We believe . . .

A pastor/missionary in Milwaukee(!), Marc Engelhardt, posted some thoughts on “Kingdom Community” a couple days ago, asking us to take seriously some of the implications the NT view of the Lordship of Jesus over his Kingdom. To quote Marc:

While some may say that Jesus is their personal Savior, and this is true, there is more to the relationship than that. If Jesus is your King, that makes you part of the Kingdom. My point here is that your relationship with King Jesus also creates a relationship with others in the Kingdom.

Good stuff, entirely consistent with the biblical focus on the People of God, both in the Old and the New Testaments.

This reminded me, though (and so did worship), that one way to help us be reminded that we are part of Something Bigger is to confess the Nicene Creed in the way that it was written at Nicea in 325 and rewritten at Constantinople (381) and Chalcedon (451). The creed does not say, as we do today, “I believe in one God . . .” As if the creed were my own little confession of faith. Rather, the creed, both in its Greek and Latin forms, read πιστεύομεν /  credimus: “We believe in one God . . .” That is, the Nicene Creed is not my personal confession, nor is it yours. It is the confession of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Spoken together when those who have been baptized in Christ gather in his name. We, us, one.

I pulled out my old Triglotta and the edition of the Bekenntnisschriften (the critical edition of the Lutheran Confessions) I bought while a student, and both provide only the Latin and the German. (Perhaps the newer editions of the Bekenntnisschriften provide the Greek; the library is closed right now). Both read credo / Ich glaube — “I believe.” I found class notes written in the margins of my Triglotta, but no mention of the credo / credimus issue. Where did the “I believe” come from?

I checked my (again, old student copy–I knew it would come in handy again if I held on to it long enough) of J. N. D. Kelly’s Early Christian Creeds, where on p. 215 the Greek and the multiple sources for it are provided. Still no mention of “I believe,” though. I pulled out Kolb/Wengert. They translate the creed from, they note, “The original Greek.” So “We believe in one God. . .” And, sure enough, there is the footnote:

This was changed during the Middle Ages in the Latin translation to “I believe,” reflecting the Creed’s liturgical usage. This later reading is found in the German and traditional English renderings.

What was this “liturgical usage”? The previous footnote:

The Latin text of the book of Concord [with the reading credo] reflects the Roman Missal.

So, somewhere along the way (if you have any idea where, when, by whom, etc., let me know), the creed went from our confession to my confession. The reformers probably had no access to Greek texts of the Creed and just went with what they inherited. This went into German, and from there into English (and we added another “I believe” for the Holy Spirit, there is no verb there in the Greek or Latin).

Now the Apostle’s Creed, whatever the “original” was (its use, like the Scriptures themselves, predates any textual evidence), rightly reads “I believe  . . .” because it is the confession of the one baptized as he or she is gathered into into the Body of Christ. So we use that Creed (as my congregation did last night) in the baptism service.

But the Athanasian Creed (Not by Athanasius, and likely not originally in Greek), keeps the focus on the Body. It is the church’s confession. And so, a few weeks ago, we joined in saying, “we worship (veneremur) one God in Trinity, the Trinity in unity.”

Now, all this is maybe not that big a deal. Certainly, most of you don’t care about any of this “original text” stuff (happens to be a hobby of mine). To me, though, it is a bit disconcerting that we claim to confess the faith that has been taught “always, everywhere, by everyone” — except that we changed a few words. I’m not advocating that we should change the creed (or. more accurately, fix what was changed). But maybe it is worth remembering that the Body of Christ is bigger than me. That I am part of something much bigger than myself, or my little (or big) congregation. And that brings with it unity, and relationships, a way of living together, and opportunities to serve one another: “So when we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those of the household of God” (Gal 6:10). Next time you speak the Nicene Creed with the Body of Christ, try saying “We.” Maybe the person next to you will overhear, and ask why you said it that way. Then you’ll get to show them what church looks like.

BTW, if you have a blog that you post thoughtful stuff on occasionally, send me a link (especially if you, like Marc, race bicycles).






9 responses to “We believe . . .”

  1. Matt Kobs Avatar
    Matt Kobs

    Great post, Dr. Kloha! To be honest, this is a textual issue I never knew about, but kind of secretly hoped existed. Depending on the setting, making the subtle change from “I” to “we” (the verb forms don’t even need to change in English) could have a huge impact on the way that the people confessing the creed are formed.

    On a related note, I’m curious: does the East confess “I” or “we”?

    1. Jeff Kloha Avatar
      Jeff Kloha

      I thought of your question about what the Orthodox liturgy does, but I wrote this up last night when the library was closed, and I don’t have that kind of stuff on my shelf.

      Does anyone know? I’m not sure I’ll get to the library today.

      I also wonder if the Orthodox liturgy uses the Apostle’s Creed — it was almost exclusively Western. Nicetas of Remesiana (early fifth century) is the first person to use the phrase “communion of saints” in Greek, and so the first to have pretty much the “full blown” Apostle’s Creed. But he was in Remesiana, which was primarily Greek speaking but under the Roman see (I’ve just finished an article on his text of the NT). So it wouldn’t surprise me at all f the weren’t using the Apostle’s Creed in Chrysostom’s or Basil’s day. Whether they added it later I don’t know. I seem to remember something about their early baptismal confessions being something other than the Apostle’s Creed.

  2. George Carstensen Avatar

    It’s curious – because this sentiment I often find wafting through my mind as we’re confessing. I’ve recently had to re-learn the creeds (as LBW has a slightly different twist on what I was used to) and in the process I’ve payed more attention.

    The Sr. Pastor at Zion Lutheran in Schenectady always introduces the creed as “Together with Christians throughout the world, the church confesses:” It’s subtle – but it perhaps helps the idea of ‘I’ really being ‘We.’

    (Of course, to be honest, I also find myself thinking ‘What about the astronauts? Are they in the world? They might be saying the creed. Should we say ‘Creation’ instead?)

    …I digress.

  3. M Toensing Avatar
    M Toensing

    I appreciate this too. Though not as well-versed in history as I’d like to be I often introduce our creedal confession as such: “we confess to and with one another ….” I may just throw in “and with the whole church on earth” also.

  4. M Toensing Avatar
    M Toensing

    I appreciate this too. Though not as well-versed in history as I’d like to be I often introduce our creedal confession as such: “we confess to and with one another ….” I may just throw in “and with the whole church on earth” also.

  5. Jeff Kloha Avatar
    Jeff Kloha

    If you think you need to get around the astronaut problem, a phrase that I saw in a few documents that preceded and followed the Council of Nicea is ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ — the church “in every place.” This happens to match nicely with 1 Cor 1:2: “with all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours.” Paul is making exactly the same point you guys are — that Corinth is neither unique nor alone as “church,” they are part of the whole “church of God” (also 1:2) who call upon (praise, confess) “one Lord, Jesus Christ.”

  6. R. Tinetti Avatar

    I recall once in chapel the officiant (probably Hartung, not sure) having us recite the creed facing one another, pulpit side to lectern side, to accent just this point. As it happens, the rubrics instruct the presiding minister to face the altar, presumably to underscore the gravity of what the creed confesses.

    Along these lines, I’m looking at the Sasse anthology, “We Confess.” One more reason to love that guy.

    1. Jeff Kloha Avatar
      Jeff Kloha

      It is always good to find out that you’re only saying what your fathers said . . .

      I checked the preface to the We Confess series, Dr. Nagel doesn’t provide the reason for the title, but it has to be a reference to the opening of the Formula of Concord: “We believe, teach, and confess. . .”

      If “teach” didn’t have the negative (and incorrect) associations with mere “head knowledge” or “intellectual assent,” The opening of the Augustana would work well, too: “In the first place it is with one accord taught and held”, or translating the Latin: “The churches among us teach with complete unanimity. . .” [“churches” there has to mean “territorial churches,” not our English “congregations”], In Latin it looks even more impressive: “Ecclesiae magno consensu apud nos docent.” That is what confessing the creed is all about. We confess it “magno consensu.”

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