Skip to comments.John Calvin’s Worst Heresy: That Christ Suffered in Hell
Posted on 09/21/2009 10:14:12 AM PDT by NYer
Years ago while listening to Hank Hanegraaff’s Bible Answer Man radio program, a caller called in about “Christ suffering in Hell.” Hank rightly explained that “Christ suffering in Hell” is not a biblical doctrine, but noted that the doctrine was held by John Calvin. Hank respectfully disagreed with Calvin.
We can argue back and forth over Calvin’s doctrine of baptism or predestination, but Calvin is a manifest heretic regarding Christ’s descent into hell. He breaks with Scripture and all the Fathers in this regard, and his error deserves more attention, because it shows the cracks in his systematic theology. During my three years at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, nobody wanted to touch this with a ten-foot pole.
So that you can get Calvin in context, I’ve provided the full section from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion Book II, Chapter 16, 10 in full. The red inserts are mine.
But, apart from the Creed, we must seek for a surer exposition of Christ’s descent to hell: and the word of God furnishes us with one not only pious and holy, but replete with excellent consolation. Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God’s anger, and satisfy his righteous judgement, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death [What!!! Christ suffered eternal death and the pains the hell!].
We lately quoted from the Prophet, that the “chastisement of our peace was laid upon him” that he “was bruised for our iniquities” that he “bore our infirmities;” [ [the authors of Scripture and the Fathers apply these prophecies to the crucifixion--not to any penal condemnation in hell] expressions which intimate, that, like a sponsor and surety for the guilty, and, as it were, subjected to condemnation, he undertook and paid all the penalties which must have been exacted from them, the only exception being, that the pains of death could not hold him. Hence 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. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgement [ [so the cross as visible judgment was not enough. Christ suffered in hell...] which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price – that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man. [ [So after suffering in the body on the cross, Christ's soul suffered tortures of the condemned in hell.]
What do we make of this? Essentially, Calvin’s doctrine of penal substitution is the problem (something Catholicism rejects, by the way). If we understand atonement as “substitution,” we run into the error that Calvin has committed. Since sinners deserve both physical death and spiritual torment in hell we should also expect that Christ as our redeemer must also experience both physical death and hell. This logic only makes sense–except that it contradicts everything said in the New Testament about Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. The descent into hell was not punitive in anyway, but rather triumphant as described by the Apostles and illustrated in thousands of churches, both East and West (see picture below).
This descent into Hell as Christ’s victory corresponds to the teaching of our first Pope Saint Peter: Christ “proclaimed the Gospel even to the dead” (εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη, 1 Pet 4:6). Jesus wasn’t burning in the flames! He was dashing the gates of Hell, proclaiming His victory, and delivering the righteous of the Old Testament! That’s the holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith in all its beauty.
The “penal substitution” theory of the atonement is patently false. Christ died for us, but it wasn’t a simple swap. Christ uses the language of participation. We are to be “in Him” and we are to also carry the cross. Christ doesn’t take up the cross so that we don’t have to take up the cross. He repeatedly calls us to carry the cross. Our lives are to become “cruciform.” The New Testament constantly calls us to suffer in the likeness of Christ. Again, it’s not a clean exchange. It’s not: “Jesus suffers so that we don’t have to.” Rather we participate in His redemption. This is also the language of Saint Paul:
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Phil 1:29).
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church (Col 1:24).
I would challenge all Reformed readers to slowly flip through the epistles of Paul and note the occurance of “in Him” and “in Christ”. Better yet, use BibleWorks or another Bible program and run a search. You will quickly see that “in Him” and “in Christ” is the universal soteriological category for Saint Paul–not justification or regeneration.
According to Catholic Christianity, Christian salvation involves the vindication of Christ’s unjust death on the cross. God does not “hate” His Son. This is impossible. God does not “turn away” from His Son. Luther introduced this false tension and it has led to Calvin’s grievous heresy. Saint Paul speaks of “overcoming death” as the true victory of Christ – not His being the whipping boy of the Father.
I should stop there and open up the comments:
For those who may be interested in this topic.
How bizarre. I’ve never before heard of this belief.
WTS ought to be called Hyper-Calvinism Seminary. Where else is Dutch a required subject.
If Calvinism is about anything it is about the complete lack of participation on our part in our salvation. God does everything. We are merely passive observers on our predestined paths to Heaven or Hell.
I believe the idea is that since Jesus took all our sins on himself, he suffered all the punishment for those sins too - ie. eternal suffering times all the people who ever lived.
There is a certain logic to it if you squint really hard and turn your head in exactly the right way.
I don’t buy it myself.
Cheeck out the “Jesus Died Spiritually,” and Born Again Jesus” heresies. JDS and BAG are taught in many Word of Faith churches. They try to say that this is Biblically-based Orthodox doctrine, but it is far from it.
What many WOF churches (although not so openly today) teach is that Christ’s nature changed - a denial of the Nicene Creed. Jesus did not go and suffer in hell for three days to atone for man’s sin or for any other reason. The price was paid on the cross.
Jesus nature never changed, Satan did not become Jesus’ master, Jesus did not die spiritually, Jesus was not Begotten in hell and so on, despite what many WOF “preachers and “teachers’ say.
Just to clarify:
Christ’s “once-for-all” sacrifice is eternal. Maybe a wording which cause less confusion than “eternal” these days is “not temporal,” since “eternal” has come to mean “continuing forever,” which is different than the Church has used it in contexts such as these.
That said, it’s interesting if Calvin discarded the correct “eternal sacrifice” of the Mass, while preserving an incorrect notion of eternal sacrifice in Hell.
I think it is exactly backwards. Jesus didn’t take our sins. We take his perfection. As a love gift from God.
from the denomination that brings us Mary the co-redeemer..........pffffft
No wonder the West is full of atheists.
Since we are all by definition sinners does this comment then mean that no one deserves Heaven?
Foundation for my Church
Major confirmations of Him:
That is partly correct:
2 Corinthians 5:21
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Isaiah 53 prophesied Jesus’ mission as savior in great detail long before His time here on earth:
53Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering* and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces*
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
4Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
9They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb* with the rich,*
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.*
When you make his life an offering for sin,*
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
11 Out of his anguish he shall see light;*
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one,* my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
The Resurrection icon shows Our Lord pulling Adam and Eve up from the grave.
Christ is our rescuer, our hero, our King! He is not Calvin's imagined whipping boy.
What does Acts 2:31 say of Christ?
“Years ago while listening”...”I should stop there”
That is not what the Bible says:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (NASB) 2 Cor. 5:21
All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (NASB) Isaiah 53:6
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust . . . (NASB) 1 Peter 3:18
And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. (NASB) 1 John 3:5
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:6