A Christian Perspective

A site to muse on Christian Spirituality, Church History, and other things of interest to me.

More on Jesus' time in the grave

Posted by James Bennett (jimb) on 7/24/06
I was hoping to get more feedback before switching topics, but oh well. This is primarily for me to capture my thoughts about Aphrahat's writings. Kind of a notebook to organize those things I found unusual or worth pursuing in my studies. So, in that vein, I will try to post every couple of days rather than wait for exploring some of the topics.

We, each and every one of us, interpret scripture, and anything else we read, everytime that we approach it. We don't know the exact mindset or social and cultural biases of the author and so we must make educated guesses based upon what we know. Often times this interpretation is expounded upon and called a commentary, a sermon, or given some other name based upon what our purpose is for the interpretation and expounded text.

Approaching nearer to what I want to write about in my thesis, Aphrahat also interprets and expounds upon scripture. One place that particularly interests me is in Demonstration XXII, On death and the end times, when he is discussing that those who are "honest, good, and just" do not fear death, but rather look forward to it and the judgement of "Adam's Children." Aphrahat then provides an interpretation of scripture and a proof that death rules over man, even a sinless man (this is key for his interpretation later), from Romans 5:12-14:

As the apostle said, "death ruled from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin. In this way it came upon all the children of Adam, just as it had come upon Adam [himself].


Like translators and commentators today, Aphrahat felt that this passage was not a straightforward obvious interpretation, and attempts an explanation. First he states that Death did not end because the Apostle said "In this way it [death] came upon all the children of Adam". He reiterates that Death however, though coming to all people, reigned no longer after Moses. As a proof of this point Aphrahat provides a statement derived from Deuteronomy 33:6, "Reuben will live and not die, and will become numerous," that Moses declared the Ressurection and from Exodus 3:6, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob," that God reigned over the dead. Aphrahat then provides examples of the failure of Death to reign over Enoch and Elijah and further statements from Hannah, Moses, and Isaiah (1 Samuel 2:6, Deuteronomy 32:39, and Isaiah 26:19). Yet, though Death, and Aphrahat personifies Death, knows that he will no longer reign, Death still prevails over all the descendants of Adam until the coming of the Death Slayer: Jesus Christ. It is at this point that Aphrahat begins to deviate from the Biblical text as his source of information. While all that he spoke of before this can be attributed to interpretation to understand a difficult passage in the book of Romans, Aphrahat continues with a very detailed description of Jesus' descent to the Realm of Death or Sheol

So, what about his interpretive methodology? In general, Aphrahat departs from the context that many commentators would set for the passage from Romans and only extracts that portion of scripture that he needed for his purposes. As such, he is not concerned with how or why death is present or what sins were transgressed or what it means theologically. Aphrahat is only concerned with his future argument: that Jesus Christ conquered Death. He will actually do some fancy footwork, which we will examine later, where he justifies the fact that people still die with the assumption that it is the spiritual death which is no more.

Well, this is enough to read, think upon, and comment on for now. I'll continue with the storming of Sheol by Christ in the next entry.