Parallel to the canonization of the
New Testament, the early church developed statements or confessions of
faith, now also known as the Old Roman Creed, the Apostles’ Creed
and the Nicene Creed. As actual manuscripts of New Testament writings
were only very scarcely available, these creeds were memorized and
recited at the moment of baptism by a new believer and shared between
Christians during meetings and times of fellowship and prayer.
They were also worded and composed to
address heretic influences in the young church by explicitly
mentioning certain attributes of God and Jesus and/or certain
teachings to differentiate the true Christianity from these heresies.
These creeds are today still
recognized as a core definition of our faith and used and recited
during Christian services.
The Old Roman Creed
The oldest creed is now known as the Old Roman Creed or the Ramanun. It occurs first in writings of the mid fourth century. Exact dating of the creed is difficult, but likely the form that has been preserved was developed at the end of the second century – early third century. Notice the very explicit statements about Christ’s human nature which address the gnostic heresy that Christ was only a spirit, not a human man.
“I believe in God the Father Almighty. And in Jesus Christ his only
Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary;
crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried; the third day he rose from
the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the
Father, from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
And in the Holy Spirit; the holy church; the forgiveness of sins; the
resurrection of the flesh.”
It likely was already used – perhaps in a somewhat different form – in earlier times. An earlier fragment of this creed – probably from early to mid second century or perhaps even the end of the first century simply states:
"I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ his only
Son, our Lord. And in the Holy Spirit, the holy church, the
resurrection of the flesh."
The Apostles' Creed
The successor to the
Old Roman Creed was the Apostles’
Creed. It is first mentioned in writings from 390 AD, but was
probably used much earlier, likely already in the second half of the
third century. According to ancient tradition, it was composed and
used by the original apostles, with each apostle contributing a
statement. This is obviously a legend, but it does illustrate how
highly esteemed the text was considered to be.
The text clearly builds on the Old Roman Creed, and like its
predecessor, it explicitly addresses the false teachings of Gnosticism
about the human nature of Christ. Compared to the Old Roman creed, the
Apostles' Creed adds statements of belief about the creation, the
descent of Christ into hell to defeat Satan, the unity of the church
(catholic in this context means united church, there is no
relationship to what we now know as the Roman Catholic Church) and the
ever lasting life.
believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried; He
descended into hell
The third day he rose again from the dead
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
I believe in the Holy Ghost
I believe in a holy catholic church; the communion of saints
The forgiveness of sins
The resurrection of the body
And the life everlasting. Amen.”
The doctrinal statements in the above text are clear and concise and although written many centuries ago, this creed still very effectively and correctly describes the core Christians beliefs.
In the words of Philip Schaff: 
“As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue is the
Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds. It
contains all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith necessary
to salvation, in the form of facts, in simple Scripture language, and
in the most natural order—the order of revelation—from God and the
creation down to the resurrection and life everlasting.”
The Nicene Creed
The Nicene creed was agreed upon as the result of the Council
of Nicea in 325 AD. It further expands the Apostles’ creed to
address the new heresies of those days popularized by Arius (ca.
250-336 AD), a pastor from
“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of
the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of
very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was
incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and
was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was
buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who
proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son
together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one
baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of
the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
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