Review of Chapter 1 of Jesus Christ is Not God
by V. P. Wierwille- "The Origin of the Three-in-One God"
Review by John Juedes
Trinitarianism-- A Pagan Creation?
An Examination of Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille's Claim.
JOHN P. JUEDES
Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille, in his book, Jesus Christ is not God, takes a radically unorthodox stance regarding the Trinity. In his view, Jesus is not God, and the Trinity never was a valid Christian teaching. Is he correct?
The purpose of this study is to critique just chapter I of Wierwille's book, entitled "The Origin of the Three-in-One God. " This chapter claims that primitive Christian church history never mentions the Trinity. Its origin was not divine revelation, but pagan influence. The study below presents a summary of Wierwille's argumentation, evaluates his quotations and sources, and addresses his main arguments. The primary source is "The Origin of the Three-in-One God. " The sources Wierwille quotes will be emphasized in this critique, examining them more broadly and thoroughly than Wierwille does. In addition, some prominent historical works will be brought to bear on the issues at hand.
Summary of Wierwille's Augment
In chapter I of Jesus Christ is not God, entitled "The Origin of the Three-in-One God, " Paul Wierwille attempts to use Christian church history to demonstrate that the idea of the Trinity was a pagan doctrine that was developed and promoted by church leaders until the church formally adopted it as Christian doctrine. Trinitarian heresy caught on and became the cornerstone of the Christian faith only by many ungodly turns of events. Wierwille's discourse on the heretical origin of the three-in-one God entails four basic arguments. He first asserts that "the idea of a triune god or a god-in-three persons was a common belief in ancient religions."' He cites the Romans, Babylonians, the Greek triad of Zeus, Athena, and Apollo, and especially the Hindu "trinity" of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Wierwille maintains not only that non-Christian religions, but also ancient cultures accepted a triune god. Without
1. Victor Paul Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Nor God (New Knoxville. Ohio: American Christian.
1975), p. I I
specific supporting evidence, he claims that the cultures of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Icelandans, Siberians, "and others" are themselves evidence of "how deeply rooted in human thinking this notion was. ''2
Secondly, Wierwille alleges that "the trinity was not a part of Christian dogma and formal documents of the first three centuries after Christ. "3 He further asserts that not even individual church leaders spoke of the Son as equal with the Father, without beginning and unchangeable.
Wierwille's third argument takes the next logical step, transferring trinitarianism from paganism to the church. Since, he says, the pagans accepted a trinity, but the early church did not, pagan converts must have gradually incorporated pagan Trinitarian ideology into church teaching. The previous beliefs of the pagans quickly corrupted pure Christian doctrine and practice. As evidence for the recession of true Christianity, Wierwille cites biblical examples of men who fell away from the faith. Individuals such as Hermogenes and Demas, as well as major sects such as the Ebionites and Gnostics infiltrated the church with "idolatrous worship and theories. "4 With this infiltration came loathable insertions of the Trinitarian formula into the writings of the church. Even great early works such as the Gospel of Matthew, the first letter of John, and the Didache contained no references to the Trinity until centuries after they were written. Wierwille declares that later persecutions forced the Christian apologists such as Aristides and Justin Martyr to make heretical compromises to paganism in their dissertations, especially the compromising acceptance of Trinitarian belief.
The final establishment of Trinitarian doctrine, Wierwille says, came through Emperor Constantine, who exchanged political favors for '!a strong voice in Church affairs. "5 His pressure alone at the Council of Nicea forced the bishops to accept the Trinitarian doctrine promoted by the pagan minority in the church. Wierwille sums up his four basic arguments regarding the heretical rise of Trinitarian belief:
Clearly, historians of Church dogma and systematic theologians agree that the idea of a Christian
trinity was not a part of the Oust century Church. The twelve apostles never ascribed to it or
received revelation about it. So how then did a Trinitarian doctrine come about? It gradually
evolved and gained momentum in the late first, second and third centuries as pagans, who had
converted to Christianity, brought to Christianity some of their pagan beliefs and~practices.
Trinitarianism then was confirmed at Nicaea in 325 by Church bishops out of political expediency
2. Ibid., p. 12.
4. Ibid., p. 16.
5. Ibid., p. 22.
6. Ibid., pp. 25, 26.
Documentation for Pagan Origin of Trinitarianism
Where does Wierwille find support for his radical condemnation of Trinitarian doctrine and
massive reinterpretation of church history? His work is not heavily documented; this chapter
averages only slightly over one footnote per page. Many of his notes refer to common-knowledge
information, simple history which does not directly support his unique interpretations. Most
disturbing, however, are the quotations, which he lifts out of their contexts in order to use them in
a way far different than the original author used them. A brief look at his notes follows.
The majority of his footnotes refer to simple history. Note 6 only quotes Acts 21:20, although this
verse does not refer directly to Ebionites, as he would have it. Note 7 refers to Hase7 as a
description of Gnosticism (although it is strange that Wierwille cites 18 pages while Gnosticism is
covered in only a portion of them). Note 9 reflects the corruption of I John 5:7, 8 which is found
in the King lames Version, which The Companion Bibles describes, and which is commonly
known and corrected in contemporary translations. Footnote 10 simply refers the reader to a
larger discussion of baptism found in another of Wierwille's books.9 Note 11 refers to Walker's
discussion of the edict of Milan and its advantages for Christians. Note 12 cites Hase again, this
time to support the statement that Arius was deposed by a synod at Alexandria in A.D. 321."
Footnote 13 refers to Chadwick's popular history of the church, which states the Eusebii's
connections to Arius.'2 Notes 14 and 15 cite Chadwick again on Os[s]ius' mission to Alexandria
and his stance with Alexander against Arius. 13 Note 18 mentions the A. D. 381 council at
Constantinople, and note 19 gives the text of "The Nicene Creed" (which he neglects to label
more accurately as the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed).
In five of Wierwille's 19 footnotes, he misinterprets the content or the intent of the authors he
quotes. The first footnote in the chapter, "The Origin of the Three-in One God," is a good
example of missing the intent of the writer. Wierwille asserts that ancient pagan religions believed
in triune gods, citing Alexander Hislop for proof.'4 This reference and the context of this chapter
and book lead the reader to think that
7. Charles Hase, A History of the Christian Church (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1 886), pp. 53-7 1.
8. The Companion Bible (London: The Lamp Press Ltd.), p. 1876.
9. See V P. Wierwille, "Baptism." The Bible Tells Me So (New Knoxville, Ohio: American Christian Press, 1971).
10. Williston Walker. A History of the Christian Church, rev. ed. (New York Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959), p. 101.
1 1. Hase, A History of the Christian Church. p. I I I .
12. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968). p. 129.
13. Ibid., p. 130
14 Alexander Hislop. The Two Babylons (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1959), p. 16.
Hislop held trinitarianism to be strictly pagan, and in no way scriptural, Judaic Christian.
However, the very paragraph in Hislop which Wierwille uses against Trinitarian doctrine asserts a
firm belief in the Trinity. What Hislop refutes is not the Trinity, but the vain attempts of the
Roman Catholic Church to use a triangle to represent the King eternal. Hislop's following
paragraph minces no words, as it calls the Trinity "the same great truth" and condemns only
representations of it:
. . . all such representations of the Trinity necessarily and utterly dome the conceptions of those,
among whom such images prevail, in regard to that sublime mystery of our faith. 15
Hislop agrees that pagan fowls of the Trinity show that it is deeply rooted in human thinking.
However, he attributes this to the fact that God revealed Himself as Trinity from the beginning.
Paganism did not "create" the Trinity:
While overlaid with idolatry, the recognition of a Trinity was universal in all the ancient nations of
the world, proving how deep mated in the human race was the primeval doctrine on this subject,
which comes out so distinctly in Genesis. '.
He further states that the Trinity was "the original patriarchal faith."'7 To Hislop, God's people
did not adopt pagan doctrine; instead pagan religion continued to teach divine revelation from the
beginning, but shamefully perverted it:
The ancient Babylonians held, the modern Hindoos skill hold, clear and distinct traditions of the
Trinity the Incarnation, the Atonement. Yet, who will venture to say that such nominal
recognition of the cardinal articles of Divine revelation could relieve the character of either the
one system or the other from the brand of the most deadly and God-dishonoring heathenism?''
Perhaps Wierwille's most devastating quotation is drawn from the New Catholic Encyclopedia. 19
The reader is almost stunned to see the Roman Catholics admit that, according to Wierwille,
"trinitarianism became part of Christian doctrine in the fourth, not the first, century."20 It appears
that even Catholics agree that the "Trinity" was "created" three hundred years after Christ!
Wierwille apparently does not understand the point that the Catholic article was making, nor does
he understand the differentiation between the words "doctrine," "dogma" and ''theology. "
Wierwille's misinterpretation of this source will be discussed in detail below.
Wierwille also appears to misrepresent Hase in one section. He infers that Hase holds that the
Christian faith was quickly corrupted by pagan converts.2' But Hase
15. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons (London: A.&C. Black, Ltd., 1932). p. 17.
16. Ibid., p. 18.
18. Ibid., p. 282.
19. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, s.v."Trinity."
20. Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Not God, p 13.
21. Footnote five: Charles Hase, A History fifths Christian Church (New York: D. Appleton and
Co., 1886), pp. 53-71.
does not assert this, and especially does not dub the Trinity a pagan doctrine.
Without any evidence, Wierwille writes off the Didache, a well-known early Christian doctrine, as
an "example of modified doctrine" with "foreign elements."22 Wierwille then quotes chapter 7 of
the Didache, footnoting the section to Harry Rimrner.23 The reader is left with a very low view
of the Didache, as well as the implication that Rimmer also sees the Didache as corrupt and
unreliable. However, just the opposite is the case. Rimmer actually asserts the great reliability of
Among all the sources of sub-apostolic literature, this work is the most valuable . the most
important single document in this field. 24
Rimmer, who seems to be much better acquainted with the Didache than Wierwille, does not see
its chapter 7 as "foreign" to the Christian faith and "modified. " Rather, Rimmer states of the
Trinitarian formula and baptismal instructions:
We have here an authentic insight into the teachings and practices of the Apostles of our Lord
concerning the Christian sacrament of baptism. This historical value of such information cannot be
Wierwille once again mistakes the words of an author in his citation of Bettenson in footnote 16
of "The Origin of the Three-in-One God."26 Wierwille cites this author to support his theory that
the Nicene Creed was "truly the work of a minority," and then directly quotes Bettenson in the
Arius and his followers were forthwith banished to Myria and his works were burned. The
reverberations of this treatment of Arius had a profound effect on the Church, as well as on
Constantine, for several decades. Just as Arius was to have been pardoned by Constantine and
reinstated in the Church, he died.
Although this data is basically true, these words cannot be found in Bettenson.
Although Wierwille's footnotes appear to show formidable support for his peculiar church history,
close examination reveals many difficulties.. Most of the accurate quotations reflect common
knowledge data. Others reflect Wierwille's misunderstanding or misuse of the authors' content or
intent. In fact, of the dozen authors Wierwille cites in his treatise against the historical veracity of
Trinitarian doctrine, only one is as anti-Trinitarian as he is.27 None of the other historians, many
22. Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Not God, p. 17.
23. Harry Rimmer, Crying Stones (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), p. 99.
24. Ibid., pp. 80. 77.
25. Ibid., p. 99.
26. Henry Bettenson ea., Documents of the Christian Church. 2nd ad. (London: Oxford University Press. 1963), p. 58.
27. The anti-Trinitarian is Alvan Lamson.
nized in their field, interpret or present the data as Wierwille does in "The Origin of the
Primary Arguments Discussed
Some of Wierwille's key arguments need to be examined. First there will be a discussion of his
tenet that paganism had trinities which predated and influenced the Christian church. The second
discussion revolves around whether early church leaders viewed Jesus Christ as inferior to God.
The third discussion focuses on the key issue of "doctrinal development" in the Christian church.
This is the crux of the whole issue, as Wierwille takes a different view of doctrinal development
than the church had and continues to hold.
Trinitarianism: A Pagan Creation?
One of Wierwille's underlying assumptions is that if pagan religions held a trinity, then the
doctrine, in any form, is necessarily false. He assumes that if pagans hold a doctrine, it can have
no truth in it. This assumption is fraught with theological and historical difficulties. In the past
century, scholars have found four major early records which preserve accounts similar to the
record of Genesis 1-11. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Summerian King-List, the Semitic
Old-Babylonian Epic of Atrakhasis, and the Summerian Flood Story, all were written between the
twentieth and seventeenth centuries B.C. Yet they all match the outline of Genesis 1-11. Each
includes creation (except Gilgamesh), plus:
1. Divine decision to send a punishing flood; 2. One chosen man told to save self, family and
creatures by building a boat; 3. A great flood destroys the rest of the people, 4. The boat grounds
on a mountain; 5. Birds are sent forth to determine availability of habitable land; 6. The hero
sacrifices to deity; 7. Renewal of mankind upon earth. 28
One hundred years ago it was fashionable for theologians in higher-critical circles to insist that
Genesis plagiarized these other Mesopotamian sources. Since then, it has become evident that
they all independently record what they believed was a genuine event in ancient (to them as well
as to us today) history 29 It may well be also that the shades of trinities in pagan religions were
not pagan creations which the Christian church wrongly adopted. Perhaps, instead, pagan
religions retain ''at least some hint of the truth," as C. S. Lewis put it, 30 which truth (perhaps)
Wierwille neglects to note important distinctions between trinitarianism in Chris
28. K. A. Kitchen, The Bible in Its World (Downers Gmve, 111. Intervarsity, 1977). pp. 28, 29.
29. Cf. ibid., pp. 26-36. for a full description of these and other sources and their relationships to Genesis 1-11.
30. C. S. Lewis, ''Answers to Questions on Christianity," in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1970), p. 54.
trinity and the "trinities" of paganism. J. L. Williams notes these differences:
The Hindus, Greeks, and Romans had a three-god triad, but those did not come close to the
Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Those cultures and religions had a three-god concept, but the
members of their divine triads were not co-equal and co-eternal. Neither did they share the same
nature and essence. They also did not have a perfect unity among them. In fact, the opposite was
These religions may be called tritheistic, or, more accurately, polytheistic, but not Trinitarian.
They did not have one God of three persons, nor even three gods. Rather they had scores of gods
of different strengths in constant conflict.
Noted historian Philip Schaff condemns the opinion that the doctrine of the Trinity originated in
The Socinian and rationalistic opinion, that the church doctrine of the Trinity sprang from
Platonism and Neo-Platonism is therefore radically false. The Indian Trimurti, altogether
pantheistic in spirit, is still further from the Christian Trinity 32
Yet, Schaff recognizes some influence that Greek pagan thought had on Christian doctrine. That
influence, he shows, was clearly not on the origin of Christian teachings, but on their form. This
had to do especially with the words that early church leaders used to express the great truths:
Only thus much is true, that the Hellenistic philosophy operated from without, as a stimulating
force, upon the form of the whole patristic theology, the doctrines of the Logos and the Trinity
among the rest; and that the deeper minds of heathen antiquity showed a presentiment of a
threefold distinction in the divine essence; but only a remote and vague presentiment which, like
all the deeper instincts of the heathen mind, serves to strengthen Christian truth. Far clearer and
more fruitful suggestions presented themselves in the Old Testament. . . .33
Scholars have always recognized Greek influence not on Christian teaching, but on its "mental
cast," its "phraseology and ideas"34 as the New Catholic Encyclopedia puts it. The early church
was at times driven to Greek philosophy (which was written in their native tongue) for technical
terms to make clear the difference between valid Christian teaching and heretical perversions of
Christian teaching.35 This Greek influence had both positive and negative aspects, though the
former has had the more lasting influence.
31. J. L. Williams, Victor Paul Wierwille and The Way International (Chicago: Moody, 1979), p. 78.
32. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church New York: Scribner's, 1924), vol. 2, p. 566.
33. Ibid., pp. 566, 567.
34. New Catholic Encyclopedia. 14:58.
35. Ibid.'p. 59.
Did the Church Consider Jesus Inferior?
Wierwille sums up his most critical argument when he writes that church leaders:
. . . spoke of the Father as supreme, the true and only God, as without beginning, invisible,
unbegotten and as such immutable; and the Son as inferior, and, as a real person, having a
beginning, visible, begotten and mutable.36
Much of Wierwille's above statement is valid--leaders did see the Father as the true and only God,
and the Son as a real person, who was visible. However, they did not all speak of the Son as
inferior, nor did they think it was contradictory to consider Jesus to be simultaneously God and
man. Wierwille considers it impossible for Jesus to be God, because he had the body of a man.
The church felt the tension of saying Jesus was God and man at the same time, but thought Holy
Scripture left no alternative but to accept this scriptural paradox.
Church leaders wrote different things concerning the Son of God. Some held him to be inferior to
God. Some individuals even seem to write contrasting things about him. One can see why some
variance would exist then. None of the early authors ever made the effort to systematize Christian
thinking, and so stressed different aspects of their faith to address different situations. Plus, then,
as today, different Christians had different depths of understanding which reflected the length of
time they were Christian, their teachers, and the availability of all the books of Scripture.
Many of the leaders (contrary to Wierwille's claim) understood ''the Father" to be the Godhead in
general. As such they accepted the Son as fully divine and in no way inferior, except that for a
time he took on humanity in order to live in the flesh among men. Some of the statements of
church leaders which describe our Lord's divinity follow.
1gnatius was an early church father who was a disciple of Polycarp, and possibly of the apostle
John. About A.D. 1 to he wrote to the Romans ''according to the love of Jesus Christ, our God . .
. " (address). To the Ephesians he wrote, ''For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the
womb by Mary . . . '' ( 18:2), and again,
There is one Physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and yet not born, who is God in man,
true life in death, both of Mary and of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our
1gnatius also exhorts the Trallians to ''continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God ''
(7:1).3' Slightly later, about A.D. 125, an anonymous father wrote, ''he sent him [Jesus] as God,
he sent him as Man to men'' (Letter to Diognetus, 7).
36. Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Not God. pp. 12, 13.
37. Many of Ignatius' Epistles have been printed in Syriac (Eastern Aramaic-Middle) as well as
Greek. and much debate has ensued over whether the Greek or Syriac versions are the originals.
The following references in the Syriac version also speak of the deity of Christ: Trallians, 6:
Smyrnaeans. 5: Ephesians, 15.
Justin Martyr, who often to place Jesus below the Father, also speaks of him as God. In his First
Apology (ID. 140) he writes of the Son, "who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even
God" (63). Later, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, he notes that "He preexisted as the Son of
the Creator of all things, being God, and that he was born a man by the virgin" (48) and so is
"deserving to be worshiped, as God and as Christ" (63). Also, in Against Praxeas, he states that
Jesus is "both man and God" (2).
Many other writers also spoke of Jesus' divinity. Tatian the Syrian, in his Address to the Greeks
(ca. A.D. 165-175), claims, "We are not playing the fool, you Greeks, nor do we talk nonsense,
when we report that God was born in the form of a man" (21). Irenaeus asserts the same in
Against Heresies and cites the prophets as his authority (A.D. 18~199):
He is Himself in his own right God and Lord and Eternal King and Only-begotten and Incarnate
Word, proclaimed as such by all the Prophets (3, 19, 1).
Many writers in the following century made similar statements to describe that Jesus Christ is God
as well as man. Unfortunately, there is no room here to include them all in full, though a list of
many of these is cited below.3#
Wierwille argues that church leaders did not speak of the Trinity until late. He further claims that
the Trinitarian formula found in Matthew 28:19 was not in the autograph, nor was it a part of
Matthew until the fourth century:
All extant Manuscripts do contain this verse in Matthew 28, the oldest from the fourth century
during which century trinitarianism was becoming a pelt of formal doctrine and writing It would
not have been difficult for scribes to insert "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the
Holy Ghost," in place of the original "in my name." This must have been what happened because
earlier manuscripts which Eusebius (who died in 340 A.D.) quoted in the early part of the fourth
century could not have used the Trinitarian formula. He cites Matthew 28: 19 eighteen times
without once using them. Rather, he wrote, " . . . baptizing them in my name.''39
This claim of Wierwille is quite inaccurate. First, the 18 quotes in Eusebius never use the word
"baptizing," either, so he is not describing a baptismal formula. Second, Eusebius did use the
Trinitarian words at least four times, a fact about which Wierwille is apparently ignorant.40 It is
very clear that Matthew 28:19 is a genuine part of the
38. Tertullian: The Soul (A.D. 208-212), 4R 3: Against Praxeas (A.D. 2131, 13, 5; Hippolytus of Rome: Refutation of all Heresies (post A. D. 222), 10, 34: Clement of Alexandria: Exhortation to the Creeks (ante A.D. 200). 1, 7. 1; 10, 110, R Origen: The Fundamental Doctrines (A. D. 220-230). I . Preface. 4; 4. I . 6; Cyprian of Carthage: Lener to Juda~anus (a. D. 254 256), 73. 12: Lactanius: The Divine Institutions (A. D. 304-310), 4. 13, I . Note that these authors represent a variety of backgrounds and homelands.
39. Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Not Gad., pp. 19-20.
40. These are found in Eusebius' Contra Marcellum (twice), in De Ecclesiastica Theologia, and
in a letter written to the church at Caesarea.
apostle's Gospel.41 Wierwille's argument is almost entirely from silence. In addition, the
Trinitarian formula of Matthew 28: 19 has been quoted many times by the early fathers, the
references of which we cite below.42 Many Fathers also reveal a strong belief in the Trinity,
dating from the time of the apostles and shortly thereafter. Tertullian and those after him make
efforts to describe in finer detail the three persons and the unity of the Godhead.43
In the early centuries of Christianity, a number of heresies were introduced into the church, but
condemned by it. By looking at what was condemned by the church, we get an idea of what they
believed about the person of Jesus Christ. Docetism was a trend which taught that Jesus did not
suffer, he only appeared to suffer. "If he suffered he was not God; if he was God he did not
suffer."44 The church insisted Christ did really suffer. Yet, it did not refute the belief that,
although he could suffer, he was God as well as man.
The church also rejected Gnosticism, types of which were taught by Satumlius
(C.A.D. 120),Basilides (C.A.D. 130), Cerinthus (late first Century A.D.),and Marcion
(C. A. D. 160). Teachings varied, but Jesus was usually a man empowered by God, or likely a
man in appearance, or a being greater than man but less than God.43
Also condemned was Monarchianism in two forms. The first, Adoptionist or Dynamic
Monarchianism, is very similar to Wierwille's doctrine. Its teachers, such as Theodotus, Artemon,
and Paul of Samosata, "maintained that Jesus is God only in the sense that a power or influence
from the Father rested upon His human person."46 The church rejected this, reinforcing the
long-held teaching that Jesus is more than a divinely begotten, commissioned, and empowered
man. The second form of Monarchianism was Sabellianism. Although the church condemned its
41. For a full discussion of the Eusebian quotation and the text of Matthew 28:19, see Douglas Morton, "Ancient Heresies Modernized," The Journal of Pastoral Practice IV, 1 :78-81.
42. The Didache (Palestine, A.D. 80), 7; Ignatius (of Antioch): Epistle to the Philadelphians (A. D. I 1 O), Syriac 9; Justin Martyr (b. Samaria): First Apology (A. D. 140), 61; Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons): Against Heresies (~ .D. 180-199), bk. m, 17; Tertullian (of Carthage): On Baptism (A.D. 198-200), 13; On Prescription Against Heretics (A.D. 200), 20; Hippolytus: Against Noetus (~.D. 20~230), 14; (anonymous African?): Against the Heretic Novatian (~.D. 254
256), 3; Cyprian (bishop of Carthage): The Seventh Council of Carthage (~.D. 2-58), twice; (anonymous): On Re-Baptism (post A.D. 255?), 7; Gregory Thaumaturgus (bishop of Neocaesarea in Pontus): A Sectional Confession of Faith (~.D. 250 270), 13, (anonymous): Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (sections 3rd century A.D.), bk. n, 26; Vl, 15; vn, 22; 40.
43. For examples see J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper
Row, 1960), pp. 83- 137, and William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1970), passim.
44. Bettenson, op. cit. p. 50.
45. Ibid., pp. 50-53.
46. F. L. Cross, E. A. Livingstone, ea., The O~ford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed.
(New York: Oxford University, 1974), p. 929.
the Father, Son, and Spirit were only modes of the Godhead, it did not condemn any emphasis on
the deity of the Son. Finally, the church also condemned what is perhaps the ultimate slander
against the person of the God-man Jesus Christ--Arianism. Even though many bishops at the
Council of Nicea disliked the critical word "homoousios," they accepted the condemnation of
Arius as valid and 'Homoousios" as the one sound, though extra-scriptural, test which could
discern ecclesiastical heretics.47 Evidently the church was trying to keep a balance. It did not
want to lift humanity from Jesus Christ. However, it did not want to be robbed of the revealed
divinity of Christ, either.
When Did Trinitarianism Become Doctrine ?
Here we take up the third primary argument presented in "The Origin of the Three-in-One God,"
the view of doctrinal development. Wierwille's underlying presumption is that, since there is some
evidence of development of Christian doctrine regarding the Trinity, trinitarianism must have been
created by the church and substituted for the original non-Trinitarian monotheism. Wierwille
quotes a section of the New Catholic Encyclopedia to support his premise. In it, he initially seems
to have caught the Catholics red-handed in an admission that trinitarianism was not an apostolic
teaching, but rather "became part of Christian doctrine in the fourth, not the first, century"48:
It is difficult, in the second half of the 20th century, to offer a clear, objective and straightforward
account of the revelation, doctrinal evolution, and theological elaboration of the mystery of the
Trinity. . . .
There is . . . recognition on the part of historians of dogma and systematic theologians that when
one does speak of an unqualified Trinitarianism, one has moved from the period of Christian
origins to, say, the last quadrant of the 4th century. It was only then that what might be called the
definitive Trinitarian dogma ''one God in three Persons" became thoroughly assimilated into
Christian life and thought.
. . . The dogmatic formula "one God in three Persons" . . . was the product of 3 centuries of
Wierwille misses the author's key, contrasting words. He asserts the authority for trinitarianism is
God by calling it "revelation" in the opening sentence above, which Wierwille apparently
overlooks. The Encyclopedia then contrasts the "theological elaboration " and "dogmatic
formula" which later described and detailed the truth of the Trinity. The idea of the Trinity was
not developed over the centuries, since the triune God always was and always will be. However,
man's understanding and
47. Encyclopedia Britannica (New York: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1969), 3:634.
48. Wierwille Jesus Christ is Not God p. 13.
49. New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill. 1967). p. 295, in Wierwille, Jesus
Christ is Nor God, p. 14.
theological expression or formula took time develop as Christians explored the
Scriptures and learned to express their faith in clear definitions.. Later the same
Encyclopedia article emphasizes that trinitarianism in its "strict," theological sense underwent
development, while faith in the Trinity always existed in the church:
If it is clear on one side that the dogma of the Trinity in the stricter sense of the word was a late
arrival, product of 3 centuries' reflection and debate, it is just as clear on the opposite side that
confession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-- and hence an elemental Trinitarianism--went back
to the period of Christian origins.50
"Elemental Trinitarianism" is skill trinitarianism like that of the fourth century, only the church had
not thought out the implications of the belief and learned to describe it in detail.
Other articles in the New Catholic Encyclopedia detail the difference between the basic belief, or
dogma, in the loose sense, and its theology, or elaboration. The opening paragraph of the article,
"Development of Doctrine,"explains:
. . . the development of dogma is closely connected with the development of
theology (the first is usually elaborated in the second). . ..51
The article on "Theology" reinforces this distinction:
Since then [Aquinas] the term as used by Christians of their doctrine has meant the methodical
elaboration of the truths of divine revelation by reason enlightened by faith. 52
Did the Roman Catholic Church (and Christianity at large) "create" trinitarianism, or plagiarize
from paganism? No! Did the Christian. church require time to put the pieces of revelation
together, understand their relationship, and spell it out in understandable, discerning ways? Yes!
Although trinitarianism was not in elaborate theological formulas in the first century, the New
Testament and the primitive church did believe and teach it. I. N. Kelly describes this beginning
phase of Christianity and the later elaboration:
The ideas implicit in these early catechedical and liturgical formulae, as in the New Testament
writers' use of the same dyadic and triadic patterns, represent a pre-reflective, pre-theological
phase of Christian belief. It was out of the raw material thus provided by the preaching,
worshiping Church that theologians had to construct their more sophisticated accounts of the
Christian doctrine of the Godhead. 53
Gerald O'Collins calls the "elemental trinitarianism'' of the Scriptures, its "trini
50. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 14:300:
51. Ibid., 4:940.
52. Ibid., 14:39.
53. Kelly, op. cit., p. 90.
tarian face" and notes the "Trinitarian shape" of Christian experience.54
The early church for a time was in a quandary over how to handle the totality of scriptural
revelation. lt saw in Scripture the deity of the Son and the Spirit, and yet knew only one God.
What were they to do? Were they to reject the passages that taught the deity of the Son and
Spirit, or were they to try to eliminate their monotheistic heritage? Actually, they did neither;
instead, they rightly synthesized what seemed paradoxical. Schaff explains:
The unity of God was already immovably fixed by the Old Testament as a fundamental article of
revealed religion in opposition to all forms of idolatry. But the New Testament and the Christian
consciousness as firmly demanded faith in the divinity of the Son, who effected redemption, and
of the Holy Spirit, who founded the church and dwells in believers; and these apparently
contradictory interests could be reconciled only in the form of the Trinity, that is, by
distinguishing in the one and indivisible essence of God three hypostases or persons; at the same
time allowing for the insufficiency of all human conceptions and words to describe such as
In the beginning centuries of Christianity, as now, some groups and individuals refused the
synthesis that the church fathers detail in the opening centuries of the Christian era:
From the logical point of view, it could probably be said that the heresies of this time (perhaps of
any time?) have as a common note oversimplification: the selection of a single alternative in
despair of synthesis. Arianism was no exception. 56
The Trinitarian formula, then, was not foreign to Scripture and apostolic teaching. Rather, it
brought together and spelled out beliefs long held in some form:
"One God in three Persons" was simply a restatement, a legitimately condensed and compact
version of the more loosely organized NT teaching. Key texts were cited in support....57
Why were these restatements necessary? If trinitarianism is not a pagan importation, then why did
the NT not enunciate it in detail while later Christianity did? The New Catholic Encyclopedia
outlines the primary impetus:
In the golden age of the Fathers, the elaboration of theology was stimulated mainly by the need to
rectify misconceptions of the faith and to oppose Trinitarian and Christological errors. 58
A section of the Encyclopedia's article, "Dogma," sums up the Christian approach to theological
54. Gerald O'Collins, "The Trinity: 3 x I = 1,'' US. Catholic, Feb. 1981, p. 7.
55. Schaff, op. cit., 2:566.,.
56. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 14:29'.7.
57. Ibid., p. 299.
58. Ibid., p. 50.
. . . in enunciating a new dogma the Church does not add to revelation but simply declares or
defines what has been revealed. The Church's task is to guard the deposit of faith; this involves
expounding it to different ages so that always remains a living thing. The Church does not create a
new thing; it merely states what has been revealed.59
In all, "The Origin of the Three-in-One God" reveals either a measure of ignorance, or
manipulation of the facts of Christian church history, or both. Documentation is lacking on some
important points, and at times the chapter sadly misinterprets the true situation. Often sources are
cited to reinforce Wierwille's points that in reality militate against them. Christian trinitarianism
does not find its origin in pagan triads, but in Christian wrestlings with revelation.60 The early
church then, as the orthodox church today, understood the presence of the humanity of Christ, but
at the same time lauded his divinity. Wierwille apparently lacks understanding of doctrinal
development and of the distinctions between faith and dogma, theology, doctrine and formulae.
These elements exist in the doctrinal history of every religious group, The Way International
One argument in "The Origin of the Three-in-One God" which this paper was not able to take up
is the issue of the purpose, mechanics, and outcome of the Council of Nicea in A. D. 325.
Wierwille asserts that this council was but the tool of Constantine, which he used "to legitimatize
his position" at which he "used his political power" to bring about the verdict, 61 against the true
inclination of the bishops in attendance. But it should be noted that he wrongly claims that the
bishops were from the Occident. This makes the decision appear lopsided. Wierwille's argument
could be refuted in detail. The doctrinal development, the hesitation of many at the word
homoousios (not the doctrinal concept), the political machinations of the Arians after Nicea,
doctrinal understanding after Nicea and the Council of Constantinople (which the deceased
Constantine could not have ramrodded even if he wanted to) are just a few insights into the
validity of the Nicean formula.
Overall, this chapter of Jesus is not God falls far short of being an accurate, reliable treatment of
the actual "Origin of the Three-in-One God," which is His own existence revealed to man in holy
Scripture and made progressively more understandable to the Christian church throughout the
centuries by the Holy Spirit.
Not only does it seem that Wierwille manipulates early church history, but it seems that he also
attempts to manipulate later church history. He claims that not only early
59. Ibid. . 4:948.
60. For a further discussion of this. see Christopher Kaiser. 'The Ontological Trinity in the
Context of Historical Religions.''Scottish Journal of Theology,Vol 29:301-310.
61. Wierwille, Jesus Christ is Not God p. 23.
church leaders were on "his side," but also that later church leaders were with him. As an
example, he cites Luther. To him, Luther was as anti-Trinitarian as he is, but was afraid to assert
it. As evidence of Luther's anti-Trinitarian stance, he cites Storr and Flatt's work:
Storey [sic1 and Flatt's Biblical Theology, 2d edition, page 301, states regarding the words three
persons, etc. . . . "Among the advocates for their expulsion were a number of the first divines of
the age, not excepting Munnis and even Luther himself.--Yet, to prevent the charge of Arianism
or Socinianism, which he (Luther) knew his enemies would eagerly seize the least pretext to
prefer against them, Luther yielded to Melanchthon's wishes, and in the Augsburg Confession, the
doctrine of the trinity is couched in the old Scholastic terms. "
This indicates clearly that Luther and other men of the Reformation period did not put the trinity
into the creed because they believed it to be true, but in order to escape the charge of heresy
which was labeled against Arius and Socinius. I'm surprised by the great man's actions, but that is
Parts of the above are annoying, such as Wierwille's misspelling of Storr's name, and the minor
misquote in the addition of the word "were." But the most disturbing aspect of Wierwille's use of
Storr is his complete misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of Storr's words. A closer look at
Storr's words reveals that Luther did not disagree with the Trinity, but was afraid of the words, or
theological terminology such as the Latin word "person" (persona), which might imply tritheism
instead of trinitarianism. Note this larger quotation from the same part of Storr:
On the words persona, (etc. ). . . . Much has been said, about the time of the Reformation,
concerning the tendency of these terms to lead to tritheism; and among the advocates for their
expulsion from theological disquisition, might be mentioned a number of the first divines of the
age, not excepting Minnius and even Luther himself.--Yet, to prevent the charge of Arianism or
Socinianism, which he knew his enemies would eagerly seize the least pretext to prefer against
them, Luther yielded to Melanchthon's wishes, and in the Augsburg Confession, the doctrine of
the Trinity is couched in the old scholastic terms.
On this subject, the sentiments of the ablest divines of the present day have been thus expressed
by the Rev. Dr. Miller: "We found it in use; and not knowing a better term for the purpose
intended, we have cheerfully adopted and continue to use it still. We by no means understand it,
however, in a gross or carnal sense."63
It is clear that in context Luther and the other theologians believed fully in the Trinity. In fact,
they were so concerned to keep the doctrine sound that they searched for proper terms to express
it that would not lean to tritheism.
62. Victor Paul Wierwille, " Forgers of the Word," Bibliography--Jesus Christ is not God (New Knoxville, Ohio: American Christian Press, n.d., p. 23.
63. G. C. Storr ~ Plan, Biblical Theology. S. S. Schmucker, trans., 2nd ed. (New York: Grimn,
Wilcox &c Co., 1836). p. 301.
Although Luther strived throughout his life for accurate theological expression of revealed truths,
he apparently always thought that the Latin "person" (persona) was the best word available to
express Trinitarian truth. In 1537, over 17 years after the Augsburg Confession was written, and
over 15 years after Luther had been censured as heretical, excommunicated by the pope and
banned by the emperor, he proclaimed his personal faith in the Trinity in Part I of the Smalcald
Articles. Although he had already been condemned as worse or as bad as Arius and Socinius, he
still opted for the Latin "person" (persona, or personae in the plural):
I. (English) That Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three distinct persons in one divine essence and nature are one God, who has created heaven and earth.64
I. (Latin) Pater, Filius et Spiritus Sanctus in una divine essentia et nature, tres distinctee personae,
sunt unus Deus, qui creavit coelum et terrain.
64. Triglot Concordia (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921).
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