Christ is Homoousios With the Father

The relative peace that Christians experienced during the fourth century allowed theological issues that had previously not been a priority to come to the forefront of debate within the church. One of the primary debates of this era was how the Father and Son are related to each other. Despite their differing conclusions, patristic writers such as Arius, Alexander and Athanasius took Scripture seriously and wanted to interpret it correctly.[1]

Because of its soteriological significance, the issue of whether or not Christ is homoousios (one in essence) with the Father is just as relevant today[2] as it was during the time of Arius. How a person approaches hermeneutics is decisive in his understanding of the nature of Christ. In the book Exegetical Fallacies, D. A. Carson defines hermeneutics this way, “[it] is concerned with the nature of the interpretative process. … hermeneutics ends by saying, “This interpretative process is constituted by the following techniques and preunderstandings.””[3] One of the preunderstandings that Arius brought to the discussion was Origin’s idea of the Son being eternally generated (begotten) from the Father.[4] Arius pushed the idea of “begetting,” making it equivalent to “creating” so that Christ was actually of a different substance from the Father (though he considered Christ the first and highest of creation).[5]

In responding to someone who denied the unified nature of Christ with the Father, one of the approaches I would take is to emphasize the necessity—like Athanasius of Alexandria—that Christ had to be fully divine in order for salvation to be accomplished.[6] Athanasius believed that the Son was of the same substance (homoousios) with the Father and that this is necessary in order for man to be redeemed—we “partake of the Father by partaking of the Son.”[7] Like Athanasius, I would also want to steer away from speculation in theology, and instead emphasize the importance of accepting by faith the unity and diversity that we see of the godhead in Scripture.[8] I believe this presupposition is necessary if we are to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, because we see both oneness and diversity in the Trinity revealed in God’s Word. As Origin pointed out, there are passages that seem to speak of Christ being “created” and therefore ostensibly different from the Father (Prov. 8:22, Col. 1:15),[9] but there other passages that indicate oneness of essence in the godhead, such as John 1:1, 10:30, 14:9-10 and 17:11.

One of the benefits from the Council of Nicaea and discussions during the following decades is the clarification of terminology that resulted regarding how we speak of the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.[10] For example, God is described as “one in nature, power, glory, essence; yet three hypostasis,” there is a sharing in the divine being without hierarchy.[11] I think this language is important when we talk with people about Christ and His relationship with the Father because it allows us to be faithful to the Bible, yet accept they mystery of the Trinity as well.


[1] Scott Manor, “Church History I,” Lecture 40, 42, (Knox Theological Seminary: 2017).

[2] For example, Christ’s divine nature is a major point of doctrinal disagreement between Christians and Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses

[3] D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster; Baker Books, 1996), 25.

[4] Scott Manor, “Church History I,” Lecture 38, (Knox Theological Seminary: 2017).

[5] Everett Ferguson, Church History Volume One: From Christ to the Pre-Reformation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 192.

[6] Ibid 205.

[7] Scott Manor, “Church History I,” Lecture 45, (Knox Theological Seminary: 2017).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Scott Manor, “Church History I,” Lecture 38, (Knox Theological Seminary: 2017).

[10] Scott Manor, “Church History I,” Lecture 47, (Knox Theological Seminary: 2017).

[11] Ibid

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