The Apostle's creed — what is it and why is it called that?

Outside of the New Testament, this is one of the oldest creeds we have, dating back to the sixth – eighth century in its current form that is commonly known today, but having its origins much earlier — as far back as the second century in a shorter form known simply as the “Old Roman Creed”.

The Apostles creed is also sometimes referred to as the “Rule of Faith” as it is a summary of the Gospel and is the basis for pretty much all modern theology. The points of the creed cover all the major pillars of the Christian faith which aims to safeguard what is true orthodoxy (right belief), which one must agree and adhere to in order to be counted amongst the Christians. Most often, the need for creeds arose in opposition to heresy so that the Church could point to what was historically taught by Christ and the Apostles to show what was ancient and true, as opposed to new and “novel” doctrines.

The Old Roman Creed

Advertisement

The text of the Old Roman Creed survives in a letter from a bishop Marcellus of Ancyra, which was sent to Julius, the bishop of Rome, dating back to around 340–360 AD where it was mainly used as a baptismal text in the Roman church. Roughly 50 years later, Tyrannius Rufinus (an Italian monk) wrote a commentary on this creed whilst translating it into Latin, where he made a note about the view and belief that this creed had been originally written or determined by the Apostles themselves shortly after Pentecost and before they left Jerusalem, hence the name this creed eventually came to be known as.

I mentioned last week in my introductory post to this series, that there’s a handful of creedal statements within the New Testament, and one in particular in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is similar in structure to the Apostle’s Creed, though not necessarily in wording. Let's take a look at the Old Roman Creed and the Apostle’s Creed side by side to have a look at what developed and was expanded on later in time, and also to see the Apostolic link to this creedal statement from Scripture:

Old Roman Creed

The Apostle’s Creed

Advertisement

Scripture

I believe in God the Father almighty;

I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth;

Genesis 1:1; Genesis 17:1; Exodus 20:11; Isaiah 40:28;

Advertisement

and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,

Matthew 14:33; Matthew 16:16; Mark 3:11; Luke 1:32; John 1:34; John 1:49; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 1:9; Hebrews 1:5; 1 John 5:20;

Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

Advertisement

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born from the Virgin Mary,

Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:34-35; Galatians 4:4

Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,

suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried,

Advertisement

Matthew 27:1-2; Matthew 27:24; Matthew 27:57-59; Mark 15:15; Acts 4:27; 1 Timothy 6:13

 

descended into the grave (Gk. hades),

Acts 2:31; Ephesians 4:9; 1 Peter 3:18-20

on the third day rose again from the dead,

Advertisement

on the third day rose again from the dead,

Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-6; Luke 24:5-7; John 20:8-9; Acts 2:31; Ephesians 1:20

ascended into heaven,

ascended to heaven,

Advertisement

John 3:13; John 20:17; Mark 16:19; Acts 1:9; Ephesians 4:8,10

sits at the right hand of the Father,

sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty,

Matthew 26:64; Mark 12:36; Mark 14:62; Mark 16:19; Luke 20:41-43; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:25; Acts 2:33-34; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22

Advertisement

whence he will come to judge the living and the dead;

thence He will come to judge the living and the dead;

Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 10:42; Romans 14:9; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5; Revelation 20:11

and in the Holy Spirit,

Advertisement

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

Matthew 3:11; Matthew 12:32; Matthew 28:19; Mark 1:8; Mark 3:29; Mark 13:11; Luke 1:15; Luke 2:25; Luke 2:26; Luke 11:13; John 1:33; John 14:15-16; John 14:26; Acts 1:8; Acts 2:4; Acts 2:38; Acts 5:32; Acts 8:17; Romans 15:13; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 1:13; Titus 3:5; Jude 1:20

the holy Church,

the holy catholic Church,*

*In this context, the word “catholic” means “universal”

Advertisement

Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 12:23; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:23-25, 27, 29, 32; Colossians 1:18

 

the communion of saints,

Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Hebrews 12:1; 10:25

the remission of sins,

Advertisement

the remission of sins,

Matthew 26:28; Mark 1:4; Luke 1:77; Luke 3:3; Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:38; Acts 26:18; Romans 3:25; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:22; Hebrews 10:18; 1 Peter 3:21

the resurrection of the flesh,

the resurrection of the flesh,

Advertisement

Daniel 12:1; Luke 14:14; Luke 20:35-36; John 5:29; John 11:24-25; Acts 4:2; Acts 24:15; Romans 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:12-13, 21;Philippians 3:10-11; Hebrews 6:2; 1 Peter 1:3; Revelation 20:5-6

[life everlasting]*

*This line was included by Marcellus but omitted by Rufinus

and eternal life.

Amen.

Advertisement

Matthew 19:29; Matthew 25:46; John 3:15-16; John 3:36; John 4:14; John 5:24; John 6:40, 47, 54; John 10:28; John 12:50; John 17:3; Romans 2:7; Romans 6:23; Galatians 6:8; Titus 3:7; 1 John 2:25; Jude 1:21


As can be seen in the above table, there’s not a lot of change between the older creed and the later wording of the Apostle’s Creed, and all of the statements come straight from the Apostle’s teaching (ie. Scripture). Only two extra lines have been added in the later version, and the word “catholic” to the statement about the Church. Often these days, when people hear the word “Catholic” they think of the Pope and Roman Catholic churches and priests etc., but this isn’t the original meaning. It comes from the Greek word καθόλου (kathólou) which literally means “on the whole” or “according to the whole”, often translated as “universal” or “global” in modern usage.

Additional Phrases

Other than the “catholic” addition, there’s two more noticeable additions that weren’t in the Old Roman Creed, but that still have their basis in Scripture.

The first is one that can be quite controversial, depending on how it gets translated, is: “descended into the grave”.

Advertisement

You may also see this worded as “descended into hell”, which is where the controversy can come in. Apart from the obvious meaning that Jesus died and was buried, it also harkens back to 1 Peter 3:18-20, where it says that Jesus “went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” rather than being condemned to actual hell. The Greek word used here is “hades” which is commonly translated and understood to mean “grave” or to an extent, the place of the dead/intermediate state.

The Italian monk Rufinus is the first to mention this phrase in his commentary on the creed around the fourth century, and says that it “is not added in the Creed of the Roman Church, neither is it in that of the Oriental Churches” (Commentary on the Apostles' Creed: §18) but that there are certain additions “on account of certain heretics” (Comm. §3) to try and tackle false beliefs. He does also make it clear that saying Jesus went to hell would be the wrong interpretation, and “grave” would be better understood. This phrase is then not seen again until around 650 AD in any other version.

The second phrase, or clause, which is an addition is: the “communion of saints”. This seems to have been a point of confusion to many for a number of years, as those who venerate Saints see it as confirming that doctrine, whereas others see it as merely expressing the need to have “communion” (ie. Eucharist) together; others still saying it speaks more to affirming the wider body of Christ, both dead and alive, who make up the Church universal. This would be more in accordance with what we see in Scripture in places such as Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12 and Hebrews 12:1, so for me personally, this is how I understand this phrase, as well as having the caveat of not forsaking meeting together in person as well (cf. Hebrews 10:25).

Early References

There's also ample evidence within the works of the Early Church Fathers which essentially quote these creeds almost word for word, going back as early as the first century in one of Ignatius’ letters! Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John too, so this just gives more strength to the argument that this creed really did originate with the Twelve Apostles in some form, which was passed on to their disciples, and so on and so on through the ages.

Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life. Ignatius, Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter 9 (around 110 AD)

Similar wording can also be found in Justin Martyr’s First Apology (around 165 AD) to Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (around 200 AD) and beyond, showing that this “rule of faith” had been passed on for centuries before taking being formalised, which has now survived millennia to this day!

Conclusion

This creed is really just a summary of Biblical principles and doctrines which make up the Gospel message, as handed on to us by the Apostles. This is their teaching which was memorised and recited before much of the New Testament had been written, and we'd do well to also commit it to memory as the rule of faith for ourselves so we've always got the Gospel in mind to tell others about in a concise and pointed format whenever asked (1 Peter 3:15)!

I hope you enjoyed this overview of the Apostle’s Creed, the next installment of this series will be looking at the next major historical creed: the Nicene Creed. Don’t forget to subscribe using the form below so you don’t miss any updates!

Advertisement

 


Further Reading:

Contribute on Patreon

Enjoying this? Consider contributing regular gifts for this content on Patreon.
* Patreon is a way to join your favorite creator's community and pay them for making the stuff you love. You can simply pay a few pounds per month or per post that a creator makes, and in return receive some perks!

Subscribe to Updates
Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to:

Have something to say? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment   Like   Back to Top   Seen 991 times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates and join over 102 subscribers today!

Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to Blog updates

Enter your email address to be notified of new posts:

Subscribe to:

Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS

‹ Return to Blog

We never share or sell your email address to anyone.

I've already subscribed / don't show me this again

Recent Posts

Patristics.info has launched!

| 4 days ago | Early Church

Hey everyone, so I’ve launched a new website called Patristics.info to be a new resource for all things early church related. I’ve added a few texts which I already had formatted from my book manuscript, plus other resources like timelines, maps, recommended books etc. I’ll be adding more soon in the coming days. I’ve also created a “topical index” page too which is auto-generated from the tags on the pages to aid with searching, plus I created a word highlighter on each page so you can search keywords in a text and have them highlighted if you’re looking for particular things. If anyone would like to be involved to contribute resources or blogs, or have any book you’ve written which you’d like linked/advertised on the site then just get in touch! I want this to be as useful a tool for people who are interested in this area as much as for people who are new to Patristics (the early church fathers). Features and functionality Much of the site is ready to go in terms of functionality and resources etc for the time being. I’m still working on adding more Early Church texts to the site, but this takes a lot of time as I need to transcribe them from unformatted text into a nicer format for reading, plus inserting all of the footnotes as well (I’m currently half way through 1 Clement now). While I mention the footnotes, I’ve created a feature similar to Wikipedia where if you hover on a footnote number, it will display a popup with the footnote text in it hopefully making it simpler to read the Patristic text and quickly see any additional information from the original translators as you go. This should also work well on mobiles too. Inline footnote hover popups Another new feature I’ve created is the Quote Search page: https://patristics.info/quote-search.html This is an experimental tool at the moment while I still perfect it, but please give it a go and submit any feedback if you can. The page will allow you to search a keyword and bring up a list of contextual quotes from within the Church Father texts where that word is mentioned. As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing else like this available online in this format so I hope it will prove useful for study! Example quote search for the word “baptism” I hope that you enjoy the site and find it a useful tool. Please share it online etc. and if you want to get involved with creating blogs or resources just get in touch, or if you feel so inclined, you can support this project financially via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/LukeJWilson Go and explore the site today: Patristics.info !...

Should Christians get tattoos, and is it Biblical?

| 31st August 2019 | Tattoos

I was in a discussion not so long ago about tattoos, and I was asked about the historical view on this practice. It wasn’t something I had looked into before from a Church Fathers point of view, so it was an interesting topic of study. In my searching, I found this article from a Catholic site which seems to give a pretty interesting overview of some of the views about tattoos in the earlier centuries. The following is a quote about a Church Council in the context of native Britons, who still practiced tattooing at that time for pagan ritual, something which Tertullian also gives a fleeting reference to around 213 AD in his On the Veiling of Virgins, ch. 10. In the 787 Council of Northumberland — a meeting of lay and ecclesial leaders and citizens in England — Christian commentators distinguished between religious and profane tattoos. In the council documents, they wrote:“When an individual undergoes the ordeal of tattooing for the sake of God, he is greatly praised. But one who submits himself to be tattooed for superstitious reasons in the manner of the heathens will derive no benefit there from.” But, contrasted with Basil the Great of the fourth century, who supposedly (I say “supposedly” because I can’t find an original source for this quote, nor the quote above, though many other books and websites cite both; see end note) said: “No man shall let his hair grow long or tattoo himself as do the heathen” — it highlights that the views of this practice have been wide and varied over the centuries; as over in Egypt, the Coptic Church has been marking themselves with tattoos since the sixth or seventh century, even up to present times. All of this debate stems from one seemingly clear verse in Leviticus: Leviticus 19:28 (WEB)You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you. I am Yahweh. In the manner of how Hebrew works, the clause “for the dead” is applying to both phrases. The cuttings and the marks are not to be “for the dead”. Those Hebrew phrases which seem to repeat a similar thought are generally connected and are saying the same thing in two different ways to emphasise the point (just look at the Psalms for many examples of this). Not to mention that the word “tattoo” didn’t exist until the 17th century, prior to that it was translated as “marks on the skin” or something similar, which has much different connotations than the word “tattoo” has in our contemporary society. An ancient, obscure word is translated as “tattoo” in one place, and we impose our modern thinking of what that word implies onto Scripture making it anything but clear and moving us a little farther away from the original intent. This verse is more than likely admonishing against copying the surrounding pagan practices of the time than being a blanket rule against any form of “tattoo”. Arguably there are passages that say that Jesus’ body was “marked” in some way, as in the book of Revelation which some see as a reference to a tattoo of sorts: Revelation 19:16 (WEB)He has on his garment and on his thigh a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Or in the Old Testament, Isaiah speaks of God in a similar manner as having “engraved” the names of his people on the palm of his hand — a word with a much stronger and more violent visual than simply tattooing ink into the skin. Possibly even a nod towards what Jesus would eventually do for us when he would literally have his hands “engraved” (or “hacked” as this root word can also mean) for us on the cross! Isaiah 49:16a (WEB)Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Similarly, a couple of chapters previously to this one in Isa. 44:5, it speaks of the people writing the name of the LORD of their hands in celebration, and a similar, but less violent, word for “engraving” is used here too. Going back to the passage in Leviticus, the word ...

Spiritual Disciplines of the Early Church: Ancient Practices for the 21st Century

| 17th June 2019 | Early Church

I was asked not so long ago what kinds of things Christians did in the Early Church (first to fourth century) as a form of spiritual discipline, on a personal level as well as a corporate one. Though the concept of an individual “personal spiritual life” would have been quite foreign to first century believers as faith and Church was very much a corporate venture that had personal implications, rather than the other way around as it can often appear to be thought of today. Much of what made Christianity structured, disciplined and set apart from society, has largely been lost in practice, or forgotten and relegated to the annals of history by many practicing Christians today. With that said, let’s take a look at what the most common practices were of the ancient Church.   Reading/Memorising Scripture Memorising Scripture – specifically the Psalms and Gospels Singing/praying the Psalms as worship to God Both of these principles are based on Psalm 1:1–3 and Colossians 3:16. “Every Psalm brings peace, soothes the internal conflicts, calms the rough waves of evil thoughts, dissolves anger, corrects and moderates profligacy.” Commentary on Psalm 1, Basil the Great (4th century)   Prayer and Fasting Another common practice that was expected of believers was regular fasting, since Jesus had said “when you fast”, not “if”. Typically, fasting was done every week on Wednesday and Friday, based on Matthew 6:16–18, and also to honour the days of the Passion and crucifixion in later tradition. “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; … but fast on the fourth day (Wednesday) and the Preparation (Friday). … [But pray] as the Lord commanded in His Gospel (the Lord’s Prayer) … Thrice in the day thus pray.” Didache (c. 50 – 70) Alongside fasting, praying the Lord’s Prayer three times a day (morning, noon, evening) was a common discipline. From around the third century, liturgy and prayers in a church service would start to face East as that was seen where God’s glory arose, and in baptism ritual turning East was a sign of turning away from the devil towards Christ (Jews similarly prayed facing Jerusalem). This is also why many old church buildings are cross-shaped and have the alter end pointing Eastward. For it is required that you pray toward the east, as knowing that which is written: ‘Give ye glory to God, who rideth upon the heaven of heavens toward the east’ (Ps 67.34 LXX [Ps. 68:33 – 34]). Didascalia, Ch. XII (c.250) The various spiritual benefits to fasting are marked throughout the Church Fathers' works on the subject, but I find this quote from Augustine sums it up succinctly: “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself.” Augustine; Sermon, On Prayer and Fasting, LXXII (c. 393–430) Fasting was also not just total denial of food all day, but often only until sundown (or evening meal), and would comprise of bread and water with some oils to dip the bread in. Some may be more like a vegetarian diet, but with no oil, fish or alcohol either. Meal times should be replaced with prayer, and in all times during the fast (as well as generally also), to bear in mind the true fast that is pleasing to the Lord as seen in Isaiah 58:6–9. “Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen: to release the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn’t it to distribute your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh?” Isaiah 58:6 – 7 (WEB)   Signing the Cross Another ancient custom is making the sign of the cross over yours...

Creedal Christians: The Nicene Creed

| 02nd June 2019 | Early Church

The Nicene Creed — what is it and why is it called that? This creed gets its name from a time and place: the first ecumenical Church council held at Nicaea, which is now known as İznik in northwestern Turkey, in 325 AD. Now that may raise another question for you: what is an ecumenical council? Well, to explain more about the Nicene Creed, we are going to have to take a look at The First Council of Nicaea in order to better understand why this creed was written. First things first though; an “ecumenical council” is ideally a Church-wide meeting where all the Bishops from all across the Church come together to hold a very large and very important meeting to discuss topics and issues affecting the whole Body of Believers, with the results intended to be binding on all believers. Most often, these Councils were called to combat heresy and false teachers who had come about and gained enough popularity that it warranted an official response, with the creeds being the result after proper orthodoxy had been ratified. Seeking unity, the Council was convened by Constantine I in response to the Arian controversy which had gripped the Greek-speaking East. The teaching of Arius of Alexandria were considered heretical by most bishops of the time, fearing that it would cost people their salvation. 1800 bishops were invited by Constantine (that was every bishop across the Roman Empire), but only around 250-320 turned up from across the Empire, except Britain, according to the various surviving documents from different attendees. This Council was an extremely historic event as nothing quite like it had happened before since the Council of Jerusalem around 50 AD (Acts 15), which convened in a similar manner to counter controversial and false teaching which was upsetting the Church Body. As with that Council, the Nicene Council and its outcome was intended for the whole of the Church global. What actually happened at Nicaea I won’t go into too much detail about everything the Council discussed, but other than condemning and exiling Arius for his false teaching that the Son of God was a created being (or “creature”) out of nothing like the rest of creation, the council aimed to settle on a uniform date for celebrating Easter as the East followed Jewish customs of Passover for the date, and the West followed another custom. Other than that, the other decrees (“canons”) declared were to do with how bishops should be consecrated, how bishops and priests should stay within their parishes and some rules on lending money with interest. There were 20 short canons/rulings in all which you can read here, if you’re interested to see exactly what went on. For another viewpoint of what occurred during the Council, Eusebius of Cæsarea (who you may know as the author of Ecclesiastical History) was in attendance and wrote a letter covering the events to send back to his Diocese explaining the formation of the creed and why and how they came up with it. You can read his letter here, or you can also read the letter of Athanasius who was also present at the council as a secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria, here. It’s also often said that Nicholas of Myra (also known as Saint Nicholas – yes, that St. Nick) attended and actually slapped Arius across the face(!), but that is most likely an exaggeration at best, or an urban legend. If you do read the canons of the council and the letters of Eusebius and Athansius, you’ll see that the Nicene Council had some specific goals to achieve and that their main objective was that of the divine nature of Christ and how to deal with the teaching of Arius. What they didn’t do, as some pervasive myths claim, was to “decide what went in the Bible”, “create Catholicism”, “change the Sabbath to Sunday”, or “invent the deity of Christ”! The internet allows for a lot of nonsense to get spread, especially when much of the disinformation was proliferated by a Hollywood film and orig...