The Creed (Part 4)

April 21, 2020

by Peter Amsterdam

(Points for this article were taken from The Creed by Luke Timothy Johnson.1)

Part three of this series of articles addressed the portion of the creed which refers to Jesus as One Lord Jesus Christ. We saw that Jesus is called Lord, which reflects His deity. His name, Jesus, points to Him being the one who saves people from their sins; while His title, Christ, reflects His role as the anointed one, the Messiah.

Having affirmed that Jesus is God, the creed then goes on to state that Christ came from God the Father and returned to Him in a manner in which no human being ever has or will. When He came from God, as a child born to Mary, He kept His deity. When He was crucified and died, He rose from the dead and returned to where He had come from. Earlier creedal writings moved from the statement of “one Lord Jesus Christ” directly to addressing the deeds He did in human form. However, because of some false doctrines which arose in the fourth century, it became necessary to add more information to affirm the uniqueness of Jesus as the Son of God.

The portion of the creed which addresses this is:

[We believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.

The Only Son of God

Jesus is called the only Son of God, or more literally, “the only begotten Son of God.” At the time the creed was formulated, there were those who believed that Jesus became God’s Son simply by adoption, and that He was God’s Son in the sense that all believers are considered to be sons of God.

All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.2

So those who formulated the creed needed to focus on those sections of Scripture which spoke of the ways in which Jesus was uniquely God’s Son.

In the Gospels, we read of a voice from heaven stating,

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”3

The same voice was heard when Jesus was transfigured.

[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”4

Second Peter also says,

He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”5

In the epistles of Paul, the authors of the creed also found references to Jesus as God’s own son.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?6 

Paul also made a number of references to God sending His Son.

God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.7 

When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.8

In the book of 1 John we find,

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.9 

We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.10

The epistles of Paul and of John both point to the fact that Jesus, the One whom God sent into the world, is God’s Son and is divine.

Begotten from the Father

The creed continues to focus on Jesus as God. He is begotten from the Father before all ages. The Gospel of John speaks of the Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life.11

The Word which John speaks of is God. He then wrote,

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.12

The Word, who is God, and who became flesh, was Jesus Christ.

Later in the Gospel of John we read,

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.13 

Jesus, the Word, who was with God from the beginning, is also the only begotten Son of God.

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.14

The creed makes the point that Jesus, the Word, the only begotten Son, existed with the Father before all ages, meaning before time existed. The Son was not made by the Father, in the way that creation was; rather the Son is an extension or expansion of the Father’s own existence.

God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God

The creed continues to drive home the point that Jesus is God. He is not only Lord, only begotten Son, and Begotten from the Father before all time, but He is also God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. The first and third phrases—God from God, and True God from True God—stress that Jesus is God.

The phrase Light from Light points to God’s presence, as throughout the Old Testament light was associated with God.

With you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.15

The LORD is my light.16 

Psalm 89:15 proclaims,

Blessed are the people … who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face.

In the book of Isaiah we read,

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.17

In the New Testament, light is associated with God’s presence in Jesus. In 1 Timothy 6:14–16, we read that our Lord Jesus Christwho alone has immortality … dwells in unapproachable light. The apostle Peter speaks of God’s people being called out of darkness into his marvelous light.18 In the book of James we’re told that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.19

Author Luke Timothy Johnson wrote,

The apostle Paul used the light imagery for speaking about Jesus: For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Here the apostle Paul draws together God the creator who called forth the light, and Jesus the Lord. God’s own glory “shines” on the face of Christ. He is “light from light.20

In the Gospel of John, we find the metaphor for light used to express the identity and work of Jesus.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.21

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.22

This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.23

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”24

As the Father is light, so is the Son.

Begotten Not Made, of the Same Substance as the Father

In the fourth century a bishop named Arius in Alexandria, Egypt, taught the false doctrine that the Son of God was a creature made by God. He proclaimed that there was a time when the Son of God did not exist, a false doctrine known as Arianism.25 The bishops who gathered at the Council of Nicaea refuted Arius’ claim by using the Greek word homoousios (one in being) to assert the unity of being of the Father and the Son. They chose this word to express the essential belief that the Son is not just an improved version of a human being, but that He is God. His being, His generation, is different from that of human nature. The Son is not only like the Father, but rather is inseparable from the substance of the Father; He and the Father are one and the same. Thus He is begotten, not made, and He is of the same substance as the Father.

Through Him All Things Were Made

This is the last statement in the creed referring to the “pre-existent” Christ. Earlier in the creed we are told that God the Father almighty is the maker of heaven and earth. Here we’re told that the one who is “begotten not made” is the one through whom God created “all things.”

The Gospel of John is one of the New Testament books which speaks of the Son’s role in creation.

All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.26

The apostle Paul also refers to the Son being active in creation.

There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.27

By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.28

The authors of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed looked to the teachings of Scripture as they attempted to express and defend the divinity of Jesus Christ. It is clear that the Bible teaches that Jesus is:

      the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.

(To be continued in Part Five.)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 The Creed—What Christians Believe and Why It Matters (New York: Doubleday, 2003).

2 Romans 8:14.

3 Matthew 3:17. See also Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22.

4 Matthew 17:5.

5 2 Peter 1:17. See also Mark 9:7.

6 Romans 8:32.

7 Romans 8:3.

8 Galatians 4:4–5.

9 1 John 4:9.

10 1 John 4:14.

11 John 1:1–4.

12 John 1:14.

13 John 3:16–18 NAS.

14 1 John 4:9 NAS.

15 Psalm 36:9.

16 Psalm 27:1.

17 Isaiah 60:1–3.

18 1 Peter 2:9.

19 James 1:17.

20 Johnson, The Creed, 126.

21 John 1:4–5.

22 John 1:9.

23 John 3:19.

24 John 8:12.

25 For more about Arianism, see The Heart of It All: The Trinity (Part 2).

26 John 1:3.

27 1 Corinthians 8:6.

28 Colossians 1:16–17.