I’m doing a short my series on Theophilus of Antioch and his work To Autolycus (Ad Autolycum). Previous posts address Christianity in antiquity and the parting of the ways. I’m now addressing his Christology and Trinitarianism.

In describing Theophilus’ treatment of Christ, Grant writes: “His understanding of the work of Jesus Christ can be recovered only from allusions, for like other apologists of his time he never openly speaks of him” (xvii).

For example, Theophius does not mention Christ’s crucifixion but does note the hope of resurrection (1.8, 13). He exclaims that he is a “Christian” right at the very beginning (1.1). When exploring the derivation of the name “Christian” (1.12), he does not mention Jesus as the Christ, but rather speaks of Christians as being anointed with the oil of God. When describing faith (1.14), he notes the hope of resurrection and eternal punishments, but not Christ. Mentions existence of the Gospels (3.12), and when quoting Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5.28, he describes “the gospel” speaking rather than naming Jesus (3.13, 14). When addressing the charge of cannibalism (3.15), which surely arises from the Lord’s supper, he does not explain the practice or its relation to Jesus, he only rejects it and points to cannibalism in the Greco-Roman theogonies (3.5, 15).

If he never mentions Jesus or the Christ, does he speak of the Christian plurality? Yes, he commonly refers to God in relation to the Logos and Sophia (Wisdom). Sophia is most commonly associated with the Holy Spirit (e.g., 1.7, 13, etc.). The three are most clearly delineated in terms of creation. After an extensive critique of the Greco-Roman myths and theogonies, he turns to explore creation and this takes up the majority of Book 2. To ground his creation theology before walking through Genesis, Theophilus speaks of God creating ex nihilo with the Logos and Sophia (2.10). The chapter is longer than most and has a well developed interaction between the three before walking through Genesis (2.11ff.). Importantly, he uses several passages from the Bible to explain his proto-Trinitarian position.

Later, we also see the three when he explains Gen 1.26 with its affirmation: “Let us….” He argues that human dignity was shown through that “the making of man [was] the only work worthy of his own hands” (2.18). Theophilus then describes why the text has “us” there, by appealing to God’s speaking to “his own Logos and his own Sophia” (2.18).  Though he does not directly call the Logos and Sophia God’s hands, the implication is clear. This is the same language that Irenaeus commonly uses.

In the midst of this wider discussion Genesis, is when explaining day 4 with the sun and moon, Theophilus uses some of the first distinctly trinitarian language. After describing the sun and moon as types of God and man, and the greater and lesser, he explores other types:

Similarly the three days prior to the luminaries are types of the triad/trinity (τύποι τῆς τριάδος) of God and his Logos and his Sophia. In the fourth place is man, who is in need of light–so that their might be God, Logos, Sophia, man. For this reason the luminaries came into existence on the fourth day. (2.15).

There is much more to explore here, but it is very interesting that Theophilus is one of the earliest uses of “trinitarian” language, and yet he does it without an emphasis on “Christ” but rather the Logos. J. Bentivegna has an essay on Theophilus describing it as “A Christianity without Christ.” Thus, we might say also Trinity without Christology. Of course, this work does not capture everything that Theophilus had to say. (A similar dilemma shows up with Boethius, whose Consolation of Philosophy which is distinctly monotheistic such that you might wonder if he is a Trinitarian also has a work On the Trinity.) However, it is hard to square how you can have such a seemingly developed idea in one side of a topic but without the coordinate discussion of other issues.


I’m doing a short my series on Theophilus of Antioch and his work To Autolycus (Ad Autolycum). The previous post addresses Christianity in antiquity. I’m now addressing his Christology and Trinitarianism. I will address here his voice related to the parting of the ways.

Given his emphasis on the antiquity of Christianity (via Judaism), he stands in distinct contrast to many other second century Christians who show clear evidence of the parting of the ways. Take for example, Ignatius of Antioch (c. AD 107), Letter to the Magnesians 10.3:

It is utterly absurd to profess Jesus Christ and to practice ‘Judaism’ (ἰουδαΐζειν). For ‘Christianity’ (Χριστιανισμός) did not believe in ‘Judaism’ (Ἰουδαϊσμός), but ‘Judaism’ in ‘Christianity’, in which every tongue believed and was brought together with God.

This construction of a distinct identity in this passage (see ch 8-10) and others is built upon the full revelation of God in Christ, the old versus the new, and grace in opposition to Torah practice. These types of arguments are found throughout Christian texts of the second century. Clear examples include Melito of Sardis in his On Pascha (e.g., 72–82), the Epistle of Barnabas, and Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho.

In contrast to the effort to establish and defend a distinct identity, Theophilus appears much more concerned with the charge that Christianity is a new religion and therefore suspect. This reflects the wider value in the pre-modern world that what is older is better and more trustworthy. In light of his second century context, Theophilus is unique for almost never playing up distinctions with Judaism. His main argument, rather, is that Christianity is grounded in the most ancient of Jewish texts, and thus he spends the majority of Book 2 expositing the creation account in Genesis.

He also plays up God’s continued offer for restoration in the NT as the OT. In this you hardly get a feel that the NT is distinct from the prophets (3.10-15). Earlier he wrote that “Christians,” in distinction to the Greek writers, “have held the truth–we who are instructed by the Holy Spirit who spoke in the holy prophets and foretold everything” (2.33). The following chapters explore the challenge of the prophets (2.34-35), and NT and OT are mixed directly together without distinction. There are a number of other places where he does not play up differences when others do.

Where does Christology fit in this? A unique aspect of Theophilus’ work is that he does not mention the crucifixion, which can often be used as a way to flag up inadequate Jewish behavior and therefore the inadequacies of Judaism. For example, Paul speaks of dying to the Law with Christ (Gal 2; Rom 7). His Christology is therefore unique, but I wonder if he ignores that piece because of his very strong interest in continuity over discontinuity with Judaism in order to defend Christianity’s antiquity?

Theophilus shows that the parting of the ways is not a linear progression or division, and his reading of the Bible to ground a wider biblical theology is interesting. A comparison contemporary with Theophilus would be Irenaeus. In his Against Heresies Book 4, he especially addresses the continuity and discontinuity with Judaism, and he grounds it in the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, not unlike Paul. I’ve got an essay in an upcoming volume that explores this: “The Covenant of Promise: Abraham in Irenaeus” in Irenaeus and Paul. Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate. Todd D. Still and David E. Wilhite, eds. (London: T&T Clark, forthcoming 2019). I came across this initially when working on this essay: “Partakers of Adoption: Irenaeus and His Use of Paul,” Letter and Spirit 11 (2016): 35–64.

A student of mine recently did a masters thesis related to deification (or theosis) in Theophilus of Antioch in his Ad Autolycum (c. 180 AD). It’s been a while since I read him, so I thought I’d do a few posts about him.  It’s not a long read. Unfortunately Grant’s translation with facing English and Greek pages is out of print, so the ANF version is likely your best bet for an accessible translation.

As an apology this work to Autolycus contains both a critique of contemporary views and a portrayal and defense of his perspective. His critique is directed at the cult and the myths related to Greco-Roman gods. In that, he follows similar Jewish apologetics that critique the immoral, inconsistent, and contradictory perspectives of Greco-Roman literature, as found, for instance, in Hesiod and Homer in distinction to the philosophers. (A great  exposition of this is found in Barclay’s Pauline Churches in his essay: “Snarling Sweetly: A Study of Josephus on Idolatry”). He also addresses specific charges against Christianity, like cannibalism (3.15) by denouncing it but also by throwing the charge back against the stories of the gods (3.5, 15).

As he portrays and defends his perspective,  Theophilus argues for the unity and consistency of the biblical God, and Book 1 is explores a variety of topics around God’s attributes in contrast to other portrayals of the gods. He also especially notes the hope of resurrection (1.8, 13). A central point that he returns to regularly is that his faith is not a recent invention (reflecting the idea that older/ancient things are the more true and reliable), and thus he grounds his Christian faith in the antiquity of creation (Book 2, where he exposits the early chapters of Genesis) and world history (Book 3).

He presents an early and interesting Christian engagement with the Bible and apologetics in the ancient Mediterranean world. For an accessible and informative introduction to Theophilus, I commend this essay: Rick Rogers, “Theophilus of Antioch,” Expository Times 120.5 (2009): 214–224.

For all the posts in the series, see Christianity in antiquity, the parting of the ways, Christology and Trinitarianism.

I recently posted a link to my co-authored essay on “Theosis and Theological Anthropology.”  In that essay, I extended my work on theosis and Paul to focus on the later theological appropriations of theosis in Maximus the Confessor (with regard to Christology) and T.F. Torrance (with regard to the Trinity).  Being that that essay is still rather academic, I got a request to put the cookies on the lower shelf.

As a follow-up to that essay, I wrote a short piece for a blog that summarized the key biblical points: “‘Man as a God in Ruins’: Theosis in the Christian Tradition.” Using Psalm 82 as a lens on deification, I walk through the key ideas that undergird patristic views on theosis. The Bible is itself a witness to humans/believers being called ‘gods’, and I briefly walk through what that terminology entails through key biblical texts, in the OT and the NT (especially with the apostle Paul).

Of course, if you want the longer version check out my book Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters where I spell out the issues related to Paul and theosis in excruciating detail. : )

While the topic of theosis has grown in popularity among scholars, I regularly get awkward looks by students and family when the term arises. While my primary work has been in the area of theosis and the Bible, particularly theosis and the apostle Paul, I cut my teeth on the topic with my masters work on Maximus the Confessor.

As a fruit of that work, I later co-authored a piece for the Ashgate Companion to Theological Anthropology with a friend Kris Miller. In our essay “Theosis and Theological Anthropology,” we explored theosis from a Christological perspective (via Maximus the Confessor) and a Trinitarian perspective (via T.F. Torrance). If you are looking for a primer on theosis, this essay would give you the key ideas that I think are relevant.

I (Ben) noted last week about Justin Martyr’s very clear affirmation that Jesus eternally existed and became incarnate in time in his Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 48. In the conclusion I noted the issue of distinguishing between economy (what God does) and ontology (how God is). The economy is clear in that statement, but what about ontology. Trypho has the same question!

Chapter 50: “You seem,” said Trypho, “to have debated with many persons on every possible topic, and consequently are ready to answer any of my questions. Tell me then, first of all, how can you prove that there is another God besides the Creator of the world, and then show that He condescended to be born of a virgin.”

Justin continues a previous argument (about the two advents of Christ) before coming back to this question in chapter 55ff. In chapter 56, Justin provides a lengthy set of quotations and descriptions of the Abraham’s interchange with three men and Lot’s later interchange. His argument is basically that God is present in two places at the same time. Summing up at key points, he writes:

Chapter 56:[11] “Then,” I said, “let us return to the Scriptures and I will try to convince you that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, and is called God, is distinct from God, the Creator; distinct, that is, in number, but not in mind. For I state that He never did or said anything else than what the Creator — above whom there is no other God — desired that He do or say.”  …

[22] At this point I asked, “Do you not see, my friends, that one of the three, who is both God and Lord, and ministers to Him who is in Heaven, is Lord of the two angels? When they went on to Sodom, He stayed behind and talked with Abraham, as Moses testified. Then He went His way after His conversation, and Abraham returned to his place. [23] And when He came to Sodom, it was no longer the two angels, but He Himself, who talked with Lot, as is evident from the Scriptures. He, indeed, is the Lord who was commissioned by the Lord in Heaven, that is, the Creator of all things, to inflict those dreadful punishments upon Sodom and Gomorrah, which are described in the Scriptures in this fashion: ‘The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven’ [Gen 19.24].”

He goes on to include discussion of the burning bush and gives this description:

Chapter 61 “So, my friends,” I said, “I will now show from the Scriptures that God has begotten of Himself a certain rational Power as a Beginning before all other creatures. The Holy Spirit indicates this Power by various titles, sometimes the Glory of the Lord, at other times Son, or Wisdom, or Angel, or God, or Lord, or Word. He even called Himself Commander-in-chief when He appeared in human guise to Jesus, the son of Nave. Indeed, He can justly lay claim to all these titles from the fact both that He performs the Father’s will and that He was begotten by an act of the Father’s will. [2] But, does not something similar happen also with us humans? When we utter a word, it can be said that we beget the word, but not by cutting it off, in the sense that our power of uttering words would thereby be diminished. We can observe a similar example in nature when one fire kindles another, without losing anything, but remaining the same; yet the enkindled fire seems to exist of itself and to shine without lessening the brilliancy of the first fire. [3]My statements will now be confirmed by none other than the Word of Wisdom, who is this God begotten from the Universal Father, and who is the Word and Wisdom and Power and Glory of Him who begot Him.

This doesn’t sort all the questions about ontology by any means, but it shows that Justin was indeed aware of the issues. Though later argumentation is framed differently, the ideas of God meeting Abraham in Genesis 19 which is so central for Justin is at the heart of Rublev’s Trinity:


As Brevard Childs and Kavin Rowe argued so well: the OT is not an impediment to the Trinity, it is the necessary foundation on which the Trinity is grounded.

(Public Domain)

Sometimes it is popularly asserted that the Emperor and/or the bishops at Nicaea invented the idea that Jesus is God incarnate. Of course, that has been clearly refuted in scholarship, but conspiracy stories are so much fun and more interesting to pass along. I (Ben) am heading to give a lecture at Huntington University in a couple of weeks on Justin Martyr, Paul and the issue of circumcision, so I have been rereading the Dialogue with Trypho and was reminded of this gem on Christology:

Chapter 48 [1]“We have now heard your opinion on these matters,” interrupted Trypho. “Resume your discourse where you left off, and bring it to an end, for it seems to be entirely absurd and utterly impossible of proof. Your statement that this Christ existed as God before all ages, and then that He consented to be born and become man, yet that He is not of human origin, appears to be not only paradoxical, but preposterous.” [2] “I am aware,” I replied, “that my assertion must seem paradoxical, especially to you Jews, who were never in the least interested in knowing or doing the things of God, but only the things of your teachers, as God Himself testifies [cf. Isa 29.3]. However, Trypho, the fact that this Man is the Christ of God, is not to be denied, even if I were unable to prove that He, being God, pre-existed as the Son of the Creator of the universe and became Man through a virgin.

No nuanced reading or sophisticated hermeneutic to get the main idea here. Of course, the ontology of Nicaea is still wanting, but this is about as clear as an economic description of theology as you can get, and this is about 175 years before Nicaea. Irenaeus has equally clear statements about Jesus as God, dating to just a few years after Justin’s work.

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