What does Judaism have against the Trinity?

I’ve heard Zev Steinhardt claim that Judaism cannot accept the notion of the Trinity because of the verse that is the foundation of Jewish belief “…the Lord is one.” However, I don’t see how this necessarily invalidates the Trinity. Doesn’t that verse emphasize that monotheism is the True Path™, compared to the polytheism that was prevalent in nearby cultures at the time? I.e. the Lord is the one object of worship, as opposed to a plethora of gods in an inbred pantheon where they bicker amongst themselves. If this is how the verse should be interpreted, which seems likely considering the religious scene in the Middle East three thousand years ago, how then can one say that God doesn’t appear in different roles?

Also, do Jews understand that when Christians talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, they are talking about three aspects of one God?


Ah, wrong forum! I was led to believe this was Great Debates because of the post with the Unitarian question. Mods, a little help please?


Sure, no problem

Off to Great Debates.

DrMatrix - GQ Moderator

I think Zev understands that.

I believe that the core problem that both Judaism and Islam have with the Christian concept of the Trinity is that they don’t really buy the whole “it’s a mystery” thing of how the Trinity is Three in One and One in Three.

The Shema Israel (Deut. 6:4) says:

“Hear Oh Israel, The Lord is our God, The Lord is One”

And the Kalima Tayyab in Islam is:

“There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet”

Compare and contrast the simplicity of these statements with the Athanasian Creed, and you can see how believers from other monotheistic traditions may consider Christians to be polytheists.

By the way, I’m Roman Catholic, so apologies to any Jewish or Moslem posters if I have misstated.

On the same subject, I must mention one of my favorite figures from the Reformation. Miguel Servetus, a 16th century Spanish physician, wrote his book “Concerning the Errors of the Trinity”, in part because of the history of strife between the Church and the Jews and Moslems of Spain. By removing the stumbling block of the Trinity, he thought that the three monotheistic religions could live together in peace. He later went on to reject many other orthodox Christian beliefs, and thus had the distinction of being burned as a heretic by both the Catholics and Protestants, having been burned in effigy in Rome before Calvin did it for real in Geneva.

IANAJ, but the Trinity, allegedly consisting of three aspects of one God, is hard to reconcile with scripture. There are numerous instances of J.C. asking God the Father for questions or permission (“let this cup pass from me”), or stating that only God the Father knows the answer to X or Y question. If J.C. was merely an “aspect” of one God, why wouldn’t he, as God, know this information?


I don’t know the Jewish theology on this, but I’ll try to approach it from a common sense standpoint.

There’s an inherent contradiction in describing God as “three in one.” Sure, you can say it’s just three aspects of one entity, but that’s not particularly satisfactory. If God is one entity, what’s the point of wasting one’s breath and time by saying “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost?” instead of “In God’s name?” It seems to be making a point of noting that there are three, not one, objects of worship.

This is underscored by a number of things Jesus said, which seem to indicate that He and God are separate. If Jesus and God are one and the same, where’s the sense in calling Jesus God’s only begotten son? Why did Jesus say that he did not know when he would return, only the Father knows? How is Jesus going sit at God’s right hand in heaven? Why and how did Jesus speak to God as if he were a distinct being?

If one chooses to see this as different “roles” or “aspects,” that’s one’s right, and I wouldn’t argue the point. But conversely, if one sees the Trinity as three (or at least two) separable things, I don’t see how that could be argued against.

Well, since this thread was created as a result of a remark that I made, I will respond.

Firstly, please keep in mind that I am not a Christian scholar. Therefore, please attribute any mistakes I make about the Christian belief in the Trinity to ignorance and not malice.

That said, there is no place in Judaism for the Trinity.

Judaism believes that God is one, period. God cannot be broken down into aspects.

It is clear from the text of the NT that Jesus <> God. Jesus, at his crucifixtion, prays to (or calls out) to God. Was he calling out to himself? Was he asking himself why he was abandoned? Even a Christian who says (as you do) that they are different aspects of the same diety, must agree that they are, to some degree, separate. Otherwise Jesus’ actions on the cross make no sense.

It is that “separation” that has no place in Judaism. Jewish belief is that God is one. He cannot be subdivided in any way.

I hope this has provided the answer you have been looking for. If not, please respond, and I will be more than happy to (to the best of my ability) answer your further questions.

Zev Steinhardt


I believe your objection is answered by this passage:

In other words, this manisfestation of God, voluntarily gave up most of the qualities we associate with God, e.g., foreknowledge.


The christian Jesus looks more like an avatar of God. He would fit better in Hindouism than in Judaism/Islam, IMO.

Tinker gives the sense of what Christians believe happened very clearly. It’s important to remember that Christians see God as three distinct Persons united in one Godhead. This does require a bit of mental gymnastics, but defends the unity of the One True God as against accusations of polytheism while maintaining the distinction between the Father (who might be considered god sensu stricto, the “underlying arms” from whom comes the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, being the eternal Word of God, God the Son (under this conception) humbled Himself (as the passage from Philippians quoted by Tinker says) to take on the role of a human baby, “emptying” Himself of the knowledge and power rightly His as a Person of the Godhead to become one of us. (The technical theological term used for this concept is the Greek for “emptying,” kenosis.)

Clairobscur is fairly right – much as it would offend conservative theologians to say so. Jesus was, on the Christian understanding, God incarnate as a human being, just as Krishna and Rama were, on the Hindu understanding, Vishnu incarnate as human beings. The distinction between His single life as man and His atonement, as opposed to the roles of the avatars in Hindu thought, probably needs to be made in contradistinction to this parallelism in roles, but I’d hesitate to try to speak to what the Hindu understanding of the function of avatars is, and therefore to draw that distinction.

And that’s one of the big problems that Jews have with the trinity. First, that G-d would manifest, physically, as a human being. Second, that G-d could give up those qualities that are intrinsic to Him, like the foreknowledge.

The other problem is that, according to the standard, Athanasian understanding of the trinity, it’s not like when Jesus was born, G-d suddenly took on another aspect. The “son” is a distinct person, and always has been, seperate from the “father” and the “holy spirit”. In fact, wasn’t the idea that the three persons of the trinity were just different aspects, or different roles, declared a heresy?

Keep in mind, though, that the Trinity was not universally accepted by the early Christians, especially those in the Eastern Empire. The Arian view of Jesus as the first created being, but not God, was once the accepted belief. Some Christians still don’t accept the Trinity, although they are considered heretics by the majority.

If you want an excellent book on this topic I suggest, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome by Richard E. Rubenstein.

My ;j take on this question is like this:

First, the contradictions implicit in the whole concept of the Trinity make it pretty difficult for even insiders to understand, let alone outsiders such as myself. Second, those difficulties result in varying understandings even among the expert insiders.

In other words, a phrase such as “the Christian concept of the Trinity” is pretty much meaningless (or at least, meaningless to me) unless a specific denomination is named – or even better, unless a specific explanation is attached.

In the Jewish view, God can be seen in varying (for lack of a better word: ) roles. For example, He is seen - and even addressed - as Father, Creator, Judge, Ruler, and other terms, depending on the context and situation. But those roles are all of the same “person”, in sharp contrast to the “three persons as one” concept of the Trinity.

Zev’s cite of Jesus’s actions on the cross are (to me) a great example of what I find difficult to understand about the whole concept. But rather than say that it “makes no sense”, I’m satisfied to say that Christian scholars have studied it and explained it in a way that does make sense to them. Jewish scholars have studied it too, maybe (or maybe not) to the point where they can say they understand it clearly, but certainly to the point where they can say that they understand it clearly enough to confindently label it a form of polytheism, at least from a Jewish perspective.

To expand with non-male images: G-d is also seen as rock, spirit, fire, a mother giving birth, Sophia the wisdom woman, etc.

Forgive me if this is too simple, but I must ask you all…

Is there not a more basic problem for the Jewish creed to accept the Trinity?

Before one even gets to the hairy concept of multiple aspects of God, I would assume that one would need to acknowledge Jesus as being divine at all. Since Jesus is not seen as the Messiah in Judaic tradition the next leap of faith needed to accept the totality of the Christian Mystery i.e. accepting Trinity doesn’t even come into question.

Or are we simply talking of accepting the concept, or are we trying to debunk Christianity’s claim to monotheism?..or am just I too simpleminded?

Actually, the two concepts are not related at all. Jesus’ being the messiah has nothing to do with his divinity.

Judaism does not subscribe to the concept of a divine messiah. The messiah, in Judaism, will be a normal human being, born of two parents in the old-fashioned way.

One could believe that Jesus was the messiah, but not divine (don’t the Unitarians believe this?). One cannot, however, fit a divine Jesus (either as a “part” of God, or as the Son of God) into Judaism.

Zev Steinhardt

Zev says, rightly,:

I think he meant to say “separate aspects.” The Jewish mystics often look at different “attributes” of God, and even go so far as to compare them to parts of the human body (head, heart, mighty right arm, etc) … but they very carefully draw the line as calling them “separate”.

My bad.
Please delete the word “Father” from my post.
Please insert the word “Parent” in that spot.
Thank you.

Didja notice that the words “post” and “spot” have the same letters?

The outcry from the cross was a quotation from David,

In that same chapter from the Psalms is this description:

Jesus is the Son of Man as well as the Son of God.

I don’t understand all the hand wringing over the Trinity. It is a simple thing. All holiness is holy. God is holy. Jesus is holy. His spirit is holy. And all those who believe in Him are holy. In the 82nd Psalm, it is written