Our Wonderful God

In Three Persons

May the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
II Cor. 13:14

The Old Testament speaks of One God. The New Testament speaks of Christ, who is Emmanuel, God with us, yet also speaks of God the Father, and "another" called the Holy Spirit. How were the early Christians to reconcile this with the plain statement that there is ONE GOD, and none besides HIM?
Even though we can never fully comprehend the majesty and infinity of God, we are still to seek to KNOW HIM.

Let's take a look at the HISTORY:

The Ancient Trinity Controversy

The Confusion of Beliefs in the Early Church
Which, if any, of these Early Beliefs is Correct?
The Development of the Trinity Doctrine
Athanasius Creed

The Early Church and the Confusion as to WHO JESUS IS?

1. Docetism--

They believed that Christ’s body was a phantasm, that he came in the “likeness of man” not in the reality, and that he “appeared” to suffer. “If he suffered he was not God’ if he was God he did not suffer”

Ignatius wrote to counter this strange teaching

“Jesus Christ…was truly born, who ate and drank, who was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and truly died….unbelievers say he suffered in mere appearance (being themselves mere appearances) why am I in bonds?

2. Gnosticism-- the Syrian Variety of Saturninus 120

They believed there is One Father, utterly unknown who made Angels, --- seven of these angels made and rule the world. Christ was the spiritual archangel, and was a man in “appearance” only “ like unto a “man”, he was unborn, incorporeal, and without form. The god of the Jews was supposedly one of those seven angels who was teaching the Jews to dishonour the Father, so Christ came to destroy the god of the Jews and to save them that believed on him,

3. Gnosticism-- the Alexandrian Variety of Basilides--130

Declared that Mind was first born of the Unborn Father, then Reason from Mind, from Reason, Prudence, from Prudence, Wisdom and Power, and from Wisdom and Power the Virtues, Princes and Angels, whom he also calls ‘the First’.

Those Angels who hold sway over our solar system, ordered all things that are in the world, and divided among them the earth and the nations upon the earth. Their chief is he who is held to be the God of the Jews. He wanted to subdue all nations under his people, the Jews, so the other Princes revolted.
Then the Unborn and Unnamed Father..sent his First-begotten Mind (Christ) for the freeing of them that believe in him from those who made the world. And he appeared to the nations of them as a man on the earth.
He suffered not, but a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, was impressed to bear his cross for him; and Simon was crucified in error, having been transfigured by him, that men should suppose him to be Jesus, while Jesus himself took on the appearance of Simon and mocked them…If any therefore acknowledge the crucified, he is still a slave and subject to the power of them that made our bodies; but he that denies him is freed from them and recognises the ordering of the Unborn Father.

4. Gnosticism-- the Judized version of the Ebionites, late first century

A certain Cerinthus taught that the world was not made by the 1st God, but by a certain Virtue far separated and removed from the Principality which is above all things, a Virtue which knows not the God over all.
Jesus was not born of a virgin, but was the literal son of Joseph and Mary, like all men, but superior in wisdom and justice and prudence. At his baptism Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove, from that Principality which is above all things, and that then he revealed the Unknown Father and performed deeds of virtue, but then Christ flew back, leaving Jesus, and Jesus suffered and rose again, but Christ remained impassible, being by nature spiritual.

5. Gnosticism-- Pontic version of Marcion, 160

This blasphemous theory says, Jesus came from the Father who is above the God who made the world. He was manifest in the form of a man, destroying the prophets and the law and all the works of that God who had made the world, whom he calls also the Ruler of the Universe.
He dissected the Gospel according to Luke, removing all the narratives of the Lord’s birth, and also removing much of the teachings of Jesus wherein he most manifestly described as acknowledging the Maker of this universe to be His Father. In Marcion’s theology the God of the OT and the God of the NT are two distinct deities. The severe God of the OT who created “evil matter”, the Jehovah of Israel, has a real existence, but is inferior to the good and kind Redeemer-God of the New Testament, the God whom Jesus knew and revealed as Father. On marcion’s theology rests to a great degree the present rejection by many Christians, of the OT as having “doctrinal” value.

6. Monarchianism-- Patripassianism

Taught that God is One Person manifested in different forms. Thus the Father himself descended into the virgin, was himself born of her, himself suffered; in fact that he himself was Jesus Christ, and is the Holy Spirit.

7. Monarchianism-- Sabellianism

This version taught that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and the same being, in the sense that three names are attached to one substance. According to this school, God has “three modes” of self-manifestation. Used the analogy of body, soul and spirit of man. The body is as it were the Father, the soul is the Son; while the Spirit is to the Godhead as his spirit is to a man. Used the analogy of the sun, it is one substance, but it has three manifestations, light, heat, and the orb itself. The heat is analogous to the Spirit; the light to the Son; while the Father himself is represented by the actual substance. The Son was at one time emitted, like a ray of light; he accomplished in the world all that pertained to the dispensation of the Gospel and man’s salvation, and was then taken back into heaven, as a ray is emitted by the sun and then withdrawn again into the sun. The Holy Spirit is still being sent forth into world.

8. Monarchiansim-- Adoptionist version-- Theodotus

This version incorporated the Gnostic teachings of the Ebonites and taught that God was the Father, and Jesus was a mere man, born of men, endued with divine power and exalted as a reward for His perfect obedience to God

9. One God--in three persons-- Athanasius

Taught that “God always, the Son always; at the same time the Father, at the same time the Son; the Son co-exists with God, unbegotten; he is ever-begotten, he is not born-by-begetting; neither by thought nor by any moment of time does God proceed the Son; God always, Son always, the Son exists from God Himself.”

10. Arianism-- Arius 321

From his own letter to Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia
“We have been condemned for saying that God existed, without beginning, before the Son,…that the Son is begotten…he existed before times and ages fully God, only begotten, unchangeable. And before he was begotten or created or appointed or established, he did not exist; for he was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say that the Son has a beginning, but God is without beginning.”
…”The Father begat the Son, he that was begotten must have a beginning of existence; hence it is clear that there was (Before time) when the Son was not.”

11. Hierarchical Unity-- Origen --185-254, (who was deep into Gnostic philosophical reasoning)

In his reaction to Monarchianism, Origen went too far to the other extreme-- He taught that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit occupied a hierarchical system. The Father being supreme God generated the Son Who was subordinate or “next in rank” to the Father, and the Spirit, being subordinate to the Son. He did not believe that Christ was created, but taught “eternal generation”.


Which, if any, of the above was right?

1. Not the Docetism-- for (1 John 4.3)
He that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God:

2. Not Gnostism--
It is a mix of Greek philosophy, pagan mythology, eastern mysticism and Christianity.

3. Not Monachiasim
It denies the personhood of Christ

4. Not Arianism
It denies Christ is fully God, and makes Him a "derived" "secondary" God.

5. Not the hierarchy
That is tritheism


ONE GOD in three persons.
For the Father IS GOD (Phil. 1:2)
Christ IS GOD (John 1:1 Heb. 1:8)
The Holy Ghost IS GOD. (Acts 5:3-4)

Yet there is only ONE GOD--
ONE GOD IN THREE co-equal, co-eternal, perfectly unified Beings.


Long before Constantine, the Baptismal formula of Matthew 28:17 was already causing controversy.

Hippolytus in Canon XIX gives some of the regulations for baptism in the early part of the third century:

“The candidate enters the water, and the presbyter, laying his hand on the candidate‘s head, Immerses him THRICE, asking him at each immersion whether he believes in the Three Person of the Blessed Trinity….(FE Warren, “The Liturgy and Ritual of Ante-Nicene Church” p.78):

Tertullian (160-240) writes:

“We are THRICE immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel..”

Actually Tertullian wrote quite a bit about the “trinity”. It is said be some that he “coined” the word “trinity”. On the one hand Tertullian condemned “monachianism“ as heresy--

“Monarchianism” was a belief in only one God, who manifested Himself in different forms. The believe was gaining popularity, and Tertullian wrote:

“The devil has striven against the truth in manifold ways. He has sometimes endeavoured to destroy it by defending it. He champions the unity of God, the omnipotent creator of the world, only to make out of that unity a heresy. He says that the Father Himself descended into the virgin, was himself born of her, himself suffered; in fact that He himself was Jesus Christ.”

However, though Tertullian wrote much that later was used to define the “trinity”, he did not understand the trinity the way we do.
Tertullian employed the Latin word “substantia”, or substance, and “personae”, . He declared that in his substantia, God is one. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are three personae. However, Tertullian goes on to say that before the world was created, God was alone, but since God is rational, there was in Him Reason, the Greek understanding for the Word, “LOGOS”. This Reason , Tertullian suggested, was God’s own thought. The Reason expressed itself in the WORD. Wisdom and reason became the Son of God. This is Greek philosophy, not Biblical understanding.

It was from Tertullian's studies that the idea of "hypostasis" arose and was defined by Origen. Son and Spirit were said to proceed out of the Father, that is emanated from Him, and are individualized manifestations. What is a hypostasis? Broadly defined, it is a quasi-personification of attributes proper to a deity, occupying an intermediate position between personalities and abstract beings. Here is an example:
The divine power, which proceeds via the character of breath and wind.
It's rather interesting that the "anti-trinitarians" ridicule us as making God into a mere hypostasis, yet it is their understanding that fits the term exactly. We believe that God is ONE in three persons.

Now, Tertullian says there was a time when Christ was not, Origen on the other hand, says it is an "eternal generation"-- God always begets His son. Origen was deep into Greek philosophy, he also brought forward the idea of the eternal existence of the soul-- developing the concept of man's spirit apart from man's body. This concept again fits into the anti-trinitarian idea that the Holy Spirit is not a third person in the Godhead, but simply the spirit of God, which they define as being the same way man has "a spirit". This of course leads into the whole platonic theory of separation of spirit and body. We cannot send our "minds" or "spirits" anywhere, our minds stay in our bodies and when we die our "thoughts perish."

So we see the concepts of God "generating" other agents by which to create the world etc. are firmly rooted in Greek philosophy.

We also see that from the beginning there was a struggle to understand how both the Father and Christ are God, and the Holy Spirit is God, yet there was only ONE GOD.

Actually it's the Greek philosophies that brought in so much confusion. Hebrew thought did not really have a problem in understanding who Christ was.

In Hebrew, the word “son” in addition to the human “literal” sense, has the spiritual meaning of “moral kinship.”
So we see scripture asserting that all who believe God as Abraham did , are the true sons of Abraham. We have Paul calling Timothy his son, etc. We have Paul saying he has “begotten” fellow believers , who are now his sons, through the gospel . (1 Cor. 4:15)
The spiritual meaning was not dependant upon physical, literal reality. Thus, when Jesus announced He was the Son of God, they immediately recognized that, as a claim to being God.

“John 10.33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. “

Greek thought, however, tended to give the word “son” the meaning of being “derived”. In what sense, then, they would ask, did Jesus derive His being from God? And this question did not relate primarily to His coming into the world as a man, but to His eternal being,

The same was true of the definition “THE WORD”. In the Hebrew thought “the word of God" is a way of saying that God is revealed or manifested.

In the Greek mind “WORD”, is understood as “logos” or reason, the power of reason, which some confused with the “holy spirit” who, they equated is governing people with “reason” and wondered if Christ is the Holy Spirit who had taken on flesh for a time, and once divested of humanity would return in spirit.


It was indeed a fertile ground for controversy. We also see that controversy came because of Greek philosophical understandings of the words “son” and “word”. And it is actually the GREEK philosophy that is once again raising it's head--- Our understanding of ONE GOD, in three PERSONS, in perfect unity, is not from the GREEKs-- The Hebrews KNEW Christ was claiming to be God.

The big controversy flared up in Alexandria, the very hothouse of “Gnosticism” where Arius, pastor of the influential Baucalis Church, challenged, the bishop Alexander. He openly asserted that the WORD (Logos) who assumed flesh in Jesus Christ (John 1:14) was not the One true God, that he was not eternal, nor omnipotent. He was a lesser “god” not the eternal Almighty God, not the Creator of the universe, but was the greatest of the created.

When the bishop Alexander opposed him, Arius wrote: “We are persecuted because we say the Son has a beginning, but God is without beginning. And before he was begotten or created or appointed or established, he did not exist.”

This teaching appealed to many of the former pagans; it was widely accepted by the “barbarian tribes”, as it was so much like the religion they were used to. Paganism had many "gods” who produced lesser “gods“ to do their work for them. Converts from paganism found it hard to grasp the Christian belief that the WORD existed with God and was One with GOD, from all eternity. It seemed more reasonable to think of Christ as a kind of divine hero. It fitted right in with their pagan understanding of how gods function.

The bishop Alexander, however, met the Arian Arius head on. He called a synod at Alexandria in 320 A.D. and condemned Arius’ teaching and had him excommunicated.

Arius turned to Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia, and won him to his thinking. Nicomedia was an important church, and with this backing, Arius returned to Alexandria and there were riots and fighting and open “warfare” going on between the two factions.

Constantine, who was emperor at the time, didn’t really care which way the people believed. His concern was “peace” and he wanted people to unit in their beliefs He demanded they resolve their differences and stop fighting. Thus the council of Nicea was called in 325. Arius stated his position. Debate followed. The church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, who was influential with the emperor, and also a half-hearted supported of Arius, put forward his own creed. More debate followed and with the “pressure” to hurry up and resolve the issue put upon them by the emperor Constantine, they signed what is today known as the Nicene Creed, which-- if you look at it carefully still has semi-arian concepts embedded in it.

“I believe in One God, the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary, and was made man’ and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeded from the Father and the Son;; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets, And I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge on Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

A big banquet, sponsored by the emperor followed. But this WAS NOT THE END of the controversy at all.!

Constantine had a half sister named, Constantia, who believed the Arian view of God, and thus he wavered between the two positions.


Alexander, bishop of Alexandria had a young advisor, named Athanasius. He succeeded Alexander as bishop of Alexandria and for the next 50 years there was constant “war” between the followers of Athanasius and the “Arian “Arius.

Athanasius believed: “that the WORD (Christ) was of the “same” nature as the Father. That Christ was fully God. “Christ always, the Son always; at the same time as the Father” He was not derived by “begetting” but was “ever-begotten”. If Christ had not been fully God, he said, he could not have fully saved us.

This is the Athanasian Creed:
We worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the Divine Being.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit, but the Godhead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is all one, their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son and such is the Holy Spirit; the Father uncreated, the Son uncreated and the Holy Spirit uncreated, the Father infinite, the Son infinite and the Holy Spirit infinite, the Father eternal, the Son eternal and the Holy Spirit eternal; and yet they are not three Eternals but one Eternal, just as they are not three Uncreateds, nor three Infinites, but one Uncreated and one Infinite.
In the same way, the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty and the Holy Spirit Almighty, and yet they are not three Almighties but One Almighty.
Thus, the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.
Thus, the Father is the Lord, the Son is the Lord, and the Holy Spirit is the Lord, and yet not three Lords but One Lord.
Because, just as we are compelled by Christian truth to confess each Person singly to be both God and Lord, so we are forbidden by Christian truth to say, there are three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is from none, not made nor created nor begotten; the Son is from the Father alone, not made nor created, but begotten; the Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son, not made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons’ one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
And in this Trinity there is no before or after, no greater or less, but all three Persons are co-eternal with each other and co-equal.
So that in all things, as has already been said, the Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity, is to be worshipped. (Creeds, Councils and Christ, p. 209-210)

A third party rose, that were “half-Arian” and they said, the WORD was “like” God, Christ was “similar” to God, but was not THE ONE and only God.

It seemed a small difference what the Arian parties were fighting to promote, but at stake was the full deity of Jesus Christ --was he or was He not “the only wise God our Saviour? “(Jude 1:25)

After Nicea, despite the apparent move away from Arianism, Arianism became the “force“ everyone had to bow to. Athanasius was deposed by the Council of Tyre. Other anti-arian bishops were also deposed at the same time.

When Constantine died in 337, Athanasius and the other banished bishops were allowed to return. The Arian bishops appealed to Pope Julius to prevent this and to keep Athanasius out of office, Julius refused to aid the Arians. However, Athanasius was again sent into exile in 339, but rescued by Julius in 341.

Meanwhile the Arian bishops met with the Eastern Emperor, Constantius, to condemn Athanasius and what he stood for, and to rewrite the Nicaea declaration--- taking out “objectionable phrases.

The bishop of Rome, Julius, refused to go along and tried to aid the deposed Bishops. However despite this, the anti-Arian, Athanasius was banished once more. All together Athanasius was banished no less then five times, each banishment and return to Alexandria representing either a change in emperors or a shift in ecclesiastical group that had managed to influence the emperor’s ear. At times Athanasius was so completely out of favor that he felt deserted by all. He uttered his famous defiance, “Athanasius Against the World“. He would stand alone, if need be, against the whole empire.

The Emperor Constantius, now the sole emperor, was an Arian and he filled all the Eastern sees with prelates that believed the Arian way. Constantius was resolved to crush the last stronghold of Trinitarianism. The new Pope, Liberius, having succeeded Julius, was terrified at the threats of the emperor, and consented to condemning the doctrine of Athanasius. The emperor held a synod at Arles, and the assembly and prelates condemned the doctrine Athanasius.

Feeling guilty because of his cowardness, Liberius asked for another general council to uphold, not Athanasius, but the Nicene Creed. But when the council met in Milan in 355, there was no discussion of the Nicene Creed, and Athanasius was again condemned. A few bishops voiced their opposition and were instantly exiled.

Liberius recanted his submission to the Emperor and proclaimed the independence of the Roman See, and launched anathemas of the Church against all who held Arian opinions, and even against the emperor himself. But he was seized at night, by the orders of the angry Constantius, and carried away in exile to the cold and inhospitable Beroea in Thrace.

Constantus set up an “anti-pope” named, Felix, in Rome.
Two years of exile, seemed to have weakened Liberius, and he again bowed to the emperor, condemned Athanasius and accepted the Arian altered version of the Nicene Creed which omitted the phrase “one with the Father”. He was allowed to go back to Rome, but on condition that he allow the "anti-pope", Felix, to be “pope” with him.

The people of Rome welcomed Liberius back, and the unpopular Felix, fled, fearing a riot. But soon afterward returned, and there was much fighting in Rome between the rival factions.

Meanwhile the synod of Rimini was called, Liberius was not invited, nor did he attend. At this synod all the bishops were required to accept the Arian Creed.

In 361 the emperor Constantus died. Liberius resumed his role as defender of the Nicene Creed. He published a decree voiding the decisions of the Synod of Rimini.

After Liberius death, the most terrible riots took place. Rival factions massacred each with seeming little regard to age or gender. Two men contended for the papal chair.

The Corrupt Damasus became pope, and fought tirelessly for the papal primacy, putting forth the claim that Christ himself decreed thus though the successors of Peter. However he took no part in the ecumenical council held in Constantinople in 381, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

At this time the Emperor Theodosius made a person’s belief in Christianity a matter of imperial command,

“It is Our Will that all the peoples we rule shall practise that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans. We shall believe in the single Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, under the concept of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity.”

History shows extreme force and unChristlike behavior on both sides.
The issue is not “they used force” therefore it was wrong. For force was used on both sides, whoever had the imperial backing forced their beliefs.

Christ came to reveal God.
Obviously the devil was doing all in his power to distort and destroy what Christ had come to reveal.
Despite the devils tactics and manipulation, I believe God allowed the basic concept of HIS ONENESS to prevail-- that WE MAY KNOW HIM-- Our Father, and Christ OUR LORD and SAVIOR, and the companionship of the Holy Spirit.

Athanasius stood tall among a maze of swirling strange ideas about the unity of God. Somehow-- despite 5 banishments, the truth he upheld on God's total unity, yet distinctiveness, -- ONE GOD, three persons, in perfect equality, eternity, unity-- was not lost.

The question is, “Who do YOU say Christ is?

God and Savior?

Or is he not the ONE AND ONLY TRUE GOD, BESIDES WHICH THERE IS NO OTHER GOD, not in heaven nor on earth.

For God is ONE GOD, in three persons, ONE.

Return to TRINITY Home page

Henry Brown "Baptism Though the Ages"
F.F. Bruce "Spreading the Flame"
Eugene Lawrence "Historical Studies"
Kenneth Scott Latourette "A History of Chrisitanity Vol. I"
Phillip Schaff "History of the Christian Church" Vol. 2
Bruce Shelley "Church History in Plain Language"