The Development of the Trinity Doctrine: the Beginning
The Book of Acts Church began upon the Old Testament belief of the absolute oneness of God along with the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ, as being the one God Incarnate. The New Testament was completed and the last of the apostles had died toward the end of the first century. However, two hundred years later, at the beginning of the fourth century, the primary doctrine of God in Christendom had gone from biblical Oneness to an apparent belief of Trinitarianism.
Now, the writers of the Post-Apostolic Age (c. A.D. 90-140) were loyal to biblical language, usage, and thought. They completely believed in Monotheism, the absolute deity of Jesus Christ, and the Incarnation of God in the Flesh. They connected great importance to the name of God and believed in baptism in the name of Jesus. They did not support the idea of there being a Trinity, nor did they use any type of trinitarian language. Some of their propositions do not agree with Trinitarianism, and many lean toward the belief of Monotheism of today.
Trinitarian scholars acknowledge, that certain writings about Trinitarianism address no real proof of a Trinity. Evangelical author Calvin Beisner himself admitted, “In the earliest times of the Church there is little explicit or precise statement, and even less definition of the doctrine of the Trinity. In the first two centuries the primary thought was of monotheism.”
With the Greek Apologists (c. A.D. 130-180), we see a gradual shifting from Monotheism and the beliefs of the Post-Apostolic Age. The concept now was the doctrine of the Word (Logos) as a second divine Person Who was subordinate to the Father.
In 130 to 150, such writers as, Aristides and the Epistle to Diognetus still believed in Oneness, although the latter began to separate God from the Word. By 150 Justin and Tatian supported the idea that the Father and the Word were two different Persons. By 170 to 180 Theophilus and Athenagoras began to teach that there was a Trinity, Three in the Godhead, but with no explanation or understanding as to why they believe this doctrine. However, at this time, Bishop Melito continued to believe in only One God. Also, at this time, we see the first change of the baptismal formula and the beginnings of the Trinity.
The Greek Apologists, especially Justin, brought forth several main views that gave birth to Trinitarianism. He presented the following beliefs to promote the doctrine of the Trinity: The Logos was a second divine Person or God, the begotten of the Logos before creation, the Logos as being the same as the Son, a trinitarian baptismal formula, and an unclear understanding as to the relationship of the Spirit with the Father and the Son. One century after the New Testament was written, everything was in place for Trinitarianism to be born.
Now the New Catholic Encyclopedia states this about the doctrine of the second century in regards to Trinitarianism: “Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective; among the second century Apologists, little more than a focusing of the problem as that of plurality within the Godhead…In the last analysis, the second century theological achievement was limited…A trinitarian solution was still in the future.”
In the Old Catholic Age (c. A.D. 170-325), Christendom switched from Oneness toward a belief in Three Gods. This change had already taken place when the indistinct binitarian and triadic formulations was introduced by the Greek Apologists in the middle to last part of the second century. This resulted in the proclaiming of orthodox Trinitarianism in the latter part of the fourth century.
The evidence clearly reveals that modalism was the primary belief of Christianity in the first part of this age. Being that history is always written by those who are victorious, the existing evidence most likely only shows only a small part of the total picture. Nevertheless, it expresses that modalism was believed by many during this time period. However, since existing historical evidence is scarce, it is clear that in the Old Catholic Age many people still believed in Oneness, and many people baptized in the name of Jesus.
I have a Doctorate in Theology and a Ph.D. Religious Education. I enjoy writing about Biblical Research.
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