Alternatives to Trinitarianism

Views of God that Reject the Trinity

ancient artistic rendition of the holy trinity on the old wall

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Nontrinitarianism is a belief denouncing the traditional Christian view of divinity in which God is composed of a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The term is generally used to describe Christian beliefs that deny the divinity of God, but the term is sometimes also used to describe Judaism and Islam because of their relationship with Christianity.

Judaism and Islam

The God of the Hebrews is universal and indivisible. This is one of the reasons Jews never create images of God: the infinite cannot be expressed in a mere image. While the Jews do believe a Messiah will one day come, he will be an ordinary person, not a divinity like the Christian Jesus.

Muslims have a similar belief concerning the unity and infinity of God. They do believe in Jesus and even believe he will return in the end times, but once again he is considered a mere mortal, just like any other prophet, brought back entirely through the will of God, not through any power wielded by Jesus.

Biblical Reasons for Denying the Trinity

Nontrinitarians deny that the Bible ever states the existence of the Trinity and feel certain passages contradict the idea. This includes that fact that Jesus always refers to God in the third person and states there are things that God knows and he does not, such as the date of the end times (Matthew 24:36).

Many arguments in favor of the Trinity come from the Gospel of John, a highly theological and metaphysical book, unlike the other three gospels, which are primarily narrative.

Pagan Precursors of the Trinity

Some nontrinitarians believe the Trinity was originally a pagan belief that was fused with Christianity via syncretism. However, the examples that are commonly given for pagan trinities simply don't equate. Groups such as Osiris, Iris, and Horus are a group of three gods, not three gods in one. No one worshiped those gods as if they were ultimately only one being.

Nontrinitarian Groups in History

Throughout history, multiple nontrinitarian groups have developed. For many centuries, they were condemned as heretics by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and in places where they were a minority, they were often executed if they did not conform to the wider trinitarian view.

These include Arians, who followed the beliefs of Arius, who refused to accept the trinitarian view at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Millions of Christians remained Arians for centuries until Catholicism/Orthodoxy eventually prevailed.

Various Gnostic groups, including the Cathars of the 12th century, were also anti-trinitarian, although they held numerous additional heretical views, including reincarnation.

Modern Non-Trinitarian Groups

Christian denominations today include Jehovah's Witnesses, Church of Christ, Scientist (i.e. Christian Science), New Thought, including Religious Science, Church of Latter Day Saints (i.e. Mormons), and Unitarians.

Who Jesus Is in a Non-Trinitarian View

While nontrinitarianism states what Jesus isn't – one part of a triune god – there are many different views as to what he is. Today, the most common views are that he is mortal preacher or prophet who brought knowledge of God to humanity, or that he was a being created by God, reaching a level of perfection not found in humanity, but distinctly less than God.

Famous Nontrinitarians

Outside of those who founded non-trinitarian movements, the most well known non-trinitarian is probably Sir Isaac Newton. During his life, Newton often kept the details of such beliefs to himself, as it could potentially have brought him trouble in the late 17th century. Despite Newton's reservations on publicly discussing trinitarian matters, he still managed to compose more writings on various aspects of religion than he did on science.

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Beyer, Catherine. "Alternatives to Trinitarianism." Learn Religions, Aug. 28, 2020, Beyer, Catherine. (2020, August 28). Alternatives to Trinitarianism. Retrieved from Beyer, Catherine. "Alternatives to Trinitarianism." Learn Religions. (accessed June 10, 2023).