This article is about a doctrinal position within Christian theology. For the doctrine of God's unity in religions generally, see Monotheism.

Nontrinitarianism refers to belief systems within Christianity which reject the mainstream Christian doctrine of the Trinity, namely, the teaching that God is three distinct hypostases or persons who are coeternal, coequal, and indivisibly united in one being or ousia. Certain groups emerging during the Protestant Reformation have historically been known as antitrinitarian.

According to churches that consider the decisions of ecumenical councils final, Trinitarianism was definitively declared to be Christian doctrine at the 4th-century ecumenical councils,[1][2][3] that of the First Council of Nicaea (325), which declared the full divinity of the Son,[4] and the First Council of Constantinople (381), which declared the divinity of the Holy Spirit.[5]

In terms of number of adherents, nontrinitarian denominations comprise a small minority of modern Christianity. By far the three largest nontrinitarian denominations are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons"), Jehovah's Witnesses and the Iglesia Ni Cristo , though there are a number of other smaller ones, including the Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Dawn Bible Students, Living Church of God, Oneness Pentecostals, Members Church of God International, Unitarian Universalist Christians, The Way International, The Church of God International and the United Church of God.[6]

Nontrinitarian views differ widely on the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Various nontrinitarian views, such as Adoptionism, Monarchianism, and Subordinationism existed prior to the formal definition of the Trinity doctrine in A.D. 325, 381, and 431, at the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus.[7] Nontrinitarianism was later renewed by Cathars in the 11th through 13th centuries, in the Unitarian movement during the Protestant Reformation, in the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, and in some groups arising during the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is not present in other major Abrahamic religions. See separate articles discussing the views about this doctrine held by Judaism and Islam.


The Christian Apologists and other Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, having adopted and formulated the Logos Christology, considered the Son of God as the instrument used by the supreme God, the Father, to bring the creation into existence. Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus of Rome and Tertullian in particular state that the internal Logos of God (Gr. Logos endiathetos, Lat. ratio), that is, his impersonal divine reason, was begotten as Logos uttered (Gr. Logos proforikos, Lat. sermo, verbum) and thus became a person to be used for the purpose of creation.[8]

The Encyclopædia Britannica states, "To some Christians the doctrine of the Trinity appeared inconsistent with the unity of God....They therefore denied it, and accepted Jesus Christ, not as incarnate God, but as God's highest creature by Whom all else was created....[this] view in the early Church long contended with the orthodox doctrine."[9] Although the nontrinitarian view eventually disappeared in the early Church and the Trinitarian view became an orthodox doctrine of modern Christianity, variations of the nontrinitarian view are still held by a small number of Christian groups and denominations.

Various views exist regarding the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Modern Christian groupings

Nontrinitarian doctrine often generates controversy among mainstream Christians, as most trinitarians consider it heresy not to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. At times, segments of Nicene Christianity reacted with ultimate severity toward nontrinitarian views. Following the Reformation, among some Protestant groups such as the Unitarians and Christadelphians, the same views have been accommodated.

Unitarian Universalism

Members of Unitarian Universalism may or may not identify as Christian. Traditionally, Unitarianism was a form of Christianity that rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Unitarianism was rejected by orthodox Christianity at the First Council of Nicaea, an ecumenical council held in 325, but resurfaced subsequently in Church history, especially during the theological turmoils of the Protestant Reformation. In 1961 the American Unitarian Association (AUA) was consolidated with the Universalist Church of America (UCA), forming the Unitarian Universalist Association.


Early Christianity

Most nontrinitarians take the position that the doctrine of the earliest form of Christianity (see Apostolic Age) was nontrinitarian, but (depending on which church) believe rather that early Christianity was either strictly Unitarian or Binitarian or Modalist, as in the case of the Montanists, Marcionites, and Christian Gnostics. For them, Early Christianity eventually changed after the edicts of Emperor Constantine I and his sentence pronounced on Arius, which later followed by the declaration by Emperor Theodosius I in the Edict of Thessalonica, 'cunctos populos' of February 380 that Christianity as defined in the Nicene Creed was the official religion of the Roman Empire. A year later the Second Ecumenical Council confirmed this in a slightly revised Creed.

The First Council of Nicaea depicted with Arius beneath the feet of Emperor Constantine and the bishops

Because they believe it was during a dramatic shift in Christianity's status that the doctrine of the Trinity attained its definitive development, nontrinitarians typically consider the doctrine questionable. Nontrinitarians see the Nicene Creed and the results of the Council of Chalcedon as essentially political documents, resulting from the subordination of true doctrine to state interests by leaders of the Catholic Church, so that the church became, in their view, an extension of the Roman Empire (see Caesaropapism).

Although nontrinitarian beliefs continued to multiply, and among some peoples were dominant for hundreds of years after their inception—e.g. Lombards, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals—Trinitarians eventually gained prominence in the Roman Empire. Nontrinitarians typically argue that the early nontrinitarian beliefs of Christianity, e.g. Arianism, were systematically suppressed (often to the point of death),[38] After the First Council of Nicaea, Roman Emperor Constantine I issued an edict against Arius's writings which included systematic book burning.[39] In spite of issuing this decree, Constantine soon ordered the readmission of Arius to the church, removed those bishops who, like Athanasius, upheld the teaching of Nicaea,[40] allowed Arianism to grow within the Empire and thus to spread to Germanic tribes on the frontier,[41] and was himself baptized by an Arian bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedia.[42] His successors as Christian emperors promoted Arianism, until Theodosius I came to the throne in 379 and supported Nicene Christianity.

The Easter letter that Athanasius issued in 367, when the Eastern Empire was ruled by the Arian Emperor Valens, defined what books belong to the Old Testament and the New Testament, together with seven other books which is to be read "for instruction in the word of godliness"; at the same time it excluded what Athanasius called apocryphal writings, falsely presented as ancient.[43] Elaine Pagels writes: "In AD 367, Athanasius, the zealous bishop of Alexandria... issued an Easter letter in which he demanded that Egyptian monks destroy all such unacceptable writings, except for those he specifically listed as 'acceptable' even 'canonical' — a list that constitutes the present 'New Testament'".[44][45] Some nontrinitarians say that the condemned writings were Arian books.

Many scholars who investigating the historical Jesus, especially those belonging to the Jesus Seminar, assert that Jesus taught neither his own equality with God nor the Trinity.

Nontrinitarians also dispute the veracity of the Nicene Creed based on its adoption nearly 300 years after the life of Jesus as a result of conflict within pre-Nicene early Christianity. Nontrinitarians (both Modalists and Unitarians) also generally say that Athanasius and others at Nicaea adopted Greek Platonic philosophy and concepts, and incorporated them in their views of God and Christ.[46] Nontrinitarians also cite scriptures such as Matthew 15:9 and Ephesians 4:14

The author H. G. Wells, later famous for his contribution to science-fiction, wrote in The Outline of History: "We shall see presently how later on all Christendom was torn by disputes about the Trinity. There is no evidence that the apostles of Jesus ever heard of the Trinity, at any rate from him."[47]

The question of why such a central doctrine to the Christian faith would never have been explicitly stated in scripture or taught in detail by Jesus himself was sufficiently important to 16th century historical figures such as Michael Servetus as to lead them to argue the question. The Geneva City Council, in accord with the judgment of the cantons of Zürich, Bern, Basel, and Schaffhausen, condemned Servetus to be burned at the stake for this and his opposition to infant baptism.

The Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics describes the five stages that led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.[48]

  1. The acceptance of the pre-human existence of Jesus as the (middle-platonic) Logos, namely, as the medium between the transcendent sovereign God and the created cosmos. The doctrine of Logos was accepted by the Apologists and by other Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, such as Justin the Martyr, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Ireneus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Lactantius, and the 4th century Arius.
  2. The doctrine of the timeless generation of the Son from the Father as it was articulated by Origen in his effort to support the ontological immutability of God, that he is ever-being a father and a creator. The doctrine of the timeless generation was adopted by Athanasius of Alexandria.
  3. The acceptance of the idea that the son of God is homoousios to his father, that is, of the same transcendent nature. This position was declared in the Nicene Creed, which specifically states the son of God is as immutable as his father.
  4. The acceptance that the Holy Spirit also has ontological equality as a third person in a divine Trinity and the final Trinitarian terminology by the teachings of the Cappadocian Fathers.
  5. The addition of the Filioque to the Nicene Creed, as accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.

Following the Reformation

Following the Protestant Reformation, and the German Peasants' War of 1524–1525, by 1530 large areas of Northern Europe were Protestant, and forms of nontrinitarianism began to surface among some "Radical Reformation" groups, particularly Anabaptists. The first recorded English antitrinitarian was John Assheton (1548), an Anglican priest. The Italian Anabaptist "Council of Venice" (1550) and the trial of Michael Servetus (1553) marked the clear emergence of markedly antitrinitarian Protestants. Though the only organised nontrinitarian churches were the Polish Brethren who split from the Calvinists (1565, expelled from Poland 1658), and the Unitarian Church of Transylvania (1568today). Nonconformists, Dissenters and Latitudinarians in Britain were often Arians or Unitarians, and the Doctrine of the Trinity Act 1813 allowed nontrinitarian worship in Britain. In America, Arian and Unitarian views were also found among some Millennialist and Adventist groups, though the Unitarian Church itself began to decline in numbers and influence after the 1870s.[49][50]

Points of dissent

Nontrinitarian Christians of Arian or Semi-Arian leaning contend that the weight of Scriptural evidence leans more towards Subordinationism, that of the Son's total submission to the Father, and of Paternal supremacy over the Son in every aspect. They acknowledge and confess the Son's glorious and high rank, at God's right hand, but teach that the Father is still greater than the Son, in all things.

While acknowledging that the Father, Son, and Spirit are essential in creation and salvation, they argue that that in itself does not necessarily prove that the three are each co-equal or co-eternal. They also contend that the only number clearly ascribed to God in the Bible (both Testaments) is the number "one", and that the Trinity, literally meaning a set of three, ascribes a co-equal threeness to God that is not explicitly Scriptural.

Scriptural support

Critics argue that the Trinity, for a teaching described as fundamental, lacks direct scriptural support. Upholders of the doctrine declare that the doctrine is not stated directly in the New Testament, but is instead an interpretation of elements contained in it that are seen as implying the doctrine that was formulated only in the 4th century. Thus William Barclay, a Church of Scotland minister, says: "It is important and helpful to remember that the word Trinity is not itself a New Testament word. It is even true in at least 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."[51] And the New Catholic Encyclopedia says: "The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught [explicitly] in the [Old Testament]", "The formulation 'one God in three Persons' was not solidly established [by a council]...prior to the end of the 4th century".[52]

Similarly, Encyclopedia Encarta states: "The doctrine is not taught explicitly in the New Testament, where the word God almost invariably refers to the Father. [...] The term trinitas was first used in the 2nd century, by the Latin theologian Tertullian, but the concept was developed in the course of the debates on the nature of Christ [...]. In the 4th century, the doctrine was finally formulated".[53] Encyclopædia Britannica says: "Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4). [...] The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. [...] by the end of the 4th century, under the leadership of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocian Fathers), the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since."[54] The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: "One does not find in the NT the trinitarian paradox of the coexistence of the Father, Son, and Spirit within a divine unity."[55]

Speaking of legitimate theological development, Catholic historian Joseph F. Kelly writes: "The Bible may not use the word 'Trinity', but it refers to God the Father frequently; the Gospel of John emphasized the divinity of the Son; several New Testament books treat the Holy Spirit as divine. The ancient theologians did not violate biblical teaching but sought to develop its implications. ... [Arius's] potent arguments forced other Christians to refine their thinking about the Trinity. at two ecumenical councils, Nicea I in 325 and Constantinople I in 381, the church at large defined the Trinity in the way now so familiar to us from the Nicene Creed. This exemplifies development of doctrine at its best. The Bible may not use the word 'Trinity', but trinitarian theology does not go against the Bible. On the contrary, Catholics believe that trinitarianism has carefully developed a biblical teaching for later generations."[2]

Questions over the alleged co-equal deity of Jesus

Nontrinitarians such as Jehovah's Witnesses point to verses that purport to demonstrate that Jesus himself explicitly stated that "the Father is greater" than he (John 14:28).[15] Nontrinitarians argue that he disavowed omniscience as the Son (John 8:28; in Mark 13:32), that he "learned obedience" (Hebrews 5:8); questioned being called even "good" in deference to God in the parable of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-17); they say that only the Father in Scripture is referred to as the "one God", and "out of (ex) whom all things are" (1 Corinthians 8:6); that Christ the Son is called the 'firstborn of all creation' (Colossians 1:15) and 'the beginning of God's creation' (Revelation 3:14); that Jesus referred to ascending to "my Father, and to your Father; and to my God, and to your God" (John 20:17) and that he referred to his Father as "the only true God." (John 17:3)

Additionally, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 when saying in Mark 12:29 "'The most important [commandment] is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.'" It has been stated that in the original Greek in Mark 12, there are no "plural modifiers" in that Greek word there for "one" (eis), but that in Mark 12 it is simply a masculine singular "one". And that because of that, there is no valid reason to believe that the Hebrew word for "one" in Deuteronomy 6 ("echad") was necessarily a "plural one", rather than just simply numerical "one".

With regard to the New Testament, Raymond E. Brown, a Catholic and trinitarian, wrote that Mark 10:18, Matthew 27:46, John 20:17, Ephesians 1:17, 2 Corinthians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3, John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, 1 Timothy 2:5, John 14:28, Mark 13:32, Philippians 2:5-10, and 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 are "texts that seem to imply that the title God was not used for Jesus" and are "negative evidence which is often somewhat neglected in Catholic treatments of the subject"; that Gal 2:20, Acts 20:28, John 1:18, Colossians 2:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:12, 1John 5:20, Romans 9:5, and 2 Peter 1:1 are "texts where, by reason of textual variants or syntax, the use of 'God' for Jesus is dubious"; and that Hebrews 1:8-9, John 1:1, and John 20:28 are "texts where clearly Jesus is called God".[56]

Trinitarians (who hold that Jesus Christ is distinct from God the Father), and nontrinitarians who hold Jesus Christ as Almighty God (such as the Modalists), say that these statements are based on Jesus' existence as the Son of God in human flesh; that he is therefore both God and man, who became "lower than the angels, for our sake," (Hebrews 2:6-8) and that he was tempted as humans are tempted, but did not sin (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Some nontrinitarians counter the belief that the Son was limited only during his earthly life by citing "the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3), placing Jesus in an inferior position to the Father even after his resurrection and exaltation. They also cite Acts 5:31 and Philippians 2:9, indicating that Jesus became glorified and exalted after ascension to heaven, and to Hebrews 9:24, Acts 7:55, and 1 Corinthians 15:24, 28, regarding Jesus as a distinct personality in heaven, still with a lesser position than the Father, all after Christ's ascension.

Views on allegedly trinitarian passages in scripture

Nontrinitarian Christians such as Jehovah's Witnesses argue that a person who is really seeking to know the truth about God is not going to search the Bible hoping to find a text that he can construe as fitting what he already believes. They say it is noteworthy at the outset that the texts used as “proof” of the Trinity do not explicitly teach co-equality or co-eternity in any clear formulation, and also that most of those Verses in question actually mention only two persons, not three; so nontrinitarians say that even if the trinitarian explanation of the texts were correct, these would not prove that the Bible teaches the Trinity.[57]

John 1:1
Main article: John 1:1

John 1:1 - The contention with this verse is that there is a distinction between God and the Logos (or "the Word"). Trinitarians contend that the third part of the verse (John 1:1c) translates as "and the Word was God", pointing to a distinction as subjects between God and the Logos but an equivalence in nature.[58][59][60][61] Some nontrinitarians (Jehovah's Witnesses, specifically) contend that the Koine Greek ("kai theos ên ho logos") should instead be translated as "and the Word was a god", or as what they see as the more literal word-for-word translation from the Greek as "and a God was the Word", basing this on the contention that the section is an example of an anarthrous, that is, "theos" lacks the definite article, meaning its use was indefinite - "a god", which could denote either Almighty God or a divine being in general. Nontrinitarians also contend that had the author of John's gospel wished to say "and the Word was God" that he could have easily written "kai ho theos ên ho logos", but he did not. In this way, nontrinitarians contend that the Logos would be considered to be the pre-existent Jesus, who is actually distinct from God. The argument being that the distinction between the Logos and the Father was not just in terms of "person", but also in terms of "theos".[62][63][64] Meaning that not only were they distinct persons, but also distinct "Gods", given the fact that the second occurrence of "theos" was an indefinite noun; and that only the Father was treated as the absolute "Theos" in John 1:1. The argument being that only one person is actually referred to as the Absolute God, "ho Theos", in John 1:1, that person being only the Father, not the Logos.[62][64] Alternatively, others argue that the Greek should be translated as "and the Logos was divine" (with theos being an adjective), and the Logos being interpreted as God's "plan" or "reasoning" for salvation. Thus, according to Modalists, when "the Logos became flesh" in John 1:14, it is not interpreted to be a pre-existent Jesus being incarnated, but rather the "plan" or "eternal mind" of God being manifested in the birth of the man Jesus. Others still consider a suitable translation of the verse to be "and what God was the Word was."[65]

John 10:30

John 10:30 - Nontrinitarians such as Arians believe that when Jesus said, "I and the Father are one," he did not mean that they were actually "one substance", or "one God", or co-equal and co-eternal, but rather that, according to context, which was that of shepherding the sheep, he and the Father were "one" in pastoral work. The thought being a "unity of purpose" in saving the sheep. Arians also cite John 17:21 where Jesus prayed regarding his disciples: “That they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may be in us,” adding “that they may be one even as we are one.” They point out that Jesus used the same Greek word (hen) for "one" in all these instances and assert that since Jesus did not expect for his followers to literally become "one" entity, or "one in substance", with each other, or with God, then it is said that Jesus also did not expect his hearers to think that he and God the Father were "one" entity either. Rather Arian nontrinitarians insist that the oneness meant in that context was a oneness in divine work, mission, love and purpose.

John 20:28-29

John 20:28-29 - "And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed"". Since Thomas called Jesus God, Jesus's statement appears to endorse Thomas's assertion. Nontrinitarians typically respond that it is plausible that Thomas is addressing the Lord Jesus and then the Father. Another possible answer is that Jesus himself said, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" (John 10:34) referring to Psalm 82:6-8. The word "gods" in verse 6 and "God" in verse 8 is the same Hebrew word "'elohim",[66] which means, "gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative",[67] and can also refer to powers and potentates, in general, or as "God, god, gods, rulers, judges or angels",[66] and as "divine ones, goddess, godlike one".[68]

2 Corinthians 13:14

2 Corinthians 13:14 - "The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of you." It's been argued by Trinitarians that since, in this verse, all three "Father, Son, and Spirit" are mentioned together in Paul's prayer for Grace on all believers, and are obviously essential for salvation, that they must make up one triune Godhead, and must therefore be co-equal or co-eternal. Nontrinitarians such as Arians reply that they do not disagree that all three are necessary for salvation and grace, but nowhere in the passage is it explicitly said that all three are co-equal or co-eternal, or even have to be. They argue that it is simply a circular assumption that just because they are mentioned together and are important, that they must ipso facto make up one co-equal Godhead.[69]

Philippians 2:5-6

Philippians 2:5-6 - "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [or "which was also in Christ Jesus",] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped" (ESV). The word here translated in the English Standard Version as "a thing to be grasped" is ἁρπαγμόν. Other translations of the word are indicated in the Holman Christian Standard Bible: "Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage" [or "to be grasped", or "to be held on to"].[70] The King James Version has: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God."[71] An Internet commentator criticizes the King James Version for conveying a thought basically opposite of what was actually said, and says the text means: "Let this mind be in you, which also was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped after".[72]

Hebrews 9:14

Hebrews 9:14 – "How much more will the Blood of Christ, who through an eternal Spirit, offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works, that we may render sacred service to the living God?" Most nontrinitarians admit that the Holy Spirit had no beginning, but believe it is not an actual person like the Father is. Nontrinitarians also agree that all three are essential, but contend that it is obvious that God the Father is ultimate, and is the one who is ultimately reached, and therefore, although all are divine and essential, the "living God" the Father is still greater than the other two entities. And that a "co-equal trinity" is still not explicitly taught in the passage, but only inferred or assumed.[73]


Nontrinitarians state that the doctrine of the Trinity relies on non-Biblical terminology, that the term "Trinity" is not found in Scripture and that the number three is never clearly associated with God necessarily, other than within the Comma Johanneum which is of spurious or disputed authenticity. They argue that the only number clearly unambiguously ascribed to God in the Bible is one, and that the Trinity, literally meaning three-in-one, ascribes a co-equal threeness to God that is not explicitly biblical.

Nontrinitarians cite other examples of terms not found in the Bible; multiple "persons" in relation to God, the terms "God the Son", "God-Man", "God the Holy Spirit", "eternal Son", and "eternally begotten". While the trinitarianism term hypostasis is found in the Bible, it is used only once in reference to God [Heb 1:3] where it states that Jesus is the express image of God's person. The Bible does not explicitly use the term in relation to the Holy Spirit nor explicitly mentions the Son having a distinct hypostasis from the Father.

All agree that the First Council of Nicaea included in its Creed the major term homoousios (of the same essence), which was used also by the Council of Chalcedon to speak of a double consubstantiality of Christ, "consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood".[74] Nontrinitarians accept what Pier Franco Beatrice wrote: "The main thesis of this paper is that homoousios came straight from Constantine's Hermetic background. [...] The Plato recalled by Constantine is just a name used to cover precisely the Egyptian and Hermetic theology of the "consubstantiality" of the Logos-Son with the Nous-Father, having recourse to a traditional apologetic argument. In the years of the outbreak of the Arian controversy, Lactantius might have played a decisive role in influencing Constantine's Hermetic interpretation of Plato's theology and consequently the emperor's decision to insert homoousios in the Creed of Nicaea."[75]

Trinitarians see the absence of the actual word "Trinity" and other Trinity-related terms in the Bible as no more significant than the absence in the Bible of the words "monotheism", "omnipotence", "oneness", "Pentecostal", "apostolic", "incarnation" and even "Bible" itself.[76][77] and maintain that, "while the word Trinity is not in the Bible, the substance of the doctrine is definitely biblical".[2][51][78]

Holy Spirit

For uses of this term in other religions, see Holy Spirit.

Nontrinitarian views about the Holy Spirit differ in certain ways from mainstream Christian doctrine and generally fall into several distinct categories. Most scriptures traditionally in support of the Trinity refer to the Father and the Son, but not to the Holy Spirit.

Unitarian and Arian

Groups with Unitarian theology such as Polish Socinians, the 18th-19th Century Unitarian Church, Christadelphians conceive of the Holy Spirit not as a person but an aspect of God's power.[79] Christadelphians believe that the phrase Holy Spirit refers to God's power or mind/character, depending on the context.[20]

Though Arius himself believed that the Holy Spirit is a person or high-ranking Angel, that had a beginning, modern Arian or Semi-Arian Christian groups such as Dawn Bible Students and Jehovah's Witnesses believe, the same as Unitarian groups, that the Holy Spirit is not an actual person but is God's "power in action", divine "breath" or "energy", which had no beginning, that he uses to accomplish his will. They do not typically capitalize the term.[80] They define the Holy Spirit as "God's active force", and they believe that it proceeds only from the Father.[80]


Armstrongites, such as the Living Church of God, believe that the Logos and God the Father are co-equal and co-eternal, but they do not believe that the Holy Spirit is an actual person, like the Father and the Son. They believe the Holy Spirit is the Power, Mind, or Character of God, depending on the context. They teach, "The Holy Spirit is the very essence, the mind, life and power of God. It is not a Being. The Spirit is inherent in the Father and the Son, and emanates from Them throughout the entire universe". Mainstream Christians characterise this teaching as the heresy of Binitarianism, the teaching that God is a "Duality", or "two-in-one", rather than three.[81]

Modalist groups

Oneness Pentecostalism, as with other modalist groups, teach that the Holy Spirit is a mode of God, rather than a distinct or separate person in the Godhead. They instead teach that the Holy Spirit is another name for God the Father. According to Oneness theology, the Holy Spirit essentially is the Father, operating in a certain capacity or manifestation. The United Pentecostal Church teaches that there is no personal distinction between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[82][83][84]

These two titles "Father" and "Holy Spirit" (as well as others) do not reflect separate "persons" within the Godhead, but rather two different ways in which the one God reveals himself to his creatures. Thus, the Old Testament speaks of "The Lord God and his Spirit" in Isaiah 48:16, but this does not indicate two "persons" according to Oneness theology. Rather, "The Lord" indicates God in all of His glory and transcendence, while the words "His Spirit" refer to God's own Spirit that moved upon and spoke to the prophet. The Oneness view is that this does not imply two "persons" any more than the numerous scriptural references to a man and his spirit or soul (such as in Luke 12:19) imply two "persons" existing within one body.[85]

Latter Day Saint movement

In the Latter Day Saint movement, a collection of independent church groups that trace their origins to a Christian primitivist movement founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, the Holy Ghost (usually synonymous with Holy Spirit.)[86] is considered the third distinct member of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Ghost),[87] and to have a body of "spirit,"[88] which makes him unlike the Father and the Son who are said to have bodies "as tangible as man's."[89] According to LDS doctrine, the Holy Spirit is believed to be a person,[89][90] with a body of spirit, able to pervade all worlds.[91]

Latter Day Saints believe that the Holy Spirit is part of the "Divine Council", but that the Father is greater than both the Son and the Holy Spirit in position and authority, but not in nature (i.e., they equally share the "God" nature).[91] According to official Latter-day Saint teaching, the Father, Son, and Spirit are three ontologically separate, self-aware entities who share a common "God" nature distinct from our "human" nature, who are "One God" in a nonmathematical sense (just as a husband and wife are supposed to be "one" in a nonmathematical sense). Because of this, some view Latter-day Saint theology as a form of "tri-theism."

However, a number of Latter Day Saint sects, most notably the Community of Christ (second largest Latter Day Saint denomination) and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot),[92] and those sects separating from the Community of Christ and Church of Christ, follow a traditional Protestant trinitarian theology.

Other groups

The Unity Church interprets the religious terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit metaphysically, as three aspects of mind action: mind, idea, and expression. They believe this is the process through which all manifestation takes place.[93]

As a movement that developed out of Christianity, Rastafari has its own unique interpretation of both the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit. Although there are several slight variations, they generally state that it is Haile Selassie who embodies both God the Father and God the Son, while the Holy (or rather, "Hola") Spirit is to be found within Rasta believers (see 'I and I'), and within every human being. Rastas also say that the true church is the human body, and that it is this church (or "structure") that contains the Holy Spirit.

Inter-religious dialogue

The Trinity doctrine is integral in inter-religious disagreements with the other two main Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam; the former rejects Jesus' divine mission entirely, and the latter accepts Jesus as a human prophet and the Messiah but not as the son of God, although accepting virgin birth. The concept of a co-equal trinity is totally rejected, with Quranic verses calling the doctrine of the Trinity blasphemous.[94]

The rejection of the Trinity doctrine has led to comparisons between nontrinitarian theology and Judaism and Islam. For example, in an 1897 article in the Jewish Quarterly Review, Montefiore describes Unitarianism as a bridge between Judaism and mainstream Christianity, calling it both a "phase of Judaism" and a "phase of Christianity".[95] With respect to Islam, early Islam was originally seen as a variant of Arianism, a heresy in Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, by the Byzantine emperor in the 600s. In the 700s, many Arians in Spain considered Mohammed a prophet. In the mid 1500s, many Socinian unitarians were suspected of having Islamic leanings. Socinians praised Islam, though considering the Qur'an to contain errors, for its belief in the unity of God. Bilal Cleland claimed that "an anonymous writer" in A Letter of Resolution concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation (1693) states that Islam's greater number of adherents and military supremacy resulted from more closely maintaining correct doctrine than mainstream Christianity.[96]

Trinitarian Christians comprise the vast majority of religious believers in the Christian tradition. Because many Trinitarian Christians consider that the doctrine of the Trinity is an indispensable part of the faith, Nontrinitarian believers are often held by Trinitarian believers not to be Christians at all.[97]

Purported pagan origins of the Trinity

Horus, Osiris, and Isis
Altar depicting a tricephalic god identified as Lugus

The ancient Egyptians, whose influence on early religious thought was considered profound, usually arranged their gods and goddesses in groups of three, or trinities: there was the trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, the trinity of Amen, Mut, and Khonsu, and the trinity of Khnum, Satis, and Anukis.

Some nontrinitarians also say that a link between the doctrine of the Trinity and the Egyptian Christian theologians of Alexandria suggests 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.[98]

They say that there was much pagan Greek and Platonic influence in the development of the idea of a co-equal triune Godhead, many basic concepts from Aristotelian philosophy being mixed and incorporated into the Biblical God. As one piece of evidence, they say that Aristotle himself wrote: "All things are three, and thrice is all: and let us use this number in the worship of the gods; for, as Pythagoreans say, everything and all things are bound by threes, for the end, the middle, and the beginning have this number in everything, and these compose the number of the Trinity."[99][100]

The words thus attributed to Aristotle differ in a number of ways from what has been published as the philosopher's original text in Greek,[101][102][103] which for instance has nothing corresponding to "let us use this number in the worship of the gods" before the mention of the Pythagoreans. They differ also from translations of the works of Aristotle by scholars such as Stuart Leggatt, W. K. C. Guthrie, J. L. Stocks, Thomas Taylor and Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire. The independent but concordant translations by Guthrie and Stocks of what Aristotle, in his On the Heavens, wrote about what he considered to be the only three dimensions are considered "good English translations",[104] and a comparison with them of the words above attributed to Aristotle shows how the latter diverges.

The Guthrie translation is: "Magnitude divisible in one direction is a line, in two directions is a surface, and in three directions is a body. There is no magnitude not included in these; for three are all, and 'in three directions' is the same as 'in every direction'. It is just as the Pythagoreans say, the whole world and all things in it are summed up in the number three; for end, middle, and beginning give the number of the whole, and their number is the triad. Hence it is that we have taken this number from nature, as if it were her laws, and we make use of it even for the worship of the gods."[105]

The Stocks translation is: "A magnitude if divisible one way is a line, if two ways a surface, and if three a body. Beyond these there is no other magnitude, because the three dimensions are all that there are, and that which is divisible in three directions is divisible in all. For, as the Pythagoreans say, the world and all that is in it is determined by the number three, since beginning and middle and end give the number of an 'all', and the number they give is the triad. And so, having taken these three from nature as (so to speak) laws of it, we make further use of the number three in the worship of the gods."[106]

Some antitrinitarians note also that the Greek philosopher Plato believed in a special "threeness" in life and in the universe. In Plato's work Phaedo, he introduces the word "triad" (in Greek τριάς),[107] which they translate as "trinity". This was adopted by 3rd and 4th century professed Christians as roughly corresponding to "Father, Word, and Spirit (Soul)".[108] Nontrinitarian Christians contend that such notions and adoptions make the Trinity doctrine more suspect, as not being Biblical, but extra-Biblical in concept.

As evidence of this, they say there is a widely acknowledged synthesis of Christianity with Platonic philosophy evident in trinitarian formulas appearing by the end of the 3rd 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. Most groups subscribing to the theory of a Great Apostasy generally concur in this thesis.

The early apologists, including Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Irenaeus, frequently discussed the parallels and contrasts between Christianity, Paganism and other syncretic religions, and answered charges of borrowing from paganism in their apologetical writings.

Hellenic influences

See also: Hellenization

Advocates of the "Hellenic influences" argument attempt to trace the influence of Greek philosophers, such as Plato or Aristotle, who, they say, taught an essential "threeness" of the Ultimate Reality, and also the concept of "eternal derivation", that is, "a birth without a becoming". They say that theologians of the 4th century AD, such as Athanasius of Alexandria, then interpreted the Bible through a Middle Platonist and later Neoplatonist filter.

The argument is that many of these 3rd and 4th-century Christians mixed Greek pagan philosophy with the Scriptures, incorporating Platonism into their concept of the Biblical God and the Biblical Christ. These advocates point to what they see as similarities between Hellenistic philosophy and post-Apostolic Christianity, by examining the following factors:

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.[109]
Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God...These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him 'On the Three Natures'. For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes and Plato."[112]

Christian groups with nontrinitarian positions


See also


  1. The Trinity. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 An Introduction to the New Testament for Catholics. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  3. The Story of Christian Theology. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  4. A Short History of Christian Doctrine. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  5. Constantinople and the West. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  6. Halsey, A. (13 October 1988). British Social Trends since 1900: A Guide to the Changing Social Structure of Britain. Palgrave Macmillan UK. p. 518. ISBN 9781349194667. his so called 'non-Trinitarian' group includes the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Theosophists, Church of Scientology, Unification Church (Moonies), the Worldwide Church of God and so on.
  7. von Harnack, Adolf (1894-03-01). "History of Dogma". Retrieved 2007-06-15. [In the 2nd century,] Jesus was either regarded as the man whom God hath chosen, in whom the Deity or the Spirit of God dwelt, and who, after being tested, was adopted by God and invested with dominion, (Adoptionist Christology); or Jesus was regarded as a heavenly spiritual being (the highest after God) who took flesh, and again returned to heaven after the completion of his work on earth (pneumatic Christology)
  8. Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press, 1984, Vol. 1, pp. 159-161• Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, The University of Chicago Press, 1971, Vol. 1, pp. 181-199
  9. Encyclopædia Britannica 1942 edition p.634 "Christianity"
  10. "HISTORY OF ARIANISM". Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  11. Stephen Goranson, “Ebionites,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 261.
  12. "American Unitarian Conference".
  13. 1 2 David K. Bernard, Oneness and Trinity A.D. 100Template:Nsnd300  The Doctrine of God and Ancient Christian Writings  Word Aflame Press, Hazelwood Montana, 1991, p. 156.
  14. Encyclopedia of Protestantism, page 474, J. Gordon Melton, 2005: "... for his many departures from traditional Christian and Protestant affirmations including the Trinity and the deity of Christ. ... 1 (1886; reprint , Rutherford, NJ: Dawn Bible Students Association, nd)"
  15. 1 2 Watch Tower, October 1881, Watch Tower Reprints page 290 As Retrieved 2009-09-23, page 4, ""He gave his only begotten Son." This phraseology brings us into conflict with an old Babylonian theory, viz.: Trinitarianism. If that doctrine is true, how could there be any Son to give? A begotten Son, too? Impossible. If these three are one, did God send himself? And how could Jesus say: "My Father is greater than I." John 14:28. [emphasis retained from original]"
  16. "Z1882 July".
  17. Flint, James; Deb Flint. One God or a Trinity?. Hyderabad: Printland Publishers. ISBN 81-87409-61-4.
  18. Pearce, Fred. Jesus: God the Son or Son of God? Does the Bible Teach the Trinity?. Birmingham, UK: The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association Ltd (UK). p. 8.
  19. Tennant, Harry. The Holy Spirit: Bible Understanding of God's Power. Birmingham, UK: The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association Ltd (UK).
  20. 1 2 Broughton, James H.; Peter J Southgate. The Trinity: True or False?. UK: The Dawn Book Supply.
  21. Nelson's guide to denominations J. Gordon Melton - 2007 "Later in the century, various leaders also began to express doubts about the Trinity, and a spectrum of opinion emerged. ... Still others, such as the Church of God General Conference (Abrahamic Faith) specifically denied the Trinity ..."
  22. Manalo, Eraño G., Fundamental Beliefs of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) (Iglesia ni Cristo; Manila 1989)
  23. "The Watchtower". January 15, 1992: 23.
  24. Insight on the Scriptures. 2. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. 1988. pp. 393394.
  25. Should You Believe in the Trinity?. Watch Tower Society. p. 20.
  26. Holland, Jeffrey R. "The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent". Retrieved 29 November 2013.
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  28. 1 2 "What is Arianism?". Unity in the Body of Christ. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  29. 1 2 Giles, Jerry C. (1992). "Jesus Christ: Firstborn in the Spirit". In Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. p. 728. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140.
  30. 1 2 Millet, Robert L. (1992). "Jesus Christ: Overview". In Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. pp. 724–726. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140.
  31. 1 2 "Arianism". Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  32. "Are Mormons Arians?". Retrieved 29 November 2013.
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  34. Backman, Milton V. (1992). "First Vision". In Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. pp. 515–516. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140.
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  37. "The Oneness of God". Archived from the original on 16 February 2008. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
  38. Edict by Emperor Constantine against the Arians
  39. "In addition, if any writing composed by Arius should be found, it should be handed over to the flames, so that not only will the wickedness of his teaching be obliterated, but nothing will be left even to remind anyone of him. And I hereby make a public order, that if someone should be discovered to have hidden a writing composed by Arius, and not to have immediately brought it forward and destroyed it by fire, his penalty shall be death. As soon as he is discovered in this offense, he shall be submitted for capital punishment." - Edict by Emperor Constantine against the Arians. Athanasius (23 January 2010). "Edict by Emperor Constantine against the Arians". Fourth Century Christianity. Wisconsin Lutheran College. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
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  46. David Bernard's The Oneness of God, Word Aflame Press, 1983, ISBN 0-912315-12-1. pgs 264-274.
  47. Wells, H. G. (n.d.). The Outline of History: being a plain history of life and mankind. Forgotten Books. 2. London, UK: The Waverley Book Company. p. 284.
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  49. Unitarians face a new age: the report of the Commission of Appraisal. American Unitarian Association. ed. Frederick May Eliot, Harlan Paul Douglass - 1936 "Chapter III CHURCH GROWTH AND DECLINE DURING THE LAST DECADE Year Book data permit the calculation of growth or decline in membership for 297 Unitarian churches which existed throughout the last decade and ..."
  50. Charles Lippy Faith in America: Changes, Challenges, New Directions p2 2006 "However, when the national interest in novel religious forms waned by the mid- nineteenth century, Unitarianism and Universalism began to decline.2 For the vast majority of religious bodies in America, growth continued unabated;"
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  62. 1 2 Patrick Navas - Divine Truth Or Human Tradition?: A Reconsideration Of The Orthodox Doctrine Of The Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures - AuthorHouse, 2007, 2011 - p 267.
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  79. The Unitarian: a monthly magazine of liberal Christianity ed. Jabez Thomas Sunderland, Brooke Herford, Frederick B. Mott - 1893 "We believe in the Holy Spirit, man's sole reliance for guidance, safety, or salvation, not as a separate person, entity, reality, or consciousness, existent apart from man or God, but as the recognizing sympathetic inter-communication in love between God and the human soul, the direct converse or communion of man's consciousness with Deity."
  80. 1 2 "Is the Holy Spirit a Person?". Awake!: 14–15. July 2006. In the Bible, God’s Holy Spirit is identified as God’s power in action. Hence, an accurate translation of the Bible’s Hebrew text refers to God’s spirit as “God’s active force.”
  81. Who and What Is God? - Mystery of the Ages - Herbert W. Armstrong. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  82. Peter Althouse Spirit of the last days: Pentecostal eschatology in conversation p12 2003 "The Oneness Pentecostal stream follows in the steps of the Reformed stream, but has a modalistic view of the Godhead"
  83. See under heading "The Father is the Holy Ghost" in David Bernard, The Oneness of God, Chapter 6.
  84. See also David Bernard, A Handbook of Basic Doctrines, Word Aflame Press, 1988.
  85. See under "The Lord God and His Spirit," in Chapter 7 of David Bernard, The Oneness of God.
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  87. McConkie, Joseph Fielding (1992). "Holy Ghost". In Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. pp. 649–651. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140.
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  89. 1 2 D&C 130:22.
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  98. 'At times he forms one of a trinity in unity, with Ra and Osiris, as in Fig. 87, a god with the two sceptres of Osiris, the hawk's head of Horus, and the sun of Ra. This is the god described to Eusebius, who tells us that when the oracle was consulted about the divine nature, by those who wished to understand this complicated mythology, it had answered, "I am Apollo and Lord and Bacchus," or, to use the Egyptian names, "I am Ra and Horus and Osiris." Another god, in the form of a porcelain idol to be worn as a charm, shows us Horus as one of a trinity in unity, in name, at least, agreeing with that afterwards adopted by the Christians--namely, the Great God, the Son God, and the Spirit God.'—Samuel Sharpe, Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity, 1863, pp. 89-90.
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  116. Whether Origen taught a doctrine of God that was or was not reconcilable with later Nicene Christianity is a matter of debate (Cf. ANF Vol 4), although many of his other views, such as on metempsychosis, were rejected. Origen was an economic subordinationist according to the editors of ANF, believing in the co-eternal aspect of God the Son but asserting that God the Son never commanded the Father, and only obeyed. This view is compatible with Nicene theology (as it is not held by Nicene Christians that the Son or Holy Spirit can command the Father), notwithstanding any other doctrines Origen held.
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