Let’s begin with a simple fact: the word trinity, triad or triune simply does not exist in the Bible. You can deduce that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in agreement, are one in three forms or even using the very simple” if A=B and B=C then A=C” reasoning. But at no point and in no verse does the New Testament mention the word trinity. In contrast, several ancient pagan writings very openly mention trinity with regard to their gods. Some of these religions also had the concept of more than three gods united as one, but we are primarily concerned with Christianity and Judaism, so we will restrict our research and writing to the triad or the trinity. Read this article to understand how various ancient religions have had the trinity of gods.
What’s interesting is that the early church did not have any such “trinitarian” beliefs. The concept of trinity was formally adopted and was accepted as a belief at one of the Ecumenical Councils organised by Emperor Constantine to regulate and formalize Christianity. The reason this concept is not found written in the Bible is because at the councils, the attendees never wrote any new books neither did they make any additions based on their decisions, but simply collated and selected from the writings and books that were already in circulation among the early Christians. This meant that the books written by the early Christians–Jewish converts, Gentiles who had been taught by the apostles–were among the books they all deliberated upon. Since these books do not have the word trinity mentioned, it is safe to say that the earliest Christians had not coined the word.
Of course, it was not all as easy as that. The fact that one of the tasks of the councils was to weed the spurious from the real writings itself meant that there were many heretical texts in circulation at that time, and the Christian community was divided over doctrine. However, trinity was still not introduced via the texts in circulation–genuine or heretical.
So, if the trinity concept was not taught by the early converts, where did it come from and how did it enter Christianity? To understand this, you have to understand church history because the answers are embedded in it.
The church we know today is not the church that Peter and the apostles nurtured and grew. That church comprised mainly of Jewish and Gentile converts. All the apostles were Jewish and hence they were well versed with Jewish customs and laws. Most importantly, they had known Christ when He lived among them. They had heard Him preach and knew His teachings and beliefs. And they had been with Christ when He said: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5: 17). To them had been revealed the explanation of the knowledge that was always present from the Old Testament onward. They knew Yahowah, they kept His Sabbath and the law, they understood who Christ was and they had been anointed by the Holy Spirit. The early pre-Nicene church had been taught by these men, and they had their principles down pat. However, even in those days, heresies had already begun to appear, and they have been warned about by the apostles in their letters.
This church had been the recipient of Rabbinical ire from the time of Christ, but now it was also the target of Roman persecution. History speaks plainly of the works of the tetrarchs of Rome and their anti-Christian policies. In short, as history tells us, the early pre-Nicene church was a deeply troubled and persecuted one. But it had its principles right for the most part and about the most important things. For instance, the early church kept the Sabbath, something that the Christian world today refuses to do.
While they were in this state of persecution, Constantine entered the scenario. It is difficult to verify to what degree his claims of the vision he saw were true and to what degree, the stratagem of an astute and ambitious mind. After all, Constantine did not rule from Rome but preferred to set up his distinct kingdom in Macedonia, a departure from the earlier rulers. It was here, in his kingdom and under his rule, that Christianity found legitimacy and relief. In the sanction afforded to it, the new fledgling faith breathed easy.
The recognition that a monarch bestowed upon a new religion made the world’s intelligentsia, particularly from the Hellenistic world, take notice. The curiosity of the learned and the learners was aroused and many started reading about Christianity, perhaps for the first time as a religion and not some heretical sect. These learned men, many of them also deeply interested in philosophy, alchemy, Gnosticism, other religions and sects, cast their own influence on Christianity. One such man was Tertullian. Though not an early Church father, was a Christian writer who coined the word “trinity” long before it was introduced at the Ecumenical Councils. The word itself was coined through the influence and application of Stoic philosophy and the concept was further refined and clarified when Tertullian became a Montanist.
We’ll look at how the combined influences of Constantine and early Church writers and fathers altered the personality of Christianity that was introduced by Christ and the apostles. In the next part, we’ll concentrate on Constantine and his move to legitimize Christianity.