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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Confessions and Credos

Confessions and credos are the articulate and corporate expressions of the faith in response to the revelatory and saving acts of God. They are articulate because they do not express human emotions but recite the acts of God; they are corporate because they do not belong to individuals but to the people of God (Old Testament) or to the church (New Testament). The difference in meaning between the two terms as far as the Bible is concerned is hard to describe. For the sake of clarity we understand confession to have its primary place in worship and preaching, and credo to belong to the teaching ministry and to refer in the first place to doctrine. Confession implies a note of allegiance and commitment, credo, a note of authority.

Old Testament A fine example of a confession in action is found in Joshua 24:1 . The setting was the meeting of Joshua with the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers. Joshua spoke to them as a prophet: “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel (Joshua 24:2 ). God spoke through the mouth of Joshua and recapitulated His mighty acts for Israel (Joshua 24:2-13 ). Then follows an injunction by Joshua in his own name to serve the Lord and to put away the strange gods of their fathers (Joshua 24:14-15 ). The people responded by confessing the Lord as their God (Joshua 24:16-17 ); this confession was followed immediately by a recitation of the acts of God to Israel and a renewed confession (Joshua 24:17-18 ). Here we find side by side the two types of confessions of the Bible, the nominal type (the Lord is our God) and the verbal type which relates the acts of God.

Two examples of the verbal type appear in Deuteronomy 6:1 : 21-25,26 : 5-9 . Both recite the redeeming acts of God to Israel in Egypt and in the Promised Land in similar though not identical words, but each has a very different setting. The first serves as an explanation and justification of the commandments of the Lord; the second is said at the offering of the firstfruit to God and relates the offering to the saving acts of God.

The nominal confession “The Lord is our God” has its origin in the revelatory introduction to the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1 : 3; see also Deuteronomy 5:6 ). Confessions of this type are found throughout the Old Testament, often embedded in hymns and psalms of praise or invocation (Psalm 3:8; Psalm 7:2 ,Psalms 7:2,7:4; Psalm 10:12; Psalm 100:3 ). Elaborate recitals of the acts of God are found in Psalm 105:8-45 (preceded by an appeal to give thanks and praise to God, Psalm 105:1-6 , and the nominal confession of His lordship, Psalm 105:7 ), in Psalm 135:1 , and in Psalm 136:1 . These examples confirm the place of the confession of the acts of God in the framework of worship.

New Testament Jesus and the early church shared the faith in God of their fellow Jews. The Old Testament confessions of that faith were also theirs. The new element was the revelatory acts of God in Jesus, the Christ. His person and ministry called forth new confessions and credos giving expression to the believers' relationship with Him. In the development of these confessions three stages can be distinguished:

(a) The first stage is the life and ministry of Jesus on earth. Our Lord referred to Himself as the Son of Man, thereby presenting Himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 7:13 . This, however, did not lead to a confession of Jesus as the Son of Man in the church. Jesus did not rebuke Peter for confessing Him to be the Messiah but ordered His disciples not to divulge this secret (Mark 8:29-30 ). During His presence on earth, confessing Jesus meant to express personal allegiance and commitment to Him and to His cause (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8 ).

(b) The second stage began after Jesus' resurrection and exaltation. Already on the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed that God had made Jesus both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36 ). The first title expressed His authority, having been exalted to the right hand of God; the second identified the crucified Jesus as the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Here and throughout this stage, confessing was the corollary of preaching the gospel. At this stage confession began to be formulated to express in one sentence the church's faith in Christ. The same distinction between nominal and verbal confessions applies here as well. Nominal confessions consist of a subject (Jesus or Christ or Jesus Christ) and a predicate. The most common confession of this type is: Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11; each time in a different context). Here also belongs the confession Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 8:37 , not in all manuscripts and hence in most modern translations only in a footnote). Conceivably these confessions were baptismal confessions. Confessions of Jesus as the Messiah or Christ are found only rarely (John 20:1 : 31 ), since this title did not carry a religious or a theological meaning with the non-Jews. It gradually developed into a part of the name of our Lord. Verbal confessions tell the story of Christ in a pointed and condensed form. Impressive confessions of this type are Philippians 2:5-11 reaching its climax in the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord (see above); Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18-22 . Hebrews 1:1-3 belongs here, too. Paul's wording of the Gospel, preached by him and the other apostles, has also a clear note of confession ( 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ) and shows how closely associated witness to the gospel and confessing Jesus are to one another.

(c) The third stage began when the gospel had to be safeguarded from false interpretation. Here the function of confessions is primarily doctrinal and credal and no longer a part of proclamation as in the second stage. This stage presupposes the presence of false teachers and false doctrine. This is the case in the Pastoral letters, 2Peter and Jude though the confessions or credos which give the right expression to the gospel are usually not quoted specifically but referred to or woven into the text of the letters. In the letters of John, however, the specific wording of the doctrinal credo is quoted explicitly: Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7 ); Jesus is the Christ (1 John 5:1 ) or the Son of God (1 John 5:5 ). The former credo emphasized the full humanity of the divine Son of God; the latter, the divinity of the earthly Jesus. Understood together they form the doctrine of Christ (2 John 1:9 ). See Faith; Gospel; Preaching; Doctrine .

J. Reiling

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Confessions and Credos'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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