September 30, 2010 by Michael Dewalt
The Old Testament: Already in the Old Testament we read of Confessional statements. These are divinely inspired statements or summaries concerning the doctrine of God. Israel confessed the name of Jahweh. The Shemah from Deut.6:4 is very important. This has been called the fundamental confession of absolute monotheism. We can also refer to Joshua 24:17,18; 1 Kings 18:39 and to various words from the Psalms: Jahweh is King, Jahweh is great. The Jews, at the beginning of the New Testament, were probably already accustomed to proclaim twice a day this confession. In the Synagogue the Jews confessioned faith in God using the words from Deut 6:4. In the New Testament this confession is traced back in Mark 12:29, 30 and James 2:19.
The New Testament: The New Testament speaks much more about confessing than the Old Testament. The Word homologia actually means saying the same. Through the LXX this word received a religious connotation. In New Testament language, confession means agreeing with what God has revealed (Matt 16:16-17). The confession of Peter is an answer to the question of Jesus. The origin of this confession is not one’s own insight but is fruit of God’s revelation. Over against confessing we read about denial (Arneisthai), Matt 10:32-33. To believe and to confess are united, 1 John 4:15. Yet, they are not the same. Who believes does not always confess that (John 12:42). Faith ought to be confessed (Romans 10:9) so that the contents of one’s confession is congruent with what one believes. It is to reproduce what God’s Word tells us.
There is also a relationship between confession and doctrine (see 2 John 7). We are to abide in the doctrine and therefore are we to abide in the confession.
There is also another relationship. We are to confess and witness. We can refer to 1 Timothy 6:11,13. This relationship shows that the confession has repercussions and consequences for one’s daily attitude and witness. The New Testament emphasizes the act of confessing as well as the contents of the confession. It is important what we confess and also that we confess. The confession has a Christalogical content.
Especially in the letters to the Hebrews it is clear that the Church must be a confessing church. In Hebrews 3:1 we read about our confession. Hebrews 4:14, 10:23 admonishes to hold fast this confession. Whether there was an affixed confessional formula is immaterial to the issue.
In which manner did the early Christian Church confess her faith? Certainly the Church confessed her faith with the words “Kurios Jesus Christ” (see Romans 10:9, Phil 2:11, 1 Cor 12:3). In the assemblies of the congregations the Christians confess Jesus Christ as Kurios (Lord). Obviously this confession had a polemic connotation over against Kurios Ceasar. The Christians also confessed the Lordship of Christ over against polytheism of the Roman Empire (1 Cor 8:5,6). In the gospels it is clearly stated that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. This may be the original Christian confession (John 20:31). When 1 John 4:2-3 confess that Christ has come in the flesh than this is to be understood against the background of immersing heresy. This confession is also antithetical against the Jewish denial of Christ as the Son of God. We see here that the confession makes a distinction between deceit and truth, between faith and unbelief. So we actually find three short confessions concerning the Lord Jesus: Jesus is Lord; Jesus is the Christ; Jesus is the Son of God. Are there more explicit confessions in the New Testament? Some have suggested that Phillipians 2:6-11 is one of the first composed confessions to be used in Christian worship services. Others have referred to passages such as 1 Cor 15:3b-5 or 1 Timothy 3:16b or Romans 1:3b,4a. We can find here the core of the Apostolic tradition and that the first Christian Church adhered to these statements.
Concluding we can say that the Church in the New Testament already confessed her faith. This confession had a clear, Christalogical content. Connected to this confession was strife and suffering. Revelation 2:3 refers to the faithful witness who is also a martyr. But confessing is done to the glory of God (Phil 2:11).