The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Intermediate State of the Dead

On another thread (, Michael wrote:

Paul is quoting the prophet Isaiah: “And in that day the Lord GOD of hosts called for weeping and for mourning, for baldness and for girding with sackcloth. But instead, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating meat and drinking wine: ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (Isaiah 22:12-13) Paul’s argument is that if there is no resurrection of the dead (i.e., no making alive of all who die in Adam), then, just like the doomed inhabitants of Jerusalem before the Assyrian siege, we should focus all of our remaining time and energy on enjoying as much as possible the good things of life now, for at death it will all come to an end. But because of the resurrection, this life is not all we have.

On the contrary, I think Paul’s words here and elsewhere have direct bearing on this issue. It was because of his hope in the resurrection of the dead that Paul was willing to put his life in jeopardy on a regular basis (vv. 30-32). But if we go to heaven to enjoy God’s presence when we die without a resurrection being necessary, then Paul’s argument in these verses loses its force. Why not put oneself in “danger every hour” if, at death, one goes to heaven, as many Christians believe? But Paul’s argument is that if “the dead do not rise at all” it would be utter foolishness to hazard life in the cause of Christianity, as he and the other apostles did “every hour.” When Paul asks rhetorically, “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?” most Christians could reply, “At death you would be ushered into God’s presence in heaven, Paul!” But Paul’s rhetorical question indicates that he expected no “gain” or “advantage” if there was no resurrection of the dead. For Paul, it was the fact of the resurrection of the dead that made such an otherwise foolish way of life not really foolish at all, since the resurrection means that this life is not all we have.

As you acknowledge, the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. This means it is a non-historical, fictional story that conveys a deeper truth. Now, Christ told this parable without the slightest suggestion that he believed people were actually conscious in Sheol/Hades (as you’re probably aware, Hades is employed in the NT as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol). The fact that Christ made use of a certain Jewish belief (a belief which likely originated during the intertestamental period of Israel’s history and was a part of the Pharisee’s oral tradition in Christ’s day) for the purpose of a satirical parable directed against the Pharisees is no evidence that Christ sanctioned as true the unbiblical beliefs on which the parable was based. And your argument that Christ told this parable “without the slightest suggestion that belief in an intermediate state is false” proves too much. Do you think Christ believed that, after death, the “immortal souls” of the righteous are actually carried by angels to “Abraham’s bosom” (which, in the parable, is quite literally at Abraham’s side) to be comforted, while the “immortal souls” of the wicked are in fiery torment? Or that “disembodied souls” have eyes, bosoms, fingertips and tongues (and apparently nerves if they can experience the kind of physical anguish that the rich man thought a drop of water would alleviate)? Or that there is literally a “great chasm” in Hades which was put in place by God to keep people’s souls from traveling back and forth? Or that, in spite of the “great chasm” that is said to be between them, the souls of good and wicked men are close enough to see and converse with each other for as long as the intermediate state lasts? Do you think the righteous souls in “Abraham’s bosom” must, for the entirety of their stay in this place, hear the cries of the tormented wicked without being able to do anything to ease their pain? If so, Hades must be a pretty hellish place for those more godly and tender-hearted souls who cannot help but feel compassion for those undergoing such torments, while being unable to do anything to alleviate their suffering. And in the words of one Universalist author, “the rich man in hell felt a merciful interest in the welfare of others that found not a response or an equal in heaven.”

Do you think Christ really believed any of this? If you believe that there is but one detail of this parable that is not true about the intermediate state of the dead, then your argument (i.e., that because Christ did not “dispute the premise” that the dead are conscious in Hades during the intermediate state, it must therefore mean he believed this) is seriously undermined. For Christ did not dispute anything he mentioned in the parable. But this does not mean he believed any part of the parable’s content to be based on fact. There is no reason to think that Christ believed one word of the parable to reflect the truth about the actual state of the dead. And if the Pharisees to whom he spoke continued to believe that the dead are conscious in Sheol/Hades, then we have no reason to think Christ would have attempted to correct their mistaken view. It simply wasn’t Christ’s mission to personally and directly correct the superstitions and erroneous beliefs to which the Jewish people held in the 1st century. It’s also unlikely that the disciples would have understood Christ to have been putting his “stamp of approval” on the Pharisaic opinions on which the parable was based, especially once they realized it was a parable directed against the very persons who believed and taught such things. By formulating a parable out of their own beliefs about the intermediate state, Christ more forcefully rebuked his unbelieving opponents. It is as if Christ said to the Pharisees, “Since you believe the dead are conscious in Hades (contrary to what is said in your own inspired Scriptures), then allow me to introduce the testimony of your beloved patriarch, Abraham, to condemn you according to your own false beliefs.” And that is just what he does when he has Abraham declare to the rich man, “If they [the rich man’s brothers] do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (And of course, when the real Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus later during his ministry, that’s exactly what happened). Jesus wasn’t telling this fictional story to teach the Pharisees doctrine or sanction their unscriptural beliefs. By framing a parable based on the Pharisees’ own beliefs regarding the intermediate state of the dead, Jesus condemned not only their covetousness and self-righteousness, but their unwillingness to “hear Moses and the Prophets” - for in “Moses and the Prophets” the conscious existence of the dead is not taught or revealed. (For more on my understanding of this parable, see here:

Now, if the dead are conscious, then I believe this would have to be revealed to us by God, for our own observation indicates otherwise. Apart from a divine revelation, we have no good reason to think that when a person dies they are still conscious and aware. Rather, we have every reason to think that the exact opposite is the case. That is, the appearance is that, when a person dies, they (i.e., the living and conscious person) are, in a very real sense, “no more” (Gen. 42:13, 36; Ps. 39:13; Lam 5:7; Matt. 2:18). And unless it is taught in Scripture that, appearances notwithstanding, those who die are still conscious, then all we have is our own vain speculation (along with some unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence). And when we are coming to Scripture to find out what it has to say about this subject, I see no good reason to assume that death is not really what it seems to be (i.e., the termination of a person’s living, conscious existence). That man possesses an “immortal soul” (or what have you) that survives the death of the body in a disembodied state of existence would require a revelation from God. Without such a thing being revealed to us we could have no certain knowledge of it, and I submit that no one can point to any place in Scripture where this doctrine first appears, or is first revealed to mankind. One would expect that such a widely-held view among Christians would appear prominently in the pages of Scripture, and that the doctrine would be introduced to us early in the divine record in no uncertain or ambiguous terms. But this is not the case at all. With the exception of the account of Lazarus and the rich man (which is a parable from start to finish), the Bible is wholly silent with regards to the idea of the dead being conscious. And while I admit that I could be wrong about what happens after we die, I believe that if I am in error it’s not because I should have simply taken for granted a view that seems so contrary and counter-intuitive to what my own experience, observation and God-given senses indicates. I think the burden of proof should be on those who hold that death is not what it appears to be (i.e., the end of one’s conscious existence as a human being) but instead introduces us into more “life” (or at least a conscious existence that seems pretty indistinguishable from a living state of existence) To use the words of Solomon, there is nothing “under the sun” which suggests that this is at all the case.

First, I don’t think the question is whether or not there is an “intermediate state” between death and resurrection. Rather, the question should be, “Are we conscious during this state or not?” And while I would dispute your assertion that the “only scriptural evidence” for there being no consciousness during the intermediate state is from the Psalms and Ecclesiastes, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that this is correct. Well then what do the Psalms and Ecclesiastes teach about the nature of man and death? From these sources alone we may conclude the following: When man dies he begins to return to the dust of the earth from which he was made (Ps 90:3; 104:29; 146:4; Eccl 3:18-21; 12:7). Death frees men from their oppressors (Eccl 4:1-3). Those who are dead are “no more” (Ps 39:13). While the living know that they will die, the dead know nothing (Eccl 9:5). Their love and their hate and their envy have perished (v. 6). “Sheol” is where the dead reside (Ps 6:5; 16:10; 30:3; 31:17; 49:15; 88:3; 89:48; 116:3; 139:8; Eccl 9:10), which is called man’s “olam (age-abiding) home” (Eccl 12:5). There is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol (Eccl 9:10). Sheol is sometimes referred to as “the pit” (Ps 30:3, 9; 55:23; 88:4, 6; 103:4). Man’s nephash (“soul”) goes to Sheol (Ps. 16:10; 30:3; 49:15; 86:13; 89:48). Sheol is described as a place of corruption (Ps 16:10) and destruction (Ps 40:2; 55:23) where one’s form is “consumed” (Ps 49:14). Those who are in Sheol are said to be “dust” (Ps 30:3, 9). Sheol is represented as being a place of silence (Ps. 3:17; 6:6; 30:10; 88:13; 94:17; 115:17) and darkness (Ps 88:12). God’s steadfast love and faithfulness is not declared in Sheol, and his wonders and righteousness are not made known there (Ps 30:9; 88:10-12). Those who reside in Sheol have no remembrance of God (Ps. 6:5; 88:12) and do not praise him (Ps 6:5; 30:9; 88:10-12; 115:17).

Now, you suggest that some of the verses from the Psalms which some see as evidence that the dead aren’t conscious may simply be teaching nothing more than that the dead are unable to “praise God among the living.” But where is it taught in the Psalms or anywhere else in Scripture that the dead are able to praise God among the dead? That is, where is it taught that the dead are able to praise God in any way whatsoever? That the Psalmist didn’t think the dead had any capacity to praise God is clear from Ps 6:5: “For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” Here it is evident that the reason why those in Sheol do not praise God is because in death there is no remembrance of God. How could those in Sheol (the dead) praise a being of which they have no remembrance? And in Ps 30:9 it is implied that the dead do not praise God because they have returned to dust - and of course, dust can’t do anything. In Ps 88:10-12 it is implied that the dead do not praise God because they are in “Abaddon” (a place of destruction) and “the land of forgetfulness.” And in Ps 115:17 it is implied that the dead do not praise God because they are silent.

You also suggest that the statements made in Ecclesiastes which may be seen as evidence that the dead aren’t conscious are simply “the logical conclusions Solomon drew from what he could see under the sun.” But where is the Scriptural evidence that the logical conclusions Solomon drew regarding the state of the dead was inaccurate or incomplete? That is, where is the Scriptural evidence that Solomon’s observations do not present the “full truth” concerning the state of the dead? Let’s start with the rest of the OT. I believe the general tenor of the OT is entirely consistent with both the Psalms as well as Solomon’s observations regarding the dead, and that the rest of the inspired authors - from Moses to Malachi - take for granted rather than attempt to disprove or shed further light on what the Psalms and Solomon have to say about the state in which the dead are in. A perusal of the OT would leave one with the impression that Solomon’s understanding of the state of the dead was the “orthodox” view among the Hebrews during much of Israel’s history.

Again, Solomon believed that “the dead know nothing” (Eccl 9:5) and that “there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol” (v. 10). But is this understanding of the state of the dead in unison with what is taught in “the Law and the Prophets” to which Christ referred during his ministry? Well, when Abraham breathed his last, where does Moses say he (Abraham) went? In Genesis 15:15, God tells Abraham, “You shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age” (Gen 15:15). Here, Abraham’s “going to his fathers in peace” is equivalent to him being “buried in a good old age.” And in Genesis 25:8, we read, “Then Abraham breathed his last, and died in a good old age - an old man full of years. And he was gathered to his people.” But what kind of people were his ancestors? In Joshua 24:2, we learn that they were idol-worshipping pagans. The expression “and he was gathered to his people” is explained by Jacob in a later chapter: “Then he [Jacob] commanded them and said to them, ‘I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite…There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife’” (Genesis 49:29, 31). This is in perfect harmony with what Solomon states. When Abraham breathed his last and died, where was he? Answer: he was buried in a cave, and thus joined his ancestors who had died and been buried before him.

Again, when Moses breathed his last, where was he? It is answered in Deut. 31:16: “Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers.” We see the same thing said of David (1 Kings 1:21 and 2:10; cf. Acts 13:36), of Solomon (1 Kings 11:43; 2 Chron. 9:31), of Asa (1 Kings 15:24; 2 Chron. 16:13), of Jehosaphat (1 Kings 22:50; 2 Chron. 21:1), of Azariah (2 Kings 15:7), of Jotham (2 Kings 15:38; 2 Chron. 27:9); of Abijah (2 Chron. 14:1), of Uzziah (2 Chron. 26:23), of Hezekiah (2 Chron. 32:33), of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14: 31; 2 Chron. 12: 16) and of Josiah (2 Kings 22:20). All went to the same “place” (i.e., Sheol) where they are represented as being asleep with their ancestors. The same thing is said of the unrighteous as well. It is said of Jeroboam “that he slept with his fathers” (1 Kings 14:20; 2 Kings 14:29), of Abijam (1 Kings 15:8), of Baasha (1 Kings 16:6), of Omri (1 Kings 16:28), of Ahab (1 Kings 22:40), of Joram (2 Kings 8:24), of Jehu (2 Kings 10:35), of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:9), of Joash (2 Kings 13:13), of Jehoash (2 Kings 1 4:1 6), of Menahem (2 Kings 15:22), of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:20), of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:18; 2 Chron. 33:20) and of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:6). Of course, the dead are not literally “sleeping”; this is figurative language. The dead are said to “sleep” and to “fall asleep” because those who die look as if they’re falling asleep, and those who are dead look as if they’re sleeping. But one major difference between a sleeping person and a dead person is that, in the former, there is still brain activity. In the latter, however, all brain activity has ceased.

It is clear from all these texts that all people – whether pious or profane, believer or pagan, righteous or unrighteous - are said “to sleep with their fathers.” Jacob - a believing, righteous man - desired to “lie with his fathers” (Gen. 47:30), and his death is called being “gathered to his people” (49:29, 33). And speaking of the wicked it is said, “He shall go to the generation of his fathers” (Ps. 49:19). This is said not only of single individuals, but of whole generations (Judges 2:10). When persons are said to go to their fathers at death (Gen. 15:15) and to go down to their children who were dead (Gen. 37:35; cf. 42:38; 44:29, 31), nothing more is meant than that they joined them in the grave, where all alike return to the dust of the earth (Gen 3:19; 18:27). As David’s death was quickly approaching, he told his son Solomon that he (David) was about to “go the way of all the earth” (1 Kings 2:2; cf. Josh 23:14). That is, after his death David knew he would return to the dust. And of course, David’s fate after death would later be contrasted with that of the Messiah’s, who it was prophesied would not see corruption after death: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps 16:10; cf. Acts 2:24-31). Here, the Messiah’s “soul” (i.e., the Messiah himself) not being abandoned to Sheol is equivalent to him not seeing “corruption” (which refers to God’s preventing Jesus’ body from undergoing decomposition in the tomb by raising him from the dead after 3 days).

Notice also that in the above verses, the person who died is identified with the body that is buried. And we see this identification throughout Scripture. It seems as if the inspired writers understood that a person is constituted by his body, and not by some other “part” of him that can leave the body at death. According to Scripture, when a man’s “spirit” (i.e., his life) “departs” from him and returns to God, it is the man himself who is said to “return to the earth” (Job 10:9; Psalm 90:3; 104:29; 146:4). But it is the man’s body that “returns to the earth,” not his spirit/life (which is said to “return to God”). Therefore, a human person is constituted by his body, and not by his spirit. Consider the following example: When Jesus died, his spirit/life returned to God, its source (Luke 23:46), and his body was buried in a grave (Matt 27:59-60). After his death, Jesus was always said to be wherever his body was, not where his spirit or life went (Matt 12:40; Acts 2:39, 13:29; 1 Cor 15:3-5). Therefore, it follows that Christ was and is constituted as a human person by his body, and not by his spirit/life. The same is said of other people as well, such as David. In Acts 2:29 we read, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” Similarly, Paul states in Acts 13:36, “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption.” Here we see that the person, David, is identified with what had been buried and ultimately “saw corruption” - not some disembodied “part” of David that is conscious somewhere in the universe or in heaven.

Continuing on with our brief survey of the OT teaching on the state of the dead, in Job 3:11-19 we read:

Job’s language above seems strikingly similar to what we read in both the Psalms and Ecclesiastes. Like both David and Solomon, Job speaks of the dead just as we would speak of people in a graveyard. And just like David, Job describes those in Sheol as “dust”: “If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed in darkness, if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’ where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?” (Job 17:13-16) It is evident that Job is using typical Hebrew parallelism: to go down to “the bars of Sheol” and to “descend into the dust” is the same thing. Job also refers to the sleep of the dead as being “in the dust” (Job 7:21). And like in the Psalms, Sheol is also referred to as a place of destruction (Job 6:8) and as “the pit” (Job 17:14; 33:28) - probably an allusion to the burial places among the Hebrews, which were deep pits or caves. Sheol is also described by Job as “the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness” (Job 10:20-22; cf. Job 3:16; 17:13; Ps. 88:12).

In Job 14:10 the following question is asked: “Man breathes his last, and where is he?” There can be no doubt that Job’s question is spoken of all people without exception; thus, to answer this question is to know what happens to all at death. Fortunately, we do not have to search far for an answer to Job’s question, for he answers it himself in vv. 11-15:

It is evident that Job believed the dead resided in the same place that Solomon believed all mortals were destined: Sheol. But what is Sheol? While several derivations for the Hebrew word she’ohl’ have been offered by Biblical scholars, it was probably derived from the Hebrew verb sha’al’ meaning “to ask, request” – a reference to the insatiability of the grave, which is always asking or craving more (Hab 2:5). And when we consider how the word is consistently used in Scripture, it becomes evident that Sheol should not be understood as an otherworldly realm of ghosts and disembodied spirits. Rather, when used in a literal sense in the OT, the word simply denotes the grave in general - i.e., wherever the dead reside (and inevitably return to dust unless this process is interrupted), whether it’s in a keber (a burial place or a graveyard - Gen 23:7-9; Jer 8:1; 26:23) or elsewhere (Gen. 37:35; Isa 14:9, 11, 15, 19). But because burial (whether in caves or elsewhere) was the typical way in which the Hebrews disposed of their dead, Sheol is spoken of as being beneath the surface of the earth (Ps 63:9; 86:13; Prov 15:24; Isa. 7:11; 57:9; Ezek. 26:20; 31:14; 32:18; Prov 15:24). And like the caves and other burial places used by the ancient Hebrews, Sheol is said to have a mouth or place of entrance: “As when one plows and breaks up the earth, so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol” (Ps 141:7) - i.e., at the mouth of the grave. “Therefore Sheol [the grave] has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down, her revelers and he who exults in her” (Isa 5:14). Since it refers to the grave, Sheol was thus described as marking the point of greatest possible distance that persons could be from the heavens (Job 11:8; Amos 9:2; Ps. 139:8) - hence the expressions “depths of Sheol” (Deut. 32:22; Ps. 86:13; Prov 9:18) and “depths of the pit” (Ps. 88:6; Lam. 3:55; Ezek. 26:20, 32:24), which denotes the lowest places of burial. Moreover, the contents of Sheol are such as can belong only to the grave. We read of gray hairs (Gen 42:38; 44:29, 31), gray heads (1 Kings 2:6, 9), bones (Ps 141:7; Ezekiel 32:27), sheep (Ps 49:15), goods (Num 16:32-33), and swords and other weapons of war (Ezekiel 32:27). Worms and maggots are also spoken of as if present in Sheol (Job 17:13-14; 24:19-20; Isaiah 14:11). And notice that Korah and his company were said to go down to Sheol “alive,” which would make no sense if Sheol denoted the abode of disembodied spirits in the “netherworld.” But when Sheol is understood to mean “the grave,” what we’re told in Numbers 16:32-33 makes perfect sense. Korah and his company simply went down alive to the place where their corpses would reside and ultimately return to dust.

Echoing the words of the Psalmist, the prophet Isaiah refers to the grave as “the pit of destruction” and adds, “For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day” (Isa 38:17-19). Here, Isaiah contrasts the dead (who do not thank, praise, or hope in God) with the living. But why don’t the dead do any of these things? Answer: because they’re dead - and as anyone who has seen a corpse could tell you, the dead don’t do anything except “rest in peace.” But what about Isaiah 14:9-10, where the dead are said to greet and speak to the slain king of Babylon?

This is obviously figurative language. Just as the earth and trees are represented as singing, talking and rejoicing at the downfall of the king of Babylon, so the grave itself is personified and described as being “stirred up” to greet its newest inhabitant, and as rousing its slumbering inhabitants to do the same. The imaginary scene being described is that of dead corpses - not “disembodied spirits” - being awakened from their “sleep” in the grave (hence the reference to “maggots” being laid as a “bed” beneath the king, and “worms” being his “covers”). The entire seen is imaginary and poetic, not literal. Just as trees do not literally speak, neither do dead people. The same goes for Ezekiel 32:21, where certain “mighty chiefs” are figuratively represented as saying to slain Egyptians “out of the midst of Sheol” (i.e., out of the midst of the grave): “They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.” Of course the slain Egyptians “lie still” in Sheol - they’re corpses. As in Isaiah 14, figurative, poetic language is being employed; the dead cannot literally speak to each other. The dead know nothing, and there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol.

But what about the story of Saul and the medium of En-dor (1 Sam 28:1-25)? Well if Samuel actually appeared to the medium and spoke to Saul, then it simply means he wasn’t dead at that time. In other words, if Samuel really made an appearance then it means God temporarily raised him from the dead for the purpose of rebuking Israel’s wayward king. To this it may be objected that the narrative suggests that only the medium could see Samuel. But this is no objection to Samuel’s having been raised bodily from the dead, because mediums at this time used large holes in the ground from which they pretended to summon the ghosts of the dead during their séances (the word for this ritualistic hole in the ground used by ancient mediums is an “ob”). According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, “In its earliest appearances (Sumerian), ob refers to a pit out of which a departed spirit may be summoned. Later Assyrian texts use this word to denote simply a pit in the ground. Akkadian texts describe a deity that is the personification of the pit, to whom a particular exorcism ritual was addressed. Biblical Hebrew attests this word 16 times.” Similarly, the Journal of Biblical Literature has this to say on the word ob: “Initially, the term may have hinted of a “hole” from which dead spirits ascended from the spirit-world to earth’s environment to communicate with the living, with the word eventually being used for the spirits themselves.” (Hoffner, 385-401). Thus, if Samuel was indeed bodily present as a result of being temporarily resurrected by God, there’s no reason to think he would have been visible to Saul (at least, not initially). But I have some doubts as to whether Samuel was actually present at all; it’s possible that the medium was simply deceiving Saul, and that the inspired author is describing Saul’s visit to the medium from Saul’s own perspective. … -fake.html

But the only “clear promise of life after death” in all of Scripture is the promise of the resurrection. Neither in the OT nor in the NT is there any other “promise of life after death.”

Where in Ecclesiastes do you see it taught that man’s actions are not brought into judgment by God in this life, and that post-mortem punishments are required to “balance” things out?

If one already presupposes that one’s consciousness is not dependent on the brain and continues to exist after a person dies, then I can see how Paul’s words here could be understood as evidence for this. But I don’t think Paul believed this, and I don’t think this is a correct interpretation of what he says here. First, it is evident that Paul is talking about a vision of the “third heaven,” where God dwells (the first and second heavens are likely the heavens which are visible during the day and during the night, respectively). Now, by “in the body” I think we both agree that Paul meant “bodily.” That is, for Paul to have been caught up to paradise “in the body” would mean that Paul was physically caught up to paradise in a similar way as Philip was transported to another location by God’s spirit (Acts 8:39-40). But what did Paul mean by the expression ektos tou sōmatos (“outside of the body”)? Is there a sense in which Paul could speak of himself as having been “outside of his body” when caught up to paradise without meaning that some “part” of him (e.g., an “immortal soul”) actually left his body? I think so. If Paul’s being caught up to the third heaven was a vision similar to those visions described in Acts (e.g., Acts 9:10-12; 10:3, 9-19; 11:5; 16:9; 18:9; cf. 12:9), then Paul could be said to have been “outside of his body” at the time since, from Paul’s perspective, he (with “he” meaning the man, Paul, and not some disembodied “part” of Paul) was caught up to heaven while his body remained on earth. That is, if in a vision Paul experienced himself as leaving this earth and travelling beyond both the first heaven and the second heaven to the “third heaven” while his body “stayed behind” and did not actually go anywhere, then he could speak of himself as having been “outside of his body” (or “apart from his body”) during the experience. Understood in this way, the expression “in the body” would have implied that Paul’s visit to paradise was an objective experience, and the expression “outside of the body” would have implied that it was a subjective experience. That is, by the expression “outside the body” I believe Paul simply meant “in a vision.”

Consider Ezekiel’s account of his own visionary experience:

Here Ezekiel describes a vision he had while sitting in his house with the elders of Judah sitting before him. What Ezekiel experienced was that of being “lifted up between heaven and earth” by the Spirit, and then being shown various things. Was Ezekiel in some sense “outside of his body” when he was “lifted up between heaven and earth?” Yes, he was. From his perspective Ezekiel left his house and the earth itself. While in his mind Ezekiel experienced himself being “lifted up between earth and heaven,” his body didn’t go anywhere; it stayed in his house. So Ezekiel could have referred to himself as having been “outside of his body” during this time, since in the vision he experienced himself being somewhere other than where his body was (which remained seated in his house before the elders of Judah). But unlike Ezekiel, Paul evidently wasn’t sure if what he experienced was a vision or not - hence his uncertainty of whether he was “in the body” (as Philip was when he was physically caught up from the earth) or “outside of the body” (as Ezekiel was during his vision). Moreover, if (as you suggest) Paul had actually been stoned to death (although we’re not told he was actually dead - Acts 14:19), then it is certain that he did not receive any visions at this time, since the “dead know nothing” (Ecc. 9:5).

Because if there’s no resurrection, “than Christ is not raised, we are found false winesses of God, and ye are yet in your sins.”

Or they’d be nothing but shades of their former selves, in Sheol (or Hades); if the dead rise not (and Christ wasn’t raised, and they were yet in their sins.)

In your view, only a figurative sense.

There’s no consciousness apart from the body, and whatever Ezekiel saw was inside his own head (right?)

I attended a church that believed “the dead are dead” until the resurrection for almost ten years, and never would a minister, deacon, or evanelist (giving a sermon, a sermonet, or writting in the church magazine) have said anything that might imply that it was possible to be conscious outside the body, and if you’re honest, you’d have to admit that you wouldn’t use this imagery either (and certainly not here, where you find the subject important enough to write such a lengthy post.)

Given your view (which I take it you assume to be Paul’s view), Paul’s statement about not knowing if he was in the body makes no sense.

If Paul were bodily taken to heaven, he was in the body.

If Paul simply had a vision (like Ezekiel) he was still in the body.

But Paul is clearly saying that he doesn’t know if he was in the body (which clearly recognizes the possibility of actually being outside, not just having visions in his head.)

He and Peter also spoke of their bodies as tents (another figure that was carefully avoided in the church I once attended.)

Was this because they were unaware of what this might imply to their readers?

Was the Platonic concept of the soul unknown in the Grecco/Roman world?

When Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, why did He have to let them “touch and handle” Him before they would believe they hadn’t seen a ghost?

And if this issue is important enough to dispute in such a lengthy post, why would Jesus use the image of a conscious intermediate state (and remember, the five brothers were still living) in a parable (without a word to suggest that the whole idea of an intermediate state was some pagan myth)?

You conceed that a conscious intermediate state was a common idea (even among Jews) at the time of Christ.

If it was a misconception, Christ did nothing to correct it.

You say it is “unbiblical,” but all Christ said about Lazarus and the Rich Man was recorded by Luke, and became part of the Bible.

I it’s a parable with an entirely mythoogical setting, isthe only such arable Christ told, and instad f correcting a popuarmisconception, He actually went out of His way to re-\inforce it.

In fact, if conscious existence beween death and resurrection is a misconception, His Father went out of His way to reinforce it on the mount of transfiguraton.

Peter, James, and John not only saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus, but they heard the three of them talking about what was going on then (when Moses was clearly dead and buried.)

Leaving that aside:

If there’s no conscious existence apart from the body, why would Jesus, Paul, and Peter not avoid giving the impression that there was as carefully as those who hold your view do today?

As to your other points, the Torah did emphasize this life, and the religion of Israel was communally oriented.

When the Psalmist asks to be delivered from death, he often speaks of testifying of God to the generation to come, of praising God in the congregation, of offering sacrifice, and teaching sinners His ways.

Passages that speak of the dead not being able to praise God can be taken in this context.

The dead make poor witnesses, because the living can’t hear their testimony.

At least not generally, or lawfully (under the Law of Moses.)

Actually those were Hezekiah’s words

His prayer of thnksgiving (and they can be uderstood in the same way as the Psalmist’s.)

The evidece for soul sleep is actually very weak when you look at it.

As to your comments regarding Sheol, have you studied what the semites (all of them, Israel and her neighbors) believed regarding Sheol?

Even if you believe that a demonic spirit impersonated Samuel (which goes against a literal interpretation of scripture, because scripture says “Samuel said unto Saul”), Saul certainly believed that the spirit of Samuel was alive somewhere when he went to the witch of Endore to try and communicate with him.

This alone proves that the Hebrews did not conceive of Sheol as a mere metaphore for a state of non-existence (and if you look at what the Semites did believe regarding Sheol in the extra-biblical sources available, you’ll find it was very similar to what the Greeks believed regarding Hades.)

Finally, the book of Eclesiastes is a philosophical book, and the author isn’t offering any new revelation.

He’s going by what is revealed in the Torah (with it’s emphasis on this life), and what can be “seen under the sun.”

He does say that wisdom and virtue don’t always seem to receive their just reward in this life (as you’d know, if you ever read the book for more than proof-texting), and he concludes by saying that God “will bring all things into judgment” (which would at least seem to imply a future settling of accounts), but he doesn’t really claim to know what happens at death.

If he did, he would not say:

Who knows…? (Eccl. 3:21.)

That’s all I have time for now, but if I missed anything I’ll try to get back to you later.

Good food for thought, once again Aaron. I love reading your posts. Just marking this as I pass through to remind myself to finish it later. :ugeek:

Hi Michael:

That seems a rather astonishing thing to say when Aaron HAS just “looked” at it – and in rather convincing depth!! – and finds the evidence FAR from “weak”. Perhaps to make YOUR case, you might be just as thorough?

But I’m very interested in your personal “story” as you talk about this church in which you spent 10 years as an annihilationist and believer in “soul sleep”. Those are of course SDA talking points/code words right? You may have mentioned this before in your contributions here (getting very hard to keep track of all the nuances and details of everyones histories and theologies!! my apologies :frowning: )
At any rate, that too is the denomination of my upbringing and where I yet reside and worship.
And I too have found that no pastor I’ve ever heard has publicly tackled some of the “difficult” passages except to take swipes at them for the purpose of sustaining what he already believes. Not good technique to my mind.

So while I very much appreciate your amazing contribution to this topic Aaron – that post is fabulous and very detailed; thanks for the work! – I’m wondering how you might include the passage in Phil 2:10 where EVERY knee bows, of those who are in heaven, on earth and under the earth. Under the earth can only mean the dead - right? And to bow is clearly a conscious volitional act right?

Then of course we have Peter talking about (1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6) Jesus going to hell to preach as well as the gospel being preached to the dead.

So, what to do with those two (for example) passages Aaron??

Also, more generally, I find there are often so many seemingly contradictory statements is the bible that perhaps (PERHAPS – I’m just pondering the idea) the point of study is not to come up with irrefutable evidence of how things actually positively precisely ARE, but rather are simply a record of how Godly men struggle with the very same questions on which we struggle even now. And they too had opinions and had what they believed were good reasons for those opinions.

For example,

  1. Godly and honest and intelligent men read these very passages and come up with very different conclusions which are mutually exclusive. (ie you can’t be both conscious AND unconscious at death)
  2. We’ve talked at length here about how of Talbott’s three premises (God will all to be saved, God’s will is accomplished, Some will be lost forever) only two can be logically true

As one writer I like puts it, maybe the bible is not to be read as a “code book” but as a “guidebook”. Maybe the guys writing this book, equally inspired, yet honestly differing in how they put things all together?

What do you think??

And thanks Aaron and Michael for all your contributions here!!!


Oh sorry; an edit and a PS here.
I printed out your original response Michael; you obviously came later and gave it an edit adding several things.

It doesn’t matter, but the comment that “the evidece for soul sleep is actually very weak when you look at it” wasn’t part of my original post.

I ended the original post by saying I’d try to post more later (and added that coment after I did.)

What does matter is that I covered most of Aaron’s evidence, and you added some very good questions of your own (for which I thank you.)

Can you imagine a leader in your church publicly speaking (or writing) of his physical body as a tent he was about to put off, or speaking of his desire to be absent from the body and present with the Lord?

Have you ever known these figures of speech to be used by believers in soul sleep when they weren’t quoting the Apostles, and trying to “explain” what they said?

Can you imagine them teaching some moral truth by telling a story about people who were conscious after death (while others were alive on earth), without making the point that that’s not what actually happens when we die?

How does the OP relate to Luke 23:43 (NIV) ‘Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”?’

Or did I miss discussion of that verse?

Up until the resurrection and ascension of Christ, I believe paradise was a part of sheol-hades.

So on the day Christ died He descended to hades, and the good theif was beside Him in paradise.

He preached to the spirits who were disobedient in the days of Noah, led captivity captive, ascended on high, and gave gifts to men.

Hi Michael:

This is rather disconcerting to me for in fact I copied exactly from your original post. I had no idea then that you would later edit your reply. So yes it WAS part of your “original post”.
Though it seems you now disown those words which is fine with me!!! Seems perhaps we agree no one should want to “own” those words…

Not sure where you’re coming from here but we know there was no punctuation in the original right?

Consider this classic punctuating illustration:

Woman, without her man, is nothing…
Woman, without her, man is nothing…

VERY different meanings right??

So, just as different might be the punctuation:
“I tell you the truth today, you WILL be with me in paradise!”

Minor point perhaps!


That’s not the way that I see it at all. An experience of the afterlife definitely doesn’t replace a bodily resurrection. There would likely still be a sense of great loss; after all, we were intended to inherit the earth for God’s glory. We have an innate sense of need to be connected to earthly life. Thus there still definitely would be a need for us to come back.

What about Paul’s repeated declarations that to die is Christ or to be in the presence of the Lord?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely sure that the afterlife is a fully complete existence. Perhaps it’s nothing more than being conscious of your spirit in the otherworldly realm. “For we sit together in heavenly places.”

Ancient Greek had no punctuation, but Greek word forms clarified all of that. I checked over a dozen translations of that verse at while none of them suggest your possible interpretation.

Hi Michael,

I wrote:

You replied:

Yes, that would be true as well. And if “Christ is not raised” then he’s still dead. But what would this entail? Well, I believe human persons are constituted by their physical bodies, and Christ (being a human person) is no exception. So if Christ is not raised, it would mean all that remains of Christ is dust, and perhaps some bones. If Christ is not raised, then that part of him which enabled him to think and reason and remember and have a first-person perspective (i.e., his brain) no longer exists in a functioning and organized form. If Christ is not raised, then he can’t save us or do anything at all. But thank God that “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The expression “the dead” (from which Christ was raised) is here equivalent in meaning to the expression “those who have fallen asleep” (of whom Christ is the “firstfruits”). It is “the dead” who are figuratively represented as “sleeping” because dead persons (prior to decomposition) look like they’re sleeping- which means the expression “the dead” refers to what we can see and observe, and not some ethereal part of us that continues to exist in a disembodied, conscious state. Moreover, our resurrection depends on Christ’s, and Paul’s statements in vv. 29-32 imply that if the dead are not raised then not only would Christ not be raised but Paul and the other apostles would be left without any reason to live the way they did. After this life ended they would simply remain dead for all time. And that means they would remain unconscious and inactive for all time, because that part of us that enables us to think and reason and remember and do everything that humans are able to do would have ceased to exist in an organized, functional state.

If by “shades of their former selves” you mean all that remains of once-living persons (i.e., lifeless bodies or perhaps dust), then yes, I agree. If the dead rise not, then this is all that will ever remain of anyone after death. But I don’t think that’s what you mean by “shades of their former selves.” I think what you have in mind is similar to what most people would refer to as “ghosts” or disembodied spirits. But where does Paul teach that those who die become ghosts, or that those who are are dead are ghosts? I don’t see this anywhere in 1 Corinthians 15 or in the entire Bible (although some have mistakenly understood the word “Rephaim” to have this meaning). The dead are not said to be “shades of their formers selves” (in the sense of “ghosts”), although they are said to be “asleep.” And why are the dead said to be “asleep?” Answer: because those who are dying look like they’re falling asleep, and those who are dead look like they’re sleeping. And this means that when Paul spoke of the “dead” (i.e., in a literal sense) he had in mind people’s lifeless bodies (or what remained of people’s lifeless bodies) - not “shades” or “ghosts.” Or do you think the “sleep” metaphor refers to the “shades” that you think people become after death? If so, when we’re told in Scripture that a person “falls asleep” at death, does this metaphor mean they turn into a “shade”? Is that what happened to Stephen when he breathed his last (Acts 7:60)? And when Jesus declared that a certain child he was about to resurrect was “not dead but sleeping” did he mean, “She’s a shade of her former self”? If this metaphor refers to what you think people become after death (i.e., ghosts), why is “sleep” an appropriate metaphor for this state of existence? Do the “shades” of people’s former selves look like they’re sleeping? Are they in a non-wakeful state of existence?

Moreover, Sheol/Hades is simply the grave; it’s not some otherworldly hangout for ghosts. Sheol/Hades is the place or state where dead people reside and eventually return to the dust from which man was created. Those in Sheol don’t know or do anything because they’re dead.

Right. Paul was speaking figuratively to refer to a visionary experience, and I believe Ezekiel could have said the same thing had he been so inclined (e.g., if he wanted to contrast his experience with, say, Elijah’s).

Well first, I’ve never had the kind of experience that Ezekiel had (and which Paul may or may not have had). But if I did, and believed that those to whom I spoke would understand the expression “outside of the body” as a figurative way of speaking about a vision experience, then I wouldn’t hesitate to speak in such a way. On the other hand, if I anticipated being misunderstood by those to whom I spoke to mean that my consciousness had literally left my body for a period of time, then I wouldn’t use such an expression. Evidently, Paul didn’t anticipate the believers to whom he wrote misunderstanding the expression to mean something that he, as a Jew whose understanding of man’s nature and of death should have been shaped by the inspired Hebrew Scriptures (as opposed to pagan philosophy), wouldn’t have believed. That is, I believe Paul expected his readers to understand him (or seek to understand him) in a way that was consistent with what a Jew ought to have believed.

Paul’s statement makes good sense if the expression “outside of the body” is understood as a non-literal way of referring to what a person having a vision of leaving the earth and going to heaven would have experienced. It’s true that, if Paul’s being caught up to paradise was a vision given to him by God, this experience was “in his head.” But from his perspective he experienced himself leaving the earth and travelling somewhere that his body did not go, just like Ezekiel experienced himself leaving the earth and travelling somewhere that his body did not go. It is this idea that I believe Paul intended the expression “outside of the body” to convey to his readers. So I have to disagree with your assertion that what Paul says in this passage “clearly recognizes the possibility of actually being outside” of one’s body.

You mean kind of like how the most often used metaphor appearing in Scripture for death (i.e., sleep) is “carefully avoided” by believers in a conscious intermediate state? :wink:

I think it’s unfortunate that people in the church you used to attend carefully avoided the figure used by Paul and Peter, since this avoidance left you with the impression that these apostles would not have used the figure if they believed that the dead are unconscious. But I don’t the figure is in any way inconsistent with the idea that human consciousness is dependent on the brain. Now, to speak of one’s “body” is, of course, to speak of that which constitutes us as human persons (i.e., beings with rational, first-person perspectives). But why would Paul and Peter figuratively refer to this body as a “tent?” Answer: because it emphasizes the temporary nature of his mortal body and suggests that we belong in something more permanent and lasting. The “putting off” of one’s “tent” is figurative language meant to convey the idea that, at death, our sojourn on earth is over, and a new and permanent state of existence awaits us. But to “put off” our “tent” (i.e., to cease to live in this temporary body) doesn’t mean we then begin living (or “existing” if you prefer) as disembodied “shades” of our former selves! I don’t believe Paul and Peter held to the Platonic idea that we possess immortal souls; instead, I believe they both understood a resurrection from the dead to be the only means by which we may once again enjoy a conscious existence after we’ve died. Consequently, I don’t think they used this figurative imagery to suggest that some part of us leaves the body at death to enjoy or suffer in a conscious, disembodied state. The figurative imagery simply doesn’t require that we understand them to have believed this. The body is not literally a “tent,” nor is it literally “put off” at death. And since Paul and Peter undoubtedly expected their readers to understand that their “tent” language was figurative, and that they believed nothing more or less about the intermediate state of the dead than what had been previously revealed to mankind by God, they probably had no fears that their language might imply something to their readers that was inconsistent with this. And if Paul and Peter had been given further revelation on the intermediate state of the dead that was unknown by Moses and the Prophets, I believe they would have shared the new revelation they had received in a way that we would expect new doctrine to be established.

No, but it does mean they didn’t anticipate their original readers understanding them to mean something that was nowhere revealed or taught in the Hebrew Scriptures, but which instead had its origin in pagan thinking.

No, it was just as known in the pagan world as the concepts of reincarnation, transmigration, endless torment, annihilation and numerous other unscriptural things. But I don’t think any such concepts were a part of apostolic preaching and “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” So while some Jewish and Gentile believers may have had a difficult time leaving such concepts behind after becoming disciples of Jesus, I don’t think Peter’s imagery would have proven to be a theological stumbling block to them. Assuming they expected Peter to think like someone who held the inspired Scriptures in higher esteem than the ideas of Plato or 1st century Pharisaical opinion (as Jesus, Peter’s teacher and Lord, undoubtedly did), I think they would have understood him in a similar way as I do.

Because like most Jews in that day, the disciples grew up holding to certain unbiblical ideas which, even if consciously rejected after being taught the truth, were defaulted to involuntarily in frightening circumstances. Although I don’t believe in ghosts, I used to when I was younger (or at least, I was more inclined to accept the possibility of their existence). But my study of the Scriptures which Christ considered authoritative led me to believe that the popular opinion concerning ghosts and the intermediate state of the dead was mistaken. But in spite of my present disbelief in ghosts, I think that if God were to resurrect someone that I knew had recently died and cause them to suddenly appear before me, I would, out of sheer terror, probably doubt for a moment my present convictions that ghosts don’t exist, and would require some assurance from the person that I was not seeing a ghost.

Well while you would certainly disagree, I think that if Christians correctly understood and believed what the Law and the Prophets have to say about death and the intermediate state of the dead, I wouldn’t have to dispute the issue “in such a lengthy post.” But when foreign concepts are being read into certain passages, it sometimes requires a lengthy response that would not otherwise be necessary. But this goes for the doctrine of hell also. If, for example, I was discussing the parable of the rich man and Lazarus with someone who believed just what the Pharisees believed about the fate of the wicked, they could ask something very similar to what you ask me: “If the issue is important enough to dispute in such a lengthy post, why would Jesus use the image of a person being tormented in Hades (which the Pharisees believed was the eternal fate of the wicked) in a parable without a word to suggest that the whole idea was a pagan myth?”

Yes, I believe it was common in the 1st century, just like the doctrines of endless punishment and annihilation were.

Not as you would expect him to have done, no. He also didn’t explicitly and directly correct the unbiblical Pharisaic belief that the immortal souls of the wicked will undergo “eternal torment” after they die. Concerning the beliefs of the Pharisees, Josephus states: “They believe that souls have an immortal rigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or according to vice in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison (eirgmon aidion), but that the former shall have power to revive and live again” (D. Ant. 18.14-15). Here we find that the Pharisees believed the subterranean place of punishment for wicked immortal souls was an “eternal (aidion, not aionion!) prison.” And in another place, Josephus states that the Pharisees “say that all souls are imperishable, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment (aidios timoria).” So evidently the Pharisees to whom Christ spoke would have heard Jesus as saying that the rich man went to a place that they believed was an “eternal prison” where he would undergo “eternal punishment.” But Christ did nothing to correct this gross error of the Pharisees at this time, did he? Jesus gives no indication to the Pharisees that the “rich man” would ever be released from his torment. So according to your own argument Jesus must have been reinforcing the Pharisee’s belief that the immortal souls of the wicked would undergo “eternal torment” in the netherworld, and that their partialist beliefs were correct.

In context, by “unbiblical” I simply meant “not derived from the inspired Scriptures which Christ believed were authoritative.”

Yes, that would be true - but then, so what? All of Jesus’ parables were fictional stories with fictional characters and events, and whether or not they could literally happen is irrelevant. And regardless of whether one believes the setting to be mythological or not, one has to admit that the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is, in many ways, completely unlike any other parable Christ told during his ministry. Moreover, if Christ believed what the Pharisees believed about the intermediate state of the dead (even though the Pharisees didn’t get their belief from the Law and the Prophets), and he wanted to make clear to his disciples that he sanctioned what they believed about it, why would he confine all reference to this belief to a single parable addressed to those whom he repeatedly criticized and rebuked for setting aside the Word of God for the sake of their traditions? Maybe it’s just me, but this parable smacks strongly of satire and parody, and does not seem to be the kind of context in which Christ would make known his views of the intermediate state of the dead. Moreover, it’s interesting that Christ represents the rich man as pleading with Abraham to send Lazarus to his 5 brothers to warn them of this “place of torment” (vv. 27-28). But Christ has Abraham respond to this request with the following words: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” What’s funny is that Moses and the Prophets don’t say one thing about Sheol/Hades being a “place of torment” for the wicked - a fact which the “rich man” seems to recognize (v. 30). As noted in my previous post, I believe Christ was criticizing the Pharisees for not hearing Moses and the Prophets, and implies that the content of the parable is foreign to the Scriptures that the Pharisees had nullified by their traditions.

Well if by telling a parable that employed certain unbiblical views held by the Pharisees means Jesus went out of his way to reinforce their belief that the dead in Hades are conscious, then he went out of his way to reinforce their belief in the eternal torment of wicked souls as well.

Well it wouldn’t be the first or last time God caused people to see and hear things that aren’t really visible or audible. And if Peter, James and John understood this experience to be a vision that God had given them (in which Jesus appeared in his post-resurrection glory), then it’s unlikely that any belief in a conscious intermediate state which they may (or may not) have had would have been “reinforced.” And even if, after being explicitly told it was a vision, they believed Moses and Elijah had made an actual appearance at this time, they could have just as easily believed that God had temporarily raised Moses and Elijah from the dead to appear to Jesus at this time (for their bodies were never found; perhaps God had preserved them somewhere for just this occasion?). So regardless of whether or not Peter, James and John understood this to have been a vision, it doesn’t mean God was reinforcing the belief that the dead are conscious. And if they did understand this vision to be “reinforcing” the pagan belief that the dead are conscious, then Jesus would have at some point corrected them on this point by redirecting them to the teaching of the Law and the Prophets.

I think Jesus avoided giving the impression that he believed in a conscious existence apart from the body by not saying anything at all about it except in a fictional story that was clearly intended to be a satirical rebuke against the Pharisees. I think Paul avoided giving the impression that he believed in a conscious existence apart from the body by not saying anything in his epistles that couldn’t be reasonably interpreted in a way that is consistent with what is taught and revealed in the OT Scriptures. Same goes for Peter. Those who understand certain statements in the NT as indicating that Jesus and the apostles believed the dead are conscious have, I believe, simply read their own presupposed views into Scripture, and have misunderstood what these inspired men were saying by neglecting to interpret their words in the larger context of the OT.

To say that the Torah “emphasized this life” would be an understatement! Not only did Moses “emphasize this life,” he was completely silent regarding any kind of disembodied existence after death. But why? Why did Moses focus exclusively on this life and say nothing about the dead being rewarded or punished? Were Moses and the Hebrew people simply too “primitive” for the idea of a conscious, disembodied existence after death? Of course not. And it would be erroneous to believe that the idea of a non-corporeal afterlife was not held by Moses simply because no one had yet thought of it, or because they had never heard of such a belief. The Israelites had spent 400 years in Egypt, and this belief was certainly not foreign to the religious thinking of the Egyptians (the Great Pyramids are standing monuments to this central tenet of Egyptian religion). Moses himself spent the first 40 years of his life being brought up as an Egyptian in the pagan religious atmosphere of this once-great world empire. While being taught in “all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22) - undoubtedly considered a high privilege in that day - it is significant that Moses never once mentions (let alone endorses) any kind of conscious existence for the dead. In the famous passage in Deuteronomy 28-30 of the blessings and curses that God promised to send upon the people of Israel for their obedience or disobedience when they entered the Promised Land, all the rewards and punishments of which Moses spoke are applied exclusively to this life. In the entire Mosaic Law, not once is it declared, “Do this and you will be blessed after death” or “Do that and you will be punished after death.” Instead, Moses is as silent as the grave regarding the idea of a future retribution beyond this temporal existence. According to his inspired teaching, all justice is meted out by God during this lifetime, with individual judgment ending - not beginning - when a person died (in accordance with this fact is the testimony of the writer of Hebrews, who said: “…the message declared by angels * proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution…”). Similarly, during the 70-year Babylonian captivity, the people of Israel were surrounded by a culture which, like the Egyptians, shared a belief in a disembodied, post-mortem existence. In both of these heathen religious systems, the consciousness of the soul after death was very much a part of the state religions. But like Moses, we find all such pagan ideas completely ignored by the inspired prophets. But why? Why didn’t Moses and the Prophets teach that the dead had a capacity to enjoy or suffer, and would receive rewards and punishments (as the Pharisees believed)? Why were the beliefs of Moses and the Prophets so different from the religious beliefs of the surrounding pagan cultures? I think the answer is simply because God had not revealed to them what the pagans believed and taught, and their reverence for God did not allow them to go beyond what God had revealed. That is, Moses and the Prophets did not teach that the dead are conscious because God never revealed this to them. But not only did God not reveal this doctrine to them, he strictly forbade his people from learning from the pagans around them and incorporating pagan beliefs and customs into the Jewish religion.

The dead make “poor witnesses” because they don’t know anything. And the living can’t hear the testimony of the dead because the dead are silent and unable to speak. I don’t know of any verse or passage in Scripture that teaches something contrary to this.

Oops; thanks for the correction!

Right; like the Psalmist, he had no knowledge of the dead being conscious.

As you know, the word “soul” is often used in Scripture to denote the person himself, and the metaphor of “sleep” is frequently used in both the OT and the NT to describe the state of persons during the intermediate state after death and prior to the resurrection. So if a person may be referred to as a “soul,” and a person is said to “sleep” after they die, then I think “soul sleep” is a pretty good description of what’s going on.

Well if what they believed about Sheol wasn’t revealed by God and recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, I care very little what their opinions were.

I don’t think a demonic spirit impersonated Samuel. My view is that Samuel was either resurrected by God to pronounce judgment upon Saul, or that the account was written from Saul’s perspective and the medium was deceiving Saul (see the link I provided). If the latter, then we should read “Samuel” with quotation marks, for it was really the medium talking and pretending to be Samuel. I’m inclined to believe that it really was Samuel, but I don’t think it would be a violation of sound rules of interpretation to understand the account the other way.

That which the account of Saul and the medium “proves” is simply that Saul had embraced pagan views regarding the state of the dead which had no divine sanction, and no support in the Torah. What Saul believed about Sheol is no indication of what Moses and all the inspired Hebrew men of God believed about Sheol; Saul’s actions betray a tragic departure from what the Hebrew people were supposed to believe, based on what God had chosen to reveal and not reveal. And the fact that you refer me to extra-biblical sources in order that I might better understand what the OT teaches and reveals about Sheol is pretty telling. Perhaps you disagree, but I think an understanding of how words are used in Scripture is far more helpful in determining what a Scriptural word means than how words are used outside of Scripture.

Exactly. Solomon believed what he did regarding the intermediate state of the dead because God had not revealed anything else to him. So when in Israel’s history did God reveal to the Jewish people that the dead are conscious?

What specific passages did you have in mind? And what do you think would constitute a “just reward in this life?”

Judgment is always future for the good and evil things man is doing in the present (or for the good and evil deeds which man has yet to do), and what Solomon says in Eccl 12:14 is for the purpose of warning those reading (primarily his younger readers - see 11:9) to live wisely and uprightly, for they will be judged for their actions. But this doesn’t mean Solomon had in mind a post-mortem judgment; it simply means he didn’t believe judgment always came immediately. But just because people are not rewarded or punished immediately doesn’t mean Solomon thought people would have to be judged after this lifetime. In fact, a perusal of another work of his (Proverbs) reveals that Solomon had a pretty robust view of judgment in this life. Here are just a few examples from chapter 11:

Solomon’s “who knows…” should, I think, be understood to mean, “who knows apart from what God chooses to reveal to us.” For at the end of this work, Solomon does seem to know where a person’s “spirit” (i.e., their life) goes when they die: it returns to God, who gave it (Eccl 12:7). But why would Solomon believe this, as opposed to believing that man’s life goes into the ground? Answer: I believe it is because God had given the Jewish people at least some reason to believe that man’s life will one day be restored to him. But God had given Israel no reason to believe that that life of animals will one day be restored to them; thus, the breath (life) of an animal could be represented as going down into the ground when it dies, while a man’s breath (life) could be represented as going up to God to remain with him until he chooses to restore it at a future time.*

That’s the second time you asked me that (and I must again ask you if you’ve ever read Ecclesiastes for more than proof-texting?)

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. (Eccl. 9:11.)

There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. (Eccl. 9:14-16.)

Not at all.

An intermediate state (by definition) has a temporal boundary.

Nowhere in the discription of this intermediaye state is anything said to be eternal (not even where Abraham speaks of a gulf that couldn’t then be crossed–and if Jesus took the penitent theif to Abraham’s Bossom, and preached to spirits who were disobedient in the days of Noah, He presumably crossed that gulf.)

Bye Aaron.

That’s all I have the time (or the inclination) to comment on now.

Hi Bob,

I understand the expression “in heaven, on earth and under the earth” to be a poetic expression meant to convey the idea of universality, and not as suggesting that all mankind will literally be in three different locations bowing down to Jesus simultaneously at some future time. In Exodus 20:4, God declares: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Here, all that is below sea level is referred to as being “under the earth,” or under the inhabitable land. The entire expression (“in heaven and on earth and under the earth”) is evidently a Hebraism, and, when used by Paul, seems to mean simply, “everyone everywhere.” But if “under the earth” does refer to the dead, I believe Paul’s meaning would be, “Even those who have died will be subjected to Christ at a future time.” That is, Paul would not be claiming that some will be subjected to Christ while they’re still dead, but rather that the fact of their having died will not prevent them from being subjected to Christ. I personally believe this prophecy will be fulfilled when Christ returns from heaven to raise the dead and transform the living, for it is at this time that all people will be subjected to Christ (see Phil 3:20-21; 1 Cor 15:22-28).

1 Peter 3:18-19 reads,

I don’t think the word “spirits” in this verse refers to the “disembodied spirits” of those who are physically dead. Instead, I believe the word should be understood in a similar sense as it is used in 1 John 4. There, the word denotes a person’s mind, mental disposition or thought pattern (see 1Cor 2:11; Eph 4:23; Phil 1:27; 1Pet 3:4). In 1 Peter 3:19 I believe the apostle is referring to the persons themselves (by the figure of speech “metonymy”). In the context, Peter is referring to the corrupt people of Noah’s generation (v. 20). They are spoken of as “spirits in prison” because their minds were in bondage to sinful desire (cf. Isa 42:6-7; 61:1). But Jesus didn’t personally preach to these people; rather, it was the prophetic “spirit of Christ” which was in righteous Noah that preached to that wicked generation many years before the birth of Christ (see 1Pet 1:11; 2Pet 1:21; 2:5). It was by means of the Holy Spirit given to people that they were able to speak as though Christ were actually present at the time (cf. Eph 2:17, where Christ is represented as having preached to people to whom he didn’t personally preach).

As far as “the dead” in 1Pet 4:6, I believe the apostle is referring to the same kind of persons - i.e., those who “live for human passions” rather than “for the will of God” (v.2). That is, “the dead” whom Peter said Christ was “ready to judge” are those who were, at that time, “dead in their sins” and were manifesting the works of the flesh (“sensuality, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” - v. 3). Those who responded favorably to the Gospel when it was preached to them were “made alive together with Christ” (Eph 1:5) and thus began to “live in the spirit the way God does.”


As you note, the ancient Greek had no punctuation, and so commas must be provided by the translators. In the case of this verse, I believe it is just as much a matter of interpretation as it is of grammar, so the fact that all of the English translations you checked on Bible Gateway place the comma after “truth” (or “you”) instead of "today (or “this day”) simply shows the preferred interpretation of the translators, and not how the Greek has to be translated in order to be grammatically correct. Christ’s words, “Truly, I say to you, this day you shall be with me in paradise,” may just as legitimately be constructed to read, “Truly, I say to you this day, you shall be with me in paradise.” By placing the comma after “this day” instead of “you,” the fulfillment of Christ’s promise is not necessarily confined to the day in which they died, but may be understood as having its fulfillment at some time in the indefinite future.

It should also be noted that the Greek word translated as “this day” (semeron) is used to qualify the preceding verb in the following NT references: Luke 2:11; 22:34; Acts 20:26; 26:29; 2 Cor. 3:14, 15. And there are a number of passages in the LXX in which the Greek construction corresponds to that of Luke 23:43, with Christ’s words “I say to you this day” corresponding to the emphatic, “I testify unto you this day” (e.g., Deut. 4:26, 39, 40; 5:1; 6:6; 7:11; Josh. 23:14). Evidently, the expression “this day” was a common Hebrew idiom used to emphasize the solemnity and importance of an occasion or moment. And who can deny the profound importance and solemnity of this occasion? This was one of the last things Jesus said before he died, and was possibly the last thing the man being crucified next to him heard anyone say to him before he died.

So by recognizing this idiom and properly punctuating the verse (with the comma after “this day”) I believe we can understand Jesus’ prediction to be fulfilled when he personally returns from heaven to raise the dead and transform the living (1 Thess 4:13-18). It would appear from 2 Cor 12:2-3 that “paradise” refers to the “third heaven” where God dwells. But of course, after his death on the cross, Christ spent the next three days and nights in a tomb. And after his resurrection, Christ explicitly declared that he had not yet ascended to heaven where the Father is (John 20:17). It was not until 40 days after being raised from the dead that Christ went to “paradise.” Moreover, if Christ did expect the thief to be in heaven on the day that he died (or even right after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, as some believe), then Jesus’ expectation would have been contrary to what he had said to his disciples shortly before his crucifixion: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3). And earlier, Christ had told his disciples: “Where I am going, you cannot come” (John 13:33, 36; cf. 7:33-34). In other words, Christ’s apostles would not be able to follow their Lord to heaven (which is where he was going after his death and resurrection) until after he came again and took them to himself. But if, after they died, the apostles went to heaven as quickly as their Lord did after his ascension and have remained there to this present day, then what Jesus said is not true; it would mean that the apostles followed Jesus to heaven right after they died - which would be long before Jesus is to come again to receive us to himself, so that we may be where he is.

Hi Aaron,

Do you have any evidence from any published scholarship on the translation of Luke 23:43 that all major translations committees got it wrong?

Hi Jim,

No, but if you or someone else has any evidence that my position regarding the placement of the comma in Luke 23:43 is grammatically untenable, I’ll certainly reconsider my interpretation. :slight_smile: Until then, I can’t help but think that the placement of the comma in “all major translations” is simply a result of theological bias.

Hi Justin,

I think you’re referring to Paul’s words in Philippians 1:23 (not sure about the “repeated declarations,” however!). So what does Paul mean here? Well, I believe his words in 2 Cor 5:1-9 may be of some assistance. There, we read:

Here Paul provides us with three different states: the present mortal state in which we live, an intermediate state in which we are figuratively represented as being “naked” and “unclothed,” and a future state which will be entered into when “mortality is swallowed up by life.” It is evident that Paul is referring to the state of the dead by the expressions “naked” and “unclothed” (which is figurative imagery meant to convey the idea that, after death, our mortal body is “destroyed” and returns to the dust from which it was made, thus leaving us “naked”). Moreover, there are only two “homes” with which Paul believed we could be “clothed”: the earthly (with which we are clothed before our body is “destroyed”) and the heavenly (with which we are clothed sometime after our body is “destroyed”).

Now, when Paul speaks of being “away from the body,” it is clearly the present, mortal body that is meant. But what does Paul mean when he speaks of being “at home with the Lord?” Is Paul referring to the “unclothed” state or to that future time when we will be “further clothed” and the “heavenly dwelling” will be put on (which was Paul’s express “longing”)? Well Paul had previously referred to the mortal body as an “earthly home” and a “tent” (which emphasizes the fact that it is only a temporary dwelling), and the resurrection body as a “building from God” and a “house not made with hands” (which emphasizes its permanence). So from this it may be reasonably inferred that to be “at home with the Lord” is to be present with Christ in our permanent, “heavenly dwelling” (cf. John 14:2-3). And the “unclothed” and “naked” state (which is the interlude between the dissolving of the earthly house at death and the putting on of the permanent, heavenly dwelling at the resurrection) is a state that Paul did not desire. The only state that Paul speaks of with anticipation and longing is the future state in which he will be “further clothed” with his “heavenly dwelling.” We can be sure, then, that the intermediate, “unclothed” state does not involve being “at home with the Lord,” since Paul did not look forward to it. From these and other considerations I think we can conclude that it was Paul’s belief that neither he nor anyone else would be with Christ after death until “mortality is swallowed up by life” and “death is swallowed up in victory.”

So when we come to Philippians 1:23, I believe it can also be reasonably inferred that when Paul spoke of “being with the Lord” he was looking ahead to that future time when his heavenly dwelling would be put on and mortality would be “swallowed up by life.” It is at this time that Paul believed he would be “at home with the Lord.” And if this is the case, then we may understand Paul to simply be omitting the intermediate state between death and the resurrection (for recall that Paul’s “groaning” and desire was to be “further clothed” at the resurrection, and not to be dead; see also Rom 8:19-23, where a similar longing is expressed). But why would Paul not mention the period of time between his “departure” and his “being with the Lord?” Answer: I believe Paul knew that the dead are in a state of unconsciousness, so from his perspective no time will seem to have passed at all between his death and resurrection. Although Paul knew he might experience the process of dying, once dead he would have no conscious awareness of being dead, or of the passing of time between his death and resurrection. His last conscious moment before his death and his next conscious moment after being awakened from death at the resurrection will seem to be consecutive and without any interval of time in between (though thousands of years may have actually elapsed). Thus, from Paul’s perspective, his next conscious experience after dying would be in the presence of the Lord, and it is for this reason that he was able to say, “my desire is to depart (i.e., from “the land of the living”) and be with Christ (i.e., in heaven, after the dead have been raised).” It also seems likely to me that when Paul expressed his desire to “depart and to be with the Lord” in Phil 1:23 he was referring to the same future event mentioned later in Phil 3:20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Here Paul is clearly referring to that time when Christ returns to receive us to himself, so that we may be where he is (i.e., in heaven).

What makes you think that being told it was a vision would make them think that Moses and Elijah hadn’t made an actual appearance?

If Nathanael wasn’t actually sitting under an actual fig tree when Jesus saw him in a vision, he wouldn’t have been convinced he was in the presence of the Messiah at their first meeting.

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel (John 1:47-49.)

And didn’t Gabriel make an actual appearance to Zacharias?

** And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth…And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.** (Luke 1:11-14, 18-22.)

Here is one definition of a “vision.”

You seem to fall back on the position that God “temporarily” raises people a lot here Aaron.

First you have Him “temporarily” raising Samuel, and now Moses and Elijah (and not raising them so that they could “temporarily” return to mortal life among their friends and relatives, the way Lazarus and others did–but just to make a breif appearance and then slip back into an unconscious void.)

Has it ocured to you that there must be something wrong with your position if it requires you to keep doing this?

Can I guess?

God temporarily raised the theif (and he was with Jesus in Paradise for a short time that day.)


Hi Aaron,

I’ll put this exegetical study on my long-list of projects, with an indefinite ETA due to my shortlist of projects.

In the meantime, two reasons point me in the direction that all of those translation committees aren’t in error. First, progressive revelation suggests that New Testament teachings clarify Old Testament misconceptions such as the consciousness of the dead before the resurrection. Second, the Early Church apparently unanimously believed that Christ preached the gospel to the dead while the only debate about it involved if he only preached to the Old Testament righteous or all of the dead.

Hi Michael,

You wrote:

I don’t see it taught or revealed in either of these passages that man’s actions are not brought into judgment by God in this life, and that post-mortem punishments are required to “balance” things out. Just because “bad things happen to good people” and “good things happen to bad people” doesn’t mean that God’s justice is inactive during this lifetime, and that people aren’t rewarded and punished by God to the extent that God’s justice requires.

I think you may have misunderstood my argument. My point was that the Pharisees to whom Christ spoke would not have understood Jesus to be referring to a place of temporary punishment for the “rich man.” According to Josephus, the Pharisees believed that the subterranean place of torment to which the immortal souls of the wicked went after death was an “everlasting prison” (eirgmon aidion) where they would undergo "eternal punishment (aidios timoria), and that only those who lived virtuously in this life would be able to “revive and live again.” What you as a universalist happen to believe about Hades is irrelevant to what the Pharisees (who were not universalists) would have understood Jesus to be saying when he spoke of the “rich man” being in “torment” after he died. They would have understood Jesus to be referring to the place where they believed all wicked souls went after death. Their belief concerning the fate of the wicked was incompatible with the doctrine of universal salvation to which you and I hold. But Jesus didn’t say anything explicitly to them to correct their mistaken understanding.

Where are we told that Jesus “saw him in a vision?” Jesus didn’t need to be given a vision to see Nathanael sitting under the fig tree; there’s no indication that he was hidden from view. The miracle was that Jesus knew exactly who Nathanael was (which included an insight into his character!) and was thus able to identify him and have personal knowledge of him before Philip had even called him. What surprised Nathanael was not that he thought he was hidden from view and yet still able to be seen by Christ, but rather that Christ knew the man he was looking at when he saw him under the fig tree, including the kind of person he was in his heart.

Yes, I do think Gabriel made an actual appearance to Zacharias. The word translated here as “vision” is not horama (the word that is consistently used by Luke to denote a mental sight - see Acts 9:10-12; 10:3, 9-19; 11:5; 16:9; 18:9) but optasia. Significantly, horama is used in contrast with an objective experience in Acts 12:9, where we read that Peter “did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision (horama).”

Again, my position is that what Peter, James and John experienced was part of a “vision” (horama) that God gave them. I don’t actually believe Moses and Elijah were resurrected; I merely raised it as a possibility to show how your position is not the only alternative to this having been a subjective experience. So really we’re only left with one instance in which I am inclined to believe that God temporarily brought someone back to life (as a judgment upon Saul). But for the sake of argument, let’s say that my view is that Samuel, Moses and Elijah were all temporarily brought back to life and then, after making their appearance, were just as miraculously returned to their former unconscious state. These examples would still only be two occasions in all of redemptive history in which God did this - which would still make such a miraculous act of God very much an exception to what God “normally” does. So your argument that my position must be wrong because it “requires me to keep doing this” seems a bit strained to me.

So how often do you think God causes people’s disembodied “shades” to come up from their subterranean abode in the nether regions and visibly appear to the living? In Luke 9:31 we’re even told Moses and Elijah (who were but “shades of their former selves,” according to your view) “appeared in glory!” But aren’t people’s “shades” invisible when they leave the body (or are we just prevented from seeing them in all their “glory”)?