A popular Christian creed’s confusing word

LOU (no location posted) ASKS:

What does the word “again” mean in the Apostles’ Creed when we say “he rose again from the dead”?


Lou isn’t alone in head-scratching over this word in a creed regularly recited by untold millions of English-speaking Christians. Catholicdoors.com lists this under “frequently asked questions.” Does “again” mean Jesus Christ had risen once before and then rose “again,” as though Easter celebrates a second resurrection?

A Californian who posed Lou’s question to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s “Lutheran Witness” magazine noted these confusions: “One person said it was like getting up every morning; He just did it again. Another said that Jesus was being born again after his death and subsequent resurrection.”

The Lutherans reply that “sometimes our use of language may seem strange and give impressions that can lead to false conclusions…. While the word ‘again’ can sometimes be used to describe an action or event that occurred at least once before, that is not always the case. One could think of numerous situations where, in colloquial usage, the word ‘again’ would not be used in that manner, e.g. ‘the boy fell down and got up again’… The meaning of the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed is exactly like that.” Catholic.com, whose purpose is “to explain and defend the faith,” says the same.

The ancient Latin text (“tertia die resurrexit a mortuis”) could have been translated into English as simply “on the third day he rose from the dead” minus “again.” But a priest at catholiccrossreference.com notes that the English literally replicates the Latin “resurrexit,” which combines the prefix “re,” meaning “again,” with the verb “surgo,” meaning “rise.” Jesus lived once, died once, and — as the dictionary definition of “resurrection” indicates — also rose once.

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.