Marcellus of Ancyra wins in the Apostle’s Creed

If you remember, from a long time ago… I have a deep admiration for Marcellus of Ancrya. He was a fighter for Western Christology, something later corrupted, as everything usually is, by the East. Plus, he believed in a type of universal reconciliation, but then again, in those days, who didn’t, right? In his defense of the proper terminology in defining the relationship between the Father and the Son, and oddly enough, he insisted only on Scriptural terminology.

Anyway… as I was praying with the Apostle’s Creed this morning, I prayed the United Methodist version, but honestly, it was missing Marcellus’ key phrase which is preserved in the Roman Missal:

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen

Sure, Marcellus is really the cause of the East-West split, and yes, he is eternally trashed in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, but in the Apostle’s Creed, for many, many Christians, Marcellus wins…

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

15 thoughts on “Marcellus of Ancyra wins in the Apostle’s Creed

      1. Yes. More literal English translations transliterate Sheol and Hades, which are, of course, synonymous terms for the place of all the dead. Gehenna, which is not synonymous with Sheol, is usually rendered as hell.

        Are you saying Marcellus had Jesus descending into Gehenna and thus the translation to hell? Or are you saying he had Jesus descending into Sheol (or Hades) and it was mistranslated as hell?

          1. Because the Septuagint is a translation, and at times, a reauthoring of the original. A translation is not word of word and neither can be. The fact is, is that the Hebrews didn’t have a concept of an after life until nearing the time of Christ. To then confuse Sheol with Hades implies that the Hebrews thought something that they didn’t. We see a developing view of the after life, and remember, the Sadduccees still didn’t believe in the after life, at the time of Jesus, with books like Tobit and 1st-2nd Maccabees.

          2. None of that changes the fact that there is a one-to-one correspondence between the Hebrew Bible’s usage of Sheol and the Septuagint’s usage of Hades. Nor does it change the fact that usage of the term in over 60 occurrences was consistent throughout the Torah, Nevi’im, and Kethuvim – depicting not much more than a shadowy place of sleep for all who died (which gave the Pharisees enough to hope but not so much that the Sadducees couldn’t demur.) The Greeks, of course, had their own ideas about death, but what the two concepts had in common was that all the dead went to an underworld. It was to this place that the dead descended – never to Gehenna (hell). Therefore, you’d have to say “he descended into Sheol (Hades)” if you were a person who “insisted only on Scriptural terminology.”

          3. Mike,

            Once again, you show your ineptness at Scriptural theology. You do realize that the Greeks didn’t invent Hell, right? Further, that when translating a text, you use the word which you think is the closest. So… there are going to be errors in the translation. The same thing happens with English translations. Words are going to always match up, especially when you are talking about concepts and then, cross-cultural concepts, such as Sheol which is the grave, and nothing more. Hades, from the Greek mythology, is a place of the dead, in which they roam and the such. When you use concept words, such as this, you don’t always get everything accurate. Such as virgin (Gr) and young woman (Hebrew).

            The Pharisees were influenced by Persian thought on the after life and then read back into their texts, the idea of a resurrection. The Sadducees didn’t just demur with the Pharisees because they read things differently, but because they limited their canon, usually, to the Torah, whereas the Pharisees had lots of other books, including Daniel which shows Persian, duh, influence. Then, you have the Maccabees, and so on and so on.

            Gehenna is Rabbinical and thus we see this in the New Testament along with another word for what is considered Hell. Three words are found in the New Testament, which, unfortunately, are all translated as hell. But, back to the point that Hades was used in translating Sheol. No doubt, because this was during the time of the development of the Jewish belief in the after life. Hades, then, like Logos, Sophia and other Greek terms which carried with it Greek philosophical or paganistic concepts are used because they are the closest approximation and not always meant to have the ‘literal meaning’ which we will, without a second thought, assign to it.

            So, since there are three words in the New Testament which indicate a place to which Christ would have descended too, then saying that Christ descended into Hell is fine. Further, the concept is wholly Scriptural, what with 1 Peter 3 and 4 and all.

  1. Joel, very good post. If memory serves, though, the harrowing of hell was not in the earliest versions of the Apostles’ Creed. I would like to see us include it. Yet John Wesley intentionally omitted it.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Watson. No, I do not believe it was. Wesley also admitted certains segments of the Articles of Religion, etc…

      It is interesting, though, that immediately after Wesley’s death, several universalists of that era claimed him as one of their own.

      But yet, I think the harrowing of hell needs to be included – and really fleshed out for us today.

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