The Apostles' Creed and 1 Peter 3:19-
Did Jesus preach to spirits in Hades?

From the Apostles' creed-

... He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. ...

What? Jesus descended into Hell after his death? Just what did he do there?

1 Pet 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
1 Pet 3:19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
1 Pet 3:20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

There is a popular interpretation of this passage, in conjunction with the Apostles' Creed, that Jesus, after His death on the cross, descended into Hades/Hell/prison to preach to spirits there.

(The Roman Catholics call this place that Jesus supposedly visited after His death "limbus patrum", or limbo of the fathers. Here is a link to an article from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia explaining LIMBO online at New Advent, a Roman Catholic website.)

It is interesting to note that the source of this fanciful story of Jesus preaching in Hell appears to be the Roman Catholic Church. Note the following quotes about article 5 of the Apostles' Creed from Catholic Catechisms:

What meaneth the fifth Article?
He descended into hell, the third day he arose again?

We must believe, that Christ's body lying in the grave, his soul descended into hell: not to suffer pains, as some heretics do say, but for consolation and comfort of many Fathers there, and out of that place (called Lymbus Patrum) he loosed the souls of the blessed Fathers from captivity, and carried them away with him: the third day he rose again from death to life, manifestly showing himself to his Disciples, eating with them, and speaking of the kingdom of God. (Matt. 8, Luke 14, Ephes. 4, 1 Cor. 15, Acts 1.)

Source: A Catechisme or Christian Doctrine, by Laurence Vaux, B.D., reprinted from a 1583 edition by The Chetham Society in 1885, Manchester England, (updated to modern spelling for this excerpt) pages 13, 14.

The Fifth Article

Q. What is the fifth article?
A. He descended into hell, the third day he arose again from the dead.

Q. What means, he descended into Hell?
A. It means, that as soon as Christ was dead, he descended into Limbo, to free the holy fathers who were there.

Q. How prove you that?
A. Out of Acts ii. 24, 27. 'Christ being slain, God raised him up loosing the sorrows of hell, as it was foretold by the prophet,' Psalm xv. 10. 'Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption.'

Q. What other proof have you?
A. Ephes. iv. 8, 9. 'He ascending on high, hath led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men; and that he ascended,' what is it but because he descended into the lower parts of the earth?

Q. Did he not descend to purgatory to free such as were there?
A. It is most probable he did according to 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20. 'Christ being dead, came in spirit; and preached to them also that were in prison, who had been incredulous in the days of Noah, when the ark was building.'

Source: The Douay Catechism (An Abridgment of the Christian Doctrine) of 1649, by Henry Tuberville, D.D., published by P. J. Kenedy, Excelsior Catholic Publishing House, 5 Barclay Street, New York, approved and recommended for his diocese by the Right Rev. Benedict, Bishop of Boston, April 24th, 1833, page 15.


'He descended into hell, the third day He rose again from the dead.'

1. What means, 'He descended into hell'?
That the soul of Jesus Christ, after His death, descended into 'Limbo'—i.e., to the place where the souls of the just who died before Christ were detained, and were waiting for the time of their redemption.

2. Why were souls of the just detained in Limbo?
Because Heaven was closed through sin, and was first to be opened by Christ (Hebr. ix. 6-8)

3. Why did Christ descend into Limbo?
1. To comfort and set free the souls of the just; and
2. To show forth His power and majesty even there in the lower regions (Phil. ii. 10).

Source: Rev. Joseph Deharbe's A Complete Catechism of the Catholic Religion, translated from the German by the Rev. John Fander, sixth American Edition, published by Schwartz, Kirwin & Fauss, 53 Park Place, New York, Copyright 1912, 1919, 1924, pages 119, 120.

The Fifth Article of the Creed

    1 Q. What are we taught in the Fifth Article: He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead?
    A. The Fifth Article of the Creed teaches us that the Soul of Jesus Christ, on being separated from His Body, descended to the Limbo of the holy Fathers, and that on the third day it became united once more to His Body, never to be parted from it again.

    2 Q. What is here meant by hell?
    A. Hell here means the Limbo of the holy Fathers, that is, the place where the souls of the just were detained, in expectation of redemption through Jesus Christ.

    3 Q. Why were not the souls of the Holy Fathers admitted into heaven before the death of Jesus Christ?
    A. The souls of the holy Fathers were not admitted into heaven before the death of Jesus Christ, because heaven was closed by the sin of Adam, and it was but fitting that Jesus Christ, who reopened it by His death, should be the first to enter it.

Source: The Catechism of Pope St. Pius X.

Q. 66. Is Limbo the same place as Purgatory?
A. Limbo is not the same place as Purgatory, because the souls in Purgatory suffer, while those in Limbo do not.
Q. 67. Who were in Limbo when Our Lord descended into it?
A. There were in Limbo when Our Lord descended into it the souls of all those who died the friends of God, but could not enter heaven till the Ascension of Our Lord.

Q. 403. Why did Christ descend into Limbo?
A. Christ descended into Limbo to preach to the souls who were in prison — that is, to announce to them the joyful tidings of their redemption.
Q. 404. Where was Christ's body while His soul was in Limbo?
A. While Christ's soul was in Limbo His body was in the holy sepulchre.

Source: The Baltimore Catechism #3

[On "He descended into hell " ...]

"Hell:" here does not mean the place where the damned are, but a place called "Limbo." You know that when our first parents sinned, Heaven was closed against them and us, and no human being could be admitted into it till after the death of Our Lord; for He by His death would redeem us—make amends for our fall and once more open for us Heaven. Now from the time Adam sinned till the time Christ died is about four thousand years. During that time there were at least some good men, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and others, in the world, who tried to serve God as best they could—keeping all the divine laws known to them, and believing that the Messias would some day come to redeem them. When, therefore, they died they could not go to Heaven, because it was closed against them. They could not go to Hell, because they were good men. Neither could they go to Purgatory, because they would have to suffer there. Where could they go? God in His goodness provided a place for them—Limbo—where they could stay without suffering till Our Lord reopened Heaven. Therefore, while Our Lord's body lay in the sepulchre, His soul went down into Limbo, to tell these good men that Heaven was now opened for them, and that at His Ascension He would take them there with Him.

Source: The Baltimore Catechism #4 on Basic Catholic Prayers, the Apostles' Creed, by Rev. Thomas L. Kinkead, published by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, Copyright 1891 and 1921 by Benzinger Brothers and reprinted in 1978, ISBN: 0-89555-340-6, pages 11,12.

Who Are The Spirits In Prison?

Let's take a close look at this passage in 1st Peter and see just what it is really saying. Verse 18 contains a parallelism, the same thought expressed twice.

1 Pet 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, ...

Jesus Christ who was sinless, died once on the cross for sinners, and was resurrected  to reconcile sinners with God, ...

... being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

He died the death all we mortals must die, but He was raised to life by the Holy Spirit. The parallelism above states twice that Christ died and was resurrected.

1 Pet 3:19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
[The word translated preached G2784. kerusso, is also properly translated as proclaim. See Rev 5:2. So it does not necessarily refer to preaching the gospel.]

Verse 19 says that in His resurrected state (By which), Christ went and proclaimed his victory over the spirits in prison. So who are these spirits? Verse 22 parallels and restates verse 19:

1 Pet 3:22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.

The spirits in prison refers not to people, but fallen angels and authorities and powers who are also spoken of as being chained:

Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Col 2:15 And [by His resurrection] having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them [fallen angels] in it.

Rev 20:1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
Rev 20:2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
Rev 20:3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
Rev 20:7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,

Jude 1:6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

2 Pet 2:4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

1 Peter 3:20 and 21 speak of Noah's experience with the flood, and Christ's death and resurrection, as types of baptism, in which the sinner can gain, and proclaim,  victory over sin and death:

1 Pet 3:20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
1 Pet 3:21 The like figure [of death and resurrection] whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

Rom 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

So properly understood, this passage of 1 Peter 3:18-20 does not teach that Jesus preached to spirits of dead people in Hell or purgatory after His death on the cross, it simply does not validate a belief in an intermediate "prison" or limbo for immortal souls between death and heaven, as some teach today. When Christ died on the cross, He was buried, and did nothing until His resurrection. He went nowhere and preached to no one during the time period between His crucifixion and resurrection. Dead is dead.

Paradise and the Thief on the Cross.

Some will look the the thief on the cross and assert that "paradise" is not heaven, but this "limbo" or holding place in hades for the souls who died before Jesus was resurrected. It is easily proved that "paradise" IS in fact heaven:

Jesus promises the thief that day that he will be with Him in paradise:

Luke 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Note that the tree of life is also in paradise:

Rev 2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

The tree of life is also placed as being in the New Jerusalem:

Rev 22:2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

And the New Jerusalem is described as descending *from heaven* after the millennium:

Rev 21:2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Hence the promise made to the thief on that day was that he would join Christ in the New Jerusalem, in heaven, for the millennium. It is a promise yet to be fulfilled, which will happen at the second coming and the resurrection of the righteous dead.

The Catholic teaching that paradise/limbo was a holding area in "hell" for souls, liberated when Jesus descended into hell after His death, is unfounded, a false tradition of men, and based on a complete misconception of the state of the dead. In addition to the Catechisms quoted above, this erroneous teaching can also be found in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, Article V of the Apostles' Creed and in the Vatican's new Catechism of the Catholic Church #631-637.

The world faces a similar period of probation today, as it did in Noah's day. Soon the Gospel message will be preached a final time, the last person will accept Jesus Christ into his or her heart and mind, and the door of probation will then close as it did on the Ark of Noah. At that point all humanity will have had their fate decided and the plagues of God will then fall on the wicked of the world, as explained in Revelation, which will immediately precede the second coming of Jesus. (The plagues on the wicked are the future counterpart to the flood of Noah.)

In order to really understand this issue, you need to know the truth about both Death and Hell as taught by the Bible. It should then be clear that Jesus could not possibly have gone to a place called Hell/Hades/limbo after His death on the cross, since Hell is nothing more than the grave. Those who died before the time of Christ were not held captive as conscious spirits in any intermediary location after their deaths, because death is clearly a sleep of non-existence until one's resurrection.

A Catholic rebuttal by Mario Derksen

A Counterpoint to Mario Derksen