Council of Nicea helped shape the Christian canon: Christianity burnt books

Books destroyed because of the Council of Nicea
by Ibn Anwar

Contrary to popular rumour, the Council of Nicea was not responsible for the canonisation of the Christian Bible or New Testament. But although they did not handpick which books should eventually make it into the Christian Bible(s), they were very much responsible for what would transpire after, namely the destruction of books that would be deemed heretical by what became the “orthodox” denomination wherein Jesus was declared god through and through. Once this denomination was royally proclaimed the religion of the state, heterodox groups, along with the scriptures and books that were associated with them or any writing at all that did not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy were put to the fire. In other words, the council of Nicea was the catalyst for the limitation of what books could possibly be included in what would later become the canon of the western Christian Bible whereby the New Testament would have its 27 books.* Associate professor of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma, David Deming writes the following:

“After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Christians were no more tolerant than their pagan predecessors. Heretical books were destroyed. Subsequent to his condemnation for heresy at the council of Nicea in A.D. 325, Constantine I (c. 280-337) ordered the books of Arius be burnt. “If any treatise composed by Arius should be discovered, let it be consigned to the flames.” Constantine further decreed that anyone caught hiding a book authored by Arius should be put to death. “If anyone shall be detected in concealing a book compiled by Arius … the penalty for this offense shall be death.” [1]

Christian evangelists often find great joy in reiterating the so-called “burning of the Qur’ans” by the third caliph Uthman bin Affan r.a. whilst alleging that Christians have taken great care of their religious literature and instead of having any destroyed, including corrupted texts of their own New Testament, the variant manuscripts allow them today to supposedly reconstruct their New Testament so that it would fit as close as possible to the non-existent original autographs(writings). What we have seen above, such a claim is nothing but a false witness against Christian history. The destruction of Christian works deemed unworthy of preservation was not a unique incident that occurred only at the time of Nicea. In fact, committing books and writings that did not conform to the orthodox narrative was a common practice throughout Christendom in Christian history. Highly regarded German historian Dirk Rohmann reports the following:

“Canon law often ruled against the writings of certain heretics… influential Christian authors often equated heresy with philosophical traditions that were opposed to the Christian world view. This is significant because searches for heretical books could also involve the destruction of other books, as canon law indicates. Thus Rabbula, a Syrian bishop of the early fifth century, ordered his monks: “Search out the books of the heretics and their book containers in every place, and wherever you can either bring them to us or burn them in the fire.”(can. 50).” [2]

Canon law is a set of rules or ordinances set by ecclesiastical authority, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, that governs the members of the Christian community that fall under its charge.

Confirming that destroying and burning so-called heretical writings was very much ingrained in the Christian tradition, Pastoral associate at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wheeling, West Virginia, professor of theology and philosophy Marian S. Mazgaj writes:
“The burning of books was introduced into the western civilization by some narrow-minded and fanatical Christians, who burned pagan and heretical books as well as their authors.” [3]

Although individuals that claim that the council of Nicea chose the New Testament books are wrong, they are not that far off. By destroying what they, Constantine backed by his Jesus-worshipping bishops, deemed heretical books and scriptures, the council of Nicea led to the limitation of what books should be included in the Christian canon of the New Testament and by that, they, the winning participants of the council, were responsible for the shaping of the New Testament canon.


*The first person to list the 27 books of today’s western Christian canon of the New Testament was Athanasius. Prior to that, no Christian author had those 27 books as the books in their respective New Testaments. Yes, there were many New Testaments before Athanasius.
[1] Deming, D. (2010). Science and Technology in World History, Volume 3: The Black Death, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 35
[2] Rohmann, D. (2016) Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity: Studies in Text Transmission. Germany: De Gruyter. p. 115
[3] Mazgaj, M. S. (2010). Church and State in Communist Poland: A History, 1944-1989. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 166
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