Did Jesus Descend to Hell: Interacting With Grudem and Bird - Part 2
Did Jesus Descend to Hell: Interacting With Grudem and Bird - Part 3
In the previous post, we considered Michael Bird's defense from Scripture of Christ's descend to Hades/Sheol following his crucifixion. Next we want to consider his argument from both history and the Apostle's Creed itself.
After commenting in What Every Christian Ought to Know this doctrine's "bad press" (146) in recent years and naming Wayne Grudem specifically (more on Grudem's perspective in future posts), Bird states categorically "Let me be clear that [Grudem's rejection of the Creed's assertion of Christ's descent] is totally false; it is right that the descent is in the Apsotles' Creed and we are right to profess it." (147).
He begins by making a historical defense of the doctrine starting with the early church fathers. Bird suggests that those fathers were "absolutely unanimous" in agreement regarding this doctrine. He quotes, for example Irenaeus in Against Heresies states:
But the case was, that for three days He dwelt in the place where the dead were, as the prophet says concerning Him: "And the Lord remembered His dead saints who slept formerly in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them, to rescue and save them." And the Lord Himself says, "As Jonas remained three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth." Matthew 11:40 Then also the apostle says, "But when He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth?" Ephesians 4:9 This, too, David says when prophesying of Him, "And you have delivered my soul from the nethermost hell"*To Bird, this is "a very early tradition deriving from the immediate post-apostolic period." (147) Yet this is not the only evidence in the early church though, admittedly, much of the other examples "elaborate" or embellish what Bird believes to be the apostolic witness.
Beyond the early writings among the post-apostolic church leaders are the creeds which Bird suggests is "a more complex matter." First, "The problem is that there was no authorized version of the creedal formulas in the early church, so you do get some local variations on precise wordings." To the early church, he argues, burial may imply descent thus the absent of an explicit reference to the descent of Jesus does not mean that the early creeds deny or pass over the doctrine but rather presume it.
Another major challenge regards the change in the Latin in the Apostle's Creed which Bird traces back to a fourth-century monk named Rufinus who changed the language from "descended to Hades" to "descended to Hell" thus promoting the false idea that Jesus descended to Hell and not to the abode of the dead.
So his historical argument in a nutshell is simply that the belief in the descent of Jesus into Hades, as opposed to Hell, is not only biblical with important theological implications, but was a common belief among the earliest believers in the post-apostolic age. The move away from this position is one of poor translation and misinterpretation of the doctrine.
*Not Bird's translation.