Decent Links (1/8/2015)

I tend to be on the look out for articles and information about Christ’s Descent into Hades (as my blog posts may show). I doubt anyone else really is that interested in it, but who knows, someone may like to read these.

It seems the guys over at Reformation21 have been posted a lot about the Descent where most of my links come from.

Gerhardus Vos on the Descent, curtouesy of Nick Batzig (I haven’t read through all or any of this but being that it’s Vos, it’s worth bookmarking). (HT Reformation21).

A Plea by Mark Jones to keep the Descent in the Creed. Though I don’t agree with the reasoning (my thesis argues for a different understanding and keeping the line) I do agree with the sentiment of keeping it!

Eric Hutchinson’s Should We Ascent to the Descent, [Must Read] is a great little piece that condenses much of my thesis into a very readable article, while providing some interesting points of reference that I hadn’t know of before. This is the one I’d read if you are interested. I especially appreciate how Hutchen’s says that the Descent clause is found in both Arian and Orthodox alike, this was not something the two sides battled on (as I note in my thesis they battle on Christ’s ontology – who He is, not what he does).

H. B. Swete’s book The Apostles’ Creed in Primitive Christian has a chapter on the Descent that is proving to be very informative, from the 1900s. Being that the Descent may date back to the 2nd century, we aren’t finding that many new information on it!

Eusebius’s Church History, Book 1, Chapter 13 (in Schaff’s Nicene and Post-Nicene Father’s 2, volume 1). What is of note, is that Eusebius apparently found some epistle in Edessa that breezes right through the Descent into Hell. As the editors note, this is likely to be a true statement (though the epistle is not part of inspired Scripture). There is no mention of this being a novel idea (the Descent) and likely shows that this concept predates Eusebius (~260 – 340 AD).


Are the Old Testament Saints in Heaven … (Part 3)

Please review both of them first (in order mind you). First off, I write this at the behest of a friend, whose encouragement for these little articles makes me know at least one person is reading them.

What’s the New Testament say?

One argument that I hear is that Sheol in the OT means grave, because, look at its usage in context. That’s all fine and good, though I don’t think it accounts for the richness of the Hebrew language. But I think it begins to fall apart when one takes into account the New Testament usage of the word Hades.

When the OT was translated in the lingua franca of the day Greek, they made some curious editorial choices. One of those was to translate the word Sheol as Hades. Now if you know your Greek mythology (you can consult Disney’s Hercules if you need a quick refresher), you’ll notice that Hades has a lot of cultural baggage associated with it. It is the god of the underworld and the underworld (both named Hades). In Greek mythology it was the place that disembodied souls went. As an aside Greek has a word for grave tophos, which means the place where you put dead bodied.

It would be like today, translating a word we think means “grave” as “hell.” You’d probably be inclined to say – why don’t we use “grave” instead, since people often associate hell was some incorporeal afterlife motif. I’d agree with you. So when the Greek OT uses Hades for nearly all usages of the Hebrew that makes you wonder.

Well how does the NT use the word Hades? In nearly all cases it doesn’t seem to be “grave.” Matt 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13–14; and one use of Tartarus in 2 Pet. 2:4 (compare Jude 6). Also there is something “under the earth” (Rev. 5:3, 13; Phil 2:10).

So let’s walk through some of these:

Tartarus is not synonymous with Hades but it’s pretty close (and the ESV actually used the word “hell” when translating it in 2 Pet. 2:4). But the rich man ends up in Hades after he dies in a parable of Jesus (Luke 16). Hades has gates (Matt. 16:18); a key (Rev. 1:18; cf., Rev. 20:1 a key to the bottomless pit), houses the dead (Rev. 20:13-14), and even a personified rider who rides with death (Rev. 6:8).

Heaven is juxtaposed with Hades (Matt. 16:18; Luke 10:15; see also the Apostles’ Creed) and Jesus is “there” in Hades (Acts 2:27, 31) or rather, was there, but unlike David (Ps. 16) is now in heaven (Acts 1; cf., Rom. 10:6-8).

Evil angels are tossed into this bottomless pit called Tartarus (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) and something exists “under the earth” to both bow down at the name of Jesus and not be found to be able to open the scroll of the book of life (Phil. 2:10 and Rev. 5:3, 13; respectively).


So the NT, when read in light of the Pseudepigrapha and the OT, seems to say that Hades is a real place. Hades looks to be very similar to Sheol and people exist there in some form. If the NT has any bearing on the OT, I don’t think it’s acceptable to read every instance of Sheol as grave, but rather a place disembodied souls went to. Now that brings to it a much bigger question – what happened to the OT saints after Jesus came…?

Update: By the way, you should see Hell, Hades, Gehenna and the Realm of the Dead (Acts 2:27) by Bill Mounce which goes into some difference between the Gehenna and Hades. He confirms most of what I think I’ve said above.

Are the Old Testament Saints in heaven… (Part 1)

…before Jesus’s atonement and resurrection? Now the standard evangelical answer is: of course. But first we need to look back to the Bible and see what it says.

In the Old Testament (OT) only one person goes to heaven explicitly: Elijah (2 Kings 2:11). Enoch is hinted at, but it doesn’t really tell us where he goes (Gen. 5:24). The Hebrew reads “and he was not” using a fun Hebrew express that we call the particle of negation. God took him somewhere. It’s likely he went to heaven since the same phrase appears in Elijah’s story. But only with the Elijah story would we know where Enoch went. These examples don’t help our problem though, because neither Enoch or Elijah died!

For Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Aaron, when they die they are each “gathered to [their] people” (see Gen. 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:33; Deut. 31:16; 32:50 respectively). David says that when he dies, he will go to be with his son (2 Sam 12:23). So maybe this going to be with your ancestors is heaven?

It could be interpreted as such, until we reach Psalm 49. In it, the Psalmist speaks about how we cannot ransom our life from God. We will all see “the pit” (this is a synonym for Sheol; see v. 14) [vv. 8-9]. The Psalmists hope is that God will ransom his soul *from* Sheol (15). The Psalmist tells us not to fear (or doubt God’s plans or goodness) when we see the rich and powerful, because though they go down to be with “the generations of [their] fathers” (v. 19) they will never see the light again (i.e., resurrection). The rich man and apparently the psalmist both share a similar fate with a big difference – the righteous will be raised to new life.

So when we get to the story of the deceased Samuel and Saul (1 Sam. 28) we read Samuel’s pronouncement that Saul and his sons will soon be joing him after their death (1 Sam. 28:19). David wants to be saved from Sheol (Ps. 16:10; 18:5; 30:3; 49:15; 86:13) which begs the question – why? If death just meant going to heaven, shouldn’t that be a good thing (i.e., Phil 1:23; Paul says it’s better than life on earth!)? Because of Jesus we do not fear death (Heb. 2:14-15), but David feared death (Ps. 55:4). How do we reconcile all of that?

John Frame (Presbyterian theologian) says “The OT teaches that after death, people go to a place called Sheol, a shadowy abode awaiting the coming of Christ.” (Systematic Theology, 1077)

Herman Bavinck (the great reformed Dutch theologian) says “Through death all the souls enter the abode of the dead, Sheol” (Reformed Dogmatics 4:599).

Maybe the OT saints did go to heaven prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus, but the OT doesn’t appear to say that (I do believe the OT saints are in heaven, now; but that is more than I can get into in this blog post). The point of this post is not to make any firm statements, but to raise the question of what happened to the saints in the Old Testament after they died. 

If nothing else, you have to admit, the answer might not be as simple as you thought.

Help: I’d be interested if anyone has a good answer to the question of whether the OT saints went to heaven, pre-passion. I tried to give a simple and biblical explanation of what the OT says along with two well respected and Reformed theologians who show that this view is not antithetical to Reformed theology. I am doing my best to follow what the data says and would love to see what conclusions are drawn by others.