Questioning the "stuff" Behind the Trinity

compiled by Lewis Loflin

The fight over the just exactly was Christ was only of many fight within Christianity over doctrinal correctness. The Trinity is a concept drawn clearly from Greek philosophy and culture. What was the "substance" or stuff of Christ? How did He relate to God the father?

"God can in no way be described." -- Plato

To quote An investigation into the relationship between the Hebrew and Greek traditions, and the Christian idea of God by Peter Browne,

Christianity is founded on the worship of Jesus Christ...The most distinctive Christian claim about God is that the Trinity, three persons in one. This is often thought to contradict the Hebrew notion of "the Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4) and rightly so, for how can three be one? The answer is spelled out in the Athanasian creed, and to a lesser extent, the Nicene creed...throughout the Bible, we find subtle hints as to the triune nature of God...Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians around the world stand united in their idea of the triune God.


What does the Bible say on this issue? Depends on which version we read:

King James Bible Deu. 6:4-5, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. Mark 12:29-30, And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
New American (Catholic) Bible: Deut. 6:4-5, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Mark 12:28, Jesus replied, "The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! (NAB)
Eastern Orthodox Deut. 6:4-5, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [1] 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (ESV) But has a footnote: [1] 6:4 Or The Lord our God is one Lord; or The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; or The Lord is our God, the Lord alone On Mark 12:29, Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (ESV)
JPS (Jewish) 1917 Edition: Deut. 6:4-5, Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

But what do the detractors, both religious and secular have to say about this? Quoting Thomas Jefferson:

No historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early ages of Christianity; and was among the efficacious doctrines which gave it triumph over the polytheism of the ancients, sickened with the absurdities of their own theology.

Nor was the unity of the Supreme Being ousted from the Christian creed by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government, wielded at the will of the fanatic Athanasius. The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads...The pure and simple unity of the Creator of the universe...that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities... Letter to James Smith, Dec. 8, 1822

See Thomas Jefferson's Letters on Liberty and Religion

In the preface to Edward Gibbon's History of Christianity, we read: "If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism of the first Christians . . . was changed, by the Church of Rome, into the incomprehensible dogma of the trinity. Many of the pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and idealized by Plato, were retained as being worthy of belief."

The origins of this concept in my opinion is its sister faith of gnosticism. See Gnostic Apocryphon of John

"Christendom has done away with Christianity without being quite aware of it" (Soren Kierkegaard, cited in Time magazine, Dec. 16, 1946, p. 64).

"The three-in-one/one-in-three mystery of Father, Son and Holy Ghost made tritheism official...The Church - Catholic and later Protestant - turned aggressively on the two most clearly monotheistic religions in view - Judaism and Islam - and persecuted them as heathen or pagan. The external history of Christianity consists largely of accusations that other religions rely on the worship of more than one god and therefore not the true God.

These pagans must therefore be converted, conquered and/or killed for their own good in order that they benefit from the singularity of the Holy Trinity, plus appendages." -- The Doubter's Companion (John Ralston Saul)

Saul failed to mention three others that also reject the Trinity along with Jews and Muslims; Unitarians, Deists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. And only three groups today believe in the Trinity; Christians, Gnostics, and Hindus. The Hindu Trinity really isn't related to the other two, but among Christians and Gnostics, it's nearly identical, and both are related to the Gospel of John. We shall explore why, where the belief comes from, and how it ended up as the main focus of Christianity.

Before we continue, let's note some terms and background in order to understand the forces that converged at Nicaea.

Hypostasis (Christianity) In Christian usage, the Greek word hypostasis...its literal meaning is "that which stands beneath". It was used by, for instance, Aristotle and the Neoplatonists, to speak of the objective reality (as opposed to outer form or illusion) of a thing, its inner reality. In the Christian Scriptures this seems roughly its meaning at Hebrews 1:3. Allied to this was its use for "basis" or "foundation" and hence also "confidence," e.g., in Hebrews 3:14 and 11:1 and 2 Corinthians 9:4 and 11:17.

In Early Christian writings it is used to denote "being" or "substantive reality" and is not always distinguished in meaning from ousia (essence); it was used in this way by Tatian and Origen, and also in the anathemas appended to the Nicene Creed of 325. Trinitarians defend their view of multiple hypostases in the single God by the biblical passages of the Gospel of Matthew 28:19, Gospel of John 20:19-23...

Trinitarians acknowledge the debt to pagan philosophy for the terminology and rhetoric of Trinitarianism; and they acknowledge that controversies in the Church have arisen on account of a transference of meaning through any term predicated of God, like hypostasis, which is used by analogy to its proper meaning in philosophical paganism; but they deny that what the terminology is intended to express originates in paganism. (Wikipedia) In other words a form of Greek mysticism which seems to treat what we see as an illusion while deeper truths are unseen.

Mysticism: A doctrine that maintains that one can gain knowledge of reality that is not accessible to sense perception or to reason. It is usually associated with some mental and physical training and in the theistic version it involves a sensation of closeness to or unity with God. Or another definition, the belief in realities or truths beyond the present reach of reason. In other words, a rejection of reason. In reality, this is what Christians refer to as "being in the Holy Spirit."

ALLEGORY: The term allegory, being derived from allo agoreuein, signifying to say something different from what the words themselves imply, can etymologically be applied to any figurative form of expression of thought...In the history of Biblical exegesis allegory represents a distinct type of interpretation, dating back to pre-Christian times, practiced particularly by the Alexandrian Jews, and adopted by the early Church Fathers and still practiced and defended by the Roman Catholic church. Ref. http://www.bible-history.com/isbe/A/ALLEGORY/

Please note above how the Catholic (NAB) version of Deut. 6:4 is at odds with the other versions. One of the main Catholic Fathers in the West is St Augustine who claimed, "The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed, the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed." (Browne) Catholic Church Father St. Jerome is alleged to have claimed, "The Jews insist upon a literal interpretation of the Scriptures based on thirteen rules, but we know that the spiritual (allegorical) interpretation is far superior."

To quote John, Introduction from the New American Bible:

The Gospel according to John is quite different in character from the three synoptic gospels. (Matthew, Mark, Luke) It is highly literary and symbolic. It does not follow the same order or reproduce the same stories as the synoptic gospels. To a much greater degree, it is the product of a developed theological reflection and grows out of a different circle and tradition.

It was probably written in the 90s of the first century...Critical analysis makes it difficult to accept the idea that the gospel as it now stands was written by one person. John 21 seems to have been added after the gospel was completed; it exhibits a Greek style somewhat different from that of the rest of the work. The prologue (John 1:1-18) apparently contains an independent hymn, subsequently adapted to serve as a preface to the gospel.

Within the gospel itself there are also some inconsistencies, e.g., there are two endings of Jesus' discourse in the upper room (John 14:31; 18:1). To solve these problems, scholars have proposed various rearrangements that would produce a smoother order. However, most have come to the conclusion that the inconsistencies were probably produced by subsequent editing in which homogeneous materials were added to a shorter original...

To quote Father Alexander (www.fatheralexander.org),

"All the Sacred books of the New Testament were written in the vernacular Greek, an Alexandrian dialect, called koine...At that time only the capital letters of the Greek alphabet were used in writing, without diacritics, punctuation, or separation between words. Lower case letters appeared only in the ninth century...These conscientious critical works, as well as the untiring efforts of the Church, filled and guided by the Holy Spirit, assure us that presently we possess the original and unadulterated Greek text of the Gospels..."

In other words, take their word for it.

The Logos is an important concept that arises from Hellenistic Judaism. In Hellenistic (Greek) thought the Logos (the Word of God or Reason of God) is related to the notion that the universe itself is divine, a living being whose soul is God. God is everywhere and within everything. In Hellenistic Judaism as developed by Philo, this notion of Logos is unacceptable, because for Jewish God created the universe and transcends it. Logos is thought of as God creating the plan of the universe, the mind of God in the act of creation.

Christian notions (as in John) of Jesus as the Logos derive by adoption of Hellenistic ideas within the Jesus sect. The Christian notion that the Logos was created but not preexistent - son but not father - derive from Philo. This created a fight over the question of Jesus being God or a creation of God. That would be settled at Nicea in 325 that declared Jesus and God the same. The term also refers to Wisdom under Judaism.

The Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) was produced in Alexandria, Egypt.

To summarize all of this up, as written there's no proof in Judaism or the Old Testament for any Trinity. There is little or no direct proof in the New Testament either. It's a product of Greek mysticism and fused with Judaism and Egyptian mysticism in Alexandria. It should be no surprise that Athanasius of Alexandria would be the force behind the Trinity. The is one more man we must consider.

Philo

Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.), a Hellenized Jew, produced a synthesis of both Judaism and Greek philosophy developing concepts for future Hellenistic interpretation of messianic Hebrew thought, especially by Clement of Alexandria, Christian Apologists like Athenagoras, Theophilus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and by Origen. He may have influenced Paul, his contemporary, and perhaps the authors of the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the process, he laid the foundations for the development of Christianity.

The church preserved the Philonic writings because Eusebius of Caesarea labeled the monastic ascetic group of Therapeutae and Therapeutrides, described in Philo's The Contemplative Life, as Christians, which is highly unlikely. Eusebius also promoted the legend that Philo met Peter in Rome. Jerome (345-420 C.E.) even lists him as a church Father. He had a deep reverence for Plato and referred to him as "the most holy Plato" (Prob. 13).

Philo's philosophy represented contemporary Platonism which was its revised version incorporating Stoic doctrine and terminology via Antiochus of Ascalon (ca 90 B.C.E.) and Eudorus of Alexandria, as well as elements of Aristotelian logic and ethics and Pythagorean ideas. Clement of Alexandria even called Philo "the Pythagorean." But it seems that Philo also picked up his ancestral tradition, though as an adult, and once having discovered it, he put forward the teachings of the Jewish prophet, Moses, as "the summit of philosophy" and considered Moses the teacher of Pythagoras (b. ca 570 B.C.E.) and of all Greek philosophers and lawgivers (Hesiod, Heraclitus, Lycurgus, to mention a few).

For Philo, Greek philosophy was a natural development of the revelatory teachings of Moses. He was no innovator in this matter because already before him Jewish scholars attempted the same. Artapanus in the second century B.C.E identified Moses with Musaeus and with Orpheus. According to Aristobulus of Paneas (first half of the second century B.C.E.), Homer and Hesiod drew from the books of Moses which were translated into Greek long before the Septuagint.

Philo's Doctrine of Creation

Philo attempts to bridge the Greek "scientific" or rational philosophy with the strictly mythical ideology of the Hebrew scriptures...Though Philo's model of creation comes from Plato's Timaeus, the direct agent of creation is not God himself (described in Plato as Demiurge, Maker, Artificer), but the Logos. Philo believes that the Logos is "the man of God"...

By developing this doctrine he fused Greek philosophical concepts with Hebrew religious thought and provided the foundation for Christianity, first in the development of the Christian Pauline myth and speculations of John, later in the Hellenistic Christian Logos and Gnostic doctrines of the second century...

Philo made a synthesis of the two systems and attempted to explain Hebrew thought in terms of Greek philosophy by introducing the Stoic concept of the Logos into Judaism. In the process the Logos became transformed from a metaphysical entity into an extension of a divine and transcendental anthropomorphic being and mediator between God and men. Philo offered various descriptions of the Logos...

The above quoted from IEP, http://www.iep.utm.edu/p/philo.htm.

At the end of John she would find this interesting conversation between Jesus and the Apostle Peter, "21:20 Then Peter, turning around, saw a disciple following. This was the disciple whom Jesus sincerely loved, the one, who had also leaned on Jesus' breast at the supper and asked, "Lord, who is going to betray You?" 21:21 Peter seeing him, said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" 21:22 Jesus said to him, "If I desire that he stay until I come, what is that to you?

This clearly said Jesus would return in John's lifetime, something that never happened and never will, or so it seems. In fact Jesus did come back to John in his lifetime, the Church removed that part. Go read it yourself and here is where you do find the Trinity. See The Apocryphon of John.

The Gnostics may have written John, or ripped it off elsewhere. The Church certainly rewrote John to conform to its version of theology. What became official Christianity fought a long battle with those called collectively the Gnostics. The term for example "son(s) of God meant an angel or anointed person in the service of Gods. Gnostics, such as those that wrote John believed anyone could be a "son of God" through a divine mediator. Thus they could "rejoin" God and be free of a cursed material world.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name... (John 1:12)
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans 8:14)
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:18)
Quoting Will Durant's The Age of Faith on the Trinity, "Neoplatonism was still a power in religion and philosophy. Those doctrines which Plotinus had given a shadowy form- of a triune spirit binding all reality, of a Logos or intermediary deity who had done the work of creation, of soul as divine and matter as flesh and evil, of spheres of existence along whose invisible stairs the soul had fallen from God to man and might extend from man to God-these mystic ideas left their mark on the apostles John and Paul..." (P 9)

Where the Gnostics really differed from the official church was the question of the Hebrew God whom they believed was the devil and those that followed Him children of the devil. (See John 8:44) They believed the Hebrew God, the creator of the material world to be a fallen and corrupted angel. The true God, the "One" of Greek philosophy, was the true God and they thought the Hebrew God to be Plato's Demiurge and evil. They hated Judaism and Law, believing it not a product of God as the Old Testament claims, but the work of an fallen and corrupted angel. Paul gives us a clue:

Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. (Galatians 3:19-20)

For Christians Paul presents a troubling puzzle. Either under Gnostic influences Paul refers to the "One" or he really means God is one just like the Old Testament says. The Gnostics wanted to discard the Hebrew God, Christians invented a new one by fusing the Greek "holy spirit" (a type of pantheism, there's almost no mention of this entity in the Old Testament) with the Greek Logos. They needed a concept the Greek mystical mind could embrace. For the Trinity, we have a big problem with Galatians 3:19-20. The battle of Nicaea was the next fight to define Christianity.

The nature of Christ: Was He the same substance as God? or was He created by God?

Quoting the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Arius attracted a large following through a message integrating Neoplatonism, which accented the absolute oneness of the divinity as the highest perfection, with a literal, rationalist approach to the New Testament texts. Christ was viewed as the most perfect creature in the material world, whose moral integrity led him to be "adopted" by God as a son but who nevertheless remained a secondary deity, or Logos substantially unlike the eternal, uncreated Father and subordinate to his will...

According to its opponents, especially Athanasius, Arius' teaching reduced the Son to a demigod, reintroduced polytheism (since the worship of the Son was not abandoned), and undermined the Christian concept of redemption since only Christ who was truly God could redeem the world. From the outset, the controversy between both parties took place upon the common basis of the Neoplatonic concept of ousia ("substance" or "stuff"), which was foreign to the New Testament itself...

 

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