HOW ANCIENT IS THE TRINITY DOCTRINE?
by Wesley P. Walters
As different as para-Christian groups or cults are from each
other, most have one thing in common: they hate the biblical
teaching of the Trinity. They want their God to be simplistic,
uncomplicated, and less complex than the world He created. They
want a God reduced to terms they can get their finite minds
Modern advances in science have shown that the created world is
an extremely complex mechanism. Those who work in nuclear physics
or molecular biology are continually discovering the complexity
of the world God has created.
In fact, some complex, seemingly contradictory data has yet to
be fitted into a rational system that explains the relationships.
A simple thing like "light" is known to move like "waves" yet
strike like "particles." Atomic physicists are still struggling
to put together a theory that can fully explain this apparent
Those who work in the complex mathematical equations of quantum
mechanics are told by their instructors that "If you think that
you really understand quantum mechanics and how it applies to
reality, that proves you do not understand it." One of the basic
theorems is that if the speed of a particle is known, then its
location can not be known, and the more accurately you know its
location, the less accurately you know its speed. This does not
seem very logical to the average person, but it works very well
in atomic physics, in which scientists get very close to the
essence of matter.
Thus, while scientists are continually learning more about how
complex and even apparently contradictory the world of created
reality is, cults that reject the complexity of the God who made
this reality are proliferating. They, along with Moslems and
modern Jews, taunt Christians, saying: "How can there be just one
God, and yet the Father be God, the Son be God and the Holy
Spirit be God? Is He the Son of Himself and the Father of both?"
Even though Christ Himself taught that the name [singular] of
God in which we baptize is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew
28:19), all cults falsely assert that the doctrine of the Trinity
is a teaching that grew out of fourth century paganism. So uni-
fied are the cults in this assertion that they appear to be using
the same erroneous Church history book and parroting one another.
The truth is that by the time of Christ, the first century A.D.,
the Jews themselves, on the basis of the Old Testament, were
coming to an understanding of the complexity of Yahweh.
The Teachings of The Targums
When the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity 450 years
before the birth of Jesus, they had adopted Aramaic as their
native language. Although it is a dialect of ancient Hebrew,
Aramaic is about as different from it as modern Italian is from
its classical Latin ancestor. Consequently, during the first and
early second centuries A.D., Aramaic translations of the Hebrew
Old Testament were made.
These translations, called Targums, were The Living Bibles of
their day, an interpretive paraphrase of Scripture. They help us
see how these first-century Jews understood their Old Testament.
One of the striking things these Targums show is that first-
century Jews had come to understand the phrase "the Word of God"
as referring to a divine entity within God Himself, yet distin-
guishable at times from God. J.W. Etheridge, in the introduction
to his translations of the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, has
given us a number of examples of this Jewish understanding of the
term, "the Word" (Aramaic: Memra).
In Genesis 18:1, where the Hebrew Bible says Yahweh (Jehovah)
appeared to Abraham, the Targum says, "The Word of the Lord
appeared to Abraham." Further on, where the Hebrew reports
"Yahweh rained down upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and
fire from Yahweh out of heaven," the Targum states that "the Word
of the Lord sent down upon them sulphur and fire from the
presence of the Lord out of heaven." (Genesis 19:24)
In Genesis 16, when Hagar sees "the Angel of the Lord," the
Targum says she saw "the Word of the Lord." After seeing this
"Word" (Memra) she says, "Here has been revealed the glory of the
Shekineh of the Lord." Then, according to the Jerusalem Targum,
"Hagar returned thanks and prayed in the name of the Word of the
Lord, who had appeared to her." Thus the Word not only is regard-
ed as the presence of deity, but is in some manner personally
distinguishable from the Lord.
In Genesis 28:20 the Targum of Onkelos paraphrases Jacob's vow,
"If God will be with me... then Yahweh will be my God" with the
words, "If the Word of the Lord will be my help... the Word of
the Lord shall be my God." Again, the Angel of Yahweh who spoke
to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14) is designated by the
Jerusalem Targum as "the Word of the Lord."
The distinct personality of this Divine Word is seen pointedly
in Jonathan's Targum of Isaiah 63:7-10. There, where the Hebrew
text speaks of Yahweh being their Savior, the Targum reads, "the
Word (Memra) was their Redeemer." (vs. 8) When the Israelites
continued to disobey, then "His Word (Memra) became their enemy,
and fought against them" -- an action ascribed to Yahweh in the
Hebrew text. Again in Isaiah 45:22 the Targum of Jonathan ex-
horts, "Look unto My Word and be saved."
While this personalizing of the Word was being expressed in
Palestine in the Targums of Jesus' day, Philo, an Egyptian Jew
and contemporary of Jesus, was expressing similar thoughts in
even more distinct words. In his essay "On the Creation," Philo
states that man was not made in the image of some creature, but
in the image of God's own uncreated Word. He wrote: "for the
Creator, we know, employed for its making no pattern taken from
among created things, but solely, as I have said, His own Word."
Philo continues: "Man was made a likeness and imitation of the
Word, when the Divine Breath was breathed into his face. ("On the
Creation," XLVIII: 139, Loeb Edition I, pp. 110-111)
In his work on Noah, Philo again expresses the teaching that man
is made by "the First Cause" (that is, God) in the image of "the
Eternal Word:" "Our great Moses likened the fashion of the rea-
sonable soul to no created thing, but averred it to be a genuine
coinage of that dread Spirit, the Divine and Invisible One,
signed and impressed by the seal of God, the stamp of which is
the Eternal Word."
He continues: "...man has been made after the Image of God
(Genesis 1:27), not however after the image of anything
created... man's soul having been made after the image of the
Archetype, the Word of the First Cause." ("Noah's Work as a
Planter," I:18-20, Loeb III, pp. 222-223)
Thus, the eternal Word is in some sense distinguishable from
God, and yet at the same time is, like God, uncreated, rational
and the bearer of the divine image. This comes very close to the
teaching of the New Testament that the Word was distinguishable
from God, and yet was God. As John 1:1 expresses it, "In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God." It also appears similar to Paul's teaching that the Son
is "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15); and the
writer of Hebrews statement that the Son "is the exact represen-
tation of His being." (Hebrews 1:3)
Philo, however, goes further. He says that God is the king and
shepherd of all creation, but rules and controls it through his
eternally existing Word, whom Philo calls God's "First-born Son."
His "hallowed flock" of created things God directs by his divine
laws, setting over it His true Word and first-born son, who shall
take upon Him its government like some viceroy of a great king.
("On Husbandry," I:51, Loeb III, pp. 134-135)
Philo has God expressing Himself in this manner: "I alone...
sustained the Universe to rest firm and sure upon the Mighty
Word, who is My viceroy." ("On Dreams," I:241, Loeb V, pp. 424-
Therefore this eternal Word, God's first-born Son, is the up-
holder of the whole creation, "the everlasting Word of the eter-
nal God is the very sure and staunch prop of the Whole. He it is,
who extending Himself from the midst to its utmost bounds...
keeps up through all its length Nature's unvanquished course,
combining and compacting all its parts. For the Father who begat
Him constituted His Word such a Bond of the Universe as nothing
can break." ("Noah's Work as a Planter," I:8-9, Loeb III, pp.
This reflects the same thought that Paul expressed about the Son
as being the one "in whom all things hold together." (Colossians
1:17) It also reminds also reminds us of Hebrews 1:3, which
depicts the Son as "sustaining all things by his powerful Word."
Philo continues his discussion of the Word by maintaining that
to those incapable of seeing the supreme cause, God Himself, He
appears to them in the form of His Angel, the Word: "For just as
those who are unable to see the sun itself, see the gleam of the
parahelion and take it for the sun, and take the halo round the
moon for that luminary itself, so some regard the image of God,
His Angel, the Word, as His very self." ("On Dreams," I:239, Loeb
V, pp. 422-423) This sounds very similar to the teaching that the
Son is "the radiance (or outshining) of God's glory" (Hebrews
1:3), the only part of God's nature that people are allowed to
see. This is true because "no one has ever seen God," but "the
only begotten God... He has made Him known." (John 1:18) Thus,
Jesus, the Son, can say, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the
Father." (John 14:9)
Philo further explained that God, being light, is "the archetype
of every other light." As such He is "prior to and high above
every archetype." Thus He holds the position of "a model of a
model," that is, He is the model for His Word, which Word becomes
the model for creation. The Word, therefore, contains all the
qualities of God. As Philo expressed it, "the model or pattern
was the Word which contained all His fullness -- light, in fact."
("On Dreams," I:75, Loeb V, pp. 336-337) Paul expressed a similar
thought when he wrote that in the Son all God's fullness dwells.
(Colossians 1:19; 2:9)
To Philo, therefore, the Word of God is the eternal, uncreated
Word containing all the fullness of God and bearing His image.
That divine image which the Word bears is the image in which man
was created. The Word is further the sustainer, upholder and
ruler of the world, carrying on the governing of all things, as
God's viceroy, and containing all God's fullness.
While the Word is not a created thing and carries on all the
functions of God, Philo is clear that there are not two gods --
although he does not attempt to explain how this can be. Philo's
teaching is, therefore, very close to the biblical doctrine of
the Trinity. Philo reached his conclusions without the aid of the
New Testament and certainly without deriving his ideas from pagan
notions of deity. The Old Testament teaching that the Angel of
Yahweh is really the presence of Yahweh Himself seems to have
strongly influenced Philo's ideas.
To relegate the doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, to a fourth-
century adaptation of paganism is to ignore the conclusions that
several Jewish theologians and teachers had reached four cen-
turies earlier, from God's revelations given to Israel before the
time of the coming of Christ. At the very time that the Word was
becoming flesh (John 1:1, 14), Jewish writers were already begin-
ning to see that God's Word could in some way be distinguished
from God the Father Himself, yet have all the fullness of God
contained in Him.
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