“In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” John 1:1
During the early church, there was a dispute about the ontology of Jesus Christ. Is Jesus the same essence as God or is he of a similar essence? These two schools of thought divided those who wished to be faithful to what was revealed in scripture about the Redeemer. They used the Greek words ὁμοούσιον (homoousion) and ὁμοιοούσιος (homoiusios) to describe thier respective views.
Homo-ousion – that the Father and the Son are of the same essence. “Homo” meaning same. “Usia” meaning essence, or being.
Homoi-usious – that the Father and the Son are of similar essense. “Homoi” meaning similar.
Now at first glance it may seem that the difference in the two is nonessential banter. Why would there be division about such a seemingly trivial concept? Well, those that accepted the homoousian christology believed that the other camp was downplaying or outright denying the divinity of Christ. That the Theos and Logos described in John 1 are of the same essence and to describe them as anything else would be to describe someone else other than the Christ of Scripture.
Arius, a third century Lybian theologian believed in similar-substance-christology. Arius did not believe, however, that his view went against the teachings of scripture. Nor did his christology start with him. He learned from Lucian of Antioch. In a letter to another theologian known as Alexander, he called Jesus “a creature of God.” Making God the Father the creator of everything else including the Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, according to those of the homoousion christology, God does not save but one of His creations does. Making Arianism seem to be too close to donetism, that Jesus is only a man.
Now this seems to coinside with John 3:16 that says Jesus is the “only begotten son.” The Greek here is μονογενής (monogenēs) meaning basically the single of its kind. This is important because if Jesus was of similar essence then He would not be of the same kind as His Father.
Arius, in his letter to Eusibius of Nicomedia, says of Jesus, “…the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that he does not derive his subsistence from any matter; but that by his own will and counsel he has subsisted before time and before ages as perfect as God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before he was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, he was not. For he was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say that the Son has a beginning but that God is without beginning.”
The Nicene Creed describes the Son as “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten but not made…” Now I am not placing any creed above Scripture. However, those in the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) thought it vital to settle this debate. That Scripture made it plain that Jesus and God are one (John 10:30).
Tradition has it that one member that attended the council was even so impassioned that he slaps an Arian, perhpas even Arius himself. This attendee was none other than Saint Nicholas of Myra, the same St. Nicholas we see around Christmas time.
Now, I’ve heard the argument, “what about Colossians 1:15 that states that Jesus is the first born of all creation? How can He be of the same essence as the Father?” I believe that instead of using the word “of” here, “over” would have been better as used in the New King James Version, NIV, and the CSB.
Colossians 1:15-18 states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
” (NASB). We see here that He has made EVERYTHING. All that was created has been created by Jesus Christ. As John 1:3 says, “…apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Making Jesus outside of creation and not a thing created.
While I can’t say that the New Living Translation is the best or even my favorite translation, I think it excellently words Colossians 1:5 this way, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.” In other words it’s Christ’s preeminence over creation that this verse is talking about.
In conclusion, I believe homoousia better describes our Lord as revealed in the Bible. Not homoi-.
Further reading: John 5:18, John 8:24, John 8:58, John 10:30-33, John 20:28, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:8