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Related question: What is the Biblical basis for the concept that Jesus spent time in Hell?

The question linked above provides a number of biblical arguments in support of the "descent into hell" (or "hades") or the "harrowing of hell" referred to in the Apostles' Creed. However, I'm aware that some reject that clause entirely for historical reasons as well as biblical reasons.

What are the biblical arguments used against the descent into hell by Jesus following his death and prior to his resurrection?

  • Isn't the strongest Biblical argument against Jesus' descent into hell the simple lack of evidence for it? (Kind of like the evidence against practically any negative idea?) – Flimzy Oct 30 '15 at 19:00
  • @Flimzy Proponents of this doctrine usually argue that four or five passages support it (listed in the answer below), so appealing to an argument from silence wouldn't be convincing to them. Thus opponents both argue against their interpretations of those five passages, and appeal to other passages. – Nathaniel is protesting Oct 30 '15 at 19:10
  • It depends on whether you mean hell, as in the place for the condemned or "hell" as in sheol, which had two compartments separated by a great chasm. One side was paradise, the other hell. Did he descend into literal hell? Highly doubtful. Did he descend into sheol to grab the saints and take them into heaven? Far more likely. – RJ Navarrete Oct 30 '15 at 22:09
  • @RJNavarrete The arguments here apply to both views you mention: the theologians in the answer below don't believe that any understanding of the "descent into hell" phrase in the Apostles' Creed, including your second option, is biblically justified. – Nathaniel is protesting Oct 30 '15 at 22:15
  • @Nathaniel How about Mat. 12:40? "for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Clearly Jesus descended somewhere. – RJ Navarrete Oct 30 '15 at 22:27
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Wayne Grudem is probably the most prominent theologian who has provided a detailed argument on this topic.1 He first disputes the common interpretations of five passages: Acts 2:27, Romans 10:6–7, Ephesians 4:8–9, 1 Peter 3:18–20, and 1 Peter 4:6, and argues that none of them clearly teach any form of the "descent into hell" doctrine.

He then proceeds to his argument against the doctrine, beginning with Luke 23:43, Christ's words to the thief on the cross:

And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (ESV)

Grudem argues that the word "paradise" here must mean "heaven," the dwelling of the Father, because that's how the word is used elsewhere in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7).

Grudem also points to Christ's exclamations on the cross: "It is finished" (John 19:30) and "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Both of these, Grudem argues, suggest that Christ expected that his suffering and estrangement from God would immediately end, and that he would be welcomed to the Father. Grudem also notes the similar words of Stephen in Acts 7:59.

Grudem thus interprets Christ's death and resurrection as similar to his concept of death and resurrection of believers: that the body dies and remains in the ground, while the soul/spirit immediately goes to heaven. Then, later, the soul/spirit is reunited with a resurrected body.

Other opponents of the clause follow Grudem's arguments. John Piper's arguments regarding Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 3 echo Grudem's, and he finds Christ's statement to the thief as convincing evidence that Christ was in heaven between his death and resurrection.2


  1. Grudem, "He Did Not Descend Into Hell." JETS vol. 34, no. 1, p103–13; also available in his Systematic Theology (582–94).
  2. Piper, "Did Christ Ever Descend to Hell?" Interview, 2008-03-03.

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