“Descendit”: Delete Or Declare? A Defense Against The Neo-Deletionists -- By: Jeffery L. Hamm

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 78:1 (Spring 2016)
Article: “Descendit”: Delete Or Declare? A Defense Against The Neo-Deletionists
Author: Jeffery L. Hamm


“Descendit”: Delete Or Declare?
A Defense Against The Neo-Deletionists

Jeffery L. Hamm

Jeffery L. Hamm is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and candidate for the PhD in Systematic Theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. The first section of this article was presented as a paper at the meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Diego, CA, on November 19, 2014.

The Westminster Theological Journal played no small role in reviving a historic debate with its publication of “Descendit in Inferna: A Reformed Review of a Creedal Conundrum.”1 The exciting discussion immediately attracted widespread interest among theological readers, prompting other publications to weigh into the contest with similar sounding articles.2

Obviously discernible from the titles, the center of the argument revolves around the campaign to delete from the Apostles’ Creed the clause, “He descended into Hell.” Although proponents on both sides of the issue have written extensively in support of their positions, one basic fact that fundamentally restructures the debate and five centuries of tradition has ironically remained overlooked. The purpose of the present study is to draw attention to this now obscure detail and thereby defend the article’s patristic placement in the Creed against the new generation of critics who would otherwise delete it.

Leading the crusade against the clause, to banish it from the land once and for all, is popular evangelical Wayne Grudem, who claims it to be “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.”3 This scathing censure naturally raises the question of the phrase’s “intrusion” into the creedal formula. Is there any validity to Grudem’s claim? Was the article’s integration into the Creed illegitimate, such that we ought therefore to delete it now?

I. History Of Descendit

The first known copy of the Latin text of the Creed comes from Tyrannius Rufinus (AD 345-410). This monk and presbyter, famously known for his once close companionship and later fierce rivalry with Jerome,4 was a member of the ascetic community in Aquileia. As a highly esteemed scholar, Rufinus was asked by Bishop Laurentius to compose something for him “concerning the faith, in accordance with the traditional and natural ...

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