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The Canon of the New Testament – Part 15: The Textual Witnesses and the Trinity

By Christian

I would like to say one thing right away: This is not meant to be an attempt to quickly clarify all questions about the dogma of the Trinity. But a contribution to the discussion. If it comes to a discussion at all, because this is often wiped off the table, because the doctrine would be obvious, or the ecclesiastical scholars are convinced of it for two thousand years. Or the discussion consists of an alternating quotation of alleged ‘proof texts’.

There have been enough of these. Already in the first centuries after Christ, these discussions were held and others were finally ostracized as heretics or apostates because of deviating interpretations. But why were there discussions about the nature of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit already in the first centuries? Wasn’t this all clear from the oral tradition and the emerging canon of the New Testament?

What I often miss in discussions on this topic is a solid overview of the basics, the textual witnesses, the canon of the New Testament. Which expressions are combined and how, and especially how often they are used, gives us a fundamental clue after all. For what is written repeatedly is part of first century doctrine and thought. What, on the other hand, is not said is …? At least then it has no support in the text of the canon of the New Testament.

Let’s test this with an example from today. If you know the Disney comics of Donald Duck, you probably know Huey and Dewey. “Wait a minute!” you say, „Huey, Dewey and Louie!” (in German: Tick, Trick and Track).

© Disney

Why does practically everyone complete the list of names? Because these three always appear together in the comic and are practically identical except for the different colors of their clothes. And that makes it clear: they are triplets. Almost a trinity, because they are the same age, look the same, have the same characteristics, the same nature and form a unit. If you were to find a comic book in which the three of them did not appear together, you might even doubt their authenticity, or at least look for the reason why that is so.

But back to the topic at hand. So let us get an overview of the use of the Trinity in the text of the canon of the New Testament. In doing so, we group the overview: where are all three parts of the Trinity mentioned together and where only a combination of both.

Father, Word and the Holy Spirit are one

How often is this statement about the Trinity found in the New Testament canon? We have already looked at that in part 5 of this series. Exactly once. It’s in 1 John 5:7-8. More specifically, it was added there. The Comma Johanneum.

If it is nowhere else to be found in the canon, which was essentially laid down at the councils in the 4th century, but appears at this time in a gloss of the Latin Bible, at a time when the Trinity was also made obligatory as a doctrine at the councils, then this already speaks for itself. If a doctrine is present in a text, then one does not need to add a gloss or even change the ‘holy text’ afterwards.

That the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one is nowhere stated in the canon of the New Testament.

God, Jesus/Christ and the Holy Spirit

In these verses, God, Jesus (or Christ) and Spirit or the Holy Spirit occur:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him

Matthew 3:16 NIV

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Matthew 4:1 NIV

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

John 3:5 NIV

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Acts 7:55 NIV

how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

Acts 10:38 NIV

and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 1:4 NIV

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

Romans 8:9 NIV

And if the Spirit of him [context: God] who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:11 NEÜ

to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:16 NIV

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.

Romans 15:30 NIV

And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:11 NIV

Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3 NIV

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:13

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

Ephesians 1:17 NIV

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

Philippians 2:1 NIV

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—

Philippians 3:3 NIV

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Hebrews 9:14 NIV

who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

1 Peter 1:2 NIV

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

1 Peter 4:14 NIV

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

1 John 4:2,3 NIV

These are all text in the canon of the New Testament, which I found by searching for the German words for “God* Jesus* Spirit*” as well as “God* Christ* -Jesus Spirit” on the ERF Bibleserver, and where Spirit did not refer to the spirit of a human being.

God, Son and the Holy Spirit

These are the additional results of the search for “God* Son* Spirit“ (in German).

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Luke 1:35 NIV

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood [Some translate: blod of his Son].

Acts 20:38 NIV

How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Hebrew 10:29 NIV

Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit

These are the additional results of the search for “Father* Jesus* Spirit*“ (in German)

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Luke 10:21 NIV

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

Ephesians 1:17 NIV

Father, Son and the Holy Spirit

These are the additional results of the search for “Father* Son* Spirit*“ (in German)

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Matthew 28:19 NIV

Here, only these three are referred to, but it is not said that they are one. But there are good reasons why also this text is possibly falsified. In an article in the forum (in German) I have described this in more detail. Here are just a few arguments from the 2001 translation:

These words are missing from the parallel accounts in Luke 24:47 and Acts 1:6. All other baptismal instructions in the Bible omit these words (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:15-16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5, Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27). The ancient Christian writer Eusebius quoted this verse 18 times over a period of 36 years. The forged words did not appear in his quotations before the Council of Nicaea, but after. Ironically, this man may be the one who inserted these false words.

Summary of some arguments from the 2001 Translation not on Matthes 28:19

What are these texts conveying?

What impression do the texts give you when you read them without bias? Feel free to go through them again. Would you conclude, based on the textual witnesses, that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are something like these triplets? Or correspond to the representation of Jeronimo Cosida from the Renaissance?

Tick, Trick und Track
© Disney
Renaissance-Gemälde der Trinität
von Jeronimo Cosida

God, or the Father, Jesus, or the Son, and the Holy Spirit are named together in many texts in the New Testament canon, but never all three are presented as equal or coequal.

But maybe the equality F == S == HS results transitive: F == S and S == HS with it also F == HS like in mathematics. So if Father and Son are equal, and Son and Holy Spirit, then also Father and Holy Spirit are equal.

Naming of God/Father, Jesus/Christ/Son, Holy Spirit in pairs

So many texts can be found by these searches:

Used parts of the TrinitySearchNumber of found texts
in the NEÜ translation
Father SonVater* Sohn* -Geist*43
God SonGott* Sohn* -Geist*83
God JesusGott* Jesus* -Geist*254
Father JesusVater* Jesus* -Geist*77
Father ChristVater* Christ* -Geist*37
God ChristGott* Christ* -Geist*168
Spirit ChristGeist* Christ* -Gott*15
Spirit JesusGeist* Jesu* -Gott*41
Spirit SonGeist* Sohn* -Gott*6
Spirit FatherGeist* Vater* -Jesus* -Christ* -Sohn*12
Spirit GodGeist* Gott* -Jesus* -Christ* -Sohn*93
God and Father and Jesus and LordGott* Vater Jesus Herr* -Geist26

In other translations the number varies partly clearly, because sometimes for example ‘God’ is introduced for explanation. Therefore, in the overview of the texts, in which all three are mentioned, I had considered the Greek text in each case.

Of course, that’s way too many to look at in a video. But with this information everyone can do it himself. If one reads the New Testament completely by oneself, one can also be sure that one does not miss any passage. But one should compare several translations and for example compare the Greek text with an Interlinear Bible to see if it is written the same way there. As said, sometimes God is added by translation (e.g. God’s spirit), and with spirit ‘holy’ or ‘holiness’ is not consistently translated with or sometimes left out.

A large number of texts clearly distinguish between God, who is called Father, and Jesus Christ as Lord.

Jesus Christ is never referred to as the God.

The Holy Spirit is never called God.

I found it interesting how often a phrase “God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord” is used: 30 times I counted. I had also noticed this many times when reading the New Testament. Here is an example:

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:7 NIV

You don’t find this wording in the Gospels and Acts yet, but after that in Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st Thessalonians, 2nd Thessalonians, 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1st Peter, 2nd John .

The phrase “God the Father” and “Jesus Christ the Lord” is used at least 30 times and in at least 14 letters.

It clearly distinguishes between “God the Father” and “Jesus Christ the Lord”, and not “Jesus Christ the Son”. And the Holy Spirit is never mentioned. And only of the Father, it is said that He is God, or of God that He is our Father. Jesus is not addressed as God but Lord. This does not fit at all to the later definition of the Trinity.

What sloppiness on the part of Paul, Peter and John! Why do they confuse us with this wording? Or if you think the verbal inspiration is correct: Why does God mislead us here so much by using this wording so often instead of mentioning the Trinity correctly?

I do not want to make fun of a view or the Trinity itself. Rather, I want to show the great discrepancy between the text of the canon of the New Testament and the later doctrine of the Trinity through an exaggerated, ironic formulation. I know, now the arguments will come that there is, however, this and that text that supports the doctrine and that this is a precursor of the Trinity, etc. Could be. But that would mean that at the time of the writing of the New Testament ‘the time was not ripe’, so the first Christians, who received the Holy Spirit and some even wrote letters that became part of the canon, still did not understand it properly. It was only 300 years later that other bishops did. With the Jehovah’s Witnesses this is then called ‘new light’.

But didn’t even Jesus himself say that?

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

John 16:12, 13 NIV

Usually only the first part is quoted, but at the end of the sentence it says what the Spirit of Truth will proclaim: “What is yet to come”. To emphasize the importance of this argument, we should think about this: According to the doctrine of the Trinity, God was on earth. But God-Son was not able to explain this important – for many Christians today central – doctrine to his disciples. Then God the Father and God the Holy Spirit were added through the inspiration of the writings of the New Testament. And even together as Trinity they still could not explain it in these writings of the canon. Instead we find completely different and partly confusing statements. And then it took another 300 years until scholarly Christians really understood it and made it binding. And branded all other views as heresy.

Everyone must evaluate for themselves what they think of it. Therefore, we should take a look at it in a broader historical context.

A look at the Old Testament

What was the view of the nature of God of those who were involved in writing, reading or listening to the text of the Old Testament?

Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one. [The Hebrew echad has the meaning of alone, one, unique, singular. So it can also mean, “Yahweh is our God, an indivisible Yahweh,” or, “Yahweh our God is the only Yahweh,” or, “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is unique.”]

Deuteronomy 6:4 World English Bible, explanation from Neue Evangelistische Übersetzung

By the way, this is also quoted by Jesus according to Mark 12:29:

Jesus answered: “The most important commandment is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord [Literally: “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”].

Mark 12:29 Neue Genfer Übersetzung

The 10 ‘commandments’ (more exactly: words) as central part of the law contain also no other statement. Also otherwise you will find no statement of a trinity of God.

In the Old Testament (Tanakh) there is no statement that God is a Trinity. On the contrary, he is described as ‘one’, or ‘unique’, or indivisible.

But what about the angel of God… Yes, there are passages that can be interpreted either way. But also at most as a dual presentation of God. No trinity. But let’s not get distracted. The mass of the texts speaks of YHWH as single one. And in the most important commandments no trinity is explained either. And for most Jews there was and is no ambiguity there. Such ideas appeared only in the Second Temple period, that is, after the exile in Babylon until the time of Jesus Christ.

A look at another ‘sacred text’

And what is the message of the Koran? After all, it is considered a sacred text by a billion people. And it refers again and again to the earlier sacred writings of the Jews and Christians. The image of God here corresponds more to that of the Old Testament and not to the Christian Trinity, as these suras express:

And do not dispute with the followers of former revelation other than in the kindest manner – unless it be those of them who are bent on evil – and say, “We believe in that which has been given to us from above, as also in that which has been given to you: for our God and your God are one and the same, and to Him we (all) submit.”

Quran, Sura 29:46 Translation by Muhammad Asad

Two other passages are also important, although a more in-depth discussion will not be conducted here:

Truly, the truth is denied by those who say: “Behold, God is the third of a Trinity” – in view of the fact that there is no deity other than the One God. And if they do not desist from this assurance of theirs, painful suffering will surely befall those of them who are bent on denying the truth.

Quran, Sura 5:73 Translation by Muhammad Asad

O followers of the gospel! Do not exceed the limits (of truth) in your religious beliefs and say about God nothing but the truth. The Christ Jesus, son of Mary, was only God’s messenger – (the fulfillment of) His promise, which He transmitted to Mary – and a soul created by Him. Believe then in God and His messengers and do not say, “(God is) a Trinity.” Let go (of this assurance) for your own good. God is only One God: totally far is He, in His glory, from having a son: To Him belongs all that is in the heavens, and all that is on earth: and none is so worthy of trust as God. The Christ never felt proud to be God’s servant, nor do the angels who are close to Him.

Quran, Sura 4:171-172 Translation by Muhammad Asad

The Quran rejects a Trinity, as it was known at the time of the Quran’s writing, as a false concept.


Why is this interesting? Because with regard to the nature of God, for most Jews this is clearly described in the Tanakh (Old Testament). And for Muslims in the Koran as well. The canon of the New Testament contains perhaps more texts than those which offer room for interpretation. But the Trinity is neither directly mentioned nor explained there either. The text itself – especially the Gospels – is more in line with the understanding of Jews and Muslims. But most Christians are convinced that in the course of a few centuries after the New Testament writings, the central doctrine of the Trinity had been found. Which the writers or God in the New Testament text either could not or didn’t want. There is a great deal of literature on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. If you want to read the facts from the point of view of a critical historian, this book is instructive: How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. By the way, this is by Bart D. Ehrman, who has worked with Bruce Metzger on the canon and manuscripts of the New Testament.

Maybe one day I’ll make a video or series about it.

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