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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Trinity: One God in Three Persons

Don Stewart :: Is Jesus Lesser in Nature than God the Father?

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Is Jesus Lesser in Nature than God the Father? (Arianism)

The Trinity: One God in Three Persons – Question 22

Jesus Christ is the eternal God who became a human being. He is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and with God the Holy Spirit. Two thousand years ago God the Son came to the earth to show us what God is like.

An ancient heresy regarding the Trinity, known as Arianism, caused much discussion about the nature of God in the early church. This occurred in the fourth century. Arius, a bishop from Alexandria, Egypt, taught that Jesus was the first creation of God and not God Himself. According to Arius Jesus was the first and highest of all the created beings. Arius said, “There was a time when the Son was not.” Jesus was then given powers to create. He then created the Holy Spirit as His greatest creative act. Because Jesus and the Holy Spirit were created beings, they could not be considered to be divine or to possess the attributes of God.

Therefore Arianism teaches that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are created beings, and not God. Arianism is another heresy that is Unitarian in its belief about God in that its does not accept the three distinctive Persons of the Trinity. A number of points need to be made:

1. The Doctrine Originated in Egypt

The heresy of Arianism originated in Alexandria in Egypt where Arius was an elder of the church. Arius' heretical teaching caused Alexander, the bishop of the church, to exclude him from the fellowship. However the false teachings of Arius spread immediately spread throughout all the churches of the Roman Empire.

2. The Council of Nicea Met and Discussed Arianism

A council was called at Nicea in A.D. 325 to discuss the relationship between Jesus Christ and God the Father. The teachings of Arius were condemned. From this meeting of the church leaders, the Nicene Creed resulted. The Nicene Creed confessed that Jesus Christ was fully God and not a created being as the Arians taught.

3. The Biblical Support for Arianism: Jesus Christ Was Begotten

Arians attempted to appeal to Scripture to support their belief. They emphasized that the Scripture called Christ “begotten” of the Father. We read the following in the New Testament:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NASB)

To Arians, begotten means created.

John emphasized this again:

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18 NASB)

Jesus is the only begotten God, the created God according to Arianism.

Later, we read in the Gospel of John,

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NASB)

Jesus is the only begotten Son, the created Son according to the Arians.

In a letter to believers, John again stated that the Son was begotten:

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. (1 John 4:9 NASB)

This is taken as further evidence that Christ was created.

John also wrote,

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18 NASB)

Since humans use the term begotten to refer to the role of a father in the conception of a child, the Arians reasoned that Christ must have been begotten or brought into being by God the Father. If the Son was begotten by the Father, then He could not have eternally existed.

Response: Begotten Does Not Mean Christ Was Created

The use of “begotten” with reference to Jesus Christ does not mean that He is a created being. There have been two ways in which this charge was answered:

Option 1: Jesus Became the Son at Some Point in the Past

Some believe that Jesus was begotten as a human being at a certain time in the past. While He has been God the Son for all eternity, He became human at a certain point in time. This is the sense in which He was “begotten.”

Option 2: Begotten Means Unique

Another perspective sees the term “begotten” as referring to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. The word has the idea of “one and only.” What is stressed is that Jesus Christ is the one and only or unique Son of God. It has nothing to do with Him being created. Begotten thus means that Jesus Christ is unique or one of a kind. It marks out Jesus as being different than all other personages, earthly and heavenly.

Whatever the correct answer is with respect to the meaning of “begotten” there is nothing in Scripture that even hints that Jesus Christ was somehow a created being. Nothing!

The Problems with Arianism

Add to this, there are a number of biblical problems with Arianism. They include the following:

1. The Father and Son Are Equal in Nature

The Bible teaches that Jesus is equal in nature to God the Father. Jesus is the Creator of everything; not everything but Himself. The Bible says,

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:3 NKJV)

Jesus made “all things.” He did not make all things except Himself.

Paul wrote the following to the Colossians about what Jesus created:

Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see—kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him. He existed before everything else began, and he holds all creation together. (Colossians 1:16, 17 NLT)

Paul emphasized that Jesus is the Creator of all things. He not only existed before all things, He is also preeminent over all things. He was not created.

2. The Holy Spirit Is Not a Created Being

The Holy Spirit, like the Son, is not a created being. He is the eternal God the Third Person of the Trinity. He is called the eternal Spirit:

...how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14 NKJV)

There is nothing in Scripture that suggests that Jesus somehow created Him as the Arians mistakenly teach.

3. There Is No Participation of God with Humanity in Arianism

In Arianism, there is no participation of God with humankind. The Savior of the Arians is not God who became a human being, but rather the first creation of God who became human. Therefore, the entire theme of the New Testament, that God became a human in the Person of Jesus Christ, is rejected.

In addition, the Arian God cannot really understand what human beings experience because He never became human. This is in contrast to the God of Scripture who understands our needs. The writer to the Hebrews emphasized this when he wrote the following:

For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done. That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. (Hebrews 4:12-16 NLT)

Therefore, the heresy of Arianism, in all its forms, is to be rejected.

The Response from the Council of Nicea

As we mentioned, the heresy of Arianism was answered with the Nicene Creed. It made it clear that Jesus Christ was not of similar essence to God but the same essence as God. There are two terms in Greek: homoiousios which means of “similar essence or substance” and homoousios which means “of the same nature or substance.” At Nicea, they chose to use homoousios to describe Jesus. He is of the same essence, or substance, as God the Father. While there is only one different letter in the two words, the Greek letter iota, this one letter made all the difference in the world. It stated that Jesus is not of a similar nature as God the Father rather He is of the same nature.

The Statement of the Nicene Creed

The statement of the Nicene Creed reads as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things, and Jesus Christ, the only begotten, that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, light of light very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance (homoousion) with the Father.

This is the biblical position as well as the historic position of the Christian church, on the exact identity of God the Son, Jesus Christ.

Summary – Question 22
Is Jesus Lesser in Nature than God the Father? (Arianism)

Jesus Christ is God the Son who became a human being some two thousand years ago. This has been the historic view of the Christian church because it is the biblical view.

Unhappily, there have been those in the church who have denied this cardinal truth. Arius of Alexandria, a fourth century church leader, attempted to make Jesus Christ a lesser person than God the Father though greater than humans. According to Arius, Jesus was the highest of all of the created beings. He also taught that the Holy Spirit was part of Jesus' creation.

One of the lines of evidence used to support this contention comes from the biblical word translated as “begotten.” Arians understand this to mean that Jesus was created at some point in time.

Arianism was rightly condemned at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. For one thing, the word translated begotten does not necessarily mean created. Some have argued that this refers to a specific point in time when Jesus became God the Son.

However, a better understanding of the term sees it to mean “unique.” Jesus is the unique, one of a kind, Son of God. He was not created. What is stressed in this term is His uniqueness.

Indeed, the biblical evidence is that Jesus is the Creator of all things. Scripture also teaches that the Holy Spirit was involved in the creation process of the universe. This is the plain teaching of Scripture.

Finally, the Savior of humanity in Arianism is merely a creation of God while the Savior in the New Testament is God who became a human being.

The Council of Nicea issued a statement which made the identity of Jesus clear. He, along with the Holy Spirit, is of the same essence or nature as God the Father. They are not lesser in character than God the Father.

Thus, the Jesus of Arianism is not the Jesus of the Bible. Arianism, in all its forms, is a false doctrine.

Does the One God Have Three Different Modes? ← Prior Section
Has God the Son Been Eternally Inferior to God the Father? Next Section →
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