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A study of the Apostles Creed


Links to sections on this page:
- Studying the Apostles' Creed
- The old Roman Creed
- Tertullian
- Conclusion
- Bible Study
- Questions
Links to other chapters:
1: Why creeds?
2: Why were the creeds written?
4: The Place of Doubt
5: I Believe ...
6: God the Father Almighty...
7: ...And in Jesus Christ His only Son ....
8: ...dead and buried ...
9: ...I believe in the Holy Spirit

Chapter 3

Studying the Apostles' Creed

  1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of the heavens and earth; 
  2. and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; 
  3. who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary; 
  4. suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. (He descended to hell;) 
  5. On the third day he rose again from the dead on the third day he was raised from the dead; 
  6. He ascended into the heavens, and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
  7. from where he will come to judge the living and the dead.
  8. I believe in the Holy Spirit; 
  9. in the holy catholic Church; (the communion of saints;) 
  10. the forgiveness of sins;
  11. the resurrection of the flesh
  12. and eternal life.

Parts in brackets are not found in eastern versions of the work.

The Background
Statements of what we believe can be divisive, however one of the features of the Apostles Creed is that is ecumenical. It affirms belief upon which Christians across the denominations can agree. 

In 1920 the Lambeth Conference recognised the Apostles Creed as one of the four pillars of Christian unity. In 1927 the World Conference of Faith and Order, meeting at Lausanne, declared that this creed could be used by all Christians. This is therefore a point of unity. 

It was during Lent that many new Christians were taught the faith and eventually recited the Apostles Creed together before baptism on Easter Day. The Apostles Creed as we have noted was based upon scripture and an attempt to understand it. 

As we proceed and attempt to think about it, please try and have these questions in your mind and refer to them 

  • To which scriptures does the doctrine which the Apostles Creed proclaims relate?
  • What does it tell us about God, Jesus and ourselves?
  • How can I apply this to my Christians living? 

For many years Christians believed that the twelve Apostles were the authors of the widely known creed that bears their name. According to an ancient legend the Apostles wrote this creed on the tenth day after Christ's ascension into heaven. The twelve composed the Apostles Creed with each Apostle adding a clause to form the whole. Today practically all scholars understand this theory of Apostolic composition to be legendary. Nevertheless, many continue to think of the Apostles Creed as Apostolic in nature because its basic teachings are agreeable to the theology of the Apostles. 

Whilst there is no evidence that the Apostles actually wrote the Apostles Creed, there is equally no evidence that most of the books of the Bible were written by the authors whose name they bear. However just like the books of the Bible we can, through careful study, make some very accurate judgements as who the real author might have been. 

The full form in which the Apostles Creed now appears stems from about 700 AD. However we can observe the development which took place. A study of Matthew 28:19 will show that the Apostles Creed forms an expansion of words which are attributed to Jesus himself who gives the church a simple creedal statement 

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost Matthew 28:19

Early fragments of creeds have been discovered which declare simply: 
'I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord. And in the Holy Spirit, the holy Church, the resurrection of the flesh.'

The Old Roman Creed. 

The most important predecessor of the Apostles Creed was the Old Roman Creed, which was probably developed during the second half of the second century. Around A.D. 180, the Roman Christians would need these words to refute Marcion as well as a statement for use in baptism. 

Remember that Marcion believed the Old Testament God was a tyrant who had created an evil world. Marcion believed that Jesus revealed, in contrast, a good God of love and mercy. For Marcion, then, Jesus was not the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets, and the Old Testament was not Scripture. For the Gospels to be accepted as scripture all the birth narratives had to be taken out since Jesus was not fully human. 

So the Roman Creed affirmed that the God of the creation is the Father of Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, was buried and raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven, where he rules with the Father. They also affirmed belief in the Holy Spirit, the church, and the resurrection of the body. 

The additions to the Apostles Creed are clearly seen when its present form is compared to the Old Roman version 

I believe in God the Father Almighty. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary; crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit; the holy Church; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the flesh

Tertullian (c 150 - c215), (Virg. Vel. I) 

describes the faith of the church as follows - 
'believing in one God Almighty, Maker of the world, and in his Son Jesus Christ, born of Mary the Virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate; the third day he rose again from the dead, received in the heavens, sitting now at the right hand of the Father, about to come to judge the quick and the dead, through the resurrection also of the flesh.' 

Clearly the basis of the Apostles Creed goes a long way back, to the Apostles and to Jesus himself. It has therefore been repeated by Christians for a long time and has been developed by the church along the way. For this reason however the Apostles Creed as we have it today should be thought of as a summary of the Apostles' teaching rather than directly attributable to them. 


The Apostles Creed clearly was important for several reasons. 

1. To attack heresy 
As we have seen the Apostles Creed served to ensure that orthodox doctrine prevailed, especially thinking which sought to change the understanding of the church about the nature of Jesus. Specifically the creed emphasizes the true humanity, including the material body, of Jesus. This was in direct opposition to those who considered that Jesus was not fully human. 

2. It served a devotional purpose 
By the sixth or seventh century the creed had come to be accepted as a part of the official liturgy of the Western church. Likewise, it was used by devout individuals along with the Lord's Prayer. In a time when most Christians were illiterate, oral repetition of the Apostles' Creed and creedal statements, along with such things as the Lord's Prayer helped preserve and transmit the faith of the western churches. These essentials pieces of the faith were used by devout Christians as a part of their devotional prayer.

3. Liturgical use 
The Apostles Creed functioned in many ways in the life of the church. For one thing, it was associated with entrance into the fellowship as a confession of faith for those to be baptized. In addition, catechetical instruction was often based on the major tenets of the creed.

Bible Study

John Chapter 6:25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." "Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread." Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

Questions for discussion 

  • What does Jesus mean when he says that believing is a work of God?
  • What sign would convince people today that Jesus was God?
  • Are some people just destined to believe and others not?
  • What do you mean when you say "I believe …?"
  • Is their a difference between believing with your head and believing with your heart?"
2: Why were the creeds written?

4: The place of doubt