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Volume 11, Issue 5: Stauron

Nicea's Homoousios

Gary Hagen

[The wisdom ] which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. I Cor. 2:8

Who do you say that I am?” Jesus put that question to His disciples. The answer is the focus of all of Scripture (Luke 24:27). The identity of Jesus and his work on the cross are inseparably linked together. Paul gave strong warning about those who preach another Jesus, and a different gospel (2 Cor. 11:4). The Christian gospel stands or falls on the identity of Jesus, and thus the meaning of the cross.

Homoousios is a Greek word, but it is not one found in Scripture. However, neither is the term “Trinity.” Yet, Trinity is a term used by the ancient church to describe key truths taught in Scripture. Homoousios is that kind of term. It means “being of one substance,” and the term was the crux of the matter when the debates began against the heresy of Arius at the Council of Nicea on June 19, 325. While the Greek vocabulary is not necessary to memorize, its meaning is absolutely critical for every Christian to know.
Again, a correct knowledge of Scripture on both the human and divine natures of Christ is necessary for a correct grasp of the doctrine of the Trinity. And a biblical faith in Christ’s work on the cross stands on the foundation of the scriptural truths regarding the person of Christ in the Trinity.
We need to study our church history, like that of Nicea. Among other reasons, the heresy of Arius still exists today under various labels. The Arians, by redefining their terms outside of the scripture’s teachings, were able to employ terminology identical to that used by true believers. Terms even as basic as “Son of God,” “Lord,” and “Creator.” Homoousios was a term used by the orthodox believers to force the hand of the Arians’ heresy. The Arians could find no way to agree with the clear assertion that Christ shares the same divine being as the Father. The Arian concept of Jesus was as a created being, “not God truly,” but ‘God’ by grace. His modest role, under the low Christology of the Arians, was therefore only to proclaim the oneness of God, and to order the universe including human society. To the orthodox believers at Nicea, however, Christ was true God, begotten not made, eternally existent, incarnate in time, who through his life, death and resurrection reconciled us to the Father.
Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies, et al. also engage in Arianesque deception. Although they speak with a vocabulary which is often very familiar to members of most Christian churches, their use of many terms have a much different meaning. When Christians engage members of these groups in dialogue, many are amazed to discover that they appear to be “just another Christian denomination.” Nothing could be farther from the truth! What many Christians fail to do is to require a thorough definition of terms, as is necessary in most such discussions. What all these modern Arians share is a rejection of the biblical doctrine of the person of Christ, albeit each in their own fashion. They preach “another Jesus.” This results in a rejection of the biblical teachings on the Trinity, and in turn invariably leads to false doctrines of salvation (usually based on our works).
Unfortunately, relatively few of us have a solid handle on our own orthodox doctrinal terms, much less a familiarity with the heretical definitions. We have ignored, misunderstood, or only scratched the surface of the Bible’s teaching on the central truths of the Trinity and of the person of Christ, and therefore are ill-prepared to inoculate ourselves or our children against heresies that we encounter. At best, we fail to be prepared to give these followers of a false gospel an answer for our faith (1 Pet. 3:15). At worst, we or our children drift unwittingly into apostasy.
We read in the ancient Athanasian Creed: “He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.” The entire creed would fill two pages of a book. It provides a detailed statement of what the Bible teaches about the Trinity. An attempt to summarize the creed in one sentence might look something like this: “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”1
The doctrine of Christ, the manifestation of God in the flesh, is a mystery—a thing “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16; cf. 1 Tim. 3:16). Our finite minds cannot comprehend all the depths of the mysteries of God. The concept of God’s eternal existence is another mystery that we time-bound creatures have trouble grappling with in all its fullness. Yet these truths are revealed in Scripture. Jesus is Yahweh (Phil. 2:10-11 cf. Isa. 45:21-23). 1 Cor. 2:8 says it was the Lord of glory who was crucified. If this is not true, or if a created being less than God (Arian heresy), or if only the human nature of Christ (Nestorian heresy), was crucified, then we are still in our sins. Only an infinite, righteous God could bear the iniquity of us all, and impute the righteousness of God to us (2 Cor. 5:21). God, the Son, died for us on the cross. Jesus is Yahweh (Phil. 2:10-11 cf. Isa. 45:21-23).

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