What Were They Arguing About at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In A.D. 325, an ecumenical council of Christian bishops gathered to discuss a theological issue that was tearing apart the unity of the church. A common misconception about this council was that the argument was over whether Jesus was God or man. In fact, this idea has become so popular that one of my skeptical friends, who usually knows his stuff, made this mistake recently in a discussion we were having.

He said, in effect, that the church was arguing about whether Jesus was a man or God all the way up to and including the Council of Nicaea. This view, however, is completely false.

The two major positions presented at the council were proposed by Arius and Athanasius. Arius believed that Jesus was created by God the Father in eternity, but that he did not share eternality with the Father. Athanasius believed that Jesus and the Father both existed from eternity, that one never existed without the other.

Please note that the issue was not about whether Jesus was merely a man or God, but what kind of God Jesus was. Both parties agreed he was divine, that he was much more than a mere man, but they disagreed about how he was divine.

The council sided with Athanasius against Arius, declaring that Jesus always existed along with the Father. The debate about Arianism, however, did not subside until the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381 provided further clarification of the terms used at Nicaea and united the church around its understanding of the nature of Christ.

3 thoughts on “What Were They Arguing About at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325?”

  1. Ummmm, Didn’t Arius have access to John 1:1-3? That seems like a hard one to miss on. Besides that, is there any scripture that can even be misinterpreted to Jesus being a created being? And then there’s that whole “Before Abraham, I AM” quote. Seems like Jesus was claiming to be God and not his 2nd string.

  2. You are right about what was argued at Nicea, but wrong about who argued it. The argument preceding the Nicene Council was between Arius, a presbyter in Egypt, and Alexander, his bishop. Athanasius was merely Bishop Alexander’s assistant. At the Nicene Council, only bishops were permitted to speak. Both Arius and Bishop Alexander died soon after the Nicene Council. Athanasius then became the bishop of the Egyptian diocese, the third most important in the Roman Empire. Athanasius then became the primary spokesperson and advocate of the Nicene Creed for the next several decades, being exiled and reinstated by emperors a total of five times. RPC Hanson’s book, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381, is most authoritative on this period.

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