MANY people view the Trinity as “the central doctrine of the Christian religion.” According to this teaching, the Father, Son, and holy spirit are three persons in one God. Cardinal John O’Connor stated about the Trinity: “We know that it is a very profound mystery, which we don’t begin to understand.” Why is the Trinity so difficult to understand?
The Illustrated Bible Dictionary gives one reason. Speaking of the Trinity, this publication admits: “It is not a biblical doctrine in the sense that any formulation of it can be found in the Bible.” Because the Trinity is “not a biblical doctrine,” Trinitarians have been desperately looking for Bible texts—even twisting them—to find support for their teaching.
A Text That Teaches the Trinity?
One example of a Bible verse that is often misused is John 1:1. In the King James Version, that verse reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God [Greek, ton the‧on′], and the Word was God [the‧os′].” This verse contains two forms of the Greek noun the‧os′ (god). The first is preceded by ton (the), a form of the Greek definite article, and in this case the word the‧on′ refers to Almighty God. In the second instance, however, the‧os′ has no definite article. Was the article mistakenly left out?
The Gospel of John was written in Koine, or common Greek, which has specific rules regarding the use of the definite article. Bible scholar A. T. Robertson recognizes that if both subject and predicate have articles, “both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable.” Robertson considers as an example Matthew 13:38, which reads: “The field [Greek, ho a‧gros′] is the world [Greek, ho ko′smos].” The grammar enables us to understand that the world is also the field.
What, though, if the subject has a definite article but the predicate does not, as in John 1:1? Citing that verse as an example, scholar James Allen Hewett emphasizes: “In such a construction the subject and predicate are not the same, equal, identical, or anything of the sort.”
To illustrate, Hewett uses 1 John 1:5, which says: “God is light.” In Greek, “God” is ho the‧os′ and therefore has a definite article. But phos for “light” is not preceded by any article. Hewett points out: “One can always . . . say of God He is characterized by light; one cannot always say of light that it is God.” Similar examples are found at John 4:24, “God is a Spirit,” and at 1 John 4:16, “God is love.” In both of these verses, the subjects have definite articles but the predicates, “Spirit” and “love,” do not. So the subjects and predicates are not interchangeable. These verses cannot mean that “Spirit is God” or “love is God.”
Identity of “the Word”?
Many Greek scholars and Bible translators acknowledge that John 1:1 highlights, not the identity, but a quality of “the Word.” Says Bible translator William Barclay: “Because [the apostle John] has no definite article in front of theos it becomes a description . . . John is not here identifying the Word with God. To put it very simply, he does not say that Jesus was God.” Scholar Jason David BeDuhn likewise says: “In Greek, if you leave off the article from theos in a sentence like the one in John 1:1c, then your readers will assume you mean ‘a god.’ . . . Its absence makes theos quite different than the definite ho theos, as different as ‘a god’ is from ‘God’ in English.” BeDuhn adds: “In John 1:1, the Word is not the one-and-only God, but is a god, or divine being.” Or to put it in the words of Joseph Henry Thayer, a scholar who worked on the American Standard Version: “The Logos [or, Word] was divine, not the divine Being himself.”
Does the identity of God have to be “a very profound mystery”? It did not seem so to Jesus. In his prayer to his Father, Jesus made a clear distinction between him and his Father when he said: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) If we believe Jesus and understand the plain teaching of the Bible, we will respect him as the divine Son of God that he is. We will also worship Jehovah as “the only true God.”