What is Arianism?

Question
What is Arianism?
Answer
Is the Son of God really God or just like God? Is Jesus Christ truly God in the flesh? Is the Son of God merely a created being? These are the sorts of questions a 4th century teacher named Arius asked and answered incorrectly. This heresy continues in some form today. In regards to Christ, the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons hold views that are similar to Arianism.

Arius believed that the Son of God was God's first creative act. As opposed to being divine in and of himself, Arius believed the Son of God to be merely a created being with divine attributes; "there was [a time] when he (the Son) was not" (Arius). See "What are the Attributes of God?" below.

Arius misunderstood the truth of Jesus growing (Luke 2:52), getting tired (John 4:6), and not knowing the date of his return (Matt 24:36), as referring to the fact that Jesus Christ is a lesser god than God the Father. See "What is Kenosis?" below. He also did not understand that the Christ of Scripture is God Himself - God the Son, the second member of the Trinity (John 1:1-3; 8:58; 10:30; Rom 9:5; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:1).

In addition, Arius misunderstood the hypostatic union. What is the hypostatic union? The hypostatic union is:

the union of the two natures of Jesus Christ (divine and human) in his one person. Jesus is God in flesh (John 1:1, 14; 10:30-33; 20:28; Phil 2:5-8; Heb 1:8, etc.) and eternal God (Gen 1:1 [plural of God], Gen 1:26 ["us"]; John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2-3, 8-9). Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man (Col 2:9). Therefore, he has two natures: divine and human. Jesus Christ continued to exist fully as God when he added a perfect human nature to himself (Phil 2:5-11). Therefore, there is a union in the one person of Christ of a full human nature and a full divine nature.

Moreover, Arius misunderstood the word "firstborn" (Rom 8:29; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:6, etc.), as meaning that the Son was "created" as God's first act of creation - thereby denying he is the self-existent and immutable God. However, the term "firstborn" doesn't deal with time, but status and position. It refers to the special status of the firstborn as the preeminent son and heir to be held in great honor (Gen 49:3; Exod 11:5; 34:19; Num 3:40; Psa 89:27; Jer 31:9). God the Son is the self-existent God (John 1:1-2; 8:58; 10:30). John 1:1-2 states Jesus was "in the beginning with God."

The Council of Nicaea (AD 325) deemed Arianism to be a heresy and exiled Arius to Illyria. The theological debate reopened at the Synod of Tyre (AD 335), where Arius was restored. However, Arian was again anathemised and pronounced a heretic at the Council of Constantinople (AD 381).

In 2 Corinthians 11:4, Paul informs the Corinthians that the false apostles are proclaiming to them "another Jesus;" i.e., different from the One who exists. Paul pairs that designation with the concept of "a different spirit" and "a different gospel" (2 Cor 11:4). All Christological errors are serious. All are false. All are from the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:3; cf. 1 John 2:22; 2 John 1:7). All lead to and are another gospel, which is no gospel at all (Gal 1:7-9).

Despite all the heresies in the early church (among them, Adoptionism, Albigenses, Apollinarianism, Arianism, Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Kenosis, Marcionism, Modalism, Monarchianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Patripassionism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Socinianism, Subordinationism, and Tritheism, etc.) the Word of God still abides (1 Pet 1:23). Amidst all these assaults against God and his church by numerous false religions, the church has grown stronger, not weaker. In many ways, the church should be thankful for the gift of opposition!

Related Topics:

Could Jesus Sin?
What are the Attributes of God?
Christological Heresies?
What is Adoptionism?
What is Albigenses?
What is Apollinarianism?
What is Docetism?
What is Ebionism?
What is Gnosticism?
What is Kenosis?
What is Marcionism?
What is Modalism?
What is Monarchianism?
What is Monophysitism?
What is Nestorianism?
What is Patripassionism?
What is Pelagianism?
What is Semi-Pelagianism?
What is Socinianism?
What is Subordinationism?
What is Tritheism?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).