Category Archives: Creeds

Were the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ invented in the 4th and 5th Centuries?

Post Author: Darrell

(This post originally appeared on Darrell’s Thoughts and Reflections and is being reposted here for the benefit of TQA readers.)

One of the charges I often hear leveled against Christianity today is that both the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ were “invented” by the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, during the Ecumenical Councils.  Proponents of these charges claim that the Church prior to the Ecumenical Councils believed neither in the Trinity, nor in the Dual Nature of Christ.  I freely admit that the language by which the Church codified these doctrines was fortified in the Ecumenical Councils.  However, I believe those who charge that the Church invented the doctrines themselves in the Councils and that the Church prior to the Councils did not hold to them are gravely mistaken.

One of the earliest Church Fathers to articulate a basic understanding of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ is Saint Ignatius.  Saint Ignatius was the third Bishop of Antioch, serving from 70 AD to 107 AD.  He was a disciple of the Apostle John, and Church Tradition teaches that he was the child Christ held in His arms when He said, in Matthew 18:3, “. . . unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Shortly after the turn of the second century, Saint Ignatius wrote several Epistles while in captivity on the road traveling to his martyrdom.  Seven of these epistles have survived to our day.  In the seventh chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians, he says:

But our Physician is the only true God, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.  We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.”  Being incorporeal, He was in a body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.

There are several aspects of this passage which demonstrate that Saint Ignatius held beliefs consistent with the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ.  First, he refers to two separate Persons, God the Father and Jesus Christ, yet he calls both of them God.  This is completely consistent with Nicene Theology, which teaches that both the Father and the Son are God by nature/essence.  The Nicene Creed calls Christ “true God of true God”, saying He is “of one essence with the Father” as God.  Had Ignatius been an Arian or had he held to a non-Trinitarian Doctrine that teaches Christ to be something less than or other than God, He would not have referred to Him as God.

Second, Ignatius refers to Jesus Christ as begotten “before time began”.  This is almost word for word identical to the Nicene Creed, which says, “I believe in. . . one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. . .”  Some today claim that the Early Church believed Christ’s being ”begotten” of the Father was in relation to His birth from Mary (specifically, this is an LDS claim).  However, Ignatius’ comment here demonstrates that the Early Church’s understanding of Christ’s nature as “only-begotten” was a relationship with the Father that was “before time began” and has nothing to do with His earthly incarnation.  It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “only-begotten” both here and in the New Testament is ”monogenes”.  Monogenes literally means “one of a kind,” and to the Church Fathers it connoted Christ being of the same nature as the Father. . . something that was entirely unique to Him.

In addition to calling Christ God and claiming Him to be the “only-begotten” of the Father “before time began”, Ignatius tells us that “afterwards” Christ “became man”.  Ignatius then goes on to point out some aspects that Christ’s becoming man added to His nature.  He says that although Christ was incorporeal, He was in a body; although He was impassible, He was in a passible body; although He was immortal, He was in a mortal body;  although He was life, He became subject to corruption.  These differing aspects of Christ’s nature, aspects that are polar opposites to one another, speak to Christ having two natures, one as God and one as man, and demonstrate that Saint Ignatius understood Christ in this manner.  As God, Christ was incorporeal, impassible, immortal, and life itself.   However, as man He was corporeal, passible, mortal, and subject to corruption.

Last, Ignatius explains that Christ took on our nature in order to free our souls from death and corruption, heal us, and restore us to health.  This speaks to the true reason for the Doctrines of the Trinity and Dual Nature of Christ.  Rather than being doctrines for doctrine’s sake, created as purely intellectual pieces of information to be discussed by dry theologians over coffee and tea, they are doctrines directly tied to our understanding of how Christ redeemed us.  He was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, true God of true God.  Yet He chose to take upon Himself our nature, becoming man for our sakes, so that He could unite our nature to the Divine Nature in His Person, giving us a rebirth in Him.  Had He not been God and had He not taken on our nature, He would have been unable to redeem us.  The Church understood this from the earliest times, and as the writings of Saint Ignatius show us, it is not an understanding created in the fourth and fifth centuries.  It is Apostolic Doctrine that has been handed down to us and is a product of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church.

Why Do Christians Use Creeds?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

All Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and many Protestant churches, recite ancient creeds during masses or services, but why? Why not just stick to the Bible?

Ancient creeds were developed by the early Christian church to summarize the central beliefs of Christianity. These were understood to be the beliefs that separated Christians from all other religions or worldviews.

It is important to remember that the Bible, as it currently exists, was not available to most Christians during the first 1500 years after Christ’s death and resurrection. Therefore, these creeds were incredibly important to encapsulate the core teachings of the faith.

Today, most Christians do have access to Bibles, and so what use are creeds? Thomas Aquinas lived in the period before Bibles became truly widespread, but he certainly had access to the Scriptures in the thirteenth century. His take on the role of creeds is quite helpful. Norm Geisler summarizes Aquinas’s views in his book Thomas Aquinas:

For Aquinas, the truth of faith is contained in Scripture. A creed “is not added to Scripture, but drawn from Scripture.” It is a later symbol of God’s revelation; “a later symbol does not abolish an earlier one, but elaborates on it.”

Not only is Scripture sufficient apart from the creeds, but it is also perspicuous. “The truth of faith is sufficiently plain in the teaching of Christ and the Apostles.” It is only because “wicked men have wrested apostolic teaching and the other Scriptures to their own destruction, [that] declaration of the faith against those impugning it is needed from time to time.”

The need for a creed arises out of the fact that “the truth of faith is contained in sacred Scripture, but diffusely, in divers ways and, sometimes, darklv.” Hence, “the result is that to draw out that truth of faith from Scripture requires a prolonged study and a practice not within the capacities of all those who need to know the truth of faith. . . . That is why there was a need to draw succinctly together out of the Scriptural teaching some clear statement to be set before all for their belief.”

For Aquinas, creeds summarize what is already contained in Scripture. Creeds make it simpler for Christians to know the “truths of faith.”

This simplification, though, has qualifications around it. Geisler explains in his book, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, that the person who wants to promote creeds ahead of Scripture is making a mistake.

On the surface, creeds and commentaries may seem more clear than the Bible, but this is misleading for several reasons. First, they are only summaries of what the Bible teaches, and good summaries are often clearer than the whole text. Second, when the Bible summarizes a truth it is as clear, if not clearer, than any statement someone can make about the Bible (cf. Matt. 7:12; 1 John 5:12). Third, the comparison is false, since the Bible does not systematize most doctrines, as do human creeds and theologies. Hence, they cannot be clearer systematic statements than the non-systematic ones in the Bible for the simple reason that no fair comparison can be made between systematic and non-systematic statements. Finally, unless the Bible were clear enough to begin with, no one would be able to summarize or systematize it.

Put simply, a summary is built on the foundation of what it summarizes. As Geisler says, “unless the Bible were clear enough to begin with, no one would be able to summarize or systematize it.” While creeds are helpful in enumerating the central truths of the faith, they should never replace the careful study of Scripture itself.

Do the Creeds Matter? Part 2

Post Author:  Darrell

In my last post, I conducted a poll as to whether or not the Nicene Creed is relevant and authoritative in Christianity today.  Thus far, the results are as follows:  48% believe it to be both relevant and authoritative, 21% believe it to be relevant, but not authoritative, and a relatively small number (17%) believe it to be completely irrelevant.  Given the tone of my post, you will find it no surprise that I fall in line with the majority opinion, holding the Nicene Creed to be both relevant and authoritative.

Those who oppose the idea of the creeds being relevant and authoritative often appeal to the doctrine of sola scriptura, i.e., the doctrine that scripture alone is authoritative.  The general claim is that the Bible is the only authoritative source on Christian doctrine and life, and, as a result, the creeds can’t possibly carry any authority.  This position grew out of the classic and radical reformers reaction to papal abuses, and quite honestly, I can understand the sentiment behind it.

However, those who hold this position often fail to realize that while our beliefs may be rooted in scripture, it is often not scripture itself that is believed.  Instead, our beliefs are based upon our interpretation of scripture.  For example, while the Bible says that God is one, it does not tell us exactly how God is one. Nevertheless, most conservative Christians assert that God is one in nature, essence, and being.  These words and this belief are not explicitly taught in the Bible.  Instead, they are inferred based upon what the Bible does say and are thus, an interpretation of the biblical teachings relative to the nature of God.

Personally, I believe this is exactly what the creeds are: correct interpretations of scripture contained in short statements of faith.  However, I believe that their connection to Apostolic Tradition and the culmination of Church history have demonstrated them to be authoritative.  Most of the creeds were hard won, coming at the expense of much blood, sweat, and tears.  In large part, they have served as a source of unity for Christians, placing fences that help to delineate orthodoxy from heresy and heterodoxy.  The Nicene Creed came out of a long, hard fought battle with the Arian Heresy (Mormonism’s ancient cousin) and answered the question of how God is one once and for all.

Admittedly, the belief that the creeds are authoritative is a position of faith.  Epistemological certainty is impossible in an area such as this.  However, it is a position of faith that is supported by good reason, logic, and evidence.  In addition, those who believe they can’t be authoritative because “scripture alone is authoritative” hold their position to their own peril.  For, if the creeds can’t be authoritatively correct because they aren’t scripture, how do you know your interpretation is correct and authoritative, and by what authority do you judge differing positions to be wrong?  After all, your interpretation isn’t scripture.

Have a blessed day!


Do The Creeds Matter?

Post Author:  Darrell

I recently spent some time on a Christian Facebook page that ministers to Mormons.  It is mostly made up of ex-Mormon Christians who feel very strongly about their faith and want to reach out to Mormons.  They write articles explaining the differences between Traditional Christianity and Mormonism and the problems with Mormon Theology and History in general.

A few days ago I had a cordial conversation with a Mormon gentleman regarding the Nicene Creed.  We were discussing the development of the creed, what its terms mean, and what the ante-Nicene Fathers believed in regards to the nature of God.  For those who are not familiar with Mormonism, the Nicene Creed is a particular point of contention for them as its teachings are in stark contrast to Mormonism.

While we were in the midst of the conversation an administrator on the website stepped in and deleted nearly our entire conversation.  When I asked why she did this, she proceeded to tell me that the Nicene Creed doesn’t matter and that the creeds are irrelevant to the subject of defining God, and she chastised me for being “overly intellectual.”

This has led me to do some pondering over the last few days.  What do Evangelical Christians believe when it comes to the Nicene Creed?  Does it matter?  Are any of the creeds relevant today?  Are they authoritative or are they simply their writer’s opinions?

Share your thoughts with me on this poll.  Once I’ve had a chance to digest the various opinions, I’ll likely write a blog post sharing some of my thoughts.