Faith Comes Through Hearing, and Hearing through the Word of Christ: The Centrality of Scripture in the Early Presbyterian Missions to Korea (1884-1910)

In this paper, I argue that central to the early Presbyterian Missions to Korea (until 1910) was a high doctrine of Scripture. The stuanch biblicism of these missionaries and the church they founded was one of the defining characteristics, if not the defining characteristic, of Korean Presbyterian Church at this time.

 

You can read or download it here.

Sacramental Ontology & Augustine’s Platonism: A Historical and Philosophical Critique

Is there a way to reconcile the Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic traditions? To restore the rifts caused by Rationalism and arguments over authority? According to some Protestants today, there is a way: a ressourcement of the early Church’s Sacramental Ontology is said to be the answer to these divisive issues, the way to reunite the Church and restore the early church’s heavenly mindedness and mysticism.[1]  Sacramental Ontology[2] presents a worldview that gives value to the natural world, grounds the eschatological expectation of believers, and provides a hermeneutical approach to Scripture based on a Platonic-Christian synthesis. Essential to SO is its claim to Early Church consensus and Platonic foundation.[3] The claims of SO’s proponents open it to philosophical and historical critique. Did the Early Church really have a universal Sacramental Ontology? This paper will investigate the consistency of SO with the view of the greatest theologian of the early church, Augustine. Is SO consistent with Augustine’s Platonism and theology?

To answer this question, we must first define SO. With this understanding, we will then examine the philosophical foundation of its Platonic participation—primarily in interaction with Augustine, but also with recourse to other Platonists. Finally, we will probe the coherence of this Ontology with Augustine’s view of time.

 

Though SO is a catchword in at least one theological graduate school and the key theme of two books, it is not easy to arrive at a precise definition. A definition eluded at least two reviewers of Boersma’s Nouvelle Theologie[4] and is not found on Google, or in various dictionaries of theology. An examination of SO will require a solid working definition; we will build this with recourse to various articles and books by Boersma.

SO is an ontology, an understanding of being,[5] which is sacramental in nature. This “sacramental” nature has caused confusion among some,[6] so it is worth exploring at length. A sacrament, according to Boersma, is something that both signifies and participates in the reality (res) which it signifies.[7] Because the sacrament participates in another reality, it has a mysterious quality, somehow making present the mystery in which it participates.[8] This ties the supernatural and the natural intimately together; no longer can they be divided, for the “natural” sacrament always mediates the mystery of the “supernatural” reality it signifies.[9] This isn’t just a reinterpretation of the Church’s Sacraments, but a reinterpretation of all reality. A SO understands this entire world to participate sacramentally in heavenly realities.[10]

SO, then, is an understanding of the nature of the things in this universe as sacraments that participate in and point to heavenly realities. What this definition lacks is an understanding of what it means for the signs to participate in heavenly realities; this is where the Platonic synthesis of the early Church is essential. The things of this world are understood to be particular examples of the universal realities that have a real existence.[11] It is suggested that, on the grounds of a Platonic idea of participation, the particular things share in and mediate the unseen realities of the Forms. Now these forms do not exist in their own realm as in Classical Platonism, they exist in God. As such, they are said to participate in God.[12]

With a Platonic worldview in place, a distinction is made between two types of participation. “Predicamental participation” sees the particular fully sharing in the universal; a particular cat, Fluffy, fully shares in the Universal of Catness. “Transcendental participation” sees the particular as somewhat sharing in the universal, but not perfectly exemplifying it. This can be seen by a contrast; someone may be convinced that Fluffy is in some way intelligent—that he participates in the Universal of Intelligence—but it is quite obvious that he is not intelligent to the same degree as I, a human, am intelligent, nor as God is intelligent.[13] With this definition in place, we can now examine the coherence of these ideas with the thought of Augustine.

 

Essential to this understanding of reality is the idea of participation, but this concept is not clearly set out in any of Boersma’s books. Even when we receive a definition such as “Transcendental Participation,” we are still left with the vague “sharing in the universal.” What does it mean for a particular to share or participate in the universal, and is this concept compatible with Augustine’s Platonism? It seems, at least to this author, that participation could be understood in various ways, but we will consider the view that best supports Boersma’s claims about the implications of participation. The closest Boersma gets to explaining “participation” in SO is saying what it is not; the Fathers did not accept the explicitly pantheistic Neo-Platonic view of participation.[14] This seems to produce more problems than it solves, for only Neo-Platonism actually explicated “participation.”

To be sure, Plato did use the word “participation,” but this was a hole in his system of thought. Clark points out that the connection between the particular and universal—“participation”—is an enigma.[15] In a dialogue with Parmenides, Socrates suggests that a universal can participate in all its particulars in the same way that daylight is one, it is singular, yet it touches upon all men.[16] Despite this claim, Socrates maintains that the ideas are not in us, nor possessed by us.[17] Throughout the Phaedo, Plato refers to the necessity of a particular to participate in the universal—for something to be two it must “participate” in the form of Duality. Despite the clear need for “participation,” he does not define what it is. Flew follows Clark in describing the ambiguity of the idea of participation; “[Good], like any other Form, must somehow make and cause whatever has these attributes to have them.”[18]

One of Neo-Platonism’s great contributions to Platonism was an answer to how the particulars participate in the universals. Plotinus held that the material world was the farthest emanation from the One, his highest reality. The One necessarily emanated the next level of being, Mind, which necessarily emanated Soul and the minds of the particular things in the material world.[19] The Soul then emanated the material world. The objects in the world receive their nature as direct emanations of the perfect and eternal forms existing in Mind. So particulars participated via a direct and causal connection with the forms. As Boersma points out, the early Church rejected this view because of its explicit Pantheistic connotations: if the material world is an emanation of the One via the Mind, Forms, and Soul, then the created world is essentially an extension of the One.

If Christians could not, and cannot, accept the Neo-Platonic explanation of participation, what is left to fill the requirements of SO? When we turn to Augustine, SO’s position becomes even direr. In a system of true Platonic Realism, one may be able to fall back on Plato’s explanation of the forms somehow causing and making the particulars, or his various illustrations. In the Timaeus, Plato’s Craftsmen unites the eternal Matter and eternal Form, giving shape to the world.[20] In his allegory of the cave, the light casts the shadow of the Forms onto the back wall of the cave.[21] For Augustine, the Forms did not exist in their own realm, there was no eternal light source casting their shadow into the world, and there was no eternal Craftsman to unite Form and Matter. However much Augustine retained a Platonic worldview in his Christianity, he at least departed on these matters. His “Realism” may be better identified as a form of proto-Conceptualism.[22] For Augustine, the forms did not exist in their own realm as eternal and perfect entities. They were eternal, but only in as much as they were eternally existing ideas in the mind of God.[23] They did not eternally shine a shadow into this world, but God used these ideas to create our world out of nothing. He spoke matter into existence after the form of the Universals in His mind. This departure from Realism leaves even Plato’s weak analogies useless. If we cannot turn to Plotinus’ explanation of participation, then any participation spoken of in reference to a position like Augustine’s has to be that of a blueprint to the actual building; the actual building is not a perfect representation of the blueprint, but is clearly derived from it.

For SO to hold, there must be an understanding of participation in place that explains the mysterious connection between the “natural” and the “supernatural.” At least when we turn to Augustine, that understanding did not exist, and outside of Neo-Platonism, it does not exist. It is not only on this key matter of participation that SO proves incompatible with Augustine’s thought; his view of time likewise betrays a growing rift between history and the claims for SO.

 

According to Congar, whom Boersma cites approvingly, SO provides a unique and Christological perspective on time. The present “participates” sacramentally in both the past and the future. Because the past, present, and future exist in God’s Logos, they are interconnected. Time is not—as we consider it today—successive, distinct, and unrelated moments—excepting causality. Because past, present, and future coexist in the human mind and in God’s, they coincide.[24] To support this very confusing perspective, Boersma quotes Augustine’ Confessions.[25]

To this author, the whole concept seems confused. However accurate or inaccurate that appraisal may be, at the very least, “sacramental time” is not supported by Augustine. Augustine’s view bears superficial similarity, but nothing more. Augustine does say “It is now plain and clear that neither past nor future are existent” and that it is not proper to say that there are three times.[26] However, he then goes on to explain what he means. There is the “present of things past, the present of things present, and the present of things future.”[27] The past is present as memories, the present in intuition or experience, and the future in expectation.[28] All that really exists is the present. All that can be measured is time that is passing by, for that is all that exists. The moment in which we dwell exists, but the past has passed into non-existence and the future has yet to exist. Augustine’s view appears to be that all time only exists in its passing into and out of existence with each passing moment.[29] In as much as time has existence in the mind, it is in memories, expectation, and intuition.

 

After looking briefly at two aspects of Augustine’s thought, it should be clear that the claim for SO’s historical and philosophical strength fails—at least in the case of the Early Church’s greatest philosopher and theologian. If SO did not hold captive his thought, can we be certain that it was as prevalent as claimed in the thought of other Fathers? At the very least, the implications of this inconsistency between SO and Augustine’s thought are these: its claims to historical consensus cannot be taken at face value, and its claim for support in the Platonic-Synthesis of the early Church is at least incompatible with its most biblically faithful and thorough synthesis.


[1] Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2011), 3–5, 26–27, 40–41, 67, 123–124, 132, 141, 188–189; Hans Boersma, “Anchored in Christ,” The Christian Century, February 8, 2011, 27. As a Protestant who has summarized the work of the Catholic Nouvelle Theologians on Sacramental Ontology—both for a semi-popular and academic audience—and given it his stamp of approval, Hans Boersma will be the primary source of interaction for this paper.

[2] From now on, SO.

[3] Hans Boersma, “Sacramental Ontology: Nature and the Supernatural in the Ecclesiology of Henri de Lubac,” New Blackfriars 88, no. 1015 (2007): 250; Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 16, 20, 51, 130, 134, 185, ; Hans Boersma, Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 12, 32.

[4] Ashley Cocksworth, “Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery.,” Expository Times 122, no. 3 (2010): 148; Peter M. Candler, “Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery.,” Journal of Theological Studies 62, no. 2 (2011): 816.

[5] Or “the nature of things”. John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, A Theology of lordship (Phillipsburg, N.J: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1987), 401; Alasdair MacIntyre, “Ontology,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972), 142.

[6] See Daniel J. Treier, “Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry-A Review Essay,” Christian Scholar’s Review 41, no. 1 (2011): 67–71. And Boersma’s response; Hans Boersma, “Dan Treier’s Sacramental Participation in Truth-A Response to His Review of Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry,” Christian Scholar’s Review 41, no. 1 (2011): 73–76.

[7] Boersma, Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology, 16, 289; Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 23–24.

[8] Boersma, Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology, 16; Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 22.

[9] Boersma, Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology, 5, 16, 32; Boersma, “Sacramental Ontology: Nature and the Supernatural in the Ecclesiology of Henri de Lubac,” 264; Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 57.

[10] Hans Boersma, “Analogy of Truth,” in Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology, ed. Gabriel Flynn and P. D. Murray (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 160; Boersma, Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology, 17; Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 24.

[11] Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 80.

[12] Ibid., 24, 51, 80, 89,.

[13] Ibid., 185. Analogies adapted from Ibid.

[14] Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 70.

[15] Gordon H. Clark, Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1957), 86. The ambivalent nature of “participation” caused it grief. Gilbert Ryle, “Plato,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972), 322.

[16] Clark, Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy, 86.

[17] Ibid., 90.

[18]Emphasis added, Antony Flew, Introduction to Western Philosophy (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), 65. The references to Phaedo are cited in Ibid., 49, 58–59.

[19] Emanation can be an odd concept to wrap one’s mind around. An analogy that may explicate it goes something like this: when the sun projects a beam of light, both the light and the beam are one. Imagine this light passes through a screen and casts a figure upon a mirror. The screen is the form, the light is the One, the mirror is the darkness into which the material world is emanated; the material object is nothing more than a distant reflection of Form. It is still made from the light of the Sun, so it is light, what it is comes from the Form, but it is only a pale representation, a crude shadow cast on the mirror. The figure of a mirror can confuse one into thinking that there is an independent reality other than the One and its emanations, but that is the thought of Plato, not Plotinus. For Plotinus, the light of the sun projects into darkness (nothing at all) until it gets dimmer and fades. At that farthest point of dimness is the “material world,” nothing more than the last dim glimmer of the light before it disappears. Clark, Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy, 177–178; Ronald H Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions : An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 125, 128–129.

[20] Clark, Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy, 176; Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions, 83–84.

[21] Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions, 71–76.

[22] I use the term “proto-Conceptualism” because, in many ways, Augustine’s view anticipates later Conceptualism, but there are significant differences. The Ideas, because they exist in God’s mind eternally, are not merely fleeting and transitory. Ronald H. Nash, The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge (Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1969), 123. Cf. Thomas Mautner, The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, Rev. ed., Penguin reference (London ; New York: Penguin Books, 1997), 103; C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 26, 99; H. Gene Blocker, World Philosophy : An East-West Comparative Introduction to Philosophy (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1999), 135; A. D. Woozley, “Universals,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972), 194–195; Flew, Introduction to Western Philosophy, 446.

[23] Ronald H. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1982), 81–82.

[24] Boersma, Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology, 33, 225; Boersma, “Anchored in Christ,” 27; Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 124–126.

[25] Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 126. Citing Confessions xi.20.

[26] Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine,, trans. John K. Ryan (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960), 292–293.

[27] Ibid., 293.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 290; Clark, Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy, 236.


Bibliography:

 

Augustine. The Confessions of St. Augustine,. Translated by John K. Ryan. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960.

Blocker, H. Gene. World Philosophy : An East-West Comparative Introduction to Philosophy. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Boersma, Hans. “Analogy of Truth.” In Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology, edited by Gabriel Flynn and P. D. Murray. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

———. “Anchored in Christ.” The Christian Century, February 8, 2011.

———. “Dan Treier’s Sacramental Participation in Truth-A Response to His Review of Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry.” Christian Scholar’s Review 41, no. 1 (2011): 73–76.

———. Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2011.

———. Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

———. “Sacramental Ontology: Nature and the Supernatural in the Ecclesiology of Henri de Lubac.” New Blackfriars 88, no. 1015 (2007): 242–273.

Candler, Peter M. “Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery.” Journal of Theological Studies 62, no. 2 (2011): 814 – 817.

Clark, Gordon H. Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1957.

Cocksworth, Ashley. “Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery.” Expository Times 122, no. 3 (2010): 147 – 148.

Evans, C. Stephen. Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Flew, Antony. Introduction to Western Philosophy. London: Thames and Hudson, 1971.

Frame, John M. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. A Theology of lordship. Phillipsburg, N.J: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1987.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. “Ontology.” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.

Mautner, Thomas. The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy. Rev. ed. Penguin reference. London ; New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Nash, Ronald H. Life’s Ultimate Questions : An Introduction to Philosophy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999.

———. The Light of the Mind: St. Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1969.

———. The Word of God and the Mind of Man. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1982.

Ryle, Gilbert. “Plato.” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.

Treier, Daniel J. “Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry-A Review Essay.” Christian Scholar’s Review 41, no. 1 (2011): 67–71.

Woozley, A. D. “Universals.” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.

Gods in the Making: an Analysis of Deification in the Thought of Athanasius

“He became man, that we might become God,” shouts the wild-eyed preacher with passionate glee; is he a disciple of the New Age movement infiltrating the church? Maybe he is a pantheistic practitioner of Eastern Mysticism eager to introduce Eastern philosophy? The truth is, he is none of the above; the words are not those of a Yogi or New Age mystic but of the early church father and staunch defender of Trinitarian orthodoxy, Athanasius.[1]

Though these words may be out of place in many Protestant churches, they have long found a receptive audience in the sanctuaries of the Orthodox Church. Following in the footsteps of the Eastern Fathers, they still teach the doctrine of deification, so shockingly captured in Athanasius’ famous quote. Though the doctrine of deification, or theōsis, did not originate with Athanasius, he is unique among the early Fathers for making it the centre of His theological system.[2] Because of its centrality to his thought, Athanasius provides a great opportunity to understand deification in history. The purpose of this paper is to interact with his thought and answer two questions: What did Athanasius mean when he spoke of deification? Should it make a difference to our beliefs today? To answer these questions, we will first briefly trace the theme deification in the thought of Athanasius on the incarnation, his explicit teachings about deification, and his thought on how we are deified. We will then briefly analyze Athanasius’ teaching in light of Scripture.  Finally, we will conclude with a summary of the doctrine and its veracity, with some preliminary thoughts on its application to contemporary Protestant thought.

 

Athanasius’ teaching about deification did not emerge out of a void; it was strongly tied to the circumstances of his life. As a young man, Athanasius was a deacon close to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria.[3] Before he took over the Alexandrian episcopate, Athanasius found himself playing a key role in the controversy over the heterodox teaching of a fellow Alexandrian, the presbyter Arius.[4] Though it was officially condemned at the Council of Nicaea in 325, Athanasius’ battles with Arianism would consume the rest of his life and lead to 40 years of hardship, with persecution and exile.[5] In his controversy with Arius, deification became one of Athanasius’ key arguments for Christ’s deity. He argued that for us to be deified in Christ, He could not have been deified Himself. He must have been fully man so that He could taste death for us and unite our humanity to Himself[6] and fully God so that, through our union with Him, we might be exalted and become partakers of the divine nature.[7] It was Athanasius’ contention that only by being fully God Himself could Jesus invite us to partake of His own nature as God.[8]

Because his teaching on deification was so intimately tied to his anti-Arian polemic and incarnational theology, what he has to say is scattered throughout all of his works without a single systematic explication of the doctrine. Though the idea is scattered throughout variegated contexts, there appears to be a few consistent themes throughout that explain what exactly Athanasius meant by deification. The first theme, in which the others consist, is the restoration of the Image of God. Humans, as those created in the image of God, were able to contemplate and have communion with Him,[9] but in the fall, they sought those things nearer to themselves, lost the image of God, and now languished in corruption.[10] Much of Athanasius’ thought on deification can be understood as the restoration of humans to what they were meant to be—the perfect and unblemished image of God. The restoration of this image allows man to know God once again; through this restoration, we “receive the idea of the unseen Father.”[11] In deification, we receive “knowledge of the invisible Father.”[12] Being restored in the image of God, humans are united with God and share in communion with him. Sharing in the divine life and being united with Christ is both deification and the means by which deification happens.[13] Though the restoration of the image is the head under which the rest of the themes are found, the most prominent theme is the perfection of humans;[14] in deification, they become incorruptible, morally pure, and immortal. In the fall we entered into a corruptible state; we are mortal and immoral.[15] Through our union with Christ, Christian deification involves being clothed in incorruption—being freed from sin—and the inheritance of immortality—receiving everlasting life with God.[16]

For Athanasius, this process of deification—being restored to the image of God and so knowing Him, having communion with Him, and being perfected in Him—is something that happens progressively in this life and culminates in the resurrection.[17] Though it is ultimately by grace,[18] it is a work of the Holy Spirit working synergistically with believers as they use the means of grace provided for them (baptism, Eucharist, asceticism, etc.).[19]

 

So far we have looked at what deification was to Athanasius, now we must briefly ask: Is it true? Though the word itself invites all sorts of pantheistic speculation, nothing that Athanasius seems to have taught about deification departs from Christian Theism. Though our deification makes us sons of God by grace and even, in some vague sense, “divine,” we do not come to share in the essence of God.[20] All that remains is to ask if it can be found in Scripture.

The primary text to which proponents of deification, including Athanasius, turn is 2 Peter 1:4. Here we read that by God’s glory and excellence, believers will “become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”[21] In context, Peter’s focus is on the moral behavior of believers (vv. 3, 4d, 5-7, 8-9),[22] and so most commentators agree that he is  referring to the escape of the believer from the sinfulness of the flesh—God’s gift of moral perfection or at least the ability to fight immorality.[23] Athanasius’ understanding of deification as incorruptibility and immortality is in line with Peter’s thought, for the result of moral perfection is release from the consequences of sin, being freed from death and decay.[24] The other aspects of Athanasius’ thought are nowhere in Scripture associated with being made partakers of the divine nature, but—other than his understanding of the image of God—are attested to under different theological categories.[25]

 

What then is to be made of all of this? For Athanasius, deification is the restoration of humankind to God’s image—meaning that they can know Him, are united in communion with Him, and are being perfected through this unity. It is worked out in this life but will ultimately find its consummation in the resurrection.  Though his understanding of the image of God is not what is intended in Genesis, his understanding of deification as incorruptibility and immortality is a solid inference from 2 Peter 1:4. The rest of his understandings of deification correlate roughly with the Protestant doctrines of adoption, sanctification, glorification, and being in Christ.

Though deification here is consistent with Christian Theism and Scriptural teachings, it would be best to avoid using it as a dominating theological theme[26] or as its own area of soteriology. What deification covers is elsewhere in Scripture referred to by sanctification and glorification. We would be best to use these more consistent Scriptural labels and avoid the possibilities of misunderstanding pregnant in the term deification. That being said, because of the orthodox nature of Athanasius’ thought in this area, discussion of glorification with the term deification could do well for ecumenical discussion with the Eastern Church. Finally, because Scripture does speak of us partaking of the divine nature, we would do well to wrestle through the profound implications of what it means for man to be glorified.

 


Bibliography

Athanasius. “Contra Arianos.” In Bettenson, Henry, ed. The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius. London: Oxford University Press, 1956.

———. “Defense of the Nicene Definition.” In Athanasius, and Archibald Robertson. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 4. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

———. “De Incarnatione.” In Bettenson, Henry, ed. The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius. London: Oxford University Press, 1956.

———. “De Synodis.” In Quasten, Johannes. Patrology: The Golden Age of Greek Patristic Literature From the Council of Nicaea to the Council of Chalcedon. Vol. 3. Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1963.

———. “Four Discourses Against the Arians.” In Athanasius, and Archibald Robertson. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 4. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

———. “Letters of Athanasius: 60. Ad Adelphium.” In Athanasius, and Archibald Robertson. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 4. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

———. “On the Incarnation of the Word.” In Athanasius, and Archibald Robertson. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 4. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

Bauckham, Richard. Jude, 2 Peter. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1983.

Finch, Jeffrey. “Athanasius on the Deifying Work of the Redeemer.” In Theōsis: Deification in Christian Theology, edited by Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2006.

Gentry, Peter John, and Stephen J. Wellum. Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012.

Green, Gene L. Jude and 2 Peter. Baker exegetical commentary on the new testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2008.

Jackson, Samuel Macauley, Lefferts Augustine Loetscher, and Friedrich Armin Loofs, eds. “Athanasius.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1977.

Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1958.

Moo, Douglas J. 2 Peter, and Jude: From Biblical Text– to Contemporary Life. The NIV application commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1996.

Murphy, Gannon. “Theosis?” Theology Today 65, no. 2 (July 2008): 191–212.

Neyrey, Jerome H., ed. 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. 1st ed. The Anchor Bible v. 37C. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Plas, Jan Van Der. “The Deification of Man: The Integration of Theology and Spirituality in Gregory of Nazianzus”. Vancouver, BC: Regent College, 2000.

Quasten, Johannes. Patrology: The Golden Age of Greek Patristic Literature From the Council of Nicaea to the Council of Chalcedon. Vol. 3. Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1963.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, A.D. 311-600. Revised 5th Edition. Vol. III. VIII vols. History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. The new American commentary v. 37. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman, 2003.

Wahba, Fr. Matthias Farid. “The Spirituality of St. Athanasius According to His Paschal Letters.” Coptologia 18 (n.d.): 81–96.

Weinandy, Thomas G. Athanasius: A Theological Introduction. Great theologians series. Aldershot, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007.

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

 


[1] Thomas G. Weinandy, Athanasius: A Theological Introduction, Great theologians series (Aldershot, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 39.

[2] Jules Gross in, Jeffrey Finch, “Athanasius on the Deifying Work of the Redeemer,” in Theōsis: Deification in Christian Theology, ed. Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov (Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2006), 104; Fr. Matthias Farid Wahba, “The Spirituality of St. Athanasius According to His Paschal Letters,” Coptologia 18 (n.d.): 87.

[3] Samuel Macauley Jackson, Lefferts Augustine Loetscher, and Friedrich Armin Loofs, eds., “Athanasius,” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1977), 343.

[4] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, A.D. 311-600, Revised 5th Edition., vol. III, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981), 620.

[5] Weinandy, Athanasius, vii; Schaff, History of the Christian Church, III:633, 887–888.

[6]  Athanasius, Letters of Athanasius: 60. Ad Adelphium,” in Athanasius and Archibald Robertson, Athanasius: Select Works and Letters., ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, vol. 4, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2 (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 576; Athanasius, “Contra Arianos,” in Henry Bettenson, ed., The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 404; ibid. iii. 33, in ibid. 399.

[7] Athanasius, “Four Discourses Against the Arians,” in Athanasius and Robertson, NPNF2, 4:316.

[8] Athanasius, “De Synodis,” in Johannes Quasten, Patrology: The Golden Age of Greek Patristic Literature From the Council of Nicaea to the Council of Chalcedon, vol. 3 (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1963), 71–72.

[9] Weinandy, Athanasius, 15, 35.

[10] Ibid., 15; J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1958), 377–378.

[11] Athanasius, “On the Incarnation of the Word,” in Athanasius and Robertson, NPNF2, 4:65.

[12] Athanasius, “De Incarnatione,” in Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers, 404.

[13]  Weinandy, Athanasius, 30, 100–101.

[14] Ibid., 34, 98; Finch, “Athanasius,” 121.

[15] Athanasius, “Four Discourses,” in Athanasius and Robertson, NPNF2, 4:386; Jan Van Der Plas, “The Deification of Man: The Integration of Theology and Spirituality in Gregory of Nazianzus” (Vancouver, BC: Regent College, 2000), 38–39.

[16] Finch, “Athanasius,” 119; Quasten, Patrology, 3:71; Athanasius, “De Inacarnatione,” in Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers; ibid., “Four Discourses,” in Athanasius and Robertson, NPNF2, 4:386, 412–413; ibid., “Defense of the Nicene Definition,” in ibid., 4:159.

[17] Quasten, Patrology, 3:71; Weinandy, Athanasius, 100–101.

[18] Finch, “Athanasius,” 111–112.

[19] Ibid., 111–117; Quasten, Patrology, 3:76; Plas, “The Deification of Man: The Integration of Theology and Spirituality in Gregory of Nazianzus,” 40.

[20] Weinandy, Athanasius, 40, 99.

[21] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[22] Though Bauckham sees ἀρετή (aretē) in v. 3 as being virtually synonymous with δοξα and referring to “the manifestation of divine power,” it is best to follow Schreiner in taking it as a reference to Jesus’ goodness, or moral virtue—both because of its common use in Greek literature and its use in v. 5. Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1983), 178–179; Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, The new American commentary v. 37 (Nashville, Tenn: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 292–293.

[23] Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 294–295; Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, and Jude: From Biblical Text– to Contemporary Life, The NIV application commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1996), 43–44; Jerome H. Neyrey, ed., 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 1st ed., The Anchor Bible v. 37C (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 158; Gene L. Green, Jude and 2 Peter, Baker exegetical commentary on the new testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2008), 186–187. Bauckham dissents, understanding it in the Hellenistic sense of entering “the eternal world of ‘the gods’…to become immortal and incorruptible.” Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 181.

[24] Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 158.

[25] On the image of God see Peter John Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012), 190–202.

[26] As in Gannon Murphy, “Theosis?,” Theology Today 65, no. 2 (July 2008): 206.

The Puritans: Models for Godly Living

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”[1] In the tableau Christian history, the Puritans shine brightly as a movement that grasped what it means to live godly lives and to embody the truth of this passage. Writing strongly against heresies like Antinomianism[2]—which took the doctrine of Justification by faith to places it does not lead, believing that since we are justified by faith and not works we can ignore the law and do whatever we want—the Puritans championed holiness in living and attempted to have lifestyles that embodied the singular purpose of honouring God in everything they did.[3] The Puritans, a reforming movement from England, were monumental theologians and godly pastors who had a profound grasp of the Christian life. They have been highly influential for those who have studied them and they have a lot to teach the Church today. To learn from the Puritans, to lay hold of what they have to teach us, we first must know who they were, then look at what makes them special, and finally examine how they speak to our lives today.

 

In recent history those who have heard of the Puritans have pictured them as prudes who were against all fun and who were hypocrites. A quote by a man named Henry Mencken sums up the common conception of the puritans quite well; “Puritanism is simply the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”[4] Is this an accurate description of the Puritans, is this truly who they were?

The Puritans were not a denominational movement and they did not have distinctive leader; they were a mixed group of English reformers in the 16th and 17th centuries[5] that brought the protestant reformation to England in a way that had not been achieved before their time. At its heart Puritanism was a movement that fought for spiritual revival, church reform, evangelism, and change in the clergy of England; “it was a world-view, a total Christian philosophy, in intellectual terms a Protestantised and updated medievalism, and in terms of spirituality a reformed monasticism outside the cloister and away from monkish vows.”[6] Puritanism was a movement made up of clergy and lay men that shared core values, but differed on issues such as church government; some of the puritans were Presbyterians, some were Congregationalists, and some were Episcopalians.[7] For the influence they have had in American and English history, the Puritans were largely unsuccessful in achieving their goals. While some desired to separate from the Church of England,[8] many wanted to work from within the church and establish a state church that was more God centered and less political. They wanted to institute effective discipline in the church, reform the church’s worship, and see the people of England engaging in real faith.[9] They set out with grand ambitions, but in the end succeeded in achieving almost none of their goals; they lost almost every public battle they faced and they failed to cause significant reform in the Church of England and the communities of the lay Englishmen.[10] Even the name “Puritan” was a derogatory term assigned to them by the High Anglican Church.[11]

Despite the fact that the Puritans lost most of their political battles and did not achieve many of their goals, they still had an impact on the lay people of England—capturing the support of “many lawyers, merchants, and country gentry”[12]—as well as having a continuing impact today. Why have the Puritans, despite failing the goals they set out to achieve, managed to be influential over the past few hundred years?

 

The Puritans were giants of men, passionate pastors and brilliant theologians who produced some of the greatest works of doctrinal writing in the history of the church. J.I. Packer compares them as a whole to the towering redwood trees of California, soaring high above their peers and us today.[13] They shared together strong Calvinistic theology and had a profound understanding of sanctification and the need for Christians to pursue holiness in their lives. Their writings, especially John Owen’s grand treatise on limited atonement The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, have provided much fodder for contemporary Calvinist movements, but more significantly their ideas of sanctification and Christian devotion stand out among their works. While they produced many theological works, the Puritans were not stoic academics separated from real life. They were preachers before they were theologians and they placed a huge emphasis on the application of Christian doctrine to real life, to the Christian walk.[14]

The Puritan understanding of sanctification was that pursuing sanctification is absolutely necessary for the Christian walk. Sanctification for the Puritans involved a twofold strategy; pursuing holiness by pursuing God and mortifying sin.[15] By pursuing God and his glory, by finding happiness in him, the allure of the world would fade away and holiness would become more and more the life’s pursuit. Jonathan Edwards—an American theologian and philosopher who, while not being a direct part of the puritan movement, is often considered a puritan because of their influence on him—in an essay on The Christian Pilgrim wrote of the eternal rewards of heaven in contrast with the fading glory of this world and exhorted his readers to;

Labour to obtain such a disposition of mind that you my choose heaven for your inheritance and home; and may earnestly long for it, and be willing to change this world, and all its enjoyments, for heaven. Labour to have your heart taken up so much about heaven, and heavenly enjoyments, as that you may rejoice when God calls you to leave your best earthly friends and comforts for heaven, there to enjoy God and Christ. Be persuaded to travel in the way that leads to heaven; viz. in holiness, self-denial, mortification, obedience to all the commands of God, following Christ’s example; in a way of heavenly life, or imitation of the saints and angels in heaven.[16]

The Puritan’s lived a life that we would classify as holistic; they aimed to do everything to the glory of God, to honour God in every aspect of their life. They did not dichotomize life into the “sacred” and the “secular,” into the holy and profane; they viewed the whole of life as being lived to the glory of the God.[17]

The other aspect of the Puritan pursuit of sanctification is mortification. Mortification is the putting to death of sin, in Romans 8:13 we read “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death [“do mortify”, KJV] the deeds of the body, you will live.” This idea of mortifying sin was prominent in Puritan thinking. John Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin remains an influential treatise on the subject, in this work he writes; “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”[18] Owen believed that we need to pursue the killing of sin, we couldn’t just beat it back and leave it alive; “He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, does but half his work.”[19] Our work must be to fight sin to the death in all its expressions in our lives. This striving for holiness and pursuit of sanctification gave their ministry a distinctive edge of piety that led to the modern picture of the Puritans as legalists, but this is far from the truth.

The Puritans in their view of devotion and the Christian life found a delicate balance between the excess and debauchery of Antinomianism and the opposite but equally dangerous view of legalism.[20] The Puritans did not want to live—as many professing Christians do today—as close to the world as possible, instead they desired to be as godly as possible in their lives.[21] They did not desire to live like this for the sake of earning their salvation, as the legalist did, but instead they did this out of their desire to express their sonship in God and their eternal destiny in Christ.[22] They believed in living a life of discipline as their act of devotion; this meant giving up the safety and security of conforming to the ways of those around them and pursuing reform in their lives and in the greater world around them. In the pursuit of discipline and holiness the Puritans emphasized the law as having a practical use in the believer’s life; it could direct believer’s conduct and restrain sin.[23] Discipline was the puritan’s act of devotion and pilgrimage was the way they viewed the Christian life; it was both a war with spiritual conflict and a pilgrimage towards the final destination of heaven.[24] The previously mentioned essay by Edwards on The Christian Pilgrim illustrates this, but probably the greatest work that display’s the idea of a pilgrim’s life is John Bunyan’s famous The Pilgrim’s Progress. This work in two parts reflects the Christian life through a man named Christian and his wife Christiana on a pilgrimage to the “Celestial City.” The first part of the book reflects the trials and often terrifying struggle of the Christian life and the second reflects the calm and peace that also accompanies the life of a Christian (these two parts reflect two stages of Bunyan’s life as he was in prison and then moved on from prison to preaching ministry and peace at the end of his life).[25]

The writings of the Puritan’s are treasure troves of penetrating insights from Scripture and of profound applications that arose as the Puritan’s brought the Scripture to bear on the human experience. While the Puritans have much to say to various areas of Church life, the specific areas of devotion, life, and sanctification provide much application for life today.

 

How often do those in our churches ride the border between the world and God’s standard of holiness; how often do we try to get away with as much as possible, pushing the boundaries until sometimes the Christian becomes indistinguishable from the unbeliever? The Puritan’s offer a challenge to this aspect of life; instead of trying to be as dark as possible while still being a light, how would it look if the church as a whole pursued being the brightest city on a hill as possible (Matt 5:14)? How would it look if the Church really tried to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16)? This is not a call for legalism, for we are saved by grace through faith alone (Romans 4:4-5); but this is a call for obedience. The Puritans have much to teach us in this area; how we can be successful in killing sin so that it is not killing us, and how we can pursue God as the source of our happiness. It was the puritans who were a huge part of the Westminster catechism and the Westminster confession of faith; the first question of this catechism was “what is the chief and highest end of man?” Their answer was that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to fully enjoy Him forever.[26] The idea that the end of man is to enjoy God forever would be foreign to many Christians and unbelievers, but this is firmly grounded in Scriptural truth. How much would the attitude of those in the Church change if they realized that pursuing God does not mean forgoing happiness for a kill-joy life, but actually pursuing the highest heights of happiness we can have in this life and the life hereafter? The things that Owen and other Puritan writers have to say on the nature of sin,[27] and the ways to truly mortify it, could give hope to the generations entrenched in sin and struggling for victory. Even though they lived more than 300 years ago, the Puritans have many profound things to teach us about God’s word and His ways of working with man.

 

While they were by no means perfect, the Puritan’s shone as beacons of light piercing the darkness of their time; a time after the reformation where the church was still entrapped by the dangerous tendrils of Catholicism and in many other areas captured by lifeless scholasticism. Their light, the things that God did through them and revealed to them so as to glorify His mighty name, still shines forth into our world today through those they have influenced and their works which are still read. We have much to learn from these saints from a bygone age. Though it is often tedious reading to traverse hundreds of years of a language barrier, the work of the Puritans is accessible today and promises to teach us much about God and what He has taught His servants if only we will undertake the task of plumbing the depths of what He has shown them.


Endnotes

[1] Romans 6:1-2. All verses are from the ESV unless otherwise stated; Crossway Bibles, ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version, ESV text ed (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008).

[2] Antinomian means to be against law.

[3] J. I. Packer, A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, 1st U.S. ed (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 1990), 23.

[4] Brad Copp, “The Puritans” (Class Lecture, Pacific Life Bible College, Surrey, BC, March 7, 2013).

[5] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed (Dallas, Tex: Word Pub, 1995), 291.

[6] Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 28.

[7] Earle Edwin Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: a History of the Christian Church, Rev. and enl. ed., 2d ed (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981), 335, 337.

[8] Morton Dexter and John Browne, “Puritans, Puritanism,” ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1911), 368–369.

[9] Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 28.

[10] Ibid., 23.

[11] Edward E Hindson, Introduction to Puritan theology : a reader (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), 20.

[12] Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries, 335.

[13] Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 11, 22.

[14] Hindson, Introduction to Puritan theology, 20–21.

[15] Copp, “The Puritans.”

[16] Jonathan Edwards, The Christian Pilgrim in Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman, vol. 2 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 246.

[17] Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 23–24.

[18] John Owen, Overcoming Sin & Temptation (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2006), 50.

[19] Ibid., 51.

[20] Copp, “The Puritans.”

[21] Hindson, Introduction to Puritan theology, 22.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Copp, “The Puritans.”

[25] John Bunyan, The pilgrim’s progress : from this world to that which is to come, delivered under the similitude of a dream (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), xii.

[26] “The Westminster Larger Catechism,” July 2, 1648, Question 1, http://puritanseminary.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Larger_Catechism.pdf.

[27] See John Owen’s On Indwelling Sin and On Sin and Temptation in Owen, Overcoming Sin & Temptation.


Bibliography

Bunyan, John. The pilgrim’s progress : from this world to that which is to come, delivered under the similitude of a dream. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

Cairns, Earle Edwin. Christianity Through the Centuries: a History of the Christian Church. Rev. and enl. ed., 2d ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981.

Copp, Brad. “The Puritans.” Class Lecture, Pacific Life Bible College, Surrey, BC, March 7, 2013.

Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. ESV text ed. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Dexter, Morton, and John Browne. “Puritans, Puritanism.” Edited by Samuel Macauley Jackson. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1911.

Edwards Jonathan, The Christian Pilgrim, in Edwards, Jonathan. The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Edited by Edward Hickman. Vol. 2. 2 vols. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974.

Hindson, Edward E. Introduction to Puritan theology : a reader. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980.

Owen, John, On The Mortification of Sin, in Owen, John. Overcoming Sin & Temptation. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2006.

Packer, J. I. A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. 1st U.S. ed. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 1990.

Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. Updated 2nd ed. Dallas, Tex: Word Pub, 1995.

“The Westminster Larger Catechism,” July 2, 1648. http://puritanseminary.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Larger_Catechism.pdf.

Arianism – A Historical Examination of a Heresy [Greek Accents Removed]

Jesus Christ is the centre of the Christian faith: fully God and fully man, eternal and infinite in power, the Word of God. We understand today that this is the Bible’s teaching on the nature of Christ; this is the heart of our Christology.[1] It may be surprising for some to hear that this understanding was once in perilous danger; there was a time in history where the Church was divided over the very nature of Christ—was He God or a created being? On one side of this conflict was what we today would call orthodox faith. In opposition to this was a movement led by a presbyter from the city of Alexandria named Arius.[2] Some would suggest that what we call orthodox faith—Nicene Christianity—was actually a heresy that won its battle against the orthodox faith of the apostles, as championed by Arius. But is this what history teaches us? This movement led by Arius, which we call Arianism, was a heterodox movement that was born in the early days of the church. It has cropped up throughout history, but today its most significant representative is the Jehovah’s Witnesses[3] cult. Arianism was defeated in the days when it first appeared, and a strong argument can still be raised against it today. Historical Arianism emerged in the early 4th century AD and was a powerful force which, at times, became the majority position until its final defeat in 381 AD at an ecumenical council in Constantinople.[4] It is in this time period that we can examine historical Arianism and come to an understanding of the views held by its adherents.

In the Prolegomena for Eusebius’ The Church History of Eusebius the editor recorded that Arius was not the originator of the ideas that became known as Arianism. Arius learned the essentials of his Christology from his instructor Lucian, who is described as “one of the most learned men of his age in the Oriental Church”[5] and was the founder of a school in Antioch that was only accepted by the Church at the end of Lucian’s life.[6] Nevertheless, Arius was the one who spread the teachings of Arianism and as such is its name sake. He would find his most ardent opposition in the form of his fellow presbyter (the Arch Deacon) Athanasius and Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria.[7] The rise of Arianism, identified in this same Prolegomena as starting around 318 AD,[8] was triggered by Arius’s fears of the earlier heresy Sabellianism.[9] Alexander attempted one day to explain to his clergy and presbytery the mystery of the unity of the Holy Trinity. Arius feared that his teaching was a subtle form of the heresy taught by Sabellius of Libyan. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates reports that out of his love for controversy Arius adopted the far opposite view from Sabellius, the opposite view to what he feared Alexander was teaching, and started spreading his teachings. Arianism grew in popularity, eventually being adopted by bishops, including the prominent bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia.[10] The conflict quickly grew to a point where the unity of the Church, and therefore the Empire, was in danger. Upon hearing the news of Arius’s teachings Alexander anathematized him and wrote a letter to churches across the Christian world warning against the heresy of Arius and against his supporters, especially Eusebius.[11] The controversy was not just a private matter between Bishops; it also found its way into the populace and Christianity became a target of public ridicule.[12] Fearing that the conflict would cause a schism in the Church—which would divide the Empire—and already having failed to resolve the conflict with an emissary, Constantine called for an Ecumenical Council to meet in Nicaea in an attempt to come to a resolution on the issue.[13]

The council of Nicaea was the first ecumenical council of the Church. It was the first time that a vast multitude of bishops from across the Roman Empire were called together in order to achieve a theological consensus. Between 250[14] and 318[15] bishops came to the council, along with a large number of deacons, presbyters, and attendants.[16] Constantine also attended the council, presiding over it and offering the opening statement for the proceedings.[17] The bishops at the council were split three ways; the largest party was the undecided middle ground led by Eusebius of Caesarea, Alexander of Alexandria and his presbyter Athanasius led the orthodox party, and Eusebius of Nicomedia led the Arian party.[18] At the end of the deliberations;

it was unanimously decided that [Arius’s] impious opinion should be anathematized, with all the blasphemous expressions he has uttered, in affirming that ‘the Son of God sprang from nothing,’ and that ‘there was a time when he was not’; saying moreover that ‘the Son of God, because possessed of free will, was capable either of vice or virtue; and calling him a creature and a work.[19]

Socrates, in his Ecclesiastical History, records that only five of the bishops at the council refused to subscribe it; Eusebius of Nicomedia being the most prominent of the five.[20] As a result of the conclusion Arius and his adherents were anathematized, though Eusebius and another bishop eventually bowed to the orthodox understanding and conceded to the creed established at Nicaea.[21] As well as declaring Arius’ views to be heresy the council drafted a creed stating what the orthodox view was. According to Socrates this was the result;

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible:—and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God of God and Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made, consubstantial[or “one in essence”, translation of ομοοσιος] with the Father: by whom all things were made, both which are in heaven and on earth: who for the sake of us men, and on account of our salvation, descended, became incarnate, and was made man; suffered, arose again the third day, and ascended into the heavens, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. [We] also [believe] in the Holy Spirit.[22]

Though the Arian’s could have stumbled over the phrase “begotten, not made” their main point of contention with this orthodox creed was the word “ομουσιος” (homousios); they believed that this word did not represent Christ’s relationship with Father because, according to them, it meant that something is “from another either by partition, derivation or germination”.[23] With the drafting of this creed and the excommunication of Arius and the dissenting bishops, it seemed orthodoxy had won a decisive and final victory over the heresy of Arianism, but as Schaff writes; “The victory of the council of Nicaea over the views of the majority of the bishops was a victory only in appearance.”[24] It had “erected a mighty fortress” in which the champions of orthodoxy could “take refuge from the assaults of heresy”. Unfortunately many of the bishop’s had signed on reluctantly, many for shallow reasons, and would turn against the decree if the right circumstances arose.[25]

Soon enough these circumstances did arise and once again the empire was embroiled in conflict; this time on a much larger scale. Arius was eventually called back from exile by the Emperor after he offered a vague confession and the Emperor himself became converted to Arianism by the influence of Eusebius of Caesarea and his sister Constantia.[26] Arianism quickly rose to prominence and Athanasius himself was exiled to Gaul.[27] Arius died in 336 before he could witness the full rise of the movement he had started.[28] Arianism had a stronghold in the east and soon rose to become the primary position of the west, but in a slightly lesser form known as homoi-ousianism (or Semi-Arianism).[29] Orthodoxy did eventually have its victory over Arianism. In 379 Theodosius I became Emperor and required every citizen to confess the orthodox faith.[30] This proved to be the end of the Arian heresy and led to a second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. Arianism was condemned at first, but then was received and rose to prominence, only to be finally defeated. What did the Arian’s believe that earned them the brand of a heretic?

Arius’ views were a complete rejection of the central truths of the Scripture’s teaching on Christ’s nature. Arius, and his followers, believed that Jesus was a created being; he was the first of all created beings, but was still created by God. In a letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia Arius wrote that; “we say and believe, and have taught, and do teach, that the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that He does not derive His subsistence from any matter;… We are persecuted, because we say that the Son has a beginning, but that God is without beginning.”[31] This is the heart of Arianism, this is why it was condemned so strongly by Athanasius and Alexander. In another letter, recorded by Athanasius, Arius writes that Jesus is a son to God through adoption and that he does not share in substance with the Father, and is also of an entirely different substance.[32] In order to avoid the Sabellian heresy Arius went to the opposite side of the spectrum; to guard against the belief that the Father and Son were one being he differentiated them to the point where only the Father was truly God. Alexander of Alexandria reported that the Arians also taught that Christ was Himself changing, that He did not know the Father completely, and that He could not fully see Him.[33] Even though the Arians believed that Jesus was a created being, they still believed that all things were created by Him;[34] Schaff explains that the Arians believed God was separated from the world by an “infinite chasm” and could not have directly created the world, but needed an instrument, an agent, through which to do His creating work.[35]

How could the Arians arrive at such a contrary understanding of Scripture to that of the traditional Church? One thing that the Arians were intent on was rationalistic thinking; on determining truth from General Revelation. They seemingly went so far as putting their reason above Scripture; putting General Revelation, or at least reason, on a higher level than God’s Special Revelation.[36] What they would often do was take something Scripture said and stretch it to what they thought was a logical conclusion, often a conclusion foreign to the author’s intent. In 1 Colossians 1:15 Paul writes; “15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”[37] From this passage the Arian’s argued that Christ must have been a created being because to be the “firstborn” indicates the first in a temporal sense. For the Arians this passage says that Christ was the first created being of all created beings.[38] They also tried to show that Jesus was a created being by using John 14:28b; “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Their reasoning here was that since the Father was greater than Christ, Christ must have been a separate and created being.[39] The idea that Christ was a created being was preeminent in Arian theology, and as such this is what most of their arguments dealt with. They argued with Athanasius and the rest of the orthodox thinkers that their understanding precludes Christ being called the “Son of God,” instead it leads to the conclusion that He could only be the “Brother of God.” They drew this conclusion from their understanding of the nature of a human son; for them it was an issue of temporal succession. A son comes after his father; it would seem to be ridiculous for a son to co-exist eternally with his father. For them this would negate the idea of him being a son. They suggested from this reasoning that the only family analogy that makes logical sense would be brothers; twins can be born at the same time and, if eternal, could co-exist eternally.[40] They would describe this aspect of their theology, that Christ came into being when God created Him, with the phrase; “He was not before His generation.”[41] While the Arians used this argument with opposing bishops they would also spring it on people in the market places, especially those that Athanasius referred to as “silly women.” The Arians would ask them; “Hadst thou a son before bearing? now [sic], as thou hadst not, so neither was the Son of God before His generation.”[42] The appeal to human procreation, to the temporal sequence of generations, seemed like a rock solid logical argument for Christ’s created nature.

Eusebius of Nicomedia drew another argument for this same point from Proverbs 8:22-36, specifically the Septuagint’s translation of vv. 22. In the LXX it reads; “The Lord made me [εκτισέ με] the beginning of his ways for his works.”[43] Many patristic interprets believed that this passage, in which the speaker is Wisdom personified, was about Jesus Christ. They associated Wisdom in this passage with John’s use of the designation The Word (ο λογος) for Jesus.[44] Eusebius contended that because this passage was talking about The Word and it clearly says that “the Lord made me”, The Word must have been made.[45] One last argument that was made by the Arians was based off of Philippians 2:9-10. In this Passage Paul wrote; “9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth”. The Arians believed these passages taught that Christ was rewarded for His saving work during the incarnation and received a higher post, was exalted above every name, then He had ever before possessed. Since, according to their interpretation, Jesus gained something that He previously did not possess, He is alterable and therefore not equal to the immutable God.[46] It is these views that caused an uproar in the early Church; by diminishing the nature of Christ the Arians eviscerated the Gospel message and would have, if they had prevailed in their views, left the Christian faith as a hollow shell. They were defeated in this century, but sadly their views continued to crop up throughout history, and today are defended vigorously under the banner of a cult called the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is a cult that has arisen since the late 19th century, and in 2009, according to the church, had 7.3 million members (witnesses).[47] The seed for what it is today was planted in 1870; Charles Taze Russell, who would become its founder, started a Bible class in Pittsburgh. Russell eventually started a magazine and wrote several books of his take on the Bible. The organization he started took the name “the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” and become the organization we see today, under his successor J.F. (Judge) Rutherford after Russell’s death on October 31, 1916.[48] Today the JWs’ influence can be seen in the plethora of tracts, articles, and other literature published each year defending a deeply anti-Biblical, and strongly Arian, faith. Like the Arians, the JWs believe that Christ was a created being, the most powerful of all created beings, through whom God did all of His creating work.[49] When Jesus became incarnated it is believed that He was no longer a spirit being in any way; instead He became fully man, perfect but not anything more than human.[50] The JWs believe that He is a “mighty God” (Elohim), but not “Jehovah.” They also believe Him to be the chief of angels, the one that the Bible sometimes calls “Michael.”[51] If Arius’ confession is to be believed as a true representation of Arius’ views in as much as it affirms, then the JW and the Arians disagree on one point; the JWs claim that the resurrection of Jesus was a spiritual one[52] and Arius apparently believed that it was a “resurrection of the flesh.”[53] Even with their apparent disagreement over the nature of the resurrection, the JWs agree with the Arian belief that a reward was given to Christ for His completed work. The JWs believe that Jehovah bestowed upon Christ a higher honor than He had before the incarnation, they believe that as a reward for His completed work Christ was made a “partaker of the divine nature–the very highest of the spirit natures, possessed of immortality.”[54] Because of the parallels found in Arian and the JWs’ theology the arguments they use are very similar, but Russell and his subsequent followers developed a few arguments for their views that are seemingly unique to the JWs’ writings.

An argument that has an outstanding prevalence in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature, and is often parroted by their proselytizers, is Russell’s interpretation of John 1:1. In most protestant Christian translations this verse reads “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the JWs’ New World Translation this verse reads; “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”[55] This translation declares that Jesus was only a god and the wording “in [the] beginning the Word was” lends itself to understanding Jesus as having come into being in the beginning. Russell himself translated the passage, “The Logos was in the beginning with the God, and the Logos was a God” and declared about this early translation that it “is the literal translation of the Greek, as can be readily confirmed by any one, whether a Greek scholar or not.” He justifies this translation by explaining that the absence of the Greek definite article[56] “ο” (ho) before the second instance of θεος (Theos; God) was a purposeful omission by John, contrasting with the first instance of θεὸς with the article, to indicate that Jesus was only “a god” and not “God” or “The God.”[57] He also writes that the word “beginning” indicates the beginning of God’s creative work and confirms that Jesus was the first divine creative act.[58] In a more modern attempt to justify this translation the anonymous writer(s) of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures appeals to different grammars to justify a belief that the anarthrous construction of the noun θεος indicates a quality of ὁ λόγος (ho logos; the Word)[59] and writes, like Russell, that the apostle intentionally “refers to God as the God and to the Word or logos as a god, to show the difference between the two.”[60] This is an argument that seems, at least in their writings, to be authentic and powerful. They claim to have the support of numerous grammars and write with an authoritative feel that delivers the impression that they know what they are talking about. Like the Arians, the JWs also appeal to a slew of Scriptures that talk about Jesus being the “firstborn”(Psalm 89:27) and “only-begotten” (1 John 4:9) to argue that Jesus was both a created being, the first of God’s creation, and the only creation made directly by God.[61] The Arians and the JWs used, and use today, a seemingly impressive arsenal of arguments from all over Scripture to justify their Christology, but—just as Athanasius and Alexander where able to do in the 4th­ century—these contentions are able to be parried and a strong argument can be raised against their position today.

In today’s society many people have heard the JWs’ argument from John 1:1, so this will be a good place to start. It is important to note that Charles Taze Russell had no education in the biblical languages,[62] and the translation team for The New World Translation has never been officially revealed so their credentials are unverifiable.[63] Russell claims that his translation of the Greek is “the literal translation”, and that anybody could verify this; this is transparently false. If someone approached this passage with a simple dictionary and very basic knowledge of translating a Greek verb they would come up with a very different translation. In the original Greek John 1:1 reads; “Εν αρχη ην ο λόγος, και ο λογος ην προς τον θεόν, και θεος ην ο λόγος.”[64] A word for word translation made by someone with no knowledge of Greek grammar would probably read like this; “In beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and God was the Word.” Someone who knew just enough Greek to be dangerous may translate “θεὸς” in the last part of this verse as “a god,” because they would know that biblical Greek does not have an indefinite article and that a noun that does not have the definite article may legitimately be translated with the indefinite article “a/an.”[65] This may very well be how Russell came to his translation. However further study of Greek reveals that the grammatical construction within which θεὸς is found does not support his conclusion and, with the surrounding context, rules his translation out. E.C. Colwell has shown that in New Testament Greek the predicate nominative[66] acting as the object of a “to be” verb will regularly be anarthrous, but still retain a definite meaning; it is only translated as indefinite if the context demands this.[67] Millard J. Erickson argues that if θεὸς was marked with a definite article in this passage it would lead to a modalistic translation. If the passage read, “και ο θεος ην ο λόγος” this would prove too much; it would indicate absolute equation between God and the Word which would lead to Sabellianism.[68] The only way for John to have indicated a Trinitarian understanding of this passage would be to write it as he did.

The appeals that the Kingdom Interlinear Translation made to different grammars were shown to be taken out of context when the authors of the grammars wrote to the Watchtower Organization challenging them on their bad scholarship.[69] As to Russell’s statement that “in the beginning the word was” indicates that Christ was created, commentator Leon Morris contends that the word beginning (ἀρχῇ, archē) indicates that there never was a time when Jesus did not exist and never was there a time were something existed that did not depend on Him. Morris also contends that ἦν (ēn) indicates that the Word has an eternal existence, “the Word continually was.” There is no reason grammatically, and definitely not contextually, to accept Russell’s, and the later New World Translation’s, translation of John 1:1.[70]

The next argument to look at is the Arian argument from Proverbs 8:22-36. Many of the early Church Fathers understood this passage to refer to Jesus and as a result struggled with verse 22. In the LXX the key phrase for the Arians is translated “The Lord made me,” “made me” being a translation of the phrase “ἔκτισέ με,” but this is contextually probably an inaccurate translation of the Hebrew with which Proverbs was originally written. The Hebrew word that the LXX translates with “εκτισέ με” is the word קָנָנִי (qānānî) from the wordקָנָה (qānāh)[71] which is a verb that means “to get, acquire.”[72] Modern English translations are mixed on how this is to be translated. The NIV (1984 and 2011), NRSV, and the NET translate it with the sense of a creating action.[73] The NASB, NKJV, ESV, and KJV translate it with the word “possessed.” It is used 84 times throughout the OT and only seven of these times allow for the sense “create,” though they do not require this translation. Every other use has the sense of “get” (come to possess, acquire).[74] It is because of recent studies of Ugaritic literature that scholarly opinion has swayed toward the meaning “create,” especially for its use in Proverbs 8:22. One of the editors of The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament writes that; “The Ug [Ugaritic] evidence seems to prove the possible meaning of “create” although several of the usages are found in broken and difficult texts. The main usage in UG is the title of Asherah as “creatress of the gods.” But the title of El the chief deity is “creator” (bny). It is probable that the word qny in Ug should be interpreted as “one who brings forth” rather than “creator.””[75] W.A. Irwin has pointed out that the title “creatress of the gods” and an expression made by Eve using קָנָה in Genesis 4:1, imply parenthood; bringing forth, rather than creating.[76] Derek Kinder in his commentary on Proverbs writes that, “[T]his word expresses getting and possessing, in ways that vary with the context. Goods are possessed by purchase, children by birth (cf. our idiom, to ‘have’ a baby), wisdom—for mortals—by learning. And Wisdom for God? To say that at first He lacked it and had to create or learn it, is both alien to this passage and absurd… possessed is perhaps (as Irwin concludes) the most serviceable word for the translator here.”[77] It is this translation, found in the NASB et al., that is the best fit contextually and grammatically. This fits well with the following verse where Wisdom declares “From everlasting I was established” (v. 23) and with the overarching context of this passage in which Wisdom is claiming to have been with God at creation. This shows that even if the passage could be shown to have christological implications it is not teaching that Wisdom was created like the Arians suggested. That this could be shown is doubtful; the writers of the NT do not regard this passage as a prophecy that could be pushed to produce christological details.[78] On the use of Wisdom in relation to Christ F.F. Bruce writes; “What Paul and his contemporaries imply is not so much that the personified Wisdom of the OT books is really Christ, as that Christ—the Christ who lived on earth as man, who died and rose again, “whom God made our wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:30)—is the one who was before all creation, the preexistent, cosmic Christ.”[79] To pull christological conclusions out of this passage is a stretch, especially when these conclusions contradict the rest of the testimony of Scripture, and the conclusion of an Arian Christology from this passage requires the translation of a Hebrew word that is not supported by context or grammar.

The last argument to look at is the Arian and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ argument from passages that speak of Christ as the “firstborn” of creation, as seemingly “the only-begotten” Son, and the Arian argument from the nature of “a son.” Throughout the NT Jesus is referred to as the Son of God, or the Son of man, and as such His identity as a son is well established.[80] The Arian’s, as we have already seen, argued that because Jesus was the Son of God He must have been created. Athanasius thought that this was ridiculous; he saw no reason why a son could not be co-existent—eternally co-existent in the case of the Godhead—with his father. Athanasius gets at the heart of the issue when he writes, “For never was the essence of the Father imperfect, that what is proper to it should be added afterwards; nor, as man from man, has the Son been begotten, so as to be later than His Father’s existence, but He is God’s offspring, and as being proper Son of God, who is ever, God’s offspring is eternal, for His nature is ever perfect.”[81] The Arians were mired in their perception of what it meant to be a son; for them it was an issue of temporal succession. A son comes after his father. It would seem to be ridiculous for a son to co-exist eternally with his father, for them this would negate the idea of him being a son. The Arians were so stuck in their analogy of a human father-son relationship that they missed the purpose of what Scripture is teaching. Athanasius spent his time writing that Christ is a son to the father in a different sense, in almost everything but the temporal sense.[82] He goes on to explain how his view makes logical sense. Athanasius writes that kids are not possessions; they are not created or purchased from the external but instead come from inside. To suggest, within the Arian analogy, that Jesus had to be God’s son temporally leads to the conclusion that He could not have been created from nothing because kids proceed from their parents. Athanasius argues that for man a child is within his body until he is physically able, and an opportunity arises, to procreate and then he becomes a father. Because of the limitations of a physical human body, and the necessity of human relationships, this event takes time. But his child, in the sense of being potentially inside of him, co-existed with him. He says that “Levi too was already in the loins of his great-grandfather, before his own actual generation, or that of his grandfather.”[83] Since God is not restrained by the need to have a partner for begetting a son, and in His immutable and eternal being would ever be capable, a Son would co-exist eternally with Him. He concludes that the silly women who the Arians were challenging in the market places should respond to their challengers by telling them that, “He[the Son] is simply from the Father” and since nothing restrains the Father from having a Son, His Son will co-exist eternally with Him.[84]

As to the challenge from Colossians 1:15, that “the firstborn” means Christ was created, this is a little easier to address. The Arians mistakenly assumed that “firstborn” (πρωτότοκος – prōtotokos), in this context, had a temporal sense of “the one who was birthed before the rest.” This is not required by the context, nor is it the preferred understanding. This term is better understood within the customs of biblical times; “Christ has the rights or privileges of the “first-born”–that is, according to biblical usage and custom, the right of leadership or authority in the family for one’s generation.”[85][86] Colossians 1:15 is not saying that Christ was the first of all created beings, but that He is preeminent over all creation; He has the rights of the firstborn, the privilege of rule and of all authority over creation.[87] The last verse that is used to argue along these lines is 1 John 4:9, where Jesus is called God’s “only-begotten Son.” JWs argue that “only-begotten” indicates that Jesus was God’s first, and only direct, creation. After God created Jesus, all the rest of God’s creating work was done through Him. When the Nicene Creed was drafted the early Church Fathers did not explain what “begotten” meant, but they were careful to show what it did not mean. Against this sort of argument they affirmed that Jesus was “begotten, not made.” For them, whatever begotten meant it did not mean created or birthed.[88] This is what they believed Scripture taught, but some scholars don’t even think we need to leave “begotten” hanging without a definition; they think that this translation is wrong. The word translated “only-begotten” is “τον μονογενη” (tov monogenē) from the word “μονογενής” (monogenēs). Traditionally this word has been seen as coming from two Greek terms; μονο (mono), meaning “only,” and the verb γενναω (gennaō), meaning “to bear, beget.” This etymological argument leads to the conclusion that the word means “only-begotten,” and this meaning has been thought to work in this context. Wayne Grudem suggests that this understanding is wrong; if this word came from μονο and γενναω it would be “μονογεννητος” (monogennētos). Instead he suggests that it comes from μονο and the term γενος (genos), meaning “kind, class.” The word μονογενη from this understanding means “one-of-a-kind” or “unique.” Contextually this makes more sense, and this use for μονογενη can be seen in Hebrews 11:17. In this passage Isaac is said to be Abraham’s μονογενη, but if this word meant “only-begotten” this is not true. Abraham already had a son named Ishmael through Hagar. The meaning “unique” fits well in this context; even though Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, he was the one-of-a-kind son in that he was the son of promise.[89] It can be seen that the Arian arguments in history, and those used today, do not hold up; they are not strong enough to support the erroneous beliefs of those who espouse them.

In the light of clear Biblical evidence for Christ’s deity Arianism cannot stand. The proper translation of John 1:1 gives profound evidence for Christ deity, but the most powerful passage in support of this understanding is John 8:58. Jesus proclaimed to the Jews to whom He was speaking that; “before Abraham was born, I am.” This seems like an odd statement, but in light of God’s revelation of Himself in the Old Testament it is profound. Jesus is claiming to have existed before Abraham, but even more so He is claiming to be God who revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai.[90] The statement “I am” is using the same word that the LXX used to translate God’s proclamation of “I AM WHO I AM,” revealing His divine name. The Jews immediately recognized that Jesus was claiming to be God, and as such they picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy (John 8:59).

Without any sound arguments in support of it, and with an overwhelming amount of biblical evidence for Christ’s deity; Arian Christology falls flat. Just as it was defeated in the 4th century, today we can still raise a strong argument against Arianism and refute its heterodox claims. Jehovah’s Witnesses, as modern day Arians, are just as susceptible to these arguments. Like Nicene fathers over 1600 years ago, the Church needs to be prepared to defend our doctrine of the nature of Christ and be ready to make our stand on this truth. In our postmodern culture the truth of the Gospel is being whittled away in the name of tolerance: it has become taboo to say that a cult like the JWs are wrong; they are just another Christian denomination that is different. Within mainstream Evangelical movements today like the Emerging Church, the doctrines we hold as of the utmost importance are loosely held. As the liberal church in the late 19th century and the 20th century gave up on a supernatural Christ and attempted to paint him as a mere man, the evangelical Church could slide down the same slippery slope today. The Church needs to have an understanding of our foundational doctrines, Christology being one of them, and need to be aware of the heresies in the past so that we can recognize them today. If not, we may be led astray by their subtle twisting of vital truth.


[1] Christology can be defined as; “[T]he study of what is to be believed about the person of Jesus Christ”. Millard J Erickson, The Word Became Flesh, 2nd ed 2000. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1991), 9.

[2] Socrates Scholacticus, The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholacticus, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Series 2: Socrates and Sozomenus Ecclesiastical Histories, vol. II (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.), ii.iv.v., http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.

[3] Abbreviated JWs.

[4] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Nicene and post-Nicene Christianity, A.D. 311-600, vol. III, Revised 5th Edition, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981), 639–640.

[5] Eusebius Pamphilus, The Church History of Eusebius, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Series 2: Eusebius Pamphilus: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine, vol. I (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.), iii.iii.i.v., http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 627.

[8] Eusebius, Church, in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-I, iii.iii.i.v.

[9] This heresy is now-a-days called Modalism; this is the belief that God is one being who manifests himself in three different ways, at different times.

[10]Socrates in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-II, ii.iv.v.

[11] The letter recorded by Socrates, Ibid., ii.iv.vi.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Sozomenus, The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomenus, in Ibid., iii.vi.xvii.

[14] Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-I, iv.vi.iii.viii.

[15] Athanasius, Synodal Letter to the Bishops of Africa, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Series 2: Athanasius: Selected Works and Letters, vol. IV (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.), xxiv.ii., http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204.

[16] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 624.

[17] Eusebius of Caesarea, Council of Nicaea, in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-IV, ix.ii.

[18] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 627.

[19] Socrates in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-II, ii.iv.ix.

[20] Socrates in Ibid., ii.iv.viii.

[21] Ibid.

[22] [We] and [Believe] is from the book, the other note was added. Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 632.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., 632–633.

[27] Ibid., 633.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Homoi-ousianism believed that the Father and the Son were of similar essence; not one in essence (Nicene Christianity) nor totally different in essence (Arianism). Ibid., 636.

[30]Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 639–640.

[31] Theodoret, The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Series 2: Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius, and Rufinus: Historical Writings, vol. III (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.), iv.viii.i.v., http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.

[32] Athanasius, On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-IV, xxii.ii.ii.

[33] In his letter preserved by; Socrates in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-II, ii.iv.vi.

[34] Ibid., ii.iv.xxvi.

[35] Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 645.

[36] Ibid., 643.

[37] All scriptures, only otherwise stated, are taken from the; New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[38] Gregg R Allison and Wayne A Grudem, Historical Theology : an introduction to Christian doctrine : a companion to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011), 369.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Athanasius, Against the Arians, in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-IV, xxi.ii.i.v.

[41] Ibid., xxi.ii.i.vii.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, The Septuagint with Apocrypha : Greek and English (Peabody, Ma.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986).

[44] F. F Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1984), 60.

[45] Athanasius, Defence of the Nicene Definition, in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-IV, npnf204.xiv.ii.iii.html#fnf_xiv.ii.iii–p2.2.

[46] Athanasius, Against, in Ibid., xxi.ii.i.xi.

[47] “2009 Report of Jehovah’s Witnesses Worldwide,” accessed December 10, 2012, http://www.watchtower.org/statistics/worldwide_report.htm.

[48] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1985), 38–39.

[49] Socrates in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-II, ii.iv.xxvi.html#fnf_ii.iv.xxvi–p5.1.

[50] Kingdom is at Hand 46, 47, 49; quoted in W.R. Martin and N. Klann, Jehovah of the Watchtower: a Thorough Exposé of the Important anti-Biblical Teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Biblical Truth Pub. Society, 1953), 38–39.

[51] Pastor Russell, Studies in Scripture, Series V: The At-one-ment Between God and Man (Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1926), 84–85.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Socrates in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-II, ii.iv.xxvi.html#fnf_ii.iv.xxvi–p5.1.

[54] Pastor Russell, Studies in Scirpture, 85.

[55] Emphasis added. The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1969).“Online Bible – New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures,” accessed December 10, 2012, http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/john/1#v-1.

[56] In Greek there is only a definite article, unlike English which has the definite article “the” and the indefinite article “a/an.”

[57] Pastor Russell, Studies in Scirpture, 86.

[58] Ibid.

[59] The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, 1158.

[60] Ibid., 1159.

[61] Pastor Russell, Studies in Scirpture, 88.

[62] Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, 42–43.

[63] That being said, a defector from the Jehovah’s Witnesses revealed those who translated the text and out of these 5 men only one claimed to know the Biblical languages, but even he failed a simple Hebrew test in Scottish court of law. Ron Rhodes, The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions: The Essential Guide to Their History, Their Doctrine, and Our Response (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 94.

[64] This is the text underlying the NASB translation, and is also in the The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition; neither of these Bibles offer an alternate Greek reading. Michael W. Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Logos Bible Software, 2010).

[65] Though the context and the construction within which it is found would have to indicate this translation.

[66] The subject and the object of a “to be” verb in Greek will both be in the Greek nominative case.

[67] Leon Lamb Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996), 68.

[68] Millard J Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 705.

[69] Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, 87.

[70] Morris, The Gospel According to John, 68.

[71] TWOT #2039; Strong’s Hebrew #7069.

[72] Francis Brown et al., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English lexicon : with an appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic : coded with the numbering system from Strong’s Exhaustive concordance of the Bible (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 888–889.

[73] Brought forth, created

[74] Derek Kidner, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries : the Proverbs (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 79.

[75] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L Archer, and Bruce K Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 804.

[76] Kidner, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 79–80.

[77] Ibid., 80.

[78] Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 60.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Son of God: Mark 1:1, Luke 22:68-70, John 1:49, John 20:31, etc. Son of Man: Matt 10:23, Matt 12:8

[81] Athanasius, Against in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-IV, xxi.ii.i.v.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Athanasius, Against, in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-IV, xxi.ii.i.viii.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Wayne Grudem, Systematic theology : an introduction to biblical doctrine (Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994), 243.

[86] An example of this meaning is found in Heb. 12:15 where Esau is said to have sold his birthright, or first-born status. The word here πρωτοτόκια is a cognate of πρωτότοκος in Colossians 1:15, meaning the right of a first-born. Ibid.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Socrates in Schaff and Wace, NPNF2-II, ii.iv.viii.

[89] Grudem, Systematic theology, 1233.

[90] Roy B.; Dallas Theological Seminary Walvoord, John F.; Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), John 8:58.


 

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