Five Christian Creeds

Basic Theology, Podcast Episodes

The early church fought to defend the core doctrines of Christianity, and one of the ways they did this was through the creeds! These statements of faith have been handed down over centuries.

Learn how these creeds impact us and what we can learn from the early church.


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Welcome to Verity podcast. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer, and I am here to teach you how to know what you believe, to live it boldly, and to communicate it graciously to the world around you. I believe that women are ready to go deeper in their faith than ever before, and they don’t have to go to seminary to do it. I am so glad you’re here, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey because Every woman is a theologian. 

Hello, friends, and welcome back to Verity podcast. This week, we are talking about Christian creeds or statements of faith that have been passed down through history to Christians today. I apologize that this episode is going up a little bit late. I had hoped to do it a little bit earlier, AKA on time, but I appreciate your understanding with all of these children and homeschool starting and the Every Woman a Theologian writing retreat that I hosted last weekend. I am behind on pretty much everything, and I’m headed out on a trip to Colorado Springs tomorrow. So I’m trying to jam this in really quick on the day that it’s actually supposed to be coming out. 

So thank you for your understanding with sometimes the sporadic nature of the episodes that I release. But the goal is 4 episodes to come out every Wednesday on time. And one of these days, I will get it together enough to batch record a bunch of episodes. I did it for the 1st time at the beginning of this season, And I did, like, 4 at a time, and I have not been able to do that since. I think when I batch things, I get so excited that I batched it that I think, wow, I have 4 weeks off instead of doing it again so that I’m not sending these to Joseph last minute. So one of these days, Phylicia will get her beans together in the podcasting department, but for now, we’re gonna talk about Christian creeds.

Now if you did not grow up in a liturgical church environment and so when I say liturgical, I am looking at my Anglicans, my Catholics, my Orthodox, even some Methodists would count to me as liturgical church environments, Presbyterians. You may not be very acquainted with the creeds. Saying creeds or statements of faith that have been passed down through history from the early church is kind of a liturgical church tradition. Churches that are more evangelical, that don’t adhere to some of the traditions that we see among our liturgical brothers may not be as accustomed to hearing these creeds. Although most of us are at least a little bit familiar with them, whether it’s from being in a religious high school or reading them or simply studying the Bible because everything in these creeds is taken from scripture. 

So what is a creed? Let’s just start there. It is a distinctive mark of Christians. That’s what 1 writer put it that way. It’s called a creed because it’s an accurate summary of the apostle’s faith. So we’re looking at the early church. What did the church that Jesus founded believe about God, about Jesus, about the trinity, about salvation and about themselves. And a creed sums up those beliefs for us, And it was used in worship. It was used in teaching new converts. This is what you’re saying you’re building your life around. This is what you’re saying you will give your allegiance to. 

In a way, a creed is almost like a pledge of allegiance to Christ, If you want to think of it that way, in America, we have something called the pledge of allegiance. It’s basically a patriotic statement that says that I give my allegiance to my country that I love, and that allegiance is obviously a patriotic one, not just a spiritual one or shouldn’t be a spiritual one, but for a Christian, a creed is kind of like that. It’s kind of like a pledge of allegiance describing what we believe, and who we have built our life on, and that’s Jesus Christ. 

So we’re going to look at 5 Christian creeds. There are more than just these 5, but these are some of the heavy hitters, if you will and I am going to start with the most well known creed of all, the Apostle’s Creed. So this creed is believed to have been based on an earlier statement called the old Roman symbol, and it was then developed into what we now call the apostle’s creed, which was finalized, some say, in the 5th century, probably earlier than that, though. It’s believed to predate the Nicene Creed, which we’re going to look at in a second. And the Nicene Creed came along in 391 AD.

So the Apostle’s Creed would be before that, probably in the 200’s or 300’s, it was developed. The Nicene Creed was much more explicit about the trinity, and we will discuss why that is in a second. But the Apostle’s Creed was pretty general. It’s a unifying creed across almost all denominations. So The Apostle’s Creed is used in Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, and congregational churches as well as evangelical churches, but it is not used in the Orthodox church. So Greek and Russian Orthodox churches use the Nicene Creed. So some claim in the history of the Apostle’s Creed that each tenet, each statement of the creed was contributed by a specific apostle. This is very unlikely because of when it was probably compiled, but it was based on the teachings of the apostles as expressed in the new testament based on the gospels.

So there’s that. The Apostle’s Creed was probably used as a confession of faith prior to baptism or used in some kind of discipleship process before someone was baptized into the church. And if you listen the baptism episode where we looked at the 4 different views of baptism. You’ll know that baptism was often used as the pathway to church membership or seen as the 1st step in church membership. So this confession of the creed would then come before that baptism into church membership. It’s saying, I believe these things. Now you are baptized. You’re a member of the body of Christ.

The creed is also included in some martyrdom accounts. So, like, if you’ve ever read Fox’s book of martyrs, which maybe pick and choose the day you want to read Fox’s book of martyrs. It’s pretty heavy stuff. But in some of these martyrdom accounts, we see Christians affirming the creed as well. So I love the definition of Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton. And I’ve talked about this across multiple episodes where we discuss what is Orthodoxy, what is sound teaching? So this is different than the Greek and Russian Orthodox church. The term orthodoxy simply means what is the core of Christianity, what is the core of it that must be held to in order to call oneself a true believer and follower of Jesus Christ. GK Chesterton said the creeds and the historic conduct of those who held such a creed are what qualifies someone to be called a Christian.

They’re what qualifies someone to be within sound teaching. And I think that definition is excellent because it is affirmed throughout those first 1 to 300 years of the early church and should continue to be affirmed that way today. 

And so the Apostle’s Creed is our baseline for this. And because it’s short, I want to read it to you very quickly. 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 hell. The 3rd 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 and the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. 

Okay. Couple of questions that come up with the apostle’s creed. The big one is descended to hell. What does that mean? Was Jesus in hell for 3 days? Well, the original Apostles Creed said descended unto death. So there are 2 versions. They descend unto death. Jesus descended unto death or he descended unto hell. And Hell, in this case, with those who believe that he descended onto hell is he’s basically exercising his authority over Satan, over the enemy. This does not mean that Jesus was actually in hell suffering for 3 days. The word for the grave is Hades, which eventually can become confused with the concept of hell. But when we have these different words for hell and the grave, so Sheol, Hades, hell, place of eternal torment, Gehenna.

When we have these different words, it can be easy to confuse them and confuse what they’re referring to. And so the original Apostles Creed said he descended onto death or Hades, shale, the grave. And that came to mean Jesus was in hell. So my recommendation is to not read more into this than what scripture actually says. The early church was trying to encapsulate what Jesus did. He was victorious over death. He was victorious over Satan, over the enemy. This does not mean that Jesus was literally sitting in hell for 3 days because he turns to the thief on the cross, and says, today I will be with you in paradise.

So it’s more likely he descended unto death, onto the grave, then he descended onto Hell. Secondly, in the latter half of the creed, it says, I believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy Catholic church. Catholic means universal, so the Christian church of all times and all places. So I believe in the holy universal church, the body of believers around the world. 

After a 3 year hiatus, Verity conference is back, and it’s coming to Petoskey, Michigan November 4th and 5th. I am so thrilled to bring back Verity Conference after our short break of a few years for COVID. And this time, we are much bigger with 2 amazing speakers joining me to talk about apologetics and evangelism. How do we share our faith effectively in today’s culture in a way that is both gracious and truthful? You’ll hear from me, Jeremy Jenkins of all things all people, and Preselis Dominguez, who is going to share with us how to love other people while also speaking the truth. Jeremy specializes in world religions and cults, and he will be talking about evangelism in that context. I am so excited for this event. I hope you can join us. You can grab the remaining early bird tickets on my website,, if you click the conference tab. 

Next up, we have the Nicene Creed. So this is also called the Niceno Constantinopleitan Creed. Fancy. And this was developed during the council of Nicaea in 325 AD. This is the only ecumenical creed, meaning that it is accepted interdenominationally by Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches. That’s really impressive. Note that the Apostle’s Creed was accepted by everyone except the Orthodox. The Nicene Creed is accepted by everyone. 

There’s one little unique piece of history surrounding the Nicene Creed, and that is the addition of something called the Filioque clause. And what this refers to is a little phrase of a few words talking about the Holy Spirit proceeding from the father and the son. Most churches, including the Roman Catholic church, accept the idea that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the father and the son. He comes from the father and the son while still being equal with them. But the Eastern Orthodox church did not agree with this clause and agrees instead with the idea of the Holy Spirit proceeding only from the father. So that’s an interesting little difference between the rest of Christianity and the Eastern Orthodox view. 

So I wanted to also read this creed to you so you get an idea of where it differs from the apostle’s creed. I believe in 1 God, The father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in 1 lord Jesus Christ, The only begotten son of God, born of the father before all ages. God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the father. Through him, all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, and by the holy spirit was incarnate of the virgin Mary and became man. For our sake, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered death and was buried and rose again on the 3rd day in accordance with the scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the lord, the giver of life who proceeds from the father, and in parenthesis, the son, who with the father and the son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in 1 holy catholic an apostolic church. I confess 1 baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

So as you can see here, this builds on the Apostle’s Creed with more detail. We have a lot more regarding the life of Jesus, a lot more regarding the details of how the trinity functions, and there’s a big reason for this. In the 300 and prior, but specifically the 300 is when the trinity was under incessant attack from the Aryan heresy, which said that Jesus was not actually equal with God or a god, but he was a created being of God. So God created Jesus. He’s like a secondary demigod kind of character. And you’ll note that in the Nicene Creed, they specifically say that Jesus was true God from true God begotten not made. So this was put in there on purpose to confront that Aryan heresy. And that was one of the main reasons for this gathering of bishops at the council that made this creed and united the church around it.

So the 3rd creed we’re going to look at is actually very similar to the Nicene Creed. This was also written to defend against the Aryan heresy, and this is called the Athanasian Creed. So Athanasius was an African church father. He spent most of his life defending the trinity, and he was at the council of Nicaea. Now this creed differs from the Nicene and its specific focus on the trinity and on the nature of Jesus. Each statement in it countered the claims of Arius, the heretic, that Jesus was created by God. For instance, It says that we worship 1 God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. It also says that God is uncreated, immeasurable, and eternal. It’s a really long creed. Otherwise, I would read it to you. It’s worth looking up. I will try to put a link to it in the show notes when they go up on the blog, Under Blog is where all of our show notes go, and you can search them by the episode title. That’s where they are listed, and I will put a link to this creed in there if you would like to read it. It’s a really great read because you get to see exactly how Athanasius was countering the heresy of his day. 

The 4th creed we want to look at is actually not a creed at all. I know. Sneaky. This is called the Chalcedonian definition. And it’s called a definition because it’s a commentary on the creeds, a commentary on the doctrines that were developed at the council of Chalcedon in October of 451 AD. So now we’ve jumped ahead about a 100 years, And this definition wouldn’t be used in a liturgy or in a service like the other 2. This instead is a commentary detailing kind of, what scholars were thinking about the council, about these doctrines, and would have been used for teachers and leaders and bishops to refer to when they were discipling people, when they were using the creeds in their liturgy. 

So it focuses on Jesus’ dual nature. Again, we’re looking at trinitarian doctrines here. Have you noticed how important this was to the early church? Very important. So it focuses on Jesus’ dual nature, God and man as is described in the second half of the Athanasian creed. And it’s also refuting 2 newish heresies. Now We all know that heresy is never fully new. It’s really just a repackaged version of something that came earlier, and that’s kind of the case here. So The first heresy that’s being refuted at Chalcedon in this definition is Nestorianism.

Nestorius was, I believe, a monk who taught that Jesus was a man with a special power or connection to God. So he wasn’t actually God. He just had this special power that connected him to God. And then the 2nd heresy, and this one’s a mouthful, is Eutychianism, and I’m probably mispronouncing that. But the name of the guy who came up with it is Eutychus, And he was also a monk. He taught that Jesus’ nature, God and man, were so blended together that it actually was just 1 divine nature. It wasn’t human and divine. It was just so completely blended that he wasn’t human. He was divine. 

So one is saying Nestorianism is saying that Jesus is just a man, and then Uticus or Uticanism is saying that Jesus is fully God, but not man at all. Okay? And the difference between these two is profound. If you’ve ever wondered why the trinity mattered, why does it matter that Jesus is both God and man, and why does it matter that we have God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and their natures are in essence of one and yet not blended altogether, it all revolves around our salvation. Because if Jesus is fully God and not man, he could not be an adequate substitute for humanity. The reason he came as a man was to stand in our place, to act as a ransom for humanity. The second Adam as Paul puts it. 

But if he is if he is fully man and not God, then he does not have the power to defeat death. Right? So there’s consequences to either side. He can’t defeat death if he’s purely man and not God, then he can’t be our substitute if he’s fully god and not man. So the focus of this definition is on the nature of Jesus, on the trinity because the Aryans were teaching that Jesus and the spirit were not equal parts and persons of the trinity. And then all of this discussion about Jesus’ nature and all of that that seems so heady and out there and philosophical trickles down to our everyday security in our salvation. 

If Jesus was not who he claimed to be, if he was not fully man and fully God, He was not born of a virgin, a perfectly pure substitute for us who had the power to overcome death. We have no hope. And it’s like what Paul said about the resurrection when he said if we’re wrong about the resurrection, 1st Corinthians 15, Our faith is useless, and we are liars. And so there’s a lot riding on this, and the early church knew that and fought for the trinity, Fought for Jesus’ nature over those first 500 years.

So this creed, the Chalcedonian definition, again, it’s not a creed. It’s more of a statement. Clarify the Christian beliefs further on the nature of Christ so people could make an educated decision about his claims. And it’s written to teachers. It’s written to leaders, and I just love that. It’s if you are a ministry leader and you’re listening to this, go look up the Chalcedonian definition and read it through because It was written for you. 

Alright. We’re going to look at our last creed, which, again, isn’t really a creed. It’s really long. I love it. It is one of my favorite documents from the early church to read fascinating stuff, and this is called the Didache. So the other word for the Didache is the teaching of the 12 Apostles. And this document outlined the beliefs of early Christians, and also the fundamental Christian practices in the early church. So sacraments, gatherings, baptism, fasting. It also did a lot of teaching on true and false prophets and integrity in leadership. Isn’t that appropriate for today? It was most likely used to educate new converts prior to baptism and membership in the church.

And I wanted to read a little bit from this to you because I was reading it over the weekend, and I thought this is amazing. This is so helpful to understand what were the expectations of Christians in the early church. And what it does is it really goes through the commandments of God. Specifically, I’m looking at section 2. It talks about the 2nd commandment, and the first section talks about the 1st commandment. And It goes through how you are to live. So I wanna look at the second section of the Didache point 2. It says, thou shall not do murder. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not commit sodomy. Thou shall not commit fornication. Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not use magic. Thou shalt not use filters. Thou shalt not procure abortion nor commit infanticide. You shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods. Okay. This was written in the 1st few centuries of the church. This was written in Roman culture when all of these things that I just mentioned We’re completely acceptable and normalized. Completely acceptable and normalized. 

And as our culture, Americans specifically, changes and moves to endorsing these very things, embracing them, celebrating them. How appropriate that we return back to the teaching of the early church and the holiness that was expected of Christians. But it goes on to say this too. You shall not be double minded or double tongued for it to be double tongued is the snare of death. Your speech shall not be false or vain, but completed in action. You should not be covetous or extortionate nor a hypocrite, malignant, proud, nor should you make any evil plan against your neighbor. You shall hate no man, but some thou shalt reprove, and for some, shalt thou pray, and some, thou shalt love more than thine own life.

Oh, it’s just beautiful. And so convicting because none of us can stand in light of this. Right? We need the holy spirit to walk in us and to walk with us and sanctify us into the image of Christ. And that is exactly what he was doing in those first few 100 years of the church. It goes on to the next sections all the way down to section 16 where it talks about keeping your eyes open for the end of days. And after it’s talked about leaders and how leaders should walk in integrity and how they should lead with compassion and with truth, it tells us that we are to keep an eye out, keep our lamps lit for we do not know in what hour our lord will come. And so there they are looking forward to that day in 200 or 300 or whenever this was developed. And here we are still doing the work of the gospel as we await for Christ to return and to reconcile all things.

And I wanted to read what they said in this section because I think that it will be, encouraging to some of you. For as lawlessness increaseth, they shall hate one another and persecute and betray, and then shall appear the deceiver of the world as a son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be given over into his hands, and he shall commit iniquities, which have never been since the world began. Then shall the creation of mankind come to the fiery trial, and many shall be offended and be lost, but they who endure in their faith shall be saved. And then shall appear the signs of the truth. First, the sign spread out in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet, and thirdly, the resurrection of the dead. I think it’s so encouraging to read through what the hope of the early church was, how they dedicated themselves to defending the truth of scripture in a society that normalized unholiness, that normalized doing whatever you want, however you want. In a society where their religion their religion of worshiping themselves and any god they made with their hands was integrated into their government. And if you did not worship the way you were supposed to worship, you were called into question as a citizen of Rome.

Does that sound familiar? We have to keep in mind the faithfulness of the early church and the truths that they held to. And remember, like GK Chesterton said that sound teaching Orthodox Christianity is holding to the creeds and the historic conduct of those who believed them. I hope this is an encouragement to you, and I hope that you’re inspired to go and read these creeds for yourself, especially If you did not grow up saying them in your church environment, go read them. Read the words that have been said and read for 1000 of years because this is part of your family legacy. 

Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode a Verity podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, would you take the time to leave us a review? It helps so many other women and around the world find out about Verity and about Every Woman a Theologian as a ministry and a shop. We appreciate you, and I hope you’ll be back next week as we continue to go deeper into god’s word and the heart of Jesus Christ.


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