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I previously posted the question:

I understand the word theos may be translated as "God" or as "god." Bible writers added words (the, true, only, or one) to indicate the Almighty. The Nicene Creed describes the Father as "one theos" and the Son as "true theos from true theos." Is there anything in the Greek of this phrase to indicate whether this should read "God" or "god?"

But the moderator closed the question and indicated:

Add details and clarify the problem you’re solving.

So, let me try to explain why I ask such a question:

The ancient Greek word theos is the standard word used by the Greeks for their gods. The modern English word “God” has a very different meaning, for it is used only for one Being, namely the Ultimate Reality; the Almighty.

Because no other word was available, the New Testament writers used the same word theos for the God of the Bible. When the context indicates that it refers to the Ultimate Reality, theos is translated as “God.” The New Testament also uses theos for other beings. In such instances, theos is translated as “god.” (e.g., 1 Cor 8:5-6)

The Nicene Creed refers to Jesus as theos in the phrase “theos from theos.” On the assumption of the Trinity doctrine, in which the Son is God Almighty, this is translated as “God from God.” However, the authors of the 325 Nicene Creed did not think of the Son as God Almighty. This is indicated by the following:

(1) The Creed itself makes a distinction between the “one God, the Father almighty” and “one Lord, Jesus Christ.”

(2) Most of the delegates to the council were followers of Origen Frend WHC (The Rise of Christianity) (Millard J. Erickson) and Origen, like all pre-Nicene Fathers, regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father (Hanson). They did refer to Jesus as theos because they did regard Him as divine but, in their theology, there were many different types and grades of deity.

(3) The concept or phrase “theos from theos” was used by pre-Nicene fathers (Irenaeus - Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 47, Tertullian - Against Praxeas 13) but, as said, they regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father.

(4) Eusebius, who was the leader of the eastern (Greek) delegation at Nicaea, who were the majority at Nicaea (Millard J. Erickson), wrote after the Council at Nicaea in AD 325 that the Nicene Creed refers to Jesus as theos because He is “the perfect resemblance” of the Father [Against Marcellus. As cited by The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus. II:21]. In other words, the creed did not refer to the Son because the council thought that He is the Almighty God Himself.

(5) The Creed of Sirmium from the year 358 also refers to the Son as “God from God, light from light,” but that creed presents the Son as subordinate to the Father.

In defense against indications of subordination, the Council of Chalcedon formulated the concept that the Son, during His incarnation, had two natures; a divine and a human nature and, when He said that He is subordinate to the Father, He was speaking from His human nature.

But there are also many indications that the Son is subordinate to the Father before His incarnation and in His existence after His resurrection and ascension. To defend against these indications of subordination, defenders of the Trinity doctrine postulates that the three ontologically equal Persons have a voluntary arrangement amongst themselves – a division of duties, so to speak - in which the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father.

However:

(1) An eternal voluntary arrangement between three ontologically equal Persons, in which the Son is subordinated to the Father, remains real subordination. (Kevin Giles)

(2) The Pre-Nicene fathers regarded the Son to be ontologically subordinate to the Father. According to their Logos-theory, the Logos (Word) of God was always part of God but became separated from (begotten from) God when it became time to create. At that time, the Logos became the only Begotten Son of God and later became Jesus Christ through His incarnation. (See Hanson) The pre-Nicene fathers, therefore, regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father in all respects. They did not regard the Son to be “the supreme or ultimate reality,” namely God Almighty.

Conclusion and Question

Therefore, when Irenaeus said that “the Father is God and the Son is God” (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 47), I understand that Irenaeus simply meant that both the Father and the Son are immortal beings with supernatural powers.

And, therefore, when Irenaeus added that “that which is begotten of God is God,” he simply meant that, since the Father is an immortal being with supernatural powers, and since Jesus Christ is the only begotten of God, He is also an immortal being with supernatural powers.

So, the question remains, on the basis of the conclusion that the Nicene Council regarded the Son as subordinate to the Father, how should "theos from theos" in the Nicene Creed be translated? This may be compared to the following quote from Irenaeus:

There is none other called God by the Scriptures except the Father of all, and the Son, and those who possess the adoption. (IV, Preface).

This quote classifies the Father, the Son, and believers under the category theos, showing the general meaning of the word theos. How should theos in this quote be translated?

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  • Some context would be helpful : perhaps a quotation of the passage to which you are referring ? This would be helpful in regard to clarity and detail of the question being asked.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 11 '21 at 15:54
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  • FYI, I don't know from what tradition your translation comes, but many, including mine, use "very God of very God".
    – Matthew
    Sep 12 '21 at 13:55
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    It would help if you'd explain what significant difference you'd see between translating it with "god" or "God".
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 13 '21 at 13:12
  • @Matthew "very" derives from the Latin word "verus" meaning "true", so it's not a significant difference
    – eques
    Sep 13 '21 at 15:36
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Certainly not

To be fair, I don't know if a pedantic, strict literal word-for-word translation supports this answer. However, it is hardly unreasonable to consider the overall content of what is being translated.

In that respect, where the first part of the Creed desires to teach the truth and uniqueness of that which we worship, it is right that we should use "God" and not "[a] god". It follows then that the second part, teaching that Jesus Christ is "of one substance with the Father" — that He is God — would also rightly use "God" and not "god".

We can go further, however, and also look at the context in which the creed was written. Astute observers will have no doubt noted that this answer is Trinitarian in perspective, and very astute observers will note I have deleted the prior disclaimer to that effect. The reason for doing so is that this answer is written, as is appropriate, in consideration of the views of the authors of the document in question.

Condemnation of Arianism was a major theme of the Council of Nicea (which produced the eponymous creed); thus, while we might argue about whether or not the authors succeeded (via the textual context) in their intent of clearly elucidating that Christ is God (with a capital 'G'), or even whether such view is correct from a biblical standpoint, it is abundantly clear from the historical context that that was the intent of the authors. From that perspective, we can give a definitive answer, since addressing the question from a perspective different from that of the original authors is to dishonestly discard the intent of said authors.

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    English uses "God" as a name for one being (the Almighty) but god for a category of beings. Greek did not distinguish between upper- and lower case => cannot distinguish in the same manner. => theos = "god". Most often, Bible writers add "the" (ho theos) to indicate the Almighty. In Hebrews 1:8-9, Jesus is called theos and the Father is called His theos. Same in John 20. Sounds like two different sense of theos. cf. Rev 1:6; 3:2, 12. Non-trinitarians do accept Nicene but interpret it as subordination - God vs Lord, Maker/By. But then it uses "true god" for Jesus in contradiction to John 17:3.
    – Andries
    Sep 12 '21 at 14:46
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    @AndriesJacobusvanNiekerk John 17: 3 is not a contradiction. ”Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” As always, it all depends on interpretation and which side of the fence one sees things from their own personal perspective. I am not a fan of taking one single verse out of context in relationship to the entire Word of God.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 12 '21 at 18:33
  • Thanks!! It sounds to me like a contradiction. Jesus said the Father is "the only true theos" (John 17:3). Then Jesus cannot also be "true theos". The creed's authors would not contradict the Bible. Therefore, I assume that theos in “true theos from true theos” has the normal Greek usage of an immortal being. Then this phrase means that Jesus is an immortal being that came from the substance of immortal being and should be translated “true god from true god.” By the way, “only true theos” should be translated "only true god" because "only true God" is illogical because there is but one God.
    – Andries
    Sep 13 '21 at 14:29
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    @AndriesJacobusvanNiekerk "The creed's authors would not contradict the Bible" correct, but your conclusions do not agree with the creed's authors. "God from God" is the correct translation of the Nicene understanding that Christ is God and the Father is God. "Theos" doesn't mean simply "immortal being"; if it did, the Creed author's would be arguing for multiple gods which is also contrary to Scripture
    – eques
    Sep 13 '21 at 15:11
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    @andries. The writers of the creed were not inspired. Their POV already locked was that Jesus is co equal with YHWH. I do not believe the creed represents biblical truth but I do believe the creed writers intended True God from true God.
    – Kris
    Sep 13 '21 at 15:49
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Should the phrase "true God from true God" in the Nicene Creed be translated as "true god from true god"?

The short answer is no, at least from a Triniarian point of view, which accounts for the the vast, vast majority of Christians. The Council of Nicea (325) and the Council of Constantinople (381) were Trinitarian in their very essence!!! If the Council Father could have used upper case letters as we do in modern English, I am 100% positive they would have in order to emphasize their meaning within the Creeds themselves.

The phrases in question must be see as a complete part of the second paragraph of the Nicene Creed In order to understand the translation involved.

Paragraph 2 - The Lord Jesus

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.

The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is the Word of God, the Son. This Word of God, Jesus Christ, proceeds from the Father. He was “born” and “begotten” but not made. This is a mystery that is very difficult to understand. Much ink has been spilled in theology on how Jesus can be both God and man.

In other words, Jesus is fully God and He is eternal, just as the Father is eternal. This paragraph emphasizes that there is one God but the Father is nonetheless distinct as a Person from the Person of the Son.

The Council Fathers went to great length to combat the Arian heresy which claimed that Jesus was created and was not truly God. We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man. As the Word of God, He was existed forever and will always exist. He proceeds from the Father as God from God and Light from Light, true God from true God.

There is also the realization that it is through the Word of God that all things were made. God reveals to us in Genesis God speaks in order to create. He says, “Let there be light.” And there was light. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, was sent on a mission by the Father to come down from heaven in order to redeem humanity and offer us salvation.

Since the original Greek does not use upper class and lower case letter, the nuance of what the Church Council Fathers could not grammatically express the differences as in modern English along side their theological thoughts in written form. Besides, the English translation did not come about for centuries later and again was done in a Trinitarian expression of their faith in the Sacred Trinity. This is obviously seen in the Nicene Creed itself: Et unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam, of the Nicene Creed.

And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen. - English versions of the Nicene Creed

For convenience I am including the Nicene Creed in the original Greek text, as well as a Latin and English translation. Let be upfront about the texts being involved here:

The Creed of Nicea - Agreed at the Council in 325

Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν Πατέρα παντοκράτορα πάντων ὁρατῶν τε καὶ ἀοράτων ποιητήν· καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, γεννηθέντα ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς μονογενῆ τουτέστιν ἐκ τῆς οὐσίας τοῦ Πατρος Θεὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ, Φῶς ἐκ Φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα, οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί, δι’ οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο τά τε ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ τὰ ἐν τῇ γῇ, τὸν δι’ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν, κατελθόντα, καὶ σαρκωθέντα, καὶ ἐνανθρωπήσαντα, παθόντα, καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ, ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς, ἐρχόμενον κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς. καὶ εἰς τὸ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα. Τοὺς δὲ λέγοντας Ἦν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν, καὶ Πρὶν γεννηθῆναι οὐκ ἦν, καὶ ὅτι Ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων εγένετο, ἢ Ἐξ ἑτέρας ὑποστάσεως ἢ οὐσιάς φάσκοντας εἶναι ἢ κτιστόν ἢ τρεπτόν ἢ ἀλλοιωτὸν τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, τούτους ἀναθεματίζει ἡ ἁγία καθολικὴ καὶ ἀποστολικὴ ἐκκλησία.

Credimus in unum Deum patrem omnipotentem, omnium visibilium et invisibilium factorem. Et in unum Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum filium Dei, natum ex Patre unigenitum, hoc est, de substantia Patris, Deum ex Deo, lumen ex lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, natum non factum, unius substantiae cum Patre, quod graece dicunt homousion, per quem omnia facta sunt quae in coelo et in terra, qui propter nostram salutem descendit, incarnatus est, et homo factus est, et passus est, et resurrexit tertia die, et adscendit in coelos, venturus judicare vivos et mortuos. Et in Spiritum sanctum. Eos autem, qui dicunt, Erat quando non erat, et ante quam nasceretur non erat, et quod de non exstantibus factus est, vel ex alia substantia aut essentia, dicentes convertibilem et demutabilem Deum: hos anathematizat catholica Ecclesia.

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down, and became incarnate and became man, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the heavens, and will come to judge the living and dead, And in the Holy Spirit. But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is of a different hypostasis or substance, or created, or is subject to alteration or change, these the Catholic and apostolic Church anathematizes.

One easily understands where the Trinitarian perspective is involved when we read the anathemas at the end of the original Nicene Creed. This was slightly altered by the Council of Constantinople in 381, while maintaining the integrity of the text.

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  • I really appreciate your comments. I want to understand what the authors of the creed meant, irrespective of what I believe. I do not believe the Nicene Creed is Trinitarian: Homoousion may be understood as numerical sameness, like two people with one body, or qualitative sameness, like we people have the same substance. Homoousion, therefore, is not decisive. The creed identifies Father alone as “one theos,” which I understand as the “one and only theos,” as Almighty and as the Primary Creator. Jesus came forth from His being. All these, to my mind, imply that the Son is subordinate.
    – Andries
    Sep 13 '21 at 14:48
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    @AndriesJacobusvanNiekerk Whether one believes the Nicene Creed is not Trinitarian is not possible. The fact is that it was written by a council that was obviously Trinitarian.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 13 '21 at 14:54
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    @AndriesJacobusvanNiekerk you are correct that Homoousion as a concept doesn't rule out only a numerical sameness and that humans participate in the same subtance (ousion) together. However, when you look at what is the divine ousia, it becomes apparent there can't be two that are that same substance.
    – eques
    Sep 13 '21 at 15:15

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