dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label afterlife. Show all posts
Showing posts with label afterlife. Show all posts

Sunday, 28 June 2020

The Rich Man and Lazarus, Reversals of Fortune, and the Eternal Banquet

100-Word Summary

The afterlife scene in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is much debated. Is it merely incidental to the story, or a description of what the afterlife is really like, or not like? To answer these questions, this article examines how the scene squares with the rest of the Gospel of Luke. The finding is that the parable's afterlife scene is very much at home in Luke, both in its use of a reversal of fortunes motif and in its implicit reference to an eschatological banquet. Thus the scene does form part of Luke's eschatological teaching.

A Much-Debated Afterlife Scene

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-31 (hover to read),1 is one of the most fascinating, but also most disputed, parables of Jesus in the canonical Gospels. The story depicts a scene from the afterlife, and there are three main views on what the story teaches about the afterlife. The first view is that the story conveys an accurate idea of what happens after death. The second view is that the story's message is entirely a moral one, about the use of money and obedience to God's Word; the afterlife scene is just a setting for this message. Thus, the parable teaches nothing about life after death, just as the Parable of the Sower teaches nothing about agriculture. The third view is that the parable parodies popular ideas about the afterlife from Jesus' day and is thus intended to subvert belief in the kind of afterlife depicted in the story. Observe that these three interpretations are as different as they could possibly be! Jesus is either telling us what the afterlife is like, or what it is not like, or is telling us nothing about the afterlife. We will refer to these three interpretations of the parable's afterlife scene as the face value view, the parody view, and the incidental view, respectively.

Before trying to decide between these three alternatives, a couple of preliminary observations. (i) The parody view must shoulder the heaviest burden of proof. Luke certainly does not say that the afterlife story is a parody, intended to subvert popular ideas. At least on the surface, the story makes sense when taken at face value. Occam's Razor dictates that this simplest solution is most likely the right one. The parody interpretation is the most complicated, requiring us to see a subtle irony in Luke's construction that has escaped most readers, ancient and modern. In my estimation, the evidence advanced in support of the parody view is very flimsy indeed.2 (ii) The parody view is antithetical to both of the other two views, whereas the first two views lie on a continuum. Obviously the face value view and the parody view contradict each other. The parody view also contradicts the incidental view, because it is implausible that the parable's primary purpose is to convey a moral message about the use of wealth and obedience to the law and prophets, and yet at the same time to use subtle irony to subvert certain ideas about the nature of the afterlife. By contrast, the face value view and the incidental view are not contradictory. If present moral obligations have eternal consequences, then there is a fundamental consistency between a moral message and an afterlife scene. The difference is mainly a matter of emphasis.3

How then are we to judge between the three interpretations? The answer lies in content and context. Historical context is important: an understanding of ancient Jewish ideas about the afterlife would enable us to receive the parable's afterlife imagery as its original hearers and readers would have received it. As I have written previously, Outi Lehtipuu has done a lot of this historical legwork for us in her book, The Afterlife Imagery in Luke’s Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. After a thorough survey of Second Temple Jewish literature, Lehtipuu concludes that Jesus' "description of the otherworldly conditions is believable according to the parameters of his cultural world."4 In this article, however, I want to consider another level of context: the Lukan literary context. If it can be shown that the afterlife scene in this parable is consistent with wider Lukan teaching, the logical conclusion will be that Luke wants his readers to take the parable's afterlife imagery seriously. There are two major themes or motifs from the Gospel of Luke that are reflected in the afterlife scene in this parable. One is the reversal of fortunes motif and the other is the eschatological5 banquet or eternal banquet motif.

Reversal of Fortunes in the Gospel of Luke

A major theme in Luke is that of reversal of fortunes.6 People's fates in this life will be reversed in the next. Perhaps the most succinct statements of this idea are in Luke 13:30 ("For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last") and Luke 17:33 ("Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it"; cf. 9:24). However, the classic Lukan statement of the reversal of fortunes is found in Luke 6:20-26, the Lukan version of the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Plain:
20 And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. 21 Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. 24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
This passage differs from the more famous Matthaean Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) in three significant ways. First, and most obviously, Matthew's text has only beatitudes (blessings), whereas Luke's also has woes that are the exact opposite of the corresponding beatitudes. Second, Luke's criteria for blessedness are physical (e.g., poor, hungry), while Matthew overtly spiritualises the criteria (e.g., poor in spirit, hunger and thirst for righteousness). Third, in Luke's case the relationship between the present state and future result is primarily that of reversal: the hungry will be filled (and vice versa), the weeping will laugh (and vice versa); in Matthew the reversal pattern is less obvious.7 Thus, a distinctive feature of Luke's moral and eschatological teaching is that those who enjoy the good life now will later have their fortunes reversed, and vice versa.8 If you read through the Gospel of Luke you will find numerous examples of this motif;9 but nowhere is it put more vividly on display than in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

The rich man is the quintessential addressee of the Four Woes of Luke 6:24-26. He was rich, wore expensive clothing, and "dined sumptuously every day." This statement implies the other three attributes: the rich man is "filled," "laughs," and "all speak well of him." Here I would refer the reader to my previous article which gave background on dining in the Roman world. The Roman banquet was indeed an opulent affair, as firsthand accounts such as those of Horace and Plutarch illustrate. There was course after course of fine food, wine aplenty, laughter and entertainment. The host was honoured and flattered by his guests and could expect an invitation to the next fine banquet (cf. Luke 14:12). The parable implies that the rich man moved in a social circle where he hosted or was hosted at such banquets daily. In the afterlife, however, the reversal of his fortune is complete. He who had it all has lost it all. His sensual pleasure has been traded for fiery torment, and he who banqueted daily now pleads, unsuccessfully, for a single drop of water!

Lazarus is, by contrast, the quintessential addressee of the Four Beatitudes of Luke 6:20-23. He is poor, lying homeless at the rich man's door. He is hungry, longing to eat scraps from the rich man's table (like a dog; cf. Matt. 15:26-27). He is despised and excluded; the only attention he gets is from dogs (an unclean animal) that come and lick his sores. It goes without saying that he is miserable to the point of weeping. Yet, when he dies, he is carried by angels to Abraham's bosom (the meaning of this expression will be discussed below). Luke has Abraham explicitly justify the afterlife situation of the two men in terms of a reversal of fortunes: "My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented" (Luke 16:25). It is evident, then, that the afterlife scene in this parable is a vivid illustration of the reversal of fortunes principle described in Luke 6:20-26. The afterlife scene thus accurately reflects Lukan ideas about individual eschatology; consequently it cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the parable's meaning, much less viewed as an afterlife concept that Luke seeks to discredit.

The Eternal Banquet in the Gospel of Luke

All four canonical Gospels show interest in banquets and dining—both in the narratives and in the teachings of Jesus—but above all Luke. Jesus is a frequent guest at banquets in Luke. Levi the tax collector throws him a "great banquet" (Luke 5:29-30). He is invited to dine with a Pharisee named Simon (7:37-50), and later with another unnamed Pharisee (11:37-54), and still later with yet another (14:1-24). In the Roman world, as today, dining was not just about the food, but the socialising. To share table fellowship with someone was understood as accepting them socially; hence the offence Jesus caused by dining with tax collectors (Luke 5:29-32). As discussed in the previous article, the dining room setup was not of sitting in chairs around a large table, but reclining on three couches (a triclinium) around a small table.10 Strict rules of social hierarchy determined the reclining positions on the couches, with positions near the host being the most coveted. This social dynamic is often apparent in Luke. At the Sabbath-day banquet of Luke 14:1-24, Jesus notices how the other guests "were choosing the places of honour" and uses this as the occasion for a parable about humility (one that reflects the reversal of fortunes motif; Luke 14:7-11). Jesus' denunciation of the scribes mentions their love of places of honour at banquets (Luke 20:46). At the Passover meal (Last Supper) of Luke 22, an argument about social precedence breaks out among the apostles, which Jesus again uses as a teaching moment (Luke 22:24-27).

A banquet is one of the most prominent images used in Luke to describe the afterlife rewards of the blessed. The image comes up in parables, such as that of Luke 12:36-37 (which depicts a master waiting tables on his slaves—a stunning reversal of social custom), 14:16-23 (the Parable of the Great Feast), 15:1-31 (the Parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost Son).11 It is also present in more literal sayings, such as Luke 13:28-29,12 Luke 14:12-15,13 and Luke 22:16, 18, 30.14 Finally, anticipations of the eternal banquet can also be seen in Jesus' remarks about his eating and drinking as bridegroom (Luke 5:34; 7:34), in the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:11-17), in the Last Supper (particularly the institution of the Eucharist, Luke 22:14-20; cf. 24:30-35).

What does all of the above have to do with the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus? The answer is that we should probably see in the phrase "the bosom of Abraham" (to which Lazarus is carried by angels) an allusion to the place of honour at the eternal banquet. Because of the way diners reclined diagonally on the triclinium couches, the head of the person to one's right was adjacent to one's chest, and so that person could be said to be "in his bosom" (en tois kolpois autou).15 The same expression is used to describe the position of the Beloved Disciple relative to Jesus at the Last Supper in John 13:23-25. Notice also that Luke has earlier described the kingdom of God in terms of a banquet where people recline at table in the presence of Abraham, within sight of those who previously banqueted but are now excluded (13:28-29).16  Moreover, in view of the reversal of fortunes motif, Lazarus being escorted by angels to the place of honour at the eternal banquet is a fitting reversal of his earlier predicament of lying among dogs longing for table scraps.

A possible objection is that the rich man sees Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom; how could he see inside a dining room from a great distance? A plausible answer is that the eternal banquet takes place outdoors. Dunbabin notes that first-century stone triclinia and tables are preserved in Pompeii in gardens and in half-enclosed rooms.17 In this respect it is noteworthy that Luke elsewhere describes the setting of the eschatological kingdom as "Paradise," a word meaning garden (Luke 23:43).18 Biblical scholars have probably been correct, therefore, in regarding the phrase "in the bosom of Abraham" in Luke 16:22, 24 as a reference to a place of honour at the eternal banquet.19


In this article, we have sought to situate the afterlife scene in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in relation to wider Lukan ideas about people's ultimate destiny. We have seen that in two important respects, the parable's afterlife scene exemplifies Luke's eschatology. First, this scene is the Gospel's most vivid depiction of the prominent reversal of fortunes principle described in Luke 6:20-26. Second, the scene depicts Lazarus' reward in terms of a place of honour at a banquet hosted by Abraham, which the excluded rich man watches from afar. This places the scene in continuity with the banquet image that dominates this Gospel's concept of what the consummated kingdom of God will be like. The parallel between Luke 16:22-24 and 13:24-30 is particularly striking.

Given the cohesion between the parable's afterlife scene and wider Lukan eschatology, it is implausible to regard the afterlife scene as irrelevant to the meaning of the parable as intended by Luke. Yes, the parable's primary purpose is to warn of the dangers of wealth and the culpability of those who have the law and the prophets, but the afterlife consequences are an essential part of that warning. It is still less plausible to regard Luke as trying to subvert the afterlife concept used in the story. Is the parable providing us with a literal snapshot of exactly what the afterlife will be like? No. All biblical language about the transcendent only gestures toward what is admittedly beyond our ability to comprehend.20 However, the afterlife scene in the parable, including its indication that personal existence continues after death,21 is an indispensable part of divine revelation concerning "the last things." It is not an outlier that can be set aside.

  • 1 19 “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. 20 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. 22 When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ 25 Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. 26 Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ 27 He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’” (NABRE)
  • 2 The most common argument concerns the rich man's request that Lazarus be sent to dip his finger in water and cool his tongue due to his fiery torment. This detail is said to be absurd, since the amount of water that can be borne on a fingertip could never cool the tongue of one who is tormented by fire. However, the description is not intended to render the story ridiculous; it is hyperbole, emphasising the extent of the rich man's predicament in that even such a meagre request is denied. This ties in with the Lukan reversal of fortunes motif to be discussed below.
  • 3 Hence, in my previous article on this parable, I referred to four views, the fourth being essentially a compromise between the face value and incidental views: the parable does teach about the fate of the wicked, but its afterlife scene cannot be pressed too far as a precise, literal description of that fate.
  • 4 The Afterlife Imagery in Luke’s Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 299. My previous article on this parable refers to other academic literature representing various viewpoints on the parable's interpretation.
  • 5 The word "eschatology" comes from the Greek word eschatos, meaning "last," and is a technical term for Christian doctrine pertaining to the last things, including the afterlife.
  • 6 This theme also occurs in Matthew and Mark, too, but our focus here is on Luke since it is only Luke who gives us the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
  • 7 Matthew does have some reversal, e.g., those that mourn will be comforted.
  • 8 Luke's negative view of wealth is, it must be noted, more nuanced than simply condemning the rich per se. For instance, the message of the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21) is "to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions," and that a bad end awaits "the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God." Similarly, after recounting the story of the rich young man who declined to sell his possessions and follow Jesus (Luke 18:18-23), Luke records Jesus' saying, "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:25). This elicits the audience's question, "Then who can be saved?" to which Jesus responds, "What is impossible for humans is possible for God." Thus, Luke does not write off the rich, but he does make it clear that their standing before God is precarious.
  • 9 The earliest instance in the Gospel occurs in Mary's Magnificat prayer in Luke 1:53: "The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty."
  • 10 Luke never explicitly mentions triclinia or dining couches (Mark probably does, in 7:4), but this dining setting and style is implied by the use of verbs meaning "to recline," such as anakeimai (Luke 22:27), katakeimai (Luke 5:29; 7:37), anapiptō (Luke 11:37; 14:10; 17:7; 22:14), anaklinō (Luke 12:37; 13:29), and kataklinō (Luke 7:36; 9:14-15; 14:8; 24:30). The last two words verbalise the word klinē, meaning "couch" or "bed."
  • 11 The first two parables end with the finder calling together friends and neighbours to rejoice with her/him, a probable reference to a banquet; the third explicitly results in the father declaring, "Let us celebrate with a feast".
  • 12 "And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God."
  • 13 "Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”" The implication here is that you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous by being invited into the eternal banquet. One of the guests correctly makes this inference and says, "Blessed is the one who will dine in the kingdom of God" (v. 15).
  • 14 "for, I tell you, I shall not eat it [again] until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God... for I tell you [that] from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes... I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
  • 15 This expression is used in the Septuagint more generically of any intimate embrace, such as that between a husband and wife (Gen. 16:5; Deut. 13:7(13:6), 28:54, 28:56, 2 Kgdms 12:8, Sir. 9:1), or between a parent and child (Ruth 4:16; 3 Kgdms 3:20, 17:19; cf. 2 Kgdms 12:3). The expression is used in this latter sense to describe the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son in John 1:18. Since Abraham is a patriarchal figure and is explicitly addressed as "Father Abraham" by the rich man in the parable (Luke 16:24, 27, 30), it is possible that "in Abraham's bosom" has this sense of parent/child intimacy. However, this does not conflict with the notion that Lazarus is in this intimate position next to Abraham at the eternal banquet.
  • 16 This passage is itself a good example of the reversal of fortunes motif, since it envisions people who have previously dined with the Lord (and thus consider themselves entitled to a place at the eternal banquet) thrown out into a place of "wailing" while others enter into the banquet. The pericope ends with the reversal saying par excellence, "For, behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
  • 17 Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, The Roman Banquet: Images of Conviviality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 38.
  • 18 We should probably see in this an allusion to the Garden of Eden; cf. Rev. 2:7.
  • 19 "Lazarus, who hungered in earthly life, now rests on 'Abraham's bosom' in the afterlife. Clearly this is a reference to a banquet scene in which the banqueters recline and thus rest on the bosom of the diner to their left. Lazarus is said to be on the bosom of Abraham in order to indicate that he is to the right of the host, Abraham, and therefore in a position of honor. The image is that of a sumptuous banquet, a potent image for the joys of heaven. The rich man, meanwhile, in a true reversal of situations, begs for a single drop of water" (Dennis E. Smith, "Table Fellowship as a Literary Motif in the Gospel of Luke," Journal of Biblical Literature 106 [1987]: 625-26). Similarly, "[B]eing in Abraham’s bosom should be taken as a metaphor that plays a key role in the composition of Luke 16:19-31. In this parable an opposition is evident between two banquets: the earthly banquet, at which the inhospitable rich man feasts and there is no place for Lazarus, and the heavenly banquet hosted by Abraham, who is known from the Genesis narrative for his hospitality, where Lazarus is granted the most honored position. The metaphor being in Abraham’s bosom includes both the components 'place of honor' and 'banquet.' This makes the structure of the parable symmetrical and the reversal of the fates of the rich man and Lazarus more noticeable." (Alexey Somov and Vitaly Voinov, "'Abraham's Bosom' (Luke 16:22-23) as a Key Metaphor in the Overall Composition of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 79 [2017]: 633).
  • 20 Paul stresses that no eye has seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9) and that "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror" (1 Cor. 13:12).
  • 21 This idea is also implicit elsewhere in Luke-Acts, such as in Luke 23:43 and Acts 7:59 (of reward after death) and Luke 12:4-5 and Acts 1:25 (of punishment after death).

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Review of 'Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife' by Bart D. Ehrman

I learned recently through social media of Bart Ehrman's essay in Time Magazine entitled What Jesus Really Said About Heaven and Hell. The provocative headline and claims within had the intended effect: they induced me to buy Ehrman's new book (on which the Time essay is based), Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. For readers unfamiliar with Ehrman, he is one of the world's leading New Testament scholars, specialising in textual criticism (efforts to reconstruct the original Greek text using analytical methods). He is also a former Evangelical Christian who is now an agnostic, and through his many popular-level books (and some public debates with leading Christian scholars), has emerged as a leading spokesperson for contemporary post-Christian critics of the historical and theological claims of classical Christianity.

Ehrman has had several previous bestsellers, such as Misquoting Jesus and How Jesus Became God, and in all likelihood Heaven and Hell will follow suit. The book follows a template similar to his previous works: it makes a few provocative and controversial claims, but in fact about 80% of the content represents an introduction some area of biblical and historical scholarship. That is, Ehrman expends most of his ink not defending his headline-grabbing theses, but describing uncontroversial findings of modern scholarship. Thus, Misquoting Jesus is an introduction to textual criticism, How Jesus Became God to historical Christology, and Heaven and Hell to historical 'individual eschatology'—beliefs about the afterlife. Ehrman's writing style is accessible, engaging, and cheeky. He manages simultaneously to entertain and inform the reader, which is probably what has made him so successful in writing popular books.

With that said, I can recommend at least 80% of the content of Heaven and Hell, apart from a few attempts at humour that overstep my threshold of good taste. My opinion of the other 20%, in which Ehrman defends his own controversial interpretations of the biblical and historical record, requires more nuance.

Overview of the Book

Heaven and Hell's most distinctive thesis is that belief in a literal heaven and hell—places of reward and punishment to which people go after death—does 'not go back to the earliest stages of Christianity'; 'cannot be found in the Old Testament and they are not what Jesus himself taught' (p. 14). These ideas, so central to classical and contemporary Christian theology, are post-Jesus innovations.

The book consists of fourteen chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the reader to some of the more fanciful descriptions of the afterlife in early non-canonical Christian literature. Having seen in these works the seeds of 'belief in a literal heaven and hell' as espoused by most contemporary Christians, Ehrman proposes to go back and see where these ideas came from. He thus embarks on a journey through the ancient history of ideas about death and afterlife. Chapter 2 takes us all the way back to the Ancient Near East (the Epic of Gilgamesh). Chapters 3 and 4 look at Greek thought from Homer down into the Christian era. Chapters 5 and 6 consider the Hebrew Bible. Chapter 7 summarises developments in Jewish thought between the Hebrew Bible and the time of Jesus. Chapter 8 looks at the beliefs of historical Jesus, insofar as they can be reconstructed (primarily from Mark and Matthew). Chapter 9 looks at Paul the Apostle, and chapter 10 delves into the later Gospels (Luke, John, and certain noncanonical gospels), which he regards as preserving post-Jesus Christian developments. Chapter 11 analyses the Book of Revelation, and chapters 12 to 14 study Christian beliefs about the afterlife in the patristic period, up to the time of Augustine (early fifth century C.E.) My appraisal below will focus largely on the biblical literature, i.e. on chapters 5 to 10.

Appraisal of Ehrman's Historical Claims

Hebrew Bible

I found Ehrman's treatment of the Hebrew Bible to be both satisfactory and uncontroversial. With most modern scholars, he maintains that the Hebrew Bible does not, for the most part—on a purely historical reading as opposed to Christian theological interpretation—witness to any belief in an afterlife. He thinks that Sheol in the Hebrew Bible is largely synonymous with the grave, denoting 'a complete diminution of life, to the point of virtual nonexistence' (p. 80). Death marks the end of all that can be called life, with a few curious exceptions such as Samuel (recalled by the witch of Endor), Enoch, and Elijah. The Hebrew prophets, in oracles such as Isaiah 26 and Ezekiel 37, use language of resurrection to metaphorically predict a restoration of Israel's national fortunes. Such language eventually inspired the notion of individual resurrection to eternal life, an idea attested in the Hebrew Bible only in the Book of Daniel (the last book of the Hebrew Bible in terms of date of composition).

Subsequent Jewish Literature

Ehrman describes subsequent developments in early Jewish thought as attested in other literature from the Second Temple period. He notes that some texts witness to belief in rewards and punishment immediately after death, others witness to belief in resurrection at the end of time, and sometimes both ideas occur together in the same text. He correctly notes the diversity of Second Temple Jewish ideas, though of course he cannot do justice to the topic in a short chapter.1

What is odd about Ehrman's description of these texts is that it contradicts his own central thesis that belief in a literal heaven and hell does 'not go back to the earliest stages of Christianity.' For instance, writing about 1 Enoch 22 (from the Book of the Watchers), Ehrman describes how 'the souls of those who have died are held until the Day of Judgment' in different hollows within a high mountain (p. 102). One hollow holds the righteous as they await the resurrection. A second 'holds the souls of sinners who did not receive their punishments on earth; these are being tormented in their temporary dwelling place in anticipation of the Day of Judgment, when they will be assigned to eternal torment.' This sounds a lot like later Christian ideas, as Ehrman acknowledges: 'In comparison with later texts such as the Christian Apocalypse of Peter, these destinies are rather vague and lacking in graphic specificity. But the basic ideas are here' (p. 103, emphasis mine). If Ehrman recognises that the Book of the Watchers—which predates Christianity by two centuries or more—contains the basic ideas of postmortem rewards and punishments and eternal torment that the terms 'heaven' and 'hell' convey, how can he maintain the thesis that these ideas do not 'go back to' earliest Christianity?2

The Historical Jesus 

As is fitting for a historical study, Ehrman is interested in the historical Jesus as opposed to the canonical Jesus. He reconstructs the beliefs of Jesus from that subset of Gospel sayings that, by standard critical methods, he considers to be historically reliable. For him, this largely entails using sayings from Mark and Matthew, and not from Luke and John. There are relatively few sayings that he discusses even from Mark and Matthew,3 but from those he does discuss, he paints the following picture:
Jesus did not teach that when a person died they would go to heaven or hell. He taught that the Day of Judgment was soon to come, when God would destroy all that is evil and raise the dead, to punish the wicked and reward the faithful by bringing them into his eternal, utopian kingdom. (p. 130)
a close reading of Jesus's words shows that in fact he had no idea of eternal torment for sinners after death. Death, for them, is irreversible, the end of the story. Their punishment is that they will be annihilated, never allowed to exist again, unlike the saved, who will live forever in God's glorious kingdom. (p. 132)
I will comment on three of Ehrman's key arguments. First, in Matthew 8:11-12 Jesus declares that
I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (NRSV)
Ehrman observes that the passages says nothing about torment, and asks, 'What will happen to [those on the outside]?' His answer: 'Jesus doesn't say. Do they simply end up dying, and that is the end of their story?' (p. 131) This question and answer presuppose that being thrown into the outer darkness is a prelude to punishment and not the punishment itself. However, the passage in no way suggests this. A more natural reading is that being thrown into the outer darkness is the punishment. Note the antithetical parallelism: some are rewarded by being welcomed into the kingdom; others are punished by being thrown out of the kingdom, into another 'place' characterised by darkness and weeping.4 Ehrman emphasises that this passage makes no mention of eternal fire, but other Matthaean texts about the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth do make this connection.5

Second, Ehrman quotes several passages that use the Greek verb apollumi or noun apoleia (particularly Matt. 7:13-14 and 10:28) and infers from them the notion of 'annihilation,' reduction to non-existence. He translates Matthew 10:28b as, 'fear the one who can annihilate both the soul and body in Gehenna', adding, 'It is important to note that Jesus here does not merely say that God will 'kill' a person's soul: he will "annihilate" (or "exterminate") it. After that it will not exist' (p. 135). Now, in Ehrman's 2003 translation of the Apostolic Fathers,6 when the verb apollumi is used in the active voice of the ultimate fate of humans, he consistently translates it 'destroy.'7 Why now has Ehrman departed from his own precedents, and from the practice of most English translations and lexical authorities, by translating apollumi by 'annihilate' rather than 'destroy'? One searches in vain for a lexical argument, or even (since this is a popular-level book) a footnote referencing an argument he has made elsewhere. He simply asserts without argument that apollumi and apoleia convey the specific idea of annihilation, of reduction to non-existence, rather than the more general idea of destruction.8

Third, Ehrman discusses at some length the 'sheep and goats' saying of Matthew 25:31-46. He argues that the 'eternal punishment' spoken of there is simply death, since it is contrasted with 'eternal life.' As for 'eternal fire,' he reasons that 'it is the fire that is eternal, not the sinner in the fire. The fires never go out' (p. 140). Yet, in a footnote, he acknowledges that the text says the fire was prepared for the devil and demons 'who, since they cannot die, will indeed burn forever.' On what basis does he make this sharp distinction between the nature of 'eternal fire' punishment for humans vs. superhumans, when the text makes no such distinction?

Finally, it is worth noting that, despite generally finding Matthew to be a reliable source of historical Jesus sayings, Ehrman says nothing about the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35), which ends with the protagonist being 'handed...over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt' (NRSV), followed immediately by Jesus' warning, 'So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.' Thus, Jesus here appears to depict eschatological punishment in terms of torture of indefinite duration. A noteworthy omission, to say the least! For further commentary on eschatological punishment in the Synoptic Gospels, see here.

The Apostle Paul

I find little to disagree with in Ehrman's treatment of Paul. He offers a good overview of Paul's teaching on resurrection, and also rightly acknowledges Paul's belief in a disembodied intermediate state, as attested in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 and Philippians 1:20-24. He thinks Paul understood the fate of the wicked to be annihilation, and there is little—at least in those letters of Paul that are universally accepted as authentic—that would suggest otherwise.9

The Later Gospels

Ehrman finds the view of the afterlife presented in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts (widely assigned to the same author) to be strikingly different from that of Jesus himself. In particular, 'unlike the historical Jesus himself, Luke maintains that eternity begins immediately at a person's death. Like Paul, but even more emphatically, Luke thinks that when believers in Jesus die, they go straight to heaven' (p. 160). He bases this on such texts as Luke 23:43 and Acts 7:59, and I think his interpretation is sound.

Ehrman spends a couple of pages on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, which he considers to be 'the only place' in the Bible where the notion of eternal punishment for the wicked is suggested (p. 167). He does not think this story is attributable to the historical Jesus (I find his argument unconvincing),10 and he thinks the message of the parable is more about how people should live in the present than what will happen after death. I agree that this is the parable's emphasis, but I think it's a both/and, not an either/or. Outi Lehtipuu's monograph on the parable has shown convincingly that the story was believable within the parameters of its cultural world, and so there is no reason to think the afterlife imagery was not meant to be taken seriously.11 The clincher is the striking similarity between the afterlife imagery in this parable and that in Luke 13:27-30.12

Ehrman argues that the 'realised eschatology' of the Gospel of John, in which eternal life is already attainable in this life, and the wrath of God already abides on the disobedient in this life, represents a de-apocalypticising development of the message of the historical Jesus. I think this claim is basically accurate, though it is important to acknowledge—as Ehrman does—that references to eschatological resurrection are still present.

Other Early Christian Literature

For the sake of brevity, I won't discuss Ehrman's treatment of the Book of Revelation or of early patristic literature. He maintains that Revelation teaches a heavenly intermediate state only for a few martyrs, and teaches the annihilation of the wicked; I think he has overlooked the important evidence of Revelation 22:15.13

Ehrman spends his final three chapters on early patristic literature, and the various theological ideas that emerged concerning the nature of resurrection (resurrection of the flesh vs. of the spirit), the possibility of purgatory, universal salvation, etc. Attempts to systematise what would become established as orthodox Christian eschatology can be found in Tertullian in the early third century and in Augustine two centuries later. The fundamental teaching here is of immediate postmortem rewards and punishments, followed eventually by the resurrection, which ushers in embodied eternal life for some and eternal torment for others. After describing what became the orthodox view, Ehrman states, 'Some observers might consider the views to be a kind of natural development of what the "founders of Christianity" thought, or even as inevitable' (p. 201). He then insists that they were not inevitable, since other competing views existed that did not finally carry the day. However, he does not address the question of whether the orthodox view is a natural development from ideas of Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament writers. This is the Catholic Church's claim (made most famously by Cardinal Newman in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine): that the systematisation of doctrine in the patristic era is but the natural growth and development of the seeds contained in divine revelation.

Ehrman's Theological Message

In the preface, Ehrman insists that he has no theological axe to grind: 'In this book I will not be urging you either to believe or to disbelieve in the existence of heaven and hell' (p. 14). However, he still arrives at the existential inference that 'even if we do have something to hope for after we have passed from the realm of temporary consciousness, we have absolutely nothing to fear' (p. 18). He elaborates in the afterword at the end: we may have something to hope for because a beatific afterlife is at least possible (though he is inclined to think death is the end of existence). We have absolutely nothing to fear because hell can be ruled out on rational grounds; eternal torment would imply that God is 'some kind of transcendent sadist' (p. 235). It would be disproportionate to subject people to 'indescribable torments, not for the length of time they committed their "offenses," but for trillions of years—and that only as the beginning'.

I would make three brief points in reply to Ehrman's rationalistic critique of the doctrine of hell. First, as with transcendent rewards, no one alive knows exactly what transcendent punishment will be like. The biblical language of light, gardens, food and drink, banqueting, peace, life is all analogical, as is that of darkness, fire, banishment, torment, destruction, death. All such language is attempting to describe, 'in a glass, darkly,' the unknown quantities beyond our world in terms of the known quantities within our world. Without knowing exactly what eschatological punishment might be like, we are not well positioned to rule on whether it is just or disproportionate. Second, our lack of knowledge extends not only to the nature of the punishment but to its duration. The expression 'trillions of years' assumes that, for those in the transcendent realms, time passes and is experienced just as now on earth. Why should that be true? Heaven and hell are not material objects making trips around the sun. Many philosophers regard eternity as somehow beyond time rather than simply an unending, linear interval of time. Third, I have always found it curious that people simply assume that annihilation is a merciful and moderate alternative to eternal punishment. Ehrman describes annihilation in almost pleasant terms, like a very deep sleep. Non-existence is in some ways a more horrifying prospect than unending punishment. Besides, if annihilation is the eschatological equivalent of capital punishment, then hell is the eschatological equivalent of life imprisonment without parole. In the human domain, which of those is considered the more severe penalty? To be sure, hell is not a pleasant idea. Those who affirm this doctrine do so with sorrow but with firmness because they have received it from the Church, which (they maintain) received it from the apostles, who (they maintain) received it from the Lord.

Pros and Cons

As stated in the beginning, one great pro of Ehrman's book is that he succeeds in telling the history of ideas about the afterlife in a way that is concise and accessible yet informative and engaging. A second major positive, specifically for a Christian audience, is that he has called out the modern Church for having lost sight of the resurrection and placed all the emphasis on what is really only the interim state: going to heaven after death. For instance, Ehrman quotes from Justin Martyr (died c. 165 C.E.), who wrote that those should not be considered real Christians who assert 'that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that their souls are taken up to heaven at the moment of their death' (Dialogue with Trypho 80.4).14 Ehrman 'wonders how many twenty-first century Christians would escape this charge' (p. 197). Hopefully, those who recite the Creed thoughtfully do escape it, since they 'look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.' However, how many either conflate resurrection with what happens to the soul at death, or are ignorant of resurrection altogether? Ehrman's critique is a welcome and much-needed one.

The cons, for me, lie in questionable exegesis at certain points (particularly the Matthaean texts about eschatological punishment), as well as a tendency to overstate the significance of differences between Jesus and the New Testament writers, among the New Testament writers, and between the New Testament writers and subsequent proto-orthodox theologians. Yes, there is diversity, but it follows a natural developmental trajectory that converges on orthodoxy.

  • 1 For my own discussion of eschatological punishment in the Hebrew Bible and other Second Temple Jewish literature, focusing mainly on 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra, see Part 1 of my review of Edward Fudge's book, The Fire That Consumes.
  • 2 Perhaps Ehrman would justify his thesis by noting that 1 Enoch's geography of the afterlife—various hollows in the same high mountain—is very different from the cosmic picture of heaven above and hell beneath that later emerged in Christianity. However, the fundamental issue is not the precise 'where' of transcendent abodes, but the 'that' of righteous and wicked going to separate abodes after death.
  • 3 Those he does discuss are Matt. 3:10; 5:22, 29-30; 7:13-14; 8:10-12; 13:36-43, 47-50; 25:31-46; Mark 9:42, 47-48; 12:18-27
  • 4 No noun meaning 'place' occurs in the Greek, but the adverb ekei ('there'; 'in that place') implies a specific location.
  • 5 The formula, 'In that place (ekei) there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth' occurs in Matthew six times. In three of them, the place is called 'the outer darkness,' in one, 'with the hypocrites,' and in two, 'the fiery furnace' (Matt. 13:42, 50). The fiery furnace, for Matthew, is obviously synonymous 'fiery Gehenna' (5:22; 18:9), which in turn is synonymous with 'the eternal fire' (18:8; 25:41).
  • 6 Bart D. Ehrman, ed. and trans., The Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003).
  • 7 e.g., in 1 Clement 57.7,  Barnabas 12.5; 20.2, Hermas, Mandates 2.1, 12.6.3, Similitudes 8.6.6, 8.8.5, 9.23.4, 9.26.3.
  • 8 I have not myself undertaken a close lexical study of apollumi. However, it appears that when used in the active voice, it can take meanings akin to 'lose,' 'kill,' 'destroy,' 'ruin.' It certainly does not intrinsically convey the cessation of all existence, just as 'destroy' does not in English. For instance, if we say that Hiroshima was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945, we are not suggesting that Hiroshima ceased to exist, but that it was devastated, ruined.
  • 9 Ehrman considers only those letters that are universally accepted as authentically Pauline, so we do not get to hear his views on 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, which is the most detailed passage about eschatological punishment in the Pauline corpus. For my own brief discussion of Paul's views, see here.
  • 10 Ehrman thinks that the ending of the story is a 'dead giveaway' that it was not told by Jesus (p. 165). He reasons that Abraham telling the rich man that his brothers would not believe even if someone were raised from the dead alludes to Jesus' own resurrection, and thus postdates it. However, this argument only demonstrates that the ending of the story has been edited or shaped in light of Jesus' resurrection. It is possible that the original story ended with v. 26, or that the whole story dates back to Jesus but that the language of 'rising from the dead' in v. 31 reflects post-Easter editing.
  • 11 Outi Lehtipuu, The Afterlife Imagery in Luke’s Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Leiden: Brill, 2007). I have discussed the matter previously here and here.
  • 12 The afterlife scene in the parable has the rich man in a place of torment where he can see Abraham attending a banquet. That Lazarus was 'in Abraham's bosom' refers to reclining with his head on Abraham's breast, 'a position dictated by ancient banqueting practice' (BDAG 556-57). In Luke 13:27-30, a place is described (using the adverb ekei) of weeping and gnashing of teeth, from which people will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God, where they will 'recline at table.'
  • 13 For my take on eschatological punishment in Revelation, see here, in Part 2 of my review of Edward W. Fudge's book, The Fire That Consumes.
  • 14 For my comments on this text and Justin's individual eschatology more widely, see here and here.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Orthodox Christian teaching on the afterlife versus Christadelphian descriptions of the same

In this article I want to compare what Christadelphian discourse says orthodox Christians believe about the afterlife with traditional, orthodox Christian teaching itself. In doing so, I want to suggest that Christadelphian polemic in this area has focused on popular aberrations of traditional Christian belief ('folk theology') and has largely neglected to engage with traditional Christian doctrine proper. Hence, I would invite Christadelphians to take a second look at orthodoxy in this area.

Christadelphian teaching on the state of the dead

Christadelphians teach that 'When we die we cease to exist. The only hope of life is by resurrection at Christ's return.'1 Christadelphians dogmatically reject the ideas 'that man has an immortal soul' and 'that man consciously exists in death'2 A technical theological term for the Christadelphian position on the state of the dead is thnetopsychism, or 'soul death'.3 This may be distinguished from 'soul sleep', which holds that the soul continues to exist after death but in an unconscious state. This is an idea Christadelphians have traditionally rejected,4 though it is technically not excluded in the language of their Statement of Faith.5 Another term sometimes associated with these doctrinal positions collectively is Christian mortalism.

Christadelphian characterizations of orthodox Christian afterlife belief

In Christadelphian discourse, one encounters various ideas about what 'orthodox', 'mainstream' or 'popular' Christianity6 believes about the soul and body, the state of the dead, and resurrection. The following ideas are commonly encountered:

(1) Orthodox Christians have taken over the Platonist idea7 of death as a welcome liberation of the soul from the prison of bodily existence8 9 leading to eternal disembodied bliss.10 11
(2) The ideas of immortality of the soul and bodily resurrection are mutually exclusive;12 or, if not, the immortality of the soul renders bodily resurrection superfluous.13
(3) Orthodox Christians place no value on the idea of bodily resurrection. If they mention it at all, it is merely to maintain the appearance of adhering to biblical teaching.14 They may as well, and often do, spiritualize it away.15

Traditional orthodox Christian teaching on the afterlife

Classical orthodox Christianity did not and does not denigrate bodily existence or marginalize the idea of resurrection. At the end of a lengthy study of ante-Nicene Fathers' views on the millennium, Hill finds that those who did not believe in a literal, earthly millennium but rather a heavenly intermediate state do
not appear to have held any prejudice whatsoever against the belief in a future resurrection of the body. In Gnosticism, of course, and at its fringes, a "heavenly" afterlife was certainly combined with antagonism to the salvability of the flesh. But this antagonism flowed from other impulses. It will be recalled that neither Justin nor Irenaeus charges orthodox non-chiliasts with denial of the resurrection of the body... The ground motive for the heavenly view within Christianity was not a radically dualistic anthropology (most chiliasts [premillennialists] were every bit as "dualistic" as most non-chiliasts [amillennialists] in this respect) but rather the deep and persistent conviction of a fellowship with Christ which even death could not sever.16
Hill's observation about resurrection in the early church is matched by the classical creeds, handed down to us by a Church that unquestionably affirmed a postmortem intermediate state for the soul. The Apostles Creed ends with an affirmation of 'the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.' Similarly, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed ends with these words: 'I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.' Neither creed makes any mention of heaven-going or an intermediate state; resurrection receives all the emphasis.17

The same strong affirmation of bodily resurrection is found in major post-Reformation confessional statements. The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 32, states:
The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies... At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up, with the selfsame bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls forever...
The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 57, reads:
Q. What comfort does the resurrection of the body offer you?
A. Not only shall my soul after this life immediately be taken up to Christ, my Head, but also this my flesh, raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul and made like Christ's glorious body.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the creedal affirmation of 'the resurrection of the body' in articles 988-1013, which include the following statements:
The Christian Creed...culminates in the proclamation of the resurrection of the dead on the last day and in life everlasting.
We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.
The term "flesh" refers to man in his state of weakness and mortality. The "resurrection of the flesh" (the literal formulation of the Apostles' Creed) means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our "mortal body" will come to life again.
Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings. "The confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live."
When [will resurrection occur]? Definitively "at the last day," "at the end of the world." Indeed, the resurrection of the dead is closely associated with Christ's Parousia
One can add that the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not denigrate bodily life or regard the body as an unwelcome prison for the soul:
The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.
The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. (Articles 364-365, emphasis added)
What we see in these confessional documents is a belief in both immortality of the soul and bodily resurrection. The two ideas have a both/and relationship, not an either/or relationship. There is no indication in these documents that the idea of resurrection is vestigial, retained to give an appearance of adherence to the biblical testimony while the real interest is confined to disembodied existence. The authors of these doctrinal statements would all agree wholeheartedly with Robert Roberts' description of the Christian hope as 'a promise of resurrection to incorruptible bodily existence.'18

Now there is no question that many orthodox Christians - both clergy and laity - have marginalized bodily resurrection and focused almost exclusively on disembodied existence in heaven as their hope. This tendency can arguably be seen in the diagnostic question, 'If you died today, where would you spend eternity?', which is widely used in Evangelical evangelism. The question seems to assume the eternal state is entered into immediately after death, sidelining the hope of eschatological resurrection.19

However, it must be stressed that when orthodox Christians ignore or neglect resurrection they are misunderstanding or misapplying their own theological traditions. Hence, when Christadelphians rebuke those who sideline bodily resurrection and regard death as an everlasting escape from the body, they are not attacking orthodox theology but folk theology. They are, in fact, making the same rebuke that many orthodox theologians are making!20 The problem is that Christadelphians have been so busy attacking popular aberrations of traditional Christian afterlife belief that they seem not to have engaged much with the traditional view itself.21


Our findings can be summed up by paraphrasing (and recontextualizing) a famous saying of G.K. Chesterton:
Traditional Christian beliefs about the afterlife have not been tried and found wanting. They have been found difficult; and left untried.22
There is a definite need for Christadelphians to engage with traditional, orthodox Christian teaching on the afterlife and not only with folk theology. I can say for myself personally that I lived for many years rejecting a caricature of orthodox beliefs rather than actual orthodox beliefs. Once I engaged with the latter, over time I found them to be sound. For Christadelphians who might be interested in reading a case for a traditional Christian view of the afterlife, a good place to begin would be John W. Cooper's book Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting.


  • 1 A major Christadelphian website says this belief is shared by Christadelphians worldwide.
  • 2 Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, Doctrines to be Rejected 7 and 8.
  • 3 A teaching tract entitled Life after Death: The Wonderful Facts by Christadelphian Alan Hayward expresses this idea directly: 'The soul does not live apart from the body. When the body dies, the soul dies, too.'
  • 4 '...the Christadelphians...are not "soul sleepers." "Soul sleepers" are those who believe in the existence of "the soul" as an entity after death; but who contend that between death and resurrection, it sinks into a state of somnolence, like certain animals that lie dormant all the winter. The Christadelphians, on the contrary, believe that in death a man is DEAD, and that if man is not put together again at the resurrection, he will never come again, or enjoy or suffer any kind of existence whatever.' (Robert Roberts, Man Mortal, p. 61)
  • 5 Moreover, it appears that some Christadelphians do think in such terms. For instance, Alan Fowler writes concerning Matt. 10:28: 'Orthodox Christianity asserts that we have an inborn divine soul that goes to heaven, assuring continuity of consciousness after death. In refuting this false hope there is a danger that we may go to the other extreme in stating that our character or soul ceases to exist in any way until the resurrection. Scripture teaches that there is a continuity in the sense that a record of our character, continues its existence in divine ‘books.’'
  • 6 These adjectives seem to be used interchangeably in Christadelphian literature. One does not see a consistent differentiation between mainstream, orthodox theology (as defined by classical creedal and confessional documents, and standard works on systematic theology) and popular, folk theology (e.g., what one hears from the proverbial man in the street, Hollywood films, or a poem on a funeral programme). I am interested in the former category rather than the latter, as I believe Christadelphians also should be.
  • 7 '"[The sages of Greece and Rome] soon discovered that, as none of the properties of matter will apply to the operations of the mind, the human soul must consequently be a substance distinct from the body, pure, simple, and spiritual, incapable of dissolution, and susceptible of a much higher degree of virtue and happiness after the release from its corporeal prison..." This then, was the pagan philosophy which became adopted into Christian thinking and doctrine as the apostolic age drew to its close.' (Paul Billington, Space-Age Immortal Soulism, emphasis added). Note that the words in double quotation marks are quoted from Edward Gibbon by Billington.
  • 8 'Consider, first, what the universal theory of the human constitution is. It is that in his proper essential being, a man is a "spiritual" immaterial, and immortal being, living in a material body composed of organs necessary for the manifestation of his invisible and indestructible inner "self" in this external and material world. This organic body is not regarded as essential to man's identity or existence. His proper self is understood to subsist in the immaterial entity or divine spark called the soul or spirit. The organs composing the body are looked upon as things which the man uses as a mechanic uses his tools - the external agencies by which the behests of "the inner man" are carried out... In accordance with this view, death is not considered to affect a man's being. It is regarded simply as a demolition of the material organism, which liberates the deathless, intangible man from the bondage of this "mortal coil," which having "shuffled off," he wings his way to spiritual regions, for eternal happiness or misery, according to "deeds done in the body."' (Robert Roberts, Christendom Astray, Lecture 2: HUMAN NATURE ESSENTIALLY MORTAL, AS PROVED BY "NATURE" AND REVELATION, emphasis added)
  • 9 'You know that it is the belief of the religious world that man is an immortal soul, and that when death takes place the real man does not die – he simply forsakes his body and continues to live without a body. If he has been a good man, he goes to heaven to live in happiness; if he has been a bad man, he goes to hell (supposed to be a place of torment) to live in misery.' (Thomas Williams, The Great Salvation, emphasis added)
  • 10 'The body is said to be mortal and corruptible, turning to dust and ashes after death, whereas the soul is immortal and incorruptible and lives on in endless bliss or misery.' (Dudley Fifield, Heaven and Hell: What does the Bible teach?)
  • 11 'The theory that man is an immortal soul that never dies and is never buried has produced different inventions of resurrection in attempts to fit the needs of the supposed case. Some have confined resurrection to a moral quickening of the "immortal soul;" others have declared that it consists in the escape of the "immortal soul" from the house of clay and its elevation into the "spirit world." These speculators no doubt saw that too much importance is attached in the Scriptures to the resurrection to allow of its application to the body as a mere tabernacle for the soul which was only a burden during natural life, and which to be rid of is the unhampered and unburdened liberty of the soul to bask in bliss. No theory of resurrection would fit this disembodied existence as well as the ascension of the soul out of the body into heaven, and if the words of scripture could be manipulated to suit this invention the body might just as well, indeed much more conveniently, be left to moulder eternally in the dust. Having shown that disembodied existence is a myth it will be readily seen that to invent such theories of resurrection is only to add myth to myth.' (Thomas Williams, The World's Redemption, Chapter 15: Man Unconscious in Death; Resurrection the Only Hope of Future Life, emphasis added)
  • 12 'With regards to the nature of humankind, almost all of Christianity is united in affirming that within every person lies a portion that is inherently immortal. The most frequent take on this is that we have an immortal soul that upon death of the flesh does not die, but rather goes somewhere else... Biblically, the hope of humanity lies in the resurrection. It makes no sense to say that a being that never really dies is resurrected - these are mutually exclusive pathways.' (Christadelphia.org, Response to Mainstream Christianity: the Nature of Man)
  • 13 'All this is in sharp contrast to the claims of popular "Christianity". Their teaching that the righteous immediately go to heaven at death destroys the need for a resurrection and judgment. Yet we have seen that these are vital events in God's plan of salvation, and therefore in the Gospel message. The popular idea suggests that one righteous person dies and is rewarded by going to heaven, to be followed the next day, the next month, the next year, by others. This is in sharp contrast to the Bible's teaching that all the righteous will be rewarded together, at the same time.' (Duncan Heaster, Bible Basics, Section 4.6: The Judgment, emphasis added)
  • 14 'The truth is, that this article of the creed [i.e. the affirmation of bodily resurrection] is brought in to defend "orthodoxy" against the imputation of denying the resurrection of the body, which would be a very inconvenient charge in the face of the testimony of God. But this will not avail; for, to believe dogmas that make the resurrection of the mortal body unnecessary and absurd is equivalent to a denial of it.' (John Thomas, Elpis IsraelChapter 2: The Creation of Earth and of Man.)
  • 15 '[The Bible] establishes the doctrine of the resurrection on the firm foundation of necessity; for in this view, a future life is only attainable by resurrection; whereas, in the popular view, future life is a natural growth from the present, affected neither one way nor the other by the "resurrection of the body." In fact it is difficult to see any use for resurrection at all if we accept the popular idea; for if a man "goes to his reward" at death and enjoys all the felicity of heaven of which his nature is capable, it seems incongruous that, after a certain time, he should be compelled to leave the celestial regions, and rejoin his body on earth, when without that body he is supposed to have so much more capability of enjoyment. The resurrection seems out of place in such a system; and accordingly we find that, nowadays, many are abandoning it, and vainly trying to explain away the New Testament doctrine of physical resurrection altogether, in favour of the Swedenborgian theory of spiritual resuscitation.' (Robert Roberts, Christendom Astray, Lecture 3: THE DEAD UNCONSCIOUS, THE RESURRECTION, AND CONSEQUENT ERROR OF POPULAR BELIEF IN HEAVEN AND HELL)
  • 16 Hill, C.E. (1992). Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Future Hope in Early Christianity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 182.
  • 17 It is possible that a notion of intermediate state is presupposed in the doctrine of 'the communion of saints' mentioned in the Apostles Creed-certainly it came to be.
  • 18 Robert Roberts, Christendom Astray, chapter 4.
  • 19 This implication is even clearer in the lyrics of the praise song If You Died Tonight by contemporary Christian group Big Daddy Weave: 'If you died tonight where would you be, where would your soul spend eternity?' For criticism of this sort of diagnostic question, see Zens, Jon. (2015). "Are You Going to Heaven?" A Journey Away from the Wrong QuestionIn Christopher M. Date & Ron Highfield (Eds.), A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality in Honor of Edward Fudge (pp. 60-63). Eugene: Pickwick Publications.
  • 20 In addition to Roger E. Olson's two online articles (here and here), see Wright, N.T. (2008). Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperCollins, pp. 13-30.
  • 21 In descriptions of orthodox beliefs in Christadelphian discourse, for instance, one rarely encounters terminology used by orthodox theologians for the state of the dead, such as 'the intermediate state'; nor does one find an appreciation of the distinction between different kinds of anthropological dualism, such as substance dualism and holistic dualism.
  • 22 The original saying was, 'The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.' (Chesterton, G.K. (1912). What's Wrong with the World? London: Cassell, p. 48.)

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The intermediate state in 1 Clement (part 2)

In the previous post, we noted the claim of Christadelphian apologist Dave Burke that the core theological teachings of 1 Clement correspond exactly to those of Christadelphians today. We found that, although this claim has repeatedly been portrayed as factual information by Dave in his interactions with Christadelphian audiences, it is in fact at odds with contemporary scholarship. In particular, we surveyed the scholarly literature concerning Clement's individual eschatology and found that most scholars agree that Clement believed in an intermediate state for the righteous dead prior to the resurrection; some scholars explicitly locate this post-mortem existence in heaven.

We now turn to a closer exegesis of the relevant passages in 1 Clement. Perhaps the most significant is 1 Clement 5.3-6.2, already quoted in the previous post but reproduced here for convenience:
3. We should set before our eyes the good apostles. 4. There is Peter, who because of unjust jealousy bore up under hardships not just once or twice, but many times; and having thus borne his witness he went to the place of glory that he deserved. 5. Because of jealousy and strife Paul pointed the way to the prize for endurance. 6. Seven times he bore chains; he was sent into exile and stoned; he served as a herald in both the East and the West; and he received the noble reputation for his faith. 7. He taught righteousness to the whole world, and came to the limits of the West, bearing his witness before the rulers. And so he was set free from this world and transported up to the holy place, having become the greatest example of endurance. 6.1. To these men who have conducted themselves in such a holy way there has been added a great multitude of the elect, who have set a superb example among us by the numerous torments and tortures they suffered because of jealousy. 2. Women were persecuted as Danaids and Dircae and suffered terrifying and profane torments because of jealousy. But they confidently completed the race of faith, and though weak in body, they received a noble reward. (1 Clement 5.3-6.2)1
A person with the user name Evangelion, whom I believe was Dave, discussed this passage on a Christadelphian web forum in 2005 and offered the following explanation:
‘I see no reference to heaven (or any form of afterlife) in these passages. I see only a reference to the reward of superlative rank that was promised to him (“…the place of glory due to him… the holy place”) with the word “place” here signifying not a literal abode but a position of authority. The truth of this interpretation is confirmed by Clement’s use of the phrase “due to him”, which makes no sense in the context of a place to which one departs (how can a literal place be “due” to someone?) but perfect sense in the context of a glorious promotion to the heavenly host. It is also vindicated by the New Testament, which is replete with similar language; not least from the writings of Peter himself.’2
It is unclear exactly how Dave conceives of a 'glorious promotion to the heavenly host', a 'position of authority' which yet does not constitute 'any form of afterlife'. It is not obvious how a person who is in no sense alive could receive such a promotion. However, let us for the sake of argument assume the internal consistency of Dave's interpretation.

Evangelion/Dave also comments on 1 Clement 44.4-5, which contains language relevant to our passage. It reads thus in Ehrman’s translation:
Indeed we commit no little sin if we remove from the bishop’s office those who offer the gifts in a blameless and holy way. How fortunate are the presbyters who passed on before, who enjoyed a fruitful and perfect departure from this life. For they have no fear that someone will remove them from the place (topos) established for them.3
Evangelion/Dave writes concerning 1 Clement 44.5:
As in the passage which spoke of Peter’s reward, "the place appointed for them" here is clearly a reward of rank, as opposed to an actual location (such as heaven.) This is confirmed by the context, which makes repeated references to the presbyters' "office", "place" and "ministry."
The key claim is that topos (‘place’) in 1 Clement 5.4, 5.7 does not refer to a location, an abode, but to a position of authority. Evangelion/Dave makes three arguments in favour of this interpretation. 

(1) It is said that the phrase ‘due to him’ (Greek: opheilomenon) makes no sense in relation to a literal place. However, this is not an exegetical argument but merely an assertion for which no lexical or other evidence is provided. If the ‘place’ to which Peter went is construed as a reward (as it clearly is, given the parallel expression ‘noble reward’ in 1 Clement 6.2), then prima facie it is reasonable that it be called his due. Moreover, the same word is used in a similar way by Polycarp in his Letter to the Philippians 9.2, where he says concerning the apostles that ‘they are in the place they deserved, with the Lord’ (kai hoti eis ton opheilomenon autois topon eisi para tō kuriō). Here it seems that topos denotes a location since it is 'with the Lord'.4 Also comparable is Barnabas 19.1, which uses a different word but has a similar idea: ‘Anyone who wants to travel to the place that has been appointed (ton hōrismenon topon) should be diligent in his works.’

(2) It is claimed that the New Testament is replete with similar language confirming his interpretation of topos in 1 Clement 5.4 and 5.7. However, none of the New Testament passages he cites use the word topos, and none of them explicitly refer to something gained immediately after death. Hence, they provide no support for Evangelion/Dave's interpretation of topos in 1 Clement 5.4 and 5.7.

(3) It is claimed that topos in 1 Clement 44.5 refers to an office or rank is highly plausible and, since this would provide a precedent for interpreting topos in the same way in 1 Clement 5.4 and 5.7, it represents the strongest aspect of Evangelion/Dave's argument. It does appear that the place (topos) established for the presbyters who have departed from this life is a position, given the contrast with removal from office in v. 4.5 However, it is possible that there is wordplay here, so that topos simultaneously refers to the presbyters' permanent position as well as the transcendent location of reward. A likely parallel to such wordplay is found in Acts 1:24-25:
And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place (topos) in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place (topos)." (ESV)
A quick survey of scholarly interpretations of the last clause of v. 25 is in order. Apparently the majority view is that 'his own place' refers to 'a transcendent region related to one's final destiny...In this case...a place of punishment after death'.6 Johnson thinks there is a double entendre so that Judas’ ‘own place’ refers both to his ‘place of final destiny’ and ‘the abandonment of the apostolic circle symbolized by his purchasing of his property’.7

A different, but still spatial, interpretation of ‘his own place’ is Keener’s, who interprets it simply as ‘the field he bought, where he met his gory end’.8 McCabe thinks ‘his own place’ refers to Judas’ ‘solitary and shameful death’;9 this is still a quasi-spatial interpretation. Van de Water thinks this clause alludes to Psalm 36:36 LXX where the plight of the wicked is described thus: ‘and his place was not found.’10 However, this text does not help to explain what place Judas did find according to Acts 1:25 (and van de Water does not elaborate on this point). Whitlock regards Acts 1:24-25 as a poem in which the repetition of the word ‘place’ plays an important role: ‘The place of service is contrasted with Judas’s own place. The contrast is made explicit by the repetition of topos’. Whitlock does not clearly opt for an exclusively spatial or metaphorical meaning of Judas’ own place, but says it leaves readers ‘with a tragically precise summation of Judas’s conflict and fate’.11

If topos can be used poetically in Acts 1:25a and 1:25c to refer to Judas’ position and to his spatial location or destiny respectively (and possibly takes on spatial and positional meanings in 1:25c), then such multivalence should also be regarded as a possibility in 1 Clement 44.5. That topos refers at least partly to a transcendent reward and not merely an office in 1 Clement 44.5 is argued by Hill12 and suggested as a possibility by Lindemann13 Lona regards τόπος in this text as an office only.14

Thus, while the context suggests a metaphorical meaning for topos as 'office' or 'position' in 1 Clement 44.5, it is plausible that there is wordplay here and that a spatial sense is also intended, referring to the presbyters' place of reward. Even if topos takes an exclusively metaphorical sense in 1 Clement 44.5, this does not necessarily mean it takes on an exclusively metaphorical sense in 1 Clement 5.4, 7. This passage must be considered on its own terms. Below are six exegetical arguments which, collectively, in my view, represent a compelling case for interpreting topos spatially in 1 Clement 5.4, 7 (more specifically, as referring to the heavenly sanctuary) and thus concluding that Clement believed in an intermediate state.

(1) Religion-historical parallels adduced by Hill strongly support a heavenly interpretation of 'the place of glory' and 'the holy place' to which Peter and Paul respectively are said to have gone. Concerning the 'holy place' he notes the following important background:
τὰ ἅγια is the customary name used by the author of Hebrews for the holy place, or the holy of holies, whether the earthly (9.8[?], 25; 13.11) or the heavenly (8.2; 9.12, 24; 10.19). It is moreover significant that in Hebrews, which almost certainly Clement knows,15 we have clear evidence of the belief that the "spirits of just men made perfect" now congregate at the cultic precincts of the heavenly Mount Zion (12.22-4).16
A further parallel is adduced from 'Clement's Jewish contemporary at Rome, Josephus' from Bellum Judaicum 3.374:
in accordance with the law of nature and repay the loan which they received from God, when He who lent it is pleased to reclaim it, win eternal renown (κλέος);17 that their houses and families are secure; that their souls, remaining spotless and obedient, are allotted the most holy place in heaven (χῶρον οὐράνιον λαχοῦσαι τὸν ἁγιώτατον), whence, in the revolution of the ages, they return to find in chaste bodies a new habitation.18
Hill comments that 'This teaching is remarkable for its resemblance to that of 1 Clement' and 'In it the "most holy place" is expressly set in heaven'.19 Finally, Hill adduces 'another document of Roman Christian provenance' which 'Within a few decades'20 of 1 Clement portrays 'the celestial lot of Christian martyrs after death as the "right hand portion of the sanctuary" (τοῦ ἁγιάσματος) (Hermas, Vis 3.1.9; 3.2.1), a place also characterized by glory.'21

These religion-historical parallels from Hebrews, Josephus and Hermas support interpreting ‘the holy place’ as a reference to the heavenly sanctuary. To this can be added some relevant OT texts. Throughout the OT, a part of the earthly sanctuary is denoted ‘the holy place’22 and in certain instances the mountain of the Lord (Ps. 24:3; Ps. 68:5 cp. 68:17) or God’s heavenly dwelling-place (Isa. 26:21) is described as God’s ‘holy place.’23 If you asked a person steeped in Second Temple Judaism what ‘the holy place’ (or ‘the place of glory’) was (note the presence of the article in Greek), he would no doubt tell you either that it was the earthly sanctuary (the temple), or the heavenly sanctuary (of which the earthly is merely a copy, according to Heb. 9:24). Since Clement obviously does not mean that Peter and Paul went to the Jerusalem temple, he must mean they went to the heavenly sanctuary. There is, to my knowledge, not one instance in the OT, Second Temple Jewish literature, or early Christian literature where ‘the holy place’ takes on any other spatial meaning, much less a metaphorical meaning such as an office or position! Certainly Dave has not produced any such evidence that suggests otherwise.

(2) There is a text-critical issue concerning the verb used in the description of Paul’s martyrdom in 1 Clement 5.7. Holmes’ critical text follows the two Greek manuscripts in reading ἐπορεύθη, and so he translates, ‘he thus departed from the world and went to the holy place.’24 Ehrman’s critical text, however, follows the Latin, Coptic and Syriac versions in reading ἀνελήμφθη, and so he translates, ‘he was set free from this world and transported up to the holy place.’25 This reading is also favoured by Hill,26 as well as Arndt et al.27 That ἀνελήμφθη is not attested in any extant Greek manuscript is not very significant, because the presence of equivalent verbs in Syriac, Latin and Coptic versions essentially proves the existence of a Greek textual tradition that read ἀνελήμφθη, since it is extremely unlikely that three translators would have made the same semantic change independently. If Ehrman’s text has the correct reading, then Paul explicitly ascended to the holy place, which supports its spatial location in heaven.

(3) Even the verb poreuō (in 5.4 and in the Greek manuscripts 5.7) usually takes on the spatial meaning ‘go’. The only metaphorical meanings attested in Arndt et al are ‘to conduct oneself’ and ‘to die’,28 neither of which are possible in this context. Certainly, for an expression consisting of a verb (‘go’) and a noun (‘place’) which both have a spatial meaning as their primary sense, a spatial interpretation is most natural.

(4) In 1 Clement 5.7, the explicit contrast between ‘this world’ (the place from which Paul departed or was set free;29 cf. John 13:1; 1 Cor. 5:10) and ‘the holy place’ implies spatial movement. ‘This world’ is not an office or position. It is a place; an abode.

(5) In 1 Clement 50.3, the writer uses a different Greek word to refer to the ‘place’ of the righteous dead: chōros. This text reads:
3 All the generations from Adam till today have passed away, but those perfected in love through the gracious gift of God have a place (chōros) among the godly. And they will be revealed when the kingdom of Christ appears. 4 For it is written, “Come into the inner rooms for just a short while, until my anger and wrath pass by; and I will remember a good day and raise you up from your tombs.”30
These inner rooms are regarded by Clement not metaphorically but as a spatial place, since chōros means ‘an undefined area or location, place’;31 ‘a definite space, piece of ground, place’ or ‘land’, ‘country’, ‘estate’, etc.32 and, unlike topos,  does not have any attested metaphorical sense. The sense of 1 Clement 50.3-4, therefore, is that the righteous dead dwell in a spatial place, identified with the ‘inner rooms’ (ta tameia) of Isa. 26:20 LXX, until the resurrection. Thus it is best to interpret ‘place’ spatially in 1 Clement 5.4 and 5.7 as well. We note further that Josephus, writing in the same city as Clement around the same time (see above), uses the same word chōros to refer to the heavenly abode of the souls of the righteous dead while they await the resurrection of the body.

(6) Remarkably, the passage on which Clement explicitly depends for his doctrine of the intermediate state in 1 Clement 50.3-433 is also the passage which contains the clearest OT reference to ‘the holy place’ as a transcendent location: ‘For look, the Lord from his holy place (tou hagiou) brings wrath upon those who dwell on the earth’ (Isa. 26:21 LXX, NETS). Since we can be certain that Clement’s ideas about the intermediate state have been influenced by this passage, it makes sense to interpret his reference to ‘the holy place’ in 1 Clement 5.7 in line with the reference to ‘the holy place’ in Isa. 26:21 LXX. Accordingly, ‘the holy place’ in 1 Clement 5.7 is best understood as a reference to heaven.

Besides all of this evidence concerning the spatial meaning of topos in 1 Clement 5.4 and 5.7, we redirect the reader’s attention to 1 Clement 6.2, which says of some female martyrs that they received ‘a noble reward’ (geras gennaion). Arndt et al define geras as ‘a material exhibition of esteem, prize, reward’.34 For these martyrs to have received a prize after their death but before their resurrection, they must have still existed. Dave’s post does not mention this verse.

In conclusion, there is substantial evidence that Clement believed in an intermediate state for the righteous dead, or at least for martyrs. The idea that the ‘place’ of the righteous dead refers to a position of authority is plausible in 1 Clement 44.5 but untenable in 1 Clement 5.4 and 5.7 (where it also seems to have no scholarly support). Rather, the ‘place of glory’ and ‘holy place’ to which Peter and Paul are said to have gone (or ascended, in Paul’s case) is best understood as the heavenly sanctuary.

What are the implications of this finding? First, the theology of 1 Clement is not exactly as Christadelphians believe, as Dave claims. In particular, the theology of 1 Clement shows that belief in an intermediate state was entrenched in the church of Rome before the end of the first century. This doctrine was being projected back onto the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul at a time when the church elders in Rome likely included individuals (even Clement?) who had known them personally and sat under their teaching.35 This is reason enough for Christadelphians to take a long look at their materialistic anthropology, and revisit their exegesis of New Testament texts such as Acts 7:59, Phil. 1:22-24 and Heb. 12:22-24 which appear to presuppose belief in an intermediate state. Second, in early Christian theology, heaven-going and resurrection were not mutually exclusive, competing models of individual eschatology. Rather, they could be held simultaneously as two sequential components of individual eschatology – as they still are today in orthodox Christian theology.


  • 1 Ehrman, B.D. (2003). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 43-47; emphasis added.
  • 2 He goes on to quote Matt. 19:28; 1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 4:8; Jas 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4.
  • 3 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 115.
  • 4 Evangelion/Dave disputes this in a separate post on the same discussion board, claiming that 'with the Lord' is symbolic. Space does not allow further discussion of this text here, but suffice it to say that a symbolic meaning for 'with the Lord' is not 'clear' as Dave claims.
  • 5 Unquestionably, topos takes on a figurative sense in 1 Clement 40.5: ‘For special liturgical rites have been assigned to the high priest, and a special place (topos) has been designated for the regular priests, and special ministries are established for the Levites.
  • 6 Oropeza, B.J. (2010). Judas’ Death and Final Destiny in the Gospels and Earliest Christian Writings. Neotestamentica, 44(2), 342-361; here pp. 352-353. Also favouring this view are Barrett (Barrett, C.K. (1994). Acts 1-14. London: T&T Clark, pp. 103-104; he also considers the possibility that Judas’ own place refers to his position as a traitor); Witherington, B., III. (1998). The Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 122; Marshall, I.H. (1980). The Acts of the Apostles: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 66; Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 1011; Bock, D.L. (2007). Acts. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 89; Gaertner, D. (1995). Acts. Joplin: College Press, p. 64; Peterson, D. (2009). The Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 128; Zwiep, A.W. (2004). Judas and the Choice of Matthias: A Study on Context and Concern of Acts 1:15-26. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 166-168. Zwiep offers perhaps the most comprehensive exegesis, considering five possible interpretations of ‘his own place’ before concluding that it ‘is a euphemism for his postmortem state, in Luke’s view geenna.’ Among the parallels cited by scholars in support of this interpretation, the most impressive are Targum on Ecclesiastes 6.6 and Ignatius Magnesians 5.1. The former reads, ‘On the day of his death his soul goes down to Gehenna, the one place where all the guilty go’ (Talbert, C.H. (2005). Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Macon: Smyth & Helwys, p. 21, trans., who also cites this text in connection with Acts 1:25 and thus presumably holds to the same interpretation.) The latter reads, ‘the two things are set together, death and life, and each person is about to depart to his own place’ (Ehrman, op. cit., p. 245). In this text, the expression ‘his own place’ parallels that in Acts 1:25, and appears to refer to one’s final destination.
  • 7 Johnson, L.T. (1992). The Acts of the Apostles. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, p. 37.
  • 8 Keener, C.S. (2012). Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (Vol. 1). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 771.
  • 9 McCabe, D.R. (2011). How to Kill Things with Words: Ananias and Sapphira under the Prophetic Speech-Act of Divine Judgment (Acts 4.32-5.11). London: T&T Clark, p. 208.
  • 10 Van de Water, R. (2003). The Punishment of the Wicked Priest and the Death of Judas. Dead Sea Discoveries 10(3), 395-419; here p. 405.
  • 11 Whitlock, M.G. (2015). Acts 1:15-26 and the Craft of New Testament Poetry. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 77(1), 87-106; here pp. 104-105.
  • 12 ‘In one other place Clement uses the word τόπος to denote “the post-mortal place of honour.” This time, in an ironical jab at the Corinthians, he is speaking of the lot of deceased presbyters… The directional quality of προοδοιπορήσαντες, not merely “predecessors” but those who have traveled or gone before, is reinforced by the clear terminus for the journey in the τόπος of the departed. Despite, then, prima facie resemblance to Irenaeus’s “appointed place” (ὡρισμένος τόπος, Against Heresies V.31.2), Clement’s “established place” (τόπος) represents a conception of the place of the dead entirely at odds with that notion. There is every reason to assume that the teaching here is of a piece with that of chapter 5, in which the due place of glory and the holy place must be understood as the heavenly sanctuary and not as a subterranean holding place’ (Hill, C.E. (2001). Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 83-84).
  • 13 ‘τόπος meint die irdische Amtsstellung der Presbyter (vgl. 40,5), die ihnen nicht mehr genommen werden kann, oder aber den "himmlischen" Ort wie in 5,4.7 (so nachdrüklich Aono, Entwicklung 67; dann wäre ἱδρυμένος allerdings uneigentlich gemeint); vielleicht soll gar nicht präzise unterschieden werden’ (Lindemann, A. (1992). Die Clemensbriefe. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 132)] and (apparently) Arndt et al (op. cit., p. 1011), who list 1 Clement 44.5 under the ‘position’ meaning of topos but also asks the writer to ‘Cp. 44:5’ when listing 1 Clement 5.7 under the ‘transcendent site’ meaning.
  • 14 ‘Die Presbyter haben nun keinen Anlaß mehr zur Furcht, von ihrem Platz bzw. Amt entfernt zu werden (μεθίστημι wie in 1 Kön 15,13; 1 Makk 11,63; Lk 16,4). Die Ausdrucksweise verrät in zweifacher Weise das Interesse, die Vorstellung von einer schon soliden, feststehenden Einrichtung wachzurufen. Einmal ist von τόπος der Presbyter die Rede, was in diesem Zusammenhang an I Clem 40,5 erinnert: καὶ τοῖς ἱερεῦσιν ἴδιος ὁ τόπος προστέτακται. Sodann wird das bedeuteungsvolle  ἱδρύειν gebraucht, um die Errichtung des Amtes zu bezeichnen. Die Passiv-Form  ἱδρυμένος weist wie in 40,5 auf Gott als den Urheber hin, das Perfekt auf die Gültigkeit des den Presbytern errichteten τόπος. Der Terminus paßt in das Gesamtbild. Der fest gegründete Platz der Presbyter hat sich für einige von ihnen als nicht sicher erwiesen, da sie aus ihrem Amt hinausgedrängt wurden. Dieser Gefahr sind die schon verstorbenen Presbyter entgangen.’ (Lona, H.E. (1998). Der erste Clemensbrief. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, p. 470)
  • 15 1 Clement 36 appears to borrow extensively from Hebrews, quoting several of the same OT texts quoted in Hebrews 1, and referring to Jesus as ‘the high priest of our offerings, the benefactor who helps us in our weaknesses’ – language reminiscent of Heb. 2:18; 3:1 (cf. Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 26, 99-100).
  • 16 Hill, op. cit., p. 83.
  • 17 Hill notes that this same Greek word is used in 1 Clement 5.6.
  • 18 quoted in ibid.
  • 19 ibid.
  • 20 If the Visions were the first part of The Shepherd of Hermas to be written, around the end of the first century, as Osiek 1999: 20 suggests, then this text would have arisen around the same time as 1 Clement from within the same local church!
  • 21 Hill, op. cit., p. 83. He discusses this text in more detail in his discussion on the Shepherd of Hermas, ibid., pp. 92ff.
  • 22 following LXX: Ex. 28:26; 29:31; Lev. 6:27-36; 10:13-18; 16:2-27; 24:9; Num. 4:16; 28:7; 1 Ki. 8:10; 1 Chr. 23:32; 2 Chr. 5:9-11; 29:7; 31:18; Eccl. 8:10; Ezek. 41:21; 42:14; 44:27; 45:4; 45:18; Dan. 8:11; cf. 1 Macc. 14:36; 2 Macc. 2:18; 8:17; 3 Macc. 2:1; 4 Macc. 4:12; 1 Enoch 25.5.
  • 23 Cp. 1 Enoch 12.4, which refers to the Watchers having ‘left the high heaven, the holy eternal place’.
  • 24 Holmes, M.W. (2007) The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 53.
  • 25 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 53.
  • 26 ‘Both Greek mss have ἐπορεύθη (he went), but ἀνελήμφθη (he was taken up) is presumed by the Syriac, Latin, and Coptic versions. Since ἐπορεύθη here may also be accounted for as an assimilation to v. 4, ἀνελήμφθη is preferred by Harnack, I. Clemensbrief, and Lake, ApF. It is also adopted by Funk-Bilhmeyer, though not by Jaubert. Knoch assumes ἐπορεύθη and does not even mention the variant…If  ἀνελήμφθη is original, it would, of course, be very unsuitable for depicting a removal to Hades but utterly natural for depicting an ascension to heaven. (Hill, op. cit., p. 82 n. 19).
  • 27 Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 66.
  • 28 op. cit., p. 853.
  • 29 Ehrman's translation above has Paul being 'set free' from this world, whereas Holmes (op. cit., p. 53) translates 'he thus departed from the world...' Both 'set free' and 'depart' are possible meanings of the verb apallassō (Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 96).
  • 30 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 125, trans.
  • 31 Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 1096.
  • 32 Liddell, H.G. & Scott, R. (1940). A Greek-English Lexicon (revised and augmented throughout by H.S. Jones with the assistance of R. McKenzie). Oxford: Clarendon Press. Retrieved from http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dxw%3Dros1, 21 December 2015.
  • 33 Lona's comments on this text, already quoted in Part One of this article, are as follows: 'Zitat, dessen Herkunft in einem zweiten Schritt erörtert wird, will offensichtlich das zuvor Gesagte unterstreichen. Gemäß der vom Vf. praktizierten Schriftauslegung ist der als Zitat angeführte Text wörtlich zu nehmen. In diesem Fall sind τὰ τεμεῖα (die Kammern) identisch mit dem χῶρος εὐσεβῶν von V.3. Der Aufenthalt dort hat eine beschützende Funktion, aber er ist nicht dauernd, sondern nur für die Zeit des göttlichen Zornes gedacht, bis Gott sich des guten Tages erinnert und die Gläubigen auferstehen läßt. Zwei Aspekte sind in diesen Wort enthalten, die das Verständnis der Stelle im Kontext bestimmen. Der erste und vordergründige ist der eschatologische. Präzis ist er aber nicht. Die in der Liebe Vollendeten würden in diesen Aufenthaltsort eingehen - was nur als postmortales Ereignis vorstellbar ist - , um dort auf den guten Tag zu warten, an dem Gott sie auferstehen lassen wird. ἀναστήσω ist als Auferstehungsverheißung auszulegen. Die jüdische Apokalyptik kennt ähnliche Vorstellungen über einen Zwischenzustand. Sie sind auch dem NT nicht fremd (vgl. Phil 1,23; Lk 23,43), wenngleich die Ausdrucksweise dort nicht so bildreich ist wie in I Clem 50,4' (Lona, op. cit., p. 534).
  • 34 Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 195.
  • 35 1 Clement 44.3, 6 may indicate that among the ministers who had been deposed in Corinth were some who had been appointed by the apostles.