Development of Trinity in the Creeds
PROBABLY most churchgoers today believe that Jesus Christ and his apostles developed the doctrine of the Trinity. However, Professor E. Washburn Hopkins explains in his book Origin and Evolution of Religion, page 336: “To Jesus and Paul the doctrine of the trinity was apparently unknown; at any rate, they say nothing about it.” They formulated no creed defining a Trinity.
The fact is, the word “trinity” does not even once occur in the Holy Bible. Nor are such expressions as “one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” or “one substance with the Father,” found in the Bible. To the contrary, the Bible speaks of Christ as “the beginning of the creation by God,” and says that “the head of the Christ is God.” (Rev. 3:14; 1 Cor. 11:3) Thus, the New Catholic Encyclopedia says of the Trinity: “It is not, as already seen, directly and immediately the word of God.”—Volume 14, page 304.
UNKNOWN TO EARLY CHURCHMEN
Nor was the ‘three persons in one God’ concept developed immediately after the death of Jesus and his apostles. This is noted by Episcopal professor of church history James Arthur Muller, who writes: “This lack of a formulated doctrine of the Trinity reflects the theological thought of the second century. In the works of Justin Martyr, who wrote in about 150 A.D., the preexistence of the Son is stressed, yet in relation to the Father He is spoken of as ‘in the second place.’”—Creeds and Loyalty, page 9.
Even toward the end of the second century the prominent churchman Irenaeus spoke of Christ as being subordinate to God, not equal to him.—See Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book 2, chapter 28, section 8.
Thus the Trinity was unknown to early churchmen. Actually it was some 400 years or more after the death of Christ that the concept of ‘three persons in one God’ was finally formulated by men and introduced into the church.
THE APOSTLES’ CREED
“But,” someone may object, “did not the apostles themselves compose the Apostles’ Creed? And does not this creed teach the Trinity?”
That the twelve apostles wrote this creed was taught for centuries, and it was piously believed. But this claim has been proved untrue. Actually, the evidence reveals that the “Apostles’ Creed” was framed by men living hundreds of years later!
The Faith of Christendom, a source book of creeds and confessions, edited by B. A. Gerrish, observes: “So far, then, from being composed by the Apostles in person, we have no reason to assume that the Creed which bears their title appeared less than five hundred years after their time.” Examine the Apostles’ Creed set forth below:
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost; born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”a
You can see that nothing is said here about God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost as being “one God.” However, during the years in which the Apostles’ Creed was being formulated great controversy developed over the nature of Christ. What exactly was his relationship to God? Was he lesser than and distinct from God, or was Jesus God himself?
THE NICENE CREED
By the fourth century some churchmen, including the young archdeacon Athanasius, were arguing that Jesus and God were one and the same person. On the other hand, men such as the presbyter Arius held to the position of the Bible, that Jesus was created by God and was subordinate to his Father. In 325 C.E. a church council, called by Roman Emperor Constantine, met in Nice, Asia Minor, to decide on such issues. At this council pagan Emperor Constantine favored the side of Athanasius. Therefore, the views expressed by Arius, although based solidly on the Bible, were declared heretical.
Hence there followed an ‘experimenting with words and sharpening of phrases’ to design a creedal tool to use against those who held that Christ had a beginning and was not the same substance as the Father. In its original form, the Nicene Creed was clearly designed to combat the position of Arius. It concluded with this pronouncement, which was later dropped from the creed:
“But those who say there was a time when he was not; or that he was not before he was begotten; or that he was made from that which had no being; or who affirm the Son of God to be of any other substance or essence, or created, or variable, or mutable, such persons doth the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematize [curse].”
Noteworthy, too, is the fact that the original creed drawn up at Nice did not give personality to the Holy Ghost. However, later additions, believed to have been made at the Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E., did. The creed drawn up at Nice in 325 C.E., with its later alterations, passed into history as the Nicene Creed. It reads as follows:
“I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets. And I believe one catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
After carefully reading the Nicene Creed, it is interesting to note that in it the Trinity is not yet completely defined. The Father and Son are asserted to be of the same substance, and the Holy Ghost is called “Lord and Giver of Life,” but these three are not said to be “one God.” There was to be yet further ‘experimenting with words and sharpening of phrases.’
THE ATHANASIAN CREED
It is in the Athanasian Creed that the Trinity was finally defined. As you recall, Athanasius was the young archdeacon who prominently supported the views set forth in the Nicene Creed. Did he also compose this creed bearing his name?
This is what was believed for centuries, but this has definitely been proved untrue. The Faith of Christendom observes on page 61: “The attribution of the Creed to Athanasius was exposed in the seventeenth century by the Dutch scholar G. J. Voss. It has been argued on internal evidence that the document may be dated to the period between A.D. 381 and 428.”
However, there is no certain evidence for such an early date for the creed. In fact, there is no reference to it in completed form until hundreds of years later! Thus, John J. Moment, in his book on the creeds, states flatly: “Athanasius had been dead for five hundred years when it appeared.” (We Believe, page 118) Observe how the Athanasian Creed defines the Trinity:
“ . . . we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
“So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet there are not three almightys, but one almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet there are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say there be three Gods and three Lords.
“The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after other; none is greater or less than another. But the whole three persons are coeternal together, and coequal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. . . . ”
So, many hundreds of years after the death of Jesus Christ, the Trinity doctrine was finally formulated. Men had, in the words of theologian N. Leroy Norquist, “experimented with words, sharpened phrases, until they had defined the relation of the three ‘persons’ of the Trinity in such a way that they could finally say, ‘Unless you believe this you’re not a true believer.’”
In this way, therefore, the concept of God now held in most churches was formularized.
Perhaps, though, you may not believe that your church really approves these creeds. It is true that the trend has been not even to attempt to teach parishioners the perplexing concept of God that they propound. But this does not mean that the creeds have been rejected by the churches. To the contrary, almost all churches still hold to their confusing concept of God.
That the Roman Catholic Church does is clearly stated in The Catholic Encyclopedia under its heading “Trinity.” After citing a portion of the Athanasian Creed, it declares: “This, the Church teaches.”
The Church of England also endorses the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian creeds. The Protestant Episcopal Church does too, explaining that from the Church of England it “is far from intending to depart . . . in any essential point of doctrine.”
Lutheran bodies also embrace these creeds. The constitution of the Lutheran Church in America, Article II, section 4, says: “This church accepts the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian creeds as true declarations of the faith of the Church.” Similarly, the constitution of the United Church of Christ states: “It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds . . . ”
Presbyterians endorse the Nicene Creed, and so do major Methodist bodies. These religions officially hold the Trinitarian concept. Although Baptist bodies generally do not subscribe to creeds, the Associate General Secretary of the American Baptist Convention observes regarding the Athanasian Creed: “I am confident that most American Baptists would be in substantial agreement with its contents.”
It is true that certain churches of Christendom may not officially endorse any creeds, yet almost all do uphold the Trinitarian dogma that they developed. Thus John J. Moment wrote regarding the Athanasian Creed in his book We Believe: “Its stereotyped definitions have continued to be accepted in Protestantism, more or less consciously, as the norm of orthodoxy.”
AN UNSCRIPTURAL CONCEPT
God’s Word, however, is in direct opposition to this ‘three persons in one God’ concept. The Bible says that God is the “King of eternity,” and is without beginning or end. (1 Tim. 1:17; Ps. 90:2) But the Bible says that, unlike his eternal Father, Jesus is “the beginning of the creation by God.” (Rev. 3:14) Further proof that Jesus and God are not one and the same or equal is seen in the fact that upon Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, “God exalted him to a superior position.” (Phil. 2:9) If, before his exaltation, Jesus had been equal to God, he could not have been exalted any further, for that would have made him superior to God. How evident that the Trinity doctrine was not taught by the first-century Christians!
The Bible teaching is clear. Jehovah is the Almighty God who “created all things.” (Rev. 4:11) Jesus Christ is “God’s Son,” not Almighty God himself. (Luke 1:35) And the holy spirit is not a person but is God’s active force with which persons can be filled. (Acts 2:4) Since the churches obviously have not been teaching these Bible truths, it is vital, if you desire to please your Creator, to separate completely from such religious organizations.—Rev. 18:4.
Jehovah is in truth God. He is the living God and the King to time indefinite.—Jer. 10:10.
a The creeds, as they appear in this article, are quoted from M’Clintock & Strong’s Cyclopædia, Volume 2, pages 559-563.
[Picture on page 422]
The pagan Roman Emperor Constantine called a church council in Nice in 325 C.E. He influenced the adoption there of the Nicene Creed with its Trinity teaching