THE APOSTLES’ CREED 7 Suffered under Pontius Pilate…

Certainly this detail anchors the fact of Jesus to the known facts of secular history: Pontius Pilates was the Roman prefect of Judaea from 26-36 CE. He is made responsible for Jesus’ execution as a messianic claimant in all four gospels. Given this fact, it is likely that the Roman state was decisive in judging Jesus to be politically dangerous, a truth diluted by the tendency of the gospel writers to shift blame on to the Jewish leadership.

“Suffered” Latin passus, Greek pathonta, is easily translated by the English, suffered, but certainly the Latin can mean, suffered death. It indicates a serious suffering in which the victim is utterly subject to the will of another. In contrast to the gospel attribution to Jesus of godlike powers, here is an unambiguous record of his vulnerable humanity. Those who suffer at the hands of powerful states will find this sober statement an introduction to their brother Jesus.

But my immediate reaction to this clause of the Creed is to ask, “what about his life?” as there is nothing noted between his birth and his death. Surely the only reason for remembering his birth and death is the nature of his life. Apart from the verbal memory of the Christian assemblies, by early in the second century they had the written testimony of the gospels. I could not accept any creed which is silent about Jesus’ healing, teaching and encounters with people. It is disturbing that many churches have been happy to accept this gap, considering his incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection sufficient for salvation. Yes, St. Paul had this bias, but it was balanced in the Christian Bible by the four gospels. The creedal neglect of Jesus’ life and teaching may have been productive of a whole range of heresies throughout the history of the church and still today.

Some scholars have argued for two main streams of remembrance of Jesus after his death and before the written gospels: one about his life and teaching; the other about his divine origin, death and resurrection, which eventually came together in the four gospels and the Catholic faith of the early church. The creeds lean dangerously to one side of this equation.

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