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Wordwise Insight, Issue #129
May 14, 2015


BIBLE INSIGHTS (and Reader Q & A): Did Jesus "descend into hell"?

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Apostles Creed

QUESTION: What is meant in The Apostles' Creed by saying that Jesus "descended into hell"?

ANSWER: First, what is referred to as The Apostles' Creed was not written by the apostles themselves. Rather, about three centuries after their time, the creed was created to summarize some of the important things the apostles taught. On the whole, it does that quite well.

However, there is one clause in the creed which especially has raised questions. You will, in fact, see some versions of the creed that omit it, to avoid controversy. In my view it is fitting--though I understand not all will agree with my position.

The Apostles' Creed, as quoted in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, between its reference to the death and resurrection of Christ makes this statement: "He [speaking of Christ] descended into hell." The question is, did the Lord Jesus actually go to hell, the lake of fire, the place of eternal punishment? And, if so, why?

In answer, the word "hell" in that context is likely based on a mistranslation of the Hebrew word sheol, which actually refers, not to the lake of fire, but to the abode of all the dead, righteous and unrighteous, before the time of Christ's death.

We see it, for example, in the King James Version of Psalm 16:10. David says, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [sheol]; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." David wasn't afraid he'd be going to hell. He was simply expressing his confidence that he wouldn't remain forever in the grave, when he died. That he was going to be resurrected one day.

Many modern Bible versions, such as the New King James, simply use the Hebrew word there. Rather than saying "in hell," they say, "in Sheol." The NIV has "You will not abandon me to the grave."

New Testament writers realized that...

(To read the remainder of this article, click on Apostles Creed.)


Come and Pay Us a Visit!

I have developed a blog that is called Wordwise Hymns. As the title suggests, it is about hymns, and church music in general.

But as many of you will know, a blog is especially designed to facilitate a conversation on its particular subject. Readers can easily post comments about what they see, and I'm able to reply. I hope you will take part in the discussion!

Through 2010, almanac entries dealt with what happened in hymn history on each day of the year. Beginning in 2011, I hope to analyze hymns from a biblical standpoint, linking to the material that has come before.

My hope is that the blog will add to the value of the website and this newsletter, and promote some profitable exchanges on the subject of sacred music.

What happened on this day in hymnology? To find out, click Wordwise Hymns.

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