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HOW ANCIENT IS THE TRINITY DOCTRINE?

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by Wesley P. Walters

As different as para-Christian groups or cults are from each other, most have one thing in common: they hate the biblical teaching of the Trinity. They want their God to be simplistic, uncomplicated, and less complex than the world He created. They want a God reduced to terms they can get their finite minds around.

Modern advances in science have shown that the created world is an extremely complex mechanism. Those who work in nuclear physics or molecular biology are continually discovering the complexity of the world God has created.

In fact, some complex, seemingly contradictory data has yet to be fitted into a rational system that explains the relationships. A simple thing like “light” is known to move like “waves” yet strike like “particles.” Atomic physicists are still struggling to put together a theory that can fully explain this apparent contradiction.

Those who work in the complex mathematical equations of quantum mechanics are told by their instructors that “If you think that you really understand quantum mechanics and how it applies to reality, that proves you do not understand it.” One of the basic theorems is that if the speed of a particle is known, then its location can not be known, and the more accurately you know its location, the less accurately you know its speed. This does not seem very logical to the average person, but it works very well in atomic physics, in which scientists get very close to the essence of matter.

Thus, while scientists are continually learning more about how complex and even apparently contradictory the world of created reality is, cults that reject the complexity of the God who made this reality are proliferating. They, along with Moslems and modern Jews, taunt Christians, saying: “How can there be just one God, and yet the Father be God, the Son be God and the Holy Spirit be God? Is He the Son of Himself and the Father of both?”

Even though Christ Himself taught that the name [singular] of God in which we baptize is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19), all cults falsely assert that the doctrine of the Trinity is a teaching that grew out of fourth century paganism. So unified are the cults in this assertion that they appear to be using the same erroneous Church history book and parroting one another.

The truth is that by the time of Christ, the first century A.D., the Jews themselves, on the basis of the Old Testament, were coming to an understanding of the complexity of Yahweh.

The Teachings of The Targums

When the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity 450 years before the birth of Jesus, they had adopted Aramaic as their native language. Although it is a dialect of ancient Hebrew, Aramaic is about as different from it as modern Italian is from its classical Latin ancestor. Consequently, during the first and early second centuries A.D., Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Old Testament were made.

These translations, called Targums, were The Living Bibles of their day, an interpretive paraphrase of Scripture. They help us see how these first-century Jews understood their Old Testament.

One of the striking things these Targums show is that first century Jews had come to understand the phrase “the Word of God” as referring to a divine entity within God Himself, yet distinguishable at times from God. J.W. Etheridge, in the introduction to his translations of the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, has given us a number of examples of this Jewish understanding of the term, “the Word” (Aramaic: Memra).

In Genesis 18:1, where the Hebrew Bible says Yahweh (Jehovah) appeared to Abraham, the Targum says, “The Word of the Lord appeared to Abraham.” Further on, where the Hebrew reports “Yahweh rained down upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Yahweh out of heaven,” the Targum states that “the Word of the Lord sent down upon them sulphur and fire from the presence of the Lord out of heaven.” (Genesis 19:24)

In Genesis 16, when Hagar sees “the Angel of the Lord,” the Targum says she saw “the Word of the Lord.” After seeing this “Word” (Memra) she says, “Here has been revealed the glory of the Shekineh of the Lord.” Then, according to the Jerusalem Targum, “Hagar returned thanks and prayed in the name of the Word of the Lord, who had appeared to her.” Thus the Word not only is regard- ed as the presence of deity, but is in some manner personally distinguishable from the Lord.

In Genesis 28:20 the Targum of Onkelos paraphrases Jacob’s vow, “If God will be with me… then Yahweh will be my God” with the words, “If the Word of the Lord will be my help… the Word of the Lord shall be my God.” Again, the Angel of Yahweh who spoke to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14) is designated by the Jerusalem Targum as “the Word of the Lord.”

The distinct personality of this Divine Word is seen pointedly in Jonathan’s Targum of Isaiah 63:7-10. There, where the Hebrew text speaks of Yahweh being their Savior, the Targum reads, “the Word (Memra) was their Redeemer.” (vs. 8) When the Israelites continued to disobey, then “His Word (Memra) became their enemy, and fought against them” — an action ascribed to Yahweh in the Hebrew text. Again in Isaiah 45:22 the Targum of Jonathan exhorts, “Look unto My Word and be saved.”

While this personalizing of the Word was being expressed in Palestine in the Targums of Jesus’ day, Philo, an Egyptian Jew and contemporary of Jesus, was expressing similar thoughts in even more distinct words. In his essay “On the Creation,” Philo states that man was not made in the image of some creature, but in the image of God’s own uncreated Word. He wrote: “for the Creator, we know, employed for its making no pattern taken from among created things, but solely, as I have said, His own Word.”

Philo continues: “Man was made a likeness and imitation of the Word, when the Divine Breath was breathed into his face. (“On the Creation,” XLVIII: 139, Loeb Edition I, pp. 110-111)

In his work on Noah, Philo again expresses the teaching that man is made by “the First Cause” (that is, God) in the image of “the Eternal Word:” “Our great Moses likened the fashion of the rea- sonable soul to no created thing, but averred it to be a genuine coinage of that dread Spirit, the Divine and Invisible One, signed and impressed by the seal of God, the stamp of which is the Eternal Word.”

He continues: “…man has been made after the Image of God (Genesis 1:27), not however after the image of anything created… man’s soul having been made after the image of the Archetype, the Word of the First Cause.” (“Noah’s Work as a Planter,” I:18-20, Loeb III, pp. 222-223)

Thus, the eternal Word is in some sense distinguishable from God, and yet at the same time is, like God, uncreated, rational and the bearer of the divine image. This comes very close to the teaching of the New Testament that the Word was distinguishable from God, and yet was God. As John 1:1 expresses it, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It also appears similar to Paul’s teaching that the Son is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15); and the writer of Hebrews statement that the Son “is the exact representation of His being.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Philo, however, goes further. He says that God is the king and shepherd of all creation, but rules and controls it through his eternally existing Word, whom Philo calls God’s “First-born Son.”

His “hallowed flock” of created things God directs by his divine laws, setting over it His true Word and first-born son, who shall take upon Him its government like some viceroy of a great king. (“On Husbandry,” I:51, Loeb III, pp. 134-135)

Philo has God expressing Himself in this manner: “I alone… sustained the Universe to rest firm and sure upon the Mighty Word, who is My viceroy.” (“On Dreams,” I:241, Loeb V, pp. 424- 425)

Therefore this eternal Word, God’s first-born Son, is the upholder of the whole creation, “the everlasting Word of the eternal God is the very sure and staunch prop of the Whole. He it is, who extending Himself from the midst to its utmost bounds… keeps up through all its length Nature’s unvanquished course, combining and compacting all its parts. For the Father who begat Him constituted His Word such a Bond of the Universe as nothing can break.” (“Noah’s Work as a Planter,” I:8-9, Loeb III, pp. 216-217)

This reflects the same thought that Paul expressed about the Son as being the one “in whom all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17) It also reminds also reminds us of Hebrews 1:3, which depicts the Son as “sustaining all things by his powerful Word.”

Philo continues his discussion of the Word by maintaining that to those incapable of seeing the supreme cause, God Himself, He appears to them in the form of His Angel, the Word: “For just as those who are unable to see the sun itself, see the gleam of the parahelion and take it for the sun, and take the halo round the moon for that luminary itself, so some regard the image of God, His Angel, the Word, as His very self.” (“On Dreams,” I:239, Loeb V, pp. 422-423) This sounds very similar to the teaching tha t the Son is “the radiance (or outshining) of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3), the only part of God’s nature that people are allowed to see. This is true because “no one has ever seen God,” but “the only begotten God… He has made Him known.” (John 1:18) Thus, Jesus, the Son, can say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Philo further explained that God, being light, is “the archetype of every other light.” As such He is “prior to and high above every archetype.” Thus He holds the position of “a model of a model,” that is, He is the model for His Word, which Word becomes the model for creation. The Word, therefore, contains all the qualities of God. As Philo expressed it, “the model or pattern was the Word which contained all His fullness — light, in fact.” (“On Dreams,” I:75, Loeb V, pp. 336-337) Paul expressed a similar thought when he wrote that in the Son all God’s fullness dwells. (Colossians 1:19; 2:9)

To Philo, therefore, the Word of God is the eternal, uncreated Word containing all the fullness of God and bearing His image. That divine image which the Word bears is the image in which man was created. The Word is further the sustainer, upholder and ruler of the world, carrying on the governing of all things, as God’s viceroy, and containing all God’s fullness.

While the Word is not a created thing and carries on all the functions of God, Philo is clear that there are not two gods — although he does not attempt to explain how this can be. Philo’s teaching is, therefore, very close to the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. Philo reached his conclusions without the aid of the New Testament and certainly without deriving his ideas from pagan notions of deity. The Old Testament teaching that the Angel of Yahweh is really the presence of Yahweh Himself seems to have strongly influenced Philo’s ideas.

To relegate the doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, to a fourth- century adaptation of paganism is to ignore the conclusions that several Jewish theologians and teachers had reached four centuries earlier, from God’s revelations given to Israel before the time of the coming of Christ. At the very time that the Word was becoming flesh (John 1:1, 14), Jewish writers were already beginning to see that God’s Word could in some way be distinguished from God the Father Himself, yet have all the fullness of God contained in Him.

http://www.barr-family.com/godsword/trinity.htm

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THE EARLY CHURCH WAS OUTSPOKEN ON THE DEITY OF CHRIST

If One examines carefully the writings of the early church writers their language and theology reflects their understanding of the Trinity. They contended from Scripture not from Greek philosophy or paganism as is charged from anti-Trinitarian opponents. Trinitarianism certainly was not developed in the 4th century but was part of the theology of the early church. Those who oppose it today, are not part of the Church just as they were not part of the Church in the beginning.

Ignatius Bishop of Antioch died about 110 A.D. he was a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote about the lords 2nd coming, “Look for him that is above the times, him who has not times, him who is invisible”. Only God is without time , eternal and invisible. In numerous other places in his letter to Polycarp he states “Jesus is God”, “God incarnate”

“Be deaf, therefore, when any would speak to you apart from (at variance with) JESUS CHRIST [the Son of God], who was descended from the family of David, born of Mary, who truly was born [both of God and of the Virgin … truly took a body; for the Word became flesh and dwelt among us without sin”… Bishop of Antioch died about 110 A.D. he was a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote about the lords 2nd coming, “Look for him that is above the times, him who has not times, him who is invisible”. Only God is without time , eternal and invisible. In numerous other places in his letter to Polycarp he states “Jesus is God”, “God incarnate.”

“Be deaf, therefore, when any would speak to you apart from (at variance with) JESUS CHRIST [the Son of God], who was descended from the family of David, born of Mary, who truly was born [both of God and of the Virgin … truly took a body; for the Word became flesh and dwelt among us without sin.”

Ignatius of Antioch “In Christ Jesus our Lord, by whom and with whom be glory and power to the Father with the Holy Spirit for ever” (n. 7; PG 5.988).

“We have also as a Physician the Lord our God Jesus the Christ the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For ‘the Word was made flesh.’ Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.” ( The ante-nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, Vol. 1, p. 52 .)

“For our God Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost.”( Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 4:9)

“…God Himself appearing in the form of a man, for the renewal of eternal life.”( Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 4:13)

“Continue inseparable from Jesus Christ our God.”( Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians 2:4)

“For even our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is in the Father”.( Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans 1:13)

Clement of Rome (Philipians 4:3)”For Christ is with those who are humble, not with those exalt themselves over his flock. The majestic scepter of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, did not come with the pomp of arrogance or pride (though He could have done so), but in humility, just as the Holy Spirit spoke concerning Him.” (1 Clement 16:1-2)

“Brethren, we ought so to think of Jesus Christ as of God : as of the judge of the living and the dead”.(2nd Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians 1:1)

Justin Martyr ( 140 A.D.) “the word of wisdom, who is himself God begotten of the Father of all things, and word, and wisdom, and power, and the glory of the begetter, will bear evidence to me”.(Dialogue with Tropho Ch.61)

“God speaks in the creation of man with the very same design, in the following words: ‘Let us make man after our image and likeness’ . . . I shall quote again the words narrated by Moses himself, from which we can indisputably learn that [God] conversed with someone numerically distinct from himself and also a rational being. . . . But this Offspring who was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed with him” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 62).

“For Christ is King, and Priest, and God and Lord…”(Dialogue With Trypho, 34)

“…He preexisted as the Son of theCreator of things, being God, and that He was born a man by the Virgin.” (Dialogue With Trypho, 48 )

“We will prove that we worship him reasonably; for we have learned that he is the Son of the true God Himself, that he holds a second place, and the Spirit of prophecy a third. For this they accuse us of madness, saying that we attribute to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all things; but they are ignorant of the Mystery which lies therein” (First Apology 13:5-6).

Polycarp (70-160). Bishop of Smyrna.A disciple of John the Apostle. “O Lord God almighty…I bless you and glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with Him and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever”

“Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High Priest Himself, the God Jesus Christ, build you up in the faith…”( The Epistle of Polycarp to the Church at Philippi, 12

Iranaeus (120-202) “In order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King…”(Irenaeus Against Heresies, 1.10.1)

180 A.D. “But he Jesus is himself in his own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, Lord, and king eternal, and the incarnate word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles …The Scriptures would not have borne witness to these things concerning Him, if, like everyone else, He were mere man.” (Against Heresies 3:19.1-2)

“For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, ‘Let us make man after our image and likeness'”.( Against Heresies, 4:10)

Iranaeus gave the Church two statements which have continued in its creeds: (1) Filius dei filius hominis factus, “The Son of God [has] become a son of man, (Earl Cairns Christianity Through the Centuries, Zondervan, 1981, pg.110) Jesus Christus vere homo, vere deus, “Jesus Christ, true man and true God.” (Harold Brown Heresies, Zondervan, 1989, pg.84)

Irenaeus gave three forms of the statement of faith in three different contexts in This is showing the variety of ways that the faith could be expressed in his day:)

Third Form: IN ONE GOD ALMIGHTY, from whom are all things; and IN THE SON OF GOD, JESUS CHRIST, our Lord, by whom are all things, and in his dispensations, through which the Son of God became man; the firm -persuasion also IN THE SPIRIT OF GOD, who furnishes us with a knowledge of the truth, and has set forth the dispensations of the Father and the Son, in virtue of which he dwells in every generation of men, according to the will of the Father (IV. xxiii. 7).(God in three persons C.Beisner) this is long before the council of Niacea.

Diogneteus Diogneteus to Mathetes (written 130 A.D.) “as a king sends his Son, who is also king, so sent he him, as God (1) he sent him; as men he sent him; as savior he sent him,…” Chpt.7 says “God” (1) which refers to the person sent.

Theophilus (115-181) Bishop of Antioch (To Autolycus 2:22 ,160 A.D.) “For the divine writing itself teaches us that Adam said that he had heard the voice but what else is this voice but the word of God, who is also his Son.”

Tatian the Syrian (170 AD ) “Our God has no introduction in time. He alone is without beginning, and is Himself the beginning of all things. God is a spirit, not attending upon matter, but the Maker of material spirits and of the appearances which are in matter. He is invisible and untouchable, being Himself the Father of both sensible and invisible things. This we know by the evidence of what He has created; and we perceive His invisible power by His works”.(Tatian, Address to the Greeks , 4)

“We are not playing the fool, you Greeks, nor do we talk nonsense, when we report that God was born in the form of a man” (Address to the Greeks 21).

Melito of Sardis (177 AD )The activities of Christ after his baptism, and especially his miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the deity hidden in his flesh. Being God and likewise perfect man, he gave positive indications of his two natures: of his deity, by the miracles during the three years following after his baptism… he concealed the signs of his deity, although he was the true God existing before the ages” (Fragment in Anastasius of Sinai’s, The Guide 13).

Athenagoras (160 AD.) Speaks of “one God, the uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, uncontainable, comprehended only by mindand reason, clothed in light and beauty and spirit and powerindescribable, by whom the totality has come to be.”(suppl. 10.1)

…”the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son, in oneness and power of Spirit, the understanding, and reason of the Father is the Son of God.” (Ante Nicene Fathers vol.2 p.133 a plea for Christians)

“For Christ is the God over all”.(Refutation of All Heresies 10.34)

Athenagoras identifies the Word as the Son of God, says ‘although the word is God’s offspring, he never came into being. Rather, having been with God and in God eternally he issued forth at a point in time.”( A plea for the Christians 12.20) “God the Word came down from heaven…He came forth into the world and…showed Himself to be God”.( Against the Heresy of a Certain Noetus, 17)

speaking of what the church believes, “they hold the Father to be God, and the Son God, and the Holy Spirit, and declare their union and their distinction in order.”(A plea for the Christians.10.3)

“Who, then, would not be astonished to hear those called atheists who admit God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and who teach their unity in power and their distinction in rank?”( Intercession on Behalf of the Saints, 10)

Clement of Alexandria (190 AD) “The Word, then, the Christ, is the cause both of our ancient beginning, for he was in God, and of our well-being. And now this same Word has appeared as man. He alone. is both God and man, and the source of all our good things” (Exhortation to the Greeks 1:7:1).

Tertullian (converted around 193 AD)(215 AD) “The origins of both his substances display him as man and as God: from the one, born, and from the other, not born” (The Flesh of Christ 5:6-7).

“God alone is without sin. The only man without sin is Christ; for Christ is also God.”(The Soul 41.3)

We find that it was the ones who did not understand the trinity that were looked upon as divisive. Tetullians theological writings consisted mostly in response to what the Oneness (modalists) believes. (God is singular in person) When he debated Praxeas of which he wrote. “thus the connection of the Father in the Son the Son in the paraclete, produces three coherent persons, who are yet distinct one from another. These three are one essence, not one person, as it is said, “I and my Father are one,” in respect of unity of substance, not singularity of number.”( Ante-Nicene fathers vol.3,p.621, against Praxeas.) He went on to say “Yet we have never given vent to the phrases ‘two Gods’, or ‘two Lords’: not that it is untrue the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, each is God.” (ibid 13)

Tetullian developed his arguments and refined his belief of which the third form of his rule of faith became this. “We believe there is but one God, and no other besides the maker of the world, who produced the universe out of nothing, by his word sent forth first of all, that this word, called his Son, was seen in the name of God in various ways by the patriarchs, was always heard in the prophets, at last sent down, from the spirit and power of God the Father, into the virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and born of her, lived as Jesus Christ…”.

Not only is he careful in his explanation but throughout all his writings he defines three persons and one substance who are the one God. .”That this one and only God has a Son, his word, who proceeded from himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the virgin, and to have been born of her- being both man and God, the Son of man, and the Son of God, and to have been called the name of Jesus Christ;” (against Praxeas vol.3, p.598)

Novatian (235 AD. )”For Scripture as much announces Christ as also God, as it announces God Himself as man. It has as much described Jesus Christ to be man, as moreover it has also described Christ the Lord to be God. Because it does not set forth Him to be the Son of God only, but also the Son of man; nor does it only say, the Son of man, but it has also been accustomed to speak of Him as the Son of God. So that being of both, He is both, lest if He should be one only, He could not be the other. For as nature itself has prescribed that he must be believed to be a man who is of man, so the same nature prescribes also that He must be believed to be God who is of God . . . Let them, therefore, who read that Jesus Christ the Son of man is man, read also that this same Jesus is called also God and the Son of God” (Treatise on the Trinity 11).

Novatian “The rule of truth demands that, first of all, we believe in GOD THE FATHER and Almighty Lord, that is, the most perfect Maker of all things. . .’ The same rule of truth teaches us to believe, after the Father, also in the SON OF GOD, CHRIST JESUS, our Lord God, but the Son of God…. Moreover, the order of reason and the authority of faith, in due consideration of the words and Scriptures of the Lord ‘, admonishes us, after this, to believe also in the HOLY GHOST, promised of old to the Church, but granted in the appointed and fitting time.

The church did not have non-Trinitarians. The Gnostics, Arians, Oneness and others were considered to be praching heresy and were excluded from the church universal. (This is not my words but the Churches) This did not stop them from going out and starting their own movements and church’s. These were the first cultic movements and many today have aligned themselves with their teachings , some have synthesized several of them together to make something altogether new.

Hippolytus 190 A.D. (Against the heresy of one Noetus “a Oneness promoter” ch.14, ) After quoting part of Jn.1:1 “If then the word was with God and was also God what follows ? Would one say that he speaks of two God’s ? I shall not speak of two Gods but of one; of two persons however and of a third economy, the grace of the Holy Ghost. For the Father is indeed one but there are two persons because there is also the son; and there is the third the Holy Spirit. The Father decrees, the word executes and the son is manifested, through whom the Father is believed on. The economy of the harmony is led back to the one God, for God is one. It is the father who commands and the son who obeys and the Holy Spirit who gives understanding; The Father is above all the son is through all and the holy Spirit who is in all. And we cannot think of one God, but by believing in truth in Father and Son and Holy Spirit”.

“God, subsisting alone, and having nothing contemporaneous with Himself, determined to create the world….Beside Him there was nothing; but He, while existing alone, yet existed in plurality….And thus there appeared another beside Himself. But when I say another, I do not mean that there are two Gods….Thus, then, these too, though they wish it not, fall in with the truth, and admit that one God made all things….For Christ is the God above all…..He who is over all is God; for thus He speaks boldly, ‘All things are delivered unto me of my Father.’ He who is over all, God blessed, has been born; and having been made man, He is (yet) God for ever….And well has he named Christ the Almighty. “(Hippolytus ” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, pp. 227, 153, 225)

In another of his writings “This is the order of the rule of our faith…God the Father, not made, not material, invisible; One God, the creator of all things; this is the first point of our faith. the second point is this; the word of God, Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord who was manifested to the prophets according to the form of their prophesying and according to the method of the fathers dispensation, through whom all things were made.”

Gregory the Wonder-worker (262 AD) “But some treat the Holy Trinity in an awful manner, when they confidently assert that there are not three persons, and introduce (the idea of) a person devoid of subsistence. Wherefore we clear ourselves of Sabellius, who says that the Father and the Son are the same [Person] . . . We forswear this, because we believe that three persons–namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–are declared to possess the one Godhead: for the one divinity showing itself forth according to nature in the Trinity establishes the oneness of the nature” (A Sectional Confession of Faith 8).

“But if they say, ‘How can there be three Persons, and how but one Divinity?’ we shall make this reply: That there are indeed three persons, inasmuch as there is one person of God the Father, and one of the Lord the Son, and one of the Holy Spirit; and yet that there is but one divinity, inasmuch as . . . there is one substance in the Trinity” (A Sectional Confession of Faith, 14)

Dionysius (262 AD )”Neither, then, may we divide into three godheads the wonderful and divine unity . . . Rather, we must believe in God, the Father almighty; and in Christ Jesus, his Son; and in the Holy Spirit; and that the Word is united to the God of the Universe. `For,’ he says, ‘The Father and I are one,’ and `I am in the Father, and the Father in me'” (Letter to Dionysius of Alexandria, 3)

Methodius (305 AD) “For the kingdom of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is one, even as their substance is one and their dominion one. Whence also, with one and the same adoration, we worship the one Deity in three Persons, subsisting without beginning, uncreated, without end, and to which there is no successor…. For nothing of the Trinity will suffer diminution, either in respect of eternity, or of communion, or of sovereignty” (Oration on the Psalms 5).

Arnobius (305 AD) “‘Well, then,’ some raging, angry, and excited man will say, ‘Is that Christ your God?’ ‘God indeed,’ we shall answer, ‘and God of the hidden powers'” (Against the Pagans 1:42).

Athanasius (290 -370) “[The Trinity] is a Trinity not merely in name or in a figurative manner of speaking; rather, it is a Trinity in truth and in actual existence. Just as the Father is he that is, so also his Word is one that is and is God over all. And neither is the Holy Spirit nonexistent but actually exists and has true being.” (Letters to Serapion 1:28).

“United without confusion, distinguished without separation. Indivisible and without degrees.” (Sermon on Lk.10:22)

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IS THE TRINITY PAGAN? Is the Holy Trinity Pagan?

Some groups (including Jehovah’s Witnesses) claim that the Holy Trinity comes from paganism; Is there really any truth, or hard evidence in this claim?

My purpose in this article and in the graph which follows it, is to show that this claim is a nonsense because, as a matter of fact, the Trinity is a very distinctively Christian belief. Following this brief article you will find a graph showing how The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit are all biblically revealed to be God. If you do not read the article at least scroll down to the Godhead graph so you will know the Scriptures to quote in any future controversy.

So What is the Trinity?

It is the Christian belief that there are Three Persons in One God. These Three Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – are distinct from one another yet they share the same Divine Nature. Thus they are not three distinct gods, but one God; so God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit ALL (according to the Holy Bible) bear the character and attributes of God.

Some cults and sects claim that the early Christians copied the Holy Trinity from surrounding pagan religions. They are a mile from the truth. So just what is the truth? Why did the ‘Church Fathers’ find it necessary to set out this doctrine? Far from what the sects and cults teach (and they are often woefully ignorant of the facts of church history), the concept actually came from a very careful reading and inspired interpretation of the Bible, which refers to three distinct Persons as “God” yet insists that there is but one God. The ‘fathers’ were concerned that some early groups were coming to an understanding of God which did not do full justice to ALL the Scriptures about God so they found it necessary to set these things out doctrinally in order to avoid error and heresy. Many of these things were set out in doctrinal, creedal fashion in the 4th century. Much (though not all) of this was in order to refute Arius who was guilty of perverting the Scriptures which refer to God. This man, of course, came to give his name to the well-recognized heresy of Arianism – very much ‘alive and kicking’ in today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Evidence of an Egyptian “Trinity”?

Before Christianity, no religion ever believed in a single Deity consisting of three persons. Detractors sometimes say that the Osirus-Isis-Horus family of ancient Egyptian mythology was a “model” for the Christian Trinity. Yet this is clearly a triad of distinct pagan deities, not a trinity in the Christian sense. The Egyptians never considered them to be three persons in one God, but as two separate gods and a goddess – among numerous other divinities such as Hathor, Ptah, Neith, Set, Nut, Geb, and Basht, to name a few. The highest deity in their pantheon was the sun god Ra, so they didn’t even consider the Osirus-Isis-Horus triad to be supreme among the gods!

A Triune Goddess Among the Celts?

Some point to “triple goddesses” worshipped by the pagan Celts as forerunners of the Christian Trinity. Yet these were either triads of mother goddesses or a single goddess with three “aspects” or “modes of being”. The Holy Trinity isn’t one Divine Person with three “aspects” or “modes”, for the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are personally distinct from one another. Thus the “triple goddess” is merely a threefold deity, not a true trinity in the Christian sense, thus could not be the origin of the Holy Trinity.

The problem is that when people go looking for pagan ‘divine triads’ they might well find them, but so would they find ‘divine quartets’, ‘divine septets’ or almost anything else! It depends what the researcher is looking for! We must realize that in India alone it is claimed that over 1,000,000 deities are worshipped (according to the region and the particular strain of religiosity one prefers)!! – in such a huge number we might find almost anything! However, if it could indeed be shown that there are many pagan divine triads (probably highly dubious), is it not possible that Satan himself could have fashioned this on his knowledge of God as the former Lucifer? It would “prove” nothing.

Hindu Trimurti = Trinity?

Other critics within the cults claim that the Hindu “trimurti” – Brahma, Vishnu and Siva – was another model for the Christian Trinity. Yet scholars tell us that this “trimurti” only appears in Hinduism during the 4th-7th centuries AD. By that time the Christian understanding of the Holy Trinity was becoming fairly well-established! If the Holy Trinity concept predates the Hindu trimurti (which certainly appears to be the case), the former could not have been copied from the latter. In fact, given Hinduism’s tendency to absorb concepts from other religions, and the fact that Christianity reached India in the first century, it is very likely that the Hindu teachers developed the trimurti along the lines of the Trinity-concept professed by Indian Christians!

Yet the former is not an exact copy of the latter. Hindus do not consider Brahma, Vishnu and Siva to be three persons in one God, but three distinct gods who each manifest part of Brahman, the impersonal Absolute. Some even add a fourth god, Ishvara, to this group, and claim that he is the first – antecedent to the other three! This demolishes the threeness which might seem to parallel the Trinity.

Moreover, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva each have a goddess consort – Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Sakti respectively. That would make not three but six. Add Ishvara and his consort, Maheshvari, and you now have eight primary manifestations of Brahman! Yet these are only eight among millions of divinities in the Hindu tradition, all of which are considered various manifestations of the Absolute.

Thus any alleged Hindu parallel with the Trinity quickly dissolves into a modalistic polytheism and finally a monistic pantheism, in which all diversity in the universe merely manifests an underlying spiritual Unity (a concept which has no place at all in orthodox Christianity, although it certainly appears in New Ageism).

CONCLUSION
(But please check out the graph AT THE ARTICLES SITE before you leave this article!)

It is only too clear that those cults and sects which reject the Trinity do not even correctly understand it so it should not surprise us that they think they can find the Trinity in polytheism or modalism when those concepts are absolutely anathema to the doctrine of The Holy Trinity. So the Christian concept of the Trinity is quite unique to world religions, not copied from another faith but progressively revealed by God in Holy Scripture. Undoubtedly some Christians believe that various pagan triads and threefold deities may have originated in a primitive revelation of – or memory of – the Triunity of the One True God. This is also quite possible. Perhaps the memory traces back to our first parents, who walked with God at the dawn of humanity. Or maybe God revealed something of the Divinity to “righteous pagans”, Gentiles of centuries past who genuinely sought the Most High God (the Bible certainly appears to suggest that such people have existed). These memories or revelations may have seeped into the legends of the human race, and soon became myths of divine triads and deities with three “aspects”. For every religion has an element of truth in it; perhaps this is one such element. This may show that God has not left the human race in complete ignorance of Divine Truth throughout the ages. But many other Christians, including myself, are somewhat sceptical that divine triads can be found in paganism any more than any other shape or number of “divinities”.

Thus if we do locate pagan religious notions which might bear a slight resemblance to biblical truth, they would frankly prove nothing, and most certainly they would not prove that early Christians copied these concepts. Why would the early Christians do such a thing when we have a record which shows how determined they were in their fight against paganism? In fact, we have a very clear record from church history which tells us why ‘the fathers’ were concerned to outline the Trinity: It was a concern that biblical truth about God should be carefully preserved.

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/robin.brace/1THEGODHEAD.html

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