WCG and the Origin of the Trinity


The above drawing is used by Trinitarians to explain the Trinity, even though it clearly violates laws of logic.  Today is known as “Trinity Sunday”.  This “holiday”, like many observed throughout the world, does not have a biblical basis, nor was it observed by the early church.

The Catholic Encyclopedia confirms this as it teaches:

The first Sunday after Pentecost, instituted to honour the Most Holy Trinity. In the early Church no special Office or day was assigned for the Holy Trinity. (Mershman, Francis. Trinity Sunday. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 26 May 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15058a.htm>)

Furthermore, the Trinity itself was not an original teaching of the Greco-Roman churches either.  Yet many consider it to be a highly important doctrine to their faith.  The Catholic Encyclopedia claims:

The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion (The Blessed Trinity, 1912).

But was the trinity a central doctrine of the New Testament? Here is what one modern historian has written about it:

Like other doctrines that became central to the faith, however, belief in the Trinity was a historical development, not a “given” from the early years of the faith. A. The basic notion of the Trinity is that there are three persons in the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are all equally God and of the same substance, but despite the fact there are three persons, together, they compromise only one God, indivisible in nature. B. This doctrine does not appear to be a doctrine pronounced by the historical Jesus, Paul, or any other Christian writer during the first hundred years or so of Christianity. C. It cannot be found explicitly stated in the earliest Christian writings. The only passage of the New Testament that declares the doctrine (1 John 5:7-8) was not originally part of the text but was added by doctrinally astute scribes at a later date (it is not found in any Greek manuscripts until the 11th century) (Ehrman B. From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, Part 2. The Teaching Company, Chantilly (VA), 2004, p. 43).

Regarding the New Testament, even a trinitarian scholar has admitted that the Bible promotes a binitarian view, and does not teach what is now considered to be the trinity:

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).

The terms trinity, threeness, or trinitarian are not found in the Bible. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther himself taught:

It is indeed true that the name “Trinity” is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures, but has been conceived and invented by man. (Luther Martin. The Sermons of Martin Luther, Church Postil, 1522; III:406-421, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

The Cathecism of the Catholic Church admits the Church (not the Bible) had to come up with terms of “philosophical” (pagan/Greek) origin to explain it::

251 In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop its own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: “substance,” “person,” or “hypostasis,” “relation” and so on (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 74).

Earliest Trinitarian History

Pagan religions sometimes had a form of a trinity of deities. This dates at least from the time of ancient Babylon:

The ancient Babylonians recognised the doctrine of a trinity, or three persons in one god—as appears from a composite god with three heads forming part of their mythology, and the use of the equilateral triangle, also, as an emblem of such trinity in unity (Beck TD. The mystical woman and the cities of the nations: or, Papal Rome and her secular satellites. 1867. Original from Oxford University, Digitized Aug 15, 2006, pp. 22-23).

The Assyrians did as well:

On one cylinder of translucent green felspar, called amazon stone, winch I believe to have been the signet, or amulet, of Sennacherib himself, is engraved the king standing in an arched frame as on the rock tablets at Bavian, and at the Nahr-el-Kelb in Syria. He holds in one hand the sacrificial mace, and raises the other in the act of adoration before the winged figure in a circle, here represented as a triad with three heads…the triune god, the supreme deity of the Assyrians, and of the Persians, their successors, in the empire of the East. Of the information as to the religious system of the Assyrians… It is difficult to understand such a system of polytheism, unless we suppose that whilst there was but one supreme god, represented sometimes under a triune form (Layard AH. Discoveries in the ruins of Nineveh and Babylon: with travels in Armenia, Kurdistan and the desert : being the result of a second expedition undertaken for the trustees of the British Museum. Murray, 1853. Original from the Bavarian State Library, Digitized Oct 20, 2009, pp. 160, 637).

Sennacherib is mentioned in the Bible (2 Kings 18:13) and reigned from about 720 BC to about 683 BC. Furthermore, notice:

Mithra, who was originally subordinate to Ormuzd, and even reduced to the third place in the triad, subsequently rose practically to the first place, supplanting Ormuzd himself. Such a process, by which the mediating member of the trinity, as the special friend and savior of men, should become first and nearest in the thoughts, and affections, and hopes of men, and hence in time first in the divine order of the gods, is most natural, and we have already found it a marked feature of the historical evolution of most of the Ethnic trinities. Thus in the Babylonian triad Marduk, the mediating sun-god, usurps the place of Ea, his father. The same was true of Vishnu-Krishna in the Hindoo trinity, who, in his capacity of god- man and mediator, reduced Brahma to almost a shadow. So Mithraism pushed Ormuzd back into a place of inferiority, or rather he was quietly displaced and forgotten. The triad was practically reduced to unity in the Mithraic faith (Paine LL. The Ethnic Trinities and Their Relations to the Christian Trinity: A Chapter in the Comparative History of Religions. Kessinger Publishing, 1901 Original from the University of California, Digitized Nov 20, 2007, p. 84).

Mithraism entered the Roman Empire about a century before the crucifixion of Jesus and became influential among the emperors, including with Emperor Constantine (see also Do You Practice Mithraism?). According to Roman Catholic sources, the term trinity, in relation to the Godhead, did not come until the late second/early third century. Yet, the idea of the trinity was apparently voiced by the heretic Montanus and developed by a famous Gnostic heretic named Valentinus in the mid-2nd Century. One of the so-called Montanist Oracles, spoken by Montanus was:

“I am the Father and the Son and the Paraclete.” (Didymus, De trinitate iii. 41. 1.) (Assembled in P. de Labriolle, La crise montaniste (1913), 34-105, by Bates College, Lewston (Maine) http://abacus.bates.edu/Faculty/Philosophy%20and%20Religion/rel_241/texts/montanism.html 01/31/06).

This is one of the first references to a trinitarian view of the Godhead (the other earliest one was from the heretic Valentinus–it is unclear which was first). The paraclete is a term used to signify the Holy Spirit (it is from the Greek term parakletos). Eusebius records (Eusebius. Church History, Book V, Chapters 18-19) that church leaders in Asia Minor and Antioch, such as Apollonius of Ephesus, that Serapion of Antioch, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and Thraseas of Eumenia opposed the Montantist heresies (Apollinaris of Hierapolis and Thraseas of Eumenia were Quartodecimans, and Apollonius likely was as well). However, Roman Bishops would not renounce the Montantist heresy until sometime in the third century, and that after Rome accepted certain Montanus beliefs (see Montanists in The Catholic Encyclopedia)! Here is what it is recorded that a one-time Catholic bishop named Marcellus of Ancyra wrote, around the middle of the fourth century, where certain aspects of trinitarianism came from–paganism:

Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God…These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him ‘On the Three Natures’.  For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes and Plato (Source: Logan A. Marcellus of Ancyra (Pseudo-Anthimus), ‘On the Holy Church’: Text, Translation and Commentary. Verses 8-9.  Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Volume 51, Pt. 1, April 2000, p.95 ).

Valentinus also wrote this in the heretical ‘Gospel of Truth’,

The Father uncovers his bosom, which is the Holy Spirit, revealing his secret. His secret is his Son! (Valentinus.  Gospel of Truth.  Verse 17.  English translation by Patterson Brown).

Hence Valentinus is the earliest known professing Christian writer to make clear trinitarian claims (though he, himself, did not come up with the term trinity). It also should be noted that Valentinus was denounced by Polycarp of Asia Minor, when Polycarp visited Rome as a heretic (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 3, Verse 4) and is considered to have been a heretic by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, most Protestants, and those in the Living Church of God. Additional Trinitarian History The position of the Roman Catholic Church is that the term ‘trinity’ (from the Latin trinitas) was developed 85 years after the last book of the Bible was written:

In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together…The word trias (of which the Latin trinitas is a translation) is first found in Theophilus of Antioch about A.D. 180…Afterwards it appears in its Latin form of trinitas in Tertullian (“De pud.” c. xxi) (The Blessed Trinity. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight).

But the claim regarding Theophilus, who wrote in Greek, is not accurate as “trinity” (as trinitas) is a Latin, not a Greek word.  So, the first time it was used was by Tertullian (roughly 100 years after John finished penning the last book of the Bible).  And all should realize that Tertullian had left the Church of Rome near that time to follow Montanus, whose followers the Church of Rome condemned in the early third century. In the fourth century, debates on the Godhead got quite heated.  So much so, that the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to appoint himself a lay bishop (even though he had not been baptized at that stage) and convene what has been called the first “ecumenical council” in Nicea in the year 325. According to historical accounts, the attendees at this council were split into three factions:

1) Arians – Supporters of the position of Dr. Arius, about 10% of the attendees. 2) In-Between – Those who held a position between the Arians and Proto-Trinitarians, about 75% of the attendees. Eusebius was the main spokesperson for them. 3) The Proto-Trinitarians – Those who supported the views of Athanasius, about 15% of the attendees.

Notice that even within the Catholic/Orthodox Council, the majority of attending bishops did not hold to the trinitarian view before the Council. No matter what one may feel about the truthfulness of the trinity, how can any say that the acceptance of this doctrine is necessary for Christians as it was not the apparent belief of the majority of church leaders in the early fourth century? Although Eusebius led the biggest group at this Council, after an impassioned speech by Athanasius, Emperor Constantine arose. And since he was the Emperor (plus he was dressed as a golden “angel”), his standing was noticed by the bulk of the attendees who correctly interpreted the Emperor as now supporting Athanasius (Emperor Constantine has familiar with a trinitarian viewpoint as he had practiced Mithraism, which had a type of triad leading it, see Do You Practice Mithraism?). And because of Athanasius’ speech and the Emperor’s approval, the bulk of the attendees decided to come up with a statement that the Arians could not support. This solved the Emperor’s concern about unity of his version of Christianity, and pretty much drove the Arians out. But even some of the strongest supporters of Athanasius’ position, such as Marcion of Ancyra, actually did not believe in the trinity as now taught (that is why this paper used the term “Proto-Trinitarians” above). Also notice that the Emperor Constantine was heavily involved:

Although Constantine is usually remembered for the steps he took toward making Christianity the established religion of the Roman Empire, it would not be wrong to consider him the one who inaugurated the centuries of trinitarian orthodoxyIt was he who proposed and perhaps even imposed the expression homoousis at the Council of Nicea in 325, and it was he who provided government aid to the orthodox and exerted government pressure against nonconformists. (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, pp. 332-333).

Thus a pagan emperor, proposed and militarily imposed, a doctrine on his own. And this did not come from the Bible into the world’s largest churches, but from a pagan (Constantine still honored the pagan sun deities after his supposed conversion to Christianity and was not even baptized into the world’s church until his death bed–and even then he insisted upon being buried in a grave dedicated to a pagan deity). However, the trinity as now taught was not completely adopted until many decades after this 325 A.D. the Council of Nicea. It was not even the necessary position of the bishops of Rome or Constantinople in the middle of the fourth century. And at least one now claimed to be Pope (Liberius) was believed to have been Semi-Arian. Notice some of what The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches:

The second Formula of Sirmium (357) stated the doctrine of the Anomoeans, or extreme Arians. Against this the Semi-Arian bishops, assembled at Ancyra, the episcopal city of their leader Basilius, issued a counter formula, asserting that the Son is in all things like the Father, afterwards approved by the Third Synod of Sirmium (358). This formula, though silent on the term “homousios“, consecrated by the Council of Nicaea, was signed by a few orthodox bishops, and probably by Pope Liberius (Benigni, Umberto. “Council of Rimini.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 11 Jul. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13057b.htm>). Pneumatomachi…The majority of this sect were clearly orthodox on the Consubstantiality of the Son; they had sent a deputation from the Semi-Arian council of Lampsacus (364 A.D.) to Pope Liberius, who after some hesitation acknowledged the soundness of their faith (Arendzen, John. Pneumatomachi. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 11 Jul. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12174a.htm>) Semiarians and Semiarianism A name frequently given to the conservative majority in the East in the fourth century…showing that the very name of father implies a son of like substance…rejected the Divinity of the Holy Ghost…(Semiarians and Semiarianism.  The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 26 May 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15058a.htm>)

So the scholars of the Church of Rome admit that the “conservative majority in the East” were not Trinitarians in the middle of the fourth century.  There were also many “Semi-Arians” in the West at this time as well of course.

Notice that the Orthodox bishop of Constantinople, Macedonius, in the fourth century held to some form of Semi-Arian view:

Towards the middle of the fourth century, Macedonius, Bishop of Constantinople, and, after him a number of Semi-Arians, while apparently admitting the Divinity of the Word, denied that of the Holy Ghost (Forget J. Transcribed by W.S. French, Jr. Holy Ghost. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus, into the middle of the fourth century, the two major leaders of the Greco-Roman churches endorsed Semi-Arian, non-trinitarian positions.   There were also many leaders in other major Greco-Roman churches in the century who did not accept the trinity.  Here

Here is another important semi-Arian bishop according to The Catholic Encyclopedia:

St. Cyril of Jerusalem Bishop of Jerusalem and Doctor of the Church, born about 315; died probably 18 March, 386… He appeared at the Council of Seleucia in 359, in which the Semi-Arian party was triumphant… He belonged to the Semi-Arian, or Homoean party, and is content to declare that the Son is “in all things like the Father”. (Chapman, John. St. Cyril of Jerusalem. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 3 Feb. 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04595b.htm>)

The trinity was finally formally adopted at the Council of Constantinople in 381–though many in the Roman and Orthodox Church believed in versions of it prior to this.

To insure that people would be forced into accepting the trinity, shortly after the 381 council, Emperor Theodosius’declared:

…let us believe in the one diety of the father, Son and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in out judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that the shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation an the second the punishment of out authority, in accordance with the will of heaven shall decide to inflict…(Theodosian Code XVI.1.2. Cited in Bettenson H, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, London: Oxford University Press, 1943, p. 31).

So the trinity need the force of Roman punishment against non-trinitarians.

Though adopted, even in 381 it was not exactly the same trinity teaching as now understood.  Notice the confirmation from a Protestant theologian:

The doctrine of the Trinity is fundamental for the Christian faith, even though the doctrine was not clearly formulated and generally accepted by an ecumenical council until the fourth century..The Council of Chalcedon, the decisions of which were reaffirmed at the Trullanum of 680-681, gave us the formulation of Christological doctrine we now call orthodox.  (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, pp. 127,192-193,194).

A bishop of the Orthodox Church confirmed its late acceptance:

…the councils defined once and for all the Church’s teaching upon the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith — the Trinity and the Incarnation. All Christians agree in regarding these things as ‘mysteries’ which lie beyond human understanding and language…the first two, held in the fourth century…formulated the doctrine of the Trinity…The work of Nicea was taken up by the second Ecumenical Council, held in Constantinople in 381…While Athanasius emphasized the unity of God — Father and Son are one in essence (ousia) – the Cappadocians stressed God’s threeness: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons (hypostasis) (Ware T. The Orthodox Church. Penguin Books, London, 1997, pp. 20-23).

Trinity Today and the “New” WCG/GCI

Despite the fact that up until late in the fourth century, most who professed Christ did not clearly hold to a Trinitarian view of the Christian Godhead, over time (and partially due to Imperial pressure), the Trinity became accepted by the majority of those who professed Christ.

In modern times, this has happened to groups such as the old Worldwide Church of God, which is now called Grace Communion International, and is based in Southern California (although any pressure would have come from the desire to confirm to majority Protestant positions as opposed to any governmental influence).

The old Worldwide Church of God held to a Semi-Arian (sometimes referred to as a binitarian) view of the Godhead.  After the death of Herbert W. Armstrong in 1986, the leadership that took over abandoned that church’s historical aversion to the Trinity. Those that disagreed with such changes to the historical Christian teachings left and many of the older leaders are now part of the Living Church of God.

Grace Communion International recently published the following:

Have you ever wondered why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important to Christian faith?

The fact that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three in one and one in three means that Jesus Christ and the Father are not separate Gods. And that means you don’t ever have to worry about what God thinks about you, how God feels about you, or what is going to happen to you when you die.  (Tkach J.  Trinity: More than a doctrine.  GCI Together, April-May 2010)

Some may find that to be a suitable explanation, while others will realize that since the original Christian church did not teach the Trinity, it could not have been an important doctrine.  But despite that, many will be observing Trinity Sunday.

Those interested in studying this doctrine in more detail, should consider looking at the following documented articles:

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?
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, 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.
Valentinus: The Gnostic Trinitarian Heretic He apparently was the first Christ-professing heretic to come up with the idea of three hypostases.

Get news like the above sent to you on a daily basis

Your email will not be shared. You may unsubscribe at anytime.