Trinitarianism: A Debate about the Nature of God

The Christian doctrine of God underwent slow development in the first three centuries. Early Christian creeds set out a threefold structure to Christian belief: most of these creeds consisted of three sections, dealing with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (1.5.8). Initially, Christian beliefs about God were framed in terms of God as creator and judge, the almighty ruler of the world to which all earthly rulers were subject, and who was the object of proper worship.

Yet the growing realization that Jesus of Nazareth had to be regarded as divine (1.5.3), in some sense of that word, demanded an expansion of this vision of God. The Council of Nicaea’s firm declaration that Jesus Christ was to be regarded as fully divine – without in any way compromising his humanity – raised some fundamental theological questions. If Christ was God, how did this shape Christian thinking about God? Some scholars have suggested that second-century Christianity was really binitarian, committed to belief in God the Father, and God the Son. However, a more reliable reading of the historical evi- dence is that the early church was implicitly Trinitarian, while being reluctant to formalize this until clarification had been achieved on some important points.

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