Nicaea was an ancient Greek city located in Anatolia, which is currently known as Turkey. A council at Nicaea was called so church bishops in the Roman Empire could gather and clarify certain Christian beliefs and practices. By the time the council finished, the Nicene Creed emerged as a necessary by-product.
Where the Nicene Creed Came From
Creeds developed as a way to distinguish true Christian (or biblical) beliefs from other religious beliefs. A council at Nicaea was called to respond to a growing false belief within Christian circles that was later known by its formal title, Arianism.
“Arianism” received its name from Arius, a fourth-century priest in Alexandria. One day, Arius began teaching questionable beliefs about Jesus and the nature of salvation. However, it’s important to note that Arius himself believed he was correctly teaching Christianity.
Arius made the false assertion that, because there was only one God, Jesus must have been created. This teaching undoubtedly piqued local bishops and other priests’ attention. For, if Jesus was created, then he would be subject to change. If Jesus were subject to change, then he would not be fully God.
As you can imagine, this was a problem! Arius’ teaching directly contradicts Scripture. For example, if Jesus was not fully God, then he could not rescue God’s people from sin and death, which would contradict the Bible. For example, the Apostle Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “. . . so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God,” promises the Christian hope, only on the foundation that Jesus is fully God.
The Nicene Creed Defended Against Heresy
Affirming the truth and defending against Arianism, the Nicene Creed states that Jesus is “true God from true God.” This affirmed that Jesus is God in the same sense that God the Father is God. Likewise, the creed proclaims that Jesus is “consubstantial [of one substance] with the Father,” which means that Jesus and God the Father are of the same substance, not of a similar substance. In other words, Jesus and God the Father are of the same stuff. One is not greater or more “God” than the other. These truths correspond appropriately with what Jesus declares in John 10:30—that “I and the Father are one” (NIV).
The Nicene Creed also declares that Jesus is “begotten not made.” By being begotten, rather than created, Christ is eternally the Son of God. This directly opposed Arian claims that Jesus was created at one point in time as a mere creature like you and me.
Furthermore, the statement, “For us humans and for our salvation he came down and became incarnate,” is a proclamation that Jesus is fully God. If Christ is a creature like us, then he could not offer us redemption—for salvation only comes from God (Revelation 7:10).
The Latest Version of the Nicene Creed
What’s known today as the Nicene Creed actually emerged from the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. This expanded version of the creed clarified more about Christ’s birth and his suffering under Pontius Pilate. It modified the wording from 325 AD and more fully explained the Holy Spirit’s role.
For example, the expanded version states this about the Holy Spirit, “And in the Spirit, the holy, the lordly, and life-giving one, proceeding forth from the Father, co-worshipped and co-glorified with the Father and Son, the one who spoke through the prophets; in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church . . .” (Noll 51)
This expanded version distinctly attributes individual work and personhood to the Holy Spirit.
Why Does the Nicene Creed Matter Today?
Reciting the Nicene Creed continues to be a popular practice within church worship services today. It’s still a clear and true affirmation about the person of Jesus and the nature of salvation. Jesus is fully God who became human for the sake of rescuing us from our sins (Matthew 1:20-23).
Take some time to read over the Nicene Creed. In answering the question, why does the Nicene Creed matter today, we will leave you with a question: Why do you think it matters to our faith that Jesus is fully God?
A great place to find the answer is in John’s Gospel in the New Testament.