What are the myths about the Council of Nicea? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
A few weeks ago in a Facebook debate, a Catholic actually brought forward this canard that keeps going around the internet. I think it might have started with Thomas Paine and like many myths, it just refuses to die. This is the idea that the books that were to make up the New Testament were voted on at the Council of Nicea.
Years ago an atheist in a debate told me that when they found out this vote took place, that is what nailed the coffin on Christianity for them. To inform me about what happened, they sent me a link to an article. The article was by Roger Pearse who I know to do upstanding history. Keep in mind, this article was supposed to back their case. I didn’t have to go far. Please note how the article BEGINS!
” There seem to be a number of legends about the First Council of Nicaea (325AD) in circulation on the internet, presented as fact. Some people seem to think that the council, which was the first council of all the Bishops of the Christian Church, either invented the New Testament, or edited it to remove references to reincarnation (or whatever) or burned large numbers of heretical works, or whatever. This is not the case. This page documents the problem, and provides links to all the ancient source material in order to allow everyone to check the truth for themselves.”
Atheists regularly do like to spread this myth. None of them bother to do any study of the history of canonization. After all, for most the way of checking a claim is to see if it argues against Christianity. If it does, then it has to be absolutely true. It it makes Christianity look good or neutral at best, then it must be absolutely false.
The Council of Nicea was mainly held to deal with the Arian heresy. Other topics were discussed there and other pledges made, but the New Testament being voted on was not one of them. One of the reasons I think it is so easy to make this kind of claim is because of Constantine. If Hitler is our modern evil villain in the present age, then the worst person you can be compared to apparently in the Christian era is Constantine.
So if you want to talk about the origins of the New Testament, what else do you do but go back in time and blame Constantine, the source of all evils from the ancient world. Fortunately, if someone makes this claim to you, remember that it is they who are making the claim. What that means is that it is up to them to back the claim. If they cannot back it, then you have no reason to believe it. Make sure also they give you a real source for the claim, someone who has done their homework or a scholar and not just Joe Blow on the internet who you have no reason to believe.
We live in a day and age where if something is said about Jesus on the internet and it gets popular, you have good grounds to question it. It’s on the internet that debates over Jesus mythicism take place and not in the halls of scholarship. It’s here that we discuss whether Jesus is based on pagan myths that were around at the time or not. Again, not in the halls of scholarship. The internet is the place where so many bad ideas that died long ago rise again and find new life. No new information has come forward to back them. Instead, it is just that people who once didn’t have a way of getting their message out can now do so.
Keep in mind also that nothing I have said in here requires being a Christian. You can be an atheist and know that the Council of Nicea did not vote on the books of the New Testament. There is nothing about this claim that involves the miraculous at all. It’s just a question of who is doing history and who is believing myths.
Hint: It’s not the Christian (normally) in this case who’s believing myths.