Many Evangelical Christians—even those who aren't from a high church or liturgical congregation—will sometimes recite the so-called Apostles' Creed on a Sunday morning. Mainline Protestants and Catholics do so even more frequently. When we Christians utter these words together, we assume we are declaring timeless truths from the earliest generation of our faith. We know, of course, that the creed isn't recorded in the Bible. Yet it must be old. But how old is it, exactly? Does it actually come from the age of the apostles?
Ancient legend certainly makes this claim. According to the church historian Rufinus of Aquileia, writing around a.d. 400, the Christian forefathers had handed down the tradition that the twelve apostles, when they were about to go their separate ways after receiving the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room, decided to formulate a summary of the apostolic preaching. Rufinus tells us:
Being all therefore met together, and being filled with the Holy Ghost, they composed, as we have said, this brief formulary of their future preaching, each contributing his [own] sentence to one common summary: and they ordained that the rule thus framed should be given to those who believe. To this formulary, for many and most sufficient reasons, they gave the name of Symbol.
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Bryan Litfin was Professor of Theology at Moody Bible Institute for sixteen years, and now works as an acquisition editor at Moody Publishers. He has a Ph.D. in ancient Christianity from the University of Virginia. His most recent book is After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles (Moody Publishers, 2015). Bryan and his wife Carolyn live in Wheaton, Illinois.
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