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Trinity and Mormonism
by Marc A. Schindler
Kerry's quick comment: Marc and I go back a few years from an Internet acquaintance, and we have met once in the Salt Lake City airport for about 1/2 an hour. Marc has a marvelous sense of humor, is one of the most intelligent people I know, and has a seriously wicked (in the good sense, wicked as in awesome) quality of research which causes critics to cringe. I can only add but a couple notes to Marc's fine essay below concering the trinity, from a couple sources Marc hasn't utilized, not that he needed to, but I found them interesting and they dovetail nicely with Marc's wonderful article:
"I find a most interesting confession of a Catholic scholar concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, a doctrine held by most Protestants as well. This isn't a mistake in the Bible of a true doctrine already in the Bible, this is a man-made doctrine added to the Bible later! The Old Testament definitely does not have the trinity. "the New Testament does not specify the terms of the relationship between Father and Son, nor among Father and Son and Holy Spirit. It assumes only that there is some relationship..." He then cites Matt. 11:27; John 1:1; 8:38; 10:38; 1 Corinth. 2:10; John 14:16, 26; 17:3; Gal. 4:6; John 15:26; 16:7; Mark 12:1-12; John 1:1, 14; 2 Corinth. 4:4; Hebrews 1:3, and then notes something incredibly interesting! "...none of these texts individually, nor all of them together, express a theology of the Trinity as such." He then rather honestly notes that "It took three or four hundred years before the Church began to make the proper distinctions, to go beyond the formulations of the Bible [note this!] and the creeds alone, and to see how the 'economic Trinity' and the 'immanent Trinity' are one and the same...we cannot read back into the New Testament, much less into the Old Testament, the more sophisticated trinitarian theology and doctrine which slowly and often unevenly developed over the course of some fifteen centuries." (See Richard P. McBrien, "Catholicism: Study Edition," Winston Press, 1981, p. 347). F.F. Bruce, "The Spreading Flame," Eerdman's, 1958, flat out admitted that the word "homoousios" (of the same substance) which was judged heretical, later became the very hallmark of orthodoxy! (p. 255). In fact, this word was not even in the Bible! (p. 306). Also J.N.D. Kelly, "Early Christian Doctrines," Harper & Row, 1978, Chapters IX-X has an excellent discussion on the Trinity and its development."
And now without further ado since Marc's article really needed no introduction, though I am honored to have done so, and quite frankly it is unlikely that Marc would have minded much anyway - on with the *real* research into the Trinity:
Question: Why don't Mormons believe in the Trinity? Isn't the Trinity Biblical? (see, e.g. I John 5:7-8 and John 1:1)
Answer: The concept of the Trinity, where there is one God in three aspects, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, was developed over time in response to accusations by Greek pagans and Jews that early Christians were polytheistic. One of the great truths revealed to the modern prophet Joseph Smith was that there are three distinct members of the Godhead, although only one God the Father. Following are three items which elaborate on the issues raised by the question:
1. Historical background of the Trinity, from The Oxford Companion to the Bible;
2. Explanation of John 1:1, from The Anchor Bible: John I-XII; and
3. Explanation of I John 5:7-8 (the so-called "Johannine Comma").
1. Historical Background of the Trinity
(Metzger, Bruce M.; Coogan, Michael D.; editors. The Oxford Companion to the Bible, [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993]: 782-3. Author of entry: Daniel N. Schowalter, Assoc. Prof., Dept. of Religion, Carthage College, Kenosha, Wisconsin).
"TRINITY. Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine, it is striking that the term does not appear in the New Testament. Likewise, the developed concept of three coequal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the canon.
"Later believers systematized the diverse references to God, Jesus, and the Spirit found in the New Testament in order to fight against heretical tendencies of how the three are related. Elaboration on the concept of a Trinity also serves to defend the church against charges of di- or tritheism. Since the Christians have come to worship Jesus as a god (Pliny, "Epistles" 96.7), how can they claim to be continuing the monotheistic tradition of the God of Israel? Various answers are suggested, debated, and rejected as heretical, but the idea of a Trinityone God subsisting in three persons and one substanceultimately prevails.
"While the New Testament writers say a great deal about God, Jesus, and the Spirit of each, no New Testament writer expounds on the relationship among the three in the detail that later Christian writers do.
"The earliest New Testament evidence for a tripartite formula comes in 2 Corinthians 13:13, where Paul wishes that 'the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit' be with the people of Corinth. It is possible that this three-part formula derives from later liturgical usage and was added to the text of 2 Corinthians as it was copied. In support of the authenticity of the passage, however, it must be said that the phrasing is much closer to Paul's understandings of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit than to a more fully developed concept of the Trinity. Jesus, referred to not as Son but as Lord and Christ, is mentioned first and is connected with the central Pauline theme of grace. God is referred to as a source of love, not as father, and the Spirit promotes sharing within the community. the word 'holy' does not appear before 'spirit' in the earliest manuscript evidence for this passage.
"A more familiar formulation is found in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus commands the disciples to go out and baptize 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.' The phrasing probably reflects baptismal practice in churches at Matthew's time or later if the line is interpolated. Elsewhere Matthew records a special connection between God the Father and Jesus the son (e.g. 11:27), but he falls short of claiming that Jesus is equal with God (cf. 24:36).
"It is John's gospel that suggests the idea of equality between Jesus and god ('I and the Father are one'; 10:30). The Gospel starts with the affirmation that in the beginning Jesus as Word 'was with God and ...was God' (1:1), and ends (chap. 21 is most likely a later addition) with Thomas's confession of faith to Jesus. 'My Lord and my God!' (20:28). The Fourth Gospel also elaborates on the role of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete sent to be an advocate for the believers (John 14:15-26).
"For the community of John's gospel, these passages provide assurance of the presence and power of God both in the ministry of Jesus and in the ongoing life of the community. Beyond this immediate context, however, such references raise the question of how Father, Son and Spirit can be distinct and yet the same. This issue is debated over the following centuries and is only resolved by agreement and exclu-sion during the christological disputes and creedal councils of the fourth century and beyond.
"While there are other New Testament texts where God, Jesus, and the Spirit are referred to in the same passage (e.g. Jude 20-21), it is important to avoid reading the Trinity into places where it does not appear. An example is 1 Peter 1:1-2, in which the salutation is addressed to those who have been chosen 'according to the foreknowledge of God the Father in holiness of spirit.' This reference may be to the holiness of spirit of the believers, but translators consistently take it as the Holy spirit in order to complete the assumed trinitarian character of the verse: 'who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit' (NRSV). This translation not only imposes later trinitarian perspectives on the text but also diminishes the important use of the spirit of human beings elsewhere in 1 Peter (e.g. 3:4, 19)."
For more information on the historical development of the idea of Trinity, see the excellent summary written by Chris Bolton: http://www.inficad.com/~cbolton/trin.html
2. Does John 1:1 refer to the Trinity?
The verse in question reads (AV): "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." Many biblicist Christians ("biblicist" meaning those who build their belief upon their interpretation of the Bible) feel that the last phrase, "...the Word was God" equates Christ (the Word) with God (the Father). However, scholars of all religious stripes accept that this "Johannine Prologue", which probably formed part of an early hymn, sets up three different meanings of the word "was", meanings which aren't always easy to render into English.
The first instance of "was" uses it as a statement of existence, as if to say, "the Word existed in the beginning." The second instance is a statement of relationship, which links the Word with God. The third instance is the one that is hard to translateit is meant to indicate a "predicate," not "identity." The distinction can easily be made in Greek by leaving the article ("the") off of the noun "God"*, but this doesn't help in English, of course. An "identity" statement in English would be something like "the United States are the fifty states plus the federal government." This identifies the United States in terms of something else, like a dictionary or encyclopaedia entry. A "predicate" statement is one in which two things are linked in terms of their attributes or characteristics. For instance, a "predicate" statement in English would be something like "George Washington is the United States." This clearly does not mean that the political entitity, the United States, is one and the same as a man named George Washington, but it identifies George Washington with the United States in an intimate way.
Some notes from various scholarly sources:
Notes from the New American Bible (NAB), the official Catholic/ecumenical Bible which arose out of Vatican II.
"1:1-18. The prologue states the main themes of the gospel: life, light, truth, the world, testimony, and the preexistence of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos, who reveals God the Father. In origin, it was probably an early Christian hymn. Its closest parallel is in other christological hymns, Col 1:15-20 and Phil 2:6-11. Its core (1-5; 10-11, 14) is poetic in structure, with short phrases linked by "staircase parallelism," in which the last word of one phrase becomes the first word of the next... "In the beginning": also the first words of the Old Testament (Gn 1:1). "Was": this verb is used three times with different meanings in this verse: existence, relationship, and predication. "The Word" (Greek: "logos"): this term combines God's dynamic, creative word (Genesis), personified preexistent Wisdom as the instrument of God's creative activity (Proverbs), and the ultimate intelligibility of reality (Hellenistic philosophy). "With God": the Greek preposition here connotes communication with another. "was God": lack of a definite article with "God" in Greek signifies predication rather than identification." (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, The New American Bible [Iowa Falls, World Bible Publishers, 1991]: 1137) [emphasis added]
The original Greek reads: [Novum Testamentum Graece]
"En arkhé én ho logos, kai ho logos én pros ton theon, kai theos én ho logos." (Aland, Kurt; et. al.; editors, The Greek New Testament [Stuttgart, Württemberg Bible Society, 1968]: 320)
The word for "was" is "én" and the article ("the") is "ho" or "ton". Note that in the third phrase, there is no article in front of "theos" ("God") ("kai" means "and").
Here's more detail on this from the Anchor Bible:
"'was the Word.' Since Chrysostom's time, commentators have recognized that each of the three uses of 'was' in vs. 1 has a different connotation: existence, relationship, and predication respectively. 'The Word was' is akin to the 'I am' statements of Jesus in the Gospel proper...There can be no speculation about how the Word came to be, for the Word simply was....
"'was God.' Vs. 1c has been the subject of prolonged discussion, for it is a crucial text pertaining to Jesus' divinity. There is no article before 'theos' as there was in 1b. Some explain this with the simple grammatical rule that predicate nouns are generally anarthrous. However, while 'theos' is most probably the predicate, such a rule does not necessarily hold for a statement of identity as, for instance, in the 'I am' formulae (John 11:25; 14:6 - with the article). To preserve in English the different nuance of 'theos' with and without the article, some (Moffatt) would translate, 'The Word was divine." But this seems too weak; and after all, there is in Greek an adjective for 'divine' ('theios') which the author did not choose to use. Haenchen, p. 313/88, objects to this latter point because he thinks that such an adjective smacks of literary Greek not in the Johannine vocabulary. The NEB paraphrases the line: 'What God was, the Word was'; and this is certainly better than 'divine.' Yet for a modern Christian reader whose trinitarian background has accustomed him to thinking of 'God' as a larger concept than 'God the Father,' the translation 'The Word was God' is quite correct."
In other words, the Word was divinea member of the Godheadbut the Greek original simply does not support the reading that the Word was God (predicate, yes, identity, no); what does support this reading is the "modern Christian reader['s]...trinitarian background." And this is precisely what I have proposed in the introduction to this exegesis: that quoting this scripture as evidence for the trinity (specifically that Jesus is consubstantial with God the Father) begs the questionit is that which is to be proved which forms the premise upon which the proof is based.
(Brown, Raymond. The Anchor Bible: vol. 29The Gospel According to John I-XII. [Garden City NY, Doubleday, 1966]: 4-5).
3. Doesn't I John 5:7-8 clearly refer to the Trinity?
I John 5:7-8 (AV)
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
The portion of I John 5:7-8 highlighted in bold has long given Biblical scholars pause for thought. This "fragment" has been scrutinzed so thoroughly that it has a special name: the Johannine Comma, a comma in this sense being a portion of a sentence or phrase, with the implication being of something that has been inserted.
The Johannine Comma is a scripture which is used by some Christians, especially those of the evangelical or conservative persuasions, as proof of the doctrine of Trinity. "The Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." What could be more straightforward an indication that the godhead is one, just like the Nicene Creed says? However, translations newer than the Authorised Version (the King James Version, the official Bible of the LDS Church in English) omit the Comma, almost without exception.
For instance, the NAB excludes the Johannine Comma:
I John 5:7-8 (NAB)
So there are three that testify,
the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.
(Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, The New American Bible, [World Bible Publishers, Iowa Falls, 1991]: 1363).
The Greek New Testament, the original New Testament (as compiled by modern scholars from the extant manuscripts) also omits the Comma:
"hoti treis eisin hoi martyrountes, to pneuma kai to hydór kai to haima, kai hoi treis eis to hen eisin."
[literal translation] "Then three (there are) which witness,
"the spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are the of one.")
(Aland, Kurt; et. al.; editors, The Greek New Testament [Stuttgart, Württemberg Bible Society, 1968]: 824)
How did the Johannine Comma make it into the AV in the first place, and why have other, subsequent translations excised it? And, finally, should the fact that our official English Bible, the AV, still contains the Johannine Comma be cause for concern?
First of all, there are stylistic reasons for doubting the authenticity of the Johannine Comma. References to the Holy Spirit and the Word personified are not found anywhere else in the writings of John, neither in the epistles, nor in the Gospel. The closest reference to the Word is in the Prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-5), where the Word was with "God", and "was God"there is no conjoining of the Word with the Father specifically phrased that way. In other words, it's clear that the Word was Jesus Christ, or God the Son, but the word used in John 1:1 for God the Father is the non-specific "God", not "the Father." There was no need to be specific since the controversy of the trinity had not yet arisen. The fact that the Johannine Comma does explicitly refer to the Father conjoined with the Word would not be necessary if it had been written in the First Century AD.
Likewise the Comma's doctrine of the Spirit bearing witness both in heaven and on earth sounds suspiciously like a neo-hellenistic concept which seems to represent the Holy Ghost as a member of a ruling troika, much like the leadership of the Roman Empire was a duality during the later days of early Christianity (post 3rd century)this heaven and earth duality is a concept for which there was no need in the first century, so one has to question its place in a document which purports to be a first century writing. It is, put simply, an anachronism, like finding a Porsche in Camelot.
There are other passage in the New Testament which mention three divinities (e.g. Matthew 28:19), but even that scripture does not claim they are one; only the Comma has the sophistication of 4th-century trinitarianism.
Even conservative Protestant scholars are acquainted with the sordid history of the Comma. The Canadian conservative scholar Norman Geisler, after relating briefly the story of how the Comma made it into the AV in the first place, criticizes the Comma, writing that " the acceptance of this verse as genuine breaks almost every major canon of textual criticism." (Geisler, Norman L.; Nix, William E. A General Introduction to the Bible, [Chicago, Moody Press, 1968]: 370).
How did the Johannine Comma make it into the King James Version (AV) in the first place? It is often assumed that the AV is a translation from the original Greek and Hebrew texts, but in fact it is actually a version. The AV was first published in 1611to solve a political problem. The Hampton Court Conference, which was convened in 1604 soon after the Protestant James I succeeded Elizabeth I, dealt with political pressure from Puritans for a modern translation that was not a Catholic Bible by commissioning the AV "translation" which was in fact based on previous versions and translations, including the Bishop's Bible, the Great Bible, and the versions of William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale. Tyndale's New Testament, the final version of which came out in 1525, was based on Luther's German Bible with some "improvements" from the Greek text. The only direct, pure translations of the English Bible until modern times were translated from the Latin Vulgatenot only Catholic Bibles, but even the first complete English Bible, Wycliffe's Bible of 1382.
Tyndale knew at least some Greek, and he was the first English translator to refer to Greek texts. The apparatus of manuscripts he used was one which had just been published in 1516 by that amazing Renaissance man, Desiderius Erasmus.
Erasmus had basically five more-or-less complete manuscripts at his disposal to create this first Greek Textus Receptus. Perhaps because of a combination of his haste to publish and the pressure he was subjected to from certain sources, Erasmus fell into a trap concerning the Comma. As Geisler relates,
"There is virtually no textual support for the Authorized Version reading [of the Comma] in any Greek manuscript, although there is ample support in the Vulgate. Therefore, when Erasmus was challenged as to why he did not include the reading in his Greek text edition of 1516 and 1519, he hastily replied that if anyone could produce even one Greek manuscript with the reading, he would include it in his next edition. One sixteenth century Greek minuscule (the 1520 manuscript of the Franciscan friar Froy, or Roy) was found, and Erasmus complied with his promise in his 1522 edition [third edition]. The King James Version followed Erasmus' Greek text, and on the basis of a single testimony from an insignificant and late manuscript all of the weight and authority of some 5,000 Greek manuscripts were disregarded in favor of this text. " (Geisler, Norman L.; Nix, William E. A General Introduction to the Bible, [Chicago, Moody Press, 1968]: 370).
Although Geisler overstates the number of Greek mss. which Erasmus would have had access to, the point is that all the Greek textual evidenceas opposed to Latin textual evidencepoints to the Comma being much later than the rest of the Epistle and therefore its inclusion is spurious. However, because he did end up including it in the Textus Receptus, it ended up eventually in the King James Bible we use today.
If the Johannine Comma is spurious in the sense of being anachronistic with respect to the Epistle of John, where did it in fact come from? The key to understanding its origin lies with the history of the Latin Vulgate in mediaeval Spain. Even in the Vulgate (not to mention the Old Latin version upon which Jerome based his Vulgate) the Comma does not appear until the seventh century, and even there it appears only in mss. of Spanish provenance. We know that the primary critic of Erasmus's omission of the Comma in his first two editions was D. Lopez de Zuñiga, the editor of Cardinal Ximénes's Complutensian Polyglot Bible which was roughly contemporary with Erasmus's first edition. An Englishman named E. Lee also criticized Erasmus in 1520 for omitting the Comma, and it was to Lee that Erasmus made his famous response that if but one Greek ms. could be found with the Comma, he would include it in his next edition. The Codex Montefortianus was promptly offered up by one Friar Roy (or Froy), and although Erasmus and many others felt it was a deliberate forgery, Erasmus felt honour-bound to include it. Tyndale was one of those who suspected the provenance of Montefortianus as well, so in his English translation he put the Comma in brackets to indicate his doubt as to its authenticity. However, Erasmus's reputation as a scholar was so great that future scholars, not knowing the circumstances surrounding the inclusion of the Comma, assumed it was genuine, and thus it ended up more or less permanently in the Textus Receptus until modern days when the Nestlé Greek New Testament (and its current incarnation, the Aland-Black Greek New Testament) finally got around to correcting a centuries-old error.
The first known mention of the Comma was from the Latin Church Father Priscillian, who mentions it in his Liber apologeticus 1.4, written in the mid-4th century, but there's no proof he originated the Comma. Its next mention is in tractates defending what came to be the orthodox doctrine of the trinity in the century following Priscillian, but this was during a period when it was by no means clear that the "Catholic" (non-Arian) doctrine would eventually prevail. The Comma is referred to in a confession of faith by North African bishops in 484 AD (recorded in Victor of Vita's Historia persecutionis Africanae Provinciae 2.82) at Carthage. Less than a half-century later, another North African bishop, Fulgentius (bishop of Ruspe, d. 527 AD) refers to it in two tracts: Responsio contra Arianos and De Trinitate. These were written as an apology of what became orthodox Catholic belief, but were attacks on Arianism, a version of Christianity professed by, among others, the Vandals, a Germanic tribe who had crossed the Pyrenees, conquered Spain, and crossed into North Africa.
For more information on the Johannine Comma, see Schindler, Marc A. "The Johannine Comma: Bad Translation, Bad Theology," Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, XXIX/3 (Fall 1996): 157-163, from which this section was adapted.