For the larger context of the authorship and development of the creed, please see my answer to this question: Did the Apostles' Creed originate with the Apostles?
Church historian Philip Schaff provides a summary of the development of the Apostles' Creed in his book, The Creeds of Christendom. A helpful table, showing the creed's gradual formation in the West from AD 200 to 750, can't be reproduced in full here, but I'll quote the relevant part, listing each version of the creed, the year, and the wording of the "descent into hell" clause, if included:1
Version Year Clause?
St. Irenaeus AD 200 --
Tertullian AD 220 --
St. Cyprian AD 250 --
Novatian AD 260 --
Marcellus AD 341 --
Rufinus (Alquileja) AD 390 DESCENDIT in INFERNA
Rufinus (Rome) AD 390 --
St. Augustine AD 400 --
St. Nicetas AD 450 --
Eusebius Gallus AD 550 --
Sacramentarius Gallicanum AD 650 Descendit AD Inferna
Pirminius (current) AD 750 Descendit ad Inferna
It's not clear from my table, but if you look at the original, which shows all the clauses of the creed for each of these versions, you'll notice that this particular clause is one of the least-attributed of all of them. Especially notable is that it only appears in one version of the creed before AD 600.2
With respect to the first orthodox version containing the phrase (AD 390), Scaff notes that Rufinus didn't actually interpret the phrase in the Alquileja version the normal way: he thought it meant the same thing as the previous clause, "buried."3 If that's the case, then the first intentional orthodox/Western use of "descent into hell" was in AD 650.
This history has encouraged some to call for removing the clause from the creed, such as Protestant theologian Wayne Grudem.4 Grudem and others, like John Piper,5 also dispute the clause with biblical arguments, so it's likely that Protestant churches that have removed the clause from their creeds are doing so only partially because of the clause's history.
References and notes:
- Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Volume 2, p54 (Also on Google Books).
- Schaff does not include in this list the versions produced by the Arians (Eastern heretics), but does briefly mention that Arian versions from AD 360 and AD 590 include the clause. (see following citation)
- Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Volume 2, p46n2 and Volume 1, p21n4.
- Grudem, "He Did Not Descend Into Hell." JETS vol. 34, no. 1, p103-13; also available in his Systematic Theology (582-594).
- Piper, "Did Christ Ever Descend to Hell?" Interview, 2008-03-03.