SUBJECT:  The Trinity

 

QUESTION:  Where Did the Trinity Doctrine Come From?

 

ANSWER:

 

Was it defined in 325 C.E., when Roman emperor Constantine convened a council of bishops in the city of Nicaea in

Asia Minor?  Was Constantine a Christian at this time?

 

Although Emperor Constantine was supposedly converted in 313 C.E., he did not get baptized until just before he died,

24 years later (337 C.E.).  Furthermore, after claiming to be Christian, as emperor, he had the inscription of Sol, the sun

god, inscribed on numerous coins.

 

At this time a debate was raging between Greek-speaking bishops and Latin-speaking bishops concerning the identity of

Jesus in relation to "God" himself.

 

His purpose in calling the council was to resolve the continuing religious disputes over the relationship of the Son of God

to Almighty God.  By locating the council in the domain of the eastern, Greek-speaking bishops in Nicaea, few

Latin-speaking bishops, in favor of the Biblical position, were present.  Regarding the results of that council, the

Encyclopædia Britannica says:

 

     "Constantine himself presided, actively guiding the discussions, and personally proposed . . . the

     crucial formula expressing the relation of Christ to God in the creed issued by the council, 'of one

     substance [ho·mo·ou'si·os] with the Father.' . . . Overawed by the emperor, the bishops, with two

     exceptions only, signed the creed, many of them much against their inclination." 1

 

Did Emperor Constantine intervene because of his Biblical convictions?  No.  A Short History of Christian Doctrine

states:

 

     "Constantine had basically no understanding whatsoever of the questions that were being asked in

     Greek theology." 2

 

He did understand that religious disputes threatened the unity of his empire, and he wanted them resolved.

 

This creed did assert things about the Son of God that would seem to indicate Jesus as equal to God the Father in a

certain way.  Yet, it is enlightening to see what the Nicene Creed did not say.  As originally published, the creed, in it's

entirety, stated:

 

     "We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible;

     "And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the

     substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of

     one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on

     earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming

     man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living

     and the dead;

     "And in the Holy Spirit." 3

     

 

  Does this creed say that Father, Son, and holy spirit are three persons in one God?  No!

  Does it say that the three are equal in eternity, power, position, and wisdom?  No!

 

The original Nicene Creed did not establish or identify any Trinity.  That creed, at most:

 

     Equates the Son with the Father in being "of one substance;"

     Affirms belief in the Holy Spirit, but does not proclaim it to be a person, nor  the third person of God.

 

Even the key phrase "of one substance" (ho·mo·ou'si·os) does not mean that the

council believed in a numerical equality of Father and Son, as The New Catholic Encyclopedia states:

 

     "Whether the Council intended to affirm the numerical identity of the substance of Father and Son

     is doubtful." 4

 

Had the council meant that the Son and the Father were one numerically, it would still not be a Trinity.  God would only

be a two-in-one God, not three-in-one as required by the Trinity doctrine.

 

 

"A Minority Viewpoint"

 

At Nicaea, did the bishops in general believe that the Son was equal to God?  Regarding the council's decision to

consider the Son of the same substance (consubstantial) as God, Martin Marty states:

 

     "Nicaea actually represented a minority viewpoint; the settlement was uneasy and was unacceptable

     to many who were not Arian in outlook." 5

 

Similarly, the book A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church notes:

 

     ". . . a clearly formulated doctrinal position in contrast to Arianism was taken up by a minority only,

     although this minority carried the day." 6

 

And A Short History of Christian Doctrine notes:

 

     "What seemed especially objectionable to many bishops and theologians of the East was the

     concept put into the creed by Constantine himself, the homoousios ["of one substance"], which in

     the subsequent strife between orthodoxy and heresy became the object of dissension." 7

 

After the council, disputes over the relationship between YHWH and Jesus continued for decades.  Those who were for

the idea of equating the Son with Almighty God even fell out of favor for a time.  For example, Martin Marty says of

Athanasius:

 

     "His popularity rose and fell and he was exiled so often [in the years after the council] that he

     virtually became a commuter." 8

 

Athanasius spent years in exile because political and church officials opposed his views that equated the Son with God.

Therefore, the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. neither established nor affirmed the Trinity doctrine.  What later became

the Trinity teaching was not in existence in the fourth century.  The idea that the Father, Son, and holy spirit were

each true God and equal in eternity, power, position, and wisdom, yet but one God, a three-in-one God, was not

developed by that council nor by earlier Church Fathers.  As The Church of the First Three Centuries states:

 

     "The modern popular doctrine of the Trinity . . . derives no support from the language of Justin

     [Martyr]: and this observation may be extended to all the ante-Nicene Fathers; that is, to all

     Christian writers for three centuries after the birth of Christ.  It is true, they speak of the

     Father,Son, and prophetic or holy Spirit, but not as co-equal, not as one numerical essence, not as

     Three in One, in any sense now admitted by Trinitarians.  The very reverse is the fact.  The

     doctrine of the Trinity, as explained by these Fathers, was essentially different from the modern

     doctrine.  This we state as a fact as susceptible of proof as any fact in the history of human

     opinions."

     "We challenge any one to produce a single writer of any note, during the first three ages, who held

     this [Trinity] doctrine in the modern sense." 9

 

Nicaea, though, did represent a turning point.  It opened the door to the official acceptance of

the Son as approaching equality to the Father, and that paved the way for the current Trinity idea.  The book Second

Century Orthodoxy, by J. A. Buckley, notes:

 

     "Up until the end of the second century at least, the universal Church remained united in one basic

     sense; they all accepted the supremacy of the Father.  They all regarded God the Father Almighty

     as alone supreme, immutable, ineffable and without beginning. . . .

     "With the passing of those second century writers and leaders, the Church found itself . . .slipping

     slowly but inexorably toward that point ... where at the Council of Nicaea the culmination of all this

     piece-meal eroding of the original faith was reached.  There, a small volatile minority, foisted its

     heresy upon an acquiescent majority, and with the political authorities behind it, coerced, cajoled

     and intimidated those who strove to maintain the pristine purity of their faith untarnished." 10

     

 

The Council of Constantinople

 

In 381 C.E., the Council of Constantinople not only affirmed the Nicene Creed, but also added something to it.  It called

the holy spirit "Lord" and "life-giver."  The expanded creed of 381 C.E. (which is substantially what is used in the

churches today and which is called "the Nicene Creed") still feel short of a Trinity concept and shows that Christendom

was still undecided about the Trinitarian dogma.  Not even this council completed that doctrine.  The New Catholic

Encyclopedia acknowledges:

 

     "It is interesting that 60 years after Nicaea I the Council of Constantinople I [381 C.E.] avoided

     homoousios in its definition of the divinity of the Holy Spirit." 11

 

     "Scholars have been puzzled by the apparent mildness of expression on the part of this creed; its

     failure, for example, to use the word homoousios of the Holy Spirit as consubstantial with the Father

     and Son." 12

 

     "Homoousios does not appear in Scripture." 13

 

The Bible does not use that word either for the holy spirit or for the Son as being consubstantial with God.  It was an

unbiblical expression that helped lead to the unbiblical, indeed, antibiblical, doctrine of the Trinity.

 

Centuries past before any general acceptance of the Constantinople I creed prevailed.  As  The New Catholic

Encyclopedia comments:

 

     "In the West . . . a general silence seems to have prevailed with regard to Constantinople I and its

     creed." 14

 

The New Catholic Encyclopedia further states that the council's creed was not widely recognized in the West until

the seventh or eighth century.

 

Scholars also acknowledge that the Athanasian Creed, often quoted as a standard definition and support of the Trinity,

was not written by Athanasius, but by an unknown author much later.  The New Encyclopædia Britannica comments:

 

     "The creed was unknown to the Eastern Church until the 12th century. Since the 17th century,

     scholars have generally agreed that the Athanasian Creed was not written by Athanasius (died 373)

     but was probably composed in southern France during the 5th century. . . . The creed's influence

     seems to have been primarily in southern France and Spain in the 6th and 7th centuries.  It was

     used in the liturgy of the church in Germany in the 9th century and somewhat later in Rome." 15

     

 

How It Developed

 

 As The Church of the First Three Centuries says:

 

     "We maintain that the doctrine of the Trinity was of gradual and comparatively late formation; that it

     had its origin in a source entirely foreign from that of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; that it

     grew up, and was ingrafted on Christianity, through the hands of the Platonizing Fathers; that in the

     time of Justin, and long after, the distinct nature and inferiority of the Son were universally taught;

     and that only the first shadowy outline of the Trinity had then become visible." 16

 

Before Plato, triads, or trinities, were common in Babylon and Egypt.  And the efforts of

churchmen to attract unbelievers in the Roman world led to the gradual incorporation of some of those ideas into

Christianity.  This eventually led to acceptance of the belief that the Son and the holy spirit were equal to the Father.

 

The word "Trinity" was only slowly accepted.  It was in the latter half of the second century that Theophilus, bishop of

Antioch in Syria, wrote in Greek and introduced the word tri·as', meaning "triad," or "trinity."

 

Then the Latin writer, Tertullian, in Carthage, North Africa, introduced into his writings the word trinitas, which means

"trinity." #  But the word tri·as' is not found in the inspired OT or Christian Greek Scriptures, and the word trinitas is not

found in the Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate.  Neither expression was Biblical.  But the word "Trinity,"

based on pagan concepts, crept into the literature of the churches and after the fourth century became part of their dogma.

 

Thus, it was not that scholars examined the Bible thoroughly to see if such a doctrine was taught in it.  Instead, secular and

church politics largely determined the doctrine.  In the book The Christian Tradition, author Jaroslav Pelikan notes:

 

     ". . . the nontheological factors in the debate, many of which seemed ready again and again to

     determine its outcome, only to be counter- manded by other forces like unto themselves.  Doctrine

     often seemed to be the victim--or the product--of church politics and of conflicts of personality." 17

 

Yale professor E. Washburn Hopkins put it this way:

 

     "The final orthodox definition of the trinity was largely a matter of church politics." 18

 

How unreasonable the Trinity doctrine is compared with the simple Bible teaching:

 

     "Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah:"  Deut. 6:4, ASV.

     ". . . to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and  one Lord, Jesus

     Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him."--1 Cor. 8:6, ASV.

 

This information shows the Trinity doctrine began its slow development over a period of centuries.  The trinitarian ideas of

Greek philosophers such as Plato, who lived several centuries before Christ, gradually crept into church teachings.

 

   For a comprehensive discussion of Trinity related scriptures see the brochure, Should You Believe in the

         Trinity?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., or go to:

 

                                      The Trinity Exposed

 

 

What It Represented

 

What did the gradual development of the Trinity idea represent?  It was part of the falling away from true Christianity that

Jesus foretold.  (Matthew 13:24-43)  The apostle Paul also had foretold the coming apostasy:

 

     "The time is sure to come when, far from being content with sound teaching, people will be avid for

     the latest novelty and collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own

     tastes; and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths."--2 Timothy 4:3, 4, Catholic

     Jerusalem Bible.

 

One of those myths was the Trinity teaching.  Some other myths alien to Christianity that also gradually developed were:

the inherent immortality of the human soul, purgatory, Limbo, and

eternal torment in hellfire.

 

So, what is the Trinity doctrine?  It is a pagan doctrine masquerading as a Christian one.   This results in their being more

willing to accept other false religious ideas and wrong practices.

 

 

"By Their Fruits You Will Recognize Them"

 

At Matthew 7:15-19, Jesus said that you could tell false religion from true religion in this way:

 

     "Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to you in sheep's covering, but inside they are

     ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them. Never do people gather grapes from

     thorns or figs from thistles, do they? Likewise every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten

     tree produces worthless fruit . . . Every tree not producing fine fruit gets cut down and thrown into

     the fire."

 

Jesus said at John 13:35:

 

     "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves."

 

Also, at 1 John 4:20 and 1 Jo 4:21, God's inspired Word declares:

 

     "If anyone makes the statement:  'I love God,' and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar.  For he who

     does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.  And

     this commandment we have from him, that the one who loves God should be loving his brother

     also."

 

Apply the basic principle that true Christians must have love among themselves to what happened in both world wars of this century, as well as in other conflicts.  People of the same religions of Christendom met on battlefields and slaughtered one another because of nationalistic differences.  Each side claimed to be Christian, and its clergy, who claimed that God was on their side, supported each side.  That slaughter of "Christian" by "Christian" is rotten fruitage.  It is a violation of Christian love, a denial of the laws of God.--See also 1 John 3:10-12.

 

 

A Day of Reckoning

 

Thus, the falling away from Christianity led not only to ungodly beliefs, such as the Trinity

doctrine, but also to ungodly practices.  Yet, there is a day of reckoning to come, for Jesus said:

 

     "Every  tree  that bringeth not forth good  fruit  is hewn down, and cast into the fire."--Matthew

     7:19, ASV.

 

 

References:

 1. Encyclopædia Britannica, 1971, Volume 6, page 386.

 2. A Short History of Christian Doctrine, by Bernhard Lohse, 1963, page 51.

 3. Ibid., pages 52-3.

 4. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Volume VII, page 115.

 5. A Short History of Christianity, by Martin E. Marty, 1959, page 91.

 6. A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, by Philip

Schaff and Henry Wace, 1892, Volume IV, page xvii.

 7. A Short History of Christian Doctrine, page 53.

 8. A Short History of Christianity, page 91.

 9. The Church of the First Three Centuries, by Alvan Lamson, 1869, pages 75-6, 341.

10. Second Century Orthodoxy, by J. A. Buckley, 1978, pages 114-15.

11. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Volume VII, page 115.

12. Ibid., Volume IV, page 436.

13. Ibid., page 251.

14. Ibid., page 436.

15. The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 1985, 15th Edition, Micropædia, Volume 1, page 665.

16. The Church of the First Three Centuries, page 52.

17. The Christian Tradition, by Jaroslav Pelikan, 1971, page 173.

18. Origin and Evolution of Religion, by E. Washburn Hopkins, 1923, page 339.


        back to the top