The Nicene Creed vs. Jesus


The Nicene Creed vs. Jesus

A quote from Edwin Hatch in his book “The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church” on the first page:

“It is impossible for any one, whether he be a student of history or no, to fail to notice a difference of both form and content between the Sermon on the Mount and the Nicene Creed. The Sermon on the Mount is the promulgation of a new law of conduct; it assumes beliefs rather than formulates them; the theological conceptions which underlie it belong to the ethical rather than the speculative side of theology; metaphysics are wholly absent. The Nicene Creed is a statement partly of historical facts and partly of dogmatic inferences; the metaphysical terms which it contains would probably have been unintelligible to the first disciples; ethics have no place in it. The one belongs to a world of Syrian peasants, the other to a world of Greek philosophers.” 

I came across this quote today in my reading of “Rediscovering Expository Preaching” for one of my classes.  It gives a very interesting insight into the Nicene Creed that I had never really thought about before.  And in the past few months of interacting with those who basically accept the teaching of the church fathers who wrote after the completion of the cannon on an equal level with the cannon (the Easter Orthodox Church as tradition), I thought it insightful and that it speaks to my own observation of a very quick change in the Church as a whole once the Holy Spirit stopped inspiring additional Scripture.  Anyone who reads any of the early Church fathers will note that much of what they speak of is different than that of inspired Scripture, and that many of the things they are concerned about are not much of a concern (and sometimes NOT a concern) in Scripture.  A topic that I think is helpful because it shows the difference between Holy Spirit inspired Scripture and the mere ideas of men, who are striving after the truth, but are not without error.

10 Responses to The Nicene Creed vs. Jesus

  1. John Singer says:

    I agree with your observations and I thought you did an admirable job presenting the topic. I love theology and I love Philosophy but sometimes the two, when coupled, produce offspring that ought not ever see the light of day. The anti-logical doctrine of the trinity for instance. It was spawned by converted pagan philosophers that needed Jesus of Nazareth to be more than the Only Begotten son of God and Savior of humanity. However, one of the first principles of logic–one of the four laws–the Law of Contradiction says that it is impossible for something to be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. If A then not -A. Jesus can’t be 100% Almighty God and 100% mortal man, at the same time and in the same respect. But these converted philosophers jettisoned logic when it came to this one doctrine. No other doctrine in Christianity violates the laws of logic. Not one! Thanks for your presentation.

  2. Lee says:

    So, John – what are your thoughts on the divinity of Jesus?

    Incidentally, your url is incomplete in your previous post. Where is “ariusrising” hosted? (A very provocative title!)

  3. Enos says:

    I think it is unfair of you to say that Christ is not both fully God and fully Man without also offering what you believe the nature of Christ to be.

    The early theologians based their concept of Christ off his life and his teachings, and their concept of him was taught down from the Apostles, in Antioch, Alexandria, etc. Why is it that modern men believe that their own logic is better suited to define the nature of Christ?

    Please offer, what do you believe is the nature of Jesus Christ?

  4. nathanwells says:

    Hi Enos,

    I actually didn’t say I believed Jesus was not both fully God and fully man. I believe that Scripture is very clear that He is (John 1:1-3, 14).

    My only thought was (as pointed out in the quote of Edwin Hatch’s book) was that the Nicene Creed came out of an age highly influenced by Greek Philosophy and contained terms that were highly technical when the Bible rather assumes difficult to understand truths (the Trinity etc) rather than focusing on explaining how they could ever be possible.

    How important is it to spend time to explain exactly how and in what ways Jesus is both man and God? I think the interworkings of the incarnation are concepts that are not spelled out in Scripture, and therefore should not be spelled out in our theology, but rather believed because Scripture says it is so. I feel no need to understand, beyond what Scripture teaches, the metaphysics of the incarnation.

  5. Roy says:

    One of the main reasons the Nicene Creed was created was to protect against heresy which acted as a threat to the church.

    For example, the first three hundred years if Christian history were marked by the appearance of certain heresies or false teachings, such as super-secret philosophic schemes for “insiders” only (Gnosticism), wild prophetic programs (Montanism), and grave errors regarding the three Persons of the Trinity (Sabellianism).

    Then, in the early fourth century, a heresy with potential for Church-wide disruption appeared and was propagated by Arius, a presbyter in Alexandria, Eqypt. He denied the eternality of the Son of God, claming, contrary to the Apostles’ doctrine, that the Son was a created being who came into existance at a point in time and thus was not truly God.

    (You stated you believed Jesus was fully God and man, so this goes against your beliefs as well.)

    This serious error crept through the church like a cancer. Turmoil spread almost everywhere. To solve the problem the first Church-wide, or ecumenical, council met in Nicea in A.D. 325 to cinsider this doctrine. Some 318 bishops, along with priest and deacons, rejected the new teaching of Arius, because his teachings clearly went against what is taught about our Lord’s divinity in the Scriptures.

    The council upheld the Apostles doctrine of Christ, confirming that “there never was a time when the Son of God was not,” and issued a definition of apostolic teaching concerning Christ in what today we call the Nicene Creed.

    The Nicene Creed was written in order to protect against people who might try to go against the teachings of the Scripture. Therefore, during that time it was important to define the divinity of Christ, because many people were out to change the truth shared in the scripture.

    Furthermore, the Orthodox Church does not claim to know exactly how “interworkings” of the incarnation work.

    I wonder, what have you read from the early church fathers?

    No one claims their writings are without error. You speak as though their work should be completely disregarded because it is not scripture…did Edwin Hatch take part in writing the scripture?

    The church fathers lived good Christian lives, and wrote to people to teach how we could all do the same. Their writings were inspired by the Scriptures, and they used their inspiration to inspire the lives of others. They wrote about issues that related directly to lives of their fellow-man, so that people could relate the scriptures and the teachings of the Apostles to their own lives.

    The writings of the church fathers are like the sermons that Western Christian go to church to hear each Sunday. In most Western churches it seems the sermon is the most important part of the entire service. Why? Because the pastor/ minister ect reads scipture, explains it and relates it to the lives of people in the congregation. This is what the early church fathers did.

    When they wrote and tried to exlain the divinity of Christ it was to help people (who had questions) to gain a better understanding of the Word.

    Men will always strive to find the Truth. just as you are doing when you write these blogs.

  6. Enos says:

    We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;

    And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:

    Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

    And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;

    And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;

    And ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father;

    And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.

    And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets;

    And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

    We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.

    We look for the Resurrection of the dead,

    And the Life of the world to come. Amen.
    __________________________

    I thought it would be nice to include the creed here. If you have any specific critiques and points to make about the certain sections of the creed, that would also be very interesting to read.

    • nathanwells says:

      Hi Enos,
      I believe the word that Edwin Hatch was referring to was “essence” or “substance” as some translate ηομοουσιος.

      The point is not that Jesus is not one with the Father (He is), as Scripture explicitly states (John 10:30). The point was that the word they chose was the word of Greek Philosophers rather than that of Syrian peasants.

      That’s all. Does that make sense?

  7. Enos says:

    Nathan,

    Thank you for the conversation Brother! We should note that the Nicene Creed was never meant as a commandment by God. It was made in effort to make clear the beliefs of Christians. As you probably know, there were many people declaring many false understandings about the nature of Christ during those times, as there also are today. The early Church including many great Saints took on the effort to define what Jesus Christ was and still is.

    It is my belief that many of the modern churches that do not teach the creed do so at the cost of those in the congregation that do not read enough of the scriptures for themselves to understand the nature of Christ.

    Of course, words are the work of man, and God is best understood through experience such as theosis and divine inspiration, achieved through spiritual purity. That is the use of the Lords Sermon on the Mount. Anyone that walks along the path of Christ will achieve oneness with him, as clearly stated in scripture. (John 14:20)

    Consider the importance of the Nicene Creed, and how many misunderstanding Christians would benefit from knowing it by heart. I have actually read in other blogs people claiming that Christ was not equal with the Father, or that Christ was only a man, or that Christ was only a God… etc

    “of one essence” denotes mystery. God is a mystery, but Christ and God are one. The problem with finding fault with this creed is that if we were to do away with it or change it, it would still be done with human error, and more than that, with the error of modern humans far removed from the Apostolic traditions and teachings.

    Christ is Risen!
    Pray for me,
    -Enos

  8. Roy says:

    Dear Nathan,

    Having been born and not made, the Son of God is what God is. The expression “of one essence” simply means this: what God the Father is, so also is the Son of God.

    Essence is from the Latin word esse which means “to be.” The essence of a thing answers the question “What is it?” What the Father is, the Son is. The Father is divine, the Son is divine. The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated. The Father is God, and the Son is God. This is what the Orthodox confess when they say, “the only-begotten Son of God…of one essence with the Father.”

    The point being made is exactly what is described in John 10:30. Of one essence means they are one together.

    The Orthodox believe that the Son of God was not created by God or made by Him. He (the Son) was born, begotten, generated from the very being and nature of the Father.

    The Creed was created by man. But it was created to help people understand about our Lord and our faith- it is a belief statement that helped to do this, and also helped to protect our church against false doctrines that threatend all of Christianity.

    The word essence may be a word that was used by “Greek phiolosophers” rather than “syrian peasants”, but what difference does this make? Forgive me if I have trouble understanding why this would make a difference.

    Christ is Risen!

    Roy

  9. Daniel Greenleaf says:

    The problem I have with the Nicene Creed is not with trying to define Christ as GOD and the same as the Father; my problem with it is in the 2nd to last sentence where it says “we believe in one baptism for the remission of sin”. How did this get overlooked? Baptism does not save, nor does it forgive sin. Repentence and faith in Jesus Christ of nazareth as Savior (Messiah, the Chosen One) who paid the penalty for sin for us with His life, that His Father raised Him from the dead, and that he is coming again to gather to Himself those whom he has Saved through His Salvation. Baptism is merely a 2nd ary command which comes AFTER Salvation; therefore, baptism does not Save, anymore than following the commandments Jesus gave us at the Sermon on the Mount; yet, Jesus said, if you love me you will follow my commandments.
    So besides this blatant error, one begins to realize that the Nicene creed does not go far enough. It would like saying: in order to please GOD you need to do these 3 things, and then list only one. Not only the Roman catholic church, but most other denominations have made the Scriptures into a Pharisee-ical nightmare, adding traditions as requirements, and interpreting things that clearly aren’t there into the ‘way it is’. I could give a plethora of examples to prove that virtually no church exists today in a pure form as Christ intended it. I have a catholic daughter-in-law in our debates finally states that at least she believes in the Nicene Creed. that suits her beliefs, since she believed she was saved when she was baptised as a baby. i doubt that anyone will ever read this post or reply to it.

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