What is the Apostle’s Creed about?

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again 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.”

This is the Apostle’s Creed that we sometimes recite in our church service. Thought it would be a good idea for us to have a closer look at what each phrase in the creed means to us so that we as Christians don’t merely mouth the words like a chant, but actually mean what we recite. =) So here I share some ideas that many who have gone before me have already written about.

Why Study the Creed?

In the Creed we find a distillation of the Church’s mature reflection on the essentials of the faith as expressed in scripture. Studying the Creed will help us to think more deeply about our own understanding of the Christian faith and hopefully equip us to explain it to others. It also serves to remind us that we are part of a community of Christians that reaches right back to the birth of the Church and the first Apostles who were appointed by Jesus himself. As one ancient writer wrote “the Creed is the tie that binds us together.”

It is a plumb-line against which we can test the truth. It does not tell us everything but stresses the fundamentals without which we have abandoned the orthodox Christian faith. As Christians we are free to differ on many points but we must all agree the essentials of the Creed. With this in mind let us look at what the Creed actually says.

"For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." (2 Tim 1:12)

I believe…

The English word ‘believe’ comes from the Latin word ‘credo’ which connotes faith. What is faith? In Hebrews we read that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” (Heb. 11:1). Biblical faith goes beyond a mere intellectual knowledge. It is faith in a person, Jesus Christ. That he exists, is alive today and cares for us individually. What we believe should affect our hearts as well as our heads.

In God, the Father almighty…

To Jesus’ contemporaries the idea of God as “Father” would have been an astonishing almost blasphemous thought. God was perceived as distant from human beings, far above and beyond our understanding. Jesus, however, taught that God was intimately concerned with each of our lives. The truth is that we owe our very existence to God and in a very real sense he is our Father in heaven (Mat. 6:9).

The reference to God being “Almighty” is also important. God, by definition, can do anything including the miraculous. But he is not capricious. We can rely on and trust him to keep his promises.

Creator of heaven and earth.

Everywhere we look around us, we can see the handiwork of God in the physical creation (Ps. 8:1-3, Rom. 1:20). However, we also need the testimony of scripture to fully understand the significance and purpose of what we see.

The infinite variety of the created universe and the regularity of the seasons and the dependability of the physical laws that govern it are an expression of God’s creativity and concern for our well being.

We are here because God wanted it that way. We are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27) and our individual humanity has great value. In fact one reason that we were created was to relate to God. Saint Augustine, writing in the early fifth century wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

In Jesus Christ, His only Son…

The heart of the Christian faith is a person not a set of abstract ideas or beliefs. The name Jesus literally means “God saves” while “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah” meaning “anointed one.”

It is hard for us to imagine what God is like, language is simply inadequate. But the bible tells us that by looking at Jesus we can see what God is like. “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” (Heb. 1:3a). To know Jesus is to know God in human form.

Our Lord.

In the Old Testament God’s name YAHWEH was regarded as too holy to be spoken. Instead the Jews used the letters YHWH as a substitute. When the Jewish Scriptures came to be translated from Hebrew into Greek (the Septuagint version), the Greek word “kyrios” – “the Lord” was used to translate this sacred name of God. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that the Jews refused to call the Roman Emperor “kyrios,” because they regarded this name as reserved for God alone.

In the New Testament we find that a word that was previously used with reference to God is now applied to Jesus (Phil. 2:11; 3:8; Col. 2:6). The confession “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3) is thus a superb summary of the gospel. To confess Jesus as Lord is to proclaim his equality with God.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.

Jesus was born of a human mother (Gal. 4:4). He is a human being just like ourselves. However, he was also conceived by the Holy Spirit. From the moment of his conception he was marked out as unique. Jesus was both God and man. Fully divine and really human at one and the same time.

If Jesus was not God and man our redemption would be impossible. If he is just a man he is part of our problem, not the solution to it. But if Jesus is God alone, he has no point of contact with our predicament. What is required is a mediator, a go-between. In other words the incarnation. Jesus is both God and perfect man and thus he is able to redeem us and reconcile us to God.

Jesus knows what it is like to be human. He understands our weaknesses and we can bring our struggles and temptations to him. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin,” (Heb. 4:15).

He suffered under Pontius Pilate…

The Creed now recounts a series of events that firmly establish that Jesus was a real human being of flesh and blood. The reference to Pilate firmly anchors the Creed to history.

Was crucified, died and buried.

The Creed now brings us to the scene at Calvary. Crucifixion was a barbaric form of execution favoured by the Romans as a deterrent and used against rebellious subjects and the lowest criminals. The victim would usually be flogged and forced to carry the crossbeam to the place of execution. There the victim’s arms were generally nailed to the crossbeam, which was then raised up. The victim found it increasingly difficult to breathe, due to the strain placed on his chest by the weight of his body. Eventually he would die of exhaustion, unable to breathe. It was a shameful and degrading death.

However, we read in the New Testament that it was for us that Jesus “endured the shame of the cross, scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2). It was because of the scandal of the cross that the Christian gospel was seen by many to be “utter foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:23-25).

But the gospel is not just about the fact that Jesus died and the circumstances of his execution. The true significance of his death is that he died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3).

He descended to the dead…

This is a statement of the belief that Jesus really did die (Acts 2:24; Rom. 1:4; Col. 2:12) and in so doing shared the fate of us all. Even though he was God, he had to taste death just like each of us. He really was human in every way. Fully God and truly human.

On the third day He rose again.

It is our belief in the resurrection of Jesus that sets Christianity apart from all other religions. As Saint Paul says “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:17). We however, can be confident in our future hope because Jesus is alive today.

It is our belief in the resurrection of Jesus that sets Christianity apart from all other religions. As Saint Paul says “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:17). We however, can be confident in our future hope because Jesus is alive today.

He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Thinking about the ascension is a helpful way of making sure that our outlook on life is right. It helps us to recall that our destiny does not lie on this earth, but with the ascended Christ, who has gone on ahead of us to prepare a place for us. He is waiting for us now. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).

To be allowed to sit at the right hand of a dignitary was a sign of special favour (Ps. 16:8; 110:1; Col. 3:1). Not even the angels are allowed to sit at God’s right hand. Jesus being allocated this place of honour confirms his unique status as God’s Son (Heb. 1:13).

Jesus, having come down to earth from heaven to redeem us, now returns to heaven to intercede for us. Christians pray in the name of Jesus acknowledging that the effectiveness of their prayers rests upon what Jesus Christ has achieved in the past, and will achieve in the future (Heb. 7:25).

He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

The perspective now changes to the future. The “Second Coming” or return of Jesus is a significant theme in the New Testament. It is then that the Kingdom of God will be finally established and the Judgment will take place. The writer of Hebrews tells us that all human beings are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” (Heb. 9:27).

It is important to realise that we are judged by someone who knows what it is like to be human and understands our situation. Once again, the writer of Hebrews expresses this beautifully: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb. 4:16).

We will be called to give an account of the things we have done but our place with God will be secure. There is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 8:1). One of the best definitions of Grace that I have heard is that “Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.” The hardest thing to appreciate is that it cannot be earned, only received by faith.

I believe in the Holy Spirit…

In both the Hebrew and Greek languages the words for “breath” and “spirit” are the same. This wordplay can give valuable insights into the person and work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:6-8).

The Bible tells us about the Holy Spirit that:

He is a person. We can lie (Acts 5:3-4), grieve (Eph. 4:30) and resist him (Acts 7:51).

He is God. The third person of the Trinity. We catch a glimpse here of God’s unity in variety. God is a loving community.

He brings life (Gen. 2:7). Receiving the Holy Spirit is the mark of being a Christian, the seal or evidence of our new relationship with God.

He convicts us of our sin (John 16:8) and leads us to Jesus (John 16:14).

He brings power to live the Christian life.

He is our comforter. In John 14:25-26 the Holy Spirit is described in the original Greek as the “paraclete,” which is usually translated as “comforter, advocate or counsellor.” It literally means one who comes alongside to help. Jesus has left his disciples but he sends the Holy Spirit to be with them in his place (John 16:7).

The holy catholic church…

In the New Testament the Greek word “ekklesia” which is translated “Church” always refers to a group of people and never to a building or a denomination. It literally means “those who are called out (1 Peter 2:9).

In every town or village today you will find several “churches” but in God’s eyes there is only one true church with many different (and varied) expressions. The word “catholic” (Greek katholikos) means “universal” or “worldwide.” In that sense we are all Catholics with a little “c!”

The communion of saints…

“Communion” is simply the old English word for “fellowship.” The Greek word in the New Testament that is used to represent this idea is “koinonia” which has the basic meaning of sharing. We are to support and encourage one another. The strong caring for the weak. To affirm the fellowship of saints means that we are committed to one another and all that this entails.

Paul often addressed his letters to the “saints” in the city he was writing to. But who are the “Saints?” When we think of someone like Saint Teresa we tend to put them on a pedestal as, somehow, better than us. Is this what is meant here? No! The word “saint” simply means “someone who is holy” and set apart by God.

As a Christian you are holy, not because of any merit of your own but because of what Christ has done for you. His righteousness is imputed to you by faith (Rom 4:22). You will still struggle with sin but (in a legal sense) when God looks at you he will see Jesus and declares you not guilty. In that sense we are all saints!

The forgiveness of sins…

This simple phrase carries a wealth of meaning. What was it that Christ achieved on the cross?

Sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2). It is a barrier erected on our side that destroys our relationship with him. The bible is clear that left to our own devices there is absolutely nothing we can do to remedy this. However, the good news is that we do not have to do anything. Christ has already done it on the cross. All we have to do is receive by faith. He has broken down the curtain in the temple that separated human beings from God (Mat. 27:51).

In the New Testament the idea of forgiveness carries the dual meaning of “reconciliation” and “the remission of a debt.” Both are powerfully suggestive of Christ’s finished work on the cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ has delivered us from slavery to sin and brought us into the liberty of sons of God. He has redeemed us at the price of his own Son.

The resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

“The life everlasting” is an old-fashioned way of speaking about eternal life. It is not just something in the future. As a Christian you are able to taste in the present something of the age to come (Heb. 6:5). Receiving the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ enables us to experience, here and now, the fullness of life that Jesus promised his disciples (John 10:10). How much more will this be the case when we meet him face to face in heaven.

Jesus’ resurrection body was recognisable but different. When he returns, we will be like him. Heaven is not some kind of ghostly existence but a physical reality. There will be a new earth (Rev. 21:1) and new people to inhabit it.

As a society we are afraid of death. We try to sanitise and if possible ignore it. If we are honest we are not told a lot about what heaven will be like. But what we can say is that it will be far better than the best that we can imagine. You will not be less than yourself in heaven, rather you will be the real you as God originally intended. C S Lewis called this present life the “Shadowlands.” The real adventure lies beyond!


The Christian hope can be confident and assured. In an age of hopelessness we can rest secure. The Creed ends with a single word. AMEN. This reminds us that it is as much a prayer as a statement of faith. “Come Lord Jesus …” (1 Cor. 16:22; Rev 22:20).


~ by irwin on February 6, 2012.

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