Merry Christology or Happy Heresy? The God Before Bethlehem

Christology

The theological event celebrated at Christmas is the Incarnation, when the Word took on flesh and became in every way human, calling us His brothers. With this, the Word taking on human form, comes the ever important necessity to then understand, from Scripture, what this means. The incarnation is crucial in answering Jesus’ famous question, “who do you say that I am?”

We call the study of Jesus Christology. Everyone has a Christology, as everyone believes something about Christ. While Christology can be pushed into very deep recesses of theology, there are certain things about Jesus that we must absolutely get right. For it was Jesus Himself who said:

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Christology then becomes a life or death issue. To get Jesus wrong is to be “in your sins.” To get Jesus wrong is to believe in a god who cannot save, for no one can be saved by a Jesus that does not exist.

This is why I have decided to post a Christmas blog briefly outlining and rebutting common Christological heresies popular among some people today. I do not plan to refute every single one, and I do not plan to say anything new. This is a discussion the church has been talking about since it’s New Testament form. These are old heresies, and many brilliant men have addressed them at length. Unfortunately, many of them are still believed today. My hope here is to help you become more familiar with these ancient heresies.

Also, for purposes of this discussion, when I use the word “heresy” in this context, I am referring to a belief about Christ that prevents a person from being saved.

The God Before Bethlehem

Adoptionism

Adoptionism is a 2nd century heresy that teaches the belief that Jesus was born perfect, but not divine. The core of this heresy is that Jesus became God’s Son and the Messiah, at his baptism. In other words, Jesus became God at some point during His ministry. (Some maintain this happened at His resurrection.)

Like most theological systems, not everyone who would fall into this camp necessarily agree on everything. Some teach that even at His baptism, Jesus did not become God, but was filled with a full measure of the Spirit. Essentially, Jesus had divine powers because he had so much God in Him. Other Adoptionists would be comfortable maintaining that Jesus became God.

The key to this heresy is that Adoptionists deny the pre-existence of Christ, though many deny His deity altogetherThe refutation of this heresy lies in the clear testimony of Scripture that Jesus existed before the incarnation. Jesus was God before Bethlehem.

For example, John’s prologue, one of the premier texts on the deity of Christ, teaches this explicitly. John 1:1-3,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The Word is defined by John as being both God, and being with God. We have a clear distinction between the Word and God, yet a clear unity between the Word and God. The point here is that this Word existed with God in the beginning. This clearly establishes that the Word existed prior to Bethlehem. The Word then is properly be defined as “God.” The Word was God before Bethlehem.

Notice that the Word is also described with personal, masculine traits. The Word is called “He,” and He is said to have created all things. Thus, the Word, is a Person, a Masculine Person, who is God, who was there in the beginning, and who created all things. The Jesus who was born in Bethlehem is the God who created Bethlehem.

If you need further proof that the Word is Jesus according to John, finish the prologue. 14-18,

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Another important text to turn an Adoptionist to is Colossians 1:15-20,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

The context prior clearly establishes the “He” of the text as being Jesus. And even if one were to dispute that, such a person would then be hard pressed to explain how the invisible Father is the image of the invisible Father.

With that out of the way, the text clearly indicates that Jesus, who is fully God, created all things, which means He existed prior to creation. Jesus did not find His genesis in Bethlehem.

This is consistent with the fact that Jesus was worshiped as God prior to His baptism (Matthew 2:11), and it is consistent with how a 12-year-old Jesus was able to sit in the Temple refuting and teaching the elders, and why He would call Himself the Son of God at that age, long before His baptism (Luke 2:41-49).

To finish the argument, take a look at what Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8,

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus existed prior to the incarnation “in the form of God” and “equal to God.” He then, entered into history by emptying Himself into human existence. Paul could not be more clear: Jesus is the God before Bethlehem.

Adoptionists are not as prevelant today as our upcoming heretics, but it is possible you might come across one some day. Some Muslims even argue this viewpoint about Jesus.

If you know an Adoptionist, point them to these texts. Call them to repent and believe in the Jesus who was God before Bethlehem.

Arianism

Both texts above also sufficiently refute our next popular heresy, Arianism.

Arianism, which arose early in the 4th century, is the belief that Jesus did in fact exist prior to the creation of the world, but is himself a created being. In other words, Jesus is god, not God. Jesus was created as a god, but he is not the eternal God over history. Jesus is a creature, a powerful creature indeed, but nonetheless, is still a creature.

The problem for Arians is that the texts already cited above clearly state otherwise. John 1 could not be more clear that Jesus existed “in the beginning” with God, and it leaves out any mention of Jesus coming in to existence there. The English is clear, whenever God was, Jesus was too. The Greek only further establishes the point that “in the beginning” is a reference to eternity.

The text also clearly identifies the Word “as God.” He is not a created divine being; He is God. He is the same God He was with. The Word is eternal, and the Word is God. That means, the Word was not created.

Likewise, our text cited above from Colossians makes an equally strong point. In order for Arianism to be true alongside Scripture, Jesus had to create Himself, which is obviously nonsensical.

Paul writes that by Jesus “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” If Jesus created everything that was created, and He was created, then Jesus created Jesus, according to Arianism. 

Paul also reveals that Jesus is the “image of God.” How can a creature be an image of a non-creature? How can Jesus perfectly image the Father, if they are so different on this point? The author of Hebrews says the same thing about Jesus,

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

How can Jesus be the image of God, the exact imprint of God’s nature, if He is not also eternal? Jesus would be missing one of God’s most important attributes if He were a created being, and that would mean it would be dishonest for Paul to call Him the exact imprint of God’s nature. It would be dishonest for Jesus Himself to say something like:

“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9).

The most common form of Arianism today is the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. They believe Jesus is a god, a created one. He is not the eternal God, but a lesser, created being. They have to distort the texts above in order to believe this, which demonstrates how clearly the texts speak to the issue of Jesus’ eternal nature.

Stay tuned for the next installation as we dive into a Christological heresy regarding the human nature of Christ.

Author: Resisting the Winds

I am a sinner redeemed by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God. I am a local church expositor, living in the small but beautiful town of Alamosa, Colorado.

5 thoughts on “Merry Christology or Happy Heresy? The God Before Bethlehem

  1. People should not listen to those human teachings in Christology and other theological works which go contrary to biblical teachings; The bible is very clear that Jesus is the sent one from God, the authorised one from God, the anointed from God, the son of man Whom God declared to be His only begotten beloved son, and that is what we should believe.

    1. 1) I agree no one should listen to human teachings that contradict the Scriptures. That is why this blog post focused only on Scripture. Therefore, your simple assertion is only a stated opinion; it is not an argument. You did not deal with the texts I provided from John 1, Hebrews 1, Colossians 1, and Philippians 2 which make Jesus’ eternal Deity abundantly clear.

      2) Jesus being sent, authorized, anointed, and begotten of God is not at odds with the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. A biblical trinitarian gladly affirms and rejoices in all those truths.

  2. For John 1: Christ was not literally the Word. He was the word “made flesh”. (#Jo 1:14). The Greek word “logos” translated “Word” expresses the divine intention, mind, or purpose.1 Young defines “logos” as “a word, speech, matter, reason.”2 In the a.v. “logos” is translated by more than 20 different English words and is used for utterances of men (e.g., #Jo 17:20) as well as those of God (#Jo 5:38).
    “In the beginning was the Word  …  all things were made by him.”3 “logos” does not in itself denote personality. It is personified by the masculine gender in the a.v., The Diaglott avoids confusion by translating the pronouns in the neuter-“through it every thing was done.”4 An Old Testament parallel to the personification of logos is the personification of wisdom: “The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” (#Pr 8:22, 23). In this passage, wisdom is personified as a woman. (#Pr 8:1, 2).

    Hebrews 1:3 speaks about the glory which can be seen in Christ Jesus, but does not say Jesus is God.

    (#Col 1:15,16) “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created  …  ”

    verse 16 — “all things were created by him and for him”. The passage in question, therefore, can read: “Who delivered us from the dominion of darkness, and changed us for [not into] the kingdom of the Son of his love.” This reading is supported by a later reference, ”  …  These only are my fellowworkers unto the kingdom of God  …  ” (#Col 4:11). The companions of the Apostle were workers “unto,” not “in” the kingdom. (“Unto” is translated from the same Greek preposition “eis.”) This argument ought to be appreciated by the Church of Christ since their expositors in emphasizing the forgiveness of sins in baptism, stress that “eis” means “for” or “in order to” in (#Ac 2:38).

    The Messianic prophecy in (#Ps 89:27) indicates that the J.W. assertion, that “Jehovah” created his Son as his first creative act, is unscriptural. “Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” proves that Christ was not the first-born prior to the creation narrative in Gen. 1 and 2, but rather Christ was not to be made first-born until many years after the Psalmist penned his words. (The Messianic character of the Psalm is indicated by comparing the following: vs.(#Ps 89:26) cf. (#2Sa 7:14; He 1:5) and (#Ps 89:35-37) cf. (#Ps 72:1-8).

    “The firstborn of all creation” is qualified in (#Col 1:18) to be “the firstborn from the dead.” Frequently an apparently absolute declaration is limited in application. Consider the following examples in which “all” is clearly to be understood in a restricted sense:
    a. “  …  there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” (#Lu 2:1). The “all” refers to the Roman world, not the areas of South, Central and North America.
    b. “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers  …  ” (#Joh 10:8). The “all” does not refer to John the Baptist and other prophets.
    c. See also (#Ge 3:20) (“all living” did not include the beasts); (#Ge 6:13) (“all flesh” did not include Noah and the creatures taken into the ark.)

    The creation of which Christ is the first-born is the “creation” of new men and woman, and not the creation of light, dry land, etc. of Genesis. “Create” and “creation” are used of the work of Christ in this regenerative sense. Consider the following:
    a. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (#Eph 2:10) cf. (#Eph 4:23,24).
    b. “  …  for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” (#Eph 2:15).
    c. See also (#Col 3:9,10) (RSV); (#Gal 6:15; Jas 1:18; 2Co 5:17).

    The inspired Apostle, employing the Old Testament background of the first-born, is ascribing to Christ his position, rank, and status in the divine purpose. The following is a summary of this background:
    a. The first-born succeeded his father as head. (#2Ch 21:2,3).
    b. He received a double portion of the inheritance. (#De 21:17).
    c. A younger son could be elevated to the position of first-born if there were personal unworthiness in the eldest. (#1Ch 5:1).

    Adam lost this privilege because of his personal unworthiness, but the last Adam became perfect, through things which he suffered, and inherited the “double portion.” He became the “firstfruits of them that slept” — the “firstborn among many brethren” — “the head of the body, the church  …  that in all things he might have the preeminence.” (#Col 1:18; 1Co 15:20; Ro 8:29).

    “Who is the image of the invisible God.” This is an obvious allusion to (#Ge 1:26), “Let us make man in our image.” Christ who was “full of grace and truth” demonstrated that he was the “image of the invisible God” by his faithfulness to death. In him both earthly and heavenly creatures are “created” because in him they have a new function in the divine purpose. The angels who “minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation” (#Heb 1:14) have been instructed to pay him homage — “let the angels of God worship him.” (#Heb 1:6).

    Colossians 1, rather than supporting the trinitarian doctrine, is opposed to it. Consider the following:
    a. If Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (#Col 1:15), then he is a replica, not the original.
    b. Christ is the “firstborn of every creature.” (#Col 1:15). “Firstborn” implies a beginning, therefore Christ is not the “Eternal” Son of God of the trinitarians.

    1. “Christ was not literally the Word. He was the word ‘made flesh'”.
      — The text quite clearly indicates Christ as the Word prior to verse 14 when He takes on flesh. The Word was with God and was God. How can a non-literal thought process be with God? How can it also have a relationship to God, while simultaneously being God? Your attempt to exhaust the non-literal semantic range of the word logos apart from how John uses it in context is telling. Notice when you say: “’logos’” does not in itself denote personality.” That’s irrelevant. The context is determines meaning. What it does not have to mean sitting in a dictionary is important, but meaning is determined by it’s context. Thus, the fact that John identifies logos as being a He, as being God, and being with God, is clear that logos is not some abstract, impersonal idea you arbitrarily render as mere “personification.” The Logos is not merely being personified when it is said to have a relationship with God, be God, create creation, and enter in to human history.

      “Hebrews 1:3 speaks about the glory which can be seen in Christ Jesus, but does not say Jesus is God.”

      — Wow. That is a remarkable statement. As I stated in the blog “How can Jesus be the image of God, the exact imprint of God’s nature, if He is not also eternal? Jesus would be missing one of God’s most important attributes if He were a created being, and that would mean it would be dishonest for Paul to call Him the exact imprint of God’s nature.” This, being very consistent with verse 8 wherein the Father explicitly refers to the Son as God.

      In regards to Colossians, I do not see how your anti-historical, esoteric, unique rendering about our relationship to the Son’s kingdom has anything to do with what I raised in the blog. The text says that all created things were created by Jesus. This means Jesus is eternal and omnipotent. Which doesn’t dismantle my worldview as it does yours, since I actually believe that Jesus is “the exact imprint of the Father’s nature.”

      “’The firstborn of all creation’” is qualified in (#Col 1:18) to be ‘the firstborn from the dead.’”

      — 1) This is not true. This claim needs to be proved. Just because the word is used again, and applied to a different noun, does not necessarily mean it is modifying previous usage, especially since so much content exists between both occcuraences of the word. How do you know Paul is not using the same adjective for different ideas? If I wrote a letter and said “My dad owns every dealership in the area.” And then 4 sentences later I said, “My dad owns two jeeps.” Did I just redefine “dealerships” as “two jeeps?”

      b) I agree entirely that “all” has to be contextually defined, and is often not universal in its usage. The problem for you, is Paul does qualify his use of all: “the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Thus, yes, Jesus is the first born of ALL things in its most extreme sense, since Paul clarifies all things as anything visible or invisible, making your claim that “The creation of which Christ is the first-born is the ‘creation’ of new men and woman, and not the creation of light, dry land, etc. of Genesis” biblically untenable.

      “If Christ is the ‘image of the invisible God'” (#Col 1:15), then he is a replica, not the original.
      — This assumes the greek word eikon etymologically requires some kind of chronological sequence of events. Nothing in it’s definition or contextual usage vindicates that. For two things to be the exact image of another does not require a temporal, chronological order of events where one precedes another. It just is not true. Two eternal persons can be the same image.

      “Christ is the ‘firstborn of every creature.’ (#Col 1:15). ‘Firstborn’ implies a beginning, therefore Christ is not the ‘Eternal’ Son of God of the trinitarians.”

      — Firstborn implies inheritance and ownership. It does not imply the firstborn came into being. Especially since that text tells us the Son created everything which did come in to being, meaning He never did.

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