In the light of recent videos made by my brother in Christ,Pastor Rudolph Boshoff about a particular group – “Christ in me International”,a Gnostic group full of deniers of Christ’s deity and The Trinity. The aim of this article is not to demonstrate Biblically that Christ is God or that Trinity is true,that was sufficiently demonstrated for centuries. The goal of this article is to historically demonstrate that the earliest disciples of the apostles of Christ and their followers,believed in those doctrines.
John,the writer of one of the amazing Biblical Gospels also had some amazing disciples,namely,Ignatius and Polycarp. Furthermore,after we demonstrate that both of them believed in the Triunity of God and Deity of Christ,we are to demonstrate that their followers,namely Irenaeus and Hippolytus believed the same.
We will start with Ignatius:
Ignatius Nurono (lit. “The fire-bearer”) was an Apostolic Father, student of the Apostle John, and the third bishop of Antioch.En route to Rome, where he met his martyrdom by being fed to wild beasts, he wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology. He was martyred around 107 A.D. There are some forgeries attributed to Ignatius but there are also 7 authentic letters,written by him,these 7 Ignatian letters are: Polycarp, Ephesians, Magnesians, Philadelphians, Romans, Smyrnaeans, Trallians.
First off,we start with his view on who Christ is,as found in his letter to Ephesians,chapter 7,where he says:
“There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible,— even Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So here we see that Ignatius’ interpretation of John 1 and his clear affirmation of the Hypostatic Union. This should truly make our Unitarian friends wonder at how they arrived at conclusions that Christ is not God,when the disciples of his apostles affirm the Hypostatic Union.
We are going to look at a few more texts where he affirms absolute deity and eternality of Christ:
“Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, unto her that hath found mercy in the bountifulness of the Father Most High and of Jesus Christ His only Son; to the church that is beloved and enlightened through the will of Him who willed all things that are, by faith and love towards Jesus Christ our God; even unto her that hath the presidency in the country of the region of the Romans…” (Letter to the Romans 1)
“I give glory to Jesus Christ the God who bestowed such wisdom upon you” (Letter to the Smyraeans)
Jesus Christ . . . was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. . . . Jesus Christ . . . came forth from one Father and is with and has gone to one [Father]. . .. There is one God, who has manifested himself by Jesus Christ his Son, who is his eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased him that sent him” (Letter to the Magnesians 6-8).
“To the Church beloved and enlightened after the love of Jesus Christ, our God, by the will of him that has willed everything which is” (Letter to the Romans 1).
There are many more statements but I will try to preserve space so that we can fit the statements of the other Early Fathers.
In his letter to Romans we find Ignatius addressing the Gnostics (the group that Rudolph was addressing was also borrowing from gnostics in their theology) who thought that everything that can be seen is bad and says:”Nothing visible is good. For our God Jesus Christ, being in the Father, is the more plainly visible” -Thus affirming the deity of Christ and denying Gnostic doctrine.
Now before our heretical and disbelieving friends in their acts of utter desperation start raising claims of Modalism and Non-Trinitarianism of Ignatius,he was a very staunch Trinitarian anti-modalist.
He writes in his Epistle to Trallians,chapter 6,arguing against Modalist and Unitarian heretics: -Abstain from the Poison of Heretics…… They introduce God as a Being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten; and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power.”
He also clearly affirmed the Tri-Unity of God. In his amazing description of the Trinity,in his letter to Philadelphians 2 he states: “There is then one God and Father, and not two or three; One who is; and there is no other besides Him, the only true [God]. For “the Lord thy God,” saith [the Scripture], “is one Lord.” And again, “Hath not one God created us? Have we not all one Father? And there is also one Son, God the Word. For “the only-begotten Son,” saith [the Scripture], “who is in the bosom of the Father.” And again, “One Lord Jesus Christ.” And in another place, “What is His name, or what His Son’s name, that we may know? ” And there is also one Paraclete. For “there is also,” saith [the Scripture], “one Spirit,” since “we have been called in one hope of our calling.” And again, “We have drunk of one Spirit,” with what follows. And it is manifest that all these gifts [possessed by believers] “worketh one and the self-same Spirit.” There are not then either three Fathers, or three Sons, or three Paracletes, but one Father, and one Son, and one Paraclete. Wherefore also the Lord, when He sent forth the apostles to make disciples of all nations, commanded them to “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” not unto one [person] having three names, nor into three [persons] who became incarnate, but into three possessed of equal honour.”
After these amazing statements of Ignatius,we are going to look briefly at Polycarp,the bishop of Smyrna, the disciple of John who collected the works of Ignatius and as we know that he collected them and distributed,so we know that indeed,he shared the same beliefs with Ignatius and in his letter to Philippians,he praises his brother Ignatius.
At the end of his life,Polycarp,before his execution,in glorification of The Triune God, states this (Martyrdom of Polycarp 14):
“O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before you, I give You thanks that You have counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before You as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as You, the ever-truthful God, have foreordained, have revealed beforehand to me, and now have fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise You for all things, I bless You, I glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom, to You, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.”
Next,we are going to take a look at Irenaeus,Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul,who always listened,even as a boy to Polycarp and his friends. Irenaeus is the author of, Adversus Haereses or Against Heresies,a detailed attack on Gnosticism and other heresies.
Irenaeus writes of The Deity of Christ:
“But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues…” (Against Heresies, Book II, ch. 30, section 9)
“Christ Jesus is our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King.” (Against Heresies, Book I, ch. 10, section 1)
“For I have shown from the scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. (Irenaeus Against Heresies, chapter xix.2)
“For the Church, although dispersed throughout the whole world even to the ends of the Earth, has received from the apostles and from their disciples the faith in one God, Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and Earth and sea and all that is in them; and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who announced through the prophets the dispensations and the comings, and the birth from a Virgin, and the passion, and the Resurrection from the dead, and the bodily Ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus our Lord, and his coming from heaven in the glory of the Father to re-establish all things; and the raising up again of all flesh of all humanity, in order that to Jesus Christ our Lord and God and Savior and King, in accord with the approval of the invisible Father, every knee shall bend of those in heaven and on Earth and under the earth . . . ” (Against Heresies 1:10:1).
“[The Gnostics] transfer the generation of the uttered word of men to the eternal Word of God, attributing to him a beginning of utterance and a coming into being . . . In what manner, then, would the word of God–indeed, the great God himself, since he is the Word–differ from the word of men?” (Against Heresies 2:13:8).
“Nevertheless, what cannot be said of anyone else who ever lived, that he is himself in his own right God and Lord . . . may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth” (Against Heresies, 3:19:1).
“And again when the Son speaks to Moses, He says, ‘I am come down to deliver this people,’ (Exodus 3:8 – the burning bush). For it is He who descended and ascended for the salvation of men.” (Against Heresies, Book III, ch. 6, section 2)
“Proofs From The Apostolic Writings, That Jesus Christ Was One And The Same, The Only Begotten Son Of God, Perfect God And Perfect Man.” (Against Heresies, Book III, ch. 16, Chapter Title)
“For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself,…Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man.” (Against Heresies, Book III, ch. 19, section 2)
His interpretation of Genesis 1:26 and affirmation of the Tri-unity of God: “It was not angels, therefore, who made us, nor who formed us, neither had angels power to make an image of God, nor any one else, except the Word of the Lord, nor any Power remotely distant from the Father of all things. For God did not stand in need of these [beings], in order to the accomplishing of what He had Himself determined with Himself beforehand should be done, as if He did not possess His own hands. For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, “Let Us make man after Our image and likeness;” [Gen. 1:26] (Against Heresies 4:20:1).
Again there are many more statements but we also want to preserve some space for the writings of Hippolytus,the most important 3rd-century theologian in the Christian Church in Rome,a disciple of Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp.
“For who will not say that there is one God? Yet he will not on that account deny the economy (i.e., the number and disposition of persons in the Trinity).” (Against The Heresy Of One Noetus)
“As far as regards the power, therefore, God is one. But as far as regards the economy there is a threefold manifestation, as shall be proved afterwards when we give account of the true doctrine” (Against The Heresy Of One Noetus)
(Let not the word manifestation confuse you,he is writing against a Modalist by the name of Noetus,threefold manifestation is in regards to 3 persons manifesting,thus clearly affirming the Trinity)
Here we see Hippolytus’ interpretation of Romans 9:5: “Let us look next at the apostle’s word: “Whose are the fathers, of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever.” (13) This word declares the mystery of the truth rightly and clearly. He who is over all is God; for thus He speaks boldly, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father.”(14) He who is over all, God blessed, has been born; and having been made man, He is (yet) God for ever. For to this effect John also has said, “Which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”(15) And well has he [John] named Christ the Almighty. For in this he has said only what Christ testifies of Himself. For Christ gave this testimony, and said, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father;”(16) and Christ rules all things, and has been appointed” (Against The Heresy Of One Noetus 6)
“For Christ is the God above all, and He has arranged to wash away sin from human beings…” (Elucidations, Ch. 30, Author’s Concluding Address)
“Let us believe then, dear brethren, according to the tradition of the apostles, that God the Word came down from heaven,… He now, coming forth into the world, was manifested as God in a body, coming forth too as a perfect man..” (Against Noetus, Part 17)
“The Logos is God, being the substance of God.” (Refutation of all Heresies, Book X, ch 29)
“For Christ is the God above all…” (Refutation of all Heresies, Book X, ch 30)
And Hippolytus in defense of The Trinity against the Modalists writes: “Beside Him there was nothing; but He [God], while existing alone, yet existed in plurality.” (Against Noetus, Part 10)
And Hippolytus mentions the words “Holy Trinity”: “She hath mingled her wine” in the bowl, by which is meant, that the Saviour, uniting his Godhead, like pure wine, with the flesh in the Virgin, was born of her at once God and man without confusion of the one in the other. “And she hath furnished her table:” that denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity.” (Hippolytus on Prov 9:1, fragment, “Wisdom hath builded her house.”)
From this we conclude that these 4 Lions of The Early Church,2 of them Knowing the apostles and 2 learning from the 2 who did,all believed in 2 very foundational doctrines of The Church today,the Deity of Christ and The Trinity.
I conclude with the words of The Blessed Martyr Polycarp:
“I praise You (The Father) for all things, I bless You, I glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom, to You, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.”
God bless you all,my brothers and sisters in Christ,use this in your preaching to the lost.
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