I’m doing a little class about the cross at my church, and this week we’re looking at the Christus Victor model of atonement. It presents Christ’s death on the cross primarily as a victory over evil. In ancient times, it was usually tied to the ransom theory of atonement (Jesus was given over to Satan/evil as a payment in exchange for humanity), so you can find these great old stories about Jesus going to Hell and wrecking everything to save the saints.
The book we are using for the study (The Sign and the Sacrifice by Rowan Williams) mentioned one such account from the fourth-century apocryphal book The Acts of Pilate (aka the Gospel of Nicodemus). Naturally, I wanted to read it firsthand! Unfortunately, there’s no accessible copy online. The best I could find was the version in The Apocryphal New Testament by Montague Rhodes James, published in 1924, which translates everything into Shakespearean English. There’s thee’s and thou’s and all those other old words that make reading infinitely harder. I went ahead and paraphrased the translation there so it was actually readable and I thought I’d share it. This is not a translation! It’s my attempt to make the James translation readable for a modern audience. Feel free to check out the original here (at the bottom of p. 117). I started paraphrasing at Christ’s descent into Hell (about halfway through The Acts of Pilate), and I stopped just shy of the real end of the text (I ended with Jesus leaving Hell, but all of the saints give praise and hallelujahs for a few more paragraphs). This is based on the Latin A manuscript.
If you don’t know anything about apocryphal books or atonement theories, you might be asking, “Why on Earth would I want to read that” Well, it’s basically a fourth-century fanfiction about Jesus going to Hell after his death on the cross. He fights Hell (yes, Hell is a being in this one) and Satan, and he busts Adam and his friends out and takes them to Heaven. It may not be Scripture, but it’s really cool and well worth your time.
To make sure this isn’t the longest blog post ever, here’s a link: