Friday, September 24, 2010


I'm interrupting my "What Did Jesus Teach About" series because of the following. Read at your own risk.

I probably shouldn't ask this. It's probably the biggest single can of worms I could possibly open in the Christian and Messianic worlds. However, I keep getting emails asking me questions like "Do you believe in the Trinity?" I was wondering how the rest of you answer this question.

This is my understanding of the "Trinity" issue in the Messianic world.

Most of the Messianic individuals and congregations I've encountered uphold the traditional Christian theology of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- three in One. This is a "given" in Christianity but required a bit of "tweaking" in the Messianic world because of the following:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One. -Deuteronomy 6:4
This is both a passage from the Bible and the first line in the Shema, the holiest prayer in Judaism and a prayer that is revered in almost all Messianic, One Law-One Torah, and Two-House congregations worldwide.

So God is One or, in Hebrew, "Echad". Here's where the tweaking comes in. You have to believe that "Echad" or "One" means a single unity that can contain a collection of subunits or divisions, like a bunch of grapes being "echad" or a married couple (two individuals) being "echad". Here's the problem:
The Jewish idea of God is that God is One and Indivisible. We cannot divide God up into separate parts, where each part of God is UnEqual to each of the other parts, but somehow they are one and the same. The Hebrew Scriptures describes God as an absolute One, but the Christian's New Testament describes the Christian idea of God as divisible into three parts called a trinity. In the Christian's New Testament, Jesus at one point claims to have different knowledge than other parts of the Christian Trinity. For example, Matthew 24:36 or Mark 13:32.
In another verse, Jesus does not have the same power as other parts of the Christian Trinity, for example, Luke 23:34. And in Matthew 26:42, Jesus's will is not the same as the will of the Father. Indeed, Jesus often contrasted himself with the Father, for example, in John 14:28, or Luke 18:19. Furthermore, Jesus supposedly said that the punishment for blaspheming against one part of the Trinity is not the same punishment for blaspheming against another part of the Trinity.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, however, God is One, as we read in Deuteronomy 6:4, as well as in Isaiah 44:6, where God tells us, "I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God." When Isaiah tells us that God said, "I am the first," it means that God has no father. When Isaiah tells us that God said, "I am the last," it means that God has no literal son. And when Isaiah tells us that God said, "Besides me there is no God," it means that God does not share being God with any other god, or demi-god, or semi-god, or persons, and there is no trinity.
In short, Jews traditionally don't believe in the Trinity because it requires God to be more than "One". Ask Moses and Aish also offer their reasons why Jews do not believe that Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah and why Jews do not expect the Messiah to be God. They expect him to have a divine and unique nature but to be completely human. Also, keep in mind that the Trinity wasn't formally a Christian doctrine until Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. We only have their perspective to help us believe that any individual or group (such as the Jerusalem Council in the mid-1st Century CE) believed in the Trinity before the 4th Century CE.

Now what?

As I said, to the best of my knowledge, the vast majority of Messianics, both Jewish and Gentile, adhere to the theology of the Trinity. I am only aware of a tiny minority of Messianic Jews who have the traditional Jewish view of the Messiah and apply it to Yeshua and those groups exist almost exclusively in Israel.

When I first entered the Messianic/One Law realm, I thought that the issue of the Trinity was a "done deal" but of late, I've been reading the scriptures with a different eye. I'm not trying to insult, offend, or scandalize anyone, but, depending on what part of the Bible you read, you could interpret it either way regarding the deity of the Messiah and the literal existence of the "Trinity". It also occurs to me that, with so many Messianic Jewish congregations professing an "Orthodox Jewish" viewpoint and practice of their faith, perhaps there are congregations that have a better grasp of a non-Trinity understanding of God and of the Messiah.

Anybody out there want to step up to the plate and discuss your understanding of the existence of the Trinity, or lack thereof, and why?

The floor is now open for comments. Let the mayhem begin.


Dan Benzvi said...


The Shema passage has nothing to do with the nature of God. It simply says that God is the only God.

Yahnatan said...


I'd like to leave a few of my thoughts when I have some more time, but for now I just wanted to point out that Mark Kinzer delivered a paper at Hashivenu and then the Borough Park Symposium entitled "Finding Our Way Through Nicaea" which touches on some of these issues. (The main focus is the deity of Yeshua.) I'm sure you'll find it informative


James said...

Thanks for the responses, Dan and Yahnatan. I know bringing this subject up is like tossing a sack stuffed with kittens into a room full of junk yard dogs, but I seem to have a knack for starting religious riots.

Yahnatan, do you have a link to the Kinzer paper?

Mike said...

I don't buy into it. I went to a church for many years that actually taught against the trinity idea. I suppose you can make an argument from both sides of the aisle, but personally I don't.

It would seem like some sort of an injustice for God to sacrifice himself (If he was Jesus too) for a sinful people. A perfect sacrifice needed to be made, yes, but for our creator to do it himself, just sounds off a bit to me. I think there are too many holes when you really look at it.

Thats my vote!

Judah Gabriel Himango said...

One thing to keep in mind, the word "trinity" does not appear anywhere in the New Testament.

All that said, the New Testament does record that worship of God is worship of the Lamb. Either that's idolatry or Yeshua is God. I said there,

Is Messiah the Creator? Maybe it's complex, maybe more than we can understand. I get that. But I do know that, from the writings of Yeshua's closest disciples, Yeshua is worshiped, is Lord, is Aleph and Tov. Worthy of worship.

James said...

I agree with you Judah, that the issue doesn't seem cut and dry, regardless of where you stand. I was writing my lesson for next Shabbat earlier today (I like to write for the next Shabbat while I'm still filled with the spirit of today's Shabbat) and it turned into a blog: The End and the Beginning. Without intending to, the Bible lead me into a place where it was very difficult to distinguish between Yeshua being the means by which the universe was created and being the Creator of all things.

Daryle said...

I like what Tim Hegg once said (not to denounce the Trinity doctrine) - "The Trinity is a Greek answer to a Greek question." For me, this has shed light on this question.

More so, a key thing that has helped me in considering this question is the etymology of the word English word 'person.' It comes from the Latin 'persona' which means "mask" or "character" & was used to refer to the masks that actors used in plays, with one actor portraying multiple characters with the use of different 'persona' (masks). Could it be that the early gentile believers had quite a different perspective on what the Trinity was than we do? Whereas our use of the idea of "one God in three persons" tends to 'fracture' God into separate parts due to our thinking of persons as separate people, perhaps the early gentile believers tended to think far more of one God (i.e. the human actor) Who expresses Himself in different ways (i.e. masks) for different purposes.

There is no question that God manifests Himself in multiple ways in Scripture - with the putting of Himself into a human body in Yeshua being the most incredible. I'm just not sure that it can be limited to only three. He's too big to simply formulate & our attempts to do so only damage/limit our understanding of Him. He Is Who He Is - I simply want to learn to take what He says about Himself & how He's worked in history at face value without having to put hard formulae on it.

Daniel C said...

Over the past six months I've gone from an agnostic trinitarian to a biblical unitarian. Like many in the Messianic movement I had tried to accept what the Scriptures declared without putting extra-biblical terminology. Essentially, I was an undefined trinitarian because I still believed that Yeshua is God but yet a different person from the Father (that at least made me a binitarian!).

Anyway, after about six months of study, being influenced by a movement of Christians from the denomination Church of God Abrahamic Faith, I've become a biblical unitarian. Basically, there is only one God, the Father, and Yeshua is the Son of God by virtue of the virgin birth. Yeshua did not literally pre-exist. The Holy Spirit, of course, is the operational presence of God but is not a different person than God Himself.

Here are some texts to consider:

- Deuteronomy 4:35 (notice the use of singular personal pronouns, excluding the possibility that God is more than one person).
- John 17:3 (Yeshua declares His Father to be the only true God)
- 1 Corinthians 8:6 (The Father is the one God, Yeshua is the one Lord Messiah, which harkens back to Psalm 110:1, which states that HaShem spoke to David's lord)

Anyway, I encourage you all to visit and investigate for yourselves. I highly disagree with that movement's stance on the Torah but think they're right on the money when it comes to the unity of God and their emphasis on the Gospel of the Kingdom.

James said...

Thanks for your comments, Daniel. I only had a chance to take a look at for a minute. Seems compelling. Oh, and I like the frog.

Yahnatan said...


There's an abbreviated version of the Kinzer paper at


Mike said...

Wow Daniel, small world. I went to a COG of the Abrahamic faith for years in Grand Rapids MI. Where did you run into those guys? Good people too!


Daniel C said...

@Mike: I was listening to Dr. Michael Brown's radio podcast and he was debating Anthony Buzzard. I was very compelled by Anthony's arguments. The thing that got me to keep on investigating and now affirm that perspective was/is that they don't avoid the "difficult texts" such as John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, etc, but instead provide sound, biblical answers to them. Much in the same way that I had to re-examine numerous texts in order to see that Torah had not been done away with, I've had to re-examine numerous Christological texts in order to realize that God is one person and that Yeshua is His only-begotten Son (and not "God the Son").

James said...

I just read Kinzer's paper on the Deity of Yeshua (thanks for the link, Yahnatan), which he seems to support. I'm providing a quote from Kinzer's conclusion:

The parallel between Nicene orthodoxy and the kabbalistic treatment of the relationship between Eyn Sof and the sefirot can also assist us in articulating our own understanding of Yeshua's deity in a manner that draws upon traditional Jewish wisdom. Our mission as Messianic Jews summons us to challenge the negative boundaries erected by both the Jewish and Christian communities in relation to one another, but that challenge can and should draw from the resources of the very communities that put those boundaries in place.

Obviously, Dr. Kinzer wrote his paper for a Jewish audience, but regardless of which side of this debate you stand on, the matter of Yeshua's deity is an issue that engages not only Jews in the Messianic movement, but anyone who has come to faith in the Messiah, whether we call him Yeshua or Jesus.

Daniel C said...

But what if the Apostolic Scriptures teach, which I now believe they do, that God is one person and that Yeshua is the [highly exalted] human Son of God (i.e. the Messiah)? There goes much of the issues that Jewish people have with Yeshua as Messiah.

That's not to say that salvation isn't a work of God's Spirit and that Jewish people don't need to see their own sinfulness/need for salvation, it's just that Yeshua and the Apostles didn't redefine the Tanakh's definition of God: that He's one (not some complex one but really just one). Maybe people like Kinzer have never been exposed to biblical unitarian teaching? I think they would appreciate at least the prospect of it being true.