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Q Did Jesus go to hell? I seem to have some contradictions as far as these verses: Ps 16:10; Prov 23:14; Acts 2:27; Acts 2:31; 1 Peter 3:19; Luke 16:23.
 
 

A Many people believe that Jesus descended into hell after the crucifixion, and this idea is stated in the Apostle’s Creed. I don’t agree and there are several reasons. First, there are a couple of specific Scriptural statements by Jesus that seem to me to make this impossible.

Luke 23:43: “And Jesus said to him [the thief on the cross], “Assuredly, I say to you, TODAY you will be with Me in Paradise.””

John 16:28: “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”

Secondly, the casual references used to claim He went to hell are misinterpreted. In Ps 16:10, Sheol is just the common word in the Old Testament for ‘grave’ and doesn’t need to refer to the place of punishment. Prov 23:14 is a general principle for child-rearing, not a reference to the Messiah. Also, the reference is not to the person already BEING in hell, but to not GOING there. Acts 2:27 is a quote of Ps 16:10 and the same reasoning applies. ‘Hades’ as a term was brought in from secular and mythological Greek. We must be careful to define it Scripturally. Generally in the NT it is used for the place of the wicked dead (as in Luke 16). But, hades was not a technical term, and therefore, could refer to just the grave. This passage needs to be interpreted in light of the fact that it quotes from Psalm 16; it should be used the same way, in my opinion.

There is another place which some believe teaches Jesus’ descent into hell. Ephesians 4:9 says, “He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?” This one I would reject because the phrase “lower parts of the earth” doesn’t HAVE to mean hell. There are three grammatical possibilities for what this refers to and two of them don’t have anything to do with hell. This could either refer to His coming to earth in the incarnation or it could refer to His being in the grave between death and the resurrection.

The big passage is 1 Peter 3:19, “by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.” ‘Prison’ here is taken to mean hell by many people. Again, it doesn’t specifically say that and I think there is another way to take that is just as good. We really need to look at the whole passage, 1 Peter 3:18-20. There is a great deal of debate on this passage. Let me give you my take. But first, lest you think I am just pulling some off-the-wall interpretation down, I should explain how I arrived at this interpretation. All interpretations should be based on a careful review of the grammar and syntax of the original language of the passage. I have done that here and I can tell you that the various versions of the Bible have, over the years, really struggled with how to translate this passage. There are a number of ways to take the several crucial elements and still be faithful to the language. I have chosen to translate it in a way consistent with Peter’s other use of language, and on a comparison with other biblical theology. All that being said (was that really boring?), here is a literal translation:

“Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous on behalf of the unrighteous, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh on the one hand and by, on the other hand, being made alive in the spirit, in which he went and preached to the spirits now in prison, after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water.”

Christ did not actually go back to that time as we would think of that or as Hollywood would film it. Remember, He is eternal. He went “in the Spirit” and, working through Noah, preached to those who were disobedient. This was accomplished while the Ark was being prepared. Those who heard the preaching were later, at the time Peter was writing, spirits in prison, that is, in hell suffering punishment waiting for the resurrection and final judgment. I’m compressing a lot of theology in a short space. The main thing is that its often difficult to bring a language word for word into another language, especially almost 2,000 years later. This seems to be the most faithful way to handle this passage.

I would need a much clearer passage than any of these to believe that Christ descended into hell as the Apostle’s Creed states. Remember, creeds aren’t the final word on theology, the Bible is. 
 

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