Mormonism and the nature of God/Nicene creed


Mormons and the Nicene Creed

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Gospel Topics: "Latter-day Saints Do Not Accept the Creeds of Post–New Testament Christianity"

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Latter-day Saints Do Not Accept the Creeds of Post–New Testament Christianity.
Scholars have long acknowledged that the view of God held by the earliest Christians changed dramatically over the course of centuries. Early Christian views of God were more personal, more anthropomorphic, and less abstract than those that emerged later from the creeds written over the next several hundred years. The key ideological shift that began in the second century A.D., after the loss of apostolic authority, resulted from a conceptual merger of Christian doctrine with Greek philosophy.[1]

Question: Does the definition of the Trinity predate the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds?

In early Christian history, there is a clear definition of how the Son is God, and how the father: As a king sends his son, who is also a king

Let's look back in Christian history, to the Epistle to Diognetus. The author, usually called Mathetes, writes:

"This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God."[2]

Justin Martyr calls Jesus "another God and Lord"

In the words above there is a clear definition of how the Son is God, and how the father: As a king sends his son, who is also a king. In this very old document there is no hint that would invalidate Widtsoe's words, in fact, they fit better than Psychological Trinity. Let's continue to Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with a Jew.

Then I replied, "I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things-above whom there is no other God-wishes to announce to them."[3]

So Justin calls Jesus "another God and Lord." If we then can talk of a "god distinct from the Father," are we not right in saying they are two gods?

Gregory of Nyssa reasons that the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost lies primarily in their nature

The best explanation so far stems from Gregory of Nyssa in his essay "On Not Three Gods."[4] He reasons that the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost lies primarily in their nature. Just as there is only one human nature of which every human being is a representative, there is only one divine nature of which every person of the Godhead is a representative.[5] Widtsoe especially mentions that the three personages are united in nature. LDS doctrine is in harmony with this statement of Gregory. As Gregory's argument goes on, it is an abuse of language to talk about "three gods," as it is an abuse of language to talk about "many men." He admits that it is the way people talk, but insists that it is wrong. I think, if we may talk about "two men," it is reasonable to abuse language the same way saying "three gods." Now, most people would find it strange if we refused to talk about "two men," because this is the custom, and if we want to be understood, we better use language as everyone else does. Therefore it is justified from this to say, "In the holy Trinity there are three gods." Gregory admits the weakness of his argument and then finds a very strong reason why that which is OK for the lower nature of man is totally wrong for the higher nature of God: They work together, and they are revealed together (Wirk- und Offenbarungseinheit). It is important to note, that this is how the LDS view the unity of the Godhead, too: One in purpose, one in action, one in revelation. This, according to Gregory, is the major reason why we should say there is one God, and not three.[6] This is the only real argument that Gregory can think of, why it is wrong to talk of three Gods: They do not work separated from each other.

In our modern industries another example springs to mind: The example of three workers in a plant. They work together on the same thing, let's say a lamp. They are workers, they work together, and the outcome is not three objects, but one. Applying Gregory's logic here would necessitate that we talk of "one worker in three persons." One might say, "But the workers work differently on the one object!" Well, this is surely also true for the example that Gregory gives. Read it in his own words:

But the same life is wrought in us by the Father, and prepared by the Son, and depends on the will of the Holy Spirit.[7]

Jesus, while on the cross, cries out "My God, my God, why hast thou left me?"

Further one should think about the crucifixion of Christ. God the Son hangs on the cross. He does the greatest deed of God, the Atonement. He bears all our sins. He suffers. Surely He exercises His divine nature in divine grace. It is a divine operation for sure. Still he cries out "My God, my God, why hast thou left me?" If the Father left Him alone, then it is plain that Christ alone effected this divine action. He did it alone! The Father planned it, the Father sent the Son to do it, but it was the Son alone who did it.

So, from common usage and from Gregory's argument, and also from the writings of other Early Church Fathers we see that it is fully correct and Christian to talk about a plurality of gods in the Trinity.

Question: Does the Nicene Creed define who is Christian, and who is not?

With the Nicene Creed, critics are ironically in the position of using a definition that would exclude all Christians for more than two centuries after Christ from the Christian fold

Some modern Christians wish to apply a "doctrinal exclusion" to declare who is or isn't Christian. Such definitions are generally self-serving, and not very helpful. With the Nicene Creed, critics are ironically in the position of using a definition that would exclude all Christians for more than two centuries after Christ from the Christian fold.

Thus the New Testament itself is far from any doctrine of the Trinity or of a triune God who is three co-equal Persons of One Nature.[8]

The New Testament does not contain the developed doctrine of the Trinity.[9]

There is in them [the Apostolic Fathers], of course, no trinitarian doctrine and no awareness of a trinitarian problem."[10]

The Church had to wait for more than three hundred years for a final synthesis, for not until the Council of Constantinople [AD 381] was the formula of one God existing in three coequal Persons formally ratified.[11]

These passages are succinct summaries. If a critic wishes to justify his or her belief in the creedal Trinity, they must rely on tradition and the creeds of the 4th century, and abandon claims of scriptural or historical support for such a belief in early Christianity, including among the apostles and those they taught.

Since the LDS believe in an apostasy from true doctrine, they see the creedal Trinitarianism—which is an admitted novelty in the centuries after Christ—as evidence of it.

Mormonism does not use the Nicene Creed, and invokes earlier Christian ideas that were overshadowed by Plato

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[12]

Bluntly put, Mormons do not play by the rules of the Nicene Creed. Their theological arguments can look like a form of cheating when, in reality, they are trying to change the way the game is played. Mormonism is like an alternative reality come to life—a counterfactual history of post-Nicene developments of pre-Nicene theology, the ultimate “what if ” theological parlor game.

What if Tertullian had been more successful in his explication of the materiality of the soul? What if the monks of Egypt had won their battle in defense of anthropomorphism? What if Augustine had not read the books of the Platonists? Mormonism invites creedal Christians into a world where everything is slightly but significantly skewed from what they are used to [13]:85

Augustine's views about matter are perhaps less coherent than Joseph Smith's

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[12]

Augustine’s position is actually not as sound as it first appears. If God makes the world out of himself, does it necessarily have all the attributes of the divine? Does it necessarily follow that matter is a substance that equals God’s own power? The problem with Augustine’s position (and the whole of classical theism on this issue) is that he can imagine no middle ground between creating and shaping. From the perspective of classical theism, if God does not create matter out of nothing, then God merely shapes (or adds form to) the matter that is already there, and that means that God is neither infinite nor omnipotent. If matter is too close to God, then God must not have complete mastery over it. Likewise, if matter comes from God, then God must be tainted by it, which means that God shares in its corruptibility. Either way, God would not be God, or at least, God would not be infinite. But what if there is a middle ground? What if matter is one of God’s perfections without the world being divine? If the perfection of matter is already an expression of who God is (indeed, if it is the substance of the Father’s relation to the Son), then matter can come from God without compromising God’s nature. Moreover, God would be neither master nor victim of matter’s nature, since God’s relation to matter would be nothing more than a reiteration of the Father’s relation to the Son.[13]:92–93

Question: Was Nicean Trinitarianism always a key part of Christian belief?

There is abundant evidence that “Trinitarianism”, as now understood by the majority of Protestants and Catholics was not present in the Early Christian Church

Since the Nicene Creed was first adopted in A.D. 325, it seems clear that there were many Christians in the first centuries following the resurrection of Christ who did not use it. Those who oppose calling the Latter-day Saints "Christians" need to explain whether Peter and Paul are "Christians," since they lived and practiced Christianity at a time when there was no Nicene Creed, and no Trinitarianism in the current sense.

Critics may try to argue that the Nicene Creed is merely a statement of Biblical principles, but Bible scholarship is very clear that the Nicene Creed was an innovation.

There is abundant evidence that “Trinitarianism”, as now understood by the majority of Protestants and Catholics was not present in the Early Christian Church.

When we turn to the problem of the doctrine of the Trinity, we are confronted by a peculiarly contradictory situation; On the one hand, the history of Christian theology and of dogma teaches us to regard the dogma of the Trinity as the distinctive element in the Christian Idea of God, that which distinguishes it from the Idea of God in Judaism and in Islam, and indeed, in all forms of rational Theism. Judaism, Islam, and rational Theism are Unitarian. On the other hand, we must honestly admit that the doctrine of the Trinity did not form part of the early Christian—New Testament—message, nor has it ever been a central article of faith in the religious life of the Christian Church as a whole, at any period in its history.[14]

Question: Why was Nicean Trinitarianism introduced at all?

People tried a ‘new’ way of talking about God because of disputes about the nature and mission of Christ

Let us return to the second century, when it was first sensed that the formulations of the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers were not sufficient to describe the nature of the divinity. A new way of doing this was attempted. Thus the so-called Monarchian controversy occurred... In addition to the Modalists (such as Sabellius), for whom Christ and the Holy Spirit were modes in which one Godhead appeared, there the Dynamists or Adoptionists, who conceived of Christ either as a man who was raised up by being adopted by God, or as a man filled with God's power.[15]

Simply put, people tried a ‘new’ way of talking about God because of disputes about the nature and mission of Christ. In the LDS view, this is because the loss of revelation to the Apostles (due to the apostasy) meant that Christianity was divided about key issues. No one had a good way to resolve the questions, and so they turned to the best intellectual tools they had—they merged Christian theology with Greek philosophy.

Father Charles Curran, a Roman Catholic priest, said,

We [the Christians] went through the problem of appropriating the word in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries with the great trinitarian and Christalogical [check spelling] councils where we finally came to the conclusion of three persons in God and two natures in Jesus. Many people at the time said, ‘Well, you can’t say that because those words aren’t in the scriptures.’ That’s right, they aren’t in the scriptures, they are borrowed from Greek philosophy, but they are the on-going account of the believing community to understand, appropriate and live the word of God in its own circumstances.[16]

Question: What were early Christian beliefs on the nature of God?

We do know that Christian orthodoxy before Nicaea was not the Trinitarian creeds now popular

'Subordinationism', it is true, was pre-Nicean orthodoxy.[17]

‘Subordinationism’ is a doctrine which means that Jesus and/or the Holy Ghost are ‘subordinate’ or ‘subject’ to God the Father. In subordinationism, Jesus must be a separate being from the Father, because you can’t be subject to yourself! This was the orthodox position before the Nicean council. Ideas that were once orthodox were later considered unacceptable after the councils altered and added to the doctrine.

Writers who are usually reckoned orthodox but who lived a century or two centuries before the outbreak of the Arian Controversy, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian and Novatian and Justin Martyr, held some views which would later, in the fourth century, have been branded heretical...Irenaeus and Tertullian both believed that God had not always been a Trinity but had at some point put forth the Son and the Spirit so as to be distinct from him. Tertullian, borrowing from Stoicism, believed that God was material (though only of a very refined material, a kind of thinking gas), so that his statement that Father, Son and Spirit were 'of one substance', beautifully orthodox though it sounds, was of a corporeality which would have profoundly shocked Origen, Athanasius and the Cappadocian theologians, had they known of it.[18]


It [subordinationism] is a characteristic tendency in much Christian teaching of the first three centuries, and is a marked feature of such otherwise orthodox Fathers as St. Justin and Origen…Where the doctrine [of the Trinity] was elaborated, as e.g. in the writing of the Apologists, the language remained on the whole indefinite, and, from a later standpoint, was even partly unorthodox. Sometimes it was not free from a certain subordinationism.[19]

Christians whose ideas were completely orthodox earlier would have been considered ‘heretics’

So, Christians whose ideas were completely orthodox earlier would have been considered ‘heretics’ (i.e. going against the accepted doctrine) after the Nicean councils. This seems to be clear evidence that the doctrine was radically changed.

One also notes that Paul and the other New Testament writers would have been likewise ‘unorthodox’. Eusebius, an early Church historian, was even termed "blatantly subordinationist" by a Catholic author.[20]

Even after the Trinitarian ideas were formed, there were three ‘camps’ of believers that understood the matter in very different ways:

If such was the teaching of Athanasius and his allies [i.e. homousis as numerical unity of substance, rather than ‘the same kind of being’ in the three persons of the Godhead] , at least three types of theology found shelter at different times in the anti-Nicean camp. The first, indefinite, on occasion ambiguous on the crucial issues, but on the whole conciliatory, reflects the attitude of the great conservative 'middle party'.... Its positive doctrine is that there are three divine hypostases [i.e. persons], separate in rank and glory but united in harmony of will.[21]

Thus, most believers initially believed that there were three persons with a united will. It was only later that this group was “won over” to Athanasius and his group’s brand of Trinitarianism, which is the basis for today’s understanding in most of Christianity. Indeed, Athanasius and his cadre were decidedly in the minority:

The victory over Arianism achieved at the Council was really a victory snatched by the superior energy and decision of a small minority with the aid of half-hearted allies. The majority did not like the business at all, and strongly disapproved of the introduction into the Creed . . . of new and untraditional and unscriptural terms.[22]

And, there is a noted tendency for some Christian writers to assume that the way they understand the nature of God is the only way in which anyone could have understood it. An evangelical scholar notes:

The view of God worked out in the early [postapostolic] church, the "biblical-classical synthesis," has become so commonplace that even today most conservative [Protestant and Catholic] theologians simply assume that it is the correct scriptural concept of God and thus that any other alleged biblical understanding of God . . . must be rejected. The classical view is so taken for granted that it functions as a preunderstanding that rules out certain interpretations of Scripture that do not "fit" with the conception of what is "appropriate" for God to be like, as derived from Greek metaphysics.[23]

Question: Does the Bible contain also the necessary elements for Trinitarianism?

These elements were new ideas that arrived on the scene after the Bible was written

George A. Lindbeck notes,

In order to argue successfully for the unconditionally and permanence of the ancient Trinitarian Creeds, it is necessary to make a distinction between doctrines, on the one hand, and on the terminology and conceptuality in which they were formulated on the other... Some of the crucial concepts employed by these creeds, such as "substance", "person", and "in two natures" are post-biblical novelties. If these particular notions are essential, the doctrines of these creeds are clearly conditional, dependent on the late Hellenistic milieu.[24]

Note that this author says that many of “the crucial concepts” are “post-biblical novelties”: that is, they are new ideas that arrived on the scene after the Bible was written. If the crucial concepts weren’t around until later, then the doctrine wasn’t around until later either. As the author notes, these ideas arose out of the “Hellenistic milieu”, that is: Greek philosophy.

It is clearly impossible (if one accepts historical evidence as relevant at all) to escape the claim that the later formulations of dogma cannot be reached by a process of deductive logic from the original propositions and must contain an element of novelty...The emergence of the full trinitarian doctrine was not possible without significant modification of previously accepted ideas.[25]

Said David Noel Freedman:

So in many was the Bible remains true to its “primitive” past [by accepting the strongly anthropomorphic understanding of God/Yahweh] and is less compatible with philosophical notions of an abstract being, or ultimate reality or ground of being. Just as there is an important and unbridgeable distance between Yahweh and the gods of Canaan, or those of Mesopotamia or Egypt or Greece or Rome, so there is at least an equal or greater distance from an Aristotelian unmoved mover, or even a Platonic Idea or Ideal. The biblical God is always and uncompromisingly personal: he is above all a person, neither more nor less.[26]

New ideas and concepts were required.

The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the 4th and 5th centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.[27]

A Catholic encyclopedia notes that Trinitarianism doesn’t really appear until the last 25 years of the 4th century:

Trinitarian discussion, Roman Catholic as well as others, presents a somewhat unsteady silhouette. Two things have happened. There is the recognition on the part of exegetes and Biblical theologians, including a constantly growing number of Roman Catholics, that one should not speak of Trinitarianism in the New Testament without serious qualification. There is also the closely parallel recognition on the part of historians of dogma and systematic theologians that when one does speak of an unqualified Trinitarianism, one has moved from the period of Christian origins to, say, the last quadrant of the 4th century.[28]

"There is no formal doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament writers"

A Jesuit [Catholic] scholar says this:

There is no formal doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament writers, if this means an explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons. But the three are there, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and a triadic ground plan is there, and triadic formulas are there...The Biblical witness to God, as we have seen, did not contain any formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, any explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons.[29]

The idea of “three” is present: but not as ‘three co-equal divine persons’ that are one being. An idea about the nature of God (or the Godhead) is present, but it is different from that which is taught as Trinitarianism.

Two authors even assert that the Apostle Paul, the four gospels, and Acts have no Trinitarian understanding:

...there is no trinitarian doctrine in the Synoptics or Acts...nowhere do we find any trinitarian doctrine [in the New Testament] of three distinct subjects of divine life and activity in the same God head...These passages [i.e. the Pauline epistles] give no doctrine of the Trinity, but they show that Paul linked together Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They give no trinitarian formula...but they offer material for the later development of trinitarian doctrine...[Paul] has no formal Trinitarian doctrine and no clear-cut realization of a Trinitarian problem…in John there is no trinitarian formula.[30]


This double series of texts manifests Paul's lack of clarity in his conception of the relation of the Spirit to the Son. Paul shares with the Old Testament a more fluid notion of personality than the later theological refinements of nature, substance, and person. His lack of clarity should be respected for what it is and be regarded only as the starting point of the later development.[31]

So, Paul doesn’t even ‘realize’ that there is a ‘Trinitarian problem’. Could this be because for Paul there was no such problem, because the doctrine was unknown to him? It was not an issue in his era, because it was not taught by Jesus or the Apostles, and no one felt the need to reconcile divine revelation with Greek philosophy.

One author asserts that the Trinity is correct, but readily admits that:

The God whom we experience as triune is, in fact, triune. But we cannot read back into the New Testament, much less the Old Testament, the more sophisticated trinitarian theology and doctrine which slowly and often unevenly developed over the course of some fifteen centuries.[32]

Question: Are there new ideas necessary for creedal Trinitarianism?

"The doctrine of God’s immateriality is, at least formally, new"

Robert Casey wrote long ago that “Origen’s development of Clement [of Alexandria’s] thought is characteristically thorough and systematic. He acknowledges that the doctrine of God’s immateriality is, at least formally, new, and asserts that the word asomatos ["no body" in Greek] had been unknown alike to biblical writers and to Christian theologians before his time.”[33] Casey also wrote that “the Christian doctrine of God was becoming inextricably involved in a trinitarian theory, the substance and form of which would have been impossible but for Clement and Origen, whose immaterialist teaching it presupposed.”[34]

Jesuit Roland Teske states that Augustine turned to Manichaeism because he thought that all Christians believed in an anthropomorphic God, which he could not accept on philosophical grounds. Teske reports that Augustine believed that in accepting the Manichee doctrine he was joining a Christian sect which rejected the “anthropomorphic interpretation of the scriptural claim that man was made in the image of God” as taught in Genesis 1:26.[35]

In a footnote to the above statement Teske writes that “prior to Augustine…the Western Church was simply without a concept of God as a spiritual substance.” Augustine apparently believed that the Catholic Church taught that God had a body similar to that of a mortal, and that belief prevented him from seeking truth within the Church.[36] Augustine tells us in another work that it was the preaching of Ambrose of Milan who helped him see that there was another way to view God, which ‘spirituals’ alone could decipher.[37]

Question: What does John 10:30 have to do with Trinitarianism?

John 10:30 was an important scripture in the early debates related to Trinitarianism

One author wrote of it:

[John 10:30] was a key verse in the early Trinitarian controversies. On the one extreme, the onarchians (Sabellians) interpreted it to mean "one person", although the "one" is neuter, not masculine. On the other extreme, the Arians interpreted this text, which was often used against them, in terms of moral unity of will. The Protestant commentator Engel, following Augustine, sums up the Orthodox position: "Through the word "are" Sabellius is refuted; through the word one" so is Arius.." [In the Gospel of] John... all these relationships between Father and Son are described in function of the one's dealings with men. It would be up to the work of later theologians to take this gospel material pertaining to the mission of the Son add extra and draw from it a theology of the inner life of the Trinity.[38]

In Greek, the masculine would be used to indicate a oneness of person or being, and neuter implies a oneness of purpose

Note that “one” in this verse is neuter, not masculine. In Greek, the masculine would be used to indicate a oneness of person or being, and neuter implies a oneness of purpose. So, read literally the verse merely says that Jesus and the Father are one in purpose or will: only a belief in the Trinity at the outset would lead one to read this as a Trinitarian passage. A non-LDS Christian scholar wrote of these verses:

The basic reason for this choice is to be found in John 10:30: “The Father and I are one” (hen). Note that Jesus is not saying, “The Father and I are numerically one” (heis), but uses a term meaning “we are together” (Greek hen, as used again in v.38: “The Father is in me and I am in the Father”). The union of the Father and Son does not blot out the difference and individuality of each. Union rather supposes differentiation. Through love and through reciprocal communion they are one single thing, the one God-love.[39]

Note also that later theologians had to contribute ‘extra’ information to solve the problem. This extra eventually resulted in the Trinitarian formulae of today.

Question: What does 1 John 5:7-8 have to do with Trinitariansim?

These verses are considered to have been added to the Bible text

1 John 5:7-8 reads:

7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

These verses are considered to have been added to the Bible text. Said one conservative reference work:

...the acceptance of this verse [i.e. the Johannine comma: 1 John 5:7-8] as genuine breaks almost every major canon of textual [criticism][40]

The early Christians never referred to these verses in their writings

Historian Paul Johnson notes:

Altogether there are about 4,700 relevant manuscripts, and at least 100,000 quotations or allusions in the early fathers . . .Thus, the Trinitarian texts in the first Epistle of John, which make explicit what other texts merely hint at, originally read simply: 'There are three which bear witness, the spirit and the water and the blood, and the three are one.' This was altered in the fourth century to read: 'There are three which bear witness on earth, the spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are one in Christ Jesus; and there are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Spirit, and these three are one.'[41]

So, the early Christians never referred to these verses in their writings. The verse in the early Greek manuscripts simply says:

There are three which bear witness, the spirit and the water and the blood, and the three are one.

But, in the 4th century, the verse had words added to it to support the ‘new’ orthodox doctrine of the Trinity:

There are three which bear witness on earth, the spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are one in Christ Jesus; and there are three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Spirit, and these three are one.

Why is 1 John 5:7–8 still in the Bible, then?

The writer Erasmus noted the problem with these verses in the 1500s, and did not include the addition change in his Greek New Testament:

On the basis of the manuscript evidence available to him, Erasmus had eliminated the passage [1 John 5:7] from his first edition of the Greek New Testament in 1516, but had restored it in later editions, responding to a storm of protest and to further textual evidence that was produced—quite literally produced--in support of the text. Luther's translation of the New Testament into German, being based on the 1516 edition of Erasmus, did not contain the passage. Although the weight of textual evidence against it was seemingly overwhelming, the proof it supplied for the Trinity made an attack on its authenticity seemed to be an attack on the dogma [thus orthodoxy sought to wrongly restore the Johannine Comma].[42]

This author explains that people were outraged that the verse was taken out. Erasmus replied that he would include it if they could show him a single Greek manuscript that contained it. Scholars believe that a forgery was produced, and (good to his word) Erasmus included the change in his next editions. People cared more about what their dogma, creeds, and councils had taught than what the word of God actually said. The above author continues:

The most pertinacious and conservative in various communions were still holding out for the authenticity of the "Johannine Comma" in 1 John 5:7, despite all the textual and patristic evidence [evidence from the Early Christian Fathers before Nicea] against it, but there was an all but unanimous consensus among textual critics that it represented a later interpolation.[43]

Many Bible translations today omit this part of the text, since it is not considered to be authentic

  • New American Bible:So there are three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.[44]
  • New American Standard Bible:For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.[45]
  • New Revised Standard Version: There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree.[46]

Question: Is modern Trinitarianism understood in the same sense by all who accept it?

There is ambiguity and disagreement among those who accept Trinitarianism

Owen Thomas, a professor of systemic theology, noted that:

...our survey of the history of the [Trinity] doctrine in the text has indicated that there are several doctrines of the trinity: Eastern, Western, social analogy, modal, so forth. There is one doctrine in the sense of the threefold name of God of the rule of faith as found, for example, in the Apostle's Creed. This, however, is not yet a doctrine. It is ambiguous and can be interpreted in a number of ways. There is one doctrine in the sense of the Western formula of "three persons in one substance." However, this formula is also ambiguous if not misleading and can be interpreted in a number of ways. A doctrine of the trinity would presumably be one interpretation of this formula . . . let us assume that the phrase "doctrine of the trinity" in the question refers to any of a number of widely accepted interpretations of the threefold name of God in the role of faith.[47]

So, there is ambiguity and disagreement still. This is not characteristic of revelation, but rather of man’s imperfect intellectual efforts to define God according to philosophical criteria. Proponents of this view have even added text to the Bible and opposed the correcting of such errors when it was discovered.

As one current thinker about the Trinity writes:

The notion that in the Trinity one Person may be the font or source of being or Godhead for another lingered on to be a cause of friction and controversy between the East and the West, and still persists today. The main thesis of these lectures, I have said, is that the act of faith required for acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity is faith that the Divine unity is a dynamic unity actively unifying in the one divine life the lives of the three divine persons. I now wish to add that in this unity there is no room for any trace of subordinationism, and that the thought of the Father as the source or fount of God-head is a relic of pre Christian theology which has not fully assimilated the Christian revelation.[48]

There is no room in his doctrine for ‘subordinationism’, but remember (already quoted above) that: "'Subordinationism', it is true, was pre-Nicean orthodoxy."

It is interesting that ideas that were once perfectly orthodox within early Christianity (like subordinationism) are now classed as “pre-Christian theology” which hasn’t yet “assimilated the Christian revelation”. If anything, this looks like a ‘post-Christian theology’ that has ‘altered the Christian revelation’. This observation is not intended to argue that subordinationism is correct in all particulars, but merely to point out that current creedal ideas are not what all Christians have always believed.

A move to change?

Some Christian theologians have recognized the above difficulties with the Nicene formulation of the trinity, and are advocating a removal of the Greek philosophical ideals that have unnecessarily clouded the issue:

If we search for a concept of unity corresponding to the biblical testimony of the triune God, the God who unites others with himself, then we must dispense with both the concept of the one substance and the concept of the identical subject. All that remains is: the unitedness, the at-oneness of the three Persons with one another, or: the unitedness, the at-oneness of the triune God.[49]

LDS doctrine rejects Neo-Plantonic accretions, but this does not make them automatically false

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[12]

Mormon arguments deserve to be examined on their own grounds for internal consistency and biblical adequacy. Not being Platonic is not equivalent to not being rational. [13]:92

"Smith would have held his own in debating with" Neo-Platonists, Gnostics, and early Christian theologians

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[12]

[I]t would be a mistake to think of Mormonism as simply rejecting the Greek heritage of metaphysics. Paulsen has done more than any Mormon thinker to demonstrate how Smith’s idea of divine embodiment would have been in the theological mainstream prior to Origen and Augustine. In fact, [David] Paulsen, who is also a professor at Brigham Young University, has done more

than any theologian of any denomination to rediscover the metaphysical depths of anthropomorphism in early Christian theology, and his work has been extremely helpful for my own project. Paulsen shows how the Mormon version of the restoration of the Church requires a strong reading of the history of metaphysics. Joseph Smith spoke plainly, but that should not disguise the revolutionary nature of his claims. I have discussed emerging ideas of matter in the context of the Neo-Platonists, the Gnostics, and the early theologians, and Smith would have held his own in debating with all three groups. Smith had the imagination of the Gnostics in his multilayered portrait of the divinities that populate the cosmos. Nonetheless, he would have agreed with the Neo-Platonists and the Christians that the Gnostics erred in identifying matter with evil. He would have liked the Platonic concept of pre-existent souls as well as Plato’s portrait of the Demiurge as being not absolutely different from the world. Indeed, his sense of the rhythmic and cyclical movement of spirits from a refined to an embodied state and back again would have led him to express great interest in the circular framework of Plotinus, but Smith would not have accepted the elitism and intellectualism built into Neo-Platonic thought. He would have sympathized with Christians who struggled to identify nature’s inherent goodness, but he would not have shared their solution in attributing infinity to God. Smith absorbed and revised so many Christian traditions, but negative theology has virtually no room in his thought. In the debates over infinity, Smith, ever the concrete thinker, would have affirmed an actual, as opposed to a potential infinity in order to defend his vision of the afterlife as an eternal progression through space and time. His cosmos was big enough for both the eternity of the divine and the infinity of matter, but his materialism left no room for one entity that is both eternal and infinite. In sum, he would have de-Augustinized theology in order to baptize Greek philosophy anew. [13]:91
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources


  1. "Are Mormons Christian?," Gospel Topics on
  2. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, "To Diognetus," The Anti-Nicene Church Fathers (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), Chapter VII. This beautiful little apology for Christianity is cited by no ancient or medieval writer, and came down to us in a single manuscript, which perished in the siege of Strasburg (1870). The identification of Diognetus with the teacher of Marcus Aurelius, who bore the same name, is at most plausible. The author's name is unknown, and the date is anywhere between the Apostles and the age of Constantine. It was clearly composed during a severe persecution. The manuscript attributed it with other writings to Justin Martyr; but that earnest philosopher and hasty writer was quite incapable of the restrained eloquence, the smooth flow of thought, the limpid clearness of expression, which mark this epistle as one of the most perfect compositions of antiquity. The author was possibly a catechumen of St. Paul or of one of the apostle's associates.
  3. Roberts and Donaldson, "Dialogue of Justin with Trypho," The Anti-Nicene Church Fathers, Chapter LVI.
  4. Gregory of Nyssa, "On 'Not three Gods'," A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Church, Volume V, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Publisher Unknown, 1887).
  5. Ibid., by Gregory of Nyssa: "What, then, is the reason that when we count one by one those who are exhibited to us in one nature, we ordinarily name them in the plural and speak of 'so many men,' instead of calling them all one: while in the case of the Divine nature our doctrinal definition rejects the plurality of Gods, at once enumerating the Persons, and at the same time not admitting the plural signification?[...]"We say, then, to begin with, that the practice of calling those who are not divided in nature by the very name of their common nature in the plural, and saying they are 'many men,' is a customary abuse of language, and that it would be much the same thing to say they are 'many human natures.'[...]"Thus it would be much better to correct our erroneous habit, so as no longer to extend to a plurality the name of the nature, than by our bondage to habit to transfer to our statements concerning God the error which exists in the above case. But since the correction of the habit is impracticable (for how could you persuade any one not to speak of those who are exhibited in the same nature as 'many men?'-indeed, in every case habit is a thing hard to change), we are not so far wrong in not going contrary to the prevailing habit in the case of the lower nature, since no harm results from the mistaken use of the name: but in the case of the statement concerning the Divine nature the various use of terms is no longer so free from danger: for that which is of small account is in these subjects no longer a small matter.[...]"If, indeed, Godhead were an appellation of nature, it would be more proper, according to the argument laid down, to include the Three Persons in the singular number, and to speak of 'One God,' by reason of the inseparability and indivisibility of the nature: but since it has been established by what has been said, that the term 'Godhead' is significant of operation, and not of nature, the argument from what has been advanced seems to turn to the contrary conclusion, that we ought therefore all the more to call those 'three Gods' who are contemplated in the same operation, as they say that one would speak of 'three philosophers' or 'orators,' or any other name derived from a business when those who take part in the same business are more than one."
  6. Gregory states: "For instance, supposing the case of several rhetoricians, their pursuit, being one, has the same name in the numerous cases: but each of those who follow it works by himself, this one pleading on his own account, and that on his own account. Thus, since among men the action of each in the same pursuits is discriminated, they are properly called many, since each of them is separated from the others within his own environment, according to the special character of his operation. But in the case of the Divine nature we do not similarly learn that the Father does anything by Himself in which the Son does not work conjointly, or again that the Son has any special operation apart from the Holy Spirit; but every operation which extends from God to the Creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit. For this reason the name derived from the operation is not divided with regard to the number of those who fulfil it, because the action of each concerning anything is not separate and peculiar, but whatever comes to pass, in reference either to the acts of His providence for us, or to the government and constitution of the universe, comes to pass by the action of the Three, yet what does come to pass is not three things. We may understand the meaning of this from one single instance. From Him, I say, Who is the chief source of gifts, all things which have shared in this grace have obtained their life. When we inquire, then, whence this good gift came to us, we find by the guidance of the Scriptures that it was from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet although we set forth Three Persons and three names, we do not consider that we have had bestowed upon us three lives, one from each Person separately; but the same life is wrought in us by the Father, and prepared by the Son, and depends on the will of the Holy Spirit. Since then the Holy Trinity fulfils every operation in a manner similar to that of which I have spoken, not by separate action according to the number of the Persons, but so that there is one motion and disposition of the good will which is communicated from the Father through the Son to the Spirit (for as we do not call those whose operation gives one life three Givers of life, neither do we call those who are contemplated in one goodness three Good beings, nor speak of them in the plural by any of their other attributes); so neither can we call those who exercise this Divine and superintending power and operation towards ourselves and all creation, conjointly and inseparably, by their mutual action, three Gods."
  7. Gregory of Nyssa, "On 'Not three Gods'."
  8. William J. Hill, The Three-Personed God (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982), 27.
  9. New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids MI, Zondervan, 1967), 1:84.
  10. JND Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, revised edition, (New York: Harper, 1978), 95.
  11. Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 44.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011).
  14. Emil Brunner, The Christian Doctrine of God (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1949), 205.
  15. Kurt Aland, A History of Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985), 1:190.
  16. Charles Curran, "Creative Fidelity: Keeping the Religion a Living Tradition," Sunstone 11 (July 1987), 45. off-site Cited in Robert L. Millet, "Joseph Smith and Modern Mormonism: Orthodoxy, Neoorthodoxy, Tension, and Tradition," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 3 (1989), footnote 14.
  17. Henry Bettenson, editor and translator, The Early Christian Fathers:A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius, (Oxford University Press: 1969), 239. ISBN 0192830090.
  18. RPC Hansen, "The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD", in Rowan Williams, editor, The Making of Orthodoxy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 151–152.
  19. FL Cross and EA Livingston, editors, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd edition, (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 1319, 1394.
  20. RL Richard, "Trinity, Holy", in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 15 vols., (New York:McGraw-Hill, 1967) 14:298.
  21. JND Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (New York: Harper, 1978), 247–248.
  22. IF Bethune-Baker, An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine, 8th edition, (London: Methuen, 1949), 171. (emphasis added)
  23. John Sanders; cited in Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 60.
  24. George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), 92.
  25. Maurice Wiles, The Making of Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 4, 144.
  26. David Noel Freedman, “When God Repents,” in Divine Commitment and Human Obligation: Selected Writings of David Noel Freedman, Volume One: History and Religion (William B. Eerdmans, 1997), 414.
  27. P Achtemeier, editor, Harper's Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), 1099.
  28. RL Richard, "Trinity, Holy", in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 15 vols. (New York:McGraw-Hill, 1967), 14:295.
  29. Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 32, 35.
  30. Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 14,16, 22-23, 29.
  31. J Fitzmyer, Pauline Theology: A Brief Sketch (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey): Prentice-Hall, 1967), 42.
  32. Richard P. McBrian, Catholicism (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1980), 347.
  33. Robert P. Casey, “Clement of Alexandria and the Beginnings of Christian Platonism,” Harvard Theological Review 18 (1925): 39–101, at page 82, referring to Contra Celsum 7.27, and Commentary on John 13.22.
  34. Ibid., 100.
  35. Roland Teske, S.J., “Divine Immutability in St. Augustine,” Modern Schoolman 63 (1986): 233–249, at page 236–237.
  36. Ibid., 237–238, with notes 25 and 34, citing Confessions 5.10.19 (Pusey translation, page 77).
  37. Ibid., 238–239, quoting De beata vita 1.4.
  38. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I–XII (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co. Inc.), 403, 407.
  39. Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, trans. Paul Burns (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1988), 5.
  40. Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago, Moody Press, 1968), 370.
  41. Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1976), 26–27. ISBN 684815036.
  42. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 4 : Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700) (University Of Chicago Press, 1985), 4:346, comments in bracket A1. ISBN 0226653773.
  43. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 5 : Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (since 1700) (University Of Chicago Press, 1991), 193. ISBN 0226653803.
  44. Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, The New American Bible (World Bible Publishers, Iowa Falls, 1991), 1363.
  45. New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation), 1 John 5:7–8.
  46. New Revised Standard Version (Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, 1995), 1 John 5:7–8.
  47. Owen C. Thomas, Theological Questions: Analysis and Argument (Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow, 1983), 34.
  48. Leonard Hodgson, Doctrine of the Trinity (London: Nisbet & Co. Ltd., 1944), 102.
  49. Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM, 1981), 150.