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 was an Introduction, which 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 (115-190).
Irenaeus identified the Father alone as the “Almighty.” That implies that the Son is not the Almighty.
Irenaeus wrote that we received the faith in “One God, the Father Almighty.” But, according to the translation, Irenaeus also referred to Christ Jesus as “God.” However:
(1) The word that is translated as “God” is theos, and has a wide range of meanings, including:
- An immortal being with supernatural powers;
- Beings empowered by God to represent Him, and
- People “to whom the word of God came.” (John 10:35).
(2) While we use the word “God” to refer to the Almighty, the pre-Nicene fathers viewed Jesus as subordinate to the Father.
For these reasons, theos, when used by these early church fathers for Jesus, should not be translated as “God.” To translate theos, in such instances, as “God,” rather than as “god” is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof of it.
Both the God of the Old Testament and Jesus are called “Lord.” This is also not proof that Jesus is God. Firstly, the “one God” statements make a clear distinction between the “one God” (the Father) and the “one Lord, Jesus Christ.” Secondly, the Greek word translated as “lord” has a wide range of meanings. It can simply be a respectful form of address to somebody in a more senior position but gods were also addressed as “lord.”
Every knee should bow
“Every knee should bow” before Christ Jesus because that is “the will of the invisible Father;” not because Jesus is the Almighty. That Jesus is worshiped because it is the Father’s will implies that the Son is subordinate to the Father. Irenaeus explicitly refers to the Father as “the Head of Christ.”
– END OF SUMMARY –
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 …
(Against Heresies X.l)
In this quote, in contrast to Jesus Christ, Irenaeus identified the Father alone as the “Almighty.” In other words, the Son is not the Almighty. Actually, this is also how the opening phrase of the Nicene Creed reads:
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)
It is impossible for two Almighty beings to exist, for one would limit the might of the other.
The word “Almighty” appears only 10 times in the New Testament. Nine of those are in the book of Revelation. The other one is in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, where Paul quotes from the Old Testament and identifies “God” as “the Lord Almighty.” Revelation never refers to Jesus as “Almighty.” On the contrary, three times Revelation makes a distinction between the Son and the Almighty:
“The Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us rejoice … for the marriage of the Lamb has come”
“The Word of God (Jesus) …
treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God,
the Almighty” (Rev 19:13-15).
“I saw no temple in it,
for the Lord God the Almighty
and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21:22).
For a more detailed discussion, see – Is Jesus the Almighty?
Jesus is our God.
As quoted above, Irenaeus wrote that we received the faith in “One God, the Father Almighty.” But in the next paragraph, Irenaeus also referred to Christ Jesus as “God:”
To Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, 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, and that He should execute just judgment towards all …
(Against Heresies X.l)
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 ‘God’, this is discussed in a separate article; Jesus is our god.
In summary, we use the word “God” as the proper name for the One who exists without cause. But when Irenaeus lived, the distinction between upper- and lower-case letters did not yet exist. Consequently, the distinction which we today make between “God” and “god” did not yet exist.
Irenaeus used the Greek word theos which is equivalent to our modern English word “god.” In the Greek culture, theos was used for any immortal being with supernatural powers.
When Greek became the common language in the Roman Empire, the Jews translated elohim as theos. Since elohim was used for the true God but also for beings who were 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), theos took on the same meanings. (See, the article on theos.)
With this broad range of meanings, the pre-Nicene fathers were able to declare their faith in the “One God, the Father Almighty” but also refer to Jesus as theos. However, theos, when used by these early church fathers for Jesus, should not be translated as “God.” To translate theos, in such instances, as “God” rather than as “god” is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof of it. Such translations must not be used to support the Trinity doctrine. One has to ask what view these ancient writers had of Christ.
One Lord, Jesus Christ
As quoted above from Against Heresies X.l, in contrast to the “one God,” Irenaeus referred to “one Christ Jesus.” This is an adaptation of the “one God / one Lord” slogans in the Bible:
“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”
(1 Cor 8:6)
“There is … one Lord,
one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all
who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).
“There is one God,
and one mediator also between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus” (1 Titus 2:5).
In other words, Irenaeus referred to Jesus as “one Christ Jesus” in contrast to the “one God.”
These “one God” slogans have their origin in the Old Testament Shema, which reads, “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut 6:4). Jesus quoted this as, “HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD” (Mark 12:29).
Jesus, therefore, by quoting the Shema, referred to the God of the Old Testament as the “ONE LORD.” Since the New Testament also refers to the Son as “one Lord,” Trinitarians use this as support for the view that Jesus is God. However:
The word “LORD” in the Shema, in the Hebrew Old Testament, is actually God’s name (YHVH). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX) YHVH was translated with the Greek word kurios (lord). God’s name YHVH is never mentioned in the New Testament. It uses kurios instead.
But kurios has a wide range of meanings. On the low end of the scale, it can simply be a respectful form of address to somebody in a more senior position, similar to “sir” or “master.” On the other end, it is also be used exalted beings, such as kings and gods.
Given the wide range of meanings of the word kurios, we have to ask in what sense the New Testament refers to jesus as kurios. Since the “one God” statements quoted above make a clear distinction between the “one God” (the Father) and the “one Lord, Jesus Christ,” Jesus is not “Lord” in the same sense as the Father.
I like to think of Philippians 2:9-11 as an indication of what that name is. It says:
“God highly exalted Him,
and bestowed on Him the name
which is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
EVERY KNEE WILL BOW …
and that every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
In other words, this exalted name which God bestowed on Him identifies Him as “Lord” or “Master” of all the beings in the universe. But it is “God” who bestowed this name on Him
Irenaeus’ wrote, quoted above, that “every knee should bow” before “Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King.” This statement also comes from Philippians 2. As Irenaeus quoted from Philippians 2:9, every knee will bow to Christ because that is “according to the will of the invisible Father.” According to that verse, every knee will bow to Jesus because “God highly exactly Him.”
We see also read in Hebrews 1:6 that the Father commanded the angels to worship Jesus. Again, the point is that Jesus is worshiped because that is the will of the Almighty God; not because He Himself is the Almighty. This implies that the Son is subordinate to the Father; not equal to Him, as Trinitarians claim.
This is confirmed by the following quote from Irenaeus, which describe the Father as “the Head of Christ:”
And thus 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;
but the Word … is the living water, which the Lord grants to those who rightly believe in Him, and love Him” (Against Heresies 5.18.2)
Here Irenaeus quoted from 1 Corinthians 2:3, which reads:
“Christ is the head of every man,
and the man is the head of a woman,
and God is the head of Christ.”
A fundamental tenet of the Trinity doctrine is the co-equality of the three Persons. The famous Athanasian Creed, which is taught by many denominations today, for example, reads as follows:
Nothing in this trinity … is greater or smaller;
in their entirety, the three persons
are coeternal and coequal with each other.
Since Irenaeus presented the Son as subordinate to the Father, he was not a Trinitarian.
Above, Irenaeus identified “God, the Father,” as the “Almighty” Creator, but he also wrote that “God, the Father” created “by” (through) Jesus Christ:
John, proclaiming one God, the Almighty,
and one Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten,
by whom all things were made,
declares that this was the Son of God
(Against Heresies 1.9.2)
Those who regard Jesus as a mere human being, who did astounding things, such as Dr. Tuggy (e.g. podcast 268 – Philippians 2 and podcast 258 – Who is the one Creator?), explains this to mean that Christ Jesus is God’s “Word” or power through which He created; not a separate Person. This approach can perhaps, with difficulty, explain John 1, Hebrews 1:2 and 1 Cor. 8:6, but Hebrews 1:10 says of the Son, “you, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands.” Listen to Dr. Tuggy’s podcasts 258 and 259, where he attempts to show that Christ Jesus was not involved in the creation, but actually provides much evidence to the contrary.
Irenaeus mentions the “One Christ Jesus,” “the Holy Spirit” and the “One God” together in a single passage. However, that does not mean that the Three are one or that they are equal. It simply means that they are highly related.
Irenaeus believed that the Father is “the only and the true God,” who also created all things. He alone is “Almighty.” In his view, Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit are highly related to the “One God,” but still distinct. 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 no mention of one substance or of Christ’s dual nature.
According to what I quoted above from Irenaous, he simply quoted the Bible, but he emphasized verses which Trinitarians do not like to quote.
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.”
ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
FIRST 300 YEARS
- Did Polycarp believe in the Trinity?
- Justin Martyr – God begot the Son before all creatures as a Beginning.
- Ignatius of Antioch – the Son Is our God, immortal and being life.
- Was Irenaeus (died 190) a Trinitarian?
- Tertullian – work in progress
- Origen – work in progress
- The church fathers described Jesus as “our god.”
- Council of Nicaea – AD 325 – Constantine played a huge role.
- The Nicene Creed Interpreted – Is the Son equal to God?
- Fourth Century Arian period – after Nicaea, the church was dominated by Arian emperors.
- What did Arianism believe in the fourth century?
- Long Lines Creed – one of the creeds during the Arian period
- Death of Arianism – Emperor Theodosius =- AD 380
- The Western Roman Empire did not fall – it transformed.
- Why the Roman Empire fell
- The Fall of Rome proves Daniel as a true prophecy.
- Fifth century Arianism – The Germanic tribes were Arian.