Feature Article: ‘The evolution of the Trinity’


When I was an evangelical Christian studying theology it was this disturbing insight from Professor Hanson that made me realise Sola Scriptura was a non-starter. The evident development of Christian doctrine over the centuries required a more Catholic approach to Christian doctrine and scriptural hermeneutics.

It was when I realised that Jesus, James (his brother), Peter and John were not “Christians” either but Jews following the Judaism of their day, worshiping and sacrificing in the Temple like other Jews, that I saw the vast cultural and religious chasm that separated them from their self-described followers of today.

Where is their Torah observance? Nowhere. When evangelicals asked WWJD (yes, I wore the wristband) did they not realise that Jesus did not eat pork, and taught observance of the Torah as a prerequisite for life in the Kingdom of God? These historical realities are either ignored or subject to excruciating intellectual gymnastics to explain them away.

These are controversial claims. What do you think?





Categories: Bible, Catholic, Christianity, Christology, Feature Article, God

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35 replies

  1. Paul, your post raises several different issues, so for now I will only address the one mentioned in the title, i.e. ‘the evolution of the Trinity’.

    Forgive me but I really don’t see why post-biblical ‘development’ is supposed to be a problem. What’s wrong with drawing inferences about the nature attributes of God from the texts? This is how philosophers and theologians from Jewish, Christian and indeed Muslim traditions have developed all manner of doctrines and theories about divine aseity, simplicity, impassibility, predestination etc. All of this, I take it, is perfectly legitimate, except to the most die-hard fundamentalists.

    What would be a problem is if the result of said development was inconsistent with the texts. But you have not argued this (in this post).

    Plenty of scholars argue that the biblical texts contain the ‘germs’ of Trinitarian theism. See this from Hurtado’s website (he certainly isn’t the only one):

    “In my own recent book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010), I shfited focus to the “God-discourse” that we find in the NT, and noted that this has a “triadic” shape. That is, we have ubiquitous references to “God”, “Jesus” and the “Spirit”. Indeed, I document the greater frquency of references to the Spirit in the NT in comparison with the OT and other Roman-era Jewish texts. This “triadic” shaped discourse obviously helped to drive and shape subsequent doctrinal reflection that led to the doctrine of the “Trinity”, although that subsequent doctrinal reflection also involved the incorporation of issues and conceptual categories additional to those reflected in the NT.”


  2. I don’t disagree with you Chris. My points were directed at the kind of conservative evangelical I used to be and how the insight from Professor Hanson made me realise *Sola Scriptura* was a non-starter.

    99% of Christians I meet are of that kind unfortunately (including certain individuals who comment on this blog), though not you obviously.

    • I’ve always understood ‘Sola Scriptura’ simply as the claim that Scripture is the ultimate authority in matters theological — that is, theological theories must be coherent with Scripture.

      But who knows, maybe I’m a closet Catholic 😉

      • I am hoping Ken might answer that as it is one of his key beliefs.

      • I agree with Chris – but I would add the word “infallible authority” – so that one emphasizes that Scripture is the only infallible authority. Creeds, historical theology, proper theological development, commentaries by good theologians, doctrinal statements, the ecumenical councils, church authority, pastors/elders/overseers, etc. are secondary authorities that are not infallible, but they are secondary authorities and very important.

      • “so that one emphasizes that Scripture is the only infallible authority.” = sola scriptura. Thanks Ken.

    • What does the phrase mean, “Sola Scriptura was a non-starter” ?

      I agree with Chris’ comments above. Very accurate and nuanced.

      See # 3, 4, and 6 of John Piper’s lecture on Athanasius. (application points at end of lecture)


  3. Interesting and informative

  4. Yes, Jesus, James (his brother), Peter and John were Jews following their interpretations of Judaism of their day, just as Paul did and others. They expected the imminent kingdom of God and the return of the Messiah.
    They never dreamt of a century-long evolution of Christian doctrines.

    But they also had no idea of or interest in Islam developing centuries later. This aspect of historical research of second temple Judaism is neglected by Muslim polemicists.

    • Jesus expected another to come after him, which we now know was Muhammad.

      • This cannot be Muhammad, because Jesus said the one to come is

        Spirit, the Holy Spirit (not a human)

        would lead the disciples into all the truth (600 years later is too late to minister to the disciples) and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus taught. (John 14:16-20; 26; 16:12-15)

        (Qur’an does not know anything about the NT, except that Jesus did miracles, is Al Masih, and virgin born.


        “He will with you and in you” (John 14:17)

        and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth would glorify and testify of Jesus – John 15:26

        Therefore, it is impossible for John 14, 15, and 16 to be about Muhammad.

      • //would lead the disciples into all the truth//
        It’s very ironic because your prophet Paul didn’t think so, and that’s why he had no problem to rebuke the Rock that Jesus had chosen for his message.

        You keep repeating the “600 years later”!, but how could that be an argument, and how dare you christians to use it?

      • I advise you to have a look what serious scholarship says about “the Son of Man” and related issues. I doubt that any serious scholar would back your faith-driven apologetic statement.

    • Ken, you got to step up your game and do better than what have written here. Agree with the Muslims that the Paraclete and then use this to show that Jesus is Muhammad’s God and their God. Here’s why.

      1. Jesus said that the Father and himself would send the Paraclete from the Father in the name of the Son to glorify the Son:

      “And I will pray THE FATHER, and HE SHALL GIVE you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you… But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom THE FATHER WILL SEND IN MY NAME, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” John 14:16-17, 26

      “But when the Comforter is come, whom I WILL SEND unto you from THE FATHER, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from THE FATHER, he shall testify of me:” John 15:26

      “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I WILL SEND HIM unto you…. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. HE SHALL GLORIFY ME: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that THE FATHER hath ARE MINE: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” John 16:7, 12-15

      2. Allah sent Muhammad in his name to glorify him.

      3. The Paraclete is Muhammad.

      4. Therefore, Jesus and the Father must be Allah, the God who sent the Paraclete named Muhammad.

      5. This in turn proves that the Quran has been corrupted since the original Quran would have never denied that Allah is the Father and Jesus is his Son, and that the Father and the Son together make up the identity of Allah, Muhammad’s God.

      6. This is due to the fact that Muhammad who is supposed to be the Paraclete would have known and proclaimed that the God who sent him was the Father and the Son.

      7. And yet the current Quran denies all these facts, which therefore prove that evil, corrupt scribes changed the original message of Muhammad and corrupted the manuscripts of the Quran.

      This is how you refute this silly nonsense which Muslims love to propagate.

      • Correction:

        “Ken, you got to step up your game and do better than what have written here. Agree with the Muslims that the Paraclete and then use this to show that Jesus is Muhammad’s God and their God. Here’s why.”

        Should be:

        “Ken, you got to step up your game and do better than what you have written here. Agree with the Muslims that the Paraclete is Muhammad and then use this to show that Jesus is Muhammad’s God and their God. Here’s why.”

      • Ok, even though both arguments show that the Qur’an is wrong about the original Injeel انجیل – the gospel is about the Person and Work of Al Masih المسیح – Jesus the Messiah, fulfillment of the OT promises and prophesies, the eternal Son, eternal Word, who was incarnated (became human) and is the eternal Son / eternal Word, born of the virgin Mary, who lived a sinless life, taught the truth, did miracles, was crucified, died, buried, and rose from the dead on the 3rd day, is Lord and God in the flesh, and ascended to heaven and will come again to judge the living and the dead, etc. – the message of the whole NT.

        Either way, the Muslim claim that John 14, 15 and 16 about the Holy Spirit is about the human Muhammad is a ridiculous claim, because the Holy Spirit is not human, does not have a body, and will be in the disciples, etc. and also, per your argument, because Jesus along with the Father sends the Holy Spirit – thus pointing to the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity, and shows the Qur’an is wrong about “the Father and the Son”, since the Son together with the Father, sends the Holy Spirit.

        Both are good arguments. For Muslims to claim that John 14, 15, and 16 is about Muhammad demonstrates that the Qur’an is false, therefore, Islam is false and Muhammad is a false prophet.

        the spirit of the anti-Christ, because it denies the Father and the Son, the Deity of Christ, the incarnation, the Trinity. 1 John 2:18-26; 4:1-6; 2 John 7

  5. Dear Mr Williams

    I trust that you are well, and i concur with your reaction to Yusuf Estes. When first I watched it, i was torn between laughter and irate frustration.
    However the Islamic attempt to find Mohammed in the Gospel does strike me as a little strange. Vast quantities of Muslims missionary material directed towards Christians centres upon the apparent lack of reliability of the Gospel. Page after page of Islamic blogs devotedly discuss the fact that the current new testament is corrupted. If a text that supports the perfect divinity of Our Lord Christ is brought forward, it is immediately ridiculed and dismissed as irrelevant, corrupt or Pauline in nature.
    And yet when a text that, in Muslim eyes support the prophet hood of the ask yet unborn Mohammed, is brought forward, it is paraded triumphantly through the highways and byways of the religiously minded segments of the internet. It strikes me as being similar in description to Cherry picking, a crime which many Muslims, not unreasonably, accuse many non Muslims of doing with their own holy texts.
    Christ stated that he has all authority in heaven and upon earth, including the deserts of Arabia. He also stated that he was authority over all flesh, were not Mohammed and all his follower flesh and blood ?

    In the words of St Ioannikios the Great of Olympus, of holy and blessed memory:
    ‘My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my shelter is the Holy Spirit, O Holy Trinity, Glory to You.’

    God Love You

    P.S In case you should like religious jokes

    ‘ Top Ten Signs That Indicate You Might Be An Orthodox Christian
    You might be Orthodox if…

    10. You are still in church more than ten minutes after the priest says, “Let us depart in peace.”
    9. You forget to change your clock in the spring at Daylight Savings Time, show up an hour late, but the service is still going on…
    8. …but there are people in your community who still can’t get to church on time when the clock gets set back an hour in the fall.
    7. You consider an hour long church service to be “short.”
    6. You buy chocolate bunnies on sale (after Western Easter).
    5. When someone says, “Let us pray…” you reflexively stand up.
    4. You went to church four or more times in a week.
    3. Your priest is married…
    2. …and your vocabulary includes at least three words that describe the wife of a priest.
    And the number one sign you might be Orthodox is…

    1. You say a prayer before you pray.’

    Hahaha. God be with you

  6. Dear Mr Williams

    Once again i hope that you are well. Thank you very much for replying to my reply. The Islamic attempt to find Mohammed in the Gospel strikes me as a little strange due to a number of reasons
    The Gospels display a Christology that is, in many places, quite different from the Islamic Christology. As such it would be rather odd to try to vindicate the Islamic view of Christ using them. Christ claimed that at his second coming all nations would be gathered before his glorious throne. He is quite explicit in his authority over all things in heaven and upon earth. Even in the Gospel of Mark, believed by many to be the most primitive, Our Lord says that his Gospel must be proclaimed to all nations. The Book of Acts, widely quoted on islamic websites to prove the fact that the Early Church believed that Our Lord Jesus no more than a mighty prophet, describes Our Lord as the Risen One, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, the Author of Life and the only under heaven by whom humanity can be saved.

    This stands opposed to the Islamic belief that the Messiah and his Gospel were sent only to the unguided Jews, and not to all nations and peoples of the world. This emphasis on the Absolute Monarchy of Our Lord Jesus naturally means that he has authority over all times and places, including Mecca and Medina. If Mohammed is found in the Gospel then it must mean that he is under the lordship of the Messiah, as are we all. But since he holds to a view of Christ so opposed to the picture of Our Lord Jesus even in the Synoptic Gospels, one must come to the conclusion that he is not found therein.

    To this Muslims would say that the true Gospel, which apparently would contain prophecies of the Saracen Prophet, has been corrupted and largely lost. If this is the case then Muslims should condemn the New Testament wholesale as an unreliable series of texts, as opposed to using a snippet here and a fragment there in order to prove their faith. This much the same method true Islamophobic persons use when viewing your holy texts, taking a selection of small verses out of the context and tone in which thew were written and designed to be read, and then saying that the Islamic holy book is, quite incorrectly, a manifesto to murder and war.

    Secondly why should the Gospel of John, widely believed by liberal biblical commentators to unabashedly profess the perfect divinity of Our Lord Christ, contain prophecies of Mohammed, a man whose views on the matter of Our Lord Jesus are so diametrically opposed to the sentiment expressed in that gospel ? The prophecy of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, has for centuries been the favoured supposed evidence of the coming of Mohammed. But surely as sensible readers of religious books, we must avoid lifting individual passages from their context and the overall meaning of the texts themselves.

    The Paraclete prophecies are positively peppered it references to the perfect divinity of Our Lord, such as the fact that everything the belongs to the Father belongs to the Son. Christ confessed the Father as the True God and Lord of heaven and earth. He own all things in this Universe and all possible parallel universes. But the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, says that he has all authority in heaven and on earth, and that he has everything that the Father has. He has authority over all thing that the True God has authority over, namely everything in existence. The overall message of the Gospel of John is, in the words of the indefatigable Dr Bart Ehrman,:
    ‘For John, Jesus is obviously God, and he says he is (not God the Father but … equal with God?)’. This is hardly a very accommodating theological environment for prophecies of a man who taught the complete opposite.
    In the words of St John of Damascus, confessor of the true Orthodox faith, of holy and blessed memory:

    ‘Moreover, they call us Hetaeriasts, or Associators, because, they say, we introduce an associate with God by declaring Christ to the Son of God and God. We say to them in rejoinder: ‘The Prophets and the Scriptures have delivered this to us, and you, as you persistently maintain, accept the Prophets. So, if we wrongly declare Christ to be the Son of God, it is they who taught this and handed it on to us.’

    God Love You

    P.S: I love jokes even if they are very silly , the world must laugh more in these grim times:

    ‘OK, how many Russian Orthodox does it take to change a light bulb?
    None. Orthodoxy never changes, and, in addition to burning candles like the Catholics, uses oil-burning lamps. ‘Electricity is for those Gregorian calendar-using, liberal ecumenist jurisdictions’

    • Tobias is right; and I would go farther that the Islamic attempt to find Mohammad in the Gospel is VERY strange and contradictory to the whole of Islam and it’s claims.

      “The Islamic attempt to find Mohammed in the Gospel strikes me as a little strange due to a number of reasons . . . ”

      yes, all the above.

  7. Abdullah1234 wrote:

    It’s very ironic because your prophet Paul didn’t think so, and that’s why he had no problem to rebuke the Rock that Jesus had chosen for his message.

    The apostle Paul did not rebuke Peter, the rock, for saying Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. That alone takes down Islam. Matthew 16:16-18 If you affirm Peter as a truthful follower of Jesus, then you must repent and accept Jesus as the eternal of God.

    Paul rebuked him for hypocrisy and inconsistency, and not acting according to the gospel of freedom for Gentiles. (Galatians 2) Totally different issue.

    But they both agreed with each other that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of all the OT prophesies and promises about the Messiah and His suffering / sacrifice / atonement, death and resurrection, His eternal Sonship, His Lordship, Deity, eternality, etc.

    You keep repeating the “600 years later”!, but how could that be an argument, and how dare you christians to use it?

    Yes, because the Qur’an shows no knowledge of the previous Scriptures, except for basic OT monotheism and Jewish Midrash and Talmud commentaries (and also uses Gnostic sources and Legends and Myths) – it shows almost no knowledge of the New Testament at all, and yet claims to also say that the book that the people of the Injeel have at the time “between their hands” is the gospel, and revelation and guidance and light.

    How dare you claim that the Qur’an is true and that John 14, 15, and 16 is about Muhammad or that Deut. 18 or Song of Songs 5:16 is about Muhammad!!

    • //The apostle Paul did not rebuke Peter//
      Actually he did!

      //Paul rebuked him for hypocrisy and inconsistency//
      Well, Jesus had another opinion about Jesus
      “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
      On the other hand, your prophet Paul had another opinion;
      “And the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites”

      It’s obvious that you already made your choice between Jesus and Paul. You chose Paul!

      //Yes, because the Qur’an shows no knowledge of the previous Scriptures//
      This is a mere lie. Allah sw is the One who revealed the Torah and Injeel to Moses and Jesus, and He knew exactly what the message of those books was.

      //and yet claims to also say that the book that the people of the Injeel have at the time “between their hands” is the gospel, and revelation and guidance and light.//
      We have refuted about this very point. But I cannot help if you don’t want to read!

      Moreover, when your prophet Paul said that it’s written in the scripture that the Messiah has to die for 3 days, and he has to be buried, that he got raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, he was just lying! Nothing in the scripture according to you definition of what the scriptures is has this!

      Your prophet Paul didn’t even know that the disciples of Jesus decreased to 11 ones, so he just made a lie about the 12 disciples who saw the resurrection Jesus.

      Finally, about the spirit of the truth in John’s gospel. Here’s dr Ally brilliantly refutes all the Christians’ objections about the subject.

      • @ Ken

        As someone who has read a good chunk of your books with multiple commentaries, the biggest issue is none of these books are agreed upon or clear. The history section has a TON of unnessary information and the prophecies in these writings are rarely direct like for example:

        “The Messiah will do this, this and this. Here are his signs…”

        It will be something random that most people won’t even understand. With that being said the easiest case to be made for Islam is:

        The parable of the Tenants which forms into Daniel 2.

        The thing is Ken because these writings aren’t clear even Muslims sometimes miss subtle points in the OT or NT being referenced.

  8. I wasn’t sure where to comment this exactly, but I’m a college student who was a traditional Catholic and is now heavily considering Islam. I have a question about Hadith, though. I have heard some people claim that not everything Muhammad says is to be seen as infallible, in regards to medicinal and other non-religious matters. Is this correct, or is every word of Hadith to be taken as infallibly as is the Qur’an? Thanks.

    • @ JK

      Hi. If it is authentic (i.e. reliably can be traced back) it is considered binding upon Muslims. These people making this claim are simply not qualified to speak on the subject and just ignore them as everyone else does. If you need resources or my email let me know and I can g more in-depth with any questions you have God willing.

      • I would love some resources! It’s hard being a white Westerner who only speaks English and looking into Islam.

    • Whenever the Prophet makes non-religious statements you have to be a bit careful though. He himself has said so.

      • @ Atlas

        True. But:

        1. Its pretty rare
        2. He usually states this is his opinion (ex. Where the armies are aragged at Badr, should this lady take back her husband etc.)

      • @Atlas (and @stewjo)

        I’m only talking about a few Hadith related to medical advice, such as drinking camel urine and dipping flies into water to cure disease. I’m not certain how literally we have to take these, even though there are medicinal properties to urine and flies.

  9. @ Jk

    I am stillnat the begginer stages of hadith study so I am hesitant to talk on them long story short:

    Camel hadith:
    Miracle he performed not general have a cup.

    The hadith does not say you dip a fly into a cup of water and drink it and yiubwill be cured lol. It means if a fly is in a cup of Kool Aid for example there is no harm in drinking it. And a fly has both cure and harm on its wing. Some research suggest this is correct


    More on hadith in general:


    Hopefully that answered.

    @ Paul

    May you please send JK my email so I can give him some stuff? Jazakallah khair.

  10. “Camel hadith:
    Miracle he performed not general have a cup.”

    Hmm, I never thought of it that way, though I’m more inclined to interpret that as just using medicine that was available at the time.

  11. @ QB

    As I said I’m not nearly as strong with hadith to mount any type of defense this is was something one of my teachers told me which is why:

    1. It wasn’t widespread
    2. It is consuming najis (and one can’t consume haram even for medicine)

    Of course even if one rejects this, I agree (Allah hu alim) it could follow under his opinion as he suggested it to them not gave a religious command.

    • Two more questions

      What are the best ways to learn to pray, and to learn theology?

      • To learn the basics of how to pray, you could check YouTube videos. But to learn the proper pronunciation of the Arabic, the best way to learn how to pray and theology, you should start first at a local mosque. Most mosques have classes they offer on weekends.

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