Three False Teachings about Jesus

Article by Adriel Sanchez (Original source here)

Because the incarnation is so marvelously mysterious, there were groups in the early church that sought to explain its message in ways that undermined it. Here are three false teachings about Jesus that the early church had to reject:

1. Jesus only appeared to be human (Docetism).

Early in the church, there were those who argued that the incarnate God only appeared to be human. After all, how could God possibly take human flesh to himself? The idea seemed absurd to them because they couldn’t fathom God being hungry, tired, or in pain.

Therefore, they denied that Jesus had any human experiences. This teaching was known as Docetism. It undermines Christianity, because if Jesus didn’t really embrace our suffering in the incarnation, then he didn’t bear our sin and cannot relate to our pain.

2. Jesus was subordinate to his Father in power and glory (Arianism).

Unlike the Docetists, another group believed Jesus was truly a man, but not equal with God the Father in power and glory. This group attacked Jesus’s divine status. After all, how could God himself have such immediate contact with mankind? In order to deal with this perceived problem, this group attempted to strip Jesus of his eternal nature, and they were known as Arians. Arianism undermines the Bible’s teaching on God being one in essence and three in persons, because only God himself could rescue people from their sin.

3. Jesus’ humanity and divinity existed separately from each other (Nestorianism).

A third group tried to explain the mystery of the incarnation by splitting apart the divinity and humanity of Jesus. After all, how could divinity and humanity exist so perfectly in one Person? This group separated the divine actions of Jesus (such as healing) from his human experiences (suffering) and taught that there were two subjects in the incarnation instead of one divine Person. This teaching is known as Nestorianism. It undermines the believer’s hope in Christ, because if the divine Second Person of the Trinity didn’t truly unite humanity to himself, there’s no hope that we can be made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet.1:4).

These three explanations of the incarnation were rejected by the Christian church. In the final analysis, none of them went far enough in their description of how marvelous the Incarnation was.

The eternal Son of God took to himself true humanity and bore our pain in that humanity to redeem us. The early church father Gregory of Nazianzus explained the importance of rightly understanding the incarnation with the famous dictum taken from his letter “To Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinaris”:

“For that which he [Jesus] has not assumed he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved.” He continued, “If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole. (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Vol 2, #7, p. 648, at )

Thankfully, God shared in the whole of our fallen humanity so that through his death he might make us partakers of the life found only in him.

The Deity of Christ in the Early Church

Article: Did the Early Church Believe in the Deity of Christ? by Nathan Busenitz (original source here)

Ask your average Muslim, Unitarian, Jehovah’s Witness, or just about any non-Christian skeptic who has read (or watched) The Da Vinci Code, and they’ll try to convince you the answer is no. From such sources we are told that the deity of Christ was a doctrine invented centuries after Jesus’ death — a result of pagan influences on the church in the fourth century when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion.

Emperor Constantine, in particular, is blamed for being the guy who promoted Jesus to the level of deity, a feat of cosmic proportions that he managed to pull off at the Council of Nicaea in 325. As Dan Brown put it (through the lips of one of his literary characters): “Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea. . . . By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable” (The Da Vinci Code, 253).

So how can believers answer such allegations?

The best response, obviously, is to demonstrate from Scripture that Jesus is God. We can be confident that the early church affirmed Christ’s deity (and that we should do the same) because the New Testament clearly teaches that truth. The biblical case can be made from many places. Without going into detail in this post, here is a small sampling of texts that teach the deity of Christ: Isaiah 9:6; Matt. 1:23; John 1:1, 14, 18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 1 Cor. 1:24; 2 Cor. 4:4; Php. 2:6; Col. 1:15–16; 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:3, 8; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20.

But what about church history outside of the New Testament? Did the early church fathers affirm the deity of Jesus Christ? Or was it only after the fourth century (and the Council of Nicaea) that Christian leaders began to articulate their belief in God the Son?

Though it’s not an exhaustive list, here are 25 quotations from a number of ante-Nicene church fathers demonstrating their belief in the deity of Jesus Christ (with portions underlined for emphasis). These early Christian theologians all lived before the time of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. As such, they provide incontrovertible proof (from post-New Testament history) that Constantine was not the first person in church history to affirm this doctrine. Rather, the early church embraced the truth that Jesus is God from the time of the apostles on.

1. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50–117): For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit. (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 18.2. Translation from Michael Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 197)

2. Ignatius (again): Consequently all magic and every kind of spell were dissolved, the ignorance so characteristic of wickedness vanished, and the ancient kingdom was abolished when God appeared in human form to bring the newness of eternal life. (Ibid., 19.3. Holmes, AF, 199)

3. Ignatius (again): For our God Jesus Christ is more visible now that he is in the Father. (Ignatius, Letter to the Romans, 3.3. Holmes, AF, 229)

4. Ignatius (again): I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having been nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 1.1. Holmes, AF, 249) Continue reading

The Great Heresies: Nestorius and Eutyches

Article by Gervase Charmley at this link.

We have made these studies of the so-called Great Heresies because they represent significant false steps in the history of Christian teaching; in each of them a true teaching is distorted, and so becomes false. Each precipitated a crisis that forced the Church to look deeper into the Scriptures and consider the fullness of God’s revelation there.

Our previous study, that of Apollinarius, marks a move from the question of the deity of Christ to that of the relationship between the Divine and human in Christ. Opposing the ruinous heresy of Arianism, Apollinarius took a crude approach, teaching that the Divine replaced a part of the human nature, a position that was rightly condemned on the ground that it made the Incarnate Christ less than human. The next great theological controversy would be driven at least as much by politics as theology, and ended in the great Council of Chalcedon. The two men who gave their names to the heresies condemned there were Nestorius and Eutyches, and they came from Antioch and Alexandria respectively.


After the Council of Constantinople in 381, theologians in the Eastern Church continued to debate the questions that had been raised by the Arian controversy, and consider how best to keep from falling into error on the question of the person of Christ.

Broadly speaking there were two main approaches, characterizing schools of thought based in Alexandria and Syrian Antioch respectively. The Alexandrians laid great stress on the unity of Christ’s person, while the Antiochenes stressed the two natures and the true humanity of Christ. The different emphases were not too much of a problem so long as they were only emphases, but there was always a danger of losing proportion; the Alexandrian emphasis could too easily result in a view of Christ that down-played his humanity, while the Antiochene approach might lead to a view of Christ that divided the two natures rather than just distinguishing them. Not only that, but there was a risk that the two schools might mistake a difference in emphasis for outright heresy.

This is what actually happened in the Nestorian controversy; Nestorius has perhaps the unique distinction of being the only one of the ‘great heretics’ who almost certainly did not teach the heresy that his name has become attached to. Complicating this were political issues; the church, freed from persecution and favoured by the Caesars, had developed its own complex political system of parishes, dioceses, bishops, archbishops, and patriarchs. The Patriarchs were archbishops of five particularly significant cities. These were Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople. Jerusalem was always small and rather insignificant, while Rome, away in Europe, was distant and had its own concerns. Continue reading

God is not a man that He should lie

Dr. James White writes:

I was just perusing some comments about the debate that took place in South Africa between Jonathan McLatchie and Yusuf Ismail on the Trinity in the Old Testament. Now I wasn’t able to watch it live, and might be able to slip it into the “riding queue” for next week (I do have at least one mega long ride planned), but I wanted to comment on this statement from Ijaz Ahmad, as it caught my attention:

There were quite a few fronts that the Christian side simply did not show up for, which had they been demonstrated would have been better than merely reading off as many quotes as was possible. Take for example the argument by Jonathan that Br. Yusuf’s use of Numbers 23:19 was incorrect because it was not about the character of God, but of man, foregoing that as a Trinitarian he believes that the Person of Christ was both man and God, therefore if it did speak of the Trinity (in this case the Trinitarian Person of Jesus), then he should have not denied that it referred to the character of God, unless Jonathan himself denies that the Person Of Jesus was not a divine actor with two natures. The interesting thing here is that if Jonathan does believe that God inspired the Old Testament (in whatever form), then shouldn’t God have known He would appear as a man at some point and therefore the verse’s relevance would apply then? This seems to have gone over Jonathan’s head altogether.

I have never found the use of Numbers 23:19 by Islamic apologists to be a weighty objection, but one founded more upon ignorance of the subject than upon deep reflection. Christians use this text in responding to Mormons frequently, and for good reason:
“He came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the leaders of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the LORD spoken?” Then he took up his discourse and said,
“Arise, O Balak, and hear;
Give ear to me, O son of Zippor!
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
“Behold, I have received a command to bless;
When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it.”
(Numbers 23:17–20 NASB)

The text comes from Balaam’s encounter with Balak and the matter of cursing or blessing the people of Israel. The issue is, obviously, the irreversibility of Yahweh’s promise to bless Israel as His covenant people in giving to them the Promised Land. Verse 19, the beginning of the word given to Balaam by Yahweh, states a basic reality: God is God. God is not human. God is the creator of humanity. This seems obvious, but Balak is undoubtedly outside the covenant community and in need of basic instruction in truth. The emphasis in pointing to the otherness of God’s nature in contrast to man is that God’s promises and blessings are not fickle, as is the case with man. Hence, immediately upon stating that God is not a man, we have “that He should lie.” Lying, being dishonest in His promises, is in the realm of fallen creatureliness; it is not something to be found in the realm of the Divine Creator. Using standard Hebrew parallelism (this is a poetic section), the same truth is restated, this time with the statement “that He should repent.”

The term used here, nacham, (the auto-correct on my computer attempted to change that to “nachos”), is deeper than the Western concept of “repent” as in “change one’s mind,” but often includes within it the idea of regret at one’s actions, or at least regret at the results of past events. In any case, the point is made plain by the rest of the verse—God has said He will bless Israel, and He will “do it” and will “make it good.” God’s revelation to Balaam cannot be changed no matter how much Balak may wish it to be so. God will not be bought off by the king’s money.

So, it is rather obvious, on any basic reading of the text in its context, that these words refer to God’s faithfulness to His promises, similar to the words of Psalm 12:6-7, for example. They are, in fact, relevant to Mormonism, which, in its orthodox historical teachings (given the nature of Mormon epistemology, all of this could change tomorrow), denies the ontological distinction between God and man. Hence, the foundation of the distinction upon which God’s word to Balaam rests, is denied in LDS theology. So, Numbers 23:19 is relevant to Mormonism, for in that religion, God and man are the same species, ontologically identical (being separated only by progression in time and status).

But the text is, rather obviously, irrelevant to the doctrine of the Trinity, and I will have to candidly admit that when I see Muslims using this text I know that their knowledge of the doctrine is, well, less than robust.

The historic doctrine of the Trinity does not teach that God’s nature is that of a man. God has eternally been God. God has never ceased to be God, and cannot by definition do so. In the Incarnation God did not cease to be God, God’s nature did not become human, etc. As I explained fairly clearly in the context of knowledgable Islamic objection in my debate with Abdullah Kunde in 2011, we believe the Second Person of the Trinity voluntarily took on a perfect human nature in the Incarnation. The Second Person did not cease being fully God, fully eternal, etc. There was no inter-mixture of the natures so that the divine became semi-human or the human became semi-divine. Two natures, one Person, “the Lord of glory” Jesus the Christ. The Word became flesh without ceasing to be the Word. The essential, eternal, unchanging nature of God did not change in the Incarnation anymore than when the Triune God brought the universe into existence. The Incarnation was a divine act in time.

The point being this: there is nothing in the statement “God is not a man” that is in any possibly logical sense relevant to the future action of the Second Person of the Trinity in taking on a human nature so as to accomplish the prophesied redemption of God’s people (Isaiah 9:5-6). God’s nature is that of God, not man—always has been, always will be. The Incarnation did not change that. Further, the point of the statement is focused upon the fallenness of man resulting in the unreliability of his promises and actions—which likewise would be irrelevant to the sinless Son when in the flesh. So any serious reflection upon the Trinity would reveal that the citation of Numbers 23:19 is errant on the part of Islamic apologists.

Now, I would likewise like to comment that I have been rather clear over the years in stating that I do not believe the Trinity is a specifically Old Testament revelation. While there are prophetic glimpses of this truth, I agree with Warfield that its primary revelation is found between the Testaments, specifically in the Incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit. Hence, the New Testament becomes the record of this historical revelation, not the actual ground of that revelation. That is, the NT reveals the Trinity simply because it is written in light of the historical action of the Triune God that preceded it. I have addressed this in my book, The Forgotten Trinity, and you can read an excellent discussion of these issues in Warfield’s classic work, available on line here.

Knowing Christ

Dr. Mark Jones: Knowing Christ

1. Christ’s Humiliation and Ours

2. The Incarnation: God’s Greatest Wonder

3. The Holy Spirit and Christ

4. Christ and the Church

“Cultivating Awe, Christian Meditation, and Knowing Christ”

Listen in to J.I. Packer and Mark Jones discuss some helpful Christian practices that they believe have been forgotten today. Also, learn more about Mark Jones’ new book ‘Knowing Christ’, which is available now at

Jesus, the Son of Man

In this brief clip from his teaching series Lessons from the Upper Room (from Ligonier Ministries), Dr. Sinclair Ferguson explains what Jesus meant when He referred to Himself as the “Son of Man.”


I remember as a youngster in Sunday school, perhaps this was true of you, that my Sunday School teachers taught me that Jesus was the Son of God and the “Son of Man.” That is to say, He was God’s Son, and He was also human. But when Jesus speaks about Himself as the “Son of Man,” He is not simply saying that He has a human nature as well as a divine nature. He is specifically drawing on a picture that He found in the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel, in which you may remember, Daniel has this vision in which he sees the “Son of Man” ascending to the throne of the Ancient of Days as a triumphant victor. And at the throne of the Ancient of Days, He is given the privilege of sharing His triumph with those who are called the “Saints of the Most High.”

So in Jesus’ mind, the picture of the “Son of Man” refers not just to his humanity, it refers also to His exultation at the right hand of the Father—His glory and then the expansion of his kingdom that will take place as He is exalted at the Father’s right hand. So when He says “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” He’s referring to that picture that we were given in the Book of Daniel—the way in which He is going to be exalted at the right hand of the Father. In other words, He is saying His death, His crucifixion is simply the way to His exaltation. We could put it this way, in terms of what we saw at the beginning of John chapter 13, that for Jesus, the way up to the throne of God is the way down to the humiliation of the Cross.

A Teaching Resource on the Cross

Mike Riccardi has served on staff at Grace Community Church since 2010. He currently serves as the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries, which includes overseeing Fundamentals of the Faith classes, six foreign language outreach Bible studies, and evangelism in nearby jails, rehab centers, and in the local neighborhood. Mike earned his B.A. in Italian and his M.Ed. in Foreign Language from Rutgers University, and his M.Div. and Th.M. from The Master’s Seminary. He also has the privilege of serving alongside Phil Johnson as co-pastor of GraceLife, a Sunday morning adult fellowship group at Grace Church.

(1) What Really Happened on the Cross? Part 1 (mp3) here.

(2) What Really Happened on the Cross? Part 2 ((mp3) here.

(3) Invincible Atonement, mp3 teaching and includes a pdf resource file at this link.

Also, Pastor Mike taught a detailed study at this year’s Shepherd’s Conference on the theme of “He Emptied Himself: A Study of the Kenosis of Christ.” (found here)