Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Stephen Robinson's Out of Context Quote on the Trinity

I respect and value Latter-Day Saint New Testament scholar Stephen Robinsons’ work and contributions to the ongoing dialogue between evangelicals and Mormons. This criticism that I offer does not call into question his other quotations, but it does call into question this particular incident.  

In his work, Are Mormon’s Christians?, Robinson writes about the Trinity:




Biblical theology, like LDS theology, affirms the threefold nature of the Godhead; but, also like LDS theology, biblical theology lacks any indication of a Nicene understanding. The scholarly consensus is further affirmed in Harper's Bible Dictionary: ‘The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.'[1]

When reading this, I thought to myself “I own the Harper’s Bible Dictionary” and wanted to see what else it had to say. Philosopher and religion scholar Thomas R. W. Longstaff is the author of this particular section who is connected to Colby College (though he has been on a sabbatical since 2005 as their website indicates?).[2]

Robinson does not quote the paragraph correctly. Longstaff in the full quote in paragraph form says:

“The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the nt. Nevertheless, the discussion above and especially the presence of trinitarian formulas in 2 Cor. 13:14 (which is strikingly early) and Matt. 28:19 indicate that the origin of this mode of thought may be found very early in Christian history.”[3] (emphasis added)

As you can see, Longstaff tied these two sentences together with “Nevertheless” which Robinson neglects to cite in his book. Not even an ellipses.

 The Trinitarian doctrine is at least implied in Scripture for Longstaff lays out the whole accumulative biblical argument before this particular ending paragraph.

Again, this does not negate Robinson’s scholarship as a whole, but it does undermine this portion.




[1] Robinson, Stephen E.. Are Mormons Christians? (Kindle Locations 1432-1435). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.
[3] Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 1099.

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