If you understand Aristotle’s views on God, metaphysics, philosophy, and the cosmos you’ll better understand Christianity. Specifically, you’ll better understand the doctrine of the Trinity, why Christians had the false interpretation of the cosmos (geocentric) for 1500 years, and other errors that were incorporated into a Christian world view.
After all, Greek thinking spread into the Roman world when the Romans conquered Greece. Roman leaders had Greek slaves teach them and their kids mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, and all other areas of knowledge.
After Jesus’ resurrection, Christianity spread into a Greek world. One that believed in things just the way Aristotle did centuries before. Eventually, Roman leaders persecuted Christians who believed in ideas contrary to the accepted Greek views.
Jews and Romans labeled Christians polytheists for belief in 2 Gods (Father & Son). This persecution continued on and off until Christians embraces Greek philosophy, defining God and Jesus being one (2 persons, but one being) and of the same substance.
Greek medicine has been largely rejected. So has Greek astronomy. A Greek view on God’s nature has persisted, however.
Aristotle had many brilliant ideas for his day. He debated non-believers and laid out proofs for God’s existence. Aristotle had a theory for nearly everything. He was correct on many things, but mistaken on many others (including theological, medical, and astronomical concepts).
Many of these errors were adopted without reservation by the educated and a very significant institution: the Roman Catholic Church. Nobody at the time conceived the Greeks were wrong. Indeed, these ideas were held up and propagated for centuries. These false ideas — geocentricism, Greek medicine, and others — were not rejected till the Scientific Revolution.
A short 12-minute summary:
From Christian Wheaton College. This is very dry. Joseph Smith makes it much simpler. He saw two resurrected beings.
LDS scholar, Barry Bickmore, discusses the transformation of the Hebrew/Jewish organization into a more Hellenized version of Christianity:
Elder Holland discusses the LDS doctrine of the Godhead here:
Wikipedia lists the many creeds and highlights the important historical ones here.
The creeds evolved over centuries. From the Apostles’ Creed (180 AD) to the Athanasian Creed (500 AD). Latter-day Saints can agree with the early creeds. The later creeds, however, are deeply influenced by the dominant (at the time) Greek philosophy.
The creed in 180 AD is simple and clear. The creed in 500 AD is not clear. Not simple.
Mormons believe in the revealed truth about the Godhead.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance [Essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance [Essence] of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood into God. One altogether; not by confusion of Substance [Essence]; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.
“This supplementary document discusses the history of Trinity theories. Although early Christian theologians speculated in many ways on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, no one clearly and fully asserted the doctrine of the Trinity as explained at the top of the main entry until around the end of the so-called Arian Controversy. (See 3.2 below and section 3.1 of the supplementary document on unitarianism.)
Nonetheless, proponents of such theories always claim them to be in some sense founded on, or at least illustrated by, biblical texts.”
David Paulsen focuses on the LDS understanding of God. He explains that Origin, Augustine (though reluctantly), early Christians, and Jews that God believed was corporeal. This is not a Trinitarian view.
Blake Ostler has written extensively on this topic. Fortunately, he created easy-to-listen-to podcasts on the topic here:
Super talk by Noel B. Reynolds. You can read or listen to it here.
– INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT
– SENTIMENTALISM VS. SPIRIT
– DISCERNMENT IMPORTANT
– LIGHT OF CHRIST
– USEFULNESS OF REASON
– THE ROLE OF SIN
– CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD
– GUIDELINES TO KEEP FAITH
– INTELLECT AND FAITH
A wonderful quote:
“Too much of the literature used, seen, and quoted in the Church today is just sentimental trash which is designed to pull our heartstrings or moisten our eyes, but it is not born of true spiritual experience. The tendency of our youth to use sentimental stories in Church talks creates a culture of spiritual misunderstanding in which thinking and learning are discouraged.”
Concise summary by Robert Vukich, a long-time LDS scholar and apologist:
“The Trinity is a logical contradiction as opposed to a mystery. A mystery is how god could be self existent, or how there could be an infinite regression of gods, and matter be eternal. Those are mysteries which do not present a contradiction because they rely on something which is not revealed but doesn’t contradict itself.
By contrast, the Trinity presents a contradiction at every point. The idea of being fully god yet fully a person within that god, and there being three persons, each fully god and having all the essence of god, yet still being one of three is illogical. It is untenably illogical when you realize Jesus is sitting or standing next to god (such as Acts 7:56), who has a physical location. It is logically impossible to say a thing is next to itself. It is not just silly word games which is most of the trinity description, but it is hard fact that any thing cannot logically be next to itself.
Thus the trinity is not a mystery, it is an illogical word game. It is fully explained once the correct NT understanding is provided, which was there were many gods and many lords, but God the Father and Jesus the Lord are the only ones that matter to us. There is no statement in scripture which requires the oneness of god, as described in the Ancient Near East setting, to mean anything beyond a corporate oneness, which is in fact the way Jesus described his oneness with god. When Jesus quotes from the Shema, he doesn’t include himself in it, he simply cites it.
The trinity is a manmade mess of jumbled words to impress people with just how inscrutable god is, despite it being life eternal to know the only true god AND Jesus whom he sent.”
Yep. Hardly a mystery. Entire a contradiction.
Another view from the 3 Mormons!
These guys could be a little clearer in that creedal Christians believe the Trinity is composed of 3 persons whose substance is the same. LDS Christians believe in absolutely 3 separate beings.
Dr. Paulsen is a distinguished scholar who spent a career at BYU. He defends the LDS understanding of the Godhead:
Brant Gardner discusses the union of these ideas: monotheism, Messiah, and the Book of Mormon.
Brant discusses the Father God, El; the mother God or spouse of El, Asherah; Jehovah, the preeminent among the Sons of El (the Father God); and other topics in the evolution of gods in Judaism.
The Sons of God were assigned to different nations. Jehovah was assigned to Israel. By the 8th and 7th centuries BC Jehovah grew in stature, supplanting El in certain respects, as the Jews developed a proto-monotheism.
The understanding of the Godhead’s nature was corrupted in the centuries after Jesus’ resurrection.
Jeff Lindsay shares many explanations here, on his blog LDS FAQ.
Fiona Givens provides a history of the Trinity development in her book, The Christ who Heals: How God Restored the Truth that Saves Us.
She discusses those issues here, contrasting what occurred in the Eastern and Western Christian Churches:
“When Christianity came into contact with the society in which that habit of mind existed, it modified, it reformed, it elevated, the ideas which it contained and the motives which stimulated it to action; but in its turn it was itself profoundly modified by the habit of mind of those who accepted it.
It was impossible for Greeks, … with an education which penetrated their whole nature, to receive or to retain Christianity in its primitive simplicity.” (The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, New York: Harper & Row, 1957, p. 49.)
As the church entered the third century, many ridiculed Christianity because they regarded it as polytheistic—that is, it had a theology of three Gods: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
By this time the more sophisticated had rejected polytheistic pagan deities and had become monotheistic, accepting but one God. So the issue for the church was how to make Christian theology accord with respectable opinion.
Tertullian, a lawyer, offered this solution: The true God was composed of immaterial spiritual substance, and though the three personages that comprised the Godhead were distinct, this was only a material manifestation of an invisible God.
As for how three persons could be one, it was explained that the persons were legally conceived entities, “just as a corporation is composed of various people though it is not the people.” (T. Edgar Lyon, Apostasy to Restoration, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1960, p. 113.)”
Augustine (354—430 C.E.), also known as St. Augustine, is a fourth century philosopher whose groundbreaking philosophy infused Christian doctrine with Neoplatonism.
Additional quotes from the Ensign about Augustine:
“The unsurpassed intellectual in Christian history was Augustine. He was the one who thoroughly fused the theology of the New Testament with Platonism.
In examining Christian doctrine, Augustine confessed to a strong preconception—a repugnance to the idea that God had a body. (The Confessions, V, x:19–20; VII, 1:1. In Great Books of the Western World, vol. 18, Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, pp. 32, 43.)
He acknowledged that he had labored on the thesis of the Trinity for fifteen years without “ever reaching a satisfactory conclusion.” (Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 86.)
Finally he (Augustine) rationalized that if one accepts the Platonic idea that spirit essence is the purest manifestation of reality and that matter is the most corrupt, God must therefore be an immaterial being. He was then able to accept the doctrine of the Trinity. (Confessions, IV, xvi:29, 31; V, x:19–20; VI, iii:4–iv:5; The City of God, VIII, ch. 5–6. In Great Books, vol. 18, pp. 26, 32, 36, 267–69.)
As Plato had done before him, Augustine decided that since God is the ultimate good, he cannot be associated with anything material.
Augustine’s personal theology became that of the Roman Empire and remains an influence in historic Christianity to this day. Such is the basis for traditional Christianity’s teaching on the Trinity—a belief described by modern clerics as a mystery.”
Robert primarily uses widely respected, authoritative Christian and Jewish scholars to establish these points: 1) The Trinity isn’t biblical. 2) The Trinity was created by Greek philosophers centuries after Jesus. 3) Multiple Gods are referenced in the scriptures. 4) Traditional monotheism isn’t supported.
LDS Truth Claims identifies the Greek influence on the early Church in the form of ex nihilo creation. These videos discuss concepts of impassibility (unemotional) and immutability (unchanging) of God and the Trinity:
Just yesterday a friend of mine claimed that it’s arrogant to say you’re the only true church. After all, he said, other faiths say the same thing.
We debated for some time, reaching no agreement. I thought I’d YouTube the question. Among other things I found, I liked the video below. I shared it with my friend who hasn’t yet commented on it directly.
Alvin Carl Plantinga is an American analytic philosopher, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, and the inaugural holder of the Jellema Chair in Philosophy at Calvin College. He is a Protestant and considered by many to be America’s leading Christian philosopher.
Plantinga explains that, according to his view, only one faith can be correct. And it isn’t true one is arrogant to believe this. I agree with Dr. Plantinga’s arguments. I disagree, however, that Protestantism holds the Gospel’s fullness.
I believe Joseph Smith restored the fullness of Christ’s teachings through gradual development and miraculous visitations.
Finding a balance between loyalty or commitment to one’s faith and sympathetic openness to other faiths is one of the biggest challenges Mormons face in an age of inclusiveness.