Hellenism and Christianity, Part 6: Trinity

God’s proper name, Yahweh, occurs almost seven thousand times in the Old Testament, and hundreds of times, we are told that Yahweh is God. In the New Testament, we learn that Jesus is the Son of God and our Lord and Savior. A few times, Jesus told someone he was the Christ, but most often, he identified himself as the “Son of man,” a phrase that means a human. This phrase is used eighty-eight times in the New Testament, most often describing Jesus. The very first time the phrase occurs in the Bible reveals that God is not a man.

Numbers 23:19. God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make
it good?

God never said that His Son, Jesus, was God, and Jesus never said that he was God; yet, the very common belief in the world today is that Jesus is God. Most Christian denominations list their first statement of belief as the trinity. The trinity is the non-biblical doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and holy spirit. Each of the persons is distinct from the other yet identical in essence. In other words, each is fully divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the other persons of the trinity. This sounds confusing because it is not true.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Neither the word “Trinity” nor that explicit doctrine appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers contradict the Shema (the Jewish confession of faith) in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies.  It was not until the 4th century that the distinctness of the three and their unity were brought together in a single orthodox doctrine of one essence and three persons. The Council of Nicaea in 325 stated the crucial formula for that doctrine in its confession that the Son is "of the same substance [homoousios] as the Father," even though very little is said about the Holy Spirit.  Over the next half century, Athanasius defended and refined the Nicene formula, and, by the end of the 4th century, under the leadership of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocian Fathers), the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since."

Christian doctrine and faith should be solely determined by the Scriptures and not the opinions of men, no matter how religious they claim to be. The encyclopedia declared that the doctrine of the trinity was invented by the 300 bishops attending the Nicaean council hundreds of years after the Scriptures were established.  Constantine, the Roman Emperor (306-337AD), many considered to be the first Christian emperor. However, he was actually a sun-worshipper who was baptized only on his deathbed. During his reign, he had his eldest son and his wife murdered. He was also vehemently anti-Semitic and proclaimed “the detestable Jewish crowd” and “the customs of these most wicked men”— of customs that were in fact rooted in the Bible and practiced by Jesus and the apostles.

Constantine was challenged with keeping the empire united and recognized the value of religion in uniting his empire. This was, in fact, one of his primary motivations in accepting and sanctioning the “Christian” religion (which, by this time, having drifted far from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles, was Christian in name). He convened the council in the year 325 primarily for the political reason of uniting the empire and not so much for religious reasons. The main issue at that time came to be known as the Arian. The bishops argued about whether Jesus was God. They voted, and the final verdict was determined by Constantine, who was 19 years old at the time. This pagan teenager was the one ultimately responsible for the Nicene Creed that states the following that is in direct contradiction to the truth in God’s Holy Scriptures:

“I believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God; begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made….” As the creed was circulated throughout the church, so was this sentiment, “If you do not believe the Creed, you are not a Christian.” Again, today, many devout Christians hold the same attitude towards those who do not believe that Jesus
is God.

The following is excerpted from the free publication: Is God a Trinity published by the United Church of God, an International Association.

***

Greek Philosophy’s Influence on the Trinity Doctrine

Many historians and religious scholars…attest to the influence of Greek or Platonic philosophy in the development and acceptance of the trinity doctrine in the fourth century. But what did such philosophy entail, and how did it come to affect the doctrine of the trinity?

To briefly summarize what was pertinent, we start with mention of the famous Greek philosopher Plato (ca. 429-347 BC). He believed in a divine triad [a set of three connected people or things] of “God, the ideas, and the World-Spirit,” though he “nowhere explained or harmonized this triad” (Charles Bigg, Christian Platonists of Alexandria, 1886, p. 249).

Later Greek thinkers refined Plato’s concepts into what they referred to as three “substances”—the supreme God or “the One,” from which came “mind” or “thought” and a “spirit” or “soul.” In their thinking, all were different divine “substances” or aspects of the same God. Another way of expressing this was as “good,” the personification of that good, and the agent by which that good is carried out. Again, these were different divine aspects of that same supreme good—distinct and yet unified as one.

Such metaphysical thinking was common among the intelligentsia of the Greek world and carried over into the thinking of the Roman world of the New Testament period and succeeding centuries. As the last of the apostles began to die off, some of this metaphysical thinking began to affect and infiltrate the early church—primarily through those who had already begun to compromise with paganism.

As Bible scholars John McClintock and James Strong explain: “Towards the end of the 1st century, and during the 2nd, many learned men came over both from Judaism and paganism to Christianity. These brought with them into the Christian schools of theology their Platonic ideas and phraseology” (Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, 1891, Vol. 10, “Trinity,” p. 553).

The true Church largely resisted such infiltration and held firm to the teaching of the apostles, drawing their doctrine from the writings of the apostles and “the Holy Scriptures [the books of the Old Testament] which are able to make you wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15).

Two distinct threads of Christianity split and developed separately—one true to the plain and simple teachings of the Bible and the other increasingly compromised with pagan thought and practices adopted from the Greco-Roman world.

Thus, as debate swelled over the nature of God in the fourth century leading to the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, it was no longer a debate between biblical truth and error. Both sides in the debate had been seriously compromised by their acceptance of unbiblical philosophical ideas.

Many of the church leaders who formulated the doctrine of the trinity were steeped in Greek and Platonic philosophy, and this influenced their religious views and teaching. The language they used in describing and defining the trinity is, in fact, taken directly from Platonic and Greek philosophy. The word “trinity” itself is neither biblical nor Christian. Rather, the Platonic term trias, from the word for three, was Latinized as trinitas—the latter giving us the English word “trinity.”

“The Alexandria catechetical school, which revered Clement of Alexandria and Origen, the greatest theologian of the Greek Church, as its heads, applied the allegorical method to the explanation of Scripture. Its thought was influenced by Plato: its strong point was [pagan] theological speculations. Athanasius and the three Cappadocians [the men whose Trinitarian views were adopted by the Catholic Church at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople] had been included among its members” (Hubert Jedin, Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church: an Historical Outline, 1960, p. 28).

“The doctrines of the Logos [i.e., the “Word,” a designation for Christ in John 1] and the Trinity received their shape from Greek Fathers, who . . . were much influenced, directly or indirectly, by the Platonic philosophy... That errors and corruptions crept into the Church from this source cannot be denied” (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Samuel Macauley Jackson, editor, 1911, Vol. 9, p. 91).

The preface to historian Edward Gibbons’ History of Christianity sums up the Greek influence on the adoption of the trinity doctrine by stating: “If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism [basic religion, in this context] of the first Christians . . . was changed, by the Church of Rome, into the incomprehensible dogma of the Trinity. Many of the pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and idealized by Plato, were retained as being worthy of belief” (1883, p. xvi). (See “How Ancient Trinitarian Gods Influenced Adoption of the Trinity,” beginning on page 18.)

The link between Plato’s teachings and the trinity as adopted by the Catholic Church centuries later is so strong that Edward Gibbon, in his masterwork The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, referred to Plato as “the Athenian sage, who had thus marvelously anticipated one of the most surprising discoveries of the Christian revelation”—the Trinity (1890, Vol. 1, p. 574).

Thus, we see that the doctrine of the trinity owes far less to the Bible than it does to the metaphysical speculations of Plato and other pagan Greek philosophers. No wonder the Apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 2:8 (New International Version) to beware of “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”!

How Ancient Trinitarian Gods Influenced Adoption of
the Trinity

Many who believe in the trinity are surprised, perhaps shocked, to learn that the idea of divine beings existing as trinities or triads long predated Christianity. Yet, as we will see, the evidence is abundantly documented.

Marie Sinclair, Countess of Caithness, in her 1876 book Old Truths in a New Light, states: “It is generally, although erroneously, supposed that the doctrine of the trinity is of Christian origin. Nearly every nation of antiquity possessed a similar doctrine. [The early Catholic theologian] St. Jerome testifies unequivocally, ‘All the ancient nations believed in the Trinity’” (p. 382).

Notice how the following quotes document belief in a divine trinity in many regions and religions of the ancient world.

Sumer [the earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia] “The universe was divided into three regions each of which became the domain of a god. Anu’s share was the sky. The earth was given to Enlil. Ea became the ruler of the waters. Together they constituted the triad of the Great Gods” (The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, 1994, pp. 54-55).

Babylonia “The ancient Babylonians recognized the doctrine of a trinity, or three persons in one god—as appears from a composite god with three heads forming part of their mythology, and the use of the equilateral triangle, also, as an emblem of such trinity in unity” (Thomas Dennis Rock, The Mystical Woman and the Cities of the Nations, 1867,
pp. 22-23).

India “The Puranas, one of the Hindu Bibles of more than 3,000 years ago, contain the following passage: ‘O ye three Lords! know that I recognize only one God. Inform me, therefore, which of you is the true divinity, that I may address to him alone my adorations.’ The three gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva [or Shiva], becoming manifest to him, replied, ‘Learn, O devotee, that there is no real distinction between us. What to you appears such is only the semblance. The single being appears under three forms by the acts of creation, preservation, and destruction, but he is one.’ “Hence the triangle was adopted by all the ancient nations as a symbol of the Deity . . . Three was considered among all the pagan nations as the chief of the mystical numbers, because, as Aristotle remarks, it contains within itself a beginning, a middle, and an end. Hence we find it designating some of the attributes of almost all the pagan gods” (Sinclair, pp. 382-383).

Greece “In the Fourth Century BC Aristotle wrote: ‘All things are three, and thrice is all: and let us use this number in the worship of the gods; for, as the Pythagoreans say, everything and all things are bounded by threes, for the end, the middle and the beginning have this number in everything, and these compose the number of the Trinity’” (Arthur Weigall, Paganism in Our Christianity, 1928, pp. 197-198).

Egypt “The Hymn to Amun decreed that ‘No god came into being before him (Amun)’ and that ‘All gods are three: Amun, Re and Ptah, and there is no second to them. Hidden in his name as Amon, he is Re in face, and his body is Ptah.’ . . . This is a statement of trinity, the three chief gods of Egypt subsumed into one of them, Amon. Clearly, the concept of organic unity within plurality got an extraordinary boost with this formulation. Theologically, in a crude form it came strikingly close to the later Christian form of plural Trinitarian monotheism” (Simson Najovits, Egypt, Trunk of the Tree, Vol. 2, 2004, pp. 83-84).

Other areas Many other areas had their own divine trinities. In Greece they were Zeus, Poseidon, and Adonis. The Phoenicians worshipped Ulomus, Ulosuros, and Eliun. Rome worshipped Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto. In Germanic nations, they were called Wodan, Thor, and Fricco. Regarding the Celts, one source states, “The ancient heathen deities of the pagan Irish[,] Criosan, Biosena, and Seeva, or Sheeva, are doubtless the Creeshna [Krishna], Veeshnu [Vishnu], [or the all-inclusive] Brahma, and Seeva [Shiva], of the Hindoos” (Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan, Vol. 2, 1798, p. 171).

“The origin of the conception is entirely pagan” Egyptologist Arthur Weigall, while himself a trinitarian, summed up the influence of ancient beliefs on the adoption of the trinity doctrine by the Catholic Church in the following excerpt from his previously cited book: “It must not be forgotten that Jesus Christ never mentioned such a phenomenon [the trinity], and nowhere in the New Testament does the word ‘trinity’ appear. The idea was only adopted by the Church three hundred years after the death of our Lord; and the origin of the conception is entirely pagan . . . .

“The ancient Egyptians, whose influence on early religious thought was profound, usually arranged their gods or goddesses in trinities: there was the trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, the trinity of Amen, Mut, and Khonsu, the trinity of Khnum, Satis, and Anukis, and so forth . . . .

“The early Christians, however, did not at first think of applying the idea to their own faith. They paid their devotions to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and they recognized the mysterious and undefined existence of the Holy Spirit; but there was no thought of these three being an actual Trinity, co-equal and united in One . . . .

“The application of this old pagan conception of a Trinity to Christian theology was made possible by the recognition of the Holy Spirit as the required third ‘Person,’ co-equal with the other ‘Persons’ . . . .

“The idea of the Spirit being co-equal with God was not generally recognized until the second half of the Fourth Century AD. . . . In the year 381 the Council of Constantinople added to the earlier Nicene Creed a description of the Holy Spirit as ‘the Lord, and giver of life, who proceeded from the Father, who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified….

“Thus, the Athanasian creed, which is a later composition but reflects the general conceptions of Athanasius [the 4th-century Trinitarian whose view eventually became official doctrine] and his school, formulated the conception of a co-equal Trinity wherein the Holy Spirit was the third ‘Person’; and so it was made a dogma of the faith, and belief in the Three in One and One in Three became a paramount doctrine of Christianity, though not without terrible riots and bloodshed . . . .

“To-day a Christian thinker . . . has no wish to be precise about it, more especially since the definition is obviously pagan in origin and was not adopted by the Church until nearly three hundred years after Christ” (pp. 197-203).

James Bonwick summarized the story well on page 396 of his 1878 work Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought: “It is an undoubted fact that more or less all over the world the deities are in triads. This rule applies to eastern and western hemispheres, to north and south.

“Further, it is observed that, in some mystical way, the triad of three persons is one. The first is as the second or third, the second as first or third, the third as first or second; in fact, they are each other, one and the same individual being. The definition of Athanasius, who lived in Egypt, applies to the trinities of all heathen religions.”

***

During the last supper, Jesus taught that there was a oneness between him and the Father. Jesus declares his subordinate relationship to God by submitting his will to God’s. He always did what God wanted done and said what God told him to say. Jesus also explained that we too could enjoy the same oneness with him and the Father as we submit our will to his and obey his commands. The relationship that Jesus had and has with God is that of a father and son.

Ephesians 1:2-3. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ

Ephesians 1:16-17. do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers;

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

Conclusion

The harmful effects that Hellenism, particularly Greek philosophy, had and still has on Christianity are disconcerting and alarming to say the least. However, the Scriptures inform us that such evil would exist and that we need to beware.

Matthew 24:4, 5 and 11. And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you.

For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many.

Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.

Acts 20:29-31. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves’ men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be on the alert….

2 Corinthians 11:13-15. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

2 Timothy 4:2-4. preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

Other verses to review are 2 Peter 2:1 and 2; 1 John 2:18, 19, 26; 4:1-3.

We pray – “Father, please open our eyes so that we might see Your truth. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand. Lead us not into evil, deception, and temptation. Help us to be humble and meek to receive Your truth. We long to honor and praise You and cannot do so without Your help. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

 

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment

X