Do You Believe in the Son of God?

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe G

od has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:9-12 NKJV)

The truth laid out in these verses is simple- he who has the Son has life; he who does not believe in the Son of God, does not have life. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5), and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

To believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, then, is manifestly required for salvation. The confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is central to the true Christian faith (Matt 16:16).

Yet tragically, many professing Christians deny the Son of God. They do this by embracing Augustinian trinitarianism.

Uncategorized

Asking Questions That Have Already Been Answered: Why We Don’t Need Literal Pre-existence

In the fourth century, debates raged between leading bishops of the Roman Empire about the precise nature of Jesus Christ; questions concerning his origin, his nature, his sonship, and the precise nature of his relation to the Father stood as the central questions of these fierce controversies. Today, Arians, semi-Arians, Trinitarians, and others, still clash over these questions. We may observe that what was historically at the heart of the disagreement between Trinitarians and Arians was the question of the precise nature of Jesus’s origin; in what manner was he caused by the Father? Trinitarians, holding that the Son is eternally generated from the Father, answered that the Son is timelessly and eternally caused by the Father; others objected that there was a difference in time between the Father and Son, and that the Son was created by God out of nothing. Was the Son generated or created? Of the same nature as the Father, or another? Was he begotten ex nihilo (out of nothing) or from the essence of the Father? These are the questions that occupied some of the greatest minds of the time, and the way one answered could mark one as either a champion of orthodoxy or a vile heretic, depending on which emperor was in power at the time.

Today, trinitarians still value these questions, and suggest that their answers alone satisfactorily fit with the biblical data, informing us that only through the doctrine of eternal generation can we rightly understand the nature of Jesus, His origin, His relation to the Father, and the true nature of His sonship. But is this true?

We must admit that these are all understandable questions being asked. The Bible presents Jesus Christ as being at the center of God’s plan to save humanity, establish His kingdom on earth, and restore the fallen world. And so it is no wonder that the Bible’s teachings about Jesus have always made those who would be his disciples wonder about these things; after all, they have great bearing on how we view the Lord Jesus at even the most fundamental level, and what sort of being we believe him to be. And so it’s no wonder that theologians have tried to piece together answers to these questions; although never spelled out, trinitarians believe that we can follow a veritable trail of bread-crumbs throughout the Bible which eventually lead to their conclusions. Although no one single passage ever defines the relation of the Son to the Father in the terms they do, they are convinced (often in large part by extra-biblical tradition) that clues from many obscure passages around the Bible can be pieced together into a collage that reveals eternal generation as the answer to these questions. Equipped with the right set of philosophical presuppositions about God, metaphysics, and the nature of time, combined with the traditional patristic readings of various passages, anyone can find eternal generation hidden deep within the white spaces of their Bibles.

But is that really the best that we have? Has God left us to figure out the answers to these important questions in such a difficult way? Why does the Bible not tell us such important things in a straightforward fashion? I suggest that, contra both Trinitarian and Arian speculation, it actually does just that.

Here are the questions that these theories seek to answer, and the answers the Bible gives:

1.) Was Jesus Christ caused to live by the Father, or is he uncaused?

Jesus said, “I live because of the Father” (John 6:57). Jesus expressly affirms that the Father is the cause of His life. Historically trinitarianism has agreed with this and said that Jesus is atemporally caused in eternal generation; today’s trinitarians, forgetting their creeds, frequently deny the clear teaching of this passage that Jesus is caused by another. But the truth here is unavoidable.

2.) What is the origin of Jesus Christ?

Matthew 1:18 tells us, “Now the origin of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.” What follows is a brief account of the miraculous conception and subsequent virgin birth of Christ. Although it is often translated falsely, as either ‘generation’ or ‘birth’, the word used here in verse 18 is the Greek word ‘genesis’, meaning, as in English, ‘origin’. The author of Matthew was familiar with both the Greek word for birth (‘tikto’) and generation (‘gennao’), using both of these terms in the description of Jesus’s miraculous conception and subsequent virgin birth in the passage that follows, but used neither term here; instead, the word for ‘origin’ was specifically chosen by the author. The Bible straightforwardly tells us what the origin of Jesus Christ is then: his miraculous generation by God in Mary, via the agency of the Holy Spirit, and subsequent virgin birth.

3.) Why is Jesus called the Son of God?

Luke answers: “The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35 NASB)

Here we are very clearly told the basis upon which Mary’s child, Jesus Christ, will be called the Son of God; it is because he was miraculously begotten by God in Mary’s womb through the Holy Spirit. Of course, we may rightly see ‘Son of God’ as a Messianic title as well; and we may rightly note that this title is connected by the Bible not only with this miraculous birth from Mary, but also later with Jesus’s new identity as “the Firstborn of the dead” upon having been resurrected by God. It’s a title full of significance for multiple reasons. But before Jesus had been anointed as Christ at his baptism, and before he had been raised from the dead, he was already the Son of God in a special way- even “the only-begotten Son of God” (Jn 3:16). Why? When was he begotten by God? The Bible couldn’t be clearer in telling us: it’s because of his miraculous generation by God in the womb of the virgin Mary.

4.) What kind of being is Jesus; what is his nature?

John records the words of Christ: “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.” (John 8:40 NASB). Paul also clearly declares: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5 NASB). Note well, the answer is not shrouded in mystery: according to Jesus and the apostles, Jesus Christ was and is a human being. That’s what kind of being Jesus is: a human. What’s his nature? Human. That’s just what the Bible says; and we may note well that the Bible doesn’t qualify it, add to it, take away from it, or otherwise alter it. There’s no mention of dual natures, no mention of an incarnate divinity; just a simple teaching that Jesus is human.

5.) What was the relation of the Son to the Father before the foundation of the world?

Peter writes: “For He [Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20-21 NASB).

So much blood has been shed, and so many men labeled and punished as heretics, over the finest details of the Son’s relationship to the Father before the creation of the world; yet here we are told clearly and simply by the Bible the answer to these great questions: before creation, Jesus Christ was foreknown by God. That’s it; while Peter was on the topic of the relation of the Son to the Father before the ages, he didn’t think to mention anything else. Nothing on if the Son was begotten or created, whether the Son was of the Father’s essence or ex nihilo, or if his generation was temporal or eternal, or if the Son is homoi, homoiousias, or homoousias with the Father; how could Peter miss the chance? He gives us none of this, but rather brushes all these theories aside by telling us that before creation, God foreknew His Son.

We must carefully consider the nature of foreknowledge; nothing which is foreknown is present while it is foreknown; an event foreknown is known when it has not yet occurred, and a person foreknown is known when they do not yet exist. If then God is said to have foreknown, not merely known, Christ, then Christ was not yet present with the Father; Christ did not yet exist. For if Christ were not still future, but had been present with the Father, he would have simply been ‘known’, not ‘foreknown’; and if Christ was co-eternal with the Father, then it would have been impossible for the Father to have foreknown him, seeing as there never would have been a ‘before Christ’ in which to have foreknown him. Peter does here provide the an answer for some of the fourth century’s toughest questions- if only we are willing to listen.

Of course, it’s noteworthy that semi-arians in the fourth century did make exactly these same observations about this passage, when they sought to disprove the nicene notion of co-eternality. But for them this passage proves a challenge as well; for there is no mention of Christ first having been foreknown before coming into existence, and then being created by God before the ages, but simply that he was foreknown before creation, full stop, with no indication that this state of affairs changed at some point before creation. There is no mention here or anywhere of God having begotten or created Jesus before the foundation of the world, to in turn subsequently use him as an instrument in creating the universe. The Arian position, like trinitarianism, must supply a great deal that the Bible does not give us.

Here we see then, perhaps to the surprise of some, that the Bible itself does give us answers to all these questions. In a straightforward manner, we are told the origin of Jesus, the reason he is the Son of God, his nature, and even what his relation was to God before the foundation of the world.

Now of course, in addition to these very clear passages, there are a relatively small number of other passages, the meaning of which has been hotly disputed since the very early church, which are purported to answer these questions differently. Although none do so directly or approach the clarity of the passages listed above, some have argued that we ought to be reading the above passages through a lens of human doctrine inferred from these difficult passages. My question to trinitarians is simple: we have two sets of passages, one which clearly and easily answers these questions, of which those quoted above belong, and another set of passages which have been and continue to be difficult for even the greatest minds to understand the meaning of; why not interpret the unclear through the clear? Why not interpret the difficult passages in a way consistent with the clear picture given throughout the Bible, that Jesus is a man, a human being, the Son of God who took his origin from being miraculously begotten in Mary via the Holy Spirit. The difficult passages, those alleged in favor of eternal generation, can all be interpreted in a way consistent with the Biblical Unitarianism here described; so why interpret them such a way to make them conflict with these clear teachings?

Eternal generation sets out to answer anew a set of questions that the Bible has already answered; what need is there for it? As a theory, it lacks any value in explanatory scope for all these important questions, because, as we have seen, these questions have already been answered, in a much simpler and clearer way. Rather, all eternal generation does is introduce myriad complexities and mysteries to answer otherwise simple questions; it creates more questions than it answers, and causes more problems than it solves. It turns the old axiom of ‘interpret the unclear by the clear’ on its head, insisting that we should either ignore or give extremely strained alternative interpretations to the clear passages given above, so that we may read them through the lens of unclear and difficult to interpret passages being read through a very particular set of traditions and philosophical assumptions.

The point of all this being this: we don’t need to answer again questions we already have the answer to. For instance there’s no reason to look for something more to explain Jesus’s sonship beyond Luke 1:35; there’s no reason to scour Old and New Testament for some hint that Jesus is actually God’s Son on the basis of something mysterious in eternity past, never clearly described anywhere in the Bible, and so obscure and difficult that even it’s defenders often fail to grasp what precisely they are saying, when we have a very clear answer given to us plainly in the New Testament. There’s no reason to keep looking, no unaccounted-for data, and no mystery of why the authors of scripture didn’t bother leaving us with a clear account of the answers to these questions- because they did. They gave us an account of Jesus’s origin, and an explanation of his sonship, but neither have anything to do with a generation in eternity past. If we are willing to accept these clear answers the Bible gives us, we’ll quickly find there is simply no room for either eternal generation, or literal pre-existence of any flavor.

Arguments For Unitarianism

Literal Pre-existence in the First Hundred Years of Christianity

The idea that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, literally pre-existed his miraculous conception in the virgin Mary goes back quite far- within the first hundred years after Christ’s ascension (for our purposes here, approximately 50-150 CE). It is of course important to remember that the writings we have from this era represent only a very small portion of what was written- many important and influential works we know of have not been preserved. But within the scraps we do have from this time period, there are actually a number of instances of belief in literal pre-existence in some form or another, quite early on.

At first this may sound promising for trinitarianism. The problem is that none of the early adherents to the doctrine of literal pre-existence believed in an ‘orthodox’ christology. That is, while the idea that the Son in some fashion or another literally pre-existed can be shown to go back very early, the idea that he is a dual-natured person, a spiritual being who became incarnate by taking on a full human nature with body and soul, is totally absent from this era- there is no precedent for orthodox christology during this era. Moreover, not only were literal pre-existence theories not in line with later orthodoxy in this era, they were also very diverse among themselves- there was no single or uniform idea of what it would mean or look like for Jesus to have pre-existed. Here, I want to briefly survey these different views of literal pre-existence we find early on.

‘Hotel Christology’

‘Hotel christology’ is an amusing name one author gave to the christology of the Gnostic Cerinthus, which was also held by some Ebionites. The idea is, in short, that the man Jesus was indwelt or otherwise inhabited by the spiritual being ‘Christ’, who stayed within and worked through this man from the time of his baptism, until the passion, when this Christ departed from the man Jesus, leaving Jesus alone to suffer and die. Hippolytus sums up this view as follows:

Cerinthus, however, himself having been trained in Egypt, determined that the world was not made by the first God, but by a certain angelic power. And this power was far separated and distant from that sovereignty which is above the entire circle of existence, and it knows not the God (that is) above all things. And he says that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but that He sprang from Joseph and Mary as their son, similar to the rest of men; and that He excelled in justice, and prudence, and understanding above all the rest of mankind. And Cerinthus maintains that, after Jesus’ baptism, Christ came down in the form of a dove upon Him from the sovereignty that is above the whole circle of existence, and that then He proceeded to preach the unknown Father, and to work miracles. And he asserts that, at the conclusion of the passion, Christ flew away from Jesus, but that Jesus suffered, and that Christ remained incapable of suffering, being a spirit of the Lord.

Refutation of All Heresies, 10.17

Of the Ebionites he notes “The Ebionaeans, however, acknowledge that the world was made by Him Who is in reality God, but they propound legends concerning the Christ similarly with Cerinthus and Carpocrates.” (7.22). While the Cerinthians and Ebionites of this christological stripe could affirm that Christ literally pre-existed, these views are obviously far from both trinitarian orthodoxy and from what the Bible teaches.

Holy Spirit Christology

In the early work The Shepherd of Hermas, which was written anywhere from the end of the first century to the middle of the second, we find little doctrinal discourse or detail on christology. But what we do find, is rather interesting. At first glance, we may think that the author held an orthodox christology:

The Son of God is older than all His creation, so that He became the Father’s adviser in His creation. Therefore also He is ancient.

Parable 9

While this latter quote, taken on it’s own, may sound supportive of trinitarianism, we also read:

After I had written down the commandments and parables of the shepherd, the angel of repentance, he came to me and saith to me; “I wish to show thee all things that the Holy Spirit, which spake with thee in the form of the Church, showed unto thee. For that Spirit is the Son of God.

Parable 9:1

Here we see that for the author of this work, the pre-existent Son of God and the Holy Spirit are one and the same person. Thus when we read a little later that the Son is ancient, and pre-existed, we know that what is meant by this is not orthodox christology. We find traces of this ‘Spirit christology’ later in Tertullian, and even into the fourth century. Here we have another example of belief in non-orthodox literal pre-existence early on.

‘Docetism’

Docetism is the term used to describe a brand of early gnostic christology which taught that Jesus Christ was not really a man, but only appeared to be a man. In this christology, a pre-existent spiritual being is identified with Jesus Christ, but at the total expense of Jesus’s humanity. This seems to have been the view of the famous Gnostic Marcion, and was likely at least partly motivated by the idea that the created world and matter are evil. Thus, the Docetists denied Christ’s humanity and real material body, in an endeavor to preserve him from such corruption.

Other Gnostic Views

Other Gnostic christologies frequently involved some form of belief in literal pre-existence, more than I wish to cover in detal here. Carpocrates held a view similar to that of Cerinthus described above; Valentinius taught that the Son was an emanation from the Father. While these provide us with more examples of belief in literal pre-existence within the first hundred years of Christianity, none provide us an example of anything that would be considered orthodox trinitarian christology, although later orthodoxy would in fact draw on the language and ideas of such gnostics in formulating its own doctrines of eternal generation and co-essentiality.

Logos Theorist Incarnation

The logos-theorists, like Justin Martyr, are frequently cited as early examples of Christian belief in literal pre-existence. This is understandable as it is their version of the doctrine which eventually won out over the others in the ante-nicene era, especially with the help of prominent apologists like Justin Martyr, and later, in a modified form, Origen. The christology of these early logos-theorists taught that God has begotten and created, as His first and greatest work, the Son, through whom God then created all else. As such, the Son was after the Father, not co-eternal, and was ontologically subordinate to Him. In this sense alone, the christology of the logos-theorists can be seen to bear no strong resemblance to orthodox christology, but rather to Arianism. But their view of the incarnation further separates them from orthodox views of pre-existence; for them, Jesus Christ was actually the Son of God incarnated- ‘incarnate’ literally meaning ‘enfleshed’ or ’embodied’. That is, in the view of the logos theorists, Jesus ‘became man’ not by taking on a full human nature in the sense later orthodox affirms, or by taking on a human body and soul, but only by taking on a human body: the idea being then, that a pre-existent spirit took on a human body through Mary, the spirit-being itself filling the place of the soul in Jesus. Thus these logos-theorists actually believed in a literal incarnation, or taking on of a body, by the pre-existent Son.

This view is problematic because arguably, by denying a human soul in Jesus, this view denies the real humanity of Jesus; this reasoning would result in later orthodoxy rejecting this literal incarnation christology as heretical.

Transformation Christology

This christology takes ‘the logos became flesh’ as ‘a spiritual being transformed into a human being’, much like modern JWs do. Rather than believing that a pre-existent spirit took on a body and filled the place of a soul, like the logos theorists, or that the spirit only appeared to be man, like the Docetists, the adherents of this christology affirmed the real and full humanity of Christ by holding that the pre-existent spirit became a man, by ceasing to be spirit; he went from being one thing, to being the other. We see what is quite possibly an early witness to this christology in the early pseudonymous 2 Clement, for instance:

If Christ the Lord who saved us, being first spirit, then became flesh, and so called us, in like manner also shall we in this flesh receive our reward.

2 Clement 9:5

Note, the author says not ‘took on flesh’, but ‘became flesh’. Unlike orthodoxy dual-nature incarnation theory, this view did not involve the taking on a second nature alongside a first nature, but the transformation of a being from a fully-spirit being to a fully-human being. This too, then, provides no precedent for orthodox trinitarian christology.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while we find several early examples of belief in literal pre-existence of the Son, the forms this belief took in the first hundred years of Christianity varied widely from one another, and none of them match up with later ‘orthodox’ trinitarian christology. In surveying early theories of literal pre-existence, we find no one uniform view emerge within the first hundred years, but rather a plethora of competing and evolving theories which disagree with each other drastically, as speculation, both gnostic and philosophical, ran rampant in some quarters. No one theory out of these many options is able to stake a clear claim to having apostolic origin on the basis of the surviving historical record, or can claim on that basis to be the uniform and widespread tradition received by the whole church; not until Justin Martyr popularized his own logos-theorist christology do we find any one of these many competing theories emerge as the dominant theory.

Even then we find Justin’s theory presented by Justin himself not as a traditional view he has received from those before him, or as a view with which other ‘catholic’ Christians generally agree, but as his own reading of the scriptures, which disagrees with the majority of his fellow non-gnostic Christians, who reject literal pre-existence altogether:

“For there are some, my friends,” I said, “of our race, who admit that He is Christ, while holding Him to be man of men; with whom I do not agree, nor would I, even though most of those who have the same opinions as myself should say so; since we were enjoined by Christ Himself to put no faith in human doctrines, but in those proclaimed by the blessed prophets and taught by Himself.”

Dialogue With Trypho, 48

While speculation ran rampant among the educated elite and gnostics, we see the majority of believers held a simple faith in Jesus the Nazarene as a true man, miraculously begotten in Mary by God through the Holy Spirit, who is the Christ, or Messiah (anointed one), on account of being anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power. These early Christians must have understood that ‘Christ’ is a title of the man Jesus, not the name of a spiritual being who resided in Jesus; that Jesus is a man in reality, not merely in appearance; and that Jesus took his origin from God in Mary by the Holy Spirit, not as some pre-existent angel, spirit, or emanation of the Father.

“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”

Acts 10:38 NASB
Church History

My Journey to Biblical Unitarianism: Interview with Dr. Dale Tuggy

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dr. Dale Tuggy for his podcast, Trinities. For those not already familiar with Dr. Tuggy:

“Dr. Dale Tuggy served as Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia for some 18 years. He has taught courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy. Dale Tuggy has a PhD from Brown University. He has authored about two dozen peer-reviewed articles and book chapters relating to the Trinity and other topics in analytic theology and philosophy of religion. He is the producer and host of “The Trinities” podcast which explores theories about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Dr. Tuggy is the author of the book “What is the Trinity? Thinking about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and has published an extensive collection of literature including writings from the early biblical unitarian movement in the United States.” [1]

If you aren’t already familiar with the Trinities podcast and the accompanying blog, they are well worth your time, as Dr. Tuggy covers a wide range of trinity-related topics including the development of the doctrine of the trinity and logical and exegetical problems for various trinity theories. It’s excellent material and I highly recommend it, along with his book and papers.

The podcasts are available here (and can also be found on Youtube):

Interview Part I

Interview Part II

In the interview, we talked about my personal background coming from a nominally Christian family, through my rejection of God and Christianity in favor of ‘science’ and atheism and my dabbling in Buddhism, before being exposed to the Bible and the biblical gospel for the first time in my early teens, when I believed, repented, dedicated myself and my life to God, and was baptized in 2009 at the age of 15. Following that we discuss the many twists and turns of my theological journey as a Christian, from my time as a confused but basically unitarian new believer, to being a modern semi-modalistic trinitarian, to my time as a monarchian trinitarian following the beginning of my in-depth study of the trinity in 2014, sparked by my discovery of Justin Martyr’s unorthodox views on God and Jesus. Following that we talked about my journey through ‘catholic’ Reformed Presbyterianism to my near-conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, and my return to Protestant principles like sola scriptura, leading to my abandonment of Nicene trinitarianism at first in favor of Homoian/Logos-theorists views, and then finally to adopting the purely human christology of Biblical Unitarianism. Along the way we discussed numerous theological issues related to these various theologies.

If nothing else strikes you in listening, I hope that in my testimony you see God’s glory displayed in how gracious he has been to someone so undeserving as myself. I also hope that my own journey and observations on various views about God and Jesus might be helpful to others who are currently working through the same issues.

___

[1] The biography provided for Dr. Tuggy on the 21st Century Reformation website for the recent debate between Dr. Tuggy and Chris Date.

Church History General

The Forgotten Father

Something I’ve long noticed in popular trinitarianism is that one of the worst and most damaging effects of much trinitarian doctrine is that the Father is dishonored. Not only does trinitarian doctrine do all it can to deny the uniqueness of the Father as the one God of the Bible, the Almighty, the Maker of all things, by instead ascribing all of these glories to a triune being of which the Father is but one person among three equals, but also, there is a trend caused by this to simply ignore the Father, and to exalt the Son above the Father. While it is insisted that absolute and unqualified equality between the persons of the Trinity is of the utmost importance, in fact, this is almost never the case- one person ends up practically, if not officially, being treated and thought and spoken of as supreme and more central than the others; for the average trinitarian, this person is Christ, who is for them “God the Son”.

This can be seen in all sorts of things; in worship songs and hymns, in prayers, in sermons, in books, in systematic theologies, in doctrinal statements of churches; in all these, a clear trend can be seen: one person of these three supposedly equal persons get’s the bulk of the attention, praise, and thought of modern professing Christians- Christ.

This can just easily be observed by the reader for themselves- in any average trinitarian church, the worship songs, whether hymns or contemporary, will generally almost exclusively focus on the person of Christ. Sometimes other persons will get thrown in as well, but this is to disastrous effect just as often as not- modalism, or confusing the Father and Son with each other as though one person, abounds in such songs. Even when the Son is not being thanked for being our loving Father who died on the cross for us, and the songs more strictly focus on Jesus, the results are still problematic: Jesus is exalted with the highest exaltation possible. He receives every name and title of the Father, and is frequently spoken of in supreme and exclusive terms: for example “you alone have saved us”, “you alone have made us”, ascribing absolute supremacy to Christ and ‘most high’ and ‘incomparable’, etc. These sorts of statements, when left totally unqualified, actually elevate the Son over the Father- unless the Father and Son are simply rolled into one person. But so long as some real personal distinction is admitted between them, ascribing absolute supremacy to the Son without any qualification implicitly places the Son over the Father.

The same problems exist in prayers, but sometimes seem even more pronounced. I long ago lost track of how many times I have heard some well-intentioned trinitarian thank the Father for dying for us. And the same problem of exalting Christ to the very highest possible position often comes up in prayer as well, and with it, the same problem: if Christ is absolutely supreme over all, is he another besides the Father, or are they the same person? If they are the same person, then it’s pure modalism we are dealing with; if they are distinct, then the Son has been, at least implicitly, elevated above the Father.

In sermons and books, it’s again easy to observe the centrality of Christ, often to the near exclusion of the Father. I don’t have any formal study showing this, but it would be my educated guess that if trinitarian churches were polled, it would be found that the vast majority of sermons focus on Jesus with very little focus on the Father. The same can be said for Christian books.

When we come to systematic theologies and doctrinal statements, it becomes clear that Jesus receives far more focus than the Father. The standard breakdown of such books and statement is this (and feel free to crack open a couple systematic theologies and see what I’m saying): a long section is devoted to ‘God’; under which is treated the existence and attributes of God, and then the trinity, or, how this God that was just spoken of as if He were as single person for many chapters is in fact not a single person, but three persons. Then, the systematic theology or doctrinal statement will either move directly on to christology, the section on the Son, which is followed by pneumatology, the section on the Holy Spirit, or, on rare occasion, a small section will appear between theology and christology on the Father. The difference in length of this section compared to the others, when it exists at all, speaks volumes to the point I am making here: the Father, robbed of His true identity as the one God of the Bible, and made out to merely be one of three equal persons within the one God, is practically ignored. Sometimes He basically gets a brief ‘shout-out’ as the one Who plans and sends, but then that’s about it, usually. In more archaic systematic theologies and older statements, there may also be some statement that the Father is the source of the other persons of the trinity by eternal generation and procession, but these are often not given much attention or well explained, and on the popular level, these doctrines are frequently rejected and/or totally unknown.

All this means, to sum up, that Christ is worshipped by song, prayed to, preached about, written about, systematically studied, and defined in theological detail far more than the Father or the Holy Spirit. While the persons of the trinity are insisted to be absolutely “equal”, in practice this simply is not the case. The Father is practically forgotten, eclipsed by the Son, and often only bothered to be mentioned at all for sake of His roles in relation to the Son. Meanwhile Christ is central and treated as absolutely supreme.

Christ’s centrality is typically seen as a good thing, and to an extent, it is a good thing according to the Bible. God has exalted Christ, and wills that to him, as to God, every knee should bow. But the key difference is that in New Testament Christianity, Christ is exalted to the glory of the Father, and it is always the Father Who remains ultimately central and supreme (Phil 2:11). It is Christ who is exalted by God to the Father’s right hand, not the Father to Christ’s right hand; it is the Father Who sends the Son and Spirit, not the others sending Him; and the Son has the Father as his God, not the other way around. Whether the subordination of Christ be ascribed to economic differences in the trinity, or to an incarnation, or to Christ simply being a human Messiah and Son of God as is actually the case, it’s undeniable that a clear subordination of Christ to the Father exists throughout the New Testament; one that does not end with Christ’s exaltation to God’s right hand, either. On this point we may firstly note that ‘the right hand of God’ is obviously a position that is exalted above all else, yet subordinate to God. But secondly, we may consider that it was well after the ascension and exaltation of Christ that Paul the apostle wrote that “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3), and tells us that in the end, Jesus, though greatly exalted by God, will be perfectly subject to God (1 Cor 15:28), the Father forever being supreme over all. In the New Testament, like in modern churches, there is no equality of Father and Son: but the great difference that in the New Testament, the Father is supreme, and the Son subordinate to Him- something modern trinitarians turn on it’s head, in practice, if not in official doctrine.

The result of all this is that the one God of the Bible is horribly neglected by most professing Christians. Since they have Christ as their one God, as the second person of God, what need is there for the to go to the Father? The one God is the one God, and if Jesus is the one God, then why go to the Father at all? Whereas the New Testament presents us with Jesus as the way by which men can approach God the Father, today’s trinitarians seem to have no desire to do so; for them, the Father is not the ultimate destination and Jesus the one who makes is possible for us to get there, but is himself the final destination in place of God. All of this results in people generally having a horribly muddled view of God, Christ, and Christianity. By exalting Christ above God, they effectively present Christ a rival to God, rather than as the loving and obedient Son and Servant of the one God, who always does what is pleasing to the Father and is perfectly subject to Him. The real Jesus Christ is our perfect example of love and obedience to God, our human king anointed by God, our High Priest who by the sacrifice of his own blood brings us to God- it is this Jesus who is worthy of all the praise, honor, and glory we see him receive in the New Testament. A Jesus who instead of being the humble and obedient Messiah, Servant, and Son of God acts as God’s rival and is worshipped and honored in place of Him is not the real Jesus, has no basis in the Bible, and is more a monstrous idol than a fitting object of love and praise. Trinitarians need to stop presenting Jesus as the usurper of God’s throne, worship, and glory, and go back to the Bible to see that while Jesus is absolutely worthy of worship and honor, his role is not that of the Father, but that of the one by whom we approach the Father. “This is eternal life, that they may know You [Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (Jn 17:3 NASB).

General

The First Commandment: Trinitarian or Unitarian?

In some recent interaction with Presbyterians I again encountered the claim that it is a violation of the first commandment to reject the trinitarian doctrine that God is three persons in favor of the ‘unitarian’ doctrine that the one God is only one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s an odd charge, in my opinion, because the text of the first commandment seems to obviously present God as a single person:

Then God spoke all these words, saying,

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

Exodus 20:1-3 NASB

I just want to make a few brief observations here. Firstly, we may note that “God” in this passage is clearly a title indicating a relation, not an essence. The LORD is said to be Israel’s God in verse two; if this refers to an essence or nature, it makes no sense, but if ‘God’ is a title signifying dominion, this fits perfectly. After all, what would it mean exactly for YHVH to be Israel’s divine essence? Does Israel possess a divine nature, so that Israel consubstantial with the Trinity? Or is Israel God incarnate? The Bible has no concept of God as an essence, but rather applies ‘God’ as a title which, as the titles ‘lord’ and ‘king’, denotes dominion, power, and authority. With this meaning in mind there is nothing enigmatic about YHVH being Israel’s God; YHVH is not making an ontological claim about an essence, but declaring Himself to have authority, power, and dominion over His people Israel by being their God.

This also removes the mystery of verse three; for if ‘God’ here is an essence (as the trinitarians must think), and there is only one such divine essence, then the command of verse three is oddly put, at best. To have no other ‘divine essences’, which do not exist, before the one divine essence that is predicated of Israel, is an odd and practically unintelligible commandment. But if we understand that ‘godhood’ is dominion, and that there were on account of dominion and authority many lesser beings called ‘gods’ (Hebrew ‘elohim’, ‘mighty ones’), including both men and angels (Ps 82, compare Jn 10:34; Ps 8:5, compare Heb 2:7,9), then the command to put no other god ahead of YHVH is not so strange at all. In fact, this verse assumes that there are other beings, creatures of YHVH, that can justly bear the title ‘elohim’/’god’, and that YHVH, as being absolutely supreme over them all as the “Most High God” and “God of gods” is to be infinitely preferred above all others. While honor may be given to other ‘gods’ -human rulers and kings, and even to angels- the Almighty God, YHVH, the God of Israel, is to honored, loved, served, and worshipped above all others, with all the heart, mind, and soul (Mk 12:29-30).

Secondly, I’d like to note that YHVH the one God of Israel, the God of gods, can be clearly seen to be only one person here. Scripture doesn’t leave us guessing on how many persons YHVH is: in verse two, we read that YHVH is an “I”, a “Who”, and in verse three, a “Me”. These singular personal pronouns denote a single person in very clear terms. But note what else we can see about YHVH, just from these three short verses: YHVH is a living being, Who brought this nation He is now speaking to out of slavery in Egypt. He is no abstract essence, no lifeless principle or mere idea, but a living individual being, able to act and save His people. We also see that this being is a rational being: He speaks and acts intelligently; indeed, His wisdom is far beyond man’s comprehension. For our purposes here, it’s important to note: YHVH is here portrayed as a single rational individual being; that’s precisely what a “person” is by definition. That’s just the standard philosophical definition of a person, what the word ‘person’ means and has meant for centuries. A person is a rational individual being: and YHVH, the God of the Bible, the God of Israel before Whom we are to have no other gods, is one such rational individual being: a single person.

That conclusion is of course precisely what unitarians believe and have been endeavoring to help people to see from the scriptures. For trinitarians, on the other hand, this is quite a mess. Where is God’s triunity? Why does God imply only one person Who is the supreme object of worship and devotion, if indeed there are three worthy of equally supreme devotion? How can the one God be one person, as He is clearly presented as here, if He is actually three? Why isn’t ‘God’ here, which is being used in reference to the one God, referring to an essence like the creeds say it is supposed to? Perhaps one will also wonder why, in so beautifully revealing Himself to the people He had chosen and redeemed for Himself, God didn’t choose to show them His triunity? Why did God leave His people in darkness about His identity? Why leave them with the misapprehension that He is only one person, if He is really three?

The Westminster Larger Catechism, commenting on the first commandment, finds many possible violations of it, among which are these:

“…ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions… of [God]”

WLC 105

We must wonder, in light of this, at the peril the wording of this commandment itself must then have placed God’s people in; for (in the Presbyterian interpretation) while forbidding them that it is a grave sin to misapprehend or misunderstand their God, or to be ignorant of Him, the commandment itself furnishes them with (to the trinitarian) a misleading notion of God’s identity, such that can only leave them confused, ignorant of God’s true identity, and entertaining false and mistaken opinions concerning Him; for the whole lot of these Israelites, if they simply believed what was spoken to them in a straightforward manner, were positively unitarians, and comprehended their God YHVH to be a single rational individual being, that is, one person. But if, as the trinitarians hold, God is in fact three persons, then the command itself must represent, according to their strict interpretation if it, a sort of sinister trap, whereby God will at once trick His people into a false view of Him by speaking as if He is a single person, while at the same time forbidding thinking such as a grave sin of “ignorance”, “misapprehension”, and “false opinions”.

While the trinitarian must wrestle with why God would not only mislead His people into thinking falsely about Him, but also at the same time make it a grave sin to so think falsely about Him, unitarians are able to simply affirm the plain reading of the passage we noted above. If believing the straightforward teaching of scripture that the Lord God Almighty is one person is the sin of ‘misapprehension and false opinions’, we latter-day unitarians find ourselves in good company in committing it, seeing as not one of the prophets or apostles, nor the Lord Jesus Christ himself, can be found innocent of it, all of them having been duped, apparently, by God’s sneaky way of presenting Himself as though He is a single person when in fact He is not. The shema has deceived us all; from Moses, to David, to Jesus, to Paul and Peter, no one until Augustine and his trinitarian comrades in the late fourth century were clever enough to see through the misty statements of scripture with the clarity to discern the indefinable mystery that God is not a single person, but three of persons in one individual God.

All jesting aside, there is indeed serious misapprehension and ignorance of the true God afoot here; but this cannot be said to be on the part of those who, holding the scriptures in high esteem, refuse to trade the clear revelation of God that He is one person for the traditions and doctrines of men saying that He is three. We must take our stand not on the creeds of catholicism, but on the confession of our Lord, that this is eternal life: to know his Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (Jn 17:3).

“We must obey God rather than men.”

-Peter and the apostles, Acts 5:29

“Test all things; hold fast what is good.”

-Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV)

Jesus answered [the Jews], “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’;

John 8:54 (NASB)

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

1 Timothy 2:5 (NASB)
Arguments For Unitarianism

The Dying Immortal: How Trinitarians Accidentally Argue For Deism

Trinitarianism makes a lot of self-contradictory claims: on the one hand, trinitarians typically affirm that the one God is immortal, immutable, invisible, un-temptable, all-knowing, etc; but at the same time, they propose that this one God, in his second person, died, changed, was seen, was tempted, and didn’t know certain things. This is an obvious logical contradiction- for the same subject to be said to be un-killable yet be killed, un-temptable yet be tempted, etc, is just obviously a contradiction and a falsehood; and so, this simple line of reasoning about the attributes of God in contrast to the attributes we see Christ had is frequently used to show that the doctrine of the trinity is false. Jesus Christ cannot be the one God if his attributes differ so widely from those of the one God; the difference makes it obvious that the one God is one, and Jesus Christ his human Son is another.

But trinitarian apologists have been working hard to try to answer this, ever since the doctrine of the trinity was invented. It’s an obvious problem for them; and solution has typically been to try to find some way that God can be both immortal, and have died, be immutable, yet have changed, etc. The solution is typically sought through incarnation theories- something about the second nature the second person of the one God assumed allows these things, it’s conjectured. Other theories abound as well though, such as proposing that due to divine timelessness, God can be eternally be two opposite things, like mortal and immortal, because technically He wouldn’t be these things at the same time, thus arguably escaping the charge of being a contradiction.

But here is a serious problem with all these explanations: this trinitarian reasoning used to try to save the doctrine of the trinity from logic is a terribly slippery slope; any trinitarian argument that says that although God is immortal He can die, will generally also lead to the same logic for all God’s attributes; allowing that He can be both evil and good, all knowing and ignorant, unchanging and changing. After all, if God being incapable of dying doesn’t actually mean he cannot die, then on what basis can we say that God being incapable of sinning means that He will never actually sin? If God’s immortality is the kind of immortality where one can still die, and God’s immutability is the kind of immutability where one can still change (which, of course, is in truth no real immortality or immutability at all), then how do we know that God’s goodness is not the kind of goodness where one can still commit evil? How do we know that God’s holiness is not the sort of holiness which allows one to be defiled? How do we know that God’s perfection isn’t the sort of perfection that allows flaws and errors?

Once you reach immutability with this reasoning, it all implodes though. If God can change, that is, in His very nature and character, then revealed religion is worthless, as we have no idea if God will even be good tomorrow. If one responds that He is trustworthy, we may respond that if He can change then He might well not be trustworthy tomorrow. If He can change then He might be unfaithful to His promises. Thus scripture assures us, in the context of those promises, that God does not change, so that we may rest assured in them (Mal 3:6). But if God may be the opposite of anything He is, then we cannot make any certain assertion about God, and what is true of Him now could be false the next minute. In short, these trinitarian arguments would prove too much: they would be an argument for deism rather than the trinity.

And so then, the trinitarian defense of their contradictions is a slippery slope: if God can be temptable although untemptable, mortal while immortal, change while unchangable, etc, then these statements about Him mean nothing, and it would reasonably be just as possible that while being good He might be evil. This trinitarian logic taken to it’s logical ends, if true (which it isn’t) would destroy Christianity and all revealed religion. Our ability to positively assert truth about God would be lost entirely, for anything we say He is, He might in fact turn out to be the opposite; we will have lost out ability to speak meaningfully about God at all.

Of course, sometimes trinitarians seem to affirm this point already- they like to point to the supposed insufficiency of human language to speak accurately about God, whenever they find human language making things to concrete for them to sip their contradictions through unnoticed- which is fairly often. But this point is as slippery of a slope as the one noted above; if our human words are truly incapable of accurately relaying truth about God, then God’s endeavor to reveal Himself to us through human words, in the scriptures, and in the oral teachings of the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, has failed. I reiterate again: if human words cannot accurately communicate truth about God, then God has failed, because this is precisely what God has set about doing. If we believe that God is too wise and too powerful to fail, and trust that He knows what He is doing a great deal better than we do, then we will rather need to accept that revelation- which always comes to us in human language- as an accurate and truthful way of communicating truth about God. As God is ultimately the Maker of man and of human language, we ought not be surprised that He has allowed and designed things such that it is capable of communicating truth about Him.

The alternative to this is deism; if we believe in God, the Supreme Being, but deny His ability to accurately reveal Himself in the main way that He has set about doing so, viz, through human language, then we will be forced to be totally agnostic about God. Our reading that He is good will not mean much, when by now, for all we know, He has already taken on another nature that is evil, and so is now both good and evil. Or, for all we know, He took on an imperfect nature alongside His perfect one, and is now as flawed as we are. These trinitarian defenses, then which all depend on proving that God can actually in some way be the opposite of the way He is, don’t actually help the doctrine of the trinity at all, because the logical end of this reasoning is to deny the validity of special revelation about God altogether. This is something trinitarians need to take to heart; this is a clear reductio ad absurdum for most or all trinitarian attempts to justify how an immortal person can die, and an un-tempable God can be tempted by evil, etc. Yet without these sorts of arguments, trinitarians are left with logical contradictions that are as serious as they are numerous, all of which work to show us that the doctrine of a triune God is false. If we are really committed to the reality of meaningful and accurate divine revelation from God through words, as we have in the scriptures, then we will need to find a better explanation for the biblical data we have been given than what the doctrine of the trinity can provide us with.

Arguments For Unitarianism

The Development of the Doctrine of the Trinity

Trinitarians frequently claim that the trinitarian theology has been essential to Christianity from the beginning; whatever changes or developments there have been, we are told, are only refinements in the way this doctrine is expressed, and not changes to the actual doctrine itself. These claims, however, must be seen as representing either an ignorance of what the theological landscape of the early church actually looked like, or else brazen disregard for historical truth. We may easily recognize in the writings of the early fathers a clear development of doctrine respecting the identities of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and the relationships between them, involving not only massive changes in terminology, but also substantial changes to the underlying concepts themselves.

Firstly, we must note that early Christian writers, until the middle of the fourth century, were nearly unanimous in affirming that the one God is one person, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ [1]; the main exceptions to this being gnostics and modalists [2]. Early Christianity was home to a great deal of diversity, and while views that would lead into later trinitarianism developed slowly throughout the second through fourth centuries, the majority of Christians did not believe that Jesus literally pre-existed [3]. Development in the direction of trinitarianism was advanced in the second century by the logos-theorists and apologists, such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian. Departing from the majority of Christians, they asserted that Jesus Christ was the logos and wisdom of God, begotten by God prior to or at the time of creation [4]. Writers in this era spoke of the Son as being both ‘begotten’ and ‘created’ by the Father, using these terms interchangeably [5]. The Son was viewed as being subordinate to the Father in several senses: as being chronologically after the Father [6], owing his existence to the Father [7], being under the authority of the Father and serving the will of the Father [8], not sharing the the transcendent divine attributes of the Father [9], and as being lesser than the Father in honor and glory [10]. The Logos was seen as God’s instrument in the creation of the cosmos, and although this Logos was the Image of God who shared God’s own likeness, the Logos could do things that were, due to the transcendence of God, impossible for the one God to do, like appear to men as the Angel of the Lord [11]. Although this Logos was “God” and “Lord”, he was expressly stated to be numerically distinct from the one God [12], ‘the Maker of all things’ [13], ‘the Most High’ [14], and ‘the Almighty’ [15], (all of which titles were reserved for the Father) and was sometimes referred to as ‘another God’ and a ‘second God’ besides the one God, the Father [16].

In the third century, Origen elevated the Son to the status of being co-eternal with the Father by popularizing a view called ‘eternal generation’, which came to eventually replace the temporal view of the Son’s generation held by earlier proto-orthodox writers [17]. Origen also helped shape the language that would later be used to articulate trinitarian doctrine, including the use of the term ‘hypostasis’ to refer to a single discrete individual being, declaring that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were three hypostases [18]; only the hypostasis of the Father, the one God, however, was uncreated, with the Son being the greatest and eternal creature of the Father, and the Holy Spirit being next, having been created by God through the Son [19].

In the fourth century previously existing tensions between Origen’s views and the views of earlier logos-theorists boiled over in the Arian controversy. Arius was condemned for denying the Son’s eternality (as so many logos-theorists had) [20], and the Son was declared to be ‘of the same essence’ as the Father in the Nicene Creed. This vague terminology was employed to exclude Arius and his followers, but did not have a single clear meaning, but rather had many possible interpretations, acceptable to the many different non-Arian viewpoints represented at Nicea. In the following decades, however, fierce controversy broke out over how the term was to be understood. The term ‘homoousias’, ‘same being’, could be understood to either indicate generic sameness of nature among multiple individuals (as the alternative “semi-arian” term ‘homoiousias’ also indicated), or to indicate that the Father and Son were one individual [21]. Recognizing the latter as modalistic [22], the conservative majority of bishops opted to replace the Nicene formula with another that could not be taken in such a modalistic way; this found expression through a number of non-nicene councils; for a couple decades, the Nicene Creed was totally repealed, and the pro-nicenes appeared to have lost [23]. During this time important changes took place within the pro-nicene camp; whereas previously the pro-nicenes had advocated that ‘homoousias’ should be understood and accepted only in a generic sense [24], some pro-nicenes began to adapt nicene theology to affirm by this term that the Father and Son were together the same individual being and the same one God [25].

In this same era, some pro-nicene bishops began to advocate the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is also God and co-essential with the Father, thus introducing the concept of a trinity of persons all sharing one divine being; up until this point, a great deal of diversity had existed on how the Holy Spirit was viewed [26]. By 381, with the older generation of pro-nicenes like Athanasius dead, a newer generation had taken the helm of the pro-nicene party, and for the first time in history advocated a triune God, or one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [27], repudiating the older view that the one God is uni-personal, the Father, and that the Son is a numerically distinct individual besides Him [28]. Due to a change in imperial politics, this small party was thrust into power, and was thus able to define orthodoxy for the entire Roman Empire. While many bishops continued to hold a subordinationist christology and/or denied the Godhood of the Holy Spirit, the opinion of these conservatives was ignored, and the new revised ‘Nicene Orthodoxy’ became the official trinitarian orthodoxy of the church moving forward. Enforced by the sword, dissent was slowly killed by force as the Roman Empire crumbled and, with the eventual defeat of (the previously ‘orthodox’) Homoian unitarian subordinationism among the Barbarians in the 8th century, Europe entered the Dark Ages firmly trinitarian [29].

Ultimately the fact that trinitarianism as we know it today is the result of a long and painful process of theological evolution is unavoidable from the historical data. Leaving behind the Bible’s own answers to questions of christology, proto-trinitarian speculation resulted in centuries of bitter infighting among professing Christians, which was only finally resolved by the violent intervention of Roman Imperial authorities in favor of the newly christened ‘orthodoxy’ of trinitarianism. The history of this development sees one significant conceptual change after another, with those holding to an older stage of development quickly becoming the heretics of the next generation. It is the job of those seeking the true religion of Jesus and his apostles to distinguish between these later wildly speculative developments and the religion of the Jewish man, Jesus the Nazarene.

——

Footnotes

[1] See the ‘rule of faith’ as attested to by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen, as well as the Creed of Nicea, the Macrostich, the Homoian Creed, all of which begin with the confession “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” as well as a collection of testimonies from the writings of various nicene and ante-nicene fathers available here. See a comparative chart of the ‘rule of faith’ as given by various early authors here.

[2] “I know that there is one God, Jesus Christ; nor except Him do I know any other that is begotten and amenable to suffering.” Zephyrinus (d. 217 CE), a Sabellian, as recorded by Hippolytus in Refutation of All Heresies, Book 9. Gnostic denial of the identity of the one God with the Father, and the ‘catholic’ unitarian position against this, is especially clear in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies.

[3] “For there are some, my friends,” I said, “of our race [Christians], who admit that He is Christ, while holding Him to be man of men; with whom I do not agree, nor would I, even though most of those who have the same opinions as myself should say so; since we were enjoined by Christ Himself to put no faith in human doctrines, but in those proclaimed by the blessed prophets and taught by Himself.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, 48) “A second class are those who know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, considering that the Word made flesh is the whole Word, and knowing only Christ after the flesh. Such is the great multitude of those who are counted believers.” (Origen, Commentary on John 2.3)

[4] See Justin Dialogue With Trypho Ch 61 and 129; Theophilus of Antioch To Autolycus, 2.22; Tatian Address to the Greeks, Ch 5.

[5] See Tertullian, Against Hermogenes Ch 3 and 18; Origen, Commentary on John, 2.6.

[6] See Novatian On the Trinity, Ch 31; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Ch 10, and Against Noetus, Ch 10-11; Tertullian, Against Hermogenes Ch 3.

[7] See Justin, Dialogue With Trypho Ch 29, 61, 62, 128; Novatian On the Trinity Ch 31; Origen Commentary on John 2.6; Tatian Address to the Greeks, Ch 5; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Ch 10.

[8] “When Scripture says, ‘The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,’ the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; Another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God.” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 29) “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things— above whom there is no other God — wishes to announce to them.” (Ibid, Chapter 56) See also Justin Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 29, 56, 60, 61, 113, 125, 126, 127; “Moreover, the Son does nothing of His own will, nor does anything of His own determination; nor does He come from Himself, but obeys all His Father’s commands and precepts; so that, although birth proves Him to be a Son, yet obedience even to death declares Him the minister of the will of His Father, of whom He is. Thus making Himself obedient to His Father in all things, although He also is God, yet He shows the one God the Father by His obedience, from whom also He drew His beginning.” Novatian On the Trinity, Ch 31.

[9] See Justin Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 56, 60, 127; Irenaeus Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching; Tertullian Against Praxeas Ch 16; Novatian On the Trinity Ch 17, 18.

[10] See Tertullian Against Hermogenes, Ch 18.

[11] See Justin Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 56, 60, 127; Irenaeus Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching; Tertullian Against Praxeas Ch 16; Novatian On the Trinity Ch 17, 18.

[12] “You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit.” Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 129; see also Ibid, Ch 128.

[13] “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things— above whom there is no other God — wishes to announce to them.” Justin Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 56.

[14] “Grant that there may be some individuals among the multitudes of believers who are not in entire agreement with us, and who incautiously assert that the Saviour is the Most High God; however, we do not hold with them, but rather believe Him when He says, “The Father who sent Me is greater than I.” We would not therefore make Him whom we call Father inferior — as Celsus accuses us of doing — to the Son of God.” Origen Contra Celsum, 8.14.

[15] See the ‘rule of faith’ as attested to by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen, as well as the Creed of Nicea, the Macrostich, the Homoian Creed, all of which begin with the confession “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”. See a comparative chart of the ‘rule of faith’ as given by various early authors here.

[16] “And although we may call Him a second God, let men know that by the term second God we mean nothing else than a virtue capable of including all other virtues, and a reason capable of containing all reason whatsoever which exists in all things, which have arisen naturally, directly, and for the general advantage, and which reason, we say, dwelt in the soul of Jesus, and was united to Him in a degree far above all other souls, seeing He alone was enabled completely to receive the highest share in the absolute reason, and the absolute wisdom, and the absolute righteousness.” Origen, Contra Celsus, Book 5.39; see also Justin, Dialogue With Trypho, Ch 56.

[17] See Origin First Principles, 1.4, compare Novatian On the Trinity, Ch 31; Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Ch 10, and Against Noetus, Ch 10-11; Tertullian, Against Hermogenes Ch 3.

[18] See Commentary on John, 2.6 and 10.21.

[19] “We consider, therefore, that there are three hypostases, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and at the same time we believe nothing to be uncreated but the Father. We admit, as more pious and as true, that the Holy Spirit is the most honored of all things made through the Word, and that he is [first] in rank of all the things which have been made by the Father through Christ. Perhaps this is the reason the Spirit too is not called son of God, since the only begotten alone is by nature a son from the beginning. The Holy Spirit seems to have need of the Son ministering to his hypostasis, not only for it to exist, but also for it to be wise, and rational, and just, and whatever other thing we ought to understand it to be by participation in the aspects of Christ which we mentioned previously.” (Origen, Commentary on John 2.6)

[20] “But as for those who say, ‘There was when He was not’, and, ‘Before being born He was not’, and that He came into existence out of nothing… or is subject to alteration or change, these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.” (Anathemas of the Nicene Council) While Arius possibly innovated in saying that the Son was created ‘ex nihilo’, out of nothing, he was certainly not the first to teach that there has been a point before the person of the Son existed, see footnote #6.

[21] Hilary of Poiters clearly distinguishes between these multiple ways of taking ‘co-essential’ in his De Synodis. That Hilary acknowledges that what he and the pro-nicenes actually mean by ‘same essence’ is the same thing as the later so-called ‘semi-arians’ meant by ‘like essence’ is very significant, for this reveals that at this time, ‘like essence’ was not considered heresy by the pro-nicenes, but just was only rejected by them as being a poor way of expressing the same idea they intended by ‘same essence’. Later condemnation of the ‘Homoiousian’ ‘semi-arians’ by triniatarians, then, really represents a condemnation of the early pro-nicenes like Athansius as well, since they acknowledged an agreement of doctrine with these “semi-arians” in all but wording. See also Athanasius, De Synodis, 41.

[22] Even Hilary, Athanasius, and Basil recognized a numerical or individual unity of essence as Sabellian, (that is, modalistic). “For neither do we hold a Son-Father, as do the Sabellians, calling Him of one but not of the same essence, and thus destroying the existence of the Son.” Athanasius, Statement of Faith. And Basil the Great said “This term [co-essential] also corrects the error of Sabellius, for it removes the idea of the identity of the hypostases, and introduces in perfection the idea of the Persons. For nothing can be of the same substance with itself, but one thing is of same substance with another.” (Letter LII) These quotes demonstrate that the numerical or individual sense of ‘co-essential’ was seen as Sabellian, and that Athanasius and Basil saw the term’s intended meaning as a generic unity of nature only. They were sure that the term ‘homoousias’, despite being open to this Sabellian meaning, would always be properly qualified as a conceptual equivalent to ‘homoiousias’; we see that within only the span of a generation, however, their pet term was already being taken in the modalistic sense that their opponents warned it would be.

[23] A number of local councils first contravened the Nicene Creed, before finally, in 359, the then ‘ecumenical’ councils of Ariminum & Seleucia officially took the Nicene Creed off the books and replaced it with the ‘Homoian’ formula, which eschewed the philosophically dense language of ‘ousia’ in favor of simply defining the Son as ‘like the Father’ and allowing a more ante-nicene view, like that of the logos-theorists, to flourish again for a brief time.

[24] See Hilary, De Synodis, 66-72, Athanasius De Synodis 41, and footnote #22 above.

[25] See Hilary in On the Trinity, where we can see his drastic departure from the careful anti-Sabellian qualification he gave in his earlier De Synodis. “I and the Father are One John 10:30, are the words of the Only-begotten Son of the Unbegotten. It is the voice of the One God proclaiming Himself to be Father and Son; Father speaking in the Son and Son in the Father.” (On the Trinity, Book 2). See also the writings of Marius Victorinus and Gregory Nazianzen.

[26] “But of the wise men amongst ourselves, some have conceived of him as an Activity, some as a Creature, some as God; and some have been uncertain which to call Him, out of reverence for Scripture, they say, as though it did not make the matter clear either way. And therefore they neither worship Him nor treat Him with dishonour, but take up a neutral position, or rather a very miserable one, with respect to Him. And of those who consider Him to be God, some are orthodox in mind only, while others venture to be so with the lips also. And I have heard of some who are even more clever, and measure Deity; and these agree with us that there are Three Conceptions; but they have separated these from one another so completely as to make one of them infinite both in essence and power, and the second in power but not in essence, and the third circumscribed in both; thus imitating in another way those who call them the Creator, the Co-operator, and the Minister, and consider that the same order and dignity which belongs to these names is also a sequence in the facts.” Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 31. We see here that Gregory, a Cappadocian and one of the leading figures arguing for the view that the Holy Spirit is God, makes no attempt to claim his position as the historical orthodoxy of Christians, but freely admits great diversity of opinion on the matter. Of those who thought the Spirit was a creature, we may especially recall the influential Origen, see Commentary on John 2.6.

[27] See Augustine’s writings in On the Trinity and in his Debate with Maximinus (a Homoian), wherein the one God is expressly treated as a single personal entity who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. See also Hilary in On the Trinity, where we can see his drastic departure from the careful anti-Sabellian qualification he gave in his earlier De Synodis. “I and the Father are One John 10:30, are the words of the Only-begotten Son of the Unbegotten. It is the voice of the One God proclaiming Himself to be Father and Son; Father speaking in the Son and Son in the Father.” (On the Trinity, Book 2). See also the writings of Marius Victorinus and Gregory Nazianzen on the Trinity, and the later pseudo-athanasian creed which came to summarize this modalistic trinitarianism.

[28] This repudiation of the view that the one God is one person, the Father of Jesus, and Jesus another distinct from the one God, can be seen especially in Augustine’s interactions with Maximinus in their Debate, and in the ruling if the council of Rome in 382 as recorded by Theodoret; see Church History, 5.11. Eunomius’s reaction to the nicene victory under Theodosius I also indicates that the opponents of the Nicene party saw themselves as arguing against a theology which taught that the one God is triune, and not particularly the Father; so also with Maximinus in his debate with Augustine.

[29] See the proscriptions of heresy in the Theodosian code. Byzantine anti-heresy laws gradually strengthened against all non-trinitarian views, as the Western Roman Empire fell to the Homoian Goths and Vandals, giving a brief respite of religious liberty, before the restored rule of catholics under the Franks again brought strict medieval ante-heresy laws, forcing non-trinitarians underground until the Protestant Reformation.

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