The word Symbolum, standing alone, appears around the middle of the third century in the correspondence of St. Cyprian and St. Firmilian, the latter in particular speaking of the Creed as the "Symbol of the Trinity", and recognizing it as an integral part of the rite of baptism.
The title Symbolum Apostolicum (Symbol or Creed of the Apostles) appears for the first time in a letter, probably written by Ambrose, from a Council in Milan to Pope Siricius in about AD 390 "Let them give credit to the Creed of the Apostles, which the Roman Church has always kept and preserved undefiled". But what existed at that time was not what is now known as the Apostles' Creed but a shorter statement of belief that, for instance, did not include the phrase "maker of heaven and earth", a phrase that may have been inserted only in the 7th century.
This illumination from a 13th-century manuscript shows the apostles writing the Creed, receiving inspiration from the Holy Spirit.
The account of the origin of this creed, the forerunner and principal source of the Apostles' Creed, as having been jointly created by the Apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, with each of the twelve contributing one of the articles, was already current at that time.
The earlier text evolved from simpler texts based on Matthew 28:19, part of the Great Commission, and it has been argued that this earlier text was already in written form by the late 2nd century (c. 180).
While the individual statements of belief that are included in the Apostles' Creed – even those not found in the Old Roman Symbol – are found in various writings by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Marcellus, Rufinus, Ambrose, Augustine, Nicetas, and
Eusebius Gallus, the earliest appearance of what we know as the Apostles' Creed was in the De singulis libris canonicis scarapsus ("Excerpt from Individual Canonical Books") of St. Pirminius (Migne, Patrologia Latina 89, 1029 ff.), written between 710 and 714. Bettenson and Maunder state that it is first from Dicta Abbatis Pirminii de singulis libris canonicis scarapsus (idem quod excarpsus, excerpt), c. 750. This longer Creed seems to have arisen in what is now France and Spain. Charlemagne imposed it throughout his dominions, and it was finally accepted in Rome, where the Old Roman Symbol or similar formulas had survived for centuries. It has been argued nonetheless that it dates from the second half of the 5th century, though no earlier.
As can be seen from various creeds all quoted in full below, although the original Greek and Latin creeds both specifically refer to “the resurrection of the flesh” (σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν and carnis resurrectionem), the versions used by several churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, Lutheran churches and Methodist churches, talk more generally of “the resurrection of the body”.
Some have suggested that the Apostles' Creed was spliced together with phrases from the New Testament. For instance, the phrase "descendit ad inferos" (Ephesians 4:9, "κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα μέρη τῆς γῆς" ("he descended into the lower earthly regions"). It is of interest that this phrase first appeared in one of the two versions of Rufinus in AD 390 and then did not appear again in any version of the creed until AD 650.
This phrase and that on the communion of saints are articles found in the Apostles' Creed, but not in the Old Roman Symbol nor in the Nicene Creed.