A study of the Apostles Creed
The Apostles’ Creed expresses what the Christian Church believes to be within the boundaries of Scripture and the historic teachings handed down since the time of Jesus.
What do you believe?
|Links to sections on this page:
- Why do we say the creeds?
- What is a creed?
- Are creeds of equal authority to the Bible?
- Bible Study
- Questions for discussion
|Links to other chapters:
2: Why were the creeds written?
3: Studying the Apostles' Creed
4: The Place of Doubt
5: I Believe ...
6: ....in God the Father Almighty...
7: ...And in Jesus Christ His only Son ....
8: ...dead and buried ...
9: ...I believe in the Holy Spirit
The complete Credo booklet is available as a PDF file. Please click on the icon on the right to view the file online, or click with the right mouse button and choose 'Save As' to save for offline browsing.
Welcome to Credo!
Thank you for taking time to use this booklet on the study of the Apostles Creed.
The Apostles Creed has come to be regarded as an excellent summary of the Christian faith. It is not a denominational statement peculiar to a particular group of Christians, but something considered more fundamental and common to most people who call themselves Christians. It was because of this that the creeds developed in public occasions throughout the church. They were used at Baptisms when the church gathered to affirm the communal belief.
There are two ecumenical creeds which are now used commonly in our churches; the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Time forbids that we can deal with both of them and so I have chosen to concentrate on the Apostles Creed, it is shorter and perhaps also easier to commit to memory and use in your own devotional life.
The Latin word "credo" means "I believe" and it is from this word that we have obtained the word creed. A creed is a statement which contains a summary of our basic beliefs.
Over the next few weeks, during Lent, we will consider how the Apostles Creed came into being. We will also consider how the creed can be helpful to us and what place creeds in general should have in our private and corporate worship. We will consider what happens when we find parts of the creed difficult to understand and we will think for a while about the issue of doubt, for there are many times when Christians find belief challenging and occasions when even the strongest Christians question their own faith.
If you are using this booklet in a group setting you will find it helpful to have a Bible which can be used for looking at the verses mentioned. When a large passage is used for Bible study it has been printed so that everybody has access to the same translation.
The course is meant to be a stimulus and not a strait-jacket, please feel able to miss bits out or to spend more time on the pieces which the group finds helpful. Hopefully there is more material than you will need, so select what will be useful for you. It will be especially helpful if everybody in the group agrees to read through the forthcoming chapter individually, before they meet together. You can of course use the booklet through just Lent, or continue with it for some time afterwards.
I have not tried at all times to be balanced and fair in representing
different opinions. Indeed I have indulged myself in some personal comment
from time to time. This is intended only to help provide added spice and I
hope that you will feel able to disagree. We are all pilgrims on our journey
of faith and no one has a monopoly on the truth. However it is as we share
our beliefs and think them through in the light of the Bible, that we grow
and change and hopefully are able to learn. I hope and pray that you will
find some of this useful and that God will bless you in this period of
The year 2000 has now been and gone and we are well into the third millennium, yet Christians around the world still continue to confess their faith by reciting the Apostles Creed which can trace its origins to the first century A.D.
You might ask, 'should we still be using this creed at all'?
Our society has become increasingly sceptical about the value of many things which were once held sacrosanct. Authority is now questioned almost instinctively and in this anti-authoritarian period, tradition is not revered in the way that it once was.
This challenging attitude is no less true in Christianity where value is often placed foremost upon our own experience and immediate gratification. It would be fair to say that whilst the occasional clergyman is asked to leave the church for saying God is an elephant or something equally drastic, most of the time anything goes in terms of belief. That is provided that newspapers do not report it too widely!
Many people would consider a religious experience which they have had to be of importance, whilst the doctrine or the belief of the church, is largely irrelevant.
Make no mistake - at the outset let us remember that a personal encounter with God is what Christianity is all about. However, as soon as we start to talk about God to others and share our experience, as soon as we speak about Jesus and what he means to us -then we are using words, which are doctrinal statements. So doctrine, our beliefs, are important and we cannot do without them.
The church today is ultimately pragmatic and if something works, especially in terms of attracting people into church, then it is endorsed. In the midst of this it may seem a hopeless case to justify studying the Apostles' Creed.
However this may be exactly the right time for us Christians to connect
ourselves to what all Christians everywhere have always believed. In so
doing we remind ourselves that despite ever-changing social circumstances,
the Christian faith is not just 'ours.' We have inherited the Christian
faith, we did not receive it in a vacuum. Our faith has grown and been
handed down to us, to the extent that we believe what we do today because
others believed it before us -yesterday and they faithfully passed it on. We
must not betray that trust, we have a duty to learn and most importantly-to
Christians are necessarily a part of a community of faith. When we affirm our faith in Christ we join a body of people whom we must accept as brothers and sisters whether we like it or not.
When we openly declare our beliefs in the Apostles Creed we unite ourselves to Christians in the past, present and future. We are a part of a family of faith and our belief is shared with others -we are part of a communion of faith.
It is appropriate therefore that the Apostles Creed is said corporately as well as privately. Christianity is a personal experience but it is not a PRIVATE experience. It is to be shared and communicated, hence it needs to be defined. The Apostles Creed helps to define the faith 'This is what I believe'
In the letter of Jude, verse 3, the writer says the following 'Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.' Clearly the writer believed that it was imperative that the church treated seriously the obligation to contend for the faith which had been passed on to them.
This does not mean that the Apostles Creed is a cage from which we might
not grow. Rather as we think about the creedal statements of the Church we
are able to move forward in our own belief. The Apostles Creed challenges us
to think about our knowledge of Scripture and ultimately our knowledge of
God. Knowing Scripture and knowing God also enables us to obey the
instruction found in 1 Peter 3:15 'be prepared to give an answer to everyone
who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.'
What is a creed ?
Creeds are simply statements of what an individual, or more usually a group of people, believes about a particular topic. They most often define the foundational beliefs that provide the guiding principles for the group's existence.
In the Christian Church, creeds are an attempt to summarize in formal statements the basic or essential beliefs which are regarded as truth. The first creeds of the Christian Church are called ecumenical creeds because they were decided upon in church councils that represented the entire church at the time before the church permanently spilt into Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman) factions in AD 1054.
Creeds are most often used in services of worship in which the entire
congregation recites the creed as a confession of the Faith. Today, most
Christian churches accept the ecumenical creeds and use them in worship to
varying degrees. Some churches recite at least one of the creeds every
Sunday, while some traditions make little use of them in regular services of
Are creeds of equal authority to the Bible?
A creed is a confession of faith for public use, a form of words which Christians have found helpful in expressing Christian belief or doctrine. Creeds are never of equal authority with the Bible, however it is clear that over the centuries the Church has had to try to understand what the Bible means.
The creeds bear witness to how Christians over time have understood the Bible. Of course some creedal words are actually used in the Bible itself, which shows us that the very first Christians found it necessary to have firm statements of what they believed.
Our creeds are still developing. You will notice that we now say I
believe in the Holy Spirit, rather than 'I believe in Him'. The reason for
this is because there is no need to think of the Holy Spirit as solely
masculine. Feminist theologians have been active in suggesting that the word
for Spirit can equally be regarded as feminine. Perhaps this may be an
example of the Spirit leading us into truth and enabling to grow in
The Apostles were concerned that the important truths which they believed were clearly stated and maintained and there is evidence in the New Testament that there were creedal statements current during the life-time of the Apostles. There were brief statements of faith in Christ as the Son of God and in the incarnation (Rom. 10:9; 1 Jn. 4:2), as well as much longer creedal affirmations (1 Tim.3:16).
The apostle Paul emphasises the importance of "holding the pattern of sound words," and teaches that the Church is the "pillar and ground of the truth."
I have suggested a passage from 1 Timothy for bible study, afterwards, if you have time, there are also some other creedal statements which you can look at in the New Testament.
1 Timothy 3:14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labour and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.
Questions for discussion
- Can you spot any early creedal statements in the passage from 1 Timothy 3:14?
- What do you think the writer concerned about?
- What can we learn today from these words?
Here are some more Creedal statements found in the New Testament The following scripture passages are considered by many to be creeds or declarations of faith. These are very early statements of what the church just after Jesus believed. See if you can spot the important message which was being declared
Matt. 16:16 Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'
Matt. 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.'
John 1:49 Nathanael answered him, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!'
John 6:68-69: Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.'
John 20:28: Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!'
Acts 8:36-37: And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, 'See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?' And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he replied, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'
Acts 16:31 And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'
Rom. 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
1 Cor 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
1 Cor 12:3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says 'Jesus be cursed!' and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit.
1 Cor 15:3-7 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Phil. 2:6-11 'who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Heb. 6:1-2 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
1 John 4:2: By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.