The Three Ecumenical Creeds

As Lutherans we state that the three ecumenical creeds (that is the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian) are true and an accurate statement of what we believe. As we study them, we notice that as each developed they became successively longer, due to the devil spreading false teachings that had to be refuted.

The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed was not written by the apostles, but expresses what the apostles believed. It contains the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, beginning with the creation of the world and ending with the life to come. But it did not just spring up suddenly just as it is read today. It grew in its wording as the church wrote and rewrote it until finally we have it as it is today (there is some re-writing of the Apostles’ Creed being done even now - compare the new versions of the Apostles' Creed that some churches are publishing).

From the very early days of the church, a trinitarian confession was used by candidates for baptism. In Rome, already in 150 A.D, we find a form very similar to what we have today. Although this confession varied from church to church, they all contained the basics of the Christian faith. Different parts of the Apostles’ Creed can be found throughout the writings of the early church. In the mid-second century, Irenaeus wrote: “The Church dispersed through the whole world, to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples the faith in one God, the Father Almighty, who has made heaven and earth and the sea and all things that are in them; and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who has proclaimed through the prophets the dispensation, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily assumption into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father.”

The term “Apostles’ Creed” was first used in a document by Rufinus in 390 A.D. Over time this confession was also used in worship services as we do today with the congregation stating clearly what is believed by the church. The Apostles’ Creed as we know it today (with a few small changes) was almost universally used throughout the church by the eighth century.

The three fold division of the creed into articles was based on our God being three in one, the Trinity (Matthew 28:18-19).

Scriptural Foundation of the Apostles' Creed

We say that everything that we teach as Lutherans must be supported with Scripture. So it is also with the three creeds, that each statement or phrase is drawn from the Bible. But as you read the creeds you will not find Bible references given. Search the Scriptures for yourself and the foundations for this confession!

I believe ____________ in God ____________ the Father ____________ Almighty, ____________ Maker of heaven and earth ____________.

And in Jesus ____________ Christ ____________ His only Son, ____________ our Lord; ____________ who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, ____________ born ____________ of the Virgin ____________ Mary; ____________ suffered under Pontius Pilate _______________ was crucified, _______________ dead, _______________ and buried; _______________ He descended into hell; _____________ the third day He rose again from the dead; _____________ He ascended into heaven, _____________ and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; ______________ from thence He shall come to judge ______________ the quick and the dead ______________.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; _______________ the holy Christian church, _____________ the communion of saints; _____________ the forgiveness of sins; _____________ the resurrection of the body; _____________ and the life everlasting _______________.


Genesis 1:1, Isaiah 13:6, Isaiah 64:8, Matthew 1:20, Matthew 1:23, Matthew 16:16, Matthew 27:27-31, Matthew 27:35, Matthew 27:50, Matthew 27:59-60, Mark 16:19, Luke 1:27, Luke 1:31, Luke 2:7, John 1:14, John 20:1-16, John 20:28, Acts 1:9, Romans 6:5, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Ephesians 5:27, Colossians 1:14, 2 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 11:1, 1 Peter 3:19, 2 Peter 1:21, 1 John 5:11. – Of course there are many more passages in addition to these which could be listed as evidence of the Scriptural foundation for the Apostles’ Creed. Think of other passages that could also be used and add them to the list above!

Click here to see the answers to the above exercise.

The Nicene Creed

In contrast to the Apostles’ Creed which was formulated over many centuries and as a general baptismal confession of faith, the Nicene Creed was formulated in much shorter time, and was written to combat the false teachings of Arius (who denied the divinity of Christ) and the Macedonians (who taught that the Holy Spirit was not God).

Because of the Arian controversy, emperor Constantine convened an ecumenical council to meet at the city of Nicea in the year 325 A.D. to settle the dispute. A confession was written by Eusebius of Caesarea, and presented to the 318 bishops who attended the Council of Nicea. A few changes were made to Eusebius’ confession to establish more firmly the deity of Christ (the Latin word homoiousious - similar nature - was replaced with the word homoousious - same nature). The Council of Nicea accepted this form of the Creed and condemned the Arian teaching. The Nicene Creed at that time ended with the words “...and in the Holy Ghost” and an anathema against the teaching of the Arians.

In the year 381, emperor Theodosius convened a second ecumenical council at Constantinople to deal once more with the Arians, and with a dispute over the person of the Holy Spirit. It was at this council that the wording of the Third Article was added, condemning Macedonius and his followers and defending the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Latin (western) form of the Nicene Creed differs only in the addition of the Latin word “filioque” (“and the Son”), which was added at a council held in Toledo, Spain in the year 589 A.D. The Greek (eastern) church never agreed to this addition, saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone (John 15:26), not the Father and the Son (John 16:7). This was one of the issues that separated these two churches, bringing about their final and complete separation in 1054 A.D.

The three fold division of the creed into articles was based on our God being three in one, the Trinity (Matthew 28:18-19).

Scriptural Foundation of the Nicene Creed

I believe ____________ in one God ____________ , the Father ____________ Almighty ____________ , Maker of heaven and earth ____________ and of all things visible and invisible ____________.

And in one Lord ____________ Jesus Christ ____________, the only-begotten Son of God ____________ , begotten of His Father ____________ before all worlds ____________ , God of God ____________, Light of Light ____________ , Very God of Very God ____________, Begotten ____________, not made ____________, Being of one substance with the Father ____________, By Whom all things were made ____________; Who for us men ____________ and for our salvation ____________ came down from heaven ____________ And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost ____________ of the Virgin Mary ____________ And was made man ____________ ; And was crucified ____________ also for us ____________ under Pontius Pilate ____________. He suffered ____________ and was buried ____________; And the third day He rose again ____________ according to the Scriptures ____________; And ascended into heaven ____________, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father ____________ ; And He shall come again with glory ____________ to judge both the quick and the dead ____________; Whose kingdom shall have no end ____________.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost ____________ , The Lord ____________ and Giver of Life ____________, Who proceedeth from the Father ____________ and the Son ____________ , Who with the Father and the Son ____________ together is worshiped and glorified ____________, Who spake by the Prophets ____________. And I believe one ____________ holy ____________ Christian ____________ and Apostolic ____________ Church ____________ . I acknowledge one Baptism ____________ for the remission of sins ____________ , And I look for the resurrection of the dead ____________ , And the life of the world to come ____________ . Amen.


Deuteronomy 6:4; Psalm 2:7; Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 51:13; Matthew 1:20; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 27:60; Mark 15:15; Luke 1:27; John 1:1-2; John 1:3; John 1:14; John 3:13; John 3:18; John 10:30; John 15:26; John 16:7; John 17:3; John 20:17; Acts 2:33; Acts 2:36; Acts 2:38; Acts 2:42; Acts 4:10, 12; Acts 8:37; Acts 10:42; Romans 4:25; Romans 8:2; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Corinthians 15:4; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 6:8; Ephesians 3:9; Ephesians 4:5 (3); Ephesians 4:10; Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 1:17; Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:21-22; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Hebrews 2:14; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 4:1; 2 Peter 1:21; Revelation 1:8; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 21:23.

Click here to see the answers to the above exercise.

The Athanasian Creed

Martin Luther once said of the Athanasian Creed: “I doubt whether the New Testament church has a more important document since the Apostolic Age.” However, in our day, the Athanasian Creed is not nearly as well known as it was in Luther’s day.

The Athanasian Creed is like the Apostles’ in that its author is unknown. It was written later than the Nicene Creed, appearing in its complete form near the end of the eighth century. It was wrongly attributed to Athanasius at first, but has kept that title because of Athanasius’ defense of the deity of Christ and the Trinity - the two main subjects of this creed.

The Athanasian Creed is an excellent summary of the decisions of the first four ecumenical councils (Nicea - 325, Constantinople - 381, Ephesus - 431, and Chalcedon - 451) against various and many false teachings concerning the fundamental teachings of Scripture.

In the years 400-800 A.D. false teachers arose who began to deny the doctrine of the Trinity and the person and work of Jesus Christ. For this reason, the “Athanasian Creed” deals with the most fundamental Christi an truths of the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and His redeeming work. Our ultimate salvation is at stake because without knowledge of these truths saving faith is impossible.

This confession consists of two distinct parts: The first sets forth in great detail the teaching of the Trinity. It goes beyond the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds which do not state the doctrine of the Trinity explicitly, but by implication. The second part contains a short and clear statement concerning the doctrine of the person of Christ, teaching the proper relation between the divine and human nature of Christ.

So that there is no confusion, we should take note of a few things:

In contrast to the peaceful tone of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the Athanasian Creed begins and ends with the strong condemnation: “This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.” While many have opposed this harsh wording, the same is taught in Scripture: Jesus said, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24; cf. Acts 4:12, Mark 16:15-16). Let us continue to proclaim both the Law and Gospel of Scripture to today’s world!

Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.

If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew