Not Traditional, Original

John 1 – The meaning of the Logos; The Slippery Slope of Applying Mathematical Precision to Language Expressions

This is a rewrite of an article published a dozen or so years ago with more insight hopefully to make clearer what the beginning of the Gospel of John actually says.  As John 1:1-14 is not literal the original article focused on how languages are imprecise and could be misleading if someone tried to take the section literally,  In this rewrite, I have added more on the actual meaning of John chapter one, and that is where I want to start.

As always on this website, our goal is to discover what the original Christians believed in order to see how we got from what the scriptures actually say to the myriad denominations and traditions that disagree on so many things today, no matter how different it may be from what we think right now.

First, thinking that the first chapter of John is the first place that the concept of the logos, the word of God, in operation and as part of creation is discussed in the manner it is presented is a mistake. More likely it is God’s response to a topic already prevalent in the culture. As we will see later the concept of logos had developed in the culture at that time to take on a meaning that was very similar to and integrated with how wisdom was presented in Old Testament scripture.  This concept is recognized by writers from different denominational backgrounds today. I found an interesting article explaining just this by a Catholic priest.[1]

Part of the problem in this topic is that many people today don’t understand the concept of personification, Or, if they do, they don’t recognize it at times, like we are going to be looking at in scripture.  Look at these examples:

Let the sea roar with its fullness; the world, and those who dwell therein. Let the rivers clap their hands. Let the mountains sing for joy together. Let them sing before Yahweh, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. (Psa 98:7-9 WEB)

These verses say that there are rivers that clap their hands and mountains that sing. What vivid imagery! What a powerful way to communicate. These nonhuman things, rivers, and mountains are talked about as people. That’s personification.

The waters saw you, God. The waters saw you, and they writhed. The depths also convulsed. (Psa 77:16 WEB)

Here’s another example. People writhe and convulse, waters really don’t. That’s personification. But what powerful imagery.

Yahweh said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground. (Gen 4:10 WEB)

Or how about this one? Blood may be part of a human, but it’s not a person. Yet this blood is “crying from the ground”. What a powerful impact these words make. That’s personification.

Look at how wisdom is personified in places in the Old Testament

Doesn’t wisdom cry out? Doesn’t understanding raise her voice? On the top of high places by the way, where the paths meet, she stands. Beside the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entry doors, she cries aloud: “To you men, I call! I send my voice to the sons of mankind…Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth existed. When there were no depths, I was born, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was born; while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he set a circle on the surface of the deep, when he established the clouds above, when the springs of the deep became strong, when he gave to the sea its boundary, that the waters should not violate his commandment, when he marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was the craftsman by his side. I was a delight day by day, always rejoicing before him, rejoicing in his whole world. My delight was with the sons of men.  (Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 WEB) [bolded emphasis added]

In the very first verse above wisdom and understanding are described as a person. “Doesn’t understanding raise her voice?” “She stands.”  “She cries out.” These are all sentences talking about a nonhuman thing as if it were a person. Personification is the figure of speech used here.

Personification is a figure of speech in which an idea or thing is given human attributes and/or feelings or is spoken of as if it were human. Personification is a common form of metaphor in that human characteristics are attributed to nonhuman things.[2]

In the above verses from Proverbs, we see that one of the ways that Jews thought about wisdom was to describe it as a wondrous lady. This wondrous lady, wisdom, was there from the beginning before the earth existed. She is described as the craftsman by Yahweh’s side. She’s described as of delight of the Lord. But wisdom is not a person. Wisdom is a quality that is extremely valuable. Wisdom is the capacity to understand and act accordingly. Wisdom is such an awesome thing, but it is not a person. Yet the Old Testament talks about it as if it were, this is one of the ways that the Jews thought about things.

Next, in verses 24 and 25 of Proverbs 8, it says this “I was born.”  Since wisdom was born, it is a created thing, it had a beginning.

Solomon is credited as the author of Proverbs. One source lists Solomon’s life as from 989 to 931 BC.[3] When Solomon wrote proverbs the Logos was not the concept that it would become later. Proverbs’ discussion of wisdom predates the promotion of the concept of the Logos especially the Stoic philosophy that was influential in the world at the time of the Apostles and which started around the fourth century BC.  The Stoics believed in the Logos as the animating, intelligent principle of the universe. The Stoics promoted seeking God’s wisdom in people’s lives by tapping into God’s powerful intelligence, i.e., the Logos.

“The Stoics believed that to achieve freedom, happiness, and meaning one should attune one’s life to the wisdom of God’s will, manifest in the second distinction (above) of Logos.”[4]

In the above statement we have a correlation between wisdom and the Logos that was part of contemporary thinking at the time of the apostles.

Having explained all this I make this claim, trying to take John 1:1-14 literally and mathematically analyze the wording to equate God, Jesus, and the Logos in the prologue of John’s gospel is a mistake and doesn’t reflect the meaning of the concept of Logos at all.  John 1:1-14 is not literal.  Just as wisdom is presented with the figure of speech personification, so is the Logos in John chapter one.

Just as today there are topics that are discussed around the world like evolution, Islamic Jihadism, communism, and so forth, there were concepts that were just as heavily discussed 2000 years ago.  We have already discussed the Stoic emphasis on the Logos but they were not alone in discussing the Logos in their writings.  Philosophers, religious writers, and others, one after another, identified the Logos in their scheme of reasoning as a divine principle in the grand scheme of life. Before the Stoics began incorporating the idea of the Logos there was Heraclitus centuries before them. And not only was the Logos part of Greek philosophical discussion it was in Indian, Egyptian, and Persian thinking, in their discussions of both philosophy and theology.[5]

In the previous article on stoicism, we discussed the stoic view of God, whom they defined as the Logos:

“… the universe is a single ordered whole, a perfect organism that unites within itself all that exists in the world. It is ruled by a supreme cosmic power, a fiery substance that the Stoics called Logos, Divine Reason, or God.  The Logos is the organizing, integrating, and energizing principle of the whole universe.  As a perfect entity, the universe combines within itself the Logos or Divine Reason, which is its soul, and matter, which serves as its body. Since everything is derived from God, everything is a part of God, but not separated or cut from the whole.  Each individual soul is a fragment of the universal Logos or God.”[6]

An individual who lived around the time of the writer of the gospel of John was the Jewish philosopher Philo. Philo wrote about the Logos.  Philo was familiar with the stoic interpretation of the Logos, but attempted to bring it closer to his understanding of the Old Testament.

“For the Stoics, logos was equally reason (individual and universal), nature, and God, while for Philo, logos is not ultimate reality but merely what we can see and understand of God, who is Himself very far from human comprehension. In Stoicism, logos is God; in Philo it corresponds to his specific doctrine of the dunameis, the powers of God who created the world and governs it.”[7]

These explanations of stoic and Philo’s interpretation of the Logos illustrate that the Logos was a concept people were talking about at the time that the gospel of John was written.  They also illustrate that there was debate about what it was.

Philo’s concept of the Logos as the dunameis, the power of God in action, is much closer to the explanation given in the prologue of the Gospel of John than any kind of quick mathematical analysis perfectly equating the Logos to both God and his Son.

More closely to the language of the times the prologue of John says that the Word of God is the powerful energized plan of God. It is God’s wisdom with dunamis power, This powerful energized plan of God has been with him from the beginning and is what we know about God the Father.

We see that energy in the Word of God (Logos) in Isaiah 55.

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isa 55:11 KJV)

While man’s word may be powerless, as we see in the verse above, there is power in the word of God (the Logos).

In reality, as tiny, short-lived, finite beings we can only understand that part of God that he reveals to us. This Word of God, this plan of redemption that God set in motion, and revealed through the law and the prophets, and experienced through our spiritual connection with him is God to us.  But also in reality, the little bit of God that has been revealed to us cannot in any way fully express to our tiny minds who God is.  We will see more of this when we look at the translation of John 1:1 especially.

Now, onto the topic of trying to apply mathematical precision to language expressions because that is what a lot of people studying the Bible attempt to do with John chapter one. In a previous article, Grammar and Logic – Boring But Invaluable, I wrote “Another mistake is to substitute the logic of one discipline for another. An area where I have seen this kind of mistake is in the fields of mathematics and languages. For example, some people read the word “is” and ascribe to that word the mathematical definition of “equals”.”

One comment on the previous article was that a common-sense reading of John 1 is that the Word is someone and that someone is Jesus. This comment is taking the verses literally instead of recognizing that personification is being used here. That comment is saying that the Logos, the Word, is a person.  Then that person is equated to Jesus Christ.  That is taking the section literally and analyzing it mathematically.  The problem is that languages aren’t that precise, especially here which we shall see when we look at the Greek.

Greek, grammar, syntax, and mathematical notation are all boring, but they are the only way to know what something means. So, if you want to understand why it is important, you need to get through this more tedious part of the article

First of all, there is a mathematical language in the world that is used because it allows mathematicians to say things precisely.  There may be some English or other spoken language in Math but mainly it uses precise mathematical symbols.  For example, the following allows someone to express something precisely, in this case, part of Taylor’s Theorem:

I know, it looks like gibberish to a lot of people.  But, it’s not important what the above math says What’s important is that this statement is free from the ambiguity of English and other languages.  It’s precise.

On the other hand, you can’t just apply mathematical precision to English or other language expressions. For example, in mathematics, we have the axiom that two things that are both equal to a third thing are equal to each other. Or, as it is written mathematically, if a equals b, and b equals c, then a equals c. You can use this axiom ad infinitum. If c equals d also, then a would equal d, and so forth.

It is written like this:

If a = b and b = c, then a = c.

The difference is that the “=” symbol means equals. The word “is” may or may not mean “equals”.

This applies universally to expressions people use to communicate. Still, the temptation is to say that anywhere someone uses the word “is”, you can substitute the word “equals” and that is a slippery slope.

First, sometimes the logic does work, and here is an example:

Minerals are inanimate.  Quartz is a mineral.  Therefore, Quartz is inanimate.

The above is a syllogism, a concept introduced by Aristotle.

However, there are numerous examples where the word “is” doesn’t mean “equals”.  For example, US President Barack Obama (A) is a man (B). Nelson Mandela (C) is a man (B). Would anybody try to apply the above mathematical logic and say that Nelson Mandela is the U.S. president? Or that Nelson Mandela is Barack Obama?

Barack Obama (A) = a man (B) = Nelson Mandela (C)
Therefore Barack Obama (A) = Nelson Mandela (C).

That obviously doesn’t make sense! Nelson Mandela was at one time the President of South Africa and was a terrific world leader. Whether or not you agree with his politics Barack Obama held the power of the U.S. presidency, a position of great honor and power. Yet, trying to substitute “equals” for “is” equates Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama as the same man. These two both are men, but they do not equal each other; in fact, they are very different men. And in fact, there are no examples where one man would “equal” another. John McCain, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Peyton Manning, and James Earl Jones are all men. But we all agree John McCain is NOT Kobe Bryant who is NOT Lebron James who is NOT Peyton Manning who is NOT James Earl Jones.

Yet the application of mathematical precision to the word “is” as “equals” is exactly what many bible students do in the prologue of the gospel of John. The gospel of John says that the Logos is God.  It also says this same Logos was in the beginning with God.  A little further down the page, it says that the Logos became flesh and dwelt among men.  So, we have mathematically inclined students teaching that this is a mathematical expression. They say that the Logos equals God, that the Logos was in the beginning with God, and that the Logos was made flesh and dwelt among us. So, to them. we have a mathematical proof that Jesus is God, the God-man.

More specifically, defining “is” as “equals” to John 1 gives us this series of equations:

The Word = God

The  Word = Jesus Christ

Using the transitive property of mathematical precision we get:

The Word = God = Jesus Christ.

However, if you are going to apply mathematical precision defining “is” as “equals” to this statement then you need to apply it fully to all elements. The principle says that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.  Why aren’t people saying that the Word is God?  There are three elements here all supposedly equal to each other, the Word, God (the Father), and Jesus (the word made flesh).  There is a trinity here, but there is no Holy Spirit.  The trinity here is God the Father, the Son, and the Word.  No one says that is the Trinity.

No one is saying that the Word fully equates to God, but if you apply their logic that would be the valid conclusion!

Here is more about how imprecise this language is. Take a look at John 1:1 in Greek. When the Greek refers to God the Father it uses the article “the”.  If it doesn’t include the article then it’s not referring to God the Father. Rather, it’s used to describe a “god” or even a magistrate, also used as a modifier like godly or godward.

Here’s is what Strong’s Greek Dictionary says about the word theos in Greek Texts:

Strong’s: 2316: theos: a deity, espec him. (with #3588, (the definite article “Ho”)): the supreme Divinity figuratively, a magistrate; by Heb. very:- exceeding, God, god [-ly, ward].

It is a little cryptic, but in Strong’s definition above, it says that the word theos with the definite article refers to the supreme Divinity. The supreme Divinity is God the Father. Otherwise, theos alone, without the definite article (ho), can refer to a god, or mean godly or godward.

Here’s the interlinear text:

Do you see how the Greek has “the God” the first place theos is used, but not the second?  The second place doesn’t say “the God” which is the Greek that refers to God Almighty.

So, the second place is more descriptive.  This is more accurate:

In this translation, I have used “godlike”.  As Strong’s says, I could have used godly.  When you don’t have the article, the meaning changes to “god” (small g) or becomes descriptive. In this verse “god” (small g) doesn’t work. So it is saying that the Logos is godlike.  The Logos is godly.  That phrase is absolutely not saying that the Logos is equal to “the God”.

The Greek text above does not even support the translation, “the Word was God”.  In order to even be accurately saying “the Word was God”, you really need an article before the word” God” in Greek.

However, most versions of the Bible have something like:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Joh 1:1 WEB)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Joh 1:1 ASV)

Again, in order for this verse to be saying that the Logos is actually God, it needs an article before God in Greek. These translations are imprecise, and as such, are misleading without the proper understanding.

John 1:1-14 personifies the Logos just like Proverbs chapter 8. Remember personification is treating a thing as if it were a person.  Wisdom in Proverbs was treated like a person, the Logos referred to here is treated like a person.  But neither is actually a person.  Yet the pronouns of she, he, him, and her in these verses refer to these non-human things, wisdom, and Logos (word).  I have added [wisdom] and [Logos] to the verses to emphasize that.

The prologue of John says that the Word of God, the Logos is wisdom with dunamis (a Greek word for dynamic power). This powerful energized plan of God has been with him from the beginning and is what we know about God the Father.

The same was in the beginning with God. (Joh 1:2 WEB)

This Logos, this Wisdom with dunamis power was there with him in the beginning just like it says in Prov 8:22.

“Yahweh possessed me [wisdom] in the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth existed.
(Pro 8:22-23 WEB)

Both Logos and wisdom were there when things were being made.

All things were made through him [Logos]. Without him [Logos] was not anything made that has been made. (Joh 1:3 WEB)

Compare this to Proverbs chapter 8.

When he established the heavens, I [wisdom] was there; when he set a circle on the surface of the deep, when he established the clouds above, when the springs of the deep became strong, when he gave to the sea its boundary, that the waters should not violate his commandment, when he marked out the foundations of the earth; then I [wisdom] was the craftsman by his side. I [wisdom] was a delight day by day, always rejoicing before him, (Pro 8:27-30 WEB)

The Old Testament says wisdom, the Gospel of John says the Logos.  They are talking about the same thing, God’s power enabled wisdom, his energized plan.

In him [Logos] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. (Joh 1:4-5 WEB)

Compare that to:

For whoever finds me [wisdom], finds life, and will obtain favor from Yahweh. But he who sins against me [wisdom] wrongs his own soul. All those who hate me [wisdom] love death.” (Pro 8:35-36 WEB)

John 1:4 says the Logos is life, Proverbs 8:35 says wisdom is life. They are talking about the same thing.  The “him” in John 1 and the “me” in Proverbs 8 are the Logos, the wisdom. Again, this is the figure of speech, personification, calling an inhuman thing human.

Next, we have,

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came as a witness, that he might testify about the light, that all might believe through him [Logos]. He was not the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light. (Joh 1:5-8 WEB)

This is the first time a real man is mentioned, John the Baptist.  He is part of this Wisdom, this Logos, and was sent to bear witness to the Light.  John wasn’t the light, John wasn’t the Logos, but was sent that all might believe through him (the Logos spoken of as a person).

Next, look at:

The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He [Logos] was in the world, and the world was made through him [Logos], and the world didn’t recognize him [Logos]. He [Logos] came to his own, and those who were his own didn’t receive him [logos]. But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The Word [Logos] became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his [Logos’] glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (Joh 1:9-14 WEB)

These verses have no parallel in Proverbs 8 because John is announcing that the Wisdom of Proverbs 8, this Logos, has generated a solution in the flesh.  The Word became flesh.  It wasn’t flesh before, but Wisdom, the Logos had been working toward it all along. Part of this plan was to produce a man that was capable of redeeming mankind.  Here’s how that happened.

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. (Luk 1:35 WEB)

This act allowed the Word of God, Wisdom in Proverbs 8, the Logos in John 1 to become flesh and enter the world in the person of Jesus Christ. This was God’s plan all along.  This was the seed promised to Eve. This was Savior promised by the prophets. This man was created to become the embodiment of this plan.  And as such, he was a man called to be the living Word of God. He was called to carry out God’s plan for redemption.

Jesus Christ, our Lord, is that human fulfillment of God’s energized wisdom, the logos. Just as the logos is God to us, but less than the total of all that God is, Jesus is that part of God’s plan that works to provide a human savior for mankind. As such, Jesus is the embodiment, the wisdom for that energized plan.  He is the living Word of God.  That is in no ways a small feat, but that does not make the living Logos equal to the creator

In original Christianity, the Logos, which is wisdom in Proverbs 8, had a beginning.  It was before the creation of the earth, but it was not co-eternal.  All of this is important because this first chapter in John in the third century was misconstrued to say that this Logos is co-eternal with God, a foundational piece of fourth-century theology.  However, this was not the belief of the original Apostles. To see that we read Justin Martyr who around 150 AD wrote that Jesus Christ existed, before his birth, but it was only in the mind of God.  Justin wrote of the Logos and the Son as subordinate to the Father.

“Justin’s emphasis is on the divine Logos, subordinate to God the father , yet his Son,  His agent, and one with Him in some true, though rather indefinite, sense.”[8]

No matter what people believe now, this is documentation of what original Christianity believed.  In original Christianity, the Logos had a beginning,  Jesus Christ had a beginning.

It wasn’t until Kallistos in the middle of the third century that the logos Christology taught that Jesus Christ was coeternal with God. And after him, Novation started using the terminology that Jesus Christ shared a “communion of substance”.[9] But this is hundreds of years after Pentecost and perhaps a hundred and fifty years after the passing of the apostles.

So, what we see is that the Trinitarianism that has been dominant since the fourth century didn’t even exist in the time of the original apostles. With the advent of incorporating philosophy with the apologists, we see concepts such as the Logos changing over time. But the original apostles and other Christian believers believed that the Logos, the wisdom of God, had a beginning and understood that it was a personification of something that God created because that is part of how they communicated. Yes, these concepts changed over time, but as it says in Encyclopedia Britannica, even going into the third century, Unitarianism (God as one person) was the dominant belief of Christianity. The Logos as a creation of God was still dominant even though it was changing from its original meaning in the church as the church embraced philosophy.

“Even after the elimination of Gnosticism the church remained without any uniform Christology; the Trinitarians and the Unitarians continue to confront each other, the latter at the beginning of the third century still forming the large majority.”[10]

As it says above, Unitarians still formed a large majority at the beginning of the third century, indicating the Original Christian church started out Unitarian.

I have to admit I was shocked the first time I saw this (and other reputable references pointing to the same outcome) in print.   I had read a lot of things about how the Trinity was developed over time and wasn’t in place originally but I had never read that while there was debate early on, it was Unitarianism that was in place originally, that it was still the dominant belief going into the third century. What an eye-opener!

So, not only is the wording insufficient to establish the Logos is actually God, we have the historical record that shows that the original Christians didn’t believe the Logos was God the Father but subordinate to the Father. They believed that God the Father alone is God. They believed that both the son and the Logos were inferior and subordinate to the Father.  The first chapter of John personifies the Logos as a person just as wisdom is personified in the Old Testament but neither makes Wisdom or the Logos actually God. They are god-like, they represent the best we can understand of who God is.

John chapter one is an insight both into Jewish thinking and an explanation of how God works. God knew what would happen before creation so part of creation is a plan to redeem man whom God knew would sin.  God made a plan and energized it.  Proverbs 8 calls that plan wisdom, John 1 calls that plan the Logos. Part of that plan was to make produce a seed of Eve that would step on the head of the adversary, and redeem us from sin. The Logos is still working and will work until the final victory.

[1] Logos as Fulfilment of Wisdom in Israel, https://www.faith.org.uk/article/september-october-2009-logos-as-fulfilment-of-wisdom-in-israel

[2] https://literarydevices.net/personification/

[3] http://timeline.biblehistory.com/event/solomon

[4] Logos, https://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/theogloss/logos-body.html

[5] Logos philosophy and theology, https://www.britannica.com/topic/logos

[6] The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster New York, 1961. p.51

[7] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/philo/

[8] A History of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 47

[9] A History of the Christian church, P. 70

[10]  The Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol.23 :  Internet Archive p.963


September 30th, 2021 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Grammar and Logic | no comments

11.76 The Waldenses, Why Believers Complied With Roman Catholic Doctrine, Bans on Reading the Bible, The Inquisition and other Repressive Measures

Waldo (also called Valdez) was a prosperous merchant of Lyons in 1176 AD. At that time, he was affected by the song of a wandering minstrel who was singing about the best way to God. He was affected by this verse:

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  (Mat 19:21 WEB)

This verse struck right at the heart of Waldo. He set up modest funding for his wife and daughters to live on and gave the rest to the poor. He then left his family. He wore poor raiment. He chose to live by whatever people gave him and went away preaching.

Remember that Western Bibles then were written in Latin, of course, while Eastern Bibles were mainly Greek. Waldo was not trained to read these languages, but he got clergymen friends to make translations for him of at least portions. These are what are known as vulgar translations. A vulgar translation is something that is translated into the ordinary, common language of the day which for Waldo was that of southern France around the end of the 12th century.

Waldo procured his vulgar New Testament and proceeded to study it intently as well as spread around copies. Within a year he was joined by both men and women and they all set out to preach repentance, calling themselves “poor in spirit”.

In 1179 they asked the third Lateran Council for permission to preach. The Council didn’t consider them heretical at that point but they did take them as ignorant laymen and Pope Alexander III denied permission.

Let’s compare the response of Pope Alexander III and the council to that of Annas the high priest and the Jewish leaders in the book of Acts:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled. They recognized that they had been with Jesus…They called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.  (Act 4:13 WEB)

There is a pattern here.  Both the high priest with Jewish leaders and the pope with council leaders elevated the importance of intellect and tradition above following the simplicity that is in the scriptures.  They only respected intelligent, learned people.  Common people without higher education in the field they called ignorant and rejected them.  This was their standard and while they may have been aware that these ignorant people were doing something spiritually significant, they didn’t respect it and dismissed them as ignorant.

And it’s not that Waldo was able to see the way back to everything in the apostles’ tradition. There’s no evidence that Waldo’s followers manifested Holy Spirit, believed in the baptism of the Spirit even, or prophecy. They still kept the rituals of confession and communion as well as Orthodox doctrines like the deity of Christ. But it was a start. They saw some things that they recognized as unbiblical and they sought the change them.  That’s how all reformation and restoration movements are. People’s eyes are opened that something or some things in the current system are not the word of God, and they seek to change to a better practice that is more biblical.

Just as the Roman Catholic Church has incrementally built up a system over many centuries that has moved away from the purity of the word of God people have instituted reform and restoration incrementally. Waldo was just one in a line of men like Jan Hus and John Wycliff that were addressing deviations from Scripture before the major reformers. Their work culminated in men like Martin Luther and John Calvin bringing the process into fruition by redefining for people concepts such as redemption, grace, and faith and starting churches that taught those things.  With the reformers came the desire and drive for the people in the church to return to Scripture as the authority for faith and practice.

It’s awesome what all these men started. But their work was just the start. While Waldo did follow a model of universal priesthood, Luther and Calvin did not abandon the clergy/laity distinctions and a lot of the other unbiblical practices. They did not embrace speaking in tongues and the manifestations of the spirit in their practice, rather crediting those practices just to the original apostles’ time. Luther certainly challenged the role of philosophy in the church but he still accepted philosophy as part of theology. All of these men are part of the start of the return to original Christianity, but the church is still far from it.  Reformation and restoration has been an incremental process, and it is still going on. Waldo was an early leader.

Waldo and his followers considered the pope’s refusal false in the eyes of God and chose to continue preaching their message to the people. Pope Lucius III excommunicated them in 1184.

Waldo’s group came to be called the Waldenses.  They were later lumped into the group of heretical groups by the Church, but they weren’t dualists, believing in multiple gods, or living licentious lives like a number of the other groups. In fact, they would be considered as orthodox as any Protestant church today.

Waldo and his small group were soon growing a considerable following who chose to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Another group called the Humiliati was also interested in living a life that was common and penitent.  They also were excommunicated by the pope and now joined the Waldenses.

Very important to us, the chief tenet of the Waldenses was that the Bible, especially the New Testament, was the sole rule of belief and practice for the church. They sought to follow it to the letter. According to New Testament teaching, they went out two by two, living on the gifts of the hearers. They rejected the mass and prayers for the dead, they denied purgatory. They rejected most sacraments. They defended lay preaching. They ordained bishops, priests, and deacons from their own ministry. They denied the privileges of the priest’s office and proclaimed that any righteous man could perform the duties in alignment with the priesthood of all believers.

The Roman Church’s position at this time was that only Roman Catholic ordained priests could perform the sacraments, and it didn’t matter whether they were worthy or not, the sacraments would still be valid. The Waldenses objected to this doctrine

They had both a large following in public, and a number of secret followers who appeared to remain loyal to the Roman Catholic Church but were supporting the Waldenses.

Conflicts of opinion between the original faction of the Waldenses and the Lombard branch grew and resulted in a split by 1210 A.D. The group was not able to resolve the differences. In 1208 Pope Innocent the third had countered by organizing the pauperes catholici, a new religious order under the strict oversight of the Roman Catholic Church that had some similarities to the Waldenses. This was successful in retrieving some of the previously excommunicated people from the group, but by no means, all.  This new group did not last long though.

The Waldenses was an attempt like others for believers to get back to the word of God.  They didn’t go all the way back to scripture in everything but they were moving in the right direction and the Catholic church continued making moves to stamp it out. Missionary efforts failed, and Innocent III started an actual crusade against them in 1209 A.D. This resulted in 20 years of warfare!

In 1229 a synod was held in Toulouse. That synod went to the extreme step of forbidding the laity to even possess the Scriptures except for a few items used in services. All translations were denounced. While no universal ban was formally issued against Bible reading by the laity this tactic was used in other places and served as a deterrent.

The synod at Toulouse is also significant because it is credited with being the beginning of the Inquisition. The topic of the punishment of heretics had been an ongoing debate in light of the Waldenses as well as other previous groups such as the Cathari and the Manichaeans. While higher-ups in the church didn’t always support killing heretics the death penalty was clearly established for this crime (heresy) by Roman law. In recent times heretics had been killed by fire or at the hands of mobs. Peter I of Aragon had formally ordered the execution by fire of heretics in 1197. Pope Innocent III had declared that heresy, as treason against God was worse than treason against king or government. So, all of those kinds of punishments for heresy were already in play by the time of the synod at Toulouse.

The synod at Toulouse decided to start the systematic investigation and punishment of heresy, the start of the Inquisition. Inquisitors from the Dominican order were drafted. A papal bull by Innocent IV empowered the inquisitors with the power to torture. They were also allowed to confiscate property which was then distributed among lay authorities. Both the Cathari and the Waldenses were greatly repressed in the century following the start of the Inquisition.  However, the Waldenses did survive in pockets, mainly the Alps, until the Reformation when they began to practice more freely.

For the Protestant and Restoration worlds, this lesson explains the difficulty in even attempting to return to the word of God in life and practice and why it has been so hard for so long. Doing something for so long in the culture also makes changing it a hard habit to break. Right or wrong, it becomes ingrained in the fabric of people’s lives. Roman Catholic tradition was beaten into the fabric of Christian culture for most of the life of Christianity. And what were people going to compare Roman Catholicism to? Even reading the bible was a dangerous activity in many of those times.

Yet the Waldenses sprang up.  The Waldenses’ first priority was striving to follow the teachings of the New Testament. They challenged the sacraments, the teachings,  the authority of the Roman Church to decide such matters.  Starting with Roman government involvement in the running of the church the punishment for disagreeing with the established church was life-changing, to say the least, and not in a good way. Besides the death penalty mentioned above, if they did let you live, you could lose your job whether in the church or not. You could lose your possessions. There was the death penalty.  And a group that succeeded in spite of those weapons could see war waged against them.

Forced compliance with Roman Catholic doctrine resulting in various severe punishments started all the way back to Constantine and escalated to the Inquisition where Bishops were charged with rooting out heresy and removing it or they could lose their jobs as well as be punished.  The Inquisition brought a new level of persecution to those who disagreed with Roman Catholic doctrine. Inquisitors who were allowed to remain anonymous started a reign of terror where they tortured people for their disagreement with the supposedly apostolic decisions of the church.  Remember so many of these decisions were called apostolic, even the decision to have these punishments and the Inquisition.   Confiscating heretics property which different parties could get a share of added fuel to the fire.

The Roman Catholic Church used the big carrot of proclaiming themselves the continuation of Jesus’ and his apostles’ ministry in everything they did, but they carried a huge stick for anyone who disagreed with them as seen in the penalties they inflicted on those they proclaimed heretical.

In the Roman Catholic Church, there was no right to free speech even to people that didn’t seem that heretical like the Waldenses.  The Roman Catholic Church policed what people said, what they read, employed extreme measures, including starting crusades against groups proclaimed heretical as well as the Inquisition, in order to maintain its grip on controlling what was taught about anything Christian.

And, as far as the Waldenses, the Roman Catholic Church sent an army after these brave believers who only wanted to get away from the increasingly unbiblical practices of the Catholic Church and return to the simplicity of the Bible. Only a small fraction of them survived until the Reformation.


A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker , Scribner, New York, 1958, p. 229-232

HERESIES, Heresy and Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass, 2000, p, 262-264

The Story Of Christianity, Justo L. Gonzales, Harper one, New York, 2010, P. 358, 363, 367

Encyclopedia Brittanica, Waldenses religious movement, Waldenses | Description, History, & Beliefs | Britannica

last edited 8/17/2021

August 16th, 2021 Posted by | Movements | no comments


Montanism refers to a group of Christians who followed the teachings of Montanus who came into prominence in Phrygia in Asia Minor mid-second century.  Montanus was a former priest of Cybele, a goddess similar to Gaia who was revered as the Earth Mother. Prophecy was not new to the area as the cults of Men, Cybele, and Dyonysus were familiar in the area, and people were receptive to the idea of Christian prophets.

Montanus prophesied previously as a priest of Cybele, and after converting to Christianity, prophesied in Christianity.  But his manner of prophecy, according to an opponent, was to fall into a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, where he raved and babbled and uttered strange things.  He did also teach speaking in tongues and other gifts of the spirit.  According to Eusebius his manner of prophecy was different than the tradition of the church that had been handed down from the beginning.

Montanus declared that he was a vehicle of the Holy Spirit about 156 AD.[1]  Montanus preached the Paraclete of John 14:16 was working through him and two female companions, Maximilla and Priscilla, who claimed to have the same power of the spirit as Montanus.  The three of them claimed to be new prophets who had a new word from God that superseded the New Testament.  The Holy Spirit was still operational, according to them, but their doctrines were radical. They preached the end of the world was near and that the heavenly Jerusalem would be established in their area, Phyrgia.[2] People left their jobs and homes and poured into the local countryside as prophecies foretold of wars, martyrdom, and instructed fasts and abstinences.

At first, second marriages were forbidden, and then marriage itself was forbidden.  They practiced extreme fasting and other forms of asceticism.  Montanists were critical of the church at large for not practicing the gifts of the holy spirit.

The movement of Montanism was exciting and received by a lot of people. Some participants were described as “boiling over with the Spirit” and the movement spurred a yearning for martyrdom.[3]  It lasted from the first until the sixth century. Frend describes the movement as having an “extraordinary tenacity” despite the failure of the prophecies to materialize.[4] While their views were extreme and extra-biblical Montanism represented that a significant number of the believers in the first century after Christ did not believe that the power of the Holy Spirit had ended. However, the failure of their prophecies to materialize worked to dissuade some against the continuing presence and power of the Spirit to manifest in their time.

As with all movements, not all people involved with the movement adhered to all of the beliefs.  For example, Tertullian, an early church father in the Latin heritage, converted to Montanism in the year 206.  Tertullian, while attracted to the teaching of the power of the Holy Spirit, differed from the originators of the sect in the excesses.  Tertullian had a powerful impact in changing the beliefs of Montanism.  Tertullian held to some of the beliefs of mainline Christianity of the time including the fullness of the spirit in the apostolic age.  Therefore, it appears that Montanism held to more orthodox views in the later centuries of its existence than at its beginning.

The asceticism of Montanism resurfaced in Monasticism in later centuries.[5]

It is interesting to note that as the world accepted orthodox Christianity, orthodox Christians were instrumental in the persecution of Montanists.  Constantine decreed that Montanists were to be deprived of their places of worship, forbidding their services.  The emperor Justinian in the sixth century literally wiped out the movement by gathering the Montanists together with their wives and children in their places of worship and setting the places on fire.

Some modern Pentecostalists have identified with Montanus with the same criticism of the mainline church as having abandoned the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It needs to be noted, however, that, unlike Montanists, Pentecostals are devout in their belief in the New Testament, do not practice asceticism, and don’t promote abandoning the New Testament for new prophecy.

Things that identify this group then as heretical include abandoning the tradition of the Apostles that we are charged to follow, the push for martyrdom, the push for asceticism, and false prophecies.

[1] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 56

[2] Walker p.56

[3] The Rise of Christianity, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, P. 253-256

[4] Frend, p. 253-256

[5] Walker, p. 56

Other References

HERESIES, Heresy And Orthodoxy In The History Of The Church, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass 2000, p, 66-68


Last edited 8/10/2021

August 10th, 2021 Posted by | Heresies | no comments

Clergy and Laity Distinctions: Biblical or Not?

Most Christian denominations designate certain individuals as “clergy.”  Clergy in these denominations or groups hold most, if not all, of the leadership positions.  Besides administrative functions, they do most of the teaching, perform baptisms, weddings, and lead services, etc.

It is hard to pin down the purpose of having a laity.  Most groups with clergy acknowledge that “lay” people are members too and are important, but the emphasis always seems to be about how important the clergy are in leading the church.  Still, it is acknowledged that all kinds of church “roles” like lectors, ushers, business administrators, small group leaders, even theologians, are “lay” people.

On the other hand, there are groups that do not recognize clergy at all.  For example, the Brethren practice the universal priesthood of all believers to the point that in each service there is no designated leader, different men lead hymns, pray, teach in spirit-led worship.   They do not practice ordination, believing it unscriptural.

Some churches ordain pastors but do not use the term ”clergy”, rather they are recognized as gifted or ordained to be ministers without using the title of Reverand.

There is a lot written by credible sources about this problem on the internet.  I searched Google, “churches that don’t use the term clergy” and got article after article from a variety of denominational and non-denominational backgrounds.

The tradition in the Christian Church traces to the Catholic church who defines the laity from the Greek “laos”, the people and clergy from the Greek “kleros” meaning “a lot.”  A catholic becomes a clergyman by going through tonsure, having their head sheared, and being given a tunic or surplice.  Historians date the beginnings of the practice of defining clergy in the Christian Church to the second century.[1]

Catholic and other sources document the model of the Levitical priesthood and the Law as their model in establishing the clergy in the Catholic Church.[2] One argument is that while there was a Levitical priesthood Israel is talked about as potentially having a priesthood of all followers like Peter writes about.[3]

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:  (1Pe 2:9 KJV)

This actually is a quote from the book of Exodus that refers to the nation of Israel.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exo 19:5-6 WEB)

This shows the desire of Yahweh that Israel should be a kingdom of priests! And it somehow is used to substantiate following the Levitical model found in the Law in the Christian Church where the law has been superseded.

Here’s something interesting about clergy.  Some people may be surprised to find out that Knights Templars, and at present the Teutonic Knights and Knights of Malta all are considered clergy.  The Knights Templars are famous for their pursuit of the holy grail, but basically, they were an elite fighting force.  They were instrumental in the crusades and later in banking.  The Teutonic Knights are European monks now, but their original charge was to capture and hold Jerusalem.  Likewise, the Knights of Malta are a religious order but they were instituted and charged with the defense of the Holy Land.

Clergy is a legal term and clergy are given special privileges in many countries. Some clergy historically have held special privileges in some countries like land ownership and even noble status.  In the United States clergy can opt-out of Social Security.  Marriages performed by clergy are in some places legally recognized automatically.

The problems cited with the system include that it is unbiblical, it promotes a system where tremendous burdens are placed on the clergy class while at the same time giving them too much power, and it works against “lay” people seeing the importance of their role in the church.

We do have some New Covenant scripture to consider. There are appointments or “ordinations” in the New Testament.  The appointment of Barnabus and Saul is cited as a model for New Covenant ordination.  It illustrates that men are appointed or ordained to a task, in this case, to be missionaries, or even to be pastors.

Now in the assembly that was at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Act 13:1-3 WEB)

Furthermore, Paul appointed people who appointed others as elders.

I left you in Crete for this reason, that you would set in order the things that were lacking, and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you; (Tit 1:5 WEB)

However, while this talks about people being appointed to certain tasks or responsibilities, it never goes as far as distinguishing them as a class called clergy, separate from a class called laity.  That is what is in dispute.

The argument is not just from smaller groups on the fringes.  There are even Catholic priests who complain that the clergy distinction problem is unbiblical and creates an unsustainable model.[4]

[1] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1958, p. 82-85

[2] The true origins of the Clerical Collar. http://www.independentmethodist.org/index.Clerical.Attire.htm

[3] The-Catholic-Priesthood.pdf (holytrinityparish.net)

[4]  Clergy-Laity Divide in the Church – Church Authority

last edited 8/10/2021

August 8th, 2021 Posted by | Divisions | no comments

03.25.1 The Great Councils Continued, Finishing the Development of Trinitarian Doctrine and Related Issues; Over 500 Years of Debate on the Nature of Christ and the Trinity

This article does not include a comparison to original Christianity in the matters discussed.  It presents what happened in these matters along with occasionally reporting what the writers of these histories deemed important for our understanding.  Remember the point of this website is to see how different doctrines developed over time, and how they compare to original Christianity in order to understand how we got so many divisions and what we must do to restore the church. This article continues to look at how the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary as the Mother of God became part of Christianity.  Later articles will discuss how these concepts align with the tradition of the apostles in original Christianity.  The goal here is for the reader to be able to review the historical material and start evaluating for themselves whether God ordained each of the decisions and decrees.  One of the questions of this website is where did the seeds for all this division come from?  What patterns of thinking allow for all the division we have in the church?

Remember, that by the time of Nicea I a major shift had occurred where Christianity was now being discussed much more philosophically and intellectually than in New Testament times. (See Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning?) The previous article on this topic talks about how the previous councils had debated these issues to this point. In the seventh century, the issues of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity were still not totally resolved.

So, accordingly, in the seventh century, a group called the Monothyletists held that Jesus’ will was a single will, a merger of Jesus’ human nature with his divine nature.  However, this was at odds with this more dominant ideology (called Dyothelitism) that Jesus had two wills, both a human will and a divine will that was needed to make sense of the Trinity.  That prevailing ideology eventually won the day and it was declared that Jesus had two wills, a human will, and a divine will.  Constantinople III declared just that. Part of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity is that Jesus had both a human will and a divine will. The sixth Great Council and the final one on the development of Trinitarian doctrine (with some exceptions) was Constantinople III in 680 AD.

The issue is named Monothelitism, a fancy word meaning “one will”.  The question was how many wills did Jesus Christ have? You or I may only have one will but as far as Jesus Christ is concerned there was a great debate.

The Bible doesn’t say much about Jesus’ will except for this verses like these:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. (Joh 6:38 WEB)

That is one reference to Jesus’ will. It talks about one will. So, there is no biblical teaching here that says Jesus had two wills.  Or look at this famous verse:

saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luk 22:42 WEB)

Here we have two wills, but they are not both Jesus’.  This verse contrasts Jesus’ will and the Father’s will.  Look at what happens next:

An angel from heaven appeared to him, strengthening him. Being in agony he prayed more earnestly. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. (Luk 22:43-44 WEB)

Do you think that it was easy for Jesus to face what he was faced with?  No, Luke writes his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down.  That is some intense trepidation!  An angel was sent to strengthen Jesus to be able to do the will of the Father.

Jesus wanted to always do the will of the Father, but we read here that if he had his preference it would have been done some other way.  In any event, this verse only supports him having one will.

Nevertheless, Ligonier.org says that the Dyothelytism doctrine was simply derived this way.  Jesus had two natures, ergo he must have two wills.[1] Another site writes:

Brilliant theologians of that time understood the great importance to theology that Jesus possesses two wills, one divine and one human, since he is truly God and truly human. All branches of Christianity have embraced this doctrine as important and orthodox theology.[2]

No biblical exegesis there, just a statement that brilliant theologians understood it so it must be so. See the acknowledgment that this doctrine was created purely because it was needed to make the Trinity work.  And there is that claim that this is universally accepted so it must be true. (It may be universally accepted among Trinitarians. Unitarians and Bitarians may differ.)

Basically, what it boils down to is this concerning the Trinity:  If Jesus was God then he had to have the will of God.  Here’s the conundrum: if Jesus only has one will and if Jesus is God and if God cannot be tempted and Jesus was tempted, then there is a contradiction as Jesus had to have the will of God.  So Jesus also had to also have a human will that could be tempted. The website explains, “the two-wills model (Dyothelitism) is more accurate to the biblical and theological evidence for the incarnation.”  So, it comes down to the two wills model is the one that fits with the Trinity even if there is no scriptural support.

As there is no scriptural record of Jesus having two wills and no discussion of his will being any different than other person’s will in scripture this is another extrabiblical element of the Trinity.  It is an example of inductive logic being used to explain scripture in light of the a priori assumption of a Triune God with Jesus being God the Son, and thus explaining how his will must work to fit with what scripture says about him.

Does it fit with good hermeneutics?  It’s questionable. It certainly is different than the way “will” is used in all the other places.  “Will” in the verse is the Greek word thelema (Strong’s G2307) which means choice, decision, will and is derived from G2309, meaning determination. By this doctrine, Jesus having two wills is the only case in the bible of a person having two wills.

As an aside it must be noted that the word “will” is used in English translations many times in the sense of something happening in the future, i. e., will sue, will forgive, will profess but the word is produced in English because it indicates future action (tense).  Those verses do not have the corresponding Greek word.

But, in talking about Jesus’ will, it is only talked in the singular. So, it is unique to the Trinity to have two wills in one person in Scripture

Not that everyone had been in unison on this or any of the issues. Throughout the centuries Popes and bishops were condemned for taking the wrong side. Part of the findings of Constantinople III was the condemnation of a prior pope, Honorius I, for believing Jesus had just one will, the current issue, just as the council at Ephesus condemned Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, and Nicea 1 condemned Arius, Eusebius of Caesarea and many other bishops including Lucian of Antioch and Paul of Samosata over issues that were ruled against them.[3]

According to Belitto in The General Councils Monothelitism was the last great issue that needed to be developed in order for the church to have an adequate understanding of the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary’s standing as the Mother of God. According to him, it took six Great councils, numerous local synods, and councils, and at least 355 years of councils to develop these doctrines to the true apostolic faith.

So, in review, we’re going to look at what is known as the Chalcedon Definition which encapsulates definitions decreed in the previous general councils concerning these doctrines that are relegated to the highest importance in the church.

“Following, then the holy fathers, we all with one voice teach that it is to be confessed that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same God, perfect in divinity, and perfect in humanity, true God and true human, with a rational soul and a body, of one substance with the Father in his divinity, and of one substance with us in his humanity, in every way you like us, with the only exception of sin, begotten of the Father before all time in his divinity, and also begotten in the latter days, in his humanity, of Mary the Virgin bearer of God.

This is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, manifested in two natures without any confusion, change, division, or separation. The union does not destroy the difference of the two natures, but on the contrary, the properties of each are kept, and both are joined in one person and hypostasis. They are not divided into two persons, but belong to the one Only-begotten Son, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

All this, as the prophets of old said of him, and he himself has taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers has passed on to us.

This definition is an amalgamation of decrees ironed out in the councils at Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon.

Of course, those are the general councils, and it would be remiss to not mention that between the general councils were numerous synods and smaller councils that were also working on these very issues over these hundreds of years. In the case of Constantinople III, Pope Agatho first called for local synods to address the issue.  Two known local synods were Milan and England. The findings of those synods were discussed in a Roman synod. Then the Pope consulted with Emperor Constantine IV and General Council Constantinople III was convened.[4]

That is a lot of people talking in a lot of meetings over a lot of years to iron out that short statement.

For insight on how some historians view these developments I’m going to quote Justo L Gonzalez. Gonzalez in his book, The Story of Christianity, acknowledges that the goal of these decrees was not purely biblical, rather, in setting the limits for what these doctrines teach they discuss things outside the realm of biblical thinking. First, he writes:

 “It will be readily seen that this Definition does not seek to “define” the union in the sense of explaining how it took place, but rather in the sense of setting the limits beyond which error lies. Thus, it rejected the notion that the union destroyed “the difference of the two natures” and also the view that the Savior is “divided into two persons” – thus rejecting the most extreme Alexandrian and Antiochene positions.”

Gonzalez acknowledges the extrabiblical nature of the decrees.  Extrabiblical refers to things outside the Bible. ApologeticsIndex.org defines extrabiblical as “Information or content outside the Bible. Thus, any form of knowledge or experience which gives us information concerning God, His Work or His Will, which is not directly quoted in scripture.”[5] Gonzalez is clear that this manner of speech, the way things were spelled out by the Councils, was far different from the scriptures.

Gonzalez here, as do others,  acknowledges that these decrees go outside the pure framework of Scripture. The Deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Mary as God’s mother were generated with extra-biblical patterns of thought, mainly philosophy, and were the result of many years of intellectual, theological debate.

“But, given the manner in which the issue was posed, it is difficult to see what else the bishops gathered at Chalcedon could have done in order to safeguard the reality of the incarnation.”[6]

This statement nevertheless defends the methods used to arrive at these decrees as one of necessity. The implication is that these doctrines are too important to be limited by the Bible.  These doctrines, the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Theotokos, are too important to be restricted to biblical thinking only.   In the common vernacular Gonzalez is saying that the end justified the means.

And, at least among the religious elite, these decrees became new scripture.  In fact, Pope Gregory I declared the first four general councils to have the same authority as the four Gospels.[20]

Next, for more context, we are going to look at the development of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity prior to the councils because these issues didn’t just pop up around 325 AD.

Williston Walker in A History of the Christian Church describes the process of resolving the issues of the deity of Christ and the Trinity as one of a long intellectual development and debate among various people and groups starting with Hermas around 140 AD and then Tertullian around 195 AD.  Tertullian first talked about three persons in one Godhead distributing the unity into a Trinity.[7] But, prior to Tertullian, adoptionist Christology (Jesus as an adopted son) was dominant as late as 140 Ad with Hermas.[8]  At that time a Trinity meant three Gods.

About the same time, the Montanists’ embracing of the gospel of John and the doctrine of the Logos as an outpouring of Spirit saw an opposite reaction from the group called Monarchians (rejecting the Logos as God maintaining the One God single personhood of the Father.).

That sprung up two group viewpoints; dynamic Monarchianism and modalistic Monarchianism.  Dynamic Monarchianism was more popular in the East.  Paul of Samosata was a famous representative of this.  He described the Logos as the Son of God, but also an impersonal attribute of the Father.  No Trinity there, in his view.  Eventually, Paul of the Samosata was ex-communicated for his views.

An overall more numerous group than the dynamic Monarchians was the Modalistic Monarchian group.  Their perspective was that with all the pagan gods competing in the religious marketplace it was of primary importance to emphasize the unity of God. Noetus, an example of the Modalistic Monarchians, taught that the Son was actually the Father himself, and it was, in fact, the Father who was born as Jesus, suffered and died on the cross.[9]

A very famous member of this group, Sabellius, taught that the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit were just three names of the same God. Sabellius was pretty much flatly rejected in Rome but found a following in the East.  This belief came to be known as Sabellianism.

Of course, the losing side in these debates was labeled heresy, and their proponents were called heretics, and as a result, they suffered in various forms including removal from their positions.

Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. was one of the first to teach what is called the Logos Christology. In the Logos Christology Jesus Christ always existed, but before his actual birth, he existed in the mind of God. (Jesus was not co-eternal at that time.) Hippolytus, around the beginning of the third century A.D. was a great advocate of the Logos Christology and a great opponent of the Monarchians, both kinds, in this intellectual battle. Justin Martyr is assumed to have died a martyr, and his successor, Kallistos, tried to find a compromise to Justin’s ideas and continue his work. His compromise was to call Father, Son, and Logos all just names of one indivisible God. According to him, the Father is invisible, the Son is visible, while the Father is the Spirit in the Son.[10] A side effect of this stance is that while previously the Logos was considered starting with Jesus’s birth, now the Logos was considered eternal. Here we have the switch from a beginning for the Logos to being co-eternal with no beginning.

Kallistos’ Christology was “a compromise which recognized a preexistent Logos in Christ, even if it identified that Logos with the Father; it insisted on the identity of that which indwelt Jesus with God; and it claimed the human Jesus, raised to divinity by the Father, and made one with him, thus really showing a distinction between the Father and the Son, while denying in words that one exists.” This compromise was taken by Tertullian, further refined, and called the Trinity in his treatise called Against Praxeas.

What we see with all of this is one viewpoint after another trying to exactly understand  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considering the concepts of John chapter 1 with other verses that talk about Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. This debate allowed for extra-biblical content, and the use of philosophy to come to conclusions.  And as we are seeing, there were many competing viewpoints in a heated debate over the centuries.

While Catholic theologians depict the 355 years between Nicea I and Constantinople III as the period of development of the doctrines of the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and Theotokos, what we’re seeing is that the debate actually started almost 2 centuries before Nicea I. The change from Jesus being considered a man, the only begotten son of God with a beginning, to Jesus being considered God the Son, co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit with two natures and two wills took about five and a half centuries of debate and decrees. And it was quite a debate.

Along the way it was confounding, it was confusing, and it left a lot of Christians, including bishops and popes, wondering which side to take. For example, let’s look at the period around Hippolytus, circa 200 AD.  Hippolytus was considered the most learned Christian writer in Rome of his day. He was a “commentator, chronicler, calculator of Easter dates, apologists, and opponent of heretics”[11]. Notice the intellectual capacities that are being praised there with no mention of the Spirit. This was an intellectual debate among the finest thinkers in the church. Hippolytus did not agree with either of the Monarchian schools of thought and was at the forefront of a hotly waged battle over these ideas. Bishop Zephyrinus, Pope at the beginning of the third century, according to Walker, “hardly knew what to do, although he leaned toward the Monarchian side”.  So, the Pope around 200 AD hardly knew what to believe.  The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, a learned man, was unable to make a decision on the matter, it was so confusing.

Further developments kept coming for Kallistos’ compromise of Christological concepts. Novation around 240 A.D. wrote the treatise Trinity in Latin but it was little more than Tertullian’s concept although he did present it as the “only normal and legitimate interpretation of the apostles’ Creed.[12] Novation also used the terminology “communion of substance” describing the relationship between the Father. and the Son. So, centuries after Christ’s death we see the introduction of the idea “of the same substance” which played a key role at Nicea.

Gradually over this long period of time, a cohesive opinion among the elite thinkers and church leaders came into being. It’s important to recognize that it was cohesive but not universally accepted, or even in the majority. The majority of Christians at this time were Unitarian, not Trinitarian.[13]   Thus, Walker documents this intellectual debate going on for over a century and a half before Nicea. But, by the time Nicea comes around, there is this cohesive theological compromise with a lot of the details of the Nicene Creed. Jesus is of one substance with the Father.  As the Logos Jesus is coeternal with the Father.  The groundwork had been done for a  doctrine to be named to end the debate despite intense, fiery, intellectual debate going on for nearly two centuries before Nicea I.

Nevertheless, despite what appears to be a dominant pro-Trinity ideology, in reality, Trinitarians were far outnumbered by Unitarians at the start of the third century.  The Unitarians (God as one person) were numbered among mainly two groups, the Adoptionists, and the Modalists.  And people on both sides of the disagreement looked to different philosophies for support.  The Adoptionists used Aristotelian philosophy for support, the Modalists looked to Stoic philosophy while the Trinitarians used Plato’s philosophy. Still, the Unitarians had a large majority.[13]  This is documentation that Greek philosophy was instrumental in the formulation of these doctrines.

Next, we will look at the role of Emperor Constantine in this matter.  You can’t talk about the Council of Nicaea without talking about the man who convened the Council, Constantine the Great, and both his religious and political machinations. The beginning of the fourth century A.D. marks a groundbreaking time in the history of Christianity. In the latter half of the third century the number of Christians had continued to grow and efforts to eradicate the faith through persecutions, while popping up, had proven futile in the Empire.

However. in the year 303 AD the terrible persecution by Emperor Diocletian happened. Terror reigned for Christians. There was imprisonment, torture, and killing. The tombs of martyrs were desecrated. Books were burned. Churches were destroyed. And it wasn’t over shortly. After Diocletian left office in 305, Galerius and his nephew Maximinus continued this reign of terror until 311.

Then Galerius, before his agonizing death, issued an edict of eliminating the requirement for Christians to worship Roman gods. What all this did was remind the Christians that they were just a small group whose legal standing was iffy depending on the emperor.

But that all changed with the appearance of Constantine the Great. A great commander he was able to unify the Empire by winning the Civil War that ensued when Constantius died in 306. Before defeating Maxentius Constantine had a dream to paint the Christian symbol, chi-rho, in one version of the story, and in another version of the story Constantine’s troops saw a great cross in the sky before the battle. From that point on Christians had an advocate who was at the top of the Roman Empire, the actual Emperor, and everything changed.[14]

To some Constantine was an apostle whose efforts to build Christianity Empire-wide were evangelical. He moved Empire funds from pagan religions to Christianity to fund massive programs. He built churches, he provided for the poor, the sick, widows, and orphans. He worked to bring the governmental policies of his empire more in alignment with Christian teachings. He was an advocate of the most powerful kind determined to bring Christianity into prosperity in the Empire.

For example, Eusebius of Caesarea, a contemporary of Constantine, accredited Constantine with God working directly in his life on behalf of Christians. He wrote that Constantine and his subordinate Licinius were led by God to declare war against the evil tyrants and led them to a glorious victory.[15]  Eusebius credited Constantine’s power to win as being God-given. He wrote how Constantine credited God as the author of all his success. Eusebius writes glowing praise of Constantine as an instrument of God to bring peace to Christians in the Empire in the chapter entitled “Constantine And Peace” in his Church History. Eusebius gives Constantine the title “friend of God” and calls him “the emperor beloved of God”.[16]

Others point out that Constantine was not the saint that many proclaimed him as. He could be brutal in enforcing decrees. Some sources say he called for the murder of his wife Fausta and son Crispus in 326.[17]

That was the thinking in calling Nicea I anyway, but as we have said, it took more of that kind of debate for about three and a half centuries to get close to calling it done.  And, even then, challenges to the Trinitarian doctrine reared their head from time to time. Unitarian and Bitarian proponents seem to have always been around despite the church using unscriptural extreme measures including the death penalty to attempt to force compliance. Unitarians and Bitarians exist to this day, even if in the minority.

Gonzales in The Story Of Christianity writes that the conversion of Constantine was critical to resolving all the confusion and myriad debates over issues because it was now possible for the government to intervene and resolve the disputes once and for all. “The state soon began to use its power to force theological agreement upon Christians.”[18]

But, Constantine and the Roman Empire needed a unified Christianity, not one embroiled in a heated debate about the nature of the Savior.  Thus, Constantine called the Nicea Council to decide it once and for all.  At least, that was the hope.

And lastly, it must be mentioned that while these decrees and all general council decrees, for that matter, are acknowledged as having extra-biblical thought material, they are credited by Catholic and Orthodox theologians as part of the true apostolic faith by the doctrine of apostolic succession. (See Apostolic Succession – Biblical or Not?) Bishops, according to apostolic succession can call a synod where their true faith will prevail in declaring the true doctrine, and also the heretic will be declared.  Anyone not espousing the true doctrine they determine will be anathema (cursed).[19]

It cannot be underestimated how important this doctrine of apostolic succession is.  How authoritative are these Council decrees as compared to Scripture? Yes, Pope Gregory I declared the first four general councils to have the same authority as the four Gospels.[20]  In Catholic theology, just as the authenticity of the New Testament is given by the authorship of those documents by the apostles or their agents, the same authenticity of the council decrees is guaranteed by the doctrine of apostolic succession.  It’s as if the apostles wrote the decrees themselves in the eyes of the Catholic Church and its theologians, and many others.

The first six general councils, Nicea I through Constantinople III developed the doctrine that resolved the disputes over the nature of Christ, the Trinity, and the status of Mary as Mother of God in the eyes of Catholic and Orthodox theologians.  As stated above it is acknowledged that extra-biblical reasoning and centuries of debate among philosophically oriented intellectuals were used to resolve these issues. But, because of its belief in apostolic succession, the Catholic church confidently declared these issues resolved in the true apostolic faith. And again, the decrees of the councils, especially the first four, and even though they include extra-biblical material and reasoning were declared as authoritative as the Gospels.

[1] Does Jesus Have One or Two Wills?, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/does-jesus-have-one-or-two-wills/

[2] https://equip.sbts.edu/publications/journals/journal-of-theology/a-model-of-jesus-christs-two-wills-in-view-of-theology-proper-and-anthropology/

[3] A Chronology of the Arian Controversy (legalhistorysources.com)

[4] The General Councils, A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II, Christopher M. Belitto, Paulist Press, New Jersey, 2002, P. 29

[5] Extra-Biblical extrabiblical (apologeticsindex.org)

[6] The Story of Christianity, Justo L Gonzalez, Harper Collins, New York, 2010, p. 301-302

[7] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 66

[8] Walker, p.67

[9] Walker, P. 69

[10] Walker, P. 70

[11] Walker, P. 70

[12] Walker, P. 71

[13] The Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol.23 :  Internet Archive p.963

[14] The Story Of Christianity, David Bentley Hart, P. 50-53

[15] Eusebius, The Church History, Translation and commentary by Paul L Maier, Kregel,

[16] Eusebius, The Church History, Translation and commentary by Paul L Maier, Kregel, P. 331 – 333

[17] https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S0017383500029156#:~:text=Constantine%20did%20kill%20his%20wife,father%20he%20punished%20his%20son.

[18] The Story Of Christianity Justo L Gonzalez, HarperOne, New York, 2010, P. 181

[19] https://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepursuitofholiness/2020/09/1198-apostolicsuccession/

[20] The General Councils, A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicea to Vatican II, Christopher M. Belitto, Paulist Press, New Jersey, 2002, P. 27

last edited 8/7/21

July 23rd, 2021 Posted by | Movements | no comments