Know Your Trinitarian Heresies (Part 2)

This will be our second look at a historical, heterodox understanding of the trinitarian God of Christianity, in an attempt to clarify our own understanding and guard ourselves against harmful doctrine. Once again, be sure to try to articulate for yourself precisely what is problematic about this teaching.

Today’s trinitarian heresy goes by the name of Adoptionism (or dynamic monarchism). The most formidable historic proponent of Adoptionism was a bishop known as Paul of Samosata, who was bishop of Antioch, which was located in modern day Syria, in the middle of the 3rd century. Paul of Samosata wanted to maintain a strict view of the “oneness” of God, like Sabellius (see yesterday’s post), but he went about it quite differently. To put it simply, he believed that Jesus was a man of unusual virtue or closeness to God who was adopted into divine sonship by the Father prior to the beginning of his ministry (at his baptism by John in the Jordan). Thus, For Paul of Samosata, the difference between Jesus and other men was simply one of degree of divinity, rather than any difference instrinsic to their being.

Adoptionism has come to be in vogue again among many liberal theologians, because it does not require something as strange as the incarnation of God to explain what Jesus is. How does this view differ from orthodox trinitarianism? Is there anything inherently dangerous about this view?

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2 thoughts on “Know Your Trinitarian Heresies (Part 2)”

  1. Of course the most dangerous implication of this view is that a natural man can be righteous in and of himself. If Jesus was just a man and could be perfectly righteous before God then righteousness can actually come by the law, making the death of Christ superfluous.

    If, however, Jesus is held in this view not to be sinless, just well above average, then that does great violence to our understanding of God’s holiness. If Jesus had sin and God could overlook that, why couldn’t he overlook all sin? Either way you slice it, this view makes Christ’s sacrifice redundant at best.

  2. Well said, Matt. I hadn’t really worked out the hamartiological and soteriological implications of adoptionism – that’s really interesting. I was focusing in on the violence it does to the biblical witness to the person of Christ, but to think in terms of the broader ramifications is important as well.

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