A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Neglected Affirmations of the Christian Faith #4

In this post we look at the affirmation of Christ's descent after his death. The early history of the doctrine is obscure. Scriptural passages which seem to refer to Christ's descent after his death are difficult to interpret (Psalm 16:10; 1 Pt. 3:18-20; 4:46; Ephesians 4:8-10; Romans 10:7; Colossians 2:14-15; Lk. 23:43; 2:30-31; Acts 13:37). It is important to say that the descent of Christ into hell (gehenna) has little support. His descent was into Hades or Sheol. Hades is the abode of the dead with no reference to punishment. It was into this place that the soul of the Lord entered while his body remained entombed.

Many Christians, especially Protestants, have dismissed the doctrine of descent on the basis of little clear Scriptural support. It does, however, have a persistent creedal tradition. Therefore, to dismiss it out of hand would probably be unwise. John Calvin (1509-1564) states that if the descent is left out then much of the benefit of Christ's death is lost (Institutes, 2.167.8). St. Augustine (354-430) states very strongly that only an unbeliever would deny Christ's descent into the nether world. There have always been a variety of interpretations on the descent of Christ.

The two basic reasons for Christ's descent are 1) the proclamation to the dead of Christ's victory over the powers of evil, and 2) the fact that as in all things like humanity, Christ had to go where all humans go after death.

We will tie this neglected affirmation, along with the ones I have already discussed (ascension and session), to the quite non-neglected doctrine of Christ's resurrection in the fifth and final post.

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