Reclaiming the Language of the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed, which is historically one of the most important trinitarian confessions, begins by saying “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty…”. Scripture speaks this way as well:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 NAS

“…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” 1 Corinthians 8:6 NAS

But the equation of the “one God” with the person of the Father in particular is something that many modern Christians are uncomfortable with. There are actually quite a few legitimate reasons why this might be the case.

Many anti-trinitarian heresies comandeer this sort of language to try to argue against the divinity of Christ. Jews, Arians, Socinians, Muslims, and various other anti-trinitarian heresies all argue that the one God is the Father in particular in order to exclude the Son from divinity. They try to weaponize what the Nicene Creed lays out as the first article of the Christian faith, in order to deny the second.

In light of this, it is understandable that the language of “the one God being the Father” would make some people uncomfortable.

Despite this, I would argue that we must seek to reclaim the language of scripture on this matter, rather than cast it aside because if its misuse by heretics. Defining the “one God” of the Christian faith as the Father is something scripture does, and language scripture uses. Its the way that God chose to reveal these truths to us. We must seek to embrace the langauge scripture uses on this matter, while being careful at the same time to distinguish what we believe from anti-trinitarian heresies.

This is precisely what the early church did. Although in the first few centuries of Christianity the church was faced with several heresies attacking the fundamental articles of the faith, including the divinity of Christ, hereies which often twisted and misused scripture in doing so, the early church did not reject the concepts and language of scripture that were being misused. Rather, they contended for them, and carefully distinguished what they were saying from the false teaching of the various heretical sects. This is why the Nicene Council, for example, although writing in opposition to Arianism in the defense of trinitarianism, did not shy away from saying that the “one God” is “the Father Almighty” in the very document in which they were articulating the doctrine of the Trinity. Its misuse by heretics did not stop them from embracing the doctrine that the one God is the person of the Father- instead they sought to demonstrate how this truth is compatible with the other doctrines that scripture teaches that Arianism opposed.

3 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Language of the Nicene Creed”

  1. Hi, I heard about your work through my friend David Waltz, and have found what you’ve written so far very interesting and informative. I hardly can say I understand it all, or most (but hopefully much of it), but I’m glad you’ve written, as I can come back to understand things more.

    In any event, I have a question related to this post: What do make of 1 John 5:20c “This one is the true God and eternal life.” Does this refer to the Son, or to the Father Almighty? If it refers to the Son, do you think this conflicts with your claim that the Father alone is the one God?

    Also, do you think there is a significant difference between proskuneo and latreuo, where the latter (from what I believe – and correct me if I’m wrong) is given only to the Father in Scripture, and the former to both?

    Take care,
    Sean

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  2. Hi Sean,

    I think that in 1 John 5:20 “the true God” is referring to the Father. I would also allow that grammatically the argument can be made that its referring to the Son, and ultimately I do think the grammar allows for either reading. The context, referring to the Father as “Him that is true” gives preference to reading “the true God” as referring to that same person, telling us Who “Him that is true” earlier in the verse is referring to. The fact that the definite article is used (“the true God” rather than “true God”) also points to it referring to the Father, as normally the Father is referred to as “the God” (ho theos) while the Son is referred to simply as God (theos). If it were calling Christ “the true God” it would be calling Him the Father, which given what the rest of scripture teaches would be ruled out as a possibility.

    To answer your other question, I would say that the honor we pay to the Father should be paid to the Son as well; so both types of worship would properly be given to both persons: “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:22-23 NKJV) Thus even if one word is used for the Father and not the Son, I would still see there as being scriptural warrant for giving both to the Son as well. As to the usage of the two terms in scripture, its something I’m unfamiliar with.

    In Christ,

    Andrew Davis

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