Sunday, June 26, 2016

Did Jesus Descend Into Hell?

Unfortunately, many Christians these days believe this false doctrine. When I was in Bible college, we were taught that Paradise was a compartment in hell, separated by a gulf from hades, that part of hell where the lost are sent. Their primary "proof text" was Ephesians 4:8-10, which reads: "Therefore it says, 'WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.' (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)" Other passages cited with strained interpretation have been Matthew 12:40; Acts 2:27; Romans 10:7; and 1 Peter3:18-20 and 4:6.

Sometimes, even the account of the rich man and Lazarus is cited (Luke 16). An obvious problem should immediately be evident to the reader. Angels reside in heaven. Why would angels carry Lazarus to a compartment in hell? Paradise is a part of heaven; hades is a part of hell. A pagan underworld containing both paradise and hades, both the happy and the miserable, does not exist. There is no such place. The intermediate state for the saved is heaven without the body and the final state for the saved is heaven with the body; the intermediate state for the lost is hell without the body and the final state for the lost is hell with the body.

The clause "He descended into Hell" was interpolated into the Apostle's Creed in the fourth century. In its original form, the Apostle's Creed read thus: "Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose again from the dead." The addition of this clause has its stimulant in mythology. The personal and local descent of Jesus into hell would have been one of the great cardinal facts connected with the incarnation, falling into the same class with the nativity, the baptism, the passion, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. Less important facts than these are recorded, but none of the Gospel writers says a single thing about Jesus' so-called descent into hell? The total silence of the four Gospels is fatal to this false doctrine, which has mythology at its root.

Since being interpolated into the Apostle's Creed, it was necessary to find support for it in Scripture. This clause found its way into later creeds as well. Since that time, Christians have desperately tried to back this from Scripture. The account that Scripture gives of the exaltation of Jesus always begins at His resurrection. Such a transaction as the one contained in this clause, and the eisegetical interpretation of Ephesians 4:8-10 and other random verses, would not have been passed over by the Gospel writers in their Gospels. Were the Old Testament saints held in some kind of limbo, in some kind of purgatory, until Jesus finally came to Earth and died on the cross? No, of course not! This teaching is rooted entirely in mythology.

Origen, in his second Dialogue Against Marcion, said that "as paradise is the residence of the just, so hades is the place of punishment for sinners." Crysostom in his Homilies on Dives and Lazarus asks and answers, "Why did not Lazarus see the rich man, as well as the rich man is said to see Lazarus? Because he that is in the light does not see him who stands in the dark; but he that is in the dark sees him that is in the light." Augustine, in his letter to Euodius, wrote, "It is not to be believed that the bosom of Abraham is a part of hades. How Abraham, into whose bosom the beggar was received, could have been in the torments of hades, I do not understand. Let them explain who can." Gregory of Nyssa wrote, "This should be investigated by the studious, namely, how, at one and the same time, Christ could be in these three places: in the heart of the earth, in paradise with the thief, and in the 'hand' of the Father. For no one will say that paradise is in the places under the earth, or the places under the earth in paradise; or that those infernal places are called the 'hand' of the Father." Cyril of Alexandria in On the Departure of the Soul said, "The innocent are above, the guilty below. The innocent are in heaven, the guilty in the abyss. The innocent are in God's hands, the guilty in the devil's." These quotes agree with the testimony of Scripture: "The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from sheol beneath" (Prov. 15:26). Paradise is not, and was not ever, in hell, compartmentalized from hades by a gulf. The word chasma (χασμα) denotes more commonly a vertical space—not a lateral one.

Ephesians 4:8-10 is speaking about Jesus' incarnation. The Apostle argues that the ascent of Jesus presupposes a descent. Jesus ascended back where He descended from. Heaven. 1 Peter 3:18-20 is speaking of the Spirit of Christ preaching through Noah to the disobedient people who lived before the flood. It is not speaking of Jesus' soul in hell, seeing as how He committed His soul into the hands of the Father (Luke 23:46). Does the Father now reside in hell? 1 Peter 4:4-6 is speaking of those who were not yet dead when the gospel was preached to them, since the purpose of this preaching was "that they might be judged according to men in the flesh." This could only occur during their life on Earth. What good would preaching to the dead spirits do? They made their choice. They are in hell. They cannot repent and so be saved. Acts 2:27 needs to translate hades as grave, seeing as how that is what is meant according to the context: "nor allow your holy one to undergo decay." The body decays in the grave. The soul does not decay in hell. Matthew 12:40 is speaking of the grave, too. In the grave, He was in the "heart of the earth," even as Tyre was in the "heart of the sea," though very near the shore (Ezek. 25:4). Romans 10:7 is speaking of raising Jesus from the dead. It is an Old Testament quote (as are several of the others) and needs to be examined in the context of the Old Testament usage.

For a more thorough dealing with this issue, please see Dogmatic Theology by William G. T. Shedd, pages 831-862; Systematic Theology by Charles Hodge, book 2, pages 615-625; Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof, pages 340-343; Systematic Theology by R. L. Dabney, pages 823-825; Outlines of Theology by A. A. Hodge, page 439; Systematic Theology by John Brown of Haddington, pages 323-324; Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, pages 586-594; Christian Theology by Millard Erickson, pages 791-794.