4-6 The Trinity: A Desire For Acceptance

Thomas Gaston and others have pointed out that despite the initial working-class beginnings of first century Biblical Christianity, by the second century there was a determined effort by the Christian community to attract higher class followers. The majority of the non-canonical Acts, epistles and Gospels reflect something of this. There was a desire to present the Christian message in terms which the educated and upper classes could understand and accept. The attacks of Celsus and others on Christianity in the 2nd century indicate a concern on their part that the edcuated classes were being attracted to it and even accepting it. Kyrtatos observes: "Christianity is presented in the New Testament in a form that was unacceptable... to people of education... one of the dearest concerns of the second century [Christian] apologists... [was] the translation of Christianity into a language that could be understood and accepted by the upper classes" (1). This would explain why the Christian apologists began to present Biblical Christianity in Platonic terms, just as Philo the Jew presented Jewish history in such terms- and it was but a short step to accepting and incorporating the Platonic ideas of the immortal soul, a personally pre-existent "Logos" figure etc. And this is what happened. The desire to win educated converts led to the early church writers of the second century adopting Platonic terminology with which to describe the Lord Jesus, and it stuck. Some second century Christian leaders even wrote to the Roman Emperor, addressing him as the "chief philosopher", begging him not to persecute Christians because Christianity and Greek philosophy were essentially the same thing. Justin's First Apology is a classic example (2). The apocryphal Preaching Of Peter 2 claims that "we [Christians] and the good Greeks worship the same God" (3). The deconstruction of Greek philosophy which we meet throughout the New Testament was sadly ignored in the desperate desire to be acceptable within society. As Gaston comments: "It is not coincidence that the Middle Platonists also believed in the 'three-ness' of God" (4). Thus it was through the conscious desire to present Christianity in Platonic terms that the concept of the trinity entered Christian thought. But there can be no doubt that this was not a reflection of the Biblical texts themselves.


(1) D.J. Kyrtatos, The Social Structure Of The Early Christian Communities (London: Virgo, 1987) p. 99. See too Thomas Gaston, Proto-Trinity: The Development Of The Doctrine Of The Trinity In The First And Second Centuries (MPhil. thesis, University of Birmingham UK, 2007, published by Lulu Press, 2007) p. 28.

(2) See F. Young in M.Edwards et al, eds., Apologetics In The Roman Empire (Oxford: O.U.P., 1999) pp. 83,84, 94.

(3) As cited in Gaston op cit. p. 35.

(4) Gaston op cit. p. 56.



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