Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #43

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

Hey folks! Exciting news…well, I hope you think it’s exciting news…we now have three new talks available on CD, cassette tape, and mp3 download. The three are: 1) “Was Hitler Right (Why Atheists Have No Rights)” – which is the audio version of a couple of previous newsletters, 2) “Infant Baptism and Original Sin,” and 3) “Baptist Minister Becomes Priest,” the conversion story of Fr. Gray Bean. This last one is the first non-John talk offered through the Bible Christian Society. I hope to have more in the future. I hope you find all of them enjoyable.


This is going to be a relatively short newsletter. I received a reply from Raymond Woodward a few days ago, but I’ve been out of town the last couple of days and I’m leaving again in the morning, so I won’t have time, this week, to reply to it. I’ll get to it for next week’s newsletter.

So, this week I want to briefly re-visit something Matt Johnson said in one of his emails. It was regarding the Apostles’ Creed. Particularly, the part of the Apostles’ Creed which states that Jesus “descended into hell.” I’ll reproduce the relevant part of our previous discussion on this topic below, and then expand on it a bit.


Matt: My specific point here does not even involve the veracity of this creed (though that subject would make for an interesting exchange). My point is that you have gone outside the scriptures for something you call essential. I find that very telling.

John: Actually, I haven’t gone “outside the scriptures” for anything. Everything in the Apostles’ Creed is scriptural. That’s why I asked you those questions – which are quite relevant to this discussion – about which part, or parts, of the Apostles’ Creed do you not believe in. It’s all from the Word of God. Do you really think that my believing in God the Father as Creator of heaven and earth as a core belief of Christianity, is going outside the scriptures? And do you further think that my believing in Jesus Christ being incarnated and born of a virgin as a core belief of Christianity, is going outside the scriptures? Again, please let me know which parts of the Apostles’ Creed you don’t believe in.

Matt: Could you quote me the chapter and verse where the Bible says “He descended into hell.”? Where specifically does the Bible teach this clearly? Please show me where the Bible says “descended into Hell”. It must be an important and clear teaching to be recognized as a “core belief” of yours. Or is it possible that some of your core beliefs are really just late interpretations of scripture?

John2: There is no verse in Scripture that says the exact words, “He descended into hell.” Just as there are no words in Scripture that say there is one God, but that one God is a trinity of 3 persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – each consubstantially God. Yet, you believe that don’t you?

Matt: The reason I believe in the concept of the Trinity is because the Bible supports the concept.

John: However, there are verses in Scripture which mention how Jesus descended into the “heart of the earth,” (Matt 12:38-41); “the abyss,” (Rom 10:6-7); “the lower parts of the earth,” (Eph 4:8-9), and how he preached to the “spirits in prison,” (1 Ptr 3:19) after His death. So, call it the “heart of the earth,” “the lower parts of the earth,” “the abyss,” “prison,” or whatever else you want to…we call it hell or hades.

Matt: Interesting. You can call it what you like, huh? God doesn’t call it hell. You do. Changing words often changes meaning. Are you sure you haven’t changed both the words and the meaning? Are those words interchangeable? Are hell and hades the exact same thing?


Okay, that was the previous exchange. Matt found one thing in the Creed that he took issue with, the fact that he can find no Scripture verse that directly states that Jesus descended into “hell.” So, I pointed out to him that there is no Scripture verse that directly states that there is one God, and that God is a trinity of three persons, each one being consubstantially God – yet, even though there is no Scripture verse that says such a thing – he believes in this teaching. He responded by claiming that Scripture “supports the concept.”

Isn’t that nice?! Scripture has to say exactly what Catholics believe (as long as Matt disagrees with that belief), but it doesn’t have to say exactly what Matt believes…it just has to “support the concept.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disagreeing with him about Scripture supporting the concept of the Trinity…I’m just pointing out that he is rather inconsistent in how he applies his standards. There is one biblical standard for Catholic belief…it has to be stated exactly (although, even when it is stated exactly – as in John 6 – he still may not believe it) and there is another biblical standard for what Matt Johnson believes…it just has to be supported “in concept.”

Next, I pointed out to Matt that there are several verses in Scripture which say that Jesus did descend somewhere, which he agreed with. The problem he had, is that it didn’t say he descended into hell, and he took issue when I basically said it was a matter of semantics, that we were saying the same thing, just in different ways. You read his response above about “changing words often changes meanings.”

My response to that is, sometimes changing words does change the meaning, sometimes it doesn’t. He should agree with that since he said changing words “often” changes meanings. He knows that is not an absolute. The problem Matt has here, is the same problem he has everywhere else. Matt leans unto his own understanding. Which, Scripture tells us, is not a wise thing to do.

Let’s examine the verses that mention Jesus descending somewhere and see what we come up with. And I’m going to do something here which I don’t usually do, which is to get into the Greek wording of Scripture a bit – it’s kind of necessary in this instance.

First let’s repeat the verses mentioned above:

1) Matt 12:38-41: Jesus descended into the “heart of the earth;” 2) Rom 10:6-7: “the abyss;” 3) Eph 4:8-9: "the lower parts of the earth;” and 4) 1 Ptr 3:19: He preached to the “spirits in prison.”

Okay, first issue I want to address, is that Matt, as shown above, has a problem with me using the word “hell” in place of the word “hades” or in place of any of the other terms mentioned above describing where Jesus descended to. Well, that also means he has a problem, then, with the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. Because, the Greek word “hades” appears 10 or 11 times in the New Testament. In every place that the Greek word “hades” is used, do you know what word the KJV uses? That’s right, it uses the word “hell.” So, I hope Matt takes the translators of the KJV to task in the same way he takes me and the Catholic Church to task on this issue.

The question is, though, why do we use the word “hell” in the Creed instead of the Greek word “hades,” and why did the translators of the KJV use the word “hell” instead of the Greek word “hades”? Could it possibly be because for the longest time the two words were, in fact, used interchangeably by a whole lot of folks?

First, let’s get the definition of the Greek word “hades.” And, this definition is from Thayer’s Lexicon – which is a Protestant lexicon.

“Hades: 1) name Hades or Pluto – the god of the lower regions; 2) Orcus – the nether world, the realm of the dead; 3) later use of this word: the grave, death, hell.”

Did you catch that? “Hades” was used to refer to “hell.” So, right here from a Protestant resource, we see that the two words were, in fact, used interchangeably. So, just by using a Protestant lexicon, we could probably rest our case right there, but let’s look at some other things as well.

In Matt 12:38-41 and in Eph 4:8-9, it says that Jesus descended into the “heart of the earth,” and the “lower parts of the earth,” respectively. Then, in Rom 10:6-7, it says that Jesus went into the “abyss.” Let’s take a look at the definition of the Greek word “abyss.” The definition, from Thayer’s Lexicon – again, a Protestant lexicon – is as follows:

“The abyss: a) the pit; b) the immeasurable depth; c) of Orcus – a very deep gulf or chasm in the lowest parts of the earth used as the common receptacle of the dead and especially the abode of demons.”

Hmmm. Did you catch that? It is “of Orcus.” We saw “Orcus” mentioned in the definition of “hades,” as well. This abyss is in the lowest parts of the earth. Where did Jesus descend to? The lower parts of the earth. The abyss…the pit…the abode of demons. Now, where is it that the demons reside?

Also, in Rev 20:1-7, it talks about Satan being tossed into the bottomless “pit” and then about him being loosed from his “prison”. Well, we saw in the other verses quoted earlier, that Jesus preached to the spirits in “prison.” That he went into the “abyss,” which is the same Greek word used in Rev 20:1-7 that is translated as the “bottomless pit.” Hmmm. So, Jesus is being described as descending into the very same place that Satan is tossed. Where does Satan reside?

In essence folks, when the Creed says Jesus descended into “hell,” it is not “adding to Scripture” or any such thing. It is merely a not so uncommon translation of the Greek word “hades” as “hell.” It does not cause different doctrine to be taught than what is found in the Scriptures. It is simply, again, that the word “hell” was quite often used when translating the Greek word “hades.” And, “hades,” “the abyss,” the “heart of the earth,” and the “lower parts of the earth,” are all pretty much describing the same thing in the minds of the folks who were writing the Scriptures. To use the word “hell” in place of the word “hades,” is to essentially use the word “hell” in place of all of these terms. Again, something that a Protestant resource tells us was in fact done.

As we see from the Scriptures themselves, Jesus descended to the place where the demons reside and where Satan was locked up. Was that hell? Was that hades? Were hell and hades thought to be entirely separate places at the time? Is Satan not in hell? Is he in hades? Where exactly is he? Where are the demons? Because Jesus apparently went to the same place Satan and the demons were thought to be.

To wrap this up, the fact that in the 21st century, we generally refer to “hell” and “hades” as two different places, shows that the meaning of the words have changed over time. But, it doesn’t mean that the Creed is adding to the Scripture by saying Jesus descended into Hell. It simply means that the Creed is using terminology that, in the minds of some, has become outdated and simply needs to be updated. Which, might in fact, happen. We may see the English translation changed to “hades” from “hell” in the not-so-distant future. That doesn’t mean that the Church has changed its teachings, it simply means that the meaning of the words has changed a bit, and so the Church uses new terminology to more accurately reflect the current meaning of those words.

In Conclusion

I hope that was clear…I’m writing this in a big hurry. So, if it didn’t come across as clearly as I am hoping, please let me know. Although, I know whatever I say will be wrong according to the Gospel of Matt (Johnson, that is).

As always, please spread the word about the Bible Christian and our website: www.biblechristiansociety.com.


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Apologetics for the Masses