Episode 31: Thinking about the Trinity (3) Q&A with Tom Gaston

We invited Tom Gaston back onto the show to answer your questions on Unitarianism and the Trinity.  The writer and editor of ‘One God, the Father, a defence of Biblical Monotheism’ gives us his thoughts on the opening of John 1, the influence of Justin Martyr, the virgin birth and why any of this matter should matter to Christians.  Listen and enjoy!

Show Notes

This episode is a question and answer session with Tom Gaston as a follow up to the comments and questions that we received on two of our earlier episodes.

Previous episodes considering the Trinity

In Episode 17 “Thinking about the Trinity” we laid some foundations to the subject, exploring why such different views have emerged from the same Biblical raw materials.  We saw that both Old and New Testaments present God as one and recognised that the Trinity as a concept is not explicit in the Bible, but that seeds of it develop from thinking about questions like: Did Jesus pre-exist? Did Jesus perform creation? Is Jesus called God and described with Divine attributes?.

Episode 19 focused on the question “Did Jesus Pre-exist?” by concentrating on John chapter 1 and highlighting the Jewish thinking behind it.  We saw that it was common for Jews to understand that ideas could be in God’s mind before they existed and Jewish writers spoke of the Torah and the Garden of Eden in this way.  This discussion also covered the concept of the  personification of God’s wisdom, for example in Proverbs 8:22, and the relevance to understanding John 1.

Trinity Q&A

After discussing his studies on the development of Christian doctrine, in particular the Trinity, for his Masters Degree and then a Doctorate at Oxford University, Paul put the questions below to Tom.  Whether you agree with him or not, I’m sure you’ll find his answers to be thoughtful and thought provoking!

  • Understanding John 1:1-18 seems key to this subject, what is your perspective on that passage?
  • Why does it seem to be so often assumed that the Word in the beginning (John 1:1) is Jesus?
  • When John used the word ‘logos’ do you think he knew what the term meant in Greek philosophy and intended it to be understood in that light?
  • This debate is often over-simplified as unitarians are monotheists and trinitarians are not. Even as trinitarian doctrine developed, surely early Christians still thought of themselves as monotheists?
  • Did the Trinity develop in response to a need to explain why Christians appeared to worship two Gods (i.e. God & Jesus)?
  • Can you explain how Unitarians understand Hebrews 1:10-12 which appears to clearly say that Jesus was present at and performed creation?
  • If Unitarians place so much emphasis on the humanity of Jesus, where does that leave the virgin birth? Doesn’t it become redundant? Does Unitarianism tend inevitably towards adoptionism?
  • Why does any of this matter?  What are the implications for Christian life and practice?

Further resources

Throughout the discussion a number of resources are referenced, here’s how to get hold of them.

One God, the Father (ed. Tom Gaston)

The Gospel Online video series

Dynamic Monarchianism (Tom Gaston)