Blog 85: 2.16.7 - 2.16.11

Justin Taylor
In sections 8-12 Calvin seeks to explain a confusing part of the Apostle's Creed: Christ's descent into hell. Calvin wants us to understand and not despise this mysterious summary of our redemption. Dropping it from our creed means we lose an important component of the benefit of Christ's death. Even though it appears to have been inserted later, Calvin thinks it represents a "common belief of all the godly," as attested by the fact that all the fathers reference it.
Some say that "hell" here is a redundancy, a conceptual repetition of "grave." But why would they choose a synonym or explanation this obscure, especially in a creed this careful and concise? Calvin likewise dismisses the idea that Christ entered into the nether word to announce redemption to the souls of the imprisoned patriarchs.
Instead, Calvin offers his own interpretation, which he thinks is biblical and wonderfully consoling: Christ not only experienced bodily death (which by itself would have been ineffectual), but he had to "grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death." In other words, he was suffering the "invisible and incomprehensible" judgment from God-"the pangs of death" (Acts 2:24)-that we instead deserved.
As you read the following quote from Calvin, rejoice in Christ's sin-bearing, enemy-defeating, wrath-averting work that brings us to God and keeps us from hell:
"By his wrestling hand to hand with the devil's power, with the dread of death, with the pains of hell, he was victorious and triumphed over them, that in death we may not now fear those things which our Prince has swallowed up."