Apostles Creed

Pope's (maybe) hell comment sparks firestorm, while NPR offers Easter spit-take (and more!)

Pope's (maybe) hell comment sparks firestorm, while NPR offers Easter spit-take (and more!)

First things first: Yes, your GetReligionistas received your messages and saw your many tweets about National Public Radio's amazing Easter correction. 

However, it's important to see the larger picture.

In terms of strange news and social-media -- Twitter in particular -- was this an amazing (Western) Holy Week  and Easter or what? Is the pope Catholic?

I'll deal with some of the tweets first, but it's important to know where we are going -- which is the larger story linked to what Pope Francis did or didn't say about hell, in his latest sit-down with his 93-year-old atheist friend, and journalist, Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica.

Hold that thought, because we have quite a distance to go before we get there. In my opinion, the most amazing part of that Holy Week story was the Vatican's sort-of denial that was issued to straighten out this latest Scalfari drama.

The now famous NPR correction was attached to a story about this Francis statement, under the headline: "Pope To World: Hell Does Exist." 

The Washington Post actually published an analysis piece about this correction, placing it in the context of decades of debate about media bias linked to religion. Here is the top of that piece:

An NPR report on Good Friday described Easter inaccurately and, in doing so, practically begged Christians to renew charges that the media is biased against them.
“Easter -- the day celebrating the idea that Jesus did not die and go to hell or purgatory or anywhere like that, but rather arose into heaven -- is on Sunday,” read an article on NPR’s website.
Easter, in fact, is the day when Christians celebrate their belief in the earthly resurrection of Jesus.

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Jesus and the 'spirits in prison' -- Is this toughest passage in the New Testament?

Jesus and the 'spirits in prison' -- Is this toughest passage in the New Testament?

JOEL’S QUESTION:

[Explanation:] The pastor of a New Jersey Protestant congregation sent in several “questions that have come up here.” One of them is how to understand the passage in the New Testament letter of 1st Peter about Jesus Christ preaching to “the spirits in prison.”

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The Bible’s major teachings are clear enough. But Joel and his parishioners shouldn’t be embarrassed if they’re confused about this particular New Testament head-scratcher. Even Martin Luther (who so energized Bible study 500 years ago by sparking the Protestant Reformation) said it’s “certainly a more obscure passage than any other in the New Testament. I still do now know for sure what the apostle means.” Robert Mounce, president of Whitworth University, agreed that this section is “widely recognized as perhaps the most difficult to understand in the New Testament.”

Here’s the text at issue: “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah . .  .” (1 Peter 3:18-20a, RSV translation).

The following analysis relies especially on commentaries by Mounce, an American, the German exegete Leonhard Goppelt, and England’s J.N.D. Kelly. Scholars candidly admit that each explanation has problems. Among them:

(1) Between his death by crucifixion and bodily resurrection, Christ visited the realm of the dead and preached to Noah’s wicked contemporaries. That was the view of early church “Fathers,” notably Clement of Alexandria.

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What in (pardon me) Hell is Salon talking about? Missing the story of Holy Saturday

What in (pardon me) Hell is Salon talking about? Missing the story of Holy Saturday

Permit me a few moments here to talk about liturgy and doctrine, a bit. In a moment I will link this to a rather bizarre Salon.com that someone called to my attention.

Since I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I spent several hours this morning at church taking parts in the rites of Holy Saturday. If you want to know what Holy Saturday is about, look at the icon at the top of this post. Tomorrow, of course, is Pascha (Easter) on the older Julian calendar.

This is the Orthodox icon that most people think of as the icon of Pascha (Easter) and the Resurrection of Christ. But look carefully. In this icon, Jesus is standing on gates that he has just broken, gates that are surrounded by bones and even a body in a shroud. Also, he is grasping the hands of a woman and a man -- it's Adam and Eve -- and pulling them out of their tombs.

What is happening here? Well, this image is actually of Christ breaking the gates of hell on Holy Saturday. The Resurrection is already a reality, but he has other work to do. It is perfectly normal to hear Orthodox priests preach on this point in Holy Week and, of course, on Holy Saturday.

In the ancient Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, which was used this morning, here is the relevant language in the consecration prayers:

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Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

LISA ASKS:

What do Christians say happened during [Jesus'] “descent into hell,” and do most denominations believe this happened?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This week, as every week, uncountable millions of Christians attending church will profess that Jesus Christ “was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead…”  So states the venerable Apostles’ Creed, which includes a cryptic “descent” phrase about the period between Good Friday and Eastern. Some modern rituals say Jesus “descended to the dead” instead of “hell.”

Unlike the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed moves directly from Jesus’ crucifixion and burial to his resurrection with no mention of a descent. Lisa’s full question pointed out this key difference between the two ancient creeds that have long dominated Christian worship services and catechisms.

The Apostles’ Creed is part of Catholicism’s baptism ritual and widely recited by Protestants. Though Eastern Orthodoxy uses only the Nicene Creed in worship it has affirmed Jesus’ descent since ancient times.

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Original sin and anteaters in the Daily News

Excitement is in the air in Gotham City this week following the introduction of a theology page in the Daily News. This is a welcome addition to the New York tabloid market, though I suspect the desire to inject high culture into the Daily News comes from the need for some gravitas to balance the reporting on the mayoral candidacy of Anthony Weiner — Oh the joy his election will bring to the scribes of New York!

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