Death Has Been Swallowed Up by Death

Gavin Ortlund | April 1, 2015

Editors' note: This series explores key doctrines of the Christian faith and their practical ramifications for everyday life. Earlier in this series:

Every Sunday morning millions of Christians confess from the Apostles’ Creed that Christ “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead.” Have you ever wondered what it means to say that Christ “descended into hell”?

Earlier this year at the 2015 Los Angeles Theology Conference, Matt Emerson delivered a helpful paper on this topic, “He Descended to the Dead: The Burial of Christ and the Eschatological Character of the Atonement.” I corresponded with Emerson, assistant professor of Christian ministries at California Baptist University, about how Christians should think about this part of the early creeds.

Where does the phrase “he descended into hell” occur? Should it be “into hell” or “to the dead”?

The phrase occurs in both the Apostles’ Creed, which many churches recite every Sunday, and in the…

To read the rest of this article, visit