The Nicene Creed and the Invention of the Trinity?

When it comes to the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there have been many theories about whether or not the Christian concept of the Trinity is true. Both Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons will attack the Trinity as being “incomprehensible” and therefore “illogical.” Too often these folks like to aim their artillery at the Council of Nicea that convened in A.D. 325 and was attended by approximately 300 bishops from the east and west churches.

Of course, I cannot cover in detail every nuance of the council or of the Trinity to show why I and millions of other Christians believe this doctrine makes good biblical sense. (Two good books I can recommend for study on the Trinity, though, are E. Calvin Beisner’s God in Three Persons and James White’s The Forgotten Trinity.) But it needs to be established that the issue of the Trinity did not originate in the fourth century. In fact, Christians, for the most part, have held very dearly to the idea of the Hypostatic Union (Jesus as the God-man was 100% God and 100% man, as detailed in Phil. 2:5-11) since the days of the apostles. It wasn’t until Arius came along that the Christian community needed to evaluate this critical teaching.

Council of NiceaTypically, detractors opposed to the Trinity will immediately use the name of Constantine in an attempt to show how the Council of Nicea was used to promote a pagan concept of God. When someone does this, ask her how well she has studied the process of how the decision was made. Rarely have I found anyone able to explain the major players of the council (Alexander and Athanasius versus Arius), let alone the century the council took place (4th)!

The truth is that less than two dozen bishops (out of some 300) attending the council were ever in favor of Arianism, and by the time the council concluded, only two did not favor the Orthodox position. Truly Constantine’s goal was for reconciliation and had nothing to do with the decision made in Nicea, which was overwhelmingly confirmed in a fuller form at the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381. As Steve Brandt points out,

“Constantine did play an important role at the Council. Eusebius of Caesarea reports that he played a key part in calming, convincing, and bringing all to agreement on contested points. The account of Eusebius fairly glows in regard to the Emperor, and he is portrayed as a key figure. It is nowhere suggested, however, that he was permitted to vote with the bishops nor that he used any form of force to obtain an outcome.”

While the word “Trinity” is never used in the Bible, neither is the concept “Heavenly Mother” nor “Paradise Earth” used in the Bible, even though some might argue these are biblically true ideas. Yet the Trinity clearly solves problems and is a correct belief based on the teaching of the Bible. It shows that, while there is one God (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29), there are three separate Persons who are fully and completely God. (Quick. Who raised Jesus from the dead? Of course, God the Father did according to Acts 3:15. But Jesus also raised Himself from the dead, according to John 2:19 and the Spirit gets credit in Romans 8:11.)

Trinity SymbolThe Trinity is supported by the testimony of Jesus as well as His apostles and brothers. In his book What Have They Done with Jesus, New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III carefully considers the early witnesses of the historical Jesus Christ. In his conclusion on page 291, he writes,

“The historical probabilities surely lie with the suggestion that these were honest witnesses, struggling mightily to explain the significance of a person they had encountered and who, in the process had irrevocably changed their lives. One has to decide, then, whether the Jesus they remembered and tried to explain, grasping after terms and titles large enough to convey his importance, was the real Jesus or not. Bear in mind that it is not a matter of trusting much later Christian testimony—say, for the Council of Nicea conspiracies to concoct a Jesus-is-God theology. No, it is a matter of trusting the very earliest witnesses of the historical Jesus, some of those who knew him best.”

James R. Edwards, a biblical languages professor at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA, agrees, writing in Is Jesus the Only Savior that “we do not find an evolutionary trend to elevate Jesus in the creedal tradition of Christianity” (p. 69) In fact, he writes on pages 55-56,

“The idea that the early church fabricated a portrait of Jesus that eventually resulted in the Nicene formulation of ‘true God of true God’ from a historical Jesus who was simply a first-century Jew about whom little was known, and who was either uncertain or confused about his identity, is a highly improbable—and unadvised—leap of faith. It is not surprising that an imposing line of biblical scholars has opposed it for nearly two centuries.”

It would be refreshing for critics of the Trinity to refrain from attacking the Council of Nicea to disprove the Trinity. If you don’t agree with the Trinity, use scripture for your source. This is a much better place to begin.

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102 Responses to The Nicene Creed and the Invention of the Trinity?

  1. Blake says:

    Perhaps I’m foolish to join this discussion at this point. However, it is has been very enlightening to see the basic misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what should be a very basic discussion. For instance, this comment was made:

    “That’s why I say that Mormons shouldn’t shrink from defining their concept of the Trinity as Arian, because that’s what it is. That’s why I’m not being all that facetious when I suggest that Mormons call themselves “ante-Nicene Christians.” Because that’s what they are.”

    Actually, Mormons cannot be Arians because Arians believed that Christ was created and thus of an ontologically inferior status to the Father. Mormons don’t believe that Christ is created; rather, He is uncreated. Further, I am way confused out how so much can be written on the Trinity and the real problem is never discussed. Here is the problem:

    (1) There is exactly one God;
    (2) The Father is God;
    (3) The Son is God;
    (4) The Father is not identical to the Son.

    Any three of these premises logically entail the denial of the fourth. Premises 1, 2 and 4 entail that the Son is not God. Premises 1, 3 and 4 entail that the Father is not God. Premises 2, 3 and 4 entail that there is more than one God. It’s a simple matter to see the logical issue and the real problem that both the council of Nicea and the council of Toledo grappled with but really didn’t resolve.

    Evangelicals as I see it assert a non-biblical doctrine of the substantial Trinity that entails this logical mess. The LDS solution is to accept that “God” means something different in premise 1 than it does in premises 2 and 3, and thus there is no logical contradiction. That is also the view of the gospel of John in the NT. Look here for further discussion:

  2. Cully says:

    Blake, wrote

    “Here is the problem:
    (1) There is exactly one God;
    (2) The Father is God;
    (3) The Son is God;
    (4) The Father is not identical to the Son.”

    Here is the inconceivable solution which reason cannot comprehend but which faith grasps firm:

    “There is One God”
    (1) The Father is God, the Father is not the Son, the Father is not the Holy Spirit
    (2) The Son is God, the Son is not the Father, the Son is not the Holy Spirit
    (3) The Holy Spirit is God, The Holy Spirit is not the Father, The Holy Sprit is not the Son.

    Isaiah 43:10b-11 “No God was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me. I, I am the Lord, and there’s nobody beside Me who can save.”

    Col. 1:19-20 “God decided to have His whole being live in Him (Christ) and by Him to reconcile to Himself everything on earth and in heaven in a peace made by the blood on His cross.”

    Col. 1:21-22 “Once you were strangers to God and in your hearts His enemies, doing wicked things, but now by dying in His human body He has made of you enemies friends in order to have you stand before Him without sin or fault or blame.”

    Col. 2:9 “In Him (Christ) lives all the fulness of the Deity, that is, in His body.”

    One God, one mind, different persons. Three in One. A shamrock is complete with one stem, three petals. All three petals comprise the shamrock, yet each petal is separate in “personage”, united in substance. Take away one of the petals and you no longer have a shamrock. Take the Son out of the Godhead and you no longer have God in His fulness.


    2 Pt 1:20-21 “Understand this first, that no one can explain any written Word of God as he likes, because it never was the will of a human being that brought us God’s Word, but the Holy Spirit moved holy men to say what God told them.”

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