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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography

Theodotus of Byzantium

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Theodotus (4) of Byzantium. Eusebius ( H. E. v. 27) has preserved extracts from a treatise directed against the heresy of Artemon, who taught that our Lord had been mere man. Theodoret ( Haer. Fab. ii. 5) says that this treatise was called the Little Labyrinth ; and the author was doubtless Caius of Rome, and its date the end of the first quarter of cent. iii. [HIPPOLYTUS ROMANUS.] These heretics claimed to hold the original doctrine of the church which, they alleged, had continued incorrupt till the episcopate of Victor, the truth being first perverted by his successor Zephyrinus (c. 199). Their antagonist replies that, on the contrary, it was in the episcopate of Victor that this God-denying heresy had been first introduced, that Theodotus the shoemaker ( σκυτεύς ) was the first to teach that our Lord was mere man, and he had been excommunicated for this by Victor, and had then founded an organized sect, with a bishop (Natalius) to whom they paid a salary. Its leading men in the time of Victor's successor were Asclepiades and another Theodotus, a banker. These two undertook to clear the text of N.T. of corruptions, but our authority describes what they called "corrected" copies as simply ruined, the two not even agreeing as to their corrections.

Our sole other primary authority for this Theodotus is Hippolytus. The section on Theodotus in the lost earlier work on heresies by Hippolytus may be partly recovered by a comparison of the corresponding articles in Pseudo-Tertullian, Epiphanius, and Philaster; and Epiphanius, whose treatment (Haer. 54) is the fullest, almost certainly drew his materials altogether from Hippolytus. There is an article on Theodotus in the later treatise of Hippolytus ( Ref. vii. 35). The influence of Theodotus did not extend much beyond his own generation; later church writers appear to have only known him from the two nearly contemporary authorities we have named.

The place in which the article on Theodotus came in the lost work of Hippolytus exactly corresponds to the date assigned to him in the Little Labyrinth . He comes immediately after Blastus, whom we otherwise know to have caused schism in Victor's time by endeavouring to introduce the Quartodeciman usage in Rome. Hippolytus stated that Theodotus was a native of Byzantium, who denied Christ in time of persecution—a fact which accounted for his heresy, since he could thus maintain that he had only denied man, not God. Hippolytus reports that as to the Deity and the work of creation the doctrine of Theodotus was orthodox, but as to our Lord's person he agreed with Gnostic speculations, especially in distinguishing Jesus and Christ. The miraculous conception of Jesus he was willing to admit; but he held Him a man like others, though of the highest virtue and piety. He taught that at the baptism of Jesus, Christ descended on Him in the form of a dove, and that He was then able to work miracles, though He had never exhibited any before: but even so He was not God; though some of the sect were willing to acknowledge His right to the title after His resurrection.

Theodotus chiefly relied on texts of Scripture specimens of which are given by Epiphanius (Haer. 54). He evidently acknowledged the authority of St. John's Gospel for one of these texts was Joh_8:40. He appealed to the prophecy Deu_18:15 of the prophet who was to be like unto Moses and therefore man and quoted also Is 53:3 Jer_17:9 (LXX) and other texts in which our Lord is called man.


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Bibliography Information
Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Theodotus of Byzantium'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. 1911.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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