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Some History on the Apostles Creed

Could it be "Catholic" ???

Note: Here is a question I received on why I mentioned The Apostles Creed in my article "When Discernment Turns Ugly." To understand the context better please click here to see my email update of August 16, 2012.

 

Hi Rita,

I appreciate your writing and I think I have some help for you. First, I am so glad that you are free from the bondage of Roman Catholicism. Praise God. Now, to answer your points.

If you read my article carefully then you know it was about the tone and culture of the discernment community. However, the trigger provided by the words "Apostles Creed" was troubling to you as a former Catholic. I understand and I assume you would agree with that.

More than an endorsement of the Apostles Creed with no questions asked, my hope was to give readers a starting point on determining essential doctrines when thinking about and carrying out discernment. However, in an article like "When Discernment Turns Ugly," which I grant is running against the grain of the way many folks think or operate, I can understand how mentioning anything like the Creed can cause a sidetrack. I readily agree that there are a couple of passages in the creed that can be troubling, especially without complete understanding, and more so if one comes from a Catholic background and is now free of its chains. Anyway, here goes. I hope what I'll write here helps you and proves to answer your questions.

First, we know historically that the Apostles Creed (A.C.) is the oldest such creed of the Church and has been around long before the advent of Romanism. I know that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) has claimed it as their own but that doesn't necessarily make it theirs, at least not without a proper Protestant protest anyway. Following are some facts.

Like many of the teachings in the early Church, the Apostles Creed was passed down from one generation to another and contained what the majority of Protestant scholars through the ages simply believe to be the teaching of the Apostles. Though the early Church leaders dealt with many other doctrines and practices outside those spoken of in the A.C., the Creed's original form enumerated the non-negotiable doctrines and truths upon which our faith rests. I am confident that the A.C. is not a Roman Catholic invention steeped in RCC edicts. Instead, it is a Christian creed, a tract from the early Church, if you will, that served to represent to an uninformed world the core beliefs of our faith.

Historically, the earliest trace of the Apostle’s Creed goes back to Ignatius, who lived in the late first and early second centuries AD - long before the roots of Romanism began to abscond with and pervert the faith. Though the RCC claims ownership of the A.C., it is believed that the early church father Hippolytus may have influenced the formation of the Creed as well.

The Creed was crafted to:

1) Be a statement of faith to the world of exactly what this new sect known as “Christians” believed.

2) Though we have no incontrovertible hard evidence of such, I do think there are good grounds to believe that the theological specifics of the A.C. appear to have been originally formulated as a refutation of Gnosticism, an early heresy. This can be seen in almost every phrase. A major focus by Church leaders in the second century (known in Church history as "the Age of the Apologists") was to rebuke, refute, and correct cultic heresies (such as Marcionism and Docetism). Note that Marcion or Sinope lived in the mid-second century, dying in AD 160, well before the rise of Romanism.

The Apostles Creed reinforced and affirmed the Trinity. It clearly enunciated the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ. It reinforced the equality of Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son. The Creed dealt with sin, judgment, and the resurrection of each and every human being.

And as you have pointed out in your email, the Apostles Creed, which most of us in the Church today are familiar with, left two lingering questions that a former Catholic would naturally be sensitive to. The first of these, of course, is the beginning of part five of the Creed - "He descended into hell." This statement relates to a passage in I Peter 3.

The Scriptures do not indicate that Christ went anywhere to suffer after His death on the Cross. When He uttered on Golgotha "It is finished," He meant it and it was! So those who think or teach that He languished for many hours in some sort of tortured state must go outside of the Bible to get Him there!

Pastor Ray Prichard of Keep Believing Ministries points out that the meat of I Peter 3:18-21 boils down to these four items concerning Jesus:

  • He died (v. 18).
  • He preached (v. 19).
  • He rose from the dead (v. 21).
  • He sits at God’s right hand (v. 22).

The questions of to whom and where Jesus preached have troubled many theologians for more than the past 1900 years but we can be certain that (1) He indeed preached to someone in the spirit world and (2) they were prisoners.

Prichard asks the question and then concludes the following, "Now where does that leave us with regard to 1 Peter 3:19? I personally believe that Jesus preached to those demonic spirits and proclaimed his ultimate victory over them. To say that he “preached” to them does not mean that he offered salvation to them. Salvation is for humans, not for angels or demons. The verb “preached” means to make a public announcement. It’s what a herald would do when he went from city to city announcing the king’s decrees. I believe that Jesus, either between his death and resurrection or after his resurrection, proclaimed his victory to those demon spirits that rebelled so greatly against the Lord in Noah’s day."

Rita, I think we had best not be dogmatic here concerning to whom and exactly where Jesus preached, but Prichard makes the best case I know of, which is found in his article "The Triumphant Christ" at http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2005-03-13-The-Triumphant-Christ.

All of this lines up with the idea that Jesus entered "Hades," or the holding place of the dead, as a messenger personally delivering word of His eternal victory over Satan, his forces, evil, and the grave. The Greek word for both death and Hades is thanatos. Hades is haides in Greek or the place (or state) of departed souls. This is translated "grave" or "hell" in the King James Version. So, if we really understand what the phrase "He descended into hell" means, it shouldn't present a deal breaker for us. But there is more.

The Apostles’ Creed was not constructed or voted on by a single church or council at one specific time. But it began to emerge as a statement of faith in about A.D. 200. Interestingly, the phrase in question - "he descended into hell" - is not found in any of the early versions of the Apostles Creed (i.e., Rome, Italy and Africa).

Dr. Douglas Mar points out that "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." Mar also states that at least some of the early Church Fathers, such as apologists Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200) and Tertullian (A.D. 160-225), did not include the phrase "he descended into hell" in their writings that passed on the A.C., either. (http://www.helpmewithbiblestudy.org/2JesusChrist/CrucifixionConfusionApostlesCreed.aspx)

Just for the sake of history, let me add that the earliest RCC version of the AC, known as "The Old Roman Form," (associated with Bishop Marcellus of Ancyra, about the year 337 or 338), also lacks the phrase "he descended into hell" 
 
By A.D. 750, the Roman church officially included the phrase "he descended into hell" in the A.C., but again, suffice to say it was around long before Romanism became an issue.

The other point you mentioned won't take me quite as many words to address. That is "the holy catholic church."

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states:

“Catholic”
Main Entry: cath·o·lic  Pronunciation: 'kath-lik, 'ka-th &-Function: adjective Etymology: Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French catholique, from Late Latin catholicus, from Greek katholikos universal, general, from katholou in general, from kata by + holos whole.

1) of, relating to, or forming the church universal b often capitalized : of, relating to, or forming the ancient undivided Christian church or a church claiming historical continuity from it.

As indicated here, the word "catholic" means "universal." If we are born again then we're a part of that Church, the "catholic" or universal Church around the world. However, we are not a part of the Roman Catholic Church.

The last point I want to address is the reference you made to the Nicene Creed.

Your quote about baptism concerns me as well. Faith and repentance lead us to forgiveness - not baptism. However, the Creed you are citing is not the original Nicene Creed (which was produced at the first council of Nicea in 325, a meeting of 318 leaders). The phrase about baptism first appeared in "The Constantinopolitan Creed of 381." Though I couldn't find any solid history on how, why, or who actually inserted it into the Creed commonly called the Nicene Creed today, the idea is obviously derived from Acts 2:38 and was a product of the meeting of about 150 bishops in A.D. 381 - not the A.D. 325 meeting at Nicea. We know that participants of the meeting in 381 were particularly interested in strengthening their stand against the heresy of Arianism but in doing so, the "Enlarged Nicene Creed of 381," as it is now called, did indeed include a statement that appears to teach baptismal regeneration, at least at first glance. Again, my mention of the Nicene Creed in the "Discernment" article was meant only as a side point and was in no way meant to be a main topic. If you'd like to study these points more, here are two in-depth resources on both the Creeds and how they developed and also on the question of baptism for salvation.

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds1.iv.iii.html

http://www.evangelicaloutreach.org/baptism.htm

I hope this information has helped you.

Again, God bless you and thanks for writing!

Eric

Take A Stand! Ministries
www.ericbarger.com

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