The Nicene Creed was affirmed at the first Council of Nicea in a.d. 325. The council was called to settle a dispute about Christ’s relationship to the Father. This disagreement had been sparked by the teaching of Arius, a church leader from Alexandria, who said Jesus was neither eternal nor divine but had been created by God the Father before the world was made.
The Nicene Creed countered this false teaching by describing Christ as “begotten not made” and as being “of one substance with the Father.” The creed echoed what Scripture had already revealed. John characterizes Jesus as God’s “one and only” Son five times in the New Testament (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). This language emphasizes Jesus’ unique relationship to the Father; it does not imply that God created Him. Similar language is used to refer to Abraham’s son Isaac (Heb. 11:17). Isaac was not Abraham’s only son, but he was unique because of his relationship to God’s promise. Isaac was the only son who fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham.
Jesus’ relationship with God as His only begotten Son affirms the deity of Jesus. John emphasized Christ’s eternally divine nature by noting that Jesus already existed in the beginning as God (see John 1). Jesus Himself declared, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He prayed that after His suffering He would be restored to the glory He had with the Father before the world was created (John 17:5).
The apostle Paul explained the connection between this unity between the Father and Son and the incarnation of Jesus by noting that even though Jesus was God by nature, He took on human nature in order to go to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins (Phil. 2:1–8). Hebrews 1:6 calls Jesus God’s “firstborn,” not to emphasize a point of origin but to underscore His supremacy over all creation.
There was never a time when Jesus did not exist as God. He has always been the Son, sharing the same glory and substance as the Father. There was a time, however, when Jesus did not have a human nature. The eternal Son took to Himself a human nature when He was born of the Virgin Mary.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
To learn more, read Evangelicals and Nicene Faith: Reclaiming the Apostolic Witness by Timothy George (Baker).