THE TRINITY DOCTRINE AND THE EARLY CHURCH
 
 

Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly assert that the Trinity doctrine is not taught in the Bible and most of them seem to believe it had not occurred to anyone to teach such a belief until about 325A.D., when the early Church formulated a statement on the subject. Unfortunately, “Jehovah’s Witnesses” do not do any study for themselves; they slavishly follow the teachings of the Watch Tower Society. It is well known that the Society misrepresents the facts on so many things. It does so also on this subject. Please note well the following from page 22 of the Watch Tower book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life:

This doctrine was unknown to the Hebrew prophets and Christian apostles. The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967 edition, vol. X1V, p. 306) admits that “the teaching that God is a “Trinity” is not taught  in the OT (Testament).” It also admits that the doctrine must be dated as from about three hundred and fifty years after the death of Jesus Christ. So the early Christians who were taught directly by Jesus Christ did not believe that God is a “Trinity.” 

It will be clear that the Watch Tower Society is claiming that The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits that the teaching that God is a Trinity is not to be found in the Old Testament, in fact the teaching did not come into existence until about 350 years after Christ died! It is quite disgusting to encounter such a deliberate distortion. On page 306 of the same Encyclopedia, the very page from which the Watch Tower Society quotes, we read:

The revelation of the truth of the triune life of God was first made in the NT…

Every informed Bible student knows very well that the doctrine is not clearly taught in the OT. However, there are statements that require us to believe a plurality, a complexity, in God. The NT makes it very clear that the one God is comprised of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Christians are driven to this conclusion because the Bible requires us to believe in only one true God. It also requires us to believe that the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. There is no escaping the conclusion that within the complexity of God there is a threeness.

The first Christians were apparently prepared to accept what the Bible teaches and to leave it at that. Later, because of controversy, the Church was forced to set down its understanding of the subject in a formulated pattern. This is what took place in 325A.D. There is no excuse for saying that this is when Christians first believed that the Bible teaches that there is just one God comprised of Three Persons. The truth on the matter is clear and available for all that are willing to study for themselves. The truth of what we have noted so far is summed up admirably by R. A. Finlayson, The Story of Theology, The Tyndale Press, London, 1963, page 14:

When the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity came to be formulated, it was immediately accepted as an expression of what had been the faith of the Church from the beginning. One thing is clear, that the doctrine of the Trinity was not arrived at as a result of philosophic reasoning, but was due entirely to meditation on the facts of revelation given in the Scriptures of both the Old Testament and the New, and more especially on the facts concerning the Person of Christ, and God’s relation to the world of men through His Spirit.

There was a time when I did not accept the Trinity doctrine. I set myself to study the subject thoroughly and had to reverse my understanding because of the Bible evidence. Later, about thirty years ago I set myself to study what the Church leaders, who followed the Apostles, taught before the doctrine was formulated. I used for convenience the book The Apostolic Fathers, An American Translation, by Edgar J. Goodspeed, Independent Press Ltd., London, 1950. On page xi Goodspeed offers the following clarification:

I have begun with Doctrina, as almost the oldest and certainly the most primitive document in the list, following it with the kindred pieces Didache and Barnabas. 1 Clement is doubtless the next oldest after Doctrina, and with it should go the so-called 11 Clement. Modern study has shown Hermas to belong at the very end of the first century, rather than toward the middle of the second, as the Muratorian Canon so misleadingly suggests. Ignatius and Polycarp fall about A.D. 107-117, and while the Martyrdom of Polycarp is forty or fifty years later, it is natural to append it to Polycarp’s letter. Quadratus, A.D. 125-129, Papias about 140, and the Address of Diognetus (third century?) form a miscellaneous group, chronologically arranged.

The Doctrina 6:2 (Goodspeed page 7) “through the Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns and rules with God the Father and the holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.” The Three reign and rule together. The personality of the Holy Spirit must be obvious.

1 Clement 58:2 (Goodspeed page 78) “For as God lives, and the Lord Jesus Christ lives, and the holy Spirit, who are the faith and hope of God’s chosen,” Again, we see the Personality of the Holy Spirit is clearly required and that the Three are hoped in equally.

Ignatius to Magnesians 13:2 (Goodspeed page 217) “the apostles did to the Father and to Christ and the Spirit,”

Martyrdom of Polycarp 22:3 (Goodspeed page 256) “the Lord Jesus Christ gather me also with his chosen into his heavenly kingdom! To him be glory with the Father and the holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.”

The Deity of Christ References Go to top

The Following Are a Few References Which Reflect Belief in The Deity of Christ:

The Martyrdom of Polycarp 17:2, 3 (Goodspeed page 254) “we shall never be able to desert Christ who suffered for the salvation of the whole world of those who are saved, the blameless for the sinners, or to worship anyone else. For we worship him as the Son of God.”

Ignatius to the Romans 4:2 (Goodspeed page 222) “Pray to Christ for me.”

Ignatius to the Ephesians 1:1 (Goodspeed page 207) “You are followers of God’s example, and rekindling your proper task by the blood of God, you have finished it perfectly.” Ignatius seems to have had Acts 20:28 in mind which refers to “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”

Christ is Called “GOD” On Numerous Occasions Go to top

See Ignatius to the Ephesians, Introduction; 7:2; 15:3; 18:2; 19:3. Ignatius to the Romans, Introduction; 3:3; 6:2. Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 1:1; 10:1. Ignatius to Polycarp 8:3. Fragments of Papias 12. The Address to Diognetus 7:4. 2Clement 12:1.

Those wishing to obtain further enlightenment on this subject would find helpful the chapter “The Church and the Trinity” in WHY YOU SHOULD BELIEVE IN THE TRINITY, An Answer to Jehovah’s Witnesses by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1989 and the chapter “The Pre-nicene Phase” in The Triune God , by Edmund J. Fortman, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982. These books contain evidences other than those  that I have provided. Surely, what I have offered is more than sufficient though. The following is a quote worth noting to conclude with:

One of the most highly esteemed of all the writers of the Asia Minor School was Melito, Bishop of Sardis. His literary activity began about A.D. 150….In one of them, it is said that the works of Christ after His baptism “showed His godhead concealed in the flesh”. “He concealed the signs of His godhead” before His baptism, “although He was true God from eternity.” “Being perfect God and perfect man, He assured us of His two essences,” His godhead and His manhood.  G. P. Fisher , History of Christian Doctrine , page 89.



 
   
 
 

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That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…. for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ – Romans 10:9,13