Jesus said on the Cross: "Father into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).

The Apostles' Creed says: "Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. And then Jesus descended into hell. On the third day he rose again…"

If Jesus already commended His spirit to the Father and had not yet ascended into Heaven, would it mean that the one who descended to the dead is Jesus's rational soul and not the Spirit that received as His anointing in the Baptism in the river Jordan (Matt. 3:16)?

  • What does your term 'rational soul' mean, if I may ask ? Can you demonstrate that concept from scripture ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 15, 2019 at 11:34
  • @Nigel J rational soul mean same as all human soul having the same faculties of memory,intellect and freewill. Commented May 16, 2019 at 2:59
  • And do you have the scripture for attaching those elements to the word ψυχή, psuche Strong 5590 meaning 'soul' ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 3:05
  • Doesn't the soul technically mean the individual, except in immaterial terms? I.e. one's identity, which isn't physical in itself. Commented Jun 5, 2019 at 6:23

2 Answers 2


Article 5 of the Catechism of the Council of Trent says:

We are not to imagine that His power and virtue only, and not also His soul, descended into hell; but we are firmly to believe that His soul itself, really and substantially, descended thither, according to this conclusive testimony of David: Thou wilt not leave my soul [animam] in hell. (Ps. 15:10).

The "Spirit" of Matthew 3:16 ("…the Spirit of God descending as a dove…") is the Holy Ghost, the 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity. Christ's human soul, which is a creature, is not the Holy Ghost, Who is uncreated.

Also, His divinity remained united to His human body and to His human soul. Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas's question "Whether the whole Christ was in hell?" (Summa Theologica III q. 52 a. 3).


The Apostle's Creed has different versions for different church denominations. Most of the Protestant versions do not say "he descended into hell" but rather "he descended to the dead". The Church of England book of Common Prayer (1662) says "He descended into hell" but the modern update, book of Common Worship says "he descended to the dead".

It is difficult to sustain from scripture that he descended into hell after he died. In the King James Version of Psalm 16:10 (Is it Psalm 15:10 in Catholic Bibles?) we read

For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (Psalm 16:10)

A few things need to be pointed out:

  1. The word here translated "hell" is the Hebrew word "Sheol" which (Jehovah's Witnesses correctly point out) means "death" or the "grave" or "collective place of the dead", both righteous and unrighteous. It does not refer to "hell".

  2. Furthermore, "For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell" is not refering to the coming Messiah in any case, it is refering to David himself. David is saying that he will not be left in the grave forever, but there will come a time when he will be resurrected, on the great Day when everyone will be resurrected, some to eternal life and some to eternal punishment. David is saying he will be resurrected to eternal life on that Day. Or, alternatively, he is saying that, though his body will be in the grave, his soul will (immediately) go to be with God in heaven when his body dies.

  3. "neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" - this is refering to the coming Messiah, and David is saying the Messiah's body will not see corruption or bodily decay. He will be raised to life shortly after death.

Do any Protestants believe Jesus Christ descended into hell in any sense? Yes, but not after he died but rather while he was suffering on the cross: on the cross he cried "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" On the cross he experienced the punishment for all the sins of his people; the nails and the crown of thorns were just a token of the inner anguish as his Father poured on him the punishment due to us.

An example of this belief is found here:- https://tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/did-jesus-descend-into-hell/

Finally though Thomas Aquinas believed the teaching, such belief is not universal amongst the Church Fathers. On 1 Peter 3:19-20, an important passage used to support the doctrine of a descent into hell after Jesus died, Augustine of Hippo argued it was "more allegory than history".

( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrowing_of_Hell )

It might be worth attempting to explain this passage in 1 Peter 3.

For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison: which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing... 1 Peter 3:18-20

  1. Some have argued that the passage allows for a second chance to be saved after we have died, because Christ went to preach to those in prison (in hell). This cannot be correct because a great chasm is fixed (Luke 16:26); and after death comes, not a second chance, but judgement (Hebrews 9:27); and the Lord knows how to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgement to be punished (2 Peter 2:9); and those that have done evil shall come forth unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:29); and those virgins that were not ready when the bridegroom came were shut out of the wedding (Matthew 25:10-13). This passage cannot disagree with the rest of Scripture.

  2. If you were to read in the paper an account where a mother, say, recounted how "she tried to reason with her sons who are in prison" and tried to persuade them "to stop their criminal ways", how would you interpret that? Would you understand that she tried to reason with them once they had already gone to prison, or would it make more sense to interpret that she had been reasoning with them before they got caught by the justice system and gone to prison? Most people would understand the paper meant she tried to reason with them before her sons got caught.

So 1 Peter 3:18 could be written "by which also he went and preached unto the spirits [who are now] in prison"; meaning they were not in prison when he preached to them. And this is what he goes on to say "which sometime were disobedient" (that is why they are now in prison), "when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing" - that period of longsuffering while the ark was preparing was the time when Christ in the Spirit was preaching to these wicked who are now in prison.

There is neither any need to believe the passage is allegory, nor to believe it contradicts the rest of Scripture.

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