Skeptics and the Trinity

When it comes to criticizing the concept of the Trinity, Skeptics often ask the question of how three could equal one, and vice versa. As we have seen here, in NT times there existed an interpretive template which shows how Jesus and the Father were related; we have done a similar study on the relation of the Holy Spirit and shown it to be a similar relationship.

With this in mind, let's look at some common Skeptical criticisms of this subject.

It is clear, first of all, how in the context we have described, "one" can be three, and vice versa. The creedal understanding of three persons, with one essence, fits the parameters of the Wisdom background to perfection. One's wisdom or thought is in essence the same as one's identity. Yet if our wisdom or thought became another person, it would still share our essence.

Objection: In John 10:30 Jesus says "I and my father are one." Yet, according to Matt 27:46 Jesus cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? It sounds like they have a definite difference of opinion as to what should occur.

John 10:30 in the Greek text Jesus says that he and the Father are "hen", neuter nominative for "one", The neuter says that Jesus and the Father are one thing , one ontological unity. Yet the Persons of the Godhead all throughout Scripture have their separate "is-ness", their own egos, etc. This is the Trinitarian formulation of God that the Scriptures teach and that is verified by Wisdom theology.

Even so, this is an erroneous interpretation of Matt. 27:46, which records an allusion by Jesus to Psalm 22 -- which ends with the vindication of the Psalmist. Rather than being a disagreement, this is a prediction of vindication via the Resurrectiom

Statements such as "I and the Father are one" make perfect sense interpreted as "are united in purpose," while they strain the language in a Trinitarian interpretation as "...are separate persons of a single God."

Do they? Why not quote the passage further:

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."

It seems that the audience in this case was quite intent upon the "separate persons of a single God" interpretation.

Again, the Greek word translated "one" in John 10:30 is in a neuter form. This means that Jesus was asserting full unity of nature and action with God - but not that they are one and the same person. Thus the Trinitarian interpretation fits quite nicely in this verse.

But Jesus wasn't speaking Greek, but Hebrew or Aramaic.

This may be true, but it is irrelevant, since the accusers still got the message. Let us also note, as shown in the article linked above, that John is filled with allusions to the Wisdom concept.

The argument about the neuter sense is just an attempt to squeeze Christology out of a lexical stone.

To the contrary, words mean things, even the tiniest ones. But we don't even need to use the grammatical form to see what is meant. Wisdom theology provides an indisputable interpretive background; moreover, later in John, we see this verse, which provides added explanation. Jesus says:

John 17:11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me--so that they may be one as we are one.

So, Jesus conceived the unity of Christian with Christian in the same way that He perceived His own unity with God. As Paula Fredrikson rightly perceives, the claim in John 10:30, lacking as it does the definite articles, "stops short of full equivalence" of Jesus and God - allowing them, we add, to remain separate persons (the Father and His Wisdom), just as within the Body of Christ, all Christians are separate persons. And it goes further:

John 20:2 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one...

Biblically speaking, the bond that is to unite the body of Christ - i.e., Christians - is love. Lay aside all the complaints about divisiveness in the church for a minute, and just look at the Biblical instruction: That it may not be followed by your local church members is irrelevant as to whether it is an actual instruction or not.

Now by saying that He and the Father are one in this way, by love, what therefore is Jesus' relation to the Father? John's Gospel says:

15:10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.
14:23-4 Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

Jesus was saying that He and the Father were united in purpose; but the claim goes far beyond that. "Jesus is one with God, because as no other ever did, he obeyed and loved him. His unity with God is a unity of perfect love, issuing in perfect obedience." [Barclay, commentary on John, 75] Now this being the case, we may ask, "How is that unique? How is that a claim to divinity?" Because, quite simply, to claim to be able to obey God perfectly and in full obedience implies perfection - a trait reserved only for God.

Jesus in John 10 is actually denying godhood. He shows how Psalm 82 does not hesitate to apply the very honorific gods to those who were merely readers of scripture, whereas he makes for himself a more modest claim, that, in that he is God's chosen envoy, he can be called God's son.

And yet, though it is a denial supposedly, the people STILL want to stone Jesus?

But what did Jesus mean to do here by quoting Psalm 82? The Psalm is "a warning to unjust judges to cease from unjust ways and defend the poor and innocent." The appeal ends with the words: "I say, You are gods, sons of the most high, all of you.' " In other words, the judge "is commissioned by God to be god to men." So Jesus was saying, not that they were misinterpreting Him, but that since scripture speaks the same way of men, why can not He, Jesus, speak that way of Himself? [Barclay, 77]

The "gods" (actually Israel at Sinai, as I have argued in Chapter 7 of my book, The Mormon Defenders) were given authority by God, as was Jesus. So Jesus had the right to speak of Himself as God's Son, and as God's agent, because He had the authority, and the identity, of the Father.

This is why the opponents still wanted to stone Jesus, even after that alleged backpedal: Rather than denying the claim to divinity, Jesus was reinforcing with a "gotcha" quote: The form of Jesus' reply is in a rabbinic style of analogical reply: If the lesser example is true, so is the greater example. In essence Jesus is saying, "Yes, I am one with God, and deserve the title."