The Apostles Creed

The Apostles Creed is recited weekly in thousands of churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. It is a short, succint, and basic expression of the basic Christian faith. There is only very small differences in wording between the various Protestant versions and the Roman Catholic one.

Spiritual Cinema Circle

The history of the Apostles Creed is below.

The Apostles Creed as recited by the Roman Catholic Church is as follows:

  1. I believe in God the Father Almighty Creator of Heaven and earth
  2. And in Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord;
  3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,
  4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;
  5. He descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead;
  6. He ascended intno heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
  7. From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
  8. I believe in the Holy Ghost,
  9. The Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints
  10. The forgiveness of sins,
  11. The resurrection of the body,
  12. And life everlasting.

I have given this to you in the form listed in the Catholic Encyclopedia. There are various forms, though as I have pointed out, the variance in the wording of the versions of the Apostles Creed is very, very small.

It's given in 12 lines because there's a medieval myth that each one of the apostles contributed one line to the creed.

The apostles never heard such a creed, however, much less spoke it. We can trace the development of the Apostles Creed from the early rule of faith; so, we know it did not come from the apostles but developed later.

In fact, Tertullian specifically mentions that his rule of faith is "somewhat ampler" than that given by the apostles (De Corona 3, c. A.D. 200).

Origin of the Apostles Creed

It was quite funny to me as I researched this to find Protestant and Catholic web sites claiming the Apostles Creed is older than the Nicene Creed, and Eastern Orthodox web sites claiming it is later than the Nicene Creed.

The Eastern Orthodox churches are sometimes called, collectively, "the Church of the Councils." They base the foundation of their faith on the seven ecumenical councils (listed on that page I just linked), and, thus, they accept the Nicene Creed—formulated by the Council of Nicea and authorized by the Council of Constantinople—but not the Apostles Creed, authorized by no council at all. It was formalized by the Council of Trent, but that was a 16th century Roman Catholic council, not accepted by the Orthodox churches.

The answer to the question of which Creed is older can't really be determined with certainty. We know that the wording of the Nicene Creed comes from the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. We also know that Rufinus wrote a commentary on the Apostles Creed just after A.D. 400, and his version has wording very similar to what I give above. Since he claims his version came from the apostles, we know it's older than he remembers. How much older, no one will ever know.

The pre-Nicene (prior to A.D. 325) versions of the rule of faith do not use the same wording as the current Creed's wording. The ideas are the same, but the wording can vary greatly. Irenaeus' version is quite long, and Tertullian gives several.

It's obvious, then, that the rule of faith for Tertullian was not an official "creed" or "statement" but a summation of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Its wording could vary.

It is worth noting that Rufinus comments on his church's creed in A.D. 405 (or so) and not on the Nicene Creed. He also mentions that various churches have various versions, some having added to theirs to defend against heresies.

His comments are made in northern Italy about 80 years after the Council of Nicea and about 24 years after the Council of Constantinople, the council which made the Nicene Creed authoritative.

Yet Rufinus ignores it.

Hmm.

Not that there's much difference. In fact, there's very little. You can compare them; the Nicene Creed is here.

Apparently, the councils may not have been so authoritative as we make them out to be. In the decades after the Council of Nicea, very little attention was paid to its decision on the Arian controversy. The sides continued to fight for decades. In fact, the biggest difference before and after Nicea was that afterwards the government was involved, everyone turned Christian, and so the fights became literal, physical fights in which many lost their lives.

Before Nicea Christians were dead set against violence.

I wrote a book on the Council of Nicea and its aftermath. The ebook is very inexpensive. The paper book can't be because it's a thorough, well-researched book and is 460 pages long. The first half is in story form, so it's very interesting, while the last half delves into the many questions Christians have about one of the most momentous events in history.

Conclusion

That's the best we know about the origin of the Apostles Creed. Rufinus gives wording that's pretty close in A.D. 390, it's somewhat different than the Nicene Creed, and it's recited today by western churches, Catholic and Protestant alike.

Both the web site and the traffic to it are powered by SBI!

Do you want to learn how to learn? Our books dig into history and equip you to do so as well.

Search Christian-History.org

Custom Search
Christian Theology Top Site

The Early Church History Newsletter

Delivered monthly.

Back issues available.

Email

Name


Don't worry -- your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you the Early Church History Newsletter.