The Trinity Delusion An examination of the doctrine of the Trinity

Terminology





Trinitarian Terminology

One of the more confusing things in Trinitarian doctrine is the terminology. One must be extremely careful when dialoguing with Trinitarians since their terms may not be defined as you might assume them to be defined. Trinitarians often implicitly define their words, that is, their words can only be understood in the context in which they use those words.

Terminology

  • Alpha & Omega
  • A Biblical term synonymous with "First and Last" or "Beginning and End" and used to indicate the beginning and end of all things in terms of time and space, creation. As such, in terms of creation's perspective, both God and his Word are the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, of creation since God created through his Word and will bring all things to their fulfillment and end through his Word.
     
  • Communicatio Idiomatum
  • Not a person or persons but the divine nature of the three persons of the Trinity, one divine ousia. Refers only to ousia.
     
  • God
  • Three persons, the Triune being, a three person being, three hypostases in one divine ousia. Refers to both hypostasis and ousia.
     
  • God
  • One person, the Father of Jesus, the first person of the Trinity, one hypostasis. Refers only to hypostasis.
     
  • God
  • One person, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, one hypostasis. Refers only to hypostasis.
     
  • God
  • One person, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, one hypostasis. Refers only to hypostasis
     
  • God
  • Not a person or persons but the divine nature of the three persons of the Trinity, one divine ousia. Refers only to ousia.
     
  • Hypostasis
  • A Greek word generally assumed within Trinitarian doctrine and apologetics to be synonymous with the English word "person. Plural: Hypostases or Hypostaseis. Three hypostases equals the three persons of the Trinity. Philosophicially this word means: "the ground of being," "essential nature or underlying reality," "that which forms the basis of anything; underlying principle, substance, subsistence, essence," "the essential nature of a substance as opposed to its attributes." Prior to the development of the Trinity in the 4th century, this word was usually regarded as being synonymous with the Greek word ousia. Hence, those who denied that the Father and Son were the same hypostasis were anathematized at the Council of Nicea. However, the word was later defined by the Cappadocians (Basil, Gregory N, Gregory N.) and clarified at the Council of Alexandria in 362 A.D. The Father and the Son are most definitely NOT the same hypostasis in the doctrine of the Trinity as it became to be understood in the latter half of the fourth century.

    Fourth century Christian documents indicate that Valentinian, an Alexandrian Gnostic, was the first to describe God as three hypostases. This is also reflected in the writings of Irenaeus.
     

    1. "God"

    The word "God" is used in Trinitarian circles in two different ways. Usually, it means "the Supreme Being," and is used as an identifier answering the question "who." However, the word is also used to refer to the nature of deity, or divine nature as in the phrase, "Jesus is God and man." In the latter sense, the word "God" is a synonym for "divine" and answers the question "what."

    2. Godhead / God

    The word "Godhead" is a word that can mean either: (1) "divine nature or essence" or "the nature of God as existing in three persons," or (2) "the Supreme Being," or simply "the Deity," or "God," or abstractly, (3) "the Trinity." This word is used in the same sense the words "God" and "Deity" are used. On one occasion, it may answer the question "what" and on another occasion it may answer the question "who." When it answers the question "who" it means "the Deity." When it answers the question "what" it means "divine nature."

    3. "Being" and "Person"

    These are very crucial terms to understand with regard to Trinitarian dogma. In Trinitarianism, the terms "one being," and the term "one person" are not intended at first to be synonymous concepts. Although God is one being, he is not one person and although he is three persons, he is one being. Our English word "person" is derived from the Latin word persona and this was in fact the word used by Trinitarian Latin theologians to describe the three hypostases of the one Triune God. The word persona was not a word that is equivalent to our modern English word "person." It was a word originally used for a role that an actor portrayed in a play. It was also the word for "mask," because actors wore different masks for each character they portrayed. This is similar to the idea of the Greek word hypokrites from where we get our word "hypocrite," an actor, one who wears a mask. The idea here is that one being reveals himself in three different ways.

    When Trinitarians use the term "one being" they could mean two different things. The word "being" can be used as a synonym for "substance" since the word "substance" is intended to mean the essence of being. However, they could also mean God is "one identity" although he is three distinct identities. This definition is usually brought into play when it is understood that God is normally portrayed in Scripture with the personal pronouns, "He," "Him," "I," and "Me." So, in Trinitarianism, God is three persons, yet God is one Being, God is three identities, yet God is one identity.

    So, essentially the word "one being" can mean either "one identity" or "one substance." This is a very critical place in Trinitarian theology since one identity is usually understood to be one person and if the term one "being" is being used in this sense the Trinitarian runs the risk of making himself a heretic to his own belief system. It is usually right about here where the handy words "paradox" and "mystery" show up in dialogue with Trinitarians.

    4. Hypostasis

    Another word often used in Trinitarianism is the word "hypostasis" (plural: "hypostases"). Philosophicially this word means: "the ground of being," "essential nature or underlying reality," "that which forms the basis of anything; underlying principle, substance, subsistence, essence," "the essential nature of a substance as opposed to its attributes." However, in Trinitarianism it has been defined for Trinitarians purposes and distinctly refers to a person of the Triune God, either the Father, Son, of Holy Spirit. The Father is one hypostasis of the Triune God.

    According to Irenaeus, this word was introduced into Christian thought by the Gnostics. This Greek word was thought to be a synonym of "ousia" ("substance") which was used by the Stoic philosophers. The Council of Alexandria (362), held during the later part of the Arian controversy, had defined this term to be synonymous with person. The term "hypostatic union" is a Christological term which means one person exists at once in two natures, or substances.

    5. Attribute

    The Trinitarian word "attribute" is intended to describe those virtues or characteristics of a thing. Trinitarians define certain attributes as being exclusive to God. It is not the same thing as "substance" which is understood to be the one thing that causes God to be deity. Attributes are the effect of deity, not the cause. So God has abilities and characteristics due to the nature of deity. God has certain qualities that are characteristic of being God. For example, God is Almighty, Omnipotent, and God is All-knowing, that is, Omniscient. Other attributes are immutability, holiness and righteousness.

    6. Substance

    In Trinitarianism, this word is used to describe the essence of divinity or deity (and also humanity as pertaining to Jesus' human nature). This word comes from the Latin word substantia which has its own Latin roots similar to the Greek roots of the Greek word "hypostasis," since both are etymologically derived in their own respective languages from words meaning "under" and "standing." The English theological term "substance" is intended to translate the Greek word ousia. It essentially means stuff that makes something what it is, essence of being. In this sense, it is similar to the philosophical use of the term hypostasis. But in Trinitarian terms, the word "substance" is not the same as hypostasis. Each person of the Triune God is a distinct and different hypostasis but they are all the same substance or essence. The Greek word ousia connotates a sense of being. Thus, God is one being because God is one ousia substance consisting of three hypostasis.

    7. Nature

    The Trinitarian word "nature" is actually quite vague and is often left undefined creating much confusion. At times it means "stuff" as in the "nature of man" which means "the stuff of man," that is, flesh. So when they say "Jesus is human" it means "Jesus is human stuff" denoting "what" he is. At other times, Trinitarians use the term to describe functional characteristics as in the phrase, "it's not his nature to do such a thing." So a Trinitarian may say, "Jesus was divine by nature" indicating Jesus' functional behavior and abilities were divine in the sense of "who" he was.

    8. Homoousia and Homoiousia

    These are two very important terms in Trinitarian theology. The word homoousia means "the same, or identical, substance" and the word homoiousia means "a similar, or like, substance." There is another term called heterousia used by Origen to describe the difference between the Father and Son. This terms means "other, or different substance."

    Essentially, the fourth century debate began when Arius denied the Father and Son were the same ousia and then continued further over one letter "i" in the two words homoousia and homoiousia. The Nicene Creed indicated the Father and Son were homoousia, the same substance, to which the Arians objected. For them it was tantamount to Sabellianism because the word ousia could be understood to refer to "person." Trinitarians affirm that the Father and Son are the same, identical, substance. There was much confusion over the terms ousia and hypostasis even in the fourth century when the issue was being debated and this may have given rise to the dispute between homoousia and homoiousia. The issue was more or less settled by the Cappadocians who defined the terms so that hypostasis was equivalent to the Latin persona and ousia was equivalent to the Latin substantia. Thus, today in Trinitarianism, God is three hypostasis but one ousia, three persona but one substantia, three persons, but one substance or being.

    9. Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Omniscience

    These terms are attributes of God and simply mean Almighty or All-powerful (omnipotent), All-pervading (omnipresent), and All-knowing (omnipresent). Trinitarians also do not simply believe God can be present anywhere; they believe he is present everywhere.

    10. Immutability

    Immutablity simply means incapacity to change. God does not and cannot change. He is not susceptible to change. The reason He cannot and does not change is because He is perfect.


    Excursus: "The" God

    The word "God" is also used in two ways by Trinitarians. It can mean either "the Supreme Being," or it can mean "deity of nature." We can see the implementation of this latter sense by Trinitarians when they say, "Jesus is God and man." Here the Trinitarian is saying that Jesus is divine by nature and human by nature. This concept can be clearly understood by looking at the Hebrew words "Adam" and "adam." The word "adam" is the word for human, both male and female (Gen 1:27; 5:2). The word "Adam" answers the question "who" and the word "adam" answers the question "what." We can say "Adam is adam," and we can say "Eve is adam," but we certainly cannot say "Eve is Adam." However, Trinitarians do indeed use the word "God" in the latter sense when they say "Jesus is God." When it would be better for them to say "God is god and Jesus is god" they prefer to say "God is God and Jesus is God." As such, we an see why this Trinitarian convention creates much confusion.

    In Trinitarianism, it is also technically incorrect to identify the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit as [the] God." The term "God" when used as an indentifier refers to the one God. The definite article "the" is used in our language in an exclusive sense. A capital lettered word that behaves as a name for a personal being replaces the need for a definite article. So if we say the Father is "the" God, or even if we say "the Father is God" and implicitly mean the Father is the one God, we thereby exclude the Son and if we say the Son is "the" God, we thereby exclude the Father. Furthermore, "the" God in Trinitarianism is the tripersonal triune God of three persons. The Father is not "the" Supreme being but a hypostasis of the Supreme Being. In Trinitarianism "the" God is the Triune God. So to refer to the Father as "the God," would be to refer to the Father as the one Triune God, which He is not. In English, when we use the word "God," the definite article "the" is implicitly inferred by the capital "G" although it is not explicitly stated, that is, "we know we are referring to a specific identity. Notice how the following Trinitarian writer is struggling with this idea. He is making a statement most Trinitarians would not want to utter.

    The Father is not God as such; for God is not only Father, but also Son and Holy Spirit. The term Father designates that personal distinction in the divine nature in virtue of which God is related to the Son and, through the Son and the Spirit, to the church.

    The Son is not God as such; for God is not only Son, but also Father and Holy Spirit. The Son designates that distinction in virtue of which God is related to the Father, and is sent by the Father to redeem the world, and with the Father sends the Holy Spirit.

    The Holy Spirit is not God as such; for God is not only Holy Spirit, but also Father and Son. The Holy Spirit designates that distinction in virtue of which God is related to the Father and the Son, and is sent by them to accomplish the work of renewing the ungodly and sanctifying the church. (Emery Bancroft, Christian Theology, pp. 87-88).

    Now here is a critical thing we must understand. The word "God" is used in Trinitarian theological circles to answer either the question "who," or the question "what," which creates much confusion. When the word "God" answers the question "who" it means "the God" or "the Supreme Being." When the word "God" answers the question "what" it means deity by nature. The statement "God is God" in Trinitarianism is a "who is what" statement that means "the Supreme Being God is the nature of deity." Although they have the same appearance, the two words "God" on either side of the word "is" are defined differently. In the same way, the statement, "Jesus is God and man" means "Jesus is the what and what," not "Jesus is who and what." The word "God" is regularly used in Trinitarianism to mean "deity" or "divine" and denote what someone is as distinguished from who someone is.

    The Trinitarian writer above is using the word "God" to answer the question "who." He would not say the same thing by implicitly defining the word "God" as answering the question "what" and using it as a synonym for deity of nature because he would then be saying the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not divine, which is something he does not believe. In this sense, he is using the word quantitatively to identify "the God" as opposed to using the word "God" qualitatively to refer to the nature of deity. He means, "the Father is not 'the God' by identity." He does not mean "the Father is not deity in essence." The one being known as "God" is not simply the Father, since he is only one hypostasis of "the Godhead." Here we begin to see how Trinitarian terminology can be easily played one way or the other depending on a given situation.

    Trinitarians have little difficulty saying either "Jesus is Deity," or "Jesus is deity." Writing the word either way, capitalized or not, is quite suitable for them. They also have no problem saying "Jesus is God." But they noticeably refrain from writing "Jesus is god." The statement "God is god" spoke out loud would be immediately understood by the Trinitarian to mean "God is deity," or "God is divine by nature." However, they become unexplainably quite agitated when the statement is written as "God is god" when it means the very same thing as "God is deity." In English, we capitalize words when we wish to identity someone. So if we hear, "Jesus is Deity," or "Jesus is God," we understand we are being told he is divine in what he is. If we see such a word written with capital letters, we are being led to believe he is being identified as who he is. But if we see such a word written with a lower case letter, we are being led to understand someone is being described as what he is. This little quirk causes no end to confusion.

    Confusion of Terms

    The English word "God" with a capital 'G' immediately suggests an answer to the question "Who?" This is a troublesome problem with Trinitarians who often use this selfsame word to denote the nature of divinity which implicitly answers the question "What?" The statement "Jesus is God" is regularly used by Trinitarians to either mean "Jesus is [who]," or "Jesus is [what]," depending on the situation, where the word "God" on one occasion may be a word to denote identity, "the Creator," and other times is used to denote nature, "deity" or "divine." Thus, in one instance they seem to mean "Jesus is the Supreme Being" and in another instance they mean "Jesus is divine." This can be seen clearly when they say, "Jesus is both God and man." Here it is obvious the word "God" is direct a reference to divine nature, and not identity, since it correlates with the word "man." One of the peculiar things about Trinitarianism is that they afford themselves the use of the word "God" in this manner but seem to deny it to anyone else and especially unless a capital 'G' form of the word is used. But they are totally inconsistent. For example, they themselves capitalize the word "Spirit," or not, at will. So if one says "God is spirit," with a small 's,' we know it means "God is [what]" and if we see the word "Spirit" we are to know it means "who." But for some reason, the Trinitarian becomes very agitated when the word "God" is decapitalized and one says "Jesus is god" to refer to his divine nature. Why is a capital 'G' necessary if we are not identifying anyone but describing their nature? After all, a capital 'G' in English suggests we are indentifying someone and not indicating "what" someone is such as when we also say, "God is spirit" or "the Word became flesh." It does seem the Trinitarian wants it this way so that he can identify Jesus as "God" at his convenience by affording himself an easy transposition from the idea concerning what he is to who he is, by giving his word a double effect.

    Alpha and Omega

    A Biblical term used to indicate the beginning and end of all things in terms of time and space, creation. As such, in terms of creation's perspective, both God and his Word are the Alpha and Omega of creation since God created through his Word and will bring all things to their fulfillment through his Word.

    Anthropomorphism

    A description of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics. In the Bible, God is often portrayed anthropomorphically, that is, pictured with human characteristics.

    ASV

    The American Standard Version. A Protestant Bible translation completed in 1901 which was a revision of the English Revised Version completed in 1881. It is unique for translating the Tetragrammaton as "Jehovah" instead of "LORD." For this reason, this translation was a popular translation among early Jehovah's Witnesses (today they have their own translation).

    Communicatio Idiomatum

    A concept invented by Trinitarians which explains the relationship of the personhood of Jesus to his natures. Quite simply it suggests that the person is not the nature in which he exists but his natures are things owned by the person like a personal possession. Trinitarians are often confusing concenring this issue. Sometimes it appears there are three things: person with two natures. Other times it appears they see two things: the divine person IS the divine nature who posesses a human nature.

    Creation

    Time and space where space is three dimensional reality and time is the measurement of things in motion. Creation is also the reality that is not the reality in which God exists.

    Cult

    Any religious group adhering to a common belief system. In Trinitarianism, a derogatory word used to identify any group that is not Trinitarian and often used to keep their own people in check Pavlovian style.

    Douay-Rheims

    A Roman Catholic English Bible translation completed in 1609 by translating from the Latin Vulgate.

    Economic Trinitarianism

    A Trinitarian term used to describe the functional unity between God, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit. It does not indicate a belief that these three are one God and in this sense the term tends to be a misleading misnomer since non-Trinitarians accept the reality of this economy in one sense or another.

    Eisegesis

    An interpretation of text by reading into it one's own ideas. The term means a person puts preconceived concepts into the text with little regard for its intended meaning or to add further meaning to the text beyond what it actually expresses. The opposite of eisegesis is exegesis which means a person takes out of the text the concepts originally intended by the author.

    Exegesis

    An interpretation of text that strives to explain its intended meaning and the concepts intended by the words. It is the opposite of eisegesis which means a person reads his preconceived ideas into the text.

    Gnosticism

    An early adversary of Christianity which taught salvation by knowledge. The Gnostics did not have one standard belief system and their beliefs varied widely. As far as the term itself goes, Christians are also gnostics because they are saved through knowledge of God through Jesus Christ (John 17:3). The basic difference between Gnosticism and Christianity is that Gnostics believed their saving knowledge was conceptual, knowing deep esoteric concepts, where Christian saving knowledge is relational, knowing God. Gnostics also believed matter was inherently evil and spirit was good (matter is evil simply because it is matter). They also resorted to "kabbalistic" type wisdom and odd esoteric concepts which they did believe were Scriptural but not easy for the average person to see. Gnosticism was rooted in common philosophic notions of Jewish mysticism and pagan Platonism. A primitive form of this type of belief is seen in the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians where Christians were mistakenly putting their faith in the conceptual knowledge of the apostles instead of relational knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. Paul's "super apostles" were teaching salvation by conceptual knowledge in this manner. A modern example of basic Gnosticsm would be to suppose one is saved by simply knowing and accepting and following the conceptual ideas about God in the Bible rather than knowing and following God personally and relationally.

    God

    The supreme or ultimate being or reality. The Creator.

    Godhead

    A Trinitarian and sometimes Modalist term. The supreme or ultimate being, especially in reference to the Trinity. It can also mean the nature or essence of being divine. This word is simply a synonym for the Deity ("who") when used to identify the supreme being and a synonym for deity ("what") when used to identify the essential nature of the Supreme being.

    Henotheism

    A belief in the worship of only one God without denying the existence of other gods. A distinction must be made here between false Gods and false gods. A false God is a true god who is a pretender to be God. In the Bible, these other gods are angelic beings.

    Heresy

    An opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the accepted beliefs or standards of a religious group. In Christianity, this word means "a belief of any person or group which does not agree with the beliefs of my own faith group which we have deemed to be the truth and are essential beliefs in the Christian faith." As such, everyone is a heretic to someone.

    Holy Bible

    A collection of writings of which the number and extent is defined by one's own faith group who have deemed only those particular writings to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    Hypostasis / Hypostases(pl.)

    A term used in Trinitarian theology borrowed from Greek philosophy which means, "the ground of being," "essential nature or underlying reality," "that which forms the basis of anything; underlying principle;substance; subsistence; essence," "the essential nature of a substance as opposed to its attributes." However, in Trinitarianism it distinctly refers to a person of the Triune God, either the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.

    Hypostatic Union

    A Trinitarian term which refers to their belief that one person exists in a union of two natures. It also refers to an event synonymous with the Incarnation, the belief that the Son of God added a human nature to his divine nature at his conception.

    Kensosis

    A theological term directly referring to Philippians 2:6 where it is said Jesus "emptied" (kenoo) himself when he became a human being.

    KJV

    The King James Version. A Protestant Bible translation completed in 1611. It is not the first translation into English. It is also sometimes called "the Authorized Version" because it was authorized by King James.

    Logos

    A Biblical word to refer to a person's expression of his reason. It is usually translated as "Word." God's Word was the means by which he created all things. Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnate reality of this Word.

    Literal Interpretation

    In Christianity, this term is intended to mean "the plain meaning" but in practice really means, "whatever concepts happen to come to my own mind when I read a passage in the Bible."

    Monotheism

    A belief that only one God/god exists.

    NAB

    The New American Bible, a Roman Catholic version of the Bible completed in 1970.

    NASB

    The New American Standard Bible, a Protestant version of the Bible completed in 1971 which strived for a literal translation.

    NWT

    The New World Translation. A Bible translation developed by the Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower and Tract Society. It is unique for translating the Tetragrammaton as "Jehovah" instead of "LORD." However, it also sometimes arbitrarily translates the New Testament Greek word kyrios as "Jehovah" and has a few other translation oddities. However, this translation is not as bad as Trinitarians make it out to be and its errors are often no less tragic than those found in many Trinitarian translations.

    NIV

    The New International Version, a Protestant version of the Bible completed in 1978 which used a dynamic equivalent method of translation.

    Oneness

    A colloquial term for a belief system that believes God is one person and that the Father and his Son are the same one person who is God and God's name is Jesus.

    Orthodox/Orthodoxy

    In Christianity, this word means "the true beliefs of my preferred faith group which they have deemed to be the most important concepts to Christian faith."

    Polytheism

    A belief in the worship of more than one God.

    RSV

    The Revised Standard Version, a Protestant version of the Bible completed in 1951 that was intended as a revision to the KJV. It is considered by many informed Christians to be the most reliable and unbiased translation.

    Shema

    The first word of, and a reference to, Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one."

    Substance

    The essential nature of a thing that defines its ultimate reality. It is derived from the Latin word substantia and is etymologically similar to the Greek word hypostatsis in that both words contain the idea of "under" and "standing."

    Tetragrammaton

    The four letters YHWH which are commonly translated as "LORD" in Bible translations and which is thought to be properly pronounced as "Yahweh." The word "Jehovah" is an anglicization of "Yahweh."

    Trinity

    The doctrine of three persons subsisting in one God subscribed to by followers of fourth century Athanasian theology and fifth century Augustinian theology.
    Last Update: February 7, 2011
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