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Old 01.02.2012, 17:08

د/ عبد الرحمن

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Default Trinity and development of doctorine

The Trinity and the Development of Doctrine

In countless books on the Trinity (countless in the sense that I do not wish to devote the considerable amount of time it would take to actually count them) that I read during my in depth study of the faith I was born into (JWs), I was constantly reminded that the doctrine of the Trinity was CLEARLY taught in the Bible. Some of the same books also maintained that the pre-Nicene Church Fathers also taught the doctrine. However, when I began my own studies into the ECFs, a different picture emerged. The following brief paper that I composed about a decade ago pretty much sums up my studies into the issue:

My understanding of the Evangelical doctrine of perspicuity is that the Scriptures are clear on the “essentials”. It is also my understanding that Evangelicals believe the doctrine of the Trinity is one of those “essentials”. Now, I would like to explore this issue—is the doctrine of the Trinity clearly (i.e. explicitly) contained in the Scriptures?

All serious scholars of Christian history know that the particular doctrine of the Trinity held to by many, but not all, Evangelicals was not developed until after the Council of Nicea. Bettenson writes, “‘Subordinationism’, it is true was pre-Nicene orthodoxy...”[1]. Hanson wrote the following, “Indeed, until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a fixed part of catholic theology.”[2] And again, “With the exception of Athanasius virtually every theologian, East and West, accepted some form of subordinationism at least up to the year 355”.[3] Newman writes, “If we limit our view of the teaching of the Fathers by what they expressly state, St. Ignatius may be considered Patripassian, St. Justin arianizes, and St. Hippolytus is a Photinian...Tertullian is heterodox on the Lord’s divinity...Origen is, at the very least suspected, and must be defended and explained rather than cited as a witness of orthodoxy; and Eusebius was a Semi-Arian.”[4]

The following are a few examples from the early Church Fathers. First, Justin, “Our teacher is Jesus Christ...and we reasonably worship Him, 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...”[5] The Son is, “...the first-born of the unbegotten God...”[6] And, “...next to God, we worship and love the Word, who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God...”[7] Justin then says to Trypho the Jew, “I shall attempt to persuade you...that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things...”[8] The Son, “...was begotten of the Father by an act of will...”[9] And, “...this Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures(i.e. creation)...”[10]

Tatian, a disciple of Justin, in his Address to the Greeks, wrote that God, was alone”; that the Logos “was in Him” and “by His simple will the Logos springs forth” and becomes “the first-begotten work of the Father”; and that “the Logos, begotten in the beginning, begat in turn our world”.[11] Theophilus, wrote that, “...at first God was alone and the Word was in Him…The Word then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills...”[12] Athenagoras, “...we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, imcomprehensible...by whom the universe has been created through His Logos...Nor let anyone think it ridiculous that God should have a Son...the Son of God is the Logos of the Father...the Son, I will state briefly, that He is the first product of the Father...”[13]

Leaving the second century Fathers, and moving on to the third, we will examine what Origen had to say on our subject. From his work De Principiis we read, “That there is one God, who created and arranged all things...This just and good God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...Jesus Christ Himself, who came (into the world), was born of the Father before all creatures...”[14] In Against Celsus we read, “We therefore charge the Jews with not acknowledging Him (Jesus) to be God, to whom testimony was borne in many passages by the prophets, to the effect that He was a mighty power, and a God next to the God[15] and Father of all things.”[16] Origen in his Commentary On John wrote, “He (John) uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God...God on the one hand is Very God (Autotheos, God himself); and so the the Saviour says in His prayer to the Father, ‘That they may know Thee the only true God;’ but all beyond the Very God is made God by participation in His divinity, and is not to be called simply God (with the article), but rather God (without the article). And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of exalted rank than the other gods beside Him...The true God, then is ‘The God’, and those who are formed after Him are gods, images as it were of Him the prototype.”[17] The following quote is from Origen’s Dialogue With Heraclides and His Fellow Bishops On The Father, The Son and, and the Soul:

Origen said: “Since the beginning of a debate is the time to declare what the topic the debate is, I will speak. The whole Church is here listening. It is not fitting for doctrinal differences to exist from church to church, for you are not a Church of falsehood. I call upon you, Father Heraclides: God is the almighty, the uncreated One, who is above all things. Do you agree to this?” Heraclides said: “I agree; for this is what I too believe.” Origen said: “Jesus Christ, though he was in the form of God (Phil. 2.6), while still being distinct from God in whose form He was, was God before He came into the body: yes or no?” Heraclides said: “He was God before.” Origen said: “Was He God distinct from this God in whose form He was?” Heraclides said: “Obviously distinct from the other and , while being in the form of the other, distinct from the Creator of all.” Origen said: “ It not true, then, that there was a God, the Son of God, and only begotten of God, the first born of all creation (Col. 1:15), and that we do not hesitate to speak in one sense fo two Gods, and in another sense of one God?” Heraclides said: “What you say is evident. But we too say that God is the almighty, god without beginning, without end, who encompasses all and is encompassed by nothing, and this Word is the Son of the living God, God and man, through whom all things were made, God according to the Spirit, and man from being born of Mary.” Origen said: “You don’t seem to have answered my question. Explain what you mean, for perhaps I didn’t follow you. The Father is god?” Heraclides said: “Of course.” Origen said: “The Son is distinct from the Father?” Heraclides said: “Of course, for how could He be son if He were also father?” Origen said: And while being distinct from the Father, the Son is Himself also God?” Heraclides said: “He Himself isalso God.” Origen said: “And the two Gods become a unity?” Heraclides said: “Yes.” Origen said: “We profess two Gods?” Heraclides said: “Yes, [but] the power is one.”[18]

Before leaving Origen, it is important to note what he had to say about prayer. The following is from Origen’s treatise Prayer:

If we understand what prayer really is, we shall know that we may never pray to anything generated–not even Christ–but only to God and the Father of all, to whom even Our Saviour Himself prayed, as we have already said, and teaches us to pray...For if the Son, as shown elsewhere, is distinct from the Father in nature and person, then we must pray either to the Son, and not to the Father, or to both, or to the Father only...There remains, then, to pray to God alone, the Father of all, but not apart from the High Priest who was appointed with on oath by the Father...The saints, then, in their prayers of thanks to God acknowledge their thanks to Him through Christ Jesus.[19]

Next, we shall look at Tertullian whose writings are late second century through the first two decades of the third. From one his polemical works, Against Praxeas, we read that “before all things God was alone, and the Word “proceeds forth from God”. The Word which is also called Wisdom was “created or formed” by God and is His “first-begotten”[20]. From Against Praxeas we also read:

I should not hesitate, indeed, to call the tree the son or offspring of the root, and the river of the fountain, and the ray of the sun; because every original source is a parent, and everything which issues from the origin is an offspring...I confess that I call God and His word–the Father and His Son–two...there must be two; and where there is a third, there must be three. Now the Spirit indeed is third from God and the Son; just as the fruit of the tree is third from the root, or as the stream out of the river is third from the fountain, or as the apex of the ray is third from the sun...Now, observe, my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that They are distinct from Each other...Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son...we...do indeed definitively declare that Two beings are God, the Father and the Son, and, with the addition of the Holy Spirit, even Three...[21]

Tertullian, like Origen, can speak of two, and three in one sense, and in another sense, of just One God. Eusebius, too, strongly asserts this same theme. We read the following in his Proof of the Gospel:

Remember how Moses calls the Being, Who appeared to the patriarchs, and often delivered to them the oracles afterwards written down in Scripture sometimes God and Lord, and sometimes the Angel of the Lord. He clearly implies that this was not the Omnipotent God, but a secondary Being...This same being who appeared to Abraham is called Lord and God. He teaches the saint mysteriously of His Father’s rule, and speaks some things, as it were, of another God...surely there are Two...we have, by thirty prophetic quotations in all, learned that our Lord and Saviour the Word of God is God, a second God after the Most High...[22]

With the above examples from the Pre-Nicene Fathers in mind, to which dozens more could be added, we can objectively concur with Bettenson and Hanson that subordinationism was in fact Pre-Nicene orthodoxy.


As we move into the Nicene period, we are going find that the theme of subordinationism is not abandoned, in fact, it will be demonstrated that it continues as a dominant theme well into the fifth century. Evangelical apologists strongly suggest that when the term homoousion was put into the Nicene creed we have the triumph of “orthodoxy” over subordinationism. This “orthodoxy” is the affirmation that homoousios teaches the Godhead is one, single, identical substance shared by three Persons. But is this really the case? Concerning the subject at hand, Philip Schaff wrote:

The term homoousion, in its strict grammatical sense, differs from monoousion...and signifies not numerical identity, but equality of essence or community of nature among several beings. It is clearly used thus in the Chalcedonian symbol, where it is said that Christ is “consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father as touching the Godhead, and consubstantial with us [and yet individually distinct from us] as touching the manhood.” The Nicene Creed does not expressly assert the singleness or numerical unity of the divine essence...and the main point with the Nicene fathers was to urge against Arianism the strict divinity and essential equality of the Son and the Holy Ghost with the Father.[23]

The great Reformed theologian Charles Hodge admits that the term homoousios, “...may express either specific sameness, or numerical identity. In the former sense, all spirits, whether God, angels, or men, are homoousioi*.”[24] Although Hodge believes that the Nicene Creed teaches the latter sense, he cites a German theologian who disagrees with him:

Gieseler goes much further, and denies that the Nicene fathers held numerical identity of essence in the persons of the Trinity. The Father, Son and Spirit were the same in substance as having the same nature, or same kind of substance. This he infers was their doctrine not only from the general style of their teaching, and from special declarations, but from the illustrations which they habitually employed. The Father and the Son are the same in substance as among men father and son have the same nature; or as Basil says, Father and Son differ in rank, as do the angels, although they are the same in nature. Gieseler says that the numerical sameness of nature in the three divine persons, was first asserted by Augustine. It was he, according to Gieseler, who first excluded all idea of subordination in the Trinity.[25]

Note that Gieseler made the assertion that it was Augustine “who first excluded all idea of subordination in the Trinity”. As we know from history, it was Augustine’s doctrine of the Trinity that eventually became the dominant view of Catholic theology. The reformers inherited, and for the most part embraced Augustine’s view.

Now, when we look at “the” Evangelical doctrine of the Trinty, one is forced to conclude that it is “doctrines”, not “the doctrine”, for the following are but a few examples of the different forms of Trinitarianism held within Evangelicalism. 1.) The Son and the Spirit are generated from the Father’s essence, who is the source, fountain-head of the Trinity (Melanchthon, Jonathan Edwards). 2.) It is the person alone, not the essence which is generated from the Father (John Calvin, Francis Turrettin, and most Reformed theologians). 3.) There is no generation of persons within the Godhead; the Logos became the Son at the incarnation (Oliver Buswell, Walter Martin, early writings of John MacArthur). 4.) The Godhead is one person, and within the being of this one person there are three personal subsistences (Cornelius Van Til). 5.) The Trinity is not composed of persons in the modern sense (i.e. three distinct centers of conscious personal beings), but rather of three modes of existence (Donald Bloesch). 6.) Social Trinitarianism (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Millard Erickson, Edward Wierenga).

So, are the scriptures “clear” concerning the doctrine of the Trinity? When one honestly examines history, and the current state of Evangelical theology, one must conclude that it is not “clear”. IHMO, to maintain that the scriptures are “clear” on this issue is to radically change the meaning of the word “clear”.

[*Note: Greek in the original document has been transliterated.]

ENDNOTES -

[1] Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers (London, England: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978 4th impression) p. 239.

[2] RPC Hanson, “The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD” in Rowan Williams, ed., The Making of Orthodoxy (New York, NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989) p. 153.

[3] RPC Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988, p. xix.

[4] John Henry Newman, An Essay on the development of Christian Doctrine, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, (6th edition 1989) p. 17.

[5] Justin Martyr, The First Apology, ch. 13, in Roberts & Donaldson, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 1(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979 edition) p. 167.

[6] Ibid., ch. 53, p. 180.

[7] Justin, The Second Apology, ch.13, ANF1 -p. 193.

[8] Justin, Dialogue With Trypho, ch. 56, ANF1 -p. 223.

[9] Ibid., ch. 61, p. 227.

[10] Ibid., ch. 62, p. 228.

[11] Tatian, Address of Tatian to the Greeks, ch. 5, in Roberts & Donaldson, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1979 edition) p. 67.

[12] Theophilus, Theophilus to Autolycus, ch. 22, ibid. p. 103.

[13] Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, ch. 10, ibid., p. 133.

[14] Origen, De Principiis, preface, chapter 4, in Roberts & Donaldson, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1979 edition) p. 240.

[15] This is but one instance where Origen contrasts Jesus Christ as “a God” (theos) with the Father who is “the God” (ho theos).

[16] Origen, Against Celsus, book 2.9, ibid. p. 433.

[17] Origen, Commentary On John, book 2.2, in Roberts & Donaldson, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1979 edition) p. 323.

[18] Origen, Dialogue With Heraclides, chapters 1-2, Ancient Christian Writers volume 54 (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1992) pp. 57-59.

[19] Origen, Prayer, chapter 15.1-2, Ancient Christian Writers volume 19 (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1954) pp. 57-58.

[20] Tertullian, Against Praxeas, chapters 5, 7, in Roberts & Donaldson, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1979 edition) pp. 600, 601.

[21] Ibid., chapters 8, 9, 13, pp. 602, 603, 604, 608.

[22] Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel, books 1.5, 5.25, 30 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981 reprint) pp. 26, 27, 267, 271.

[23] Philip Schaff, History of the Church volume 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981 edition) pp.672-673.

[24] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology volume 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981 reprint) p. 460.

[25] Ibid., p. 463.


In addition to my short paper, I would like to bring into the mixture the following comments from the pen of Raymond Brown:

In the “olden” days (before Vatican II) it was apparent, even against the background of a sometimes unsophisticated biblical exegesis, that certain doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church were not easily detectable in the NT. In a widely held thesis of two sources of revelation, Scripture and Tradition, it could be maintained that such doctrines were passed on orally as part of the living tradition of the church, and were simply not mentioned until a much later era because no one questioned them. A more nuanced thesis was that such doctrines could be logically derived in an almost syllogistic manner from ideas of affirmations that were in the Bible. Vatican II changed the focus of the discussion significantly. The draft of the schema on the sources (plural) of revelation to the Council in November 1962 was rejected…doctrines for which there is no sufficient witness in the Bible are dealt with in another manner. A more sophisticated theory of hermeneutics argues that the written books of the Bible, as literary artifacts, had a life of their own and so their “meaning” involves the ongoing interpretation of them the Christian community. (Raymond E. Brown, Biblical Exegesis & Church Doctrine, 1985, p. 30.)

Brown then goes on to discuss to 3 distinct categories concerning the “relationships between scripture and doctrine”: first, “Doctrines for which There is Abundant but Incipient Basis in Scripture”; second, “Doctrines for which There is Slender Basis in Scripture”; and third, “Doctrines about which the Scriptures are Virtually Silent(in which he places the Marian dogmas, including the Assumption).

Concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, Brown wrote:

Nevertheless, in no NT passage, not even in Matt. 28:19 (“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) is there precision about three divine Persons, co-equal but distinct, and one divine Nature—the core dogma of the Trinity. Greek philosophy, sharpened by continuing theological disputes in the church from the 2nd to the 5th centuries, contributed to the classical formulation of the dogma…If ‘tradition’ implies that first-century Christianity already understood three coequal but distinct divine Persons and one divine Nature but had not developed the precise terminology, I would dissent. Neither the terminology nor the basic ideas had reached clarity in the first century; problems and disputes were required before the clarity came…Precisely because the “Trinitarian” line of development was not the only line of thought detectable in the NT, one must posit the guidance of the Spirit and intuition of faith as the church came to its decision. (Ibid. pp. 31-33.)


In summation, doctrine develops, even the so-called “clear” and “essential” doctrines were in need of development. Now, with this in mind, it seems to me that if one takes orthodoxy seriously, then it is Newman’s theory of development which is the most consistent, for to date, I have not come across a theory of DD that poses less difficulties. But, I am certainly open to the possibility that one does exist…
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الموضوع الأصلي : Trinity and development of doctorine     -||-     المصدر : مُنتَدَيَاتُ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءِ الدَّعَويِّة     -||-     الكاتب : د/ عبد الرحمن






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