Were the early Christians "Trinitarians"?

I was really wondering this.Before the Nicae counsil anmd the controvesial topic with Arius ,did the christians before understood God as triune?

EditlFrom what knowledge i have and from what ive read early Christians had no definite doctrine about the trinity or a personal triune God.

Very probably, you are right, and they did not. The actual teaching that Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit were three persons but only one God, arose in reaction to those who were dismissing portions of scripture (documents like Paul’s letters being used for teaching), in order to teach about God. I think it basically “came out in the wash” so to speak, in order to keep all of what was being taught. So, in another sense, it was already there in the same sense that it is already there in the Bible, if you take everything seriously and particularly the belief that Jesus was God become man. It just hadn’t been formulated in quite that way yet.

2 Likes

Hmmm not really.While there are reports of Jesus and The Father beign worshiped by early Christians the spirit isnt nowhere.So what conclusion we might give with that information?

Worship?

Seems to me there has always been a well defined order of precedence.

Worshiping the Father because Jesus did so, is definitely the highest recommendation. But then Jesus is praised by the Father and the Holy Spirit, which gives us cause to follow in their example also. Something to recommend the Holy Spirit for praise and worship is a bit harder to find. The Holy Spirit has always seemed just a little bit like a third wheel. There are a lot of things the Bible doesn’t explain all that clearly and the Holy Spirit is one of them.

2 Likes

I dont know if the article i read made that distinction about worship.Its really infromative though on the early history of the trinity dogma.Take a look if you want

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/trinity-history.html?fbclid=IwAR1KQZT7KSVKD-TFo5DsrbE00sqApgoDjvNhp9mb1X-HjMewnhCxZhNP3GY#Up325CE

I think what it meant it that they were worshiping Jesus alngside The Father.Now i dont know if they were worshiping him seperately from The Father (ie meaning that they were worshiping 2 gods).If you have that historical knowledge i would be very happy for you to enlighten me ].Thanks for the gracious attitude and conversation

I think it is fair to say that for quite some time the church was functionally Trinitarian, even if that word was unknown to them. The NT church and the early church invoked, praised, and worship Jesus, affirming him to be the fullness of God in bodily form. It was only with the advent of various heresy that there was any need to formalise the doctrine. The same was true with the doctrine of the Incarnation.

I’m by no means an expert on the church fathers, but from what I’ve read of the earliest documents (sometimes called the Apostolic Fathers) I see this functional trinitarianism in what they were writing. A functional Trinitarianism that becomes more formally refined and defined as time goes on.

It also worth remembering the historical context of the earliest eras of the Church. Lots of disruption and persecution; it’s hard to get folk together to think deeply and articulate precise theology in that kind of setting. Once things calmed down and the Empire became more accepting of Christianity, that kind of stuff became a lot easier.

Hope that helps.

7 Likes

Ill have to disagree with some parts

So they were worshiping Christ alongside The Father and not seperately?If so why didnt they wroshiped the Holy Spirit?I think a historian here needs to affirm one or the other .

Also some fathers were advocating for something close to a trinity but not exactly one.If you actually read tertullian or origen it seems to me that they mesh up things with their view of subordinationism

Larry Hurtado wrote Lord Jesus Christ, an extremely well documented work on the early church’s worship. In a forum post it is impossible to do the book justice, but I will mention that he uses the word binitarian to describe the earliest practice. The early church did not reject the Holy Spirit as a Trinity persona; it’s more the case that the church’s awareness of the role of the Spirit developed a bit more slowly.

Due to space constraints I am speaking of the early church as a homogeneous entity, but of course these ideas developed with fits and starts, as you note @NickolaosPappas.

For convenience I have provided a link above to the Amazon book page, but feel free to use a local library or a vendor of your choosing.

My $.02,
Chris

5 Likes

Thanks for the answer.Will check the book out,So if im correctly the binitarianism then turned to trinitarianism?So the church was anaware of the role of the Holy Spirit?It sounds strange since in the NT it has an imporant role

As mentioned in other places, but don’t have time to get into it right now in depth, I don’t believe in the Trinity. I think it carries more implications than I agree with.

I believe there is one true god and that god is Yahweh our creator called our Father.

The Father is all knowing and all powerful and their power includes the power of the Holy Spirit and it was the father through the Holy Spirit that conceived a son in marry. This power, which is the Holy Spirit is also the word. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is actually a self aware being with its own will. I think it’s simply the power and is given personhood just like wisdom often is.

The word , the power which is a extension of God became flesh and that flesh is the conceived child in Mary and the son of God who was given all authority and power by his father and once he defeats his father’s enemies he will hand over all power and and authority back to his father.

You begin to sound like a Jehovah Witness with annihilationism + non Trinitarian. Though I guess there are some other groups that fit… Christadelphians and Armstrongism,

To be honest I don’t really know what all they believe. I predominantly align myself with Churches of Christ. But I also accept theistic evolution and don’t believe in the Trinity. Beyond those things, I basically share the majority of my doctrine with them and its the only denomination I attend and direct people towards. Though I believe salvation can be found in many denominations I feel they are the most accurate. Though i tend to lean more towards the “liberal” movements within them.

Nicely said. It should not be lost that the most basic “Trinitarian formula” (in nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti) comes right out of the book of Matthew: “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” is about as old as the faith itself.

This formula was quickly copied into the didache, which I understand is one of the earliest extra-biblical works extant, going back to the first century.

Baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit,” (Didache, Chapter 7).

Then the trinitarian ideology certainly all thought the New Testament. Jesus baptism a prime example, Paul’s language (e.g., “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”) and Peter’s language (“chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.”)

For me, it is hard to conceive that they were not trinitarian… they may well not have developed all the specifics and details that would be hammered out and debated in later councils, but insofar as we would refer to the phrase “The name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” as a “trinitarian” formula, then the early Christians were indisputably Trinitarian.

4 Likes

Not Trinitarian but the seeds were there. The disciples (possibly even the fully human Jesus) didn’t understand the fullness of Jesus during his ministry and after his resurrection it took them and the church time to come to grips with who he ultimately was. It was a process.

I dislike the word Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of God pervading the earth and dwelling within us (God’s immanence if you will, he is the ground of all being). Jesus is the Son of God, God incarnate. The Word of God become flesh. That’s all I am willing to say.

To go further and absolutely say they are three separate individuals that existed from eternity past but are also one individual requires me to deny the law of non-contradiction by stretching and force fitting a bunch of scripture together but I don’t subscribe to inerrancy so there is no reason to do this or for me to assume that 3 can equal 3 and 1 and Vice versus.

Despite not being Trinitarian, the early Church had extremely high Christologies. You can see this in Paul and Mark, our earliest gospel.

3 Likes

1 Corinthians 15:20-28
New American Standard Bible
The Order of Resurrection
20 But the fact is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man death came, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to our God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is clear that this excludes the Father who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

For me I feel like these verses often pose a problem for the typical Trinity belief because in it a paul writes that at some point in time Jesus will make every subject to him, and this won’t include God our father. Then Jesus will subject himself to God. So God the father will be over everything, including his son.

John 10:28-30 is often used as well here Jesus says the father and I are one. But right before that Jesus says none is greater than his father.
As for being one, the Bible says the same about us and Christ.

John 17 says
20 “I am not asking on behalf of these alone, but also for those who believe in Me through their word, 21 that they may all be one; just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

So I believe that Jesus came to realize that he was the power of God made flesh, but I have a hard time seeing where Jesus says he is equal to God.

It makes me think of how in mythology the blood of Zeus hits the ground and became Athena. She was made of him but not equal to him.

Well just a quick note.That wasnt how Athena was born .Zeus had a headeache actually and Hermes took a swing at him.His scull opened and bam .Athena came out of his head full armor and all :smile:l.Just a quick correction.

1 Like

Hi Nick,

Oh, the church was very much aware of the role of the Holy Spirit! The question is whether the Spirit should be worshiped together with the Father and the Son, and it took a little while to figure out the answer. Or so I gather from Hurtado.

Chris

2 Likes

I had no idea actually. I just knew some things were created by blood hitting the ground. I was not even actually sure if Zeus and Athena was from the same mythology lol.

1 Like

What I love about the doctrine of the Trinity are as follows (many are ironically reasons why other people don’t like it).

  1. The doctrine of the Trinity is not actually in the Bible. At most it is a conclusion we draw logically from what is in the Bible and we can say it is the view of God most consistent with all of the Bible taken together. But since it is not actually in there, it punches a hole through ridiculous notions that all truths must be found in the Bible in order to be accepted by Christians.
  2. This gives us a picture of God which is nothing like human beings, so this is not a God made in our own image. And yet it is a God who is more than we are rather than less – a trans-personal God rather than some fragment of a person like a cosmic mind, energy, moral law, force, or principle of love.
  3. It is logically messy and difficult to understand which reminds me a great deal of the way in which quantum physics challenges many of our naïve notions of the way things “should be.”
  4. It helps a tiny bit in building a bridge to polytheism and thus does not give quite the basis for the kind of irrational hostility to other religions (often characterized as polytheist) that we find in some monotheistic religions.

Things I do not like about the doctrine of the Trinity.

  1. The tendency of many to overstate the doctrine as a limitation of God to the number three, which I see no justification for anywhere in scripture. The doctrine is simply that the Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons but only one God. The only limitation here is our own knowledge of God and I see no reason to limit God Himself to that. I believe in a God who is infinite, not a God who is three. In the discussion above we have observed that our knowledge of the Holy Spirit is somewhat lacking and perhaps tongue in cheek we can say this is more of an understanding of God as two and a half. For me this suggests even more strongly that these three persons of the Trinity is just a matter of the limitations of our own knowledge of God.
  2. The tendency to employ some kind of modalism in making even more of the number three – even to saying it is like we are mind, body, and soul, or something like that. I see this as a total distortion. This problem follows logically from the previous problem, for if God is three then people want an explanation for why it is three and not some other number.

Agreed. Good theology must be so precise with its words that it borders on the pedantic. In first year Christian Doctrine, our lecturer set us a task for the following lesson “Come up with an illustration or analogy to explain the Trinity to a small child.” Simple.

Next lecture we took it is turns to present our analogy after which our lecturer pointed out which ancient heresies we had inadvertently foisted on this poor hypothetical child. By then end of class all out well thought out ‘perfect’ illustrations lay tatters. Her point was simply but effective: analogies for the Trinity don’t work, don’t use them. That lecture still shapes how I teach the Trinity some 12 years later.

2 Likes

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.