What Is The Apostles’ Creed? -- By: Walter E. C. Wright
BSac 57:226 (April 1900) p. 377
What Is The Apostles’ Creed?
Olivet College, Mich.
Historically it is a growth. From the time when Peter said to Jesus near Cæsarea Philippi, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), four centuries went by before the form of the Creed now commonly used was completed. In the numerous expositions of the Creed by Augustine, there is no hint that he had ever heard the phrase, “He descended into hell.” We are in agreement with Augustine when we omit that phrase. Nor do our latest compilers of hymn-books hesitate to make verbal modifications, such as changing, “He sitteth on the right hand of God,” to “He sitteth at the right hand of God.” That is, the Creed is not regarded and treated as Scripture, but as a human summary of Scripture.
How rapidly the Creed grew we do not know. It is interesting to find much more of it in the preaching of the Apostles than the first brief word of Peter already quoted. In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:22–36), there is little more than the elaboration of these points: Christ’s supernatural life, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his exaltation, the gift through him of the Holy Ghost, the forgiveness of sins. Paul’s sermon to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:27–38) is confined to almost the same points, but adds the name of Pilate, and specifies the burial. In Acts 3:13–21 and 4:10–12 are variations of the theme by Peter in briefer form, but introducing almost all the same points. One of these is specially interesting in its brevity for naming Pilate as the Creed does. Peter before Cornelius (Acts 10:36–43) is still closer to the Creed. He elaborates almost nothing here, omits some points that were in the Pentecost sermon, but adds the judgeship of Christ, as well as adding a reference to Christ’s works of mercy, which has not been retained in the Creed.
In form the Creed is poetic, rather than scientific. It does not give a catalogue of Christ’s offices and works, but deals in suggestive single items. It puts a part for the whole. It is not a concentrated metaphysical statement of the gospel, but the simple statement of a few concrete facts which imply the whole gospel. This accounts for its acceptance by so many generations, its attraction for great but diverse minds like Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, its hold on the common people and the children. The exaltation and the humiliation of Christ are in the
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