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Oneness Pentecostals often charge that Trinitarianism was an invention of Roman Catholicism, and that the earliest believers were Oneness. Often the claim is made that Trinitarianism was developed at the Council of Nice (A.D. 325). This claim is simply not true. From the earliest Christian writings, there is a definite distinction in persons made between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Clement of Rome: A.D. 30-100
Clement was a presbyter in the Church at Rome in the first century. He is probably the same "Clement" that Paul referred to in Phil. 4:3. In the Epistle to the Corinthians, Clement displays clear Pauline characteristics and terminology, (just as Polycarp displays the character and terminology of his mentor, John). Here is an excerpt to the Epistle to the Corinthians.
CHAPTER 36 - ALL BLESSINGS ARE GIVEN TO US THROUGH CHRIST
"This is the way, beloved, in which we find our Savior, even Jesus Christ, the High Priest of all our offerings, the defender and helper of our infirmity. By Him we look up to the heights of heaven. By Him we behold, as in a glass, His immaculate and most excellent visage. By Him are the eyes of our hearts opened. By Him our foolish and darkened understanding blossoms up anew towards His marvelous light. By Him the Lord has willed that we should taste of immortal knowledge, “who, being the brightness of His majesty, is by so much greater than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” For it is thus written, “Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.” But concerning His Son the Lord spoke thus: “Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.” And again He saith to Him, “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.” But who are His enemies? All the wicked, and those who set themselves to oppose the will of God."
Clement often quoted Paul. Again, all indications of this earliest disciple of Paul do not conform to a "one person" understanding of the Godhead. While I am sure the Oneness folks will seek to downplay this and other passages as simply reiterating what Paul wrote, the point is that such terminology is consistent with and strongly favors (actually requires) distinctions of person between Father and Son. (Not distinction of modes). And, both Paul's repeatedly making this distinction AFTER the ascension, as well as the early Church's continued use of such distinctions, indicates that Oneness was simply not taught by either the Apostles or the early Church.
If Jesus was just a temporary mode of God, then neither Paul nor the early Christians could continue to speak of Him as distinct from the Father after the ascension.
Mathetes: Date ?
Little is known of Mathetes, apart from what he wrote in his single Epistle to Diognetus. Mathetes had been a disciple of the Apostles, but does not name which ones. His Epistle is a beautiful Christian document, displaying the real spirit of the Gospel. In the following quote, you can clearly see the influence of both John and Paul on this dear brother. Note his repeated use of "Logos" (Word) for Jesus. I have included a fairly lengthy quote. I guess, Mathetes and Polycarp are my favorite writers, because their words sound so much like the Apostles. And the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ flows so freely from their pens. Enjoy!
CHAPTER 7 - THE MANIFESTATION OF CHRIST
"For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts. He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things — by whom He made the heavens — by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds — whose ordinances all the stars faithfully observe — from whom the sun has received the measure of his daily course to be observed — whom the moon obeys, being commanded to shine in the night, and whom the stars also obey, following the moon in her course; by whom all things have been arranged, and placed within their proper limits, and to whom all are subject — the heavens and the things that are therein, the earth and the things that are therein, the sea and the things that are therein — fire, air, and the abyss — the things which are in the heights, the things which are in the depths, and the things which lie between. This He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing? ... Do you not see them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of His manifestation."
CHAPTER 8 - THE MISERABLE STATE OF MEN BEFORE THE COMING OF THE WORD
"For, who of men at all understood before His coming what God is? Do you accept of the vain and silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? of whom some said that fire was God, calling that God to which they themselves were by and by to come; and some water; and others some other of the elements formed by God. But if any one of these theories be worthy of approbation, every one of the rest of created things might also be declared to be God. But such declarations are simply the startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers; and no man has either seen Him, or made Him known, but He has revealed Himself. And He has manifested Himself through faith, to which alone it is given to behold God. For God, the Lord and Fashioner of all things, who made all things, and assigned them their several positions, proved Himself not merely a friend of mankind, but also long-suffering Yea, He was always of such a character, and still is, and will ever be, kind and good, and free from wrath, and true, and the only one who is good; and He formed in His mind a great and unspeakable conception, which He communicated to His Son alone. As long, then, as He held and preserved His own wise counsel in concealment, He appeared to neglect us, and to have no care over us. But after He revealed and laid open, through His beloved Son, the things which had been prepared from the beginning, He conferred every blessing all at once upon us, so that we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active . Who of us would ever have expected these things? He was aware, then, of all things in His own mind, along with His Son, according to the relation subsisting between them."
CHAPTER 9 - WHY THE SON WAS SENT SO LATE
"As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things which it was impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food."
CHAPTER 11 - THESE THINGS ARE WORTHY TO BE KNOWN AND BELIEVED
"I do not speak of things strange to me, nor do I aim at anything inconsistent with right reason; but having been a disciple of the Apostles, I am become a teacher of the Gentiles. I minister the things delivered to me to those that are disciples worthy of the truth. For who that is rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word, would not seek to learn accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His disciples, to whom the Word being manifested has revealed them, speaking plainly, not understood indeed by the unbelieving, but conversing with the disciples, who, being esteemed faithful by Him, acquired a knowledge of the mysteries of the Father? For which reason He sent the Word, that He might be manifested to the world; and He, being despised by the people , was, when preached by the Apostles, believed on by the Gentiles. This is He who was from the beginning, who appeared as if new, and was found old, and yet who is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints. This is He who, being from everlasting, is to-day called the Son; through whom the Church is enriched, and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the faithful, giving to those that seek, by whom the limits of faith are not broken through, nor the boundaries set by the fathers passed over. Then the fear of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults; which grace if you grieve not, you shall know those things which the Word teaches, by whom He wills, and when He pleases. For whatever things we are moved to utter by the will of the Word commanding us, we communicate to you with pains, and from a love of the things that have been revealed to us."
Polycarp: A.D. 65-155
Polycarp the martyr was a disciple of John himself. So, we can expect to see the influence of the aged Apostle in his words. He was also the Pastor of the church in Smyrna, to whom Jesus addressed one of the seven letters in Revelation. Here is an excerpt from Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians.
CHAPTER 12 - EXHORTATION TO VARIOUS GRACES
"For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet granted. It is declared then in these Scriptures, “Be ye angry, and sin not,” and, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Happy is he who remembers this, which I believe to be the case with you. But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who “raised Him from the dead. Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings, and potentates, and princes, and for those that persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that ye may be perfect in Him."
That Polycarp held to distinct persons in the Godhead is a very important point. In A.D. 96, when John wrote Revelation, Jesus had nothing bad to say about this church which Polycarp oversaw. Yet, it is clear that Polycarp was not "Oneness." Furthermore, as we shall see later, it was within the church of Smyrna that the Oneness heresy first sprung up. And the founder of this doctrine, Noetus, was swiftly excommunicated from this very church.
Ignatius: A.D. 30-107
Ignatius was another martyr, Pastor of the church in Antioch, and was also a disciple of John and friend of Polycarp. He wrote several Epistles to local churches. Here is one quotation from his Epistle to the Trallians.
"For they speak of Christ, not that they may preach Christ, but that they may reject Christ; and they speak of the law, not that they may establish the law, but that they may proclaim things contrary to it. For they alienate Christ from the Father, and the law from Christ. They also calumniate His being born of the Virgin; they are ashamed of His cross; they deny His passion; and they do not believe His resurrection. They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power."
Ignatius was giving a quick
summary of some of the various heresies about Christ. Notice the trinitarian
formula, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." In the quote above, he gave three
separate heresies. First, those who say Jesus was just a man. Second, those
who say the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are the same person. (like Noetus,
Praxeas, Sabellius). And thirdly, the Gnostics (like Marcion, Valentinus,
Ptolemaus) who claimed that the creator God (YHVH) of the Old Testament
was not the same God as the "Father" in the NT.
While it is true that "Oneness" was taught in the early Church, it was considered heresy by the orthodox.
Barnabas: A.D. 100
Barnabas was a late first century writer, composing his epistle around the time of John's death. A few scholars believe he was the Barnabas who traveled with Paul. But this is by no means certain. His Epistle was very highly regarded by many of the Early Fathers. In the following quote, Barnabas expounded on Gen. 1:26, claiming that Jesus was one of the "us" and "our" whom God spoke to when He said, "let US make man in OUR image and after OUR likeness."
CHAPTER 5 - THE NEW COVENANT, FOUNDED ON THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, TENDS TO OUR SALVATION, BUT TO THE JEWS' DESTRUCTION
"For to this end the Lord endured to deliver up His flesh to corruption, that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His blood of sprinkling. For it is written concerning Him, partly with reference to Israel, and partly to us; and saith thus: "He was wounded for our transgressions, and braised for our iniquities: with His stripes we are healed. He was brought as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb which is dumb before its shearer." Therefore we ought to be deeply grateful to the Lord, because He has both made known to us things that are past, and hath given us wisdom concerning things present, and hath not left us without understanding in regard to things which are to come. Now, the Scripture saith, "Not unjustly are nets spread out for birds." This means that the man perishes justly, who, having a knowledge of the way of righteousness, rushes off into the way of darkness. And further, my brethren: if the Lord endured to suffer for our soul, He being Lord of all the world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, "Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness," understand how it was that He endured to suffer at the hand of men. The prophets, having obtained grace from Him, prophesied concerning Him. And He (since it behoved Him to appear in flesh), that He might abolish death, and reveal the resurrection from the dead, endured , in order that He might fulfill the promise made unto the fathers, and by preparing a new people for Himself, might show, while He dwelt on earth, that He, when He has raised mankind, will also judge them. Moreover, teaching Israel, and doing so great miracles and signs, He preached to him, and greatly loved him. But when He chose His own apostles who where to preach His Gospel, who were sinners above all sin, that He might show He came "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Then He manifested Himself to be the Son of God. For if He had not come in the flesh, how could men have been saved by beholding Him? Since looking upon the sun which is to cease to exist, and is the work of His hands, their eyes are not able to bear his rays. The Son of God therefore came in the flesh with this view, that He might bring to a head the sum of their sins who had persecuted His prophets to the death. For this purpose, then, He endured. For God saith, "The stroke of his flesh is from them;" and "when I shall smite the Shepherd, then the sheep of the flock shall be scattered." He himself willed thus to suffer, for it was necessary that He should suffer on the tree. For says he Who prophesies regarding Him, "Spare my soul from the sword, fasten my flesh with nails; for the assemblies of the wicked have risen up against me." And again he says, "Behold, I have given my back to scourges, and my cheeks to strokes, and I have set my countenance as a firm rock."
CHAPTER 6 - THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, AND THE NEW COVENANT, WERE ANNOUNCED BY THE PROPHETS
"...Since, therefore, having renewed us by the remission of our sins, He hath made us after another pattern, that we should possess the soul of children, inasmuch as He has created us anew by His Spirit. For the Scripture says concerning us, while He speaks to the Son, "Let Us make man after Our image, and after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the beasts of the earth, and the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea." And the Lord said, on beholding the fair creature man, "Increase, and multiply, and replenish the earth." These things to the Son."
Justin Martyr: A.D. 110-165
Justin was a writer around the end of the first century. His life was short, 55 years, because he was beheaded for his testimony to Christ. His first work (Justin's First Apology) was a massive defense of Christianity written to the pagan Romans in an attempt to explain Christianity and distinguish it from the pagan religions and Judaism. Here are a couple of interesting quotes. Justin also wrote a second Apology, as well as a lengthy dialogue with a Jew named Trypho.
The second quote below is very revealing, since Justin clearly distinguished Jesus from the Father, and indicated that it was the Son who appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Furthermore, he condemned the Jews for NOT distinguishing between the Father and the Son! Hardly appropriate if Justin believed "oneness."
CHAPTER 13 - CHRISTIANS SERVE GOD RATIONALLY
"...Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judaea, in the times of Tiberius Caesar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is herein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed."
CHAPTER 63 - HOW GOD APPEARED TO MOSES
"And all the Jews even now teach that the nameless God spake to Moses; whence the Spirit of prophecy, accusing them by Isaiah the prophet mentioned above, said “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know Me, and My people do not understand.” And Jesus the Christ, because the Jews knew not what the Father was, and what the Son, in like manner accused them; and Himself said, “No one knoweth the Father, but the Son; nor the Son, but the Father, and they to whom the Son revealeth Him.” Now the Word of God is His Son, as we have before said. And He is called Angel and Apostle; for He declares whatever we ought to know, and is sent forth to declare whatever is revealed; as our Lord Himself says, “He that heareth Me, heareth Him that sent Me.” From the writings of Moses also this will be manifest; for thus it is written in them, “And the Angel of God spake to Moses, in a flame of fire out of the bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of thy fathers; go down into Egypt, and bring forth My people.” And if you wish to learn what follows, you can do so from the same writings; for it is impossible to relate the whole here. But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race, He endured all the sufferings which the devils instigated the senseless Jews to inflict upon Him; who, though they have it expressly affirmed in the writings of Moses, “And the angel of God spake to Moses in a flame of fire in a bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” yet [the Jews] maintain that He who said this was the Father and Creator of the universe. Whence also the Spirit of prophecy rebukes them, and says, “Israel doth not know Me, my people have not understood Me.” And again, Jesus, as we have already shown, while He was with them, said, “No one knoweth the Father, but the Son; nor the Son but the Father, and those to whom the Son will reveal Him.” The Jews, accordingly, being throughout of opinion that it was the Father of the universe who spake to Moses, though He who spake to him was indeed the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle, are justly charged, both by the Spirit of prophecy and by Christ Himself, with knowing neither the Father nor the Son. For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign, having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin, according to the counsel of the Father, for the salvation of those who believe on Him, He endured both to be set at nought and to suffer, that by dying and rising again He might conquer death. And that which was said out of the bush to Moses, “I am that I am, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and the God of your fathers,” this signified that they, even though dead, are let in existence, and are men belonging to Christ Himself. For they were the first of all men to busy themselves in the search after God; Abraham being the father of Isaac, and Isaac of Jacob, as Moses wrote."
The following 2 quotes are from Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew.
"Then I replied, “Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavor to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things, — numerically, I mean, not in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done anything which He who made the world — above whom there is no other God — has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.”
And Trypho said, “Prove now that this is the case, that we also may agree with you. For we do not understand you to affirm that He has done or said anything contrary to the will of the Maker of all things.”
Then I said, “The Scripture just quoted by me will make this plain to you. It is thus: ‘The sun was risen on the earth, and Lot entered into Segor (Zoar); and the Lord rained on Sodom sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and overthrew these cities and all the neighborhood.’”
Then the fourth of those who had remained with Trypho said, “It must therefore necessarily be said that one of the two angels who went to Sodom, and is named by Moses in the Scripture Lord, is different from Him who also is God and appeared to Abraham.”
“It is not on this ground solely,” I said, “that it must be admitted absolutely that some other one is called Lord by the Holy Spirit besides Him who is considered Maker of all things; not solely by Moses, but also by David. For there is written by him: ‘The Lord says to my Lord, Sit on My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool,’ as I have already quoted. And again, in other words: ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever. A sceptre of equity is the sceptre of Thy kingdom: Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity: therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.’ If, therefore, you assert that the Holy Spirit calls some other one God and Lord, besides the Father of all things and His Christ, answer me; for I undertake to prove to you from scriptures themselves, that He whom the Scripture calls Lord is not one of the two angels that went to Sodom, but He who was with them, and is called God, that appeared to Abraham.”...
And the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and He overthrew these cities, and all the neighborhood.’” And after another pause I added: “And now have you not perceived, my friends, that one of the three [angels], who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in the heavens, is Lord of the two angels? For when proceeded to Sodom, He remained behind, and communed with Abraham in the words recorded by Moses; and when He departed after the conversation, Abraham went back to his place. And when he came, the two angels no longer conversed with Lot, but Himself, as the Scripture makes evident; and He is the Lord who received commission from the Lord who in the heavens, i.e., the Maker of all things, to inflict upon Sodom and Gomorrah the which the Scripture describes in these terms: ‘The Lord rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.’”
"And I continued: “It is again written by Moses, my brethren, that He who is called God and appeared to the patriarchs is called both Angel and Lord, in order that from this you may understand Him to be minister to the Father of all things, as you have already admitted, and may remain firm, persuaded by additional arguments."
Irenaeus: A.D. 120-202
Irenaeus was the Pastor of the church in Lyons, Gaul (France) in the second century. He was trained by Polycarp the martyr, who had been a personal disciple of John. Irenaeus also became a martyr, being slain along with much of his congregation. The quote below is especially important because Irenaeus spoke of the universal faith in all of the churches. He wrote this in the first half of the 2nd century, about 50 years after John's death.
Against Heresies, Book I, Ch. X
"1. The Church, though
dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has
received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: (She believes)
in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea,
and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God,
who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who
proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents,
and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from
the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ
Jesus, our Lord, and His (future) manifestation from heaven in the glory
of the Father “to gather all things in one,” and to raise up anew all flesh
of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and
God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father,
“every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things
under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and
that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual
wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together
with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into
everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality
on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and
have persevered in His love, some from the beginning , and others from
their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.
Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. VI
"1. Therefore neither
would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named
as God, definitely and absolutely, him who was not God, unless he were
truly God; nor would they have named any one in his own person Lord, except
God the Father ruling over all, and His Son who has received dominion from
His Father over all creation, as this passage has it: “The LORD said unto
my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.”
Here the represents to us the Father addressing the Son; He who
gave Him the inheritance of the heathen, and subjected to Him all His enemies.
Since, therefore, the Father is truly Lord, and the Son truly Lord,
the Holy Spirit has fitly designated them by the title of Lord. And
again, referring to the destruction of the Sodomites, the Scripture says,
“Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah fire and brimstone from
the LORD out of heaven.” For it here points out that the Son, who
had also been talking with Abraham, had received power to judge the Sodomites
for their wickedness. And this (text following) does declare the same truth:
“Thy throne, O God; is for ever and ever; the scepter of Thy kingdom is
a right scepter. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore
God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee.” For the Spirit designates both (of
them) by the name, of God —both Him who is anointed as Son, and Him who
does anoint, that is, the Father. And again: “God stood in the congregation
of the gods, He judges among the gods.” He (here) refers to the Father
and the Son, and those who have received the adoption; but these
are the Church. For she is the synagogue of God, which God — that is, the
Son Himself — has gathered by Himself. Of whom He again speaks: “The God
of gods, the Lord hath spoken, and hath called the earth.” Who is meant
by God? He of whom He has said, “God shall come openly, our God, and shall
not keep silence; “that is, the Son, who came manifested to men who said,
“I have openly appeared to those who seek Me not.” But of what gods (does
he speak)? (Of those) to whom He says, “I have said, Ye are gods, and all
sons of the Most High.” To those, no doubt, who have received the grace
of the “adoption, by which we cry, Abba Father.”
Tertullian: A.D. 145-220
In the middle of the second century, a member of the church or Smyrna, named Noetus, gathered a following by teaching that Jesus was actually the Father (Oneness). He was excommunicated from the Church by the elders, but continued to teach his heresy, even founding a school. One of his disciples was Praxeas, who brought this doctrine to Rome. He had great influence over the Roman bishop, who cooperated with him. Because of this, Tertullian, a presbyter in the church at Carthage, and theologian, wrote a lengthy refutation of the theory that Praxeas had brought into the Roman church, called, "Against Praxeas." Here are the first two chapters.
CHAPTER 1 - SATAN’S WILES AGAINST THE TRUTH. HOW THEY TAKE THE FORM OF THE PRAXEAN HERESY. ACCOUNT OF THE PUBLICATION OF THIS HERESY
"In various ways has the devil rivaled and resisted the truth. Sometimes his aim has been to destroy the truth by defending it. He maintains that there is one only Lord, the Almighty Creator of the world, in order that out of this doctrine of the unity he may fabricate a heresy. He says that the Father Himself came down into the Virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed was Himself Jesus Christ. Here the old serpent has fallen out with himself, since, when he tempted Christ after John’s baptism, he approached Him as “the Son of God;” surely intimating that God had a Son, even on the testimony of the very Scriptures, out of which he was at the moment forging his temptation: “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Again: “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence; for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning thee” — referring no doubt, to the Father — “and in their hands they shall bear thee up, that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.” Or perhaps, after all, he was only reproaching the Gospels with a lie, saying in fact: “Away with Matthew; away with Luke! Why heed their words? In spite of them, I declare that it was God Himself that I approached; it was the Almighty Himself that I tempted face to face; and it was for no other purpose than to tempt Him that I approached Him. If, on the contrary, it had been only the Son of God, most likely I should never have condescended to deal with Him.” However, he is himself a liar from the beginning, and whatever man he instigates in his own way; as, for instance, Praxeas. For he was the first to import into Rome from Asia this kind of heretical pravity, a man in other respects of restless disposition, and above all inflated with the pride of confessorship simply and solely because he had to bear for a short time the annoyance of a prison; on which occasion, even “if he had given his body to be burned, it would have profiled him nothing,” not having the love of God, whose very gifts he has resisted and destroyed. For after the Bishop of Rome had acknowledged the prophetic gifts of Montanus, Prisca, and Maximilla, and, in consequence of the acknowledgment, had bestowed his peace on the churches of Asia and Phrygia, he, by importunately urging false accusations against the prophets themselves and their churches, and insisting on the authority of the bishop’s predecessors in the see, compelled him to recall the pacific letter which he had issued, as well as to desist from his purpose of acknowledging the said gifts. By this Praxeas did a twofold service for the devil at Rome: he drove away prophecy, and he brought in heresy; he put to flight the Paraclete, and he crucified the Father. Praxeas’ tares had been moreover sown, and had produced their fruit here also, while many were asleep in their simplicity of doctrine; but these tares actually seemed to have been plucked up, having been discovered and exposed by him whose agency God was pleased to employ. Indeed, Praxeas had deliberately resumed his old (true) faith, teaching it after his renunciation of error; and there is his own handwriting in evidence remaining among the carnally-minded, in whose society the transaction then took place; afterwards nothing was heard of him. We indeed, on our part, subsequently withdrew from the carnally-minded on our acknowledgment and maintenance of the Paraclete. But the tares of Praxeas had then everywhere shaken out their seed, which having lain hid for some while, with its vitality concealed under a mask, has now broken out with fresh life. But again shall it be rooted up, if the Lord will, even now; but if not now, in the day when all bundles of tares shall be gathered together, and along with every other stumbling-block shall be burnt up with unquenchable fire."
CHAPTER 2 - THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY AND UNITY, SOMETIMES CALLED THE DIVINE ECONOMY, OR DISPENSATION OF THE PERSONAL RELATIONS OF THE GODHEAD
"In the course of time, then, the Father forsooth was born, and the Father suffered, God Himself, the Lord Almighty, whom in their preaching they declare to be Jesus Christ. We, however, as we indeed always have done and more especially since we have been better instructed by the Paraclete, who leads men indeed into all truth), believe that there is one only God, but under the following dispensation, or oijkonomia, as it is called, that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her — being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas. In this principle also we must henceforth find a presumption of equal force against all heresies whatsoever — that whatever is first is true, whereas that is spurious which is later in date. But keeping this prescriptive rule inviolate, still some opportunity must be given for reviewing (the statements of heretics), with a view to the instruction and protection of divers persons; were it only that it may not seem that each perversion of the truth is condemned without examination, and simply prejudged; especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance,; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds."
Hippolytus: A.D. 170-236
AGAINST THE HERESY OF ONE NOETUS
"1. Some others are secretly introducing another doctrine, who have become disciples of one Noetus, who was a native of Smyrna, (and) lived not very long ago. This person was greatly puffed up and inflated with pride, being inspired by the conceit of a strange spirit. He alleged that Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself was born, and suffered, and died. Ye see what pride of heart and what a strange inflated spirit had insinuated themselves into him. Froth his other actions, then, the proof is already given us that he spoke not with a pure spirit; for he who blasphemes against the Holy Ghost is cast out from the holy inheritance. He alleged that he was himself Moses, and that Aaron was his brother. When the blessed presbyters heard this, they summoned him before the Church, and examined him. But he denied at first that he held such opinions. Afterwards, however, taking shelter among some, and having gathered round him some others who had embraced the same error, he wished thereafter to uphold his dogma openly as correct. And the blessed presbyters called him again before them, and examined him. But he stood out against them, saying, “What evil, then, am I doing in glorifying Christ?” And the presbyters replied to him, “We too know in truth one God; we know Christ; we know that the Son suffered even as He suffered, and died even as He died, and rose again on the third day, and is at the right hand of the Father, and cometh to judge the living and the dead. And these things which we have learned we allege.” Then, after examining him, they expelled him from the Church. And he was carried to such a pitch of pride, that he established a school."
As we have demonstrated with many lengthy quotes above, the earliest writers, from those who were personally trained by the Apostles, until the Noetian heresy was first introduced in Smyrna and made its way to Rome, the Christian Church universally held to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as being distinct persons of the Godhead. That is, One God manifest in three persons.
While the use of the word "Trinity" seems to have been first introduced by Tertullian, the basic concepts, and the way in which key Scriptures were interpreted, like Gen. 1:26, were definitely "Trinitarian."
Had the Apostles taught Oneness, Jesus certainly would NOT have commended the church in Smyrna, since its current Pastor, Polycarp, most certainly did not hold such a view, and his church, only a few decades later, excommunicated Noetus who first introduced this teaching into that church. The evidence from history overwhelmingly supports Trinitarianism as being the Apostolic doctrine.