First Thessalonians

I am writing to oppose an anti-Christian tall tale that says the New Testament is full of Pagan ideas. There are several logical arguments against this popular anti-Christian slander. I want to concentrate here on just one source of good information. This post is to consider some of the evidence provided by St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians.

Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians is my choice for this exercise because it has been overlooked but it sheds a lot of light that should be helpful in considering anti-Christian allegations. Thessalonians I is commonly acknowledged among historians, even anti-Christian historians, to be a genuine writing of Paul, and, crucial to my argument, the consensus among both Christian and anti-Christian scholars is that it may be dated from 51 or 52 AD. This provides a fatal flaw in theories about the “evolution” of Christian thinking over time.

Matters such as the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity are commonly alleged by anti-Christians to have developed over three or four generations, incorporating ideas from Pagan culture in the process. Nope.

Evidence

The oldest physical copy of 1 Thessalonians is in P46, a collection of the letters of Paul that dates from the mid- second century. Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen quoted 1 Thessalonians. Even earlier are quotes from 1 Thessalonians in Ignatius (110 AD) and The Didache (first century).

1 Thessalonians is contained in the major early (second through fourth centuries) codices (Alexandrinus, Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Ephraemi Rescriptus) and in other early manuscripts (P30 and P65).

Timing

The dating is crucial because of the allegations of “evolution” of Christian doctrine. Thessalonians I was written only twenty years or less after the Resurrection of Jesus. There were no intervening generations of gentile Christians bringing old Pagan ideas with them to influence Paul when he wrote I Thessalonians. In fact, 1 Thessalonians was written only about ten years after Paul began preaching to gentiles. I Thessalonians is one of four books that are chief candidates for the title “first of the New Testament books to be written,” and it is the candidate with the most widespread scholarly support for that position.

Also, all those quotes by early Christian writers, plus many later manuscripts and fragments, provide a solid body of evidence that the text of First Thessalonians was stable in transmission and coincides with the text we have today.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey was undertaken soon after the Council of Jerusalem, which was held in 48 AD. Paul first reached Thessalonica in 50 AD. He wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians a few months later. (Allowing for some interpretation of the dating, there are advocates for an early date of 50 or a late date of 54 AD, but the most common dating is 51 or 52 AD.)

 

Jewish thinking

In Thessalonians I, Paul is writing to new Christians who have only recently come to Christ. Several of the key Gentile leaders of this group had been closely associated with the local Synagogue. They were conversant with Jewish teachings and the Old Testament. The little band of Jesus-followers in Thessalonica consisted both of Jews and “God-fearers.”

God-fearers were gentiles who had rejected Pagan religion and were exploring Jewish religion. It was very difficult to convert, but the Jewish religion was very appealing. It said:

God is One.

God is good.

This is a dramatic departure from Pagan thinking. Rather than experiencing spirituality as the relations between the community and a large cloud of spirit beings, Judaism concerns the spiritual relationship between each person and the one creator God who made us.

This body of God-fearers was very fertile ground for the Gospel. Gentile God-fearers were associated with most synagogues in the Roman Empire. They were familiar with the Old Testament books. They had rejected Pagan ways of thinking.

Christian message

The news about Jesus was electrifying. The first Jesus-followers said “Messiah has come! He died and rose again! He appeared to us and promised to return at the end of time!”

The Christians also said that the followers of Jesus would be acceptable to God the Father, that God the Father wanted Jesus to be worshipped along with Himself, and that God the Father had made Jesus the Lord of all the earth. Further, part of the Good News was that Gentile followers of Jesus did not have to become Jews in order to inherit eternal life through the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross.

Greeting to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10):

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly[a] mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Notice here that Paul opens his letter to these new Christians with a greeting that is thoroughly Trinitarian. In this letter he is not explaining the doctrine of the Trinity, nor is he explaining about the Resurrection or the Atonement, but he is assuming that the Thessalonians are already well-acquainted with these teachings. Paul implicitly assumes that the Thessalonian believers have accepted the idea that the risen Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God, along with God the Father, while at the same time maintaining a very Jewish attitude that they are worshipping one God, not many. God the Father is noted as the One who raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus is now in heaven with the Father. This is a complete and orthodox and monotheistic Christian passage. It demonstrates that the core Gospel of the Jesus story and orthodox Christian doctrine were well-established within less than 20 years after the Resurrection.

Note in particular, from verse 9: “…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God….” This gives a clear and unambiguous rejection of Pagan religion.

This Gospel story is the same as what Paul preached in his first missionary journey, and it could not have changed since the Council of Jerusalem, which puts the message back to, at least, before 48 AD. If Paul and his traveling friends had been changing their story, there would have been large controversies within the church and probably not much success in proselytizing, but the only controversy at the time was the question of how Jewish new gentile converts had to become.

This new movement got started as a Jewish thing, and they had great success in spreading the Gospel, especially among the gentiles who had already been attracted away from Paganism by the Jewish teachings.

Doctrinal stability

History of Religions School’ wants to say that the Doctrine of the Trinity evolved over generations of Christians, importing Pagan concepts along the way. But Paul the Jew is discussing a robust orthodox Trinitarian Christianity with these new Christians only a few months after they became Christ-followers. He and his congregations worship the triune God in the first generation of Jesus-followers.

Reject the anti-Christians of the “Historical Jesus” movement.

Trust Jesus.

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35 thoughts on “First Thessalonians”

  1. Yeah, yeah, yeah. More “pushy religion.”

    The illustration is a page from P46, which is one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts. P46 is a papyrus manuscript from Egypt with dating that ranges from middle of the second century to the early third century. It contains a collection of Paul’s epistles that includes 1 Thessalonians, but this page is 2 Corinthians 11:33-12:9.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:P46.jpg

    https://www.lib.umich.edu/reading/Paul/about.html

    Sometimes I use a numeral ‘1’ and sometimes a Roman numeral ‘I.’ Sometimes I write “Thessalonians I” and sometimes I write “1 Thessalonians.” In all such cases, I expect the reader to understand that I mean “St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians.”

    I originally wrote using “G-d” in place of “God” as a nod to Jewish sensibilities, but it looks so odd on the page that I reverted. I don’t mean any offense at the use of the Name, but I am simply trying to use the Name in proper context and with proper reverence.

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  2. 10 Cents:
    How does this connect to our daily lives, Bubba?

    Is there a spiritual aspect to your life?

    I suggest you can best inform yourself on spiritual matters by reading, studying, following, living according to the Bible.  It is the Word revealed from God for mankind.

    There are slanders against the Bible, and this post is a modest attempt to dispel one of those slanders.

    No one should doubt that the Bible is true and authentic.

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  3. Wikipedia is not Christian-friendly. Though Wikipedia overall may not be so bad as to be characterized as hostile to Christianity, some of their chief editors may be fairly described as anti-Christian, and it shows in many entries. Here is part of their note on the authenticity of Thessalonians I:

    The majority of New Testament scholars hold 1 Thessalonians to be authentic, although a number of scholars in the mid-19th century contested its authenticity, most notably….

    Of course, if there are a couple of long-discredited (150 year old!) theories that deny the validity of a New Testament book, then this has to be included at Wikipedia. I looked them up. The theories described in this listing pre-date the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, Codex P46, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus and several dozen additional manuscript evidences for First Thessalonians. No contemporary scholars hold this view.

    I cannot recommend Wikipedia as a source for information on Christians, but here is the link anyway:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Epistle_to_the_Thessalonians

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  4. Maurice Casey was a semi-famous anti-Christian professor of New Testament studies. He taught that the idea that ‘Jesus is divine’ originated with the followers of John in the last two decades of the first century. Casey said that the Gospel of John is the only authentic New Testament book that speaks of Jesus as God.

    I think the short greeting from 1 Thessalonians presented in the original post above entirely dispels Casey’s theory.

    For additional support, consider another passage, from 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13:

    11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

    It may not directly say “Jesus is God,” but it shows Jesus in heaven, acting together with God the Father, and planning to return. Taken together with the passages from Chapter 1, this is a thoroughly orthodox traditional Christian understanding of Jesus as divine, a part of the Godhead.

    These criticisms were pointed out by historian Larry Hurtado in his magnum opus Lord Jesus Christ.

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  5. From what pagan beliefs is  the trinity supposed to have developed?

    I’ve always read that the clearest reference to the trinity is the comma Johanaeum,  which everybody knows is a later interpolation.

    You can’t possibly be saying that the idea of a deity impregnating a human woman and engendering an earthly son of a god is a new idea.  So what you’re saying is that this passage establishes the personhood of the Holy Spirit?  I have a Jehovah’s Witness friend who explained they believe  the “spirit” is not an entity, it refers to the conviction of the believers, like “school spirit”. Seems to me this passage could as easily be read that way.  And has been: there are other Christian sects which are not Trinitarian.. 

    Face it: nothing about any religion can  ever be “proven”.  If it could, we’d be talkin’ history, not religion.

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  6. Great piece MJ! Thank you for this effort. There is a recent podcast by Taylor Marshal discussing December 25 as the true birthdate of Christ as opposed to some nod to the Pagans and the Winter Solstice. Hope you check it out. God bless you MJ.

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  7. 10 Cents:
    How does this connect to our daily lives, Bubba?

    Dime? What could be more important or more interesting than the nature of God? You can’t orient yourself in daily life without a spiritual/big picture context.

    Some of us are disoriented.

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  8. Jojo:

    10 Cents:
    How does this connect to our daily lives, Bubba?

    Dime? What could be more important or more interesting than the nature of God? You can’t orient yourself in daily life without a spiritual/big picture context.

    Some of us are disoriented.

    Are you answering the question with a question, Jojo?

    Without the connection to where people are theology is not interesting for most people.  It seems like a bunch of jargon to them.

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  9. 10 Cents:

    Jojo:

    10 Cents:
    How does this connect to our daily lives, Bubba?

    Dime? What could be more important or more interesting than the nature of God? You can’t orient yourself in daily life without a spiritual/big picture context.

    Some of us are disoriented.

    Are you answering the question with a question, Jojo?

    Without the connection to where people are theology is not interesting for most people.  It seems like a bunch of jargon to them.

    My answer was the second sentence. Surely theology is more urgently applicable to daily life than poetry or politics or the history of computing, as interesting as they all are. I liked this post for presenting some reliable information on one of the less understandable Christian tenets.

    If you don’t want religious- related posts because you think they are controversial or not of general appeal, you can of course discourage them. I just thought it was strange to say, you know, that religion is not connected to daily life.

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  10. Hypatia:
    From what pagan beliefs is  the trinity supposed to have developed?

    This is typically vaguely stated, so it is difficult to oppose.  The way I have seen this on the internet (at places like Patheos) is the allegation that core Christian teachings developed late in the first century and infused Pagan thinking into the teachings of the Followers of Jesus.  They say that the idea that Jesus or the Spirit are worthy of worship is an idea that could not have come from a group of Jews without incorporating some Pagan influence.

    I reject their premise outright.  There is no evidence to support such a claim, and there is refuting evidence.

    In this post I chose to concentrate on the timing issue.  The core teachings of Christianity were well established in less than 20 years from the Resurrection, so the group was still teaching according to the original followers, who were all Jews.  There was no time for Pagan ideas to infect the Christian message.

    I’ve always read that the clearest reference to the trinity is the comma Johanaeum,  which everybody knows is a later interpolation.

    “Everybody knows” is a euphemism for “the anti-Christian text critics say.”   But in this case they have a pretty good case, since the earliest manuscripts do not feature this passage.   From 1 John chapter 5:

    For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

    This passage is a concise and solid declaration of the Trinity.  However, even if, for the sake of the argument, we accept the text critic’s proposed deletion, the Doctrine of the Trinity remains in 1 John.   Consider the passage, given without the “comma”:

    For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

    This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth  8  and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

    The “comma” is a clarification about who is referenced in the part about “three agree.”

    As for me, I would not mind to have a Bible without the “comma,” and could be content with a footnote that told me what the missing text contains.   But that is not likely, because it would concede textual ground to the anti-Christian text critics.   Those guys allege that the entire Doctrine of the Trinity must be called into question on account of a clarification that was added to the text of John’s letter.   That is a hostile conclusion that is not supported by the evidence.  Even without verse 7 and the first part of verse 8, the passage above is clearly trinitarian in nature.

    If the Spirit testifies, then it is acting with its own agency.  As does Jesus, and as does the Father.

    Blessed Trinity.

    Hypatia:
    You can’t possibly be saying that the idea of a deity impregnating a human woman and engendering an earthly son of a god is a new idea.

    Well, that is not what I said, but I reserve the right to say more on that topic in another post.

    So what you’re saying is that this passage establishes the personhood of the Holy Spirit?

    Yes.  Please take another look at verses five and six of 1 Thessalonians chapter 1.

    I have a Jehovah’s Witness friend who explained they believe  the “spirit” is not an entity, it refers to the conviction of the believers, like “school spirit”. Seems to me this passage could as easily be read that way.  And has been: there are other Christian sects which are not Trinitarian.

    Just because heresy abounds is no good reason to prefer heresy.   The Jehovah’s Witnesses are famous for proof-texting their doctrine from their own translation of the Bible.  It has been shown to be a poor translation; where it departs from the commonly accepted translations it has no historic support from the ancient manuscripts.

    You can read any passage any way you want to.   Just don’t expect anyone to join you out on that spiritual twig.

    “Spirit” in the Greek is pneuma, so, “breath.”   It is the same breath of God that hovered over the deep in Genesis chapter 1.   See verse 6 in our reading from 1 Thess ch. 1: “…  And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth  ….”   If the Spirit is testifying, then it is more than just a notion of latent emotion like “school spirit.”  The Spirit of God has agency of its own.   It is acting.  The Spirit acts even now in our lives; in my life and in your life.

    Face it: nothing about any religion can  ever be “proven”.  If it could, we’d be talkin’ history, not religion.

    But we are talking history.   History is the point of my post.   Historians agree that St. Paul really wrote the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, and they agree that he wrote it in the year 50 or 51 AD, and they agree that the text we currently use for 1 Thessalonians is mostly, 99% or so, an accurate transmission of what St. Paul originally wrote.  (I deliberately avoided passages in Chapter 2 and in Chapter 4 where hostile text critics have raised issues.)

    The entire point of my post is that the historic record revealed by this letter of St. Paul provides real historical evidence that dispels one of the anti-Christian crackpot theories that is still in common circulation.   The core of Christian doctrine was not something that “evolved” over time.   In just the opening verses of 1 Thessalonians we see Jesus and the Spirit working to bring about salvation for the Thessalonians.  Jesus was raised from the dead and Jesus is working together with God and Jesus will come again.

    The point of my post is that these are not presented as new teachings but as the common understanding of Paul and the guys who helped him bring the Gospel to the Thessalonians.  The Gospel was a settled matter, and not something that was “evolving.”

    The Jesus story is real honest history.

    Trust Jesus.

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  11. MJ-

    Somewhere I read that there has been a piece of John discovered by archeologists that is carbon dated to about the time of the fall of the temple. That would change much of the “accepted” feeling that John dates from about 110 AD or a little later. It would also make it a contemporaneous gospel with Mark, Matthew, and Luke. And it even may strengthen the case that it is the words of Lazarus, who led a local chapter of Christians in Jerusalem.

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  12. Jojo:

    10 Cents:

    Jojo:

    10 Cents:
    How does this connect to our daily lives, Bubba?

    Dime? What could be more important or more interesting than the nature of God? You can’t orient yourself in daily life without a spiritual/big picture context.

    Some of us are disoriented.

    Are you answering the question with a question, Jojo?

    Without the connection to where people are theology is not interesting for most people.  It seems like a bunch of jargon to them.

    My answer was the second sentence. Surely theology is more urgently applicable to daily life than poetry or politics or the history of computing, as interesting as they all are. I liked this post for presenting some reliable information on one of the less understandable Christian tenets.

    If you don’t want religious- related posts because you think they are controversial or not of general appeal, you can of course discourage them. I just thought it was strange to say, you know, that religion is not connected to daily life.

    I am not discouraging anything. I asked a simple question to bring out more details. I didn’t write religion was not connected to daily life. I think it is.

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  13. 10 Cents:

    I am not discouraging anything. I asked a simple question to bring out more details. I didn’t write religion was not connected to daily life. I think it is.

    Oh sorry. I misunderstood.

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  14. Maybe that is a good question. What does the Trinity mean to daily life? I guess it means that God has manifestations to communicate with us (Jesus) and work through us (the Holy Spirit)?

    Terms like Trinity  seem like jargon sometimes but I think that is because people are trying to describe the indescribable.

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  15. Robert A. McReynolds:
    Great piece MJ! Thank you for this effort. There is a recent podcast by Taylor Marshal discussing December 25 as the true birthdate of Christ as opposed to some nod to the Pagans and the Winter Solstice. Hope you check it out. God bless you MJ.

    And with your Spirit.

    Perhaps you missed my post from last year?   It is on the topic of December 25th.

    https://www.ratburger.org/index.php/2018/12/02/christmas-on-december-25th/

    If anyone still thinks the date of Christmas was appropriated from Pagans, please go read that post.

    I provided several links for supporting evidence in the first comment there.

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  16. 10 Cents:

    Jojo:

    10 Cents:
    How does this connect to our daily lives, Bubba?

    Dime? What could be more important or more interesting than the nature of God? You can’t orient yourself in daily life without a spiritual/big picture context.

    Some of us are disoriented.

    Are you answering the question with a question, Jojo?

    I thought that was a preferred method of interaction on Ratburger.org ?

    Without the connection to where people are theology is not interesting for most people.  It seems like a bunch of jargon to them.

    Yes; there are low-information Christians and low-information non-Christians alike.   But the Ratburgh is a place for people who are more curious about the world.

    And my post was not about theology.   It is about history.

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  17. I never heard that the Trinity had pagan origins. Dec 25 being pagan-related, and the virgin birth being a common ancient story, those I have heard.

    The quote from Paul’s letter seems understandable enough but it doesn’t use the term Trinity and I don’t see that using the term Trinity clarifies it.

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  18. Jojo:
    Maybe that is a good question. What does the Trinity mean to daily life? I guess it means that God has manifestations to communicate with us (Jesus) and work through us (the Holy Spirit)?

    Terms like Trinity  seem like jargon sometimes but I think that is because people are trying to describe the indescribable.

    The Doctrine of the Trinity is foundational to orthodox Christianity.   Anti-Christians allege that this teaching was dreamed up decades after Jesus by followers of Jesus who imported Pagan attitudes to multiple gods and then devised a deity that consists of three gods, Father, Son and Spirit, but then wanted to retain old Jewish rhetoric about “one God.”   That is a lie that has no supporting evidence in history.   In fact, real actual history refutes it.   St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians is just one piece of historical evidence that refutes this anti-Christian smear.

    The Doctrine of the Trinity affects daily life in ways that might be subtle or might not be.   Either you are a Christian or you are not.   Your attitudes and your community will be very different, depending on your attitude about Christ Jesus.   Providing historical validation that the Doctrine of the Trinity was not a late invention but was a central part of the Gospel from the very beginning of the movement of Jesus-followers is a way to reassure my fellow Christians that they can boldly go forward as the people of God and not worry about the lies of the Enemy.

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  19. MJBubba:

    Robert A. McReynolds:
    Great piece MJ! Thank you for this effort. There is a recent podcast by Taylor Marshal discussing December 25 as the true birthdate of Christ as opposed to some nod to the Pagans and the Winter Solstice. Hope you check it out. God bless you MJ.

    And with your Spirit.

    Perhaps you missed my post from last year?   It is on the topic of December 25th.

    https://www.ratburger.org/index.php/2018/12/02/christmas-on-december-25th/

    If anyone still thinks the date of Christmas was appropriated from Pagans, please go read that post.

    I provided several links for supporting evidence in the first comment there.

    Dare I say it? St. Bubba!

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  20. Jojo:
    I never heard that the Trinity had pagan origins.

    Almost every doctrinal teaching in the Bible has some sort of ‘Pagan origins’ theory attached to it.

    Dec 25 being pagan-related, and the virgin birth being a common ancient story, those I have heard.

    Anti-Christian stuff goes around and around on the internet.   The December 25th tales are easily refuted, and have been debunked thoroughly for over a decade, yet resurface every year at Christmas time.

    The virgin birth is more difficult to prove.   What can be proven is that it was taught from the beginning of the Christian movement and was not a late importation modeled after some Pagan myth.

    The quote from Paul’s letter seems understandable enough but it doesn’t use the term Trinity and I don’t see that using the term Trinity clarifies it.

    The term “trinity” was coined in the middle of the second century.   The concept that God expresses Himself as multiple persons goes back to the very beginning of the Christian movement.  It is clear that the first followers of Jesus worshipped Jesus along with God, which was a remarkable innovation for monotheistic Jews.  Within twenty years they were clarifying that the Spirit of God has His own agency, acting independently though always in accord with the Father and the Son.

    The Trinity was a problem.   Lots of really smart people are not satisfied to believe in something so difficult, so the smart people started using their logic and reasoning to answer the questions of how and why.   Several heresies got started by really intelligent men who were dissatisfied with “it’s a mystery” for an answer.

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  21. I can’t think of any non-Christian belief comparable to the trinity.
    But I’d still say it did develop over centuries, it was being debated at the Council of Nicaea, right, so that means the church fathers didn’t consider it settled by then.  And then of course there were still widespread instances of what from your point of view are heresies like Arianism.
    But you’ve made me think of a question that never occurred to me before.  Okay, we had one monotheistic religion in the world: Judaism.  Christians didn’t wanna abandon that, I reckon.  But now they have an extra divine Person, Jesus. Instead of saying well, hey, it’s just one more—they add a third Person.  But insist it’s not polytheism because they’re all the same Person.  Why would they do that?  I mean, I know MJB’s answer: because it’s true!  But looking at it historically, why? They coulda gone with what the Mormons later developed, where the Creator God is like the Alfdauer, he doesn’t get involved here, the Jahweh of the OT is really the same person as Jesus.  Historically, why would they have wanted to go back, kinda, to polytheism lite?  I can’t believe I never wondered about this before.

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  22. Robert A. McReynolds:
    Dare I say it? St. Bubba!

    Please, only to the extent that followers of The Way are all saints who will share in the fellowship in eternity.

    Thanks, Brother Robert.   I know we have some serious disagreements regarding political policy, but when it comes to the Resurrection, we share a Savior.

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  23. Jojo:
    I never heard that the Trinity had pagan origins. Dec 25 being pagan-related, and the virgin birth being a common ancient story, those I have heard.

    There are only 12 months in a year, or were according to the Roman calendar which was Galactic Standard when Jesus was born.  We don’t read about St  Paul celebrating Christmas, or rather, every day was Christmas to him!   And IF, IF! The church a couple centuries later DID decide to mark the festival at a time which would compete with other solstice and astrologically or  lunar  determined holidays, so what?   I have never understood why why that idea is so threatening.

    And how does the fact that the Virgin birth was taught from Christianity’s inception in any way prove that the story is not related to similar stories from older religions?

     

    The quote from Paul’s letter seems understandable enough but it doesn’t use the term Trinity and I don’t see that using the term Trinity clarifies it.

    That’s  the point I was making, too.

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  24. Hypatia:
    I can’t think of any non-Christian belief comparable to the trinity.
    But I’d still say it did develop over centuries, it was being debated at the Council of Nicaea, right, so that means the church fathers didn’t consider it settled by then.  And then of course there were still widespread instances of what from your point of view are heresies like Arianism.

    Yes, there were debates about the Doctrine of the Trinity that lasted for centuries.   That does not mean that the Doctrine of the Trinity was fungible.   It did not change for the orthodox party of the Christian mainstream.  What we have are a series of debates in which orthodox writers argued against a series of heresies.

    As I said, lots of really smart guys were not content to say “it’s a mystery” how God can be one God but express Himself as three distinct Persons, each with their own agency.   So really bright guys employed human logic and reason to answer the question “how ?” and ended up out on a limb where they had an explanation that contradicted Scripture.

    In the second century there was Adoptionism, which said that Jesus was a prophet, and that God adopted Him into Himself when the crucifixion happened.   This denied that Jesus was God from the Beginning, and, although it gathered followers, it faded out.

    In the third and fourth centuries Docetism gained a large following.   There is no need to go into Docetic weeds.   I only bring it up to say that when you say that the Doctrine of the Trinity was developed over centuries and your proof is that it was debated at Nicea, well, I don’t think the debate at Nicea proves anything like that.

    The debate at Nicea was about the Arian heresy, which was another really smart guy trying to answer “how ?” does God do that ‘one God in three Persons’ thing?   He ended up with a teaching that was in contradiction with Scripture.   Though he gained a very large following, in the end the orthodox won the day.   They won because they appealed to Scripture, meaning the New Testament books, which testify to the Trinity but do not entirely resolve the mystery.

    So, there was a series of debates against heresies.   Each time the orthodox party won, because the orthodox guys were confining themselves to the words of the New Testament and not going further.   The debate at Nicea was simply the third or fourth debate on the Trinity.   But the position that won in the end of the fourth debate was the same position as the one that won in the end of the first debate.   So, the Doctrine of the Trinity did not evolve over time, it just had to be defended against repeated assaults by clever men.

    They demonstrated that, when really bright guys go beyond Scripture, they invariably end up in opposition to Scripture.

    But you’ve made me think of a question that never occurred to me before.  Okay, we had one monotheistic religion in the world: Judaism.  Christians didn’t wanna abandon that, I reckon.  But now they have an extra divine Person, Jesus. Instead of saying well, hey, it’s just one more—they add a third Person.  But insist it’s not polytheism because they’re all the same Person.  Why would they do that?  I mean, I know MJB’s answer: because it’s true!  But looking at it historically, why? They coulda gone with what the Mormons later developed, where the Creator God is like the Alfdauer, he doesn’t get involved here, the Jahweh of the OT is really the same person as Jesus.  Historically, why would they have wanted to go back, kinda, to polytheism lite?  I can’t believe I never wondered about this before.

    Why, indeed?

    You describe it as “polytheism lite,” but this is a misunderstanding of polytheism, and a misunderstanding of Christian monotheism.

    Consider for just a minute how strongly determined they were to keep their teaching and worship.  From the very beginning the Jews opposed the followers of Jesus.   They persecuted the Christians.   The Jews tossed Christians out of the Temple and out of the synagogues.   They went so far as to tempt Roman wrath when they stoned Stephen.   Why did they kill Stephen?   For preaching Jesus.   At the time the Jews killed Stephen, the followers of Jesus were all behaving as really good Jews and giving no reason for the Jews to take offense.   The Jewish case against the Christians was blasphemy, from which we learn that the first followers of Jesus were worshiping Jesus along with God, just as is portrayed in the New Testament books.

    The Christians were determined to worship Jesus together with God.   They were worshiping God and Jesus and the Spirit.   They were not worshiping other gods, and not only not worshiping other gods, but condemning the worship of other gods as idolatry.

    Soon, because the Christians admitted gentiles into their churches and their worship, and also presumably because the Jews said ‘they ain’t us,’ the Christians were no longer considered a sect of Jews under Roman religious law.   The break with legal significance seems to have been when Nero blamed the Christians for the fire.

    At which time the persecutions began.   Christians were put to death because they refused to worship the gods, they refused to worship any of the old Roman gods, they refused to worship the emperor, and they refused to worship any other God besides the Triune God, even on pain of death.   The stories of the martyrs are horrifying.

    (There are new martyrs every week who die rather than deny Jesus.)

    The best review of your question by a historian is the one by Larry Hurtado, which is best recounted in his book Lord Jesus Christ.   It is a massive scholarly tome, and I will write a book review post about it.

    The thumbnail version is that the earliest followers of Jesus were convinced they had seen the risen Jesus and that they had experienced revelations from God that indicated God wanted them to worship Jesus.

    Consider James, the brother of Jesus.   He did not believe that Jesus was the real deal.   He famously scoffed at his brother the itinerant preacher.   Then he saw the risen Jesus.   He went from an antagonist to an adherent.   James became the leader of the intrepid band of Christians who stayed in Jerusalem.   James became known as “James the Just.”   (Lots of wealthy men would pay large fortunes to acquire a nickname like “James the Just.”)

    Even though the Jews knew it would make their already bad relationship with Rome only worse, they murdered James in 62 AD.   His crime was blasphemy, which means of course that he worshiped Jesus.

    James had seen the risen Jesus.

    As did Peter and the gang.   All except John were martyred for their faith.   They weren’t killed in a group, where they could encourage each other to stay firm.  No, they were killed one by one, in faraway places, some after tortures.  They had seen the risen Jesus.

    Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

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