Bible Study - The Historical Development of the Trinity

Historical Doctrine of the Godhead
The Development of the Trinity

Jewish Monotheism (see Deut. 6:4, etc.) did not hold a tri-theistic view of God. The Jews are the original monotheists; the strictness and exclusivity of YHWH to all other deities was a distinguishing factor of the Judaism from other religious views.

The rise of Christianity led to certain dilemma for the early church – what was Jesus’ relationship to the Father? Jesus spoke of the Father as separate from Him, language that in this day was unique – no one spoke of God is such intimate terms (Abba means the equivalent of “daddy”) – but in our modern view, the Father seems very distant from the Son.

Over the years, several different views arose – The Post-Apostolic Age (AD 90-140), Greek Apologists (AD 130-180), Old Catholic Age (AD 170-325), The Council of Nicea (325 AD), and The Council of Constantinople (381 AD).

· The Post-Apostolic Age

o The Post-Apostolic Father maintained that there was one God, and that Jesus Christ was God.

o Similar to NT language, distinguishing between the Father and Son.

o HS spoken of in passing; viewed as God’s Spirit/Spirit of God and revealed through Jesus Christ. Spirit and Son used interchangeably.

· The Greek Apologists

o Writers were Greek teachers/philosophers who wrote defenses of the Gospel for pagans.

§ During this period, the doctrine of the Logos, already popular in Hellenistic culture and philosophy, was propagated and developed.

§ A precursor, of sorts, to orthodox trinitarianism. Explaining Jesus/Logos in philosophical terms rather than scriptural terms led to a false understanding of Christ and His relationship to the Father.

· Son seen as divine reason, existing in the mind of God without personal existence, until He emanated from God as the first creation of the Father for the specific purpose of Creation.

§ Spoke of a Jesus Who was subordinate to the Father

§ Father and Son are not coeternal, consubstantial, or coequal.

§ Not much attention given to Holy Spirit.

§ Godhead viewed, at best, as triad, not trinity.

o Justin Martyr

§ First writer to clearly teach a plurality within the Godhead:

· “We reasonably worship [Jesus Christ], having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third. There is … another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things-above whom there is no other God-wishes to announce to them. … He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things-numerically, I mean, not (distinct) in will.”

§ Justin’s theology made the Logos the second person to the Father, and was subordinate to the Father. His doctrine was probably a precursor of Arianism.

o Tatian

§ Disciple of Justin Martyr

§ Logos was not equal to the Father, but was His first creation.

· "God was in the beginning; but the beginning…is the power of the Logos. … With Him, by Logos-power, the Logos Himself also, who was in Him, subsists. And by His simple will the Logos springs forth; and the Logos, not coming forth in vain, becomes the first-begotten work of the Father. … The Logos, begotten in the beginning, begat in turn our world."

o Athenagoras

§ Taught of God in some sort of a triad.

· "[Christians desire] this one thing alone, that they know God and His Logos, what is the oneness of the Son with the Father, what is the communion of the Father with the Son, what is the Spirit, what is the unity of these three, the Spirit, the Son, Father, and their distinction in unity.”

· Old Catholic Age

o Period of greatest theological growth

§ Writers include Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Cyprian

o Iranaeus

§ Affirmed a pre-existent Son

· The faith of the church was “in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, … and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit…." (Against Heresies 182-188)

§ Taught that Logos coexisted with the Father and was eternal

§ Holy Spirit equated with the Father, or God’s wisdom spoken of in OT

§ Father, Son, and HS are seen as having three separate activities, or aspects to accomplishing a common goal, each role being carried out by a different member of the triune God: “the Father planning everything well and giving His commands, the Son carrying these into execution and performing the work of creating, and the Spirit nourishing and increasing (what is made).

o Tertullian

§ First of speak of God as a trinity and as three persons in one substance

§ Ranks the persons according to order:

· …how comes it to pass that God should be thought to suffer division and severance in the Son and in the Holy Ghost, who have the second and the third places assigned to them, and who are so closely joined with the Father in His substance….

§ Speaks of three Persons as parts of the whole Godhead:

· “The Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole. … The Father is…greater than the Son." The Son of God is "a portion of the whole Godhead.

§ Admits that most “common” people would reject these teachings

· The Road to Nicea

o In AD 318, Arius and the bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, about the nature of the Logos. Arius and his followers were excommunicated by Alexander and his friends, so a schism rose within the church.

o Constantine, who had just become sole emperor of Rome, had looked to the Church as a way to stabilize the empire. When he received word of this schism, he called the council of Nicea to agree on a common doctrine.

o Arianism was rejected, and the council sought to define the common accepted faith of the church. They needed a statement of faith. The derived statement of faith was:

§ We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance [homoousios] with the Father; by whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. But those who say: "There was a time when he was not"; and "He was not before he was made"; and "He was made out of nothing," or "He is of another substance" or "essence," or "The Son of God is created," or "changeable," or "alterable"-they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic church.”

o NOTE: No discussion of the HOLY GHOST!!!!!

· The Road to Constantinople and the Cappadocian Fathers

o After Nicea, not much changed in the way the doctrine was being taught.

§ Arianism rose again and became the dominant view in the East.

· Constantine and his son, Constantius II, adopted the Arian doctrine.

· Between 328 and 379, many bishops signed Arian Creeds of confession.

o The Cappadocian Fathers – Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus – reworked the Nicene Creed and Athanasius’ teachings to make them more acceptable. Their work is reflected in the synthesis of modern trinitarian doctrine.

§ The one God-head subsists in three coequal, coeternal, coessential persons, and this truth is an incomprehensible mystery. There is communion of substance but distinction of personhood. This trinity is a perfect, inseparable, indivisible union, and the persons work together in all things. The unique distinguishing characteristics of the persons are as follows: the Father is unbegotten, the Son is begotten (generated), and the Holy Spirit is proceeding (spirated). The generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit are mysteries, however. While the persons are coequal and coeternal, the Father is in some sense the head and the origin.

· The Council of Constantinople

o In AD 379, Theodosis I became ruler of the Roman Empire, and was a staunch Nicene supporter. Called a second ecumenical council in 381 at Constantinople to reaffirm and solidify the creed of the church. The result:

§ We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son].
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

· Conclusion

o The Creed of Constantinople was the first real notion of the trinity as defined today.

§ Does this mean that there were 300+ years of heresy?

§ Were the Old Testament prophets, priests, teachers, leaders, and patriarchs wrong?

§ Was Paul wrong?