The Biblical Errancy Newsletter #15, by C. Dennis McKinsey

Issue No. 15, March 1984

COMMENTARY


The Trinity--The Trinitarian belief that God is Unity, subsisting in three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost--all three are one God, equal in power and glory--represents one of the most incredible, albeit crucial conceptions in all of Christendom. Many observers throughout history have stressed the irrational involved.
  • "One may say with one's lips: 'I believe that God is one, and also three'--but no one can believe it, because the words have no sense." (What is Religion by Leo Tolstoy).
  • "When we shall have done away with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three;...." (Jefferson's Works, Vol. 7, p. 210 by H.A. Washington).
  • "It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticism that three are one, and one is three; yet that the one is not three, and the three are not one;...." (Jefferson's Works, Vol. 6, p. 192 by H.A. Washington).
In discussions with biblicists I've often asked the question, "When Jesus said on the Cross, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34), to whom was he speaking?" To which they usually replied, "God." To this I responded, "But I thought he was God." To which they usually reply, "No, he is the son God." "In other words, we have two Gods," I said. "No," they replied, "just one God but three persons." Now let's pause and think, my friend, " I said, "we have one being, one source of intelligence--God--speaking to another being, another source of intelligence, which is also God; and yet, we are to believe there is only one God." This simple dialogue highlights quite well the incongruity of the problem.Clearly, logic and reason have nothing to do with understanding the Trinity. There is little rhyme or reason involved and, indeed many apologists will admit as much, since any other approach would border on naivete. Many don't even attempt a rational defense. They merely assert that, although opposed to sensible thought, it's true, nevertheless. "It's a mystery." That's the common refrain.

Apologetic beliefs that violate the rules on logic and common sense are often described as mysteries, unfathonable by the human mind. Faith, which H.L. Mencken defined as "an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable", is mandatory. As one defender candidly stated, "The Trinity, that is three persons in one, is a mystery which is revealed by Bible, but cannot be understood by the human mind....this is one of those things which must be accepted by faith, even though it cannot be reasoned out. The Trinity cannot be explained but it must be believed." (508 Answers to Bible Questions, p. 168 by M. R. DeHaan). Thomas Jefferson summarized the situation quite well by stating,

"No historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early ages of Christianity;.... The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousand and thousands of martyrs.... In fact, the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most montrous,... With such persons, gullability, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck." (Jefferson's Works, Vol. 7, p. 269-70 by H.A. Washington).
NO doubt many apologists agreed with Ingersoll when he said, "In order to be saved it is necessary to believe this. What a blessing that we do not have to understand it. (Ingersoll's Works, Vol.1, p. 496) Or to quote Thomas Paine, "Where is the evidence that the person called Jesus Christ is the begotten Son of God? The case admits not of evidence either to our senses or our mental faculties; neither has God given to man any talent by which such a thing is comprehensible." (The Life and Works of Thomas Paine, Vol. 9, p. 294).

Opposition to the Trinity comes not only from outside the Bible but from within as well. One only need not rely upon external critics alone. The Bible is replete with statements to the effect that God is a Unity; he is one: there is none like him. The following are a few that could be mentioned: "...the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him" (Deut. 4:35); "...for there is none like thee, neither is there any god beside thee" (2 Sam. 7:22); "I am God and there is none like me" (Isa. 46:9). Apparently Jesus and the Holy Ghost are like him, since they are God also. (See also: Deut. 4:39, 6:4, Mark 12:29, Isa. 45:5-6, 1 Chron. 17:20, 1 Sam. 2:2 and Kings 8:60). Despite these verses and many others, apologists continue to rely upon four major verses to justify their beliefs in the Trinity: 1 Peter 1:2, the forged 1 John 5:7(...for there are three that bear record in heaven), 2 Cor.13:14, and Matt. 28:19 (baptising them in the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Ghost). If these four verses justify belief in the Trinity, then they contradict many other comments that do not. If they do not justify belief in the Trinity, then there is little else of real substance to rely upon, and the issue becomes moot. Incidentally, the word "Trinity" appears nowhere in the Bible.

 Besides numerous statements asserting the unity, the indivisibility of God, the Bible also provides additional information in opposition to the Trinity. First, Gen. 6:3 states God would never become flesh. Jews interpret the verse as saying, "My spirit shall never more abide in man, since he too is flesh." But, if Jesus was God and man simultaneously, then divinity would have rested in a man, i.e., flesh. Second, 2 Chron. 6:18 and 1 Kings 8:27 state God (i.e. Jesus) would never dwell on earth. Third, although called God by others, Jesus never directly said he was God. According to one Christian denomination called a cult, Satan, too, was called God (2 Cor. 4:4). Fourth, if the Holy Ghost was a person, as Trinitarians allege, then how could he have filled 120 people simultaneously (acts 2)? Fifth, how could the Son, who is God eternal, be equal in age to the Father who is God Eternal? By definition, a son must be younger than the father; in which case they can't be equal. Sixth, how could Jesus be God, i.e. eternal, when several verses show he was created at a particular point in time: Rev. 3:14, Prov. 8:22-23 RSV, Col. 1:15 RSV. And lastly, if Jesus and the Holy Ghost are God, if the Trinity is valid, then Jesus' relationship to Mary is utterly paradoxical:

  • (1) If he was born of Mary, she was his mother;
  • (2) She "being with child by the Holy Ghost," and Father, Son and Holy Ghost being one, she was his wife;
  • (3) God, being the Father of all mankind, and God and Christ being one, she was his daughter;
  • (4) She, being the daughter of God, and Jesus being the Son of God, she was his sister.
Ingersoll probably summarized the Trinitarian enigma as well as anyone when he said,
Christ, according to the faith, is the second person in the Trinity, the Father being the first and the Holy Ghost third. Each of these persons is God. Christ is his own father and his own son. The Holy Ghost is neither father nor son, but both. The son was begotten by the father, but existed before he was begotten--just the same before as after. Christ is just as old as his father, and the father is just as young as his son. The Holy Ghost proceeded from the Father and Son, but was equal to the Father and Son before he proceeded, that is to say, before he existed, but he is of the same age as the other two. So it is declared that the Father is God, and the Son and the Holy Ghost God, and these three Gods make one God. According to the celestial multiplication table, once one is three, and three time one is one, and according to heavenly subtraction if we take two from three, three are left. The addition is equally peculiar: if we add two to one we have but one. Each one equal to himself and to the other two. Nothing ever was, nothing ever can be more perfectly idiotic and absurd than the dogma of the Trinity." (Ingersoll's Works, Vol. 4, p. 266-67).
Why, then, in light of the above, do biblicists cling so stubbornly to a belief that is so irrational as to all but destroy their intellectual credibility? Why do they insist that Jesus is both fully man in every sense of the word and fully God in every sense of the word? Why? Because the alternative is even worse. They are trapped between a wall and a cliff. Unless Jesus is God and man simultaneously, all of the following problems have no solutions. To begin with the Bible repeatedly says that only God can be mankind's savior: "I, even I, am the Lord; and besides me there is no savior" (Isa. 43:11). (Also Hosea 3:4, Psalm 3:8, and Isa. 43:3). Obviously Jesus must be God if he is to save mankind, since no mere mortal can fulfill that role. If Jesus is not God and man simultaneously, then he is no more divine than Mohammed or any other religious figure. His death could not be the stepping stone to salvation for everyone.

But even more importantly, the Trinity provides the only escape available for the tremendously large number of contradicting statements made by Jesus himself with respect to his nature and capabilities. The trinity is Christianity's "Great Backdoor". On several occasions Jesus equated himself with God, although he never directly said he was God:

  • (a) "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30);
  • (b) "...he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 17:22);
  • (c) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God" (John 1"1). (See also: John 10:38, 14:9-11, 17:11, 21-23, Col. 2:9)
Yet, a far larger number of statements clearly shows Jesus did not equate himself with God, in which case he couldn't be mankind's savior:
     
  • (a) "Why callest me good? There is none good but one, that is God" Matt. 19:17);
  • (b) "for my Father is greater than I" (John 14:28);
  •  (c) "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me" (John 7:16);
  • (d) "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46);
  • (e) "Who has gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God" (1 Peter 3:22); (See also: Mark 13:32, 1 cor. 11:3, John 5:19, 20:17, Matt. 26:39 and many others).
Biblical supporters use the escape mechanism rather freely by alleging the former comments were made by Jesus-the-God; while the latter were made by Jesus-the-man. So, depending on the dictates of expediency, the inconsistent comments by Jesus can be reconciled.Without the Trinity, Jesus would appear to be a hopelessly confused young man, more sick than savior. The Trinity also provides the only means of escape from such imbroglios as Ingersoll's earlier comment on celestial arithmetic and Mary's confusing relationship to Jesus.

 But even if the Trinity existed, and even if it provided a satisfactory resolution to a myriad of dilemmas, there are several problems that lie beyond even its purview. First, the question would remain of who or what died on the cross. Was it Jesus-the-man or Jesus-the-God? If Jesus-the-man died, then no one was saved, since the death of a man could not rescue anyone. If, on the other hand, Jesus-the-God died, then we have an impossibility. God can't die. He is eternal, as many verses show. So the question remains: Who died on the cross? Who or What made the sacrifice? As One Christian group correctly stated, "If Jesus were God, then during Jesus' death God was dead in the grave." But it had to be God or Jesus God that died, since only God can save mankind. Second, "Orthodoxy has always held that Jesus Christ was fully God and perfect man, and that these two natures were united in one person...." (Answering Christianity's Most Puzzling Questions, Vol. 2, p. 14 by Richard Sisson). But how could Jesus-the-man be sinless, since all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)? If Jesus is sinless, as many verses show (1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:3, 5, 7, 2 Cor. 5:12, Heb. 4:15, 7:26), then he wasn't human, for all have sinned; he was only God. And if he was only God, how could he say, "My Father is greater than I"? On the other hand, if these "sinless" verses only refer to Jesus-the-God, while Jesus-the-man did sin, then he needs salvation as much as anyone. Who died on the Cross to save him? And lastly, having an innocent individual suffer punishment on a cross in order to atone for acts of mankind makes no more sense than having all mankind suffer for the acts of one man--Adam. To use a simple example: If I robbed a bank and my father volunteered to serve my sentence, justice would not exist, even though he agreed. Punishing the innocent for the deeds of the guilty or accepting punishment of the innocent as atonement for the guilty's behavior, has nothing to do with justice, regardless of who agrees. It isn't even revenge, since the guilty are unscathed. It's wanting blood merely for the sake of blood. It's as if someone took my wife's life during the night and I immediately went out and shot the first passer-by. "The absurdity of the doctrine known as 'The Fall of Man,' gave birth to that other absurdity known as 'The Atonement.' So that now it is insisted that, as we are rightfully charged with sin of someone else, we can rightfully be credited with the virtues of another." (Ingersoll's Works, Vol. 2, p. 370)

REVIEWS

Apologists often use verses other than those already discussed to substantiate biblical support for the Trinity. They are much weaker, however, due to the imprecision of that which is being discussed. For instance, writers McDowell and Steward use God's statements in Gen. 1:26 (Let us make in our image) and Gen. 3:22 (Behold, the man has become like one of us) to prove the Trinity. On page 71 in Answers to Tough Questions they state, "God's plural nature is alluded to here, for He could not be talking to angels in these instances, because angels could not help God create. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ, not the angels, created all things (John 1:30, Col. 1:15)." Other apologists, however, reject this argument. For instance, in the Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties Gleason Archer states, "Who, then, constitutes the 'us' referred to in Gen. 3:22? Conceivably the three persons of the Trinity might be involved here, but more likely 'us' refers to the angels surrounding God's throne in heaven.... There are a few passages in the Old Testament where the angels are referred to as 'bene elohim' (sons of God), e.g. Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7...." The Bible relates numerous instances in which angels assisted God and carried out assignments. God could have done the "making" while the angels merely assisted. The words are too vague, too nebulous, as are the phrases "our images" and "like one of us" to provide definite confirmation of the Trinity. One can only speculate as to whom "us" and "our" refer. The Bible provides no definite answer.

 Turning from the Trinity, this month's review of books will conclude with an analysis of some interesting rationalization with respect to ethical dilemmas in the Bible. In the classic apologetic defense, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, John Haley constantly employed his favorite tactic--adding to the text--in clear violation of Rev. 22:18 ("If any man shall add unto these things, god shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book") to resolve problems. He freely used the very ploy which is repeatedly attributed to those exposing the Bible. His resolutions of several contradictions show as much.

  • (1) Luke 6:37 says, "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and you shall not be condemned," while John 7:24 says, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement." Are we or are we not to judge? Haley attempted to reconcile this contradiction by saying, "The text from Matthew forbids harsh, conscious judgement, but does not preclude the giving of judicial decisions, not the expression of our opinions in a proper manner (Ibid. page 284)." Yet, there is nothing whatever to prove only "harsh" punishment is forbidden. He made a distinction wholly unsupported by the text.
  • (2) Prov. 22:15 says, "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him," while Prov. 27:27 says, "Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, Yet his folly will not depart from him (NASB)." Are we or are we not to punish the foolish child with a rod? Haley rationalized this dilemma by saying, " These passages refer to entirely different persons. 'foolishness,' in the first text, is the incipient waywardness which belongs, in a greater or lesser degree, to children, and may be corrected by suitable discipline. The 'fool' in the second text, is the grownup fool, whose folly is past cure (Ibid. p. 278)." Of course, nothing whatever justifies attributing the second text to adults only.
  • (3) Exodus 20:17 says, "Thou shalt not covet ....anything that is thy neighbor's," while 1 Cor. 12:31 says, "Covet earnestly the best gifts." So, are we or are we not to covet? Haley "explains" this dilemma by saying, "covet" in the second text, "implies an earnest desire for that which is legitimately within our reach; in the first, it denotes an unlawful craving for that which properly belongs to another (Ibid. p. 249)." In truth, neither verses says anything about that which is "legitimately" within our reach. Exodus 20 says don't covet, period. It doesn't allow for exceptions. An "unlawful craving" isn't even mentioned. Haley adds to the text in violation of Rev. 22:18 by arbitrarily creating a wholly unjustified distinction. It would be nice from his perspective, and certainly a lot easier to defend, if the Bible did make such a distinction; but alas, it is nowhere to be found.
The Bible's propensity for absolutes is undoubtedly one of its greatest weaknesses. By not acknowledging exceptions, the Bible seriously undermines its credibility. "Black and white" describes far fewer situations than "shades of gray".

Issue No. 16, April, 1984

COMMENTARY

Ignored Teachings (Part One of a Three-Part Series)--For hundreds of years biblicists have been lecturing people on the importance of adhering to the Bible's teachings on ethics, manners, and morality. They quote Jesus and Paul profusely, with a liberal sprinkling of Old Testament moralisms. The problem with their approach lies not only in an oft-noted failure to practice what they preach, but an equally pronounced tendency to ignore what the Bible itself, preaches. Biblicists practice what can only be described as "selective morality". What they like, they expound; what they don't like, they ignore, even though the validity or strength of one is no less than that of the other. That which is palatable and acceptable is supposedly applicable to all; while that which is obnoxious, inconvenient, or self-denying is only applicable to those addresed 2,000 years ago. They enjoy quoting the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and some of Paul's preachings, for example, but don't pretend to heed other, equally valid, maxims. The following examples show the selectivity of apologetic morality.

First, a true follower of Jesus would have to be extremely poor--as poor as the proverbial churchmouse. The Bible makes this quite clear:

  • (a) "...none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up everything he has" (Luke 14:33);
  • (b) "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor and you will have riches in heaven" (Matt. 19:21);
  • (c) "Sell your possessions and give alms" (Luke 12:33);
  • (d) "But give what is in your cups and plates to the poor, and everything will be clean for you" (Luke 11:41);
  • (e) "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt,.... But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21);
  • (f) "How hardly shall they that have riches enter to the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:23);
  • (g) "Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:23-24);
  • (h) A certain ruler told Jesus that he had obeyed all the commandments from his youth up. But, Jesus said, "Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me" (Luke 18:22, Mark 10:21),
  • and (i) Paul said, "For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8 RSV)
Imagine Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Rex Humbard, Robert Schuller, Herbert W. Armstrong and thousands of other wealthy religious leaders heeding such pronoucements! It's much easier, and far less painful, to rationalize away clear-cut statements than surrender great wealth because of Biblical injunctions. Paul said, "And having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (1 Tim. 6:8). The lavish personal wealth of these men and many others bears witness to their avoidance of these teachings, as well as Luke 3:11, which says, "who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do like-wise." One can only speculate as to the number of coats they have in their closets. Jesus said, "Give to him who asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away" (Matt. 5:42). Asking any of the previously-mentioned individuals or any Christian denomination for a sizable portion of his or its wealth would be an exercise in futility. How many biblicists attempt to obey the biblical precept which says, "and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again" (Luke 6:29-30 RSV)? They avoid Matt. 5:40, which says, "And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him also have thy cloak." Apologists don't mind quoting the prior verse (Matt. 5:39) about turning the other cheek, because it concerns attitudes and is not concrete; no direct physical denial is involved. Turning one's cheek is far less painful and tangible than turning in dollars. The former is more nebulous and subject to interpretation. Jesus commissioned his twelve disciples to, "provide neither gold nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, not yet staves, for the workman is worthy of his meat" (Matt. 10:9-10). If these were the morally right procedures for the disciples of Christ 2,000 years ago, then they should have some relevance to his disciples of today. But the entourage and wealth accompanying any well-known evangelist on his periodic journeys highlights the inconsistency involved.

Early Christian groups even practiced a form of communal ownership of property. "And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need" (Acts 2:44-45, also note Acts 4:34-37). Yet, except for a few isolated communities, today's biblicists preach the opposite.

In summary, it's not enough to avoid the accumulation of wealth; one must actively seek to eliminate whatever property may come into one's possession. (See also: Acts 20:35, Rom. 12:13, Col. 3:2, Matt. 6:24). In so far as wealth and property are concerned, Christian monks, ascetics, and some factions of the Amish, for example, are far closer to biblical teachings than any of the well-known clergymen or denominations of today. While engaged in dialogue with a minister several years ago, I noted that his Lincoln Continental parked nearby was wholly inconsistent with biblical tenets. After offering the usual apologetic rationalizations (e.g., I live a frugal life and the Bible does not require me to give away what I own), he denounced my motives and left. Neither of his excuses was accurate.

Second, a true follower of Jesus can neither divorce someone, (a) "So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder"(Matt. 19:6, Mark 10:9), nor marry someone who is divorced, (b) "whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery" (Matt. 5:32, 19:9, Luke 16:18). There is an exception to the former, however. If the spouse commits adultery, divorce is permissible: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery" (Matt. 5:32). The Bible also says that anyone who obtains a divorce and marries another is an adulterer: "...whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her" (Mark 10:11, Luke 16:18), which applies to women as well--Mark 10:12. In essence, according to Christ's teachings:

  • (1) one can never obtain a divorce, except from an adulterous spouse;
  • (2) one can never marry a divorced person, and
  • (3) one who obtains a divorce and marries another is committing adultery.
One can only guess at the number of Christians who have ignored these maxims.

Third, current attempts to put prayer into schools run directly counter to biblical teachings. In one of his comments on the manner in which one should pray, Jesus said prayer should be a private affair devoid of public display: "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room (or closet-Ed.) and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret...." (Matt. 6:5-6 RSV). Biblicists violate this on a regular basis and have no intention of correcting their behavior.

It's interesting to note that Paul's maxim that men should pray with their heads uncovered is generally followed because removing one's hat isn't particularly inconvenient. It is easy to follow. "Any man who prays or prophecies with his head covered dishonors his head,...."(1 Cor. 11:4 RSV). On the other hand, Paul's tenet that women must keep their heads covered with a veil during prayer is quite inconvenient and, for this reason, has either been rationalized away or ignored, although it is no less binding than any other moral law in the New Testament: "...but any woman who prays or prophecies with her head unveiled dishonors her head.... For if a woman will not veil herself, then we should cut off her hair: but if it be disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil.... Judge for yourself; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered?" (1 Cor. 11:5-13 RSV)? 










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