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Jesus Went to Hell?


In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that Jesus “descended into hell.” This statement has been a subject of confusion and controversy for many. I know I’ve wondered about it, especially in connection with 1 Peter 3:19. Some have suggested that we should omit it from our recitations. Albert Mohler explains why it should be retained (although I would say that an explanation is not enough; we should also correct the language to reflect that explanation).

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After Jesus died on the cross and his body was buried in the tomb, where was he? This short statement in the creed reminds us that Jesus, having truly died, was in what both the Old and New Testaments describe as the realm of the dead. The Hebrew word from the Old Testament is sheol, and the Greek word from the New Testament is hades. In both cases this refers to the temporary realm of the dead who are awaiting final judgment.

. . . the translation of hades into Latin and then into English can confuse us, because the word hades is so often translated as “hell.” This is not so much wrong as it is inadequate. The New Testament Greek also includes the word Gehenna, which is the place of torment. The Bible does not tell us that Jesus went to Gehenna; what it does tell us, boldly, is that Jesus truly died. This phrase of the creed underlines that important fact.

Some Christians have wondered about 1 Peter 3:19, which speaks of Christ in the Spirit proclaiming victory to Old Testament saints such as Noah. This is completely consistent with other biblical texts such as Luke 16:19–31, which speak of the rich man who was in torment inhades while Lazarus, also in hades, was comforted in Abraham's bosom—a most honored place. Hades, the realm of the dead, contains both a place of torment and a place of great blessing, consistent with the entire body of holy Scripture.

. . . We also turn back to the Old Testament in order to understand the context of this phrase of the creed.

The psalmist wrote:

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption. (Ps. 16:10)

. . .

Peter [Acts 2:29–31] said that David was not speaking of himself but of Christ. Even as Christ truly died and his body was buried in the grave, and even as his spirit entered the realm of the dead (hades), Christ was not abandoned nor did his body suffer corruption. Why? Because God raised him from the dead. And so, even as we confess that Christ descended into hell, we get ready to celebrate that hades could not hold him.

—Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed (Crossway, 2019), 89–91.



Posted 2020·02·28 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Albert Mohler · The Apostles’ Creed (Mohler)

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