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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, July 25 2019

Where did the idea of a Trinity come from?

The doctrine of the Trinity is usually summed up as a belief in one God existing in three distinct but equal persons. However, since the Trinity is not found in the Bible, as so many scholars and theologians admit, how did it come to be viewed as such an important teaching?

Many people assume that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit form what is commonly known as the Trinity, in spite of the fact that the word ‘trinity’ did not come into common use as a religious term until centuries after the last books of the Bible were completed.

Notice this admission in the New Bible Dictionary: “The term ‘Trinity’ is not itself found in the Bible. It was first used by Tertullian at the close of the 2nd century, but received wide currency [common use in intellectual discussion] and formal elucidation [clarification] only in the 4th and 5th centuries” (1996, “Trinity”).

That same source goes on to explain that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity was the result of several inadequate attempts to explain who and what the Christian God really is . . . To deal with these problems the Church Fathers met in [A.D.] 325 at the Council of Nicaea to set out an orthodox biblical definition concerning the divine identity.” However, it wasn’t until 381, “at the Council of Constantinople, [that] the divinity of the Spirit was affirmed” (ibid.).

Martin Luther, the German priest who initiated the Protestant Reformation, conceded, “It is indeed true that the name ‘Trinity’ is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures, but has been conceived and invented by man” (reproduced in The Sermons of Martin Luther, John Lenker, editor, Vol. 3, 1988, p. 406).

Millard Erickson, research professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes that the Trinity teaching “is not present in biblical thought, but arose when biblical thought was pressed into this foreign mold [of Greek concepts]. Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity goes beyond and even distorts what the Bible says about God” (2002, p. 20).

Similar sentiments concerning the subject of the trinity can be found in other respected publications such as A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia and The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. All these publications admit the concept of the trinity cannot be found in the Bible and, as the Bible is our only reliable source of divine revelation, the conclusion that must be drawn is that it is simply is not part of God’s revelation to humankind.

To understand the factors that led to the introduction of this belief, we must first go back to see far-reaching and little-understood trends that started in the first few decades of the early Church. It’s a surprising—and in many ways shocking—story!