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 862 times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates ?

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

40 Days with the Fathers: Source Texts Companion Book

| 02nd March 2019 | My Books

Available soon will be a companion book that will include all of the source texts in full, which I had hoped to get out in time for Lent, but it’s unlikely to be ready in time this year. So if you have my book and would like to read along each day with the Church Fathers as well, I’ve compiled a list of online sources where you can read the original texts. If you don’t have the book and would like it, you can order it now from Amazon and still get it in time for Lent by clicking the following link: Amazon.com; or if you would like to pledge some support towards my book writing in return for some nice perks, you can do so on my Patreon page: https://patreon.com/LukeJWilson. If you would like to be notified of the release of the new Companion Book, you can sign up to the mailing list at the top of the homepage at https://fortydays.co.uk.  Day One: The Didache http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm Day Two & Three: Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0101.htm Day Four: Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0136.htm Day Five: Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0104.htm Day Six: Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0105.htm Day Seven: Ignatius, Epistle to the Trallians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0106.htm Day Eight: Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0107.htm Day Nine: Ignatius, Epistle to the Philadelphians http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0108.htm Day Ten: Ignatius, Epistle to the Smyrnæans http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0109.htm Day Eleven: Epistle to Polycarp http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0110.htm Day Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen: Justin Martyr, First Apology http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm Day Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty: Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050701.htm Day Twenty-one to Twenty-nine: Athanasius, Life of Anthony http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2811.htm Day Thirty: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XIX http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310119.htm Day Thirty-one: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XX http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310120.htm Day Thirty-two: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XXI http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310121.htm Day Thirty-three: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XXII http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310122.htm Day Thirty-four: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures XXIII http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310123.htm Day Thirty-five, Thirty-six: Ambrose of Milan, Concerning the Mysteries http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3405.htm Day Thirty-seven: Leo the Great, Letter XXVIII (the Tome) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3604028.htm Day Thirty-eight: Leo the Great, Sermon XXI http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360321.htm Day Thirty-nine: Leo the Great, Sermon XLIX http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360349.htm Day Forty: Leo the Great, Sermon LXXII http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360372.htm ...

The Reformation: A Sound-Bite History (Book Review)

| 14th February 2019 | Book Review

This short little book on the Reformation and some of the leading men who helped to kick-start it and continue to fan its flames has been very enjoyable to read. It really is a “sound bite history” as the chapters are short and snappy, and really only cover the absolute basics of each of the Reformers lives. The book has seven chapters, with six of them dedicated to an individual who had a pivotal role in the beginnings of the Reformation: Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, John Huss, John Calvin, Hugh Latimer and George Whitefield. The Reformation:A Sound-bite History I found it to be very educational and easy to read and digest; gleaning just enough information to be easily remembered without it feeling like a heavy and dull historical study. Though, it being written by someone who is a Baptist, if you're well read enough in church history you will likely notice some of the Baptist bias towards certain doctrines that are mentioned as being held by some of the Reformers which grate against typical Baptist views. For example, the frequent implication that anyone who still held to some form of “real presence” in the Eucharist hadn't come to the 'pure Gospel truth' yet (despite this being consistent with historical Christianity prior to the Roman Catholic Church’s specific doctrine of transubstantiation). "Widespread ignorance of church history of one reason why the church often falls into errors which it has fallen into before." But aside from those minor issues, the book did well to not feel like it was pushing a certain viewpoint on you and was just trying to give a decent overview of the historical settings and people involved. Well worth a read, whether you are a Protestant OR a Roman Catholic! I gave this book four stars.  Buy the book here....

Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up (Book Review)

| 30th January 2019 | Book Review

Straight off, this book will challenge you in your thinking and quite possibly in your practice and outworking of life as a Christian—especially if you are from an evangelical/Baptist/non-denominational background. Will the Real HereticsPlease Stand Up The book starts of taking you carefully through some of the practices and beliefs of the early church and those who knew the Apostles personally. It all feels very hopeful and like you're being led onward in a journey towards a certain goal, much of which I'm sure you'll find agreeable in what Bercot points out as discrepancies between early Christianity and today. Then we get to a few points about the Reformation. Some of the critique I think was a little harsh and not necessarily accurate, painting a fairly negative picture of Martin Luther. Some of the points raised were a fair statement against some of the doctrine and theology that came out of the Reformation period (such as Luther being heavily influenced by Augustine's theology more than earlier church fathers). After the high of the first few chapters, these chapters came as a bit of a punch in the gut. I would also recommend looking up all of Bercot's claims as there does sometimes seem like there is a strong bias of opinion coming through certain chapters, which takes away from the feel of the book trying to give an objective look at the topic at hand. But that aside, Bercot leads you back on this journey, aiming to uplift you once again with hope as he takes you towards a positive look at the Anabaptists. I knew before reading the book that Bercot is an Anabaptist himself, so I was wary that this book might just end up being advertisement for that denominational group as the new modern answer for getting back to early Christian practices. Whilst there are positive points made for the early Anabaptist movement being as close as possible to the early second century church, Bercot isn't shy to criticise the group in its modern form as having lost their zeal and passion for the Gospel. After trying to re-inspire you with the hope that it is somewhat possible to restore early Christianity, as the Anabaptists did, before the Church “married itself to the world” as Bercot claims (and I agree with), he finishes off by asking the reader the question of “what now?” and whether we restore the Church to its former glory. Bercot seems to believe so if only the Church would return to simplicity of holiness and pick up its cross and revolutionary banners again “from where the early martyrs left them”. This book is definitely a call to arms in the holiest sense; a call for us all to re-examine ourselves and our churches to see if what were living, believing and practicing is still in line with the New Testament church which the early Christmas bore witness to. Well worth the read for anyone who takes their faith seriously. Buy the book here. Bonus: Francis Chan's "Letters to the Church" Letters to the Church I've also just finished reading this book by Francis Chan before starting Real Heretics. Although it's not dealing with the Early Church aspect of looking at the primitive Church, it still looks at similar questions of how can we get back to a simpler, more pure faith that the Apostles and Jesus began. It's definitely a challenging book and had struck me right where I needed it to. It's helped verbalise some of the questions and issues I've had for the last few years myself any the current form and format of "church". Though Chan is primarily speaking to an American Evangelical audience, much of his points and criticisms still speak well to my British/UK Evangelical experience. If you've felt disgruntled or at odds with how we "do" church in some places, this book may well inspire you to see things differently and to maybe even enact some changes yourself in your local community — even more so if you are a local church leader in some capacity. Well worth the read, and works well to read befo...

On the Feast of the Nativity, a sermon by Leo the Great

| 22nd December 2018 | Christmas

In the days leading up to Christmas, I wanted to share a sermon from a man known as Leo the Great (aka Pope Leo I), who was a Pope from 440-61 AD. He was one of the most significant and important men in Christian antiquity, as he tried to combat the heresies which seriously threatened church unity in the West, such as Pelagianism. This sermon of his about the incarnation of Christ and what it means for us has always stuck with me since I first read it last April when writing my own book on the Early Church Fathers. It's not that long, so take the time to read it through and let the words sink in as we prepare for Christmas to remember and celebrate the birth of our Saviour and Lord, Christ Jesus. On the Feast of the Nativity, I. I. All share in the joy of Christmas Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth (Job 19:4). Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of the heavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result, she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it loss of honour that she is soon to be the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin. II. The mystery of the Incarnation is a fitting theme for joy both to angels and to men Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who in the beginning was with God, through whom all things were made and without whom was nothing made (John 1:1-3), with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the p...