Earliest church writings on the state of the dead.


As some of you know, I’m currently debating the state of the dead, and hell, with a brother from the Baptist Church I attend. He is a hell fire believing brother, and I’ve been trying to show with scripture the ‘truth’ that the dead are not conscious of anything, and that hell is the grave, not eternal conscious torment. I’ve linked him to various articles I’ve found on the web, but the big problem I’m having, and which is weakening my position greatly, is that I don’t seem to find any support on ‘legit’ sites, only ‘loner’ groups who many would consider as cults. It would seem that Judaism seems to support the orthodox Christian view that man has an immortal spirit that lives on after death and goes to either a place of comfort or a place of torment (per Jesus’ parable of the richman etc). I am in the camp of the ‘cults’ and haven’t much credibility: my opinion is not important if it’s not correct. I need early church writings and early Jewish writings that support the Bible verses that seem to teach that death really is death and that ‘hell’ really is the grave. Do these earliest writings exist? Is it really possible that most ‘Christians’ and most ‘Jews’ are wrong on this?

Having discussed this now for a few weeks and getting a good understanding of how this brother believes in consciousness after death, I can see why he believes this: many verses in the bible seem to teach this. I’ve always been struck by the account of Saul getting the witch of Endor to ‘call up’ Samuel. That seems to suggest he was still conscious. I’ve been picking through the transfiguration with a fine tooth comb and am convinced that this was not a vision in the sens that it was not really happening. They went up a literal mountain with Jesus. Jesus’ real appearance changed. Real men appeared with Jesus talking with Him. Peter spoke into the real situation that was happening. These two men were ‘alive’.

Any suggestions would be most appreciated. :smiley:


Like Catherine, I too, would be very interested in any suggestions on THIS topic!! I don’t know that I have an opinion and that’s all it would be is an opinion. This topic has intrigued me for years and I’ve never been able to come to any conclusion that seems appropriate or convincing one way or the other. I was brought up in the SDA church to believe that the “soul” sleeps until the resurection. However, I’ve changed my thinking in a lot of areas now that I have found and believe in UR. So I’m open to suggestions too. Thanks Catherine for revisiting this subject! :sunglasses:



as far as i know, the Jews did NOT believe in consciousness post mortem (apart, apparently, from the odd ghost not at rest or the ability to summon a dead person from their sleep like Samuel) until they spent time with the Zoroastrians in Persia.
both David and Solomon write quite strongly about the lack of consciousness in the grave.
Sheol is NOT hell, it is merely death.

this is in contrast to all their neighbouring nations, which is a crucial point. to reiterate: in total contrast to every other nation in their immediate vicinity, who had complex and varied concepts of afterlives, the Jews were very much concerned with the here and now, and believed that death was an end. this isn’t to say they didn’t believe in resurrection in a future time, but to them death was the end. the blessing and judgement of Yahweh was for this life.

the Jews were given many laws and concepts of reality that put them in direct contrast with their neighbours. this was to do with their role as a priest nation. they were to glorify God and lead the gentiles into worship of Him. they, being human, totally failed at this. but God had taught them already that death was an END and not a transition from place to place.

this to me is a big problem with the new testament, that (apparently) attempts to replace a pretty awful punishment for failing to meet God’s laws (death) with an EVEN WORSE one. of course, to realise that God had not at any time in Jewish history warned them about a place of eternal conscious torment means that we MUST be misinterpreting the new covenant. surely “hades” must be translated as a renewal of the concept of Sheol, the grave. our own English word “hell” comes from the Saxon “hel” meaning “to cover/hide” (root of helmet, for example). this is in keeping with the translation indicating a place of burial.

if the NT Christians brought with them the baggage of post-exile Israel in the form of Zoroastrian afterlife concepts, then it’s hardly Christ or the apostles’ fault. they didn’t overtly condemn that view (except, arguably, through the blatant satire of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which lampooned the idea that the rich man (Israel) would do better in the hereafter simply because they were well off spiritually. the poor man was a gentile, and thus it was a morality play indicating the adoption of the Gentiles. also, when Jesus finished it, He rather sarcastically instructed the teachers of the law that they should KNOW what happens as they think they know the writings of Moses and the Prophets.

hope that helps.


Catherine, The OT is pretty clear that the dead are not conscious – they are waiting. Post Babylon isn’t a subject I’ve studied, but that makes sense – that after spending 70+ years there, the influence of Babylonian beliefs would affect the Jews’ beliefs.

As for the NT, it’s a little more on the murky side. After Jesus’ crucifixion, we see an interesting interlude (I think it may be in Luke, but I never can remember) where the graves break open during the earthquake and many of the saints of old are seen passing through the city, presumably on their way to Father. The soul sleep crowd will tell you that this was only a vision or a temporary event meant to emphasize the crucifixion. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Also, Paul talks about how being absent from the body = being present with the Lord. It’s possible that this means sleeping in His protection – in His arms, so to speak. It seems more likely Paul anticipates some sort of conscious presence with God – to me, anyway. He sounds like He expects to experience the presence of God in a conscious state. On the other hand, Paul often speaks of the dead as “asleep.” Personally, I think this is a common euphemism just as we might say “passed away.” I have always seen it as that, even before I started thinking about the afterlife.

In Revelation, the martyrs under the altar are asking questions – when will we be avenged? “Wait a little longer – have a robe,” is the answer. Granted it’s all symbolism, though likely your pastor believes the parts he wants to take literally are literal. So, if you want to play by those rules, of what use is a robe to a sleeping spirit? That picture would even seem to suggest that the dead in Christ are supplied with some sort of interim body, or at least the semblance of a body.

There is also the cloud of witnesses. Many scholars think (and I think I agree with them) that this refers to these people’s lives and stories being a witness to us of faithfulness. However, it could also legitimately be taken (I’m told) as those who have gone before in the Lord watching us and perhaps cheering us on.

In addition is the passage (in one of Peter’s epistles, I think) about Jesus visiting the spirits in prison and preaching to them. Damnationalists will actually say that He went there to gloat at the antediluvians. How out of character is THAT? I felt angry reading that commentary (even before I started believing in UR), as though someone were disparaging my Lord! And I think they WERE. Incredible, that His own should accuse Him of such a thing. However, whether in kindness or cruelty, it does seem to me they’d have to be awake in some way for Him to communicate with them, even if only a dream of wakefulness. Maybe it was indeed His passion that woke them.

Plus, He did promise the penitent thief, “Today you will be with Me in paradise,” which the thief would presumably have interpreted as the good side of hades, steeped in Greek culture as Israel had been for such a long, long, long time. And if the saints were immediately released, one might even be forgiven for thinking Jesus’ first order of business was to demolish the gates of sheol/hell/hades/whatever.

Regarding the Lazarus parable, here’s my own version of an interpretation. I heard part of it from someone else, but I later learned that (ironically in my view) this was more or less Augustine’s interpretation of this parable. wp.me/p1bhiA-vI If you read it, let me know what you think, pro or con or in-between.



Hi Catherine,

From the Gospels, we know that the Pharisees (from whom comes modern Judaism) believed in a **future **resurrection of the dead. And, for the most part, we Christians believe the same thing.

There is a lot of scriptural evidence for death meaning the loss of everything that we are.

Gen 2:7 then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Ecc 12:7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

So, when God removes His spirit of life from our bodies, our souls simply cease to be. Our body goes back to the dust, the spirit returns to God from whence it came. And our soul is no more… until the resurrection.

Here’s a few other OT scriptures about the state of the dead…

*Psa 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give thee praise?

Psa 115:17 The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any that go down into silence.

Ecc 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

Ecc 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Isa 38:18 For Sheol cannot thank thee, death cannot praise thee; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for thy faithfulness.
I think it’s important to remember that the first lie Satan ever told was that God didn’t really mean it He told Adam that he would surely die after eating the forbidden fruit. But God did mean it, because God does not lie. Why is it that tradition and so much of the Church today persist in repeating Satan’s lie? I mean, think about it. It should give any Christian pause, I would think.

Lots of love to you,



Rather than adding my name to one side of the divide that separates christians virtually down the middle, I would add my name to that of Catherine and Bret and re-state that what has been asked for is any knowledge of early church writings on this topic. I, as the third person so far, would be very interested to hear of some.


All that matters is what you believe in the subject and that you are anchored with a well thought, researched and confident position on the matter. Everything else is futility.

Ecclesiastes 12:12-14
12 Remember [earnestly] also your Creator [that you are not your own, but His property now] in the days of your youth, before the evil days come or the years draw near when you will say [of physical pleasures], I have no enjoyment in them—(A)

2 Before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened [sight is impaired], and the clouds [of depression] return after the rain [of tears];

3 In the day when the keepers of the house [the hands and the arms] tremble, and the strong men [the feet and the knees] bow themselves, and the grinders [the molar teeth] cease because they are few, and those who look out of the windows [the eyes] are darkened;

4 When the doors [the lips] are shut in the streets and the sound of the grinding [of the teeth] is low, and one rises up at the voice of a bird and the crowing of a cock, and all the daughters of music [the voice and the ear] are brought low;

5 Also when [the old] are afraid of danger from that which is high, and fears are in the way, and the almond tree [their white hair] blooms, and the grasshopper [a little thing] is a burden, and desire and appetite fail, because man goes to his everlasting home and the mourners go about the streets or marketplaces.(B)

6 [Remember your Creator earnestly now] before the silver cord [of life] is snapped apart, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern [and the whole circulatory system of the blood ceases to function];

7 Then shall the dust [out of which God made man’s body] return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God Who gave it.

8 Vapor of vapors and futility of futilities, says the Preacher. All is futility (emptiness, falsity, vainglory, and transitoriness)!

9 And furthermore, because the Preacher was wise, he [Solomon] still taught the people knowledge; and he pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs.

10 The Preacher sought acceptable words, even to write down rightly words of truth or correct sentiment.

11 The words of the wise are like prodding goads, and firmly fixed [in the mind] like nails are the collected sayings which are given [as proceeding] from one Shepherd.©

12 But about going further [than the words given by one Shepherd], my son, be warned. Of making many books there is no end [so do not believe everything you read], and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

13 All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of his creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole [duty] for every man.

14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it is good or evil.


Guys, all your replies are great and I agree with the points you make when quoting from the Bible. :smiley: However…
I need more than the Bible to back these things up, as the bible is also used by the other position, to support life after death etc. The person I am debating with, is a mainstream ‘Orthodox’ Christian who holds to the majority or popular position of Christendom, that you are still ‘alive’ when you die (like the Richman and Lazarus and Samuel who was called up). It’s not enough in this case (it may well be for some people) to just cite all the scriptures that seem to support my position. I need sources (preferably ancient), that show that at the least there were varying positions amoungst the Jews regarding this subject and also early church writings that show that some of the earliest Christians held to the view that the dead are unconscious etc waiting to be resurrected. It doesn’t help that Judaism seems to support the ‘life after death’ view held by Christendom.

I’ve told my friend who I’m discussing this with, that I’ll take a break for now, while I look into the history and sources of these beliefs. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out… :wink: Any help will be most appreciated.


Hi Catherine,

After poking around a bit, it seems that there were advocates of immortal, mortal and “sleeping” souls in the early church, with the majority taking the Greek-Platonist view that the human soul lived on after the death of the body, at least so far as believers were concerned. But the complex issue evidently simmered for a long time. It wasn’t until 1334 when the RCC officially declared that believers see heaven immediately after death.

The debate intensified during the Reformation. Luther believed in something akin to “soul sleep” between death and the resurrection while Calvin utterly rejected such an idea. English “mortalists” included Wycliffe, Tyndale and Milton.

Found an interesting link to a recent book on English mortalists, called The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestly. amazon.com/Soul-Sleepers-Chr … 0227172604

There’s also this link to Christian mortalism on Wickipedia. Perhaps it might steer you to some original source material. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_mortalism

Interesting that Christadelphians and Seventh-Day Adventists are also staunch mortalists.




Hi, Catherine

It sounds like, from what Andy says, that Christians weren’t sure about this back in the day any more than we’re sure now. I’m very curious, though, as to why you want to persuade your friend of soul sleep? (That’s the angle – right? I haven’t missed it?) I’d like to know myself. It seems to me that scripture is pretty ambiguous on the subject, but I lean toward awareness. People who seem so sure of themselves one way or another, and insist that I must agree with them kind of bother me. I don’t know how a person can be as certain about this as some are.

Clearly you feel this is an important point – and maybe I’m missing something here. What is it about soul sleep/wakefulness that makes you feel we have a need to know? I’m not being sarcastic or critical, and I’m afraid perhaps I may come off that way (I’m trying not to). This is genuinely a neutral question. What about this feels important to you?

Thanks :slight_smile:

Love, Cindy


Interesting observation, Cindy. Maybe it’s something similar to the Trinity, which I confess I’ve never really been able to wrap my head around. I don’t discount that it could be entirely true, but, honestly, I don’t understand it in any truly coherent fashion. In fact, it confuses the heck out of me.

On this issue, I tend to believe that dead really must mean dead, partly because of the scriptures that seem to indicate it (I realize there are scriptures that do not, as well), but primarily because I can’t seem to make much sense of Jesus’s death and resurrection (and why it was supremely necessary for our salvation) if death is, essentially, just another mode of human existence. How would it then be our enemy? Why would we need Jesus to taste it on our behalf? Of what real value is resurrection if we aren’t really dead when we die? Juxtaposed with what Paul says in 1Corinthians 15 about the resurrection being absolutely central to our faith, I just can’t seem to find the idea of some sort of post-death existence (absent the resurrection) making much sense. Throw in the cryptic lie of Satan in the garden… that Adam and Eve would not “surely die”… and the idea of our souls being immortal gives me no small amount of pause. Am I certain? Not really. It’s possible that, like with the Trinity, maybe I’m just not able to see clearly what others seem to see and understand so readily.

Anyway, maybe all that is best for another thread at another time. Eh? :slight_smile:



P.S. As I was scouring around looking for material, it’s pretty interesting to me that apparently so many different views were bandied about for over 1,200 years before the RCC declared an official position, primarily over concerns about the efficacy of praying to saints.


Thanks so much Andy. That’s a start for sure. I’ll check out those links and see if they lead to what I’m looking for. :smiley:


Hi, Andy

There is a thread on this – something about soul sleep in the subject line, I think. I started to read it, but many of the posts were a bit too long and academic for me, and I soon became discouraged.

But as you say, it’s probably more of a topic for another thread. If you should choose to start one, I may join in if I have anything to say, and I’d like to read it in any case, so if you were to do that, it would be great if you’d make a note here where I’ll be sure to see it. :slight_smile:

Blessings, Cindy


Hi Cindy, let me explain the ‘problem’ I’m having :open_mouth: My friend is arguing that when we die we don’t really ‘die’ but we are alive in spirit form and are immortal. He believes that the Bible teaches this as per the examples I cited earlier. He has the majority of history it seems and Christendom supporting his position. The fact that you live on in spirit form after you die explains why (according to Orthodox Christianity and possibly Judaism) the unsaved are punished consciously FOREVER…now can you see why this is so important to get right? :wink: I suppose from a UR perspective living on after death in some form could be the case, because the ‘lost’ will not remain eternally lost (ie the Richman will not remain in torment forever) and so this would ‘take care’ of the inherent immortality issue. Or it may be possible that at the second resurrection the spirits of the lost are raised mortal again and then thrown into the lake of fire to go out of existence. I am an annihalationist and so the ‘soul sleep’ position seems to make all round sense of the whole bible but I could be wrong and hence I’m testing these things out to see why the majority of Jews and Christians believe in consciousness after death. If this is correct then it would surely lead to a more literal interpretation of the Richman and Lazarus parable?

All the points you raised earlier are good examples of how on the one hand the Bible seems to teach soul sleep, but then on the other it seems to suggest consciousness after death?? It’s great for the ‘blessed’ if we’re conscious after death and are being comforted, but what are the ‘unsaved’ experiencing (assuming the flames of the Richman are not literal)?

In a nutshell, consciousness after death is a worrying thing if you do not believe in UR and my main objective in debating this with my friend is to try to show him that God does not keep people alive forever for the sole purpose of them being in pain and suffering. That is what drives me to get to the bottom of this. If I was persuaded of UR I’d not be fussed if we ‘sleep’ or are conscious because I’d know that it would all be ok in the end. :smiley: Hope that explains why this topic is so important.


Andy, I agree with the above comments. :smiley: I too don’t understand the trinity or believe it really. If God is a trinity then great. If He isn’t then great. I too can’t make sense of Jesus’ death if we still live after we are dead? I made this point to my friend and his answer was that when we are ‘spirit’ and not in our resurrected bodies, we are not operating fully maybe. It’s not until we are resurrected into our new immortal bodies that we will really be alive in a way we couldn’t imagine now. Maybe. As I said to Cindy, all this confusion wouldn’t really be a problem if UR is true. Unfortunately, I’m only a hopeful URist so I tend to fret and fret… :wink:


Well, if you have to fret, it’s good that you can at least be hopeful while you’re doing it. :smiley:

P.S. I hope you can share your findings as you explore this issue further. I’m going to look for the thread Cindy mentioned and see if there’s some good explanations there.


Hi, Catherine – okay, I think I understand a little. It makes a great deal more sense (for people like your friend, I mean) to go with annihilation. Still, even for anni, I see punishment other than the grave. It begins at the LoF, though – not at physical death. The Lazarus parable is the ONLY place in the bible that seems to teach immediate punishment on death. And (Did I give you the link to my blog on that? I think maybe I did – getting old, I fear . . .) the Lazarus parable is highly problematic as the rich man is not said to have been sent to hell for rejecting Jesus, but because he had good things in this life. Likewise Lazarus is sent to paradise because he had bad things in this life. There’s not a hint that he believed in Jesus or prayed the sinner’s prayer or anything. This alone should give any good evangelical, reformed, arminian Christian great pause.

This parable used to bother me because everywhere else in the NT, we get the idea that the wicked are raised unto a resurrection of condemnation. Lazarus and Dives doesn’t fit the pattern, so I was glad to hear this alternative interpretation that made/makes so much sense to me. Because of this picture I’ve always had of judgment beginning, well, at the judgment, I didn’t understand why it’s important to you that they sleep.

And honestly, I’m not sure they don’t sleep, even if the righteous dead are aware. While we have reasons to see the righteous dead as conscious, Lazarus is the only possible hint that the sinners are alert and oriented, and that very dubious imo.

Personally, I hope they ARE aware and that Father begins dealing with them immediately (or perhaps He might deal with them in their minds alone – like in a dream state of some sort) I’d like that because I don’t want to have to wait too long to see them again. But He knows. Perhaps at the judgment many of them will have “credit for time served” granted them (meaning, in my world), that they’ve been ‘healed’ of their backsliding) and they can immediately rejoin us. That would be wonderful!

Anni makes more sense of scripture than ECT, for sure. It seems to me you can make a FAR more coherent argument for it. For most of my life I believed that the human soul/spirit was immortal. It was a shock, then, to discover that the bible NOWHERE teaches this (as you’ll be aware, being an annihilationist yourself). What’s more, the belief in the inherent immortality of the soul is a Platonic concept, and neither a Christian nor a Jewish one. It didn’t take long for it to infiltrate both Christianity and Judaism, but it didn’t come from either.

If you can dispense with the mistranslations and misapprehensions of “eternity,” it’s pretty easy, imo, to make a case for anni. But then there is the Father left hurting over His lost children for all eternity. And us too, for that matter. So much beauty gone out of His world. It’s worth looking further, I think, to see whether He is in fact powerful enough to hold on to His ENTIRE creation.

Or perhaps these dear ones are just the dross of the construction process – left-over bits of sheetrock; broken glass; concrete poured out into the sand, paper wrapping and roll-ends of housewrap. Maybe He never intended to keep them. Or maybe He loves them as scripture teaches . . . if this is the best He can do for them, it’s all we can expect, I suppose.

It makes no sense from a justice standpoint. In that case those who died a thousand years ago in their sins have already suffered a thousand years. Whatever may be said about eternity being eternity and how eternity plus 1000 years is still eternity, I know which guy got the worse deal there. And of course, if you believe some may suffer a thousand years and then be burned up, whereas the unsaved child who died the day before judgment will merely be burned up, I can see why this is a problem for you. It would be for me as well.

Yes, it certainly does, Catherine. Thanks for clearing that up for me. :slight_smile:

Love and blessings – and hope!



Hi Catherine,
Don’t think we’ve communicated before I’ve been bit of a bystander of late. Interested in following the discussion so far.
Haven’t really got any info re extra-biblical sources relating to soul sleep but just wanted to put a thought forward that settles the concerns for me to a degree (though probably not much of an argument for your friend).

Like Bob X3 and Bret Belko my background, before UR, was SDA and therefore that of believing in Annihilationism. Always had bit of a problem with the ghost of Samuel business and the passage in Peter re: Jesus preaching to spirits ‘in prison’, though.
However, in spite of this (and of course SDA’s have an answer for these) I have remained a believer in soul sleep.

To my point though.The way I’m seeing it now is that from our perspective (living in time) the dead are in their graves, there is no life immediately after death,as such, until the resurrection; so this state is one of unconscious ‘soul sleep.’
From the perspective of the dead person the next conscious moment after death is at the Resurrection. ( I still tend to think in terms of a future End-of-the-World type of Second Coming of Christ and the raising of the dead then).
Whether the time they’ve been in the grave is a year or ten thousand years in a sense for them this makes no difference. In fact, really they have passed out of time as we know it and there would be no break in consciousness.
A theoretical observer would observe a time period during which the subject is in the grave having passed out of existence from our time perspective, but for the subject the resurrection would be instantaneous. (Bit like time travel)
Passages that appear to teach one state or the other then, are really both correct. This might sound a bit bazaar but perhaps not so stupid - bit like dual quantum states.

When you analyse what the fuss is about I think it often has more to do with what people are trying to “tag” on to their beliefs.
Have enjoyed many of your thoughts on various subjects by the way Catherine.
Cheers S


Catherine, I know you want early Christian writings, say from the second century. But meanwhile, I thought you might be interested in my testimony concerning my personal search for the truth about death and resurrection. I gave this testimony in a church of which I was part for many years. That church believed in immediate consciousness after death, and so I had to be cautious in the manner in which I expressed my search. (By the way, I do include an interesting quote from second-century Justin Martyr who associated the idea of going to heaven when you die, as gnostic.)

Job 19:25-27 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God,whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

A Testimony Concerning My Understanding of the Resurrection

As a boy, I was taught that each of us is immortal, that is, the real person is the soul, which presently inhabits a mortal body and after that mortal body dies, the soul will live on and live eternally in either heaven or hell. When I began to read the Bible for myself later, I noticed a passage that contained a statement which didn’t seem consistent with this teaching:

I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no human being has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and permanent dominion. Truly. (I Tim 6:14-16)

Years later, I discovered that the Greek philosophers taught their disciples that each person has an immortal soul, the real person so to speak. Plato taught that though your body may die, your soul, the real you, will be born into another body, either that of a person, or if you haven’t lived a good life, into that of an animal. According to Plato, these reincarnations will continue forever. The gnostics during the first centuries of Christianity got many of their ideas from the Greek philosophers. However, they claimed to be Christians. But they thought that all matter, including human bodies, were the creation of a lesser god, Yahweh, the god of the Jews, who thought he was the supreme God, but was mistaken. They taught that the Father of Jesus was the real supreme God. He was the creator of all spirits, and things spiritual. So physical bodies are worthless, and will never be raised to life. Only the immortal spirit will live on, and go to Heaven or Hell at death. A few gnostics claimed to believe in the resurrection, but for them, that meant the soul going to heaven. Some of them said that the church at large was mistaken in teaching that first comes death and later resurrection. They the gnostics knew the truth, that first comes the resurrection, and then death. For the gnostic, that meant that first the soul leaves the body and is raised up to go to heaven, and this causes the body to die. Justin Martyr, who was himself a follower of Plato, after he became a Christian, accepted completely the Christian teaching of first death, and later the resurrection. Once he debated for days with a group of Jews headed by Trypho, showing that God had a Son, Jesus, and that the Old Testament spoke of Jesus throughout. But Justin wanted to make sure that the Jews didn’t get the true Christians confused with the gnostics. So he told them:

*“If you have fallen in with some who are called ‘Christians’, but … who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven, do not imagine that they are Christians.”(Dialogue With Trypho Chap. LXXX paragraph 2 *

I also read early Christian writings who defended the faith against gnosticism by saying that Jesus didn’t go to heaven at death. They said He had to spend 3 days and nights in the grave, before being raised and ascending to heaven. So surely we won’t ascend to heaven either until we are raised from death.

I realized that Genesis teaches that God formed man, a mere lifeless body from earth, and then breathed into this body the breath of life, and man became a living soul. It doesn’t teach that man received a soul, but he became a soul. The Hebrew word translated as “soul” is “nephesh”. This word means “being”. Indeed the RSV translates it, “man became a living being.”

I discovered that animals also are called living souls or living beings.
Ge 1:24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living soul [creature] after its kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind: and it was so.

Nu 19:11 He that touches the dead soul of any person shall be unclean seven days.

If “soul” means the immaterial consciousness of a person, I wondered how anyone can touch the dead soul of a person. Of course, nephesh is not translated as “soul” in this context. It is translated as “body”! Which meaning does it have “body” or “soul”? I thought, it can’t mean both. No. It means “being”. I realized that I am a nephesh. I am a being. I am not a canine being – a dog. I am not a feline being – a cat. I am not a bovine being – a bull. I am a human being – a man. You can touch my being or soul with your hand.

The spirit of gnosticism was present even in the days of Paul! He wrote to the Corinthians:

2 Tim 2:14, 16-18 Remind them of this, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers… Avoid such empty discussion, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will eat its way like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have deviated from the truth by saying that the resurrection has already come to pass. They are upsetting the faith of some.

I began to think that Hymenaeus and Philetus taught what the gnostics later taught! Perhaps this was a prototype of gnosticism. According to gnosticism, Jesus’ resurrection was not a resurrection of His body, but of His Spirit. Likewise, our spirits will be raised at death and go to heaven. And so the resurrection for each one who has died, according to Hymenaeus and Philetus, is past. It occurred when the person died.

Early in my search, I came across a couple of passages in the Psalms that seemed to indicate that there was no consciousness after death:

*Psalm 6:4,5 Turn, O Yahweh, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?

Psalm 146:3,4 Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his thoughts have perished.*

Do these statements from Psalms say what they seem to say? That now is the time to praise God, since after death we have no remembrance of God, for our thoughts have perished. We have no consciousness.

I examined the great resurrection chapter: I Corinthians 15: 16-20:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

It seems that Paul is saying that if the dead are not raised, then the dead in Christ have perished. They are dead and gone forever.

I also noticed the word “sleep” is frequently used in the New Testament for death. Our Lord Himself so used it. I wondered why this word would be used for death, if the dead are happily walking around in heaven fellowshipping with those who have gone before, or witnessing the events on earth, which is how some interpret the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12:1. They wouldn’t be sleeping would they?

Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to awake him out of sleep.”

The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he’ll be all right.”

Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead.” (John 11:11-14 )

So I wondered why Jesus would have used sleep as a figure of speech concerning death, if the dead are conscious.

If the resurrection is just a resurrection of the body, I wondered, what’s the point? Why not be content with worshipping God and visiting our loved ones in heaven as a disembodied spirit? I’ve heard some say, that we will need a body in heaven, since our soul is not complete unless it is attached to a body. Ah, but if the story of the rich man and Lazarus represents the intermediate state, (between death and resurrection), I thought, well… in that story, they did have bodies. Lazarus had a finger. The rich man asked him to dip his finger in water, and cool his tongue. The rich man had a tongue. They could see each other. So really, I asked myself, why do we need a bodily resurrection at all? Indeed I noticed that those who believe that they will go to heaven at death, attach little importance to their personal resurrection. Their hope seems to be in getting to heaven when they die. But I found that Paul emphasized the resurrection. For Paul, the resurrection was the great hope. Without it, we would be dead forever.

I Cor 15:32 …If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

Why would lack of resurrection make any difference if we go immediately to heaven of hell at death?

I Thess 4:13-18 But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Then Jesus declared:

John 6:40 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

Four times in John 6, Jesus declares that He will raise His disciples on the last day. Why didn’t Jesus say, “… and I will take him to heaven when he dies.”? What’s the importance of his being raised up? Not much importance, I thought, if it’s just a matter of attaching a body to the soul. But a great importance, if that is the only way a person is going to live again. Such were my thoughts.

And what about the story of the rich man and Lazarus? Isn’t that a clear description of life immediately after death? Well, I already mentioned that the Greeks and the gnostics believed that the soul is the consciousness, and survives death. I thought perhaps the Jews of the day picked up the idea from the Greeks, and altered it, by declaring that the soul does not reincarnate, but goes to the underworld — hades. I read the discourse of Flavius Josephus, the well-known Jewish historian,who described hades or “hell” just as Jesus described it in his parable, except Josephus gave much more detail. I found out that “hades” and the earlier use of the English word “hell” refers to a hidden place. Lovers used to seek a hell so as to be unseen and undisturbed. Did you ever hell potatoes? I discovered that this word was altered, so that now we speak of “hilling” potatoes, but it was originally “helling”. When you hell potatoes you cover them over, hide them from the sun. Did Jesus use a common idea of life after death as the basis for His parable? I began to think so. You will recall that he used the story to show to the Pharisees that even if it were possible for someone to come back from the dead, they would not believe.

Some say that Jesus wouldn’t do that. He would never use a false belief to illustrate a truth. Wouldn’t He? I remembered His encounter with the rich young man:

Matt 19:16 And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”
And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

*He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

The young man said to him, “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you would be complete, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

If you would enter life, keep the commandments. We all know that the answer to inheriting eternal life is not keeping the commandments. But that is what the young man believed. So I realized Jesus used the young man’s belief to bring him to the real way to eternal life — leave everything and follow Him. That is the only way.

I had been told of several more scriptures that teach that Christians go to heaven at death. Without looking at the context, they did seem to teach that. I was confused, and didn’t know what to believe about the intermediate state. Then when I examined the context of these Scriptures, I discovered some very interesting facts.

Mt 22:32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living."

If God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, then Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must be living, right? So it would seem until I looked at the context. Jesus was addressing the Jewish sect of the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection. He said:

Mt 22:31,32 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living."

So I realized that Jesus was simply saying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would not stay dead; they would be raised from the dead. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Then we have Jesus words to the thief on the cross:

And he said to him, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Well what could be clearer than that? Jesus told him that he would be with Him in Paradise on that very day, didn’t He? Then I found out that there were no punctuation marks in the early Greek manuscripts of the NT. It was all written in capital letters with no spaces between the words and no punctuation. We can read it a different way:

Truly, I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.

Someone told me once. He wouldn’t talk that way: “I tell you today”. But I considered that we have a modern version of this very thing. Nowadays we might say, “I’m telling you right now, you will be with me in paradise.”

Then there’s the commonly used statement: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”. If anything is going to settle it surely that will! Isn’t that the plain words of Scripture? I thought it was… until I looked it up. It’s actually a misquote. This is another one we need to read in context:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor 5:1-10)

I asked myself, what is this house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens? Is it not the resurrection body?

“For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed…” (Not that we would be unclothed, disembodied spirits, but clothed with the resurrection body. That’s the way I saw it.) “… so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” This is similar to what Paul wrote in the great resurrection chapter — I Cor 15. In that chapter he wrote: “This mortal must put on immortality.”

*So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be absent from the body and present with the Lord. *

So it seemed to me, in view of the context, that Paul is saying that we would rather be absent from this present, mortal body, and present with the Lord in the immortal body that we shall have after the resurrection, when this mortal puts on immortality.

So whether we are present or absent, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.

This last sentence really clinched it for me. Paul is not starting a new topic. That word “for” at the beginning of the sentence relates it to all that has gone before. I realized that nowhere does the scripture indicate that we appear before the judgment seat of Christ when we die and go to heaven. Rather it is when Christ comes, and we are raised from the dead. So I realized that this whole passage must be a discussion of the resurrection.

2Co 4:14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

As I understand it, Paul was saying that we will be brought into the presence of the risen Jesus at the time that God will raise us from the dead.

In closing, I just want to say, even if this were a matter of fact only, it is worth pursuing. I have been on a personal search for truth and reality for most of my life. But it’s not merely a matter of fact. It’s not merely a matter of who has the right belief. This is a matter of looking for that great hope which has been set before us, the hope of the Lord’s coming, the hope of resurrection, and the hope of righteousness, of completion, of sonship, all to take place in one glorious moment, when the Lord comes, raises us, and brings to completion the good work which He began in us. For me, it is my great hope! I firmly believe, that, after I die, unless the Lord raises me, I’ll remain dead. So I have to trust Him fully to raise me, even as Jesus Himself trusted His Father fully, when He said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

I want to end with the same Scripture as that with which I began:

Job 19:25-27 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God,whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

But … whichever way it will be … whether we go directly to heaven at death, or await the resurrection, our personal experience will be the same. For immediately after death, the next thing of which we will be aware, is being in the presence of God.


That was a great post, Paidion! I’m so glad to hear your point of view – it was clear and well said. Thanks!