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Apostles' Creed

Authors' Bias: Interpretation: conservative

Christian Creeds and Statements are carefully worded responses to heresies or situations that challenge orthodox Christianity. They are not new revelations or additions to Scripture, but rather a careful reflection of doctrine.

The Apostles' Creed, though not directly authored by the Apostles, is the most widely accepted creed among various denominations of Christianity, because of its proximity to the time of the Apostles and its reflection of their teachings. During that time, the oral tradition was the main method of teaching.

In response to Gnostics who challenged that Jesus was fully human with a material body, the Apostles’ Creed was drawn up to emphasize Jesus’ true humanity. However, unlike the Nicene Creed, the Creed was not written or approved by a single church council at one specific time; instead, it took shape over some 550 years, from 200 A.D. to 750 A.D.

The controversial phrase "he descended into hell" was not found in any of the early versions of the Creed. Rufinus of Aquileia (Tyrannius Rufinus or Rufinus Aquileiensis), a translator of Greek patristic material into Latin, was the only one to include the phrase before 650 A.D. Rather than understanding the phrase to mean Christ "descended into hell", Rufinus understood it to mean "He descended into the grave." Church fathers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian did not have this phrase in their writings either.

Without older versions to trace the historical development of the Creed, to determine whether there was an error of transmission or translation, the addition of this phrase to the Creed will continue to be a mystery.

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth. (1)

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,

born of the Virgin Mary, (2)

suffered under Pontius Pilate, (3)

was crucified, dead, and buried;

he descended into hell; (4)

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; (5)

the communion of saints;

the forgiveness of sins; (6)

the resurrection of the body (7)

and the life everlasting.

AMEN

Notes about this creed:

  1. Gnostics believed that the physical world was not made by God and therefore was evil.

  1. Gnostics did not believe that God became man in nature or body: Jesus was a spiritual apparition. The Creed denies this Gnostic belief by stating clearly that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit and born with a real body.

  1. Unlike mythical gods without any context to human history, the Creed establishes that Jesus existed at a particular time and place in history, under the jurisdiction of Pontius Pilate, Procurator of Judea from 26 to 36 A.D.
  2. The Creed affirms that Jesus really died physically by stating the time and the method. This last phrase of "descended into hell" does not appear in the earliest versions of this Creed. For deeper discussion, see: The confusion posed by the Apostles' Creed: Did Jesus descend into Hell?

  1. Gnostics believed that Christianity was for a select few. The Creed affirmed Christianity's universal (catholic) appeal.
  2. Gnostics believed that man needed enlightenment not forgiveness: the problem was ignorance, not sin. In addition, most Gnostics believed that their soul, separate from their evil physical body, was not accountable for the immorality of their body. he Creed affirms that there are sins and that forgiveness is paramount.
  3. Gnostics did not believe in the resurrection of the body; they believed that the afterlife would be as a spirit.

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