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Is the doctrine of the Trinity taught in the Bible?

Over the past fifteen centuries, the doctrine of the trinity has become the most prominent doctrine -- the primary article of faith -- required of believers in the vast majority of Christian denominations. Catholics and Protestants alike affirm their belief in the trinity when they repeat the Nicene Creed during each worship service. Briefly stated, this doctrine declares that God is one being, but is manifested in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who are of one substance or being, co-equal and co-eternal, equal in glory, uncreated and undivided. Further, it is declared that this unity in trinity and trinity in unity is to be worshipped and that he that is to be saved must worship this trinity.

This belief forms the basis for acceptance of one’s membership within many churches. Yet, if one takes a concordance and searches their Bible, they will not find the word “trinity” in the Old or New Testaments. How did the doctrine of the Trinity become the orthodox teaching of Christianity?

The Gradual Development of the Trinity

God’s people of the Old Testament, the nation of Israel, maintained a belief in one God, the Almighty. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Deuteronomy 6:4 is the prayer offered by Jews over the centuries as an affirmation of their faith in Jehovah, who declared Himself to Moses as “I am that I am” -- the self-existing one (Deuteronomy 32:39). Our Lord Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Christian Church up until the Third Century held to this understanding of God. The writings of the early church fathers from Clement to Tertullian corroborate this.

It was in the dawn of the Fourth Century that differing ideas began to arise regarding the early church’s view of the nature of the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. This was largely due to an influx of ideas arising from developments that led to the worldly elevation of the Church. Rome’s policy of persecution of the Christian faith ended when Constantine became emperor in 312 A.D. His Edicts of Toleration, proclaimed in Milan in 314, allowed freedom and privileges for the Christians. Historians credit this change of heart, not to sympathy with Christianity, but to political need. Constantine was a shrewd ruler, and he knew he had to find a means of binding the vast empire together with something other than military might. Christianity, with its teachings of simple faith, a law-abiding and honest lifestyle, and a non-political respect for civil authority as ordained by God, became regarded as a useful influence upon the crumbling empire.

For this reason, Christian bishops and deacons were supported and courted by the emperor and officials, to the point that Christianity rose from a persecuted minority in its first centuries to the position of Roman State Church by the end of the Fourth Century. During the reign of Constantine, the freedom and privilege extended to the Christians led to many new converts who wished to be in favor with the emperor. Their influence watered down and clouded the clear testimony of Scripture and brought in Pagan concepts which were gradually absorbed by the church. As these mainly Gentile converts had little or no knowledge of the God of the Old Testament Scriptures, their own ideas about the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were often influenced by their pagan ideas. Greek philosophy also strongly influenced this period of the church.

The Council of Nicea

By the year 325 A.D., Christians were divided on the issue of the nature and relationship of God and His Son, Jesus. Constantine saw this issue dividing Christians as a threat to the unity of his empire. He convened a council of about 220 bishops in Nicea in Asia Minor who met for two months to work out a universally acceptable definition of Jesus Christ.

Arius, an influential pastor of Alexandria, represented those who believed that Jesus was a created spiritual being, the Word of God, [Greek: Logos] identified in John 1:1, 14 as subordinate to the Father. The Logos, God’s only begotten son, had a beginning in time before becoming the man Christ Jesus; whereas, Jehovah has no beginning or end.

Athanasius, supporting the other camp, disagreed, arguing that Jesus and God were one being and that Jesus was “True God of True God and of one substance with the Father.” Perhaps the Athanasians, in their desire to preserve the honor due Jesus, took the extreme position of claiming him to be Jehovah himself. And perhaps the Arians, in their desire to emphasize his humanity, neglected to give him the glory due him upon his resurrection.

Constantine, who presided over this Council, demanded that a settlement be reached. With political pressure applied, all but two of the bishops agreed to a new creed to replace the non-Trinitarian Apostles’ Creed, which had been a brief statement of faith guiding the early church based upon the Apostles’ doctrine. This new Nicene Creed declared Jesus to be God of God, Light of Light, and Very God of Very God and of one substance with the Father. Arius was excommunicated and exiled by the emperor. The Holy Spirit was not included in the discussions of this Council, but was added later in the Fifth Century in the Athanasian Creed, which identified the Holy Spirit as a person who shared co-equality and co-eternity with the Father and the Son.

But the matter was not so easily settled. Constantine had to intervene in several continuing disputes, and succeeding emperors supported one side or the other with much blood shed by each side over this subject. Eventually, force of arms and political support saw the Trinitarian side become the orthodox view of the Church.

The Bible’s Testimony

The word “Father” signifies “life giver”; whereas “son” signifies “one who has received life from a father.” Jesus’ own words make his subordinate position as a son clear:

“…for my Father is greater than I….” John 14:28

“…I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God.” John 20:17

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” John 7:17

“…and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Corinthians 11:3

“Then cometh the end when he [Christ] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God [Jehovah], even the Father,… For he [Jehovah] hath put all things under his [Christ’s] feet. But when he [Jehovah] saith all things are put under him [Christ], it is manifest that he [Jehovah] is excepted, which did put all things under him [Christ]. 1 Corinthians. 15:24, 27

Jesus is identified as a created spirit being, the son of Jehovah God, who was begotten by Him before all things created. He was the Logos, the Word of God, who was responsible for all of Jehovah God’s creation (Colossians 1:16). Jesus “was made flesh” (John 1:14) that he might pay the debt for Adam’s sin and redeem mankind. He was raised from the tomb and given the divine nature, immortal life, and now sits at the right hand of Jehovah God (Hebrews 1:3).

“…These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness [Jesus], the beginning of the creation of God.” Revelation 3:14

“The LORD [Jehovah] possessed [Hebrew: qanah-created] me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was…Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.” Proverbs 8:22-30

In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.” The unity spoken of here is not a physical unity, but a unity of purpose, of will. Jesus claims not to be God, but to be a representative of Jehovah God in verse 25: “Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believe not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.” This same thought is repeated in John 17:11, “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou has given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Christians do not ever become physically part of God, but they become one of mind and purpose with God when they follow his commandments. As Jesus goes on to say in John 17:22, 23, “And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me…”

We who are called to follow Christ believe that it was the “man Christ Jesus” who died for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. This is the doctrine of Christ spoken of by the Apostle John (2 John 9). A clear understanding of this doctrine enables us to comprehend why Jesus came to earth and what his death and resurrection actually accomplished.

If this newsletter has raised questions in your mind as to what the Scriptures really teach on this subject, we invite you to send for the following from our Orders page:

The Lord our God is one Lord (39-page. booklet)
(A Scriptural Evaluation of the Trinity)

The Doctrine of Christ (84-page booklet)
(In-depth analysis of the doctrine and nature of Jesus Christ)

The Atonement Between God and Man (499-page hardcover book)

Hartford Bible Students * P.O. Box 493 * Manchester, CT 06045

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Last modified: 11/09/13