What was the stance of Arius on John 1:1?

Did Arius believe that Jesus was a creature, a created god? What did he write about John 1:1? Or if there is no such extant manuscript, how would he have interpreted “the Word was God” in John 1:1 based on his Christology?

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 (ESV)

Created Being

It is not true to say that “Arius believed that Jesus was a creature, a created god,” as if He is one among many.

“Many summary accounts present the Arian controversy as a dispute over whether or not Christ was divine.” (LA, 13) However, “it is misleading to assume that these controversies were about ‘the divinity of Christ’” (LA, 14) 

LA = Lewis Ayres
Nicaea and its legacy, 2004

Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

“A second approach that we need to reject treats the fourth-century debates as focusing on the question of whether to place the Son on either side of a clear God/creation boundary.” (LA, 4)

If Arius described the Son as a created being, so did many of his ‘orthodox’ predecessors. For example:

H. R. Boer (A Short History of the Early Church, p108-110) states that “Justin and the other Apologists therefore taught that the Son is a creature. He is a high creature, a creature powerful enough to create the world but, nevertheless, a creature.”

“Both Dionysius of Alexandria and Theognostus use a terminology of ‘creating’ as one among a range of terms, and we simply cannot be certain how this was heard in third-century Alexandria.” (LA, 49)

For a further discussion, see – Christ’s Divinity

 Arian View

With respect to the Son, ‘Arians’ believed as follows:

      • He is the only being ever to be begotten directly by the Father.
      • As the Mediator between God and man, He is the only being able to come directly into God’s presence, as all other beings would disintegrate.
      • He created all things.
      • Therefore, He is God of all things and worshiped by all things. He is our God; just like the Father is His God.

It was Arius’ enemies who, distorting Arius’ writings, claimed that Arius taught that the Son is a created being. See – Did Arius describe Jesus Christ as a Created Being?

Arius Not Important

We only have about five pages of Arius’ own writings (about 3 letters). Consequently, we do not have anything about what he himself wrote on John 1:1 specifically.

One possible reference is where Arius wrote: The Father “gave him existence alongside himself” (RH, 7). Perhaps this refers to John 1:1, which says, “The Word was with God.”

RH Bishop R.P.C. Hanson
The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God –

The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

However, Arius was not important. Contrary to what is popularly believed, Arius was not the leader of the anti-Nicenes of the fourth century. For example, these anti-Nicenes never quoted him. Again, it was the pro-Nicenes who distorted the truth by tarnishing their opponents as “Arians,” claiming that anti-Nicenes were followers of Arius.

Eusebian View

Eusebius of Caesarea “was universally acknowledged as the most scholarly bishop of his day” (RH, 46). He “was certainly an early supporter of Arius” (RH, 46) but he was not a follower of Arius. In the fourth century, he was the real theological leader of the anti-Nicenes. We may, therefore, appropriately refer to the anti-Nicenes as ‘Eusebians’.

This might surprise the reader, but “John 1:1 … is used by Eusebius of Caesarea to express his doctrine of the Logos before the outbreak of the dispute.” (RH, 835)

In Eusebian thinking, John 1:1 describes two distinct Persons; God and the Logos (“and the Word was with God”). And since there cannot be two Ultimate Realities; only one of them is the Ultimate Reality:

“The Logos could not represent ultimate metaphysical reality (‘He who is’) because ‘He who is’ cannot be ‘with’ Him who is; they cannot both represent ultimate reality” (RH, 835). Or, “the two (God and the Logos) are placed side by side” (RH, 390).

The Beginning

For the Arians, the “beginning” refers to the creation of all things. Firstly, God had no beginning. Therefore, it cannot refer to God’s beginning. Secondly, John 1:2-3 explicitly refers to the creation of all things, which links these verses to the creation account in Genesis 1.

God and theos

Similar to John 1:1, Arius and the other Eusebians did refer to the Son as theos. For example:

The ‘Dedication’ Creed

In 341 a group of bishops present in Antioch “to dedicate a church built by the Emperor Constantius” (RH, 290) formulated what is known as the Dedication Creed. This creed refers explicitly to John 1:1 and refers to the Son as “God” (theos in Greek). It described Him as:

“God from God …
who was in the beginning with God,
God the Word according to the text in the Gospel,
‘and the Word was God’,
by whom all things were made,
and in whom all things exist

Richard Hanson wrote:

“[The Dedication Creed] represents the nearest approach we can make to discovering the views of the ordinary educated Eastern bishop who was no admirer of the extreme views of Arius but who had been shocked and disturbed by the apparent Sabellianism of Nicaea.” (RH, 290)

But this creed also describes the Son as subordinate to the Father. Athanasius coined the term ‘Arian’ to tar his opponents, who were not followers of Arius, as followers of a theology that the church already rejected. See Athanasius invented Arianism or The Creation of ‘Arianism’.

The Council of Serdica

As another example, at the Council of Serdica (AD 343), the ‘easterners’ (those whom Athanasius identified as ‘Arians’) issued a statement that anathematizes “those who say. . .that Christ is not God.”

The term theos

Since the ‘easterners’ regarded the Son both as “God” and as subordinate to the Father, Lewis Ayres says:

This “reminds us of the variety of ways in which the term ‘God’ could be deployed at this point.” (LA, 124) (LA = Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004)

Hanson agrees:

“The word theos or deus, for the first four centuries of the existence of Christianity had a wide variety of meanings. There were many different types and grades of deity in popular thought and religion and even in philosophical thought.” (Hanson Lecture)

God and theos

In the Bible and in the early Greek writers, theos is NOT equivalent to the modern word “God:”

The word theos was used for beings with different levels of divinity. The term theos was originally used for the Greek gods and goddesses and describes an immortal being with supernatural power. The Son of God, therefore, may most certainly be described as “theos.” In English, therefore, when not referring to the Father or the Son, theos is translated as “god.”

In contrast, in English, the word “God” is used only for the Ultimate Reality. Ancient Greek did not have an equivalent word.

John 1:1

The translation of John 1:1 “and the Word was God,” with a capital “G,” therefore ASSUMES that the Son is the Ultimate Reality. Given the meaning of theos as described, this is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof of the Trinity doctrine.

I would not translate John 1:1 as “and the Word was God” but would definitely also not translate it as “the Word was a god” because that would imply He is one among many. Unfortunately, the Trinity doctrine has determined the vocabulary of the English language in this regard. It only has the words “God” and “god.” English does not have a word for a Being like the Son, who was begotten from the being of Father to have many of God’s attributes, such as to have life in Himself and to maintain all things by the word of God’s power.

See – Did the church fathers describe Jesus as “god” or as “God?”

His God

So, there are two called theos in John 1:1. We see the same in John 20 and Hebrews 1:8-9. In both those passages, the Son is called theos but the Father is called His theos (His God). Despite this, the standard translation, because it assumes the Trinity doctrine, translates theos in these two instances, when referring to the Son, as “God.”


Other Articles

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    For the first more than 300 years, the church fathers believed that the Son is subordinate to the Father. The Trinity Doctrine was developed by the Cappadocian fathers late in the fourth century but the decision to adopt it was not taken by the church. This is a list of all articles on the Arian Controversy.
  • 2
    Who was he? What did he believe?
  • 3
    Who created it? What does it say?
  • 4
    What does it mean?
  • 5
    The conclusion that Jesus is ‘God’ forms the basis of the Trinity Doctrine.
  • 6
    Including Modalism, Eastern Orthodoxy view of the Trinity, Elohim, and Eternal Generation

How did Arius interpret Colossians 2:9?

Question

This article responds to the following question:

How did Arius interpret Colossians 2:9? That verse reads:

      • HCSB: For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ,
      • NASB: For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,

How did Arius view the Greek word Θεότητος, translated as “God’s nature” and “Deity” in the quotes above?

Answer

Forget about Arius. He was and is not important. Arius was not a great theologian and not even his fellow ‘Arians’ regarded his writings as worth preserving. He did not leave a school of disciples. For example:

“Arius’ own theology is of little importance in understanding the major debates of the rest of the century” (after Nicaea). (LA, 56-57) 1LA = Lewis Ayres Nicaea and its legacy, 2004 Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology

“We are not to think of Arius as dominating and directing a single school of thought to which all his allies belonged.” (RW, 171) 2RW = Archbishop Rowan Williams Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987

“Those who suspected or openly repudiated the decisions of Nicaea had little in common but this hostility … certainly not a loyalty to the teaching of Arius as an individual theologian.” (RW, 233)

The only reason that we refer to the fourth-century controversy as the ‘Arian’ Controversy is that Athanasius, who was exiled for violence against the Egyptian Melitians and related non-theological charges, developed what Lewis Ayres calls “a masterpiece of the rhetorical art,” “the full flowering of a polemical strategy that was to shape accounts of the fourth century for over 1,500 years” (LA, 106-7).

“One key technique in his polemic was to offer an account of Arius’ theology and then present later credal decisions and the writings of his enemies as those of ‘Arians’.” (LA, 431) In other words, he used a straw man tactic. He said that his opponents were followers of Arius – which they were not – and then he attacked Arius, pretending that he was attacking his opponents.

Unfortunately, the church has accepted Athanasius’ polemical strategy for 1500 years. It was only during the last approximately 60 years that scholars have better access to the ancient documents and can better see what really happened. For example, around the year 2000 Lewis Ayres wrote:

“A vast amount of scholarship over the past thirty years has offered revisionist accounts of themes and figures from the fourth century” (LA, 2).

“The four decades since 1960 have produced much revisionary scholarship on the Trinitarian and Christological disputes of the fourth century. It is now commonplace that these disputes cannot simply be understood as … the Church’s struggle against a heretic and his followers grounded in a clear Nicene doctrine established in the controversy’s earliest stages. Rather, this controversy is a complex affair in which tensions between pre-existing theological traditions intensified as a result of dispute over Arius, and over events following the Council of Nicaea.” (LA, 11-12)

Since Arius was really unimportant, Ayres refers to the anti-Nicenes as ‘Eusebians’. Eusebius of Caesarea is a famous historian and was the leader of the theological mainstream. For a proper anti-Nicene answer to the question above, we must ask how the Eusebians understood Colossians 2:9. In this regard I quote as follows:

“It is perhaps possible to speak of a broad insistence on the part of many eastern theologians during these years that there is a basic distinction between Father and Son that must be protected in theological formulation. However, at the same time, we consistently see an insistence that there is an ineffable closeness between Father and Son such that the Son’s being can be said to be from the Father in some indescribable sense, and that the Son is (to use one prominent phrase cf. Wisd 7:25; Heb 1:3) ‘the exact image of the Father’s substance’.” (LA, 432) Ayres refers to this as “the broad eastern tradition.” (LA, 432, 5)

“Many of those who, for instance, were able to sign up to the ‘Dedication’ creed of 341 at Antioch were happy with such language but probably found both Arius’ language and the Athanasian/Marcellan theology unacceptable. Nicaea appears to have seemed dangerously modalist to many of them.” (LA, 432)

The Dedication Creed of 431 said that the Son is “exact image of the Godhead and the ousia and will and power and glory of the Father.” See Dedication Creed. Note the word “ousia.” In other words, the Son is even the image of the substance of the Father. Nevertheless, as Image, He is distinct from and subordinate to the Father. Further quotes:

“Eusebius’ (of Caesarea) theology is … the Son is theos because he is image, because the Father has given to him an unparalleled share in his own godhead.” (RW, 171).

“What clearly distinguishes Eusebius’ version of this theology … is the reiterated stress on the Father’s gift of divine honour to the Son. The Son enjoys the most perfect participation imaginable in the life of the Father, and so too the fullest degree of access to the unknowable Father, but this results from the Father’s decision” (RW, 172).

So, to summarize the above, and to explain how the Eusebians understood Colossians 2:9 (In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form), they said:

    • There is an ineffable closeness between Father and Son.
    • The Son’s being can be said to be from the Father in some indescribable sense.
    • The Son is the exact image of the Godhead and the ousia and will and power and glory of the Father.
    • The Father has given to him an unparalleled share in his own godhead.” 
    • The Son enjoys the most perfect participation imaginable in the life of the Father … but this results from the Father’s decision.” In this regard, we may refer to Colossians 1:19: “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”

In conclusion, forget about Arius. That approach simply perpetuates Arius’ straw man tactic.

Above I quote:

RW = Archbishop Rowan Williams Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987

LA = Lewis Ayres Nicaea and its legacy, 2004 Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology

For more information, see – Athanasius invented Arianism

Other Articles

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    LA = Lewis Ayres Nicaea and its legacy, 2004 Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology
  • 2
    RW = Archbishop Rowan Williams Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2002/1987
  • 3
    For the first more than 300 years, the church fathers believed that the Son is subordinate to the Father. The Trinity Doctrine was developed by the Cappadocian fathers late in the fourth century but the decision to adopt it was not taken by the church. This is a list of all articles on the Arian Controversy.
  • 4
    Who was he? What did he believe?
  • 5
    Who created it? What does it say?
  • 6
    What does it mean?
  • 7
    The conclusion that Jesus is ‘God’ forms the basis of the Trinity Doctrine.
  • 8
    Including Modalism, Eastern Orthodoxy view of the Trinity, Elohim, and Eternal Generation