What the…

Sunday morning, our church confessed the Apostle’s Creed, but just beforehand, our pastor noted that the phrase “He descended into hell” is (a) a late addition to the creed, and (b) probably doesn’t refer to Jesus conquering Satan, but rather more of just being in the grave.

What’s up with that? I could just go spend time researching, it, myself, but why do that, when some faithful reader of my blog already has an answer?


27 Responses

  1. Right. Otherwise, what could “It is finished” possibly mean if he had more work to do in some kind of literal hell? The sequential nature of the affirmations in the AC can lead to some erroneous ideas when you take them as a time line. It’s also possible that the early framers of the AC had some poor interpretations of 1 Peter 3:18-19 at work (not to mention possible mishandling of Eph 4:8-9).

    Exegeting this part of the AC is weird if you sort of assume the framers were off base and yet wish not to just excise this part out. So we recast it along the lines of 2 Cor 5:21 – where you know becoming sin for us has to be hellish. IOW, just to think it means the grave is probably not enough. But since the AC ain’t scripture, there is no right answer, but there are demonstrably a bunch of wrong answers.

  2. I don’t see what’s so wrong with asserting that Jesus marched into hell and defeated Satan — after all, he is currently chained in a pit.

  3. You’ll have to address

    what could “It is finished” possibly mean if he had more work to do in some kind of literal hell?

    at some point.

    I believe his defeat of Satan occured in the same way that Adam’s should have – via his active obedience. Makes for a far better drama in my opinion.

  4. as for the “it is finished” question I add a follow up question of John 12:31 “now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out”

    He said “now” but yet he wasn’t at that point on the cross but rather prophesying about him being on the cross.

    You follow me?

    I agree that it means “grave” and have never bought into the notion of Jesus going into hell and punching Satan in the gut and then leading a bunch of folks up into heaven.

    Nevertheless I think the “it is finished” could fall into the same type of timing as the John 12:31, meaning “the imminence of this event is so near it has been accomplished.” Not that I buy that but it could sell.

  5. “It is finished” could well mean “Atonement is accomplished”, but it seems a stretch to imply that Jesus meant there was nothing left for him to do. How about the Resurrection? Walking & talking with his disciples until the Ascension? Knocking Paul off (on?) his ass? Meeting us in the clouds? Judging the earth?

  6. I actually wrote something on this last year, you should turn to the Heidleberg Catechism:


  7. Thanks, Mike! From there, I’ll quote Heidelberg Catechism Q&A#44, which Mike discusses at greater length:

    Q. Why does the creed add, “He descended to hell”?

    A. To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.

    Isaiah 53: …He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed…

    Matthew 26:36-46: …My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done….

    Matthew 27:45-46: Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

    Luke 22:44: And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

    Hebrews 5:7-10: In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

  8. Just to add a little something, remember that Jesus told the theif that he’d be in paradise with Him (Jesus) THAT DAY.

    If memory serves, “paradise” was another word for “Abraham’s Bosom” which was a part of “Hades.” There was/is a chasm in Hades that separates the place of torment and the bosom. Refer to the parable of the rich man an Lazarus.

    Anyway, I always supposed that descended into hell could refer to this. It could also explain the ressurection of the many people after His death. Maybe he did free them from Abraham’s bosom and this was the descent into hell.

    I don’t know if this all holds water, but I’ve heard/read this in the past. I didn’t come up with it myself.


  9. what could “It is finished” possibly mean if he had more work to do in some kind of literal hell?

    I don’t see a conflict between “it is finished” and the later “He descended into hell” when viewed from an already/not yet perspective. Christ won the verdict and the victory on the cross; then He descended into hell to enact that verdict/victory. In the wake of Christ’s victory, we share in His work:

    For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians chap. 10)

    Why is any of this effort necessary after Christ’s victory? Because the results are still being worked out. Christ has won the war already; His occupation is not yet complete and continues to be realized, as He Himself exemplified in storming hell.

    (I’m not defending the Apostles’ Creed so much as a Biblical understanding. Certainly, as a human instrument, the Apostles’ Creed is vulnerable to misinterpretation.)

  10. Smarter guys than us have wrestled with this one, John Calvin for example:

    “Others interpret it differently: that Christ descended to the souls of the patriarchs who had died under the law, to announce redemption as accomplished and to free them from prison where they were confined….But this story, although it is repeated by great authors, and even today is earnestly defended as true by many persons, still is nothing but a story. It is childish to enclose the souls of the dead in a prison. What need then, for Christ’s soul to go down there to release them? I readily admit that Christ shone upon them with the power of his Spirit, enabling them to realize that the grace which they had only tasted in hope was then manifested to the world. In this way the passage in Peter can probably be explained wherin he says: “Christ came and preached to the spirits who were in a ‘watchtower’ – commonly rendered ‘prison'” The context leads us to suppose that believers who died before that time shared the same grace with us. For Peter extols the power of Christ’s death in that it pentrated even to the dead; while godly souls enjoyed the present sight of that visitation which they had anxiously awaited.”

    Institutes of the Christian Religion II.XVI.9

  11. hehe, nice, Mike. Let’s all bow before Calvin’s superior intellect. And what a shock for you to quote, of all minds smarter than ours, John Calvin. I’m stunned.

  12. And what a shock for you to deride it as automatically wrong. Is there actually anything in that quote that you disagree with?

  13. What I disagreed with was the kneejerk tendency to defer to Calvin’s “superior” mind on the matter on practically everything. Don’t you see a danger when these seminarians staple their Bible to Calvin’s Institutes. What did those poor early church Christians do without Calvin’s wisdom?

  14. Kneejerk = comment #10, a week after the post?

  15. Those poor early church Christians immediately began accumulating wisdom and codifying tradition. I see more danger in a “one man, one bible” philosophy. If the Bible is that easy, why does anybody have to go to Bible college to learn how to be a pastor? Even more, why does anybody have to listen to a pastor at all? Why submit your personal doctrine to any standard but your own? Or why go to church to hear the Bible preached, when you can just read the Bible on your own? Why do we send missionaries, instead of doing translation work more comfortably at home, and airlift bundles of printed scriptures, because surely people will read the scriptures and understand them just fine, and set up their own churches.

    Out of all the people who have been writing about theology for 2000 years, somebody has to be the best, and what are the chances they are alive today? Given that for most of that time the average human lifespan was maybe only 50 years, that’s about a 1/400 chance.

  16. Well argued, RubeRad — but Albino still has a point. It may be humble to laud Calvin as smarter than us, and it may be wise to consult his viewpoint — but this doesn’t mean we should submit our understanding to his. Just as I refuse to cede the integrity of my mind to Darwinists, I refuse to cede the integrity of my mind to any theologian. All things should be tested.

    By all means, bring in Calvin for additional input! Just don’t assume he’s automatically correct, or superior to anything else suggested here. No, Calvin’s ideas must sink or swim on their own merit. Associating them with the label “smarter” can only prejudice our scrutiny. Albino rightly bristles at this. Imagine if someone introduced a Tony Campolo paragraph using the same method.

  17. By all means, bring in Calvin for additional input! Just don’t assume he’s automatically correct, or superior to anything else suggested here.

    I absolutely agree. My point was that Albino makes the opposite error, automatically assuming that either (a) Calvin is wrong, or (b) whoever quoted Calvin is a mindless drone.

  18. Ok, I give. Delete my sarcastic postings and move on.

  19. It was nice to see that Forrester also got what I was getting at.

  20. I’m guessing there aren’t many contemporary commentators out there who give a flip about the Apostle’s Creed.

    Even beyond that, though, I think it is hard to find a commentator with the breadth and systematic coverage of Calvin – within the realm of evangelical Protestantism. So, while I agree with Albino and Forrester, I think its easy (esp. for us Reformed folk) to go to Calvin on a particular question or passage because he’s probably talked about it. Lazy? maybe. On par with Scripture? no.

    Hey, I found this quote from Jacob Arminius on Wikipedia, and almost fell out of my chair. Have you all seen this before?

    Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms than Helmich himself (a Dutch divine, 1551–1608); for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the library of the fathers; so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above most others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent spirit of prophecy. His Institutes ought to be studied after the (Heidelberg) Catechism, as containing a fuller explanation, but with discrimination, like the writings of all men.

  21. Wow! I’ll say it backwards woW! I guess I’ve been an Arminian all along, and just didn’t know it…

  22. Based on this discussion, I have decided to write my own set of “Albinic Commentaries on the Scripture”. Then you can staple that to your Bibles too. The first line will be, “Spiritual grasshoppers; snatch this rock from my hand.”

  23. For those who didn’t get the last Kung Fu reference: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=eGy_82awSPM

  24. Albino,

    Can’t you let “Calvin be Calvin” before you chariacture him?


  25. I LOVE his cartoon books…the ones he wrote with Hobbs.

  26. Totally different subject…Albino I would love to get your take on this:


    Hopefully, the link goes through…

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