He Did Not Descend Into Hell: A Plea For Following Scripture Instead Of The Apostles’ Creed -- By: Wayne Grudem
Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:1 (Mar 1991)
Article: He Did Not Descend Into Hell: A Plea For Following Scripture Instead Of The Apostles’ Creed
Author: Wayne Grudem
JETS 34:1 (March 1991) p. 103
He Did Not Descend Into Hell:
A Plea For Following Scripture
Instead Of The Apostles’ Creed
It seems to me that a confession of faith should be repeated only if it represents things one genuinely believes to be true. Yet I personally do not believe that Jesus “descended into hell” after he was “buried.” So whenever I am in a church where the congregation says the Apostles’ Creed, my version of the section in question sounds like this:
… suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, … the third day he rose again from the dead …
In this article my purpose is to give reasons why it seems best to consider the troublesome phrase “he descended into hell” a late intruder into the Apostles’ Creed that really never belonged there in the first place and that, on historical and Scriptural grounds, deserves to be removed.
I. The Origin Of The Phrase “He Descended Into Hell”
A murky background lies behind much of the history of the phrase itself. Its origins, where they can be found, are far from praiseworthy. Philip Schaff has summarized the development of the Apostles’ Creed in an extensive chart, part of which is reproduced on the following pages.1
This chart shows that, unlike the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition, the Apostles’ Creed was not written or approved by a single Church council at one specific time. Rather, it gradually took shape from about A.D. 200 to 750.
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, in Africa) until it appeared in one of two versions from Rufinus in A.D. 390. Then it is not included again in any version of the Creed until 650. Moreover Rufinus, the only person who includes it before 650, did not think that it meant that Christ descended into hell but understood the phrase simply to mean that Christ was “buried.”2 In other words,
* Wayne Grudem is associate professor of Biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.
JETS 34:1 (March 1991) p. 104
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
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