Have you ever recited a creed in a church service? What did you think of participating in a corporate confession of that sort? Did it give you a sense of continuity with the past, a historical rootedness? Or did including human tradition in the church’s worship bother you? Let’s learn more about some of these early ecumenical creeds as examples of how the church expressed the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

The material for this article comes from the NKJV Ancient-Modern Bible by Thomas Nelson. You can learn more about this resource by visiting our store or this blog post.

What are the Creeds of the Faith?

The creeds of the Church are a small collection of the creeds and statements that have long expressed Christian orthodoxy. These words are the hard-won result of the church’s insistence on taking Scripture seriously. As Christians of the first few centuries wrestled with the Bible’s challenging teachings, they were compelled to clarify key doctrines in order to help establish and protect the community of faith.

What Role Do Creeds Have in the Faith?

There are differences of opinion about the degree to which theological formulations of later times, like the creeds of the early church and the confessions of the Reformation era, are consonant with apostolic teaching. But those who accept such statements of faith invariably claim that they represent the mind of the apostles, which is found in the teaching of the New Testament. In theory, they usually also agree that if a particular doctrine they uphold is not consonant with biblical teaching, it should be dropped, or at least made optional, but it must be said that this often remains more theoretical than actual in practice.

For example, good Christological doctrine was not easily won. By the second and third centuries, a variety of views, later deemed unorthodox, had gained prominence. Arius held that Christ must have been the preeminent creature, but a creature nonetheless, created at some point in time and subordinate to the Father. The Ebionites, though believing Jesus was the foretold Messiah with a special anointing by the Holy Spirit, saw Him as a mere mortal. Other sects with Gnostic leanings denied Jesus’ humanity. One such group, the Docetists believed that a divine being couldn’t possibly have suffered the degradation of a human body and therefore claimed that Jesus must have been a purely spiritual being who only seemed to have a physical body.

As debates proliferated, the church quickly realized that questions of Christ’s identity had to be resolved—for matters of salvation and basic Christian practice were on the line. In a series of ecumenical councils, the church came together, not so much to “solve” the mystery of Christ’s identity as to establish parameters for speaking about Christ while leaving enough room to embrace everything that Scripture affirmed about Him.

The Apostles’ Creed

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 into hell.

The third day He rose again from the dead.

He ascended into 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 Nicene Creed


At the First Council of Nicea (325), the church recognized Christ as homoousios (of the same substance/being) as the Father, while maintaining the distinction of Persons in the Godhead. Athanasius championed this notion against Arius’s contention that the Son was merely of a similar substance as the Father: homoiousios. A single vowel, but what a world of difference it made. The council agreed that the Father is God, and the Son is God; but the Father is not the Son. As God, Jesus is eternal and uncreated, but He is not the same Person as the Father. This way of expressing God’s “threeness” and “oneness”—one divine Being, three eternal Persons—involved stretching some philosophical terms and notions in new directions, but it created room to take seriously the full testimony of Scripture regarding Jesus Christ.

The Creed

We believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

begotten from the Father before all ages,

God from God,

Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made;

of the same essence as the Father.

Through Him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

He came down from heaven;

He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

and was made human.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;

He suffered and was buried.

The third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life.

He proceeds from the Father and the Son,

and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.

He spoke through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,

and affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come. Amen.

The Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith


Twenty years after the Council of Ephesus, the bishops of the church reconvened for the Council of Chalcedon (451). Here the church agreed upon the “Chalcedonian Definition,” establishing terms and parameters that have continued to guide and characterize orthodox Christology to this day. Christ is one Person, the eternal Logos, and He is of the same substance as the Father and the Spirit. This Person, being God, has always had a divine nature. But with the Incarnation, He “assumed” (or took up) a human nature. These two natures are united in the Person of Christ, “without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation.”

The Definition

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, but without sin;

begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;

the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

United in a Common Faith

Historical developments and theological controversies have produced many divisions among Christians, but all agree that it is not possible to be an isolated believer. Those who have a spiritual experience of Christ belong to a wider fellowship that includes others, however remote or different they may be. As members of the body of Christ on earth, Christians are called to associate with them as far as they can.

There are still some polemicists who insist that their particular denomination is the church in a way that others are not, but inter-church rivalries have become less important in recent years, not least because of increasing pressure from a secularized world that is opposed to Christianity of any kind. Practical considerations may determine which group of believers a person ultimately chooses to join, but whatever the denominational label, they become members of the worldwide community in which the Spirit of Christ is at work. He is the true founder and sustainer of the church, and it is He who will protect and preserve it against all the vicissitudes it must face as it awaits the final consummation in glory at the end of time.

Keep Reading the NKJV Ancient-Modern Bible with Voices from the Past

The NKJV Ancient-Modern Bible includes comments on the Scriptures and the faith from over fifty voices from the past. Biographies shed light on these authors and their contributions to the church. Visit our store today and keep listening to those who have gone before us!

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