What Does the Bible Reveal About the Trinity? – Part 6
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2007|
|The Trinity and Early Church History: Have the historic creeds of the Christian church always accepted the doctrine of the Trinity?|
The Trinity and Early Church History: Have the historic creeds of the Christian church always accepted the doctrine of the Trinity?
For 2,000 years the historic Christian church has found in the Bible the doctrine of the Trinity. This can be seen by anyone who reads the church fathers and studies the historic creeds. Creeds are important because they express the beliefs of the church briefly and precisely and made prospective converts aware of exactly what Christians believe and teach, enabling them to make informed decisions. Further, creeds clearly illustrated the dividing line between orthodoxy and heresy; in fact heresy was probably the most powerful stimulant historically to the development of the creeds.
The historic creeds of the church declared faith in only one God, yet clearly taught that both the Son and the Holy Spirit were God. For example, the Creed of Nicaea in A.D. 325 was the creed of 318 church fathers. It reads, “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father as only begotten. Light from Light, true Godfrom true God, begotten not created.”
The Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 381, a creed of 150 church fathers, reads, “[We believe] in the Holy Spirit,the Lord and Life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and Son.
Although the official, precise definition and explanation of the Trinity codified at Nicaea (A.D. 351) and Constantinople (A.D. 381) is lacking in the New Testament and writings of the early church leaders, the fact of the Trinity was clearly recognized by both the apostles and post-apostolic fathers. Scholars of historical theology could be cited in abundant confirmation, for example, “The second-century Fathers were convinced that the Godhead is a triad.” In addition,
- From the Old Testament and the Judaism of the intertestamental period, the early church accepted the conviction that God, the maker of heaven and earth, is one. In addition, even before the canonization of the New Testament books, the apostolic traditions and popular faith of the church were indelibly marked by the notion of a plurality of divine persons, the idea of the triadic manifestation of the Godhead, was present/row the earliest period as part of Christian piety and thinking. But no steps were taken to work through the implications of this idea and to arrive at a cohesive doctrine of God. The triadic pattern supplies the raw data from which the more developed descriptions of the Christian doctrine of God will come.
In his book on the Trinity, God in Three Persons, E. Calvin Beisner has provided an in-depth study of the historic development of the Trinity from apostolic times through the final form of the Nicene Creed, which was adopted at the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381. He includes a line-by-line comparison of the Creed with New Testament teaching, proving that the doctrine of the Trinity as thus formulated is biblical.
The doctrine of the Trinity itself never evolved; what evolved was only its specific theological formulation. As Harold O. J. Brown states in Heresies,
- The facts that Semi-Arianism created only a brief flurry and that the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit was accepted with little trouble are evidence for the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity did not evolve by stages, but was present in the church in an implicit form from New Testament times…. As soon as the implications of consubstantiality were recognized in the case of the Son, they were almost immediately seen for the Holy Spirit as well. Trinitarianism was implicit in Christian faith from the beginning; it is only its explicit formulation that took so long to develop.”
- John H. Leith, Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the
Present, 3rd ed. (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), pp. 30-31.
- Ibid., p. 33.
- J. G. Davies, The Early Christian Church: A History of Its First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker, 1980), p. 97.
- William G. Rusch (Trans./ed.), The Trinitarian Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), p.
- E. Calvin Beisner, God in Three Persons (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1984)..
- Dr. Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies (Doubleday, 1984), p. 139.