Using only biblical texts and/or established traditions of the Nicene church, is there a consensus or even a limited set of positions on where Jesus' spirit was?
Different biblical texts give us three possible answers:
Luke 23:43 says that Jesus expected to be in heaven before the end of the day of crucifixion
And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be
with Me in Paradise."
In John 20:17 the risen Jesus tells the women that he had not yet gone to heaven.
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my
Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my
Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
1 Peter 3:19 and 1 Peter 4:6 say that Jesus went to hell, to preach to the sinners there:
(3:19) By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
(4:6) For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead,
that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live
according to God in the spirit.
Two of these passages were capable of being based on eyewitness reports. On the one hand, presumably someone heard Jesus say while on the cross that he would be in paradise, and on the other hand the women heard Jesus say he had not yet been to heaven. We have no way of knowing how the author of 1 Peter knew that Jesus went to hell. The second and third passages quoted can be harmonised if in fact Jesus' spirit spent the time in hell.
Burton L. Mack says, in Who Wrote the New Testament, page 210, that 1 Peter 3:18-19 makes an important addition to Christian tradition and was destined to become dogma.
- An authoritative Catholic position is that the "prison" in which Jesus preached was purgatory.
- In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the Apostles Creed says that Jesus descended to hell (purgatory is not an Anglican doctrine):
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And
in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy
Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was
crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he
rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the
right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to
judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The holy
Catholick Church; The Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body, And the Life everlasting. Amen.