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This book answers the big questions that theologians have debated for many centuries in regard to the origin and nature of Christ. We start with the foundational issue of the virgin birth of Christ and the incarnation of Christ and then move on to the idea of the image of God and Christ's pre-existence. All of this leads to the Father-Son relationship and the discussion about the Godhead.
Category - Long Book
Origen had been a presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt. A century later Alexander, the bishop at the same church, built upon Origen’s terminology. He began teaching that Christ’s Sonship had been for all eternity. This led to the idea that the Father and Son were “consubstantial” (Greek: homoousios, “same substance”), which established the philosophical basis for what later became known as the coequal and coeternal Trinity.
Personally, I have no objection to the term, as long as it is defined according to what Jesus said about Himself. For instance, if I say that my son and I are “of the same substance,” it does not mean that he and I are the same person but are made of the same flesh and blood. Applying it to Jesus, who was begotten by spiritual seed by His heavenly Father, we can see that Jesus was indeed “of the same substance” as His Father.
After all, that is part of the meaningful revelation of a Father-Son relationship. However, the philosophical and religious meaning of words can go beyond simple definition. In this case, the word was defined to mean that the Father and son were one Person, obliterating the long-held distinction between the Father and the Son.
Now Arius was a presbyter from Libya serving the church at Baucalis. He objected to Bishop Alexander’s innovative teaching. Arius insisted that “the only true God” of Jesus (John 17:3) was the only God that was truly eternal and that He had created a Son in the realm of time before creating the rest of the world. He used Col. 1:15 as proof that the Son was “the firstborn of all creation,” and that the Son was on the order of an angelic being who later was incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth.
The Arian view came to be summarized this way: “If Jesus is the Son of God, then there was a time when He was not.” His main problem, in my view, was that he used the term “created,” rather than begotten. Furthermore, he believed that the Son was created ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” which contradicted Tertullian, but which actually was a position that later became settled theology in the church.
In my view, God created all things ek autou, “out of Himself” (Rom. 11:36). This ought not to be taken in a Pantheistic sense. It does not mean that we are God, but rather that the Creator God fills all things and therefore has a personal stake in all creation. What we feel, He feels. Because it all goes through Him and back to Him in the end, as Paul says, He will reconcile all creation. Failing to accomplish this goal would render Him incomplete for eternity.
At any rate, Arius was outspokenly defiant, and his views were widely accepted. About 320 A.D. Bishop Alexander found it necessary to excommunicate Arius for insubordination and heresy. The controversy, however, only intensified, as it usually does when a clash of doctrines is met with pride and brute force rather than humility and prayerful reasoning.
The Arian controversy threatened the unity of the church and with it the Roman Empire itself. The Emperor Constantine, along with his fellow Caesars (Licinius and Galerius), had issued the Edict of Toleration in 311 A.D., followed two years later by the Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity. These ended the persecutions that had taken place under the previous administration of Diocletian.
Neither of these tolerant edicts would have been made without Constantine’s insistence. He himself was of the royal family in Britain. His mother, Helena of York, was an avid Christian, though her husband, Constantius, was not. Constantine himself had publicly adopted Christianity in 312, as he said, after his vision of the cross, by which he won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. This was the point where he departed from his father’s paganism and adopted his mother’s religion, though he knew nothing of being begotten from above.
Of course, as Emperor, he still believed that he had the right to make war and to execute those who plotted against him or who were insubordinate. Hence, his religion hardly meets with approval from our present perspective. Nonetheless, the Christians in his day were very grateful for what he did for them in stopping the reign of terror under Diocletian. He ought to be given credit for that.
Constantine’s “toleration” was less than ideal at times, since he was tolerant only to the point where the unity of church and empire was not being threatened. He called for his first Christian Councils in 314, 315, and 316 A.D. to deal with the Donatist controversy in hopes of uniting the church. When the Councils ruled against the Donatists, the Donatists refused to give up their churches, and Constantine then enforced the ruling of the Councils with brute force.
In the midst of this, the Arian controversy began about 315 A.D., and eventually, Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. to try to establish Christian truth and unify the church under the established creed. There was no real freedom of conscience. The love of God was defined in religious terms (creeds), rather than as one’s relationship with God. In the end, love was sacrificed on the altar of church unity, and the emperor forced everyone to worship at that altar.
The Council of Nicea was attended by only a handful of churchmen. It was far from “universal,” yet the church later claimed that it was the first Ecumenical (universal) Council of the Catholic Church. That was hardly true, for there were later Councils that were far more “universal.”
The twin Councils of Rimini and Seleucia in 359 were attended by more than 500 bishops from both East and West. About 400 Western bishops met at Rimini, and 160 Eastern bishops met at Seleucia. At Rimini they adopted the Arian creed, while the smaller Seleucia Council was bitterly divided into two parties. The two parties met separately and issued opposing creeds. As a Church Council, it was an utter failure. The majority party excommunicated or deposed their opponents.
The Rimini Council thus took precedence, and its Arian creed was adopted. Decades later, Jerome wrote about this, saying, “The whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian” (Dialogue against the Luciferians, 19).
In later years when the tide again turned, the Council of Rimini lost its ecumenical status along with its orthodoxy. It was no longer considered to be a true Church Council. Ultimately, the Arian creed was rejected officially and, of course, by force.
Many have thought that the Council of Nicea established the Trinity, but that is not the case. The Council made the Father and Son coequal and coeternal (Binitarian Theology). The main proof text used by Athenasius, “The Hammer,” was John 10:30, where Jesus said, “I and My Father are one.” Instead of interpreting this as being one in purpose or of one mind, Athenasius insisted that it meant that Father and Son were one Person. This violated Jesus’ other words, where He always deferred to His Father (John 5:19, 20) and said that His Father was greater (John 14:28).
To understand John 10:30, one must know the Hebrew idea of an “only-begotten son” (yechiyd). The term describes an heir and does not mean that the father had just one son. Isaac was an “only son” (Gen. 22:2), even though Abraham had another son, Ishmael.
David was also called an only-begotten son, yechiyd, which is derived from yachad, “to join, be united, solitary, unique, one/only.” Psalm 22:20 and 35:17 calls him Yechiyd, which the NASB renders “only life,” putting life in italics, as it was the translator’s opinion. The KJV reads, “darling.” Young’s Literal Translation reads, “only one.”
The word refers to the heir, the one to whom the estate was to be given. The word picture is of a son who was “one” with his father in purpose and understanding. They were not the same Person but were of one mind and purpose. For this reason Jesus was chosen to carry on the purpose of the Father as the “only-begotten Son,” the Heir of all things. This is why Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
The Nicene Council only made brief mention of the Holy Spirit, saying, “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” a statement which was agreed upon by all. It was not until 381 at the Council of Constantinople that the Trinity, including the Holy Spirit, was established as orthodox.
The term homoousios was used to mean that the Son was of the same substance as the Father. This word had already been condemned in 268 by the Council of Antioch, for it came from an earlier Gnostic writing entitled Poimandres. This writing taught that Nous, “Mind, Intellect,” i.e., the Supreme God was said to be homoousios with His Son, the Logos.
Arius himself argued against the use of the term on the grounds that it had been promoted by Mani (the founder of Manicheanism) and Valentinus, who had already been condemned and exiled as a heretic.
Yet Constantine suggested its use at the Nicene Council in 325, and the word was met with much criticism by those who dared to oppose the emperor. However, Athenasius “The Hammer,” took Constantine’s suggestion and became the apostle of homoousios during the Council itself. Hence, the official creed read:
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance [homoousios] with the Father.”
Even so, Athenasius subsequently refused to use the word for next fifteen years, which suggests that he had doubts about his own creed. Constantine died in 335, and the Council of Antioch in 341 made changes to the Athenasian Creed, dropping the word homoousios. That Council also changed “true God from true God” (whatever that meant) to a simple and ambiguous “God from God,” which did not offend the Subordinationists of the day, who believed that Jesus was indeed “the only-begotten God.”
The Council of Sardica in 343 drew up a new creed without using homoousios.
So we see that the fourth century was a time of great turmoil as the Church thought it necessary to define and redefine the nature of Christ and His relationship to the Father. The rancor among the opposing parties drove these issues to become the defining issues of orthodoxy and heresy, which determined whether a man was saved or unsaved.
Gone were the days of simple faith in Christ. It could no longer be said truthfully with the apostle Paul that “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). This simple apostolic creed was replaced in the fourth century by “By faith in the precise creed of the latest Church Council are you saved.”
Thus, the traditions of men replaced the word of God, and men’s faith was fully transferred from Christ to the organized Church.