Did Jesus Really Descend into Hell?

ZA Blog on April 14th, 2017. Tagged under ,,.

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It is sometimes argued that Christ descended into hell after he died.

The widely used Apostles’ Creed reads, “was crucified, dead, and buried, he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead.”

But the phrase “he descended into hell” does not occur in the Bible.

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Where did the phrase come from?

A murky background lies behind much of the history of the phrase itself. Its origins, where they can be found, are far from praiseworthy.

It is surprising to find that the phrase “he descended into hell” was not found in any of the early versions of the Creed (in the versions used in Rome, in the rest of Italy, and in Africa) until it appeared in one of two versions from Rufinus in A.D. 390.

Then it was not included again in any version of the Creed until A.D. 650.

Moreover, Rufinus, the only person who included it before A.D. 650, did not think that it meant that Christ descended into hell, but understood the phrase simply to mean that Christ was “buried.” In other words, he took it to mean that Christ “descended into the grave.” (The Greek form has hadēs, which can mean just “grave,” not geenna, “hell, place of punishment.”).

We should also note that the phrase only appears in one of the two versions of the Creed that we have from Rufinus: it was not in the Roman form of the Creed that he preserved.

This means, therefore, that until A.D. 650 no version of the Creed included this phrase with the intention of saying that Christ “descended into hell”—and the only version to include the phrase before A.D. 650 gives it a different meaning.

Later when the phrase was incorporated into different versions of the Creed that already had the phrase “and buried,” some other explanation had to be given to it.

There have been three possible meanings proposed throughout church history:

  1. Some take this phrase to mean that Christ suffered the pains of hell while on the cross. Calvin takes this approach, as does the Heidelberg Catechism.
  2. Others have understood it to mean that Christ continued in the “state of death” until his resurrection. The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 50 takes this approach: “Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.”
  3. Finally, some have argued that the phrase means just what it appears to mean on first reading: that Christ actually did descend into hell after his death on the cross.

Learn more about the life of Jesus:
Four Portraits, One Jesus

What does the Bible say? 5 passages used to support the descent into hell

There are five Bible passages used to support the idea that Christ really did descend into hell between his death and resurrection.

1. Acts 2:27

This is part of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, where he quotes Psalm 16:10: “because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead [KJV: “leave my soul in hell”], nor will you let your faithful one see decay.”

Does this mean Jesus entered hell? Not necessarily. Peter is using David’s psalm to show that Christ’s body did not decay—he is therefore unlike David, who “died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day”

2. Romans 10:6–7

These verses contain two rhetorical questions, again Old Testament quotations (from Deut. 30:13): “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”

But this passage hardly teaches that Christ descended into hell. The point of the passage is that Paul is telling people not to ask these questions, because Christ is not far away—he is near—and faith in him is as near as confessing with our mouth and believing in our heart (v. 9).

3. Ephesians 4:8–9

Here Paul writes, “In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?”

Does this mean that Christ “descended” to hell?

It is at first unclear what is meant by “the lower parts of the earth,” but another translation seems to give the best sense: “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?” (NIV). Here the NIV takes “descended” to refer to Christ’s coming to earth as a baby (the Incarnation). The last four words are an acceptable understanding of the Greek text, taking the phrase “the lower regions of the earth” to mean “lower regions which are the earth.”

Paul is saying that the Christ who went up to heaven (in his ascension) is the same one who earlier came down from heaven (v. 10). That “descent” from heaven occurred, of course, when Christ came to be born as a man. So the verse speaks of the incarnation, not of a descent into hell.

4. 1 Peter 3:18–20

This passage says: “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. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

For many people this is the most puzzling passage on this entire subject. Let’s unpack several questions surrounding this text:

Does 1 Peter 3:18–20 refer to Christ preaching in hell?

Some have taken “he went and preached to the spirits in prison” to mean that Christ went into hell and preached to the spirits who were there—either proclaiming the gospel and offering a second chance to repent, or just proclaiming that he had triumphed over them and that they were eternally condemned.

But these interpretations fail to explain adequately either the passage itself or its setting in this context. Peter does not say that Christ preached to spirits generally, but only to those “who formerly did not obey…during the building of the ark.” Such a limited audience—those who disobeyed during the building of the ark—would be a strange group for Christ to travel to hell and preach to.

If Christ proclaimed his triumph, why only to these sinners and not to all? And if he offered a second chance for salvation, why only to these sinners and not to all? Even more difficult for this view is the fact that Scripture elsewhere indicates that there is no opportunity for repentance after death (Luke 16:26; Heb. 10:26–27).

Moreover, the context of 1 Peter 3 makes “preaching in hell” unlikely. Peter is encouraging his readers to witness boldly to hostile unbelievers around them. He just told them to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). This evangelistic motif would lose its urgency if Peter were teaching a second chance for salvation after death. And it would not fit at all with a “preaching” of condemnation.

Does 1 Peter 3:18–20 refer to Christ preaching to fallen angels?

To give a better explanation for these difficulties, several commentators have proposed taking “spirits in prison” to mean demonic spirits, the spirits of fallen angels, and have said that Christ proclaimed condemnation to these demons. This (it is claimed) would comfort Peter’s readers by showing them that the demonic forces oppressing them would also be defeated by Christ.

However, Peter’s readers would have to go through an incredibly complicated reasoning process to draw this conclusion when Peter does not explicitly teach it. They would have to reason from (1) some demons who sinned long ago were condemned, to (2) other demons are now inciting your human persecutors, to (3) those demons will likewise be condemned someday, to (4) therefore your persecutors will finally be judged as well. Finally Peter’s readers would get to Peter’s point: (5) Therefore don’t fear your persecutors.

Does it not seem too farfetched to say that Peter knew his readers would read all this into the text?

Moreover, Peter emphasizes hostile persons, not demons, in the context (1 Peter 3:14, 16). And where would Peter’s readers get the idea that angels sinned “during the building of the ark”? There is nothing of that in the Genesis story about the building of the ark. And (in spite of what some have claimed), if we look at all the traditions of Jewish interpretation of the flood story, we find no mention of angels sinning specifically “during the building of the ark.” Therefore the view that Peter is speaking of Christ’s proclamation of judgment to fallen angels is really not persuasive either.

Does 1 Peter 3:18–20 refer to Christ’s proclaiming release to Old Testament saints?

Another explanation is that Christ, after his death, went and proclaimed release to Old Testament believers who had been unable to enter heaven until the completion of Christ’s redemptive work.

But again we may question whether this view adequately accounts for what the text actually says. It does not say that Christ preached to those who were believers or faithful to God, but to those “who formerly did not obey”—the emphasis is on their disobedience. Moreover, Peter does not specify Old Testament believers generally, but only those who were disobedient “in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark” (1 Peter 3:20).

Finally, Scripture gives us no clear evidence to make us think that full access to the blessings of being in God’s presence in heaven were withheld from Old Testament believers when they died—indeed, several passages suggest that believers who died before Christ’s death did enter into the presence of God at once because their sins were forgiven by trusting in the Messiah who was to come (Gen. 5:24; 2 Sam. 12:23; Pss. 16:11; 17:15; 23:6; Eccl. 12:7; Matt. 22:31–32; Luke 16:22; Rom. 4:1–8; Heb. 11:5).

A more satisfying explanation of 1 Peter 3:18–20

The most satisfactory explanation of 1 Peter 3:18–20 seems rather to be one proposed (but not really defended) long ago by Augustine: the passage refers not to something Christ did between his death and resurrection, but to what he did “in the spiritual realm of existence” (or “through the Spirit”) at the time of Noah. When Noah was building the ark, Christ “in spirit” was preaching through Noah to the hostile unbelievers around him.

This interpretation is very appropriate to the larger context of 1 Peter 3:13–22. The parallel between the situation of Noah and the situation of Peter’s readers is clear at several points:

  • Both were a religious minority
  • Both were surrounded by hostile unbelievers
  • Both were facing the possibility of imminent judgment
  • Both were to witness
  • Both were finally saved

Such an understanding of 1 Peter 3:18–20 seems to be by far the most likely solution to a puzzling passage.

5. 1 Peter 4:6

This fifth and final passage that supports Jesus’ descent into hell says, “For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God.”

Does this verse mean that Christ went to hell and preached the gospel to those who had died? If so, it would be the only passage in the Bible that taught a “second chance” for salvation after death and would contradict passages such as Luke 16:19–31 and Hebrews 9:27, which clearly seem to deny this possibility.

Moreover, the passage does not explicitly say that Christ preached to people after they had died, and could rather mean that the gospel in general was preached (this verse does not even say that Christ preached) to people who are now dead, but that it was preached to them while they were still alive on earth.

This is a common explanation, and it seems to fit this verse much better. It finds support in the second word of the verse, “this,” which refers back to the final judgment mentioned at the end of verse 5. Peter is saying that it was because of the final judgment that the gospel was preached to the dead.

Thus, “the dead” are people who have died and are now dead, even though they were alive and on earth when the gospel was preached to them.

We conclude, therefore, that this last passage, when viewed in its context, turns out to provide no convincing support for the doctrine of a descent of Christ into hell.

Learn more in the
Systematic Theology online course, taught by Wayne Grudem

3 passages that indicate Jesus did not descend to hell

In addition to the fact that there is little if any biblical support for a descent of Christ into hell, there are some New Testament texts that argue against the possibility of Christ’s going to hell after his death.

1. Luke 23:43

Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), imply that after Jesus died his soul (or spirit) went immediately to the presence of the Father in heaven, even though his body remained on earth and was buried.

Some people deny this by arguing that “Paradise” is a place distinct from heaven, but in both of the other New Testament uses the word clearly means “heaven”: in 2 Corinthians 12:4 it is the place to which Paul was caught up in his revelation of heaven, and in Revelation 2:7 it is the place where we find the tree of life–which is clearly heaven in Revelation 22:2 and 14.

2. John 19:30

In addition, the cry of Jesus, “It is finished” (John 19:30) strongly suggests that Christ’s suffering was finished at that moment and so was his alienation from the Father because of bearing our sin. This implies that he would not descend into hell, but would go at once into the Father’s presence.

3. Luke 23:46

Finally, the cry, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46), also suggests that Christ expected (correctly) the immediate end of his suffering and estrangement and the welcoming of his spirit into heaven by God the Father (note Stephen’s similar cry in Acts 7:59).

If Jesus didn’t descend into hell, then what happened when he died?

These texts indicate, then, that Christ in his death experienced the same things believers in this present age experience when they die: his dead body remained on earth and was buried (as ours will be), but his spirit (or soul) passed immediately into the presence of God in heaven (just as ours will).

Then on the first Easter morning, Christ’s spirit was reunited with his body and he was raised from the dead—just as Christians who have died will (when Christ returns) be reunited to their bodies and raised in their perfect resurrection bodies to new life.

This fact has pastoral encouragement for us: we need not fear death, not only because eternal life lies on the other side, but also because we know that our Savior himself has gone through exactly the same experience we will go through—he has prepared, even sanctified the way, and we follow him with confidence each step of that way.

Learn more about the death and resurrection of Jesus

Learn more about the death of Jesus, the atonement, the resurrection—and why it all matters. Sign up for Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology online course.

  • john steell 2 years ago

    don’t believe in MR Grudem’s theology

  • Caroline Haydu 2 years ago

    You might consider this ancient homily by Bishop Melito of Sardis (2nd cent) which testifies to a very early belief that Christ did descend to the dead to free the patriarchs. In part, “[Christ] has gone to search for our first parent…he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve”. Find it here: http://www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20010414_omelia-sabato-santo_en.html

  • Rev. Gary DeSha 2 years ago

    Don’t agree. Grudem’s argument does not meet the testimony of over 2000 years of teaching in the history of the Church. Especially, Grudem’s last statement, with no references from Scripture, in closing, defeat his argument that Jesus did not “descend into hell / the place of the dead.” How could Jesus defeat death, which includes being separated from the presence of God, lest He descend into the place of the dead? God bless you all!

  • Juanita Barnes 2 years ago

    I have deep concern at the effort put in suppositions put forth in the class vs what is vividly expressed in the Bible. For example, the fallen angels most assuredly continued to sin during the building of the ark. Once they realized their cohabitation with the female gender of flesh could produce a flesh being they NEVER stopped. The flood killed off their offspring, Nephilim (a type of anthropomorphic hybrid), but not the angel. They are immortal. They continue cohabitation to this day. Look at Gen 6:3,4. Two points: 1. In v3 GOD puts a cap on how long the Nephilim can live (he ALSO is flesh) 120 yrs. Noah lived 950 hrs. 2. In v4 key words AND ALSO AFTER THAT. Didn’t David kill Goliath? they’re still here. Note: varied types of giants (long-neck Giants, 6 fingers/toes Giants, etc.) also in the Bible. We must dig deep and pray. We don’t have to prove GOD’s truth. It’s going to stand. He will oftentimes take the simple to confound the wise. Be blessed.

  • Noel Johnson 2 years ago

    So I’m not sure either way, still trying to figure it out, I do have a if Jesus went immediately into the presence of God, then why in John 20:17, Don’t cling to me, Jesus said, for I haven’t yet ascended to the father. But go find my brothers and tell them ‘I am ascending to my father and your father, to my God and your God.

  • Dwight Ropp 2 years ago

    In responding to a comment below, I must say that I do believe in virtually all of Mr. Grudem’s theology, with the exception of two minor issues, and certainly agree with him in regard to this issue. I believe he is blessed by God immensely in his handling and understanding of scripture.
    And perhaps a helpful distinction to consider in resolving the issue Noel mentions (below), is that of the difference between the spirit of Jesus only which ascended to the Father’s presence at the point of His mortal death on the cross and then His resurrected bodily form which ascended later to Heaven in Acts 1:9, this latter, final ascension being likely what he referred to in John 20:17 when speaking to Mary.

  • Dwight Ropp 2 years ago

    Rev. DeSha comments that Grudem “used no references from scripture” in his “last statement”–one statement out of a multitude of them, which is very odd, indeed, since the references to scripture had already been dealt with thoroughly. But to be sure, Grudem is very diligent in referring to scripture in all his arguments, to the telling point of demonstrating that nowhere in scripture does it convincingly say that Jesus went into hell. Examining scripture was the whole point of his article (past the introduction). And Grudem explains very clearly, I believe, that Jesus ended the alienation from the Father on the cross at the point he cried out “it is finished” and then commended His spirit into the hands of His Father. Scripture says nothing about a necessity for Jesus having to be in “the place of the dead” to defeat death, as DeSha insists, but rather it is His resurrection that ultimately defeats death (John 11:25; I-Cor.15:17-22,54,55; I-Peter 1:3,4). This latter conclusion is actually more of an inference from imagination rather than from scripture. Grudem has done a fine job in dealing with scripture here, I believe.
    And in response to Noel’s comment, perhaps the following distinction may be helpful to consider in resolving the issue. Grudem was dealing with scripture concerning where Christ’s spirit was located from the point of commending His spirit into the hands of His Father at His bodily death–after which His mortal body lay in the tomb–until His resurrection. Conversely, the ascension to His Father that Jesus was referring to when speaking to Mary (in John 20:17) was undoubtedly the one to come in Acts 1:9 while His disciples watched Him bodily ascend from the earth.

  • Dwight Ropp 2 years ago

    I must apologize for duplicating the last part of my first comment (above) into the last part of my second comment. I had thought my first comment was lost or rejected and so developed a second one which I then posted. But later I noticed that both comments had appeared in print (above).
    I also wish to edit something in my second, longer comment that I forgot to do. Near the end of the first paragraph I begin a sentence with “The latter conclusion” instead of properly wording it as “DeSha’s conclusion.”

  • Joey Sanchez 1 year ago

    I always thought hell had a good side which was paradise and that old testament saint went to paradise simply because they could not supercede Jesus I’m going to heaven first, also because Jesus blood had not been shed yet to actually wash away ones sins? But the rest of this makes so much sense Thank you please help me understand question of old testament saints Thank you

  • Al Taylor 1 year ago

    There are other Christian writings that were left out of the bible and some books were even removed from our Bible’s. The answer to your question can be found in the Book of Nicodemus. Don’t take anyone’s word for anything, look for yourself and you be the judge of what’s the truth and what’s not. These ancient writings date back to the same time frame as what is in our bible’s now, When the books were chosen, if mistakes were found, they would throw out the entire book not taking into consideration men wrote the books and men make mistakes, there’s good information in most all of the lost or forbidden books of the bible, look for yourself. Here’s what Nicodemus says about Jesus’s decent into hell, you should also read what comes before and after this verse as well.

    Chapter 7 (23).

    And Hades receiving Satan, said to him: Beelzebul, heir of fire and punishment, enemy of the saints, through what necessity didst thou bring about that the King of glory should be crucified, so that he should COME HERE and deprive us of our power?

  • Pamela Harris 1 year ago

    What happened to Jesus when he went to hell and what did he do what did he do achieve

  • Adam Morrissey 1 year ago

    I’m late in the converstion here. What brought me here was the Apostles Creed, and my resistance to the idea that Jesus went to hell being biblically accurate. After reading this (and coming to a different conclusion) in concert with the fact that the creed’s Greek word better translates to hades/sheol/grave, rather than hell, I would have to agree that the creed stands true.
    A thought about understanding this verse that requires considerably less liberty would be to read the 1st Peter verse as “even” to the people of Noah”s time. I.e., Jesus did indeed descend into sheol, and preach the gospel to all of sheol, including Abrahams bosom, and “even” to the wretched/ubber sinful/ people of Noah’s time of which 8 were joyfully saved. “Therefore….”, as the article author mentions as the overarching intent of Peter here, “do not be afraid…” and “share the gospel boldy.” “In these places that are scary to you, if people of Noah’s time could be saved in sheol, there are many more there that will be saved due to your boldness in Christ.”

  • RC 1 year ago

    I’m a bit confused about where you and others who have commented are getting the idea that the Apostles Creed says “Hades” in Greek rather than what I have found. Perhaps you’re looking at a different manuscript? The Greek version that I have found says that he “katelthonvta eis ta katotata,” or that literally he “descended into the lowest regions.” The Latin says more explicitly that he “descendit ad inferna,” or “he descended to hell.” There is no mention of Hades (i.e. something like “eis haiden”). This prepositional phrase is found in various Greek versions of Acts 2:31 (written either as “eis haiden” or “eis haidou,” the latter being a more conventional way of expressing this concept in Greek), but again, it’s not in the Creed. I’m not trying to weigh in on the theological debate, for the record. I just want to understand why the last few articles I have read about the creed keep saying that it says “hades” rather than the superlative phrase provided above…

  • Andrew Cunningham 1 year ago

    What about the saints in Abraham’s Bosom? Many church fathers hold to the belief that Christ went, ministered, and brought those blessed few with him to Paradise. Does this negate the majority of Old Testament use of the word Sheol?

  • Mic Ha El Russell 1 year ago

    Sorry but I just can’t agree with a couple of things said here. Could you please show me in scripture where it says that we are consious at all after death, until our resurrection that is? Everywhere that I have read says that we sleep after death until the first, or second, resurrection. Our spirit goes to God, yes but where does scripture say that we will actually be consious in heaven? Our spirit goes to God because it is a part of Him.
    P. S. No I’m not Jehova’s witness, I just spend all my free time studying scripture.

  • Richard Anderson 1 year ago

    Zondervan you are liars, the word says Jesus DESCENDED into the lower parts of the earth.

  • Pamela Bauder 12 months ago

    To me, when Jesus was on the cross and spoke to his Father, “I commit unto you my Spirit,” that was the ‘spirit’ part of Jesus. When He spoke to the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise,” that was the ‘God’ part of Jesus. When He decended into Hell, that was the ‘human’ part of Jesus. He had to experience the whole crucifixion and dying for us, why would He stop there? By going to hell, He paid the price for us, completely, so to speak. It’s up to us to accept what He did for us. He did it all, not just part. Thankyou Jesus!

  • David Thom 12 months ago

    Thank you for ultimately proving your point, that Christ did not descend into the contemporary notion of Hell. But as a brother I feel compelled to offer corrections. Neither Luke 16:26 or Heb. 10:26–27 have anything to do with what you said, that scripture elsewhere indicates that there is no opportunity for repentance after death. You have read into things not at all stated. I’m not arguing that there is such an opportunity, but you’ve made those two verses a poor justification for your point. And Hebrews 9:27 is not a declaration there there is no second chance. It’s context is unrelated to your interests here. Men die and their being judged is contrasted to Christ who has died and then He, having put away sin – is the subject of those eager to see him. A somber consequence is compared to rejoicing. And your interpretation of 1 Peter 4:6 is in error – Peter says “the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead” (NASB). One can’t preach to “the dead” unless they are metaphorically dead, or simply not in Christ. Being metaphorically dead for Peter or other NT authors is a common occurrence. “Him who is ready to judge” (v.5) and “the end of all things is near” (v.7) refer to destruction believed by Peter to be coming, so it makes sense that these dead may come to their senses and as Peter says at the end of v.6, “that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God” or in other words, become alive in Christ. Being “judged in the flesh” is to experience judgment from God while still alive, leading to repentance. Your interpretation mentions no possible fruit of this gospel preached – you ignore how the very verse ends.

  • Dr. Ken Burkett 12 months ago

    I found this article to be poorly written. He too quickly dismisses evidence that doesn’t support his position, shows apparent ignorance of Scripture, and confounds two issues: the descent of Christ to “hell” during the interim period of His death, and a descent subsequent to His resurrection. Apparently he commits the logical fallacy of two few choices: either He descended there before His resurrection or after His resurrection, but there is a third option: perhaps He descended there at both times. Hence, some Biblical data refers to one event, while other data refers to the other. His discussion blurs these lines.

    Much could be said here, but just a few quick observations:

    (1) He totally misunderstands the reference to “spirit” in 1 Pet. 3:18. The reference is to Christ’s resurrection body: i.e. “in flesh” = natural, mortal body; “in spirit” = immortal resurrection body (cp. 1 Cor. 15:44-49, where the “spiritual body” = resurrection body; also, 1 Tim. 3:16, where Christ was manifested “in flesh” = with a mortal body, but vindicated “in spirit” = by an immortal resurrection body). Hence, 1 Pet. 3 is speaking about actions taken by Christ in His resurrection body – not events that transpired during the interim of His death. The passage has a clear structure that could be outlined as follows:

    a. Christ: in flesh & in spirit (i.e. His mortal experience & subsequent immortality) [3:18]
    b. Christ’s victory acknowledged by the fallen angels in prison (Hades) [3:19]
    c. Noah’s ark: a meaningful symbol [3:20]
    c’ Baptism: a meaningful symbol (because of His resurrection) [3:21]
    b’ Christ’s victory acknowledged by the good angels in Heaven [3:22]
    a’ We: in flesh & in spirit (i.e. our current mortal experience & future immortality) [4:1-6]

    (2) Regarding Eph. 4, his interpretation of “lower parts of the earth” is grammatically possible (i.e. genitive of apposition) but belies an astounding ignorance of Scripture. A partitive genitive is also possible, and based upon OT usage this would certainly be preferred. Consider passages such as Psa. 63:9, Ezk. 26:20, and Ezk. 31:16,18 – all of which speak of the lower parts of the earth in association with the realm of the dead and are clearly not genitives of apposition or references to an incarnation. Is the author of this article not familiar with such common OT usage?

    (3) That there was indeed a celebration of Christ’s victory in the spiritual realm subsequent to the resurrection cannot be denied (Eph. 4:8-10, Col. 2:15). Why could not this victory be celebrated from the lowest depths of Hades to the highest heights of Heaven – and by implication everywhere in between?

    (4) His treatment of Acts 2 is lacking. Of course, Peter is arguing that Christ’s body did not decay in the grave like David. Everyone agrees on that. But Peter says MORE than that: he also says that Christ’s soul was not left in Hades. Thus, Peter is speaking about the fate of two things: Christ’s body and His soul. “Soul” here is not a mere reference to Christ’s “life” or a synonym for “self”: it is rather presented as a complement to the body, not a synonym for the body. When Christ warns against the one who can destroy – not only your body – but both body and soul in Hell, He is warning about the fate of both your physical and immaterial make-up. Likewise, in Acts Peter speaks – not only about the fate of Christ’s physical make-up, but also about the fate of His soul, which apparently ended up in the realm of the dead (Hades, but obviously was not in a place of fire). Where the “realm of the dead” for saved people was in OT times is likewise a disputed issue; but the point is that clearly the passage is stating that Christ’ soul – not body – was not “abandoned” to the realm of the dead. (But since Christ was indeed in Heaven at the very time Peter was speaking, it’s hard to think that the “realm of the dead” during Christ’s interim death was Heaven because He was still there even while Peter was speaking, yet Peter’s whole point is that He was no longer there! And it is rather an odd expression to speak of one being “abandoned” to Heaven, as if Heaven were a place where one would feel abandoned.)

  • Linda Ford 12 months ago

    Where in the Bible does it say we will be reunited with our bodies.
    This is not what I was taught.

  • Linda Ford 12 months ago

    I don’t believe in MR Grudem’s theology Where in the Bible does it say we will be reunited with our old bodies.

  • Jeff Hayes 12 months ago

    In a study I did, I read the books of Enoch which graphically explain the different levels to the heavenlies. This ties in perfectly tobthe passages about Lazarus and the rich man and Jesus statements that he was going to prepare a place for us and what He meant when He told the good thief he would be in paradise (paradisio not uranos) that day with Jesus.
    As Abraham and the richman could talk accroo the divide, its easy to see how Jesus could declare His victory to all the dead on both sides of the rift. So He would have decended to the paradise side of sheol. God be Praised, Jesus is Lord. :)

  • Jeff Martin 12 months ago

    Within the greater context of soteriology, could Jesus’s words to the thief also reference an eternal aspect of time rather than temporal? If taken to that degree, outside of time, the thief entered paradise that day though Christ may have temporally delayed to finish His salvific mission to abolish death entirely.

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    […] the only version to include the phrase before A.D. 650 gives it a different meaning,” Zondervan Academic blog earlier quoted evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem as saying in one of his […]

  • Marin M. Moreno 12 months ago

    In all this, the concept that Salvation was available before the crucifixion of Christ is implied. That the people prior had the same access to the gifting of God via the Holy Spirit and the same clarity of God’s plan and knowledge of his love. Clearly, they did not. If you were Jewish, you had the law but as the Bible tells us, that was not able to save. Jesus gives us a vivid depiction of Hell in the telling of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Luke 16:19-31. Eph: 4:8

    Many people look to frame the parts of the Bible they have a hard time with into their theology. But like a pair of shoes too small, they just don’t fit.

  • Clarke Morledge 12 months ago

    Dr. Grudem’s exegetical analysis here is very helpful, and he might have a number of his Scriptural readings correct, and he puts forth his views out at length in his _Systematic Theology_, p. 586-594, a marvelous text.

    However, as some comments have noted, he is working with the assumption that “he descended into hell,” carries with it the sense of “hell” being the final resting place of the wicked, an assumption that other scholars rightly challenge.

    Catherine Ella Laufer’s _Hell’s Destruction: An Exploration of Christ’s Descent to the Dead_ traces out the historical development of the phrase, and links the “hell” language more to the Old Testament concept of “sheol” (Hebrew) or “Hades” (Greek), which is the realm that all of the dead go to, whether they be righteous or wicked. As Laufer states, the current official Roman Catholic rendering of the controversial clause, as “he descended to the dead,” is closest to the original version of the clause:

    “The recent English translation ‘he descended to the dead’ is a more accurate rendering of the sense of the Latin text and its Greek precursor.” (p. 30)

    We see this same adjustment of the “hell” vs. “Hades” language in Acts 2:27. In the KJV, Acts 2:27 has King David going to “hell,” pleading that his soul may not stay there. However, the ESV rendering of the same passage, a project that Dr. Grudem actively participated in as a translator, corrects this translation to read “Hades,” and not “hell”.

    “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”

    It hardly makes sense to think that Luke (the writer of Acts) or Peter would think that David went to “hell.” “Hades” seems more appropriate.

  • Steve bates 11 months ago

    People, The place of the dead is the grave. Don’t make it anything else. This is not difficult to understand unless you follow tradition – which voids the word of God. Jesus’ body went to the Grave and his spirit went to be in the presents of God. Study to show yourself approved unto God a workman not needing to be Ashamed.

  • David Gregory 9 months ago

    The treatment of the verses in favor of Jesus not going to Hell are interesting, and done admirably, but the discussion of what happened instead falls flat. Jesus told Mary at the tomb, after his resurrection, that he had not yet returned to the Father, therefore, the statement he makes to the thief on the cross is not intended to be discussing the destination of their “soul” once their bodies die. The thief had just asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came in his kingdom, and Jesus responded by telling him, “this day you will be with me in paradise.” Generally, because of certain theological biases that we tend to hold, this is translated as “today”, but the scriptural context is the day of the Lord, i.e. when the kingdom comes, a time that Jesus and the apostles often describe as “in that day”. Luke 23:43 is not clearly teaching that Jesus and the thief go to heaven on the day that they died, unless our biases make it say so. It actually makes more sense to see Jesus affirming to the thief that in the day that he comes in his kingdom, the thief will also be with him.

    Another point refers to Jesus’ spirit. The middle eastern conception of the spirit of a man was not as a euphemism for one’s soul. I would contend that one’s soul was indivisible tied to one’s body. The spirit is one’s breath, akin to the breath God breathed in to man in the beginning. Jesus is releasing his breath back to God, from whom he borrowed it. It would not have been seen by the first century hearers as a statement of his soul going to heaven.

    When Jesus says not to fear those who can kill the body only, but to fear the one who can kill the body and soul in the lake of fire, he is not making a distinction between one’s body and one’s soul, as such. He is commenting on the fact that even if someone can kill me, I will still be resurrected in the day of the Lord. God revives! But then, God is the one who kills and there is not remedy. Jesus’ admonition is about the temporary nature of the first death over which men, and powers and principalities have some control, versus the finality and everlasting nature of the second death, over which only God has control.

    We need to move away from such Greek style understanding of the words we read and seek to understand them in their more biblical, less pagan context.

  • Robert Macauley 9 months ago

    Great coverage about this difficult topic. Surprising how so many miss the truth of Scripture by referring to extra Biblical sources. Liked it.

  • Jerry Moore 9 months ago

    Jesus died a sinners death. Every person that died before christ must hear the message of the cross. Hell was meant for satan and his angels. Paradise was in the center of the earth called the bosom of Abraham. The rich was in torment but beleavers before Christ was in paradise a place of no torment. Colo 2;14-15 Jesus went to there stronghold and spoiled them. He didn’t spend all that time in paradise. He preached to the dead and if Jesus preached to the dead anywhere they could beleave him or not. why do you seem bent of proving Jesus who became sin and took the sins of the whole world couldn’t go where people die without knowledge Of the cross of Christ Isaiah 5;13-15 I don’t know if all this will save any one by knowing these scriptures. But the Holy Spirit is our teacher John 14;26 thank you so much

  • Mark Deckard 7 months ago

    Theres more truth in the comments than in the article. Orthodoxy has suppressed the fullness of Gods revelation for centuries because it needs to build walls across the paths that Gods word leads us down and those destinations are out of the control of the little lords of orthodoxy.
    Jesus went to the place of the dead and preached the good news. There was only one reason to do that. It was so that they might not perish but have everlasting life.
    If you have a problem with Gods mercy triumphing over Gods judgement then you are like the brother of the prodigal son who despises the Fathers mercy. For this my son was dead, but now he is alive.

  • Angela H Elliott 6 months ago

    Christ did not immediately ascend to the Father upon His death because when He appeared to His Disciples after His resurrection, He told them “Do not cling to Me for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.'” John 20:17

  • S. Mitchell 5 months ago

    Jesus hadn’t ascended to heaven prior to his resurrection. (Refer to John 20:17.) “Paradise” — also referred to as “Abraham’s bosom” or the blessed side of Hades — is where Jesus went after he died. To support this, Jesus promised he’d be “in paradise” with the criminal on that day they died.

  • Sam 5 months ago


    John 20:17

    17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I AM NOT YET ASCENDED to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

    Matthew 12:39

    But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:

    Jonah 2:2

    2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.

  • Dean maher 5 months ago

    So when it says He first descended into the lower parts of the earth, you don’t think that meant hell? Then what does it mean when it says He ascended. Oh it doesn’t say heaven so maybe He went to Mars. Gimme a break. Funny how when a person doesn’t believe something they’ll twist scriptures for their own satisfaction. He went to hell in our place. He said to the father, you will not leave my soul in Hades. That was Jesus speaking

  • Miki Manojlovic 3 months ago

    This is a very erroneous and poorly researched article. The Creed of the Apostles clearly includes “descended to hell”, as well as the Athanasian Creed. Both of the creeds were early church creeds as the evidence of them being quoted by the church fathers indicate. The Early Church very clearly believed that Jesus descended to hell, and the evidence abounds in the early church fathers writings: Clement of Alexandria in chapter 6 of “Stromateis” devotes significant attention to this topic. Cyril of Alexandria in Paschal Homilies. Origen in Contra Celsus 2.43. Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, and others treat the subject significantly. By the way, some of these guys were the same people that drafted the Nicene Creed, which most christians today accept. But to figure out what the early church fathers believed takes some research. Of the early Church Apocrypha, which are very indicative of the sentiment of the early church, you can read the Gospel of Nicodemus where the descent and Jesus’s dealing with Hades and Satan is described to a minute detail. Odes of Solomon is clear on the topic very much. The Gospel of Bartholomew significantly deals with the topic. The Gospel of Peter. Etc. Etc. And what is very interesting is that the early church fathers relied heavily on the Scripture to illustrate their point in this regard. The only significant “opposer” of the teaching was Augustine of Hippo, probably because of his pagan background. Because of Augustine’s position, Luther (who was an Augustinian monk) and Calvin picked up this opposition (as well as many other heretical teachings). Anyhow, to pick a few verses that vaguely suggest to a casual reader that Jesus went straight to heaven is not proper theological scholarship.

  • Emma 3 months ago

    Didn’t Jesus go to paradise where the old testament believers were and take the keys of death and hell
    And took captivity captive. Seems like this would have completed the old testament because the unbelievers in the old testament he was long suffering with them and the people on earth now would not get a second chance because we have the gospel we can except it or reject it. Not like the old testament unbeleivers

  • Jonathan Keele 2 months ago

    This text is in error. The dead do not go to heaven right away. We know this not just because of the story of Lazarus and the rich man but because it is echoed at the end of Revelations. Death and Hell are poured into the Lake of Fire. That sentence makes no sense unless, the death and hell is a separate waiting place just like described in Lazarus and the Rich man.

    Furthermore, going to heaven straight away negates a pillar of Christian faith: The judgement. Why would God have the judgement after his verdict was rendered? It is not in harmony with scripture or even logical.

    Also, your scriptures listed to prove this reference the likes of Enoch and Abraham. If Abraham was in his waiting place (bosom) then he could still be called “living” enough to suggest God is the God of the living. That is actually literally the point of said verse. He is dead, but somehow alive. He is not bodily resurrected during the days of Jacob.

    One last thing, Jonah is an allegory for Christ. He was in the belly of the whale for 3 days. If Christ merely ceased to exist as would be this errant theology, how does Jonah LIVING in the belly of a whale fit the type of Christ?

    Revelations 20
    13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

    14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

    What is death and hell if they are not the lake of fire? There is only one answer, the waiting place of the dead as found in Lazarus and the Rich man.
    Why do people want to deny this revelation and pretend it does not exist is beyond me.

  • Richard Shankster 3 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing. This is very concise, and satisfies my questions. My biggest question being why they believe this error.
    They simply need to seriously study the language in these verses.
    Also, for our atonement to be complete, there were certain requirements to be met: the blood/ death of a holy sacrifice.
    Jesus did not need to “take upon Himself the literal sins and suffering of humanity,” in order to redeem us. We have made such a great deal of this thinking. Or the idea that He was separated from the Father. How can we separate the God-head? For “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” Many such traditions we do propagate in adding drama to our personal understanding. We will have to answer for every word that we have taught. We might-as-well not speculate.