Ignatius of Antioch described the Son as our God, immortal and being life.

This is the fourth article in the series on the historical development of the Trinity doctrine.  These first articles discuss the views of the church fathers in the first three centuries to determine whether they understood God to be a Trinity; One Being but three Persons.  The previous articles were An Introduction, which defined the Trinity, followed by analyses of the teachings of Polycarp and Justin Martyr.  The current article reflects the thoughts of Ignatius of Antioch.

Triad

Ignatius of Antioch (died 98/117) wrote

“In Christ Jesus our Lord, by whom and with whom be glory and power to the Father with the Holy Spirit for ever” (n. 7; PG 5.988).

Trinitarians quote this because it mentions the triad of three Persons together.  However, as previously stated, mentioning them together does not mean that they are one or that they are equal.  It only means that they are related.  In Ephesians 4:5, Paul mentions “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.”  That means that these four form a logical group; not that they are equal or the same.

One God

Ignatius contradicted the Trinity theory earlier in the same work when he identified the Father alone as God:

Thou art in error when thou callest the daemons of the nations gods. For there is but one God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that are in them; and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, whose kingdom may I enjoy. (Martyrdom of Ignatius 2)

Ignatius here seems to interpret 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, which reads:

Even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth … yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

These statements explicitly identify the one God as someone distinct from the one Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words, the Father is the one God.

The only true God

Ignatius further wrote:

There is only one true GodBut our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son
We have also as a Physician the Lord our God Jesus the Christ;
the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began,
but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For ‘the Word was made flesh.’
Being incorporeal (intangible), He was in the body;
Being impassible (incapable of suffering or feeling pain), He was in a passible body;
Being immortal, He was in a mortal body;
Being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.
(Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The ante-Nicene Fathers, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975 rpt., Vol. 1, p. 52, Ephesians 7.)

Pre-existence

According to this quote, before the Son became human, He was the only-begotten Son and Word, incorporeal, incapable of suffering, immortal and being life.  To say that He was incorporeal and incapable of suffering seem to be speculations, for such things are not mentioned in the Bible:

The description of the Son as “being life” is perhaps explained by the statement, “Just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).  On the one hand, it means that He received “life in Himself” from the Father, which means that He is subordinate to the Father.  On the other, there are only two Beings who have “life in Himself,” which testifies of a close relationship and similarity.

The statement that the Son was immortal seems to contradict the statement that the Father alone “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16), but there are two kinds of immortality; conditional and unconditional.  The Father alone is essentially (unconditionally) immortal, while humans will become immortal “when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:54).

Before time began

For Ignatius, as per the previous quote, the Father is “unbegotten” and the “Begetter of the only-begotten Son.”  This is an important distinction between the Father and Son.  Later Arius would conclude that the Son, therefore, had a beginning; that there was a time when the Son was not.  For Ignatius the Son was begotten “before time began,” which implies that He existed as long as time existed.  But this does not mean that the Son is equal to the Father.  To explains:

Time was created.  There exists an infinity outside time, for God exists beyond time.  In that infinity beyond time, the Son was Begotten, according to Ignatius.  If we use the word “before” not in a literal time sense, then we can say that the Father existed “before” the Son.

“Begotten” is human language for something that humans are unable to even begin to understand.

In the quote above, both the Father and Son are called physicians.  Later in the quote, Ignatius describes the sinner as “diseased” and the work of the Physician is not to judge, but to “heal … restore … to health.”  “Physician” is a most appropriate description of God’s attitude towards sinners, for He is not an independent Judge, but a kind Father.

Our God Jesus the Christ

In the quote above, Ignatius describes the Son as “our God.”  Some apologists use such phrases to argue that the church fathers before Nicene believed Jesus is God. But in the previous sentence, Ignatius described the Father as “the only true God,” which means that the Son is not “true God.”  This confusion does not exist in the original text but is caused by the translation.  To explain:

In modern English, we use the word “God” to identify one specific being.  It functions as a proper name for the Almighty.

The ancient languages did not have the modern differentiation between lower and upper case letters.  They only had words (theos in Greek) that are equivalent to our word “god.” The word “god” does not identify one specific being, but a category of beings.  The Christian God was regarded as one of the gods.

The following are examples from the Scriptures to show that the Hebrew mindset had no problem applying the word for “god” to:

Moses (Exodus 7.1),
● Angels (Psalm 8.5; cf. Hebrews 2.7),
● The divine council (Psalm 82.1, 6),
● Israel’s judges (Exodus 21.6, 22.8),
● The Davidic king (Psalm 45.6),
● Appetite (Philippians 3.19),
● Those who receive the word of God (John 10.34-35), and even to
● Satan (2 Corinthians 4.4).

Also outside the Bible, in the Greco-Roman world, they had a plethora of gods, including the emperors.  Paul confirmed, “indeed there are many gods and many lords” (1 Cor. 8:5).

In other words, during the early centuries of Christianity, the word theos (god) had a flexible meaning.  And since “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11), it was quite natural and appropriate for the first Christians to refer to the Son as theos.

Translation causes confusion

So the original text is clear.  All we have in the Greek Bibles is the word theos.  It says that the Father is the only true “god” and the Son is our “god.”  The confusion is caused by the theology of the translators.  When translators think that the Almighty is intended, they translate theos as “God.”  Since most translators are Trinitarians, they also translate the instances, where Jesus is referred to as theos, as “God.”  When theos does not refer to the Father or to the Son, they translate the same word as “god.”

Ignatius’ translator similarly assumed that Jesus is God, in the Trinitarian sense of the word.  Therefore, the translation refers to Him as “our God.”

However, the phrase “only true God” is illogical, for the word “God” is not a category name.  It would have been more logical to translate this phrase as “the only true god” or as “the only God.”  The same applies to John 17:3, where Jesus says that the Father is “the only true god.”

Similarly, the translations should refer to the Son as “our god” (small “g”).  A more literal translation would have reduced the confusion significantly.  For a more complete explanation, see The Meanings of the Word THEOS.

Summary

The word “God” did not exist in ancient times.
Which instances of theos are translated as “God” is substantially dependent on the theology of the translator.

Ignatius describes only the Father as “unapproachable.”  This is a quote from 1 Tim. 6:16, which says that the Father “alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.”  Since, for Ignatius, the Father is “the only true god,” unbegotten and unapproachable, the Father is in a category all by himself.   For him, the Father and Son are not equal, as Trinitarians propose.  Rather, the Son is subordinate to the Father.

Conclusion

Ignatius condemns by Trajan. Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Ignatius all died for their faith.

Ignatius made a clear distinction between God and Jesus Christ: The Father is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, who “made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that are in them.”  He is ”the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.”

Trinitarian Arguments

There are a number of statements in the quotes from Ignatius that people use to prove that the Son is equal to the Father:

Ignatius describes the Son as “our God,” but he identified the Father as “the only true God,” which means that the Son is not “true God.”  As explained, the word “God” did not exist in ancient times.  Literally translated, the original text describes the Son as “our god” and the Father as “the only true god.” Which instances of theos are translated with a capital “G” (“God”) depends on the theology of the translator.

Ignatius wrote that the Son was begotten “before time began.”  This means that He existed as long as time existed.  But this does not mean that the Son is equal to the Father, for there exists an infinity beyond time, in which the Son was begotten by the Father.

Ignatius describes the Son as “immortal,” but this also does not mean that He is equal with the Father, for the Father “alone possesses (essential) immortality,” being immortal in terms of His being.

Ignatius wrote that the Son is “life,” but He received that life from the Father.

Finally

For Ignatius, the Father and Son are not equal, as Trinitarians propose.  Rather, the Son is subordinate to the Father.  There is no evidence in the quotes above that Ignatius thought that the Holy Spirit is self-aware, that the three Persons are equal, that they consist of one substance, that they are one Being or that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature.

John 1:1, John 1:18 in John 20:28 call Jesus God, but only the Father is God.

Purpose

Gospel of JohnThe purpose of this article, and the ones following after it, is to determine whether Jesus is God according to John’s gospel, or whether only the Father is God.  The ultimate purpose is particularly to determine what John meant when he wrote that “the Word was theos (god)” in John 1:1c.  As discussed in the article theos, the word Greek theos has various different meanings.  John 1:1c may, for instance, be translated as:

“The Word was God” (definite) or
“The Word was a god” (indefinite) or
“The Word was like God” (qualitative).

Which of these is the intended meaning should also be the picture of Jesus we find by reading the entire gospel.  To prepare these articles, the gospel was read carefully and all relevant statements were selected and categorized.

Summary

Is Jesus called God in John’s gospel?

The title theos (usually translated “God” or “god”) appears more than 100 times in John’s gospel:

In most instances it is not clear whether it refers to the Father or to the Son, for instance: “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (1:6).

In ten instances it is clear that theos refers to the Father exclusively, for instance, “the Word (Jesus) was with God” (1:1b).  God has never been seen (1:18), while Jesus was seen.  The Father is even called “the one and only God” (5:44; 17:3) and Jesus referred to Him as “My God and your God” (20:17).

Three verses are sometimes used to argue that Jesus is called “God:”

John 1:1c

John 1:1c does not use theos in a definite sense, and therefore may not be translated “the Word was God.”  It is used in a qualitative sense, and therefore may be translated, “the Word was like God.”  Or, using the phraseology from Philippians 2, the Word “existed in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Phil. 2:6).  But, as also argued in the article Jesus in Philippians 2, if Jesus “existed in the form of God” and if He had “equality with God,” then He is still distinct from God.

John 1:18

John 1:18 calls Jesus “the only begotten theos,” but only in some of the ancient manuscripts.  In the manuscript tradition with the widest geographical distribution, He is called “the only begotten huios” (son).  Therefore, the KJV translates this phrase as “the only begotten Son.”  John originally wrote either theos (god) or huios (son), but somebody corrupted the text either on purpose or by accident, and textual critics are not sure what John actually originally wrote.

John 20:28

John 20:28 records Thomas, when he saw the resurrected Jesus for the first time, as saying “my Lord and my God.”  This happened just after Jesus completed his work on earth and just before the apostle took the work forward in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Thomas could not have referred to Jesus as “God,” for the following reasons:

1. Jesus never taught the disciples that He is God.  Jesus consistently made a distinction between Himself and God.

2. When Thomas said these words, the apostles did not believe that Jesus is God.  For example, the two disciples walking to Emmaus spoke of Him as “a prophet” and said “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21).

3. Afterwards, as recorded in the book of Acts, the disciples did not teach that Jesus is God.

Therefore, if Thomas did apply the title theos to Jesus, it could have been in the sense of God’s representative.  The Bible does use theos sometimes in that sense.  But Thomas actually said ho theos.  This title is used for the Father only, and implies that when Thomas said “my God,” he actually referred to the Father.

Conclusion

The evidence is clear that Jesus is not called God in John’s gospel.  Only the Father is God.  However, the view that Jesus is God does not rely on the argument that He is called God.  It is based on other facts, such as that He is worshiped equal to God.  These matters are discussed in the articles that will follow after this one.

John’s Gospel

Critical scholars believe that John’s gospel was written by a number of writers over a period of time.  But the gospel expresses a coherent and consistent view of God and Jesus.  It does not seem to be written by more than one person.

John’s gospel was written much later than the other (synoptic) gospels.  It was written in the eighties or nineties, and has a much higher Christology (view of Christ) than the other gospels.  Some interpreters understand John’s gospel as saying that Jesus existed before His conception in Mary’s womb, and even that Jesus is God Himself.  The other gospels do not have such a high view of Jesus.  In the other gospels Jesus seems to be just a man; an anointed and sanctified man, but still only a man.  Competing views are therefore expressed, namely:

1.  John contradicts the first three gospels. OR

2.  John does not contradict the other gospels, for Jesus is God the Son also in Matthew, Mark and Luke; as divine as the Father is. OR

3. John does not contradict the other gospels, for John’s gospel is generally misunderstood, and even in John’s gospel Jesus is merely a man; God’s Messiah; and not God.

Unless otherwise stated, all quotes are from the NASB of John’s gospel.

Jesus is distinct from God.

Rather than referring to Jesus as God, John’s gospel reserves the title “God” for the Father.  The following phrases make a distinction between Jesus and God:

The Word (Jesus) was with God” (1:1b).

No one has seen God at any time” (1:18).  (Jesus was seen.)

God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (3:16-17)

You do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God” (5:44).

This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (6:29).

You are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God” (8:40).

I proceeded forth and have come from God“ (8:42).

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (14:1-2).

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (17:3).

John 17:3

Most of these quote Jesus’ words, making a distinction between Himself and God.  Two of these quotes refer to “the only true God” (17:3; cf. 5:44).  God is invisible (1:18), sent His Son (3:16-17; 6:29; 8:42; 17:3) and taught Jesus the truth (8:40).  His disciples, listening to these words, would not get the idea that Jesus is God.  To the contrary, in 8:40 Jesus refers to himself as “a man.”  Therefore, why would Thomas refer to Jesus as “my God” in John 20:28?  Where did he get the idea that Jesus is God?

The Father is God.

Jesus refers most often to “God” as the “Father.” It is important to understand that in John’s gospel, and in the entire New Testament, the title “God” is a synonym for “the Father,” for instance:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places” (14:1-2).

Jesus said to Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (20:17).

If only the Father is God, then it obviously follows that the Son is not called God.  But there are some Trinitarians that view the Father and Son to be a single self, and in Modalism the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are simply three modes of the same single divine Being.  Contrary to these views, the following shows that Jesus is distinct from the Father:

Thinking about His approaching death, Jesus said, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (12:27).
(In Gethsemane He similarly prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39).  This shows that the Father and Jesus two separate wills.)

If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (14:28; cf. 10:29).

The Father and the Son are therefore distinct Beings.  And, in the way that the New Testament uses the title “God,” only the Father is God

The Father is God for Jesus.

The following verse even identifies the Father as Jesus’ God:

Jesus said to Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (20:17).

John, who also wrote the Revelation, quotes Jesus saying, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God” (Rev. 3:12; cf. 3:13).

Conclusion

The title theos (usually translated God or god) appears more than 100 times in John:

In most instances it is not clear whether it refers to the Father or to the Son, for instance: “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (1:6).

Above ten instances are mentioned where theos refers to the Father only.

On the other hand, there are three instances (1:1, 18 and 20:28) where theos perhaps refers to Jesus.  Separate articles have been placed on this website for each of these verses.  Below these articles are summarized:

John 1:1c

John 1:1This is usually translated “the Word was God.”  A series of articles on this website addresses the translation of John 1:1c.  One article evaluates the translation “The Word was God” and another the translation “The Word was a god.”  In these articles it is shown that neither of these translations are appropriate because the word theos is used in a qualitative sense in that phrase, as grammarians agree.  It should rather be translated as “the Word was like God.”

Both John 1:1 and Philippians 2 describe Jesus before He became a human being.  The article Jesus in Philippians 2 proposed that “the Word was theos” can be understood as equivalent to the statements in Philippians 2 that Jesus “existed in the form of God” and had “equality with God” and “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:6, 10).  But, as also argued in that article, if Jesus “existed in the form of God” and if He had “equality with God,” then He is still distinct from God.

John 1:18

This verse is discussed in the article: John 1:18. In the NASB, this verse reads,

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

The word “God” appears twice in this verse.  The first “God” refers to the Father, who is described as invisible.  Since God is invisible, the conclusion can be that Jesus is distinct from God.

The second “God” in 1:18 refers to Jesus, but appears only in some translations.  Twelve of the 27 translation of this verse, as listed by BibleHub, describe Jesus as God in this verse.  The other (mostly older) translations, use a different source text, which actually has the widest geographical distribution, and which describes Jesus as “the only begotten Son.”  John originally wrote either theos (god) or huios (son), but somebody corrupted the text either on purpose or by accident.  It is the task of the textual critic to determine which was the original wording.  As discussed in the article Is Jesus God in John 1:18? neither the external or internal evidence is conclusive.  Because of this uncertainty, this verse should not be used as evidence that Jesus is called God.

John 20:28

This verse is discussed in the article on John 20:28.  Thomas would not believe the reports that Jesus was raised from death, but when He saw Jesus in person, a few days later, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (20:28)!  Jesus did not reprove Thomas.

For some this provides the best evidence that Jesus is God.  It is said that Jesus is here without doubt called “God.”  However, strong circumstantial evidence exists that Thomas could not have referred to Jesus as God:

1. Jesus did not teach the disciples that He is God.  Jesus never used the term θεός (theos = god) for Himself, but described Himself as the Christ and as the Son of God.  As discussed above, Jesus consistently made a distinction between Himself and God.  John summarized the main thesis of his book as follows:

These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

2. The events in the immediate context of John 20:28 show that the disciples did not believe that Jesus is God.  The two disciples walking to Emmaus demonstrate the thoughts of Jesus’ followers at that time.  Speaking to the resurrected Christ, whom they mistook as just a traveler, they described Jesus as “a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God…and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21).

3. The events in the book of Acts began a few weeks after Jesus appeared to Thomas.  If the apostles really believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their message in Acts, but such a statement is never even once found in Acts.

4. Paul was given the task of interpreting the dramatic Christ-events and to teach the church through his letters.  He did not teach that Jesus is God, but wrote the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3).   According to some translations of Romans 9:5, Paul referred to Jesus as God, but the article on Romans 9:5 shows that it is all a matter of punctuation, and all punctuation in the Bible is interpretation.

The article on John 20:28 analyses possible interpretations of Thomas’ exclamation.  Since the word theos has many different meanings, Thomas might have described Jesus as God-like or as mandated by God to speak for Him.  These are valid alternative meanings of the word theos.  See the article THEOS.  Another option is that Thomas did not address Jesus, but that He addressed the Father as “my God.”  Since Thomas did not merely say theos, but ho theos, this is quite possible.

But which of these is what Thomas actually meant is not important.  What is important is that the immediate and wider context prevents us from understanding John 20:28 as saying that Jesus is God.

Conclusion

The evidence is clear that Jesus is not called God in John’s gospel.  Only the Father is God.  However, the view that Jesus is God does not rely on the argument that He is called God.  It is based on other facts, such as:

He is worshiped equal to God.
The Jews thought that Jesus “was … making Himself equal with God” (5:18).
Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), “I and the Father are one” (10:30) and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9).

These matters are discussed in the articles that will follow after this one.

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