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History of the Apostles' Creed

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Question: What is the oldest Christian creed?

Answer: The Apostles' Creed

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The Apostles' Creed is one of three creeds that are considered essential to Christian Church doctrine -- the other two are the Nicene Creed and the Definition or Creed of Chalcedon. These creeds helped to establish the pattern of orthodox Christian faith through the centuries. The Apostles' Creed is an early definition of the true Christian faith, some believe coming directly from the original Apostles themselves.

It has also been called the "Symbol of the Apostles."

The name of the Creed comes from the fact that, being composed of 12 articles, it was believed to have possibly been written by the 12 Apostles, each of whom was supposed to have contributed an article under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. Most theologians now refute this long-held legend that it is the direct work of the Apostles. But most agree that it has its roots in apostolic times, and reflects, with much integrity, apostolic teaching.

The Apostle's Creed:

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; the third day he rose 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. Amen.

The earliest known historical evidence of the creed's existence as it is currently titled (Symbolum Apostolicum) is a letter of the Council of Milan (390 A.D.) to Pope Siricius:

"If you credit not the teachings of the priests . . . let credit at least be given to the Symbol of the Apostles which the Roman Church always preserves and maintains inviolate."

The earliest appearance of the present Latin text was in the De singulis libris canonicis scarapsus ("Concerning the Single Canonical Book Scarapsus") of St. Priminius, written between 710-724 (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, Longmans, Green & Co, 1972, pp. 398-434).

The theological specifics of this creed appear to have been originally formulated as a refutation of Gnosticism, an early heresy. This can be seen in almost every phrase. For example, the creed states that Christ was born and suffered and died on the cross. This seems to be a statement directly against the heretical Gnostic teaching, stating that Christ only appeared to become man, and he didn't really suffer and die.

The Apostles' Creed is widely used today by a number of Christian denominations for both liturgical and teaching purposes, most visibly by liturgical churches of Western tradition.

The Apostle's Creed is esteemed by many churches as an example of the apostles' teachings and a defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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