The Doctrine of the Trinity: Its Historical Development and Departures -- By: Donald Tinder

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 13:1 (Summer 2004)
Article: The Doctrine of the Trinity: Its Historical Development and Departures
Author: Donald Tinder


The Doctrine of the Trinity:
Its Historical Development and Departures1

Donald Tindera

Why Be Interested In The History Of This Doctrine?

Without the doctrine of the Trinity there would be no Christianity—at least in nothing like the forms it has been most widely experienced over the centuries. And without the doctrine of the Trinity there would be no significant affirmation of the true and full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, except by denying certain other equally revealed truths, such as that there is only one God, or that Jesus is to be distinguished from the Father. But in our own time this doctrine—together with its corollary affirmations regarding the unique deity of Christ—is probably under wider and greater attack, both overtly and subtly, both from inside as well as outside of professing Christianity than at any time since the earliest centuries. A study of the history of the doctrine will show that few, if any, of the objections and alternatives to it are new. One can profit from considering the arguments and defenses of the past, even while recognizing the need to consider carefully what is distinctive in the contemporary challenges.

A review of the doctrine’s development will also show that even those who formulated the orthodox consensus understood what they were agreeing to in varying ways, and these differences have continued, with various modifications, down to the present. Those who remain convinced that their understanding of the formula is the preferable one can still profit from having to consider and interact with alternative understandings.

One of the reasons the doctrine of the Trinity has often been under attack is because it is not found—in so many words—explicitly in the Bible. However, after considerable wrestling with the whole issue and after many false trails were pursued for varying periods, the overwhelming majority of professing Christians finally came to affirm it. But this was not accomplished until ad 381 at the First Council of Constantinople—that is, about 350 years after the death of Christ and the birth of the church. If we think back for a similar number of years from the present, it takes us to the close of the devastating Thirty Years War on the European continent, the period of Cromwell’s rule in Britain, and the Puritan predominance in New England. Those events seem so long ago. If the doctrine of the Trinity is so important, it might be asked, how could the church have grown from being a tiny sect of Palestinian Judaism to the dominant religion of the vast Roman Empire without explicit references to the doctrine in the apostolic writings or rapid formulations from the...

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