Did Catholicism give us the Bible?

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In almost every discussion of sola scriptura, there is a favourite jingle Catholics rehash:

“Since you Protestants hold to sola scriptura, how did you know which books of the Bible were inspired or belonged in it? Did your Bible-only theory provide you with an inspired table of contents? You only knew this by the authority of the Catholic Church. Without the Catholic Church you wouldn’t have the Bible!”

While this argument gives the Catholic a warm, fuzzy feeling, it is faulty on several levels.

1. Catholics misrepresent sola scriptura in order to tear it down. What sola scriptura really says is that inspired Scripture alone is the infallible authority of the church. It doesn’t mean that one cannot appeal to traditions, councils, confessions of faith or church authority.

What Catholics ignorantly attack is solo scriptura which means holding to the Bible alone as authority. This is not the historic, Christian position.

John Maxfield, a church historian, stated that:

“Among the sixteenth-century reformers the principle of sola scriptura … meant that scripture was the supreme authority over all other authorities” (Luther’s Lectures on Genesis and the Formation of Evangelical Identity, 2008, 43).

The Westminster Confession of Faith stated:

“The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (1:10).

The 1561 Belgic Confession, Article 7, The Sufficiency of Scripture says:

“Therefore we must not consider human writings – no matter how holy their authors may have been – equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.”

That Evangelicals appeal to the authority of a tradition or history in the recognition of the canon does not follow that they take it as their ultimate authority.

2. Internal evidence reveal that the New Testament was recognised as inspired right from the time they were written.

Apostle Paul, for example, placed Luke’s writings on par with the Old Testament writings when he quoted Luke 10:7 and Deuteronomy 25:4 as “the Scripture says” in 1 Timothy 5:18) Apostle Peter also recognised Paul’s writings as “Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

These inspired writings were directed “to the church of God in Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), to be “read in the church of the Laodiceans [Colosse]” (Col. 4:16) and “read unto all the holy brethren” (1 Thess. 5:27).

Jesus told John, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches” and this is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants” (Rev. 1:1, 11).

A scholar reminds us that:

“Letters were expensive to produce (on parchment or papyrus), and letters from apostles were rare blessings in a time when local charismatic leadership (1 Corinthians 14). The Colossian church was instructed to read the letter Paul wrote to Laodicea and vice versa (Colossians 4:16). Clearly such letters were deemed valuable and authority” (The Portable Seminary, ed. David Horton, Bethany House, 2006, 46).

The teaching of an apostle of Christ – whether written or oral – was regarded as authoritative and a fundamental criterion of genuineness.

The fact that the Scriptures were written to the churches shows they weren’t “made” by the church and the idea that generations of Christians lived and died without knowing what was Scripture until the Roman church came on the scene is a hallowed myth.

3. Early church writings indicate that the NT books had been widely known and accepted among Christians from the first century.

Clement (c. 95 AD) makes references to at least 8 NT books. He wrote to the Corinthian church:

“Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What did he first write to you at the beginning of his preaching? With true inspiration he charged you.” He then refers to the matters in 1 Corinthians 1 (1 Clement 47:1-3).

Justin Martyr (100-180 AD) in his Dialogue with Trypho used the expression “it is written” when quoting from the book of Matthew (XLIX). He quoted from the 4 Gospels, epistles and Revelations.

Polycarp (105 A.D.) mentions 15 NT books, Tatian (110-180) wrote his Diatessaron based on the 4 books of the Gospel; Ignatius of Antioch (115) mentions at least 7 books; Ireneaus (185) mentions 21; Hippolytus mentions 22; Tertullian mentions all NT books except 3 while Origen mentioned all of them.

These men were neither “Roman Catholics” nor “Protestants.”

4. The canon of the NT was recognized from early times. It wasn’t “determined” by a church or council.

The Muratorian Canon (170 AD), which was a compilation of books recognized as canonical at that early date by the church included all the NT books except Hebrews, James and one epistle of John.

Many in the early church recognized the canonical books by considering its:

a) Apostolicity – if the author was an apostle or had a connection with an apostle.

b) Acceptance – if accepted by the body of Christians at large.

c) Content – if the book reflects consistency with sound doctrine.

d) Inspiration – if the book reflects the quality of inspiration and bear the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit (Everett Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament, Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1964, 103-6).

“In the absence of any official list of the canonical writings of the New Testament, Eusebius finds it simplest to count the roles of his witnesses” (Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, Oxford Univ. Press, 1997, 203).

Harry Gamble admits that “in the fifth century a more or less final consensus was reached and shared by the East and West. It is worth noting that no ecumenical council in the ancient church ever ruled for the church as a whole on the question of the contents of the canon” (Lee Donalds and James Sanders, The Canon Debate, 2002, 291).

5. On its website, Catholic Answers said “the canon of the entire Bible was essentially settled around the turn of the fourth century. Up until this time, there was disagreement over the canon … in practice Christians accepted the Catholic Church’s decision in this matter.”

While Catholics assert that the Councils of Hippo (373 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) “essentially settled” the canon of the Bible, this is refuted by Athanasius’ 39th Festal letter of 367 (and the Council of Laodicea in 363) which listed the 27 books of the NT as the only true books. This precedes Hippo and Carthage.

As explained here, the canon defined at these local councils were not the same as the one defined at Trent.

Furthermore, the councils of Hippo and Carthage never stated that their canon came from the traditions of the apostles or that it was definitive. In fact, Catholic scholars admit that there was no “infallible” listing of the canon before the Council of Trent:

“For the first fifteen centuries of Christianity, no Church Council put forth a definitive list of biblical books” (Joseph Lienhard, The Bible, The Canon and Authority, The Liturgical Press, 1995, 59).

“The Tridentine list or decree was the first infallible and effectually promulgated declaration on the canon of the Holy Scriptures” (H. J. Schroeder, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 178).

Going by the Catholic standard, the councils of Hippo and Carthage were local or regional ones, therefore, their canon list weren’t binding on the entire church.

Furthermore, the church of the 4th century was not the Roman Catholic Church. They didn’t believe in papal authority, sacrifice of the Mass, Marian dogmas, auricular confession and other novelties Catholics today believe.

Since Roman Catholicism didn’t exist in the first 4 centuries, its boast of giving us the Bible is at best, an empty drum noise.

6. History testifies to the antagonism Catholicism has towards the Bible.

For several centuries, Rome kept the Bible from the hands of the people by putting it in Latin only, forbidding translations, literally chaining it to the walls, restricting the people’s literacy and burning those who owned it at the stakes.

The Council of Toulouse (1229) forbade owning or reading a Bible. The Council of Tarragona (1234) forbade reading it in a native language and the third Synod of Oxford made it a heresy crime to have an English Bible.

Why these efforts? Because Catholic leaders knew too well that many of Rome’s teachings oppose the plain teachings of the Bible and the only way they could keep Catholic followers in lockstep obedience was to take the bible from their hands.

Today, Catholics are now allowed to have the Bible in their hands and are even told to read it, but Rome still keeps it from their hearts by insisting that only the Church Magisterium can interpret it.

At the same time, they undermine confidence in the Bible by touting some parts of it as “fiction” or unreliable “human traditions.”

For example, Catholicism denies that a literal prophet named Jonah was swallowed by a literal fish. Even Karl Keating wrote that “the story of the prophet being swallowed and then disgorged by a ‘great fish’ is merely didactic fiction, a grand tale told to establish a religious point” (Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Ignatius Press, 1988, 129).

Joseph Ratzinger (former pope Benedict XVI) also watered down the inspiration of the book of Genesis by dismissing its creation account for a variant of Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis:

“The moment when creation became a dominant theme occurred during the Babylonian Exile. It was then the account that we have just heard -based, to be sure, on very ancient traditions – assumed its present form” (In the Beginning, Eerdmans, 1995, 10-11).

This rejection of the Bible’s creation account has opened the door wide to evolution within the ranks of Catholicism.

For all its brag, Rome can’t still prove who wrote the books of Hebrews, Job, or Esther, instead they pick and choose which they want to accept as inspired as if they are in an ice cream parlour.

In 1955, the Pontifical Biblical Commission granted Catholics the complete freedom to believe Matthew did or did not write Matthew (Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, 1993, 45-46).

The canon of the Bible is based on its divine inspiration. This inspiration bears witness within the readers who are themselves indwelt by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of Scripture. God gave us the Bible – not a religious system. He used the Jewish prophets to give us the OT and the apostles of Christ and their associates to give us the NT.

If the Catholic church wasn’t needed to give us the Old Testament, then it was not needed to give us the New either.

Was The Reformation a Runaway Train?

Disinformation is an intentional spread of false or inaccurate information designed to discredit a conflicting information or support false conclusions. Catholicism has perfected this tactic to a tee. As a result, the Protestant Reformation has been caricatured and the Reformers demonized. Rome portrays the Reformation as a runaway train, inspired by wanton lust, arrogance and self-independence in order to justify her apostasy and falsehoods.

Today, a number of well-researched books and Christian websites have cleared up much of the disinformation Catholics are being fed with by Rome’s legatees. But let’s take a look at some examples:

“The Roman Catholic Church was the only Christian Church in existence prior to the Reformation, therefore, if it went into apostasy, then Christ’s promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church failed”

There are several false assumptions wrapped up in this one sentence. First, what is today called the “the Roman Catholic Church” was not a monolithic system that sprang up from Christ’s apostles (like Athena from Zeus’ skull) retaining a doctrinal continuity for 2,000 years. It was a gradual invasion and taking root of false doctrines all through the centuries that gave rise to it. It took much time and circumstances – often the influence of pagan ideas – for Roman Catholicism to emerge into what it is:

“The magnificent conception of a Catholic church bound together in one organization, one faith, one ritual could hardly have been realized by imagination alone, without the aid of time and circumstances” (James Thompson, Edgar Nathaniel Johnson. An Introduction to Medieval Europe, W. W. Norton & co., 1937, 46).

This is why ancient catholicity and modern Roman Catholicism are as different as chalk and cheese. The fact is, not all Christian churches were part of the Latin church even in the 4th century. The Edict of the Emperors Gratian, Valentinan II and Theodosius of February 27, 380 shows this:

“We order those who follow this doctrine to receive the title of Catholic Christians, but others we judge to be mad and raving and worthy of incurring the disgrace of heretical teaching, nor are their assemblies to receive the name of churches. They are to be punished not only by Divine retribution but also by our own measures, which we have decided in accord with Divine inspiration” (Sidney Ehler and John Morrall, Church and State Through the Centuries, Burns & Cates, 1954, 7).

Even though what these early writings meant by “catholic” is far different from what Roman Catholicism espouses, yet it’s clear that it was because of the “heretics” outside it that the Inquisition was brought up. Bishop Alvaro Palayo, an official of the Curia, also made a reference to these Christians about 300 years before the Reformation:

“Considering the Papal court has filled the whole Church with simony, and the consequent corruption of religion, it is natural enough the heretics should call the Church the Whore” (De Planct Eccl. ii. 28 cited by Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council, London, 1858, 185).

Martin Luther also said: “We are not the first to declare the papacy to be the kingdom of Antichrist, since for many years before us so many and such great men (whose number is large and whose memory is eternal) have undertaken to express the same thing so clearly and plainly” (Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, Vol. 1, 36)

When Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail over His church, He was referring to the revelation of Himself which Peter expressed (Matt. 16:18). The gates of hades are powerless against the church as long as she believes and confesses this truth. This is based on Christ’s faithfulness, not an alleged “charism of infallibility.” Jesus was referring to the Church, His Body (all true Believers) in that passage, not an institution.

Roman Catholicism is a departure from Christ and the faith “once handed down” by its denial of the sufficiency of Scripture, the sufficiency of Christ and His sacrifice. So, the promise in Matthew no longer applies to it (Jude 3). The apostasy of the Roman church became full-blown at the council of Trent (16th century) where it codified its false doctrines.

Notably, the Council of Trent wasn’t a linear continuation of the Latin or Medieval church. In fact, the Western church before Trent was more pluralistic in doctrine than the Roman church between Trent and Vatican I. Therefore, one can say there were Christians in the Roman system and outside of it through the centuries. These were the ones who constituted the true Church, not the religious institution.

The only “Christian” groups outside the Catholic Church before the Reformation were heretical. The Albigenses were Manicheans (Dualists) who practiced mass suicide and sexual immorality

In Catholic lingo, a “heresy” is any deviation from a doctrine defined by the Church. Apparently, these Christian movements were judged as heretics, not on the basis of their writings in contrast with Scripture, but for their disagreement with the Roman church (Rome positions itself as the standard of orthodoxy).

For instance, Priscillian, the Bishop of Avila, was falsely accused of “heresy,” immorality and witchcraft and beheaded (along with 6 others) in 385 A. D. whereas 7 of the works he wrote to refute these charges have been discovered in the library of the University of Wurzburg, Germany.

In the same vein, most of the sources accusing the Albigenses of heinous crimes are Catholic works, which may not be reliable. Even when one examines some of them, certain truths still emerge. James Capelli, a 13th century Franciscan lector in Milan wrote:

“The rumors of the fornication which is said to prevail among them is most false. For it is true that once a month either by day or by night, in order to avoid gossip by the people, men and women meet together, not, as some lyingly say, for purposes of fornication, but that they may hear preaching … They are wrongfully wounded in popular rumor by malicious charges of blasphemy from those who say that they commit many shameful and horrid acts of which they are innocent” (Walter Wakefield and Austin Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages, University of Michigan Library, 1991, 305).

Surprisingly, Catholic inquisitors wrote that Albigenses “were condemned for speculations.” Their trial showed they believed “a Christian church ought to consist of only good people … [that] the church ought not to persecute any, even the wicked; the law of Moses was no rule for Christians; there was no need for priests, especially of wicked ones; the sacraments and orders, and ceremonies of the church of Rome were futile, expensive, oppressive, and wicked…” (William Jones, The History of the Christian Church, New York, 1824, 455)

Apart from the Albigenses, there were also the Waldenses, Bogomils and Poor men of Lyons whose few surviving writings showed they were “heretics” to Rome only. Two notable works: History of the Evangelical Churches of Piedmont (1648) by Samuel Morland and An Inquiry into the History and Theology of the Ancient Valdenses and Albigenses (1838) by George Fabler, drew on works dating back to the 13th century indicating that the beliefs of these pre-Reformation groups were similar to those of Evangelicals today.

“It is now clearly known that the Paulicans were not Manicheans” says a historian, “the same thing may probably be said of the Albigenses.” He added, “The Roman Catholic Church sought diligently for excuses to persecute. Even Luther was declared by the Synod of Sens to be a Manichean. The Archbishop Usher says that the charges of Manicheanism on the Albigensian sect is evidently false” (John Christian, The Glorious Recovery of the Vaudois, London, 1857, 1 xvii).

The Reformation was just a revolt from the mystic from Wittenberg (Martin Luther), the logical orthodox from Geneva (John Calvin) and the heterodox rationalist from Zurich (Ulrich Zwingli)

This is a disinformation. The Reformation was not a “revolt” by any means, since the Reformers stood for the same truths that many within and without the Roman church all through the centuries stood for.

Archbishop Agobard of Lyons (779-840) spoke against image worship and the church’s unbiblical liturgies and practices. Bishop Claudius (8th century) rejected Catholic traditions, saints and relic veneration. Peter of Bruys (12th century) spoke against Catholic dogmas and left the priesthood; he was killed for it.

Henry of Lausanne, a monk, who exposed the errors of Rome was arrested in 1148; he died in prison. Berengar of Tours opposed transubstantiation based on Scripture, the church fathers and reason; he was excommunicated.

Men like Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and Wessel Gansfort stood for the supremacy of Scripture long before the Reformation. Contrary to what Catholics are made to believe, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli were neither loons nor buffoons. They proved their cases by appealing to the church fathers, church councils and reason.

When Luther posted his 95 theses at the door of the church of Wittenberg, he still adhered to some Catholic doctrines (e.g purgatory, Mariolatry etc). His intention was to reform the church from within, not to leave it. But when the Roman church couldn’t prove its ideas from Scripture, but instead excommunicated Luther at the Diet of Worms, he had to leave.

Other lesser-known Reformers were Nicolaus von Amsdorf, Henry van Zutphen, Propst Jakob, Johann Esch, Heinrich Voes and Hess Kaspar. Most of them were killed for disagreeing with Rome. Catholics may have sank too deep to question the tyrannical system of Rome that crushes every voice of dissent, nevertheless, the Reformation was God’s plan to call His people out of an apostate religious system.

The Protestant church was started by King Henry VIII who wasn’t allowed to take an extra wife by the Pope

This remark is quite revealing, though not in the way Catholics intend. Henry VIII was a staunch Catholic who wrote a polemic Assertion of the Seven Sacraments Against Martin Luther (which earned him the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ from the Pope). In 16th century England, the Catholic church was not in the good books of the common people. The priests were immoral; the church owned about a fifth of all property in England and levied heavy taxes on the people.

Then the King wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry the more beautiful and perhaps more fertile Anne Boleyn. But Pope Clement VII, pressured by Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V, refused to grant Henry’s wish. This prompted Henry VIII to break with Rome and declare himself head of England’s Catholic Church. This decision was supported by the House of Commons (since popular sentiment against Rome was already high).

“Henry was now the sole judge of what, in religion and politics, the English people were to believe” wrote a historian. “Since his theology was still Catholic in every respect except the papal power, he made it a principle to persecute impartially Protestant critics of Catholic dogma, and Catholic critics of his ecclesiastical supremacy” (Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Simon & Schuster, 1950, VI, 529).

It was during Henry VIII’s time that Tyndale was burned at stake for translating the Bible into English. Henry died in 1547 leaving “a large sum to pay for Masses for the repose of his soul” (Ibid, 577). Contrary to what Catholics are told, he wasn’t a Protestant!

What was the Council of Nicea About?

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Perhaps no other council in church history has been as misrepresented as the Council of Nicea. Most people who have a problem with the Bible seem to love the party line: “Your Bible was made up at the Council of Nicea.”

New Ager, Shirley MacLaine, in her book, Out on a Limb says: “The theory of reincarnation is recorded in the Bible. But the proper interpretation were struck from it during … the Council of Nicaea.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses claim this council “laid the groundwork for later Trinitarian theology.”

Dan Brown, in The Davinci Code lurched even higher in his fancies:

Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea … until that moment in history Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal” (p. 233).

It’s often tragic to find otherwise smart people parroting Dan Brown’s remarks mindlessly. Personally, once a person makes such remarks about Nicea, it sets off a tripwire alarm in me to dismiss all their arguments as irrelevant.

Nothing damages one’s credibility more than trotting out a patently false and ignorant argument – especially in an age when knowledge is at one’s fingertips.

Thus, this piece intends to look at what really happened at the Council of Nicea and the significance it holds in church history.

The Arian Controversy

The Council of Nicea was held between May to July 325 AD, which was about 14 years after the persecution Galerius meted out on the church ended.

Many of the bishops had been exiled and tortured and still bore the scars when they attended the council. It was also the first time in church history that an emperor called a council.

The council was summoned because of a Christological heresy by an aged presbyter named Arius (250-336 AD). He taught that:

“The Father alone is without a beginning. The Son (or Logos) had a beginning; God created Logos in order that He might create the world” (Harry Bower, A Short History of the Early Church, 1976, p. 112).

Arius began teaching this heresy in Alexandria (Egypt), saying that Jesus was a created being and not eternal as the Bible says.

Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria held a Synod in 320 which denounced and excommunicated Arius. After this, he went to the East to popularise his teachings where he gained much support and followers. Alexander wrote letters to the Eastern churches warning them against the Arians.

This led to a controversy that almost divided the church. Constantine, the emperor, saw that this could threaten the unity of the empire so he called for the Council of Nicaea to deal with the problem.

According to tradition, 318 bishops were in attendance at the council, most of which were from the East. However, they were in three parties:

  1. The Arian party consisting of Arius, Theonas, Socundus (bishops from Egypt), and Eusebius of Nicomedia who led them. They held to the view that Jesus was a creature and of a different substance from the Father.
  2. The “orthodox” (or middle) party led by bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. They held to the view that Jesus was of a similar substance (Gr: homoiousios) to the Father. They used this term to avoid stating that Jesus and the Father were one person.
  3. The Alexandrian party which consisted of Athanasius, bishop Ossius and Alexander of Alexandria. They held to the view that Christ is not merely like the Father, but is of the same substance (Gr: homo-ousios) as God the Father. Thus, Jesus has the same essence as God.

The dispute with Arius concerns the use of these two words: homoousios (“of the same nature”) and homoiousios (“of a similar nature”).

As a scholar notes, “Arius was happy to say that Christ was a supernatural heavenly being and that he was created by God before the creation of the rest of the universe, and even that he was “similar” to God in his nature. Thus, Arius would agree to the word homoiosios” (Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press, England, 1999, p. 114).

Athanasius however, indicated the desire of the bishops to express their faith Scripturally with the term – homoousios – which would be antithetical to the Arian heresy by emphasizing that Jesus is fully God and at the same time not drift into modalist heresy.

Though the council of Nicea condemned Arius and his followers as heretics, it was the council of Constantinople in 381 AD that finally put the “nature” debate to rest by decreeing that Jesus had the same nature (homoousios) as God the Father. The resulting Nicene creed says in part:

“We believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance [homoousion] with the Father, through whom all things came to be, those things that are in heaven and those things that are on earth, who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh, and was made man…”

The Moody Handbook of Theology points out that the terms “God from God” and “true God from true God” further stressed the deity of Christ. At the same time “begotten, not made” and “came down” stressed His eternality (p. 448).

What Role did Constantine Play?

Many cults that reject the deity of Christ claim that Constantine somehow “enforced” his views on the council to accept that Jesus has the same nature as God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In their booklet, Should You Believe in the Trinity? the Watchtower Society distorts a quote (on pg. 8) from a source to promote this theory:

“Constantine himself presided, actively guiding the discussions, and personally proposed (no doubt on Ossius’ prompting) the crucial formula expressing the relation of Christ to God in the creed issued by the council, ‘of one substance with the Father’ (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1976, 6:386).

The part appearing in bold was omitted and the volume and page number of the source was not given (so that readers would not discover their slyness).

Ossius was the bishop of Cordoba and an ecclesiastical adviser to Constantine. He was the one who prompted him on which steps to take.

Constantine was a politician, not a theologian, and was ready to agree with whatever party for peace to reign in his empire.

“Constantine had basically no understanding whatsoever of the questions that were being asked in Greek theology” (Bernard Lohse, A Short History of Christian Doctrine, 1966, p. 51).

Unfortunately, Dan Brown relied on much personal imaginations in his novel:

Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier [Gnostic] gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned” (The Davinci Code, p. 234).

There is no evidence that Constantine commissioned any Bible nor ordered the burning of any Gnostic gospels. What were burned were Arian papers found by the council to be heretical.

It must also be noted that the Nicene council did not address the issue of the Bible canon (only regional councils of Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397 did).

The New Testament canon was already recognized by the church. Other matters discussed at the council “included the consideration of the Melitian schism, the settlement of the controversial date of Easter celebration and the promulgation of 26 disciplinary canons” (Samson Fatokun, History and Doctrine of the Early Church, Crownfit, 1999, p. 80).

The canon 6 issued at the council also reflects the pattern of church government at the time:

“Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1983, II, XIV:15).

This, with other data of evidence, show us that at this time, the idea of a single universal head exercising jurisdiction over the whole church was unknown.

The bishop of Rome had no jurisdiction over the entire church. He was only regarded as the leader of the most influential church in the West.

Since the Nicene church did not look up to one individual or a church as their final authority, the idea that the Catholic Church (or Constantine) conspired in the 4th century to “force” the deity of Christ or the Trinity on Christians is a poorly concocted fiction.

Another proof that Constantine had little influence on the decisions taken at Nicaea can be seen in how he later succumbed to Arian and semi-Arian heresies:

“The Arian party grew, and years afterwards influenced Constantine, and especially his son the emperor Constantius. The emperors interfered more and more in the church, deposing and exiling whichever bishops did not affirm the doctrine of those who had the emperor’s ear” (John Hunt, Concise Church History, AMG Publishers, 2008, p. 128).

Arian heresies gained an upper hand after the Nicene council such that the Council of Jerusalem in 335 AD, cleared Arius of all the charges of heresies previously levied on him.

Regional councils met at Sirminum (351), Arelate (353) and Milan (355) and the resulting Arian and semi-Arian creeds from them were forced on the Western church.

Athanasius was condemned as a troublemaker and stripped of his bishopric. All the bishops who resisted them were banished. Even Liberius, the bishop of Rome and Ossius were forced to accept Arianism.

Athanasius however, persisted in standing for the homoousios clause because he believed in the sufficiency of the Scriptures – until it was affirmed by the Council of Constantinople.

It must also be noted that the term “homoousios” was not “the invention of the council of Nicea, still less of Constantine, but had previously arisen in theological language, and occurs even in Origen [185-254 AD] and among the Gnostics” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:628).

The Evidence of Scripture and History

Christians today believe in the Deity of Christ, not because a Council or an emperor forced it on us, but because it’s a clear teaching of the inspired apostles of Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14; Rom. 9:6; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-17; 2 Peter 1:1, Titus 2:13 etc).

The writings of the early church fathers (and early church documents) are also historical evidence that the Deity of Christ had been a well-established doctrine long before Nicea. For example:

I. Ignatius (died c. 108 AD): “There is only one physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passable and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ephesians 7, The Apostolic Fathers, J. B. Lightfoot, 1984, 139)

II. Aristides (140 AD): “[Christians] are they who, above every people of the Earth have found the truth, for they acknowledge God, the creator and maker of all things in the only begotten Son and in the Holy Spirit” (Apology, 16).

III. Justin Martyr (150 AD): “The Father of the universe has a Son, who along being the first begotten Word of God is even God” (First Apology, ch. 63).

IV. Tatian the Syrian (170 AD): “We are not playing the fool, you Greeks, nor do we talk nonsense, when we report that God was born in form of a man” (Address to the Greeks, 21).

V. Melito of Sardis (c. 170-180 AD): “But listen, as you tremble in the face of him on whose account the earth trembled. He who hung the earth in place is hanged. He who fixed the heaven in place is fixed in place. He who made all things fast is made fast on the tree. The Master is insulted. God is murdered. The king of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand” (A Homily on the Passover Sect, 96-96).

VI. Athenagoras (177 AD): “The Son of God is the Word of the Father in thought and actuality. By him and through him all things were made, the Father and the Son being one” (Plea for the Christians, 10:2-4).

VII. Theophilus of Antioch (180 AD): “In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity; of God, and His Word, and His Wisdom” (Of the Fourth Day, To Autolycus, 2:15).

VIII. Ireneaus (185 AD): “Christ Jesus is our Lord, and God and Saviour and King” (Against Heresies, bk. 1, ch. 10, sec. 1).

IX. Clement of Alexandria (190 AD): “[Jesus is] the Expiator, the Saviour, the Soother, the Divine Word, he that is quite evidently the true God, he that is put on a level with the Lord of the universe because he was his Son” (Exhortation to the Greeks, 10:110).

X. Tertullian (200 AD): “All Scriptures give clear proof of the Trinity. Thus the connotation of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produce three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another” (Against Praxeas, 24).

The Nicene creed prevailed eventually, not because of the authority of a pope or the council itself, but the authority of Scripture and the evidence of history.

Why then, did Arianism hold sway over the people later in spite of these?

“It was instrumental in the ‘conversion’ of many of the barbaric tribes” says a church historian. “It lowered the barriers between Christianity and the dominant Neoplatonist form of paganism, by emphasizing the oneness of God and representing the Son and the Spirit as high creatures. It brought Christianity closer to the normal polytheism that the barbarian tribes were accustomed to” (Concise Church History, 2008, AGM Publishers, p. 129).

The bold stand of theologians like Athanasius in the face of surging heresies is commendable. The church today still needs men and women who will stand up for the truths of Scripture – no matter how unpopular they may be.