The * in the Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ creed was written to deal with the false teaching of “Gnosticism” which denies that Jesus was truly Man. It is the oldest and most popular creed of the church and has influenced other creeds and confessions written throughout church history. The Apostles’ Creed was not written by the apostles themselves, but is called the Apostles’ Creed because it was the early church’s attempt to give a summary of apostolic teaching. It provides a summary of the essentials of the Christian faith that all believers ought to affirm, meditate upon and attempt to live by.

The Apostles’ Creed we have today is slightly different from the original creed. The creed was first known as the the Old Roman Creed. It can be traced back in Greek to around 140 AD. It shows up in Latin around 390 AD. One of the differences between the Old Roman Creed and the Apostles’ Creed we have today is the line “He descended into hell” which is placed right after “was crucified, dead, and buried”. This line has been the source of some controversy since it was added to the creed somewhere around the middle of the third century. Did Jesus actually descend into hell?

The proof text for those who believe that Jesus actually descended into hell is 1 Peter 3:18-19.

1 Peter 3:18-19
18 Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison,

They believe that He descends to hell to liberate those spirits who have been held in prison previous to His incarnation. His task in hell then is to liberate Old Testament saints.

1 Peter 3:19 leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Peter doesn’t tell us who the lost spirits in prison are or where the prison is. The lost spirits in prison could easily be referring to lost people in this world. For this reason I have chosen to replace the line “He descended into hell” with an asterisk (*). Depending on where you stand on the issue, please feel free to include the line as you read, recite, and mediate on the Apostles’ creed.

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