Essay: History of the Trinity: Who developed the Trinity doctrine?
The writer is the author of "The Nature of God: A Biblical Review." Copies are available by writing 248 Blue Hills Parkway, Milton, Mass. 02186, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Gary Fakhoury
MILTON, Mass.-One of the great unresolved contradictions of the Protestant movement remains its claim to follow Scripture alone in all matters of faith and doctrine while proclaiming God as triune, or three coequal persons in one being.
The reason this is a contradiction is made clear in the following summary of the history of the Trinity doctrine. The pages of history plainly reveal the facts of the development of the Trinity doctrine, and those facts are not compatible with the idea that the apostles taught or believed God was triune.
Significantly, Roman Catholic leaders and officials recognize the Trinity as not a teaching of the apostles, but an invention and proclamation of their church. Karl Rahner, perhaps Catholicism's most respected 20th-century scholar, remarked that his fellow theologians have been "embarrassed by the simple fact that in reality the Scriptures do not explicitly present a doctrine of the 'imminent' Trinity."
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains why:
"This [the Trinity], the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God's nature which Jesus Christ, the son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which she [the Catholic Church] proposes to man as the foundation of the whole dogmatic system."
That the emphasis here is on the church and not on Scripture is significant; as we know, the Roman Catholic Church claims the authority to originate doctrines by fiat through their belief in the apostolic succession of their popes.
But when the Reformers of the 16th century decided to switch their allegiance from an infallible pope to an infallible Bible, they were caught in a bind. For now they had to justify with Scripture beliefs the ideas that had developed long after the death of the authors of the New Testament.
As we will see in this concise review of the history of the post-apostolic period, the Trinity is one of those ideas.
A brief history
If in fact the apostles believed God is triune, we should expect to see two things: first and most obviously we would expect to see that belief expressed in the pages of the New Testament. Protestant Trinitarians claim we do, in fact, see such an expression in Matthew 28:19. We'll examine this verse later.
Second, we should expect to see the Trinity spoken of or taught in some form by the apostles' disciples. Those charged by the apostles to lead Christians after their death were expected to preserve the teachings of the apostles and pass them uncontaminated to future generations of Christian converts.
The apostles' preoccupation with doctrinal purity in their later writings is striking. They explicitly and repeatedly instructed their younger members and assistants to preserve the faith once delivered and remove from their fellowships, or otherwise avoid, those who brought in damnable heresies (Acts 20:29-30; 2 Timothy 3:13-4:5; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:18-23; 4:1-3; 2 John 7-11; Jude).
So, if the belief in a triune God was one of the doctrines to be preserved, we should see a reflection of that in the writings of the next generation of leaders whose job it was to carry out this duty.
If the Trinity was not one of the doctrines to be preserved, we would expect to see the triune nature of God not taught or spoken of by the apostles' successors. And that is precisely what we see.
The Apostolic Fathers
"Apostolic Fathers" is the name given by theologians to the men purported to be pupils of the apostles. They included Barnabas (not the Barnabas of Acts), Clement of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, Papias, Polycarp and the author of the epistle to Diogenetus.
It is Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp, however, who are the undisputed students of the apostles. Their careers span roughly the end of the first and first half of the second centuries.
The writings of this period are fragmentary with respect to the nature of God. They do not reflect an effort to systematize-or even analyze, it seems-Christians' beliefs about the nature of God. Nevertheless there are scattered references from these men that bear on the subject.
The most important feature to note in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers is that all the direct references to the Godhead are dyadic, or two-centered, in nature. Such references are found in Barnabas1 and especially Ignatius, who wrote, "There is one God, Who has revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is His Word emerging from silence."2 Ignatius consistently expressed the Godhead in dyadic terms (the Father and Son).3
This not to say that there is no mention of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together in their writings. For instance, Clement of Rome asks: "Have we not [all] one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us?4 And the Didache5 specifies baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (The authorship of the Didache is uncertain).
But nowhere in the writings we have from this period is God spoken of as triune. Nowhere are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit spoken of as one being. And, of course, nowhere does the term Trinity appear.
When speaking of the Godhead specifically, the writings of these men always mimic the dyadic, or two-centered, expressions of their theological forebears, the apostles, as found in passages like Romans 1:1; 15:6; 1 Corinthians 3:23; 8:6; 11:3; 15:24-28; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2, 17; 3:14; 5:20; 6:23; Philippians 1:24:20-21; Colossians 2:2; 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 1 Timothy 1:2; 6:13; Titus 1:4; Philemon 3; 2 Peter 1:1-2; and 2 John 3.
About this point there is no dispute among church historians. As a last resort some have suggested that the Apostolic Fathers did understand God as triune, but we just don't have a record of it.
If this is true, then certainly we should at last find a clear expression of Trinitarianism in the next generation of leaders. Once again, we do not.
The next generation of writers whose works have passed down to us have been called the Apologists. They were the first to feel the need to justify the teachings of the Christian faith to philosophical schools steeped in contemporary currents of Greek thought.
Their aim was to prove to the Greek intelligentsia that Christianity was true philosophy; in fact, that it was that thing to which all true philosophy pointed. Accomplishing this required, however, that they demonstrate the rationality of their beliefs at every turn and explain with precision their theological claims.
Thus the Apologists were the first theologians to attempt to engineer a rational construct of the relationship between Jesus and the Father. Their careers span roughly the second half of the second century.
Since the Apologists' principal preoccupation was with the preexistent relationship of the Father and Son, they referred often to the Logos of John, often suggesting it as an expression of the Son being the Father's thought or mind.
This is especially seen in Justin Martyr,6 his disciple Tatian7 and Theophilus of Antioch.8 But there is no clear doctrine in any of their writings of the precise nature of the Godhead, nor is there even a widely accepted understanding of the relationships between the Father and Son.
On the contrary, in these writings there is freewheeling speculation about the eternal Godhead; for instance, the assertion is made in this period that the Logos did not have personality until His generation.
Similarly, the material about the Spirit from this period is all over the map. Athenagoras equated it with the Wisdom of the Old Testament,9 Justin suggests the Spirit and the Logos were really one and the same,10 and Tatian doubted the existence of the Spirit at all.11
There is, incidentally, no suggestion in any of the writings from this period that the Spirit is a ground of consciousness distinct from the Father and Son.
As with the previous generation of leaders, there is no mention in the writings of the Apologists of a triune God. In fact, there is no effort to systematize their beliefs about the composition of the Godhead at all. Once again, this is not a subject of debate among historians.
But in this period we do see critical first steps made in the development of Trinitarian expression. The first was made by a man named Athenagoras, who introduced the term triad, referring to three "types": God, His Word and His Wisdom.12
He later speaks of Christians as men who "acknowledge God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit and declare both their power in union and their distinction in order."13
Theophilus of Antioch, speaking of the creation week, wrote, "In like manner the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the trinity, of God, and His Word and His wisdom."14
There is no question that here we are seeing, if not Trinitarian doctrine proper, certainly primitive Trinitarian terminology.
But we should note that neither Athenagoras nor Theophilus in any way suggests that God is triune: three persons in one being. They were simply attaching terms, namely triad and trinity, to the three known entities of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
As we will see, it was left to later generations of thinkers to develop the notion of triunity as it has come down to us today through the Trinity doctrine.
Irenaeus is generally recognized as the first true theologian of the post-apostolic era. His greatest work is considered Against Heresies, written sometime between A.D. 180 and 200.
Irenaeus was a contemporary of the Apologists, but, unlike them, he had little interest in demonstrating Christianity's compatibility with Greek philosophy. He was a bishop, and his interest was in preserving and defending the faith. Thus his writings on the nature of God were developed largely as a reaction to gnosticism, the principal doctrinal threat of the period.
But he does offer two statements that touch upon our subject: "[We] should know that He which made, and formed and nourishes us by means of the creation, establishing all things by His Word, and binding them together by His Wisdom-this is He who is only true God."15
Theologians came later to term such practical expressions of the distinct work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as "economic Trinitarianism." That is to say, although there is no expression here of triunity of being, there is an expression of unity of action; that is, the three have different tasks but work together to accomplish them.
The third century
The third century saw great growth in theological speculation as theologians for the first time made a concerted effort to harmonize Hebrew monotheism with belief in the divinity of both the Father and Son.
Thus, much of this thinking centered upon the person and nature of the Word-Son-Christ, and the theological category of Christology was born. The explosion of Christological ideas in this century revolved, not around the composition and organization of the Godhead per se, but in reconciling the divine and human natures of Jesus of Nazareth.
The work of Tertullian and Origen, however, is relevant to our subject and should be mentioned.
It was Tertullian who gained recognition for his use of the term Trinity (from the Latin trinitas) and for Trinitarianism proper. It was Tertullian who first strongly related the Spirit to the Godhead, and his formula "one substance, three persons" served as a template upon which the final work would be patterned in the next century.
The reason more work needed to be done is that his Latin persona did not have the same meaning that person came to mean. The sense of persona was that of a mask that ancient actors wore to play a stage role. Neither the Greek nor Latin word carried with it the same sense of independent self-consciousness that we associate with the term person.16
That, and the issue of the coequality of the Spirit, critical to the final formulation of the Trinity, were left for others to sort out.
But Tertullian's breakthrough was that, unlike thinkers before him, he did not vacillate between dyadism and triadism. He was resolutely triadic and more very nearly Trinitarian in the fourth-century sense.
This is clear when he refers to "the mystery of the economy, which distributes the unity into Trinity, setting forth the Father, Son and Spirit as three."17 He accomplishes this by insisting that the Spirit is itself a persona, as the "deputy" of the Son.18
Tertullian's writings by no means ended the discussion. For instance, his suggestion that the Holy Spirit is a deputy of the Son would someday be scrapped in favor of the idea that the Holy Spirit is entirely coequal with the Father and Son. For this reason, Tertullian's writings on the nature of God would be considered heresy among the orthodox today.
But there is no question that Tertullian pushed the discussion of the nature of the Godhead irrevocably forward to the next century, when his ideas would be adapted to form the Trinitarian creeds.
Origen, as perhaps the premier theologian of this period, also contributed to the development of the Trinity. His chief contribution was in his suggestion of hypostasis, with the meaning of individual subsistence, over against the prevailing view to that time, modalism, which tended to treat the Father and Son as only modes of activity within a single being.19
Origen is more dyadic in his concerns than Tertullian; his primary focus is the relationship between the Father and Son. But he insists that the Spirit is "the most honorable of all the things brought into existence by the Word, the chief in rank of all the beings originated by the Father through Christ."20
Notice here that, like Tertullian, Origen did not consider the Spirit coequal with the Father or, for that matter, the Son, for Origen considers the Son to be derivative of the Father, as "secondary God."21 Nevertheless, Origen's contribution of hypostasis was critical for the Trinity's development into the fourth century.
The fourth century and the
road to Nicea
By this time a massive theological dispute had emerged, and Pope Dionysius wanted it resolved. The two major streams of thought among theologians to this point were Monarchianism, with its monotheistic emphasis, over against reverence for what had by then become known as the "divine trias," Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which obviously involved some sense of plurality.
To avert an ecclesiastical split, Pope Dionysius ordered nothing less than that the conflict among theologians be resolved, but that both streams of thought be preserved. This was an extraordinary task, but it provided the theological direction and momentum necessary to finally arrive at the creedal formulations of Nicea and Constantinople.
As it happened, that effort would be distorted somewhat by a related but somewhat different theological and ecclesiastical emergency, the Christological controversy precipitated by Arius.
Arius's exegesis of Proverbs 8:22-31, together with the strongly monotheistic Deuteronomy 6:4, led him and his followers to the conviction that it was impossible that the Son was eternal. Therefore, they reasoned, He must have been brought into being from some noneternal substance at some point from the single, original God (Father). In other words, the Word was a creation of the Father, not coeternal with the Father.
Arius's ideas were so persuasive, and so divisive, that the emperor of the Roman Empire himself felt forced at last to intervene.
The Council of Nice a
To stave off a political crisis, Emperor Constantine, a newly minted Christian convert, called for a council of bishops at Nicea in 325. About 300 bishops attended, and they were ordered to settle once and for all the theological disputes plaguing the (by now) Catholic Church; indeed, the entire empire.
After much discussion and not a little politicking, a formal creed was developed, drafted as an outright repudiation of Arianism:
"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 became man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost."
By proclaiming Jesus Christ as one substance, or homoousios, with the Father, this creed proclaimed that the Son is not of any derivation but the Father, an open repudiation of Arianism.
Somewhat contrary to historic WCG teaching, the creed drafted at Nicea does not quite explicate the triunity of the Godhead; its purpose was to proclaim the full divinity of the Son in reaction to Arianism.
Trinitarianism as it has come to be understood is not expressed here because there is no resolution yet of the personhood of the Holy Spirit, as is plainly evident in the briefest possible comment made in the creed about the Spirit.
So here we see a benchmark on the road to the Trinity, but not yet full Trinitarianism. That will have to wait for the development of ideas about the nature of the Holy Spirit by the "three Cappadocians" and the subsequent council of Constantinople.
The road to Constantinopl e
Arianism did not die easily, in spite of the Nicean council's proclamation. In the following decades, in fact, Arianism was widely taught, and one of the few public figures to make a strenuous attempt to head it off was Athanasius.
Athanasius championed the creed of Nicea as a bulwark against Arian heresy and encouraged theologians to further develop its conclusions. These included the "three Cappadocians": Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa. Their work revolved primarily around the nature of the Holy Spirit.
Ideas promulgated about the nature of the Holy Spirit in this time were legion. The Spirit was, depending upon whom you spoke to, either a nonentity, the Logos, an impersonal power brought forth by the Logos after His ascension, a created divine being, an angel, a second derivation of the Father, the "Wisdom" of the Old Testament, or a full-fledged person of the Godhead.22
The three Cappadocians well understood the problem they faced vis a vis Scripture, for it was not explicit about the Spirit's "nature." As Gregory of Nazianzus explained, Scripture did not "very clearly or very often call Him God in so many words, as it does first the Father and later on the Son."23
So most of their work would entail reasoning from what is in Scripture to arrive at some kind of extrapolated conclusion. For instance, they noted the divine titles, qualities and operations given to the Spirit; especially "Holy," which Gregory of Nazianzus took to imply the "fulfillment of his nature," concluding therefore that the Holy Spirit must be sanctifying by nature, not sanctified by some primary source.
Thus the Spirit, Basil argued, was not to be thought of as holy only by association, but by nature.24 After all, he asked himself, if it was the Spirit who regenerated and sanctified, how could He be anything less than divine?25
Furthermore, Basil argued, "spirit" itself necessarily meant unchangeable and eternal.26
This, combined with the inclusion of the name of the Holy Spirit in the tripartite baptismal formula that had by then become standard practice, led Basil to conclude that rejecting the deity of the Holy Spirit was tantamount to setting aside the very essence of salvation itself.27
These reasonings formed the basis of the creed adopted at the Council of Constantinople in 381, which finally proclaimed the Holy Spirit as a person coequal and coessential to the Father and Son.
Thus the formal doctrine of the Trinity was complete: "one ousia, three hypostases," or, roughly, "one substance, three distinct grounds of being." From this is derived the simplest and most popular Trinitarian formula, "one God in three persons."
(For a more detailed review of the debates surrounding the theological terms ousia, hypostasis, persona and homoousios, see C.R. Lacey's Logos and the Trinity, available from A Church of God Ministry, Box 20457, Albuquerque, N.M. 87111.)
The pages of history reveal a remarkably clear, step-by-step evolution in thought from dyadic expressions regarding the Godhead (expression of the existence of a divine Father and Son) early in the post-apostolic period to triunity (an expression of three coequal persons unified in a divine being) some three centuries later.
The record of history shows the earliest triune expression appears not until the third century, from the pen of Tertullian. Triunity in its final understanding was not accomplished until the late fourth century at Constantinople.
References to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit abound in various places before Tertullian, as we saw, but none of them claims that the three are one essential God being, which is the fundamental claim of Trinitarianism.
In all, the record of history is clear. Trinitarianism was devised by theologians at the behest of officials of the Roman Catholic Church. Its fundaments date back only as far as the third century, and there is no evidence anyone believed it or taught it before this period.
Therefore, those who teach the Trinity as fact do so not on the authority of Jesus, His apostles or even their successors, for they did not teach this doctrine. Indeed, they could not have taught this doctrine, or else all the theological development we saw in succeeding centuries would not have been necessary.
The only authority Trinitarians can fairly appeal to is officials of the Roman Catholic Church, for it is they who persuaded theologians of the fourth century to develop this doctrine, and it is they who declared it orthodox belief, which it has remained in Christendom ever since.
What about Matthew 28:19 ?
Since 1 John 5:7 is universally recognized as spurious, the only New Testament proof text Trinitarians can employ is Matthew 28:19. To begin, it might be helpful to review what was said about this passage relative to the above historical facts from "The Nature of God: A Biblical Review," written by this writer and published last year in In Transition:
"For the sake of argument, let's say this instruction from Jesus really was understood by the apostles who heard it as an expression of triunity of the Godhead (whether at the time or after the coming of the 'Spirit of truth').
"In our review of the historic development of the Trinity, we saw that there are no triune statements in the writings of the apostles' disciples [Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement, etc.] or even the generation following. It was not until the third century that any such notion appears and not until the late fourth century that the church adopted this view, and this only after the ground-breaking work of the three Cappadocians.
"Those who developed these ideas never once claimed they were rediscovering a lost doctrine of the apostles; to the contrary, Tertullian [along with Origen] and others were seen by contemporaries as brilliant innovators, and it was their reputation as such that put them on the historical map.
"So, if Matthew 28:19 were understood by the apostles to be an expression of triunity, we would have to imagine that, in spite of this clear command from the Master to teach all nations in the context of this doctrine, they refused to do so, wrote nothing to expound on it, penned little else to support it, wrote many other things that seem to contradict it and kept that truth from the men to whom they were supposed to pass on the faith!
"To accomplish this would require a bona-fide conspiracy (not to mention a spirit of rebellion), and for what possible reason? We have in the pages of history a paper trail that reveals the Trinity doctrine's development and formulation not until centuries after the death of the apostles.
"Clearly, Trinitarians are imagining an anachronism in doctrinal history here. Their refusal to examine this verse in its historical context is an exercise in superficial proof-texting."
Baptized in Jesus' nam e
What wasn't discussed in that paper, and should be discussed here, is that not only did the apostles not understand Jesus to be referring to God as a Trinity, they didn't even baptize disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as this verse specifies. Rather, they baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus alone (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16).
For this reason scholars have been forced to question the textual authenticity of the tripartite baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19.
The International Biblical Commentary , explains: "This is the only occurrence of the formula from the first century . . . Elsewhere baptism is said to be 'in the name of Jesus' (Acts 8:16, 19:5, p. 268)."
The Jerusalem Bible, a respected Catholic work, suggests: "It may be that this formula, so far as the fullness of its expression is concerned, is a reflection of the liturgical usage established later. It will be remembered that Acts speaks of baptizing 'in the name of Jesus.' "
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia , under "Baptism," (Vol. 4, pp. 26-37) says, "Matthew 28:19 in particular only canonizes a later ecclesiastical situation, that its universalism is contrary to the facts of early Christian history, and its Trinitarian formula is foreign to the mouth of Jesus."
Likewise the New Revised Standard Version notes about this verse: "Modern critics claim this formula is falsely ascribed to Jesus and that it represents later church tradition, for nowhere in the book of Acts is baptism performed with the name of the Trinity . . ."
Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion (Vol. 2, pp. 377-389) asserts about the change in formula: "The Christian baptism was administered using the name of Jesus. The Trinitarian formula of any sort was not suggested in the early Church history. Baptism was always in the name of the Master Jesus, until the time of Justin Martyr, when the Trinity formula was used."
Donald Guthrie candidly discusses what must, for historical reasons, be considered a dubious textual pedigree of this verse: "The dispute over the authenticity of the triune formula revolves around the comparison with the simpler formula used in Acts (cf. 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5). The question arises whether the triune formula requires a late date." A footnote concludes "against the words being the ipissima verba exact words of Jesus, mainly on the grounds of historical probability" (New Testament Theology, p. 719).
The Expositors' Bible Commentary admits that only one baptismal formula was ever used, a single-name prescription: "Many deny the authenticity of this Trinitarian formula, however, not on the basis of doubtful reconstructions of the development of doctrine, but on the basis of the fact that the only evidence we have of actual Christian baptism indicates a consistent monadic formula-baptism in Jesus's name . . ." (Vol. 8, p. 598).
The Interpreter's Bible agrees: "Probably this baptismal formula was simpler in the very first days of the church 'in the name of the Master Jesus.' The formula of verse 19 was probably a later development" (Vol. 7, p. 624).
The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge concludes: "Jesus, however, cannot have given His disciples this Trinitarian order of baptism after His resurrection; for the New Testament knows only baptism in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 19:5; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 1: 13-15), which still occurs even in the second and third centuries, while the Trinitarian formula occurs only in Matt. 28:19, and then only again in Didache 7:1 and Justin [Martyr], Apology 1:61. [Note: These works date from approximately the middle of the second century.] Finally, the distinctly liturgical character of the formula . . . is strange; it was not the way of Jesus to make such formulas . . . The formal authenticity of Matt. 28:19 must be disputed . . . (p. 435)."
As we said, the only verse in English Bibles that explicitly teaches that God is a Trinity, 1 John 5:7, is universally regarded by textual scholars as a fraudulent addition to the text, possibly from as late as the eighth century.
Although it is true that there is no similar evidence that Matthew 28:19 was added at such a late date (the verse appears in all major texts), it is not impossible that it too was added by an editor of Matthew's Gospel early enough to be included in the earliest texts we now have, dating back from approximately the third century.
Some might be wondering, if Matthew 28:19 is spurious, does this mean Jesus gave no final commission to the apostles to preach the gospel? No, because it is entirely possible that only the tripartite formula was added to the text.
One of the primary points of evidence textual scholars examine to determine the authenticity and accuracy of New Testament texts is early quotations by Christian writers.
When an early writer quotes a verse in a substantially different form from what has been passed down to us, there is, naturally, reason to believe that earliest texts did not read as the later ones do. That is what we see in the case of Matthew 28:19.
For instance, in his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius quotes the passage this way: "Go and make all nations disciples in my name, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
And Shem Tob's Hebrew Gospel of Matthew renders it: "Go and teach them to carry out all the things which I have commanded you forever."
We can't know, of course, which-if either-of these quotations of Matthew might be correct. But it is clear that these early writers, who were each quoting from some early copy of Matthew's Gospel, were as ignorant of the tripartite baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 as the apostles apparently were.
Beyond baptis m
Returning to the apostles, it is clear that the problems attendant to the tripartite baptismal formula do not end with their custom of baptism. The tripartite formula is incompatible with the apostles' theology of baptism as well. For they are clear that baptism is a symbolic act of dying with Jesus Christ only.
Paul writes: "Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).
Our symbolic burial can be only with Jesus because Jesus is the only divine one who ever died to pay the penalty for our sins. This is why Peter insists that Jesus is the only name under heaven by which men can receive salvation: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
Perhaps now we can better understand Paul's proclamation that there is only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5).
In light of all these facts of doctrinal history, apostolic baptismal practice and New Testament theology, we should be hesitant to accept the tripartite formula of Matthew 28:19 for theology or even for baptismal use.
1.Epistle of Barnabas 6.14; 12.2; 19.7.
2.Epistle to the Magnesians 8.2.
3.Ephesians 21.12; Trallians 13.2; Romans 8.2.
4.First Epistle to the Corinthians 46.6.
6.First Apology 5.4; 46.3; 59; 63.10; 64.5; Second Apology 6.3; 10.1-2.
7.Oration to the Greeks 7.1-2.
8.To Autolychus 2.10.
9.To Autolycus 1.7; 2.18.
10.First Apology 33.4f.; 33.9; 36.1.
11.Oration to the Greeks 13.3.
12.To Autolychus 2.15.
13.A Plea for the Christians 10.3.
14.Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Theophilus to Autolycus."
15.Against Heresies 3.24.2.
16.Millard J. Erickson, God In Three Persons, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1995, pp. 6-7.
17.Against Praxeus 2.
18.Prescription of Heretics 13
19.Erickson, p. 71.
20.Commentary on John 2.10.75.
21.Against Celcus 5.39.
22.Erickson, p. 87-88.
24.Cyril of Alexandria, Dialogues on the Trinity 7.
26.Holy Spirit 9.22.
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