Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Nicene Creed with commentary

Nicence Creed (1)
I believe …
Often rendered “We believe” to harmonize with the plural of 12. However, the singular is appropriate here because it is the statement of an individual in the context of a congregation to affirm identification with the Christian faith-community.
Contrary to atheism and post-modernism, Christianity asserts that what a person believes makes a difference. This is true in a practical sense because we do what we do because of what we believe. We also tend to believe what we believe to justify what we do, but Christianity has a particular regard for belief because it orients the individual’s perspective toward an objective, external truth.
Further, the fact of believing is not enough. The important thing is what we believe in. Importantly, the Nicene Creed does not say “I believe in my self, my abilities, my potential”, but points the believer beyond himself to belief in God.
Luke opens his Gospel by stating that he has written it so that the reader (Theophilus) may know the truth of what he believes (Luke 1:1-4).
… in one God …
Christians, like Jews and Muslims, believe in only One God. This is an important prelude to the following statements concerning the relationships between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The creed states the assumption of the ancient Shema: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4).
… the Father Almighty,
Jesus calls God the “Father” and teaches us to do the same in the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9 etc). Like all words, “Father” cannot fully describe God, but it does convey the sense of some of God’s attributes, particularly the progenitor, protector, provider and ultimate authority on all that exists.
Maker of heaven and earth,
And of all things visible and invisible:
Includes the entire cosmos, even the things we cannot detect or comprehend (Genesis 1:1). Orthodox Christianity has always discriminated between God and His creation. Importantly, God is not bound by the laws and principles that govern creation; He is the One who sustains these laws.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, …
The Creed applies the title “LORD” to Jesus Christ, which was applied to YHWH in the Old Testament (see “LORD God’ in Genesis 2:4 etc). There is only One LORD, not three. Many NT authors freely apply this appellation to the Son (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:3, John 4:1 etc., Acts 1:21, Acts 2:36 etc., Romans 1:4, James 1:1, Jude 1:4, Revelation 22:20-21)
the only-begotten Son of God,
The Son is in a unique relationship with the Father. While others were sons of God in a generic or derivative sense (see Psalm 2), Jesus is the archetypical, or original Son of God by nature.
The true (canonical) image of God is given to us in the only-begotten Son, per John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (NASB)
Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
Difficult to translate, and sometimes rendered “Eternally begotten of the Father”. The Son was not “created” in time, but was brought forth from the Father in eternity, beyond and outside time. Our prepositional language uses “before”, but the phrase “before time” is a nonsensical construction. In contrast to the Arian Heresy, the Son was not begotten in time before the creation of everything else. As He was begotten beyond time, he truly shares the divine nature of God.
God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God,
The Arians believed that Jesus could be called god but not true God. In other words, they believed the Logos (the "Word", a popular title for Jesus in early Christian literature) was the first creation of God, necessary to mediate between the unknowable distant God (a concept borrowed from Platonic thought) and creation(2). As a reaction against Arianism, the Nicene Creed strenuously affirms the true and full divinity of the Son, whilst maintaining the distinctiveness of the persons of the Father and the Son.
The crucial inference is that (the true) God is not distant and unknowable, but has been made known to us in the flesh in the person of His Son. God is fully visible, accessible and glorified in the Person of His Son.
Begotten, not made,
The creed tells us that just as when a woman gives birth she does not create a child out of nothing, being begotten of God, the Son is not created out of nothing. Since the Son's birth from the Father occurred before time was created, begotten refers to a permanent relationship as opposed to an event within time, hence the qualifier that the Son was “begotten”, not “made”.(2)
Being of one substance with the Father,
Homoousia: God the Father and God the Son are equally divine, united in substance and will. Father and Son share the same substance or essence of divinity. That is, the Father and Son both share the qualities and essential nature of God. However, sharing the same substance does not mean they share identity of person(2).
By whom all things were made;
The Bible tells us that through The Son, as Word of God, all things have been created. As Logos, the Son is the agent and artificer of creation. (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16).
Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,
See John 3:16. Sometimes rendered “for all”, but “for all” has been criticized for implying Universalism. The “us men” refers to the people (male and female) who are reciting the Creed in faith.
The prepositional language is not intended to describe a physical downward journey, like the descent of an elevator, but the putting off of the lofty status and privileges of heaven. Philippians 2:7 describes is as God “emptying” Himself in order to enter human existence.
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man,
Incarnate means, literally, “in flesh”. The Creed recognizes the vital role of Mary, and emphasizes the absence of a human father. God truly became truly and fully human. Contrary to early heresies such as Docetism, God did not simply don an “earth-suit” to do some sight-seeing, but fully entered into all the constraints and frustrations of human existence. (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-11)
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
See Matthew 27:11-55 etc. “Under Pontius Pilate” places Jesus in the real stream of human history – Christianity is more than metaphysical speculation.
He suffered and was buried, And the third day he rose again …
Jesus truly suffered and died. He didn’t “dodge the bullet” by swapping places with some unfortunate proxy (per the Qur’an), nor did he slip off his earth-suit at the critical moment. Jesus’ resurrection is many things, including triumph over the last enemy, death itself. Ultimately, the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:1-10) is the vindication of God and His unstoppable commitment to human life.
… according to the Scriptures,
The “Scriptures” here refers primarily to the New Testament and enjoins believers to believe its content.
And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
Christianity does not teach that heaven is physically “above” the dome of the sky, but the prepositional language best describes Jesus’ return to the unseen realm of the divine, in contrast to His descent in 12. Likewise, he is not now literally sitting next to the Father, but shares his authority and honour, as implied in our phrase “right-hand man”.
And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
Affirms the belief in the return of the King, who will judge every person who has or will ever live. All creation is answerable to its creator, and will affirm that God is just and true in His judgements. (Matthew 25:31-33 etc.)
Whose kingdom shall have no end.
Despite the efforts of all His enemies, God’s Kingdom is unassailable. (Psalm 145:13 etc)
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, The Lord and giver of life,
The Hebrew concept of “spirit” is “life-breath”, and it refers to the essential living being of a person that dwells deep within. God’s essential “life-breath” breaths life to us all in more ways than one. The Holy Spirit is also called “Lord”. As the Creed has already affirmed One Lord (2, 5), it also affirms that the Holy Spirit also shares in the divine nature of God. (Gen 2:7)
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
The addition of the words “… and the Son” (filioque) caused the Great Schism between the Western (Roman) and Eastern Churches. Rendering it “from the Father through the Son” may resolve the controversy, because it retains the monarchy of the Father in the Holy Trinity.
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
The Holy Spirit is God, as are the Father and the Son, and worthy of the same worship due to the Father and the Son. He is given the same name (singular) as the Father and the Son in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19. At the other end of the behavioral scale, sin against the Holy Spirit is regarded as being worse than sin committed against the Father and the Son (Matthew 12:31), which was tragically demonstrated in the sudden deaths of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.
Who spake by the Prophets.
The Holy Spirit inspired the Prophets and the Bible. The role of the Prophet is to speak the Word of God. Prophesy is much more than predicting future events with the benefit of divinely inspired foresight; it is about making sense of the immediate situation in the light of the Word of God (Jeremiah 1:11, 13).
And I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church.
There is one Church, not many churches. It is “Catholick” because it is universal, and “Apostolic” because it is founded on the witness of the apostles. Other renditions include “Holy”, meaning that the Church is the peculiar possession of God.
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
Not several, different Baptisms for different purposes, and not requiring repetition after sin. God’s cancellation of my debt of sin encompasses all my sin – past, present and future. (Acts 2:38)
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Christian hope does not look forward to being relieved of the burden of existence, but the joyous, continued and unending celebration of life, when the cosmos is fully reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. (Revelation 22:17)
I tell the truth. I agree. So be it. Make it so.
(1)   This version from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

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