The Trinity is rooted in paganism. Trinitarians just took the concept of the Trinity from the Egyptians, Celts, Hindus, etc. I’m sure the Trinity was mostly modeled on the Osirus-Isis-Horus family in Egyptian mythology that came before. Hence, to worship a Triune God is essentially pagan at its core.
My first encounter with this objection was in a dialogue with a Unitarian I personally know. It’s a common one among Jehovah’s witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals, but I’ve heard it from other sects as well. I understand that some people are freaked out about any potential ties to paganism they may find, whether in the Trinity or something else, but this fear is just that: fear. And ungrounded fear, for that matter.
In order to answer this objection we must take several things into consideration. Before that, however, it may be of benefit to you to review my post on consistency. I say this because generally inconsistency is the rule of the day in this sort of argumentation; that is, it is one standard for the skeptic, but a completely different standard that they impose upon us. Only in the context of absolute consistency can we have any sort of dialogue on these vital issues, and if the Unitarians out there are not willing to be consistent, they have already lost the debate (even though they refuse to see it).
As my hero James White would say: Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument. Bear that in mind as we press forward.
That said, I would like to dive into the 4 considerations that send this objection packing, so lets begin with…
#1 – Absence of Evidence
The first point to note is the dearth of evidence for this theory. The folks who peddle it are just flat-out speculating. They cannot produce one single sliver of evidence beyond some supposed triad* of deities in Ancient Egypt (or some other ancient civilization), which they then theorize formed the basis for the Doctrine of the Trinity itself.
Let me say it again: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE.
If you have some, produce it, but as of yet I have seen ZERO proof in the historical record. It is a SPECULATIVE THEORY, and not at all supported by any documentation.
I just cannot stress enough the importance of this fact. The very concept that the Anti-Trinitarians must go to the extremes of wild, fanciful speculation to discount the Trinity just shows how incredibly weak the case is against it.
#2 – Appeal to a Logical Fallacy
The only “evidence” marshaled for the Trinity being based on paganism is that there are examples in history of triads of deities in certain pagan cultures. This is thought by many anti-Trinitarians to constitute solid proof that the Trinity has pagan origins. The case made is that since the Trinity was a doctrine arrived at hundreds and hundreds of years after the Egyptian triad of Osirus-Isis-Horus (or whatever other pagan triad they might be using for their “evidence”), it must therefore be rooted in such a pagan triad.
This is a formal logical fallacy known as “Post hoc ergo propter hoc”, which is a Latin expression for “after this, therefore because of this”. Abbreviated as “post hoc”, it is constructed in the following way:
A) X [occurred],
B) then Y [occurred].
C) Therefore, X caused Y.
So for example:
A) The rooster crowed,
B) then the sun rose.
C) Therefore, the rooster’s crowing caused the sun to rise.
Now of course, that is obviously false, but post hoc fallacies are not always so easy to detect. For example:
A) I left a message on my brother’s phone asking him to meet me at the store,
B) then my brother showed up at the store.
C) Therefore, my message caused my brother to go to the store.
While this seems logically sound, it neglects that there are other factors that may have caused my brother to go to the store. That is, he may never have received my message, but instead he may have looked in the fridge and noticed we were out of milk, thus prompting his trip to the store. Therefore, there is no necessary cause-and-effect relationship between my phone call and his trip to the store. (In passing, if you take any college level science courses where experiments are run, this is one of the first rules you will learn.)
When we look at the argument for the Trinity having pagan roots, it follows this logical fallacy.
A) The Egyptians had a triad of gods/goddesses,
B) then the doctrine of the Trinity was developed.
C) Therefore the Egyptian (or other pagan) triad caused the doctrine of the Trinity.
Thus, the ONLY evidence the anti-Trinitarians can mount for their case of the pagan roots of the Trinity is void on the basis of it being a logical fallacy. The connection between ancient triads and the Christian Trinity can only be proven to be merely coincidental, at best.
#3 – Inconsistent Standards of Argumentation
Now, some will maintain that this coincidental relationship is enough to assert with a “high degree of probability” that the Trinity has pagan roots (even if it would be a logical fallacy to say it proves it outright – as just discussed).
Taking my phone call to my brother example as a model, the logic runs that while it was not necessarily my message that caused him to go to the store, due to the level of coincidence that he happened to show up at the same store at the same time as me it is a reasonable assumption that my phone call prompted the trip. In other words, my brother showing up at the store at the same time as me is just too big a coincidence not to have been caused by my phone call.
In the same way, then, the anti-Trinitarians will assert that the fact that the pagans had triads, and then the Christians arrived at the doctrine of the Trinity is just too big a coincidence to be, well, a coincidence. Therefore we can reasonably expect that the pagan triads were in fact the causative factor.
However, there are 3 problems with this.
First: It thumbs its nose at logic – it still succumbs to the post hoc fallacy, per previous discussion.
Second: It thumbs its nose at statistics – think about it. If in my store example my brother and I live in a town with only one store that is only open from 9 AM – 5 PM, the odds of bumping into each other there on coincidence are considerably higher than if we lived in a town with 20 stores, each open from 6 AM – 10 PM (and if I had ever taken a statistics class I could probably tell you the equation for solving that, haha).
In the same way, there have been so many pagan deities in the history of the world (over one million in India alone, according to some estimates), statistically there were bound to be triads every so often. Of note, there would also be divine duos (e.g. Cupid and Psyche of Greek fame), quartets (e.g. Seiryuu, Byakko, Suzaku, and Genbu of China), quintets (e.g. the “Five Foremost Personal Deities” of Tibet), sextets (e.g. 6 male gods and 6 female goddesses on Olympus of Greece/Rome), septets (e.g. the “Shichifukujin” or, “Seven Lucky Gods” of Japan), I could go on, and on, and on, and onnnnn…
Basically what I’m saying is, statistically, it is not some “big coincidence (wink wink nudge nudge)” that the anti-Trinitarians try to make it out to be. If the scriptures had revealed a Binitarian God instead of a Trinitarian one, the naysayers would be pointing to Cupid and Psyche and calling it a conspiracy instead of Osirus, Isis, and Horus (whom they would never think twice about).
Third: It thumbs its nose at consistency.
Ah, now here’s where things get fun. It’s time to apply the same logic the anti-Trinitarians use in this argument to a couple of things they hold near and dear – we will see that consistent application of this false reasoning only undermines their own position.
Before diving in, I want you to remember this date: 1500 B.C. That is the conservative estimate for the writing of the first five books of the Old Testament. In other words, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were written circa 1500 B.C. Also, keep in mind that apart from a handful of texts inscribed on stones and jewelry, the earliest manuscripts of the Old Testament we have are the dead sea scrolls from approximately 70 A.D. This will be important as we progress.
Example #1 – Creation**
There are numerous stories around the world of creation of the universe and all that is in it. Nearly every single ancient culture had one, and a quick online search will turn up more than you could go through in a week.
Most of these creation stories detail the creation taking place at the instigation of one or multiple deities, whether on purpose or by accident. The Sumerian story known as the “Eridu Genesis” is datable to at least the 17th century B.C. (that’s 1601-1700 B.C. folks) which is when the tablet we possess is dated to. The story details the creation of the world by several Sumerian deities, followed by the creation of man.
So let’s see… we have a creation story (same as in the Bible), which was penned in approximately the 17th century (as opposed to the Genesis account in the 16th century or later), and we even have hard evidence that the story was penned then (unlike the book of Genesis, which we have no really hard evidence for until 70 A.D. – a difference of more than 1600 years)…
Well, let’s just say that if I wanted to go all speculative conspiracy-theorist on you I would say that the Genesis account was rooted in the pagan Sumerian myth! I mean, it’s all there, the creation, the false gods, the fact that the Sumerian myth dates earlier than Genesis… Add to that the numerous other pagan creation stories that could also be mentioned… By the anti-Trinitarian logic discussed above, that’s a darn good case for the pagan roots of the creation story in our Bible!
And heck, if you really want to know how pagan the Genesis account of creation is, just check out this link about the Egyptian creation story! (a word to the wise, I have not extensively checked out this linked site to verify its accuracy in presenting the facts, I merely give it to show that you can find evidence to make anything pagan if you know where to look)
Example #2 – The Flood**
Not only do the Sumerians have a creation story predating the writing of the book of Genesis, they also have a flood story going back to ~2000 B.C. For those slow on the math, that’s at least 500 years prior to the writing of Genesis. (it should be noted that I of course believe that Genesis has the right story, even though it was written down later; just like the Trinity is the right doctrine of God, even though it was written down later!)
“The Epic of Gilgamesh” recounts how one Gilgamesh is warned about an impending flood and builds a boat to save himself, his family, and some animals for good measure. Following the flood, his boat came to a halt on a mountain, from whence he sent out birds to determine the water level. Following the ordeal Gilgamesh made an offering.
Hmmm, kinda familiar, yeah?
Again, if I was someone just wanting to poke holes in the Bible, I think this would make a fantastic starting place. I mean, this is just so pagan! It’s from pagan Sumeria! It’s full of stories of false gods (Gilgamesh himself is 2/3rds god)! Due to this, and the fact that nearly every other culture on the planet has an ancient flood story, clearly the later Genesis account borrowed extensively from the Gilgamesh epic and others, and is therefore utterly rooted in paganism.
Can you smell the sarcasm?
My point is this: it’s really, really not hard to accuse something of paganism. The anti-Trinitarian mantra of “pagan roots of Trinity, pagan roots of Trinity” is just absolute garbage. But hey, if they want to keep at it, by the same logic the creation and flood accounts in Genesis also have pagan roots, and much much stronger ones at that (i.e., nigh on 100% of pagan cultures have a creation and a flood story, vs. <5% [and that’s being extremely generous] of pagan cultures having something that even remotely resembles the Trinity). Are they really willing to shoot themselves in the foot that way? You can’t have a pagan Trinity without a pagan creation and flood, so let’s get rid of this inconsistent nonsense.
Because inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument after all.
(oh, and I will also add that the pagans all have unitarian gods in the sense that each god is 1 being:1 person, as opposed to the Trinitarian 1 Being:3 persons. Even the Egyptian triad they love to reference is composed of 3 unitarian gods: Osirus, Isis, and Horus, 3 beings:3 persons. Therefore since pagan gods tend to be 1 being:1person entities, shouldn’t we be saying that the unitarian god is based on paganism wayyyyyyyy more so than the Trinity ever could be? Methinks yes)
#4 – The Witness of History
I just want to wrap up by saying that though history does nothing to substantiate the idea that the Trinity has roots in paganism, it does tons to support the idea that the doctrine of the Trinity was the culmination of the Biblical witness, speaking to Godly men.
At some point I plan to edit this document to show how the doctrine was attested to from earliest times, and how it was regarded in the years between the ascension of our Lord and the Council of Nicaea, but for now I recommend the following resources to those wanting to pursue that line of thought.
Nick Norelli’s “In Defense of an Essential” – a fascinating read, very well done, and comes with my highest recommendation
My advice: if anyone tries to tell you that the doctrine of the Trinity has pagan roots, ask them for proof. I guarantee they will give you something to the effect of “ancient pagan religions blah-blah had triads of gods blah-blah therefore the Trinity is pagan blah-blah”. Then, point out to them that the ancient pagan religions also had creation stories and flood stories, so ours as detailed in Genesis must be pagan/have pagan roots as well. Watch the wheels turn… and hide behind something if they start to spark and shake as they try to manage maintaining their inconsistency. Oh, and I can promise you they will try to mask their inconsistency somehow, but just keep pressing the point – it’s simply unavoidable if you are consistently applying the logic.
So the bottom line in all of this is that the Doctrine of the Trinity is NOT pagan, and to those who would try to make it so: why don’t you apply your logic to the stories of creation and the flood, not to mention your conception of God as 1 being:1 person (as all the pagans have)?
Time to come up with a different approach to refute the Trinity, ‘cause this one ain’t gonna fly.
*When I say “triad” it must be understood that I’m not talking about a true Trinity. Christianity is completely unique in the doctrine of the Trinity: 1 God, 3 persons. In the case of Osirus, Isis, and Horus (which I use here because it’s the favorite of anti-Trinitarians) they are really 3 separate gods (or, 2 gods and a goddess). You have a father, a mother, and a son – this is a family of gods, not a single Triune God. Not only so, but this family didn’t even include the principle god of Egypt, which was (depending on the area and dynasty) the sun god Ra.
**For refutations of the theories that the Bible account of the creation and the flood were based on pagan myths, see “Creation” and “Flood” respectively. I also encourage you to explore the Answers in Genesis page (link in the sidebar) for other great resources pertaining to the 1st 11 chapters of Genesis.