Why the Nicene Creed uses ousia and hypostasis as synonyms

Purpose of this article

The original Nicene Creed, formulated in the year 325 AD, in the condemnations at the end of it, denounces:

“Those who say … that the Son of God is
of a different hypostasis (ὑποστάσεως)
or substance (οὐσιάς)” (Early Church Texts).

CONSTANTINE THE GREAT

“Substance” (οὐσιάς) is transliterated as ousia. In other words, according to the creed, the words hypostasis and ousia are synonyms and the Son of God is both of the same hypostasis as the Father and of the same ousia or substance as the Father. This causes the following anomalies:

(1) While, in the Creed, the Son is of the same hypostasis as the Father, in the Trinity doctrine, the Father and the Son are different hypostases (Persons).

(2) While the Creed uses hypostasis and ousia as synonyms, in the Trinity doctrine, hypostasis and ousia differ in meaning: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three hypostases (Persons) but in one ousia (substance or being).

(3) By describing the Father and the Son as the same hypostasis and as the same ousía, the creed seems to teach Sabellianism (modalism), in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one Person (one mind and one will) wearing three faces or masks, like a single person playing three characters in a theatre. However, Sabellianism has already been rejected before the Nicene Creed was formulated.

To address these anomalies, this article discusses the original meanings of these words and how the meanings changed over time.

Summary

Etymology

Etymologically, ὑποστάσεως (hypostasis) is a direct cognate of οὐσιάς (ousia), just like the English father, German Vater, and Latin pater are cognates. Originally, therefore, hypostasis and ousia had the same meaning.

Greek philosophers

Etymologically, both words meant “that which stands under.” The ancient Greek philosophers used these terms to describe real entities as having substance – “the fundamental reality that supports all else,” in contrast to imaginary entities.

Hebrews 1:3

Hypostasis appears only once in the Bible (Hebrews 1:3), where it has the same meaning as it had for the ancient Greeks, and is translated as “substance” (ASV) or “nature” (NASB).

How did the meaning change?

Since hypostasis originally meant substance, nature, or essence, to explain how and why its meaning changed to “person,” we need to trace this word through history:

First three centuries

In the first three centuries, Christian writers still used hypostasis in the same way as the Greek philosophers did before them, namely to denote “being” or “substantive reality” and as a synonym for ousia (substance).

Nicene Creed

As discussed above, the Nicene Creed used hypostasis in the same way.

Meaning changed to prevent Sabellianism

The council at Nicaea added the word homo-ousios (same substance) to the Nicene Creed on the insistence of Emperor Constantine (Erickson). As indicated by the large number of creeds which the church fathers formulated in the 50 years after Nicaea (see Arian creeds – Wikipedia), particularly to find alternatives for the word homo-ousios, the church reacted quite strongly against the word homo-ousios. One great objection, as explained above, was that the description of the Son as of the same hypostasis and as of the same ousia as the Father teaches Sabellianism.

It was explicitly to neutralize the objection that the creed teaches Sabellianism that Basil of Caesarea (in AD 375) and Gregory of Nyssa (in AD 380) proposed a difference in the meanings of hypostasis and ousía, and that hypostasis be understood to mean person

Theodosius

In 380, through the Edict of Thessalonica and by replacing bishops with people who support his views, and, in the next few years, by exiling and sometimes killing people who opposed the edict, by forbidding them to remain in the cities, to meet, to ordain priests, or to spread their beliefs, and by confiscating their churches, Roman emperor Theodosius eradicated all opposition to his theology, which the edict stated as:

“Let us believe in the one deity
of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity.”

This is how the Trinity doctrine was established, namely through the Edict of Thessalonica and the strong arm of the Roman Empire. There-after, the interpretation of hypostasis as meaning “person,” became official church doctrine. 

Conclusions

(1) The meaning of hypostasis did not change over time as a natural process of evolution in how the word was used. Rather, the meaning was changed as a result of an explicit proposal by one theologian that became generally accepted in the church as a means to interpret the Nicene Creed as to not teach Sabellianism.

(2) However, this does not take away the fact that the Nicene Creed describes Jesus Christ and the Father as one hypostasis (person), which implies Sabellianism.

– END OF SUMMARY –

Original Meaning of Hypostasis

Etymology

Etymologically (i.e., relating to the origin and historical development of words and their meanings), ὑποστάσεως (hypostasis) is a direct cognate of οὐσιάς (substance) (See, Ousía and hypostasis from the philosophers to the councils). This means that these two words have the same linguistic derivation. Examples of other cognates are the English father, German Vater, and Latin pater. Originally, therefore, ὑποστάσεως (hypostasis) and οὐσιάς (substance) had the same meaning.

In Greek Philosophy

Both ousía and hypostasis, originally, meant “that which stands under.” The ancient Greek philosophers used these terms to describe real entities as having substance – “the fundamental reality that supports all else,” in contrast to imaginary entities:

“Hypostasis is the underlying state or underlying substance and is the fundamental reality that supports all else” (Hypostasis – Wikipedia)

In Hebrews 1:3

Hypostasis appears only once in the Bible, namely in Hebrews 1:3;

His Son … is the exact representation
of His
(God’s) υποστασις (hypostasis).”

Although hypostasis, today, is commonly interpreted to mean “Person,” in this verse, it is translated as “substance” (ASV) or as “nature” (NASB). In this verse, therefore, hypostasis has the same meaning as it had for the ancient Greeks. Similarly, Strong’s Greek: 5287 – ὑπόστασις (hupostasis) explains it as meaning “a support, substance, steadiness, hence assurance.”

How did the meaning change?

Since hypostasis originally meant “substance, nature, or essence,” how and why did its meaning change to “person?”

The meaning of hypostasis did not change over time as a natural process of evolution in how the word was used. Rather, the meaning was changed as a result of an explicit proposal by one theologian that became generally accepted in the church as a means to interpret the Nicene Creed as to not teach Sabellianism. To explain this, we need to trace the history of this word:

First Three Centuries

In the first three centuries, Origen and other Christian writers used hypostasis in the same way as the Greek philosophers did before them, namely to denote “being” or “substantive reality.” They used hypostasis as a synonym for ousia (substance). (Ramelli, Ilaria (2012). “Origen, Greek Philosophy, and the Birth of the Trinitarian Meaning of Hypostasis”. The Harvard Theological Review. 105 (3): 302–350.doi:10.1017/S0017816012000120.JSTOR 23327679, p. 302-350.)

For a definition of ousia, see, for example, Homoousion – definition of Homoousion by The Free Dictionary or οὐσία in Liddell & Scott.

Nicene Creed – 325

As discussed above, this is also how hypostasis was used in the anathemas appended to the Nicene Creed.

Five decades after Nicaea

The meaning of hypostasis was changed during the five decades after Nicaea. The council added the word homo-ousios (same substance) on the insistence of Emperor Constantine (Jörg Ulrich. “Nicaea and the West.” Vigiliae Christianae 51, no. 1 (1997), p15) God in Three Persons, Millard J. Erickson, p82-85.

As indicated by the large number of creeds which the church fathers formulated in the 50 years after Nicaea (see Arian creeds – Wikipedia), particularly to find alternatives for the word homo-ousios (see Fourth Century Arianism or Arianism – Wikipedia), the church reacted quite strongly against the word homo-ousios:

At the time, one main argument against the word homo-ousios was, with respect to words such as “Latin substantia, but in Greek ousia,” “that in divine Scripture nothing is written about them and that they are above men’s knowledge and above men’s understanding” (Fourth Century Christianity – Second Creed of Sirmium – 358). This is called Homo-ianism (see Acacians – Wikipedia). RPC Hanson lists twelve creeds from the fourth century that reflect the Homoian faith (Hanson R. P. C. 2005, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318-381 AD. A&C Black. ISBN 978-0-567-03092-4, pp. 558–559)

But another great objection, as explained above, was that the description of the Son as of the same hypostasis and of the same ousia as the Father teaches modalism. It was explicitly to counter the suspicion that the creed teaches modalism that supporters of the Nicene Creed proposed a new meaning for hypostasis:

Basil of Caesarea (AD 375)

The first person to propose a difference in the meanings of hypostasis and ousía, and for using hypostasis as a synonym of person, was Basil of Caesarea, namely in his letters 214 (AD 375 – Letter 214) and 236 (AD 376 – Letter 236) (See also Ousía and hypostasis from the philosophers to the councils or Turcescu, Lucian (1997). “Prosopon and Hypostasis in Basil of Caesarea’s “Against Eunomius” and the Epistles”. Vigiliae Christianae. 51 (4), JSTOR 1583868, p. 374-395.) In both letters, his main motive was to neutralize the objection of the opponents of the Nicene Creed that, to speak of the Father and the Son as one hypostasis, is Sabellianism (modalism).

Gregory of Nyssa (AD 380)

After Basil of Caesarea, in c. 380, Gregory of Nyssa devotes his letter 35 to the difference between ousía and hypostasis (Letter-35).

Emperor Theodosius (AD 380)

As stated, during the five decades after Nicaea, the church opposed the Nicene Creed and formulated various alternative creeds, each proposing alternatives for the word homo-ousios in the Nicene Creed (See Arian creeds – Wikipedia). In 380, Emperor Theodosius made an abrupt end to all resistance to the Nicene Creed.

Before Theodosius became emperor, as indicated by the contents of the creeds of that period (See, Arian creeds – Wikipedia), the Nicene supporters were in the minority. When he became emperor, “Arianism was widespread in the eastern half of the Empire” (Williams, Stephen; Friell, Gerard (1994). Theodosius: The Empire at Bay. B.T. Batsford Ltd. ISBN 0-300-06173-0, pp. 46–53).

In February 380, the 23-year-old emperor, through the Edict of Thessalonica, declared:

“Let us believe in the one deity
of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity.” 

“This edict was the first known secular Roman law to positively define a religious orthodoxy” (Errington, R. Malcolm (2006). Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-3038-0, p. 217.)

Enforcement

The Edict of Thessalonica authorized imperial punishment for those who oppose it.

On 26 November 380, two days after he had arrived in Constantinople, Theodosius expelled the Homo-ian bishop (See Theodosius I – Wikipedia). (The Homo-ians are the people who refused to get involved in the debate about the substance of God because His substance is not revealed in the Bible. See Acacians – Wikipedia.)

Through persecution, Theodosius destroyed all resistance to the Trinity doctrine:

“In January of the following year (381), another edict forbade the heretics to settle in the cities.” (Boyd, The Ecclesiastical Edicts of the Theodosian Code, page 45) (cf. Richard Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God, 1999, p. 223).

“In the same year, after the reformulation of the Nicene doctrine by the Council of Constantinople … the procouncil of Asia was ordered to deliver all churches to these bishops ‘who profess that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one majesty and virtue'” (Boyd, pages 45-46 or Rubenstein).

In 383, the Emperor ordered the various non-Nicene sects (Arians, AnomoeansMacedonians, and Novatians) to submit written creeds to him, which he prayerfully reviewed and then burned, save for that of the Novatians, who also supported Nicene Christianity. The other sects lost the right to meet, ordain priests, or spread their beliefs (Boyd, page 47).

“The execution of Priscillian and his followers may be cited as typical of the treatment of heretics conditions in that time.” In 384, Priscillian was condemned by the synod of Bordeaux, found guilty of magic in a secular court, and put to death by the sword with a number of his followers (Boyd, pages 60-61 or The Edict of Thessalonica | History Today)

382 Synod Letter

After Theodosius destroyed all resistance, the interpretation of hypostasis as meaning “person,” became official church doctrine:

In 382, the bishops in Constantinople, to argue that their belief is not Sabellianism, sent a letter to the western bishops in which they used the phrase, “three most perfect Hypostases, or three perfect Persons” (Papal Encyclicals).

Overview of the Historical Development
of the Trinity Doctrine

This topic is addressed through a series of articles on this website. The current article is one of the links in the chain:

Arian or Unitarian?

Strictly speaking, Arianism refer to the teachings of Arius (e.g., Definition of Arianism by The Free Dictionary). But his was only one of many views during the Arian controversy of the fourth century (AD 318-381). Nevertheless, Trinitarians often refer to anything that opposes the Trinity doctrine as Arian. Due to this ambiguity, I avoid the term Arian.

Rather than Arianism, I prefer the term Unitarianism (from Latin unitas “unity, onenes). This term is often defined negatively, for example, “a part of the Christian Church that does not believe in the Trinity” (Cambridge Dictionary). But I like to define this term as the teaching that only the Father is God Almighty. As I read the Bible, God created all things through His Son (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6), maintains the universe through His Son (e.g., Heb 1:3), gave His Son to have life in Himself (John 5:26) and to have the fullness of deity (Col 1:19). However, in my view, in the Bible, only the Father is Almighty (e.g., Rev 21:22). (See, for example, the articles Subordinate and Almighty.) (By the way, I do not belong to any church or religious group. That means that I am a bit freer to form and express independent views.)

The Nicene Creed is Unitarian.

The Trinitarian concept, in a rudimentary form, was one of the views presented at Nicaea and became the basis for the Nicene Creed. However, on the insistence of emperor Constantine (see Erickson or The role of Constantine at Nicaea), words related to the substance of God (homo-ousios and ousia) were added to the decree. However, in spite of the claims of Trinitarians, the Nicene Creed is not Trinitarian. (See the article Nicene Creed.) Consistent with the views of the church fathers of the first three centuries, it still is a Unitarian statement of belief. For example, it begins as follows:

We believe in one God,
the Father Almighty, …

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Son of God

The term homo-ousios does not mean that the Son share the same substance (being) as the Father (numerical sameness). Rather, it means that the Son has a different substance (being) that is exactly equivelent to the Father’s substance (numerical sameness) Philip Schaff (History of the Church volume 3, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981 edition, pp.672-673) stated:

The term homoousion … differs from monoousion. .. and signifies not numerical identity, but equality of essence or community of nature among several beings. It is clearly used thus in the Chalcedonian symbol, where it is said that Christ is “homoousios with the Father as touching the Godhead, and homoousios with us [and yet individually distinct from us] as touching the manhood.” The Nicene Creed does not expressly assert the singleness or numerical unity of the divine essence … the main point with the Nicene fathers was to urge … the strict divinity and essential equality of the Son … with the Father.[Philip Schaff, History of the Church volume 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981 edition) pp.672-673.]

But even qualitative sameness does not mean that the Son is equal with the Father for, as the article on the Nicene Creed shows, there are a number of indications in the creed itself that shows that it views the Son as subordinate to the Father. To explain this in analogy to human beings: We are homo-ousios (of the same substance) but we are not equal.

Arian or Homo-ousian controversy?

People often refer to the great controversy of the fourth century as the Arian controversy. I do not agree with this term either because, as stated, Arius’ view was only one of a number of alternative views of the nature of Christ. It also was not the dominant view. The dominant view was Homoian. For example, the creeds formulated at the councils of Sirmium in 358, Ariminum in 359 and the key council at Constantinople in 359 / 360 were homoian, which is that it is inappropriate for us to speculate about the substance of God. 

Particularly during the 50 years after Nicaea, I prefer to refer to the controversy as the homo-ousian controversy because the controversy was particular about the word homo-ousios. This can be seen from the many creeds formulated in that period. (See Arian creeds – Wikipedia.) In that period, various views were proposed with respect to the nature of Christ (Christology) which divided the church – similar to the way that the church is today divided into denominations.

Branches of Christianity

These views were:

(1) Father and Son share one single ousia (substance). – This aligns with the Trinity doctrine as it later developed. 

(2) The Son has His own substance, but His substance was exactly equivalent to the Father’s (qualitative sameness). – This might imply 

(3) The Son has His own substance, which is very similar to the Father’s (Homo-i-ousian – Wikipedia), but different.

(4) Jesus is hetero-i-ousios with the Father (different substance). (See Anomoeanism – Wikipedia.) This, more or less, was Arius’ view.

(5) He is homo-ian (or homo-ean), which means similar to the Father without reference to substance. It is this view that held that it is inappropriate for us to speculate about the substance of God. (See Homo-eanism.)

For a discussion of these views, see, Homoousion – Wikipedia or my article Arianism.

Blasphemy of Sirmium

Perhaps the high point of this rejection of Nicaea was the Second Creed of Sirmium which Trinitarians refer to as the Blasphemy of Sirmium, This was a homo-ian statement which concluded:

“Many persons are disturbed by questions concerning what is called … in Greek ousia (substance). … There ought to be no mention of any of these at all … for this reason … that in divine Scripture nothing is written about them.”

Of the various views during the 50 years after Nicaea, Homo-eanism seems to have been dominant. RPC Hanson (The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God) lists twelve creeds from that period that reflect the Homoean faith. And when Theodosius came to power, the bishop in the Capital of the empire (Constantinople) was Homoean (as the current author is also). 

Theodosius

But, as discussed above, as from the year 380, the 23-year old emperor Theodosius not only supported the Nicene Creed; he supported the Trinitarian interpretation of the Nicene Creed and made it law through the Edict of Thessalonica. By the strong of the empire, he ensured compliance within the Empire. This eradicated all opposition the Trinity doctrine among the elite in the Empire, but the Germanic peoples remained Unitarians. (See also Theodosius.)

Fifth Century

In the next (fifth) century, the Germanic people, who remained Unitarian, took control of the Western Empire, including Rome. Now the Western Empire was again Unitarian dominated but the Eastern Empire, with Constantinople as capital, remained Trinitarian. See Fall of the Western Roman Empire and Fifth Century Arianism

Sixth Century

In the sixth century, the eastern emperor Justinian sent troops to the West, significantly weakened the Unitarian Germanic nations, and established control over the West through the Byzantine Papacy, a period of about two centuries during which the eastern emperors effectively ruled the West through the Papacy. (See Justinian and the Byzantine Papacy.) In this way, Unitarianism was eventually eradicated also among the Germanic peoples and the Trinity doctrine established.

The role of the Emperors

In conclusion, from the above and the other articles in this series, it should be clear that the decision to adopt the Trinity doctrine was not taken by the church; it was made by the Roman Emperors.

Why the emperors controlled the church

It is important to understand that the empire consisted of a very large number of diverse nations and that the main task of the emperors was to keep the empire united.

One should also appreciate that religion has a terrible power over people. For the emperors, religion, potentially, was both an asset and a liability. Religion can split the empire but an universal religion with strong links to state could help to keep the empire united.

That helps to explain why the emperors persecuted Christianity during the first three centuries and why, when they realised that Christianity is here to stay, they legalised it but also maintained control over it. The emperors used religion (both paganism and Christianity) to control the people but they not afford a split in the church. Their decisions to adopt one or the other doctrine, were at least partly motivated by their desire to maintain unity in the empire.

“Since Constantine desired that the church should contribute to the social and moral strength of the empire, religious dissension was a menace to the public welfare, and if necessary, secular authority might be exercised for its suppression” (Boyd, p34).

“The same desire to preserve unity within the church, rather than the protection of any creed or interpretation of Christian doctrine, led Constantine to intercede for the settlement of the Arian controversy. … Believing ‘disunity in the church’ a danger to the state ‘more grievous than any kind of war'” (Boyd, p37).

How the emperors governed the church

Emperors called church councils and even presided over some of the councils; for example, Constantine and the council at Niceaea.

Emperors maniupulated the decisions of the councils. For example, Constantine insisted on the inclusion of the term homo-ousios in the Nicene Creed. As another example, Constantius

“Constantine established the precedent for imperial intervention in ecclesiastical affairs … while Gratian and Theodosius finally and decisively fixed the alliance of the state with ecclesial creed and persecution” (Boyd, p33).Emperors issued .

With this background, consider the role which the emperors played:

The Emperors and the Trinity Doctrine

The emperors took the decision for the church to adopt the Trinity doctrine. In brief:

The Nicene Creed, basically was a Unitarian document, but the references to the substance of God (homo-ousios and ousia), on which Constantine insisted, were inspired by views that are aligned to the Trinity doctrine.

Later, Constantine changed his view and allowed the .

Constantine did not understand must about the debate, describing it as “small and very insignificant questions” (Davis, Leo Donald. The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology. Vol. 21. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1990. 55). Nevertheless, he called the Council at Nicaea (325), chaired the meeting, participated in the debate, proposed the controversial phrase homo-ousios, insisted on its inclusion and exiled the bishops who refused to sign the decree (Useful resources include: (a) Britannica, (b) Bible.ca, (c) Erickson (d) Graham).

“In 350 Constantius became sole ruler of the empire, and under his leadership the Nicene party was largely crushed” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1979, Arianism, Vol. I, p.509 (Bible.ca – search for Constantius). According to the Wiki page on Arian controversy, at the 359 council in Constantinople, the voting did not go to Constantius’ liking. Constantius simply banished one of the leaders of the winning group (Aëtius). After that, the council agreed the homoian creed.

Constantius did not support the Trinity doctrine, but his example shows the decisive impact of emperors on the debate in the church.

Above, we described how the young man Theodosius declared, through the Edict of Thessalonica, the Trinity doctrine as the only legal religion, and with the power of the Roman Empire behind him, eradicated all opposition.

This is the information age. Through internet and other sources, information is available as never before. Through research, people are rolling back the clouds of darkness that built up during the Middle Ages.

Articles in this Series
Historical Development of the Trinity Doctrine

First 300 years (The persecuted church)

Fourth Century (State Church)

Fifth & Sixth Centuries

Extract from important books

A response to the GotQuestions article on the Trinity.

I briefly explained the historical development of the Trinity doctrine to my daughter. I started 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 is available on this website that traces 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.

Three Persons but One Being

Three Persons

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 any other.

Many other examples from the Bible 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.

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.

Similarly, the Athanasian Creed 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; that there is only one God is a foundational teaching of the Bible.

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, different wills, and different 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 at the same time be different.

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.

Modalism – Oneness

Some church fathers attempted to solve this 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 or Sabellianism, but was rejected by the church majority.

Three-self Trinitarians – Threeness

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.

Impossible to understand – Mystery

Other Trinitarians, such as the Gotquestions writer, follow a third approach, and claim that the Trinity is a mystery. Gotquestions wrote:

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.

We are able to understand God.

I would like to refute the idea that it is impossible to understand God. We are able to understand God:

Although we do not know is how that is possible, we are able to understand that He exists without cause; beyond time, space and matter. All else exist because He exists. All things came forth from Him and exists within Him.

While our finite minds cannot comprehend these things, We know that He is infinite, omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent.

Although we do not understand how the Son was begotten, we are able to understand that God has many sons but only one begotten Son (e.g., John 3:18).

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. We similarly know only a tiny bit about God, but we understand nothing of his infinite greatness.

Our understanding of God is like a mustard seed. It is an extremely small seed, compared to the tree into which our understanding may one day grow. Our understanding of God is minute compared to what we will learn of Him over the millennia.

Nevertheless, the little we do know of Him is logically consistent: There are no contradictions in what has been revealed about Him.

The Trinity doctrine is a humanly devised theory.

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 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). Where is that said 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.