Descendit ad inferos and the dawn of Christianity
Q: In the prayer the Apostles' Creed. Why does it say after Jesus was crucified, died and was buried that: "He Descended Into Hell'? Some believe that hell is a place where a person will go when he or she sins against God, so why do we say in The Apostles Creed that he descended into hell until the third day and rose again? I know you are not of the Christian faith but I love and read your column on Sundays and I think you can find out, or maybe know the answer for me. -- J from Miller Place, N.Y.
A: OK. So you realize that this is a bit of a stretch for me, but I will do my best to provide you with a rabbi-approved explanation of Christian theology.
The Apostles' Creed is one of the earliest attempts to list the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. Such a list is called a creed, and creeds were important for Christianity in a way they never were in Judaism. This is because the traditional definition a Jew is a person born of a Jewish mother. Blood -- not belief -- defined the religion out of which Christianity emerged. However, when the early church abandoned Jewish law and shaped itself into a proselytizing faith, people needed to know what they were signing on for when they became Christians. Creeds provided the answer. If you believed the 12 beliefs listed in the Apostles' Creed you were Christian, and this creed, which was formalized by the end of the fourth century, was used at baptisms and in prayer services to formalize and fix Christian belief.
Now on to your very interesting question, dear J ...
This is how the Apostles' Creed begins,
"I believe in God, the Father almighty,
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creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,