Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.
Notable conditionalists of this era include:
l 16??: Sussex Baptists.
l d. 1612: Edward Wightman
l 1627: Samuel Gardner
l 1628: Samuel Przpkowski
l 1636: George Wither
l 1637: Joachim Stegman
l 1624: Richard Overton
l 1654: John Biddle
l 1655: Matthew Caffyn
l 1658: Samuel Richardson
l 1608-1674: John Milton
l 1588-1670: Thomas Hobbes
l 1605-1682: Thomas Browne
l 1622-1705: Henry Layton
l 1702: William Coward
l 1632-1704: John Locke
l 1643-1727: Isaac Newton
l 1676-1748: Pietro Giannone
l 1751: William Kenrick
l 1755: Edmund Law
l 1759: Samuel Bourn
l 1723-1791: Richard Price
l 1718-1797: Peter Peckard
l 1733-1804: Joseph Priestley
l 1765: Francis Blackburne
 The belief that people still exist in some non-physical form after death, but remain completely unconscious.
 ‘Harold Fisch calls it ‘a major current of seventeenth century protestant ideology‘.’, Thomson, ‘Bodies of thought: science, religion, and the soul in the early Enlightenment’, p. 42 (2008).
 The belief that people do not exist at all after death.
 ‘Mortalism, in some form or other, had been around quite a while before the seventeenth century, but for our purposes we can begin to investigate mortalism as it appeared at the time of the Reformation.’, Brandon, ‘The coherence of Hobbes’s Leviathan: civil and religious authority combined’, p. 65 (2007).
 ‘we also know that such mortalist thought was fairly widespread prior to the seventeenth century.’, ibid., p. 66.
 ‘The status of the dead was among the most divisive issues of the early Reformation; it was also arguably the theological terrain over which in the reign of Henry VIII official reform travelled furthest and fastest.’, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England’, p. 47 (2002).
 ‘In fact, during the Reformation both psycho- somnolence—the belief that the soul sleeps until the resurrection—and thnetopsychism—the belief that the body and soul both die and then both rise again—were quite common’, Conti, ‘Religio Medici’s Profession of Faith’, in Barbour & Preston (eds.), ‘Sir Thomas Browne: the world proposed’, p. 157 (2008).
 ‘All this suggests that mortalism, and the fear of it, was widespread in England in the century after the Reformation. But the English Revolution, in particular, was a crucible out of which radical new ideas boiled. Mortalist ideas multiplied rapidly in the 1640s‘, Almond, ‘Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England’, p. 43 (1994).
 ‘The most common form of seventeenth-century Christian mortalism claimed that the whole individual died and was insensible until the resurrection and judgement, when the whole individual would be resuscitated and enter on eternal life. There was no continuation of an immaterial part of the individual, no feeling, thought, or suffering before the final general resurrection.’, Thomson, ‘Bodies of thought: science, religion, and the soul in the early Enlightenment’, p. 42 (2008).
 ‘On the contrary, mortalist views – particularly of the sort which affirmed that the soul slept or died – were widespread in the Reformation period. George Williams has shown how prevalent mortalism was among the Reformation radicals.’, Almond, ‘Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England’, p. 38 (1994).
 ‘The Baptists in Italy and France had at times adopted Soul Sleeping; such an association also existed in England, for we hear that in Kent and Sussex Baptists were linked to a sect known as the Soul Sleepers.’, Burrell, ‘The role of religion in modern European history’, p. 74 (1964).
 ‘he affirmed that the soul sleeps in the sleep of the first death as well as the body;’, Vedder, ‘A Short History of the Baptists’, p. 197 (1907).
 ‘The Norwich minister Samuel Gardiner envisaged the dead ‘sleep[ing] supinely in their lockers, careless and senseless of secular affaires”, Marshall, ‘Beliefs and the dead in Reformation England’, p. 213 (2002).
 ‘Przypkowski, like Sozzini, affirmed that those who had not been exposed to the Gospel through revelation would not receive eternal torments for their ignorance of the Gospel. Przypkowski remains consistent with Sozzini in stating that they simply would not be raised and would remain eternally dead.’, Snobelen, ‘Revelation and Reason: The Development, Rationalization and Influence of Socinianism’, honors thesis, p. 54 (1993).
 ‘Another convinced adherent of moderate Puritan opinion, the poet George Wither, gave mortalism even more substantial support‘, Ball, ‘The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley’, p. 73 (2008).
 ‘The mortalist position, on the other hand, was defended in the Brevis disquisitio published by the Socinian Joachim Stegmann in 1637.’, Méchoulan (ed.), ‘La formazione storica della alterità: studi di storia della tolleranza nell’età moderna offerti a Antonio Rotondò’, Secolo XVI, p. 1221 (2001).
 ‘In 1644 he published a notorious tract, Mans Mortalitie, wherein he sought to prove ‘both theologically and philosophically, that whole man (as a rational creature) is a compound wholly mortal, contrary to that common distinction of soul and body: and that the present going of the soul into heaven or hell is a mere fiction: and that at the resurrection is the beginning of our immortality, and then actual condemnation, and salvation, and not before.’, Watts, ‘The Dissenters: From the Reformation to the French Revolution’, p. 119 (1985).
 ‘The seventeenth-century Socinians John Biddle and Samuel Richardson both disbelieved in eternal torment and were convinced that the wicked would be annihilated.’, Young, ‘F. D. Maurice and Unitarianism’, p. 249 (1992).
 ‘”Matthew Caffyn said, no man hath eternal life [immortality] now in him as possessing it, but a promise of it, I John ii. 25’, Froom, ‘The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers’, volume 2, p. 144 (1966).
 Richardson, ‘A discourse of the torments of hell: The foundation and pillars thereof discovered, searched, shaken and removed. With many infallible proofs, that there is not to be a punishment after this life for any to endure that shall never end’ (1658).
 ‘In discussing the death of the body (chapter 13), Milton espouses mortalism or Thnetopsychism, the logical concomitant of his monist ontology.’, Lewalski, ‘The life of John Milton: a critical biography’, p. 431 (2002).
 ‘Although he is not normally counted a Socinian, Hobbes shares their commitment to the mortalist thesis,’, Jolley, ‘The relation between theology and philosophy’, in Garber & Ayres (eds.), ‘The Cambridge history of seventeenth-century philosophy’, volume 1, p. 383 (2003).
 ‘ Burns presents this view as held not only by Hobbes, but also by John Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, and Richard Overton.’, Brandon, ‘The coherence of Hobbes’s Leviathan: civil and religious authority combined’, p. 66 (2007).
 ‘Between 1692 and 1706, Henry Layton had produced a series of pamphlets which, while endorsing the notion of a general resurrection on the last day, had asserted the mortality of the soul primarily on physiological grounds though with the aid of Scripture.’, Almond, ‘Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England’, p. 62 (1994).
 ‘Similarly, William Coward wrote a series of works from 1702 to 1706 in which he argued for the mortality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead on the last day.’, Almond, ‘Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England’, p. 62 (1994).
 ‘Locke affirmed the doctrine of mortalism in the Reasonableness in his account of the consequences of Adam’s Fall.’, Nuvo (ed.), ‘John Locke: Writings on Religion’, p. xxxiii (2002).
 ‘Newton’s mortalism is of a piece with that of several Civil War sectarians,’, Wood, ‘Science and dissent in England, 1688-1945’, p. 50 (2004).
 ‘In the Triregno Giannone implicitly aligns himself with a materialist position: the doctrine of the soul’s immortality is presented as one of many corrupting influences that the Jews absorbed from the Egyptians.’, Suttcliffe, ‘Judaism and Enlightenment’, p. 207 (2005).
 ‘He seems to have been a materialist, a mortalist (that is, a believer that the soul expires at death), and an announced foe to priestcraft; the pages of the London Review resounded with his defenses of Joseph Priesley’s unorthodoxies.’, Johns, ‘Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates’, p. 141 (2010).
 ‘Edmund Law, Archdeacon of Carlisle, who (in a D.D. exercise at Cambridge in 1754, published as an “Appendix” to the third edition of The Theory of Religion ) had revived the Anabaptist theory of “soul sleep”’, Outler, ‘John Wesley: Folk-Theologian’, Theology Today (34.2.154), 1977.
 ‘Death, when applied to the end of wicked men in a future state, he says, properly denotes a total extinction of life and being,’, Buck, ‘A theological dictionary: containing definitions of all religious terms’, p. 115 (1823).
 ‘He does not believe, for he cannot find in Scripture, the ‘ultimate restoration of all mankind,’ but he holds that the future punishment will consist chiefly in the annihilation of being, not in the torture of living beings‘, Stephen, ‘History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century’, p. 429 (1901).
 ‘Peckard, on the other hand, adopted the anti-dogmatic mortalist line that between death and final judgment, the soul lay dormant, that at death the whole man died rather than just his physical being.’, Ingram, ‘Religion, reform and modernity in the eighteenth century: Thomas Secker and the Church of England’, Studies in Modern British Religious History, p. 101 (2007).
 ‘I suppose that the powers of thought are not merely suspended, but are extinct, or cease to be, at death.’, Priestley, ‘A free discussion of the doctrine of materialism, and philosophical necessity’, p. 82 (1778).
 Blackburne, ‘A short historical view of the controversy concerning an intermediate state and the separate existence of the soul between death and the general resurrection, deduced from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, to the present times’ (1765).
The earliest post-apostolic Christian confessions of faith do not refer to heaven or hell, but do mention the resurrection. Most writers from the first to the seventh century believed in an immortal soul and eternal torment in hell.  
Soul sleep or soul death was occasionally understood to be followed by eternity in heaven or hell subsequent to the resurrection. Conditionalism was preserved by early Christians such as Arnobius,   and among Syrian Christians such as Aphrahat,  Ephrem,   Narsai,  and Jacob of Sarug.  
 The first century ‘Didache’ and the ‘Old Roman Symbol’, which came to be known as the ‘Apostles’ Creed’.
 ‘Concerning its nature, many early fathers, including the apologist Justin (Dial 45.4) and the Latin fathers Tertullian (Deres 5ff) and Jerome (cf. Ep 119), assumed a fiery hell.’, Bromiley, ‘Hell’, in Bromiley (ed.), ‘The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’, volume 2, p. 677 (rev. ed. 1988).
 ‘While we freely admit that there are indications that some of the early fathers believed in the final annihilation or salvation of the wicked, it is clear that the majority of fathers believed in a conscious afterlife and eternal punishment.’, Morey, ‘Death and the Afterlife’, p. 60 (1984).
 The belief that people still exist in some non-physical form after death, but remain completely unconscious.
 The belief that people do not exist at all after death.
 ‘Some have believed in the annihilation of the wicked after they should have undergone just punishment proportioned to their sins. This supposition has had a considerable number of advocates. It was maintained, among others, by Arnobius, at the close of the third century, by the Socini, by Dr. Hammond, and by some of the New England divines.’, Alger, ‘The Destiny of the Soul: A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life’, p. 546 (14th ed. 1889).
 ‘The theory of annihilationism in which the wicked pass into nonexistence either at death or the resurrection was first advanced by Arnobius, a 4th-century “Christian” apologist, according to standard reference works such as Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (p. 184).’, Morey, ‘Death and the Afterlife’, p. 199 (1984).
 ‘Already in the fourth century Arnobius taught the annihilation of the wicked.’, Hoekama, ‘The Bible and the Future’, p. 266 (1994).
 ‘On the subject of the fate of souls after death. Aphrahat insists – as does Ephrem – “that as yet no one has received his reward. For the righteous have not inherited the Kingdom, nor have the wicked gone into torment” (8.22; fc. 20). At present, the dead simply “sleep” in their graves, which are collectively referred to as Sheol, or the underworld. Their capabilities for activity and experience are, apparently, almost non-existent, “for when people die, the animal spirit is buried with the body and sense is taken away from it, but the heavenly spirit they receive [i.e. the Holy Spirit, given in baptism] goes, according to its nature, to Christ” (6.14). Aphrahat, however, seems to ascribe to the dead a kind of anticipatory consciousness of their own future which is akin to dreaming in earthly sleep.’, Daley, ‘The hope of the early church: a handbook of patristic eschatology’, p. 73 (1991).
 ‘The wicked will be sent back to Sheol, the real of Death under the world (22.17.24; cf. 6.6), where they will be punished in the measure and the way that their sins deserve – some in “outer darkness,” others in unquenchable fire, others by simple exclusion from the presence of God (22.18-22).’, ibid., p. 73.
 ‘Ephrem, too, conceives of the time between our death and the second coming of Jesus as a “sleep,” a period of inactivity in virtually every aspect of human existence. Because his anthropology is more highly developed than Aphrahat’s, and because he is so insistent – in contrast to Bardaisan and other earlier, more dualistic Syriac writers – that the human person needs both body and soul to be functional, Ephrem seems to imagine that this sleep as [sic] deprived even of the “dreaming” Aphrahat mentions. For Ephrem, the soul without the body is “bound,” “paralyzed” (CN 476.6); it is like an embryo in its mother’s womb or like a blind or deaf person: “living, but deprived of word and thought” (HP 8.4-6).’, ibid., p. 74.
 ‘Because of his insistence on the positive role of the body in human life and its necessity for a full human existence (e.g., CN 47.4), Ephrem sees eschatological reward and punishment as delayed until the resurrection of the dead. Resurrection will begin when souls are “awakened” from their sleep by the angel’s trumpet and the commanding voice of God (CN 49.16f.).’, ibid., p. 75.
 ‘Ephrem’s picture of Gehenna is less detailed and more traditional than his picture of heaven. The damned there seem to suffer most from their awareness that they have lost all hope sharing in beauty and happiness (HP 2.3f.; 7.29).’, ibid., p. 76.
 ‘Following in the tradition of Ephrem and Aphrahat, as well as that of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Narsai assumes that the souls of the dead do not receive the reward or punishment for their deeds until they are reunited with their bodies in the resurrection; until then, they must all wait in Sheol, the earthly place of the dead, in a state of conscious but powerless inactivity that Narsai refers to as a “sleep.”‘, ibid., p. 174
 ‘The Nestorian Narsai described the soul and the body as a pair of inseperable lovers who could not live the one without the other. From the moment that her lover deserted her, he recounts, nephesh lost her speech and fell into a deep slumber. In spite of this, even in this state of forced inertia, she maintained her essential characteristics: her galloping intellect, her acute judgement, the emotions that open up a view in the world. The reason that all her faculties had ceased to function is that they had no more any purpose to serve, since the body for the sake of which they operated was no longer there. Nephesh recovered her sentience and her speech at the end of time when, together with the body, she rose to give an account for her deeds. Till then she felt no pain or joy. The vague knowledge she had of what was in store for her scarcely disturbed her peaceful sleep.’, Samellas, ‘Death in the eastern Mediterranean (50-600 A.D.): the Christianization of the East: An Interpretation’, Studien Und Text Zu Antike Und Christentum, pp. 56-57 (2002).
 ‘His eschatology remains within the Syriac tradition. Thus he speaks often of death in personified terms, as the captor of an enslaved human race or as an insatiable glutton; although Sheol, where the dead now exist, is a dark place of sleep. Jacob also describes the experience of death as a dangerous journey across a sea of fire.’, Daley, ‘The hope of the early church: a handbook of patristic eschatology’, p. 175 (1991).
 ‘On the influence of hypnopsychism on the theology of Jacob of Sarug see M. D. Guinan, “Where are the dead? Purgatory and Immediate Retribution in James of Sargu,” in Symposium Syriacum 1972, pp. 546-549.’, Samellas, ‘Death in the eastern Mediterranean (50-600 A.D.): the Christianization of the East: An Interpretation’, Studien Und Text Zu Antike Und Christentum, p. 56 (2002).
 ‘The doctrine of the ‘sleep of the soul’ after death, a Syrian tradition held in common with Ephrem, Narsai and others’, Murray, ‘Symbols of church and kingdom: a study in early Syriac tradition’, p. 279 (2006).
 ‘In virtually every period of Byzantine history, critical voices denied that the souls of the dead could involve themselves in the affairs of the living or intercede on their behalf in heaven. Based on a more unitive, materialist notion of the self as irreducibly embodied, some thinkers argued that the souls of the dead (sainted or otherwise) were largely inert, having lapsed into a state of cognitive oblivion and psychomotor lethargy, a condition sometimes described as a state of “sleep” in which the soul could only “dream” of its future punishment or heavenly reward. Still others argued for the outright death of the soul, which, they claimed, was mortal and perished with the body, and which would be recreated together with the body only on the day of resurrection.’, Constas, ‘”To Sleep, Perchance to Dream”: The Middle State of Souls in Patristic and Byzantine Literature’, in Talbot (ed.), ‘Dunbarton Oaks Papers’, No. 55, p. 94 (2001).
 ‘Till the end of the sixth century and beyond, Christians in Nisibis and Constantinople, Syria and Arabia adduced Leviticus 17:11 which states that “The soul of the whole flesh is the blood” to argue that the soul after death sank into non-existence, that it lost its sensibility and stayed inert in the grave together with the body.’, Samellas, ‘Death in the eastern Mediterranean (50-600 A.D.): the Christianization of the East: An Interpretation’, Studien Und Text Zu Antike Und Christentum, pp. 55-56 (2002).
 ‘others arose in Arabia, putting forward a doctrine foreign to the truth. They said that during the present time the human soul dies and perishes with the body, but that at the time of the resurrection they will be renewed together.’, Eusebius (a contemporary), ‘Ecclesiastical History’ (6.37.1), NPNF2 1:297.
 ‘It is unclear if Arabian thnetopsychism [‘soul death’] is related to the Syriac tradition of the soul’s dormition [sleep] espoused by writers like Aphrahat (d. ca. 345), Ephrem (d. 373), and Narsai (d. 502), according to whom the souls of the dead are largely inert, having lapsed into a state of sleep, in which they can only dream of their future reward or punishments.’, Constas, ‘”To Sleep, Perchance to Dream”: The Middle State of Souls in Patristic and Byzantine Literature’, in Talbot (ed.), ‘Dunbarton Oaks Papers’, No. 55, p. 110 (2001).
 ‘In his comments on Aphraates, [Aphrahates, a Syrian Christian sage] Braun suggests that he must have been acquainted with contemporaneous rabbinic teaching as to the condition of the soul and body after death. In much the same vein Redepenning thinks that the ‘heresy of the Arabians,’ which caused the dissension that Origen had to settle, was none other than a bit of Jewish tradition which the Church had taken over’, Gavin, ‘The Sleep of the Soul in the Early Syriac Church’, Journal of the American Oriental Society (40.116), 1920.
 ‘we can see that its connections are Jewish and perhaps also Persian.’, Murray, ‘Symbols of church and kingdom: a study in early Syriac tradition’, p. 279 (2006).
 ‘in VIII.397.15 he [Aphrahat] says ‘our faith teaches us‘ the doctrine of the sleep of the soul after death, which seems to come from various but ultimately Jewish sources‘, ibid., pp. 22-23.
 ‘Gouillard notes that variations of thnetopsychism [‘soul death’] and hypnopsychism [‘soul sleep’] existed alongside the views of the official church until the sixth century when they were resoundingly denounced by Eustratios.’, ibid., p. 111.
 ‘Thnetopsychism [‘soul death’] continued to challenge the patience and ingenuity of church officials, as evidenced by writers such as John the Deacon, Niketas Stethatos, Philip Monotropos (Dioptra, pp. 210, 220), and Michael Glykas, all of whom are keenly interested in the survival of consciousness and memory among the souls of the departed saints. John the Deacon, for example, attacks those who “dare to say that praying to the saints is like shouting in the ears of the deaf, as if they had drunk from the mythical waters of Oblivion” (line 174).’ ibid., p. 111.
 ‘The Syriac tradition of the soul’s “sleep in the dust” (Job 21:26), with its links to the Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic, stands as a corrective to overly Hellenized views of the afterlife, and was canonized at a Nestorian synod in the eighth century (786–787) presided over by Timothy I (d. 823), who rejected anything else as blatant Origenism.’, ibid., p. 111.
The Devil and Satan
Background of the Early Writers
That the early writers were influenced by their pagan background can easily be illustrated. On the subject of the devil we have this quotation from Tertullian. “The philosophers acknowledge there are demons; Socrates himself waited on the demon’s will. Why not? Since it is said an evil spirit attached himself specially to him even from his childhood. The poets are all acquainted with demons too; even the ignorant common people make frequent use of them in cursing. In fact, they call upon Satan, the demon-chief, in their execrations” (Apology, ch. xxii).
The Scriptural Background
In the Old Testament the use of the word devil appears just four times and occurs only in the plural form. In every instance where it is used, it refers to heathen deities, or idols. As an example we site Deut. 32:17: “They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not.” The Hebrew words translated devils are sair and shed; the latter is the common word for goat. There is no etymological link between these Hebrew words and the New Testament word diabolos.
The word Satan in Hebrew is a common noun and means opponent or adversary. The Hebrew word is carried over to the New Testament, and is used on several occasions of persons. Jesus said to Peter: “Get thee behind me Satan.” In other situations, the sinful inclinations of the human heart are termed “Satan:” Peter said to Ananias, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart … why has thou conceived this thing in thine heart?” (Acts 5:3-4). Ananias’ fraud originated in his own heart with his own covetousness; this sinful impulse is metaphorically termed Satan – “adversary.”
The word devil in the New Testament is a translation of the common Greek word diabolos, meaning false accuser. Jesus used the word of Judas Iscariot in John 6:70. “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” The term is also applied to the sinful tendencies of human nature and to those organizations of men dominated by sin. Heb. 2:14 is an example of the former usage: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he [Jesus Christ] also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil.” The latter use is seen in Rev. 2:10: “Behold, the devil [pagan governmental authorities] shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried…”
There is One God
“The object of our worship is the One God” (Tertullian: Apology, xvii). A characteristic teaching of the Christian faith from the beginning was that there is one God. In this respect, Christian teaching mirrored Jewish belief as opposed to pagan concepts of the time.
All who bore the name of Christ recognized this fact, and even when Trinitarian ideas had taken hold, the basic concept of One God was always declared. The inconsistency between monotheism and the doctrine of the Trinity, obvious to Jews and perhaps to pagans, was not admitted by trinitarians.
While exalted by many denominations today, the trinitarian concept was not part of the original gospel and took some time to develop in the early church. It began with confused ideas about the nature of Christ and his eternal relationship with the Father.
The Second Century
The Epistle of Barnabas speaks at length of the work and atoning sacrifice of Christ, and the author’s teaching appears to be scriptural.
Irenaeus makes some statements that are bold and true: “He created all things, since he is the only God, the only Lord, the only Creator, the only Father, alone containing all things, and Himself commanding all things into existence” (Against Heresies, II, i).
“The Father Himself is alone called God … the Scriptures acknowledge Him alone as God” (II, xxviii.4). “These (the apostles) have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ, the Son of God” (III, i, 2). “Neither the prophets, nor the apostles, nor the Lord Jesus Christ in His own person, did acknowledge any other Lord or God, but the God and Lord supreme … and the Lord himself handing down to his disciples, that He, the Father, is the only God and Lord, who alone is God and ruler of all” (III, ix, 1).
“Such, then, are the first principles of the Gospel; that there is one God, the Maker of the universe; He who was so announced by the prophets, and who by Moses set forth the dispensation of the law, which proclaim the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and ignore any other God or Father except Him” (III, xi, 7).
Such clear declarations of the unity of God would seem to leave no room for trinitarian teaching, and indeed, that dogma had certainly not been formulated when Irenaeus wrote late in the second century.
It is very important to emphasize that the doctrine of the Trinity is foreign to New Testament teaching. It is not simply that the word “Trinity” and the phrases “God the Son” and “God the Holy Spirit” are nowhere used in the Bible (which, of itself means nothing), but the fact that the very concept of God as ‘three in one’ is never found in the Scriptures (God is always described absolutely as ‘one’, never ‘three in one’). As illustrated by the following quotations, trinitarian teaching developed slowly as a result of attempts to adapt Christian theology to ideas current in the Greek philosophical systems. The attempts began with ideas relating to the personal pre-existence of Christ.
Development of the Clergy
The Apostolic Direction
The ecclesias, as the apostles left them, were autonomous and self-governing. There were bishops and traveling overseers selected for their duties by the apostles, but there was no provision for the continuation of a hierarchy. Bishops (overseers), elders and deacons appear in the apostolic church, and since qualifications are given for the guidance of the ecclesias in choosing their elders, it must be assumed that they would be assigned to their positions by the will of the membership.
In the New Testament the words bishop and elder seem to be used interchangeably, as in The Epistle to Titus, 1:5-7. “Ordain elders in every city, as I appointed thee … for a bishop must be blameless …” I Tim. 3:1-13 qualifies both bishops and deacons, emphasizing that those who serve the ecclesia must be responsible and dedicated disciples.
The Second Century
At the beginning of the second century the same order prevailed. Presbyters (elders) were elected in some manner by their respective ecclesias. The larger ecclesias would have a bishop who was also one of the presbyters. There were also deacons (and deaconesses) who took care of various arrangements, and looked after the welfare of the individual members. Each of the ecclesias was independent, though they formed a collective body. Letters of exhortation, sometimes containing reproof, were sent between the ecclesias, but one did not exercise authority over another.
We could find no direct references to the baptism of infants in the second century. There is a statement of Irenaeus that has been taken to refer to the practice, but there is some question that it was so intended. Irenaeus writes: “For he came to save all by means of himself – all, I say, who by him are born again to God – infants, children, adolescents, young men and old men.” From its context, it is doubtful that the writer meant to countenance infant baptism, or that the practice was known to him (Against Heresies, II, xxiv.4).
The following note may be of help with this quotation: “The context of Irenaeus’ statement is his doctrine of recapitulation according to which Christ summed up all of humanity in himself. Involved in this conception for Irenaeus was the idea that Jesus passed through all the ages of life, sanctifying each. There is nothing specifically about baptism, but ‘born again’ makes one think of baptism. ‘Regeneration,’ a different word from what is used in the passage under consideration, regularly means baptism for Irenaeus” (Everett Ferguson: Early Christians Speak, p. 59).
Tertullian, early in the third century, writes of the baptism of infants, thereby indicating that it was done in his day; but he does not approve of it. We would assume from his comment that it was not the general practice. “Let them become Christians when they are able to know Christ. In what respect does the innocent period of life hasten to the remission of sins? Should we act more cautiously in worldly matters, so that divine things are given to those to whom earthly property is not given? Let them learn to ask for salvation so that you may be seen to have ‘given to him who asks’” (Tertullian: On Baptism, xvii).