Friday, July 20, 2012

Did the Trinity Come From Paganism? part 2

The Watchtower also, as quoted above in part one, wrote: “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.’” The very vague references, without author, page number, volume number, publisher, or any other source information besides the title, can with diligence be traced to the many-volumed Encylopedia of Religion, and found within the article on the Trinity in that set.  There the article in the Encyclopedia does indeed declare, “Theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity . . . the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity.”  However, the article goes on to say “the exclusively masculine imagery [that is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] of trinitarian doctrine [is a problem].  The fatherhood of God should be rethought in light of the critique of feminist theologies and also in view of the nonpatriarchal understanding of divine paternity . . . the Christian doctrine of God must be developed also within the wider purview of other world religions . . . [it] cannot be christomonistic, excluding persons of other faiths from salvation.”  The reason the author of this article in the encyclopedia, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, denies that the Trinity is a Biblical doctrine is the same reason she thinks the “fatherhood of God should be rethought” and asserts that non-Christians are going to heaven—she is an radically liberal, anti-Bible “feminist theologian” who believes that much of the doctrine of the “Trinity is metaphysical speculation that must be rejected because it has given rise to ‘sexist and patriarchal’ outcomes . . . . [Her] approach [has] almost no reference to the biblical text and [manifests a] disdain for church history, [while it also] does not allow for the notion of truth or revelation outside of personal subjective experience.”[i]  “LaCugna argues that early Christian history and dogma took an improper approach by defining God’s inner life, the self-relatedness of the Father, Son and Spirit . . . she believes that valid criticisms have been made by liberation and feminist theologians about the Christian doctrine of God as sexist and oppressive . . . [she argues for a doctrine of God that will] allow oppressed persons (women and the poor) to be able to restructure the human community . . . [she believes that] the doctrine of monotheism . . . must be discarded . . . [while the inspiration of the Bible is also rejected, to affirm that] God can only reveal to people what they experience.”[ii]  The Arians in the Watchtower society wish to convey the idea that rational scholarship, as evidenced in a weighty Encyclopedia,  knows that the Trinity is not a Biblical doctrine—one who discovers that the quotations made are actually the raving of a far-left radical feminist who rejects Scripture, monotheism, and the Fatherhood of God, but believes that people can become deified, are not very likely to be impressed.  The reason the Watchtower makes the reference hard to look up becomes clear.

To prove that Trinitarianism developed from Platonic philosophy, the Watchtower does not quote Plato, but rather mentions that 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.’”[iii]  No further information is offered for the quotations, such as the publisher the pages in the book, or even more than a fragment of the title—not to mention the qualification of the author to comment on the subject.  One can, through labor-intensive research that the great majority of people who read Should You Believe in the Trinity? will not undertake, as the Arians who introduced the quotation are aware, discover the source of the quotation in a rare book written over 150 years ago.[iv]  The powerful bias against the Trinity manifested by the fact that its author, Andrews Norton, was a Unitarian, and his book was published by a Unitarian association, is conveniently omitted, as is the great majority of the title of his book;  a work by an unknown Andrews Norton entitled A Statement of Reasons is going to be much less obviously biased than a work entitled A Statement of Reasons for not Believing the Doctrines of Trinitarians concerning the Nature of God and the Person of Christ published by a prominent member of an association of Arian Trinity-haters.  But did Norton faithfully believe that the Bible was the Word of God, and did he write against the Trinity because it contradicted his unwavering faith in the infallible Scriptures?  Elsewhere in his Statement of Reasons for Not Believing the Doctrines of Trinitarians, he wrote:

Our Lord [Jesus Christ] . . . speaks of descending from heaven, conform[ing] his language to the conception of the Jews, that heaven was the peculiar abode of God.  But we cannot receive this conception as true . . . there is no rational foundation for the opinion[.] . . . [T]he conceptions of the Apostle [Paul] respecting our Lord’s future coming were erroneous . . . There is so little reason to suppose that the Second Epistle ascribed to St. Peter was written by him, that it is not to be quoted as evidence of his opinions. . . . I do not refer to the Apocalypse as the work of St. John, for I do not believe it to be so. . . . [The Apocalypse contains a large degree of] imperfection [in] its language[.] . . .  [T]he Apostles . . . all appear to have expected [Christ’s] personal and visible return to earth . . . to exercise judgment, to reward his faithful followers, to punish the disobedient, and to destroy his foes . . . [t]hese expectations were erroneous . . . they . . . adopted the errors of their age[.] . . . The Jews [believed that there were] . . . many supposed predictions and types of their Messiah [in their] . . . sacred books[.] . . . This mode of interpretation was adopted by some of the Apostles . . . this mistake was not corrected by Christ . . . this whole system of interpretation . . . so far as the supposed prophecies were applied to [Christ, was] erroneous. . . . [I]n [Christ’s] discourses . . . he speaks, according to the belief of the Jews, of Satan as if he were a real being . . . [but he is an] imagination [and a symbol for the] abstract idea of moral evil.[v]

Norton’s rejection of Scripture for rationalism led him to reject the Trinity as “a doctrine which among intelligent men has fallen into neglect and disbelief. . . . [R]eligion must become the study of philosophers, as the highest philosophy. . . . The proper modern doctrine of the Trinity . . . is to be rejected, because . . . it is incredible. . . . The docrine of the Trinity, then, and that of the union of two natures in Christ, are doctrines which, when fairly understood, it is impossible, from the nature of the human mind, should be believed. . . . [T]hey are intrinsically incapable of any proof whatever . . . they are of such a character, that it is impossible to bring arguments in their support, and unnecessary to adduce arguments against them.  Here, then, we might rest.”[vi]  Andrews Norton’s fallen, sinful, mortal mind did not understand the revelation God had made of Himself as Triune.  It did not meet his criteria of acceptable philosophy, and he thought it was impossible to believe, no matter what God said about it in the Bible.  Norton did not reject the Trinity because he thought it was against the plain teaching of the Scripture and an import from paganism that was contrary to the infallible Word of God—he rejected the Trinity because he could not understand it perfectly and he idolatrously placed his mind above the all-knowing Lord.

The Watchtower quotation also conveniently left out devastating admissions the book itself states in between the two sections ten pages apart that are strung together to create the quote in Should You Believe in the Trinity?.  Norton himself admitted that the idea “Plato . . . anticipated [the Trinity is an] error, for which there is no foundation.  Nothing resembling the doctrine of the Trinity is to be found in the writings of Plato himself.”[vii]  Not only is there not a single quote from Plato in Norton’s chapter which is to prove that “we can trace the history of [the Trinity], and discover its source, not in the Christian revelation, but in the Platonic philosophy,” there is not a single quotation from a later pagan philosopher of the Platonic school.  No pre-Christian writers are cited.  Plato is not cited.  Pagan Platonic philosophers are not cited.  Why?  Norton does not “adduce the facts on which [his assertion that the Trinity comes from Platonic philosophy is] founded, because the facts could not be satisfactorily stated and explained in a small compass.”[viii]  Norton tells his readers that, in the course of a chapter that is to prove that the Trinity came from Platonism, within a book written to oppose the Trinity, a book of 499 pages, not including forty-nine additional pages of numbered introductory material—and thus a massive volume of over 548 pages—he does not have any room to give even one quotation from Plato or a pagan Platonist to prove that the Trinity comes from Platonic paganism!  The more modern Arians in the Watchtower Society will not, in their work Should You Believe in the Trinity?, quote Plato or a pagan Platonist to show that the Trinity comes from paganism—they will quote an earlier Arian, Andrews Norton.  Andrews Norton will not quote Plato or a later pagan Platonist to show that the Trinity comes from pagan Platonism—he has no room for that in his 548 page book.  If Norton will not quote Plato or Platonists to prove that the Trinity came from Platonism, how will he attempt to do it?  In between the pages the Watchtower quotes, Norton cites various “learned Trinitarians . . . [who] in admitting the influence of the Platonic doctrine upon the faith of the early Christians, of course do not regard the Platonic as the original source of the Orthodox doctrine, but many of them represent it as having occasioned errors and heresies, and in particular the Arian heresy.”[ix]  Norton quotes Trinitarians who say that Platonic philosophy influenced early Christiandom to prove that the Trinity came from Platonism—but he admits that these same authors declare that the Platonic influence did not produce the doctrine of the Trinity, but was the source of many errors, principly the Arian doctrine.  Thus, the support Norton gives for his affirmation that the Trinity is false because it comes from paganism comes from historians who affirm that Arianism is what actually comes from paganism!  It should be clear why the Watchtower wishes to keep Norton’s character as a Unitarian obscured, and to make their quotation from him very hard to trace.  Andrews Norton gives no evidence at all from Plato or Platonic philosophers for his contention.  Norton admits that Plato did not teach the Trinity.  Norton admits that the Trinitarian historians who he quotes to prove his point actually affirm the opposite of his position, that is, that Platonic philosophy was the source of the Unitarian heresy, not of the Trinity.  Someone who read Norton’s chapter and believed it was convincing would have to either have an extreme pre-formed bias against the Trinity or be amazingly gullible.  But the Watchtower will leave out all these facts—culled from the pages between the first and second half of their own quotation—and thus reproduce a quotation that is not only entirely inaccurate but clearly intentionally misleading.


part 3

[i] “The Revamping Of The Trinity And Women’s Roles In The Church” in “Egalitarians Revamp Doctrine of the Trinity,” Stephen D. Kovach, Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 2:1 (Dec 1996).  Compare Lacugna’s book, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), in which she argues that “feminist and liberationist perspectives are valuable for living life triunely. Salvation must lead to deification [people becoming gods] . . . For promoting a relational metaphysics, some may [also] think her a pantheist” (Roderick T. Leupp, book review of God for Us: The Trinity & Christian Life, by Catherine Mowry LaCugna.  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 39:2 (June 1996) p. 317).

[ii] “A Defense Of The Doctrine Of The Eternal Subordination Of The Son,” Stephen D. Kovach & Peter R. Schemm, Jr., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42:3 (September 1999), pgs. 473-476.

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

[iv] The words are found on pgs. 94, 104 of A Statement of Reasons for Not Believing The Doctrines of Trinitarians, Concerning The Nature of God and the Person of Christ, by Andrews Norton. (Boston, MA: American Unitarian Association, 1886; 14th ed.).  The first edition was published in 1856.

[v]             Pgs. 388, 389, 397, 401, 402, 407, 409, 413, 418, 420, 421, Norton, ibid.

[vi]             Pgs. 5, 37, 40, 61-62, Norton, ibid.

[vii]             Pgs. 95-96, Norton, ibid.

[viii]             See pg. 100.

[ix]             See pg. 100.

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