The Oldest Creed
The Apostles’ Creed is the oldest and most popular creed of the church, and has greatly influenced the other creeds and confessions written throughout church history. The Apostles’ Creed is not a direct production of the apostles themselves, but is meant to be understood as a summary of apostolic teaching.
The Apostles’ Creed we have today is not the Creed in its original form. The shorter and older form was known as the Old Roman Creed. It was constructed in Greek around 140 AD and in Latin around 390 AD. The present form of the Apostles’ Creed, which is both longer and more recent, was probably not compiled until the middle of the 5th century, but the message of the two Creeds is basically the same. Initially, the Old Roman Creed was a baptismal confession made by converts at their baptism. In that regard, the Creed served an important need in the early church.
“The Creed of Creeds”
Church historian Philip Schaff writes, “As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of Creeds.” This statement is confirmed by the many expositions of the Creed found in the works of theologians in church history. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen affirmed various parts of the Creed. John Calvin devoted an entire chapter to the Apostles’ Creed in the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) and Karl Barth built his system of doctrine through the framework of the Creed in his Dogmatics in Outline.
The Apostles’ Creed
- I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
A Summary of the Essentials
What stands out about the Apostles’ Creed is its Trinitarian form. The doctrine of the Trinity was believed early on in the history of the church and was not the invention of the Nicene Creed. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each acknowledged as playing specific roles in the history of redemption.
The Apostles’ Creed represents a popular and concise summary of the essentials of the Christian faith. While it is not of the same authority as Scripture, the Apostles’ Creed represents a summation of Christian doctrine that all believers everywhere ought to hold to, affirm, and meditate upon.
Some may have questions about the line “He descended into hell.” R.C. Sproul has commented on this in a helpful way here.