I suspect that many evangelicals today would choke on the very first words of the Nicene Creed—if they are really thought about what they were confessing. Here is the first paragraph of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
How far many of us have drifted from historic Trinitarianism is revealed by how queasy these words make us feel when we think about. “Surely,” we think, “The Son is also the Maker of heaven and earth. And does the Nicene Creed really mean to say that there is some distinct sense that we are to identify the Father as God? Does this imply that the Son and Spirit are not God?”
If these kinds of questions and concerns come to us when we really think about what we are confessing in the Nicene Creed, it should make us wonder if we have really understood and whether we entirely hold the historic Trinitarian creed. So what are we missing?
We are missing, first of all, that the creed is squarely biblical. In a number of important passages when the persons of the Trinity are being delineated the Father is given the personal name, God.
This happens in John 1:1-2: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The context of these verses it is to be noted is not the economy of redemption. Orthodox Christians read these verses as speaking of the period at the beginning of the creation of the world. One cannot read into them the incarnation and the economy of redemption in which The Son became a man. They are speaking of the Trinitarian relationships which existed before the creation of the world—at the beginning. In speaking of these eternal relationships describes one person of the Trinity as “the God.” (The Greek definite article is present in both occurrences of the prepositional phrase, “with God,” in these verses.) The Apostle describes the other person of the Trinity as “the Word.” So in these verses you have two persons: “the God” and “the Word.” Both of these persons possess the entire divine essence. The Word is as to His substance and being God. Yet in the language of these verses, He is not “the God.” Clearly, in some distinct personal sense the Father is God, while the eternal and divine Son is “His” Word. Thus, the Nicene Creed confesses and must confess: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
Another illustration of this way of describing the Father is found in one of the most important assertions of the Trinity in the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 13:14 contains this Trinitarian benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Exegetes have often noted the unusual order of this benediction in which the Son is mentioned first, the Father is mentioned second, and the Holy Spirit is mentioned third. Egalitarian Trinitarians have leaped to the conclusion that this means there is no particular order in the Trinity. This conclusion is misguided for a lot of obvious reasons. First, it ignore that there is a common, ordinary, and dominant order in the mention of the person of the Trinity in the New Testament. It is usually Father, then Son, and then sometimes Holy Spirit. It is simply wrong to use the unusual order of 2 Corinthians 13:14 to contradict and undo this usual order and deny that there is a particular order in the eternal Trinity. Other objections to this use of 2 Corinthians 13:14 might be mentioned, but the true explanation of the order of this benediction is that the Father is here given the central position in the benediction. The grace of the Son is traced up to the love of the Father and brought down all the way down to us in the fellowship of the Spirit. So even in the order of this benediction the first-ness of the Father is maintained. And what makes this so clear is the name given to the Father here. He is not called the Father in this benediction. In language which echoes John 1:1-2 he is called “the God.” How can we miss the implication that in some sense the Father occupies the first place among the persons of the Trinity? That is why the Nicene Creed must confess first its faith in “one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”