Addressing the Myths: Did Constantine Run the Early Church?
Updated: Apr 30, 2022
Myth #4: The Council of Nicaea made a ton of decisions that shaped a deceptive Christian message. Did you know that all you believe was decided in one room in Nicaea?
Some time ago, I quipped that I had never seen so many Black people interested in the Council of Nicaea. Google searches for the famous church event went through the roof in the Black community when a video discussing what went on at Nicaea went viral.
Specifically, a former preacher who now denounces Christianity as a mythical creation stated that the Bible was manufactured to control us. According to him, the deception all started in 325 with the Council of Nicaea. In the video, he stated, "The Council of Nicaea wrote this whole book...put all these characters in it." Yep, he said it. And guess what? People actually believe that. Somehow a group of men locked in a room in Nicaea duped millions of people for the next century and a half. So let's talk about what really happened at Nicaea, shall we?
But first, let's begin with the assertion that the Council of Nicaea somehow wrote the entire Bible. This is a components argument. According to some anti-Christian Blacks, the components of the Bible were created and put together in 325 at the Council of Nicaea.
It only takes a brief look at the actual components of the Bible to point out the absurdity of this argument. Again, the Bible is made up of 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over thousands of years. To assert that a group of men put it together in 325 AD is quite a task (and contrary to even secular historical evidence). Especially given the fact that the Old Testament (or what we know as the Old Testament) was already in existence in written form hundreds of years before the Council of Nicaea met.
Jewish scriptures (Jews call the Old Testament the Tanakh) are ancient texts written in Hebrew and preserved well before the time of the Council of Nicaea. Many of the New Testament authors (many of whom were Jews) quote Old Testament passages because many Jewish men were required to memorize the first five books of Jewish Scripture (our Old Testament). As first-century contemporaries, how could they memorize something that came into existence in 325 AD? Right. It's impossible.
One would have to go through some significant historical gymnastics to come to the conclusion that the entire Bible came into existence in 325 AD. Especially when 39 books were in existence in the BC era. In other words, be careful with those Gabby Douglas or Simone Biles-type experts of Christian history out there. They'll flip, tumble, and bend their way to revise what actually happened to fit their agenda.
So, what really happened at Nicaea? Here's what real, historical records show. There was a meeting. The meeting was called to discuss doctrine. But not just any doctrine. The meeting surrounded one of the most important doctrinal controversies in Christian history. The subject matter? The identity and nature of Christ. Who was he in relation to God the Father? How could the church express both his humanness and God-ness (both affirmed by Scripture) at the same time?
The dispute began between Alexander, who was the Bishop of Alexandria (again, on the continent of Africa), and a popular priest in the city named Arius.
The dispute ultimately surrounded one word in relation to Jesus—the Greek word homoousios. The word means “of the same substance”. Was Jesus of the same substance as the Father? Or was he heteroousios—“of another substance”. Arius believed Jesus existed before all creation, but that he was himself a created being. According to Arius, Jesus was not equal with God the Father. Alexander condemned this teaching as undermining Jesus in his divinity.
Constantine was in power as emperor at this time. He also happened to be a Christian (though some question his sincerity). He heard of the controversy and saw it as a threat to the unity of the church. Whether that was motivated by self-interest or not, I can’t say. Initially, he wrote a letter asking Alexander and Arius to play nice and that the cause was “of a truly insignificant character and quite unworthy of fierce contention”.
But he soon learned it was much more serious than that. The dispute was compelling enough for him to call a council of bishops at Nicaea in 325 to hash out the differences. Please understand this. Like King James, Constantine was not an expert theologian or philosopher. He was a layman. So his interest in the nuances of the dispute was to promote unity among the two camps.
About 318 bishops showed up in 325 at the council. Notably, one of those bishops was St. Nicholas (depending on who you talk to, that’s who we get our western version of St. Nick from). As Arius is giving his defense of his position, St. Nicholas couldn't take it anymore. He walked across the room and slapped Arius in the face. It was getting real in those Nicaean streets.
Ultimately, the council sided with Alexander and condemned Arius as a heretic. And it produced a creed read in many churches almost 1800 years later, the Nicene Creed. The creed itself affirms Jesus as the Son of God, begotten not made, of the same essence of the Father, and as having come down from heaven. This solidified the orthodox Christian position on Jesus identity and nature.
So that settled it, right? Arius rode off into the night without hearing from him ever again. Certainly not. The debate raged on well after Constantine’s death. Athanasius (another African theologian), Alexander’s successor as bishop of Alexandria took up the cause and defended the orthodox position against the Arian controversy.
Arius died in 326, but his ideology lives today. It’s very evident in at least one group’s doctrine—the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They believe that Jesus was not God in the flesh and use the same arguments Arius used to defend his position at Nicaea. Jehovah’s Witnesses go a step further, though. They argue that Jesus was Michael the Archangel. But there is no scriptural evidence to support such an unorthodox position.
(One word of encouragement for you as I close. Please don’t remain disengaged when Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at your door. They need to hear the gospel. Honestly, most of us don’t answer the door because we’re not scripturally literate enough to defend our position. So that doorbell should actually be more of a wake-up call than it is an inconvenience.)
As you can see, the First Council of Nicaea had nothing to do with writing or putting the Bible together in its final form. It had nothing to do with deceiving people with myths and legends. But it was called to offer clarity on Jesus' nature and to defend the truth of his deity against a heretical teaching that is still around today.
Up Next: Jesus, Osiris, and Horus–The Copycat Myth