We are looking at each line of the creed to determine what are the necessary, propositional claims we would need to identify and defend as Apologists who want to stay faithful to a Historical Christianity; a Christianity grounded in the Scriptures; the Apostolic proclamation of Jesus Christ, and the theological claims of the early Church Fathers.
Keeping in mind that the first four ecumenical councils of the early church (through Chalcedon in 451) were recognized by all of the magisterial Reformers (e.g. Luther, Melanchton, Calvin, Arminius, et al.) and their successors (Turretin, Baxter, Owen, et al.), we look at lines 3-9 of the Nicene Creed:
Through him all things were made. (3)
for us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human. (4)
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried. (5)
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.(6)
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father. (7)
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead. (8)
His kingdom will never end. (9)
Let’s break each down into a clearly articulated proposition:
Line 3. I believe that all things (the universe and everything we know exists or will ever discover does exist that can be considered physical, and also any non-physical realities like angels, souls, or perhaps even abstract objects) came into existence through the causal agency of Jesus Christ.
Line 4. I believe that God became incarnate* for the purpose of saving us.
- This entails that the divine creator of the universe: immaterial, timeless, spaceless, maximally powerful, maximally knowledgeable, maximally loving, etc., actually assumed human personhood in the real-life, historical, concrete individual, Jesus of Nazareth.
I believe that God came to us from heaven*
- This proposition can have several different interpretations, depending on how we construe heaven. Is heaven an actual location, a physical reality? If so, does God enter into our time-space continuum upon creating the universe, being located in it, albeit in a non-extended way?
- Or, is heaven a metaphor for an a-temporal (or omni-temporal), immaterial mode of existence that is unconnected to the current created time-space? In other words, God, upon creating the universe, remains “outside” the universe in some sense, at least until the time of the incarnation.
I believe that God in Jesus became incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born naturally, yet virginally (apart from any conjugal activity or natural insemination of an ovary with a spermatozoon), by Mary.*
- In other words God miraculously provided the necessary genetic stuff for Jesus to be conceived and carried to term by Mary until his birth in Bethlehem in or around 6-4 B.C.
I believe that Jesus was fully human, possessing all of the essential properties of a human person (a physical body, a human mind or intellect, human emotions, desires, and will).
- In light of recent studies in theological anthropology, studies informed by the field of neuroscience, cognitive sciences, particle physics, and philosophy of mind, the classical understanding of what it means to be human has been dealt a severe blow. However, regardless of how we come to grips with new definitions of human personhood, for our purpose here it suffices to say that whatever is essential to a human person, Jesus assumed it in its entirety.
Line 5. I believe that Jesus was killed on a cross during the reign and under the authority of a Roman governor by the name of Pontius Pilate in or around 30-33 CE.
I believe that Jesus’ own body (not that of another), a body that was by every measure medically deceased, was put into a real tomb in the vicinity of Jerusalem by a group of his followers.
Line 6. I believe that on the third day after his physical death, Jesus’ physical body was raised to life again by the power of God*. This resurrection of Jesus’ physical body was foreshadowed by earlier writings that were contained in the textual corpus of the Hebrew scriptures and that were known to the Jews of the time.
- This implies that there is a persistence in identity between the body that hung dead on the cross outside of Jerusalem, and the body that was seen by the women, Paul, Peter, etc., even though the body of Jesus that was seen after the Resurrection was also somehow different than the body that had died. It is the same body, but it is also transformed or altered physically through the power of God.
Line 7: I believe that this resurrected Jesus, to include His body, was raised into the heavenly realm*, i.e. Jesus’ person is no longer on earth or dwelling amongst us in a physical way.
- Again, how we construe the “heavenly realm” may be something that can vary depending on philosophical and theological reflection. In any case, Jesus body is no longer on earth.
I believe that Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the incarnate Son of God, the Divine Logos, is seated at the right hand of the Father, the first member of the Trinity, and that this claim reveals to all humankind that Jesus has the same authority as the Father, i.e. Jesus’ authority is identical to YHWH’s authority.
Line 8: I believe that because Jesus has this authority, He also has the authority to judge all human persons who will be alive when He returns to this time-space reality in some new way. Also, He will judge, according to the amount of revelation He has given all human persons*, those human moral agents who at this time are physically deceased (i.e. all human persons who have ever existed qua human person, will be judged by Him according to the moral law that has been revealed).*
- There is much theological fodder in this statement. We could discuss many things here and have a fairly wide range of interpretation, and do so without being outside the bounds of Orthodoxy. The key takeaway: Jesus will return, and He will judge people according to God’s standard of justice.
Line 9: I believe that the Kingdom of God* is eternal in the future (i.e. it is a potential infinite of real events).
- I would take the Kingdom of God to consist of all human persons throughout all of human history who have come into a saving knowledge of God, all obedient angels, and, of course, the Triune God. Not included in this kingdom would be all human persons throughout history who have consciously rejected the revelation and love of God, all fallen angels, and Satan. I say consciously, although it is possible that there are people who never attainted the capacity to consciously reject God (e.g. children, the severely handicapped), yet perhaps would have done so had they had such a capacity. This, of course, is also an area of “in-house” debate.
So, there is a lot in these few short lines, and, as we said in early posts, once we start trying to define each proposition a little more closely, understandings about how some of these things might be true can vary, and that is okay. Variation in theological dialogue seems to belong to God’s overall plan for humankind. So long as one can, in good conscience, affirm that these statements, whether understood simply, or in a more nuanced way, are true, then one can, I think, claim that they are following closely to the core commitments pressed upon us by the Scriptures, and professed by the earliest generations of the Church of Jesus Christ.