Early Creedal Texts by Gary R. Habermas
The New Testament contains dozens of very early texts that actually pre-date the epistles in which they were recorded. They may basically be thought of as the answer to the exciting question, “Of what did the very earliest apostolic and other preaching look
like before even a single New Testament book was ever written?” The earliest forms of these texts were oral, where they usually served the purpose of briefly summarizing the essentials of Christianity
(usually the factual essence of the Gospel data) including the deity of Jesus Christ
, and could easily be memorized
, even by those who were illiterate.
Amazingly, scholars generally agree on the location of these traditions or creeds. These texts are recognized in many ways, but one of the clearest is when the New Testament writer explicitly tells us that he is repeating an early teaching
, passing on a tradition
, and so on. The chief examples include 1 Cor. 11:23-26; 15:3; 2 Thes. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8; Heb. 2:2-3. Others are identified by linguistic, syntactical, cadence, and other textual hints, and often concern the subject of Jesus occupying his heavenly place on the right side of God’s throne. Major examples include those in Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25; 5:8; 10:9; 1 Cor. 8:6; Phil. 2:6-11, and Heb. 1:3. Cf. many others such as Eph. 1:20; Col. 1:15-20; 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; 3:16; Heb. 1:1; 1:13; 8:1; 12:2; 1 Pet. 1:21; 2:21; 3:18; 3:22.
While a bit different, it is widely agreed that there are also a number of brief sermon summaries
within the Book of Acts which, like the other creedal materials, are much older than the book in which they appear. The most-commonly mentioned candidates for these sermon segments are in Acts 1:21-22; 2:22-36; 3:13-16; 4:8-10; 5:29-32; 10:39-43; 13:28-31; 17:1-3; 17:30-31. Those speaking of Jesus’ deity
include Acts 2:33, 36; 5:31.
Among other crucial topics, these early creeds often applied the loftiest titles of deity to Jesus Christ
. Like Acts 2:36; Rom. 1:3-4; 10:9; 1 Cor. 8:6; 11:23; and Phil. 2:6-11. Intriguingly, this entire subject arose from studies by critical New Testament scholars rather than from evangelicals. This is one of those rare subjects where older studies are often seen as the most authoritative ones, such as what is often proclaimed as the classic work: Oscar Cullmann, The Earliest Christian Confessions, trans. by J.K.S. Reid (London: Lutterworth, 1943). Other major studies include Cullmann, “The Tradition” (59-99) and other essays in The Early Church, ed. by A.J.B. Higgins (London: SCM, 1956); C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1936; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980); Dodd, “The Primitive Catechism and the Sayings of Jesus,” in New Testament Essays: Studies in Memory of Thomas Walter Manson, 1893-1958, edited by A.J.B. Higgins (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959), 106-118; Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, trans. by Norman Perrin (London: SCM, 1966).
Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman
both freely and often dates the earliest of these creeds to the 30s AD
, sometimes within just 1-2 years after the crucifixion! Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper Collins, 2012), see pages 22, 27, 92-93, 97, 109-113, 130-132, 141, 144-145, 155-158, 164, 170-173, 232, 249-251, 254, 260-263; cf. 289-291.