Arianism: Origins of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Arianism is a doctrine that was taught by Arius of Alexandrian (ca. 280-336), which viewed preexisted Son of God as a first created creature before and above all other creatures. He is not out of the essence but the will of God the Father.

Arianism perceived pre-existed Son of God as the perfect image of the Father and the executor of God the Father’s thoughts. Thus preexisted Christ Jesus is “capable of being called in a metaphorical sense God, and Logos, and Wisdom.”(Schaff 1997: n.p)

Shedd and Gomes explained that “Arius taught that God created a rational spirit creature called the ‘Son-Logos.’ At the incarnation the created Son-Logos assumed bodily form.”(Shedd & Gomes 2003: 952)

Arius and his fellows, applied Origen’s (ca. 185- ca. 254) teachings, viz., ontological Platonic categories of attributing hypostasis and subordination to God the Father, to an extreme of asserting that only God the Father is “unbegotten, eternal, and without beginning or change. Christ is distinct from God, created out of nothing by the will of God”( Fahlbusch & Bromiley 2003: 121)

Athanasius of Alexandria (ca.295-373) contended that Arianians have contra Scriptura invented a doctrine that asserted:

God was not always a Father, but there was a time when God was not a Father. The Word of God was not always, but originated from things that were not; for God that is, has made him that was not, of that which was not; wherefore there was a time when He was not; for the Son is a creature and a work.( Schaff & Wace 1892: 70)

Athanasius depicted Arianians position that the Son of God is neither like the Father in essence, nor true Wisdom and natural Word of the Father. The Son of God “originated by the proper Word of God, and by the Wisdom that is in God, by which God has made not only all other things but Him also.”(ibid: 70)

Steven Lawson pointed out that “Athanasius mounted his response to Arius by expounding the eternality of the Son. The natures of the Father and of the Son are identical, he said—both are eternal.”(Lawson 2011: 150). Athanasius addressed the difficult passages that Arianians used (Acts 2:36; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:14) and “cites almost all the familiar proof-texts which ascribe to Christ divine names, divine attributes, divine works, and divine dignity […]”(Schaff 1997: n.p)

Arianism was anathematized at the ecumenical council of Nicea (A.D.325) because it destroyed the whole doctrine of salvation, borrowing Athanasius words. As Schaff explained “For if the Son is a creature, man remains still separated, as before, from God; no creature can redeem other creatures, and unite them with God. If Christ is not divine, much less can we be partakers of the divine nature and children of God”(ibid: n.p)

All 318, except Theonas and Secundus of Alexandria, bishops present in Nicaea I, the first ecumenical council summoned by the Emperor Constantine in A.D.325, affirmed the Deity of Christ Jesus(Schaff: 1994: 623-9), namely Jesus is begotten of the Father before all worlds, very God of very God, begotten, not made, and His being is of one substance with the Father. They anathematized the teachings of Arius as heresy.

Reestablishing Arius’ Christology, in our contemporary time, are the followers of Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Question For Jehovah’s Witness:

What Bible passages convinced you that Jesus is not God but angel Michael? Give reasons.

Bibliography

Fahlbusch, E., & Bromiley, G. W. (1999-2003). Vol. 1: The encyclopedia of Christianity (121). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill.

Lawson, S. J. (2011). Vol. 2: Pillars of Grace (AD 100–1564). A Long Line of Godly Men. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing

Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1997). History of the Christian church. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

__________________(1994), History of the Christian Church,Vol. III; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

__________________(1983) The Creeds of Christendom, Volume 1: The History of Creeds. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

__________________(1892) Athanasius Deposition of Arius: A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume IV: St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. 1892 (P. Schaff & H. Wace, Ed.). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic theology (3rd ed.). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

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24 thoughts on “Arianism: Origins of Jehovah’s Witnesses

  1. The Jew Jesus was not thought of to be ‘God’ the supreme by his pupils, nor by himself. Jesus asked people to pray to and worship his Father, who is greater than him, without him he can do nothing, and to whom Jesus was going to after his death (while God can not die, you remember the Elohim being eternal?). Jesus shall handover the Kingdom back to his Father, who is is the most highest, while Jesus was even lower than the angels.
    (Matthew 4:10; John 5:19; 14: 28; 20:17; Hebrews 2:19,14,17; 1 Corinthians 15:28)

    • I recommend a syudy in the two natures of the Messiah; the hypostatic union which is given a brief explanation in Colossians 2:9.
      🙂

  2. (Posted at Ivan’s blog also)
    Hello Prayson,

    I would first like to state that Ivan presented a very good piece to demonstrate that the Biblical precedent is firmly established that whenever we have firstborn followed by a genitive phrase, the firstborn is always in the same class or a part of the following genitive. Do we ever find a case in the Bible where that is not true when that syntax is present?

    Further, do we ever find a case in the scriptures, when we have that same syntax, where firstborn is ever presented without the element of being \”first\”? Even if we find cases where preeminence is insinuated or carried with it, is the \”first one born\” element EVER removed? I find none. Even verse 18 of Colossians in no way removes the element of \”first born\”, even if it does contain an element of \”status\” or preeminence.

    But even if we were to surrender to that idea of status only, the phrase still demands that the firstborn is part of the order of creation. Jesus then would simply be the preeminent creation.The reason we know this to be true is by means of the above mentioned Biblical precedent. Again, whenever we have firstborn followed by a genitive phrase, the firstborn always belongs to the same group or class as the following genitive, so in reality, if we stick to the Biblical pattern as our guide, there can be no question as to whether Christ is part of the created order.

    Biblical precedent and pattern thoroughly resolves this issue despite any attempt at eisegesis to overturn it. What one needs to show to start with is Biblical exceptions to the above finding. Without that, the discussion is done before it starts.

    Again, good job, Ivan.

    Regards,
    Rotherham

  3. Hi, Prayson:

    I’ve finally posted my blog on Firstborn. Sorry for the delay.

    Best,
    Ivan

    • Hello Ivan,

      Thank you for a wonderful research. I believe, Ivan, I could reply your apologia in three ways.

      1. I could agree that firstborn in Col. 1:15-16 is used in the order of time as in a child who is born first(e.g. Luke 2:7 Jesus is prōtotokos of Mary) but point out that this interpretation align with v. 18 which means it only applies to the human nature of Christ, who is the Logos who was in form of God taking form of servant(man) as we read in Phil 2.

      This reading will not only make sense of v. 18 but also verses 19-22 and in addition Roman 8:29.

      2. I could point out that the meaning of the word prōtotokos is to be found in the context surround it. We look at how Paul use the term in that given letter, then to other letter, then outside Paul’s writing. But to understand Paul, it is best to begin with Paul own letter and in Col. 1 I believe we can understand how Paul used prōtotokos. We agreed, Ivan, that prōtotokos is used in OT and NT in the sense of order in time(you did a marvelous job collecting verses here) or order in status(Isa. 14:30, Ps 88:28 LXX (=Ps 89:27 ESV), Israel as a nation (Exodus 4:22); Ephraim(Jer. 31:9).)

      Evidences, Ivan, that favors the use in sense of status are:

      1. Everything in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, thrones, dominions , rulers, authorities were made for Him
      2. He is the head of the body, the church.
      3. Preeminent over everything that was made.

      3. I could argued it systematically, namely comparing doxology of Roman 11: 36 and Col. 1:16

      Paul wrote:

      For from(ἐκ) him[God] and through(διά) him and to(εἰς) him are all things v.36a

      For by(ἐν or also “in” is right rendering) him[Jesus] all things were created […]all things were created through(διά)him and for(εἰς) him. v.16

      This shows that Jesus is a Creator in this given passage and not among the created things. This reading will make sense of John 1:3, “All things were made through(διά) him, and without(χωρίς chōris; see John 15:4-5) him was not any thing made that was made.” No Logos, no any thing that is of made category.

      I think, Ivan, that Col. 1:15-16 is not a strong position( or If I could be more provocative to say wrong position) to hold that Logos was first created by God the Father.

      Share me your thought, Ivan.

      Thank you Ivan.

      Prayson

  4. Pingback: Firstborn « Seek First His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33)

  5. Prayson:

    If you wouldn’t mind, I will be posting a blog soon better articulating my position, and so, those who would see this text similarly to me, namely, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Hopefully this will provide a better understanding of my and their positions. Thanks.

    • I am looking forward to read and understand your position better Ivan. Thank you so much for a wonderful Christ-like dialogue.

      Be blessed Ivan.

      In Christ,
      Prayson

  6. Prayson:

    Yes. However, as I’ve tried to emphasize, there is more than a meaning of a word that is involved but the meaning of an expression in the genitive.

    Best,
    Ivan

  7. Hej Ivan,

    Thank you for reading my other paper. Ivan, we have to remember that “of” is an additional english word to make sense of the traslation. One could agree that “firstborn of …” applies to Logos incarnated, as Logos took on flesh to became part of His creation.

    That reading will make sense of Col. 1:18, and echoes some of early Christians understanding namely, “[Jesus Christ the God who bestowed such wisdom] is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, but Son of God by the Divine will and power”(Ignatius of Antioch) and “in one respect born, in the other unborn, in one respect fleshly in the other spiritual; in one sense weak in the other exceeding strong; in one sense dying, in the other living. This property of the two states—the divine and the human—is distinctly asserted with equal truth of both natures alike, with the same belief both in respect of the Spirit and of the flesh. The powers of the Spirit, proved Him to be God, His sufferings attested the flesh of man”(Tertullian(c.160-225 A.D.), trans. Roberts, Donaldson & Coxe 1885: 525)

    I believe that Paul uses firstborn as understood in ancient Judaism, viz., order in position/status/priority/rank, in respect to inheritence and dearness to the father( e.g. Isaac, Jacob/Israel Exo.4.23) and less likely in the sense of order in time.

    We have to keep in mind that in Ancient Near East contextual culture, the first-born was not necessarily the oldest child. I also think Roman 8:29 ” in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” increases the probability that Paul used firstborn in Old Testament sense.

    What reasons made you, Ivan, believe that “firstborn of …” applies also to pre-existent Jesus? And if Davidic kingship-reading applies to Col. 1:18 does it not make it more likely that it does also in Col. 1:15?

    In Christ,
    Prayson

    • Hello, Prayson:

      While firstborn could denote status or rank in respect to the Father’s inheritance, this is by virtue of being the eldest of all the sons. The eldest son, that is, the one born first, would be heir to the inheritance. However, if that firstborn disgraced his father or their family’s name then those rights could be stripped and given to another. In this case, another son would be “firstborn,” not literally, but figuratively as possessing that heirship.

      So while firstborn could be used in a figurative sense, it never does so without an allusion to the real firstborn’s rights. For example, Deuteronomy 21:17 defines the firstborn as “the beginning of [a man’s] strength,” with “strength” referring to one’s generative powers. (cf Genesis 49:3)

      In Romans 8:29, Jesus was the “firstborn” or first one raised among many brothers to immortal life. So even here firstborn carries the meaning of “first one.” There are numerous other examples of firstborn being used in this way.

      The Septuagint refers to the firstborn of various animals (Gen. 4:4; Ex. 34:19; Num. 18:17; Deut. 15:19) and of men (Ex. 22:29; Num. 3:40; Neh. 10:36). The word carries the plain sense of one who is ‘born first.’ This same thought is carried over into the New Testament where Jesus is identified as the firstborn of Mary, the first child that she bore (Mat. 1:25; Luke 2:7). Outside of the Bible both Josephus and Clement tell of Abel giving “the firstborn of sheep” as a sacrifice (Ant. 1:53; 1Clem. 4:1). Josephus speaks of the firstborn children that were killed in Egypt (Ant. 2:313), which is universally understood to be the children born first to their parents.

      As for Colossians 1:15, the problem with reading David’s kingship into it is that David’s kingship was by virtue of appointment not by birthright. Jesus in Colossians 1:15 is not appointed as firstborn, taking away the rights from the real firstborn, but is himself the firstborn.

      Best,
      Ivan

  8. Hello, Prayson:

    I appreciate you sharing your views with me and presenting me with your paper. The main issue interpreting Colossians 1:15 in light of Psalms 89:7 is that Jesus is nowhere said to be appointed as firstborn in Colossians 1:15. Rather, Jesus was appointed or became the firstborn in the resurrection (Col 1:18) and so this Davidic Psalm seems more pertinent here, rather than in 15.

    My main point is not in the meaning of firstborn but with the phrase “firstborn of…” The genitive is key. Whenever someone is the “firstborn of..”, that one is part of the group.

    Are you aware of an instance where someone who is the “firstborn of…” is not part of the group so identified?

  9. Prayson:

    In part because they speak of Jesus as a temporal, not an infinite, being. Both Colossians 1 and Revelation 3 speak of Jesus’ origin, yet God is without one.

    • Hej Ivan,

      I believe if these passages shows that Pre-existent Jesus had an origin, the it would logically follow that He is not God.

      Could you be loving, Ivan, to explain what reason led you to believe that these passages shows that pre-existent Jesus has an origin?

      Prayson

      • Prayson:

        In particular, the partitive genitive phrase “firstborn of…” leads me to believe and so to teach others, that Jesus has an origin. When one is said to be the firstborn of something, that one is necessarily part of that group, which in the case of Colossians 1:15 is “all creation.”

        Could you address, Prayson, why Jesus should be excluded as part of “all creation” given the genitive?

        Best,
        Ivan

      • Hej Ivan,

        Thank you for pointing that the partitive genitive phrase “prōtotoko/firstborn” led you to believe that Jesus had an origin.

        I did a research paper awhile ago and publish it on February 3rd; “How is Christ Jesus the Firstborn?”, to which I attempted to show that is reasonable to think that Paul was showing that Christ Jesus is the promised most exalted Davidic King, the one in Ps 89:27 “I will also appoint him my firstborn (πρωτότοκον), the most exalted of the kings of the earth,” the Lord of all creation because all things were created through him and for him.

        I also attempt to argue that regardless of which reading of “prōtotoko/firstborn”, namely first in order of time or
        first in order of place/rank, it does not follow that pre-existent Jesus had a beginning/origin.

        What is your, Ivan, understand of “prōtotoko/firstborn”?

        Prayson

  10. If I could rephrase the question, “What Bible passages convinced you that Jesus is not God but angel Michael?” to “What Bible passages convinced you that Jesus is not God but God’s pre-existent Son?”, I would answer Proverbs 8:22-31, Colossians 1:!5, and Revelation 3:14.

    Best,
    Ivan

    • Thank you Ivan,

      We all agree, Ivan, that Christ Jesus is not the Father but the Son. What I am enquiring is reasons why these passages led you to believe Pre-existent Jesus is not God?

      In Christ,
      Prayson

      • Hello, Prayson:

        I never hinted that Jesus is the Father so why this is brought up is unclear. My point was that these 3 texts speak of Jesus as pre-existent yet temporal.

        • Hej Ivan,

          I am dearly sorry I assumed when you wrote Jesus is not God, but pre-existent Son of God. My bad.

          Could you help me, Ivan, understand why these three passages lead you to believe Jesus is not God?

          Prayson

  11. Please! Never stop this ministry. It is servants like you Prayson who were used by God to bring me out of the Jehovah’s Witness cult. It was men like you who compelled me to truely read the Scriptures without the Watchtower filters. Once an Arian Henotheist to a trinitarian who now counts the 25 years in the Watchtower as a blessing to serve with the Lord’s house.

    Praise Christ!
    kenny

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