Who is This Babe Lying in a Manger?

Who is this babe lying in a manger? Mark Lowry famously quipped, “Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.”[1] Who is this most celebrated baby? Why all the fuss? This child was special in many ways. In fact, the Child is in fact God come to earth. How do we know this and why is this still controversial?

            I have confronted a few people who still hold to the idea that the divinity of Christ was a concept developed by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD.[2] Such an idea is not rooted in history but a false assumption based upon the edict of the Nicene Council in 325 AD to condemn the ideas of Arius and uphold the ideas of Athanasius.[3] Constantine simply ordered that the church solve the Arian controversy as it was causing great ecclesiastical problems which could cause societal fragmentation.

Arius taught that Jesus was merely a human person and the eternal God. His greatest concern “was the premise that God is an undifferentiated whole. On this basis he argued that the Logos or Son is a creature and therefore must have had a beginning.”[4] Thus, Arius held that Jesus held a position higher than humanity, but lower than God the Father.

Athanasius argued that Jesus was fully divine in all aspects. Athanasius stated that “The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine.”[5] By “made divine,” Athanasius was noting the relationship that humanity held with the divine, being elevated to the level of eternity and perfected in God’s sinlessness. Based upon the Scriptures, the Council declared,

But to those who say, Once he was not, or he was not before his generation, or he came to be out of nothing, or who assert that he, the Son of God, is of a different hypostasis or ousia, or that he is a creature, or changeable, or mutable, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.[6]

But what basis did the Council use to uphold Athanasius’ teaching and condemn Arius’? They used the Scriptures and the teachings of the early church. How do we know this Babe lying in a manger was in fact divine?

The Divine Nature of The Babe Lying in a Manger was Prophesied.

            I recently delivered a message on Zechariah 12. I noticed something that stood out to me that had not in my previous readings. The chapter begins with the words “Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him…” (Zechariah 12:1b).[7] Throughout the chapter, first-person language is employed indicating that the speaker is referencing himself. God is the speaker and later says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). Remember, God is speaking and he uses first-person language. Thus, God is claiming that he would come to earth and would be pierced for the transgressions of mankind. John the apostle understands this prophecy to have been fulfilled in Christ when, after referring to Christ’s crucifixion, he writes, “And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). Again in Revelation, this prophecy is referenced when Christ returns, stating, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Revelation 1:7). Another element of Jesus’ divine nature is seen in addition to prophecy.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Professed.

Jesus himself understood himself to be divine. Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man who had access to the Ancient of Days[8] (see Daniel 7:10) in Mark 8:38. Again, the “I am” of Jesus indicates the knowledge that he was in fact God come in the flesh.[9] Several other passages could be offered, but space does not allow such treatment.

John the apostle clearly understood Jesus to be co-eternal with the Father when he denotes, “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” (John 1:1-3). As C. S. Lewis notes,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[10]

Jesus understood himself to be the Son of God as he claimed a divine status. But Jesus not only claimed to be divine, he demonstrated his divine nature in another fashion.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Proven.

One of the coolest things about Jesus is the fact that he did not just say something about himself, he proved it. Jesus would prove his divine nature by the miracles that he performed (e.g., Mark 2:1-12). He proved his divine nature by casting out demons by his mere word (e.g., Luke 8:26-39). He proved his divine nature by performing supernatural works over nature (e.g., Luke 8:22-25). Jesus proved his divine nature by raising the dead (e.g., John 11:38-44). Finally, Jesus’ divine nature was proven by his own resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; and John 20:1-21:25).

Conclusion

This Christmas, we celebrate a most marvelous birth. It is the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ, the Son of Almighty God. How amazing the incarnation truly is! Ponder about the amazing nature of this event. Mary would give birth to the One who gave her life. Mary would bring forth the One who would save her soul. The most powerful Being in all the universe would humble himself to be born in a humble manger.

While we often stress ourselves trying to find the perfect gift for our loved ones, it is helpful to understand that the greatest gift has already been given. The perfect gift was, is, and forever will be Jesus. This Child, as Paul notes,

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, 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. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess  that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

May we continue to remember, as the cliché goes, that Jesus truly is the reason for this celebratory season.

© December 19, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, Mary Did You Know, 1991.

[2] Constantine converted to Christianity. After his conversion, Constantine allowed the free exercise of Christian worship in the Roman Empire beginning in the 4th century.

[3] Saint Nicolas is said to have attended this conference. Nicolas is linked with the popular Santa Claus figure. Saint Nicolas was an ardent defender of orthodox Christianity. It is said that Nicolas smacked Arius due to his heretical concepts.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 248.

[5] Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54, in Early Christian Fathers, Henry Bettenson, ed. and trans. (New York: Oxford, 1969), 293.

[6] “The Creed of Nicea,” in The Creeds of the Churches, 3rd ed, John H. Leith, ed (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982), 31.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007).

[8] That is, God.

[9] See John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1; 18:5-6.

[10] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillian, 1943, 1952), 41.

Advertisements

Does the Bible Support the Notion of the Trinity or Was it an Invention of Constantine?

From time to time, I receive emails pertaining to particular issues of theology and faith. I received an email not long ago from an individual, who I thought was associated with my own particular denomination, who claimed that the Bible does not support the view of the Trinity and was…in his opinion…an invention of Emperor Constantine in the 300s. Most will acknowledge that Constantine was the emperor of Rome in the 300s A.D. who legalized Christianity. The opponent of the Trinity and I discussed the issues from a biblical perspective. The gentleman made some bizarre claims throughout our conversation. However, did the Council of Nicaea confirm the truth pertaining to the Triune nature of God, or was this an invention of the council purported by the emperor?

Background Concerning Council of Nicaea

While it is difficult to ascertain a thorough view of what the early church fathers believed about the Triune nature of God, reading the documents of the early church fathers, one would tend to believe that an orthodox view of the Trinity was largely supported. While some believe that the view of the Trinity stemmed from Constantine, history demonstrates the view was clearly held far before the time of the Council of Nicaea. Polycarp (c. 70-155), a disciple of John the apostle,  wrote “May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting priest, build you up in faith and truth” (Polycarp, EPE XII). Irenaus, a disciple of Polycarp, wrote, “in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit” (Irenaus, ANF X.1). John Feinberg notes, Tertullian, who lived circa A.D. 160-225, “first coined the term ‘Trinity’ (trinitas) and used the concept of persons. Both Tertullian and Hippolytus are credited with introducing the idea of the ‘economic’ Trinity, which emphasizes how the persons in the Godhead relate to one another in their work of creation and redemption” (Feinberg, NOLH, 473). Later, Origen (c. A.D. 185-254) also advocated a somewhat orthodox view of the Trinity, although he somewhat fell into an error that is termed “tritheism.” Tritheism is the “belief that there are three gods or three separate beings in the Godhead” (Feinberg, NOLH, 553). It was, however, the heresy of Arius (c. A.D. 250-336), a bishop of Alexandria, that for the need of a council to be formed. Contrary to the traditionally orthodox teachings of the church concerning the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, Arius purported that that Jesus was less than eternal and was not equal with Yahweh (the Father). Moreover, Arius also purported that the Holy Spirit was a “lesser ‘God,’ if divine at all” (Feinberg, NOLH, 478). At 325 A.D., Athanasius headed the movement to promote orthodox Christian teachings against the heresy of Arius. Athanasius won as the Bible supported the classic view of the Trinity and Arius’ view (which is much like the modern Jehovah Witness movement) was defeated. It is of an interesting note that the historical St. Nicolas of Patara was said to have been in attendance at this council and was asked to leave due to Nicolas slugging the heretic Arius in the heat of debate. No, it was not a Christ-like move, but it demonstrates the intensity of the debate. (For more information concerning St. Nicolas of Patara see https://pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/the-real-saint-nicholas-parental-warning-the-truth-is-revealed/). Was Constantine associated with this conference? He was only in the calling of the conference. The matter of the Trinity had become so heated that he wanted the elders of the church to settle the issue, especially as Christianity was now made a legal religion. The elders settled the issue once and for all at this council. However, the matter of the Trinity would be fine-tuned over time. Regardless, one must still ask, what does the Bible say concerning the Trinity?

Biblical Support for Trinity

The Bible demonstrates the divinity of the three persons classically held to be in the Triune Godhead.

Yahweh is God

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches the disciples that the Father would care for their every need. Concerning needs, Jesus states that “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 5:32). In Matthew 27:46, Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 addressing the Father in stating that “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the Old Testament, Yahweh is clearly demonstrated as God.  When Moses asked God who He was, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you’… Yahweh, the God of your fathers…has sent me to you. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation” (Exodus 3:14-15, HCSB). Norman Geisler writes that the function of the Father within the Triune Godhead is “manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation” (Geisler, ST, 549).

Jesus is God

Jesus is also noted as being divine. In John 10:30, Jesus boldly proclaims, “I and the Father are one.” Paul preserves an ancient Christian hymn in Philippians 2. Of particular interest is the statement “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” (Philippians 2:6). It is difficult to fathom how this verse could be interpreted as anything different than the early church held that Jesus was divine. This is compounded by the fact that this hymn dates to within a few years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Paul preserves another ancient formulation in Colossians 1. Paul records the creedal formulation as, pertaining to Christ, that “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:15, 19). The writer of Hebrews notes that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3-4, HCSB). Addressing the role of the Son in the Triune Godhead, Geisler denotes that Jesus is “the Means, Sent One, and Achiever of salvation” (Geisler, ST, 549).

Holy Spirit is God

The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is clearly identified as divine in Acts 5 where Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Holy Spirit, who is referenced as God. Feinberg provides clear-cut evidence that the Holy Spirit holds the attributes of God in writing that “where the Holy Spirit is declared to be God, we also find that he has the attributes only God could have. He is eternal (Heb 9:14); omniscient (1 Cor 2:10-11…); powerful (Rom 8:2; 15:19); and truth (1 John 5:7)…He regenerates…(John 3:5-8); he sanctifies…(1 Pet 1:2); and he reveals God’s truth…(2 Pet 1:21; 1 Cor 2:12-13)” (Feinberg, NOLH, 465). Addressing the role of the Holy Spirit in the Triune Godhead, Geisler denotes that the Holy Spirit is the “Applier of salvation to believers” (Geisler, ST, 549). Thus, one will note the divine nature of the Holy Spirit.

Unity of Three

John Feinberg writes that one finds in the Hebrew within the Old Testament a “linguistic phenomenon [in] the use of plural pronouns to refer to God in various passages” (Feinberg, NOLH, 449). At the baptism of Jesus, one will note the plurality of the members of the Godhead and their divine nature as they are presented in Matthew 3:13-17.

Conclusion

While it took several councils to understand the biblical role of the Triune nature of God, the evidence of the Trinity in the Bible is undeniable. So, along with the early church, one can accept the Nicene Creed which states:

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” (taken from http://christianity.about.com/od/christiandoctrines/qt/thenicenecreed.htm). (Note: “Catholic” in this context does not refer to the denomination, but rather means “universal.”)

Therefore, the Trinity should be accepted as an important doctrine not due to the fact that the Council of Nicaea ruled in such a fashion, but rather because the biblical evidence supports such a view. Concerning the dialogue between the adversary of the Trinity and I ended with no real progress. However, I did warn him that his current views placed him dangerously on the outskirts of Christianity. Hopefully, with prayer and guidance from God, he will come to a more biblically based notion of God.

© 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

 

Bibliography

 

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Feinberg, John. No One Like Him, Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Irenaeus. Against Heresies. In The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1885.

Polycarp. Epistle to the Philippians. In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. Edited by Alesander Roberts and James Donaldson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1885.

Scripture noted HCSB comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.