"Pastor", said the little girl after the death of her mother, "Where is my mommy?". "Why, she is with Jesus in heaven." replies the pastor. Eventually, someone will ask "How can that be since her body is in the grave?". What can we tell this person and be true to God's Word. Paul Althaus has said concerning this question "We know nothing before the resurrection than death and that the dead are in God's hands. That is sufficient." (Bailey 167) I am in full agreement with Althaus.
Whatever we can derive from the Word of God concerning the topic of death and the intermediate state can not be anything more than reasonably intelligent speculation. Even those who use all the proper hermeneutical techniques still come out with varied and diverse assumptions. Therefore, although I believe it is necessary to have an opinion based on ordered and conscientious exegesis of the Word of God, I also believe that we can not hold any opinion dogmatically for it is only at death that we will know for certain what happens.
With this in mind, I will attempt to examine the various positions on death and the intermediate state and end with the results of my own personal struggle with this topic. To do this, it is necessary to divide this paper into four distinct parts. First, I will examine the Nature of Man. Secondly, I will survey the Nature of the Intermediate State. Thirdly, I will discuss the Nature of Time. Finally, I will end with an exploration of my conclusions.
THE NATURE OF MAN
What is the constitutional nature of man and how does this relate to death and the intermediate state? How one envisions man's makeup will greatly influence his opinion of what happens to man after death. There are three basic beliefs about the nature of man; trichotomism, dichotomism and monism and two modifying views. I will examine each in detail.
In this belief, man is composed of three elements. The first of these elements is the physical body and is composed of flesh and bones. The second element is the soul and it is the area of the human life where we find reason and emotions. The third element is the spirit and this is the center of man's religious nature. It is here that man is able to perceive spirituality.
We find evidence of trichotomism in 1 Thess. 5:23, Heb. 4:12 and 1 Cor. 2:14-3:4. It is believed that at death, the three natures of man separate. The soul is believed to be associated with the body and therefore is mortal. The spirit, however, in immortal and will live on after death. (Erickson 521, Cooper 9) This was the belief held by many of the early Alexandrian church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa.
This belief is the one most widely held by Christian throughout the history of the church. In this view man consists of only two elements; the material and the immaterial; the body and the soul/spirit. This view of often call dualism. (Erickson 522) This view holds that the soul/spirit are actually the same thing because in Scripture, they are often uses synonymously as in Luke 1:46-47, Matt. 6:25; 10:28.
They also hold that if we can say there are three elements that make up man, then we must also say there are more such as in Luke 10:27 where there are four ; heart, mind, soul and strength. How many is it? The dichotomist's view is that this is only an example of the whole person when they separate soul and spirit.
Dichotomism states that the body and soul/spirit is separated at death. It states that the body is dependent on the soul/spirit for life but that at death, the soul/spirit separates from the body and lives on. (Cooper 10, Erickson 523) The dichotomist position was the one held by Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin. It remains today as the orthodox and the liberal position on the nature of man.
Whereas the trichotomist and dichotomist both believe that man is made-up of more than one element and that these elements separate at death, the monist believes in the total unity (wholeness) of man. Man is not to be considered or thought of as being made up of component parts. Man is not to be viewed as being made up of body, soul and spirit, but is biblically portrayed as a self. Monism claims that the Bible never presents man as a dualistic being. (Erickson 524)
Monism hold that the body cannot exist without the soul and the soul cannot exist without the body. There is no post mortem state of disembodied spirit. There is no intermediate state and the life of the person (body /soul) ceases to exist until the final resurrection. (Erickson 525, Cooper 17-18)
Millard Erickson has developed a compromise position between monism and dualism. To do this he has come up with the term conditional unity. (Erickson 536) He believes that the normal state of man is a materialized unitary being. Man is made up of an immaterial and a material element in which the parts are not always distinguishable. This satisfies the monism view. Conditional unity also states that at death this unity is dissolved and the material part dies while the immaterial part lives on. This satisfies the dualist view. At the final resurrection, the two are once again joined and become a whole being.
John W. Cooper has also tried to bridge the gap between views of monism and dualism by combining the two into what he calls holistic dualism. (Cooper 78) Cooper 's monism view is that of Hebrew holism which states that man is one being, physical bodily existence. Man is an integral whole and all functions of man belong to the human being,. There is no separation in the nature of man. (Cooper 78) Yet Cooper also believes that there is life after death. He follows what he believes is the New Testament version of dualism which is that man is clearly made up of body and soul. He further believes that at death the two separate until the final resurrection. This reuniting of the body and soul will be by a special act of God. (Cooper 78)
Cooper differs from Erickson in that Erickson beliefs that there will be a disembodied existence for the soul after death. Cooper believes that at death, the soul receives a quasi-body which will lack of flesh and bones but will be a recognizable bodily form. (Cooper 79) As mentioned earlier, the view we hold as to the constitutional nature of man will affect the view we have of the intermediate state after death. It is this very point that I will examine in the following section.
THE NATURE OF THE INTERMEDIATE STATE
What is the intermediate state? Murray Harris defines it this way, 'The intermediate state refers to the condition of all mankind between death and the resurrection. It is called intermediate because it lies between two fixed points; death and resurrection and because it is temporary, with the result being the 'final' state of man." . (Harris 47) This term is not found in Scripture. By it's definition, the intermediate state implies a dualistic view of the constitutional makeup of man.
The early Christian church held the intermediate state included four specific and distinct areas.
First is Hades. Hades is the realm of the dead and it has a separate place for the evil and righteous. The second area is Purgatory. In purgatory, those who would enter heaven were cleansed of their remaining sins through suffering. Third , is Limbus Patrum. In limbus patrum we find the old testament saints who waited for Christ's death and resurrection to take them to heaven. Finally, we find Limbus Infantum. Limbus infantum is where we find the souls of all the infants who died without being baptized. (Cooper 8)
Currently, there are five views as to the nature of the intermediate state. Because of the brevity of this paper, I will examine them only succinctly.
This view concern only the state of the believers at death. The technical name for this view is psychopannychism. (Harris 48) O. Cullmann holds to this view and sees 2 Cor. 5:1-10 as a proof text. Cullmann associates the nakedness Paul fears with sleep. (Bailey 161) He and others believe that sleep is the natural state of man until the resurrection of Christ. Verses used to support this view are Ps. 13:3, Dan. 12:2, Isa. 26:19, Matt. 27:52.
Michel denies sleep and meaning the condition of the dead. He believes that the term is a theological and eschatological term but that it is an euphemism for death, the manner of dying. (Bailey 165) Murray Harris also agrees that the term sleep is not rightfully associated with the condition of the dead but with death itself. To fall asleep relates to those who die and are no longer conscious of or active in the earthly world of time and space although fully alert to their new environment. (Harris 48)
This is the traditional view of most orthodox Christianity. At death, the disembodied soul exists with Christ until the final resurrection at which time it will be reunited to a body. G. Dautzenberg views Matt. 10:28b implying a reunion of body and soul for judgment after a period of bodiless existence of the soul. (Osei-Bonsu 172) Some view a difference between 'being with Christ' (Phil. 1:23) and 'being with the Lord' (1 Thess. 4:17). In Phil. 1:23 it is speaking of a disembodied existence after death. In 1 Thess. 4:17 an embodied existence is portrayed after Christ returns. ( Harris 48)
This view holds that after death our soul will exist in an embodied (somatic) state. However this body will not be perfect or complete. This perfection of the body will come after the return of Christ. (Hesselink 10) This belief is based on 2 Cor. 5:1-5 where it is saying that we will be clothed with a heavenly dwelling, that we will be further clothed and not naked (disembodied). Those who hold to this view believe that a transitional body is necessary for conscious, meaningful fellowship with Jesus and the saints in glory. (Hesselink 10) Along with Hesselink, the late scholar Hoekema also accepted the view of a transitional body. (Hesselink 13)
This view is that of the true monist. It states that after death the individual become extinct, we no longer exist and that at the Parousia, the individual is re-created. The re-created being contains all the same physical characteristics as well as the emotional/intellectual functions of the individual. This re-created being would be the exact representation of the dead original. The idea is to take over where the dead left off. (Reichenbach 27) Thomas Hobbs holds to this view and adds that we actually have no soul. What we call the soul is actually our consciousness caused by our bodily mechanism. (Cooper 18)
Objections to this view are many and include to say that a re-created person could be the identically same as the one who died is nonsense. Another objection is that calling the re-created being the same as the dead being, presupposes a continuity of existence which this view denies. Finally, there is no strong biblical evidence to support this view either in the OT or on the NT. (Reichenbach 28)
We have examined five views of the intermediate state and to my belief, none are acceptable. I believe that there has been one element that has been left out in the discussion of death and the afterlife and that is the nature of time. Time, both earthly and time with regard to eternity must be addressed if we are going to sufficiently discuss the afterlife. After all we are told that we will, as believer, have eternal life. What is meant by eternal and how does this relate to death and the intermediate state?
THE NATURE OF TIME
Isaac Taylor has said ' The mind is dependent upon its corporeity, or union with matter, for its relationship to time. A pure spirit could not tell the difference between a moment and a century.. this is dependent on the eternal world.' (Hodge 713-714) God's plan for man, of which eschatology is part, is from before the beginning of time. (Ps. 139:16; Isa. 22:11,
Eph. 1:4) Being eternal, outside time, the plan of God does not have any chronological sequence within it. There is no before or after in eternity. Where there is logical sequence, the birth of Christ before the death of Christ, there is not temporal sequence to God's willing. It is one coherent simultaneous decision. (Erickson 351)
God is infinite and is not related to time. Time does not apply to Him. He created time and one who creates time cannot be part of time because He was before time. (Ps. 90:1-2, Jude 25, Eph. 3:21) Time belongs to the created order of things and this is supported by Augustine, Howard Tepker, E. Brunner, Luther and W.H.T. Dau. (Kettner 91) God is aware, however, of succession of time but He sees all parts in order at the same time. Picture one sitting on a mountain top and viewing a parade in the valley below. He would be able to see the beginning, middle and end of the parade simultaneously. (Erickson 275)
To exist in time means to exist in a condition that has extension, interval and succession. These categories do not apply when speaking of eternity, for extension, interval and succession are limited to the physical universe. The eternal is not related to the flow of events in the physical universe. All events in time and space in the physical universe are in the now of eternity. (Kettner 91)
Eternity is viewed, by many, as a 'timeless existence'. It is not the mere everlastingness or permanence of time. Because God, Himself resides in eternity and He is above time and time is not a part of Him. Therefore is seems right to conclude that eternity is also above time.
What of time, eternity and the intermediate state? K. Barth, T.F. Torrance, F.F. Bruce and K. Hanhart de-temporalize (take it out of time) the intermediate state by saying that from the perspective of the dead, there is no time-lag- between death and the resurrection. This interval of time only exists from the perspective of the living whose earthly existence is subject to the laws of space and time. (Osei-Bonsu 193). This leads into my personal conclusions concerning death and the intermediate state.
Because we are human, earth bound creatures, we transfer, quite understandably, the ideas of time and space into the realm beyond death, into eternity. I believe this is wrong because time and space, like us, were created by God and thus are part of our world not His. Ps. 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 affirm that God is above time as we know it. As mentioned earlier, there is no before or after in eternity. Phil. 1:23, 2 Cor. 5:1-10 and Luke 23:43 seem to indicate that for the believer, eternal salvation (communion and fellowship with God) begins immediately after death. With this in mind. it is my opinion that at death, an individual moves from time to a timeless eternity in which the resurrection of the dead has already happened. The possibility of passing from time to a timeless eternity is only possible because God Himself is timeless. (Kettner 94) Therefore, our death and resurrection is seen together as a single event, something which baffles our earth bound minds.
What I am proposing could be called immediate resurrection . Which simply states that because we move from time to a timeless eternity at death, we immediately obtain our heavenly bodies in it's final state. This is because in a timeless eternity, there is an eternal now in which there is no before or after. Our death and bodily resurrection happens simultaneously.
Included in this view is a belief that the nature of man is a conditional unity, to borrow a term from Erickson. I believe that our being exists as separate elements, body and soul (dualism), yet function in unity while alive. However, at death, these elements separate so that we can obtain our new glorified bodies.
Arguably, there are problems with this position as there are with all the positions. Time does not permit me to do more than list the problems. First, what of the OT references to existence in sheol? Also there is the problem with Jesus spending three days in the grave? Was there no immediate resurrection for Christ or was His way different than ours? Finally, Nelson Pike states that God could not be concerned or participate in the affairs of man, nor could He be a personal God if He is outside of time. Therefore, if God is not outside of time than this theory doesn't work because we could not be outside time either. The answer to these questions must be address at another time or by the individual reading this paper.
Let me end by saying
that although I have done much study and reflection concerning my own conclusion
about the question of death and the immediate state, I must still
assert that it, as well as the other previously expressed are only opinions.
The Bible is just not clear or absolute e concerning this issue. Therefore
I must end as I have begun with the quote from Paul Althaus: "We
know nothing before the resurrection than death and that the dead
are in God's hand. That is sufficient."
Bailey, Robert Edson "Is Sleep the proper biblical term for the intermediate
state?" Zeitscrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und
die Kunde der Alteren Kirche 55 No. 3-4: p. 161-167. 1964
Cassidy, Ronald. "Paul's Attitude to Death in 2 Cor. 5:1-10". Evangelical Quarterly. 43. p. 210-217. O-D 1971
Cooper, John W. Body, Soul & Life Everlasting. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1989
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1984
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1983
Harris, Murray J. "The New Testament view of life after death" Themelious. 11. No. 2 p. 47-52. Ja. 1986
Hesslelink, I. John "A Case for a Transitional Body". Perscpectives. No. 10: p. 10-13. April 1995
Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology Vol. III. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1989
Kettner, Edward G. "Time, Eternity and the Intermediate State". Concordia Journal. 12 No. 3 p. 90-100. My 1986
Orr, James editor . The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Vol. II. Peabody: Hendrickson Pub. 1956
Osei-Bonsu, J. "The Intermediate State in the New Testament". Scottish Journal of Theology. 44, p. 169-194. 1991
Reichenbach, Bruce R. "Monism and the Possibility of Life After Death". Religious Studies. 14. p. 27-34. Mr 1978
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