In my last note I situated the Nicene Creed in its historical context. The creed did not fall down from the sky one day in the 4th century. It was originally composed to summarize the early church’s confession and worship of the Triune God revealed in Scripture. The creed was also written to rule out certain false teaching about God.
In this note I want to consider the first word of the creed, which is two words in English: “We believe.” The creed is a confession (“we”) of faith (“believe”). The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 10:9-10:
“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
Notice the relationship between the two verbs Paul uses, confess and believe. It’s a relationship of heart and mouth, what we believe in our hearts we confess with our mouths. Believing in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. It’s personal and public. Our confession is personal, but not individual. The Greek word translated “confess” is homologeo which literally means to speak the same words: homo (same) + logos (word). Our confession is a public expression of shared belief: we express one and the same faith with one and the same voice.
The Nicene Creed is a confession of faith: “we believe.” It’s a confession of faith in the Triune God, who is revealed and made known in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate – the same Triune God and Lord Jesus Christ who is revealed and made known in Scripture. Our confession is not a matter of personal opinion or belief. It’s not my faith, but our faith, and it’s “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). It’s the “good deposit” which Paul entrusted to Timothy and commanded Timothy to entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others (2 Tim 1:14; 2:1-2). It’s our faith, yes, but it’s our faith which we received and we must guard it and pass it on.
But is it not enough to simply have the Bible? Why do we need a confession of faith, when we have God’s inspired and inerrant Word? Can (or should) we not simply confess, “Jesus is Lord” as Paul says in Romans 10:9? Irenaeus of Lyons addressed these questions in the second century. In my next note, we will look to Irenaeus to help us appreciate the importance of creeds and confessions.