We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,In Acts 2:36, Peter offers the basis for the original earliest Christian statement of faith: Jesus is Lord. This meant Jesus is in charge. The much revered verse at John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son ...”) offers one of many possible scriptural bases, for these lines. Importantly also, as we have noted before, Jesus is given the title Christ, from Kristos, the Greek word for Messiah or savior.
the only Son of God,
Then the Creed turns to belief in the divinity of Jesus, which is distinct and central to Christianity. In the pagan Roman world, Emperor Augustus had been regarded as an adoptive son of God (divus filius) and part of the demand Romans made of Christians when captured was that they worship Caesar, the emperor, as divine—which is why they refused to do so. In the creed, the Church wanted to make clear that Jesus’ divine sonship was not adoptive, but actual and unique.
eternally begotten of the Father,These lines attempt to answer several heresies. Taken together they affirm that Jesus is God in every possible way.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Arius (250–336), a presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt, originated the idea that Christ, Son of God, did not always exist, but was created by and was distinct from God the Father. Arianism anticipated Nestorianism’s separation of Christ’s human and divine natures and Docetism’s later claim that Jesus was only divine and, as we might say, just pretending to be human.
The Christian belief is that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ or Messiah, is the living Son of God who spent roughly three decades among us as completely human.
Through him all things were made.These lines amplify the message. The introduction to the gospel of John (1:1-18) provides a poetic account of the pre-existence of Christ (“In the beginning was the Word ...”) and his coming to live among us.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
The gospel of Luke is the most explicit in describing the announcement of the incarnation (or “enfleshment,” if you will) of Jesus in his mother Myriam (Mary), a young unmarried woman (Luke 1:26-38). Mary tells the angel who brings this announcement that she is a virgin (“How will this be, since I do not know a man?”).
Luke’s and the Creed’s point in laying out the virginity of Mary was to respond to a variety of rabbinical and pagan polemics that called the mother of Jesus either a “whore” or a “loose woman”—certainly one loose enough not to know the father of her child. According to Origen of Alexandria, the Greek philosopher Celsus had argued that Jesus was conceived by a Roman soldier, a story scholars have unanimously rejected it as a fanciful invention.
Here again, the Church is crossing out false claims.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;The crucifixion is the one fact about the life of Jesus that is most widely accepted by believers and nonbelievers alike. It is also part of all four canonical gospel stories. The Church is nailing belief to history.
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose againThe resurrection and ascension, with which we dealt in the beginning of the post The Way Christians Were, is the notable set of developments that made Jesus famous. Absent these, he would have been just one of many young men in robes who preached this or that in the religious bazaar that was 1st century Palestine. The Christian faith requires assent to the claim that he rose and is with God the Father.
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
This is the core “good news” that ran like wild fire across the Roman Empire. An ordinary woodworker had been executed (no surprise). Then, on the third day he rose from the dead. It was the ultimate up-ending of the human order.
A humble one was vilified and executed, but in the end he defied his executors. As in the speech of Peter in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts: this man you dismissed turned out to be the Lord of all. Entire subjugated populations laboring under the Mafia-like protection system of Roman taxes suddenly saw a Power above Rome.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,The return of Jesus Christ is referred to repeatedly in the gospels and in a full literary technicolor of sorts in the book of Revelation. It was the hope that kept the Christians going in the dark era of persecution; of course, it also involved a Final Judgment.
and his kingdom will have no end.
In his own version of that judgment, Jesus said he would reward those who fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger gave clothes to those who lacked them, cared for the sick and visited prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46).