The Historical Development of the Doctrine of the Trinity

Michael F. Blume

The series of events and people who brought about the Trinity doctrine as it appears today is as follows. We find in the New Testament that the early church preached nothing about a trinity of three eternal persons. The Old Testament was based upon the Oneness of the Godhead as clearly revealed in Old Testament writings. The apostles believed in the fulness of Godhead as dwelling in Jesus Christ bodily.

After the Apostolic age, the Post-Apostolic Age (AD 90-140) arrived. The writers Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp and Hermas were the only writers of the age whose studies are intact today. In their writings, these men said nothing about a Trinity of three eternal persons. Calvin Beisner, the evangelical author, wrote in his book, God in Three Persons, that the earliest times exhibited no clear statements about any Trinity whatsoever and that the first two centuries promoted monotheism as the main thought. The post-apostolic writers simply stressed the One God concept as found in the Old Testament.

Then the Greek Apologists came along, writing studies that gave the name to the Age as the Greek Apologists from AD 130-180. In this Age the first clear changeover from biblical Oneness towards the trinitarian concept occurred. The main reason that changeover occurred was due to their idea of what the term "LOGOS", found in John 1:1, meant. The Greek philosophers of prechristian days taught the existence of a LOGOS. These Apologists entered Christianity in the second century and promoted this pagan idea in the church. They claimed that John meant for his readers to understand that Jesus was the same LOGOS that the prechristian Greeks believed in, although these Greeks knew nothing about the true God nor of Jesus Christ. They believed the LOGOS was a second divine person who was subservient to the Father. This is not believed today by trinitarians, as they feel the Son and the Father are equal, even though the ORIGIN of the idea of two persons comes from these Apologists.

The first roots of Trinity belief came in this age. There was a definite modification of the baptismal formula. They began baptising in the titles Father, Son and Holy Ghost, rather than invoke the name Jesus as we find it in Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48 and 19:5. They denied the absolute deity of Jesus Christ. The points that these philosophers held to that are in agreement with modern-day trinitarianism are:

They attempted to deal with the "plurality" issue of God. Trinity doctrine was not as yet invented as a solution.

The next age occurred between AD 170 and 325, and is called the Old Catholic Age. The process had already started towards a threesome of persons comprising One God in the previous Age. In the latter half of the fourth century, an orthodox Trinitarian doctrine was finally established.

Many writers of this Age commented about the Oneness doctrine, revealing that Oneness was the dominant doctrine held by believers in the first part of the Old Catholic Age. These writers gave evidence that proves that Jesus' Name baptism was carried on widely despite the new, growing popularity of a "Trinity" doctrine of God. Trinitarianism first came with the idea that Jesus was a separate person from the Father and a deity who was inferior to the Father. The *original* founders of the Trinity never departed from that belief. Only until the time of the fourth century did trinitarians begin changing this flaw of thinking. At that time they began saying that the three eternal persons were coeternal, coequal and cosubstantial.

It is notable that early trinitarians rejected the idea that Jesus is God.

Men continued rejecting a trinity of persons. Irenaeus wrote in the beginning of the Old Catholic Age and stated that God is One, and that Jesus is God. He believed that The WORD is the mind and expression of the Father and that the Son is the invisible Father's visible revelation. He said the name of Jesus reveals the Father and belongs to the Father. Although he did not fully teach a trinity of persons, he was partway there in believing a trinity since he looked at the LOGOS as originally being in God and that it somehow, later, became distinct from the Father.


It was in this Age that the first man to coin the word "Trinity" came along, named Tertullian (150 - 225 AD) and the first who said that God was Three persons in one substance about the year 200. Never before Tertullian had anyone heard of the word "Trinity". This man was originally "Binitarian" - having believed in two persons. He believed that the Holy Ghost was more of a "thing" and not God, Himself. But the "Montanists" taught him to believe in the Paraclete as being more personal than what he formerly felt. Thus the Holy Spirit became the third eternal person in his later thinking.

In his book Against Hermogenes, Tertullian believed God was originally alone and not yet, therefore, a Father. The Son was created at a certain point, making God into a Father. He wrote, "The Trinity, flowing down from the Father, does not at all disturb the Monarchy [one sovereign God], whilst at the same time guards the state of the Economy [three persons]," in his book Against Praxeas, a book which taught against Modalism or Oneness. He said that the Father and the Son are like the Sun and its light rays.

The light rays and the Sun are one, but yet they are two different things. He taught a new concept saying that the Son is merely "a portion of the whole Godhead".

He did not believe the three persons were eternal, as do the Trinitarians today.


After Tertullian, came Origen (185 AD - 254 AD). This man derived much of his thoughts from pagan philosophy of the Greeks. He believed that souls pre-existed conception and that even Satan would eventually be saved. He believed Jesus was born of the Father before all other creatures, and that "the Holy Spirit was associated in honour and dignity with the Father and the Son. But in His case it is not clearly distinguished whether He is to be regarded as born or innate, or also as a Son of God or not," according to his book, On the Principles.

Origen was the first who clearly taught that there were three persons who were eternal. He taught that the Son eternally was being generated from the Father. (1:2:2; 1:2:4).

Towards the end of this Age, more and more writers began expressing their beliefs about God in trinitarian terms. Yet they still saw the Son and the Spirit as inferior to the Father. Only two men seemed to write in what is agreeable to the modern trinitarian doctrine. These men were Gregory Thaumaturgus and Dionysius of Rome.

Most of the Fourth Century passed before the orthodox Trinitarian doctrine was created. Please note that Trinitarianism was originated by people who did not believe in the absolute deity of Jesus Christ. Modern day Trinitarians do not even agree with what the originators of the Trinity believed!

By the end of the fourth century there was a great controversy between those who believed that Jesus was another being separate from God and inferior to God, and those who believed that Jesus was a coeternal person beside the Father making up one God. Athanasius led the group who believed in three persons while Arius led the other group.

In 325 AD, Athanasius' view won the day at the Nicean council. But the idea of a Trinity was not completely declared until the Council at Constantinople in 381 where they declared God to be three eternal persons. At this latter council they declared the Holy Spirit was a third eternal person. The Athanasian Creed is the declaration held by Roman Catholics and most Protestants today. It was created in the fifth century. Modern orthodox trinitarianism stands on this creed.

In order to accept the doctrine of the Trinity one must believe what the Roman Catholic Church teaches in their doctrine of Tradition and Magisterium. This doctrine declares that the Apostles did not have all the truths of God and that the "Church" formulated doctrines AFTER the Bible was written which are to be reckoned to be as important as the truths explicitly taught in the Bible. Since Trinity was not taught in the Bible, but formulated in the fourth century, it nevertheless must be believed since the "Church" said it was true.

God did NOT intend us to think we could add to the words of the Bible by formulating doctrines which were not taught in Scripture. In fact, God placed a curse upon all who add to the Word of God (Rev. 22:18). Hence, the Trinity doctrine, since it was not even formulated until the end of the fourth century, must be referred to as the "word of man" rather than the "Word of God." And since it is the Word of Man, it must not be elevated as truth.

Jesus said, "thy Word is truth," - not "man's word is truth." John 17:17

Rev. MF Blume

(See David K. Bernard's book, Oneness and Trinity - AD 100- 300, Word Aflame Press, Hazelwood, Missouri).