Did Jesus Descend into Hell?

Did Jesus Descend into Hell?

Since I was a kid, I’ve been intrigued by the Christian doctrine that says that Jesus descended into hell in-between his death and resurrection. Traditional versions of The Apostle’s Creed clearly state this in the fifth line, “…[Jesus] was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven…” (although some versions now say “He descended to the dead”).

Ephesians 4:9 declares that Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth,” which could refer to a variety of things, including Hades, but is most likely simply a reference to his death and burial in the grave.[1]

1 Peter 3:19 seems to be the clearest reference that Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison,” assuming this is Hades, or Hell, or the like. However, I stumbled across an interesting observation about the Greek wording, and a possible simple scribal error. In James Moffatt’s translation of the New Testament (1913), this passage reads “It was in the Spirit that Enoch also went and preached to the imprisoned spirits who had disobeyed at the time when God’s patience held out during the construction of the ark in the days of Noah…”[2] What? Where did Enoch come from? Well, some scholars have argued that the scribe copying this text by hand was supposed to copy ENOKAIENOXTOISEN, but left out what appeared to be a repeated word and instead wrote ENOKAITOISEN instead. The earliest manuscript we have from this book is from the 3rd Century, a copy from copies, so let’s take a look at this passage a little further.

In which also: enokai [3]
Enoch: enox

Common translation:
1 Peter 3:18-20 (
18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in thespirit; 19 in which also He[4] went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

Translation that interprets as Enoch:
1 Peter 3:18-20 (
Edgar J. Goodspeed’s: An American Translation 1923)
18For Christ himself died once for all, for sin, an upright man for unrighteous men, to bring us to God, and was physically put to death, but he was made alive in the Spirit. 19In it Enoch went and preached even to those spirits that were in prison, 20who had once been disobedient, when in Noah’s time God in his patience waited for the ark to be made ready, in which a few people, eight in all, were brought safely through the water.[5]

I would argue that the Enoch reading makes far more sense in the context of the passage, and resolves the issue of this long, awkward sentence. Peter would be familiar with the story from the Book of Enoch that further describes the fallen angels that came to earth to have relations with women (Genesis 6), and bore Nephilim, or great giants who “turned against them and devoured mankind.”[6] God commanded the angels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel to bind and imprison these fallen angels from the days of Noah. Peter directly refers to these imprisoned spirits that you can read about in 1 Enoch.

From Genesis 5:21-29, we know that Enoch was Noah’s great-grandfather and apparently never died, being taken directly to heaven by God. The Book of Enoch (1 Enoch), estimated to have been written between 300BC – 100BC, is considered to be part of the Biblical Apocrypha and appears to have been somewhat influential to some writers of the Biblical Canon (Jude and Peter refer directly to it). The author is ascribed to the historical Enoch, but is clearly pseudepigraphal (written in the name of a historical person).

Whether the original writing of this letter referred to Jesus or Enoch, the message remains the same. The righteous died for the unrighteous, dying for sins once for all, that he might bring us to God! As we die to our sins, we no longer live in the flesh, but in the Spirit. I don’t believe Jesus died to take away the punishment of our sins, for sin always brings its own punishment to our lives, but he died for our sins so that we won’t be enslaved to them any longer. Tell the whole world, wake the dead, for we no longer have anything to fear, nothing to steal our joy, because we now live in the Spirit.

Much love!


[1] https://bible.org/question/what-does-bible-mean-when-it-says-christ-descended-hell

[2] https://archive.org/stream/newtestamentnewt01moff#page/294/mode/2up

[3] http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/1pe3.pdf

[4] The word “He” is not actually in the text, because it is not required by Greek grammar.

[5] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/gdsp.iPet.3.html

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Enoch

Alan Baertschi
WRITTEN BY: Alan Baertschi

3 Comments added

  1. Shelly Hunter March 2, 2014 | Reply
    Thanks for sharing Alan. : )
  2. Annie Johnson March 2, 2014 | Reply
    Amazing stuff Alan!! Seminary??????? Seriously most people, even those deemed theologians do not think like this.....Keep it coming Bro!
  3. Mrs. B. May 17, 2014 | Reply
    I have always wondered about that passage in Peter and those giants too. This explains a lot. Especially liked your statement "He died for our sins so that we won't be enslaved to them any longer". We can live in joy and freedom as we are more able to live by the Spirit and not the flesh. Thanks for your really amazing insights.

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