Friday, August 10, 2012

Representative Quotations from the Earliest Christian Writings— Are These Men Trinitarians or Arians?

This is a continuation of part 4 here.  The entire study, under the title Did the Trinity Come from Paganism? is available here and here.

The allegation that Trinitarianism was invented in A. D. 325 at the Council of Nicea, or even later, is a historical monstrosity. William G. T. Shedd writes:

“[T]he following particulars . . . which cannot be invalidated . . . prove conclusively that . . . [the] Ante-Nicene Fathers . . . held the same Trinitarianism with the Nicene and Post-Nicene divines.  1.) The Ante-Nicene Fathers employed the word God in the strict sense of signifying the Divine substance, and applied it to the Son in this sense.  2.) They admitted but one substance to be strictly Divine, and rejected with abhorrence the notion of inferior and secondary divinities.  3.) The confined worship to the one true God, and yet worshipped the Son.  4.) The attributed eternity, omnipotence, and uncreatedness to the Son, and held him to be the Creator and Preserver of the universe.  5.) Had the Ante-Nicene Fathers held that the Son was different from the Father in respect to substance, eternity, omnipotence, uncreatedness, [etc.], they would certainly have specified this difference in the Sabellian controversy;  for this would have proved beyond all dispute that the Son and Father are not one Person or Hypostasis.  But they never did” (pg. 153, William G. T. Shedd, History of Christian Doctrine, vol. 1, book III:2:3, elec. acc. AGES Digital Software).

 Nevertheless, despite the facts, the Watchtower makes the following astonishing affirmation:

If the Trinity is not a Biblical teaching, how did it become a doctrine of Christendom? Many think that it was formulated at the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. That is not totally correct, however. The Council of Nicaea . . . did not establish the Trinity . . . [n]one of the bishops at Nicaea promoted a Trinity[.] . . . If a Trinity had been a clear Bible truth, should they not have proposed it at that time? . . . [At] the Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E. . . . [for] the first time, Christendom’s Trinity began to come into focus. Yet, even after the Council of Constantinople, the Trinity did not become a widely accepted creed. . . . It was only in later centuries that the Trinity was formulated into set creeds” (Should You Believe in the Trinity? pgs. 7-9).

The doctrine that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were equally God (contra Arianism), and yet were distinct Persons (contra Sabellianism), was believed and confessed by Christians from the time of the composition of the New Testament onwards.  There are no Arian statements such as “the Son of God was created out of nothing” or “the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force.”  While this composition is not a detailed history of doctrine or of ancient Christiandom, and thus does not attempt to evaluate the whole of what any of the following writers believed, the following ten quotations (which could have been greatly multiplied) from contemporaries of the apostle John and those only decades after him—and far, far before the Council of Nicea—make it painfully obvious just how wrong such Arian and Sabellian corruptions of history are:

Deity of the Son
Ignatius (died c. A. D. 100)
“I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise”[i] (Smyrnaeans 1:1)

Ignatius (died c. A. D. 100)
“Jesus Christ our God”[ii] (Ephesians 1:1)

Clement (c. A. D. 100-150)[iii]
“Brethren, we ought to conceive of Jesus Christ as of God, as the judge of the living and the dead.” (2 Clement 1:1)[iv]

Justin Martyr (c. A. D. 100-165)
“Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts . . . reference is made . . . to Christ . . . [in] the Psalm[s] of David . . . [as] the God of Jacob . . . the Lord of hosts . . . the King of glory” (Dialogue with Trypho, 36)[v]

Justin Martyr (c. A. D. 100-165)
He existed formerly as Son of the Maker of all things, being God, and was born a man by the Virgin. (Dialogue with Trypho, 48)[vi]

Justin Martyr (c. A. D. 100-165)
Now the Word of God is His Son[.] . . . From the writings of Moses also this will be manifest; for thus it is written in them, “And the [Messenger/Angel] of God spoke to Moses, in a flame of fire out of the bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of your fathers; go down into Egypt, and bring forth My people.” . . . [P]roving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race . . . [T]hey who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now  . . . having . . . become Man by a virgin, according to the counsel of the Father, for the salvation of those who believe on Him, He endured both to be set at nought and to suffer, that by dying and rising again He might conquer death. (Apology of Justin 1:63)[vii]

Martyrdom of Polycarp (c. A. D. 150)
[To] the Lord Jesus Christ . . . be the glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. (Martyrdom of Polycarp 22:3; cf. 14:3)[viii]

Epistle to Diognatus (2nd century)
On the contrary, the omnipotent Creator of all, the invisible God himself, established among men the truth and the holy, incomprehensible word from heaven. . . not, as one might imagine, by sending to men some subordinate, or angel or ruler or one of those who manage earthly matters, or one of those entrusted with the administration of things in heaven, but the Designer and Creator of the universe himself, by whom he created the heavens, by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds, whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from whom the sun has received the measure of the daily courses to keep, whom the moon obeys as he commands it to shine by night, whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by whom all things have been ordered and determined and placed in subjection, including the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and the things in the sea, fire, air, abyss, the things in the heights, the things in the depths, the things in between—this one he sent to them! . . . [H]e sent him in gentleness and meekness, as a king might send his son who is a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a man to men. (Epistle to Diognetus 7:2,4)[ix]

Athenagoras (2nd century)
Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists? (Plea for Christians, 10)[x]

Irenaeus (c. A. D. 120-203)
Therefore neither would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named as God, definitely and absolutely, him who was not God, unless he were truly God; nor would they have named any one in his own person Lord, except God the Father ruling over all, and His Son[.] . . . Since, therefore, the Father is truly Lord, and the Son truly Lord, the Holy Spirit has fitly designated them by the title of Lord. [When] the Scripture says, “Then the Lord [Jehovah] rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah fire and brimstone from the Lord out of heaven” [Genesis 19:24] . . . it here points out that the Son, who had also been talking with Abraham, had received power to judge the Sodomites for their wickedness. And this [text following] does declare the same truth: “Thy throne, O God; is for ever and ever; the scepter of Your kingdom is a right scepter. You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, Your God, has anointed You.” For the Spirit designates both [of them] by the name, of God — both Him who is anointed as Son, and Him who does anoint, that is, the Father. . . . Therefore, as I have already stated, no other is named as God, or is called Lord, except Him who is God and Lord of all, who also said to Moses, “I AM That I AM And thus shall you say to the children of Israel: He who is, has sent me to you;”  and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who makes those that believe in His name the sons of God. (Against Heresies, III:6:1-2)

The Trinitarian can agree with the earliest writers of Christianity:  “[W]e confess . . . the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues . . . [and] both Him, and the Son . . . and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore,[xi] knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught” (Justin Martyr, Apology 1:6).[xii] The Arian and Sabellian cannot so confess, or so worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the one true God.

While the testimonies above focused on the Deity of Christ, rather than the Deity of the Spirit, it should be noted that “no apologetic writer of the second century spoke of the Spirit of God as one of the creatures” (pg. 49, The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church, Henry Barclay Swete. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1966 (reprint of 1912 ed).), but they did make statements such as “we acknowledge a God, and a Son his Logos, and a Holy Spirit, united in essence, — the Father, the Son, the Spirit” (Athenagoras, Plea for Christians 24).  The affirmation that the Father, Son, and Spirit are united in essence (or, more literally, equal or one in power) requires that they are the one true God.

The Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been believed in and adored by Christians for the entirety of church history.


Note:  To read the Greek in the endnotes, you will need the Helena Greek font, which will be on your computer if you download a trial version of Accordance here.

[i][i] Doxa¿zw ∆Ihsouvn Cristo\n to\n qeo\n to\n ou¢twß uJma◊ß sofi÷santa.

[ii]             ∆Ihsouv Cristouv touv qeouv hJmw◊n.

[iii] If one wishes to maintain (as is likely) that 2 Clement was not written by that Clement of Rome who flourished c. A. D. 90-100, was the third pastor of the church at Rome, and composed 1 Clement, nevertheless “the controversies with which the writer deals are those of the early part of the 2nd century[.] . . . Internal evidence . . . assigns to the work a date not later than the 2nd century, and probably the first half of it” (“Clemens Romanus,” A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography, Henry Wace. elec. acc. Accordance Bible Software).  “[If not by Clement of Rome himself, then it] appears to have been delivered about [A. D.] 140–50” (“Clement of Rome,” The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, gen. ed. J. D. Douglas.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974. Elec. acc. Accordance Bible Software).

[iv] ∆Adelfoi÷, ou¢twß dei√ hJma◊ß fronei√n peri« ∆Ihsouv Cristouv, wJß peri« qeouv, wJß peri« kritouv zw¿ntwn kai« nekrw◊n.

[v] kai« Qeo\ß kai« Ku/rioß tw◊n duna¿mewn oJ Cristo\ß . . . ei˙ß to\n Cristo\n ei˙rhvsqai . . . ⁄Esti de« yalmo\ß touv Dabi«d ou∞toß . . . Qeouv ∆Iakw¿b . . . Ku/rioß tw◊n duna¿mewn . . . Ku/rioß tw◊n duna¿mewn . . . oJ Basileu\ß thvß do/xhß.

[vi] prou¨phvrcen Ui˚o\ß touv Poihtouv tw◊n o¢lwn, Qeo\ß w‡n, kai« gege÷nnhtai a‡nqrwpoß dia» thvß Parqe÷nou.

[vii] ÔO Lo/goß de« touv Qeouv e˙stin oJ Ui˚o\ß aujtouv[.] . . . Kai« e˙k tw◊n touv Mwse÷wß de« suggramma¿twn fanero\n touvto genh/setai. Le÷lektai de« e˙n aujtoi√ß ou¢twß: “Kai« e˙la¿lhse Mwu¨sei√ a‡ggeloß Qeouv e˙n flogi« puro\ß e˙k thvß ba¿tou, kai« ei•pen: ∆Egw¿ ei˙mi oJ w‡n, Qeo\ß ∆Abraa¿m, Qeo\ß ∆Isaa¿k, Qeo\ß ∆Iakw¿b, oJ Qeo\ß tw◊n pate÷rwn sou. ka¿telqe ei˙ß Ai¶gupton, kai« e˙xa¿gage to\n lao/n mou.” . . . ∆All∆ ei˙ß aÓpo/deixin gego/nasin oiºde oi˚ lo/goi, o¢ti Ui˚o\ß Qeouv kai« aÓpo/stoloß ∆Ihsouvß oJ Cristo/ß e˙sti, pro/teron Lo/goß w‡n, kai« e˙n i˙de÷aˆ puro\ß pote« fanei÷ß, pote« de« kai« e˙n ei˙ko/ni aÓswma¿twˆ: nuvn de÷, dia» qelh/matoß Qeouv uJpe«r touv aÓnqrwpei÷ou ge÷nouß a‡nqrwpoß geno/menoß[.] . . . Oi˚ ga»r to\n Ui˚o\n Pate÷ra fa¿skonteß ei•nai e˙le÷gcontai mh/te to\n Pate÷ra e˙pista¿menoi, mhq∆ o¢ti e˙sti«n Ui˚o\ß twˆ◊ Patri« tw◊n o¢lwn ginw¿skonteß: o§ß kai« Lo/goß prwto/tokoß w·n touv Qeouv, kai« Qeo\ß uJpa¿rcei. Kai« pro/teron dia» thvß touv puro\ß morfhvß kai« ei˙ko/noß aÓswma¿tou twˆ◊ Mwu¨sei√ kai« toi√ß e˚te÷roiß profh/taiß e˙fa¿nh: nuvn d∆ . . . dia» parqe÷nou a‡nqrwpoß geno/menoß kata» th\n touv Patro\ß boulh/n, uJpe«r swthri÷aß tw◊n pisteuo/ntwn aujtwˆ◊, kai« e˙xouqenhqhvnai kai« paqei√n uJpe÷meinen, iºna aÓpoqanw»n kai« aÓnasta»ß nikh/shØ to\n qa¿naton. It should be noted that the references by Justin to Christ as ⁄Aggeloß refers to Him as the Messenger or Angel of Jehovah, the Old Testament Person who is so far from being a created being that He is Jehovah Himself. This is apparent to anyone who reads the context of Justin’s declarations.

[viii] oJ ku/rioß ∆Ihsouvß Cristo\ß . . . w—ˆ hJ do/xa su\n patri kai« aJgi÷wˆ pneu/mati ei˙ß tou\ß ai˙w◊naß tw◊n ai˙w¿nwn, aÓmh/n.

[ix] Diog. 7:2 aÓll∆ aujto\ß aÓlhqw◊ß oJ pantokra¿twr kai« pantokti÷sthß kai« aÓo/ratoß qeo/ß, aujto\ß aÓp∆ oujranw◊n th\n aÓlh÷qeian kai« to\n lo/gon to\n a‚gion kai« aÓperino/hton aÓnqrw¿poiß e˙ni÷druse . . . ouj kaqa¿per a‡n tiß ei˙ka¿seien aÓnqrw¿poiß uJphre÷thn tina» pe÷myaß h£ a‡ggelon h£ a‡rconta h£ tina tw◊n diepo/ntwn ta» e˙pi÷geia h£ tina tw◊n pepisteume÷nwn ta»ß e˙n oujranoi√ß dioikh/seiß, aÓll∆ aujto\n to\n tecni÷thn kai« dhmiourgo\n tw◊n o¢lwn, w—ˆ tou\ß oujranou\ß e¶ktisen, w—ˆ th\n qa¿lassan i˙di÷oiß o¢roiß e˙ne÷kleisen, ou∞ ta» musth/ria pistw◊ß pa¿nta fula¿ssei ta» stoicei√a, par∆ ou∞ ta» me÷tra tw◊n thvß hJme÷raß dro/mwn h¢lioß ei¶lhfe fula¿ssein, w—ˆ peiqarcei√ selh/nh nukti« fai÷nein keleu/onti, w—ˆ peiqarcei√ ta» a‡stra twˆ◊ thvß selh/nhß aÓkolouqouvnta dro/mwˆ, w—ˆ pa¿nta diate÷taktai kai« diw¿ristai kai« uJpote÷taktai, oujranoi« kai« ta» e˙n oujranoi√ß, ghv kai« ta» e˙n thØv ghØv, qa¿lassa kai« ta» e˙n thØv qala¿sshØ, puvr, aÓh/r, a‡bussoß, ta» e˙n u¢yesi, ta» e˙n ba¿qesi, ta» e˙n twˆ◊ metaxu/: touvton pro\ß aujtou\ß aÓpe÷steilen. . . . e˙n e˙pieikei÷aˆ kai« prauŒthti wJß basileu\ß pe÷mpwn ui˚o\n basile÷a e¶pemyen, wJß qeo\n e¶pemyen, wJß a‡nqrwpon pro\ß aÓnqrw¿pouß e¶pemyen, wJß swˆ¿zwn e¶pemyen, wJß pei÷qwn, ouj biazo/menoß: bi÷a ga»r ouj pro/sesti twˆ◊ qewˆ◊.

[x] Ti÷ß ou™n oujk a·n aÓporh/sai, le÷gontaß Qeo\n Pate÷ra kai« Ui˚o\n Qeo\n kai« Pneuvma a‚gion, deiknu/ntaß aujtw◊n kai« th\n e˙n thØv e˚nw¿sei du/namin kai« th\n e˙n thØv ta¿xei diai÷resin, aÓkou/saß aÓqe÷ouß kaloume÷nouß;

[xi] Note also the composition “The Worship of the Son of God in Scripture and the Earliest Christianity” at

[xii] oJmologouvmen . . . patro\ß dikaiosu/nhß kai« swfrosu/nhß, kai« tw◊n a‡llwn aÓretw◊n. . . kai« to\n . . . Ui˚o\n . . . kai« to\n . . . Pneuvma¿ te to\ profhtiko\n sebo/meqa, kai« proskunouvmen, lo/gwˆ kai« aÓlhqei÷aˆ timw◊nteß, kai« panti« boulome÷nwˆ maqei√n, wJß e˙dida¿cqhmen, aÓfqo/nwß paradido/nteß.


Anonymous said...

Dear Bro. Ross,

I realized that there has been a dearth of comments on your series regarding the Trinity and JW teachings. I wanted to tell you that I have appreciated the series. I am a missionary in Moldova. In this land dominated by Orthodox religion, the JW's are visibly making their mark here. The information has been a blessing, encouragement, and a tool for future use. Thank you for your time and work into this series. God bless you.
-David Gross

Thomas Ross said...

Dear Mr. Gross,

Thanks for the comment. I know that certain types of posts tend to generate more comments than other ones, but that does not mean that ones with fewer comments are not also read and valued. You are not the only one who has indicated to me the value of this series. May the Lord use them in evangelizing idolators such as JW's. Thanks again.