HomeHistoryStop press! Theologian calls Jesus ‘God’ a hundred years before Constantine
October 24, 2017
Stop press! Theologian calls Jesus ‘God’ a hundred years before Constantine
Explosive new discovery threatens to rewrite conspiracy theorists’ view of early Christianity
Yes, the title is facetious. The writings of the North African presbyter Tertullian, which I am going to share below, have been known about ever since they were written at the beginning of the third century A.D. (around A.D. 210).
They haven’t been ‘lost.’ They haven’t been buried in an urn in the desert for one-and-a-half millennia. They haven’t been ‘suppressed’ by dark, shadowy forces.
“[The writings of Tertullian] destroy at a stroke the populist conspiracy theories of authors such as Dan Brown, who in the past few decades have made such a stock-in-trade of claiming ‘new discoveries’…”
For all that, they destroy at a stroke the populist conspiracy theories of authors such as Dan Brown, who in the past few decades have made such a stock-in-trade of claiming ‘new discoveries’ that are going to make us rethink everything we ever thought about early Christianity.
In its heyday, Dan Brown’s novel The da Vinci Code was being consumed, pored over, discussed, raved about everywhere. You would see it being read on the train, by co-workers on their lunch breaks, in coffee shops.
Today it all seems slightly embarrassing. A bit like admitting that you used to like ‘Bros’. Walk into any charity shop these days, and you’ll have no trouble finding at least two copies of The da Vinci Code on the shelves. There are probably dozens more copies in the back, which they haven’t bothered to put on the shelf for fear of looking like a branch of Waterstone’s circa 2004.
“I wonder whether the flooding of the charity shop market with copies of The da Vinci Code over the past ten years reflects a national realization that, actually, it was all tosh.”
I wonder whether the flooding of the charity shop market with copies of The da Vinci Code over the past ten years reflects a national realization that, actually, it was all tosh.
In case you’ve been living on Mars for the last fifteen years, in The da Vinci Code Dan Brown claims — in the person of one of his characters, Leigh Teabing — that the Emperor Constantine ‘invented’ the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.
Leigh Teabing has clearly been reading a work of so-called non-fiction, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, by Messrs. Baigent and Leigh (anagram of ‘Leigh Teabing,’ geddit?), which came out in 1982, and made this and many other absurd and poorly-substantiated claims.
In chapter 55 of The da Vinci Code, Leigh Teabing tells one of the other characters that the divinity of Christ was decided on by a vote at the Council of Nicaea (technically true but the way he ‘spins’ it makes it sound quite different to what really happened), and that up until that time, nobody had thought that Jesus was anything other than a mortal man — a great prophet, to be sure, but still, just a mortal man.
How is this possible? Doesn’t the Bible itself state that Jesus is God?
Leigh Teabing’s answer is that “history is always written by the winners” — a statement which has become one of the most memorable and well-known lines in the book. I suspect that Sir Ian McKellen was rubbing his hands with glee when he got to say that line in the subsequent movie adaptation.
“[According to Dan Brown’s character,] the protagonists of the Nicene Creed — backed by the Imperial might — won, and made sure that the opposing view was exorcized from the annals of history. Until, that is, Dan Brown came along.”
In other words, the protagonists of the Nicene Creed — backed by the Imperial might — won, and made sure that the opposing view was exorcized from the annals of history. Until, that is, Dan Brown came along.
Now, is this even possible? Does anybody out there seriously believe Dan Brown’s/Leigh Teabing’s claim here — that you can wipe out all trace of an ideology you disagree with?
Well, in case anybody does, I here present three passages from the Latin theologian Tertullian, a presbyter in North Africa at the beginning of the third century A.D. He wrote around 200—220 A.D. — yes, that’s a century before Constantine came along, and a century and then some before the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.
It’s not even our earliest witness to the Christian belief that Jesus is God.
It’s not even our earliest witness if you exclude the New Testament (which Dan Brown will have us believe is a fourth-century forgery).
At some point, and in another post, I will present some much, much earlier Christian writings that establish the same position.
But I present these passages here just to demonstrate that what Dan Brown/Leigh Teabing claim is a pack of utter, indefensible lies.
Did the early Christians believe that Jesus was God? — yes they did!
Exhibit A: Tertullian, ‘Against Marcion’, Book IV, chapter 18
Referring to the faith of the centurion in Luke 7:1-10, Tertullian writes:—
“He [Christ] intimates that he ought to have found so great a faith in Israel, inasmuch as he had indeed come for the purpose of finding it, being in truth the God and Christ of Israel…”
“[Tertullian] calls Christ ‘the God and Christ of Israel,’ over a hundred years before the Council of Nicaea.”
His purpose in writing this isn’t to ‘prove’ the divinity of Christ, but to prove — in opposition to the heretic Marcion — that Jesus Christ belongs to the God revealed in the Old Testament. Marcion’s view was that Christ belonged to a different God, a God of mercy, and came to rescue us from the ‘vengeful’ God of the Old Testament. (Many people still seem to take this view today, strangely.)
However, you can see very clearly in the quotation above, that he calls Christ “the God and Christ of Israel.” Over a hundred years before the Council of Nicaea.
Exhibit B: Tertullian, ‘Against Marcion’, Book IV, chapter 20
Writing of the woman with a flow of blood in Luke 8:43-48, he says:—
“I will tell you how her faith was this above all: it made her believe that her God preferred mercy even to sacrifice; she was certain that her God was working in Christ; she touched him, therefore, not as a holy man simply, nor as a prophet, whom she knew to be capable of contamination by reason of his human nature, but as true God, whom she assumed to be beyond all possibility of pollution by any [ritual] uncleanness.”
Not only was God “working in Christ” — itself a thoroughly biblical view, although one which might equally be said of an Old Testament prophet such as Elisha — but, according to Tertullian, the woman understood Jesus to be “true God… beyond all possibility of pollution by any uncleanness.”
Exhibit C: Tertullian, ‘Against Marcion’, Book V, chapter 5
“To whose nativity and incarnation could Tertullian possibly be referring here? Obviously to Christ’s. But if Christ’s, then Christ is God.”
“Now, what is that ‘foolishness of God which is wiser than men,’ but the cross and death of Christ? What is that ‘weakness of God which is stronger than men,’ but the nativity and incarnation of God?”
Now, to whose nativity and incarnation could Tertullian possibly be referring here? Obviously to Christ’s. But if Christ’s, then Christ is God — for he calls it the “nativity and incarnation of God.” Need I say more?
The three passages cited above from Tertullian alone show that Dan Brown’s theory — that the Emperor Constantine invented the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 — is an utter fallacy and quite indefensible.
“Christians have always believed that Jesus was more than a mere human being — was, in fact, divine.”
The fact is, Christians have always believed that Jesus was more than a mere human being — was, in fact, divine.
You find it in the pages of the New Testament; you found it in the earliest Christian writers after the New Testament (as I said, I will produce some more examples of these on another occasion); and you find it very clearly, here in the writings of Tertullian at the beginning of the third century.
Dan Brown, of course, conveniently doesn’t tell you any of this in his novel. If he had, he’d probably only have made hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of the squillions he actually did make, selling people a pack of lies.
I hope that, in case anybody out there is still in any doubt about The da Vinci Code, what I have written above will assure you that it is in fact we who are speaking the truth.
It may not be ‘explosive,’ and it probably won’t be mentioned in the mainstream media any time soon… but it is the truth for all that.
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 Dan Brown, The da Vinci Code (Corgi, 2004), p.315
Graham is an evangelical Christian believer living in Sussex, UK. He is passionate about helping people to understand what the Bible really says, and about explaining what the Christians of the early centuries believed and taught.