To Be Absent From the Body

To_Be_Absent_From_the_Body

originally posted 01 March, 2009
reproduced from To Be Absent From the Body

Death is one of the most difficult topics that any human being ever has to deal with. None of us likes dealing with the death of a family member, a close friend, or even people we do not know but still admire. Many people regularly visit the gravesite of a loved one, whereas others have their remains cremated and scattered into the wind. Even if you do not regularly visit a cemetery where your loved one may be buried, thoughts and memories of the deceased will undoubtedly still come to your mind from time to time, and the last memory you may have of such a person—that of your loved one’s funeral—is perhaps what you remember.

The Holy Scriptures give us as Believers a great deal of comfort, as we know that we will see those who die in the faith again. Those of us who believe in the doctrine of resurrection know that a gravesite is not the final destination. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Thessalonicans who had not largely originally grown up in a culture of resurrection, corrected them with this instruction:

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Messiah will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).

The doctrine of resurrection is comforting, because the process of decomposition will be reversed. No matter how hard the funeral industry may try to retard decay via embalming, the placement of a body in an hermetically sealed casket, and then the placement of a casket in a heavy airtight vault—a corpse will still decay. But as the Scriptures so properly put it, “I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:6). Isaiah 26:19 likewise says, “Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy.” The resurrection of our Lord Yeshua should assure us that those who have died in faith will also be resurrected, with bodies that will live and breathe again: “Messiah has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

The doctrine of resurrection is something very important for each of us to believe, especially as it concerns salvation and what Yeshua has accomplished for us (Hebrews 9:28). Yet undeniably connected to the doctrine of resurrection is what happens to the deceased in the interim. What is the intermediate condition of those who have died? Are our friends and loved ones, who knew the Lord during their lives and were saved, simply waiting in the ground for that day of resurrection, their bodies decaying? Or, are our friends and loved ones, who knew the Lord during their lives and were saved, in the presence of the Lord, awaiting to be reunited with their bodies on that day of resurrection?

Belief in a post-mortem afterlife, where deceased Believers wait in Heaven in the presence of the Lord until the time of resurrection, has come under considerable attack in the past century, primarily from theological liberals, but now even from some purported theological conservatives.[1] Even in our own Messianic movement, the idea that “going to Heaven when you die” is not a Biblical teaching, has gained much ground in various sectors, even though there has been little detailed engagement with the ramifications of such a view. The words of the Maccabean martyrs, “For if we so die, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us” (4 Maccabees 13:17; cf. 9:8-9), are not heard. Ignored are the countless testimonies of faithful Believers who have lived their lives knowing that once they die, they will meet their Savior, having glimpses of Him in their twilight moments. And what of the conviction of those who know that when they worship the Lord, they join in with a company of angels and saints who are in Heaven right now worshipping the Lord (Hebrews 12:22-23)?

While he firmly held to the doctrine of resurrection, Paul’s own words “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23, RSV), or perhaps more significantly, “I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), get quickly left out of the discussion. Frequently, it is not until one is facing death—either the death of a loved one, or one’s own personal death—that the subject comes up. Many, because of all of the rhetoric that has been floating around, are confused and do not know what to believe about the time between death and resurrection. They do not know what to think between hearing things about Hellenistic philosophy, the different dimensions of life and death, Sheol and the grave, and whether or not the human being is unique among God’s creatures in comparison to the animals.

It is easy to say that this is a topic worthy of our discussion, lest we be confused any longer. An evaluation of the subject matter, and an impetus not to oversimplify things, is needed. The subject of death and resurrection is supposed to be something elementary (Hebrews 6:1-2), meaning that it is to already be understood by mature men and women of God. Is our inability to understand this properly as Messianic Believers an indication that we are not as mature as we should be? What are the motives of Believers who are convicted that when they die they will be immediately transported into the presence of their Savior, and the motives of those who think that they will just fall asleep into sheer unconsciousness and be buried?

Stopping the Confusion

When surveying the debate over the intermediate state between death and resurrection, there are people in today’s independent Messianic community who are confused. Most of Messianic Judaism’s position on the intermediate state between death and resurrection has been the same as most of evangelical Christianity: a Believer in the Messiah departs this Earth for the presence of the Lord, with the person’s consciousness (sometimes called a “soul”) to be returned to his or her reanimated physical body at the time of resurrection.[2] Today, however, instead of hearing things like “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places…” (John 14:2), many independent Messianics will instead declare “…the dead do not know anything…” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).

The doctrine of psychopannychy—more commonly known by the vernacular “soul sleep”—is often not viewed as heresy in today’s evangelical Church, but is instead viewed as a theological aberration.[3] I would not consider Messianics who believe in what is commonly called “soul sleep” to be heretics, but I would consider their interpretations of Scripture to be questionable, misguided, usually materialistic, and a bit one-dimensional (in view of the over 100 billion galaxies in our known universe, and especially in light of diverse scientific research proving the existence of multiple “universes”).

To further complicate things, some of the passages, that psychopannychists bring to the attention of Bible readers, have sometimes been viewed as being anti-resurrection. Today, a sizeable number of independent Messianics believe in psychopannychy, or at least concede that it has valid points. Outreach Israel Ministries and Messianic Apologetics have never advocated any kind of “soul sleep,” always firmly adhering to the Bible’s complete teaching of an intermediate afterlife for all people (whether in the presence of the Lord in Heaven or separated from Him in Hell) until the resurrection. But, perhaps contrary to popular thought, we have always affirmed the reality of a future resurrection, never advocating a permanent disembodied afterlife.

It has been our observation that as the independent Messianic movement has expanded, people from traditions outside those of mainline Judaism and evangelical Christianity have brought their theology of psychopannychy with them.[4] They frequently make it their duty to “correct” everyone. This influence is often coupled with a wide amount of disrespect that has been encouraged toward our Christian theological heritage, and is now being coupled with disrespect toward our Jewish theological heritage (in particular, the beliefs of the ancient Pharisees). The doctrine of psychopannychy is now an avant-garde teaching in many sectors of the Messianic movement, with some actually claiming that it is “revelation” that the Father is restoring to His people.

It has become quite en vogue in parts of today’s Messianic movement to advocate that any belief in a disembodied afterlife is one of the so-called “lies” of the Christian Church that must be discarded, with information on this subject presented in a very harsh manner. When people hear this—especially those who have lost loved ones and have had to go through some kind of grief counseling—they can be easily confused and not know what to do. C.J. Koster, founder of the Institute for Scripture Research, is quite direct in stating,

“One of the most popular doctrines of the Church is that of ‘going to heaven.’ Nobody is going to heaven. The Reign (Kingdom) of heaven is coming to earth – that is what we read in Scripture! The ‘going to heaven’ was a popular Pagan doctrine.”[5]

For some of today’s Messianics, this is all that needs to be said. They think that Born again Believers being transported into the presence of the Lord at time of death is a pagan doctrine, and thus it must be rejected. We who believe in a disembodied intermediate time in Heaven are said to be denying the blessed hope of the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We are said to be denying the reality that Heaven is coming to Earth, and that Yeshua the Messiah will reign over this planet. We are said to have denied that God is concerned about restoring the whole human person (1 Thessalonians 5:23). They think that further examination with Scripture passages that strongly point to Believers departing to an intermediate time in Heaven prior to the resurrection is not necessary.

Yet this kind of argument leaves out some very important data: it assumes that everyone who believes in a disembodied intermediate state for Believers in Heaven denies the doctrine of resurrection—which we surely do not! No one should ever deny the fact that the orthodox Jewish and Christian traditions—which today’s Messianic movement largely benefits from—are united in their shared conviction that there will be a resurrection of deceased bodies in the eschaton (Daniel 12:2). The doctrine of resurrection sets the Biblical message strikingly apart from paganism, because it advocates that our Creator is very much concerned with the physical human body every bit as much as He is concerned with the immaterial human consciousness.

It is right to say that various Christian teachers and pastors have overemphasized “going to Heaven” in popular preaching—perceived as some form of endless disembodied bliss in the clouds—at the expense of underemphasizing the Second Coming of the Messiah, where physical bodies of deceased persons will be resurrected and His reign will come to Planet Earth. It is not incorrect to assert that some have adopted a dangerous Platonic idea that matter is evil (discussed further), and that instead all we need to be concerned about is something spiritual or metaphysical. N.T. Wright, among today’s evangelical scholars, has been correct to remind us, “The meaning of ‘resurrection’ as ‘life after life after death’ cannot be overemphasized”[6] (emphasis mine). As the people of God, we are responsible for remembering that the world God has made is “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and that physical matter is by no means inherently evil. If we can view physical matter as “very good,” it will lead to us properly fulfilling His mission and our dominion over the Earth, rather than spurning it.

It is also important for us to remember that those who believe in psychopannychy have often been divided into two sub-groups: sectarian cultists who deny key Biblical doctrines such as Yeshua’s Divinity, and theological liberals. For almost two centuries, liberal theology has widely advocated that Holy Scripture should be treated as some kind of inspirational theology, but not as accurate history.[7] Liberals have to often deny an intermediate state for the dead, because if Believers are waiting in the presence of the Lord in Heaven prior to resurrection, then unbelievers must be similarly waiting in some kind of intermediate punishment prior to their resurrection and final sentencing. (Their actual position on the doctrine of resurrection is frequently uncertain.) Sectarian cultists, however, are simply guided by an ethos of wanting to inflict as much damage as they can on what they perceive as any cardinal doctrine of evangelical Christianity.

Messianics who have recently adopted a belief in psychopannychy are largely those who want to give evangelical Christianity a similar kick in the tuccus, not often being guided by wanting to constructively discuss the issues. Frequently, they are very contentious and mean-spirited about their newfound “Truth,” and want everyone to know that they now deny some kind of “pagan belief” of going to Heaven. This approach breeds nothing less than confusion among brethren, and does not encourage an objective analysis of the Scriptures. It certainly does not help those who are grieving over the loss of a loved one who knew the Savior.

In contrast to this, we should be those who want to give a fair hearing to the issue, examining what the Scriptures say about the human constitution, the intermediate state of the dead prior to resurrection, and the ideology of a person wanting to go to the presence of the Savior at time of death or just to a place of burial. Denying something simply because “the Church taught it” is insufficient; what matters is that one’s convictions are confirmed by a fair examination of Biblical texts. I have discovered via experience that not all Messianics who embrace a belief in psychopannychy hold to it indefinitely, as there will often be a reevaluation of the view when a relative or close friend dies, or when one’s own self is struck with the question of death. Many realize that they get caught up in a fad, and that they have been influenced by sensationalistic rhetoric of little substance.

Interpretational Issues

Those who believe in the doctrine of psychopannychy are often marked by failing to consider a wider scope and selection of Biblical passages, including the principle of progressive revelation whereby statements made in the Tanach may be clarified by further statements made in the Apostolic Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1-2). Messianic advocates of psychopannychy often base their arguments entirely upon what they read as stated in the Tanach. Robert A. Morey rightly observes in his book Death and the Afterlife, “we cannot base our understanding of death and an afterlife solely upon passages found in the Old Testament…we must recognize that the vision of the Old Testament prophets was intrinsically blurred and, as a result, was vague on most of the details.”[8] Only focusing on the Tanach is a serious problem even for those who just hold to a doctrine of resurrection, and deny any kind of disembodied post-mortem state for the interim.

The principle of progressive revelation should not at all be difficult for us to understand, because as Believers in Messiah Yeshua we stand on the firm conviction that He is the dénouement of the Tanach Scriptures (Luke 24:44; cf. Romans 10:4, Grk.). Prophecies that speak of Yeshua’s Messiahship in the Tanach are made clear by specific examples we see in the Gospels of His ministry and atoning work for us. In a similar way, it should not be a stretch for us to see that vague or unclear statements regarding death and human destiny in the Tanach, have greater clarification when the testimony and the events of the Apostolic Scriptures are taken into account.

Those who advocate the doctrine of psychopannychy do not typically consider a wider array of Scripture passages regarding the post-mortem state prior to resurrection. They often give an obscure text like the Book of Ecclesiastes more theological weight in the discussion of the state of the dead, than texts like the Gospels or the Epistles. A clause such as “the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, RSV/NIV) by the anonymous Qohelet, is believed to take vast precedence over statements by known people such as those of Yeshua the Messiah (Luke 23:43) or the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 5:4-10; Philippians 1:19-24). Furthermore, they often read Qohelet’s words with the wrong presuppositions, failing to take into account its rather late acceptance (and somewhat controversial place) into the Tanach canon (m.Yadayaim 3:5; cf. m.Eduyyot 5:3).

One issue that absolutely requires us to not ignore the testimony of the Apostolic Scriptures is actually the doctrine of resurrection itself. Some passages of the Tanach could be read from the perspective that there is no resurrection. Genesis 3:19 says, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Ecclesiastes 9:2-3 says, “It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean…they go to the dead.” And perhaps among the most problematic could be Psalm 78:39: “Thus He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not return.” Are these just reminders that human beings are but the created, or are they assertions that people live their lives, die, and that is it?

Various people reading these verses would say that this indicates that there is no resurrection after time of death, as all die and there is no return from decomposition. No psychopannychists would argue that this is what these verses indicate; they would instead say, and rightfully so, that these are all general remarks made about how all people die. They would also rightly argue that a larger scope of Scripture passages needs to be taken into consideration in order to confirm a theology of resurrection, including those in the New Testament (even though they frequently do not do this regarding the discussion of a post-mortem afterlife prior to resurrection).

It is not unimportant that for some interpreters of the Hebrew Bible, there is only one verse which unambiguously endorses the doctrine of resurrection. Daniel 12:2 says, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Passages such as Isaiah 26:19 or Ezekiel 37:6 (previously quoted) may also give credence to a belief in resurrection, but as Benjamin D. Sommer concludes, these verses are better taken “as a metaphor for national renewal” of Israel “as they return to their land to reestablish a commonwealth.”[9] For such an interpreter, being stuck with the Book of Daniel alone for Tanach support for the doctrine of resurrection may indicate that this view was something which came very late within the Biblical period. While conservatives will often date the composition of Daniel to the Persian era (500s B.C.E.), liberals will frequently date Daniel to as late as the Maccabean era (164 B.C.E.).[10] In such a schema, this would place the doctrine of resurrection less than two centuries prior to the ministry of Yeshua! One could view the doctrine of resurrection as a rather late arrival in the scope of Biblical revelation.

For many interpreters of the Tanach Scriptures, “Evidence for belief in resurrection in the OT is scarce and often ambiguous” (EDB).[11] To the mix of Scriptures we could probably add Job 19:25-26, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God,” but even Job has been dated by some to as late as the post-exilic period,[12] which again for some makes the doctrine of resurrection a late invention. So in the words of George Robinson’s Essential Judaism,

“Belief in the resurrection of the dead, a key element in traditionally observant Judaism’s vision of the Messianic age, dates from the period of the Pharisees, and may be an outgrowth of Greek or Persian influence…According to at least one Jewish historian…the idea of resurrection of the dead gained its first currency at the time of the Maccabees, around the second century B.C.E., a period of great suffering for the Jews. In the face of such trauma…the notion of another life after death promised a final, cosmic release.”[13]

I personally accept Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37:6; Daniel 12:2; and Job 19:25-26 as supportive of the resurrection of individuals and that the doctrine of resurrection appears in the Biblical narrative much, much earlier than the post-exilic period. Yet it is absolutely true that the debate over the resurrection did not come to major fruition until the Second and First Centuries B.C.E., with this doctrine being a major division between the Sadducees and Pharisees. The former group did not accept the doctrine of resurrection because they did not see it in the Torah,[14] with the latter group accepting it and making it an integral part of their teachings. If the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, we should not be surprised how the Rabbinic tradition, while asserting “All Israelites have a share in the world to come,” lists the first group as those who will not share as “He who says, the resurrection of the dead is a teaching which does not derive from the Torah” (m.Sanhedrin 10:1),[15] a direct assault on the Sadducees.

If the doctrine of resurrection did not become firmly developed within Jewish theology until the centuries immediately prior to Yeshua, then should we at all be surprised that a similar theology of intermediate afterlife—and even views of a Messiah to come—were developed and refined at the same time? Should this at all disturb us? For the Believer in Yeshua, our conviction of the doctrine of resurrection does not come from the Tanach Scriptures alone, but the significant host of passages in the Apostolic Scriptures that attest to its validity—most especially because He has been resurrected![16] In a similar way, placing ourselves within that same pro-resurrection First Century Jewish theology, tracing the same history of interpretation, do people such as myself believe in an intermediate afterlife in the presence of the Lord until the time of resurrection. The doctrine of an intermediate afterlife can be traced along the same path as both the doctrine of resurrection and the expectation of a Messiah to come.

A widescale failure to give the First Century Pharisees their rightful place in today’s Messianic theology has evidenced itself quite steadily over the first decade of the 2000s (due in no small part to the growing influence of the Karaite movement), because when properly considered it will affect what we believe about the post-mortem state of the deceased. This is a theological strata that Yeshua the Messiah instructed His Disciples to follow (Matthew 23:2-3), and that the Apostle Paul was a part of specifically because of the doctrine of resurrection (Acts 23:6).[17] In addition to firmly believing in the resurrection, the Pharisees also believed in an intermediate afterlife prior to resurrection. The testimony of the First Century historian Josephus was that the Pharisees did “believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life…the former shall have power to revive and live again” (Antiquities of the Jews 18.14).[18] The Talmud similarly indicates that the Pharisees held that in death the body sleeps, but that the consciousness of a person would go to the presence of God until being restored to the body at resurrection:

“When someone gets up, he says, ‘My God, the soul that you put in me is pure. You formed it in me. You breathed it into me. You keep it in me. You will take it from me one day but restore it to me in the time to come. So long as the soul is in me, I thank you, Lord my God and God of my fathers, master of all ages, lord of all souls. Blessed are you, Lord, who restores souls to dead corpses’” (b.Berachot 60a).[19]

That the ancient Pharisees believed in both the doctrine of resurrection and of an intermediate, disembodied post-mortem state, is something that few scholars dispute. John W. Cooper summarizes in his book Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting, “without exception the evidence we have supports the judgment that the Pharisees not only affirmed the resurrection of the body but the temporary separation of the soul as well. Many scholars suppose that during the first century A.D. these beliefs were found among the common people as well.”[20] The Pharisees may have believed in a kind of dualistic view of human composition, but in stark contrast to their Greek neighbors (discussed further), it was one that included the acceptance of a doctrine of resurrection. The need for us as Messianics today to follow the Pharisaical lead in determining our theology and halachah can be best seen in all of the parallels between Pharisical theology and the Apostolic Scriptures. Menahem Mansoor indicates,

“Pharisaic doctrines have more in common with those of Christianity than is supposed, having prepared the ground for Christianity with such concepts as Messianism, the popularization of monotheism and apocalypticism, and with such beliefs as life after death, resurrection of the dead, immortality, and angels” (EJ).[21]

The party of the Sadducees, who largely made up the Temple priesthood, were the only major group among the First Century Judaisms who denied any kind of existence after this life, be that a temporary disembodied post-mortem state, or the doctrine of resurrection itself. The testimony of the Apostolic Scriptures is unanimous in that the Sadducees denied the doctrine of resurrection (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 23:6, 8). If we are to reject the theological lead of the Pharisees as Messianics—as it is undeniable that many Messianic advocates of psychopannychy follow their Karaite successors—are we to then follow the theological lead of the Sadducees? As Josephus recorded, “They….take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards…” (Jewish War 2.165).[22] Not that unlike the Epicureans of Ancient Greece (the third group to be denied a place in the world to come in m.Sanhedrin 10:1), the Sadducees believed that a person got a single chance at life here on Earth, and that was it—with no rewards, resurrection, or any kind of existence to follow. Human life and animal life were quantitatively indifferent.

The belief in the doctrine of resurrection is unique to both Judaism and Christianity, having been significantly developed by the party of the ancient Pharisees. Wright is correct to assert, “the early Christian belief in hope beyond death belongs demonstrably on the Jewish, not the pagan, map.”[23] The First Century Messianic movement, as is evidenced by the Apostolic Scriptures, developed its theology of the intermediate state prior to resurrection from the same Pharisaical forbearers. Forgetting this presents the danger of today’s Messianics accepting Saddusaical beliefs that deny not only an intermediate afterlife prior to resurrection, but the doctrine of resurrection itself.

What does it mean to bear the image of God?

Advocates of psychopannychy commonly argue that those of us who believe in an intermediate disembodied state for the dead, prior to resurrection, have accepted a view of immortality which is not Biblical. It is fiercely argued from 1 Timothy 6:16, for example, that God “alone possesses immortality.” They miss some qualifications that go along with God’s immortality that need not be forgotten: “who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion!” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). Here, Yeshua’s exaltation in Heaven is magnified, and He is designated as One who possesses a status that no one else can ever possess, because He is a member of the Godhead. From Paul’s point of view, no one on Earth has ever seen the Lord in His complete exaltedness, clearly because He is immortal and human beings are mortal. The vantage point is how Moses was unable to fully see God when he approached Him on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:20).[24]

The type of immortality that defines who God is, without beginning or end, is not something that any human being possesses—but this does not all of a sudden mean that the human being made by God is no different than the animals. Morey describes how “Some are thinking of ‘essential immortality,’ which refers to a life having neither beginning nor end. According to the Bible, only God has essential immortality as an attribute of His being (1 Tim. 6:16). Since man begins at conception and does not come from eternity, he does not have essential immortality.”[25] No man or woman ever born by normal means is exalted over the cosmos and is the source of salvation, as Yeshua the Messiah is (Philippians 2:5-11; cf. Isaiah 45:23), nor does any man or woman possess the Divine qualities of omniscience or omnipresence. Yet, it is true that the Father has “seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua” (Ephesians 2:6), and that we have access to the realm of Heaven right now via prayer. It is entirely inappropriate for a Bible reader to equate man’s fate as being the same as the animals, if somehow his purpose for being created is associated with an outside dimension in addition to the present one.

The Scriptures are clear that human beings are different from the rest of God’s Creation. It is only of man that God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26, TNIV). Elohim—actually speaking to Himself—says “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (NRSV), b’tzalmeinu k’demuteinu. The human being who possesses God’s image would be able to have dominion over God’s Creation. In the words of Nahum M. Sarna,

“A human being is the pinnacle of Creation. This unique status is communicated in a variety of ways, not least by the simple fact that humankind is last in a manifestly ascending, gradual order. The creation of human life is an exception to the rule of creation by divine fiat…Human beings are to enjoy a unique relationship to God, who communicates with them alone and who shares with them the custody and administration of the world.”[26]

The human being is of extremely high value, especially in comparison to the rest of Creation. Being made in God’s image (Lat. imago Dei) obviously means that human beings possess unique qualities that those of the animal kingdom do not possess. As Bruce Milne describes it, “Much is inherently finite, and that is ‘good’ if so appointed by God. Human beings, however, are uniquely appointed as divine ‘imagers’ and hence, if God so wills it, created immortal in reflection of one of the primary attributes of the Creator.”[27] Any kind of immortal component that a human being possesses comes as a reflection of his Creator, and would allow for a degree of continued existence after death. Those who have experienced redemption via the gospel, and who have access to a God who sits in Heaven (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19), need to understand this very clearly as they consider their role in His Creation.

Psalm 8 picks up on the theme of man made in God’s image, and specifically on the fact that God made man to rule over His Creation (Psalm 8:6-8). But the Psalmist’s assertion is a very important one that cannot be overlooked: “You have made him a little lower than God” (Psalm 8:5a) or “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings” (NIV). The Hebrew clause of interest is m’at m’Elohim, “lower than God,” rendered in the Greek LXX as brachu…par angelous, “a little less than angels” (LXE), due to the ambiguous nature of Elohim.[28] Regardless, though, the lot of humanity is not cast with the animal kingdom but instead with the Heavenly host; the Psalmist did not say that man was made “a little higher than the animals.” Any kind of intermediate disembodied post-mortem state is a direct result of an association with the Heavenly host originating from our fashioning by God, a testimony to our uniqueness among His creatures.

Throughout history, human culture has demonstrated a number of unique qualities, bearing witness to God’s imprint, including:

  1. awareness of a moral code “written” or impressed with a conscience
  2. concerns about death and about life after death
  3. propensity to worship and desire to communicate with a higher being
  4. consciousness of self
  5. drive to discover and capacity to recognize truth and absolutes[29]

Indeed, it is only the human race among God’s Creation that possesses intelligence, a capacity to reason, and verbal speech—making it different when compared to the animals. Do we really think that a human being is unique compared to the animals, or is no different than a dog or cat (or apes and monkeys)? Do we realize that each of us has a connection to the Heavenly dimension?

Consider the thoughts offered by Creationists Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross in their co-authored work Who Was Adam?:

“While humanity shares physical qualities with animals, people stand alone in terms of their spiritual nature. Bārā’, used in both Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 5:1-2 with reference to humanity’s creation, suggests God’s origination of something new. Not only were Adam and Eve fashioned (in an ‘āśâ manner) from pre-existing material, but they were also created (bārā’) as something new—something that never before existed. Both passages identify human beings alone as creatures made in God’s image. In this sense, people were made distinct from the animals God formed.

“Other verses emphasize this point. Genesis 2:7 describes how God fashioned Adam and then breathed life into him. When God formed the animals and birds from the ground (Genesis 2:19), He did not impart to them this ‘breath of life.’ People stand apart from animals in that humankind alone received spirit life from God. Only humans concern themselves with morality, purpose, destiny, hope, questions about life and death and judgment after death, and questions about God’s existence and character.

“Humanity’s uniqueness is also implied in Genesis 1:28 and Psalm 8:6-8. These verses state that God made people as His representatives on Earth, placing them as rulers over the animals. According to Genesis 2:19-20, God brought the animals and birds to Adam to name. This signifies Adam’s sovereignty over them. In Hebrew thought, names can be conferred only by someone in a position of authority.

“If only human beings bear God’s image, then culture and technology should make a dramatic appearance in the archaeological record. As a corollary to this prediction, humans should be culturally and behaviorally distinct (in ways that reflect God’s image) from all animals…”[30]

Those who believe that when we die, we do not go anywhere until the resurrection except the grave, skew the uniqueness of man, as the makeup of a human being is depicted as being not too different than that of an animal. In his book Immortality or Resurrection? Samuele Bacchiocchi describes what psychopannychists instead believe:

“If at death the soul of the believer goes up immediately to the beatitude of Paradise to be with the Lord, one hardly can have any real sense of expectation for Christ to come down to resurrect the sleeping saints. The primary concern of these Christians is to reach paradise immediately, albeit as a disembodied soul. This concern leaves barely any interest in the coming of the Lord and the resurrection of the body.”[31]

It is true that there has been an overemphasis in much popular (and sometimes overly simplistic) preaching on a disembodied state following death, and that the future resurrection of the deceased and the Second Coming of the Messiah to the Earth does not get discussed to the degree that it should. As Wright notes, too many believe in “a future expectation that bears far more resemblance to Plato’s vision of souls entering into disembodied bliss than to the biblical picture of new heavens and new earth”[32]one that surely does need to be corrected. But from the Biblical testimony of the human being made different in comparison to the animals, is it right to assume that when a person dies he or she suffers the same fate as the animals? If man was made a little lower than God and/or His Heavenly host, should we not more fully consider how this affects our composition? It is notable that we consider how psychopannychists have, perhaps unknowingly, cast their lot with materialistic atheists and agnostics who deny that humans are spiritual creatures, being no different from the animals as just “advanced animals,” rather than with the Bible which does teach that humans are different from the animals.

If human beings are only one-dimensional creatures, with no significant Divine imprint upon them, then psychopannychists are right: at time of death human beings die, are interred in a grave, and return to the base elements. A higher being might possess the power to resurrect or recreate the human being, but man is solely of this dimension. The Scriptures, however, do not teach this. Man’s rule with God extends to the Heavens as much as it extends to Earth, as the author of Hebrews testifies “in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him” (Hebrews 2:7). Our rule beside God extends far beyond Planet Earth and this dimension. Those who believe in psychopannychy, the view that once a human being dies that he or she just goes to a place of burial until the resurrection, have denied the Biblical reality that we are different, something realized by the image of God placed upon us. Morey rightly describes,

“In the light of the dignity and worth of man as the unique image-bearer of God, we cannot accept, therefore, the idea…that man’s death can be reduced to the death of brute beasts. What they fail to realize is that man is far too wonderful to die like a dog. A conscious afterlife is exactly what we would expect of such a wonderful creation as man.”[33]

It is very true that the reality of a bodily resurrection is not emphasized as much as it should be in much of today’s contemporary discussion regarding the death of Believers. This does need to seriously change. But belief in the resurrection of the dead is by no means incompatible with a belief in an intermediate disembodied state. The image of God placed upon the human race shows that we are different among His Creation, and thus our death should be considered something different than the death of animals. Are we the pinnacle of God’s Creation, or are we not? When we can understand what being made in the image of God is all about, then it allows us to see that people are not one-dimensional beings solely of this Earth, but they indeed do have a connection to a Creator in another dimension.

Are human beings just animated chemicals?

There is perhaps no bigger debate surrounding the intermediate state than what composes a human being. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.” The sanctification of oneself that is portrayed in the Scriptures is one where a whole person—not just the physical body and neither just the immaterial consciousness of a person—is to be changed by God. Theological proponents of either psychopannychy, or of an intermediate afterlife prior to resurrection, recognize this fact. The debate, rather, is focused around whether the various components of a person can be separated at all, existing in multiple dimensions, or whether the various components of a person can only exist in this dimension.

Psychopannychists argue a position of monism regarding the human person. They believe that the human being made up of body, soul, and spirit can only exist in this present dimension of Planet Earth. Advocates of an intermediate post-mortem afterlife prior to resurrection, by the very nature of holding to such a view, have to believe in some kind of dualism for the human being. Human beings are made up of a material substance of this dimension, as well as some kind of an immaterial substance of another dimension, with one substance that can be separated and exist outside of the body in some form, even if intended just for a limited time.

The majority position present throughout the orthodox Jewish and Christian theological traditions is sometimes called holistic dualism. Another description sometimes used is that humans are “souled bodies.” A human being should be perceived as being a single entity—a person who will be fully reconstituted and restored at the time of resurrection—but a separate part(s) of the human being can exist independently of the body, the “essential soul” if you like, even though in being absent from the body such a part would be different, and the person would be incomplete. Cooper explains this kind of holism:

“It views an entity as a single primary functional system, not as a compound system constructed by linking two or more primary functional systems…It implies that parts do not operate independently within the whole, and that they would not necessarily continue to have all the same properties and functions if the whole were broken up….[But] holism does not necessarily imply that if the whole is broken up, all parts disintegrate into chaos and nothingness. Secondary systems might continue to exist, although without all the properties and capacities they had when integrated within the whole…On this view, souls, spirits, minds, or persons might be able to exist without organisms, although they would be deprived by the loss.”[34]

Cooper suggests that this kind of existence, albeit temporary, could be likened to how given the right conditions organs can sometimes survive outside of body, such as those that will be medically transplanted. Likewise in today’s computer age and what we can do with transferring software and files between an individual personal computer, mainframes, servers across the Internet, and now even to our mobile phones and PDA devices, the extra-body survival of a human consciousness allowed by an Eternal God (in a different dimension with different rules of existence) is not that difficult for us to perceive.

Both monists and dualistic holists appeal to the creation of Adam in Genesis to make their case. After announcing His intention to create humanity in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), God creates Adam. Genesis 2:7 says “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Both monists and dualistic holists agree that one part of the human being, the body, is clearly of this Earth. They diverge on what it means for the human being to possess “the breath of life,” which makes a person “a living being.”

The Hebrew of Genesis 2:7 says v’yipach b’apayv nish’mat chayim v’yehi ha’adam l’nefesh chayah, or God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (KJV). To psychopannychists, the issue is closed. A human being is the combination of a physical body and a physical breath, which results in a soul. A human being—a soul—is thus entirely of this dimension of Planet Earth.

To their credit, psychopannychists have helped in wanting to get others to see that the human being does not “have” a soul, but rather “is” a soul—a nefesh. Thus, when the Scriptures commonly speak in terms of “that day there were added about three thousand souls [psuchai]” (Acts 2:41), it was not three thousand immaterial consciousnesses that were saved, but three thousand people. When a “soul” is talked about it is frequently in reference to what a person is. Yet, there are questions that need to be asked regarding what components make up this “soul.”

Is it significant that in the creation of the animals it is nowhere said that the animals had nish’mat chayim, “the breath of life,” implanted into them?[35] Both Jewish and Christian commentators have frequently thought this is significant. The Keil & Delitzch Commentary on the Old Testament makes the point, “the vital principle in man is different from that in the animal…The beasts [only] arose at the creative word of God.”[36] Sarna’s view is, “The uniqueness of the Hebrew phrase nishmat ḥayyim matches the singular nature of the human body, which, unlike the creatures of the animal world, is directly inspirited by God himself.”[37] Victor P. Hamilton similarly indicates,

“Unlike rûaḥ, which is applied to God, man, animals, and even false gods, nešāmâ is applied only to Yahweh and man…Thus 2:7 may employ the less popular word for breath because it is man, and man alone, who is the recipient of the divine breath.”[38]

The Orthodox Jewish ArtScroll Chumash commentary considers the nish’mat chayim to be “the life that is unique to Man,” resulting in a person being a “rational soul that includes the power of intelligent speech. This is what elevates a human above animal life.”[39]

It is not at all a stretch to conclude that the nish’mat chayim breathed into man indicates that he does possess a uniqueness specifically endowed by his Creator, a part made not of this Earth. The Hebrew language has no specific word for “mind” or “consciousness,” but it is safe to say that this neshamah or specific “breath” from God would constitute it or give rise to it. This unique “spark” helped make Adam different from the animals. The combination of a physical body made of this dimension, with a special breath made of another dimension, produces the “soul” or the human being. When this combination is brought together, an essential human person is formed.

In its totality, the “soul” or nefesh is not something entirely immaterial or entirely material, although psychopannychists argue that a nefesh is entirely material. One of the common appeals is made to the Torah’s decree that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11; cf. Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:23), indicating that “life” is something solely of this dimension. The nefesh or “soul” of a creature is in its blood, right? The problem with making this assessment is not that blood pumping throughout a creature indicates that it is physically alive; the problem is that eating the flesh of animals is what is in view in those passages, and that human life and animal life are equated by psychopannychists as being exactly the same. While humanity’s dominion over the Earth demands that we respect blood, especially those of the animals we kill for food, we are nevertheless different than the animals and were created for a bigger purpose. The “soul” that is the human being is not the same as the “soul” that is an animal.[40] A human being, most unlike an animal, is much more than the sum of its parts!

Messianics who have adopted a view of psychopannychy are often frequently unaware of how much flexibility the Hebrew word nefesh actually possesses in the Tanach. To demonstrate the difficulty of this term, we see that “It may be used at one extreme to denote the principle of life in man or animal…and at the other to speak of a dead body.”[41] Many have over-simplified this term, failing to recognize how it can be used, believing that it can only concern physical life, and not anything more. The CHALOT lexicon actually provides nine different definitions and applications available for the interpreter to pick. These include: “throat,” “neck,” “breath,” “living being,” “man, men, person, people,” “personality, individuality,” “life,” “‘soul’ as seat & support of feelings & sensations,” and “someone dead.[42]

One of the most frequent usages of the term nefesh is how it simply represents people (Genesis 36:6; Ezekiel 18:4), including dead people (Leviticus 21:1, 11). This common usage leads many to conclude that nefesh only relates to physical creatures, but as Morey points out, this “is based on the hidden assumption that once the meaning of a word is discovered in a single passage, this same meaning must prevail in every other occurrence of the word,”[43] which is an hermeneutical mistake. The life principle or nefesh does take on a different dynamic in regard to humans, versus the animals. The nefesh as the seat of emotions worships God (Deuteronomy 10:12), sorrows (Leviticus 26:16), feels bitterness (1 Samuel 1:10), misery (Judges 10:16), grief (1 Samuel 2:23), or alienation (Ezekiel 23:17-18). On the Day of Atonement, God’s people are told to “humble your souls” (Leviticus 23:32), involving not only mental or spiritual humility, but also physical humility via fasting (cf. Acts 27:9).

These emotions that can compose the human soul are definitively different than animals which act solely on instinct, lacking God’s image. God Himself is even considered a nefesh, as He cries in Isaiah 1:14, “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me” (KJV). Given the variance that we see here, Morey is correct to conclude that the term nefesh can “transcend the mere principle of physical life,”[44] so when a human being’s “soul” cries out to God, something more than just a being of this dimension is intended to be portrayed.

As the “soul” is usually what is used to represent the person, it should be no surprise that nefesh is used to define the post-mortem state as well. The Psalmist, appealing for deliverance, cries out that “God will redeem my soul [nefesh] from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me” (49:15). He speaks of the possibility, “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there” (Psalm 139:8). Also to be considered could be the death of Rachel, where “It came about as her soul [nefesh] was departing (for she died)” (Genesis 35:18). Likewise, Elijah called out to God to revive the widow of Serapta’s son: “‘O LORD my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.’ And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Elijah; and the soul [nefesh] of the child came into him again, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:21-22, RSV). While psychopannychists commonly argue that nefesh only relates to physical life and/or physical breath departing and coming, equally to be considered is how the nefesh as the essential person can be seen departing and coming—the result of what was created by combining a physical body with God’s immaterial breath. This would be most especially the case if Sheol in the Tanach is indeed the netherworld, and not just “the grave” (discussed further).

The variety of applications that surround the Hebrew nefesh are carried over into the Apostolic Scriptures via the Septuagint, as the LXX largely translated nefesh as psuchē.[45] Morey makes the important point that “the Septuagint never used bios, the Greek word for physical life, as the equivalent for nephesh.”[46] Similar to nefesh, psuchē can speak of physical life animating both animals and man (Revelation 8:9; 16:3; Matthew 2:20), refer to Earthly life (Matthew 6:25), or simply to people (Luke 12:19; Acts 2:41). God likewise is associated as being a psuchē (Matthew 12:18; Hebrews 10:38).[47] And even though the “soul” or psuchē is rightly associated as being the whole human person, Yeshua does indicate that God has the power to punish both a person’s body, as well as his soul or what he is (Matthew 10:28). This would indicate a nuanced form of dualism, where at final judgment a whole person must be punished, but similarly where the essential person as soul can exist separately from the body.

A similar, and related term to nefesh that appears in the Tanach to describe human beings is ruach or “spirit.” This is something that psychopannychists often solely see as relating to a person’s physical breath, and nothing more. But will this stand up to the scrutiny of its uses? Ruach is used to refer to physical wind in weather (Genesis 8:1). Our invisible and immaterial God Himself is described to be a ruach (Isaiah 63:10), with His angels being called ruachot or “spirits” (Psalm 104:4). The life sent by God to both mortals and animals is “spirit” (Genesis 7:22). A person’s own self is considered to be his ruach or “spirit” (Psalm 77:6; Proverbs 29:11), one that goes back to God or His dimension at death (Psalm 31:5; Ecclesiastes 12:7), not supporting any kind of post-mortem extinction until the resurrection.

The Apostolic Scriptures follow the lead of the LXX once again, where ruach was frequently translated as pneuma. Pneuma can refer to physical breath, similar to how the false prophet will make the antimessiah’s idol appear living (Revelation 13:15). Pneuma is used to describe both God as spirit and His angels (John 4:24; Hebrews 1:14). Yeshua Himself considered a pneuma or spirit to be an immaterial being (Luke 24:39). Pneuma or “spirit” is sometimes used to describe various character traits of a person such as pride, humility, or fear (1 Peter 3:4), and the seat of his emotions (Mark 8:12; Mark 2:8; Matthew 26:41). And, pneuma is used to describe the deceased (Hebrews 12:23; 1 Peter 3:19), sometimes being believed by people to be some kind of ghosts (Luke 24:37).

Foremost of all, both ruach and pneuma are used throughout the Scriptures to refer to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is far more than just some kind of “breath” or force emanating from God, as within His people it is His distinct presence which takes up residence inside of them.

The deceased in the Hebrew Tanach are not depicted as “souls” often for the reason that a specific term is employed instead. Departed spirits are labeled refaim (sing. rafa), “shades, ghosts,” and refaim is the label given for the “name of dead in She’ól” (BDB).[48] Psalm 88:10 asks, “Dost thou work wonders for the dead? Do the shades [refaim] rise up to praise thee? Selah” (RSV). Speaking of the adulteress, Proverbs 2:18 says, “her house sinks down to death, and her paths to the shades [refaim]” (RSV). When the king of Babylon dies, “Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come, it rouses the shades [refaim] to greet you” (RSV). As Cooper concludes, “in reality the Israelites did affirm the existence of the departed,”[49] even if they were just refaim or shades of their Earthly selves in Sheol.[50]

Given the diversity of usages of nefesh/psuchē, ruach/pneuma, and refaim seen in the Scriptures, those of us who believe in a temporary disembodied state for the deceased prior to resurrection have drawn conclusions based on how these terms are used within the Biblical text. They do give support for the premise that the consciousness of a human being who dies can exist outside the body. The human being may be a combination of a body from Earth and a breath from God—giving rise to the soul—but such a soul or essential person is a product of his or her Creator. While the body may be the frame on which the soul is formed, producing a human personality that we would know, possession of the Divine image gives a human soul unique qualities that an animal soul simply does not possess.[51]

The contrast to the human being as a combination of elements, from this dimension and the dimension where God resides, is that the human being as a soul is a combination of a physical body and physical breath, being a creature entirely of this dimension. Bacchiocchi does not hide the view of psychopannychists in saying, “both man and animal are souls…The term soul-nephesh is used for both people and animals because both are conscious beings. They both share the same animating life-principle or ‘life-breath.’”[52] So here, the life of human beings and animals is equated as being exactly the same. Even though the psychopannychist would insist that human beings are different because they do possess intelligence and verbal speech, the reality is that the human being is no more physically different than a dog or a cat or an ape. From the place of the psychopannychist, a human being is entirely a corporeal entity. The human person is largely just the result of highly advanced chemical processes in the brain, which would obviously be more advanced than one’s pet, but chemical reactions nonetheless. As Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy describe it:

“Modern research into the brain has generally supported the monistic view of the self. All consciousness, thought, and even emotion is rooted in the brain’s neurological activity. When scientists interfere with the neurological activity in a person’s brain, the person’s awareness changes, and he or she thinks or feels differently. Whatever other conclusions and/or problems these findings present, they suggest that human consciousness and mental activity is inextricably connected to the physical brain. This supports the…view that people are not conscious after death and will not be until God resurrects them in the eschaton.”[53]

Advocates of psychopannychy, arguing that the human person is a creaturely entity entirely of this dimension, often have to rely heavily—or even rely exclusively—from scientific arguments that suggest that a human soul is simply the result of the processes found in the brain, and less on the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. And, some of this science does come from those who deny a Divine Creator. While the psychopannychists, believing in a Divine Creator, would say that these advanced processes come from God’s ultimate imprint on men and women—it is unavoidable that many of the conclusions of monism are quite consistent with Darwinian evolution.[54] Those who believe that the human race came about via millions of years of evolution certainly argue that we are simply the result of advanced chemical reactions that are able to manifest themselves as a “soul.” Detailing this perspective, Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne summarizes how,

“Four thousand million years of evolution produced man, a body and soul in continuing interaction. A human soul is more dependent for its development on its own states than is an animal soul, for it has complex beliefs and desires kept in place and changing in accord with other beliefs and desires….When the body dies and the brain ceases to function, the evidence suggests that the soul will cease to function also.”[55]

Even though they may believe that the chemical processes in the brain are not as random as evolutionists may believe, psychopannychists still have to rely on a great number of evolutionary and materialistic presuppositions to advocate that human beings are entirely one-dimensional. (In so doing, it is likely that most Messianic psychopannychists are unprepared to join into the debate between evolutionary science and intelligent design over human origins.) It is not at all a coincidence that Christian theologians who have moved steadily toward a position of monism and psychopannychy, believing that the human soul is simply the result of combining a physical body with physical breath, often (staunchly) advocate some kind of theistic evolution.[56] (Many of them also have, at times, entertained ideas that what we commonly consider to be “sinful activities” are just the predisposed genetic dispositions of a person, for which an individual should not ultimately be held responsible.) Those of us who would affirm that Adam and Eve were created by Divine fiat are not unjustified to ask ourselves whether or not God’s imprint upon us is one-dimensional or multi-dimensional, and whether human beings are just animated chemicals—or not. Yet even those who believe in theistic evolution often recognize the uniqueness of the human being. Swinburne’s remarks on how the relation of a Creator to a human may change the nature of one understanding the concept of “soul,” are quite revealing:

“God, being omnipotent, would have the power to give to souls life after death (and if there is no natural law which ties the functioning of a soul to the operation of a brain, God would not need to suspend natural laws in order to do this)….If God did give to souls life after death in a new body or without a body, he would not in any way be violating natural laws—for, if I am right, there are no natural laws which dictate what happen to the soul after death.”[57]

Our God as all-powerful Creator certainly possesses the ability to create the human person with a consciousness that can exist absent from the body in another dimension. This may not necessarily be the ideal condition for a person, nor would it be the permanent condition for a person in the eschaton—and Paul might even call such a state nakedness (2 Corinthians 5:3)—but it is by no means impossible for God to allow. Our argument for an intermediate afterlife, especially for redeemed Believers, has been consistently based on the premise that the human being is unique among all of God’s creations. Man is not just a pile of animated chemicals.

One who holds to a holistic form of dualism, would recognize and emphasize that the separation of the consciousness from the body at death is something temporary, to be kept in a holding place in another dimension until the resurrection. One who holds to monism, thinking that the physical human person of body and breath is all that we are, advocates that each person will be essentially “recreated” at the resurrection. Yet at the time of the resurrection, will this lead to the reanimation and reconstitution of the same person who had lived and then “fell asleep” in unconsciousness—or is the resurrection simply the making of a new person, an essential replica or close duplicate produced from the bodily remains of one who had previously lived on Earth? This is where the monist position has some serious philosophical problems.

How does God preserve a person, or the memories of a person, who lived on Earth and then dies? Monists often make it sound as though death is just as simple as being turned off, and resurrection is as simple as being turned on, with only God knowing where “the switch” is. This would be pretty easy if human beings were just animals, because all that would have to be preserved would be basic instincts hard-wired into the brain itself, like: eating, sleeping, mating, exercise, and protection from predators. Human beings, though, are not animals. We have complex emotions and reasoning and artistic abilities, not to mention life experiences and significant accomplishments, that we remember and expect to carry with us—if we are at all theistic—beyond death.

Some form of re-creation from individual extinction at death does not at all account for how the memories and personality of someone will be stored. What we consider “memory” to be is chemically stored in engrams found in the brain. Such memory engrams will decompose along with the body after death. Human beings do not possess android, robot bodies that are inorganic and that would only need some heavy maintenance after going offline and then being reanimated. While some human remains decompose at a much slower rate than others, due to the conditions and climate of the place of internment, the patterns of human memories have to be stored somewhere after death if any kind of resurrection is to take place. This is especially true if resurrection is to be considered a reanimation of a legitimate person who had lived a life on Earth previously—and not a recreation or cloning of a person. Mick Pope legitimately asks, “if I cease to exist at one moment, and am totally recreated at another after a soul sleep, is it the same me?”[58] William Hasker points out the main problem with a monistic view of human composition, stating,

“[I]t is…nonsensical to assert that God creates out of nothing a person that has already lived, died and completely passed out of existence…[I]t…is essential…that we should hold that in some way the ‘core person’ survives bodily death and continues in existence.”[59]

Re-creation from individual extinction, as psychopannychists advocate, is really not the same thing as resurrection. It involves the recreation of a body from decomposed/decomposing remains, and then God allowing that body to have the memories of someone who had previously lived, which He knows—resulting in the probable production of a (close) replica of someone who had once lived. From a vantage point of monism, those of us who are seen here on Earth today will only get one chance to genuinely live, and then at death our lives will be over. At the time of the resurrection, some kind of copy or clone of us created from our remains (or an imposter created from our remains?)[60] will enter into the eschaton, experiencing either the rewards or punishments that we incurred for it. That copy might think that it is us, but there will be reasonable doubt to question whether it truly is.

There is only one undeniable way that the person who is resurrected at a future point in time is the same authentic person who once lived on Earth—experiencing the rewards and punishments the person deserves, which are not to be passed on to some copy: a temporary, disembodied afterlife. With the human consciousness removed from the body at time of death, being transported to a holding place in another dimension (i.e., Heaven or Hell), that consciousness can then be returned a reanimated body at the resurrection. The person remains the same whether the reanimated body has only partially decomposed and is revived, or the body has to be totally recreated as the corpse has decomposed completely into base atoms. The person would possess the memory of having died, having gone to another dimension after death, having experienced either refreshment or some kind of penalty, and then having returned to the body the final rewards or punishment can be issued. Pope, interestingly enough a theistic evolutionist by trade, confirms that this is the only way that he, and not some duplicate of him, will be resurrected:

“If the soul is emergent from the brain, how is it stored apart from it?…My suggestion is that it is more like moving than copying, for the process occurs at death then the brain is dying, my soul is not both in my brain and preserved…by God….In short, I think we need to…expect to be with the Lord at death and wait for our new bodies. If God can create us in His image through evolution, and raise Jesus and us from the dead, He can sustain us with Him until Jesus’ return.”[61]

A re-creation from the (scant) remains of a person, with some kind of memories left by the deceased person implanted from God, runs the philosophical risk of us wondering if the man or woman resurrected is really the same one who lived—or a facsimile. A resurrection involving the re-creation/reviving of a person’s remains, and the reintegration of a disembodied consciousness from another dimension into a reanimated body, leaves no doubt that the person who once lived is the same authentic man or woman to be resurrected.

If a human soul is something entirely of this dimension, a combination of a physical body and physical breath, then we also need not avoid how this may cause some to look at people. A great deal of the contemporary literature which today examines the concept of the “soul” is actually not as much focused on the exegesis of what nefesh or refaim or psuchē means, nor that much about the post-mortem state, but is more focused on the ethical controversies that can ensue—especially if we are just one-dimensional creatures.[62] If the neshamah of God, for example, is solely the physical breath of a person—some could take the possible position that a human life begins when a newborn child takes its first breath outside of the womb. Until that point, some may see the fetus as just being a pile of chemicals inside the female uterus—chemicals which can be jettisoned at any time prior to first breath. While no psychopannychists that I have ever encountered in my Messianic experience would surely not support abortion, it is unavoidable that they may have unknowingly opened up a very dangerous door.

Psalm 139:13 is clear “You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.” This is a very tenable position to hold to if the neshamah or breath that God gave Adam (Genesis 2:7), is something more than just a physical breath. In this instance, human life begins at the moment of conception. While such life may not be fully developed or mature, a fetus is still nevertheless a living being even without having taken its first physical breath. In my own assessment, viewing the human person as being solely of this dimension is degrading to the value of human life.[63] It skews the Psalmist’s assertion that man was made just lower than his Creator (Psalm 8:5-8), and frequently gives court to Darwinism. While God is indeed concerned about the whole human to be redeemed, including a man or woman’s physical body in the resurrection (Romans 8:23), this is by no means incompatible with a temporary disembodied state. Our Creator made us more than just animated chemicals! He gave us multi-dimensional capacities that the animals noticeably lack. Ross provides us an excellent summary of this:

“The human spirit manifests itself, at least in part, by humans’ unique consciousness. While no reputable scholar disputes that human beings are uniquely conscious beings, many scholars hesitate or refuse to give God credit for that conscious nature. Some of this generation’s most brilliant researchers have tried valiantly to find within matter, energy, and the natural biochemical processes of our space and time dimensions a hypothesis for the origin and operation of the human consciousness, but none of their efforts has come close to succeeding. In fact, their findings only help build the case for a supernatural origin….

“[B]ecause we are spirit beings, we humans, alone among all earthly creatures, possess the capacity to experience life beyond physical death, life that survives outside the physical body we now occupy. God says we will witness His eventual creation of a new universe to replace this one. The new one will function with different physical laws and occupy different space-time dimensions…Because we humans are spirit beings, we can make this transition to life beyond our earthly body and earthly dimensions, either life without end in the new creation…or death without end in the lake of fire…”[64]

Following the Fall

What we believe about the post-mortem state is undoubtedly affected by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the introduction of their sin to the rest of humanity. Both psychopannychists and those who believe in an intermediate afterlife appeal to Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.” Adam and Eve introduced death to the human race, yet those who welcome the gospel can have eternal life. Psychopannychists conclude that physical death and physical life are entirely what are being described here, whereas those of us who believe in an intermediate disembodied afterlife would argue that something more than just physical life or physical death should be considered. Are “life” and “death” one-dimensional, or multi-dimensional concepts as seen in Scripture?

While Adam and Eve were certainly created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), did they possess the ability for their bodies to live forever prior to the Fall? Some may get the impression from reading Genesis chs. 1-3 that Adam and Eve initially possessed an immortality of their bodies never dying, but this is actually not the impression that we get from what God Himself says in Genesis 3:22: “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Adam and Eve would have had to have eaten from the Tree of Life in order for their bodies to live forever.

The instruction that was given to Adam in the Garden of Eden, by God, was “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). No one denies the fact that physical death is a definite part of the consequence of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. In Genesis 3:19 God is clear to say, “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But was the penalty that Adam and Eve incurred for their sin solely physical death? Psychopannychists say a resounding “Yes,” and as Bacchiocchi would specifically argue, “people [often] believe Satan’s lie that no matter what they do, they ‘shall not die’ (Gen 3:4),”[65] which means that those of us who believe in a temporary disembodied afterlife have obviously been beguiled by the serpent just as Eve was:

“The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die!’” (Genesis 3:2-4).

Satan tempted Eve by telling her that if she ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that she would not die. Of course, we know that Adam and Eve did die subsequent to eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 6:5). Yet in a particular way, the Adversary was actually correct in telling Eve that when she would eat the fruit she would not “die.” God was clear to say ki b’yom akholkha m’menu mot tamut, “for in the day of thine eating of it—dying thou dost die” (Genesis 2:17, YLT), meaning that within a reasonable scope of time from committing the sin Adam and Eve should have died. They are confronted by God for the crime that they committed against Him:

“Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.’ And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:9-12).

The serpent is chastised for his temptation of Eve (Genesis 2:14-16), and then the penalty for eating the fruit sin is laid upon Adam and Eve:

“Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat from it”; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face You will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return’” (Genesis 3:17-19).

Adam and Eve are told that their future will not be as glorious as their past, but it is clear from the text that they did not physically die at the time they ate the forbidden fruit. What happened instead? “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). Something spiritual took place within both Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit.

As a direct result of their sin, they are ejected from the Garden of Eden: “therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken” (Genesis 3:23). From reading the account of humanity’s Fall, Adam and Eve did not “die,” at least in the context of what psychopannychists advocate, because Adam and Eve were still physically alive with their hearts and their brains still functioning. Instead, they found themselves ejected out of Paradise. Their innocence was gone and they could no longer fully commune with God. Wright observes, “In Genesis, and indeed much of the Old Testament, the controlling image for death is exile. Adam and Eve were told that they would die on the day they ate the fruit; what actually happened was that they were expelled from the garden.”[66]

Adam and Eve did not “drop dead” from committing the first sin, but they were instead cast out of the Garden and removed from God’s presence. Yeshua the Messiah would have to come on the scene in order to restore humanity back to the condition of being in such full communion with the Father (Genesis 3:15; 1 Timothy 2:15, Grk.; cf. Revelation 12:17). His work will be completed with the manifestation of the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation chs. 21-22), and redeemed physical people will be entering back to an Edenic type of state—meaning not just the redemption of the human consciousnesses, but of the whole person. Wright comments, “the promised final future is [not] simply that immortal souls leave behind their mortal bodies,”[67] because God’s plan of salvation history includes the abolishment of physical death at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:26; cf. Romans 8:23; Hebrews 9:27). Yet, such life and redemption can begin and be partaken of long before the resurrection.

Advocates of psychopannychy only look at death in terms of physicality, equating animal death and human death as being the same. The death that Adam and Eve would have experienced would thus have only been physical. Yet, the Apostle Paul only makes the point that with the introduction of sin “death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12), eis pantas anthrōpous or “to all humans,” as animal death was something entirely different and independent of this.[68] In Scripture, we do see that “death” involves something much more than the stopping of one’s heartbeat and brainwaves. The unredeemed state of a sinner is being “dead in your trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, cf. 2:5; Colossians 2:13), particularized in how “she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6), clearly depicting a condition that exists even when a person is physically alive. One who lives in sin is removed from the life of God.

The “life” that God promises to us is something that we can experience now—even prior to the resurrection—which is being restored to communion with Him! Yeshua the Messiah asks, “everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:26). He also says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). Born again Believers physically die all the time, requiring us to look at the “death” and “life” of human beings in something more than just physical, one-dimensional terms. Morey notes, “The ‘life’ which we receive at regeneration is not to be a temporary existence. The life which we receive is described as being ‘eternal.’”[69] This is why our Lord says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), and while surely He does want us to be physically fit, He more especially wants us to be in an intimate relationship with Him!

If we have properly interpreted the Creation account, Adam and Eve experienced God’s life and God’s presence inside of the Garden of Eden, and upon sinning were ejected into a condition of death and separation from Him. This death would involve their physical bodies ceasing to function, but it would primarily include the end of their intimate communion with Him. It is a mistake to limit the “life” of a human being entirely to physical life on Earth. While physical death is something to be conquered via the resurrection, the dominion of death can be conquered now by the power of the gospel and people receiving salvation. Eternal life is not exclusively being given a resurrected and restored body to exist in the New Heavens and New Earth; it is primarily being restored to an intimate communion with the Lord. As the author of Hebrews says, “let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), a life of communion with God that was lost because of the sin of Adam and Eve, but can now be restored to men and women by the sacrificial work of Yeshua.

Messianic psychopannychists often have a problem recognizing that when Adam and Eve “died” at the time they ate the forbidden fruit, they did not “drop dead” in medical terms with their hearts and brains ceasing to function, but instead were ejected from the Garden of Eden and God’s presence. But some think that they have an easy answer for this. Genesis 5:5 says “Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.” They connect this to Psalm 90:4, “a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by,” and believing that humanity has only been granted a 6,000 year cosmic week to inhabit Planet Earth, Adam clearly died in the first so-called “day” or 1,000-year period. While this is a convenient way for Messianic psychopannychists to dodge the reality that the “death” Adam and Eve experienced was primarily their ejection from the Garden, it has some problems attached to it.

While it cannot be denied that belief in a 6,000 year probation on Earth was a view of some Sages (b.Sanhedrin 97a-97b), with Psalm 90 offered as a substantiating text, Psalm 90 itself does not speak of a 6,000 year cosmic week for humanity. The overarching theme of Psalm 90 is God’s timelessness compared to man’s temporality: “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God…For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:2, 4). A thousand years passes by God like it is no time at all, even when people are able to live, if strong, for eighty years (Psalm 90:10).

Messianic psychopannychists who believe that Adam died in the first “day” of 1,000 years rely heavily on the work of Seventeenth Century Archbishop James Ussher, who determined that the Earth was actually created in 4004 B.C.E. This chronology, however, was pieced together using presuppositions that interpreted the genealogy listings of Genesis chs. 5 and 11 incorrectly, failing to consider the use of any telescoping, and is a chronology that lost considerable support among conservative theologians in the Twentieth Century. Furthermore, anthropological data available to us since the Seventeenth Century does clearly show us that the human race is over 6,000 years old. Creationist Hugh Ross indicates, “attempts to spread the Christian gospel in Asia were stymied because Chinese historical records gave a date for the origin and spread of civilization that preceded Ussher’s date.”[70] When we see human cave paintings, such as those in Lascaux, France from an estimated 16,000 years ago[71] (with some of the other cave paintings in France and Spain dating to as many as 32,000 years ago), the 6,000 year chronology that so many Messianics hold to is not at all easily sustainable.[72]

Unless “life” and “death” are only things to be considered in entirely physical terms, then we have adequate proof from the Fall that the death introduced to humanity by Adam is first and foremost an unredeemed person’s separation from God, present in those who live in bondage to the realm of sin. This is a separation that can be remedied, however, by men and women receiving the salvation available in Yeshua. When a born again Believer dies, his or her consciousness will be transferred into the presence of the Lord—surely a desirable condition if one’s communion with Him has been restored to a heart that is then filled with great love for Him (Deuteronomy 6:5; Philippians 1:21-23)—with the salvation process fully consummating at the resurrection. It is not unimportant at all that human death is differentiated from animal death (Romans 5:12). Advocates of psychopannychy have done a disservice in viewing “life” and “death” in only one-dimensional terms. By so doing, it has been my experience that Messianic psychopannychists seem to not possess a significant knowledge of the spiritual realm, or for that matter of the communion that they should desire to experience with the Lord.

What is Sheol? What is the grave?

Within the Hebrew Scriptures, the place where the deceased go is called Sheol, translated in the Septuagint by the term Hadēs, whose usage carries over into the Apostolic Scriptures. In most of today’s English translations of the Bible (i.e., RSV, NASU, NRSV, ESV) both Sheol and Hades appear in the text, leaving the reader to decide what is being spoken of (David H. Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible similarly just uses Sh’ol). Versions like the NIV, however, often render Sheol as “the grave.” With this, Ecclesiastes 9:10 would say “for in the grave [Sheol], where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (NIV).[73] Yet there is a huge debate in today’s Biblical scholarship whether Sheol is actually “the grave,” meaning just a place of internment for dead bodies. The newer TNIV renders Ecclesiastes 9:10 with “in the realm of the dead, where you are going,” which indicates doubt that Sheol is not necessary “the grave.” So is Sheol/Hades the grave, or is it an extra-dimensional place where the consciousnesses of the dead can be held prior to resurrection? The New Interpreter’s Study Bible provides us with the following summary of options:

“The Hebrew term [Sheol] refers on one level to the depths of the earth, literally, since it was where the dead were buried. On another level, it was the dwelling place of the dead (see ‘shades’), who experienced a state of being considerably less than earthly life but not nothingness. Sheol was not the exclusive abode of the righteous or the wicked, but of everyone, and it is often used as a synonym for death, as in Isa 28:15 (cf. 1 Sam 2:6; Job 21:13; Psa 6:5).”[74]

Psychopannychists argue that Sheol/Hades is exclusively the grave, whereas those of us who believe in an intermediate afterlife prior to resurrection argue that it is an extra-dimensional realm of the dead.

Sheol is depicted as a place from which no one comes up (Job 7:9), seemingly requiring some kind of resurrection, causing many to conclude that it is only “the grave.” Some think that Sheol can mean either the netherworld or the grave, dependent on how the term is used. Yet, is it at all important that the location of Sheol is often contrasted to be as low as Heaven is high (Deuteronomy 32:22; Isaiah 7:11; cf. Job 11:8)? This could depict Sheol at one end of the cosmic spectrum, with Heaven at the other end, and with Planet Earth somewhere in the middle. Heaven is surely in another dimension than Planet Earth, so why would it be a problem if Sheol were also in another dimension (or at least the same dimension as Heaven)?[75]

Expositors often do not disagree with the conclusion that Sheol and the grave are connected, as the power of death is in view, yet “the degree to which [Sheol] is identified with the grave has been debated” (ABD).[76] Is Sheol a synonym for the grave, or is it a companion for the grave—so that while one’s body decays in a tomb, one’s consciousness is reduced to a shade of its former self in Sheol? Strong evidence is offered on both sides, with many simply concluding, “At most it is a place of confinement away from the land of the living” (ISBE).[77] One’s presuppositions relating to whether Sheol is just the grave, or an extra-dimensional holding place, will affect how one interprets Scripture passages that portray the deceased in Sheol.

One fact that can easily escape us is that the Scriptures do possess specific terms for a place of interment, a tomb or an actual gravesite. The Hebrew qever means “grave, sepulchre” (BDB).[78] When the Torah says that one is rendered unclean by touching a grave, a place of burial, qever is what is referred to (Numbers 19:13-18). Qever is used to describe how the king of Babylon has “been cast out of your tomb” (Isaiah 14:19), and while the other “kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb” (Isaiah 14:18), the king of Babylon does not have a proper burial in a qever, instead being brought down to Sheol (Isaiah 14:9) where he is welcomed by the kings who preceded him. A common Messianic passage, Isaiah 53:9, details how “His grave [qever] was assigned with wicked men.”

In Greek, a term of specific interest to us would be mnēma, often meaning a memorial, and hence “gener. grave, tomb” (BDAG).[79] In the period between His death and resurrection, Yeshua’s body was placed in a mnēma (Mark 16:2; Luke 8:27), yet as the Apostle Peter would testify “HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY” (Acts 2:31; cf. Psalm 16:10). Yeshua’s body was not placed in a mnēma long enough to decay, while the Lord was not left as a permanent resident of Hades (or Sheol; cf. Luke 23:43; 1 Peter 3:19).

While these are important examples to consider regarding what Sheol/Hades is, it behooves us more than anything else to examine the varied usages of Sheol as seen in the Tanach. This is largely because psychopannychists make their arguments about the post-mortem state almost entirely from the Tanach. (Regardless of what side one takes, interpreters are widely agreed that the usage of Hadēs in the Apostolic Scriptures concurs with the Tanach usage of Sheol.) So does the Tanach depict Sheol as a place or internment, or as a holding place for the consciousness of the deceased prior to resurrection?

The first place Sheol appears is in the Patriarch Jacob’s lament for his son Joseph, of whom he cries out “A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!” (Genesis 37:33). Mourning for his lost son, Jacob is overcome so that all he can say is ki-ered el-beni avel Sheolah, meaning “I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol” (Genesis 37:35, NJPS). While it would be very easy for one to simply conclude that this means “in mourning will I go down to the grave” (NIV), it is not insignificant that we point out how—believing his son was eaten by a wild animal—Joseph would have had no place of burial. Morey indicates, “He…speaks of ‘going down’ to reunite with his son, because it was assumed that Sheol was the place of departed spirits, probably a hollow place in the center of the earth.”[80] Similarly, commenting on this verse, Sarna describes,

“[Sheol] is the most frequently used term in biblical Hebrew for the abode of the spirits of the dead. The region was imagined as situated deep beneath the earth, enclosed with gates. It was a place of unrelieved gloom and silence; it received anyone, good and bad, great and small. All were equal there, and none who entered it could leave”[81] (cf. Amos 9:2).

The first Biblical usage of Sheol allows for a belief in a disembodied post-mortem state, something even reflected in today’s somewhat progressive Jewish theology.[82]

For the most part regarding Sheol, though, we find a series of Tanach passages that are undeniably affected by one’s presuppositions. If Sheol is just the grave, they can be viewed this way—or if Sheol is a holding place for the human consciousness prior to resurrection, they can likewise be viewed this way. The following are a selection of passages to be considered. Thankfully, most Bibles do leave Sheol as is, leaving the reader to decide what is being communicated:

“For Sheol cannot thank You, death cannot praise You; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today; a father tells his sons about Your faithfulness” (Isaiah 38:18-19).

“The strong among the mighty ones shall speak of him and his helpers from the midst of Sheol, ‘They have gone down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword’” (Ezekiel 32:21).

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

“For there is no mention of You in death; in Sheol who will give You thanks? I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears” (Psalm 6:5-6).

“Let me not be put to shame, O LORD, for I call upon You; let the wicked be put to shame, let them be silent in Sheol” (Psalm 31:17).

“As sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd; and the upright shall rule over them in the morning, and their form shall be for Sheol to consume so that they have no habitation. But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Selah” (Psalm 49:14-15).

“Let death come deceitfully upon them; Let them go down alive to Sheol [realm of the dead, TNIV], for evil is in their dwelling, in their midst” (Psalm 55:15).

“For Your lovingkindness toward me is great, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (Psalm 86:13).

“For my soul has had enough troubles, and my life has drawn near to Sheol. I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, forsaken among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and they are cut off from Your hand. You have put me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the depths” (Psalm 88:3-6).

“What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah” (Psalm 89:48).

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:7-12).

“If I look for Sheol as my home, I make my bed in the darkness; if I call to the pit, ‘You are my father’; to the worm, ‘my mother and my sister’; where now is my hope? And who regards my hope? Will it go down with me to Sheol? Shall we together go down into the dust?” (Job 17:13-16).

From the variety of usages seen here, it is not difficult to see how some interpreters can view Sheol as being “the grave,” and yet how other interpreters can see Sheol as a shadowy netherworld for the deceased where there is a quasi-existence of being cut of from Earthly experiences. Psychopannychists would view the varied references to Sheol in a poetic or non-literal sense, whereas those of us who believe in an intermediate post-mortem state would view Sheol as a literal holding place for the consciousness of the deceased. Both psychopannychists and those who believe in an intermediate post-mortem state are agreed that Earthly life is contrasted with the existence of the deceased. But what kind of existence of the deceased is implied in the sorts of passages above? Milne indicates that while “Its etymology is disputed…many scholars favour a root meaning such as ‘the desolate realm’, or the ‘un-world’.”[83] Sheol and the grave are undoubtedly partners, but to what extent? Morey summarizes some thoughts that need to be kept in mind:

“Once in Sheol, all experiences related exclusively to physical life are no longer possible. Those in Sheol do not marry and procreate children because they do not have bodies. Neither do they plan and execute business transactions. Once in Sheol, they cannot attend public worship in the temple and give sacrifices or praise. There are no bodily pleasures such as eating or drinking. Those in Sheol do not have any wisdom or knowledge about what is happening in the land of the living. They are cut off from the living. They have entered a new dimension of reality with its own kind of existence…”[84]

If Sheol is portrayed as a quiet place of relative inactivity, but from where there can be a degree of conscious interaction among its inhabitants, then it need not be viewed as “the grave.” When living people prefer to rest today, they like to be in quiet or serene places. In the case of Sheol, it is portrayed more as a place where the deceased are left alone more than anything else. In the view of Peter C. Craigie, “In Sheol, persons were believed to exist in a form of semi-life, at rest, yet not in joy, for they had not the fullness of life which made possible the richness of relationship with the living God. Death was thus to be dreaded.”[85] Even if spite of a level of consciousness, the shades in Sheol could not experience all of the things that Earthly life offered.

Advocates of psychopannychy like Bacchiocchi, however, do believe that Sheol is just another term for “grave.” He provides Numbers 16:31-33 as his support, saying “Perhaps the clearest example of the location of sheol beneath the earth is the account of the punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who had revolved against the authority of Moses.”[86] These verses tell us,

“As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.”

This was quite a dramatic scene, as those opposed to God’s servant were swallowed up by the ground. Bacchiocchi’s view is that “This episode clearly shows that the whole person, and not just the soul, goes down to sheol, to the realm of the dead.”[87] What he has failed to tell us, though, is the fact that being swallowed up by the ground is not the normal way that people die. Numbers 16:30 is clear to specify that this judgment was “something unheard-of” (NJPS) or “unprecedented” (HCSB),[88] so that Moses’ credibility could be confirmed to the Israelites. There is no major issue here if an Israelite had already believed that the consciousness of the deceased went to Sheol, because the rebels’ going down with their possessions would make the Israelites realize that what had made them prideful against Moses could not help them in the face of God. On the contrary, the Psalmist even says that one’s bones “have been scattered at the mouth of Sheol” (Psalm 141:7), supporting the view of Sheol not being “the grave,” but instead a holding area for the consciousnesses of the deceased where physical elements are not allowed. The rebels opposing Moses would then be swallowed up and killed, ultimately ending up as just refaim or shades in Sheol.

Those of us who believe that the evidence points to Sheol being a temporary holding place for the disembodied deceased until resurrection, can point to usages of the term that can be read from the perspective of an extra-dimensional post-mortem vantage point. Morey provides a list of twenty reasons in his book Death and the Afterlife pointing to Sheol being an extra-dimensional netherworld, notably including: unlike a grave (Exodus 14:11), Sheol is never localized; Sheol can never be bought or sold (Genesis 23:4-20), unlike a place of entombment; humans can place a dead body in a resting place, but not in Sheol (Genesis 50:13); humans can touch a gravesite (Numbers 19:19), but not Sheol; remains in a grave can be removed or uncovered (2 Kings 23:16), but humans are incapable of removing or uncovering anything in Sheol; humans can beautify or decorate a gravesite (Genesis 35:20), but not Sheol. These facts can only lead us to one conclusion: Sheol is an extra-dimensional netherworld.[89] As he further concludes,

“Sheol is ‘under the earth,’ or ‘the underworld,’ while graves were built as supulchres above the earth, or caves, or holes in the earth. Sheol is called the underworld in Isa. 14:9. It is also called ‘the lower parts of the earth’ (KJV) in Ps. 63:9; Isa. 44:23; Eze. 26:20; 31:14, 16, 18; 32:18, 24. Sheol is the opposite of heaven (Ps. 139:8). One must go ‘down’ to get to Sheol (Gen. 37:35).”[90]

While the linguistic debates over what Sheol is do rage on, there are some specific instances where death is portrayed in the Tanach that will give us a fuller picture of the subject, because as Cooper notes, we can often be stuck with “the indeterminacy of poetic language.”[91] It is incumbent upon us to see what the Tanach actually tells us about the death expectations of Ancient Israel for us to have a fuller picture.

Death Expectations in the Tanach

When reading the Tanach, it is not difficult for one to see that it is more concerned about regulating human life on Planet Earth, than it is concerned about the hereafter. Cooper indicates, “The Old Testament is resoundingly this-worldly. The fullest possible extent for a human being is to live an earthly life as God created it to be lived.”[92] Many people when reading the Tanach get the impression that it has no expectation of any kind of intermediate afterlife, or for that same matter, a resurrection of the dead. The Tanach does certainly affirm the reanimation of physical bodies in the eschaton (Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37:6; Daniel 12:2), but what does it say about the expectations regarding death? Does it conclusively speak against the concept of a disembodied post-mortem state? Psychopannychists certainly believe so, but those of us who do believe in a temporary disembodied state prior to the resurrection are not convinced. The following are some passages that need to be weighed into our discussion, especially in terms of whether or not the Tanach supports psychopannychy.

Genesis 37:35

“Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, ‘Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.’ So his father wept for him.”

The first place where the Hebrew word Sheol is encountered in the Scriptures, appears in the Patriarch Jacob’s response to the news that his beloved son Joseph has been attacked and eaten by wild animals. Upon seeing the evidence, Jacob exclaims, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!” (Genesis 37:33). Naturally, “Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days” (Genesis 37:34). Joseph was the son of Jacob from his dear wife Rachel, and his father Jacob knew of the dreams that Joseph had (Genesis 37:1-11) and had an inkling of the future God had intended for him. With Joseph now reported to be dead, this was all wasted.

Without expelling a huge amount of investigation, it is easy for some readers to see what Jacob says, and then encountering a version like the NIV just assume he means “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” Those who read a little more closely, noticing what Jacob thinks has occurred, as wild animals have not only murdered and eaten—but by this time had also excreted a great deal of Joseph’s body—should easily recognize, though, that Joseph had no place of burial. The Hebrew clause ki-ered el-beni avel Sheolah is best rendered as “I shall go down to Sheol to my son” (RSV). While Jacob will be mourning for the loss of Joseph and not be able to see him grow up and accomplish his full potential, the two of them will be reunited in death in Sheol. But even such a reunification in death will not compensate Jacob for his loss. Walter Brueggemann offers these thoughts:

“So much had been entrusted to that young body. The body torn by the beast carried the future of the people. The ‘added’ one is irreplaceable [cf. Genesis 30:24]. No ritual covers it. No other children can substitute.”[93]

With Jacob thinking that Joseph has been consumed by wild animals, having no place of burial (qever), the only thing left for the two of them is Sheol. Genesis 37:35 includes an important clue for later reading that Sheol is not a place of internment, but rather the shadowy world of the dead, a realm of another dimension. At the very least, as Hamilton indicates, Sheol “is a proper name denoting the netherworld, which, in essence, was an extension of the grave.” He advises us to look at the term Sheol here as like the “vague [descriptions] ‘the great beyond’ or ‘afterworld.’” No one who accepts an intermediate afterlife between death and resurrection would argue, solely on the basis of Genesis 37:35, that Sheol is not a partner along with the grave, nor that everything known about Sheol is seen here. As Hamilton further directs us, “The question” of what this actually is “can only be answered…by an investigation of all OT references to death, Sheol, resurrection, and the like.”[94]

Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; Isaiah 8:19-20

“Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:31).

“As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people” (Leviticus 20:6).

“When they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (Isaiah 8:19-20).

Moses’ Teaching specifically forbade the Ancient Israelites from consulting mediums or necromancers (Heb. sing. ov),[95] with capital punishment specified for those who would employ the services of such individuals. It almost goes without saying that a prohibition on consulting the dead presupposes the belief in some kind of continued existence of the human consciousness after death. Those who would consult a necromancer would do so with the express intention of communicating with a deceased person in the netherworld, who was to some degree aware of what existed beyond physical death. While the Lord certainly did not want His people engaging in these activities to open themselves up to demonic activity, the intention for visiting a necromancer would have specifically been for not communicating with angels or demons, but instead with deceased humans. The only means for people to communicate with Him, of course, were via worship and prayer; the means by which the departed were to be consulted were via occultic and forbidden practices.

It is indisputable that “There is abundant evidence for cults of the dead in the pagan world that surrounded Israel” (ABD), existing in Mesopotamia in the time of Abraham, in Ugarit, and in Canaan. There was an “ancient view that the dead as spirits maintained an ongoing relationship with the living, albeit in a weakened state of existence” (ABD).[96] While visiting a burial site was not uncommon for any ancient or modern culture, many ancient societies visited burial sites to do more than just remember and honor the deceased, but instead perform religious rituals to try to communicate with them and curry favor from the beyond. The rites of these cults, often trying to communicate with the deceased, were strictly forbidden for Ancient Israel.

The employment of terafim or various household idols were commonly employed in necromancy (Genesis 19:13; Judges 17:5; cf. Isaiah 29:4). Food offerings to the dead are prohibited (Deuteronomy 26:14; Psalm 106:28), as they were believed necessary for the ongoing nourishment of the departed. And it has even been suggested that one of the reasons that pork was off limits for Israel’s diet was how “the sacrifice of a pig was closely connected with rites for the dead (Isa 65:4)” (ABD).[97] Yet, the witness of the Tanach does indicate that the Israelites, even though prohibited from consulting necromancers, did try to communicate with the dead in Sheol. Some even assert, “The Hebrews in the remote past carried on an organized cult of the dead, especially of their ancestors” (ABD).[98] As Cooper concludes, “surely if the Israelites did not believe that the dead existed or that they could be consulted, there would have been no need to warn them against such practices.”[99] Clearly, a different kind of instruction would have probably been given if communication with dark spiritual forces or principalities were only the issue.

Numbers 16:30-33

“‘But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.’ As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.”

We already addressed this passage in the previous section on Sheol, answering the claim of psychopannychists that Korah and the rebels were only transported to the grave, and not a holding place of disembodiment. The ground opening up and swallowing the discontents and their possessions is said by Moses to have been “something unprecedented” (HCSB) or a “miracle” (REB), meaning that this was not the normal way that people die. The view that the rebels could have been physically killed by this, with their consciousnesses transferred to the netherworld of Sheol, is not at all a far stretch of the scene, especially if God wanted to emphasize how their possessions would not save them.

It is not unimportant that in the view of some, Korah and his company going down alive into Sheol indicates that they may have never died. Philip J. Budd indicates how “The common death experienced by men in general is the withdrawal of breath and divine spirit (cf. e.g. Job 12:10; Ps 104:28). This is clearly distinguished from the abnormal intervention on God’s part anticipated here.” He lists one view, which asserts, “Since they ‘go down alive’ it may mean that they feel deprivation there, and suffer in a way that the dead do not.”[100] They do, after all, represent the first direct challenge to Moses’ authority, and to the establishment of the fledgling nation of Ancient Israel.

With this considered, the possibility that Korah and the rebels could have been taken into Sheol without experiencing physical death may serve as an antithesis of individuals like Enoch (Genesis 5:24) or Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) being translated by God up into Heaven.

1 Samuel 28:13-15

“The king said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; but what do you see?’ And the woman said to Saul, ‘I see a divine being coming up out of the earth.’ He said to her, ‘What is his form?’ And she said, ‘An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.’ And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage. Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’ And Saul answered, ‘I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and no longer answers me, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do.’”

King Saul visited the witch of Endor with the specific intent of communicating with the deceased Samuel, a significant problem for him as he routed all necromancers out of Israel, yet promised this medium that she would not be harmed (1 Samuel 28:9-10). As she performs her rituals, she says elohim ra’iti olim min-ha’eretz. Because the scene depicts some kind of spectre being called up and speaking to King Saul, psychopannychists have to immediately discount the possibility that this is actually the Prophet Samuel, as it would easily support the view that the consciousness of the deceased can exist outside of the body. Psychopannychists insist that this being, labeled as “elohim” by the witch of Endor, was only a demon impersonating Samuel and not the Prophet Samuel himself. Yet this has a problem when the rituals associated the Canaanite cult of the dead—which we may safely assume this medium was practicing—are taken into proper consideration. Wright explains,

Elohim normally means ‘god’ or ‘gods’; this usage presumably reflects Canaanite belief in the divinity of the dead, surviving here as a kind of linguistic fossil. Here it seems to mean ‘a spirit’, ‘a being from the world of the gods’.”[101]

For some reason or another, God allowed the rites of this medium to work, and the Prophet Samuel communicates a rather ironic message to King Saul: “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has departed from you and has become your adversary?” (1 Samuel 28:16). Obviously, if the Almighty Himself is unwilling to help Saul, then Samuel in the netherworld cannot help Saul, either. And what is Samuel’s word to Saul? Samuel says, “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (1 Samuel 28:19), as they would be killed in battle and join the company of departed refaim or shades in Sheol. This is not just a poetic way of Samuel saying that Saul and his sons would die. Cooper notes, “[H]e expects Saul and his sons to be joining him. That would not be true if he were [just] in some special state of suspended animation provided by God for this unique occasion.”[102] The opinion of the Septuagint translators was, in fact, that the Prophet Samuel himself via a wizard, did communicate with King Saul:

“So Saul died for his transgressions, wherein he transgressed against God, against the word of the Lord, forasmuch as he kept it not, because Saul enquired of a wizard to seek counsel, and Samuel the prophet answered him: and he sought not the Lord: so he slew him, and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse” (1 Chronicles 10:13-14, LXE).

The being which identified itself as the Prophet Samuel had a self-awareness as being the authentic Prophet Samuel. But, if for some small chance the critic is correct in suggesting that this was really some demon imposter, psychopannychy still is insupportable. The demon imposter saying “tomorrow you…will be with me” would mean that King Saul and his sons would still be transported to another realm. Demonic spirits are not native beings to Planet Earth, but rather to another dimension or spirit world. Such a condition requires disembodiment.

Isaiah 14:9-11, 18-20

“Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come; it arouses for you the spirits of the dead, all the leaders of the earth; it raises all the kings of the nations from their thrones. They will all respond and say to you, ‘Even you have been made weak as we, you have become like us. Your pomp and the music of your harps have been brought down to Sheol; maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you and worms are your covering’…All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb. But you have been cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch, clothed with the slain who are pierced with a sword, who go down to the stones of the pit like a trampled corpse. You will not be united with them in burial, because you have ruined your country, you have slain your people. May the offspring of evildoers not be mentioned forever.”[103]

The death of the king of Babylon is an intriguing passage, because we see Sheol or the netherworld,[104] and qever or the tomb, depicted together. When the king of Babylon dies, “Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come, it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth” (Isaiah 14:9, RSV), as the refaim or departed spirits of the kings who preceded him in death actually welcome his arrival into this new realm. They tell their new companion, “So you have been stricken as we were, you have become like us!” (Isaiah 14:10, NJPS). In spite of the great power he may have wielded in life, the king of Babylon is not immune as death is the great equalizer, and he is certainly no all-powerful deity as he might have imagined. What we see can clearly be interpreted as a disembodied post-mortem state in Sheol, actually described by J. Alec Motyer to be “the half-life of Sheol.”[105]

Isaiah 14:11 adds a physical dimension to this because when the king of Babylon dies, he has “been brought down to Sheol; [with] maggots…spread out as your bed beneath you and worms are your covering.” Each of the kings who have preceded the king of Babylon in death have their own place of internment, their own “house” (Isaiah 14:18, KJV) where their remains rest among their people and they can be remembered and honored. The king of Babylon, in contrast, has “been cast out[106] of [his] tomb [qever][107]” (Isaiah 14:19) and “will not be united” with the kings who preceded him “in burial [b’qevurah], because [he has] ruined [his] country” (Isaiah 14:20). The king of Babylon has no burial in any tomb or grave, but instead is given a bed of maggots and covering of worms. Consider the reaction of those who witness the fall of the king of Babylon:

“Those who see you will gaze at you, they will ponder over you, saying, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a wilderness and overthrew its cities, who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’” (Isaiah 14:16-17).

In spite of the great power and influence he wielded in life, the evil actions of the king of Babylon catch up with him in the end. John D.W. Watts explains, “The observations of those who view the corpse reflect their astonishment and horror. The body has not been buried, but abandoned like garbage (v 19). He shares the fate of the dead among the poorest people: like the aborted fetus, like the clothes of one stabbed in a brawl, one killed in a fall, one trampled by a mob or on a battle-field, he is simply dumped in a pit and left to the birds and animals.”[108] Rather than having a tomb where he can be honored and remembered by his people, all the king of Babylon has is a place among the shades in Sheol, where he can be chastised by those who preceded him in death. His mangled corpse disappears into history.[109] Motyer suggests, “Stripped of his royal robes, the king now has nothing to clothe him but the bodies of those who died in…battle, heaped together ignominiously.”[110]

Advocates of psychopannychy do not see this scene as depicting any kind of literal descent of the consciousness of the king of Babylon into Sheol, but instead conclude that the king of Babylon dying and being greeted by previous kings in Sheol is just a poetic taunt, not to be taken with any kind of literalness. Previously, trees have been depicted as speaking (Isaiah 14:8), so why should we take the shades of the kings in Sheol as being anything more than just metaphor? Sheol here is simply thought to be a synonym for the grave. But it does matter that people taunt the king of Babylon. In James 5:4, for example, while the unpaid wages of laborers figuratively cries out against the ungodly rich, so do the laborers themselves cry out to the Lord. No one argues against the laborers themselves being real people:

“Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.”

In the full picture of what we see in the king of Babylon’s downfall, what we actually see are Sheol and the grave contrasted. The taunt of the kings in Sheol is precisely that the king of Babylon has no grave, while the rest of them do have graves! The praises and fanfare that this monarch received in Earthly life have now shifted toward an existence of being ridiculed by those who predeceased him. At the very best, what the remains of the king of Babylon have is a kind of sofa made of worms and maggots, resembling the kind of soft cushions he would have been able to rest upon as monarch. Morey states, “the king is cast out of his grave (kever) in order to be thrown into Sheol where the departed spirits can rebuke him (vv. 9, 10). In this passage, Sheol and kever are opposites, not synonyms,”[111] even if they might work together as partners in the death process.

The point made in the taunt is that the king of Babylon joins the other kings in Sheol or the netherworld—not that he joins them in burial. If there is any metaphor that needs to be understood from Isaiah 14:9, it would not be the taunting of the king of Babylon by the shades of the other deceased kings, but rather how these kings are depicted as rising up from thrones that they sit upon. This should be taken as symbolic language depicting these shades asserting some of their previous authority or reputation, not that they actually had real thrones or chairs of some sort to sit upon in the netherworld.

There is hermeneutical difficulty for the psychopannychist who believes that Isaiah 14:9-11, 18-20 is simply a symbolic way of describing death, but no post-mortem disembodied state. What is keeping us from interpreting Scriptures where they consider that the literal condition of the dead is complete unconsciousness in a similar poetic or symbolic way? Cooper notes that their “objection cuts both ways. It is also a problem for those who argue from Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes that pure unconsciousness is the literal Hebrew belief about the dead. Those texts [could not] be taken at face value either.”[112] It is disingenuous of the psychopannychist to just allegorize as poetry all references to Bible passages which depict people in a post-mortem, disembodied conscious state prior to resurrection.

Psalm 146:2-4

“I will praise the LORD while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”

Psychopannychists often think that they have a very strong case from Psalm 146:2-4, as v. 4 obviously describes what happens to a person at death: someone’s breath leaves, his body decomposes, and his brainwaves or thoughts cease. No conscious post-mortem state is seen. These conclusions, however, fail to take into consideration the actual message being communicated by the Psalmist.

The Psalmist declares how he will praise the Lord with his being: “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalm 146:1). The Psalmist refuses to place his trust “in the great, in mortal man who cannot save” (Psalm 146:3, NJPS). This is because human beings die and decompose, unlike a God who is the Eternal Creator and who demonstrates consistent faithfulness (Psalm 146:5-10). On these points psychopannychists and those of us who believe in an intermediate afterlife are not in disagreement.

What is to be made of the Psalmist’s assertion that when a mortal man dies “in that very day his thoughts perish”? Some suggest that the scene here is Israel trying to seek its deliverance from allies of other nations, something that indicates distrust in God and will not benefit them. Others would simply say that this concerns individuals placing their trust in princes or political leaders. Yet regardless of which view one takes, esh’ton is more concurrent with one’s “plan” (HALOT; cf. RSV, NIV, NRSV, ESV, etc.),[113] as opposed to his thoughts being his consciousness. Leslie C. Allen explains, “Their creatureliness spells the transience of their policies: in spite of their apparent power, from a long-term standpoint they are powerless.”[114]

We have good reason to believe that Psalm 146:2-4 does not concern the consciousness of a person ending at death, but instead the plans of any mortal sought out for salvation—over and against a God who should be praised and who alone can provide salvation. Only the Lord, because of who He is, is worthy of such praise and the Psalmist’s trust, something that will last b’odi, as long as the Psalmist can “exist” (Psalm 146:2, YLT/NJPS). While limited mortals who may be sought for salvation will fade away, the ability for the Psalmist to praise God is notably something that will not end, as ‘od frequently regards “a going round, continuance” (BDB)[115] or “permanence, constancy” (CHALOT).[116] In spite of what happens, the Psalmist’s praises or acclamations to God, and the confidence placed in Him, will not stop with his Earthly life—even though the plans of princes will—likely necessitating some sort of ongoing, presumably post-mortem existence for the Psalmist,[117] especially when read in concert with other passages.

Ecclesiastes 3:18-22

“I said to myself concerning the sons of men, ‘God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.’ For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth? I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?”

In examining the works and teachings of psychopannychists, it is not difficult at all to see that there is perhaps no more favorite book of the Bible for them than Ecclesiastes. For some reason or another, they feel content in giving this anonymous and controversial book more weight than many other texts of Scripture.[118] Few Messianics who have adopted the doctrine of psychopannychy are aware that Ecclesiastes was one of the last books to be included in our Bible, for the specific reason that some viewed it as being anti-resurrection. Tremper Longman III indicates how throughout both Jewish and Christian history, “The book was accused of contradictions, secularity, and even outright heresy”—precisely because “According to Qohelet, death is the end” and no resurrection (at least from some readings of it) is to likely be anticipated.[119]

The Mishnah records the debates that occurred between the Pharisaical Schools of Hillel and Shammai over Ecclesiastes’ usefulness: “‘[The Book of] Qohelet does not render the hands unclean,’ according to the House of Shammai. And the House of Hillel say, ‘It renders the hands unclean’” (m.Eduyyot 5:3).[120] Shammai considered the text to not render one’s hands unclean because Ecclesiastes was not intrinsically that holy, whereas Hillel viewed the text as being holy. Debate over the holiness, or unholiness, of the Book of Ecclesiastes was still going on until the late First Century C.E. (m.Yadayaim 3:5), well after Yeshua the Messiah had come on the scene. The Apostle Paul’s reference to Ecclesiastes 1:2 in Romans 8:20 assured Ecclesiastes a place within the Christian canon, but much of the Church has viewed Ecclesiastes with some of the same skepticism as the Rabbis.

Any difficulty those of us who believe in a temporary disembodied post-mortem state may have, however, needs to be resolved from the text of Ecclesiastes itself, and not us just dismissing or ignoring this book as somehow not being Scripture.

Here in Ecclesiastes 3:19 it is directly stated, “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal” (NIV). Upon first reading, it appears that the consciousness of a human being does not go to an extra-dimensional holding place at the time of death. To the psychopannychist, those of us who believe in a disembodied post-mortem state have obviously got it all wrong.

The cotext of Ecclesiastes 3:19, though, gives us a little fuller picture of what Qohelet is saying to his audience—an audience that likely needs to be encouraged to live a godly life, rejecting hedonism. Qohelet has stated just earlier, “I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11). Gam et-ha’olam natan b’libam is a unique statement to consider: “Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart” (ESV), or “he has given human beings an awareness of eternity” (CJB). While limited creatures that they are, a human being is to understand that there is something beyond Earth. Life on Earth, while possessing good things (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13a), pales in comparison how “everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14). A life lived without Him as the emphasis misses the point! People must turn to God to be shown all the wonders of His work.

Qohelet returns to his largely pessimistic method of reasoning with the crowd. The cycles of human life repeat themselves (Ecclesiastes 3:15), but he adds something: “in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness” (Ecclesiastes 3:16). Resha is present in places where it should not be (cf. Micah 6:10-11), and so what happens is “‘God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,’ for a time for every matter and for every deed is there” (Ecclesiastes 3:17). This could be read as a hint of a future resurrection and judgment. But what follows are the difficult words that have stirred unbelievable controversy among many examiners of Ecclesiastes, as Qohelet asserts,

“As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless [hevel; more accurately meaning ‘transitory’]. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, NIV).

These are the kinds of sentiments that one might expect the Sadducees of the First Century C.E. to say, those who categorically denied the resurrection. Does Qohelet deny the resurrection? Some interpreters actually say yes—so whether one is a psychopannychist or one believes in a temporary disembodied afterlife, as we both believe in the resurrection—this forces us to interpret the Book of Ecclesiastes within the scope of the wider Biblical canon.[121] When we consider the larger Biblical message, and the setting of Ecclesiastes as the period of opulence and corruption reflected in the Books of Amos and Micah, I would suggest that Qohelet’s purpose is not, in fact, to equate the fate of human beings and animals as being the same. Instead, he wants to get his listeners to see that there is more to life than just fulfilling one’s sensual desires—things that are transitory and not permanent. Qohelet says that God will bring people to justice who commit wickedness (Ecclesiastes 3:17). Wicked people who think they can get away with sinful deeds are really no better than the animals, thinking that once they die they will face no consequences for their actions before a Higher Power.

From this angle, Qohelet cynically says, “For who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21, NLT). Rather than speaking indisputable facts about how human beings and animals are compositionally indifferent, could it instead be that Qohelet is really trying to get his audience to think about their wickedness, and if they really do face the same fate as the animals? After all, who can really prove that there is something more than this life? His line of reasoning is for them to simply enjoy life on Earth now, because after all, how can we really know what happens next? He says, “I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?” (Ecclesiastes 3:22). No consequences after death, right?

Within the larger Biblical canon we know that there are definite consequences after death, and that the fate of human beings is entirely different from that of the animals. The Apostle Paul is clear on how “each one [of us will] be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Ecclesiastes 3:18-22 presents no problems to those who believe in either the resurrection and/or the resurrection and an intermediate afterlife if the text is approached with the right presuppositions. Qohelet desires that his audience not allow the wickedness he has seen on Earth persist, and he asks them rhetorical questions to really think about whether their lives face no consequences after death, and whether or not their destiny and composition is the same as the animals.

Ecclesiastes 9:5-10

“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. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun. Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.”

This section of the Book of Ecclesiastes is probably the most frequently quoted Scripture by psychopannychists toward people who believe in an intermediate afterlife prior to the resurrection. Ecclesiastes 9:5b says “the dead do not know anything” or “the dead know nothing” (RSV/NIV). Sometimes this is screamed at people who are grieving the recent loss of a loved one. While Qohelet is not screaming this at his audience, we need to once again understand his intention for making this remark, and seeing whether or not it really does support psychopannychy.

Qohelet is tempered by wisdom, as he says “I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God….It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice” (Ecclesiastes 9:1-2). The power of death is something that will affect each and every person, as “there is one fate for all men” (Ecclesiastes 9:3). Qohelet’s emphasis here is what happens to evil people, and while “insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead” (Ecclesiastes 9:3b). You almost see a chance for possible repentance in his claim, “whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4). One might be weaker and righteous before God while living, as opposed to having died strong but with no hope of restitution before Him. What follows are some more words from Qohelet that have been strongly debated among interpreters:

“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. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6).

Psychopannychists will take the short clause “the dead know nothing” (RSV/NIV) and then claim that anyone who believes in an afterlife—in either Heaven or Hell—between the time of death and resurrection is in severe error for believing so. Yet this is not the context of Qohelet’s words. Qohelet is speaking on how the dead cannot participate “in all that is done under the sun,” tachat ha’shamesh, things done on Planet Earth.[122]

Those who believe in psychopannychy often base their doctrine on half-verses such as Ecclesiastes 9:5b, which say “the dead do not know anything.” Yet this is not definitive evidence of no intermediate post-mortem afterlife, as the verse continues describing human life on Earth, and how the dead do not know of any of these Earth-bound things: “their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:5c-6, NIV). Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 does not say anything about the condition of dead persons or where they are, but instead lists specific things that they cannot do precisely because they are dead.

The things Qohelet lists such as love, hate, and zeal are things that these people had time to participate in on Earth or “under the sun,” but cannot participate in beyond the veil of death, hence not “knowing” about them. Once a person is dead, his or her fate is sealed before the Almighty, and no chance of restitution remains. A life of these specific worldly experiences is over. (Consider how one of the greatest gifts that God has given to the human race, the pleasures of marital sexual intercourse, can no longer be partaken of once a person dies.)

And so what is one to do while living that life “under the sun”? Is it a life of no value according to Qohelet? No. He says, “Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works” (Ecclesiastes, 9:7). Now is the time to live a life pleasing to God, where one can enjoy future blessings—and not condemnation—from Him! Qohelet says to “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going” (Ecclesiastes, 9:9-10). Life on Earth, in spite of its imperfections, indeed has its rewards that God wants people to take advantage of—especially those who are living a life of obedience to Him. These are things, though, which are no longer available after death.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 says that the joys God has created to be experienced on this Earth cannot be enjoyed when a deceased person goes to Sheol. While versions like the NIV renders this as “for in the grave where you are going…,” as previously discussed this more accurately means, “for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (TNIV). A deceased person joins the refaim or shades in Sheol, an extra-dimensional holding place for the consciousness, and is not completely what he was on Planet Earth. Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 and Qohelet’s assertion “the dead know nothing” presents no problems for those of us who believe in an intermediate disembodied afterlife, if we can see how he substantiates what knowing nothing about really involves.[123]

 

There are no major passages in the Tanach which conclusively prove that when a person dies there is no disembodied intermediate post-mortem state. There are passages in the Tanach, though, that do prove that life on Earth is something to be enjoyed to its fullest. Our purpose for living here on Earth should not be to just die and escape to the hereafter; such a view is absolutely foreign to the Tanach. Human beings have been given dominion over Planet Earth, and we should take advantage of all the wonderful joys in nature and in this world. As the Psalmist so aptly puts it, “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3-4). God will shower us with rewards in this world if we trust in Him and love Him! We do not have to wait for the eschaton to experience such treasures. Ross’ thoughts are excellent as we consider the joys of the current Creation, and the great things that people get to experience on this Earth:

“Today, with a human population topping six billion, Earth still offers plentiful supplies. In fact, the universe and Earth seem lavishly over-endowed for humanity’s survival. There is enough here for people to enjoy a magnificent environment, eat delightful food, spend quality time with others, access technology, and experience pleasure of all kinds—spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical. We easily could get by with less…..

“The first creation is ‘very good’ (Gen. 1:31). It’s the best possible realm to encourage as many people as possible to choose something far better: an eternal relationship with the Source of all goodness. This creation also equips and trains individuals to receive the roles, rewards, pleasures, and relational fulfillments of the new creation. It’s the best possible place to bring about, part of that preparation, a rapid conquest of anything less than perfect goodness, and that of course includes evil.”[124]

The Greek View(s) of Death and Afterlife

Before one can examine what the death expectations of the Apostolic Scriptures are, it is commonly argued that the Ancient Jews, the Pharisees in particular, picked up the idea of a disembodied afterlife from their interactions with the Greeks and not their reading of the Tanach Scriptures. For many of today’s Messianic Believers, all that needs to be said is “Belief in the afterlife is Greek!” and that is reason enough for many to reject the concept that born again Believers who have died are in the presence of the Lord, awaiting the resurrection (or for that same matter, many other Biblical doctrines). As I have far too frequently encountered, while a hyped-up fear of Hellenism or the Ancient Greeks are invoked by Messianic psychopannychists, I have never witnessed a single Messianic teacher actually quote the classical philosophers and what they believed—much less engage with such philosophers’ opinions!

It is absolutely futile if Messianic psychopannychists try to argue that the idea of an intermediate disembodied afterlife would have only been a late Hellenistic importation to Second Temple Judaism, never known or encountered before, because the idea of a disembodied afterlife goes back several millennia before the classical Greek period. Various civilizations that preceded the founding of Ancient Israel and the giving of the Torah, in fact, believed in a disembodied afterlife.

The Mesopotamian Descent of Ishtar, dated to the late Bronze Age (1550-1200 B.C.E.), portrays this goddess descending into the underworld where the dead reside. Its opening words tell us, “To Kurnugi, land of [no return], Ishtar daughter of Sin was determined to go to the dark house, dwelling of Erkalla’s god, to the house which those who enter cannot leave, on the road where travelling is one-way only, to the house where those who enter are deprived of light, where dust is their food, clay their bread. They see no light, they dwell in darkness.”[125] This depicts a Mesopotamian deity going to a place from which no one returns.

The Egyptian religion had a significant theology of afterlife, as is easily testified by the pyramids and various inscriptions within the tombs of the pharaohs. The Egyptian Book of the Dead is a lengthy compilation of such inscriptions and their attendant papyri, describing what would happen when a departed person would enter into the netherworld. A person’s entry into the world of the dead begins by being judged by the god Osiris, as his heart is weighed on a scale and must be lighter than a feather:

“Saith Horus the son of Isis, ‘I have come to thee, O Un-nefer, and I have brought unto thee the Osiris Ani. His heart is [found] righteous, and it hath come forth from the balance; it hath not sinned against any god or any goddess. Thoth hath weighed it according to the decree pronounced unto him by the company of the gods; and it is most true and righteous. Grant that cakes and ale may be given unto him, and let him appear in the presence of the god Osiris; and let him be like unto the followers of Horus for ever and for ever.”[126]

Morey goes on to summarize how “When we turn to the literary evidence, we find that the oldest extant literature abounds with references to a life after death. The Egyptian Book of the Dead reveals the elaborate views of that great civilization which arose along the Nile. The earliest Chinese literature spoke eloquently of man’s afterlife. The Tibetan Book of the Dead reveals the ancient beliefs of those who lived ‘at the top of the world.’ The Babylonian and Assyrian belief in an afterlife is indisputable.”[127]

While this does not serve as conclusive evidence that the Ancient Israelites likewise believed in a disembodied post-mortem state, it does demonstrate that we have an array of pre-classical options at our disposal. It was not as though all civilizations prior to the classical Greeks believed in no afterlife, and that once the ancient Jews interacted with the Greeks, they then incorporated a rather late concept into their religion. On the contrary, there is a widely attested array of Ancient Near Eastern materials that support the premise that a disembodied afterlife was a view held by cultures contemporary to Ancient Israel. One could just as easily argue that the Ancient Israelites adapted the views of the Mesopotamians or the Egyptians regarding the post-mortem state, into the compilation of the Tanach Scriptures and writing about Sheol, just as one may try to argue that the Pharisees adapted the views of the Greeks. Among interpreters, though, John N. Oswald is one who appeals only to the concept of Sheol being the netherworld of the deceased from the views found within the Ancient Near East—and not the later period of Hellenism:

“It is evident that the Hebrews conceived of the realm of the dead as a dusty, shadowy place where a dim reflection of the person lived on in inactivity…It was not a place at which arrival was anticipated. Those who went there had nothing to look forward to, so the dead are called repā’îm, ‘the slack ones.’…[W]hile Sheol is [often] personified…there is no god or goddess of the underworld, who would be a central figure if [Isaiah 14:9-11ff] were written outside the Israelite milieu.”[128]

But what did the Greeks actually believe? Psychopannychists might try to argue that the Pharisees would have modified a view of Sheol as exclusively being “the grave,” perhaps to adhere more to the scene of Odysseus’ descent into Hades, where he encounters, among other people, his father, his mother, Achilles, and King Agamemnon (The Odyssey Book 11).[129] Yet as we have previously discussed, usages of Sheol in the Hebrew Scriptures themselves can demonstrate that it is an extra-dimensional holding place for the consciousnesses of the deceased, not requiring any kind of Hellenistic influence or re-interpretation. In fact, one of the interesting realities that need not elude us, is that in the First Centuries B.C.E. and C.E., many Greeks and Romans did not believe in a disembodied afterlife as all that remained for a person. Paul Beasley-Murray notes the variance of views present in the Mediterranean world of the Apostles:

“In contemporary paganism, death was viewed as a sleep from which there would be no awakening….Although some Greek philosophers, such as Plato, taught a belief in the afterlife…these beliefs were lacking in substance and amounted to little more than viewing the life to come as a poor reflection of the present. Furthermore, these beliefs were not widespread.”[130]

Could it actually be true that many Greeks and Romans of the First Century did not believe in any kind of existence after death? Consider the Apostle Paul’s encounter with the Epicureans and Stoics at the Aeropagus (Mars Hill) in Athens:

“And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’—because he was preaching Yeshua and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?’…Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this’” (Acts 17:18-19, 32).

It is very easy for many Bible readers to overlook the references we see to the Epicureans and Stoics, and simply conclude that the divisions between them were no different than two rival political parties, and then move on. On the contrary, both the Epicureans and Stoics had their own views of the post-mortem state, with the former being able to easily dismiss Paul’s convictions of the resurrection. Epicurean philosophy, dating to the Fourth Century B.C.E., largely denied any kind of post-mortem existence, as “Epicurus taught that (1) there is no life after (physical) death, for death is the dissolution of the atoms in our bodily existence; (2) even if man were to live on, there would be no divine retribution, for the gods are not concerned with human life” (ISBE).[131] The Epicureans, largely holding to a philosophy of self pleasure until one dies, would have easily dismissed the concept of a resurrection as they advocated a significantly agnostic approach to any kind of existence after death, largely discounting the afterlife. It is not difficult to see them saying to Paul, “What would this seed picker wish to say?” (Acts 17:18, YLT).

Stoicism was a far more dominant ideology than Epicureanism, likewise originating from the Fourth Century B.C.E., and having significantly impacted the Romans as well as the Greeks, whose disciples included Seneca, Epictetus, and the Second Century C.E. emperor Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism held that the Supreme Being was everything in the universe, as Stoic theology “may be described as a monistic and materialistic pantheism, in which God permeates all of nature.”[132] “The essential nature of man is therefore one with the essential nature of the universe…For man is related to the universe as a microcosm to macrocosm, and the same fiery principle of life, law, and reason pervades them both” (IDB).[133] At death then, whatever matter or energy composed a human being would simply be engulfed back by the universe. The Stoics did believe in a kind of disembodied afterlife, one where “At death, the soul separates from the body. It exists for a certain time on its own, but is reabsorbed into the [universe]…no later than at the next ekpyrōsis” (ABD).[134] This kind of post-mortem state would actually lead to a reincarnation of a person throughout the ages. The Stoics in Athens would have been more open to hearing Paul’s views on the resurrection of the body.

In contrast to the Epicurean belief that physical death is the end of one’s existence, and the Stoic belief in reincarnation, one encounters Platonic dualism. Psychopannychists commonly argue that Jews and Christians who believe in an intermediate afterlife have adopted Platonic dualism, a philosophy where physical matter is evil, but where metaphysical immaterialism is good. Socrates, Plato’s predecessor from the Fifth Century B.C.E., is recorded as saying, “Death, as it seems to me, happens to be nothing other than the separation of two things, the soul and the body, from each other. When, therefore, they are separated from each other, each of them is in a condition not much worse than when the human being was alive, and the body has its own nature” (Gorgias 524b).[135] Wright notes, “For Plato, the soul is the non-material aspect of a human being, and is the aspect that really matters.”[136] The human body is simply a temporary dwelling place for such a soul, and death is a release for the person to be brought into a greater and much better form of existence. Contemplating death, it is witnessed in the Platonic work Phaedo,

“[T]his ‘purification’, as we saw some time ago in our discussion, consist[s] in separating the soul as much as possibly from the body…And to have its dwelling, so far as it can, both now and in the future, alone by itself, freed from the chains of the body….And the desire to free the soul is found chiefly, or rather only, in the true philosopher; in fact the philosopher’s occupation consists precisely in the freeing and separation of soul from body” (Phaedo 67d).[137]

From this point of view, Ralph P. Martin can conclude that various “Greeks looked forward to dying, for it represented a flight of the soul from the body and as such it promised a desirable goal.”[138] The physical body was just a shell to be thrown off of a person at death, and all that mattered was a release into the great beyond. It is not at all unreasonable for psychopannychists to point out that this is a common sentiment expressed by many of today’s Christians who contemplate death. A release from the physical body will usher one into the endless bliss of Heaven, as God Himself is only concerned about the saving of an immaterial consciousness, and not the whole human being. This is what many Christians believe about death, having been taught incorrectly.

The historian Josephus, writing about the Jewish Essenes, testifies that their view of death and the afterlife was not too dissimilar from that of the Platonists. Matter was temporary and corruptible, and good people spend eternity in some place far beyond the seas:

“For their doctrine is this:–That bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue for ever; and that they come out of the most subtle air, and are united to their bodies as in prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward. And this is like the opinion of the Greeks, that good souls have their habitations beyond the ocean, in a region that is neither oppressed with storms of rain, or snow, or with intense heat, but that this place is such as is refreshed by the gentle breezes of a west wind, that is perpetually blowing from the ocean…” (Jewish War 2.154-155).[139]

While Platonic dualism does advocate a permanently disembodied afterlife, and while many Christians have simply and errantly (and unknowingly) adapted Platonism into their view of human composition, it is inappropriate for us to assume that the orthodox Jewish and Christian traditions have likewise just reworked Platonism into all of their theology. The very belief in the resurrection assumes that God is indeed concerned with the whole human person, including his body. It is inappropriate to think that we have to choose between either a permanent disembodied state after death (Platonism) or absolute unconsciousness until the resurrection (psychopannychy).

Those who hold to a monistic view of the human constitution often go a bit overboard in criticizing all forms of dualism, when most dualists in theology today do, in fact, emphasize the concern of God with the entire human being. In the estimation of Marc Cortez, “most contemporary dualists are…keen to emphasize the holistic nature of embodied human life. Although dualists think that there is more to the story, they are quick to affirm the biblical emphasis on the human person being an embodied, psychophysical being.”[140]

Holistic dualists who believe in an intermediate afterlife do not adhere to Platonic dualism, but instead affirm that among all of God’s creations, the human being is different and thus must experience a different kind of death in comparison to the animals. Cooper explains how “Affirming a dichotomy of body and soul at death does not necessarily contradict [the] holistic emphasis on human life and seems wholly compatible with Old Testament anthropology.”[141] One can only be labeled a Platonic dualist if there is no emphasis on the resurrection of the physical body in the eschaton, and no emphasis on God’s affirmation that physical matter is not evil. Much of the Platonism that is witnessed in contemporary Christianity, and in some sectors of the Messianic movement, comes as a result of popular preaching and sentiment—not any detailed engagement with the Scriptures. It has emerged because of tendencies to make sermonic messages more simplistic and “easy to understand” for congregants, rather than challenging and stirring people to probe the Word of God for themselves.

That God is concerned with the human body every bit as much as He is concerned with the human consciousness can best be seen in the burial practices of the Ancient Jews. The Jews gave extreme respect to the human body after death, with internment most often taking place within twenty-four hours,[142] a custom that continues today within much of the Jewish community. Historically, both Jews and Christians have strongly disfavored cremation, with reasons ranging from the belief that God could not resurrect ashes (even though He surely can), to the view that a human made in God’s image should not be defaced in such a dishonorable way. Only in the past two centuries have Christian views on cremation liberalized, being started by Europeans who saw it as a necessity as cemetery space became unavailable. Now cremation is commonly practiced often so that one will not have to think about a loved one decaying in a cemetery, a form of denial for survivors. Many of today’s evangelical Christians oppose cremation, and they most especially oppose cremation accompanied with scattering ashes. History shows that cremation was quite common in the Roman world, for the precise reason that the body was viewed as a shell to just be discarded after death as garbage. Even burial at sea, of a complete human body, would be preferable to this (cf. Revelation 20:13).

The kind of holistic dualism depicted to us in the Apostolic Scriptures is not the kind of dualism we see in Platonic philosophy. It is one that recognizes a nuanced difference between the body and the essential person as soul (Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 5:4)—or perhaps described better where we see the “inner man/self” or esō anthrōpon compared and/or contrasted with the “outer man/self” or exō anthrōpos (cf. Romans 7:22-23; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 3:14-16). The comparison of one’s Earthly dwelling to the beyond may also be considered (2 Peter 1:13-15), although in such an intermediate condition a person would be considered “unclothed” (2 Corinthians 5:4) and thus incomplete. It would be an absolute mistake for anyone to think of the comparison of inner and outer man, or being at home in the body and thus separated from the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6), as the Bible’s endorsement of Platonism. The redemption of the human being includes all of his aspects, including the body. As the Apostle Paul so aptly writes in Romans 8:22-23,

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (NIV; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23).

J.K. Chamblin summarizes how “Paul’s ‘holistic dualism’ is utterly opposed to other kinds of dualism in the ancient world…in which sarx [flesh] or sōma [body] is inherently evil, the human psychē or pneuma [soul or spirit] is inherently good, and salvation consists in the release of the soul from the body. Paul dreads entry into a bodiless state at death (2 Cor 5:1-5) because it is unnatural and abnormal…That period is indeed an ‘intermediate state’; ultimate salvation awaits the reintegration of the person at the resurrection of the body (1 Cor 15:42-48; Phil 3:20-21…).” Yet, he is also keen to describe how “Neither the monism of idealism that reduces the person to soul nor the monism of materialism that reduces the person to body is compatible with Paul. Nor are those contemporary forms of dualism which encourage [primarily] the saving of the soul and the depreciation of the body.”[143]

Platonic Greek philosophy insisted that a person’s soul was trapped inside his body and seeking a final release to the great beyond. In contrast to this, those who believe in an intermediate afterlife believe that it is intermediate precisely because of the doctrine of resurrection. A human body is not something that God is unconcerned with saving, nor it is just an “empty shell” to be dispensed with as garbage—and most especially not to be burned as garbage—after someone’s death. We affirm an intermediate disembodied state on the basis of the human person being made different from all other creatures, not because matter is evil.

Contrary to what some psychopannychists may think, today’s evangelical theologians do admit that too much of a Platonic Hellenistic influence has been witnessed in the contemporary ideas of today’s Christians, where going to Heaven is emphasized over and against the resurrection. (And I have certainly encountered Messianics who likewise fall into similar traps.) Wright honestly admits “that a good deal of our current view of death and the life beyond has come from…impulses in the culture that created…[things] that now need to be reexamined in the clear light of Scripture.”[144] While Wright affirms an intermediate afterlife in the presence of the Lord for born again Believers, he does speak on how since the Bible’s emphasis is more on the resurrection and the eschaton—the world to come—so should ours be. What this directly affects is how we accomplish God’s mission for the present age here on Earth. If matter is not inherently evil, then we should endeavor to see that at least some of the world to come is manifested here, now in the lives of His people, before its complete manifestation (discussed further).

Debates will rage on as to whether the Pharisees, who affirmed both an intermediate afterlife and the resurrection of the dead, adapted Platonic philosophy into their theology. It is certainly a fact that prior to the rise of classical Greek civilizations, civilizations contemporary to Ancient Israel did affirm an afterlife, with the Ancient Israelites in Egypt being exposed to such views. The key in understanding whether or not those of us who affirm that deceased Believers are in the presence of the Lord have adopted Platonic philosophy or not, is whether we also affirm that physical matter is evil, with a person’s immaterial substance alone being good. This is not something I believe, nor do I believe that God is only concerned with saving the immaterial consciousness of a person, with the body to be thrown away after death like trash. On the contrary, we affirm that prior to resurrection a deceased Believer is both in the presence of the Lord in Heaven and interred in a cemetery/gravesite. A temporary disembodied state and affirmation of resurrection need not be mutually exclusive.

Death Expectations in the Apostolic Scriptures

Anyone who reads the Apostolic Scriptures undoubtedly encounters how the question of what lies beyond death is asked far more frequently than it is asked in the Tanach. This is true whether one exclusively believes in the resurrection, or believes in an intermediate afterlife to later be attended by the resurrection. The Tanach largely does not ask questions about the beyond, because it is more widely concerned with the corporate nature of God’s people Israel and their conduct on Earth, whereas questions of an afterlife are decidedly individualistic. Because the New Testament does focus more on an individual person’s relationship to God, the question of individual eschatology is specifically taken up in multiple places. When passages describing the death of a person are factored into our discussion, one does not at all see the Bible painting a picture of psychopannychy, but rather of the human consciousness being temporarily removed out of the body until the time of resurrection.

Mark 9:4-5; Matthew 17:3-4; Luke 9:30-33

“Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Yeshua. Peter said to Yeshua, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’” (Mark 9:4-5).

“And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Peter said to Yeshua, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’” (Matthew 17:3-4).

“And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Yeshua, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not realizing what he was saying” (Luke 9:30-33).

The scene of the Yeshua’s Transfiguration before Peter, John, and James cannot be easily discounted by psychopannychists, as the Tanach figures of both Moses and Elijah appear before them. While it is true that the Prophet Elijah did not experience physical death (2 Kings 2:11), it is equally true that Moses in fact did die and was buried in an unknown grave: “So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place [qevurah] to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). When the three Disciples saw Moses at this encounter, it is not difficult for us to see how they saw Moses in some kind of post-mortem disembodied form.

Psychopannychists think that they have an answer to this, as Yeshua later tells His three Disciples, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). They consider the Transfiguration of our Lord and His attendance by Moses and Elijah to only be something that the Disciples saw as a kind of trance, or possibly even an hallucination—meaning that it did not actually take place in the scope of real time—and thus the appearance of Moses, at least, could not have been Moses in any kind of disembodied form. And what of the Lord’s manifestation in all His glory? Was that too something that really did not happen? Does this open us up to the possibility that Yeshua was really just some kind of “wizard” and not the Son of God, who was able to make people see things in order to manipulate them?

The definition given to us of horama means “that which is seen, a sight, spectacle” (LS),[145] notably different from optasia, “state of being that is experienced by one who has a vision, trance” (BDAG).[146] Of course, it is true that horama is used in the Apostolic Scriptures to describe visions or trances, such as with Peter’s vision of the sheet (Acts 10:17; 11:5) or Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia (Acts 16:9). However, horama is used in Stephen’s defense speech to the Sanhedrin to describe Moses before the burning bush: “When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight [horama]; and as he approached to look more closely, there came the voice of the Lord” (Acts 7:31). No Messianic psychopannychist I know would argue that Moses seeing the burning bush was a kind of vision, trance, or hallucination—but that it occurred in real time. Given the fact that Moses was present at the Transfiguration of Yeshua, we should take our cue for the proper meaning of horama from Acts 7:31 as “the sight.”

Furthermore, if the scene of the Transfiguration encounter was something just imagined, then the reaction of Peter to build three physical dwellings or tabernacles for them seems not only a bit odd, but quite out of place. One would only see the need to erect some kind of place for Yeshua, Moses, and Elijah to be given shade from the sun and experience a degree of hospitality from the Disciples if the event only occurred in real time. There is no indication in the text at all that Peter, John, and James took the Transfiguration to be anything but something they experienced in the course of a regular day, as miraculous a day this was for them.[147]

Mark 12:25-27; Matthew 22:31-33; Luke 20:37-39

“For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC [Exodus 3:6], and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken” (Mark 12:25-27).

“‘But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB [Exodus 3:6]’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.’” When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching” (Matthew 22:31-33).

“‘But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB [Exodus 3:6]. Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.’ Some of the scribes answered and said, ‘Teacher, You have spoken well’” (Luke 20:37-39).

In this classic scene from the Gospels, some members of the Sadducees question Yeshua as to what will happen in the resurrection if a woman is unable to have offspring from the brothers of her husband who successively die (Mark 12:5-24; Matthew 22:23-30; Luke 20:27-36). When they are all to be resurrected, they ask Him whose husband will she be. Their intention is definitely to trick the Lord into looking foolish.

The Sadducees, of course, did not even believe in a future bodily resurrection. They only accepted the Torah or Pentateuch as valid Scripture, which would have limited the number of possible quotations Yeshua could have offered them, as they would have just dismissed outright any statement from the Prophets or Writings. So, in proving that the dead will be raised one day, Yeshua quotes from the classic burning bush scene in Exodus 3:6, where Moses is told “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

There is no direct statement made in the Torah about any future resurrection, but this does not mean that either Yeshua or various Jewish Rabbis did not look for clues about the resurrection. Within the Talmud, we see the sentiment expressed that there will be a resurrection because offerings from the Land of Israel were to be given to Aaron the priest. This never happened in actual history, as Aaron died in the wilderness journey of the Israelites, and so it requires that he come back to bodily life at some point in the future:

“How, on the basis of the Torah, do we know about the resurrection of the dead? As it is said, ‘And you shall give thereof the Lord’s heave-offering to Aaron the priest’ (Num. 18:28). And will Aaron live forever? And is it not the case that he did not even get to enter the Land of Israel, from the produce of which heave-offering is given? [So there is no point in Aaron’s life at which he would receive the priestly rations.] Rather, this teaches that he is destined once more to live, and the Israelites will give him heave-offering. On the basis of this verse, therefore, we see that the resurrection of the dead is a teaching of the Torah” (b.Sanhedrin 90b).[148]

Within the scope of Yeshua’s response to these Sadducees, He says that God is the God of the “living.” The source text actually uses the present active participle zōntōn, “those living.” The implication that we see is not only that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will rise again in the resurrection, but that they are already to be considered as “living” and not those who are “dead.” This is a very important statement, because not only had Israel’s three main Patriarchs been deceased for well over a millennium-and-a-half when Yeshua made this remark, but by this time their skeletal remains, wherever they had been interred, could have been largely decomposed as well.

The Sadducees here needed to be convinced of the reality of the resurrection, and so if these Patriarchs are to already be considered “living” to some degree, then a future resurrection makes absolute sense. The Sadducees did not believe in any kind of afterlife; they thought that when people died, that was the end of them—and Yeshua’s words undeniably stand in contrast to such faulty views.

Yeshua’s assertion that the these Patriarchs are “living” (zōntōn) also stands in contrast to psychopannychists who assume that the dead are totally unconscious until the resurrection. The deceased in body are considered to be more than just somehow “alive to God’s memory”; they are “living,” but in an intermediate and incomplete condition. The ancient Jewish sentiment of 4 Maccabees 13:17 was, “For if we so die, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us.” While this intermediate state in Paradise is conscious, it is not something like the life humans have on Earth. It is a kind of life according to the different rules and laws of another dimension. Wright further elaborates on this scene:

“Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees, in fact, does point towards the refocusing of the resurrection hope which was to take place later…It speaks of a different quality of life, a life which death can no longer touch, and hence a life in which the normal parameters of mortal (i.e. deathbound) life, including procreative marriage, are no longer relevant. It speaks of an intermediate state in which all the righteous dead are held in some kind of ongoing life while waiting for the resurrection which everyone, Pharisee and Sadducee alike, knew perfectly well had not happened yet. It speaks about YHWH’s past word to Moses, in order to indicate a present reality (the patriarchs are still alive), in order to thereby affirm the future hope (they will be raised to newly embodied life).”[149]

Yeshua’s word that the Patriarchs are currently “living” stands against the psychopannychist ideology of monism, where humans are entirely physical beings of this dimension. But, Yeshua’s word also stands against Hellenistic dualism, where the soul was believed trapped inside of the prison of a body seeking a permanent escape. In this account from the Gospels, we see support for holistic dualism, so while the Patriarchs may be “living” somewhere else prior to the resurrection—the resurrection of the body when the Messianic Kingdom arrives is the ultimate historical goal.

Luke 16:19-31

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The principal focus of Yeshua’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man is to get those who hear it to live a life on Earth that is righteous and that is concerned with the well being of the poor and needy. This is something that the rich man failed to do, in spite of Lazarus coming to his house for scraps of food, and him witnessing the unhealthy Lazarus licked by dogs on a fairly regular basis. No interpreter should disagree that the rich man will be punished for his lack of care and not showing mercy, care that he had the wherewithal to demonstrate. This is why the rich man wants Lazarus to come back to life to warn his surviving family (Luke 16:28), so that they will not suffer punishment as he does. Yeshua emphasizes in the parable, “If they won’t listen to Moshe and the Prophets, they won’t be convinced even if someone rises from the dead!” (Luke 16:31, CJB), as the rich man’s brothers—who presumably act in a similar sinful way as he—have sufficient warning in the Tanach Scriptures to live a life of concern for the less fortunate. For not only is there a great chasm between the righteous and condemned in Sheol (Luke 16:26), there is also a great chasm between the righteous and condemned on Planet Earth.

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man does have more to teach a person about life and one’s conduct on Earth, than it does the intricacies of the hereafter. If one does not live properly on Earth, punishment will await after death. Yet, no one reading Luke 16:19-31—including psychopannychists—can deny the fact that this account clearly does depict both Lazarus and the rich man is a disembodied intermediate post-mortem state in Sheol/Hades. The consciousness of Lazarus is taken by the angels to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22), a holding compartment for the righteous. The consciousness of the rich man, in contrast, is taken to a holding compartment where he experiences some kind of “agony” (Luke 16:25) being “tormented” (KJV). (We later see in Ephesians 4:8 how the occupants of Abraham’s bosom will be transferred to Heaven at Yeshua’s ascension). Among the condemned in Sheol/Hades, it is not difficult to see how a theology of intermediate Hell, to be experienced prior to their resurrection (Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:6-7), was developed from the example of the rich man.

That Sheol or Hades was divided into two compartments of (1) one for the righteous and (2) the other for the condemned, was a belief common to Second Temple Judaism. This was a vantage point that Yeshua was teaching from. The First Century historian Josephus testified how,

“Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous region, wherein the light of this world does not shine…This region is allotted as a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to everyone’s behavior and manners….[The righteous] do not go down the same way; but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world….[found there are] the countenance of the fathers and of the just, which they see always smiles upon them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham” (Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades 1, 4).[150]

What does the psychopannychist do about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and Yeshua teaching from the presupposition that the human consciousness can exist absent from the body in some kind of a holding place? Regardless of some of the symbolism that one applies to Abraham, Lazarus, and the agony the rich man experiences—the setting unavoidably depicts two people in a post-mortem, disembodied and conscious state. The Messiah Himself undeniably used the concept of a temporary, disembodied afterlife. If He used such a concept to teach important lessons, then it follows for us to correctly recognize that the Lord endorsed it.

The only answers that psychopannychists can offer to this predicament, clearly a problem for their one-dimensional theology of human composition, are not that impressive. All Bacchiocchi can say is, “The answer is that Jesus met people on their own ground, capitalizing on what was familiar to them to teach them vital truths.”[151] Some have been actually known to compare this account to our modern Aesop’s fables, even though Aesop’s fables frequently have animals, and not people, speaking to one another. And perhaps quite laughably, The Scriptures translation (1998) produced by the Institute for Scripture Research renders Luke 16:23 with the rich man actually “suffering tortures in the grave”! (This is something that can only be true if “the grave” is something more than just a place of interment, as Stern’s CJB simply rendered Hadēs with the Hebrew “Sh’ol,” as the Salkinson-Ginsburg and UBSHNT versions also use [Sheol].)

Those who deny an intermediate afterlife prior to the resurrection are stuck with a major problem in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. They protest that the consciousness of a person cannot exist separate of the body, yet this account as employed by the Lord clearly depicts people in a disembodied, post-mortem state, before the resurrection. To psychopannychists, a non-Biblical concept has just been employed in the Bible to communicate important truths. But why would a supposedly non-Biblical concept—with persons in a conscious, disembodied condition—have to be employed? Surely the Messiah could have used a different example to teach His audience about the need to live life properly on Earth. Why would Yeshua ultimately be caught deceiving people by using a fictional and mythological setting to make instruction points on good behavior? We do not believe He would do this, and that the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, while possibly employing a parabolic protagonist (Lazarus) and antagonist (the rich man), does not depict a fictional location.

The problem, with psychopannychists saying that Yeshua was using the popular mythology to communicate to His audience, is that they have just opened a major door to theological liberalism. How absurd and dangerous is it to claim that a non-Biblical concept actually appears as a teaching tool in the Bible?! If Yeshua’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man cannot be taken as our Lord teaching that something does happen to the human consciousness after death, then there are likely other things that can similarly be disregarded or ignored. I can think of no one more important for today’s Messianics than Messiah Yeshua’s claim that Moses is the author of the Torah (Mark 10:5; 12:19; Luke 20:28; John 1:45; 5:46). Some might say that “Jesus’ own usage” of Moses “always indicates author and not title,”[152] giving rise to Moses as possibly being only the author of disparate part or individual commandment(s) of the Pentateuch, but not at all being the principal author and/or overseer of its body composition. And in a similar way, working within the Jewish cultural norms of the period, Yeshua’s references to the Flood of Noah (Matthew 24:37f; Luke 3:36; 17:26f) need not be to an actual historical event, but instead somehow to the Jewish exiles’ reworking of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh into an early copy of the Book of Genesis.[153] And what is to be made of the Exodus, to which there are no Egyptian records—the prototype event for His salvific work on our behalf—is that mythology too?[154] And Adam and Eve…?

One needs to be very careful when claiming that certain parts of Scripture are to be regarded as only “fables,” as it draws into question if there are any other (significant) parts of Scripture that are mythology as well.

There may, in fact, be a legitimate place for us comparing the death of the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:9-11, 18-20, and the death of Lazarus. Luke 16:22 tells us “the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.” In a similar way to how the king of Babylon has no tomb of his own (Isaiah 14:18-19), his corpse being left to rot the same as his victims (Isaiah 14:16-17), poor Lazarus as a consequence of his being poor and disregarded is stated to not have had any burial. The very dogs who would lick him (Luke 16:21) may very well have eaten or gnawed away at his corpse. All Lazarus has, consequently, is a place in Sheol/Hades with Abraham, to be held with the righteous until an expected resurrection (cf. Luke 16:28, 31). The only positive thing that the rich man has, in contrast, though, is a burial.

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man may have more to teach people on Planet Earth about their conduct, then it does about the specifics of the intermediate state. And while it may be argued that since the ascension of Yeshua into Heaven the compartment of Sheol/Hades holding the righteous has been vacated (discussed further), this account still depicts the consciousnesses of both the righteous and condemned existing in a disembodied state prior to the resurrection. To discount this as Yeshua simply reworking the popular mythology of the day into His teachings opens a door to theological liberalism, where historical accounts in the Tanach appropriated by our Rabbi can likewise be viewed as popular mythology and thus not at all real. If this account is complete fiction, then it immediately begs whether or not something like Genesis chs. 1-11 is reliable history.[155]

Luke 23:42-43

“And he was saying, ‘Yeshua, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’”

During the horrific scene when Yeshua is being crucified at Golgotha (Calvary), one of the criminals being executed along with Him recognizes how “this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41), in spite of how he deserved his punishment. He saw that there was something different about Yeshua, and so he asks Him, “Yeshua, remember me when you come as King” (Luke 23:42, CJB). Psychopannychists view this passage as only relating to the parousia when Yeshua returns to the Earth and inaugurates His Kingdom reign, and nothing more. Yet, even though the thief was seemingly forgiven and we will all see him in the Kingdom, Yeshua is clear to tell the repentant thief: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This runs contrary to the thought that the thief will only be remembered in the resurrection. Both Yeshua and the repentant thief would both die that very day, and their consciousnesses would be transferred to Paradise, or the Abraham’s bosom side of Sheol (discussed earlier). Wright summarizes how,

“[P]aradise is here, as in some other Jewish writing, not a final destination but the blissful garden, the parkland of rest and tranquillity, where the dead are refreshed as they await the dawn of the new day…Jesus, after all, didn’t rise again ‘today,’ that is, on [the same day as his crucifixion]. Luke must have understood him to be referring to a state of being-in-paradise, which would be true, for him and for the man dying beside him, at once, that very day—in other words, prior to the resurrection.”[156]

The Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period describes that Paradise is “the home of the first human beings (Gen. 2-3) and the place of intermediate rest or eternal bliss for the righteous…2 Corinthians 12:2-4, with its reference to the praise of the angelic choruses, suggests that paradise is the location of God’s throne and places it in the third heaven.”[157] From the usages of “Paradise” seen within First Century Judaism, it most often does not depict the final state of things, but rather a restful garden where the righteous deceased would be held until the resurrection and/or the current Heaven that will give way to the New Heaven.

Psychopannychists, however, believe that they have an easy answer to this, and that Yeshua was not telling the forgiven thief beside Him that immediately after death the two of them would be in any kind of intermediate Paradise. Many psychopannychists feel justified moving the English punctuation of Luke 23:43 to read something along the lines of, “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with me in Paradise” (the rendering seen in the Jehovah’s Witnesses 1961 New World Translation.)[158] For them, this would only be a general statement of how the thief would be resurrected in the future, and then ushered into the Kingdom. But our exegesis must be determined from the source text. It is irresponsible and manipulative of any interpreter to simply move around English punctuation in the Bible to fit one’s theology, without some sound backing from the Hebrew Tanach or Greek Apostolic Scriptures that sits behind an English translation. We cannot just arbitrarily move commas around in the English.

The Greek sēmeron means “today, this very day” (BDAG).[159] The vast majority of usages of sēmeron in the Biblical text deal with events that occurred on the same day as “today.” “In Mt. 27:19 Pilate’s wife has had a bad dream today; this is an omen for a decisive day, but the immediate sense is the ordinary one. The usual sense is also present in the petition of Mt. 6:11: believers ask today for their daily bread from God. Similarly in 16:3 the reference is to today’s weather, in 21:28 the father asks his son to work today” (TDNT).[160] The Louw-Nida Lexicon defines sēmeron as “the same day as the day of a discourse,”[161] referencing Matthew 21:28 and how “A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today [sēmeron] in the vineyard.’”

Greek scholar Richmond Lattimore renders Luke 23:43 in his translation as, “Truly I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”[162] Yeshua the Messiah plainly told the thief on the cross next to Him that he would be with Him in Paradise that very day or moment, not just in the future Kingdom of God on Earth. Cooper concurs, “For grammatical, semantic, and history-theological reasons, ‘today’ ought to be read literally.”[163] When the narrative actually says amēn soi legō sēmeron, “Amen I say to you today…” it is almost impossible to argue that the day this is spoken is not the day the repentant thief would be welcomed into Paradise.

But even if one decides to arbitrarily move around English punctuation, this still does not quantitatively change the “today” emphasis of Yeshua and the repentant thief being together in Paradise. The only reason that “today” in Luke 23:42-43 is at all challenged, is because psychopannychists know it lends strong support to a post-mortem, intermediate disembodied state; if this were any other issue, then what “today” (sēmeron) means would probably not be challenged. If the Lord told the thief “I say to you, today you are saved” or “I say to you today, you are saved,” it would all communicate the same thing (cf. Hebrews 3:12-13).[164] Quite notably in Luke 23:42-43, Yeshua did not just tell the thief beside Him, “I say to you, you will be with Me in Paradise”; there is a clear emphasis on “today” being when it would happen.

John 3:12-13

“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”

Psychopannychists commonly argue from John 3:13 that “No one has ascended into heaven,” and thus it is futile for those of us who believe in an intermediate afterlife to hold to such a conviction. However, if their conclusion about this is correct, then it could be taken as a nullification of Enoch being translated up (Genesis 5:24), as well as Elijah being taken into Heaven via a chariot (2 Kings 2:11).

The vantage point of the statements made by Yeshua has to be considered, because psychopannychists have based their conclusions without carefully reading the text. Yeshua Himself within the narrative of the Fourth Gospel had Himself yet to ascend into Heaven (cf. John 20:17). Yeshua clearly does this (Acts 1:9), and so there is a definite problem of reading John 3:13 from the static position of no one on Earth ever having gone into Heaven.

The subject matter being discussed is disbelief in what the Messiah says and who actually brings information from Heaven, not what happens after death. In this scene, Yeshua tells Nicodemus that if he does not believe in the Earthly things of which He speaks—things that concern a dimension and a state of being which he and others have all experienced and is common to them—then Yeshua’s listeners will surely not believe things about an extra-dimensional state of being in Heaven which they have never experienced (John 3:12), except only Him. Yeshua’s assertions are actually designed to point to the ignorance and faithlessness that His audience commonly suffered from, not the post-mortem state of the deceased. They do not possess the confidence to accept His words about realities they know about on Earth, much less realities they do not know about in Heaven.

Yeshua had not yet “ascended” to Heaven at this point in John ch. 3, but He had clearly once been in Heaven as the pre-Incarnate Son of God. Yeshua’s word about “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven,” is best viewed in light of ancient Jewish opinions and speculations about Tanach figures having ascended into Heaven, then coming back to Earth to deliver Divine secrets. Yeshua discounts these as being true, as He is the only One authorized to bring humanity messages and information directly from Heaven. Colin G. Kruse explains,

“Jesus identified himself as the heavenly figure of great sovereign authority, the Son of Man…who came down from heaven, and therefore was qualified to speak authoritatively of heavenly things. At the same time he rejected all Jewish speculations about other ‘revealers’ who were thought to have ascended to heaven (e.g. Abraham, Moses, Enoch and Isaiah) to return with revelations for those on earth (cf. Pr. 30:4).”[165]

Yeshua the Messiah is the only One “who descended from heaven,” unlike those who may have been thought to have ascended into Heaven and returned with information from this realm. The NLT captures this well in its paraphrase “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned.” And, when the Apostle Paul describes being taken up into Heaven in an out of body experience, he is clear that he cannot report on the things that he has seen (2 Corinthians 12:3-4).

In order to believe the Heavenly things that Yeshua would disclose to people in His teachings, extreme faith must be exhibited. And, many people could not even believe in the Earthly things that Yeshua would talk about. Yeshua is the only One who has truly experienced the extra-dimensional realities of Heaven and has come to Earth to speak about them to human beings, having emptied Himself of glory and taking on human flesh (Philippians 2:5-11).

John 14:2-3

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 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.”

We have all heard Yeshua’s words in John 14:2-3 quoted, and they have often provided a great deal of comfort for survivors who have lost a loved one. In funeral eulogies it is not uncommon to hear the sentiment that the departed has gone to “a better place,” derived from these verses. However, the Lord’s statements “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself” in John 14:3, likely has less to do with the intermediate state than it does with the eschaton and Second Coming. This is because topos or “place” “sometimes means ‘sanctuary’ (the holy place)…Another use is for ‘someone’s place,’ e.g., a senator’s seat, a place at school, one’s place in the world” (TDNT).[166] This would point to the “place” being prepared as a position of authority in His Kingdom (Revelation 20:6), similar to the various facilities available for the priests who served in the Temple (1 Kings 6:5-10; 1 Chronicles 9:26-27).

Still, Yeshua does say “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places” (John 14:2), which can be contrasted with the “place” He has to go prepare, because these locations already exist. Notice how the source text employs the present active indicative tense in monai pollai eisin, “are many rooms” (ESV). These domiciles already exist, and Yeshua, not speaking in the future tense as though “there will be many rooms,” does not have to return to Heaven to somehow make or create them. The very usage of monē in John 14:2, meaning “a stopping place, station” (LS),[167] helps us to understand the purpose of the intermediate state for born again Believers, especially as the Temple is often depicted in the Apostolic Scriptures as being the point of intersection between the current world and what is to come. We have good reason to think that John 14:2-3 depicts a two-stage individual eschatology, as Wright observes how when the early Believers spoke of the post-mortem condition,

“[T]hey seemed to regard this heavenly life as a temporary stage on the way to the eventual resurrection of the body…When Jesus declares that there are many dwelling places in his father’s house, the word for dwelling place is monē, which denotes a temporary lodging…first, [one encounters] death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in the remade world.”[168]

Wright’s suggestion is that “The ‘dwelling-places’ of this passage are thus best understood as safe places where those who have died may lodge and rest, like pilgrims in the Temple, not so much in the course of an onward pilgrimage within the life of a disembodied ‘heaven’, but while awaiting the resurrection which is still to come.”[169]

The monai or dwellings depicted in John 14:2 are likened unto a temporary lodging where travelers would stop off during a long journey, to rest and be refreshed. For the born again Believer who dies, being ushered into Heaven is like stopping off on such a journey. It is a Paradise of refreshment, and surely would possess more wonders than a luxury hotel—even to be considered “gain” (Philippians 1:21) for a Believer facing death—but it is nevertheless a temporary stopping point. Yeshua is clear to say that such monai do exist, as states “if it were not so, I would have told you” (John 14:2).

The ultimate aim for a Believer, though, should be to incur a great “place” of responsibility in the restored Kingdom of God on Earth (John 14:3). At His Second Coming Yeshua as King will “take” (RSV, NIV, ESV) all of us beside Himself[170]—both the resurrected saints and living saints[171]—and we will then all be able to rule alongside Him. It is only at the Second Coming when all the saints can occupy the places of rulership that He has been preparing for us, with the enemy being defeated (cf. Hebrews 2:8); the intermediate state does not involve such rulership.

In viewing the intermediate state for Believers as monai in Heaven, prior to the resurrection, it is best for those of us who are survivors and have lost loved ones—that in spite of any temptation to do so—not to speculate on what the intermediate state actually involves and what they are presently doing. We know it is a Paradise, and we should simply leave it at that.

The intermediate Heaven is a place of refreshment where one can bask in the presence of the Lord, awaiting for the fulfillment of the next stage in His plan of salvation history. The Holy Scriptures, while indeed speaking of the intermediate state, do not give us many of the specifics of it. About as far as one can speculate on what goes on in that dimension is that those who have been martyred in the faith are likely entreating the Lord to swiftly vindicate the righteous (cf. Revelation 6:9-11). It would also not seem unlikely that the disembodied saints are revealed more about the nature of the universe and the role redeemed humanity will play in the eschaton.[172]

Acts 2:29, 34

“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day…For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND”’ [Psalm 110:1].”

It is not uncommon at all to see the Apostle Peter’s words of Acts 2:34 quoted by psychopannychists. Peter did say “David did not ascend into the heavens” (RSV), and so psychopannychists will conclude that the deceased are not in Heaven or in any kind of disembodied post-mortem existence, because here King David did not ascend into Heaven. David is one who was “both died and was buried,” only having a mnēma or tomb (Acts 2:29). As is frequent with psychopannychists’ arguments, they have only given us a partial quote, and we have to assess the much larger cotext, having a feel for the broader message of what Peter is preaching to those assembled at Shavuot/Pentecost. Rather than making a remark about the post-mortem state of King David’s consciousness, Peter instead takes the words of King David and establishes the Messiahship of Yeshua via Davidic Psalms and promises. Peter compares and contrasts Yeshua to David, because many of the promises that God made to King David are fully realized in the Person of Yeshua, Great David’s Greater Son:

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Yeshua the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, ‘I SAW THE LORD ALWAYS IN MY PRESENCE; FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, SO THAT I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN. THEREFORE MY HEART WAS GLAD AND MY TONGUE EXULTED; MOREOVER MY FLESH ALSO WILL LIVE IN HOPE; BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY. YOU HAVE MADE KNOWN TO ME THE WAYS OF LIFE; YOU WILL MAKE ME FULL OF GLADNESS WITH YOUR PRESENCE’ [Psalm 16:8-11]. Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY [Psalm 132:11; 2 Samuel 7:12f; Psalm 89:3]. This Yeshua God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET”’ [Psalm 110:1]. Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah—this Yeshua whom you crucified” (Acts 2:22-36).

In Peter’s whole sermon as seen here, it is very true that King David was not crucified, buried for three days, and then ascended into Heaven as the risen Lord and Savior to be enthroned next to the Heavenly Father. These are things that only Yeshua has done as the Messiah and Savior of the world, because Peter applies Psalm 110:1 to Yeshua and not to David. In fact, as Yeshua had told the thief beside Him that they would be in Paradise (Luke 23:42-43), Peter asserts that the Lord “was not abandoned in Sh’ol” or the netherworld long enough so His “flesh did not see decay” (Acts 2:31, CJB; cf. Romans 10:7). When Yeshua ascended into Heaven, Paul will observe later how He led with Him “a host of captives” (Ephesians 4:8) into Heaven, the righteous dead who had occupied the Paradise side of Sheol/Hades (discussed further)—and at Yeshua’s return a host of saints will follow Him to the Earth (1 Thessalonians 3:13).

Unlike the Lord Yeshua, David did not resurrect from the dead, ascend into Heaven via the clouds (Acts 2:33-34), and take a seat enthroned the Father’s right hand as “both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). This is what is meant by Peter when he said that David did not ascend; it is an ascension that only Yeshua Himself could achieve that is attendant with other important events, including Yeshua sending the Holy Spirit to His followers (Acts 1:5). As the Apostle Paul will later say, it is an ascension which assures us that “at the name of Yeshua EVERY KNEE WILL BOW [Isaiah 45:23], of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). As respected as King David should be, he did not ascend into Heaven and take control of the cosmos as the Lord Yeshua has done (Ephesians 1:20-21). The context of Peter’s words deals with the resurrection and ascension of Yeshua the Messiah as LORD (YHWH)—as opposed to King David, whose bodily remains are still buried and who may not be considered LORD.

Yeshua was resurrected from the dead (Acts 2:32), and exalted to His Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33) at His ascension. David, in contrast, died and was buried (Acts 2:29). Any reader of the Gospel of Luke, and its companion volume the Book of Acts, should be able to figure out what Yeshua’s ascension into Heaven involved, and how David clearly did not do this.

Even though King David did not ascend like this and be exalted, it is not by any means substantial justification—when taken within the larger Biblical scope—for us to assume that he is exclusively in the grave and not in some kind of disembodied post-mortem state along with the other saints. Peter’s statement about David’s non-ascension is associated with other salvation historical events that David, not being the Messiah, did not participate in.

Acts 7:56-60

“[A]nd he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.”

The testimony of faithful Stephen, the first Messianic martyr, is one which many Believers have taken great comfort and encouragement from—as many have faced their deaths in a similar, albeit far less violent, way.

While Stephen is seen asking the Lord to forgive those who have unjustly murdered him, no different than when Yeshua Himself spoke as He was seen dying on the cross (Luke 23:34), did Stephen simply breathe his last and hope that he would somehow be vindicated in the eschaton? Did Stephen simply hope that by his life of faithfulness to the Lord, that at the resurrection some copy of himself would be created, able to continue from where his own life ended? It does not seem appropriate to think that after gazing into Heaven and seeing Yeshua exalted—and appealing to Him to take his personal spirit—that Stephen then fell into a complete unconsciousness from which he has never exited for these past two millennia.

Most psychopannychists believe that when Stephen was stoned, when he exclaims “Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!”, this is only a reference to Stephen’s physical breath leaving, and then Stephen—a person entirely of this dimension—fell asleep or died. This kind of claim runs into a significant problem because of what happens as Stephen is being unjustly stoned. Before dying, he proclaims to those gathered, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). While this was an important theological declaration of Yeshua’s exaltedness—indeed believed to be blasphemy by those stoning him (Acts 7:57)—for someone to deny that Stephen actually saw the exalted Yeshua at the right hand of the Father in Heaven is entirely confounded.[173] If Yeshua the Messiah is everything for a Believer, then being welcomed into His presence is something to be greatly anticipated! Prior to his death, Stephen saw the Lord in Heaven; he did not just cry out to a Messiah He did not visibly see in another dimension, and nor should we be at all comfortable with the thought that Stephen hallucinated such an appearance of the Lord (discussed further).

There is no indication from this declaration made by Stephen that he was simply expecting to go to the grave at death. Rather, he is seen plainly calling upon the Lord and entreats Him to receive his spirit-consciousness. The verb dechomai means “to receive someth. offered or transmitted by another, take, receive,” and “to take someth. in hand, grasp” (BDAG).[174] Stephen earnestly cried out to the Lord for Him to take him into His presence. In Acts 3:21, the narrative of Peter’s preaching states that “heaven must receive [dechomai]” Yeshua “until the period of restoration of all things.” So, just as Heaven received the Messiah, so do we have strong support in recognizing that Heaven likewise received Stephen. In Morey’s estimation, “Stephen did not look down at death to an unconscious existence in the grave. Instead, he looked up into heaven itself and asked Christ to take him up to be with Him.”[175] Indeed, looking at the Christophany of Acts 7:59-60 and with Heaven opened up before Stephen’s death, one cannot argue in favor of the dying Stephen staring down sheer blackness and unconsciousness! On the contrary, with great eagerness Stephen joined the company of spirits who constituted the Heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-23).

Stephen’s spirit leaves and Stephen’s body falls asleep—and both are still Stephen—to be reconstituted at the resurrection. This is why in his seeing Yeshua exalted in Heaven, the next place he would be, Stephen declares that Yeshua is One who will return to vindicate those who have suffered just as he. As His Lord declared to the Sanhedrin before His own death, “you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN” (Mark 14:62).[176] Stephen’s expectation, while being one where his Lord will receive him into Heaven, is likewise one where he will be resurrected from the dead at his Lord’s Second Coming. It is not enough to simply go to Heaven, because only at the parousia will the corrupt world that condemned both Yeshua and Stephen be brought into His full dominion. Going to Heaven at death did not vindicate Stephen’s martyrdom; only a future resurrection will. This has likewise been the expectation of millions of born again Believers who have similarly faced death.[177]

1 Thessalonians 4:14-15

“For if we believe that Yeshua died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Yeshua. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”

The promise of the resurrection of deceased saints was a significant comfort for the First Century ekklēsia, particularly in the Apostle Paul’s teachings about the Second Coming of Yeshua. Referencing the deceased saints, Paul emphasizes how at the parousia “through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14, RSV). The verb agō means “to direct the movement of an object from one position to another,” and here likely relates to “lead, bring, lead off, lead away” (BDAG).[178] When Yeshua the Messiah returns to the Earth, the consciousnesses of the deceased saints are brought with Him to be reconstituted with their bodies at the resurrection. They will be the first to participate—“the dead will be raised imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:52)—as they are the senior party to the junior party of those who “will not all sleep, but…will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51).

When our Lord Yeshua returns to Planet Earth, He will be accompanied by the host of the departed righteous. Paul has admonished the Thessalonicans earlier “that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Yeshua with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13), meta pantōn tōn hagiōn. This is a direct allusion to Zechariah 14:5, where “Then the LORD my God, will come, and all the holy ones[179] with Him!”

Psychopannychists try to argue that Paul only envisions the saints or holy ones accompanying Yeshua in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 as being angels, and not disembodied Believers to be reconstituted with their resurrected and restored bodies. However, in response we do see in Scripture how both God’s angels and human saints are often associated with one another as being members of His collective host (cf. Psalm 8:5, LXX; Hebrews 12:22-23), and it is most doubtful that “all the saints” should be understood as only being hundreds of billions (or trillions?) of angels, as opposed to just billions of saints with many legions of attendant angels. Within the Pauline corpus, we cannot avoid how hagioi or “saints” is a term almost exclusively used to describe God’s people.[180] We can safely assert that when Yeshua returns, the “saints” brought with Him referenced here are primarily the consciousnesses of deceased Believers to be reunited with their bodies. Yet, among those “saints” are surely members of the greater Heavenly host.[181]

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

One of the most significant problems with the Corinthian congregation, among the many they experienced, was that too many had not been taught the essentials of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). It should also not be surprising that they had not been taught properly about the intermediate state as well, the time between death and resurrection. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 we see the delicate balance of Paul’s theology of resurrection, and Paul’s theology of an intermediate afterlife, detailed.

This vignette opens with Paul’s assertion “that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). This Earthly tent is obviously a reference to the human body being “dissolved” (KJV), a person experiencing physical death, and so as a result Believers have some kind of a permanent house originating from God, from Heaven. Some view this as a reference to the monai or dwelling places to which Yeshua refers in John 14:2, a temporary lodging in Heaven for the departed saints prior to resurrection. Others would more properly view this as a reference to the transformed body and how at the time of the Second Coming the power of Heaven will manifest itself.

2 Corinthians 5:2 points to the latter being the case. Paul says how “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven” (KJV) or ex ouranou. When Believers receive a immortal body, Paul asserts that “having put it on, [we] will not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:3). At the return of the Messiah, when the resurrection occurs and when the living righteous are “changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51), those who never die will be “clothed upon” (KJV), as the verb ependuomai means “to put a garment on over an existing garment, put on (in addition)” (BDAG).[182] Contrary to this, without being further clothed with an immortal body from Heaven at the Lord’s return, a death described as “nakedness” awaits. As Paul will explain, this is something that is more likely to occur to most people.

2 Corinthians 5:4 clarifies how “while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (ESV). No one instinctively wants to go through the uncertainty and the experience of death, and instead wants to see the Lord return before they die, so they can be further clothed, with immortality being placed on them like an overcoat. Everyone who lives is “oppressed” (NEB), as for most people the human body will die, and another state of existence will present itself—that of not being en toutō or “in this tent.” The Holy Spirit has been given by God to His people to assure them that the ultimate salvation they will experience involves their physical bodies possessing immortality (2 Corinthians 5:5; Hebrews 9:27-28).

All interpreters agree that Paul does not necessarily desire to be “naked” or “unclothed,” meaning a death state, but what does this state specifically involve? Is it just physical death and then a state of unconsciousness as psychopannychists would conclude? People in Earthly life that are “naked” or “unclothed” still do exist, albeit in a somewhat exposed or incomplete condition. Paul has previously just said, “we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16)—meaning that although the tent of the human body may age steadily toward death, ho esō or the immaterial consciousness is not similarly weakened. For those of us who believe that the human consciousness can exist separate from the body, being “naked” or “unclothed” would be a fair description of such an “inner man” surviving after death. This is realized as the verb rendered “unclothed” (2 Corinthians 5:4) is ekduō, “to strip oneself of a thing” (LS),[183] as those who die before the Messiah’s return will find themselves stripped of their bodies. The Jewish philosopher Philo spoke of how “his body, which was now removed from him like a shell from a fish, from his soul which was thus laid bare and naked, and which desired its natural departure from hence” (On the Virtues 76).[184]

The Apostle Paul has a different view than Philo when it comes to being “naked” or “unclothed,” as his principal desire is for his body to be further clothed (2 Corinthians 5:4), because he does not have a strong wish to really die. An existence stripped of his mortal body is not at all Paul’s main preference. Noting the different options in this passage, Motyer details, “Using the metaphor of ‘clothing’, Paul speaks of three states: ‘clothed’, ‘unclothed’ and ‘clothed upon’. At death, the old clothing of the body is left behind and the soul enters the rest of the Lord’s immediate presence. Since, however, the soul is thus separated from its body, it is ‘unclothed’, a state as yet incomplete.”[185]

Paul’s thoughts shift, though, as in 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 he does discuss what is more likely to take place for both him, the Corinthians, and most other Believers. He reminds them how, “being always of good courage”—so no matter what happens—“know that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). The condition of being physically alive, en tō sōmati or “in the body,” is one that causes a person to be ekdēmoumen apo tou Kuriou, “absent from the Lord.” Paul says “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), and if death/nakedness intervenes before the Second Coming, it is nothing to fear.

2 Corinthians 5:8 summarizes what being “unclothed” or “naked” would involve: “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Regardless of what takes place in Paul’s life, or in the lives of the Corinthians, even though death would make him compositionally incomplete, Paul actually prefers to be ek tou sōmatos, “absent from the body.” This is literally being “out of the body,” with Paul’s inner man or his consciousness removed to another place. And the reason why he finds satisfaction being absent from the body, even though he would find himself being “unclothed” or “naked,” is not difficult to see: Kai endēmēsai pros ton Kurion; he prefers “to be at home with the Lord.” The verb endēmeō, clearly means “to be in a familiar place, to be at home” (BDAG)[186] or “to live in a place” (LS).[187] The RSV renders this text as, “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” He says later that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), and so even though separate from his physical body Paul would be an incomplete person, being in the presence of the Lord in Heaven is far better and preferable. Kruse further describes,

“In v. 8 Paul seems to recognize that although he does not wish to experience a disembodied state he will have to do so if he dies before the parousia. But this verse expresses his conviction that even if this should be his lot for a time, it would be more preferable than remaining ‘in the body’ and so ‘away from the Lord’ (v. 6).”[188]

Even though Paul does envision a temporary disembodied afterlife, this does not mean that Earthly matters of service and ministry get put aside. He instructs the Corinthians, “we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to him” (2 Corinthians 5:9). This is because “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The judgment or bēma seat of the Messiah is a place all must eventually stand before.

While Paul does see himself dying and being welcomed into the presence of His Savior, such a “being home” with Him cannot be used as an excuse for dismissing “the things done while in the body” (NIV), which for Believers should involve accomplishing good works (Ephesians 2:10)! Being welcomed into the Lord’s presence in Heaven is only to later be accompanied by the resurrection of the body, and the bringing of Heaven’s reign to the Earth. Going to an intermediate Heaven is an expectation that only the redeemed human being can expect among God’s creatures.[189]

Philippians 1:21-23

“For to me, to live is Messiah and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Messiah, for that is very much better.”

Many interpreters agree that Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written from the vantage point of him facing trial in Rome, and so for Paul the possibility of him dying for the gospel was a definite and immediate reality. The Apostle had great assurance in his faith, because he says “for to me, to live is Messiah and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). In being martyred for his Lord, Paul’s testimony of not wavering would serve as an excellent example to others who would face similar persecution (Philippians 1:20). Yet, in Paul’s words to his beloved friends, he expresses how he does not want to die. “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me” (Philippians 1:22, NIV), as still much more could be done for the spread of the gospel. Paul finds himself divided between dying, and staying on in Earthly life, being “betwixt” (KJV). He does “not know which to choose” (Philippians 1:22).

While he ultimately concludes that “to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (Philippians 1:24), the other option Paul has is one of significant gain for himself: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23, RSV). Psychopannychists would only say that after Paul died, he would enter into a deep, endless, unconscious sleep of death—only to be awakened by the Lord at the resurrection—so Paul’s next moment would indeed see him with Messiah, but with him denying any kind of post-mortem conscious existence in the realm of Heaven. Yet rather than departing to be with the Messiah, Paul would depart and eventually make it to be with the Messiah.

Such a position significantly ignores the context of what “depart” actually means. The verb analuō is defined “to loose a ship from its moorings, weigh anchor, depart” (LS),[190] and was used in ancient times to describe death. It was also used as an ancient military term to describe breaking camp and moving to another location: “About that time, as it happened, Antiochus had retreated [analuō] in disorder from the region of Persia” (2 Maccabees 9:1). Paul’s departure by death meant an actual departure to somewhere, like a ship leaving harbor or an army breaking camp—in this case a departure to the dimension of the Messiah in Heaven (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6). As Lattimore renders Philippians 1:23, “My desire is to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is much better.”[191]

The following clause kai sun Christō einai makes it very clear that Paul expected upon time of death to enter into the presence of the Lord. The verb eimi generally relates “of things, to be, exist” (LS),[192] and it would not be a stretch to render this phrase as, “and with Christ exist.” This would undeniably be a death considered “gain” (Philippians 1:21). While Paul’s body would be asleep until the future point of reanimation at the resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16), Paul’s expectation is one of meeting his Lord immediately after departure. Gordon D. Fee explains how,

“Paul understood death as a means into the Lord’s immediate presence, which for him and countless thousands after him has been a comforting and encouraging prospect. Very likely he also expected such ‘gain’ to include consciousness, and for most believers, that too has been a matter of encouragement.”[193]

It is important not to overlook how one of Paul’s immediate successors in ministry, Clement of Rome, testified of his final years in ministry. Paul is said to have vigorously declared the good news, but then he left this world and went to the holy place:

“After preaching in both the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus he was removed from the world and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience” (1 Clement 5).[194]

If Paul had said something like “I desire to depart and rest in Messiah” or “sleep in Messiah,” then psychopannychists might have a case. But Paul said that he desired to depart and exist with Messiah. Paul did not say that he desired to die, have his body wait in a place of internment for some unknown period of time (several millennia by now) and decompose into base molecules, and then only be resurrected at some point in the distant future at the parousia. Such an occurrence of events would hardly be considered “gain”; at best it would be a “delayed gain.” Wright observes how in Philippians 1:23,

“Paul describes this in such glowing terms (‘better by far’) that it is impossible to suppose that he envisaged it as an unconscious state. He looks forward to being personally present with the one who loved him and whose love will not let him go….He does not speak of ‘going to heaven’, though he would presumably have given that as the present location of the Messiah.”[195]

The reason Paul can say “my desire is to go off and be with the Messiah—that is better by far” (Philippians 1:23, CJB), is precisely because Yeshua the Messiah was everything for him! Those of us who believe in a temporary disembodied afterlife are similarly motivated: Yeshua the Messiah and being in His presence are everything for us! Is Yeshua the Messiah not everything for psychopannychists? This is a question that few psychopannychists I have encountered really want to answer. Their attention is geared more toward proving people who believe in an intermediate afterlife as being wrong.

When we consider what Paul expects after death—seeing the Lord—what is so ideologically wrong with affirming an intermediate state in Heaven for Believers in His presence? Take important notice how Paul’s emphasis truly is going to be with the Lord, as opposed to floating off into endless disembodiment, as is popularly thought.[196] Being with the Lord, as opposed to escaping this world, should be our expectation. Believers should be motivated by a love for the Messiah they hold so dearly in their hearts that they should desire seeing Him immediately after death the same as Paul. And, do keep in mind that although Paul expected to depart to see Yeshua immediately following death, he very much affirms the reality of the resurrection to his Philippian audience, which would follow after a period of refreshment in Heaven (Philippians 3:20-21).[197]

2 Timothy 4:6-8

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

The language of 2 Timothy 4:6-8 is quite similar to Philippians 1:21-24. The previous scene reflects the possibility that the Apostle Paul may die, and as result of death be welcomed into the immediate presence of Yeshua. There, however, Paul notes that rather than going on to be with the Lord, he must instead remain with the Believers a little longer as they needed his guidance and encouragement. The scene of 2 Timothy 4:6-8 would have occurred later, following Acts 28 and Paul’s release from Roman imprisonment. After having been in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12), Paul has been arrested again. According to tradition, Paul was executed by Nero in Rome (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.25.5), and so the depiction of being poured out like a drink offering serves to acknowledge how Paul will suffer an unpleasant death.

2 Timothy is agreed by conservative Bible scholars to be the last letter that Paul composed before dying, and it is not difficult to see why. He writes his dear friend, “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6, RSV). Paul has completed the work of ministry that the Lord has allotted to him (2 Timothy 4:7). The “time of my death” (NLT) is described as ho kairos tēs analuseōs, with the noun analusis undoubtedly being related to the verb analuō, having been used previously in Philippians 1:23 describing Paul’s “desire to depart [analuō] and be with Messiah.” William D. Mounce notes how “Paul now knows that he will have to face what he had hoped would not occur, a period of disembodied existence, separate from the body but present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:1-8).”[198]

All that remains for Paul, subsequent to his departure/death, is the return of the Lord to Planet Earth where the righteous deceased are resurrected, a reunion with the living saints at that time will occur (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17), and when final rewards will be issued to the whole company of Believers by Yeshua. 2 Timothy 4:8 says, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” This sentence begins with the term loipos, which specifically “pert. to that which remains over, esp. after action has been taken” (BDAG).[199] It is obvious from the context how Paul’s time/season of departure is different from the future day when Yeshua appears at His Second Coming.

This passage serves to confirm a two-stage individual eschatology. Individual persons depart/die, and are transported into the presence of the Lord in Heaven. Recognizing that his departure—via a likely gruesome death—is soon at hand, Paul testifies how “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18). While what will occur at the Second Coming and resurrection are never out of view, these are not the words of someone who anticipates sheer unconsciousness for several millennia after death. Paul is going to the Heavenly Kingdom!

But, going to the Heavenly Kingdom is a temporary, intermediate condition, because at a future day in history Yeshua will return to Planet Earth, the deceased will receive resurrected bodies, and such a Heavenly reign will be fully manifested on Earth. For the Apostle Paul, all that is left or remains after his departure to be with the Lord, are the future events involving the Messiah’s return and the establishment of His Kingdom on Earth, and with that the dispersement of rewards to all of the saints (living and deceased-resurrected).

Hebrews 9:27-28

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Messiah also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”

The author of Hebrews is addressing an audience whom he considers to be far along enough in faith that “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12), meaning that they should possess sufficient knowledge and maturity to understand the complicated issues of theology. It should not be that difficult to understand his perspective on salvation. Human beings are only allowed to die a physical death once, facing some kind of judgment—whether good or bad—following, sealing their fate as either redeemed or unredeemed (Hebrews 9:27). (And, if eternal punishment is considered to be the “second death” [Revelation 21:8], this has to be taken in terms of a second kind of separation from God, not being annihilated from existence.)[200]

Yeshua the Messiah, sacrificed at Golgotha (Calvary) for the sins of the world, cannot be sacrificed again for the atonement of sins (Hebrews 9:28a). Yet, Yeshua is going to appear once again in regard to His Father’s unfolding Heilsgeschichte (Ger. salvation history). Hebrews 9:29b says He “will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” In our discussion about the intermediate state, it is not difficult to see what the author of Hebrews is referring to. God is not just concerned about the salvation of an immaterial consciousness, but at the parousia Yeshua will return, the bodies of deceased saints will be resurrected to physical life again, and the bodies of living saints will be similarly translated (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 15:51). As the Apostle Paul so excellently puts it in Philippians 3:21, He “will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

Salvation for an individual does not end with being forgiven of sin and reconciled with God. On the contrary, salvation for a person will only be completed at the resurrection, with all of the components of the human being brought to immortal vitality. Psychopannychists are not incorrect in pointing out how this message of resurrection has been sadly forgotten among many Believers. At the same time, though, psychopannychists have done a disservice in reducing the human being entirely to this dimension, as Believers do possess authority given by Him over things in His dimension (Ephesians 2:6).

Hebrews 12:22-23

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and [congregation] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

The author of Hebrews is likely writing his treatise on the heels of the impending destruction of Jerusalem in the late 60s C.E. (cf. Hebrews 8:4, 13), and as such he must convince a Diaspora audience—teetering on denying Yeshua—that His sacrifice is indeed sufficient to cover their sins. These people may have thought in the back of their minds, even as Believers, that animal sacrifices occurring in Jerusalem could always be something that they could find solace in. Now that this was going to be removed, what would they do? With this about to change, so would the dynamics of their faith—and they would be tested. In wanting his audience to look to an exalted Yeshua in Heaven for their answers, we also should not be surprised to see how the writer focuses their attention off of an Earthly Jerusalem and onto a Heavenly Jerusalem where the Messiah resides. This is a Heavenly Jerusalem that will be eventually merged into the new Earth after the Millennium and as the Eternal State begins (Revelation 21:1-10).

As is frequently seen throughout the Apostolic Scriptures, there is a sense of realized eschatology in the life of Believers—elements of the world to come to be experienced now—that is to encourage people to remain steadfast in faith. Hebrews 12:22 does not say “you will come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God sometime in the distant future,” but instead the perfect tense verb proselēluthate is employed, a past action with continuing effects or results: “you have come.” Morey explains, “the believers had been ushered into citizenship in and fellowship with the heavenly Jerusalem.”[201] This is a present, not just a future reality for them.

Whom do we see in this Heavenly Jerusalem (Ierousalēm epourainō)? Obviously we see God, and not surprisingly we also see “myriads of angels” (Hebrews 12:22). And it is at this point that the psychopannychist, who advocates that the human being is only of this dimension, gets decidedly embarrassed. Along with the Heavenly host of angels, we see “the spirits [pneumasi] of the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23) worshipping God before His throne. This is obviously the disembodied consciousnesses of Believers, “righteous people who have been brought to the goal” (CJB). The author of Hebrews concludes, regarding this, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25). Ben Witherington III properly elaborates, “Our author is thus envisioning what has happened already above in heaven, not what will happen at the end of history after the last resurrection.”[202] These people never gave up on the Lord or His salvation during their lives, and having died all that then awaits them is the consummation of their salvation via the resurrection. They are regarded as being of the assembly of “firstborn,” a high status worthy of saints who get to be with the Messiah before His return to the Earth.

Any person who has lost a loved one, who knew and loved the Lord, can take great comfort in these verses. When we join in corporate worship as Believers here on Earth, we also join into an ongoing worship of the Lord in Heaven. This not only involves angels before Him, but those who have preceded us in faith and have likely impacted us in many ways. The author of Hebrews’ use of this to dissuade his audience from reneging on salvation is not difficult to see. While eternal punishment will await if they fall away, any kind of reunion with redeemed family and friends will also not be possible.[203]

1 Peter 3:18-20

“For Messiah also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”

The Apostle Peter’s description of the Messiah’s salvific work—somehow affecting even those from Noah’s generation—is admittedly controversial, but it does give us an important clue that a post-mortem state of just sheer unconsciousness is not something Biblically sustainable. Peter asserts that the Messiah died for the sins of all people so that we might be reconciled to the Father (1 Peter 3:18a). He then follows this with a difficult remark: “He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18b, NRSV). Some interpret the datives (case indicating indirect object) sarki and pneumati as being locative, with “flesh” being of one dimension and then “spirit” of another dimension. A way to take this might be that when Yeshua was made alive “in the spirit” He did not resurrect physically, but instead only appeared to the Disciples as an hallucination. Yet, the disciple Thomas was able to physically touch Yeshua’s crucifixion scars (John 10:27).

Another way of looking at the datives sarki and pneumati is that these are not locative, but instead instrumental: “He was put to death in/by the flesh, but made alive in/by the spirit.” “Flesh” would be describing how He was put to death by “sinful men” (Luke 24:7), and in contrast “spirit” would be the power that guided and thus resurrected Him.[204] Continuing this train of thought, it would have thus been by the power of the Spirit that Yeshua “went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison” (1 Peter 3:19a), the same Spirit that would consequently raise our Lord from the dead. He would have had to cross the great gulf between Paradise and prison (Luke 16:23-24). It is difficult to avoid the fact that tois en phulakē pneumasin, “the in prison spirits” (my translation), is a description of those who were disobedient during the time of the Flood in a post-mortem disembodied penal state.

Psychopannychists advocate that when Yeshua died on the cross, He solely went to the grave. But what Peter tells us in these verses speaks to the contrary, a view later reflected in various editions of the Apostles’ Creed where Yeshua “suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died and buried; he descended into hell.”[205] Peter tells us that the Messiah somehow “made proclamation” (NASU) to the spirits in prison who performed evil deeds at the time of Noah. Morey explains how “While there remain many unanswered questions which have never been fully resolved by any commentator in two millenniums, the phrase ‘spirits now in prison’ clearly speaks of disembodied spirits in the netherworld.”[206] This necessitates Yeshua to have gone somewhere more than just a place of internment in the intermediate time between His crucifixion and resurrection.

The controversy that has occurred over 1 Peter 3:18-20 is what “preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19, RSV) actually means, with some concluding that condemned sinners can be redeemed even after death. Did Yeshua descend into Sheol/Hades and preach the gospel to those condemned during the time of Noah, so that they could now be considered “saved”? No. This problem can be easily solved by seeing that all is said by Peter is ekēruxen, as the verb kērussō means “to make an official announcement, announce, make known” (BDAG).[207] While it can often relate to proclaiming the good news, in this case it appears that upon descending into Sheol/Hades, Yeshua instead would have simply declared a message of victory or righteous vindication to these spirits, as their final sentencing is all that they have left to look forward to (cf. Colossians 2:15). If Peter intended the gospel message of salvation to have been proclaimed by Yeshua here, then the verb euangelizō, often regarding “to evangelize,” was a more specific option that could have been used. The NASU rendering of “made proclamation” best captures what is intended in Peter’s remarks.[208]

2 Peter 1:13-15

“I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Yeshua the Messiah has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.”

Similar to how the Apostle Paul reflects on his soon coming death in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, so does the Apostle Peter write about his forthcoming death in his second letter. He talks about his current life, “I consider it right, as long as I am in this tent” (2 Peter 1:13, HCSB), en toutō tō skēnōmati. Here, Peter’s usage of skēnōma or “tent” is akin to his “body” (RSV/NIV). He says that “I know that the putting off of my body [skēnōma] will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me” (2 Peter 1:14, RSV), as apothesis means “a putting aside, getting rid of a thing” (LS).[209] Peter speaks of a future time, shown to him by the Lord, where he will be putting off his physical body, his body being likened unto a temporary tent. Witherington points out, “there is no doubt that some kind of body/personality or body/life dualism is here as in 2 Corinthians 5.”[210]

It is not difficult for one to see how Peter wrote this letter to issue some final instructions to the Believers. He wants to both encourage and admonish them, as he will not be with them for much longer. He says, “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15, ESV), as his words will be direct and impactful enough so that they will not be forgotten. This departure is his “decease” (YLT). From the Greek, the clause of interest is meta tēn emēn exodon, with Peter’s departure from human life on Earth actually being an “exodus.” Exodos means “movement from one geographical area to another, departure, path, course,” and “departure from among the living” (BDAG),[211] and Exodos was the term used by the Septuagint Rabbis to call the Book of Shemot in the Torah, because its primary theme is the Ancient Israelites’ departure from Egypt and entry into God’s purpose.

The Apostle Peter did not employ the term exodos by accident, describing his forthcoming death. He likens his Earthly death to the Israelites’ departure from Egypt. In order for Peter to depart in this manner, he has to actually go somewhere.[212] If Peter’s personal exodus is only his being transferred from Earthly life to an Earthly place of burial, it certainly weakens his expectation. Yet, if Peter’s exodus is his consciousness being transferred to an intermediate afterlife in Heaven with the Lord, then exodos was the appropriate term to use. And indeed, when one properly thinks of the Exodus, just a removal of Israel to the wilderness is an incomplete picture. The wilderness experience was a temporary stage of sojourning for Israel on the way to the Promised Land. Similarly, Peter’s exodus would not end at Heaven, but rather with the resurrection of his “tent” and entry into God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Revelation 6:9-11

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.”

Both psychopannychists and those who believe in an intermediate afterlife recognize that a great deal of symbolism is employed in the Book of Revelation, much of which—especially if one is a pre-millennialist—will only be known for certain as God’s plan of salvation history unfolds sometime in the future. Yet here in Revelation 6:9-11, at the breaking of the fifth seal, it is difficult for one not to see a conscious disembodied post-mortem state portrayed, even if they are in a state of rest. Here, as the Apostle John witnesses, “I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Revelation 6:9). It is right for us to recognize that John “saw” (Grk. verb horaō) these souls; they are not just some symbolic representations of people like a kind of chorus one would encounter in a Greek play. John does more than just hear the pleas of the souls, as though they are some kind of poetic voice not really intended to be viewed as actual persons who were viciously martyred.

It is not at all improper to view “souls” here as being just people, given the wide array of usages available for psuchē, because it is the location of where these people are crying out that needs to be taken into consideration. The setting depicted in Revelation is not people symbolically crying out from the ground, but rather they are associated with the altar found at “the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven” (Revelation 15:5). These Believers who have died, presumably as martyrs, entreat the Lord to enact His righteous judgment for sinners (Revelation 6:10). Here, wearing some kind of white robes, Heaven is depicted as a place of rest and refreshment (cf. John 14:2), as these martyrs would have to wait just a little while longer (Revelation 6:11) until God’s plan can be fully enacted. Morey summarizes how “This passage has always proven a great difficulty to those who deny that believers ascend to heaven at death.”[213]

Psychopannychists deny that these “souls” are actual disembodied people in Heaven, by basically allegorizing the text. In striving to overcome what they believe is Platonic dualistic reading, they have actually embraced a cinematic reading consistent with Ancient Greek plays. These “souls” are simply to be likened to the voice of a chorus in the background. While God, His angels, Satan and his demons, and various other figures in the Book of Revelation are to be taken as literal persons and entities—these “souls” are viewed as just a poetic or cinematic representation. But how can a Bible reader honestly justify people not being people?

What the souls in Heaven appeal is, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10). Their request is how long it will be until their murderers and/or the system that slew them have been dealt with and defeated. As much as the resurrection of their bodies would serve to vindicate their matrydom, the specific request of these souls is actually not to be resurrected; their principal concern is actually to see the fallen world system overthrown and the government of the Messiah placed upon Planet Earth.

Revelation 6:9-11 actually helps us to understand the purpose of an intermediate afterlife a great deal. Psychopannychists commonly say that going to Heaven after death would make the resurrection of the body a kind of afterthought. But this scene communicates that the company of saints in Heaven is likely active—especially martyrs—in appealing to Yeshua that the next stage of salvation history begin as soon as possible. Milne observers, “whatever the experience of the intermediate state may amount to, it is not the end of the journey in any sense. It has within it a deep and ineradicable limitation.”[214] As great as going to Heaven and seeing the Lord may be, only when He returns and defeats His enemies on Earth can those who slew His saints in cold blood be shown His power and majesty.

 

There is no reason to believe that when the Apostles died, each of them expected to just float away to Heaven for a period of endless disembodied bliss, as such a view fails to take into consideration the significance of the resurrection to Second Temple Judaism. The Apostle Paul very clearly taught that we are awaiting for “the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23), our reanimated, restored physical selves. At the same time, the expectation for the First Century Apostles and saints was not to just die and then fall into an endless unconscious dormancy for several millennia until the resurrection, either. The expectation was “Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:59), and “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23, RSV). Even if such a disembodied state would have been considered nakedness or incompleteness, it was nevertheless preferable “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8) in the intermediate period between death and resurrection, as one would be in the presence of the Savior.

The Netherworld and Heaven

A fair summary of Scripture passages in both the Tanach and Apostolic Writings depicts that following death the deceased do not enter into an unconscious state, but rather that they do enter into some kind of disembodied intermediate state prior to the resurrection. Yet there can easily be a great deal of confusion between the Tanach and Apostolic Writings, as the Tanach describes all of the dead going to Sheol or the netherworld, and the Apostolic Writings describe the redeemed dead going to the presence of the Lord, presumably in Heaven. For the psychopannychist, this means that Sheol obviously just means “the grave,” and then references in the Apostolic Writings have to be reworked, spiritualized/allegorized out of context, or outright ignored. For those of us who believe that the consciousness of a born again Believer is transferred to the presence of the Lord in Heaven at time of death, there has to have been some kind of transition point within the Scriptures where the righteous dead no longer went to the netherworld of Sheol, but now go to Heaven.

Based on some of the passages that we have just reviewed above, various theologians of the emerging Christian Church of the late First and early Second Centuries, holding to a doctrine of an intermediate afterlife inherited from the Jewish Synagogue, investigated the writings of the Apostles in an effort to determine what the transition point of one going to Sheol/Hades to the righteous now going to Heaven would have been.[215] The doctrine that was formulated was that upon His death at the crucifixion, Yeshua the Messiah descended into the Paradise side of Sheol/Hades (Luke 23:43; cf. 16:22-24), made a proclamation of His victory to those who would remain imprisoned (1 Peter 3:19-20), and then upon His ascension into Heaven took along with Him the deceased righteous from the Paradise side of Sheol/Hades (Ephesians 4:9; cf. Romans 10:7), with the torments side of Sheol/Hades or Hell left occupied (cf. Philippians 2:11). This has commonly became known as either the descent into Hades or the harrowing of Hell.[216]

Can this view of the righteous dead being transferred from the Paradise side of Sheol/Hades, now into Heaven, be substantiated when all of these passages are taken into consideration? I believe that they can. In His parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Yeshua depicts Sheol/Hades as being divided into two compartments: one a side of Paradise or Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:23), and then the other a side of punishment (Luke 16:24). This is concurrent with Pharisaical Jewish theology of the time, which actually held that the Paradise side of Sheol/Hades was but a temporary holding place for the righteous deceased. Josephus attested that here, “they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region” (Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades 4).[217] Obviously at some point, the righteous deceased had to be vacated from Sheol/Hades, something anticipated in First Century Pharisaism.

Yeshua the Messiah told the repentant thief beside Him at Golgotha, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), as upon dying they would both find themselves in Abraham’s bosom. The Apostle Peter describes how while in Sheol/Hades, “He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison” (1 Peter 3:19), a declaration of His vindication over evil. The transition point of the righteous deceased going to Sheol/Hades at time of death, to now going to Heaven to be in the presence of the Lord, is asserted to be Yeshua’s ascension into Heaven. This would be seen in Ephesians 4:7-9, where the Apostle Paul describes,

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Messiah’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN’ [Psalm 68:18]. (Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things).”

Paul’s principal aim in Ephesians 4 is to describe the unity that is to manifest itself among Believers in the Body of Messiah, and how each person has a distinct role to play by being given unique spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:11-12). In explaining how Yeshua’s work has distributed gifts to His followers, Paul appropriates Psalm 68. Psalm 68 is a psalm of battle, and the verses leading up to v. 18, quoted in Ephesians 4:8, describe the Lord defeating His enemies (Psalm 68:1-4), His vindication for the oppressed (Psalm 68:5-6), His mighty power (Psalm 68:7-10), and the victory that is achieved by Him (Psalm 68:11-18). The Lord God fights in battle, and then leads forth captives caught in battle in His train to Mount Zion to rule and reign in triumph:

“The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them as at Sinai, in holiness. You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there. Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation. Selah” (Psalm 68:17-19).

Please note how the Hebrew verb laqach can mean “take to or for a person” (BDB),[218] in regard to fetching something that is to later be distributed. Laqach can be extrapolated as “to give,” something that Paul may have imported into his letter via the Greek didōmi, in describing Yeshua’s distribution of gifts. The difference between the Hebrew MT or Greek LXX in Psalm 17:18 is that rather than receiving gifts, the Messiah as victor is depicted as distributing them. (Commentators have suggested that the modified quotation of Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8 follows a form of Jewish interpretation known as pesher, commonly employed by the Qumran community.)[219]

While Paul makes a point that the ascension of Yeshua has brought about the distribution of gifts to His people, what does it mean when Yeshua has “LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES,” or ēchmalōteusen aichmalōsian? This clause is invariably translated as “he led captive captivity” (YLT) or “he made captivity itself a captive” (NRSV), although aichmalōsia means “captivity: a body of captives” (LS),[220] often relating to prisoners of war (cf. Revelation 13:10). The rendering “host of captives” (RSV, NASU, ESV) or “captives” (NIV) is valid. It is not inappropriate for us to conclude that these “captives” are the righteous dead who once occupied the Paradise side of Sheol, because Yeshua’s ability to transport them to Heaven at His ascension is surely indicative of His possessing “the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:18).

Identifying who this “HOST OF CAPTIVES” are is connected to Paul’s remarks made in Ephesians 4:9, “Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?” What did Yeshua descend to? There is no agreement among interpreters today as to what the clause eis ta katōtera [merē] tēs gēs actually means, but there is good reason for us to believe that this is more than just His descent to Planet Earth.

How low Yeshua actually descended is best answered by considering the Tanach descriptions we see of Sheol. Deuteronomy 32:22 describes how God’s anger “burns to the lowest part of Sheol, and consumes the earth with its yield, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.” The Psalmist cries out, “But those who seek my life to destroy it, will go into the depths of the earth” (Psalm 63:9), with b’tachtiyot ha’eretz being rendered as eis ta katōtata tēs gēs in the LXX. Is this just “the grave”? Morey reminds us again how “Sheol is ‘under the earth,’ or ‘the underworld,’ while graves were built as supulchres above the earth, or caves, or holes in the earth. Sheol is called the underworld in Isa. 14:9. It is also called ‘the lower parts of the earth’ (KJV) in Ps. 63:9; Isa. 44:23; Eze. 26:20; 31:14, 16, 18; 32:18, 24. Sheol is the opposite of heaven (Ps. 139:8). One must go ‘down’ to get to Sheol (Gen. 37:35).”[221]

In Jewish theology “The lower parts of the earth” or “the regions beneath the earth”[222] represent something more than just a place of internment for the dead, as Sheol or the netherworld was believed to have existed under the Earth.[223] The Patriarch Jacob exclaimed, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son” (Genesis 37:35). As previously discussed, Sheol here cannot just mean “the grave” because the deceased Joseph would have had no grave as his father believed him to be eaten by wild animals (Genesis 37:33).

The Messiah’s low descent into Sheol or the abyss (Romans 10:7) is accompanied by a high ascent into Heaven. Ephesians 4:10 details, “He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.” Yeshua ascended huperanōn pantōn tōn ouranōn, “higher than all the heavens” (NIV). The contrast with Ephesians 4:9 would be that just as Yeshua had descended to the lowest point in the cosmos (cf. Acts 2:31), now He has ascended to the highest point in the cosmos. From His exalted point in Heaven Yeshua is able to fill all things (cf. Jeremiah 23:24). The Epistle to the Hebrews describes Yeshua’s condition in Heaven as one of service before His Father as High Priest (Hebrews 4:14; 7:26).

The ancient interpretation about “the lower parts of the earth” relating to the righteous of Paradise being released from Sheol with Heaven now opened, helps an interpreter reconcile statements made in the Tanach about all the dead going to Sheol prior to resurrection (i.e., Ecclesiastes 9:9-10) with statements in the Apostolic Scriptures about the righteous dead going into the presence of the Lord prior to resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:6-9; Philippians 1:20-23). A transition point had to take place, and Yeshua’s descent into Sheol or the lowest region, and His subsequent ascent into Heaven or the highest region—with the righteous saints or “captives”—would be the best one.[224] Morey summarizes,

“Before Jesus was raised from the dead, the apostles assumed that everyone went to Sheol or Hades. This Hades had two sections, one for the righteous and one for the wicked. But Christ’s resurrection changed this picture. Thus Paul uses the language of transition when he speaks of Christ taking the righteous out of Hades and bringing them into Heaven (Eph. 4:8, 9).”[225]

Is going to Heaven a “pagan doctrine”?

Most Messianics who have adopted a view of psychopannychy in recent days have not necessarily done so because they have sat down with their Bibles, and carefully exegeted the various passages describing human composition and the death expectations of the Tanach and Apostolic Scriptures. Most Messianics who have become psychopannychists have been sensationalized into believing that going to Heaven upon time of death is a “pagan doctrine.” It is commonly argued that those of us who believe that the consciousnesses of the deceased go to a holding place until the resurrection—known as either Heaven or Hell—have adapted a pagan concept more consistent with Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman views of the afterlife than with the Bible.

In spite of the Biblical exegesis which stands in favor of the consciousnesses of the deceased being able to exist in a temporary disembodied state, just saying that the idea is “pagan” is often reason enough for some Messianics to become psychopannychists. Lew White, author of the publication Fossilized Customs, is quite direct when asserting, “Pagans always believed that they would go into the skies to live with their deities….It is…important to note what Pagans taught about the ‘spirits’ of the dead being transported to ‘heaven’. That is the heresy that has been accepted.”[226]

Do notice how here that the idea of born again Believers being transported to the presence of the Lord upon time of death is not just rejected on the basis of it somehow being “pagan”; it is rejected at the level of heresy. This is disturbing, because as much as I would reject the doctrine of psychopannychy as being an aberration, I would not consider psychopannychists to be heretics as much as I would just consider them to be misguided and one-dimensional thinkers. Among all of the one hundred billion or so known galaxies in our universe, as well as the multiple universes or dimensions that science acknowledges exist—they think that the humans made in the image of an Eternal God from another dimension are basically advanced animals. I believe psychopannychists incorrectly relegate the human being as a creature solely of Planet Earth, but I do not think they are “heretics,” per se. As much as I would reject psychopannychy as being a valid doctrine, I do believe that some psychopannychists might be saved.

There is a severe error in rejecting a teaching of Scripture—such as the consciousnesses of Believers transported to the Lord’s presence upon time of death—as “pagan,” that very few Messianics who have adopted psychopannychy on this basis are aware of. If we say that the idea of Believers going to Heaven to be with the Lord upon time of death is pagan, what is keeping us from rejecting other doctrines or Biblical stories where paganism may also parallel the Scriptures? After all, are not there pagan myths about deities coming down from the sky in the form of humans and performing miracles, which mimic the Earthly life and ministry of Yeshua?[227] What do we do about stories like the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, which is very similar to the Flood of Genesis 6-9? What do we do about the parallels that exist between the Genesis 1-3 Creation account and the Mesopotamian myth Atrahasis? And the list can go on and on…

Using “paganism” as a basis for rejecting doctrines seen in Scripture, should we conclude that the Gospel narratives of the Messiah’s life are pagan myths? Are the accounts of the Flood, Noah’s Ark, and even Creation itself redacted versions of Mesopotamian mythology into the Torah? (This is what liberals argue.) Today’s Messianics are often not aware of all of the potentially “pagan” elements and connections that can be made between the Holy Scriptures and mythology. These actually include more of the cherished accounts and stories in the Tanach or the Old Testament, then they do the record of Yeshua’s ministry. Yet this is largely unknown in much of our faith community because most of today’s Messianic Torah teaching is seldom taught with any Ancient Near Eastern background considered.[228]

The “it’s pagan” argument that is frequently made by Messianic psychopannychists like Lew White, C.J. Koster, and others must be held consistently and not selectively. If we reject an intermediate afterlife in Heaven for Believers prior to resurrection, on the basis that societies contemporary to Ancient Israel believed in a disembodied afterlife, then more significant beliefs and/or accounts in the Scriptures need to also be similarly reevaluated. What this does, more than anything else, is that it places not only the veracity of the Apostolic Scriptures—but the reliability and trustworthiness of the Tanach itself—on the proverbial chopping block. The ultimate result of such a quest will not be that one has a more intimate and blessed relationship with the Creator, but one will in fact deny that the Creator is concerned with human beings, that is if He even exists. A life of some form of Jewish Saddusaism and/or Hellenistic Epicureanism, with no future resurrection or existence to come, awaits.

We cannot justifiably conclude that the idea of born again Believers going to Heaven upon time of death, prior to the resurrection, is pagan. If we do this, we run the risk of later denying the trustworthiness of our Bibles, which itself will lead to either agnosticism or atheism.

You must be born again!

Perhaps the most significant problem that we should have with psychopannychists is what many (but not all) of them postulate about the born again experience.[229] In his words to Nicodemus, Yeshua the Messiah said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3; cf. 3:7). Here, the clause rendered “born again” is gennēthē anōthen, more specifically meaning “born from above” (NRSV). This would mean that the nature of Heaven must be present inside of a committed and mature follower of Yeshua if one ever expects to encounter and experience the Kingdom of God in his life. A significant part of seeing God’s Kingdom made manifest is being delivered from demons (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20), something that can surely take place when a person is spiritually regenerated!

It has long been recognized in Biblical Studies that being “born again” or “born from above” was used in Second Temple Judaism to describe proselytes. The Talmud records, “R. Yosé says, ‘A proselyte at the moment of conversion is like a new-born baby’” (b.Yevamot 48b).[230] In his sermon “The New Birth,” John Wesley made use of this Jewish designation to explain the transformation that takes place within a person via the power of the gospel:

“The expression, being born again, was not first used by our Lord in his conversation with Nicodemus: it was well known before that time, and was in common use among the Jews when our Savior appeared among them. When an adult heathen was convinced that the Jewish religion was of God, and desired to join therein, it was the custom to baptize him first, before he was admitted to circumcision. And when he was baptized, he was said to be born again; by which they meant, that he who was before a child of the devil, was now adopted into the family of God, and accounted one of his children.”[231]

An ancient proselyte to Judaism would have had to turn his back on his previous way of life in paganism, and submit himself to a procedure where that old life was considered to be behind him. He was born again into a new life knowing the God of Israel and becoming a member of the Jewish community. In a similar way to be a true follower of His, Yeshua the Messiah required that people be born again. They would turn their backs on their old way of thinking, and instead turn to the salvation that He provided and the example that He had set for living. As a result, men and women would take on a new nature and could be considered new people, forgiven of sin and spiritually regenerated—hence, “born from above.”

The Apostle Peter more specifically describes what it means to be born again:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah from the dead…for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:3, 23).

1 Peter 1:23 employs the perfect passive participle anagegennēmenoi. This depicts an ongoing past action with continuing results, having been accomplished by an external force, namely God and/or His Holy Spirit. Believers have been reborn via an imperishable seed as guaranteed by the Word of God or the Holy Scriptures (cf. 1 Peter 1:24-25; cf. Isaiah 40:6, 8). The born again experience is not something that is to come sometime in the future for Believers, but it is something that we each partake of right now following our acceptance of salvation in Messiah Yeshua. The resurrection of Yeshua is to assure us that the born again experience which Believers have partaken of is a genuine and authentic action in our lives. Peter calls this an elpida zōsan or “living hope”—the verb zōsan actually being a present active participle—meaning that this is a present reality that every Believer possesses!

Many of today’s psychopannychists that one will encounter, however—with this viewpoint growing in a few parts of the Messianic world—argue that the born again experience does not occur when a Believer confesses and repents of sin, and is spiritually regenerated. This is very disturbing! Often thinking in one-dimensional terms, their conclusions are not that far off from those initial questions of Nicodemus: “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” (John 3:4). Yeshua poignantly asked Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” (John 3:10), as our Lord only reoriented the ancient Jewish usage of “born again” from proselyte conversion to now one who followed and believed in Him, being a recipient of His salvation.

So if the born again experience does not occur when a Believer receives Yeshua into his or her life, when does it take place? Many of today’s psychopannychists believe that it takes place at the resurrection. White says that at the resurrection, “we are re-born, clothed with immortality.”[232] Yeshua rebuked Nicodemus for thinking that being born again was something entirely physical, telling him “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Yeshua’s followers must be born of the Spirit! Being born again requires us to have been transformed from within, and hence possessing a transformed heart and mind oriented toward God and His love. While I would not consider belief in psychopannychy to be a salvation issue, per se, it is undeniable that many psychopannychists will say that they are not born again. Does this mean that they do not possess a new nature and are not reconciled to the Father? Have they not been spiritually changed via the power of the gospel? I will leave the final judgment to the Lord, but if certain people themselves say that they are not born again, then it is a pretty good clue that they are not.

It is notable, in total fairness, that not all psychopannychists believe that the born again experience takes place at the resurrection. Koster, among others, affirms that the born again experience takes place within a Believer’s life on Earth,[233] making reference to a variety of passages in the Apostolic Scriptures that any of us should take a great deal of comfort in, describing the new nature (i.e., Romans chs. 6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 3:9; 5:18). Yet in all honesty, if one is truly forgiven of sins and born again—meaning spiritually regenerated—then Yeshua the Messiah will mean everything for that person. This is why Paul can say, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). It was his desire, and the desire of many Believers since, to see the Lord immediately after death (Philippians 1:23).

Being born again and supernaturally transformed from within is the motivation for Believers wanting to go to Heaven and meet their Lord. This is not a denial of the resurrection, but is a desire to see the Savior because of the love for Him that has changed the heart. If the psychopannychist really is “born again,” what is his motivation for not wanting to go to Heaven and meet the Lord, and instead only fall into endless unconsciousness until the resurrection? It has been my experience that various psychopannychists do not appear that eager to see the Lord following the time of their death. What do they communicate when many of them protest that Believers going to an intermediate place in Heaven until the resurrection is non-Biblical? It is possible that their desire is to not be with the Messiah? We may never know, and their denial of an intermediate state in the presence of the Lord is an issue that they need to resolve in their spirituality and their relationship with Him.

The Resurrection and the World to Come

While we are convinced that the Bible teaches that the consciousness of a born again Believer is transported to the presence of the Lord upon time of death, it is an absolute mistake for any of us to believe that a disembodied state in Heaven is the permanent condition awaiting us in the future. We believe in such an intermediate state because human beings are different than the animals, and they bear a Divine imprint from their Creator. Yet the very fact that such a time is commonly called the intermediate state necessitates a future resurrection and reconstitution of a person’s body and consciousness. It is a mistake that much popular preaching emphasizes “going to Heaven” and often de-emphasizes God’s Kingdom coming to the Earth. Isaiah 11:6-9 so eloquently summarizes much of what we have to look forward to:

“And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

The eternity that awaits us as redeemed saints is not one where we throw off our mortal bodies and then just enter into another dimension. On the contrary, it is one where we see the ultimate merging of two dimensions into a new Creation, as the Apostle John recorded “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). Because so much of an emphasis can be placed by people upon the intermediate state, the Eternal State where all Creation is redeemed by God and the New Heavens and New Earth appear too often lose their emphasis in the faith experience of today’s Believers.

The Eternal State for Believers is not endless disembodied bliss, it is rather a resurrection and reconstitution of the body where “this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53). The whole company of saints, deceased and living, will not all be with the Lord until the resurrection and Second Coming (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Yet, because of a common de-emphasis on the resurrection and world to come found among many contemporary Believers and in popular preaching, the psychopannychist will often step in and explain how only his view of death as being an endless unconscious sleep to be attended by the Second Coming is Biblically acceptable. Bacchiocchi summaries,

“Death is never presented in the Bible as ‘the climatic experience of our lives.’ It is not that surprising that for Catholics and Protestants the Second Advent is no longer really necessary, because they believe in meeting Christ at death as disembodied souls….Besides being foreign to Scripture, this teaching encourages Christians to strive for individual and immediate blessedness after death and, consequently, pushing into the background the hope for a universal, cosmic, and corporate redemption to be realized through the Coming of the Lord.”[234]

While making some valid points about people forgetting about the significance of the bodily resurrection—and only being concerned with death and a so-called release into endless disembodiment—Bacchiocchi actually runs a serious risk here. He appears to have responded to one extreme with another extreme. The antithesis of believing that endless disembodiment awaits the saints is to believe that only the resurrection and the world to come await the saints. From this vantage point, the universal, cosmic redemption is something to only take place far into the future, and so whatever happens before that time we as Believers will simply have to wait things out. Our hope is something entirely of the future, and not something of the present.

What such a view fails to account for is the fact that we are not called to live in the present age as though the future age has yet to manifest itself. The ekklēsia is to live the life of the resurrection now in the present age! That Second Temple Judaism held to an eschatological dualism is difficult to deny. 4 Ezra 8:1 summarizes the view of how “The Most High made this world for the sake of many, but the world to come for the sake of few.”[235] The Apostle Paul reflects this same kind of eschatological dualism in his letters, contrasting the present evil age with the age to come where God’s complete salvation will manifest itself (Galatians 1:4; Romans 8:18; 1 Corinthians 1:26). The powers of the current evil age are destined to pass away (1 Corinthians 2:6-7), and Believers themselves are the ones “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). But where Paul’s Jewish contemporaries thought that the world to come was only something intended for the future, Paul recognized that Yeshua’s own resurrection has blurred such a distinction. D.E. Aune summarizes how

“For Paul the present is a temporary period between the death and resurrection of Christ and his return in glory in which those who believe in the gospel share in the salvific benefits of the age to come (Gal 1:4; 2 Cor 5:17). This temporary period is characterized by the eschatological gift of the Spirit of God…Though the final consummation still lay in the future, for Christians the new age was present because the Messiah had come.”[236]

Psychopannychists, while rightly emphasizing the importance of the resurrection to come at Yeshua’s parousia, often make a mistake in failing to emphasize that the reign to be manifested on Earth at the Second Coming has already begun. As Believers and God’s representatives we are required to capture elements of the future Kingdom of God right now on Earth! The Body of Messiah, as a unique group of people empowered by the Holy Spirit, is a people that presently finds itself living in an age dominated by the forces of evil. When Yeshua proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17; cf. 10:17), this was not just a promise of a future far off Kingdom of God on Earth to only be realized at the Second Coming. It was the inauguration of the realities of the future age in the present age of evil.

Advocates of psychopannychy often make the insidious charge that those of us who believe in an intermediate afterlife for Believers deny the significance of the resurrection and Second Coming. They commonly say: What would be the point of the resurrection of the saints if Believers go to Heaven at the time of death? We could ask a similar question in response: What would be the point of the world to come manifesting itself, if Believers are to live the life of the world to come now? All psychopannychists have done is respond to one extreme with another extreme, going too far by overemphasizing the future resurrection and Second Coming, as though future realities are not to be realized to some extent now in the lives of Believers prior to their full consummation.

If we are called as Believers to live the life of the world to come prior to its consummation, then we certainly do need to respect our bodies and not fall into the ancient Gnostic error of thinking that what we do with our bodies does not affect us spiritually, or vice versa. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:18 certainly come to mind: “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.” God does expect us to take care of our whole selves, not only for us to be effective for His service, but so we can present ourselves as citizens of that world to come in the future now in the present evil age (cf. Philippians 3:20). For Messianic Believers—among the many examples we could consider—this would mean that when the author of Hebrews writes “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9), this is not just some generic spiritual rest in the Messiah, but every Shabbat when we rest we are to get a foretaste of the realities of eternity. Bacchiocchi’s thoughts are well taken:

“Biblical wholism challenges us be concerned about the whole person. In its preaching and teaching, the church must meet not only the spiritual needs of the soul but also the physical needs of the body. This means teaching people how to maintain emotional and physical health. It means that church programs should not neglect the needs of the body. Proper diet, exercise, and outdoor activities should be encouraged as an important part of Christian living.”[237]

I know few people who believe in an intermediate afterlife in Heaven who would disagree with Bacchiocchi here. Spiritual leaders encouraging their constituents to be concerned with physical health, every bit as much as spiritual health, is a very good thing. But encouraging physical health is a far cry from believing that there is no intermediate afterlife. The continuance of a Believer’s consciousness after time of death in an intermediate state in the Lord’s presence is a recognition of the uniqueness of the human being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8:5-6), and the fact that redeemed humanity’s reign extends beyond Planet Earth (Ephesians 2:6). Mature Believers should be able to walk a balanced life of faith where they are maintained spiritually from prayer, worship, and the Scriptures—and they are also maintained physically by eating right, exercising, and taking care of their bodies. They can recognize that even if their consciousness may be temporarily separated from their bodies at the time of death, this by no means should be used as an excuse to abuse the body and treat it as not being as important as the mind.[238] As Milne excellently puts it,

“Provided that we continue to affirm the essential provisionality of the intermediate state, and make clear that the goal of Christ’s saving work as far as the believer is concerned is always an embodied existence within ‘a new heaven and a new earth’, no denigration of the body appears implied.”[239]

If redeemed humanity is indeed intended to rule and reign as God’s viceroy in eternity, over the New Heavens and New Earth, it only makes sense that the promise of the resurrection and a new life in such a place should be adequate impetus for us to actually live some of that future life right now. Being made in God’s image does not only mean that humans possess a uniqueness that the animals lack, but it also means that we are required to take responsibility for Planet Earth (Genesis 1:28) and its people. This directly affects the mission of God’s people today, and how we are to be actively representing Him to unredeemed humanity at large. Bishop N.T. Wright, who does believe in an intermediate afterlife for Believers in Heaven, has done us all a great service in pointing that our emphasis as the Body of Messiah needs to really be on the “life after life after death.”[240] While the intermediate state in Heaven may be a “gain” (Philippians 1:21), this should not deter us from fulfilling the work of the gospel. If we are already citizens of God’s Kingdom to come, then we should manifest such citizenship in our behavior and in appropriate acts of service. Wright summarizes how

“[W]hen we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality—what I have called life after life after death—then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in sequence.”[241]

The examples of such work that Wright asks us to consider are not that difficult to understand, as they include care “for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, and in fact the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world.”[242] Ironically enough, while psychopannychists may place a heavy emphasis on the resurrection and the world to come, theologians such as Wright and others—who actually believe in an intermediate disembodied afterlife—are the ones who are trying to enact what can be enacted of that world to come now in this world. While Bacchiocchi emphasizes physical health, Wright takes it even further and emphasizes how Believers need to be concerned with the environment.[243] (Note that one does not have to believe in the theory of global warning to know that there are environmental issues. Entire landscapes, forests, or irreplaceable natural treasures can be devastated by an unimpeded advance of industrial man.)

In my experience, I have yet to see psychopannychists really concern themselves with these kinds of issues. It is thought that Yeshua the Messiah is going to return and solve all of these problems, and when He does, He will awaken Believers from their endless unconscious sleep and usher them into Heaven on Earth. They think those are issues entirely of the future that Believers should not really concern themselves with, and instead will only be solved by the parousia.

If psychopannychists want to argue that those of us who believe in a temporary disembodied afterlife prior to resurrection downplay the significance of the resurrection, they are certainly free to think so. But I would argue that many of the same psychopannychists have placed so much of an overemphasis on the resurrection and Second Coming, that very little effort is expelled at capturing some of the life of the world to come in the present evil age. Contrary to this, while the intermediate state is “gain,” a concern with the “life after the afterlife” should motivate us to be a people empowered for God’s service, as we seek to represent Him by our good works of service to others and concern for those in the present age. It is foolish for any of us to think that we will receive great rewards in the future age of resurrection and restoration if we do not try to live the life of such a future age now. The Scriptures require us to represent the future age of the Kingdom of God in the present age.

Have psychopannychists really helped today’s Messianic movement?

The discussion of whether or not psychopannychy is a valid doctrine of Scripture affects all people who read the Bible, and not just today’s Messianic movement. Yet, it is important to ask ourselves whether the growth of a sector of Messianic psychopannychists has really helped and aided our faith community to accomplish the mission of God. In denying an intermediate state for born again Believers in Heaven, can a better understanding of the resurrection be seen among us? Are Messianic psychopannychists able to counsel those who are dying, or are grieving the recent loss of a loved one who knew the Lord, better than those of us who believe in an intermediate afterlife in Heaven?

Psychopannychists argue that the resurrection and Second Coming are significant events not to be ignored. I do not disagree with them on this. But I would submit that in the past decade (1999-2009) as the numbers of psychopannychists have grown among us, the Messianic community has not seen the kind of emphasis that we should have seen on the doctrine of resurrection. There has often been so much of a preoccupation with the Torah, at the expense of wider Biblical issues, that the promise of a future resurrection of deceased Believers does not get a very big hearing. Messianic psychopannychists can protest all they want about people forgetting about the resurrection—and it is not as though they do not have some valid points—yet few of the same have I ever seen emphasize the significance of the resurrection and the world to come. Many of them, in their own way, are actually like pseudo- or quasi-Sadducees. My experience has been that many of today’s Messianic psychopannychists only give lip service to the doctrine of resurrection.

And what is the hope of many of today’s Messianic psychopannychists? Is it the resurrection? If it really is, then we should certainly be hearing more about the resurrection than we do. It has again been my experience that while many of today’s Messianic psychopannychists may strongly protest any kind of dualism in the human composition—even though those of us who believe in an intermediate afterlife do affirm that God will restore the whole human person—they often practice their own form of dualism in regard to the present world. While many of us take comfort in knowing that our loved ones who knew the Lord are now in His presence until the resurrection, those who do not have this comfort must only look to the Second Coming. While the Second Coming is something for us to all look forward to, we are not to just wait around for it and be taken away or deterred from the required service that God expects us to perform in the present world.

It is not difficult to see that a fair number of today’s Messianic psychopannychists are not living the life of the age to come now in the present age. In our ministry’s interactions over the years, we have found how many of today’s Messianic psychopannychists

  • do not vote in political elections
  • are not playing an active role in their local communities
  • are fatalistic and quite defeatist in their approach to society at large and modern issues
  • are not trying to be salt and light to the world, as a reflection of their Torah observance (Matthew 5:15-17)
  • believe that the end of the world is imminently forthcoming
  • are socially isolationist

While Messianic psychopannychists may protest that some people have lost sight of the doctrine of resurrection, many of them are not living the life of the world to come today that will follow the resurrection. This is most especially evident among those who have recently lost a loved one. Those of us who believe in a temporary disembodied afterlife recognize that our loved ones who knew the Lord are now in His presence, and we will see them in Heaven at our own time of death, or at the resurrection should we still be alive at the parousia.

All Messianic psychopannychists can hope for is the end of the world, and it is not at all difficult to see why some have placed their trust in actually desiring for the Tribulation period to take place. Such a “hope” for God’s judgment to manifest, in order to be reunited with deceased loved ones, is very much misplaced! For it was the Prophet Amos who said, “what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him” (Amos 5:18-19). Our hope is not the end of the world and prophesied apocalypse!

Rather than encourage Messianic Believers to live the life of the world to come now, Messianic psychopannychists have often encouraged people to just look to the nightmare of history so they can be reunited with their loved ones. As much of a reality as the Tribulation period will be, none of us is to wish it upon the world! Messianic psychopannychists have done an extreme disservice to our faith community in robbing many of the comfort that their loved ones who knew the Lord are in a place of refreshment in Heaven (John 14:2a). But even more so, by failing to emphasize that Believers are required to live the life of the world to come in the present evil age, such sentiments have retarded the spiritual and theological maturation of the Messianic movement into a force that can fulfill the greater tasks He has assigned us.

My Own Personal Experience

Whatever one of us believes about the intermediate state—whether we are expecting to fall into an endless unconscious sleep until the resurrection, or be welcomed into the presence of the Lord in Heaven until the resurrection—we are each affected by our personal experience, or lack thereof. Having just compiled a great deal of Biblical evidence and engagement with the viewpoints of psychopannychists, I cannot hide the fact that I myself believe in an intermediate afterlife in Heaven prior to the resurrection because of my life experience. (And I honestly do wish that psychopannychists would explain to us what their experiences have been to guide them to their conclusions.)

The second most important spiritual experience in my life occurred on September 1, 1992, in the intensive care unit of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Erlanger, Kentucky.[244] Five months earlier, my father had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma. He received the appropriate cancer treatment, including being admitted to an NIH trial clinic in Frederick, Maryland. The experimental treatments went well, and he returned home. But the cancer was very aggressive, and the side-effects of his treatments caused a low blood platelet count. Two days prior to September 1, my father woke up in the middle of the night with a massive headache. What was discovered via catscan were five huge cancerous legions on his brain stem that were hemorrhaging. Within a day of being admitted to the hospital, and having said some very direct words to my mother about how “I can see the Rock and hear the music,” my father fell into a coma from which he would never wake up.

My father was immediately taken to the ICU ward at the hospital and placed on a respirator. He was shortly declared legally brain dead, and could not even move his eyelids, much less any other part of his body. He had no brainwaves. St. Elizabeth was a Catholic hospital and as such we had to wait several days before we could do anything, but my mother already knew that it was the time to write his obituary. On the morning of September 1, the respirator was turned off, and my father’s heart steadily stopped beating. At the moment that my father’s pulse stopped, his arms slowly raised straight up in the air as though something were pulling on him. A great peace then enveloped the room. The attendant nurse in the room, watching this man die, was crying because she had never seen anything like it. People who are brain dead, in a practically vegetative state, are not supposed to move like this while they are dying, because they lack the capacity to do so (unless it is a completely random move caused by rigor mortis as decomposition begins). What the survivors of the McKee family had witnessed that morning of September 1, 1992 was that something had been pulled out of their father’s body.

My father began the year 1992 believing that he would have his heart’s desire fulfilled. The recession of 1991 was ending, and his software business began to do well again. My mother was pregnant and ready to give birth to my sister Maggie. Things were improving for the McKees, so for my father to suddenly get cancer did not make any logical sense.

In his final weeks of life, we were all able to witness that my father’s attention was not on things of this world. He was steadily thinking of the next world. His desire was no different than that of the Apostle Paul: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” This is not to say that my father was at all conflicted, because Paul was also: “I am hard pressed between the two” (Philippians 1:23, RSV), as my 41- year old father had a young wife and three young children, with one being an infant. But in those final days you could see that my father’s concern was that he be prepared to meet his Lord in glory.

I will never, ever be a psychopannychist. When my father died, his consciousness departed and he was welcomed into the presence of Jesus Christ in Heaven. What was left for us was the body of my father. My father was a very serious born again Christian, and he knew that even though his desire was indeed to depart this Earth and meet his Lord, that an intermediate Heaven would not at all be his final destination. As a lay minister, my father delivered many sermons—and he believed in the resurrection! He did not just believe in it because he recited “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” every week from the Apostles’ Creed as blind dogma; he elaborated on it and explained what he believed. In a sermon entitled “The Meaning of the Resurrection” delivered on April 28, 1991, my father taught

we who have a relationship with Jesus Christ are going to live forever. And those who have gone on—who are WITH THE LORD—are not dead. They’re alive. So why don’t we say so? Let’s have the courage, if we know they died in Christ, to say they’re WITH THE LORD!

I will go so far as to say, with Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel, when you make the funeral arrangements, don’t buy a plot, ask if you can rent![245]

Kenneth Kimball McKee (1951-1992) believed in going to Heaven, and he believed in the resurrection of the dead. As an evangelical Christian man sold out to serving the Lord, Kim McKee most especially believed in living the life of the world to come now in the present world. He believed in good works of service for the greater Body of Christ, enacting as much of that life of the world to come prior to the Second Coming. Kim McKee was active in the Kentucky conference of the United Methodist Church, he was a registered lay minister and active Sunday school teacher, he participated in the Lay Witness Mission, Kairos prison ministry, and most notably was known as an Emmaus team leader, being the first men’s team leader to Madras, India in January 1991. Before being diagnosed with cancer, Kim McKee had already been approved to begin the process of becoming an ordained Methodist pastor. And perhaps most importantly, Kim McKee believed in the significance of the Jewish Roots of Christianity. The only reason a person like Kim McKee would have been promoted early was because God has a bigger plan in mind, as his death would need to influence and motivate others for the service of ministry.

Many years ago I remember my father taking me to visit our McKee family plot, where his parents (and my grandparents) are buried. I also remember having to go to the same plot and help choose a place for him to be buried. I know that my father’s desire in his last days was to meet the Lord Jesus, because in his own words, “Our home and our hope is not here, it’s in the presence of the Lord.” But these are not words of escape into endless disembodiment. My father also firmly believed that the Lord would “transform [his] body of [a] humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:31).

After Kim McKee died, we all knew that he was in the presence of his Savior, yet Kim McKee’s body was not treated with any disrespect as though it were just an empty shell to be thrown away as garbage, burned and cast into the wind. Kim McKee’s body is an important part of his being waiting to be reconstituted at the time of resurrection when Yeshua the Messiah returns with “all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13). My father was given proper honor and burial—a funeral deserving of a redeemed saint. My father’s own grave marker includes the epitaph “Jesus Christ the Rock of My Salvation,” a testament not only of him desiring to see the Lord, but that the survivors of the McKee family and all of his friends and Christian loved ones will actually get to touch and embrace his body again!

The only regret that the survivors of the McKee family have today is that since we moved away from Northern Kentucky in 1994, we have not visited our father’s gravesite as frequently as we should. We know that even though he is in Heaven with the Lord, he is also buried here on Planet Earth. Yet, when I visit our special family plot, I hold deep in my heart that for me personally, this is the most sacred place on Earth—and if I knew the day of the Second Coming, I would make every effort to be there in preparation of Yeshua HaMashiach descending in the clouds “with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13).

To Be Absent From the Body

I have had some direct experiences with death, and I have seen the consciousness of a saint leave his body to enter into the presence of the Lord. I would personally have a great deal of difficulty sitting in an assembly led by a pastor or teacher who actively taught the doctrine of psychopannychy—one who would contentiously confront Believers who have the assurance that their deceased loved ones are in the presence of the Lord, waiting in Heaven until the resurrection, and regard such a belief as being a “lie.” Some pastors or teachers may prefer to be agnostic about this subject, not quite knowing what to believe, and I would place them in a different category provided they largely did not teach on death but instead on living properly here on Earth. But those who actively deny an afterlife in the presence of the Lord for Believers, in spite of the Biblical evidence? No, and not ever.

I do not consider psychopannychy or “soul sleep” to be heresy, and I do think that some of those who believe in it might be saved. At the same time, in light of the strong Biblical evidence in favor of a conscious, disembodied intermediate state—what is to be said of those pastors or Bible teachers who actively advocate that human beings are no different than dogs, cats, or apes? They say that upon time of death, we will not be welcomed into the presence of the Savior in Heaven. For degrading humans who are unique and special among God’s creatures—and for trying to steal from survivors the small comfort they have for knowing that their deceased loved ones, who knew Yeshua/Jesus, are in Heaven until the resurrection—advocates of psychopannychy will surely have various spiritual rewards confiscated from them by the Messiah.

Why would there ever be such people actively teaching that born again Believers are to not meet the Lord in Heaven after death? Is departing to immediately be with the Messiah not something that motivates them? The Apostle Paul had difficulty contemplating death, actually considering it nakedness—and he by no means wanted to go through the process of dying—but he still recognized the benefit of how in being absent from his body he would be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:3, 8), surely something that is good. And this is no permanent condition, either, otherwise we would not call it the intermediate state.

Why do we have some in the Messianic community today who do not want to be in the presence of Yeshua the Messiah when they die? Is this just because of bad theology and empty rhetoric? Have they just not investigated it thoroughly? Could they be afraid of what lies beyond death, because they are unsure of their salvation? I do not know, as this is an issue that Messianic psychopannychists must work through with the Lord. If they lack the relationship with God that they should have, perhaps death is indeed something that they fear and endless unconsciousness is all they should really want. But we need to have an assurance of salvation, so “with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in [our bodies], whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20, RSV).

At the time of death, the psychopannychist who has made a confession of faith in Yeshua/Jesus, largely looks to sheer blackness and utter unconsciousness. Those who believe a conscious intermediate state look forward to immediately being ushered into the presence of the Savior we love, and in being reunited with many loved ones who also knew Him. We then join the company of saints who eagerly demand for the Lord to press forward in salvation history, and for the resurrection to occur (cf. Revelation 6:10). Do “soul sleep” advocates have the faith that our Creator, if He truly exists, will actually wake them up from their unconscious “sleep”—as in the words of the John Donne poem, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die”?[246] Or, from their presuppositions, is it more likely that a duplicate of these people—which thinks it is them and has a wide degree of their memories—will enter into the Kingdom?

Atheists and agnostics believe that death is the end. In the estimation of my late third cousin Charles L. Allen, from his book God’s Psychiatry, one who is “not sure of God and has no hope of the eternal home…at the close of life’s day, can look forward only to some dark grave and oblivion.”[247] A doctrine of psychopannychy or soul sleep is a close, personal friend to such a God-less worldview, as it prevents people from thinking they really have a connection with the dimension of Heaven, from which the Lord reigns, and which Believers are ultimately citizens of (Philippians 3:20).

The issue of where the Believer goes at time of death ultimately pertains to one’s spiritual motivation. Are human beings one-dimensional creatures solely of Planet Earth? What is inherently wrong with Believers going to Heaven to be with the Lord upon time of death? What is wrong with communing with God? Is there anything evil and repulsive about believing in an intermediate afterlife? Is there something that instinctively drives people away from wanting to meet the Lord? And not to forget the resurrection—how do we concern ourselves with the life after the afterlife, and participating in some of that promised life right now in the mission and actions of the Body of Messiah?

If the Messianic movement is to be molded into a mature force of righteousness, then it is time that we put such elementary issues of faith well behind us (Hebrews 6:1-2), and see psychopannchy vanquished from our midst. If we should die before His return, we should look forward to being welcomed into the Lord’s presence in Heaven. In the meantime, let us live the life of the world to come here on Earth today!


NOTES

[1] In my experience at Asbury Theological Seminary (2005-2008), at least one prominent faculty member, Joel Green, was an open psychopannychist, although this would largely only be known from his various writings. I doubt if many of the average students knew of his position on the intermediate state, and I do know that if some of my friends at seminary knew of this—they would be shocked and horrified.

In my own personal assessment, Green, especially given the various statements he makes in his book Body, Soul, and Human Life, is basically a liberal theologian in evangelical garb.

[2] Consult David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1995), pp 134, 594.

[3] Everett F. Harrison, “soul sleep,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), 492; Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985), pp 447-459.

Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny (Berrien Springs, MI: Biblical Perspectives, 1998), 189 actually considers any kind of dualistic view of human nature to be a “deadly heresy.” Contrary to this, Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, pp 447-459 only considers the views of Bacchiocchi’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church in this regard to be an aberration, and states quite clearly that he does not consider the Adventists to be a cult. I largely concur with Martin’s conclusion,

“The question of soul sleep…should cause no serious division between Christians since it does not affect the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith or the salvation of the soul. It is merely an area of theological debate and has no direct bearing upon any of the great doctrines of the Bible. The ground of fellowship is not the condition of man in death but faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the love He commanded us to have one for another (John 13:34, 35)” (Kingdom of the Cults, 456).

[4] These groups include, but are by no means limited to: the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, various offshoots from the Worldwide Church of God (Armstrongism), and various Sacred Name Only cults.

[5] C.J. Koster. (n.d.). Replacement Theology-Part 2. Qodesh Publishers. Retrieved 04 February, 2009, from <http://www.qodesh.co.za/>.

[6] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 31; see also Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), pp 151, 169.

[7] For a presentation of this point of view, this writer recommends you peruse Marcus J. Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001).

[8] Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1984), 23.

[9] Benjamin D. Sommer, “Isaiah,” in Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 834.

[10] Consult the entry for the Book of Daniel in A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic.

[11] David Rolph Seely, “Resurrection,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 1120.

[12] Consult the entry for the Book of Job in A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic.

[13] George Robinson, Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs, and Rituals (New York: Pocket Books, 2000), 192.

[14] Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, 138 discusses how the doctrine of resurrection may have threatened the relatively aristocratic position of the Sadducees, and how “they thought such beliefs might lead the nation into a clash with Rome…People who believe that their god is about to make a new world, and that those who die in loyalty to him in the meantime will rise again to share gloriously in it, are far more likely to lose respect for a wealthy aristocracy than people who think that this life, this world and this age are the only ones there ever will be.”

[15] Jacob Neusner, trans., The Mishnah: A New Translation (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988), 604.

[16] Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40; John 5:25, 29; 11:25; Acts 2:32-36; Romans 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 20-22, 42-46; et. al.

In a very similar way, Believers in Yeshua have a safety net from the Apostolic Scriptures that Moses was involved with the composition of the Torah (Mark 12:26; Luke 24:27; John 1:45; 5:46; Romans 10:5; 2 Corinthians 3:15), as opposed to some disparate JEDP sources compiled after the Babylonian exile.

[17] Consult the author’s article “You Want to be a Pharisee.”

[18] Flavius Josephus: The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, trans. William Whiston (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), 477.

[19] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. MS Windows XP. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005. CD-ROM.

Cf. “soul,” in Jacob Neusner and William Scott Green, eds. Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 599.

[20] John W. Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 100.

[21] Menahem Mansoor, “Pharisees,” in Encyclopaedia Judaica. MS Windows 9x. Brooklyn: Judaica Multimedia (Israel) Ltd, 1997.

[22] The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 608.

[23] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 40.

[24] The term Paul employs for “unapproachable,” aprositos, is similarly used by Philo in describing Moses’ ascension of Mount Sinai:

“[H]aving gone up into the loftiest and most sacred mountain in that district in accordance with the divine commands, a mountain which was very difficult of access [aprositos] and very hard to ascend” (On the Life of Moses 2.70; The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, trans. C.D. Yonge [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993], 497).

[25] Morey, 23.

[26] Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 11.

[27] Bruce Milne, The Message of Heaven & Hell (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), 67.

[28] The author of Hebrews associates Psalm 8:4-6 with Yeshua the Messiah and His Incarnation (Hebrews 2:6-10), whose ministry and service for the world restores redeemed humanity as second only to God in Creation.

Consult the commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee for a further explanation.

[29] This list of five character traits is taken from Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis, second expanded edition (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 55.

[30] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), pp 49-50.

[31] Bacchiocchi, 30.

[32] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 80.

[33] Morey, pp 37-38.

[34] Cooper, 50.

[35] Isaiah 42:5 concurs, “Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath [neshamah] to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.”

[36] E-Sword 8.0.8: Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. MS Windows 9x. Franklin, TN: Equipping Ministries Foundation, 2008.

[37] Sarna, 17.

[38] Victor P. Hamilton, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 159.

[39] Nosson Scherman. ed., et. al., The ArtScroll Chumash, Stone Edition, 5th ed. (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2000), pp 11-12.

[40] The Torah prescribes capital punishment for those who commit murder (Exodus 21:12), yet the person who is responsible for the death of an animal only has to provide for restitution (Leviticus 24:18).

[41] Robert B. Laurin, “soul,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 492.

[42] William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, the Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988), pp 242-243.

[43] Morey, 44.

[44] Ibid., 47.

[45] The BDAG lexicon offers just as wide a variance of possible definitions for psuchē: “life on earth in its animating aspect making bodily function possible,” “seat and center of the inner human life in its many and varied aspects, soul,” “an entity w. personhood, person” (Frederick William Danker, ed., et. al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], pp 1098-1099).

[46] Morey, 49.

[47] Cf. Isaiah 42:1; Habakkuk 2:4.

[48] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 952.

[49] Cooper, 60.

[50] Another term that may be employed, specifically for the deceased, is neveilah, “carcass, corpse” (BDB, 615).

[51] This is concurrent with a view proposed by Christian philosopher William Hasker, called emergentism, where the human person or “soul” comes forth from an interaction between mind and body, and is not solely material or immaterial.

Cf. William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Downers Grove, IL: 1983), pp 72-76.

[52] Bacchiocchi, 48.

[53] “The Human Constitution Debate,” in Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), pp 97-98.

[54] Consult the useful summary in Cooper, “The Scientific Challenge to Dualism,” pp 22-24.

[55] Richard Swinburne, “The Soul Needs a Brain to Continue to Function,” in Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger, eds., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, second edition (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 459.

[56] It is to be noted in fairness, though, that there are many theologians who believe that humans possess a non-corporeal element, who are theistic evolutionists as well.

[57] Ibid., pp 466, 467.

[58] Mick Pope, “Losing our souls?” in Iscast Bulletin No. 40 Autumn 2003. Accessed 01 March, 2010 from <http://iscast.org.au>.

[59] Hasker, Metaphysics, 80.

[60] Cf. Ibid., 79.

[61] Pope, “Losing our souls?”

[62] Useful studies include J.P. Moreland & Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000); William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1999).

[63] And to the psychopannychists’ credit, solely viewing the human person as being of another dimension is equally degrading to man’s uniqueness.

[64] Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos: The Extra-Dimensionality of God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1996), pp 122, 123.

[65] Bacchiocchi, 16.

[66] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 95.

[67] Ibid., 15.

[68] Animal death, being something independent from human death, would have been a necessity in order for God to prepare Planet Earth for man’s eventual habitation, specifically for the formation of various precious metals, rare jewels, and fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas. This took place during Creation periods or yamim Five and Six, likely beginning around the Cambrian explosion of some 543 million years ago.

Cf. Hugh Ross, Creation as Science: A Testable Model Approach to End the Creation/Evolution Wars (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2006), pp 138-141.

[69] Morey, pp 97-98; cf. 1 John 5:11-12.

[70] Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy (Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2004), 23.

Ross also discusses how geneticists have traced mutations in mtDNA and Y-DNA for the common male and female ancestors of humanity to a distance somewhere between 37,000 and 50,000 years ago (Ibid., pp 224-226; The Genesis Question, pp 107-112).

[71] Information on visiting the cave of Lascaux can be accessed on the French Ministry of Culture website: <http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/lascaux/en/>.

[72] Consult the FAQs on the Messianic Apologetics website “6,000 Year Teaching” and “Genesis 5, 11 Genealogies” for a further explanation.

[73] “NIV prefers to translate she’ôl as ‘grave’…and place the name itself in a footnote, a procedure that is neither helpful nor justifiable” (“Sheol,” in Merrill C. Tenney, ed., The New International Dictionary of the Bible [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987], 932).

[74] Walter J. Harrelson, ed., et. al., New Interpreter’s Study Bible, NRSV (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 2291.

[75] In the estimation of Daniel I. Block, “The Old Testament on Hell,” in Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), pp 50-51,

“The Israelites shared with their ancient Near Eastern neighbors the perception of a universe consisting of three tiers of existence that may be portrayed graphically as follows:

——————————————–

Heaven: The Realm of Deity

——————————————–

Earth: The Realm of the Living

——————————————–

Sheol: The Realm of the Dead

——————————————–

“In death a human being passes from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead.”

[76] Theodore J. Lewis, “Dead, Abode of the,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:103.

[77] D.K. Stuart, “Sheol,” in Geoffrey Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 4:472.

[78] BDB, 868.

[79] BDAG, 654.

[80] Morey, 75.

[81] Nahum M. Sarna, “Genesis,” in David L. Lieber, Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2001), 232.

Also indicated by H.F.W. Gesenius: Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, trans. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 798 as “a subterranean place, full of thick darkness (Job 10:21, 22), in which the shades of the dead are gathered together.”

[82] “[A] netherworld where the dead live an ethereal, shadowy existence. A vast region location deep beneath the earth, She’ol was enclosed with gates and a place of eternal silence” (Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004], 114).

[83] Milne, 27.

[84] Morey, 79.

[85] Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 1-50 (Dallas: Word Books, 1983), Prolepsis database.

[86] Bacchiocchi, 159.

[87] Ibid., 160.

[88] Heb. beriah.

[89] See Morey, pp 76-77, for his full twenty reasons on substantiating why the Hebrew Sheol cannot mean “the grave,” but an actual netherworld.

[90] Ibid., 76.

[91] Cooper, 64.

[92] Ibid., 41.

[93] Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 305.

[94] Victor P. Hamilton, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 537.

[95] The term necromancer is derived from the Greek nekros, meaning “dead.”

[96] Charles A. Kennedy, “Dead, Cult of the,” in ABD, 2:106.

[97] Ibid., 2:107.

[98] Ibid., 2:106.

[99] Cooper, 64.

[100] Philip J. Budd, Word Biblical Commentary: Numbers, Vol 5 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984), 188; cf. Timothy R. Ashley, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Numbers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 318.

[101] Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, pp 93-94.

[102] Cooper, 65.

[103] The TNIV tries to correct some of the mistakes of the NIV, by rendering Isaiah 14:9 with “the realm of the dead,” where Sheol appears, but still renders Sheol as “grave” in Isaiah 14:11.

[104] Sheol is rendered as “nether-world” in I.W. Slotki, Soncino Books of the Bible: Isaiah (London: Soncino Press, 1983), 68, a Jewish commentary.

[105] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 144.

[106] Heb. verb shalakh; appearing in the Hifil stem (causual action, active voice), meaning either “throw down” or “throw away” (CHALOT, 372).

[107] “sepulchre” (RSV); “grave” (ESV/NRSV).

[108] John D.W. Watts, Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 1-33, Vol 24 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985), 211.

[109] The condition of the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:9-11, 18-20 is no different than the later condition of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). With the defeat of the Third Reich imminent, the customary view is that Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide and were hastily burned so that his corpse would not be put on display in a museum by the Soviets like was done with Vladimir Lenin. To this day, the man who almost conquered Europe has no honorable burial place. Furthermore, various figures who served alongside him, like Heinrich Himmler, were given unmarked graves (surely fitting of those who tried to implement the extermination of the Jewish people!).

[110] Motyer, Isaiah, 145.

[111] Morey, 76.

[112] Cooper, pp 63-64.

[113] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2001), 1:898.

[114] Leslie C. Allen, Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150, Vol 21 (Dallas: Word Books, 2002), Prolepsis database.

[115] BDB, 729.

[116] CHALOT, 267.

A further definition of od is offered by Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, eds., Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003), 811,

“It indicates repetition and/or continuance of something. It expresses the fact that something continues to happen.”

[117] As recognized by various historical commentators (John Gill, Adam Clarke).

[118] Even those who hold to traditional, Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes, are largely aware that it has some issues. In Martin’s estimation, “It is almost universally agreed among Biblical scholars that Ecclesiastes portrays Solomon’s apostasy and is therefore questionable for determining doctrine” (Kingdom of the Cults, 454).

[119] Tremper Longman III, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Ecclesiastes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), pp 26, 273.

[120] Neusner, Mishnah, 653.

[121] For a further discussion, consult T. Longman III, “Ecclesiastes 3: History of Interpretation,” in Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), pp 140-149.

[122] The clause tachat ha’shemesh appears throughout the Book of Ecclesiastes, forcing any responsible reader to see that Qohelet’s vantage point is life as experienced on Earth: Ecclesiastes 1:3, 9, 14; 2:11, 17ff, 22; 3:16; 4:1, 3, 7, 15; 5:12, 17; 6:1, 12; 8:9, 15, 17; 9:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 10:5.

[123] For a further discussion, consult the entry for the Book of Ecclesiastes in A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic, and the article “The Message of Ecclesiastes” by J.K. McKee.

[124] Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), pp 149, 185.

[125] Stephanie Dalley, trans., Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1989), 155.

[126] E.A. Wallis Budge, trans., Egyptian Book of the Dead (London: Penguin Books, 2008), 29.

Note the illustration of the weighing of the heart on pp 31-32.

[127] Morey, 67.

[128] John N. Oswalt, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 318 fn#15.

Also Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 83 fn#12:

“Belief in an underworld of some form was almost universal in the ancient Near East. While the Old Testament shares this belief to some extent, it does not endorse pagan ideals about it (e.g. that it is ruled by a god or gods of the underworld). If such a realm exists, it too is ruled by the Lord.”

[129] Homer: The Odyssey, trans. Richmond Lattimore (New York: HarperCollins, 1975), pp 168-184.

[130] Paul Beasley-Murray, The Meaning of the Resurrection (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 163.

[131] R.V. Vunderink, “Epicureans,” in ISBE, 2:121.

[132] J.C. Thom, “Stoicism,” in Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, eds., Dictionary of New Testament Background (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 1140.

[133] F.W. Beare, “Stoics,” in George Buttrick, ed. et. al., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), 4:444.

[134] Thomas Schmeller, “Stoics, Stoicism,” in ABD, 6:211.

[135] Plato: Gorgias, trans., James H. Nichols, Jr. (Ithaca and London: Cornell University, 1998), 125.

[136] Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, 49.

[137] Plato: The Last Days of Socrates, trans., Hugh Tredennick and Harold Tarrant (London: Penguin Books, 1993), pp 120-121.

[138] Ralph P. Martin, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Corinthians, Vol 40 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1986), 105.

[139] The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 607.

[140] Marc Cortez, “Book Review of Body, Soul, and Human Life by Joel B. Green” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Vol. 52 No. 4 (2009):877.

[141] Cooper, 95.

[142] P.S. Johnston, “Burial and Mourning,” in T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 105; B.R. McCane, “Burial Practices, Jews,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, 175.

[143] J.K. Chamblin, “Psychology,” in Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), pp 767, 768.

[144] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 27.

[145] H.G. Liddell, and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 565.

[146] BDAG, 717.

[147] The NIV notably renders Matthew 17:9 with “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen,” although “the sight” might be a better translation of horama.

[148] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary.

Cf. “soul,” in Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, 599.

[149] Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, 426.

[150] The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 813.

[151] Bacchiocchi, 175.

[152] D.W. Baker, “Source Criticism,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, 800.

[153] For a further discussion, consult the author’s article “Encountering Mythology: A Case Study from the Flood Narratives.”

[154] Consult the entry for the Book of Exodus in A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic.

[155] For a further examination of Lazarus and the rich man, consult Morey, pp 83-86.

Also consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Luke 16:19-31.”

[156] Wright, Surprised by Hope, pp 150-151.

Note how I have replaced Wright’s reference to “Good Friday” with “the same day as his crucifixion.”

[157] “paradise,” in Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, 469.

[158] The ISR Scriptures (1998), which is used in some sectors of today’s Messianic community, also moves the comma in Luke 23:43: “Truly, I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

[159] BDAG, 921.

[160] E. Fuchs, “sēmeron,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abrid. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 1025.

[161] BibleWorks 7.0: Louw-Nida Lexicon. MS Windows XP. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC, 2006. CD-ROM.

[162] Richmond Lattimore, trans., The New Testament (New York: North Point Press, 1996), 188.

[163] Cooper, 140.

[164] “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today [sēmeron],’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

[165] Colin G. Kruse, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 110.

[166] H. Köster, “tópos,” in TDNT, 1184.

[167] LS, 518.

[168] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 41.

[169] Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, 446.

[170] Grk. paralambanō.

[171] 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

[172] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Prayer Covering in Heaven.”

[173] The verb theōreō is used in Acts 7:56, meaning “to observe someth. with sustained attention” (BDAG, 454).

[174] Ibid., 221.

[175] Morey, 208.

[176] Cf. Psalm 110:1; Daniel 7:13.

[177] The only other legitimate way to view this passage is to claim that it supports an instantaneous resurrection, where upon going to Heaven the Believer is immediately given his or her new body, although with no period of unconsciousness occurring.

[178] BDAG, 16.

[179] Heb. kol-qedoshim; the same terminology is used in the Pentateuch to describe God’s people:

“Indeed, He loves the people; all Your holy ones [kol-qedoshayv] are in Your hand, and they followed in Your steps; everyone receives of Your words” (Deuteronomy 33:3).

It should probably also not escape our notice that God’s people are also described as His “hosts”:

“And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the LORD [kol-tziv’ot ADONAI] went out from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:41).

[180] D.R. de Lacy, “Holiness Sanctification,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 397.

[181] Mark 8:38; Matthew 25:31; Luke 9:26.

[182] BDAG, 361.

[183] LS, 237.

[184] The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, 647.

[185] J.A. Motyer, After Death: What Happens When You Die? (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1996), 110.

[186] BDAG, 332.

[187] LS, 260.

[188] Colin Kruse, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 117.

[189] 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 is one of the most difficult passages that psychopannychists have to deal with, as being “out of the body” does not at all imply an unconscious period between death and the resurrection.

Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “2 Corinthians 5:8” for a further explanation.

[190] LS, 58.

[191] Lattimore, The New Testament, 427.

[192] LS, 229.

[193] Gordon D. Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 149.

[194] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 6.

[195] Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, pp 226-227.

[196] It is far more Biblical and proper to speak of Believers who have died in the faith of being “with the Lord,” rather than “going to Heaven” even though the Lord is surely in Heaven.

[197] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Philippians 1:23.”

[198] William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Vol. 46 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 578.

[199] BDAG, 602.

[200] The topic of eternal punishment is discussed more fully in the succeeding volume, Why Hell Must Be Eternal.

[201] Morey, pp 212-213.

[202] Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Hebrews, James and Jude (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 343.

[203] For a further discussion, consult the author’s commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic.

[204] Cf. Wright, Resurrection of the Son of God, .467.

[205] Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, eds., Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 26.

[206] Morey, 214.

[207] BDAG, 543.

[208] Many who believe in a disembodied afterlife notably interpret this passage from a different view. Another common interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20, sees Yeshua “preaching” through Noah at the time of his building the ark, via the Holy Spirit, following some of the views of John Calvin regarding this passage.

Cf. Wayne Grudem, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), pp 157-161.

[209] LS, 98.

[210] Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 325.

[211] BDAG, 350.

[212] The early testimony of 1 Clement 5:4 was, in fact, “Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him” (Roberts and Donaldson, 6).

[213] Morey, pp 214-215.

[214] Milne, 175.

[215] “Hades [Sheol]…was the place for the disembodied spirits of the unrighteous and the righteous separated from the body at death up to the time of Christ’s resurrection. Even the Lord’s ‘soul’ went there (Acts 2:27,31). Consequent to Christ’s resurrection, believers go to be with Christ (II Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23)” (Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, NASB [Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1994], 1379).

[216] “Descent into Hades,” in David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), pp 205-207; Everett F. Harrison, “Descent Into Hell,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 164.

[217] The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 813.

[218] BDB, 542.

[219] Cf. Pheme Perkins, “The Letter to the Ephesians,” in Leander E. Keck, ed., et. al., New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 11 (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), 421; Andrew T. Lincoln, Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians, Vol. 42 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990), 243.

[220] LS, 24.

[221] Morey, 76.

[222] New English Bible with the Apocrypha (Oxford and Cambridge: Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, 1970), 248 fn a.

[223] Sarna, in Etz Hayim, 232; cf. Jim West, “Sheol,” in EDB, pp 1206-1207.

[224] This section includes embedded quotations from the author’s commentary Ephesians for the Practical Messianic.

[225] Morey, 86.

In his book King of the Jews (Littleton, CO: First Fruits of Zion, 2006), pp 122-124, D. Thomas Lancaster considers the doctrine of the harrowing of Hell to be a relatively late invention in Christian theology, largely derived from Dante Alighieri’s Fourteenth Century fictional work The Divine Comedy. He insists, “It is astonishing how this old church mythology has survived in modern Protestant circles” (p 123), but he expels no time in investigating or interpreting the relevant Scripture passages (Luke 16:22-24; 23:43; 1 Peter 3:19-20; Ephesians 4:7-10; Romans 10:7) used in the late First and early Second Centuries C.E. to derive this doctrine.

To his credit here, though, Lancaster does not present himself as a psychopannychist. He affirms that Yeshua’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man depicts a real place where the consciousnesses of the deceased are transported at death. But rather than going to Heaven into the Lord’s presence today, Lancaster seems to believe that the righteous dead still go to Abraham’s bosom in Sheol (p 129).

[226] Lew White, Fossilized Customs (Louisville, KY: Strawberry Islands, 2001), 41.

[227] Consult the author’s article “Is the Story of Yeshua Pagan?

[228] For a discussion of this, consult the author’s article “Addressing the Frequently Avoided Issues Messianics Encounter in the Torah.”

[229] Cf. Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, pp 326-328.

[230] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary.

[231] N. Burwash, ed., Wesley’s Doctrinal Standards Part I: The Sermons, with Introductions, Analysis, and Notes (Salem, OH: Schmul Publishing, 1988), 462.

[232] White, 41.

[233] C.J. Koster. (n.d.). We need to be born again! Qodesh Publishers. Retrieved 23 February, 2009, from <http://www.qodesh.co.za/>.

[234] Bacchiocchi, 251.

[235] B.M. Metzger, trans., “The Fourth Book of Ezra,” in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 542.

[236] D.E. Aune, “Apocalypticism,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 31.

[237] Bacchiocchi, 34.

[238] I do find it ironic that many of the psychopannychists I have encountered, who think that those who believe in an intermediate afterlife in Heaven are not concerned with physical health, are often some of the most unhealthy and obese people that I have ever met.

[239] Milne, pp 168-169.

[240] Wright, Surprised by Hope, pp 151, 169.

[241] Ibid., 197.

[242] Ibid., pp 191-192.

[243] Ibid., 119.

[244] The first most important spiritual experience in my life is detailed in the succeeding volume, Why Hell Must Be Eternal.

[245] The entire text of this sermon has been reproduced on the Messianic Apologetics website <www.messianicapologetics.net>.

[246] “John Donne on the Resurrection,” in Alister E. McGrath, ed., The Christian Theology Reader, second edition (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001), 625.

[247] Charles L. Allen, God’s Psychiatry (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1953), 37.

About J.K. McKee 815 Articles
J.K. McKee (B.A., University of Oklahoma; M.A., Asbury Theological Seminary) is the editor of Messianic Apologetics (www.messianicapologetics.net), a division of Outreach Israel Ministries (www.outreachisrael.net). He is a 2009 recipient of the Zondervan Biblical Languages Award for Greek. He is author of numerous books and commentaries, dealing with a wide range of topics that are important for today’s Messianic Believers.

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