Tag Archives: Noah

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!

How to have faith that pleases God

10 Oct

Image result for what is faith

Do you know what faith is?  Do you know if your faith is pleasing to God?

Yesterday I mentioned a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1.  After teaching that description of faith, the writer of Hebrews begins to describe some of the heroes of the Bible and how they demonstrated faith in God. First he mentions Abel and Enoch.

Then in verse 6 he says this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God…” 

That’s pretty serious.  If we want to please God, we have to have faith.  What kind of faith? How much faith? What will it look like or feel like?  Will we know if we have true faith that pleases God?

The writer goes on, still in verse 6: “…because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

It seems to me that the writer is mostly talking about the intellectual side of faith.  The New Testament often refers to it as “belief”.  It is saying, “I believe God exists.”  That alone is quite an astounding thing to say and believe in this day and age.  Statistics point to a rise in those who do not believe in God.  Belief in God can be construed as crazy.  “You believe in God?  How quaint.”  In our scientific world, belief in God can be ridiculed, or said to be a crutch for the weak minded.  So when we believe in the existence of God, we are stepping out in faith.

Faith, then, is a matter of my mind, what I believe.  But that’s not all the writer of Hebrews says about faith. Look at the last part of the verse.  He talks about “those who earnestly seek” God.

He describes an active faith, how we live our live. God rewards those who earnestly seek him.

As we continue along in Hebrews 11, this concept of an earnestly lived out faith is what the writer of Hebrews wants to illustrate for us through more heroes from Bible stories.  He has already mentioned Abel and Enoch.  Now he mentions Noah.

I want us to think about Noah’s faith.  Was it just a belief in his mind?

Not at all.  Noah did something totally bizarre.  He built a giant boat in preparation for a great flood.  And the only reason was because God told him a flood was coming, and he better build a boat.  For those of you that are woodworkers, carpenters and builders, what would you do if God came to you and said, “I want you to build the Titanic out of wood, because I’m sending a giant flood?”

If I heard God say that, my first thought would be, “Uh…what did you say? I don’t think I heard you right.”

But Noah?  He started building a giant boat.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Noah did.

Next comes Abraham.  Abraham, an old man, gets a wild promise from God: “You and your old wife Sarah are going to be the parents of a great nation.”  In other words, “You are going to have a baby.”  Those of you who are in your 50s, 60s, 70s, what would you do if you had a dream, a vivid dream, and in it God says to you, “You are going to have a baby?”  Many of us would laugh, just like Sarah did.

But in the end, Abraham and Sarah believed and followed through, and God gave the a son.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Abraham did.

Interestingly the Old Testament Hebrew does not have a strictly intellectual concept faith or belief. Instead the Hebrew is the word “faithfulness”, which is active.  Noah’s faith was pretty active wasn’t it?  And Abraham’s faith was too.

Our picture of faith is starting to fill out.  Faith is intellectual beliefs, and it is physical action.  How does your belief and life match up to this picture of faith?