Tough questions

Some questions I know are going to come up, so I’m prepared to answer. “How do we the Bible is true?” “Does the Bible contradict itself?” “Was the world created in seven days?” I know these are coming, I’ve answered them before, someone will ask them again in the future. But last night some church youth caught me off guard. At first I was stumped because I couldn’t believe high school kids sat around and thought about stuff like this. The question was about the Apostle’s Creed, specifically about Jesus descending into hell. Church youth in a Baptist church ask me if that was true. When I came to, I gave a very political answer that allowed me to avoid saying yes or no. But let’s unpack this issue.

My answer was that it depends on your definition of hell. Did Jesus die on the cross and spend three days in a literal hell, burning with fire and brimstone, the place of eternal damnation? No, I do not think so. Jesus did however, experience complete and total separation from God on the cross. He that knew no sin became sin for us. He took our punishment, so God’s wrath toward sin could be carried out. That was hell, but not the place called hell. After the cross, he was placed in the grave. The Old Testament word sheol is one of those things were not 100% clear on. Should it be translated hell, or just the grave? Good question. So, bottom line, I recite the Apostle’s Creed the way it has been recited by countless believers throughout the centuries, and define hell in a way that I can say the Creed and believe it. Can I simply answer a question like “Did Jesus go to hell?” That’s tough.

Where I’m lacking in knowledge is in the area of the writer’s of the Apostle’s Creed. When we study the Constitution, one thing that must be considered is what we call “framers’ intent.” What did the writers mean when the wrote certain words? With the Constitution, I usually have an idea. With the Apostles’ Creed, I don’t know what they were thinking hell meant. I don’t know if anyone does, but I’m willing to hear suggestions.

What would you do with this question?

6 thoughts on “Tough questions

  1. It is worth noting that in the Greek version of the Apostles’ Creed, that the word translated hell (or dead in some versions) is neither Hades or Gehenna, but Katotata, which can simply be translated as the lowest place (or the grave perhaps). Another interesting point is that many scholars believe that the Apostles’ Creed developed from what is called “The Old Roman Symbol” an earlier creedal statement. The Old Roman Symbol doesn’t have that phrase in it at all.

    On the other point of how to translate Sheol, I would lean toward translating it as “the grave” instead of “hell.” Psalm 16:10 is a good example of it. A good many modern translations simply transliterate it, that is they just put the Hebrew pronunciation into English. In other words, they use the word “Sheol.” The NKJV, the NASB, the ESV, the HCSB and the RSV all translate it as Sheol. That’s probably better than translating it as the grave (NIV, CEV, and NCV) or hell (KJV or The Message, whoever thought they’d see those two lumped together). By translating it as Sheol it leaves the reader, student, teacher, preacher, etc. free to interpret it in the way he/she thinks is best. By translating it Sheol it opens up an avenue for discussion of the matter without making a definite statement on it. I prefer to interpret it as “grave” because the concept of an afterlife was not well developed in the Old Testament.

  2. First of all, this was a very dumb thing to put in the original creed. Why did they feel this was so necessary? However, if we have to define it.

    Myself, I would tend to lead toward the Sheol thing. I Peter leads us to believe that Jesus went to preach to the dead (as weird as that is), so that might shed some context to the Creed’s assertion. I think he suffered Hell for us on the cross.

  3. Pingback: Creeds of the Christian Faith « The Master’s Table

  4. I’ve wondered why in the BCP (Nicene Creed) we say “…was crucified under Pontius Pilate;he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again…”.

    Without the ‘descended into hell’, wich is found in the Apostles Creed, the “again” just doesn’t seem to make sense.

    I asked two priests if they could explain the apparent omission, every time we repeat the Nicene Creed at the Holy Eucharist Rite I or Rite II. Their replies:

    ‘I do not know the answer to your question, but I can make a guess. We rise every time we get out of bed in the morning. Most of us, though, rise for the last time the morning of the day we die (unless we’re completely bedridden at the time). But Jesus died, then rose again!’


    ‘I believe that the word “again” is English language usage from a different period of time. It is unique to English and is not found in either the Latin or the Greek text for the Nicene Creed. Your reflection I believe was for the the Apostles Creed which was/is used during Morning and Evening Prayer. I remember a conversation on this subject a number of years ago that did suggest that Jesus rose many times (each day) and that the translators used the word again to give “rose” the proper weight of the Latin and the Greek text used.’

  5. I don’t think it’s an omission that “descended into hell” is not in the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is actually longer, and has more detail about the relationship of the Father to the Son. It is a different confession of the faith, not simply a longer version of the Apostles’ Creed.

    It still makes sense to say that Jesus was buried and then rose again. Rising again indicates that he did not stay in the tomb. I don’t see an issue personally.

  6. It just occurred to me a few weeks ago, after reciting this for years without giving that word a thought, that “again” implies a previous ‘rising’ and the only way i could think of that being the case, would be if He rose after his crucifixion, descended to the dead, and then rose ‘again’. Without that first rising, why would we say, ‘again’?

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