John Barnett

Did a belief in Jesus’ divinity receive its decisive sanction through a “close vote” at Nicea in AD 325? What we know about Nicea is this: It gathered not to determine the divinity of Jesus but to discuss the Arian view of Jesus, who saw Jesus as Son of God, but appointed to that role versus the view that the council adopted that Jesus possessed Sonship from eternity. So the debate was the type of Son of God Jesus was, not whether Jesus was divine. Arius believed that Jesus was Son as the first created being with a special, unique relationship to God. What Nicea ended up affirming is that Jesus was eternally the Son and was not created.

Constantine did call this council together because he wanted peace and unity in the church. The council had from 216 to 316 bishops from around most of Christendom in attendance, but the vast majority were from the East. There was no close vote. What the bishops did was sign a creedal statement known as the Nicean Creed. Only two out of the entire group refused, so the “vote” was hardly close. Most politicians today would view a 214-2 to 314-2 vote as a landslide (a ninety-nine percent plus majority!).

Now, there was pressure to accept this confession at the council, as originally seventeen opposed it. When Constantine threatened exile, that number reduced to 2. However, even if we take seventeen as the number originally opposed, this is still a significant minority of less than ten percent of the total in attendance.

This claim of a late developing view of deity also ignores the fact that the acceptance of the divinity of Jesus is something fundamental to the earliest documents we have from Christianity. This appeal is a matter of historical record about our earliest available sources. One can look at the writing of Paul (1 Corinthians 8:5-6; Philippians 2:9-11), the unknown author of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:3), the author of Revelation (Revelation 1:1-7 and Revelation 1:4-5), the gospel of John (John 1:1-18), or even Jesus’ own testimony at his Jewish examination (Mark 14:62-65 and parallels) to see that the claim was that Jesus was at the side of God in a position of status equal to His, receiving worship as He does. These works all date anywhere from the sixties to the nineties of the first century. One can add to this the testimony of Pliny the Younger, writing as a Roman Governor of Bythnia, far away from Jerusalem. He writes to the Roman Emperor Trajan in around AD 117 speaking of Christians singing hymns to Jesus as a god. So even non-Christian texts corroborate the views we see in the earliest Christian texts that Jesus was worshipped long before Nicea. The belief in Jesus as divine was a core belief of the earliest church. Paul’s testimony and conversion tells us that this was believed in the thirties of the first century, as the letter to the Galatians indicates. Jesus’ divinity was not the result of a close decision in the fourth century. Its roots go back to Jesus himself, which is what explains why the church, originally made up of Jews, held to this new view on the doctrine of God.

Taken from "De-Coding the DaVinci Code: Seizing the Mars Hill Moments" by Discover the Book Ministries.