A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 5th December 2010.
Development of the Trinity
In the first century AD, Christianity spread from Jerusalem over the known world. Christian doctrine (teaching) was simple. “They continued in the apostles’ doctrine, in breaking of bread and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
What was the ‘apostles’ doctrine’?
The ‘Apostles’ Creed’ was in use during the first two centuries AD. It does not appear in the Bible, but it is a good summary of the basic teachings of the apostles. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles%27_Creed
Over the following centuries, there was compromise and accommodation between Christianity and the religions and philosophies of the world. What had once been a simple faith which could be understood by the man in the street, became a complex system of theology which was the preserve of an educated elite. The Christian church became an establishment with political influence and political power. It also became divided.
The emperor Constantine saw Christianity as a potential unifying force for the Roman empire, and he adopted it as the state religion. In 325 AD he brought its divided factions together at the Council of Nicea, and there they thrashed out a theological statement that could be accepted by the majority of Christianity’s factions. This became known as the ‘Nicene Creed’. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed
This was followed in the sixth century by the ‘Athanasian Creed’. See e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athanasian_creed
These three creeds illustrate the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. They show how the statement of faith of the orthodox Christian church became longer and more prescriptive, more philosophical and convoluted, and less Bible-based.
With the Athanasian Creed the doctrine of the Trinity was now fully developed. Basically the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that God is three persons in one godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, co-equal and co-eternal.
We suggest that it actually derives from the various triune godheads of foreign contemporary religions. The Bible knows nothing of the Trinity.
What the Bible says
Deuteronomy 6:4 – the Bible insists that God is one.
Luke 1:35 – the son of God was born when the power of God (the holy spirit) worked on the virgin Mary.
Hebrews 4:15 – Jesus was entirely human, just like us.
Acts 4:10 – Jesus died and God raised him from the dead.
Mark 16:19 – Jesus now sits at the right hand of God.
1 Corinthians 15:25-28 – God’s purpose is that Jesus will return to earth, subdue his enemies and establish the kingdom of God, then hand it to God and himself be subject to God.
1 Timothy 2:5-6 – there is one God, and one mediator between God and man (the mediator is Jesus).
The simple teaching of the Bible, which can be clearly seen in the original Apostles’ Creed, is that God is the Creator; Jesus Christ is his son; the Holy Spirit is his power at work.
Why it matters
Defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity often claim that it is a mystery which cannot be properly understood. But the message of the Bible was always meant to be clear, simple and straightforward.
It is sometimes claimed that as the majority of Christians believe in the Trinity, they must be right. However, the majority is seldom right. See e.g. the experiences of Noah, and Jesus himself.
It’s tempting to say that it’s an academic argument, and not really important. However, when you look into the detail and really think about it, the doctrine of the Trinity makes nonsense of the basic and crucial Bible teaching that God gave his son to die for us (e.g. John 3:16).