Myths about the Council of Nicea

By Ryan Turner
edited by Matt Slick

There are a number of myths circulating today about the Council of Nicea.

Myth #1: The Council of Nicea invented the Deity of Jesus in A.D. 325

What the Council did not do

The Council of Nicea did not invent the Deity of Jesus. Christians well before the Council of NIcea already believed that Jesus was God based on a number of New Testament passages (John 5:18; 14:9; 20:28; Heb. 1:8; Rev. 5:9).

In fact, Jesus was believed to be God by the earliest Christians:

  1. Paul
    1. 1 Corinthians 8:6, "Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him."
      1. Comments: Paul adapted the Jewish statement of faith known as the Shema which says, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!" and included Jesus within this statement of faith in 1 Corinthians 8:6 above. In other words, he Christianizes the Shema.
    2. Philippians 2:5-11, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
      1. Comments: Jesus was equal with God. This passage in Philippians 2:5-11 contains an early Christian hymn which probably dates sometime between A.D. 40-60. In verse 10, Paul takes a passage from Isaiah 45:23 which uniquely applied to God or Yahweh and applies it to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is Yahweh.
    3. 1 Corinthians 1:2, "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours."
      1. Comments: One of the defining characteristics of the Corinthian community to whom Paul was writing was that they prayed to Jesus.  
    4. 1 Corinthians 16:22, "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha."
      1. Comments: Maranatha is an Aramaic language statement which means "Our Lord Come!" It was an expression that the earliest Christians used to (1) talk to Jesus asking Him to return soon and (2) to remind one another about the return of Jesus. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in Greek and left this Aramaic "Maranatha" untranslated. This probably indicates that this Aramaic word came from the earliest Aramaic speaking church in Jerusalem. The expression could date as early at A.D. 33 or as late A.D. 51. Regardless, it shows that the earliest Christians were already praying to Jesus and invoking him to return. This is something that someone would only do for God.
  2. Gospels
    1. Jesus Receives Worship (Matthew 2:2, 11; 14:33; 28:9; John 9:35-38; Heb. 1:6)
    2. Jesus Forgives Sins (Mark 2:5-11; Luke 5:20)
    3. Jesus is Called God
      1. John 20:28-29, "Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!' 29 Jesus said to him, 'Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.'"
      2. John 5:18, "For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God."
      3. John 14:9, "Jesus said to him, 'Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'"?
  3. Other Letters
    1. Jesus is called God
      1. Hebrews 1:8, "But of the Son He says, 'YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM.'" 
        1. Comments: The passage clearly says "of the Son," "YOUR THRONE, O GOD." Jesus is called God. 
    2. Hymns are sung to Jesus
      1. Revelation 5:9: "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."
        1. Comments: For first century Jews to sing hymns of worship to Jesus who is the Lamb seated on the Throne is not something that they would do for anyone but God.

What the Council did do

The Council of Nicea did clarify certain issues that were facing the Christian community.  The reason there was not a more detailed formal creed about the Divinity of Jesus, such as the Council of Nicea, that occurred sooner was that (1) Christianity was a persecuted religion for so long that it was more difficult for it to study and articulate doctrines that were already believed.  Christians held to certain core beliefs including the Deity of Jesus, but it was not until they were challenged by Arianism (a belief held by modern day Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians that teaches Jesus is just a righteous man who was created by God) that it forced them to clarify and articulate their position.  (2) In A.D. 313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which allowed Christianity to be a tolerated religion.  This enabled open practice of Christianity--including study and debate over the correct Christian beliefs.  This resulted in conflict with Arianism which held that Jesus was a righteous man who was created by God.

Myth #2: The Council of Nicea decided on the number of books that should be in the New Testament (totalling 27).

Response: The Council of Nicea did not deal with issues of canonicity, or regarding which books should be part of the New Testament.1  Rather, the Council dealt with issues related to Christology or how one should understand who Jesus is.  Nicea specifically dealt with the Arian controversy over whether Jesus was eternally God or was a created being.

Myth #3: The Council of Nicea was the first Christian creed.

Response: Surprisingly to some, the council of Nicea was not the first Christian creed.  There are actually early Christian creeds found in the New Testament.  Perhaps the earliest Christian creeds are found in 1 Corinthians 15:3b-7 which records the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Jesus.  Most scholars date this creed to sometime between A.D. 32 to 37. Also, 1 Corinthians 8:6 contains an early Christian version of Deuteronomy 6:4 which is the Jewish Shema or Jewish statement of faith.  Likewise, there are a number of other creedal statements in the New Testament (Rom. 1:4; 4:25; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 3:18-22; etc.).  Interestingly, these creeds focus on the issue of Jesus' Sonship or Divinity, death, and resurrection.  Remarkably, these are exactly some of the key issues that the Nicene Creed dealt with! 

A Sample List of Early Christian Creeds:

  • Romans 1:4, "Who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord."
  • Romans 4:25, "He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification."
  • 1 Tim. 3:16, "By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness : He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory."
    • Comments: This passage speaks of Jesus who was "revealed in the flesh." This indicates that Jesus pre-existed and took on flesh. Jesus was not just a mere man who was adopted by God because he was righteous. He pre-existed in heaven as God the Son.
  • 1. The standard 27 books in the New Testament did not appear until A.D. 367 by Bishop Athanasius. However, a number of the books were already considered authoritative well before then. See: http://carm.org/myths-about-lost-books-of-new-testament.

 

 

 

 
 
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