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Trinitarian Scholar Dr. Cyril C. Richardson
on The Doctrine of The Trinity

by Joel Hemphill

 

Dear Friends:

 

I have just finished reading again the book by noted Trinitarian scholar and church historian Professor Cyril C. Richardson, "The Doctrine of the Trinity: A Clarification of What It Attempts to Express."

In it he makes some startling statements which I would like to call to your attention. Professor Richardson writes as a dedicated Trinitarian and as an " outstanding historian of the early church, the period in which the doctrine of the Trinity was first formulated ." He writes as a leader among Trinitarian thinkers, and early in the book says, "First and foremost, it must be stated categorically that the point of view of these chapters is not Unitarian " (p. 14). Nevertheless, Professor Richardson is forced by the Biblical and historical records to make the following strong admissions.

"I cannot but think that the doctrine of the Trinity, far from being established, is open to serious criticism , because of both the modern understanding of the Scripture, and inherent confusions in its expression. Texts were torn from their contexts and misused to no small degree" (p. 16). " Much of the defense of the Trinity as a revealed doctrine, is really an evasion of the objections that can be brought against it " (p. 16). "It is not a doctrine specifically to be found in the New Testament. It is a creation of the fourth-century Church" (p. 17).

Professor Richardson says that Paul never called Jesus "God."

"In Paul, to be sure, the problem is not so simple as that, for he never calls the Son of God or Lord (Kyrios) specifically 'God' " (p. 23). He refers to "the reluctance of Paul to regard the Son as fully God. He (Paul) views him as a heavenly being in the 'form' of God, with only a temporary authority which he finally yields to the Father (I Cor. 15:28)" (p. 25). "....God should be distinguished from the risen Jesus. But this distinction was overcome in later Christian thinking . It did not suffice to say that the risen Jesus was some created heavenly being, as he is in Paul (Col. 1:15) " (p. 27).

Professor Richardson credits Philo (20 B.C. - 50 A.D.) with introducing into Christian doctrine, "from Greek thinking," the idea of a "divine Logos."

" But Philo introduces a second theme derived from Greek thinking , that God creates by his Word or Logos. The distinction between the divine reason itself and the Logos or Word as the expression of this is not altogether clear in Philo. It suffices to stress that by an analysis of thought Philo reaches the conclusion that the intermediary principle of the Logos is the means by which God acts. From these observations it becomes clear that there is an essential ambiguity in Philo's thought , an ambiguity which we shall find running through trinitarian thinking " (p. 31-33). " The idea that the Logos is begotten by God, is his 'first-born', his 'invisible image' and so plays an important role in Philo , and whether directly from him or not, comes into Christian thinking . The Word is for Philo the intermediary between God and his action" (p. 34). Please note: Philo was a Hellenistic (Greek) Jewish philosopher and writer who taught the "divine Logos" doctrine. He mentions the Logos over 1400 times in his writings and refers to it as "a second God" and calls it " the mediating Logos. " He was born some twenty years before Jesus and was a famous writer before Jesus began his ministry. Philo lived in Alexandria, Egypt and there is no indication that he ever heard of Jesus . He got his idea of the "divine Logos - second God" from Greek philosophy and mostly the Greek philosopher Plato (428-348 B.C.).

Listen to Professor Richardson . "Behind the analogy itself lies one of the most pregnant ideas which has influenced Christian theology , but one which is involved in a logical inconsistency. It is the concept of the fecundity of the absolute, which was clearly enunciated in Plotinus, but foreshadowed by Plato " (p. 37). "What occurred then, in the development was the granting of a truly divine status to Jesus the Christ" (p. 41). "The other reasons for the retention of the terms were the Greek background of the Logos doctrine , and ..." (p. 43).

Professor Richardson credits Augustine (354 - 430 A.D.) with defining the place of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity . Note: The idea that the Holy Spirit is the third person of a "co-equal, co-eternal" Trinity is a non-Biblical concept that was adopted in the forth century.

" The place of the Spirit in the Trinity has long been regarded as one of the difficult aspects of that doctrine. Not until Augustine (354-430 A.D.) was there a thorough attempt to find a fitting reason for the existence of the Spirit as the third term (person) of the Godhead" (p. 44). "It is the ambiguity of the term in the Scriptures which is responsible for the fact that a satisfactory doctrine of the Spirit was so long in developing . The primary notion of Spirit in the Bible is that of God's dynamic activity. The Spirit is his breath, hence his vitality or life" (p. 45). "It is evident that Paul had not thought the matter fully through (the place of the Spirit in the trinity); consequently he introduced some inconsistency into his thinking " (p. 50). "The fact is that Paul has put forward ideas which do not fully harmonize"(p. 51). "From our brief study of the New Testament material it becomes apparent that the symbols Father, Son, and Spirit do not constitute a genuine Trinity . Not only are the terms themselves ambiguous....but the distinction especially between the Son and the Spirit remains vague and uncertain " (p. 55). "It is for this reason that until Augustine the place of the Spirit is unsatisfactory and ambiguous" (p. 62). "If the Father and Son share a common essence , they in no way differ from the gods of polytheism , who all share a common divinity. Thus the divinity was divided up among many gods. Now some of the Cappadocian (trinitarian) fathers in the fourth-century did not completely avoid this danger. What then was being stated in the classical doctrine of the Council of Constantinople of A.D. 381 , was that God existed in three distinct modes , but these modes had an identity of being. This, of course is a paradoxical statement, for how can there be diverse modes if there is an identity of being?" (p. 65). "In fact, there is no way to overcome the paradox that we must think of God both as one and as a society . There simply is no way in human thought to compose this paradox. Every solution, however ingenious, hides the paradox in one form or another. Is it not better to admit the paradox, to confess we have reached the limits of human thought, and to acknowledge that to guard Christian truths, we must say self-contradictory things? " (p. 95). "It is not until Augustine that this conception of the Spirit, as the bond of union, was fully developed. In him (Augustine) the Spirit finds his place in the Godhead as the principle of unity. The question may at once be raised whether this third term can properly be personified. If it is a term of relationship, can it be called a "person" in any legitimate sense? This has always been a crucial issue in Christian thinking about the Spirit" (p. 101). "The Spirit has more frequently been conceived as 'it' rather than as 'he.' 'We say three persons,' he (Augustine) writes in an oft-quoted passage, ' not that we wish to say it , but that we may not be reduced to silence ' " (p. 102). "That is the real problem for Augustine. By personalizing the relations in his symbolism, he introduces untold confusion " (p. 103). "To introduce the ambiguous symbolism of Augustine at this point does not assist us. Rather it adds confusion to a dubious solution of the problem" (p. 108). "Almost at the end of his great work on the Trinity, Augustine finds himself still worried in his effort to distinguish the begetting of the Son from the precession of the Spirit" (p. 114). "In the precise form in which it (the Apostles' Creed) is familiar to us, this Creed belongs to the eighth century . But already by A.D. 400 it had acquired more or less its present shape; and in turn this goes back to the baptismal creed of the Roman Church " (p. 119).

Professor Richardson's startling conclusions regarding the doctrine of the Trinity.

"But the variety of God's operations is such that they can never constitute a genuine Trinity " (p. 124). "For these reasons we cannot regard the attempt to construct a Trinity on the basis of the structure of revelation, as satisfactory" (p. 132). "The place of the Spirit in the Trinity remained ambiguous until Augustine worked out his concept of the uniting bond" (p. 135). "We have now pursued our way through the major patterns of trinitarian thinking and have arrived at the conclusion that they all involve arbitrary and unsatisfactory elements " (p. 141). "We must now ask: is it possible to reconstruct trinitarian doctrine so that these objections which we have encountered in our study can be overcome? The answer to this must be in the negative . The trinities we have surveyed confuse rather than illuminate the different problems they have sought to clarify" (p. 142). " My conclusion then, about the doctrine of the Trinity is that is is an artificial construct . It produces confusion rather than clarification ; and while the problems with which it deals are real ones, the solutions if offers are not illuminating. It has posed for many Christians dark and mysterious statements , which are ultimately meaningless, because it does not sufficiently discriminate in its use of terms. Christian theology might be aided by abandoning such a procedure and by making clear the inadequacy both of the ambiguous terms and of the threeness into which its doctrines have been traditionally forced . There is no necessary threeness in the Godhead " (p. 148-149).

Note regarding Philo: It is possible that Philo was demon possessed, for he states:

"I will not be ashamed to relate what has happened to myself a thousand times. Often when I have come to write out the doctrines of philosophy , though I well knew what I ought to say, I have found my mind dry and barren, and renounced the task in despair. At other times, though I came empty, I was suddenly filled with thoughts showered upon me from above like snowflakes or seed, so that in the heat of divine possession I knew not the place, or the company, or myself, what I said, or what I wrote " (Christian Platonists of Alexandria; Charles Biggs).

He was certainly possessed by some spirit that caused him to make statements that contradict Jesus Christ and the inspired Apostle Paul. It should be troubling to all Christians that Philo and Plato are the fathers of the "Logos doctrine" on which the fourth century doctrine of the Trinity was based. (Council of Constantinople 381 A.D.)

Note regarding Augustine:

He did as much as any of the so called "early church fathers" to advance the doctrine of the Trinity, but admits in his work "Confessions" that he had no suspicion of the word of God being incarnate in Christ till he read the books of Plato . (Confessions Book VIII; Chapter 19).

 

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