Friday, October 21, 2011

He Descended into Hell

At this week's Bible study, a question was raised concerning the belief that Christ descended into Hell. Our Catechism teaches us the following (I've bolded the relevant wording and Scripture proofs):

Q. 50. Wherein consisted Christ's humiliation after his death?
A. Christ's humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried,1 and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day;2 which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.
1 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.
2 Psalm 16:10. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Acts 2:24-27, 31.
Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.... He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
Romans 6:9.
Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
Matthew 12:40.
For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

In their commentary on the Larger Catechism, G. I. Williamson and J. G. Vos, write this, concerning Question 50:

What is meant by the expression in the Apostles' Creed which Says, "He descended into hell"?
This expression has been understood in various ways. Some hold that Christ literally descended into hell, not the hell of the devil and the wicked angels, but a place where the Old Testament saints were thought to be waiting. There, they say, he preached to those spirits and opened the way for them to enter heaven. THis interpretation, which is held by the Roman Catholic Church and by some Protestants, is unsound and is based on a misunderstanding (wrong interpretation) of 1 Peter 3:18-20. Some Protestants hold that the words "He descended into hell" refer to Christ's suffering on the cross, that is, that he descended into hell, not as a place, but as an experience of suffering. While this idea is doctrinally sound, it is historically unwarranted because the word translated "hell" in the Apostles' Creed in not Gehenna (the place of punishment) but Hades (the realm of death). Our catechism teaches that the words "He descended into hell" refer to Christ's being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time, the word hell being understood as "the realm of the power of death." (pages 112-3).

1 comment:

  1. The third year of the Confessional Presbyterian has an article by Daniel Hyde on the descendit that you might find interesting. It starts on page 104.