The Creed of Creeds: The Apostles’ Creed


I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      Maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic* church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places

A Concise Statement of Core Christian Truth

Philip Schaff in his magisterial work Creeds of Christendom calls the Apostles’ Creed, “The Creed of Creeds.” He 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.”

-Philip Schaff

The great reformer, Martin Luther, said of the Creed, “Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement.”

Augustine, one of the early church fathers, said that the Apostles’ Creed was a rule of faith–something worth reciting morning and evening.

Dr. William Shedd writes in his A History of Christian Doctrine, Volume II, that the Apostles’ Creed is:

“…the earliest attempt of the Christian mind to systematize the teachings of the Scripture, and is, consequently, the uninspired foundation upon which the whole after structure of symbolic literature rests.”

-William Shedd (as quoted in Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom)

The apostles creed is not only the oldest creed produced by the Christian Church that was widely accepted by the Church as a whole but it is the basis for many other early creeds that followed, such as the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

It is called the Apostles’ Creed not because it was written by the apostles but because it is an early summary of the core teachings of the apostles. It represents the foundational, most fundamental teachings and doctrines at the heart of Christian faith as taught by Jesus’ earliest followers.

Studying the Apostles’ Creed with the Children

Early on in the Church, the Apostles’ Creed was used as a baptismal confession of faith for believers. Yet, far from relegating the Creed to something only useful in antiquity, the Christian Church still embraces the Creed today as a solid, statement of core Christian truth.

This Fall we are happy to announce that the children of the church will be starting a study of the Creed in children’s church. The creed will run 13 weeks and will look at each of the 12 articles of the Creed.

If you are not familiar with the Apostles’ Creed, I encourage you to take some time reading it and thinking over each of the 12 major points (or articles) found in the Creed (quoted at the top of this brief article). It may help to re-focus on you on the foundational teachings of our faith.


For more on the importance of creeds, please see J. Warner Wallace’s excellent article “The Importance (and Early Use) of Creeds.”

Why Are Christians So Divided?

Countless denominations cause many people today to associate Christianity with division and religious rivalry. The past lends some merit to this association.  Back in the 16th and 17th century, Europe experienced severe religious conflict, one would even say warfare, between Protestants and Catholics. Back then denominational differences were a matter of life and death.

This brings to mind the question: Doesn’t Jesus pray to his Father that his followers “may be one, even as We are” (John 17:11,22)? Doesn’t Paul write that “God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25)? Though the early Jerusalem church “had all things in common” (Acts 2:44), what has happened to this ideal?

Denominations seem to indicate Christian disunity and thus diminish our witness for Christ in the world. But is this necessarily so? Does this call into question the validity of the truth claims of Jesus? How should we think about Christian denominations? Here are some considerations.1

First, not all who declare themselves Christians are true or consistent followers of Christ. A lot of things that have been done in the name of Jesus–the Crusades, the Inquisition, anti-Jewish persecution, neglect of social responsibility, hatred of homosexuals–hardly resemble the attitude of Christ or reveal the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus has said in the Sermon on the Mount: You will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16). He also says later that “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Just because some people claim to be Christians, that doesn’t mean they are Christians. 

Second, denominations remind us of a common denominator–a “mere Christianity” that different Christian groups share. Think of it in terms of fractions instead of factions (Unfortunately I can’t claim this joke as my own) and the notion of the common denominator. You can have ⅕, ⅖, or ⅗ but the denominator is still the same – 5. When we recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed or read books by C.S. Lewis, we are reminded of the basic commonalities that Christians share–despite differences in secondary doctrines.

Third, denominations don’t imply disunity (just like uniformity doesn’t equal unity). Denominational affiliation is not division. Indeed, a spirit of unity and charity that goes beyond external labels is to permeate our dealing with fellow Christians. As an example, Paul chided the Corinthian church for its divisiveness: some aligned themselves with Paul, others with Apollos, some with Cephas (Peter) and apparently the “super-spiritual” ones with their nose in the air aligned themselves with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-9). The problem was not doctrinal differences but prideful attitudes and an unwillingness to reconcile that Paul criticizes.

When Christians are dealing with other Christians, we should major on the majors and minor on the minors when it comes to biblical teachings. The church should be, as Kevin Vanhoozer writes, a commentary on God’s Word and a witness to Scripture that is lived before God and a watching world.2


  1.  More could be said in this post but I would encourage everyone who wants a more in-depth response to this issue, to consider reading When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics (2008), by Paul Copan. That was the main resource I used to write this post.
  2.  Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 237.

I Believe

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen.”  Acts 1:1-2

The evangelist Luke explains the purpose of his gospel to Theophilus.  He wanted to accurately record all that Jesus began to do and all that Jesus began to teach.  What Jesus “did” is embodied by the early church in her sacramental worship and ministry.  What Jesus “taught” concerning the Kingdom of God was codified by the early church in her creeds.  The word “creed” comes from a Latin word, credo, and is translated simply, “I believe”.  A creed, in its simplest form, sets forth words for public use that express with a certain authority the things that are necessary to believe for personal salvation and for the wellbeing of the Church.  Creeds are milestones that embody the living faith of generations.

There are several things that we can say about the historic creeds of the church.  First, a creed originates in faith, which like all strong convictions desires to express itself (Romans 10:8-11).  Second, the creeds never precede faith, they presuppose it.  Even if there had never been any doctrinal crisis that required formal creeds, just the presence of faith would have brought them forth.  We see these spontaneous creeds throughout scripture (Matthew 16:15-16, John 1:1-5, or I Timothy 3:16 for example).  Third, a creed is nothing more than Jesus Christ and His work confessed.  Psalm 107:2 commands, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, the ones He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy.”  A creed recounts the mighty work of God’s grace in bringing about our deliverance.  And fourth, the creedal confession can be very simple and still be made effectual by the working of God’s power.  In Acts 16:30-31 the Philippian jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?”  Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved and your household.”  The historic creeds always begin with Jesus, their truths were proclaimed with power by the apostles, they were developed and explained in the writings of the New Testament, they were faithfully passed down through each generation of believers, and they were recorded in the forms that have survived to our present time.

The most popular creed is the Apostle’s Creed.  It is the simplest summary of the gospel story and has been used throughout the centuries as the confession of faith repeated by those who were to be baptized into the Church.  An early Church tradition holds that it originated directly from the apostles, and up until the middle of the seventeenth century both Roman Catholics and Protestants believed the creed to be composed by the apostles in Jerusalem either on the day of Pentecost, or prior to their scattering as a means to secure unity of teaching.  Each apostle contributed one part.  The story says that Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit began, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”  John continued, “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.”  Andrew went on, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”; then James the elder, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried”; Philip, “He descended into Hades, the third day He rose again from the dead”; Bartholomew, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty”; Thomas, “from thence He shall come to judge both the living and the dead”; Mathew “I believe in the Holy Spirit”; James, the lesser, “the Holy Catholic Church”; Simon, “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins”;, Thaddeus, “the resurrection of the body”; and Matthias, “and the life everlasting, Amen.”

Although the notion of direct apostolic authorship is no longer held by most scholars, the tradition is still a reflection of the power, simplicity, and faithfulness to the gospel message that is present in this creed.  Embodied in its words we hear the gospel earnestly spoken and we are moved to speak those words of personal faith, “I believe…”.   A creed’s chief purpose is always to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and because of this a creed is not a systematic, logical statement of doctrine, but a profession of living, saving faith in the work of God through His Son Jesus.  It is given so that a child can recite it, not so that a scholar can explain it.

“I believe…”  These are powerful words that break the power of sin, that open the soul to the work of God’s grace, and that change a life eternally in a moment.

Why Creeds Matter

What is a Creed?

Everybody believes in something.  As Burk Parsons points out in his short pamphlet “Why Do We Have Creeds?“, we use the words “I believe” to express our thoughts about nearly everything.  At some point or another, they are found on the lips of every human being.

The word “creed” is derived from the Latin word “credo” meaning “I believe.”  So a creed is a statement summarizing the shared beliefs of a group or community of persons.

Spawned Out of a Need for Clarification

Some perspectives are simply not compatible with Christian faith.  Take Paul’s words to the Galatian church:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:6-9)

To Paul, distorting the truth was no small matter.

When a person or group begins to use the name of Christ in association with beliefs that are incompatible with the Bible’s teaching, a need for warning and clarification arises.  Over the centuries such scenarios have been the impetus for the development of a creed.  Take the Nicene Creed for example, which was formulated at the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea (now Turkey):

“This creed was…a response to the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. It was revised at the Second Ecumenical Council, held at Constantinople in 381 as a response to the Macedonian or Pneumatomachian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.” 1

These statements of belief have been an important part of Christian faith as far back as we have record.  The Apostles Creed is considered the earliest creed used by the church today, dating back to the early part of the 3rd century.  It states:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen. 2

Interestingly however, we know of other creeds going back much further contained in the Bible itself.  1 Corinthians 15:3b-5 is one example of a Christian creed that many scholars (even critical, read “skeptical” scholars) believe dates back to within two to three years after the death of Jesus Christ.  It reads:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” 3

And there are other places in Scripture where we find statements that are believed to be ancient summarizes of faith.  Deuteronomy 6:4 is the quintessential statement of Jewish faith:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

We Still Need Creeds Today

The idea of a creed seems outdated to the post-modern mind, but creeds were not just for the ancients.  In fact, as our world continues to change and as the Christian church faces new and growing challenges, the need for creeds is as real as ever.  Books like McGoldrick’s “Christianity and It’s Competitors” have shown that ancient heresies have been revived with “new faces.”

What is more, radical political and cultural shifts have created schism within the church as well over the issues of sexuality, marriage, gender, bible interpretation, evangelism, politics and more.  One of the results has been mystification.  So many Christians are lost on a sea of competing ideas and moral compromise.

Creeds are one way that churches can bring awareness to the issues, help their people understand what’s at stake and clarify what options are compatible with Christian faith.


  1., (Accessed on 6/2/2015).
  2. Copied from, (Accessed on 6/2/2015).
  3. You can read more about this fascinating creed at, (Accessed on 6/2/2015).

The Necessity of the Church

…and I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church… — from the creed of the Council of Nicaea, 325 A.D.

After three hundred years of persecution, threats of internal disruption, and false doctrines, the leaders of the local churches met at Nicaea to draw up a common, unified, concise statement of the articles of faith for all Christians.  They sifted through hundreds of traditions, writings, oral reports, and customs; when it was over, they chose those which they considered foundational for Christian life and transcribed them as a creed.

One phrase contained in that creed begins this article.  Why did the Church Fathers choose to include it among the statements about the divinity and incarnation of Jesus, the Trinity, the atonement, the communion of saints, the hope of future glory?  Obviously they knew it to be important.  But is it as important to the believer as the other creedal beliefs?  The answer is yes.  Many volumes have been written on this subject, but let me present this simple progression to defend my answer.

God, after He spoke long ago to the Fathers in the prophets, in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things…– Hebrews 1:1-2.  The revelation of the Father to this earth is found in the Son.  The Apostle John called Him the Logos, the Word of God.  Paul referred to Him as the fullness of the Godhead.  Peter referred to Him as the cornerstone of the spiritual house of God.  Jesus Himself proclaimed that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father.  If Jesus was the final revelation of God to man, then in what form do we now possess this revelation.  The answer is simple, in the vessel which He left behind to bear witness to Himself, the Church.

I write to you so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth – I Timothy 3:15.  And again in II Corinthians 5:18-20:

Now all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Or again in Matthew 16:18-19:

And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever shall be loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

One more:

And He (the Father) put all things in subjection under His (the Son’s) feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22-23.

It is a simple truth that is often easy to overlook in the vast collection of doctrines, interpretations, literature, and tradition.  It is even easier in today’s world of hyper-individualism to discount the truth of the Church as unimportant.  Because of divine direction it was not overlooked by the Fathers of Nicaea.  Let us never discount the Church’s role in the plan of God’s reconciliation of the world, or think less of it because of its claim to speak into our own relationship with God.  It alone can say what we could never begin to speak:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life…what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also that you also may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  – I John 1:1-4.

Genesis, Science, and Humility

According to many young-earth creationists (YEC), non-Christian scientists falsely interpret Nature, and they do so on-purpose.  This is because they have their own, unbelieving worldview, and they also are trying to make people not believe in God.  Now of course, there are some scientists who “have an ax to grind” (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, and the like come to mind).  If only they knew the Lord, so the argument goes, they’d interpret nature aright.  While that may be true for some scientists, is it true of all of them who aren’t YEC?  This claim is especially used with respect to the age of the universe and understanding starlight and time.  Let’s examine this claim from the perspective of  both YEC and OEC (Old Earth Creationism).

Navigating the turbulent waters of YEC and old-earth OEC creation is like trying to cross a stream on slippery rocks without getting one’s feet wet.  One false move, and whammo, you’re in trouble.  Whatever one’s position is, the important thing to remember is one’s metaphysics (theory of reality).  Along with metaphysics, comes one’s epistemology (theory of knowledge).  The crux of the discussion is the relationship of Scripture to Nature.  There is also the issue of arrogance, and there is a serious moral problem among many people in this discussion, of which I will comment toward the end of this post.

For many YEC’s, Scripture trumps nature every time, and is the lens through which Nature must be interpreted.  For OEC’s, Scripture and Nature are the “Two Books” God has given us, where both fit together in a mosaic, aiding human understanding of creation and Creator.  Now, given the fact that starlight takes millions of years to get to earth so that we can see it, YEC’s say God created the light in transit during the creation week.  Hence, we can now see such light.  OEC’s accept the prima facie understanding that because starlight takes millions of years to get here, that the universe is old.  I’m not going to discuss the science of that in this post, so much as the epistemological issues at stake. (For an easy-to-understand article on this see, Greg Koukl’s “Starlight and the Age of the Universe.” 1

The YEC view often says things that, in my opinion, are harmful.  For example, I’ve heard arguments that scientists who think the universe is billions of years old are “darkened in their understanding” (Ephesians 4:18) and are hostile to God.  They have an “unbelieving worldview” and therefore, their interpretation of reality (metaphysics) is untrustworthy.  Well, I have two issues with this.

First, as a rejoinder, I’d like to point out that texts like Ephesians 4:18, and others such as Romans 1:18, where unbelievers “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” are speaking of moral problems in men and women.  Of course, epistemology and ethics are interrelated, and unbelievers do “suppress the truth” and they do so in “unrighteousness.”  Hence, there is such a thing as “moral knowledge.”  Still, these texts aren’t indicting humans as to their interpretation of the natural order with reference to its age. Romans 1 is concerned with idolatry, lack of thankfulness to the one, true, God (v. 21), and immorality (vv. 18-32).   Romans 1 is concerned with humans’ interpretation of the natural order with respect to its nature and essence.  In Romans 1, the indictment is against the worship of nature, not age of it. Similarly, Ephesians 4:18 is about Gentiles who have a “hardness of heart” and live lives of greed, impurity, and “every kind of indecency.”  Again, this is more of a moral problem, than a “scientific” one.

Secondly, would we say that an unbelieving doctor, or engineer, or math teacher has a faulty interpretation of reality?  “But,” a YEC may counter, “If scientists really knew God, they’d believe the Bible and interpret Nature accordingly, as recent, young, and so on.”  Well, if that were the case, then why do so many Christians understand Genesis as teaching something different than YEC?  Do we want to say that they, too, have capitulated to unbelieving understandings of Nature?  The burden of proof here is then for the YEC to show that such an interpretation of Genesis is the only viable one available.  But this is biting off a lot to chew: it requires intimate knowledge of hermeneutics and Hebrew.  On that score alone, things get complicated, and the YEC faces the dilemma of this fact: due to things being complicated, the YEC view loses its power, because the thrust of its argument is that the beauty of YEC is how very simple and easy it is to follow.

For example, in Genesis 1:2, it says “the earth was formless and void, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  Here, the earth is in existence prior to the completion of Day 1 (v. 5).  How long was the earth there before the completion of Day 1?  I don’t know.  Do you?

Another example of how Genesis 1 and 2 are complex is the use of the word “day” (Hebrew, yom).  In Genesis 2:4, it says:

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, when they were created, in the day (Hebrew, yom) that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”

Of course, in chapter 2 v. 4. there is no numerical adjective followed by the phrase “evening and morning” in chapter 1.  But that’s just the point, isn’t it?  The text is complex.  Further complexity is seen in that God made them male and female on the 6th day (1:31), but in chapter 2, Adam seems to have lived for at least more than a single day before the creation of his wife, as Adam worked the ground, named the animals, and listened to the Lord’s command about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Did all of this happen in a 24-hour period?  Maybe it did.  However, to say it is a hard-and-fast interpretation seems a bit stretchy, like those old toys I had in the 70’s.  (Stretch Armstrong.  Remember the weird, green goo inside of them?  I bet it was toxic, for sure.)

Does it make sense why some Christians see complexity in the text and have reasons to believe the YEC understanding isn’t as simple as it seems?

Now about the knowledge of unbelieving scientists.  Does my allergist not know that if she gives me my allergy shots that I’ll get better?  This is a common theme in presuppositionalism which feeds a number of YEC’s, that unbelievers don’t truly know reality, because they don’t know (or, rather, believe) that the Triune God is the author of that reality.  Ok. Here, we would get into some serious metaphysical and epistemological discussions about the justification of knowledge, univocal and analogical reasoning, and so on.  Do we really want to go there when talking about whether my Hindu, atheist, Jewish, or Muslim heart surgeon truly knows what he’s doing in making me better?  He understand my heart, and its mechanical workings, yes? This is a simple, practical question that has a simple answer, doesn’t it?

The OEC view follows the Belgic Confession’s “Two Books” doctrine whereby Scripture and Nature both speak of God’s acts and ways.  Scripture is special revelation, and Nature is general revelation (Psalm 19:1-6; Matthew 6:26; Romans 1:18ff).  Both Books inform us of what God is like, and what He has done, is doing, and will do.  Scripture, of course, tells us more about God’s actions and ways, and His future plans.  Nature, though, is something that humans, with the aid of their God-given reason, can discover, manipulate, cultivate, and use to His glory, and for the good of mankind. The Belgic Confession would seem to eschew the idea that in order to understand Nature on a practical, truthful level, we would need Scripture to tell us about it.  While it’s true that some in the unbelieving world hold to metaphysical notions that are untenable and indeed impractical, such as that reality is an illusion (some forms of Hinduism).  But that’s not everyone, and it’s still the case that such people eat, sleep, and carry on with their lives.  It seems to me then, that the YEC presuppositionalism needs to be jettisoned for a better fusion of Scripture and Nature as understood by the Belgic Confession.  Unbelievers do understand reality at a good, practical level and extent.  Agree?

Now about arrogance.  Without naming names, I have told people time and again, the main problem I have with YEC’s is their arrogance.  There is a flippancy in argumentation, and also an ungodly attitude towards OEC’s (and other brothers and sisters in Christ) that is prevalent among YEC’s.  It’s true that arrogance can be found among theistic evolutionists, OEC’s, and ID theorists.  That’s part of the human condition.  However, I have witnessed and have personally experienced terrible arrogance at the highest levels in the YEC movement.  I wonder how it can be, that if someone has the correct understanding of Scripture, that such an ungodly demeanor can be manifest so expressly among people?  Is it fear?  Perhaps it is fear.  For fear will override the rational faculties in people, and cause them to operate on emotion.  Maybe that’s it.  Whatever it is, it needs to stop, for “the Lord opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34, cf. 1 Peter 5:5).  There is a better way than to treat people with a different point of view who still hold to orthodox Christianity.  Take the Apostle’s Creed for example.  If we can agree on that, can we love each other, even as we are called to love our enemies–people who don’t hold to such a statement of belief?

This was originally appeared at Van Allsblog (

  1. Greg Koukl,