YES, YOU SHOULD BELIEVE IN THE TRINITY!
CHAPTER 2: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
What this scholar is basically saying is that while the early Christians had a rudimentary understanding of the nature of the Triune God as they experienced Him (“economic or dispensational Trinity”) through His dealings with mankind throughout the Old and New Testaments, it wasn’t until subsequent centuries that they were more capable of articulating ontologically their understanding of the Triune God through the formulation of the Christian creeds (“ontological Trinity”). Indeed, as this encyclopedia states, “there is no real...antithesis between the doctrines of the economic [“Trinity of experience”] and the essential Trinity [“Trinity of dogma”]” as the “Triunity [“ontological” or “essential” Trinity] represents the effort to think out the Trinity, and so to afford it a reasonable basis.”
In order to establish a basis for their existence, every heretical group which claims to restore “true Christianity” asserts that Christianity as we know it today has become so apostate and full of paganism that unless one disassociates himself from his religion and joins their group, he cannot be saved. Note the following statements found in various issues of The Watchtower:
While the Mormon church claims that their prophet Joseph Smith was called to “restore” true Christianity to the earth as it was uniquely revealed to Joseph through revelations and visions, the Watchtower Society teaches that although the majority of Christianity apostatized, Jehovah God has always sustained a remnant of true followers on earth throughout the centuries. Thus, the Watchtower Society maintains that their Governing Body is comprised of members of this “remnant” class who serve as God’s mouthpiece and “channel of communication” to His people on earth. Endeavoring to validate their teaching that the majority of Christianity apostatized, the Watchtower Society seeks to find support for their doctrines in the teachings of the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers.1. By claiming that these Fathers taught Watchtower doctrine, the Society maintains that although historic Christianity possessed pure doctrine at the time of the apostles, within four centuries, Christianity adopted “pagan” doctrines such as the doctrine of the Trinity. They then conclude, “Thus, the testimony of the Bible and of history makes clear that the Trinity was unknown throughout Biblical times and for several centuries thereafter.”2. Are these claims credible? Note the following Scriptural passages which clearly articulate God’s preservation of the Church throughout history:
With this assurance of protection, how could the Church have apostatized to the point of becoming pagan and needing to be restored? How could the Church which is “the pillar and support of truth” have crumbled, when Jesus promised that the gates of Hades would “not overpower it”? If the church truly apostatized, how could it have given glory to God throughout “all generations”? Due to the fact that it was in response to heresy that many doctrines of Christianity were formulated into creeds, the doctrine of the Trinity was not officially formulated until the fourth century. However, this does not in the least imply that this doctrine was not understood or taught prior to this time. Contrary to the Watchtower Society’s claims, the Ante-Nicene Fathers did uphold Trinitarian doctrine as is clearly revealed in their writings.
Although the Society’s brochure on the Trinity does not reference Ignatius, he studied under the Apostle John and was acquainted with other apostles who had seen Jesus. As a martyr who was executed for his faith in Christ, Ignatius was a fervent follower of Jesus Christ and wrote four epistles to the Ephesians just prior to his execution at Rome on December 20th, A.D. 107. Therefore, Ignatius’ testimony on this issue is worth investigation:
These statements by Ignatius provide ample evidence that the concept of the Deity of Christ was well-known and accepted by the apostles and the early Church, and therefore cannot be of pagan origin. We will now turn our attention to the other Ante-Nicene Fathers that the Watchtower Society references in their brochure.
The Watchtower’s brochure states that Justin Martyr “called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is ‘other than the God who made all things.’ ”4. However, far from teaching that Jesus is “a created angel,” Justin Martyr actually taught that Christ is “the Angel of God” who conversed with Moses out of the burning bush and revealed Himself as the Jehovah God saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.…I AM WHO I AM.”5. Justin Martyr also understood the Scriptural term “first-begotten” of God to mean that Christ is of the same nature as God the Father. Note the following excerpts taken from his writings:
The Society claims that Irenaeus “said that the prehuman Jesus had a separate existence from God and was inferior to him. He showed that Jesus is not equal to the ‘One true and only God,’ who is ‘supreme over all, and besides whom there is no other.’ ”6. This assertion on the part of the Watchtower Society is deceitful because Irenaeus did not contrast Christ with the “One true and only God” but actually contrasted the true God with the lesser gods of Gnosticism. In reality, Irenaeus taught the following concerning Christ:
The Society’s booklet declares that Clement “called Jesus in his prehuman existence ‘a creature’....He said that the Son ‘is next to the only omnipotent Father’ but not equal to him.”7. This assertion is not only erroneous but is quite deceitful, for Clement actually taught the opposite of what the Society insinuates. Note the following excerpts taken from Clement’s writings which not only reveal the deception of the Society claims, but also the fact that as far back as the second century, the early Church Fathers articulated and defended the concept of the Trinity:
The Trinity brochure states that Tertullian “taught the supremacy of God. He observed: ‘The Father is different from the Son (another), as he is greater; as he who begets is different from him who is begotten; he who sends, different from him who is sent.’ He also said: ‘There was a time when the Son was not....Before all things, God was alone.’ ”8. Concerning this last statement, “there was a time when the Son was not,” Robert Bowman comments:
In his writings, Tertullian was very explicit in his articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity:
The Society claims that Hippolytus “said that God is ‘the one God, the first and the only One, the Maker and Lord of all,’ who ‘had nothing co-equal [of equal age] with him...But he was One, alone by himself; who willing it, called into being what had no being before,’ such as the created prehuman Jesus.”9. Here again, when one examines what Hippolytus actually taught, one uncovers another example where the Society misrepresents the facts. Note the following statements found in Hippolytus’ writings:
The Society states that Origen taught “‘the Father and Son are two substances...two things as to their essence,’ and that ‘compared with the Father, [the Son] is a very small light.’ ”10. While it is true that Origen was not orthodox on all his teachings about the Trinity and was eventually regarded by the Church as a heretic (although this was not on the basis of his view of the Trinity), he did teach certain aspects of the Trinity.
Concerning Origen’s orthodox and unorthodox views of the Trinity, Robert Bowman comments:
It is with these statements from Alvan Lamson that the Watchtower Society concludes their section on “What the Ante-Nicene Fathers Taught.” Yet, as we have already seen by comparing the Watchtower Society’s claims about the Ante-Nicene Fathers with the actual writings of the Fathers, these Fathers not only affirmed the concepts found in the Trinity doctrine, but they actually taught the very opposite of what the Society claims they taught.
This caused me to ponder, where did the Watchtower Society get their information about the Ante-Nicene Fathers in the first place? It certainly could not have been from their actual writings. A clue was given in the Watchtower reference above where they quoted Alvan Lamson’s book, The Church of the First Three Centuries. By referencing the “Bibliography to the Trinity brochure” that the Watchtower Society provided, it was confirmed that all of the quotes given in their statements about the Ante-Nicene Fathers on page 7 of the Trinity brochure, came from Alvan Lamson’s book, not the original writings of the Fathers.
Who was Alvan Lamson? Is he a credible source for this information? No. Alvan Lamson was an anti-Trinitarian who may have been a Unitarian. While the specific edition of Lamson’s book that the Society quotes was published in 1869 by Horace B. Fuller, Boston, MA, a later edition was published in 1875 by the British and Foreign Unitarian Association of London. Why is this significant? Unitarians are Anti-Trinitarians. Thus, while we cannot say for sure that Alvan Lamson was a Unitarian, his book reflected the anti-Trinitarian ideas of Unitarians to the point that the British and Foreign Unitarian Association chose to publish his book.
Yet, even in the case of quoting Lamson who was biased toward the Watchtower Society anti-Trinitarian position, the Society went beyond his statements to further distort the true teachings of some of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. I noted the following misrepresentations and omissions:LAMSON’S STATEMENTS ABOUT JUSTIN MARTYR
Concerning Justin Martyr on page 7, the Watchtower Society claims that he “called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is ‘other than the God who made all things.’ ” Yet, nowhere in Lamson’s statements did he claim that Justin Martyr taught that Jesus was a “created angel”. Lamson merely said:
So while it is true that Lamson claimed that Justin Martyr taught that Jesus is “other than the God who made all things,” Lamson prefaced his statements about Justin Martyr by qualifying Martyr’s term of “angel” as a reference to being a messenger who “announces” God’s words and appears to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. As we have already seen in Justin Martyr’s own statements, Martyr regarded Jesus to be the Angel of the Lord, the great I AM who appeared to Moses in the burning bush as Jehovah God. This is a far cry from being a “created Angel” who is not God. Thus, even the anti-Trinitarian Lamson, did not go as far as the Watchtower Society did in distorting what Justin Martyr taught concerning Jesus’ identity as the “Angel.”LAMSON’S STATEMENTS ABOUT CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA
From Clement’s own writings, we have already seen how he regarded Jesus to be “...the Divine Word, He that is truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe.” Yet, the Watchtower accurately portrayed Lamson’s view of Clement as teaching that Jesus is inferior to the Father. The one place where the Watchtower skewed Lamson’s statements about Clement is where the Society states on page 7 of their brochure:
“Clement of Alexandria, who died about 215 C.E., called Jesus in his prehuman existence ‘a creature’ but called God ‘the uncreated and imperishable and only true God.’ ”
Alvan Lamson did not claim that Clement himself taught that Jesus was “a creature.” He actually attributed the phrase “creature” to the claims of Clement’s opponents. He said:
“None of the Platonizing Fathers before Origen have acknowledged the inferiority of the Son in more explicit terms than Clement. Photius, writing in the ninth century, besides charging him, as already said, with making the Son a ‘creature’ … Rufinus, too, accuses him of calling the ‘Son of God a creature.’ …Clement believed God and the Son to be numerically distinct; in other words, two beings, — the one supreme, the other subordinate, the ‘first-created of God,’ first-born of all created intelligences…”—The Church of the First Three Centuries, 1969, pp. 124-125
So while Lamson does not directly claim that Clement called Jesus a “creature,” he does attribute the phrase “first-created of God” to Clement. Of course, without the context of this phrase, it is indeed uncertain as to whether Clement actually taught that Jesus is a “creature.”
When it comes to Tertullian, it seems that for the most part, the Watchtower’s quotes of Lamson’s statements about him are accurately portrayed. However, there is a key phrase from Lamson that the Watchtower Society left out. Lamson said:
So while Lamson claims that Tertullian denies the eternality of the Son, the Watchtower Society notably excludes a key statement about how Lamson viewed Tertullian’s comments about the Son being begotten. The fact that Lamson claims that Tertullian taught, “whatever is born of God is God,” indicates that Tertullian at least acknowledged the superiority of Christ as being “God” by nature.
Amid the fires of debate generated on account of the heresy of Arius spreading within Constantine’s empire, on June 19, 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea began with Eusebius of Caesarea the “first church historian” recording the events. The issue of debate focused on the person of Christ and His relationship to God the Father. Around 318 A.D., Arius began teaching that Jesus is a created being who is of a different substance (Greek: heteroousios) than the Father. Prior to this, as already noted in the discussion on the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Christians held to the view that God is a Trinity who consists of three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Arius’ heresy struck at the very heart of this doctrine; for by insisting that Jesus had to be created, he was teaching that Jesus is not the one true God, but is rather an inferior god who is in some sense only “divine.”
Fearing that the term homoousios could be misunderstood to advocate the heresy of modalism (promoted in earlier centuries by Sabellius and others who taught that Jesus and the Father are the same person), Eusebius and his proponents favored the term homoiousios feeling that this would avoid the heresy of Sabellius and at the same time refute Arianism. As the Council proceeded, each group shared its views, seeking to come to an agreement on what Scripture teaches and how to best communicate this truth. As the Orthodox group expressed their position that by using the term homoousios, they were not compromising the teaching of the distinctions in the persons of the Trinity, but were rather endeavoring to defend the Deity of the persons, the Council eventually came to an agreement with all but Arius and two bishops signing the following creed:
The Watchtower Society argues that the doctrine of the Trinity was not totally formulated at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., because there was no mention of the Holy Spirit at this council. While it is true that the person of the Holy Spirit was not discussed at this time, the council did affirm Trinitarian doctrine not only by the fact that it acknowledged that Christ is of the same substance as the Father, but the Nicene Creed12. states: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth...And in one Lord Jesus Christ.…And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life.…”13. The reason the person of the Holy Spirit was not discussed at the Nicene Council is due to the fact that the issue of controversy concerned the Son—not the Holy Spirit.
The Society’s Trinity brochure twists the quotes from Chadwick’s book The Early Church in order to give the impression that he was teaching that Constantine was not a Christian. Note the context from which these quotes are derived:
It appears that Constantine “worshipped the Unconquered Sun” prior to his conversion.14. Also, in context, it seems like Chadwick felt that Constantine’s conversion was genuine. However, he admits that “if” Constantine’s conversion was not genuine, it should be interpreted as “a military matter.” Nevertheless, the fact that Constantine was not baptized until the end of his life “implies no doubt about his Christian belief. It was common...to postpone baptism to the end of one’s life.” While it is true that Constantine was the one who officially called the bishops together for the Nicene Council, he did not force his views upon the Council. This can be seen by his willingness (in subsequent years) to abandon the Nicene position in order to enhance his political position. He was not a theologian, but was primarily interested in unity, for he recognized how disunity on these issues threatened his empire.
Although the Council of Nicaea rejected Arianism, this was by no means the end of controversy. For nearly five decades from 332-381, Arianism seemed to reign. Emperors generally preferred Arianism (which taught that Jesus was a “divine” creature) as the more attractive religious system due to the fact that it advocated that a creature could be a god, and they felt it was easier to rule if their subjects thought of them as being somewhat “divine.”
Constantine’s successor, his second son Constantius, ruled the East and allowed Arianism to flourish under his rulership. Eusebius of Nicomedia, Arians and semi-Arians endeavored to overturn Nicaea. Under Constantius, regional councils met at Ariminum, Seleucia, and Sirmium, forcing many leaders to subscribe to Arian and semi-Arian creeds. Athanasius who became bishop of Alexandria shortly after the Council of Nicaea was removed from his position five times, and even Hosius who was now nearly 100 years old, was threatened. Despite pressure to compromise, Athanasius continued to fight, and remained firm in his conviction that Scripture should be regarded as the supreme authority; thus, giving rise to the phrase, “Athanasius contra mundum—Athanasius against the world.” Although Athanasius did not write the Athanasian creed, it was named after him due to his perseverance and uncompromised stance on the issue of the Deity of Christ.
Finally at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D., the Trinity doctrine was reaffirmed and Arianism eventually died out with internal fighting among its advocators. Yet, contrary to the claims of the Watchtower’s Trinity brochure, from this point on in history, the Trinity doctrine did gain wide acceptance as it was clarified in subsequent years and codified into the creeds we posses today.15. Thus, The Encyclopedia Americana notes: “The full development of Trinitarianism took place in the West, in the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages, when an explanation was undertaken in terms of philosophy and psychology.…”16.
As foretold in the Scriptures, throughout history as well as in our day, there are groups of people who were at one time considered to be within the perimeters of Biblical Christianity but have subsequently turned away from the truths found in God’s Word and have followed after heretical teachers who teach what these people want to hear.17. Nevertheless, simply because some of the people of Christianity have turned away into heresy, this does not imply that Christianity as a whole has become apostate. As was noted previously, Jesus and his apostles foretold that the Church would endure and give glory to God “throughout all ages.” Thus, one must conclude that Christianity could not have become apostate to the extent that the Watchtower booklet asserts. Notice that at 1 Timothy 4:1 where Paul speaks of an apostasy that is to come in the last days, he states that “some,” not all, will fall away.
1. i.e., the Church Fathers who lived prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.
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