Nontrinitarianism is a form of Christianity that rejects the mainstream Christian doctrine of the Trinity—the teaching that God is three distinct hypostases or persons who are coeternal, coequal, and indivisibly united in one being, or essence (from the Greek ousia). Certain religious groups that emerged during the Protestant Reformation have historically been known as antitrinitarian, but are not considered Protestant in popular discourse due to their nontrinitarian nature.
According to churches that consider the decisions of ecumenical councils final, Trinitarianism was definitively declared to be Christian doctrine at the 4th-century ecumenical councils, that of the First Council of Nicaea (325), which declared the full divinity of the Son, and the First Council of Constantinople (381), which declared the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
In terms of number of adherents, nontrinitarian denominations comprise a minority of modern Christianity. The largest nontrinitarian Christian denominations are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Oneness Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, La Luz del Mundo and the Iglesia ni Cristo, though there are a number of other smaller groups, including Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Dawn Bible Students, Living Church of God, Assemblies of Yahweh, Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, Members Church of God International, Unitarian Universalist Christians, The Way International, The Church of God International, and the United Church of God.
Nontrinitarian views differ widely on the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Various nontrinitarian philosophies, such as adoptionism, monarchianism, and subordinationism existed prior to the establishment of the Trinity doctrine in AD 325, 381, and 431, at the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus. Nontrinitarianism was later renewed by Cathars in the 11th through 13th centuries, in the Unitarian movement during the Protestant Reformation, in the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, and in some groups arising during the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century.
The doctrine of the Trinity, as held in mainstream Christianity, is not present in the other major Abrahamic religions.
Christian apologists and other Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, having adopted and formulated the Logos Christology, considered the Son of God as the instrument used by the supreme God, the Father, to bring the creation into existence. Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus of Rome and Tertullian in particular state that the internal Logos of God (Gr. Logos endiathetos, Lat. ratio)—his impersonal divine reason—was begotten as Logos uttered (Gr. Logos prophorikos, Lat. sermo, verbum), becoming a person to be used for the purpose of creation.
The Encyclopædia Britannica (11th edition) states: "to some Christians the doctrine of the Trinity appeared inconsistent with the unity of God. ... they therefore denied it, and accepted Jesus Christ, not as incarnate God, but as God's highest creature by whom all else was created. ... [this] view in the early Church long contended with the orthodox doctrine." Although the nontrinitarian view eventually disappeared in the early Church and the Trinitarian view became an orthodox doctrine of modern Christianity, variations of the nontrinitarian view are still held by a small number of Christian groups and denominations.
Various views exist regarding the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Nontrinitarian doctrine often generates controversy among mainstream Christians, most of whom consider it heresy not to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Under the Codes of Theodosius and Justinian, teaching and writing against the Nicene Creed were punishable crimes, resulting in the confiscation of property, banishment, or the death of the guilty.
Members of Unitarian Universalism do not unanimously identify as Christian. Traditionally, Unitarianism was a form of Christianity that rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Unitarianism was rejected by orthodox Christianity at the First Council of Nicaea, an ecumenical council held in 325, but resurfaced subsequently in Church history, especially during the theological turmoils of the Protestant Reformation. In 1961 the American Unitarian Association was consolidated with the Universalist Church of America, forming the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Most nontrinitarians take the position that the doctrine of the earliest form of Christianity was nontrinitarian, but that early Christianity was either strictly Unitarian or Binitarian, or Modalist as in the case of the Montanists, Marcionites, and Christian Gnostics. For them, early Christianity eventually changed after the edicts of Emperor Constantine I and his sentence pronounced on Arius, which was later followed by the declaration by Emperor Theodosius I in the Edict of Thessalonica, cunctos populos of February 380 that Christianity as defined in the Nicene Creed was the official religion of the Roman Empire. A year later, the Second Ecumenical Council confirmed this in a revised Creed. Nontrinitarians dispute the veracity of the Nicene Creed based on its adoption nearly 300 years after the life of Jesus as a result of conflict within pre-Nicene early Christianity during a dramatic shift in Christianity's status.
Although nontrinitarian beliefs continued and were dominant among some peoples—for example, the Lombards, Ostrogoths, Visigoths and Vandals—for hundreds of years, the Trinity doctrine eventually gained prominence in the Roman Empire. Nontrinitarians typically argue that early nontrinitarian beliefs, such as Arianism, were systematically suppressed (often to the point of death). After the First Council of Nicaea, Roman Emperor Constantine I issued an edict against Arius' writings, which included systematic book burning. In spite of the decree, Constantine ordered the readmission of Arius to the church, removed the bishops (including Athanasius) who upheld the teaching of Nicaea, allowed Arianism to grow within the Empire and to spread to Germanic tribes on the frontier, and was himself baptized by an Arian bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedia. His successors as Christian emperors promoted Arianism, until Theodosius I came to the throne in 379 and supported Nicene Christianity.
The Easter letter that Athanasius issued in 367, when the Eastern Empire was ruled by the Arian Emperor Valens, specified the books that belong to the Old Testament and the New Testament, together with seven other books to be read "for instruction in the word of godliness"; it also excluded what Athanasius called apocryphal writings, falsely presented as ancient. Elaine Pagels writes: "In AD 367, Athanasius, the zealous bishop of Alexandria... issued an Easter letter in which he demanded that Egyptian monks destroy all such unacceptable writings, except for those he specifically listed as 'acceptable' even 'canonical'—a list that constitutes the present 'New Testament'".
Nontrinitarians see the Nicene Creed and the results of the Council of Chalcedon as essentially political documents, resulting from the subordination of true doctrine to state interests by leaders of the Catholic Church, so that the church became, in their view, an extension of the Roman Empire. Nontrinitarians (both Modalists and Unitarians) assert that Athanasius and others at Nicaea adopted Greek Platonic philosophy and concepts, and incorporated them in their views of God and Christ.
The author H. G. Wells, later famous for his contribution to science-fiction, wrote in The Outline of History: "We shall see presently how later on all Christendom was torn by disputes about the Trinity. There is no evidence that the apostles of Jesus ever heard of the Trinity, at any rate from him."
The question of why such a central doctrine to the Christian faith would never have been explicitly stated in scripture or taught in detail by Jesus himself was sufficiently important to 16th century historical figures such as Michael Servetus to lead them to argue the question. The Geneva City Council, in accord with the judgment of the cantons of Zürich, Bern, Basel, and Schaffhausen, condemned Servetus to be burned at the stake for this and his opposition to infant baptism.
The Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics describes the five stages that led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity:
By 1530, following the Protestant Reformation, and the German Peasants' War of 1524–1525, large areas of Northern Europe were Protestant, and forms of nontrinitarianism began to surface among some "Radical Reformation" groups, particularly Anabaptists. The first recorded English antitrinitarian was John Assheton (1548), an Anglican priest. The Italian Anabaptist "Council of Venice" (1550) and the trial of Michael Servetus (1553) marked the clear emergence of markedly antitrinitarian Protestants. Though the only organised nontrinitarian churches were the Polish Brethren who split from the Calvinists (1565, expelled from Poland 1658), and the Unitarian Church of Transylvania (founded 1568). Nonconformists, Dissenters and Latitudinarians in Britain were often Arians or Unitarians, and the Doctrine of the Trinity Act 1813 allowed nontrinitarian worship in Britain. In America, Arian and Unitarian views were also found among some Millennialist and Adventist groups, though the Unitarian Church itself began to decline in numbers and influence after the 1870s.
Nontrinitarian Christians with Arian or Semi-Arian views contend that the weight of scriptural evidence supports Subordinationism, that of the Son's total submission to the Father, and of paternal supremacy over the Son in every aspect. They acknowledge the Son's high rank at God's right hand, but teach that the Father is still greater than the Son in all things.
While acknowledging that the Father, Son, and Spirit are essential in creation and salvation, they argue that that in itself does not confirm that the three are each co-equal or co-eternal. They also affirm that God is only explicitly identified as "one" in the Bible, and that the Trinity, literally meaning a set of three, ascribes a co-equal threeness to God that is not explicitly scriptural.
Critics of the Trinity doctrine argue that it, for a teaching described as fundamental, lacks direct scriptural support. Proponents of the doctrine assert that although the doctrine is not stated directly in the New Testament, it is instead an interpretation of elements contained therein that imply the doctrine that was later formulated in the 4th century.
William Barclay, a Church of Scotland minister, says: "It is important and helpful to remember that the word Trinity is not itself a New Testament word. It is even true in at least one sense to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is not directly New Testament doctrine. It is rather a deduction from and an interpretation of the thought and the language of the New Testament." The New Catholic Encyclopedia states : "The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught [explicitly] in the [Old Testament]", "The formulation 'one God in three Persons' was not solidly established [by a council] ... prior to the end of the 4th century." Similarly, Encyclopedia Encarta states: "The doctrine is not taught explicitly in the New Testament, where the word God almost invariably refers to the Father. ... The term trinitas was first used in the 2nd century, by the Latin theologian Tertullian, but the concept was developed in the course of the debates on the nature of Christ ... In the 4th century, the doctrine was finally formulated". Encyclopædia Britannica says: "Neither the word Trinity nor the explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4). ... The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. ... by the end of the 4th century, under the leadership of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocian Fathers), the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since." The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: "One does not find in the NT the trinitarian paradox of the coexistence of the Father, Son, and Spirit within a divine unity."
Catholic historian Joseph F. Kelly, speaking of legitimate theological development, writes: "The Bible may not use the word 'Trinity', but it refers to God the Father frequently; the Gospel of John emphasized the divinity of the Son; several New Testament books treat the Holy Spirit as divine. The ancient theologians did not violate biblical teaching but sought to develop its implications. ... [Arius'] potent arguments forced other Christians to refine their thinking about the Trinity. At two ecumenical councils, Nicea I in 325 and Constantinople I in 381, the church at large defined the Trinity in the way now so familiar to us from the Nicene Creed. This exemplifies development of doctrine at its best. The Bible may not use the word 'Trinity', but trinitarian theology does not go against the Bible. On the contrary, Catholics believe that trinitarianism has carefully developed a biblical teaching for later generations."
Raymond E. Brown (1928–1988), American Catholic priest and Trinitarian, wrote that Mark 10:18, Matthew 27:46, John 20:17, Ephesians 1:17, 2 Corinthians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3, John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, 1 Timothy 2:5, John 14:28, Mark 13:32, Philippians 2:5-10, and 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 are "texts that seem to imply that the title God was not used for Jesus" and are "negative evidence which is often somewhat neglected in Catholic treatments of the subject"; that Gal 2:20, Acts 20:28, John 1:18, Colossians 2:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:12, 1John 5:20, Romans 9:5, and 2 Peter 1:1 are "texts where, by reason of textual variants or syntax, the use of 'God' for Jesus is dubious"; and that Hebrews 1:8-9, John 1:1, and John 20:28 are "texts where clearly Jesus is called God".
At Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema Yisrael, quoted by Jesus at Mark 12:29), the plural form of the Hebrew word "God" (Elohim) is used, generally understood to denote majesty, excellence and the superlative. The Tetragrammaton appears twice in this verse, leading Jehovah's Witnesses and certain Jewish scholars to conclude that belief in a singular (and therefore indivisible) supremely powerful God is essential to the Shema.
In John 1:1 there is a distinction between God and the Logos. Trinitarians contend that the third part of the verse (John 1:1c) translates as "and the Word was God", pointing to a distinction as subjects between God and the Logos but an equivalence in nature. Some nontrinitarians assert that the Koine Greek ("kai theos ên ho logos") should be translated as "and a God was the Word" (or "and the Word was a god"). Based on their contention that the article of theos is anarthrous, lacking a definite article, they believe the verse refers to Jesus' pre-human existence as "a god" as distinct from "the God". Nontrinitarians also contend that the author of John's gospel could have written "kai ho theos ên ho logos" ("and the Word was God") if that were his intended meaning. Others argue that the Greek should be translated as "and the Logos was divine" (with theos as an adjective), wherein the Logos is interpreted as God's "plan" or "reasoning" for salvation. According to Modalists, the Logos 'becoming flesh' refers to the "plan" or "eternal mind" of God being manifested in the birth of the man Jesus rather than the incarnation of a pre-existent Jesus.
John 10:30—Nontrinitarians such as Arians believe that when Jesus said, "I and the Father are one," he did not mean that they were actually "one substance", or "one God", or co-equal and co-eternal, but rather that he and the Father have a "unity of purpose", that they were one in pastoral work to save the 'sheep'. Arians also cite John 17:21, wherein Jesus prayed regarding his disciples: "That they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may be in us," adding "that they may be one even as we are one". They argue that the same Greek word (hen) for "one" throughout the verse indicates that Jesus did not expect for his followers to literally become a single, or "one in substance", with each other, or with God, and therefore that Jesus also did not expect his hearers to think that he and God the Father were one entity either.
John 20:28-29—"And Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed"". Since Thomas called Jesus God, Jesus's statement appears to endorse Thomas's assertion. Nontrinitarians sometimes respond that it is plausible that Thomas is addressing the Lord Jesus and then the Father. Another possible answer is that Jesus himself said, "Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" (John 10:34) referring to Psalm 82:6-8. The word "gods" in verse 6 and "God" in verse 8 is the same Hebrew word "'elohim", which means, "gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative", and can also refer to powers and potentates, in general, or as "God, god, gods, rulers, judges or angels", and as "divine ones, goddess, godlike one". Therefore, the point being that Jesus was a power or mighty one to the Apostles, as the resurrected Messiah, and as the reflection of God the Father.
2 Corinthians 13:14—"The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of you." It is argued by Trinitarians that the appearance of "Father, Son, and Spirit" together in Paul's prayer for Grace on all believers, and are considered essential for salvation, that the verse is consistent with a triune godhead. Nontrinitarians such as Arians reply that they do not disagree that all three are necessary for salvation and grace, but argue that the passage does not explicitly say that all three are co-equal or co-eternal.
Philippians 2:5-6—"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [or "which was also in Christ Jesus",] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped" (ESV). The word translated in the English Standard Version as "a thing to be grasped" is ἁρπαγμόν. Other translations of the word are indicated in the Holman Christian Standard Bible: "Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage" [or "to be grasped", or "to be held on to"]. The King James Version has: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God."
Hebrews 9:14—"How much more will the Blood of Christ, who through an eternal Spirit, offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works, that we may render sacred service to the living God?" Most nontrinitarians agree that the Holy Spirit had no beginning, but believe it is not an actual person. Nontrinitarians contend that it is obvious that God the Father is greater than the other two entities, and that a "co-equal trinity" is not explicitly taught in the passage, but only inferred.
Nontrinitarians state that the doctrine of the Trinity relies on non-biblical terminology, that the term "Trinity" is not found in Scripture and that the number three is never clearly associated with God necessarily, other than within the Comma Johanneum which is of spurious or disputed authenticity. They argue that the only number clearly unambiguously ascribed to God in the Bible is one, and that the Trinity, literally meaning three-in-one, ascribes a co-equal threeness to God that is not explicitly biblical.
Nontrinitarians cite other examples of terms not found in the Bible; multiple "persons" in relation to God, the terms "God the Son", "God-Man", "God the Holy Spirit", "eternal Son", and "eternally begotten". While the Trinitarian term hypostasis is found in the Bible, it is used only once in reference to God [Heb 1:3] where it states that Jesus is the express image of God's person. The Bible does not explicitly use the term in relation to the Holy Spirit nor explicitly mentions the Son having a distinct hypostasis from the Father.
The First Council of Nicaea included in its Creed the major term homoousios (of the same essence), which was used also by the Council of Chalcedon to speak of a double consubstantiality of Christ, "consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood". Nontrinitarians accept what Pier Franco Beatrice wrote: "The main thesis of this paper is that homoousios came straight from Constantine's Hermetic background. ... The Plato recalled by Constantine is just a name used to cover precisely the Egyptian and Hermetic theology of the "consubstantiality" of the Logos-Son with the Nous-Father, having recourse to a traditional apologetic argument. In the years of the outbreak of the Arian controversy, Lactantius might have played a decisive role in influencing Constantine's Hermetic interpretation of Plato's theology and consequently the emperor's decision to insert homoousios in the Creed of Nicaea."
Trinitarians see the absence of the actual word "Trinity" and other Trinity-related terms in the Bible as no more significant than the absence in the Bible of the words "monotheism", "omnipotence", "oneness", "Pentecostal", "apostolic", "incarnation" and even "Bible" itself. They maintain that, "while the word Trinity is not in the Bible, the substance of the doctrine is definitely biblical."
Nontrinitarian views about the Holy Spirit differ from mainstream Christian doctrine and generally fall into several distinct categories. Most scriptures traditionally in support of the Trinity refer to the Father and the Son, but not to the Holy Spirit.
Groups with Unitarian theology such as Polish Socinians, the 18th–19th-century Unitarian Church and Christadelphians consider the Holy Spirit to be an aspect of God's power rather than a person. Christadelphians believe that the phrase Holy Spirit refers to God's power or character, depending on the context. Similarly, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the Holy Spirit is not an actual person but is God's "active force" that he uses to accomplish his will.
Armstrongites, such as the Living Church of God, believe that the Logos and God the Father are co-equal and co-eternal, but they do not believe that the Holy Spirit is an actual person, like the Father and the Son. They believe the Holy Spirit is the Power, Mind, or Character of God, depending on the context. They teach, "The Holy Spirit is the very essence, the mind, life and power of God. It is not a Being. The Spirit is inherent in the Father and the Son, and emanates from Them throughout the entire universe."
Oneness Pentecostalism, as with other modalist groups, teach that the Holy Spirit is a mode of God, rather than a distinct or separate person in the godhead, and that the Holy Spirit is another name for God the Father. According to Oneness theology, the Holy Spirit is the Father operating in a certain capacity or manifestation. The United Pentecostal Church teaches that there is no personal distinction between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The two titles "Father" and "Holy Spirit" (as well as others) are said to not reflect separate "persons" within the Godhead, but rather two different ways in which the one God reveals himself to his creatures. The Oneness view of Bible verses that mention God and his Spirit (e.g. Isaiah 48:16) is that they do not imply two "persons" any more than various scriptural references to a man and his spirit or soul (such as in Luke 12:19) imply two "persons" existing within one body.
In the Latter Day Saint movement, the Holy Ghost (usually synonymous with Holy Spirit.) is considered the third distinct member of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), and to have a body of "spirit", which makes him unlike the Father and the Son who are said to have bodies "as tangible as man's". According to LDS doctrine, the Holy Spirit is believed to be a person, with a body of spirit, able to pervade all worlds.
Latter Day Saints believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are part of the Godhead, but that the Father is greater than the Son and the Son is greater than the Holy Spirit in position and authority, but not in nature (i.e., they equally share the "God" nature). They teach that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three ontologically separate, self-aware entities who share a common "God" nature distinct from our "human" nature, who are "One God" in the sense of being united (in the same sense that a husband and wife are said to be "one"), similar to Social trinitarianism.
A number of Latter Day Saint sects, most notably the Community of Christ (the second largest Latter Day Saint denomination), the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), and derived groups, follow a traditional Protestant trinitarian theology.
The Unity Church interprets the religious terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit metaphysically, as three aspects of mind action: mind, idea, and expression. They believe this is the process through which all manifestation takes place.
Groups in the Rastafari movement generally state that it is Haile Selassie who embodies both God the Father and God the Son, while the Holy (or "Hola") Spirit is to be found within every human being. Rastas also say that the true church is the human body, and that it is this church (or "structure") that contains the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity doctrine is integral in inter-religious disagreements with the other two main Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam; the former rejects Jesus' divine mission entirely, and the latter accepts Jesus as a human prophet and the Messiah but not as the son of God, although accepting virgin birth. The rejection of the Trinity doctrine has led to comparisons between nontrinitarian theology and Judaism and Islam.
In an 1897 article in the Jewish Quarterly Review, Montefiore describes Unitarianism as a bridge between Judaism and mainstream Christianity, calling it both a "phase of Judaism" and a "phase of Christianity".
In Islam, the concept of a co-equal trinity is totally rejected, with Quranic verses calling the doctrine of the Trinity blasphemous. Early Islam was originally seen as a variant of Arianism, a heresy in Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, by the Byzantine emperor in the 600s. In the 700s, many Arians in Spain considered Mohammed a prophet. In the mid 1500s, many Socinian unitarians were suspected of having Islamic leanings. Socinians praised Islam, though considering the Qur'an to contain errors, for its belief in the unity of God. Bilal Cleland claimed that "an anonymous writer" in A Letter of Resolution concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation (1693) states that Islam's greater number of adherents and military supremacy resulted from more closely maintaining correct doctrine than mainstream Christianity.
Most Trinitarian Christians consider the doctrine of the Trinity to be an indispensable part of the faith; consequently, many Christians do not regard nontrinitarians as Christians.
The ancient Egyptians, whose influence on early religious thought was considered profound, usually arranged their gods and goddesses in groups of three, or trinities: some examples of this are the trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, the trinity of Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, and the trinity of Khnum, Satis, and Anukis.
Some nontrinitarians also say that a link between the doctrine of the Trinity and the Egyptian Christian theologians of Alexandria suggests that Alexandrian theology, with its strong emphasis on the deity of Jesus, served to infuse Egypt's pagan religious heritage into Christianity. They accuse the Church of adopting these Egyptian tenets after adapting them to Christian thinking by means of Greek philosophy.
They say the development of the idea of a co-equal triune godhead was based on pagan Greek and Platonic influence, including many basic concepts from Aristotelian philosophy incorporated into the biblical God. As an example, they assert that Aristotle stated: "All things are three, and thrice is all: and let us use this number in the worship of the gods; for, as Pythagoreans say, everything and all things are bound by threes, for the end, the middle, and the beginning have this number in everything, and these compose the number of the Trinity." However, the words attributed to Aristotle differ in a number of ways from what has been published as the philosopher's original text in Greek, which omits "let us use this number in the worship of the gods", and are not supported by translations of the works of Aristotle by scholars such as Stuart Leggatt, W. K. C. Guthrie, J. L. Stocks, Thomas Taylor and Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire.
Some antitrinitarians note also that the Greek philosopher Plato believed in a special "threeness" in life and in the universe. In Plato's work Phaedo, he introduces the word "triad" (in Greek τριάς), which they translate as "trinity". This was adopted by 3rd and 4th century professed Christians as roughly corresponding to "Father, Word, and Spirit (Soul)". Nontrinitarian Christians contend that such notions and adoptions make the Trinity doctrine extra-biblical. They say there is a widely acknowledged synthesis of Christianity with Platonic philosophy evident in trinitarian formulas appearing by the end of the 3rd century. They allege that beginning with the Constantinian period, these pagan ideas were forcibly imposed on the churches as Catholic doctrine. Most groups subscribing to the theory of a Great Apostasy generally concur in this thesis.
The early apologists, including Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Irenaeus, frequently discussed the parallels and contrasts between Christianity, Paganism and other syncretic religions, and answered charges of borrowing from paganism in their apologetical writings.
Advocates of the "Hellenic influences" argument attempt to trace the influence of Greek philosophers, such as Plato or Aristotle, who, they say, taught an essential "threeness" of the Ultimate Reality, and also the concept of "eternal derivation", that is, "a birth without a becoming". They say that theologians of the 4th century AD, such as Athanasius of Alexandria, interpreted the Bible through a Middle Platonist and later Neoplatonist filter, mixing Greek pagan philosophy with the biblical concepts of God and Christ. These advocates point to what they see as similarities between Hellenistic philosophy and post-Apostolic Christianity, by examining the following factors:
The apologists began to claim that Greek culture pointed to and was consummated in the Christian message, just as the Old Testament was. This process was done most thoroughly in the synthesis of Clement of Alexandria. It can be done in several ways. You can rake through Greek literature, and find (especially in the oldest seers and poets) references to 'God' which are more compatible with monotheism than with polytheism (so at length Athenagoras.) You can work out a common chronology between the legends of prehistoric (Homer) Greece and the biblical record (so Theophilus.) You can adapt a piece of pre-Christian Jewish apologetic, which claimed that Plato and other Greek philosophers got their best ideas indirectly from the teachings of Moses in the Bible, which was much earlier. This theory combines the advantage of making out the Greeks to be plagiarists (and therefore second-rate or criminal), while claiming that they support Christianity by their arguments at least some of the time. Especially this applied to the question of God.
Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God ... These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him 'On the Three Natures'. For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes and Plato."
Again in the doctrine of the Trinity, the ecclesiastical conception of Father, Word, and Spirit finds its germ in the different Stoic names of the Divine Unity. Thus Seneca, writing of the supreme Power which shapes the universe, states, 'This Power we sometimes call the All-ruling God, sometimes the incorporeal Wisdom, sometimes the holy Spirit, sometimes Destiny.' The Church had only to reject the last of these terms to arrive at its own acceptable definition of the Divine Nature; while the further assertion 'these three are One', which the modern mind finds paradoxical, was no more than commonplace to those familiar with Stoic notions.
his so called 'non-Trinitarian' group includes the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians, Apostolics, Christian Scientists, Theosophists, Church of Scientology, Unification Church (Moonies), the Worldwide Church of God and so on.
[In the 2nd century,] Jesus was either regarded as the man whom God hath chosen, in whom the Deity or the Spirit of God dwelt, and who, after being tested, was adopted by God and invested with dominion, (Adoptionist Christology); or Jesus was regarded as a heavenly spiritual being (the highest after God) who took flesh, and again returned to heaven after the completion of his work on earth (pneumatic Christology)
The Nature of God
In the Bible, God's Holy Spirit is identified as God's power in action. Hence, an accurate translation of the Bible's Hebrew text refers to God's spirit as "God's active force".
The Holy Spirit is a term often used to refer to the Holy Ghost. In such cases the Holy Spirit is a personage."
You [Unitarian Christians] have relations and points of connexion with Judaism on the one side, and with orthodox Christianity on the other. You are in a position of vantage to absorb the permanent elements of truth and value lying at your right hand and at your left. For, looked at from one point of view, though you might yourselves deny it, you constitute a phase of Judaism; looked at from another, though many Christians deny it, you are a phase of Christianity. The paradox of the one assertion to some of yourselves is no greater than the paradox of the other to many beyond your pale
Adoptionism, also called dynamic monarchianism, is a Christian nontrinitarian theological doctrine which holds that Jesus was adopted as the Son of God at his baptism, his resurrection, or his ascension.Armstrongism
Armstrongism is a term created by those who disagree with the teachings and doctrines of Herbert W. Armstrong while leader of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG). His teachings are professed by him and his followers to be the restored true Gospel of the Bible. Armstrong said they were revealed to him by God during his study of the Bible. The term Armstrongite is sometimes used to refer to those that follow Armstrong's teachings. Armstrongism and Armstrongite are generally considered derogatory by those to whom it is applied, who prefer to be known as members of the Church of God (COG). These doctrines were also espoused by his sons Richard David Armstrong (until his death in 1958) and Garner Ted Armstrong (until his death in 2003) with slight variations.
Armstrong's teachings have similarities to those of the Millerites and Church of God (Seventh Day) (sometimes referred to as "COG7" to differentiate it from similarly-styled sects which worship on Sunday), from which WCG is spiritually and organizationally descended, as Armstrong himself had been a COG7 minister before departing the fold to begin his own ministry.
Armstrong taught that most of the basic doctrines and teachings of Mainstream Christianity were based on traditions, including absorbed pagan concepts and rituals (i.e. religious syncretism), rather than the Judeo-Christian Bible. His teachings have consequently been the source of much controversy. Shortly after Armstrong's death in 1986, the Worldwide Church of God started revising its core beliefs towards the concepts, doctrines, and creeds of mainstream Christianity. This resulted in many ministers and members leaving the WCG to start or join other churches, many of which continue to believe and teach Armstrong's doctrines to one degree or another. Eventually, the WCG changed its name in 2009 to Grace Communion International (GCI). Today, the official doctrinal position of GCI is mainstream evangelical, although there are still GCI ministers and members who do not fully embrace all of the changes.Bethel Ministerial Association
The Bethel Ministerial Association is an organization of Christian ministers. It was founded in 1934 by Reverend Albert Franklin Varnell as a way to allow Christian ministers of similar doctrine to come together. Membership in the association is open to ministers only. The specific doctrine of the Association is nontrinitarian. They believe that there is only one God, who manifests himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The association accepts the Bible as the Word of God, and practices baptism by immersion in the name of Jesus.The churches with which the individual members of the association are associated are all independent of the Association and self-governing. The Association maintains a publishing arm in Evansville, Indiana, whose publications include the periodical Bethel Link, the Doctrinal Manual, "It Does Make a Difference What You Believe", the association's website bmaministries.comand other works.
The Association also maintains a missionary program supporting over 50 missions worldwide. It also maintains a youth camp in southern Indiana called the Circle J Ranch and the Bethel Ministerial Academy.Churches with which the individual members of the association are attached are all independent of the Association and self-governing. The Association maintains a publishing arm, Bethel Publishing House, whose publications include and other works. The Association also supports a missionary program supporting over 50 missions worldwide. It also maintains a youth camp in southern Indiana called the Bethel Youth Camp which ministers to over 300 young people for two weeks in the summer each year.
The BMA is registered in Indiana although its member churches come from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida and other mostly midwest churches. BMA is organized with a Board of Directors. The current chairman is Rev Don Horath from Decatur, IL.Biblical unitarianism
Biblical Unitarianism encompasses the key doctrines of nontrinitarian Christians who affirm the Bible as their sole authority, and from it base their beliefs that God the Father is a singular being, the only one God, and that Jesus Christ is God’s son, but not divine. The term "biblical Unitarianism" is connected first with Robert Spears and Samuel Sharpe of the Christian Life magazine in the 1880s. It is a neologism (or retronym) that gained increasing currency in nontrinitarian literature during the 20th century as the mainstream Unitarian churches moved away from belief in the Bible and, in the United States, towards merger with Universalism. It has been used since the late 19th century by conservative Christian Unitarians, and sometimes by historians, to refer to Scripture-fundamentalist Unitarians of the 16th–18th centuries. Its use is problematic in that Unitarians from the 17th to the 20th centuries all had attachment to the Bible, but in differing ways.
A few denominations use this term to describe themselves, clarifying the distinction between them and those churches which, from the late 19th century, evolved into modern British Unitarianism and, primarily in the United States, Unitarian Universalism.
The history of Unitarianism was as a "scripturally oriented movement" which denied the Trinity and held various understandings of Jesus. Over time, however—specifically, in the mid-19th century—Unitarianism moved away from a belief in the necessity of the Bible as the source of religious truth. The nomenclature "biblical" in "biblical Unitarianism" is to identify the groups which did not make such a move.Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum quos Unitarios vocant
The Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum quos Unitarios vocant or Library of the Polish Brethren called Unitarians 1668 (not 1656 as incorrectly listed in some catalogues) is a collection of writings of the Polish Brethren published by Frans Kuyper, Daniel Bakkamude, and Benedykt's father Andrzej Wiszowaty Sr. (d.1678) in Amsterdam, with Pieter van der Meersche in Leiden.
Many of these works had earlier been printed by Rodecki and Sternacki at the printery of the Racovian Academy 1602-1638.Bibliotheca antitrinitariorum
The Bibliotheca antitrinitariorum, or Antitrinitarian Library, first published in 1684, is a posthumously published work of Christopher Sandius (English: Christopher Sand), an exiled Prussian Antitrinitarian in Amsterdam, who chronologically lists all the Arian and Socinian or Antitrinitarian authors from the Reformation to 1684, with a brief account of their lives, and a catalogue of their works. Rather than being a Library, as Frans Kuyper's publication (below), it is more a Bibliography.Binitarianism
Binitarianism is a Christian theology of two persons, personas, or two aspects in one substance/Divinity (or God). Classically, binitarianism is understood as a form of monotheism—that is, that God is absolutely one being; and yet with binitarianism there is a "twoness" in God, which means one God family. The other common forms of monotheism are "unitarianism", a belief in one God with one person, and "trinitarianism", a belief in one God with three persons.
While binitarianism is sometimes used self-descriptively, it is also related to the following terms:
"Ditheism/Bitheism", a belief in two Gods working complimentary or in opposition to one another and is related to "dual cosmology".Council of Venice
The Council of Veneto or Synod at Venice 1550 was a meeting in Venice of the anabaptist radicals of Northern Italy.Heterousianism
Heterousianism or heteroüsianism is a Christian belief that the substance or being of God the Father and the substance or being of the Son of God (Jesus) are different. Commonly called Arianism, though Arianism includes other beliefs in addition to this one. The teaching was developed as a response to the homoousian teaching.
The term derives from the Greek ἑτεροούσιος, heterooúsios, "differing in substance" from ἕτερος, héteros, "another" and οὐσία, ousía, "substance, being".
The hardline form of heteroousianism, in which the substance of the Father and Son are not only said to be different, but also dissimilar, is usually called Anomoeanism.Marcionism
Marcionism was an Early Christian dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144.Marcion believed Jesus was the savior sent by God, and Paul the Apostle was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.
Marcionism, similar to Gnosticism, depicted the God of the Old Testament as a tyrant or demiurge (see also God as the Devil). Marcion was the son of a bishop of Sinope in Pontus. About the middle of the second century (140–155) he traveled to Rome, where he joined the Syrian Gnostic Cerdo.Marcion's canon, possibly the first Christian canon ever compiled, consisted of eleven books: a gospel consisting of ten sections drawn from the Gospel of Luke; and ten Pauline epistles. Marcion's canon rejected the entire Old Testament, along with all other epistles and gospels of what would become the 27-book New Testament canon, which during his life had yet to be compiled. Paul's epistles enjoy a prominent position in the Marcionite canon, since Paul was considered by Marcion to be Christ's only true apostle.Marcionism was denounced by its opponents as heresy and written against – notably by Tertullian in a five-book treatise, Adversus Marcionem (Against Marcion), in about 208. Marcion's writings are lost, though they were widely read and numerous manuscripts must have existed. Even so, many scholars claim it is possible to reconstruct and deduce a large part of ancient Marcionism through what later critics, especially Tertullian, said concerning Marcion.Michael Balint
Michael Balint (Hungarian: Bálint Mihály, pronounced [ˈbaːlint ˈmihaːj]; 3 December 1896, in Budapest – 31 December 1970, in London) was a Hungarian psychoanalyst who spent most of his adult life in England. He was a proponent of the Object Relations school.Modalistic Monarchianism
Modalistic Monarchianism (also known as Oneness Christology) is a Christian theology that upholds the oneness of God as well as the deity of Jesus Christ. It is a form of Monarchianism and as such stands in contrast with Trinitarianism. Modalistic Monarchianism considers God to be one while working through the different "modes" or "manifestations" of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Following this view, all the Godhead is understood to have dwelt in Jesus Christ from the incarnation. The terms Father and Son are then used to describe the distinction between the transcendence of God and the incarnation (God in immanence). Lastly, since God is a spirit, it is held that the Holy Spirit should not be understood as a separate entity but rather to describe God in action.
Modalistic Monarchians believe in the deity of Jesus and understand Jesus to be a manifestation of Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, in the flesh. For this reason they find it suitable to ascribe all worship appropriate to God alone to Jesus also.Monarchianism
Monarchianism is a Christian theology that emphasizes God as one, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being.Patripassianism
In Christian theology, patripassianism (as it is referred to in the Western church) is a version of Sabellianism in the Eastern church (and a version of modalism, modalistic monarchianism, or modal monarchism). Modalism is the belief that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are three different modes or aspects of one monadic God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons within the Godhead – that there are no real or substantial differences between the three, such that there is no substantial identity for the Spirit or the Son.In the West, a version of this belief was known as patripassianism (from Latin patri- "father" and passio "suffering"), because the teaching required that since God the Father had become directly incarnate in Christ, that God literally sacrificed Himself on the Cross.Pneumatomachi
The Pneumatomachi (; Greek: Πνευματομάχοι Pneumatomákhoi), also known as Macedonians or Semi-Arians in Constantinople and the Tropici in Alexandria, were an anti-Nicene Creed sect which flourished in the countries adjacent to the Hellespont during the latter half of the fourth, and the beginning of the fifth centuries. They denied the Godhood of the Holy Ghost, hence the Greek name Pneumatomachi or 'Combators against the Spirit' (from πνεῦμα pneuma, spirit + μάχη machē, battle).Racovian Catechism
The Racovian Catechism (Pol.: Katechizm Rakowski) is a nontrinitarian statement of faith from the 16th century. The title Racovian comes from the publishers, the Polish Brethren, who had founded a sizeable town in Raków, Kielce County, where the Racovian Academy and printing press was founded by Jakub Sienieński in 1602.Semi-Arianism
Semi-Arianism was a position regarding the relationship between God the Father and the Son of God, adopted by some 4th century Christians. Though the doctrine modified the teachings of Arianism, it still rejected the doctrine that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-eternal, and of the same substance, or con-substantial, and was therefore considered to be heretical by many contemporary Christians. Semi-Arianism is a name frequently given to the Trinitarian position of the conservative majority of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the 4th century, to distinguish it from strict Arianism.
Arius held that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three separate essences or substances (ousiai or hypostases) and that the Son and Spirit derived their divinity from the Father, were created, and were inferior to the Godhead of the Father. Semi-Arians, however, admitted that the Son was “of a similar substance” (homoiousios) as the Father but not "of the same substance" (homoousios) as him. This doctrinal controversy revolved around two words that in writing differed only by a single letter but whose difference in meaning gave rise to furious contests.Socinianism
Socinianism () is a system of Christian doctrine named for Fausto Sozzini (Latin: Faustus Socinus), which was developed among the Polish Brethren in the Minor Reformed Church of Poland during the 16th and 17th centuries and embraced by the Unitarian Church of Transylvania during the same period. It is most famous for its nontrinitarian Christology but contains a number of other unorthodox beliefs as well.Unitarianism
Unitarianism (from Latin unitas "unity, oneness", from unus "one") is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity (tri- from Latin tres "three") which in many other branches of Christianity defines God as three persons in one being: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both extant and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God.
While the uncompromising theological monotheism at the heart of Christian Unitarianism distinguishes it from the major Christian denominations which subscribe to Trinitarian theology, Christian Unitarianism is analogous to the more austere monotheistic understandings of God in Judaism, and nearer to the concept of the oneness of God in Islam.
Unitarianism is also known for the rejection of several other Western Christian doctrines, including the doctrines of original sin, predestination, and the infallibility of the Bible. Unitarians in previous centuries accepted the doctrine of punishment in an eternal hell, but few do today.Unitarianism might be considered a part of Protestantism, depending on one's stance or viewpoint, and some exclude it from that term due to its Nontrinitarian nature. Despite common origins during the Protestant Reformation, some scholars call it a part of Nontrinitarianism, while others consider it both Protestant and Nontrinitarian, seeing no contradiction between those two terms. None of the three views are universally accepted.
The Unitarian movement is tied to the more radical critiques of the Reformation. First organized in Eastern Europe during the Reformation, Unitarian communities have developed in Britain, South Africa, India, Canada, the United States, Jamaica, Nigeria, and Japan.
Unitarians began almost simultaneously in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and in Transylvania in the mid-16th century. Among the adherents were a significant number of Italians who took refuge in Poland. In the 17th century, significant repression in Poland led many Unitarians to flee or be killed for their faith, notably Katarzyna Weiglowa. From the 16th to 18th centuries, Unitarians in Britain often faced significant political persecution, including John Biddle, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Theophilus Lindsey. In England, the first Unitarian Church was established in 1774 on Essex Street, London, where today's British Unitarian headquarters are still located.In the United States, different schools of Unitarian theology first spread in New England and the mid-Atlantic states. The first official acceptance of the Unitarian faith on the part of a congregation in America was by King's Chapel in Boston, from where James Freeman began teaching Unitarian doctrine in 1784, and was appointed rector and revised the prayer book according to Unitarian doctrines in 1786.In India, three different schools of Unitarian thought influenced varying movements, including the Brahmo Samaj, the Unitarian Church of the Khasi Hills, and the Unitarian Christian Church of Chennai, in Madras, founded in 1795.
Unitarians place emphasis on the ultimate role of reason in interpreting sacred scriptures, and thus freedom of conscience and freedom of the pulpit are core values in the tradition. Reformation is an ongoing process, to be celebrated. Constant study and new experiences can lead to new insights for teachings and community practice. In varying contexts, Unitarians seek to affirm the use of reason in religion and freedom of conscience.
In J. Gordon Melton's Encyclopedia of American Religions, the Unitarian tradition is classified among "the 'liberal' family of churches".