Christ’s Descent In To Hades. -- By: L. S. Potwin

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 050:199 (Jul 1893)
Article: Christ’s Descent In To Hades.
Author: L. S. Potwin


Christ’s Descent In To Hades.

L. S. Potwin

Adelbert College

“He descended into hell”—so runs the venerable and majestic Creed. But the American Episcopal Prayer-book prefixes its timid rubric as follows: “Any churches may omit the words ‘He descended into hell,’ or may, instead of them, use the words ‘He went into the place of departed spirits,’ which are considered as words of the same meaning in the Creed.” The words which are here made optional have come down to us in an unbroken line of doctrinal succession from the fourth century. They have, indeed been stigmatized as an interpolation, but so early an interpolation might perhaps be called a mature addition. Their omission was favored by the change of meaning in the word “hell,” but there was also the feeling that Christ’s visit to Hades was of little importance, and is to us not a doctrine,’ but a matter of mere curiosity.

Now, whatever may be true of the “Apostles’ Creed,” the Descent into Hades has sufficient New-Testament authority. The first recorded address of Peter contains twofold evidence that the Descent was believed by both speaker and hearers. In the first place, he quotes from a Psalm (xvi.) that had a shaping influence on the belief of the people respecting Hades. Further, he bases an argument and appeal for the resurrection of Christ on the certainty that he would not stay in Hades. “Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades” (Acts 2:27).

But what was Hades, and what the significance and importance of Christ’s going thither? In a somewhat recent discussion I find these words: “The Saviour was in the same state between death and resurrection as we now are after death.”1 This is, it seems to me, precisely what ought not to be said. For this ignores the whole work of Christ in Hades, and leaves them that sleep in Jesus no better off than if he had not risen. Let us put ourselves in the place of the apostles and their fellow disciples, and after we have learned the truth about Hades as it appeared in their thought and forms of statement, then we may, if we can, translate it into our own thoughts and forms of statement. Hades was the region where dwelt the souls that were under the power of death. The souls of the righteous as well as of the wicked

were under this awful power. Into this region came the soul of the Crucified, but it did not remain there. Going thither was the lowest point in his humiliation, and leaving was the beginning of his triumph. What, then, was the effect in Hades of this visit and this departure? But this is the same as to...

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