Is the Apostles' Creed Apostolic?

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 9 June 2015; Revised 7 July 2015

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Sources: Scripture quotations are taken from various Bible versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of the article. Definitions of Greek words are from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009).

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish character of the entire Bible I use the terms Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament).

The Present Text

The traditional form of the 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 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 sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty.

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Amen.

(The Book of Common Prayer. The Seabury Press, 1979, p. 66)

Here is an Evangelical version of the 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 hades;

the third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven,

and sitteth 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 Church universal,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

Amen.

(Sing to the Lord. Lillenas Publishing Co., 1993, #8)

History

The tripartite creed, organized to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, exists in two forms — a shorter and a longer. The shorter version, known as the Old Roman Form, can be found in the writings of Irenaeus (of Gaul) and Tertullian (of Carthage) about 200 A.D. The longer and enlarged form, in its present shape, is of a much later date. Its final form was probably given to it not before the middle of the 5th century (in one or two clauses, as late as the 7th century) (ISBE). See the official history of the creed in the Catholic Encyclopedia (online). The creed was originally written in Latin and titled Symbolum Apostolorum. The Creed is called "Apostles" not because it was written by the apostles (as a Medieval legend alleged), but that it supposedly represents the teaching of the apostles. The original context was probably a recitation of a creedal statement at a person's baptism (BCP 852).

The Apostles' Creed was not formally adopted by any of the early ecumenical conferences as the Nicene Creed was at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Nevertheless, the Apostles' Creed has been used in Christian worship from those early centuries and continues to be used not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but also Protestant and Evangelical churches. The Creed reflects the core doctrines held dear by all Christians and thus is transdenominational.

Analysis

When the Apostles' Creed is compared to the writings of Yeshua's apostles we can find strong concurrence, but at the same time a great inconsistency. The Apostles' Creed really reflects the theology of patristic Christianity because it omitted any mention of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. A line-by-line analysis follows to demonstrate this point.

I believe

The opening phrase connotes affirmation of mental agreement or assent. "I believe" does not necessarily reflect a personal trust in God, a relationship with God or commitment to God. "I believe" occurs twice in the Creed and this first usage includes the affirmations concerning God and Yeshua. For the apostles the expectation of "confess with your mouth" is not a vocalized mental assent but a testimony of a heart transformation and a personal relationship with the Messiah.

The biblical verb "believe" means to have confidence or faith in the reliability or trustworthiness of some thing or someone. The verb describes an active behavior. In the Tanakh the verb means to confirm or support, as well as to be true, reliable or faithful, and to stand firm or trust. In the Hebrew concept believing, trusting and being faithful are inseparable (cf. Matt 7:21; Heb 11:6).

in God

While the formula resonates with Gentile Christians, it omits any mention of the fact that the God of the apostles is the God of Israel. Every nation has its gods, so the believer may only be confessing belief in monotheism, the existence of one God. However, there is a giant chasm between believing in the existence of a divine being that may be known by other names in other religions and putting one’s trust in and offering one’s loyalty to the God of Israel. All other deities claimed in the world and worshipped in other religions have no existence except in the imagination of deceived humanity. Christians who affirm this creed need to consider that they owe their salvation to the God of Israel.

The God of the Bible identifies himself as the God of Shem, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob (or the inclusive formula the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob); the God of heaven and earth; the God of the Hebrews, the God of Elijah, the God of our fathers (meaning the Hebrew patriarchs), the God of David, the God of Hezekiah, the God of Jerusalem, the God of heaven, and the God of hosts.

Throughout the Tanakh God constantly identifies Himself intimately with Jacob. God refers to Himself as the God of Jacob, the Holy One of Jacob, the portion of Jacob, the Mighty One of Jacob, the God of Israel, the Mighty One of Israel, and the Holy One of Israel. God calls Himself by the name of this man, not the nation. God was never embarrassed to be associated with Jacob, as He said to Isaiah, “But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham My friend” (Isa 41:8).

One further note. If one is going to truly align oneself with the God of Israel, then would it not be necessary to identify with the people of Israel and support them (cf. Ruth 1:16), rather than rejecting and persecuting them?

the Father

The words "the Father" are not found in the Old Roman form of the Creed, but were apparently added in the 4th century. In the Besekh the capitalized "Father" is a circumlocution for the God of Israel, not a Trinitarian personality as expressed in this creed. Some dilute the biblical message to assert God as father to all mankind based on Paul's quotation of a Greek philosopher in his Athenian sermon, "we also are His children" (Acts 17:28). While God gave physical life to mankind, he is only Father in a spiritual and covenantal sense in relation to Israel (Rom 9:4).

God's paternal relationship to Israel is affirmed many times in the Tanakh (e.g., Ex 4:22; Deut 1:31; 8:5; 32:6; Isa 43:6; 63:16; 64:8; Jer 3:19; 31:9; Hos 1:10: Mal 1:6; cf. 2Cor 6:18). Yeshua speaks to his Jewish disciples a few times of "your heavenly Father" (Matt 5:48; 6:14, 26, 32), but many more times simply as "your Father" (e.g., Matt 5:45; Mark 7:11; Luke 6:36; John 20:17). Gentiles can only claim God as Father by virtue of being adopted into the family of Israel (cf. Rom 8:15; 9:4; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5) and then He becomes "our Father" (Rom 1:7; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2).

Almighty

For Christians the use of the word "Almighty" stresses the omnipotence of God. The English translation of "Almighty" occurs 10 times in the Besekh for the Greek word pantokratōr (2Cor 6:18; Rev 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). Pantokratōr refers to God as the mighty ruler of all, the Almighty. In biblical usage it emphasizes more God’s supremacy over all things than just his omnipotence (Rienecker 2:466). Pantokratōr is not found earlier than the Septuagint (LXX) and in the LXX renders Sebaot, ("armies" or "hosts") in the prophetical books in references to the "Lord of Hosts" and Shaddai ("sufficient" or "almighty") 31 times in the book of Job. El Shaddai, "Almighty," is the God of Abraham (Gen 17:1) (DNTT 3:717).

In its Hebrew origins the title "Almighty" has military overtones and refers specifically to God being the ruler over the armies of heaven (Stern 790). With such resources at his disposal the Lord God becomes the mightiest Warrior and invincible King. In the last days the nations and the dragon will wage a fierce war against the people of God and Mount Zion, but the Almighty God will vanquish all his foes. The Lord God’s rulership also extends to control over the entire universe and all processes of nature on earth. Indeed, these resources are included in his vast arsenal to punish and defeat the enemy of our souls.

maker of heaven and earth

This line is not found in the Old Roman form of the Creed, and was apparently added in the 7th century. The Bible affirms consistently that the God of Israel, not a monotheistic "Intelligent Designer," created the heavens and the earth, and all therein (Gen 1:1; 2:4; Isa 41:20; 42:5; 45:18; Jer 10:11; Col 1:16). Moreover God accomplished this feat in six days (Gen 1:2-31; Ex 20:11; 31:17) by speaking matter into existence (Gen 1:6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24; Ps 33:6; Heb 11:3). There was no "Big Bang," only a "Big Word" (John 1:1-3). The Creed strangely omits any mention of the special creation of mankind (male and female), formed in the very image of God (Gen 1:27), although it may be assumed in the mention of "earth."

While the word "heaven" in the creed is singular, the Hebrew word in the Tanakh (hashamayim) is actually plural and used in Scripture to refer to three different places (Ps 148:1-4). The hashamayim encompasses the sky, interstellar space and associated phenomena or the transcendent dwelling-place of God. In terms of direction from the ground level of the earth the first heaven is the atmosphere in which birds fly (Gen 1:20; Rev 19:17). The second heaven is interstellar space (Gen 1:1, 8; Matt 24:29) and the third heaven is the location of the throne of God and the home of angels (1 Kgs 8:30; Matt 6:9; 2Cor 12:2).

And in Jesus

One who hadn’t read the Bible would never know that Jesus is a Jew. "Jesus" is a transliteration of the Greek Iēsous, which itself is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua. The Latin Creed used the word “Iesus.” The name Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua, which means “YHVH is salvation" (BDB 221). Yeshua has the same Hebrew root as yoshia (“He will save”) and is also the masculine form of the Hebrew word yeshu‘ah, ("salvation”) (Stern 4). The meaning of his name is explained to Joseph by an angel of the Lord, probably Gabriel, "You shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matt 1:21).

For many Jews the name "Jesus" is a distinctly Christian word. Sadly, for many Christians the name "Jesus," while precious, does not evoke the reality of his Jewish identity. In his thirty-some years on earth people called him Yeshua. Gentile believers must never forget that Yeshua was born to a Jewish mother, raised in a Jewish home in a Jewish community situated among the Jewish people in the land God gave to Abraham and his Jewish posterity. By virtue of His incarnation and Jewish mother, Yeshua must still be a Jew.

Christ

"Christ" is the Anglicized rendering of the Greek word Christos, the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer and ruler, "Jewish Messiah." In Greek culture christos comes from chriein, to rub lightly, and in its secular use had no religious connotation at all. Christos as an adjective described someone smeared with whitewash, cosmetics or paint, and was anything but an expression of honor. As a personal reference it even tended toward the disrespectful (DNTT 2:334). Christos was chosen by the Jewish translators of the LXX to render the Heb. title Mashiach for the Messianic King (Ps 2:2 and Dan 9:25-26). This choice infused new meaning into the Greek word.

"Christ" does not mean to Christians what "Messiah" meant to first century Jews. Among Christians "Christ" is generally used first and foremost to mean the second person of the triune Godhead as presented in this Creed. Sometimes Christians use "Christ" as a last name, which is strange since no one would say "David King." The Jewish apostolic writers used Christos consistently as the Messianic title and never as a name. Wherever the construction Iēsou Christou occurs the two proper nouns should either be separated by a comma "Yeshua, Messiah" or given simply as "Messiah Yeshua."

The apostolic writings repeatedly interpret the Messianic role in terms of kingship and emphasize that Yeshua is the present King of Israel (John 1:49; 12:13), King of the Jews (Matt 2:2; 27:11, 37) and King of the nations (Gen 49:10; Rev 15:3). He will also be the future king reigning from Jerusalem in the age to come (Rom 11:26; Rev 14:1; 20:6-9). While Jews understood the kingship context of Christos, Gentiles moved away from this meaning as Christianity separated itself from Judaism. The Church had no use for a Jewish Messiah who would fulfill covenant promises to the Jews, including possession of the Land and the obligation to live by Torah. Through many centuries of church-sponsored persecution of Jews, the title "Christ" became the name of their oppressor, not their Savior. And, the simple decision by translators to use "Christ" instead of "Messiah" in Christian Bibles further obscures the Jewishness of the title.

his only Son

Christianity has traditionally used the title of "Son" in reference to Yeshua being the divine second person of the Trinity. However, this is not the meaning attached to the title in the Besekh. The short title of "the Son," which occurs a number of times in the Besekh, could be viewed a conflation of the two titles "Son of God" and "Son of Man." Contrary to Christian usage "Son of God" was used by Jews as a title for a human descendant of King David, the Messiah, who would establish the promised Kingdom (John 1:17, 41, 49; 11:27). In contrast the title "Son of Man" had the meaning of the eschatological supra-natural figure seen by the prophet Daniel (Dan 7:13-14; cf. Mark 8:38; 13:26; 14:62). Yeshua added the unexpected element of suffering to "Son of Man" (Mark 8:31; 9:12, 31; 10:33, 45), which confused both the Jews and later Christian scholars.

Technically Yeshua is not the "only son" of God, since Scripture uses “sons of Elohim” to refer to angels (Job 2:1), faithful Israelites (Ps 82:6; Hos 1:10; Luke 6:35; Rom 9:26), resurrected humans (Luke 20:36), and those led by the Spirit of God (Rom 8:14; Gal 3:26). Yeshua is actually identified as the "only One" of the Father (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Heb 11:17; 1John 4:9), a major difference in meaning. Yeshua does speaks of himself in the third person simply as "the Son," a self-reference that occurs on only two occasions in the Synoptic Narratives, both involving revelation (Matt 11:27; 24:36). In the book of John the self-reference occurs on six occasions (John 3:16-17; 5:19-23, 26; 8:36; 14:13; and 17:1). For more discussion on the person of Yeshua, his titles and the translation history of his name see my web article Who is Yeshua?

our Lord

The most frequent name or title addressed to Yeshua during His earthly ministry is “Lord,” which means master or owner. However, the addition of the pronoun “our” suggests something of an exclusive claim on Yeshua by the Christians. In other words, Yeshua is the Lord of Christians, but not the Lord of Jews. This was one of the subtle ways of early Christianity separating itself from Judaism. In reality Yeshua is the King of the Jews. Yeshua acknowledged as much to Pilate (Matt 27:11) and Pilate accepted this title by having it written in three languages (Hebrew, Latin and Greek) on a board attached to the cross on which Yeshua was staked. Yet, the Creed makes no acknowledgement of this fact.

For the Body of Messiah to say "our Lord" is a solemn commitment, and represents a commitment of loyalty and obedience to comply with Yeshua's expectations:

"Go and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you." (Matt 28:19-20 HNV; cf. 1Cor 7:19)

If reciting the statement is actually false for the person, then divine condemnation will follow:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' (Matt 7:21-23 ESV; cf. Heb 10:26-30; 1John 2:3-4)

Considering that Yeshua is the great "I AM" of the Tanakh, then his commandments include all those moral and ethical instructions he has given since the beginning of the world (Gen 26:5) and the commandments given to Israel though his holy prophets, beginning with Moses (Ex 15:26; 20:6; Eph 2:20; 2Pet 3:2; 1John 2:7). Unfortunately, far too many professing believers in Yeshua are not fully submitted to his authority and tend to pick and choose which commandments they will obey.

who was conceived by the Holy Ghost

The archaic and inaccurate "Ghost" is found in older forms of the Creed instead of "Spirit." The angel who visited Miriam of Nazareth promised her that the Holy Spirit would "overshadow" her (Luke 1:35) and later the record indicates that she was with child by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18). The mechanics of conception are left unexplained, but this phrase accurately repeats the teaching of Scripture.

born of the Virgin

The older form of the creed capitalizes “Virgin,” most likely to emphasize the Catholic belief in the perpetual virginity of Yeshua's mother, which has no basis in Scripture or ancient Jewish culture. No Jewish man would take a woman as a wife without consummation and no Jewish woman would consent to a marriage without expectation of consummation. In the Bible virginity not having "known a man" through sexual intercourse (Luke 1:34). Yeshua's mother was a virgin when she was betrothed to Joseph and remained so until after the birth of Yeshua (Matt 1:25; Luke 1:27). The apostolic description of Miriam as a virgin is intended to establish both the supernatural conception and the deity of Yeshua (Luke 1:27, 35), not to elevate Miriam to goddess status.

The wife of Joseph had normal intimate relations with her husband and produced several more children. Yeshua had four half-brothers: Jacob ("James"), Judah ("Jude"), Joseph and Simon (Matt 13:55), as well as at least two unnamed half-sisters (Matt 13:56), all of whom resided with their parents in Nazareth. Contrary to the Catholic tradition that Yeshua was the only child Miriam ever bore, Matthew (13:55), Mark (6:3), Luke (Acts 1:14) and Paul (Gal 1:19) use adelphos (lit. "of the same womb," a male sibling) and not suggenēs ("connected by lineage, relative") to describe the relationship between Yeshua and his brothers.

Mary

The name of Yeshua's mother was Miriam. "Mary" is the anglicized form of the Grk. Mariam, which is a rough transliteration of the Heb. Miryam (Miriam in English). The meaning of the name is not known for certain, although Thayer's Lexicon says its meaning is "rebelliousness" or "obstinacy." The best interpretation is offered by BehindtheName.com which says that Miriam "was most likely originally an Egyptian name, perhaps derived in part from mry "beloved" or mr "love." The use of "Mary" in English Bibles began with the Tyndale New Testament (1525) and Christians have called this Jewish woman by this name ever since. The choice of English translators to use "Mary" instead of her Hebrew name "Miriam" can only be to minimize her Jewish identity. David Stern offers this apt observation:

"This unfounded and artificial distinction produced by translators subtly drives a wedge between Yeshua’s mother and her own Jewishness … the name "Mary" evokes in the reader’s thinking an otherworldly image of "Madonna and Child," complete with haloes, beatific smiles and angels in array, instead of the New Testament’s portrayal of a down-to-earth Jewish lady in an Israel village managing her wifely, maternal and other social responsibilities with care, love and faith." (Stern 3)

Little is known of Miriam of Nazareth and many curious points are left unexplained. From the nativity narratives we know where she lived and that she was betrothed to Joseph. Yet, nothing is said of whether her parents were living or whether she had siblings. We do not know her age, even though the popular image is of a very young teenage girl. Miriam is related in some degree to Elizabeth, the mother of Yochanan (John) the Immerser, and wife of the priest Zechariah. Miriam was of the lineage of David, at least through her father (Luke 3:23). Although she lived in Nazareth we don't know her financial situation or whether she lived with someone. Strangely, no one else is around when she receives the angelic visitor and she apparently leaves by herself on a journey of some 90 miles. The image of Miriam presented by Luke is of a mature and capable woman.

The doctrines of Papal Christianity that declared "Mary" not only to be a perpetual virgin, but to have been born sinless, then translated to heaven and elevated to the role of Co-Mediatrix with Yeshua amounts to a religious fantasy and reflects syncretism with pagan goddess mythology. This doctrinal development would never have occurred if the words of Miriam and Yeshua had been heeded (Luke 11:27-28; John 4:3-5). Miriam knew that she needed a Savior and like other Jews of her time looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah who would fulfill the promises God made to Israel (Luke 1:46-55). When Miriam said that future generations would call her "blessed" (Grk. makarizō, pronounce happy or fortunate), she simply reflected the desire of every Jewish woman to birth the Messiah.

When Yeshua hung on the cross he transferred the custodial care of his mother to the apostle John (John 19:26-27). The last mention of Miriam in the Besekh is in the story of Pentecost (Acts 1:14), in which the brothers of Yeshua joined their mother in devoting themselves to prayer as they awaited empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Nothing more of a factual nature is known of the mother of Yeshua.

suffered under Pontius Pilate

This is a correct statement as Yeshua was subjected to a trial, publicly humiliated, and scourged at the order of Pilate. Pontius Pilate was the fifth governor of Judea from the time that Archelaus was deposed in A.D. 6. Pilate ruled A.D. 26 to 36 and therefore the judge in the trial of Yeshua. An inscription with his name on it has been found in Caesarea, on the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa. His official title was Prefect (Latin Praefectus) and he was answerable to Emperor Tiberius. So far as criminal and political jurisdiction he possessed the power similar to a senatorial proconsul and imperial legate (Lane 549).

Pilate despised the Jewish people and their religious sensitivities. Josephus reports Pilate was the first to attempt the introduction of images of Caesar inscribed on ensigns into Jerusalem, which the populace boldly opposed. The willingness of the Jews to die rather than see the images remain finally convinced Pilate to remove them (Ant. XVIII, 3:1). Josephus also reported in the aforementioned reference that Pilate also robbed the Temple treasury to build an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem with the origin of the stream two hundred furlongs (25 miles) away. In response Josephus reports that "many ten thousands of the people" came together to protest and to demand that he cease and desist on his project. Pilate had soldiers infiltrate the great crowd wearing ordinary clothes and at his signal they began attacking the Jews. A great number was killed and many others were wounded (cf. Luke 13:1).

Strangely missing in the Creedal statement is the culpability of the Sanhedrin who sent Yeshua to Pilate for execution. Only in Luke's version of this meeting at the Praetorium do we find the text of the fraudulent indictment made by the chief priests to Pilate, listing three specific charges: "We found this One perverting our nation and forbidding payment of taxes to Caesar and saying Himself to be Messiah, a King" (Luke 23:2 Mine). The apostles clearly identified the Sanhedrin as responsible for arranging the execution of Yeshua (Acts 2:22-23; 3:13-14; 7:52; 1Thess 2:14-15). However, the phrase "suffered under Pontius Pilate" may intend that all of Yeshua's suffering occurred when Pilate was Procurator and does not necessarily exclude the action of the Sanhedrin. Eventually the church fathers and Medieval Christianity would transfer all blame to the Jews for the death of Yeshua.

was crucified, dead, and buried.

This is a correct statement and is an economical way of stating the horror that Yeshua endured on the cross. Yeshua was crucified on Friday, Nisan 15, and the apostles later described his death as a sin offering (Rom 3:25; 8:3; 2Cor 5:21; Eph 5:2; Heb 2:17; 1Pet 1:18-19; 1John 2:2). The apostolic narratives provide ample evidence that Yeshua died as the Roman Centurion in charge of the crucifixion attested to Pilate (Mark 15:44-45). Yeshua was then buried in accord with Jewish custom in an above ground tomb loaned by Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin. Omitted from this concise narrative here is the fact that Pilate had a sign affixed to the cross declaring in Greek, Hebrew and Latin that Yeshua was King of the Jews.

He descended into hell.

The traditional Creed reads "hell," but "Hades" is used in contemporary versions of the Creed as much more accurate in reference to the place of the dead. "Hell" would be identified with the lake of fire in Revelation since it is the final destination of the unrepentant. Both Paul (Eph 4:9) and Peter (1Pet 3:19) are generally cited to support this Creedal statement. However, Scripture does not say anywhere that Yeshua descended into Hades, which is also a place of torment and punishment (cf. Luke 10:15; 16:23; 2Pet 2:4).

Regarding Paul's statement that Yeshua descended into the "lower parts of the earth" (Eph 4:9), there is another explanation. Paul is trying to show that the passage he has just before quoted, Psalm 67:19 (in verse 7), must be understood of Yeshua, not of God, because 'an ascent into heaven' necessarily presupposes a descent to earth (which was made by Yeshua in the incarnation), whereas God does not leave his abode in heaven. Accordingly, the Greek phrase "lower parts of the earth" denotes the lower parts of the universe, which the earth constitutes (Thayer). Stern concurs saying, "The Messiah was a pre-existent being, the Word, co-equal with God, who, for the sake of mankind, came to earth as a man (John 1:1, 14; Phil 2: 5–8) (590).

To understand Peter's statement we need to consider the whole context.

"For the Messiah himself died for sins, once and for all, a righteous person on behalf of unrighteous people, so that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but brought to life by the Spirit; and in this form he went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits, to those who were disobedient long ago, in the days of Noach, when God waited patiently during the building of the ark, in which a few people - to be specific, eight - were delivered by means of water." (1Pet 3:18-20 CJB)

As Gill points out in his commentary on this passage the plain sense is that Yeshua, by his Spirit, went in the ministry of Noah and proclaimed both by words and righteous deeds, by the personal ministry of Noah, and by the building of the ark, to that generation; and who being disobedient, and continuing so, a flood was brought upon them which destroyed them all; and whose spirits were then in the prison of Hades. So Yeshua neither went into this prison, nor proclaimed to the spirits then in it, but to persons alive in the days of Noah. From this statement we learn that Yeshua existed in his divine nature before he was incarnate and before Abraham in the days of Noah.

Stern offers an alternative interpretation (754), taking the "imprisoned spirits" as the angels who fell in the beginning (Job 4:18; 2Pet 2:4; Jude 1:6). Yeshua's proclamation to angels, then, was not a salvation message, for these angels God has "kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for the Judgment of the Great Day" (Jude 1:6). Rather, the proclamation must have been Yeshua's announcement of his victory as Paul said, "Stripping the [evil angelic] rulers and authorities [that is, the ones still at large] of their power, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by means of the stake" (Col 2:15 CJB).

In any event, the Creedal statement gives the impression that Yeshua remained in Hades until the next action, a contradiction of Scripture which says that Yeshua was not "abandoned to Hades" nor his flesh allowed to decay (Acts 2:27, 31). In fact, Yeshua went to heaven before sundown because he had promised the thief "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43; cf. Acts 2:27, 31; Col 2:15). Yeshua has never broken a promise.

The third day he rose again from the dead.

This is a correct statement, although "rose again" should be simply "rose." Yeshua was raised only once. Yeshua predicted three times that that he would be raised on the third day (Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 13:32; 18:33). The Creed gives the impression that Yeshua rose from the dead three days after he "descended into Hades. However, we know from the apostolic narrative that Yeshua's body did not spend three days in the tomb. The "third day" is actually calculated from his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. (See my commentary on Mark 8:31).

He ascended into heaven,

This statement reflects the report of Luke (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:2, 9-10; also Eph 4:8). Yeshua was taken into heaven forty days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3).

and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

This statement affirms the teaching of Scripture that Yeshua is the judge of "the living and the dead" (John 5:22, 27, 29; Acts 10:42; 2Cor 5:10; 2Tim 4:1; 1Pet 4:5). In reality there are two judgments. Yeshua will personally return from Heaven and execute judgment on the earth at the end of the present age (Matt 25:31-46). The second judgment occurs after the thousand years of Yeshua's reign on the earth (Rev 20:11-15). The "dead" are not actually judged in a final sense until the second judgment, and on that occasion Yeshua is not seen acting as judge.

From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

This statement affirms the teaching of Scripture that Yeshua is the judge of "the living and the dead" (John 5:22, 27, 29; Acts 10:42; 2Cor 5:10; 2Tim 4:1; 1Pet 4:5). In reality there are two judgments. Yeshua will personally return from Heaven and execute judgment on the earth at the end of the present age (Matt 25:31-46). The second judgment occurs after the thousand years of Yeshua's reign on the earth (Rev 20:11-15). The "dead" are not actually judged in a final sense until the second judgment, but Yeshua is not seen acting as judge on that occasion.

I believe

This is the second occurrence of "I believe" in the Creed and as such connotes cognitive agreement or assent. "I believe" does not necessarily reflect a personal trust in God, a relationship with God or commitment to God. This statement of "I believe" includes the remaining affirmations in the Creed.

in the Holy Ghost,

As used previously in the Creed the older version has "Ghost" instead of "Spirit." The mislabeling of the Holy Spirit is unfortunate. This statement is important to establish that the Holy Spirit is a person, not a thing or a force. To say that one believes in the Holy Spirit would of necessity mean to accept all that Yeshua taught about the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8; 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:13-14; 20:22; Acts 1:8). In addition, God expects that His people will not only believe in the Holy Spirit but personally receive the Spirit (John 3:5-8; Acts 1:8; 2:38; 8:15; 19:2), be immersed in the Spirit (Matt 3:11; 28:19; Acts 1:5; 11:26) and be purified and sanctified by the Spirit (Acts 15:8-9; Rom 15:16; 1Cor 6:11; 2Thess 2:13). These gifts and graces are dispensed directly to individuals by the Spirit and in no way mediated by the Church or its sacraments.

The holy catholic Church,

This statement at the time of its adoption in the 3rd century assumed a single Christian ecclesiastical body under the oversight of the Bishop of Rome. The word "catholic" (lowercase) mean universal or worldwide. There was no holy catholic church or any other church as Christians commonly assume in the first century. This was the invention of the church fathers and it rapidly became unholy in its abandonment of Jewish roots and adoption of unbiblical doctrines and pagan practices. (For a history of the corruption of the Church by paganism read Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, 2nd American ed., Loizeaux Brothers, 1959.)

The reader of the apostolic writings should be cautious about reading modern church organization, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or the 57 varieties of Protestantism, into first century settings. In the apostolic writings the "church" (Grk. ekklēsia) is never treated as an institution, a building, a specific polity or even a specific size of group as the English word "church" can mean. In fact, Jacob, the brother of Yeshua, referred to the early congregation of disciples as a synagogue (Jas 2:2). Everywhere in the apostolic writings ekklēsia refers to either the entire Body of the Messiah, the sum total of the Jewish and Gentile believers in a particular city, or the disciples meeting together in someone's home. Most importantly, the term emphasizes a spiritual bond based on common trust in the God of Israel and his Messiah (Stern 54).

Yeshua mentions ekklēsia only twice (Matt 16:18; 18:17) and he most likely used a familiar Hebrew word (qahal) that means "congregation." Thus, when Yeshua said he would build his congregation (Matt 16:18) he was not thinking of an anti-Jewish-Supersessionist Gentile ecclesiastical organization that would exist 200 or 2,000 years later. In the apostolic writings the doctrine of the congregation of the Messiah is more about a living body than an organization governed by Roberts Rules of Order, the Pope or the King of England. The assembly of the faithful was to be known by its passion rather than its programs. As an organism each local congregation and sub-groups consists of disciples committed to living by the teachings of their Master and Messiah. Through the first community of Jewish believers the ministry of Yeshua was extended far beyond the bounds of the holy land and his mortal life on earth.

the communion of saints,

The historical meaning of this phrase in Christianity is expressed this way. "The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise" (BCP 862). This definition has a major flaw. We cannot be presently bound to the dead, but we will be reunited with the dead in the resurrection. There are no sacraments in heaven. We cannot pray for the dead, a pagan practice adopted by Christianity. In reality the word "communion" refers to the fellowship and harmony experienced by the community of faith.

The use of the word "saints" in this context needs clarification. The Greek term used in the Besekh is the plural of hagios, "holy ones" or "separated ones," referring to those set apart for God. It had a long usage in the history of Israel. The apostles never intended the label "holy ones" in any elitist sense. The practice of canonization in Christianity, beginning first among bishops of the patristic era and then by the Pope in early Medieval times, of the apostles and later Christian leaders acclaimed for their ministry and miracles is without biblical foundation. Yet, the word "saint" is so associated with this usage in Christianity, that it has lost all its Jewish significance in the English language. When a Christian reads "saints" in his Bible he naturally thinks "Christians," however it is defined in his denomination.

the forgiveness of sins,

The promise of God's forgiveness of sins was at the heart of the apostolic message (Matt 26:28; Luke 24:47; Acts 13:38). Forgiveness is made possible by the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; Heb 9:22). While not mentioned by the Creed forgiveness is contingent on confession and repentance (Luke 3:3; Acts 2:38; 1John 1:9). This promise was first made to Israel (Acts 5:31; 13:38) and then extended to all who believe (Acts 10:43; 26:18). Unfortunately, Christianity adopted the practice of mediating forgiveness through priests rather than a person seeking forgiveness directly from God. The Protestant Reformation recovered the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.

the resurrection of the body,

The blessed hope for the followers of Yeshua is to receive immortal and incorruptible bodies like that of Yeshua (Rom 8:29; 1Cor 15:42-54; 2Cor 5:1; Phil 3:20; 1 John 3:2). Beginning with Clement of Rome (A.D. 30-100; First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, 24:5) the church fathers interpreted resurrection to mean that the human body is like seed sown in fruitful soil that dissolves and then out of its dissolution God will one day raise it up again. In other words, God will reassemble the constituent elements of every physical body that has died and then perform the transformation for the person's spirit reoccupation (e.g., Athenagoras, A.D. 177; On the Resurrection of the Dead, Chap. 3).

John Wesley concurred, saying, “God can distinguish and keep unmixed from all other bodies the particular dust into which our several bodies are dissolved, and can gather it together and join it again, how far soever dispersed asunder.” (“On the Resurrection of the Dead,” Sermons on Several Occasions, 1872 ed.) This process might be called the restoration theory of resurrection. Even so, the restoration theory seems terribly inefficient of God. Why begin with "something" when God is perfectly capable of creating from nothing?

There is another possibility. God spoke the universe into existence out of nothing. The new birth testifies of a new creation, not merely a renewed creation (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (2Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1), not a renewed heaven and restored earth. Therefore, there must be a new physical body, not a renewed body. Why would God take that which was cursed to remake into an eternal glorious body? The alternative view of the resurrection may be deduced from Paul’s teaching on the subject. He likened the human body to a tent or house reserved in heaven (2Cor 5:1).

Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:50-51 that the perishable does not inherit the imperishable and his further explanation in 2 Corinthians 5:1 seems to imply that "putting on the imperishable" means that the disciples of Yeshua will be given new bodies rather than the old decayed body being restored and then overhauled with new ("immortal") parts. The analogy of the heavenly tent suggests that the "old" body is not rehabilitated; it is replaced, as Paul says, “Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2Cor 5:17 TLV).

and the life everlasting.

Another of the precious promises of Scripture that follows as a consequence of the one preceding is that not only is there life after death, but eternal life (John 3:15-16). Generally in Christian thought "life everlasting" or "eternal life" begins after death. In Scripture "eternal life" is the ultimate prize and the quality of life manifested in glory, honor and immortality. Both the Pharisees and Essenes embraced the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and resurrection (Josephus, Wars II, 8:11, 14). Reward and punishment would begin after death and the souls of the righteous would enter heavenly blessedness, while the souls of the ungodly are punished in Hadēs in the depths of the earth. This separation is clearly presented in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:22-26). Eternal life, however, is not just eternal existence, but sharing in the life of God. For that reason Yeshua taught that the abundant life, the best kind of life possible, begins now (Matt 10:39; John 6:35, 63; 10:10). It doesn't wait until after one dies.

Amen

The English word "amen" is derived from the Greek amēn ("ah-mayn"), which reflects a strong affirmation, meaning "so let it be" or "truly." Amēn transliterates the Heb. adverb ’amen (ah-mayn), which means “it is true, so be it, or may it become true.” The Heb. root aman means “to confirm or support.” The word amēn reflects an Hebraic conviction that God’s words were to be reverently received. In typical Jewish usage the singular amēn points to something previously said (Stern 26) and occurs often to end a benediction (Rom 9:5; 16:27; Phil 4:20; 1Tim 1:17; 6:16; Heb 13:21; 1Pet 5:11; Rev 1:7). To say "amen" at the end of this Creed affirms agreement with the content of the Creed.

The Apostles' Teaching

In the apostolic era there was no creedal approach to summarize commonly held beliefs. To understand the beliefs held by the apostles one only needs to read Peter's sermon at the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-36), Stephen's speech before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:2-53) and Paul's sermon at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41). However, because of the legalism of a splinter group of Pharisees (Acts 15:1, 5), it became necessary for the apostles to articulate the basic theology of the "Yeshua movement." The great apostles, Paul, Jacob (the brother of Yeshua) and Peter, and other leaders met together in Jerusalem to address the doctrinal threat. They agreed together that salvation is accomplished through the grace of the Lord Yeshua and that Gentiles did not need to become proselytes to receive salvation (Acts 15:11).

The apostles then affirmed the ethical code given to Noah (Acts 15:20) as basic for disciples of Yeshua with the expectation that Gentile disciples would learn further from Moses (Acts 15:21). Besides the decision of the apostles in Jerusalem their writings do not attempt to reduce their theology to a comprehensive statement of what Christians believe (or ought to believe), crafted so that the logical relation of all the parts becomes evidence of a system of doctrines. Yet, Paul did provide some statements that point to a summary of essential beliefs.

"For if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart it is believed for righteousness, and with the mouth it is confessed for salvation." (Rom 10:9-10; cf. Phil 2:9-11; 1 John 5:1)

"Now beyond question, great is the mystery of godliness: He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, trusted throughout the world, taken up in glory." (1 Tim 3:16)

"Therefore leaving the basic teaching of the Messiah, let us move on toward maturity—not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of trust in God, of teaching about immersions, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. Now this we will do, if God permits." (Heb 6:1-3)

If the apostles had penned a creed it might have read something like this:

Having repented of my sins, I confess my trust in the God of Israel,

Creator of the heavens and earth and all therein:

And in Yeshua the Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man, the only begotten of the Father, our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Jewish maiden Miriam of Nazareth,

suffered under the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate,

was nailed to an execution stake, died, and was buried;

the third day he was raised from the dead as the first fruits of all who believe.

He ascended into heaven,

and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

From there he shall return to Israel to deliver his people and to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the person and works of the Holy Spirit,

the Body of Messiah and Commonwealth of Israel,

the fellowship of all who believe in and follow Yeshua the Messiah,

the repentance and forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

the reign of Yeshua the Messiah over the Kingdom of God on earth,

and the life everlasting.

Having acknowledged these truths I joyfully commit to faithfully obeying my Lord and Savior.

Amen.

Blessed be the Name of our Lord!

Works Cited

BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. London: Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.

BCP: Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church. The Seabury Press, 1979,

DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology. 3 Vols., ed. Colin Brown, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.

Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.

GNT: The Greek New Testament, eds. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, & Allen Wiegren. American Bible Society, 1966.

ISBE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. James Orr. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939. Website HTML, 2011. Online.

Lane: William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974. (NICNT)

Metzger: Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. German Bible Society, 1994.

Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 2 Vols. Zondervan Pub. House, 1980.

Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper Brothers, 1889. Online.

Copyright © 2015 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.