The simplest answer to this question is that it comes from Scripture. As I have shown in previous posts, the members of the godhead appear at various points in the Bible, acting independently of each other, showing the same attributes, and taking the same prerogatives. Yet, the inescapable fact of Scripture is that it clearly says that there is only One God, as opposed to three. For there to be only one, the three acting independently must be One in essence, even if they are three in being. This is a clear principle that one can even identify within the first 16 chapters of Genesis,
Genesis 1:1-2, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
Genesis 16:7-14, “And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. 8 And he said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. 9 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. 10 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.
11 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.
12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.
13 And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? 14 Wherefore the well was called Beerlahairoi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.”
This has led to many stating that the Trinity is hinted at in the Old Testament, and revealed in the New. For example, Matthew 3:16-17,
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
That moment was the revelation of the Triune nature of God, as represented by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and as was hinted at in the Tanakh. This is what people are arguing against, stating that Jesus is not God in the flesh, but rather a prophet, a man, or some other type of being created by God. What we will be addressing is two of the more common arguments against the Trinity that you will encounter.
1. The Council of Nicea
The most common argument you will encounter is the idea that this doctrine dates back to the Council of Nicea, with Emperor Constantine. Prior to this point, they assert, Jesus was not seen as divine, but merely as a human prophet. The issue with this idea is that the facts of history do not back up this version of events. Despite this fact, you will encounter no small number of Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, and Unitarians who will continually assert that the Doctrine of the Trinity was an invention of Constantine, and kept alive by the Holy Roman Catholic Church. This is why it is important for you to know how to answer their objections.
The Da Vinci Code
In Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”, the storyline includes numerous revelations about Jesus based upon claims made in The Gnostic Gospels. Among those are the claim that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that He was nothing more than a human prophet, that He was not the Son of God, etc.
I will take a moment and point out that Dan Brown is not a biblical scholar. While the alternative “historical” facts presented in this book worked well for the storyline, it is safe to say that Sophie Neveu is neither a living person, nor a descendant of Jesus and Mary. If there happens to be a Sir Leigh Teabing, I very much doubt he is an eccentric millionaire who has the ability to trick people into committing murder and solving centuries-old riddles. I would also hope that Silas the albino monk is not running around somewhere.
One of the assertions made in the storyline was that Constantine called the Council of Nicea, and forced Jesus’ divinity onto the men present, thereby deifying a man and creating a new religion out of one that had already existed for centuries. Controversial does not begin to cover the ideas presented, most especially the idea that Emperor Constantine was the originator of Jesus’ divinity and the Doctrine of the Trinity.
The uproar was so profound that numerous biblical scholars felt compelled to address it. Bart Ehrman was no exception. In response to “The Da Vinci Code”, he wrote,
“Constantine did call the Council of Nicea, and one of the issues involved Jesus’ divinity. But this was not a council that met to decide whether or not Jesus was divine…Quite the contrary: everyone at the Council – in fact, just about every Christian everywhere – already agreed that Jesus was divine, the Son of God. The question being debated was how to understand Jesus’ divinity in light of the circumstance that he was also human. Moreover, how could both Jesus and God be God if there is only one God? Those were the issues that were addressed at Nicea, not whether or not Jesus was divine. And there certainly was no vote to determine Jesus’ divinity: this was already a matter of common knowledge among Christians, and had been from the early years of the religion.” (“Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine”)
Truth be told, the Council of Nicea had been called to settle a dispute within the Church. On one side, you had a sect of Christianity known as “Arianism”, who taught that Jesus is not God in the flesh, but that He is a divine being, the first to be created before the rest of the universe. On the other, there was the Trinitarian camp, whose teachings regarding the Trinity are what we now know, that God is a threefold being, manifesting as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
While the fight was Arians vs Trinitarians, the Doctrine of the Trinity was very plainly not the reason for the council. The Doctrine of the Trinity was already a given to the majority of Christians, and had been so since the days of the Apostles, which brings us to the second argument: Paul the Apostle.
2. Saul of Tarsus
First, a bit of background on Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as Paul the Apostle. He was a Pharisee, trained under rabbi Gamaliel, a famous Jewish rabbi who was rumored to have become a Messianic Jew after his famous student underwent his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. No one has been able to prove it, but it makes a nice bit of subtext to the story, does it not?
When Saul entered the story, he was the one doing the persecuting. He assisted in detaining, imprisoning, torturing, and executing Jesus’ Jewish followers wherever he could root them out. In fact, that is the reason why he was on the road to Damascus in the first place. He was on a mission to find Messianic Jews and hold them over for trial.
After his experience, he went to the Apostles, presented himself to them for examination, and was declared an Apostle. From that time on, he saw little more than struggle and strife. He was repeatedly beaten, flogged, starved, imprisoned, and eventually died by beheading in Rome.
Those who object to the Trinity will seek to convince you that Paul somehow managed to alter all of the teachings of the Apostles, their disciples, and everything in between. If it seems far-fetched wait until you see the evidence.
In the first part, we examined the idea that the Doctrine of the Trinity, along with the divinity of Jesus, were the product of the Council of Nicea and the mind of Emperor Constantine. In addition to the point made by Bart Ehrman, I have quite a bit more to share.
The Evidence in Scripture
A careful read of the Gospel accounts shows that Jesus claimed to be divine in both word and deed, and in that His followers were in agreement. While it is true that Jesus never uttered the phrase, “I am God, worship me”, an Islamic argument that is as sophomoric as it is frequent in its use, what He did do was accept worship from His followers, as well as lay claim to divine titles and prerogatives. The reason why is simple. Announcing “I am God” in First Century Judea would have simply resulted in confused looks and the assumption that you were insane. However, call yourself the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Lord of the Sabbath, the Light of the World, the I AM, and suddenly you have strayed into an altogether different territory. That is when you begin to see people respond as they did in John 10:30-33,
“I and my Father are one.
31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? 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.”
This is just one example of the many claims to divinity made by Jesus, but He was not the only one making those claims. Certainly Paul (Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Phil. 2:5-8), Peter (2 Pet. 1:1), and John (John 1:1-3, 14; 8:58; 20:28) believed that Jesus is God. They all stated it in very clear terms.
The Apostolic Age
At the time that Jesus ascended, He had given the Disciples a set of commands. First, follow His Commandments. Second, share His Message. Matthew 28:18-20,
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
In order for the Apostles to obey the Lord’s command, they would have to leave Judea, preach the Gospel to all who would listen, and take on their own disciples. They knew that teaching all nations would be something beyond themselves, so they got to work.
It was not long before they began to share the Gospel in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. It also was not long before the religious leaders in Jerusalem sought to silence them, and it was from this point that they began to spread out. Paul and Peter both made it to Rome, James made it to Spain, Matthew made it to Ethiopia, Thomas made it to India, Andrew made it to Russia, and so on. Everywhere they went, they met up with people who would become new converts, who would then go on a form local churches. Many of Paul’s epistles were to the churches he had planted in the various cities and settlements he had traveled to.
It is from this group of converts that we are able to find some of the most compelling evidence against the two arguments that bring us here today. The early Apostolic Church took time to grow and build, with quite a few issues to work out, not the least of which was how Gentile believers fit into what had originally been a thoroughly Jewish lexicon.
Through careful study, scholars have been able to determine not only the majority of who the Apostles took on as disciples, but they have copies of their writings, in the form of commentaries, homilies, letters, and sermons. They can account for virtually the entire New Testament, and even determine what it is that they were taught and were teaching, which is what we are here to discuss. Here are some examples of these writings, and what they had to say regarding the Doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus.
Polycarp (AD 69-155), Letter to the Philippians:
“Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth…and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead.”
Ignatius (AD 50-117) bishop at the church in Antioch and a disciple of John
“Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, unto her which hath been blessed in greatness through the plentitude of God the Father; which hath been foreordained before the ages to be for ever unto abiding and unchangeable glory, united and elect in a true passion, by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ our God; even unto the church which is in Ephesus [of Asia], worthy of all felicitation: abundant greeting in Christ Jesus and in blameless joy.
Being as you are imitators of God, once you took on new life through the blood of God you completed perfectly the task so natural to you.
There is only one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord.
For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.
Consequently all magic and every kind of spell were dissolved, the ignorance so characteristic of wickedness vanished, and the ancient kingdom was abolished when God appeared in human form to bring the newness of eternal life.
For our God Jesus Christ is more visible now that he is in the Father.
I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having been nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wait expectantly for the one who is above time: the Eternal, the Invisible, who for our sake became visible; the Intangible, the Unsuffering, who for our sake suffered, who for our sake endured in every way.”
Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) was a Christian apologist of the second century
“And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said.
Permit me first to recount the prophecies, which I wish to do in order to prove that Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts.
Therefore these words testify explicitly that He [Jesus] is witnessed to by Him [the Father] who established these things, as deserving to be worshipped, as God and as Christ.
The Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign, having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin…
For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God.”
Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130-202)
“For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man…He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;—all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.
He received testimony from all that He was very man, and that He was very God, from the Father, from the Spirit, from angels, from the creation itself, from men, from apostate spirits and demons.
Christ Jesus [is] our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father.
Christ Himself, therefore, together with the Father, is the God of the living, who spoke to Moses, and who was also manifested to the fathers.
Carefully, then, has the Holy Ghost pointed out, by what has been said, His birth from a virgin, and His essence, that He is God (for the name Emmanuel indicates this). And He shows that He is a man…[W]e should not understand that He is a mere man only, nor, on the other hand, from the name Emmanuel, should suspect Him to be God without flesh.”
Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215)
“This Word, then, the Christ, the cause of both our being at first (for He was in God) and of our well-being, this very Word has now appeared as man, He alone being both, both God and man—the Author of all blessings to us; by whom we, being taught to live well, are sent on our way to life eternal…The Word, who in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends.
For it was not without divine care that so great a work was accomplished in so brief a space by the Lord, who, though despised as to appearance, was in reality adored, the expiator of sin, the Savior, the clement, the Divine Word, He that is truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe; because He was His Son, and the Word was in God…”
Tertullian (AD 150-225)
For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God.
Thus Christ is Spirit of Spirit, and God of God, as light of light is kindled…That which has come forth out of God is at once God and the Son of God, and the two are one. In this way also, as He is Spirit of Spirit and God of God, He is made a second in manner of existence—in position, not in nature; and He did not withdraw from the original source, but went forth. This ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united.
Bear always in mind that this is the rule of faith which I profess; by it I testify that the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other, and so will you know in what sense this is said. Now, observe, my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one, and that they are distinct from each other. This statement is taken in a wrong sense by every uneducated as well as every perversely disposed person, as if it predicated a diversity, in such a sense as to imply a separation among the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit. I am, moreover, obliged to say this, when they contend for the identity of the Father and Son and Spirit, that it is not by way of diversity that the Son differs from the Father, but by distribution: it is not by division that He is different, but by distinction; because the Father is not the same as the Son, since they differ one from the other in the mode of their being. For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as He Himself acknowledges: “My Father is greater than I.” In the Psalm His inferiority is described as being “a little lower than the angels.” Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, inasmuch as He who begets is one, and He who is begotten is another; He, too, who sends is one, and He who is sent is another; and He, again, who makes is one, and He through whom the thing is made is another. Happily the Lord Himself employs this expression of the person of the Paraclete, so as to signify not a division or severance, but a disposition (of mutual relations in the Godhead); for He says, “I will pray the Father, and He shall send you another Comforter…even the Spirit of truth,” thus making the Paraclete distinct from Himself, even as we say that the Son is also distinct from the Father; so that He showed a third degree in the Paraclete, as we believe the second degree is in the Son, by reason of the order observed in the Economy. Besides, does not the very fact that they have the distinct names of Father and Son amount to a declaration that they are distinct in personality?
As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Hippolytus of Rome (AD 170-235) disciple of Irenaeus
“The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God.
For, lo, the Only-begotten entered, a soul among souls, God the Word with a (human) soul. For His body lay in the tomb, not emptied of divinity; but as, while in Hades, He was in essential being with His Father, so was He also in the body and in Hades. For the Son is not contained in space, just as the Father; and He comprehends all things in Himself.
For all, the righteous and the unrighteous alike, shall be brought before God the Word.
Let us believe then, dear brethren, according to the tradition of the apostles, that God the Word came down from heaven, (and entered) into the holy Virgin Mary, in order that, taking the flesh from her, and assuming also a human, by which I mean a rational soul, and becoming thus all that man is with the exception of sin, He might save fallen man, and confer immortality on men who believe on His name…He now, coming forth into the world, was manifested as God in a body, coming forth too as a perfect man. For it was not in mere appearance or by conversion, but in truth, that He became man. Thus then, too, though demonstrated as God, He does not refuse the conditions proper to Him as man, since He hungers and toils and thirsts in weariness, and flees in fear, and prays in trouble. And He who as God has a sleepless nature, slumbers on a pillow.”
Melito of Sardis (died c. AD 180)
He that hung up the earth in space was Himself hanged up; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; He that bore up the earth was born up on a tree; the Lord of all was subjected to ignominy in a naked body—God put to death!…[I]n order that He might not be seen, the luminaries turned away, and the day became darkened—because they slew God, who hung naked on the tree…This is He who made the heaven and the earth, and in the beginning, together with the Father, fashioned man; who was announced by means of the law and the prophets; who put on a bodily form in the Virgin; who was hanged upon the tree; who was buried in the earth; who rose from the place of the dead, and ascended to the height of heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father.”
Origen (AD 185-254)
“Jesus Christ…in the last times, divesting Himself (of His glory), became a man, and was incarnate although God, and while made a man remained the God which He was.
Seeing God the Father is invisible and inseparable from the Son, the Son is not generated from Him by “prolation,” as some suppose. For if the Son be a “prolation” of the Father (the term “prolation” being used to signify such a generation as that of animals or men usually is), then, of necessity, both He who “prolated” and He who was “prolated” are corporeal. For we do not say, as the heretics suppose, that some part of the substance of God was converted into the Son, or that the Son was procreated by the Father out of things non-existent, i.e., beyond His own substance, so that there once was a time when He did not exist…How, then, can it be asserted that there once was a time when He was not the Son? For that is nothing else than to say that there was once a time when He was not the Truth, nor the Wisdom, nor the Life, although in all these He is judged to be the perfect essence of God the Father; for these things cannot be severed from Him, or even be separated from His essence.
For we who say that the visible world is under the government to Him who created all things, do thereby declare that the Son is not mightier than the Father, but inferior to Him. And this belief we ground on the saying of Jesus Himself, “The Father who sent Me is greater than I.” And none of us is so insane as to affirm that the Son of man is Lord over God. But when we regard the Savior as God the Word, and Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Truth, we certainly do say that He has dominion over all things which have been subjected to Him in this capacity, but not that His dominion extends over the God and Father who is Ruler over all.
Wherefore we have always held that God is the Father of His only-begotten Son, who was born indeed of Him, and derives from Him what He is, but without any beginning, not only such as may be measured by any divisions of time, but even that which the mind alone can contemplate within itself, or behold, so to speak, with the naked powers of the understanding.
But it is monstrous and unlawful to compare God the Father, in the generation of His only-begotten Son, and in the substance of the same, to any man or other living thing engaged in such an act; for we must of necessity hold that there is something exceptional and worthy of God which does not admit of any comparison at all, not merely in things, but which cannot even be conceived by thought or discovered by perception, so that a human mind should be able to apprehend how the unbegotten God is made the Father of the only-begotten Son. Because His generation is as eternal and everlasting as the brilliancy which is produced from the sun. For it is not by receiving the breath of life that He is made a Son, by any outward act, but by His own nature.
And that you may understand that the omnipotence of Father and Son is one and the same, as God and the Lord are one and the same with the Father, listen to the manner in which John speaks in the Apocalypse: “Thus saith the Lord God, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” For who else was “He which is to come” than Christ? And as no one ought to be offended, seeing God is the Father, that the Savior is also God; so also, since the Father is called omnipotent, no one ought to be offended that the Son of God is also called omnipotent.”
As you can see, the Doctrine of the Trinity was already a well known concept long before the birth of Emperor Constantine. Furthermore, when you take note of the people quoted, you will see that these men were not all disciples of Paul. In fact, many of them were either babies or small children when he was executed in Rome, which should make clear that he had absolutely nothing to do with their instruction. We can then safely infer that Paul could not have invented the divinity of Jesus or the Doctrine of the Trinity. What I have quoted here may seem like a lot, but the fact of the matter is that this is a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall body of Patristic works.
Source for the quotes: https://www.str.org/w/nine-early-church-fathers-who-taught-jesus-is-god