Skip to comments.Greek Philosophy's Influence on the Trinity Doctrine
Posted on 04/16/2013 8:20:04 PM PDT by DouglasKC
Many historians and religious scholars, some quoted in this publication, attest to the influence of Greek or Platonic philosophy in the development and acceptance of the Trinity doctrine in the fourth century. But what did such philosophy entail, and how did it come to affect the doctrine of the Trinity?
To briefly summarize what was pertinent, we start with mention of the famous Greek philosopher Plato (ca. 429-347 B.C.). He believed in a divine triad of "God, the ideas, [and] the World-Spirit," though he "nowhere explained or harmonized this triad" (Charles Bigg, Christian Platonists of Alexandria, 1886, p. 249). Later Greek thinkers refined Plato's concepts into what they referred to as three "substances"the supreme God or "the One," from which came "mind" or "thought" and a "spirit" or "soul." In their thinking, all were different divine "substances" or aspects of the same God. Another way of expressing this was as "good," the personification of that good, and the agent by which that good is carried out. Again, these were different divine aspects of that same supreme gooddistinct and yet unified as one.
Such metaphysical thinking was common among the intelligentsia of the Greek world and carried over into the thinking of the Roman world of the New Testament period and succeeding centuries. As the last of the apostles began to die off, some of this metaphysical thinking began to affect and infiltrate the early Churchprimarily through those who had already begun to compromise with paganism.
As Bible scholars John McClintock and James Strong explain: "Towards the end of the 1st century, and during the 2d, many learned men came over both from Judaism and paganism to Christianity. These brought with them into the Christian schools of theology their Platonic ideas and phraseology" ( Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, 1891, Vol. 10, "Trinity," p. 553).
The true Church largely resisted such infiltration and held firm to the teaching of the apostles, drawing their doctrine from the writings of the apostles and "the Holy Scriptures [the books of the Old Testament] which are able to make you wise for salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15 ).
Two distinct threads of Christianity split and developed separatelyone true to the plain and simple teachings of the Bible and the other increasingly compromised with pagan thought and practices adopted from the Greco-Roman world.
Thus, as debate swelled over the nature of God in the fourth century leading to the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, it was no longer a debate between biblical truth and error. Both sides in the debate had been seriously compromised by their acceptance of unbiblical philosophical ideas.
Many of the church leaders who formulated the doctrine of the Trinity were steeped in Greek and Platonic philosophy, and this influenced their religious views and teaching. The language they used in describing and defining the Trinity is, in fact, taken directly from Platonic and Greek philosophy. The word trinity itself is neither biblical nor Christian. Rather, the Platonic term trias, from the word for three, was Latinized as trinitas the latter giving us the English word trinity.
"The Alexandria catechetical school, which revered Clement of Alexandria and Origen, the greatest theologian of the Greek Church, as its heads, applied the allegorical method to the explanation of Scripture. Its thought was influenced by Plato: its strong point was [pagan] theological speculations. Athanasius and the three Cappadocians [the men whose Trinitarian views were adopted by the Catholic Church at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople] had been included among its members" (Hubert Jedin, Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church: an Historical Outline, 1960, p. 28).
"The doctrines of the Logos [i.e., the "Word," a designation for Christ in John 1] and the Trinity received their shape from Greek Fathers, who . . . were much influenced, directly or indirectly, by the Platonic philosophy . . . That errors and corruptions crept into the Church from this source can not be denied" ( The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Samuel Macauley Jackson, editor, 1911, Vol. 9, p. 91).
The preface to historian Edward Gibbons' History of Christianity sums up the Greek influence on the adoption of the Trinity doctrine by stating: "If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism [basic religion, in this context] 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" (1883, p. xvi). (See "How Ancient Trinitarian Gods Influenced Adoption of the Trinity," beginning on page 18.)
The link between Plato's teachings and the Trinity as adopted by the Catholic Church centuries later is so strong that Edward Gibbon, in his masterwork The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, referred to Plato as "the Athenian sage, who had thus marvelously anticipated one of the most surprising discoveries of the Christian revelation" the Trinity (1890, Vol. 1, p. 574).
Thus we see that the doctrine of the Trinity owes far less to the Bible than it does to the metaphysical speculations of Plato and other pagan Greek philosophers. No wonder the apostle Paul warns us in Colossians 2:8 (New International Version) to beware of "hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ"!
2Ti 2:24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,
2Ti 2:25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,
2Ti 2:26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will
Col 3:12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
Col 3:13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
Thought you might like this...
DouglasKC wrote: Note: This could be a controversial thread. Lets remember to act in a Christian manner and exhibit the fruit of the holy spirit to those who might be reading this.
Its important for everyone to note before participating in this thread that the church DouglasKC represents is a non-Christian religious cult, which claims that they alone possess the Holy Spirit due to their rejection of the Trinity, their embrace of dietary laws and Jewish festival observance, their denial of everlasting torment in hell, their affirmation of the possibility of salvation after death, and their doctrine that the Holy Spirit must be passed on by right-believing ministers of the UCG by direct physical contact, amongst many other disturbing facts. IOW, they believe that they are the one true church of God on Earth, and we are all members of a counterfeit religion.
However, what is most relevant to this thread is their view of God and monotheism. They are, in fact, thinly veiled polytheists. They do not believe there is only one God, but two Gods joined together in a collective sense in a God Family. Below is a long post I wrote to Douglas previously, which he never addressed, but nevertheless documents the UCGs stance on this issue.
The first part is a quick review of Trinitarian scripture, followed by information on the UCGs views of their open Godhead:
That the Trinity is in the scripture, that cannot be questioned:
Mat_28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
2Co_13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.
Isa_48:16 Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.
That Jesus is literally God, there is no question of it:
Mat_1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
That the Father and Son are distinct, and yet one God, cannot be questioned:
Joh 8:17-18 It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. (18) I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.
Joh_10:30 I and my Father are one.
God Speaking in the Old Testament:
Isa_41:4 Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
Isa_44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
Jesus Christ speaking in the new, calling Himself by the same name. Not two different gods who are made one by being in the same family, but One God:
Rev_1:17 ... Fear not; I am the first and the last:
Rev_22:13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
Rev_1:8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
That the Holy Spirit is God, and not an inanimate force, cannot be questioned:
1Co_3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
Act_13:2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
Joh_14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
At the center of all of this is the fact that Christianity is monotheistic. We believe in only one God, as clearly taught in the scriptures. Is YOUR religion monotheistic? Lets find out:
According to the papers on the UCG website, their war with the Trinity actually centers on their rejection of God being limited to only one being (11). According to the UCG, God is one in the sense of collective unity, when 2 different beings are one in a collective sense, as sharing common goals, but not one in substance:
This idea of collective unity is clearly demonstrated in Genesis 2:23-24, And
Adam said: This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be
joined to his wife, and they shall become one [echad] flesh. Here two distinct individuals are
one flesh. This is not talking about one in number but one in collective unity, harmony, peace
and the sharing of common goals. (10)
Thus, the idea of there being only one God, is changed to merely a devotion to but one God, but leaves the door open for many gods to exist, citing various scriptures to allege that they are problematic if one concludes there
is only one being called God in the Old Testament (14). And more:
The purpose of Deuteronomy 6:4 is to show ancient Israel that their Elohim is the only
God and that all the pagan gods are to be rejected. Thus the purpose is not to explain the nature
of God but to show that He is unique and the only God to worship. (11)
Due to the obvious problems of this theology, your religion uses the concept of the God Family, and the collective unity, in order to maintain the idea that they are yet one God, though there are actually two separate beings in the Godhead (the Holy Spirit is simply done away with, since His name does not fit the Family concept), as they say here: God can be defined as a familyone God family, although currently consisting of two beings (15).
The logic follows from hence, after they deny the idea of adoption, that we will partake of divinity and join with God in the God-Family, IOW, become one in the Godhead the same way their version of Jesus and the Father are one:
Thus, the Godhead is not a closed Trinity, nor an absolute unity of only one God, but a dynamic family unity that allows for Spirit-born believers to become the very children of God. (41)
Throughout those entire 40 something pages, not once were any of the scriptures addressed which refute their claims. What does the scripture really say of these ideas, in brief?
That there is only one God, not defined as a family unit, but having no other God beside Him:
Isa_44:8 ... Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.
This unity utterly precludes the possibility of there being two separate beings who are merely united in the sense of cooperation. There is only one God, united in substance, and yet not contradictory to when Isaiah writes the phrase The Lord GOD, and His Spirit hath sent me.
Neither can there be any other gods formed. There are no other gods joining the godhead, no open trinity. It is utterly closed. There is, and always will be, and always has been, just one God:
Isa_43:10 ... before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
None formed before, none formed after.
The UCGs view, therefore, is a thinly veiled polytheism, very similar to the Mormon concept which argues that they themselves are monotheistic, because there is one Godhead, but that the Father literally had sex with a goddess wife and produced the Son. They make the same argument against strict monotheism, and veil it with the same concept of strict devotion to just one God, but not that there are not any other gods.
It's equally important to know that the "church" Greetings_Puny_Humans represents believes in devil worship and slaughtering kittens and puppies in ritual sacrifices!
Very doubtful. Peter and Paul talk extensively about the Trinity, were Jews, and I seriously doubt that Platonic beliefs had any sway with them.
These men were torn from Talmudic law to the new law of Christ - and Christ himself says in Mark 13:11:
But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.
Even Aristotle spoke of the “prime mover” in his Metaphysics, and he was certainly more pertinent in that day and age as Alexander’s legacy was still fresh in the annals of history.
“It’s equally important to know...”
It’s equally important to know I quoted straight from the UCG, and made nothing up.
I don't think that's accurate else why would our current understanding of the trinity have taken so long to develop and be finalized? it took over 300 years after the death of Christ to develop it...
Facts are so inconvenient.
It's equally important to know that neither did I!
Rather than going through long winded historic explanations for which no verifiable references are cited, why not just make your case from the entire body of scripture dealing with the subject?
>>I don’t think that’s accurate else why would our current understanding of the trinity have taken so long to develop and be finalized? it took over 300 years after the death of Christ to develop it...
I think that’s utter bull. Apparently every direct follower of Christ (except for the exiled John) was willing to die through torture and crucifixion for Christ. This not only speaks to His authority, but also to the finality of His law.
Christ came to earth and was God’s law on earth. To deny that is to make smarmy excuses for development simply shows that you want to contort your own beliefs to make people accept them. I don’t think any Bible reader can do that.
Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem;
Creatorem caeli et terrae.
Et in Jesum Christum,
Filium eius unicum, Dominum nostrum;
qui conceptus est
de Spiritu Sancto,
natus ex Maria virgine;
passus sub Pontio Pilato,
crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus;
descendit ad inferos;
tertia die resurrexit a mortuis;
ascendit ad caelos;
sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis;
inde venturus est
iudicare vivos et mortuos.
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum;
sanctam ecclesiam catholicam;
vitam aeternam. Amen.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
and born of the Virgin Mary,
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
he will come again
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen
Just about every single paragraph in this article is referenced and sourced...
Whoa Tex...back the trailer up...I never said anything about this. Jesus is Lord, saviour and divine. You might want to read the article and not assume that questioning the structure of a developed doctrine is not the same as denying the divinity of Christ...
You’re right. I read it wrong.
The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy L. Sayers.
The most brilliant book about the Trinity. And funny!
>>Thus we see that the doctrine of the Trinity owes far less to the Bible than it does to the metaphysical speculations of Plato and other pagan Greek philosophers.
What does this mean then? Most of Plato’s ideals are easily delineated into beliefs that earth is a translation of a supernatural realm where true forms are mimicked in earthly “realities”. Furthermore, paganism is a completely different genre of beliefs from the inductive reasoning that Plato pursued. Pagans worshiped numerous Gods from mythological or traditional ideals; Plato tried to generalize the spiritual world from what he found on Earth - the two processes are completely different.
If Christ had not mentioned the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit itself had not been involved with Christ’s birth (Luke 1:35), you might have a leg to stand on.
“[Aristotle] was certainly more pertinent in that day and age as Alexander’s legacy was still fresh in the annals of history”
What? Alexander didn’t leave any intellectual legacy, except insofar as his victories were a conduit through which Greek culture flowed to the surrounding area. Aristotle was one of those Greeks, but only one.
If you think of Alexander spreading Aristotle in particular because of the fact that Aristotle was employed at the Macedonian court and tutored Alexander, there isn’t any discernable Aristotelian influence in the Alexander of the annals. He’s pure conquest.