Worship sounds and songs in God’s throne room (Revelation 4 & 5)

Summary

Revelation 4:8 continued

and day and night they do not cease to say,
“HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD,
THE ALMIGHTY,
WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.”

So far, Revelation 4 described God’s throne room visually. From this verse onwards, Revelation 4 describes the sounds of worship in God’s presence.

HOLY, HOLY, HOLY – God is holy because He is the Uncreated Source of all things. All else exists because He exists.

Day and night – While the four living creatures praise God “day and night,” Satan accuses God’s people “day and night” before God (Rev. 12:9); effectively accusing God of unfair judgment. Christ’s victorious death (Rev 12:5; cf. 5:5) made an end to Satan’s accusations (12:8) but Revelation 4 describes the time before Christ died. Consequently, the four living creatures, by praising God “day and night,” are opposing Satan’s “day and night” accusations.

THE ALMIGHTY – This phrase appears 9 times in Revelation and only once in the New Testament outside Revelation. The Bible never refers to Jesus as “the Almighty” but distinguishes Him with “the Almighty“ (21:22; cf. 19:15). For a discussion, see The Almighty. 

WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND IS TO COME – This may be related to the “I AM“-title in Exodus 3:14 and another way of saying that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). In Revelation, only the Father:

      • Is called God (cf. 1:2);
      • Is the Almighty,
      • Sits on the throne,
      • Lives forever (5:9),
      • Willed all things to exist (4:11) and
      • Was and is and is to come (cf. 1:4-5).

Revelation 4:9

And when the living creatures give
glory and honor and thanks
to Him who sits on the throne,
to Him who lives forever and ever

When – This word implies repetitive action and can also be translated as “whenever.” It confirms that this fourth chapter does not describe one specific event, but the general condition in God’s presence.

Him who sits on the throneThis is the “One sitting on the throne” in verse 2, namely God.

Him who lives forever and ever – Jesus is “alive forevermore” (1:18), but only the Father is “Him who lives forever” (4:9, 10; 15:7). The Father “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus derived His eternal nature from the Father. The Father is the Unbegotten Source of all things. See, God is the Head of Christ.

Revelation 4:10

the twenty-four elders will fall down
before Him who sits on the throne,
and will worship Him who lives forever and ever,
and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

Fall down … worship – This verse translates the two key words for worship in Revelation as “fall down” and “worship.” Both words mean to prostrate oneself in obeisance toward a god or an exalted person like a king.

Cast their crowns before the throne – In this way, the twenty-four elders acknowledge that they owe their victory completely to Him.

Revelation 4:11

“Worthy are You,
our Lord and our God,
to receive glory and honor and power;
for You created all things,
and because of Your will they existed,
and were created.”

Lord (Greek: kurios) – This means owner, master, or husband. It is an expression of respect, similar to “sir” in English. The New Testament uses it for God (e.g., Matt 5:33), Jesus Christ (e.g., Matt 20:31) and the Roman emperor (Acts 25:26).

God – This translates the Greek word theos which the Greeks used for their many gods. The New Testament uses theos for:

    • The God of Israel (Gal 4:8),
    • The Father who sent Jesus (John 17:3),
    • Jesus (John 1:1),
    • Satan (2 Cor 4:4) and
    • The gods of the nations (1 Cor 8:5).

The title theos, therefore, may also be translated as “god.”

The ancients did not distinguish between lower- and upper-case characters. The word “God,” with a capital G, is a more modern invention that functions as a proper name for one specific Being, namely the Almighty. To retain the original meaning, it might have been more appropriate to translate 4:11 as “our lord and our god.”

For You created all things – That is why God is worthy to receive our “glory and honor and power.

Because of Your will they existed – Behind the act of creation lies His “will.” Were it not for the will of God, the universe would not exist. 

FIVE SONGS

There are five songs of praise in Revelation 4 and 5:

    • The first two are sung to the One sitting on the throne, “for You created all things” (Rev 4:11).
    • The third and fourth hymns are sung in praise to the Lamb, “for You … purchased for God with Your blood men” (Rev 5:9-10).
    • But this final hymn in 5:13, as the climax of the series, is sung to both and by every created being.

Worship both the Father and the Son

In Rev 5:13, all creation bows down to praise both “Him who sits on the throne” and Jesus. Some use these verses as evidence that Jesus Christ is equal to His Father. However:

    • The Father is “Him who sits on the throne” and, therefore, the ultimate Ruler.
    • As discussed above under 4:8, in Revelation, only the Father is Almighty, has essential immortality and has willed all things to exist (4:11).
    • Philippians 2:6-11 also explains what happens after Jesus’ ascension to heaven and, therefore, explains this scene in Revelation 5. That passage indicates that Jesus is worshiped:
      • Because “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (v9) and
      • To the glory of God the Father” (v11).
        For a discussion, see the article on Philippians 2.

God is the Creator, but He created all things through His Son, gave all authority to His Son and wish that “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” But when God’s end-time people are called to “Fear God, and … worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (Rev. 14:7), it is a call to worship the Father.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

A previous article discussed the first seven verses of Revelation 4, which give a visual description of heaven. The current article discusses the sounds and the songs of worship in God’s presence, as we find in the remainder of that chapter and in Revelation 5; after Jesus appears in the throne room.

Revelation 4:8

and day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.

Day and night” means continual or ongoing.

To continually sing “holy, holy, holy” may seem boring, but the four living creatures have been created with the ability to understand something about God’s immeasurable holiness. Therefore, their intense emotions explode into words of exaltation: holy, holy, holy.

To be holy means to be separate:

      • Things are holy when consecrated to God.
      • People are holy when God assigns specific tasks to them.
      • God is holy because He is distinct from all creation. He is the Uncreated Source of all things. He is that which exists. All else exists because He exists. He created all things, and because of His will, they exist (4:11).

OPPOSING SATAN’S ACCUSATIONS

While the four living creatures praise God “day and night,” Satan accuses God’s people “day and night” (Rev. 12:9). By accusing the people God has chosen for eternal life, Satan, by implication, accuses God of unfair judgment (cf. Job 1 and 2).

Christ’s victory as a human being over sin and evil (Rev 12:5) refuted Satan’s accusations and made an end to Satan’s “day and night” accusations (Rev 12:8). But Revelation 4 describes the time before Christ died on the Cross:

Revelation 5:1-4 describes the time when there was a sealed book in heaven (Rev 5:1), causing much sorrow (5:4).

But then, in verse 5, Jesus appears as a slain lamb (pointing to His death), turning the sorrow into joy.

Revelation 5:1-4, and therefore the entire Revelation 4, describes the time before Christ’s victory when Satan was still accusing God’s people.

Consequently, the four living creatures, by praising God also “day and night,” were opposing Satan’s “day and night” accusations against God.

This is the reason for the great focus on the throne of God in Revelation 4. The throne represents the rule and authority of God, but that authority was being challenged by Satan.

GOD COULD NOT RESOLVE THE DISPUTE.

The One sitting on the throne created all things (4:11), but not even He is able to resolve the dispute by Himself because it is His judgments that are being questioned (See Book of Life.)

God creates free, intelligent beings because He desires a universe where love would rule and because love cannot be forced. True love is only possible where there is freedom. And freedom means that love can be rejected and creatures may rebel against God.

By creating intelligent beings with free will, God limited His own freedom. He sacrificed a great deal of control over the course of events in the universe. God is not a micro-manager who forces every detail into a pre-conceived mold. To protect their freedom, God’s intelligent beings must decide for themselves whether Satan’s accusations are true. The controversy can only be resolved on the basis of evidence.

THE ALMIGHTY

Verse 8 describes God as “the Almighty.” This phrase appears 9 times in Revelation and only once in the New Testament outside Revelation. The Bible never refers to Jesus as “the Almighty.” On the contrary, Jesus is contrasted with “the Almighty,“ for example:

The Lord God the Almighty
and the Lamb are its temple
” (21:22; cf. 19:15).

For a discussion, see Is Jesus the Almighty? Or Does the book of Revelation present Jesus as God?

WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME

Verse 8 also applies this title to God. This three-fold description of God occurs four times in Revelation (1:4, 8; 4:8; 11:17). However, in Revelation 11:17 the “is to come”-part is omitted because He has already come (11:15).

Who is and who was and who is to come” may be another way of saying God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). It may also be related to God’s “I AM“-title in Exodus 3:14.

All four uses of this phrase in Revelation apply only to God the Father. Titles such as “the first and the last,” “the beginning and the end,” “the Alpha and the Omega,” are possibly applied to Christ in 22:12-13 and mean that the Son is eternal. Nevertheless, the Father and Son are distinguished in the book of Revelation, and only the Father:

      • Is called God (cf. 1:2);
      • Is Almighty,
      • Sits on the throne,
      • Lives forever (e.g. 5:9),
      • Is the One by whose will we all exist (4:11) and
      • Was and is and is to come.

See the articles referenced above for further discussion.

Revelation 4:9

And when the living creatures give
glory and honor and thanks
to Him who sits on the throne,
to Him who lives forever and ever

The word “when” implies repetitive action and can also be translated as “whenever.” Similar to this entire fourth chapter, this verse does not describe one specific event, but the general condition in God’s presence.

Glory, literally, is the brightness or radiance that surrounds a divine figure. Here it is used in an extended sense of how wonderful God is.

Honor, literally, is an expression of reverence or respect toward another.

To give thanks is the foundation of true worship. Those who are mindful of all that God has done for them will express themselves with gratitude and this gratitude keeps them focused on God’s character and actions.

GOD IS WORSHIPED
BECAUSE OF WHAT HE HAS DONE.

Worship in the Bible is all about God and His mighty acts on our behalf, it is not about us, our feelings, or our duties. Worship is not a recital of what we need to do, it is a recital of what God HAS DONE:

    • In 4:11, God is worthy to “receive glory and honor and power” “because” (NIV) He created all things.
    • In Rev. 5:13, both “Him who sits on the throne, and … the Lamb” receive honor “because” (NIV) the Lamb was slain (5:9).
    • In Rev. 11:17, God is given thanks “because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.”

Worship throughout the Bible is talking about, singing about, repeating the acts that God has done (Deut. 26:1-11; Ps. 66:3-6; 78:5-15; 111:4).

Understanding and practicing this truth will unleash God’s power in a local church. If worship often seems powerless, it is because it is rarely centered in God. In Bible times, when people rehearsed what God had done for them in the past, the power of God’s original act was unleashed in the worshiper’s present (2 Chron. 20:5-22; Dan. 9:15; 10:19-21). Worship focuses attention away from us and toward God. Our weakness takes hold of His strength.

to Him who sits on the throne

Him who sits on the throne” refers back to the “One sitting on the throne” in verse two, who is God.

to Him who lives forever and ever

Jesus is “alive forevermore” (1:18) and “will reign forever” (11:15), but only the Father is “Him who lives forever” (4:9, 10; 15:7). The Father “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus derived His eternal nature from the Father but the Father is the Unbegotten Source of all things. He, alone, has inherent immortality.

Revelation 4:10

the twenty-four elders will fall down
before Him who sits on the throne,
and will worship Him who lives forever and ever,
and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

This verse repeats much of the previous verse. Here, the 24 elders worship God. In verse 8, it was the 4 living creatures. Whenever the four living creatures offer their triple praise to God, the twenty-elders fall down and worship God. In other words, worship is initiated by angels (represented by the living creatures) and then joined by human beings (represented by the 24 elders).

This verse translates the two key words for worship in Revelation as “fall down” (Greek: pesountai) and “worship” (proskunêsousin). Both words mean to prostrate oneself in obeisance toward a god or a king or somebody else. To translate the second word as “worship” goes beyond the meaning of the Greek word, for the English word “worship” implies that the one receiving obeisance is a god. For a discussion, see, Jesus is worshiped.

The crowns that the twenty-four elders throw down are not royal crowns (Greek: diadêma) but crowns of victory (Greek: stephanous). To cast their crown before the throne indicates that the wearers acknowledge that they owe their victory completely to Him. In a sense, they feel unworthy to wear their crowns in the presence of the One who gave them their victory.

Revelation 4:11

“Worthy are You,
our Lord and our God,
to receive glory and honor and power;
for You created all things,
and because of Your will they existed,
and were created.”

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God

The word “worthy” is one of the key words of chapter five, but its first appearance is here in the last verse of chapter four. Worthy means deserving, qualified, or fitted for. In this verse, the one sitting on the throne is deserving of worship because He created all things.

LORD

The one seated on the throne is addressed as Lord and God. The basic meaning of “Lord” (Greek: kurios) is owner, master, or husband. It is often used as an expression of respect, like “sir” in English. In the New Testament is used to designate:

    • God (Matt 5:33; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 1:11, 15, 17, etc.),
    • Jesus Christ (Matt 20:31; Acts 2:36; Rom 1:4; 10:9; 1 Pet 1:3) and
    • The Roman emperor (Acts 25:26).

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Yahweh is nearly always translated with kurios (Gen 2:4; Exod 6:3; 20:11; Deut. 7:7-9; Ps. 1:2; Is. 53:1; Hosia 1:1). In 4:11, kurios refers to the Father.

GOD

The word “God” translates the Greek word theos which, in the Greek culture, was used for the many gods of the ancients. In the New Testament, theos is used for:

    • The God of Israel (Gal 4:8),
    • The Father who sent Jesus (John 17:3),
    • Jesus (John 1:1),
    • Satan (2 Cor 4:4) and
    • The gods of the nations (1 Cor 8:5).

In First Century Asia Minor, the emperor Domitian was known as “lord and god.” The word theos, therefore, is used for any being whose power is far beyond that of ordinary people; even for exalted people. For that reason, theos may also be translated as “god,” rather than “God.”

The ancients did not distinguish between lower and upper case characters. The word “God,” with a capital G, is a modern invention that functions as a proper name for one specific Being, namely the Almighty. For these reasons, to retain the original meaning, it might have been more appropriate to translate 4:11 as “our lord and our god,” for the ancients did not have a word equivalent to the modern word “God” and the 24 elders, by referring to God as “our lord and our god,” were acknowledging the Creator as THEIR lord and god; not as THE ONLY lord and god. For a further discussion, see, Is Jesus God in Revelation?

to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created

In verse 9, the four living beings ascribed “glory and honor and thanks” to Him. The current verse replaces “thanks” with “power,” for He is the Almighty Creator. All power inherently belongs to God. There never was a time when He did not have it. But He restrains His use of that power (11:17). God never forces anyone but seeks to win the love of His creatures rather than to use His power to force them to comply with His will (see Rev 15:3-4).

The words “for” and “because” indicate cause and consequence: Because God created all things, He is worthy to receive our “glory and honor and power.”

All things” means the entire universe (Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 1:10; 3:9; Heb 1:3; 2:10); the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them.

Because of Your will” – Behind the act of creation lies the will and purpose of God. Were it not for the will and purpose of God, the universe would not exist. 

WORSHIP IN REVELATION 5

FIVE WORSHIP HYMNS

Five hymns are sung in Revelation 4 and 5. The first two are sung in honor of the One on the throne. The next two songs praise the Lamb. The last hymn offer praise to both. There is a crescendo in the size of the groups singing these hymns:

SUNG TO: SUNG BY:
(1) 4:8 “Holy, holy, holy” The One on the throne The 4 living creatures.
(2) 4:11 – Praising God as the Creator The 24 elders
(3) 5:9-10 – Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals The Lamb The 4 living creatures and the 24 elders
(4) 5:12 – Worthy is the Lamb to receive power, riches, wisdom … The 4 living creatures and the 24 elders are joined by millions of angels.
(5) 5:13 – blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever Both Every creature in the entire universe

So the whole sequence of Revelation 4-5 moves forward to the great climax in which “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).

JESUS RECEIVES THE SAME HONOR AS THE FATHER.

In Revelation 5, all creation bows down to praise both “Him who sits on the throne” and Jesus:

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth … singing:
– ‘To him who sits on the throne
– and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power!
” Rev 5:13.

Because of this, it is often stated that this scene accords to Jesus Christ EQUAL STATUS with His Father. However:

      • The Father is the One on the throne (5:13) and, therefore, the ultimate Ruler.
      • As discussed above, in Revelation, only the Father is Almighty, has essential immortality and has willed all things to exist.
      • Philippians 2:6-11 also explains what happens after Jesus’ ascension to heaven and, therefore, explains this scene in Revelation 5. That passage indicates that Jesus is worshiped:
        • Because “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (v9) and
        • To the glory of God the Father” (v11).
          For a discussion, see the article on Philippians 2.

God is the Creator, but He created all things through His Son (e.g. John 1:3; Heb. 1:2; 1 Cor. 8:6). God is the ultimate Ruler, but He gave all authority to His Son (Mt. 28:18). God alone is worthy of worship, but “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23), for that is God’s wish (Phil. 2:9; Heb 1:6). God’s end-time people are called to “Fear God, and … worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (Rev. 14:7). In the language of Revelation, this is a call to worship the Father. In Revelation, God is also Jesus’ God (1:6; 3:12). To elevate Jesus to the level of the Almighty God distorts the Word of God. For a further discussion, see – In the Trinity theory, God is three Persons in one Being, but Jesus is not God.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

      1. Revelation 4 depicts the time before Christ’s victory on earth.
      2. The reason for the great focus on the throne of God in Revelation 4 is that God’s authority was being challenged by Satan.
      3. God created intelligent beings with freedom and they must decide for themselves whether Satan’s accusations are true. 
      4. Only the Father is Almighty and the ultimate uncaused Cause of everything else.
      5. The Greek word translated “worship” means to prostrate oneself in obeisance toward a god or an exalted person like a king.
      6. The word translated “Lord” means owner, master, or husband.
      7. The word translated “God” is used for the many gods of the ancients and even for exalted human beings.
      8. In Revelation 5, all creation bows down to praise both “Him who sits on the throne” AND Jesus but that does NOT mean that these beings accord to Jesus Christ EQUAL STATUS with His Father.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

Was the pre-Nicene church father Irenaeus a Trinitarian?

This is the fifth article in the series that discusses the Christology of the main Christian authors of the first three centuries after Christ. The first article introduces the discussion, defined the Trinity doctrine and gave an overview of its conceptual and historical development. This was followed by articles discussing the views of Polycarp, Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch. This fifth article discusses the view of Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 115-190).

Irenaeus became a bishop at Lyons about 178 AD. There are two major works by him known to us:

      • Against Heresies and
      • Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

This article discusses Irenaeus’ view of the nature of Christ (his Christology). In the quotes below, “P” stands for Proof of the Apostolic Preaching while “I” to “V” stands for the first five books of Against Heresies. Where I used more than one quote from a page, I added a, b or c.

Irenaeus’ writings are available from Earlychristianwritings.com. The text of the quotes from his works, that are referred to in this article, are listed at the end of this article.

Summary

The analysis of Irenaeus’ writings below concludes that the Father created all things but He created all things “through Christ Jesus.” Irenaeus describes the Father as the “One God, the Almighty,” as the only God and as the true God who “contains all things.”

By describing the Father as the Supreme God Almighty, the Most High, God of all, as ruling over all, who alone knows the very day and hour of judgment (II,28), Irenaeus indicated that the Son is subordinate to the Father. This is emphasized by statements such as that:

Jesus Christ became flesh according to the good pleasure of the Father” (I,9,2), that

He has received dominion over all creation from His Father (III,6a), and that

The Father is greater than Christ (II,28) and the Head of Christ” (V,18; cf. 1 Cor 2:3).

Although Irenaeus described the Father as the “one God” and as the “only God,” and the Son is subordinate to the Father, Irenaeus also described Jesus Christ as “eternally co-existing with the Father” (e.g. II,30) and as “God” (e.g. I,10,1). However, even in the phrases which referred to Jesus as God, Irenaeus described the Son as subordinate to the Father God. For example:

“He who suffered under Pontius Pilate,
the same is Lord of all, and King, and God, and Judge,
receiving power from Him who is the God of all” (III,12a).

Irenaeus gave two reasons why the Son is called God, namely:

    • He is the visible image of the invisible Father and
    • “That which is begotten of God is God” (P47).

To understand why Irenaeus was able to refer to the Son as “God” but still as subordinate to the Father, we need to understand the meaning of the Greek word which Irenaeus used, which is the word theos:

One of the possible meanings of theos is “God,” which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe.” But theos also has a range of other possible meanings, such as:

          • Beings empowered by God to represent Him, such as Moses (Exo 7:1), and
          • People “to whom the word of God came” (John 10:35; cf. Psalm 82).

To describe a being as theos, therefore, does not mean that that being is God. A being is God if He is the almighty originator of the universe, as Merriam-Webster defined the title. Irenaeus described only the Father as such.

– END OF SUMMARY –

The Father

Irenaeus repeated the same concepts many times over. The following is one of his typical statements about the Father:

“The beginning of all things is God.
For He Himself was not made by any,
and by Him all things were made.
And therefore, it is right first of all to believe that
there is One God, the Father,
who made and fashioned all things” (P4).

This statement is explicitly about the Father and says that:

The Father created all things.

He is the uncaused Cause of all things. Elsewhere, Irenaeus refers to the Father as “Maker of heaven, and earth,” and that He “created all things,” or “grants existence to all” (I,10,1; II,1; III,1; III,6b; III,8; III,12c; IV,5,1-2; IV,20,2b,c; P6).

The Father is “One God.”

Irenaeus was quite fond of the phrase “one God,” also expressed as “One God, the Almighty” (I,9,2; cf. I,10,1; III,1; III,12c; IV,1; IV,6b; IV,20,2a,b,c; V,18; V,22; P5). This is related to the New Testament’s “one God”-statements in which the “one God” always refers to the Father (John 5:44; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:5-6; 1 Tim 2:5). Irenaeus also quoted these verses, for example:

“The Apostle Paul in like manner (stated),
‘There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
One God and Father, who is above all,
and through all, and in us all'”
(IV,32; cf. Eph 4:5-6).

The following is another one of Irenaeus’s typical statements:

“There is shown forth One God, the Father, not made, invisible, creator of all things; above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And, since God is rational, therefore by [the] Word He created the things that were made.” (P5)

This statement again refers to the Father as “One God” and as the Creator. But it adds the following:

The Father is the only God.

As Irenaeus stated, above and after the Father there is no other God. Irenaeus frequently stated that the Father is the only God. For example, he would describe Jesus Christ as “the only-begotten Son of the Only God” (I,9,2) or state, “the Father, is the Only God and Lord, who Alone is God and ruler of all” (III,9a; cf. II,1; II,28; III,6b; III,6c; III,9b; III,25; IV,Preface; IV,1).

That the Father is the only God seems to be the meaning of the “one God” statements above. These two thoughts are integrated in categorical statements such as:

    • “There is One Almighty God” (III,11a)
    • “There is One God, the Maker of this universe” (III,11b; III,12b)

The Father is the true God.

Irenaeus identified the Father as the “true God” and as the “only true God” (III,15). For example:

“The apostles taught the Gentiles that they should leave vain wood and stones … and worship the True God, who had created and made all the humanity … and that they might look for His Son Jesus Christ” (III,5; cf. V,22).

The Father created all things by the Word.

As quoted above from P5, “by [the] Word He [the one God] created the things that were made.” Elsewhere, Irenaeus stated this principle as that:

    • “Through Him all things were made by the Father” (P5) or,
    • The Father created all things “through Christ Jesus” (III,4; cf. III,11a; IV,20,1; IV,20,2b)

The Father “contains all things.”

This interesting quote from (IV,20,2c) makes me think of the principle that God is not somewhere in the universe, rather, the universe is somewhere in God. Elsewhere, Irenaeus described “God the Creator” as “the Only God … alone containing all things” (II,1). Perhaps a related statement made by Irenaeus is that “the Father Himself is Alone called “God”, who has a real existence” (II,28). In other words, the existence of everything else is dependent on the Father’s existence.

Christ Jesus

Irenaeus contrasted Jesus Christ to the Father with phrases such as:

“The Church … has received … this faith:
One God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea,
and all things that are in them;
and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God,
who became incarnate for our salvation,
and in the Holy Spirit …” (I,10,1; cf. I,9,2; III,1; IV,6b)

This sounds very similar to the opening phrase on the Nicene Creed, formulated more than a hundred years later:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty,
maker of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the Son of God (Earlychurchtexts)

The One Christ Jesus

In Irenaeus’ statements, Jesus is the “one Christ Jesus” or the “one Jesus Christ” in contrast to the Father, who is the “One God.” The New Testament does not refer to Jesus as “one Christ Jesus” or as “one Jesus Christ,” but, in contrast to the “one God,” the New Testament does refer to Jesus as “one Lord” (Eph 4:5-6; 1 Cor 8:6). Apparently, the New Testament’s “one God” and “one Lord” statements were foundational for Irenaeus’ Christology. This is how it should be, for these statements are specifically formulated to explain the relationship between the Father and the Son. Theologians often mistakenly rely on less clear statements to formulate faulty Christologies. 

The Father is Supreme.

As indicated by the following quotes, Irenaeus described the Father as above all, God Almighty, the Most High, God of all, the Supreme King, God over all, and as ruling over all:

“The Father is above all things for ‘the Father,’ says He, ‘is greater than I'” (II,28).

The Father is “God Almighty, The Most High, The Creator, The Maker” (II,35; cf. P8) – “the God of all, the Supreme King” (III,5).

“He it is who is God over all” (IV,5,1-2; cf. P5).
“God the Father (is) ruling over all” (III,6a)

“Therefore One God, the Father is declared, who is above all” (Book V,18; cf. IV,20,2a).

The Father is Almighty.

Irenaeus used the term “Almighty” frequently, but always only for the Father; never for Christ. For example, the following is a quote by Irenaeus from 1 Corinthians 8:6, to which he added “Almighty” to the description of the Father, as well as “a firm belief in the Spirit of God:”

“A full faith in One God Almighty,
of whom are all things,
and in the Son of God,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
by whom are all things …
and a firm belief in the Spirit of God” (IV,33).

Since Irenaeus identified the Father alone as the “Almighty,” the Son is not Almighty. For a discussion of the title “Almighty” in the New Testament, see – Is Jesus the Almighty?

The Son is subordinate to the Father.

Irenaeus described the subordinate position of the Son in phrases such as:

      • Jesus Christ “became flesh” “according to the good pleasure of the Father” (I,9,2).
      • Every knee will bow to Jesus “according to the will of the invisible Father” (I,10,1).
      • “The Father alone knows the very day and hour of judgment” (II,28; cf. Matt 24:36)
      • “‘The Father,’ says He, ‘is greater than I'” (II,28; cf. John 14:28).
      • “His Son … has received dominion from His Father over all creation” (III,6a)
      • “’He shall he great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest’” (III,16);
      • “The Father is indeed above all, and He is the Head of Christ” (V,18; cf. 1 Cor 2:3).

The Son always existed.

Although the Son is subordinate to the Father, He always existed:

    • “Pre-existing with the Father,
      begotten before all the creation of the world” (P30);
    • “Eternally co-existing with the Father”
      (II,30; cf. IV,6; IV,20,1; IV,20,2a);

I have found that people struggle to understand how Christ could be eternal but still be subordinate to the Father. We need to remember that, to say that Jesus always existed means that He existed for as long as time existed, but time had a beginning – 13 billion years ago with the big bang (NASA). There is no time in the infinity beyond this universe. But that Infinity contains the real substance of our existence because it is the Source of the power and intelligence that brought forth this universe. In that infinity, the Son was begotten of the Father. But beyond that, we should say nothing of that infinity because that has not been revealed to us.

The Son is God.

Although he described the Father as the “one God” and as the “only God,” and described the Son as subordinate to the Father, Irenaeus described the Son also as “God” (I,10,1; III,15; III,19,2; IV,5,1-2; IV,6c; P40; P47). However, even in the phrases which refer to Jesus as God, Irenaeus described the Son as subordinate to the Father God:

“To Christ Jesus, our Lord,
and God, and Saviour, and King,
according to the will of the invisible Father,
every knee should bow” (I,10,1).

“The apostles of freedom called no one else ‘God,’ or named him ‘Lord,’ except the Only true God, the Father, and His Word” (III,15).

“He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, the same is Lord of all, and King, and God, and Judge, receiving power from Him who is the God of all” (III,12a).

Irenaeus gave two reasons why the Son is called God:

“The Father is the invisible of the Son, but the Son the visible of the Father. And for this reason all spoke with Christ … and they named Him God” (IV,6c).

“That which is begotten of God is God” (P47).

The translation of theos

To understand why Irenaeus was able to refer to the Son as “God” but still as subordinate to the Father, we need to understand the meaning of the Greek word which Irenaeus used, which is the word theos.

The title “God” defined

Merriam-Webster defines the term “God” as “a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe.”

Only one “omnipotent” (almighty) Being is possible. If there were more than one, one would limit to the power of the other. There can also only be one “originator … of the universe.”

Sola Gratia proposes a different definition for “God.” He says that any being that has “the exact same nature with the Father” is God. However, we cannot each have his or her own definition of “God.” That is what dictionaries are for. If we have different definitions for the same word, we will talk past one another.

Consider the historical development of the title “God:”

The meaning of theos

The Greek word, that is translated as “God,” is theos. In the ancient Greek culture, theos was used for the pantheon of the Greek gods such as Zeus, the god of heaven, Hera, Queen of the gods, Poseidon, God of the seas, and many others. The gods were thought of as immortal beings with supernatural powers over nature and mankind.

When Greek became the common language of the Empire, the Jews translated the Hebrew elohim as the Greek theos. Since elohim, in the Hebrew culture, was used for the true God but also for a range of other beings, theos took on the same meanings in Jewish and Christian writings, which included:

    • Any immortal being with supernatural powers;
    • Beings empowered by God to represent Him, such as Moses (Exo 7:1), and
    • People “to whom the word of God came” (John 10:35; cf. Psalm 82).

See the article on theos for a discussion of the meanings.

The meaning of “God”

The original New Testament, written in Greek, was written only in capital letters. The same applies to Iranaeus’ writings. (He wrote in Greek.)

But, over the centuries, the distinction between upper- and lower-case letters developed. With that, over time, came the practice to capitalize the G and to use the word “God” to refer to one specific being, namely the One who exists without cause. In other words, we use the word “God,” with an upper case G, as the name for one specific Being, namely the One who exists without cause.

How the ancient writers distinguished

However, when the original New Testament as written, and when Irenaeus wrote, these writers did not have a word that is equivalent to God. Given the broad range of meanings of the word theos, Irenaeus and the other pre-Nicene fathers could refer to both the Father and Jesus Christ as theos. But they distinguished the Father from the other theos-beings in various other ways. Irenaeus (and the Bible writers), for example, as quoted above, described the Father as:

      • The “one God,”
      • “The only God,”
      • “The Almighty,”
      • “One God … who is above all” and
      • “The True God,” and
      • “The Father … who Alone is God.”

To make sure that the reader understands, Irenaeus stated this also negatively, namely, “there is no other God” (P5).

How to translate theos

By means of such techniques, and by describing the Father as the Head of Christ, and as greater than Christ, Irenaeus represented Christ as subordinate to the Father. The point is that, as Irenaeus described Him, the Son is not “God” as defined above by Merriam-Webster, namely the omnipotent (almighty), omniscient originator of the universe. Given this definition, and given Irenaeus’ Christology, only the Father is “God” in modern English. Consequently, theos, when used by Irenaeus for Jesus, should not be translated as “God.”

On the other hand, to translate theos as “god” when it describes Jesus is also not acceptable because, in Christian circles, the title “god” is often understood as referring to false gods. That is a dilemma for translators to sort out.

God from God

Consider again the statement which Irenaeus made in P47: “That which is begotten of God is God.” This reminds me of the Nicene Creed, which reads:

God from God,
light from light,
true God from true God

Since the word theos, which is translated four times in this verse as “God,” merely means “god,” and in the ancient Greek language, simply means an immortal being with supernatural powers, all that Irenaeus meant was that, since the Father is an immortal being with supernatural powers, and since Jesus Christ is the only begotten of God, He is also an immortal being with supernatural powers. If that is correct, then Irenaeus’ statement must be translated as “That which is begotten of god is god.”

However, the Nicene Creed adds the word “true” before “theos.” As we have seen, both the New Testament and Irenaeus use the phrase “true theos” only for the Father (III,15; III,5; V,22; John 17:3; 1 Thess 1:9; 1 John 5:20). (For a discussion of 1 John 5:20, see the article on theos.)

Therefore, the question is, what does the Nicene Creed mean by “true theos? Does it mean that Jesus Christ is “God” in the modern sense of the word, or that He truly is an immortal being with supernatural powers? For a discussion, see the article on the interpretation of the Nicene Creed

Lord

In the quotes above, Irenaeus used the title “Lord” many times and for both the Father and for Jesus Christ. This is also not proof that Jesus is “God” as defined above. The same principles that apply to the title “God,” also apply to the title “Lord,” namely that Irenaeus applied the title “Lord” to the Father in a special sense, for he refers to the Father as the “only Lord” and as “the true Lord:”

“The Father, is the Only God and Lord” (III,9a).

“God the Creator … since He is the Only God, the Only Lord, the Only Creator, the Only Father” (II,1).

“It was the true Lord and the One God … the same did Christ point out as the Father” (V,22).

Similar to theos, the Greek word that is translated as “lord” (kurios) has a wide range of meanings:

On the low end of the spectrum, it can simply be a respectful form of address to somebody in a more senior position, similar to “sir” or “master.”

But exalted beings, such as kings and gods were also addressed as “lord.”

Given the exalted view which the New Testament and Irenaeus have of “the only-begotten Son of the Only God” (I,9,2), such as that He “eternally co-existed with the Father” (II,30) and “has received dominion from His Father over all creation” (III,6a) so that every knee in heaven and on earth must bow to Him (I,10,1), Jesus Christ is most appropriately called “Lord.”

However, given the clear distinction between the “one God” (the Father) and the “one Lord, Jesus Christ” that is made by the “one God” statements (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 4:4-6; 1 Titus 2:5), Jesus is not “Lord” in the same sense as the Father. Rather, “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).

Triadic passages

One of the major ‘proofs” of the ‘divinity’ of Christ and of the Trinity is the triadic passages, which are passages in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned together, for example, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). Irenaeus also mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit many times together in a single passage (e.g. I,10,1; IV,6b; IV,20,1). These passages do include the Son and the Holy Spirit in “the divine identity,” if I may borrow a term from Richard Bauckham. However, we need to respect the clear statements in both the New Testament and Irenaeus’ writings that the Father is the “only true God” (III,15; John 17:3).

Conclusion

Irenaeus believed that the Father is “the only and the true God,” who also created all things. He alone is “Almighty.” He wrote that “every knee should bow” to Jesus because that is “the will of the invisible Father.” Irenaeus saw Christ as distinct from God and subordinate to the Father, explicitly quoting from the Bible that the Father is “the Head of Christ.” None of the quotes say that the Holy Spirit is self-aware. There is also no mention of one substance or of Christ’s proposed dual nature.

According to what I quoted above from Irenaeus, he was no philosopher. He simply takes the Scriptures as they are. However, he emphasized verses that Trinitarians avoid.

The purpose of the mini-series of articles is to determine whether the church fathers in the first three centuries believed in the Trinity. If we use Irenaeus, writing in the late second century, as a norm, then the answer must be a loud and clear “no.” 

List of quotes

Below are quotes from Irenaeus’ writings. For the full text, see Irenaeus of Lyons (earlychristianwritings.com).

Against Heresies

The following is quoted from Irenaeus’ voluminous work, Against Heresies.

John, proclaiming One God, the Almighty,
and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten,
by whom all things were made …
the only-begotten Son of the Only God,
who, according to the good pleasure of the Father,
became flesh for the sake of men. (I,9,2).

The Church … has received … this faith … (in)
One God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea,
and all things that are in them;
and in One Christ Jesus, the Son of God,
who became incarnate for our salvation;
and in the Holy Spirit … (I,10,1)

To Christ Jesus, our Lord,
and God, and Saviour, and King,
according to the will of the invisible Father,
“every knee should bow, of things in heaven,
and things in earth, and things under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess” to him (I,10,1).

God the Creator,
who made the heaven and the earth,
and all things that are in it …
since He is the Only God, the Only Lord, the Only Creator, the Only Father, alone containing all things, and Himself commanding all things into existence (II,1).

This God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul the apostle also has declared,
“There is One God, the Father, who is above all, and through all, and in all” [Eph 4:6]. (II, 2).

Since the Father Himself is Alone called “God“,
who has a real existence …
the Scriptures acknowledge Him Alone as “God,” …
the Lord confesses Him Alone as his own Father (II,28)

The Lord, the very Son of God, allowed that the Father Alone knows the very day and hour of judgment, when he plainly declares, “But of that day and that hour knows no man, neither the Son, but the Father Only.” (II,28)

The Father … has been declared by the Lord alone to know the hour and the day … we may learn through him that the Father is above all things. For “the Father,” says He, “is greater than I.” (II,28).

The Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom he wills that God should be revealed. (II,30)

All the other expressions likewise bring out the title of One and the same being; as, for example … God Almighty, The Most High, The Creator, The Maker, and such like. (II,35).

These [Apostles] have all declared to us that there is One God, Creator of heaven and earth … and one Christ the Son of God. (III,1).

The ancient tradition, believing in One God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, through Christ Jesus, the Son of God (III,4).

Our Lord … acknowledged as God, even the God of all, the Supreme King, too, and his own Father (III,5)

The apostles taught the Gentiles that they should leave vain wood and stones … and worship the True God, who had created and made all the humanity … and that they might look for His Son Jesus Christ (III,5).

God the Father ruling over all, and His Son who has received dominion from His Father over all creation (III,6a)

I do also call upon You, LORD God of Abraham, and God of Isaac, and God of Jacob and Israel, who IS the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … that we should know You, who has made heaven and earth, who rules over all … above whom there is no other God, do grant, by our Lord Jesus Christ, the governing power of the Holy Spirit, to every reader of this book to know You, that You Alone are God, to be strengthened in You (III,6b)

“We know that an idol is nothing, and that there is no other God but One. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, yet to us there is but One God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we through Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (III,6c)

He indeed who made all things can alone, together with His Word, properly be termed God and Lord (III,8).

He, the Father, is the Only God and Lord, who Alone is “God” and ruler of all. (III,9a)

There is therefore One and the same God, the Father of our Lord. (III,9b).

There is One Almighty God, who made all things by His Word … that by the Word, through whom God made the creation, He also bestowed salvation on the men included in the creation (III,11a)

There is One God, the Maker of this universe … the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (III,11b).

He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, the same is Lord of all, and King, and God, and Judge, receiving power from Him who is the God of all (III,12a)

The One and the same God … that He was the Maker of all things, that He was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (III,12b)

To the Greeks they preached One God, who made all things, and His Son Jesus Christ (III,12c)

The apostles of freedom called no one else “God,” or named him “Lord,” except the Only true God, the Father, and His Word. (III,15)

The angel said … He shall he great, and shall be called the Son of The Highest … And David … confessed him as Lord, sitting on the right hand of The Most High Father. (III,16).

He [Jesus] is … God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word … He had … in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father. (III,19,2)

Their Creator, who is both God Alone, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (III,25).

There is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption. (IV,Preface).

No other God or Lord was announced by the Spirit, except Him who, as God, rules over all, together with His Word (IV,1)

Our Lord … did also command us to confess no one as Father, except Him … who is the One God and the One Father (IV,1).

Whom Christ confessed as His Father. Now He is the Creator, and He it is who is God over all (IV,5,1-2)

Christ Himself, therefore, together with the Father, is the God of the living, who spake to Moses, and who was also manifested to the fathers. (IV,5,1-2).

The Son, being present with His own handiwork from the beginning, reveals the Father to all  (IV,6a)

There is One God, the Father, and one Word, and one Son, and one Spirit, and one salvation to all who believe in Him. (IV,6b).

And through the Word Himself who had been made visible and palpable, was the Father shown forth … all saw the Father in the Son: for the Father is the invisible of the Son, but the Son the visible of the Father. And for this reason all spoke with Christ when He was present [upon earth], and they named Him God. (IV,6c).

For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom … He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness.” (IV,20,1)

The apostle say, “There is One God, the Father, who is above all, and in us all.”…. the Word, namely the Son, was always with the Father; and that Wisdom also, which is the Spirit (IV,20,2a)

There is therefore One God, who by the Word and Wisdom created and arranged all things. (Book IV,20,2b)

There is One God the Father, who contains all things, and who grants existence to all (IV,20,2c).

The Apostle Paul in like manner (stated), “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.” (Book IV,32). (Eph 4:5-6)

A full faith in One God Almighty, of whom are all things, and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom are all things … and a firm belief in the Spirit of God  (IV, 33). (1 Cor 8:6)

And therefore One God, the Father is declared, who is above all, and through all, and in all. The Father is indeed above all, and He is the Head of Christ. (V,18; cf. 1 Cor 2:3).

It was the true Lord and the One God … the same did Christ point out as the Father, whom also it compels the disciples of Christ, alone to serve. (V,22)

Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

The following excerpts are from the translation by J. Armitage Robinson.

The beginning of all things is God. For He Himself was not made by any, and by Him all things were made. And therefore it is right first of all to believe that there is One God, the Father, who made and fashioned all things (P4).

There is shown forth One God, the Father, not made, invisible, creator of all things; above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And, since God is rational, therefore by [the] Word He created the things that were made (P5).

The Word called the Son, and the Spirit the Wisdom of God. Well also does Paul His apostle say: One God, the Father, who is over all and through all and in us all. For over all is the Father; and through all is the Son, for through Him all things were made by the Father (P5)

This then is the order of the rule of our faith, and the foundation of the building … God, the Father, not made, not material, invisible; one God, the creator of all things (P6).

The Father is called Most High and Almighty and Lord of hosts (P8).

[The prophets] instructed the people and turned them to the God of their fathers, the Almighty; and they became heralds of the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God … pre-existing with the Father, begotten before all the creation of the world (P30).

Thus then the Word of God in all things hath the pre-eminence, for that He is true man and Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God (P40).

So then the Father is Lord and the Son is Lord, and the Father is God and the Son is God; for that which is begotten of God is God.  (P47).

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

FIRST 300 YEARS

FOURTH CENTURY

FIFTH CENTURY

LATER DEVELOPMENT