Tag Archives: he descended into hell

An attempt to explain the Apostle’s Creed phrase “he descended into hell” and why it matters

22 Aug

Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

“He descended into hell”?

Jesus did what?

Remember that phrase from the Apostle’s Creed?

As I said in my first post on 1 Peter 3:18-22, could this be the passage from which the Apostle’s Creed bases its phrase, “he descended into hell”?

That’s what I thought when I read 1 Peter 3:18-22.  See for yourself.  Here is the text in question:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

What do you think?  Do verses 19-20 (in bold) match up with “he descended into hell”?  Maybe.  Keep reading as we look further into this.

As I mentioned yesterday, the NIV’s translation of “Spirit” at the end of verse 18 is better translated “spirit”, so we should understand Peter as not talking about the Holy Spirit, but about Jesus, resurrected in a new spiritual form.  Peter is not saying that Jesus did not rise again physically.  Peter himself witnessed and touched Jesus’ risen physical body.  Instead Peter is saying that somehow, someway, Jesus, in a resurrected spiritual form preached to other spirits who had disobeyed in Noah’s day, and had been in some sort of prison ever since.

Ever heard that story before?  What spirits disobeyed in Noah’s day? What prison? When did Jesus do this?  What did he preach?

Scholars through the ages have debated this, providing a variety of possible answers to these questions.  I’m not going to survey those possibilities.  Instead, I’m going to take the advice I. H. Marshall gives in his commentary on 1st Peter, which is to focus on the answer I believe best fits the context.

To attempt that, look at verse 20 where Peter starts to answer some questions.  Those spirits who disobeyed long ago when Noah was building the ark?  What is Peter talking about?  Don’t remember that part of the flood story?  If so, you’re not alone.  It rarely gets told, but come to find out, there is actually a part of the flood story about this.  It is all the way back in Genesis chapter 6, and it, too, is a very strange story.  Join me as we go way back in time, a couple thousand years, to Gen. 6:1-6 and see if you can get what Peter is talking about.  Please read the passage before continuing.

How about that?  Nephilim?  Sons of God?  Angels having children with human women?  What?  The interpretation of Genesis 6:1-6 is as difficult and hotly debated as 1 Peter 3:18-22.  What is clear, though, is that there was disobedience in this story.  Whoever these creatures were, and whatever they were doing, it was clearly going against the will of God.

I think, therefore, we can see at least a little bit where Peter is getting the idea of spirits from Noah’s day who were put in prison because they disobeyed.  Maybe they were fallen angels?  We really don’t know.  But they disobeyed, and they were placed in some sort of prison for fallen angels.

And that brings us to Jesus.  Apparently, after he died and rose again in spirit, he went on a preaching mission to this prison.  We think that’s why the Apostles’ Creed says “he descended into hell”.   Assuming we are understanding this right, what message would Jesus be preaching to these spirits?

Some have said that Jesus was preaching the good news of salvation to them, giving them a second chance to follow him.  But the word that Peter uses is not the standard word for “preaching the good news”.  Peter, rather, uses a more generic word that means “to proclaim” or “to declare.”

Again, there are many theories, but if we take the flow of thought that Peter has been working on here, it seems best to understand that Jesus is proclaiming his victory over sin through his death and resurrection.

He was declaring to them that he has won the victory!

This is the good news, that through Jesus, and his death and resurrection, sin which separated us from God is dealt with, and we can be brought to God.  In other words, there is victory in Jesus!  God is doing a new thing through Jesus.  God is making things right.

Interestingly, Peter seems to make a connection in his mind at this point, and at the end of verse 20 and through 21, he keeps going with the Noah thing. More on that tomorrow!

Can a mysterious Bible passage help those feeling defeated in life?

20 Aug

Photo by Ian Espinsoa on Unsplash

Are there any areas of life where you just feel defeated?  Work?  Parenting?  A relationship?  Finances? Health?

Think about the last few weeks or months.  How has it been?  Do you ever feel like the waters are rising up around you?  Like you are drowning?

Sometimes I think life can be a journey in managing disappointment.  Why is it that the bad times seem so much more powerful than the good?  When a good thing happens, we are joyful, but it can seem like we need 10 good things in a row in order to offset the pain and disappointment of just one bad occurrence.  Know what I mean?

I’ll give you a personal example:  I am about to start studying for my doctorate in our seminary’s new Doctor of Theology program, and specifically in the leadership track.  If I submit a research essay, even if I get an A on the paper, if the professor makes critiques, guess what I will be dwelling on?  The A?  The good comments?  Nope.  I will dwell on the places the professor thinks I could have done better.  Those will fill my mind.  Sometimes I can obsess about the negative to the point where even if I got a good grade, I feel like I failed.  Defeated.

Those feelings are a common life experience for just about all of us.  The pressures of life these days are high.  Maybe it is a bad review at work.  Maybe it is when your kids were disobedient and you feel like it must be your parenting fail.  I get it.  Maybe it was one of those weeks when multiple appliances, or cars, or computers, or stuff breaks all at the same time.  Do you feel defeated today?

How can followers of Jesus deal with feelings of defeat?  I think Peter tries to answer that question in our next section of 1 Peter.  1 Peter 3:18-22.  Before we look at Peter’s thoughts, I want to introduce this section.

Do you remember a few weeks ago when I mentioned the Apostle’s Creed?  That post talked about 1 Peter 3:8 where Peter says, “live in harmony with one another” and goes on to describe the unity that the church should have.  A foundational question is “to achieve unity, how much does a church family need to agree on, and is it okay to disagree?”

So we talked about this phrase “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”  That phrase serves as a guide to help us think through how much we should agree on, and how to disagree.  It says that we should be unified on the essentials.  What are the essentials, though?  What are those teachings or doctrines or beliefs that we should be unified about?

I suggested that Christians from the very early years of the church rallied around a common creed called The Apostle’s Creed.  In this short statement we find the teaching of the apostles condensed into something that we believe Christians should find as essential.  And this is why many churches say the Creed every week.

In our Faith Church hymnals, The Apostle’s Creed is printed in a section with other creeds.

Right below the Apostles Creed we find the Nicene Creed.  It is also a very ancient creed. The general consensus is that the Apostles Creed is the oldest creed, and as time went by the leaders of the church wanted to clarify some things the creed said Christians believed.

Compare the Nicene Creed with the Apostles Creed, and the Nicene Creed is much longer.  There was a general church conference that took place in the year 325 AD in the city of Nicaea.  Christians leaders and thinkers from all over were invited to that conference, and they debated many different topics, eventually leading to the publication of the Nicene Creed.  The Nicene Creed is not only longer, but also different from the Apostles Creed.

It is one of those changes that I want to point out.  The Nicene eliminates a phrase from the Apostle’s Creed: “he descended into Hades or hell”

Why would the Council at Nicaea want to get rid of that?

Consider what the Apostle’s Creed says: “Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried.”  We understand that.  Very common, well-established in the Gospel accounts.  But why does the Creed say next that he descended into hell?  Does it come from the Bible?

Now we can look at 1 Peter 3:18-22.  Please read that.

Now do you see why the Apostles Creed says “he descended into hell”?   No, yes, maybe.  Well, look at verse 18.

In tomorrow’s post we’re going to look more in-depth at verse 18, but for now I want you to simply see that this is a pretty standard description of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It takes you back to Good Friday and Easter.  The story we tell every year.  Jesus was arrested, tried on false charges, convicted, beaten, and crucified.  There on the cross he died, they took his body down, and they buried him.

Three days later he miraculously rose again by the power of God, and he lives.  That’s verse 18.  In just a few words, Peter has reviewed the story that is foundational to Christianity. Jesus died for sins and rose again to bring us to God! Amazing!  This is good news!

But look at what he says in verses 19 and 20: he, Jesus, preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago in the days of Noah?

Do you know what Peter is talking about?

This is considered to be one of the most difficult passages in the entire New Testament.  There are many theories trying to explain Peter’s cryptic, mysterious words.  I thought about doing a survey of the three main theories, but instead I am going to take the advice of one of the scholars I read and focus on what I believe is the best way to understand Peter’s teaching.  I think you’ll find Peter’s words have wonderful encouragement for those who are feeling defeated.

Tomorrow we dive in.