Theodotus of Byzantium (later Constantinople), also called “the Tanner” and “the Shoemaker,” was a Christian writer in Rome during the late second century. He affirmed Jesus virgin birth and miracles yet denied he was God. Victor 1, the pope of Rome from 189 to 199, condemned Theodotus’ writings and excommunicated him from the Catholic Church. Since the Church always destroyed writings it deemed heretical, we don’t have any of Theodotus’ written works, but only some information about them in patristic writings. These reveal that the foremost scriptures Theodotus cited to support that Jesus was not God include the following: (1) Jesus to his Jewish opponents, “you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God” (John 8.40); (2) Moses to the Israelites about Jesus, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people” (Deut. 18.15); (3) Isaiah about Jesus, “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering” (Isaiah 53.3).
Artemon led a Christian sect at Rome during the third century. The members of this group apparently believed as did Theodotus, though they allegedly were connected to Paul of Samosata, who also was excommunicated. Eusebius, preeminent church historian in the early centuries of Christianity, writes as follows concerning Artemon and his associates:
“For they say that all the early teachers and the apostles received and taught what they [Artemon et al.] now declare, and that the truth of the Gospel was preserved until the times of Victor, who was the thirteenth bishop of Rome from Peter, but that from his successor, Zephyrinus, the truth had been corrupted. And what they say might be plausible, if first of all the Divine Scriptures did not contradict them. And there are writings of certain brethren older than the times of Victor, which they wrote in behalf of the truth against the heathen, and against the heresies which existed in their day. I refer to Justin and Miltiades and Tatian and Clement and many others, in all of whose works Christ is spoken of as God. For who does not know the works of Irenaeus and of Melito and of others which teach that Christ is God and man? And how many psalms and hymns, written by the faithful brethren from the beginning, celebrate Christ the Word of God, speaking of Him as Divine. How then since the opinion held by the Church has been preached for so many years, can its preaching have been delayed as they affirm, until the times of Victor?”
Artemon probably meant that the truth about Jesus’ identity—that he was a virgin-born man, but not God—was preserved by most Christians during the first and most of the second centuries. This viewpoint was indeed proclaimed during this period by the early Jewish Christians–the Nazarenes and Ebionites–and it is well docmented. Thus, this charge that it first surfaced during the episcopate of Victor 1 is erroneous. Regarding Eusebius’ mention of Justin, Irenaeus, and others, Artemon may not have known about some of their writings.
Athanasius was the most ardent defender of the Nicene Creed saying Jesus was “very God of very God.” But the absence in the book of Acts of any such proclamation suggests the early Christians did not believe Jesus was and is God. Athanasius’ argument against this was as follows: “all the Jews were so firmly persuaded that their Messiah was to be nothing more than a man like themselves, that the apostles were obliged to use great caution in divulging the doctrine of the proper divinity of Christ.”
Athanasius’ remark—that those Jews wrongly believed “that their Messiah was to be nothing more than a man like themselves”—is clearly contrary to what Moses states in Torah to his people, as Artemon contended, that “God will raise up for you a prophet like me” and “a prophet like you” (Deut. 18.15, 18). (Christians believe that prophet was Jesus.) The author of the book of Hebrews states likewise by saying of Jesus, “he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect” (Hebrews 2.17). But if Jesus was a God-man, he was not “like” Moses or his people.
Some Trinitarians will counter that due to Jesus’ virgin birth he was not “like” Moses or other Jews. But Jesus’ virgin birth did not prevent him from being a completely human person like Moses and others. He still had choice regarding temptation, or else Satan would not have wasted his time trying to tempt him. Furthermore, James, Jesus’ brother, writes, “God cannot be tempted by evil” (James 1.13). James surely would not have written this if he had believed that his brother was a God-man.
Theodore (ca. 350-428) of Mopsuestia was bishop there for 36 years. Born at Antioch, he was the preeminent Antiochene theologian since the Apostle Paul. [The church became centered at Antioch, Syria.] Theodore, nicknamed “the Interpreter,” and sometimes called “the doctor of the church,” was well respected for his excellence in interpreting the Bible. He was the leading Bible exegete who opposed the liberal use of the allegorical interpretation of the Bible, which was centered at Alexandria, Egypt. Yet he was associated with Nestorius. Both rejected identifying Mary as Theotokos (“God-bearer,” meaning that Mary was “the Mother of God”). And they affirmed that Jesus had two natures while insisting that these natures were united in one person.
In Theodore’s commentary on the Gospel of John, he wrote concerning Thomas’ confession in John 20.28, “does he now call him Lord and God? This is not likely. Thomas, the doubting disciple, does not call the person whom he touched Lord and God. The knowledge of the resurrection [of Jesus] had, in fact, not taught him that he who had risen is God. Rather, it was as though he was praising God for the miracle that had been performed.” Nevertheless, Theodore was fully Trinitarian. Regarding John 1.1c, he interpreted the Logos therein as “the divinity of the Only Begotten.”
In 543-544, Roman Emperor Justinian 1, an ardent advocate of Chalcedonian Christology (two natures), condemned Theodore of Mopsuestia posthumously with an edict which quoted Theodore as saying, “The words which Thomas, after feeling Him, spoke: ‘My Lord and my God’ (S. John xx.28), had reference not to Christ, but to God who raised Christ up.” The Second Council of Constantinople, the Sixth Ecumenical Council held in 553, condemned Theodore as a heretic and excommunicated him from the Catholic Church only for his interpretation of Thomas’ confession. The Council declared, “this confession of Thomas referred to Christ and was not simply an expression of glory to God the Father.” [I tell this in my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ.]
Mark relates that Jesus said, “‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’—for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit’” (Mk 3.27). Matthew records that Jesus added, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven him, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt 12.32). Jesus, of course, was referring to himself as the Son of Man. Now, how can people be forgiven of anything they say against Jesus but not anything they say against the Holy Spirit if Jesus and the Holy Spirit are equally God in accordance with the doctrine of the Trinity? [Indebted to my friend Rich Leibowitz.]
Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well regarding the Samaritan’s religious beliefs, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews…. the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4.22-25). By saying, “we worship what we know,” Jesus affirms the Jewish belief that God is a single person, whom he constantly calls “the Father.” So, the later doctrine of the predominantly Gentile, Catholic Church—that God is a triune being consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal persons—is contrary to what Jesus says here. (See also John 5.44 and 17.3.)