A creed is a statement that a group uses to explain and uphold its core beliefs.
There’s an old creed that you might find hidden in some dusty books if you wandered into a church, but you may be surprised to hear that it is still read aloud there, and in countless other churches of all sorts around the globe.
We call it the Nicene Creed.
It’s a statement about God and what the Bible teaches about him. Here are four things to know about the Nicene Creed:
The Nicene Creed is also known as the “Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.”
What a mouthful! The creed’s name hints about its history. Representatives of different church traditions met on two occasions (called church councils) to write a definitive statement on what the Bible teaches about God’s nature.
The first Council of Nicaea convened in 325 AD and produced the original Nicene Creed. A second council—the first Council of Constantinople—gathered in 381 AD and produced the expanded version that many churches recite today.
The Nicene Creed has a twin: the Apostles’ Creed.
Both creeds follow the structure of an older Roman creed.
Both creeds explain the Christian belief that God exists as three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in one nature. This truth comes from the Bible. It’s why Christians call God the “Trinity,” from tri (three) + unity (one).
However, the statements unique to the Nicene Creed further explain the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity.
The Nicene Creed is a formal statement of defense.
Men devoted to the truth of the Bible developed this statement as a safeguard against false beliefs (called heresies) and the people who promoted them (called heretics).
Several false teachings had gained popularity among Christians. These beliefs centered around the person of Jesus Christ and his relationship to God the Father. Two of the main heresies that the Nicene Creed addressed were Arianism and Apollinarianism.
The heretic Arius and his followers believed that God the Father created Jesus before the rest of creation. The writers of the Nicene Creed rejected Arianism because if Jesus was created then he was not fully God. But if Jesus was not fully God then he could not have opened the way of salvation for humanity.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1:3 NIV).
Apollinarius and his followers rejected Arianism but concluded that Jesus had a human body and a divine mind. The Nicene councils also rejected Apollinarius because if Jesus did not have a human mind, then he was not fully human. And if Jesus was not fully human then he couldn’t have been the sacrificial substitute for sin that humanity required.
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 NIV).
“…that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation…For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21 ESV).
These two heresies are part of the reason why the Nicene Creed clarifies that Jesus is “true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.”
The Nicene councils came together to summarize correct teaching about God from the Bible, for they took Scripture seriously when it says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16 ESV).
The Nicene Creed is world-famous.
This creed is the most widely accepted and used formal statement of Christian beliefs in the world. It’s a unifying statement of our fundamental belief about God based on his own Word, the Bible, for many Christian denominations.
Many church traditions recite the Nicene Creed during Sunday worship services, special events (like baptisms), and special holidays (like Easter).
The original authors’ goal in writing the creed was to promote knowledge of the one, true, Triune God of the Bible. They wanted such knowledge to move their readers to worship him.
The Nicene Creed is anything but outdated. Because it faithfully interprets the living and active Word of God, the creed is as relevant as ever.