Subscribing to and systematically teaching the Apostles’ Creed is rooted in historical precedent and has timeless spiritual benefit for Christians of all eras. The Creed has been and continues to be a helpful aid for worship and discipleship in providing Christians with the summations of the essential doctrines of the faith. The Creed has been a centerpiece of evangelism in regards to Christian apologetics. Its truths remind Christians of the essence of their faith and to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
The Augsburg Confession. The Helvetic Confession. The Gallican Confession. The Belgic Confession. The Westminster Confession and Catechism. The Second London Baptist Confession. The Canons of Dort. What do these historic evangelical confessions have in common? Each of them has its roots in the Apostles’ Creed.
The Creed, also known as the Twelve Articles of Faith, expresses essential biblical doctrines that have been articulated, defended, and embraced for nearly two thousand years of church history. Many evangelical Christians throughout history have used the Apostles’ Creed as a personal proclamation of their own faith. Further, all evangelical denominations since the Protestant Reformation have affirmed the Apostles’ Creed without reservation.
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 the dead.
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.
The precise origin of the Apostles’ Creed is shrouded in mystery. Though there is no historical or textual evidence that it is the direct product of the apostles, the Creed does have roots in the apostles’ teachings and the generation of disciples that followed the apostles in the patristic era. An abbreviated version of the Creed can be traced back to the second century. It seems to have been used first as a confession at one’s baptism, and it also appears in some martyrdom accounts. By the fifth century, the Apostles’ Creed developed into the form as it is now used today (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1:204).
The Apostles’ Creed, like all creeds during the patristic era, was composed as a direct response to heresy in defense of the gospel and the Christian faith. It was intended to be apologetic in nature — to articulate the essentials of the Christian faith against a backdrop of heresy. The immediate heresy that the Creed responded to was Gnosticism. Gnosticism denied, among other tenets, the divine creation, the incarnation of Christ, the deity of Christ, and salvation by faith in Christ alone, all doctrines that are expressly affirmed in the Creed.
The early church fathers frequently cited articles of the Apostles’ Creed in their own apologetic treatises, most of which were written for pagan recipients in the Greco-Roman world. The articles of the Creed were succinct, yet weighty enough to be effective tools for sharing and defending the Christian faith in the first three hundred years of the church’s existence.
Ignatius of Antioch, in his Epistle to the Trallians, cited the Christological section of the creed in order to exhort the Trallian Christians to refute any teaching contrary to orthodox Christology (9:1–2). In Against Heresies, composed in the third century, Irenaeus cited several articles of the Creed to defend the patristic church’s beliefs and repudiate the teachings of Gnosticism (I.10).