ARTICLES

Roots of the Trinity

By David Clayton

The doctrine of the Trinity has been, from the moment it was first introduced into the Christian faith, a subject of heated debate and fierce controversy. Today many centuries later the situation is no different. Still there is argument and division concerning this doctrine which its advocates have declared to be a "great mystery."

Sometime, during the first four hundred years after the death of Christ, this doctrine crept into the teachings of popular Christianity. While it was officially embraced and defined at the Council of Nicea (AD 325), there seems to be evidence to suggest that even before this time it had already insinuated itself into the thinking of some Christians. However, what is absolutely certain is that this doctrine was not introduced into the Christian Church until more than a century after the death of the last of the apostles. The Encarta Encyclopedia describes its introduction into Christianity in the following way:

Trinity (theology), in Christian theology, doctrine that God exists as three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who are united in one substance or being. The doctrine is not taught explicitly in the New Testament, where the word God almost invariably refers to the Father....


The term trinitas was first used in the 2nd century, by the Latin theologian Tertullian, but the concept was developed in the course of the debates on the nature of Christ. In the 4th century, the doctrine was finally formulated…


The Encyclopedia Britannica states that "The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies." (Article – Trinity). The doctrine, according to these articles, was "developed" during the first four centuries AD. Now think carefully. Protestants believe in the Scripture. Catholics believe in Tradition plus Scripture. Protestantism says, "all necessary truth is taught in the Scriptures." Catholicism says, "no, the Church continued to discover and proclaim more truth over the centuries (tradition)." It is upon this basis that the Roman Catholic Church claims that its teachings are above the Scripture. This doctrine of the Trinity falls right into the camp of Catholic tradition, rather than Scripture. Therefore the following statement by a Roman Catholic was quite justified: "Our opponents sometimes claim that no belief should be held dogmatically which is not explicitly stated in Scripture . . . . But the Protestant Churches have themselves accepted such dogmas as the Trinity for which there is no such precise authority in the Gospels." (Life Magazine, Oct. 30, 1950)

Yet, as we examine the doctrine of a three-in-one God more carefully, an even more startling fact comes to light. The doctrine of a trinitarian god existed for many centuries before it was embraced by the "Christian Church" in the first four centuries AD.

The Papacy has in some of its churches, as, for instance, in the monastery of the so-called Trinitarians of Madrid, an image of the Triune God, with three heads on one body. The Babylonians had something of the same. Mr. Layard, in his last work, has given a specimen of such a triune divinity, worshipped in ancient Assyria. The accompanying cut of such another divinity, worshipped among the Pagans of Siberia, is taken from a medal in the Imperial Cabinet of St. Petersburg, and given in Parson's "Japhet.".... In India, the supreme divinity, in like manner, in one of the most ancient cave-temples, is represented with three heads on one body, under the name of "Eko Deva Trimurtti," One God, three forms." In Japan, the Buddhists worship their great divinity, Buddha, with three heads, in the very same form, under the name of "San Pao Fuh." All these have existed from ancient times. While overlaid with idolatry, the recognition of a Trinity was universal in all the ancient nations of the world.... ((The Two Babylons - by Alexander Hislop, p.17,18)

Over and over again as we examine the beliefs of ancient pagan religions which existed for hundreds of years before Christ came to this earth we find a trinity being worshipped. If the doctrine of the trinity was not understood by the people of God until several hundred years after Christ, where did the heathen religions get the idea from? Benjamin Wilkinson, who wrote the book, "Truth Triumphant," proposed an interesting answer:

"The revelations of the Old Testament had disclosed the Trinity. "In a disfigured and uncouth semblance" Zoroaster proclaimed his species of a trinity. He placed at the head of his celestial hierarchy Ormazd (or Ahura-Mazda), the great wise spirit, and Ahriman, the supreme evil spirit, who was the coeval and rival god of darkness dwelling in the bottomless pit of night. With them he associated in a marked way, Mithra, the god of light, who was the sun and an embodiment of sun worship. As the sun was neither in the heavens nor on earth, but swung in an intermediate position between heaven and earth, so Mithra was the great mediator. When Mithraism had overspread the Roman Empire, Mithra was said to be the champion of sinners, the companion after death, and the guide of the soul into the heaven of heavens." (Truth Triumphant, p.120 - by Benjamin Wilkinson)

In the book, "The Two Babylons," the same suggestion is made by the author, Alexander Hislop:

"While overlaid with idolatry, the recognition of a trinity was universal in all the ancient nations of the world, proving how deep-rooted in the human race was the primeval doctrine on this subject which comes out so distinctly in Genesis …. the triune emblem of the Assyrian divinity shows clearly what had been the original patriarchal faith." (The Two Babylons – p.18)

Just in passing, I would like to say that it had been my impression that Benjamin Wilkinson was a non-trinitarian. However, his statement above seems to indicate otherwise. Be that as it may, both he and Alexander Hislop have made the unreasonable suggestion that the heathen nations received their concept of a trinitarian God from the early Hebrews.

One of the outstanding characteristics of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it induces in those who embrace it a lack of logic and simple common sense which is appalling. This fact has been impressed upon my mind several times as I have seen the unreasonable and illogical way that some have gone about to try to prove, justify and rationalize the doctrine of a Trinitarian God. (see article on page 8).

I have never heard anybody who attempted to defend the Trinity come up with an explanation which made sense. Most of the attempts revealed a lack of clear thinking, and the above suggestion is a clear example of this. Did the heathen nations receive their concepts of a Trinitarian god from the Hebrews? Does it make sense to suggest that they did? Is there any evidence to suggest that they were imitating the children of Israel in their ideas of a three-in-one God? What are the facts of the matter? Let us examine them.

DID THE ISRAELITES EVER BELIEVE IN A TRINITY?

One of the primary beliefs of Judaism is that there is only one God. This is not a new belief for the Jews, but has been one of their foundational beliefs from their very beginning as a nation. They do not, and have never believed in, or taught the doctrine of a God who was made up of three parts or persons.

It has been said that the Hebrew word, "elohim," signifies a plurality of persons within the godhead, since it is the plural form of the word, "el (god)." However, what is very significant is the fact that although this is a Hebrew word, the Hebrews themselves who best understand their own language, have never, and still do not believe in a plurality of Gods, or in a Trinitarian godhead. In fact, the schema, "hear O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord," contains the very word, "Elohim," yet it is the immovable basis upon which the Jews anchor their concept of a single God who is one great Being. The Hebrews who then had the most complete revelations from, and the highest conceptions of God had absolutely no concept of a Trinitarian God but rather stridently insisted upon the very opposite. Surely it bears thinking about that the people whom God chose, and to whom He revealed Himself most fully, had absolutely no concept of a Trinity, while the heathen all around them had this concept. Did these heathen have a better understanding of the nature of God than did the Jews?

Of striking significance is the fact that in several of these heathen trinities, the third person of the trinity was an evil representation whose description could only equate him with Satan. Let us look for example at the trinity of gods which was worshipped in ancient Egypt, in Persia and even today, in the Hindu faith of India:

IN EGYPT:

From the 1st dynasty (c. 2525-2775 BC), Horus and the god Seth were perpetual antagonists who were reconciled in the harmony of Upper and Lower Egypt. In the myth of Osiris, who became prominent about 2350 BC, Horus was the son of Osiris. He was also the opponent of Seth, who murdered Osiris and contested Horus' heritage, the royal throne of Egypt…. (Encyclopædia Britannica - art. "Horus")

Seth was represented as a composite figure with a canine body, slanting eyes, square-tipped ears, tufted (in later representations, forked) tail, and a long, curved, pointed snout....

Originally Seth was a sky god, lord of the desert, master of storms, disorder, and warfare—in general, a trickster. Seth embodied the necessary and creative element of violence and disorder within the ordered world.... (Encyclopædia Britannica - art. "Seth")

IN PERSIA:

According to Zoroaster, Ahura Mazda created the universe and the cosmic order that he maintains. He created the twin spirits Spenta Mainyu (Mithra) and Angra Mainyu (Ahriman)—the former beneficent, choosing truth, light, and life, the latter destructive, choosing deceit, darkness, and death. The struggle of the spirits against each other makes up the history of the world.

In Zoroastrianism as reflected in the Avesta, Ahura Mazda is identified with the beneficent spirit and directly opposed to the destructive one. He is all-wise, bounteous, undeceiving, and the creator of everything good. The beneficent and evil spirits are conceived as mutually limiting, coeternal beings, the one above and the other beneath, with the world in between as their battleground.....(Encyclopædia Britannica - art. "Ahura Mazda")

Ahriman, ANGRA MAINYU ("Destructive Spirit")

The evil spirit in the dualistic doctrine of Zoroastrianism. His essential nature is expressed in his principal epithet—Druj, "the Lie." The Lie expresses itself as greed, wrath, and envy. To aid him in attacking the light, the good creation of Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, Ahriman created a horde of demons embodying envy and similar qualities. Despite the chaos and suffering effected in the world by his onslaught, believers expect Ahriman to be defeated in the end of time by Ahura Mazda. Confined to their own realm, his demons will devour each other, and his own existence will be quenched.....

The origin of evil is traced in Zoroaster's system to an exercise of free will at the beginning of creation, when the twin sons of Ahura Mazda entered into an eternal rivalry. One, Spenta Mainyu {Mithra} (Bounteous Spirit), chose good, thus acquiring the attributes of truth, justice, and life. The other, Angra Mainyu {Ahriman} (Destructive Spirit), chose evil and its attendant forces of destruction, injustice, and death....(Encyclopædia Britannica - art. "Ahriman")

IN INDIA:

Hindu Trinity

The book "The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals" says regarding a Hindu trinity that existed centuries before Christ: "Siva is one of the gods of the Trinity. He is said to be the god of destruction. The other two gods are Brahma, the god of creation and Vishnu, the god of maintenance.... To indicate that these three processes are one and the same the three gods are combined in one form. "-Published by A. Parthasarathy, Bombay.

....Vishnu is often regarded as a special manifestation of the preservative aspect of the Supreme and Shiva as that of the destructive function. Another deity, Brahma, the creator, remains in the background as a demiurge. These three great figures (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva) constitute the so-called Hindu Trinity (Trimurti, "the One or Whole with Three Forms"). This conception attempts to synthesize and harmonize the conviction that the Supreme Power is singular with the plurality of gods in daily religious worship .... (Encyclopædia Britannica - art. "Hinduism")

...Historians show that at this time (c. 500 B.C.) the Hindu priests changed their teachings and adopted the adorable conception of a loving heavenly Father. A new literature sprang up, and innumerable tractates were written to place Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Siva (the destroyer), the Hindu trinity, on a par with Jehovah. These more abstract and less materialistic concepts of religion were the beliefs of the Brahmans and the educated classes, but they left the masses to their coarse idolatry. (Truth Triumphant, p.126 - by Benjamin Wilkinson)

THE THIRD PERSON

In these versions of the Trinity we find the following striking elements.

(a) A creator-god who is good and merciful.

(b) In two of these versions we find another god who is his son, who is also a good being.

(c) A third god (in some cases who was also the son of the father and brother to the second god) who is evil and who makes war against the father and the son.

Can we miss the significance of this? Is this the concept of the Trinity which the heathen supposedly adopted from the Jews? The Hebrew Scriptures do reveal three beings who may be equated with the above descriptions but they most definitely do not constitute a trinity.

(a) God the Father the supreme ruler of the universe. Absolutely and totally good.

(b) Michael, the chief Prince (Dan. 10:13; 12:1), the Lord (Ps.110:1), the Son of the Father (Prov. 8:22-31; 30:4), also absolutely and totally good.

(c) The enemy, Satan, the accuser and destroyer (Job 1:6; 2:7) The serpent (Gen. 3:14,15) The fallen angel (Isa. 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:12-19) who rebelled against, and makes war against God and His Son.

These heathen concepts of the Trinity, rather than pointing to a true Trinity, actually reveal very clearly the falsehood of the trinitarian doctrine and unmasks its origin.

There was one who made war against the true God and His Son. One who is an enemy of all righteousness. This being greatly desired to be a part of a trinity. In fact, he was the third highest authority in heaven.

Lucifer in heaven, before his rebellion, was a high and exalted angel, next in honor to God's dear Son…. {SR 13}

This, however was not good enough for him. He desired to be equal with the Son of God and in an attempt to achieve this he rebelled against the Father and His Son. This person was Satan, the adversary, the destroyer.

(Rev 12:7-8) And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, {8} And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

It is this same Satan who clearly appears in the heathen trinity as the third being in the godhead. What Satan could not achieve in heaven, he achieved on earth – worship as the third person in a Trinitarian godhead.

The heathen nations did learn something from the Hebrews, but it was not the doctrine of a Trinitarian god. How could they? The Hebrews did not believe in a Trinity! What they did learn was the truth of a cosmic conflict between God, His Son and a powerful heavenly being named Lucifer who aspired to godhood. Satan, through his heathen worshippers easily distorted the facts so that he appeared as a member of the godhead, a brother of the Son of God, and therefore, worthy of worship. What a terrible tragedy that this heathen concept should have so completely permeated Christendom that the Trinity is now the first foundational belief of nearly every Christian denomination!!

Today Christendom worships a third "god." In fact, this "god" truly receives the greatest attention these days of all the members of the so-called Trinity. He is called the "Holy Ghost," but holy he is not. He leads Christians into the most uncouth demonstrations and the most inappropriate, and even indecent behaviour. Yet he is worshipped as the Lord and giver of life. Who is this "third member of the Trinity?" It is the same person whom the Hindus worship as Shiva, the god of death and destruction; whom the Persians worshipped as Ahriman , the evil brother of the god Mithra. He is the same god that the Egyptians worshipped as Set, or Seth, the evil half brother of the god Horus. In other words, it is Satan himself.

ENTRY INTO CHRISTIANITY

As we have already seen, this doctrine of the Trinity was not taught in the New Testament. It was taught by neither Jesus nor His disciples. The testimony of historians is that it "developed gradually" during the first four centuries of the Christian era. When we realize that the doctrine of a triune god was prevalent among the heathen of that time and that this doctrine, rather than being a direct teaching of the Bible was "developed" during the years of the great apostasy by the very power which was responsible for wedding paganism with Christianity, we may justifiably begin to have grave doubts concerning the Christian origins of the trinity.

The historian, Edward Gibbon in the preface to his book, " History of Christianity," stated:

"If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism of the first Christians . . . was changed, by the Church of Rome, into the incomprehensible dogma of the trinity. Many of the pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and idealized by Plato, were retained as being worthy of belief." (History of Christianity - by Edward Gibbons)

History has been so doctored and distorted by the religious bias of mainstream religion that it is very difficult to find many historians who will give a clear, truthful picture of the influences which led to the introduction of the trinity into Christian belief. However, again we find another historian, Siegfried Morenz, in his book, "Egyptian Religion," stating:

"The trinity was a major preoccupation of Egyptian theologians . . . Three gods are combined and treated as a single being, addressed in the singular. In this way the spiritual force of Egyptian religion shows a direct link with Christian theology."(Egyptian Religion, - Siegfried Morenz)

In the fourth century AD a controversy arose concerning the teachings of Arius, a Christian priest of Alexandria, Egypt. The Encyclopedia Britannica, comments thus on the teachings of Arius:

…It affirmed that Christ is not truly divine but a created being. Arius' basic premise was the uniqueness of God, who is alone self-existent and immutable; the Son, who is not self-existent, cannot be God. Because the Godhead is unique, it cannot be shared or communicated, so the Son cannot be God.....

According to its opponents, especially the bishop Athanasius, Arius' teaching reduced the Son to a demigod, reintroduced polytheism (since worship of the Son was not abandoned), and undermined the Christian concept of redemption since only he who was truly God could be deemed to have reconciled man to the Godhead.

The controversy seemed to have been brought to an end by the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), which condemned Arius and his teaching and issued a creed to safeguard orthodox Christian belief. This creed states that the Son is homoousion to Patri ("of one substance with the Father"), thus declaring him to be all that the Father is: he is completely divine. In fact, however, this was only the beginning of a long-protracted dispute.(Encyclopedia Britannica: Article – Arianism)

This Arian controversy was really the focal issue which led to the formal adoption of a trinitarian creed by the Roman Catholic Church. The definitive statement was drafted at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD where the writings and teachings of Arius were condemned and the view of God promoted by the other side was adopted as the orthodox Christian position. However, as we will see from the following quotes, the view finally accepted was not adopted solely on the basis of its faithfulness to Scripture. The men involved in making the final decision had other factors influencing their beliefs.

PLATO'S INFLUENCE

In his theological interpretation of the idea of God, Arius was interested in maintaining a formal understanding of the oneness of God. In defense of the oneness of God, he was obliged to dispute the sameness of essence of the Son and the Holy Spirit with God the Father, as stressed by the theologians of the Neoplatonically influenced Alexandrian school. From the outset, the controversy between both parties took place upon the common basis of the Neoplatonic concept of substance, which was foreign to the New Testament itself. It is no wonder that the continuation of the dispute on the basis of the metaphysics of substance likewise led to concepts that have no foundation in the New Testament—such as the question of the sameness of essence (homoousia) or similarity of essence (homoiousia) of the divine persons. (Encyclopedia Britannica: Article – Christianity)

As we can see, the proponents of the view which was finally accepted as orthodox, and which is the accepted view today, were influenced by the teachings of the Greek philosopher, Plato. They belonged to the "neoplatonically influenced Alexandrian school."

The French Nouveau Dictionnaire Universel (New Universal Dictionary) says of Plato's influence:

"The Platonic trinity, itself merely a rearrangement of older trinities dating back to earlier peoples, appears to be the rational philosophic trinity of attributes that gave birth to the three hypostases or divine persons taught by the Christian churches. . . . This Greek philosopher's conception of the divine trinity... can be found in all the ancient [pagan] religions."

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge shows the influence of this Greek philosophy:

"The doctrines of the Logos and the Trinity received their shape from Greek Fathers, who... were much influenced, directly or indirectly, by the Platonic philosophy... That errors and corruptions crept into the Church from this source can not be denied."

The Church of the First Three Centuries says:

"The doctrine of the Trinity was of gradual and comparatively late formation; ... it had its origin in a source entirely foreign from that of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; ... it grew up, and was ingrafted on Christianity, through the hands of the Platonizing Fathers."

Please read the following quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica carefully. Consider the issues as they are stated. There is a lot of truth there, but a few misconceptions completely distorts the truth.

The basic concern of Arius was and remained disputing the oneness of essence of the Son and the Holy Spirit with God the Father, in order to preserve the oneness of God. The Son, thus, became a "second God, under God the Father"—i.e., he is God only in a figurative sense, for he belongs on the side of the creatures, even if at their highest summit. Here Arius joined an older tradition of Christology, which had already played a role in Rome in the early 2nd century—namely, the so-called angel-Christology. The descent of the Son to Earth was understood as the descent to Earth of the highest prince of the angels, who became man in Jesus Christ; he is to some extent identified with the angel prince Michael. In the old angel-Christology the concern is already expressed to preserve the oneness of God, the inviolable distinguishing mark of the Jewish and Christian faiths over against all paganism. The Son is not himself God, but as the highest of the created spiritual beings he is moved as close as possible to God. Arius joined this tradition with the same aim—i.e., defending the idea of the oneness of the Christian concept of God against all reproaches that Christianity introduces a new, more sublime form of polytheism ....

The main speaker for church orthodoxy was Athanasius of Alexandria, for whom the point of departure was not a philosophical-speculative principle but rather the reality of redemption, the certainty of salvation. The redemption of humanity from sin and death is only then guaranteed if Christ is total God and total human being,...

The final dogmatic formulation of the Trinitarian doctrine in the so-called Athanasian Creed (c. 500), una substantia—tres personae ("one substance—three persons"), reached back to the formulation of Tertullian. In practical terms it meant a compromise in that it held fast to both basic ideas of Christian revelation—the oneness of God and divine self-revelation in the figures of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—without rationalizing the mystery itself.... (Encyclopedia Britannica: Article – Christianity)

Why, you may ask, did it have to become a question of, "was He creature, or was He God?" Why wasn't the plain, biblical middle ground taken? He was not a creature. He was the divine SON of God! Again we find an answer in the Encyclopedia Britannica:

From the outset, the controversy between both parties took place upon the common basis of the Neoplatonic concept of substance, which was foreign to the New Testament itself. It is no wonder that the continuation of the dispute on the basis of the metaphysics of substance likewise led to concepts that have no foundation in the New Testament—such as the question of the sameness of essence (homoousia) or similarity of essence (homoiousia) of the divine persons. (Encyclopedia Britannica: Article – Christianity)

The argument was based on philosophical concepts, not on the word of God. However, if one slight adjustment was made to Arius' teaching, it would have been perfectly in harmony with Scripture. All that was needed was the correction that Jesus was not a created Being, but was the begotten Son of God, thus being fully divine and so fully able to effect man's salvation from sin.

Please note that even though the council formally declared that Jesus was "begotten, not made," the statement that He was of the "same being" as the Father made a mockery of the term begotten. Since He was of the same substance, of the same being, then He could not have been the Son of God in any understandable sense. Arius was closer in saying that Father and Son were of "similar" but not the "same" substance.

This then, is the root of the Trinitarian belief. This is how it made its way into the teachings of Christianity. From this beginning the doctrine of the Trinity has steadily and relentlessly insinuated itself into the beliefs of nearly all of Christendom so that today, there is scarcely a Christian group which is not infected with its insidious poison in one way or another. Learned theologians refer to it as one of the "eternal verities" of the Christian faith (see Movement of Destiny - p.35,36). So powerfully has it permeated the thinking of men that a failure to accept it will result in a religious group being instantly labeled as a cult.

Yet, the truth is overwhelmingly plain to those who are willing to honestly examine the evidence. God help us to be true to our consciences. "All truth is safe and nothing else is safe." May we be faithful to it, regardless of tradition and popular opinion.

Restoration Ministries

Restoration Ministries is dedicated to the promotion of the truths contained in the word of God. In particular to the restoration of those truths which have been cast down to the ground and trampled underfoot by the papacy, and adopted by her daughters.

Our purpose is to motivate men and women to commit themselves wholly to the task of personal preparation for the coming of the Lord, and to the taking of the final warning message to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.

Website: www.restorationministry.com

ALL ARTICLES

Latest video

Contact Us

More info here

Connect with Us

Multimedia