The Apostles’ Creed
THE APOSTLES’ CREED
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, 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
rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on 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.
Note: The Apostles’ Creed
Although not written by apostles, the Apostles’ Creed reflects the theological formulations of the first century church. The creed’s structure may be based on Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In a time when most Christians were illiterate, oral repetition of the Apostles’ Creed, along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, helped preserve and transmit the faith of the western churches. The Apostles’ Creed played no role in Eastern Orthodoxy.
In the early church, Christians confessed that “Jesus is Lord” but did not always understand the biblical context of lordship. The views of Marcion, a Christian living in Rome in the second century, further threatened the church’s understanding of Jesus as Lord. Marcion read the Old Testament as referring to a tyrannical God who had created a flawed 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. Marcion proposed limiting Christian “Scripture” to Luke’s gospel (less the birth narrative and other parts that he felt expressed Jewish thinking) and to those letters of Paul that Marcion regarded as anti-Jewish. Marcion’s views developed into a movement that lasted several centuries.
Around A.D. 180, Roman Christians developed an early form of the Apostles’ Creed to refute Marcion. They affirmed that the God of 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.
Candidates for membership in the church, having undergone a lengthy period of moral and doctrinal instruction, were asked at baptism to state what they believed. They responded in the words of this creed.
The Apostles’ Creed underwent further development. In response to the question of readmitting those who had denied the faith during the persecutions of the second and third centuries, the church added, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” In the fourth and fifth centuries, North African Christians debated the question of whether the church was an exclusive sect composed of the heroic few or an inclusive church of all who confessed Jesus Christ, leading to the addition of “holy” (belonging to God) and “catholic” (universal). In Gaul, in the fifth century, the phrase “he descended into hell” came into the creed. By the eighth century, the creed had attained its present form.