Archive for the ‘Descent into Hell’ Tag

The Descent into Hell   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Harrowing of Hades

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART IX

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1 Peter 3:18-4:6

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Some time ago, I attempted to engage a fundamentalist Presbyterian in serious discussion.  I should have known better; she quashed my hopes quickly.  The conversation broke down over the allegorical interpretation of scripture, extant in the works of many Church Fathers, as well as in the Pauline Epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and 1 Peter 3:18-4:6.

By the way, I have a mixed attitude toward the allegorical interpretation of the Bible.  Certain examples provide me with spiritual benefits.  However, some other examples go so far as to cross the line into the ridiculous.  Nevertheless, I acknowledge the objective presence of allegorical interpretation of scripture within scripture.

My discussion partner barely wanted to acknowledge that much.  Her tone was…not calm.  I have learned the lesson I should have learned before this incident; I have resolved that the short list of topics of conversation with her includes the weather, the cuteness of baby furry animals, and little else.  Theology and the Bible are off-limits.

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In 1 Peter 3:18-4:6, the allegory of the Great Flood and Noah’s Ark serves to encourage Christians to remain within the Ark of Christ, to live properly, and to endure persecution.  That part of the passage is unambiguous.

Ambiguity and disagreement in interpretation have surrounded 3:18-19 and 4:6 for nearly 2000 years.  (I have already written a post about that topic.)  Did Jesus descend to the dead, Limbo, Hell, or Hades?  Different denominations have dealt with this story and its implications in their own ways, especially regarding wording of the Apostles’ Creed.

That point does not interest me at the moment.  No, I choose to focus on why 1 Peter 3:18-19 and 4:6 make so many Christians uncomfortable.  Assuming that 3:18-19 and 4:6 refer to the same event (I do.), these verses, read in the context of 3:18-4:6, raise at least two potentially unsetting possibilities:

  1. Damnation is potentially reversible, and
  2. Salvation is reversible, if one commits apostasy.

I have written thousands of posts in more than a decade of blogging.  I have, therefore, developed some motifs, repeated seemingly endlessly.  Some of these are:

  1. Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance,
  2. God sends nobody to Hell,
  3. People condemn themselves, and
  4. Jesus erases many of our lines and categories.

The Descent of Christ after the crucifixion and prior to the Resurrection threatens certain cherished assumptions, especially regarding divine justice.  You, O reader, may be an exception, but many people derive satisfaction from desiring that their enemies and adversaries suffer the terrible fate that apparently should befall them.  But let us be honest.  How many of us want to suffer the terrible fate that certain others may think we deserve?

Grace upsets many assumptions.  What is justice without “those people” getting theirs?

Without being a universalist, I embrace grace.  I welcome the reversal of damnation.  1 Peter 3:18-19 and 4:6 make me feel comfortable, not uncomfortable.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GENEVA; SAINT VINCENT DE PAUL, “THE APOSTLE OF CHARITY;” SAINT LOUISE DE MARILLAC, CO-FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY OF SAINT VINCENT DE PAUL; AND CHARLES FUGE LOWDER, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SCUDDER, U.S. UNITARIAN THEN EPISCOPALIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH A. SITTLER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF MELANESIA, 1864-2003

THE FEAST OF THOMAS TRAHERNE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

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Faith in the Trenches   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Harrowing of Hell

Image in the Public Domain

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For Holy Saturday, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Common Prayer (The Episcopal Church, 1928)

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Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ,

so by continual mortifying our corrupt affectations we may be buried with him;

and that through the grave, and gate of thy death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection;

for his merits, who died, and was buried, and was buried, and rose again for us,

the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1928),161

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Job 19:21-27

Psalm 23

1 Peter 3:14-22

Matthew 27:57-66

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Whenever I read Job 19:21-27, I hear a portion of George Frederick Handel’s Messiah playing in my mind.

I know that my redeemer liveth….

The text is not about Jesus, though.

In context, God had allowed the Satan, his loyalty tester, to affect and test the loyalty of Job.  (Satan was not yet a free agent in Jewish theology.)  Job’s afflictions included three frenemies, who blamed the victim.  Job had nobody other than God to whom to turn for defense.  He cited God as his kinsman-redeemer.

But I know that my Vindicator lives….

–Job 19:25a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Faith in the trenches may seem foolish.  Yet such faith has profound merits.  Only divine goodness and mercy will pursue the author of Psalm 23; his enemies cannot catch up.  And the descent of Christ to the dead/to Hell (1 Peter 3:18-22) was a great expression of divine sovereignty and grace.  It led to what my Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in faith call the Harrowing of Hell.

The story of the crucifixion of Jesus has a happy ending.  Easter arrives, on schedule, every year.  But why rush into it?  Easter will mean more if we allow Jesus to be dead, liturgically.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PEPIN OF LANDEN, SAINT ITTA OF METZ, THEIR RELATIONS, SAINTS AMAND, AUSTREGISILUS, AND SULPICIUS II BOURGES, FAITHFUL CHRISTIANS ACROSS GENERATIONAL LINES

THE FEAST OF EMILY GREENE BALCH, U.S. QUAKER SOCIOLOGIST, ECONOMIST, AND PEACE ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF JULIA CHESTER EMERY, UPHOLDER OF MISSIONS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP II OF MOSCOW, METROPOLITAN OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA, AND MARTYR, 1569

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JONES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MUSICIAN

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The Light of Christ, Part III   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Harrowing of Hell

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Job 14:1-4 or Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16

1 Peter 4:1-8

Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42

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To permit Jess to remain dead liturgically until late Holy Saturday or early Easter Sunday morning–until the Great Vigil of Easter–is spiritually helpful.  By doing this one will derive more spiritual benefit from Easter than if one rushes into it.  Spiritual peaks mean as much as they do because of the valleys.

The audience for 1 Peter consisted of Gentile Christians in Asia Minor suffering for their faith.  The call to witness to Christ in their lives made sense.  (It still makes sense for we Christians today), in all our cultural contexts, regardless of the presence or absence of persecution.)  In that textual context the author (in 3:19 and 4:6) referred to Christ’s post-crucifixion and pre-Resurrection descent to the dead/into Hell.  These references have led to several interpretations for millennia, but the linkage to these verses to the Classic Theory of the Atonement, that is, the Conquest of Satan, has been easy to recognize.

A note in The Orthodox Study Bible (2008), for obvious reasons flowing from Eastern Orthodox theology, affirms the descent of Christ into Hell.  It reads in part:

As Christ fearlessly faced His tormenters, death, and hell, so we through Him can confidently face mockers and tormenters–and yes, bring His light to them.

–Page 1687

That is a great responsibility.  To bring the light of Christ to others–especially our enemies–is a high calling.  We can succeed in it, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVS AND FOUNDER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/devotion-for-holy-saturday-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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