Two former WCG supporters on Binitarianism

History of Early Christianity


A reader sent me the following related to two people once part of the old Worldwide Church of God:

Gregory Doudna (1976)

How strange it was…

Referring to belief in cosmic things, the shared foundation story at AC. The doctrine, prior to 1973, was: God is a family, but the family relationship between two Gods who collectively were one God only began ca. 4 BCE when God B became the begotten son of God A in Mary …

In 1973 there was a little-noticed tweak of the doctrine, in a revision of the HWA booklet, “Just What do you Mean–Born Again?”

James Tabor (1968)

I want to thank Greg Doudna for the marvelous post on the unique brand of Bitheism that HWA apparently constructed with its non Father/Son pre-Creation Eternal God A & B (Elohim and the Logos). It is really strange when you think about it–and for monotheists such as myself every bit as objectionable on the same grounds as the classic doctrine of the Trinity. I always thought it odd that we were taught to denounce the false doctrine of the Trinity–Three Gods as One, while advocating the Binity–Two Gods as One–which, as the Arians made clear, suffers from the same textual/scriptural objections.

The Christology of Paul and the early non-Trinitarian early Christians was clearly One God, the Father, and then one Son, firstborn of all creation–thus a created Being, prior to the angels and “higher” than the Angels.

The early church was neither trinitarian nor unitarian. Despite claims from Dr. Tabor, the early church was binitarian.

That is, early Christians considered that the Father and the Son were God and that the Holy Spirit was the power of God. And while some dispute this, historically it is a fact.

In “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, it seems to support binitarianism. It was given perhaps within a year or so of the Apostle John’s death. It states:

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).

The following quote attributed to him (c. 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 past 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 epistle, which is known as Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians), wrote around 108-120 A.D. (during the Ephesus era of the Church of God):

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).

…the fullness of God the Father…and of Jesus Christ our God…God appeared in human form to bring newness of eternal life (Ignatius. Letter the Ephesians, 0.0; 19,3. In Holmes: The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Baker Books, Grand Rapids (MI), 2004, pp. 137, 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. His statements are binitarian.

Even scholars like the Catholic Mauricio Saavedra Monroy recognize that Polycarp and Ignatius made binitarian statements:

As for the binitarian confessional formula, which confesses the Father and the Son, we likewise find examples in Polycarp and Ignatius. (Monroy MS. The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community. Peter Lang edition, 2015, p. 292)

Ignatius wrote:

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 wrote 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’. The Holy Spirit he referred to as “rope” (Ignatius. Letter the Ephesians, 9,1. In Holmes: The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Baker Books, Grand Rapids (MI), 2004, p. 143).

Justin Martyr wrote:

When Scripture says,’ The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God. Again, when the Scripture records that God said in the beginning, ‘Behold, Adam has become like one of Us,’ this phrase, ‘like one of Us,’ is also indicative of number; and the words do not admit of a figurative meaning, as the sophists endeavor to affix on them, who are able neither to tell nor to understand the truth (Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter CXXIX).

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 onesness 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 God 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 a manifestation of 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 or unitarian view.

Furthermore another scholar noted:

The argument that Christianity is not binitarian but trinitarian, hence could not be perceived as a two-powers heresy, ignores the fact that it is not so much what Christianity thought of itself that counts but how it appeared to its rabbinic critics. And there we see clearly that it was often described as binitarian or dualistic rather than trinitarian (Summary of response by Alan F. Segal. International Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus. 13-17 June 1998).

Hence, the early Jewish rabbis recognized early Christianity as binitarian, not trinitarian or unitarian.

Regarding the New Testament, trinitarian scholar William Rusch 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).


Modern scholars, like Larry Hurtado, have realized the Christians who were called Nazarenes, as well as others many considered to be “proto-orthodox” held a binitarian view of the Godhead:

Earliest Christian worship specifies two figures, God and Jesus, as recipients (Hurtado Larry. Abstract: “The Binitarian Shape of Early Christian Worship.” International Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus. 13-17 June 1998).

…”Nazarene” Christianity, had a view of Jesus fully compatible with the beliefs favored by the proto-orthodox (indeed, they could be considered part of the circles that made up proto-orthodox Christianity of the time). Pritz contended that this Nazarene Christianity was the dominant form of Christianity in the first and second centuries…the devotional stance toward Jesus that characterized most of the Jewish Christians of the first and second centuries seems to have been congruent with proto-orthodox devotion to Jesus…the proto-orthodox “binitarian” pattern of devotion…(Hurtado LW. Lord Jesus Christ, Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 2003, pp. 560-561,618).

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 with Christianity is also believed to support the position that those that professed Christ in the second century were binitarian. Larry Hurtado also 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).

And that is true. And he was specifically referring to doctrines like the trinity and other teachings that are contrary to what the Continuing Church of God holds.

Yet, as recorded in the New Testament, Jude wrote:

…contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered for the saints” (Jude 3).

The faith delivered once for all should not have been changed.

The early church was binitarian and not trinitarian nor unitarian.

If you have not realized this, perhaps you may wish to further look into this.

Some items of 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: The Son of God and Saviour Who was Jesus? Why did He come to earth? What message did He bring? Is there evidence outside the Bible that He existed? Here is a YouTube sermon titled Jesus: Son of God and Saviour.
Jesus is God, But Became Flesh Was Jesus fully human and fully God or what? Here is information in the Spanish language¿Es Jesucristo Dios?
Virgin Birth: Does the Bible Teach It? What does the Bible teach? What is claimed in The Da Vinci Code?
Why Does Jesus Have Two Different Genealogies listed in Matthew 1 and Luke 3? Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38 seemingly list two different genealogies for Jesus. Why?
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? Here is an old, by somewhat related, article in the Spanish language LA DOCTRINA DE LA TRINIDAD. A related sermon is available: Trinity: Fundamental to Christianity or Something Else? A brief video is also available: Three trinitarian scriptures?
Was Unitarianism the Teaching of the Bible or Early Church? Many, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim it was, but was it?
Did the Archangel Michael become Jesus? The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach this, and SDA Ellen White did, but does the Bible allow for this?
Binitarianism: One God, Two Beings Before the Beginning This is a longer article than the Binitarian View article, and has a little more information on binitarianism, and less about unitarianism. A related sermon is also available: Binitarian view of the Godhead.
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 to the 21st century. Related sermon links include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries. The booklet is available in Spanish: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios, German: Kontinuierliche Geschichte der Kirche Gottes, and Ekegusii Omogano Bw’ekanisa Ya Nyasae Egendererete.

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