We continue our comments on the document sent to us from a Mormon.(*)
And in this article, we pass to the first chapter of that document, and we will comment on Stephen’s ignorance concerning the history of the Church and concerning its doctrines from the beginning.
Let’s first read what Stephen wrote:
Throughout Christendom, there has been a lot of controversy over Deity. Not only has there been a struggle over the nature of God, but there has also been much misunderstanding about the name or names of God. To understand how this confusion came to be, we must go to the source of said confusion and trace its path to modern times.
This is simply a lie resulting from a deep ignorance concerning the history of the Church. And this is not strange, as cults mislead their followers and make them believe false things, or else they would not be able to deceive them concerning the doctrines of God. Now, when we have such wrong information given by a cultist about history, what we need to do is to simply present the facts, and thus his lies and deceptions will be evident.
First notice with me how superficial is a person who believes the cults that tell him that the Church didn’t know her God, even until modern times, and that she needed Mormonism to “reveal” to her who is her God… Imagine this: Stephen suggests that the Church stayed in ignorance for many centuries concerning whom she worships… You notice of course the caricature he draws concerning the history of the Church… This is the Mormon false assumption that the Church existed without any revelation from God about His Nature, and that the Church had to discover her God during the centuries! But this is simply not true: God clearly revealed Himself to His own in His Word, the Bible.
Notice also that Stephen begins all his arguments by attacking the Faith of the Church. Although he says that he has written this document to explain the teachings of Mormonism, and yet all his explanations begin with an attack against the teachings of the Bible, i.e. against the Faith of the Church. This is what we explained already in our article: Should we associate with the Mormons? Stephen thought we were wasting our time when we were giving those comments to his introduction, not knowing that we were putting the strong basis for our future articles…
First, when Stephen says “Christendom” he means everything but the true Church of Christ, as he supposes that Christians had to speculate who their God is. While the truth is that the Church of Christ is the Assembly of all true believers who were born by the living Word of God (cf. 1 Peter 1:23). As they were born by this living Word, and as they were not the Church without this Word (cf. John 15:3, Ephesians 5:26), then it is the Word of God that is the origin of the Church, and not the opposite. So it’s not the Church that had to discover what God said, but it was what God said that was received by people and thus this Word made them the Church. And the Word of God is clear concerning the Nature of God and His Name.
In the following lines, we will see together in brief what the Apostles and all prophets of the Bible told us concerning the true God, i.e. what the Church believed since the times of the Apostles of Christ about God. All what you need to do is to read the references in the Bible, and you will see how clearly each truth is revealed there:
1. God is One, and not two or three or many gods as in pagan religions: “Hear, Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah“ (Deuteronomy 6:4) This is called the Shema, because the first word translated as “hear” is the Hebrew word “sh’ma” (שְׁמַע). In this verse, it is very clearly stated that God is One; His Name is Jehovah (or the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHWH which is rendered as “LORD” or “Yahweh” or “Yehovah” by some versions). This was revealed to the Jews in opposition to polytheistic pagan religions of their neighbors. So there is no way to divide God into many separate persons or gods; there is no way to make of Him a council of gods who are in agreement of purpose. He is One and His unity cannot be divided, and His Nature cannot be shared by another: “Unto thee it was shewn, that thou mightest know that Jehovah, he is God — there is none other besides him.” (Deuteronomy 4:35). God is the unique Creator of the heavens and the earth, and no one shares this Name “Creator” with Him, as God created the heavens and the earth alone and by Himself: “Thus saith Jehovah, thy Redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb: I [am] Jehovah, the maker of all things; who alone stretched out the heavens, who did spread forth the earth by myself“ (Isaiah 44:24) And in many other passages, God declares that He is One and unique: Isaiah 41:28-29; Isaiah 42:17; Isaiah 43:10-11; Isaiah 44:7-8; Isaiah 45:5-6; Isaiah 45:14-17; Isaiah 45:21-22; Isaiah 46:1-2; Isaiah 46:8-11. And the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles confirmed the oneness of God: Mark 12:29, John 17:3, 1 Corinthians 8:4, 1 Corinthians 8:6, 1 Timothy 2:5. This God is an infinite, all-knowing Spirit (cf. John 4:24).
2. God is revealed as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: “Go [therefore] and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit“ (Matthew 28:19) This is the Great Commission with which the Lord Jesus sent His Apostles to all nations. In point 1 we saw how God has One Name indicating the uniqueness of His Nature, and this Name is YHWH meaning “I AM WHO I AM” or the “I AM” (cf. Exodus 3:14-15). “I AM WHO I AM” means that God IS by Nature, i.e. He is not bound in the past or in the future, and not even bound by the present; He is the Being in absolute, independent of everything He created and thus He is independent of time. This also shows His unchangeable Nature (cf. Malachi 3:6). Now, Jesus said that this same Name or Nature is shared by the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As you can see in the above quoted verse from Matthew 28:19, He says “Name” (in singular) and not “Names” (in plural) referring to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. So all the three, i.e. the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, share this One Name YHWH and this same Divine Nature. The Father is YHWH, and the Son is YHWH, and the Holy Spirit is YHWH: They have this One Name, and not each His Name or Nature. The Holy Spirit even sometimes refers to Jesus by calling Him “the Name” (cf. Acts 5:40-41, 3 John 7; note that Acts 5:40 says this is the Name of Jesus, and Jesus clearly said in John 15:21 that the Apostles would be persecuted for His Name’s sake); today the Jews call God “The Name” (Hebrew Ha-Shem) in the same way the Holy Spirit called Jesus in the Bible; and this comes from Leviticus 24:11 where it is referred to God as “the Name”. Already in the Old Testament God had revealed that He is personal. First, when He revealed that He is the Creator, He revealed that He is personal, as only a personal Creator can create (read our article What is the evidence for God’s existence? to have a deeper idea about this truth). God also explained how He is personal by telling us that He was revealed to people like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and made a covenant with them (cf. Genesis 12:1, Genesis 26:24, Genesis 28:13). So from the beginning, God revealed that He makes covenants with people, thus showing that He is personal, as covenants can be made only between persons (cf. Genesis 12, Exodus 6:7, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 37:27, Hosea 2:23, Isaiah 40:1). God also revealed Himself as the Father of Israel (cf. Exodus 4:22, Isaiah 49:15, Jeremiah 31:9) and the Father of the Messiah (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:7); God created and works in the world by His Word (Hebrew Dabar), a powerful expression of the outward expression of God, i.e. an extension of God’s Self (cf. “said” in Genesis 1:3; Isaiah 55:11), and He has an agent of creation called Wisdom (cf. Job 28, Proverbs 8), and He would come through the Messiah to establish His Kingdom and save us from our sins (cf. Isaiah 11:6-9, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Micah 5:4, and read our article What does the word “Messiah” mean? Who is the Messiah?); and God works in the world through the Spirit (Hebrew Ruah) of God (cf. Judges 6:34, 1 Samuel 10:10) who also is revealed as the Creator (cf. Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4), who has the power to save (cf. Zechariah 4:6), and is Omnipresent (cf. Psalm 139:7). So even in the Old Testament, God revealed that His personal Nature and unity involve a personal Father, and a personal Word or Wisdom or Messiah, and a personal Spirit. But of course this truth was not fully revealed until the New Testament, when the Son came, as there was no way to know God and His Nature fully until the Son revealed Him to us (cf. John 1:18, Matthew 11:27). The New Testament confirmed all what the Old Testament revealed about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and gave us a full revelation. Thus we had a full revelation of God as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit:
– The Father is God: John 6:27, John 6:29, John 13:3, John 17:3, Romans 15:6, 1 Corinthians 8:6, 1 Corinthians 15:24, 2 Corinthians 1:3, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:17, Ephesians 4:6, Ephesians 5:20, Philippians 2:11, etc… According to these verses, the Father is the only true God, YHWH. And as we have seen in point 1, “Jehovah, he is God — there is none other besides him.” (Deuteronomy 4:35) There is no other God than YHWH, and the Father is this true God.
– The Son is God: Read the article What does the word “Messiah” mean? Who is the Messiah? to have the full explanation and all the passages that speak about the Son being God. In that article, we have seen how it was revealed in the Bible that the King of Heaven, God, came in flesh to save us from sin by offering up Himself as He is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. And here is an example of verses and passages that speak about Him as God or the Lord or the Creator, worthy of worship as God from all His creatures, having authority over death and life, and having all the Attributes of God: The King of Glory, Jesus Christ, is YHWH (Psalm 24:7-10); He is the Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8); He is the Mighty God (Psalm 45:3, Isaiah 9:6); He is the Almighty (Philippians 3:21, Hebrews 1:3, Revelation 1:8); He is God (Psalm 45:6-7, John 1:1, John 20:28, Romans 9:5; N.B.: In this last passage, i.e. Romans 9:5, the same expression “blessed forever. Amen.” is used about Jesus which is used about God the Creator in absolute in Romans 1:25. Also Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8-12); He is the Lord (Psalm 110:1 – note that David doesn’t have a Lord in Heaven other than God; see Psalm 73:25 – John 20:28, Acts 10:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6, 1 Corinthians 12:3, Hebrews 13:20); He is the Lord of lords, i.e. YHWH (Deuteronomy 10:17, 1 Timothy 6:13-16, Revelation 17:14, Revelation 19:11-16); He is the true God and eternal Life (1 John 5:20); He is the Creator, and all things were created through Him and for Him (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2-3, Hebrews 1:8-12. Remember that this doesn’t mean that there was any God other than YHWH creating, as we have seen in Isaiah 44:24); He is the same Lord by whose Name people are saved in all ages (Romans 10:9,13; N.B.: Romans 10:13 quotes a passage that is about YHWH, i.e. Joel 2:32); He is “God with us”, i.e. God incarnate — N.B.: This Child was called Jesus, and not “Immanuel”, so His Name “Immanuel” or “God with us” is about His Nature, just like all His Titles or Names, and not just a simple name (Isaiah 7:14, John 1:1,14, Colossians 2:9, 1 Timothy 3:16); He is YHWH who has become the stone of stumbling (Isaiah 8:13-14, 1 Peter 2:8); John the Baptist prepared the way of YHWH who came as the Shepherd (Isaiah 40:3,11, Matthew 3:3); He is YHWH our Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:5-6, 1 Corinthians 1:30); He is eternal and has no beginning (Micah 5:2); He is the Lord of the Temple (Malachi 3:1, cf. Matthew 12:6 and Luke 1:9); He is worshiped as God not just by humans but also by angels, and He didn’t refuse that worship like those who didn’t deserve it (Matthew 2:11, Matthew 14:33, Hebrews 1:6, Revelation 5:12-14, cf. Matthew 4:10, Acts 10:25-26, Revelation 19:10, Revelation 22:8-9); He is Omnipresent (Matthew 18:20, Matthew 28:20, John 1:18, John 3:13); He forgives sins, and only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:7,10, Colossians 3:13); He is Omniscient (Luke 5:22, John 2:24-25, John 16:30, John 21:17, 1 Corinthians 4:5, Revelation 2:23); He should be honored as God (John 5:23); He calls Himself the “I AM” or YHWH, and He says that we die in our sins if we don’t believe that He is (John 8:24, John 8:58); He is the Good Shepherd about whom David wrote in Psalm 23 (John 10:11, Hebrews 13:20, N.B.: The Shepherd is YHWH in Psalm 23 and in other passages of the Old Testament); He has authority over His death and Resurrection (John 10:17-18); He and the Father are One (John 10:30, John 12:45, John 14:9); He is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25); He is YHWH whom Isaiah saw in a vision and about whom he wrote (John 12:37-41; N.B.: Isaiah saw the Glory of YHWH in Isaiah 6:1-10; this is Jesus according to John 12:41); He hears prayers (John 14:13-14, Acts 7:59; N.B.: Only God hears prayers – Psalm 63:4, Psalm 65:2); All what is the Father’s is His, including the Divine Spirit (John 16:15, John 17:10, Romans 8:9); He is the Judge, i.e. the Lawgiver, God (2 Corinthians 5:10, James 4:12); He existed in the form of God and He is equal to God (Philippians 2:5-8); He is YHWH, so He does not change, as we have seen previously (Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6); He is the Alpha and Omega, i.e. the First and the Last, i.e. YHWH (Revelation 1:8, Revelation 1:17-18, Revelation 2:8, cf. Isaiah 41:4, Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 48:12); He is YHWH who redeemed us from our sins (Titus 2:13-14, Psalm 130:7-8); etc… According to these verses, the Son is the only true God, YHWH. And as we have seen in point 1, “Jehovah, he is God — there is none other besides him.” (Deuteronomy 4:35) There is no other God than YHWH, and the Son is this true God.
– The Holy Spirit is God: He is the Creator (Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4); He has the power to save (Zechariah 4:6); He is Omnipresent (Psalm 139:7); He is Omniscient (Isaiah 40:13-14, 1 Corinthians 2:10); He is Omnipotent (Romans 15:13); He is God (Acts 5:3-4); He is the Lord (Luke 2:26-29, 2 Corinthians 3:17); He is the Author of the new birth (John 3:5-6); He guides us into all the truth (John 16:13); He is eternal (Hebrews 9:14); He has a sovereign Will (1 Corinthians 12:11); He is the Author of the Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21, Hebrews 3:7-11); He appoints and commissions ministers (Isaiah 48:16, Acts 13:2, Acts 20:28), etc… According to these verses, the Holy Spirit is the only true God, YHWH. And as we have seen in point 1, “Jehovah, he is God — there is none other besides him.” (Deuteronomy 4:35) There is no other God than YHWH, and the Holy Spirit is this true God.
The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are mentioned together as One in passages like: Genesis 1:1-3, Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, Jude 20-21, Revelation 1:4-5.
As the Son is the One who revealed to us who God is, so the concentration of the Bible, and especially of the New Testament, is on the Son, Jesus Christ. And indeed all cults want to attack this truth about the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is the rock upon which the Church is built, as we have seen in the article What does the word “Messiah” mean? Who is the Messiah? (cf. Matthew 16:15-18)
3. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct from each other: The Father sent the Son (John 3:17, John 4:34, John 5:23-24, John 5:37, John 6:29, John 6:38, John 6:44, etc…) The Son prayed to the Father (Matthew 14:23, Matthew 26:36-39, Mark 1:35, John 17, etc…) The Son had to go so that the Holy Spirit may come, and it is the Son who sent the Holy Spirit (John 16:7, etc…). In the baptism of Jesus Christ, the Father speaks from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit comes in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32). These and many other passages show that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct from each other. It is very wrong to say that the Father is the Son, or that the Son is the Holy Spirit or that the Holy Spirit is the Father. They are distinct from each other, and yet not separate (according to the points 1 and 2).
Now, the essential question was: How can God be One and not multiple, and at the same time be the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who are distinct from each other and yet not separate? Notice that not knowing the answer to this “how” will not make you lose your eternity, but not believing what God has revealed in His Word as we have seen in the above three points will make you lose your eternity. The main purpose of explaining the “how” in the best way is to help understand how the divine truths are logical, although they are very much higher than our human logic: “”For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
When you examine in the Bible the above passages to which I referred in the points 1,2 and 3, and you read the concerned articles to which I linked, you will see how the Bible is not like a dictionary, i.e. it doesn’t define truths or words like the dictionary, but it reveals the truths in a very practical way, and you need to seriously study the whole Word of God in order to see how God explains each truth in other parts of His Word. I am sure you have noticed this fact if you read the Bible carefully and honestly. God talks in the Bible to all people in all ages, and He doesn’t use any particular human philosophy or human wisdom to reveal Himself, but He says the truths in His way. For example, Paul does not try to use any human wisdom to tell the Corinthians about the truth and about God: “And I, when I came to you, brethren, came not in excellency of word, or wisdom, announcing to you the testimony of God. For I did not judge [it well] to know anything among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2) You never see any Apostle revealing to us the deep divine truths in a humanly philosophical way. The Apostles don’t try to explain the relation between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in terms and pictures borrowed from the Greek philosophy. Of course, this doesn’t mean that throughout the first century and among the Apostles “there has been a lot of controversy over Deity” or that there has been “a struggle over the nature of God” or that “there has also been much misunderstanding about the name or names of God” among the Apostles, as Stephen suggests… The Apostles surely knew who God is, and they didn’t need the Mormons or any cultist to tell them whom they worshiped… If they didn’t explain the divine truths in the way Mormons or cultists wish to hear them, this doesn’t mean they didn’t know. The Apostles simply didn’t want to do metaphysics, but they continued the biblical tradition: presenting God in action in history in a very concrete way.
So you notice now the caricature that Stephen wanted to draw about our Faith “which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 3) As this Faith was once for all handed down to the saints in the first century A.D., then we didn’t need to wait for the cultists to tell us what our Faith is…
Now, although the Scripture speaks of the actions of God in history and never uses human philosophy to reveal these truths, as I explained above, and yet the Scripture does not forbid the believer to explain those truths to each person in each culture in the way he may understand them better, with the condition of not changing the Faith that was once for all received but only with the purpose of clarifying things to those who ask. For instance, in Acts 17:16-34 Paul explained to the philosophers of Athens the Nature of God and the Resurrection in a way they should have understood it: he did NOT tell them that he’s preaching to them a god whom they already knew, but he told them clearly that he was preaching to them the true God who was UNKNOWN to them (cf. Acts 17:23-28). He presented to them God as the Creator, explaining to them that the Divine Nature is not like gold or silver or stone as they thought. To explain these things, you see how Paul used the concepts that they already understood; for example he quoted their poets. And using all these means, Paul explained to them how this God is Holy and how He calls all men to repentance in the Name of Jesus Christ. When the majority of them couldn’t understand him and began to mock or didn’t want to listen, Paul didn’t try to change the truth in order to convince them.
During time, just like Paul, the Church Fathers and apologists needed to present and explain to all people this biblical Faith that they had received once for all from the Apostles. In each culture, they needed to give an answer to people or philosophers in a way that those people could understand it, and yet without changing the truth that they had received. Now, during the first centuries of the Church, we all know that the dominant culture was the Greek culture, so the Church had to explain things in the way Greek philosophers could understand it, without compromising the truth. As the Scripture has concrete forms of expression and does not speak in the humanly philosophical way, so the Church had the challenge to find a way to communicate those truths that she already knew in a way that could be understood in the language of the Greek philosophy which, contrary to the Scriptural accounts, centered its attention on the question of metaphysical being or what is “real”. So there was a shift in thought pattern from the Scriptural way of expression to the way a Greek philosopher could understand. Of course, the Church Fathers always tried to keep the balance between the need to communicate the scriptural truth in an intelligible way and the principle of keeping the biblical truth pure and without human mixture. In this hard work, some of them may have failed sometimes to find the exact or most accurate words or expressions to express the truth that they all knew, and this is normal as they were not writing inspired Scripture and their writings were not inerrant and infallible. But this doesn’t automatically mean that they didn’t know the truth of God’s Word or that the Church was struggling to know her God, as Stephen ignorantly suggests. Indeed, Stephen’s comment shows a clear ignorance about what happened in the history of the Church as you can see. But as soon as any teacher or bishop passed beyond the limit of errors in words or expressions to the clear area of errors in doctrine, he was considered as a heretic by the Church.
Thus, concerning the Nature of God, the Church needed to find the best way to express the biblical truths in a way that is intelligible for the Greek mind. By nature, the Church is the body of Christ that has a mission on this earth: to reach all nations with the Gospel. So the Church really cared to communicate the truth in an intelligible way. Concerning the Nature of God, the Church Fathers wanted to express in harmony the essential three points that they believed and that they received from God directly in the accounts of the Scripture. If they didn’t already know those three essential facts about God as Stephen dreams, they would not struggle to find the best way to communicate them in harmony, never compromising those three points. We have seen those three points at the beginning of this article: 1. God is One, and not two or three or many gods as in pagan religions; 2. God is revealed as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; 3. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct from each other. The Church Fathers in all their writings struggled to keep the harmony between these three points. It is very important to read what they wrote in order not to be deceived by cultists who deceived people like Stephen who don’t have a good knowledge about the history of the Church. In this difficult task of communicating these divine truths to the nations in a way that would be understandable to them, the real Church Fathers and apologists never compromised the truth, and we always read them calling Jesus with the same Names by which He is called in the Bible, such as the Name “our God”. To see by yourselves what I am saying, read the writings of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Hermas, Polycarp, Papias, and the Letter of Barnabas, the Letter to Diognetus, 2 Clement, and the Didache. In their explanations of this truth, some preferred to use the biblical concept of the “Logos” which was also a concept that the Greek mind could understand as it was also used in the Greek philosophy. I mention of those who used this concept of the “Logos” in their debates and explanations: Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus. As the Greek philosophy had some serious misunderstandings about who the Logos really is, so the Church Fathers had to make the effort to clarify the truth to them. Each one of those who chose the term “Logos” to explain the Nature of Christ had his own way to explain this truth. When you read the writings of the Fathers and especially the apologists, you quickly notice all what I am saying here. Brief, in all these efforts to reach the Greek mind, the lacking part was the technical vocabulary to express the different truths, and the Church had to find the best way of expression step by step during time. Besides this, it was not enough just to find the best way of expression; this best way had also to be the unified way of expression in the whole Church, as the Church is one body and needs to keep that unity when going out to reach the world with the Gospel. So you can see how the suggestion of Stephen is just an ignorant lie about history: the Church was not struggling to find out who her God is, but she was struggling to find the best way of expression to express her already clear Faith in a way that would be intelligible for the Greek mind, as she was reaching the Greek world with her Gospel. It is in this process that the Church reached the best way of expression in the third century A.D., especially beginning with Tertullian who was of big help as he was the first to use the Latin expression Trinitas about God, and that helped very much to express those three points that we have seen together at the beginning of this article. In his way to this discovery of this better expression of this doctrine (and not a new doctrine), Tertullian used some key ideas from the previous Church Fathers and apologists as well as some other key expressions that helped him reach that word, like the Latin term substantia (substance) and persona (person). In this way Tertullian was able to express in a better way those three points that we saw at the beginning of this article and that the Church was struggling to express in the best way. With those Latin words that he used, Tertullian could explain how the three Persons (the key term Persona is used) share the same essence or substance (the key term substantia is used) and thus are One (as the first point of the three points says), but each has His personality (as the points 2 and 3 say). Thus Tertullian succeeded to explain how there is a unity in God as well as trinity, and how God is not multiple gods although He is revealed as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This stress on the unity of substance and the distinction of persons helped the Church very much in the expression of what she already believed, i.e. of the Faith which was once for all received in the days of the Apostles. Of course, just like all human terms, the word “Trinity” was not the perfect word to express who God is, and yet it was the best human way. If it were the perfect word, the Holy Spirit would use it in the Bible. And indeed, the later Nicene Creed didn’t use this term “Trinity” but explained what we believe, i.e. it explained the Trinity concentrating on the Son who revealed God to us. Even Tertullian who first used it had to elaborate more on what this term did mean and what it did not mean. The same is true about his terms “substance” and “person”. In the usual Latin that anyone would understand in those times, the term persona meant an entity totally distinct from other entities. And yet, when explaining the Nature of God, Tertullian uses this term Person in a relational way: for him the Father cannot be the Father without the Son, and the Son cannot be the Son without the Father; although the two are distinct (cf. point 3 above), and yet they are inseparable (cf. points 1 and 2 above). The Holy Spirit likewise shares this divine essence or substance, although He is a distinct Person. Thus the three members of the Godhead share both an interrelatedness and a distinctiveness. It is in this way that especially the Eastern Church reached the Syriac term qnoma instead of the Latin persona; qnoma more closely expresses this relational meaning of the term persona that Tertullian tried to explain. Of course, the term qnoma also has its own difficulties as it is not a perfect word either. Today this term qnoma (Arabic version: ouqnoum) is widely used among the Arabic speaking Christians instead of the term Person .
But if the term “Trinity” (with the terms related to it) is not the perfect word, this doesn’t mean we can’t use it to explain our Faith which we received once for all in the first century A.D. It is the best human way to explain this truth. Any other term or idea would compromise in at least one of the three essential points that we saw at the beginning. And as the word “Trinity” as well as the words “Substance” and “Person” are the best human way to express our Faith without compromise, so the Church continues to use these terms in order to communicate the truth about God. If anyone would like to suggest any other way of expression of our Faith, he needs to do a hard work similar to the work the Church had to do all over the first three centuries A.D. to discover this best way of expression, and he has to prove to be able to keep the harmony between all those three points that we have seen at the beginning of this article and that are the clear revelation of the Word of God about God. Besides this, he needs to be able to make his “better” word accepted by the whole Church, as we need a unified way of expression as well as the best way. Till now, the word “Trinity” proved to be the only best term.
It is in this way that the Church reached the final step in this process with the Nicene crisis and with the related Creed that resulted from this crisis. If the Lord wills and we live, we will explain the details about that crisis in another article, when we comment on Stephen’s wrong ideas about that crisis.
Finally, let’s note that the “confusion” about which Stephen is talking is not a confusion in the Church concerning God, but it is a confusion in his own mind. And this confusion that Stephen has is the result of refusing the clear Word of God and thus stumbling on the stone of stumbling: “”A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.” (1 Peter 2:8). This stone of stumbling is the only true God YHWH Himself who was incarnated: “Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will be for a sanctuary; and for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” (Isaiah 8:13-15) Indeed, all cults and false religions stumble on this stone. But the Lord Jesus said:
“And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
In conclusion, for three centuries the Church was not having “a lot of controversy over Deity” within her own ranks as Stephen suggested with the expression “throughout Christendom”, but she was having those controversies with the unbelievers who opposed the Faith. It is not true that there has been “a struggle over the nature of God” or that “there has also been much misunderstanding about the name or names of God” as Stephen wrongly suggested, but there was a struggle to find the best way of expression of our Faith that we received once for all from the Apostles of our Lord. For three centuries, the main problem for the Church was to find the best technical vocabulary to express her Faith. She had to find a unified way to communicate her Faith. The Church was not trying to find out what her Faith is, but she was trying to find out what is the best intelligible way to express it.
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ