The Harrowing of Hell:
Salvation for the Dead in Early Christianity

The Harrowing of Hell:
Salvation for the Dead in Early Christianity

David L. Paulsen, Roger D. Cook, and Kendel J. Christensen

Lord, are there few that be saved?” (Luke 13:23). This question has troubled thinkers
from Christianity’s beginning. The faithful readily accept that, save Jesus
Christ, there is “none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we
must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Yet, the same loyal followers of Christ
wrestle with the puzzling reality that countless numbers of souls have lived
and died never having heard of Jesus Christ, let alone having had an adequate
chance to accept the salvation he offers. What is their fate in the eternities?
Are these forever excluded from salvation? Thomas Morris, philosophy professor
at Notre Dame, describes this unexplained “scandal” in his book The
Logic of God Incarnate

scandal . . . arises with a simple set of questions asked of the
Christian theologian who claims that it is only through the life and death of
God incarnated in Jesus Christ that all can be saved and reconciled to God: How
can the many humans who lived and died before the time of Christ be saved
through him? They surely cannot be held accountable for responding
appropriately to something of which they could have no knowledge. Furthermore,
what about all the people who have lived since the time of Christ in cultures
with different religious traditions, untouched by the Christian gospel?
. . . How could a just God set up a particular condition of salvation,
the highest end of human life possible, which was and is inaccessible to most
people? Is not the love of God better understood as universal, rather than as
limited to a mediation through the one particular individual, Jesus of Nazareth? Is it not a moral as well as a religious scandal to claim otherwise?2

This “scandal,”
otherwise known as the soteriological problem of evil, is the logical
incoherence of the Christian triad of ideas that (1) God is perfectly
loving and just and desires that all his children be saved, (2) salvation
comes only through an individual’s acceptance of Christ’s salvific gifts, and
(3) countless numbers of God’s children have died without having a chance
to hear about, much less accept, those saving gifts. Would a truly loving and
just God condemn his children simply because they had never heard of his Son?
Some very influential Christian thinkers have answered in the affirmative,3 and, consequently, some critics have labeled Christianity as a religion of
damnation rather than salvation.4

This pessimistic position has not
always prevailed in Christianity.5 Indeed, in early Christian
thought, as well as in apocalyptic Judaism that preceded it, the merciful
doctrine of salvation for the dead, known to early Christians as the “harrowing”
of hell,6 was advanced as the divine solution to the problem. In
this paper, which is the first of a three-part series, we (1) trace the
origin and development of this idea in early Christianity and its formal
articulation in the Apostles’ Creed; (2) set forth the rejection of the
doctrine, first by Augustine and later by the Reformers, and their reasons for
rejecting it; and (3) conclude with a brief survey of some contemporary
solutions to the soteriological problem of evil. In the sequels to this paper,
we explore the doctrine of baptism for the dead in early Christianity and
elaborate on the restoration of the doctrines of the harrowing of hell and
baptism for the dead in modern revelation.

Christian Precursors of Postmortem Rescue of the Dead

The writers of the New Testament
texts are often described by contemporary Near Eastern scholars as Jewish or apocalyptic Christians to differentiate them from classical Christians, who appear
in the second century AD and whose
views begin to prevail from that time on. They were part of what scholars now
call Second Temple Judaism, or Judaism as it existed from the return of the
exiles from Babylon to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans
(516 BC–AD 70). Their writings have a heavenly
focus, describing in detail multiple, storied heavens and the ranks of angels
that reside in each; the fall of some of those angels and their introducing
evil to the earth; and the apocalyptic ascent of chosen prophets and priests to
the highest heaven to witness and participate in the proceedings of the divine
council of God. In addition, their writings also detail the coming destruction
of the world and the paradise that God will establish, the resurrection of the
dead and their exaltation in the hereafter, and the fiery, eternal punishment
that the wicked will suffer for sins committed in mortality.7 As a
direct descendant of apocalyptic Judaism and its unique views,8 early Christianity took an avid interest in the final condition of the dead and
in reconciling this final state of affairs with God’s justice.

In the apocalyptic Jewish
tradition, of which the New Testament writers who inaugurate the apocalyptic
Christian tradition are a part, God is unequivocally understood to be a
transcendent, all-powerful, embodied being who seeks the advancement of all
mankind. He is otherworldly in that he physically resides in the Holy of Holies
of the heavenly temple located in the highest heaven, but his transcendence
should not be confused with being exterior to the universe, for he fully exists
within space and time.9 From his exalted throne he controls the
universe, his unmatched power extending to each and every corner and affecting
all that dwell therein.10 Acting on behalf of his children, he shows
them abundant mercy and love balanced with justice as he also punishes those
who have lived corrupt lives in mortality.11

A theological impasse is created,
however, when one attempts to reconcile the loving and merciful God of
apocalyptic Judaism with the harsh, eternal punishment of Sheol (Greek hades),
even if its inhabitants merit some measure of retribution. In
approximately 400 BC, Enochian
Jews began writing the Book of Watchers, a portion of the larger text now
known as 1 Enoch.
These are the first apocalyptic Jews to describe portions of Sheol as being a
place of extreme punishment for the wicked. They describe the “scourges
and tortures of the cursed forever” (1 Enoch 22:10) and the
flaming “abyss” into which the fallen angels are thrown and burn
forever (1 Enoch 21:1–10).12 Prior to this time, some expounders of Israelite
religion understood that all mortals reside permanently in Sheol after this
life, and it appears that their existence after this life could be good or bad,
depending upon their conduct during mortality.13 But Enochian Jews
treat a portion of Sheol as a temporary holding place for the
spirits of the righteous departed, placing the righteous in a place of rest and
light and the wicked in places of darkness and confinement, but not physical
punishment.14 They also taught of the righteous leaving Sheol, their
resurrection from the dead, and their subsequent existence in an Edenlike
paradise (1 Enoch 22:1–14; 24:1–25:6).

Although these ideas were
commonplace in apocalyptic Judaism by the end of the Second Temple period,
awareness of the theological dilemma created by the Enochian Jews’ view of
Sheol’s eternal punishment also emerges in writings near the end of that
period.15 Texts from the apocalyptic Jewish tradition dated to the
late first century BC or early first
century AD draw attention to the
soteriological problem as their authors attempt to reconcile the endless
torment of the underworld with the existence of a loving and merciful God. The Book of
, generally considered an Enochian work of the late first
century BC or the first century AD, records that even the archangel
Michael at first recoils at the “harshness of the judgment” of the
fallen angels. He exclaims to Raphael, “Who is there who would not soften
his heart over it, and . . . not be troubled by this word?”
Michael finds some comfort knowing that the worst punishments are reserved for
the fallen archangels alone: “for no angel or human will receive their lot”
(1 Enoch 68:2–5). Still, the question remains: How can a loving and merciful God justify
tormenting any of his creations, especially if this torment is “without end” ?

This dilemma is addressed in 4 Ezra,
an apocalyptic Jewish work dating to the first century AD. In the text, an angel shows the ancient prophet Ezra the
“furnace of hell” where the disobedient are destined to live after
this life and the paradise and exaltation reserved for the righteous. He tells
Ezra that the wicked will “wander about in torments,” while those who
follow God will be “guarded by angels in profound quiet,” having
bodies whose faces will “shine like the sun, and . . . be made
like the light of the stars” (4 Ezra 7:36, 80, 95,
97)—a literal exaltation of the righteous to an angelic status.16 Ezra laments, however, that he cannot reconcile God’s overabundant goodness and
mercy with what seems to be an overly rigorous justice. If all have sinned and
become unclean, then how is it that any deserve salvation at all? How can the
final judgment be just with its division of those entering paradise and those
entering hell? Ezra ends his lament with a plea to God for mercy for the

What does it profit us that we shall be preserved alive
but cruelly tormented? . . . And if we were not to come into judgment
after death, perhaps it would have been better for us. . . . It would
have been better if the earth had not produced Adam, or else, when it had
produced him, had restrained him from sinning. For what good is it to all that
they live in sorrow now and expect punishment after death? . . . For
in truth there is no one among those who have been born who has not acted
wickedly, and among those who have existed there is no one who has not
transgressed. For in this, O Lord, your righteousness and goodness will be
declared, when you are merciful to those who have no store of good works. (4 Ezra 7:65–67,
116–17; 8:35–36)

Additionally, it should be noted
that a part of the soteriological problem of evil is at least somewhat
mitigated in apocalyptic Judaism in that it does not consign righteous Gentiles
to the punishments of Sheol. The Enochian text known as Enoch’s
Dream Visions
, written approximately 164 BC during the persecutions of the Jews under Antiochan rule,
speaks of the eventual victory of righteous Judaism over the gentile nations
and the building of a vast, new temple complex to replace Jerusalem and its
temple. It is the first apocalyptic Jewish text that explains the full angelic
exaltation of righteous Jews in the paradisiacal world that will be created on
the earth, with the righteous being symbolically described as “sheep”
that are “white” and their wool “thick and pure,” a
transformation from their previous mortal state, where they were plain sheep.
Significantly, righteous Gentiles, symbolically described as the “animals
on the earth and all the birds of heaven,” are subservient to the exalted
Jews who reign over the earth from the temple complex, they “falling down
and worshiping those sheep . . . and obeying them in every thing”
(1 Enoch 90:28–32). Though still not granted the same status as righteous Jews,
these Gentiles are not subject to the same fiery punishment that the fallen
angels, wicked kings, and apostate Jews receive in Sheol (1 Enoch 90:20–27).

This is significant because the
righteous Gentiles are not immediately consigned to eternal punishment; they
apparently do not need to fear torment in Sheol. They continue to live on the earth,
and they seemingly learn of and follow the God of the Jews, for he rejoices
over them (1 Enoch 90:38). Indeed, a transformation is also available for them as the wild animals
are “changed, and they all became white cattle” (1 Enoch 90:37), but it is also clear that their eternal status will be as everlasting
inferiors to the exalted Jews, for they are white cattle as compared
to the brilliantly white sheep that rule over them.17 This
partially, but not fully, solves part of the soteriological problem. A more
complete resolution of the problem would demand that even the righteous
Gentiles could be fully redeemed and exalted, the position that apocalyptic
Christians would later adopt.

Apocalyptic Christianity

Apocalyptic Christians, having
inherited from apocalyptic Judaism the idea that the just are saved and the
wicked condemned, were also troubled by this soteriological problem, but they
advanced a unique solution during the first century AD: God will show an abundance of mercy by redeeming from
Sheol all who can and will be saved. They affirm that Christ descended to the
underworld as a divinely empowered spiritual being, smashed its gates, preached
repentance to the captive disobedient, and began the salvific rites that would
open for them the gates of heaven.18 So, apocalyptic Christians
solved the soteriological problem by (1) conceiving the punishment of
those in Sheol as temporary and (2) conceiving God as offering repentance
to the unevangelized and wicked of Sheol.19

Comments made by Paul the apostle
show that salvation for the dead had been on the minds of apocalyptic
Christians since its earliest days. The first reference is found in Paul’s
letter to the Ephesians, likely written about AD 60.20 He refers to Jesus’s triumph over all things, even over “captivity”
itself, and briefly describes Christ’s descent to hades: “He [Jesus] had
also descended into the lower parts of the earth” (Ephesians 4:8–10
NRSV). Extant interpretations of this passage include Jesus’s victory over sin
and his triumph over the captivity of hades. If Paul is referring to the
latter, then by overcoming captivity Jesus freed the prisoners of the
underworld.21 Indeed, Christ’s triumph over all things heavenly and
earthly—elaborated in detail by Paul as the Father having lifted Jesus
above all angelic “rule and authority and power and dominion” and “put
all things under his [Jesus’s] feet” (Ephesians 1:21–22
NRSV)—would not be complete unless Jesus also triumphed over the
captivity of the underworld. If this interpretation is correct, then the fact
that Jesus’s descent is mentioned without any additional comment implies that
this is an idea familiar to Christianity’s formative years.22

Another apocalyptic Christian
text written at about the same time as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, 1 Peter, 23 gives additional insight into Christ’s redeeming the repentant captives of
hades. In the passage quoted below, Peter explains that Christ was made “alive
in the spirit,” presumably meaning that between his death and resurrection
Jesus descended to hades and there opened the way for salvation of the dead.
There he preached to those who had died in sin the hope that even disobedient
spirits may be redeemed and returned to God:

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the
righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to
death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and
made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey,
when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark,
in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.24 . . . For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the
dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged,
they might live in the spirit as God does. (1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6 NRSV) 25

seems to have a vindication of God’s justice in mind when writing these
passages. If God did not arrange for Christ to proclaim the good news to the
captives and allow those who could yet be redeemed to be freed, then his
goodness would be suspect. A truly just and merciful God must give full
opportunity for all to repent and live righteously, including the multitudes
that died at the time of Noah. Despite their actions, God patiently waits for
the spiritually dead to change so that he may grant them mercy, both now and in
hades. It is not merely escape from Sheol but exaltation that Peter promises,26 for the captives are freed so that they might “live in the spirit as God
does” (1 Peter 4:6). God is no respecter of persons according to
Peter (see 1 Peter 1:17), and he includes the deceased among those to whom
God shows an abundance of mercy.

Given Peter’s stand on redeeming
the dead, it should be no surprise to find that other apocalyptic Jews of the
same time period attempted to solve the problem as well. A description of an
opportunity for repentance for those in hades is found in the Apocalypse
of Zephaniah
, a work dating roughly to the first century AD and preserved by Christians.27 In it, the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah is given a tour of the multiple
heavens 28 and of hades, and he prays to God for compassion for those undergoing torment
in the underworld (Apocalypse of Zephaniah 2:8–9). Later he sees a
multitude of the exalted righteous, including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Apocalypse
of Zephaniah
8:1–9:5), who also pray to God for mercy for the
inhabitants of hades (Apocalypse of Zephaniah 11:1–6). The sufferings
of the underworld are deserved, according to the author, but the petitions of
the exalted righteous are an appeal to God’s compassion, for he can choose to
show mercy and forgive whom he will.29 Zephaniah also sees some
inhabitants of hades who are blind and is told by his angelic escort that they
are “catechumens [one who receives instruction in preparation for
baptism] who heard the word of God, but they were not perfected in the work
which they heard.” Zephaniah asks, “Then do they not have repentance
here?” with the angel replying, “Yes . . . until the day when
the Lord will judge” (Apocalypse of Zephaniah 10:9–12). As the exalted
righteous pray on behalf of all of the inhabitants of hades, it is understood
that all—not just the catechumens—have a possibility of either some
sort of escape from hades or relief from its torments. However, the author does
not explain when or how this redemption will take place.

book of Revelation, likely written in AD 96 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian, explains the release of the
underworld’s captives as Christ having overcome death and opening up hades.
Christ says to John that he is the “living one. I was dead, and see, I am
alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades”
(Revelation 1:18 NRSV). And at the great judgment, death and hades will give up
“the dead that [are] in them, and all [will be] judged according to what
they had done” (Revelation 20:13 NRSV).30 Then all those who
have not turned to God, those whose names are not written in the book of life,
will be thrown with death and hades into a lake of fire, identified as the “second
death” (Revelation 20:11–15). Those who have fully turned toward
God, however, now belong to Christ, the holder of the keys of death and hades.
John, who adheres to a view of salvation similar to Peter and the author of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, states that all who turn to God will be exalted.31

Another early Christian text
provides convincing evidence for interpreting Ephesians, 1 Peter, and
Revelation as portraying Christ’s descent to Sheol and freeing its captives.
This text, known as the Odes of Solomon, is a collection of Christian hymns
connected to the Johannine community of the late first or early second century AD.32 In the text, the
Christian author speaks as if he were Christ and describes Christ’s original
descent from God and the highest heaven and his subsequent descent to Sheol: “He
who caused me to descend from on high, and to ascend from the regions below”
(Ode 22:1).33 He indicates that “I opened the doors which
were closed” (Ode 17:9), followed by the claim that “I shattered
the bars of iron, for my own iron(s) had grown hot and melted before me”
(Ode 17:10). The shattering of the bars refers to Christ destroying the
infamous gates of hades, and the melting of his binding chains caused by the
fierce heat radiating from his fiery, divine glory that is once again revealed.
The opening of the door is best explained as Christ allowing for vicarious
baptism 34 for the dead, baptism being the door to salvation for apocalyptic Christians,
rather than a further reference to the gates of the underworld, as that which
is shattered need not be opened.35 Christ then states, “I went
toward all my bondsmen in order to loose them, that I might not abandon anyone
bound or binding” (Ode 17:12), revealing his intent to free the prisoners
who belong to him.

In Ode 42, Christ again details
his descent to the underworld and his triumphant overcoming of death and Sheol.
Christ is a departed spirit, so he descends to Sheol as do all departed spirits
in the apocalyptic Jewish tradition.36 But the Son of God cannot be
contained by either death or hell. His eternal nature repulses death, it being
as “vinegar and bitterness” to death. Additional information about
the shattering of the gates of hades is also revealed. It is Christ’s very
appearance, the blinding, divine light that streams from his face, which
penetrates and overcomes Sheol, for the utter darkness cannot withstand
effulgent, celestial light. Christ shatters the gates, Sheol is breached, and
the captives are set free:

Sheol saw me and was shattered,
and Death ejected me and many with me.
I have been vinegar and bitterness to it,
and I went down with it as far as its depth.
(Ode 42:11–12)

Shattering Sheol is equivalent to
the breaching of an otherwise inescapable prison. The Book of the
attempts to describe the spirit world, explaining that four
immense, hollowed-out chambers hold the spirits of the departed as they wait
for the final judgment. One chamber, which is illuminated and has a fountain of
water, is designated as the abode of the righteous. In this chamber the
righteous spirits call upon God, with one petitioner described as “the
spirit that went forth from Abel, whom Cain his brother murdered.” But
even for the righteous, Sheol is impossible to escape, for the chambers are
hewn out of “a great and high mountain of hard rock,” and the author
describes the chambers as “deep” and their walls as “very smooth”
to help his readers understand that one could never climb out of the abyss (1 Enoch 22:1–7). The world of the departed spirits, therefore, is divided between
a place of reward and other places dedicated to confinement. The unrighteous
dead in the Odes
of Solomon
are in a vast chamber reserved for the disobedient as
they wait for the final judgment, but Christ’s opening of Sheol allows for

Ode 42 next speaks of Christ’s
spiritual body and his formation of a community of the righteous among the
dead. The author explains that death could not long endure Christ’s blazing
countenance, and it first releases his feet and then his head. Additionally,
Christ has a face and speaks with lips. Clearly, the author holds that the
departed Christ retains some kind of material embodiment, a spiritual body, one
with head, feet, lips, and a face, and others with a similar spiritual
embodiment run to him and cry out for mercy. Theirs would be an inferior
embodiment, however, for their faces do not shine with effulgent light, and
they cannot effect their own release from Sheol.37 Christ then makes
a proclamation to the departed spirits, offering them the eternal life of the
righteous even as they stand in the world of the dead:

Then the feet and the head it released,38
because it was not able to endure my face.
And I made a congregation of living among his dead;
and I spoke with them by living lips;
in order that my word may not fail.
(Ode 42:13–14)

The response of the captives is a
wholehearted turning to God. They cry out and plead for Christ’s pity and
kindness. They have wallowed in the shadows of Sheol, chained in an endless
darkness that could never be lifted, but Christ, the Light,39 now
brilliantly illuminates the most penetrating darkness and offers them the
promise of escape:

And those who had died ran toward me;
and they cried out and said, “Son of God, have pity on us.
And deal with us according to your kindness,
and bring us out from the chains of darkness.”
(Ode 42:15–16)

another possible reference to baptism for the dead, Ode 42 records that the
departed spirits ask Jesus to open the door for them and for their salvation to
be with the
Savior. Their plea for an opening of the door indicates that this is a future
event; therefore, like Ode 17:9 (above), it is not the shattered gates of Sheol
that need to be opened, but an acknowledgment that they need the way opened for
a vicarious baptism to take place. Note, in fact, that even though Christ now
stands in their midst, they request the door to be opened so that they may “go
forth to [him],” an indication that they are in some sense still separated
from him; the gates of the heavens are still closed to them. Vicarious baptism
will allow them to enter the Way,40 the Christian path to salvation,
ending that separation.

Interestingly, they do not desire
salvation alone, meaning an entrance into one of the heavenly realms; they
request that they be saved with Jesus, the appointed Savior. This is similar to
the request of the apostles James and John that they may have the right to rule
at Christ’s right and left hands, with Jesus explaining that the right to
assign those thrones of honor belongs to the Father (Mark
10:35–40). It also echoes Paul’s assertion that the righteous will be
exalted over all angels to rule at Christ’s right hand.41 Indeed, in
an earlier Ode, Christ proclaims, “upon my right hand I have set my elect
ones” (Ode 8:18). The dead who are being freed understand that to be saved
by Jesus equates to being exalted with him: 42

“And open for us the door
by which we may go forth to you,
for we perceive that our death does not approach you.
May we also be saved with you,
because you are our Savior.”
(Ode 42:17–18)

The final verses of Ode 42
indicate that Christ will fulfill all their requests. He hears their pleas and
responds to their sincere faith by internalizing it. In a reference to the
Christian rite of anointing or chrism,43 by which the
redeemed are made holy and heavenly, Christ then places his name on the
foreheads of the initiates in the new community of the righteous by using olive
oil.44 The chrism connects the initiates to Christ as they now
permanently bear the divine name that has been given to Christ by the Father.45 They now belong to him; indeed, Christ says, “they are mine” : 46

Then I heard their voice,
and placed their faith in my heart.
And I placed my name upon their head,
because they are free and they are mine.
(Ode 42:19–20)

The placement of the chrism on
the foreheads of the departed spirits offers direct evidence that vicarious
baptism will soon follow for them. Second-century AD Christian texts, the most important being Syrian
baptismal documents, indicate that chrism was directly related to baptism. The
initiate would be presented for baptism, and he or she would be marked with oil
on the forehead by the bishop or presbyter either in a prebaptismal or
postbaptismal anointing, or in anointings both before and after baptism. The
chrisms, however, are not done independent of baptism—they are done at
the same time. Syrian baptismal documents also record that a chrism for the
entire body took place as part of the rite.47 Additionally, it can
be argued that the chrism can be traced back to the first century and the very
first Christians. Specifically referring to the chrism placed on the forehead,
Gabriele Winkler connects the rite of anointing to the apostolic era:

Christian baptism is shaped after Christ’s baptism in
the Jordan. As Jesus had received the anointing through the divine presence in
the appearance of a dove, and was invested as the Messiah, so in Christian
baptism every candidate is anointed and, in connection with the anointing, the
gift of the Spirit is conferred. Therefore the main theme of this prebaptismal
anointing is the entry into the eschatological kingship of the Messiah, being
in the true sense of the word assimilated to the Messiah-King through this anointing.48

Given that the Christian author
of the Odes would be familiar with both baptism and chrism and would understand
that one accompanies the other, as well as the fact that he specifically refers
to the chrism given to the repentant dead of Sheol, it can be reasonably
concluded that the pleading of the repentant dead for Christ to open the door
(Ode 42:17) refers to the vicarious baptism of apocalyptic Christianity. They,
like all Christians, will receive the rites necessary for entrance into God’s
kingdom, but that process has begun in the world of spirits as they now bear
his divine name.

As a product of the Johannine
Christian community of the late first or early second century AD, the Odes of Solomon serves as a strong indicator of the antiquity of the doctrine of the harrowing
of hell. The scattered references found in Ephesians, 1 Peter, and
Revelation are enough to make a strong case that apocalyptic Christians
understood that God will not torture the repentant for eternity, be these
captives evangelized or not, but the explicit description of Christ’s descent
and release of the captives seems to confirm this interpretation.

The apocalyptic Christian text
commonly called the Epistula Apostolorum, or “Epistle to the
Apostles,” also recounts the harrowing of hell. Dated to the early second
century, the Christian author reports a dialogue between the resurrected Jesus
and the disciples concerning Christ’s descent and rescue of the disobedient
dead that lie chained in the darkness of Sheol.49 Christ claims that
he will loosen their chains and bring them back to the light. Important is the
fact that Jesus will accomplish what seems to be impossible by their release,
for the wicked lie in utter despair with no hope for rescue. But as nothing is
impossible to God, the empowered Christ will enter Sheol and deliver them. Note
that the text also identifies Sheol as the place of Lazarus, implying that the
world of spirits is divided into realms of places of punishment and reward.
Apparently, the chambers dedicated to the righteous and the wicked will all be
emptied through Christ’s ministrations:

Truly I say to you, that I have received all
power from my Father that I may bring back those in darkness into light and those in
corruptibility into incorruptibility and those in death into life, and
that those in captivity may be loosed
, as what is
impossible on the part of men is possible on the part of the Father. I am the
hope of the hopeless, the helper of those who have no helper, the treasure of
those in need, the physician of the sick, the resurrection of the dead.
. . .

On that account I have descended to the place of Lazarus,
and have preached to the righteous and to the prophets, that they may come
forth from the rest which is below and go up to what is (above) . . .
(; in that I stretch out) my right hand over them . . .
[of the baptism (Eth.)] of life and forgiveness and deliverance from all evil, as I have done to you and to those who believe in me.50

Another such text is the Gospel of
, or Questions of Bartholomew, as M. R. James says the
manuscripts call it, which purports to be an exchange between the apostle
Bartholomew and the resurrected Christ. Christ tells Bartholomew about his
descent into hell, how the angels announce his coming, and how the devils

Then I went down into Hades that I might bring up
Adam and all those who were with him, according to the supplication of Michael
the archangel . . .

And the angels cried to the powers saying, “Remove
your gates, you princes, remove the everlasting doors for behold the King of
glory comes down.” . . .

And when I had descended five hundred steps, Hades was
troubled saying, “I hear the breathing of the Most High, and I cannot endure it.”. . .

Then did I [Christ] enter in and scourged him [Hades]
and bound him with chains that cannot be loosed, and brought forth thence all the patriarchs.51

In a similar text that was
supposedly authored by Bartholomew and that James calls The Book of
the Resurrection of Christ by Bartholomew the Apostle
, James
summarizes the harrowing of hell after Christ’s burial as follows: “Then
Jesus rose and mounted into the chariot of the Cherubim. He wrought havoc in
Hell, breaking the doors, binding the demons Beliar and Melkir and delivered
Adam and the holy souls.” 52

The Shepherd of Hermas,
likely dating from the early to mid-second century AD, is another apocalyptic Christian text that further
describes the rescue of the dead from hades. Like the Odes of Solomon,
the author of the portion of the text known as the Parables indicates
that a vicarious baptism is given to the repentant dead:

It was necessary . . . for them to come up
through water in order to be made alive, for otherwise they could not enter the
kingdom of God, unless they laid aside the deadness of their former life. So
even those who had fallen asleep received the seal of the Son of God and
entered the kingdom of God. . . . The seal, therefore, is the water;
so they go down into the water dead and they come up alive. (Shepherd of
Parable9.16.2–4) 53

Righteous Christians who have passed on participate in
rescuing the dead: “when these apostles and teachers who preached the name
of the Son of God fell asleep . . . they preached also to those who
had previously fallen asleep, and they themselves gave them the seal of the
preaching” (Shepherd of Hermas, Parable 9.16.5). Additional
instances of this rite’s performance include a group in Asia Minor who baptized
the living using the names of the dead,54 as well as the Marcionites
who would ask an already baptized, living follower a baptismal question in
behalf of a departed and then baptize that follower, with “the benefits
accruing to the dead person.” 55

In sum, apocalyptic Christianity
inherited the soteriological problem of evil from apocalyptic Judaism, but in
its formative years set out to find a solution to the problem, which is that
God personally sent his Son to redeem mankind, with an overabundance of mercy
offered so that even the repentant wicked who have passed on are offered
salvation. And unlike other versions of apocalyptic Judaism, there is no
distinction in these early Christian texts between the level of salvation
offered to Jews and the unevangelized. All are freely offered redemption upon
accepting Christ. The result is that the soteriological problem of evil and
suffering is greatly mitigated.

The Apostles’ Creed

These themes from Peter and
apocalyptic Judaism are echoed in the Apostles’ Creed, which is the oldest
Christian creed 56 and is still used today as part
of the baptismal liturgy of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran
churches.57 The Apostles’ Creed acknowledges a belief in “God,
the Father almighty” and in “Jesus Christ, his only Son” who “descended
into Hell.” 58 This latter phrase is central to
untangling the soteriological knot, for with it comes the possibility of
evangelizing those who had passed from mortality. Indeed, this was the very
purpose of its insertion, as one scholar illuminates:

This article expresses the faith of the primitive
Church in two beliefs: First, it meant that God had not left anyone without the
chance of salvation but had sent Jesus into hell in order to save those who had
not known him on earth. The article was inserted in the Creed because the Creed
is a brief outline of the saving acts of Christ, and the descent into hell is
an important part of his saving work. It is important to remember that hell to
the early Church was not the ghastly place of torment it was to become in the mind of the medieval Church.

Rather, the abode for departed spirits was known as a “resting
place . . . until Jesus came.” 60

Consider how the Apostles’ Creed
has influenced contemporary Catholic thought. According to one Catholic writer,
the doctrine of the descent into hell involves a place of four divisions:

Hell as a whole may be differentiated into at least
three species: gehenna, purgatory, and sheol; according to a long-standing
theological view, there is also a limbo (from the Latin limbus,
meaning edge or threshold)
for unbaptized children, the limbus puerorum. Although it may
sound strange to the contemporary ear, one can use the generic name in
reference to each species: the hell of the damned (gehenna), the hell of
purification (purgatory), the hell of the Fathers (sheol), and the hell of the
hellin all these cases can be represented with the generic Latin neuter, infernum.61

The Limbo of the Father, where “all the holy men
and women who died before the death of Christ” rest, “ceased to exist
after Christ’s descent.” 62 It was
these who Christ descended to rescue: “Jesus did not descend into hell to
deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just
who had gone before him.” 63 The Limbo
of the Children, however, “remains a topic of unresolved theological
understanding.” 64

According to popular legend, the
Creed was originally dictated from the Twelve Apostles themselves, though
researchers trace the origin to confessions of faith in early baptismal rites.65 Researchers do not know the precise authorship and occasion of its writing,
only that it likely originated out of Rome between AD 150–75, when there was “every reason for the
formation of some creedal statement to guard against the misconceptions of
Christianity which were widely prevalent and were causing serious trouble.” 66 It thus came to be known as the “Rule of Faith” and was used as a
check against heretical interpretations of the scriptures.67

Yet despite heresy, “there
was no more well-known and popular belief . . . and its popularity
steadily increased.” 68 Irenaeus, writing near the end
of the second century, strongly confirmed the doctrine of the descent, teaching
that Christ “descended into the lower parts of the earth to seek the sheep
that was lost,” a clear indication of the salvific nature of his visit
there.69 In Irenaeus’s mind, “a strict theodicy demanded that
those who lived before . . . should share in the Gospel.” 70 Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–215) agrees, stating that “it is not right to
condemn some without trial, and only give credit for righteousness to others
who lived after the coming of the Lord.” 71 Emphasizing
even more clearly the evangelic purpose of Christ’s descent, Clement further
states that “Christ went down to Hades for no other purpose than to preach
the gospel.” 72

Origen (ca. 185–254) taught
that Christ visited and preached to the dead: “When he was in the body he
convinced not merely a few . . . and that when he became a soul
unclothed by a body he conversed with souls unclothed by bodies, converting
also those of them who were willing to accept him or those who, for reasons
which he himself knew, he saw to be ready to do so.” 73 Origen defended this idea against Celsus, who argued that the descent was mere

The Creed was still used widely
and considered authoritative in the fourth and fifth centuries. Tyrannius (ca.
400), who translated many of Origen’s works into Latin, wrote a full, original
commentary on the Creed in which he notes that one of the apostles’ main
intents for writing the Creed was for “future preaching . . .
[and to be] handed out as standard teaching to converts.” 75 He also acknowledges that there are some variations of the Creed circulating
among the various churches, some without the phrase “descended into hell.”
Tyrannius comments, however, that “the fact that He descended to hell is
unmistakeabl[e]” ; he cites scriptures confirming the idea76 and affirms that Christ descended for the purpose of preaching to and redeeming
the souls in hell.77

Many other church authorities
confirm the doctrine of the Creed that Christ descended into hell. Cyril of
Jerusalem (ca. 315–86) affirms that Christ “descended
. . . beneath the earth, that from thence also He might redeem the
just.” 78 Ambrose (d. 397) wrote that the “substance”
of Christ visited the underworld to “set free the souls of the dead, to
loose the bonds of death,” and to “remit sins.” 79 Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 370–444) taught of the descent and of its saving
benefits to the departed as “the fullest of all proofs of Christ’s love
for mankind.” 80 In a letter written to a Spanish
bishop, Turibius, in 447, Pope Leo the Great affirms the descent.81 Though the idea was noticeably absent in the Council of Nicaea in 325,82 the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Council of AD 381 denounced any who did not affirm the descent,83 the fourth
Council of Toledo in AD 633 made
it a point to insert language describing the descent into their writings,84 and the phrase became a part of the universally accepted version of the
Apostles’ Creed in the eighth century.85 Later, the Council of Sens
(AD 1140), supported by Pope Innocent
II, condemned an error that had begun to creep into the church and was
attributed to Peter Abelard, namely that “the soul of Christ per se did
not descend to those who are below [ad inferos], but only by means of
power.” 86 Of special interest to Latter-day
Saints, many leaders of the early Christian church professed a belief in a
descent into hell by quoting scriptures that have since been lost.87 The harrowing also appears as the subject of popular art and literature,
including the great Divine Comedy. Georgia Frank traces the harrowing of
hell from its earliest appearances in the New Testament, to “numerous
sermons and legends in late antiquity,” and to its survival “well
into the Middle Ages.” 88 It is also
mentioned, though sparsely, in the writings of various Catholic scholars as
late as the thirteenth century.89 Rather than Christ’s rescue of the
imprisoned dead being an aberration in Christian thought, both its antiquity
and longevity show it to be a normative Christian belief.

Rejection of the Harrowing of
Hell by Augustine, Aquinas, and the Reformers

The ideas and implications of the
harrowing did not endure in good favor for everyone within Christianity. The
writings of Augustine of Hippo in the fourth and fifth century vigorously
reject any idea of a posthumous salvation,90 despite his being fully
aware of the popularity of the doctrine for lay people as well as for prominent
writers 91 and despite his own unequivocal acceptance of Christ’s descent into hell.92 For Augustine, the passages in 1 Peter made no reference to hades. He took
the phrase “in the days of Noah” to mean just that: the spirit of
Christ preached to the disobedient antediluvians before the flood. Augustine
further extended the metaphor to mean that any disobedient spirits “in
prison” simply referred to being “in the darkness of ignorance.” 93 They had not physically died, but were, rather, spiritually dead.94

Augustine strived to explain away
this particular doctrine for at least three principal reasons. First, he felt
it would undermine the authority generally of the church in this life. Second,
he thought that “another” chance was unnecessary, for no one who had
died since the resurrection had any excuse for not learning of and accepting
Christ.95 And third, he felt it would defeat the purpose of
missionary work in mortality, concluding that “then the gospel ought not
to be preached here, since all will certainly die.” 96

Interestingly, Augustine
struggled with the idea of a posthumous rescue. For example, he interprets Matthew
5:25–26—about coming to terms with one’s accuser quickly “lest
. . . thou be cast into prison”—as a metaphor for the
final judgment, but he is “troubled” by the phrase “till thou
hast paid the uttermost farthing.” 97 Could
someone escape from an eternal prison? Augustine would like to say no, and so
he tentatively tries to reinterpret the length of punishment by applying the
use of the word until in Psalm 110:1 to the same word in Matthew, but
ultimately concedes that “it is better to escape [the possibility of being
sent to eternal punishment] than to learn its nature.” 98 Indeed, any serious delving into the possibility of a temporary hell approaches
heresy for Augustine, for “if mercy leads us to believe that the
punishment of the wicked will come to an end, what are we to believe concerning
the reward of the just, when in each case eternity is mentioned in the same
passage?” 99 Privately, Augustine wished that
holy writ did not even mention a descent into hell.100

Although Thomas Aquinas believed
that Christ descended to hell, he concluded that it served no salvific purpose.
Evangelizing has no effect in hell since repentance is no longer possible after
death, and repentance is impossible because individuals’ characters become set
at death—the righteous will forever remain righteous, and the unrighteous
will forever remain unrighteous.101 Although Aquinas taught that
repentance is not possible after death, he affirmed that in mortality all
people can believe and be saved. Nevertheless the beliefs necessary for
salvation differ, depending on the times, places, and conditions in which
people live. For example, an acceptance of the Trinity is required of those who
live after the time of Jesus.102 So, although Aquinas and Augustine
differed as to whether Christ descended to hell, they agreed that evangelizing
and thus repentance did not exist after death.

Under Augustine’s influence,103 Protestant Reformers also denied Christ’s descent to hell. John Calvin, for
example, completely rejects any notion of Christ visiting hell to save anyone.
For Calvin, the idea of a “descent into hell” is simply a reference
to the intense suffering that Christ endured on the cross. Calvin explains it
away, much like Augustine, into metaphor by referring to Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ’s
sufferings in chapter 53: “There is nothing strange in its being said that
he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the
wicked by an angry God.” 104 He calls
any objections to that explanation (specifically, the question as to why the
Creed mentions Christ visiting hell after his burial when his
suffering preceded it) mere “trifling” and dismisses the popular idea that Christ
literally visited hell to save souls as “nothing but a fable” and “childish.” 105 The Church of the Palatinate as well as the catechism of Geneva took a similar

Martin Luther was just as firm in
closing the door on the possibility of salvation after death. He denied “the
existence of a purgatory and of a Limbo of the Fathers in which they say that
there is hope and a sure expectation of liberation. . . . These are
figments of some stupid and bungling sophist.” 107 Luther also interprets 1 Peter metaphorically, taking the “spirits in
prison” to mean those in mortality who do not respond to the gospel
message.108 In the aftermath of the Reformation, Christ’s descent
into hell would be reduced to an obscure minority view, with but few witnesses
to the once-ubiquitous doctrine.109

One might understand why
religious leaders would want to squelch the notion of repentance after death:
congregants can live immorally now and convert later. Thus, Augustine and
others would declare that only this life determines our status in the next.110 How do Mormons respond to this problem since we affirm repentance after death?
We address this issue in a subsequent paper wherein we set out the latter-day
restoration of postmortem evangelization. A further complication for religious
leaders who believe in repentance after death is the implication that “the
theory of postmortem evangelism takes the wind out of the sails of missions.” 111 As one researcher surmises, the acceptance of postmortem salvation would “weaken
the appeal of the Christian preachers to the terrors of the Lord, and
. . . make the condition of the heathen preferable to that of
Christians. It would involve, e.g., the possibility of
salvation without baptism, without the knowledge of what Christ had done, and
this would clash with the dogma which Augustine [and others] maintained so
tenaciously.” 112 However, although denying
posthumous repentance restored urgency to evangelism, it did so at the cost of
exacerbating the soteriological problem of evil. It was “common for
ministers such as Augustine and Calvin to speak of the massa
as though it pained God not at all to damn anyone.” 113 Sadly, some view God as so powerful and emotionally detached that, as one
British philosopher points out, “for God a billion rational creatures are
as dust in the balance; if a billion perish, God suffers no loss.” 114

Additionally, the Reformers’
rejection of Christ’s harrowing comes not from one belief but from a package of
theological commitments. It would be nearly impossible to teach the doctrine of
predestination if people had an opportunity to progress after death.115 Furthermore, they “looked on the popular belief as traditional, not
scriptural, they wished to wrest out of the hands of their opponents a belief
which seemed to them to give some support to the Romish theory of purgatory,
and to the practices which grew out of it.” 116

Divine Perseverance and Other
Contemporary Views

Despite Christianity’s well-nigh
universal rejection of the harrowing and its implications, the idea that
salvation is possible for mankind even after death can still be found among a
few contemporary theologians. Most notably, Gabriel Fackre, Abbot Professor of
Christian Theology, Emeritus, at Andover Newton Theological School, supports a
view he calls “divine perseverance,” or the idea that “those who
die unevangelized receive an opportunity for salvation after death. God
condemns no one without first seeing what his or her response to Christ is.” 117 He resolutely defends this position, which is strikingly congruent with the
Latter-day Saint notion of postmortem evangelism, in his coauthored book What about
Those Who Have Never Heard? Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized.

In the book, Fackre defends his
view against two competing contemporary theologies: restrictivism espoused by Ronald H. Nash and inclusivism championed by John
Sanders. Restrictivism affirms that salvation requires that one accept Christ before death.118 Inclusivism proposes that some may be saved who did not know about Christ’s atonement, provided
they respond in faith to the general revelation of God’s goodness that he
gives to all of his children in some measure.119

Fackre begins by explaining that
his view follows directly from what we know of God’s attributes, “that the
power of God is, mysteriously, the way of the cross, the ‘weakness of God.’ The
ultimate power is not machismo but the divine vulnerability. . . .
God’s love is patient and persistent. It outlasts us. It is
a ‘weakness’ that is stronger than our rebellion. God’s weakness is a powerful
powerlessness, a victorious vulnerability.” 120 In other words, Fackre emphasizes that we do not truly know the goodness of God
or his love for us.121 Fackre’s argument sketches an appealing model
of God. God’s love is so great, so far beyond our mortal comprehension, that
God eternally “persists” in his attempt to gather his children.
Indeed, what else could we expect from a being who possesses infinite love?
Surely he does not draw a temporal “line” of love in eternity. Thus,
because divine love endures, God will always persist in his evangelistic
efforts until he gathers everyone. Fackre believes that this also follows from
the justice of God. Since we are not accountable (condemned) for knowledge we
do not have,122 everyone will have the opportunity in this life or
the next to hear the good news.123

A second tier of Fackre’s
argument is based upon God’s sovereignty. He states emphatically that “Christ
can ‘do all things.’ No limits can be set to the triune God, except self-chosen
limits.” 124 In an effort to reach lost
souls, Christ uses his power “to breach the very walls of death to make a ‘proclamation
to the spirits in prison’ (v. 19 [of 1 Peter 3]). Christ’s implacable
power and love will persist to and through the final barrier of death. Even
this last enemy is not strong enough to prevent the declaration of the Word.” 125 Damnation, then, is not a failure on God’s part but a failure of the

To prepare us to accept Christ’s
gospel, Fackre believes that God enlightens humankind (like the LDS notion of
the “light of Christ”). In Noah’s day, God established the Noahic
covenant, or the rainbow promise: “In Judaism, the rainbow promise has
reference to the light given to those outside God’s special saving covenant
with the Jewish people. That is, God will judge human beings . . . by
the response they make to the universal hints of what is true and good and holy
given from Noah’s time on.” 126 And from
Christ on “God gives to ‘all flesh’ an awareness of basic moral and
spiritual standards and expectations.” 127

Finally, Fackre rests his case
for postmortem evangelization upon the very same elements within the doctrine
of the harrowing found in 1 Peter and the Apostles’ Creed that have been
previously discussed. Christ’s preaching to and releasing souls from hell, he
claims, is further evidence of God’s love and divine perseverance.128 For these reasons, Fackre asserts that “Christ came to rescue us from the
death that is ‘the wages of sin’ ” and that this “stunning
offer is made to ‘everyone who believes,’ ”  129 regardless of when a person receives that opportunity. Another assertion is
equally stirring, stating that “divine perseverance will not deny the
saving Word to any, and will contest all the makers of boundaries, including
the final boundary [death].” 130

With Fackre, the celebrated
Anglican theologian Frederic W. Farrar similarly emphasizes the love of God and
how the soteriological problem of evil conflicts with this. He also observes
the teachings of 1 Peter 4:6 and observes this poignancy: “Every
effort has been made to explain away the plain meaning of this passage. It is
one of the most precious passages of Scripture, and it involves no ambiguity.
. . . For if language have any meaning, this language means that
Christ, when His Spirit descended into the lower world, proclaimed the message
of salvation to the once impenitent dead.” 131

Besides Fackre, many others have
answered the question, What about those who have never heard the gospel? Both
Thomas Aquinas and Norman Geisler believe that the message of the gospel will
be sent to anyone who responds positively to the light they receive from God.
Luis de Molina’s middle knowledge view maintains that God, because he
knows how anyone would respond in any situation, may save those who would have
believed in his Son had they heard his message. The Roman Catholic final option theory affirms that Christ “encounters all people at the moment
they are dying,” giving everyone the opportunity in this life to accept or
reject him. Others maintain an optimistic universalism that God will save
the vast majority (some say absolutely all) of his children, though the method
is less important than this result. Pluralism maintains that all
religions are valid ways of obtaining salvation. And finally, others hold that
the Bible does not support a conclusion in any form.132


God “sent not his Son into
the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved”
(John 3:17). The doctrine of the harrowing of hell explains how this can be
despite the fact that so many have died without hearing the Son’s message of
salvation. This doctrine was present in apocalyptic Judaism and in apocalyptic
Christianity, and Christ taught the doctrine to his disciples. It was also
confirmed by the church fathers and in the Apostles’ Creed. Subsequently, it
was rejected first by Augustine and later by Reformers such as Calvin and
Luther, This led, regrettably, to its almost universal disappearance from the
teachings of modern-day Christendom.

In a sequel to this paper, we
will describe the restoration of the doctrine in the vibrant revelations of
Joseph Smith and Joseph F. Smith and its further elaboration in Mormon datum
discourse. These latter-day revelations and teachings disclose once again how
Christ reopened the gates of hell to “let the prisoners go free,”
thus once again resolving the soteriological problem of evil.


1. David
L. Paulsen is a professor and Roger D. Cook an adjunct instructor, both in the
Department of Philosophy at Brigham Young University. Kendel J. Christensen is
a BYU undergraduate majoring in sociology with a minor in philosophy. BYU
undergraduates Michael Hansen (philosophy), David Lassetter (English), and,
especially, Zachary Elison (philosophy), and Aaron Tress (philosophy) have each
made valuable contributions to both form and content. Shirley Ricks (Maxwell
Institute) and Laura Rawlins (director of BYU Faculty Editing Service) have
skillfully edited the document. The authors gratefully acknowledge the generous
funding for the project provided by the BYU College of Humanities and
Department of Philosophy.

2. Thomas
V. Morris, The
Logic of God Incarnate
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986),
174–75. For more on this topic, see David L. Paulsen and Brent Alvord, “Joseph
Smith and the Problem of the Unevangelized,” FARMS Review 17/1
(2005): 171–204.

3. The
list includes Tertullian, Augustine, Philip Melanchthon, Blaise Pascal, John
Calvin, and others. See John Sanders, No Other Name (1992; repr.,
Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001), 74–79. Representative statements from
Augustine and Calvin illustrate the point: “Many more are left under
punishment than are delivered from it, in order that it may thus be shown what
was due to all.” Augustine, City of God, trans. Marcus Dods
(New York: Random House, 1950), 783. Calvin asserted grimly and simply that “the
vast majority of mankind will be lost.” F. W. Farrar, Mercy and
(London: MacMillan, 1894), 58.

4. Charles
Darwin remarked, “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish
Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show
that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and
almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a
damnable doctrine.” Autobiography (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958), 87.

5. For
an excellent exposition on the loss of the baptismal ordinance for the dead,
see Hugh Nibley’s “Baptism for the Dead in Ancient Times,” in Mormonism
and Early Christianity
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS,
1987), 100–167. Our discussion here draws on Nibley’s work but focuses
more on the history of the belief in Christ’s visit to hell, the work he was
believed to have accomplished there, and its implications for the
soteriological problem of evil. In a subsequent article, we will examine the
scholarly work on baptism for the dead that has been published since Nibley’s

6. One
meaning of the term harrowing is “to break up land by pulling a
harrow over it.” It is this imagery, Christ’s “breaking up” and
delivering souls from hell, that is evoked by the term in this context; see Encarta
World English Dictionary
, s.v. “Harrow.” CD-ROM (Microsoft
Corporation, 2000).

7. Christopher Rowland, The Open Heaven: A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early
(London: SPCK,
1982), 9–72; Christopher Rowland, Christian
Origins: An Account of the Setting and Character of the Most Important
Messianic Sect of Judaism
(London: SPCK, 1985), 56–64; Matt Jackson-McCabe, ed., Jewish Christianity Reconsidered: Rethinking Ancient Groups and Texts (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 7–80,
119–256; Adam H. Becker and Annette Y. Reed, eds., The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and
the Early Middle Ages
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 1–158; Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik,
eds., Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early
(Peabody, MA:
Hendrickson, 2007), 3–416; John J. Collins, Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls (London: Routledge, 1997), 1–162;
James C. Vanderkam and William Adler, eds., The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 1–100,
129–38; John J. Collins, Seers, Sibyls and Sages in
Hellenistic-Roman Judaism
(Boston: Brill Academic, 2001), 3–127, 261–383; John J.
Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction
to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature
2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 1–255; James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament:
Prolegomena for the Study of Christian Origins
(Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International,
1998), 47–69.

8. Adler
points out the scholarly consensus that “primitive Christianity” not
only preserved the apocalyptic Jewish texts but also that the movement “took
root on the same soil that produced the Jewish apocalyptic literature”;
see Jewish
Apocalyptic Heritage
, 2. In The Apocalyptic Imagination,
Collins states that “Apocalyptic ideas undeniably play an important role
in the early stages of Christianity” (1; see 256–79).

9. 1 Enoch 1:4; 14:8–21; 46:1; 60:2; 71:5–10, 13; 2 Enoch 22:1–7; 24:1–5; 25:4; 39:5; 44:1–2; Life of Adam
and Eve
12:1–15:3 (Vita); Life of Adam and Eve 22:1–25:1;
33:1–5 (Apocalypse); Apocalypse of Zephaniah 6:11–15; Daniel 7:9–10; Revelation 4:2–5, 7; 11:19;
21:3–4. All texts from 1 Enoch in this paper are
taken from George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. Vanderkam, 1 Enoch: A
New Translation
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004). Other pseudepigraphic
texts (e.g., 4 Ezra) are taken from James H.
Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (New York:
Doubleday, 1983, 1985).

10. 1 Enoch 41:9;
84:2–3; 2 Enoch 47:3–6; 53:3; 66:1–4; Matthew

11. 1 Enoch 47:1–4; 61:13; 63:1–8; 2 Enoch 8:1–10:6; Daniel 12:2–4; 1
John 3:1–10; 4:7–16; Revelation 3:14–22; 11:16–18.

12. See
also 1 Enoch 54:6; 63:10; 90:26–27; 103:5–8.

13. Philip
S. Johnston, Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament (Downers
Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), 26–28, 33–35, 69–97; Alan F.
Segal, Life
after Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion
York: Doubleday, 2004), 134–40.

14. Gloria
Frank contrasts and compares the “graphic punishments” of the dead
generally found in apocalyptic works (such as 4 Ezra and Apocalypse
of Zephaniah
, both quoted below) with apocalyptic Christian texts
associated with Christ’s release of Sheol’s captives: “Unlike apocalypses
with graphic punishments of the wicked dead, the dead whom Jesus visits endure
no bodily torment. Instead, their suffering is temporal in nature: the
misfortune of having lived before the coming of Christ into the world. And so
these righteous ones remain captive in hell’s dark abode until their liberation
by Christ, less punished than detained.” “Christ’s Descent to the
Underworld in Ancient Ritual and Legend,” in Apocalyptic Thought in Early
, ed. Robert J. Daly (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic,
2009), 212. Even the thirst of the rich man in Luke 16:19–26 is not so
much active punishment as it is a result of confinement. Frank seems correct in
this claim. Sheol for apocalyptic Christians is confinement as all await final

15. See,
for example, 2 Enoch 8:1–10:6; 4 Ezra 2:35–48; 7:36; 2 Baruch 51:1–16.

16. In
writing about this transformation where the faces of the righteous shine like
the sun, Segal implies that this is a change to the angelic life: “The
faces of the abstinent are said to shine above the stars, confirming that the
ascetic life leads to the angelic life, that cleanliness is next to godliness”;
see Life
after Death
, 494. Additionally, Alan F. Segal in Paul the
Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee
Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 30–72, explains that both
apocalyptic Judaism and apocalyptic Christianity affirm that God will transform
the bodies of the righteous so that they take on an angelic nature. Segal
argues that Paul believed that the resurrected bodies of believers will mirror
that of the resurrected Christ. Other Jewish apocalyptic texts detail the
brilliant light and the associated exaltation that the exalted righteous will
have in the hereafter: Daniel 12:3; 2 Baruch 51:1–10; 1 Enoch 104:2–4; 2 Enoch 22:6–10; Ascension of Isaiah 7:25; 8:10–15; 9:6–10; 1Q28 IV.

17. The
animal symbolism in Enoch’s Dream Visions 90:1–36 puts in place a
hierarchy of humanlike beings that range from the holy to the profane. The holy
angels of heaven are portrayed as men, while the slightly less holy
prophets, Jewish leaders, and the exalted righteous are portrayed as white sheep.
The Jewish population in general is described as sheep, but they are
promoted to the status of white sheep after the judgment and resurrection. The
unholy Gentiles are portrayed as animals of the earth and birds,
but in the hereafter they become white cattle, a level of holiness
less than that of the exalted white sheep. Fully unclean are the evil kings and
rulers of the earth, portrayed as dogs, eagles, vultures, kites,
and ravens—animals
seen as unclean in the Jewish tradition.

18. A full narrative of the more
dramatic events of the harrowing was written by early Christians in the Gospel
of Nicodemus. The full text can be found at (accessed 8 March

19. As
one researcher comments, “This doctrine means symbolically that either in
this life or in the life beyond death all men are offered the gospel of the
truth and the love of God.” William Barclay, The Apostles’ Creed for
(New York: Harper and Row, 1967), 132.

20. The
authorship of Ephesians is debated by some contemporary scholars who attribute
it to an unknown apocalyptic Christian of the late first century who is a
disciple of Paul. Regardless of its authorship, the text shows that salvation
for the dead was a major concern of Christians in the first century. In the
Word Biblical Commentary on Ephesians, Andrew T. Lincoln gives an informative
survey of this debate. Relevant to this paper, Lincoln explains that “our
implied author, ‘Paul,’ emerges as a Jewish Christian” (lxi). The identity
of the author, however, remains uncertain: “In all probability, it is
submitted, a later follower of Paul writing in his name is responsible for the
portrait of Paul that can be constructed from the letter by the reader and for
its other features,” says Lincoln; “for what it is worth, this is now
the consensus view in NT scholarship, though a sizable minority continues to
uphold Pauline authorship” (lxii). Lincoln, Ephesians (Dallas:
Word Books, 1990), lix–lxxiii. Markus Barth confirms the heritage of the
writer, who “reveals by his thorough acquaintance with Israel’s Bible and
with Philonic, rabbinical, apocalyptic or Qumranite methods of Scripture
interpretation that he was a Jewish Christian.” Barth, Ephesians
, in The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974),

21. This
reading of Ephesians 4:8–10 as referring to Christ’s descent to hell is a
common one; see Markus Barth, Ephesians 4–6, in The Anchor
(New York: Doubleday, 1981), 433 n. 45; and Lincoln, Ephesians,
244, for a selection of eminent commentators who have given it this
interpretation. But see Barth, Ephesians, 433–34; and
Lincoln, Ephesians,
244–48, who favor alternate readings.

22. In
“Christ’s Descent to the Underworld,” Frank states that Ephesians 4:9
and a more obscure reference in Romans 10:7—”Who will descend into
the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)”—allude to “Christ’s
underworld sojourn” (215). She therefore traces the earliest reference to
Christ’s descent to an undisputed letter of Paul and claims that “the idea
was picked up by later Pauline communities” (215).

23. The
authorship of 1 Peter is also disputed, with many contemporary scholars
ascribing it to a disciple of Peter in the late first century. Similar to
Ephesians above, even if a late first-century date is accepted, the text shows
major soteriological concerns regarding the dead. In the Word Biblical Commentary,
J. Ramsey Michaels writes regarding 1 Peter: “The clear
impression is that the readers of the epistle are Jewish Christians”
(xlv). He also explains that the epistle can be considered apocalyptic in a “limited
sense” due to its status as a Diaspora letter to Israel (xlix). Michaels
ultimately holds that “the discussion of the authorship of 1 Peter is
a futile discussion if its purpose is anything approaching absolute certainty”
(lxii). Michaels, 1 Peter (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988),

24. The Apocalypse
of Zephaniah
6:15 explains that the spirits of all mankind are “in
the abyss and Hades, the one in which all of the souls are imprisoned from the
end of the Flood, which came upon the earth, until this day.” In
1 Peter 3:18–21, the descent of Christ to preach to the captive
spirits is linked with baptism: “But again Peter’s association of baptism
with the Descent and the preaching to the spirits should be noted because the
linking of these two ideas may constitute a cryptic reference to the offering
of baptism to the dead, and even to vicarious work for the dead.” M.
Catherine Thomas, “Visions of Christ in the Spirit World and the Dead
Redeemed,” in The New Testament and the Latter-day Saints, ed. John
K. Carmack (Orem, UT: Randall Book, 1987), 304–6. Frank writes that
Christ “journeyed to hell during the interlude between his death and
resurrection. There the Savior preached to the dead, baptized them, defeated
Death, and liberated the just, including Adam and the patriarchs” (211).
She, quoting 1 Peter 3:19, additionally argues that 1 Peter offers
the “purpose for the journey. . . . Christ ‘went and made a
proclamation to the spirits in prison.’ ” Frank, “Christ’s
Descent to the Underworld,” 215.

25. All
1 Peter citations in this paper are from the New Revised Standard Version

26. 1 Peter
1:5; 2:9; 5:1, 4–6. See Stephen Finlan, “Can We Speak of Theosis in Paul?” in Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of
Deification in the Christian Traditions
, ed. Michael J. Christensen
and Jeffery A. Wittung (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 68–80.

27. The
texts now called the Pseudepigrapha, including 1 Enoch and the Apocalypse
of Zephaniah
, are the primary sources for understanding apocalyptic
Judaism. The first Christians were fully immersed in the apocalyptic Jewish
tradition, with the New Testament Epistle of Jude (14–15)
even quoting a passage from the Book of the Watchers (1:9),
showing the immediate connection early Christians had with other apocalyptic
Jews. Interestingly, the Pseudepigrapha and other Hellenistic Jewish texts were
preserved by Christians, rather than by the Rabbinic Judaism that emerged from
the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) and the Bar Kochba war (AD 132–35). But this should come as no surprise, for first- and
second-century AD apocalyptic
Christians continued to think of themselves as the true path within Judaism, rather than as a completely new religious tradition, while Rabbinic
Jews, descendants of Pharisaic Judaism, divorced themselves from the
apocalyptic tradition entirely. See Collins, Apocalyptic Imagination,
1–255. Stephen Robinson has objected to the way apocryphal sources are
sometimes used. He asserts that we ought not to use these texts as proof that
LDS doctrines are true, but we may use them as evidence of what early
Christians believed. He writes: “The apocrypha do often prove that
ideas peculiar to the Latter-day Saints in modern times were widely known and
widely believed anciently, but this is not the same as proving that the ideas
themselves are true, or that those who believed them were right in doing so, or
that they would have had anything else in common with the Latter-day Saints.”
“Lying for God: The Uses of Apocrypha,” in Apocryphal Writings and the
Latter-day Saints
, ed. C. Wilfred Griggs (Provo, UT: BYU Religious
Studies Center, 1986), 133–54, 148. It is in this sense that we use these

28. “And
a spirit took me and brought me up into the fifth heaven. And I saw angels who
are called ‘lords,’ and the diadem was set upon them in the Holy Spirit, and
the throne of each of them was sevenfold more (brilliant) than the light of the
rising sun. (And they were) dwelling in the temples of salvation and singing
hymns to the ineffable most high God.” Apocalypse of Zephaniah A, in
Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 508.

29. See
Romans 9:18. The apocryphal book 2 Maccabees, written in the late second to
early first centuries BC, records
the prayers of Judas Maccabee and his army on behalf of Jews who died in
idolatry, as well as his collecting two thousand drachmas to be delivered to
the temple as an atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from
sin (see 12:39–45 NRSV). In addition, the apocryphal Gospel of
contains a section entitled “Christ’s Descent into
Hell.” The text gives a third-century AD interpretation of the period of time allowed for the dead of Christ’s day to
repent, and it places John the Baptist in hades preaching repentance to its
captives: “[Christ] sent me to you, to preach that the only begotten Son
of God comes here, in order that whoever believes in him should be saved, and
whoever does not believe in him should be condemned. Therefore I say to you all
that when you see him, all of you worship him. For now only have you opportunity
for repentance because you worshipped idols in the vain world above and sinned.
At any other time this is impossible.” James K. Elliot, ed., The
Apocryphal New Testament
, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1993), 186.

30. See
also the claim of 1 Enoch 51:1 that “Sheol will restore what
it has received.”

31. Revelation
2:7, 10, 17, 26–28; 3:4–5, 9–12, 20–21; 4:4; 5:8; 7:3,
9; 14:1; 20:4.

32. The Odes
of Solomon
has, sadly, received scant attention from Near Eastern
scholars. However, a recently published critical edition of the Odes is Michael
Lattke, The
Odes of Solomon
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009). This hopefully will
begin to remedy the neglect. See pages 1–14 for the provenance and likely
dates for the text.

33. See
also Odes 28:10 and 29:4. The translation of the Odes of Solomon that
we use is from James H. Charlesworth, trans., Odes of Solomon, in The Old
Testament Pseudepigrapha
, vol. 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1985).

34. That
the harrowing of hell and vicarious baptism are tied together is nothing new to
Christianity. Richard E. DeMaris, “Corinthian Religion and Baptism
for the Dead (1 Corinthians 15:29): Insights from Archaeology and
Anthropology,” Journal of Biblical Literature 114/4 (1995): 672. John
Tvedtnes shows that “though most Christians stopped baptizing for the dead
in the early centuries after Christ, documentary evidence makes it clear that
the practice was known in various parts of the Mediterranean world.” John
Tvedtnes, “Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity,” in The Temple
in Time and Eternity
(Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 72. Scriptural
evidence for the practice is 1 Corinthians 15:29, and Michael Hull writes
that modern scholarship acknowledges its historicity: “With reference to
our verse, the designation ‘vicarious baptism’ is simple: living persons
. . . were baptized in the place of dead unbaptized persons. The raison d’être for this seemingly aberrant custom? To secure the (presumed)
benefits of baptism for those who died without baptism. Since it is widely held
that ‘none of the attempts to escape a theory of vicarious baptism in primitive
Christianity seems to be wholly successful,’ the vast majority of exegetes and
commentators hold that 15:29 is a reference to some form of vicarious
baptism—even those who reject such a reading acknowledge its
preponderance—and it is aptly labeled the ‘majority reading.’ ”
Michael F. Hull, Baptism on Account of the Dead (1 Cor 15:29): An Act of
Faith in the Resurrection
(Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature,
2005), 10–11. As part of the scholarly consensus, one work explains, “The
normal reading of the text is that some Corinthians are being baptized,
apparently vicariously, in behalf of some people who have already died. It
would be fair to add that this reading is such a plain understanding of the
Greek text that no one would ever have imagined the various alternatives were
it not for the difficulties involved.” Gordon Fee, The First
Epistle to the Corinthians
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988),
763–64. The New International Commentary on the New
is of the same opinion: “The objection that the
apostle could not have meant anything like a baptism for the benefit of others
is exegetically out of place.” Frederik W. Grosheide, “Commentary on
the First Epistle to the Corinthians,” in The New International
Commentary on the New Testament
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955),
372. And in his master’s thesis on the topic, John Pryce-Davies writes, “All
interpretations which seek to evade vicarious baptism for the dead are misleading,”
in “Theological Significances of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in the Life of
the Christian Community” (RHD thesis, Griffith University, 2005), 123,
quoting Albrecht Oepke, “βαπτω,” in A Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament
, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:542.

35. See
the arguments on Odes 42:17 and 42:20 (below) for further evidence that Ode
17:9 refers to vicarious baptism for the dead. The Odist further refers to the
inhabitants of Sheol waiting for Christ’s death and his escape from it, with
the understanding that his escape will open the way for the escape of all: “And
the chasms were opened and closed; and they were seeking the Lord as those who
are about to give birth; . . . and the end of their labor was life”
(Ode 24:5, 8; see also 31:1).

36. See 1 Enoch 102:4–103:4.

37. Luke
16:19–26 speaks of an impassable chasm that separates the righteous dead
from the disobedient in hades. The rich man who was wicked in life wishes for
Lazarus to cool his tongue with water, to temper his torment for a moment, but
he is told that “they which would pass from hence to you cannot”
(v. 26). Note that both of the departed are thought to retain a kind of
material embodiment despite the fact that they are spirits.

38. The
Odist’s worldview holds that a soul will first depart the body’s furthest
extremity, the feet, exiting the head only at the final point of death. Death’s
release of Christ follows the same pattern.

39. See
Odes 10:1, 6; 11:13, 19; 15:2; 21:3; 36:3.

40. See
Odes 11:3; 33:8; 39:7; John 14:6; Acts 9:2; 24:14.

41. See
Odes 19:5; Luke 20:36; 1 Corinthians 6:3; Ephesians 2:6, 20–21;
Hebrews 1:14; Revelation 4:4.

42. See
Odes 3:7; 11:16–19, 23; 17:1, 4; 20:1, 7–9; 29:8; 31:4;
33:12–13; 38:17–19; 39:7–8; 41:4, 6.

43. T.
W. Manson lists Galatians 4:6–7; Romans 8:15–16; 1 Corinthians
12:3; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22; 1 John 5:7–8 as passages
relating to the chrism, with 1 John 5:7 linking chrism with baptism; see Paul
F. Bradshaw, The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and
Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy
(New York: Oxford University
Press, 1992), 165, but 1 John 2:20 should also be added to his list.

44. Ezekiel 9:4–6 is the source of the Christian
chrism: “ ’Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads
of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.’
To the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him, and
kill; . . . but touch no one who has the mark” (NRSV). The Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions,
an apocalyptic Christian text of the second century ad, elaborates on the chrism, explaining the heavenly nature
of the rite: “But He is called Christ by a certain excellent rite of religion;
. . . Although indeed He was the Son of God, and the beginning
of all things, He became man; Him first God anointed with oil which was taken
from the wood of the tree of life: from that anointing therefore He is called Christ. Thence, moreover,
He Himself also, according to the appointment of His Father, anoints with
similar oil every one of the pious when they come to His kingdom, for their
refreshment after their labours, as having got over the difficulties of the
way; so that their light may shine, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, they
may be endowed with immortality.” Recognitions of Clement 1.45, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed.
Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (1885; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson,
1994), 8:89. Compare the first-century ad 2 Enoch,
where an anointing with heavenly oil transforms Enoch into a brilliantly
shining angelic being and which recounts Enoch’s eventual exaltation to God’s
left hand (22:8–10; 24:1–2).

45. The
book of Revelation explains that those who conquer will personally receive the
chrism from Christ: “I will write on you the name of my God, and the name
of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of
heaven, and my own new name” (3:12 NRSV).

46. In
a clear reference to a premortal existence, the Odist indicates that God knew
those who would be faithful and placed the chrism on their faces: “And he
who created me when yet I was not knew what I would do when I came into being”
(Ode 7:9); “and before they had existed I recognized them; and
imprinted a seal on their faces” (8:13).

47. Bradshaw, Search
for the Origins of Christian Worship
, 163–74; Edward C.
Whitaker, Documents
of the Baptismal Liturgy
, 3rd ed., rev. and exp.
Maxwell E. Johnson (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), xvi, 9, 14,
23–62; Alastair H. B. Logan, “The Mystery of the Five
Seals: Gnostic Initiation Reconsidered,” Vigiliae Christianae 51/2 (May
1997): 193–99.

48. Gabriele
Winkler, “The Original Meaning of the Prebaptismal Anointing and Its
Implications,” Worship 52 (1978): 36.

49. Helmut
Koester, From
Jesus to the Gospels: Interpreting the New Testament in Its Context
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 149; and Montague R. James, The
Apocryphal New Testament
, ed. J. K. Elliott (Oxford: Clarendon,
1993), 556, cites Carl Schmidt as reporting a second-century date of
composition. Speaking of the harrowing of hell, Hugh Nibley wrote: “The
central theme [of the forty-day ministry] is the Descensus, a mission to the
spirits below closely resembling the Lord’s earthly calling. He brings the kerygma [proclamation of salvation through Christ] to all, and those who accept it
follow him out of the depths into the light, receive baptism, and hence mount
up by degrees to realms of glory.” “Evangelium Quadraginta Dierum:
The Forty-day Mission of Christ—The Forgotten Heritage,” in Mormonism
and Early Christianity
, 16.

50. The
text here is taken from James, Apocryphal New Testament,
570–73; see vv. 21 and 27.

51. See Gospel
of Bartholomew
, vv. 9, 11, 13, and 20 in James, Apocryphal
New Testament
, 656–57.

52. James, Apocryphal
New Testament
, 669.

53. Jeffrey
Trumbower, in Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians
in Early Christianity
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2001),
also cites this as evidence for early Christians baptizing on behalf of the
dead. He further elaborates, saying that “we should not be surprised at
the appearance of these traditions, since Christianity was a new religious
expression embedded in a culture where the boundaries between the living and
the dead were often quite permeable” (see pp. 33–34). William Wall
(1647–1728), a British priest in the Church of England who wrote
extensively about infant baptism, held the Shepherd of Hermas in high regard
but seemed perplexed by the idea of baptism for the dead within it. Writing
about the section of the text from which the above passage is quoted, he says: “The
Passage itself, which represents the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old
Testament to stand in need of Baptism, and of the Apostles preaching the Name
of Christ to them after they were dead, before they could be capable of
entering the Kingdom of God, does indeed seem strange to us, and is the oddest
Passage in all the book; . . . yet Clemens Alexandrinus, who liv’d
about one hundred years after this Book was written, cites this Passage, and
takes it for real matter of fact. And those texts, 1 Pet. 3. 19; and 4. 6,
which speak of the Gospel being preached to them that were dead,
though they be now by most Protestants understood in another sense, were by
most of the ancients understood in a Sense like to this.” The History
of Infant Baptism
(London: Rivington, 1705), 1:5:52–53. “This
Passage does also lead one to think anew of Paul’s mentioning a Practice of
some Men in those times being baptized for the dead. A thing
that has never yet been agreed on in what sense it is to be understood”
(ibid., 53). “Whether these were true Visions, or only the author’s Sense
given under such a Representation, still the Scope of the place is to represent
the Necessity of Water-Baptism to Salvation, or to Entrance into the Kingdom of
God, in the Opinion of the then Christians, i.e. the Christians of the
Apostles times. Since even they that were dead before the Institution of
Baptism in the Name of Christ, are in way of Vision represented as incapable of
the Kingdom of God without it” (ibid., 54). Helmut Koester has written
that the Shepherd of Hermas, at specifically Similitudes 9.16.5, “speaks
about the descent to Hades of the apostles and teachers for the preaching and
baptism of the dead.” Introduction to the New Testament: History and Literature of
Early Christianity
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), 2:258. Carolyn
Osiek also supports this view: “The absolute necessity of baptism is
implicit here, and these verses, without saying so, present a good argument in
favor of baptism in the name of the dead, apparently already an act of piety in
first-century Corinth [see 1 Corinthians 15:29]. . . . This is a
version of the tradition of the ‘harrowing of hell,’ usually said to be
performed by Christ during the period of his burial. Here, the apostles and
teachers are sent to be the agents by which this soteriological mission is
accomplished. . . . Whereas for the living, the problem has been to
get the baptized to take on the life of virtue, here with the pre-Christian
dead, the problem is the opposite: they practiced virtue in their lives, but
had not received baptism. Through the apostles and teachers, this problem is
solved.” Helmut Koester, ed., Shepherd of Hermas: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 238.

54. Trumbower, Rescue, 38.

55. Trumbower, Rescue, 36.
Though, in these examples, Trumbower points out the dead beneficiaries had to
have shown a desire to be baptized before the Marcionites would consider
performing it.

56. James
Orr, “The Apostles’ Creed: The Oldest Creed,” in International
Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960),

57. Heidi J. Hornik and Mikeal C.
Parsons, “The Harrowing of Hell,” Bible
19/3 (2003): 19. The
tradition of the harrowing remains alive in Eastern Orthodoxy with its “preservation
of certain opportunities for the dead in the next world.” Russian Eastern
Orthodox scholar Sergey Antonenko, quoted in Marvin R. VanDam, “Baptism
for the Dead in Ancient Ukraine,” Meridian Magazine, (accessed
16 March 2010). The Catechetical Sermon of John Chrysostom, which
specifically mentions the harrowing, is also read every year during the
Orthodox Pascha (Easter) services. See Orthodox Church of America. (accessed 16 March

58. Catechism
of the Catholic Church
(Chicago: Loyola, 1994), 49–50. “The
creeds that do not explicitly mention the Descent into hell may be divided into
two groups based on the different formulations of the Resurrection article. In
both we will find that Christ’s descent is implicit in the profession of His
resurrection.” See Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, Light in Darkness: Hans Urs von Balthasar
and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s Descent into Hell
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 10–11.

59. Gardiner
M. Day, The
Apostles’ Creed: An Interpretation for Today
(New York: Scribner,
1963), 81.

60. Hornik
and Parsons, “Harrowing of Hell,” 20.

61. Pitstick, Light
in Darkness
, 14. For a critique of her work, see Paul J. Griffiths, “Is
There a Doctrine of the Descent into Hell?” Pro Ecclesia 17/3
(2008): 257–68.

62. Pitstick, Light
in Darkness
, 15–16.

63. See
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” quoted in Pitstick, Light in
, 16.

64. Pitstick, Light
in Darkness
, 16.

65. Orr,
“Apostles’ Creed,” 1:204.

66. Arthur
McGiffert, The
Apostles’ Creed: Its Origin, Its Purpose, and Its Historical Interpretation
York: Scribner, 1902), 9.

67. McGiffert, Apostles’
, 9–10.

68. John
A. MacCulloch, The Harrowing of Hell: A Comparative Study of an Early Christian
(Edinburgh: Clark, 1930), 45.

69. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 88. Irenaeus references Matthew 22:40; Ephesians 4:9; and
Psalm 86:13 as justification of this view.

70. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 91.

71. Clement
of Alexandria, Stromata 6.6, in Patrologiae Graeca (PG) 9:272.

72. Stromata 6.6, in PG 9:268, quoted in Nibley, “Baptism for the Dead in Ancient Times,”
102, 118.

73. Origen, Contra
2.43, trans. Henry Chadwick (London: Cambridge, 1953).

74. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 105.

75. Tyrannius
Rufinus, Commentary
on the Apostles’ Creed
, trans. J. N. D. Kelly
(Westminster, MD: Newman, 1955), 29–30.

76. Namely
Psalms 16:10; 30:3, 9; 69:2; Luke 7:20; and 1 Peter 3:18–20. See
Rufinus, Commentary,
61. He also states that, even in the versions that omit the phrase, the meaning
of the descent is contained “precisely” in the affirmation “buried.”
Rufinus, Commentary,
52. Tyrannius finds allusions to Christ’s descent all throughout the
scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. He writes, “No prophet, no lawgiver,
no psalmist is silent on this theme: almost without exception, the sacred pages
all refer to these events [the death of Christ, his descent into hell, his
liberating the captive spirits there, and his resurrection].” Rufinus, Commentary,

77. Rufinus, Commentary,
61. Tyrannius sees it as a fulfillment of Psalm 29:4.

78. E.
H. Plumptre, The Spirits in Prison and Other Studies on the Life after Death (New York: Bible House, 1884), 86–87.

79. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 120.

80. Plumptre, Spirits
in Prison
, 94.

81. Pitstick, Light
in Darkness
, 19.

82. Pitstick, Light
in Darkness
, 75.

83. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 71; see also Plumptre, Spirits in Prison, 86.

84. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 71.

85. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 71.

86. Pitstick, Light
in Darkness
, 20. The Fourth Ecumenical Lateran Council (1215) and
the Second Council of Lyons (1274) may also be taken as confirmations of the

87. Barclay explains, “In connection with
[Christ’s preaching to the dead] there is one interesting fact which no one has
ever been able to explain. The early Christian thinkers always aimed to clinch
every argument with a quotation from Scripture. In particular they were always
eager to produce a passage from the prophets which the actions of Jesus
fulfilled. Now when Justin Martyr and Irenaeus speak about this doctrine
between them they quote no fewer than six times a proof text, attributing it
sometimes to Jeremiah, sometimes to Isaiah. The text is: ‘The Lord God
remembered his dead people of Israel, who lay in the graves, and he descended
to preach to them his own salvation.’ That indeed would be a precise prediction
of this interpretation of the descent; but the odd thing is that that text
occurs in no known part of the Old Testament in any language or in any manuscript.
Where Justin Martyr and Irenaeus got that text is one of the unsolved mysteries”
Creed for Everyman
, 128). Martyr taught: “From the sayings of
Jeremiah they have cut out the following: ‘I [was] like a lamb that is brought
to the slaughter: they devised a device against me, saying, Come, let us lay on
wood on His bread, and let us blot Him out from the land of the living; and His
name shall no more be remembered.’ And since this passage from the sayings of
Jere­miah is still written in some copies [of the Scriptures] in the
synagogues of the Jews (for it is only a short time since they were cut out),
and since from these words it is demonstrated that the Jews deliberated about
the Christ Himself, to crucify and put Him to death, He Himself is both
declared to be led as a sheep to the slaughter, as was predicted by Isaiah, and
is here represented as a harmless lamb; but being in a difficulty about them,
they give themselves over to blasphemy. And again, from the sayings of the same
Jeremiah these have been cut out: ‘The Lord God remembered His dead people of
Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own
salvation.’ ” Justin Martyr, Dialogue
with Trypho
72, in Ante-Nicene Fathers,
1:234–35. And Irenaeus likewise taught: “It was for this reason,
too, that the Lord descended into the regions beneath the earth, preaching His
advent there also, and [declaring] the remission of sins received by those who
believe in Him.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.27.2, in Ante-Nicene
, 1:499.

88. Frank, “Christ’s Descent to the Underworld,”
211; see 211–26.

89. Plumptre, Spirits
in Prison
, 95. Although, it should be mentioned, they talked about
it in a more limited form, due to Augustine’s writing as well as to the theory
of purgatory. Another reason for its lack of discussion was probably because of
the apparently shrinking need for such an idea. The church was so successful in
Aquinas’s time, for example, that he thought there “was only a handful”
of unevangelized persons. Sanders, No Other Name, 19.
Also of note is a controversy involving Antonius when he defended the
traditional interpretation of the doctrine against two philosophers trying to
teach that Christ’s descent was simply figurative. See Hornik and Parsons, “Harrowing
of Hell,” 22.

90. Trumbower, Rescue,
126. Of note, however, is the fact that Augustine’s contemporary and
correspondent Jerome taught “the old tradition in its completeness.”
Plumptre, Spirits
in Prison
, 93.

91. Sanders, No
Other Name
, 51; see also Farrar, Mercy and Judgment, 75–79.

92. “It
is clearly shown that the Lord died in the flesh and descended into hell.
. . . Who, then, but an unbeliever will deny that Christ was in hell?”
from Augustine’s letter to Evodius, 164, in The Fathers of the Church: Saint Augustine
, vol. 3, trans. Sister Wilfrid Parsons (Washington, DC: The
Catholic University of America, 1953), 383.

93. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 50–51.

94. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 57.

95. Augustine does not deny that
Christ visited hell—but he was firm that whatever work of salvation that
happened there was possible only for those who died before his resurrection.

96. Augustine, Epistula (Letters) 164.4.13,
quoted in Trumbower, Rescue, 132, 140.

97. Trumbower, Rescue,

98. Trumbower, Rescue,

99. Trumbower, Rescue,

100. Augustine
states in a letter that “if the holy Scripture had said that Christ after
death came into the bosom of Abraham, without naming hell and its sorrows, I
wonder if anyone would dare to affirm that He descended into hell.” Fathers of
the Church: Saint Augustine Letters
, 3:386.

101. Thomas
Aquinas, Summa
3.52.1–8, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican
Province, 3 vols. (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1947).

102. Aquinas, Summa
2.2.3–8. For a discussion on other medieval
thinkers who shared Aquinas’s view of a non-evangelic descent and a universally
accessible message, see Sanders, No Other Name, 159–62.

103. Sanders, No Other
, 51 and 186 n. 19; see also Trumbower, Rescue,
3, 108.

104. John
Calvin, Institutes
of the Christian Religion
, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1957), 1:443.

105. Calvin, Institutes
of the Christian Religion
, 1:442.

106. Plumptre, Spirits in
, 96

107. Martin
Luther, “First Lectures on the Psalms (Psalm 86),” in Luther’s
II (St. Louis: Concordia, 1976), 175, cited in Hornik
and Parsons, “Harrowing of Hell,” 26.

108. MacCulloch, Harrowing
of Hell
, 52.

109. Plumptre, Spirits in
, 97. Plumptre cites Jeremy Taylor and Bishop Samuel Horsley
as notable exceptions in the mid-seventeenth and late-eighteenth centuries,
respectively (see 97–99).

110. Trumbower, Rescue,

111. Sanders, No Other
, 209.

112. Plumptre, Spirits in
, 92.

113. Sanders, No Other
, 55, 72.

114. Peter
Geach, Providence
and Evil
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 128, quoted
in Sanders, No
Other Name
, 72.

115. Interestingly,
even Augustine seems to entertain some form of this logic. “Christ,
knowing that the world was so full of unbelievers . . . , was
justly unwilling to appear or to preach to them who He foreknew would believe
neither in His words nor in His miracles.” The Fathers of the Church:
Saint Augustine Letters
, vol. 2, trans. Sister Wilfrid Parsons
(Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America, 1953), 158.

116. Plumptre, Spirits in
, 95.

117. Gabriel
Fackre, Ronald H. Nash, and John Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? Three
Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized
, ed. John Sanders
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995), 13.

118. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 12, 25.

119. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 36.

120. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 78, emphasis in

121. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 81.

122. Fackre
makes reference to Romans 10:14, which states: “How are they to believe in
One of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone
proclaim Him?” Fackre, Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never

123. Fackre is
quick to point out, though, that “No preaching by Christ to the dead is
going to make it ‘easier’ for the dead than the living.” Fackre, Nash, and
Sanders, What
about Those Who Have Never Heard?

124. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 81.

125. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 83.

126. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 90.

127. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 90.

128. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 86–87.

129. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 92–93.

130. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 93.

131. The Early Days of
(1883), 78, quoted in Tad R. Callister, “Joseph
Smith—Prophet of the Restoration,” Ensign, November 2009, 36.

132. Fackre,
Nash, and Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard? 13–15.
For more detailed information on any of these views, see ibid., 157 n. 6.