Dan Brown’s Ignorant Account of Nicaea
Some have alleged that Jesus was awarded “god status” at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 under Emperor Constantine. This feeble myth was widely promulgated by the popular Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code, where Brown’s character Leigh Teabing says that Jesus was “voted” into godhood at the Council of Nicaea. Dan Brown may write great novels, but he is a very poor historian and theologian.
The Council of Nicaea
First, the history. Emperor Constantine presided over a council of bishops in AD 325, and one of the matters addressed was a conflict regarding the deity of Jesus Christ: Who (or what) exactly is Jesus? In the Hellenized world of Greek thought, it was easy to accept that Jesus was “a god.” The real question was, “Is Jesus the same type of God as God the Father in terms of essence, substance, power, and authority?” It was a burning issue, as rulers do not like conflicts that have the potential to split their empires. Arians (followers of Arius) held that Jesus was human but not divine, and those who held to the “Arian heresy” were not considered Christians by the rest of the church, so this was a big deal.
These bishops, assembled from across the Roman Empire, had survived the Diocletian persecution. Many of them arrived maimed, blinded, scarred, or otherwise disfigured from tortures they had experienced. Nobody was going to tell them what to believe. If you have not rejected your beliefs under torture, you are never going to do so unless you have a change of mind on your own. Nicaea was a true exercise in establishing and affirming theological truth.
Of the estimated 250 to 318 attendees, all voted “Yes, Jesus is God,” except for Arias and his two followers. Constantine did not vote. The bishops answered “yes” based on the teachings of Scripture.
The Scriptural Witness
So what do the Scriptures say?
Jesus’ Testimony to Himself
Although he never (as far as we know) actually uttered the words, “I am God,” Jesus repeatedly referred to himself as God. When Philip asked Jesus to “show us the Father,” Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Seeing Jesus, then, was akin to seeing God.
In response to religious leaders’ questions about his identity and relationship to Abraham, Jesus answered, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” This response clearly invokes the image of Moses before the burning bush, where God had disclosed his personal name as, “I AM that I AM”—in other words, “I am The Eternally Self-Existent One.” The Jewish leaders understood exactly what Jesus meant—and they were furious!
Jesus’ most common self-identification (appearing 81 times in the Gospels) was “the Son of Man.” While some ignorantly point to this as proof that Jesus was claiming to be merely human, the exact opposite is true. He was actually referring to a passage in the well-known Old Testament book of Daniel, where a “Son of Man” appears in a vision seen by the prophet Daniel. The figure is portrayed as God in unmistakable terms:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven . . . all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
“Coming with the clouds of heaven” signifies judgment, and the added notation that all peoples worshiped him indicates that this “Son of Man” is God. Under Jewish law, worship is reserved for God alone, and Jesus fully obeyed Jewish law. Here and elsewhere, Jesus spoke of himself as God and taught his followers that he was divine.
At one point, the religious leaders picked up stones to kill Jesus. As they did so, he asked them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they said, “but for blasphemy, because you, who are a man, declare yourself to be God.”
Jesus was literally charged with and executed for the “crime” of claiming to be God. This would get you killed in the Roman Empire. Only the emperor could claim to be a divine, living person, and the Jewish high leadership used this accusation to incite Pilate to grant their request to have Jesus executed under Roman law.
The Apostle Paul
Paul later quotes the words of what appears to be a song instructing Christians to “in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
The poetic phrasing leads scholars to believe that Paul was quoting an earlier hymn. This indicates that Christ was professed to be “in very nature God” by around AD 60.
Furthermore, we know from official Roman documents that the early Christians would gather on the first day of the week, which they designated as “The Lord’s Day,” because of Jesus’ resurrection. Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia, wrote to the Roman emperor Trajan about them. Here is an excerpt from one of a series of letters written around AD 112:
[I]n the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have followed the following procedure: I interrogated them as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment. . . . Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and also cursed Christ—none of which those who are really Christians can, it is said, be forced to do . . . They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of [the Christians’] fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to do some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food—but ordinary and innocent food.
This letter is important for a whole host of reasons. In addition to the fact that it corroborates Christian attitudes and practices recorded in the New Testament within eighty years of the resurrection, it also demonstrates that even the Romans knew that the early church worshiped Christ as God, and not as a mere man or prophet. That is fantastically good evidence for the Christian faith, as it shows that these practices emerged way too soon for legends to have developed. And contrary to the fictional assertion of Dan Brown, this was 213 years before the Council of Nicaea!
Nicaea Rightly Understood
Clearly, Jesus claimed to be God in his ministry works, in his teachings, and in his public encounters when challenged. Those who believed in him agreed. To this day, those who believe in him still agree. It is, and always has been, a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith that Jesus is God in human form, God incarnate. The bishops of Nicaea got it right.Daniel Buttafuoco
is a board certified civil trial lawyer. An expert on analyzing evidence, he uses the same techniques he uses in court to analyze evidence for the Christian faith. He is the author of several publications and blogs about faith, law, and apologetics.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #67, Winter 2023 Copyright © 2024 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo67/the-da-vinci-code-blunder