You may not know it, but there is a very controversial issue in Old Testament theology concerning the afterlife. It seems that the Old Testament saints did not have the privilege of reading all these books about people who have died, seen heaven, and come back to tell us all about that which awaits us! In fact, as odd as it may seem, the hope that you and I have of being in a conscious state of existence with Christ at the moment of death is strangely absent among Old Testament believers. Those in the Old Testament often speak of death as the absence of God, hopelessness, and dead silence.

This makes little sense to most of us. We, like Paul, attempt to view death as gain (Phil. 1:21). We believe that the moment we exit the body is the moment we are present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Let me correct myself. The word “present” does not do this passage justice. “We are of good courage,” Paul says, “and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” The word used here for “home” is endemeno. It is used only here in the New Testament. In fact, Paul uses it three times. It means “to be in a familiar place” (BDAG) or “to be in a place of comfort.” “Home” is a good translation. We believe that when we die, we exit the familiarity of our current existence to a greater comfort with the Lord. We believe that the day we die is the day we are in Paradise (Luke 23:43), when we are home. As well, although we need to be careful that we don’t make parables walk on all four theological legs, I think a good case can be made that we have an angelic escort to heaven the moment we take our last breath (Luke 16:22). All of this to say that believers in Christ have very strong biblical support for the hope that death immediately presents us with a mysterious yet wonderful new life with Christ.

However, this does not seem to be the case with Old Testament believers. They present themselves as those who fear death a great deal, more than most of us are comfortable with. In fact, in some cases, it looks like they don’t believe in heaven at all. Notice here:

Psalm 6:5
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?

David, fearing the presence and antagonism of his enemies, is calling on God for deliverance. What is his main argument? Well, it goes like this: “If my enemies take my life, I will not be able to praise you.” What gives here, David? In Sheol (death, the grave), he won’t be able to praise God? Are you kidding? When we die, we will be in his very presence. And the first thing I will do is fall down and worship Christ.

And this verse is not the only troublesome verse in Old Testament personal eschatology (theology of the what happens after death). Listen to these passages:

Psalm 30:9
What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?

Psalm 88:10
Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah

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

Isa, 38:18
For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness.

Ecc. 9:5
For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten.

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

These passages are indeed difficult to harmonize with a New Testament theology. All of them suggest that, at least according to Old Testament believers, death is it. There is no afterlife or intermediate state of existence and, possibly, no resurrection.

So how do we deal with this? I see a few options:

1. There is no intermediate state

This is often referred to as “soul sleep” or “Christian mortalism.” There is another fancy term for this, hypnopsychism. This view simply argues that the soul ceases to exist during the time between death and judgement. There is no conscious intermediate state of existence. This has been around for a while. In fact, John Calvin wrote a tract condemning this view called Psychopannychia. The subtitle reads: “Or a refutation of the error entertained by some unskillful persons, who ignorantly imagine that in the interval between death and the judgment the soul sleeps.” As odd as it may seem, there are some well-known theologians who have argued for this view. Among them are John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, John Milton, and A.T. Robertson. Of course this is the doctrine that is dogmatized by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, and Seventh Day Adventists. And it will probably surprise many of you to know that N.T. Wright is an advocate of Soul Sleep. But the most significant believer in this view is Martin Luther (although many argue he changed his position later in life).

My opinion is that while this view sufficiently deals with these Old Testament passages, it is nearly impossible to systematize with the New Testament passages mentioned above. I don’t think this is a legitimate Christian option and I would be comfortable labeling it as heterodoxy (note: that does not mean that those who hold to this are not saved; it just means that their view of personal eschatology is coloring outside the lines of the historic Christian faith and fails to present a legitimate biblical theology).

2. Old Testament believes did believe in a conscious intermediate state

The argument here is that these passages in the Old Testament must be contextualized. The writers were not trying to present a theology of personal eschatology, but simply saying that our life here on earth presents us with a particular work that ends at death. While here on earth, we can praise God in a different way through the trials, tribulations, and glories of this world. For example, when we die, we can no longer evangelize. When we die, we can no longer partake in the sufferings of Christ. When we die, we cannot grow in our sanctification. When we die, we cannot continue to acquire rewards. It is in this sense only that our spirit becomes silent. Support for this can be found in John 9:4 when Christ says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” The “night” is not an uncouncious state of existence, but a ceasing from the work that glorifies God in a unique way.

This view is the most popular in Christian history and held by most evangelicals and Catholics.

3. Old Testament believers did not believe in a conscious intermediate state, but this does not mean that there is not one

Here, it is granted that the Old Testament believers did not believe in an intermediate state of existence, but the New Testament provides further revelation which reveals a greater hope. The Old Testament passages above seem to present an authorial understanding which lacks any view of hope in the afterlife, while it seems very possible that they did have a hazy view of the resurrection. In short, their view of what happens after death is dark, sad, and wrong. But we should not expect Old Testament believers to have a fulfilled theology. Revelation is given progressively. What this means is that there are a lot of things that Old Testament believers did not know. When they spoke on issues such as this, we should not expect them to always express a perfected hope.

Of course, the problem with this may be obvious. It seems to deny inerrancy as there is a suggestion that these Old Testament texts teach wrong theology. However, I don’t necessarily think we have to go there. Many times Old Testament saints write to illustrate their feelings, but this does not necessarily mean that what they write is teaching doctrine. For example, in Psalm 22:1 David says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We know that God does not forsake any of his children and he had not forsaken David (Heb. 13:5). David was wrong in his theology, but accurately expressed his feelings. We give David some theological slack here, understanding that such cries are not meant to contribute to doctrine, but to accurately represent the troubles that people go through. With the passages that do seem to suggest soul sleep, they, like Psalm 22:1, are not meant to contribute to doctrine. Yes, it is very possible that Old Testament saints (at least the ones who wrote the above passages), did not believe there was any consciousness after death, but this does not mean that there is not consciousness after death. Progressive revelation explains this problem.

My view

I reject any notion of soul sleep. Again, I don’t think anyone is going to hell for believing it, I just don’t think it is a legitimate option. I do believe both #2 and #3 are worthy of support. However, I am more inclined to #3 right now. I do understand the problems people may see with inerrancy (a doctrine to which I hold), but I think these problems can be overcome by looking at it as presented above. I think #3 holds to the integrity of authorial intent hermeneutics (interpreting the Bible through the eyes of the author) better than the other two options. Either way, I believe very strongly that when believers die, they are immediately escorted to the presence of Christ and await resurrection with great anticipation.

What about you? Which option do you think is best?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    145 replies to "Where Did Old Testament Saints Think They Went When They Died?"

    • @jin: You only show your great “historical” ignorance here! I too believe in the authority of the Bible or the Holy Scripture, and in again the historical place of what we Reformational & Reformed Christians call Sola Scriptura! And btw without the Reformation YOU would not have a Protestant Bible! Note Martin Luther’s great German Translation of the Bible! Again I am not making theological documents themselves equal to the Holy Scripture. But, indeed the First Seven Ecumenical Councils, and especially the first Five are themselves very much central in the biblical and theological centre, of our Christian doctrine and theology. It is here btw, that so-called “fundamentalism” itself breaks down badly! For one simply cannot do theological study without the Biblical history itself! Indeed the Bible did not simply drop out of the sky, but has itself its own history! And again btw our Christian Bible comes from the Jewish Bible, and so we Christians are Judeo-Christian, with both the Old and New Covenant!

      You really need to get into some Biblical theology and history here mate! If I may ask, what is your ecclesiastical and church tradition? Simply what “church” do you belong to? And since you are certainly presenting a “fundamentalist” mentality, man-up and tell us! How’s that for just no-nonsense! 😉

    • jin

      ahhh…yes, the Seven Ecumenical Councils. It is my view that everything started to go awry with these meetings. As you may well know, the early Christian church was doing just fine without any schisms until the newly converted Romans and Pagans started to meddle with the doctrines. Although early Christians were being persecuted, they did not have any schisms or separate doctrines. Before these meetings the early church leaders stayed true to the Jewish scriptures and to the early writings and letters of the Apostles. But after Constantine legalized Christianity and started to give Christians political and religious power, things started to go awry. As in all things, power corrupts. When it was beneficial to be a Christian, people became Christians not because they loved God, but because of their greed for power. The true Christians were willing to sacrifice their lives for Jesus and gladly accepted Christianity despite persecution. But these newly converted Roman Christians became Christians because it was beneficial to them and it was the seat of power for the Roman Empire under Constantine.

      I see these Seven Ecumenical Councils not as a religious meeting to seek God, but rather as a power struggle between the various so-called “Christian Emperors”. The early Roman Catholic history is not a very good one.
      The early Reformers such as Luther were fighting against the things made awry by these “Christian Emperors” who abused their power to change doctrines for their benefit.

      So back to the scriptures and back to the fundamentals!

      And, yes…I am a Bible “thumpin'” Christian. But, I am not going to tell you what “church” I attend to worship because of your preconceived bias against this “church” and that “church”. It matters none anyways because I serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ just like you.

    • Don Donaldson

      Jin, not to get off topic, but the “spiritual” bodies Paul speaks of are not immaterial… not the same as disembodied spirits. Indeed, we long to be clothed with our immortal bodies, rather than unclothed as spirits only. When Paul says “spiritual” he is referring to the supernatural (greater than natural) resurrection body – uncorrupted, immortal, yet more than merely spirit. His pont in 1 Cor 15:35-54 is that we will indeed have bodies of substance, needed because we will not live in the “heavens” but on the new earth, recreated to be the home of righteousness. (Rev 21)

    • jin

      Don, Yes I agree. We will get new un-corruptible and immortal bodies on the new earth. But, we will NOT have our old corruptible and diseased bodies while in heaven. Remember that the whole point of baptism is to be born again. That means that our old self – the sinful man is going to be no more. This includes not only our spirit, but our outer physical bodies. Hence, when we die, our bodies return to dust where it came from and we get “supernatural” bodies in heaven? and new immortal physical bodies on the new earth.

      Then, this begs the question: Why would Peter say that David’s physical body is still in the grave? Just to distinguish between Christ and David?!? If so, then we would be saying that the only difference between Jesus’ glorious resurrection and ours is the physical body. Jesus led a totally holy life without sin to die for our sins only to resurrect with His earthly body?? while we get “supernatural” ones? So David is in heaven now with a brand new spankin’ “supernatural” body while our/ His Lord and Savior has the earthly one still?!?!

    • Irene

      Hi jin,

      To recap, you are advocating soul sleep because you believe Scripture needs to be taken literally, at face value, without the lens of historical Christian theology.

      You are being zealous and stubborn in the defense of God’s Word, which is good, but what you are actually defending is not what you THINK you are defending.

      Do you go to church on Sundays?
      Do you have a Christmas tree in your home on Dec 25?
      Can you recite the list of books of the New Testament?
      Do you reject books like The Gospel of Thomas and others because they are not the inspired Word of God?
      Do you believe Jesus is true God AND true man?

      Then there is tradition you accept as important parts of your faith.

      You have repeatedly said we need to take verses as they are given to us (who gave them to us, by the way?), without applying our own doctrinal interpretations to them.

      Do you use that same strategy for these verses?
      If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off….
      Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood….
      I am the Bread of Life….
      Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water….
      It is shameful for a woman to speak in church…
      A woman ought to have a veil on her head…
      I tell you, on the day of judgement men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

      EVERYONE looks at Scripture with some kind of lenses. Look at all the thousands of churches which all sincerely claim Scripture alone. There is no Scripture alone. There is just Scripture plus “how I interpret it”.

      If it weren’t for the authority of church and tradition, you wouldn’t have a Bible to “thump”!

    • First Amen there Don! Let us continue to “flesh” things out here, i.e. the real “spirit and truth” about the Resurrection ‘In Christ’, and the New Creation! Btw, I am Historic Pre-Mill, but post-trib… and if ever there was an hour and time for “prophetic” study and preaching, it is now! Surely the Day of the Lord is near! We can see the LAST precursors even now.. Come Lord Jesus!

      WE can see now too, I believe, our friend jin’s somewhat fundamentalist agenda! Now we are well beyond the error of Soul-Sleep, to the grave errors of his loss of history, and also biblical hermeneutics! This is not really a personal attack on my part, but most certainly a biblical, theological and historical criticism! Let’s use a military term, and say my point is a biblical-theological-historical strike, I have probed.. but now its time to expose the said errors here, which are many!

      And afraid to show your ecclesiastical place and position? Very strange to say the least, you have sort of backed yourself into a biblical-theological-historical corner! I mean shouting a “fundamentalist” ad hoc, just does not cut it! But let me pull back a bit, and let us consider the Biblical Canon itself, as even the Church Fathers, who have said: “All things the Divine Scripture says are utterances of the Holy Spirit.” (Gregory of Nyssa) But for us Reformational and Reformed Christians, the Canon and Holy Scripture are self-authenticating, but this teaching of what we Reformed call sola scriptura, surely can be traced back to the early Patristic period, and then to Augustine (Conf. 6.5; 11,3). We Evangelicals would call this also, the Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit! As John Calvin could say, “God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word. . . . Scripture is indeed self-authenticated.”

    • Wow! With # 9 things just get worse! The Resurrection of Christ is surely as Paul said, a complete “spiritual” but material: spirit, soul and body! (1 Thess. 5: 23) “We shall be like him; for we shall see him as HE is.” (1 John 3: 2)

    • Don Donaldson

      Jin, I would disagree that we get wholly new bodies at the resurrection. Paul says our bodies are planted in corruption but raised incorruptible. Our bodies themselves will be “changed” in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:52), so it is by the power of God that our formerly sinful bodies are raised glorious and new.

      I’d say that Peter spoke of the physical bodies of Christ and David only to illustrate the point that the prophecy applied to Jesus and NOT to David (since David’s body did see decay). He was not saying anything about what degree of glory Jesus will have compared to our resurrected bodies, or what other distinctions there will be between us and Him. His only point was that David’s body decayed in the grave, while Jesus was resurrected, so Jesus is therefore the prophesied “Holy One.”

      We will not receive our glorified bodies until the resurrection, when our old bodies are raised and changed in a moment’s time. Until then, only our spirits are at home with the Lord.

    • […] The Afterlife of Old Testament Saints – Michael Patton over at Credo house ministries offers a post regarding the views of heaven held by Old Testament saints (David, Abraham, etc.) Whether or not you agree with his final take on things, this issue is worth reading, pondering, and praying over. […]

    • jin

      Let’s just go back to the scriptures…with a reasonable and sound mind, not clouded by emotions.

      Don, I appreciate your explanations. I agree with you on that we will not receive our heavenly bodies until Jesus’ second coming. The point I can not agree is the fact that our spirit will be in heaven or some other intermediate place in the meanwhile. Where does it say that in the Bible? Can you give me verses that specifically describes or points to such a place? It seems to me that those verses are ambiguous at best and that an intermediary place or immediate ascension is drawn from assumptions or presuppositions.

      3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. John 14

      Even in this verse from Christ tells us that He will come back to receive us unto Himself. This verse coupled with all other verses in the OT and NT can’t be more clear enough for me that there is NO intermediate state.

    • Even the OT clearly teaches that when a human-being dies his/her spirit returns to the Lord: “And the dust (body) returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave (made) it.” (Ecc. 12: 7)

      Amen, there is simply no soul-sleep, in a dead body! Our Lord Himself taught the intermediate state after death and before the resurrection: Luke 16: 19-30, what could be more clear! “Hades” in the time of Christ, as now, was/is the place of the wicked dead – a place of torment! (Lk. 13: 27-28)

      Btw, Biblical Truth should always cause us great emotion and desire! GOD give us passion & desire for your Word & Truth! Indeed back to the sources of truth, ALL of Holy Scripture! “All Scripture is breathed out by God!” (2 Tim. 3: 16)…”theopneustos” Gk. only here – God & Breathed!

    • jin

      Luke 16:19-30 is very controversial and ambiguous. Many contend that it is an old Jewish story that Jesus used as a parable to teach and rebuke the Jews that despite having the “oracles of God” (being rich) that they will not get to heaven or paradise (Abraham’s bosom) because of their unbelief.

      Luke 13:27-28 is talking about events during or immediately after judgement. Notice that in verse 25, it says “once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door…”. This could only mean after judgement (once…shut the door) and so this can not be talking about the state of the dead prior to judgment.

      Ecc. 12:7. Does this really say what you think it says? Yes, the spirit returns to God. But from this statement, you can not assume that there is a separate intermediate place. I submit to you that the word “spirit” here refers to the life-giving breath that only God can give. The Greek word for the Holy Spirit is “Hagios pneumatos”. “Pneuma” is the root word “breath” in Greek. This harmonizes very well with Genesis 2:7
      7And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

      The most important factor is to harmonize the Bible. Just let the Bible explain itself.

    • Luke

      @ Fr. Robert: At the Orthodox “particular judgment” at the time of death, we are confronted by our past misdeeds, with no body to otherwise distract us. I suppose that could be called a kind of purgation.

      It would be incorrect, however, to say that salvation is not experienced until death for EO. Salvation is experienced, but not complete, from the time of conversion. The Greek perfect tense is easy to succinctly translate into English; we are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.

    • @jin: This is one of the very reasons I have been a bit harsh with you, as we can see in your said answers to these Texts of Holy Scripture, especially like Luke 19: 16-30, i.e. “very controversial and ambiguous”? This is always one of those stock answers that I have seen by people who don’t really want Holy Scripture to say what THEY don’t want it to say, based upon their own suppositions. And sadly often this is just cultic, and hardly honest! I say this too, for who knows what historical so-called church you belong too? Yes, I am going to press you here! For we as pastor-teachers must be seeking some transparency, and hopefully clarity in our teaching! And you sir are just hell-bent on teaching Soul-Sleep, from any and all verses! And I am one who just does not believe in it, nor as does the long history of the Church, itself! And when we mention the history of the Church: R. Catholic, Orthodox (EO), Reformational/Reformed, etc., you cry foul! As if the historical Church has been all wrong, on almost everything! So, get my point, as I hope any who read here!

      Are you Trinitarian? I ask, for at this point, who knows what YOU really believe? You have already spoken against the Ecumenical Councils, and thus Creeds! So you are not on the historical Church ground, (1 Tim. 3:15, etc.), at least Creedal!

      In the end, Holy Scripture does explain itself, but only within both the Revelation of God’s Word, and somewhat too from the Historical Pilgrim Church! (1 Tim. 3:15, etc.) The Reformation was never about neglecting the Church of God, but seeking to renew it, biblically and theologically! And thus all real Christian pastor-teachers, are simply Churchmen!

    • Btw, here is, as Michael has stated, Calvin’s piece on Soul-Sleep or Pannychia. A must read, for the serious student! And were all students, even us pastors!

    • @Luke: You are right that salvation is biblically, past, present, and future. But only in the Reformational and Reformed evangelical teaching and theology is this “gift” fully expressed for the Christian now! (Note, Jude 1:1 ; 24)

      *I was raised and somewhat early educated Irish Roman Catholic.

    • Also 1 Peter 1: 2 is also a grand text for the Christians salvation! And election is centred first in God the Father! (Yes, I believe in the monarchy of the Father in the Godhead!)

    • Irene

      @Luke: (#18 on this page)
      Hey, could you say something like that in the Theology Unplugged comments? 🙂

      Theology Unplugged: Roman Catholicism, numbers 4 and 5, about justification. The group keeps bringing up a ledger as an anology for salvation…..claiming that in Catholicism (and also in the Orthodox Church, right?) believers spend their lives building up enough credits/merits to earn salvation by the time they die. I’ve tried to explain differently, but you hit the nail on the head there! Salvation is also a present reality for Catholic and Orthodox too!

    • @Irene: I am not sure salvation present ‘In Christ’ is really properly expressed in either R. Catholicism or the EO? For how can I know that I am “saved” today, if I don’t know that God has called me in His past or eternity, and will thus keep me to the end? (Rom. 8: 31-39)

    • jin

      Fr. Robert, Thank you for the link to the Calvin article. What an exhaustive read!!
      I agree that there is a distinction between the physical body and a “spirit/soul”. The Bible does use “spirit” and “soul” interchangeably and needs to be read in context to get the exact meaning. However, this fact does not change the fact that when a “spirit” or “soul” sins, it dies. We all know that the wages of sin is death and it is undeniably written that the “soul that sinneth, it shall die”.
      Even God, Himself told Adam and Eve that “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die”.
      As Calvin pointed out, we are indeed made in the image of God. And since God is Spirit, we too are spirit encased in our physical bodies. But, Calvin neglected to point out that the major difference (among many) between God’s Spirit and ours is SIN. MAN HAS SINNED. Sin has separated us from God. Therefore, I submit to you that sin not only causes physical death, but also complete spiritual separation from God. This separation can be seen as a “sleep” until the resurrection when the saved will be given new bodies and new eternal life. Isn’t this why God prevented the fallen Adam and Even from partaking from the Tree of Life? Not only to prevent them from getting eternal physical body, but also to prevent them form getting an eternal spirit/soul? I must ask the question, If we were made in the image of God and if sin only deprives us of our physical bodies, what is the potency of sin? If we still have an eternal soul, what is the punishment of sin? Just mere degradation of physical bodies? ahhh…you say that the soul is placed in “prison” where Jesus supposedly will come and minister again. I think that verse has been blown way out of proportion and has led to so many assumptions! Please tell me where else in the Bible is “prison” referred to as hell or any such intermediary. NOWHERE! “Prison” is always mentioned in reference to being…

    • jin

      reference to being “chained” to sin and to any physical or meta-physical place such as hell. Almost made up a whole doctrine because of the word “prison”. Certainly, Jesus ministered to those who were “chained” to sin or “imprisoned to sin”. And Jesus did so in spirit to those in the OT and especially to those in the antediluvian world. I submit to you that this is what is being said in this vexing verse.

    • Don Donaldson

      Jin, the primary texts that inform me about my condition at death are Paul’s statements that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8) and that Paul had a desire to depart and “be with Christ, which is far better” (Phillip 1:23). Paul thought dying was preferable to living due to his expectation that death would place him in the presence of Christ, and for this to be “far better” must mean that Paul expected to consciously experience the Lord’s presence. I think that’s a pretty straightforward understanding of what Paul said and meant.

    • Irene

      About 1 Pet:19
      He went and preached to the spirits in prison.

      Let’s not only rely on our modern interpretation of the word “prison,” but how it was used in the culture in which Peter was writing.

      Here is some cultural context from Wisdom of Solomon.
      “For you have power over life and death; you lead men down to the gates of Hades and back again. A man in his wickedness kills another, but he cannot bring back the departed spirit, nor set free the imprisoned soul.”
      So the “imprisoned” soul is not just a sinful soul. It is the soul of one who has died, according to the Jewish understanding preceding Christ.

      We can see that the understanding of first century Christians confirms this in the most ancient “Apostles Creed” which professes, “He descended into hell,” as that 1 Pet verse says.

      So we have pre-Christ writing about death as “prison” and post-Christ writing about the dead at the time of the crucifixion being in “prison.”

      Now if Christ PREACHED to these spirits in prison, it follows they must have been conscious (maybe not so for ALL preachers today, ha, ha) and not in a literal “sleep.”

    • Irene

      I’ve skimmed the comments looking for a reference to Samuel and Saul –I know I read it somewhere along the way. I can’t locate those comments now, but in Sirach there is an interesting reference to that story and to “sleep.” I’m aware that jin, Don, and Fr Robert, you wouldn’t accept this as Scripture, but I think you would accept it as one example of how the term “sleep” is used in the Jewish culture of the time.

      Sirach 46:19-20
      “Before the time of his eternal sleep, Samuel called men to witness before the Lord and his anointed: “I have not taken any one’s property, not so much as a pair of shoes.” And no man accused him. Even after he had fallen asleep he prophesied and revealed to the king his death, and lifted up his voice out of the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people.”

      So I notice that it says his *eternal* sleep. This fits with the notion that sleep means rest after death, as in a ceasing from work during life. In this context, it couldn’t possibly mean a sleep that will end at the resurrection. And during this eternal sleep, Samuel prophesies….so he couldn’t be unconscious. At any rate, this verse demonstrates that the word “sleep” doesn’t necessarily mean a period of unconsciousness whenever it is used in Jewish/Christian writing.

    • @jin: I am happy that you have read Calvin’s article on this subject, yes it is massive, and just think he wrote that 500 years ago or so! What a biblical and faithful theolog Calvin was… always a pastor-teacher!

      As to Calvin too, and the doctrine of sin, no one has written about the reality of the “death” of sin, both spiritually and quite literally in judgment than John Calvin, and perhaps his students in the Genevan Academy (see Theodore Beza and Francis Turretin). This is the best of “Calvinism”, historically in my opinion! And “neglect” in and from Calvin? Never! 😉

      I think we have covered this subject biblically, and sometwhat theolgically! (Noting Don also). And in my opinion no matter what someone says, and even what the Holy Scripture says, YOU are going to continue to believe and teach Soul-Sleep! Against also the major history and the classic historical Churches of God!

      Not much else to say that I can see, at least biblically?

      But btw, what do you think of the Apostles Creed, as Irene has noted? And you have not put a dent in 1 Peter 3: 18-22, exegetically!

    • Luke

      @Irene and Fr. Robert:

      I wouldn’t mind discussing salvation elsewhere, but I don’t want to drag the comments too far off-topic here.

    • @Luke: I don’t think I have the time to do the subject justice! But, if you and Irene want to start and get into it, I would try to follow along to some degree. But indeed, best some other place!

      *But note, I am Reformed basically on soteriology! 🙂

    • Irene


      You might be interested in these podcasts:


      I’m not so much interested in debating whether Catholic or Reformed Evangelical ideas of justification are correct as I am in fairly portraying Catholic theology in response to those podcasts.
      If you are Orthodox, you may have some good points to contribute there.

    • Indeed in the end, Justfication: Iusttia Dei: is the work of God’s Righteouness, (Rom. 1:16-17). But as verse 18 in Romans 1, there is also a “punitive righteousness” in God, the concept as necessary to the divine righteousness and the divine law! i.e. Law/Gospel. And this is only fulfilled ‘In Christ’! (Rom. 10: 4, etc. (5-17)

    • Hubert Frost

      I really think that a honest reading of the texts leads to the conclusion that in the large majority of cases, the author did not believe in an afterlife and considered this as a theological truth to be conveyed.

      This , however, flies in the face of the inerrancy dogma since the authors wrote their own false beliefs into the bible.

      Thus following the path of honesty should also lead us to reject inerrancy, however painful it may be to many of us.

      By the way, this is only one example among many whereby unbiased scholarship provides us with solid grounds for not believing in an inerrant bible.
      Examples of contradictions abound and can only be denied by reinterpreting some verses in a fully arbitrary and absurd way.

      Far from protecting Christendom, inerrancy is gravely harming the Church.

      On the one hand, it is an insurmountable hurdle for sincere and intelligent unbelievers who clearly see that the Bible is not free of errors.
      On the other hand, it leads quite a few of the most clever folks to leave the Church and abandon their faith because they can no longer afford the mental gyrations and cognitive dissonance associated with a belief in inerrancy.

    • Jeremy

      I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve just found this site and it looks like it has a lot of meat.

      On the original article, the first thought I had in reference to the OT believers and the afterlife was what Job said :

      For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
      And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
      Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.
      Job 19:25-27

      Others have mentioned this passage in passing. But to my eyes, it seems to be stark in its declaration of a dual existence (natural and spiritual flesh). And the hope of seeing the Redeemer in the “flesh” and the reference to “latter days” seems to imply (along with Daniel 12 and his being commanded to sleep until judgment) that the OT believers looked to that day and nothing previous.

      But when Christ arrives, we have Him saying this :

      Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
      And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
      John 11:25,26

      And in combination with what occurred on the mount of Transfiguration (God is not the God of the dead but the living), it would seem that something may have happened (or maybe just revealed?) around that time.

      I think it worthy of note that “there remaineth a rest to the people of God”. The book of Hebrews goes to great pains to make that clear that it is in Christ. And, in (possibly direct) conjunction, we find this eschatological declaration :

      Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
      Rev 14:13

      While I am certainly sympathetic to Jin’s SDA doctrine of soul sleep, there is something greater happening that a dry literalism cannot apprehend.

    • Jeremy

      I know we are to be limited in posts, but I don’t know that my conclusion was made clear. I see #2 as the most likely, but not a necessary conclusion for NT believers.

    • arthur shasta

      it’s in the book…

      everything before Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension is run thru Sheol, one side Paradise (or Abraham’s bosom) , on side for eternal torment with, as Jesus portrays Abraham saying “a great gulf fixed between”. the thief on the cross went to this Paradise.

      after His resurrection and when His work of atonement was complete, Christ was able to present Himself to the Father as a a COMPLETE sacrifice that bridged the gulf between God and man, thus he could bring those from Paradise into the presence of the Father wrapped in the holiness of Christ. hell remain those who die in their sins, heaven for those who rest on their belief in Christ.

      all will be resurrected and given new, eternal bodies fit for their destination.

      the only exception will be those that are ‘raptured’ to meet the Lord in the air, at the beginning of the days of the Wrath of the LORD.

      when all is said and done, unbelievers are sentenced at the Judgement seat to eternal damnation, believers are rewarded at, using Paul’s example of the runner and the race, the “awards” seat where their works are revealed by the “fire” of the Lord’s examination (wood, stubble and hay or gold, silver and precious stones) and their role in the heavens given them accordingly.

      we need to stop going on what we “think” and react to what the Word “says”.

    • Fred

      Christ’s Resurrection radically changed the “intermediate state”. For all humanity before Christ, death meant Sheol/Hades, but Christ’s resurrection broke the bonds of death. So for the OT writers, death did mean separation from God (at least temporarily, although they did not know this for the most part), but the NT writers knew better because they were witnesses to the risen Lord and understood what this meant for all humanity. This has been the teaching of the Orthodox Church for 2000 years.

    • jin

      Stop the senseless doctrines of the “church”!

      Just read the Bible

      Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

    • Fred

      Back on Jan 9, Matthew wrote “That when the OT saints wrote those verses, the intermediate state was different before the arrival, death, and resurrection of Jesus than it is after.” Mike asked “Have you ever heard of anyone who interprets these verses that way?”. I was just answering Mike’s question – yes, there are many that hold such a view.

    • Keith

      I think Christianity is too steeped in tradition and fear of death. If pressed, I would say the Bible supports Soul Sleep more than not. A verse that always gets me is John 14:1-4. I really hope today’s theologians aren’t willfully turning a blind eye to truth to keep tradition or ease peoples minds.

    • Teddy D

      Brothers and sisters I think we ought first to consider each other even if we disagree strongly or think someone is dead wrong. Gal 6:1 tells us “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore that one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” . One valid point not fully ventilated here, is that there is a difference between the soul and the spirit and according to Heb 4:12 they can be separated. Thus we might consider the destination of the soul at death as distinct from the spirit which returns to God who gave it. (Eccl 12:7) We may also want to contemplate whether such a state of separation allows for conscious awareness.

      Also contrary to what has been oft quoted here and in other places 2Cor 5:8 does not state that, “to be absent from the body IS to be present with the Lord.” Rather he said that he was “willing” to trade one position for the other but there is nothing in the text to imply that it is a simultaneous transfer. If I said “John I am willing to leave my house and come to yours” unless my exit door was your entrance door there would of necessity be a time lapse. Now I am not saying that there is a time lapse, however I do not believe we can assume absent from body = at home with the Lord, without reading something into that text.

      Further, because Paul says it is far better that does not imply that there is anything wrong with sleep. I am not for or against soul-sleep (I hate labels) but we all like sleep now. We have no problem with sleep if we are sick or tired. So what is wrong if we grow sick and tired of this awful world and wait for our dear Lord’s return in blissful sleep? Does that somehow diminish us or Him? I think not.

      Being consciously aware in the presence of Jesus and the Father will be an awesome thing for us all. None of us should want less than that, but whether we believe it will happen instantly or after sleep won’t change the outcome.

    • Brian

      I may have missed it but why is nobody considering the many passages that support the idea that OT Saints believe in life after death. Certainly the early patriarchs believed they would be raised in that land. David says of his son who dies as a baby ” I will go to him; he will not come to me. Even Job speaks of being in his body and seeing the great day of his redeemer. Also, if you notice when God gives him (Job ) twice what he had before, He only gives him 7 sons and 3 daughters. Why? Because the former sons and daughters still exist giving him 14 sons and 6 daughters. If you hold the account of Saul bringing up Samuel to ask what to do because God no longer would communicate with him to be a real experience, then for certain Samuel came from somewhere. Ecclesiastes which seems totally void of the thought of an afterlife even says that the spirit returns to God from where it came. This demands a distinction between the body and the spirit. Daniel speaks of a future judgement and raising of the dead. The NT Jews were not shocked at this notion. In fact there was a sect that held that there was no resurrection seen primarily when Jesus says to those directly that God is the God of the living, not the dead. These are just a few examples. In light of all of these examples and ones I have not mentioned, I would have to vote primarily with the context explanation.

    • Patti

      I must say this…who cares? Our ultimate goal is to BE with God and to be KNOWN by Him. If I sleep or not, oh well. Christ did tell the thief he would be with Him that day in paradise. Comforting, but sleeping is not bad either. My thought is this: How much more the OT saints loved and served our God!! If they thought that living in the body was all there was, and they were willing to suffer their one and only life to please God, without reward of eternal life,,,,WOW. How many of us would do that? Who of us would suffer and live life as God demands if we did not have the HOPE, the FAITH of eternal life. I dare say very few of us would.

    • NORMA

      There were two schools of thought on death the Sadducees and the other Pharisees. The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection of the dead, and in spirits and angels, but the Sadducees did not. The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit. Basically, the Sadducees were anti-supernaturalists—they did not believe in miracles. It would almost seem the Sadducees were farther from the truth (at least about the resurrection of the dead) than the Gentile pagans. The reality and finality of death is all too obvious. There are many things which can be said at a funeral, but there is only one message which gives hope, and that message is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is because the gospel of Jesus Christ has as its central theme and message the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the resulting hope of resurrection and eternal life for every Christian. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul deals with the subject of death and the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. In so doing, Paul gives one of the clearest, most concise definitions of the “gospel” found anywhere in the Bible. He shows how a denial of the resurrection of the dead is a denial of the gospel itself, and how believing in the gospel gives one hope for the next world as well as for the present.

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