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Christian Creeds

By Expert Author: Kim Valerio

Christian creeds are statements or confessions of Christian faith. Two creeds gained prominence in the Gospels of the New Testament. The first is the negative confession that Jesus is casting out demons by Belzebul. The charge here is that Jesus is an evil doer, and that the devil is working through him. This charge appears both in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Before the Sanhedrin Jesus is accused of performing many signs, and is identified as a deceiver. This illustrates the undercurrent of negative ideas about Jesus in his day.

The second creed is the positive confession (by Peter): “You are the Christ” (Mark 8.29). Prior to this confession, Jesus asks his disciples, “who do men say that I am?” His disciples respond with “John the Baptist, Elijah, and a prophet.” However, to the question “Who do you say that I am?” Peter famously replies: “The Christ.” The odd thing is that in Mk. 14.61 Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin for interrogation and is asked the same question: “are you the messiah?” This question exhibits the same wording as Peter’s confession except for the question mark. Peter believes it, while the high priest does not. So, prior to Easter, the confession is not that Jesus is Lord, but rather that Jesus is the Christ.

The famous hymn of Philippians 2 is a more complex confession about Christ. The first part of the hymn reflects a downward movement toward death on the cross. But, then it pivots to upward movement, and Jesus is given the name above every name. “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” The early confession in 1 Corinthians 12.3 that “Jesus is Lord” (compare to Romans 10.9) is now, in Philippians, embedded in a context, seemingly a hymn. It is a simple confession. In the hymn it is not just a Christian confession, but rather that every tongue will confess Jesus’ lordship one day. The sense has become universal: Jesus is lord not just of Christians but of all creation. The confession is the climax of the hymn. So, even within the New Testament, there is movement in the credal forms from simple views of Christ to something more complex.

The Apostle’s Creed is a statement of Christian faith dating to the period of the early church. It is recited in Catholic and Episcopal churches even today. It is a three-part confession that includes the Father, a lengthy confession about Jesus, and then a confession about the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to note that the whole life of Jesus is reduced to a comma in the creed. It is completely left out! The creed says that he was conceived and born and then that he suffered under Pontius Pilate. In "Jesus Christ for Today’s World," Jurgen Moltmann compares this absence with the rich description of the Gospels and finds the creeds lacking. Jesus’ life was Messianic. For Moltmann, we need to understand Jesus as Messiah. This understanding of Jesus is absent from Christian creeds. So, for example, Moltmann suggests we must add: “Baptized by John the Baptist, anointed by the Holy Spirit, etc.” In "Early Christian Creeds: Origins of the Apostles’ Creed," Kelly did some important historical work on the Apostle’s Creed. The word “creed” first appears in a message drafted probably by St. Ambrose. Literally, it is the Apostles' “symbol” (which translates as creed). However, there is no Apostles’ creed in the New Testament. We would expect it to be in Acts if it really were apostolic. There is a myth told by Tyrannius Rufinus about the creed. The myth goes that as the apostles parted ways they agreed on a single succinct statement of faith so that their preaching would be united. Later tradition is more precise than Rufinus, ascribing part of the creed to each apostle.

Aaron Mead is a graduate of Stanford University and Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also currently a doctoral candidate in philosophy at UCLA. He enjoys writing on philosophical and theological topics of all kinds. To know more about him visit this site.

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