This is part of a whole series of articles. Click here to go to the beginning of the series.
Teabing says, regarding Constantine and the Nicene Council of 325 AD:
"...until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet ... a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal ... Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea ... A relatively close vote at that ... Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power ... Jesus was indeed a great and powerful man ... Nobody is saying Christ was a fraud, or denying that He walked the earth and inspired millions to better lives" (pp. 233,234).
Teabing says, "almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false" (p. 235).
He calls it "the greatest story ever sold" (p. 267).
The Catholic Council of Nicea led by Emperor Constantine, wanted male leadership, not female leadership. So they denied the canonicity of the gospels that contradicted their views, declared what books should be accepted as canonical, then rewrote the rest of the Bible to conform to their views, and declared Jesus to be Divine. The Catholic Church now seeks to keep the true evidence regarding these facts from the public.
Such statements appeal to pagans who seek to worship many gods and to all who doubt or deny the Deity of Jesus.
I have no desire to defend the Council of Nicea. All such councils are unnecessary, unscriptural, and an affront to God's word. Truth is determined by Scripture, not by votes of men.
Nevertheless, it is simply false that Jesus' followers viewed Him as simply a human prophet, not Divine, until the Council of Nicea. Olson quotes a number of early Christian writers before the Council of Nicea who plainly state the belief of Christians that Jesus possessed Deity (pp. 117-121).
What the council actually did was to try to explain was how Jesus could be both Divine and human at the same time. They upheld the view that the one God consists of three divine Beings. Contrary to Brown, the vote was not even close: only two attendees (out of over 200) voted against the decision. [Kirkwood, pp. 70,71; Olson, pp 171,172]
But the real evidence regarding Jesus' Deity is found in the New Testament Scriptures themselves - written long before Nicea. Consider what the Bible claims about Jesus. Did Jesus view Himself as just a human prophet, or did He view Himself as having qualities above and beyond what would fit a mere human prophet? Did His early followers make such claims for Him? Did He allow them to make such claims?
"Son of God" refers to Jesus' special relationship to the Father - a unique position no one else has - the only begotten Son (John 3:16). Did Jesus claim such?
Matthew 3:17 - At Jesus' baptism, the Father spoke from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Matthew 16:13-17 - Some people believed Jesus to be a prophet, like other mortal prophets. But Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus said that the Father Himself had revealed this to Peter. The claim that Jesus was just a mortal prophet was inadequate. [John 6:69]
Matthew 17:5 - At the Transfiguration the Father again spoke from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This is why we should listen to Him.
Matthew 26:63-66 - During His trial in the presence of His enemies, Jesus acknowledged that He was the Christ, the Son of God.
The eyewitnesses to Jesus' life say they heard Him make these claims, and they heard God the Father audibly made such claims for Him. Did any other true prophet ever make such claims? Did God ever give approval to any other man to make such claims? If Jesus made such claims when they were not true, would He have been a true prophet?
[Cf. John 9:35-37; 11:27; 1:29,34,49; 12:13; Matt. 14:33; 8:29; 12:41,42; 22:41-46.]
John 20:28,29 - After he saw proof of Jesus' resurrection, Thomas addressed Jesus as "my Lord and my God." If Jesus did not possess Deity, Thomas' statement would have been blasphemy, and Jesus should have rebuked Him. Instead, Jesus pronounced a blessing on everyone who believes the same (v29)!
John 8:58 - When questioned about how He could be old enough to have seen Abraham (vv 56,57), Jesus said, "...before Abraham was, I AM." This is the special name God used for Himself in Ex. 3:14. [See also Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10,13; 46:4; 48:12.]
Revelation 1:17; 2:8; 22:13 - "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last." Context shows that Jesus is speaking and used these terms to refer to Himself (1:10-20; 22:12,16,20). Yet, these are terms for Deity (Rev. 1:8; 21:6,7; Isaiah 44:6; 43:10; 41:4; 48:12).
Again, what mere human prophet would dare speak of himself in this way? Did Moses or Elijah or Paul? Such would have been blasphemy. Either Jesus' claims are true, or else He is not prophet or even a good man!
Claims of Jesus' followers
John 1:1-3 - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The "Word" refers to Jesus (v17), the only begotten of the Father who became flesh and dwelt among us (v14). This claims that Jesus is a separate individual from the Father (He was with God), and yet He Himself possesses Deity (He was God).
Colossians 2:9 - In Jesus dwelt bodily "the fullness" (full measure) of "the Godhead" or "Deity" (the state of being God).
Hebrews 1:8 - The Father said to the Son, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever" (quoting from Psalm 45:6,7) Note that God the Father Himself here addressed Jesus as "God" (cf. vv 1-9).
Philippians 2:6-8 - Christ existed in the form of God, but did not consider it robbery (a thing to be grasped - ASV) to be equal with God. He made Himself of no reputation (emptied himself - ASV), took the form of a servant and came in likeness of a man.
Before coming to earth, Jesus existed in the "form" of God (v6), but when He came to earth He took the "form" (same Greek word) of a servant. Just as surely as He really was a servant on earth, then He truly possessed Deity from eternity. Jesus never lost the characteristics of Deity, but He added the characteristics of a servant, a man.
Whenever anyone denies that Jesus claimed Deity or that His earliest followers claimed Deity for Jesus, they show they simply do not know God's word. Such statements are found throughout the gospel records of His life and throughout the inspired first-century writings of the apostles and prophets.
When men sin against God's laws, no one but God can provide salvation or offer forgiveness. Did Jesus and His early disciples believe He had that power?
[Psalm 3:8; 37:39; Isaiah 43:1,14; 43:11; Titus 3:4,5; Isaiah 45:15,17]
Mark 2:3-12; Luke 7:48,49 - On earth, Jesus claimed to have power to directly forgive sins.
John 3:13-15 - He claimed He came down from heaven so that whoever believes in Him can have eternal life. [6:40]
John 10:27-29 - My sheep hear my voice and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
John 8:24 - People who do not believe in Him will die in their sins.
John 14:6 - I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.
Jesus does not class Himself with sinners in need of salvation. He is the Savior! He claimed He could forgive sins and give people eternal life. What mortal prophet ever claimed such power? If Jesus is not who He claimed to be, how could He not be a fraud?
[Matthew 20:28; 26:8; Luke 24:47; John 1:29,36; 12:47; 6:35,40,51; 8:51; 9:5; 11:25; 15:5]
Claims of Jesus' followers
Titus 1:4; 2:13,14 - Jesus Christ is our great God and Savior. He gave Himself to redeem us from sin. [2 Peter 1:1,11; 2:20; 3:18]
Ephesians 1:7 - We have redemption through Jesus' blood, even the forgiveness of sins. [Colossians 1:13,14]
Acts 4:12 - There is salvation in no one other than Jesus.
Who but God can forgive sins? What man, angel, or other created being ever claimed to be the Savior of the world or had power to directly forgive sins? Either Jesus is more than just a mortal prophet, or else He is a fraud. Brown's middle ground view is untenable.
[John 4:42; Luke 2:11; Ephesians 5:23; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:18; Romans 3:24]
Only God has unlimited power over all created things. Nothing is impossible for God. He has the power to do anything with His creatures that He chooses to do. (Matthew 19:26; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17; Acts 17:24; 1 Chronicles 29:11,12; Psalm 50:10-12; 24:1,2; Deuteronomy 10:14; Matthew 11:25; Psalm 97:9; 83:18)
Matthew 28:18,20 - Jesus claimed to possess all authority in heaven and on earth; therefore, men should obey all His commands.
John 14:15 - He expects men to love Him, and this requires them to keep His commands.
Matthew 10:34-37 - We must love Him more than we love our closest family members, else we are not worthy of Him.
John 16:15; 17:10 - Jesus possesses all things that the Father possesses. He rules over all by right of ownership.
Revelation 19:16 - Jesus is "King of kings and Lord of lords." He has authority above the highest of kings and rulers. [17:14]
Imagine what kind of person would make such claims, if He were merely a man! Would such a person be a good man and a great prophet?
[John 16:15; 17:10; Matt. 7:24-27; 5:21-48]
Claims of Jesus' followers
Acts 10:36; Romans 10:12 - Jesus is Lord of all (cf. Lord of the whole earth).
John 3:31; Romans 9:5 - Jesus is "above all" and "over all."
Philippians 2:9-11; Ephesians 1:21 - He has the name which is above every name. So, every knee in heaven and on earth must bow to Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord.
If Jesus' claims are true, then He is much more than a mortal prophet. He must be Divine. But if His claims are not true, then He is not a true prophet at all!
[Philippians 3:20,21; Isaiah 9:6; Cf. Revelation 1:8 and the discussion of "First and Last" above.]
Only God could create the universe (Genesis 1:1,3,26,27; Isaiah 42:5; 45:18; Acts 17:24,25; Psalm 33:6-9). Yet, Jesus did this unique work of God.
John 1:1-3 - Jesus was in the beginning with God, was God, and all things were made through Him. Without Him nothing was made that was made.
Colossians 1:16,17 - By Him (Jesus - vv 13-15) were all things created, things in heaven and on earth, etc. He existed before them all. They all consist in Him, and were created through Him and for Him.
Hebrews 1:2,10 - The worlds were made through the Son. He laid the foundation of the earth. The heavens are the work of His hands.
Jesus is not a mortal man. Rather, He created "all" things. Who but God can do such work? Jesus is not classed with mortal prophets. He is described as only Deity can be described.
[See also Revelation 5:12-14; Romans 1:25.]
Jehovah the true God has always existed and always will exist. (Psalm 90:1-4; 93:2; Isaiah 57:15; Habakkuk 1:12; Psalm 55:19)
"The First and the Last, Alpha and Omega" - We already listed passages where Jesus used these terms for Himself. But all these names of God imply eternal self-existence.
John 8:58 - Before Abraham was, I AM. Jesus claimed eternal existence before the birth of Abraham.
John 3:13; 6:38; 16:28 - He said He came down from the Father in Heaven. [John 8:23]
John 17:5,24 - Jesus had glory with the Father and the Father loved Him before the world began.
Claims of Jesus' followers
Matthew 2:4-6; Micah 5:2 - Jesus was the ruler who would come from Bethlehem, but his goings forth were actually "from of old," "from everlasting."
John 1:3 - All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. Since He did not create Himself, He must be eternal. (Colossians 1:16)
Revelation 5:13 - Every created thing gave praise to the Father and the Lamb. Jesus is classed with the Father, not with the created things. (Romans 1:25)
Jesus is not a mere mortal man. He is the eternal Creator. Eternal existence is a characteristic that only God can possess, yet Jesus possesses this characteristic.
As the ruler of the universe, God has revealed Divine laws by which men ought to live. He will judge all men and reward them eternally for how they have or have not followed His rules (Isaiah 33:22; Psalm 50:6; 96:10,13). What does Jesus claim about this?
Matthew 25:31-46 - All nations will be gathered before Him, and He will send them into eternal punishment or eternal life. (Matthew 16:27)
John 5:22 - Jesus said that the Father has given all judgment to Him.
John 12 48 - All men will be judged according to Jesus' words.
Claims of Jesus' followers
2 Corinthians 5:10 - We must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the things done in the body, good or bad. (Romans 14:10)
Who but God can judge mankind for their lives and determine their eternal destinies? Yet, Jesus will do that work. He is not classed with the created beings whose works will be judged. He is classed with God who will judge the works of the creatures. Again, what true prophet or good man ever made such claims? If the claims are not true, what kind of man would Jesus be to make them?
Only the true God deserves to be worshipped. Many verses forbid worshiping or bowing to give religious honor to men, angels, or any created thing (Acts 10:25,26; Acts 12:20-23; 14:8-18; Revelation 22:8,9; 19:10; Romans 1:25; Matthew 4:9,10; Revelation 9:20).
Did Jesus or His immediate followers believe He should be honored with religious worship? Did Jesus allow people to give Him such glory and honor?
Matthew 14:33 - After Jesus had calmed the storm, the disciples worshipped Him saying He is the Son of God. (John 9:38)
Matthew 28:9,17 - After His resurrection, His disciples worshiped Him. Note Mary Magdalene (v1) was included among those who worshiped Jesus. Where did Jesus ever worship Mary? Where did any man worship her with God's approval? If Mary is a goddess or the future Head of the church, why is she never honored as Jesus was?
Luke 24:52 - After He had ascended back to heaven, they continued to worship Him.
John 5:23 - He Himself said that all men should honor Him "just as" they honor the Father. To fail to so honor the Son is to fail to properly honor the Father. (John 17:5)
[Matt. 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; Mark 5:6; Heb. 1:6; John 20:28,29; John 16:15; 17:10]
Claims of Jesus' followers
Hebrews 1:6 - Angels are instructed by God the Father to worship Jesus. The glory Jesus possesses is not just that of a mortal man or even an angel. His glory is above that of angels (cf. v13).
Revelation 5:12-14 - Both the Father and the Lamb (Jesus) were praised by the created things, who attributed to them "blessing and honor and glory and power." Note that the same glory and honor that belongs to the Father, also belongs to the Son.
What prophet or true religious leader ever made such statements or received such glory with God's approval? Either Jesus is far greater than just a man or just a prophet, or else He is a fraud. He would not be a good man at all, let alone a great religious leader.
[Hebrews 1:3; 1 Corinthians 2:8; James 2:1; Ephesians 1:21; Philippians 2:9-11]
The position Brown advocates - that Jesus was just a mortal prophet, but neither Divine nor a fraud - is totally eliminated by the statements of Jesus Himself and of His immediate followers. Their claims compel us to believe Jesus was Deity or else to reject Him as a fraud.
Brown claims that the Catholic Church changed the Bible records after Nicea. But to do this, the Catholics must have rewritten practically the whole New Testament! Where is the evidence of such wholesale changes? There is none.
All this evidence for the Deity of Jesus existed hundreds of years before the Council of Nicea. We will see that the New Testament records we have cited existed and were widely circulated hundreds of years before Nicea and Constantine.
To claim that Christians did not teach or believe that Jesus was Divine before Nicea is to flatly contradict the record of Bible teaching. Brown's error strikes at the very heart of the gospel and the nature of Jesus Christ. The only way he can get away with such staggering claims is if people are as blind to Bible teaching as he apparently is.
Click here to go to the next article in this series.
Click here to go to the beginning of the series.
Copyright 2007, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale. Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.
Free audio Bible
Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.