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Early Christian Beliefs


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#1 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 07:58 AM

The earliest Creedal formula could be attributed to Ignatius (Epistle to the Trallians), but for the fact that this is considered one of the spurious epistles wrongly attributed to him, and written later.
Let's examine instead the earliest 'statements of faith' we can find in the post-apostolic writings. We'll deal with Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Hippolytus, all of the second century.

The statement of faith by Irenaeus:

Chapter X.-Unity of the Faith of the Church Throughout the Whole World.

1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith:

in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them;

and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation;

and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God,

and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, {the suffering of Christ}

and the resurrection from the dead,

and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord,

and His manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father "to gather all things in one,"

and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race,

in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, "every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess" to Him,

and that He should execute just judgment towards all;

that He may send "spiritual wickednesses," and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning, and others from their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

Irenaeus, 'Adversus Haeres', book 1, chapter 10, 185 AD.



#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 07:58 AM

The statement of faith by Tertullian:

The rule of faith, indeed, is altogether one, alone immoveable and irreformable; the rule, to wit,

of believing in one only God omnipotent, the Creator of the universe,

and His Son Jesus Christ,

born of the Virgin Mary,

crucified under Pontius Pilate,

raised again the third day from the dead,

received in the heavens, sitting now at the right (hand) of the Father,

destined to come

to judge quick and dead

through the resurrection of the flesh as well.

Tertullian, 'De Virginibus Velandis', chapter 1, 190 AD.



#3 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 07:58 AM

The statement of faith by Hippolytus:

12When each of them to be baptized has gone down into the water, the one baptizing shall lay hands on each of them, asking,

"Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?"

13And the one being baptized shall answer, "I believe." 14He shall then baptize each of them once, laying his hand upon each of their heads.

15Then he shall ask, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God,

who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died,

and rose on the third day living from the dead,

and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father,

the one coming

to judge the living and the dead?"

16When each has answered, "I believe," he shall baptize a second time.

17Then he shall ask, "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit

and the holy ecclesia

and the resurrection of the flesh?"

18Then each being baptized shall answer, "I believe." And thus let him baptize the third time.

Hippolytus, 'Apostolic Tradition', chapter 21, sections 12-17, 215 AD.



#4 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 07:58 AM

In each creed, I have deliberately laid out each element so that the similarities become obvious.

Let's review the key elements of each statement:

Key Creedal Element: There Is One God, the Father Almighty

Irenaeus: in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them;

Tertullian: in one only God omnipotent, the Creator of the universe,

Hippolytus: "Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?"

Edited by Fortigurn, 22 July 2003 - 07:59 AM.


#5 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 07:59 AM

Key Creedal Element: Jesus Christ Is the Son of God

Irenaeus: and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God,

Tertullian: and His Son Jesus Christ,

Hippolytus: 15Then he shall ask, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God,

#6 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 07:59 AM

Key Creedal Element: Jesus Christ Was Born of Mary

Irenaeus: and the birth from a virgin,

Tertullian: born of the Virgin Mary,

Hippolytus: {Do you believe in Jesus Christ} ...who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

#7 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:00 AM

Key Creedal Element: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Irenaeus: and the resurrection from the dead,

Tertullian: raised again the third day from the dead,

Hippolytus: and rose on the third day living from the dead,

#8 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:00 AM

Key Creedal Element: The Exaltation of Jesus Christ

Irenaeus: and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord,

Tertullian: received in the heavens, sitting now at the right of the Father,

Hippolytus: and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father,

#9 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:00 AM

Key Creedal Element: The Return of Jesus Christ

Irenaeus: and His manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father "to gather all things in one,"

Tertullian: destined to come

Hippolytus: the one coming

#10 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:00 AM

Key Creedal Element: The Future Judgment by Jesus Christ

Irenaeus: and that He should execute just judgment towards all;

Tertullian: to judge quick and dead

Hippolytus: to judge the living and the dead?"

#11 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:00 AM

Key Creedal Element: The Future Resurection

Irenaeus: and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race,

Tertullian: through the resurrection of the flesh as well.

Hippolytus: {Do you believe in} ...the resurrection of the flesh?"

#12 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:00 AM

To this witness we can add the statement known as 'The Profession of the Elders at Smyrna', which has this form:

We also know in truth one God,

we know Christ, we know the Son,

suffering as he suffered,

dying as he died,

and risen on the third day,

and abiding at the right hand of the Father,

and coming

to judge

the living and the dead.

And in saying this we say what has been handed down to us.'

The Profession of the Elders at Smyrna', 180 AD.


The agreement with the earlier statements is obvious.

#13 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:01 AM

The slight variations aside, let's put together every agreed on creedal element:

1) There is One God, the Father Almighty.

2) Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

3) Jesus Christ was born of the virgin mary

4) Belief in the Holy Spirit.

5) The crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

6) The resurrection of Jesus Christ.

7) The exaltation of Jesus Christ.

8) The return of Jesus Christ.

9) The future judgment by Jesus Christ.

10) The future resurection.

We have there a very strong level of agreement. Now let's move on.

#14 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:01 AM

The first general, external creedal statement (that is, a Christian confessional statement of faith which is not contained in an individual's letter, as these are, but is a general statement to which Christians are to confess), is referred to as 'The Apostles' Creed'. Various forms of this faith statement exist, the earliest of which is in Greek, recorded by Marcellus of Ancyra (341 AD), the next form given in Latin by Rufinus of Aquileia (390 AD), and later forms thereafter.

Marcellus gives us the following form, in Greek:

I believe in God the Father Almighty.

And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord,

who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary;

crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried;

the third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

and sitteth at the right hand of the Father,

from thence He shall come

to judge

the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Spirit;

the holy ecclesia;

the forgiveness of sins;

the resurrection of the body;

the life everlasting.

Marcellus of Ancyra, 341 AD.


Again, the agreement with the ealier creedal statements is manifest. This, however, is a general Christian statement of faith, which Marcellus records as having preceded him, and as being confessed by Christians as a statement of their faith. It is not simply a creation of Marcellus - this is the communal Christian statement of faith known to him.

#15 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:01 AM

Rufinus gives us the following form, in Latin:

I believe in God the Father Almighty.

And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord,

who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary;

crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried;

the third day He rose from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

and sitteth at the right hand of the Father,

from thence He shall come

to judge

the quick and the dead.

And in the Holy Spirit;

the holy ecclesia;

the forgiveness of sins;

the resurrection of the body.

Rufinus of Aquileia, 390 AD


As you can see, it is identical to that of Marcellus, with the exception of the last clause. It is therefore apparent that there existed from an early date a creedal statement, a general Chrisian statement of faith, which was confessed by those who held to the Christian faith. Both Marcellus and Rufinus attest that they are quoting an earlier document, known both to them and to Christians everywhere, and it is clear that this creedal statement recorded by them has very early roots.

#16 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:01 AM

I quote here from the International Standard Encyclopaedia of the Bible, which provides a good commentary on the issue:

The legend was that the creed took shape at the dictation of the Twelve Apostles, each of whom contributed a special article. Thus, Peter, it was alleged, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, commenced, "I believe in God the Father Almighty"; Andrew (or according to others, John) continued, "And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord"; James the elder went on, "Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost," etc.

This legend is not older than the 5th or 6th centuries, and is absurd on the face of it.

1. Baptismal Confession:

The real origin of the creed has now been traced with great exactness. The original germ of it is to be sought for in the baptismal confession made by converts in the reception of that rite.  The primitive confession may have contained no more than "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God," but we have evidence within the New Testament itself that it soon became enlarged.

Paul speaks of the "form of teaching" delivered to converts (Romans 6:17), and reminds Timothy of "the good (beautiful) confession" he had made in sight of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12). Similar language is used of Christ's confession before Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13).
We may perhaps conjecture from the epistles that Timothy's confession contained references to God as the author of life, to Jesus Christ and His descent from David, to His witness before Pontius Pilate, to His being raised from the dead, to His coming again to judge the quick and the dead (1 Timothy 6:13; 2 Timothy 2:8; 4:1).

Early Christian writers, as Ignatius (110 AD), and Aristides the apologist (circa 125 AD), show traces of other clauses.

2. "Rule of Faith":

In any case, the fact is certain that before the middle of the 2nd century the confession at baptism had crystallized into tolerably settled shape in all the greater churches.  We have accounts given us of its contents (besides the Old Roman Form) in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Origen, etc.; and they show substantial unity with a certain freedom of form in expression.

But the form in the Roman church came gradually to be the recognized type. After the middle of the century, the confession rose to new importance as the result of the Gnostic controversies, and assumed more of the character of a formal creed.

It came to be known as the "Rule of Truth," or "Rule of Faith," and was employed to check the license of interpretation of Scripture of these fantastic heretical speculators. The creed had originated independently of Scripture--in the early oral teaching and preaching of the apostles; hence its value as a witness to the common faith. But it was not used to supersede Scripture; it was held to corroborate Scripture, where men by their allegorical and other perversions sought to wrest Scripture from its real sense. It was employed as a check on those who sought to allegorize away the Christian faith.

III. History of the Creed.

1. The Roman Creed:

The Old Roman Form of the creed was, as said above, certainly in use by the middle of the 2nd century, in Rome; probably a considerable time before. We have it in both its Greek and Latin forms (the Greek being probably the original). The Latin form is given by Rufinus about 390 AD who compares it with the creed of his own church of Aquileia--a very old church.

The Greek form is preserved by Marcellus, of Ancyra,in the 4th century. The old shorter form of the creed long maintained itself. We find it in England, e.g. up to nearly the time of the Norman Conquest (in 8th or 9th century manuscripts in British Museum).

International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, article by James Orr, 'Apostles' Creed, The', 1915.



#17 Fortigurn

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Posted 22 July 2003 - 08:01 AM

So when someone asked me:

Do you have any information (or can you point me in the direction of some) concerning early church doctrine or beliefs of groups/individuals in the first few centuries AD that would be in agreement with Christadelphian teaching.


I answered:

1) The creedal confession recorded by Irenaeus (180 AD).

2) The creedal confession recorded by the 'elders of Smyrna' (180 AD).

3) The creedal confession recorded by Tertullian (190 AD).

4) The creedal confession recorded by Hippolytus (215 AD).

5) The creedal confession recorded by Marcellus (341 AD).

6) The creedal confession recorded by Rufinus (390 AD).

This confession, it is belived by many scholars, dates to well inside the 2nd century - and some would place it even within the first. It is manifestly the most common and well received Christian statement of faith, as well as the most ancient.

The tenacity to which the Christian community held to it is truly remarkable, although it was later replaced as a result of various later doctrinal developments with which it was not in harmony.




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