Trinitarian Definitions

A mistake many Bible Students and JWs (and some others) often make is defining the trinity as “three gods in one person”, or “three gods in one god,” which causes trinitarians to herald an accusation of foul play, and from that they often give the impression that none of our arguments are valid. The proper definition, as given by them, is three persons in one God, or some prefer, God in three persons, not three gods in one person, or three gods in one God, or three beings in one God, etc.

Nevertheless, trinitarians likewise make the mistake of assuming that everyone should accept their re-definitions of the word person and other unique terminiology that is used to accommodate their unique explanations as a factual truth, and often cry foul play when one who doesn’t believe in the trinity would refer to Jesus and his Father in such a manner that does not recognize their definitions. In other words, to one who doesn’t believe in the trinitarian definitions, the end result of saying that the Father is God (Supreme Being), the Son is God (Supreme Being), and the Holy Spirit is God (Supreme Being), would be that there are three Supreme Beings — three Gods. Although from time to time some individual trinitarian may refer to the trinity as three gods in one god, this is not the way so-called “orthodox” indoctrinated trinitarians believe or reason on it, and they claim that when we present their Godhead in this manner, we are misrepresenting them. Indeed, when we present our view that Jesus is sent by Yahweh, anointed by Yahweh, exalted by Yahweh, etc., and therefore not Yahweh, they may claim we are misrepresenting their views (even though we present [b][i]our[/i][/b] view, not theirs), for they claim that Jesus is sent by Yahweh, as Yahweh represents the Father, but that Jesus is also Yahweh, as Jesus is also claimed to be represented in the alleged second person of the trinity. Of course, we cannot present our view of the matter without running into this; but trinitarians will often object and use this as excuse to discredit our arguments by claiming that we are misrepresenting the trinity.

We give below some definitions of terms, as given by trinitarian resources:

The doctrine of the Trinity is so complex yet so simple as to demand a divine origin for the Bible. The Trinity is three persons in one God. Stated it is simple yet the explanation has evaded man since the subject was undertaken for study. We cannot explain the how of the Trinity only the fact of it.

The work each member of the Trinity is involved in is also very complicated – the Fatherhood of God, or the perfections of Christ. Man cannot adequately explain these things so how could he devise them? — Derickson’s Notes on Theology, by Stanley L. Derickson, 1992, page 128.

God is one. God is three. There is one God and within God are three personalities. There is one essence and there is one nature. There are three persons.

The term “God” normally in Scripture relates to, not a particular person of the Trinity, but to the essence and nature of God. It refers to “deity.” There are times when “God” is used and elsewhere in the context the Word identifies “God” as one particular person of the Trinity. — Derickson, page 145.

Essence is that which gives attributes residence and is the proof of existence. Thiessen mentions of essence, “. . .that which underlies all outward manifestation; the reality itself, whether material or immaterial; the substratum of anything that in which the qualities of attributes inhere.” (Thiessen, Henry C.; “Lectures In Systematic Theology“; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 119)

Being: Being is a state of existence and essence.

Person: Person is a term that defines the totality of essence and being.

Nature: Nature is the outworking of essence and attributes. It is the total of all that a being is.

Attributes: Attributes are the qualities of essence.

Personality: Personality is that which causes distinctness between different essences. — Derickson, page 145

Ousia is a noun form which is a derivative of the feminine form of the present participle of the verb “to be” (eimi) for which the participle is ousa. Its meaning is: that which is one’s own, one’s property, substance; condition, state. In the formula for the doctrine of the Trinity God’s principle form or being is “one ousia”.

The Greek is literally hupostasis, but the “u” in a Greek word frequently comes into English as a “y”, so that is often given as “hypostasis”. It is a word which combines a preposition, “hupo” (or hypo, as in hypodermic which translates to mean under- skin) and a noun derived from the participle of the verb histamai. “Stasis”, the participle, means a standing, position, post, station, state. Thus hypostasis literally means “understanding” In the classical expression for the doctrine of the Trinity God is said to have three hypostases and one ousia. The difficulty with these two words is that sometimes the usage is reversed by the Greek Fathers and hypostasis is used to express the unity of God. Another word, prosopon, is then used in place of hypostasis.

We can diagram the different formulas for the doctrine of the Trinity as they move linguistically.

One Ousia = One Hypostasis = One Substantia = One Substance

Three Hypostases = Three Prosopa = Three Personae = three persons

You should remember, however, the understanding of the use of these terms should begin from a Neo-Platonic point of view. These are the essence, idea or ideal, not the concrete realities we usually associate with the words like substance and persons. Our difficulties are compounded because different authors among the Church Fathers used the same words in different ways or with different nuances. Moreover, the words shift in meaning as they are translated from Greek to Latin and they shift even more when they are interpreted from our viewpoint in the twentieth century.

Obtained from:

Regarding the definitions they give for substance and person, in reality we find it difficult to get any exactness from them on definitions of the terms used, for the definitions themselves are not clear so as to distinguish one from the other. It seems that the trinitarian philosophies change the meaning slightly depending on the context, so as to make their philosophy fit the context. Thus, according to many of them, hypostasis in Hebrews 1:3 does not mean “person”, but it means “substance”; thus, in Athanasian style, they will present whatever word they wish with whatever meaning they wish to give it in order to have the word fit the added-on trinitarian dogma.

While in fact in common usage each person is a being with his own individual essence — substance, sentient being, the trinitarians have come up with a completely new definition of being, using terms such as substance and essence in a somewhat mystical manner that only apply to their idea of a triune Godhead. There is a word used in the Bible that can be translated “substance” — ousia (Strong’s #5607), but it is not used in the Bible in any way like the trinitarians use it. It only appears twice: Luke 15:12,13 (the KJV translates it as “goods” and “substance”). It is true that all human beings share in having the same substance of being human flesh; this does not make them all one being, however, as each person is a separate human being. Likewise, we can say that Jesus shares with the father in being of the spirit substance; this does not make him the same being as his Father.

In regard to God, they often state that essence means something like “everything that God is”. This is the thought behind the translation of John 1:1 in the New English Bible: “what God was, the Word was”. Vaguely, they give to the term “divine nature” something beyond its usage in the Bible, as to denote uncreated, omnipotent, ominiscient, eternal (past and future), etc.

However in actual application, they run into trouble with this, for God is the father of Jesus; thus using the idea that Jesus is all that God is, then Jesus must be the Father of Jesus, etc. This, of course, is not what trinitarians believe (although in some vague way modalists do believe that Jesus is his own Father).

Nor has God received from his father power and authority, as Jesus has received such from the one true Supreme Being, his Father. There are probably a lot of points that show that Jesus is not everything that Yahweh, his Father is, nor is Yahweh everything that Jesus is. Of course, trinitarians often fall back onto the argument that Jesus is everything that the essence of God is, which is somewhat circular and still doesn’t explain anything.

God is not begotten, by their own admission, but the Son is. Thus the Son does not have the quality of God as being unbegotten. They claim that begotten in reference to his Son means that he is eternally begotten in the past and the future, or some trinitarians have stated that begotten only refers to his “human nature”, not his “divine nature” as God.

This is the phrase that is used in Greek however to describe the trinity: “treis hypostaseis en mia ousia”, (“three persons in one substance”), or “mia ousia, treis hypostaseis” (“One essence in three hypostases”). It becomes more confusing when one sees the definition of hypostasis:

“Substance, nature, or essence. Refers to each Person of the Trinity’s subsistence in the Godhead: Three divine Persons sharing one nature or essence as God.”

As noted earlier, some translations translate the word hypostasis in Hebrews 1:3 as “substance”, “being” or “nature” rather than “person”, which seems to overlap ousia with hypostasis, rather than make a distinction between the two. In actuality, Hebrews 1:1,3 shows that God is a person — one hypostasis, not three, and that Jesus is the image of the one person. — New American Standard, American Standard, New Revised Standard, Revised Standard, Today’s English (Good News), etc.

Do trinitarians mean by essence — substance, form, body, person, qualities of character or qualities of being? It is really difficult to pin them down. Sometimes they use it in one manner, such as “nature” in reference, as in spiritual substance as opposed to material substance, and other times they seem to use it as meaning the qualities of character, such as love, etc., or qualities of being, especially as regarding being uncreated. But if to be everything that God is means that one is uncreated, wouldn’t it also mean that one is unbegotten, since this is also a quality of God?

If essence means “being”, as it is defined sometimes by them, does it mean that all three persons are the same sentient being? We have never seen them state this as such, but it would seem so, since it is claimed that all three are one omniscient being, which, in effect would mean that they are all one sentient being, having the exact same sentiency. Yet, they claim that there are three totally separate individuals — persons — who all are totally and completely the same essence, everything that God is. According to them, Jesus is not part of God — he is totally and fully God. The Father is not part of God, he is totally and fully God. The holy spirit is not part of God, but totally and fully God. Yet, in contradiction to this, by some of the arguments presented, they would attribute to each person a separate sentiency, each having his own will, etc. It seems that they are not concerned with inconsistencies, claiming that we are not meant to understand the essence of the Godhead, we are only to accept it as revealed by the holy spirit (which, however, no where is such a contradiction ever actualy revealed by the holy spirit). In fact, many of them claim that not to believe this doctrine means that one is thinking only humanly,  and not with the spiritual mind, and thus, they claim, such a person who views God as a totally separate being from the being of Jesus does not have the enlightenment of God’s spirit.

In effect, what the trinitarians do is separate a person from being, thus claiming there is one Supreme Being made up of three equal persons. Within the essence of the Supreme Being they claim what they call subordination of two the persons. They claim to distinguish between a subordinatianism of essence (ousia) and a subordinatianism of hypostasis, of order and dignity. They claim that the three hypostases are equal in ousia (substance, being) but two are subordinate in hypostasis. They thus separate hypostasis from ousia in this sense.

Many of them claim that each person (hypostasis) is equal, but if we point out to them the scriptures that show that Jesus is subject to the only true God, they simply claim by adding to the scriptures that their alleged second person of the trinity voluntarily subjects himself to their alleged first person of the trinity, while in substance their three alleged person of their alleged trinity are claimed to be equal. In effect, one of their alleged person of the Supreme Being has another Supreme Being who is the first person of their alleged Supreme Being,  etc.

In summary, the exact definitions seem to be kept in vague, mysterious terms, which can serve the purpose of mystifying the one learning so much that he is awed by the terminology used. And oddly enough, some of them claim that this mysteriousness is even proof of this doctrine is from God, not man.

The “Christian” extra-Biblical trinitarian philosophy with its unique applications of terms is not found anywhere else; even the heathen trinities (trinitarians like to use the word “triad” to describe heathen trinities, although both the heathen “triads” and the so-called Christian trinity are referred to in ancient Greek by the same word, the word often transliterated as trias) do not have such a philosophy. Some of the heathen religions define their trinities almost exactly as “Christian modalist” or “oneness” believers, however.

Given the common application of a person as a living sentient being, the idea of claiming three persons as God does in effect make three gods, but trinitarians deny that the common application applies to the trinitarian Godhead. They will even accuse one who would make such an application to God and Christ of bringing God down to the human level, as though God cannot possibly be one person without being a human.

At any rate, this story about three persons in one being is not found in the Bible; it was contrived after the Bible was written. Trinitarians often don’t even seem to realize that they are adding a tremendous amount of extra-Biblical philosophy to the verses they cite for its proof, in order to force this doctrine into scripture. It is true that on many scriptures some assumptions have to be made to have them make sense. We believe that any assumptions should be made in harmony with the entire Bible as a whole rather than adding to the Bible a story about three persons in one being, etc. All the scriptures, once thoroughly examined, can be seen as in complete harmony without adding such a story.

Updated January 3, 2002, RRD

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