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1st Century Unitarianism


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#1 Jesse2W

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Posted 27 June 2011 - 12:46 AM

Unitarian appears to be the natural reading of Scripture and many verses indicate Jesus can not be God.
The reason I posted this in this forum is for a historical defense of unitarianism.

Did the disciples call Jesus Adonai, adoni, or was this distinction in language unknown at their time? James White argues from the Qumran scroll that there is no distinction at that time or it is indeterminable weather it was Adonai or adoni.

Most importantly are there any first century followers who did NOT believe in a literal and personal pre-existence of Jesus as "logas God" such as possibly the Nazarene Jews?

Were Nazarene Jews under law or under grace? If grace, then why did they follow the laws?

What is the deal with Ignatius' Binitary theology if he was actually a disciple of John!?

#2 Evangelion

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 04:49 AM

Unitarian appears to be the natural reading of Scripture and many verses indicate Jesus can not be God. The reason I posted this in this forum is for a historical defense of unitarianism.

Did the disciples call Jesus Adonai, adoni, or was this distinction in language unknown at their time? James White argues from the Qumran scroll that there is no distinction at that time or it is indeterminable weather it was Adonai or adoni.

Most importantly are there any first century followers who did NOT believe in a literal and personal pre-existence of Jesus as "logas God" such as possibly the Nazarene Jews?


Hi Jesse, I think I can help a bit here.

We have no way of knowing which Aramaic words the disciples may have used in reference to Jesus, but I believe the NT provides ample evidence that they did not address him as God.

I presented an overview of 1st-2nd Century unitarian sects and believers in my debate with Rob Bowman. You can read a brief summary of the evidence here and here.

I don't know of any Qumran scroll which disproves the distinction between Adonai and adoni. Anthony Buzzard has debated this issue with James White, as you can see in the video here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE2llq2AtFI

What is the deal with Ignatius' Binitary theology if he was actually a disciple of John!?


I don't believe Ignatius' theology was Binitarian. His letters have been so badly corrupted by later Christians, it's difficult to know precisely what he believed. But if you click here you can read an essay in which I try to unravel the threads. It is my view that Ignatius was Unitarian.

Were Nazarene Jews under law or under grace? If grace, then why did they follow the laws?


I need to know who you're referring to when you say "Nazarene Jews."
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#3 Mark Taunton

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 07:02 AM

Most importantly are there any first century followers who did NOT believe in a literal and personal pre-existence of Jesus as "logas God" such as possibly the Nazarene Jews?

I suggest this question is inverted. It implies that, generally, first century followers did believe in a literal and personal pre-existence of Jesus as "logos God". But it would be important to identify the evidence for that supposition first, before taking it as a premise and asking for evidence of (other) followers who did not believe in that.

Edited by Mark Taunton, 05 July 2011 - 07:15 AM.


#4 Jesse2W

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Posted 06 July 2011 - 03:27 AM

I suggest this question is inverted. It implies that, generally, first century followers did believe in a literal and personal pre-existence of Jesus as "logos God". But it would be important to identify the evidence for that supposition first, before taking it as a premise and asking for evidence of (other) followers who did not believe in that.


A reading of early church writings shows Irenaeus, Justin, Ignatious, and others believed in a binity. Shepherd of Hermas mentions a "pre-existing spirit." I'm looking for people who deny the personal pre-existence of Jesus and lived during the 1st or early 2nd century.

#5 Jesse2W

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Posted 06 July 2011 - 03:49 AM

Hi Jesse, I think I can help a bit here.

We have no way of knowing which Aramaic words the disciples may have used in reference to Jesus, but I believe the NT provides ample evidence that they did not address him as God.

I presented an overview of 1st-2nd Century unitarian sects and believers in my debate with Rob Bowman. You can read a brief summary of the evidence here and here.

I don't know of any Qumran scroll which disproves the distinction between Adonai and adoni. Anthony Buzzard has debated this issue with James White, as you can see in the video here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE2llq2AtFI


This video is what informed me and got me curious about the distinction. I think there was no distinction at that time... or if there was there's not enough evidence to use as a proof for unitarianism. The point Anthony makes I think is that "YHWH said to my lord." However since there was probably no distinction, YHWH is also David's lord. Thus that seems to make two lords if you read it without and understanding of immanent lordship or headship.


I don't believe Ignatius' theology was Binitarian. His letters have been so badly corrupted by later Christians, it's difficult to know precisely what he believed. But if you click here you can read an essay in which I try to unravel the threads. It is my view that Ignatius was Unitarian.

This seems like a hopeless task. The Catholics not only changed parts of the Bible, but also church father's writings!? How is a layman like me supposed to find the truth? What documents CAN I trust? haha

I need to know who you're referring to when you say "Nazarene Jews."

"the Way" a sect of 1st century Judaism along with the that accepted Jesus in a way where they still observed the laws of the rest of the Jews. If they got circumcised because of the law, then doesn't Paul condemn that? Did they accept Paul as an apostle?

I don't expect all these questions to be answered, but it's always worth asking because it'd save me a ton of research if someone already knows. =)

I'll check out your links, thanks.

#6 Mark Taunton

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Posted 06 July 2011 - 06:55 AM

A reading of early church writings shows Irenaeus, Justin, Ignatious, and others believed in a binity. Shepherd of Hermas mentions a "pre-existing spirit." I'm looking for people who deny the personal pre-existence of Jesus and lived during the 1st or early 2nd century.

OK. Of those early church writers you mention by name, only Ignatius lived in the first century (the century you were looking for evidence from). As Evangelion's linked article points out, the evidence is of substantial variation between the preserved forms of Ignatius' letters. So it is difficult to be sure (though not necessarily impossible to work out) what the originals actually said.

The other obvious problem, in regard to what you are looking for, is that a church which over time developed its theology, starting with asserting the deity and pre-existence of Christ and leading towards the trinity, would seem less likely to preserve as ancient and approved the works of any 1st century Christian writers whose position was explicitly opposed to such an understanding!

Edited by Mark Taunton, 06 July 2011 - 07:17 AM.


#7 Jesse2W

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Posted 07 July 2011 - 12:03 AM

OK. Of those early church writers you mention by name, only Ignatius lived in the first century (the century you were looking for evidence from). As Evangelion's linked article points out, the evidence is of substantial variation between the preserved forms of Ignatius' letters. So it is difficult to be sure (though not necessarily impossible to work out) what the originals actually said.

The other obvious problem, in regard to what you are looking for, is that a church which over time developed its theology, starting with asserting the deity and pre-existence of Christ and leading towards the trinity, would seem less likely to preserve as ancient and approved the works of any 1st century Christian writers whose position was explicitly opposed to such an understanding!


Irenaeus is still important because he is influential as to why we are able to canonize a lot of scripture. I have found quotes that get pretty close. Ignatius said something to the effect that ministers of Satan say Jesus is not flesh, is God Himself, or just a mere man. He said we can't use the fact that there is only one God to negate the deity of Jesus. I don't like these contradicting quotes from the Church fathers. First century would be best, but any century helps, haha

#8 Evangelion

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Posted 07 July 2011 - 12:12 AM

This video is what informed me and got me curious about the distinction. I think there was no distinction at that time... or if there was there's not enough evidence to use as a proof for unitarianism. The point Anthony makes I think is that "YHWH said to my lord." However since there was probably no distinction, YHWH is also David's lord. Thus that seems to make two lords if you read it without and understanding of immanent lordship or headship.


White's claim seems unfounded to me. Hebrew was redundant by the 1st Century AD; everyone was speaking Aramaic and Greek. The DSS were written in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, so White would need to show a Hebrew scroll which demonstrated that the distinction between Adonai and adoni had been eliminated. I doubt he could do this. Even if he could, how would it be relevant? What counts is the original text, written centuries earlier. Psalm 110 is used repeatedly by the apostles in Acts to show Jesus is David's son and the promised Messiah, but we never find them using it to argue that he is God. This is a huge problem for Trinitarians.

This seems like a hopeless task. The Catholics not only changed parts of the Bible, but also church father's writings!? How is a layman like me supposed to find the truth? What documents CAN I trust? haha


If you look closely at Ignatius' letters there are very few references which can be taken as binitarian, and some of the interpolations are easily spotted since they do not appear in other versions of the text.

"the Way" a sect of 1st century Judaism along with the that accepted Jesus in a way where they still observed the laws of the rest of the Jews. If they got circumcised because of the law, then doesn't Paul condemn that? Did they accept Paul as an apostle?


We know from the NT that there were some early Christians who believed circumcision was necessary. Peter was strongly influenced by them for some time, until Paul challenged him over the issue. Peter changed his views after receiving a divine vision prior to the conversion of Cornelius. Later groups (such as the Nazarenes) did not believe the Law was necessary. There were two groups of Ebionites, one of which was doctrinally pure.

If you have any questions after reading my links, please do let me know.
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#9 Evangelion

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Posted 07 July 2011 - 12:19 AM

A reading of early church writings shows Irenaeus, Justin, Ignatious, and others believed in a binity. Shepherd of Hermas mentions a "pre-existing spirit." I'm looking for people who deny the personal pre-existence of Jesus and lived during the 1st or early 2nd century.


Ignatius was 1st Century and I believe he was unitarian. You can also include Papias, Polycarp and Clement of Rome. The Didache (an early church manual of doctrine and practice) is strictly unitarian and dates from the 1st Century.
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#10 Evangelion

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Posted 07 July 2011 - 12:31 AM

Jesse, I have uploaded some details of early unitarians from the 1st & 2nd Centuries. You can view them by clicking here.

You can learn more about the Didache by clicking here.

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#11 Mark Taunton

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Posted 07 July 2011 - 08:32 AM

This video is what informed me and got me curious about the distinction. I think there was no distinction at that time... or if there was there's not enough evidence to use as a proof for unitarianism. The point Anthony makes I think is that "YHWH said to my lord." However since there was probably no distinction, YHWH is also David's lord. Thus that seems to make two lords if you read it without and understanding of immanent lordship or headship.


White's claim seems unfounded to me. Hebrew was redundant by the 1st Century AD; everyone was speaking Aramaic and Greek. The DSS were written in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, so White would need to show a Hebrew scroll which demonstrated that the distinction between Adonai and adoni had been eliminated. I doubt he could do this. Even if he could, how would it be relevant? What counts is the original text, written centuries earlier. Psalm 110 is used repeatedly by the apostles in Acts to show Jesus is David's son and the promised Messiah, but we never find them using it to argue that he is God. This is a huge problem for Trinitarians.

This is all rather confused and confusing.

In the video, Buzzard slipped up in what he said about Psa 110:1. The first subject in the Hebrew is indeed YHWH (Yahweh) as he rightly said (and no-one disputed). In the MT however, it is pointed according to traditional Jewish practice with the vowel points of "Adonai". That is done to ensure that a reader will say "Adonai" and not accidentally utter the divine name Yahweh. (Of course that is merely Jewish superstition - we have plenty of Biblical evidence that faithful men uttered God's name in the past!) Buzzard rightly used Yahweh in rendering the word, because that is what the original (consonantal) Hebrew has.

But Buzzard's mistake was then to also mention the word "Adonai", and give it as an alternative "name" for Yahweh, in elaborating who is speaking. That slip allowed White to completely sidetrack the whole discussion. He moved it quickly away from the fundamental point Buzzard was correct about, that Yahweh speaks, not to himself, but to one whom David refers to as "my lord" (adoni). The issue of whether Adonai and adoni are distinct has no bearing here at all: the second term, the one to whom Yahweh speaks, is unambiguously and definitely "my lord", not "Adonai", and the first term is unambiguously "Yahweh". Nonetheless, White was cunningly distracting from Buzzard's initial and correct point. In changing topic, and seemingly arguing against Buzzard (but on a point Buzzard himself didn't actually make directly or rely upon), over the question of a distinction between adoni and Adonai, he was trying to imply that Buzzard's primary point was also wrong, although it was not at all affected by the adonai/adoni issue.

Ev, sorry, but I take issue with:

White would need to show a Hebrew scroll which demonstrated that the distinction between Adonai and adoni had been eliminated

You have an obvious presupposition there, that Adonai and adoni were originally distinct, but the distinction was later "eliminated" by the time of the DSS. But that is baseless. White was right to point out that in the DSS OT texts there is no distinction, because there is no pointing. He is also correct that the distinction was introduced much later than the DSS (not lost, from an earlier time) by the Masoretes, in pointing the consonants of "adoni" with one of two different forms, according to whether the reference is (perceived to be, from context) to a lord in some general sense, or specifically to Yahweh himself as the unique LORD.

Additionally, White was correct that the LXX (no matter when you date it) gives no help at all to those who seek a distinction between the words. Firstly with respect to the rendering of God's name, the earliest texts actually preserve it rather than rendering it as a different word. The fragments found of early Greek translations of the OT (including some among the DSS at Qumram and other sites in that area) transcribe the Hebrew form YHWH, using either classical Hebrew script or paleo-Hebrew script, directly into the Greek manuscript. It is only in later manuscripts (dated post NT) that we find the development of a convention of uniformly rendering both the name YHWH and the noun adoni by 'kurios', in the same way we find happens in the NT. And critically, in places where the (later still) MT makes a distinction between "Adonai" and "adoni", this is not reflected by any kind of distinction in the Greek of the corresponding LXX text.

But having said all that, I must stress my earlier point with respect to this. Though White was correct in the points he made about Adonai/adoni, the absence of a distinction in the original Hebrew between them is of no help whatever to the trinitarian argument. No-one, not even a trinitarian, can correctly claim that "Adonai" appears in Psa 110:1. As you said, Ev, the words in that verse are a huge problem for trinitarians.

Edited by Mark Taunton, 07 July 2011 - 09:42 AM.


#12 Evangelion

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Posted 07 July 2011 - 02:50 PM

Ev, sorry, but I take issue with:

White would need to show a Hebrew scroll which demonstrated that the distinction between Adonai and adoni had been eliminated


You have an obvious presupposition there, that Adonai and adoni were originally distinct, but the distinction was later "eliminated" by the time of the DSS.


I make no such presupposition. You've misread my post. I was actually objecting to the idea that the distinction was eliminated by the time of the DSS, and I was demonstrating what White would need to do in order to prove this.

But that is baseless. White was right to point out that in the DSS OT texts there is no distinction, because there is no pointing. He is also correct that the distinction was introduced much later than the DSS (not lost, from an earlier time) by the Masoretes, in pointing the consonants of "adoni" with one of two different forms, according to whether the reference is (perceived to be, from context) to a lord in some general sense, or specifically to Yahweh himself as the unique LORD.


OK, thanks for the correction. In that case, is it safe to say the original Hebrew would have said "Yahweh said to my adoni..."? Because if so, that's just as good for us and just as bad for Trinitarians.

Additionally, White was correct that the LXX (no matter when you date it) gives no help at all to those who seek a distinction between the words.


I agree with that. I never disagreed with it.

And critically, in places where the (later still) MT makes a distinction between "Adonai" and "adoni", this is not reflected by any kind of distinction in the Greek of the corresponding LXX text.


I'm aware of that.

Edited by Evangelion, 07 July 2011 - 02:51 PM.

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#13 Mark Taunton

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Posted 07 July 2011 - 05:05 PM

OK, thanks for the correction. In that case, is it safe to say the original Hebrew would have said "Yahweh said to my adoni..."?

Well, almost. To be precise about it, in a mixed Hebrew/English representation you would say "my adon" - the "i" on "adoni" in this context is the first-person-singular possessive suffix, i.e. "my", and "adon" is the basic form of the word for "lord". But aside from that detail, yes, that's what the original un-pointed Hebrew in Psalm 110:1 says and means.

Because if so, that's just as good for us and just as bad for Trinitarians.

Absolutely!

Edited by Mark Taunton, 07 July 2011 - 05:10 PM.


#14 Jesse2W

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Posted 07 July 2011 - 11:15 PM

"I have learned that certain of the ministers of Satan have wished to disturb you, some of them asserting that Jesus was born [only] in appearance, was crucified in appearance, and died in appearance; others that He is not the Son the Creator, and others that He is Himself God over all. Others, again, hold that He is a mere man, and others that this flesh is not to rise again, so that our proper course is to live and partake of a life of pleasure, for that this is the chief good to beings who are in a little while to perish." - Ignatius

That seems like proof he was a unitarian or at least that he didn't believe Jesus was himself God over all.

Thanks for the information Ev, I love that site, that's what informed me about the Church fathers.

#15 Evangelion

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Posted 08 July 2011 - 01:41 AM

"I have learned that certain of the ministers of Satan have wished to disturb you, some of them asserting that Jesus was born [only] in appearance, was crucified in appearance, and died in appearance; others that He is not the Son the Creator, and others that He is Himself God over all. Others, again, hold that He is a mere man, and others that this flesh is not to rise again, so that our proper course is to live and partake of a life of pleasure, for that this is the chief good to beings who are in a little while to perish." - Ignatius

That seems like proof he was a unitarian or at least that he didn't believe Jesus was himself God over all.


Well, that's from Epistle to the Tarsians, which is known to be spurious. It's not a genuine letter of Ignatius. But even if it was, it would still make Ignatius a unitarian.

Thanks for the information Ev, I love that site, that's what informed me about the Church fathers.


You're very welcome.

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#16 Jesse2W

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Posted 05 August 2011 - 09:43 PM

I am getting really upset about all the agendas when I research about the trinity. Particularly the phrase "The word trinity wasn't there, but the dogma was." Could I have some good quotes from anyone between 30AD-200AD who rejected the pre-existence of Christ and his deity. I hear the claim that the doctrine has always been and human Jesus has always been a heresy.

#17 Librarian

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Posted 08 August 2011 - 05:57 AM

:)

#18 Jesse2W

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 09:11 AM

Are there any records before the reformation of a person believing in a Jesus who didn't personally exist until his birth, but affirmed the gospel of John and the virgin birth? What's the earliest record?

#19 Kakashi

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 06:41 AM

Try Arius, of Arian Heresy fame. I'm sorry, but I don't know the history well enough to help further.
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#20 nsr

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 09:45 AM

Arius believed Christ pre-existed. He just didn't believe he was co-equal and co-eternal with God.
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect..." (Heb 12:22-23)

#21 Kakashi

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 01:02 PM

Oh, I apologise. My fault for not reading carefully.

I read this from the Arianism Wikipedia page: "The Arian concept of Christ is that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by—and is therefore distinct from and inferior to—God the Father."

And missed this, later on: "God the Father ("unbegotten"), always existing, was separate from the lesser Jesus Christ ("only-begotten"), born before time began and creator of the world."

I'd like an answer too, please, if there is one.
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#22 Kay

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Posted 20 August 2011 - 01:20 PM

I don't know if there is a known answer.

It would depend very much on prominence at the time, so there may and probably were believers in such, but whether they were in positions to have their belief recorded in any historical documents is the question.

Though, of interest, and not time-wise, as Jesse2W has requested - in 1788, Joseph Priestly wrote:

A General View of the Arguments for the Unity of God and Against the Divinity and Pre-Existence of Christ

Available Here
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#23 Evangelion

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Posted 02 September 2011 - 07:56 AM

Are there any records before the reformation of a person believing in a Jesus who didn't personally exist until his birth, but affirmed the gospel of John and the virgin birth?


Yes, plenty.

What's the earliest record?


Early Church:


• Ignatius of Antioch (1st-2nd Century)
• Clement of Rome(1st-2nd Century)
• Polycarp of Smyrna (1st-2nd Century)
• Papias of Hierapolis (1st-2nd Century)
• Nazarenes (1st-5th Century)
• Theodotus of Byzantium (2nd Century)
• Theodotus the Banker (2nd Century)
• Beryllus of Bostra (2nd-3rd Century)
• Ebionites (2nd-5th/12th Century)
• Paul of Samosata (3rd Century)
• Artemon (3rd Century)
• Heraclides (3rd Century


Ignatius, Clement, Papias, Polycarp, Beryllus and Heraclides were highly regarded bishops in good standing, and each presided over a considerable population.

Paul of Samosata was also a bishop, but lost this position when his doctrines were rejected by a contemporary synod. Theodotus of Byzantium was the leader of a popular Unitarian movement which persisted until at least the 4th Century. Artemon led his own Unitarian sect, and is still regarded as one of Rome's finest 3rd Century Christian teachers.

The Nazarenes and Ebionites were condemned by later Christians for their Unitarian Christology. Most scholars argue that the Ebionites ceased to exist after the 5th Century, but some believe they continued until the 12th.

Pre- to Post-Reformation:


• Ludwig Haetzer (15th-16th Century)
• Italian Anabaptist Radicals (16th Century)
• Swiss Anabaptist Radicals (16th Century)
• Dutch Anabaptist Radicals (16th Century)
• Hungarian Anabaptist Radicals (16th Century)
• English Anabaptist Radicals (16th Century)
• Celio Secondo Curione (16th Century)
• Lelio Sozzini (16th Century)
• Miguel Serveto (16th Century)
• Camillo Renato (16th Century)
• Giovanni Valentino Gentile (16th Century)
• Giorgio Biandrata (16th Century)
• Gian Paolo Alciati (16th Century)
• Matteo Gribaldi (16th Century)
• Hans Denck (16th Century)
• Martin Cellarius (16th Century)
• Adam Pastor (16th Century)
• Herman van Vlekwijk (16th Century)
• Ferenc Dávid (16th Century)
• Polish Brethren 16th-17th Century)
• Fausto Paolo Sozzini (16th-17th Century)
• Unitarian Church of Transylvania (16th Century- present day)


These lists are not exhaustive.

:)

Edited by Evangelion, 03 September 2011 - 12:26 AM.

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#24 Kakashi

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 12:07 AM

Awesome! Thanks, Ev.
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#25 Evangelion

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 12:28 AM

My pleasure.

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#26 Kay

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 08:10 AM

Thanks, Evangelion, appreciated :)
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#27 Evangelion

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 08:12 AM

You're welcome.

:)

Edited by Evangelion, 03 September 2011 - 08:12 AM.

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