Approximate Reading Time, 7 minutes.
The Apostle’s Creed
This creed is called the Apostles’ Creed not because it was produced by the apostles themselves but because it contains a brief summary of their teachings. It sets forth their doctrine “in sublime simplicity, in unsurpassable brevity, in beautiful order, and with liturgical solemnity.” In its present form it is dated no later than the fourth century. More than any other Christian creed, it may justly be called an ecumenical symbol of faith. This translation of the Latin text was approved by the CRC Synod of 1988.
Perhaps the most useful feature of the creed is its balanced picture of Christ. This creed reminds us that the Lord who came first to rescue us will come a second time to judge us. This is what the church confesses in the Apostles’ Creed: that we are saved by Jesus, from Jesus. It is on this basis alone that believers are now forgiven, will one day be raised, and will forever live with Christ.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
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 catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places
The Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed contains many of the lines found in the Apostles’ Creed, but it was written chiefly in response to minimizations and even denials of the divinity of Christ. Thus the creed asserts that Jesus is of the same (not similar) essence or substance as the Father. It states that he is begotten and not “made,” unlike every other thing visible or invisible. Even the rhythmic phrases often translated “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God” are connectional, equalizing phrases. They underline three times that the Son is “of” (in the sense of “from”) the Father. These lines, taken with those about the Holy Spirit, are best read as reflections on the equality and closeness of the Three who are One. Together these lines form the most closely held and widely confessed statement about our triune God in the Christian church.
The text customarily called the Nicene Creed has a three-part history in the Western church. The creed was issued as a brief statement at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), while the First Council of Constantinople (381) later provided a substantial addition concerning the Holy Spirit. Thus historians term this creed the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Even later, a line in the creed was changed (in the Western church only) to capture the significant teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father but from the Son as well.
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.
The Chalcedonian Creed
The Council of Ephesus in AD 431 forbade the making of any new creed. The Council of Chalcedon, which met in 451 to confront new errors, chose to issue a decree to affirm earlier versions of the Nicene Creed (both the 325 and the 381 versions) and also to offer a concise clarification regarding the church’s teaching about the person of Christ. The council then promptly banned anyone else from making a new creed, no matter how good his or her intentions.
This clarification, formula, or definition was the clearest statement to date on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It confesses who Christ is now: God and man, one person in two natures (hence its language of both natures coming together in one person). Unlike earlier creeds, it does not emphasize the actual event of the incarnation, the person of the Son taking to himself humanity. Famously, it also offers a series of denials about Christ when it teaches that the natures of Christ “undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation.” This “negative,” or apophatic, theology reflects a belief among many Greek-speaking Christians that much of what we say about God—perhaps the best of what we say about God—involves saying what he is not.
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.