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Did the Council of Nicaea Take Away Reincarnation and Give us the Bible?

In this Readers’ Mailbag I’ll deal with two questions that involve modern myths about the Council of Nicaea in the year 325.  Is it true that this is when the church fathers decided which books would be in the New Testament?  And that these authorities also removed all references to reincarnation from the Bible?   If you have a question you would like me to address in a future Mailbag, go ahead and ask!


QUESTION:  I’ve noticed many people have the misconception that the NT canon was decided at the Council of Nicaea. Where are people getting this misconception, and can it be quashed?

QUESTION:  I have often heard that original scrolls make reference to reincarnation but that such references were removed at the Council of Nicaea to strengthen the Church’s position that the imperative for living a Godly life this time around necessitated immediate adherence. Is there any truth to this claim?



First, on the canon of the New Testament, let me say categorically that the Council of Nicaea did not debate or decide which books should belong in Scripture.  We know this because we have actual records of the Council’s issues and decisions.  So where do people today get the idea from?  I suppose it is mainly from reading The Da Vinci Code, where it is stated as a historical fact.

Now, you may say that the novel is fiction and so shouldn’t be taken seriously.  I completely agree.  BUT, if you’ve read the novel, you’ll know that…

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What About the Apocrypha?
How We Got the New Testament (and not some other books!)



  1. Avatar
    stevenpounders  January 9, 2017

    I found a very long answer to the question of where the notion comes from (that the Council of Nicea determined the biblical canon).

    From Ecce homo!: An Eighteenth Century Life of Jesus by Baron Paul Tiry d’Holbach. Critical Edition and Revision of George Houston’s Translation from the French

    “It is well known, that among some fifty gospels, with which Christianity in its commencement was inundated, the Church, assembled in council at Nicaea, chose four of them only, and rejected the rest as apocryphal, although the latter had nothing more ridiculous in them than those which were admitted. Thus, at the end of three centuries (i.e. in the three hundred and twenty-fifth year of the Christian era), some bishops decided, that these four gospels were the only ones which ought to be adopted, or which had been really inspired by the Holy Ghost. A miracle enabled them to discover this important truth, so difficult to unearth at a time even then quite remote from that of the apostles. They placed, it is said, books apocryphal and authentic jumbled together under an altar; the Fathers of the Council betook themselves to prayers, in order to obtain of the Lord, that he would permit the false or doubtful books to remain under the altar, whilst those which were truly inspired by the Holy Ghost should rise and place themselves on it, which did not fail to occur.”

    The editor, Andrew Hunwick, adds the following footnote to this passage:

    “The question of authentic and spurious gospels was not discussed at the first Nicene Council: the anecdote is fictitious. It occurs in the clandestine text La Religion chretienne analysée (‘Christianity Analyzed’, ascribed to Dumarsais, and published by Voltaire in an abridged form in the Recueil necessaire (‘Essential Collection,’ 1765), where the source is given as the Sanctissima concilia (1671-1672, Paris, vol II, pp 84-85) of Pierre Labbe (1607-1667), which purports to follow the Year 325 § 158 of the Annales ecclesiasti (1559-1607) of Baronius (1538-1607), though be it noted that Baronius, while recording the adoption of certain gospels, and the rejection of others as spurious, does not recount by what means the distinction was made.

    Voltaire repeated the fictitious anecdote several times, giving Labbe as his source: see B. E. Schwarzbach, p. 329 & n. 81. Doubts had earlier been expressed, notably by Tillemont (see L. S. Le Nain de Tillemont, Memoires pour servir a l’histoire ecclesiastique [‘Memoirs by way of church history’, 1701-14, 2nd ed., Paris, Robustel – Arsenal 4° H.5547], vol VI, p .676.)

    In fact the anecdote pre-dates Baronius by over six hundred years: it occurs in an anonymous Synodikon containing brief surveys of 158 Councils of the first nine centuries. Brought from Greece in the sixteenth century by Andreas Darmasius, this document was purchased and edited by the Lutheran theologian Johannes Pappus (1549-1610). It was subsequently reprinted, notably in the Bibliotheca graeca… of Fabricius, the first edition of which was published in 1705-1707, and which D’Holbach may well have consulted. The anecdote may be found in Synodicon vetus section 34, ‘Council of Nicaea’ (Johannes Albert Fabricius, Biblioteca graeca… [1790-1809, Hamburg: Bohn], Vol XII, pp. 370-371.)”

    • Bart
      Bart  January 10, 2017

      Wow. Interesting. Many thanks.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  January 11, 2017

        Given that the records of the Nicaean Council show no discussion of the contents of the canon, have you any thoughts on why these later writers would try to insist that they had done so? I can’t think of any reason offhand for the council records to have been altered to excise such a discussion; can you?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 13, 2017

          They would do so in order to score a theological point, that the canon was officially decided already.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  January 10, 2017

      Cool. Thanks!

  2. Avatar
    FrankJay71  January 10, 2017

    I remember watching “Out on a limb,” the Shirley McLean TV movie when I was a kid, around 1987. I seem to remember a scene where her “mentor” tells her that reincarnation was in the scriptures until Constantine had them removed at the council of Nicea. Thats the first time I’d ever heared any of that ” history”. Undoubtedly many others did also.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 10, 2017

    I have read somewhere, perhaps in the Catholic Catechism, that the present Catholic canon was first accepted by the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa in 393 C.E., but the acts of this council have been lost. I have also read somewhere that a summary of the acts of this Synod of Hippo was accepted by the Councils of Carthage in 397 C.E. and 416 C.E. If this information is true, then canonization may have been done at a council during the late fourth century. I may have read this in the Catholic Catechism, but am not sure. Do you think this information is correct? Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 11, 2017

      Yes, that’s right about the Synod of Hippo and the councils of Carthage. But these were very regional affairs, not “ecumenical” councils with authority over the church at large.

  4. Avatar
    Steefen  January 10, 2017

    The Zohar teaches reincarnation. Tibetan Buddhism teaches reincarnation. Psychology teaches reincarnation. The mysticism built on top of the Hebrew Bible is probably not wrong about reincarnation. Exoteric aspects of religion are notorious for skipping over truths. We’re no longer in the Age of Belief. The Age of Reason has come. We’re now in the Age of Information. Holding on to an Age of Belief document like the Bible, with its scientific, historical, psychological, philosophical, and spiritual inaccuracies is a “swim at your own risk” proposition. For Age of Information Christianity as Opposed to Pre-Age of Reason Christianity, Reincarnation Should Be Part of Our World View

    Jewish eschatology is made up of three basic pieces:
    “The Era of the Messiah.”
    “The Afterlife.”
    “The World of Resurrection.”
    The Messiah, according to traditional Jewish sources, will be a human being born of a flesh and blood mother and father, unlike the Christian idea that has him as the son of God conceived immaculately. In fact, Maimonides (1135-1204) writes that the Messiah will complete his job and then die like everyone else.
    The World of Resurrection … “no eye has seen,” the Talmud remarks. It’s a world, according to most authorities, where the body and soul are reunited to live eternally in a truly perfected state. That world will only first come into being after the Messiah and will be initiated by an event known as the “Great Day of Judgment,”(Yom HaDin HaGadol) The World of Resurrection is thus the ultimate reward, a place where the body becomes eternal and spiritual, while the soul becomes even more so.
    [This is quite Pauline.]
    In comparison to a concept like the “World To Come,” reincarnation is not, technically speaking, a true eschatology. Reincarnation is merely a vehicle toward attaining an eschatological end. It’s the reentry of the soul into an entirely new body into the present world. Resurrection, by contrast, is the reunification of the soul with the former body (newly reconstituted) into the “World To Come,” a world history has not witnessed yet.

    Resurrection is thus a pure eschatological concept. Its purpose is to reward the body with eternity (and the soul with higher perfection). The purpose of reincarnation is generally two-fold: either to make up for a failure in a previous life or to create a new, higher state of personal perfection not previously attained. The purpose of resurrection is to reward the body with eternity and the soul with higher perfection. Resurrection is thus a time of reward; reincarnation a time of repairing. Resurrection is a time of reaping; reincarnation a time of sowing.

    The fact that reincarnation is part of Jewish tradition comes as a surprise to many people. Nevertheless, it’s mentioned in numerous places throughout the classical texts of Jewish mysticism, starting with the preeminent sourcebook of Kabbalah, the Zohar :12

    As long as a person is unsuccessful in his purpose in this world, the Holy One, blessed be He, uproots him and replants him over and over again. (Zohar I 186b)

    All souls are subject to reincarnation; and people do not know the ways of the Holy One, blessed be He! They do not know that they are brought before the tribunal both before they enter into this world and after they leave it…
    = = =
    Reincarnation contributes to the solution of suffering and is contributes to understanding how the book of Job ends.
    = = =
    Tibetan Buddhism holds that there are two ways that someone can take rebirth after death. The first is to be reborn involuntarily, under the sway of “karma”, drawn back to life by destructive emotions and desires. This is the fate of most of us. A few, select others, through the power of compassion and prayer to benefit others, are believed to be able to choose their place and time of birth as well as their parents.

    As for Psychology, search amazon.com for books by and related to Michael Newton, author of Journey of Souls. Also see Old Souls by Tom Shroder and Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss, MD.

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    Petter Häggholm  January 13, 2017

    There is considerable misunderstanding about this aspect of the Council’s work in the general public today, again in no small part because of The Da Vinci Code (and its odd, Holy Blood, Holy Grail)

    (No need to publish this comment, it just seems like the most straightforward way to communicate a heads-up on a specific post)

    I presume you meant either “its source”, or “its odd source”, or…something? From what I’ve heard it’s certainly an odd book, but an adjective can’t be what you intended!

  6. Avatar
    Steefen  January 19, 2017

    Dr. Bart D. Ehrman:
    … we have historical records that tell us what the Council of Nicaea was actually all about. I won’t go into the details here, but simply say that it was focused on the question of whether Christ was fully, and completely God, equal with the Father, or was, instead, a lesser divine being who had been created at some time in eternity past by the Father.

    YouTube Video Producer, WBFbySteefen
    For Jesus to instruct followers to drink his blood figuratively or literally is a gross exhibition of an ignorance of Science – Biology. It is a gross exhibition of not knowing the human body has a digestive system and a circulatory system. Hence, Jesus cannot be one with God and he cannot be present at the creation of Adam.
    In the history of blood transfusions, Pope Innocent VII (circa 1336-1406) , Vicar of Christ, was given the blood of boys to drink. The pope died and the boys died due to their gross exhibition of an ignorance of Science – Biology: the human body has a digestive system and a circulatory system. Furthermore, the blood of lambs does not work in human blood transfusions, which was tried in a different case of failed blood transfusions.

    Body and Blood remembrance of Jesus is an atheistic stand against the God of Moses as explained in the youtube video, “New Conclusions and Perspectives on Christianity (2016 Forward) by WBFbySteefen. God did not correct Jesus’ act of disobedience.

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