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:
What is even more bizarre is a Catholic trying to expound on Calvin, or Scripture...You guys claim you can turn wine into blood and you call Calvin bizarre???
Interesting. I usually skip these threads. Now I know why. :)
I have no idea what you are talking about.
Whenever scripture contradicts myth (tradition), throw the scripture in the trash can...
Answering half my sentence is the same as a lie. One more thing for Jesus to forgive.
No question not everything Calvin said was infallible. He just did such a great job dismantling that bodacious monstrosity of demonic Catholic error, that one has to give him a big “Thank you for exposing the cult of Rome”.
When the RCC (or whatever this disfunctional prison wishes itself to be called now), gets that lumber pile of logs out of its cyclopic eye, then give us a call about the subtleties of Christ’s proptiatory work.
Our Presbyterian PCA pastor put it this way, Christ endured Hell on the Cross, baring all the sins on His Body on the cross for the sake of folks like you and me.
To say that he didn't is to say that Christ did not pay the price for our sins.
at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death
How easy is it for Taylor to misconstrue these words. At close quarters where? He assumes in Hell. We say it is on the Cross
explain yourself, please....
Are those two different places? Jesus cried out that God had forsaken Him; for the Son of God that would be pure torture, Hell on Earth, so to speak. Protestantism generally holds that Hell is a spiritual place; why not on the Cross?
how many otherlinks you want?
“Since we are all by definition sinners does this comment then mean that no one deserves Heaven?”
Yup. No one deserves Heaven.
Being neither Calvinist nor Catholic, I usually read and enjoy these posts without comment, but have to say that I’ve heard several Calvinist preachers reject this doctrine. My own take is that Jesus declared his victory over death and the wages of sin.
I’ll run on, and mind my own business now.
My understanding of Jesus crying out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” is that any Jew watching this crucifixion would have known he was quoting Psalm 22. The words should be taken in the context of that Psalm to understand it fully.
1 My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
2 O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest.
3 Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
4 In You our fathers trusted; They trusted and You delivered them.
5 To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
6 But I am a worm and not a man, A reproach of men and despised by the people.
7 All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,
8 “Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
9 Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.
10 Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.
11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near; For there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
13 They open wide their mouth at me, As a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And my tongue cleaves to my jaws; And You lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me;
18 They divide my garments among them, And for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, My only life from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth; From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.
22 I will tell of Your name to my brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise Him; All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.
24 For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.
25 From You comes my praise in the great assembly; I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.
26 The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD Let your heart live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD’S And He rules over the nations.
29 All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep his soul alive.
30 Posterity will serve Him; It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation.
31 They will come and will declare His righteousness To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
An interesting question. However, if you understand that Christ bore the sins of the Elect only His body on the cross, then you understand why they are still on the others. The Lord Jesus Christ told the Pharisees "Unless you believe that I am He - You will die in your sins". Thus for the non-elect their sins follow them into that most awful place. But for the Elect, their stripes were borne on the cross by their Savior.
The idea that Christ paid for every-ones sins is currently the liberal loophole to allow all forms of adultery and perversion into the church. The understanding that the Christ died for the sins of the whole world makes sense when you see that it is the Elect of the whole world otherwise Christ's words to the Pharisees makes no sense - for how would their sins jump off the cross and back onto them? No- their sins never left them but followed for eternity.
Well, wait a minute.
I s’pose it depends on how one defines “hell”. I am averse to thinking of a cave-ridden dwelling face full of sulphur and flames. I believe the biblical idea of hell is truly defined as separation from God. Isn’t that what happened on the cross, evidenced by Christ’s cry of the Psalter “Why have you forsaken me?”
If indeed Christ was, for that time, forsaken by His Father, then how can one argue he wasn’t in hell?
no can do.
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