Theology: CHRISTOLOGY – THE NATURES OF CHRIST

Characters Of The Debate: The main characters of the debate over the Natures of Christ were Athanasius and Arius. We want to take a short look at these two men.

 

Athanasius was born 296 A.D. in Alexandria Egypt, and died in 373 A.D. at Alexandria. He was described as a small energetic monk according to one encyclopedia. He held to the deity of Christ. He could not conceive of non-God being a part of God. He felt that Christ did things that only God could do. (Creation: Colossians 1:15ff; Redemption.) He wrote several books concerning the topic of the incarnation of Christ. He also suffered periods of exile because of his beliefs. (Cairns mentions five.)

 

Arius was a man that loved controversy. Some suggest that this may have been the reason for some of his thinking. He wanted to dispute with the authorities or stated standards.

 

You will run into people in this world that function in this fashion. There was a Christian in Denver years ago that loved to talk about spiritual things and when the conversation was low, he oft times would begin a good discussion by taking a position theologically that was totally in error, just to see what he could stir up. Rather than drop the false doctrine, he would argue as hard as he could from the heretical position. It was good for both parties, because it challenged both to really understand what they believed and quite often they wound up knowing more about the heresy than the heretic would have known. Arius, however was firm in his beliefs and stuck by them through much trouble.

 

Arius was born in Libya or Alexandria in 256 A.D. and died in Constantinople in 336 A.D. He was a deacon and then a presbyter and his teaching grew out of a reaction to a sermon entitled “The Unity of the Trinity.” This sermon was delivered in Alexandria by the bishop Alexander.

 

He wanted to avoid a polytheistic concept of God. In other words he saw God as one God and wanted to reject any idea that there was more than one God.

 

 

He was educated under the teaching of Lucian. Cairns mentions of Lucian, “Another rather satirical and, for that reason, valuable witness is Lucian, who wrote a satire upon Christians and their faith about 170. Lucian described Christ as the one ‘who was crucified in Palestine’ because he began ‘this new cult.’”1

 

Arius began his trouble in 318 A.D. and was banished in 321 A.D. His banishment was in Illyria. He was condemned at the Synod of Antioch in 325. He was later to be restored to fellowship with the church, but died on the eve of the ceremony.

 

Though Arius and other of the church fathers held to doctrines that we would detest today, we need to understand that these men were in the first decades of systematizing doctrine. They did not have the great works on theology that we have today, and they had few commentaries that they could dig into. Their knowledge of the word was growing, and far from complete.

 

Even today we are defining doctrines that have not been properly studied, over the centuries, and we will continue to define doctrines for centuries to come. The Bible is much deeper than man’s mind can ever dig.

 

The Characteristics Of The Debate: Alexander of Alexandria saw to the condemnation of Arius at the Synod of Antioch. Arius fled to the palace of Eusebius the bishop of Nicomedia, who was a schoolmate.

 

Constantine, the emperor, saw a possible split in the empire coming due to the controversy, so tried to stop this split from growing. He wrote both parties however to no avail. This shows how closely the church and state were tied together. A religious debate was threatening the empire. He called the Council of Nicaea in the summer of 325 AD. He invited 300 bishops but less than 10 were from the west. Constantine presided over the council and also paid the expenses.

 

There were three positions presented to the council:

 

a. Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia and a minority present held that: “Christ had not existed from all eternity but had a beginning by the creative act of God prior to time.” “…Christ was of a different (heteros) essence or substance than the Father.” Christ’s life showed him to be divine but “…created out of nothing, subordinate to the Father and of a different essence from the Father. He was not coequal, coeternal of consubstantial [of same substance or essence I think] with the Father.” (Taken from the book, Christianity Through The Centuries by Earle E. Cairns. Copyright 1954, 1981 by The Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. p 143) He was divine but not deity.

 

b. Athanasius “insisted that Christ had existed from all eternity with the Father and was of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father, although He was a distinct personality.” “…if Christ were less than he [Athanasius] had stated Him to be, He could not be the Savior of men.” “…Christ was coequal, coeternal and consubstantial with the Father….” (Taken from the book, Christianity Through The Centuries by Earle E. Cairns. Copyright 1954, 1981 by The Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. p 144)

 

c. Eusebius of Caesarea “…proposed a moderate view which would combine the best ideas of Arius and Athanasius. Over two hundred of those present followed his views at first. He taught that Christ was not created out of nothing as Arius had insisted, but that He was begotten of the Father before time in eternity. Christ was of a like (homoi) or similar essence to the Father. His creed became the basis of the creed that was finally drawn at Nicaea, but that one differed from his in its insistence upon the unity of essence or substance of the Father and the Son.” (Taken from the book, Christianity Through The Centuries by Earle E. Cairns. Copyright 1954, 1981 by The Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. p 144) 2

 

The creed set forth at this council had undergone changes before coming to us as the Nicaea creed which is held to, and quoted by many churches and theologians today.

 

Arius wanted to preserve Christ as an Independent being. He also wanted to hold to a Monotheistic God. His error was in saying that Christ was a separate being from God.

 

Athanasius held to a monotheistic God with three personalities. This allowed for the personality of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit yet also allowed for the unity of one God.

 

 

Arius saw Christ as a creature and not as God. He was given divine glory but was not God. Arius felt that the traits of Christ’s humanity were showing that he was not God but man. (Christ learned, Christ depended on God, Christ is separate from God.)

 

Athanasius felt that to be divine you must be God. There are some considerations that relate to this point of Christ being God.

 

Ignatius a bishop of Antioch, in 112 A.D. (about 14 years after the writing of the Revelation) stated a clear belief in the oneness of God and man in Christ. He attributed Christ to the union of Mary and God. He mentions “God in man” as a clear indication of his belief in the dual makeup of the Lord.

 

Even Irenaeus believed Christ to be God. He lived around 180 A.D. He mentioned his belief that Christ was with God in the beginning, as well as His part in the creation. He makes clear statement that Christ always existed with God the Father.

 

Dionysius Bishop of Rome (259-68) mentioned that he felt that God, Christ and the Holy Spirit were one. Tertullian also spoke of this. (160- 220 A.D.)

 

Nowhere does the Scripture tell us that Christ was created. Why would anyone assume that He was? Scripture seems clear on the subject. John 1:1-18 shows Christ to be God. cf Revelation 19:13.

 

Colossians 2:9, “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” This is a quite plain statement from the Father, through the writer of Scripture.

 

Hebrews 9:11-14 mentions that Christ the perfect sacrifice entered into the holy of holies in the heavenlies and presented His blood. This cannot be done by an imperfect created being — be it man or some other being.

 

Hebrews 9:16-17 shows that God made a covenant or will with man. The will could not take effect until God died. Christ being God died and fulfilled this requirement. If Christ was not God then this requirement has not yet been met.

 

 

Revelation 22:13 tells us of Christ, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

 

Augustus Strong in his Systematic Theology mentions of Arius’ view, “This view originated in a misinterpretation of the Scriptural accounts of Christ’s state of humiliation, and in mistaking temporary subordination for original and permanent inequality.”3

 

Arius stated that Christ was created, prior to the heavens and the earth, to mediate between God and man.

 

He did not grapple with the thought of how anyone less than God — a perfect God — could be a perfect sacrifice? Nothing that is created is perfect. Only God is perfect. Micah 5:2 mentions of Christ, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” How can anything less than God satisfy God’s requirements for salvation and mediatorship?

 

Additions To The Debate: During the centuries other thought has come forward on the natures of Christ. We want to look briefly at a number of these teachings, as well as look at some of the modern day religions that follow similar thinking.

 

There will be a brief discussion of the teaching followed by modern day groups and in some cases a few references that might be of help.

 

A. Ebionism: Ebionism would have us believe that there was no divine nature and that Christ was only a man. The Ebionites were Jewish Christians that saw Christ as a prophet and Messiah. They were around for the first six centuries. They also rejected Paul’s teachings.

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching: Christian Science; Spiritualism; Jehovah Witnesses; Modern Theology; Mormonism; Hinduism; Islam; Confucianism; Unitarianism; Unity; Hare Krishna. John 1:1; 14; Philip. 2:5-7; John 8:58.

 

B. Docetism: Docetism is the belief that Christ’s body, only seemed real, and that the crucifixion and resurrection were only illusions. These people were found in the first few centuries. Matter was sinful to them. Some say in jest, that they believed that Christ was a spook.

 

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching: Gnostics; Some liberals. Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:52; Hebrews 2:14.

 

C. Arianism: Arianism is another early church heresy denounced at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. They believed Christ was created or begotten but not eternal and lower than God.

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching: Moon (Unification Church); Mormon.

 

D. Nestorianism: Nestorianism teaches that Christ is one body had two natures and two persons but these were not united. Nestorius also taught that Mary hadn’t given birth to Jesus.

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching: I don’t know of any at the present. By our verbiage at times I wonder if some fundamentalists don’t preach a Nestorian doctrine even though we don’t believe it. We hold up Christ as totally God with all His attributes yet talk about things that He did not know or could not do. This borders on two natures and two persons in one body. Philip. 2:1-7; Matthew 1:20.

 

E. Eutychanism: Eutychanism was started by Eutychus in the late 300’s

A.D. He saw Christ as having two natures to begin with but the two were so perfectly mixed that they became one nature thus denying Christ’s divinity and humanity and taught a one nature Christ. This was a perfect blending — no human — no divine — just resultant Christ. You might say that this is the “Mix Master Mixer” version.

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching: Unity

 

“The movement stresses positive thought, prayer, and faith as guides to health, happiness, and prosperity.”4

 

“‘The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, but the Bible does not here refer to Jesus o Nazareth, the outer man; it refers to the Christ, the spiritual identity of Jesus, whom he acknowledged in all his ways, and brought forth into his outer self, until even the flesh of his body was lifted up, purified, spiritualized, and redeemed, thus he became Jesus christ, the word mad flesh.’”

 

 

“Unity teaches that within all of us there is an ‘inner Christ,’ with perfection, a divine awareness….”5

 

Luke 22:41-44.

 

F. Cerinthianism: Cerinthianism teaches that Jesus was merely mortal but that Divine came upon him for a time. Cerinthus also held no special birth for Christ either. It is said that the Apostle John left when Cerinthus entered, fearing the roof would fall upon a heretic of this magnitude.

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching: Theosophy Kauffman tells us:

“Such principles in it as Reincarnation and Pantheism seem primarily Hindu and Buddhist. It encourages human brotherhood and religious study.”6

 

McDowell gives the following information:

 

“…for Christ… is no man but the Divine Principle in every human being….”

 

He quotes Mrs. Blavatsky, “…Christ is merely his title, meaning ‘anointed one’ or ‘messiah,’ designating the office Jesus held. There is no justification for making any distinction between Jesus and ‘the christ.’ Furthermore, making Christ a principle rather than a true man is a denial of the whole purpose of His coming….”7

 

Hebrews 13:8.

 

G. Apollinarianism: Apollinarianism teaches that Christ was not completely human. The divine Logos replaced the human nature leaving only flesh and soul occupied by Logos. This teaching was started by Apollinarius of Laodicia. He was condemned at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D.

 

Modern Day Versions Of The Teaching: None I know of at the present. Luke 4:1ff; Mark 2:8; Luke 23:46.

 

 

Now that we have looked at the false teachings of the past let’s take a peek at what we will see in the coming pages as the true doctrine of Christ, as discovered from the Scriptures.

 

THE PROPER VIEW OF CHRIST

 

 

Founder:      God

 

 

View Of Christ:

Both Human And Divine Separate Natures Yet One

 

Christ Was As Much Man As If He Had Never Been God. Christ Was As Much God As If He Had Never Been Man. True Humanity Added To Undiminished Deity.

 

Christ:      God/Man

 

 

 

HUMAN

 

DIVINE

 

Grew   In Wisdom

 

 

All   Knowledge

 

 

Limited   Power

 

 

All   Power

 

 

Localized   In One Place

 

 

Everywhere

 

 

 

 

IV. APPLICATION OF THE DEBATE

 

A. We have seen that Arius was banished, condemned and exiled and then died before he was seen as restored to the church. It might be good for just a moment to think of that process that he went through.

 

Put yourself in this position. You have had a belief that has been condemned by the majority of the church of your time, you have been kicked out of the country and you love the brethren, right.

 

 

Would we really love the brethren at that point in our lives? We have seen that Christ is our example and He loved even those that nailed Him to the cross, so must we love the brethren even when they feel we are in error.

 

We also should go to our knees in prayer and our desk in study to see if we really are correct. If we are in error and seek knowledge honestly before the Lord, we will see what God wants us to see.

 

B. We also saw that Eusebius presented a reconcilatory view of Christ at the Council of Nicaea. This is not a bad idea, if you do no damage to the doctrine.

 

There are times when one person or group will come up with a radical view, and those they teach come up with a reaction view of the radical view which is usually a complete pendulum swing away from the original view. This pendulum swing is often, also a radical view. It quite often is true that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

 

Example: The liberal element of Christianity went into what was cuttingly termed, “the social Gospel,” and the Social Gospel people were soundly rebuked for years for their radical view of the teachings of Jesus. Over the years the fundamental camp for the most part took their stance on the other end of the pendulum swing and did nothing socially except to preach the Gospel.

 

Now, in more recent years the fundamentalist camp has found that they have nothing to say to those in need unless they are willing to share in the physical realm as well. Fundamentalism has finally found a balance that we should live with, and that balance is in the middle. The liberal side normally represented by The National Council of Churches, recently was challenged by their head to consider that they might have specialized on the social end of the Gospel for too many years, and that they have really missed in giving the message of the Gospel over the years. (I don’t know what they would consider the Gospel these days, but it is good that he realizes that their efforts in the social realm are unbalanced.)

 

As you are faced with what you perceive to be falsehood, don’t react completely against it, but look to the Word of God and see what it says. The Word is our truth, not falsehood nor our reaction to falsehood.

 

 

C. Constantine saw the religious debate as dangerous to the empire. We may see such religious debate in our own country. We have a growing split in the early 1990’s between Christianity and the world system within the United States. There is an outward attack on the Christian community by the media as well as political officials in some communities. We are seeing visitation and Bible studies in homes becoming illegal in some communities due to the fact that the unsaved are running our communities. Does that give you any insight into the Christian’s responsibilities in coming days in politics?

 

The Roman Catholics have had priests in Congress for years yet when a preacher runs for office they cry separation of Church and State. It was of interest that Robertson was breaking the sacred separation of church and state, while in the same campaign Jackson, a Black preacher, was not held accountable to the same standard.

 

The Roman church has, via their parishioners, becoming involved in local school boards, seen nuns and priests hired with public funds to teach in public schools.

 

I believe that we need to be active within our own political system and do what we can. I do not believe a man should leave a calling to preach to become a statesman, however there may well be many “laymen” that should be statesmen.

 

D. We can have a confidence in the face of false doctrine. There have been new teachings that come along that boggle my mind at first. I often wonder how in the world Christianity is going to confront these new falsehoods. Usually after a little prayer and Bible study the false teaching begins to crumble.

 

Even if you can’t refute some new teaching, look for the answers, and talk to other believers. Quite often several minds can do much better than one. Don’t fear and tremble, just go looking for the answers. We Have The Truth — The Word Of God. Anything Contrary To It Must Be Understood And Met As Error. With this understanding there should be no problem.

 

 

END NOTES

 

1. Taken from the book, Christianity Through The Centuries by Earle E. Cairns. Copyright 1954, 1981 by The Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. P 50

 

2. Taken from the book, Christianity Through The Centuries by Earle E. Cairns. Copyright 1954, 1981 by The Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. p 143-147

 

3. Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, PA: The Judson Press, 1907 p 670

 

4. Donald T. Kauffman, “The Dictionary Of Religious Terms,” Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1967 p 421

 

5. Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, “Handbook Of Today’s RELIGIONS,” San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1983, pp 134-135

 

6. Kauffman, p 411

 

7. McDowell and Stewart, p 87

 

8. Misc. sources of information:

 

a. Encycl. of Religion and Ethics.

 

b. Systematic Theology; Augustus H. Strong; The Judson Press; Valley Forge, PA; 1907

 

9. For further information on the various views of the natures see:

 

a. Emery H. Bancroft/Ed. Ronald B. Mayers, “Elemental Theology,”

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977, p 96

 

b. Walter A. Elwell, Ed., “Evangelical Dictionary Of Theology”, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984

 

c. Charles C. Ryrie, “Basic Theology,” Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, p 250

 

d. Henry C. Thiessen, “Lectures In Systematic Theology,” Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 283ff

 

 

THE NATURES OF CHRIST HANDOUT

I. CHARACTERS OF THE DEBATE

 

A. Athanasius: Born 296 A.D./Died 373 A.D.

 

B. Arius: Born 256 A.D./Died 336 A.D.

 

Arius was a student of Lucian. Cairns mentions of Lucian, “Another rather satirical and, for that reason, valuable witness is Lucian, who wrote a satire upon Christians and their faith about 170. Lucian described Christ as the one ‘who was crucified in Palestine’ because he began ‘this new cult.’”1

 

II. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE DEBATE

 

There were three positions presented to the council of Nicaea.

 

a. Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia and a minority present held that: “Christ had not existed from all eternity but had a beginning by the creative act of God prior to time.” “…Christ was of a different (heteros) essence or substance than the Father.” Christ’s life showed him to be divine but “…created out of nothing, subordinate to the Father and of a different essence from the Father. He was not coequal, coeternal of consubstantial [of same substance or essence I think] with the Father.” He was divine but not deity.

 

b. Athanasius “insisted that Christ had existed from all eternity with the Father and was of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father, although He was a distinct personality.” “…if Christ were less than he [Athanasius] had stated Him to be, He could not be the Savior of men.” “…Christ was coequal, coeternal and consubstantial with the Father….”

 

c. Eusebius of Caesarea “…proposed a moderate view which would combine the best ideas of Arius and Athanasius. Over two hundred of those present followed his views at first. He taught that Christ was not created out of nothing as Arius had insisted, but that He was begotten of the Father before time in eternity. Christ was of a like (homoi) or similar essence to the Father. His creed became the basis of the creed that was finally drawn at Nicaea, but that one differed from his in its insistence upon the unity of essence or substance of the Father and the Son.”2

 

FACTS

 

1. Ignatius a bishop of Antioch, in 112 A.D.:

 

2. John 1:1-18 shows Christ to be God. cf Revelation 19:13.

 

3. Dionysius Bishop of Rome (259-68)

 

4. Tertullian

 

5.

 

6. Colossians 2:9

 

7. Hebrews 9:11-14

 

8. Hebrews 9:16-17

 

9. Revelation 22:13

 

10. Augustus Strong in his Systematic Theology mentions of Arius’ view, “This view originated in a misinterpretation of the Scriptural accounts of Christ’s state of humiliation, and in mistaking temporary subordination for original and permanent inequality.”3

 

 

 

 

A. Ebionism:

 

III. ADDITIONS TO THE DEBATE

 

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching:

 

Christian   Science

 

Spiritualism

 

J.W.

Modern   Theology

 

Mormonism

 

Hinduism

 

Islam

Confucianism

 

Unitarianism

 

Unity

Hare   Krishna

 

 

 

 

 

John 1:1; 14; Philippians 2:5-7; John 8:58.

 

B. Docetism:

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching:

 

Gnostics — Some liberal

 

Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:52; Hebrews 2:14.

 

C. Arianism:

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching:

 

Moon (Unification Church)     Mormon

 

D. Nestorianism:

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching: None I know of at the present. Philippians 2:1-7; Matthew 1:20.

E. Eutychanism:

 

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching:

 

Unity

 

“The movement stresses positive thought, prayer, and faith as guides to health, happiness, and prosperity.”4

 

“‘The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, but the Bible does not here refer to Jesus o Nazareth, the outer man; it refers to the Christ, the spiritual identity of Jesus, whom he acknowledged in all his ways, and brought forth into his outer self, until even the flesh of his body was lifted up, purified, spiritualized, and redeemed, thus he became Jesus Christ, the word mad flesh.’“

 

“Unity teaches that within all of us there is an ‘inner Christ,’ with perfection, a divine awareness….”5

 

Luke 22:41-44.

 

F. Cerinthianism:

 

Modern Versions Of The Teaching:

 

Theosophy Kauffman tells us:

“Such principles in it as Reincarnation and Pantheism seem primarily Hindu and Buddhist. It encourages human brotherhood and religious study.”6

 

McDowell gives the following information:

 

“…for Christ… is no man but the Divine Principle in every human being….”

 

He quotes Mrs. Blavatsky, “…Christ is merely his title, meaning ‘anointed one’ or ‘messiah,’ designating the office Jesus held. There is no justification for making any distinction between Jesus and ‘the christ.’ Furthermore, making Christ a principle rather than a true man is a denial of the whole purpose of His coming….”7

 

 

Hebrews 13:8.

 

G. Apollinarianism:

 

Modern Day Versions Of The Teaching:

 

None I know of at the present. Luke 4:1ff; Mark 2:8; Luke 23:46.

 

 

 

IV. APPLICATION OF THE DEBATE ENDNOTES

1. Taken from the book, Christianity Through The Centuries by Earle E.

Cairns. Copyright 1954, 1981 by The Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. P 50

 

2. Taken from the book, Christianity Through The Centuries by Earle E. Cairns. Copyright 1954, 1981 by The Zondervan Corporation. Used by permission. p 147

 

3. Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, PA: The Judson Press, 1907 p 670

 

4. Donald T. Kauffman, “THE Dictionary Of Religious Terms”, Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1967 p 421

 

5. Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, “Handbook Of Today’s Religions,” San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1983, pp 134-135

 

6. Kauffman, p 411

 

7. McDowell and Stewart, p 87

 

8. Misc. sources of information:

 

a. Encycl. of Religion and Ethics.

 

b. Systematic Theology; Augustus H. Strong; The Judson Press; Valley Forge, PA; 1907

 

9. For further information on the various views of the natures see:

 

 

a. Emery H. Bancroft/Ed. Ronald B. Mayors, “Elemental Theology,”

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977, p 96

 

b. Walter A. Elwell, Ed., “Evangelical Dictionary Of Theology,” Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984

 

c. Charles C. Ryrie, “Basic Theology,” Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, p 250

 

d. Henry C. Thiessen, “Lectures In Systematic Theology,” Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 283ff[1]

 


[1] Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. B.A. (n.d.). DERICKSON’S NOTES ON THEOLOGY: A STUDY BOOK IN THEOLOGY.

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