I want to give attribution right off for some of the information that I am going to share today – the Feast of the Holy Trinity. At the conference I attended in Minneapolis I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Diana Butler Bass speak and it is to her that I owe some of these thoughts, along with Dr. Marcus Borg (his new book "Speaking Christian").
When I was serving at a previous congregation, before coming to Peace, I had a member of the congregation tell me once that every time she said the creed she crossed her fingers behind her back. Why, I asked. Well, the creeds were all about the Trinity and how could she say she believed something that she didn’t understand. Hmmm – well. So, is that what the creed is? Is the creed just series of statements to which we are to assent and affirm as if we were going down a list? Trinity is ultimately a mystery, as are several other things mentioned in the creed, including the Resurrection, the descent into hell (or “the dead”), the “sitting at the right hand” and so forth. What do we do with mystery? Is there no room for questions or even doubt? And if we have questions or doubt does that mean we should abstain from confessing the creed?
“We Believe…” (Nicene Creed); “I Believe….” (Apostle’s Creed). These words seem to be the sticking point for many. I would suggest that we in the church have, over time, changed the meaning of this word “believe,” and that in its original form it was not a word of affirmation or assent, but rather a word of commitment and relationship. In its original form the Latin word that begins the Nicene Creed is the word CREDO – which means We Trust. This matches the New Testament Greek word for Faith (pistis) that also means Trust. There is a different Latin word that is used for mental assent, or agreeing with a statement as if to say – “yes, I agree that is true” (Which is what “believe” has come to mean). This word was not used, instead the word which means “trust” was used. Think through the creed and insert the word “Trust.” How does this change the meaning of the words of the creed for you?
That is not all though. When the committee that worked on the translation of the Bible that eventually became the King James Version was meeting. They began to fish around for a word to use to translate passages like John 3:16 which uses the Greek word for faith as a verb (pisteo). How to translate this? What word to use that captures the sense of active trust, the commitment and relationship implicit in the Greek? So, the committee settled on an Old English word – Be louf; which is related to a German word – Belieben. And what does Belieben mean? It mean: Be-love. Here is my literal translation of John 3:16, with the word “be-love” used instead of the more common “believe:” For in this way, God loved the created world, so that He gave His one and only Son, in order that everyone who Be-loves into Him will not perish, but will have eternal life.
So then we return to the Creed. How does it change our confession of the words of the creed if we understand “believe” and “be-love?” “We be-love God” – who is that? “…the father, the almighty,” – why? “because he is the maker of heaven and earth.” “We be-love Jesus Christ” – who is that? “…God’s only Son, our Lord,” – why? “because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…. Etc… “We be-love the Holy Spirit,” – who is that? “The Lord, the giver of life…”; why? “… because he proceeds from the Father…. Etc…” The creed now is an affirmation of commitment and relationship and trust. It is no longer a checklist that we have to run down each week. The creed is an affirmation that I am committed to and are in a relationship with Jesus, Christ – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And if I have doubts or questions, I can still affirm my commitment and relationship. There is thus room for questions and doubts, there is room to search for answers and explore the mystery of the Holy Trinity.