Want Some Answers ???
Good to hear from you after all this time, your letter arrived on the 14th of March. Although you didn't provide answers to all my points, yet your letter reveals an effort to address one issue. All my correspondence posted to you has been systematic, detailed and addressing every issue page by page, but every return from you has been almost a change of subject. Sad because you keep avoiding much of my last comments.
This time should I shall take your approach and avoid your comments? You turn to the subject to "Trinitarianism" (touched on in my last letter). Your letter is fill of gab quotations, fabricated notions, half-truths and distortions.
I agree the formation of post-biblical Trinitarian doctrine is arbitrary (not established on scriptural evidence alone) but the origins may legitimately be sought in the Bible. Not in the sense of proof-testing or finding metaphysical principles, but because the Bible is the authoritative record of God’s redemptive relationship with humanity.
Tertullian (185-254?) who lived in Carthage (Africa) miles from Greek influence, whose writings attack Gnostic heretics, pagan practices and Platonism as anti-Christian, yet in his famous treatise against Praxeas he outlines the substance of his teaching about the trinity (Which I quoted/last letter). True he did not regard the divine Persons as absolute in the sense in which they were to be regarded in later orthodox theology, but that was a failure of imagination rather than of will. He wrote that the differences between the Persons is not one of status but one of gradus (rank). He placed the Father first in the order of gradus but did not accord Him a kind of divinity the Son and Spirit cannot share. He stressed the two natures (divine/human) united in Christ. One Christadelphian incorrectly wrote,
“The early Church Fathers….in the period 100-300AD knew nothing of it (Trinity) and frequently uttered opinions which contradict it” The doctrine “….became the teaching of the Church 300-400 years later”. (pg.3,5 God the Son or Son of God? F.Pearce).
It’s true the word (trinity) was first formally used at the synod held at Alexandrian in 317AD and found with Theophilus (Bishop of Antioch in Syria from 168-183AD). But the fact is Ross that the doctrine was a common article of Christian confession even before this.
Lucian, a great writer of that era, about 160AD in his Philopatris, the Christian, states “the exalted God….Son of the Father, One of Three and Three of One”. Irenaeus also, in his treatise against heresies states – “Complete faith in one God Almighty – of Whom are all things, and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things and His dispensation by which the Son of God became man…” (130-200AD).
Your quote on page 9 is only 4 words of this. And you try to parallel Gnosticism with Trinitarianism. Why do you half-quote C.H Dodd and misrepresent his belief? Dodd denies the trinity is a pagan concept (See “Pagan and Christian” Dodd. p.117). You quote C.H.Dodd (p.9,10) as if he’s anti-Trinitarian. But in his book “The Apostolic Preaching and it’s Developments” concerning the words of Thomas “My Lord and my God” (Jn.20:28) he writes, “the sign which seals for the disciples the reality of that He accomplished and the finality of His Person”
Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen and all wrote accounts of the Gnostic movement by way of counter arguments. Trinitarians teach the two natures of Christ [God/man]. But Gnostics that He was not a material being at all, but only appeared to be a man. “Modern scholars regard Gnosticism as a religious movement which may have been even more independent of Christianity than once thought” (p.63 'The World of the First Christians' from 'Great Leaders of the Christian Church' Moody press. 1982 E.Yamauchi (Prof. History).
The Incarnation was irreconcilable to Gnosticism for they denied Christ’s body was a real body. John’s Epistle states this, and reveals Gnosticism was distinguished by an unethical, loveless intellectualism. I believe you have no concept of what you affirm regarding this issue. The early church fathers (I mentioned) taught Christ’s deity and wrote against the very movement you think was the development of the trinity doctrine.
On page 6 of your letter you suggest the trinity was an adoption of one of the many examples you mention. True, triads of divinities can be found in many religions, three being recognized as a sacred number, but in the Christian doctrine of the trinity there is nothing in common with the threes of mythology. You copy these straight out of a book. The fact is Christianity shares many things in common with paganism - baptism, sacred meals, spiritual authority, ceremonies for the dead, anointing, etc, but we don’t classify as paganism. Likewise can be said about the trinity doctrine but it is not “..derived from the Church Fathers but from the apostles faith and teachings” (The New International Dic. of the Christian Church. vol.12 1974 Ed. J. Douglas). “Before Christianity became the official faith of the Roman Empire in 325 it refused to recognize all pagan gods and therefore stood on irreconcilable apposition to the whole pagan world”.
“The routine objection is that the doctrine sacrifices monotheism to trintheism. But this objection thrives on a misconception of divine personality in the image of disparate individual human selves. A type of rationalistic apologetics, promotes a Trinitarianism on speculative rather than revelational grounds, regrettably encourages this misunderstanding......The insistence on three eternal modes of consciousness in the one God has no parallel in religious philosophy. Quite different are Platonic ideas and Demiurge, triadic gods of some ancient polytheistic religions, the stoic logos and the Neo-Platonic Nous and Hegel’s exposition of a three beat movement in the self-manifestation of the Absolute, much as they seek to emphasize vital relationships within the life of the divine”. (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyc., of the Bible. Vol.5)
This Encyclopaedia concludes “Christian theology has no other reason for asserting the finality of Trinitarian monotheism that the fact of God’s self-disclosure attested in the Holy Scriptures”. It appears Ross that there are many Ency’s., and Dic’s., that will not support your argument. Are they all wrong? Succumb to a great cover-up or hoax? Surely not. But a closer look at the details reveals the facts like Vishnu who is pictured with three human heads because Hindus believe his incarnation occurred “many times in history” so this again has no parallel with the trinity doctrine.
I feel at this stage its necessary for me to comment regarding your mass of quotations especially regarding the authors. This is not to “slate” but explain how I can still approve of the trinity doctrine in the face of your assembly of quotes. I realise quotations are necessary but yours are misleading to an uninformed reader who is not acquainted with the doctrinal stand that the scholars and authors take.
You quote a number of times on page 8 P.Schaff (History of the Christian Church Eerdmans). He was Professor in Theology Seminary NY. He's a Trinitarian as a reading of his books show. Why don’t you read his book, “The Person of Christ, the Perfection of His Humanity as proof of His Divinity” (Boston NY 1865 revs.1882). Or, “The New Schaff-Herzag Enc., of religious Knowledge” vol.15 look under “Trinity” Book X11 p.17-23).
You quote F.F Bruce (p.2,6) as if he’s a Christadelphian like you. In “The Interpreters Dic., of the Bible 1962 vol.4 his own words are, “...while not a Biblical term ‘trinity’ represents the crystallization of NT teaching”.
Eusebius (you quote p.9-10) he’s not anti-Trinitarian either. See the Introduction to “Ecclesiastical History” vol.1 “The position of Eusebius is that the logos existed from the beginning with God the Father”. Eusebius writes, “…the true Christ, the Divine and heavenly word who is the High Priest of the universe, the only King of creation” (H.E.I.8).
You quote Young’s Literal Translation (p.5) but see his Concise Critical Bible Commentary on Jn.1:1 he is also Trinitarian. You quote from “A History of Israel by John Bright (p.6). You are mistaken he is also Trinitarian “He [Jesus] is called God Jn.1:1 20:28 Tit.2:13 2 Pe.1:1 Such was the faith of the church.…the deity of Jesus a far more precise doctrinal expression than Jesus himself ever gave it…we cannot believe this was an invention of the church” (p.206 The Kingdom of God J.Bright 1981).
On pages 4,5,6,7,8, you quote Edward Gibbon “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. Gibbon’s two volumes are quoted in Christadelphian literature ad nauseous and he is the pillar of their fabrication against the trinity doctrine. Read the Introduction to The Decline and Fall. “No modern historian can agree with Gibbon’s supercilious dismissal of the Byzantine history as ‘a tedious and uniform tale of weakness and misery’ This failure of understanding is even more disastrous when he has to deal with the problems of the rise of Christianity. Christianity was essentially something new…. All this was invisible and unintelligible to him. He had no understanding of specifically religious values. They were for him an unknown dimension. That is his real difficulty in dealing with Christianity: not concerning miracles or metaphysical absurdity of dogmas but the fundamental concepts of divine revelation in short the idea of what Christianity was all about. Consequently his chapter on the Rise of Christianity entirely failed to touch the root of the matter he hast to account for the vast development of creeds, sects, ecclesiastical establishments. His attitude to Christianity is marked by a note of personal animosity and the cause of his rejection of it… he reduces it’s place in history by treating it with irony and seeking to discredit it with sneers and innuendoes. [This is his] ...great defect as a historian and a very serious one since it invalidates his judgment on the very issues which are most vital to his subject….no discreet inquirer would go there for his ecclesiastical history” [4th Ed. Vol,1 XXXIX] (But only Christadelphians "go there" we might add)
You quote Hislop (p.3,4,5,6) his book “The Two Babylon’s” Another often quoted book by you people [selective quotes of course]. A book so old very few could ever check one who quotes it. He’s Trinitarian as his book indicates. The purpose of “The Two Babylon’s” is not to discredit, or suggest the doctrine of the Trinity is pagan. Although that’s the way you use the book. No! Hislop in his book sets out to “establish the identity between the systems of ancient Babylon an Papal Rome” [p.13]. The book is described as “a noble service to our common Protestantism” (Dr. Campbell – British Standard).
It was said about Hislop that during his illness “he manifested the supporting power of faith, when faith has respect to the truth as it is in Jesus, and appropriates his as a personal and Almighty Saviour” (Preface).
A quote from his book - “All these have existed from ancient times (the examples you gave in your letter) while overlaid with idolatry, the recognition of a Trinity was universal in all the ancient nations of the worlds, proving has deep-rooted in the human race was the primeval doctrine on this subject, which comes out so distinctly in Genesis”.
(Hislop then takes up the argument in the footnotes) “The threefold invocation of the sacred name in the blessing of Jacob bestowed on the sons of Joseph is very striking; ‘And he blessed Joseph and said, God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil bless the lads’ Gen.48:15,16. If the Angel here referred to had not been God, Jacob could never invoked him on equality with God. In Hosea 12:3-4 “The Angel who redeemed Jacob is expressly called God “He (Jacob) had power with God; yea, he had power over the Angel and prevailed; he wept and made supplication unto him, he found him in Bethel and there he spake with us, even the Lord God of Hosts. The Lord is his memorial” (p.18 The Two Babylon's. Hislop).
Hislop mentioned the ancient religions that believed in a ‘One infinite Creator’ (p.14) but this is not to discredit Christianity, likewise, the corrupt idolatry of the trinity, “had been the original way in which pagan idolatry had represented the Triune God” (p.19). Because Hislop is Trinitarian is he now tarred with the same brush? Why do you selectively quote him and misled as to what he really believes?
Note [quoted by Hislop] “One thousand years before the event the Buddhist priests had a tradition that a virgin was to bring forth a child to bless the world” (Asiatic Researches vol.X p.27) Do we throw away the virgin birth as ‘paganism’? Or do pagans know more about God than Christadelphians? Note what Hislop says about your ‘baptism is essential to salvation’ doctrine, he says it is “essentially Babylonian” (p.132 The Two Babylon’s)
You quote A.H.Layard (p.5,6) – ‘Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon’ 1853. (Layard an excavator but lawyer by profession). Much has been learnt with recent discoveries that would redress both Hislop and Layard. Layard did not discover ‘Nineveh and it’s remains’ (1847) but excavated Nimrud (David Down ‘Digging Up the Past’ section 4 Assyria). However, Layard was a practicing Roman Catholic. You confidently quote Hislop and Layard to argue the trinity is 'paganism in the church' but have no idea what they believed.
Josephus (Jewish Historian) you quote on p.6 saying, “the effect of polytheism and Pagan philosophy made its mark on even the monotheistic Jews, Josephus shows how Greek rulers of Egypt (the Ptolemies) settled some Jews in Alexandria” Then you ask me to see F.F Bruce. Again, why don’t you look up Josephus life and works? The chapter ‘Dissertation’ p.710 (9) he indicates Christ is qeojv Aojgov “God the Word in distinction from God the Father…” Consider what's written under (5) on p.712. So he did not consider Trinitarianism ‘pagan philosophy’. He was 'Bishop of Jerusalem' about the end of Trajan.
James Barr, you refer to p.1,16. I cannot find any conflict between Vine and Barr. You insist Vine is “not an authority of Bible exposition” and has an “Orthodox (neo- Platonic) bias” and that Barr has come to your rescue and “uncovered much of the mythology at the basis of lexicons”. The fact is Ross that Barr is orthodox and Trinitarian. Concerning Christ Barr states “His teaching on such matters was infallible because He was God and shared in God’s infallibility; to say He was wrong would be to say He was not God” (p.171 Fundamentalism J.Barr. 1977). So again, you give a false impression of what Bible scholars believe. Tell me more about your ‘uncovering’ you refer to. I still await the photocopies of scholars that supposedly correct Vine, all I consult agree with him.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, you quote p.2. In either Micro or Macro I find no suggestion that the “trinity doctrine was borrowed from pagan mythology” under any subject ‘Theism, neoclassical’, etc, but Book 18 ‘Theism and Incarnation’ makes interesting reading.
Lloyd Geering you quote p.1. He is anti-Christian, anti-Christ and anti-Bible. He writes, “God is simply like the gods and remains an idea in the minds of man” (p.139 ‘Faith’s New Age’ Geering). Personally I wouldn't entrust myself to his teachings on any subject (as you). He has no understanding of God, let alone the trinity. “The belief in God is nothing but the belief in the absolute reality and significance of the human nature….in fact it is anthropology in disguise” (Geering p.139).
You quote A.T Robinson p.2 and insist I read “Honest to God”. I have and doubt you have. He presents a sound Trinitarian position. Quote, “Jesus…..fully God and fully man and yet genuinely one person...If one looked at Jesus one saw God” (p.65, 71 Honest to God SCM paperback 1963). How you can imply Robinson is otherwise minded is beyond me.
You selectively quote Joseph S.J. Leclere ‘Toleration and Reformation’ (p.12). He describes those ‘sent to the stake’ as atrocious acts. His coverage concerning anti-Trinitarians is sad reading. Even though there’s poor evidence regarding some doctrines, there’s no reason to kill heretics. Note Leclere’s reaction to their anti-Trinitarian doctrine, he regards as “heresy” (p.324 vol.1). He would regard them as “professed Christians in name but not in reality because their teaching is perverted by grave errors, these are called heretics” (p.378).
Christadelphians seem to have their own picture of church history, framed, painted and hung to dry. But it’s only what they want to see, not reality. But the fact is, “There never was a time when the early Christian disciples did not confess the deity and the saving work of all three Persons of the Godhead” (pg.13 ‘The Holy Spirit In Today’s World’ W.A.Criswell).
Doxologies to the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit were in use everywhere in the early churches. Eg. 2 Cor.13:14. The naming of the Trinity is seen in Rev.1:4-5 A doxology of the triune God is also illustrated in the encyclical of the church of Smyrna recounting the martyrdom of Polycarp in ‘about AD.155’. The letter closes with the testimony of the martyred pastor as he speaks in his closing words of adoration “…I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, with the eternal and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy Son with whom to thee and to the Holy Ghost be glory both now and forever.” This is similar to the words of Julius Africanus in ‘The Chronology’ “Thanks be to Him who gave our Lord Jesus to be Saviour, to whom, with the Holy Ghost be the glory…”
The very early fathers had no occasion to debate, defend or define the specifics of the theology they accepted as an elementary truth (as expressed in the baptismal formula of Mt.18:19). So the Trinity doctrine can be traced through the story of the creeds, which came into existence because of attacks against the faith. Your claims of corruption are not correct because ultimately biblical doctrine is not founded on men but Scripture.
You insist the church was corrupted by Greek paganism with the likes of Justin Martyr (100-165). Yes he was a Platonist before he became a Christian. This “…enabled him to acknowledge that there were partial revelations of truth in such thinkers as Socrates, he assimilated Jesus to the logos of a eclectic Platonic and Stoic philosophy without understanding the implications for the humanity of Christ or His relation within the Trinity to the Father” (The Rise of Christianity W.H.C Frend, Emeritus Prof. of Ecclesiastical History). His concept of a “second God” was blasphemous, “it was his Platonic concept of the transcendence of God that is attributed to this” ('Defender of the Faith' from 'Great Leaders of the Christian Church' Moody press. 1982. E. Yamauchi, Prof. of History). A reading of his writings indicates he did not corrupt the Church he was a ‘defender of the faith’ (See also “Ante-nicene Fathers - The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325” by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson).
Irenaeus (130-200). You said he was not Trinitarian. Yet he wrote, “….one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit….Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King… the Word of God became flesh and suffered” (Book 1 ch.10 Unity of the Faith Irenaeus from Master Christian Library Ages Digital CD). “It was against the Gnostic dualism he emphasized the oneness of God” (p.46 ‘Adversary of the Gnostics’ E. Ferguson from ‘Great Leaders of the Christian Church’ Moody Press 1988).
Tertullian (150-212). You say he “…cannot be regarded as a Trinitarian (as he) denied Christ’s eternity”. Yet he wrote, “…For who could have reigned over all nations but Christ, God’s Son, who was ever announced as destined to reign over all to eternity? “….But the “Jesus” there alluded to is CHRIST, the Priest of God the most high Father; who at His FIRST ADVENT came in humility, in human form…and named the Priest of God the Father unto eternity”. (‘Answer to the Jews’. Ch.8 ‘The Times of Christ’s Birth and Passion’ Master Christian Library Ages Digital CD).
Hippolytus of Rome. "He as Tertullian and Irenaeus met the Gnostics head on, they all denied the possibility of a Christian debt to philosophy. Hippolytus also refuted Gnostic heresies to show how they lead back to Greek philosophy and to be rejected" (p.282 “Christianity and the Roman Empire” W.H.C. Frend Fortress Press 1984). To refute the notion that his trinity belief was wrong - ‘no person of the Spirit’, read ‘Church Order in Connoly. Or the so called 'Egyptian Church Order' p.176, which still is predominant over the sacrificial in the Eucharist of the Catholic Church. Or Lietzmann’s ch. ‘Christian Church in West’ p.524-26. Hippolytus wrote, “God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus the Son of God, who, being God, became man, to whom also the Father made all things subject, Himself excepted, and the Holy Spirit; and that these, therefore, are three”. (‘Extant Works and Fragments of Hippolytus’ Against the Heresy of Noetus’. Master Christian Library Ages Digital CD). He called the Spirit “co-eternal with the Father” (Appendix to the Works of Hippolytus Ibid).
We can find fault with any Early Church Father, but they do believe a three-foldness about God derived from the Bible. And they did reject Gnosticism and Greek philosophies yet held to Trinitarian concepts. Although they are not perfect in every reflection.
It’s surprising how precise you can be regarding any false interpretation of the Trinity (therefore knowing the correct one) yet deliberately misunderstand and accuse me of believing in “three gods” or a “second God” philosophy. I hold with the Illustrated Bible Dictionary vol.3 “When we say that God is a Unity we mean that though God is in Himself a threefold center of life, His life is not split into three. He is one in essence, in personality and in will. When we say that God is Trinity in Unity, we mean that there is unity in diversity and that the diversity manifests itself in Persons, in characteristics and in operations”
In the early history of the church some attacked the doctrine of the trinity (ie., Sabellius, Arius, Macedonius). They did not argue it was Platonism or Greek philosophy but they differed in Scriptural interpretation.
Sadellius sought to explain the mystery of deity by a theory of modealism, a trinity of mere manifestation. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are but different names of the impersonal God. They are but mere model distinctions in the Godhead. According to Sabellius the Holy Spirit became a vague undefined component operative through successive energies expressed in creation, redemption and regeneration.
Arius attacked the deity of the Son and Holy Spirit and denied their consubstantially with the Father. He taught the Son was created by the Father and the Holy Spirit was created by the Son, making the Holy Spirit the creature of a creature. Although the controversy centered mostly on the Son. Hence the Nicaean Council convened in AD 325 addressed the deity of the Son, but their creed failed to spell out the Holy Spirit.
Macedonius therefore continued the attack against the third Person of the Trinity. Bible experts and scholars of the day challenged him (ie Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, Mazianzen and Gregory of Nissen). These learned theologians led in the calling of the Council of Constantinople in AD381 and there the deity of the Holy Spirit was plainly spelled out with the addition of a few words to the Nicene Creed.
So it’s not a matter of crying ‘corruption’ but that early creeds did not have the depth of meaning which they latter acquired and the doctrine did not receive it’s orthodox form until over a century latter. But remember 2 Peter was only written approx. AD 100-120. So to argue the trinity emerged when Christian writers used philosophical methods of investigation, it would be difficult to decide if such methods were present in those I mentioned above. Since words have a great variety of meaning it's difficult to say which particular usage heralded the dawn of the Trinitarian theology.
I've shown the authors you quote from to discredit the trinity doctrine are Trinitarian themselves. Also (without extravagant details) the doctrine was accepted by the early Church Fathers. And if we base our rejection of Bible doctrine on what appears similar representations in paganism, then there would be nothing left to believe. I suggest Scripture decodes Scripture. I base my understanding of the Bible not on Creeds or church writings but on God’s Word.
Thanks for your time. This subject is important enough for us to spend time on and I trust to have provided enough information for further discussion.