What is Socinianism?Question: "What is Socinianism?"
Answer: Socinianism is an unorthodox form of non-trinitarianism that was developed around the same time as the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) by Italian humanist Lelio Sozzini and later promulgated by his cousin, Fausto Sozzini. In modern times Socinianism has been referred to as psilanthropism, the view that Jesus was merely human (from the Greek psilo meaning “merely/only” and anthropos meaning “man/human being”), a view rejected by the First Council of Nicaea.
The Socinians held to a rationalistic approach to Scripture and to faith. This philosophical approach, especially in regard to biblical doctrine, declares that all religious matters must be fully reconcilable with human reason, and that theological matters pertaining to the nature of God cannot be beyond the finite understanding of the human mind. This idea clearly contradicts the Bible, which affirms the supernatural essence of God and the impossibility of the finite mind fully comprehending the infinite (Job 9:10; Isaiah 55:8-11; Romans 11:33).
The Socinians rejected the historic, orthodox beliefs concerning the nature of God, especially His omniscience. They rejected the doctrine of the Trinity in favor of Unitarianism, a belief system they promoted in their “Catechism of Unitarians” (1574). They also rejected the orthodox belief of the divinity of Jesus Christ, as summarized in the Racovian Catechism of 1605, and held to the view that the Son of God did not exist until He was born a man. The Bible, however, makes it clear that Jesus is the pre-existing second Person of the Trinity (John 1:1, 17:5; Hebrews 1:8-12).
The Socinians also developed one of the earliest forms of the heterodox belief known today as open theism as they believed God only knew necessary truths (what will come to pass) but not contingent truths (what might possibly come to pass) in order to explain how man could retain his free will in light of God being all-knowing. Again, this is contrary to scriptural passages such as Psalm 33:11, Isaiah 14:24, and Isaiah 46:10, which affirm God’s sovereignty over all events from before time began.
Lastly, the Socinians rejected the propitiatory view of the atonement , the orthodox biblical doctrine stating that the sacrifice of Christ fully satisfied God’s wrath towards His people (Isaiah 53:10-11). Socinians favor what is called the “example theory” of the atonement, the theory that Christ bore the sins of His people on the cross only in the sense that His sacrifice served to incite us to abandon our sins. The Racovian Catechism, under the heading of “Refutation of the Vulgar Doctrine about the Satisfaction of Christ for Our Sins,” states, “And I affirm that he did not make satisfaction for our sins to the divine justice . . . nor was there any need that he should make satisfaction” (De Servatore, ch. 1). In this unscriptural view, Christ only became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and a curse (Galatians 3:13) for His people in the sense that He sacrificed Himself merely to motivate people to repent and believe. The Scriptures teach that Christ’s sacrifice was a perfect guilt offering (Isaiah 53:10) for the sins of His people through which God justified the ungodly (Romans 3:26) and guaranteed the justification of the many who would believe (Isaiah 53:11; Romans 3:30). In other words, Socinians believe Christ came not to save His people from their sins, but to make them savable, and the rest is up to them. This is nothing more than another works-based salvation theory.
Socinianism, as well as all heterodox Unitarian theological beliefs, is irreconcilable with what God has personally revealed to us in His Word. Socinianism rejects the clear, revealed teaching of the triune nature (Matthew 28:19 John 1:1, 14:26) of the one, true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10, 44:6). It rejects the clear, revealed teaching that the Son of God has existed since the foundation of the world (John 17:4; Hebrews 1:8-12; Revelation 13:8). It rejects the clear, revealed teaching that God is truly omniscient (all-knowing), that He is an omnipresent being that knows every event that will ever occur (Job 37:16; Psalm 33:11, 147:5; Isaiah 14:24, 46:10; Acts 15:18). Most erroneously, it rejects the clear, revealed teaching that the sacrifice of Christ fully satisfied the wrath of God and that Christ drank every last bit from the cup of God’s wrath against the sins of His people (Isaiah 53; Matthew 1:21). As such, the teachings of Socinianism should be rejected, and those who hold to this theological viewpoint should be prayed for in the hope that God, if He is willing, will open their hearts and minds to understand the truth He has revealed to us in His Word and through the Holy Spirit.
Recommended Resource: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns
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