What is Arianism?Question: "What is Arianism?"
Answer: Arianism is a heresy named for Arius, a priest and false teacher in the early fourth century AD in Alexandria, Egypt. One of the earliest and probably the most important item of debate among early Christians was the subject of Christ’s deity. Was Jesus truly God in the flesh, or was Jesus a created being? Was Jesus God or not? Arius denied the deity of the Son of God, holding that Jesus was created by God as the first act of creation and that the nature of Christ was anomoios (“unlike”) that of God the Father. Arianism, then, is the view that Jesus is a finite created being with some divine attributes, but He is not eternal and not divine in and of Himself.
Arianism misunderstands biblical references to Jesus’ being tired (John 4:6) and not knowing the date of His return (Matthew 24:36). It may be difficult to understand how God could be tired or not know something, but these verses speak of Jesus’ human nature. Jesus is fully God, but He is also fully human. The Son of God did not become a human being until a specific point of time we call the Incarnation. Therefore, Jesus’ limitations as a human being have no impact on His divine nature or His eternality.
A second major misinterpretation in Arianism concerns the meaning of firstborn as applied to Christ. Romans 8:29 speaks of Christ as “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (see also Colossians 1:15–20). Arians understand firstborn in these verses to mean that the Son of God was “created” as the first act of creation. This is not the case. Jesus Himself proclaimed His self-existence and eternality (John 8:58; 10:30). In Bible times, the firstborn son of a family was held in great honor (Genesis 49:3; Exodus 11:5; 34:19; Numbers 3:40; Psalm 89:27; Jeremiah 31:9). It is in this sense that Jesus is God’s “firstborn.” Jesus is the preeminent Person in God’s plan and the Heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
After nearly a century of debate at various early church councils, the Christian church officially denounced Arianism as a false doctrine. Since that time, Arianism has never been accepted as a viable doctrine of the Christian faith. Arianism has not died out, however. Arianism has continued through the centuries in varying forms. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons of today hold a very Arian-like position on Christ’s nature. Following the example of the early church, we must denounce any and all attacks on the deity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Recommended Resource: The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns
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