After Jesus ascended, the apostles stunned both Jew and Roman by proclaiming Jesus as “Lord.”¹ And the apostles did the unthinkable and worshipped Jesus, even praying to him as if he was God. Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” as he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:59).
Other believers soon joined Stephen, who even in the face of death, “never ceased for a single day…to teach and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus (Acts 5:42). The apostles, most of whom were martyred, passed on their knowledge of Jesus to church fathers who carried on their message into the next generation.
Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote about Jesus’ 2nd coming, “Look for him that is above the times, him who has not times, him who is invisible”. In a letter to Polycarp he states “Jesus is God”, “God incarnate,” and to the Ephesians he writes,” … God Himself appearing in the form of a man, for the renewal of eternal life.” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 4:13)
Clement of Rome in 96 A. D. also taught Jesus’ divinity, saying, “We ought to think of Jesus Christ as of God.” (2nd Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians 1:1)
Polycarp, also a pupil of John’s, was tried before the Roman proconsul for worshipping Jesus as Lord. While the frenzied crowd shouted for his blood, the Roman judge demanded he proclaim Caesar as Lord. But Polycarp went to the stake, rather than renounce Jesus as his Lord, responding,
“Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”²
As the early church grew, Gnostics and other cults began teaching that Jesus was a created being, inferior to the Father. This came to a head in the fourth century when Arius, a popular preacher from Libya, persuaded many leaders that Jesus wasn’t fully God. Then in 325 A. D. at the Council of Nicaea, church leaders met to resolve the issue of whether Jesus is the Creator, or merely a creation.³ These church leaders overwhelmingly affirmed the long-held Christian conviction and New Testament teaching that Jesus is fully God.4
The above post was excerpted from the Y-Jesus article Did the Apostles Believe Jesus Is God?
¹The title Lord is freely used in both Testaments to refer to God and Jesus. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for Lord was Adonai. In the Septuagint and the New Testament the word translated “Lord” is Kurios. Both Adonai and Kurios were used for God by the Jews.” Josh McDowell & Bart Larson, Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity (San Bernardino: Here’s Life, 1983), 33.
²Paul L. Maier, Ed, Eusebius, The Church History (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 149.
³Although most early Christians believed in Jesus’ divinity, the church didn’t clarify what that meant until the Council of Nicaea in 325 A. D., when the Roman emperor Constantine convened church leaders together to deal with Arius’s view that Jesus was a created being. However, after an intense debate over the meaning of the apostles’ words about Jesus in the New Testament, all but two of 318 church leaders reaffirmed the majority Christian belief that he is fully God, co-eternal, co-equal and with the Father and Holy Spirit (See “Mona Lisa’s Smirk”).
4See “Jesus.doc” to discover the reliability of the New Testament.