During the recent funeral of the late President George H. W. Bush, all the former presidents and their wives stood and recited the creed while President Donald Trump and his wife Melania stood in silence. This sparked a minor controversy that exposed the confusions many Christians—especially evangelicals—have about the Apostles’ Creed. Here are nine things you should know about this ancient statement of faith.
1. The text of the Apostles’ Creed has minor differences based on the traditions that use it. The following is a commonly used version produced by the English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC) in 1988:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; [he descended to the dead.] On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and 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. A legend claimed that each of the 12 articles was written by one of the 12 apostles. For example, Rufinus of Aquileia (345–411) wrote,
So they [i.e., the apostles] met together in one spot and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, compiled this brief token . . . each making the contribution he thought fit; and they decreed that it should be handed out as standard teaching to believers.
Despite its title, there is no evidence the Apostles’ Creed was actually written by the apostles, and the legend was largely abandoned by scholars by the time of the Renaissance.
3. The Apostles’ Creed is a variant of an ancient baptismal confession known as the Old Roman Creed (also, Roman Creed or Old Roman Symbol). The Old Roman Creed is believed to have been created in accordance with Jesus’s command in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
4. Several Christian traditions—including some Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists—use an interrogative form of the Apostles’ Creed in their rites of baptism.
5. Although many Protestants consider the Apostles’ Creed to be only a creed (that is, a formal statement of Christian beliefs), some traditions, such as Catholicism, also consider it to also be a form of prayer.
6. Several Reformation catechisms, such as the Heidelberg Catechism and Luther’s Small Catechism, use the creed as a way of articulating the basics of the Christian faith. For example, question #22 in the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What, then, must a Christian believe?” and answers, “All that is promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith teach us in a summary.” The answer to question 23—“What are these articles?”—is the text of the Apostles’ Creed. Similarly, the Apostles’ Creed forms the answer to question #31 of the New City Catechism.
7. A common misunderstanding among evangelicals is the line that states, “I believe in . . . the holy catholic church.” In this creed the word catholic means “general, universal, concerning the whole” and does not refer exclusively to the Roman Catholic Church. (To avoid the confusion some churches say “holy Christian church.”) As the Southern Baptist theologian Timothy George explains, “When we say that we ‘believe in the holy catholic church,’ we are confessing that Jesus Christ himself is the church’s one foundation, that all who truly trust in him as Savior and Lord are by God’s grace members of this church, and that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.”
8. The most contested line in the creed is “[Jesus] descended into hell.” The basis for the line is 1 Peter 3:19, which states that Jesus “went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” As R. C. Sproul said, “People are making a lot of assumptions when they consider that this is a reference to hell and that Jesus went there between his death and his resurrection.” And as John Piper notes, “there is no textual basis in the New Testament for claiming that between Good Friday and Easter Christ was preaching to souls imprisoned in hell or Hades. . . . For these and other reasons, it seems best to me to omit from the Apostles’ Creed the clause, ‘he descended into hell,’ rather than giving it other meanings that are more defensible, the way Calvin does.”
9. The Apostles’ Creed, as Don Carson explains in this video, “very ably summarizes the gospel itself in just a few sentences.”
Other posts in this series:
George H. W. Bush (1924–2018) • Religious Freedom Restoration Act • Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre • Out-of-Wedlock Births • Bethel Church Movement • Christian Hymns • Hurricanes • Infertility • The STD Crisis • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) • Russian President Vladimir Putin • Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh • MS-13 • Wicca and Modern Witchcraft • Jerusalem • Christianity in Korea • Creation of Modern Israel • David Koresh and the Branch Davidians • Rajneeshees • Football • The Opioid Epidemic (Part II) • The Unification Church • Billy Graham • Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders • Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease • Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State