Did Philo’s philosophy influence how the Bible describes the Son?

SUMMARY

PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA

Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish philosopher who lived at the same time as Jesus. He wrote a few decades before the NT was written. He was committed to the Jewish faith but he was convinced that Greek philosophy “was a natural development of the … teachings of Moses” (Internet Encyclopedia).

Consequently, in his writings, he interpreted the Old Testament through the eyes of Greek philosophy. At the time, “the notion of the Logos was deeply ingrained in Greek philosophy.” (Blogos)  As a result, Philo incorporated the Logos of Greek philosophy into his interpretation of the Old Testament.

SIMILARITIES

Philo described the Logos as the Son of God and as very similar to the description of Jesus Christ in the NT. Both Philo’s Logos and Jesus Christ in the NT:

    • Are called Logos (the Word) and the first-born Son of God;
    • Were not created but came out of God’s own essence;
    • Are eternal;
    • Created all things and still maintain all things;
    • Received their power from God;
    • Reveals God;
    • Illuminate human souls;
    • Are the Mediator between God and man.

NOT THE SAME

Firstly, it is possible to argue, based on differences between Philo and the NT, that Philo did not influence the NT writers. But that is unlikely. The similarities are too many and too specific.

There are many differences between Philo and the NT. Some propose that some of such differences are so fundamental that they cancel out the similarities and that, therefore, Philo did not influence the NT. For that reason, I comment briefly on some of such proposed differences:

ONTOLOGY

In Philo, the Logos was an emanation from the divine essence (Blogos). This does not seem to be a substantial difference. In the Bible, the Son was “begotten.” This also implies coming out of the substance or being of God.

SUBORDINATE

In Philo, the Logos is “inferior to God” (Blogos). It is then argued that the logos of the NT is equal with the Father. But the NT also provides clear indications of the subordination of the Son. For example, the Father sent the Son. What the traditional teaching of the church prohibits is that the substance of the Son is inferior to the substance of the Father (ontologically inferiority). In Philo, since the Logos is an emanation, He is ontologically subordinate to the High God. But that is not a difference between Philo and the NT; it is a difference between Philo and Christian philosophy. Ontological equality is nowhere explicitly taught in the NT.

GOD HIMSELF

Blogos, referring to John 1:1-3, argues that the Logos in John is God but, in Philo, the Logos is an emanation from God. However, as the Wikipedia article on John 1:1 shows, there exists substantial doubt whether John 1:1 identifies the Word as God. Whether the predicate in John 1:1c (theos) is definite, indefinite or qualitative depends on the context. Since the Word, in the context, is “with God,” the Eastern Orthodox translation of John 1:1c, namely that the Word was “divine with the very same divinity as the one true and living God,” seems possible.

CONCLUSION

The similarities between the Logos in Philo and in the NT far outweigh the differences, which implies that Philo did influence the writers of the NT. If we accept this, a number of options are available:

THE BIBLE IS NOT INSPIRED.

Firstly, we could argue that the writers of the NT were not really inspired in this regard but simply found Philo’s speculations a good explanation of who Christ is. That would make the NT the product of the evolution of human thinking. This is what critics of the Bible would claim.

TEACHING MECHANISM

Another possibility is that the writers of the NT used concepts from Philo to explain Jesus Christ to Greek readers in their own language. However, the similarities between Philo and the NT are too great to be simply explaining truth in Greek thought-forms. These are major conceptual similarities.

PHILO WAS INSPIRED

The significant conceptual similarities between Philo and the NT mean that Philo was substantially right about the Logos. I would like to explain this as follows:

Firstly, God prepared the Greek world to receive ‘the kingdom of God’ from the Jews. For that reason, God inspired Greek philosophers to move away from Greek polytheism to monotheism and with many truths with respect to the Intermediary Being, which the Greeks called the Logos.

Secondly, to make it easier for the writers of the NT to explain Jesus as the Logos of Greek philosophy, God also inspired Philo to interpret the Old Testament in terms of Greek philosophy.

Thirdly, God inspired the writers of the NT to explain Jesus Christ as the logos of Greek philosophy, as harmonized with the Old Testament by Philo.

I would like to support this conclusion by noting that all of the Christian authors of the first 300 years after Christ died continued to explain Jesus Christ as the Logos of Greek philosophy. If these church fathers, who lived in the same Greek culture as the writers of the NT, interpreted the NT in terms of Greek philosophy, that seems to be a strong indication that that is what the NT also does.

– END OF SUMMARY –

PURPOSE

The Old Testament has only one God. But then Jesus Christ appeared and claimed to be “the Son of God” (John 10:36) and the “I am” of the Old Testament (John 8:58). This “I am” may be understood as “the angel of the LORD” who appeared to Moses “in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush,” who is also called “God” and who said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exo 3:2, 4, 14).

So, the writers of the New Testament (NT) had to explain who Jesus is. They wrote things that Jesus never said of Himself, such as that God created and maintains all things through Him (e.g., John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2-3; 1 Cor 8:6). We would assume, therefore, that God’s Holy Spirit inspired them to understand these things (John 16:12).

However, Philo, a Jewish philosopher, who wrote a few decades before the NT was written, and who interpreted the Old Testament through the eyes of Greek philosophy, brought the Logos of God of Greek philosophy into his interpretation of the Old Testament. Philo described the Logos as the Son of God and as very similar to the description of Jesus Christ in the NT. The purpose of this article is to explain why the description of the Son of God in the NT is so similar to Philo’s Logos. Possible explanations include:

No influence – Based on the differences between Philo and the NT, one could argue that Philo did not influence the NT writers.

But if we decide that Philo did influence them, a number of further approaches are available:

Uninspired – The writers of the NT were not inspired but simply found Philo’s speculations a good explanation of who Christ is. OR

Teaching mechanism – The writers of the NT used concepts from Philo to explain Jesus Christ to enable their Greek readers to understand Him. OR

Philo was inspired – God inspired Philo to merge Moses and Greek philosophy and also inspired the writers of the NT to bring aspects from Philo into the NT.

GREEK PHILOSOPHY

When Philo wrote, Greek philosophy was popular in the Roman Empire. In particular, “the notion of the Logos was deeply ingrained in Greek philosophy during the first century.” (Blogos)  Greek philosophy was also monotheistic. However, the infinitely High God was unable to interact directly with physical matter and the Logos was necessary as an intermediate being through whom God created and maintained the cosmos.

“Logos” is the common Greek word for “word,” “speech,” “principle,” or “thought.” But in Greek philosophy, the word Logos had a very specialized meaning, namely a universal, divine reason or the mind of God:

“Through most schools of Greek philosophy, the term Logos was used to designate a rational, intelligent and thus vivifying principle of the universe” (The Logos in Philo’s Writings).

PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA

Philo (20 BC to 40 AD) was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived at the same time as Jesus (albeit in Egypt). He was committed to the Jewish faith. But he was also “thoroughly educated in Greek philosophy and culture as can be seen from his superb knowledge of classical Greek literature” (Internet Encyclopedia). Furthermore, he was convinced that Greek philosophy, with its monotheistic view of God, “was a natural development of the … teachings of Moses” (Internet Encyclopedia). Consequently, Philo “fused Greek philosophical concepts with Hebrew religious thought” (The Logos in Philo’s Writings).

As a result, he incorporated the Logos of Greek philosophy into his theology:

“The pivotal and most developed doctrine in Philo’s writings on which hinges his entire philosophical system, is his doctrine of the Logos” (The Logos in Philo’s Writings, Chapter 11).

The Old Testament sometimes personifies the Word of the LORD. For example, “by the word of the LORD the heavens were made” (Psa 33:6) and “the word of the LORD came” to the prophets (e.g. Jer 1:2; Ezek 1:3; and Jonah 1:1). Philo identified this personified “word of the LORD” with the logos of Greek philosophy and with the Old Testament Angel of the Lord.

SIMILARITIES

As mentioned, Philo described the Logos as very similar to Jesus Christ in the NT. Similarities include the following:

CALLED LOGOS, SON OF GOD, AND FIRST-BORN

Both Philo’s Logos and Jesus Christ are called Logos (the Word – John 1:1) and the first-born Son of God:

In Philo, the Logos exists before everything else and therefore it is called the “first-born” (First-born Son of God), “the Logos is the ‘first-born’ of God” (Blogos), and the first-begotten Son of the Uncreated Father (First-born Son of God).

Similarly, in the New Testament, the Son is called “the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15; cf. Heb 1:6).

BEGOTTEN

In both Philo and the NT, the Logos was not created but came out of God’s Own Essence:

In Philo, God created the Logos and the Divine Spirit from his own “essence” (Philo’s influence). “The ontology of the Logos would most closely resemble an emanation from the divine essence” (Blogos), and “an extension of a divine being” (Philo’s Logos). The Logos is more than a quality, power, or characteristic of God; it is an entity eternally generated as an extension (First-born Son of God). Therefore, the Logos … is neither uncreated as God nor created as men (Philo’s Logos).

Similarly, in the NT, the Son was “begotten” by the Father, implying that He was not created but came from the being of the Father.

ETERNAL

In the NT, the Son “was” in “the Beginning” (John 1:1-2) and is “the First and the Last” (Rev 1:17).

Similarly, in Philo, the Logos was begotten from eternity (Intermediary Power). The Logos has an origin, but as God’s thought, it also has eternal generation (First-born Son of God). God begat the Logos eternally because it is a manifestation of God’s thinking-acting (God’s Power).

CREATOR AND MAINTAINER

In Philo, the Logos is “the organizing principle of matter” (Blogos), the power by which God made and ordered all things (God’s Power), and the bond holding together all the parts of the world (Universal Bond). “God created through the Logos” (Philo’s influence).

In John, God created all things through the Logos (John 1:1-3; cf. Col 1:16; Heb 1:2; 1 Cor 8:6). God also maintains all things through His Son (Heb 1:3; Col 1:17).

ENTRUSTED POWER

In Philo, the Logos has no autonomous power, only an entrusted one. (P-W). Similarly, in the New Testament:

Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst” (Acts 2:22).

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ … seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph 1:17-21).

ANGEL OF THE LORD

Many Christians identify the Old Testament Angel of the LORD as the pre-existent Christ. Similarly, Philo describes the Logos as the revealer of God symbolized in the Scripture by an angel of the Lord (Angel of the Lord).

REVEALS GOD

In Philo, “God is revealed to His creation through the Logos” (Blogos).

Similarly, in the New Testament, the Son is “the exact representation” of God’s nature (Heb 1:3). Therefore, Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

LIGHT

In Philo, the Logos illuminates the human soul and nourishes it with a higher spiritual food (PvoG). In the mind of a wise man thoroughly purified, it allows preservation of virtues in an unimpaired condition. (Universal Bond).

Similarly, John wrote, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:4, 9).

MEDIATOR

In Philo, the Father is the Supreme Being and the Logos, as his chief messenger, stands between Creator and creature (Philo’s Logos). The Logos is God’s son, a perfect being procuring forgiveness of sins and blessings (Intermediary Power). The Logos was the mediator between God and men (Philo’s Logos). “The Philonic Logos is the bridge between the infinite God and finite creation” (Blogos), God’s envoy to the world (P-W), announcing God’s designs to man (PvoG).

Similarly, in the New Testament, “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5; cf. Heb 8:6; 9:15). Everything that the creation receives from God, including existence, sustenance, knowledge, and salvation, flows through His Son. Also, through Christ, we draw near to God and worship Him. For a discussion, see Word of God.

AUGUSTINE

In his book, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, page 10, (https://www.iep.utm.edu/philo/#H11), C.H. Dodd wrote that Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), one of the most prominent theologians of the early church, wrote (the Confessions vii. 9) that he read in “some books of the Platonists,” “not in so many words, but in substance,” John 1:1-5, 10 and 13. These verses contain the following principles:

    • The Word was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
    • By him were all things made. (John 1:3)
    • In him was life. The life was the light of men. (John 1:4)
    • The light shines in darkness. The darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:5)
    • He was in the world and the world was made by him,
      and the world knew him not. (John 1:1-10)

Augustine also found John 1:6-9 in these books, but where, in John, these verses contrast John the Baptist to “the true Light,” the books of the Platonists contrast “the soul of man” with “the Word of God, being God, is the true light.”

Augustine’s main point is that he found nothing in these books about the incarnation of the Logos (John 1:10-12, 14).

This is not an agreement between Philo and the NT, but between Greek philosophy and the NT. But since Philo’s Logos is derived from Greek philosophy, it implies an agreement between Philo and the NT.

EXPLANATIONS

The challenge is to explain the many parallels between Philo and the New Testament. Where did the writers of the NT get all this?

Some of the parallels are not things Jesus ever said of Himself. For example, that He is the Logos or that He created and still maintains all things.

Some of the parallels are things Jesus ever said of Himself but we do not find these things in the Old Testament. For example, that He was begotten, that He is the Mediator between God and man, and that He received all things from the Father.

The personifications of “the word of the LORD” in the Old Testament, by which God created and by which God spoke to the prophets, might be able to explain some of the parallels, but these are only personifications. It was Philo that took these personifications and linked them to the Logos of Greek philosophy.

NOT THE SAME

It is possible to argue, based on differences between Philo and the NT, that Philo did not influence the NT writers. But that is unlikely. The similarities are too many and too specific.

Philo wrote very much and, obviously, there are many differences between Philo and the NT. For example, in the NT, the Word became incarnate. This is probably not something that Philo ever said. On the contrary, in Philo, the Divine Logos never mixes with the things which are created and thus destined to perish (Philo’s Logos).

However, I do not think that such differences mean that Philo did not influence the NT writers. We cannot assume that Philo was correct in all respects and we must assume that the writers of the NT would only write what God inspired them to write.

Some propose that some of the differences between Philo and the NT are so fundamental that they cancel out the similarities and that, therefore, Philo did not influence the NT. For that reason, I would like to comment on some of such proposed differences:

ONTOLOGY

Blogos states that, in Philo, “the ontology of the Logos would most closely resemble an emanation from the divine essence.” I do not see this as a substantial difference for, in the Bible, the Son was “begotten.” And both “emanation” and “begotten” imply coming out of the being of God.

SUBORDINATE TO THE FATHER

In Philo, the Logos is “inferior to God” (Blogos). “The supreme being is God and the next is Wisdom or the Logos of God” (Philo’s Logos). It is then argued that the logos of the NT is equal with the Father.

But the NT also provides clear indications of the eternal functional subordination of the Son. For example, the Father sent the Son, the Father created all things through the Son, and after sin and the consequences of sin have been vanquished, “the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

Some regard any kind of order or hierarchy among the persons of the Trinity as heresy. But what the traditional teaching of the church prohibits is that the Son is ontologically inferior to the Father. Several theological dictionaries define “subordinationism” with respect to ontology only. For example, Erickson defined subordinationism as “the doctrine that in essence and status the Son is inferior to the Father” (Millard Erickson, “Subordinationism,” in Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986) 161.) Therefore, “the subordination of the person of the Son to the person of the Father is perfectly consistent with equality” (Augustus Strong – See Glenn Peoples).

In Philo, since the Logos is an emanation, He is ontologically subordinate to the High God. But that is not a difference between Philo and the NT; it is a difference between Philo and Christian philosophy. Ontological equality is nowhere explicitly taught in the NT. In the Nicene Creed, ontological equality is an interpretation of the fact that the Son has been begotten by the Father.

GOD HIMSELF

Blogos argues that the Logos in John is different from the Logos in Philo because “the Johannine Logos is identified as God Himself who took on human flesh (John 1:1-3, 14).”

However, as the Wikipedia article on John 1:1 shows, there exists substantial doubt whether John 1:1 identifies the Word as God. Whether the predicate in John 1:1c (theos) is definite, indefinite, or qualitative depends on the context. Since the Word, in the context, is “with God,” the Eastern Orthodox translation of John 1:1c, namely that the Word was “divine with the very same divinity as the one true and living God,” seems possible. (For a further discussion, see the articles on John 1:1.)

SAME SOURCE

A variation of the “not the same”-option is that Philo and Christianity came to the same conclusions by using the same source, namely, the Old Testament “word of the LORD.” But this is a bit far-fetched:

It is possible, in hindsight, to find similarities between the description of Jesus Christ in the NT and certain statements in the Old Testament but, with respect to who the Son is, the NT is a quantum leap from the Old Testament. It cannot simply be an interpretation of it. And it was a quantum leap in the direction of the Logos of Greek philosophy.

And to say that Philo was able to derive the truth about Jesus Christ merely by interpreting the Old Testament is too much to ask. He derived his thoughts on the Logos explicitly from Greek philosophy; not merely from the Old Testament.

CONCLUSION

The similarities between the Logos in Philo and in the NT far outweigh the differences, which implies that Greek philosophy did influence the writers of the NT via Philo. “A sound argument can be made that certain aspects of Philonic thought were “baptized” as Christian.” If we accept this, a number of options are available:

THE BIBLE IS NOT INSPIRED.

Firstly, we could argue that the writers of the NT were not really inspired in this regard but simply found Philo’s speculations a good explanation of who Christ is. That would make the NT the product of the evolution of human thinking. This is what critics of the Bible would claim. For example, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that Philo “laid the foundations for the development of Christianity … as we know it today.”

TEACHING MECHANISM

A second possibility is that the writers of the NT used concepts from Philo to explain Jesus Christ to Greek readers in their own language, like Paul used the unknown god to explain the true God (Acts 17:23). GotQuestions, following this approach, states that “John’s Gospel begins by using the Greek idea of a ‘divine reason’ or ‘the mind of God’ as a way to connect with the readers of his day.”

However, the similarities between Philo and the NT, as listed above, are too great to be simply explaining truth in Greek thought-forms. These are major conceptual similarities.

PHILO WAS INSPIRED

The significant conceptual similarities between Philo and the NT mean that Philo was substantially right about the Logos. I would like to explain this as follows:

Firstly, God prepared the Greek world to receive ‘the kingdom of God’ from the Jews. For that reason, God inspired Greek philosophers to move away from Greek polytheism to monotheism and with many truths with respect to the Intermediary Being, which the Greeks called the Logos.

Secondly, to make it easier for the writers of the NT to explain Jesus as the Logos of Greek philosophy, God also inspired Philo to interpret the Old Testament in terms of Greek philosophy.

Thirdly, God inspired the writers of the NT to explain Jesus Christ as the Logos of Greek philosophy, as harmonized with the Old Testament by Philo.

THE APOLOGISTS

I would like to support this conclusion by noting that all of the Christian authors of the first 300 years of the church’s history continued to explain Jesus Christ as the Logos of Greek philosophy:

“One cannot deny that the Philonic Logos … influenced the early church. … Important figures such as Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Justin Martyr all incorporate threads of Philo into their work.” (Blogos)

For example, Wikipedia states:

One of Justin Martyr’s most important themes involves his description of the logos, a philosophical concept of order of reason and knowledge. Throughout the First Apology, Justin argues that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the Logos. (1 Apology, Ch. 46)

This theme … was a groundbreaking statement in Christian apologetic writing. The use of the term “logos” indicates that Justin likely drew upon prior philosophical teachings, but Justin makes the argument that these teachings represent only partial truth. For Justin, Christianity represents the full truth.

As Hanson pointed out, the Apologists (the Christian authors during the first three centuries while Christianity was being persecuted by the Roman authorities), “made Christ into a convenient philosophical device. He was the means whereby the supreme God, the Father, was protected from an embarrassingly close relation to the world.” As stated above, this was a foundational principle in Greek philosophy and the very reason for the need of an intermediary being between God and the creation:

“The Philonic Logos is metaphysically necessary, for the absolute Being cannot pass into creation without corrupting His essence.”
(Blogos.org).

My point is this: If the church fathers of the first four centuries, who lived in the same Greek culture as the writers of the NT, interpreted the NT in terms of Greek philosophy, that seems to be a strong indication that that is what the NT also does.

IMPLICATION

If the above is right, namely that God inspired the writers of the NT to understand Jesus Christ in the same way as Greek philosophy explained the Logos, then we should do the same.

The ‘orthodox’ view of God when the Arian Controversy began

In response to my question of why Theodosius was successful in bringing the Arian Controversy to a close, Anne gave me references to some articles. I have read one by Steven Wedgeworth. It is a very interesting article (for people with such morbid interests). It discusses the large number of creeds that were formulated in the decades after the Nicene Creed was accepted in 325, culminating in the Homoean creed that was accepted, under the ‘guidance” of Emperor Constantius, at the Council of Constantinople in AD 360.

(The Homoeans or Homoians were the people that maintained that the Bible does not reveal anything about the substance (ousia) of God and, therefore, to speculate about His substance is arrogance. This is in contrast to the Nicene Creed that claimed that the Son is of the same substance as the Father.)

The creed of the Council of Constantinople in AD 360 became the official creed of the Christian Church. All use of ousia was forbidden and it seemed as if Arianism has triumphed.

I am also currently reading RPC Hanson on the Arian Controversy. Some regard him as our greatest authority on that controversy (e.g., Hart). Hanson and Wedgeworth present the same interesting historical facts, such as:

    • The decisive influence which the emperors had on the decisions of the church councils,
    • That Athanasius was guilty of violence,
    • That the Arian Controversy, to an extent, was a dispute between the East and the West, and
    • That, in 358, the anti-Nicene party split between the Homoiousians (similar substance) and the Homoeans (those who refused to talk about substance).

But there is one contextual matter where Hanson and Wedgeworth seem to disagree: While Hanson claimed that no ‘orthodoxy’ existed when the controversy began and that orthodoxy was only created through that controversy, Wedgeworth speaks of Orthodoxy as something that already existed when the Arian Controversy began. To illustrate the difference in more detail:

Steven Wedgeworth

Wedgeworth refers to “the orthodoxy of Athanasius,” “the orthodox bishops” in the year 360, and the “early church historians” who defended “the orthodoxy” at the Western council at Arminium in 360. He describes the Homoean synod of Constantinople in 360 as “the defeat of Orthodoxy.”

Wedgeworth also refers to “supposed orthodox arguments (that) could perhaps be made against using “substance” language in regards to the godhead.” In this regard, he mentions Origen who have already rejected the term years before, and Paul of Samatosota who had been condemned for his use of homoousios, which the Church condemned as a Sabellian theology.

(Sabellianism is the teaching that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three faces of one single Person. For a discussion, see my question on the difference between Modalism and the traditional understanding of the Trinity doctrine.)

In opposition to the orthodox writers and bishops, Wedgeworth referred to the “heretics.“ He said, for example, that “the heretics typically took pre-existing Christian or Jewish tradition, combined it with certain philosophical rhetoric.”

RPC Hanson

Hanson, in contrast to Wedgeworth, wrote (link):

“At the beginning of the controversy nobody knew the right answer. There was no ‘orthodoxy’ on the subject of ‘how divine is Jesus Christ?’, certainly not in the form which was later to be enshrined in the Creed of Constantinople.”

Hanson adds that the controversy raged for no less than sixty years. It is highly unlikely that a controversy will last that long if the orthodox form was perfectly well known when it began.

Subordinationism

There is a third option, namely that, when the controversy began, there was a general agreement in the church that the Son is subordinate to the Father. Hanson explains the build-up to the Arian Controversy as follows:

During the first three centuries, Greek philosophy was still a strong force in the Roman Empire. In that philosophy, God is immutable and is only able to communicate with our world of change and decay through an intermediary. For that reason, Middle Platonist philosophy postulated a nous or Second Hypostasis as an intermediary between the high God and the physical world. (link)

During those centuries, Christians were still being persecuted by the Roman Empire. The Apologists (the pre-Nicene fathers) defended Christianity before the Gentile peoples of the Roman Empire. For this purpose, they found it effective to identify “the pre-existent Christ … with the nous or Second Hypostasis.” (link) Since the nous of Greek philosophy was “a second, created god lower than the High God,” (link) the pre-Nicene fathers described Christ as “a subordinate though essential divine agent.” (link) Therefore, as Hanson explains, going into the controversy, the orthodoxy was that Christ is subordinate to the Father:

The “conventional Trinitarian doctrine with which Christianity entered the fourth century … was to make the Son into a demi-god.” (link)

The pre-Nicene fathers did regard Christ as divine, but as Hanson noted:

“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.” (link)

In the thinking of the pre-Nicene fathers, “of course Christ was divine,” but since they assumed that many levels of divinity exist, the question that started the Arian Controversy was: “How divine, and what exactly did ‘divine’ mean in that context?” (link)

(Theos is the Greek word that is translated as “god” or “God,” depending on the context. Deus is its Latin equivalent.)

So, my question is: What was the ‘orthodox’ view of God and Christ when the Arian Controversy began?:

      • The Trinity doctrine as per Wedgeworth;
      • None, as per Hanson, or
      • Subordinationism?

Or am I making a category error? Why would Hanson state that the pre-Nicene fathers believed that Christ is subordinate to the Father but still say there was no ‘orthodoxy’ on the subject of ‘how divine is Jesus Christ?’

And why would Wedgeworth talk about ‘orthodoxy’ as if it is the present-day Trinity doctrine, already existing in 360 AD? Did he use the term ‘orthodoxy’ proleptically (the representation of a thing as existing before it actually does)?

Conclusion

This is a copy of a question that I posted on Stackexchange to see how people would respond. 

Articles in this Series:
Historical Development of the Trinity Doctrine

First 300 years (The persecuted church)

Fourth Century (State Church)

Fifth & Sixth Centuries

Extract from specific authors