Monday, January 20, 2014

Arianism: Was There A Time When Jesus Was Not?

Arianism is named after Arius, who was a Christian leader in Alexandria, Egypt during the 3rd and 4th centuries. He and his followers believed the Logos (the preincarnate Christ) to be the first creation of God. Unlike most Christians, Arius also taught that the Logos was not of the same essence as the Father and was, in fact, inferior to the Father. Arius believed in three Persons of the Godhead, but believed the essence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be similar but not the same. The famous cry of the Arians was, "There was a time when He [Christ] was not!" The Arian doctrine is the ancestor of the Christology of the Jehovah's Witnesses. The doctrine of Arius was declared as heresy at the Counsel of Nicaea (325 AD), resulting in the popular Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

This creed clearly testifies to the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. The Son is said to have been "begotten before all worlds" and "begotten, not created". While I disagree with the terminology, I do agree that the Son of God is the eternal one: Yahweh. The question asked by Arianism is not about Jesus's pre-existing the incarnation, but whether or not He is eternal and of the same essence as the Father. Let's examine what the New Testament writings say about who and what Jesus of Nazareth actually is.

The four New Testament Gospels are the only reliable accounts that we have of the life of the Savior, while the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles, and the Revelation to John reveal more about the beliefs of the Apostles and the early church concerning the Son of God. We should, therefore, base our beliefs about Jesus based on His own testimony and on the teachings of His Apostles.

The Gospels, especially John, testify to the deity of Christ. Real briefly we'll see how the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) show the deity of Christ. In Matthew 9:2-8 speaks of Jesus healing a paralytic and forgiving his sins. Some of the Pharisees accuse Jesus of blasphemy and state that only God can forgive sins. Jesus does not deny that only God can forgive sins, but states that it is easier to state that a person's sins are forgiven than to tell a paralytic to get up and walk. Before miraculously healing the man Jesus says, "But so that you might know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins." The healing confirms that Jesus was not blaspheming, since God would not work through someone who was committing such a grievous sin. Mark 2:23-28 discusses Jesus and His disciples walking through a field and the disciples picking heads of wheat by hand to eat, only to be confronted by the Pharisees who accuse Jesus allowing His disciples to break the Sabbath. Jesus asks them rhetorically if they had ever read about David going to the house of a priest and eating the bread of the presence, along with his men. He says that this was unlawful to eat unless eaten by a priest. He then says, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath." Since God created the Sabbath, He is Lord of it and has authority to decide when someone is breaking it or not. Jesus here is implying that He is God in the flesh. Luke 7:36-50 gives another instance of Jesus forgiving the sins of a woman who anoints him with oil at the house of a Pharisee.

If these claims are not enough to convince you that Jesus is God (therefore is the uncreated Creator, the Eternal One) then maybe we should move to the Gospel of John. John opens by saying that Jesus existed from the very beginning as the Word (Greek: Logos, Aramaic: Miltha). "In the beginning" (Aramaic: B'reshit, Greek: En arche) in the original languages does not mean that the Word came into existence in the beginning, but that the Word was already in existence before time began. You could loosely translate it as, "In the beginning [of creation] the Word was [already there]." In Greek, John 1:1 reads as "En arche en ho Logos kai ho Logos en pros ton Theon kai Theos en ho Logos." The Aramaic says, "B'reshit itawh hwa Miltha w'huw Miltha itawh hwa l'wat Alaha w'Alaha itawh hwa huw Miltha." Both literally read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word."

Jehovah's Witnesses (appealing to the Greek), say that the final part of John 1:1 should be translated "and the Word was a god." But the Greek grammar reads "and God was the Word." The Aramaic also makes no distinction between "with God" (Greek: ton theon) and "and God was the Word" (Greek: kai Theos en ho Logos). The Aramaic for "with God" is l'wat Alaha, while "and God was the Word" is w'Alaha itawh hwa huw Miltha. The Aramaic is even more clear than the Greek in claiming that the Word was the same Person as God.

John goes further and states in 1:3-4, "Everything existed by his hand and without him not even one [thing] existed [of] that which existed. In him was life and the life was the light of men." The phrase "by his hand" is an Aramaic idiom for "through him". So John is clearly stating that the Word who was in the beginning is the Creator. Isaiah 44:24 says that God created all things by Himself. The Word is also stated to be the source of eternal life (Aramaic is plural, therefore is talking about eternal life). According to the Gospel of John, the Word is the Creator Himself and not a created being.

Arians frequently draw witness to Colossians 1:15, where Jesus is referred to as "the firstborn of all creation". They say that if Jesus is the firstborn of creation, then Jesus must be the first created being of God and not God Himself. Let's examine Colossians 1:15-20, verse by verse:

[Christ] who is the image of the God who is not seen and the firstborn of all created [ones].- 1:15

"Image" in Aramaic is demutha. This is defined by Janet Magiera as "form, image, likeness, appearance, manner, type, pattern." Aramaic for "firstborn" is bukra. By saying that the Messiah is the image of God, Paul is saying that Jesus is the physical manifestation (or revelation) of the invisible God. To be the firstborn in Semitic culture is to have the birthright. For example, a king is traditionally succeeded by his oldest son. This is saying that Jesus is authoritative over all creation. "Firstborn" refers to Jesus as the preeminent one, holding dominance over all things.

And in him everything that is in heaven and on earth was built, all that is seen and all that is not seen, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities, everything [is] by way of him and was built in him.- 1:16

"In him" in Aramaic is beh, and could also be translated as "through him". This is the same in meaning as the Aramaic idiom "by his hand". Paul is saying that everything, whether you can see it or not, is created by/through Christ. Jesus is the Creator of all things and not created. This is another reason why Jesus is the firstborn, because He is the Creator made flesh, therefore He has authority over it all.

And he is the front of all and everything stands in him.- 1:17

"In front" is d'men qedam. This is better translated as "before all". This is very clear testimony to Jesus's deity and more fuel for Paul's argument that Jesus Christ holds authority over all creation. Paul is saying not only that He is the Creator, but also the one who Sustains all things. If Jesus was to cease to exist, everything else would cease to exist also. Hebrews 1:1-3 says, "From of old God spoke to our fathers by the prophets in every manner and in all ways; and in these latter days, he has spoken to us by his Son; whom he has appointed heir of all things, and by whom also he made the worlds; for he is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his being, upholding all things by the power of his word..."

And he is the head of the body, the church, for he is the beginning and the firstborn from the dead in order that he would be the first in all things.- 1:18

"The head" is obviously an idiom for Jesus being the leader of the church. He is the beginning (resha), therefore an eternal being. "Firstborn" of the dead cannot refer to Jesus being the oldest man to be risen from the dead, but is about Him being the preeminent over those who rose from the dead. Matthew 27:52 says that after Jesus rose from the dead that many holy people rose from the grave also. This concludes Paul's argument that Jesus is the highest authority on earth and in Heaven.

The Bible clearly attests to the fact that Jesus has been in existence for all eternity and is not a created being. Jesus is the eternal God made manifest to humanity through the incarnation. Because He is the Creator made flesh, He is the firstborn of all creation. He holds all authority as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Those who ascribe to Arianism are blaspheming against Christ and denying His many words that show that He is the Lord Yahweh from Heaven. Let's take Jesus at His holy Word and trust in His claim to be the eternal God.

Quotations taken from:

Aramaic Peshitta New Testament Translation- Janet Magiera
Holy Bible From the Ancient Eastern Text- George M. Lamsa