In my previous post on the Nicene Creed, I demonstrated that one can profess the Creed without the need to say that “Greek Philosophy is the grounding” for it. In this post, I would like to look back on a previous statement that I made there and then also demonstrate the Son’s co-eternal nature from Scripture.
In that post, I stated the following:
The only phrases that would give us trouble in finding direct citations from Scripture would be “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God” as well as the general concept of “substance”.
I want to focus specifically on “Light of Light” as it will also help with understanding the others. In my table of Scripture references for the statements in the Nicene Creed, I posted the following 4 passages for that phrase:
- Hebrews 1:3 – He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high
- Psalm 27:1 – The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
- 1 John 1:5 – This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
- John 8:12 – Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
In following the Early Church Fathers, Athanasius for example, we can utilize simple logic (of the 2+2=4 kind – not requiring a full Aristotelian or Platonic system) to demonstrate that Jesus is “light from light”. We can clearly read 3 things from the Scripture passages above – (1) God is light, (2) Jesus is the light, and (3) Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God. The deduction here is that (and this is how the early church saw it as well) light does not exist without its radiance. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is that radiance – a radiance which has always existed because God is light. Not only that, but Jesus is also the light seen in the radiance.
As Athanasius stated:
For the sacred writers have not said that the Word was related to God as fire kindled from the heat of the sun, which after a while goes out, for this is an external work and a creature of its author, but they all preach of Him as Radiance, thereby to signify His being from the Divine substance**, proper and indivisible, and to express His oneness with the Father. This also will secure His true unalterableness and immutability; for how can these be His, unless He be proper Offspring of the Father’s substance? For this too must be taken to confirm His identity with His own Father.Defense of the Nicene Definition
Although the above should suffice, I mentioned that I would also like to demonstrate the Son’s co-eternal nature from Scripture. Some people refer to doing this as an extreme form of “Biblicism” (A common definition of Biblicism used by many would be something like this: “biblicism is approaching the Bible like it fell from the sky to your feet last Tuesday. It’s a rejection of what’s obvious, that we’re not the first to read Scripture nor should we ever read it like we are”) Of course anyone who is familiar with the work here at Alpha and Omega Ministries can tell you that it is an unfounded allegation to even indirectly associate this definition with either us (or anyone else in the current discussions, for that matter). Dr. White consistently directs us to the Church Fathers in pointing out where they were either helpful or wrong. Regardless, I will join Athanasius in proving that the Son is eternal by using a verse from Scripture.
1 Corinthians 1:23-24 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Here Christ is said to be “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” If there was ever a time that God was without power or wisdom, then that would be the time in which Christ did not exist. In the battle against the Arians, there were indeed many times that the Early Church would prove itself to be thoroughly “Biblicists” (in the positive sense of the word!). As Athanasius stated:
The Council wishing to condemn the impious phrases of the Arians, and to use instead the received terms of Scripture, namely, that the Son is not from nothing, but from God, and is the Word and Wisdom and not a creature or work, but the proper Offspring from the Father.Defense of the Nicene Definition
And just to emphasize that this was a common enough interpretation of this verse, we can find Augustine stating it as well:
For Arius himself is reported to have said, that if He is a Son, then He was born; if He was born, there was a time when the Son was not: not understanding that even to be born is, to God, from all eternity; so that the Son is co-eternal with the Father, as the brightness which is produced and is spread around by fire is co-eval with it, and would be co-eternal, if fire were eternal. And therefore some of the later Arians have abandoned that opinion, and have confessed that the Son of God did not begin to be in time. But among the arguments which those on our side used to hold against them who said that there was a time when the Son was not, some were wont to introduce such an argument as this: If the Son of God is the power and wisdom of God, and God was never without power and wisdom, then the Son is co-eternal with God the Father; but the apostle says, “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God;” and a man must be senseless to say that God at any time had not power or wisdom; therefore there was no time when the Son was not.Augustine, The Trinity
As it becomes clear, those in the battle for orthodoxy against the Arian heretics were not afraid to engage them with the proper weapons. As Paul said, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4). The single offensive weapon listed in Ephesians 6 was “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” and we know from Hebrews 4:12 that it is “living and active, sharper than any two edged sword”. That one would want to go into battle with the living Word of God in his sheath was an idea foreign to Scripture – and it was foreign to the early church as well.
** As a footnote I would like to cite Athanasius once again regarding the usage of “substance” and “consubstantiality” in the Nicene Creed. It is in the usage of these terms that we typically see some people claiming that a full understanding of all of the Platonic (and even Aristotelian) notions regarding substances is necessary to properly understand not only the Nicene Creed but even the basic doctrine of the Trinity.
As you will see, the Council wanted to remain as faithful as they could be to the “received terms of Scripture”. However, the Arians were cunning and forced the usage of words not in Scripture because of how they misinterpreted some Scripture passages (as a side note, the Arians were also accused of utilizing words not in Scripture; they were not “Biblicists” as some have claimed). The Nicene Council used “from the substance” and “consubstantial” as they would distinguish Christ from other mere creatures. He also, again, cited this as being in line with “the relation of the radiance to the light” as I mentioned previously.
Here are those last 3 citations from Athanasius.
The Council wishing to condemn the impious phrases of the Arians, and to use instead the received terms of Scripture, namely, that the Son is not from nothing, but from God, and is the Word and Wisdom and not a creature or work, but the proper Offspring from the Father,…Defense of the Nicene Definition
But the Fathers, perceiving their craft and the cunning of their impiety, were forced thereupon to express more distinctly the sense of the words from God. Accordingly, they wrote “from the substance of God,” in order that from God might not be considered common and equal in the Son and in things which are made, but that all others might be acknowledged as creatures, and the Word alone as from the Father. For though all things be said to be from God, yet this is not in the sense in which the Son is from Him;…
therefore the Council, as understanding this, suitably wrote “Consubstantial,” that they might both defeat the perverseness of the heretics, and show that the Word was other than created things. For, after thus writing, they at once added, “But they who say that the Son of God is from nothing, or created, or alterable, or a work, or from other substance, these the Holy Catholic Church anathematises.” And in saying this, they showed clearly that “Of the substance,” and “Consubstantial,” do condemn those impious words, “created,” and “work,” and “brought into being,” and “alterable,” and “He was not before His generation.” And he who holds these contradicts the Council; but he who does not hold with Arius, must needs hold and enter into the decisions of the Council, suitably regarding them to imply the relation of the radiance to the light, and from thence gaining an image of the sacred truth.