Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Study of Early Christianity: Monotheism

Monotheism – “We believe in one God”

            In its earliest days, Christianity was seen as a sect of Judaism (Acts 3:13; 18:15; 23:29; 25:19; 26:3). Christians attended synagogue and designated hours of prayer at the temple (Acts 3:1; 9:20; 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1-3, 17; 18:4; 19:8). Those first Christians, faithful Jews that they were, likely repeated the Shema as part of their daily devotion to God. Shema, meaning “hear,” is the first word of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” [1] This confession set Judaism apart from their polytheistic neighbors. Christians, from the beginning, shared this doctrine with the Judaism.

The New Testament bears witness to the continuity between Judaism and the first generation of Christians regarding monotheism. There is no room for doubt that the New Testament authors recognized only one God (Mar 12:29; Joh 17:3; 1 Cor 8:4-6; Gal 3:20; 1 Tim 2:5; Jam 2:19).

This commitment to monotheism did not diminish in the post-apostolic period. Clement referred to God as the “great Creator and Lord of all,” elsewhere calling Him “the true and only God.” [2] Ignatius, writing to the Magnesians, insisted that Christians worshiped the same “one God” as the Old Testament prophets.[3] Such quotations could be multiplied.[4]

[1] Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of early Christianity. (W.B. Eerdmans, 1987), 445-46
[2] 1 Clement XX, ANF I p. 11; I Clement XLIII, ANF I p. 17
[3] Ignatius to the Magnesians VIII, ANF I p. 62
[4] “First of all, believe that there is one God” Shepherd of Hermas, Book Second Commandment First, ANF II p. 20; “For who will not say that there is one God? Yet he will not on that account deny the economy.” Hippolytus, Ag. Noetus .4, ANF V, p. 224; “The Jews then, if they abstain from the kind of service above described, and deem it proper to worship one God as being Lord of all, [are right]; but if they offer Him worship in the way which we have described, they greatly err.” Diognetus III, ANF I, p. 26; Arnobius, Ag. the Heathen III ANF VI pp. 464 ff. (contrasts Christian monotheism with polytheism); Tatian IV, ANF II p. 66; Tertullian Ag. Marcion III, ANF III p. 273, etc.