My son is memorizing the Apostles' Creed and asked me about the phrase, "He descended into hell." Did Jesus really go to hell? I didn't think he did, so I checked Wayne Grudem's excellent Systematic Theology for an answer.
I discovered the Apostles’ Creed was not written by a single person or approved by a church council at a specific time. It gradually took form between 200 A.D. and 750 A.D. The first version, by St. Irenaeus, didn’t include the phrase, “He descended into hell.” Rather, Rufinus first inserted it in 390 A.D.
Rufinus, however, did not intend the phrase to mean that Christ descended into hell. He simply meant that Christ was “buried.” It was a literary device to emphasize that Christ actually died. Rufinus meant Jesus “descended into the grave.”
There were at least five more versions of the Creed after Rufinus, but none of them contained his expression. It wasn’t until 650 A.D. that someone inserted it again. Then, people didn’t seem to know Rufinus’ intended meaning of the phrase. They began to speculate as to how to harmonize the claim that Christ went to hell with the rest of Scripture. Some said Christ went to hades or the netherworld. Others said He actually went to hell. Of course, many today still try other ways to explain the phrase.
The bottom line is that the Apostles’ Creed didn’t originally include the phrase “He descended into hell.” Even when Rufinus inserted it, he never intended it to mean that Christ actually went to hell. This is besides the fact that there is no biblical justification for such a claim.
There seems to be at least three options for Christians today. One, they can recite the creed in its current form and simply remember in their mind that the phrase “He descended into hell” is a figure of speech for Christ descending into the grave. Two, they can recite the creed by changing the words to “He descended into the grave.” And three, they can simply omit the phrase.
Personally, I lean towards omitting the phrase when I recite the creed. Option two, however, is nice because you can keep speaking along with everyone else if you're saying it in a group.
Grudem has an extended article on this question that was published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can read it here.
This Thursday is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized the killing of unborn children in the United States. Since we've had 42 years of abortion, I'm going to post 42 abortion-related tweets in one day. I'll post one tweet every 15 minues from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM (PST).
If you're not already, follow me on Twitter @AlanShlemon and watch my feed on Thursday.
This past November I wrote that embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) had not led to any successful human treatments. I was wrong.
It turns out there are several clinical studies that have used stem cells derived from human embryos to successfully treat human conditions. In one case, embryonic stem cells were used to treat patients with macular degeneration and macular dystrophy. Researchers transplanted human embryonic stem cells into the affected eyes and showed measurable improvement. So, I can’t claim that that embryonic stem cells have treated zero conditions.
None of this changes the main points I make on this topic, though. Adult-derived stem cells are still the superior choice. It’s still true that adult stem cells have been far more successful at treating conditions in humans. It’s still true that it’s not necessary to clone human beings with adult stem cells. And, most importantly, it’s still true that treating conditions using adult stem cells doesn't require you to kill innocent human beings.
Richard Dawkins once wrote, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” That’s because prior to Darwin, naturalists didn't have a credible alternative to the biblical creation model. Along comes Charles Darwin and proposes an explanation of how life emerged on earth without appealing to God. Naturalists eagerly accepted Darwin’s account, making their worldview more complete and justified.
This reminds me of a similar phenomenon occurring with many believers who have friends or family who identify as gay. Up until the last 30 years, Christians believed they only had two options. One, they could agree with Scripture that homosexual behavior was sin. This meant, in their mind, they were not loving towards their gay friends or family. Two, they could dismiss or downplay the biblical prohibition of homosexuality. This approach, however, didn’t feel like they were being faithful to Scripture. Neither option was ideal.
Along comes pro-gay theology and offers them a third way to maintain fidelity to their faith and their gay friend or family. Rather than accepting Scripture’s straightforward (and exegetically sound) teaching on homosexuality, some believers embraced a new interpretation. It requires hermeneutical gymnastics to try to make it work, which is one reason why I reject it. Nevertheless, many Christians are looking for a way to harmonize their Christian faith with their desire to condone homosexual behavior. While Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, pro-gay theology has made it possible to be gay-affirming Christian.