Problems with the Trinity


(Trinity Shield of the early Western church, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Spencer D Gear

A thoughtful person with whom I dialogued on a www blog site and through email said to me: “If you would like to know why I have rejected Christianity, I will be glad to tell you. Here are some [of my] reasons:” His questions are located HERE [1] and I’ve used his questions below in bold and marked as Q.1, Q.2, etc.

As a prerequisite to understanding my evangelical Christian worldview, I ask you to read my three part series, Can you trust the Bible? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Other questions are answered at:

Problems with Jesus,

Facts about hell,

Why the need for apologetics?

Religion and beliefs

Problems with the Trinity

Q.8  But, hold on. . . they [most Christians] thought they could solve the problem of their celestial mathematics, stating that one plus one plus one is NOT three, but one!

Let’s admit up front that the doctrine of the Trinity “is difficult and perplexing to us” (Sproul 1995, p. 35).  Another has said that “no man can fully explain the Trinity. . . the Trinity is still largely incomprehensible to the mind of man” (Martin 1980, p. 25).

The word, Trinity, does not appear in the Bible.

It comes from the Latin word trinitas, which means ‘threeness.’  But even though the word is not in the Bible, the trinitarian idea is there, and it is most important…  In the minds of some, the difficulty of understanding how God can be both one and three is reason enough to reject the doctrine outright (Boice 1986, p. 109).

Christianity does not teach the absurd notion about God that 1+1+1=1, which an unbeliever described as “celestial mathematics.”  That is a false equation because the term, Trinity, describes a relationship, NOT of three Gods, but of one God in three persons.  It is NOT tritheism (three beings who are God). Trinity is an effort to define God in all his fullness, in terms of his unity and diversity.

Historically, it has been described as one in essence and three in person.  “Though the formula is mysterious and even paradoxical, it is in no way contradictory” (Sproul 1986, p. 35).  Essence is used to describe God’s being, while the diversity is to express the Godhead in terms of person.

God’s unity is affirmed in Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  God’s diversity is declared in Gen. 1:26, “Then God said, ‘let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”  After the sin of Adam, “The Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us…” (Gen. 3:22).  Concerning the tower of Babel, God said, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language…” (Gen. 11:7, emphasis added).

The OT prophets later confirmed this mysterious relationship within the Deity.  In telling of his call to the office of a prophet, Isaiah tells of how God asked, “. . . And who will go for us?” (Isa. 6:8, emphasis added).  The use of the plural, “us” and “our,” must be noted.  It is a significant issue.

God could have been talking to himself (even Jewish commentators reject that interpretation), to the angels, or to other Persons who are not identified.  He was not talking to angels because the next verse (Gen. 1:27) gives the context.  While referring to the creation of human beings, the Bible declares, “So God created man in his own image.”  Human beings were not created in the image of angels, but in God’s image.  So the Father, in Gen. 1:26 is addressing His Son and the Holy Spirit.

This diversity in the Godhead is clearly identified in Matt. 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

Historically, the heresy of modalism has attempted to deny the distinction of persons in the Godhead, claiming that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just different ways in which God expresses himself.  On the other hand, tritheism, another heresy, has tried to affirm that there are three beings that together make up God.

All persons in the Godhead have all the attributes of deity.

There is also a distinction in the work done by each member of the Trinity.  The work of salvation is in one sense common to all three persons of the Trinity.  Yet in the manner of activity, there are differing operations assumed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The Father initiates creation and redemption; the Son redeems the creation; and the Holy Spirit regenerates and sanctifies, applying redemption to believers (Sproul 1986, pp. 35-36).

The Trinity does not refer to parts of God.  It cannot be associated with the roles of God.  All analogies break down.  We can speak of water as being liquid, steam and ice, but all being water.  To speak of one man as father, son and husband does not capture the full mystery of the nature of God.  R.C. Sproul has rightly summarised:

The doctrine of the Trinity does not fully explain the mysterious character of God.  Rather, it sets the boundaries outside of which we must not step.  It defines the limits of our finite reflection.  It demands that we be faithful to the biblical revelation that in one sense God is one and in a different sense He is three (1986, p. 36).

God tells us why we cannot adequately express or explain certain dimensions of His nature: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'” (Isa. 55:8-9).


[1] On 5 November 2016 the website to which I linked had blocked my access to the URL. This has happened to all of my links to that website, I suggest that you copy my questions into your web browser to see the original questions and other content I have written. It’s a sad day when a Christian forum does not want me to link back to its website where I was a regular poster (over 10,000 posts in 11 years) and took some of this interaction for articles on my homepage, ‘Truth Challenge‘.

Works consulted

Boice, J. M. 1986, Foundations of the Christian Faith, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.

Martin, W. 1980, Essential Christianity, Regal Books, Ventura, California.

Sproul, R.C. 1992, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois.

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 26 April 2019.