Around Easter 2017, I read an article and got into a discussion about where Jesus’s soul went during the time that his body was in the grave. This discussion centered on the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed which states that “he descended to the dead” (more commonly rendered, “he descended into hell”). This led me on a journey which involved studying the Bible, reading Justin Bass’s The Battle for the Keys (which I blogged about here), reading numerous journal articles, writing a TGC review of Matthew Emerson’s book He Descended to the Dead, and teaching/preaching on the subject in my local church (here and here).
In short, this subject has consumed a good bit of my attention for the last three or four years. So I was both surprised and encouraged when I was told of a new book coming from my own neck of the theological woods, the Confessional Reformed Baptist world. The author is Sam Renihan, one of the best young Reformed Baptist theologians writing today, and the book is Crux, Mors, Inferi: A Primer and Reader on the Descent of Christ. The title is Latin for “the cross, death, and lower world,” and is taken from a statement by church father Hilary of Poitier, who said “The Virgin, birth, and body, then the cross, death, and lower world, this is our salvation” (18).
Renihan summarizes the book like this on his website:
“Where was Christ’s soul between his death and resurrection? As its title suggests, Crux, Mors, Inferi (Cross, Death, Underworld) addresses that question. The first half of the book is a primer, comprised of five chapters presenting an exegetical argument for the descent of Christ to Sheol. The second half dedicates four chapters to historical theology, investigating the place of the descent in the Protestant tradition, especially the major influences and branches of the Reformed churches. The majority of this second half is a reader of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources relating to the descent. These sources represent a variety of views in dialogue with one another, including Lutherans, Reformed, the Church of England, and even Particular Baptists.
Two appendices and a Scripture Index complete the contents of the book, totaling 230 pages.
Part 2 of the book is tough sledding, and will likely appeal only to a select few. But in Part 1, Renihan has provided Christian readers with a brief and readable introduction to the biblical foundations for the Creed’s descent clause. It should the starting point for anyone wanting to get their head around the question of where our Lord went when he died.