What is the Apostles' Creed of the third or fourth century A.D.?
The Apostles Creed is the most loved and well-known creed in the Christian Church. It is considered the Creed of creeds of the Christian faith. It is a statement of essential doctrines of the Christian faith. The early church father Rufinus of Aquileia (A.D. 340-405) wrote A Commentary On The Apostles’ Creed. In it he states,
And for this reason, the tradition continues, the Creed is not written on paper or parchment, but is retained in the hearts of the faithful, that it may be certain that no one has learned it by reading, as is sometimes the case with unbelievers, but by tradition from the Apostles.
Then he proceeds to teach each phrase of the creed in forty-eight sections. Since no copies of the creed were written prior to his writing it is conjectured that the creed did not previously exist. But no one can convincing and objectively prove Rufinus wrong. Yet, it is clear that the creed did not exist in written form prior to his writing.
The first sentence of the creed is a statement of faith in God the Father. The middle part of the creed is a statement of faith in the Christ. The last sentence expresses faith in the Holy Spirit and concludes with a summary statement.
Here is the Apostles’ Creed of the third or fourth century.
Apostles Creed (before A.D. 340)
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 was 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
Earle Cairns states,
The Apostle’s Creed is the oldest summary of the essential doctrines of Scripture that we have. It was not written by the apostles but certainly embodied the doctrines that they taught. It was in use in Rome before 340. The creed was used as a baptismal formula from very early times . . . This creed, which is definitely Trinitarian, gives attention to the person and work of each of the three persons of the Trinity.
He is of the opinion that the apostles did not write the creed, but was stated above Rufinus of Aquileia claims that the creed was communicated orally prior to his writing. He seems to suggest that it was communicated orally for the purposes of security.
1. Peter Schaff. St. Rufinus. A Commentary On The Apostles’ Creed, Section 2. Nicene And Post-Nicene Fathers. Hendrickson Publishers. 1995. Second Series, vol. 3. p. 543.
2. McClintock and Strong. Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological, and Ecclesiastical literature. Baker Books. 1981. vol. 2. p. 560.
3. Earle E. Cairns. Christianity Through The Centuries. Zondervan. 1996. p. 114.
4. Schaff. Ibid.
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