Did Jesus Descend to Hell: Interacting With Grudem and Bird - Part 1
Did Jesus Descend to Hell: Interacting With Grudem and Bird - Part 2
Did Jesus Descend to Hell: Interacting With Grudem and Bird - Part 3Did Jesus Descend to Hell: Interacting With Grudem and Bird - Part 4
Having explored Michael Bird's defense of the belief that following Jesus's crucifixion the Son of God descended to Hades (the place of the dead), let us now explore the opposite position through the pen of Wayne Grudem through two of his works, Systematic Theology and his essay first published in the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society in 1991, "He Did Not Descend Into Hell: A Plea for Following Scripture instead of the Apostles' Creed."
In his Systematic Theology, Grudem begins with a multi-page, detailed chart tracing "The Gradual Formation of the Apostles' Creed" (583-585) in an effort to show that the creed itself is inconsistent with its own argument.* One may recall that Bird realizes this and sees no problem with this reality.
Grudem's first point is to say that the phrase "he descended into hell" is found nowhere in the Bible but exclusively in the Apostle's Creed. That creed, strikingly enough, unlike Nicea and Chalcedon, "was not written or approved by a single church council at one specific time. Rather, it graduall took shape from about AD 200 to 750." (586)
Furthermore, the phrase is not found in the earliest form of the creed "until it appeared in one of two versions from Rufinus in AD 390. Then it was not included again in any version of the Creed until AD 650." He also argues that to Rufinus, the phrase only meant that Jesus was merely buried, not literally descended to Hell.
One point needs to be made before exploring Grudem's argument: so far Bird is in agreement with Grudem. The reason is because Grudem is criticizing the belief that Jesus descended into Hell as opposed to Hades (the abode of the dead). Bird repeats throughout his writings the importance of this distinction. Therefore, Grudem's historical criticism is one that Bird, I suspect, would find much to agree with.
* The chart is taken from Philip Schaff's The Creeds of Christendem, 2:52-55.