Against Heresy

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

“Jesus is Lord!”

This simple phrase is the earliest and most basic of all Christian creeds, a statement of allegiance and devotion to the Lord Jesus.  It was the same proclamation that was demanded of every Roman subject with respect to Caesar and Caesar alone…which also made it the most perilous of creeds.  Declaring “Jesus is Lord” became a death sentence for countless early Christians, as those who refused to renounce their faith in Christ and pledge their loyalty exclusively to Caesar usually paid for it with their lives and the lives of their families.  And even today, whereas this declaration tends to elicit mainly indifference or ridicule, there are still many places in the world where this singular phrase continues to be the difference between freedom and imprisonment, or between life and death.

So in spite of the fact that this simple affirmation certainly meets the Biblical standard as a statement of faith (per Romans 10:9) the early church soon developed more substantive creeds as a way to crystallize and communicate the essential truths of Christianity. For even though copies of the books of the New Testament eventually numbered in the thousands, the church has historically been faced with the daunting prospect of reaching a world that was overwhelmingly illiterate. As such, creedal statements helped to articulate the core doctrines of the Christian faith in a manner that could be easily remembered and subsequently taught to others.  They became the vehicles by which the Gospel was established, preserved, and propagated.

Perhaps the best-known creed is the Apostle’s Creed, an early statement of faith that became the prototype for those that followed.  According to the writings of several church fathers, it originated in Rome during the 2nd century, making it not only the most well-known creed but also one of the oldest.  And although the precise wording of the original is uncertain, the general consensus is that this is the earliest version of this historic creed:

I believe in God the Father almighty;
and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,
Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,
on the third day rose again from the dead,
ascended to heaven,
sits at the right hand of the Father,
whence He will come to judge the living and the dead;
and in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Church,
the remission of sins,
the resurrection of the flesh,
the life everlasting.

Often referred to as the Old Roman Creed, this foundational creed is as elegant in its simplicity as it is rich in content.  For even though it is less than 100 words, this concise statement of faith covers a lot of ground:

  • It highlights the tripartite formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit 
  • It clearly connects Jesus to God, identifying Him as the Messiah, or Christ
  • It declares the miraculous circumstances of Jesus’ birth, His death and resurrection, His ascension, and His eventual return in judgment
  • It establishes the legitimacy of the Church
  • And it captures the hope of the Gospel: forgiveness and eternal life

As effective as it was in communicating the essentials, though, the problem is that its brevity necessarily left many questions unanswered.  The task of “filling in the blanks” subsequently fell to church leaders, and just as the apostles had to reinterpret many of their Jewish beliefs in light of the Gospel, these post-apostolic leaders struggled to reconcile their prior worldviews with Christianity; unfortunately, this process didn’t always produce harmonious results.  Because unlike the apostles, whose newfound faith was built upon and informed by their Jewish heritage, the transition for the rest of the world was effectively a complete paradigm shift.

The problem was that the notion of a God-Man seemed contradictory and ludicrous to people who were steeped in Greek philosophy.  Thus as people attempted to reconcile Christianity with their prior belief systems, all manner of theories emerged about Jesus’ humanity vis-à-vis His deity.  For example:

  • Jesus was completely divine, and only appeared to be human
  • Jesus was a man who became divine at His baptism
  • Jesus was merely a created being, hence not worthy of divine status

Inevitably, as new believers tried to explain an incarnate God in the context of a “Greek” worldview which presumed that matter was flawed or evil, the result was more often than not a degradation of Christ that subsequently diluted and distorted the Gospel.  Each new heresy thus challenged the post-apostolic church to progressively refine and articulate its Christology – its doctrine of Christ – and in the process the doctrine of the Trinity was born. 

The Gnostic Threat

One of the first major heresies to confront the church is known as Gnosticism.  Derived from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis, Gnosticism generally refers to a number of groups that were prominent towards the end of the apostolic age and into the 2nd century.  Each brand of Gnosticism had its own distinctives, but the common thread is that they all believed that the material world was inherently corrupt and that our souls were trapped here.  Accordingly, Gnostics considered our bodies to be evil, the temporary “prison” of our soul, and taught that salvation was attained through the acquisition of mystical, hidden knowledge that would enable the soul to escape the material world and find its way back to its divine origin. 

At the heart of Gnostic belief is a complex hierarchy of divine beings that progressively emanate from a Supreme God, who is often referred to as the Monad, “The Beginning,” or simply Father.  This concept is referred to as emanationism, which postulates that an unchanging, perfectly pure, divine Being – also known as the “Godhead” – emanates lesser beings from itself in much the same way that ripples are created by a pebble dropped into a pool of water. The further away you get from the Godhead, the less divine you become, until finally the last emanation of the Godhead generates everything in the material world.

While Gnostics generally believed that the Father had emanated the beings in the divine realm, they stopped short of attributing the existence of the material realm to the Godhead.  Due to their belief that matter was evil, they rejected the notion that the Father was responsible for the final emanation of physical objects; instead, they believed that a pseudo-divine creature, which they called the Demiurge, was the active agent in creation.  Similar to Plato’s Demiurge, the Gnostic version sits above the material world and is responsible for fashioning it into reality as we know it; moreover, just as Plato’s Demiurge insulates the pure realm of “Forms” from the imperfection of the physical realm, the Gnostic’s Demiurge effectively safeguards the perfection of the spiritual realm – the domain of the Father and the divine emanations of his essence – from the evil and corruption of this world.

Unlike Plato, though, the Gnostics were keenly interested in explaining the origin of the Demiurge.  Because in order to preserve the purity of the divine, spiritual realm, they needed to account for the Demiurge in a way that did not relate it to an emanation of the Father.  Thus the Gnostics attributed the creation of the Demiurge to Sophia, or “Wisdom,” the last of the divine beings.  In a moment of poor judgment, Sophia oversteps her bounds and in so doing generates the Demiurge: a pseudo-divine, ignorant demi-god.  Things diverge from Plato even more at this point, for whereas his Demiurge was a generally benevolent entity that was hindered from creating a perfect world on account of having to work with imperfect raw materials, Gnosticism generally ascribes the misery and evil of the created order to the cruelty of the Demiurge himself.

The extent of Gnostic influence upon the early church can be clearly seen during the middle of the 2nd century AD, when the church had to deal with the teachings of an individual by the name of Marcion.  He not only identified Yahweh as the Demiurge, but also proposed his own trinitarian formula of sorts based upon his assessment that the behavior of Yahweh, the Hebrew God of the Old Testament, was fundamentally incompatible with Jesus’ message.  Marcion reasoned that since Yahweh epitomized wrath, justice, and death, whereas Jesus offered grace, mercy, and life, there had to be another, higher God who not only embodied everything that Jesus promised, but also sent Him to rescue mankind from Yahweh!  According to Marcion, this “God of the New Testament” – not Yahweh – was actually Jesus’ Father.

As a result, Marcion placed responsibility for everything that’s wrong with the created order squarely upon the Hebrew God of the Old Testament.  In his estimation, Yahweh was a jealous, arrogant demi-god who wrongly sought to glorify himself and subsequently revealed himself to the physical realm as the one true God…hence the Old Testament.  Furthermore, he concluded that since Yahweh had created the world, all earthly suffering and ultimately death must be a result of either Yahweh’s incompetence or His malevolence.  Hence Marcion categorically rejected everything about Judaism – including the Old Testament as well as any allegiance to its God – and effectively declared a “different gospel” instead:

  • There was indeed a Supreme Being in the universe who epitomized goodness, mercy, grace, and life, but it was not Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.
  • This Supreme God, the previously unknown “God of the New Testament,” was actually Jesus’ Father.
  • Yahweh was the creator of the material world, rather than the “God of the New Testament,” and the fact that our universe is flawed was evidence that the Hebrew God is an inferior demi-god.
  • The “God of the New Testament” sent Jesus to satisfy the claim that Yahweh had against mankind and thereby rescue our souls from the physical realm.

In short, Marcion proposed that the “God of the New Testament” sent Jesus to offer a way of escape from the mess that the angry, “Jewish God” had created.  And while Marcion did not fully subscribe to all aspects of Gnostic teaching, he nonetheless embraced the concept of the Demiurge as the way to insulate the “God of the New Testament” from the flaws of matter and the evil of the physical world.  Not only that, but in separating the “Creator” from the “God of the New Testament,” he was able to safeguard the purity and integrity of the Father’s divine messenger who was sent to rescue mankind, namely Jesus…whom Marcion also understood to be the divine “Logos.”

This complete separation of Jesus from both creation as well as the Creator was an essential aspect of Marcion’s ideas, because like most “Greeks,” he embraced the dualistic notion that in order for something to be pure it could not have any interaction with matter.  Again, this idea not only ties back to core elements of Plato’s philosophy, but it also reflects the Gnostic belief that the material world is inherently evil. 

Accordingly, Marcion was excommunicated for his views in 144AD, and in light of his teaching it starts to become clear why the opening declaration from the Old Roman Creed:

I believe in God the Father almighty;
and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,

morphed into the more familiar affirmation of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,

With just a few words, the Apostle’s Creed categorically refutes Marcion’s heretical teaching and purports to ward off future speculation along the same lines; unfortunately, Marcion was just the tip of the iceberg.  Because as difficult as it was for the average “Greek” to conceive of a Creator who was also pure and good, the notion that this same perfect God could become a man was utter nonsense.  “Greeks” struggled to accept the doctrine of the incarnation due to their belief in the utter incompatibility of material and spiritual entities, giving rise to two extreme theories about the person of Jesus:

  • Docetists erred on the side of Jesus’ divinity, postulating that since Jesus could not have actually been human, he only appeared to be human. They taught that Jesus was only spirit, effectively denying the atonement and thereby nullifying Christianity!  Hence the motivation behind John’s stern warning against this teaching:
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
1 John 4:2-3
  • Adoptionists, on the other hand, did not accept that Jesus was anything more than a man whom God had “adopted” as His Son at Jesus’ baptism.  Like the Docetists, they could not reconcile the idea of a perfect God having any interaction with matter; but unlike the Docetists who denied Jesus’ humanity, they simply took things to the opposite extreme.

These sects and others like them were likewise condemned as non-Christian, and once again we can see subtle adjustments to the Old Roman Creed that attempted to defend against similar heretical notions.  The challenge with Jesus is twofold, though, since the early church fathers needed to affirm Jesus’ sinless perfection as well as His complete humanity.  And so the next section of the Old Roman Creed:

Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,
on the third day rose again from the dead

expands to become what we know as the Apostle’s Creed:

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.

These additions reinforce the divine circumstances of Jesus’ birth while simultaneously underscoring the veracity of His human nature…particularly with regards to His death upon the Cross.  As such, when taken alongside the clarifications which declare God as both Creator and Father of Jesus, these adjustments clearly removed some of the “wiggle room” in the Old Roman Creed; nevertheless, heresies regarding the person of Jesus continued to abound.  The concise nature of the Apostle’s Creed was simply insufficient to prevent heretical speculation about the nature of Christ and His relationship to the Father.

As a result, the early church fathers set out to articulate a doctrine of God that could withstand the onslaught of heretical teachings while simultaneously preserving the essence of the Gospel.  God was subsequently described as a singular Being who existed as three divine persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – and in the writings of early apologists like Tertullian, Justin Martyr, and others, we see a progressive exposition of how this relationship works in practical terms.  One heresy after another was seemingly vanquished by appealing to this notion of a triune God, and yet with every defense a new weakness was likewise exposed. 

Along the way, as stronger language and more complex explanations were required to both justify and clarify the doctrine of the Trinity, each heresy seemed to become more about defending the doctrine of the Trinity itself…rather than the Object of that doctrine.  Given what we have already seen regarding the Trinity’s lack of unambiguous Scriptural support this is not terribly surprising; thus as the debate shifted to the minutiae and the wording of the doctrine, rhetoric rather than Scripture became the final arbiter of orthodoxy.  Salvaging the doctrine became the paramount objective, and nowhere is this reality more clearly seen than in the sequence of events that led up to the adoption of the Nicene Creed in 325AD.

The Road to Nicaea

Towards the end of the 2nd century AD, Emperor Marcus Aurelius initiated a policy of severe persecution against Christians due to their supposed crimes of atheism, cannibalism, and incest.  Anyone who was a Christian was automatically presumed to be guilty, and so in 177AD an apologist by the name of Athenagoras determined to set the record straight.  In a bid to end the oppression he penned his Embassy for the Christians, a letter that appealed directly to the Emperor as Athenagoras attempted to expose and refute the false claims being leveled against Christians. 

Interestingly, as part of his defense against the charge of atheism, Athenagoras includes one of the earliest expositions of the Trinity – a God who is one in essence, yet distinctly three in personality:

“We employ language which makes a distinction between God and matter, and the natures of the two. For, as we acknowledge a God, and a Son his Logos, and a Holy Spirit, united in essence – the Father, the Son, the Spirit, because the Son is the Intelligence, Reason, Wisdom of the Father, and the Spirit an effluence, as light from fire.” (Ch. 24)

This brief statement is significant for several reasons.  First, Athenagoras’ declaration that Christians make a “distinction between God and matter, and the natures of the two” betrays the clear influence of Greek philosophy upon the mindset of the early Church.   Plato could not have said it better himself!  Moreover, as one of the earliest formal expressions of the Trinity, it likely reflects the common understanding of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at that time.  Of particular importance, though, is that a single word, ousia, will become the focal point of the Trinitarian debate for the next 200 years. 

Ousia is the Greek word that translates to “essence” or “substance” in English, and so in Athenagoras we see the concept that “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” are homoousios, the “same essence” or “same substance.”  This view of the “essential” connection between Father, Son, and Spirit, that they are homoousios, became the generally accepted explanation for Christ’s divinity until the middle of the 3rd century.  But thanks to Paul of Samosata, who became the Bishop of Antioch in 260AD, that all changed. 

Paul rejected the notion of three divine persons within a Godhead and espoused Monarchianism instead.  Monarchianism teaches that God is one person, uniquely divine, hence Paul revived a form of adoptionist Christology in order to legitimize the worship of Christ as God.  Earlier adoptionist movements had taught that Jesus was merely a normal human being who was granted divine status by the Father at His baptism, whereas Paul at least acknowledged that Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit had made Him sinless and therefore unique among all men.  Thus at His baptism, on account of having kept Himself from sin since His birth, Paul believed that God granted Christ divine status as His adopted Son.

In practical terms, Paul asserted that what actually occurred at Jesus’ baptism involved the Father “dividing off” a part of His own essence and giving it to Jesus.  This conclusion was based upon his understanding of homoousios, the “same substance,” which Paul interpreted to mean that God had literally given a piece of Himself to Jesus.  This transaction thereby granted Jesus divine status because He then possessed some of the “same stuff” as God.  Or to paraphrase Aristotle, by God sharing His divine “substance” with Jesus, it gave Him the “potential” to transform from a mere man into God’s Only Begotten Son.

Although Adoptionist teaching had previously been denounced as heretical, it still took several councils before the Synod of Antioch finally dealt with Paul in 268AD.  To silence him, they officially rejected the notion of Father, Son, and Spirit being of the “same substance,” opting to speak of the divine relationship as being of a “similar essence” instead.  It may seem like they were splitting hairs, but this verdict succeeded nonetheless in dealing with Paul of Samosata by precluding the kind of “division” that he was trying to promote.  Unfortunately, though, it also set the stage for an even bigger showdown with Arius of Alexandria.

In the early 300s, Arius began teaching that the Son had been created by the Father to carry out His will.  Arius believed that the Son was the first created being – the “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15) – who in turn was responsible for creating everything else and later became incarnate in the person of Christ.  He reasoned that since Jesus was the Son, and since the Son was merely “similar in essence” to the Father, that even though the Son was clearly akin to God, He was not actually God.  Moreover, since the prologue to John’s Gospel declares that the Word was “with God” and that the Son was “begotten of God,” Arius maintained that the Son must have had a beginning and was therefore subordinate to the Father.  

Here again we see Plato’s influence in the teachings of Arius, which is undoubtedly a reflection of the renaissance that Plato enjoyed in the mid-200’s.  A philosopher by the name of Plotinus revived interest in Plato when he set out to explain the origins of both matter as well as Plato’s Demiurge, two questions which Plato never really explored.  He took Plato’s ideas and infused them with emanationism and aspects of Gnostic thought to postulate the existence of “the One,” a supreme being which sat above and emanated both.  The parallels to Arianism are striking, since Arius effectively just refers to “the One” as “Father,” and to the Demiurge as “the Son.”

In addition to the similarities between Plotinus and Arius, two additional points about Arius’ teaching are worth noting.  First, his view of the “Son” recalls Philo’s understanding of the Logos, whom Philo believed to be the highest created angelic being that was in turn the active agent in Creation.  And second, it is somewhat ironic that the issue at the heart of Arianism stems from the manner in which the Synod of Antioch articulated Jesus’ relationship to God the Father. Their rejection of Jesus’ “sameness” with the Father in favor of His “similarness” was simply meant to convey that His union with the fully divine Son is what makes Him “similarly” divine; however, Arius turned it into something never intended by the Synod.

Needless to say, Arius’ teaching sent shockwaves throughout the church and threatened to divide it, prompting Emperor Constantine to convene the first ecumenical council of Christian bishops in Nicaea in 325AD.  As the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine viewed himself to be the “13th apostle” and believed it was his duty to intervene and resolve what he perceived to be an arcane doctrinal matter; however, history shows that he clearly underestimated the gravity of the problem. 

Arius’ opponents at the Council, led by future Bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, vehemently rejected his conclusions and argued instead that Father and Son were indeed of the “same” essence rather than merely “similar.”  This terminology ultimately prevailed, but only after Constantine argued for it and urged all members to accept it.  For even though the rejection of “similar” in favor of “same” was deemed sufficient to refute Arius, the problem was that Paul of Samosata’s heresy had been predicated upon the Father and the Son being of the “same substance.”  As a result, the Nicene council was understandably reluctant to embrace the “sameness” once again for fear that the door would be reopened to yet another heresy.

Nevertheless, Athanasius and “same substance” carried the day, and after much debate and wordsmithing – not to mention prodding by Constantine – the Nicene Creed was ratified:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, 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 [both in heaven and on earth];
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost.

[But those who say:
‘There was a time when he was not;’
and ‘He was not before he was made;’
and ‘He was made out of nothing,’
or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’
or ‘The Son of God is created,’
or ‘changeable,’
or ‘alterable’ – they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]

Unlike the simpler Apostle’s Creed which says nothing consequential regarding the doctrine of the Trinity, in the Nicene Creed we see it officially expressed.  Indeed, not only does the Trinitarian content comprise half of the creed itself, but the additional clarifications and condemnations at the end reveal just how difficult it was to reach consensus on this issue.  Unfortunately, though, while the Council’s ratification of this historic creed gave the appearance of unity, it did nothing to actually resolve the controversy.

Beyond Nicaea

In spite of Arius’ defeat in 325AD, his ideas continued to flourish.  Arianism remained the official teaching of the Eastern Church, thanks in large part to the patronage of emperors like Constantius II, who not only embraced Arius’ teachings but also spearheaded a subsequent council in 360AD that officially set the Nicene Creed aside.  Moreover, as proponents of Arianism sought to strengthen their position by leveraging the power of the state, they succeeded in having Athanasius exiled not once but five times!

Thus the church was more divided than ever in the wake of Nicaea as the debate over homoousios raged on.  In addition, a new controversy regarding the Holy Spirit had come to the forefront, fueled by the emergence of sects that denied the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity.  The ensuing turmoil threatened to divide the church once again, prompting a new emperor to call for another Church council in the year 381AD.

Like Constantine before him, Emperor Theodosius recognized the value of a unified church to the empire and so he summoned the Eastern bishops to convene at Constantinople.  They not only reaffirmed the anti-Arian language that had previously been sanctioned by the Nicene Council, but the council also addressed the remaining gap in the Trinitarian formula by introducing new language regarding the Holy Spirit:

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

With this addition, the Trinity was finally and fully expressed as a matter of church doctrine…though apparently even this affirmation was not sufficient to settle the debate.  Because sometime during the 5th century, yet another well-known creed was formulated that not only made explicit use of the term “Trinity,” but also warned that if you do not adhere to a Trinitarian view of God you cannot be saved:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith unless every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity…

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

These statements are the opening and concluding lines of the so-called Athanasian Creed, which undertakes to precisely delineate the relationships between the members of the Godhead.  In fact, it employs more than 500 words just to explain the Trinity!  When you consider that the Old Roman Creed is 86 words in its entirety, this laborious exposition of the Trinity feels more like a heavy-handed scare tactic than it does a statement of essential truth.  Regardless, it certainly stands in stark contrast to what Paul has to say about salvation:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-13

He makes no mention of risking eternal damnation unless you subscribe to the “three in one” nature of God; salvation is simply a matter of faith.  Believe and confess “Jesus is Lord.” Period. 

Now maybe it’s just me, but it certainly feels like somewhere along the way the Church lost its focus.  Indeed, I can’t help but think that Paul would shake his head in disbelief as he did when he chastised the Galatians for entertaining the “different gospel” of the Judaizers:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Galatians 1:6-9,3:1-3

Paul gave no quarter to those who attempted to redefine salvation as anything more than a simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning death upon the cross.  Thus the Judaizers incurred his wrath for teaching that salvation was not merely contingent upon believing in the One who had kept the Law perfectly; rather, believers also had to keep aspects of the Old Covenant, namely circumcision, in order to be saved.  It was a different gospel, “Jesus plus…” instead of “Christ alone,” and Paul had no tolerance for it.

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2

So how do you think he would react to the Athanasian Creed, a five-hundred-word dissertation on the doctrine of the Trinity that insists we must believe it in order to be saved?  It’s hard to imagine that Paul would approve, but regardless of his reaction it is certainly a far cry from “Jesus is Lord…”  For that matter, what would Paul’s opinion of the Trinity be in the first place? He repeatedly warned the first century churches to be wary of deviating from the simplicity and purity of the Gospel:

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
Colossians 2:8 (NLT)

We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.
2 Corinthians 4:2 (NLT)

And yet, in spite of the church’s noble intentions to defend the person of Christ, it certainly seems as if the church fathers fell victim to the very pitfalls that Paul had cautioned against.  Indeed, had Paul still been living at the time, would he have sanctioned the notion of “three persons in God” as a way to refute Marcion, Paul of Samosata, or Arius?  Or would he have penned letters to the believers in Antioch and Alexandria as he did to the Galatians, warning them against pseudo-gospels as he admonished them to stick to the basics of our faith a la the Apostle’s Creed: Jesus’ miraculous birth, His atoning death, His resurrection, ascension, and eventual triumphant return.

Rather than speculate on the answer, perhaps it’s best to simply call our next witness: The New Testament.

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