Descended into Hell?

The independent Christian Church (of which FCC is a part), has historically been cautious of creeds at
best. If you grew up in a mainline denomination or the Catholic Church, you probably have memories of
reciting the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed in services. Our question today has to do with a difficult line
in the Apostles’ Creed that says (in some versions) that “[Jesus] descended into Hell”. There’s a lot to unpack
here.
 
First, why doesn’t our church recite creeds? The reason is that creeds have often been more divisive than
unifying among Christians. For example, differences in how the Nicene Creed should be recited led to the Great
Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church in 1054 AD. Creeds have historically been
used as man-made “tests” to determine who is a “real Christian” and who isn’t. Because of the divisive
potential, the independent Christian Church has decided to reject creeds altogether and have the Bible as our
sole standard of belief. That said, creeds do have some redeeming qualities. They allow people to succinctly
express the key doctrines on the faith, which can be beneficial, especially for new Christians. But we have
decided that keeping scripture alone as our “test of faith” is more beneficial in our context.
 
Second, several versions of the Apostles’ Creed say Jesus “descended to the dead” instead of
“descended into Hell”. The former version is probably a more theologically accurate view. On a basic level,
Jesus died and was dead for three days. He literally, actually died, and that is a key truth of the faith. Some
heresies would have you believe he only “seemed dead”, or that he wasn’t physically dead in some other way.
Typically however, this part of the creed references 1 Peter 3:18-20 which says “He was put to death in the
body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who
disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” (NIV).
Apparently, Jesus went to wherever the Old Testament dead were held (now there’s a fascinating question we
could tackle another day!), and “preached” to them. Most of the time when we think of the word “preach”, we
think of the possibility of a decision on the part of the hearer. The original Greek doesn’t necessarily imply that.
It basically just means Jesus communicated the truth to them. He told them what He did, and how He gave up
his life on the cross. Perhaps Jesus needed to tell them this to show the completion of God’s plan.
 
Lastly, the key issue here is that Jesus was not somehow bound in Hell or overpowered by Hell. He
came to speak to “the spirits in prison” not as a fellow captive, but as a conquering victor. Jesus defeated sin,
Hell, and even Death itself on the cross. Through Him, those powers have no hold on us, either. What a great
Savior we serve!!!