Apostles’ Creed: He Descended Into Hell

Why does the creed say that Christ descended into Hell? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

If there’s one part of the Apostles’ Creed that’s really problematic and the subject of debate, it’s this one. Some versions of the creed are said to not even include this part of it. Yet since it is in the one that I am using, I will be making some comments on it.

First, if I take Hell in the traditional sense, no. I do not think that Christ went there. Of course, many readers know that I have a different view on the nature of Heaven and Hell than most people do. It would not make sense for me to say Christ descended into Hell.

Yet I do hold to an intermediate state. I think there are several passages of Scripture that show this to be true. Paul talked about desiring to die and be with Christ and about being naked apart from the body. The thief on the cross was told about how that very day, He would be with Jesus in Paradise. (Yet another reason to think Christ did not literally go to Hell unless somehow Hell has become Paradise.)

Also, I think events like near-death experiences have shown that there is something more to man than just his body. These experiences cannot give us the furniture of Heaven or Hell, but I think they do pose a problem for a more naturalistic worldview.

Now there are many views on what happened to Christ. Some theologians have said that He did indeed descend into Hell and this way to release those who were there or else to proclaim his victory to those who were there, which could be two sides of the same coin.

Most of this comes from the passage found in 1 Peter 3:18-22 which is an extremely difficult passage to interpret and some commentaries even have an appendix in the back just meant to deal with this passage. Let’s make sure to keep in mind that while we hold that the Scripture is infallible in what it says, the creeds, as important as they are, are not necessarily. Yet even if we lost this phrase in the creed, it would be up to us to explain this passage of Scripture.

Some meanwhile think that the idea of descending into Hell is just a way of saying that he suffered death. This would be a parallel to the idea of death even if it is mentioned before burial. I really do not find this one persuasive however.

So what is my view? It’s important to keep in mind that we don’t want to do something like read Dante’s Inferno into the Creed. There’s no need to think about Jesus going into Hell to battle the devil one-on-one for instance.

What I would think of it as saying is simply that Jesus went to the realm of the dead, which was often described by the term “Sheol” in the Old Testament. I would be just fine with Him going to where the OT saints were and announcing the victory to lead them then into Paradise where He would be with the thief on the cross.

I am also not firmly settled on any of this as this is a difficult passage of the creed to interpret and there are many facets about this in-between time of Christ’s death and resurrection that we do not know about. Like other blogs, this is one I definitely welcome discussion on if you have your own theory.

In Christ,
Nick Peters