reprinted from the book, Refuting Jehovah's Witnesses see catalog
Theology is the study of the nature and character of God as revealed in his Word, the Bible. The Bible itself, however, is not a book of systematic theology; it does not always provide us with the answers we seek regarding God and his activity. The Bible provides statements regarding God and his creation, and often a person must reason on the Scriptural texts in order to determine certain truths. Christianity holds many doctrines that are derived from the Scriptures, though the Scriptures themselves may not present the complete doctrine in any one passage.
For example, the resurrection and the return of Christ are two events that are spoken of often in the gospels and the writings of Paul; but one must study ALL of the passages touching on these subjects to develop a doctrine of the resurrection, the return of Christ, etc.
Some of the cults attempt to convey the idea that they do not have any systematic doctrine, but they just believe what the Bible says. Not only is such a statement a bluff, but is easily disproved by producing the books of such groups where they categorize Scriptures according to subjects, and give brief or lengthy interpretations thereof. This method of categorization as well as their interpretations constitutes their theology. An organization or religion that poses as Christian cannot escape having a developed theology.
The NT contains the foundation for all Christian doctrine. It clarifies teachings in the OT that were previously vague or hard to understand. The purpose of the Law of Moses is explained, as well as its fulfillment in Christ. While the OT had foretold the coming of the Messiah, the NT explains the fulfillment of the messianic passages. The identity of Christ and the redemption he brought are revealed. Much of the shadowy teachings of the OT are further developed in the NT. As the saying goes, the New (NT) is in the Old (OT) concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.
The final books of the NT (such as Hebrews, Jude, Revelation and the epistles of John) develop doctrine even further, so as to protect against false ideas that would eventually undermine the faith that was "once delivered to the saints." (Jude 3) Through the centuries since then, it has been necessary for the church to defend the "faith once delivered" against new or recurrent heresies.
The apostolic church held to much of the Jewish beliefs regarding God. God was still recognized as the Father of Abraham and the covenant God named Yahweh. Yet, there were new revelations with the coming of Christ and the teachings of the apostles. As J.N.D. Kelly states,
The doctrine of one God, the Father and creator, formed the background and indisputable premise of the Church's faith. Inherited from Judaism, it was her bulwark against pagan polytheism, Gnostic emanationism and Marcionite dualism. The problem for theology was to integrate with it, intellectually, the fresh data of the specifically Christian revelation. Reduced to their simplest, these were the convictions that God had made himself known in the Person of Jesus, the Messiah, raising Him from the dead and offering salvation through Him, and that He had poured out His Holy Spirit upon the Church. (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p.87)
Among these new revelations that had to be integrated into the monotheism of Judaism were many statements regarding the nature and identity of Christ, as well as statements attributing more to the nature and work of the Holy Spirit than had been revealed in the OT.
The early Christians became familiar with the ways of the Holy Spirit, at work in their hearts. Jesus had foretold that he would send the Spirit as an Advocate and Counselor to dwell in the believer, and that all three, Father, Son and Spirit, would somehow live in the believer (John 14:17,23). Thus we have the simple theology of the apostolic church regarding the nature of God. FIRST, that the Father decreed his will in sending Christ to die for our sins (John 3:16); SECOND, that Christ becomes the focal point of worship and devotion (since he is God the Son sent by the Father - John 1:1,18; Heb. 1:6,8; Acts 4:12; Ps. 2:11,12; Rev. 5:13,14); and THIRD, that the Holy Spirit is the Teacher and Advocate who indwells believers (John 14:17,26; 1 John 2:27).
In the apostolic church there was no discussion of the meaning of "nature" or "person" as we find in the later Trinitarian debates. This was a virgin faith which had not yet been tried in the crucible of rational debate. Their concentration was on the worship of Christ and living according to the Spirit of God. Such is also the simple faith of the great percentage of born again believers in the Christian churches today. Few of these concern themselves with theology per se, seeing such discussions as philosophical and irrelevant. When pressed for a definition of the nature of God, they will usually just say that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
However, a simple faith cannot survive without providing an intellectual answer to those who challenge it. For example, the apostles found it necessary over and over to further define doctrine as a hedge against false teachers (Jude 3, 2 Peter 3:16). Paul further defines the doctrine of the bodily resurrection (1 Cor. ch. 15). The writer of Hebrews attacks the view that Christ is an angel or lesser being (Heb. 1:1-14). John attacks the Gnostic idea that Jesus was not actually flesh and blood (1 & 2 John). Yet the closing period of the NT marked merely the beginning of false teachings that would challenge the Christian church.
While the disciples saw the Father as source of all, Christ as Deity, and the Holy Spirit as the One who lives in them, the three were not called a "trinity" in the NT, nor were the three always mentioned together. Only in certain passages, such as Matt. 28:19 and 2 Cor. 13:14 do we find this triadic formula. Yet these and many other passages logically led them to the conclusion that God exists in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The writings we have that are handed down from Ignatius and Irenaeus, as well as many others (to be reviewed shortly), testify to the apostles' view of the triune Deity.
Opponents of the doctrine of the Trinity (or "triunity") object that this was not the monotheistic God of the Hebrews. This is an objection which must be met with both reason and Scripture. Scripture is our final authority. If God decides to reveal something of his nature which was not clear to us before, we can either listen and readjust our thinking, or we can object and find our own rational solution in order to maintain our former view. As we have established under the headings JESUS CHRIST and HOLY SPIRIT, the Scriptures reveal Christ as God and the Spirit as a Person, yet each being different; the Spirit is not the Father, Jesus is not the Father, etc. Our choices are to  accept what the Scriptures say and develop our theology accordingly,  deny what Scripture says and reject the inspiration of the NT, or  reinterpret the statements of Scripture in order to retain our previous theology, or a newer, more "rational" view.
Orthodox Trinitarians have attempted to follow the first choice. Being faced with the difficulty of explaining how three Persons can be called God and yet there be only one God, they have sought to develop doctrine that does not compromise the clear teachings of Christ and the apostles. While its theology is complex, it is the most impervious to attack, as it does not deny any of the Scriptural statements concerning God, Christ and the Spirit.
Modern Judaism and the Islamic faith have chosen to reject the NT as inspired, since it automatically challenges their understanding of monotheism. They refuse to accept the Trinitarian view as monotheistic, in spite of its claims.
The position later taken in the fourth century by Arius (that Christ must be a created god) attempts to retain monotheism by denying true Deity to Christ, thereby denying the clear statements of the apostles. In an effort to simplify the NT revelation, Arians introduced a Pandora's box of difficulties, most obviously being the teaching that there are two Gods: the Father, and the lesser god Jesus, who was created as a god. In this effort to simplify the NT imagery, they have denied the original concept of One True God, who stands alone, and who said he never did and never will create a god alongside himself (Isa. 43:10,11). While trying to retain monotheism, they become polytheists - the very accusation Arians make at Trinitarians.
A similar teaching that developed even before the time of Arius was that of Paul of Samosata (200-275 A.D.), who attempted to resolve the identity of Christ by claiming he had no preexistence, but was a man who was adopted into godhood due to his moral excellence. This teaching is known as dynamic Monarchianism.
Another form of Monarchianism1 which was much more popular was modalistic Monarchianism, which actually took the other extreme, teaching that since the Father and Son were both called God (and yet One), then Jesus must have been the Father incarnate. This teaching, of course, denied the individuality of the Father and Son, and implied that the Father himself died and subsequently raised himself from the dead. Tertullian, an early Christian writer, spoke out against this popular form of Monarchianism as early as 190-200 A.D.
Both Monarchianism and Arianism were heresies which represented two extremes of rationalization, both trying to clarify the difficult NT passages. Both views consider Jesus as God, yet attempt to retain monotheism by either  denying the separate identity of the Father and Son (and Spirit), as in the case of modalistic Monarchianism, or  denying the true Deity of Christ and the Spirit, making Christ a lesser or "adopted god," as in dynamic Monarchianism and Arianism. Trinitarianism, however, attempts to retain the separate identity of the Father, Son and Spirit as do the Scriptures, while maintaining the full Deity of the three as one God.
While Paul of Samosata's adoptionistic view is fairly simple, it must be noted that Arianism and Monarchian modalism (God in three modes) are just as complicated as Trinitarianism. Those who point a finger at the Trinity as representing a "mysterious" or "pagan" approach to the identity of God are simply ignorant of the whole controversy, and fail to note the complications resulting from their own faith. Modern sects such as Jehovah's Witnesses and The Way International are Arian in theology, and feel their own approach to God is much simpler and less mysterious. However, the contradictions and theological problems introduced by Arianism make it just as difficult to understand as the Trinity; they just fail to address the contradictions!
DEVELOPMENT OF THEOLOGY IN THE FIRST THREE CENTURIES
The earliest Christian theologians were Justin Martyr (ca. 100-ca. 165), author of the First Apology and the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew; Ignatius, who wrote several epistles to the churches (ca. 110-120 A.D.) and Irenaeus (ca. 125-ca. 202), author of a five-volume work, Against Heresies, written about 180-89.
Justin Martyr, Ignatius and Irenaeus affirmed the Deity of Christ, and also wrote on issues that later became part of the church creeds. As a sampling of statements, Justin called Jesus God:
"But if you knew, Trypho," continued I, "who He is that is called at one time the Angel of great counsel, and a Man by Ezekiel, and like the Son of man by Daniel, and a Child by Isaiah, and Christ and God to be worshipped by David, and Christ and a Stone by many, and Wisdom by Solomon, and Joseph and Judah and a Star by Moses, and the East by Zechariah, and the Suffering One and Jacob and Israel by Isaiah again, and a Rod, and Flower, and CornerStone, and Son of God, you would not have blasphemed Him who has now come, and been born, and suffered, and ascended to heaven; who shall also come again, and then your twelve tribes shall mourn. For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God. For Moses says somewhere in Exodus the following: `The Lord spake to Moses, and said to him, I am the Lord, and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, being their God; and my name I revealed not to them, and I established my covenant with them.' And thus again he says, `A man wrestled with Jacob,' and asserts it was God; narrating that Jacob said, `I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.'" (Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, A Jew, Chap. CXXVI [See also The First Apology of Justin, Chap. XIII; XXII; LXIII; Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, A Jew, Chap. XXXVI; XLVIII; LVI; LIX; LXI; C; CV; CXXV; CXXVIII)
Justin speaks of the order of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (First Apology of Justin, Chap. XIII) as well as the "eternal begetting" of Christ (First Apology, Chap. XXII; LXIII; Dialogue with Trypho, Chap. LXI; C; CXXVIII). Ignatius affirmed the Deity of Christ by over and over calling him "our God" as in this instance:
But our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For "the Word was made flesh." Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts. (long version - The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chap. VII. See also Chap. XV; XVIII; XIX; The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, chap.VI; The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, Chap. X; The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans (Introduction); The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chap. IV; VI; The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, Chap. I; III; V)
Ignatius stresses the Person of the Spirit and the triune formula as well, in refutation of the heretics:
For they alienate Christ from the Father, and the law from Christ. They also calumniate His being born of the Virgin; they are ashamed of His cross; they deny His passion; and they do not believe His resurrection. They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, Chap. VI)
Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of the apostle John, testified in the same manner:
For I have shown from the scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, chapter xix.2)
Irenaeus spoke much of the Son not having been a created or lesser being in Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book II, Chap. xxviii. 68; Book II, Chap. xxx. 9.
Irenaeus spoke of the Spirit in the threefold formula and established his Personhood in Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book I, Chap. X.1,2; Book II, Chap. XIX.9; Book III, chapter VIII.3; XVII.1; Book IV, chap. XX.12; Book V, chapter VI.1; XVIII.2.
These writings appeared around 180 A.D., long before the Nicene Council, and 80 years before the first significant challenge of the Deity of Christ by Paul of Samosata in 268. Interestingly, Irenaeus testified around A.D. 150 that the church was united all over the world on the fundamental doctrines. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book I, Chap. x. 1,2)
Additionally, Theophilus (116-181 A.D.) was the first known writer to use the Greek word "triad" in referring to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, indicating that the usage of the word was probably common between 150-175 A.D. (Theophilus to Autolycus, Book II, Chap. XV). Athenagoras (170-180 A.D.) uses the word as well to establish the worship of Father, Son and Holy Ghost (A Plea For the Christians, Ch. X.)
Athenagoras (177 A.D.) wrote concerning the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as having the same essence (Plea For The Christians, Chap. XXIV), and explaining how the Son and Spirit proceed from the Father, declaring their "power in union and their distinction in order" (Plea, Chap. X). He speaks of Christians as being "conducted to their future life by this one thing alone, that they know God and his Logos, what is the oneness of the Son with the Father, what the communion of the Father with the Son, what is the Spirit, what is the unity of these three, the Spirit, the Son, the Father, and their distinction in unity. . . ." (Plea, Chap. XII)
So we see that by the end of the second century, the basis for the Nicene Creed already existed. Calvin Beisner, in his book God in Three Persons, says,
The concept of Trinity in unity, three distinct persons who are the one God, is then firmly entrenched in Christian thought by the middle to late second century, and has even acquired a special term to refer to it: triad. It remains in accord, in substance, with the teaching of the New Testament; and despite the fact that this new term has been applied to it, the vocabulary of Trinitarian thought remains that of the New Testament: the Father and Son are "one," the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father, and the Holy Spirit is one with them. It was in the third century that more sophisticated development occurred, as Trinitarian thought confronted attacks and misinterpretations which forced its adherents to define precisely what it was that they believed. (p. 54)
Late in the second century Tertullian began writing theological treatises against another new heresy threatening the church, that of modalistic Monarchians, who so stressed the unity of the Godhead (Father, Son and Spirit) that they denied the distinctions of persons in the Trinity. One of its variations, successive modalism, taught that the Father became the Son, who then became the Spirit (one person taking different modes or roles). In response to this heresy, Tertullian championed the phrase, "three persons, one substance," and his formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity clearly led to the Nicene formulation over a hundred years later. Tertullian makes his position clear:
We, however, as we indeed always have done . . . believe that there is only one God, but under the following dispensation . . . that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that he will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to his own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. (Against Praxeas, Chap. II)
Origen (230 A.D.) was one of the great theologians of the third century. With Origen, however, another problem emerges. He was so determined to defend the distinctions of the Persons in the Trinity that he began to teach that the unity of the Father and Son was a generic unity, not a numerical unity. In other words, they are of the same substance, but separate in Being; the Son a subordinate Being to the Father (though eternally existing). This paved the way for Arianism, which took this concept a step farther than Origen. Arius denied the eternal nature of the Son, claiming him to be a "lesser god." The implication, of course, is polytheism (more than one God).
Despite his inconsistency, Origen defended the Father and Son being of equal nature, as well as the Personhood of the Spirit. He said that "nothing in the Trinity can be called greater or less." Unfortunately, his neoplatonic philosophy often influenced his theology. This appeared in his writings in the form of allegories (fanciful types and antitypes) of the Scriptures.
Up until Origen, the doctrine of the Trinity substantially represented what is found in the NT. New words had been introduced, such as "trinity," "person" and "substance" to clarify the doctrine.
The third main heresy to develop following on the heels of Gnosticism and Monarchianism was Arianism, which began to surface in its rudimentary form at a synod in 268 A.D., originating from Paul of Samosata. The Antiochine school of theologians to which he belonged rejected the equality of substance of Father and Son, believing the Son to be created; only the Father exists eternally. Lucian was the first Antiochine teacher of this view, and Arius was a pupil of his. Arius later voiced his view at a teaching session in 318 A.D., and after days of debate was banned from the Alexandrian churches.
THE NICENE COUNCIL
Arius succeeded in influencing a number of his fellow bishops, and the controversy grew. Emperor Constantine, who had converted to Christianity, was asked to help resolve the issue. Constantine was probably less interested in theology than he was in maintaining the unity of the church, but he was asked by both sides to hold the Council (held in Nicea in 325 A.D.). Constantine talked with representatives from both sides of the controversy beforehand. During the Council, the followers of Arius presented a creed of their own, which was rejected by most of the bishops as being heretical. Arius left the council, while Eusebius of Nicomedia remained to represent Arius' position. A creed representing orthodoxy was drawn up by Eusebius of Caesarea and won general approval by most of the council. The Creed reads:
I believe in one God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (God of God), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (essence) with the Father; . . . and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. . . . And (I believe) in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceedeth from the Father (and the Son); who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the Prophets.
Athanasius, a prominent bishop, tells the story that the creed was not specific enough, and the Arians present actually sat and winked back and forth with each other, acknowledging that they could interpret the wording of the creed to fit their own views, and still appear orthodox. While Athanasius and others would have preferred to draw up a more specific creed, Constantine stepped in and ratified it, adding the Greek word homoousios (of the same essence) to the creed, meaning that the Father and the Son must be of the same essence. Such definitive wording was meant to prevent the Arians from reinterpreting it. While the Arians would agree to general Trinitarian statements, they would not agree to the Father and the Son being of the same substance, so this addition to the creed blocked the Arians out.
Arius' theology was just a further development on the "adoptionist" view of Paul of Samosata. He differs from Paul in his belief that Jesus was the preexistent Logos, which Paul denied. Harold O.J. Brown comments on the views of Arius:
The theology of Arius seems to be inspired by two different concerns or motifs, one spiritual and moral, the other philosophical or theological. (1) The spiritual - moral motif was Arius' conviction that Christ does not possess deity by nature, but develops into it by virtue of his constant and growing moral unity with God. He is our Saviour in that he presents us with divine truth and furnishes the perfect example of commitment to the good. This view hardly differs from adoptionism; its practical consequence is the imitation of Christ, with the implicit hope that other human beings can attain perfection and partake of divinity even as Christ did. (2) The philosophical - theological motif of Arius' theology is that of the contrast between the One who is utterly transcendent, God, and the world of created things. In order to make Creation possible, God had first to create a spiritual being that could act as a Mediatoras in the Neoplatonic concept of the Logos. Associated with God's Nous ("Mind"), or the world spirit, the Father and the Logos constitute a triad (or a dyad - Arius was not concerned with consistency here). Interestingly, Arius, who considered the Son and the Spirit created beings, was ready to pray to them; Origen, who taught that the Son was eternally begotten of the Father, not made, called for prayer to the Father through the Son. Harnack observes that Arius "is a strict monotheist only with respect to cosmology; as a theologian, he is a polytheist." Indeed, Arius seems to be to the left of Hellenistic Logos - speculation, for he does not even regard the Logos as an emanation of deity, but as a ktisma, a "creature," or even "created thing"; yet he would worship him. This created Logos develops into deity. The incarnation is not the self-emptying or humility of the Logos, but the means to his glorification. In this we see not only Arius' affinity with adoptionism as taught by Paul of Samosata but also his humanism.
Arianism must be seen as a doctrinal innovation, coming as it does at a time when traditional doctrines had been fairly well set forth. Although it would take orthodoxy close to three centuries to settle on the definition of consubstantiality, no one had yet ventured to teach what Arius was now proclaiming: that the Logos is radically distinct from the Father, of a different substance. Modalists taught that the Logos is identical to the Father, adoptionists dispensed with the Logos altogether. But to the extent that a Logos was taught at all, no one before Lucian of Antioch and Arius had contended that the Logos is categorically different. (Heresies, p. 115,116)
Athanasius made three main points in his refutation of the Arian doctrine, as J.N.D. Kelly points out:
First, he argued that Arianism undermined the Christian doctrine of God by presupposing that the divine Triad is not eternal and by virtually reintroducing polytheism. Secondly, it made nonsense of the established liturgical customs of baptising in the Son's name as well as the Father's, and of addressing prayers to the Son. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it undermined the Christian idea of redemption in Christ, since only if the Mediator was Himself divine could man hope to reestablish fellowship with God. (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 233)
At the Nicene Council, the Deity and Personality of the Spirit were upheld as well. Phillip Schaff describes their arguments:
The exegetical proofs employed by the Nicene fathers for the Deity of the Holy Ghost are chiefly the following. The Holy Ghost is nowhere in Scripture reckoned among creatures or angels, but is placed in God Himself, co-eternal with God, as that which searches the depths of Godhead (1 Cor. 2:11,12). He fills the universe, and is everywhere present (Ps. 139:7), while creatures, even angels, are in definite places. He was active even in the creation (Gen. 1:3), and filled Moses and the prophets. From Him proceeds the divine work of regeneration and sanctification (John 3:5; Rom. 1:4; 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:11; Tit. 3:5-7; Eph. 3:16; 5:17,19, etc.). He is the source of all gifts in the church (1 Cor. 12). He dwells in believers, like the Father and the Son, and makes them partakers of the divine life. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the extreme sin, which cannot be forgiven (Matt. 12:31). Lying to the Holy Ghost is lying to God (Acts 5:3,4). In the formula of baptism (Matt. 28:19), and likewise in the apostolic benediction (2 Cor. 13:13), the Holy Ghost is put on a level with the Father and the Son, and yet distinguished from both; He must therefore be truly divine, yet at the same time a self-conscious person. The Holy Ghost is the source of sanctification, and unites us with the divine life, and thus must Himself be divine. The divine trinity tolerates in itself nothing created and changeable. As the Son is begotten of the Father from eternity, so the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, pp. 272, 273)
The decades following the Council at Nicea saw a twist of events, as Arius gained influence once more in the empire, and Constantine was later won over to his side, even banning Athanasius in 335. But by 362 the tables were again reversed, and orthodoxy was once again established. The later Councils of Constantinople and Chalcedon further ratified the Nicene Creed, providing the church with a theological standard as a test of faith and a protection against heresy.
Admittedly, it is often confusing to talk with Christians regarding the Trinity, as few know anything about the history of this doctrine. Many Trinitarians are not aware that they themselves actually hold a modalistic (and heretical) concept of God; the most common theological error among those who consider themselves orthodox. When asked to explain the Trinity, they sometimes sound as if they are saying that Christ and the Father are the same Person, denying the distinction between the two. This is usually the result of poor teaching in the churches.
JW: THE WORD "TRINITY" IS NOT IN THE BIBLE.
Neither are the words "Bible" or "organization" in the Bible, as well as terms like "ministerial servants," "Circuit Assemblies," "Theocratic Ministry School," etc. as used by the WT. This is shallow reasoning designed to throw the Christian off guard. If it can be proved that the Bible teaches a certain truth, then "naming" that truth does not make it unscriptural, just because the word is not in the Bible.
The question should be asked, is the particular teaching in the Bible, even if in a rudimentary form?
JW: THE TRINITY IS BORROWED FROM THE PAGANS.
The doctrine of the Trinity had nothing to do with the pagan teachings of other religions. The idea of three Persons, Father, Son and Spirit, are implicit in the Scriptures themselves, as Harold Brown comments:
The development was from an implicit Trinitarianism - suggested, but not defined, by the language of Scripture and the liturgy--to an explicit Trinitarian theology that sees Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three distinct Persons, each partaking of the divine nature. The suggestion that Christianity began with a kind of unitarianism and proceeded through "binitarianism" to Trinitarianism is false. (Heresies, p. 113)
It was only in the later centuries when the Catholic church began to borrow from pagan imagery of trinities of Gods (to substantiate the worship of Mary) that this type of corruption comes into the picture. Alexander Hislop, writing of this later corruption of the doctrine of the Trinity in his book, The Two Babylons, is referred to often by JWs in their efforts to discredit the Trinity. What they fail to notice is that Hislop himself believes in the Nicene Trinity! Note his statement:
Will any one after this say that the Roman Catholic Church must still be called Christian, because it holds the doctrine of the Trinity? So did the pagan Babylonians, so did the Egyptians, so do the Hindoos at this hour, in the very same sense in which Rome does. They all admitted a trinity, but did they worship THE Triune Jehovah, the King Eternal, Immortal and Invisible. And will any one say with such evidence before him, that Rome does so? (The Two Babylons, p. 90 [see also p. 18, 83])
JW: JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES REPRESENT THE "FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS", AS OPPOSED TO TRINITARIANISM, WHICH WAS INTRODUCED IN 325 A.D.
The "faith once delivered" included the worship of Christ as God and recognition of the indwelling Person of the Spirit, also called the Counselor and Teacher of the faithful. Rather than representing the faith of the early disciples, the current teachings of the WT have no precedent in history; though a similar doctrine appears in the teachings of Arius in 318 A.D. All of the historical evidence from the decades before Arius reveals an implicit belief in the Trinity by the whole Church, though not systematized into a formal doctrine. The WT cannot even claim the church fathers such as Irenaeus, Ignatius, etc. as their ancestors. In fact, they will refer favorably to none, since none of their doctrines agree with or even resemble the WT teachings. They do not offer any suggestions as to who were the "Jehovah's Witnesses" of the first two centuries, or even later. The WT is therefore historically bankrupt.
Though for a hundred years the WT claimed Arius as their ancestor, listing him as one of the seven "messengers" to the church (along with their founder, C.T. Russell [The Finished Mystery, Karatol Edition of 1918, p. 64]), they recently abandoned this claim due to further "light" on the subject. Their only response at present is to back up into a corner and deny having any "Christology," claiming to hold a simple faith, and stating they are not Arians (presumably because, they say, Arius believed in the Spirit as a Person). They "simply believe what the early Christians taught, and do not involve themselves in any theological definitions"! (WT, 9/1/84, p. 27; also 8/1/84 p. 24) The WT ignores the fact that you can go back to their early publications and find out that they have changed their theology over the years in regards to Christ, the church, the Devil, and so on. For instance, in 1879 they denied that Christ could be Michael the Archangel! Note:
Hence it is said, "Let all the angels of God worship him"; [that must include Michael, the chief angel, hence Michael is not the Son of God] and the reason is, because he has "by inheritance obtained a more excellent Name than they." (brackets theirs; WT, Nov. 1879, p. 4 [Reprints, p. 48])
Today they say that Jesus IS Michael the Archangel. Whether they choose to call it "Christology" or not, JWs have refined their doctrines about Christ many times.
The main study articles in the 9/1/84 WT, p. 27 and the 8/1/84 WT p. 24 attempt to contrast the "simple layman's faith" of JWs with the "complicated, mysterious Trinity," saying that Christians worship an unknown God. That this is absurd can be demonstrated by studying what the WT has taught regarding Christ over the years. They cannot escape having a "Christology" nor can they portray their doctrine as any less complicated than the Trinity - this is simply an effort to sway their followers against the truth. The most noticeable aspects of the four articles on the Trinity (2/1/84, 8/1/84, 8/15/84 and 9/1/84 issues of the WT) is the usual straw-man effect, where they misrepresent what Christians believe, and then proceed to "shoot down" this "straw man." The most obvious of these is the use of no less than five pictures of three-headed gods which are supposed to represent the God of Christendom. It is pure nonsense to believe that Christendom teaches its followers to accept a three-headed god. God does not have a "head." (It is the Witnesses that claim God has a body, not Christians! See Aid To Bible Understanding, p.247, pp.4) Orthodox Christianity teaches that God is a Spirit, and as such, has no visible or material form or shape. Moreover, he is omnipresent and far transcending the WT god.
The further clarification of a doctrine does not make it wrong, if such additional clarifications do not alter its meaning. In the case of the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D., it was necessary (according to both parties in the dispute) to clarify (or, further elaborate on) the Deity and nature of the Son. The clarification of Christ's nature would reaffirm the efficacy of Christ's ransom sacrifice. Arius had come teaching a new doctrine that Christ is a creature. But if Christ is a creature, his opponent Athanasius argued, he can no more atone for sins than did the animal sacrifices. God did not set up a creature as a mediator, nor does he ask us to worship creatures; yet he commands the angels to worship Christ (Heb. 1:6). At the outcome of this council, the Nicene Creed was adopted in order to reinforce passages such as the words of Paul in Col. 2:9:
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have this fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (NIV)
The Scriptures plainly call Christ God, as in John 1:1 (the Word was God), and this was not even disputed in 325 A.D. The point is this - If we can prove that the apostles and the early Christians believed that Christ was God incarnate and the Holy Spirit was a Person, then the early church is justified in further clarifying the nature of Christ and the Holy Spirit by adoption of the Nicene Creed.
In desperation, the Watchtower of 8/15/84 (p. 27) attempts to discredit the witness of the early church fathers. They point out that Tertullian believed there was a time when there was no Son (attempting to convey the idea that Christ was created, and that even Tertullian said so). What they fail to mention is that Tertullian, as did others from his time, believed that the ETERNAL WORD, a distinct Person, only became the "Son" at his incarnation (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 150).
JW: "THE THEOLOGIANS OF THE FIRST FEW CENTURIES WERE LOOKING FOR JUSTIFICATION FOR A TRIUNE GOD."
The WT is intent on conveying the idea that the early Church wanted to believe in a weird, three-headed god. They will not honestly admit that the issues in these early church councils had nothing to do with the "appearance" of God. All of the disputes were over fine points of clarification, such as the substance of God, His nature, and His omnipotence, relating to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The clarifications made in these councils did not negate Jesus' subjection to the Father, or his emptying himself to come to earth. Rather, the councils often checked a heretical view of Jesus, which downgraded Christ and the Father. The Bible tells us we are to honor the Son equally with the Father. John 5:22,23 says:
Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
JW: WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THE SOURCES THE WATCHTOWER QUOTES FROM TO "ESTABLISH" THEIR ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE TRINITY?
Regrettably, most of the WT's readers never consider three things:
1. It appears that about 80% of the sources that they quote from are Trinitarians. This begs the question: Why, if their sources are really proving the Trinity to be false, do these scholars believe in such a doctrine? The WT answers, "because they want to believe in a three-headed god." Yet, who would want to believe in a three-headed god? Who would not want theology to be simple? Christian scholars are freely quoted by the WT as authorities, yet ironically are considered blind because of the conclusions their scholarship leads them to.
2. Approximately 15% of their sources are secular works, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica. If JWs took the time to objectively read the entire source material that the WT quotes from, and not just the few sentences that they cite in the WT, they would be led to somewhat different conclusions than the WT's writing department draws. Unfortunately for their readers, the WT often fails to cite the page numbers of their source material, and often the books they cite from are obscure or difficult to find.
3. The final 5% of WT sources are generally Unitarians, Christadelphians, Spiritists, agnostics, and other invalid sources of Biblical truth. Although the WT does not reveal it, often such obscure sources are also denying the inspiration of the Bible as well as its inerrancy. The Governing Body always manages to find someone who agrees with them on some things; but they do not examine the credibility of such sources.
Regarding quotations of recognized sources, one must be made aware of the WT's dishonesty. For example, the Aug. 1, 1984 WT discusses the doctrine of the Trinity. Note the statements from the books they use. The type in italics represents what THEY quote to prove their point. You will notice that the statement of the author taken in its entirety would convey a much different thought, however:
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1976 Edition) correctly states: "Neither the word Trinity, nor the explicit doctrine as such, appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord' (Deut. 6:4). The earliest Christians, however, had to cope with the implications of the coming of Jesus Christ and of the presence and power of God among them i.e., the Holy Spirit, whose coming we connected with the celebration of Pentecost. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were associated in such New Testament passages as the Great Commission: `Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' (Matt. 28:19); and in the apostolic benediction: `The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all' (2 Cor. 13:14). Thus, the New Testament established the basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies." (WT, p. 21; Encyclopaedia Britannica Macropedia, Vol. X, p.126)
The purpose and intent of the encyclopedia is to establish that the doctrine of the Trinity has its roots in the NT, which the WT hotly denies. Yet they are not averse to misquoting to prove their point. On the same page, they quote historian J.N.D. Kelly but fail to say which of his books they quote from, making it virtually impossible to find the quote. But on page 23, they quote (partially) from J. N. D. Kelly:
"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." (Early Christian Doctrines, p. 95)
They continue to misrepresent Professor Kelly in the very next paragraph (text in italics continues to represent what the WT quotes):
"What the Apologists had to say about the Holy Spirit was much more meagre, scarcely deserving the name of scientific theology. This is understandable, for the problem which principally exercised them was the relation of Christ to the Godhead. Nevertheless, being loyal churchmen, they made it their business to proclaim the Church's faith, the pattern of which was of course triadic. (ibid., p. 101)
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. His essential function in their eyes would seem to have been the inspiration of the prophets. (ibid., p. 102)
On page 22 of the above-mentioned WT article, the writer speaks of the "scholarly Theological Dictionary of the New Testament," yet proceeds to misrepresent them:
Perhaps recollection of the many triads of the surrounding polytheistic world contributed to the formation of the threefold formulae. More likely, however, is the influence of Jewish models. For in Judaism, as in the early Church, we find triadic formulae, and even formulae with four or more members. (Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, p. 108)
On page 23 of the same article, again the Encyclopaedia Britannica is not safe from their ravages. Their partial quote is still represented in italics:
The basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity has its ultimate foundation in the special religious experience of the Christians in the first communities. This basis of experience is older than the doctrine of the Trinity. It consisted of the fact that God came to meet Christians in a threefold figure: as Creator, Lord of the history of salvation, Father, and Judge, who revealed himself in the Old Testament; as the Lord, who, in the figure of Jesus Christ, lived among men and was present in their midst as the "Resurrected One"; and as the Holy Spirit, whom they experienced as the power of the new life, the miraculous potency of the Kingdom of God. The question as to how to reconcile the encounter with God in this threefold figure with faith in the oneness of God, which was the Jews' and Christians' characteristic mark of distinction over against paganism, agitated the piety of ancient Christendom in the deepest way. It also provided the strongest impetus for a speculative theologyan impetus that inspired Western metaphysics throughout the centuries. In the first two centuries a series of different answers to this question stood in juxtaposition; at first none of them was thought through speculatively. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1976, Vol. 3, p.485)
Interestingly, the Jews bear witness to the early Christians' belief in the Trinity. The book, Everyman's Talmud, a condensation of Jewish traditions as contained in the Talmud, records the following:
The Rabbis also had occasion to defend the monotheistic view of God against attack from the early Christians who sought a foundation for their Trinitarian doctrine in the text of the Hebrew Bible. (p. 5 )
Certain doctrines in connection with the Deity were forced into general prominence and received special emphasis at the hands of the Rabbis because of contemporaneous circumstances. The attribute of Unity had to be underlined when a Trinitarian dogma began to be preached by the new sect of Christians. (p. 26)
The Jews of Jesus' day failed to understand the NT revelation of Christ and the Holy Spirit for the same reason as do the Jehovah's Witnesses: they do not possess the indwelling Spirit of God, who lives in born-again Christians (John 14:16,17) and teaches them the things concerning Christ and the ministry of the Spirit (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27).
1Monarchianism is the attempt to maintain the singularity of God, and is manifest in two opposite approaches; dynamic and modalistic, as defined in the above text.