Ad Gloriam Dei

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corintians 10:31

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Monday, April 07, 2008

Against Modalism 5: Is Trinitarianism Pagan?

Apart from portraying Trinitarians as believing in three Gods, Modalists and other Unitarians attempt an ad hominem fallacy by asserting that Trinitarianism comes from paganism, i.e. guilt by association. Even if paganism had such an idea, it would not invalidate the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. The reality is that such a concept is utterly alien to paganism.

Some Modalists, that I have debated with, backed-up their assertion by asking me to consult the Free Church of Scotland pastor Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons.

In this book against Romanism, he just shows how that pseudo-church corrupted its worship by the introduction of Tri-theistic and Modalistic images from paganism to represent the Trinity. As a true Presbyterian (as opposed to liberalism), he abhorred the syncretism and idolatry of that system. As a true Presbyterian, it is absurd to suggest that he was suggesting that Trinitarianism was rooted in paganism, nor is there any evidence of this in the book.

None of these pagan triads were like the Trinity in their metaphysical state. They were either Tri-theistic (three gods, not one God in three Persons), often with this triad over further sub-gods; or Modalistic, where the one, supreme deity was manifest in different forms or modes, e.g. as he states on p. 18, “In India, the supreme divinity… is represented with three heads on one body, under the name of ‘Eko Deva Trimurtti,’ ‘One God, three forms.’”

If anything, Hislop’s work shows a connection between Modalism (one God, three forms – or more) and paganism.

Also, as the early church leaders (e.g. Hippolytus) argued in their writings, Modalism was derived from the pagan Greek philosophy of Heraclitus and Plato, who believed that God was a Monad.

Unitarians’ own moulding of Scripture to fit their philosophical presuppositions is evident when they urge that it is ridiculous to believe that one God could consist of three Persons. Why not? This is begging the question. (See the previous article.)

The following quote from B.B. Warfield’s Biblical Doctrines (pp. 133, 134) is worth reproducing:

“In point of fact, the doctrine of the Trinity is purely a revealed doctrine. That is to say, it embodies a truth which has never been discovered, and is indiscoverable, by natural reason. With all his searching, man has not been able to find out for himself the deepest things of God. Accordingly, ethnic thought has never attained a Trinitarian conception of God, nor does any ethnic religion present in its representations of the Divine Being any analogy to the doctrine of the Trinity.

“Triads of divinities, no doubt, occur in nearly all poly¬theistic religions, formed under very various influences. Sometimes, as in the Egyptian triad of Osiris, Isis and Horus, it is the analogy of the human family with its father, mother and son which lies at their basis. Sometimes they are the effect of mere syncretism, three deities worshipped in different localities being brought together in the common worship of all.

“Sometimes, as in the Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, they represent the cyclic movement of a pantheistic evolution, and symbolize the three stages of Being, Becoming and Dissolution. Sometimes they are the result apparently of nothing more than an odd human tendency to think in threes, which has given the number three widespread standing as a sacred number (so H. Usener).

“It is no more than was to be anticipated, that one or another of these triads should now and again be pointed to as the replica (or even the original) of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Gladstone found the Trinity in the Homeric mythology, the trident of Poseidon being its symbol. Hegel very naturally found it in the Hindu Trimurti, which indeed is very like his pantheising notion of what the Trinity is. Others have perceived it in the Buddhist Triratna (Soderblom); or (despite their crass dualism) in some speculations of Parseeism; or, more frequently, in the notional triad of Platonism (e. g., Knapp); while Jules Martin is quite sure that it is present in Philo's neo-Stoical doctrine of the "powers," especially when applied to the explanation of Abraham's three visitors. Of late years, eyes have been turned rather to Babylonia; and H. Zim¬mern finds a possible forerunner of the Trinity in a Father, Son, and Intercessor, which he discovers in its mythology.

“It should be needless to say that none of these triads has the slightest resemblance to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity embodies much more than the notion of ‘threeness,’ and beyond their ‘threeness’ these triads have nothing in common with it.”


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Anonymous Polycarp said...

First, I would not consult The Two Babylons since the scholarship contained therein has been more than debunked.

Hippolytus was the 'anti-pope' challenging a patripassian Bishop of Rome. If you would read his friend, Clement of Alexandria's work, you will see that Plato believed in a Trinity. On page 130 of Osborn's Clement of Alexandria, the author says that 'after John, Clement's source is Plato'. Throughout Clement's work you will see references to Plato as being a prophet, or near to one, even calling him the most holy Plate (Prob. 13)

When was the Trinity pointedly revealed in Scripture? Every other doctrine was, but somehow, the Apostles failed to mention the Trinity?

Tim, how can you answer Thomas' declaration that Christ was his Lord and God? Of John's closing comments that Jesus Christ is the true God? Can you reconcile God's words that He alone is God and that there will be no other God formed?

Where is the scriptural proof that the Trinity was recognized by the Apostles?

And do you really count Plato as a holy man of God?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008 1:09:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

I am not in a position of being able to say that Two Babylons has been debunked. What is your evidence for this judgement?

The point about quoting Hislop is to reply to those Modalists who quote him. Moreover the fact that the pagan triads were Tri-theistic or Modalistic (like yourself) is a well-attested fact. If you have studied ancient religions and Hinduism then you will recognise this.

Undoubtedly Clement of Alexandria in his worldly apologetics was too enthusiastic about Plato (which makes any mention of a Trinity in relation to Plato by Clement rather dubious), but that does not make Hippolytus guilty by association. How friendly they were, I do not know. Clement is quite irrelevant.

By the way, can you quote the part where Clement says that Plato believed in a Trinity?

The fact of the history of philosophy is that Plato and his neo-Platonic followers believed that God was an indivisible Monad. Plato has no concept of a Trinity at all. He would say to Trinitarians, "Three persons in one God, what nonsense! God is one person in one God."

He happened to believe that certain things occurred in threes, e.g. Plato describes the universe as existing in three parts: the physical world, the world of forms, and the higher intellectual world of pure mind. Does that make him a Trinitarian? Where is the concept of three distinct persons in one God? This is the theological equivalent of an urban legend.

Modalists believe in one God manifested in a triad of forms. Does that make you Trinitarian?

Platonism and neo-Platonism believed in a Modalistic transformation of the Monad. If anything, Plato is closer to 'Christian' Modalism. In fact Plato is very close to the modalistic monotheism-cum-pantheisism of Servetus.

Tertullian, a bitter opponent of Plato, was also the well-known defender of Trinitarianism against the Modalist Praxeas. To say that Trinitarianism came from Plato is thus absurd.

See here for more.

The Apostles believed wholeheartedly in the Trinity which I will show in subsequent posts.

As for Thomas' declaration, we agree wholeheartedly in the deity of Christ. That is an essential belief of orthodoxy.

As for Isaiah 43:10,11, we wholeheartedly assent to it as the Holy Word of God and agreeable to our belief in One God:

“You are My witnesses,” says the LORD, “and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me,and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD,and besides Me there is no savior.”

I use this all the time with the polytheistic Mormons.

I would remind you to consult this again.

To quote Monotheistic passages to me is a waste of time. I believe in one God. It is even more a waste of time to ask such absurd questions (I mean that factually and not disrespectfully) as, "[D]o you really count Plato as a holy man of God?"

Tuesday, April 08, 2008 10:10:00 pm  
Anonymous Polycarp said...

Hislop has been debunked, but I do agree with you that many oneness believers freely quote him without reading that he himself still accepted the Trinity.

How irrelevant is Clement of Alexandria if much of the trinitarian doctrine is descended from him?

To quote:
"Let us add in completion what follows, and exhibit now with greater clearness the plagiarism of the Greeks from the Barbarian [Hebrew] philosophy. [...] And the address in the Timaeus calls the creator, Father, speaking thus: “Ye gods of gods, of whom I am Father; and the Creator of your works.” So that when he says, “Around the king of all, all things are, and because of Him are all things; and he [or that] is the cause of all good things; and around the second are the things second in order; and around the third, the third,” I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant; for the third is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father." (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book V, Chapter 14).

Tertullian is a entirely different matter. Starting off on one end of the spectrum, as a Binitarianism, and when he joined the Montanists, he 'discovered' the third person. He died a heretic from 'orthodox' Christianity.

I believe it would behoove you to study the formation of the Trinity doctrine.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008 5:07:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...


Clement is irrelevant because Scripture is what counts.

Enough time has been necessarily spent in dealing with the more troublesome lies about Trinitarianism spread by deceitful or ignorant Modalists.

The Trinity was declared clearly in the Holy Scriptures. Clement is not the responsible for Trinitarianism.

The defects of the so-called Church Fathers are many, and orthodox Protestants don't have to answer for them.

With respect, I'm not going to follow this line of discussion, but proceed to Scripture...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008 8:17:00 pm  
Anonymous Polycarp said...

I await your attempt, although Protestantism is merely a continuation of Roman tradition.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008 9:06:00 pm  
Blogger Daniel Hill said...


I agree with Timothy. There is no evidence that Plato believed in the Trinity: the passage you quote from Clement of Alexandria quotes from the Second Letter, which most scholars believe not by Plato, and, in any case, is much more likely a reference to the three `One's of Parmenides, rather than the Trinity. Note that there is no reference to persons in the quotation, and, if you consult the Greek, you will see that the words translated `second' and `third' are neuter, i.e. they refer to things rather than persons. (Trinitarians, of course, believe in three persons rather than three things as members of the Trinity.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008 5:32:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...


As a lecturer in philosophy at one of the UK's leading universities, do you agree with these statements of mine (as heathen philosophy isn't one of my strong points):

"Plato and his neo-Platonic followers believed that God was an indivisible Monad."

"He happened to believe that certain things occurred in threes, e.g. Plato describes the universe as existing in three parts: the physical world, the world of forms, and the higher intellectual world of pure mind."

"Platonism and neo-Platonism believed in a Modalistic transformation of the Monad. If anything, Plato is closer to 'Christian' Modalism. In fact Plato is very close to the modalistic monotheism-cum-pantheisism of Servetus."

I want to make sure that I've understood things correctly.

Saturday, April 19, 2008 7:38:00 pm  
Blogger Daniel Hill said...

Timothy, I have consulted with a colleague that is an expert in ancient philosophy, and, yes, I do believe that all your statements are correct (though I ought to admit that I don't know anything about the monotheism-cum-pantheism of Servetus).

Sunday, April 20, 2008 8:35:00 am  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...


Thanks for taking the time to review what I wrote. I am only too conscious of my ignorance in these areas.

I would add that I disagree with my use of the term "monotheism" in my response to 'Polycarp' regarding Plato. This is in fact quite an inaccurate use of the word. Sadly, this is just reflective of the hasty nature of blog comments late at night.

Plato like most 'classical' polytheism (inc. much Hinduism) conceives of an Ultimate, or One, from whom all things, including the lesser gods, proceed. This One is often so transcendent that he is even, as Plato is well-known to have said, "beyond being."

This and this are both useful.

(Of course, one of the great difficulties for the non-expert is extracting Plato from pseudo-Plato, from Academy Platonism, from Middle Platonism and from Neo-Platonism!)

Islam is akin to this in its ultra-transcendent god. Christianity, in opposition, believes in a immanent, personable and knowable God. We also believe in His transcendence as well!

Romanism's need for 'semi-divine' saints to mediate with the one, awesome God, is reflective of its continuity from the paganism with which it syncretised, in its departure from the Catholic faith.

I would add that the ancient Greeks liked their threes a lot! Of course, Modalists and Trinitarians both believe in a theistic triad: one, a triad of modes; and the other, a triad of persons. The mere fact that pagans, Modalists and Trinitarians all have triads is no more reflective of a pagan origin to either Modalism or Trinitarianism than Rice Kripsies' "Snap, Crackle and Pop". (I always thought that Rice Krispies had a Platonic origin ;)

(What I have found interesting is how Sabellius' own brand of Modalism is so like Plotinus the Neo-Platonist's theology.)

P.S. Any good internet sources of Plato's theology?

Sunday, April 20, 2008 3:54:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Plato didn't believe in the Trinity?

"The Synods of Antioch condemned the word homoousios (same substance) because it originated in pagan Greek philosophy."

Newton blamed both Athanasius and Arius for distorting Scripture when, in the fourth century, they “introduced metaphysical subtleties into their disputes and corrupted the plain language of Scripture.” Their ancient debate seemed to have more in common with Plato and Aristotle than with Jesus. Newton asked whether “Christ sent his apostles to preach metaphysics to the unlearned people, and to their wives and children?”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 4:59:00 pm  

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