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  • Writer's pictureDon Walker

Christological Controversies

For the first 500 years of the Church many controversies centered around understanding the nature of Christ. They were well aware of the importance of trying to accurately articulate how Christ could be both God and man. Many ideas, theories, and concepts were put forth and debated. Some, if not most of those views, that were rejected and deemed to be heretical remain with us in one form or another, for instance with the Jehovah Witnesses, the Oneness Pentecostals, and in "liberal" churches. I am providing you here with a very brief summation of the major controversies that were addressed in the first few centuries of the Church.

Docetism (60 -70 A.D.) – Denied that Jesus was truly a man, but only appeared to be a man. This view was considered a form of Gnosticism. This heretical view came about quite early in Church history and appears to be addressed by the Apostle John (I John 4:2-3).

Ebionites (100 A.D.) – Denied the divinity of Christ. Held the position that Jesus was the Messiah, but not God.

Marcionism (140-150 A.D.) – Taught that the God of the Old Testament (Yahweh) was not the Father of Jesus, but a malevolent deity that ruled over the Israelites. This is called a “Ditheistic” view and has at times reemerged in Church history under other names.

Dynamic Monarchianism (250 A.D) – This view is associated with the “Antiochian School” and held that Jesus was born a man but became God. This is called “Adoptionism.” Paul of Samosata, was the Bishop of Antioch that taught this view.

Modalistic Monarchianism, also known as Sabellianism (250 A.D.) – This view can be summarized in this manner: Jesus was the Father, who became the Son, and is now the Holy Spirit. It is a denial of the Trinity. The opposite view is called “Tritheism.”

Arianism (300 A.D) – This view emerged out of the “Antiochian School” and was taught by Arius. This view can be expressed by the words: “There was a time when He (Jesus) was not.” This was a denial of the eternality of Christ. Opposed by Bishop Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius, culminating in the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.)

Appollinarianism (350 A.D) – This view held that Jesus had a human body, but a divine mind. This was a denial of the true humanity of Christ.

Nestorianism (400 A.D.) – This view was an attempt to address the person and nature of Christ. It held that Jesus was “two persons with two natures.” The humanity of Jesus was completely controlled by the divine. In the Nestorian view, the human and divine persons of Christ are separate. Addressed at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.).

Eutychianism, also known as Monophysitism (400 A.D.) – In this view, the human nature is swallowed up by the divine to create a “third nature.” Addressed at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.).

Monothelitism (630 A.D.) – This view can be summarized as: Jesus had two natures, but only one will. Addressed in the Council of Constantinople (681 A.D.).

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