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The Apostles Creed makes reference to Jesus descending into Hell. I have heard it claimed that His time spent in Hell was part of His redemptive work--in other words, that was necessary for Him to completely "pay the price" for our sins. However, John 19:30 says:

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Which I have generally heard interpreted to mean that the work of redemption was finished at that moment--the moment of His death.

I have also heard that the original language of the Apostles Creed did not mean Hell in the sense of "place of eternal punishment" but more in the sense of a metaphorical, ambiguous "place of the dead."

Is there Biblical evidence that Jesus spent time in Hell (as we know it today--the place of eternal punishment)? If so, was His time there necessary for our redemption, or was there some other purpose to His visit?

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When Lord Jesus said, "It is finished." on the cross, He meant that His earthly ministry was finished. The redemptive work was not finished when He died on the cross, because without the resurrection there is no redemption. See "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." (I Corinthians 15:14, KJV) –  systemovich Aug 25 '11 at 16:22
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I'm not sure I buy the argument that his earthly ministry was finished, because he came back for another several weeks. Also, many say that your I Cor. reference means that resurrection was proof of his redemptive work, not necessarily completion of his redemptive work. –  Flimzy Aug 25 '11 at 17:58
    
The ministry after His resurrection was a new ministry. In the new ministry, He explained to the apostles from the Scriptures the meaning of what had happened. During the new ministry of 40 days, only His apostles saw Him. –  systemovich Aug 25 '11 at 22:04
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@Geoffrey Van Wyk: Uhhh... I Cor 15:6 Says he appeared to "more than 500" people. –  Flimzy Aug 25 '11 at 23:19
    
those 500 were brethren; so they were disciples if not all apostles. What do you think of 1Co 15:8 where the apostle Paul mentions seeing Him? By the time apostle Paul came around to the Message, Lord Jesus had already ascended. –  systemovich Aug 26 '11 at 6:58
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8 Answers

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Yes! Errr... NO!

There are three competing theories on this.

  1. Jesus went to Hell with the damned.

  2. Jesus went to paradise in Hades

  3. Jesus went to heaven.

All of these beliefs are based on a few critical verses.

Verse 1: 1 Peter 3:18-20

In 1 Peter 3:18-20 (NIV), we see:

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,

This supports (pretty conclusively) beliefs 1 and 2 by stating that Jesus, in the spirit, went to speak to the "imprisoned souls".

Verse 2 Luke 23:43

We see in Luke 23:43 (KJV)

43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

This pretty conclusively states that he went to paradise. This supports beliefs number 2 and 3.

Verse 3 Luke 23:46

Luke 23:46 (NIV) states:

46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

The idea is that Jesus definitely didn't go to hell, since he committed his spirit into the Father's hands. Therefore, this is used to support beliefs 2 and 3.

Vers 4 Ephesians 4:9

This verse is often used to say that Jesus "descended into hell" or "the depths" or something (NIV)

9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?

However this doesn't really hold water since the reference point of the ascension means that he really descended to earth. Also, the translation "lower, earthly regions" supports the idea that he descended to Earth rather than other translations which state "lower earthly regions" (notice the lack of the comma, which is an invalid translation).

This verse is often used to support belief #1.


So, which belief is correct? This is something that is difficult to see.

1 Cor. 13:12 (KJV)

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.


I should note another idea that supports belief #2 is the fact that there are two different words for "Hell". One is the fiery pit referred to in Revelations and one is the place called "Hades". Unfortunately, we don't have any good, solid definition for "Hades", so some have interpreted that as the "paradise" that Jesus was referring to on the cross. This interpretation is used to support that second belief.

Read this article for much more information.

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First, it's important to understand that a biblical understanding of hell is not as cut and dry as we might like it to be. That's another discussion.

Second, the Nicene creed, which is most widely used creed across Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, simply says:

he suffered death and was buried.

with no mention of hell.

Third, any orthodox (that's orthodox with a lowercase o) understanding of the crucifixion includes that Christ died. In fact the shortest "creed" of sorts found in many Communion liturgies is simply:

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again

The first part of that, "Christ has died", is really all we need to know.

If Jesus, fully God and fully man, died, that means a part of the Godhead/Trinity/God died. Think about that for minute, God died. (Yes, it's illogical) There was a cutting off, a separation ("My God, my God why have you forsaken me"). That separation is the essence of hell/Hades/the opposite of heaven. So, I don't think it matters whether or not Jesus traveled in some form or someway to a "place" that is "hell", He, by being cutoff, forsaken by the Father experienced "hell".

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+1 Excellent way to reconcile the definition of hell with what Christ experienced while not needing to even take a stand on the bits we don't fully understand anyway. –  Caleb Sep 30 '11 at 9:31
    
It is not illogical to say that God died. First, it is God the Son who died, not the Father or the Holy Spirit. Since God the Son assumed humanity (flesh) upon himself, then why couldn't he die? I mean, if you say it's illogical for God to die, why not say it's also illogical for God to become human? He did both. "Fully human" means just that, which includes the ability to die. God the Son could die because he is a compound hypostasis composed of two natures: deity and humanity. That is why God hungered...wept...thirsted...and yes, died. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Nov 28 '12 at 3:43
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YES, He did.

1 Peter 3:19-20 (NIV)

19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,

Those disobedient spirits are obviously in Hell.

Matthew 12:40 NIV

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

There are all kinds of verses that touch on Hell being deep inside the earth, and we know that inside the earth is molten sulfur.

Acts 2:31 NKJV

31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.

His soul went to Hades but it was not left there.

Ephesians 4:9 NKJV

9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?

Also referring to Jesus first descending to the inner earth before ascending into Heaven.

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I disagree with the interpretation of Ephesians 4:9 to meaning that he descended into hell; and Matt 12:40 is weak, at best. However 1 Peter 3:19-20 solidly backs up this answer. +1 from me. –  Richard Aug 25 '11 at 16:07
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Did Jesus spend time in the place of eternal punishment? I would answer, "no."

The Text of the Apostles' Creed (Symbolum Apostolorum) in Latin

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae, et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis, inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos. Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem, vitam aeternam. Amen.

The Latin Word Inferum

The Latin word inferos is the accusative inflection of the nominative inferum. This word is actually an adjective (functioning as a substantive) meaning "below, beneath, underneath, lower" (Footnote 1), like the English word "inferior."

The Latin word inferos is the equivalent of the Hebrew word שאול (sheol) and the Greek word ᾅδης (hades). For example, see the text of the Tanakh, LXX, and Vulgate of Genesis 42:38. All these words generally refer to the "grave." It was to this place that Jacob would go down mourning for Joseph.

It is important to note that the English word "hell" is used to translate more than one Greek word in the New Testament, those being ᾅδης (hades) and γέεννα (Gehenna). γέεννα is actually the Greek word used to refer to the place of eternal punishment (cp. Mark 9:43-48). It used to be a physical dump in the Valley of Hinnom (Hebrew Gei ben Hinnom), but later, the rabbis used this physical place as a metaphor to represent the eternal place of punishment for the wicked.

While the Latin word inferos is used to translate the Hebrew word שאול (sheol) and the Greek word ᾅδης (hades) into the Vulgate, a different word is used for the Greek word γέεννα (gehenna). Rather than translate γέεννα, Jerome in his Vulgate chose to transliterate it directly into Latin as gehenna.

Revisions of the Apostles' Creed

"The earliest appearance of what we know as the Apostles' Creed was in the De singulis libris canonicis scarapsus ("Excerpt from Individual Canonical Books") of St. Pirminius (Migne, Patrologia Latina 89, 1029 ff.), written between 710 and 714." (Footnote 2)

Various additions to the Apostles' Creed have occurred over time. According to Rufinus, one such addition was the phrase descendit ad inferos, regarding which he asserts, "But it should be known that the clause, 'He descended into Hell,' is not added in the Creed of the Roman Church, neither is it in that of the Oriental Churches. It seems to be implied, however, when it is said that 'He was buried.'"

Apparently, descendit ad inferos simply meant "he descended into the grave," rather than the place of eternal punishment, since Rufinus believed that descendit ad inferos was implied by the preceding phrase et sepultus, i.e. "and he was buried." One is buried in the grave, not in the place of eternal punishment.

While Rufinus quotes a shorter version of the Apostles' Creed in Latin, another, Marcellus, quoted a shorter version of the creed in Greek.

Πιστεύω εἰς θεὸν πατέρα παντοκράτορα καὶ εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν (τὸν) υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν, τὸν γεννηθέντα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου, τὸν ἐπὶ Ποντίον Πιλάτου σταυρωθέντα καὶ ταφέντα, τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ· ἀναστάντα ἐκ (τῶν) νεκρῶν, ἀναβάντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς, καθήμενον ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ πατρὸς ὅθεν ἔρχεται κρῖναι ζώντας καὶ νεκρούς, καὶ εἰς πνεῦμα ἅγιον, ἅγιαν ἐκκλησίαν, ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, σαρκὸς ἀνάστασιν.

It too was missing the Greek phrase equivalent to "and he descended to hell/ grave."

"That the shorter Roman symbol as represented in the Epistle of Marcellus and in the Psalterium Aethelstani was as early as about the year 250 the predominant one in Rome, must be regarded as one of the most positive results of historical investigation." (Footnote 4)

Ephesians 4:8-10

Ephesians 4:8-10 seems to be ambiguous. The focus is the Greek phrase τὰ κατώτερα μέρη τῆς γῆς. The phrase could be understood as a "genitive of apposition" or a "partitive genitive." Therefore, it could mean "the lower parts, that is, the earth" or "the lower parts of the earth" (perhaps, the grave), respectively. Either way, there is nothing in the verse that explicitly states Jesus abode in the place of eternal punishment. If a partitive genitive, the phrase "the lower parts of the earth" could simply refer to the grave, being equivalent to the Latin word inferum, Greek word hades, and Hebrew word *sheol."

References

(1) Lewis & Short lexicon: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=inferos&la=la#lexicon

(2) J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, third edition, (London: Longman, Green & Co, 1972), 398–434

(3) Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume I. The History of Creeds. § 7. The Apostles' Creed: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds1.iv.ii.html

(4) Apostles' Creed, §2: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/harnack/creed.ii.iii.html

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I can't dig up the scriptural reference right now, but it is my recollection that Jesus preached the Gospel to the souls of those already departed in Hades, which is what the creed refers to. It's not that Jesus in any way suffered in Hades, but that he went there and released souls.

Also, Hades is, in Greek mythology, a place where the dead reside and it's not certain that it correlates to Hell as we understand it, per se.

EDIT: The scripture reference is 1 Pet 3:19-20:

19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

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Lord Jesus did suffer in Hell, because the suffering in Hell is payment for sins. The blood he sweated in Gethsemane was for the abandonment in Hell, much more so than for the torture before His death. –  systemovich Aug 25 '11 at 16:16
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@Geoffrey If the suffering in hell was the payment for our sins, then why did he say "It is finished"? –  Richard Aug 25 '11 at 16:33
    
@Richard, because that was the end of His earthly ministry. The ministry after His resurrection was a new ministry. In the new ministry, He explained to the apostles from the Scriptures the meaning of what happened. –  systemovich Aug 25 '11 at 22:03
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@systemovich: No, sorry, there is no scriptural support for that idea whatsoever. Eternal damnation is reserved for the Devil and his Angels and those who are not redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Mat 25, Rev 20). The payment for sin was the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God (cf Hebrews); the payment for rejecting that sacrifice is eternal judgement. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 27 at 5:42
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When I was in Yeshiva, this question came up during a lunch with a visiting priest, that Jesus descended in order to free the souls of those who did not know him. That is to say that the people who died before Jesus was born had no salvation. Basically, the priest put it simply that Jesus freed his Jewish forefathers so that the Jews would be able to follow their biblical ancestors into heaven's gate.

Now understanding that we were yeshiva students and were training in the argument of Talmud, this was our bent...and I apologize for what is going to sound heretical...

The church formed after the teachings of Jesus, all of which can be found it what that church calls the old testament, was in a slight pickle. Here they are saying Jesus, a Jew, is the son of god, the Christ, and needs to be followed. Most of the jews of the time were not all that impressed (hey, we were the only peoples who did not have to perform Roman Emperor worship...something that annoyed the early church because the flock would switch back and forth between Judaism and Christianity) So, they came up with this idea that Jesus upon his death on the cross (questionable in terms of the length of time it took him to die, and the reality of death on the cross...let's not get into that and the fact that Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the roman state and therefore a murder and a rapist would not have qualified for that death {death yes, just not crucifixion}) so Jesus dies on the cross and needs to free the Forefathers to add credence to his position as the only way to heaven. Marketing 101, people want to go to heaven, you tell them that the people who had 1 on 1 conversations with G-d and angels did not make it and had to have an intermediary (Jesus) get them there, and bingo bango, you get potential converts.

Here is the flaw in that marketing tactic....Jews, traditionally, don't believe in Heaven or Hell. You die, your body sits in the grave (which is why cremation is a bad thing) and when the first messiah comes your body is reborn (smacks of The Walking Dead but in a non zombie way) The FIRST Messiah comes and creates a world of peace which the SECOND messiah (not the same guy) AKA Royal Messiah, comes to earth and reigns in peace...all the bad guys do not get to participate. Earth, after the FIRST messiah, becomes HEAVEN with the SECOND messiah. So, and this is the part NONE of you are going to like, although the visiting priest at the yeshiva smiled at our point. Why should a Jew follow someone who breaks a contract with G-d (remember, we are business and law oriented). One person's breach of contract does not invalidate the contract for the rest of the contract members. The next point the priest actually agreed with..to wit. If Jesus, son of Joseph were to come back to earth today (it being Friday) he wouldn't go to church, he would go to the closest orthodox Jewish temple (more than likely Sephardic as opposed to Ashkenazi) right before sundown, put on a Talit and a Kippot, and pray with the rest of us to his father (and technically Our Father, for are we all not sons and daughters of G-d.

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Welcome to the site! This doesn't really have much to do with your answer, but I find that sharing the following tends to help new visitors avoid mistaking the purpose of this site. I do hope to see more from you! When you get a chance, please see How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton 12 hours ago
    
Regrettably, I don't think this answers the question. You can't answer the question "Did Christ go down to Hell?" with "Well, no, because Hell doesn't exist. And he's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy." This is to replace Christian doctrine with doctrine which is not Christian. The answer does explain Matthew 27:52 though. –  Andrew Leach 12 hours ago
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The lake of fire is what is truly hell and the second resurrection will not take place for 1000 years after Jesus comes in the clouds to get the righteous and take them to Heaven. Start with revelations 19-20 . 20-8-10 . 21-8 . When Christ comes all eyes shall see him rev1-7 .No one has gone to heaven or hell yet just read Eccl 9-5-6 Psal 115-17 Job 14-12,21 Job17-13 John11-11-14 1Thess 4-13. When you die there is no second chance . He that is unjust,Let him be unjust still :and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still:and he that isrighteous, let him be righteous still Rev 22-11&12 KJV 1611.

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Please expand this answer more, with references. You make several unsubstantiated claims ("The lake of fire is what is truly hell," "the second resurrection will not take place for 1000 years", etc). I'm not saying these claims are untrue; but you need to reference some official doctrine and/or scripture to make for a complete answer. –  Flimzy Dec 7 '12 at 18:25
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What group of Christians does this answer represent. This site is more about "what various Christian denominations believe" than "what is the only Truth". Your post seems to be preaching the Truth, which we don't appreciate very much. –  Pavel Dec 7 '12 at 19:02
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He went to the Limbo of the Fathers which is part of Hell. The Nicene Creed tells us he descended into Hell and on the third day he rose again. The Limbo of the Fathers is where the Justified of the Old Testament resided until after the Resurrection.

Q: What are we taught in the Fifth Article: He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead? A: The Fifth Article of the Creed teaches us that the Soul of Jesus Christ, on being separated from His Body, descended to the Limbo of the holy Fathers, and that on the third day it became united once more to His Body, never to be parted from it again" Catechism of St. Pope Pius X, The Fifth Article of the Creed

"Q: What is here meant by hell? A: Hell here means the Limbo of the holy Fathers, that is, the place where the souls of the just were detained, in expectation of redemption through Jesus Christ" Catechism of St. Pope Pius X, The Fifth Article of the Creed

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Can you provide some references for this? –  Flimzy Nov 28 '12 at 7:32
    
This is not an answer from Catholic dogma. There are many who take "descendit ad inferos" to actually mean Hell, not "A hell", but "the Hell" as in Gehenna. –  Ignatius Theophorus Aug 21 '13 at 0:52
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