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

This is the fourth article in the series on the historical development of the Trinity doctrine. These first articles discuss the views of the church fathers in the first three centuries to determine whether they were Trinitarians; whether they thought of God as One Being but three Persons. The previous articles were An Introduction, which defined the Trinity doctrine, followed by analyses of the teachings of Polycarp and Justin Martyr.  The current article reflects on the thoughts of Ignatius of Antioch (died 98/117).

TRIADIC PASSAGES

Ignatius wrote

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

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

ONE GOD

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

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

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

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

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

THE ONLY TRUE GOD

Ignatius further wrote (the words and phrases in bold are discussed below the quote):

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

UNBEGOTTEN AND UNAPPROACHABLE

The Father is “unbegotten” in contrast to Jesus, who is “begotten.” “Unbegotten” means to exist without a cause.  See Long Lines Creed.

Unapproachable” is a quote from 1 Tim 6:16, which says that the Father “alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.” 

AFTERWARD BECAME MAN

Not all Christians believe that Jesus existed before He became a human being.  See, for instance, Dr. Tuggy’s Case Against Preexistence.  But Ignatius did believe in Christ’s pre-existence.

INCORPOREAL AND IMPASSIBLE

According to this quote, before the Son became a human being, He was incorporeal (intangible) and impassible (incapable of suffering or feeling pain).  This seems to be speculation, for such things are not mentioned in the Bible.

BEING LIFE

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

IMMORTAL

The statement that the Son was immortal seems to contradict the statement that the Father alone “alone possesses immortality” (1 Tim 6:16).  However, there are two kinds of immortality; conditional and unconditional.  Only the Father exists without cause and is therefore essentially (unconditionally) immortal.  The Son derives His immortality from the One that exists without cause.  Even created beings will become immortal “when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:54).  

ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON – BEFORE TIME BEGAN

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

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

That the Son was “begotten” is human language for something that humans are unable to even begin to understand.

PHYSICIAN

In the quote above, both the Father and Son are called physicians.  Later in the quote, Ignatius describes the sinner as “diseased.

In other words, Ignatius does not describe the work of the only-begotten Son as to judge.  He describes Him as a Physician who aims to “heal … restore … to health.”  “Physician” is a most appropriate description of God’s attitude towards sinners, for He is not an independent Judge, but a passionate Father.

OUR GOD JESUS THE CHRIST

Ignatius describes the Son as “our God.”  Trinitarian apologists use such phrases to argue that the church fathers before Nicene did believe that Jesus is God. Since many writers in the first 300 years referred to Jesus as “our god,” this is discussed in the article, Jesus is our god.

In summary, they described Jesus as “our God” and the Father as “the only true God.”  Actually, the word “God” did not exist in the ancient Greek texts. We use the modern word “God” as the proper name for the One who exists without cause. The ancients did not have such a word.  They only had the word “god” (theos in Greek). This word was used for a wide variety of beings, such as Moses, angels, Israel’s judges, appetite, those who receive the word of God, Satan and obviously also for the only true god.  The translators decided to capitalize the “G,” when theos refers to Jesus, but that is an interpretation.  It is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof of it.  It must not be used to support the Trinity doctrine.

SUMMARY

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

In Ignatius’ view, Jesus, before He became a human being, was “being life.”  This is perhaps explained by the statement, “Just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).

Ignatius described Jesus as the “Only-begotten Son … before time began.”  This means that Jesus existed for as long as time existed.  But it does not mean that the Son is equal to the Father, for there is an infinity outside time: God Himself exists outside time.  In that incomprehensible infinity beyond time, the Father begat the Son.  The Father alone is “Unbegotten;” the Uncaused Cause of all things.

For Ignatius, the Father is “the only true god, the unbegotten and unapproachable.”  This puts the Father in a category all by himself; infinitely above the only-begotten Son.  For Ignatius, the Father and Son are not equal, as Trinitarians propose.

CONCLUSION

Ignatius had an extremely high view of Christ, but only the Father is the Uncaused Cause of all things.  There is also no evidence in the quotes above that Ignatius thought of the Holy Spirit as a self-aware Person, or that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit consist of one substance, or that they are one Being or that Jesus has both a divine and a human nature.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

FIRST 300 YEARS

FOURTH CENTURY

FIFTH CENTURY

LATER DEVELOPMENT

In Colossians, is Jesus God or a created being?

ColossiansThis article discusses the view of Jesus in the letter to the Colossians; is Jesus God? Is He equal to the Father? Or is He a created being?

Colossians is particularly relevant for this purpose because it contains perhaps the highest view of Christ of all New Testament letters. Colossians 1:15-19, in particular, is Paul’s fullest explanation of the Person of Christ.

This is the second article on Jesus in Colossians. The main conclusions in the first article were that in Colossians:

Jesus Christ is never called God. On the contrary, Christ Jesus is distinct from God (e.g. Col 1:1, 15; 2:12; 3:1).

Father” is another title for God (e.g. Col 1:1-3, 17) and the title “the Lord” refers only to Jesus (e.g. Col 1:6, 17); never to God.

God the Father is our Savior (e.g., Col 1:12-13; 2:13-14).

God also reconciled the things in heaven to Himself through Christ (e.g., Col 1:19-20; 2:15; cf. Heb 2:14).  

Christ has a passive role.

God is the active Force in creation (Col 1:16) and everything else. Colossians does not mention anything which Jesus did.

Worship JesusHowever, God does everything through His Son (Col 1:14, 16, 20). Therefore, we also thank and praise God “through” His Son (Col 3:17; cf. Phil 2:10-11; John 5:23).

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.

Summary of this article

From Colossians, this article shows that:

God created all things “through” Christ (Col 1:16).

In Him, all things hold together (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3).

There never was a time that He did not exist (Col 1:17). Even time itself was created through Him (Col 1:16).

Jesus, seated at the right hand of God, rules over the entire universe, subject to God only (Col 3:1; cf. 1:16, 18; 2:10). God created the whole universe for him (Col 1:16).

He is the visible likeness of the invisible God (Col 1:15). In Him, we can see what God is like.

This article also discusses two other very important verses:

The Fullness of Deity dwells in Him (Col 2:9).

For in Him all the fullness of Deity
dwells in bodily form
” (Col 2:9).

Many people want this verse to say that Christ is fully God. However:

(1) Since the letter to the Colossians consistently teaches that Jesus is distinct from and subordinate to God, it would be wrong to interpret this verse in that way.

(2) According to Colossians 1:19, Christ RECEIVED “all the fullness” from God, which means that He is not God, for God is the uncaused Cause of all things.

(3) Human beings may also “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

(4) If Jesus was God, why did Paul not say so? Why make statements that indicate that Jesus is as close as possible to God as a being in this universe can be without being God Himself?

God does not have a body because He is that which exists outside our realm of space, time, and matter. Christ has a body (cf. Col 1:15). According to Colossians 2:9, “the fullness of the Deity lives” in Christ’s body (Col 2:9). Everything that God is, that can live in a being of this universe, lives in Christ. Therefore, He has “equality with God (Phil 2:6).

The Firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15)

Initially, the word translated as “firstborn” literally meant the one born first. But over time, it became a designation of preeminence (e.g., Psa 89:20–27; Jer 31:9).

The sentence, that contains the word “firstborn,” may be summarized as follows:

His beloved Son … is … the firstborn of all creation,
for by
(or “in”) Him all things were created” (Col 1:13-16).

The word “for” means that Christ is “the firstborn of all creation” BECAUSE God created all things through Him. This may be understood as that:

(1) Because God created all things through Him,
He was the first being to exist in “all creation.” OR

(2) Because God created all things through Him,
Christ is preeminent over “all creation.

In my view, both statements are true. Perhaps the more controversial aspect of the phrase “the firstborn of all creation” is “of all creation,” for it seems to indicate that Jesus is part of creation and therefore a created being. However, Christ is “the firstborn” and the Only Begotten Son of God (Col 1:18; 3:16, 18). If He was born, He was not created.

Is Jesus God?

To answer this question, we first have to define the title “God:”

The Greek word translated as “God” in the Bible is theos. This was the common word for the Greek gods, who were merely immortal humans with superpowers. Using that definition for “God,” Christ is most certainly “God,” for Colossians and the Bible have an extremely high view of Christ.

To distinguish the god of the Bible from the pagan gods, the Bible sometimes refers to the “only God” (John 5:44; 1 Tim 1:17; Jude 1:25) or the “only true God” (John 17:3) or “the Most High” (Luke 1:35). Jesus is always presented as distinct from and subordinate to the “only true God.” (See the article – Jesus is not the same Person as God.) Therefore, if we reserve the title “God” for “the Most High,” then Jesus is not God.

– END OF SUMMARY –


God created all things “through” Him.

For by (en = in) Him (Christ) all things were created,
both in (en = in) the heavens and on earth …
all things have been created
through Him and for Him
.” (Col 1:16)

To say that all things were created “by Him” sounds as if Christ played an active role in creation. However, the Greek word is “en” and generally means “in.” Of the 2801 times that the word “en” appears in the New Testament, it is translated as “in” 1902 times (Strong’s Greek: 1722 ἐν  (en)). To translate “en” as “in” would be consistent with the word “through” later in the same verse in the phrase, “all things have been created through Him.” To say that all things were created “in” or “through” Christ assigns a passive role to the Son: It is God who created.

In Him, all things hold together.

Colossians 1:17 reads:

In Him all things hold together” (NASB).

In union with him all things have their proper place” (Good News)

He holds all creation together” (New Living).

This is a most profound concept. Hebrews 1:3 similarly says, “He … upholds all things by the word of His power.” Since God created all things “through” Jesus, it is proposed that God upholds all creation “through” Him. As stated in the previous article, in Colossians, the Father is the active Force in creation and salvation, while Jesus is described as having a passive role.

He always existed.

He is before all things” (Col 1:17).

He himself existed before anything else did
(Same verse – International Standard Version)

Therefore, there never was a time that He did not exist. Since all things were created “through” Him (Col 1:16), God even created time through His Son.

Jesus rules over the entire universe.

The Father's Right HandHe is “seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). As discussed in the previous article, this statement means that He is distinct from God and subordinate to God. But it also means that He occupies the highest position in all the universe; second only to God. Other statements indicating His extremely high position are:

God created the whole universe … for him.
(Col 1:16 – Good News Translation).

He … will … have first place in everything” (Col 1:18).

He is the head over all rule and authority” (Col 2:10)

He is the visible likeness of the invisible God.

Colossians 1:15 reads as follows:

He is the image of the invisible God” (NASB).

Christ is exactly like God, who cannot be seen
(Contemporary English Version).

Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God
(Good News Translation).

This statement confirms the distinction between God and Christ: While God is invisible, Jesus can be seen. Nevertheless, in Him, we can see what God is like. When Philip asked, “Lord, show us the Father,” He answered:

He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

The Fullness of Deity dwells in Him.

The Essence of Jesus Christ

There are two verses in Colossians that refer to “the fullness” that dwells in His Son:

It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (Col 1:19).

For in Him all the fullness of Deity
dwells in bodily form
” (Col 2:9).

Both verses refer to “the fullness” but, while Colossians 1:19 refers to “all the fullness,” in Colossians 2:9, it is “the fullness of Deity.” Nevertheless, it is assumed that these verses refer to the same “fullness.

ColossiansThe word translated “diety” is theotés, which is derived from the word theos (god). Compare different translations of Colossians 2:9:

In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (NIV).

In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (NASB).

In Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body
(New Living Translation; Col 2:9).

God lives fully in Christ
(Contemporary English Version; Col 2:9).

Many people want this verse to say that Christ is God. However:

(1) Jesus is distinct from God.

Since Colossians consistently teach that Jesus is distinct from and subordinate to God, it would be wrong to interpret this verse in this way.

(2) God is the uncaused Cause.

While the Trinity doctrine teaches that the Son is co-equal to the Father, from Colossians 1:19 we learn that the Father caused “all the fullness to dwell in Him.” In other words, Christ received “all the fullness,” which means that He is not God, for God is the uncaused Cause of all things. For example, the Good News Translation of Colossians 2:9 reads as follows:

The full content of divine nature lives in Christ,
in his humanity.

This goes too far and is not illogical. The nature of God includes that He exists without cause and that He Himself is the cause of everything else that exists. Since it was God who caused “all the fullness to dwell in Him (Christ)” (Col 1:19), the Son as a caused being; not the ultimate uncaused Cause of all things. A being cannot become the uncaused Cause of all things. A being is either caused or uncaused.

Since Christ received “all the fullness,” He is subordinate to the One who gave Him that fullness. His subordination to God is also seen in many other statements, such as:

He is “seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1).

He is the visible likeness of the invisible God (Col 1:15).

The fact that He is the “Son” (Col 1:13) already implies that He is subordinate to the Father.

The Father is the Active Force both in creation and salvation, while His Son is the Means through which the Father works. See Jesus in Colossians; Introduction.

Human beings may also “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

(4) Why did Paul not write that Jesus is God?

If Jesus was God, why did Paul not say so? Why make statements, such as that Christ is the image of God and that the fullness of deity lives in Christ, that indicate that Jesus is as close as possible to God as a being in this universe can be without being God Himself?

The fullness of God in a body

It is a pity that I have to combat the false interpretations of these verses because the statement that, “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (NIV; Col 2:9), is really profound.

God does not have a physical body because He is that which exists outside our realm of space, time, and matter. Christ has a body, for He “is the (visible) image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). According to Colossians 2:9, “the fullness of the Deity livesin Christ’s visible body (Col 2:9). Everything that God is, that can live in a being of this universe, lives in Christ. Therefore, He has “equality with God (Phil 2:6) and we give “thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:17).

The Firstborn of all creation

FirstbornThe word translated as “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 (prōtotokos) initially literally meant the one born first. But over time, it became a designation of preeminence (e.g., Gen 49:3–4; Exo 4:22). For example, David, the youngest son of Jesse, was called “firstborn” (Psalm 89:20–27). As another example, Manasseh was born first, but Ephraim, his younger brother, was “firstborn” due to the positions their grandfather Jacob gave the boys (Gen 48:13–20, Jer 31:9).

The sentence in which the word “firstborn” appears in Colossians 1:15 may be summarized as follows:

His beloved Son … is … the firstborn of all creation,
for by
(or “in”) Him all things were created” (Col 1:13-16).

The word “for” means that Christ is “the firstborn of all creation” BECAUSE God created all things through Him.  This can be understood in at least two ways:

(1) Interpreting “firstborn” literally, it would mean that, because God created all things through Him, He was the first being to exist in all creation.

(2) Interpreting “firstborn” literally, it would mean that, because God created all things through Him, Christ is preeminent over “all creation.

Both statements are true and both interpretations find support in the immediate context. For example:

(1) Three verses later, Jesus is also described as “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18; cf. Rev 1:5). In this verse, because Jesus was not the first to be raised from death, that Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” probably means that He is preeminent over those resurrected from death.

(Some argue that other people, who were raised from death, such as Lazarus, died again, but Jesus was the first to be literally raised to ETERNAL LIFE. But I think Jesus was also not even the first to be resurrected to eternal life (cf. Jude 1:9; Luke 9:30; Luke 27:52).)

If “the firstborn from the dead” means that Christ is preeminent over those resurrected from death, then “the firstborn of all creation” may similarly mean that He is the preeminent Person in the universe. Most non-literal translations render the phrase in that way:

The firstborn over all creation” (NIV);

Superior to all created things
(Good News Translation).

Preeminent over all creation
(New Heart English Bible).

(2) Both the facts that “by Him all things were created” (Col 1:16) and “He is before all things” (Col 1:17) imply references to the Beginning. This may imply that “the firstborn of all creation” also refers to the Beginning. In that case, it would mean that Jesus literally was the first to exist.

In my view, Christ is both the most important Person in the universe and the first to exist.

Has Jesus been created?

Perhaps the more controversial aspect of the phrase “the firstborn of all creation” is “of all creation,” for it seems to indicate that Jesus is part of creation and therefore a created being. However:

(1) Since God created “all things” through Him and for Him (Col 1:16), and since God could not create the Son through the Son. the Son is not part of the “all things” which God created through Him.  

(2) As explained above, in this context, the word “firstborn” quite possibly indicates preeminence. Then “the firstborn of all creation” means ‘pre-eminent over all created things’, similar to the statement that Christ is “the head over all rule and authority” (Col 2:10) – rather than that He is part of creation.

(3) Jesus is “the firstborn” and the Only Begotten Son of God (Col 1:18; 3:16, 18). If He was “begotten” (or born), He was not created. He was not born like a human child. How God brought forth His Son we do not understand, for it is hidden in the infinity of God. But it does seem to be something different from being created. For a further discussion, see – Only Begotten.

Is Jesus God?

Jesus Christ

Actually, this is not a good question, for there is no word in the original text of the Bible that has exactly the same meaning as the modern word “God.” Therefore, to answer this question, we first have to define the title “God:”

The definition of the Greek word theos

The Greek word translated as “God” in the Bible is theos. This was the common word for the Greek gods, who were mere humans with superpowers. Using that definition for “God,” Christ is most certainly “God,” for Colossians and the Bible have an extremely high view of Christ. For example:

    • God created all things through Jesus (Col 1:15).
    • Jesus Christ upholds all things by the word of His power (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3).
    • The fullness of deity dwells in Him (Col 2:9).
    • He is the visible likeness of the invisible God (Col 1:15).
    • He rules over all the entire universe, subject only to God (Col 3:1).
    • It is God’s will that we worship Him (Phil 2:10-11).
    • He existed before all things, which means that He always existed, for even time was created through Him.

However, if we define the modern word “God” as equivalent to the Greek word theos, the problem would be that we will have two Gods. This is exactly for this reason that the church, over the centuries, developed the Trinity doctrine in which the Father and the Son are two Persons in one Being.

The definition of the modern word “God”

To distinguish the god of the Bible from the pagan gods, the Bible sometimes refers to the “only God” (John 5:44; 1 Tim 1:17; Jude 1:25) or the “only true God” (John 17:3) or “the Most High” (e.g., Acts 7:48).

For example, the angel said to Mary that Jesus will be called the Son of “the Most High” (Luke 1:35). When the Bible makes statements such as that God is invisible (1 Tim 1:17), or that Jesus sits at the right hand of God (Col 3:1), or that He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), or “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5), then the title “God” refers to the Most High; the One who exists without cause.

Jesus is always presented as distinct from and subordinate to the “only true God.” (See the article – Jesus is not the same Person as God.) Therefore, if we reserve the title “God” for “the Most High,” then Jesus is not God.

We should, therefore, use the Bible’s definition of the title “God,” which would exclude Jesus.

Available Articles – Christology

Summary Articles

Specific Bible Books

Specific Bible Passages

The origin of the Son

Christ is subordinate to God.

Christ is equal with God.

Jesus is called God.

      • Overview – Overview of the verses that refer to Jesus as theos.
      • Theos – The meaning of theos – the word translated “God.”
      • John 1:18 – The original text of this verse is in dispute.
      • John 20:28 – Did Thomas say that Jesus is God?
      • John’s gospel – Discussion of theos in this gospel.
      • Romans 9:5 – The translation depends on punctuation.
      • Hebrews 1:8 – The next verse says that God is His theos.

The translation of John 1:1

Other

If you are interested in Christology, I recommend Dale Tuggy’s podcasts, even though he understands Christ vastly different from me.

Other Available Articles