I cannot help but comment upon the intellectual desperation of Trinitarianism. The so called 'early church fathers' fumble all over the place to explain basic Bible passages which contradicted their complex philosophy. Consider how they faced with the Lord's statement that He did not know the day nor hour of His return, although the Father did (Mk. 13:32). Basil claims that actually, Jesus did know the day and hour, but He meant that as a man He didn't. Didymus claimed that He "put on a deliberate poe of ignorance" (1). But the real Christ, the one who manifested God, who was one with the Father, who hungred and thirsted, bled and died for us- is all one and the same Jesus. Time and again when I ask for evidence that "Jesus is God", I'm told things like "Well, in the Bible He's called 'the Son of God', 'the Lord', the 'Son of man'- so, of course He's God! The Bible says so!". My dear mother used to call me obtuse, and maybe it's just so, that I really am. But I'm afraid I can't see why ever those titles of Jesus can make Him "God". There's no lack of thorough academic study of all those titles. The evidence is conclusive that they were used before the time of the New Testament and applied to men (2). Indeed the adjective theios meant little more than 'inspired' in the first century. And further, all these terms were used at the time of Jesus by the Jews- who were fierce monotheists, unwilling to countenance the idea of there being any other being apart from Yahweh who could be 'God' in the trinitarian sense. And so it would seem that in the minds of many Christians, the Trinity is an assumption rather than a reasoned understanding and belief. The presence of unexamined assumptions in our lives and hearts, as well as in societies, ought to be a red flag. Why, in this age of apparently fearless examination, eager toppling of paradigms, deconstruction of just about everything, rigorous research, trashing of tradition, brutal testing of assumptions... does the Trinity idea remain an unexamined assumption? Perhaps it's because it demands so much to believe in the Biblical account of a truly human Jesus. Admittedly there is a difficulty for any Bible reader in integrating the Bible passages which speak of the 'God' side of God's Son, His Divine titles etc., and those passages which speak of His humanity. The discussion of misunderstood Bible verses which now follows is an attempt to achieve just that integration, a key which as it were turns every lock presented to us by the references. But the effort required in interpretation is, it seems to me, designed by God, whose word it is which we are discussing. The intention is to make us think about Jesus, struggle with the issue of His identity and nature, in order that we should understand Him better, and thereby love and serve Him the more intently. Perhaps that is why so little is recorded of Jesus- all the speeches and actions of Jesus found in the Gospels would've occupied only three weeks or so of real time. The rest of His life, words and actions we are left to imagine, given what we do know of Him. He wants us to reflect, as He did the disciples, "Whom do you think I am?" (Mk. 8:29). Perhaps that is why at least in Mark's Gospel there is the theme of Jesus not wanting men to be told in point blank terms that He was Messiah. There are very few direct statements about Himself- e.g. He never actually says He had a virgin birth, nor does He explain that He was born in Bethlehem as required by Micah 5:2. He left people assuming He was born in Nazareth (Jn. 7:42). In fact it could be that without this struggle for understanding going on within the heart of each of us, there is no other way for us to come to real relationship with Jesus. Without that effort to understand we'd be left with a fictional Jesus, a 'Jesus' we inherited from men, from churches, from theologians, from our own unexamined assumptions... and not the real Christ.
Retranslation and twisting of the actual Biblical text is always a tell-tale sign that an author is desperate to prove his or her point, rather than being led to truth by God's word. Augustine (Homilies On John 105.17) mistranslates Jn. 17:3 like this: "This is eternal life, that they may know Thee and Jesus Christ, whom Tho has sent, as the only true God". The Greek text, in any reading, simply doesn't bear that translation. That's Augustine's interpretation, and yet he purposefully makes out that his interpretation is in fact what the original text actually says. Other church fathers such as Ambrose followed him in this (3). This incident alone indicates the lack of integrity required to force the doctrine of the Trinity into the Bible. It's simply not there, and if it were there, this kind of utter desperation wouldn't have to be resorted to. And we see the same in some Bible translations of the present day, where trinitarian interpretation is dressed up as the actual text of Scripture. I note that in recent times, more and more theologians and leading Christians are admitting to doubt about the Trinity. And if one looks for it, we find scepticism about it in many writings of leading Christian thinkers and writers throughout history. Further, I note that trinitarians are increasingly recognizing that their standard arguments are weak. There was a time when Gen. 1:26 would be often quoted to support the Tinity. But it's now widely recognized that there are several Hebrew words which have plural endings, and yet refer to a singular entity- e.g. panim means "face". Nearly always, elohim is referred to in the singular by the grammar surrounding it. Thus "Christians have traditionally seen this verse as [proving] the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural means to the original author" (4). The note in the NIV Study Bible likewise takes the approach that this passage refers to Angels: "God speaks as the Creator-King, announcing his crowning work to the members of his heavenly court".
Many of the 'difficult passages' in the New Testament are only difficult because they are alluding to, and even quoting phrases from, popular contemporary ideas and writings and seeking to deconstruct them. This technique is found throughout the Bible, especially with respect to false yet popular ideas about evil. To take an example: Valentinus taught in the second century that there was a pleroma, a "fullness of the Godhead", comprised of 30 aeons of time (5). Like most thinkers, he was drawing on ideas that had circulated a century before him, and so it's reasonable to think that the philosophical idea of a "fullness of the Godhead" was around in the first century. And Paul uses just this phrase when explaining how the entire fullness of the Godhead was to be found in the person of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:9). No need for philosophy and wild guesses at the structure of God. The fullness of the Godhead was and is in the personality of Jesus. However, this isn't Paul's only allusion to this idea. The lowest of the 30 aeons, Sophia, "yielded to an ungovernable desire to apprehend [God's] nature" (6). And Paul alludes to this in Phil. 2:6,7, saying that Jesus by contrast didn't even consider apprehending God's nature, but instead made Himself a servant of all. As more and more is known of the literature and ideas which were extant in the first century, it becomes the more evident that Paul's writings are full of allusions to it- allusions which seek to deconstruct these ideas, replacing them with the true; and by doing so, presenting the Truth of the Gospel in the terms and language of the day, just as we seek to.
(1) Quotations in J.N.D.Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine (London: A. & C. Black, 1968) pp. 300,301.
(2) See W. Bousset, Kyrios Christos (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970); Oscar Cullmann, The Christology Of The New Testament (London: S.C.M., 1971); H. Todt, The Son Of Man (London: S.C.M., 1965) and many others.
(3) See H.A.W. Meyer, Commentary On John (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884 p. 462.
(4) G.J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1997) p. 27.
(5) J.N.D.Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine (London: A. & C. Black, 1968) p. 23.
(6) Kelly, ibid