That Christ is God, Proved to be False from the ScripturesBy Andrews Norton (publ. 1859)
LET us examine the Scriptures in respect to the fundamental doctrine of Trinitarianism; I mean, particularly, the Christian Scriptures; for the evidence which they afford will render any consideration of the Old Testament unnecessary.
I. In the first place, then, I conceive, that, putting every other part of Scripture out of view, and forgetting all that it teaches, this proposition is clearly proved to be false by the very passages which are brought in its support. We have already had occasion to advert to the character of some of these passages, and I shall now remark upon them a little more fully. They are supposed to prove that Christ is God in the highest sense, equal to the Father. Let us see what they really prove. One of them is that in which our Saviour prays: "And now, Father, glorify thou me with thyself, with that glory which I had with thee before the world was." John xvii. 5.
The being who prayed to God to glorify him, CANNOT be God.
The first verse of John needs particular
explanation, and I shall hereafter recur to it. I will here only observe, that if by the
term Logos be meant, as Trinitarians believe, an intelligent being, a person, and this
person be Christ, then the person who was WITH God could not have been God, except in a
metaphorical or secondary acceptation of the terms, or, as some commentators have
supposed, in an inferior sense of the word, -- it being used not as a proper, but as a
Turn now to Philippians ii. 5-8. Here, according to the modern Trinitarian exposition, we are told, that Christ, who was God, as the passage is brought to prove, did not regard his equality with God as an object of solicitous desire, but humbled himself, and submitted to death, even the death of the cross. Can any one imagine, that he is to prove to us by such passages as these, that the being to whom they relate is the Infinite Spirit?
There is no part of the New Testament in which the language concerning Christ is more figurative and difficult, than that of the first four verses of the Epistle to the Hebrews. But do these verses prove that the writer of the Epistle believed Christ to be God? Let us take the common version, certainly as favorable as any to this supposition, and consider how the person spoken of is described. He is one appointed by God to be heir of all things, one by whom God made the worlds, the image of his person, one who hath sat down at the right hand of God, one who hath obtained a more excellent name than the angels. Is it not wonderful that the person here spoken of has been believed to be God? And, if the one thing could be more strange than the other, would it not be still more wonderful that this passage has been regarded as a main proof of the doctrine?
Look next at Hebrews i. 8, 9, in which passage we
find these words: "Therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of
gladness above thy fellows." Will any one maintain that this language is used
concerning a being who possessed essential divinity? If passages of this sort are brought
by any one to establish the doctrine, by what use of language, by what possible
statements, would he expect it to be disproved?
To prove Christ to be God, a title is adduced
which clearly distinguishes him from God. To suppose the contrary, is to suppose that
Christ is at once God and the Son of God, that is, his own son, unless there be more than
one God. I think it evident, that the conclusion of the fifth verse of the ninth chapter
of Romans, and the quotation, Heb. i. 10-12, do not relate to Christ.
Again, it is inferred that Christ is God, because it is said that he will judge the world. To do this, it is maintained, requires omniscience, and omniscience is the attribute of divinity alone. I answer, that, whatever we may think of the judgment of the world spoken of in the New Testament, St. Paul declares that God will judge the world by A MAN (not a God) whom HE has APPOINTED.
"A man," so the original should be rendered, not "that man": Again, it is argued that Christ is God, because supreme dominion is ascribed to him. I do not now inquire what is meant by this supreme dominion; but I answer, that it is nowhere ascribed to him in stronger language than in the following passage.
"Then will be the end, when he will deliver
up the kingdom to God, even the Father; after destroying all dominion, and all authority
and power. For he must reign till He [that is, God] has put all his enemies under his
feet....... And when all things are put under him, then will the Son himself be subject to
Him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all."
It appears, then, that the doctrine under consideration is overthrown by the very arguments brought in its support.
II. BUT further; it contradicts the express and
reiterated declarations of our Saviour. According to the doctrine in question, it was THE
SON, or the second person in the Trinity, who was united to the human nature of Christ. It
was HIS words, therefore, that Christ, as a divine teacher, spoke; and it was through His
power that he performed his wonderful works.
"If of myself I assume glory, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me." John viii. 54.
"As the Father has life in himself, so HAS HE GRANTED to the Son also to have life in himself." John v. 26.
This is a verbal translation. A more intelligible rendering would be: "As the Father is the source of life, so has he granted to the Son also to be the source of life." "The works which the Father HAS GIVEN ME TO PERFORM [i.e. has enabled me to perform], the very works which I am doing, testify of me, that the Father has sent me." John v. 36.
" As the living Father has sent me, and I LIVE BY THE FATHER," John vi. 57.
"I have not spoken from myself; but He who sent me, the Father himself, has given me in charge what I should enjoin, and what I should teach ..... What, therefore, I teach, I teach as the Father has directed me." John xii. 49, 50.
"The words which you hear are not mine, but the Father's who sent me." John xiv. 24.
"If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not." John x. 37.
"The words which I speak to you, I speak not from myself; and the Father, who dwells in me, himself does the works." John xiv. 10.
"THE SON can do NOTHING OF HIMSELF, but only what he sees his Father doing." John v. 19.
"When you have raised on high the Son of Man [i. e. crucified him], then you will know that I am He [i. e. the Messiah], and that I do nothing of myself, but speak thus as the Father has taught me. And He who sent me is with me." John viii. 28, 29.
I do not multiply passages, because they must be
familiar to every one. From the declarations of our Saviour, it appears that he constantly
referred the divine power manifested in his miracles, and the divine inspiration by which
he spoke, to the Father, and not to any other divine person such as Trinitarians suppose.
III. BUT, in the third place, the doctrine that
Christ is God is opposed to the whole tenor of the Scriptures, and all the facts in the
history of Christ. Though conceived by a miracle, he was born into the world as other men
are, and such as other men are. He did not come, as some of the Jews imagined their
Messiah would come, no man knew whence.
He appears with all the attributes of humanity. He
discovers human affections. He is moved even to tears at the grave of Lazarus. He mourns
over the calamities about to overwhelm his country. While enduring the agony of
crucifixion, he discovers the strength of his filial affection, and consigns his mother to
the care of the disciple whom he loved. He was sometimes excited to indignation, and his
soul was sometimes troubled by the sufferings which he endured, and which he anticipated.
"Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say?
He felt the common wants of our nature, hunger,
thirst, and teariness. He suffered death, the common lot of man. He endured the cross,
despising the shame, and he did this for THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM. "Therefore God has
HIGHLY EXALTED HIM." But it is useless to quote or allude to particular passages,
which prove that Christ was a being distinct from, inferior to, and dependent upon God.
You may find them on every page of the New Testament.
IV. IN the next place, the doctrine is proved to
be false, because it is evident from the Scriptures that none of those effects were
produced which would necessarily have resulted from its first annunciation by Christ, and
its subsequent communication by his Apostles. The disciples of our Saviour must, at some
period, have considered him merely as a man. Such he was, to all appearance, and such,
therefore, they must have believed him to be.
The doctrines with which we are contending, and other
doctrines of a similar character, have so obscured and confused the whole of Christianity,
that even its historical facts appear to be regarded by many scarcely in the light of real
occurrences. But we may carry ourselves back in imagination to the time when Christ was on
earth, and place ourselves in the situation of the first believers.
One may read over the first three Evangelists, and it must be by a more than ordinary exercise of ingenuity, if he discover what may pass for an argument that either the writers, or the numerous individuals of whom they speak, regarded our Saviour as their Maker and God; or that he ever assumed that character. Can we believe, that, if such a most extraordinary annunciation as has been supposed had ever actually been made by him, no particular record of its circumstances, aid immediate effects, would have been preserved? That the Evangelists in their accounts of their Master would have omitted the most remarkable event in his history and their own? and that three of them at least (for so much must be conceded) would have made no direct mention of far the most astonishing fact in relation to his character? Read over the accounts of the conduct and conversation of his disciples with their Master, and put it to your own feelings whether they ever thought that they were conversing with their God.
Read over these accounts attentively, and ask yourself
if this supposition do not appear to you one of the most incongruous that ever entered the
human mind. Take only the facts and conversation which occurred the night before our
Saviour's crucifixion, as related by St. John. Did Judas believe that he was betraying his
God? Their Master washed the feet of his Apostles. Did the Apostles believe -- but the
question is too shocking to be stated in plain words.
Could they imagine that he who, throughout his
conversation, spoke of himself only as the minister of God, and who in their presence
prayed to God, was himself the Almighty? Did they believe that it was the Maker of heaven
and earth whom they were deserting, when they left him upon his apprehension? But there is
hardly a fact or conversation recorded in the history of our Saviour's ministry which may
not afford ground for such questions as have been proposed.
Throughout the New Testament, we find nothing which
implies that such a most extraordinary change of feeling ever took place in the disciples
of Christ as must have been produced by the communication that their Master was God
himself upon earth. Nowhere do we find the expression of those irresistible and absorbing
sentiments which must have possessed their minds under the conviction of this fact.
On this subject they did indeed feel most deeply; but
can we think that St. Peter regarded his Master as God incarnate, when he thus addressed
the Jews by whom Christ had just been crucified? "Men of Israel, hear these words:
Jesus of Nazareth, proved to you TO BE A MAN FROM GOD, by miracles and wonders and signs,
which God did by him in the midst of you, as you yourselves know, him, delivered up to you
in conformity to the fixed will and foreknowledge of God, you have crucified and slain by
the hands of the heathen. Him has God raised to life."
From the time of the Jew who is represented by Justin
Martyr as disputing with him, about the middle of the second century, to the present
period, it has always been regarded by the unbelieving Jews with abhorrence. They have
considered the Christians as no better than idolaters; as denying the first truth of
There is nothing ever said in its explanation. But
it must have required, far more than any other doctrine, to be explained, illustrated, and
enforced; for it appears not only irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Unity of God,
but equally so with that of the humanity of our Saviour; and yet both these doctrines, it
seems, were to be maintained in connection with it.
The doctrine, then, is never defended in the New
Testament, though unquestionably it would have been the main object of attack, and the
main difficulty in the Christian system. It is never explained, though no doctrine could
have been so much in need of explanation.
I WISH to repeat some of the ideas already
suggested, in a little different connection. The doctrine that Christ was God himself,
appearing upon earth to make atonement for the sins of men, is represented, by those who
maintain it, as a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, affecting essentially the whole
character of our religion. If true, it must indeed have affected essentially the whole
character of the writings of the New Testament.
What was the business of the Apostles but to teach and
explain, to enforce and defend, the fundamental doctrines of Christianity? I say to defend
these doctrines; for he who reads the Epistles with any attention, will not think that the
mere authority of an Apostle was decisive in bearing down at once all error, doubt, and
opposition among believers.
The intrinsic difficulty of the doctrine in
question is so great, and such was the ignorance of the first converts, and their
narrowness of conception, that the Apostles must have continually recurred to it, for the
purpose of explaining it, and guarding it against misapprehension. As a fundamental
doctrine of our religion, it is one which they must have been constantly employed in
teaching. If it were a doctrine of Christianity, the evidence for it would burst from
every part of the New Testament in a blaze of light.
With regard to the doctrine of his double nature, or the doctrine of the Trinity, it cannot, as I have said, be pretended that either of these is anywhere directly taught. The whole New Testament, the Gospels and the Epistles, present another aspect from what they must have done, if the doctrines maintained by Trinitarians were true. If true, it is incredible that they should not have appeared in the Scriptures in a form essentially different from that in which alone it can be pretended that they do at present.
V. IN treating of the argument from Scripture, I have
thus far reasoned ad hominem; as if the doctrine that Christ is God, in the Trinitarian
sense of the words, were capable of proof. But I must now advert to the essential
character of the doctrine. It admits of being understood in no sense which is not
obviously false; and therefore it is impossible that it should have been taught by Christ,
if he were a teacher from God.
Starting off from its obvious meaning, the mind
has recourse to conceptions of its own, obscure, undefined, and unsettled; which, by now
assuming one shape and then another, elude the grasp of reason. In disproving from the
Scriptures the proposition that Christ is God, the arguments that have been urged, I
trust, bear upon it in any Trinitarian sense which it may be imagined to express.
Again: the Father is God. Nothing can be added to
his infinity or perfections to complete our idea of God. Confused as men's minds have been
by the doctrine we are opposing, there is no one who would not shrink from expressly
asserting anything to be wanting to constitute the Father God, in the most absolute and
comprehensive sense of the term. His conceptions must be miserably perplexed and
perverted, who thinks it possible to use language on this subject too strong or too
Once more: if Christ be God, and if there be but one God, then all that is true of God is true of Christ, considered as God; and, on the other hand, all that is true of the Son is true of God. This being so, open the Bible, and where the name of God occurs, substitute that of the Son; and where the name of the Son occurs, that of God.
"The Son sent his beloved Son"; "Father,
the hour is come; glorify thy Son that thy Son also may glorify Thee." I will not,
for the sake of confuting any error, put a change on this most solemn and affecting
But a Trinitarian may answer me, that the word
"God" in the New Testament almost always denotes either the Trinity or the
Father; and that he does not suppose it to be applied to the Son in more than about a
dozen instances. One would think that this state of the case must, at the first view of
it, startle a defender of the doctrine that Christ is God.
The proposition, then, that Christ is God, is so thoroughly irreconcilable with the New Testament, that no one could think of maintaining it except through a confused misapprehension of its meaning. HERE, then, I close the argument from Scripture; not because it is exhausted, but because it must be useless to pursue it further. I will only add a few general remarks, founded in part on what has been already said concerning the passages adduced by Trinitarians in support of their doctrines.
In the first place, it is to be recollected that the passages urged to prove that Christ is God are alone sufficient evidence against this proposition. A large portion of them contain language which cannot be used concerning God, which necessarily distinguishes Christ from God, and which clearly represents him as an inferior and dependent being.
In the next place, I wish to recall another remark to
the recollection of my readers. It is, that the doctrines maintained by Trinitarians, upon
the supposition of their possibility and truth, must have been taught very differently
from the manner in which they are supposed to be.
We might as reasonably attempt to prove, in opposition
to the daily witness of the heavens, that there are three suns instead of but one, by
building an argument on the accounts which we have of parhelia. Another remark of some
importance is, that, as Trinitarians differ much in their modes of explaining the
doctrine, so are they not well agreed in their manner of defending it.
A proof that the second person in the Trinity
became incarnate, was found in Proverbs ix. 1: "Wisdom hath builded her house";
for the second person, or the Son, was regarded in the theology of the times as the Wisdom
of the Father. These are merely specimens taken from many of a similar character, a number
more of which may be found in the work of Whitby just referred to in the margin. Since the
first introduction of the doctrine, the mode of its defence has been continually changing.
There are very few of any importance in the controversy, the Orthodox exposition of which has not been abandoned by some one or more of the principal Trinitarian critics among Protestants. Among Catholics, there are many by whom it is rather affirmed than conceded, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not to be proved from the Scriptures, but rests for its support upon the tradition of the Church.
American Unitarian Conference 6806 Springfield Dr.
Mason Neck, VA 22079
Religion and History
More Things to Ponder
If using this material on another site, please provide a link back to my site.