The Apostles' Creed: The Quick & the Dead

Tertullian and Irenaeus are the earliest witnesses to the Creed now known as the Apostle’s Creed.  During their pastorates it was likely in its earliest form and known as the Roman Symbol.  This early form of the Apostle’s Creed most likely appeared in or around 150 AD in Rome and was a response to the heretical teaching of Marcion who had appeared in the city around 140 AD. 

Perhaps you will remember that Marcion taught that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of the New Testament.  Thus, the God of the Christian was not the creator God of the Old Testament.  Marcion also taught that the God of the Old Testament was angry and stern whereas the God of the New Testament is a God of love. In fact, it is this very thing that likely gave rise to creedal statement, “From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” How so?

When we examine Tertullian’s work titled Anti-Marcion we discover that Marcion denied that Jesus Christ would execute judgment.  Rather, says Marcion, he is a God of pure love and mercy. Consider this quote from Tertullian in his Anti-Marcion.  Speaking of Marcion’s god, he says,

For how is it possible that he should issue commands, if he does not mean to execute them; or forbid sins, if he intends not to punish them, but rather to decline the functions of the judge, as being a stranger to all notions of severity and judicial chastisement? For why does he forbid the commission of that which he punishes not when perpetrated? It would have been far more right, if he had not forbidden what he meant not to punish, than that he should punish what he had not forbidden.[1]

This is not the only place where Tertullian argues against this idea proposed by Marcion.[2] In fact, Tertullian argues against it at length.  What is more, and obviously odious to Marcion, Tertullian argued that the Jesus who bodily ascended and is now at the right hand of the Father, who happens to be the God of the Old Testament, will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Unfortunately, though the contemporary church may know nothing of Marcion they actually embrace the theology he once taught. For example, a friend of mine is a minister of music in a very large church.  He is also a Christian music artist and one of his songs describes the day when the body will be put down never to be taken up again.  Several years ago I was listening to a famous Christian music artist describe the God of the Old Testament as angry and unlike her Savior found in the New Testament. And what of the countless people who seem to believe that God is all love and therefore discount his judgment? 

We may be living many years removed from the days when Marcion walked the streets of Rome and threatened the well being of the church in that city.  Nevertheless, Marcion’s teaching is alive and well and is still a threat to the Church.  So, it’s no wonder the Apostle’s Creed has a freshness that seems to speak into the life of the Church even to this very today.   

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.

 



[1] Tertullian. (1885). The Five Books against Marcion. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 291). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[2] Adv. Marc., I.26, 27; IV.8, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 24, 29, 35; V. 4, 7, 8, 13, 16.