Author: Ron Graham

Bible Authority

The Apostles’ Creed
—Double meanings in the Creeds

The most common creed in Christendom is the so-called “Apostles’ creed”. This creed dates from around AD 600, although patterned after similar statements dating from AD 200. It is called “The Apostles' Creed” not because the apostles wrote it (although some assert that they did), but because it is supposed to sum up the apostles' doctrine.

The “Apostles’ 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; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.”

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church; the communion of the saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

The problems with creeds...

There are problems with such a creed. Because of these problems, churches of Christ generally do not recite or confess the “Apostles' creed” (nor any other creed) as such, but simply use the scriptures directly. Jesus and his apostles themselves state the Christian faith, and we consider that the scriptures are sufficient (2Timothy 3:16-17).

1 Double Meaning

Firstly, there is the problem of double meaning (ambiguity). Take for example the two following phrases as used in the “Apostles' creed”...

Sometimes confused meanings will creep into a creed over time as word usage and meaning changes. Other instances might be deliberately written into a creed so that two parties in disagreement can inject their own different meanings yet enjoy a common form of words. Whatever the reason, where a creed is ambiguous, it fails to produce the intended expression of a common faith.

2 Half Truth

Secondly, there is the problem of inadequacy or a lack of complete truth. For example...

Attempts to fill in these inadequacies only create a growing confusion of creeds and more and more division, because the more detailed and specific a document becomes, the fewer will be those who will accept and confess it. Thus, in order to be widely held, it is necessary for a creed to be inadequate. This is a dilemma in writing creeds.

3 Wrongly Dividing the Word

Thirdly there is a similar problem with creeds —that of selectivity. A creed effectively labels certain doctrines of the Bible as essential, and by omission makes other doctrines secondary or non-essential. This creates a dichotomy (a dividing in two) in the word of God, namely that some things the scripture commands and teaches are necessary whilst others can be set aside. For example the “Apostles' Creed” makes no mention of the following...

These are two examples of a great many important elements of our faith and obedience to God. Why has a creed selectively excluded these things, apparently as non-essentials? You might say that if a creed were to include the whole of the gospel, and not select anything to set aside as optional or secondary, then it would be the gospel itself and not a creed. Precisely my point.

A creed has to be selective to be a creed. A creed has to be less than the whole gospel. So rather than upholding the gospel of Christ, a creed effectively subtracts from the gospel. (Revelation 22:18-19).

4 No Authority from Christ

Creeds present a fourth problem: Christ gave no authority to write creeds and to bind them upon the faithful. His word is the only authority in all things. The test of fellowship should be...

“The Apostles' Creed”, like any creed, has authority only among those who confess it, and it is of human authority, as are all creeds. The scriptures have authority among all and the scriptures are of Christ's authority.

A creed like “The Apostles' Creed” closes debate, whereas those who follow the Bible only, are always free to re-examine their faith, doctrine, and practice in the light of the Bible. If they find that they are in error on some point...

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