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Jeff Deuble in Christ Before Creeds says (p. 33-34)

The significant controversies about the Messiah that were strongly contested in the New Testament were: his death by crucifixion, his resurrection, and his subsequent ascension and glorification. [...] As you read through the book of Acts you will discover that these are the three facts that the apostles continue to preach and debate, especially with Jews (Acts 2:22-36, 3:17-26, 5:29-32, 10:34-43, 13:26-41, 17:2-4, 17:29-31, 26:19-23). [...] These basic Christological tenets differed from previous perceptions, so they were strongly proclaimed and debated from the inception of the church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36).

Yet, he continues

Nowhere is there reference to a debate over Jesus being "fully human and fully God," or being himself God or on the same level as God. It doesn't appear at all on the landscape of first-century church history, whereas it looms large, at center stage in the church history of the fourth and fifth centuries.

This silence is remarkable because the early church was strongly Jewish and the Jews were strongly monotheistic. Any suggestion that Jesus was Yahweh, or a part of Yahweh, or even equal to Yahweh, would have been vehemently resisted, would it not? This silence is certainly difficult to explain if, as claimed by some, Trinitarian doctrine existed from the outset, from the earliest days of the church.

How do those who hold that Trinitarian doctrine existed from the earliest days of the Church respond to the sort of argument Deuble lays out here?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Peter Turner
    May 25, 2022 at 20:07
  • 1
    This question applies to binitarians as much as to trinitarians (i.e. no mention of holy spirit). May 26, 2022 at 12:48
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    The Church was strongly Jewish? Really? Perhaps in Jerusalem but hardly so in Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, or any location in which Gentiles made up the large majority of the Church. How plausible is the position that polytheistic Gentiles, who prior to believing in Jesus, believed there were hundreds if not thousands of Gods, immediately moved to the radical, unbiblical, Second Temple brand of Jewish monotheism? Not only did they reject Jesus and the Holy Spirit as God(s), but believed the God of the Jews was the only God and their God? Far-fetched IMHO. Oct 6, 2023 at 17:57

4 Answers 4

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I’ll make two points that serve to give us grounds for strongly doubting this argument.

  1. Arguments from silence, especially in regard to the Biblical text or other ancient texts, fail because they don’t realize that the author has very specific intentions when he is writing, and certain events may be left out because the author doesn’t see the relevance in the event. One could counter this by saying the author of Acts would most certainly want to record debates over the Trinity, but that’s not something that can be proven. It’s just an assertion. One could also argue that he did record it, but the documents have been lost to history. Either way, it’s an argument from silence.
  2. Regardless of the lack of specific mentions of Trinity debates, there are mentions of disputes between the Jews and Christians. It’s entirely possible that these debates included trinitarian debates. Along with that, Luke does record the Pharisees objection to Jesus when they say he “makes himself to be God”.

APPENDIX ADDITION:

Earliest Criticisms by the Roman Government.

To call into further question the idea that this was not a criticism of the early church, I cite Pliny the younger, writing in the early second century, who is our earliest primary source of criticism of the Christians.

Pliny then details the practices of Christians (sections 7–10): he says that they meet on a certain day before light where they gather and sing hymns to Christ as to a god. From Wikipedia

“Singing to Christ as to a god” is clearly indicative of an early deification of Christ by the church.

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  • +1 Would you say Deuble's argument doesn't work at all, or do you think it has some merit (although perhaps it is weak)? May 25, 2022 at 20:30
  • @OneGodtheFather I don’t know where I stand on that. You’ve definitely made the valid point that not all arguments from silence are fallacious, but I definitely don’t think an argument from silence can ever prove anything. At the most, silence is an evidential chip.
    – Luke Hill
    May 26, 2022 at 0:22
  • @LukeHill Thanks for that - fair response. "At the most, silence is an evidential chip" Yes, that's how I would see it in this context as well. May 26, 2022 at 0:31
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    . . . . and if there was very strong agreement regarding doctrine in the first two centuries (heresies only arising later) one would not expect much discussion in literature about things that were universally settled and not a matter of debate. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    May 26, 2022 at 1:05
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    We must remember that the Apostolic Times and the Early Church were times of persecution. Thus doctrine could not be fully expounded until the Church had more freedom to exercise her doctrine properly. This freedom came about from the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. Some 12 years later the Council of Nicaea came into existence on June 12, 325 AD. Oh how some forget to put things into perspective. +1.
    – Ken Graham
    May 26, 2022 at 1:43
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An Argument From Silence
In an article examining this subject, Mike Duncan begins by summarizing the issue:

Scholarly examinations of the Argument From Silence (AFS) are extremely rare; when existent, it is typically treated as a fallacy. 1

It is a fallacy. He notes Aristotle's Sophistical Refutations does not include this as a fallacy. Aristotle is relevant to this question since it shows Greek philosophers of the period did not consider this type of argument as logic. What scholars now consider a fallacy and what ancients did not consider as logic Deuble claims is a determining argument.

A Biblical Example
One of the two examples Duncan considers is Paul's silence of Jesus' earthly life other than the crucifixion.2 He considers hypothetical arguments which can be made from silence. He does not consider how an argument from silence can be made to claim Paul was in agreemnt with Marcion of Sinope who taught Jesus was a spiritual entity.

Since Paul's preaching of what constituted true Judaism and Israel's God differed from how the Jews understood the Old Testament, most Jews simply rejected Paul. Some attacked, beat, stoned, or plotted to kill him. However, what the Jews saw as theologically wrong, Marcion saw quite differently. According to Marcion, Paul described the work of a different God. YHVH did not send Jesus the person, a different God sent Jesus the spiritual entity. Does the argument from silence on the earthly existence of Jesus mean Paul was in agreement with Marcion? No.

It is easy to reject this argument from silence today. Yet, where the Jews rejected Paul, Marcion used him to prove "God" who sent Jesus was not found in the Old Testament. Deuble ignores Church history because Marcionism disputes his theory the absence of Jewish Christians was the determining factor in a much later development of the Trinity.

Fully Human
Deuble states:

These basic Christological tenets differed from previous perceptions, so they were strongly proclaimed and debated from the inception of the church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36). If the Jewish understanding regarding the Messiah's identity and essence did not conform to the truth, why is there no attempt to directly address this issue in the New Testament?

Nowhere is there any reference to a debate over Jesus being "fully human and fully God," or himself being God or on the same level as God. It doesn't appear at all on the landscape of the first-century church history, whereas it looms large, at center stage in the church history of the fourth and fifth centuries. 3

One of the mistakes in making an argument from silence is ignoring silence is consistent with accepted beliefs. Paul was silent on Jesus being fully human because that was never in question. The historical reality of a creed affirming He was fully human succinctly expressed what was accepted, and developed as response to heresy. It was not new doctrine.

Fully God
The issue of highest importance was Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. This proclamation was not up for debate. Either Jesus was the Christ or He wasn't. Deuble completely ignores the earliest history of Christianity when he says, If the Jewish understanding regarding the Messiah's identity and essence did not conform to the truth, why is there no attempt to directly address this issue in the New Testament? The historical evidence is without dispute. The issue was repeatedly addressed. The believers continued to preach Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.

From the beginning the majority of Jews rejected the Gospel. The New Testament is as much a history of Judaism's refusal to accept the truth about Jesus as it is of the Gentile's acceptance. Unlike issues such as circumcision which were debated, the question of identity was not debated. Those who believed did; those who did not usually responded with violence:

Jerusalem: persecuted the Greek speaking believers putting them to death
Jerusalem: wanted to kill Paul before he preached to the Gentiles
Jerusalem: killed James and imprisoned Peter with the intent to kill him
Antioch of Pisidia: persecuted Paul and Barnabas and drove them out of the district
Iconium: mistreat and attempt to stone Paul
Lystra: stoned Paul, drug his body out of town leaving him for dead
Thessalonica: formed a mob and attacked
Berea: Jews from Thessalonica stirred up crowds
Corinth: opposed and reviled Paul, Silas, and Timothy; made a united attack on Paul
Ephesus: spoke evil of Paul and the Way
Jerusalem: attempted to kill Paul

Judaism which rejected Christological tenets did not debate them. They rejected them in entirety. When one continued to preach Jesus as the Christ some responded with violence. Even Paul as Saul states he agreed with their execution.

Conclusion
Why is there a lack of debate on the deity of Christ? Those who believed accepted at face value. The Son of God was God; the Spirit of God was God. For a Gentile it is obvious. How could God's Son or Spirit not be God?

They Jews didn't debate the Gospel because the Law plainly states what they are to do to obtain atonement for sin, and the Law requires a Day of Atonement on which all the sin of the nation are atoned. Nowhere does the Law say the Son of God will be crucified as a once-for-all sacrifice. No where does it say there will come a day before the end of time after which the sin sacrifice in the Mosaic Law and the Day of Atonement are no longer applicable.

Finally, if one is to place any weight on an argument from silence, it would be the silence in John's Gospel to say Jesus was not God. After opening with the tantalzing ...and the Word was God John proceeds to fill the Gospel with repeated claims which only God could make before ending with Thomas calling Jesus his Lord and God.

Why didn't John correct this "misunderstanding" as he does on other questions? If Deuble was serious about understanding what the original audience understood, he would consider why John would state the Jews thought Jesus was claiming to be God, and then give many things which support that claim, and end without once stating Jesus was not God.

But John is not silent at the end.

John 20:31:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John's Gospel ends with an original Apostle proclaiming Jesus is his Lord and his God and an encouragement to accept what was written so the reader could have life in His name.


1. M. G. Duncan "The Curious Silence of the Dog and Paul of Tarsus; Revisiting The Argument from Silence" Informal Logic, Vol 32, No 1 (2012)
2. Duncan apparently considers 1 Corinthian 11:23-26 as part of the crucifixion-resurrection tradition.
3. Jeff Deuble, Christ Before Creeds: Rediscovering the Jesus of History, Living Hope International Ministries, 2021, pp. 34-35

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The fact that we don't see anything in the NT where anyone disputed the deity of Christ proves that this controversy of Unitarianism was peculiar to the Heathen Churches (Romans/Greeks), which could not grasp the Jewish religion. The only dispute among the Jews was rejecting Jesus as the Christ, and not about his deity. The concept of the Messiah being divine was well attested; and the issue of his mortal death was the matter that raised objections. We see only two controversial issues in the Churches of the NT. First, the inclusion of Gentiles into the Church by faith without circumcision or Torah observance. The second was the doctrine of licentiousness of faith alone which removes the responsibility of works. In the early Churches, his humanity was the controversial and disputed topic, rather than his deity. As we see minor differences of opinion as Luke and Matthew attempts to present meticulous genealogies, and even remove his earthly parents from the picture, to present him as a divine Son of God.

The quotes from Jeff Deuble reveals that he holds the errors of the heathen churches from the later centuries, as the church became increasingly disconnected with the Jewish roots of the theology, abandoning authentic doctrines. The Jewish authorities condemned Jesus of blasphemy over his claims of being Christ, which indirectly shows that Christ's identity was no ordinary, he was the Son of God, deemed equal to God.

Anyone who has the basic study of the Jewish religion should know that the early (Jewish) Church had no problem in accepting the Trinity. They were already Trinitarians, as their monotheism was complex, as opposed to simple or Unitarian. We get the Trinity from the Jewish early Church, and not from the 4th century Romans. I recommend the biblestudying.net site for a detailed collection of quotes which proves the complex monotheism of Judaism, and Christianity being compatible with the Jewish theology.

As we read John 1 it is interesting to see the high degree of correspondence between fundamental New Testament teaching and the beliefs of Judaism prior to the close of the second century AD. John 1 parallels several important Jewish traditions that we have been discussing. First, correspondent to Jewish Complex Monotheism, John 1 repeatedly distinguishes between at least two hypostases or persons of God. Second, one of these hypostases is identified as the Logos or Word of YHWH. (In John 1, the Greek term translated as “Word” is “Logos.”) Third, John 1:1-3 parallels first-century Jewish traditions which identified the Word, or Logos, of God as God’s agent in the creation of the world and of mankind in Genesis 1. Fourth, we should remember that Jewish traditions identified the Word of YHWH as the “son of man” figure of Daniel. This title (“son of man”) is commonly used in the New Testament to refer to Jesus even in John 1. (See verse 51.) And fifth, note John 1:13’s connection to “kabod” traditions in identifying the Word as the glory of God.)

In the following quote, Sommer confirms this analysis of John 1 as he connects biblical concepts of the Temple to God’s intentions to become immanent on the earth and to New Testament teaching about God being immanent through the incarnation of the Word as Jesus. Once again, it is clear that the New Testament is simply applying existing biblical and Jewish traditions about God to Jesus.

This interpretive practice is especially clear in the work of the many modern scholars…maintain that P’s notion of divine presence involves what they call “tabernacling.” Scholars use this verb frequently, no doubt in order to call to mind John 1.14, which describes how God, in the form of the Word (that is, Jesus), came to dwell on earth: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled [or “encamped; Greek, eskhnwsen] among us, and we looked at His glory [Greek, doxan, the same term that usually renders kabod in the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scripture], glory as of the only son begotten by the Father full of grace and truth.” This is an important verse, and not only because it appears on the seal of Northwestern University, whose generous sabbatical policies have led to the words you are now reading. In recalling this verse, scholars such as Wright, Cross, and Clements rightly emphasize themes that link the priestly tabernacle, the Jerusalem temple, and Jesus. All three of these are presented in scripture (whether Jewish and Christian scripture, in the case of tabernacle and temple, or Christian scripture in the case of Jesus) as attempts by the transcendent God to become immanent and accessible in the world God created. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 96

As we can see, these New Testament teachings are not foreign or contrary to pre-rabbinic (2000 BC – second century AD) or early rabbinic (second century AD) Judaism. To the contrary, as Sommer has said, the only novelty of the New Testament was in applying all of these existing Jewish, biblical traditions to a single, contemporary figure, Jesus.

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OP: How do those who hold that Trinitarian doctrine existed from the earliest days of the Church respond to the sort of argument Deuble lays out here?

More schooling?

But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. But that He had, beyond all others, in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father, and also experienced that pre-eminent generation which is from the Virgin,3674 the divine Scriptures do in both respects testify of Him: also, that He was a man without comeliness, and liable to suffering;3675 that He sat upon the foal of an ass;3676 that He received for drink, vinegar and gall;3677 that He was despised among the people, and humbled Himself even to death and that He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God,3678 coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;3679—all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him. Against Heresies Book III Chapter XIX

Scripture too is not silent.

And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. ... But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Heb 1:6,8

Worship God says God.

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; Ex 20:5

So, to answer the OP, the Trinity has existed prior to Christ's incarnation and after His ascension. One only has to look and see.

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