as the Father could call the Son the only true God. Both persons are God in their nature.

As a case in point, John states that Jesus is “the true God.” He writes, “We are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:20). Jesus said that the Father is “the only true God” (Jn. 17:3), but our same author said that Jesus is “the true God.” Incidentally, Jehovah’s Witnesses have major problems with this. If the Father is the only true God, does this mean that Jesus is calling himself a false god? Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is a lesser “god” (Jn. 1:1). But if this is the case, then this would mean that Jesus is not a “true God.”

If Trinitarianism is true, then the term “God” can be used in two different ways. That is, “God” can either refer to “the person of the Father, or can be used more generically of the godhead en toto.”[9] The term can describe what God is, or it can describe who God is. If Trinitarianism is true, then this is a perfectly valid interpretation.

Fourth, the greater context supports the Trinity. The context refers to Jesus’ existence before the creation of the universe. Jesus said, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (Jn. 17:5). Later, he prays, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (Jn. 17:24).

1 Corinthians 14:33

(1 Cor. 14:33) God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

Jehovah’s Witnesses[10] claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is terribly confusing. However, God is “not a God of confusion.” Therefore, this doctrine cannot be true.

Yet, the context of this passage doesn’t refer to doctrinal confusion, but to disorderly meetings. The Corinthians were speaking in ecstatic tongues and interrupting one another. This “charismania” was disrupting the house church meetings. This is what Paul means by “confusion” and “peace.”

Furthermore, can we really claim that no biblical doctrines are confusing? God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9; cf. Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 13:12). And again, he says, “To whom would you liken Me and make Me equal and compare Me, that we would be alike?” (Isa. 46:5) When we think about the very being of God, surely we will face deep mysteries.

Revelation 3:14

(Rev. 3:14) The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.

When John calls Jesus “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14), Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that this implies that Jesus was a created being. However, John uses this same term to describe how God the Father is “the beginning and the end” (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). Surely, no one thinks that God had a beginning. Furthermore, the word “beginning” (archē) is the root from which we get our modern term “architect.” This implies that Christ is the “origin of God’s creation” (NRSV) or the “ruler of God’s creation” (NIV). It doesn’t imply that he had a beginning.

[1] Michael Rydelnik and James Spencer, “Isaiah” in The Moody Bible Commentary, ed. Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham (Chicago: Moody Press, 2014), 1024.

[2] Ambrose, Exposition of the Christian Faith, 2.1.15-16.

[3] Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p.284.

[4] David K. Bernard and Neil Stegall, A Study Guide for The Oneness of God (Tennessee: WAP, 1990), p.24.

[5] See footnote. Andreas Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), p.312.

[6] Gerald L. Borchert, John 1-11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 341.

[7] Ron Rhodes, The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions: The Essential Guide to Their History, Their Doctrine, and Our Response (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 265.

[8] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), p.395.

[9] James White, The Forgotten Trinity (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998), 91.

[10] Let God Be True (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1946), 100.