Who is He in Yonder Stall?

by Jim on 24 December 2008

It’s been happening for 2000 years.  But it seems like the voices have been coming from more and more directions lately.  The voices are trying to convince us – almost obsessively – that the baby in the manger was not really God.  More specifically, that this idea came later on in the history of the Church.

Maybe one of the most famous voices is Dan Brown, in his bestseller The Da Vinci Code.  His book was fictional, but Brown claimed it was entirely based on historic fact.  The diety of Jesus, according to Brown, was voted into existence for political reasons:

"Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea."
"Hold on.  You’re saying Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?"
"A relatively close vote at that. Nonetheless, establishing Christ’s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman Empire…"

The Council of Nicea was held in 325AD.  Of course, if the Church went for 3 centuries without believing Jesus was God, one would have to question whether the doctrine is important or even with any basis in reality!

Brown may be one of the more famous voices in recent years, but he’s not alone.  People have assured us that Jesus never claimed to be God.  The apostles never claimed He was God.  That the Scripture was later twisted into saying this.  That it was centuries before the doctrine was ever accepted, and that the huge political infrastucture that was the Church took a good teacher and used him for their own purposes.

So was the baby in the manger just another boy child?

Let’s take a look at the decades and centuries after Jesus was born.  Did people believe He was God?

In a short post it’s impossible to give a full overview, but let’s look at just a few examples.

We won’t get into the Old Testament, which has a lot to say about who the Christ would be.  We also won’t get into what Jesus said about Himself.  Of course a lot has been written about that, and I think it’s clear that Jesus equated Himself with the God of the Jews.

What about the apostles – the people who lived with Jesus, ate with Him, heard Him teach?

Even before you’re out of the Gospels, you see Jesus’ followers talking about His diety.  Upon seeing Christ after His resurrection, Thomas cried,"My Lord and My God!" (Joh 20:28).  Of course, John himself gives a clear message in the first chapter of his Gospel:  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (Joh 1:1)

Most scholars suggest that John was written somewhere between 60 and 100AD, putting it close enough to Jesus ministry on earth that people who knew Him would have read it.

Over and over the apostles continued to ascribe diety to Jesus.  Paul used terms like "the form of God" and "our God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Phil 2:6; Tit 2:13).  The writer of the book of Hebrews uses Old Testament descriptions of God for Jesus (Heb 1:8).

Frequently the apostles don’t seem to care if they mix around Jesus and God in their writing.  For example, we hear Jesus and God both calling themselves by the same title in Revelation – The Beginning and the End (Rev 1:8; Rev 22:13)

But even if Jesus claimed to be God, and his apostles claimed He was God, did others accept this belief?

The answer is an overwhelming yes.  Take for example Irenaeus, a bishop of Lugdunum (in modern day France) who lived around 130-202AD.  Iranaeus said that the apostles proclaimed "the one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was enfleshed for our Salvation."  Then he called Jesus "our Lord and God, Saviour and King".  A disciple of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, said that "Christ is God above all."

Ignatius, a Bishop of Antioch who died around 98-117AD, may have been a disciple of John.  He wrote,"Mary then did truly conceive a body which had God inhabiting it.  And God the Word was truly born of the Virgin, having clothed Himself with a body of like passions with our own."

Others could be mentioned, but suffice to say the doctrine of Jesus’ diety was known to the Church right from the start, and continued to be accepted 100 and 200 years after His ascension.  It wasn’t much of a secret.

The Council of Nicea was indeed, in part, a fight to maintain this belief that Jesus was God, a belief that had been affirmed and re-affirmed many times in the past 300 years.  But in the end, His diety was reaffirmed.  But it wasn’t a close vote as Brown suggested.  Two voted against.  About 218-316 voted for.

Manger
Photo courtesy of mtsofan

People who knew Jesus claimed He was God.  The early Church fathers frequently defended the belief that He was God.  All through the first 300 years of the Church, and to this day, the Church affirms that God lived among us as Jesus.  This was not "proposed" in 325AD – it was accepted by the Church from the start.

Who is He in yonder stall?  God in the flesh.  Of course, there are many more reasons why we know this, but it’s important to realize that the bluster about His diety being a later invention doesn’t stand up to a closer look.  This belief alone has a remarkable history – could it be that Jesus was more than just another baby?

The title is from the song by Benjamin R. Hanby:

Who is He in yonder stall
At Whose feet the shepherds fall?
‘Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
‘Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! crown Him, Lord of all!

For more on Dan Brown’s claims, read THE DA VINCI CODE: A Critique of Dan Brown’s Novel by Robert Cottrill.  For more on the historic belief in the diety of Christ, I highly recommend For Us and for Our Salvation by Stephen J. Nichols.

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