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