If the earliest Christians didn’t hold to the same essential beliefs the apostles taught, Christianity would have a problem. Either the earliest Christians were confused, or something was lost in translation. Thankfully, the earliest Christians, like the apostles, believed Jesus was God. Here are a few of the early Christians who taught the deity of Christ.
Ignatius (AD 35-117) was the bishop of Antioch in Syria and thought to be a disciple of John. He is best known for the seven letters he penned before his martyrdom at Rome. In his letter to the Romans, he wrote, “Jesus Christ our God.” He also wrote that Jesus is God in his epistle to Polycarp and in his letter to the church at Ephesus.
Polycarp (AD 69-155) lived during the time of some of the twelve apostles. Early church tradition holds he was taught by the Apostle John. He was an early church father and bishop of Smyrna. In his letter to the Phillipians, he refers to Jesus as “our Lord and God”. He too was martyred for his faith. Polycarp passed on what he had learned from the Apostle John to Irenaeus (AD 120-202), who became an important theologian and bishop in Gaul (modern-day France). Irenaeus wrote an apologetic work called Against Heresies in which he referred to Jesus as, “Our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King.”
Irenaeus went on to disciple Hippolytus (AD 170-236), who wrote a massive treatise called Refutation of All Heresies. He followed the orthodox teachings of the Christians before him and wrote in his apologetic work Against Noetus, “Christ Jesus the Son of God, who, being, God, became man.” Hippolytus also advocated the Triune nature of God in this same work.
Thus, we have a successive chain from the Apostle John in the first century to Hippolytus in the third that shows how Jesus was always thought of as God incarnate. Therefore, any Christian who believes Jesus is God today has not been deceived. Rather, they’ve followed the biblical and historical trail of evidence, given to us by the earliest Christians. All in all, it’s obvious Jesus is called God in the Bible and by the early church fathers. Thus, He should be worshiped and referred to as the true God.
Reprinted and adopted with permission from our book Cult Shock: The Book Jehovah’s Witnesses & Mormons Don’t Want You To Read.
Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 410. Alexander H. Pierce, ed. John D. Barry et al. “Polycarp,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012). Enns, Moody Handbook, 410. Newadvent.org, Against Heresies (Book 1, Chapter 10), translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut, From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885), accessed July 7, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103110.htm. Newadvent.org. Against Noetus, translated by J.H. MacMahon, From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886), revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight, accessed July 7, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0521.htm. Warner J Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013), 216221