Amazing and Antisemitic: The Council of Nicaea was both
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
The council of Nicaea was a gathering of church bishops organized by Emperor Constantine in 325 AD. The primary purpose was to unite the Church until an official position regarding the divinity of the Messiah. One group declared that the Messiah always was, while the other said he was created by God. The former group won out, and the Nicene Creed was formulated and released.
Watch: Amazing and Antisemitic: The Council of Nicaea was both
Regarding Yeshua, it declares:
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
What is also interesting is that Athanasius, the principal presenter at Nicaea for the deity of the Messiah, made his argument not only from the New Testament—the New Testament canon had still not been formally decided upon. He made the case for Yeshua’s divinity from a biblical philosophy.
God, and God alone, can break the power of sin, and bring humanity to eternal life. The fundamental characteristic of human nature is that it requires to be redeemed. No creature can save another creature. Only the creator can redeem the creation. If Christ is not God, he is part of the problem, not its solution.
Athanasius also explained that believers worshiped Jesus, and we are forbidden to worship anyone but God (Ex. 20:3-5).
[Worship of Jesus] can be traced back to the New Testament itself, and is of considerable importance in clarifying early Christian understandings of the significance of Jesus of Nazareth. By the fourth century, prayer to and adoration of Christ were standard features of Christian public worship.
For any believer committed to the triune nature of God, Nicaea was definitely a positive event of great consequence; however, there were also overt anti-Jewish sentiments at the council that had far-reaching ramifications for Jewish people. And these attitudes were pushed by Emperor Constantine—the first Roman emperor to become a Christian.
1. If you read the entire text of the Nicene Creed, there is no reference to this God being the God of Israel. Without God’s calling of Israel, there is no Nicaea. The stories begins with Abraham. In Matthew 15:31, when the people saw the lame walking and blind seeing, they “praised the God of Israel.” John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, exclaimed, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them” (Luke 1:68).
2. There is no mention of the Jewish ethnicity of the Messiah. When Paul speaks of Jesus, he emphasizes the fact that he came from Israel. In Romans 9:5, when he is revealing his longing for Israel’s salvation, he says that “from [the people of Israel] is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all.” Why mention it if it is not important? In Romans 1:3, he says, “regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David.” Jesus’ Jewish ethnicity was theologically significant.
Yeshua died on Passover, rose on the day of the First Fruits offering, and poured out his Spirit on Jerusalem on the feast of Shavuot. God was making a point.
3. One of the purposes of the Nicaea Council was to change the date for the celebration of the resurrection from the Jewish calendar, that is, Passover (or the Sunday closest to Passover), to “Easter,” which “was to be on the Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring equinox.” In other words—it was to have no connection with the Jewish Passover. Listen to the words of the Christian Emperor Constantine:
We ought not therefore to have any thing in common with the Jews, for the Savior has shown us another way. And consequently, in unanimously adopting this mold, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews. How can they be in the right, they who, after the death of the Savior, have no longer been led by reason but by wild violence as their delusion may urge them? It would still be your duty not to tarnish your soul by communications with such wicked people as the Jews. It is our duty not to have anything in common with the murderers of our Lord.
If we are being generous, in context, he means nothing in common with their religious practices. But still, the language is chilling. Not only was Passover cast aside, but the continued accusation of “murderers of our Lord” would be the cause of much persecution and killing. Even Nazi officers used it.
4. At the time, they were roughly 1,800 bishops in the Church. Approximately 120 of them were of Jewish heritage. Dr. Jen Rosner notes, “From all accounts that we have, these Jewish Yeshua-believing bishops were not present at the council of Nicaea, and moreover, they were not invited—which we can understand from Constantine’s posture towards the Jewish people.”
A few hundred years prior, it was the Jewish leadership of the Yeshua followers that not only spread the Gospel to other nations but were the first fathers of the faith. Now, they are not even invited to the most consequential Church council since Acts 15. Ironically, the leadership at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 was exclusively Jewish and determined that Gentiles could become believers without converting to Judaism. In Acts15, the Jewish believers decided to include the Gentiles. At Nicaea, the Gentile bishops decided to exclude the Jews.
Conclusion on Nicaea
So, on the one hand, we need to celebrate the Council of Nicaea for its powerful, bold Christology—in rejecting the idea that the son of God was created and embracing his deity. But on the other hand, we must recognize that Nicaea was another step in de-Judaizing the Church. It was another step in the ethnic cleansing of the New Testament from its Jewish roots.
For Paul, the salvation of Israel and her future revival were central. He devotes much of Romans to this. For the bishops of Nicaea, who literally boycotted Jewish participation in this most crucial council, the future of Israel was not even on their radar. It was the past. They are “the murderers of our Lord.” This would set the stage for centuries of tolerated, even promoted, Jew-hatred in the Church.
However, since the Holocaust, scholars have been rediscovering the Jewishness of Jesus. In Nostra Aetate at Vatican Council II in 1965, the Catholic Church formally rejected replacement theology...well mostly.
“The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: ‘theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh’ (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church's mainstay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ's Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people...God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle”
But also claims:
Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God.
There one people of God, and it is the Romans 11 olive tree, whose roots are Jewish and branches reach out into the nations. Still, it was an unprecedented statement in light of a church history that persecuted and belittled Jews..
More and more scholars are discovering the significance of the Jewishness of Jesus in the calling on the Jewish people, which is irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).
 McGrath, Alister E.. Christian History (p. 56). Wiley. Kindle Edition.  Ibid, 57.  Diane Severance and Dan Graves, “Nicea Ruling on Easter Day - 325 A.D.” Christianity.com, May 3rd, 2010, https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/301-600/nicea-ruling-on-easter-day-325-ad-11629649.html