The Trinity according to Alexander Hislop—In His Own Words
Did Alexander Hislop show that the doctrine of the Trinity originated from Babylonian pagan religion? Did he argue that the Trinity was a Roman Catholic corruption of Christianity? So many people still seem to think. A relatively recent example is an article by Cher-El L. Hagensick, published by Herald Magazine (from a splinter sect of the Watchtower Society that broke away after the founder Charles Taze Russell died). According to Hagensick:
Hislop devotes the first 128 pages of his book The Two Babylons to proving that the Christian Trinity is directly descended from the ancient Babylonian trinity. In particular, he convincingly proves that the origin of the Babylonian trinity was the triad of Cush (the grandson of Noah), Semiramis (his wife), and Nimrod (their son).1
Similarly, the Oneness Pentecostal author David Bernard cited Hislop as his first scholarly reference in support of the “pagan roots” of the doctrine of the Trinity.2
This is one of those claims that has been made so many times and for so long it can be hard to convince people that there is nothing to it, but such is the case here. Not only was this not Hislop’s position, he actually argued that the doctrine of the Trinity was true! According to Hislop, the Catholic Church had corrupted the true, biblical doctrine of the Trinity due to the influence of paganism. The problem, according to Hislop, was not the Trinity, but the Catholic distortion of the Trinity.
The matter is easily verified by simply reading Hislop’s book. What follows is a series of excerpts from the book in which he comments on the Trinity. These excerpts all come from the very part of Hislop’s book cited by Hagensick and others as supposedly documenting that the Trinity originated from Babylon. It will be easily seen that Hislop did not reject the doctrine of the Trinity, nor did he think it was of pagan origin.3
This information is provided to refute this misunderstanding of Hislop’s work. Hislop’s historical scholarship was in many respects unsound, and his view of Roman Catholicism was extreme. We do not endorse Hislop’s argument.4 Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that his argument provides no support for opponents of the doctrine of the Trinity.
And here I have to notice, first, the identity of the objects of worship in Babylon and Rome. The ancient Babylonians, just as the modern Romans, recognised in words the unity of the Godhead; and, while worshipping innumerable minor deities, as possessed of certain influence on human affairs, they distinctly acknowledged that there was ONE infinite and almighty Creator, supreme over all. Most other nations did the same. (14)
In the unity of that one Only God of the Babylonians, there were three persons, and to symbolise that doctrine of the Trinity, they employed, as the discoveries of Layard prove, the equilateral triangle, just as it is well known the Romish Church does at this day. (16)
While overlaid with idolatry, the recognition of a Trinity was universal in all the ancient nations of the world, proving how deep-rooted in the human race was the primeval doctrine on this subject, which comes out so distinctly in Genesis. (17)
Now, no doubt it is true that Paul says (1 Cor 3:16), "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" It is not only true, but it is a great truth, and a blessed one--a truth that enhances every comfort when enjoyed, and takes the sting out of every trouble when it comes, that every genuine Christian has less or more experience of what is contained in these words of the same apostle (2 Cor 6:16), "Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." It must also be admitted, and gladly admitted, that this implies the indwelling of all the Persons of the glorious Godhead; for the Lord Jesus hath said (John 14:23), "If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and WE will come unto him, and make our abode with him." But while admitting all this, on examination it will be found that the Popish and the Scriptural ideas conveyed by these expressions, however apparently similar, are essentially different. When it is said that a believer is "a temple of God," or a temple of the Holy Ghost, the meaning is (Eph 3:17) that "Christ dwells in the heart by faith." But when Rome says that Mary is "The Temple" or "Tabernacle of God," the meaning is the exact Pagan meaning of the term--viz., that the union between her and the Godhead is a union akin to the hypostatical union between the divine and human nature of Christ. The human nature of Christ is the "Tabernacle of God," inasmuch as the Divine nature has veiled its glory in such a way, by assuming our nature, that we can come near without overwhelming dread to the Holy God. To this glorious truth John refers when he says (John 1:14), "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt (literally tabernacled) among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." In this sense, Christ, the God-man, is the only "Tabernacle of God." Now, it is precisely in this sense that Rome calls Mary the "Tabernacle of God," or of the "Holy Ghost." Thus speaks the author of a Popish work devoted  to the exaltation of the Virgin, in which all the peculiar titles and prerogatives of Christ are given to Mary: "Behold the tabernacle of God, the mansion of God, the habitation, the city of God is with men, and in men and for men, for their salvation, and exaltation, and eternal glorification...Is it most clear that this is true of the holy church? and in like manner also equally true of the most holy sacrament of the Lord's body? Is it (true) of every one of us in as far as we are truly Christians? Undoubtedly; but we have to contemplate this mystery (as existing) in a peculiar manner in the most holy Mother of our Lord." (Pancarpium Marioe) Then the author, after endeavouring to show that "Mary is rightly considered as the Tabernacle of God with men," and that in a peculiar sense, a sense different from that in which all Christians are the "temple of God," thus proceeds with express reference to her in this character of the Tabernacle: "Great truly is the benefit, singular is the privilege, that the Tabernacle of God should be with men, IN WHICH men may safely come near to God become man." (Ibid.) Here the whole mediatorial glory of Christ, as the God-man in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, is given to Mary, or at least is shared with her. (85-86)
Image-worship in every case the Lord abhors; but image-worship of such a kind as this must be peculiarly abhorrent to His holy soul. Now, if the facts I have adduced be true, is it wonderful that such dreadful threatenings should be directed in the Word of God against the Romish apostacy, and that the vials of this tremendous wrath are destined to be outpoured upon its guilty head? If these things be true (and gainsay them who can), who will venture now to plead for Papal Rome, or to call her a Christian Church? Is there one, who fears God, and who reads these lines, who would not admit that Paganism alone could ever have inspired such a doctrine as that avowed by the Melchites at the Nicene Council, that the Holy Trinity consisted of "the Father, the Virgin Mary, and the Messiah their Son"? (Quarterly Journal of Prophecy, July, 1852) Is there one who would not shrink with horror from such a thought? (89)5
If this is not Paganism, what is there that can be called by such a name? Yet this is the Trinity which now the Roman Catholics of Ireland from tender infancy are taught to adore. This is the Trinity which, in the latest books of catechetical instruction is presented as the grand object of devotion to the adherents of the Papacy. The manual that contains this blasphemy comes forth with the express "Imprimatur" of "Paulus Cullen," Popish Archbishop of Dublin. Will any one after this say that the Roman Catholic Church must still be called Christian, because it holds the doctrine of the Trinity? So did the Pagan Babylonians, so did the Egyptians, so do the Hindoos at this hour, in the very same sense in which Rome does. They all admitted A trinity, but did they worship THE Triune Jehovah, the King Eternal, Immortal, and Invisible? And will any one say with such evidence before him, that Rome does so? (90)
2. David K. Bernard, The Oneness of God, Pentecostal Theology 1 (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 2000), 264.
3. All quotations are taken from Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons: Or, the Papal Worship (1853; 2nd American ed., Neptune: Loizeaux. 1959), 14-17, 85-90.
4. An important critique of Hislop’s book is Ralph Woodrow, The Babylon Connection? (Palm Springs: By the author, 1997). What makes this study so invaluable is that Woodrow himself had been an ardent advocate of Hislop’s views, even publishing an earlier book promoting those views, but through study came to realize he had been mistaken.
5. Hislop’s facts here are especially erroneous—the “Melchites” did not exist at the time of the Nicene Council and did not regard Mary as a member of the Trinity—but it is clear that what Hislop is opposing is not the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity but a perversion of it.