What Is Open Theism?

Open theism is the belief that God does not have exhaustive knowledge of future events. He knows everything that can be known, but since the future does not yet exist, by definition, he cannot know the future. While he does not know the future, because he has perfect knowledge of the present, he can often accurately predict what will happen in the future. In open theism, God sometimes predicts the future incorrectly. Another related belief is process theology which goes beyond open theism by saying that God is not immutable or unchangeable. God changes with the world and is dependent on it. While open theism and process theology are distinct from each other, open theism is essentially a form of process theology because God is constantly gaining new information and adapting in time to these changes. God is learning from us as he observes creation and is able to make more accurate predictions of the future as his knowledge of human behavior grows.

One of the most glaring problems with open theism is that it makes penal substitutionary atonement impossible since God did not know we would exist when Christ died on the cross. This means that our sins which God did not know about could never have been imputed to Christ when he suffered on the cross. In contrast to open theism, Scripture teaches that our personal sins were laid on Christ (Isa 53:5-6; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 2:24).

Open theism also makes predictive prophecy impossible since God does not know for certain what the future holds. The entire book of Daniel is a testament to God’s exhaustive knowledge of future events. Daniel 11 is especially revealing since it chronicles the entire history of the Seleucid and Ptolemy dynasties hundreds of years before they take place. An additional piece of evidence that Daniel was written before the time of Alexander the Great is recorded by Josephus in Antiquities 11.8.5 telling how Alexander was shown the book of Daniel by the Jews which they believed spoke about him.

If God does not know the future, then he is in the same category as the false gods of Isaiah 41:21-26 who cannot prove they are true deities because they do not know the future:

“Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. I stirred up one from the north, and he has come, from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name; he shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay. Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, ‘He is right’? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words.”

God tests the false gods by demanding that they do something only he can: predict the future. But the Lord proves that he is the true God, not only because he foretells the return of Israel from exile, but he gives the name of the Persian king who will do it before he was even born (Isa 44:28; 45:1).

How could Jesus say to Peter in Matthew 26:34, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” if he did not know the future? If Jesus, according to open theism, had simply made an educated guess, then he took the risk of becoming a false prophet since Deuteronomy 18:20-22 says that any prophet who predicts the future wrongly is to be put to death. But Jesus could not possibly have predicted the future wrongly because he is God and God knows all things (John 16:30; 1 John 3:20). The Bible declares that God’s knowledge is perfect (Job 36:4; 37:16). How could God’s knowledge be perfect if he is constantly gaining new information? God exists above all categories of time and does not experience time as a creature does (2 Pet 3:8).

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What Is Molinism?

Molinism, also known as middle knowledge, was invented by the Catholic theologian Luis de Molina in response to the theology of John Calvin. Middle knowledge is the philosophical concept that God has a special kind of knowledge that falls between his free and natural knowledge. Free knowledge is God’s knowledge of all that will actually take place in history because he freely chose to create the world this way. Natural knowledge is God’s necessary knowledge of all possible worlds or events that could take place and includes his free knowledge. Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of what free creatures would do given an infinite number of circumstances. This is not the same as God’s counterfactual knowledge which is God’s knowledge of all that could hypothetically take place since this is part of his natural knowledge.

In light of this, proponents of middle knowledge argue that the future God has ordained is the one in which the maximum number of people come to salvation without violating their free will. God could not have ordained a future where more people are saved and still allow for man to have libertarian free will. Some argue that those who die among the unevangelized never would have accepted the gospel even if it had been presented to them. There was no possible world in which these individuals would have accepted the gospel of their own free will and therefore God allowed them to live and die without hearing it.

While middle knowledge may appear to be a middle path between Calvinism and Arminianism, it is still dependent on the concept of man’s free will after the fall in contrast to Calvinism’s teaching on the bondage of man’s will because of sin. This is another example of why getting the doctrine of the depravity of fallen man right is essential for a correct understanding of salvation. Fallen man before salvation does not have libertarian free will, but is a slave to his sins (John 8:34). After regeneration, his desires are changed so that he no longer desires sin in the same way he did before conversion. After glorification, it is impossible for him to desire sin because his will is now perfectly conformed to the will of God. Man’s choices are determined by his set of desires or will and therefore no man after the fall has a will that is truly free because it is always being acted on by the effects of the fall or the Holy Spirit.

The irony of middle knowledge is that while it was developed by a Catholic theologian, very few Catholics believe in it. On the other hand, many Protestants have embraced it as a way to respond to the arguments of Calvinism because they don’t want to believe that the future is foreordained by the free will of God (Eph 1:11). May we all get our theology from the Bible instead of philosophical speculation.

Is “Whose Kingdom Shall Have No End” a Denial of Premillennialism?

The statement that Christ’s kingdom will have no end in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed of 381 is sometimes interpreted as a rejection of the premillennialism of many of the earlier church fathers such as Papias and Irenaeus. But in reality, this phrase has nothing to do with Revelation 20 and everything to do with the theology of Marcellus of Ancyra. Marcellus was one of the original signers of the Nicene Creed of 325 and an opponent of Arianism. But he held to a form of Logos Christology which taught that God in eternity past was unitarian in person and then became trinitarian for the purpose of creation and redemption. But unlike the other proponents of Logos Christology, such as Eusebius of Caesarea, he believed that God would not be eternally triune, but return to being unitarian in person in eternity future just as he had been in eternity past. He also believed in incarnational sonship which teaches that the Son did not exist as the Son before the incarnation, but only as the Logos. G. L. Prestige describes his theology this way:

“Marcellus’ doctrine appears to have been that the godhead was originally a monad, which developed, of its own nature and character, by a process of active expansion into the triad; the Logos proceeded forth from God by an operative impulse in the beginning of world-creation; at the end of the world, when this operation of the Logos should be completed, His separate existence once more would be merged in God as it was in the beginning. It might be said of this theory that it maintained a Sabellian view of God before the creation began and after the creation should have ceased, and Eusebius attacked it with immense persistence” (God in Patristic Thought, 212).

Because he was one of the original signers of the Nicene Creed, the First Council of Constantinople wanted to distance themselves from him as much as possible. Marcellus’ signing of the Nicene Creed was one of the chief arguments used against it by the semi-Arians. They argued, “How can we affirm the Nicene Creed when this heretic was able to do so? If it was unable to prevent the heresy of Marcellus, it is insufficient as a basis for doctrinal unity.” The Arians had long argued against the Nicene Creed because of its affirmation that Christ is homoousios or of the same nature as the Father. They believed that this would lead to modalism or Sabellianism because if the Son shares the same nature as the Father, then there would be no way to distinguish between the Father and the Son. Marcellus was living proof of this danger and therefore they argued that Nicaea had to be rejected. The inclusion of the statement that Christ’s kingdom will have no end was the orthodox response to this objection by distancing the theology of the First Council of Constantinople from that of Marcellus and ensured that signing the Nicene-Constantinople Creed was in no way an endorsement of the theology of Marcellus. Christ’s kingdom will never end because he will exist for all eternity as a distinct person from the Father rather than being absorbed back into him.

What Is Modalism?

Modalism or modalistic monarchianism is the belief that God exists as only one person through successive stages as Father, Son, and Spirit. In ancient modalism, the Father became the Son at the incarnation and then became the Spirit at Pentecost. In modern modalism, the primary focus is on Jesus who is the Father and the Spirit. Modalism is primarily expressed today in Oneness Pentecostalism which also teaches that a person must speak in tongues as a necessary evidence of salvation. In modalism, the Son does not exist eternally as a distinct person from the Father. Rather, they adopt a Nestorian understanding of Jesus that divides him into two persons. They argue that when Jesus was praying in John 17, it was his human nature communicating with his divine nature.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in modalism are like three masks God wears instead of three distinct persons in eternal relationship with one another (John 17:5). Modalism is a serious error because it misrepresents the gospel and who God is. The gospel is the message that God sent his only Son into the world, not that the Father became the Son (John 3:16-17; Rom 8:32). The Father and the Son must be distinct from each other for the Father to impute the sins of his people to Christ on the cross (2 Cor 5:21). The Son intercedes for us before the Father, not before himself (Rom 8:34; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 7:25). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers as well before the Father (Rom 8:26-27; Gal 4:6). Jesus’ words in John 16:32: “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me” make no sense if Jesus and the Father are the same person. Jesus would have been alone if he is the same person as the Father. But the relationship between the Father and the Son is not like the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman. They are distinct persons in eternal fellowship with each other together with the Holy Spirit. Modalism is the most common theological error concerning the doctrine of God in the church today.

In the early church, modalism was argued for by Sabellius, Noetus, and Praxeas. The doctrine was called patripassianism which is the belief that the Father was the one who suffered and died on the cross rather than the Son. Unfortunately, we only have a few fragments from their writings which makes constructing the beliefs of early modalism difficult. Hippolytus quotes from Noetus in his work against heresies:

“When indeed, then, the Father had not been born, He yet was justly styled Father; and when it pleased Him to undergo generation, having been begotten, He Himself became His own Son, not another’s” (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 9.5).

Tertullian and Hippolytus explain the beliefs of early modalism this way:

“He maintains that there is one only Lord, the Almighty Creator of the world, in order that out of this doctrine of the unity he may fabricate a heresy. He says that the Father Himself came down into the Virgin, was Himself born of her, Himself suffered, indeed was Himself Jesus Christ” (Tertullian, Against Praxeas 1).

“He alleged that Christ was the Father Himself, and that the Father Himself was born, and suffered, and died” (Hippolytus, Against Noetus 1).

Hippolytus summarizes their main argument:

“Thus they say they prove that God is one. And then they answer in this manner: ‘If therefore I acknowledge Christ to be God, He is the Father Himself, if He is indeed God; and Christ suffered, being Himself God; and consequently the Father suffered, for He was the Father Himself’” (Against Noetus 2).

The argument goes like this:

  1. The Father is God
  2. The Son is God
  3. The Father is the Son

But this is the logical fallacy of the undistributed middle. Compare it with these counter-examples to see how it is invalid:

  1. Cats are mammals
  2. Dogs are mammals
  3. Dogs are cats
  1. Mike is human
  2. Bill is human
  3. Mike is Bill

The argument needs another premise in order to be valid that is assumed but not proven:

  1. The Father is God
  2. The Son is God
  3. To be God is to be the Father
  4. The Father is the Son
  1. Cats are mammals
  2. Dogs are mammals
  3. To be a mammal is to be a cat
  4. Dogs are cats
  1. Mike is human
  2. Bill is human
  3. To be human is to be Mike
  4. Mike is Bill

But these arguments are incorrect because the third premise is untrue.

Modalists, like Arians, assume unitarianism is true and are unwilling to consider the possibility of trinitarianism because it seems illogical to them. They make the same fatal assumption that Arians make: the divine nature cannot be shared by more than one person or else this would result in polytheism. They ask, “How can God be one and three at the same time?” The answer is that God is one and three in different senses. He is one in nature or being and three in person. Trinitarians distinguish between person and nature because this is the pattern of Scripture (Heb 1:2-3). There is one God who exists eternally as three distinct persons sharing equally and indivisibly the one divine nature.

What Is Eternal Generation?

The post-apostolic church fathers fall into two camps regarding who Jesus is: Logos Christology and eternal generation. Eternal generation is the belief that the Father eternally generates the person of the Son, and in doing so, eternally communicates the divine nature to him so that the Father is the fons divinitatis or fountain of divinity from whom the Son derives his divine nature making the Father the eternal origin and fontal source of the Son who is his eternal product. Richard Muller defines eternal generation as “the eternal and changeless activity in the Godhead by which the Father produces the Son without division of essence and by which the Second Person of the Trinity is identified as an individual subsistence or modus subsistendi, mode of subsistence, of the divine essence” (Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, 127).

To understand eternal generation as it was historically understood, we must go back to the original sources to the time when it was first articulated. Origen was the first person in the history of the church to teach eternal generation and therefore we must consult his writings to accurately define the doctrine. Origen says concerning this generation:

“We recognize that God was always the Father of his only-begotten Son, who was indeed born of him and draws his being from him, but is yet without any beginning” (On First Principles 1.2.2).

“This is an eternal and everlasting begetting, as brightness is begotten from light; for he does not become Son in an external manner, through the adoption of the Spirit, but is Son by nature” (On First Principles 1.2.4).

“The existence of the Son is derived from the Father but not in time, nor from any other beginning, except, as we have said, from God Himself” (On First Principles 1.2.11).

“For in the exercise of His will He employs no other way than that which is made known by the counsel of His will. And thus also the existence of the Son is generated by Him” (On First Principles 1.2.6).

“Each fills the place of a fountain – the Father is the fountain of divinity, the Son of reason” (Commentary on John 2.3).

But in Origen’s theology, it is not just the Son who is eternally begotten, but everyone who believes in him:

“The Savior is eternally begotten by the Father, so also, if you possess the ‘Spirit of adoption’ (Rom 8:15) God eternally begets you in him according to each of your works, each of your thoughts. And being begotten you thereby become an eternally begotten son of God in Christ Jesus” (Homilies on Jeremiah 9.5).

Origen taught a doctrine of deification where those who are in Christ are lesser gods:

“And thus the first-born of all creation, who is the first to be with God, and to attract to Himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods beside Him. . . . It was by the offices of the first-born that they became gods, for He drew from God in generous measure that they should be made gods, and He communicated it to them according to His own bounty. The true God, then, is ‘The God,’ and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype” (Commentary on John 2.2).

Origen subordinated the Son to the Father and created a hierarchy within the Trinity:

“The God and Father, who holds the universe together, is superior to every being that exists, for he imparts to each one from his own existence that which each one is; the Son, being less than the Father, is superior to rational creatures alone (for he is second to the Father); the Holy Spirit is still less, and dwells within the saints alone. So that in this way the power of the Father is greater than that of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that of the Son is more than that of the Holy Spirit” (On First Principles 1.3.5).

“The Father exceeds the Saviour himself and the Holy Spirit as much (or even more) as the Saviour himself and the Holy Spirit exceed the rest. . . . For he is an image of the goodness and brightness, not of God, but of God’s glory and of his eternal light, and he is a vapour, not of the Father, but of his power” (Commentary on John 13.151-53).

Like Eusebius of Caesarea, Origen believed that the Holy Spirit was a created being:

“We therefore, as the more pious and the truer course, admit that all things were made by the Logos, and that the Holy Spirit is the most excellent and the first in order of all that was made by the Father through Christ” (Commentary on John 2.6).

To support his belief in eternal generation, the main texts he drew from were Proverbs 8:22-36 and Wisdom 7:24-26. The apocryphal text from Wisdom says: “For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.” Since Christ is the wisdom of God, and wisdom is an emanation from God, this created a kind of emanation Christology where Christ is eternally proceeding from God in an always ongoing yet never completed action. Muller even calls generation and procession active emanations in the Trinity (Dictionary, 309-10). The passage calls Wisdom “a reflection of eternal light” which became the basis for the saying that Christ is “light of light.”

Origen had called the Son a “creature” (On First Principles 4.4.1), “another god” (Dialogue with Heraclides 2), a “second god” (Against Celsus 5.39; 5.61), and even said “the Son is other than the Father in being and essence” (On Prayer 10). He believed that prayer in its fullest sense should only be given to the Father (On Prayer 10). The Arians were able to use Origen’s theology to defend their own because of Origen’s subordinationist tendencies even though he believed that there was never a time when the Son did not exist because of eternal generation. But Origen did not just believe that there was never a time when the Son did not exist, he also believed this to be true when it came to the created order. He believed created beings must exist eternally as well or else God could not be eternally sovereign (On First Principles 1.2.10). Therefore, he affirmed a belief in the pre-existence of the soul (Commentary on John 2.24). For Origen, Jesus is a pre-existent human soul who became the Logos because he alone did not fall away from God as the other souls did (On First Principles 2.6.5; Against Celsus 5.39; Commentary on John 2.2). Before the Logos became man in the incarnation, the soul of Jesus had to be united with the Logos.

Origen was deeply influenced by Greek philosophy having been trained by the philosopher Ammonius Saccas (John Dillon, The Middle Platonists, 362-69, 381-82, 396). He had a penchant for allegorical interpretation: literalizing verses that were meant to be understood metaphorically and spiritualizing verses meant to be understood literally. He even castrated himself based on his literalizing of Matthew 5:28-30. Origen, together with Gregory of Nyssa, affirmed a belief in universal salvation where eventually all created beings will be reconciled to God (On First Principles 3.6.6). Origen’s theology is the reason why those who are Eastern Orthodox believe in deification and a large number of them are universalists believing that it is possible that in the end all will be saved. Out of all the early church fathers, Origen is one of the most influential. As Gregory the Theologian once said, “Origen is the whetstone of us all.”

In spite of the unbiblical theology of Origen, Athanasius was able to use Origen’s doctrine of eternal generation as a means to combat the arguments of Arianism. To give one example of this, the Arians argued that since Colossians 1:15 says that Christ is the “firstborn” of all creation, he must have come into existence. But the orthodox responded by arguing that Christ is eternally born from the Father and therefore there was never a time when he could have come into existence. All of the verses used to argue that Christ had a beginning became eternalized into never-ending timeless actions. But the proper way to interpret this verse is to understand the Old Testament background of what it means to be a firstborn son and the rights that come with it known as primogeniture (Ps 89:27). To say that Christ is the firstborn over all creation is to say that he is exalted and supreme over his Father’s creation analogous to how a firstborn son has the rights over his father’s estate.

Hilary of Poitiers continues Origen’s legacy of teaching that the Son derives his divine nature from the Father:

“Is not the meaning here of the word homoousion that the Son is produced of the Father’s nature, the essence of the Son having no other origin, and that both, therefore, have one unvarying essence? As the Son’s essence has no other origin, we may rightly believe that both are of one essence, since the Son could be begotten with no substance but that derived from the Father’s nature which was its source” (On the Councils 84).

“And lastly, when the Son said, I went forth from the Father and have come, did He leave it doubtful whether His Divinity were, or were not, derived from the Father? He went out from the Father; that is, He had a birth, and the Father, and no other, gave Him that birth. He bears witness that He, from Whom He declares that He came forth, is the Author of His being” (On the Trinity 6.16).

The eternal generation of the Son became a way to explain those verses which appear to subordinate the Son to the Father as Basil of Caesarea explains John 14:28 by arguing from the created order back to God:

“Since the Son’s origin is from the Father, in this respect the Father is greater, as cause and origin. Wherefore also the Lord said thus, ‘My Father is greater than I,’ clearly inasmuch as He is Father. Yea, what else does the word Father signify unless the being cause and origin of that which is begotten of Him?” (Against Eunomius 1.25).

But this raises the question, if the Son derives his eternal origin and divine nature from the Father, then is the divine nature communicated from the Father alone to the Spirit or from the Father and the Son? That is, is the ability to communicate deity itself communicated in the communication of the divine nature from the Father to the Son or is the ability to communicate deity only a personal property of the Father which distinguishes him from the Son and the Holy Spirit? This is what the debate over the filioque is about. The Western church added “from the Son” to the Nicene-Constantinople Creed at the Third Council of Toledo in 589 arguing that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. The Eastern Church rejects this and argues that doing so would result in two gods since there would be two fountains of divinity instead of one. They argue that the fountain of divinity must be located in the Father alone because it is located in the Father’s person rather than his nature. Since it exists in the Father’s person and not his nature, the Son cannot act as a fountain of divinity because he does not share the Father’s person, only his nature. Since he does not participate in the fountain of divinity, he cannot communicate divinity to the Holy Spirit as the Father does. If the fountain of divinity is located in the Father’s nature rather than his person, then there would be three fountains of divinity since all three persons share the one divine nature so even the Holy Spirit would have the ability to communicate divinity because a nature cannot exist in a naked state by itself apart from a supposit to dwell in. This would result in more than one God since there would be more than one self-existent, uncaused, unoriginated subsistence (Laurent A. Cleenewerck, His Broken Body, 317-44). As Paul Owen notes, the East and West have a long history of misunderstanding and anathematizing each other:

“The Eastern Church charges the West with subordinating the person of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son; and furthermore suspects that the Western tradition leaves an open door to the heresy of modalism. The Western Church charges the East with subordinating the Son to the Father; and furthermore suspects that the Eastern tradition leaves an open door to the heresy of tritheism.”

This is the result when you abandon the exegesis of the text of Scripture and engage in speculative theology concerning fountains of divinity. When this happens, human reasoning and the authority of man usurp the place of the Word of God which makes no mention of such things. The debate over the filioque is a reductio ad absurdum which God foreordained to show us how ridiculous these conceptions of generation and procession are just as the debate over the pretribulational rapture versus the midtribulational rapture demonstrates how silly it is to interpret 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:4 as something distinct from the second coming of Christ. The entire question of whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or the Father and the Son is based on a misunderstanding of John 15:26. This verse is talking about the missio Dei of the Spirit, not his ontological origin. The Spirit proceeds or goes forth from the Father to carry out the Father’s mission of bringing salvation to the elect by pointing them to Christ. “Proceeds” is in the present tense because the Spirit’s work in the world did not begin at Pentecost, but has been ongoing from the beginning of creation (Ps 104:30).

I do not believe Origen’s concept of eternal generation can be supported from Scripture. It is better to say that the Son is autotheos or God of himself rather than saying he derives his divine nature from the Father. If this makes me a heretic, then John Calvin was also a heretic because he did not accept eternal generation’s teaching that the Son’s divine nature is derived or communicated from the Father. While many theologians have tried to reconcile Calvin’s doctrine of Christ as autotheos with eternal generation, they must redefine how eternal generation was historically understood. Communication or derivation of essence from the fons divinitatis is essential to eternal generation. Origen explicitly denied that the Son is autotheos. He does not possess the divine nature of himself:

“To such persons we have to say that God on the one hand is Very God (Autotheos, God of Himself) . . . But the archetypal image, again, of all these images is the Word of God, who was in the beginning, and who by being with God is at all times God, not possessing that of Himself, but by His being with the Father” (Commentary on John 2.2).

This is what the Nicene Creed means when it says that the Son is “true God from true God.” His deity comes from God the Father who is the fountain of being. The Son does not exist of himself as the Father does, but he owes his personal existence and divine nature to the Father who “continually gives existence to him” (Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 9.4). The belief that the Son owes his hypostatic existence to the Father was shared by the proponents of Logos Christology except that they believed this generation occurred before the foundation of the world rather than being an eternally ongoing action within the being of God. Eternal generation is an evolution of Logos Christology which took its place because eternal generation was able to be reconciled with the immutability of God and answer the arguments of Arianism. But ironically, it is the mistaken assumption that the Son owes his existence to the Father that led to the rise of Arianism to begin with.

My study of the early church fathers has only reinforced my belief that we must make Scripture alone our starting point for doing Christian theology and treat every piece of writing outside of Scripture with caution lest we derive our theology from man instead of God. Otherwise, we are simply condemned to the beliefs of our tradition. The theology of Origen is a rotten foundation on which to do Christian theology. That he was the first person to teach eternal generation should immediately raise a red flag and send us back to the Scriptures.

What Is Logos Christology?

Logos Christology is the best kept secret in church history. It is the belief that the Son or Logos existed eternally in the mind of God, but not as a distinct person from him until he was begotten by the Father before the foundation of the world. Logos Christology fell out of favor in Christianity because it conflicted with the immutability of God and was replaced by eternal generation. In Logos Christology, God changes from being unitarian in person to being trinitarian or binitarian. Therefore, this generation either had to be eternal (as in eternal generation) or the Son’s nature must be distinct from that of the Father so there is no movement or change in God’s essence (as in Arianism). The Arians exposed the inconsistency of Logos Christology by arguing that since eternality is an attribute of God, if the person of the Son is not eternal as the Father is, then the Son is not God in the same sense the Father is. The transition from Logos Christology to eternal generation during the Arian controversy is the background of the Council of Nicaea. This belief was prevalent among the second century Christian apologists and Justin Martyr appears to be the first to teach it. He says concerning the Logos:

“I shall give you another testimony, my friends, from the Scriptures, that God begot before all creatures a Beginning, a certain rational power from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos” (Dialogue with Trypho 61).

“And His Son, who alone is properly called Son, the Word, who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him” (Second Apology 6).

This begetting is an act of the Father’s will rather than a necessary act as in eternal generation:

“This power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same” (Dialogue with Trypho 128).

“As He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God. . . . The Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit” (Dialogue with Trypho 129).

The apologist Athenagoras was of the same opinion. Notice his use of Proverbs 8 and the metaphor of sunlight:

“He is the first product of the Father, not as having been brought into existence, for from the beginning, God, who is the eternal mind, had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos; but inasmuch as He came forth to be the idea and energizing power of all material things, which lay like a nature without attributes, and an inactive earth, the grosser particles being mixed up with the lighter. The prophetic Spirit also agrees with our statements. ‘The Lord,’ it says, ‘made me, the beginning of His ways to His works.’ The Holy Spirit Himself also, which operates in the prophets, we assert to be an effluence of God, flowing from Him, and returning back again like a beam of the sun” (A Plea for the Christians 10).

Another second century writer, Tatian, held to the same view. Pay attention to his language of derivation and communication:

“With him, also, by virtue of his rational power, existed the Logos himself, who was in him. But by his will, the Logos leaped forth from his simple being; and not going into an empty sound, he became the first born work of the Father. This we know to be the beginning of the world. He became by communication, not by abscission; for what is abscinded, is separated from that whence it is abscinded. But that which is derived by communication does not diminish that from which it is taken. From one torch we may light many torches, and still the light of the first torch is not diminished. So when the Logos proceeded from the power of the Father, it did not deprive him who begat the Logos of reason” (Oration Against the Greeks 5).

In his view, the Logos is a kind of emanation from the Father:

“For the heavenly Logos, a spirit emanating from the Father and a Logos from the Logos-power, in imitation of the Father who begat Him made man an image of immortality” (Oration Against the Greeks 7).

This tradition is also expressed by Theophilus of Antioch:

“God, then, having his Logos immanent in his own bowels, begat him with his own wisdom, emitting him before all things” (To Autolycus 2.10).

The Logos only existed in God’s mind until he was begotten which means God was alone until he begot his Word:

“The Logos . . . was always immanent in the heart of God. Before any thing was made, he had him for a counsellor, who was his understanding and his reason. But when God desired to make what he had purposed to make, he begat this Logos the first born of all creation. Not that the Father deprived himself of reason; but having begotten the Logos, he converses always with his Logos. And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,’ showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him. . . . The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, He sends Him to any place; and He, coming, is both heard and seen, being sent by Him, and is found in a place” (To Autolycus 2.22).

Tertullian takes Logos Christology and argues from it that there was a time when the Son did not exist, anticipating Arianism:

“For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a Judge previous to sin. There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son; the former of which was to constitute the Lord a Judge, and the latter a Father. In this way He was not Lord previous to those things of which He was to be the Lord. But He was only to become Lord at some future time: just as He became the Father by the Son, and a Judge by sin” (Against Hermogenes 3).

The substance or nature of the Son is derived from the Father:

“The Father is the whole substance, whereas the Son is something derived from it. . . . Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son, in as much as he who begets is one, and he who is begotten is another” (Against Praxeas 9).

Hippolytus of Rome describes this begetting as an act of reflection drawing the Logos out of the mind of the Father:

“Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first; not the word in the sense of being articulated by voice, but as a ratiocination of the universe, conceived and residing in the divine mind. Him alone He produced from existing things; for the Father Himself constituted existence, and the being born from Him was the cause of all things that are produced. The Logos was in the Father Himself, bearing the will of His progenitor, and not being unacquainted with the mind of the Father. For simultaneously with His procession from His Progenitor, inasmuch as He is this Progenitor’s first-born” (Refutation of All Heresies 10.29).

Novatian, in his work on the Trinity, subordinates the Son to the Father foreshadowing the arguments of Arius:

“The Father also precedes Him, in a certain sense, since it is necessary – in some degree – that He should be before He is Father. Because it is essential that He who knows no beginning must go before Him who has a beginning. . . . He has a beginning in that He is born, inasmuch as He is born of that Father who alone has no beginning. He, then, when the Father willed it, proceeded from the Father. . . . Assuredly God proceeding from God, causing a person second to the Father as being the Son, but not taking from the Father that characteristic that He is one God. . . . Since an equality would have appeared in both, He would have constituted a second unborn, and thus two Gods” (On the Trinity 31.3-4, 6-11).

Eusebius of Caesarea expresses the same belief right before the Arian controversy broke out:

“But the Father precedes the Son and has preceded him in existence, inasmuch as he alone is unbegotten. The One, perfect in himself and first in order as Father and the cause of the Son’s existence. . . . Receiving from the Father both his being and the character of his being. . . . Unthinkably brought into being from all time, or rather before all times, by the Father’s transcendent and inconceivable will and power” (Demonstratio Evangelica 4.3).

“Perhaps one might say that the Son originated like a perfume and ray of a light from the Father’s unoriginated nature and ineffable substance infinite ages ago, or rather before all ages, and that once he had come into existence he has eternal being and existence along with the Father. . . . He has his own substance and existence and has not co-existed unoriginatedly with the Father. . . . And anyone would allow that a father exists before a son” (Demonstratio Evangelica 5.1).

“Again, you accuse them of saying, ‘He-who-was begat he-who-was-not’? I would be astonished if someone were able to speak differently. For if there is only one who exists [eternally], it is clear that everything which exists has come into being from him, whatever indeed exists after him. If it were not he alone who exists eternally, but the son also exists eternally, how indeed could one who exists beget another who already exists? It would have to follow that there would actually be two who exist eternally” (Letter to Alexander of Alexandria defending Arius).

Eusebius subordinates the Spirit to the Son who is subordinate to the Father. Notice his use of the concept of a fountain of divinity by which deity is communicated:

“But this Spirit, holding a third rank, supplies those beneath out of the superior powers in Himself, notwithstanding that He also receives from another, that is from the higher and stronger, who, as we said, is second to the most high and unbegotten nature of God the King of all: from whom indeed God the Word is Himself supplied, and drawing as it were from an ever-flowing fountain which pours forth Deity, imparts copiously and ungrudgingly of the radiance of His own light to all, and especially to the Holy Spirit Himself, who is closer to Him than all and very near; and then to the intelligent and divine powers after Him. But the Unoriginate Beginning of the whole, which is the fountain of all good, and cause of Deity and life as well as of light and every virtue, being also first of the first and beginning of all beginnings, or rather far beyond any beginning and any first and every thought that can be expressed or conceived, communicates wholly whatsoever is comprehended in His ineffable powers to His First-begotten alone, as being alone able to contain and receive that abundance of the Father’s perfections which by the rest can neither be reached nor contained” (Praeparatio Evangelica 7.15).

Lactantius, in his work on Christian theology, sets forth his own view of the Son’s generation which resulted in his existence as an angelic or spiritual being:

“God, in the beginning, before He made the world, from the fountain of His own eternity, and from the divine and everlasting Spirit, begat for Himself a Son incorruptible, faithful, corresponding to His Father’s excellence and majesty. He is virtue, He is reason, He is the word of God, He is wisdom. With this artificer, as Hermes says, and counselor, as the Sibyl says, He contrived the excellent and wondrous fabric of this world. In fine, of all the angels, whom the same God formed from His own breath, He alone was admitted into a participation of His supreme power, He alone was called God. For all things were through Him, and nothing was without Him. In fine, Plato, not altogether as a philosopher, but as a seer, spoke concerning the first and second God, perhaps following Trismegistus in this, whose words I have translated from the Greek, and subjoined: ‘The Lord and Maker of all things, whom we have thought to be called God, created a second God.’ . . . For He was twice born: first of God, in the spirit, before the origin of the world; afterwards in the flesh of man, in the reign of Augustus. . . . Therefore He was born a second time as man, of a virgin, without a father, that, as in His first spiritual birth, being born of God alone, He was made a sacred spirit, so in His second and fleshly birth, being born of a mother only, He might become holy flesh” (The Epitome of the Divine Institutes 42-43).

Methodius, bishop of Olympus, was in agreement with this view when he called Jesus “the most ancient of aeons, and the first of Archangels” (As cited in William Goode, The Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, 1:257). Marcellus of Ancyra took Logos Christology and argued from it that the Son would one day cease to exist when God returned to being unitarian in person as he had been in eternity past.

While it might be easier to believe that there is a “unanimous consent of the fathers” when it comes to Christian doctrine, the reality is that there is a great diversity of theological views in the writings of the early church, even when it comes to who Jesus is. The only church fathers we can trust are the ones who wrote the New Testament.

Who Wrote the Nicene Creed and Why Does It Matter?

The Nicene Creed is one of the most important documents in the history of Christianity. But who wrote it? This is a question I was unable to find the answer to until I read the original sources for myself. I recommend R. P. C. Hanson’s The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God which is helpful for tracking down primary source material. The first version of the creed was written by Eusebius of Caesarea and then changed to include language which explicitly condemned Arianism. The creed he proposed at the council can be found in the letter to his congregation on the Nicene Creed. I have created the following chart to show how indebted the language of the creed is to Eusebius:

Eusebius’ Proposed Creed

Nicene-Constantinople Creed of 381

We believe in one God, Father, Almighty, maker of all things seen and unseen;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ the Word of God, God from God, Light from Light, Life from Life, only-begotten Son, first-born of all creation, begotten from the Father before all ages, through whom all things have come into being, who was incarnate for our salvation; and spent his life among men, and suffered and rose the third day and went up to the Father and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit.

We believe each of these three exists, the Father truly Father and Son truly Son and Holy Spirit truly Holy Spirit, as our Lord said when he sent his disciples to preach, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are deeply convinced that these things are so and that this is our belief and has long been so and that we hold by this faith until death, anathematizing all atheist heresy. We bear witness that we have always believed this with heart and soul, ever since we have been conscious of ourselves, and that we now believe and truly proclaim God Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ, and are ready to demonstrate by arguments and to persuade you that we have always so believed and so preached in times past.

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance (homoousion) with the Father,
through Whom all things came into existence,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens,
and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became man,
and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried,
and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures
and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father,
and will come again with glory to judge living and dead,
of Whose kingdom there will be no end;
And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver,
Who proceeds from the Father,
Who with the Father and the Son is together worshiped and together glorified,
Who spoke through the prophets;
in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
We confess one baptism for the remission of sins;
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen

After presenting his creed to the council, Eusebius said:

“When we presented this faith, there was no opportunity for resistance by anyone. But our emperor, most beloved of God, himself first of all witnessed that this was most orthodox. He agreed that even he himself thought thus, and he ordered all to assent to subscribe to the teachings and to be in harmony with them, although only one word, homoousios, was added.”

The key difference between Eusebius and the Nicene Creed is the inclusion of homoousios or that the Son is of the same nature as the Father. The Arians had no problem with the creed until homoousios was introduced. Ambrose, in his work On the Faith, reproduces a portion of a letter from the Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia (not Caesarea) that was read at the council: “If, indeed, we say that the Son of God is uncreated, then we are beginning to declare that he is homoousios with the Father” (3.15). As a result, homoousios was adopted because it was the one term the Arians could not agree to. It was also broad enough that the non-Arian parties involved at Nicaea could read whatever meaning they wanted into it, thus preserving the unity of the church which was Constantine’s greatest concern.

Arius, in his letter to Alexander of Alexandria, uses language that is similar to the creed when he writes that the Father “begot an only-begotten Son before eternal times. . . . Thus there are three hypostases. . . . the Son begotten timelessly before everything, alone was caused to subsist by the Father.” The Arian Creed of Sirmium in 357 affirms that Christ was “born from him before the ages . . . the Son is born from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, whose generation as Son, as has been said, no one knows except the Father; and that the Son of God himself our Lord and God, as it is said, assumed flesh . . . the Trinity should always be preserved, as we read in the gospel.” The Arians could even call Christ “God” in a qualified sense and use terms like “Trinity” and “three hypostases” which they defined differently from the orthodox while rejecting homoousios.

The incredible irony of Eusebius’ writing of the first version of the creed is that he was a supporter of Arius rather than being an orthodox trinitarian. He held to a subordinationist form of Logos Christology which taught that Christ only existed eternally in the mind of God, but not as a distinct person from him until he was begotten. He also denied the deity of the Holy Spirit. He says concerning the Spirit:

“But only the Son has been honored by the paternal Godhead, that he might be the maker and creator of all the geneta, both visi­ble and invisible, and even of the existence of the Paraclete Spirit. . . . But the Paraclete Spirit is neither God nor Son, since he does not get his origin from the Father like the Son, but is one of the things which came into being through the Son” (Ecclesiastical Theology 3.6.3).

Eusebius says in the letter to his congregation explaining how he could sign the Nicene Creed that the Son did not exist in actuality before he was begotten:

“Since even before he was begotten in actuality, he was in the Father ingenerately in potentiality, since the Father is always the Father.”

He says in his Demonstratio Evangelica:

“Perhaps one might say that the Son originated like a perfume and ray of a light from the Father’s unoriginated nature and ineffable substance infinite ages ago, or rather before all ages, and that once he had come into existence he has eternal being and existence along with the Father. . . . He has his own substance and existence and has not co-existed unoriginatedly with the Father. . . . And anyone would allow that a father exists before a son” (5.1).

“But the Father precedes the Son and has preceded him in existence, inasmuch as he alone is unbegotten. The One, perfect in himself and first in order as Father and the cause of the Son’s existence. . . . Receiving from the Father both his being and the character of his being. . . . Unthinkably brought into being from all time, or rather before all times, by the Father’s transcendent and inconceivable will and power” (4.3).

“He first before all things was made by the Father, as something one in form, the instrument of every existence and nature” (4.4).

“He is the perfect creation of a perfect Creator” (4.2).

“I return to my Lord all thanks . . . For we do not say that the Son was with the Father, but that the Father was before the Son. But the Son of God himself, knowing well that he was greater than all, and knowing that he was other than the Father, and less than and subject to Him, very piously teaches this to us also when he says, ‘The Father who sent me is greater than I’ . . . Since the Son also is himself God, but not true God” (Letter to Bishop Euphration).

The Son is not without beginning like the Father is:

“When you hear the Logos called God by the evangelist, you are not to understand him as intending to imply that the Logos is anarchos and unbegotten like His Father, but that He was in arche” (Ecclesiastical Theology 2.14.3 as cited in G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, 145).

Eusebius had previously supported Arius and declared his teachings to be biblical. Even after Nicaea, he was present at the Council of Tyre in 335 which exiled Athanasius for teaching that Jesus is God while reinstating Arius (Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea, 59). Eusebius only begrudgingly supported the addition of homoousios in the Creed and defined the term differently than the party of Athanasius. Eusebius agreed with the Arians that the Son is not eternally existent as a distinct person from the Father. The Arians believed that because Christ was begotten by the Father (based on their understanding of Proverbs 8:22-25), this made Christ a created being. Athanasius held with Origen that this begetting is an eternal act and therefore there was never a time when he was not.

This means that Eusebius’ statement that Christ was “begotten from the Father before all ages” is not an affirmation of eternal generation (which Eusebius did not believe in), but of Logos Christology where begetting results in Christ’s existence as a person. Eternal generation does not teach that the Son was begotten before all ages, but that this begetting is an eternal necessary continuous act that occurs from everlasting to everlasting in timeless eternity. This terminology was later reinterpreted as teaching eternal generation because of the influence of Athanasius. This may be one reason why “before all ages” was absent from the original Nicene Creed of 325 but present in the Constantinople revision which keeps Eusebius’ original language. By that time, Origen’s concept of eternal generation had become the dominant belief instead of the Logos Christology of the second century Christian apologists because it was better able to answer the objections of Arianism. Logos Christology was the fountain from which Arianism and eternal generation sprang when Origen rejected Logos Christology for being irreconcilable with the immutability of God. Eusebius’ beliefs represent the old guard of Logos Christology with a subordinationist bent before eternal generation became the dominant position in Christianity.

So why isn’t the Eusebian authorship of the Nicene Creed talked about more in books and articles on the Council of Nicaea? I believe the reason for this is because it is an embarrassing historical revelation that calls into question the belief that the Nicene Creed is definitional for what it means to be a Christian when most of the language of the creed about Christ is drawn from a non-trinitarian subordinationist who supported Arius and only signed the Nicene Creed in its final form because of political pressure and the desire to be restored to fellowship with the church after being censured at the Council of Antioch in 325. The Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia by not signing the creed had more integrity than Eusebius of Caesarea. It is homoousios (which Eusebius defined differently than the orthodox), not the begetting language (which the Arians had no problem affirming) that distinguishes trinitarianism from Arianism.

I believe the Arians, the proponents of Logos Christology, and the proponents of eternal generation all misunderstood Proverbs 8:22-25 and the begetting language of Scripture with regard to the Son. Acts 13:33-34, Hebrews 1:4-5, and 5:5-6 interpret Psalm 2:6-7 as being fulfilled in the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, not in an act of begetting before the foundation of the world which potentially compromises the eternal existence of Christ. It is the words of Christ, not Eusebius of Caesarea, which unite all Christians together. His words alone will never pass away (Matt 24:35). I’ll take the Bible any day over the words of a non-trinitarian.