What Was the Council of Nicea?

Teabing presents a confused picture to Sophie in his discussion of Jesus' identity as divine.

BY: Bart D. Ehrman

 
Excerpted with permission from Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code by Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press (2004).

Teabing mentions this council when speaking to Sophie Neveu in his drawing room. He explains to her that Constantine's Council of Nicea was convened in order to vote on the divinity of Jesus, as a way to consolidate the emperor's own power base.

"During this fusion of religions, Constantine needed to strengthen the new Christian tradition, and held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea.At this gathering," Teabing said, "many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon-the date of Easter, the role of bishops, the administration of sacraments, and, of course, the divinity of Jesus."

"I don't follow. His divinity?"

"My dear," Teabing declared, "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."

"Not the Son of God?"

"Right," Teabing said. "Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea."

"Hold on. You're saying Jesus' divinity was the result of a vote?"

"A relatively close vote at that," Teabing added.."By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable."

Once again, there are elements of both fact and fiction in Teabing's view. Constantine did call the Council of Nicea, and one of the issues involved Jesus' divinity. But this was not a council that met to decide whether or not Jesus was divine, as Teabing indicates. Quote the contrary: everyone at the Council-and in fact, just about every Christian everywhere-already agreed that Jesus was divine, the Son of God. The question being debated was how to

understand

Jesus' divinity in light of the circumstance that he was also human. Moreover, how could both Jesus and God be God if there is only one God?

Those

were the issues that were addressed at Nicea, not whether or not Jesus was divine. And there certainly was no vote to determine Jesus' divinity: this was already a matter of common knowledge among Christians, and had been from the early years of the religion.

Teabing in fact presents a rather confused picture to Sophie in his discussion of Jesus' identity as divine. On one hand, he indicates that Jesus' divinity was not accepted until Nicea in the year 325; on the other hand, he indicates that Constantine accepted into his canon of scripture only those Gospels that portrayed Jesus as divine, eliminating all the other Gospels that portrayed Jesus as human. But if Jesus' divinity was not acknowledged by Christians until the council of Nicea (Teabing's view), how could the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John portray him as divine already in the first century (which is also his view)?

Even beyond this inconsistency, the view that Teabing lays out is wrong on all key points: Christians before Nicea already did accept Jesus as divine; the Gospels of the New Testament portray him as human as much as they portray him as divine; the Gospels that did

not

get included in the New Testament portray him as divine as much, or more so, than they portray him as human. I will deal with the first two points in this chapter, and the third in chapters to come.

Scholars who study the history of Christian theology will find it bizarre, at best, to hear Teabing claim that Christians before the Council of Nicea did not consider Jesus to be divine. Our earliest surviving Christian author is the apostle Paul, several of whose writings can be found in the New Testament. Paul was producing his letters about 20 or 30 years after Jesus' death (250 years

before

the Council of Nicea), and in them it becomes abundantly clear that Paul understands that Jesus Christ was in some sense divine. As he says in one of his earlier letters, the epistle to the Philippians:

Have this same mind in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who although he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied himself and took on the form of a slave, having come in the likeness of a human. (Phil. 2:5-7).

For Paul-and presumably for the Philippians to whom he wrote-Christ was "in the form" of God and was, in some sense, equal with God, even though he became human.

Continued on page 2: »

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