CATHOLICS AND PROTESTANTS PRESUME that the belief that Christ is God was upheld by the earliest followers of Jesus Christ. They think that such belief was taught and propagated by the apostles and, hence, is found in the Holy Scriptures.
But the fact of the matter remains that the belief in the so-called deity of Christ is not at all biblical. It is even opposed to what the Bible teaches about God and Jesus Christ. Not until the fourth century AD was such teaching defined and was thereafter imposed on the Catholic Church. This teaching was formulated as such in one of the councils of the Catholic Church, centuries after the last book of the Bible was written.
Jesus Christ to the first Christians
One of the clear distinctions between God and Jesus Christ is with regard to their nature or state of being. The Holy Spirit is replete with proofs of this.
In John 8:40, Jesus Christ declared what His true state of being is: “a Man who has told you the truth” (New King James Version). Even His disciples taught the same. Apostle Peter said, “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God” (Acts 2:22, Ibid.). Apostles Paul said that the “one Mediator between God and men, [is] the Man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5, Ibid). Apostle James said that Christ is a “righteous man” (James 5:6, Revised Standard Version).
When a blind man was healed by Christ near the pool of Siloam, he said of his healer, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes” (John 9:10-11, NKJV). In a place beyond Jordan where John the Baptist used to conduct baptism, the people there said about Jesus Christ spoke to, as she was drawing water, said about the Lord, “a Man who told me all things that I ever did” (John 4:29, Ibid.).
Even Christ’s adversaries and His other contemporaries said that He is a man. The mod that persecuted and falsely accursed Jesus Christ, said to Pontius Pilate, “We have found this man” (Luke 23:2, New International Version). When Pilate presented Christ to the, the roman prefect of Judea declared: “Behold the Man!” (John 119:5, NKJV). Even Pilate’s wife, who cautioned him in passing judgment over Jesus said, “Have nothing to do with that just Man” (Matt. 27:19, Ibid.). The Roman soldier who witnessed Christ’s death on the cross said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39, Ibid.).
When Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, and appeared to His disciples, they thought that they were seeing a spirit and they were in a state of shock (Luke 24:37).
Christ did not allow such misconception to stay unchecked. He was rather quick to rectify His disciples’ mistake (Mark 16:14). Stated in Luke 24:38-39: “And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have’”.
The fact that His disciples saw Jesus Christ before His crucifixion and after His resurrection strongly disproves the assumption that Jesus Christ I deity. The true God, according to the Bible, is spirit in state of being ass is invisible (John 4:24; I Tim. 1:17). God is not like man; He has no flesh and bones; and He is invisible. However, when Christ was still on earth, people saw Him. These truths clearly prove that the Father is different from the Son.
The Bible also states that the Father created Christ through the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18,20). Hence the Son has a beginning—a proof that He is unlike the Father, the true God, who is from everlasting and is eternal (Ps. 90:2: I Tim. 1:17).
The Bible also tells us that God is not man (Hos. 11:9); and man is not God (Ezek. 28:2). God Himself said, “I am the LORED, and I do not change” (Mal. 3:6, Good News Translation). Hence, God will not change to become human.
Furthermore, the belief that Jesus Christ is God incarnate—God who allegedly took on the form of a human—is a concept foreign to the early church.
The Logos, God?
In John 1:1 and 14, it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …And the Word became flesh” (NKJV). Others misunderstand this to support Christ’s alleged deity, pre-existence, and incarnation. They attribute the Word to refer to Christ as God in the beginning. Such understanding is erroneous.
In Greek New Testament manuscripts, the Greek equivalent for Word in John 1:1 and 14 is “λογός” (logos). Logos denotes not only word, but also reason and thought.1 The Word does not refer to a “pre-existent Christ,” but rather to God’s plan, His wisdom, ordained before the ages (I Cor. 2:2, 7-8, GNT), hence, In the beginning was the Word. That Word (plan) was not another God—but divine and powerful like the true God from Whom it came (Gen. 17:1; Luke 1:37), hence, and the Word was God. At the proper time according to the will of God, that plan was fulfilled. A woman (Mary) gave birth to a son whom God sent (Gal. 4:4), hence, the Word became flesh. The fulfillment of God’s plan is Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:24)—a man (John 8:40). If the Word that emanated from God were another God, then there would be two Gods—a God from whom the Word emanated and the Word that emanated from God. Apostle John wouldn’t contradict himself, because elsewhere in the Gospel, he wrote that there is only one God—the Father (John 17:3). Although Jesus Christ is man in nature, He was given authority, power, and traits far above any other human being. He was made Lord (Acts 2:36), Savior (Acts 5:31), and Mediator between God and people (I Tim. 2:5). He is the head of the Church (Eph. 5:23). He did not commit any sin (I Pet. 2:22). All things were put under Him (Eph. 1:20-22)—but on the appointed time He will subject Himself to God (I Cor. 15:27-28). God gave Him a name above every name, and commanded that every knee should bow to worship Christ (Phil. 2:9-10, NIV). In John 10:36, Christ said the Father who sent Him made Him holy (Common English Bible). Christ’s being holy (or divine) was a distinct quality given to Him by God. Thus, His being holy doesn’t make Him deity. All these truths about Christ were clear to the first-century Christians. For them, there is one God, the Father, and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, whom God sent (I Cor. 8:6). George Ladd, a professor of theology, had the same observation of the early Christians. He said, “We read the Gospels and the book of Acts in the light of our understanding of the pre-existence and the incarnation of God the Son. However, the early Christians had no such concepts in their minds. They had no doctrine of the deity of Christ by which they might interpret Jesus.”2 It was only after a few centuries that such wrong doctrine would be defined or emerge.
The gathering storm
In the second quarter of 325 AD, Catholic bishops from various parts of the Roman Empire converged in the city of Nicaea (modern-day Iznik, in Turkey).3 The city was very accessible being situated at the empire’s major crossroads that linked Europe and Asia. The bishops were convened in a council at the behest of their benefactor, the Emperor Constantine I.4 Previous to that, in 313 AD, Constantine’s Edict of Toleration had put an end to the persecution of Christians (Catholics, to be exact) and implemented a policy of allowing all religions to exist peacefully within the empire.5Soon the Catholic Church found favor in the emperor’s eyes. During Emperor Constantine’s reign. The Catholic Church already had a considerable membership, such that when a religious dispute—which had been raging among the Catholics for several years—hits critical level, the emperor’s intervention became necessary to settle such conflict in order to maintain the unity and stability of the empire.6 The council that Constantine convened in 325 AD is known today as the First Council of Nicaea.7 This council formulated a creed that violated the teachings of the Bible about Jesus Christ.
A forewarning about “another Jesus”
The apostles forewarned that there will be people who will introduce “another Jesus,” a Jesus who is totally different from the One they proclaimed as their Lord and Savior (II Cor. 11:3-4). After the apostolic period, various teachings about Christ began to appear. The problem lies in the fact that these teachings contradict what the Bible teaches. It was Ignatius of Antioch who first introduced the idea that Christ is God. Augustus Hopkins Strong, a Baptist theologian, said, “The earliest time known at which Jesus was deified was, after the New Testament writers, in the letters of Ignatius, at the beginning of the second century.”8 Such erroneous teachings about Christ eventually took hold and gained ground. Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun and scholar in comparative religion, described the development to the belief: “… the doctrine that Jesus had been God in human form was not finalized until the fourth century. The development of Christian belief in the Incarnation was gradual, complex process. Jesus himself certainly never claimed to be God.”9
The event that set in motion the eventual formation of the Jesus-is-God Creed was the Arian controversy,10a conflict that started in Alexandria, Egypt. The controversy was named after Arius, a presbyter and preacher in Baucalis, Alexandria.11 In 318 AD, Arius vehemently rejected the teaching of his bishop, Alexander, who held that the Father and Jesus Christ are of the “same substance.”12 Arius asserted that the Father and Jesus Christ are not of the same substance. He pointed out that Christ is different from the Father because the Son had a beginning of existence of existence while the Father is eternal.13 The doctrinal position of Arius was later known as Arianism.14 However, the Catholic Church considered it heretical. The dispute in Alexandria soon intensified. Battle lines were drawn. Eusebius of Nicomedia and a number of bishops and deacons supported Arius, while a host of Catholic orthodox leaders threw their support behind Alexander. As the years passed by, the local conflict had spread throughout the empire. Earl Cairns, a professor at Wheaton College, said, “The controversy became so bitter that Alexander had Arius condemned by a synod. Arius then fled to the friendly palace of Eusebius, the bishop of Nicomedia,”15
In 325 AD, Constantine, who in the previous year became the absolute ruler of the Roman Empire, stepped in to find a solution to the controversy that was disturbing the peace in the empire. Constantine extended not only his invitation to leading figures of the Catholic Church, but also his generosity. He undertook a charm offensive. Bernard Lohse, a professor of church history, said: “They (the bishops) now had the privilege of coming to the council by means of transportation provided by the state, i.e., means which were intended for use by ranking state officials. At Nicea the emperor provided lodging for the bishops in his place.”16 Aside from the state-provided lodging and transportation, those who were invited to the council, were also given gifts from the emperor, said Pedro C. Sevilla, a priest and a professor of dogmatic theology.17
The First Nicene Council
On May 20, 325 AD18, the first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church was opened. The main protagonists of the controversy were present, Arius and Alexander. Of the 250 or so bishops (number of attendees varied from 250 to 318) who attended the council, only 22 led by Eusebius of Nicomedia, were in support of Arius. The council was presided not by a pope, not by a bishop—but by the emperor. Cairns wrote: “The Emperor presided over the council and paid its expenses. For the first time the Church found itself dominated by the political leadership of the head of the state.”19 Paul Johnson, writer and historian, said that Constantin treated the dispute as “small and very insignificant,” and “merely an intellectual exercise.”20 No wonder, the emperor was still a pagan at the time. Bernard Lohse wrote, “…Constantine had basically no understanding whatsoever of the questions that were being asked ….”21 The emperor wasn’t interested with doctrine; all he was after was the resolution of the conflict. Constantine even set the tone of the debate and meddled in some of them.
Settling the dispute: A new creed
As the controversy dragged on, Constantine coerced the bishops to finally end the conflict by endorsing a new creed, which would define the Catholic belief about Jesus Christ. Johannes Lehmann, in the book The Jesus Establishment, wrote, “Some six weeks after the Council opened, on June 19, 325, Emperor Constantine insisted that all bishops who had been present should endorse a new creed that confirmed Christ as God and condemned Arius. Anyone who did not sign this document was to be excommunicated and exiled.”22In the most critical session of the council, it was Constantine who proposed the “reconciling word, homoousios (Greek for ‘of one essence’), to describe Christ’s relationship to the Father (though it was probably one of his ecclesiastical advisers, Ossius of Cordova, who suggested it to him).”23 The new creed endorsed by the bishops is known as the Nicene Creed and it declared that Christ is God, of the essence of the Father, incarnate, and made human.24 Clement H. Crock, a Catholic priest, said, “the…[Catholic] Church defined for us that it was an article of faith that Jesus is truly God.”25 Those who did not subscribe to what the Nicene Creed declared were charged of committing a crime against the empire. Ronald J. Wilkins, in his book The Emerging Church, wrote: “Once this ‘Nicene Creed’ had been publicly signed by all the bishops and promulgated by Constantine, it became the official creed for all Christians. To deny the divinity of Christ in any way was to put oneself outside of the Christian community and was a crime against the state. …”26
On august 25, 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea concluded.27 However, it did not end the Arian controversy. It continued even after Arius’s death in 336 AD. The Nicene Council of 325 AD proves that the belief that the Father and Son are the same in all aspects is not found in the Bible. Had it been so, there would have been no need for the Catholic Church to convene a council to formulate such creed. All that had to be done was to look up the verse in the Holy Scriptures to prove such belief. But because the Bible doesn’t teach such belief. But because the Bible doesn’t teach such belief, the bishops of the Catholic Church arrogated matters into their own hands.
By DINDO A. SANTIAGO
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2Ladd, George. The Young Church: Acts of the Apostles. New York: Abingdon
6Bokenkotter, Thomas. A Concise History of the Catholic Church. New York:
8Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systemic Theology. Philadelphia: The Hudson Press,
9Armstrong, Karen. A History of God, the 4000-year Quest of Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993.
13Hanson, R.P.C. The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian
Controversy 318-381. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.
15Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through the Centuries (Rev. Ed.). Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House Copyright, 1967, 1996.
16Lohse, Bernard. A Short History of Christian Doctrine (Translated by F. Ernest Steoffler). Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.
17Pedro C. Sevilla, S.J. Ang Kabanalbanalang Isangtatlo: Ang Dios ng mga Kristiano. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University, 1988.
19Cairnes, Earl E. Christianity Through the Centuries (Rev. Ed.). Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House Copyright, 1967, 1996.
20Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity. New York: Touchstone, 1976.
21Lohse, Bernard. A Short History of Christian Doctrine (Translated by F. Ernest Steoffler). Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.
22Lehmann, Johannes. The Jesus Establishment (Translated by Martin Ebon).
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23Dowley, Dr. Tom (ed.) et al. Eerdmans’ Handbook to the History of
Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977
25Crock, Clement H. Discourses on the Apostles’ Creed. New York: Joseph F.
26Wilkins, Ronald J. The Emerging Church. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown
Company Publishers, 1975.