Questions for Brandon E: #4 Why Was There No Christological Controversy in the Apostolic Age?

This is the fourth in a series of questions for Brandon E which began with this first question.

Ever since the apostolic age there have been controversies about the nature of Christ.  Some scholars have high Christologies, considering Him God.  Others consider Him only a man.  And then there are all the confusions and disagreements between Trinitarianism, Unitarianism, Tritheism, Modalism, and so on.  And yet, for example, the apostles could write letters that begin with “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” with nary a sign throughout the rest of the epistles that any of the recipients were left wondering about the nature of Christ and how to understand Him vis-a-vis God.  Why do you think there were no Christological controversies during the apostolic age?

14 Replies to “Questions for Brandon E: #4 Why Was There No Christological Controversy in the Apostolic Age?”

  1. There were Christological controversies in the apostolic ages. For example, Docetists or proto-gnostics taught that the Lord Jesus wasn’t a genuine man but simply appeared to be so, because they held that the material flesh is negative, corrupt, and evil, John combated this in His gospel and epistles, saying that He came in the flesh. From history we have evidence that there were early Jewish sects in the first century that held that Jesus was the messiah, but denied that He was God. Of course, the apostolic Scriptures also show that Jesus is not simply a genuine and sinless man but is God. Why were there more controversies later? Because later persons like Sabellius or Arius started teaching new controversial things.

  2. The controversies of which you speak, that were referenced by the apostle John, occurred as part of the apostasy at the end of the apostolic age. I agree that all sorts of strange doctrines began to hold sway during that time (Diotrephes wouldn’t even listed to John himself!)…and beyond, for it continues even to today (Sabellius and Arius being but two examples from many along the way). Apostasy has defined the church ever since it first refused the kingdom and chose itself. My question was about the period of time before the apostasy when the church was still subject to the apostles. Why was there no Christological controversy among the apostles? They certainly demonstrated themselves capable of disagreeing, just as they also demonstrated themselves capable of resolving their disagreements.

    1. Why was there no Christological controversy among the apostles?

      Because they were genuine apostles, the ones writing New Testament Scripture, not whoever was interpreting them years later?

      I’ve already discussed with you last month that in the early church there was plenty of problems and wrong concepts, with regard to Jewish religion (Galatians, Hebrews; Acts 20), Greek philosophy (Colossians), with immorality and the claim that there was no bodily resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians), with the apostle Paul having to contend with “super-apostles,” etc. It wasn’t an ideal church, even a good deal before you claim the kingdom invisibly came. The apostle Paul said that he had no one like-souled, for “For all seek their own things, not the things of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:21). And the prophesied “apostasy” never predicts that the entire church would fall away. Paul speaks of “some” departing from the faith.

  3. But their disciples had to interpret the apostles’ letters. Why do you think those disciples were not perplexed by the same Christological issues that have perplexed believers since that generation?

    1. Those believers did not just have the apostles’ letters, as if that’s all they had and needed to interpret them on their own or as individuals, but they had living apostles who visited them and spoke with them in person, as their own letters indicate.

      And why do you think that they weren’t or couldn’t be at all perplexed, or otherwise not clear? Why would, say, the apostles have bothered to tell them to not be defrauded concerning the self-chosen lowliness and worship of angels (Col. 2:18), if they were entirely clear about the Lord Jesus’ person and work? And if no one was teaching at that time the same controversial things concerning the person and nature of Christ that came about later, because those took later to develop, why should be expect the early believers in the churches to be wrestling then with the same explicit issues that came later?

  4. 1) In 1 Corinthians Paul is answering a host of questions that the believers in Corinth had. In striking contrast to all the ages since then, they apparently had no questions about who Jesus was.

    2) They were not entirely clear about His work, nor were they entirely clear on how to live a life that pleased Him in every respect, but there was no confusion about who He was.

    1. I thought you previously indicated that the apostles presented the Father and the Son (“God” and the “Lord”) as separate beings or persons, and that the truth that the Lord Jesus was God (or as you claim, that the Father had previously “become” the Son and had ceased to be the Father), was not to be really revealed until the second coming?

    1. But before that time, they weren’t clear about this? What did they believe about the Father and the Son? Were they entirely clear about Christ’s identity as God?

  5. I’ll leave that discussion for another day. What I’d you to ask yourself – or rather ask God – is why there was such peace among the apostles and disciples about the identity of Jesus when it is an issue that has been marked by controversy in every generation since.

    1. I believe I’ve already answered that. In the first century the church had the apostles in person and letter to submit to in teaching. It was not until the apostolic Scriptures had been completed, and persons who came along later could not understand how Jesus could be God and came up with new controversial teachings to “explain it” all that the later controversies arose and had to be addressed.

      I would also say that–like many other matters in Scripture–for the apostles and believers in the first century, the Father, Son, and Spirit as the same God was primarily a reality to be lived in, not primarily a doctrine or theology to be held. Should they see that the Father, Son, and Spirit existed at the same time as the same God (the One who indwelled them), the name into which the Lord commanded us to baptize all the nations (Matt. 28:19), they did not have to explain it before they could receive this, experience this, and live this.

  6. In your first paragraph, you answered only why the apostles weren’t confused about this subject. You haven’t addressed why their disciples seem never to be confused. And, again, you don’t have to answer me; just think about it.

    In your second paragraph, you are suggesting that first century people grasped intuitively a non-intuitive concept. And that subsequent generations needed church councils and creeds to promulgate and protect truth that the first generation did not even need to be taught. If you weren’t so bound to your tradition, you’d see how ludicrous such a suggestion is.

    1. 1) I have thought about it, and answered you already. The apostles weren’t just clear in themselves; the disciples had the living apostles in person and in letter, such that they could submit to whatever they revealed. They weren’t trying to interpret or reason about the Scriptures outside fellowship with the apostles, or after the apostles had died. Maybe if you would tell me what you think I should say, that would help?

      Your own view has it had yet to be revealed that Jesus was God, and thus that the church did not have this truth. So what did they think about the Father and the Son, or about the Son’s deity? Were they confused? Mistaken?

      Much of the history of doctrinal controversy is that people came up with new controversial ideas (to think in a certain way about a topic) that others simply had not thought up themselves or had not publicized. Before then, people simply didn’t really think about it in that way. It was not until the new ways of thinking were introduced that people began thinking about these new ideas and wanting a solution or explanation for the new issues that came up.

      2) The Father, Son, and Spirit existing at the same time as the same God and indwelling the believers is a simple concept, though we cannot fully comprehend it (the same for the concept of “God” or the incarnation, which non-believers or skeptics have argued are non-intuitive concepts). When people later in the 2nd to 4th centuries began teach new ideas, like that the Father and the Son did not exist at the same time (not what the apostles taught), that the Son was a separate being from the Father and thus not truly “God” (not what the apostles taught), or that the divine Christ and human Jesus were separate beings (not what the apostles taught), then others then saw a need to respond to these new issues using the language of their time (as we do today), but not before the new concepts were introduced. What is ludicrous about my suggestion?

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