Baffled No More
Did Jesus descend into hell? What a question! Not one I’d thought about before, honestly.
By Victoire Kwek
Moderated by Dr. Dennis Lum, the “Baffle of the Theologians” session in Broadcast Life Conference started out fast and furious, beginning with an introduction of the Apostles’ Creed and related verses, most notably 1 Peter 3:18-20. Fireball exchanges between Dr. Richard Goetz and Dr. Babu Immanuel transpired, from the impact of language, usage of certain terms, and settings in which they were used, to questions on whether Jesus preached to dead spirits, Him having the keys to hades/hell, to atonement!
Each sharing by Dr. Babu and Dr. Richard was fast and pointed, creating greater room for discussion. In fact, the online forum in the Telegram channel was equally fiery with curious minds eager to learn and grow!
Crucial points made early in the discussion:
The Apostles’ Creed did not originate from the Apostles themselves, but from the early Church.
Neither the creed, nor the phrase, “Jesus descended to hell” is found in the Bible.
Dr. Richard shared about "שְׁאוֹל", pronounced “Sheol” -- the Hebrew word referring to where the dead go, in other words, the realm of the dead. It may include paradise, and not necessarily solely a place of suffering and pain, as commonly depicted. This was an interesting perspective, as the concept I had of Sheol was always negative. Thus, depending on our interpretation of words, there can be much speculation and diverse opinions.
As for the forum question on removing the line, “Jesus descended into hell” from the creed, Dr. Babu offered the view that keeping it allows us to understand how ideas formed and evolved in the course of time.
In this case, learning about the early Church, culture and language then, we could better appreciate specific terms and phrases employed. To analyze the line, “Jesus descended into hell”, or any writing for that matter, including the Bible, we ought to return to the context in which it was written -- by and for whom. More importantly, however, we ought to seek God for wisdom to understand what He conveys to us.
Though the discussion did not result in a conclusive "yes" or "no", it ended with Dr. Dennis leading us to think about the significance of the answer to the question. In considering its impact on our understanding of atonement, he highlighted the penal substitution theory and the ransom theory, both of which I would need to take time to read and explore now!
Learning how the question that sparked this session originated from a man-made creed and not the inspired Word of God, I came to the preliminary conclusion that it is necessary to be more conscious of what Scripture says. In spite of our human limitations, we can improve in our understanding, slowly but surely!
This session has motivated me to move beyond just reading the Bible. I’ve taken out my sister’s hermeneutics textbook to learn how to study the Bible.
There may be the curiosity and compulsion to figure out what everything in the Bible means, but I’ve made peace with the fact that God will reveal in His time. I am making the commitment to truly study God’s Word, and to intentionally set aside the time to do so, so that I’ll be ready to receive whenever and whatever God decides to reveal to me!
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Reflect & Respond
What do you think? Did Jesus descend into hell? Which part of the Bible do you substantiate your claims from?
To understand any written word, it's important to know the context. How does that change the way you read the Bible?