Monday, July 03, 2006

Early Christian Apologists and the Trinity

One of the subjects that interest me is the development of Christian doctrines. One doctrine that is important to me is the Biblical teaching about the plurality that exists in the one true God, what we refer to as the Trinity.

I've read some Oneness Pentecostal teachings on this subject. What I’ve found is they tend to ignorant of how the Early Church saw this subject. Some of them believe that the Trinity was invented at the Council of Nicea (325 AD). This is a big mistake. Nicea was called to deal with the Arian heresy, which centered around whether or not Jesus Christ was God or a creature. (The Arians were similar to the modern Jehovah Witnesses.)

The term Trinity was first coined by the Tertullian (155-230), but the idea that there is a plurality in the God head goes all the way back to Geneses. The Trinity and the Old Testament is addressed here: The Trinity in the Old Testament.

Trinitarian and as was the very early Church. Below are some items from the early church that show how the early defenders of the Christian Faith understood the oneness and plurality of the one true God. Justin Martyr and Athenagoras are early Christian apologists (i.e. defender of the faith). What is written below are examples of Christians trying to explain the Christian teachings of the Trinity long before Tertullian coined the word.

Justin Martyr was Platonic philosopher who converted to Christianity. He and a number of companions were martyred for the faith in the 160s. He wrote the following items in the 150s.

This is from Justin Martyr’s First Apology:
Chapter XXXII: And what is spoken of as "the blood of the grape," signifies that He who should appear would have blood, though not of the seed of man, but of the power of God. And the first power after God the Father and Lord of all is the Word, who is also the Son; and of Him we will, in what follows, relate how He took flesh and became man.

In Chapters 37,38 and 39 Justine speaks of the “person” of the Father (37) in 38 he speaks of the “person” of the son and in 39 Justine speaks of the Spirit as “He” and differentiated from Father and Son.

In Chapter LXI on the subject of baptism we read, “For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water.”

In chapter LXIII of his first Apology Justin Martyr said this about modalistic teachings “For they 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.

This is from Justin Martyr’s Second Apology:
Chapter VI: But these words, Father, and God, and Creator, and Lord, and Master, are not names, but appellations derived from His good deeds and functions. And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word, who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God's ordering all things through Him

Now let’s look at Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho. In this book Justine is speaking to Trypho and his companions, all of who are Jews. Main thrust of the book is to show them that Jesus is the Christ and He is truly God. There is much in the book that is clearly Trinitarian in its thrust. I would especially point to Chapter CXXIX. In this Chapter Justin is pointing out that the Old Testament Scriptures show that there is a plurality of being in the one true God.

Athenagoras wrote A Plea for the Christians to Emperor Marcus Aurelius around 177 AD.

Here or some items from this work.
Chapter III: But, since our doctrine acknowledges one God, the Maker of this universe, who is Himself uncreated (for that which is does not come to be, but that which is not) but has made all things by the Logos which is from Him, we are treated unreasonably in both respects, in that we are both defamed and persecuted.

Chapter X is a great example of an early attempt to explain the plurality and unity of the true God of the Christians. Athenagoras says “That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being--I have sufficiently demonstrated. [I say "His Logos"], for we acknowledge also a Son of God.” And then he says, “The Holy Spirit Himself also, which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun. 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?

I am about out of time, but I can add more when I have a few more minutes to spare.

Coram Deo,

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