Currently, I am teaching the Apostle’s Creed in my Adult Sunday School.
The 12-part creed, which is traditionally (though unlikely) credited to the 12 apostles around the time of Pentecost (circa 30 – assuming Jesus died in the Jewish month of Nisan, on the 14th, in the year 29) first appeared in history around the year 215.
A creed exists for a few reasons, here are three:
First, a creed is a summary of the faith. It is important not only to recount what we believe to non-believers without handing them the New Testament, but also to remind believers the details of their faith without memorizing the New Testament.
Second, a creed codifies certain softer (sometimes inferred) tenants of faith, and reaffirms them against contemporary heresies – the Apostle’s Creed, for example, is clearly a statement against the Gnostic's tampering of the Christian faith.
Third, the early church (and Lutheran's today) often used the Apostle’s Creed as a statement of faith proclaimed by believers at the time of baptism, but there are many creeds that have come about throughout the years. Some are better than others, but none are as well-accepted as the Apostle’s Creed.
Many of us know the Apostle's Creed since it has recently been popularized by Rich Mullins in his song (and Third Day's cool remake of) “The Creed” which are both on Christian radio all the time. Similarly, the early church would use chants and songs to deliver doctrine.
Many denominations, such as Baptists, are non-creedal. The Disciples of Christ, for example, have on their church walls “No Creed but the Bible” which typically is driven from the abuse by some leaders using creeds as a litmus test of salvation.
Let's look at the Creed:
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
As stated before, a creed can be to counter current changes in doctrine. The first two aspects (sometimes referred to as articles) of the Apostle’s Creed oppose Gnostic thought in two ways:
First, God made the earth. Gnostics believe a demiurge (sub-god), mistakenly created our universe, resulting in the evil of our physical world. God would only create perfect things, though as Jesus God teaches us salvation from our ignorance of special knowledge called logos (Greek word for ‘[the] Word’) or gnosis (Greek word for ‘knowledge’) - from which Gnostic is derived.
Second, Jesus is God’s son. Gnostics cannot believe in Jesus’ physical body because the physical world is inherently evil – while God is good.
The gospel of John, which is assumed to have been written around 69 AD, has lead-in statements of “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God” alluding to Gnosticism, using the Greek “logos” for Word, continues “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us” to clarify current Gnostic derivations in the Christian faith.
Although this is best combated by the well-known Nicene Creed from 325 (a product of Emperor Constantine) reading:
“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.”
All that language about “begotten, not made” is a result of a contemporary heresy from Arias (called Arianism), a presbyter from Libya who proposed in Alexandria (in 325 AD): "If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not."
Constantine’s 200 assembled bishops (or overseers) at Constantinople employed the Greek word “homo-ousios” to describe the Father and the Son as the “same substance”, codifying church doctrine and denouncing Arianism.
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
The third aspect of the Apostle’s Creed has to do with the birth of Christ and the virginity of Mary. The virginity of Mary is questioned by certain scholars, making this line in the creed particularly relevant today.
Mary’s virginity is best confirmed four ways:
First, the apostles Matthew and Luke (in their respective gospels) both explicitly say Mary was a virgin. Such as Matthew 1:18 “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.”
Second, Jesus’ entire life was the fulfillment of some 300 hundred Old Testament prophesies, including the famous prophesy in Isaiah 7:14 that prophesies Mary’s virginity: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin [the Hebrew word is ‘’almah’ meaning ‘veiled girl’ (or virgin) the Septuagint uses the Greek word ‘parthenos’ meaning ‘virgin’] will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
More information: (http://bibleprobe.com/365messianicprophecies.htm)
Third, Jesus himself confirms (such as in Luke 2: 47) throughout the Scripture the paternal relationship to God the Father. Although this is not explicitly confirming Mary’s virginity, it is collaborating with the story and prophesies that assert it.
Forth, the Qu’ran. I recognize that the Qu’ran is not scripture, but interestingly Mary is the only named woman in the book, referring to her as the virgin mother of Jesus. It’s nice to have outside texts contribute to the Bible’s claims.
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
… and that is as far as we have gotten in class. But I am excited to teach on the unpopular (meaning poorly known) doctrine of what Jesus did during the three days after his death.