The Deity of Christ, A Constantinian Conspiracy?
Stumble down the cobweb covered corridors of the internet where conspiracy theories abound and you will certainly encounter those who claim Jesus wasn’t considered divine or worshipped prior to the First Council of Nicaea. Within various religious groups on Facebook or on YouTube channels men and women go to great lengths to deny the divinity of Christ; that He is God and pre-existed the incarnation. There one will be presented with various assertions that Constantine invented and pushed the idea of Christ as God as a means of controlling the populace.
To the unstudied these claims can be problematic; zeal is often mistaken for truth, baseless assertion for well researched evidence.
In this edition of Idol Killer we will be tackling the issue of Christ’s divinity, assuming the positive position. However, rather than build our argument solely upon Scripture (something we will save for another edition), we will be using the extra-Biblical historical record to demonstrate irrefutable evidence that the early Church regarded Christ as divine and worshipped Him – well before Constantine and Nicaea.
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius (35-108 AD) was an early Christian writer and bishop of Antioch. Moreover, he was an early martyr, choosing to die for his faith in Christ. Throughout his seven letters, Ignatius explicitly calls Jesus God a total of sixteen times, affirming he is the invisible, timeless one, who through the incarnation came to deliver us.
“Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fullness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory, being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, OUR GOD: Abundant happiness through Jesus Christ, and His undefiled grace.”
This is a popular theme he would often repeat, “Jesus Christ, our God”.
“Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the BLOOD OF GOD (a reference to Christ), ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you.”
“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.”
Pliny the Younger
Pliny (61–113 AD) was a lawyer, author and magistrate of Ancient Rome. He wrote hundreds of letters, some to reigning emperors and some to other officials and historians such as Tacitus.
“They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn TO CHRIST, AS TO A GOD, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”
Lucian of Samosata
Lucian (125–180 AD) was a Syrian satirist and rhetorician. In his satirical letter The Passing of Peregrinus, we see a critical pagan source confirm that early Christians were worshipping Jesus as the one God.
“The Christians, you know, WORSHIP a man to this day - the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. …You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains their contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their ORIGINAL LAWGIVER that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and WORSHIP THE CRUCIFIED SAGE, and live after HIS LAWS. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.”
Celsus was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of early Christianity. His On The True Doctrine, written 175-177 AD, is the earliest known comprehensive criticism of Christianity. There he accuses Jesus of having "invented his birth from a virgin," and rebukes Him saying:
"born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these PROCLAIMED HIMSELF A GOD."
While this is but a brief and incomplete accounting of early extra-Biblical references to Christ’s divinity, it nevertheless serves as irrefutable proof that the belief of Christ as God not only predates Nicaea and Constantine, but is foundational to Christianity itself.