The Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire

This article summarizes the key events and circumstances that caused the Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire; more or less in chronological sequence. This is to support another article, which shows that the prophecies of Daniel correctly predicted HOW the Western Roman Empire was to fall. 

Much of this article is a summary of Wikipedia’s articles about that period.

Summary

The Roman Empire reached its zenith in the 2nd century. Thereafter it slowly declined. 

Emperor Theodosius’ Death (395)

Theodosius was the last emperor to rule the entire Roman Empire; east and west. He died in 395. Rome was sacked by barbarians in 410. This indicates how weak the empire has become in the only 15 years since Theodosius died. Theodosius’ death initiated a series of major changes, as described below, and was a major turning point in the history of the Roman Empire. Rome was again sacked in 455 and the last Western Emperor was deposed in 476, but the real change occurred before 410. 

Crossing of the River Rhine (406)

The eagles were a popular symbol among the Goths.
GOTHIC SYMBOL

From the fourth century onward, the Empire was less able to repel invading barbarians. Throughout the 4th and 5th centuries, large numbers of barbarians migrated into Roman territories. In the year 376, an unmanageable number of Goths and other non-Roman peoples migrated into the Empire. But during the 15 years after Theodosius’ death, in 406, the Crossing of the River Rhine by Germanic tribes was a decisive event in the Migration Period.

To become part of the Empire – These barbarians did not enter the Empire to tear it down or to replace it with something new, but to become part of the Empire. They sought permission to settle in Roman territory, and Imperial authorities also granted such permission, on certain severe conditions. In other words, these “barbarians” were absorbed into the empire.

Second-class citizens – These barbarians were accepted into the Empire, but as second-class citizens or even, what we could say, as migrant laborers or slaves. However, the Goths resisted and sought full and equal citizenship.

Barbarians controlled the Roman army.

Recruited – Many barbarians were recruited into the Imperial Forces. The Imperial Forces became dependent on the service of Goths. Historians speculate about why barbarians were allowed into the army. But the Roman Empire required a strong army, for its armed forces were the basis for its power.

Top Generals – Some of the barbarians became generals and even top generals.

Emperors were figureheads.

The real rulers in the West always were the military strongmen. The top generals of the armies often also became the emperor. After the ‘barbarians’ gained control of the army, in the 5th century, Western Emperors became mere figureheads.

Compete for control of the empire

There always remained friction and even hatred between the original Graeco-Roman inhabitants of the Empire and the increasingly dominant Barbarian peoples as they competed for control of the Empire. At times, the Graeco-Romans massacred the barbarians. However, if we combine the two principles, namely that the top generals were the real rulers and that the barbarians became top generals, then we can see that the barbarians were progressively in control of the empire.

Not foreign armies – For that reason, it was not foreign armies that sacked Rome in 410 and 455, or that deposed the last Roman Emperor in 476: It was the Gothic section of the Roman army that eventually gained the upper hand in the struggle for control of the Empire.

Civil wars – The Empire was not only threatened by barbarian invasions, but also by civil wars between the Romans themselves. 

The Western Roman Empire did not fall.

Based on the analysis above and the more detailed discussion below, the Western Roman Empire did not come to an end in 476 when Odoacer deposed the last emperor. A more appropriate description of what happened is that the Germanic faction of the Roman Empire became strong enough to take over control of the army, and therefore of the Western Empire itself. This is confirmed by the continuation of Roman power and practices after the emperor was deposed.

Conclusion

In summary, what happened, over more than 100 years, is that the barbaric faction in the Roman Empire became stronger and stronger, while the Gracio-Roman control of the Empire became progressively weaker until the barbarians took over control of the Western Roman Empire. 

The barbaric faction did not use its military supremacy to replace the political and legal structures of the Roman Empire with a different system, but to become part of it: They continued the culture and practices of the empire. 

The sack of Rome in 410 did not cause the fall of the Western Roman Empire; the sack of Rome was an indication of how far the Roman Empire has declined by then.

The Western Roman Empire, therefore, did not fall. Bowersock (2001) described the process as a complex cultural transformation, rather than a fall.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

Barbarians were accepted into the empire.

From the fourth century, the Empire’s military capacity was insufficient to repel or exterminate the invading barbarians. Throughout the 4th and 5th centuries, various Germanic tribes from southern Scandinavia and northern Germania migrated into the Empire’s territories in Western Europe and Northwestern Africa, in what is sometimes called the Migration period

I do not like the term “barbarian” because these people were the forbearers of the French, German and other peoples, but the literature often refers to them as such and this term is useful to refer to a diverse group of people. 

As an early example of this migration, in the year 376, an unmanageable number of Goths and other non-Roman people migrated into the Empire. Emperor Valens allowed Goths to settle within the borders of the Empire. However, the local Roman administrators mistreated them. They revolted, resulting in the first war against the Visigoths which climaxed in the Battle of Adrianople in 378, in which the Visigoths defeated a large Roman army and also killed Emperor Valens himself.

The important point is that imperial authorities admitted potentially hostile groups into the Empire and:

      • allotted to them lands (typically in devastated provinces),
      • allocated them a status (e.g. unfree workers (coloni) for Roman landowners), and
      • duties (sometimes, to defend a border) within the imperial system.

Cultural assimilation followed over the next generation or two. In other words, these “barbarians” became part of the empire.

Empire divided into East and West

Emperor Theodosius I died in 395. He was the last emperor to unite the western and eastern halves of the Empire under the authority of a single emperor. After his death, the empire progressively subdivided into several separate identifiable political entities.

ivory diptych, thought to depict Stilicho with his wife Serena
STILICHO

At his death, Theodosius’ two underage sons became the emperors of the two halves of the Empire. Honorius became emperor in the West with General Stilicho as his guardian while Arcadius was placed on the Eastern throne in Constantinople with Rufinus the power behind the throne. However, Rufinus was soon suspected of being in league with the Goths and was killed. (The Roman Empire did not fire leaders; they killed them.)

These two parts of the empire were administered fairly independently; even in opposition to one another. For example, in 406, General Stilicho demanded the return of the eastern half of Illyricum (which had been transferred to the administrative control of Constantinople by Theodosius), threatening war if the Eastern Roman Empire resisted.

A Goth ruled in the East.

Most of this article describes events in the Western Empire, but this subsection briefly mentions the rise and fall of the Goth Gainas in the East, for it highlights some of the principles we wish to emphasize.

Gainas was a Gothic leader who commanded the barbarian contingent of emperor Theodosius’ army in 394. After Theodosius’ death, in the year 399, he was promoted to magister militum (literally, master of the military) in the Eastern Roman Empire.

Gainas was required to suppress the insurrection of the Ostrogoths in Asia Minor but failed. The Ostrogoths continued to devastate Asia Minor. Gainas advised emperor Arcadius to accept the terms set by the Ostrogoths. But then Gainas showed his true colors by openly joining the Ostrogoths with all his forces. In this way, he forced the emperor to sign a treaty whereby the Goths would be allowed to settle in Thrace, entrusted with the defense of that frontier against the barbarians beyond the Danube. 

Backed by the Ostrogoths and given his position as top general of the Eastern Roman Empire, Gainas was now very powerful. He proceeded to install his forces in Constantinople (the capital of the Eastern Empire) and to depose all the anti-Goth officials.

However, the Graeco-Roman populace intensely resented both Goths and Arian Christians, and Gainas and his men were both. After a few months, in 400, the citizens of Constantinople revolted against Gainas and massacred 7,000 armed Goths and as many of his people and their families as they could catch. Some Goths built rafts and tried to flee across the strip of sea that separates Asia from Europe (the Hellespont), but their rag-tag ad hoc fleet was destroyed by another Goth in Imperial service; Fravitta By the beginning of 401, Gainas’ head rode a pike through Constantinople.

A half-Vandal reigned the Western Roman Empire.

We will now turn our attention to the West.

Stilicho was the son of a Vandal cavalry officer and a Roman mother, but he considered himself to be nothing but Roman. He joined the Roman army and rose through the ranks during the reign of Theodosius I. Theodosius promoted him to general and, seeing in him a man that would be able to lead the empire, appointed Stilicho as guardian of his son Honorius. Thus, after Theodosius died in 395, the underage Honorius became Emperor of the Western Empire, with Stilicho as his caretaker. Stilicho came to be the real commander-in-chief of the Roman armies in the west. In 400 Stilicho was accorded the highest honor within the Roman state by being appointed consul. He was now the most powerful man in the Western Roman Empire. Some regard this as the high point of Germanic advancement in the service of Rome. 

Visigoths rose to threaten Rome.

Alaric first appeared as the leader of a mixed band of Goths and allied peoples who invaded Thrace in 391 but were stopped by the Roman general Stilicho. In 394, Alaric led a Gothic force of 20,000 under the Roman Emperor Theodosius. Despite sacrificing around 10,000 of his men, Alaric received little recognition. Disappointed, he left the Roman army and was elected to be the first king of the Visigoths in 395. The Visigoths then marched toward Constantinople until they were diverted by Roman forces. Nonetheless, the Eastern emperor appointed Alaric magister militum (general in the Roman Army; literally, master of the military).

NOTE: The Visigoths were an early Germanic people who, along with the Ostrogoths, constituted the two major branches of the Goths. These tribes flourished and spread throughout the late Roman Empire in Late Antiquity, or what is known as the Migration Period.

In 401 and again in 402 Alaric invaded Italy but was defeated, although he did force the Roman Senate to pay a large subsidy to the Visigoths.

Massive immigration of barbarians

To protect Italy, the Empire had depleted the Rhine frontier of forces. The Crossing of the River Rhine on 31 December 406 by Germanic tribes (including the Vandals, Burgundians, Alans, and the Sueves) was a key event in the Migration Period. This brought unmanageable numbers of Germanic and Alan barbarians into Gaul. For the next few years, these barbarian tribes wandered in search of food and employment, devastating Gaul’s provinces, while Roman forces fought each other in the name of Honorius and Constantine III, who was competing for the imperial throne. The barbarians ravaged Gaul, initiating a wave of destruction and pillaging of Roman cities. Some moved on to the regions of Hispania and Africa. The Empire would never regain control over most of these lands. This was a climactic moment in the decline of the Empire and a serious setback for Stilicho’s reputation.

The revolt in Britain challenged the emperor.

In 406, the provinces of Roman Britain revolted. The garrisons chose as their leader a man named after the famed emperor of the early fourth century, Constantine the Great, who had himself risen to power through a military coup in Britain. Constantine was a common soldier, but one of some ability. 

Early in 407, the Roman military in Britain acclaimed Constantine as emperor. Constantine promptly moved to Gaul and took with him all of the mobile troops left in Britain, to confront the various Germanic invaders who had crossed the Rhine the previous winter. Constantine’s forces won several confrontations with the Vandals and quickly secured the line of the Rhine.

With the knowledge that Constantine III was a threat to his position as emperor, the Western emperor, Honorius, ordered Stilicho to expel Constantine. Stilicho’s forces defeated two of Constantine’s generals, but Constantine sent another army and Stilicho’s troops retreated into Italy, Constantine now controlled all of Gaul and garrisoned the Alpine passes into Italy. Stilicho had failed to quash Constantine III’s rebellion.

In the summer of 408, the Roman forces in Italy assembled to attack Constantine. But Constantine struck first. He sent his general Gerontius towards Hispania, where he defeated the last Roman force to try to hold the borders of Hispania.

Stilicho’s death led to the sack of Rome.

Stilicho’s death

After many years of victories against many enemies, both barbarian and Roman, the series of political and military disasters described above finally allowed Stilicho’s enemies in the court of the emperor to remove him from power, culminating in his execution in 408.

The Western Emperor Honorius furthermore incited the Roman population to massacre tens of thousands of wives and children of Goths serving in the Roman military. The Gothic soldiers then defected en masse to Alaric, increasing the size of his force to around 30,000 men, and joined his march on Rome to avenge their murdered families.

The first siege of Rome

The Visigothic leader thereupon laid siege to Rome in 408. Alaric attempted to secure a permanent peace treaty and rights to settle within Roman territory. Alaric’s military operations centered on the port of Rome, through which Rome’s grain supply had to pass. His siege caused dreadful famine within the walls. Eventually, the Senate granted him a substantial subsidy and liberated all 40,000 Gothic slaves in Rome. That payment, though large, was less than one of the richest senators could have produced. The super-rich aristocrats made little contribution. Rather, pagan temples were stripped of ornaments to make up the total. Besides, Alaric hoped for promotion to magister militum – commander of the Western Roman Army, but Honorius refused.

Constantine becomes joint consul

Given that the Gothic army under Alaric roamed unchecked in northern Italy when Constantine’s envoys arrived to negotiate, Honorius accepted Constantine’s demands, and the two were joint consuls for the year 409. After military setbacks, Constantine abdicated in 411 but was captured and executed shortly afterward.

NOTE: Consuls were mere symbolic representatives of Rome’s republican heritage and held very little power and authority; the Emperor acted as the supreme authority.

The second siege of Rome

In 409 Alaric again tried to negotiate with Honorius. He demanded frontier land and food but Honorius responded with insults. Alaric ravaged Italy outside the fortified cities (which he could not garrison), and the Romans refused open battle (for they had inadequate forces). Late in the year, Alaric expressed his readiness to leave Italy if Honorius would only grant his people a supply of grain. Honorius flatly refused. The Visigoths again surrounded Rome. Alaric lifted his blockade after proclaiming Attalus Western Emperor.

Third siege and sack of Rome

In the summer of 410, Alaric deposed Attalus and besieged Rome for the third time. According to some accounts, allies within the capital opened the gates for him, and for three days his troops sacked the city. The city of Rome was the seat of the richest senatorial noble families. Although the Visigoths plundered Rome, they treated its inhabitants humanely and burned only a few buildings, which is surprising given the massacre of Gothic women and children. In some Christian holy places, Alaric’s men even refrained from wanton wrecking and rape.

Conclusions

The death of Stilicho has been included in this section under the heading of the sack of Rome because many historians argue that the removal of Stilicho was the main catalyst leading to this monumental event. The city destroyed its own protection. It is also interesting to note the similarities between the massacre of the Gothic soldiers and their families in Constantinople and the massacre of Gothic women and children in the West. It shows the level of hate that existed between the Graeco-Roman people and the Gothic invaders. 

The sack of Rome did not cause the decline of the Roman Empire. Rather, the decline of the Roman Empire caused the sack of Rome. 

The fact that barbarians were able to roam unchecked in the Italian countryside and sack Rome are indications of the decline; not only of the Western Roman Empire but of the Empire as a whole. 

The Western Empire never recovered. Rome was sacked a second time in 455; this time by the Vandals. Although the capital in the West, by this time, has moved to Ravenna, Rome remained the West’s largest city and its economic center.

Visigoths settled in Spain.

After they sacked Rome, the Visigoths first settled in southern Gaul. They also extended their authority into Hispania, where they founded the Visigothic Kingdom and maintained a presence from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD. In 507, their rule in Gaul was ended by the Franks under Clovis I, who defeated them in the Battle of Vouillé. After that, the Visigoth kingdom was limited to Hispania. In or around 589, the Visigoths under Reccared I converted from Arianism to Nicene Christianity, gradually adopting the culture of their Hispano-Roman subjects.

Last emperor in the Western Roman Empire

from a 19th-century illustration
Romulus resigns the Crown

In AD 476, Odoacer—a Germanic chieftain—deposed the last emperor in Italy (Romulus Augustus). This did not require a major battle, for by then barbarian kingdoms had established their own power in much of the area of the Western Empire, leaving the Emperor with negligible power and no effective control. The circumstances were as follows:

Romulus usurps the throne.

The Western Roman Emperor Julius Nepos appointed Orestes as Magister militum in 475. However, before the end of that year, Orestes rebelled, drove Emperor Nepos from Italy, and proclaimed his own young son Romulus as the new emperor Augustulus. Nepos reorganized his court in Dalmatia and received affirmation from Zeno—the emperor in Constantinople. Zeno refused to accept Augustulus but branded Romulus and his father as traitors and usurpers.

Odoacer leads the barbarian revolt.

At about that time the foederati in Italy rebelled. Foederati were barbarians whom the Roman Empire allowed to remain within the Empire in exchange for military assistance. They had grown weary of this arrangement. They petitioned Orestes to grant them lands and to settle them permanently in Italy. Orestes refused.

Odoacer was an officer in what remained of the Roman Army; rising through the ranks. The foederati turned to Odoacer to lead their revolt against Orestes. Odoacer and his troops quickly conquered the whole of Italy, killed Orestes, proclaimed Odoacer king of Italy, captured Ravenna (by then, the capital city of the Western Empire) and compelled the 16-year-old emperor Romulus to abdicate.

No emperor in the West

But Odoacer chose neither to assume the title of Emperor himself nor to select a puppet emperor. He, rather, proclaimed himself the ruler of Italy. He sent the Imperial insignia to Constantinople and requested the Eastern Emperor Zeno to reign over both the eastern and western parts of the Empire. Zeno agreed to this arrangement, setting Nepos’ claims aside and legalizing Odoacer’s position as Imperial viceroy of Italy. In other words, the Eastern Emperor granted Odoacer legal authority to govern Italy in the name of the Empire.

The message was clear: The title Emperor no longer had value. The emperors in the West in the fifth century were, in any case, mostly figureheads, and this arrangement made an end of the puppet emperors in the West. 

Zeno was now, at least in name, the sole Emperor of the entire Empire. Odoacer was careful to observe form and made a pretense of acting on Zeno’s authority, even issuing coins with both his image and that of Zeno. He also maintained Roman institutions, such as the consulship.

Odoacer solidus struck in the name of Emperor Zeno, testifying to the formal submission of Odoacer to Zeno.

Zeno did suggest that Odoacer should receive Nepos back as Emperor in the West, “if he truly wished to act with justice,” but Odoacer never returned any territory or real power to Nepos. Nepos remained in Dalmatia until his death.

Ostrogothic Kingdom

rose from the ruins of the Western Roman Empire
OSTROGOTHIC KINGDOM

Concerned with Odoacer’s success and popularity, Zeno started a campaign against him. In 488, Zeno authorized another troublesome Ostrogoth, Theoderic (later known as “the Great”) to take Italy from Odoacer. After several indecisive campaigns, in 493 Theoderic and Odoacer agreed to rule jointly. They celebrated their agreement with a banquet of reconciliation, at which Theoderic’s men murdered Odoacer’s, and Theoderic personally cut Odoacer in half. The Ostrogoths then founded their own independent Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy under the rule of king Theodoric

Roman Senate – The largely powerless but still influential Western Roman Senate continued to exist in the city of Rome under the rule of the Ostrogothic kingdom and, later for at least another century, before disappearing in the early 7th century.

Other Articles

A response to the GotQuestions article on the Trinity.

I briefly explained the historical development of the Trinity doctrine to my daughter. I began with the church fathers of the first three centuries, through the tumultuous events of the fourth century, with a brief overview of the history there-after. (A series of articles on this website explains the historical development of the Trinity doctrine. For an overview, see – Justinian.)

She then, apparently, did some reading, and sent me a reference to the GotQuestions article – What does the Bible teach about the Trinity? In the current article, I respond to that article.

The three Persons differ.

Gotquestions points out that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit differ. It states, for example:

  • The Son is begotten from the Father,
  • The Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father,
  • But the Father is not begotten and does not proceed from another.

Many other examples of differences between them may be mentioned, such as:

The Son “is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1; cf. Acts 7:56).

Jesus said, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). This means that they have different wills.

The three Persons are one Being.

In spite of such differences, the Trinity Doctrine claims that they are one and the same Being. The oneness of the members of the Trinity is a complex concept. Gotquestions describes the Trinity as follows:

The Father is God,
the Son is God, and
the Holy Spirit is God—
but there is only one God.

This is similar to the Athanasian Creed, which declares:

We are compelled … to acknowledge
every Person by himself to be God …
(but we are) forbidden by the catholic religion; to say,
There are three Gods.

It is not only the “catholic religion” that forbids us to say that there are three Gods: A foundational teaching of the Bible is that God is one!

Each Person is the entire God.

The Trinity doctrine does not teach that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three parts of God. It teaches that “every person by himself to be God.” In other words, whatever we can say about the Father, is also true about the Son, and vice versa. To quote the Athanasian Creed:

Such as the Father is;
such is the Son; and
such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father is Almighty;
the Son Almighty; and
the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet
they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty.

More than one Almighty Being is logically impossible. Therefore, according to the Athanasian Creed, they are only “one Almighty.” Thus, we can represent the Trinity with the equation:

God  =  Father  =  Son  =  Holy Spirit

The Trinity Doctrine Contradicts itself.

Therefore, the Trinity concept contradicts itself when it says that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct and different Persons with different origins and roles, but one and the same Almighty Being. Claims that the Father and the Son differ but also are the same make a mockery of logic. Two things cannot be the same and not the same at the same time.

Over the centuries, many people have argued that the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself, and for that reason, cannot accurately reflect Bible revelation, for truth does not contradict itself. For example, listen to Trinities podcasts 2 and 3 for arguments for and against the logical consistency of the Trinity doctrine.

According to the Athanasian Creed, we are “forbidden … to say, There are three Gods,” but just saying that does not undo the logical contradiction of the doctrine.

Resolving the contradiction

Over the centuries, there were many attempts at resolving the contradiction:

Modalism emphasizes one-ness.

Some ancient church fathers attempted to resolve the contradiction by accepting that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One Being, but by rejecting that they are three distinct Persons. They regarded Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three names for the same Being, and as different “modes” or “manifestations” of God. This is known as Modalism but was rejected by the church.

Three-self Trinitarians

Other Trinitarians emphasize the three-ness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and describe them as three Person with different wills, but so much united in love and purpose that they act as One. But, if you have three wills, then you have three Gods, which is also not acceptable.

The Trinity is a Mystery.

A third approach is to claim that the Trinity is a mystery. Gotquestions follows this approach. It 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. God is infinitely greater than we are; therefore, we should not expect to be able to fully understand Him.

Though we can understand some facts about the relationship of the different Persons of the Trinity to one another, ultimately, it is incomprehensible to the human mind. However, this does not mean the Trinity is not true or that it is not based on the teachings of the Bible.

Confusing the Trinity and the Trinity Doctrine

However, Gotquestions here confuses two things, namely:

  • The Trinity, consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and
  • The Trinity Doctrine, which is one attempt at explaining the Trinity.

The Trinity we are not be able to understand but since the Trinity doctrine was developed by humans as an explanation of the Trinity, must be logically consistent. To explain this a bit further:

We cannot understand God.

Since God exists without cause, no other being is able to understand Him fully. The LORD Himself declared:

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:8-9).

We will never be fully able to understand him, even in eternity. We, with all our scientists, are like a lone wanderer building a small fire at night in the desert. In the light of the fire, we can see our immediate surroundings, but we can see nothing of the expanse of the earth. Similarly, we have a little understanding of God but we understand nothing of his infinite greatness.

We are able to understand God.

God reveals Himself to His creatures to the limit of their created capacities. Perhaps the four living creatures around God’s throne (Rev 4:6) are able to understand more about God than any other of God’s created beings.

The point is that we are fully able to understand Him to the extent that He has revealed Himself to us. For example, we know that He is infinite, omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere). He exists without cause; beyond time, space and matter. All else exist because He exists. God has many sons but only one begotten Son (e.g., John 3:18); the only other Being to have live in Himself (John 5:26).

We do not understand how these things are possible but we do understand that these things are true.

The Trinity Doctrine is a humanly devised theory.

Nevertheless, the little we do know of God is logically consistent: There are no contradictions in what God has been revealed about Him. It is, therefore, not valid to claim that it is impossible to understand the Trinity Doctrine because it is impossible to understand God. Rather, the Trinity doctrine is impossible to understand because it distorts the Bible message.

Remember, the Trinity doctrine is nowhere explicitly taught in the Bible:

Nowhere does the Bible say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one Being.

The word Trinity does not appear in the Bible and there is no other word or name or concept in the Bible that refers to the Three as one Being.

A cornerstone of the Nicene Creed is the statement that the Father and Son have the same substance (homoousios). That is nowhere stated in the Bible.

And where is it revealed that the Son has both a human and divine nature?

Bible presents an extremely high view of Christ. For example:

  • God made the world “through” Him (Heb 1:2).
  • He upholds the universe by the word of God’s power (Heb 1:3).
  • He is “the first and the last” (Rev 1:17).
  • “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9).

The Trinity doctrine is how the church over the centuries attempted to make sense of the relationship between God and this high view of Christ. The Trinity doctrine, therefore, is a humanly devised theory. Gotquestions claims that the Trinity concept is based on the Bible, but we must test the Trinity doctrine against the Bible.

The Trinity doctrine is not consistent with the Bible.

In my view, the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself; not because the Bible contradicts itself in its explanations of God, but because the Trinity doctrine is inconsistent with the Bible.

This website focuses only on one aspect of the Trinity doctrine, namely the claim that Jesus is God. This website shows that the Bible teaches that Jesus is not only distinct from the Father; He is also distinct from God, which means that He is not God. And while the Trinity doctrine claims that the Father and the Son are exactly equal in all respects. this website shows that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.

Christ’s Dual Nature

A further contradictory element of the Trinity theory is that Jesus is both FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN. In this teaching, He has both a human and a divine nature. That makes Him two persons, comparable to the view that God is three Persons.

This was the primary focus of the Chalcedonian Creed of 451.  This creed attempted to respond to the question:

If Jesus is “very God of very God,” why did He not know the day and hour of His return? Why does only the Father know that (Matt 24:36)?

And why does the New Testament so consistently present Him as
subordinate to God, the Father? For example, why did He say, “The Father is greater than I?”

The Chalcedonian Creed explains the subordination statements in the New Testament by saying that Jesus was speaking from His human nature. Opponents of this theory point out that that then means that Jesus was not telling the truth when He said that He does not know, for in His divine nature He actually knew.

Even worse perhaps, if Jesus had both a divine and a human nature, then He did not really die, for only the human nature part of Him died while His divine nature continued to exist. Then, unfortunately, we are not saved, for we are saved by His death (e.g., I Thess 5:9-10; 1 Peter 3:18).

Religious Persecution

The Athanasian Creed starts and ends with the following words:

This is the catholic faith;
which except a man believe truly and firmly,
he cannot be saved.

Which faith unless every one do keep whole and undefiled,
without doubt,
he shall perish everlastingly.

This is a ridiculous claim:

Firstly, people are not saved by believing a doctrine. They are saved by God’s grace through faith in Him. They are saved when they love and support God’s suffering people (Matt 25:34-40). For a discussion of how people are saved, see – Works of the Law.

Secondly, this creed made a very technical and contradictory statement of believe a test of true faith.

And the view that people cannot be saved if they do not believe the Trinity doctrine, combined with the intolerant character of the church of the Middle Ages, resulted in much persecution. The Roman Empire was not known for religious tolerance, and after the emperor became the de facto head of the church, early in the fourth century, the church slowly adopted the character of its Roman bosses. For example, immediately after the Council of Nicaea of AD 325, a number of dissenting bishops were exiled. Emperor Constantine also destroyed all of Arius’ books and threatened to kill all people who kept copies of his books. Over the many years since that time, many Christians were persecuted for not accepting the prevailing theory of the nature of God. For example:

Michael Servetus

Christianity.com has an article on Michael Servetus, who was burned for heresy in the town where Calvin was the pastor. Michael was quite an astute scientist. He studied mathematics, geography, astrology, and medicine. Gaining fame as a physician, he came close to discovering the pulmonary circulation of the blood. In 1531, Servetus published a work called the Errors of the Trinity. Both Protestants and Catholics found the work blasphemous, and the emperor banned the book.

Michael continued to criticize Calvin and stated that, to believe in the Trinity, is to believe in the spirit of the dragon. Calvin wrote to a friend that if Servetus ever fell into his hands, he would not allow him to get away alive. Roman Catholic authorities arrested Michael for heresy. He escaped, however, and fled toward Naples by way of Geneva where Calvin was a pastor. He entered a church where Calvin was preaching, was recognized, and arrested on charges of blasphemy and heresy.  Calvin insisted with the rest that Servetus must die, but urged that in mercy, Servetus be executed by the sword, not by burning.  Servetus was nevertheless burned to death on October 27, 1553.

Think about the enormity of the contrast between Christ, who was willing to offer up His life for people who deserve to die, and what the church became, as reflected by the fact that it not only killed people, but killed them in the most brutal manner, including by burning them to death.

“An hour is coming for everyone who kills you
to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).

The pure woman of Revelation 12 (Rev 12:1) has morphed into an adulterous harlot (Rev 17:2):

“In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).

For a discussion, see – Babylon the great, the mother of harlot.

The Christianity.com article attempts to exonerate Calvin for his involvement, but his role in Servetus’s cruel death should really bother Calvinists, for Calvin did that after writing one of the most influential systems of theology the Christian faith had ever seen. What does that say of the spirit of his work?

The spirit of the Antichrist

If the Trinity doctrine was the view of some in the church or even of most, it would have been a tragedy, but add to this the persecuting spirit which entered the church in the fourth century, after it became the official church of the Roman Empire, and the violent eradication of opposing views, then you have “the spirit of the antichrist:”

“Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God;
this is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3).

Outside the church, other religions teach that “Jesus is not from God.” But, inside the church, Satan sets a different snare, for, by teaching that Jesus is God, the Trinity doctrine takes the deception to the other extreme. By teaching that Jesus is God, the Trinity doctrine effectively also teaching that “Jesus is not from God.”

The Mark of the Beast

Over the centuries, the Trinity doctrine has become the main doctrine of the church. Believers who do not accept the Trinity doctrine are often classified with non-Christians. It really is a battle about who God is. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). To Him “every knee will bow,” but always “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11). To worship Him independently of God is idol worship; the worship of “the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). (For a discussion, see the article – Worship.)

Is it possible that the Trinity doctrine is the Mark of the Beast?

This website identifies the beast of Revelation as the church of the Middle Ages. The mark of the beast, therefore, must be something for which the church of the Middle Ages was particularly known for. Was the Trinity doctrine not the main doctrine of the church?

Furthermore, the beast receives “his power and his throne and great authority” from the dragon (Rev 13:2), which has been identified as the Roman Empire. The series of articles on the origin of the Trinity doctrine shows that the church inherited this theory from the Roman Empire: This theory was forced onto the church by the Roman Emperors.

From Revelation 13, it is clear that the end-time conflict will be a war about worship. Notice how often the word “worship” appears in this context (Rev 13:4, 8, 12, 15, 14:6), and the Trinity doctrine is a theory about who we worship.

Particularly important, in the end-time, the main message of God’s people will be to worship the Creator (Rev 14:6), who Revelation identifies as God, the Father (Rev 4:11).

Summary

This series responds to the GotQuestions article – What does the Bible teach about the Trinity?

The Trinity concept may be summarised as that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God—but there is only one God.

Gotquestions argues that is not possible to understand the Christian concept of the Trinity for it is impossible to understand God. However, that argument confuses God with the concept of the Trinity. The Trinity concept is A HUMANLY DEVISED THEORY about the nature of God, and must be tested against the Bible.

This article agrees that we are unable to understand God, but claims that the Trinity doctrine contradicts itself because it claims that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are THREE DISTINCT AND DIFFERENT PERSONS with different origins, different wills, and different roles, but that each of them is the entirety of THE SAME ONE TRUE GOD; not three parts of the God-Being. If the Trinity concept contradicts itself, then it cannot accurately reflect what the Bible teaches, for TRUTH DOES NOT CONTRADICT ITSELF.

Some church fathers solved this contradiction by accepting that they are One Being, but by rejecting that they are three distinct persons. These church fathers believed that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three names for the same Being. This is known as modalism or Sabellianism, but was rejected by the church majority.

Some New Testament passages explicitly present Jesus as inferior to the Father in knowledge and authority; not only when He was on this earth, but still today and in all eternity (e.g. 1 Cor 15:28). The Trinity theory responds to these passages by teaching that Jesus is both FULLY GOD AND FULLY MAN, and only inferior to the Father in His human nature.  Opponents of this theory point out that that then means that JESUS DID NOT TELL THE TRUTH when He said that He does not know, for in His divine nature He actually knew.  It would also mean that JESUS NEVER REALLY DIED, while His death is a critical salvation concept.

The Trinity doctrine is a very technical and ambiguous theory, but still, over the centuries, the church made it a test of the true faith and it persecuted Christians, such as Michael Servetus during the reformation, for not adhering to it.

The Trinity doctrine tries to explain things that are not revealed in the Bible. Combining that with persecution is the spirit of the beast.

Gotquestions argues that we cannot understand this because we cannot understand God, but the next articles in this series will show that the Trinity concept is inonsistent with the Bible. The next article in this series discusses Hebrews 1:8, which Gotquestions uses as evidence that Jesus is God.

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