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Preeminent Role of God the Father in the Trinity: What about the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed? - Part 2E

by Karl Kemp  
8/10/2016 / Bible Studies

We continue the discussion of Rev. 1:4-8 with verse 5 here in Part 2E.

(5) and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness [On the "faithful witness," see Rev. 1:2. The Lord Jesus Christ was a faithful witness when He lived on the earth (cf. John 3:11; 8:14; 18:37; and 1 Tim. 6:13, 14). Of course He still is a faithful witness.], the firstborn of [or, from] the dead [He was the first "man" to leave death behind and be born into the resurrection glory of eternal life. Also see Col. 1:18; Rom. 8:29; and 1 Cor. 15:20-23.], and the ruler of the kings of the earth [cf., e.g., Matt. 28:18; Rev. 17:14; 19:16; and 21:24]. [See Psalm 89:27, 37. Note the words "faithful witness" in the NIV, KJV, and NKJV translations of Psalm 89:37.] To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood [[He released us from our sins with the guilt AND WITH THE PENALTIES, INCLUDING THE MAJOR PENALTIES OF SPIRITUAL DEATH AND BONDAGE TO SIN. This release is discussed in detail in my book "Holiness and Victory Over Sin." See, for example, Acts 26:18; Rom. 6:1-23; 8:1-14; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:9-14; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:14; 10:10-18, 29; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19; 2:24; and 1 John 1:7. These verses are all discussed in "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," except for 2 Cor. 5:21, which is discussed on pages 38, 39 of my paper "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism." Quite a few more equally powerful verses could be listed here. This super-important topic is also discussed in my much more recent book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin." Both books are available at]] - (6) and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God [[The words "His God," referring to the God of the resurrected, glorified Christ, which are a little surprising, confirm the preeminent role of God the Father, but they certainly don't deny the full deity of the Lord Jesus that is emphasized in the Bible, very much including the book of Revelation. Also see Rev. 3:2, 12 ("My God").]] and Father [[In a preliminary sense we Christians are in the kingdom now (cf., e.g., Ex. 19:6; Luke 11:20; 17:20, 21; Rom. 14:17; Col. 1:13; and Rev. 1:9), and we are priests now (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Many verses, however, show that the kingdom in its full sense, and our reigning in it, is yet future, starting when the King returns (cf., e.g., Dan. 7:13, 14, 18, 22, 27; Matt. 6:10; 16:27, 28; Luke 19:11-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; James 2:5; Rev. 2:26, 27; 3:21; 5:10; and 20:4, 6). Revelation 5:10 speaks of our yet-future reign; Rev. 20:6 speaks of our yet-future priesthood and reign in the millennial kingdom. Revelation 22:5 speaks of our reigning forever in the eternal state that follows the millennial kingdom.]] - to Him [to Christ Jesus] be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (7) BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS [cf. Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27; Acts 1:9-11; and 1 Thess. 4:16, 17], and every eye will see Him [There's no secret, invisible coming of Christ mentioned in the Bible; it seems that all will see Him when He returns, at the time of the (mid-week) rapture.], even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. [[(This double bracket goes on for two paragraphs.) There undoubtedly is an allusion intended to Zech. 12:10, which speaks of the end-time remnant of the nation Israel looking upon Him whom they had pierced (referring to Israel's rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah at His first coming) and of their mourning with repentance. But here in Rev. 1:7 the picture is apparently broadened to cover all the tribes of the earth. All mankind, because of sin, is responsible in a very real way for the crucifixion of the Lamb of God, who bore the sin of all mankind. We can probably include the idea here that the remnant of the nations will ultimately "mourn" with a genuine repentance, as will the remnant of the nation Israel (Zech. 12:10). Revelation 15:3, 4; 20:3 confirm that the remnant of the nations will repent and enter the millennial kingdom. Until the revelation of the book of Revelation about AD 95, which is rather late (the apostle Paul was martyred for Christ in mid 60s, for example), the New Testament has very little to say regarding God's salvation plans for the remnant of the nations after Christ returns with the clouds.

It's also true, whether the idea is included here in Rev. 1:7, or not, that there will be much negative mourning (mourning that goes with judgment, mourning without repentance) that will attend the return of Christ to judge the world. The mourning of the tribes of the earth at the return of Christ pictured in Matt. 24:30 doesn't seem to include any idea of mourning with repentance. It probably is relevant that Matt. 24:30 doesn't mention mourning for/over Him, as do Zech. 12:10 and Rev. 1:7.]] So it is to be. Amen. (8) 'I am the Alpha and the Omega [cf. Isa. 41:4; Rev. 21:6],' says the Lord God, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.' " [On this verse, see under Rev. 1:4. God the Father is referred to here, but the fact that the words "the Alpha and the Omega" are used of the Lord Jesus in Rev. 22:13 strongly confirm His full deity.]

REVELATION 2:26, 27. "He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds ["My works." Jesus is speaking of the works required to be faithful to Him.] until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS [cf., e.g., Luke 19:17, 19; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 20:4-6; and 22:5]; (27) AND HE [the overcomer(s)] SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES [These words are quoted from, or at least build on, Psalm 2:8, 9. Psalm 2 is a very important end-time prophetic passage. It's discussed verse-by-verse in chapter 18 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture."], as I also have received authority from My Father [cf., e.g., Rev. 3:21]." [[The fact that the resurrected, glorified Son of God received this authority from God the Father demonstrates the eternal preeminent role of God the Father (and the eternal subordinate role of the Son). It's important to see that this promised blessing to the overcomers, as with the promised blessings mentioned in the letters to the other six churches, apply to all overcomers of all churches of all generations; they apply to all the members of God's true Israel (all true believers). The words of Rev. 2:26, 27 are extremely important. For one thing, these verses (which build on Psalm 2:8, 9) help us understand Rev. 12:5, which I understand to be the most important verse in the Bible on the timing of the rapture, enabling us to see that the rapture of the Christian church will take place right in the middle of Daniel's 70th week. Revelation 2:26, 27 help us see that the "male child who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" of Rev. 12:5 speaks of those members of God's true Israel who will be resurrected (if they have died before that time), glorified and raptured when Christ returns with the clouds in the middle of Daniel's 70th week.

It's also significant that Psalm 2:7 is one of the most important cross-references to help us understand the birth of the male child of Rev. 12:5. The birth spoken of in both of these verses (and in Isa. 66:7; Mic. 5:3; cf., e.g., Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5) is the birth into the fullness of eternal life of true Israel. For those members of true Israel who will have died before the rapture, it will mean resurrection to eternal glory; for those members still alive when the Lord Jesus returns, it will mean transformation to eternal glory. Revelation 12:5 is discussed on pages 314-316 of "The Mid-Week Rapture." It is also discussed in my newer book, "Introduction to the Mid-Week Rapture," on pages 92-116. The "Mid-Week Rapture" contains a lot more information, but I recommend reading the newer book first. For one thing it was taken from radio broadcasts and is easier to read.

The fact that God the Father is the One seated on the throne in Rev. 4:2, 3 confirms the preeminent role of God the Father. Revelation 5:7 confirms that God the Father is the One on the throne in chapter 4. So too does REVELATION 4:11, which refers to God the Father, the One on the throne in Revelation chapter 4 (cf. Rev. 4:2, 3, 10): "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power [God the Father receives glory and honor and power in the sense that these things, which belong to Him by virtue of who He is and what He has done, are ascribed to Him by His worshipers.]; for You created all things [God the Father created all things through the Son (see John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6 ["Jesus Christ through whom are all things" with the NKJV, NIV, and ESV]; Col. 2:16 ["all things have been created through Him and for Him."]; and Heb. 1:2], and because of Your will they existed, and were created."

MOST OF THE EXCERPTS AND COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW TO THE END OF THIS PAPER ARE RELEVANT TO THE MEANING OF "HOMOOUSIOS" IN THE NICENE CREED OF AD 325. I believe this is very important! Large numbers of Christians believe the Nicene Creed proves that God the Son cannot be eternally subordinate to God the Father in His role, but it seems clear that at least most of those who signed the Nicene Creed, in agreement with the pre-Nicene Christian Fathers and, much more important, in agreement with the Bible, believed that God the Son is eternally subordinate to God the Father in His role, but not in a way that denies the full deity of the Son.

8. Several Excerpts from Early Christian Fathers on the Trinity Taken from "A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs" by David W. Bercot, Editor (Hendrickson Publishers, 1998). Some of these excerpts speak of the eternal preeminent role of God the Father/the eternal subordinate role of the Son of God, which is very relevant to what the bishops gathered to Nicea believed. Bercot took these excerpts from the "The Ante-Nicene Fathers" (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; 1885-1867; 10 volume set; Hendrickson Publishers, 1994; I have the 1986 printing of this set). Bercot has five pages of these excerpts here. The excerpts demonstrate the eternal preeminent role of the Father, these writers also acknowledged the deity of the Son of God, who was of the substance of the Father. I take the liberty to modify these excerpts a little, going back to the writings in the "Ante-Nicene Fathers." These excerpts are found on pages 651-657 of Bercot's book.

"One God the Father is declared, who is above all, through all, and in all. The Father is indeed above all, and He is the Head of Christ. But the Word [the Son, who became the Christ] is through all things and is Himself the Head of the Church. While the Spirit is in us all, and He is the living water." Irenaeus (written about AD 180; found in Vol. 1 of "The Ante-Nicene Fathers," page 546).

"... We believe that this one only God [God the Father] has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the virgin, and to have been born of her - being both man and God, the Son of man and the Son of God...who also sent from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Tertullian (written about AD 213; found in Vol. 3, page 598).

"As for me, I derive the Son from no other source than from the substance of the Father. And I believe He does nothing without the Father's will and that He received all power from the Father. ..." Tertullian (written about AD 213; found in Vol. 3, page 599).

"I testify that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other.... assertion is that the Father is one, the Son is one, and the Spirit is one, and that they are distinct from each other. ... The Father is not the same as the Son, for they differ from one another in the mode of their being. For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole, as He Himself acknowledges, 'My Father is greater than I.' " Tertullian (written about AD 213; found in Vol. 3, pages 603-604). It is clear that Tertullian believed that the Father has a preeminent role in the Trinity.

"A man, compelled to acknowledge God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus the Son of God, who being God, became man, to whom also the Father made all things subject, Himself excepted, and the Holy Spirit; and that these three, therefore, are three [Persons]. However if he desires to know how it is shown that there is still one God, let him know that His power is one. As far as regards the power, therefore, God is one. But as far as regards the economy, there is a threefold manifestation." Hippolytus (written about AD 205; found in Vol. 5, page 526.)

"We are not ignorant that there is one God [the Father], and one Christ, the Lord (whom we have confessed); and one Holy Spirit." Cyprian (written about AD 250; found in Vol. 5, page 323).

"The Father is the God over all. Christ is the Only-Begotten God - the Beloved Son, the Lord of glory. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, who is sent by Christ...." Apostolic Constitutions (compiled about AD 390; found in Vol. 7, page 431).

9. Text of the Nicene Creed of AD 325. (The Council of Nicea is called the "First Ecumenical Council"; I'm taking the creed from "Early Christian Doctrines" by J. N. D. Kelly [Harper and Row, Publishers, revised edition, 1978], page 232):

"We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is from the substance [Greek "ousia"] of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance [Greek "homoousios" ("of the same substance")] with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and the dead;

And in the Holy Spirit.

But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis or substance [Greek "ousios"], or is created, or is subject to alteration or change - These the Catholic Church [the universal church] anathematizes."

10. Some Excerpts from "Early Christian Doctrines" by J. N. D. Kelly that Deal with the Meaning of "Homoousios" at Nicea (Harper and Row, Publishers, revised edition, 1978, 511 pages).

Kelly's heading "The Theology of Nicea" is on pages 231-237. He argues that "there are the strongest possible reasons for doubting" the idea that "homoousios" was understood by the Nicene fathers to mean that the Father and the Son shared the identical substance (essence, nature). ((The identical, same-substance unity of the three Persons of the Trinity that cannot be divided understanding of "homoousious" can, and very often has been interpreted to include the idea that the Son cannot be eternally subordinate to the Father, but we don't find that understanding of homoousios being promoted until years after the Council of Nicea.)) Kelly agrees that that became the widely-accepted understanding after Nicea, but he argues that the Nicene fathers (speaking for most of them) understood "of the same nature" in a "generic" sense: "that the Son was fully God, in the sense of sharing the same divine nature as His Father" (but not including the ideas that they shared the identical same substance, nature, essence that cannot be divided, or that the Son wasn't eternally subordinate to the Father) (page 235). For one thing, Kelly discusses the use of "homoousios" before Nicea. Furthermore, they were there at Nicea to confirm the eternal existence of the Son with the Father and His full deity with the Father (being of the substance of the Father, not created out of nothing, as Arius said), not to discuss the details of the unity of the Godhead. And "we may be sure that, if Eusebius [of Caesarea, who had a lot of influence at Nicea] and his allies had the slightest suspicion that numerical identity of substance [that the three Persons shared an identical, same-substance unity that cannot be divided] was being foisted on them in 'homoousios,' they would have loudly objected to it as Sabellian [Sabellius, who was a modalist (oneness), had used 'homoousios' that way]. Also, it is clear that Eusebius (AD263-339), in agreement with the pre-Nicene fathers (Eusebius lived most of his life before the Council of Nicea), believed in the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. And lastly, Kelly mentioned "that afterwards, when the identity of substance of the three Persons was fully acknowledged, the most orthodox theologians continued to use 'homoousios,' in the appropriate contexts, with the sense of generic unity" (page 236).

11. Some Excerpts from "Retrieving Nicaea: the Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine" by Khaled Anatolios (Baker Academic; 2011, 322 pages; the author received his PhD from Boston University and is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame).

These first excerpts are taken from chapter 1: "Fourth Century Trinitarian Theology: History and Interpretation." "This council [of Nicea] rejected Arius's slogan, 'there was once when the Son was not,' [the council] asserting that the Son's generation from the Father was of a different order than that of creation: 'God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made.' It used the term 'homoousios' ('of the same substance') to designate the relation between the Son and the Father, less as a positive attempt to describe divine being than as an apophatic pronouncement ruling out any suggestion that the Son was created from nothing [and therefore wasn't deity with the Father]" (page 18).

The last sentence is very important. Anatolios is agreeing with Kelly's viewpoint that the Council of Nicea was insisting (against the views of Arius and those who followed him) "that the Son was fully God, in the sense of sharing the same divine nature as His Father" (He wasn't created out of nothing; He was of the substance, essence, nature of the Father; and there never was a time when He didn't exist). They (at least most of them) did not believe that the Father and Son shared the identical, same-substance/essence that cannot be divided, and they believed in the eternally subordinate role of the Son.

This understanding is what you would expect since the viewpoint of the pre-Nicene Christians was that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in His role. "Eusebius of Caesarea had reluctantly agreed to the Nicene's 'homoousios,' but his own doctrine, often articulated in terms of the Son's being the 'image of the Father's substance,' is centrally concerned with maintaining the clear priority of the Father over the Son" (page 19). Anatolios also mentioned on page 19 that Eusebius "disowned Arius's doctrine of the Son's origination from nothing."

I won't get into the details (I don't know all the details; there was much strife and many different councils in the years following Nicea), but it is clear that things changed after Nicea, and some sixty years after Nicea many Christians understood "homoousios" of the Nicene Creed (AD 325) and the creed of the Council of Constantinople (AD 381) to rule out any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. It is super-important to believe in the Full deity of the Lord Jesus, but I believe it was a mistake to deny any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in his role. For one primary thing, as we discuss in some detail in this paper, the Bible seems to clearly teach some eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, while also clearly teaching the Full deity of the Son. And it is quite significant that the pre-Nicene Christians, who built on the foundation of the apostles and the Bible, believed in the eternally subordinate role of God the Son. It is totally necessary though to make sure that the FULL deity of the Lord Jesus is not compromised by unbiblical ideas of subordination, like those of Arius.

What caused the change in the understood meaning of "homoousios." As Anatolios continues, he shows that Athanasius (AD296-373) strongly promoted understanding an identical, same-substance unity of the Trinity in a way that excluded any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, for one thing. "And although Athanasius probably was not a significant figure at Nicea and maintained a discreet silence about that council for over a decade [even though he became the bishop Alexandria in 328, which was a bishopric of key importance], he did emerge in the 350s as one of its [the Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed's] leading defenders [which included understanding "homoousios" of the Nicene Creed in a way that ruled out any eternal subordination of the Son, for one thing]" (page 28). Athanasius died before the Council of Constantinople (381).

Athanasius as a young deacon accompanied his bishop, Alexander, to Nicea (AD 325). In AD 328 Athanasius succeeded Alexander as bishop of Alexandria, Egypt. That continued for forty-six years, but he was exiled five times because of his conflicts with the Arians during those turbulent years.

It comes up again and again in this paper (my paper) that the idea of many that the Son's unity with the Father in one identical shared substance that cannot be divided that, for one thing, doesn't leave room for any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, WAS A NEW IDEA IN THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY. (There is a whole lot that I haven't read, but I haven't read anything that refutes this viewpoint.) This is important information! And it is significant that this new idea wasn't needed to refute Arius. All that was needed to refute Arius were the facts that the Son always existed, that He was of the substance of the Father (He was not created out of nothing), and that He is fully deity with the Father; HE IS GOD the Son!) I believe this new idea was wrong, as new ideas often are.

12. I'll quote a confirming excerpt from Robert Letham ("The Holy Trinity" [P&R Publishing, 2004]): "It ["homoousios"] hardly means 'shared being,' let alone 'identity of being,' Hanson suggests that it was used at Nicea because Arius [and the Arians] disliked it, but people like Eusebius of Caesarea [who believed in the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father] signed [the Nicene Creed], so we can be reasonably sure it was not intended to teach the numerical identity [identical, same-substance unity that cannot be divided] of the Father and the Son. In fact, it may have been used merely to unite everyone who was opposed to Arius, by denying that the Son came from a source other than God" (page 121). Arius said the Son was created out of nothing. Therefore the Son didn't always exist and He wasn't God (deity) with the Father. I didn't include the four footnotes that Letham included here.

The Roman Emperor Constantine, who was strongly motivated to unite Christians to the fullest possible extent, insisted that the word "homoousios" be included in the Nicene Creed. I believe it is clear that he was not insisting on a new, controversial idea.

13. An Excerpt from Robert Letham in "the Holy Trinity" that Shows that There Were Quite a Few Versions of Arianism in the Decades Following Nicea. I am not going to get into these details in this paper (see Letham's pages 122-126 for some details), but it must be understood that Athanasius and the Cappadocians had to refute some viewpoints that differed from Arius. Under the heading "The Contending Parties in the Decades after Nicea," Letham has the following paragraph: "The details, historical and theological, of the period following the Council of Nicaea are bewildering. We have neither space nor inclination to enter the labyrinthine complexities of this period. Hanson's volume describes these machinations in often sordid detail. We will identify contending parties only for our convenience. In practice, the situation was fluid, and the various parties were not nearly as clear-cut as our classification implies."

I have read that some Arians would say almost anything trying to get their viewpoint(s) accepted. (That's easy to believe.) The reason I mention this is that that situation could have provided motivation for Athanasius (and others) to strongly argue for a viewpoint (a viewpoint that didn't exist before Arius came on the scene; at least I haven't seen any evidence that it did) that, for one thing, did not allow any eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Athanasius' view of the Trinity totally guarded the full deity of the Son, which is good in itself, but I believe he went too far and missed the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches, which so often happens when there is controversy. (The devil does some of his most effective work when he gets Christians to overreact and get into a ditch on the other side of the road, and sometimes [but not here] the ditch on the other side of the road represents a bigger error.) Athanasius, for one thing, did not leave any room for the Biblical eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in His role. As I mentioned, that new viewpoint wasn't needed to refute Arius. All they needed to refute Arius was to say that the Son always did exist and He was fully deity, being of the substance of God the Father - He was not created out of nothing like Arius said. Arius was going against viewpoints that were accepted by the pre-Nicene Christians. That's why almost all of the bishops voted against him.

We will continue this study in Part 2F, starting with section 14, "Some Excerpts from 'Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church' that deal with the Council of Nicea" by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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