Reviewing Early Christian Doctrines – 3rd Century Trinitarianism (pt1)

*Please start here, read this, and then help with the discussion. This issue is a cornerstone issue and deserves a great deal of time.

As the Church moved into the Third Century, it was immediately besieged by heresies of various strips. Having dealt with the Gnosticism and other heresies (although even now, these ancient error filled doctrines erupt), which focused on the unity of God, the philosophers in the ranks begin to explore doctrine while pushing the Body of Christ into news areas and new thoughts. In the closing years of the previous century, we had seen the notion of an economic Deity settle into a language that focused on the οικονομία (economy) which is a biblical word; however, the thoughts of the philosophers moved beyond biblical words, concepts, and thoughts.

Dr. Kelly (pg 109) says that the success of the explanation of the Economy caused a ‘powerful reaction’ in circles that shied away from the Logos doctrine, citing that it ‘imperiled the divine unity.’ This led to two courses of thought that are often confused in the minds of Trinitarians. In discussing this, it is wise to understand that the modern ‘Church world’ sees both of these in the same light, as heretical factions; however, oneness believers see the latter as the true and authentic faith of the Church. In light of a Trinitarian’s – ancient and modern – what is known as monarchism close to ‘oneness’ doctrine but yet fails in several points, some which will be discussed at a later point.

Tertullian, the dread of every ‘oneness’ believer, was a theologian from the north African city of Carthage who along with the Roman Hippolytus begin to issue statements which would later mature at Nicaea. Dr. Kelly makes the point that these two figures of the past has no standing as official spokesmen for the Church. In ‘defending’ the Christian faith, both became schismatics – Tertullian with his Montanism, and Hippolytus with his schism against the Roman Bishop. The theology of these two no less great thinkers begin to involve, even more so than Clement and Origen, a brand of philosophy that seemed to ground itself in Christianity, but bore marks of outside influences. Tertullian wrote ‘before all things God was alone, being His own universe, location, everything. He was alone, however, in the sense that there was nothing external to Himself. But even then He was not really along, for He had with Him that Reason which He possessed within Himself, that is to say, His own Reason.’ (pg 111, citing Avd. Prax 5). Further, Tertullian constitutes the word as ‘a second in addition to Himself’ (secundum a se). This language is more philosophical than biblical, more Alexandrine than Antioch.

According to Hippolytus, alongside ‘the Father, there was another, a second Person, while the Spirit completed the Triad. (pg112 citing C. Noetus 7.11,14). According to Dr. Kelly, this fails squarely against the economic Deity as held by the Apologists, especially Irenaeus. As Dr. Kelly said (pg107-8), ‘Its second-century traits stand out clearly, particularly is representation of the Triad by the imagery, not of three coequal person…but rather of a single personage, the Father Who is the Godhead Itself, with His mind, or rationality, and His wisdom.’ In the matter of half a century, Christian had gone from recognizing one Person to recognizing three persons. His language, like Justin, has a ‘subordinationist ring’.

Hippolytus was ‘reluctant to designate the Word as the Son’ until the Incarnation while Tertullian ‘followed the Apologists in dating His ‘perfect generation, ‘’ meaning that the Word was generated before Creation. Before that, Tertullian has to admit that God ‘could not strictly be said to have a Son’. It is noteworthy that Dr. Kelly states that during the time of Tertullian and Hippolytus, the ‘Father’ began to take on more of a parental definition in relation to the ‘Son’. Later in the Third Century, Novatian refuses to tie the ‘generation of the Son to creation’ (pg 125) because it was illogical for God to be a Father and not have had a Son. This begins to show that the idea of God changed considerably – from first principle to parent; with that change, God changed from the economic Deity of the Apologists to a for now a firm bi-personal deity of the early Third Century.

Tertullian, our favorite dread, is a large focus on early Third Century thought and is often credited with the first use of the word Trinity (trinitas). He believes that the three – Father, Son, Spirit – are numerically distinct, ‘capable of being counted’. He states, ‘We believe in one only God, yet subject to this dispensation, which is our word for the economy, that the one only God has also a Son, His Word, Who has issued out of Himself…which Son then sent, according to His promise, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, out of the Father’. Clearly ignoring Paul’s written command of refraining from going beyond what is written[1], Tertullian adds a pre-Nicene creed to the belief of the Apostles and the Apologists of the One God.

Although Tertullian believes that Stoicism had no place in Christianity[2], Dr. Kelly (pg 114) points out that his background of ideas was in fact Stoic, as he ‘regarded the divine spirit as a highly rarefied species of matter’. It is because of this that Tertullian can say ‘the Father is the whole substance, while the Son is a derivation from and the portion of the whole’ while not believing that the ‘potion’ (portio) is not a literal severance. According to Dr. Kelly, Tertullian ‘dismisses the idea that the Person can be three in ‘status, substance of power; as regards these the Godhead is indivisibly one, and the threeness applies only to the ‘grade’, or ‘aspect’, or ‘manifestation’ in which the Persons or presented.

Citing an advance on Irenaeus, Dr. Kelly says that both Hippolytus and Tertullian leaped over the Apologists in:

  • Their attempts to make explicit the oneness of the divine power or substance of which the Three were expressions or forms
  • Their recognition of ‘Them’ as Person.

Yet, in their expression of the Godhead switching from ‘it’ or ‘him’ to ‘them’, Dr. Kelly says that for these two thinkers, the Godhead is indivisible and ‘are one identical being.’ It is during this time that the Latin ‘persona,’ or ‘mask,’ becomes a word for theological use.

Dynamic Monarchianism is not worthy spending much time on it, since ‘oneness’ believers and Trinitarians both see it as a heresy, but is worth nothing that Dr. Kelly sees the classification of this heresy as Monarchianism as an interpretation of ‘adoptionism and Modalism as misguided attempts to salvage the Bible dogma that God is one.’ Although this heresy persisted for sometime and erupted on the modern scene in some small way as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it serves very little in a discussion of the Trinity and Oneness doctrine.

What is usually called ‘oneness,’ Modalism,’ or ‘Modalistic Monarchianism, is held by a large number of people who profess Christianity. It is what is usually thought of when people say ‘Pentecostal.’ Seeing a supposed revival in the early part of the 20th century, ‘oneness’ doctrine is pointed at by many Trinitarians as an ancient heresy on the level of adoptionism and Gnosticism; ‘Oneness’ believers see themselves as the continuation of the ‘New Testament Church’, of the ‘Apostles’ Doctrine’, or simple in the line of Peter and Paul.

Dr. Kelly (pg119) says that Modalism was formulated in response to the increasing amount of importance that the Logos Doctrine began to have. Further, he states that it was to counter the efforts of ‘theologians to represent the Godhead as having revealed Itself in the economy as tri-personal’. It must be noted, that a oneness believer would have no problem in subscribing to the Economy as described by Dr. Kelly in pointing to the Apologists, but oneness does have a problem in the Deity as being represented as ‘tri-personal’. Dr. Kelly readily reminds us again that the term ‘Father’ did not carry the same wait for the Apologists, and hence the Apostles, as it did for Tertullian and Hippolytus, and it was this added weight that Modalists fought against.

Modalists argue(d) that the Word that emanated from the Father was verbally distinct, verses numerically, being a projection of the Father. Of the promoters of this language, we know very little. Nothing of their actual work survives; only their words and the interpretations of those words survive in the mouth of their opponents. Of Noetus, Sabellius, and Praxeas, we have a history spoiled by the victors of vigorous theological debates. We have Patripassianism, or the belief that the Father suffered, only the mouth of Tertullian and other Trinitarians. In it, Dr. Kelly says that a corollary exists that the Father suffered and ‘underwent Christ’s other human experiences.’ If this is truly Patripassianism, then this too is foreign to a biblical understanding of God.

Noetus is said to have pointed to the Scriptures for his support[3] and to his accusers he would retort ‘What wrong have I done, glorifying one only God, Christ, Who was born, suffered and died?’ He was condemned, his detractors tell us, with the Elders using the Rule of Faith. His disciple, however, escaped and finding himself in Rome he found a pupil in Cleomenes during the bishopric of Zephyrinus. (198-217). It is this Bishop of Rome that Hippolytus would find himself set against which would force schism in Rome. Cleomenes, according to Hippolytus, ‘believed in one identical Godhead Which could be designated indifferently Father or Son; the terms did not stand for real distinctions, but were mere names applicable at different times.’ This seems to align itself with the modern Modalistic creed (Father in Creation, Son in Redemption, Holy Spirit in Regeneration); however it is not biblical and has no real support in history or Tradition.

Dr. Kelly commits an error by accepting Hippolytus’ unconditional comparison of Heraclitus and Modalism, forgetting that it was Justin that used Heraclitus for the basis of his own Logos Doctrine. Only in the works of Hippolytus do we read of Heraclitus and Modalism, so that the comparison is made by an opponent and not by the Modalists.

Praxeas is still a mystery, Dr. Kelly points out, in that he is a ‘shadowy figure’ whose given name may well be a nickname or a pseudonym for Callistus. His doctrine was that the Father and the Son are one identical person, with the Word having no independent subsistence. It was the Father who became His own Son and in the person of the Son, was born, suffered and died. He being invisible became visible; impassible became passible. This doctrine would be acceptable to the modern oneness believer, yet, Praxeas did not stop there. He proceeding, in an almost Dynamic fashion, Praxeas held that the ‘man Jesus was, strictly speaking, the Son, while the Christ, i.e. the divine element was properly the Father’. For Praxeas, which was an improvement on Noetus, the Son suffered while the Father co-suffered. Dr. Kelly rightly points out that this was close to the adoptionism of the heretics that followed Theodotus, but he fails to note that at no time did Praxeas call Jesus an inspired man. (pg 121)

On Sabellius, Modalism took a deeper stand on Scripture. The ‘author’ of the doctrine was attacked by Hippolytus, and many others throughout history, but enjoyed the confidence of Callistus, Zephyrinus’ successor but would later be excommunicated by him. This ‘sophisticated Modalism’ as Dr. Kelly calls it (pg 121) attempted to meet objections. Again, Sabellius is only seen through the lenses of history, and those lenses were created by his detractors. Even Dr. Kelly says ‘Unfortunately we cannot be sure all the details of the position…can be attributed to Sabellius himself.’ Most of the evidence about Sabellius comes from over a century after his lifetime when his theology ‘and that of the much more familiar Marcellus of Ancyra were hopelessly confused.

This Modalist view the Godhead as a monad, using the Sun with the warmth and light that it generates as an analogy. ‘The Father was…the form of essence, and the Son and the Spirit His modes of self-expression.’ He believe that the divine monad experienced ‘dilation’ so that the ‘Father by process of development projecting Himself first as Son and then as Spirit. For Sabellius, the Godhead was ‘’law-giver’ as the Father’ while in redemption ‘It was projected like a ray of sun, and then was withdrawn’; then It ‘operated as Spirit to inspire and bestow grace.’ Here we see a fuller expression of the modern oneness creed.

Both Zephyrinus and Callistus ‘sympathized with the widespread popular reaction against the theories of Hippolytus and Tertullian, which they regarded as leading to ditheism. In standing against the encroachment of the tri-personal view of the Godhead, Zephyrinus said ‘I know of only God, Christ Jesus, and none other Who was born and suffered’. In this statement is summed the correct the Modalistic attitude towards the Godhead. It is these ‘simple and uncultured’ Christians (from the words of Tertullian) that view the new talk (Dr. Kelly’s words) of ‘Persons’ of the Godhead with ‘unconcealed suspicion’. The Bishop, although resenting the ditheism sounding of the new ‘Persons’, still sought to make the distinction between the Father and the Son clear, by adding to the above statement ‘it was not the Father Who died, but the Son’.

Callistus was similar in his doctrine to his predecessor. According to Dr. Kelly, the bishop placed great emphasis on the divine unity. For him, God constituted one object of presentation – the one Personage of the Apologists. He did, however, admit the distinction of the Father and the Word, which became the Son in the historical Incarnation. He maintained that they ‘are one and same reality.’ ‘The Word was not ‘another alongside the Father’. He maintained the doctrine of co-suffering, as it was the divine spirit that the Father was that was identical with the Word. Dr. Kelly calls Zephyrinus and Callistis ‘conservatives holding fast to a Monarchian tradition which antedated the movement of thought inaugurated by the Apologists.’ The only group that antedated the Apologists were the Apostles themselves.

[1] I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other. (1Co 4:6 NET)

[2] “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.”

[3] Exodus 3.6 with 20.3; Isaiah 44.6 with 45.14 and “This is our God, and there shall none other be accounted of in comparison of him He hath found out all the way of knowledge, and hath given it unto Jacob his servant, and to Israel his beloved. Afterward did he shew himself upon earth, and conversed with men. “ (Bar 3:35-37 KJV) As well as John 10.30, 14.8-10 and Romans 9.5. Even Dr. Kelly says that these Scriptures ‘seemed to point to the identity of Father and Son.

Reviewing Early Christian Doctrines – The Divine ‘Triad’ (pt2)

*Note: This is the second part, and much delayed review/response. I have tried to narrow in on some main points that I hope can lead to further discussion. I am intrigued by the early ‘economic Trinity’ as expressed by Irenaeus and others and hope to study more on it. Until then, perhaps we can discuss this issues here.

In studying Ignatius, we are led to believe that this disciple of Peter at Antioch was the surest example of Apostolic preaching in the early Church, after all, he calls Christ God and dates the divine Sonship form the incarnation (Kelly, pg 92). In the Epistle to the Magnesians 8.2, Ignatius declares that there is ‘one God, Who has revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is His Word emerging from silence.’ Further, Christ is the ‘unlying mouth by which the Father spoke truly.’ Dr. Kelly rightly first surmises that Ignatius is an ‘economic Trinitarian’, meaning that he ‘regard God as an undifferentiated monad in His essential being, the Son and the Spirit being merely forms of modes of the Father’s self-revelation, only distinguishable from Him in the process of revelation.’ (pg93). If the common Modalist or oneness believer will step away from the word ‘Trinitarian’, it is easy to see that Dr. Kelly has defined the common definition of the oneness doctrine. It is God who has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ, the distinction being at the moment of Incarnation and thus ending at the Ascension.

Unfortunately, neither Dr. Kelly nor Trinitarians stop the analysis there; he goes on to say that the definition that is so easily applied to Ignatius’ view of the Deity is wrong and ‘misleading’, yet it is there definition of the Trinity that is retro-applied in order to see Ignatius in the Trinitarian light. However, in doing so and in trying to state the proof of such a belief, he gives us further examples that Ignatius believed in an economic Deity. In the same epistle as above, Ignatius states that the Word ‘existed with the Father before the ages’ while expressing an emanatist theology as found in Wisdom (7.25-26) and Hebrews (1.3) when he says that Christ ‘came forth from the unique Father, was with Him and has returned to Him’ (6.1; 7.2). This is not difficult for a Modalist with an economic view of the Deity. Dr. Kelly finishes his thoughts on Ignatius by acknowledging ‘the only hint he (Ignatius) gives of the nature of this distinction within the unity of the divine spirit is that Christ is the Father’s ‘thought’ (pg93).

Not wishing to spend too much time on the relative unknown Hermas, Dr. Kelly notes that the Shepherd confuses the Spirit with the Son of God, possibly leading to a dyadic view of the Godhead. It is also noted that Hermas seems to view Christ in adoptionist terms as he points to the flesh of Jesus as a ‘partner with the Holy Spirit.’ On the other hand, Hermas follows the so far Tradition view that the distinction begins at the Incarnation. (pg94)

Dr. Kelly notes (pg95) that the evidence that is collected from the Apostolic Fathers is ‘meager, and tantalizingly inconclusive’ although he notes that the pre-existence of Christ was ‘generally taken for granted, as was His role in creation as well as redemption.’ These themes coalesce with Pauline and Johannine thought as well as the Wisdom Tradition in Late Judaism, however ‘of a doctrine of the Trinity in the strict sense there is of course no sign, although the Church’s triadic formula left its mark everywhere’. Can there be a triadic formula without the Trinity as developed through Nicaea and Chalcedon? Only in a proper theology, such as Modalism, or as Dr. Kelly said, ‘economic Trinitarianism’.

Dr. Kelly (pg95) says that the Apologists were the first to try to fit the Gospel into an intellectual framework, proposing a solution which essentially was ‘a pre-existent Christ’ was ‘the Father’s thought or mind and that as manifested in creation and revelation, He was its extrapolation or expression.’ This, of course, was essentially the doctrine of the Logos, however it must be reminded that of the 330 times that the Greek logos is used in the New Testament, only four times does it carry theological implications, and only by John. While many continued to seek the meaning of logos in the Stoics or in Philo, they failed to use the Scriptures that the Church already had which was Wisdom. Even Dr. Kelly admits that the early Church choose Philo and his use of logos than John’s, which does give way to a distinction, more so than either John or Wisdom’s author intended. In using Greek philosophy, they gained the idea of a technical distinction from Stoicism, which gave Christianity the philosophy of the immanent word and the word uttered.

This teaching, according to Dr. Kelly, first clearly appears Justin who used Greek philosophy to underlie any thought that he had. He even went so far as to declare that long dead pagans, such as Hereclitus (c600B.C.), were in fact Christians because they had developed the philosophy of the logos. It was this Logos, that had ‘united men to God’ in order that they would have ‘knowledge of Him’ that Justin said became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. According to Dr. Kelly, the logos/Christ was not merely distinct in name only, but also ‘numerically’ (quoting Justin). This development was supported by three points, namely:

· The alleged appearances of God in the Old Testament which suggests that ‘below the Creator of all things there is Another Who is, and is called, God and Lord’, since it is inconceivable that the ‘Master and Father of all things should have abandoned all supercelestial affairs and made Himself visible in a minute corner of the world’.

  • Frequent Old Testament passages which represent God as conversing with another, ‘Who is presumable a rational being like Himself’
  • The Wisdom Texts, such as Proverbs 8.22, since ‘everyone must agree that the offspring is other than its begetter.

Justin would say of the logos that ‘having been put forth as an offspring from the Father, was with Him before all creatures, and the Father had converse with Him’ but that he was ‘adorable, He is God’ while also saying ‘we adore, next to God, the Logos derived from the increate and ineffable God, seeing that for our sakes He became man.’ A quick glance as Dr. Kelly’s quotes from Justin seems to display that Justin say the Logos as a separate being. Further, Justin, in his 1st Apology (13.3) seemed to speak of the Logos as a ‘second God’ and worshipped ‘in a secondary rank’. (pg101). Justin also made an attempt to ‘extract testimony to His (the ‘prophetic Spirit’) as a third divine being from Plato’s writings’ (pf100).

Tatian, as we know, was a disciple of Justin and employed the same language as Justin in dealing with the Logos. Like Justin, Tatian, saw the Logos as being ‘born’ but not being severed from the essence that is God. This is clearly a Trinitarian concept from the West. However, Tatian had a sharper context of the Logos than Justin, especially when it came to the generation of the Logos. According to Tatian, ‘before creation God was alone, the Logos being immanent in Him as His potentiality for creating all tings, but at the moment of creation He leaped froth from the Father as His ‘primordial work’. Here again, we see a great divergence from biblical concepts, words, and ideas.

  1. Dr. Kelly (pg100) makes two points in the Apologists’ ‘which, because of their far-reaching importance, must be heavily underlined:
  2. For all of these Apologists, the ‘description ‘God the Father’ connoted, not the first Person of the Holy Trinity, but the one Godhead considered as author of whatever exists’
  3. All, ‘Athenagoras included, dated the generation of the Logos, and so His eligibility for the title ‘Son’, not from his origination within the being of the Godhead, but from His emission’ or emanation ‘for the purposes of creation, revelation, and redemption.’

Dr. Kelly wants a firm grasp on these two concepts or he fears that a distorted view of their theology is likely to happen. Two ‘stock criticisms’, as Dr. Kelly says, are that ‘they failed to distinguish the Logos from the Father until He was required for the work of creation, and that, as a corollary, they were guilty of subordinating the Son to the Father. Remember, Nicaea established that the Son and the Spirit were co-eternal with the Father, and all three ungenerate, yet, the early Apologists lined upon with each other, and with the view of ‘oneness’ doctrine, that the Logos was generated for a certain purpose, and like the economic view of the Deity, once those purposes were completed, the distinction ceased.

In discussing the Apologists and the Trinity, Dr. Kelly fails to take into context the word ‘trinity’ in Theophilus’ writings, who was the first person to use this word. To quote Theophilus,

But the moon wanes monthly, and in a manner dies, being a type of man; then it is born again, and is crescent, for a pattern of the future resurrection. In like manner also the 101 three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.

If we were but to stop reading at this point, we would understand that Theophilus did indeed see a Trinity of persons, or at least was driving that way, however, Theophilus continued his words with,

And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man.

The Greek is ‘Τριάδος’. The Trinitarian claim about Theophilus is based on a misunderstood and mistranslated passage in his writings. It is mistranslated because trinity is not a Greek word. Thus, the proper translation would be: ‘In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the three of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.’ Adding to the three of God, is a fourth, that of man. It would be somewhat in error to say that Humanity is a Fourth Person in the Godhead.

In discussing the third Person of the Trinity, we find little evidence in the Apologists for the inclusion of the Spirit, for Dr. Kelly says, ‘Yet, as compared with their thought about the Logos, the Apologists appear to have been extremely vague as to the exact status and role of the Spirit.’ Even as late as 380, Gregory Nazianzus said, “Of the wise among us, some consider the Holy Ghost an influence[1], others a creature, others God himself, and again others know not which way to decide, from reverence, as they say, for the Holy Scripture, which declares nothing exact in the case. For this reason they waver between worshipping and not worshipping the Holy Ghost, and strike a middle course, which is in fact, however, a bad one”[2]

Dr. Kelly, showing that the ‘thought was highly confused’ says that Justin ‘attributes the inspiration of the prophets to the Logos’ while Theophilus ‘suggests that it was the Logos Who, being divine spirit, illuminated their minds.’ Justin fails to even assign a place for the Spirit in the incarnation. He assigned the ‘power of the Most High’, as recorded in Luke 1.35, not as the Spirit, but as the Logos, ‘Whom he envisaged as entering the womb of the Blessed Virgin and acting as agent of His won incarnation.’ Somehow, it seems that Justin missed the first part of the verse, which in its entirety reads:

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luk 1:35 NKJV)

Dr. Kelly notes that much of Justin’s language points to a ‘subpersonal’ Spirit, but approaches the personal when he speaks of the ‘prophetic Spirit’. Returning to a thought made before, Justin further regulates the Spirit to a third rank, after Christ.

Irenaeus seems to undertake the economic Deity and expound upon it. He could claim that ‘by the very essence and nature of His being there is but one God’ and yet ‘according to the economy of our redemption there are both Father and Son.’ Dr. Kelly makes mention that Irenaeus had a ‘firmer grasp and more explicit statement of this notion of ‘the economy’’. Applying Dr. Kelly’s definition of the ‘economy’, it is believable that Modalism as presently understood existed as a doctrine – more so than the Trinity – from the time of the Apostles to Irenaeus, as we have seen. (It is interesting to note Dr. Kelly’s comments that for Irenaeus, ‘Son’ and ‘Word’ are merely synonyms, as this author believes.)

In exploring the Spirit and Irenaeus, Dr. Kelly says, ‘although Irenaeus nowhere expressly designates Him God’ the Spirit clearly ‘ranked as divine in his yes’. In this picture, Kelly (pg107) states that ‘we have …the most complete, and also most explicitly Trinitarian, to be met with before Tertullian.’ Yet, he goes on to issue was is an economic view of the Deity, and a rather modalistic view as well, that what Irenaeus lacks is a picture of co-equality, ‘but rather of a single personage, the Father Who is Godhead Itself, with His mind, or rationality, and His wisdom.’ This, Kelly states, is because of their ‘fundamental tenet of monotheism’ going on to say that this type of thought ‘has been given the label ‘economic Trinitarianism’, but caution is well heeded. This term, like the term Trinity, is only backwards applied, yet in the concept of ‘economic Trinitarianism’ we find striking similarity to oneness doctrine, minus the unbiblical words of ‘economy’ and ‘Trinity’.

[1] Or, emanation

[2] History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.

Reviewing Early Christian Doctrines – The Divine 'Triad' (pt1)

Note: I had to break the discussion on this chapter up into two. I will post the other one, I hope, something this afternoon or perhaps later tonight.

In the first section of this chapter, Dr. Kelly exposes us to some of the early writers who readily defined God as one, as Creator and as Father only in the aspect of His creator ship. He states (pg83) that “‘Father’ (in this period) referred primarily to His role as creator and author of all things. This comes at the end of a series of statements where Hermas writes (88-97) that the first commandment is to ‘believe that God is one, Who created and established all things, bringing them into existence out of non-existence’. Moving to Clement of Rome (88-99), we read that Clement saw God as ‘the Father and creator of the entire cosmos’ while for Barnabas (c100), He is ‘our maker’. Kelly acknowledges that this ideas derived directly from the Bible and from latter-day Judaism, and rarely from the philosophy of the day. Acknowledging this leads us to ask, ‘if the bible was a sturdy foundation for these first generation writers, then what lead to the change?’

The Apologists, those coming after the Apostles, seemed to flirt with the idea of secular thought (i.e., paganism and philosophy) as a defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Doctrine of the Church. This, however, is an interpretation 1800 years removed. Dr. Kelly, citing on the first apologist, Aristides of Athens, says he opened his letter to the emperor Hadrian with a demonstration of God’s existence based on Aristotle’s argument from motion[1]. (pg84) Aristides does go one to acknowledge only one God, ‘and apart from Him worship no other God.

In moving to Justin Martyr, Kelly focuses on his language ‘strongly colored’ by the ‘Platonizing Stoicism of the day’. Tertullian, separate from Justin by the Mediterranean Sea, stated,

“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.

Justin, however, felt completely comfortable combining Christian doctrine with pagan philosophy, establishing an Academy instead of teaching from the Porch. The Martyr went so far as to sincerely hold to the notion that the great Greek thinkers ‘had access to the works of Moses’. Kelly points out that much of Justin can be found in Plato’s Timaeus (pg84) ‘which Justin supposed to be akin to, and borrowed from, that contained in Genesis’. For Justin, God was ‘everlasting, ineffable and without name, changeless and impassable, and ingenerate’. He is also ‘Creator of the Universe, maker and Father of all things; Himself above being, He is the cause of all existence.’ It is worth nothing that Justin’s conversion experience[2] leaves doubt in the mind of the modern believer as to the intentions of the philosopher. Was it repentance or merely a search for purer philosophy that attracted Justin to Christianity?

The era of the Reformation has not been kind to Justin. Flacius[3] discovered “blemishes” in Justin’s theology, which he attributed to the influence of pagan philosophers; and in modern times Semler[4] and S.G. Lange have made him out a thorough Hellene, while Semisch and Otto defend him from this charge. In opposition to the school of Ferdinand Christian Baur[5], who considered him a Jewish Christian, Albrecht Ritschl[6] has pointed out that it was precisely because he was a Gentile Christian that he did not fully understand the Old Testament foundation of Paul’s teaching, and explained in this way the modified character of his Paulinism and his legal mode of thought. M. von Engelhardt has attempted to extend this line of treatment to Justin’s entire theology, and to show that his conceptions of God, of free will and righteousness, of redemption, grace, and merit prove the influence of the cultivated Greek pagan world of the second century, dominated by the Platonic and Stoic philosophy[7].

Kelly then moves to Tatian, the pupil of Justin, however, Tatian is a worthy mention. According to Irenaeus, was expelled from the Roman Church because of his encratitic ways. This is a heretical sect which Tatian is accused of starting which attempted to live a very ascetic way of live, forbidding marriage and abstaining from meat. Supposedly his excommunication was a result of his following of Valentinus the Gnostic, of course, this did not stop Tatian from establishing a school of thought as well as, as some say, teaching Clement of Alexandria.

Kelly then goes on to mention Theophilus and Athenagoras in describing creation ex nihilo. It is interesting to here Theophilus’ description of God, which Kelly relates,

‘Without beginning because uncreated, immutable because immortal, Lord because He is Lord over all things, Father because He is prior to all things, most high because He is above all things, almighty because he holds all things; for the heights of the heavens, the depths of the abysses and the ends of the world are in His hands’.

It is noteworthy because of what is lacking: any notion of a ‘Son’ and thus a traditional understanding of the Father-Son relationship in the Trinity. We also see that the notion of ‘Father’ and ‘Almighty’ is in line with Clement of Alexandria and Barnabas. Even here, in the philosophers, we fail to find any mention of the Father as described in the Trinity.

Theophilus was ‘particularly critical of the Platonic notion of the eternity of matter, arguing that, if it were true, God could not be the creator of all thing, and therefore His ‘monarchy’, i.e His position of sole first principle, must go by the board, ‘ says Dr. Kelly. We have to first understand that if Clement (who was in the apostolic succession from Peter) as well as these early Apologists, never used the word ‘Father’ in relation to an co-eternal Son, then the idea of a Trinity as proposed by Nicaea is unknown to the Apostles. If, as according to Theophilus, God is the sole source, the first principle of Creation, then that means that the Wisdom and the Word, or the Spirit and the Son, are created beings at the very least, dismissing the notion that later develops that the Son and the Spirit are both co-eternal with the Father.

Dr. Kelly moves to Irenaeus, often times called the first Orthodox theologian for this strict adherence to Tradition. The author states that the task of this theologian was different that that of the Apologists, ‘being to rebut the Gnostics’ theology of a hierarchy of aeons descending from an unknowable Supreme God.’ Dr. Kelly provides us with texts to make the position taken by Irenaeus clear. In Haer. 2, I, I, Irenaeus states:

It is clear that we should start with the first, most important proposition, vis. God the Creator (a demiurgo deo), Who made heave and earth and everything in them, the God Whom they (the Gnostics) blasphemously describe as an abortive product; and that we should show that there is nothing above or after Him…since He is alone God, alone Lord, alone creator, alone Father, and alone contains all things and bestows existence on them’.

In another work, Irenaeus cites the first article of faith as:

God the Father, increate, unengendered, invisible, one and only Deity, creator of the universe.

Irenaeus taught that “God exercises His creative activity through His Word and His Wisdom, or Spirit, and was a firm believer in creation ex nihilo, point out that ‘mean indeed cannot make anything out of nothing, but only of material already before them.’” We fail to see yet a clear distinction, in the vein of the Trinity, in the words of Irenaeus. It is by the Word (which is Christ) that God creates, yet Irenaeus does seem to argue with Paul who said that Christ was the Wisdom of God[8]. Kelly goes on to say that Irenaeus, in his war waged against the Gnostics, believed ‘every subordinate emanation must share the nature of its principle, but thy very notion of Godhead excludes a plurality of Gods.’ (pg87)

Irenaeus says, ‘Either there must be one God Who contains all things and has made every creature according to His will: or there must be many indeterminate creators or gods, each beginning and ending at his place in the series’, and in saying such, Irenaeus stands as an accuser of the Trinity belief that God is divisible, and that each Person of the Godhead, distinct from one another, has only a place in a series.

Moving into the section which Dr. Kelly has named ‘The Church’s Faith’, he notes that the New Testament, yet uncanonized by the middle of the Second Century, was exerting a ‘powerful influence’. Dr. Kelly also notes ‘how deeply the conception of a plurality of divine Persons was imprinted on the apostolic tradition and the popular faith’ ignoring Tertullian’s quote that the majority of believers knew of only Person in the Godhead, assuming that a plurality lead to paganism. Dr. Kelly does, however, being to build the concept that the dyadic and triadic pattern of the Godhead began to take shape; however, he ignores the monad creeds that are found on the pages of Holy Writ, namely:

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.

(1Ti 3:16 NKJV)

That if you will profess with your mouth that Jesus is God, and will believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved!

(Rom 10:9 CTV-NT)

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider Deity something to be held so tightly to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

(Php 2:5-8 CTV-NT

It must be noted that these early ‘creeds’ of the Church exhibited only a monad theology, that Jesus Christ was God.

Moving to the issue of baptism, Dr. Kelly notes that the baptismal rite provides evidence of a triadic formula of the Godhead, yet throughout Acts and even into the epistles baptism is seen only in the name of Jesus Christ. Many scholars even today note that the original formula of baptism was in the singular name while Catholic commentators often note the doubt as to the validity of the tri-part name in Matthew 28:19, yet Dr. Kelly fails to acknowledge these meager facts that demonstrate that the early Church’s baptism, in line with the Apostles, was first changed which led to a triadic view of the Godhead.

How ever, Dr. Kelly does bring to light that Justin first used a dyadic formula for baptism and only later changed it to use the third part, that of the Spirit. In the earlier models, Justin would quote ‘In the name of God the Father and master of all things, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, they are washed in the water’ while later, he added in great detail, ‘in the name of God the Father and master of all things, of Jesus Christ, Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate’, and of the Holy Spirit, Who foretold by the prophets the whole story of Jesus’. This of course greatly adds to both baptismal formulas (Matthew 28.19 and Acts 2.38).

If baptism was a keystone in the development of the Godhead, then the Apostles who baptized only in the name of Jesus Christ would surely have failed to recognize the Trinity doctrine that developed later from the heavy reliance upon the singular instance in the New Testament of baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Moving into the Apostolic Fathers, the apocryphal book of 2nd Clement opens with the monad formula,

Brethren, we ought so to think of Jesus Christ, as of God, as of the Judge of quick and dead. 2Clem 1:1

And again, the author says,

If Christ the Lord who saved us, being first spirit, then became flesh, and so called us, in like manner also shall we in this flesh receive our reward. 2Clem. 9:5

Neither of these statements lead to a dyadic formula, but rather seeing on Christ, as God, as a Spirit. Barnabas seems to have the same problem in placing the ‘spirit’ as an adjective instead of a person. In 7.3 and 11.9 the author of Barnabas calls the body of Christ the vessel of spirit, ‘presumably denoting by the word the spiritual nature of the diving element in the Lord.’ (pg91). It must also be fairly noted that the Epistle of Barnabas was not written by Paul’s companion and John Mark’s uncle; however, this book does given prominence to the pre-existence of Christ, for as Dr. Kelly points out Barnabas says that it is Christ whom God spoke to in Genesis 1.26.

[1] “And I perceived that the world and all that is therein are moved by the power of another; and I understood that he who moves them is God, who is hidden in them, and veiled by them” – It is not uncommon for someone to search based on secular methods for something greater, but when finding the Greater, realizes the futility of the secular methods. Aristides used Paul’s method of discourse by using something familiar to the Roman elite to bring forth Christ, but in no way used philosophy to shape Christ and His doctrine.

[2] In the opening of the “Dialogue,” Justin relates his vain search among the Stoics, Peripatetics, and Pythagoreans for a satisfying knowledge of God; his finding in the ideas of Plato wings for his soul, by the aid of which he hoped to attain the contemplation of the God-head; and his meeting on the sea-shore with an aged man who told him that by no human endeavor but only by divine revelation could this blessedness be attained, that the prophets had conveyed this revelation to man, and that their words had been fulfilled. Of the truth of this he assured himself by his own investigation; and the daily life of the Christians and the courage of the martyrs convinced him that the charges against them were unfounded. So he sought to spread the knowledge of Christianity as the true philosophy.

[3] Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1520-1575) was a Lutheran reformer.

[4] Johann Salomo Semler (1725–1791), was a German church historian and biblical commentator.

[5] Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792 – 1860), was a German theologian and leader of the Tübingen school of theology.

[6] Albrecht Ritschl (1822 -1889) was a German theologian

[7] But he admits that Justin is a Christian in his unquestioning adherence to the Church and its faith, his unqualified recognition of the Old Testament, and his faith in Christ as the Son of God the Creator, made manifest in the flesh, crucified, and risen, through which belief he succeeds in getting away from the dualism of pagan and also of Gnostic philosophy.

[8] 1st Corinthians 1.24 which states that Christ is the power and the wisdom of God. If one would understand that the Spirit of God correctly as the power of God, we see that both wisdom and word, power and spirit, are the same in the minds of the Apostles, and this is that they are all Christ.

Book Review – Orthodox Study Bible

Not being Orthodox myself (although maybe orthodox), I became interested in this translation for two reasons:

  1. It was a ‘new’ translation of the Septuagint, which I have become a student of.
  2. It was the first English bible that I know of to include both the Septuagint and the New Testament.

Late last year, I received the New English Translation the Septuagint, but alas, it was difficult to carry two bibles to Church, so when I heard of this one coming out, I was excited, and I have not been disappointed. Not only did it have the distinction of having both (Greek) testaments in one bible, but it included the Deuterocanon along with notes that introduces people to various ‘Church Fathers’ up till the Great Schism. Plus, unlike the NETS, the OSB is publicly readable.

For the Septuagint, the Committee used Rahlfs critical edition of the Greek text, which is what the NETS used, however, they further used Brenton’s 1851 translation and the New King James Translation as a backdrop. They readily used the NKJV in places where the Hebrew and the Greek matched. They did, however, use the canonical order (which is a reminder that the order of the canon varies from Tradition to Tradition, time to time, and even Faith to Faith) of the Old Testament According to the Seventy, first published in 1928. Of course, using the Septuagint creates problems for those who have constantly read the English translation of the Hebrew, especially in the Psalms and Jeremiah.

The inclusion of the Deuterocanon (which foreign only to Protestants after 1830) does not include, as the NETS does, the Psalms of Solomon which is actually reference/contained the Codex Alexandrinus. While I am not here to debate the canonicity of certain books, it would have been nice to have that book included in this Translation. The Deuterocanon, unlike other bible versions, are printed in the canonical order. Where as the King James Version (KJV) places them in a separate section between the two Testaments (giving the reader the notion that somehow the First Covenant ended, people wrote a lot of books and the the Second Convenant began with Matthew).

The New Testament is taken from the New King James Version (NKJV), although like other NKJV’s, the variant readings are listing in the footnotes. I have no real issue here, believing that this will help others to actually buy the bible and give it a fair shake. For me, it allows me to keep the bible in hand during service instead of switching to my Cambridge for the New Testament. This also provides a measure of consistency in quotations between the Old and New, now that the Septuagint is in English along side the New Testament. Many bible students know that the Septuagint was the bible of the Apostles and the primitive Church.

The Committee also offers a general overview of the books as well as an introduction to the Orthodox Church. I am not going to provide an answer to their assumption of continuation from the Apostles and Acts, but it is nice to have within this bible brief doctrines and explanations of the Orthodox Church. In there Introduction, the speak about Doctrine, Worship, Government, the disagreements between the West and the East, the Great Schism, Further Divisions and the modern Orthodox Church. This is not a slight against the Committee, but the history provided in these sections is often shallow and muddy; however, it is not the Committee’s mission to provide Doctoral Thesis of Orthodox History, merely to perk the interest of the reader. And in this mission, it this Bible serves well.

The book overviews and easy enough to follow, again, not giving deep insight, but pointing to the Traditions positions on the book. As with any Study Bible, the OSB have footnotes throughout, but more often than not, it refers to an ancient writer, such as John Chrysostom or Vincent of Lerins, and many others. This serves the purpose well of pointing to a long history of the Orthodox, filled with commentators on every subject and every book. Of course, like all other denominationally based Study Bibles, the doctrines of the Orthodox Church is held up throughout. From the very beginning, the Trinity is pointed out. (Although, dear readers, you know that I would disagree with that position).

Interspersed throughout the translation are introduction to specific doctrines as held by the Orthodox Church. Of those doctrines that Protestants have a difficult time understanding, myself included, is Deification. According to many fundamentalist apologist, Orthodox Deification is the process of becoming a god. Instead, the OSB says that it the process of Christians becoming more like God, or as Peter says in 1.3, partaking in the divine nature. Although I am not incomplete agreement with the terminology, I can understand that idea of a progression of the Christian to become more holy. This is just one example of the many areas in which the Study Bible serves to create a communication bridge with the Orthodox Church world.

One the things that I do not like is the quality of the bible. I am pretty rough with mine, because it gets a lot of use. I am almost afraid to touch the pages as they are extremely thin. Another thing is the lack of cross references. I don’t really use them, but I do know of more than a few that do. This bible does not have any.

Overall, the OSB serves as a sturdy companion to myself. I appreciate the fact that finally I have a compete Greek to English Bible with the Deuterocanon as well as insights into minds 1000 years ago.