The Harrowing of Hell, Petites Heures, 14th-century illuminated manuscript commissioned by John, Duke of Berry.
So what did Jesus do between Good Friday and Easter? One old tradition is the Harrowing of Hell where Jesus descended to Hell and liberated the captives there. Christ’s descent into the world of the dead is referred to in the Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult), which state that he “descended into the underworld” (descendit ad inferos), although neither mention that he liberated the dead. The Harrowing of Hell interpretation is popular, but it is mostly inferential guesswork that has little scriptural basis. Here’s some wisdom from Wikipedia:
- Although the Harrowing of Hell is taught by the Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed, and Orthodox traditions, a number of Christians reject the doctrine of the “harrowing of hell”, claiming that “there is scant scriptural evidence for [it], and that Jesus’s own words contradict it”. John Piper, for example, says “there is no textual [i.e. Biblical] basis for believing that Christ descended into hell”, and, therefore, Piper does not recite the “he descended into hell” phrase when saying the Apostles’ Creed. Wayne Grudem also skips the phrase when reciting the Creed; he says that the “single argument in … favor [of the “harrowing of hell” clause in the Creed] seems to be that it has been around so long. …But an old mistake is still a mistake.” In his book Raised with Christ, Pentecostal Adrian Warnock agrees with Grudem, commenting, “Despite some translations of an ancient creed [i.e. the Apostles’ Creed], which suggest that Jesus … ‘descended into hell’, there is no biblical evidence to suggest that he actually did so.” Augustine, in his 99th epistle, confesses that this text is replete with difficulties. This he declares is clear, beyond all doubt, that Jesus Christ descended in soul after his death into the regions below, and concludes with these words: Quis ergo nisi infidelis negaverit fuisse apud inferos Christum? In this prison souls would not be detained unless they were indebted to divine justice, nor would salvation be preached to them unless they were in a state that was capable of receiving salvation.
Do check out my post on Easter, which I just updated: Happy Easter: My Favorite Easter Joke