What Does the Bible Reveal About the Trinity? – Part 7
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2007|
|Was the deity of Jesus Christ invented by the Christian church in the fourth century, as some critics maintain? The authors offer numerous quotations to show the early church clearly taught that Jesus Christ was God long before the fourth century.|
Was the deity of Jesus Christ invented by the Christian church in the fourth century, as some critics maintain?
Some cults, as well as most all liberal theologians, maintain that the doctrine of the trinity was not part of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, but merely invented by the church centuries later. For example, in a sermon given in August 1964, in New York City, liberal theologian James A. Pike declared, “The Trinity is not necessary. Our Lord never heard of it. The apostles knew nothing of it.” Victor Paul Wierwille, founder of “The Way International,” claims in his book, Jesus Christ Is Not God, that the early church (to A.D. 330) never believed in the Trinity or in Christ’s deity. He argues,
- Certainly, during this time, church leaders spoke of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but they never referred to them as co-equal…. In fact, the opposite was the case. They spoke of the Father as supreme, the true and only God… and of the son as inferior… having a beginning, visible, begotten, immutable.
But is this really what we find when we carefully examine the writings of the earliest Christian leaders, or is this allegation merely an invention by those who, for whatever reason, choose not to believe in the Trinity?
The following generally chronological examples show that the early church clearly did believe that Jesus Christ was God:
Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 30-107), who was born before Christ died, consistently spoke of the deity of Jesus Christ. In To the Ephesians, and other letters, we find references such as the following: “Jesus Christ our God”; “who is God and man”; “received knowledge of God, that is, Jesus Christ”; “for our God, Jesus the Christ”; “for God was manifest as man”; “Christ, who was from eternity with the Father”; “from God, from Jesus Christ”; “from Jesus Christ, our God”; “Our God, Jesus Christ”; “suffer me to follow the example of the passion of my God”; “Jesus Christ the God” and “Our God Jesus Christ.” The fact that Ignatius was neither rebuked nor branded as teaching heresy by any of the churches or Christian leaders he sent letters to proves that the early church, long before A.D. 107, accepted the deity of Christ.
Polycarp (69-155) possibly spoke of “Our Lord and God Jesus Christ.”
Justin Martyr (100-165) wrote of Jesus, “who… being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.” In his Dialogue with Trypho, he stated that “God was born from a virgin” and that Jesus was “worthy of worship” and of being “called Lord and God.”
Tatian (110-172), the early apologist, wrote, “We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales when we announce that God was born in the form of man.”
Theophlius (116-181) was the first to use the term “Trinity” in his Epistle to Autolycus II, xv.
Irenaeus of Lyons and Rome (120-202), wrote that Jesus was “perfect God and perfect man”; “not a mere man… but was very God”; and that “He is in Himself in His own right… God, and Lord, and King Eternal” and spoke of “Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour and King”
Tertullian of Carthage (145-220), said of Jesus, “Christ is also God” because “that which has come forth from God [in the virgin birth] is at once God and the Son of God, and the two are one… in His birth. God and man united.” Jesus is “both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God.”
Hippolytus (170-235) stated,” [It is] the Father who is above all, the Son who is through all, and the Holy Spirit who is in all. And we cannot otherwise think of one God, but by believing in truth in Father and Son and Holy Spirit…. For it is through this Trinity that the Father is glorified…. The whole Scriptures, then, proclaim this truth.” And, “the Logos is God, being the substance of God.”
Caius (180-217), a Roman presbyter, wrote of the universal Christian attestation to the deity of Christ in his refutation of Artemon, who maintained that Christ was only a man. Note that before A.D. 217, Caius appealed to much earlier writers, all of whom taught Christ’s deity: “Justin and Miltiades, and Tatian and Clement, and many others—who is ignorant of the books of Irenaeus and Melito, and the rest, which declare Christ to be God and man? All the psalms, too, and hymns of brethren, which have been written from the beginning by the faithful, celebrate Christ the Word of God, ascribing divinity to Him…. [This] doctrine of the Church, then, has been proclaimed so many years ago….”
Gregory Thaumaturgus of Neo-Caesarea (205-270) declared in On the Trinity, that “All [the persons] are one nature, one essence, one will, and are called the Holy Trinity; and these also are names subsistent, one nature in three persons, and one genus [kind].” He referred to Jesus as “God of God” and “God the Son.”
Novation of Rome (210-280) wrote in his On The Trinity, of Jesus being truly a man but that “He was also God according to the Scriptures…. Scripture has as much described Jesus Christ to be man, as moreover it has also described Christ the Lord to be God…. this same Jesus is called also God and the Son of God”; “Christ Jesus [is] our Lord God.” (Note then, that in the 200s we already had written discourses on the Trinity.)
Athanasius (293-373), the keen defender of New Testament teaching against the early Arian heresy, which taught that Jesus Christ was not God, declared of Jesus, “He always was and is God and Son” and “He who is eternally God… also became man for our sake.”
Lucian of Antioch (300), “We believe in… one Lord Jesus Christ, his Son, the only-begotten God… God of God.…”
Alexander of Alexandria spoke in reference to Jesus of “his highest and essential divinity” and that he was “an exact and identical image of the Father.”
Eusebius of Caesarea (325) stated that “the Son of God bears no resemblance to originated creatures but… is alike in every way only to the Father who has begotten [Him] and that he is not from any other hypostasis and substance but from the Father.” And “We believe in… one Lord Jesus Christ, the word of God, God of God.…”,
Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 350), “We believe in… One Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God… very God, by whom all things were made.”
Epiphanius of Constantia (374), “We believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ… of the substance of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God.”
Augustine declared that Christians “… believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, maker and ruler of the whole creation: that Father is not Son, nor Holy Spirit Father or Son; but a Trinity of mutually related Persons, and a unity of equal essence” and that therefore, “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit God; and all together are one God.”
Tertullian wrote of Jesus that “He is God and man…. We have here a dual condition—not fused but united—in one person, Jesus as God and man.”
These are only a few of the references that could be cited. From the earliest times, the first church leaders—immediately after the time of the apostles up to the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century and beyond—consistently believed and taught that Jesus Christ is God. Therefore, Wierwille and others are clearly mistaken when they maintain that the Trinity was “invented” by Christians only in the fourth century.
Only one logical explanation can be given for this abundant early testimony to the deity of Jesus Christ: Early church leaders were simply declaring what was already declared by Jesus Christ and the apostles in Holy Scripture—that Christ was indeed God. As Gregory of Nazianzus stated in his “Third Theological Oration Concerning the Son,” “From their [the apostles] great and exalted discourses we have discovered and preached the deity of the Son.”
The truth is that for all those groups that deny Christ’s deity, the Trinity is simply a stumbling block to their rationalism. What they cannot fully comprehend, they cannot accept. The doctrine of the Trinity cannot be rejected on biblical or historical grounds because the testimony for it is too abundant; it can only be rejected on philosophical and personal grounds which have no merit.
- Paul Wierwille, Jesus Christ Is Not God (New Knoxville, OH: American Christian Press, 1975).
- Kirsopp Lake, trans., The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University
Press, 1965, To the Ephesians I, Greetings: I:I; vii.2; xvii.2; xviii.2; xix.3; To the Magnesians,
xiii.2; To the Trallians, vvi.1; To the Romans, Greeting; iii.3; vi.3; To the Smyrnaeans, I.I; To
Polycarp, viii.3, respectively.
- The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, chap. 6, in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson
(eds), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus,
- Justin Martyr, “The First Apology,” chap. 63, in Roberts and Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers,
vol. 1, p. 184.
- Justin Martyr, “Dialogue of Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew,” chap. 64,68, in
Roberts and Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 231-233.
- Tatian the Assyrian, “Address of Tatian to the Greeks,” chap. 21, in Roberts and Donaldson, The
Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, p. 74.
- Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2, p. 101.
- Irenaeus, “Against Heresies” Book III, chap. 16, Title; chap. 19, Title, paragraph 2; Book I, chap.
10, paragraph 1, in Roberts and Donaldson (eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 440,448-
- Tertullian (Quintus Tertullianus), “A Treatise on the Soul,” chap. 41, and “Apology,” chap. 21, in
Roberts and Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, Latin Christianity: Its Founder,
Tertullian (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 221,34-35, and Against Praxaes ii. Ante-Nicene
Fathers, vol. 3, p. 598,498, respectively.
- Hippolytus, Against the Heresy of Noetus, p. 14, cited in Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies (Garden
City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1984), p. 95; Refutation of All Heresies, X, XXIX, Ante-Nicene
Fathers, vol. 5, p. 151.
- Caius, “Against the Heresy of Artemon” in “Fragments of Caius” in Roberts and Donaldson, The
Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5: Fathers of the Third Century, p.601.
- Gregory Thaumaturgus, “On the Trinity,” paragraph 2, in Roberts and Donaldson, The Ante-
Nicene Fathers, vol. 6: Fathers of the Third Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 48.
- In Beisner, God in Three Persons, p. 81.
- Novatian, a Roman Presbyter, “A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity,” chap. 11, in
Roberts and Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5: Fathers of the Third Century, p. 620.
- Origen, “Dialogue with Heraclides,” 1-4 in Maurice Wiles and Mark Santer (eds.). Documents in
Early Christian Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 23.
- In E. Calvin Beisner, God in Three Persons (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1984), p. 80, citing On the
Principles, Preface, p. 4.
- Athanasius, “Against the Arians,” in, paragraphs 29,31, in Wiles and Santer (eds.), Documents
in Early Christian Thought, pp. 52,54.
- In Beisner, God in Three Persons, p. 82.
- “Alexander of Alexandria’s Letter to Alexander of Thessalonica,” paragraph 37, in William G.
Rusch (trans./ed.). The Trinitarian Controversy, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), pp. 40,42.
- “Eusebius of Caesarea’s Letter to His Church Concerning the Synod at Nicaea,” paragraph 13 in
Rusch, p. 59.
- In Beisner, God in Three Persons, p. 84.
- Ibid., p. 86.
- Ibid., p. 87.
- Augustine, “On the Trinity,” IX, paragraph 1; XV, paragraph 28, in Wiles and Santer, Documents
in Early Christian Thought, 36-37, p. 91.
- Tertullian, “Against Praxeas,” chap. 27, in Wiles and Santer, Documents in Early Christian
Thought, p. 46.
- Proclus, “Sermon I,” paragraphs 2,4 in Wiles and Santer, Documents in Early Christian Thought,
- Cyril of Alexandria, “Second Letter to Succensus,” 2,4, in Wiles and Santer, Documents In Early
Christian Thought, pp. 67, 69-70.
- Gregory of Nazianzus, “Third Theological Oration Concerning the Son,” 17 in Rusch (trans./ed.).
The Trinitarian Controversy, p. 143.