CCG Takes A Couple of Shots at Me and Binitarianism

History of Early Christianity


Was the early Church binitarian, unitarian, or trinitarian? CCG’s Wade Cox of Australia insists that it was unitarian.

Well, despite claims to the contrary, scholars of all sorts have seen that those who professed Christ shortly after the death of the Apostle John made statements supportive of a Binitarian View of the Godhead.

Interestingly, in his message yesterday, CCG’s Wade Cox gave me a new title when he wrote:

…the LCG Binitarian “Oracle” on all things Bob Thiel…

While I found that a bit amusing, I then noticed that in an earlier post, Wade Cox’s website also stated:

B. Thiel, Ph.D. …writes as an independent writer and claims membership of the Living Church of God, has written two articles seeking to claim that the early Church was Binitarian. The articles are titled:
“Binitarianism: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning” at: and
Unitarianism:  Is it Taught in the Bible And Was it the Position of the True Church?” at:

We have re-issued the paper Binitarianism and Trinitarianism (No. 76) to deal with this fiction of the WCG offshoots. It is a complete fabrication to assert that the early Church was Binitarian and an examination of the papers will demonstrate that fact.

Well, let’s see if he is correct that the idea that early Christians were binitarian is a “complete fabrication”.  I decided to glace at Wade Cox’s paper, but noticed that he ignored the earliest historical writings from the second and third centuries on the Godhead.  Instead he seems to prefer to take shots against Herbert W. Armstrong and me (his writings also show that he has reached inaccurate conclusions about my amount of formal theological training, which is substantially higher than he indicates) instead of showing the earliest historical evidence of the belief on the Godhead.

For example, he ignored quoting from the document known as  “the oldest complete Christian sermon that has survived” (Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 102)–outside those in the Bible–sometimes erroneously referred to as Second Letter of Clement.  Perhaps he ignored it because it supports binitarianism?

It was given perhaps with a year or so of John’s death (thus may be towards the end of the time of Ephesus), begins with the following:

Brothers, we ought so to think of Jesus Christ, as of God, as “Judge of the living and the dead (An Ancient Christian Sermon (2 Clement), 1:1. In Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 107)

So then, brothers, if we do the will of God our Father…(An Ancient Christian Sermon (2 Clement), 14:1. In Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p.121).

Now the church, being spiritual was revealed in the flesh of Christ, thereby showing us that if any of us guard her in the flesh and do not corrupt her, he will receive her back again in the Holy Spirit. For this flesh is a copy of the Spirit. No one, therefore, who corrupts the copy, will share in the original. This, therefore, is what he means, brothers: guard the flesh, in order that you may receive of the Spirit. Now if we say that the flesh is the church and the Spirit is Christ, then the one who abuses the flesh hath abuses the church. Consequently such a person will not receive the Spirit, which is Christ. So great is the life and immortality which this flesh is able to receive, if the Holy Spirit is closely joined with it, that no one is able to proclaim or to tell “what things the Lord hath prepared” for his chosen ones (An Ancient Christian Sermon (2 Clement), 14:3-5. In Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p.121).

Thus, the oldest preserved sermon (which can be found in its entirety at Ancient “Christian” Sermon) says to think of Jesus as God and that the Father is God, but it never indicates that the Holy Spirit is God. This is consistent with the binitarian, not unitarian, view.

Polycarp was known as the Bishop of Smyrna and probably the first physical head (under Jesus Christ) of the era when Smyrna dominated (beginning in the second century).  He was neither trinitarian nor unitarian according to various historical documents. The following quote attributed to him (circa 135 A.D.) shows that he (and thus by inference the rest of Smyrna) was not unitarian,

Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High-priest Himself, the [Son of] God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth, and in all gentleness and in all avoidance of wrath and in forbearance and long suffering and in patient endurance and in purity; and may He grant unto you a lot and portion among His saints, and to us with you, and to all that are under heaven, who shall believe on our Lord and God Jesus Christ and on His Father (The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians in APOSTOLIC FATHERS (as translated by J.B. LIGHTFOOT) 12:6,7).

It probably should be noted that Dr. Lightfoot left out “Son of” in his translation, which is in the Latin. It should also be pointed out that I am aware of another translation of this section by Roberts and Donaldson in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol, 1 which omitted the term “God” before Jesus Christ, but I verified that the term “deum” is in the Latin version of this epistle {the original Greek versions did not survive pass chapter 10}. Dr. Lightfoot’s translation “our Lord and God Jesus Christ” is a literal translation of the Latin “dominum nostrum et deum Iesum Christum”. The University of Notre Dame Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid states “deus -i m. [a god , deity]”. The term “deum” is the masculine accusatory form of the word “deus”.  Since traditional unitarians do not call Jesus God, it appears clear that Polycarp clearly was not one of them. Furthermore, he did not ever call the Holy Spirit God.

Also, Ignatius, who was known by Polycarp (and praised in this same Polycarp Letter), wrote around 108-120 A.D.,

For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God’s plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit. He was born and baptized so that by His submission He might purify the water (Ignatius of Antioch, Letters to the Ephesians 18,2–note this is translated the same by at least three separate translations as done by Dr. Lightfoot, J.H. Srawley, and Roberts & Donaldson).

…God appeared in human form to bring newness of eternal life (Ignatius. Letter the Ephesians, 19,3. In Holmes: The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Baker Books, Grand Rapids (MI), 2004, p. 149).

Hence, Ignatius (who apparently lived in the times dominated by both the Ephesus and Smyrna eras of the Church), who received Polycarp’s praise, also recognized Jesus as God, and thus could not have been a traditional unitarian.

Ignatius also stated:

Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, unto her which hath been blessed in greatness through the plentitude of God the Father; which hath been foreordained before the ages to be for ever unto abiding and unchangeable glory, united and elect in a true passion, by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ our God; even unto the church which is in Ephesus [of Asia], worthy of all felicitation: abundant greeting in Christ Jesus and in blameless joy (Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians, Verse 0. In Apostolic Fathers. Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation).

He also stated something similar to the Smyrnaeans:

Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, to the church of God the Father and of Jesus Christ the Beloved, which hath been mercifully endowed with every grace, being filled with faith and love and lacking in no grace, most reverend and bearing holy treasures; to the church which is in Smyrna of Asia, in a blameless spirit and in the word of God abundant greeting. I give glory to Jesus Christ the God who bestowed such wisdom upon you” (Ignatius’ Letter to the Symrnaeans, Verses 0-1.1. In Apostolic Fathers. Lightfoot & Harmer, 1891 translation).

It is important to note that Ignatius referred to both the Father and the Son as God in both places (and I verified that it is in the original Greek), but he never called the Holy Spirit ‘God’.

A second century apologist named Athenagoras wrote the following:

And, the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son, in oneness and power of spirit, the understanding and reason (nous kai logos) of the Father is the Son of God…The Holy Spirit…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 (Athenagoras. A Plea for the Christians, Chapter X. Translated by B.P. Pratten. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Thus Athenagoras explained that the Father and the Son are God, have a oneness of power and spirit, and that the Holy Spirit is the effluence of God. He never called the Holy Spirit God. And he stated that both, the Father and the Son (the term in English refers to two), are both united and distinct–this is a binitarian view.

Near the end of the second century, Melito of Sardis (whom Catholics and others consider to be a saint) wrote

No eye can see Him, nor thought apprehend Him, nor language describe Him; and those who love Him speak of Him thus: `Father, and God of Truth” (Melito. A Discourse Which Was in the Presence of Antoninus Caesar).

Melito also wrote, “For the deeds done by Christ after His baptism, and especially His miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the Deity hidden in His flesh. For, being at once both God and perfect man likewise…He concealed the signs of His Deity, although He was the true God existing before all ages” (Melito. On the Nature of Christ. From Roberts and Donaldson).

This clearly shows that Melito considered Christ to be God (though with part of His deity concealed), as well as the Father. There is no indication in any of the surviving writings of Melito that he considered that the Holy Spirit was also God, hence he seemed to hold a binitarian view. Actually, like most binitarians, his writings suggest that the Holy Spirit was simply the power of God as he wrote:

The finger of the Lord-the Holy Spirit, by whose operation the tables of the law in Exodus are said to have been written (Melito. From the Oration on Our Lord’s Passion. Online version copyright © 2001 Peter Kirby. 9/10/05).

Also near the end of the second century (Circa 180), Irenaeus (who is also considered to have been a saint by the Roman Catholics) wrote this in his famous paper against heresies:

…there is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book IV, Preface, Verse 4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Notice that Irenaeus states that only the Father, the Son, and those who possess the adoption (Christians) are God. This is a binitarian, not a trinitarian nor unitarian view.

Christianity Today (a Protestant publication) records this piece of Church history involving the Catholic Origen:

The great third-century theologian Origen, for example, pressed a bishop named Heraclides to define the relationship of Christ to God the Father. After much careful questioning, Heraclides admitted to believing in two Gods but clarified that “the power is one.” Origen reminded Heraclides that some Christians would “take offense at the statement that there are two Gods. We must express the doctrine carefully to show in what sense they are two, and in what sense the two are one God.” (Did You Know? Unusual facts about the Council of Nicea. Church History 2005. Christianity Today.

Hence even the Catholic and Protestant scholars must know that binitarianism was the earliest prevailing position among those who professed Christ.

Interestingly, Tertullian (often referred to as “the father of Latin theology”), around 213 A.D. wrote:

Well then, you reply, if He was God who spoke, and He was also God who created, at this rate, one God spoke and another created; (and thus) two Gods are declared (Against Praxeas 13:1).

Tertullian also wrote:

The simple…are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods…

Now, from this one passage of the epistle of the inspired apostle, we have been already able to show that the Father and the Son are two separate Persons, not only by the mention of their separate names as Father and the Son, but also by the fact that He who delivered up the kingdom, and He to whom it is delivered up — and in like manner, He who subjected (all things), and He to whom they were subjected — must necessarily be two different Beings. But since they will have the Two to be but One, so that the Father shall be deemed to be the same as the Son…For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as He Himself acknowledges: “My Father is greater than I.” In the Psalm His inferiority is described as being “a little lower than the angels.” Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son (Tertullian. Against Praxeas, Chapters 3,4-5,9. Translated by Peter Holmes. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Around the same time Hippolytus (who, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia “was the most important theologian and the most prolific religious writer of the Roman Church in the pre-Constantinian era”) wrote:

These things then, brethren, are declared by the Scriptures. And the blessed John, in the testimony of his Gospel, gives us an account of this economy (disposition) and acknowledges this Word as God, when he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” If, then, the Word was with God, and was also God, what follows? Would one say that he speaks of two Gods? I shall not indeed speak of two Gods, but of one; of two Persons however, and of a third economy (disposition), viz., the grace of the Holy Ghost. For the Father indeed is One, but there are two Persons, because there is also the Son (Hippolytus. Against Noetus, Chapter 14. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

Thus from Ignatius, Polycarp, Melito, Irenaeus, Tertullian (although he himself did not hold a binitarian view), Origen and Hippolytus, we have strong indication that some sort of binitarian view was held during the time of Smyrna (the second, third, and early fourth centuries).

Furthermore, it perhaps should be mentioned that the sacra nomina (generally two-letter abbreviations, perhaps intended to identify the documents as “Christian”) found on early documents associated Christianity is also believed to support the position that those that professed Christ in the second century were binitarian.  Dr. Larry Hurtado observed:

The Christian nomina sacra…differ in form from any Jewish scribal devices…Most significantly, the four earliest Christian nomina sacra are the two key words for God (Theos and Kyrios) and key designations for Jesus (Iēosus, Christos, and Kyrios).  If therefore, as is usually believed, the nomina sacra practice represents an expression of piety and reverence, it is a striking departure from pre-Christian Jewish scribal practice to extend to these designations of Jesus the same scribal treatment given to key designations for God.  That is, the four earliest Christian nomina sacra collectively manifest one noteworthy expression of what I have called the “binitarian shape” of earliest Christian piety and devotion (Hurtado LW.  The Earliest Christian Artifacts.  William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids (MI), 2006, pp. 105-106).

How can Wade Cox claim it “is a complete fabrication to assert that the early Church was Binitarian”?  The “fabrication” is him denying the documented facts and making false assertions to the contrary.

All real scholars who are truthful with the facts admit it, including many trinitarian ones!

Perhaps I should mention that, Ronald Weinland, who I do not consider to be any type of scholar, like Wade Cox, also prefers to believe in unitarianism, even though he should know better as a former minister in UCG.

One trinitarian leaning scholar, Professor Hurtado, has  specifically acknowledged:

…the “binitarian” pattern of devotion in which both God (the “Father”) and Jesus are objects of such reverence goes back to the earliest observable stages of the movement that became Christianity…The central place given to Jesus…and…their concern to avoid ditheism by reverencing Jesus rather consistently with reference to “the Father”, combine to shape the proto-orthodox “binitarian” pattern of devotion. Jesus truly is reverenced as divine” (Ibid, pp. 605, 618).

Regarding the New Testament, another trinitarian scholar has admitted:

The binitarian formulas are found in Rom. 8:11, 2 Cor. 4:14, Gal. 1:1, Eph. 1:20, 1 Tim 1:2, 1 Pet. 1:21, and 2 John 1:13…No doctrine of the Trinity in the Nicene sense is present in the New Testament…There is no doctrine of the Trinity in the strict sense in the Apostolic Fathers…(Rusch W.G. The Trinitarian Controversy. Fortress Press, Phil., 1980, pp. 2-3).

A non-Church of God scholar, M. Barnes, explains the binitarian belief this way:

The word “binitarian” is typically used by scholars and theologians as a contrast to a trinitarian theology: a theology of “two” in God rather than a theology of “three”… it is accurate to offer the judgment that most commonly when someone speaks of a Christian “binitarian” theology the “two” in God are the Father and the Son…A substantial amount of recent scholarship has been devoted to exploring the implications of the fact that Jesus was ”worshipped” by those first Jewish Christians, since in Judaism “worship” was limited to the worship of God (Barnes M. Early Christian Binitarianism: the Father and the Holy Spirit. Early Christian Binitarianism – as read at NAPS 2001).

Much of the recent scholarship that M. Barnes refers to has been the result of the translations of the Nag Hammadi and other ancient manuscripts which were not available many decades ago.

Sadly, people such as Wade Cox seem to wish to ignore the ancient writings, as well as modern scholars, who admit to the fact that binitarianism was the belief of those who originally professed Christ.

And, it is still what those in the true Church should do today.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

Binitarian View: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning Is binitarianism the correct position? What about unitarianism or trinitarianism?
Is The Father God? What is the view of the Bible? What was the view of the early church?
Jesus is God, But Was Made Man Was Jesus fully human and fully God or what?
Virgin Birth: Does the Bible Teach It? What does the Bible teach? What is claimed in The Da Vinci Code?
Did Early Christians Think the Holy Spirit Was A Separate Person in a Trinity? Or did they have a different view?
Did the True Church Ever Teach a Trinity? Most act like this is so, but is it?
Was Unitarianism the Teaching of the Bible or Early Church? Many, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and CCG, claim it was, but was it?
Binitarianism: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning This is a shorter article than the Binitarian View article, but has a little more information on binitarianism.
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?

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