Friday, March 16, 2007

Did Jesus Go To Hell?

"He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead." Apostle's Creed

I've always had a problem with this line in the Apostle's Creed, the one that claims Jesus descended into hell. I added the resurrection line to the above quote just to put it into context. I have no problem with that line.

My problem has always been with being able to prove from Scripture that Jesus went to hell. It is further complicated by several alternate versions of the creed that say, "He descended into hades," and "He descended to the dead." It's not that I disagree with the statement, because I can't disprove it, it's just that I can't prove it. I've never heard an adequate argument for what it does actually mean or why it's in the creed. After all, doesn't Jesus tell the thief on the cross that "Today, I will be with you in paradise"? Since the next day started at dusk he would have had only a few hours at most to go to hell.

What did he accomplish there? Some say that he went to preach the gospel to those Old Testament saints, who were in hell because Christ hadn't died on the cross yet to pay for their sins (a proof-text verse is the one about preaching to the spirits in prison). But then He was the Lamb slain from before the foundations of the world.

About ten years ago, I went to a Christian bookstore (maybe this was my error) to look for books on the creed. I found several written by popular authors, but this line was completely avoided by all who wrote about it. I've read some comments by Calvin on this, and it doesn't seem he's even sure why it's there or what it means. I read one commentary that said it was a kind of spiritual meaning that was aimed at debunking a certain heresy at the time the creed was written.

Even so, I recite the line along with the rest of the creed every time my church does. Any ideas?


  1. If the line makes no sense to you then I wouldn't recite it - and maybe checking into the history of the addition into the creed is a good thing to do. I have no clue where they would build a doctrine about Jesus 'going to hell' only to raise after being there (maybe the idea of burial makes more sense). Is it based on one lone scripture - that's what I would check out - and the context of the scripture being used for a more well rounded view of what Paul said (I am guessing this comes from a letter by Paul).

    Like the blog dude - lots of good stuff for discussion on here.

  2. VS,
    Thanks for stopping by. I'd love to do all the history on all this kind of stuff. Maybe now with the internet, I can cut my time way down.

  3. Fascinating subject. It appears that there are more problems with the creed here. Scripture does not mention Jesus "going to Hell and back" but it does mention the parable of the rich man who went to Hell and could see over to those "by Abragham's side" or "in Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22-23). Still the specific "Hell and back" Scripture I have not found yet. Maybe these creeds should be replaced by mini-bible studies or devotionals.

    Thanks for the great write-up on Romans 13. My bible study just started into Romans 12 so I happened onto them at the perfect time. Well done.

  4. Steve
    Someone asked me about this the other day. They wondered if the idea wasbiblical. I think it is based on 1 Peter 3:22. The idea is that Jesus went into the place where the evil principalities and power exist and proclaimed his victory over them. It is not that he was subject to punishment.

  5. Here’s a pdf of a Wayne Grudem paper published in JETS

    He did not descend into hell: a plea for following scripture instead of the apostles’ creed

    1. 2007? You're digging around in the basement, aren't you? :) I had to re-read this to remember even writing it.

  6. Steve....this might be helpful: