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The Doctrine of Christ
The Trinity Emerges Gradually


The Trinity Emerges Gradually

"The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." (2 Tim. 4:3, 4, NIV)

AFTER the Church lost the pristine vision which it held in the beginning, these last two creeds were formed. The Athanasian, or Trinitarian Creed, became the largest and most confusing creed of all. It became necessary for salvation to believe this creed—making this a threatening theological statement. Please notice the unitarian concept of God was a statement of belief without threatening overtones. Notice how the Creed becomes more foggy and "incomprehensible" as it endeavors to incorporate Trinity concepts. Additionally, as it swells to more than a statement of belief, it then threatens any not accepting this foggy concept with perishing "everlastingly."

When Jesus rendered his final report to his Father, it only required three words—"It is finished" (John 19:30). Nothing more needed to be said. Notice, however, when the one-talented, unfaithful servant rendered his report, it required 43 words, and he was just as much a failure after his explanation (Matt. 25:24, 25). The Unitarian Creed required only 115 words to make itself known; the Nicene Creed required 230 (twice as many words to make God and Christ one); and the Athanasian Creed required 702 words to explain the "incomprehensible" Trinity. If the number of words used proved the case, the latter is clearly the winner. But it is not by much speaking that we shall be heard.

The Illustrated Bible Dictionary states: "The word Trinity is not found in the Bible. . . . It did not find a place formally in the theology of the church till the fourth century. . . . Although Scripture does not give us a formulated doctrine of the Trinity, it contains all the elements out of which theology has constructed the doctrine."1 That is partially correct. Theology indeed is responsible for constructing the doctrine. But we firmly believe that the "elements" of Scripture alluded to here were never intended to provide a framework for such a dogma.

The following is found in The Book of Common Prayer on
Three Creeds of the Church of England:

The Apostles’ or Unitarian Creed
Being the Creed of the first two Christian centuries.

"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

"And in Jesus Christ, his only son our Lord: who was conceived by the holy ghost (spirit), born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, he descended into hell (the grave); the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

"I believe in the holy ghost (spirit); the holy catholic (general) Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen."

The Nicene, or Semi-trinitarian Creed:

Principally drawn up by the Council of Nice in A.D. 325, the clause concerning the Holy Ghost in brackets [ ] having been affixed to it by the Council of Constantinople, in A.D. 381, except the words [and the son], which were afterwards introduced into it."

"I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and of all things visible and invisible.

"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; begotten of his Father before all worlds; God of (or from) God; Light of (or from) Light; Very God of (or from) Very God; begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven; and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary; and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, he suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father: and he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

"And I believe in the Holy Ghost, [the Lord and Giver of life; who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the prophets].

"And I believe one catholic and apostolic church: I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins: and I look for the resurrection of the dead; and the life of the world to come. Amen."


The Athanasian, or Trinitarian Creed

Long ascribed to Athanasius, a theologian of the fourth century, but now generally allowed not to have been composed until the fifth century, by some other person.

"Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

"And the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost, the Father uncreate, the son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate; the Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal; and yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty; and yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord; and yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord; so are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another, none is greater or less than another; but the whole three persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He, therefore, that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.

"Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation, that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man, of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect God, and perfect man; of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood; who, although he be God and man, yet is he not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ: who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; he ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead; at whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."

"The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture."—Article VIII. of the Church of England: taken from the Book of Common Prayer. [In the Articles of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Article VIII. reads as follows: "The Nicene Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Scripture."]2

Dual Natures

Greek philosophy was a serious threat to the early Christian Church. Paul said, "Greeks seek wisdom" (1 Cor. 1:22, RSV). To counter this, Paul said, "I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom" (1 Cor. 2:1, RSV). Apparently, there were those who did. Greek philosophy was kept out of the Bible, but not out of theology. As the church fathers strove for preeminence, they found the high-sounding wisdom of Greek philosophy a cutting edge for distinguishing themselves. When the religious debates spilled over before the Roman emperors, what better tool could be used than Hellenistic philosophy interwoven with Christian doctrine? Greek and Mid-eastern philosophies were pervasive, and when someone like Constantine listened to the controversy between Arius and Athanasius, the strong pagan influence was certain to have an effect.

Constantine had ostensibly converted to Christianity, and he intended to use the new religion to solidify the empire. Earlier he had raised a symbol of Christ seen in a vision ("R" fixed in the center of an "C"—the first two letters of "Christ" [CRISTOS] in the Greek) as a new imperial standard and used it to gain victory in a key battle against pagan forces. He believed he had heard a voice from heaven saying, "In this sign conquer."3 If the symbol (also called a "Christogram") actually represented two gods, he might have thought it all the better. If Christ were really both man and God, flesh and spirit, that would be closer to Greek philosophy and the pagan trinity models. It would make the new religion all the more attractive to the masses.

The Nicaean Council

Quoting Bruce L. Shelley, a writer for Christian History, we read:

"The Council of Nicea, (was) summoned by Emperor Constantine and held in the imperial palace under his auspices. Constantine viewed the Arian teachings—that Jesus was a created being subordinate to God—as an ‘insignificant’ theological matter. But he wanted peace in the empire he had just united through force. When diplomatic letters failed to solve the dispute, he convened around 220 bishops, who met for two months to hammer out a universally acceptable definition of Jesus Christ.

"The expression homo ousion, ‘one substance,’ was probably introduced by Bishop Hosius of Cordova (in today’s Spain). Since he had great influence with Constantine, the imperial weight was thrown to that side of the scales. . . . As it turned out, however, Nicea alone settled little. For the next century the Nicene and the Arian views of Christ battled for supremacy. First Constantine and then his successors stepped in again and again to banish this churchman or exile that one. Control of church offices too often depended on control of the emperor’s favor."4

Why would anyone look to the fourth century for truth, particularly in view of our Lord’s great prophecy covering the period of his absence and return, saying, "Take heed that no man deceive you" (Matt. 24:4)? Without a doubt, this was where the Church had lost its way. It was shamelessly prostituted before the ambitious Roman emperor. It is important to know that while Constantine accepted Christianity and became the Pontifex Maximus of the Church, he also continued to function in all the pagan ceremonies, as paganism had deep roots in the Roman Empire and would not pass away overnight. Julian succeeded Constantine to the throne, and he was a devout pagan, although a noble one. Rome became a melting pot of paganism and Christianity—not a good mix.

Wrong conclusions are easily reached about the Nicaean Council. It is easy to conjure up images of a united group of bishops with only two in dissent, endorsing wholeheartedly the Athanasian proposition uniting the Father and Son into two parts of one deity. Nothing could be further from the truth. We quote the following:

"They rejected the formulae of Arius, and declined to accept those of his opponents; that is to say, they were merely competent to establish negations, but lacked the capacity, as yet, to give their attitude of compromise a positive expression. . . . True, at Nicaea this majority eventually acquiesced in the ruling of the Alexandrians; yet this result was due, not to internal conviction, but partly to indifference, partly to the pressure of the imperial will—a fact which is mainly demonstrated by the subsequent history of the Arian conflicts. For if the Nicaean synod had arrived at its final decision by the conscientious agreement of all non-Arians, then the confession of faith there formulated might indeed have evoked the continued antagonism of the Arians, but must necessarily have been championed by all else. This, however, was not the case; in fact, the creed was assailed by those very bodies which had composed the laissez-faire centre at Nicaea; and we are compelled to the conclusion that, in this point the voting was no criterion of the inward convictions of the council. . . . For it was the proclamation of the Nicene Creed that first opened the eyes of many bishops to the significance of the problem there treated; and its explanation led the Church to force herself, by an arduous path of theological work, into compliance with those principles, enunciated at Nicaea, to which, in the year 325, she had pledged herself without genuine assent."5

This tells us, in effect, the body of bishops who voted for this Creed were not unanimously believers in it. Hence, the vote testified to weakness of character and the human tendency to get on the bandwagon for the sake of expediency. What else would make one vote for something not truly believed and which would later be assailed by them?

When the Nicean Council ended on August 25, 325 A.D., Emperor Constantine delayed the festivities of his twentieth anniversary until the close of this council. We quote the following:

"A magnificent entertainment was provided by that prince, ‘for the ministers of God’ . . . No one of the bishops was absent from the imperial banquet, which was more admirably conducted than can possibly be described. The guards and soldiers, disposed in a circle, were stationed at the entrance of the palace with drawn swords. The men of God passed through the midst of them without fear, and went into the most private apartments of the royal edifice. Some of them were then admitted to the table of the emperor, and others took the places assigned them on either side. It was a lively image of the kingdom of Christ(?), and appeared more like a dream than a reality."6

We cannot help but contrast this event with the occasion when Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of this world and their glory and then said, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me" (Matt. 4:9, RSV). It seems the Devil had more success with these bishops than he did with our Lord. Yes, Constantine now had most of the bishops in his pocket, and from there we see the church merged with the kingdoms of this world, trying to make believe that this was the kingdom of God.

Pagan Models of Trinity

The Trinity concept presented by Athanasius was essentially borrowed from other ancient religions. John Newton (Origin of Triads and Trinities) writes: "With the first glimpse of a distinct religion and worship among the most ancient races, we find them grouping their gods in triads." He then proceeds to trace the strong Trinitarian beliefs which were common in ancient India, Egypt, and Babylon as examples.

Regarding ancient India he states: "The threefold manifestations of the One Supreme Being as Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva was thus sung of by Kalidasa (55 B.C.):

"‘In these three persons the One God is shown,
Each first in place, each last, not one alone.
Of Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, each may be
First, second, third among the Blessed Three.’"

In speaking of ancient Egypt, Newton quotes Professor Sayce (Gifford Lectures and Hibbert Lectures) as follows: "‘The indebtedness of Christian theological theory to ancient Egyptian dogma is nowhere more striking than in the doctrine of the Trinity. The very same terms used of it by Christian theologians meet us again in the inscriptions and papyri of Egypt.’" Newton continues:

"And now we see some meaning in the strange phrases that have puzzled so many generations in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, such as ‘Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten not Made, Being of one Substance with the Father.’ These are all understandable enough if translated into the language of the Solar Trinity [worshipped in ancient Egypt], but without this clue to their meaning, they become sheer nonsense or contradictions. . . . The simplicity and symmetry of the old sun Trinities were utterly lost in forming these new Christian Creeds on the old Pagan models. . . . The [pagan] trinities had all the prestige of a vast antiquity and universal adoption, and could not be ignored. The Gentile converts therefore eagerly accepted the Trinity compromise, and the Church baptized it. Now at length we know its origin."7

What a revelation—that portions of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds were plagiarized from pagan sources—word for word and exact phrases, lifted right off the papyri and inscriptions of ancient Egypt! Should this knowledge not leave a little chill among those subscribing to these creeds?

Edward Gibbon says, in his preface to History of Christianity: "If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism of the first Christians . . . was changed, by the Church of Rome, into the incomprehensible dogma of the trinity. Many of the pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and idealized by Plato, were retained as being worthy of belief."8 Gibbon is an historian’s historian. He would not speak so forthrightly without an enormous basis for his evaluations.

Commenting on the state of affairs in the early Church, H. G. Wells writes: "We shall see presently how, later on, all Christendom was torn by disputes about the Trinity. There is no clear evidence that the apostles of Jesus entertained that doctrine."9 The fact that the Trinity did not originate with the Apostles should be of grave concern to all Christians. The Church of England freely admits the Unitarian Creed was believed in the first two centuries. In view of all these facts, we cannot help but wonder why anyone would feel secure in accepting the doctrinal developments of the fourth and fifth centuries and forsake the pristine teachings of our Lord and the Apostles.

In Matthew 13:24, 25 we read: "The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men [the Apostles] slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way." How can one leave the Apostolic Era to find truth without risking being contaminated and choked by "tares"? The "tares" sowed were the work of the enemy. The "tares" that sprouted and grew were results of false teachings that begat "tare" Christians. Hence, all Bible-believing Christians need to be aware of the risks involved in leaving the Apostolic Era of doctrinal purity and of coming under the influence of the "tare" seeds of error spread by the Adversary.