Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God.” Does this prove that He is God?

This is the second article in response to an article on the Trinity by the Gotquestions website.  The first article discussed the logical contradiction in the Trinity concept.  The current article responds to Gotquestions’ argument that “GOD THE SON IS DISTINGUISHED FROM GOD THE FATHER” and refers to Psalm 45:6-7 and Hebrews 1:8-9 for support.

The point is that Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God.”  But does this prove that He is God?  Hebrews 1:8-9 is a quote from Psalm 45.  I will, therefore, discuss Psalm 45 first.  After that, I discuss the first part of Hebrews 1, and conclude with verses 8 and 9.

But before I discuss Psalm 45, note that GotQuestions refers to “God the Son” and also to “God the Father.” We DO find the title “God the Father” in the Bible; about 20 times, but the title “God the Son” IS NEVER FOUND IN THE BIBLE.  The phrase “God the Son” is the product of the Trinity doctrine and does not come from the Bible.

All bold, underlining, UPPERCASE, font sizes and italics in this article were added by myself.  Bible quotes are mostly from the NASB.

Psalm 45

Let us now discuss Psalm 45.  Verses 1 and 2 read:

1 … I address my verses TO THE KING
2 … GOD HAS BLESSED YOU forever

This, therefore, makes a distinction between God and the king of Israel.  But verses 6 to 9 continue and refer to the king of Israel as God.  Addressing the king, it says:

6 YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER;
A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.

7 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED You

9 Kings’ daughters are among Your noble ladies;
At Your right hand stands the queen.

This identifies the king of Israel as God.  This is confirmed by verse 9, which mentions the king’s wives.  But it also says, “GOD, YOUR GOD, has anointed You.”  In other words, the king of Israel is called God, but God is also his God.

Elohim

All four instances of the word “God” in the quote from the psalm are translated from the Hebrew word elohim, which Strongs defines as “God,” with a capital “G,” or “god,” with a small “g.”  The NASB translates elohim mostly as “God,” with a capital “G,” but also about 250 times with a small “g” “god” or “gods.

The word elohim is discussed in a separate article.  Another place where we see a human being described as “god” or elohim—literally “gods”—is in Exodus 7:1, where “The LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made you a god [that is elohim] to Pharaoh.

The king is a normal human being.  Why is he called elohim?  We will respond to that question below, after we have discussed Hebrews 1.

Why is elohim translated as “God?”

But before we turn to Hebrews, there is a second matter in Psalm 45 that requires our attention.  That is the question, why did the translators of the NASB translate the word “King” in verse 1 with a capital “K?”  And why did they translate elohim, when it refers to the king, as “God” with a capital “G?” Why did they not translate elohim with a small “god,” as they did in the case of Moses, and as they do for all beings that are not God, but who are referred to as elohim?

It is not because of anything in the psalm itself, for there is nothing in the psalm that goes beyond a normal human king.  The translators capitalized these words for two reasons:

Firstly, they know that Hebrews 1 refers to Psalm 45 and interprets the king in this psalm as a type of (a symbol of) Christ.

Secondly, the translators are Trinitarians, and therefore believe that Jesus is God.

What we must realize is that, to translate elohim when it refers to the king of Israel, as “God” with a big “G,” rather than with a small “g,” is an application of the Trinity doctrine.

With this background, we can now discuss Hebrews 1:

Hebrews 1

A primary purpose of Hebrews is to exalt Jesus.  The letter, for example, commences by saying:

    • That God appointed His Son as “heir of all things” (1:2).
    • That, through the Son, God, “made the world” (1:2).
    • That the Son “is … the exact representation of God’s nature” (1:3).
    • That the Son “upholds all things by the word of His power” (1:3), and
    • That the Son “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3).

Distinct From God

Note that “God” in verse 1 is identified as “the Majesty on high” in verse 3.

We discussed above how Gotquestions refers to “God the Son,” but these first verses of Hebrews make an explicit distinction between “God” and “His Son. If the Son is distinct from God, then the Son is not God, if we use the word “God” in the way that the New Testament uses it.

From verse 4 onwards, Hebrews explains that the Son is “much better than the angels.”  If the Son was God, as the Trinity doctrine requires, then there WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY NEED to argue that the Son is better than the angels.  Then the writer of Hebrews could simply have said that the Son is God.  See Jesus is not God for a further discussion of these principles.

Subordinate to God

We must also appreciate that these verses identify the Son as subordinate to God, for example:

    • God is the original Owner, because He “appointed” His Son as the heir of all things (1:2).
    • God is the Creator, for He made the world “through” the Son (1:2).
    • God is the true glory, for the Son is the radiance of His glory (1:3).
    • God is the ultimate Ruler, for the Son sits on His “right hand.”

The fundamental concept in the Trinity doctrine is that the Son is co-equal with the Father.  The entire remainder of the Trinity concept has been developed to reconcile this conclusion with the Bible.  If it is then found that the Son is subordinate to God, then the entire Trinity doctrine collapses.  For a further discussion, see, God is the Head of Christ.

Today I have begotten You

In verse 5, Hebrews 1 quotes from Psalm 2, saying “you are my son, today I have begotten you.”  In Psalm 2, these words refer to the king of Israel.  Hebrews, therefore, interprets the king of Psalm 2 to be a type of the Son. Hebrews quotes the Old Testament very frequently, for it was specifically addressed to the Hebrew Christians.

Worship the Son.

Hebrews continues and says that GOD COMMANDED ALL ANGELS TO WORSHIP THE SON (1:6).  If Jesus is worshiped, DOES THAT NOT MEAN THAT HE IS GOD?  Hebrews 1:6 is similar to Philippians 2:9-10, where we read,

God highly exalted Him (that is, Jesus),
and bestowed on Him the name which is above EVERY NAME,
so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW …
and that every tongue will confess
THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD,
TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER.

God commanded His worship.

The question then is, if Jesus is not God, WHY IS HE WORSHIPED?  To respond to this question, notice the following:

FIRSTLY, both Hebrews 1:6 and Philippians 2 make an explicit distinction between God and Jesus.  Philippians 2, for example, says that “God exalted Him.”  Furthermore, “every tongue will confess THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD.”  In other words; they will not confess Jesus as God.

SECONDLY, in both, IT IS GOD WHO CAUSES ALL BEINGS TO WORSHIP JESUS.  If Jesus was God, then THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY NEED for God to COMMAND His creatures to worship Him.

Proskuneó

THIRDLY, the Greek word that is translated “worship” (that is the word proskuneó) has a much wider meaning than the English word “worship.”  “Worship” implies that the one worshiped is God, but humans also proskuneó one anotherProskuneó simply means to show honor.  It literally means “to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior.”  For example, the three wise men came looking for the “King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2).  When they found Him, “they fell to the ground and proskuneó Him” (v11); not because He is God, for they did not think of Him as God, but because He is “born King of the Jews.”

FOURTHLY, in Philippians 2, Jesus is worshiped “TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER.”  He is not worshiped independently from God, but “to the glory of God.”  To glorify the Son is to glorify the Father.  We worship the Father through the Son.

But why do we worship Jesus?

Why do we worship the Son with the Father?  The reason is that WE CANNOT REALLY SEPARATE THE SON FROM GOD.  I like Tertullian’s metaphor.  For him, the Father is like the sun in the sky, and His Son is like the rays streaming from the sun.  God created all things through His Only Begotten Son and He still “upholds all things by the word of His (that is, His Son’s) power” (Heb. 1:1-3; cf. John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-17).  “In Him (that is, in Jesus) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).  We therefore worship the Son, not only because God commanded us to, but because of who He is.  For a further discussion, see Jesus is worshiped.

Only Begotten Son of God

When people hear that Jesus is the Son of God, they think of human sons, who are in all respects equal to their fathers.  But the Bible does not teach that the Son is equal to God.  He is called the SON of God to reveal to us that He has a very unique relationship with God AS FAR AS HIS ORIGIN IS CONCERNED.  He is His “only begotten Son,” who, before His birth as a human being, existed “in the form of God” (Phil. 2:5).  To describe Jesus as the “only begotten Son” attempts to explain something in human language which human minds cannot comprehend.  He was not begotten as humans are.  We should not give our own interpretation of this symbolic language. We should allow the Bible to interpret it for us.  For a further discussion, see Only Begotten Son of God.

Hebrews 1:8

Then, after describing the angels as “winds, and … a flame of fire,” we come to the verses that are the particular focus of the current article, namely verses 8 and 9.  I read:

8 But of the Son He says,
“YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER,
AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. 9 “YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU …”

This is a fairly exact quote from Psalm 45:6-7.  The author of Hebrews interprets the king of Israel in Psalm 45 as a type of Jesus.  The writer described Jesus as “God” in verse 8 because Psalm 45 refers to the king of Israel as “God.”  We now need to explain why the king of Israel, and consequently, the Son of God, are described as God.

“God” and the Greek word theos

The word “God” in Hebrews 1:8 is translated from the Greek word theos.  Theos, similar to the Hebrew word elohim, can be translated as “god” either with a capital “G” or with a lower “g.” It depends on who it refers to.  This requires further clarification.

THERE IS NO WORD IN THE ORIGINAL GREEK TEXT THAT IS EXACTLY EQUAL TO OUR WORD “GOD.”  In modern English, we use the word “God,” with a capital “G,” to identify one specific Being; namely, the Uncaused Cause of all things.  The word “God,” with a capital “G,” functions in English as A PROPER NAME FOR THE SUPREME BEING.

The ancient languages did not have the modern differentiation between lower and upper case letters.  They only had words (such as theos and elohim) that are equivalent to our word “god” with a lower “g.” The word “god,” with a lower “g,” does not identify any specific being, but A CATEGORY OF BEINGS.  That group of beings includes the God of the Bible, but also includes other beings.  For example, Satan is also called theos, namely “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Therefore, to translate theos as “God” with a capital “G” or as “god” with a lower “g” depends on the translator’s interpretation, and since translators generally are Trinitarians, they translate the instances where the title theos is applied to Jesus, as “God” with a capital “G.”  But if one does not assume the Trinity theory, the reference to Jesus as theos in Hebrews 1:8 may also be translated as “god,” with a lower “g.”

It is a form of collective circular reasoning: First, the Trinitarian translator adds a capital “G.” Then the readers exclaim, SEE, it says “God!  Therefore Jesus is God!”  For a further discussion, see – The Meanings of the Word THEOS.

God Jesus has a God.

In conclusion, the fact that Hebrews 1:8 identifies Jesus as God does not prove that He is God.  The next verse actually proves that He is not God, for it says to Jesus, “GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU” (Heb. 1:9).  In other words, Jesus has a God over Him.  This makes one think of John 20.  That chapter similarly refers to Jesus as “God,” but in the same chapter Jesus refers to God as His God (compare verses 17 and 28). See – Did Thomas call Jesus “my God” in John 20:28?

Summary

Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God.”  Does this prove that Jesus is God?

The first verses of Hebrews 1, in a number of ways, make an explicit DISTINCTION BETWEEN JESUS AND GOD, and, contrary to the Trinity doctrine, represent Jesus as SUBORDINATE TO GOD.  According to verse 6, God commanded all angels to worship the Son.  This again shows that the Son is subordinate to the Father.  But we do not worship the Son only because God commanded us to.  We worship Him because of who He is, for God created all things through Him and still upholds all this through the word of His Son’s power.

Jesus is called theos (that is, god) in Hebrews 1:8 because:

(a) Hebrews 1:8 is a quote from Psalm 45.
(b) In that psalm, the king is called elohim (god).
(c) The writer of Hebrews interpreted the king of Psalm 45 as a type of Christ.

That Jesus is called theos does not prove that He is God, for theos can also be translated either as “god” with a small “g.”  But translators are Trinitarians, and therefore believe that Jesus is God.  To translate theos as “God,” with a capital “G,” rather than with a small “g,” when it refers to Jesus, IS PURELY INTERPRETATION.  It is an application of the Trinity doctrine.

BUT THE VERY NEXT VERSE PROVES THAT JESUS IS NOT GOD, for it says that Jesus has a God over Him.

 

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.

The Historical Development of the Trinity – From before Nicaea to the Reformation

Purpose

Nicene Creed
Emperor standing behind the church fathers

The purpose of this article series is to trace the development of the Trinity theory through the centuries, commencing with the pre-Nicene fathers, though the tumultuous events of the fourth century, down to the Reformation.

In the year 325, the Council of Nicaea decreed that the Lord Jesus Christ exists as one substance (homoousios) and as co-equal with the Father.  The purpose of the first articles is to determine what Christians believed about Christ and the Trinity in the three centuries before Nicaea. 

Method

Matt Slick is a prominent Trinitarian apologist.  To prove that Christians did believe in the Trinity during the first three centuries, his brief post, “Early Trinitarian Quotes,” provides a collection of proof texts from prominent second and third centuries theologians.

Sean Finnegan—a Unitarian (believing that the Father alone is God)—responded to Slick’s article with an article titled Trinity before Nicaea.  His purpose was to show that Christians in the first three centuries did not believe in the Trinity.  He discussed Slick’s articles but added further quotes.  Dr. Tuggy’s podcast 262 presents his response.  Dr. Tuggy is a well know Socinian Unitarian, which means that he believes that Christ did not exist before His human birth.  

The current article series analyzes the quotes from both these articles to see what the Christian authors believed in the first three centuries about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The purpose is not to determine whether what those early Christians were correct in their teachings, but rather to understand whether the Nicene and later creeds were consistent with the teachings of the early Christians.

To simplify these articles, many of the quotes below are summarized.  For the full quotes, refer to Finnegan’s article.

Trinity Defined

Trinity
Trinity

Slick’s definition of the Trinity, in summary, is as follows:

God is one, but is a Trinity of three distinct persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each has a will and is self-aware, but they are not three beings. They consist of one substance.  Each person is the one God and is eternal, equal to the others and equally powerful.
Jesus, as a man, has both a divine and human nature.

In this definition, “each person is the one God.” This means that God = the Father = the Son = the Holy Spirit.  This sounds like Modalism, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three different Persons, but three modes of the same Being. But then Slick also says that they are “three distinct persons.”

The three-ness of God is expressed as three separate wills and self-awareness.
The one-ness of God is expressed as a single substance, understood as a single Being.

Historical Development

The conceptual progression and historical development of the Trinity theory can be described as follows:

Jesus is God.

Worship JesusBased on the High Christological statements in the Bible, Trinitarians believe that Jesus is God as much as the Father is God.  This was the main point of the Nicene Creed of the year 325, which identified the Son as “true God from true God.”

Three Persons in One Being

This creed caused much dispute and controversy in the church for the next 50 years, for the Bible is clear that only one God exists (monotheism).  Trinitarians, therefore, developed the concept that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are a single Being; together they are the one God of the Bible. However, since there are differences between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, such as that the one is begotten and the other not, the thought developed that they are three different Persons within the one single Being.  The Three Person in One Being theology was clearly enunciated by the first council of Constantinople in the year 381.

The word Trinity has two possible meanings.  With a lower case, “trinity” simply means a group of three.  But we currently use the word “Trinity,” with a capital “T,” as a proper name for the single Being who consists of three divine Persons.

Two Natures

But then, Christ Jesus, when He was on earth, did not know the day and hour of His return, and said that only the Father knows that.  And in many other ways, He indicated that He is subordinate to the Father.  For example, He was sent by the Father and that the Father gave Him what to say and what to do.  Trinitarians, therefore, developed the thought that Jesus had both a human and a divine nature.  In His human nature, He did not know the day or die hour, but in His divine nature He knows all things.  This “two natures” theory was articulated at the council of Chalcedon in 451.

The conclusion that the Son is God as much as the Father is God is, therefore, the foundation on which the Trinity theory rests.  Both the One Being/Three Persons and the dual nature theories simply are secondary attempts to reconcile the Bible with the conclusion that the Son is God. 

The concepts in this section will be brought out in more clarity in the articles that will follow.

Arianism

AriusIn the fifty years after Nicaea, that creed was rejected by most church leaders.  Arianism was the main competitor for the Trinity theory and held the sway until the year 381.  This theory is analyzed in a later article.  In summary, Arianism argues that the Son is not equal to the Father, but was begotten by the Father before time and that God created all things through the Son.  In other words, in the infinity beyond time, the Father was before the Son, using the word “before” metaphorically. 

Questions

The articles below discuss the Christologies of Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons), Tertullian and Origen; the greatest and most influential Christian theologian before Augustine.  The purpose is to evaluate the following aspects from the definition of the Trinity against their works:

1. The Son is God.
2. The three Persons are equal.
3. The Holy Spirit is self-aware.
4. The three Persons consist of one substance.
5. Jesus has both a divine and human nature.

Christology of the Long Lines Creed reflects the general view of the first centuries.

The fourth-century saw a huge controversy about the nature of Christ.  The Arians proposed Him to be a created being.  Others believed that He was eternally begotten.  A flurry of councils and creeds followed, all trying to explain who Jesus is. The Fourth Century website lists 17 councils, from the Nicene Creed of 325 to the Constantinople creed of the year 381.  Some concluded that the Son is equal to the Father.  Others, particularly the councils in the eastern part of the empire (Antioch), made Him subordinate to the Father.  None of the creeds presents the Son as a created being, as the Arians proposed.

Christianity in the Fourth Century

The Creed of the Long Lines, also called the Macrostichs, is one of those creeds.  In response to the Nicene creed of 325, the Greek-speaking Bishops at Antioch formulated the creed in the year 344.  Their leading scholar was Eusebius of Caesarea; the famous church historian and philosophical grandchild of Origen (185/6–254).

The three main Christian centers in the Fourth Century

In the next year, the bishops in Antioch presented their creed to the Latin speaking Bishops in the western part of the empire.  Avoiding, as far as possible, controversial, non-biblical language, the eastern bishops hoped that their creed would be acceptable all around, even to partisans of the 325 creed at Nicaea.  This creed is informative as far as the school of thought at Antioch goes.

The Long Lines Creed is discussed here because it contains some very important and valid concepts and also reflects the views generally held in the church before the fourth century.  The creed proposes that the Son had a beginning and that He is subordinate to the Father, but still manages to conclude that He was begotten, rather than created, and always existed.

The Long Lines Creed can be found at Fourth Century.  Dr. Tuggy discusses it in podcast 172.

One God

The creed begins as follows:

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, the Creator and Maker of all things, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.

This is the standard opening of all creeds, including the Nicene and later creeds.  This formulation is found in the earliest known baptismal creeds of the second century.  It a remnant from the past (the centuries before the fourth) when the church generally still believed the Father to be the “one God.”  The Trinity theory, in which the monotheistic God of the Bible consists of three equal Persons, was only developed in the fourth century.  But even after the Church generally accepted the Trinity doctrine, this opening phrase was retained due to its strong traditional status.

The Son

The creed continues:

And in His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God, Light from Light, by whom all things were made, in heaven and on the earth

The phrases in bold are discussed below, using the explanations in the latter part of the creed.

Before all ages

Firstly, the Son was begotten “before all ages:

Later, in the anathemas, the creed reads:

Those who say, … that there was a time or age when He was not, the Catholic and Holy Church regards as aliens. … Yet we must not consider the Son to be co-unbegun … with the Father … we acknowledge that the Father who alone is Unbegun … and that the Son hath been generated before ages.

The Father “generated” the Son because He was “begotten from the Father.

It states that the Father had no beginning (is “unbegun”).  But the Son had a beginning (is not “co-unbegun”).

Arians claimed that the Son was created at a specific point in time, and consequently that there was a time when He did not exist (“was not“).  This creed rejects that notion, saying that “the Son hath been generated before ages.” In other words, the Son had a beginning, but that beginning was before time.  Therefore, there never was “a time or age when He was not,”

The creed later adds that “through Him, both times and ages came to be.”  The Bible teaches that the Father created “all things” through the Son.  In Eastern thinking “all things” include time, and God created time through the Son.

Conclusions

To add a personal perspective: Concerning time, the Son is like the universe, for the universe had a beginning but always existed, because time was created when the universe came into being (in my view) and because there is no such thing as time before time began.  There never was a time when the universe did not exist.

The creed avoids the well-known phrase “eternal generation” with respect to the Son, but the thought is clearly present.

The Nicene Creed was designed to refute the Arian view.  The Long Lines Creed objects to the Nicene creed, but its claim that there never was a time when the Son did not exist, shows that it also objects to Arianism.

In summary, the Son had a beginning but always existed, because God created time through Him.

Begotten from the Father

Secondly, the Son was “begotten from the Father:

From God

The creed denounces “those who say, that the Son was from nothing, or from other subsistence and not from God.”  The word “from” appears three times in this sentence.  Perhaps the Arians claimed that God created Jesus “from nothing, or from other subsistence.”  In contrast, the eastern bishops claim that Jesus is “from God,” which is another way of saying that He was “begotten from the Father.

Generated

Concerning the Father, the creed asserts:

The divine Word teaches that the Ingenerate and Unbegun, the Father of Christ, is One.
We acknowledge that the Father who alone is … Ingenerate, hath generated inconceivably and incomprehensibly to all

In other words, the Father was not brought into being by any other being (is “ingenerate”).  He, therefore, exists without cause.  He exists by Himself.  Concerning the Son the creed declares as follows:

We must not consider the Son to be … co-ingenerate with the Father … the Son hath been generated before ages, and in no wise to be ingenerate Himself like the Father, but to have the Father who generated Him as His beginning; for ‘the Head of Christ is God.

Therefore, in contrast to the Father, the Son has been generated, namely by the Father, when He was “begotten from the Father:

Not created

Later the creed says:

We do not understand Him (the Son) to have been originated like the creatures or works which through Him came to be, for it is irreligious … to compare the Creator with handiworks created by Him … For divine Scripture teaches us really and truly that the Only-begotten Son was uniquely generated.

The Son is here called “the Creator,” but notice the word “through.”  The opening phrase of the creed identifies the Father as “the Creator and Maker of all things.”  The Bible says that God created all things through the Son (John 1; Hebrews 1; Colossians 1).  The Father is the Force and Cause of creation.  The Son is the Means or Hand through which God created.

The Son Himself was not created, but was “uniquely generated.”  This means that the creed makes a distinction between created and generated, similar to people who create things but beget children.

Conclusions

The Nicene Creed uses the term ousios (substance or essence), claiming that Jesus is “of one substance with the Father,” and therefore that the Son is equal to the Father.  Although the Long Lines Creed says that He is “from God,” and “begotten,” it avoids the term ousios.  It does not use that term even once, probably because the Bible never says that the Father and Son have the same substance.  Since the Long Lines Creed presents the Son as subordinate to the Father, it does not use the ousios argument.

In summary, the Son was not created, but was begotten by the Father.

God From God

Thirdly, the Son is “God from God:

His Only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who before all ages was begotten from the Father, God from God

True God

The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “true God (the Son) from true God (the Father),” but the Long Lines Creed omits the word “true” in both instances.  It refers to Jesus only as “God from God.”  This is consistent with John 17:3, which declares the Father to be the only true God.

Only the Father is God

The creed defends itself as follows against an accusation of polytheism:

In confessing three realities and three Persons, of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost according to the Scriptures, (we do not) therefore make Gods three; since we acknowledge the Self-complete and Ingenerate and Unbegun and Invisible God to be one only, the God and Father of the Only-begotten, who alone has being from Himself, and alone gives this to all others generously.

In other words, we must not talk of three Gods because only the Father exists by Himself, without beginning or cause, and gives existence to all other things.  There cannot be two Ultimate Beings, for an Ultimate Being is the Cause of all else.

The Son is subordinate.

The quote above refers to “Gods three.”  The following similar statement in the creed interestingly refers to “two Gods” and to a Triad:

Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the Most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being Head over the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be, and granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will. 

The Father alone, therefore, is “Head over the whole universe wholly.”  The Son is “subordinated to the Father.”  Only one monarchy or reign exists.  The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father.  Partisans of the Trinity theory would argue that Jesus is functionally subordinate to the Father, but not ontologically (by nature of being).  However, this creed does not make that distinction.

God of the Old Testament

The ancients used the Greek word theos (god) for all gods.  Even exalted people are called gods; even in the Bible.  See the Meanings of the Word THEOS.  The Long Lines Creed explains as follows why it identifies the Son as theos:

In saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only Ingenerate, do we (not) therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages … for He it is, to whom the Father said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’ (Gen 1:26), who also was seen in His own Person by the patriarchs, gave the law, spoke by the prophets, and at last, became man …

The creed, therefore, refers to the Son as God because “He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him” (John 2-3).  Furthermore, the creed argues, whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it was the Son who was seen.  For that reason, it is proper to refer to the Son as God, but we must not confuse Him with the Uncaused Cause, who is the Father alone.

Conclusions

In this context the translation “Triad” (see above) is appropriate.  A translation of “Trinity” would have been anachronistic, for this creed does not present God as three divine Persons of one divine Being.  Rather, it thinks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a hierarchical group of “three realities and three Persons,” where only the Father is the ingenerated Source of all else, who also generated the Son.

Origen, the philosophical father of the bishops in Antioch, once said that he does not hesitate to talk of God in different senses. He said that just like man and his wife are one in flesh, and Christ in His followers are one in spirit, so the Father and Son are one in God.  Both are God, but not in the same sense, for only the Father is the uncaused Cause of all else.

This explains how we should understand the statement “God from God.”  The easterners probably would have preferred to say “God from true God,” but they attempted to stay as close as possible to the wording of the Nicene Creed, which declared the Son to be of the same substance (homo-ousios) as the Father.  The Nicene Creeds used that term to present the Son as equal to the Father.  The Long Lines Creed, on the other hand, like many of the other creeds of that era, presents the Son as subordinate to the Father.

The famous statement (“Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness”) is quoted from Genesis 1:26.  Some dispute that God was talking to the Son, saying that God spoke to His angels, but others object and say that man was not created in the image of angels, but in the image of God.  The Son Himself “existed in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6).

Holy Ghost

The creed continues:

And we believe in the Holy Ghost, that is, the Paraclete, which, having promised to the Apostles, He sent forth after the ascension into heaven, to teach them and to remind of all things.

This creed has a very scanty treatment of the Holy Spirit.  Similar to the Bible, this creed never explicitly refers to the Holy Spirit as God, or as God from God.  To the contrary, the phrase “three Gods” in the following implies that the Holy Spirit is not God:

The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods

The Same

The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that Father and Son and Holy Ghost are the same.  This is aimed against Modalism, which is the theory that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three modes of God and not three separate Beings.

The creed justifies this view by saying that, if the Three were the same, then the unlimited and impassible (incapable of suffering or feeling pain) Father has become limited and changeable when the Son became a man.  Rather, the Father, who sent the Son, remained unchangeable when Christ was incarnated.

By Choice

The Long Lines Creed anathematizes those who say that the Father had no choice but to beget the Son so that He begat the Son unwillingly.  It says that God is absolute and sovereign over Himself and generated the Son voluntarily and freely.  In saying this, the creed responded to some other voices from that era:

Those that view Jesus as equal to the Father sometimes propose that it was not the Father’s will to generate the Son, but that the Father ‘always’ was the Father and the Son ‘always’ was the Son.  (“Always’ is perhaps not the best term, if in our view God exists outside time.)  Perhaps the Long Lines Creed responds to this view and proposed that the Father begat the Son by will to emphasize that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.

Another possibility is that the view, that God made all things through the Son, and that the Son is the God of the Old Testament, may create the impression that the Father is an un-personal Force and not a separate Person with His own will.  Perhaps the Long Lines Creed reacted to such a view.

Inseparable

Who is Jesus?  This is the question in these creeds.  He is the Son of God, is worshiped with God, received from God to have life in Himself and to judge the world, and He identifies Himself as the First and the Last.  So, what is His relationship with God?  The church had to struggle with this question.  The Nicene Creed went to the one extreme by declaring the Son to be of the same substance as the Father.  It is not possible to postulate a higher level of unity between Father and Son.

Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea and the bishops in the Antioch—the focal point of Christianity in the eastern part of the empire—recognized the Son as generated by and subordinate to the Father.  They also identified the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not as one Being, as in the Trinity theory, but as “three realities and three Persons.”  The Long Lines Creed, therefore, does not accept that they are one in substance.  In its place, they offered the following:

We do not … separate Him from the Father … For we believe that they are united with each other without mediation or distance, and that they exist inseparable; all the Father embosoming the Son, and all the Son clinging to the Father, and alone resting on the Father’s breast continually.

These words are probably true, and an interpretation of passages such as:

I and the Father are one” (John 10:29), and
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

On the other hand, similar to what the Bible consistently does, this creed identifies the Father alone as God, and the Son as subordinate to Him.  This is true even of the gospel of John and Paul’s writings, in which we find the highest Christology of the New Testament.

An Attempt at Reconciliation

The Christian church originated in Jerusalem, but in the first century, Antioch soon became the leading gentile church.  In the fourth century, however, after Christianity became the official Roman religion, the church in Italy became powerful in influence and authority.

In the closing section of the creed the bishops in Antioch state their purpose as “to clear away all unjust suspicion concerning our opinions, … and that all in the West may know, … the audacity of the slanders.”  This implies that the easterners were criticized before the powers in Rome, and through the creed, the bishops in Antioch attempted to reach out and clarify their position.  It is for that reason that it has these long-winded explanations and therefore is called the Long Lines Creed.

The Long Lines Creed attempts to remain as close as possible to the position of the bishops in the West, as reproduced in the Nicene Creed, to avoid to be seen as Arian and to be modest and to only use Scriptural language.  But the bishops in Italy rejected the creed.

Summary of the view of the Long Lines Creed

The Father had no beginning, while the Son had a beginning.  The Son, nevertheless, always existed, for the Father created all things through the Son.  Since “all things” include time, God also created time through the Son.  There, consequently, never was a time or age when the Son did not exist.

The Father was not brought into being by another being.  He alone exists without a cause and gives existence to all other things.  The Son, in contrast, exists because of the Father.  He was not created but was uniquely begotten from the Father.

The Son is God, for He existed in the form of God.  Whenever God appeared in the Old Testament, it actually was the Son who was seen.  But the Father is the only true God.

The Son rules over all things, but He is subordinate to the Father.  The Father is the ultimate Head over the whole universe.

They are two separate Beings, but the Father and Son exist inseparably.  As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”

Conclusion

As stated above, at least 17 creeds, with contradicting explanations of who Jesus is, were formulated in the fourth century.  Eventually, the Nicene Creed, as adjusted by the 381 creed, became generally accepted.  But we should not be persuaded by this consensus:

Firstly, this view of Christ differs from the view that was dominant in the earlier centuries.

Nicene Creed
Emperor standing behind the church fathers

Secondly, these creeds were produced after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, after the power base in the Church shifted from Jerusalem and Antioch in the East to Rome in the West, and after the emperor became dominant in the formulation of doctrine by calling and chairing councils.  As can be seen in the anathemas that were attached to the fourth-century creeds, and by the aggressive and insulting tone of writings of Athanasius of Alexandria, the chief defender of Trinitarianism at the time, these creeds were produced with an air of dictatorship and intolerance.  (Listen to podcasts 169 to 171 on Trinities.)  These creeds made an end to religious freedom and shifted persecution from persecution of the church to persecution by the church.

The Apostle Paul lamented that the Corinthians would follow those who abused them and even slapped them in the face (2 Cor. 11:20).  Carnal people respond to carnal strength and carnal leadership.  By the biblical definition, the church in this era became carnal.  Christ Himself demonstrated Christian leadership when He went to the cross. In Revelation 3, He stands outside the door of His own church knocking to see if any will open to Him. He does not force Himself on us.  Our only leader must be Christ.  When leaders compel Christians to accept a doctrine, they are not leading people to Him. The Truth is a Person.