Are the Ecumenical Creeds Inspired?

Most Christians who affirm the ecumenical creeds make a clear distinction between the nature of Scripture and the nature of these theological statements. I would feel confident in saying almost no Protestant church or group would argue that the creeds are inspired (please comment if you know of Protestant groups that think differently). But I was taken back by this statement from none other than Martin Luther:

I believe the words of the apostles’ creed to be the work of the Holy Ghost; the Holy Spirit alone could have enunciated things so grand, in terms so precise, so expressive, so powerful. No human creature could have done it, nor all the human creatures of ten thousand words. This creed, then, should be the constant object of our most serious attention. For myself, I cannot too highly admire or venerate it (Table Talk, CCLXIV)

Wow! This goes beyond merely affirming the simple truthfulness of the creeds – Luther moves to word-based inspiration. Any comments or thoughts on this?


7 thoughts on “Are the Ecumenical Creeds Inspired?

  1. Well, it’s only a “table talk”, which means someone remembered him saying something like that. Luther was not given to subtlety!

    But the core idea here, it seems to me, is to assert the reliability of the creeds, not to elevate them to the status of scripture. I suspect many Christians, including many protestants and most confessional Lutherans, would say that the creeds do represent an authoritative statement of what it means to be a Christian, while at the same time finding it difficult to articulate exactly how they function as authorities.

  2. Lots of Christians assume sola scriptura means the bible, and only the bible, of all written and spoken works in the universe, is inspired. And that’s not so. God inspires all sorts of things other than the bible.

    Every act and word of Jesus, including the acts and words not recorded in the scriptures, was inspired. (Jn 21.25) Many prophecies, both by Old Testament and today’s prophets, not included in the scriptures, were inspired. I would say the creeds fall into the category of similar Spirit-directed extrabiblical revelations.

    Sola scriptura only means we prioritize the bible over those other inspired writings: They must jibe with the scriptures. If they’re truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, that shouldn’t be an issue.

  3. Hi Nijay,

    An Evangelical theologian of the 19th and early 20th century, James Orr, argued for divine providence and the Holy Spirit guilding the development of the ecumenical creeds in The Progress of Dogma (eg Nicene, Chalcedon). I remember reading this point in a small work by John Stott, ‘Christ the Controversialist’.

  4. Early Christian leaders like Ignatius of Antioch believed he himself was speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but I don’t know that anyone wanted to canonize his writings. Does not matter how high Luther evaluated the early Catholic creeds, he did not think they were Scripture.

  5. Just from a pastoral standpoint, Luther’s amazement and his subsequent attribution of the Apostles’ Creed to the inspiration of the Spirit make total sense. Anyone who ever sat at a congregational board meeting or entered the sphere of ecumenical worship planning would have to be amazed at the possibility of a unity of heart in regards to doctrine (or anything else for that matter). This alone might encourage reflection on the Spirit’s role in such a statement of faith. Whether Luther intends inspiration here in the same sense as that of the Bible, I would need to see further evidence in his writing to be convinced.

  6. Probably too late for a comment to matter, but here goes.
    First, it seems clear if the translation of Luther’s thought is accurate that he considered The Apostles’ Creed to be the work of God and not men; that puts it in a category equivalent to scripture: “the Holy Spirit alone could have enunciated things so grand, in terms so precise, so expressive, so powerful. No human creature could have done it.”
    Second, the question Nijay asks: “Are the Ecumenical Creeds Inspired?” goes well beyond the scope of the Luther quote. The Apostles’ Creed is not actually one of the “Ecumenical Creeds” in that it is not a “conciliar” statement of a gathered body of believers; at least because its origin and history is obscure. The Apostles’ Creed is traditionally considered to have been put together by the original Apostles, in which case Luther’s characterization as the work of the HS seems altogether appropriate. The content of the Apostles’ Creed is virtually indistinguishable from that of the NT, whereas the Ecumenical Creeds make statements that go well beyond the simple literal content of the the NT.
    So, finally, Luther at least didn’t in this quote suggest that the Nicea-Constatinoplan symbols were the work of the HS.

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