Not Traditional, Original

The Vision of OriginalChristianity.Net

The vision of OriginalChristianity.Net is to look at the beliefs and practices of the the original Christians.  The reason why this is important is that over the millennium Christianity has developed numerous factions that all claim that that they are the true continuation of original Christianity.  I heard exactly that when I visited a Greek Orthodox Church, I have read it in Roman Catholic literature, it is in the bulletin of a local non-denominational church in my area.  They make these claims despite the fact that they have disagreed, even violently at times.  For other articles on this topic, see A Major Objection to the Restoration Movement Is That Christianity Has Not Changed Substantially Over Time, and Another Claim of Original Christianity in Practice Today,

Throughout this website are numerous articles written on the numerous divisions in the Church that we have today, how a lot of these doctrines developed that are behind all these divisions, and some key points on how original Christianity differed from today.  It is important to look at all these things because they are part of Christianity now and play a big part, perhaps more as obstacles, in the faith of the individual believer.

But the key point of this website is to be able to envision what original Christianity, and in particular the time of Jesus and the apostles and disciples that he touched was really like. There was an incredible spirituality. With the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, and afterward the sending of the Holy Spirit we see the most incredible movement of God on earth since creation.

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This was a time of power, miracles, healing, and deliverance, not only by Jesus, but by those he touched, his apostles and disciples. People saw God in action through these men. They saw the word of God living, because they lived it together. There was incredible community and sharing. There was incredible believing. There was great faith.

It was a time of simple doctrine.  There were no official doctrines on infant baptism or believer’s baptism. There was no doctrine that prophecy and the other gifts and manifestations of the spirit had ceased. There were baptisms being carried out, and the last supper repeated as a memorial, but there were no “sacraments”, somehow mysteriously conveying grace by ritualistic practices. There were no autonomous churches disputing which form of church government was doctrinally correct, which end times theology was correct, or arguments over whether or not there was eternal security.

There was no argument over the status of the Bible, because there was no Bible. Jesus had referenced the law and the prophets, including the Psalms, as the word of God. And only those books with the addition of the words of Jesus were considered the word of God. There were no written Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There were no epistles of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, John, and Jude. So there was no argument over doctrines derived from them like eternal security, justification by grace, predestination, or even the Trinity.

Philosophy was rejected as an unwise practice of the Greeks that actually tore down faith more than it built, so discussion of faith wasn’t an analytical exercise in the nuances of the meanings of words, but rather simple directives, and powerful stories and analogies that emphasize the important meanings to be focused on while ignoring the myriad details that can lead people astray.

What existed was the good news that Jesus the Messiah had come, that he had fulfilled the law, had sent the Holy Spirit, and now many believers were walking in great faith and power. What existed was great praise, great faith, and great love of God.

All of this is not to say that this was an easy time. There were persecutions, challenges, and trials, as both the Jews and the Romans saw this burgeoning Christianity as a threat. But this just served to bring the Christians closer together, and more united in their faith.

Original Christianity was a time of great unity, simple doctrine, great believing, with many believers walking in the love of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

So as you read these articles that discuss all of the divisions, and developments, both good and bad throughout the millennia of history of Christianity, it is important to maintain the focus of the simple vision of original Christianity.  Pray, praise the Lord, walk in the power of the spirit, love God and love your neighbor, and rejoice in what Christ has done. Join together with any Christian who is doing the same.  And in the process perhaps we can bring some of what made original Christianity so great back to life.

© copyright 2012 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

Welcome to Original Christianity.Net

It appears that universally, in the church, we Christians marvel at both at Jesus’ miracles and the wisdom in his parables. We especially are in awe of his life, his incredible birth, his short but incredibly powerful ministry, his passion, death, and resurrection. We love him for those. We are also moved by the depth of the wisdom and inspiration of books like the Psalms and Proverbs. Almost universally, although most would say all true Christians, acknowledge him as Lord, and strive to follow his leadership as we walk in a dark world filled with daily challenges, including overcoming evil.

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In fact, there are some universal, and some almost universal, elements in Christianity. Universally held elements of Christianity include this deep awe of Christ, and likewise, for the bible. The bible, or at least for some, sections of the bible, such as the parables of Christ in the gospels, the powerful poetry of the Psalms, and the wisdom in Proverbs are universally held in the deepest regard. Almost universally held elements include the belief in Christ as the only begotten son of the Father, physically born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, who died for out sins, and was raised from the dead and is presently seated at the right hand of God. Christians look forward to spending eternity with the Lord. Even more, there is common ground as churches promote worship, baptism, and communion with some similarity.

But beyond some basics like these, there is far less agreement on the tenets of Christianity. In fact, there is an elephant in the Church, an elephant of disagreement resulting in tens of thousands of sects, disagreeing on many doctrines.

The disagreements have been legion, often bloody, and always confusing. Christians have killed other Christians for defying the rule of infant baptism and proclaiming “believer’s baptism”. Many Christians have declared other Christians apostate because of their view of the Bible, whether it is inerrant, infallible, or at least partially of human origin.

And even if they agree on the status of the Bible, they don’t agree on what it says on these issues. For example, there is disagreement over basic principles of interpretation like whether the overriding principle is based on the covenants of God versus which dispensation we are in.

There are Christians that call other Christians apostate (traitorous) because they believe that the gifts of the spirit, i.e., prophecy and speaking in tongues, etc. still exist, and vice versa. These days there are sharp divides over homosexuality, abortion, the Word of Faith movement, the emergent Church movement, and the role of women in the church.

Even if Christians don’t call others apostate, they still disagree to the point of not fellowshipping over issues like: dietary laws (whether they need to be followed), drinking alcohol, end times (Eschatology), eternal security, evolution vs. literal seven days of creation, giving vs. tithing, predestination, psychology: the acceptability of Christian counseling, sacraments as conveyers of grace or not, the “in the name of Jesus” debate, and pacifism vs. the concept of a just war, and other issues.

Then there is the ecumenical concept of Christian “orthodoxy” that suggests that none of the issues so far discussed really matter even there are huge divisions over them. The only issue that really matters in “orthodoxy” is whether one accepts the doctrine of the Trinity, that Jesus the man is really God and a person in a triune godhead with two other persons, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is promoted as the absolutely most important concept in Christianity even though this emphasis is totally missing for the first centuries of the church.

And let alone that the very doctrine of the Trinity has been disputed over the centuries with more Christians killing other Christians over this issue than any other. It appears that for some that as long as a church accepts the doctrine of the Trinity it doesn’t matter if it teaches that homosexuality is normal or apostate, and/or abortion is choice or murder, and/or baptism should be infant baptism or believer’s baptism, and/or there are two “ordinances” or seven sacraments, and so forth, and so on.

This mess is a huge blemish on the body of Christ. Some of these issues may be legitimate, but to have so many “orthodox” churches teaching so many disparate doctrines flies right in the face of Paul’s charge for believers to have the same mind:

Now I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all say the same thing, and there be no divisions among you, but you be united in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10 LITV)

If, as Paul teaches, we corporately are the body of Christ, then does the current collective body of competing Christian theologies accurately reflect the mind of Christ. Certainly, no one can think so.

But, before the present time with our tens of thousands of Christian denominations, and before the Reformation that shifted the focus of Christianity from the decisions of church councils and the Pope to the Bible as the principle source of guidance, and before the great schism about a thousand years ago, even before there were arguments over the nature of Christ, the Trinity and whether Mary was the mother of God in the beginning of the age of Christendom (fourth century), even before there was a Catholic church (110 A.D.) there was original primitive Christianity.

While some of the focus of Christianity remains, much has changed over the millennia. The question is whether all or even any of the different traditions that have developed are correct, or the original believers were the ones that actually got it the most right. The place to start is by looking at the beliefs and practices of original, primitive Christianity, and seriously consider embracing them again even though some of them may be radically different from what you or I hold today.

In the days of original, primitive Christianity:

(In the listings below hyperlinks offer more information on the point being made.)

Elements usually still held today:

Elements still held today by some:

Elements held today by few, if any believers:

Elements that are divisive today but didn’t appear to exist then:

The most current blogs (articles) are below. The articles can touch on a large number of topics including ancient history, the original language of the bible, grammar and logic, dividing doctrines besides the basics of Christianity, what Jesus taught, and development (movements) in Christianity throughout the centuries. For an organized listing of the blogs (articles) to get an overview and better understanding of the contents on this web site, go to the table of contents. There is more information on design of this website on this page; look on the right sidebar under Original Christianity and click “Why? Click to Read More…”

11.76 The Waldenses, Why Believers Complied With Roman Catholic Doctrine, Bans on Reading the Bible, The Inquisition and other Repressive Measures

Waldo (also called Valdez) was a prosperous merchant of Lyons in 1176 AD. At that time, he was affected by the song of a wandering minstrel who was singing about the best way to God. He was affected by this verse:

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  (Mat 19:21 WEB)

This verse struck right at the heart of Waldo. He set up modest funding for his wife and daughters to live on and gave the rest to the poor. He then left his family. He wore poor raiment. He chose to live by whatever people gave him and went away preaching.

Remember that Western Bibles then were written in Latin, of course, while Eastern Bibles were mainly Greek. Waldo was not trained to read these languages, but he got clergymen friends to make translations for him of at least portions. These are what are known as vulgar translations. A vulgar translation is something that is translated into the ordinary, common language of the day which for Waldo was that of southern France around the end of the 12th century.

Waldo procured his vulgar New Testament and proceeded to study it intently as well as spread around copies. Within a year he was joined by both men and women and they all set out to preach repentance, calling themselves “poor in spirit”.

In 1179 they asked the third Lateran Council for permission to preach. The Council didn’t consider them heretical at that point but they did take them as ignorant laymen and Pope Alexander III denied permission.

Let’s compare the response of Pope Alexander III and the council to that of Annas the high priest and the Jewish leaders in the book of Acts:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled. They recognized that they had been with Jesus…They called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.  (Act 4:13 WEB)

There is a pattern here.  Both the high priest with Jewish leaders and the pope with council leaders elevated the importance of intellect and tradition above following the simplicity that is in the scriptures.  They only respected intelligent, learned people.  Common people without higher education in the field they called ignorant and rejected them.  This was their standard and while they may have been aware that these ignorant people were doing something spiritually significant, they didn’t respect it and dismissed them as ignorant.

And it’s not that Waldo was able to see the way back to everything in the apostles’ tradition. There’s no evidence that Waldo’s followers manifested Holy Spirit, believed in the baptism of the Spirit even, or prophecy. They still kept the rituals of confession and communion as well as Orthodox doctrines like the deity of Christ. But it was a start. They saw some things that they recognized as unbiblical and they sought the change them.  That’s how all reformation and restoration movements are. People’s eyes are opened that something or some things in the current system are not the word of God, and they seek to change to a better practice that is more biblical.

Just as the Roman Catholic Church has incrementally built up a system over many centuries that has moved away from the purity of the word of God people have instituted reform and restoration incrementally. Waldo was just one in a line of men like Jan Hus and John Wycliff that were addressing deviations from Scripture before the major reformers. Their work culminated in men like Martin Luther and John Calvin bringing the process into fruition by redefining for people concepts such as redemption, grace, and faith and starting churches that taught those things.  With the reformers came the desire and drive for the people in the church to return to Scripture as the authority for faith and practice.

It’s awesome what all these men started. But their work was just the start. While Waldo did follow a model of universal priesthood, Luther and Calvin did not abandon the clergy/laity distinctions and a lot of the other unbiblical practices. They did not embrace speaking in tongues and the manifestations of the spirit in their practice, rather crediting those practices just to the original apostles’ time. Luther certainly challenged the role of philosophy in the church but he still accepted philosophy as part of theology. All of these men are part of the start of the return to original Christianity, but the church is still far from it.  Reformation and restoration has been an incremental process, and it is still going on. Waldo was an early leader.

Waldo and his followers considered the pope’s refusal false in the eyes of God and chose to continue preaching their message to the people. Pope Lucius III excommunicated them in 1184.

Waldo’s group came to be called the Waldenses.  They were later lumped into the group of heretical groups by the Church, but they weren’t dualists, believing in multiple gods, or living licentious lives like a number of the other groups. In fact, they would be considered as orthodox as any Protestant church today.

Waldo and his small group were soon growing a considerable following who chose to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Another group called the Humiliati was also interested in living a life that was common and penitent.  They also were excommunicated by the pope and now joined the Waldenses.

Very important to us, the chief tenet of the Waldenses was that the Bible, especially the New Testament, was the sole rule of belief and practice for the church. They sought to follow it to the letter. According to New Testament teaching, they went out two by two, living on the gifts of the hearers. They rejected the mass and prayers for the dead, they denied purgatory. They rejected most sacraments. They defended lay preaching. They ordained bishops, priests, and deacons from their own ministry. They denied the privileges of the priest’s office and proclaimed that any righteous man could perform the duties in alignment with the priesthood of all believers.

The Roman Church’s position at this time was that only Roman Catholic ordained priests could perform the sacraments, and it didn’t matter whether they were worthy or not, the sacraments would still be valid. The Waldenses objected to this doctrine

They had both a large following in public, and a number of secret followers who appeared to remain loyal to the Roman Catholic Church but were supporting the Waldenses.

Conflicts of opinion between the original faction of the Waldenses and the Lombard branch grew and resulted in a split by 1210 A.D. The group was not able to resolve the differences. In 1208 Pope Innocent the third had countered by organizing the pauperes catholici, a new religious order under the strict oversight of the Roman Catholic Church that had some similarities to the Waldenses. This was successful in retrieving some of the previously excommunicated people from the group, but by no means, all.  This new group did not last long though.

The Waldenses was an attempt like others for believers to get back to the word of God.  They didn’t go all the way back to scripture in everything but they were moving in the right direction and the Catholic church continued making moves to stamp it out. Missionary efforts failed, and Innocent III started an actual crusade against them in 1209 A.D. This resulted in 20 years of warfare!

In 1229 a synod was held in Toulouse. That synod went to the extreme step of forbidding the laity to even possess the Scriptures except for a few items used in services. All translations were denounced. While no universal ban was formally issued against Bible reading by the laity this tactic was used in other places and served as a deterrent.

The synod at Toulouse is also significant because it is credited with being the beginning of the Inquisition. The topic of the punishment of heretics had been an ongoing debate in light of the Waldenses as well as other previous groups such as the Cathari and the Manichaeans. While higher-ups in the church didn’t always support killing heretics the death penalty was clearly established for this crime (heresy) by Roman law. In recent times heretics had been killed by fire or at the hands of mobs. Peter I of Aragon had formally ordered the execution by fire of heretics in 1197. Pope Innocent III had declared that heresy, as treason against God was worse than treason against king or government. So, all of those kinds of punishments for heresy were already in play by the time of the synod at Toulouse.

The synod at Toulouse decided to start the systematic investigation and punishment of heresy, the start of the Inquisition. Inquisitors from the Dominican order were drafted. A papal bull by Innocent IV empowered the inquisitors with the power to torture. They were also allowed to confiscate property which was then distributed among lay authorities. Both the Cathari and the Waldenses were greatly repressed in the century following the start of the Inquisition.  However, the Waldenses did survive in pockets, mainly the Alps, until the Reformation when they began to practice more freely.

For the Protestant and Restoration worlds, this lesson explains the difficulty in even attempting to return to the word of God in life and practice and why it has been so hard for so long. Doing something for so long in the culture also makes changing it a hard habit to break. Right or wrong, it becomes ingrained in the fabric of people’s lives. Roman Catholic tradition was beaten into the fabric of Christian culture for most of the life of Christianity. And what were people going to compare Roman Catholicism to? Even reading the bible was a dangerous activity in many of those times.

Yet the Waldenses sprang up.  The Waldenses’ first priority was striving to follow the teachings of the New Testament. They challenged the sacraments, the teachings,  the authority of the Roman Church to decide such matters.  Starting with Roman government involvement in the running of the church the punishment for disagreeing with the established church was life-changing, to say the least, and not in a good way. Besides the death penalty mentioned above, if they did let you live, you could lose your job whether in the church or not. You could lose your possessions. There was the death penalty.  And a group that succeeded in spite of those weapons could see war waged against them.

Forced compliance with Roman Catholic doctrine resulting in various severe punishments started all the way back to Constantine and escalated to the Inquisition where Bishops were charged with rooting out heresy and removing it or they could lose their jobs as well as be punished.  The Inquisition brought a new level of persecution to those who disagreed with Roman Catholic doctrine. Inquisitors who were allowed to remain anonymous started a reign of terror where they tortured people for their disagreement with the supposedly apostolic decisions of the church.  Remember so many of these decisions were called apostolic, even the decision to have these punishments and the Inquisition.   Confiscating heretics property which different parties could get a share of added fuel to the fire.

The Roman Catholic Church used the big carrot of proclaiming themselves the continuation of Jesus’ and his apostles’ ministry in everything they did, but they carried a huge stick for anyone who disagreed with them as seen in the penalties they inflicted on those they proclaimed heretical.

In the Roman Catholic Church, there was no right to free speech even to people that didn’t seem that heretical like the Waldenses.  The Roman Catholic Church policed what people said, what they read, employed extreme measures, including starting crusades against groups proclaimed heretical as well as the Inquisition, in order to maintain its grip on controlling what was taught about anything Christian.

And, as far as the Waldenses, the Roman Catholic Church sent an army after these brave believers who only wanted to get away from the increasingly unbiblical practices of the Catholic Church and return to the simplicity of the Bible. Only a small fraction of them survived until the Reformation.


A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker , Scribner, New York, 1958, p. 229-232

HERESIES, Heresy and Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass, 2000, p, 262-264

The Story Of Christianity, Justo L. Gonzales, Harper one, New York, 2010, P. 358, 363, 367

Encyclopedia Brittanica, Waldenses religious movement, Waldenses | Description, History, & Beliefs | Britannica

last edited 8/17/2021


Montanism refers to a group of Christians who followed the teachings of Montanus who came into prominence in Phrygia in Asia Minor mid-second century.  Montanus was a former priest of Cybele, a goddess similar to Gaia who was revered as the Earth Mother. Prophecy was not new to the area as the cults of Men, Cybele, and Dyonysus were familiar in the area, and people were receptive to the idea of Christian prophets.

Montanus prophesied previously as a priest of Cybele, and after converting to Christianity, prophesied in Christianity.  But his manner of prophecy, according to an opponent, was to fall into a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, where he raved and babbled and uttered strange things.  He did also teach speaking in tongues and other gifts of the spirit.  According to Eusebius his manner of prophecy was different than the tradition of the church that had been handed down from the beginning.

Montanus declared that he was a vehicle of the Holy Spirit about 156 AD.[1]  Montanus preached the Paraclete of John 14:16 was working through him and two female companions, Maximilla and Priscilla, who claimed to have the same power of the spirit as Montanus.  The three of them claimed to be new prophets who had a new word from God that superseded the New Testament.  The Holy Spirit was still operational, according to them, but their doctrines were radical. They preached the end of the world was near and that the heavenly Jerusalem would be established in their area, Phyrgia.[2] People left their jobs and homes and poured into the local countryside as prophecies foretold of wars, martyrdom, and instructed fasts and abstinences.

At first, second marriages were forbidden, and then marriage itself was forbidden.  They practiced extreme fasting and other forms of asceticism.  Montanists were critical of the church at large for not practicing the gifts of the holy spirit.

The movement of Montanism was exciting and received by a lot of people. Some participants were described as “boiling over with the Spirit” and the movement spurred a yearning for martyrdom.[3]  It lasted from the first until the sixth century. Frend describes the movement as having an “extraordinary tenacity” despite the failure of the prophecies to materialize.[4] While their views were extreme and extra-biblical Montanism represented that a significant number of the believers in the first century after Christ did not believe that the power of the Holy Spirit had ended. However, the failure of their prophecies to materialize worked to dissuade some against the continuing presence and power of the Spirit to manifest in their time.

As with all movements, not all people involved with the movement adhered to all of the beliefs.  For example, Tertullian, an early church father in the Latin heritage, converted to Montanism in the year 206.  Tertullian, while attracted to the teaching of the power of the Holy Spirit, differed from the originators of the sect in the excesses.  Tertullian had a powerful impact in changing the beliefs of Montanism.  Tertullian held to some of the beliefs of mainline Christianity of the time including the fullness of the spirit in the apostolic age.  Therefore, it appears that Montanism held to more orthodox views in the later centuries of its existence than at its beginning.

The asceticism of Montanism resurfaced in Monasticism in later centuries.[5]

It is interesting to note that as the world accepted orthodox Christianity, orthodox Christians were instrumental in the persecution of Montanists.  Constantine decreed that Montanists were to be deprived of their places of worship, forbidding their services.  The emperor Justinian in the sixth century literally wiped out the movement by gathering the Montanists together with their wives and children in their places of worship and setting the places on fire.

Some modern Pentecostalists have identified with Montanus with the same criticism of the mainline church as having abandoned the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It needs to be noted, however, that, unlike Montanists, Pentecostals are devout in their belief in the New Testament, do not practice asceticism, and don’t promote abandoning the New Testament for new prophecy.

Things that identify this group then as heretical include abandoning the tradition of the Apostles that we are charged to follow, the push for martyrdom, the push for asceticism, and false prophecies.

[1] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 56

[2] Walker p.56

[3] The Rise of Christianity, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, P. 253-256

[4] Frend, p. 253-256

[5] Walker, p. 56

Other References

HERESIES, Heresy And Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass 2000, p, 66-68


Last edited 8/10/2021

Clergy and Laity Distinctions: Biblical or Not?

Most Christian denominations designate certain individuals as “clergy.”  Clergy in these denominations or groups hold most, if not all, of the leadership positions.  Besides administrative functions, they do most of the teaching, perform baptisms, weddings, and lead services, etc.

It is hard to pin down the purpose of having a laity.  Most groups with clergy acknowledge that “lay” people are members too and are important, but the emphasis always seems to be about how important the clergy are in leading the church.  Still, it is acknowledged that all kinds of church “roles” like lectors, ushers, business administrators, small group leaders, even theologians, are “lay” people.

On the other hand, there are groups that do not recognize clergy at all.  For example, the Brethren practice the universal priesthood of all believers to the point that in each service there is no designated leader, different men lead hymns, pray, teach in spirit-led worship.   They do not practice ordination, believing it unscriptural.

Some churches ordain pastors but do not use the term ”clergy”, rather they are recognized as gifted or ordained to be ministers without using the title of Reverand.

There is a lot written by credible sources about this problem on the internet.  I searched Google, “churches that don’t use the term clergy” and got article after article from a variety of denominational and non-denominational backgrounds.

The tradition in the Christian Church traces to the Catholic church who defines the laity from the Greek “laos”, the people and clergy from the Greek “kleros” meaning “a lot.”  A catholic becomes a clergyman by going through tonsure, having their head sheared, and being given a tunic or surplice.  Historians date the beginnings of the practice of defining clergy in the Christian Church to the second century.[1]

Catholic and other sources document the model of the Levitical priesthood and the Law as their model in establishing the clergy in the Catholic Church.[2] One argument is that while there was a Levitical priesthood Israel is talked about as potentially having a priesthood of all followers like Peter writes about.[3]

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:  (1Pe 2:9 KJV)

This actually is a quote from the book of Exodus that refers to the nation of Israel.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exo 19:5-6 WEB)

This shows the desire of Yahweh that Israel should be a kingdom of priests! And it somehow is used to substantiate following the Levitical model found in the Law in the Christian Church where the law has been superseded.

Here’s something interesting about clergy.  Some people may be surprised to find out that Knights Templars, and at present the Teutonic Knights and Knights of Malta all are considered clergy.  The Knights Templars are famous for their pursuit of the holy grail, but basically, they were an elite fighting force.  They were instrumental in the crusades and later in banking.  The Teutonic Knights are European monks now, but their original charge was to capture and hold Jerusalem.  Likewise, the Knights of Malta are a religious order but they were instituted and charged with the defense of the Holy Land.

Clergy is a legal term and clergy are given special privileges in many countries. Some clergy historically have held special privileges in some countries like land ownership and even noble status.  In the United States clergy can opt-out of Social Security.  Marriages performed by clergy are in some places legally recognized automatically.

The problems cited with the system include that it is unbiblical, it promotes a system where tremendous burdens are placed on the clergy class while at the same time giving them too much power, and it works against “lay” people seeing the importance of their role in the church.

We do have some New Covenant scripture to consider. There are appointments or “ordinations” in the New Testament.  The appointment of Barnabus and Saul is cited as a model for New Covenant ordination.  It illustrates that men are appointed or ordained to a task, in this case, to be missionaries, or even to be pastors.

Now in the assembly that was at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Act 13:1-3 WEB)

Furthermore, Paul appointed people who appointed others as elders.

I left you in Crete for this reason, that you would set in order the things that were lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you; (Tit 1:5 WEB)

However, while this talks about people being appointed to certain tasks or responsibilities, it never goes as far as distinguishing them as a class called clergy, separate from a class called laity.  That is what is in dispute.

The argument is not just from smaller groups on the fringes.  There are even Catholic priests who complain that the clergy distinction problem is unbiblical and creates an unsustainable model.[4]

[1] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1958, p. 82-85

[2] The true origins of the Clerical Collar. http://www.independentmethodist.org/index.Clerical.Attire.htm

[3] The-Catholic-Priesthood.pdf (holytrinityparish.net)

[4]  Clergy-Laity Divide in the Church – Church Authority

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03.25.1 The Great Councils Continued, Finishing the Development of Trinitarian Doctrine and Related Issues; Over 500 Years of Debate on the Nature of Christ and the Trinity

This article does not include a comparison to original Christianity in the matters discussed.  It presents what happened in these matters along with occasionally reporting what the writers of these histories deemed important for our understanding.  Remember the point of this website is to see how different doctrines developed over time, and how they compare to original Christianity in order to understand how we got so many divisions and what we must do to restore the church. This article continues to look at how the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary as the Mother of God became part of Christianity.  Later articles will discuss how these concepts align with the tradition of the apostles in original Christianity.  The goal here is for the reader to be able to review the historical material and start evaluating for themselves whether God ordained each of the decisions and decrees.  One of the questions of this website is where did the seeds for all this division come from?  What patterns of thinking allow for all the division we have in the church?

Remember, that by the time of Nicea I a major shift had occurred where Christianity was now being discussed much more philosophically and intellectually than in New Testament times. (See Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning?) The previous article on this topic talks about how the previous councils had debated these issues to this point. In the seventh century, the issues of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity were still not totally resolved.

So, accordingly, in the seventh century, a group called the Monothyletists held that Jesus’ will was a single will, a merger of Jesus’ human nature with his divine nature.  However, this was at odds with this more dominant ideology (called Dyothelitism) that Jesus had two wills, both a human will and a divine will that was needed to make sense of the Trinity.  That prevailing ideology eventually won the day and it was declared that Jesus had two wills, a human will, and a divine will.  Constantinople III declared just that. Part of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity is that Jesus had both a human will and a divine will. The sixth Great Council and the final one on the development of Trinitarian doctrine (with some exceptions) was Constantinople III in 680 AD.

The issue is named Monothelitism, a fancy word meaning “one will”.  The question was how many wills did Jesus Christ have? You or I may only have one will but as far as Jesus Christ is concerned there was a great debate.

The Bible doesn’t say much about Jesus’ will except for this verses like these:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. (Joh 6:38 WEB)

That is one reference to Jesus’ will. It talks about one will. So, there is no biblical teaching here that says Jesus had two wills.  Or look at this famous verse:

saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luk 22:42 WEB)

Here we have two wills, but they are not both Jesus’.  This verse contrasts Jesus’ will and the Father’s will.  Look at what happens next:

An angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in agony he prayed more earnestly. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. (Luk 22:43-44 WEB)

Do you think that it was easy for Jesus to face what he was faced with?  No, Luke writes his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down.  That is some intense trepidation!  An angel was sent to strengthen Jesus to be able to do the will of the Father.

Jesus wanted to always do the will of the Father, but we read here that if he had his preference it would have been done some other way.  In any event, this verse only supports him having one will.

Nevertheless, Ligonier.org says that the Dyothelytism doctrine was simply derived this way.  Jesus had two natures, ergo he must have two wills.[1] Another site writes:

Brilliant theologians of that time understood the great importance to theology that Jesus possesses two wills, one divine and one human, since he is truly God and truly human. All branches of Christianity have embraced this doctrine as important and orthodox theology.[2]

No biblical exegesis there, just a statement that brilliant theologians understood it so it must be so. See the acknowledgment that this doctrine was created purely because it was needed to make the Trinity work.  And there is that claim that this is universally accepted so it must be true. (It may be universally accepted among Trinitarians. Unitarians and Bitarians may differ.)

Basically, what it boils down to is this concerning the Trinity:  If Jesus was God then he had to have the will of God.  Here’s the conundrum: if Jesus only has one will and if Jesus is God and if God cannot be tempted and Jesus was tempted, then there is a contradiction as Jesus had to have the will of God.  So Jesus also had to also have a human will that could be tempted. The website explains, “the two-wills model (Dyothelitism) is more accurate to the biblical and theological evidence for the incarnation.”  So, it comes down to the two wills model is the one that fits with the Trinity even if there is no scriptural support.

As there is no scriptural record of Jesus having two wills and no discussion of his will being any different than other person’s will in scripture this is another extrabiblical element of the Trinity.  It is an example of inductive logic being used to explain scripture in light of the a priori assumption of a Triune God with Jesus being God the Son, and thus explaining how his will must work to fit with what scripture says about him.

Does it fit with good hermeneutics?  It’s questionable. It certainly is different than the way “will” is used in all the other places.  “Will” in the verse is the Greek word thelema (Strong’s G2307) which means choice, decision, will and is derived from G2309, meaning determination. By this doctrine, Jesus having two wills is the only case in the bible of a person having two wills.

As an aside it must be noted that the word “will” is used in English translations many times in the sense of something happening in the future, i. e., will sue, will forgive, will profess but the word is produced in English because it indicates future action (tense).  Those verses do not have the corresponding Greek word.

But, in talking about Jesus’ will, it is only talked in the singular. So, it is unique to the Trinity to have two wills in one person in Scripture

Not that everyone had been in unison on this or any of the issues. Throughout the centuries Popes and bishops were condemned for taking the wrong side. Part of the findings of Constantinople III was the condemnation of a prior pope, Honorius I, for believing Jesus had just one will, the current issue, just as the council at Ephesus condemned Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, and Nicea 1 condemned Arius, Eusebius of Caesarea and many other bishops including Lucian of Antioch and Paul of Samosata over issues that were ruled against them.[3]

According to Belitto in The General Councils Monothelitism was the last great issue that needed to be developed in order for the church to have an adequate understanding of the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary’s standing as the Mother of God. According to him, it took six Great councils, numerous local synods, and councils, and at least 355 years of councils to develop these doctrines to the true apostolic faith.

So, in review, we’re going to look at what is known as the Chalcedon Definition which encapsulates definitions decreed in the previous general councils concerning these doctrines that are relegated to the highest importance in the church.

“Following, then the holy fathers, we all with one voice teach that it is to be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, perfect in divinity, and perfect in humanity, true God and true human, with a rational soul and a body, of one substance with the Father in his divinity, and of one substance with us in his humanity, in every way you like us, with the only exception of sin, begotten of the Father before all time in his divinity, and also begotten in the latter days, in his humanity, of Mary the Virgin bearer of God.

This is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, manifested in two natures without any confusion, change, division, or separation. The union does not destroy the difference of the two natures, but on the contrary, the properties of each are kept, and both are joined in one person and hypostasis. They are not divided into two persons, but belong to the one Only-begotten Son, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

All this, as the prophets of old said of him, and he himself has taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers has passed on to us.

This definition is an amalgamation of decrees ironed out in the councils at Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.

Of course, those are the general councils, and it would be remiss to not mention that between the general councils were numerous synods and smaller councils that were also working on these very issues over these hundreds of years. In the case of Constantinople III, Pope Agatho first called for local synods to address the issue.  Two known local synods were Milan and England. The findings of those synods were discussed in a Roman synod. Then the Pope consulted with Emperor Constantine IV and General Council Constantinople III was convened.[4]

That is a lot of people talking in a lot of meetings over a lot of years to iron out that short statement.

For insight on how some historians view these developments I’m going to quote Justo L Gonzalez. Gonzalez in his book, The Story of Christianity, acknowledges that the goal of these decrees was not purely biblical, rather, in setting the limits for what these doctrines teach they discuss things outside the realm of biblical thinking. First, he writes:

 “It will be readily seen that this Definition does not seek to “define” the union in the sense of explaining how it took place, but rather in the sense of setting the limits beyond which error lies. Thus, it rejected the notion that the union destroyed “the difference of the two natures” and also the view that the Savior is “divided into two persons” – thus rejecting the most extreme Alexandrian and Antiochene positions.”

Gonzalez acknowledges the extrabiblical nature of the decrees.  Extrabiblical refers to things outside the Bible. ApologeticsIndex.org defines extrabiblical as “Information or content outside the Bible. Thus, any form of knowledge or experience which gives us information concerning God, His Work or His Will, which is not directly quoted in scripture.”[5] Gonzalez is clear that this manner of speech, the way things were spelled out by the Councils, was far different from the scriptures.

Gonzalez here, as do others,  acknowledges that these decrees go outside the pure framework of Scripture. The Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary as God’s mother were generated with extra-biblical patterns of thought, mainly philosophy, and were the result of many years of intellectual, theological debate.

“But, given the manner in which the issue was posed, it is difficult to see what else the bishops gathered at Chalcedon could have done in order to safeguard the reality of the incarnation.”[6]

This statement nevertheless defends the methods used to arrive at these decrees as one of necessity. The implication is that these doctrines are too important to be limited by the Bible.  These doctrines, the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Theotokos, are too important to be restricted to biblical thinking only.   In the common vernacular Gonzalez is saying that the end justified the means.

And, at least among the religious elite, these decrees became new scripture.  In fact, Pope Gregory I declared the first four general councils to have the same authority as the four Gospels.[20]

Next, for more context, we are going to look at the development of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity prior to the councils because these issues didn’t just pop up around 325 AD.

Williston Walker in A History of the Christian Church describes the process of resolving the issues of the deity of Christ and the Trinity as one of a long intellectual development and debate among various people and groups starting with Hermas around 140 AD and then Tertullian around 195 AD.  Tertullian first talked about three persons in one Godhead distributing the unity into a Trinity.[7] But, prior to Tertullian, adoptionist Christology (Jesus as an adopted son) was dominant as late as 140 Ad with Hermas.[8]  At that time a Trinity meant three Gods.

About the same time, the Montanists’ embracing of the gospel of John and the doctrine of the Logos as an outpouring of Spirit saw an opposite reaction from the group called Monarchians (rejecting the Logos as God maintaining the One God single personhood of the Father.).

That sprung up two group viewpoints; dynamic Monarchianism and modalistic Monarchianism.  Dynamic Monarchianism was more popular in the East.  Paul of Samosata was a famous representative of this.  He described the Logos as the Son of God, but also an impersonal attribute of the Father.  No Trinity there, in his view.  Eventually, Paul of the Samosata was ex-communicated for his views.

An overall more numerous group than the dynamic Monarchians was the Modalistic Monarchian group.  Their perspective was that with all the pagan gods competing in the religious marketplace it was of primary importance to emphasize the unity of God. Noetus, an example of the Modalistic Monarchians, taught that the Son was actually the Father himself, and it was, in fact, the Father who was born as Jesus, suffered and died on the cross.[9]

A very famous member of this group, Sabellius, taught that the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit were just three names of the same God. Sabellius was pretty much flatly rejected in Rome but found a following in the East.  This belief came to be known as Sabellianism.

Of course, the losing side in these debates was labeled heresy, and their proponents were called heretics, and as a result, they suffered in various forms including removal from their positions.

Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. was one of the first to teach what is called the Logos Christology. In the Logos Christology Jesus Christ always existed, but before his actual birth, he existed in the mind of God. (Jesus was not co-eternal at that time.) Hippolytus, around the beginning of the third century A.D. was a great advocate of the Logos Christology and a great opponent of the Monarchians, both kinds, in this intellectual battle. Justin Martyr is assumed to have died a martyr, and his successor, Kallistos, tried to find a compromise to Justin’s ideas and continue his work. His compromise was to call Father, Son, and Logos all just names of one indivisible God. According to him, the Father is invisible, the Son is visible, while the Father is the Spirit in the Son.[10] A side effect of this stance is that while previously the Logos was considered starting with Jesus’s birth, now the Logos was considered eternal. Here we have the switch from a beginning for the Logos to being co-eternal with no beginning.

Kallistos’ Christology was “a compromise which recognized a preexistent Logos in Christ, even if it identified that Logos with the Father; it insisted on the identity of that which indwelt Jesus with God; and it claimed the human Jesus, raised to divinity by the Father, and made one with him, thus really showing a distinction between the Father and the Son, while denying in words that one exists.” This compromise was taken by Tertullian, further refined, and called the Trinity in his treatise called Against Praxeas.

What we see with all of this is one viewpoint after another trying to exactly understand  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considering the concepts of John chapter 1 with other verses that talk about Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This debate allowed for extra-biblical content, and the use of philosophy to come to conclusions.  And as we are seeing, there were many competing viewpoints in a heated debate over the centuries.

While Catholic theologians depict the 355 years between Nicea I and Constantinople III as the period of development of the doctrines of the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Theotokos, what we’re seeing is that the debate actually started almost 2 centuries before Nicea I. The change from Jesus being considered a man, the only begotten son of God with a beginning, to Jesus being considered God the Son, co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit with two natures and two wills took about five and a half centuries of debate and decrees. And it was quite a debate.

Along the way it was confounding, it was confusing, and it left a lot of Christians, including bishops and popes, wondering which side to take. For example, let’s look at the period around Hippolytus, circa 200 AD.  Hippolytus was considered the most learned Christian writer in Rome of his day. He was a “commentator, chronicler, calculator of Easter dates, apologists, and opponent of heretics”[11]. Notice the intellectual capacities that are being praised there with no mention of the Spirit. This was an intellectual debate among the finest thinkers in the church. Hippolytus did not agree with either of the Monarchian schools of thought and was at the forefront of a hotly waged battle over these ideas. Bishop Zephyrinus, Pope at the beginning of the third century, according to Walker, “hardly knew what to do, although he leaned toward the Monarchian side”.  So, the Pope around 200 AD hardly knew what to believe.  The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, a learned man, was unable to make a decision on the matter, it was so confusing.

Further developments kept coming for Kallistos’ compromise of Christological concepts. Novation around 240 A.D. wrote the treatise Trinity in Latin but it was little more than Tertullian’s concept although he did present it as the “only normal and legitimate interpretation of the apostles’ Creed.[12] Novation also used the terminology “communion of substance” describing the relationship between the Father. and the Son. So, centuries after Christ’s death we see the introduction of the idea “of the same substance” which played a key role at Nicea.

Gradually over this long period of time, a cohesive opinion among the elite thinkers and church leaders came into being. It’s important to recognize that it was cohesive but not universally accepted, or even in the majority. The majority of Christians at this time were Unitarian, not Trinitarian.[13]   Thus, Walker documents this intellectual debate going on for over a century and a half before Nicea. But, by the time Nicea comes around, there is this cohesive theological compromise with a lot of the details of the Nicene Creed. Jesus is of one substance with the Father.  As the Logos Jesus is coeternal with the Father.  The groundwork had been done for a  doctrine to be named to end the debate despite intense, fiery, intellectual debate going on for nearly two centuries before Nicea I.

Nevertheless, despite what appears to be a dominant pro-Trinity ideology, in reality, Trinitarians were far outnumbered by Unitarians at the start of the third century.  The Unitarians (God as one person) were numbered among mainly two groups, the Adoptionists, and the Modalists.  And people on both sides of the disagreement looked to different philosophies for support.  The Adoptionists used Aristotelian philosophy for support, the Modalists looked to Stoic philosophy while the Trinitarians used Plato’s philosophy. Still, the Unitarians had a large majority.[13]  This is documentation that Greek philosophy was instrumental in the formulation of these doctrines.

Next, we will look at the role of Emperor Constantine in this matter.  You can’t talk about the Council of Nicaea without talking about the man who convened the Council, Constantine the Great, and both his religious and political machinations. The beginning of the fourth century A.D. marks a groundbreaking time in the history of Christianity. In the latter half of the third century the number of Christians had continued to grow and efforts to eradicate the faith through persecutions, while popping up, had proven futile in the Empire.

However. in the year 303 AD the terrible persecution by Emperor Diocletian happened. Terror reigned for Christians. There was imprisonment, torture, and killing. The tombs of martyrs were desecrated. Books were burned. Churches were destroyed. And it wasn’t over shortly. After Diocletian left office in 305, Galerius and his nephew Maximinus continued this reign of terror until 311.

Then Galerius, before his agonizing death, issued an edict of eliminating the requirement for Christians to worship Roman gods. What all this did was remind the Christians that they were just a small group whose legal standing was iffy depending on the emperor.

But that all changed with the appearance of Constantine the Great. A great commander he was able to unify the Empire by winning the Civil War that ensued when Constantius died in 306. Before defeating Maxentius Constantine had a dream to paint the Christian symbol, chi-rho, in one version of the story, and in another version of the story Constantine’s troops saw a great cross in the sky before the battle. From that point on Christians had an advocate who was at the top of the Roman Empire, the actual Emperor, and everything changed.[14]

To some Constantine was an apostle whose efforts to build Christianity Empire-wide were evangelical. He moved Empire funds from pagan religions to Christianity to fund massive programs. He built churches, he provided for the poor, the sick, widows, and orphans. He worked to bring the governmental policies of his empire more in alignment with Christian teachings. He was an advocate of the most powerful kind determined to bring Christianity into prosperity in the Empire.

For example, Eusebius of Caesarea, a contemporary of Constantine, accredited Constantine with God working directly in his life on behalf of Christians. He wrote that Constantine and his subordinate Licinius were led by God to declare war against the evil tyrants and led them to a glorious victory.[15]  Eusebius credited Constantine’s power to win as being God-given. He wrote how Constantine credited God as the author of all his success. Eusebius writes glowing praise of Constantine as an instrument of God to bring peace to Christians in the Empire in the chapter entitled “Constantine And Peace” in his Church History. Eusebius gives Constantine the title “friend of God” and calls him “the emperor beloved of God”.[16]

Others point out that Constantine was not the saint that many proclaimed him as. He could be brutal in enforcing decrees. Some sources say he called for the murder of his wife Fausta and son Crispus in 326.[17]

That was the thinking in calling Nicea I anyway, but as we have said, it took more of that kind of debate for about three and a half centuries to get close to calling it done.  And, even then, challenges to the Trinitarian doctrine reared their head from time to time. Unitarian and Bitarian proponents seem to have always been around despite the church using unscriptural extreme measures including the death penalty to attempt to force compliance. Unitarians and Bitarians exist to this day, even if in the minority.

Gonzales in The Story Of Christianity writes that the conversion of Constantine was critical to resolving all the confusion and myriad debates over issues because it was now possible for the government to intervene and resolve the disputes once and for all. “The state soon began to use its power to force theological agreement upon Christians.”[18]

But, Constantine and the Roman Empire needed a unified Christianity, not one embroiled in a heated debate about the nature of the Savior.  Thus, Constantine called the Nicea Council to decide it once and for all.  At least, that was the hope.

And lastly, it must be mentioned that while these decrees and all general council decrees, for that matter, are acknowledged as having extra-biblical thought material, they are credited by Catholic and Orthodox theologians as part of the true apostolic faith by the doctrine of apostolic succession. (See Apostolic Succession – Biblical or Not?) Bishops, according to apostolic succession can call a synod where their true faith will prevail in declaring the true doctrine, and also the heretic will be declared.  Anyone not espousing the true doctrine they determine will be anathema (cursed).[19]

It cannot be underestimated how important this doctrine of apostolic succession is.  How authoritative are these Council decrees as compared to Scripture? Yes, Pope Gregory I declared the first four general councils to have the same authority as the four Gospels.[20]  In Catholic theology, just as the authenticity of the New Testament is given by the authorship of those documents by the apostles or their agents, the same authenticity of the council decrees is guaranteed by the doctrine of apostolic succession.  It’s as if the apostles wrote the decrees themselves in the eyes of the Catholic Church and its theologians, and many others.

The first six general councils, Nicea I through Constantinople III developed the doctrine that resolved the disputes over the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and the status of Mary as Mother of God in the eyes of Catholic and Orthodox theologians.  As stated above it is acknowledged that extra-biblical reasoning and centuries of debate among philosophically oriented intellectuals were used to resolve these issues. But, because of its belief in apostolic succession, the Catholic church confidently declared these issues resolved in the true apostolic faith. And again, the decrees of the councils, especially the first four, and even though they include extra-biblical material and reasoning were declared as authoritative as the Gospels.

[1] Does Jesus Have One or Two Wills?, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/does-jesus-have-one-or-two-wills/

[2] https://equip.sbts.edu/publications/journals/journal-of-theology/a-model-of-jesus-christs-two-wills-in-view-of-theology-proper-and-anthropology/

[3] A Chronology of the Arian Controversy (legalhistorysources.com)

[4] The General Councils, A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II, Christopher M. Belitto, Paulist Press, New Jersey, 2002, P. 29

[5] Extra-Biblical extrabiblical (apologeticsindex.org)

[6] The Story of Christianity, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 2010, p. 301-302

[7] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 66

[8] Walker, p.67

[9] Walker, P. 69

[10] Walker, P. 70

[11] Walker, P. 70

[12] Walker, P. 71

[13] The Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol.23 :  Internet Archive p.963

[14] The Story Of Christianity, David Bentley Hart, P. 50-53

[15] Eusebius, The Church History, Translation and commentary by Paul L Maier, Kregel,

[16] Eusebius, The Church History, Translation and commentary by Paul L Maier, Kregel, P. 331 – 333

[17] https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S0017383500029156#:~:text=Constantine%20did%20kill%20his%20wife,father%20he%20punished%20his%20son.

[18] The Story Of Christianity Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne, New York, 2010, P. 181

[19] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepursuitofholiness/2020/09/1198-apostolicsuccession/

[20] The General Councils, A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II, Christopher M. Belitto, Paulist Press, New Jersey, 2002, P. 27

last edited 8/7/21

Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning?

This article discusses the controversy over philosophy in Christianity. Remember the point of this website is to see how different doctrines developed over time, and how they compare to original Christianity in order to understand how we got so many divisions and what we must do to restore the church. This article will just look at how philosophy, with controversy, became part of Christianity.  Later articles will discuss how these concepts align with the tradition of the apostles in original Christianity.

First, I want to look at what some systematic theologians have commented about philosophy or how they used it in their works.

Grudem defines philosophical theology as “studying theological topics largely without the use of the Bible, but using the tools and methods of philosophical reasoning and what can be known about God from observing the universe”[1] Grudem then puts philosophy in the category of extra-biblical reasoning. Remember extrabiblical reasoning is the practice of using thinking and or terms outside of the bible to develop Christian doctrine. Grudem acknowledges that there will be some consideration of philosophy at points in his work.

One point that theologians make also is that God reveals his truth in his creation.  Some of the arguments they make are presented from examples and other sources outside scripture.

Theissen contrasts theology and philosophy by saying that theology has a “solid objective basis”, but philosophy “rests merely upon the assumptions and speculations of the philosopher.” Yet they both are seeking the same thing, a way of explaining everything, a comprehensive worldview. He goes further to say “philosophy has definite value for the theologian.” He adds that philosophy can support the Christian position, argue for the existence of God and other things in the spiritual plane. But, most of all, philosophy does not have a Genesis story, and a salvation story so, according to Theissen, the theologian is drawn to God’s revelation in Scripture. Theissen says that philosophy will never bring someone to Christ.[2]

Paul Tillich was a Christian philosopher and Lutheran theologian and considered one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. As far as Scripture is concerned Tillich wrote that “Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundation and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received. Not many theological systems have been able to balance these two demands perfectly.  Most of them either sacrifice elements of the truth or not able to speak to the situation.… They confuse eternal truth with the temporal expression of this truth. This is evident in European theological orthodoxy, which in America is known as fundamentalism. When fundamentalism is combined with an anti-theological bias, as it is, for instance, in its biblistic – evangelical form, the theological truth of yesterday is defended as an unchangeable message against the theological truth of today and tomorrow.” [3]

Notice that there are no scriptures in Tillich’s comments. I have Tillich’s three-volume set named Systematic Theology. The first thing I noticed when glancing through it is there are, relatively speaking, very few Scripture references. What I do see is about 900 pages of theological philosophy.

As an example, Tillich writes “Revelation is the manifestation of the mystery of being for the cognitive function of human reason. It mediates knowledge – a knowledge, however, which can be received only in a revelatory situation, through ecstasy and miracle. This correlation indicates a special character of the “knowledge of Revelation.”[4] These are the first three sentences of the section in Volume 1 entitled The Knowledge of Revelation. This section on revelation is three pages long and there is not a single biblical reference.

Tillich is obviously an extremely intelligent, and even popular theologian – philosopher. But he is an example, in my opinion, of philosophy run amok in Christian theology.  Everything I read of his is examining not Scripture but concepts from under the authoritative analysis of philosophical methods. What I see in his writing is that Scripture is not the authority, philosophy is.

From this, we see there are varying degrees of acceptance among these theologians from the stand that philosophy can really lead you away from scripture but has its uses to the full embracing of all things philosophical.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy the section on Christianity and Philosophy starts with this:

“In the history of Christian theology, philosophy has sometimes been seen as a natural complement to theological reflection, whereas at other times practitioners of the two disciplines have regarded each other as mortal enemies.”

Next, we will look at what some Christian historians recorded about the infusion of philosophy into Christianity.

The truth is that there has been a long-running controversy over the role of philosophy in Christianity. We’re talking all the way back to the second century. Before that, everything points to a strong rejection of philosophy in the first century of Christianity. But that didn’t last.  Frend in The Rise of Christianity categorizes a changeover at the end of the sub-apostolic period as one from detesting philosophy to one embracing it as a weapon. He writes that in the days of the original apostles, Jews and Christians associated philosophies with pagan morality and refers to this verse.

Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8 WEB)

In Colossians (2:8) Paul associated philosophy with “empty deceit, according to human tradition,” to be contrasted with the way of Christ.

But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2Co 11:3 WEB)

In second Corinthians (11:3) we see Paul entreating the Corinthians not to let themselves be seduced “from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Frend notes that Paul writes nothing positive about the Stoics and Epicureans whom Paul met in Athens.  Frend continues that this attitude toward philosophy continues throughout the New Testament as does the church Fathers that came immediately after like I Clement and Polycarp.  Frend notes “that Christians could have anything in common with pagans and their ideas were abhorrent to Polykarp.[5]” Frend also acknowledges that there were succeeding early church fathers like Iraeneus that believed heretics derived many of their heresies from philosophy.

Williston Walker in The History Of The Christian Church doesn’t discuss this shift in attitude over philosophy but calls the period from 70 A.D. to 110 A.D. a period of Christianity that is “non-– Pauline.” He says that not only is very little known about this time but is a period where Christian beliefs and practices were modified.[6]  This suggests that Christianity was being Hellenized but come short of saying it precisely. But the next historian we will look at does say just that.

Justo L Gonzales in The Story Of Christianity notes that there was a movement within Judaism at this time (sub-apostolic period) “to show the compatibility between the ancient faith in the best of Hellenistic culture.” He goes on to say that the Hebrew prophets preceded the Greek philosophers, and thus the Greek philosophers got their wisdom from the Hebrew prophets[7]. Remember that Christianity at this time, immediately after the apostles, was still considered a part of Judaism.  Gonzalez goes on to say that in this time frame Christians were finding two philosophical traditions attractive: Platonism and Stoicism.[8]

Philosophy does not seem to be embraced quickly in the early days of Christianity. Acknowledgments that the philosophy might possess truths and insights valuable for the deeper understanding of Scripture were always begrudging. Even at the end of the patristic period, John of Damascus (c. 750) wrote, “let us use whatever we can from the Greeks, for we received many things from the Greeks that will enable us to fight against the Greeks,”[9]

Thus, the inclusion of philosophy in Christian communication is given as a matter of necessity, namely, to be able to battle intellectually with multiple groups in society who were denigrating Christianity. (Just remember that just because something happened in Christian history does not make it right. “The end justifies the means” is not a verse from Scripture.)

Frend writes that from the outset the Christians were at a disadvantage. He writes that although Christians were articulate the Gnostics and other heretical groups were more capable intellectually and more in tune with the dialogue of the times.  Friend writes that Christianity at this time was “hardening into formal and legalistic tradition” which didn’t help its image. Orthodox Christianity appeared to outsiders as introspective, “frogs squatting around on marsh discussing who was the most sinful among them.” It was an intellectual battle and the Christians were on the losing side[10].

Notice the emphasis on the intellectual in the above paragraphs.  The battle was over who had the more persuasive words and the rulebook was philosophy. Compare that to:

My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (1Co 2:4 WEB)

This verse is another scripture that compares the advantages of human wisdom with the power of the spirit brought by Christ. In the comparison of human wisdom with its persuasive words versus the spirit, the spirit wins in Scripture. In philosophy, persuasive words win.  The shift we are discussing is one from ignorant and unlearned men demonstrating the spirit in power (Acts 4:13) to elite learned people for the most part unable to demonstrate power waging intellectual battles using the tools of philosophy.

Part of the reason for this, according to Frend, is that “God active in history on behalf of his people had little in common with the God of Stoicism or Platonism who existed but did not come into contact with matter, let alone intervene in nature.”[11]  People, maybe including the believers of that time, didn’t understand that our God was a God who enabled us with power for abundant living, and so instead chose to battle on the intellectual front rather than the spiritual.

That is not to say that defending the gospel with reasoning was not part of the original Christians’ charge given by the apostles.  The charge in scripture is to examine, reason, and defend what the gospel says. See the words examining, reason, and defense emboldened in the verses below:

Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Act 17:11 WEB)

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be prepared with a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (1Pe 3:15 EMTV)

It is even right for me to think this way on behalf of all of you, because I have you in my heart, because, both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the Good News, you all are partakers with me of grace. (Php 1:7 WEB)

Paul also wrote the warning against the wisdom of this world in the first chapter of Corinthians.

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, I will bring the discernment of the discerning to nothing.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t know God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save those who believe. For Jews ask for signs, Greeks seek after wisdom, (1Co 1:19-22 WEB)

It is written in Scripture to examine, to reason, and to defend the gospel at the same time we are to avoid the wisdom of the Greeks and the world.  The wisdom of the Greeks is philosophy. Paul charges us to examine, to reason, and to defend without using the wisdom of the world, philosophy.

Frend also notes that at this time the church was becoming increasingly Orthodox especially in Rome. For Irenaeus (circa 185) Rome became the example of a church emphasizing the importance of apostolic succession[12].  Remember apostolic succession means that the power and authority vested in the original apostles are transferred from Bishop to Bishop through ordination. But that also signifies that gift ministries like apostles and prophets manifesting the spirit are no longer in operation. There is clearly a shift from the emphasis of manifesting the power of the Holy Spirit to the intellectual and philosophical.

So thus emerged the age of Christian apologetics. This is the witness of the age. Christian apologists wrote letters to pagan magistrates and leaders but they were really open letters targeted to influence provincial opinion. The amount of writing done suggests that there was a place in society for this expression of Christian philosophy.[13]

According to Frend the apologetic movement looked to both Jewish models and the methods (but not the ideas) of philosophers.”[14]

Not all church fathers embraced this movement.

In the second century, the church father Tertullian wrote The Demurrer Against The Heretics[15].  In it, he says (in a form of older English) that

“these are the Doctrines of Men and Devils, derived from the Wisdom of this World, by Men who have curiously itching Ears; to which Wisdom our Lord having given the distinguishing Term and Denomination of Folly, “hath chosen the foolish Things of the World to confound the Wise.” For a rash Explication both of the Divine Nature and Dispensations, and the Manner of God’s Proceeding in the Work of Creation is the subject Matter of all wordly Philosophy. And from this corrupt Fountain did Heresies originally flow…from which the Apostle restraining us, hath especially bid us to beware of Philosophy, in his Epistle to the Colossans, saying, “Beware lest any Man spoil you thro’ Philosophy and vain Deceit, after the Tradition of Men, and not after Christ.” The Apostle had been at Athens, and from his learned Conversation there, had become acquainted with that human Wisdom, Which carries with it an Affectation and Pretence, as well as a Corruption of the Truth; and which is divided into a Multiplicity of Sects that strenuously oppose and contradict each other. But what Relation is there between Athens and Jerusalem? What Communion hath the Academy with the Church? or what part have Hereticks with Christians?”

There is nothing supportive of Christian philosophy in these comments by Tertullian who was writing at the beginning of the third century which is after the age of apologists started.

But as time went on more and more church fathers supported philosophy.  By the third century, Christians put forth that their God was the supreme being of the philosophers which enabled them to be accepted among the intellectual crowd. The danger of course was that instead of talking about Christian truth in scriptural terms Christian truth was now discussed philosophically.[16]

Continuing this new tradition, the great Doctor of the Church, Augustine, argued that philosophy was a complement to theology when the philosophical insights used were rooted in an intellectual commitment to the truth of the Christian faith.

The prevailing attitude of people in support of the use of philosophy in Christian theology is that it is a necessary discipline to enhance biblical interpretation and explanation.[17]

Philosophy only became increasingly dominant as the centuries wore on. Here’s some insight that shows you how dominant philosophy was in the Middle Ages. And note that that philosophy was not always Christian:

Michael Psellus (1017-1078) was primarity responsible for the medieval revival of serious philosophical studies in the Byzantine East. He especially liked Platonism, and this led to the rise of the (mostly, but not always) Christian Platonism that became the dominant tradition of Byzantine civilization by the later Middle Ages.   The Platonist revival of the Western Renaissance followed from this.[18]

Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, on the eve of the Council of Florence, was sent to Constantinople where he encountered Byzantine Platonism and scholarship. He reported that that caused a great awakening about things such as the nature of the infinite, upon God, the person of Christ, even celestial movements.[19] Notice this another reference to Byzantine Platonism which is a dominant philosophy from the world. This reflects how entrenched in worldly thinking the church was by the Middle Ages.

There are more on a list of famous Christian philosophers including Thomas Aquinas and Soren Kierkegaard.

In more recent times Christian theologians have embraced philosophy for the sake of philosophy.  Look at this quote

“Quite apart from its relationship to Christianity, we believe that philosophical debate has merit. Its questions are significant and of fundamental and enduring value. It is true that philosophical thought can significantly contribute to theological understanding. However, the heirs of philosophy must be recognized and refuted, to confirm the reasonableness of Christianity.”[20]

In modern times there are books written promoting the advantages of incorporating philosophy into Christianity. First, it is presented that philosophizing is a common activity by people:

“At various times everyone philosophizes… This philosophizing takes place whenever one reflects upon either the fundamental presuppositions of thought and action, or the ends to which the conduct of human life should be directed.”[21]

According to philosophical theologians, the value of philosophy is that it “can help liberate one from the grip of prejudice, provincialism, and poor reasoning. In philosophical reflection, we can gain distance from her own beliefs and those of others, and view them with some skepticism.”

The authors of Introduction to Philosophy proceed to the point of extolling both the need and virtue of philosophy:

“A Christian has a specific interest in and responsibility to study philosophy… Since all truth is God’s truth, and since philosophy is a quest for truth, then philosophy will contribute to our understanding of God and his world. Furthermore, history shows that philosophical arguments and concepts have played a large and important role in the development of Christian theology… While not all theologians agree on the value or appropriateness of these arguments, all admit that some knowledge of philosophical roots is necessary to the understanding of Christian theology.”[22]

The above statements acknowledge the development of Christian doctrine by philosophical means as opposed to just sticking to what is revealed in scripture.

A more in depth look at the methods of philosophy is necessary to understand the implication of the statements above. Previously on this website we have looked at some of the origins of philosophy and its thinking processes.

In philosophy logical arguments break down into two basic kinds, deductive and inductive.[23]  Rules for the validity of deductive arguments are in the form of deductive syllogisms, consisting of a major premise, minor premise, and a conclusion, and these were first systematically set down by Aristotle.

Aristotle is credited with defining the rules for deductive reasoning. “Simply put, deductive reasoning is arguing from the general to the particular. If all horses are four-legged animals (the general), and the black beauty is a horse (the particular), then it follows that black beauty is also a four-legged animal.” This series of propositions is called a syllogism, the standard form of a deductive argument. Inductive reasoning is the reverse whereby one argues from the particular to the general. For example, all observable elements of a wall are stone. Therefore, this is a stone wall.[24]

Inductive reasoning is the other form of reasoning with its own set of rules. Inductive reasoning is used to construct Christian doctrine by looking at a comprehensive view, examining the parts of the whole, and making conclusions as to whether or not something is true.

Part of the process here includes using “a priori” claims. A priori comes from the Latin meaning before. A priori claims are things that you can base your argument on because they are self-evident.  You don’t have to prove these claims because everyone knows that they are true, or at least that is the claim of the philosopher.  In math, all angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees.  When you are arguing math you don’t have to prove that.  Or that 1+1=2. In your argument, you can assume them to be true. When you use a priori claims you are starting with an assumption that something is true.  That is part of this process.

There are also “a postieri” (from the Latin meaning after) claims.  These are conclusions reached after experimenting to find the truth.  They are a vital part of the scientific method.

An example of inductive reasoning is used when saying water baptism is the standard for all time.

I have read books that said that water is assumed (a priori claim) when the word baptism is used in the Bible. The inductive argument that follows goes like this. There was a practice of baptizing in water in the Old Testament. John baptized with water, and he also baptized Jesus in water. In the New Testament, Philip baptized with water, and even Peter asked “who can forbid water?”  Now add in the assumption (a priori claim) that the definition of baptism implies water (which it does not, but we need to go along to see how the reasoning works) and what you have is that every time it mentions baptism it means baptism in water. The only exceptions are the day of Pentecost and in other places where the descent of the spirit is explicitly detailed. Plus, in looking at the documents in the early days of the church after the apostles we see that water baptism is practiced. Thus, looking at all these details, we come to the conclusion, falsely I believe, that water baptism is the God-given standard for all time. We have taken all the pieces, accepted the assumption that baptism means with water, and found a way to inductively prove that water baptism is the standard. Even the mandates of “John baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost” are handled with the explanation that Holy Ghost baptisms were just a few exceptions and water baptism is the norm.

In contrast to that, you could just read what is written. The word baptize is translated wash in Mark 7:4,8. The prophecy could be translated “John washed with water but you shall be washed with the Holy Ghost”. This is a classic case of everything that is done in the Old Testament are examples and foreshadowing of the things that are done in Christ’s church (Heb 10:1, ICor 10:11).  What does the prophecy say about water washing and spirit washing? For example, cars in the 20th century use gasoline but cars in the 22nd century will use electricity. No one misunderstands that that means that electricity is going to replace gasoline as the fuel. Or Roman soldiers used swords but today soldiers use guns. Again, is there any misunderstanding that sentence means that guns have replaced swords as the weapon for soldiers? No of course not.  The prophecy clearly says spirit washing replaced water washing.

Now, there were water baptisms mentioned in the book of Acts, but when we see those circumstances we see that apostles were sent to make sure that Spirit baptism occurred. All of these factors teach us that the assumption that baptism automatically means water is false, and part of the mission of the apostles in the first-century church was to bring in spirit baptism as a replacement to water-baptism as it so plainly says in “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit”. Yes, it looks like the practice was lost not long after the apostles, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the mandate then, and more importantly, it’s still the mandate today. (See T 1.8 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 8, The Spirit Baptism Mandate, John Baptized With Water, But You Will Be Baptized with the Holy Spirit for more)

Likewise, the Cessation doctrine starts with the assumption (a priori claim) that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit ended with the apostles.

The classic example of inductive reasoning in Christianity is the Trinity and so we will look at it here. First, there is no deductive proof of the Trinity so in order for the proof to work the Trinity must be assumed to be true.

For example, there is no proof, philosophical or otherwise, for even the existence of God. In making their arguments for or against God philosophically, both Christians and non-Christians start with their assumption that either God exists in the case of the Christian, or the God doesn’t exist in the case of the atheist.

No proof of God means that there is no proof of a solitary God or a triune God, so likewise the Trinitarian starts with the axiom (a priori claim) that God is triune. Then the logic flows in inductive reasoning “from the parts to the whole.”

So, the logic flows like this:  if God is a triune God, then what would we expect to find?   We expect to find that there is only one God in the Bible.  We expect to find that God exists in three persons named the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We expect to find that Jesus preexisted before his birth from all eternity and was never created or brought into existence. We expect to find that the attributes of God are attributed to Jesus. We expect to find that Jesus was called God and worshiped as God by the first Christians.  There are more requirements in this list of expectations.  But theologians seeking to prove the Trinity have used this inductive method of logic to first assume a triune God and put the pieces together to prove what has come to be is called essential Christian doctrine in Orthodox Christianity.

The Trinity is so important, in fact, that it has been declared “whosoever will be saved, we all before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic [that is, the church’s Orthodox] faith; which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt, he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity (Athanasian Creed)”.  One author goes on to say that salvation by grace alone, Christ’s atonement, and the resurrection may be all of first importance but they don’t make the gospel Christian! The Trinity does.[25]

However, despite the fact that the above is written in an introductory book to Christians, the fact is that the Athanasian creed above is rarely mentioned in churches, and the doctrine contained therein not promoted.[26]  In Theology Is As Clear As Mud To Americans in 2020 we see that while most Americans (72%) will at least partly agree with the statement that there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, only 36% disagreed with the statement that Jesus is not God and 55% at least partly agreed that Jesus is the greatest being created by God.  Both of these latter statements are not Trinitarian statements. That indicates that the doctrine is either not understood or just not agreed with, no matter how much it is preached from the pulpit or written about in books or articles. Nevertheless, this is the dominant doctrine in Christianity since the 4th century.

The things in the paragraph above point to the added complexity that this inductively developed doctrine brings to the table, and the problem that it creates for people.  As mentioned in other places both the use of inductive combined with deductive reasoning and the whole development of the Deity of Christ, the Trinity as well as Mary as the mother of God among other developed doctrines were intellectual battles among very intelligent learned bishops where the final victories were celebrated as intellectual victories.

Let’s look at more verses used in the proof of the Trinity:

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. (Eph 4:4-6 WEB)

The above verses talk about one Spirit, one Lord (Jesus Christ), one God and father of all, the three persons named as the Trinity. However, this is not proof of the Trinity because all of the requirements of the Trinity are not fulfilled in these verses. For example, it does not say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance. It does not say here that they are all co-eternal.  In applying philosophical methods to this verse and others like it, there is not enough to deductively prove the Trinity. But given the assumption of a triune God, this verse is consistent with that assumption of the Trinity and thus is used in an inductive proof of the Trinity.

The Trinitarian view is that the Trinity has internal consistency within a comprehensive view of scripture and accounts for all the facts of stated about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without contradiction.  Of course, you must start with the assumption of a Trinity which philosophy allows you to do.

Likewise for this verse:

I and the Father are one.”  (Joh 10:30 WEB)

This verse does not prove that Jesus is God as the Father is God. But used in an inductive argument it is consistent with the Trinity once you make the assumption of a triune God that includes the Father and the Son.  But if “oneness” with the Father makes one God, then what happens in this verse:

that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. (Joh 17:21 WEB)

Here we have the same kind of “oneness” that we see in John 10:30 above expressed in John 17:21 to include all of us believers. If John 10:30 makes Jesus God the same as God the Father, then John 17:21 makes you and I and every other believer on the same level of godhood as the Son of God and God the Father, according to that logic.

Thus, according to what is involved here you can’t prove the Trinity or the Incarnation without philosophy, specifically including inductive logic methods using a priori claims, and this is why many modern theologians promote philosophy as absolutely essential to understanding Christianity.

These are not fluke examples. There just are no verses that prove the Trinity by themselves. Look at this:

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him;  (Eph 1:17 WEB)

The above verse discusses the Father, the Son, and the spirit but in no way teaches that they are all God, or co-eternal, or other important elements of the Trinity.  How about this famous one:

Without controversy, the mystery of godliness is great: God was revealed in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, and received up in glory. (1Ti 3:16 WEB)

How can “God was revealed in the flesh” not prove the Trinity? It must, right? The truth is that scholars agree that most texts do not say God there. Instead of Theos in the Greek, the Greek word used mostly in the texts is hos which simply means which or who. The verse talks about the mystery of godliness which was manifest in the flesh.  Every being with Holy Spirit, which includes all true Christians, manifest godliness whenever they walk in the spirit. Every time someone speaks in tongues or hears from God or heals someone, they are manifesting godliness. No, this verse does not prove the Trinity.

Or how about the verses used to prove he is co-eternal?  Look at Colossians 1:

who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.  (Col 1:15-17 WEB)

What about “by him all things were created”? Doesn’t that mean he is God? The Greek word translated “by” is en,  which means in, not automatically making him the causal agent. Things created in someone are not the same as created by someone.  Or how about “all things were created by him” later in the verse?  That preposition is dia, which means “through”, or even “because of”.  Again, created through someone is not the same as created by someone.

The word image is ikone in Greek, meaning likeness or representation. That is saying that Christ is a representation of God as opposed to God himself. Coupled with that he is the “firstborn of all creation” and the above elements, the logic here is that Jesus Christ was created first (first born) and all other things were created on account of him. Without the assumption of the Trinity, biblical hermeneutics would lead one here to that firstborn here should be interpreted like all the other places that firstborn is used, the first child of the parent, with the implication that he didn’t exist and now he does.

“He is before all things.”  If I said to you “before anything else I want you to pray” it means that praying is the most important thing, it is first and foremost.  Likewise, “He is before all things” means Jesus Christ is foremost or most important.

Thus, if you don’t assume the Trinity this verse doesn’t prove the Trinity.  However, like the above verses, if you assume the Trinity then this verse can be used to help inductively “prove” the Trinity as long as you argue that “firstborn of all creation” does not mean that Jesus Christ had a beginning. You just have to assume here that firstborn doesn’t mean created like all those other places in Scripture despite the fact that all other usages of “firstborn, including the first usage refer to a created being.  “Begotten, not made” is the argument we have all heard.  Firstborn of all creation in the proof of the Trinity does not mean that Christ has a beginning or was created, rather it means he was more important than all creation. It has to be that way because that is the only way that phrase fits into the comprehensive view of a triune God.

Hopefully, now you are beginning to see why scholars have said that there are no verses that prove the Trinity directly nor is the Trinity directly taught in Scripture. For every verse that supposedly proves the Trinity, without the assumption that the Trinity exists there is a valid counterargument to disprove the Trinity. That is why the doctrine of the Trinity was developed using extra-biblical means, the inductive logic methods and a priori claims used in philosophy as well as words like homosousias (of one substance) not found in scripture. The New Bible Dictionary says:

“As already indicated, Scripture does not give us a fully formulated doctrine of the Trinity, but it contains all the elements out of which theology has constructed the doctrine.”[31]

The doctrines of salvation, atonement, and many others are fully formulated in Scripture.  The Trinity is not.  It can’t be read as is or deducted from scripture.  It has to be constructed using these a priori, inductive tools of philosophy.

However, the Trinitarian position is that every one of the above verses I discussed is consistent with an inductive proof of the Trinity once you include the “given”, the assumption that the Trinity exists before you start the proof.  But this opens the door that it is okay to go to scripture with assumptions or preconceived ideas and find ways that scriptures can be interpreted to prove your assumption.  So water baptism as the norm in the church age is inductively provable.  The cessation of spiritual manifestations is inductively provable, and so forth.

How is the Trinity explained and taught today? It’s just preached while admitting that it is confusing. One website writes, “The most difficult thing about the Christian concept of the Trinity is that there is no way to perfectly and completely understand it. The Trinity is a concept that is impossible for any human being to fully understand, let alone explain.”[27]

Still, as regards including philosophical things in the study of Christianity, Christian philosophical theologians argue that you cannot be aware of false philosophy unless you are first aware of it. They say the Christian church has been led into false teaching because they are not adequately trained to detect false teaching. The good counterfeit will be as close to the truth as possible. That’s why false non-Christian philosophies dressed up like Christian philosophies are the most dangerous.

One famous pro-philosophy Christian writer is CS Lewis who said “to be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray her uneducated brethren who have, under God no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”[28] Here CS Lewis clearly delineates between good philosophy and bad philosophy and he promotes the necessity of the use of philosophy in studying God.

Some writers contend that in order to think properly, that is, correctly and comprehensively about the world or the Word, one must use philosophy. Philosophy is required in the systematization of Christianity, and also required for proper communication. In the end, the authors contend that it is philosophy which enables the Christian to make sense out of his faith.[29]

The fact still remains that there is no scriptural endorsement of philosophy, only warnings about its dangers, and in contrast to that, there are numerous books that say without philosophy you cannot understand essential Christian doctrine, especially the Trinity.

And all of this is despite the fact that studies have shown that the majority of Christians, at least in this country, either do not understand or believe the doctrine of the trinity with its philosophically based proof.[30]

I can’t remember being at services where a preacher closed it with a call to the Trinity.  They close their services with an altar call and preach verses like:

that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom 10:9-10 WEB)

The philosophically based method of inductive reasoning developing Christianity theology is used to say verses like Romans 10 : 9-10 are insufficient by themselves for salvation because the doctrine of the Trinity is the more important doctrine.  That is controversial, to say the least.

The same method allows for making claims like the word baptism means with water, and the gifts of the spirit have ceased, by making a priori claims or assumptions, and then finding verses that substantiate that claim.

Philosophy has now been controversially used in the church for nineteen centuries.


[1] Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, Grand Rapids,1994, p. 21

[2] Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry C Theissen, Erdman’s, Grand Rapids, revised 1979, P. Three

[3] Systematic Theology, Volume 1, Paul Tillich, the University of Chicago press, Chicago 1950 1P. Three

[4] Ibid, p. 129

[5] The Rise of Christianity, W. H. C. Frend, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, p. 230

[6] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, P. 31

[7] The Story Of Christianity, Justo L Gonzales, Harper one, New York, 2010, P. 19

[8] ibid., P. 22

[9] The Rise of Christianity, P. 230-231

[10] Ibid.

[11] The Rise of Christianity, P. 230

[12] The Rise of Christianity, P. 232

[13] The Rise of Christianity, P. 234

[14] The Rise of Christianity, P. 231

[15] Joseph Betty, Tertullian’s Prescription against Hereticks. Oxford (1722) pp. 1-87, Chapter VII

[16] The Story of Christianity, P. 182

[17] (DOC) How is philosophy related to theology Philosophical and Moral Theology | Regenerated mbc – Academia.edu

[18] The Story of Christianity, David Bentley Hart, Quercus, 2007, p. 145-146

[19] The Story of Christianity, Hart, P. 178 – 179

[20] Introduction to Philosophy, A Christian Perspective, Norman L Geisler and Paul D Feinberg, Baker books, Grand Rapids, 1980, P. 5 – 6

[21] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 12

[22] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 20 – 22

[23] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 28

[24] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 41 – 42

[25] Delighting In The Trinity, Michael Reeves, University press academic, Downers Grove, 2012, P. 14

[26] What is Athanasian Creed?

[27] What does the Bible teach about the Trinity? | GotQuestions.org

[28] Good Philosophy Must Exist | Bible.org

[29] Introduction To Philosophy, p.78

[30] Theology Is As Clear As Mud To Americans in 2020

[31] New Bible Dictionary, Erdman’s, Grand Rapids, 1962, P. 1299

last edited 7/17/21

Biblical references are from the ASV version unless otherwise noted.
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