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Other Articles on the Trinity Controversy

Beware of Polytheism

The Doctrine of Christ

The Lord Our God 
Is One

Trinity Doctrinal Chart




The Lord Our God
Is One

Origin of the Trinity


The original teachings of Christ shone forth with wonderful radiance into the darkness of the Roman world. The Gospel in the beginning was preached in plain terms by simple men, and it was received with gladness by the meek of the earth. The twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, as long as they lived, were the guardians of faith, keeping it pure from human traditions and Pagan influence. Few Christians realize how rapidly corruption entered the church after their death.

We are told by historians that the church conquered the world, but in reality the world overcame the church. As the Gospel message increased in popularity, hordes of Pagans entered the church, bringing with them Pagan ideas. Great catechetical schools were formed; ritualism took the place of Bible study; and costly buildings replaced the catacombs. The pastors of the flock, once noted for self-sacrifice and piety, became wealthy lords over the common people. The sacred heritage of the Bible was buried in creeds, superstition, and forgotten languages; and the ruling powers eventually made it a capital crime to translate the Bible into the common tongue.

Sola Scriptura was the rallying cry of the great Reformation, when the Bible was exalted by Protestants as the sole guide of faith. The Catholic doctrine of tradition as an equal authority in religious matters was at that time firmly rejected. Evangelical Christians ever since have relied (theoretically) on the Bible alone as the source of revealed truth, but in practice they seldom measured up to that high standard.

Thus "historic Christianity," "historic Protestantism," and various other euphemisms for tradition are frequently cited in the writings of Protestants as authority for doctrinal positions. We hear them saying that nothing more can be known about basic Christianity than is outlined in the conflicting creeds of established churches; and that to assert any really different opinion about the Holy Scriptures now would be presumptuous, for so many generations of pious Christians could surely not be wrong.

This traditionalism is a serious error. The necessity for upholding the Bible as the only touchstone of truth is manifest throughout church history, particularly as we consider the various Christian teachings on the nature of the Deity—a subject which, though certainly of cardinal importance, has been one of the most hotly debated issues in the history of the church.

Trinitarianism a Gradual Development

The concept of a trinity was widespread throughout the Pagan world. In Japan there was a three-headed divinity called "San Pao Fuh." In India the trinity was called "Eko Deva Trimurtti" - "One God, three forms." The Babylonians also had a trinity, as did the Pagans of Siberia, Persia, Egypt, and Scandinavia. Long after the apostles died, the teaching that God is a trinity began to be introduced into the Christian church. It was championed chiefly by the educated converts from Paganism and resisted by ordinary believers. "The victory of orthodoxy was a triumph of priests and theologians over the indeed deeply rooted faith of the people."* That the Father and the Son are equal, however, was at first denied by all. Early church writers, such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Novatian, Arnobius, and Lactantius, were very explicit in affirming that the Heavenly Father alone is the supreme God and that Jesus is completely subordinate to his authority and will.

*[A Adolf Harnack, Outlines of the History of Dogma, trans. E. K. Mitchell (Starr King Press), l 957, p. 266. (A Trinitarian source.)]

During the early years of the fourth century, a heated controversy raged between the Arians (named after Arius, their leader, and the Trinitarians, led by Athanasius. The Arians maintained that Jesus is a created being, pre-existent, though having a beginning in time, a son in the normal sense of the word, and subordinate to the Father. The Athanasian party argued that the Son is fully God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

Fearing that religious dissension might disrupt the political unity of the Empire, the Emperor Constantine summoned a general council of bishops to settle the dispute. Meeting at Nice in 325 A.D., the council upheld the teachings of Athanasius and formulated the Nicene Creed. Arius was excommunicated and banished, along with those of the bishops who held out against the decision of the majority and the threats of the Emperor.

The basic Trinitarian position was finally forged at the Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381, where the Holy Spirit was declared to be a divine person, although Harnack states that in the third century the majority of Christians believed it was merely a divine power.* At the Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431, and again at Chalcedon in 450 A.D., Jesus was asserted to be eternally both human and divine, a unity of two natures. The Council of Ephesus, incidentally, added Mary as a supplement to the Trinity, declaring that she should be received and honored as Theotokos, "Mother of God." [* Ibid., p. 266.]

Thus the controversy on the nature of God was settled, or so orthodox historians would have us believe. And thus, we are told, the Holy Spirit guided the church into an understanding of the truth. In point of fact, however, these councils, settled very little. Other councils met as well and upheld Arianism! The fortunes of both sides seesawed according to the politics of the Empire.

Whenever the Arians were dominant, they persecuted the Trinitarians; and when their fortunes were reversed, the Trinitarians persecuted them. The eventual result was not so much the outcome of rational debate and pious scholarship as of power politics and shedding of blood. By the start of the eighth century, Arianism was externally suppressed.* for the Trinitarians proved to be more efficient in killing the Arians than the latter were in killing them. Thus was orthodoxy established. And the most avid defender of holy tradition cannot deny that, had the Arians been militarily successful, their position would have become the standard of orthodoxy instead of that of their opponents.

* McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), Vol. 1, p. 392, 1895. (A Trinitarian source.)]

The Trinitarian consensus, imposed by force of arms, related more to a formula than to the actual substance of belief. The doctrine of the Trinity was simultaneously declared to be a deep mystery, which nobody can understand, and a dogma which must be accepted to obtain salvation. Artists pictured their beliefs with varied representations. Some portrayed the Deity as three separate men, looking alike; others, as three men distinguished. Still others represented it as three heads on one body, or three faces on one head.


Evangelical Modifications

Since the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Trinitarian position has come under searching criticism throughout the world. To meet these attacks, evangelicals have been modifying their doctrinal formulations. Thus Dr. R. A. Torrey, recent Superintendent of the Moody Bible Institute, has advanced a subordinationist view, stating that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three separate persons, co-eternal but not co-equal. The Father, according to Dr. Torrey, is superior to the Son, and the Holy Spirit is subordinate to both.*

[* R. A. Torrey, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House), 1910.]

Another area of modification by contemporary Trinitarians is relative to three gods in one or "three persons in one substance." Walter R. Martin, of the Christian Research Institute, modifies this point with the following definition: Within the unity of the one God, there are three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three share the same nature and attributes. In effect, then the three persons are the one God.

Similarly, in an essay entitled "The Triune God," published by Christianity Today, * the term "substance" used in the Athanasian Creed is modified. This Creed was affirmed by Catholics and Protestants for many centuries. However, this essay concedes that the formula of the trinity often read "three persons in one substance (Greek, treis hypostaseis en mia ousia, and Latin, tres personae in una substantia)."

[* Samuel J. Mikolaski, "The Triune God" (Christianity Today), p. 5.]

There is, thus, no uniform Christian position on the nature of God. Reliance upon human tradition has been a great source of difficulty to many Christians who are earnestly seeking to understand God’s Word. The divinely inspired Scriptures are the only valid evidence for Christian belief, and any objective appraisal of their teaching must include all scriptures pertinent to any subject, i.e., the earnest student of God’s Word must be willing to harmonize the Scriptures, not merely selecting those verses which seem to support his position while ignoring the rest. Only thus can a Christian be "a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."—2 Tim. 2:15 In summation, the following facts regarding the origin of the Trinity are irrefutable:

1. The word "Trinity" nowhere appears in the Bible.

2. The word "Trinity" does not even appear in Christian literature till the beginning of the third century. Even then, it meant something very different from the interpretation now given to the word. Tertullian, the first to use the word, believed that only the Father was without beginning.

The Son, according to him, had a beginning, and his pre-human existence was of the angelic nature. The oneness of the Father and the Son was a oneness of purpose and will.

3. Trinitarians themselves are forced to concede that the doctrine of the Trinity was not completely forged until the fourth century.

4. There is not even a hint of the Trinity in the Old Testament. The Jews, God’s chosen people from old Testament times, have never held this belief. In all of the voluminous rabbinical writings (Talmud) which date from Old Testament times, neither the Trinity nor any similar concept is once mentioned.

Chapter 1 - Origin of the Trinity
Chapter 2 - The Father of Glory Is the One Supreme God
Chapter 3 - The Only Begotten Son
Chapter 4 - The Holy Spirit
Appendix A - John 1:1
Appendix B - Monogenes