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The Forgotten Creed

Christianity's Original Struggle against Bigotry, Slavery, and Sexism

Stephen J. Patterson

Publication Date - 01 October 2018

ISBN: 9780190865825

184 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

The story of the first, forgotten creed of Christianity and its remarkable vision of human solidarity.


Long before the followers of Jesus declared him to be the Son of God, Jesus taught his followers that they too were the children of God. This ancient creed, now all but forgotten, is recorded still within the folds of a letter of Paul the Apostle. Paul did not create this creed, nor did he fully embrace it, but he quoted it and thus preserved it for a time when it might become important once again. This ancient creed said nothing about God or Christ or salvation. Its claims were about the whole human race: there is no race, there is no class, there is no gender.

This is the story of that first, forgotten creed, and the world of its begetting, a world in which foreigners were feared, slaves were human chattel, and men questioned whether women were really human after all. Into this world the followers of Jesus proclaimed: "You are all children of God. There is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male and female, for you are all one." Where did this remarkable statement of human solidarity come from, and what, finally, happened to it? How did Christianity become a Gentile religion that despised Jews, condoned slavery as the will of God, and championed patriarchy?

Christian theologians would one day argue about the nature of Christ, the being of God, and the mechanics of salvation. But before this, in the days when Jesus was still fresh in the memory of those who knew him, the argument was a different one: how can human beings overcome the ways by which we divide ourselves one from another? Is solidarity possible beyond race, class, and gender?


  • Explores an early, forgotten creed in the Letters of Paul
  • Traces early Christian attitudes towards race, gender, and class
  • Discusses the radical inclusivism in the earliest Christian movement, and investigates how and why Christianity changed to become less inclusive

About the Author(s)

Stephen J. Patterson is the George H. Atkinson Professor of Religious and Ethical Studies at Willamette University. A historian of religion, Patterson specializes in the origins of Christianity, especially the hidden histories found in books that were not included in the Bible. He has authored and co-authored nine books and more than a hundred essays, articles, and reviews, including most recently The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Origins (2013) and The Lost Way: How Two Forgotten Gospels are Rewriting the Story of Christian Origins (2014).


"[A] well-written, tightly focused little book" -- Vincent L. Wimbush, Institute for Signifying Scriptures, RBL

"The Forgotten Creed [...] is an important achievement in the comparative approach on social aspects (race, class and gender) important to early Christianities. The volume is useful due to Patterson's fascinating way of combining scholarship with the art of storytelling." -- Petru Moldovan, Journal of Gnostic Studies

"A valuable resource for those interested in Christian origins and New Testament interpretation... Highly Recommended." -- CHOICE

"With a style as serenely clear as its content is powerfully persuasive, this book is an elegy for Christianity's earliest baptismal creed which promised that Roman distinctions would not become Christian discriminations and that the basic differences of race, class, and gender would not become hierarchies of oppression. When that inaugural creed is forgotten, Christians are born again, not into a transformed world, but simply into the same one as before. Read this book not just as past Christian history but as present American challenge." --John Dominic Crossan, author of How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian

"The Forgotten Creed carries a vital message for our time: at the heart of Christianity is a call for solidarity that has been lost. In his careful examination of one of the earliest Christian creeds and rituals, Stephen Patterson reveals our long history of fearing others and exposes the categories used by the powerful to divide, conquer, and oppress. 'What does Christianity have to say about race, class, and gender?' Patterson asks. 'Everything.' At the core of The Forgotten Creed is a vision for communities in which difference is honored, diversity is celebrated, and equality is divine. An urgent, necessary book that should be required reading in every church."--Sarah Sentilles, author of Draw Your Weapons

"A cogent and an inspiring case for the earliest Christian baptismal creed being a proclamation of human dignity for all. It is not only a well-documented argument about an early Christian liturgical fragment, it is a clarion call for an ethical vision urgently needed now."--Pamela Eisenbaum, author of Paul Was Not a Christian

"A positive and nuanced approach to addressing issues of power and diversity."--Library Journal

"Patterson has put his finger on what may have been the transforming content of that first encounter with Jesus. Something about him cut to the heart of the human condition's most troubling aspect--the way, out of fear and for the sake of power, we humans turn accidents of identity into weapons... Patterson is right to lift the old creed up, especially now, and say, 'Why not?'"--James Carroll, American Prospect

"Writing for both lay and academic audiences, Patterson challenges traditional interpretation... he makes a compelling case for the radical equality that he sees as basic to Christianity. A valuable resource for those interested in Christian origins and New Testament interpretation." --Choice Connect Reviews

"In The Forgotten Creed Patterson uncovers an egalitarian baptismal confession in earliest Christianity...A benefit of this book is that Christian readers are reminded that baptism points to an equality where there is "no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male and female; for you are all one in the Spirit." -- Stanley N. Helton, Restoration Quarterly

Table of Contents


    Introduction: The Unbelievable Creed

    Chapter 1: Christianity's Forgotten First Creed
    Chapter 2: The Oldest Cliché
    Chapter 3: Children of God
    Chapter 4: There is No Jew or Greek
    Chapter 5: There is No Slave or Free
    Chapter 6: There is No Male and Female

    Conclusion: You are All One