The Apostles' Creed vs. The Heresies of the Day

A Creed generally emphasizes the beliefs opposing those errors that the compilers of the creed think most dangerous at the time. The Apostles' Creed, drawn up in the first or second century, emphasizes the true Humanity, including the material body, of Jesus, since that is the point that the heretics of the time (Gnostics, Docetists and Marcionites) denied.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
 the Creator of heaven and earth,

Gnostics held that creation (i.e. the whole physical universe) was evil and that God did not make it, since God was a spirit and would therefore have nothing to do with material things. Marcion believed that a different God of the Old Testament had created the world. The creed clearly points to the one God's special creation as testified to throughout all of Scriptures; and not only in Genesis.

and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
 born of the Virgin Mary,

Gnostics and Docetists believed that God had never taken a human nature or a human body. Some tried to divide Christ [the divine] and Jesus [the man], claiming that Christ used Jesus or spoke through him. These even went so far as to say that Jesus did not receive Christ until the Holy Spirit descended upon him at his baptism and that this Spirit left him before the crucifixion.

Others claimed there was never a physical man Jesus at all, but only an appearance of a man. The creed clearly affirms that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, specifically denying the Gnostic position that the Spirit had nothing to do with Jesus until his Baptism. Additionally the creed states that He was born, showing that He had a real physical body, not just an appearance, and further that He was born of a virgin noting that his life was special from the very beginning and not just from His baptism on.

 suffered under Pontius Pilate,
 was crucified, died, and was buried.

The Docetists believed that Jesus only seemed to live and suffer and die. The Creed points out that Jesus suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried at a real time and place in history. [Remember that dates were related to rulers in Biblical times, as our uniform calendar did not exist yet.]

He descended into hell.

Sometimes this is translated as "descended to the dead." The separation of body and soul in the person of Jesus at his crucifixion is the basic definition of physical death as presented in Scripture. The creed mentions his burial which explains the disposition of his body, then it mentions his descent into "hell". A reasonable explanation is that this intends to show that his real human soul was truly separated from his body in a real human death. While the Greeks used Hades to represent the abode of the soul after death, Jews used the term Sheol as in Psa 49:14: "Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol, Death shall be their shepherd, straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home."

In other words, Sheol or Hades was a poetic way to say, “they died and were buried.” It is in this sense that the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed is used, using the ambiguous word “hell” in English which implies the "place of the damned", when the more precise idea of Hades actually lies behind the statement. “He descended into hell” then becomes nothing more than a statement that Jesus died and was placed in the tomb, the grave. In Hebrew concepts, they would say he descended into Sheol, i.e., was lowered into the grave, or that he slept with the fathers, i.e., was placed in a family tomb. It is in that context that the affirmation of the resurrection is so powerful.

[See ]

The third day He arose again from the dead.

The creed emphasizes a bodily [physical] resurrection from the dead, which again refutes any who said Jesus never really died, as well as any who claim that He stayed dead in the normal manner of mankind.

He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

While some claimed Jesus to have only a fleeting contact with Christ, the Creed testifies clearly to the bodily resurrected person of Jesus, the Christ, having ascended into Heaven with a continued importance and role.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

In the Gnostic-Christian version of creation of the world the Spirit of God is referred to as the Wisdom of God or Sophia (the Greek word for wisdom) who is also a feminine creative force. They also held that Jesus came from God and the Spirit to form the Trinity.

the holy catholic church,

Gnostics believed that the deep or important teachings of God where only for a select few [namely them]. This meant that "common" people could not find or understand the truth apart from special people who could show it [or reveal it] to them. The Creed reflected the teachings of Scripture that God, by His Spirit, imparts His gospel to everyone. [With this also comes the belief that the gospel was/is to be preached to the entire world]. The word "catholic," that is used here, is merely an old word meaning "universal". The Creed's claim to the church being universal directly assaulted the Gnostic belief that these teachings were for a select few.

the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,

Gnostics believed that man only needed more enlightenment or wisdom. To them, sin was not a problem, only ignorance. Of course, this denied any need for forgiveness. Two differing ways of living out these false beliefs came about. One believed that the body was the real problem, leading these individuals into a monastic type life, working to deny all pleasures to the body. The other believed that the body was completely separate from the soul, so you could do anything you wanted in the body [living only for pleasure] and it made no difference on the soul. To both of these groups, the Creed clearly pointed to the need of forgiveness from sin and the fellowship of believers [with each other and God].

the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.


Again, Gnostics held that the physical world was the real problem. If one could merely be free of the physical realm, everything would be all right. For this reason, Gnostics didn't want [or believe in] a resurrection. The Creed closes with the hope of the church, that the One who defeated death will raise us bodily, and make us new, to experience life forever untainted again by sin and death.