It is important that we think rightly about who Jesus is. Thinking wrongly about Him takes away from either His person or His work. I’m a big believer in the fact that we don’t have to study every counterfeit dollar bill to know which bills are authentic. We don’t have to study every counterfeit Christ to know the authentic Christ, and our study of the authentic should always have the emphasis. However, it can sometimes be helpful to study the counterfeit concepts of Christ because when we know what He is not, we can be more exact in how we express who He is (and semantics are important when talking theology).
Throughout church history there have been heated debates over the nature of Christ’s Person. Below are 8 counterfeits:
A priest named Arius in the 4th century taught the preexistence of the Son but not His eternality – the idea that before He was incarnated, He was created. Arius insisted that if Jesus was the “only begotten” He must have had a beginning. Thankfully, this was publicly condemned by the Council of Nicaea in 325. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons today have an Arian-like Christology that denies His eternality. However, if His eternality is denied, then a) there is no Trinity, b) Christ is not fully God, and c) He lied, and the Bible lies.
Hebrews says He is the exact representation of God’s nature or essence. Colossians says all the fullness of Deity dwells in Him in bodily form. The OT prophesied a day was coming when the eternal Creator would step into His creation (Micah 5:2; Is. 9:6; John 8:58 & Ex. 3:14). The overwhelming NT claim is that He is the eternal, self-existent God who created all things.
In the late 1st century, a man named Marcion and the Gnostics taught that Christ only appeared to be a man – that He was something like a phantom. This is why you’ll notice for example, in Luke and John’s writing, the emphasis on His humanity. They tell us that they have seen and heard and even touched Christ. Thomas put his finger in His scars even after He rose from the dead. He had a real body. John specifically referred to this heresy in 1 John 4:1-3.
Cerinthis taught that Jesus was not born as the Christ, but rather that the spirit of Christ came upon Him at His baptism. He also said that the spirit of Christ left him before He died.
Docetism and Cerinthianism resulted from Gnostic influence, which was the greatest threat to Christianity in the first three centuries. Gnostics didn’t believe that Jesus could have a human body since, in their thinking, the physical world is evil. They assumed a dualistic opposition between the physical realm and the spiritual realm, with the spiritual being good and the physical being evil (going against God’s “very good” Genesis statement).
Gnosticism also began to influence Bible interpretation like eschatology (the study of the end times). And I’m going to take a minute to address this rabbit trail because it came up recently in our Bible interp class. For the first 2 centuries after Christ, premillennialism (the belief in a literal, political, future reign of Christ on earth for 1,000 years as the OT prophets and Revelation 20 teaches) was the orthodox view.2 This view is the result of a literal-historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible, as espoused at
the Christian, seminary-like school at Antioch that we can trace apostolic succession back to.
However, a rival school began to develop in Alexandria, Egypt, a place heavily influenced by Gnosticism. In the 3rd and 4th centuries, men like Philo, Origen, and Augustine began to wed Greek philosophy with their interpretation of the Bible, resulting in a non-literal approach to Scripture called allegorizing. The allegorizing interpreter tries to find higher, more spiritual interpretations of the biblical text. This resulted in outlandish, spiritual sounding interpretations like saying that the four rivers in Eden represent the four parts of the soul (Genesis 2:11-14) or Jerusalem’s gates were symbolic (the fish gate was symbolic for evangelism – fishing for men – instead of a transporting actual fish (Neh. 3). If you see the spiritual in opposition to the physical, an earthly future reign of Christ is absurd and thus, amillennialism (the idea that there is no future kingdom and/or that the reign is now spiritual through Christians on earth) began to dominate.
Augustine, who wrote The City of God, believed that in order for the kingdom of God to be good, it had to be spiritual in nature and the idea of a physical restoration was carnal.3 He was the first to teach that the Church is the Messianic Kingdom on earth that began with Christ’s first coming. This most influential man in church history also taught that Satan is currently bound and the “first resurrection” is merely regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Sadly, many creeds and confessions developed after allegorizing became the dominant form of interpretation and this method of interpretation led us into the Dark Ages for more than 1,000 years! That’s longer than the Millennial Kingdom will be! In the Dark Ages (4th to 16th centuries) prophetic study was obsolete, amillennialism dominated, Roman Catholicism reigned, anti-Semitism was prevalent, and the Bible was removed from an already illiterate people, resulting in priestly manipulation (sale of indulgences/purgatory). Thankfully, the Reformation came and people started to interpret the Bible with a literal-historical-grammatical interpretation again, resulting in a real, spiritual awakening! Now, it's our job to continue applying that interpretation to the entire Bible, including eschatology (something men like Luther and Calvin stopped short of). If you want to read more on this subject, check out Andy Woods’ book Ever Reforming.
This was a 2nd century heresy that denied the deity of Christ by claiming Jesus was the natural son of Mary and Joseph but chosen to be the Son of God at His baptism. However, the gospels are very careful to guard the doctrine that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary. That’s important because Jesus must not be a descendant of Adam who inherited the sin nature like the rest of us. Instead, He had to be born of God, not of an earthly father.
Apollinarius, in the 4th century taught that Christ had a human body and soul but had the divine Logos instead of a human spirit. The Logos dominated the passive human body and soul in his view. This was an error concerning Christ’s humanity. It was condemned by Council of Constantinople in 680.
Nestorius basically divided Christ into 2 persons – one deity and one human. He so separated the two natures that the result was 2 persons. This teaching was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431.
Eutyches (ca. 378-454), in reaction to Nestorianism, taught there was only one nature in Christ. It was an error called monophysitism. The divine nature was not fully divine and the human nature was not fully human and the result was a mixed, single nature. This was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
The official doctrine of this modern-day cult teaches that Jesus and Satan are “spirit brothers” and Jesus is the first “spirit child” born to the “Heavenly Father God” and one of his several wives. In their doctrine, Jesus is a created being who became god. They’re polytheistic, believing in many gods. The Church of “Jesus Christ” of Latter Day Saints clearly has a different Jesus than the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches Jesus is the eternally existent God, equal with God the Father, and Creator of all things – including Satan.
As I said at the beginning, we don’t have to study every counterfeit Christ out there to understand the authentic one, but I trust you see now how when we know what He is not, we can more carefully and clearly express who He truly is. I also trust you see the importance of teaching on the incarnation. The idea that Jesus is God eternal who was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary is and always has been a crucial doctrine for us to hold firmly too.
In Christ with you,
Pastor Justin 12/12/2021
 Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986, 1999), 291.
2 Andy Woods, Ever-Reforming (Dispensational Publishing House, 2018), 20.
3 Renald Showers, The Most Asked Prophecy Questions (Chattanooga: ATRI, 2000), 326.