The Council of Nicaea and the Trinity by Rudolph P Boshoff

 The Council of Nicaea and the Trinity: I see there seem to be a confusion to the reason for the Counsel of Nicaea from my Muslim friends. Many claim that the Trinity doctrine was invented by the Catholic Church at the council of Nicaea in Bithynia, (Turkey) in the 4th century(325.A.D.) but clearly History has a different story! There also seem to be a obliviousness to where Christians get this concept? So here is a very basic reading for the reason and origin of these concepts. 

The reason for the council of Nicaea:

Its been said if one tells a lie long enough, and hard enough, people will begin to believe it. The Nicene council was convened on the request of Hosius of Cordova when there seemed to have been a dispute about the place of the Son within the Godhead. Constantine heed to the suggestion for the sake of Unity within the Empire and called for a gathering of bishops in May and ended in late June in 325 AD. When Constantine became the Emperor, Fourteen years had gone by since Emperor Galerius brought an end to the persecutions. Many of the men who suffered for the name of Christ survived the persecution, and were now representatives at the Council of Nicaea. Constantine did not preside over the Council of Nicaea because of his age, (and because he had no theological knowledge), but was represented by two presbyters. Almost all the Council consisted of bishop’s (estimations of 300 or more) were from the eastern churches. There were less than a dozen bishops representing the rest of the Empire. What was debated was whether Christ was a created being which Arius was promoting, or that he was the same substance (Greek – “homoousia” as God being God) as Alexander proposed.

The main concern was the link of Christ’s deity to salvation. Since God is the one who condemned (in Gen.3) He could only be the one to save. This was no small matter, not only Nicaeawas the deity of the Son at stake but his work in salvation. This explains that those who misunderstand the deity of Christ and his relationship to the father will also misunderstand how salvation is obtained.(Sound familiar). Philip Schaff comments on the Arian movement stating, “Arianism was a religious political war against the spirit of the Christian revelation by the spirit of the world, which, after, having persecuted the church three hundred years from without, sought under the Christian name to reduce her by degrading Christ to the category of the temporal and the created, and Christianity to the level of natural religion” (Schaff and Wace, Nicene and post Nicene fathers, vol.4 p.385, Against the Arians ii 70). Emperor Constantine’s Nicene Council is usually pointed to as the source for the doctrine of the Trinity, yet, the Trinity was present in the church long before Constantine. The term “Trinitas” was popularized by Tertullian almost 100 years before the Nicene council in his debate against Praxeas. However, he was not the first to use the term. 

The Bible claims of the Trinity Pre-Nicaea:

1) There is one God (Deut.6:4; 1 Cor.8:4; Gal.3:20; 1Tim.2:5). 

2) The Trinity consists of three Persons (Gen.1:1,26;3:22;11:7;Isa.6:8,48:16,61:1; Matt.3:16-17,28:19;2Cor.13:14). NB!! In Genesis 1:1, the Hebrew plural noun “Elohim” is used. In Genesis 1:26, 3:22, 11:7 and Isaiah 6:8, the plural pronoun for ―us‖ is used. The word “Elohim” and the pronoun ―us are plural forms, definitely referring in the Hebrew language to more than two. While this is not an explicit argument for the Trinity, it does denote the aspect of plurality in God. The Hebrew word for “God,” “Elohim,” definitely allows for the Trinity. (Read Scriptures sited🙂 In Isaiah 48:16 and 61:1, the Son is speaking while making reference to the Father and the Holy Spirit. Compare Isaiah 61:1 to Luke 4:14-19 to see that it is the Son speaking. Matthew 3:16-17 describes the event of Jesus’ baptism. Seen in this passage is God the Holy Spirit descending on God the Son while God the Father proclaims His pleasure in the Son. Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14 are examples of three distinct Persons in the Trinity. 

3) The members of the Trinity are distinguished one from another in various passages. 

• In the Old Testament, ―LORD is distinguished from ―Lord (Gen.19:24;Hos.1:4). The LORD has a Son (Ps.2:7,12; Prov.30:2-4). The Spirit is distinguished from the ―LORD (Num.27:18) and from ―God (Ps.51:10-12). God the Son is distinguished from God the Father (Ps.45:6-7; Heb.1:8-9).

• In the New Testament, Jesus speaks to the Father about sending a Helper, the Holy Spirit (Joh.14:16-17). This shows that Jesus did not consider Himself to be the Father or the Holy Spirit. Consider also all the other times in the Gospels where Jesus speaks to the Father. Was He speaking to Himself? No. He spoke to another Person in the Trinity—the Father.

4) Each member of the Trinity is God. • The Father is God (Joh.6:27; Rom.1:7; 1 Pet.1:2). • The Son is God (Joh.1:1,14; Rom.9:5; Col.2:9; Heb.1:8; 1Joh.5:20). • The Holy Spirit is God (Acts5:3-4;1Cor.3:16).

5) There is subordination within the Trinity. • Scripture shows that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Father and the Son, and the Son is subordinate to the Father. This is an internal relationship and does not deny the deity of any Person of the Trinity. This is simply an area which our finite minds cannot understand concerning the infinite God. NB! [Concerning the Son see Luke 22:42, John 5:36, John 20:21, and 1 John 4:14. Concerning the Holy Spirit see John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7, and especially John 16:13-14.] 

6) The individual members of the Trinity have different tasks. • The Father is the ultimate source or cause of the universe (1 Cor.8:6; Rev.4:11); divine revelation (Rev.1:1); salvation (Joh.3:16-17); and Jesus’ human works (Joh.5:17;14:10). The Father initiates all of these things. • The Son is the agent through whom the Father does the following works: the creation and maintenance of the universe (1Cor.8:6;Joh.1:3; Col.1:16-17); divine revelation (Joh.1:1,16:12-15;Mat.11:27;Rev.1:1); and salvation (2 Cor.5:19;Mat.1:21; Joh.4:42). The Father does all these things through the Son, who functions as His agent. NB!!! Difference in function does not mean difference of nature!! • The Holy Spirit is the means by whom the Father does the following works: creation and maintenance of the universe (Gen.1:2;Job 26:13;Ps.104:30); divine revelation (Joh.16:12-15; Eph.3:5;2Pet.1:21);salvation (Joh.3:6;Tit.3:5;1 Pet.1:2); & Jesus’ works (Is.61:1;Acts10:38). Thus, the Father does all these. 

Some Apostles on the Trinity pre-Nicaea:ascended Lord
• The Apostle John – Joh.1; 21:24
• The Apostle Peter – 2 Pet.1:16
• The Apostle Paul – Col.1:16;Phil.2:5-11
• The Apostle Matthew – Mat.3:16-17; 28:19. 

Early Church Fathers on the Trinity pre-Nicaea:

Ignatius of Antioch (30-107 A.D.). “Jesus Christ our God”; “who is God and man”; “received knowledge of God, that is, Jesus Christ”; “for our God, Jesus the Christ”; “for God was manifest as man”; “Christ, who was from eternity with the Father”; “from God, from Jesus Christ”; “from Jesus Christ, our God”; “Our God, Jesus Christ”; “suffer me to follow the example of the passion of my God”; “Jesus Christ the God” and “Our God Jesus Christ.” NB!! [The fact that Ignatius was not rebuked, nor branded as teaching heresy by any of the churches or Christian leaders he sent such letters to proves that the early church, long before 107 A.D., accepted the deity of Christ.]

Polycarp (69-155 A.D.). He possibly spoke of “Our Lord and God Jesus Christ.”

Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.). He wrote of Jesus, “who… being the firstbegotten Word of God, is even God.” In his Dialogue with Trypho, he stated that “God was born from a virgin” and that Jesus was “worthy of worship” and of being “called Lord and God.”

Tatian (110-172 A.D.). This early apologist wrote, “We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales when we announce that God was born in the form of man.”

Irenaeus of Lyons and Rome (120-202 A.D.). He wrote that Jesus was “perfect God and perfect man”; “not a mere man…but was very God”; and that “He is in Himself in His own right…God, and Lord, and King Eternal” and spoke of “Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour and King.”

Tertullian of Carthage (145-220 A.D.). He said of Jesus “Christ is also God” because “that which has come forth from God [in the virgin birth] is at once God and the Son of God, and the two are one…in His birth, God and man united.” Jesus is “both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God.”

Hippolytus (170-235 A.D.). He said, “[it is] the Father who is above all, the Son who is through all, and the Holy Spirit who is in all. And we cannot otherwise think of one God, but by believing in truth in Father and Son and Holy Spirit…. For it is through this Trinity that the Father is glorified…. The whole Scriptures, then, proclaim this truth.” And, “the Logos is God, being the substance of God.”Solemn Saints

Gregory Thaumaturgus of Neo-Caesarea (205-270 A.D.) referred to Jesus as “God of God” and “God the Son.”

Origen of Alexandria (wrote ca 230 A.D.). He stated that Christ was “God and man.” And, “Jesus Christ…while he was God, and though made man, remained God as he was before.”

Athanasius (293-373 A.D.). This keen defender of New Testament teaching against the early Arian heresy, which taught that Jesus Christ was not God, declared of Jesus, “He always was and is God and Son,” and “He who is eternally God,… also became man for our sake.”

Conclusion: The concept of the Trinity was NOT the focus of the Counsel of Nicaea nor a later invention by a vicarious or isolated Christian group! It is clearly grounded in Scripture, affirmed by the Apostles and taught by the Early Church Fathers. To deem it otherwise is to be ignorant of History as well as the reality of Scripture!

Selah, Rudolph

 

Source: F.J.Foakes. P.Schaff. M.Slick. D.Bercot. J.H.Lieve. G.Bray. R.Stark. M.C.Tenny. Let us reason Ministries.

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