Definition and Historical Background
The doctrine of the trinity is one of mainstream Christianity's most universally accepted and hallowed doctrines held sacrosanct by Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox believers alike. This doctrine, as defined by the Second Ecumenical Council, is so set in stone that it has become a commonly used litmus test for defining true belief. However, what is interesting is that the very same scholars who claim that one cannot be saved without believing in the Trinity, also make no bones about the fact that the doctrine itself is incomprehensible. This makes one wonder whether it is possible that God would deny a person salvation simply because he or she is incapable of understanding, or has failed to grasp something that even the most learned theologians admit is beyond comprehension.
Relying On Others To Decide What We Should Believe
Sadly, we tend to look to others... theologians, Bible scholars, pastors, etc. for the correct interpretation of the Bible, many of whom tend to believe that they, or their denomination, are the sole reliable interpreters of Biblical truths, and will defend to the death their version of what the Bible says. If we are smart, we had better not hang our hats on the peg labeled 'official church doctrine', on what supposedly orthodox Christians/churches think, believe, or teach, nor on what the so called early "church fathers" wrote. And we certainly had better not completely depend on what the learned scholars tell us, however highly respected and/or well known they might be. The question we need to ask is what the Bible teaches. And, regarding the subject at hand, how the Bible describes and defines the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and their relationship to each other.
Plurality in The Godhead
The Hebrew Scriptures very definitely point to more than one Person in the Godhead. If you examine the Hebrew, you will find that “Elôhîym" is a plural noun, and that Elôhîym and Yahweh are applied to two separate Beings. Additionally, when the Hebrew Scriptures said God is "One", the word used for one is echâd, which can also be a number of persons or things considered as a collective unit. This also applies to the equivalent word in Greek.
The Deity of Christ & The Deity of The Holy Spirit
It is possible that many of those who emphatically declare that a person cannot be saved without a belief in the Trinity may actually have the Deity of Christ in mind. Challenging the doctrine of the Trinity does not mean challenging the Divinity of Christ and it does not mean challenging the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament abounds with proof of the deity of Jesus Christ, and Acts 5:3-4 is more than enough to clinch the issue of the Holy Spirit being God. However, theologians over simplify the matter when they state that the Biblical evidence permits only one of two conclusion a) Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not Divine, or b) God is a Tri-unity. It's either this or that... take it or leave it.
Passages That Supposedly "Prove" the Trinity
Although there isn't a single verse or passage that "clearly" states that there is one God who exists in three persons, Trinitarians usually advance a number of verses (in less polite terms, the usual suspects are rounded up) as evidence for there being three co-equal members of the Godhead. In reality these verses do no such thing. Read without prejudice or preconceived ideas, the "proof texts" merely state that Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist. None of them can be used to prove the three-in-one theory. Yet, asking a person to read the actual text, and not allow anyone to tell them what they think the text means, seems to be quite a novel concept in Christianity. Why? Are we just so used to having the Bible interpreted for us that we are too lazy or too gullible to go look for ourselves? Or have we been so indoctrinated that when we read the verses in question, we read into them what we have been led to believe they say / have always been told what the meaning is.
The Holy Spirit... A Separate Person, Or The Divine Presence And Power Of The Father Himself
Not only does the Bible makes it very clear that there is only one Spirit, but there is a huge mountain of evidence that suggests that the Spirit of God the Father, the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Spirit are one and the same Spirit. This becomes even more apparent if you consider how the New Testament authors consistently ignored the "third person of the Godhead". Jesus told the Jews that He and the Father "were one" [John 10:30], but not once did He make a similar statement about Himself and the Holy Spirit. Paul consistently, and repeatedly, tied the Father and Son together with no mention of the Holy Spirit. The third person of a supposedly triune God is missing from the opening salutation of most of the New Testament books, from the approximately eighteen doxologies found in these books, and curiously absent from Daniel's, Stephen's and John's visions of heaven.
Besides which, ascribing activity or other human characteristics to the Holy Spirit does mean the Holy Spirit is a distinct person, since the Bible often attributes emotions and action to inanimate objects that obviously have none. Additionally, the Holy Spirit is spoken of in many ways that do not support the idea that a person, divine or otherwise, is being spoken about. For example, you cannot rekindle, or "stir up" a Divine being, unless of course this being is asleep and needs shaking awake. People cannot drink/partake of a person, or be filled with a person etc. etc.
Because the Holy Spirit is referred to as 'He' or "Him" in quite a few places in The New Testament, many people assume that the Holy Spirit is male (as the Father is referred to and as Jesus was on earth). In fact, the grammar is often used by many evangelicals as the first line of defense against any challenges to the doctrine. The problem is that the grammar cannot necessarily be used to support the idea that the Holy Spirit is a “he”, much less the third Person of the Trinity. Doctrinal bias, not grammatical accuracy, is responsible for referring to the Holy Spirit with masculine rather than neuter pronouns when both are equally legitimate. In other words, there is no grammatical foundation for the orthodox view of the Trinity.
The Cappadocian Fathers
So, if not the scriptures, where did the idea of the trinity come from? Three theologians from Cappadocia .... Basil, bishop of Caesarea, his brother Gregory, bishop of Nyssa, and Basil's close friend Gregory of Nazianzus, jointly known as the Cappadocian fathers, gave definitive shape to the doctrine of the Trinity. The problem is that all three were well trained in Greek philosophy and rhetoric, the art of using language effectively and persuasively. Additionally, they were also greatly influenced by the writings of Origen, known for introducing Greek ideas into Christianity. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote: "Origen is the stone on which all of us were sharpened." Origen stated that since there are "certain secret analogies or affinities" between the things below and the things above, we must "read within ourselves the reflection of truths" that we could not otherwise know. It was Gregory of Nyssa however, who applied Origen's line of reasoning to the trinity. In fact, he says we would have no content for our thoughts about Father, Son, and Spirit, if we did not find an outline of their nature within ourselves. In other words, the key to the Trinity is in our triple nature ... our minds or reasoning, our word, and our souls. And, Gregory went several steps further, stating that you learn "the secret of God" from the things within yourself... a "testimony above and more sure than that of the Law and the Gospel".
The Cappadocian fathers were also wrong about how the Son and the Holy Spirit derived from the Father. According to them the Son is "begotten" of the Father, and the Spirit "proceeds" from the Father. They apparently missed the fact that Jesus also spoke of 'proceeding' or 'coming from' the Father. To top ot off, all three were Catholic mystics. Basil and Gregory of Nazianzus pioneered the rules of monastic life, compiling what became known as "the Rule of St. Basil". Also note, if you have been told that Catholicism was not alive and well at this time, you have been misinformed. The sad legacy of Neoplatonism
Summary and Conclusion: The church, substituting their own rules for what the Scriptures teach, has often insisted you believe in their version of the trinity, in order to consider yourself as being saved. The truth is that how many Beings the Godhead consists of has absolutely no bearing on salvation. We are no closer to really understanding everything about the Father and the spiritual realm than we are to taking a stroll around Pluto. Make no mistake, the Lord is not going to judge you on whether you are right or wrong about this. He is going to judge you on how righteously you live and whether or not you have followed His commandments.
If you wish to believe there is a trinity, go right ahead. However, if you actually look into the historical and Biblical evidence for yourelf, you are very likely to realize what a concoction the whole issue is. If the church has based their decision about this "crucial" matter on shallow interpretations, bad grammar and an ignorance of where the doctrine actually originated, my question is what else do they have wrong?