The Apostles’ Creed — Why does it say Jesus Descended into Hell?

Part of the Apostles’ Creed of the Roman Catholic Church, in its latest translation of texts, states that Jesus “ . . . was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead. . . .”

For about fifteen hundred years the Apostles’ Creed stated Jesus had visited hell for a short time after his death. Could this be correct? If it is, then why did he go there? Our study will explore this portion of the creed, and from where this thought of a visit to hell came from, so we can better understand what it all meant.

A Brief History of the Creed

The Apostles’ Creed (religious beliefs)1 was never written, as such, in the Bible. Supposedly, it was jointly written by the apostles under direction, or by inspiration, of God’s Holy Spirit. Some people believe it was spliced together from different sources or even written by others, as it didn’t appear, even in its earliest disjointed form, until 390 AD, about 360 years after Christ’s death. Regular recurring appearances, in text form, didn’t begin until 650.2

Even more interesting is that the full text, as known today, didn’t appear until even later, and the wording has changed several times since those earliest times. But all considered, the amazing thing is it is still correct in its statement. As Christian scholar Philip Schaff wrote, “The simple doctrinal statements within this creed are clear and concise, and their meaning cannot be misconstrued.”3 Well, almost, anyway!

I do believe it was constructed, using bits and pieces of scripture from the Gospels, into a tightly structured doctrine, as a list of accepted authoritative beliefs. The current popular adapted version, used by a variety of modern Christian denominations, is the following.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of the saints,
     the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.4

Just as a side note, be aware that in the last line, when it says “the holy catholic Church,” the creed is not referring to any of the established Catholic religions. This non-capitalized word, catholic, means the whole undivided Christian church or community as a group.5

However, the biggest debate about the Apostles’ Creed has always been the line, “he descended to the dead” or “he descended into hell.” The United Methodist Church disliked it enough that they completely deleted that line from their version of the creed.6 Where did this idea of Jesus descending into hell or descending to the dead come from?

Although several scripture verses are used in support of Christ descending into hell or visiting the dead, the most used is in 1 Peter. This scripture describes when Peter tells his readers that they would suffer in doing what is right and he gave practical principles for living peacefully in a hostile pagan culture.7 This is one of those verses, when first read, gets a reaction of, “Wait . . . what?

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. (1 Peter 3:15-20, NRSV).8

Commentators vary in interpretation of this scripture. Some believe Jesus went to preach to those humans who died and went to hell. Why would he do that? Peter’s message would not be all that important, if he was implying that his readers will have a second chance for salvation, anyway.

And what does the mention of Noah’s ark have to do with any of this? Could this mean preaching to those humans who lost their lives in the Great Flood? No, that can’t be it either, because the Bible teaches there is no opportunity for repentance after death (see: Hebrews 10:26-27; Luke 16:26).9

Another problem with these ideas is that the dead seem to be still alive in some form, somehow, because they can communicate after death, even though the Bible says they can’t. ”The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). The Bible refers to those who are dead, as sleeping in death, and awaiting the promised resurrection. This visualization of sleep for death is common in the New Testament (see Mark 5:39; John 11:11).10 Other OBS studies on the status of death are listed in References & Notes, at the end of this article.11

Saint Augustine12 proposed “the passage refers not to something Christ did between his death and resurrection, but to what he did ‘in the spiritual realm of existence’ (or through the Spirit’) at the time of Noah. When Noah was building the ark, Christ ‘in spirit’ was preaching through Noah to the hostile unbelievers around him.”13

A Couple of Better Explanations

This first ‘better explanation’ is a rather simple and straightforward one. The first mention of anything even similar to the Apostles’ Creed, as cited previously, was in the year 390. That was by Tyrannius Rufinus, a monk, historian, and theologian,14 and he believed that it only meant Christ was buried. “In other words, he took it to mean that Christ ‘descended into the grave’.” The Greek form of where he descended was hadēs, which means ‘grave’; not geenna (gehenna), which means ‘hell’ and considered a place of punishment.15 This explanation does seem plausible, and logical, too.

The second idea assumes ‘hell’ is the correct interpretation, but it is on the bizarre side and concerns demonic spirits — it lies within the fringe of Christian thought. It has not been spoken of much on the public side of the Church, because it is so unbelievable, especially to those who only sit and listen, instead of studying the deeper meaning of scripture. But its subject matter is beginning to pierce the veil of secrecy and you will find increasing amounts of literature available.

I will give supporting evidence for this opinion, as we examine 1 Peter 3:18b–20. “He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.”

If he did go to visit in hell, it was to ‘proclaim’,16 as the scripture points out. The Greek word for proclaim means to preach divine truth, so it would have been a visit to announce that he had, indeed, salvaged the human race from destruction. He had won the battle against Satan and successfully redeemed humankind.

To whom or to what would he have proclaimed this message? It would have been to those evil spirits (demons)17 that are in prison (held for a time).18 These demonic spirits are those from a hybrid race created by the sexual union of fallen angels and humans — the Nephilim.

Peter writes about these evil spirits. “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment; and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly . . . then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.” (2 Peter 2:4-5; 2:9).

Among scholars, the majority view is the “imprisoned spirits are the fallen angels of Genesis 6:1–6 who were responsible for bringing upon the whole earth the Great Flood and were therefore imprisoned . . .” and this is also the view some Jewish literature reflects.19 “Peter is able to sum up the work of Christ in terms of his conquering Hades and the ‘powers’ whose existence is out of step with God’s purpose.”20

What are the Nephilim?

Genesis 6 begins by explaining God’s grief concerning humankind’s morally objectionable behavior, which led to the judgement of the Great Flood and the account of Noah and his ark.

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the LORD said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD. (Genesis 6:1-8).

This mind-blowing idea of angelic-human sex isn’t discussed in many Christian congregations, least their church leaders would be considered insane. But, it is by no means a new idea for it was discussed and supported over the millennia by such people as Josephus, Philo, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, and others.21 Over time preachers and educators were hesitant to teach truths that were hard to understand or explain, so these ‘fringe’ concepts were hidden away or forbidden by church organizations.

Certainly advanced genetic splicing technologies must have been available to the fallen angels to accomplish such an un-Godly creation process. It is a serious concern for us, too, since modern scientists are trying to do the same thing, right now. For those readers who would like to know more details about the Nephilim, an article specific to this subject has been published to The Outlaw Bible Student web site. See References & Notes at the end of this article.22

Now, back to 1 Peter 3:19, which concerns those ‘spirits in prison’. That short phrase may raise some difficult issues, but the identity of the spirits and the reason for their imprisonment are possible allusions to biblical and extra-biblical texts. These would include, besides Genesis 6–9, also the Hebrew apocalyptic religious text of 1 Enoch.23

This text was very popular during the time of Christ and, therefore, Peter’s reference to its events would have been understood by his readers. For instance, many believe Jude, brother of James, actually quoted from the book of Enoch in his own letter (see Jude 14-15).

In 1 Enoch 12:4–13:3, Enoch (father of Methuselah) was commissioned by God to proclaim to the Watchers (fallen angels) what their fate was to be, as well as the fate of their offspring (Nephilim). So Enoch “becomes a type for Christ, just as Noah (saved through water) becomes a type for believers (saved through the waters of baptism). Christ’s declaration of victory over the fallen angels would then assure the believers of their victory over the hostile forces and the demonic power ultimately behind those forces (see 1 Peter 5:8–9).”24

What are Demons?

A repercussion from an angel-human union, if really physically possible, would be that the hybrid creature produced had no possibility of salvation. Fallen humans have been granted that possibility, but fallen angels have not. On which side does the half-angel half-human lay?

These Nephilim creatures were mostly destroyed when God flooded the earth in Noah’s day. Humans can and do die, so of course, most all of earth’s human population died in that flood. But angels do not die, so what happened to the hybrids? The human aspect (or physical side) of the hybrid angel-human creatures also died, but the angel side (or spirit side) lived on as disembodied spirits. These disembodied spirits are the Demons, the unclean or evil spirits — and they still exist.25

Angel + Human = Nephilim / Nephilim – Human = Demon

Let us recap. Demons are an earthly creation, but no longer produced. Before the Great Flood, fallen angels mated with humans, creating hybrid creatures called Nephilim. When the Nephilim were submerged in the Great Flood, the human side died, but the angelic side did not die and was released into our world as a disembodied spirit. This evil spirit is called a Demon, which live even today, but they are more comfortable in a body, than outside one, so they will possess a body in which to live (human or animal), if they can.

The Demons will never die naturally; they must be destroyed and they will be, eventually, by an act of Jesus Christ. Although we cannot destroy them ourselves, the Bible does have instruction on how to fight them, and other evil beings, with success. See an article on this subject listed in References & Notes at the end of this study.26

Could any of these opinions be true? Does it matter? Could be — maybe not! What counts on the bottom line is your relationship with God and your faith in the power of Jesus Christ. But biblical truth helps us to better know our God and his son and their plan for this world, and the more we know and understand, the better able we will be in helping others to understand and survive the end of this age. I guess it is something to seriously think about, anyway.

Jesus said that “For just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37–39).

Do Jesus’ words mean increased demonic activity? Could what Jesus said be a reference, not just to the increased wickedness in the world, but also to such things as cloning, genetic engineering, gene splicing, artificial creation of superhuman hybrids, and much more? This meddling into God’s creations is going on in scientific and secret laboratories around the world, today. Are today’s scientists learning and applying the knowledge and technology of fallen angels, and using it for evil nephilim-type creations just as was done in the ancient days of Noah?27 If you search, there is much information on this subject, just be sure to check it against scripture, so you will not be led astray — prayer will help.

Now, about a song related to this article. There are several loud, noisy, headache producing musical selections, but with lyrics not well related to the biblical subject, or they were something taken from a low budget sci-fi movie soundtrack. The most biblically-tuned selection I could find is listed at the end of this article, under References & Notes.28 The song I’ve selected is titled ‘Nephilim Man’. For visual effects, the producer uses scenes clipped from a variety of movies. Selected transcribed lyrics are listed below.

You are the offspring of wickedness
You are giant freaks of lawlessness
You are tormented, earth bound
All your fathers are chained now

Your mommas knew, your colors show
Giving birth, the people know
I know who you are
Big bad Nephilim man

Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
OutlawBibleStudent.org

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References & Notes

  1. creed: A formal statement of Christian beliefs; a system of religious belief; a faith.
    Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., (USA: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  2. Grudem, Wayne A., Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press / Zondervan, 2004), p. 586.
  3. Schaff, Philip, The Creeds of Christendom, (The History of Creeds, vol. 1), (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1983), pp. 14-15.
  4. The ‘International Consultation on English Texts’, an inter-church ecumenical group that undertook the writing of texts for use by English-speaking Christians in common, published as:
    Prayers We Have in Common, (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 1975).
  5. catholic: of, relating to, or forming the church universal; undivided Christian church; or generally broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests; a wide variety of things; all-embracing, [for example: ‘a catholic interest in literature’].
    Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
    Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., (USA: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  6. “Apostles’ Creed”, (Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., retrieved 12 March 2020), https://www.britannica.com/topic/Apostles-Creed
  7. Raymer, Roger M., “1 Peter” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Eds. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 2, p. 849.
  8. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), ©1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  9. Grudem, Wayne, “Did Jesus Really Descend into Hell?” (Zondervan Academic, retrieved 11 March 2020), https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/did-jesus-really-descend-into-hell
  10. Constable, Thomas L. “1 Thessalonians” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Eds. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck,(Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 2, p. 703.
  11. Hermann, Ray, The Outlaw Bible Student:
    (1) “Our Future After Death — Resurrection on Earth or Life in Heaven?” https://outlawbiblestudent.org/our-future-after-death-resurrection-on-earth-or-life-in-heaven/
    (2) “What is the Soul: is it a Spirit or something else?” https://outlawbiblestudent.org/what-is-the-soul-is-it-a-spirit-or-something-else/
    (3) “Do we go to Heaven when we die? Do people see Heaven during a Near Death Experience?” https://outlawbiblestudent.org/do-we-go-to-heaven-when-we-die-do-people-see-heaven-during-a-near-death-experience/
  12. Augustine of Hippo: (354 – 430 AD) Christian theologian, doctor of the Church, and philosopher, whose writings influenced all of Western Christianity.
  13. Grudem, Wayne, “Did Jesus Really Descend into Hell?” (Zondervan Academic, retrieved 11 March 2020), (see above).
  14. “Tyrannius Rufinus”, (Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., 18 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrannius_Rufinus
  15. Grudem, Wayne, “Did Jesus Really Descend into Hell?” (Zondervan Academic, retrieved 11 March 2020), (see above).
  16. proclaim: Strong’s Greek #2784, κηρύσσω (kērussō); to herald (as in public), especially divine truth (the Gospel) – preach, publish.
    Strong, James, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
  17. [evil] spirit: Strong’s Greek #4151, πνευμα (pnĕuma); superhuman, demon.
    Strong, James, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
  18. prison: Strong’s Greek #5438, φυλακή (phulakē); a guarding, guard; (fig) the place, the condition, or (spec.) the time, (lit. or fig.) cage, hold, (im-)prison, ward, watch.
    Strong, James, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996).
  19. Green, Joel B., 1 Peter, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), pp. 121–122.
  20. Ibid., p. 125.
  21. Huie, Bryan T., “The Sons of God”, p. 1, (Scribd, 26 December 1996), https://www.scribd.com/document/183280155/Sons-of-God
  22. Hermann, Ray, “When the sons of God were having sexual relations with the daughters of humankind — the story of the Nephilim”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 9 December 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/when-the-sons-of-god-were-having-sexual-relations-with-the-daughters-of-humankind-the-story-of-the-nephilim/
  23. Barry, John D., et al., Faithlife Study Bible, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), 1 Peter 3:19–20.
  24. deSilva, David Arthur, An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), pp. 854–855.
  25. Hermann, Ray, “What are Demons and the Nephilim? — and that Mayhem before the Flood of Noah?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 29 October 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/what-are-demons-and-the-nephilim-and-that-mayhem-before-the-flood-of-noah/
  26. Hermann, Ray, “Ephesians 6: Evil Cosmic Powers & the Armor of God”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 17 February 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/ephesians-6-evil-cosmic-powers-the-armor-of-god/
  27. Hermann, Ray, “What are Demons and the Nephilim? — and that Mayhem before the Flood of Noah?” (see above).
  28. “Nephilim Man”, Lyrics, music and production by Mark Davidson, (Torah Institute, 4 January 2010), VIDEO: https://youtu.be/mV_N0UCle9k
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