24. Prov. 8:22 was also used by the Arians, who gained support from the fact that the Septuagint misleadingly translated it, "The Lord created me" (Gk. Kti^w, G3231) rather than "The Lord acquired me or possessed me" (Gk. Ktáo^ai, G3227). See discussion on this verse above, pp. 229-30.
The Jehovah's Witnesses, who are modern-day Arians, also point to Rev. 3:14, where Jesus calls himself "the beginning of God's creation," and take it to mean that "Jesus was created by God as the beginning of God's invisible creations" (no author named, Should You Believe in the Trinity? [Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1989], p. 14). But this verse does not mean that Jesus was the first being created, for the same word for "beginning" (Gk. ápxn, G794) is used by Jesus when he says that he is "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Rev. 22:13), and "beginning" here is a synonym for "Alpha" and "first." God the Father similarly says of himself, "I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Rev. 1:8). In both cases, to be "the Alpha" or "the beginning" means to be the one who was there before anything else existed. The word does not imply that the Son was created or that there was a time when he began to be, for both the Father and the Son have always been "the Alpha and the Omega" and "the beginning and the end," since they have existed eternally. (The Jewish historian Josephus uses this same word to call God the "beginning (ápxn)" of "all things," but certainly he does not think that God himself was created: see Against Apion 2.190.)
The NIV translates this verse differently: "the ruler of God's creation." This is an acceptable alternative sense for ápxn: see the same meaning in Luke 12:11; Titus 3:1.
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (o^oouaiov) with the Father 25
This same phrase was reaffirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. In addition, the phrase "before all ages" was added after "begotten of the Father," to show that this "begetting" was eternal. It never began to happen, but is something that has been eternally true of the relationship between the Father and the Son. However, the nature of that "begetting" has never been defined very clearly, other than to say that it has to do with the relationship between the Father and the Son, and that in some sense the Father has eternally had a primacy in that relationship.
In further repudiation of the teaching of Arius, the Nicene Creed insisted that Christ was "of the same substance as the Father." The dispute with Arius concerned two words that have become famous in the history of Christian doctrine, o^oouaioq ("of the same nature") and o^oiouaioq ("of a similar nature").26 The difference depends on the different meaning of two Greek prefixes, o^o- meaning "same," and o^oi- meaning "similar." Arius was happy to say that Christ was a supernatural heavenly being and that he was created by God before the creation of the rest of the universe, and even that he was "similar" to God in his nature. Thus, Arius would agree to the word o^oiouaioq. But the Council of Nicea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381 realized that this did not go far enough, for if Christ is not of exactly the same nature as the Father, then he is not fully God. So both councils insisted that orthodox Christians confess Jesus to be o^oouaioq of the same nature as God the Father. The difference between the two words was only one letter, the Greek letter iota, and some have criticized the church for allowing a doctrinal dispute over a single letter to consume so much attention for most of the fourth century a.d. Some have wondered, "Could anything be more foolish than arguing over a single letter in a word?" But the difference between the two words was profound, and the presence or absence of the iota really did mark the difference between biblical Christianity, with a true doctrine of the Trinity, and a heresy that did not accept the full deity of Christ and therefore was nontrinitarian and ultimately destructive to the whole Christian faith. b. Subordinationism: In affirming that the Son was of the same nature as the Father, the early church also excluded a related false doctrine, subordinationism. While Arianism held that the Son was created and was not divine, subordinationism held that the Son was eternal (not created) and divine, but still not equal to the Father in being or attributes—the Son was inferior or "subordinate" in being to God the Father.27 The
25 25. This is the original form of the Nicene Creed, but it was later modified at the Council of Constantinople in 381 and there took the form that is commonly called the "Nicene Creed" by churches today. This text is taken from Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983 reprint of 1931 edition), 1:28-29.
26 26. Older translations of o^oouaioq sometimes use the term "consubstantial," an uncommon English word simply meaning "of the same substance or nature."
27 27. The heresy of subordinationism, which holds that the Son is inferior in being to the Father, should be clearly distinguished from the orthodox doctrine that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in role or function: without this truth, we would lose the doctrine of the Trinity, for we would not have any eternal personal distinctions between the Father and the Son, and they would not eternally be Father and Son. (See section D. below on the differences between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)
early church father Origen (c. 185-c. a.d. 254) advocated a form of subordinationism by holding that the Son was inferior to the Father in being, and that the Son eternally derives his being from the Father. Origen was attempting to protect the distinction of persons and was writing before the doctrine of the Trinity was clearly formulated in the church. The rest of the church did not follow him but clearly rejected his teaching at the Council of Nicea.
Although many early church leaders contributed to the gradual formulation of a correct doctrine of the Trinity, the most influential by far was Athanasius. He was only twenty-nine years old when he came to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, not as an official member but as secretary to Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria. Yet his keen mind and writing ability allowed him to have an important influence on the outcome of the Council, and he himself became Bishop of Alexandria in 328. Though the Arians had been condemned at Nicea, they refused to stop teaching their views and used their considerable political power throughout the church to prolong the controversy for most of the rest of the fourth century. Athanasius became the focal point of Arian attack, and he devoted his entire life to writing and teaching against the Arian heresy. "He was hounded through five exiles embracing seventeen years of flight and hiding," but, by his untiring efforts, "almost single-handedly Athanasius saved the Church from pagan intellectualism"28 The "Athanasian Creed" which bears his name is not today thought to stem from Athanasius himself, but it is a very clear affirmation of trinitarian doctrine that gained increasing use in the church from about a.d. 400 onward and is still used in Protestant and Catholic churches today. (See appendix 1.)
c. Adoptionism: Before we leave the discussion of Arianism, one related false teaching needs to be mentioned. "Adoptionism" is the view that Jesus lived as an ordinary man until his baptism, but then God "adopted" Jesus as his "Son" and conferred on him supernatural powers. Adoptionists would not hold that Christ existed before he was born as a man; therefore, they would not think of Christ as eternal, nor would they think of him as the exalted, supernatural being created by God that the Arians held him to be. Even after Jesus' "adoption" as the "Son" of God, they would not think of him as divine in nature, but only as an exalted man whom God called his "Son" in a unique sense.
Adoptionism never gained the force of a movement in the way Arianism did, but there were people who held adoptionist views from time to time in the early church, though their views were never accepted as orthodox. Many modern people who think of Jesus as a great man and someone especially empowered by God, but not really divine, would fall into the adoptionist category. We have placed it here in relation to Arianism because it, too, denies the deity of the Son (and, similarly, the deity of the Holy Spirit).
The controversy over Arianism was drawn to a close by the Council of Constantinople in a.d. 381. This council reaffirmed the Nicene statements and added a statement on the deity of the Holy Spirit, which had come under attack in the period since Nicea. After the phrase, "And in the Holy Spirit," Constantinople added, "the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets." The version of the creed that includes the additions at Constantinople is what is commonly known as the Nicene Creed today (See p. 1169 for the text of the Nicene Creed.)
28 28. S.J. Mikolaski, "Athanasius," NIDCC 81.
d. The Filioque Clause: In connection with the Nicene Creed, one unfortunate chapter in the history of the church should be briefly noted, namely the controversy over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed, an insertion that eventually led to the split between western (Roman Catholic) Christianity and eastern Christianity (consisting today of various branches of eastern orthodox Christianity, such as the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, etc.) in a.d. 1054.
The word filioque is a Latin term that means "and from the Son." It was not included in the Nicene Creed in either the first version of a.d. 325 or the second version of a.d. 381. Those versions simply said that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father." But in a.d. 589, at a regional church council in Toledo (in what is now Spain), the phrase "and the Son" was added, so that the creed then said that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque)." In the light of John 15:26 and 16:7, where Jesus said that he would send the Holy Spirit into the world, it seems there could be no objection to such a statement if it referred to the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son at a point in time (particularly at Pentecost). But this was a statement about the nature of the Trinity, and the phrase was understood to speak of the eternal relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Son, something Scripture never explicitly discusses.29 The form of the Nicene Creed that had this additional phrase gradually gained in general use and received an official endorsement in a.d. 1017. The entire controversy was complicated by ecclesiastical politics and struggles for power, and this apparently very insignificant doctrinal point was the main doctrinal issue in the split between eastern and western Christianity in a.d. 1054. (The underlying political issue, however, was the relation of the Eastern church to the authority of the Pope.) The doctrinal controversy and the split between the two branches of Christianity have not been resolved to this day.
Is there a correct position on this question? The weight of evidence (slim though it is) seems clearly to favor the western church. In spite of the fact that John 15:26 says that the Spirit of truth "proceeds from the Father," this does not deny that he proceeds also from the Son (just as John 14:26 says that the Father will send the Holy Spirit, but John 16:7 says that the Son will send the Holy Spirit). In fact, in the same sentence in John 15:26 Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as one "whom I shall send to you from the Father." And if the Son together with the Father sends the Spirit into the world, by analogy it would seem appropriate to say that this reflects eternal ordering of their relationships. This is not something that we can clearly insist on based on any specific verse, but much of our understanding of the eternal relationships among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comes by analogy from what Scripture tells us about the way they relate to the creation in time. Moreover, the eastern formulation runs the danger of suggesting an unnatural distance between the Son and the Holy Spirit, leading to the possibility that even in personal worship an emphasis on more mystical, Spirit-inspired experience might be pursued to the neglect of an accompanying rationally understandable adoration of Christ as Lord. Nevertheless, the controversy was ultimately over such an obscure point of doctrine (essentially, the relationship between the Son and Spirit before creation) that it certainly did not warrant division in the church.
e. The Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity: Why was the church so concerned about the doctrine of the Trinity? Is it really essential to hold to the full
29 29. The word proceeds was not understood to refer to a creating of the Holy Spirit, or any deriving of his being from the Father and Son, but to indicate the way the Holy Spirit eternally relates to the Father and Son.
deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit? Yes it is, for this teaching has implications for the very heart of the Christian faith. First, the atonement is at stake. If Jesus is merely a created being, and not fully God, then it is hard to see how he, a creature, could bear the full wrath of God against all of our sins. Could any creature, no matter how great, really save us? Second, justification by faith alone is threatened if we deny the full deity of the Son. (This is seen today in the teaching of the Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not believe in justification by faith alone.) If Jesus is not fully God, we would rightly doubt whether we can really trust him to save us completely. Could we really depend on any creature fully for our salvation? Third, if Jesus is not infinite God, should we pray to him or worship him? Who but an infinite, omniscient God could hear and respond to all the prayers of all God's people? And who but God himself is worthy of worship? Indeed, if Jesus is merely a creature, no matter how great, it would be idolatry to worship him—yet the New Testament commands us to do so (Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 5:12-14). Fourth, if someone teaches that Christ was a created being but nonetheless one who saved us, then this teaching wrongly begins to attribute credit for salvation to a creature and not to God himself. But this wrongfully exalts the creature rather than the Creator, something Scripture never allows us to do. Fifth, the independence and personal nature of God are at stake: If there is no Trinity, then there were no interpersonal relationships within the being of God before creation, and, without personal relationships, it is difficult to see how God could be genuinely personal or be without the need for a creation to relate to. Sixth, the unity of the universe is at stake: If there is not perfect plurality and perfect unity in God himself, then we have no basis for thinking there can be any ultimate unity among the diverse elements of the universe either. Clearly, in the doctrine of the Trinity, the heart of the Christian faith is at stake. Herman Bavinck says that "Athanasius understood better than any of his contemporaries that Christianity stands or falls with the confession of the deity of Christ and of the Trinity."30 He adds, "In the confession of the Trinity throbs the heart of the Christian religion: every error results from, or upon deeper reflection may be traced to, a wrong view of this doctrine."31
3. Tritheism Denies That There Is Only One God. A final possible way to attempt an easy reconciliation of the biblical teaching about the Trinity would be to deny that there is only one God. The result is to say that God is three persons and each person is fully God. Therefore, there are three Gods. Technically this view would be called "tritheism."
Few persons have held this view in the history of the church. It has similarities to many ancient pagan religions that held to a multiplicity of gods. This view would result in confusion in the minds of believers. There would be no absolute worship or loyalty or devotion to one true God. We would wonder to which God we should give our ultimate allegiance. And, at a deeper level, this view would destroy any sense of ultimate unity in the universe: even in the very being of God there would be plurality but no unity.
Although no modern groups advocate tritheism, perhaps many evangelicals today unintentionally tend toward tritheistic views of the Trinity, recognizing the distinct personhood of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but seldom being aware of the unity of God as one undivided being.
30 3 0. Bavinck, The Doctrine of God p. 281.
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