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The Trinity

 

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Trinity - An Introduction

BibleTexts.com

Trinity

Oxford Companion to the Bible

Trinity

Harper's Bible Dictionary

Trinity

Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible

Trinity

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

Council of Nicaea

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

 

The Doctrine of the Trinity -- An Introduction

Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer, BibleTexts.com (version 4.10.13.2)
Trinity - An Introduction The Father The Son The Holy Spirit What is God? Diverse views in early Christianity Top

 

Trinity - An Introduction

As most Bible dictionaries point out (see examples below), the Nicene Creed's doctrine of the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit -- all constituting the same, one God -- is not found in the New Testament. It is a theological doctrine first articulated near the end of the 2nd century A.D. That trinitarian doctrine was first codified and enforced in the church via the Constantine-sponsored Nicene Creed in 325 A.D. Even after that the issue continued to be hotly debated, until such debate ultimately was brutally suppressed.

BibleTexts.com Note: Regarding Emperor Constantine's remoulding of Christianity to suit his political, imperial needs, see "313 A.D.: the year Constantine began coopting and corrupting Christian theology, practice, and organization" at http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/313ad.htm.

The Greek term for the Trinity, trias, was not used in connection with a Christian godhead until 180 A.D., and even then the Trinity was described as "God, his Word, and his Wisdom." It was only later that the concept evolved that the Trinity constituted a single godhead, with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit comprising the same, one God. This concept was unknown to the Christians of the first century. Most critical biblical scholars today have concluded that neither Jesus, his men and women disciples, nor Paul believed that Jesus was/is God.

A justification of the Trinity does appear in the KJV's errant wording of 1Jo 5:7,8, which reads:

"7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."

Only the words above in bold represent the original Greek text of 1 John. The italicized words were added to Erasmus' Greek text of 1 John in his 1522 edition. The added wording had not been in Erasmus' original 1514 edition, so a church official manipulated Erasmus to add the wording to his Greek text. As conservative biblical scholar F.F. Bruce (History of the English Bible, Third Edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, pages 141-142) explains:

The words ["in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth."] omitted in the R.V. [Revised Version, 1881] were no part of the original Greek text, nor yet of the Latin Vulgate in its earliest form. They first appear in the writings of a Spanish Christian leader named Priscillian, who was executed for heresy in A.D. 385. Later they made their way into copies of the Latin text of the Bible. When Erasmus prepared his printed edition of the Greek New Testament, he rightly left those words out, but was attacked for this by people who felt that the passage was a valuable proof-text for the doctrine of the Trinity. He replied (rather incautiously) that if he could be shown any Greek manuscript which contained the words, he would include them in his next edition. Unfortunately, a Greek manuscript not more than some twenty years old was produced in which the words appeared: they had been translated into Greek from Latin. Of course, the fact that the only Greek manuscript exhibiting the words belonged to the sixteenth century was in itself an argument against their authenticity, but Erasmus had given his promise, and so in his 1522 edition he included the passage. (To-day one or two other very late Greek manuscripts are known to contain this passages; all others omit it.)

The words that Erasmus added appear to have come from a glossed/annotated version of the Latin Vulgate that was translated into Greek and handed to Erasmus as proof that the text was in the original Greek text. (For more details, browse: http://www.bibletexts.com/versecom/1jo05v07.htm.)

The result was that Tyndale's New Testament (1525/1635), the Great Bible (1539/1540), the German Luther Bible (1545), the Geneva Bible (1560/1562), the Bishop's Bible (1568/1602), the Rheims Bible (1582), the KJV (1611 & 1769), and other Bible versions whose New Testaments were based upon Erasmus' Greek text included that errant text of 1Jo 5:7,8, which for the next four centuries gave theologians a false justification for believing that the 325 A.D. Nicene Council's doctrine of the Trinity was clearly articulated in the Bible.

In Biblical Hermeneutics (edited by Bruce Corley, Steve W. Lemke, and Grant Lovejoy, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002, page 388), Harold Freeman, in his chapter on "Biblical Criticism and Biblical Preaching" writes:

Textual criticism is the discipline that seeks to identify the original wording of an ancient document. Textual criticism of the Bible benefits preaching by preventing nonbiblical sermons. ...We regret giving up a nice doctrinal sermon on the Trinity based on 1 John 5:7b (KJV). Nevertheless, if it is determined that these are additions to the original writings, whether intentional or accidental, biblical preaching based on these texts cannot occur... Sermons based on spurious or corrupted texts cannot be genuinely biblical. The determination of exactly what the Scripture said is the starting point for biblical preaching.

Also in the same Biblical Hermeneutics, William David Kirpatrick, in his chapter on "From Biblical Text to Theological Formulation," notes (page 366):

Otto Weber calls the doctrine of the Trinity the "classic example of a 'dogma,' in that it interprets the testimony of Scripture" (Weber, 1:350). In Jesus Christ and through the witness of the Spirit, the "unity, life, and revelation [of God] are expressed ... in reflection and interpretation" (Weber, 1:371).

To explore Christ Jesus as reflecting God, as the image and likeness of God, see:

http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/image.htm - "Man (Gen 1:26,27) and Christ as the 'image' of God"

Many early Christians were very concerned that the developing doctrine of the Trinity was a departure from monotheism. Some Christians clearly saw it as polytheistic heresy. It had been bitterly debated until it was settled by Constantine's coercion and edict at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Even with that pronouncement of the Nicene Creed, the theological pendulum swung back and forth until later in the century, as different Roman church officials went in and out of power. Those who were on the losing side at any given time were banished, and some even lost their lives over the issue.

 

Trinity - An Introduction The Father The Son The Holy Spirit What is God? Diverse views in early Christianity Top

 

The Father

 

God is our Father

 

Trinity - An Introduction The Father The Son The Holy Spirit What is God? Diverse views in early Christianity Top

 

The Son

According to the canonical gospels, Jesus himself rejected the assertion that he was God, as illustrated in the verses below, some of which have been very much ignored, and some of which have been very much misinterpreted since the days of Constantine:

Christians gratefully acknowledge and honor the individual roles of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which Mat 28:19 lists together in the same sentence, but Christians are not bound to any non-biblical, later theological hypotheses, including the one that all three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are somehow the same, one God. Even in the biblical passages that some use to justify that hypothesis, a more careful examination of those texts in context lead to a different interpretation.

We need to understand the two above biblical passages in the context of these other statements of first century Christian theology:

We all should readily admit that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, as 1Jo 4:15 insists; we all can gratefully admit that the Son is "the same as God" (Joh 1:18) just as the image in the mirror is the same as the subject in front of the mirror; but there is no biblical basis for having to declare that Jesus is God. (See also an explanation of the correct translation of the Greek text of Joh 1:1 description of "the Logos" as being "the same as God" at http://www.bibletexts.com/versecom/joh01v01.htm.) We, however, do learn from the Scriptures about our own relationship with God -- as the image of God, as Genesis 1:26,27 tells us:

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
22 Get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to--the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful desires. 23 Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, 24 and you must put on the new self, which is created in God's likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy.
9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of Godís glory and the exact imprint of Godís very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.

 

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The Holy Spirit

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament refer to God's Spirit, or the Holy Spirit, to represent God's active presence and power. Also Jesus in the Gospel of John (e.g., Joh 14:15-16:15) and Paul in Romans (Rom 8:26-29) both refer to the Holy Spirit as an advocate or defense attorney on our behalf, as the Spirit of truth, as an intercessor. This presence and power of God represents the mind of God. It is not another person with a mind of its own.

More information on the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, may be found at:

 

Trinity - An Introduction The Father The Son The Holy Spirit What is God? Diverse views in early Christianity Top

 

What is God? -- as described in the New Testament and other early Christian writings? (listed in alphabetical order)

God is "all in all"

God is Life

God is Love

God is Mind

God is Soul

God is Spirit

God is Truth

See "Names of God in the Old Testament" at http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/names-of-god-ot.htm.

See "Names of God in the New Testament" at http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/names-of-god-nt.htm, including:

 

Trinity - An Introduction The Father The Son The Holy Spirit What is God? Diverse views in early Christianity Top

 

Diverse views in early Christianity

Early Christians, even those in the apostolic period of the first century, had far more differences than is generally recognized. They sometimes changed allegiances and parted ways. For example, Paul and Barnabas split up (Gal 2:11-14, or Act 15:36-40?), but they remained as part of the same Christian community, the same church of Christ.

The second chapter of Paul's letter to the Galatians gives clear evidence of differences between three of the most significant people of the apostolic period, Jesus' brother James, Simon Peter, and Paul. Yet on some issues there is evidence that they agreed to disagree and respect each other's differences. Unfortunately over the future decades various Christian individuals and/or groups claimed the high ground of being the sole representatives of authentic Christian orthodoxy. Even worse, in order to articulate the difference between themselves, the self-designated orthodox Christians (which each believed they were) labeled others as part of a "denomination" (the first century meaning of the word "heresy") -- rather than part of the real church -- and removed from their own teachings some of the authentic teachings that their "heretic" brothers and sisters had in their teachings. Each group did this. The result was that no group preserved the entire teaching. Scholars today are trying to piece it back together.

Attempts have been made by brave Christians throughout the centuries to reinstate earliest Christian teachings and practices. This includes Peter Waldo; the Anabaptists and their spinoffs, the original Amish and Mennonites; John Wesley; Barton Stone; Thomas and Alexander Campbell; Edward Pusey; Mary Baker Eddy; and Leo Tolstoy, to name just a few. Below are listed some resources that provide details regarding (1) efforts to reinstate earliest Christianity, including those efforts labeled and persecuted as heresies by opponents, and (2) modern exploration of what actually constituted earliest Christian teachings and practicesaearly Christianand related background info may be found at:

1. History of efforts to reinstate earliest Christianity, including those efforts labeled and persecuted as heresies by opponents

  • http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/heresy.htm
  • http://www.bibletexts.com/bibliogr/13the.htm#controversy-issues
  • Crimes of Perception: An Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, by Leonard George (NY: Paragon House, 1995)
  • Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church, by Harold O.J.Brown (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988)
  • Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity, by Gerd Ludemann (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)
  • The New Birth of Christianity: Why Religion Persists in a Scientific Age, by Richard A. Nenneman (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992)
  • Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 2nd Edition, by Walter Bauer (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1996)
  • Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the light of Early Christianity, by David Bercot (Tyler, TX: Scroll Publishing, 1999, especially Chapter 17, "The Quest to Restore Early Christianity")

2. Modern exploration of what historically constituted earliest Christian teachings and practices

  • http://www.bibletexts.com/bibliogr/12his-nt.htm
  • http://www.bibletexts.com/bibliogr/13the.htm#controversy-issues
  • http://www.bibletexts.com/bibliogr/13the.htm#controversy-canon-and-criticism
  • http://www.bibletexts.com/bibliogr/13the.htm#controversy-texts
  • Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Second Edition, by Everett Ferguson (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1993)
  • Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, by Elaine Pagels (NY: Random House, 2003)
  • The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus, by John Dominic Crossan (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998)
  • A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers, edited by David W. Bercot (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998)
  • Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, Revised Edition - by Everett Ferguson (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 1987)
  • The Early Church: Origins to the Dawn of the Middle Ages, by E. Glenn Hinson (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996)
  • Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Second Edition, edited by Everett Ferguson (NY: Garland Publishing, 1998)
  • The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels (NY: Random House,1978) - Very interesting and thought-provoking.
  • History of Primitive Christianity, by Hans Conzelmann (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1973)
  • Introduction to the New Testament, Volume 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity, 2nd Edition - by Helmut Koester (Berlin: Aldine de Gruyter, 2000)
  • Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, by Brad D. Ehrman (NY: Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • The New Birth of Christianity: Why Religion Persists in a Scientific Age, by Richard A. Nenneman (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, especially "The Early Church" pages 55-82)
  • The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, by Brad D. Ehrman (NY: Oxford University Press, 1997)
  • The Rise of Christianity, by W.H.C. Frend (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984)
  • When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome, by Richard E. Rubenstein (NY: Harcourt, 1999)
  • The Worship of the Early Church, by Ferdinand Hahn (Fortress Press)

Christians of all denominations have much to learn from each other -- more from the spirit of Christ, the spirit of truth and love, to which they bear living testimony, than from their theological reasoning.


 

Trinity - An Introduction

BibleTexts.com

Trinity

Oxford Companion to the Bible

Trinity

Harper's Bible Dictionary

Trinity

Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible

Trinity

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

Council of Nicaea

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible

Edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (NY: Oxford University Press, 1993, pages 782-283, by Daniel N. Schowalter)

Trinity. Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine, it is striking that the term does not appear in the New Testament. Likewise, the developed concept of three coequal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the canon.

Later believers systematized the diverse references to God, Jesus, and the Spirit found in the New Testament in order fight against heretical tendencies of how the three are related. Elaboration on the concept of a Trinity also serves to defend the church against charges of di- or tritheism. Since the Christians have come to worship Jesus as a god (Pliny, Epistles 96.7), how can they claim to be continuing the monotheistic tradition of the God of Israel? Various answers are suggested, debated, and rejected as heretical, but the idea of a Trinity -- One God subsisting in three persons and one substance -- ultimately prevails.

While the New Testament writers say a great deal about God, Jesus, and the Spirit of each, no New Testament writer expounds on the relationship among the three in the detail that later Christian writers do.

The earliest New Testament evidence for a tripartite formula comes in 2 Corinthians 13.13, where Paul wishes that "the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit" be with the people of Corinth. It is possible that this three-part formula derives from later liturgical usage and was added to the text of 2 Corinthians as it was copied. In support of the authenticity of the passage, however, it must be said that the phrasing is much closer to Paul's understandings of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit than to a more fully developed concept of the Trinity. Jesus, referred to not as Son but as Lord and Christ, is mentioned first and is connected with the central Pauline theme of grace. God is referred to as a source of love, not as father, and the Spirit promotes sharing within the community. The word " holy" does not appear before "spirit" in the earliest manuscript evidence for this passage.

A more familiar formulation is found in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus commands the disciples to go out and baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The phrasing probably reflects baptismal practice in churches at Matthew's time or later if the line is interpolated. Elsewhere Matthew records a special connection between God the Father and Jesus the Son (e.g., 11.27), but he falls short of claming that Jesus is equal with God (cf. 24.36).

It is John's gospel that suggests the idea of equality between Jesus and God ("I and the Father are one"; 10.30) [but note also Joh 17:20-23]. The Gospel starts the affirmation that in the beginning Jesus as Word (see Logos) "was with God and ... was God" (.1) [but note also alternative translation and explanation], and ends (chap. 21 is most likely a later addition) with Thomas's confession of faith to Jesus, "My Lord and my God!" (20.28) [but note also Joh 20:17]. The Fourth Gospel also elaborates on the role of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete sent to be an advocate for the believers (John 14:15-26).

For the community of John's gospel, these passages provide assurance of the presence and power of God both in the ministry of Jesus and in the ongoing life of the community. Beyond this immediate context, however, such references raise the question of how Father, Son, and Spirit can be distinct and yet the same. This issue is debated over the following centuries and is only resolved by agreement and exclusion during the christological disputes and creedal councils of the fourth century and beyond.

While there are other New Testament texts where God, Jesus, and the Spirit are referred to in the same passage (e.g., Jude 20-21), it is important to avoid reading the Trinity into places were it does not appear. An example is 1 Peter 1.1-2, in which the salutation is addressed to those who have been chosen "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father in holiness of spirit." This reference may be to the holiness of the believers, but translators consistently take it as the Holy Spirit in order to complete the assumed trinitarian character of the verse: "who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sactified by the Spirit" (NRSV). This translation not only imposes later trinitarian perspectives on the text but also diminshes the important use of the spirit of human beings elswhere in 1 Peter (e.g., 3.4, 19)


Trinity - An Introduction

BibleTexts.com

Trinity

Oxford Companion to the Bible

Trinity

Harper's Bible Dictionary

Trinity

Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible

Trinity

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

Council of Nicaea

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

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Harperís Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.

Trinity, the, a term denoting the specifically Christian doctrine that God is a unity of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The word itself does not occur in the Bible. It is generally acknowledged that the church father Tertullian (ca. a.d. 145-220) either coined the term or was the first to use it with reference to God. The explicit doctrine was thus formulated in the postbiblical period, although the early stages of its development can be seen in the NT . Attempts to trace the origins still earlier (to the ot literature) cannot be supported by historical-critical scholarship, and these attempts must be understood as retrospective interpretations of this earlier corpus of Scripture in the light of later theological developments.

For the purpose of analysis, three relevant categories of NT texts may be distinguished (although such sharp lines of demarcation should not be attributed to first-century Christianity): first are references to the incarnation, describing a particularly close relationship between Jesus and God. Although a number of passages make clear distinctions between God and Christ and therefore suggest the subordination of the Son to the Father (e.g., Rom. 8:31-34; 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:20-28; 2 Cor. 4:4-6), there are other texts in which the unity of the Father and the Son is stressed (e.g., Matt. 11:27; John 10:30; 14:9-11; 20:28; Col. 2:9; 1 John 5:20). This emphasis on the unity of the Father and the Son may be understood as a first step in the development of trinitarian thought.

Second are passages in which a similarly close relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit is depicted. In the ot, the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Spirit of God) is understood to be the agency of God’s power and presence with individuals and communities. In the NT , Jesus is understood to be the recipient of this Spirit in a unique manner (see esp. Luke 3:22, where the Holy Spirit descends in bodily form upon Jesus after his baptism), to be a mediator of the activity of the Spirit (Acts 2:33 and elsewhere), and even to be identified with the Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27, 34; John 14; cf. expressions such as ‘the Spirit of Christ,’ ‘the Spirit of the Lord,’ ‘the Spirit of Jesus,’ and Gal. 4:6, where God sends ‘the Spirit of his Son’). While one cannot use the creedal formulation that the Holy Spirit ‘proceeds from the Father and the Son’ in its later dogmatic sense, in the NT the Holy Spirit comes to represent both the presence and activity of God and the continuing presence of Jesus Christ in the church.

Finally there are passages in which all three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in the same context. The most important of these are the ‘Apostolic Benediction’ of 2 Cor. 13:14 (the earliest trinitarian formula known) and the baptismal formula of Matt. 28:19 (perhaps a development from the simpler formula reflected in Acts 2:38; 8:16; and elsewhere; see also 1 Cor. 12:4-6; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2; Jude 20-21).

The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the NT . Nevertheless, the discussion above and especially the presence of trinitarian formulas in 2 Cor. 13:14 (which is strikingly early) and Matt. 28:19 indicate that the origin of this mode of thought may be found very early in Christian history.


Trinity - An Introduction

BibleTexts.com

Trinity

Oxford Companion to the Bible

Trinity

Harper's Bible Dictionary

Trinity

Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible

Trinity

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

Council of Nicaea

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

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The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible

edited by George Arthur Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976, Volume 4, page 711)

TRINITY [Lat. trinitas, coined by Tertullian; cf. [Greek] trias, first used in this sense by Theophilus of Antioch]. The coexistence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the unity of the Godhead. While not a biblical term, "trinity" represents the crystallization of NT teaching. Thus, in 1 Cor. 12:4-6, Paul correlates "Spirit," "Lord," and "God" (cf. Eph. 4:4-6); a similar correlation apears in the benediction of II Cor 13:14. Cf. the trinitarian baptismal formula of Matt. 28:19 (echoed in Did. 7:1), which may have replaced the earlier formula "into the name of the Lord Jesus" for purposes of the Gentile mission. See also Acts 2:33; I Pet 1:2; Rev. 1:4-5a. The text about the three heavenly witnesses (1 John 5:7 KJV) is not an authentic part of the NT . A further adumbration is provided by the logion concernining the Father and the Son in Matt. 11:27=Luke 10:22, alongside the parallelism of the "Son of man": and the "Holy Spirit" in Matt. 12:32=Luke 12:10. The OT concepts of the Wisdom and Spirit of God (cf. especially Prov. 8:22 ff) have influenced many NT passages used as foundations for the later formulation of trinitarian doctrine (e.g. John 1:1 ff; Col. 1:15 ff; Heb. 1:2-3).


Trinity - An Introduction

BibleTexts.com

Trinity

Oxford Companion to the Bible

Trinity

Harper's Bible Dictionary

Trinity

Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible

Trinity

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

Council of Nicaea

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

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Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Second Edition

edited by Everett Ferguson (NY: Garland Publishing 1999, pages 1142, 1147, by Daniel F. Wright)

(You are strongly recommended to add to your library this excellent resource.)

Trinity

Christian doctrine of God as three in one. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most distinctive and fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. It declares that God is tri-unity, that the one indivisible Godhead exists and is know in three eternally distinct "persons" -- Father, Son, and Spirit. It was during the patristic centuries that the church's Trinitarian faith assumed the shape it has largely retained throught its history. Athanasius and the Cappadocians in the fourth century, and later Augustine, played a formative role. The Nicene and "Athanasian" Creeds embody the determination of the fathers on the Trinity.

Primitive Christianity, like Judaism, was distinguished from paganisim by its unqualified montheism (1 Cor. 8:4-6; cf. Acts 17:24-29; Gal. 3:20). What distinguished it within, and later from Judaism was its conviction that Jesus was the Christ, the unique Son of God (Matt. 16:16; Rom 1:2-4; Heb 1:1-3). Moreover, the Spirit sent to give new birth to the church was in a special sense the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ (John 7:39; Rom 8:9, 14). In various ways, the early Christians confessed both Christ and the Spirit to be "Lord," and spoke of them and their work in terms proper to God himself -- albeit less explicitly of the Spirit (cf. John 14-16; 2 Cor 3:17-18) than of the Son (cf. John 1:1, 18; 8:58; 20:28; Mark 2:7; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8, 10). The correlation of these new data of the Christian revelation with faith in one God had already begun in the New Testament, in semiformal confessional statements, both twofold (Father and Son: 1 Cor. 8:6, 1 Tim. 2:5-6; 2 Tim. 4:1; Gal 1:3; 2 John 3; 1 Thess. 3:11) and threefold (Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; with the clearest ones the most obviously liturgical -- Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14)...

Conclusion. Neither human analysis nor human language was equal to the demands of Trinitarian theology, as the fathers were only too aware. They were provoked to reflect on the limitations of words, not least those of technical definition. They came to realize that the father-son analogy did not require that the Father preexisted the Son, that is, that its application was not unrestricted. Early Trinitarianism was also an area in which the axiom lex orandi lex credendi (literally, "the law of praying [determines] the law of believing") was most evidently operative. From the outset, Father, Son, and Spirit were named together in baptism and in benediction. Christians at worship regularly expressed what theologians struggled to articulate satisfactorily. Believers "lived" tensions and animosities that reasoned faith found hard to resolve.


Trinity - An Introduction

BibleTexts.com

Trinity

Oxford Companion to the Bible

Trinity

Harper's Bible Dictionary

Trinity

Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible

Trinity

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

Council of Nicaea

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity

Top

 

Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Second Edition,

edited by Everett Ferguson (NY: Garland Publishing 1999, pages 810-812, by Herman J. Vogt)

(You are strongly recommended to add to your library this excellent resource.)

Nicaea, council of; Nicene Creed...

Proceedings. At Nicaea, philosophers and theologians, not only those of episcopal rank, apparently discussed the essence of Christ and his relationship to the Father. A welcoming speech by the emperor [Constantine] opened the gathering. The friends of Arius (who taught that the Son's divinity was not equal to that of the Father), above all Eusebius of Nicomedia, laid before the assembly a confession of faith in which the Son of God was completely subordinated to the Father and was designated as of a different nature. When the majority angrily rejected this text, Eusebius of Casarea -- as he himself says in a letter to his home church -- offered the baptismal confession of that congregation, to which he appears to have added an emphasis on the individual personality of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The majority accused him of false teaching, and Eusebius attempted to justify himself. His defense received the full approval of the emperor, who was not yet baptized and held beliefs quite similar to those of Eusebius.

The council was called on to accept this confession of faith, although, according to Eusebius, Constantine did desire the insertion of the word homoousios ("of the same nature" or "same essence"). He must have known that this word was controversial. He gave it, as Eusebius reports, a philosophical explanation: no one should use it to attach corporeality to divine essence. In constructing its creed, however, the council evidently neither inserted homoousios into the creed from Caesarea nor formulated a comletely new confession of faith. Instead, it adopted a text related to the confession of Jerusalem -- as later attested in Cyril of Jerusalem's Catechetical Orations -- to which it then added condemnations of the Arian teaching. Only two bishops refused to sign the council's documents; they were removed and sent into exile by the emperor. Eusebius of Nicomedia withdrew his signature and met the same fate. Eusebius of Caesarea, with many others, gave the confession a false interpretation, as if it referred only to Christ's existing in some manner before his earthly life. They did not at any time disavow Arius...

Meaning of the Creed. A full understanding of this council's confession of faith, the Nicene Creed, depends not only on the parts that derive from traditional confessions -- like those of Jerusalem or Caesarea -- but also on those parts that are not found in the text that was finally adopted. Even if the Caesarean Creed was not the foundational document, and thus expressions were not struck out of its text to form the Nicene Creed, some of its contents still would have appeared to be inappropriate to the participants. Its references to Christ as the "firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15), which stands in the first part of its second article, concerns his preexistence, his relationship to the Father. It must have shocked the bishops, because it already placed the preexistent one within the creation, an act that appears to jeapardize his infinity. Similarly important was its designation of the procreation of the Son as "before all ages," a phrase absent in the Nicene Creed that reappears in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. It is also significant that in the Nicene Creed, as in the Caesarean Creed, Christ was not called first of all "the Logos of God" but rather "Son of God." Such phrases would not have aided the framers of the Nicene Creed in their battle with Arianism.

The text of the Nicene Creed betrays not only a certain editorial clumsiness -- the expression "true God from true God" doubling the preceding "God from God" -- but also a polemical purpose. It does not follow strictly in the line of positively formulated baptismal confessions. It inserts both the negative statement "not created" and also the explanation "that is, out of the essence of the Father," thus, excluding the thought that the Son originated, like all other things, by the will of the Father -- that he was created. The most important addition, however, is naturally "of one nature with the Father.

"Yet behind that terminology lies neither a speculation about the "essence" or "nature" (ousia) of the triune God nor careless words about the special relationship between the Father and the Son in the Godhead. The expression probably was chosen because it had the same meaning for the Latins -- not only for Hosius but also for Constantine himself -- as the "one substance" in the language of Tertullian. The immediate reason, however, was Arius's refusal of the word. Thus, its meaning is in the first instance negative; within the body of the confession, it excludes Arianism, as later the anathemas more clearly and fully do. Arius refused inner-divine procreation as incompatible with the pure spiritual nature of God and had already rejected the word homoousios. He wanted to recognize the Father's place as creator as the only correct mode of relationswhip of the Father-God to others, including the Son. Therefore in theis context -- and oin the basis of Constantine's explanation -- the phrase "of one nature with the Father" certainly means nothing other than this: a genuine Father-Son relationship, a real procreation in God, and God's pure spiritual nature must be held firm. The additional condemnation concern three statements of Arius: (1) "There was when he [the Son of God] was not"; (2) "Before he was made, he was not"; and (3) "He originated out of nothing." Those who wanted to trace the Son of God back to a differnt hypostasis or ousia were condemned. Whether talk of direct closeness or of the "nothingness" formed the context, any expressions were refused that grounded the existence of the Son in some previously existing matter. The background is thus more truly that of a cosmogony than that of another matter. Characterizing the Son as not "made or changeable or variable" excludes not only the Arian statement about his origin, but also the divine Son's morally exemplary and servantlike progress toward "divine" being. These anathemas became superfluous not only because the Arian danger abated, but also because the meaning of the term homoousios was developed (and expanded to the Spirit) through the teaching by the Cappadocians of the "Three Hypostases," that is, a doctrine of God that emphasizes one nature and three persons within the Trinity.

 

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