Instigator / Con
7
1411
rating
11
debates
13.64%
won
Topic

Is the trinity pagan?

Status
Finished

All stages have been completed. The voting points distribution and the result are presented below.

Arguments points
0
9
Sources points
2
6
Spelling and grammar points
3
3
Conduct points
2
3

With 3 votes and 14 points ahead, the winner is ...

sylweb
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Category
Religion
Time for argument
Two days
Voting system
Open voting
Voting period
Two weeks
Point system
Four points
Rating mode
Rated
Characters per argument
10,000
Contender / Pro
21
1534
rating
7
debates
78.57%
won
Description
~ 0 / 5,000

No information

Round 1
Con
There is no evidence that the trinity is pagan. And, it didn't came from the Council of Nicea.

Pro

This will be a Devil's Advocate debate for me.

The Trinity is not explicitly found in the Bible, and in fact it’s basically impossible to logically understand. Yet, mainstream Christians insist that to be a Christian, you must believe in the Trinity. This, we shall see, is because Christianity has been deeply influenced by the ideas of Greek philosophy and paganism, and has become distanced from its original theological roots. 

Rebuttal

Con provides no analysis beyond a link to the Evangelical apologetics website CARM. In this link, apologist Matt Slick cites several quotes from early Church Fathers that he argues show the Trinity has deep roots in the primitive Church.

This, however, is far from sufficient. 

Firstly, the first four earliest quotes do not specifically state the core claims of trinitarianism: that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-eternal, co-equal persons of the same substance. Instead, they merely make reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[1] This is not specific enough, since the heresies that oppose trinitarianism, such as Arianism, subordinationism, tritheism and modalism, also say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist; what makes them different from the orthodox view of the Trinity is that they deny that they are equal, co-eternal, and/or consubstantial.

Secondly, simply showing that some early Christians believed in the Trinity does not make it an authentic doctrine, and it does not make it non-pagan. Early Christians held a variety of heretical beliefs, including gnosticism and Arianism. Just decades after Jesus’s death and resurrection, Paul was writing epistles to condemn heresies. What must be shown is that the consensus of Early Christianity was trinitarianism. 

This consensus is nowhere to be found. Many of the earliest Christians held beliefs that hardly resemble any modern branch of Christianity, such as gnosticism [2]. While some early Christian writers used the term “Trinity”, the doctrine had not yet developed, so they sometimes actually meant other ideas, such as a subordinationist conception of God [2]. 

Positive Case

The Trinity developed over time

While Con does provide examples of isolated Christians who believed in the Trinity, he does not show that this was a majority consensus. The fact is, the Trinity became a widely-accepted doctrine over time through ecumenical councils. 

At Nicea in 325 CE, Constantine intervened in favour of the divinity of Christ [3]. However, Nicea did not solidify the Trinity, since it said little about the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Later, at Constantinople, the full Trinity doctrine was affirmed, though not without resistance [3]. Those who opposed the Trinity were violently repressed [3], since this was a political matter (both councils were convened by the Emperor to settle disputes and ensure political unity through religious unity. 
Influences on the Trinity

The Trinity adopts ideas from the Greek philosopher Plato and pagan religions. Egyptian gods were frequently conceived as three beings in one, and Plato used this idea in describing “Ultimate Reality” [3].

This fact is especially apparent when we consider the philosophical phrasing needed to describe the Trinity. The Trinity is far from intuitive; it claims that there are three separate persons that are all completely God (and not a part of God), yet these three separate persons are not the same as each other. This does not make common sense, since from this claim, we can arrive at an absurd conclusion:

Jesus = God
Father = God
Jesus ≠ Father
∴God ≠ God

The Trinity only makes sense as a philosophical construct, requiring vague philosophical terms like “person”, which, beyond the fact that it is some sort of division lower than the level of the substance, has an unclear meaning. This is because the Trinity is illogical on its own and required Christianity to adopt prepackaged Platonic constructs, like the term trias, to make sense of it with the Platonic system’s own internal logic.[4]

[1] “Early Trinitarian Quotes | CARM.org.” [Online]. Available: https://carm.org/early-trinitarian-quotes. [Accessed: 15-Nov-2019].
[2] “Trinity > History of Trinitarian Doctrines (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” [Online]. Available: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/trinity-history.html#Up325CE. [Accessed: 15-Nov-2019].
[3] “How Did the Trinity Doctrine Develop? — Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY.” [Online]. Available: https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1101989303. [Accessed: 15-Nov-2019].
[4] “Greek Philosophy’s Influence on the Trinity Doctrine | United Church of God.” [Online]. Available: https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/is-god-a-trinity/greek-philosophys-influence-on-the-trinity-doctrine. [Accessed: 15-Nov-2019].

Round 2
Con
The Council of Nicea was only about Arianism. Also, the trinity can be found in the Bible, in both Old and New testament. Do you know that God that is outside our space and time, right? And, there is no evidence of paganism in the trinity. In fact, if you look into it, you would know that that those gods don't represent the Trinity in Orthodox Christianity (3 Persons in 1 God). Also, arguing that the number 3 means that the Trinity is pagan, is an association fallacy. Also, I notice you're citing a Jw.org link, which is telling on where you're getting these ideas from. And, you do know that trinity doctrine is beyond our comprehension, right?

Pro

Introduction

The story of Early Christianity is the story of many divergent groups, including gnostics and the precursors of Roman Catholicism, proposing divergent beliefs and even different gospels. In the first and second century Anno Domini, many gnostic “gospels” floated around [1]. It was amidst these theological power struggles that the trinitarian view eventually won out. This raises the compelling question of whether the Trinity was originally taught by Jesus — a question that the evidence Con has provided has, thus far, failed to answer.

Rebuttal

Con briefly responds to my first round by making several points that are not grouped into individual arguments. Thus, I will respond one by one to the individual pieces of analysis that he provides.

The Council of Nicea was only about Arianism.

It is true that it was about Arianism. But it’s equally true that it cemented the position of the Trinitarian doctrine. Following the victory of the Trinitarian side at Nicea and later councils, ecclesiastical and governmental authorities were able to suppress dissenting views [2]. The councils also allowed for the Trinity doctrine to be gradually fleshed out: Nicea affirmed the Son’s Divinity, and then Constantinople affirmed the Holy Spirit’s Divinity [3]. Sure, some isolated writers may have held something close to the Trinitarian view, but basically every possible permutation of the relationship among the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit was held by some writers, from monarchianism to Arianism to subordinationism to modalism. Only through the councils’ work in enforcing the Trinity did the Trinity begin “to gel into a recognizable form [2].” 

Thus, it is clear that the councils did influence the development and spread of the Trinity doctrine. My argument in the first round was that the councils, held by the originally-pagan Roman government, allowed emperors like Constantine to step in and influence doctrine in favour of the Trinity [4], which Con does not refute. 

Also, the Trinity can be found in the Bible, in both Old and New testament.

Con does not cite any Bible passages to demonstrate this claim. While there are some Bible passages that appear to support parts of Trinitarian doctrine (e.g. John 1:1), there are also other passages that seem to oppose it (e.g. Matthew 24:36 seems to indicate that Jesus does not know everything that His Father knows.) A detailed study of the Bible is required to prove any specific variation of the relation between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which Con fails to provide.

Furthermore, the Bible is not like a Full-HD unbiased videotape of everything Jesus and His apostles did. The New Testament was compiled by people with specific beliefs over the first and second century, and the reason why we have the current NT today is because the group of Christians that supported the current set of books—rather than the gnostic “gospels”—won out. So even if the Bible does support the Trinity, it does not follow that Jesus originally taught it, since it could be that the gnostic gospels reflect Jesus’s teachings more accurately.

Those gods don't represent the Trinity in Orthodox Christianity (3 Persons in 1 God). Arguing that the number 3 means that the Trinity is pagan, is an association fallacy.

In fact, the Trinity does correspond to both pagan Greek philosophy and pagan deities. 

Plato’s metaphors and his concepts like the logos were frequently drawn upon to describe the Trinity [2]. As I described in my previous round, the Trinity is not logical, so the internal logic of Platonic ideas had to be borrowed to describe it. 

In terms of pagan deities, Con argues that a mere similarity in number does not justify drawing a link between the Trinity and pagan deities, stating that that would be an “association fallacy”. This is true, and indeed, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that certain alleged connections between the Trinity and paganism are far-fetched and implausible [2]. However, the link between pagan deities and the Trinity is not a mere connection in number, and some specific alleged connections are quite strong. For instance, Platonist philosophers like Numenius and Moderatus both taught triads of gods [2]; their influence on Christianity is plausibly demonstrated by the Platonist philosophy drawn upon by early writers who subscribed to a near-trinitarian view, such as Justin Martyr [2]. 

It must be noted that the process by which the Trinity was promulgated was ultimately the councils led by Constantine and later emperors, who had influence over their outcome [4]. Constantine was most likely not genuinely a Christian, and regardless had been influenced by Roman paganism [4]. With the declaration of Catholicism as the state religion in Rome, many former pagans entered Christianity and brought their Pagan influences with them. Thus, the connection between the Trinity and pagan gods is not merely a numerical one, but rather there is a plausible historical and causal link.

Then what about the fact that the Trinity does not exactly correspond to pagan triads? That’s not sufficient evidence to distance them. It very well could be that pagan ideas pulled away from monotheism while Christianity’s Jewish roots pulled towards monotheism, creating the Trinity as a compromise.

Also, I notice you're citing a Jw.org link, which is telling on where you're getting these ideas from.

This argument comes close to an actual ad hominem fallacy: just because it is from Jw.org does not make it wrong. I could just as well say that CARM is a biased source. 

And, you do know that trinity doctrine is beyond our comprehension, right?

The link between this argument and the debate is unclear. Con concedes that Trinitarianism is incomprehensible, which I have argued is the reason why Platonic ideas had to be borrowed in order to make use of their internal logic. 

Incomprehensibility is an excellent way to defend bad ideas. It’s a form of special pleading: our idea is impossible to logically examine, so it cannot be refuted. 

Conclusion

Over this debate, Con has not demonstrated that the Trinity was the consensus of the primitive Church founded by Jesus. While he has provided a source with some quotes that appear to support the Trinity, many of the quotes are ambiguous, as stated in the previous round. Overall, the evidence suggests that the primitive Church did not uniformly believe in the Trinity, that it developed over time. Despite using some Trinity-like language, both Origen and Justin Martyr had a subordinationist proto-Trinity:

The God and Father, who holds the universe together, is superior to every being that exists, for he imparts to each one from his own existence that which each one is; the Son, being less than the Father, is superior to rational creatures alone (for he is second to the Father); the Holy Spirit is still less, and dwells within the saints alone. So that in this way the power of the Father is greater than that of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that of the Son is more than that of the Holy Spirit… (Origen, First, 33-4 [2])

On the other hand, Pro has made several lines of reasoning that show that the Trinity had a pagan origin:
  1. The development of the doctrine was influenced by Pagan Roman Emperors
  2. The doctrine draws heavily from Platonic Greek philosophy
  3. The Trinity doctrine developed over time, and there was no consensus within the early Church
Thus, it can be concluded that the Trinity is most likely of Pagan origin, concocted over the course of several councils centuries after Christ and His apostles spoke their words. It is only due to tradition and religious authority that Christianity was taken hostage and made to accept a doctrine that is supposedly both true and incomprehensible. 

[1] “The Gnostic Gospels,” FRONTLINE. [Online]. Available: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/gnostic-gospels/. [Accessed: 16-Nov-2019].
[2] “Trinity > History of Trinitarian Doctrines (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” [Online]. Available: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/trinity-history.html#Up325CE. [Accessed: 15-Nov-2019].
[3] “Greek Philosophy’s Influence on the Trinity Doctrine | United Church of God.” [Online]. Available: https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/is-god-a-trinity/greek-philosophys-influence-on-the-trinity-doctrine. [Accessed: 15-Nov-2019].
[4] “How Did the Trinity Doctrine Develop? — Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY.” [Online]. Available: https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1101989303. [Accessed: 15-Nov-2019].