New Church Fathers / A New Orthodoxy

By J. Dan Gill

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The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism states:

Today, however, scholars generally agree that there is no doctrine of the Trinity as such in either the OT or the NT. … Trinitarian doctrine as such emerged in the fourth century, due largely to the efforts of Athanasius and the Cappadocians.[1]

The architects of the multi-person version of God became a cadre of new church fathers. Now often revered as “the early church fathers,” they were not early enough. Blending the Bible with Greek philosophy and ideas from their own religious pasts, they were actually among the early free thinkers of Christianity. These were people who were intent on making their new Christian faith correspond with their pre-Christian backgrounds.[2] The resulting symbiotic relationship between Gentile Christianity and Greek philosophy becomes apparent.[3] Many of the best of Trinitarian scholars today acknowledge that the Trinity was a post-biblical development with roots in the philosophy of that day. For example, Trinitarian scholar and noted church historian Cyril C. Richardson of Union Theological Seminary recognizes that the Trinity is “not a doctrine specifically to be found in the New Testament. It is a creation of the fourth-century church.”[4]

Likewise, Professor Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr. of Columbia Theological Seminary writes:

The Bible does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity. … The language of the doctrine is the language of the ancient [post-biblical] church taken from classical Greek philosophy.[5]

Without the deep roots in understanding of the one God that Jesus and his early disciples had, these Gentile Christians were re-interpreting God, Christ and the Bible. In many ways they were reinventing Christianity, even reinventing God. Today, their views are supposed to be conservative and main-stream. When compared to the Christianity of Jesus, however, they were liberal — radical — offbeat. Nevertheless, what began as a peculiar reinvention of God went on to become self-proclaimed orthodoxy.[6]

Without direct statements in the Bible that multiple persons are the One God, the new converts came to rely on proof-texting. Isolating verses from their Jewish context, they proposed new meanings to various Scriptures and gave creative new definitions to some Hebrew words and phrases. When even that proved inadequate, new language was found to express their ideas about God. Such phrases as “three persons,” “coequal persons,” “coessential (consubstantial) persons,” “co-powerful persons,” “coeternal persons” and a variety of others are all expressions fitted to multi-person God theories, but are absent from the Bible. And such language is contrary to the Bible’s grand theme that only YHWH is God. He himself said:

For I am God, and there is no one else; I am God, and there is no one like me (Isa. 46:9).

A coalescing of philosophical ideas and Gentile Christianity is found at the pivotal Council of Nicaea.[7] Convened by Emperor Constantine in the spring of 325 CE, bishops debated issues regarding the nature of Christ. However, by now all of the parties had largely lost touch with the Jewish roots of Christian faith. Ultimately they concluded that Christ is to be understood as a God-person and equal to the Father. That was an astounding departure from the Bible. It was the Father himself who rhetorically had said:

“To whom then will you compare me? Who is my equal?” says the Holy One (Isa. 40:25).

There is no one with whom to compare him: no one who is his equal! He could have said, “Who indeed is my coequal?” Hence, the coequality provisions of the new version of God— provisions which insist that the Messiah is “coequal” with the Father — are particularly disturbing. Not only are they absent from the Bible, they are directly contradicted by a variety of specific scriptural statements. Not the least of these is Jesus’ own words:

“My Father is greater than all” (John 10:29).
“The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).[8]

Many centuries after Moses, the new “church fathers” proposed to tell people what to believe about the Hebrew Bible and the Hebrew God. They were of course destitute of Scriptures which actually stated their view that multiple persons are the one God. In light of that deficiency, subsequent generations of Christians concluded that those post-biblical church fathers were more advanced than original Christians. We now find the pejorative term “primitive Christianity” applied to the ministries of Jesus and his early Jewish followers.[9]

The new orthodoxy evolved over time. Gentile Christians literally spent centuries wrestling over their understanding of God and Christ. Subsequent to Nicaea, at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 CE, it was declared that the holy spirit is also a God-person and equal to the Father.[10] It will not be until 451 CE at the Council of Chalcedon that they will formalize the utterly incomprehensible idea that Jesus had two natures in one person and one subsistence.[11] It is in the wake of such philosophical thinking that we find terms like “God-man” and “dual nature” added to the Gentile Christian vocabulary. Such phrases were of course unknown to Jesus — the Lord and founder of the Christian Faith— the original Christians, and God’s true prophets of old.[12]

Continue reading – next in series 

Gill, J. Dan (2016). New Church Fathers / A New Orthodoxy. In, The One: In Defense of God (pp. 246-249). Nashville, TN: 21st Century Reformation Publishing.

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[1] ‘‘God’’ and ‘‘Trinity,’’ Richard P. McBrien, ed., Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1995), 564 and 1271.

[2] William Placher writes that Christians of the era ‘‘sought an alliance with classical philosophy against popular religion.’’ He goes on to indicate, ‘‘Two schools of Greek philosophy, Platonism and Stoicism, deeply influenced early [post-biblical] Christian thought.’’ William C. Placher, A History of Christian Theology —– An Introduction (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), 56.

[3] To that should be added that Gentile Christians were influenced by Philo of Alexandria and other Hellenistic Jews who from around 200 BCE to 100 CE went to great extremes in efforts to reconcile Jewish religion with Hellenistic philosophy.

[4] Cyril C. Richardson, The Doctrine of the Trinity (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1958), 17.

[5] Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr., Christian Doctrine, Rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster Press, 1994), 76 and 77.

[6] The word orthodoxy means essentially ‘‘right opinion.’’ The word in its meaning is not related to the Greek Orthodox Church as such, though the church adopted the word as part of its name in proposing that it is the church of ‘‘right opinion.’’

[7] Much has been written regarding the council of Nicaea. Those favoring orthodoxy tend to write of the council in undeservedly positive terms. Others have used the council to propose unwarranted speculations. One of the more recent such cases is the fictional absurdities in the best-selling book The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Anchor Books, 2009). In any event, a balanced view of the council must recognize that it was a step toward the revision of ‘‘God’’ from the biblical Jewish and early Christian perspective (he is a ‘‘single individual’’) to the Gentile orthodox view (‘‘multiple persons’’ as one God).

[8] Jesus is subordinate to his Father both functionally and ontologically. No Scripture says that Jesus was only functionally subordinate to God. Jesus places his Father as ontologically being ‘‘the only true God,’’ and himself not as God but as the Christ (John 17:3).

[9] Jesus had promised his earliest followers that the spirit would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). It is beyond reason, however, to apply those words to Gentile Christians who, in centuries after Christ, were proposing a reinvention of God as multiple persons.

[10] For an overview of the First Council of Constantinople, see Charles Freeman, A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State (New York: Overlook Press, 2009).

[11] For a review of events leading up to the Council of Chalcedon see Phillip Jenkins, Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011).

[12] One particularly offensive aspect of the Trinity is the doctrine of anhypostasia which requires people to believe that Messiah has a ‘‘human nature,’’ but is not really ‘‘a human being’’ as such (‘‘man,’’ but not ‘‘a man’’). For a critical consideration of the two natures theory see Alvan Lamson, ‘‘On the Doctrine of Two Natures in Christ,’’ Four American Unitarian Tracts, Published by Dale Tuggy, 2007, available at www.lulu.com.

The Trinity – A New Expanded God

2019-01-07T15:52:53+00:00

About the Author:

J. Dan Gill
J. Dan Gill is Editor in Chief and a contributor to 21st Century Reformation Online. He is a frequent speaker, has written many theological articles and presented a variety of papers on Christian issues and biblical subjects. J. Dan Gill is the author of “The One – In Defense of God” a book which makes the case for non-trinitarian “absolute monotheism” as being the theology not only of Jews but of Jesus and original Christians. He argues that the one God of the Bible is the Father alone and that Jesus is the Christ – God’s Messiah. Dan Gill is the producer and co-host with Sir Anthony Buzzard of 21st Century Reformation’s popular video commentary series on the New Testament writings of the Apostle Paul and the Book of Hebrews. J. Dan Gill is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and his academic studies have focused particularly on the history of Christian doctrine, early church history, the Reformation and restoration movements.