Muslims often assert that Christians corrupted The Bible at The Council Of Nicea in 325 AD
Sometimes Muslims assert that, at this Council, Christians were in hopeless confusion about what Gospels should be included in The Bible, there being dozens or hundreds of conflicting Gospels in their possession at that time. In order to select the true Gospels of Jesus, say these opponents of Christianity, the Niceans resorted to throwing the contending Gospels on or under the main table in the debating hall of The Council, then prayed to God that the true Gospels would overnight miraculously move to the top of this hopelessly confused mess of hopelessly confused books.
The ultimate source of this story, told in several colourful variants, is a document known as the Synodicon Vetus, an anonymous document written in about 900 AD. The Synodicon Vetus gives a one chapter summary of every major Council and Synod of the Christian Church up until 887 AD.
The canonical and apocryphal books it distinguished in the following manner: in the house of God the books were placed down by the holy altar; then the council asked the Lord in prayer that the inspired works be found on top and–as in fact happened–the spurious on the bottom. (Synodicon Vetus, 35)
Unfortunately for Muslims, the Synodicon Vetus is an unreliable document and is not considered trustworthy by historians. In addition, Synodicon Vetus also fails the tests of reliability required by Islamic Sciences.
The flaws of the Synodicon Vetus are many. They are:
- It is anonymous
- It is written many centuries after the early Councils
- It gives a different account of Councils than witness accounts and records written at much earlier times
- It references Councils that never took place
- It includes events considered doubtful and even imaginary
- It uses documents known to be forged and considers them to be factual.
While the Synodicon Vetus does contain some information which is verified by earlier historical accounts and its information about the later Councils is often sound, its major drawbacks mean that it cannot be used as an authoritative source. Its recount of the earlier Councils, including the Council of Nicea are very often unreliable. For this reason the Synodicon Vetus is described variously as pseudo-historical, not to be trusted for Councils prior to the 7th Century unless corroborated by better sources, containing information which is doubtful or imaginary, the product of careless research…containing numerous errors and depending in part on forged documents.
The account in the Synodicon Vetus of the four accepted Gospels floating to the top of a huge pile of forgeries in response to prayer is not mentioned in any document prior to the Synodicon Vetus itself. Since the SV was written about 570 years after the Council Of Nicea and the account of the miraculously appearing Gospels is not mentioned by any other source including the several records from very close to the time of Nicea, then this alone is enough to dismiss the SV’s account of Nicea as a fanciful invention and not at all based in fact.
In fact, the proceedings of The Council Of Nicea are well-known and the decisions and the agenda of the Council are common knowledge. Contrary to myths believed by Muslims and other opponents of Christianity, the canon of scripture (i.e. what Books should or should not be in The Bible) was not decided at Nicea, nor was Nicea called for the purpose of discussing the Canon of Scripture. The list of accepted Gospels and Letters in The Bible was exactly the same after Nicea as before Nicea. The church leaders that disagreed with the decisions of Nicea used the same Bible as those that agreed with Nicea.
The reason Nicea was called was to discuss the meaning of Jesus’s title as Son Of God, not to determine the contents of The Bible.
The Unmentioned Miracle
An astonishing miracle such as the True Gospels selecting, discarding, declaring and elevating themselves would surely be recorded as the major event of the Council, but no such miracle or decision is recorded. Again, this alone is proof that the story of miraculously appearing Gospels as stated by the Synodicon Vetus simply never happened.
You can read many accounts of the proceedings of Nicea from the Histories listed on this site (here’s a short summary), the statement of faith produced at Nicea here and a list of the other decisions of Nicea here. There is simply no mention of any discussion about which books should be in The Bible nor is there any decision taken regarding The Bible. This is because the Biblical Canon (what books and letters should be in The Bible) was well-known by both sides well before Nicea. It was simply not in dispute.
Synodicon Vetus Invalid According To Islamic Sciences
The willingness of Muslims to accept a myth based on the Synodicon Vetus is actually opposed to Islamic Sciences of evaluating reliable traditions and history. First, the SV is anonymous. The first principle of authenticity in Islamic Sciences is that the author of the text be fully identified and be known as a trustworthy witness.
The fact that the SV is anonymous disqualifies it immediately from being considered reliable or authentic by Muslims. Muslims are obliged to reject the SV on this basis alone. As Shabbir Ally explains in relation to The Gospel Of Barnabas (which he rejects) a document or tradition which appears suddenly and anonymously centuries after the event it is supposed to describe and which has no chain of narration back to eyewitnesses of the event is simply invalid and must be rejected by Muslims. This is why Shabbir Ally does not consider The Gospel Of Barnabas valid. He would reject the Synodicon Vetus for the same reason.
In passing, other respected Islamic Scholars also reject the Gospel Of Barnabas. For example: Yusuf Estes says simply ‘There was no Gospel Of Barnabas…If you think there was such a Gospel you are deluded…’ Estes goes on to infer that the Gospel Of Barnabas is somehow the product of drunkenness and leaves no doubt that he does not consider the Gospel Of Barnabas of value to either Muslims or Christians.
Use Of Forged Sources
Returning again to the Synodicon Vetus, the document is severely compromised by its use of sources known to be forged. The forgeries in question are known as the Seven Forged Letters of Peter The Fuller. These letters owe their production to a theological debate of the 5th Century. You can read all about it here. Since SV references forged documents as if they are true then there is no way that SV should be considered reliable.
The Qu’ran Was Recited By 114 Heavenly Eagles
Imagine if I told Muslims that the Qu’ran was put into its current form by 114 Heavenly Eagles which appeared to Mohammed on the night before his death and recited each of the 114 true Surahs in turn in order to verify to Mohammed that his own recitation of the Qu’ran was correct. Imagine if I told Muslims that this was necessary because Mohammed had accumulated over 1000 Surahs and had no idea which ones were valid and which ones were forgeries. Imagine if I told my Muslim friends that the Eagles had appeared in response to a desperate prayer from Mohammed to Allah in order to help him determine which Surahs of the Qu’ran were forged and which were real.
My Muslim friends would laugh at this story and demand proof for my assertion.
Imagine if I told them that this proof was contained in a anonymous Hadith contained in a book of Hadith assembled by an anonymous authour who had also assembled Hadith using sources which were known forgeries and that my anonymous source wrote down his Hadith in the year 1420 AD, 570 years after Imam Bukhari had made his Sahih collection of trusted and authenticated Hadith and that my account was not accepted by or known to any other Islamic Scholar.
I then tell my Muslim friends that they should reject the Hadith of Bukhari and accept my anonymous, forged, and obviously fanciful account of the Recitation Of The Heavenly Eagles, written 800 years after the death of Mohammed even though it is in complete contradiction to reputable Islamic history.
Their response would be: Why should we accept such rubbish ?
And yet some Muslims ask Christians to accept the myths of the Synodicon Vetus.
The major flaws in the SV render it irredeemable. It cannot be judged to be authoritative for Christians in any way. The story of the floating Gospels which miraculously appear at the top of the pile of competing Gospels is an obvious fabrication and a myth, one which is rejected by reputable scholarship.