When was the doctrine of the Trinity first developed? When we ask this question we have in mind the doctrinal idea that God is a plurality of three co-equal and co-eternal persons of the same substance who form a Godhead. Though reputable scholars and commentaries state the Trinity is no where to be found in the Bible, other Trinitarians not only insist the doctrine is present in the Bible, but also that the "apostolic fathers" in the first and second centuries taught the Trinity. Is this true? Can we find the idea of the plurality of God in three persons? You will have to judge this.
We provide the "apostolic fathers" and some ante-Nicene scholars and commentaries from their works. We believe these did not teach the Trinity but rather were henotheists who believed in one Absolute (Supreme) God, the Father and Creator, while still holding that others are called God or gods, including the Son, angels, and even glorified members of the Church.
Who was the first to use the word "Trinity"? Some credit Theophilus of Antioch (c180 AD). He writes: " ... the Trinity ... of God, and Hs Word, and His Wisdom." Though the word occurs here it is clear this is not the modern Trinity for the Holy Spirit is omitted.
Tertullian (215 AD) is the one generally credited with using the word Trinity in the context of God, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Against Praxeas 2) However, he does not deduce a Trinity like the modern notion, for he writes: " ... in a Trinity. Placed in order, the Three are the Father, Son and Spirit. They are three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in Being, but in form; not in power, but in kind. ... Because he is one God of whom degrees and forms and kinds are taken into account."
Origen (225 AD) also uses the word Trinity (Fundamental Doctrines 4:4:1). However, this well-known scholar is henotheistic for he declares the Son "a second God." Also, he is not clear on whether the Holy Spirit is a person or a force. For Origen describes the Son as "servant of the Father in the creation of all things." And, the Spirit in this manner: "But in (the case of the Spirit) it is not clearly distinguished whether He is to be regarded as born or innate, or also as a Son of God or not."
Most of these scholars were either enamored with the Greek philosophers or had been disciples and teachers of Plato. Though two of these Christian scholars of the later First and early Second centuries use the word Trinity they were not the first to do so in a theological context. Both Plato and Aristotle use Trinitarian ideas, the later actually using the word Trinity. Consider the following commentaries.
Nouveau Dictionnaire Universel, "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 [Plato, fourth century B.C.E.] conception of the divine trinity . . . can be found in all the ancient [pagan] religions."-(Paris, 1865-1870), edited by M. Lachâtre, Vol. 2, p. 1467.
The History of Christianity, by Peter Eckler: "If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism of the first Christians, (who differed from their fellow Jews only in the belief that Jesus was the promised Messiah,) 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."
From Eusebius, PREPARATION FOR THE GOSPEL, Vol 2, pages 535-537)
Plato (Epistle to Dionysus) -- "I must explain it to you then in riddles, that if the tablet suffer any harm in the remote parts of sea or land, the reader may learn nothing. For the matter is thus: Around the King of the Universe are all things, and all are for His sake, and that is the cause of all things beautiful: and around the Second are the secondary things, and around the Third the tertiary. ... These statements are referred, by those who attempt to explain Plato, to the First God, and to the Second Cause, and thirdly to the Soul of the Universe, defining it also as a third God. ... (Eusebius) This is what Plotinus says. This is the reason also of Platos TRINITIES: for he says that around the King of all are all the primaries, and around the second the secondaries, and around the third the TERTIARIES. And Numenius highly commending Platos doctrines in his treatise OF THE GOOD gives his own interpretation of the Second Cause as follows: The First God being in Himself, is simple, because, being united throughout with Himself, He can never be divided. God however the Second and the Third is one."
Aristotle, On the Heavens, Book I, 1 -- "For, as the Pythagoreans say, the world and all that is in it is determined by the number three, since beginning and middle and end give the number of an 'all', and the number they give is the trinity [Greek trias; English = "trinity"]. And so, having taken these three from nature as (so to speak) laws of it, we make further use of the number three in the worship of the Gods."
With this foundation and introduction let us consider the major apostolic fathers.
There is a work referenced by Clement of Alexandria and Lightfoot describes The Epistle of Barnabas, "(It) stands alone in the literature of the early Church." (page 133) Some believe it to be the work of Pauls early missionary companion though the work is "not regarded(ed) as final and authoritative." The date assigned to it is between 70-79 AD.
Let anyone who wishes to read it try and find a Trinitarian doctrine in it. Though an imaginative mind might find a triune formula in the opening section where "God" and "the Spirit" and "the Lord" are mentioned in different sentences, the Trinity is missing.
There is a often referenced phrase which has been cited by Trinitarians. It is found in section 5. However, the phrase seems to backfire. Indeed, compared to another verse in Barnabas it may be asserted this author as henotheistic in his theology. Note what the writer says, quoting Genesis 1.26: "If the Lord [Jesus - editor] endured to suffer for our souls, though He was Lord of the whole world, unto whom God [Yahweh - editor] said from the foundation of the world, Let us make man after our image and likeness, how then did he endure to suffer at the hand of men?" Here he has two persons: one, God, that is Yahweh the Creator, the Father of our Lord; and, second, "the Lord of the whole world." Later this "Lord" is identified as "the Son" when Genesis 1.26 is referenced again. (section 6)
At the end of his epistle Barnabas makes the phrase, "And may God, who is Lord of the whole world, give you wisdom." It may be Barnabas gives the title "Lord of the whole world" to both God and the Son. However, if this concluding designation be applied to the Son then we would have two Gods, for the earlier phrase could then read: "He was God and Lord of the whole world, unto whom God said ... " This would be two Gods by reasonable reckoning. Thus Barnabas was henotheistic in his theology. We also note the Spirit is extremely rare in the letter.
Lightfoot writes that The Shepherd of Hermas "is entitled in the most ancient notices." Some give the work an early date around the year 80, others place in the middle of the Second Century.
It would take considerable "mischeivousness" to create some triune formula in this work. The designations "God," "Lord," and "Holy Spirit" occur often though not in anything approaching the Trinity.
Hermas makes one point clear in The First Mandate: "First of all, believe that God is One, even He Who created all things and set them in order, and brought all things from non-existence into being." It may be argued this bringing everything out of non-existence would include the Son. At any rate, Hermas has God as One, not a plural of three. Otherwise, he may have written, "Believe that God is One, even They who created." Or, he may have written, "Believe God is Three."
In Mandate The Eleventh some interesting phrases are made. Hermas mentions "the angel of the prophetic spirit" in the context of the Holy Spirit. Another ,may infer the Pneuma is a power and not a person: "This then is the greatness of the power as touching the Pneuma of the deity of the Lord."
There is another obscure phrase in S. 5. vii (Lightfoot, page 207): "God ... created the people, and delivered them over to His Son. ... (who) is Himself Lord of the people, having received all power from His Father. ... The Holy Pre-existent Spirit, Which created the whole creation, God made to dwell in flesh that He desired. This flesh, therefore, in which the Holy Spirit dwelt, was subject unto the Spirit." Hermas seems to make clear God the Father is the Creator, and the Pneuma which He used in creation came to dwell within the Son and the Sons flesh was obedient to the indwelling Pneuma.
The verses most often referenced by Trinitarians are those in S. 9.x, 12 (Lightfoot, page 229): "The Son of God is older than all His [Gods - editor] creation, so that He became the Fathers adviser in His creation. Therefore also He is ancient." We note Hermas says of the Son he was "adviser" and "is ancient" not eternal. This term "adviser" may be drawn from Proverbs 8.22, 30 which reads in the Jewish Tanakh: "The LORD created me at the beginning of His course, as the first of His works of old. ... I was with Him as a confident."
Is Hermas an henotheist, believing in One Absolute God while agreeing the Son is also a God? It is possible judging from S. 9. xxiii, 23 (Lightfoot, page 236): "If God and our Lord, Who ruleth over all things and hath the authority over all His creation ... " This may be "God and our Lord" as two persons. Or, it may be a rare case where Hermas applies the designation "God" also to the Son who has been given authority over creation. Thus, there would be two Gods.
Various Trinitarian scholars have pointed to the epistles of Ignatius as evidence of the Trinity. Some claim the Trinity doctrine was stated by early Church writers long before the Fourth Century. On the other hand, still others expecting a higher christology, point to various phrases in these early letters as evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was viewed as God. Or, that Ignatius was not henotheistic, that is believing in more than one God though holding God the Father as Absolute God. What does an examination of these epistles show? Do they point to the Trinity -- that is the doctrine that God is the plurality of three persons?
First, who was Ignatius? He was a Christian bishop of Antioch who wrote near the beginning of the Second Century. He may have been martyred between 98-117 AD and therefore may have known John. His epistles are referenced or quoted by ancients such as Polycarp (a disciple of John) and later in the Fourth Century, Eusebius. This bishops letters never made their way into the Church canon of inspired epistles, such as Paul or Peter. There may be serious question whether these epistles of Ignatius have not been emended or edited by later writers. There are some words and phrases alien to early Christianity which raise suspicion that some of the works have been manipulated or added to by later church writers. These will be noted as we proceed.
Before examining these epistles of Ignatius we wish to offer the statement that we believe in the divinity or deity of the glorified Jesus Christ. We believe the pre-existent Jesus as the Word or Logos was also a god (John 1.1) just as the angels are called by David (Psalms 8.5 - elohim; Hebrews 2.8, 9 - angels). We believe Jesus was "less than god(s) [elohim]" during those "days of his flesh." So, our theological position may be called henotheistic; that is, we believe there is only one Absolute God the Father while his Son may be called "god" as are the angels. To us it is a matter of degrees in the consideration of such words like elohim or theos. (1 Corinthians 8.4-6; 2 Corinthians 4.4) What was the uninspired view of Ignatius?
Did Ignatius use triune formulas? A "triune formula" -- often used to prove the Trinity -- is a phrase which includes three things or three persons. The answer to this question is yes. There is one surprising Trinitarian formulation which seems alien to early Christian. In To the Ephesians, section 7, there is a trinity of God, the Son, and Mary. Or, in section 18, the trinity of Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost. [These citations are from J. B. Lightfoot The Apostolic Fathers, pages 65, 67] (Compare also To the Trallians, section 9 [Jesus, Mary, the Father])
These mentions of Mary, the mother of our Lord, make us immediately suspicious of Catholic editing. Never do the inspired epistles of Paul or Peter ever mention Mary. Even in the Gospels the mother of the Nazarene receives a minimal role with no indication she was even a disciple of her own son. When she does make her appearance it is in a context of doubt and criticism of Jesus.
There is another triune formula in To the Trallians, section 12: " ... unto the honour of the Father [and to the honour] of Jesus Christ and of the Apostles." One could easily make a Trinitarian construct of this, including Father, Jesus, and the Apostles.
Are there other classic triune formulas? Yes. Just as in a few verses of Matthew and Paul, Ignatius mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in one breath. The first is in Ephesians, section 9: " ... a building of God the Father, being hoisted up to the heights through the engine of Jesus Christ, which is the Cross, and using for a rope the Holy Spirit." (Lightfoot, page 65) Here the true architect is the Father, while the Son is only an instrument, an engine, and the holy spirit is only a rope. This seems to fall far short of the Nicene Creed and later Trinitarian formulations.
Another occurs in To the Manesians, section 13: " ... in the Son and Father and in the Spirit." (Lightfoot, page 72) Of course, it is clear, this triune formulation falls far short of defining a single God who is the plurality of three, even as do those triune formulas found in Matthew 28.19 and 2 Corinthians 13.14. Triune formulas, so-called, may be constructed of other verses in the inspired epistles which are completely contrary to the Trinitarian view. For example, note 1 Timothy 5.21, "I solemnly charge you before The God and Christ Jesus and the chosen angels." One bent on insisting on a triune formula here would construct a divine pantheon of gods including the holy spirit.
Another occurs in To the Romans, section 8, "I speak the truth --- Jesus Christ, the unerring mouth in whom the Father hath spoken truly. Entreat ye for me, that I may attain [through the Holy Spirit]." The later phrase in brackets may be an addition. However, Jesus Christ is the "mouth" of the Father, that is the Word, as John 1.1 has it. Nothing in these sentences confirm the Trinity as it is defined today. There is here no plural God of three persons.
Dual formulas missing the holy spirit. Though we do find triune formulas, dual formulas appear much more often. These include only the Father and Jesus Christ. After the manner of Paul, who includes only the two -- Father and Son -- in his salutations, Ignatius does the same. In all of his letters, Ignatius omits the spirit in his salutation. For example, consider To the Magnesians: " ..through the grace of God the Father in Christ Jesus ... greeting in God the Father and in Jesus Christ." (Lightfoot, page 69)
There are many more dual formulations than triune ones where the holy spirit is missing. Not including the salutations of all seven letters, these dual formulations -- only the Father and the Son -- occur over a dozen times. These dual formulations make a clear distinction between God and Jesus. Consider Ephesians, section3: " ...that ye run in harmony with the mind of God: for Jesus also, our inseparable life, is the mind of the Father, even as the bishops that are settled in the farthest parts of the earth are in the mind of Jesus Christ." It seems clear, without forcing this through a Trinitarian filter, that there is the "mind of God" -- who is the Father - and there is the "mind of Jesus Christ." The two are not compounded or confused, no more than Paul does when using similar language in 1 Corinthians 2.16, "For who has come to know the mind of the Lord [Yahweh] ... but we do have the mind of Christ."
There is another dual formula in Magnesians, section 13: "Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father ... and as the Apostles were to Christ." Ignatius comparison of Christs obedience was of the apostles to him. Clearly, the Son is subordinate to the Father and not co-equal with Him.
There are dozens of these cases where only God and Jesus, or God the Father and Jesus Christ which seem to make strong distinctions between the two without ever inferring they are part of a plurality of three in a Godhead.
Is Jesus called "God" by Ignatius?
The straightforward answer to this is Yes. The phrase "Jesus Christ our God" (Ep, sal; Rom, sal, 3; Sym, 1), "For our God, Jesus," (Ep, 19), and, "in our God Jesus Christ." (Poly, 8)
Do we fault this phraseology? No. The reason for this is because the pre-existent and glorified Christ as the Word was identified with the word theos. (John 1.1; 20.28) It is possible, though scholars disagree, Paul may have used such a construct in Romans 9.5 and Titus 2.13. We agree with those scholars who do not see these as Paul calling Jesus God. (See notes else where in De Trinitatis Erroribus) We challenge any Trinitarian to supply such a phrase in the Gospels.
Though agreeing the term "god" (elohim; theos) can be applied to the Son, even as it is of angels, any fair person would admit the phrase "our God Jesus Christ" goes beyond the inspired epistles which do not do this. Even if we were to accept the Trinitarian grammar of Romans 9.5 and Titus 2.13, this would mean in all the inspired epistles this terminology is only used twice.
On this subject of theos (or, god) we note Ignatius never applies it to the Spirit.
Is Ignatius henotheistic?
That is, does Ignatius seem to believe in more than one God -- in two Gods? It is admitted he clearly addresses Jesus as such. Does he address another as God separate from Jesus? There are those dual formulas (Ep, 21) of God the Father and Jesus Christ which would affirm the Father is a God. In addition there are other phrases which would argue Ignatius believes in two Gods. Consider Magnesians, section 8: " ... there is one God who manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son." If Jesus is also "God" then there are two Gods in the writings of Ignatius.
This idea occurs again in Trallians, section 1: " ... who by the will of God and of Jesus Christ." If Jesus is a god to Ignatius, then there are two here in this verse. This type of phrase occurs again in Philadelphians, section 3: " ... of God and of Jesus Christ." (Lightfoot, page 79) If we paraphrase this later phrase and add Ignatius other phrase we would have the construct: " ... of God and of Jesus Christ our God." Or, "of God and our God Jesus Christ." (Poly, 8) That would be clearly two gods by any fair estimate.
Other phrases in Ignatius.
There are other phrases in the epistles of Ignatius which Trinitarians point to as evidence of a higher christology. Though none of these could by any stretch of the imagination confirm that Ignatius was a Trinitarians they are worthy of commentary.
1. Gods blood. There are several phrases which infer Christs blood is Gods blood. Consider Ephesians, section 1, "the blood of God"; Smyrnaeans, section 6, "they believe not in the blood of Christ [who is God] ... " Viewing the glorified Christ through the henotheistic filter -- rather than the Trinitarian filter -- as God of a sort less than the Absolute God, one could understand this unique phrase without drawing the conclusion that Jesus was The Absolute God himself.
This thought of God giving His own life contradicts the prophet Habbakuk 1.12 where it is stated God cannot die. Trinitarians will point to Acts 20.28 which some translations render as though it was Gods own blood which purchased the Church. However, scholars are divided on this rendering, some preferring, "the blood of His Own [Son]." (See commentaries elsewhere in De Trinitatis Erroribus.)
2. Jesus resurrected himself. Ignatius writes in Smyrnaeans, section 2: "He raised Himself truly." (Lightfoot, page 82) This is a phrase which appears nowhere in all of Pauls own epistles. The idea is lacking from all other epistles in the sacred canon. These all teach that God the Father raised the Lord Jesus from death. (Ac 3.15; 4.10; 5.30; 10.40; 13.30, 37; Ro 4.24, 25; 6.4, 9; 7.4; 8.11, 24; 10.9; 1 Co 6.14; 15.4, 15; 2 Co 4.14; Ga 1.1; Ep 1.20; 2.12; 1 Th 1.10; 1 Pe 1.21)
Ignatius also states that it was God the Father who resurrected Jesus. For example, Romans, section 9 states: "His Father having raised Him." And, Smyrnaeans, section 6, " ... and which the Father of His goodness raised up."
It is possible Ignatius draws his phrase from a metaphor used by the Nazarene in John 2.19. This text is sometimes used in an effort to prove Jesus is God Himself because they assert that here the Nazarene foretells he will resurrect himself. The text reads: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (RSV) The misunderstand his statement and this becomes a source of accusation years later. John himself explains in verse 21: But he was speaking of the temple of his body. No where else is this parabolic phrase of the Nazarene used to indicate Jesus would raise or resurrect himself.
Is it fair that the Nazarenes phrase in John 2.19 is couched in parabolic or metaphorical language? He uses the Temple (naos) illustrative of his body. In what way could he mean metamorphically that "he would raise his body in three days"? The Beloved Apostle is to be unique in recording the answer to this in later verses. Compare John 10.15, 18: And I lay down my life for the sheep. ... No one takes (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay (my life) down, and I have power to take (my life) up again. I have received this command from my Father. (RSV) Here the subject is the "life" of the Son. Though he can lay it down and take it up again, he can do this only as he is given authority from the Father. By his own course of integrity and self-sacrifice, the Nazarene may of his own free will give up his body or life for the sake of the sheep. By this obedient course, he, in affect, takes up his own life again, just as the Father promised. (Is ch 53; Ph 2.5-9)
It would be our conviction, if this phrase of Ignatius really dates from the early Second Century, that he is using the same metaphor in the same sense the Nazarene used it.
3. Is the Son ungenerated, impalpable, and impassible? Ignatius writes to the Ephesians, section 7: "There is only one physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man ... first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord." And, again, in Polycarp, section 3: "Await Him that is above every season, the Eternal, the Invisible, who became visible for our sake, the Impalpable, the Impassible, who suffered for our sake." (Lightfoot, pages 65, 87) [NOTE: other versions of Ignatius add several other phrases, but these are not found in Lightfoot.]
This language is unique to a degree to Ignatius and cannot be found in the inspired canon. For example, no inspired writer speaks of the Son as "ungenerate." He is everywhere spoken of as "begotten." (John 1.14, 18. Compare also Proverbs 8.22-30) We suspect this word "ungenerate" to be a later addition by a post-Nicene Trinitarian.
It is difficult to understand if Ignatius means by "impalpable" (untouchable; not perceptible to the touch) the human or heavenly Jesus, for John writes: "Our own hands felt (the Word)." (1 John 1.1) Likewise, Impassable describes the Christ as someone whom none can pass. This is obscure and open to several interpretations.
The phrase "God in man" is also no where found in the inspired canon. No Bible writers described Jesus as "God in man," "God in the flesh," of "God-man." Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3.16, according to the KJV, "God was manifest in the flesh." However, other scholars prefer either the word "who" or "he" inferring Jesus. (See notes elsewhere)
Was Ignatius a Trinitarian? One Trinitarian wrote on the Internet: "There are cult groups who deny the Trinity and state that the doctrine was not mentioned until the 4th Century. ... The following quotes show that the doctrine of the Trinity was indeed alive-and-well before the Council of Nicea."
If we take the doctrine of the Trinity as defined by later creeds and understand the teaching as that of a plural God in three persons, then we must state that Ignatius does not teach such. Though he forms a few triune formulas, these do not approach a Trinity doctrine. Some of his triune formulas include Mary or the Apostles. We have also see that dual formulas excluding the holy spirit appear much more often. Also, when Ignatius has opportunity to include the Spirit he omits it. The bishop seems to us to believe in two Gods -- the Father and the Son, but never includes the holy spirit in such a designation. We would, indeed, classify him as a henotheist.
Was Ignatius an apostate? There is much of Ignatius language which is alien to the inspired epistles. Particularly the several mentions of Mary -- something never done by Paul or even Peter -- raises the suspicion someone has added to Ignatius much later when mariolatry become much more prominent in the Catholic Church. Lightfoot suspects the text when he writes: " ... the epistle of Polycarp is closely connected with the Long Recension of the Ignatian Epistles. This fact, if it had stood by itself, would have thrown some discredit on the integrity of the text. It might have been suspected that the same hand which interpolated the Ignatian Epistles had tampered with this (Polycarp epistle) also." (page 93)
Additionally, Ignatius strong emphasis on the bishophry seems alien to anything like it to be found in John or Paul. Ignatius language sounds strong Catholic which would indicate either later editing during a period when the Trinity, Mary worship, and the power of the Catholic Church were gaining greater strength.
If Ignatius was a contemporary of the Apostle John, and if the views expressed in Ignatius epistles are viewed along a strongly Trinitarian bent, then could the Bishop of Antioch fit those descriptions given by Paul and John? Paul warns: "The apostasy is already at work." (2 Thessalonians 2.1-9) And, John, thirty years later, writes, "Little children, it is the last hour and already many antichrists have come." (1 John chs 2, 4) Thus, the language of Ignatius, alien to that language of John and Paul, may indicate this inworking apostasy.
Regardless, it would be our determination that Ignatius does not declare a Trinity doctrine which holds to only one God with three co-substantial persons. Rather he declares the Father is a God and the Son is a God, thus he believes in a henotheistic view.
Who was Polycarp?
Polycarp was born about 69 C.E. in Asia Minor, at Smyrna (the modern-day Turkish city of Izmir). Polycarp was noted for generosity, self-denial, kindly treatment of others, and diligent study of the Scriptures. In time he became a presbyter in the ecclesia in Smyrna.
Irenaeus records Polycarp "was not only instructed by apostles, and had intercourse with many who had seen Christ, but was also appointed for Asia by apostles, in the church that is in Smyrna an overseer."
On February 23, 155 the Roman proconsul tested Polycarp: "Take the oath and I release you; revile Christ." Polycarp answered: "Eighty-six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?" He was then martyred.
Polycarp wrote a brief epistle to the Philippian ecclesia. He was a contemporary of Ignatius who was martyred before Polycarp. We are interested in Polycarps view of God and His relationship with the Son. Some Trinitarians argue Polycarp was a Trinitarian. We wonder if this is true. Did Polycarp teach God was a plurality of three persons?
Polycarp was a henotheist.
Polycarp mentions the Spirit only once in section 5, never indicating it was a person or in anyway connected in a Trinitarian manner to God and Jesus. Indeed, after Pauls manner, the Holy Spirit is missing in Polycarps greeting: " ... from God Almighty and Jesus Christ our Saviour." Here it is clear there are two persons, distinct from one another and apparently no co-equal: God Almighty and Jesus.
In section 1, Polycarp mentions " ... chosen of God and our Lord" and a bit later, " ... the will of God through Jesus Christ." Clearly there is a God and a Lord here. Here Jesus is not confused with God. Similar phrases occur in section 3 -- "God and Christ"; section 5 -- "God and Christ" twice.
Unlike Ignatius who infers Christ raised himself (see above), Polycarp several times states that God the Father raised Jesus from death. (sec1, 2, 9, 12)
Does Polycarp call Jesus "God"? Apparently so. In section 12, he writes: " .. who believe on our Lord and God Jesus Christ and His Father that raised Him from the dead." (Lightfoot, page 99) If this phrase be correct, then Polycarp believed in two Gods: God the Father, the God of our Lord; and, the Lord Jesus himself, also a God. Thus, Polycarp was a henotheist, believing in one Absolute God, but understanding others may be called "God."
Polycarp makes it clear that Jesus Christ has a God, for he writes, after Pauls own manner in Ephesians 1.3, 17: "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 ... " In other words, "the God of ... our Lord." Thus, we have one God here that of Jesus himself. (Lightfoot, page 99)
There may be another version of these verses of Polycarp. One version expands on this by saying: "O Lord God almighty ... I bless you and glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with Him and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever." (n. 14, ed. Funk; PG 5.1040)
This disagreement raises immediate suspicion. The former version omits the "Holy Spirit" and thus any Trinitarian formula. The later version also changes the phrase which would indicate the Father is the God of the Lord Jesus. With two versions presented we must approach them with caution.
Was Polycarp a Trinitarian?
Despite the later phrase above which mentions God Almighty, Jesus the High-priest, and the Holy Spirit, it is clear there is one God Almighty and Jesus is the high priest of such, just as Aaron was to Yahweh. Polycarp states nothing which would indicate the Holy Spirit was a person. Nor does he in any way indicate there is a plurality of three in one God.
THE EPISTLE TO DIOGNETUS -- TRINITARIAN?
Lightfoot lists an epistle of unknown authorship, though some connect it to Justin Martyr. It is dated around the middle of the Second Century. How does this letter deal with the subject of God and His Son?
We note the Holy Spirit is missing from the letter. Also missing is any triune formulations. The writer is henotheistic as a consideration will show. In section 7 it reads: "But truly the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Invisible God Himself from heaven planted among men the truth ... by sending to mankind ... the very Artificer and Creator of the Universe Himself, by Whom He made the heavens. ... Him he sent unto them. ... He has sent Him, as a king might send his son who is a king. he sent Him, as sending God." There are, thus, two Gods in his language. He omits mentioned the Holy Spirit completely. The language echoes Proverbs 8.22-30 where such a helpful Artificer is mentioned as a Master-worker.
In section 8, the letter reads: "For God, the Master and Creator of the Universe, Who made all things and arranged them in order ... He alone is good. And having conceived a great and unutterable scheme He communicated it to His Son alone." It seems clear the conception of creation originates in this God who is the Master and Creator and His Son only learns of it by communication.
This "Word" is described in section 11: "For which cause He sent forth the Word, that he might appear unto the world. ... This Word, Who was from the beginning, Who appeared as new and yet was proved to be old." Note, not eternal, but only "old."
That the writer is henotheistic is shown where he is not embarrassed to say in section 10: "Whoever by supplying to those that are in want possessions which he received from God becomes a God to those who receive from him." So, he uses theos as to a charitable person.
Who was Irenaeus?
Catholic Online Saints: "The writings of St. Irenaeus entitle him to a high place among the fathers of the Church. ... He was probably born about the year 125. ... In the year 177, Irenaeus was sent to Rome. ... He returned to Lyons (France) to (become bishop). ... He produced a treatise in five books in which he sets forth fully the inner doctrines of the various sects, and afterwards constrast them with the teaching of the Apostles and the text of the Holy Scripture. ... It is believed (he died) in the year 202."
Did Irenaeus teach God was the plurality of three persons?
It may be stated with great certainty that he did not. Indeed, he no where comes close to the Trinity Creed of Constantine. Though what might be called triune formulas including Father, Son, and Holy Spirit occur, generally the dual formula of God and Jesus appears most often, omitting the Spirit.
For example, consider: " ... in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (Heresies, BK I, III, 6.13) Note the spirit is absent. Note also, it is only the Father here who is declared to be God. " ... there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth ... and one Christ the Son of God." (Heresies, BK III, I, 2) Again the spirit is missing and the Creator is called God, not the Son. " .. believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God." (Heresies, BK III, IV, 2 (3)) Here it is shown the One God created everything "by means of" his Son. Again the spirit is absent from the dual formula.
In Heresies chapters V and VI Irenaeus begins to discuss this term God and Lord and shows it has degrees or qualifications. It should be understood that the main of his argumentation has been against Gnostics who assert there is another God above the Father and Creator. It is in this context one must understand some of the things he writes. For example, consider: "Neither did His disciples make mention of any other God, or term any other Lord, except Him, who was truly the God and Lord of all." (III, V, 1.8)
Chapter VI, 1 Irenaeus writes: "Therefore neither would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named as God, definitely and absolutely, him who was not God, unless he were truly God, nor would they have named any one in his own person Lord, except God the Father ruling over all, and His Son who has received dominion from His Father over all creation."
Irenaeus then cites Psalm 110.1 which mentions two Lords, explaining: "Here the [Scripture] represents to us the Father [LORD = Yahweh] addressing the Son. ... Since, therefore, the Father is truly Lord, and the Son is truly Lord, the Holy Spirit has fitly designated them by the title of Lord." (III, VI, 1.4)
He continues, using the same argument as Justin Martyr, and later Eusebius, in the use of Genesis 19.24 to prove two Lords. He writes: "For it here points out that the Son, who had also been talking with Abraham, had received power to judge the Sodomites." He infers tat the angel of Yahweh who had spoken with Abraham was the pre-existent Son.
Now, in this same section, he passes on to the term "God." Quoting Psalm 45.6, 7, Irenaeus argues there are two Gods: "For the Spirit designates both of them by the name, of God --- both Him who is anointed as Son, and Him who does anoint, that is the Father." He does this again, using verses quoted by the Nazarene himself (John 10.30-36), that is Psalm 82.1: "God [Father] stood in the congregation [Greek LXX = synagogue] of the gods, He [Son] judges among the gods [the Church]. He here refers to the Father and the Son, and ... the Church."
Again, Irenaeus quotes Deuteronomy 10.17 with a most interesting application: "The God of gods, the Lord hath spoken, and hath called the earth. (3) Who is meant by God? .... the Son. ... But of what gods does he speak? ... To those, no doubt, who have received the grace of the adoption, by which we cry, Abba Father." Clearly, here Irenaeus is henotheistic in his theology. For, he calls God the Father, as well as the Son, as well as the members of the Church.
In VI, 3 he explains this: "When, however, the Scripture terms them gods which are no gods, it does not ,as I have already remarked, declare them as gods in every sense, but with a certain addition and signification." This is earlier explained in Book II, chapter I, 3: "But then that which is greater is also stronger, and in a greater degree Lord; and that which is greater, and stronger, and in a greater degree Lord -- must be God." He does something similar in this book when he comments on John 14.20: "We may learn through Him [Christ] that the Father is above all things. For 'the Father,' says He, 'is greater than I.' The Father, therefore, has been declared by our Lord to excel with respect to knowledge." (Against Heresies, Book II, chapter 28.8)
Again, explaining the degrees or qualifications to the term God, Irenaeus quotes 1 Corinthians 8.5, 6 regarding "many gods" he writes: "And Moses himself, being a man of God, was indeed given as a god before Pharaoh." (See Exodus 7.1, 2) Often Irenaeus qualifies his term by referring to the "Supreme God." He makes it quite clear that it is only the Father who is Creator.
However, he shows the Son was an agent in this Creation when he writes: "For that all things ... created by Him who is God over all, through His Word." Then quoting John 1.3 he continues, "Whom, therefore did He command? The Word, no doubt, by whom, he says, the heavens were established. ... So that he indeed who made all things can along, together with His Word, properly be termed God and Lord." We note the holy spirit is not included in this declaration, as if the spirit could be called God and Lord.
There is no question, Irenaeus believes God the Father is greater in knowledge than the Son, using Matthew 24.36 as proof.
We may strongly affirm that Irenaeus teaches there is only one Supreme God, who is the Father and Creator and that "the Father Himself is alone called God." (Heresies, Book II, XXVIII, 4) We may affirm Irenaeus no where teaches that God is a plurality of three persons; nor does he ever declare the holy spirit to be either a person or God. Irenaeus is henotheistic in his theology.
Who was he?
Justin Martyr was born in Palestine around the year 100 AD and died in Rome around 165 AD. He is considered "one of the most important of the Greek philosopher-apologists in the early church." Among other works, he wrote an apology in appeal to Emperor Titus Caesar and the Roman Senate. He also responded to Trypho the Jew about Christian beliefs.
Was Justin Martyr a Trinitarian?
While many scholars agree the Trinity is not found in the Bible and was a doctrine developed partially in the Fourth Century, other Trinitarians insist Justin Martyr taught the Trinity doctrine. One citation in proof of this is his statement: "For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit they then receive washing with water." (First Apology., LXI)
Though what are called "triune formulas" do occur occasionally in Justin Martyrs works, these fall far short -- just as those few in the Bible -- of the Trinity doctrine. The Trinity doctrine teaches one God who is the plurality of three persons. Does Justin Martyr teach this? We shall examine two of his works to see.
What did Justin Martyr teach about God and Christ?
Though so-called triune formulas are rare in his works, other "formulas" occur more often. For example, consider a tetra, or four-fold formula, in Apology VI: " ... but not with respect to the most true  God, the father ... and the  Son ... and good  angels ... and the prophetic  spirit, we worship and adore." Here Justin Martyr classifies four groups which are worshipped and adored by Christians: God, the Son, the angels, and the prophetic spirit. Note he adds the angels and puts them before what he calls the "prophetic spirit."
Continuing in his work Apology (ch X), Justin Martyr paraphrases John 1.1 with the words: "... the Word, inasmuch as He is divine." This form is identical to modern translations like Goodspeed and Moffatt which translate the anarthrous theos as an adjective.
In chapter XIII, Justin Martyr writes: "We reseaonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all." Justin Martyr makes it clear to Caesar that Jesus is "second and the prophetic spirit "third." It is clear from this that neither Jesus or the spirit is being declared God, for here that designation belongs to the "eternal God, the Creator." We will see later that Justin Martyr is henotheistic in his theology.
In chapter XXI Justin Martyr writes: "And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God was produced ... (in) nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter." Again in chapter XXII, Justin Martyr writes: "Moreover, the Son of God called Jesus, even if only a man by ordinary generation, yet, on account of His wisdom, is worthy o be called the Son of God; for all writers call God the Father of men and gods. And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God." Here Justin Martyr infers the Son is "angelic," something he goes on to do often.
In chapter LI Justin Martyr discusses "the majesty of Christ" and in so doing takes no advantage to describe Jesus as equal to God or of the same substance as God. Rather, Jesus is "the Son of man" who will return one day. In chapter LIII he declares Jesus "the first-born of the unbegotten God." He draws a clear distinction between the begotten Son and the unbegotten God.
Platos Obligation to Moses.
In chapter LIX Justin Martyr accuses the great philosopher Plato of "borrowing" his theology from the Hebrew Moses. This is something Eusebius will take up more than a century later in his Preparation of the Gospel. In chapter LX Justin Martyr writes, "(Plato) borrowed in like manner from Moses (regarding the doctrine of the Cross). .. Which things Plato reading, and not accurately understanding, and not apprehending that it was the figure of the cross, but taking it be a placing crosswise, he said that the power nest to the first God was placed crosswise in the universe. And as to his speaking of a third, (Plato) did this because he read, as we said above, that which was spoken by Moses, that the (Pneuma) of God moved over the waters. (Genesis 1.2) For (Plato) gives the second place to the Logos which is with God, who he said was placed crosswise in the universe; and the third place to the Spirit who was said to be borne upon the water, saying, And the third around the third." Who can deny that Justin Martyr declares Plato has his own triune formula in misunderstanding?
Above Justin Martyr seems to agree with a "first God" and infers a second, though he falls short in declaring a third God, for he no where states the Pneuma is a person at all, but rather the "prophetic spirit."
In chapter LXI Justin Martyr uses a triune formula like Matthew 28.19 when he discusses baptism: "For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit (pneuma), they then receive the washing with water." In this "formula" it is clear only one God is mentioned, the Father. No where does Justin Martyr define what could be called t modern Trinity, or somehow describes God as the plurality of three persons.
In chapter LXIII Justin Martyr describes how God appeared to Moses. First he quotes the "prophetic spirit" through Isaiah and the Son that the Jews did not know their "nameless God"; but, the Son did know the Father, just as the Father knew the Son. Then Justin Martyr writes: "Now the Word of God is His Son, as we have before said. And (the Son) is called Angel and Apostle." To prove this Justin Martyr quotes from Exodus 3.2, "And the Angel of God spoke to Moses ... ", then continuing to explain: "But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels." It is clear Justin Martyr believes the "angel of God" in Exodus 3.2 was the Son of God as the pre-existent Word.
Is the Word "god"?
That Justin Martyr is henotheistic, that is, believing in one Absolute God, and yet affirming the Son and others are also called God, is shown in further in the same chapter mentioned above. He writes: "The Jews, accordingly, being throughout of opinion that it was the Father of the universe who spake to Moses, though He who spake to him was indeed the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle. .. who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets."
Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew
Having explained teachings of Christianity to the Roman Caesar, we now turn to Justin Martyrs dialogue with the Jew Trypho. In the process of convincing the Jew of Christs pre-existence as the Angel of God, Justin Martyr quotes various texts to prove Christ was "Lord of hosts" and a God in Psalm 45. He writes in chapter XXXVI and XXXVIII: "Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts, and Jacob, in parable by he Holy Spirit." Trypho objects: "You seek to persuade us that this crucified man was with Moses and Aaron, and spoke to them in the pillar of the cloud; then that he became man, was crucified, and ascended up to heaven, and comes again to earth, and ought to be worshipped."
As we have seen in early writings of Justin Martyr this "worship" is qualified as it is also applied to the angels. In his quote of Psalm 45 (44 LXX) Justin Martyr shows that there are two Gods: "Thine arrows are sharpened, O mighty One. ... Thy throne, O God, s for ever and ever. ... therefore, thy God hath anointed Thee." And, then the bride in the hymn is called to worship her husband: "The queen stood at Thy right hand ... because He is thy Lord, they shall worship Him also."
In chapter XLVIII, to the Jews objection that it is foolish to think "this Christ existed as God before the ages" Justin Martyr continues to express his own convictions whether provable or not. He says: "This man is the Christ of God ... that He existed formerly as Son of the Maker of all things, being God .. (and) "that He pre-existed."
First Justin Martyr proves that Jesus was indeed the Christ by various prophecies, then in chapter LV Trypho demands: " ... show us that the Spirit of prophecy admits another God (be)sides the Maker of all things." Justin Martyr agrees to prove this and in chapter LVI he takes up the proposition: "God who appeared to Moses is distinguished from God the Father." Whether we agree with Justin Martyr or not, we see he is a henotheist, believing another is also called God.
Justin Martyrs argument is one used elsewhere by himself and others, including over a century later, Eusebius. Justin Martyr references Genesis chapters 18 and 19, "God appeared to (Abraham) under the oak in Mamre. ... (Abraham) saw and behold three men stood before him." Justin Martyr explains to Trypho: "I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures of the truth of what I saw, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to them."
Justin Martyr continues using the Genesis account of Sodom and the angels who came to Lot. Typhro objects: "You have not proved from this that there is another God besides Him who appeared to Abraham." Justin Martyr replies that his purpose was indeed to "have proved to you from the Scriptures that one of those three is God, and is called Angel."
Undaunted Justin Martyr continues: "I shall endeavor to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things, -- numerically, I mean, not in will." Justin Martyr continues with Genesis 19.23 and two Lords and then another person present in the dialogue says: "It most therefore necessarily be said that one of the two angels who went to Sodom, and is named by Moses in the Scripture Lord, is different from Him who also is God and appeared to Abraham."
Justin Martyr continues using Psalm 110.1 with the mention of two "Lords." And, again Psalm 45.6, 7 and two Gods. Then Justin Martyr offers: "If, therefore, you assert that the Holy Spirit calls some other one God and Lord, besides the Father of all things and His Christ, answer me; for I undertake to prove to you from Scriptures themselves, that He whom the Scripture calls Lord is not one of the two angels that went to Sodom, but he who was with them, and is called God, that appeared to Abraham."
Justin Martyr continues with the further account of Lots escape from Sodom when he calls the rescuing angel "Lord." Justin Martyr concludes this: "And now have you not perceived, my friends, that one of three, who is both God and Lord, and minister to Him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels?"
In chapter LVIII Justin Martyr continues: "It is again written by Moses, my brethren, that He who is called God and appeared to the patriarchs is called both Angel and Lord, in order that from this you may understand Him to be minister to the Father of all things." Justin Martyr goes on in further chapters to expand on the same argument that there is another God is who called Angel, Apostle, and Lord.
In chapter LXII Justin Martyr uses Genesis 1.26 and the phrase, "Let us make," to prove "that [God] conversed with someone who was numerically distinct from Himself, and also a rational Being." In following chapters this second "rational Being" is another God, the pre-existent Christ.
That Justin Martyr is clearly henotheistic in his theology, affirming that others are "gods" beside the Father and the Son, is shown in chapter CXXIV, or after quoting Psalm 82.1: "Let the interpretation of the Psalm be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming gods and having power to become sons of the Highest. .. Now I have proved at length that Christ is called God.
In chapter CXXV Justin Martyr writes: "(Christ) ministered to the will of the Father, yet nevertheless is God, in that He is the first-begotten of all creatures." (Compare the KJV Colossians 1.15)
In chapter CXVI Justin Martyr further demonstrates Christ is an angel by alluding to Isaiah 9.6 in the Septuagint where Messiah is called "the Angel of great counsel."
Chapter CXXVII Justin Martyr writes about the Christ: "He existed before the world was made ... His Son, being God, and the Angel because he ministered to His will."
Chapter CXXIX has Justin Martyr quoting Proverbs 8.22 and applies the Wisdom to the Christ: "The Lord created me the beginning of His ways for His works. ... He begets me before all the hills." He adds: "You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit."
Does it not seem clear from Justin Martyr that he was a henotheist who believe in the Supreme God as the Father and Creator of all, though Christ be a second God, and the Church membership as well become "gods" To Justin Martyr the Holy Spirit is the "prophetic spirit." No where does Justin Martyr teach that The Absolute God is a plurality of three persons. He clearly does not teach a Trinity to either Caesar or the Jew.
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