The Apostles' Creed is a summary of what Christians believe. No doubt you have recited it many times.
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 Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary;
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried;
On the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sitteth 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 Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Both the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed were written and became popular before individuals had the opportunity to own a copy of a Bible. The creeds summed up what Christians believed. So if you couldn't read the Bible for yourself, memorizing a creed gave you a foundation for what you believed. Until the seventeenth century, it was thought that this fundamental statement of Christian doctrine was written by the apostles themselves on the day of Pentecost. Now it is known that the Pentecost tale was a fiction that appeared in the sixth century. When was the creed written? Who wrote it? Can we trust it?
We will probably never know who wrote it. But we know that even in Bible times the church used a creed. Converts had to respond to the gospel in repentance and faith—embracing Christ as sovereign ruler of their lives—before they were baptized . Probably this confession was in a standard form because Paul wrote about the "form of doctrine" (Romans 6:17).
At any rate, a creed was firmly established by the second century. Iraneaus and Tertullian-- the one writing in Gaul (France) the other in North Africa-- quoted chunks of the creed. Their versions agree closely with the Old Latin Text. A fourth century version appeared in the Near East. All of these versions are shorter than the Apostles' Creed that the church accepts today.
None of them say that Jesus "descended into hell."
For all of this, the creed is completely trustworthy. Every statement in it is based on the Bible. Even the (sometimes included) most controversial line, that Jesus "descended into hell," (which should read "Hades," the abode of the dead) can be defended from Scripture.
We don't know when the exact words we now use came into being. But we know they were in use by the seventh century.
The oldest manuscript we now have was written by an abbot named Pirminius. He lived during the time of Charlemagne. In 711, he rebuilt an abbey in Switzerland that had been destroyed in an invasion. Later he became the first abbot of a Benedictine monastery at Reichenau (in modern Germany).
As an abbot, Pirminius wrote a book to train the monks under him. This book, Scarapsus, is the earliest writing known to contain the complete Latin version of the Apostles' Creed as we know it, the "Received Form."
According to tradition, the man who first recorded the Apostles' Creed died on this day, November 3, ca. 753. Pirminius, merely doing his duty, probably never thought of himself as a "first."
The word "catholic" means "universal" and is not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, all Christians—i.e., those who in repentanceLuke 24:47 and faith embrace Christ alone—can freely recite The Apostles' Creed in good conscience.
- Bettenson, Henry. Documents of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press, 1967.
- Bray, Gerald. Creeds, Councils & Christ. Downer's Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1984.
- Fremantle, Anne, editor. A Treasury of Early Christianity. New York: Viking Press, 1953.
- "Pirmin" in New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954.
- "Pirminius, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Thurston, Herbert. "Apostles' Creed." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Various internet articles.