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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 Synodicon Vetus says of The Council Of Nicea

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.

Irredeemable

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.

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Muslims sometimes allege that The Bible became corrupted at the Council Of Nicea in 325 AD. The Council Of Nicea was an important Council of Church leaders held in what is now the Turkish city Iznik. Here is an example of a Muslim who thinks The Bible was corrupted At Nicea.

Sometimes Muslims specify that it was wicked Romans, specifically Emperor Constantine who corrupted The Bible at this Council.

The Bible Was Not Discussed At Nicea

The Council Of Nicea did not corrupt The Bible. In fact, The Canon (i.e. list of accepted books) of The Bible was not even discussed at Nicea. The main purpose of Nicea was to define exactly what is meant by Jesus being called Son Of God.

Since The Canon was not discussed at this Council,  it is impossible that this Council corrupted The Bible. You can find an overview of the proceedings of the Council Of Nicea here. The Canon was not altered by The Council Of Nicea. All Bishops that attended the conference used the same Bible that we have today, whether or not they supported the position that Jesus is God or whether they thought Jesus was not God.

Bibles Before Nicea Same As Those After Nicea

We have about sixty Bible manuscripts which predate The Council Of Nicea. These ancient manuscripts all support the current Bible. We also have accounts of the proceedings of The Council Of Nicea which tells us what was said and done. These proves that The Council Of Nicea did not change The Bible.

Anti-Nicean Bishops Believed Jesus Is The Son Of God

At Nicea there were two groups of Bishops. Both groups believed that Jesus Is The Son Of God. The heretical group, however, believed that The Son was created.

The heretical Christian leader, Arius, was the leader of those who believed that Jesus is a created being. We have letters written by Arius to other church leaders and to the Emperor Constantine. Here is an extract from one of those letters. It clearly states that Arius believed that Jesus is The Son Of God and that Jesus is Divine. Arius wrote to the Emperor Constantine saying this:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, and in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, who was begotten from Him before all ages, God the Word, by whom all things were made, whether things in heaven or on earth; He came and took upon Him flesh, suffered and rose again, and ascended into heaven…

Arius plainly states that he believes that Jesus is The Son Of God, Creator and Divine.

This means that all Christians, even those those disagreed with the decisions of Nicea, agreed that Jesus is The Son of God before The Council Of Nicea. This means that Nicea did not create the formulation that Jesus is The Son Of God and that The Bible was not altered at Nicea.

Arius and the heretical Bishops all believed that Jesus is The Son Of God and that Jesus was Divine. They believed this before Nicea. Where Arius and his followers disagreed with Orthodox Christians was that Arius believed that Jesus Himself was created. Arius believed that Jesus was created by The Father as a Divine creation before time began.  Here is a further letter written by Arius to a Church leader named Eusebius. This letter was written in 319 AD, six years before Nicea.

we say and believe …that the Son is not unbegotten; and that He does not derive his subsistence from any matter; but that by His own will and counsel He has subsisted before time, and before ages, as perfect God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before He was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, He was not. For He was not unbegotten…

we say that the Son has a beginning, but that God is without beginning…And this we say, because He is neither part of God, nor of any essential being

Anti-Nicene Beliefs Unacceptable To Muslims

So we see that the heretical Bishops, led by Arius, had a strange combination of beliefs. They believed that Jesus is The Son Of God, that Jesus is Divine, that Jesus is the God of all humanity, that Jesus existed before time began and that there is a Trinity of Divine beings, but that nevertheless Jesus is a created being. The Anti-Nicene Bishop Ulfilas expressed his belief that Jesus is a created God like so

I believe in only one God the Father, the unbegotten and invisible, and in his only-begotten son, our Lord/Master and God, the designer and maker of all creation, having none other like him. Therefore, there is one God of all, who is also God of our God;

Arius wrote in his work Thalia

Certainly there is a Trinity .. and they possess glories of different levels

This combination of beliefs is obviously completely unacceptable to Muslims and opposed to the teaching of The Qu’ran. This is unfortunate for Muslims who like to believe that Christianity was identical to Islam until corrupted by Constantine at the Council Of Nicea and who like to see Arius as a kind of Islamic hero of original ‘Islamic’ Christianity.

As can be plainly seen the beliefs of Arius and the Anti-Nicene Bishops are completely non-Islamic.

Anti-Nicene Bishops Used The Same Bible As Everyone Else

The Bishops that opposed the decisions of The Council Of Nicea used the same Bible as everyone else. The Anti-Nicene Bishop Ulfilas quoted from Luke and Acts. Another Arian,  Maximinus quoted from Matthew, Luke and 2 Timothy. By inspection of his letters we can see that Arius quoted Scripture from Psalms, John, Proverbs, 1 Timothy, Romans, Mark, Colossians, Deuteronomy, Phillippians as well as numerous other books in The Bible.

From the writings of the Anti-Nicene leaders we can see that they used the same Bible as everyone else. This is proof that Nicea did not change The Bible to remove or invent scripture to support the teaching that Jesus is equally God with The Father, co-equal and co-eternal.

Son Of God

The fact that The Council Of Nicea was called to discuss what is meant by Jesus being the Son Of God proves that the Bible of pre-Nicea and pre-Islamic times said that Jesus was the Son Of God. Obviously, this means that The Bible contained the assertion that Jesus is The Son Of God prior to Nicea and that the Council Of Nicea did not invent this title for Jesus.

So, the Council Of Nicea was essentially a debate over what was meant by Jesus being called The Son Of God. The heretical Bishop Arius, who believed that Jesus was NOT God, but a unique kind of semi-divine, half-angel / half-God creation, the first thing that God created when he created the universe, used the same gospels and epistles (the ones that are in the Bible now) to argue his case.  The two sides did not disagree on what the scriptural documents stated, nor did they disagree on which documents should be ‘in’ the Bible.  They disagreed, with heated debate, merely on the interpretation of these same scriptures.

Romans Tortured And Killed The Christians

In fact, many of the Church leaders present at the Council of Nicea had been tortured by The Roman Emperors for their belief that Jesus is God. They attended with eyes gouged out, fingers hacked off, horrific scarring from being whipped to the point of death and with the muscles of their legs cut through so they could not walk properly. Of course, many many other Bishops and leaders had been killed by the Romans for believing and teaching that Jesus is God. They and the early Church had all believed Jesus that Jesus is God well before Nicea.

If Romans corrupted The Bible to say that Jesus is God, as believed by some Muslims, then why would Romans torture and kill church leaders for saying that Jesus is God, in agreement with the false Bible that they supposedly created ? It is completely illogical to things that Romans would torture and kill people for believing in things they the Romans were forcing people to believe. So we see that the Muslim accusations are in ignorance of history and logic.

The subject matter of the Council Of Nicea proves that the early church believed that Jesus is The Son Of God and that The Bible said that Jesus is The Son Of God centuries before Islam and Nicea arrived.

The Council of Nicea did not invent or state anything new about Jesus. It merely affirmed those truths about Jesus already held by Christians since the time of Jesus and his companions. Specifically, Nicea did not discard or select Gospels or in any way modify the Bible, nor did the Council even discuss The Bible.

Constantine Forced His Personal Opinions Into The Bible

Muslims sometimes assert that The Emporer Constantine, who presided at The Council Of Nicea, forced his personal belief that Jesus is God on to the church, and therefore claim that the belief that Jesus is God was created by a corrupt Christian Roman Caliph.

This assertion is untrue.

In fact, Constantine wavered between views and for the most part of his reign after Nicea favoured the view that Jesus was not God. Constantine died in 337 AD and his successor Constantine II was firmly opposed to the idea that Jesus is God. This Emperor was an opponent of the doctrinal decisions of Nicea and persecuted the leading Nicean Bishop, Athanasius, driving him into exile.

The next Emperor after Constantine II, Emperor Valens, was also opposed to the doctrines of Nicea. He also did not believe that Jesus is God.

Therefore the view that Jesus is God has always been believed by God’s people even under hostility, persecution and penalty of death from the most powerful Roman Caliphs for the first 300 years after Jesus and despite rejection or ambivalence of this view from Emperor Constantine and his two next successors for the next fifty years following The Council Of Nicea

You can find some more information about Nicea here.