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Authority and the Trinity

In the following e-mail exchange, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

Exchange #1

>Hello Mr. Zeolla.  I read your website.  I want to ask you a couple of questions.  First of all, let me begin by saying that I don't really believe exactly like the "oneness", but that is the closest one to what I do believe.  I believe there is one God who has worked in three different ways in this world.  God the Father-the Creator, God the Son-the Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit-the comforter/counselor.  But there is only one God.<

 This is a form of Modalism. It's nothing new.

 >Some Trinitarians say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equals, and others say that there are different levels of power among the three.  In other words, one is more powerful than the other two.  But let's look at Mat 28:18(NIV).  "Then Jesus came and said, 'All authority in Heaven and in earth has been given to me.'"  By the way, the King James says power instead of authority.< 

The Greek word can mean either power or authority. 

>  If there really are three separate "persons", then God the Father and the Holy Spirit have no authority/power, because as Jesus has all authority/power.<

  The verse says the Father gave the authority to the Son. For someone to give something to another requires there to be two different persons involved in the transaction. Under your scheme you have the one person of God giving authority to Himself.  

That said, what is being described here is not different than what was common in ancient times. A kind would give his authority to another for the other to govern. But the king always retained his authority. The "all authority" refers to all the authority the king would have. In this case, God has authority over all His creation, and this authority was given to Christ at His exaltation. Knowing historical backgrounds helps in Biblical interpretation.  

> I want to mention something else that's changing the subject a little but not really.  If you look at the next verse Jesus tells the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  But when you look throughout the rest of the New Testament, you'll see that they never baptized in any other name but the name of Jesus.  Did the disciples misunderstand the Lord, or did they understand something that a lot of people in the Christian society today don't?<

 I discuss this on my site so I won't repeat myself here.

> If you really want to know where the teaching of the Trinity came from, I can tell you.  The reason I say that is because that doctrine is not a Biblical teaching; it's a Roman Catholic teaching.

Well, I guess I've spoken my peace.  I hope I haven't offended you in any way.  Forgive me if I have.  May God richly bless you.


 If you're implying the doctrine of the Trinity was somehow "invented" in the fourth century, that makes the second person this week to e-mail me who has no knowledge of the teachings of the post apostolic Church. I discuss this in detail on my site; so again, I won't repeat myself here.

 Exchange #2

>  O.K.  I see what you're saying, but I still don't buy into all of your ideas.  I don't want to sound like a broken record, but, again, if Christ has all power, that leaves none for anyone else.  There's really nothing in that verse to make us assume that God kept his power over Christ.<

Again, in the historical context, it would have made perfect sense to the hearers. See for instance Daniel 5:16 where Daniel is told he would be "third" in the kingdom. The reason king Belteshazzar could not make Daniel "second" is because Belteshazzar was actually the second. The "first" ruler had left his power in the hands of Belteshazzar and was out of the country. So Belteshazzar had "all power" in Babylon, but the "first" king still had power.  

> Really what I meant about the origin of the Trinity is this:  Pagans in the Roman empire were accustomed to worshipping gods in three's.  In an attempt to make Christianity more appealing to them, the Roman Catholic Church presented it as a religion with three "persons" to worship.<

 Three questions:
1. Just when do you think the RCC originated?
2. What is your evidence that the Romans worshipped gods in three's in the early centuries?
3. What is your evidence that this is what the RCC did? In what writings of what Church Father is this idea put forth?

>  Something else came to me the other day.  God is a jealous god, agree?  If that's the case, why would he allow his children to worship 2 other "persons."<

The one God in His unity is a jealous God.

> Let me end by saying this: I'm only 20 yrs old, and I have a lot to learn about God and His word.  So do me a favor, remember me in prayer, that God may give me knowledge of The Bible.

Lord bless you, 

See my Scripture Studies where I list hundreds of Bible verses in support of the idea God is three-in-one. To me, that is more than enough Scriptural support for the doctrine. 

That said, I will keep you in my prayers. We all could use more knowledge of the Bible. And besides, my study on the Trinity, the rest of my Scripture Studies might be of help to you.

Note: Loran never responded to my questions. The point of question number 1 is this: If Loran had said he believed the RCC originated sometime in the third to fifth centuries, as Protestants generally do, then I would have replied with the list of quotations from the Church Fathers of the second and third centuries that show they believed in the doctrine of the Trinity [see The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Post-Apostolic Church]. The point being, how could the RCC have invented something that existed before it?

If Loran had replied the RCC had originated with Peter, as Roman Catholics believe, then I would have asked why he wasn't a Catholic. If Loran is a Catholic, then I would have asked why he didn't believe the teachings of his "infallible" pope on the doctrine of the Trinity. Either way, his position would be inconsistent.

As for the next two questions, I was asking for documentation for Loran's claims. He provided none, and neither do others who make similar claims.

Exchange #3

 >1. When did the Roman Catholic Church begin?  I don't know if there is any real consensus on this question.  Most protestants would say it began around 325 B.C.  I think (though I'm not sure) Catholics believe Peter to be the 1st pope.  I did find, however, an Internet site about Roman history in general, and on it were listed men that are accepted as popes.  Interestingly enough, these were as early as the 1st and 2nd centuries.<

The point of my question here was that the doctrine of the Trinity was definitely around and believed in by Christians long before 325 AD. This can be proven by the reading of the writings of the ante-Nicene writers. And if you believe the RCC did not originate until Nicea, then it is impossible for the RCC to have somehow "invented" the doctrine.

 >2. Were the Romans polytheistic?  Absolutely!  You name it, they had a god for it.  In the US many of the practices we perform today in marriage ceremonies came from Roman traditions based on beliefs in gods.<

Of course the Romans were polytheistic. But the claim you made was that they were tritheistic, or that they worshipped gods in threes. And that is a big difference. Furthermore, you claimed the doctrine of the Trinity originated by changing the Romans tritheism into the Trinity. But if the Romans were polytheistic, not tritheistc, the Christianity, by your reasoning, should have adopted a "poly-inity."

> With these 2 thoughts in mind, I believe it would have been very POSSIBLE (though perhaps not factual) for paganism to have influenced some of the teachings of the RCC.  However, recognizing the fact that what the RCC teaches is, for the most part, irrelevant to the Trinity verses oneness discussion, I'll pursue this "angle" no further.<

You're the one who brought it up. And what frustrates me is when oneness people make unsubstantiated claims, and I challenge them to substantiate them, and then they change the subject. Don't go around claiming the RCC "invented" the doctrine of the Trinity if you're not read to back up that claim.

Excuse me if I sound a little "harsh" here, but I hear such claims all the time. That is why I have several articles on my site showing the post-apostolic Christians most definitely believed in the doctrine of the Trinity. It doesn't "prove" the doctrine if true, but it does disprove the often made claim that the doctrine was invented much later in Church history.

 > Concerning baptism, your explanation is shaky at best.  To begin with, your interpretation implies 2 baptisms, i.e. baptism in Jesus' name and baptism in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Yet, we know there is only one baptism (Eph 4:5).<

Not it doesn't. What I am saying is, there are sound reasons for why the apostles used the "Jesus only" formula INSTEAD of the threefold formula Jesus gave. And incidentally, in the Didache (c. 100 AD), the three-fold formula is specifically said to be what Christians use in baptism.

So should churches today follow the commandment of Jesus and the example of the early, post-apostolic Church and use the three-fold formula, or should they follow the example of the apostles and use the "Jesus only" formula? Personally, I think either would be appropriate. But it is just that: one or the other.

> NRS Mat 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  If one wanted to stick to the English

translation, then anyone who is baptized differently than the above said was baptized wrong, for lack of a better term.  So the apostles baptized the wrong way when they did it in Jesus' name.  But that obviously can't be right.

The Greek word for nations is often rendered Gentiles.  So one might say the Jews should be baptized in Jesus' name and the Gentiles in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.  But the Ephesians were baptized in Jesus' name (Acts 19), and they were not Jews.  That's why I think the disciples understood something about The Lord that a lot of people today do not.<

Or maybe they realized a specific "formula" isn't the issue, but *why* someone is getting baptized. To squabble over a formula is to miss the change of heart that should accompany baptism, and that is the important point.

> Finally, in your biographical info you said that you just as with all Christians are a SINNER saved by grace.  True, we're saved by grace, but when you say you ARE (present tense) a sinner, is this to say you sin continually?

God's richest blessings,

I am declared righteous in Christ. It is on that basis that I am saved. But I still have the old sin nature. And in that sense I am still a sinner. Complete eradication of the sin nature awaits glorification. That is the point of Paul's struggle in Romans 7.

 Exchange #4

>You made some good points about baptism.  As you say, the "why" is probably more important than the "how" and I admit I agree.  I believe baptism should be the pledge of a good conscience towards God (1Pet 3:21).  This may sound a little strange to you after reading what I wrote in the last e-mail, but honestly I feel that one can "obey" the above verse symbolically without ever being physically baptized.  In other words, I believe one could make that pledge to God in prayer, if he/she chose.<

I agree to a point. A part of the importance of baptism is the public confession required. When you get physically baptized at least one other person has to be there (the baptizer), and usually there are a lot more than that. So it requires really being sure you want "the world" to know you are a Christian to submit to baptism. OTOH, you could "pledge to God in prayer" in private without anyone else knowing. 

>  I'm like you in that I don't like to squabble over terminology either.  That's why I asked if you continually sin as opposed to asking are you a sinner.  Some people who may sin only once a month or even less still feel they are a sinner.  I personally don't agree, b/c I feel there is a difference between continual sin and occasional sin.  A person like I described above is, to me, a Christian who made a mistake and sinned.  In this case we have one who speaks to the Father on our behalf.  However, the Bible teaches against continual sin (1 John 3:6,9).

Also, when God is compassionate and forgives, he receives glory and honor for that.  So it might seem good for us to keep sinning so that God may receive even more glory for this forgiveness.  This is the basis for Paul's question to the Romans.  (Rom 6:1)  But of course his emphatic answer is "By no means!"

As one who was brought up in oneness teachings, I had some very bad misconceptions about what Trinitarians actually believe.<

That is common, and true for a lot of things. It requires reading what "the other side" has actually written, and not just rebuttals to it, to truly understand what someone else believes.

>  After reading your website and others, I think I have a better understanding of what the doctrine actually says.  I'm thankful for that b/c I've noticed that oneness people (myself included until recently) don't really know what they are trying to refute.  The following is something I copied and pasted from another website.  The author once believed in the oneness, but now believes in the Trinity.  On the website he is trying to help Trinitarians explain their beliefs to oneness people. I was wondering if you could tell me what you think about what he says.  Do you agree or disagree?  If both, to what extent?

If need be, explain to them that the Trinitarian creedal language about God existing in "three persons" does not literally mean that there are three "people" who are God. It is rather simply a shorthand way of saying that God eternally exists in three personally distinct ways (who would deny that God is capable of that?).<

I would basically agree. I believe the author is trying to avoid the misconception of three physically distinct people being called "god." Since God is omnipresent, it is of course not possible to "picture" the Trinity, but it's possible that some oneness people seem to think the Trinity indicates some kind of "club" with three people sitting around who are all "god." I hope that makes sense.

OTOH, it is important to be clear that by "three personally distinct ways" it is meant there is the possibility of communication between the three members of the Godhead, "The LORD said to my Lord ...."

 >The more I read about the Trinity the more sense it makes.<

I'm glad to hear it. : )

>  As bad as I hate to admit it, John 17:5 blows a hole through oneness teachings.  However,

I've never heard a Trinitarian explain it, so I was wondering if you could do me another favor and give me your "take" on it?

Peace be with you,

[Jn 17:5] “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

I agree this verse is strong support for the distinction of Persons between the Father and the Son. The key words here are the two "with's." The Son has glory "with" the Father. And note, that was "before the world was." So there is an eternal distinction between the Father's glory and the Son' glory. Although they have equal glory, it is not the "same" glory as would be the case if they were the same Person.

I hope that helps.

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Doctrine of the Trinity: Comments
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