What was the stance of Arius on John 1:1?
Did Arius believe that Jesus was a creature, a created god? What did he write about John 1:1? Or if there is no such extant manuscript, how would he have interpreted "the Word was God" in John 1:1 based on his Christology?
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God. John 1:1 (ESV)
It is not true to say that “Arius believed that Jesus was a creature, a created god,” as if He is one among many.
“Many summary accounts present the Arian controversy as a dispute over
whether or not Christ was divine.” (LA, 13) However, “it is misleading
to assume that these controversies were about ‘the divinity of
Christ’” (LA, 14)
- LA = Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its legacy, 2004. Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University in the United
“A second approach that we need to reject treats the fourth-century
debates as focusing on the question of whether to place the Son on
either side of a clear God/creation boundary.” (LA, 4)
If Arius described the Son as a created being, so did many of his ‘orthodox’ predecessors. For example:
H. R. Boer (A Short History of the Early Church, p108-110) states that
“Justin and the other Apologists therefore taught that the Son is a
creature. He is a high creature, a creature powerful enough to create
the world but, nevertheless, a creature.”
“Both Dionysius of Alexandria and Theognostus use a terminology of
‘creating’ as one among a range of terms, and we simply cannot be
certain how this was heard in third-century Alexandria.” (LA, 49)
For a further discussion, see - Christ’s Divinity
With respect to the Son, ‘Arians’ believed as follows:
- He is the only being ever to be begotten directly by the Father.
- As the Mediator between God and man, He is the only being able to come directly into God’s presence, as all other beings would disintegrate.
- He created all things.
- Therefore, He is God of all things and worshiped by all things. He is our God; just like the Father is His God.
It was Arius’ enemies who, distorting Arius’ writings, claimed that Arius taught that the Son is a created being. See - Did Arius describe Jesus Christ as a Created Being?
Arius Not Important
We only have about five pages of Arius’ own writings (about 3 letters). Consequently, we do not have anything about what he himself wrote on John 1:1 specifically.
One possible reference is where Arius wrote: The Father “gave him existence alongside himself” (RH, 7). Perhaps this refers to John 1:1, which says, “The Word was with God.”
RH = Bishop R.P.C. Hanson The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God
– The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987
However, Arius was not important. Contrary to what is popularly believed, Arius was not the leader of the anti-Nicenes of the fourth century. For example, these anti-Nicenes never quoted him. Again, it was the pro-Nicenes who distorted the truth by tarnishing their opponents as “Arians,” claiming that anti-Nicenes were followers of Arius.
Eusebius of Caesarea “was universally acknowledged as the most scholarly bishop of his day” (RH, 46). He “was certainly an early supporter of Arius” (RH, 46) but he was not a follower of Arius. In the fourth century, he was the real theological leader of the anti-Nicenes. We may, therefore, appropriately refer to the anti-Nicenes as ‘Eusebians’.
This might surprise the reader, but “John 1:1 … is used by Eusebius of Caesarea to express his doctrine of the Logos before the outbreak of the dispute.” (RH, 835)
In Eusebian thinking, John 1:1 describes two distinct Persons; God and the Logos (“and the Word was with God”). And since there cannot be two Ultimate Realities; only one of them is the Ultimate Reality:
“The Logos could not represent ultimate metaphysical reality ('He who
is') because 'He who is' cannot be 'with' Him who is; they cannot both
represent ultimate reality” (RH, 835). Or, “the two (God and the
Logos) are placed side by side” (RH, 390).
For the Arians, the “beginning” refers to the creation of all things. Firstly, God had no beginning. Therefore, it cannot refer to God’s beginning. Secondly, John 1:2-3 explicitly refers to the creation of all things, which links these verses to the creation account in Genesis 1.
Similar to John 1:1, Arius and the other Eusebians did refer to the Son as theos. For example:
The ‘Dedication’ Creed
In 341 a group of bishops present in Antioch “to dedicate a church built by the Emperor Constantius” (RH, 290) formulated what is known as the Dedication Creed. This creed refers explicitly to John 1:1 and refers to the Son as “God” (theos in Greek). It described Him as:
“God from God … who was in the beginning with God, God the Word
according to the text in the Gospel, ‘and the Word was God’, by whom
all things were made, and in whom all things exist
Richard Hanson wrote:
“[The Dedication Creed] represents the nearest approach we can make to
discovering the views of the ordinary educated Eastern bishop who was
no admirer of the extreme views of Arius but who had been shocked and
disturbed by the apparent Sabellianism of Nicaea.” (RH, 290)
But this creed also describes the Son as subordinate to the Father. Athanasius coined the term ‘Arian’ to tar his opponents, who were not followers of Arius, as followers of a theology that the church already rejected. See Athanasius invented Arianism or The Creation of ‘Arianism’.
The Council of Serdica
As another example, at the Council of Serdica (AD 343), the ‘easterners’ (those whom Athanasius identified as 'Arians') issued a statement that anathematizes “those who say. . .that Christ is not God.”
The term theos
Since the ‘easterners’ regarded the Son both as "God" and as subordinate to the Father, Lewis Ayres says:
This “reminds us of the variety of ways in which the term ‘God’ could
be deployed at this point.” (LA, 124) (LA = Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and
its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004)
“The word theos or deus, for the first four centuries of the existence
of Christianity had a wide variety of meanings. There were many
different types and grades of deity in popular thought and religion
and even in philosophical thought.” (Hanson Lecture)
God and theos
In the Bible and in the early Greek writers, theos is NOT equivalent to the modern word "God:"
The word theos was used for beings with different levels of divinity.
The term theos was originally used for the Greek gods and goddesses
and describes an immortal being with supernatural power. The Son of
God, therefore, may most certainly be described as “theos.” In
English, therefore, when not referring to the Father or the Son, theos
is translated as “god.”
In contrast, in English, the word “God” is used only for the Ultimate
Reality. Ancient Greek did not have an equivalent word.
The translation of John 1:1 “and the Word was God,” with a capital “G,” therefore ASSUMES that the Son is the Ultimate Reality. Given the meaning of theos as described, this is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof of the Trinity doctrine.
I would not translate John 1:1 as “and the Word was God” but would definitely also not translate it as "the Word was a god" because that would imply He is one among many. Unfortunately, the Trinity doctrine has determined the vocabulary of the English language in this regard. It only has the words "God" and "god." English does not have a word for a Being like the Son, who was begotten from the being of Father to have many of God’s attributes, such as to have life in Himself and to maintain all things by the word of God's power.
See - Did the church fathers describe Jesus as "god" or as "God?"
So, there are two called theos in John 1:1. We see the same in John 20 and Hebrews 1:8-9. In both those passages, the Son is called theos but the Father is called His theos (His God). Despite this, the standard translation, because it assumes the Trinity doctrine, translates theos in these two instances, when referring to the Son, as "God."