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In an answer to a previous question of mine, a user argued against the historicity of the belief in the divinity of Jesus in the early stages of Christianity, by pointing out the fact that Jesus is never claimed to be God in two very important early documents that record what early Christians believed at the time, namely, the Old Roman Creed and the Didache. Below an extract from the answer:


[...] Hence, the concepts of pre-existence and the incarnation were unknown to the early Christians.

What is the proof? Where is any mention of the divinity of Christ noticeably absent? Let's read:

The Div. Trinity, p. 150
"… even the Didache, or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” the oldest literary monument of Christian antiquity outside of the New Testament canon … contains no formal profession of faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and the Atonement."
(The Divine Trinity. A Dogmatic Treatise by Pohle, Joseph, Rt. Rev. Msgr., PH.D., D.D., edited by Arthur Preuss, B. Herder Book Co., © 1911.)

Where is any mention of the divinity of Christ noticeably absent? According to Pohle, "the Didache". What is the Didache? According to Pohle, "the oldest literary monument of Christian antiquity outside of the New Testament canon". Many scholars hold that it was written sometime during the First Century.

Hence, even passages like, "I am My Father are one," (John 10:30) would not have been interpreted at the time as referring to "the Divinity of Jesus Christ". 

What is the proof that the concept of preëxistence was also unknown to the early Christians? Where is any mention of the preëxistent Christ noticeably absent? Let's read:

The Philo. of the Ch. Fathers, p. 190
"In contradistinction to these two types of works, in which there is either a specific mention of a preëxistent Christ or an allusion to it, there is the Old Roman or the so-called Apostles’ Creed (ca. 100), which follows the language of Matthew and Luke and makes no mention of the preëxistent Christ."
(The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, Wolfson, Harry Austryn. Volume 1: Faith, Trinity, Incarnation. 2nd rev. ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1964.)

Where is any mention of the preëxistent Christ noticeably absent? According to Wolfson, "the Old Roman or the so-called Apostles' Creed". When was this written? According to Wolfson, "ca. 100". This was also around the time when the last of the Apostles passed away.


The same argument is eloquently restated by one of the commenters (emphasis mine):

[...] The Old Roman Creed and Didache are the 2 very early 'dogs that didn't bark'. If people thought Jesus was God, that would be really important and they would say so. Not saying it is tantamount to denying it in those contexts. Same with John 20:31. If John is really intending to claim Jesus is God with Thomas' exclamation, why doesn't he say so in his takeaway summary? You think that would be important! So not saying it is contextual evidence that 20:28 isn't meant to be a claim that Jesus is God. Add in John 17:3 and John 20:17


Question: How do Trinitarians explain that Jesus is never claimed to be God in the Old Roman Creed and the Didache? Is the absence of evidence truly evidence of absence in this case?

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    Just a light hearted comment. You wouldn't happen to be a lawyer specializing in cross examining witness? You seem to jump at any opportunity for 2 sides to brandish their weapons of evidence and see them fight :-). It's fine with me, when done scholarly, logically, courteously, and respecting the moderator's intervention (who has the thankless job to defend the good of this site). Dialectic is the best way to get the truths out and for each side to admit their unstated assumptions and prejudices. May 11 at 17:45
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    Sadly, ain’t that the truth? “ most Trinitarians don't care”. But clinging to the newer creeds based on other writings is fine.
    – steveowen
    May 11 at 20:54
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    Following up on @DJClayworth we have to also remember that from the apostolic fathers to Nicaea the heresies they are battling is not about the divinity of Jesus but about 1) the full humanity of Jesus, and 2) the relationship of preexisting Jesus with God the Father ( 2a) to maintain monotheism and 2b) to fully account for Jesus's interaction with the Father). Once that historical situation is established, it's quite easy to answer the question: because the designation "Son of God" already implies divinity & pre-existence. So they take it for granted! May 11 at 21:31
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    @OneGodtheFather Yup, that's the meat. Knowing there are sharks in the water ready to bite at the slightest weakness I need to find solid support to show that the very earliest church fathers did imply at least pre-existence with the term "Son of God" even though they were still struggling at how best to conceptualize Jesus's divinity in relation with the Father's. Example: this paper argues for a qualified "yes". For a list of quotes to analyze, this is a good one. May 11 at 22:23
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    @OneGodtheFather The statement "The Jews who were very familiar with Psalm 2:7 would be surprised that 'the Son of God' involved some sort of identity with God!" is blown up by John 5:18. They were indeed surprised, outraged even, because they understood his claim very clearly: He referred to God as "the Father of me" and that statement of personal, individual son-ship demands equality of being. May 12 at 12:29
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Why do I need to explain the reason Jesus Christ is not mentioned or noted as God in the "Roman Creed" and the Didache?

ONE is arguing from silence any time you point to specific data that is not present. In this case, Jesus is not mentioned as God in these two documents. A rational inquiry would seek to understand the data (the words) that ARE present.

It's like asking (and this is an actual example that was ask of me). "Why is it in the book of Acts no one mentions that Jesus Christ is God?" I said to the person, "You believe the Bible is the word of God right?" "He said yes." Well why don't you accept all the other places where Jesus is clearly identified as God?

So what was the purpose of the Didache in the early church? "The Didache is an early handbook of an anonymous Christian community, likely written before some of the New Testament books were written. It spells out a way of life for Jesus-followers that includes instruction on how to treat one another, how to practice the Eucharist, and how to take in wandering prophets."

Basically, the Didache is a hand book for how to treat one another, practice the Eucharist and take in wandering prophets. What about the "Roman Creed?"

"“Old Roman Creed,” or “Romanum,” is the scholarly name for the earlier and shorter form of the Apostles’ Creed as we have it in its original Greek (with probably also a simultaneous Latin edition) in Marcellus (d. ca. 374) and Rufinus (ca. 345–411) and three MSS from the early Middle Ages. It was evidently the baptismal creed of the early Roman church (Baptism). The baptismal questions that have come down to us from Hippolytus (d. ca. 236) at the beginning of the third century are an almost exact prototype of this creed."

It says right there, "It was evidently the baptismal creed of the early Roman church (Baptism). Remember I said to "seek to understand the data (the words) that are present."

In conclusion, it was "ALREADY" assumed that Jesus Christ was God before the Creeds were written. As Christianity grew various heresies would arise. The Nicene Creed was adopted to resolve the Arian controversy, whose leader, Arius.

He believed the following. "Arius taught that Jesus Christ was divine/holy and was sent to earth for the salvation of mankind but that Jesus Christ was not equal to God the Father (infinite, primordial origin) in rank and that God the Father and the Son of God were not equal to the Holy Spirit." Today's Arians include the JW, Unitarians and other groups that deny the deity of Jesus Christ.

As a side note, the Bible itself has creeds and one of them was written by the Apostle Paul at 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

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Arguments from Silence

This is an articulate example of employing the argument from silence. Arguments from silence always rely on an unstated premise (think about it, it's actually pretty funny).

This does not mean the conclusion of an argument from silence is always false. It means the argument is not logically valid. For example:

P1: They didn't say it

C: Therefore, they didn't know it

The conclusion might be true, but it does not follow from the premise. We need one more premise: If they knew it they would have said it.

The argument then takes the form:

P1: P => Q (if they knew it they would have said it)

P2: ~Q (they didn't say it)

C: ~P (they didn't know it)

The above is a valid argument. The question then revolves around the truth of the first premise.

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The Didache

The date of the composition of the Didache is not known with certainty, but a first-century date is certainly possible. However, I suggest it is a stretch to call it the oldest literary monument of Christian antiquity outside of the New Testament canon. Other viable contenders for that claim include 1 Clement, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the Epistle of Barnabas. Especially 1 Clement (see discussion in chapter ten here).

The Didache is more of a handbook of instructions than a library of creeds; the absence of a particular doctrine is not terribly surprising. Numerous doctrines taught in the New Testament are absent in the Didache--should they be discarded as well?

Please keep in mind that the name "Jehovah" is never mentioned in the Didache. In my view, this does not in any way diminish the significance of the name.

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The Old Roman Creed

The date is unknown. It might date to circa 100; it might be later. As noted in the article cited in the OP, it was quoted by Pope Julius in the 4th century, and statements similar to it are found in the late 2nd and in the 3rd centuries.

Given that Igantius' letter to the Ephesians does reference the Deity of Christ (definitely written during the reign of Trajan), an earlier-is-more-reliable battle between Ignatius and the Old Roman Creed is going to favor the views of Igantius.

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Applying a logical reduction

If the absence of a doctrine in a Christian document means Christians did not believe the doctrine when the document was written (we'll call this Proposition A), we don't even need to appeal to the Didache or the Old Roman Creed.

The Deity of Christ is not taught--even in the most veiled manner--in several books of the New Testament. Let's apply some reductive reasoning to the epistle 3 John:

  • 3 John never mentions the Deity of Christ
  • 3 John never mentions the Savior by name
  • 3 John never mentions the title "Christ"
  • 3 John says nothing about baptism
  • 3 John says nothing about the Holy Ghost
  • 3 John says nothing about grace

If we accept Proposition A, we must discard all of the doctrines noted above.

By reductio ad absurdum, I reject Proposition A.

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Parallels from the Gospels

But why? As noted in the OP, this is important. Why leave it out?

If I have offended readers thus far, please know my intent has been to be objective & fair, not to be rude. But I'll go ahead and say something that might offend everybody who hasn't yet been offended by my post: I claim that it is possible for a rational person to read the Gospel of Luke without inferring the Deity of Christ.

In context this shouldn't be surprising--Luke wrote to Greeks who had a plethora of gods; claiming Jesus is God wouldn't have meant the same thing to them that it meant to Jews.

Okay, now that I've successfully offended every reader of this post, I'll propose a reason why many Christian documents, including the Didache & The Old Roman Creed, fail to mention the Deity of Christ.

In this post I offered a defense of the Gospel of John against a similar criticism. The OP in that case asserted that the "I am" statements are so important that there is no reason the other Gospel authors wouldn't have mentioned them. Therefore (according to the questioner), we cannot trust the Gospel of John. I disagree.

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Milk before Meat

The “I am” statements of John are theologically potent; they carry huge ramifications and would be likely, along with other statements in John, to be over-the-top or offensive to those who did not already have a belief in Jesus.

This principle, that has been experienced by anyone who has done much work in proselyting, was expressed very well by Paul:

I gave you milk to drink, not meat; for you were not able as yet. (1 Corinthians 3:2)

If the synoptics are milk, John is the meat. Much of what Jesus said would have been overwhelming to those who did not have the foundation to understand who Jesus was and why He could say these things.

This is in fact expressly noted by John in chapter 6, during and after the bread of life sermon:

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (verse 35)

The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven. (verse 41)

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. (verse 66) (see John 6:26-69 for the full context)

Thus we see that people being overwhelmed—by the profound nature of Christian doctrine—has been a reality for a long time. The synoptic authors tended to stick to the basics—their message of who Jesus is develops over time and climaxes with the resurrection. In John, a much more exalted portrayal of Jesus comes right in the very first chapter.

The fact that John taught more profound doctrine (“a spiritual gospel”) than did the synoptics does not indicate one or the other author did not know what Jesus said, but rather that the Gospels were written for different audiences and for different purposes.

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A personal application

My effort has been to show that the absence of a doctrine in a Christian document does not necessarily invalidate the doctrine. Could this be used to argue that there may be things that are true that are not stated in the Bible? A humble consideration of the question must acknowledge the answer is yes. I personally look forward to learning much more from God.

(To use a trivial, non-controversial example, the planet Neptune was unknown to the ancients and is never mentioned in any ancient Christian writing. This does not mean Neptune isn't real).

As some are aware, I run a YouTube channel. At the time of this writing it hosts 83 videos. I'm too lazy to check how many hours of footage that amounts to. Yet there are things I believe--even things that are not trivial, but are very important to me--that are never stated on my channel.

There are things I believe that would make you angry if I said them. I find both writer and reader tend to be more edified by starting with common ground than by jumping into areas of the sharpest disagreement. Perhaps the author of the Didache felt similarly.

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Conclusion

The New Testament itself (to say nothing of the Apostolic Fathers) is rich with examples of potent doctrines being left out of one document or another.

The absence of references to the Deity of Christ in the Didache & The Old Roman Creed neither affirms nor denies the doctrine.

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  • +1 Another great answer. But there is a problem - the argument isn't that the Old Roman Creed's lack of a statement about Jesus = God necessarily means the authors held He isn't. You're of course right about that. It's rather that it strongly supports the view that this wasn't a universal view among Christians at that time. Your argument is better with the Didache, but a creed of the basics of belief? Indeed, the same can be said of the Apostles' Creed - a unitarian could be completely comfortable with it. ... May 27 at 21:22
  • ... Furthermore, the way the creed is constructed (Old Roman and Apostles), it sure sounds to me like it's saying there's one God, the Father, and then also Jesus, who is not God but rather the Son of God. It's debatable, of course, but that's the natural reading to me. May 27 at 21:24
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    @OneGodtheFather good thoughts, thanks. It's hard to be sure what to make of the Old Roman Creed (or the Apostles Creed) because the dates are so uncertain. They might tell us what 2nd generation Christians believed, whereas Ignatius definitely tells us what one (prominent) 2nd generation Christian believed. I find your comment about a "universal view" to be spot on. Maybe I'm pessimistic, but I see a lack of a universal view (about most things) as a problem that has plagued Christianity for a very long time...still does. May 27 at 23:56
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    @OneGodtheFather I suspect a point on which we agree is that a nearly universal view in the 4th century tells us relatively little about what the apostles believed. May 27 at 23:57
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Regardless of the dating of the Didache, its formula for baptism is this.

baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,2443 in living water. Didache Chapter 7

That, of course, is a Trinitarian formula found also in Matthew.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Matthew 28:19

As to the Old Roman Symbol/Creed, per the OP link, there's a comment that it arose in opposition to Arianism. Arius argued that there was a time that Christ did not exist. Orthodox Christianity believes the Son has always existed.

it has recently been argued that it developed in the context of the Arian controversy. -same source-

Here is the Symbol (emphasis mine):

I believe in God the Father almighty; and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord, Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried, on the third day rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, whence He will come to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh (the life everlasting) -ibid-

We again may turn to the bible to show Christ preexisted His birth.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; Mark 1:1

Son of God is the same as in the old Roman Creed, but the understanding is in the bible.

And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly. Mark 12:35-37

In case the reader isn't "common", He is saying He preexisted His incarnation.

So, to answer the OP, the Didache and Old Roman Symbol both refer to Christ as Son of God and His preexistence.

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The Didache is probably "the most primitive Christology of all".

Murray J. Smith remarks on this:

The eschatological vision of the Didache centers on the “coming of the Lord” (Did. 16.1, 7–8; cf. 10.6). But which “Lord” does the Didache expect to come? In his 2003 commentary, Aaron Milavec argues that the Didache does not employ the title κύριος (“Lord”) for Jesus. On this reading, the “coming of the Lord” envisaged in Did. 16.1–8 is not the “second coming” of Christian expectation, but the great and final coming of God expected in the Hebrew Scriptures. “All of the instances of ‘Lord’ in the Didache,” Milavec argues, “ought to be understood as referring to the Lord God.”1 “It is quite clear,” he concludes, “that it is the Lord God who is awaited.”2 Milavec goes on to suggest that “further study is necessary in order to situate the Didache in the spectrum of Christologies that developed during the first two centuries.”3 His own suspicion, following the earlier work of T. F. Glasson and John A. T. Robinson, is that such study will reveal in the Didache “the most primitive Christology of all.”4 The Christology of the Didache, he suspects, is relatively “low”: Jesus appears primarily as “servant” rather than as “Lord”; eschatological expectation remains firmly fixed on God the Father.5

  1. Aaron Milavec, The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50–70 CE (New York: Newman Press, 2003), 665.
  2. Ibid., 665.
  3. Ibid., 663.
  4. Ibid., 663 citing T. F. Glasson, The Second Advent: The Origin of the New Testament Doctrine, 3rd rev. ed. (London: Epworth, 1963), 162–79; John A. T. Robinson, Jesus and His Coming, 2nd ed. (London: SCM, 1979), 56, 140.
  5. Milavec, Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life, 665: in the Christology of the Didache “attachment … to Jesus” does not disrupt “the eschatological roles assigned to the Father.

He systematically examine the identity of the “Lord” in the Didache, with special reference to the eschatological “coming of the Lord” in Did. 16.1, 7–8 to show the vast majority of cases the term includes reference to the Lord Jesus. Second, he try to demonstrate that the Didache does not merely repeat the eschatological vision of the biblical theophany tradition, but develops it christologically to present the final “coming of the Lord” as the “coming” of the Lord Jesus.

He concluded:

It is concluded, therefore, that even if the Christology of the Didache is “primitive,” it is, nevertheless, remarkably “high.” Like the earliest Christian texts collected in the New Testament, the Didache reserves a central role in the eschatological drama for Jesus.

Stephen Finland, writing from his "Identity in the Didache Community" mentions:

The Didachist may be struggling for adequate language to describe how the Jewish messiah became the world messiah and how God’s people became internationalized, fulfilling the prophecy that “many nations shall join themselves to the Lord” (Zech 2:11).

The Didache asserts a Christian identity, even while it holds on to an increasingly abstract and symbolic Jewish identity ....

He remarks:

In the Didache’s lengthy liturgy spoken over the bread and cup, there is no mention of a body broken or of blood poured out. Instead, the cup signifies “the holy vine of your servant David,” and the bread bespeaks the church “gathered together from the ends of the earth” like the grains were gathered from hillsides to form the bread (Did. 9.2, 4). The author is making a messianic point (David’s vine) and an ecclesiastical point (church gathered from everywhere). What is relevant about Jesus in this ritual is not his death, but the revelation of God through him: “the life and knowledge which you revealed to us through your servant Jesus” (9.3); “the knowledge and faith and immortality which you revealed to us through your servant Jesus” (10.2). “Servant” (παῖς) surely echoes the Servant Songs of Isaiah, but universality is stressed in the same passages: “ends of the earth … created all things” (9.4; 10.3)

I guess Paul's epistles was not the default position for all early Christ-believers. :D But the Christology is present since the author (Didache) "christologizing" the knowledge of God in 9:4 (the Messiah, revealer, life-giver, embodiment of glory (9.4), and imparter of knowledge, showing the way of gnosis).

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