Friday, July 13, 2012

Did the Trinity Come From Paganism? part 1

Unitarians (like the Watchtower Society) and modalists (like Oneness Pentecostals) often directly affirm that Trinitarianism is derived from paganism.  They commonly quote various publications as well to support such affirmations.  For example, the Watchtower society (so-called "Jehovah's Witnesses"), representative of modern Bible-affirming Arianism, states, “‘New Testament research has been leading an increasing number of scholars to the conclusion that Jesus certainly never believed himself to be God.’—Bulletin of the John Rylands Library.”[1] In fact, as “Yale University professor E. Washburn Hopkins affirmed: ‘To Jesus and Paul the doctrine of the trinity was apparently unknown; . . . they say nothing about it.’—Origin and Evolution of Religion.”[2]  Why?  “The Encyclopedia of Religion admits: ‘Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity.’ . . . The Encyclopedia of Religion says: ‘Theologians agree that the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity.’”[3]  If, as Arians affirm, Trinitarianism does not come from the Bible, where does it come from?  The Watchtower references the book “The Paganism in Our Christianity [which] declares: ‘The origin of the [Trinity] is entirely pagan.’”[4]  In fact, these Unitarians affirm in “the book A Statement of Reasons, Andrews Norton says of the Trinity: ‘We can trace the history of this doctrine, and discover its source, not in the Christian revelation, but in the Platonic philosophy . . . The Trinity is not a doctrine of Christ and his Apostles, but a fiction of the school of the later Platonists.’”[5]  Similarly, the modalist leader David Bernard writes, “[T]he idea of a trinity did not originate with Christendom. It was a significant feature of pagan religions and philosophies before the Christian era, and its existence today in various forms suggests an ancient, pagan origin. . . . The Scriptures do not teach the doctrine of the trinity, but trinitarianism has its roots in paganism.”[6]  However, the allegation that Trinitarian doctrine comes from paganism, rather than from Scripture, is entirely false.  This notion has several severe problems.

First, since the word “Trinity” is not found in pre-Christian pagan writings, this objection to the Trinity contradicts another common anti-Trinitarian retort, namely, that Trinitarianism is unbiblical because the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible.  If the fact that the word is not present means that the idea is not present, then the fact that the word “Trinity” is not in pre-Christian pagan authors means the idea is not found in paganism.  The two objections are contradictory.  Anti-Trinitarians should make up their minds to stick to the one or the other, but not employ them both.  However, despite their contradictory nature, Unitarians and modalists generally do advance both allegations.  For example, the Unitarian and modalist compositions quoted in the previous paragraph both employ the “the word ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible” attack.[7]  Anti-Trinitarian compositions often do not worry about the logical consistency of their allegations, but simply employ whatever attacks sound good at the time, even if they are contradictory.

Second, the affirmation that Trinitarianism came from paganism is not sustainable historically.  As demonstrated in The Triune God of the Bible,[8] Trinitarianism is taught from Genesis to Revelation.  The idea that, centuries after the inspiration of the New Testament, paganism somehow crept in and brought forth the idea of the Trinity is impossible in light of the clear Biblical evidence for Trinitarianism and the testimony of post-Biblical Christianity from even the earliest period.

Furthermore, the writers quoted in anti-Trinitarian literature to support their affirmations of the non-Biblical, pagan origin of the Trinity are usually extremely suspect.  While, since “of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12), it is not possible to trace and evaluate every single quotation in every anti-Trinitarian composition, an evaluation of some of the sources employed in the Watchtower’s Should You Believe in the Trinity? quoted above will be evaluated as representative of much of the distortion and misinformation advanced in the anti-Trinitarian cause.

The Arian Watchtower Society, as referenced above, states, “‘New Testament research has been leading an increasing number of scholars to the conclusion that Jesus certainly never believed himself to be God.’ —Bulletin of the John Rylands Library.” The quote is prominently displayed in the exact middle of the page, set off in bold print within a special box.[9]  No author of the article, page number, or other information is provided.  The quotation was deemed important enough to be made twice in this Arian publication, once in a special box on the side of a page highlighting its importance.  One can with difficulty discover the very poorly referenced source of the quotation.[10]  Upon acquiring the periodical, one notices that the Watchtower left out, without any indication of the removal, the underlined words in the quotation:  “New Testament research over, say, the last thirty or forty years has been leading an increasing number of reputable New Testament scholars to the conclusion that Jesus himself may not have claimed any of the Christological titles which the Gospels ascribe to him, not even the functional designation ‘Christ,’ and certainly never believed himself to be God.”  The author of the article, G. H. Boobyer, is a radical Bible-rejector who denies that the Lord Jesus ever claimed to be the Christ, and thus rejected the idea of Scripture that He was God as well.  While Boobyer will deny that Jesus is the Christ and that He is God, he will in his article reference the conclusion of another writer with approval that early “Christians might, in certain senses, have been willing to recognize the deity of the emperor.”  Why such egregious misrepresentation of Boobyer’s claim—leaving out his claim that Jesus never said He was the Christ to quote only his rejection of the Scriptural testimony to His Deity?  Is this the kind of “scholarship” that the Arians in the Watchtower society will employ—people who will say that Christians were willing to recognize the deity of the emperor, but will say that Jesus never said He was the Christ, and thus not God?  And why will they rip the actual quotation of Boobyer into pieces, and leave out the parts that radically change his meaning?

The Watchtower also attempts to support its anti-Trinitarianism by affirming that “Yale University professor E. Washburn Hopkins affirmed: ‘To Jesus and Paul[11] the doctrine of the trinity was apparently unknown; . . . they say nothing about it.’—Origin and Evolution of Religion. . . . [Therefore] the Christian Greek Scriptures provide . . . [no] teaching of the Trinity.”[12]  Again, no publisher, page number, or other information is provided for the quotation.  With considerable effort, one can discover the location of the quotation.[13]  One begins to see why such incredibly poor citation of the source is made when one discovers that Hopkins, in the very sentence before the one reproduced by the Watchtower Society, states that “The beginning of the doctrine of the trinity appears already in John,” thus demonstrating that Hopkins recognized that Trinitarianism was found in the New Testament, and on the same page affirmed that “The early Church taught that Christ was the Logos and that the Logos was God,” while two pages after the quotation made by the Watchtower Hopkins affirms that “[T]he plain faith of the early church members . . . was just this and nothing more.  Jesus is God. So proclaimed the first hymns, sung by the early Church.”[14]  Hopkins thus believed that early Christianity agreed with the New Testament in teaching the Deity of Jesus Christ. Of course, since these are exactly the opposite of the conclusion drawn by the Watchtower from its quotation from Hopkins’ book, it is clear why there was no great desire by this Arian organization for someone to look up the quotation and see what was on the very same page, and in the immediate context of the sentence from Hopkins so grossly taken out of context by the Watchtower. 

In any case, Hopkins’ book is not filled with Scriptural exegesis refuting the many passages in the gospels and Pauline epistles that teach Trinitarianism—nothing remotely like this is found anywhere in his book.  Rather, Hopkins, because of his anti-Bible evolutionary philosophy, believed that the New Testament writings of the apostle John evolved a Trinitarianism that was not known to the Lord Jesus (who was not, Hopkins believed, the Son of God) or Paul (whose writings, Hopkins affirmed, were not inspired).  Hopkins believed that “[e]very religion is a product of human evolution and has been conditioned by a social environment.  Since man has developed from a state even lower than savagery and was once intellectually a mere animal, it is reasonable to attribute to him in that state no more religious consciousness than is possessed by an animal. What then, the historian must ask, are the factors and what the means whereby humanity has encased itself in this shell of religion, which almost everywhere has been raied as a protective growth about the social body? . . . [T]he principles of religion [are like the principles of human evolution]. . . . [Man] once had a brain like that of a fish, then like that of a reptile, and so on through the types of bird and marsupial, upward to the brain of the higher mammals. . . . Man then was not suddenly created.”[15]  From Hopkins’ belief that all religion, including Christianity, is a mere product of evolution, like man himself, he describes what he believes is a progression from “the worship of stones, hills, trees, and plants” to “the worship of animals” to “the worship of elements and heavenly phenomena” to “the worship of the sun,” to the worship of man, of ancestors, and eventually the alleged evolutionary development of Christianity.  From this evolutionary, atheistic viewpoint, Hopkins wrote:

Christianity . . . utilized . . . much pagan material . . . [such as] baptism . . . the hope of immortality and resurrection, miraculous cures [and] water turned into wine[.] . . . The religions of the divine Mother and of Mithra had already taught the doctrine of a redeeming god . . . man through the death and resurrection of the god became . . . a partaker also in the divine nature . . . the pagan gods were still rememberd under a new form . . . [whether of] demons . . . [or] angels . . . to whom man still prayed. . . . It makes no difference whether union be felt with Brahma or God, with Vishnu Krishna or with Jesus Christ . . . the realization of union, not the special object of faith, [is] what matters. . . . God is one with Vishnu . . . Christ and Buddha and Krishna represent the same idea . . . [When someone is] bowing down before Buddha . . . let us not cry out, “Ah, the wretched idolator!”

Hopkins’ presupposition that religion evolved and that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God led him to conclude that the “evolved” idea of the Trinity must have not been believed by this “Jesus” who was not God’s Son, that Paul only gradually evolved it, and that the apostle John and early Christianity then saw it evolve.  Unless one accepts Hopkins’ evolutionary philosophy, the quotation made by the Watchtower from his book is worthless, as Hopkins assumes without any evidence or argument that the Lord Jesus saw Himself as simply a man, rather than as than God incarnate, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The fact that even a radical religious skeptic and Christ-rejector like Hopkins admitted, in extremely close proximity to the sentence wrenched from its context by the Watchtower, that the New Testament teaches Trinitarianism and the earliest Christianity knew Jesus was God, illuminates the extremely deceitful manipulation of sources by the Arians in the Watchtower society.


part 2

[1] Should You Believe in the Trinity? pgs. 19, 20.

[2] Should You Believe In the Trinity? pg. 6.

[3]  Should You Believe In the Trinity? pg. 6, in the section, “Is It Clearly a Bible Teaching?”

[4] Should You Believe In the Trinity? in the section, “How Did The Trinity Doctrine Develop?” pg. 11.  The Watchtower makes the same quotation on pg. 3, since the organization likes it so much.

[5]  Pg. 11-12, Should You Believe In the Trinity?

[6] See The Oneness of God, David K. Bernard. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, Chapter 11, sections “Pagan roots and parallels” and “Post-apostolic developments.

[7] ““The word ‘Trinity’ is not found in the Bible” (Should You Believe in the Trinity? pg. 6), “The Bible does not mention the word trinity, nor does it mention the word persons in reference to God.” The Oneness of God, Bernard, Chapter 12, sec. “Nonbiblical Terminology.”). Note, though, that the word “person” IS explicitly used of the Father as contrast with the Son, Heb 1:3! So this is a quibble about the “s” on “person(s)”!


[9] Pgs. 19, 20.  Should You Believe in the Trinity? The second time, when not in a big, prominently displayed box, the quote reads, “The fact is that Jesus is not God and never claimed to be. This is being recognized by an increasing number of scholars. As the Rylands Bulletin states: ‘The fact has to be faced that New Testament research over, say, the last thirty or forty years has been leading an increasing number of reputable New Testament scholars to the conclusion that Jesus . . . certainly never believed himself to be God.’”  Here, while the extremely misleading omission that this same article said Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah or Christ is retained, at least elipses were included.  It should be mentioned that someone who did not acquire the actual article would have no way of knowing that the two quotations are of the same sentence, since the first one is even more significantly corrupted and altered than the second quotation, and neither quote gives any information that makes it at all easy to determine the actual source of the quotation.

[10] It is found in the article “‘Jesus As “Theos” In The New Testament,’ by G. H. Boobyer, Bulletin of The John Rylands Library, Vol. 50, (1967-68) pgs. 247-261.

[11] While Hopkins also said on the same page that the Watchtower took their quotation from that Paul did not specifically use the word God for Christ (an affirmation for which he provided no evidence, and which he is wrong about, Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13, etc.) and in his rejection of the inspiration of the Bible Hopkins claimed Paul confused Christ and the Holy Spirit, he nevertheless also stated that “Paul  . . . applies to . . . Christ . . . words of the Old Testament used of God: ‘I am God and . . . unto me every kee shall bow’ (Is. 45:22, 23; Phil. 2:10),” an affirmation that modern Arians would generally be extremely uncomfortable with and one that is only consistent with a recognition of the absolute and full Deity of Christ.

[12]             Pg. 6, Should You Believe In the Trinity?

[13] Pg. 336, Origin and Evolution of Religion, E. Washburn Hopkins. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1924.

[14]             Pg. 338, ibid.

[15]             Pgs. 1, 352, 353, ibid.

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