February 24, 2012

Did Jesus Go to Hell?

Did Jesus burn in hell between the cross and the resurrection? That is what some Christians think when they read the line in the Apostles' Creed that states, "He descended to hell." The is the most controversial and difficult line in the Creed. Some churches use an alternate translation, "He descended to the dead" while other churches remove the line completely. So, what does this phrase mean and how should we deal with it?

The first thing we need to remember is that the Apostles’ Creed is not a passage from the Bible. Also, it was not actually written by the Apostles, at least not in its current form. This is important to keep in mind since the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, but all other writings are man-made creations that are only as good as far as they match the Scriptures. We deeply respect many of the historical creeds and confessions, but we do not put them on the same level as inspired Scripture.

Second, the phrase “He descended to hell” is not found in any of the earliest versions of the Creed such as the “Old Roman” version. It actually does not appear until the mid-seventh century, at least not with the understanding of "hell" rather than the grave. We do have a version from the end of the 4th century by Rufinus that includes "descended into hell" but the writer specifically notes that he understands the term to simply mean that Christ was buried. The Greek term is hades, which can simply mean “grave” rather than hell. After Rufinus, we don't see the entire phrase again until the mid-seventh century.[1]  The Old Roman Creed, from the second half of the second century, simply says that Jesus was crucified, buried, and then rose from the dead.[2]

Third, and most importantly, the Bible does not teach that Jesus burned in hell to pay for our sins. Remember what Jesus said to the repentant thief on the cross next to Him. Jesus told him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This thief, and Jesus, would be in Paradise that day, not hell. Luke 23:46 records Jesus saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” before He died. John 19:30 records Jesus saying, “It is finished,” as He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. When Jesus died on the cross, He had finished the word of atonement. He did not then spend three days burning in hell to pay for our sins. That work was finished on the cross. When Scripture discusses how Jesus paid for our sins, it consistently points to the cross (1 Cor. 1:17-18; Gal. 6:14; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 2:8; Col. 1:20; 2:14; Heb. 12:2) not to any suffering in hell.

Finally, the phrase “He descended into hell” is confusing. Many people at my church have told me that they always assumed "descended into hell" meant that Jesus burned in hell between His death and resurrection. Even the great theologians of church history have disagreed on what this phrase meant. John Calvin understood it to mean that Jesus basically experienced hell on the cross. There is a lot of truth to that interpretation. On the cross Jesus took the curse on our behalf (Gal. 3:13) and propitiated God's wrath (Rm. 3:25) for those who have their trust in Him.  However, this is not what most Christians thought "descended to hell" meant prior to Calvin. It is also not what most people would assume today unless they are taught otherwise. Also, it is not likely that Calvin's interpretation is what the phrase originally meant when it was added to the Creed. It is more likely that this phrase, in its original language, simply meant that Jesus really died and went to the “afterlife.”  Thus "descended to the grave" or “descended to the dead” probably communicate the meaning of the original terms better than "descended to hell."

If Jesus went to the underworld, it was a brief trip to liberate the Old Testament saints--leading them from Abraham's Side (Luke 16:22; Eph. 4:8-10) to heaven now that salvation had been accomplished--and possibly to proclaim His victory (1 Pt. 3:19). This view, "the harrowing of hell," was probably the most common view for most of church history. I think this possibly happened, but is this really what the phrase "descended to hell" originally meant? That seems unlikely since all the other statements in the Creed are clear, key, non-negotiable elements of the Christian faith. The harrowing of hell is obscure by comparison. On the other hand, Christ descending to the grave, or the afterlife, is a key, non-negotiable article of our faith. If this is the case, the phrase may have originally been intended to emphasize that Jesus really did die.

Some churches use a version of the Creed in which the whole line is removed. That might be the best option. But if we're going to keep the line, then in my opinion "descended to the dead" has less problems. It helps us to have one less thing to un-teach people. It also has the advantage of being the interpretation of the person who recorded the earliest known version of the Creed including that phrase. The third option would be to retain the original phrase, but explain it well and often. No matter what, we need churches that make it clear, week in and week out, that when Jesus died on the cross He fully accomplished everything required to get believers to God. Jesus took hell on the cross so we wouldn't have to take it in eternity.

[1] Wayne Grudem, “He Did Not Descent Into Hell: A Plea for Following Scripture Instead of the Apostles’ Creed,” JETS, 34/1 (March 1991): 103-6.
[2] O.G. Oliver, Jr., “Apostles’ Creed,” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 72. 

February 8, 2012

How the News Talks About Redefining Marriage

The media influences our thinking with the terms they choose to use. Think about this...

If the media referred to the issue this way, less people would be okay with it. They know what they're doing.

February 4, 2012

Family Technology User Agreement

In the post Parenting in an Age of Technology I suggested using a Family Technology User Agreement when you entrust your son or daughter with a new piece of technology. This document will help them think of their new phone or computer as family technology rather than own private property, even if they are designated as the primary user.  Even more, this is a tool to talk about what it means to use technology in a healthy, God-honoring way. Here is a sample agreement I put together. Feel free to cut and paste and make whatever changes you think are appropriate.

Family Technology User Agreement

This is a user agreement for [name]                           regarding the use of [item of technology]                        .

Technology is created by God. It has many good uses and is not essentially evil. However technology has been perverted and abused by sinners. Therefore we must use disciplined discernment regarding how it is used. Like a rifle or a chainsaw, technology can be very useful but it can also be dangerous and harmful if it is not used carefully.

I realize that the use of this piece of technology is a privilege, not a right. I also realize that this is a piece of family technology, not my private property.  Even if I am designated the primary user of this piece of technology, I do not have complete authority over this device. I am not under the illusion that I have a right to complete and total privacy concerning how I use this device, especially concerning how I use the internet. I accept the truth that accountability and the authority of my parents is a good gift from God.

I realize that my parents have the desire that I will learn to use technology responsibly so that I will make good choices even when I am no longer under their roof. The more I show a long-term consistent track record of responsibility, the more my parents will be able to give me more trust and freedom. (Poor choices will decrease trust and freedom.) In the meantime, I realize that my parents have the responsibility to “trust but verify.”  I realize that I was born with a sin nature and I live in a culture that pushes me to make sinful choices. Accountability and precautions are always a good thing.

I also realize that there may be additional rules or guidelines that my parents will give concerning the use of this technology.

I agree to this user agreement as a condition for the privilege of using this piece of family technology.

Signature: __________________________________________  Date: ________


February 1, 2012

Teens & Technology

Honoring God with your use of technology means more than keeping porn off your screen. Purity is absolutely important, but today's Christian teens also need to consider the ways that texting, smart phones, and surfing can make it difficult to glorify God with what you communicate and how you think. For teens who want to honor God with their use of technology, here are a few quick points to consider:

       Realize the difference between texting vs. phone vs. face to face. Approximately...
               10% of communication is words.
               30% of communication is tone of voice.
               60% of communication is body language.
       If this is true, what is the best way to avoid miss-communication or to work out conflict?
       Constant communication leaves no time to think or to process.
       The Internet is giving us attention deficit disorder and makes it harder to concentrate and remember.
       Constant communication means there is no time to cool down.
       People can be very “brave” (foolish) behind a keyboard.
       We have a strange new view of privacy. We’re hidden from the people we should be open to and open and exposed to those we shouldn’t be.
       When we’re never absent from each other it is very easy to get co-dependent.
       When we’re never absent from each other there is never time to stop and evaluate.
       The Internet never forgets.

A few Bible passages that are relevant for teens and technology:

1 Corinthians 6:12
 “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.
       Don’t be controlled by technology or become addicted to it.
       It’s healthy to unplug.
       It’s healthy to have limits.

Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
       Think before you type. Sometimes a slow response is good.
       The silicon rule: Don’t say anything digitally you would not say to their face.
       Use face to face communication to work things out.

John 3:19
Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
       Sin loves secrecy.
       You are far less likely to sin if you don’t think you’re being secret.

Job 31:1
I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.
       Commit yourself to honor God with your use of technology.
       Embrace accountability. 
       Deal with both HEART and HARDWARE to resist sin. Work on your heart but don't be foolish about what you give yourself easy access to.

Matthew 18:9
And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
       Be willing to take drastic steps if necessary.
       Don’t let society tell you what’s normal.

1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
       Don’t let greed control your heart. It is easy to be greedy for the latest and greatest tech.
       For many people technology is a status symbol. Beware of pride.
       Keep your focus on what is eternally important. Stay on target.

Related: Parenting in an Age of Technology

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