The Apostles' Creed
This past Sunday, September 3, 2023, we read a modified version of the Apostles’ Creed as we prepared our hearts for communion. The Apostles’ Creed may have been new to you and historically it has been given a bad reputation, especially within churches that do not typically use it as part of their worship
routine. Occasionally, the church I grew up in read through the Apostles’ Creed, but I never really understood the importance of the Apostles' Creed until I went to college and took a class called “The History of Theology” my senior year. I then graduated and moved to Boston, MA for seminary. While in seminary, I served at a more traditional church (i.e. they followed the liturgical church calendar, sang hymns on a pipe organ, read congregational liturgies, etc.) as a youth pastor and we would read through the Apostles’ Creed on a regular basis as a congregation.
If your church background is not traditional/liturgical you may not know about the Apostles’ Creed or you may have some misunderstandings about the Apostles’ Creed because of the English wording in certain places. One of the things we always must remind ourselves is that the English language changes. Words that meant one thing in the 1600’s and 1700’s do not mean the same nowadays. Even words that meant one thing in the 1980’s when I was growing up mean something totally different nowadays. The Apostles’ Creed is the same.
The Apostles’ Creed was originally written in Greek, just like the New Testament. What we read in books or in the back of hymnals is the traditional English translations.
The Apostles’ Creed was originally written in the 3rd or 4th century (200-300 AD). The reason why this creed was written is because of some errors or false teachings that were being taught within the early church. At this point in church history, the average believer did not have a copy of the Bible. In fact, most local congregations did not have complete copies of the Bible either. A problem arose when false teachers showed up in these local congregations and said they were teaching the Gospel of Jesus. But in reality they were not actually teaching the Gospel of Jesus taught in the Bible and these false teachers were leading many people away from the Gospel of Jesus. The early church recognized that they needed to formulate a summary of the Apostle’s teaching so that people would know what they were to believe about Jesus. This is how the Apostles’ Creed was developed and then was circulated to the churches through letters. One of those letters was written by Saint Ambrose in 390 AD.
Traditionally the Apostles’ Creed is translated as follows:
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; he descended into hell; 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 Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Again, if the Apostles’ Creed is new to you, you may have just read through that and thought, “I do not believe that, what is Pastor Isaac promoting here.” Let me address two words that are major stumbling blocks for Evangelical, Bible believing Christians nowadays.
The first phrase is “…he descended into hell…” After Jesus died on the cross, did Jesus really descend into hell? The short answer is no, He did not. This is a faulty English translation of the Apostles’ Creed. The Greek word that is translated as “hell” is Hades. What is Hades? “Hades” is the Greek word and “Sheol” is the Hebrew word that is used in the Bible to describe the place where people go after they die. In the Old Testament the word “Sheol” is translated many times as the grave. If you want to learn more about “Hades” feel free to check out a previous blog post of mine which goes into more detail about “Hades” (https://www.itemsleftinthestudy.org/post/hades-the-grave-death). With this in mind, the word “hell” should be replaced with the word “grave” or “Hades”; Jesus descended into the grave.
The next phrase that causes some believers to pause from using the Apostles’ Creed is the phrase “the holy catholic church.” This is an example of how a word has changed its meaning over the years. Nowadays, when we hear the word catholic, we immediately think about the “Roman Catholic Church” (aka “The Catholic Church”). Let me be clear, I do not believe in the Roman Catholic Church. But when the word “catholic” is lowercase, the word means universal or global. Then what do we mean by this phrase? We believe in the “holy global Body of Christ.” Holy meaning individuals that have dedicated themselves to following God. Global meaning that these individuals are not bound by a political boundary, but these individuals can be found all over the entire world. Church meaning the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).
With these things in mind, may I suggest a more modern translation of the Apostles’ Creed that summarizes the Apostles teachings:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His one and only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, was buried; He descended into the grave. On 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 global Body of Christ, the communion of Jesus' followers, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.