Justin Martyr (died 165 AD) addressed the defence of the Christian faith to the Roman emperor and prominent philosophers of his day - particularly in answer to accusations of "atheism" from the Romans because the Christians refused to worship their emperor or gods:
"So we are called atheists. Well, we do indeed proclaim ourselves atheists in respect of those whom you call gods, but not in regard to the Most True God....On the contrary, we reverence and worship Him and the Son who came from Him and taught us these things, and the army of the other good angels who follow him and are made like him. The prophetic Spirit we also worship and adore." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 5. ref. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1)
Justin's statement could be taken out of context and interpreted to say that Jesus was created like the angels who follow him "and are made like him." However, the context demands the opposite, for not only does he assert that Christians worship the Father, the Son, and the Spirit - Trinitarianism - but he also speaks of God as "the True God" (ibid., 13) and "the good and unbegotten God," and continually refers to Him in the singular. He also refutes the notion that lesser angelic creatures, such as demons, should be referred to as gods, saying that "the demons who do such things are not only not rightly called gods, but are in fact evil and unholy demons." (ibid., 5)
Athenagoras (161-180 A.D.) was a Christian apologist of exceptional rhetorical ability and a contemporary of Justin and Tatian the Syrian. His "Intercession on Behalf of the Christians" was written to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus to answer the false charges of cannibalism and incest. He declares:
"I have sufficiently demonstrated that we are not atheists, since we acknowledge one God...We recognise also the Son of God. Let no one think it laughable that God should have a Son. For we do not conceive of either God the Father or the Son as do the poets, who, in their mythmaking, represent the gods as no better than men. The Son of God is the Word of the Father....the Father and the Son being one...[T]he Son...is the First-begotten of the Father, not as having been produced - for from the beginning God had the Word in Himself, God being eternal mind and eternally rational." (Athenagoras, Intercession on Behalf of the Christians, 10. ref. Jurgens)
With one eloquent and succinct statement he proclaims the unity and eternal co-existence of the Son with the Father and soundly refutes any notion that Christians believe the Only Begotten to be a creature with a beginning in time. Does Athenagoras believe, then, that God is some sort of plurality of gods, thereby blending pagan polytheism with Christianity? Not at all, for he says:
"If, moreover, it is claimed that, just as hand, eye, and foot are constituent parts of a single body, so God's unity is made up from two or more gods, this is equally false...But God is uncreated, impassible, and indivisible. He does not, therefore, consist of parts." (ibid., 8. ref. Richardson)
After emphasising the unity and indivisibility of God he proceeds to explain the nature of the Godhead:
"The Son of God is his Word in idea and actuality; for by him and through him all things were made, the Father and Son being one. And since the Son is in the Father and Father in the Son by the unity and power of the Spirit, the Son of God is the mind and Word of the Father...[T]he Son...is the first offspring of the Father. I do not mean that he was created, for since God is eternal mind, he had his Word within Himself from the beginning, being eternally wise....Who, then, would not be astonished to hear those called atheists who admit God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and who teach their unity in power and their distinction in rank?"
Clearly, what Athenagoras believed about the nature of God and Christ differs in no material way from the doctrine of orthodox Christianity throughout the centuries.
Arianism was condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. because the followers of Arius continually asserted that Christ was not of the same substance (homo-ousia) with the Father, but of similar substance (homoi-ousia). To many today it may seem odd that the Church Fathers could have been so upset over the rejection of a single letter of the alphabet; but in reality the absence or the presence of the iota signified the difference between a Saviour who is truly God and one who is only a created being, a creature, and therefore between a Christianity which is able to save the souls of men and one which can not! The most noteworthy Arian-like Christology in modern times is the teaching of JWs and "The Way" - both deny the eternality of the Son of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, and, like Arius, posit the Logos as an intermediate, created being between the Creator and creation. It is because of the importance of the doctrine of God that the last creeds that Palmer finds "great difficulty" with were composed to remove all loop-holes and doubts about what the church recognised that Scripture was saying! Go back to the references about Christadelphian John Thomas' work on their non-Biblical doctrine of "God-manifestation" and note that it says: 'he did not find his problems already worked out, neither were the difficulties he encountered already solved and only waiting to be 're-hashed up.'.....hard study and careful investigation were required before he could, in the lucid way he did, 'open up the Scriptures' to enquirers after the way of life.... We repeat - it is impossible to prove that anyone ever believed exactly what the CDs believe today and therefore they are saying that the gates of Hades did prevail against Christ's church - but Trinitarians can prove their beliefs right back to the Bible.
The church has had to insist repeatedly that Christ is a unique person - that in him true deity and true humanity are joined to form one person and that He is truly God as is God the Father and as truly man as we are! Also, it was not a man per se but manhood, that is, impersonal generic human nature, that Christ took into union with Himself. Since He had two natures, He also had two wills; the human, however, being always in perfect harmony with, and subordinate to, the divine. This was illustrated by His prayer in the garden: "Not my will but thine be done" - and is the reason why He was able to say that He was returning to "My God and your God". We are thus able to distinguish, but not to divide, the two natures of Christ. As a perfect man He would speak of "My God" and recommend God the Father to other men with whom He could fully sympathise since He shared every weakness - yet without sin (Hebrews 4v15; 2v17-18; 2 Cor. 5v21) - but He could also accept worship from men since He was still true deity.
If God decides to reveal something of His nature which was not clear to us before - as the existence of the Son was only hinted at in the Old Testament but fully revealed in the New Testament - we can either listen and re-adjust our thinking, or we can object and attempt to find our own rational solution in order to maintain our former view. The New Testament clearly reveals Christ as God and the Holy Spirit as a Person, yet each being different: The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Holy Spirit is not the Father, etc.
Faced with Scripture that clearly taught that three Persons shared the attributes of the Godhead, and yet there can only be one God (Deut. 6v4; 4v35,39; Matt. 22v37; Mark 12v29-30; Luke 10v27), the Church Fathers responded to the Spirit's leading to develop doctrine that did not compromise the clear teachings of Christ and the apostles. While this may result in theology that appears to be more complex than some of the "simpler" alternatives, such as that of the JWs and CDs, it is the most impervious to attack - which is why it has stood the test of time and Arius et al have only had their views warmed up now and then through history. The orthodox Christian view has survived because it does not deny ANY of the Scriptural statements concerning the Godhead. This can easily be proved by viewing the CD & JWs Witness attempts to 'wrest' the Scriptures that simply do not fit their theology!
The indisputable error fallen into by Arius merely introduced a Pandora's box of difficulties, the most obvious being the Arian heresy that there are two Gods: the Father, and the "lesser god" Jesus, who was created as a god. In the attempt to simplify the New Testament imagery this denies the original concept of One True God, who stands alone, and who said He never did create and never will create a god alongside Himself - that there is not even another like Him and He made everything by Himself! (Isaiah 43v10-11; 44v6,8; 44v24; 45v5,6,12,18,21; 46v9; 51v13). It is obvious from the context of the passages that He would not be co-operating with any sort of god in His creating. What could be clearer than "by Myself" (Isaiah 44v24)? If you try and maintain Arian monotheism, as the JWs have tried, you become polytheists - the very accusation that they levelled at Trinitarians - or else you join the CDs in "God-manifestation" and fail to honour and obey Christ in the clear Scriptural way that He instructed in John 5v19-35.
Whereas Monarchianism and Arianism both tried to clarify the "difficult" New Testament passages and retain monotheism by either: (1) denying the separate identity of the Father and Son (and Spirit), as in the case of modalistic Monarchianism, or (2) denying the true Deity of Christ and the Spirit, making Christ a lesser or "adopted god" as in dynamic Monarchianism and Arianism. Trinitarianism alone retains the separate identity of the Father, Son and Spirit - as do the Scriptures - while maintaining the full Deity of the three as one God.
Those who point a finger at the Trinity as representing a "mysterious" or "pagan" approach to the identity of God are simply ignorant of the whole controversy, and fail to acknowledge the complications resulting from their own faith. The contradictions and problems introduced by the cults' theology make it much harder to believe in than the Trinity - they have just failed to address the contradictions and tried to sweep the obvious deceptions employed over the major "problem texts" (e.g. John 8v58; Coloss. 1v15; 2v9; John 20v28) under the carpet.
Whereas the early church began with a simple saving faith in the Father as God, Christ as Lord and God, and the indwelling Person of the Spirit equated with God (the thief on the cross must have had an even simpler faith and we say he was & is saved for eternity - CDs, JWs and Mormons can only say he is not saved - and add to Scripture!), it is a fact that new heresies always force a further clarification of the truth. But the further clarification will not contradict the old belief. The first theologians choose their points of concentration in reaction to the false teachings of Gnosticism rather than in a fully logical and systematic exposition of the Gospel. Whereas we have discovered the first documentary evidence for the existence of a fairly complete New Testament canon, the Muratorian fragment (dating from ca. 200), what Palmer doesn't tell you is that the canonicity of some books of the New Testament remained controversial until into the fourth century - by which time many substantial doctrinal works had been written to refute the heresies mentioned above. Equally important to note is that if the doctrines of the JWs, CDs, Mormons, et al, were true we would expect to find an equal abundance of written works to support their views - BUT this we do not find. This is most important for it proves that if these cults were correct then Jesus lied, for when Peter responded 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,' He declared that He would 'build his church on this rock - and the gates of Hades would not overpower it'! (Matt. 16:15-18) If the cults are correct then the church foundered on the gates of Hades with the death of the apostles and Christ was wrong! Who do you want to believe?
Ignatius (tried and condemned to death for his faith in Christ in 108AD!) was another who stressed the Person of the Spirit (which JWs and CDs deny), and the triune formula as well, in refutation of heretics:
"For they alienate Christ from the Father, and the law from Christ. They also calumniate His being born of the Virgin; they are ashamed of His cross; they deny His passion; and they do not believe His resurrection. They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power." (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians, Chapter VI)
Irenaeus (born about 120AD), a disciple of Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of the Apostle John, testified in the same manner concerning Jesus Christ:
"For I have shown from the scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in his own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the scriptures would not have testified these things of him, if, like others, He had been a mere man." (Irenaeus Against Heresies, Chap. xix.2)
Irenaeus spoke much of the Son not having been a created or lesser being in "Irenaeus Against Heresies," Book II, Chap. xxviii. 6-8; Book II, Chap. xxx. 9. He also spoke of the Spirit clearly in a Trinitarian manner and established the Personhood of the Spirit in "Irenaeus Against Heresies," Book I, Chap. x. 1,2; Book II, Chap. xix. 9; Book III, Chap. viii.3; xvii.1; Book IV, Chap. xx.12; Book V, Chap. vi.1; xviii.2
Notice that these writings appeared around 180 A.D., long before the Nicene Council, and 80 years before the first significant challenge against the Deity of Christ by Paul of Samosata in 268 A.D. In case any try to argue that the Trinitarian Doctrine was not widely believed in by the early church we have the clear testimony of Irenaeus (in about 150 A.D.) that believers all over the world were united on the fundamental doctrines (Chapter X - Unity of the Faith of the Church throughout the whole world). Thus the church had not gone into the apostasy of the doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1-2) spread by CDs, JWs, and the other cults.
Palmer continued with his attempts to discredit orthodox belief:
"Now your faith may not be built on the same foundation as ours is - I can understand that. And you may say, well, I don't care what historians say - and, even if it's not there in the Bible, I know it to be true for some other reason. We'll say....well, we actually pin our case on what it says in the Bible. And if it's not there we have real problems with making it fit...You can't just ignore it - because it's the touchstone of whether we're Christian or not."
As you have just read, orthodox Christians do care what the historians say and, most importantly, the historians we rely on are those eye-witnesses to the theological debates which occurred - of the ilk of Irenaeus, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Theophillus, Polycarp - men who quoted the Bible so extensively that, even if we lost the Bible today, we would still have their writings in which they quote the whole of the New Testament bar ELEVEN VERSES only! Palmer has called his witnesses - wimps of the order of the neo-orthodox Brunner & the utterly misled Cardinal Newman who jumped from the frying-pan of the Anglican church into the fire of Rome! Even teenage GCSE students are taught in history lessons to go to primary sources and to beware the opinions of secondary sources - particularly when you suspect that someone has an "axe to grind." We can also prove that most of our witnesses died cruelly by torture and at the stake for the faith they believed in - we don't have to invent our martyrs! We will see in a minute if this statement is true: 'we actually pin our case on what it says in the Bible. And if it's not there we have real problems with making it fit.'
Palmer quoted these Scriptures from the overhead projector with the introduction: 'What do we believe the Bible teaches?'
'This is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.' (John 17:3)
'To us there is but one God - the Father ..and we in Him...and one Lord Jesus Christ' (1 Cor. 8:6)
'There is one God and one mediator between God and men - the man Christ Jesus' (1 Tim. 2:5)
'My Father is greater than all' (John 14:28)
'Now the trinity is incomprehensible by definition. Those (pointing to the Scriptures on the overhead) are comprehensible to everyone in the room - even the little children can understand what those verses say. You don't need to be a professor of theology to work those out. Now which would you put your faith in - that which can evidently be seen and understood - or that which required 300 years of sophisticated thinking to develop?'
The Trinity is certainly not 'incomprehensible by definition' - but, as we shall now prove, the CDs refuse to comprehend plain facts before their eyes. Bear in mind that Palmer claims of the quoted Scriptures: 'You don't need to be a professor of theology to work those out.' So, what is the Biblical Teaching?
John 17:3 - First, as we are sure Palmer will agree, no Scripture should be allowed to be quoted and considered alone - if you do this you can prove anything you want to prove! When discussing verses referring to God ask yourself: What does the whole of the Bible say about Jesus? What do we do with the Scriptures that clearly declare Jesus is God? Is Jesus a true God or a false god? If Jesus is a true god who existed from eternity, then CDs & JWs believe in more than one true God (which is polytheism). If Jesus is not the true God, then He must be a false god for the witness of the Bible is that there is only one God (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6-8 etc.). Let us look at Scriptures that reveal the truth about Jesus. Neither CDs or JWs will admit that John 1v1 says that Jesus is God, although in the New World Translation, Jesus is 'a god,' and, in all translations by Greek experts, Jesus is God (the true God some call Jehovah or Yahweh - we will use the latter name throughout). The CDs refuse to admit that it says here that Jesus is the Word who is God, so, let us find out what Scripture says further about 'the Word.'
John 1:1-14 is unequivocal, although the CDs try to dilute the meaning by arguing that the passage does not say "In the beginning was Christ....and Christ was God" and that this passage therefore does not support the deity of Christ. But they are willing to admit that if it did Christendom would have "a simple direct passage to quote." CDs have argued that when the Word was made flesh that was the beginning of the existence of the Lord Jesus Christ, since the phrase "was made" occurs in John 2v9 ("the water that was made wine") this speaks of one thing becoming another. This reasoning does not help them in any way since it admits that one thing already exists and then becomes another. It is still necessary for CDs to prove that Jesus was not eternally existent - and for Christendom to prove that He was! In reply to the claim that we cannot prove that John 1v1 should be understood as "in the beginning was Christ....and Christ was God" we turn to Revelation 19v11-16 and read:
11 And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."
Even CDs admit that these verses speak of the Lord Jesus Christ - and verse 13 testifies that "His name is called The Word of God." Christians will wonder how CDs can miss the clear testimony of Scripture - how could God have made it plainer than in these verses?
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Who became flesh? What was He called? When did He exist from - the same beginning spoken of in Genesis 1v1?! Clearly the spirits that blind the eyes of the CDs cause them to miss the clear connection made by Scripture and proven by such simple syllogism (definition: a form of reasoning in which from two given or assumed propositions/premisses, which have a common or middle term, a third is deduced/concluded):
The Word = God (John 1:1)
Jesus Christ = The Word (Rev. 19:13)
Jesus Christ = God (John 20:28)
Jesus Christ = The Word = God
CDs try to argue in private that the use of personal pronouns ("masculine pronoun for the masculine noun 'Logos'") do not make the Word a person any more than the use of "she"in Proverbs 8. They prefer to look at "the beginning", happily quoting Gen. 1v3; Psa. 33v6,9; 2 Peter 3v5,7, and concluding that "the Logos was the expression of the mind of God" and "in the Lord Jesus Christ the mind of God 'full of grace and truth' was revealed in human nature." Now, bearing in mind the comments Palmer made about the Trinity not being found in the Bible - or even in Strong's concordance! - and our comments about "God-manifestation" not being found in the Bible, go and search your Bibles and concordances and try and find these phrases. It is difficult to even find phrases approximating to these. Interestingly, if you survey the early Church Father's work you find phrases such as 'since God is eternal mind, he had his Word within Himself from the beginning...", in the writings of Athenagoras et al - yet they believed the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity and not the "God-manifestation" of the CDs - despite their use of phrases that Palmer might say are from "Greek philosophy." Despite Palmer's claims they simply do not believe the literal truth in the Bible - but we have just quoted Scriptures and then drawn a conclusion from the overall picture presented of God - this is how all our doctrines, such as the Trinity, were arrived at.