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Harlot of Babylon According to Irvin Baxter; Trinity and Oneness, Part 3

by Karl Kemp  
2/10/2016 / Bible Studies

We continue the discussion of the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and baptizing in the name of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost.

The Jews who were gathered together on the Day of Pentecost needed to understand and submit to the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah, who had been sent by God the Father in accordance with His promise. They needed to repent (including for having rejected the Messiah) and submit to Him and God's new-covenant plan of salvation. That's what Peter was exhorting them to do. It is significant, as I have mentioned, that the Jews did not believe that the Messiah, the offspring of King David, would be deity. They hadn't been taught about the Person of God the Son. Under those circumstances it would have been quite shocking to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. It was appropriate to baptize in the name of Jesus: The apostles and other disciples had been working miracles and casting out demons in His name (Matt. 7:22; Mark 9:38, 39; Luke 10:17) and many verses demonstrate that they continued to do these things and many other good things, including praying, in His name. It is always totally appropriate for believers to pray in the name of Jesus. The New Testament shows that we typically pray to the Father in the name of Jesus. (See my paper, "Who Do We Pray To?" Our access to the Father is through the Son [e.g. John 14:6].)

To be baptized in the name of Jesus included repenting and submitting to Him as the promised Messiah and Savior. To be baptized in His name included the ideas of becoming united with Him and being accepted through Him. It would also have been clearly understood that those who repented and submitted to the Messiah were also submitting to God the Father WHO SENT HIM TO SAVE US, and who has the preeminent role in the Trinity. Also, Jesus had taught the apostles about the Holy Spirit being a Person too. He had been active throughout the ministry of Jesus, and, starting on the Day of Pentecost, He was poured out in the promised new-covenant dimension, which includes the new birth and power that enables Christians to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God and to take the gospel to the world. Without the poured out Spirit of life and righteousness and holiness we couldn't be born again and have new-covenant salvation or take the gospel to the world.

Some Excerpts that Deal with Water Baptism from "A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Christian Fathers" by David W. Bercot, editor (Hendrickson Publishers, 1998). Bercot takes his excerpts from the ten volume "The Ante [which means Before] Nicene [referring to the AD 325 Council at Nicea] Fathers" (edited by Roberts and Donaldson; 1885-87; Hendrickson Publishers, 1994). I have the Eerdmans 1983 edition of this set. (The set sells for a reasonable price.) I have used it quite a bit. Bercot deals with water baptism on pages 50-64.

I'll give some excerpts from under the sub-heading "Mode and description of baptism" (pages 56-59). These excerpts all deal with statements that were made by early Christian writers long before the Council of Nicea (AD 325). Remember that Baxter stated that they didn't baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit until the Council of Nicea. "...baptize into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - in living water [in a river, for example]. But if you do not have living water, baptize into other water. If you cannot baptize in cold water, baptize in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water three times upon the person's head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ..." [from the] "Didache" (The Teaching) (written approximately 80-140, E [E means that it was written in the eastern part of the Roman Empire; W is for the western part], 1.379 [which means that this excerpt is found in volume 1 of the ten volume set on page 379].

"... They there receive the washing with water in the name of God (the Father and Lord of the universe), of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. For Christ said, 'Unless you are born again, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.' " Justin Martyr (about 160, E), 1.183. The early Christian writers did not consider the matter of becoming a Christian complete before water baptism.

"He commands them to baptize into the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - not into a unipersonal [one person] God. And, indeed, it is not once only - but three times - that we are immersed into the three Persons, at the mention of each individual name." Tertullian (about 213, W), 3.623.

Bercot includes a quotation from Cyprian (about 250, W) from 5.383. I'll include a different excerpt from Cyprian from that page. "Finally, when, after the resurrection [of Jesus], the apostles are sent to the heathens [to the nations], they are bidden to baptize the Gentiles 'in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' " Cyprian goes on to reject the idea that it is acceptable to baptize "only in the name of Jesus Christ." I certainly wouldn't say that a person could not be saved who is baptized in the name of Jesus. You could say that it is Biblical to baptize in the name of Jesus (based on the book of Acts), and we do a lot of things in the name of Jesus, but I believe we should baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, based on Matt. 28:19. We certainly want to exalt and glorify the name of Jesus, but we certainly also want to exalt and glorify God the Father, who has the preeminent role in the Trinity and who sent His Son to save us, and the Holy Spirit who is deity with the Father and the Son and who is so actively involved in our salvation from the beginning and forever.

(Bercot has this next excerpt under "Trinity" on page 654.) " 'Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit' [Matt. 28:19]. By this he showed that whoever omits any one of these three, fails in glorifying God perfectly. For it is through this Trinity that the Father is glorified. [The preeminent role of God the Father is frequently acknowledged in the Bible, especially the New Testament, and in the early Christian writings.] For the Father willed, the Son did, and the Spirit manifested." Hippolytus (about 205, W), 5.228.

(Another excerpt from under Bercot's "Trinity" heading, on page 655.) "Saving baptism was not complete except by the authority of the most excellent Trinity of them all. That is, it is made complete by naming the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this, we join the name of the Holy Spirit to the Unbegotten God (the Father) and to His Only-begotten Son." Origen (about 225, E), 4.252.

(Under Bercot's "Trinity" heading on page 655.) " 'Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.' He [Jesus in Matt. 28:19] suggests the Trinity, in whose sacrament the nations were to be baptized." Cyprian (about 250, W), 5.380.

Bercot has more than five pages of excerpts (pages 651-657) under "Trinity." All of these excerpts, except one, date before the Council of Nicea. Those excerpts demonstrate that these early Christian writers, before Nicea, were Trinitarians. As these excerpts show, they rejected oneness, but they also rightly rejected the idea of three Gods. What Baxter said regarding the Trinity and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is wrong.

One of the Books I Read in Preparing to Write this Paper was "Decoding Nicea" by Paul F. Pavao (published by The Greatest Stories Ever Told, 2011, 2014). I'll include some excerpts from this book that deal mostly with the Council of Nicea. I don't agree with Pavao on every detail, but I found this 462 page book to be quite thorough and informative. He deals extensively with the Council of Nicea and Christianity before and after Nicea. Pavao writes from a solid Bible-believing perspective, and his book is packed with excerpts from the ancient writers who were involved.

Constantine, the Roman emperor, who had just overthrown his co-emperor in the eastern part of the Roman empire in AD 324 and who had begun to call himself a Christian (he was serious about being a Christian, but it is clear that there were problems with his Christianity too), was quite disappointed to find serious religious strife in his empire that wasn't being resolved. That strife started "around AD 318" with the heretical teaching of Arius, who was an elder in the church at Alexandria, Egypt. He claimed that Jesus was a very high level created being who was created out of nothing and had a beginning; He was not deity in any adequate sense (page 27). "As we will see throughout our narrative, the early Christians never doubted the divinity of Jesus Christ, and they spoke about it both often and in depth. (See especially chapters 16 and 17.)" (page 20).

When Constantine was not able to get those involved to back down, very much including Arius and his bishop, Alexander, who rejected Arius's heretical teaching, Constantine "called all the bishops of his empire to the resort town of Nicea..." (page 40).

There is some doubt about how many bishops came to Nicea, but Pavao says "over 250 and less than 325 would be an accurate figure" (page 48). And there was a large number of elders, deacons, etc. in attendance. Athanasius, a deacon from the church at Alexandria, strongly opposed the Arians at Nicea and especially after Nicea. The council continued for about ten weeks.

Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was a very influential bishop in the east, was the primary leader who supported the views of Arius at the Council of Nicea. Sometimes in the midst of controversy, and with people being exiled, etc., views change, but among many of the Arians their views didn't really change; they still did not believe in the full deity of the Lord Jesus. There was a lot of twisting words and supposedly agreeing with the Nicene Creed, but not really substantially changing what they believed. When opportunity arose, or conditions changed, like when an emperor came along they could convince to accept their heresy, they would be teaching Arianism and attacking those who believed in the Trinity, like Athanasius. Athanasius ended up being exiled five times after he became the bishop at Alexandria in 328. Knowing how these things often work out in the affairs of men, sometimes even including true Christians, I'm confident that some dishonest or unfair things took place among those who supported the full deity of the Lord Jesus too. For one thing, it takes more than believing in the full deity of the Lord Jesus to make a person a true Christian. For another thing, true Christians don't always walk by the Holy Spirit, which they are called, enabled, and required to do.

I'll quote a few sentences from what Pavao says under "The Role of Apostolic Tradition" (pages 52, 53). "We also have to remember that the doctrines of Arius didn't stand a chance. ... ...the tradition of the church on the substance of the Father and the Son was long standing and unanimous. (He has a footnote. "See Chapter 15.") [The ideas that the Son didn't always exist and that He was created out of nothing didn't fit with the doctrines taught by the apostles. Neither did oneness/modalism fit.] ... As far as Pre-Nicene Christians were concerned, elders and bishops had just one theological function: to preserve the truth they had received from the apostles ... unchanged. '... ...What have I been taught, what has been entrusted to me to hand down to others?' " (The partial quotation at the end of this excerpt, starting right after the word "unchanged," came from "Schaff, Philip. 'The First Ecumenical Council: Historical Introduction.' 'The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers' Series II, Vol XIV.")

I'll quote the Nicene Creed decided upon in AD 325. (Pavao points out that "The one quoted in churches today is slightly modified, with some phrases added later in the fourth century and approved at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and that the word 'Catholic' used in the creed simply means universal. It was a reference to the united churches that were descended from the apostles. 'Holy, catholic, and apostolic' is explained in Chapter 15."):

"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty. Maker of all things visible and invisible [The next paragraph acknowledges that the Son was active in creation; the New Testament speaks of the Father creating through the Son (cf. John 1:1-3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). Note the preeminent role of God the Father, while acknowledging the full deity of the Son (and the Holy Spirit)];

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father; that is, of the substance of the Father; God of God and Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made, one in substance with the Father; by whom [God the Son] all things were made, both which are in heaven and on earth; who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended [He was with the Father before He descended.], became incarnate, and was made man, suffered, arose again the third day, ascended into the heavens, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Also in the Holy Spirit.

But the holy, catholic, and apostolic church anathematizes those who say, 'There was a time when He [the Son] was not'; 'He was not before he was begotten'; 'He was made from that which did not exist'; and those who assert that he is of other substance or essence than the Father, that he [He] was created, or is susceptible to change."

It is clear that this creed was written to refute Arianism, but it also effectively refutes oneness theology. Pavao discusses the creed. For one thing, he points out that "The anathemas at the end of the creed are no longer recited by any churches. Arius' views disappeared from mainstream churches after the fourth century, rendering them unnecessary" (page 63). He also mentions that Arianism "was revived by Charles Russell and the Jehovah's Witnesses in the early 20th century" (page 64).

Almost all the bishops signed the creed. One view is that all but five bishops signed the creed. Arius and a few bishops were exiled, but the exiles didn't last long. For one thing there were some recantations. Such recantations were not always sincere, and apparently some who had supported Arius who signed the creed were not in total agreement with the creed. As I mentioned, some are good at twisting words and being dishonest. Eusebius of Nicomedia, who was mentioned above and who was exiled was one who recanted after being exiled.

After the Council of Nicea had dealt with the heresy of Arius, they dealt with the controversy regarding which day Christians should celebrate Passover/the Resurrection of Jesus. (Pavao deals with this in his chapter 6.) The majority said Sunday; some said whatever day the 14 of the Jewish month Nisan would fall on that year. The Council decided on Sunday, which "was by far the most common practice" (page 82). On that same page Pavao mentions that "There were more issues to consider [at Nicea], but none so major as Arianism or Passover. These were summed up in 20 canons." He discusses the 20 canons that the Council issued in his chapter 7. NONE OF THEM DEALT WITH ONENESS/MODALISM. I'll quote a few sentences from his chapter 7: "Canon 6 makes it clear that there was no pope in the fourth century. The history prior to Nicea established this clearly as well, but Canon 6 finalizes the argument in one short paragraph. I am not really sure how the Roman Catholic Church can argue for the historicity of the papacy if the public knows about Canon 6 of Nicea" (page 83). "This canon makes it clear that the bishop of Rome was not 'pope' at the time of Nicea. In fact he carried no more authority than the bishop of Alexandria, although this authority was clearly great" (page 96). "Neither before nor at the time of Nicea did any church regard the Roman bishop as supreme over all churches. The evidence for this is both abundant and one-sided" (page 338). And Pavao goes on to discuss this evidence.

Another book that I purchased and read in preparing to write this paper is "The Trinity: How Not to be a Heretic" by Stephen Bullivant (Paulist Press, 2015), 121 pages. He is a senior lecturer in theology and ethics at Saint Mary's University in London. I don't agree with every detail in this book, but most of what he says is helpful and rather easy to understand and he deals with quite a bit of Scripture. I'll include some excerpts.

A theme Bullivant starts with (page 1) and comes back to again and again is that there are three points we must understand to understand the Trinity: 1. There is only one God. 2. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is each God [deity]. 3. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not the same.

I'll quote a paragraph from what Bullivant says about modalism from his chapter 4 that deals with modalism. "[Hippolytus (about 170-236)] criticizes the modalists for selectively quoting from Scripture and for taking phrases out of context: 'In fact, whenever they want to get up to their tricks, they hack the Scriptures to pieces. But let [Noetus] quote passages in full, and we will discover the purpose behind what is being said.' (Hippolytus, Against Noetus, 9) Tertullian makes the same complaint. He accuses Praxeas of making 'a heresy out of unity' (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 1) by stressing Scripture's witness to the oneness of God, while pointedly ignoring its testimony to the genuine distinctions between Father, Son, and Spirit. The modalists focus on two or three proof texts, and try to force all the rest of the evidence to yield to them. This is, Tertullian notes, 'the characteristic of all heretics' (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 20)." Oneness/modalistic writers in our day typically use quite a few proof texts, but there is a very large amount of Scripture that they " yield to them." (We dealt with Hippolytus, Tertullian, Noetus and Praxeas above.) Once your mind is closed you can go to great lengths in forcing everything else to fit while thinking you are doing a service for God. Many Christians do this on many different topics, but very few errors are as serious as oneness/modalism.

I'll quote two sentences from pages 55, 56 of this chapter. "It cannot be said often enough: Christianity developed and defended its understanding of God as Trinity not despite, but demonstrably because of and out of the biblical witness. As Hippolytus remarks, 'The whole of the Scriptures are a proclamation about this' (Hippolytus, Against Noetus, 14)." And we must understand that the New Testament came to us through the revelation given to the apostles. It is also quite significant that "beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, [the risen Christ] explained to them [especially the apostles] the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures [referring to the Old Testament" (Luke 24:27).

Building on what Bullivant says on page 56, I agree that those who teach on the Trinity need to be careful what they say. If we overstate the case or use sloppy language, it makes it difficult to understand or believe in the Trinity. (We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches on this topic, as on every topic, but this topic is extremely important. We are talking about God, the God of the Bible, the God of creation, the God of Israel, the God of salvation, and God the Judge.) For one thing, it certainly isn't biblical to leave the impression that somehow there are three Gods sitting at a triangular table ruling the universe, or three Gods who must be exactly alike in every way (including their having equal authority except for the time Jesus lived as a man [the God-man] on the earth among men) for them to be God/deity. I believe this is a good example of Christians saying more than God has revealed. God doesn't need for us to defend Him with statements that aren't true, or fully true.

One problem we have had is that some Christians have felt a need to overstate the role of the Son of God, so that there is essentially no difference between God the Father and God the Son. In ancient times and still today, many people deny His deity, so there is a tendency to want to overstate the role of the Son of God. What we need is the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches, the balanced truth of reality. It seems clear to me that although it is totally necessary to believe in the full deity of God the Son, it is also biblical and necessary to acknowledge the eternal subordinate (I didn't say inferior) role of God the Son. I am sure that the Lord Jesus Himself would be the first One to insist on the eternal preeminent role of God the Father. I am going to discuss this important point further in another paper. One really important thing we need to see is that the subordination (not inferiority) of the Son loses any possible negative implications when viewed in the light of the infinite love between the Father and the Son.

I believe we must see that although God the Son is deity with God the Father (and the Holy Spirit) in a totally full sense, His role before He condescended to become the God-man; His role during the time He (having greatly humbled Himself) lived on the earth as a man (the God-man), in accordance with the Father's will; and His role for the rest of eternity (which never ends) is subordinate to God the Father. God the Son is in total agreement with His subordinate role. He loves the preeminent role of the Father that flows out of the reality of who the triune God is. I am totally sure that there is NOTHING (ZERO) in Him that ever wanted, wants, or ever will want a higher place in the Trinity. He doesn't grasp for more.

It certainly isn't biblical to speak of three Gods, but there are three distinct Persons who interact with one another in perfect harmony. I BELIEVE IT CAUSES SIGNIFICANT CONFUSION IF WE OVERSTATE THE ONENESS OF GOD (way beyond what the Bible actually teaches), which I believe is often done in our day. (I'm not referring to oneness/modalist Christians here. I'm speaking of those who say they believe in the Trinity.) The Bible speaks of the oneness of God on occasion. Deuteronomy 6:4, for example, speaks of God being one (or alone), but that verse was written in a context to deny polytheism, not to deny the Trinity that would clearly be revealed in subsequent revelation.

We don't have three (independent) Gods, but we have three Persons who are united in perfect love and perfect harmony beyond what we can fully comprehend, with each of the Persons fulfilling their roles perfectly. It causes confusion to overstate the oneness; it also causes confusion to speak of three (independent) Gods. As I have mentioned, I don't believe God has revealed enough for us to understand every detail, and there probably are some details we couldn't understand in our present level of existence. We will know more after we are glorified, but maybe we won't fully understand the triune God then.

Everybody in the ancient world believed in many gods. Deuteronomy 6:4, in a way that would have sounded totally arrogant and offensive to all of Israel's neighbors, was saying that there is only one God, the God of creation, the God of Israel. They didn't want to hear that in the ancient world, just like today they don't want to hear that we must be saved through and in the Lord Jesus. Jesus said in John 14:6, for example, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." The Truth is the Truth, no matter what people want to hear. And we are not doing people a favor by hiding the Truth from them. We need the truth so we can repent and submit to God and His truth to be saved.

Deuteronomy 6:4 had NOTHING (ZERO) to do with denying the subsequent clear revelation of God the Son and God the Spirit in the New Testament. I'm going to include an excerpt from my paper "More on the Trinity" that deals with Deut. 6:4 after I finish discussing this book by Bullivant. We are sure to confuse the issue if we overstate the oneness of God and make it sound like we are saying that we must believe that one equals three or three equals one, which it doesn't. All it takes is one misunderstanding like that to make the truth sound totally unreasonable. We may not be able to fully understand God, and especially now before we are glorified, but we can refrain from asking people to believe things the Bible doesn't really teach.

On page 95 Bullivant mentions "a sober admission of the undeniable constraints we face in broaching the One 'we can never think he deserves,' and whom 'no words of ours are capable of expressing' (Augustine, On the Trinity....)." I'll quote part of what Bullivant says regarding the inadequacy of the word "person" when applied to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit:

He gives an excerpt from Augustine's "On the Trinity": "In very truth, because the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, and the Holy neither the Father nor the Son, they are certainly three.... Yet when you ask 'Three what?' human speech labors under a great dearth of words. So we say three persons, not in order to say precisely, but in order not to be reduced to silence.' The word 'person' is preferred, not because we know it to be a perfect and accurate description, but because we hope that it is less imperfect and inaccurate than the other options. ... (page 95)." ... "The problem is this: we tend to think of 'person' as signifying an independent individual, separate from all other, equally independent individuals. ... (page 96)." We cannot expect the concepts and words of mankind to adequately explain God.

On page 67 Bullivant points out that "Very few western bishops journeyed to the far east of the empire to adjudicate upon matters of which they likely had little detailed knowledge. (Remember that the Arian controversy was conducted almost exclusively in Greek, whereas the western half of the empire - Rome included - was mainly Latin-speaking.) Those gathered in May 325 were however, sufficiently representative - every Roman province (except Britain) had at least one delegate, and a Spanish bishop, Ossius of Cordoba, chaired the meeting - to signal 'the consent of the whole church' (Acts 15:22)."

I'll Quote Two Passages (Deuteronomy 6:4 and Isaiah 9:6) from my Paper "More on the Trinity: Some Key Passages from the New Testament Where We See the Full Deity and Preexistence of God the Son with God the Father and Some Key Bible Passages Used to Teach a Oneness View of God" (33 Pages) under the Heading "Some Key Bible Passages Used to Teach a Oneness View of God." I'll quote what I said under Deut. 6:4, which is the number-one passage used by oneness Christians to try to prove their viewpoint. Then I'll quote what I said under Isaiah 9:6, which could be considered the number two passage. If you don't stop and get into the details, the oneness interpretation of these two passages sounds very convincing. Anyway, I am totally sure that neither one of these passages, or any other passages, teach a oneness view of God.

Part 4 will start with a rather detailed study of Deut. 6:4.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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