dear ephesus
3/7/13 at 05:19 PM 0 Comments

Did Christians Always Worship Jesus?

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From an etching of the Council of Nicaea

I recently spoke with a Muslim missionary. During that conversation, he said something that can catch Christians off guard the first time they hear it:

Early Christians did not worship Jesus as God until the fourth century.

This is something that Jehovah's Witnesses also teach. More recently, the idea was popularized in mainstream culture with Dan Brown's Angles & Demons.

The idea goes that early Christians revered Jesus as the Son of God, but not God himself. Then, in 325CE, the powerful Christian church married the Roman Empire and changed a core doctrine - the divinity of Jesus. Thus, with Christianity as the "official religion" of Rome, Christians began to worship Jesus as both the Son of God and God himself.

"So early Christianity," said the Muslim missionary, "was actually more 'Islamic' than Christianity post-fourth century."

Jesus isn't God. He never was - it's just a lie.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 325CE?

What happened in the fourth century that made Christians "start" worshipping Jesus as God?

Well... nothing, actually. They had been worshipping him as God well before three hundred years after His death, burial, and resurrection.

The reason the Muslim missionary believed otherwise is simply a misunderstanding of the Council of Nicaea in 325CE.

The Islamic, Jehovah's Witness, and Angels & Demons version of this council goes as follows:

  • Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian
  • Constantine then calls the Council of Nicaea (a meeting of all the Christian leaders throughout the empire)
  • He makes the powerful Christian religion the official faith of the Roman Empire
  • Constantine commissioned the Bible to be created
  • Jesus is officially identified as God and worshipped

What actually happened:

  • Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian
  • Seeking to unify a divided empire, he makes Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire
  • He enables the first ever global meeting of Christians - after three hundred years of sporadic persecution
  • No commission of the Bible was called - it was pretty much already in place, since they used Scripture to discuss theological points at the council
  • The idea of Jesus as a created being is condemned - the majority view of Jesus as God is upheld

In the end, Christians had been worshipping Jesus from day one.

HOW SHOULD I RESPOND?

So, what if you are met with this objection about Jesus? What if someone told you that they believe Jesus was not considered God until the fourth century? I would suggest drawing the conversation towards these three points:

1.) The first Christian martyr recorded in history (ca. 35CE) asked his Lord Jesus to receive his spirit - something only God could do. [Acts 7:59] This was well before 325CE. And by well, I mean 290 years.

"But," they may respond, "since this is from the Bible, suppose Christians changed the texts sometime in the past."

2.) Early Christian writings and letters, written hundreds of years before the Council of Nicaea, are saturated in the admiration of Jesus as God. 1 Corinthians 8:6 is a prime example, which New Testament scholar Dr. James Dunn (University of Durham) believes is “mind-blowing” in its attribution of “divine agency” to Jesus.[1]

"Again, this evidence is from the Bible," - regardless of the fact that we can verify original content far greater than other ancient writings - "I don't trust the Bible."

3.) There is ample extra-Biblical evidence that supports Christian worship of Jesus as God well before the Council of Nicaea in 325CE. One such piece of evidence is from The Didache.

From Robot Jesus and Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew:

"The Didache is a well–known document used by early Christians as a sort of guide for the early Christian faith. The Didache, from the Greek for ‘instructions,’ was passed around from home to home or church to church much like the four Gospels and Paul’s letters were before the Bible was formed.

It contains instructions on how to baptize new believers, stating that the baptizer should, “baptize in running water, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The source of this quote may be found in the Gospel of Matthew, which was written closer to the time of Jesus. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The name in which Jesus instructed Christians to baptize new disciples is a trinitarian title for God. Notice that we are not called to baptize in the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the name, singular.

If the early church taught that God was a separate god from Jesus or even the Holy Spirit, then why copy the trinitarian title for God in Matthew into your instruction manual? The Didache is clear evidence of the Trinity outside of the Bible in the early church."

At the end of the day, Christians have been worshipping Jesus as God since the day they witnessed His resurrection.

And there's good reason for that - He lived a blameless life, preached the good news, died at the hands of both religious people and bad government, then rose again to prove for us that His good news really is good.

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[1] James D. G. Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence, (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 110.

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Kyle Beshears lives in Cambridge, England, is the author of Robot Jesus and Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew and blogs at Dear Ephesus on church issues and apologetics.

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