Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Saturday, March 30, 2013

“He Descended Into Hell” – Rejected by Evangelicals?

The Harrowing of Hell
Catholics who recite the Apostles Creed in Mass no longer say that Christ descended to the dead. The new translation of the Latin words descendit ad inferna are better translated as he descended into Hell.

The blogosphere is abuzz about two well-known and well-respected Minnesota Evangelical scholars who reject what is known as the “harrowing of Hell” – Jesus’ descent in Hell where he broke down the doors to righteous dead and freed them from Satan’s death grip. The scholars are Wayne Grudem and John Piper. Grudem, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society believes the words regarding Jesus’ descent should be removed from the Apostle’s Creed.

Both Piper and Grudem remain silent when these words are recited.

What’s wrong with the descent? Piper and Grudem believe it contradicts Christ’s words to the good thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Both scholars, however, overlook key passages of the Bible that speak to Jesus’ descent into Hell. For a wonderful analysis of this, check out this blog post. It is well worth the read.

Christ stormed the gates of Hell. He went head-to-head with the Devil, struck him a mortal blow, and set the captives free. Most images of the harrowing of Hell focus on Christ freeing the souls of the righteous, but perhaps the best imagery we see of the combat between Jesus and the Devil is found in the Lord of the Rings. Peter Jackson captures this in the movie of The Two Towers with Gandalf defeating the Balrog after both fell into the depths of the earth. It is only after this that Gandalf experiences a kind of resurrection.

But if the evangelicals are losing the language and understanding of Christ’s descent while Catholics keep it alive in art and literature, it is the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-Rite Catholics who have kept it alive in liturgy. A story from the Washington Post reads:

"...the harrowing of hell remains a central tenet of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who place an icon depicting the descent at the front of their churches as Saturday night becomes Easter Sunday. It remains there, venerated and often kissed, for 40 days. 'The icon that represents Easter for us is not the empty cross or tomb,' said Peter Bouteneff, a theology professor at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. 'It’s Christ’s descent into Hades.'"
This post originally appeared on Orate Fratres on 4/9/12.