Since Jesus Christ (Yeshua Ha'Mashiach) walked this earth as a human 2,000 years ago, there has been a controversy over who he really was. The Bible tells us in many places that there is only one true God (Deu. 6:4; Mal. 2:10; Mark 12:32; Rom. 3:30; Jam. 2:19; etc.). So where does Yeshua fit into the Godhead?
Most modern Christians have been taught that Jesus is the second co-equal "person" in a triune Godhead composed of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. However, many (if not most) Christians don't really understand the Trinity. Other believers today, perceiving problems with the Trinity doctrine, have adopted a belief in the "Oneness" of God which is similar to the ancient doctrine of Modalism.
Before we can truly understand who the Messiah is, we need to look at the historical background of 1st-century Jewish religion and subsequent philosophical/religious doctrines that arose to explain his identity. This article is going to examine the beliefs of 1st-century Jews regarding the Godhead and present the succeeding theories put forth to define who Yeshua is. The second part of this study will conclude by harmonizing the Scriptures with this information to better understand what the Bible really says about the identity of the Messiah.
First, let's start by looking at what 1st-century CE Jewish religion believed about the Godhead. There has been a tendency by scholars to define 1st-century orthodox monotheistic Judaism in rather restrictive terms. Jewish literature or beliefs from that time frame that seem to stray from the accepted norm have been reinterpreted to accommodate Trinitarianism or used to prove that Judaism was derived from the polytheistic religions surrounding Israel.
Regarding how modern scholars tend to view 1st-century Jewish religion as either totally monotheistic or essentially polytheistic, University of Manitoba Professor Larry W. Hurtado wrote:
I suggest that on both sides of the issue . . . there has been a tendency to proceed deductively from a priori presumptions of what monotheism must mean, instead of building up a view inductively from the evidence of how monotheism actually operated in the thought and practice of ancient Jews. There seems to be an implicit agreement on both sides that more than one transcendent being of any significance complicates or constitutes a weakening of or threat to monotheism. Those who see first-century Jewish religion as monotheistic tend, therefore, to downplay the significance and attributes given by ancient Jews to any transcendent beings other than God. For these scholars often, ancient Jewish monotheism must mean that the descriptions of such beings are largely rhetorical. Though I am convinced regarding some examples, I am not sure that the descriptions are always purely rhetoric . . .
Those on the other side of the issue tend to emphasize the honorific ways in which transcendent beings other than God are described and the prominent positions they occupy in the religious conceptions reflected in ancient Jewish texts, alleging that first-century Jews were not really monotheists after all. It is clear that ancient Jews were not characteristically monists or unitarians, but does this mean that they were not monotheists? That is, on both sides there is a tendency to proceed as if we can know in advance what "monotheism" must mean, which turns out to be a very modern, monistic form of monotheism, and can accordingly evaluate ancient Jewish texts and beliefs as to whether or how closely they meet an a priori standard of "pure" monotheism. ("What Do We Mean by 'First-Century Jewish Monotheism'?," Journal for the Study of the New Testament)
As the above quote shows, Professor Hurtado believes that most modern scholars have a skewed view of 1st-century Jewish monotheism because they evaluate the ancient Jewish writings with a preconceived idea of what monotheism should look like. He continues:
I urge us to work more inductively, gathering what "monotheism" is on the ground, so to speak, from the evidence of what self-professed monotheists believe and practice. In fact, I suggest that for historical investigation our policy should be to take people as monotheistic if that is how they describe themselves, in spite of what we might be inclined to regard at first as anomalies in their beliefs. Such "anomalies," I suggest in fact are extremely valuable data in shaping our understanding of monotheism out of the actual beliefs of actual people and traditions who describe themselves in monotheistic language. (Ibid.)
In another of his works on this topic, Professor Hurtado states:
. . . The cultic veneration of Jesus as a divine figure apparently began among Jewish Christians, whose religious background placed great emphasis upon the uniqueness of God. It is evident that their devotion had its own distinctive shape, a kind of binitarian reverence which included both God and the exalted Jesus. Also it is obvious that these Christians did not have the benefit of the prolonged and intricate developments and discussions that led to the theology reflected in the Nicene Creed and that one must refrain from reading these later developments back into the earlier period . . . (p. 11, One God, One Lord)
To find out what 1st-century Jews believed about God and His "only begotten Son" Yeshua, this article will examine several sources. We will begin with the Targums, which were widely accepted Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures read in the synagogues along with the Hebrew texts. Aramaic is believed to have largely replaced Hebrew as the common language of the Jews in Judea before the time of Christ.
Regarding the Targums, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary states:
The extant written Targums had their beginnings with the oral rendering into the Aramaic vernacular of portions of the Hebrew Bible that took place as part of the regular worship in synagogues during the centuries when the Jews of Palestine and Babylonia spoke dialects of Aramaic (cf. Ezra 8:7-8). While the origins of this practice in the synagogues are pre-Christian, the growth of the Targum traditions continued for centuries and have been preserved in written compositions that are not only the product of synagogue liturgy, but of the rabbinic academies as well.
. . . With study of newly discovered and identified materials has come a reevaluation of the significance of the Targums for the understanding of Judaism in the milieu of Jesus and his first followers. Since the Targums originated in the synagogue, they are likely to be the best testimony to popular forms of early Judaism that were the preserve of special groups. While this point and the pre-Christian origin of the practice of oral translation in the synagogue services are generally acknowledged by scholars, the further claim that some of the extant written Targums are as a whole pre-Christian is vigorously debated. (pp. 984-985, "Targum")
Within the Targums, we find frequent reference to the Word (Ara. Memra) of YHVH. Generally, in biblical passages where YHVH is seen, or where the text indicates that more than one "God" is being referred to, the Targums will often replace 'elohim or YHVH with "the Word of the LORD."
GENESIS 3:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God [YHVH 'elohim] walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (NKJV)
GENESIS 3:8 And they heard the voice of the Word of the Lord God walking in the garden in the repose of the day; and Adam and his wife hid themselves from before the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
EXODUS 20:1 And God ['elohim] spoke all these words, saying: (NKJV)
EXODUS 20:1 And the Word of the Lord spake all the excellency of these words saying: (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
EXODUS 29:42 "This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet you to speak with you. 43 And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory." (NKJV)
EXODUS 29:42 A perpetual holocaust for your generations at the door of the tabernacle of ordinance before the Lord; where I will appoint My Word to (meet) thee there, to speak with thee there. 43 And there I will appoint My Word (to meet) with the sons of Israel, and I will be sanctified in their rulers for My glory. (Targum Pseudo- Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
DEUTERONOMY 4:20 "But the LORD [YHVH] has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day." (NKJV)
DEUTERONOMY 4:20 For you hath the Word of the Lord taken for His portion, and hath brought you out from the iron furnace of Mizraim to be unto Him a people of inheritance as at this day. (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
DEUTERONOMY 4:24 "For the LORD your God [YHVH 'eloheykha] is a consuming fire, a jealous God ['el]. (NKJV)
DEUTERONOMY 4:24 For the Word of the Lord your God is a consuming fire; the jealous God is a fire, and He avengeth Himself in jealousy. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
DEUTERONOMY 6:20 "When your son asks you in time to come, saying, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the LORD our God [YHVH 'eloheynu] has commanded you?' 21 then you shall say to your son: 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD [YHVH] brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand; 22 and the LORD [YHVH] showed signs and wonders before our eyes, great and severe, against Egypt, Pharaoh, and all his household. 23 Then He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers. 24 And the LORD [YHVH] commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God [YHVH 'eloheynu], for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. (NKJV)
DEUTERONOMY 6:20 When thy son, in time to come, shall ask thee, saying, What are the testimonies, statutes, and judgments which the Lord our God hath commanded you? 21 then shall you say to your sons, We were servants to Pharoh in Mizraim, and the Word of the Lord brought us out of Mizraim with a mighty hand; 22 and the Word of the Lord wrought signs, great wonders, and sore plagues on Mizraim and on Pharoh and all the men of his house, which our eyes beheld; but us He led forth free to bring us in and give us the land which He sware to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to perform all these statutes, that we may fear the Lord our God for good to us in all days, that He may preserve us alive as at the time of this day; (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
As shown above, the Targums often replaced YHVH with the Word of YHVH in order to clarify difficult or misunderstood passages. This shows that Israel anciently understood there to be two divine beings over their nation, with the subordinate one being the spokesman and mediator for the higher.
This Jewish understanding of the Godhead is reflected in The Wisdom of Sirach. This literary work (also called Ecclesiasticus) was originally written in Hebrew sometime around 180 BCE. The grandson of the author rendered the book into Greek about 132 BCE to make it available to Diaspora Jews. One passage in particular clearly points out the ancient understanding that the Most High God had a divine Son who was recognized by the Jews:
SIRACH 51:10 I appealed to the Lord, the Father of my lord, not to forsake me in the days of affliction, at the time when there is no help against the proud. (RSV)
This passage clearly differentiates between Sirach's lord and the Father of Sirach's lord (the Most High). This Jewish work was written about two centuries before Christ's ministry; clearly Sirach believed that there were two "Lords" over Israel. This passage is very similar to David's introduction to Psalm 110:
PSALM 110:1 The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool." (NKJV)
Here, David shows the Most High God's promise to David's Lord to grant him authority over his enemies. We know from Yeshua's own exposition of this passage that he equated himself with David's Lord (Matt. 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44).
Both Sirach 51:10 and Psalm 110:1 show that there was an ancient recognition of the fact that the Most High God had delegated authority over His portion, Israel (Deu. 32:9) to a subordinate, identified by Sirach as God's Son. Sirach's understanding is verified by the New Testament use of Psalm 110:1 to refer to the "only begotten Son" of God, Jesus Christ (Acts 2:34-36; Heb. 1:13).
The apostle Paul wrote something similar in his first epistle to the Corinthians:
I CORINTHIANS 8:5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. (NKJV)
In all these writings, we see that there are two "Gods" (Heb. 'elohim) over Israel. For Sirach, there was (1) the Lord, the Father of (2) his Lord. David records (1) the LORD speaking to (2) his Lord. Paul tells us of one (1) God and one (2) Lord. Each of these examples shows us that two entities were understood to be present.
There is another Scripture in the Tanakh that clearly shows the ancient Israelites knew that the Most High God had a special, unique Son:
PROVERBS 30:4 Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son's name, if you know? 5 Every word of God ['Eloah] is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. (NKJV)
The passage above from Proverbs shows that God's status as Father and the fact that He had an incomparable Son was recognized by the Israelites. This "firstborn son" is the one known to the ancient Israelites as the "Angel of the Lord," YHVH, the "Word (Ara. Memra, Gr. Logos) of YHVH," and many other names. This Son is the one who became Yeshua the Messiah.
Next, we're going to examine the writings of Philo Judaeus. He lived from around 20 BCE to 50 CE and was a leader of the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt. Being a contemporary of Yeshua, his expositions on Judaism should be very helpful in understanding the context within which Christianity was born. However, because his writings differ from the doctrines that the Jewish rabbis later promoted, he has rarely been used to understand the framework of beliefs within 1st-century Judaism.
Philo is often somewhat erroneously referred to as a Greek scholar whose literature combined Judaism, Greek philosophy, and allegory in a Neoplatonic fashion. First and foremost, however, Philo was a Jew. Although he endeavored to explain the historical religion of his people using Greek philosophical concepts familiar in the Hellenistic world of his day, a close reading of Philo's works reveal that he was not espousing Greek philosophy. Rather, Philo described the Jewish religion of his day in Greek terms, and what he described was Judaism and not a paganized hybrid.
Even though Philo's Judaism differs considerably from that which we see today, his literature echoes much of what was shortly thereafter written by the Jewish composers of the New Testament. Philo speaks often of the Word (Logos), a Greek philosophical term which was later applied to Yeshua by the apostle John (John 1:1, 14; I John 1:1; Rev. 19:13).
Greek philosopher Heraclitus was the first to advance a theory about the Logos. To him, the Logos (which he appeared to identify with fire) was the universal principle which animated and governed the world. The Greek Stoics later developed the concept of the Logos further. They believed that the Logos was both an irresistible force which sustained the entire world and a holy law which every rational man should willingly follow.
The fact that both Philo and John used an existing Greek term with pagan philosophical overtones does not mean that they were accepting the Greek understanding of Logos. Scholar Harry A. Wolfson says this about the Jewish appropriation of such concepts:
With the example of Scripture before them (the Jews) were not afraid to make use in the description of their own religion of terms used in the description of other religions, but whatever common terms they used the difference was never blurred for them between truth and falsehood in religious belief and right and wrong in religious worship. For the understanding of the nature of Judaism throughout its history, and especially during the Hellenistic period, this twofold aspect of its attitude to other religions is of the utmost importance. Those who seem to see evidence of religious syncretization in every use of a pagan term by a Hellenistic Jew simply overlook this one important aspect in the attitude of Judaism toward other religions. (p. 10, vol. I, Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam)
An examination of some of Philo's comments on the Logos sheds light on how 1st-century Jews understood this concept. Let's now take a detailed look at what Philo wrote about the Logos, and compare it to similar passages from the New Testament:
Now the image of God is the Word [Logos], by which all the world was made. (p. 541, The Works of Philo, "The Special Laws, I," translated by C.D. Yonge)
II CORINTHIANS 4:4 . . . Christ, who is the image of God . . . (NKJV)
JOHN 1:3 All things were made through Him [Christ], and without Him nothing was made that was made. (NKJV)
HEBREWS 1:1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; (NKJV)
And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to His first-born Word [Logos], the eldest of His angels, as the great archangel of many names; for he is called, the Authority, and the Name of God, and the Word [Logos], and Man according to God's image, and He who sees Israel. (p. 247, The Works of Philo, "On the Confusion of Tongues," translated by C.D. Yonge)
COLOSSIANS 1:15 [Messiah] who is the image of the God who is not seen and the firstborn of all created ones. (Magiera NT Peshitta translation)
For as those who are not able to look upon the sun itself, look upon the reflected rays of the sun as the sun itself, and upon the halo around the moon as if it were the moon itself; so also do those who are unable to bear the sight of God, look upon His image, His angel Word [Logos], as Himself. (p. 386, The Works of Philo, "On Dreams, I," translated by C.D. Yonge)
JOHN 1:18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (NKJV)
HEBREWS 1:3 Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (NKJV)
Why is it that He speaks as if of some other god, saying that He made man after the image of God, and not that He made man after His own image? (Genesis 9:6) Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word [Logos] of the supreme Being . . . (p. 834, The Works of Philo, "Questions and Answers on Genesis, II," translated by C.D. Yonge)
. . . The shadow of God is His Word [Logos], which He used like an instrument when He was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is Himself the model of that image which He has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things, as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites, and said, "And God made man according to the image of God [Gen. 1:26]." As the image was modelled according to God, and as man was modelled according to the image, which thus received the power and character of the model. (p. 61, The Works of Philo, "Allegorical Interpretation, III," translated by C.D. Yonge)
GENESIS 1:27 So God ['elohim] created man in His own image; in the image of God ['elohim] He created him; male and female He created them. (NKJV)
GENESIS 1:27 And the Word of the Lord created man in His likeness, in the likeness of the presence of the Lord He created him, the male and his yoke-fellow He created them. (Jerusalem Targum, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
And the Father who created the universe has given to His archangelic and most ancient Word [Logos] a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separated that which had been created from the Creator. And this same Word [Logos] is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race. And the Word [Logos] rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, "And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and you;" neither being uncreate[d] as God, nor yet created as you . . . (p. 293, The Works of Philo, "Who Is the Heir of Divine Things," translated by C.D. Yonge)
I TIMOTHY 2:5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, (NKJV)
But if you examine the great high priest, that is to say reason [Logos], you will find him . . . having his sacred garments richly embroidered by the powers which are comprehensible either by the outward senses or by the intellect . . . (p. 263, The Works of Philo, "On the Migration of Abraham," translated by C.D. Yonge)
For there are, as it seems, two temples belonging to God; one being this world, in which the high priest is the divine Word [Logos], His own first-born son. . . . (p. 834, The Works of Philo, "On Dreams, I," translated by C.D. Yonge)
HEBREWS 8:1 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. (NKJV)
I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: "Behold, a man whose name is the East [or "the Branch," Zec. 6:12 ]!" A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, He calls firstborn . . . (pp. 239-240, The Works of Philo, "On the Confusion of Tongues," translated by C.D. Yonge)
ZECHARIAH 6:11 "Take the silver and gold, make an elaborate crown, and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. 12 Then speak to him, saying, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: "Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the LORD; 13 Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne; so He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both." ' " (NKJV)
For God, like a shepherd and a king, governs (as if they were a flock of sheep) the earth, and the water, and the air, and the fire, and all the plants, and living creatures that are in them, whether mortal or divine . . . appointing as their immediate superintendent, His own right Reason [Logos], his firstborn son, who is to receive the charge of this sacred company, as the lieutenant of the great king; for it is said somewhere, "Behold, I am He! I will send my messenger before thy face, who shall keep thee in the road [Exo. 23:20]." (p. 178, The Works of Philo, "On Husbandry," translated by C.D. Yonge)
And the most ancient Word [Logos] of the living God is clothed with the word as with a garment, for it has put on earth, and water, and air, and fire, and the things which proceed from these elements. But the particular soul is clothed with the body, and the mind of the wise man is clothed with the virtues. And it is said that he will never take the mitre off from his head, he will never lay aside the kingly diadem, the symbol of an authority which is not indeed absolute, but only that of a viceroy, but which is nevertheless an object of admiration. Nor will he "rend his clothes;" for the Word [Logos] of the living God being the bond of every thing, as has been said before, holds all things together, and binds all the parts, and prevents them from being loosened or separated. (p. 331, The Works of Philo, "On Flight and Finding," translated by C.D. Yonge)
COLOSSIANS 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (NASU)
. . . The merciful power of God is the covering of the ark, and He calls it mercy-seat. The images of the creative power and of the kingly power are the winged cherubim which are placed upon it. But the divine Word [Logos] which above these does not come into any visible appearance, inasmuch as it is not like to any of the things that come under the external senses, but is itself an image of God, the most ancient of all the objects of intellect in the whole world, and that which is placed in the closest proximity to the only truly existing God, without any partition or distance being interposed between them: for it is said, "I will speak unto thee from above the mercy-seat, in the midst, between the cherubim [Exo. 25:22]." So that the Word [Logos] is, as it were, the charioteer of the powers, and He who utters it is the rider, who directs the charioteer how to proceed with a view to the proper guidance of the universe. (p. 330, The Works of Philo, "On Flight and Finding," translated by C.D. Yonge)
EXODUS 25:21 "You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. 22 "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel. (NKJV)
EXODUS 25:21 And thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark, and within the ark thou shalt lay the Tables of the Testament that I will give thee. 22 And I will appoint My Word with thee there, and will speak with thee from above the mercy-seat, between the two kerubaia that are over the ark of the testament, concerning all that I may command thee for the sons of Israel. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, translated by J.W. Etheridge)
What, then, can it be except the Word [Logos], which is more ancient than all the things which were the objects of creation, and by means of which it is the Ruler of the universe . . . (p. 253, The Works of Philo, "On the Migration of Abraham," translated by C.D. Yonge)
MICAH 5:2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (NKJV)
"And God planted a paradise in Eden, in the east: and there He placed the man whom He had formed:" for He called that divine and heavenly Wisdom by many names; and he made it manifest that it had many appellations; for He called it the Beginning, and the Image, and the Sight of God. . . . (p. 29, The Works of Philo, "Allegorical Interpretation, I," translated by C.D. Yonge)
REVELATION 3:14 "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: 'The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.' " (ESV)
. . . How then can the daughter of God, namely, Wisdom, be properly called a father? Is it because the name indeed of wisdom is feminine but the sex masculine? For indeed all the virtues bear the names of women, but have the powers and actions of full-grown men, since whatever is subsequent to God, even if it be the most ancient of all other things, still has only the second place when compared with that omnipotent Being, and appears not so much masculine as feminine . . . We say, therefore, without paying any attention to the difference here existing in the names, that wisdom, the daughter of God, is both male and a father . . . (p. 325, The Works of Philo, "On Flight and Finding," translated by C.D. Yonge)
PROVERBS 8:22 "The Lord created me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth; 26 before He had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. 27 When He established the heavens, I was there, when He drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when He made firm the skies above, when He established the fountains of the deep, 29 when He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside Him, like a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, 31 rejoicing in His inhabited world, and delighting in the sons of men." (RSV)
. . . For the abrupt Rock is the Wisdom of God, which being both sublime and the first of things he quarried out of his own powers, and of it he gives drink to the souls that love God; and they, when they have drunk, are also filled with the most universal manna; for manna is called something which is the primary genus of every thing. But the most universal of all things is God; and in the second place the Word [Logos] of God. (p. 47, The Works of Philo, "Allegorical Interpretation, II," translated by C.D. Yonge)
. . . He nourishes us with his own Word [Logos], which is the most universal of all things, for manna being interpreted means "what?" and "what" is the most universal of all things; for the Word [Logos] is over all the world, and is the most ancient, and the most universal of all things that are created. (p. 70, The Works of Philo, "Allegorical Interpretation, III," translated by C.D. Yonge)
JOHN 6:31 "Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " 32 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always." 35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." (NKJV)
As the preceding comparisons show, much of what Philo wrote about the Logos is paralleled in the Bible. When viewed objectively, this clearly does not support some of the later theories about the identity of Yeshua.
In her provocative and controversial book about Israel's "second God," Margaret Barker details the conflict that arose between Jews who accepted Yeshua as the prophesied Messiah and those who didn't. The origin of what became orthodox rabbinic Jewish thought can be traced back to this pivotal time:
There can be little doubt, in light of passages such as these, that Jesus had been identified with the second God, whom Philo called the Logos, and whom the Targumists remembered as the Memra, the manifestation of Yahweh with his people. Problems have arisen in the understanding of the Targums because proper account has not been taken of this second God, the great Angel. . . .
The rabbinic writings from the first Christian centuries show that they were engaged in a controversy with heretical groups, who taught that there were two powers in heaven. It is not possible to identify these groups with certainty because they are never named, but investigations have shown that the controversy was 'almost entirely confined to Palestine' . . . In addition, the earliest evidence for this dispute centred on the understanding of particular passages of Scripture which the heretics had been using to demonstrate that there were two powers in heaven. These heretics did not see the two powers as opposing one another, i.e. they were not early gnostics, but rather they saw them as a far God and a near God. This suggests that the heretics were the Christians; they originated in Palestine, they believed in a second divine person and they took as one of their key scriptural passages the son of man vision in Dan. 7, the very text which formed the starting point of the rabbis' polemic. It is possible to reconstruct only the outlines of what must have been a bitter dispute, but the strength and ferocity of the debates, added to the enormous length of time over which the arguments were refined, shows that this was a cause of great concern. (pp. 152 -153, The Great Angel)
Below is the passage of Scripture from Daniel used by Christians to prove that Yeshua was a divine spirit being, and not merely a man:
DANIEL 7:13 "I was watching in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before Him. 14 Then to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed. (NKJV)
"Son of Man" was one of the titles from the Old Testament that referred to the Messiah. Yeshua frequently used this term to refer to himself in the Gospels (32 times in Matt., 14 times in Mark, 25 times in Luke, and 12 times in John). He is also called by this title by Stephen (Acts 7:56) and John in Revelation (Rev. 1:13; 14:14). Daniel 7:13, Psalm 8:4 and possibly Psalm 80:17 are the only places in the Tanakh where this title refers to the Messiah.
The ancient writings of the Jewish rabbis show that there was a significant conflict in the 1st century between rabbinic Judaism and a heresy they referred to as "two powers in heaven." Columbia University professor of religion Alan Segal did an in-depth study of this theological debate between the rabbis and those who professed a belief in two divine beings. In his summary of the rabbinic writings which opposed this position, he defined the differences of belief:
The crucial issues which can be dated early are: (1) a dangerous understanding of Dan. 7:9 f.; (2) dangerous contradictions between the portrayal of God as heavenly warrior (especially in Ex. 15:3) and the figure of an old man on a heavenly throne assumed to be described in various theophanies (especially Ex. 24:10 f.); (3) a tradition about a principal angel, based on Ex. 20 f., said to be Metatron in the amoraic traditions but whose real significance is that he is YHWH or the bearer of the divine name (using Ex. 23:21 f.).
These passages may have little in common in their origin. But they all picture God Himself as a man or posit a principal angel, with the shape of a man, who aids God in the governance of the world. . . . The earliest isolatable rabbinic opposition to "two powers," then, is not against ethical dualism, but against a principal angel or mediator. (p. 149, Two Powers In Heaven)
As Segal points out in his book, the rabbis were not primarily battling outside pagans who held this belief in "two powers." Rather, they were contending with fellow Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who attended the synagogues (cf. Acts 13:42: 14:1; 17:1-4, 10-12, 17; 18:4):
The mishnaic evidence emphasizes the second thrust of the rabbinic offensive against heresy - ostracism from the synagogue. It is likely that the "two powers" sects were among the heretical groups excluded from the synagogue during earliest times . . . The process of ostracism probably received its first impetus from Gamaliel - who expanded the curse against enemies of the synagogue to include the minim . . . We are sure that Christians were called "two powers" heretics by the late tannaim . . .
It seems clear, then, that the synagogue and academies in Palestine were the locus of the debate and defense against "two powers." Exegesis was the earliest battleground of the conflict. Although the answers to the heretics were worked out by the academies, the question must have been raised in relation to Bible-reading and by groups who were interested in hearing the Jewish Bible expounded. Since we know that some "two powers" heretics were among those cursed in the synagogue, we can assume the following tentative reconstruction of the evidence: Either contemporary with the exegetical problem or immediately after it, a successful campaign was mounted to silence various sectarians in the synagogue by regulating the content and procedures of prayer. Among those silenced were some evincing "two powers" interpretations of scripture. The sectarians may not have called themselves "two gods" or "two powers" heretics. Only the offended party, from a new position of authority, described these doctrines as heresy. When the rabbis insisted that prayers in synagogue meet specific standards of monotheism, the incipient heretics and the rabbis withdrew from each other by mutual consent but certainly on less than peaceful terms. Although they separated, the groups encountered each other in debate frequently, showing that the heretics continued to proliferate and that they remained in close proximity to the rabbinic community. (pp. 152, 154, Ibid.)
The available evidence from the ancient Jewish writings shows that this "two powers" doctrine developed among those who attended the synagogues. As the New Testament shows, many thousands of Torah-observant Jews were among the early believers in Yeshua the Messiah (Acts 21:20). These Jews, who believed that Yeshua was a "second power in heaven," would have met in the synagogues along with their non-messianic counterparts. As the rabbinic evidence indicates, the belief that Yeshua was a divine being eventually led to their expulsion from the synagogues in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries.
The next piece of evidence from the early Christian era is from the Odes of Solomon. Odes is the earliest known Christian book of hymns or psalms, containing a total of 42 odes. This collection of hymns is titled the Odes of Solomon because it was called this in other ancient references. The originals were in Aramaic, indicating that the authors were probably messianic Jews.
Regarding the date of the Odes, The Anchor Bible Dictionary states:
The date of the Odes has caused considerable interest. H.J. Drivers contends that they are as late as the 3d century. L. Abramowski places them in the latter half of the 2d century. B. McNeil argued that they are contemporaneous with 4 Ezra, the Shepherd of Hermas, Polycarp, and Valentinus (ca. 100 C.E.). Most scholars date them sometime around the middle of the 2d century, but if they are heavily influenced by Jewish apocalyptic thought and especially the ideas in the Dead Sea Scrolls, a date long after 100 is unlikely. H. Chadwick, Emerton, Charlesworth, and many other scholars, are convinced that they must not be labeled "gnostic," and therefore should not be dated to the late 2d or 3d century. (p. 114, vol. 6, "Solomon, Odes of")
Let's take a closer look at one of the hymns (Ode 36) which is written from the viewpoint of the Messiah:
I rested on the Spirit of the Lord, and She lifted me up to heaven;
And caused me to stand on my feet in the Lord's high place, before His perfection and His glory,
Where I continued glorifying Him by the composition of His Odes.
The Spirit brought me forth before the Lord's face, and because I was the Son of Man,
I was named the Light, the Son of God;
Because I was the most glorified among the glorious ones, and the greatest among the great ones.
For according to the greatness of the Most High, so She [the Spirit of the Lord] made me;
And according to His newness He renewed me.
And He anointed me with His perfection; and I became one of those who are near Him.
And my mouth was opened like a cloud of dew, and my heart gushed forth like a gusher of righteousness.
And my approach was in peace, and I was established in the Spirit of Providence.
Hallelujah. (Odes of Solomon)
This hymn shows that early Messianic Jews understood that Yeshua was the "Son of Man," the greatest and most glorious of the beney 'elohim ("sons of God"). He was "made" by the Spirit of the Lord (called "she" because the Aramaic word for "spirit" is feminine) according to the greatness of the Most High, God the Father.
One of the first writers after the apostles is Ignatius (c. 30-107 CE), the bishop of Antioch. Tradition says that he and Polycarp were disciples under the apostle John. He was martyred by order of the Roman emperor Trajan, being carried captive from Antioch to Rome and thrown to wild animals in the Flavian amphitheater.
Ignatius' letters show us that during the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, Christians still understood that the Messiah was God's only- begotten (Gr. monogenes, "unique") Son, begotten before the universe was created. Here are some selected references Ignatius makes to the origin of the Son in his epistles:
. . . But 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 also have as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For "the Word was made flesh." (pp. 110-111, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians")
. . . For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began, and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. (p. 120, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians")
. . . Do ye all come together in common, and individually, through grace, in one faith of God the Father, and of Jesus Christ His only-begotten Son, and "the first-born of every creature," but of the seed of David according to the flesh . . . (p. 122, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians")
. . . Jesus Christ. He, being begotten by the Father before the beginning of time, was God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and remains the same for ever . . . (p. 129, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers,"The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians")
. . . Christ, who was begotten by the Father before all ages, but was afterwards born of the Virgin Mary without any intercourse with man. . . . To those who had fallen into the error of polytheism He made known the one and only true God, His Father . . . (p. 134, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians")
. . . One of the ancients gives us this advice, "Let no man be called good who mixes good with evil." For they speak of Christ, not that they may preach Christ, but that they may reject Christ; and they speak of the law, not that they may establish the law, but that they may proclaim things contrary to it. For they alienate Christ from the Father, and the law from Christ. They also calumniate His being born of the Virgin; they are ashamed of His cross; they deny His passion; and they do not believe His resurrection. They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power. (p. 142, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians")
. . . Since, also, there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son, God, the Word and man . . . (p. 165, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians")
. . . Being fully persuaded, in very truth, with respect to our Lord Jesus Christ, that He was the Son of God, "the first-born of every creature," God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and was of the seed of David according to the flesh, by the Virgin Mary . . . (p. 175, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyraeans")
And [know ye, moreover], that He who was born of a woman was the Son of God, and He that was crucified was "the first-born of every creature," and God the Word, who also created all things. For says the apostle, "There is one God, the Father, of whom are all things; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things." And again, "For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus;" and, "By Him were all things created that are in heaven, and on earth, visible and invisible; and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist." (p. 212, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Tarsians")
Nor is He a mere man, by whom and in whom all things were made; for "all things were made by Him." "When He made the heaven, I was present with Him; and I was there with Him, forming [the world along with Him], and He rejoiced in me daily." And how could a mere man be addressed in such words as these: "Sit Thou at My right hand?" And how, again, could such an one declare: "Before Abraham was, I am?" And, "Glorify Me with Thy glory which I had before the world was?" What man could ever say, "I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me?" And of what man could it be said, "He was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world: He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not?" How could such a one be a mere man, receiving the beginning of His existence from Mary, and not rather God the Word, and the only-begotten Son? For "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And in another place, "The Lord created Me, the beginning of His ways, for His ways, for His works. Before the world did He found Me, and before all the hills did He beget Me." (p. 213, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Tarsians")
I write this letter to you from Philippi. May He who is alone unbegotten, keep you steadfast both in the spirit and in the flesh, through Him who was begotten before time began! (p. 222, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians")
Justin Martyr was a 2nd-century Gentile Christian born in Flavia Neapolis, Samaria (the modern Nablus). Living from about 114-165 CE, he was well educated, having studied Socratic and Platonic philosophy. Justin is considered the first Christian author and founder of Christian theological literature.
One of Justin's principal works is the Dialogue with Trypho. Trypho was a Jew who debated the identity of Christ with Justin. Justin's Dialogue was the first significant Christian exposition on why Yeshua should be regarded as the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.
Justin spends much of his time making the case to Trypho that the preincarnate Christ was the 'elohim seen by the patriarchs and ancient Israel:
And all the Jews even now teach that the nameless God spake to Moses . . . Now the Word of God is His Son, as we have before said. And He is called Angel and Apostle; for He declares whatever we ought to know, and is sent forth to declare whatever is revealed; as our Lord Himself says, "He that heareth Me, heareth Him that sent Me." From the writings of Moses also this will be manifest; for thus it is written in them, "And the Angel of God spake to Moses, in a flame of fire out of the bush, and said, I am that I am, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of thy fathers; go down into Egypt, and bring forth My people." And if you wish to learn what follows, you can do so from the same writings; for it is impossible to relate the whole here. But so much is written for the sake of proving that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God and His Apostle, being of old the Word, and appearing sometimes in the form of fire, and sometimes in the likeness of angels; but now, by the will of God, having become man for the human race . . . (p. 351, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
As Justin's initial statement shows, by the middle of the second century common Jewish thought had changed regarding the identity of the one who had anciently interacted with Israel. This change was likely a rabbinic reaction to the early Messianic Jewish belief that Yeshua the Messiah was the Angel of YHVH, the Word of God who had interacted with ancient Israel. Justin clearly explains that the God manifested to ancient Israel was this Angel:
"Reverting to the Scriptures, I shall endeavor to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things, -- numerically, I mean, not [distinct] in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done anything which He who made the world -- above whom there is no other God -- has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with." (p. 445, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
It is again written by Moses, my brethren, that He who is called God and appeared to the patriarchs is called both Angel and Lord, in order that from this you may understand Him to be minister to the Father of all things . . ." (p. 449, vol. I, The Ante- Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
"I shall give you another testimony, my friends," said I, "from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning, [who was] a certain rational power [proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos; and on another occasion He calls Himself Captain, when He appeared in human form to Joshua the son of Nave (Nun). For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father's will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will . . . The Word of Wisdom, who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon the following: 'If I shall declare to you what happens daily, I shall call to mind events from everlasting, and review them. The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He had made the earth, and before He had made the deeps, before the springs of the waters had issued forth, before the mountains had been established. Before all the hills He begets me. God made the country, and the desert, and the highest inhabited places under the sky. When He made ready the heavens, I was along with Him, and when He set up His throne on the winds: when He made the high clouds strong, and the springs of the deep safe, when He made the foundations of the earth, I was with Him arranging. I was that in which He rejoiced; daily and at all times I delighted in His countenance, because He delighted in the finishing of the habitable world, and delighted in the sons of men. (pp. 453-454, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
. . . This Offspring, which was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed with Him; even as the Scripture by Solomon has made clear, that He whom Solomon calls Wisdom, was begotten as a Beginning before all His creatures and as Offspring by God . . . (p. 455, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
. . . When Isaiah calls Him the Angel of mighty counsel [Isa. 9:6, LXX], did he not foretell Him to be the Teacher of those truths which He did teach when He came [to earth]? For He alone taught openly those mighty counsels which the Father designed both for all those who have been and shall be well-pleasing to Him, and also for those who have rebelled against His will, whether men or angels . . . (p. 474, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
. . . For if He also were to be begotten of sexual intercourse, like all other first-born sons, why did God say that He would give a sign which is not common to all the first-born sons? But that which is truly a sign, and which was to be made trustworthy to mankind, namely, -- that the first-begotten of all creation should become incarnate by the Virgin's womb, and be a child, -- this he anticipated by the Spirit of prophecy, and predicted it . . . (p. 484, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
. . . This very Son of God -- who is the First-born of every creature, who became man by the Virgin, who suffered, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate . . . (p. 485, vol. I,The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
. . . He said: 'All things are delivered unto me by My Father;' and, 'No man knoweth the Father but the Son; nor the Son but the Father, and they to whom the Son will reveal Him.' Accordingly He revealed to us all that we have perceived by His grace out of the Scriptures, so that we know Him to be the first-begotten of God, and to be before all creatures; likewise to be the Son of the patriarchs, since He assumed flesh by the Virgin of their family, and submitted to become a man without comeliness, dishonored, and subject to suffering.... For [Christ] called one of His disciples -- previously known by the name of Simon -- Peter; since he recognized Him to be Christ the Son of God, by the revelation of His Father: and since we find it recorded in the memoirs of His apostles that He is the Son of God, and since we call Him the Son, we have understood that He proceeded before all creatures from the Father by His power and will (for He is addressed in the writings of the prophets in one way or another as Wisdom) . . . (p. 503, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
"But if you knew, Trypho," continued I, "who He is that is called at one time the Angel of great counsel, and a Man by Ezekiel, and like the Son of man by Daniel, and a Child by Isaiah, and Christ and God to be worshipped by David, and Christ and a Stone by many, and Wisdom by Solomon, and Joseph and Judah and a Star by Moses, and the East by Zechariah, and the Suffering One and Jacob and Israel by Isaiah again, and a Rod, and Flower, and Corner-Stone, and Son of God, you would not have blasphemed Him who has now come, and been born, and suffered, and ascended to heaven; who shall also come again, and then your twelve tribes shall mourn. For if you had understood what has been written by the prophets, you would not have denied that He was God, Son of the only, unbegotten, unutterable God. (p. 535, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
". . . Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what has been said. . . . And do not suppose, sirs, that I am speaking superfluously when I repeat these words frequently: but it is because I know that some wish to anticipate these remarks, and to say that the power sent from the Father of all which appeared to Moses, or to Abraham, or to Jacob, is called an Angel because He came to men (for by Him the commands of the Father have been proclaimed to men); is called Glory, because He appears in a vision sometimes that cannot be borne; is called a Man, and a human being, because He appears strayed in such forms as the Father pleases; and they call Him the Word, because He carries tidings from the Father to men: but maintain that this power is indivisible and inseparable from the Father, just as they say that the light of the sun on earth is indivisible and inseparable from the sun in the heavens; as when it sinks, the light sinks along with it; so the Father, when He chooses, say they, causes His power to spring forth, and when He chooses, He makes it return to Himself. In this way, they teach, He made the angels. But it is proved that there are angels who always exist, and are never reduced to that form out of which they sprang. And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.
"And now I shall again recite the words which I have spoken in proof of this point. When Scripture says, 'The Lord rained fire from the Lord out of heaven,' the prophetic word indicates that there were two in number: One upon the earth, who, it says, descended to behold the cry of Sodom; another in heaven, who also is Lord of the Lord on earth, as He is Father and God; the cause of His power and of His being Lord and God. . . . And it is written in the book of Wisdom: 'If I should tell you daily events, I would be mindful to enumerate them from the beginning. The Lord created me the beginning of His ways for His works. From everlasting He established me in the beginning, before He formed the earth, and before He made the depths, and before the springs of waters came forth, before the mountains were settled; He begets me before all the hills.' " When I repeated these words, I added: "You perceive, my hearers, if you bestow attention, that the Scripture has declared that this Offspring was begotten by the Father before all things created; and that which is begotten is numerically distinct from that which begets, any one will admit." (pp. 538-539, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Dialogue with Trypho")
. . . Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judaea, in the times of Tiberius Caesar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place . . . For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all . . . (p. 309, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "First Apology of Justin")
We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers . . . (p. 336, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "First Apology of Justin")
. . . For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets . . . (p. 352, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "First Apology of Justin")
But to the Father of all, who is unbegotten, there is no name given. For by whatever name He be called, He has as His elder the person who gives Him the name. But these words, Father, and God, and Creator, and Lord, and master, are not names, but appellations derived from His good deeds and functions. And His son, who along is properly called Son, the Word, who also was with Him and was begotten before the works, when at first He created and arranged all things by Him, is called Christ, in reference to His being anointed and God's ordering all things through Him . . . (p. 364, vol. I, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Second Apology of Justin")
Another early Christian literary work that shows the common understanding of the Messiah is The Shepherd of Hermas (also known as The Pastor of Hermas). This work is dated to about 160 CE, and Hermas was one of the most popular books of Christianity during the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries.
Hermas is divided into three primary sections. There are five visions, twelve mandates; and ten parables (also called "similitudes"). The overall theme of the visions is repentance and remaining faithful in the face of persecution.
"God planted the vineyard, that is to say, He created the people, and gave them to His Son; and the Son appointed His angels over them to keep them; and He Himself purged away their sins, having suffered many trials and undergone many labors, for no one is able to dig without labor and toil. He Himself, then, having purged away the sins of the people, showed them the paths of life by giving them the law which He received from His Father. [You see," he said, "that He is the Lord of the people, having received all authority from His Father.] " (p. 73, vol. II, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Pastor of Hermas")
This great tree that casts its shadow over plains, and mountains, and all the earth, is the law of God that was given to the whole world; and this law is the Son of God, proclaimed to the ends of the earth; and the people who are under its shadow are they who have heard the proclamation, and have believed upon Him. And the great and glorious angel Michael is he who has authority over this people, and governs them; for this is he who gave them the law into the hearts of believers: he accordingly superintends them to whom he gave it, to see if they have kept the same. (p. 84, vol. II, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "The Pastor of Hermas")
A comparison of the two passages above shows that the Son of God, who gave the people the Law he received from his Father, was also known as "the great and glorious angel Michael." It is this same Son that came to earth as Yeshua and purged the sins of those who believed by his sacrifice. Hermas goes on to speak of the age of the Son:
"Listen," he said, "and understand, O ignorant man. The Son of God is older than all His creatures, so that He was a fellow-councilor with the Father in His work of creation: for this reason is He old." (Ibid., p. 100)
The Shepherd of Hermas confirms that in the mid-2nd century, believers still had some understanding of the preincarnate identity and origin of Yeshua.
Origen, a Catholic theologian/philosopher writing in the first half of the 3rd century, shows that the Christian belief in "two powers in heaven" was still a point of contention at that time. In his apologetic work Against Celsus, Origen disputes the pagan author's contention that Christians were hypocritical for condemning polytheism while worshiping two Gods:
In what follows, some may imagine that he says something plausible against us. "If," says he, "these people worshipped one God alone, and no other, they would perhaps have some valid argument against the worship of others. But they pay excessive reverence to one who has but lately appeared among men, and they think it no offense against God if they worship also His servant." To this we reply, that if Celsus had known that saying, "I and My Father are one," and the words used in prayer by the Son of God, "As Thou and I are one," he would not have supposed that we worship any other besides Him who is the Supreme God. "For," says He, "My Father is in Me, and I in Him." And if any should from these words be afraid of our going over to the side of those who deny that the Father and the Son are two persons, let him weigh that passage, "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul," that he may understand the meaning of the saying, "I and My Father are one." We worship one God, the Father and the Son, therefore, as we have explained; and our argument against the worship of other gods still continues valid. And we do not "reverence beyond measure one who has but lately appeared," as though He did not exist before; for we believe Himself when He says, "Before Abraham was, I am." Again He says, "I am the truth;" and surely none of us is so simple as to suppose that truth did not exist before the time when Christ appeared. We worship, therefore, the Father of truth, and the Son, who is the truth; and these, while they are two, considered as persons or subsistences, are one in unity of thought, in harmony and in identity of will. So entirely are they one, that he who has seen the Son, "who is the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of His person," has seen in Him who is the image, of God, God Himself. (pp. 1327-1328, vol. IV, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Against Celsus")
. . . He is the Son who has been most highly exalted by the Father. Grant that there may be some individuals among the multitudes of believers who are not in entire agreement with us, and who incautiously assert that the Savior is the Most High God; however, we do not hold with them, but rather believe Him when He says, "The Father who sent Me is greater than I." (p. 1330, vol. IV, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Against Celsus")
. . . Our duty is to pray to the Most High God alone, and to the Only-begotten, the First-born of the whole creation, and to ask Him as our High Priest to present the prayers which ascend to Him from us, to His God and our God, to His Father and the Father of those who direct their lives according to His word. (pp. 1340-1341, vol. IV, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "Against Celsus")
. . . Jesus Christ Himself, who came (into the world), was born of the Father before all creatures; that, after He had been the servant of the Father in the creation of all things -- "For by Him were all things made" -- He in the last times, divesting Himself (of His glory), became a man, and was incarnate . . . (p. 499, vol. IV, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, "De Principiis")
Gnosticism was one of the first heresies to arise which advocated a non-scriptural explanation for the identity of the Messiah. Gnosticism likely began as a corruption of the ancient understanding of the heavenly divine council.
Regarding the origins of Gnosticism, Margaret Barker writes:
. . . There is not one myth of the fallen angels, but, in the texts we have, a considerable diversity, suggesting that something very ancient was involved. . . . This diversity in the angel mythology counts for the diversity in the later gnostic systems. Stroumsa has shown that 'a radical transformation of this myth (the fallen angels) forms the basis of the Gnostic mythological consciousness of evil' . . . The possession of knowledge made one wise like the angels . . . Mankind was forbidden the knowledge which could make him like the 'elohim, like the angels . . . (pp. 162-163, 164, The Great Angel)
Gnosticism wasn't a separate religion; rather, it was a philosophy that was blended with components of existing religions. Elements of Messianic Judaism (Christianity) were combined with Gnostic beliefs beginning in the middle of the 1st century, creating the heretical teachings that New Testament writers Paul and John battled (cf. Colossians, I John, II John).
The term "Gnostic" comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means "knowledge." Gnosticism was a complex religious philosophy which taught that salvation could only be achieved through secret knowledge. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) records the following general characteristics found within Gnostic belief systems:
The following may be regarded as the chief points in the Gnostic systems:
(1) a claim on the part of the initiated to a special knowledge of the truth; a tendency to regard knowledge as superior to faith and as the special possession of the more enlightened, for ordinary Christians did not possess this secret and higher doctrine;
(2) the essential separation of matter and spirit, matter being intrinsically evil and the source from which all evil has arisen;
(3) an attempt to solve the problems of creation and the origin of evil by postulating a demiurge, i.e., a creator or artificer of the world distinct from the deity, and emanations extending between God and the visible universe (the demiurge for the Gnostics being the God of the OT, an inferior being infinitely remote from the Supreme Being who can have nothing to do with anything material);
(4) a denial of the true humanity of Christ; a docetic Christology which considered the earthly life of Christ and especially His sufferings on the cross to be unreal;
(5) the denial of the personality of the Supreme God, and also the denial of the free will of mankind;
(6) the teaching, on the one hand, of asceticism as the means of attaining spiritual communion with God, and, on the other hand, of an indifference that led directly to licentiousness;
(7) a syncretistic tendency that combined certain more or less misunderstood Christian doctrines and various elements from oriental, Jewish, Greek, and other sources;
(8) ascription of the OT to the demiurge or inferior creator of the world.
Some of these ideas are more obvious in one and some of them in another of the Gnostic systems. (p. 486, vol. 2, "Gnosticism")
Christian Gnostic doctrine stated that the Messiah really didn't come to the earth as a human being. Because they believed that flesh was evil by nature, Gnostics sought a way to separate the spiritual Savior from Yeshua the man. They did this by two separate but related teachings; (1) that the Messiah was a spiritual being who entered the man Jesus at his baptism and left him at his crucifixion; or (2) that Jesus wasn't really flesh and blood, but simply a spirit being in a phantom body.
Since Gnostics believed that the Messiah was not actually flesh, they taught that one did not need the atoning sacrifice of his blood for salvation. Rather, the Gnostics stressed that salvation could be attained only through the secret knowledge that Christ had brought to his disciples.
The Gnostic doctrine regarding the Messiah was labeled Docetism. It was first of many human attempts to understand and define who Jesus Christ really was. This doctrine reached its peak in the 2nd century CE.
Several competing theories regarding the nature of the Messiah arose in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. These included Modalism, Adoptionism, and Trinitarianism.
Probably the most popular 2nd-century doctrine regarding the identity of the Messiah was Modalism (also called Monarchianism). Modalism states that there is only one Person in the Godhead. Modalists believe that God the Father has manifested Himself at different times in different modes. Therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but three names for the same Deity.
In the third chapter of his work Against Praxeus, Tertullian (the founder of Latin Christianity) indicates that Monarchianism was the most common belief regarding the identity of Christ by the end of the 2nd century CE. The rise of Modalism is described by author Arthur Cushman McGiffert:
. . . There were many who felt that to call Jesus the Son of God was to detract from his dignity and to deprive him of the place that rightly belonged to him. They were interested primarily in salvation rather than creation and the Saviour was more to them than the Creator. In these circumstances they could not consent to have the supreme place assigned to the Creator and the Saviour subordinated to him. The divine Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was the only God they needed. To associate another God with him and particularly to put another God above him offended them deeply. If it were necessary to recognize a creating as well as a saving God, then the Lord Jesus Christ whom they worshipped, and faith in whom had brought them into the Christian church, was himself creator as well as saviour; they neither knew nor cared to know any other God apart from him. . . .
Their original position was very simple and quite without theological implications. Christ is the Father, the creator of heaven and earth. It is the Father that appeared on earth, was born of a virgin, and suffered and died on the cross. The arguments used in support of this position were chiefly Scriptural: "I and the Father are one"; "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" and other similar utterances. (pp. 232-233, 237, vol. I, A History of Christian Thought)
The most renowned and significant Modalist theologian was Sabellius. Coming from north Africa about 215 CE, he taught in Rome until 220. Sabellius developed the most comprehensive explanation of the Monarchian view of the Godhead. McGiffert writes of Sabellius:
. . . He seems to have been interested more than the others in preserving the unity of God and he insisted in the strongest possible way that God is one person as well as one substance. As one person he is indivisible but he has three energies or operations: creating and governing, redeeming, regenerating and sanctifying. As creator and governor God is called Father, as redeemer he is called Son, as regenerator and sanctifier he is called Holy Spirit. But it is one and the same God, one and the same divine person, who acts in all these ways. The difference is not in being or person, but in function or activity. Each of these functions or activities -- Father, Son and Spirit -- was called by Sabellius prosopon (πρόσωπον), the Greek word of which the Latin translation is persona. The word means not person but face, and was used for the mask worn by actors in the theatre or for the part they played. . . .
Sabellius became the principal leader of the Modalists in Rome and was opposed, as other Modalists were, by Hippolytus, a champion of the Logos Christology. For the sake of peace Bishop Callixtus (217-222), although himself a Modalist, excommunicated both Sabellius and Hippolytus, the leaders of the two hostile groups, and set up his own compromising formula . . . (pp. 238, 239, Ibid.)
Adoptionism, another theoretical explanation of the identity of the Messiah, was also present during this time period. However, it never received widespread popular acceptance in the west. This doctrine was spread by Theodotus, a leather dealer from Smyrna, and its adherents were originally called Theodotians. He came to Rome about 190 CE and taught that Yeshua was merely a man adopted by God who had divinity bestowed upon him at the time of his baptism. He found little support for his teaching in the western part of the Roman empire, and was eventually condemned by Roman bishop Victor.
However, in the eastern Roman empire, Adoptionism took hold in the latter half of the 3rd century. The leader of eastern Adoptionism was the bishop of Antioch, Paul of Samosata. Of him and his teaching, McGiffert writes:
. . . Paul was the most important of all the Adoptionists and one of the most interesting figures in the early church. . . . The man Jesus Christ according to Paul was by no means an ordinary man. On the contrary he was endowed at birth with the divine reason or wisdom (Paul used the two words interchangeably) and lived wholly at one with God, loving him unalterably and fulfilling his will perfectly in all things. As a consequence, he was raised from the dead, was given divine authority, and was appointed to be the judge and saviour of men. He is therefore now to be recognized as Lord and to be worshipped as such. Paul was even willing that he should be given the name God if it were clearly understood that he was not God in himself but had only been granted the title and the honour that went with it as a reward for his virtue and the constancy of his devotion to the divine will. (pp. 241-242, 243-244, Ibid.)
After two earlier tries failed, Paul and his teaching were finally condemned at a synod held in Antioch in 268 CE. He was deposed from his religious office and Adoptionism gradually gave way in the east to the Logos Christology. McGiffert states this about the philosophical origins of the Logos Christology, the foundation for what later became Trinitarianism:
. . . Platonic philosophy . . . came to expression in the Logos Christology. At the end of the third century, the Logos Christology was generally accepted in all parts of the church and found a place in most of the creeds framed in that period, particularly in the east. The motive underlying it was philosophical, the hostility to it was due chiefly to either religious or ethical considerations. (pp. 241, 244-245, Ibid.)
The development of the Trinity doctrine was a response by scholars and theologians in the Roman Catholic Church to the heretical doctrines of Docetism, Modalism, and Adoptionism in all their different variations. Trinitarianism began to take shape as a comprehensive doctrine in the 2nd century, but it took many hundreds of years to come to its final form. Theophilus of Antioch seems to have been the first to use the Greek term for "trinity" (τριάς) to describe God about 190 CE.
Initially, it appears that the main goal of the Catholic theologians was to establish the preexistence of the Son of God, his incarnation as the man Jesus Christ, and his deity. However, as the Trinity doctrine was taking form, there continued to be disagreements over the nature of the Messiah by scholars within the Roman Catholic church. This dissension eventually came to a head early in the 4th century CE due to the teaching of Lucian of Antioch. Regarding this man and his doctrine, McGiffert writes:
Lucian was at the head of a theological school in Antioch when he suffered martyrdom in 311. He was a man of high standing and many of his pupils held prominent positions in the church of the east. He was a disciple of Paul of Samosata, but he departed radically from the teaching of his master . . . Like him he distinguished Christ sharply from God, but instead of counting him a mere man as Paul did, he made him the incarnation of a preexistent being whom he called the Logos or Son of God. The Logos incarnate in Christ is not identical with the divine logos or reason which is a mere impersonal attribute or faculty, on the contrary he is a personal being intermediate between God and man and of another nature altogether. . . . (pp. 246-247, Ibid.)
One of Lucian's disciples was a presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt named Arius. With respect to Arius' position on the identity of Yeshua, McGiffert writes:
Arius was more of a rationalist than a mystic and his controlling interest was intellectual rather than religious. God, he maintained, is one both in substance and in person. His nature is indivisible and cannot be shared by any other being. He is self-existent and eternal. Everything else has been created out of nothing and had its beginning in time. The Son of God was made out of nothing to be God's agent in the creation of the world. He is not eternal; on the contrary he was created in time by an act of God's will. His nature is not identical with God's, any more than is the nature of other created things. God is immutable; the Son of God is subject to change. God is eternally perfect; the Son of God advances in wisdom and knowledge. The Son of God may be called the Logos, but is to be sharply distinguished from the impersonal logos or reason which God always possessed. Though Arius occasionally spoke of the Son in traditional fashion as begotten by the Father he used the term only as a synonym of created. He was quite clear indeed that the Son was made out of nothing and did not partake of the divine essence in any sense. The essence of the Son is his own and is identical neither with that of God nor with that of man. The Son is the first of all creatures and belongs to a higher order of being than any others, whether angels or men. He became incarnate in Jesus Christ, being born of a virgin and taking on human flesh . . . (pp. 247-248, Ibid.)
Regarding the source of the difference between the teaching of Arius and Catholic scholars championing the Trinity, ISBE states:
The Arian debate of the 4th cent. centered from the very first on the right interpretation of Prov. 8:22-31 . . . Origen had sometimes suggested that the logos, identified both with the preexistent Son of God and with wisdom, is a creature if wisdom is such in Prov. 8:22 (cf. In Ioannem i.19.115). Arius made explicit this Origenist tendency to subordinate the Son metaphysically. For him the Son of God (identified with wisdom) has not always existed in eternal generation, but "before eternal times" was brought into being by the Father. Indeed, God cannot eternally communicate the divine essence to another, for God is absolutely simple and His essence therefore incommunicable. The Son was in fact made by God. He is a "second," a perfect creature (though eventually in principle fallible), the firstborn of all creation, intermediate -- a saving mediator -- between God and human beings. (p. 918, vol. 4, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "Trinity")
About 319 CE Arius, a respected scholar and teacher, came into conflict with Alexander, the Bishop of Alexandria, over his teaching of Lucian's doctrine regarding Christ. In an informal discussion between Alexander and his presbyters, Arius accused Alexander of Sabellianism. Soon thereafter, Bishop Alexander convened a council that condemned and exiled Arius.
Arius' response to Alexander's action was to write a letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia. In his letter, he complained of being wrongly persecuted by Alexander. Here is an excerpt from the letter that documents the doctrines of Alexander regarding the Son of God:
. . . The bishop greatly wastes and persecutes us, and leaves no stone unturned against us. He has driven us out of the city as atheists, because we do not concur in what he publicly preaches, namely, God always, the Son always; as the Father so the Son; the Son co-exists unbegotten with the God; He is everlasting; neither by thought nor by any interval does God precede the Son; always God, always Son; he is begotten of the unbegotten; the Son is of God Himself. (p. 41, bk. I, ch. IV, ser. II, vol. III, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, "The Ecclesiastical History of Theodoret")
The letter also mentions that several eastern bishops (Eusebius of Caesarea, Theodotus of Laodicea, Paulinus of Tyre, Athanasius of Anazarbus, Gregorius of Berytus, and Aetius of Lydda) had been condemned by Alexander for teachings similar to those of Arius.
At about the same time, Alexander wrote the Catholic Epistle; in this letter, he informed his colleagues that Eusebius of Nicomedia was also spreading the heresy of Arius. He warned the Catholic bishops not to fall into apostasy by accepting the teachings of Arius and Eusebius.
Shortly thereafter, Eusebius invited Arius to Nicomedia and began a letter writing campaign to the bishops of Asia Minor in support of Arius and his position. Due to Eusebius' steadfast and outspoken support of Arius, the "Arian controversy" was changed from an Egyptian dispute into a controversy that affected the fledgling Catholic church.
The next year (320 CE) while in Nicomedia, Arius drafted a letter to Alexander and summarized his views once more. Arius also wrote The Banquet while there, which was probably an attempt to widely publish his doctrine. However, this work survives today only in fragments found primarily in quotations from the writings of Athanasius.
In 324 CE, Alexander again sent a letter to bishops outside of Egypt warning of the danger from Arius' doctrine. By this time, Roman Emperor Constantine had recognized that the doctrinal battle within the Roman Catholic church had to be settled or the newly-recognized religion would be splintered by factional fighting. Since the Arian position had the least support among the bishops, Constantine sought to resolve the issue in favor of the majority position.
Early in 325 CE, a representative of Emperor Constantine named Hosius presided over a council in Antioch. This anti-Arian council condemned Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, for being an Arian sympathizer. It also formulated a doctrinal creed in favor of Alexander's theological position on the nature of the Godhead.
Later in the same year, another council was held in the city of Nicea. There were 318 Catholic bishops in attendance, the majority of which were opposed to Arius' teaching. The position of these bishops was presented by a young deacon from Alexandria, Athanasius. In the end, Athanasius' arguments won out and Arius was exiled to Illyria. An anti-Arian creed (the Nicene Creed) was adopted by the council. Below is the text of the Nicene Creed:
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, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance (homoousios) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which is in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the living and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost. And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion―all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them. (p. 3, ser. II, vol. XIV, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers)
However, the adoption of the Nicene Creed did not truly solve the dispute. In fact, looking back, it seems that Arius' setback was only temporary. In 327 he wrote a letter to Emperor Constantine, trying to show the orthodoxy of his position and asking him to revoke his banishment. Shortly after receiving the letter, Constantine rescinded Arius' exile.
In 335, the Synod of Tyre and Jerusalem restored Arius into the Roman Catholic church, and Athanasius was deposed. Emperor Constantine agreed with the recommendation of that council, and in February 336, Athanasius was exiled to Trier. On May 22, 337, Constantine was baptized by Arian supporter Eusebius of Nicomedia on his deathbed.
Several church councils and ten Arian confessions of belief did not solve the issue. The First Council of Constantinople was convened in 381 CE to review the Arian controversy again. Under the guidance of Gregory of Nazianzus, the Nicene Creed was reevaluated and accepted with the addition of articles on the Holy Spirit and other matters.
Thus Trinitarianism was finally formalized by the Roman Catholic church late in the 4th century at Constantinople. However, the Trinitarianism we now see took many more centuries to come to its final form.
To define the modern Trinity doctrine, let's go to the Roman Catholic church, its originator:
The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion -- the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." In this Trinity of Persons the Son is begotten of the Father by an eternal generation, and the Holy Spirit proceeds by an eternal procession from the Father and the Son. Yet, notwithstanding this difference as to origin, the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent. This, the Church teaches, is the revelation regarding God's nature which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came upon earth to deliver to the world: and which she proposes to man as the foundation of her whole dogmatic system. In Scripture there is as yet no single term by which the Three Divine Persons are denoted together. . . . (vol. 15, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912, "The Blessed Trinity")
The modern position of Trinitarianism regarding the identity of the Messiah has been distilled down to the doctrinal statement "Jesus Christ - fully God, fully man." Belief in the Trinity is considered to an article of faith, because this doctrine is regarded as an unfathomable and unknowable mystery.
Regarding this so-called divine mystery, Christian scholar Walter Martin wrote:
No man can fully explain the Trinity, though in every age scholars have propounded theories and advanced hypotheses to explore this mysterious Biblical teaching. But despite the worthy efforts of these scholars, the Trinity is still largely incomprehensible to the mind of man. (p. 21, Essential Christianity)
However, as we've seen from the sources cited above, the origin and status of Yeshua were clearly not understood in a Trinitarian framework by early Christians. It wasn't until several centuries after Christ walked the earth that the Trinity became the official church explanation for Yeshua's relationship to the Father.
The writings of some of the early "fathers" of the Catholic church show that they did not subscribe to the later Trinitarian belief in the co-eternality and co-equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as the Catholic Encyclopedia itself admits:
. . . A vigorous controversy has been carried on from the end of the seventeenth century to the present day regarding the Trinitarian doctrine of the ante-Nicene Fathers. The Socinian writers of the seventeenth century (e. g. Sand, "Nucleus historiae ecclesiastic", Amsterdam, 1668) asserted that the language of the early Fathers in many passages of their works shows that they agreed not with Athanasius, but with Arius. . . . Those who take the less favourable view assert that they teach the following points inconsistent with the post-Nicene belief of the Church:
- That the Son even as regards His Divine Nature is inferior and not equal to the Father;
- that the Son alone appeared in the theophanies of the Old Testament, inasmuchas the Father is essentially invisible, the Son, however, not so;
- that the Son is a created being;
- that the generation of the Son is not eternal, but took place in time. (vol. 15, Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912, "The Blessed Trinity")
The following quote from Margaret Barker confirms the claims of the Socinian writers:
Origen explained that Jesus was 'not simply an angel but the Angel of Great Counsel' (Against Celsus V.53, cf. VIII.27). Eusebius knew that this was not a Christian innovation; the anointed heavenly figure was the Angel of great Counsel: 'And when as the Captain of the Angels he leads them he is called: The Angel of Great Counsel, and as Leader of the Armies of heaven: Captain of the Host of the Lord' (Proof IV.10). The Hebrews, he said, also believed that this angel was the Messiah (Preparation VII.14-15), but the difference between the Jews and the Christians was that the Jews did not believe that he had already appeared. This implies that the belief in two deities in the Old Testament was not unique to Christians; the point of dispute was whether or not Jesus was the second God. Elsewhere Christ was the 'first among the archangels', and 'being himself God, the Commander in Chief and Shepherd of all that is in heaven', all rational creatures gave him homage (Methodius, Symposium iii.4, 6). Melito named him as the captain of the angelic army (New Fragments 15). Justin listed the titles as 'the Glory of the Lord, at another time a Son, at another Wisdom, at another an Angel, at another God, and at another Lord and Word. He once calls himself Captain of the Host when he appeared to Joshua the son of Nun in the form of man' (Trypho 61). (p. 207, The Great Angel)
The central tenet of modern Trinitarianism is that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are co-eternal and co-equal. This contention, however, has been a sticking point throughout the centuries as theological philosophers have argued about the nature of the Godhead. The doctrine of the Trinity is at odds with the scriptural teaching regarding the Messiah and is contradicted by early Jewish and Christian literature.
The Scriptures themselves clearly show that Jesus Christ is not co-eternal and co-equal with the Most High, God the Father. The teaching of the New Testament on the identity of Jesus Christ will be explored in detail in the second part of this study, "The New Testament Identification of the Messiah."
Bryan T. Huie
March 3, 2002