On The Intermediate State of the Dead (Part 1)

[From the Bible Standard, No. 1, October, 1877, pp 3-5 with some minor alterations.]

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the name, are alike unknown to the entire Bible. – Dr. Olshausen.

Job 14:10,14, puts this question, “Man giveth up the Ghost and where is he?” But who shall answer Job’s question? The Bible must answer it; from no other source can we derive certain information on this subject. It cannot surely be said, the Bible is silent on the state of Man after death for most Christians speak of this with great confidence, and appeal to it in proof of their opinions. We shall examine – What saith the Scriptures on this question; guarding on the one hand against being wise above what is written; and on the other, overlooking things revealed which belong to us and to our children.

It is universally allowed, that the whole of man is expressed in Scripture by the terms body, soul and spirit. That man’s body, after death, returns to dust, and is insensible to either pain or pleasure – visible positive facts demonstrate. The only question which remains for our investigation, then, is – has man an immortal soul, or spirit which survives death, and does it enjoy happiness or suffer misery in a disembodied state between death and the resurrection? That it does is very generally believed by Christians of all sects, and whether this is a Scriptural doctrine or not we wish to ascertain.  Â

How, then, does the Bible answer Job’s question, “Man giveth up the Ghost and where is he?” When Abraham breathed his last where was he? It is answered in Gen. 15:15, “thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace, thou shalt be buried in a good old age.” Again, when Moses gave up the Ghost i.e., or spirit, where was he? It is answered in Deut. 31:16, “behold thou shalt sleep with thy fathers.” The reader, by consulting the following texts will see the same thing said of David (1Kgs. 1:21 and 2:10 compare Acts 2:29), of Solomon (1Kgs 11:43, 2Chr. 9:31), of Asa (1Kgs15:24, 2Chr. 16:13), of Jehosaphat (1Kgs 22:50, 2Chr. 21:1), of Azariah (2Kgs 15:7), of Jotham (2Kgs 15:38, 2Chr. 27:9), of Abijah (2Chr. 14:1), of Uzziah (2Chr. 26:23), of Hezekiah (2Chr. 32:33), of Rehoboam (1Kgs 14:31, 2 Chr. 12:16), and of Josiah (2Kgs 22:20). If it is objected – all these were good men, let the reader then consult the following texts, where the same thing is said of the very worst characters. Thus it is said of Jeroboam that he “slept with his fathers” (1Kgs 14:20, 2Kgs 14:29), of Abijam (1Kgs 15:8), of Baasha (1Kgs 16:6), of Omri (1Kgs 16:28), of Ahab (1Kgs 22:40), of Joram (2Kgs 8:24), of Jehu (2Kgs 10:35), of Jehoahaz (2Kgs 13:9), of Joash (2Kgs 13:13), of Manasseh (2Kgs 21:18, 2Chr. 33:20). It is very obvious from all these texts, that persons, whether pious or profane, are said to “sleep with their fathers.” In the margin of some of them, it is “to lie down with their fathers.” Jacob desired to lie down with his fathers (Gen. 47:30). In Gen. 49:29, 33 his death is called “being gathered unto his people”. And, speaking of the wicked, it is said, “he shall go to the generation of his fathers” (Psa. 49:19). When persons are said to “go to their fathers” (Gen. 15:15), and to go down to their children who were dead (Gen. 37:35), nothing more seems to be meant than that they had gone to Sheol or Hades, where all the dead are represented as in one vast congregation. This is said of whole generations, as well as of individuals (Jud. 2:10), which confirms the views advanced.

That dying in Scripture is called falling asleep and being dead asleep is beyond all controversy. (See Psa. 76:5, 6, Job 3:13, and 7:21, Psa. 13:3, Mat. 27:52, John 11:11, 13, Acts 7:60 and 13:36, 1Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51, 1Thess. 4:13, 15, and 5:10, 2Pet. 3:4, Jer. 51:39, 1Cor. 11:30.) This sleep is said to be “in the dust” (Job 7:21, Dan. 12:2.) It is represented as a place of quietness and rest to all, poor or rich, the oppressor and the oppressed. (See Job 3:13 and 17:16, Isa. 57:2, Rev. 14:13.) Job calls this resting place in the dust “A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death”, it is a land of “darkness” (Job 10:22 and 17:13; See 1Sam. 2:9, Psa. 107:10, 14, where similar statements are made.)

It is the same to all, whatever character they sustained while in this world. It is also represented as a place of silence (Psa. 94:17, 115:17.) It is also called the “land of forgetfulness,” (Psa. 88:12) where the persons are in a state of forgetfulness, as well as forgotten by the living (Psa. 31:12). Moreover it is often described as a state of corruption and destruction (See Job 26:6, 28:22, Psa. 88:11, 16:10, Job 4:18-20, Psa. 49:9, 20, Acts 13:36.)

It cannot be doubted that Job’s question, “Man giveth up the Ghost and where is he,” is spoken of all men without exception, and in our day is answered thus – “All men, when they give up the Ghost, go immediately to heaven or hell, to be happy or miserable forever.” The Catholics have purgatory as a third place, to which they send some at death. But do the Scriptures speak of three places, or even of two, to which men go at death? Solomon says “man goeth to his long home” (Ecc. 12:5). Job calls it, “the house appointed for all living” (Job 30:23.)  Solomon expressly declares “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all return to dust again.” (Ecc. 3:20.) We are aware that it may be objected – these texts only describe the state of men’s bodies after death, but have no relation to their “immortal souls.” Be it so; I have then a right to demand that texts be produced, showing that men have immortal souls and that at death they go to heaven or hell.   All know how confidently our orthodox brethren speak of “poor immortal souls; of precious immortal souls; and of peoples never-dying souls, being every moment exposed to endless misery;” and how anxious they are to save them from such a punishment. If but one half of what they say is true, we may expect the Bible to be full and explicit on this subject. At any rate the objection has no force until it is proved, that men have immortal souls exposed to such misery. But, it may be noticed, that if the above texts only describe the state of men’s bodies after death, the sacred writers were at great pains to inform us about that which was obvious from every day’s observation. Is it rational to think that they would have used such language, yet believed men had immortal souls in a state of happiness or misery in a disembodied state? What orthodox man speaks so in the present day? If he even quotes such texts, he generally does it with some explanation, guarding us against supposing that they refer to the whole man. A distinction is made in Scripture between soul and body, but it is never intimated that the former must go to heaven or hell after death. Admit it true, and how can Job say that had he died at his birth, he would have been an “untimely birth” (Job. 3:16,) and should have been as though he had not been (Job. 10:19.) Would he not have been, if he had an immortal soul? Indeed how could he cease to be if this were true? But at death persons are to be no more (Gen. 42:36, Psa. 39:13, Mat. 2:18.) And of man it is said – “Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?” (Psa. 89:48).

If any part of man existed in a state of happiness or misery after death, how could the sacred writers speak as in the following Scriptures? In Psalm 115:17, it is said, “The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.” Again, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (Psa. 6:5.) And it is asked, “Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?” (Psa. 30:9) and “Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction? (Psa. 88:10-11 compare Psa. 88:12 and 118:17, and Isa. 38:18-19, where similar things are stated.) But again it is said, “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” (Psa. 146:3-4). And in Ecclesiastes it is expressly declared, “the dead know not any thing” and that “their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished.” (Ecc. 9:5-6.) At verse 10, it is added, “there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” How these statements could be made by persons who believed that they had immortal souls, which at death went to heaven or hell, I must leave for others to explain.

But Job answers his own question in chapter 14:11-12 when he says, “As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.” Here he intimates his hope of a resurrection from the dead; but that he had no knowledge of the soul’s existence in a disembodied state, is apparent from verse 13, “O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldst appoint me a set time, and remember me!” In verses 14 and 15, Job’s answer is in unison with all the above texts, nor is anything said in any other part of the book, which would lead us to believe that he had an immortal soul, which would exist in a disembodied state. In the book of Job a future life is entirely predicated on the resurrection from the dead. On the whole of the above texts I shall now submit the following questions and remarks, for candid consideration. Is it any honour to the sacred writers, to make them gravely and repeatedly tell us, that a dead carcase does not praise God; that it does not give thanks to God? And if at death man’s soul goes to heaven or hell, how could they in truth say that “the dead know not anything” and that at death “the thoughts of men perish”? Are souls in heaven and hell destitute of al knowledge and thought? If so, how can they be either happy or miserable? Supposing a man in the present expressed himself as Job, Hezekiah, and others did in view of their death, would he not be counted a denier of the faith, and worse than an infidel? Such would do well to consider, how those good men spoke as they did, yet died in peace. Did they not fall asleep with a hope and peace of mind as much superior to some death-bed scenes praised among us, as the composure of a rational man is to the ravings of a maniac? But I ask again, supposing that the sacred writers intended to teach us that the whole man ceases to exist at death, what better language could they have used? The texts are many, plain, and uttered without a single word of qualification, concerning any immortal soul which survives death. Does not their language justify the views I have advanced? And if I have mistaken their meaning, how are we to reconcile them with the doctrine of the immortality of the soul? But if my views be correct, it is certain that Job’s question is fully and repeatedly answered in the above passages. We frankly admit, that if it can be proved that man has an immortal soul which goes to heaven or hell at death, they ought to be understood as referring merely to his body, but if this cannot be done, prejudice herself will allow, the doctrine of disembodied spirits is without foundation in the Bible.

If the Scripture writers do not inform us that men have immortal souls, and where they go at death, it is fair to conclude that they had no such knowledge to communicate. –B.                    Â

(To be continued)

Christianity treats man not as immortal, but as a candidate for immortality. – Rev. Dr. Parker

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