The Creed (Part 2)
April 7, 2020
by Peter Amsterdam
The Creed (Part 2)
(Points for this article were taken from The Creed by Luke Timothy Johnson.1)
One God, the Father Almighty
The Nicene-Constantinople creed, hereafter referred to as the creed, compresses major Christian doctrine into a relatively brief statement. In a mere six sentences it expresses the bedrock foundation of Christian belief regarding God. It doesn’t address all Christian doctrine, but states the fundamentals regarding God which one must believe in order to be a Christian.
It begins by focusing on God the Father, stating:
I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
This first phrase, I believe in One God, is the foundation on which the rest of the creed—and in fact all of Christianity—stands. It states that as Christians, we declare that God exists. In doing so, we acknowledge a power beyond ourselves, outside of our control, that we can neither see nor touch. In declaring that God exists, we affirm that the physical world is not all there is.
As noted in part one, by articulating belief in one God, the creed makes reference to the Shema, the Old Testament confession of Israel, which states Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.2 This connection to the Shema indicates that if one wants to fully understand the belief that there is one God, they should become familiar with the story of God’s interactions with Israel in the Old Testament. It was through the actions of God on their behalf, the promises He made and kept, that the Hebrew people came to understand that their God was not just the “top god” among all of the other gods which non-Israelites in the region believed in, but rather that He was the only God of all the earth and all the peoples.
The late Old Testament Jewish understanding of monotheism, that there is only one God, carries on into the New Testament, which emphasizes the sovereignty of God over all people throughout the world, going far beyond Israel. In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter said,
Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.3
The apostle Paul made the point that God is the God of all of the earth:
Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.4
“The One God” is God of all the world.
In the second century, a Christian teacher named Marcion proposed the false idea that there were two Gods, and two realms of being—material and spiritual, with material being evil and spiritual being good. He considered the creator God of Israel as described in the Old Testament as being responsible for everything material, while the God of Jesus, described in the New Testament, has nothing to do with material reality, but is rather entirely spiritual. This doctrine was countered by the Christian teachers Irenaeus and Tertullian. It was in part because of this false doctrine of two Gods that the profession I believe in One God was included in the creed.
The next phrase in the creed calls the One God the Father Almighty. In the Old Testament, the designation “father” was seldom used for God. This may have been because polytheistic religions often had a father god who begat other lesser gods within their family. When God is called Father in the Old Testament, the term is mostly used in reference to His being the father of the people of Israel.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.5
I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.6
We also find God referred to as Father in the Old Testament in statements which focus on the honor and obedience that should be paid to Him.
A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.7
Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?8
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, we find God called father in regard to His creation of humans.
O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.9
In the New Testament, “Father” becomes the main way of referring to God. We understand God’s fatherhood not just as His paternal relationship with humans, but more so as Father to His Son Jesus. We know God as Father, because Jesus calls Him Father, and reveals himself as God’s Son. Through the infilling of the Holy Spirit, we too can share in that father/son relationship through adoption.
You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”10
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, every statement involving God as Father came from the lips of Jesus, as it was His own designation for God. Eight times Jesus made the point that God is Father to the disciples by calling Him “your father in heaven,”11 and another eight times He simply referred to God as “your Father.”12
Jesus also spoke of God as His own Father in a manner that was special and intimate, which clearly implied that God is His Father in a way that is not shared to the same degree by believers. He referred to the Father as “my Father in heaven” and “my Father,” and at one point He praised God as His father and declared His special relationship as “the Son.”
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”13
The apostle Paul also made the point that God is our Father.
Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.14
In calling God “the Father,” the creed briefly expresses what is stated throughout Scripture—that the title “Father” is rooted in the religious life of Israel, in the prayer life and teaching of Jesus, and in the experience and prayers of the first Christians. In saying God the Father, the creed states the way Jesus viewed and addressed God, and it is as Jesus’ Father that we address our God today. We can do so because the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.15
We approach God as a loving father who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.16 He cares for even the most insignificant creatures.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.17
He reveals His will to the little ones and the ignorant.
I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.18
He is our Father who knows what you need before you ask him,19 and who desires to bless those who love and seek Him.
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!20
Besides calling God “The Father,” the creed also states that He is Almighty, meaning all-powerful. When God revealed Himself to Abram21 (Abraham) and later to Jacob,22 He said: “I am God Almighty.” Forty-eight times in the Old Testament He is referred to by others as the Almighty, and as Almighty God. The term Almighty means that God has infinite power, He can do all things, and He chooses to do certain things. Some Old Testament verses which point to God’s infinite power are:
Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?23
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.24
He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.25
It is he who made the earth by his power.26
(Of course, there are some things God cannot do. He cannot go against His nature and character, and He cannot lie, be tempted with evil, do wickedly, or pervert justice—as to do so would be inconsistent with God’s divine nature. He also can’t do things which are logically impossible, such as make a married bachelor or a square circle.27)
In the New Testament, the term “Almighty” is only found once outside of the book of Revelation. Second Corinthians 6:17–18 says:
Go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.28
In Revelation, “The Almighty” is used nine times, one of which is:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”29
While God isn’t often called Almighty in the New Testament (outside of the book of Revelation), the idea of God being all-powerful is found throughout it. For example, in the garden of Gethsemane before His death, Jesus said,
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.”30
The Angel Gabriel told Mary that she could conceive a child (Jesus) even though she was a virgin, because nothing will be impossible with God.31 When speaking about the difficulties of rich people entering the kingdom, Jesus stated
“What is impossible with men is possible with God.”32
The apostle Paul pointed to creation as an example of the power of God.
His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.33
He also pointed to God’s power in the work of saving the Jews and Greeks:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.34
When writing about God’s promise to Abraham, Paul made reference to God, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.35
(To be continued in Part Three.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 The Creed—What Christians Believe and Why It Matters (New York: Doubleday, 2003).
2 Deuteronomy 6:4.
3 Acts 10:34–35.
4 Romans 3:29–30.
5 Hosea 11:1.
6 Jeremiah 31:9.
7 Malachi 1:6.
8 Malachi 2:10.
9 Isaiah 64:8.
10 Romans 8:15.
11 Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 14, 32; 7:11, 21.
12 Matthew 6:4, 6, 8, 15, 18; 10:20, 29.
13 Matthew 11:25–27.
14 Galatians 4:6–7.
15 Romans 8:16.
16 Matthew 5:45.
17 Matthew 6:26.
18 Matthew 11:25.
19 Matthew 6:8.
20 Matthew 7:11.
21 Genesis 17:1.
22 Genesis 35:10–11.
23 Jeremiah 32:27.
24 Job 42:2.
25 Psalm 33:9.
26 Jeremiah 10:12.
28 2 Corinthians 6:17–18.
29 Revelation 1:8. See also Revelation 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7, 16:14, 19:6,15, 21:22.
30 Mark 14:36.
31 Luke 1:37.
32 Luke 18:27.
33 Romans 1:20.
34 Romans 1:16.
35 Romans 4:17.