The Philosophical Roots of the Trinity: Alexander and Arius

Here is an interesting quote from Evangelical scholar Roger Olson. Feel free to comment.

In the deep background of the clash between Arius and Alexander over the nature of the Logos lay Greek philosophy. It is something both had in common, even if they applied it differently. Both sides of the conflict simply assumed that divinity is ontologically perfect in such a way that any change at all is impossible for it and improper to attribute to it. Thus God, being divine and therefore absolutely perfect, cannot experience change because to change is always to change either for the better or the worse, and in either case God would not be God if he could change. 

Absolute static perfection–including apatheia, or impassibility (passionlessness)–is the nature of God according to Greek thought, and nearly all Christian theologians came to agree with this. Of course, they could find in the scriptures several supporting passages that denied change and variability in God. God’s immutability and impassibility, then, became chief attributes of God in Christian theology…

Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform“ InterVarsity Press; First Edition edition (April 1999) pg 143

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21 comments on “The Philosophical Roots of the Trinity: Alexander and Arius

  1. dave says:

    it is hard sometimes to reconcile the idea of an all-knowing God with the idea of an ever-increasing God

  2. Robert Boylan says:

    . . .thank goodness for Open Theism, then . . .:-)

  3. Stan J. says:


    I think “all-knowing” can be rather easily reconciled with the notion of an ever-increasing God if we take some time to think about it.

    I think the simplest way to conceptualise that infinite concept is to just start with the assumption that God had already reached a state of omniscience, and now, He’s just adding details as His creations expand.

    Granted, that’s a *gross* oversimplification of the highest magnitude, but it may be that the whole idea is actually much simpler, more elegant than we typically conceive.

  4. James says:

    Stan, Thanks for dropping by.

    I wonder what definition of “omniscience” you are operating with. There are different ways to understand it.

    1. In the sense that God knows all things, including all events past, present, and future.

    2. In the sense that God knows all things that he could possibly know, but some things are not possible to be known. The future is not possible to know, so God doesn’t know it.

    I’d argue for number 2. God knows all things that he could possibly know, but he does not know things he cannot know. The future has not happened yet, and therefore it does not exist. God might anticipate what I will do, but he can’t know what I will do with the same degree of surety as he knows what I have done in the past.

    Anyway, those are my ramblings on the matter. That is my variation of “open theism” that Robert hints at above. God increases in knowledge all the time as we make choices and those choices become past events that God adds to what he already knows about the past.

    • dave says:

      It’s funny you mention that, because I’ve recently decided that God does know the future, because it has already happened. Just because we view time linearly doesn’t mean God has too. :-)

    • James says:

      Hi Dave. I can accept that Latter-day Saints can disagree on this issue. I just think we have a serious problem for our ability to freely make choices if we posit that the future has already been determined.

    • dave says:

      I agree that a determined future is a problem re: free agency.

      However, that is not a problem if we are the ones that already made the choice. Have you ever heard of Minkowski’s space-time? I am going to way over simplify, but think of time as if it was similar to space. I am in KC, and I cannot see anything going on in UT. However, everything in space is happening right now.

      What if time is like that? All time is happening right now? That would mean that from a withdrawn perspective, the choices I am going to make tonight have already been made by me.

      Or, in other words, if I am sitting on my porch, I can see my street. But if I get in a helicopter, I can see my neighborhood, my city, etc as I “zoom out.”

      If you zoom out from time, then you can also see events happening in other times, and I think that this is how God can see us doing all things, in all times.

      In my opinion, this is why the veil was mandatory. It prevents us from remembering the things we saw ourselves doing. Of course, if that knowledge had not been hidden from us, then it would have interfered with free agency.

      I also think this is where deja vu, instant connections, and other small manifestations of prophecy come from. Sometimes the veil is thinned ever so slightly, and we remember doing something before, or we recognize an old friend from the pre-existence.

      (forgive me if i sound lecture-y, i think this is an incredibly fun topic :-) )

  5. James says:

    Thanks for sharing Dave. I’ll reserve serious judgement until I learn more about Minkowski’s space-time. For now, though, I’ll note that I absolutely do see time as being linear. Things happen in chronological order and I don’t die before I am born. I struggle to see time in 3-D as you do because I don’t think I can be in more than one place simultaneously doing more than one thing.

    But thanks for voicing your ideas for you have certainly given me some good food for thought. I have a book sitting on my shelf that discusses space, time, energy, etc. that I have yet to pick up but have been meaning to for a while. It is called “The Fabric of the Cosmos” by Brian Greene. Perhaps when I get to it I will change my mind!

    • dave says:

      That sounds pretty heavy. Aren’t quantum mechanics fun? :-)

      I have to confess, the only reason I know anything about space time is because of “Lost.”

  6. James says:

    Haha. I watched the first season and the first half of the second season of Lost then realized that it was a bigger commitment than I really wanted to do. I enjoyed it though.

  7. James,

    I have not yet made my mind up on how I would define “omniscience”, but consider this: God inspires prophets to prophecy of future events, sometimes events thousands of years into the future. If God can give knowledge of future events to prophets, then doesn’t that necessarily mean that God knows the future?

    Just some food for thought.

    • James says:

      Hi Neal. I appreciate your ideas. But because many times future-telling by true prophets turns out to not be true we must allow for the fact that all prophecies are conditional. The future is not etched in stone, else God would not have prophesied of a thing and then changed his mind, or have that prophecy become null. We have to read Deuteronomy 18:20 coupled with Jeremiah 18:7-8.

  8. I agree that the future is not set in stone, all I am saying is that God has a knowledge of the future. When you earlier laid out the 2 meanings on “omniscience” you stated:

    “The future is not possible to know, so God doesn’t know it.” (apart of meaning 2, which you agreed with).

    I think I would argue that statement is somewhat incorrect, for the reason that God reveals the future to prophets. Many prophets have seen from the beginning to the end, so obviously the future is knowable to God.

    On the other hand, I am NOT saying the the future is predetermined, just that God already knows what will happen – regardless of what choices we make.

    For example, lets say I can choose between A or B (you can make A and B stand for whatever you would like). If I choose A, God knows what will result from that, if I choose B, God still knows what will happen from that as well (though it maybe different from the result of A). No matter what choices we make, God knows what will come of it. So, he essentially knows the future. Once that choice is made, that knowledge becomes certain.

    I hope that makes sense for you. I am not necessarily disagreeing with you. I just think it is evident that the future is not entirely unknowable for God, and the scriptures seem to demonstrate that he has some kind of knowledge of future events.

  9. James says:

    Hi Neal. I think I better understand your point now. Thanks.

    I agree that God may have a really really really good idea about what the outcome of any particular choice will be. In this sense He might “know” what the consequences are of choosing A or B. In this vein, there is a sense in which I can tell my son that I know he will have a good experience if he goes on a mission (he’s only 4 months old now, so that’s a long way off). But, as I’ll elaborate on below, I can’t know with absolute certainly that he will in fact go on a mission.

    What I’ve been arguing for (and I don’t know how you feel about this) is that God does not know with absolute certainty whether any given individual will choose A or B. Consider that if God knows with absolute certainty that you will choose A tomorrow, then this implies that under no circumstance will you choose B. You are not really free to choose B anymore. Your choosing of A tomorrow is set in stone and cannot be changed, because God knows it.

    That is the type of knowledge I’m referring to when I say that God doesn’t know the future. That kind of knowledge severely limits our free will. And as another facet to this idea, that kind of knowledge makes a mess out of the nature and purpose of prayer.


  10. fromthesunrising says:

    Hi James. I agree with your last comment. As an example, I believe God didn’t know that Adam and Eve will choose to act against his will. He said to them to multiply and have authority over the inhabited earth yet it came that Satan (whom God don’t foreknew it will rebelled against him) deceived the couple then acted wrongly. Thus free will of all men are not determined by God on the other hand, there are some people in the Bible that he prophesied about their ends that is because he used his power to know what will happen about them. In the book or Revelation the great crowd that will be saved in Armageddon were not determined. This is to say that God is giving free will to all people who wants to be part of that great crowd that will have salvation.

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  12. fromthesunrising says:

    However, I don’t believe in Trinity doctrine. If you want some truth concerning the falseness of the doctrine of Trinity please visit my site at and click defending NWT and a blog entitled “Trinity: A False Doctrine of A False Church” you can also read my blogs about John 1:1 and others as well. Share these blogs to anyone who want to share with… Thanks…

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  15. I would like to correct my statement. God can know everything in certainty if he will use his power. However, he does not use his power all the time to know the end of someone that is if he is not giving judgment to the person itself. In the Bible, he can set in stone the event that will come if he determine it by his will. Thus, there are people and locations that he mention their and its end because he made his will to set in stone. However, he is not always using his power to know all the things to happen specifically when individual life is concern. An example of this is this. We know that the false prophet or the leader of a particular church is sentenced to destruction in the Bible, however he is not closed in a pit if he will admit to himself and to the people that he is wrong and will do act to accept the truth. By this action, he will not be part of the false prophets who will be destroyed in the end. This basically shows the freedom of human to take their actions according to their heart. When God created Adam and Eve and the angels the free will is already on them. They choose between the two. To follow or to disobey. Concerning the great crowd, he can determine the total number without having an error on it. Yet he did not revealed the exact number of people because he wanted everybody to be saved thus he is giving free will to everyone to take their actions according to their heart. Jehovah is omniscience and omnipotent. His power is unlimited and always accurate. It does not goes wrong in everything he said. Whatever he said it will come true. To sum up my words, God is all-knowing. He can know everything in unlimited sense. But he use his power to know the future whenever he want it use.

  16. Another example that a prophesied event that is set on stone is about Jesus and David. Jesus was the one identified as to be the appointed king in Psalms 2:6 – 12 and David as to be king forever in the future earth to come (Ezekiel 37:24; Psalms 89:27). Thus, God knows from the start that this two persons will not leave their integrity to him. God had known from the start that this persons will become kings. Thus the choice of choosing against God is not free anymore. Jehovah determined this prophesies which are also according to his will thus it won’t go faulty. The word of God comes according to his determined will.

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