Doctrine, from the Latin word doctrina, meaning “teaching, learning” helps Christians organize and explain the beliefs that the church learns from the Bible. The core teachings of the Bible have defined Christianity for 2,000 years. Virtually all Christians who seek to have a faith that is biblical (based on the Bible) hold to some form of these basic doctrines. Christians may not always agree on how to work out the details of their faith, but they should agree on the essential doctrines, these core truths.

The essential doctrines of the Christian faith can be identified by looking at the core truth of the gospel, which is the salvation of humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation, as God has revealed to us through his Holy Scriptures, is defined as the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life with God by confessing that “Jesus is Lord” and believing that God raised him from the dead. (Romans 10:9)

By examining the message of the gospel, we can identify 14 doctrines necessary for salvation to be possible. In addition, there are a dozen or so additional non-essential doctrines that are also commonly-accepted by all Christians. These are summarized in the following creeds and then individually outlined and further explained in our “Christian Beliefs Explained” page.

Creed, comes from the Latin word credo, meaning “I believe.” The creeds of the early church—the Apostolic, Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian creeds—were very important responses to heretical (false) teachings (that contradict another teaching accepted as the norm) during the first few centuries of early Christianity. Most of the heresies in the early church were related to our understanding of God and Jesus. By understanding and affirming these creeds today it will make it easier to keep from repeating falling into the errors of false beliefs that continue to spring up. The Creeds matter because:

  1. The creeds focus on the essential beliefs that cannot be compromised and help Christians distinguish between essential and non-essential beliefs.
  2. Creeds help Christians to focus their faith and worship on the issues that matter the most and provide a unifying focus.
  3. Creeds help Christians articulate clearly how their beliefs differ from other teachings.

Note: It is important to note that while the creeds were formulated in between the second and fifth centuries, they are all based on what can be learned from the earliest reliable information available—which was the ancient Hebrew scriptures and the eye-witness accounts of the apostles—which is now the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible—which was written, according to tradition, no later than AD 95. (and arguably earlier) For additional general information please see our article: Introduction to Biblical Christianity.

Also note that the term catholic below means “universal,” in the sense of the whole world. This has been accepted by all Christians ensuring to use a lowercase “c” to differentiate the term here from identification the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, in terms of the universal acceptance of these creeds, it refers, then, to the catholic church meaning “Christ’s Church”, i.e. the worldwide fellowship of all believers.

Representing Christianity’s earliest official, formal profession of faith. ca. AD 140 – 175


This is the earliest official creed in Christianity, likely dating to at least the middle second century, although no one knows for sure when this creed was written. References to and quotations of similar statements—known as the “Rule of Faith” appear in Against Heresies by Irenaeus (AD 175).

The noticeably-trinitarian structure was likely intended to counter the teachings of Marcion who denied that the God of the Old Testament was the same God revealed in Jesus Christ. Marcion, who was already condemned around AD 144, taught that the Old Testament God—who was angry and vengeful—had nothing to do with the God of the New Testament—who is loving and forgiving. Marcion rejected the Epistle of James and all the other books besides Luke and the Pauline epistles. He even threw out all the writings that agreed, quoted, or referenced the Old Testament!

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
      Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, Our Lord;
      Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
      and born of the Virgin Mary;
      Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried.
      He descended into hell;
      On the third day he rose from the dead;
      He ascended into heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of the Father;
      From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      The holy catholic church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

Representing the essence of ecumenical (universal) Christian doctrine. ca. AD 325 & 381


Also called the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed, this creed is a statement of the orthodox (standard accepted) faith of the early Christian church in opposition to certain heresies (teachings contradicting the norm), especially Arianism. The Edict of Milan, put into effect in AD 313 by the Roman Emperor Constantine, granted full tolerance to all religions, including Christianity, marking the Roman Empire’s final abandonment of the policies of persecution of Christians.

The greatest doctrinal challenge to the church arose from within it. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, Eygpt, suggested that if God begat Jesus, then Jesus had an origin. If Jesus did not share in the same divine essence with the Father, then Jesus was a lesser god. Knowing that the Arian controversy threatened to divide Christianity and bring chaos to the Empire, Constantine called together a council of the leaders of the church throughout the Roman Empire in Nicaea in AD 325. The Council overwhelming voted against Arian teachings (nearly 300-3). The council expressed its views about God, Jesus, and the church in the Nicene Creed. After the creed of AD 325, a heresy about the Holy Spirit arouse as a follow-up to Arianism. In response, further additions were made to the creed at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381. This is the accepted later version shown below.

Note: With the exception of one small addition made by the Western Church (Catholic/Protestant), called the filoque, in AD 589, *2 (shown below in brackets) the creed is universally accepted by all Christians. The creed, in its AD 381 format, represents the essence of ecumenical (universal) Christian doctrine because it is the most complete creed that all orthodox Christians agree on.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
      Maker of heaven and earth,
      and of all things visible and invisible.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
      the only-begotten Son of God,
      begotten of the Father before all worlds,
      God from God, Light from Light,
      true God from true God,
      begotten, not made,
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.
      Who for us, and for our salvation,
      he came down from heaven:
      he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
      and was made man;
      He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
      and suffered, and was buried,
      and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures;
      and ascended into heaven,
      and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
      He will come again in glory,
      to judge the living and the dead;
      His kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the Lord, the giver of life,
      who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]*2,
      who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
      who spoke through the prophets.
      We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
      We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
      We look for the resurrection of the dead,
      and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Representative of early Christology, elaborating the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation. ca. AD 382 – 542


The Athanasian Creed is one of the three most important Creeds of the early Church. It is named after the well known fourth-century apologist and theologian Athanasius of Alexandria, who played an important role in defining and defending the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ. The central features of this creed addressed these two doctrines, Trinity and Christology, describing the divine attributes and divinity of each person, thus avoiding a heretical view called subordinationism, and the unity of the three persons in the one Godhead, thus avoiding a heretical view called tritheism.

The creed’s official author and origin remain a mystery but it is estimated to be written between the fourth and the sixth century. The creed is commonly used in much of the Western church (Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions) but not used in Greek Orthodox traditions. We include it not as a universal or essential creed, but rather as an ancient witness of early orthodox Christianity. While the creed itself is not used and recited in all Christian churches, the central position/core meaning of the creed—which was to affirm and elaborate the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation—are affirmed by the entire church community.

Whoever be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal. As there are not three Uncreated nor three Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: neither created nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before or after other; none is greater or less than another; But the whole three Persons are coeternal together, and coequal: so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of His mother, born in the world; Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood; Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead; He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

Representative of early Christology, elaborating the Incarnation and thus the nature of Christ. ca. AD 451


The Chalcedonian Creed (also called The Chalcedonian Definition or Creed of Chalcedon) is one of the four most important Creeds of the early Church. It is named after the location it was created in, the Council of Chalcedon in Asia Minor in AD 451, which was the fourth of the first seven Ecumenical Councils. Having already determined the doctrines of the Trinity, the divine attributes of Christ, and the Incarnation, this council was called to clear up a controversy between the western and eastern churches over the exact meaning of the Incarnation of Jesus.

The creed is accepted by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestant churches, but not by any of the Oriental Orthodox churches (Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Syriac, Malankara Syrian (Indian) and Armenian Apostolic churches). Ninety-five percent of the universal Body of Christ accepts this creed, with the remaining, which may be classified as non-Chalcedonian, do not.

We include it not as a universal or essential creed, but rather as an ancient witness of early orthodox Christianity. The central position of the creed was to affirm and elaborate that Christ had two natures (one divine and one human). The alternative position, called eutychianism or monophysitism, taught that Christ had only one nature, a mixture of human and divine. This is partly due to the eastern traditions typically content with not needing to define every belief so explicitly. Allowing this not to be defined was rejected as the orthodox position because false views fail in that they overemphasize or underemphasize Jesus’ deity or humanity.

Called the hypostatic union, this is a critical doctrine when it comes to the atonement of Christ. Had Jesus not been fully man, then He couldn’t have been our substitute, and had He not been fully God, then His death couldn’t have made atonement for the sins of all who would believe in Him. While this creed’s explanation/definition of Christ’s two natures is not agreed to by the entire church community, what we can all agree on is that Christ is BOTH divine and human!

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

The single best prayer in existence, by Jesus Himself. ca. AD 29 (written form ca. AD 60,70)


While this isn’t a creed per say, it is the model prayer—specifically given by Jesus to His disciples. It is an example of a reciteable statement-of-belief that goes all the way back to Jesus Himself, that is 100% un-contested as doctrine among all traditions within Christianity. The prayer itself, it is fitting to mention, would be meaningless to recite, without the reciter having knowledge of, and faith in, the One whom it was given to us by (the Son), or in the One whom the prayer is to be directed to (the Father Almighty).

This short prayer is easily memorizable and is profoundly compacted with significant meaning. It can be repeated as-is, while in deep reflection of the meaning behind the words, or it could be used as an example of what is important to think about while praying and with constructing your own prayers. He gave them this example after giving His disciples a short lesson about how to pray (Matthew 6:5-8, Luke 11:1).

The prayer used today is derived from a compilation of (Matthew 6:9-13) and (Luke 11:2-4). Since the prayer is also used in liturgical practice (church reading/reciting) it has also been modified by various traditions to use their preferred rendering or to include additional meaningful phrases with it. The version below is the most commonly-accepted English rendering, and consisting of those parts derived specifically from the Bible itself. [King James Version]

Note: The word “trespass” used is a constructive blending of the two words translated as “debt” in Matthew, and as “sin” in Luke.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
      hallowed be thy name.
      Thy kingdom come.
      Thy will be done,
            on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
      and forgive us our trespasses,
            as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
      but deliver us from evil.


Some denominations also, in addition to the 39 commonly-accepted books, include the deuterocanonical or apocryphal books in their Bible canon. These are 7-12 historical or wisdom books written during the intertestamental period (317 BC – 100 BC) and included in the Old Testament section of the Bible. These books come from the Greek Septuagint translation of the Jewish Scriptures (ca. 300-200 BC) but they’re not found in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh).

These have less textual reliability and scholar support and Protestant Christian traditions consider them less historically reliable or uninspired. These books, not commonly-received, do not alter any of the essential doctrines or creeds of the Christian Faith, and will provide little to no alteration of minor beliefs or religious practices. In fact, this was the Old Testament used during the early years of the church when the creeds were formulated.

The Names and Number of the Canonical Books:

•Genesis, •Exodus, •Leviticus, •Numbers, •Deuteronomy, •Joshua, •Judges, •Ruth, •The First Book of Samuel, •The Second Book of Samuel, •The First Book of Kings, •The Second Book of Kings, •The First Book of Chronicles, •The Second Book of Chronicles, •The First Book of Esdras, •The Second Book of Esdras, •The Book of Esther, •The Book of Job, •The Psalms, •The Proverbs, •Ecclesiastes or Preacher, •Cantica, or Songs of Solomon, •Four Prophets the greater, •Twelve Prophets the less.

The additional Books:

•The Third Book of Esdras, •The Fourth Book of Esdras, •The Book of Tobias, •The Book of Judith, •The Book of Wisdom, •Jesus the Son of Sirach, •Baruch the Prophet, •The Song of the Three Children, •The Story of Susanna, •Of Bel and the Dragon, •The Prayer of Manasses, •The First Book of Maccabees, •The Second Book of Maccabees. Two of these books are not complete books themselves but rather additions to two of the commonly-accepted books including •additions to the Book of Esther, and •additions to the Book of Daniel.

Most modern Bible versions including the NIV, NASB, KJV, HCSB, ESV, and NLT all use the (universal) or commonly-accepted Old Testament consisting of 39 books. Versions containing some or all of the apocryphal books include the NRSV, RSV, NAB, NJB, DRA. In addition, most modern Bibles offer a version with the apocryphal books included. A listing and comparison can be found here: and you can read them here:

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