The Deity of Christ in the Early Church

The Deity of Christ in the Early Church

Contrary to The Da Vinci Code and other novel speculations, the belief that Jesus is God was not invented by the Council of Nicaea. It is rooted in the text of Scripture and was believed on in the church from the very beginning. Here are some quotations from the early church fathers living in the second century which affirm the deity of Christ:

“Brethren, it is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God, as the Judge of the living and the dead. And it does not become us to think lightly of our salvation” (2 Clement 1:1).

“For when they hear from us that God saith, ‘There is no thank unto you, if ye love them that love you; but there is thank unto you, if ye love your enemies and them that hate you’” (2 Clement 13:4).

“Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fullness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory, being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God: Abundant happiness through Jesus Christ, and His undefiled grace. I have become acquainted with your name, much-beloved in God, which ye have acquired by the habit of righteousness, according to the faith and love in Jesus Christ our Savior. Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you” (Ignatius to the Ephesians 1:1).

“There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible, even Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ignatius to the Ephesians 7:2).

“For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water” (Ignatius to the Ephesians 18:2).

“Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life. And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death” (Ignatius to the Ephesians 19:3).

“I wish abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God. Through prayer to God I have obtained the privilege of seeing your most worthy faces, and have even been granted more than I requested; for I hope as a prisoner in Christ Jesus to salute you, if indeed it be the will of God that I be thought worthy of attaining unto the end” (Ignatius to the Romans 1:1).

“Nothing visible is eternal. ‘For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.’ For our God, Jesus Christ, Now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed in His glory. Christianity is not a thing of silence only, but also of manifest greatness” (Ignatius to the Romans 3:3).

“Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If any one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened” (Ignatius to the Romans 6:3).

“I glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom. For I have observed that ye are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if ye were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded with respect to our Lord, that He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him” (Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 1:1).

“Be ever becoming more zealous than what thou art. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes” (Ignatius to Polycarp 3:2).

“Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 14:3).

“For this end he suggested it to Nicetes, the father of Herod and brother of Alce, to go and entreat the governor not to give up his body to be buried, “lest,” said he, “forsaking Him that was crucified, they begin to worship this one.” This he said at the suggestion and urgent persuasion of the Jews, who also watched us, as we sought to take him out of the fire, being ignorant of this, that it is neither possible for us ever to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the whole world (the blameless one for sinners), nor to worship any other” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 17:2).

“But truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, Him who is the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts. He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things— by whom He made the heavens— by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds— whose ordinances all the stars faithfully observe” (Epistle to Diognetus 7:2).

“This is He who was from the beginning, who appeared as if new, and was found old, and yet who is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints. This is He who, being from everlasting, is to-day called the Son; through whom the Church is enriched, and grace, widely spread, increases in the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, announcing times, rejoicing over the faithful. giving to those that seek, by whom the limits of faith are not broken through, nor the boundaries set by the fathers passed over” (Epistle to Diognetus 11:4-5).

“And further, my brethren: if the Lord endured to suffer for our soul, He being Lord of all the world, to whom God said at the foundation of the world, ‘Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness,’ understand how it was that He endured to suffer at the hand of men” (Epistle of Barnabas 5:5).

“The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it” (Aristides, Apology 2.4).

“The Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God” (Justin Martyr, First Apology 63).

“For Christ is King, and Priest, and God, and Lord” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 34).

“And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 128).

“We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man” (Tatian, Address to the Greeks 21).

“For, as we acknowledge a God, and a Son his Logos, and a Holy Spirit, united in essence, the Father, the Son, the Spirit” (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 24).

“The one who was born as Son, and led to slaughter as a lamb, and sacrificed as a sheep, and buried as a man, rose up from the dead as God, since he is by nature both God and man” (Melito of Sardis, On Passover 8).

“The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel” (Melito of Sardis, On Passover 96).


Building a Case for the Resurrection of Christ

Building a Case for the Resurrection of Christ

The resurrection of Christ is the heart of the gospel. Some skeptics try to get around the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus by denying that he even existed! But the historical evidence for the life of Christ is overwhelming even from non-Christian sources. That Jesus is the Jewish Messiah is confirmed by the amazing messianic prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 which gives us the exact day Jesus would be crucified on April 3, 33 AD together with hundreds of others. We also have miracles recorded in the Jewish Talmud and contemporary history which give evidence that Jesus is the Messiah.

Paul cites an early Christian creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 which demonstrates that belief in Christ’s resurrection goes back to the original disciples of Jesus:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

Paul claims that this tradition was delivered to him by others and is not his own invention. Even liberal scholars date this creed to near the time of Christ’s crucifixion.

Only an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus could have changed Paul. How can we explain the origin of the letters of Paul and his conversion apart from the truth of the Christian faith? What would have led a Pharisee who persecuted the church to become a follower of Christ and the greatest spokesman for him? What would convince James, the brother of Jesus, who formerly doubted, to believe in him if Jesus was not raised from the dead? What caused the disciples to go from hiding from the authorities in fear to boldly proclaiming that Christ had been raised from the dead if they did not believe that Christ had been raised from the dead?

Historical testimony records that the majority of the apostles of Jesus suffered martyrdom for their faith including Peter, James, and Paul. They knew that either the resurrection was true or that it was a lie. As Gary Habermas and Michael Licona note, “liars make poor martyrs.” And who would die for what they knew was a lie? The original disciples knew whether Jesus was really raised from the dead or not. Yet none of them abandoned the faith in the face of death.

The empty tomb of Jesus was never disputed by the enemies of Christianity. But how could the body have been stolen with a detachment of soldiers guarding it? The disciples had been scattered after believing that Jesus had been defeated through crucifixion. They had no incentive to invent the story of the resurrection since it would have meant only suffering and persecution from the Jewish and Roman authorities. No other explanation but the resurrection of Jesus can account for all the facts including the empty tomb, the conversion of the skeptic James, the conversion of the persecutor Paul, the transformation of the disciples after claiming to see the risen Christ, the spread of Christianity in the face of persecution, the existence and preservation of the Bible, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the millions of testimonies of those who have been changed by the work of the Holy Spirit.

To summarize the evidence using the minimal facts approach that almost all scholars of history agree on:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Jesus’ tomb was empty and no body could be found.
  3. The original disciples of Jesus claimed that he appeared to them after being raised from the dead.
  4. The skeptic James came to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
  5. The persecutor Paul came to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
  6. The Christian faith spread in the midst of persecution.
  7. The original disciples of Jesus were willing to die for what they knew was either the truth or a lie.

All other explanations for the empty tomb and the belief of the early disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead have insurmountable problems. The allegation that the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus contradict one another has been thoroughly answered.

The most common reason why people reject the resurrection of Christ is because they reject the existence of miracles because they either reject the existence of God or believe in deism where God is not directly involved in our world. But only God’s existence can account for the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, and the evidences of design we see all around us. Once God is brought into the equation, it takes more faith to believe that Jesus was not raised from the dead than to believe that he was.

What Is Kenotic Christology?

Kenotic Christology is the belief that the Son in the incarnation ceased to be God or gave up some or all of his divine attributes temporarily until his ascension to the right hand of God. Kenotic comes from the Greek verb kenoō in Philippians 2:7 which can be translated “to empty.” Therefore, proponents of kenotic Christology argue that Jesus emptied himself of his divine attributes until his exaltation to the right hand of God. This understanding of the incarnation is in contrast to the historic belief in the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ. Chalcedonian Christology teaches that Jesus, from the moment of the incarnation, is fully God and fully man at the same time in one person and that he never emptied himself of any of his divine attributes.

Kenotic Christology errs in failing to understand the nature of the incarnation, the relationship between the human and divine natures of Christ with respect to his person, and it overlooks many passages in the Gospels which mention his divine attributes. Jesus before his ascension knew all things (Matt 26:34; John 2:24-25; 16:30; 21:17), was omnipresent (John 1:47-50), was good as God is good (Mark 10:18), forgave sin (Mark 2:7), was sinless and perfect as God is perfect (Matt 5:48; John 8:46), and received worship (Matt 2:11; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52; John 9:38; 20:28). He has never changed with respect to his divine nature which by definition is immutable (Heb 13:8).

The Word became flesh by taking upon himself a human nature. This human nature which he received from Mary did not replace his divine nature, but was added to his person. The one who existed as God from all eternity became man while remaining fully God. To argue that Jesus ceased to possess the divine attributes is to say that he ceased to be God because God’s divine nature is his attributes. His attributes are essential properties, not accidental ones. God is his attributes. Kenotic Christology therefore must deny divine simplicity by dividing Christ’s divine attributes up into some that he leaves behind and others that he keeps. If Christ emptied himself of all his divine attributes, he would not be worthy of worship because he would no longer be God by nature since a nature is defined by the unique attributes that distinguish it from other natures.

The most popular verse that is cited in favor of kenotic Christology is Mark 13:32: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It is therefore argued that Jesus temporarily gave up his omniscience or knowledge of all things in the incarnation since he did not know when he would return. But the proper interpretation of this verse must take into account the distinction that exists between the humanity and deity of Christ. Because Jesus is fully God and fully man at the same time, as God he knows everything and as man he grew in knowledge as we do. Jesus both knew all things as God and did not know all things as man at the same time because he is both God and man. With respect to his human nature as man, Jesus did not know when his coming would be. But with respect to his divine nature as God, he knows all things which includes the day of his coming. Thus, Jesus here is speaking with respect to his human nature.

The second most favorite verse in favor of kenotic Christology is Philippians 2:7 which speaks of Christ emptying himself.  Since Jesus “emptied himself,” it is concluded that he emptied himself of his divine attributes when he became man. But to say that Jesus “emptied himself” is not to say that he emptied himself of something he had, but that he himself is the one who is emptied. The verb “emptied” communicates the idea of being humbled or making oneself nothing. That is why the ESV correctly translates the verb as “made himself nothing.” It is a description of the humiliation of Christ through taking upon himself human nature. It is humiliation through addition, not subtraction. See James R. White’s discussion of this verse in The Forgotten Trinity for a more detailed treatment.

What Is Docetism?

Docetism is the false belief that Christ only appeared to be human, but is not truly and fully human as we are. The term comes from the Greek verb dokeō which means “to think, to seem, or to appear.” A dokēsis is a phantom or apparition which is not human. But why would anyone believe that Jesus is not truly human? The motivation for docetism is rooted in a gnostic worldview which views the material world as intrinsically evil and impure. Hence, the argument goes, if Jesus is human as we are now, then he would be impure and not a true teacher from God. If matter is evil, then God could not become incarnate. It was also believed by gnostics that Jesus was an aeon who emanated from God and therefore could not be human.

After the Judaizers in Galatians and the hyper-preterism of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18), docetism was the third major heresy that the early church had to deal with. This is why John warns his readers against false teachers who denied the incarnation and humanity of Christ: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7). He also wrote, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). While there are not many full-blooded docetists around today, a form of docetism is found in the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. Instead, they believe the resurrection of Christ was his reverting back to being the archangel Michael and that Jesus’ physical body no longer exists since it has dissolved into gas. But the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is fully human now after his resurrection and not just before (Luke 24:39; John 2:19-21; 20:27; Acts 17:31; 1 Tim 2:5).

A common misconception many Christians have is that Jesus’ resurrection body is no longer a fleshly body of skin, bones, and blood (Luke 24:39). This is due in part to a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:44-45: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” But “spiritual” does not mean non-physical, but incorruptible. It is a metaphor expressing incorruptibility and that which does not perish as seen by the use of synonymous terms in verses 50-54. Christ became a “spirit” in the sense that he became an incorruptible person as a result of his resurrection. The Greek word for “natural” here is psuchikos which is related to the word psuche or “soul” while “spiritual” is the word pneumatikos which is related to the word pneuma or “spirit.” Therefore, if “spirit” here means non-physical because it is derived from pneuma, then “natural” would also be non-physical because it is derived from psuche. As the “soulish” or “natural” body is physical, the “spiritual” one is as well. Two other related errors are monophysitism and monotheletism (the beliefs that Christ only possesses one nature and one will respectively) which are in danger of falling into docetism by denying that Christ has a human nature and a human will distinct from his divine nature and divine will.

Why Did John Call Jesus the Logos?

There has been a great deal of debate in New Testament scholarship over John’s use of Logos or Word in the Gospel of John. Logos is a unique title for Jesus in John 1 and Revelation 19. But why did John call Jesus this? Some have speculated that John was influenced by Greek philosophy and therefore John does not represent the views of the earliest Jewish Christians, but the later Gentile ones who corrupted the message of Jesus by teaching that he is God. This was a common argument in the “history of religions” school in the nineteenth century, especially at the University of Göttingen (can anything good come out of Germany?). But we do not need to go to the works of Philo or any pagan Greek writings to find out why John chooses to use the word Logos for Jesus.

The background of the term Logos is not Greek, but Hebraic. Logos is the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic word Memra which also means word. The Jewish people at the time of Jesus had lost the ability to speak Hebrew because of the Babylonian exile. They instead adopted the language of the Babylonians which is Aramaic. The Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible is known as the Targum which was commonly used in first century Israel. Memra is the name for God in the Targum when God is spoken of anthropomorphically. The Jewish Encyclopedia defines Memra as:

“The creative or directive word or speech of God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind; a term used especially in the Targum as a substitute for ‘the Lord’ when an anthropomorphic expression is to be avoided.”

An example of this is in Genesis 3:8 which speaks of “the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” The Targum uses Memra to translate YHWH instead of the normal way it abbreviates the divine name. The Word was walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Since God is not a man, the description of him walking is an anthropomorphism or manifestation of himself in a way that man can comprehend. This is the word that is used whenever the Old Testament speaks of God being grieved as in Genesis 6 and 1 Samuel 15. Another example is Isaiah 44:24 which speaks of the Lord stretching out the heavens. But in the Targum it reads: “I stretched out the heavens through my Word” which corresponds with John 1:3 when it says that all things were made through him.

That Memra was the word used to describe God anthropomorphically makes perfect sense in light of John’s teaching that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). God the Word actually became man in the incarnation, not just anthropomorphically. Discovering the true background of Word in John shows us that John believed that the Word is God in the same sense that YHWH is God. I wish that more people knew about the glorious background of John’s use of Logos in the Targum.

A Critique of Moses Stuart’s Incarnational Sonship

Incarnational sonship is the belief that the Son has not eternally existed as the Son, but instead eternally existed as the Logos and only became the Son after the incarnation. His sonship is tied to his incarnation rather than being an eternally existing reality. In this respect, both modalism and incarnational sonship are in agreement that the Son has not existed eternally as the Son. The main argument for this point of view is that Jesus is referred to as the Logos or Word in John 1:1 before the incarnation, but then only referred to as the Son after his incarnation. But this argument is problematic, not only because it is an argument from silence, but also because Jesus is referred to as the Logos after his incarnation in Revelation 19:13: “And the name by which he is called is The Word of God.”

Moses Stuart defended this position in his letters on the eternal generation of the Son in reply to William Miller. While I am in general agreement with Stuart’s historical analysis of eternal generation and Logos Christology, together with that of William Goode, his handling of Scripture when it comes to the eternal sonship of Christ is extremely poor. I will begin first by defending the doctrine of the eternal sonship of Christ from Scripture and then interact with his exegesis or lack thereof.

That the Son existed as the Son before the incarnation is proved by the Father sending his Son into the world:

John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

1 John 4:9: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”

Romans 8:3: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

Galatians 4:4: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.”

God sent his Son into the world. That means he existed as the Son before he was sent. He did not become the Son because of the sending or after the sending. The sending of the Son takes place before and results in being born of a woman. This is further illustrated in the parable of Luke 20:13: “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’” As the son of the vineyard owner did not become his son by the sending, so likewise, the Son did not become the Son by his sending.

The book of Hebrews teaches that all things were created by the Son: “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb 1:2). The Father created all things through his Son. But how could God create all things through his Son if the Son did not exist as the Son before the incarnation? Melchizedek has no beginning of days in the book of Genesis analogous to how the Son of God has no beginning of days: “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Heb 7:3). But if the Son began to exist as the Son of God, would he not then have a beginning of days?

It was Jesus, not merely the Logos, who was pre-existent and delivered Israel out of Egypt: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5). It was Christ who was put to the test in Numbers 21 (1 Cor 10:9). The Logos did not become Jesus Christ at his birth, but has eternally existed as Jesus which literally means “God saves.” Proverbs 30:4 teaches that God had a Son before the incarnation: “Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know!” Before the foundation of the world, God chose us in Christ (Eph 1:3-4; 2 Tim 1:9). The Father chose the Messiah before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:19-20). Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15).

If the Son has not eternally existed as the Son, then the Father has not eternally existed as the Father. As Tertullian explains:

“A father must needs have a son, in order to be a father; so likewise a son, to be a son, must have a father. It is, however, one thing to have, and another thing to be. For instance, in order to be a husband, I must have a wife; I can never myself be my own wife. In like manner, in order to be a father, I have a son, for I never can be a son to myself; and in order to be a son, I have a father, it being impossible for me ever to be my own father” (Against Praxeas 10).

This is the doctrine of co-relatedness in the Trinity. The three persons of the Trinity are distinguished by their relationship to one another. The Father is the Father precisely because he exists in relationship to the Son and the Son is the Son because he exists in relationship to the Father. One could not exist without the other. That means if it can be proven that the Father existed as the Father before the incarnation, then the Son existed as the Son before the incarnation as well.

The Father gave to his Son a people before the foundation of the world since the giving precedes the coming and many came to Christ before the incarnation (John 6:37-39). The Father has been working from the beginning of creation (John 5:17). The Father consecrated the Son before the incarnation (John 10:36). The Father has determined the future (Acts 1:7). The Father loved the Son before the foundation of the world (John 17:5, 24). The Father created all things (1 Cor 8:6). The Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3-4). The Son was with the Father in the beginning (compare 1 John 1:2 with John 1:1). The Father sent the Son into the world (John 5:36-37; 6:44, 57; 8:16, 18, 42; 12:49; 14:24; 16:28; 17:21, 25; 20:21; 1 John 4:14).

Now let us evaluate the argumentation of Stuart. Concerning Psalm 2:7, Stuart says:

“But if he had been Son from eternity, could it be prophesied that he was yet to be a Son, and to be begotten at a future period?” (122).

But this argument proves too much. If this verse is speaking of the beginning of his sonship, then his sonship did not begin until the time of his resurrection and exaltation since that is how the authors of the New Testament interpret the fulfillment of this prophecy (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:4-5; 5:4-5). But Stuart does not believe that the sonship of Christ began at his resurrection or exaltation, but at his birth. The fulfillment of Psalm 2:7 in the exaltation of Christ is the declaration and proof of his sonship, not the beginning of it. That is why Paul says that he “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4). But he did not become the Son of God by his resurrection, but his resurrection proved him to be who he claimed to be. The gospels are filled with references to Jesus as the Son of God before his resurrection.

Stuart draws a sharp distinction between the Messiah and the Logos when he asks:

“Who then made expiation by suffering for our sins? Surely the Messiah, not the eternal Logos” (134).

But this position is actually the old error of Nestorianism. The answer to the question is both-and, not either-or. The one who made expiation for our sins is both the Messiah and the eternal Logos in one person. If it was not the eternal Logos who suffered for us, then we could not be saved since only a sacrifice of infinite worth could save us from God’s infinite wrath for our sins. His blood is the blood of God (Acts 20:28).

When it comes to Hebrews 1:2 which speaks of the creation of all things through the Son, Stuart argues that the verse should instead be translated as “for whom” rather than “through whom” (135). It is true that the preposition dia can sometimes be translated as “for.” But the problem with this argument is that dia is being used in a genitive construction rather than an accusative one. This is because the relative pronoun hou “whom” which comes after dia is in the genitive case. When dia is used genitivally, it means “through” or “by” rather than “on account of” or “for.” If dia hou means “for whom” rather than “through whom,” then Hebrews 2:10 makes no sense because it uses both the accusative construction dia hon and the genitive dia hou: “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist.” If dia hou in Hebrews mean “for whom,” then we would need to translate the verse as, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and for whom all things exist” which would be a tautology. Because dia hou in Hebrews 2:10 means “by whom,” it should be translated the same way in Hebrews 1:2. The construction dia hou in the New Testament always carries with it the idea of instrumentality.

But what about all those verses which speak of the sending of the Son into the world? Stuart responds to this argument by saying:

“The Son’s coming into the world, and being sent into the world, relates to his public and prophetic office, and not to his birth” (144).

He argues that John 3:17 is not referring to the incarnation of Christ, but to his “entering upon the duties of” his office as prophet of God as John the Baptist was sent by God in John 1:6: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (143). His argument is that if John 3:17 teaches that the Son is pre-existent, then it would have to follow that John the Baptist was likewise pre-existent because he was sent by God as well. The first thing that should be noted about this line of reasoning is that it is an incredibly dangerous argument to make. This is the exact same argument that is used by adoptionists to argue against the pre-existence of Christ. While Stuart affirms the deity and pre-existence of the Logos, unitarians use the exact same kind of arguments in a more consistent fashion. But there is a key difference between John 1:6 and 3:17 that Stuart does not take into account: the sending of the Son is “into the world” whereas the sending of John is never spoken of in these terms. The same language is used elsewhere in John to describe the incarnation of Christ which is contrasted with him leaving the world: “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28). Jesus came from God and would return to God (John 13:3). His coming into the world is parallel to his being born into it: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world” (John 18:37). Entering into the world is often used to describe birth (John 1:9; 16:21; 1 Tim 6:7). His interpretation of the sending of the Son into the world in John is a novel and forced reading of the text that is not followed by any Johannine scholar that I know of.

Stuart argues that the language of Jesus as God’s Son is only with respect to his human nature as a man because he believes that sonship implies subordination. Therefore, the language of sonship can only be applied to the man Jesus Christ and not to his existence as God. He argues that if Jesus has existed eternally as God’s Son, then he would be eternally subordinate to the Father. But John 5:18 affirms that Jesus as the Son of the Father is equal to him, not subordinate: “But he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” But Stuart interprets this verse as the Jews’ misunderstanding of Jesus rather than an affirmation of equality with the Father (145-146).

But if Jesus as God’s Son only applies to his human nature, then the response Jesus gives in verses 19-23 would not answer the accusation raised against him that he was setting himself up as a rival god to the Father. Jesus does not invoke his humanity as the reason why he is God’s Son, nor does he deny that he is equal with the Father. Rather, he clarifies what it means for him to be God’s Son and explains how his equality with the Father does not create a multiplicity of gods because his will is the same as that of the Father. If John 5:18 is not an affirmation of Jesus’ equality with God, then neither is John 10:33 since these verses are directly parallel to each other: “Because you, being a man, make yourself God.” If these verses represent the Jews’ misinterpretation of Jesus, then they prove too much since John affirms that Jesus is God (John 1:1-3, 18; 5:23; 8:58; 10:30; 12:37-42; 17:5; 20:28). If Jesus is God, how could he not be equal with the Father in nature since there are no gradations in deity?

In attempting to correct the speculative tendencies of some in the early church, Stuart fell off the other side of the horse. It does not logically follow that because Christ is the eternal Son of God that Origen’s concept of eternal generation is true. It was Stuart’s inability to distinguish between eternal generation and eternal sonship that led him to mishandle those verses which affirm the eternal sonship of Christ.

What Is Apollinarianism?

Apollinarianism is the belief that Christ does not possess a human spirit as we do, but that it was replaced by the divine Logos. This teaching is named after Apollinarius, bishop of Laodicea. Apollinarius held to a trichotomist view of the nature of man. Man is divided into a physical body, a spirit or rational soul which acts as the mind of man and is unique to humans, and a lower soul which animals share in as well. He believed that while Christ had a human body and a human lower soul, he did not have a human spirit, rational soul, or mind as we do. He came to this conclusion as a result of trying to reconcile the truth that Jesus is impeccable or unable to sin with the truth that he is truly human. He reasoned that in order for Jesus to be unable to sin, he could not have a human spirit as we do. The result of this belief, just like monophysitism and monotheletism, is that Jesus is less than fully human because he does not possess a human spirit or mind as we do. But like these other views which tend toward docetism, they contradict the truth of Hebrews 2:17 which teaches us that the Son had to become like us in every way in the incarnation: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

This belief is actually a relic of Arianism which holds to an Apollinarian-like understanding of the person of Christ. They believed that the Logos dwelled in the man Jesus Christ and was distinct from him. Jesus has a human body without a human soul because the Logos takes its place (Richard A. Norris Jr., The Christological Controversy, 15). This composite Logos-flesh view of Jesus where he is composed of both a body and the Logos who indwells him served as a precursor for the Nestorian understanding of Jesus. In Arianism, the Logos is not the same as the man Jesus Christ who is flesh, but is a lesser deity who dwells inside him. The irony of this is that Apollinarius was an opponent of Arianism who affirmed that the Son is truly God.

Pope Damasus I at the Council of Rome in 382 condemned Apollinarianism:

“We pronounce anathema against them who say that the Word of God is in the human flesh in lieu and place of the human rational and intellective soul. For, the Word of God is the Son Himself. Neither did He come in the flesh to replace, but rather to assume and preserve from sin and save the rational and intellective soul of man” (Seventh Anathema).

The Synodical Letter of the First Council of Constantinople likewise condemned this belief:

“The dispensation of the flesh is neither soulless nor mindless nor imperfect; and knowing full well that God’s Word was perfect before the ages, and became perfect man in the last days for our salvation.”