Satan’s Screed or the Apostles’ Creed?

A commenter wrote the following on a recent post:

I personally think the Apostle's Creed should be thrown out. There is ample evidence to refute some of the literal claims it makes. Also, there is nothing in the Apostle's Creed that Satan himself could not claim to believe — so how does the Apostle's Creed separate followers of Christ from not followers? The creed is devoid of any mention of Love. The creed seems more like a Satan inspired distraction from the real teachings of Christ.

What do readers think? Is stating “I believe” X, Y and/or Z as the core of Christian identity fundamentally at odds with, among other things, the teaching of the Epistle of James, which says that there is no merit even to correct beliefs about what is or is not the case, since even demons have such “right beliefs” – what matters is right action on the basis of those beliefs? That does not mean that right beliefs are necessarily altogether unimportant, but the absence of any focus on practice from most of the classic statements of Christian identity is indeed noteworthy. Does it represent a wrong turn in Christian history?


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  • Jeff Carter

    I think the absence of any mention of practice is actually a helpful thing. Rather than rigidly defining THE WAY that Christians love, these statements of faith give us a a lattice on our love and devotion can grow. The apostle’s creed doesn’t cover everything – it doesn’t even try. It just provides a helpful and (nearly) universal starting point.

  • rmwilliamsjr

    i’ve seen Christianity defined as a orthodoxy faith and Islam as orthopraxy religion. i wonder how truthful the distinction is?

    see 1st paragraph of for an example.

  • Pär Stenberg

    [T]he teaching of the Epistle of James, which says that there is no merit
    even to correct beliefs about what is or is not the case, since even
    demons have such “right beliefs””

    That sounds as quite the overstatement of what James is trying to get across to his readers. It would seem that James is going against those who have a mere profession of an orthodox faith but lack the works that ought to follow.That is not the same thing as stating that correct beliefs about core beliefs lacks any real merit.

    • rmwilliamsjr

      that is why Luther doubted the canonicity of James because it seems opposed to justification by faith alone.

      • Pär Stenberg

        Whether or not it is opposed to justification by faith alone (which I do not believe is the case based on my exegetical reading of the passage), it nevertheless does not say that our beliefs about God and the faith are of no merit. Furthermore, even if the letter were against justification by faith alone, it sill presupposes the importances of having faith as well as works.

  • Brent

    Reminds me of something Luther once said about Satan knowing more about Scripture than the most learned doctors of the Church. He was making a point that faith isn’t a matter of simply knowing the right things but a matter of what he called the “trust of the heart” in his commentary on the First Commandment. I’ve always appreciated that distinction.

  • Steve Caruso

    The whole point of a creed is to express what one believes (credo), and the Apostles’ Creed was a means to express the basic things a Christian holds true during a time when Christianity was trying to figure out what set it apart as a phenomenon.

    To throw out the Apostles’ Creed, in my opinion, is a move towards throwing out the basic definition of Christianity. It’s the well-established guideline between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. And it’s not a very rigid definition to begin with. There’s lots of “wiggle room.” It’s supposed to be that way. :-)

    Thinking that it’s “from Satan” because it doesn’t mention love, for example, I feel is rather shortsighted as the point of the Creed isn’t to define how to be a *good* Christian, either. That’s a whole other can of worms, and a lifetime of learning.


  • Beau Quilter

    I noticed the “born of the virgin Mary” phrase.

    James where do you stand on the notion that Matthew and Luke told the tale of a virgin Mary because of their reading of the Septuagint parthenos instead of the Hebrew almah?

    • James F. McGrath

      It seems to me hard to imagine that the early church would find in that text a prediction of a virginal conception unless they were already looking for one. I think that the motivation came not originally from the LXX of Isaiah but from the desire to depict Jesus as “son of God” in a superior or distinctive sense over against others about whom the title had been or could be used. Infancy narratives with miraculous conceptions are common for important people, and are a way of elevating the individual and emphasizing their importance. Presumably as early Christians, probably before Matthew or Luke wrote their accounts, searched the Scriptures for ways of interpreting and exalting Jesus, the Isaiah passage presented itself.

      • Beau Quilter

        That makes sense – thanks for the reflection.

  • Bob MacDonald

    Contrary to all the cavils I had with creeds in some parts of my life, I have come to regard the creeds as statements of praise. They follow the liturgy of the word. They are not meant as syllogisms – theologic rather than logic.

  • Elizabeth

    I am not a great fan of the Apostles Creed (and I appreciated the viewpoint of your commenter on it) but I loathe the Nicean Creed even more. Catechising faith seems to me to be reducing it to truisms and rigid orthodoxy, something that is not really reflected in ether the NT itself, or in scholarship. As for Luther, this is the man that called his wife “my chain” and who wrote hymns so sexist as to be unsingable. I will cast my lot with James accordingly.

    • Gary

      How about the Athanasian Creed? I can see why the guy got exiled multiple times. Reminds me of the Monty Python dead parrot routine. Trying to explain it only makes it worse.

  • Mike Beidler

    Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

    CHAPTER XXXI.III. All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times,
    whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore
    they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used
    as a help in both.

    • rmwilliamsjr

      this is the only rule that the WCF itself has to get right in order to stay out of a self referential hole!

  • spinkham

    I have absolutely no interest in creedal Christianity.

    I could sit here and point out the absurdities in almost every line of that creed, and not be done for the next few months.

    The most obvious are things like Jesus literally going up and sitting down next to God. That made sense in the cosmology of the time, but in the modern understanding of physics and the more ineffable Thomistic sort of God(who is very unlike the guy who is said to have showed Moses his butt), there’s really no way to make that line make sense.

    There are ways to make good use of our Christian cultural heritage, but if we’re given a choice between creedal Christianity and the end of Christianity, it’s time for it to die.

    I support Progressive Christians because I don’t think those are the only choices we are left with.

    • Steve Caruso

      Many so-called “Progressive Christians” are so-called “Creedal Christians,” though, and they do not seem to have any “hangups” with the Creeds as you propose. :-)

      Take the entire Episcopal Church (which would be hard to argue is not “progressive”). The recitation of the Nicene Creed, for example, is an important element of the Liturgy and is recited after the Sermon in every service.

      There isn’t quite the dichotomy in these cases.


  • Jay Armbruster

    It seems we complicate the issue. Satan hates us, Satan’s mission is to separate us from God. Whether or not he knows scripture better than I, there is no doubt. But, I strive to love and be with God everyday.