I can’t think of a better time than Christmas to rehearse the importance of orthodoxy. Believers everywhere must clearly articulate what we believe and do not believe about the Christ child. What follows are brief [early] historical views on the identity of Jesus along with the orthodox response that comports with Scripture and God’s revelation in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A. Ebionism (late 1st-2nd Century)
- Denied the full deity of Jesus.
- Born out of a strong Jewish monotheism. If Jesus was fully divine, then polytheism results.
- Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 A.D.) and Irenaeus (ca. 130-200 A.D.) spoke against Ebionite heretics.
B. Docetism (2nd Century)
- Denied the reality of Jesus’ full humanity.
- Rooted in a strong Greek dualism where material (evil) and immaterial (good) could not unite. If Jesus was fully divine, then God could not take on a material, human body.
- Origen (185-254 A.D.) and Tertullian (196-212 A.D.) spoke against docetic heretics.
C. Arianism (early 4th Century)
- Denied that God’s essence (divinity) can be communicated.
- Born out of a misguided philosophical theology, viz., that God is an indivisible and simple essence. Thus God created the Logos to embody Jesus. Jesus was a subordinate god, or demigod. Neither was Jesus fully human, since the Logos replaced the human soul. Arius viewed Jesus as half human, half divine.
- Arianism was condemned by Athanasius at the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.).
D. Monophysitism— also known as Apollinarianism (4th Century)
- Apollinaris highlighted the unity of the divine and human natures such that the distinction between the two was lost. The result was a Jesus with only one nature (one divine nature, one person).
- Born out of Platonism and a misguided anthropology (trichotomous makeup).
- Monophysitism was condemned as heresy at the Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.).
E. Nestorianism (5th Century)
- Nestorious emphasized the radical distinction between the divine and human natures. The result was a Jesus with two distinct persons, one divine and the other human.
- Grounded in a desire to avoid the notion that Mary could give birth to God.
- Nestorianism was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.).
F. Eutychianism (5th Century)
- Eutyches stressed the merging of the human into the divine, such that the humanity of Jesus was lost (one person, one divine nature).
- Was a reaction against Nestorian teachings.
- The teaching of Eutyches was renounced at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.).
G. The Orthodox Christ Child: Chalcedon Christology
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance [homoousious] with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer [Theotokos] one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, recognized IN TWO NATURES, WITHOUT CONFUSION, WITHOUT CHANGE, WITHOUT DIVISION, WITHOUT SEPARATION; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person [prosopon] and subsistence [hypostasis], not as parted or separated into two persons [prosopa], but one and the same Son and Only begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and as our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has delivered to us.