Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Did Christ Descend Into Hell? Part 2

We are continuing our series: did Christ descend into hell?

Part 1: Ephesians 4:7-10,
Part 2: 1 Peter 3:18-22,
Part 3: 1 Peter 4:4-6
Part 4: Romans 10:7 & Acts 2:24-28
Part 5: Theological Conclusion

The next major passage is 1 Peter 3:18-22.

1 Peter 3:18-22
This is probably one of the most complicated and difficult passages in all of Scripture. No doubt the standard interpretation going back to the church fathers has been to see a postmortem preaching by Christ prior to the resurrection. Tertullian held that the Christ did rescue OT saints from Hades to take them to heaven and that Christ moved paradise. One of the complications of these section of Scripture is not just the history of interpretation but the fact that there are so many possibilities for interpretations of individual clauses and then there is the issue of how we are to understand the whole. Nevertheless, we will attempt to carefully wade through it.

The first question as it relates to our inquiry is whether what is the relationship of the phrase “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit”?
NAU 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
The best option here is to see that “flesh” is the realm of the old age and Spirit is the power of the ‘age to come’. This type of eschatological dualism is common in Paul’s thought. Christ of course has no sin but comes ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ (Rom. 8:3) and is born of the line of David ‘according to the flesh’ (Rom. 1:3). Being put to death in the flesh then means that in His human body which was flesh and blood, he was susceptible to death and the curse so that he could bear the curse. He is put to death in the realm which death reigns. This then is the stage of his humiliation.

He is however raised up ‘in the spirit’. This probably should be taken as parallel in some fashion to ‘in the flesh.’ If flesh is that existence in the old age, of which Christ partakes. ‘Spirit’ then should be seen as the eschatological “age to come.” Therefore, ‘spirit’ does not refer to disembodied existence but rather the Holy Spirit. He is raised up and given a “spiritual body” one that has conquered flesh that is susceptible to death and received the full inheritance of the Spirit of God.

Some evidence of this might include 1 Peter 4:14:
NAU 1 Peter 4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
The Spirit is associated with glory which most likely refers to the glory that awaits in the glorification of the believer. The Holy Spirit is the active agent in ushering in and bring this transformation both in Christ and also in the believer. This is why in 1 Cor. 15:45, Christ is a life-giving Spirit, in that He from His ascended position sends the Holy Spirit.

This would be consistent with Pauline usage of the ‘flesh/Spirit’ dualism.
Romans 1:3-4 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
To speak then of ‘death in the flesh’ and ‘life in the spirit’ is to speak of the two states of Christ: first in the body that can succumb to death, like that of the first Adam where we have a body that is perishable, weakness, without glory/honor, and “natural”—and the state that the Second Adam ushers in where the body is imperishable, crowned with glory, and in full reception of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 15:42-49).

The point however is that ‘spirit’ is not speaking of Christ’s disembodied spirit or soul, rather it is speaking of the power of the eschaton. It is pointing to the inbreaking power of God where the Holy Spirit is poured out—at Christ experiences this first on our behalf in order to achieve it for us.

The second complex issue is the nature of the phrase “in which” or “in whom” as it relates to how and where Christ preached.
1 Peter 3:19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,
We have already argued based on the Biblical conception of flesh/Spirit, that his is not a reference to disembodied existence. So to say that Christ preached in the spirit does not entail a disembodied preaching of the gospel prior to his resurrection.

The immediate question is does “in which” refer to “in the Spirit” or the whole phrase “made alive in the spirit” meaning “in the state of resurrection in the Spirit.” ‘Alive’ is clearly in the context not life after death but made alive in resurrection life. If ‘in which’ refers to ‘spirit’ alone then it could mean that Jesus went somewhere as a disembodied spirit if that was the meaning of ‘spirit’ but we have show that it is not.

The phrase is most likely to be translated as temporal (Dan Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 343). So it should probably be translated something like ‘upon which occasion.’ The addition of kai ‘also’ indicates further that Peter is taking about the state in which Jesus went and did the preaching. His basic point is that Jesus in his resurrected state went away and did the preaching described in the rest of the verse that follows. In short, only after the resurrection does Jesus actually do this preaching. Thus a descent to hell/hades between his death and resurrection is not what this verse describes.

Third, is the question of who are “the spirits in prison.”
1 Peter 3:19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison,
The two main options for interpretation here are (1) spirits of fallen angels or (2) human beings. The former is to be preferred because the only place in Scripture where spirit refers to human beings it is qualified:
NAU Hebrews 12:23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
Above spirits is clearly qualified by “righteous made perfect” indicating that it refers to human beings. When “spirits” is used in the plural it refers to angelic beings either righteous or fallen.
Hebrews 12:9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?
NAU Hebrews 1:14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?
NAU Luke 10:20 "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven
See also Rev. 4:5; 5:6; 16:14 [but it is clearly clarified by ‘of demons’]; 1 Cor. 14:32 is a bit questionable—it could refer to inspiration that from the Spirit that comes upon the prophets, it could refer to their own spirits, either way here we have ‘spirits of the prophets’ which is clearly a qualification. Mark 3:11 and 5:13 refers to ‘unclean spirits’ so it may or may not serve as a real parallel.

Since ‘spirits’ in our passage is plural, it seems wisest to understand it as angelic beings, particularly fallen angelic beings who have been put in prison in some fashion.

Fourth, where is the prison? All we can say is that this passage does not identify where the prison is. It could be hades/sheol, earth or heaven itself. Some Jewish traditions at the time of the first century believed that angels who had sinned during the days of Noah, or just prior to his days, were held in Sheol while other held that the prison was in heaven itself. The Bible could offer insight in two passages:
2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;
Jude 1:6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day-
In 2 Peter 2:4 the word Tartarous is used for hell. It is the only place in Scripture where the word is used. This word may have similarities to the Abyss used in Revelation 20 and other places. Either way, 1 Peter is not clear what or where the prison is. If it is hell/hades, we should take serious the account of Luke 16 which separates the place of torment from Abraham’s bosom by a deep chasm yet communication across such barrier is still possible. We will suggest later that Abraham’s bosom is heaven and not some place the righteous dead waited to ascend to heaven. If this is true it might give us some indication of the nature of the how Jesus having been ‘made alive in the Spirit’ goes and ‘preaches to the spirits in prison.’

Fifth, Jesus having been made alive in the Spirit goes and proclaims to these angels:
NAU 1 Peter 3:19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,
Initially this passage does not tell us where “he went” (poreuomai) is directed to. It does not specify a decent. The verb itself is nowhere used in the New Testament to mean ‘going down’ which would be the verb katabainō. With the use of ‘poreuomai’ which just means going out, if the author wishes more specificity context would have to tell us the direction if it is up or down. The verb only specifies a journey of some kind. There is a good indication that a decent is not actually what is in view here. The context 1 Peter uses the same verb poreuomai to indicate a going into heaven:
1 Peter 3:21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
1 Peter 3:22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
Some interpreters suggest that there are two journeys in view here one that is ‘down’ and a second one that is ‘up’. This is possible but the context suggests against it. First, it is clear that the Jesus does go and preach to the spirits in prison. But going to preach does not necessarily grammatically necessitate that he went into the same prison as the spirits. Nor are we told that the prison is specifically ‘down.’

“He went” is a participle and the main verb is “made proclamation.” Since the participle function in what is called attendant circumstance, it is probably right to translate them as coordinate: “He went and made proclamation.” This is indeed a normal construction. Yet it is the proclamation that is directed to the spirits. The dative “to the spirits” merely indicates that they are the indirect object of the speech. The spirits are in prison but entering into that prison to make the proclamation is not necessitated by the construction. In fact, it is by bringing things to the text not specified that we arrive at such conclusions.

Furthermore, “having gone” in verse 22 is resumptative. Peter, after a brief aside about the nature of baptism and its relationship to Noah, reminds us of efficaciousness of the resurrection of Christ in saving us. He went into heaven having angels and authorities subjected to him.

The nature of the proclamation is debated as well. This preaching is not evangelism coming from the Greek word euangelizomai which is not used here. Rather the verb kērussō this can be used to speak of gospel preaching but it more generally denotes proclamation and announcement. Certainly gospel preaching falls into this category but not all ‘proclamation’ is not of the gospel. The best way to understand this is that the message is a message of triumph over demons, powers and evil spirits. It is a proclamation of triumph over now that the kingdom of God has come and is inaugurated in the reign of the king over all (Eph. 1:20-22).

What we have in this passage is not a going down to hades for preaching but a statement that the ascension of Christ is a proclamation over all spiritual authorities. It announces their defeat by the King ushered to the throne of His Kingdom. They are put under His feet and authority. The structure of the passage then is (1) Jesus dies in the flesh sacrificing Himself for our sins; (2) He is raised up in the Holy Spirit ushering in the New Creation and the firstfruits; and (3) He ascends into heaven triumphing over all authorities, angels and spirits. This interpretation is clear when we see how 3:21-22 pick up were 3:19 leaves off.

This passage is not teaching about a descent into Hades but that the ascension of Christ in His glorified resurrected state is a proclamation over spirits in prison (v.19) and angels, powers and authority (v.22). In His ascension they are subjected to His authority as all are placed under His feet. This subjugation is a proclamation of the sealing of their fate. The Bible is clear about significance of the ascension of Christ for triumph over evil and the kingdom of this Satan, as we saw with Ephesians 4:7-10. Christ defeats all other principalities and powers. The fate of the ‘spirits in prison’ is further sealed by the Lord who is exalted over all creation. The Bible is very clear about the defeat of the power of evil spirits, authorities and demons in the ascension.
Ephesians 1:20-22 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,

Colossians 2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.


This passage does not teach that Jesus Christ descended into hell. Instead, just the opposite, it teaches us something about the triumph of Christ in the ascension. He triumphed over angels, demons and principalities. He is set up in the ascension as the Second Adam who rules over all creation including all spirit beings. The ascension is a triumph--it proclaims and declare the enthronement of the king in the Kingdom of God.

Although this passage is highly debated and the details of interpretation vary greatly, we believe it is simply wrong to use this passage to teach a descent into hell.

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