Where are the Dead – According to the Bible?
PAUL ON DEATH, SOUL, HADES, AND RESURRECTION
(excerpt, the text is long and I propose only the first part)
We come now to the apostle Paul and his own teachings on the foregoing subjects: death, soul, judgment and resurrection. Paul’s teachings follow the traditional line of the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus. Indeed, once he says he bases his hope on the “word of the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:15) Paul never uses the word for “hell”, Hades even though he tells the elders from Ephesus: “I kept back nothing profitable unto you.” (Acts 20:20 KJV) Most believers in “hell fire” would admit it is a “profitable” doctrine for the fear of hell keeps people in church.
Unlike the Greeks who believed in the immortality of the soul – rendering the idea of a resurrection useless – Paul holds to a strong belief in the resurrection. (Acts 7:18, 31, 32; Acts 24:15, 21) The resurrection is yet future and he condemns those who would say the resurrection has already occurred. (2 Timothy 2:18) He teaches Christians will rise first and then the faithful men of old. (1 Corinthians 15:23; Hebrews 11:35)
In the following research paper there is a thorough discussion of what Paul taught about the resurrection and after-life based on First Corinthians chapter 15. There are those who believe Paul’s teachings allow for an immediate change to celestial life upon the death of a Christian. The idea – similar to the Greek’s immortal soul – contradicts what Paul has to say about the timing of matters in his letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians. The primary text used is 2 Corinthians 5.1-10: “Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth. But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live. These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever.” [CET] Is it fair to say that Paul teaches the earthly, physical body is to be finally “destroyed,” or “demolished”? Does he teach that there is another, future “house” not of human origin that will be everlasting in the heavens? He does not describe some reunion of the immortal soul with the former natural body of flesh. “2While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home. 3We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked. 4These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan. But we don't do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die. 5God is the one who makes all of this possible. He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it.” [1 Corinthians 5:2-5 CET] Paul does not here teach that this “putting on of the other” will occur immediately upon death. It is only his desire to put off the one and attain the other. “6So always be cheerful! As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the LORD. 7But we live by faith, not by what we see. 8We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the LORD. 9But whether we are at home with the LORD or away from him, we still try our best to please him. 10After all, Christ will judge each of us for the good or the bad that we do while living in these bodies.” [1 Corinthians 5:6-10 CET] Nothing here has indicated an immediate change to spiritual life. But what does Paul teach on this subject. Follow the next essay.
THE RESURRECTION – ACCORDING TO PAUL:
In the entire Bible, in all of the Scripture, there is only one chapter which deals exclusively with the subject of the resurrection. It is the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Here in 58 verses is the inspired subject of the resurrection according to Saint Paul. In this essay about death and life in the here-after the saintly rabbi uses words like soul, spirit, body, life, earth, heaven, resurrect, immortality and others. Is it fair to assume that we have here in this one chapter the sum of what the Bible teaches, or does not teach, on the subject of the after-life?
The after-life is right at the root of all religion. Virtually all earth’s inhabitants, with the exception of less than one or two percent, share some kind of belief in the after-life. There is only one absolute in all of our lives, one matter that we may be quite assured of, one item which all earth’s billions can agree: we are going to die! If this is the case, then death and the possibility of life after death, ought to be a subject we are intensely interested in. If we believe God exists, and the odds are fifty-fifty that He does, then the Creator must be factored into this subject of death and life after death.
Virtually all of us were raised with some idea on this subject. We may have learned them from our parents. Later, we formed certain ideas of our own as taught by our religion. It is fair to state that most religious persons share a common belief: we possess an immortal soul that survives the death of our body and continues to live in an after-life. At this point the beliefs vary as to what exactly happens. Many “Christian” churches believe the faithful go to heaven to live with God while the wicked go to a hell-fire. Catholics would throw a middle ground, a Purgatory, into the picture. Eastern religions would tend toward some transmigration of souls or reincarnation in which all of us are recycled.
With 55 verses, an entire chapter before us, what did Saint Paul believe regarding this subject? We must admit this is a most excellent opportunity for him to address this question thoroughly. Certainly, he will not omit such things as an immortal soul, hell, purgatory, the resurrection of the physical body, or even reincarnation?
Is it possible to set aside previously held views and approach Saint Paul’s commentary with an open and unbiased mind as we consider these verses? Is it possible to come to this subject without religious prejudice just for the moment? Can we set aside what we have heard or learned, and read these verses with the motive of wanting to know what the inspired Apostle had to teach?
What follows will be an overall consideration of these verses. Some of the verses will be paraphrased while others will be copied from the Revised Standard Version with comparisons from the Greek and other translations. The letters NCMM stand for 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures. Words or phrases in [brackets] indicate alternate renderings. Let us begin then with a fair reading and commentary on First Corinthians chapter fifteen.
THE RESURRECTION – ACCORDING TO PAUL
First, we begin by asking what question is Paul addressing in this section of his letter? There are two. The first is in verse 12: “How can some of you say there is no resurrection?” The second is in verse 35: “How are the dead to be raised?”
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 PAUL’S GOSPEL MESSAGE. In the opening four verses Paul restates to the Corinthian the kernel of his original message to them: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried and then he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
A word is introduced here which Paul will use about twenty times, “raise(d).” The word will occur in verses 4, 12-17, 20, 29, 32, 35, 42-44, 53. The Greek word is EGEGERTAI (he was raised). Since Paul’s subject is the “resurrection” (verses 12, 35) is it fair to state “raised” is a synonym for resurrection? So, Paul believes Jesus the Nazarene was raised or resurrected from the dead. Paul is not the first inspired writer to use the metaphorical word “raised” or EGEGERTAI. He may have been well aware the idea occurred in Job 14:13 and Daniel 12:2. He probably knew his Lord and early disciples had used forms of the word EGEIRO. (Matthew 10:8; 11:5; 12:42; 16:21; 26:32; 27:63; Luke 9:22; 11:31; John 2:19, 22; 5:21)
1 Corinthians 15:5-8 PROOF OF CHRIST BEING RAISED FROM THE DEAD. In these verses Paul lists the witnesses to the raising of Christ from the dead: Peter (Cephas), the Twelve, and then “more than five-hundred” disciples. He states that most of these are alive and so can be interviewed or cross-examined for eyewitness evidence. This personal testimony of the living eyewitnesses must have been powerful for within a few months thousands of people were baptized publicly confessing their belief in a Risen Christ. (Acts 2:41; 3:15; 4:2, 4)
Paul adds two “unbelievers” to whom the Risen Christ appeared: the disciple and half-brother of Jesus, James; and, Paul himself. The strength of this eyewitness testimony can be understood by realizing that as a result of Jesus’ own teaching and miracles about 500 persons committed themselves to Nazarene discipleship. However, within a couple months of hearing the testimony of the disciples nearly ten thousand persons became Christian believers. Christ’s own resurrection, and the eyewitness testimony to it, had a more powerful affect than the miracles of Jesus himself.
If Peter, Paul, and other disciples, are examples of some of the enthusiasm and zeal of these eyewitnesses then their personal testimony throughout their lives, during the next 40 years, is responsible for so many conversions from among Jews and pagans alike. (Acts 10.39-41) In First Corinthians Paul has already stated his conviction with powerful faith when he asks them, “Have I not seen Christ?” (1 Corinthians 9:1) He could not have begun to make such a claim if the Corinthians had not already accepted the testimony Paul had given to them.
The idea that a certain man actually was raised from the dead and that eyewitnesses had not only observed his death and burial, but also his resurrection, was the driving force in the spread of Christianity. Meanwhile, for the Nazarene’s enemies, the “empty tomb” was not only an embarrassment but the silence of that grave resounded around the world! (Matthew 28:1-8; Mark 15:47; 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18)
1 Corinthians 15:12-19 “THERE IS NO RESURRECTION!” Now there is a voice of objection from within the Corinthian congregation. Paul must have been told this idea was making its rounds among the Corinthian Christians. This assertion that some Christians were saying “there is no resurrection” seems completely out of character to modern Christians. However, these were Greeks and after Plato they had no belief in a “resurrection.” Rather, Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul making a resurrection unnecessary.
A new word is here introduced by Paul in response to this divisive chord coming from the church in Corinth: “resurrection.” It is the Greek word ANASTASIS from which the name Anastasia comes. It literal means “again + standing” or a re-standing. In verse 12 here it seems clear that “raised” (EGEGERTAI) is a synonym for “resurrection.” The word “resurrect(ion)” is to occur three more times. (1 Corinthians 15:13, 21, 42)
Paul is not the first one to use a form of ANASTASIS in the Bible. That scholarly Jewish rabbi, now converted to Christianity, knew quite well forms of the word occurred in the Hebrew Scriptures in its Greek version, the Septuagint. He likely was quite aware this word could be found at Job 14:12 (ANASTE) and Job 42:17 (ANASTESESTHAI, ANISTESIN). Surely, he himself had read Isaiah 26:14, 19 (ANASTESOUSI, ANASTESONTAI) for he will quote from Isaiah 25:8 near the end of his inspired commentary. (1 Corinthians 15:54) He may have known also that his own Lord, Jesus the Nazarene, had quoted Isaiah 26:19 and used a nearly identical phrase including the word ANASTASIN. This was to be recorded later at John 5:29. Finally, Paul would have known ANASTESE occurred in Daniel 12:13 with regard to the prophet’s own standing up from his restful sleep.
Paul may have known his traveling companion the beloved physician Luke was preparing his own Gospel and would have their Lord Jesus use ANASTASIS in Luke 20:33, 35, 36. The apostle John was to put this Greek word in the mouth of the Nazarene in John 5:29; 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24, 25. It would appear that the Nazarene believed “resurrect” meant “to make alive” or “raise from the dead.” (John 5:21, 29)
If there is no resurrection at all Paul argues: a) Christ has not been raised (resurrected); b) our preaching and faith is useless; c) we are false witnesses; d) we are still in our sins; e) the Christian dead are perished; and, f) we Christians are most to be pitied (for such a false hope).
In this particular context Paul uses a word he introduced in verse 6 and will use again. (1 Corinthians 15:6, 18, 20, 51) It is the word “asleep” or “sleeping.” Paul uses the Greek KOIMETHENTES (have fallen asleep) as a metaphor for death. Paul knows the Hebrew Scriptures use such a word to describe the condition of the dead in unconscious sleep. (Job 14:12 KOIMETEIS; Psalm 13:3; Daniel 12:2) Paul is likely to have known that his Lord Jesus also used such a word for death. (John 11:11) So Paul uses such a word as “sleep” elsewhere for death (1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15), as does Peter. (2 Peter 3:4)
Accordingly, the opposite of “sleeping” in death is to awaken or wake up. (Isaiah 14:9; 26:19; Daniel 12:2) Paul uses the idea at Ephesians 5:14: For this reason he says: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead then Christ will enlighten you!” [NCMM Paraphrase ©MM] He uses an even more subtle expression inferring an early or dawn rising from sleep with EXANATASIN at Philippians 3:11.
1 Corinthians 15:20-28 WHAT THE RAISING OF CHRIST MEANS. Now we embark on one of the most important series of phrases in Paul’s answer. Who will be resurrected and when?
1 Corinthians 15:20, 23: “Indeed, Christ has been raised [EGEGERTAI] from the dead, the first-fruits of the dead. … Christ, the first-fruits.” The first to rise from the dead is Jesus the Nazarene. Paul is well aware that there had been temporary resurrections as miracles performed by the prophets and Jesus. (Hebrews 11:35) So, he must enlarge his idea here to mean raised or resurrected in the fullest sense. He writes of this unique resurrection of Jesus in Colossians 1:18 where he calls Jesus, “the first-born from the dead.” In his Apocalypse, the Nazarene describes himself, “the first-born from the dead” and “the First and the Last who died and now lives.” (Revelation 1:5; 2:8)
Can any other idea be understood by this other than Jesus the Nazarene was the first person to rise or be resurrected from the dead and thus all others are still sleeping in the grave? If mankind had been surviving death, either to go to heaven or to hell, Paul does not explain this as part of his belief. He does not say that now that Jesus has been resurrected he has joined Abraham, or Moses, or the Prophets in heaven, for then Jesus would not be the “first-born from the dead” but merely one other of the millions who had already risen from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:21, 22: “For by sin death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead had also come through a human being, for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” Here Paul introduces another word as a synonym for being raised or resurrected: “made alive.” The phrase is from the Greek ZOOPOIETHESONTAI (will be made alive) and contains what is the English word “zoo” and from which Eve gets her name, Zoe. Paul is to go on to use a form of the word in verses 36 and 43. Perhaps he knows his Lord used it as later recorded in John 5:21.
Paul makes it clear, just as “all” died in Adam, “all” will be made alive in Christ. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that paves the way for all mankind traceable back to Adam to be raised, made alive or resurrected. It is according to the purpose of God that all men die due to sin, but will finally be raised for judgment regarding the life they lived. Paul teaches this in his letter to the Romans 2.5-10, 16: “You are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For He will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek glory and honor and immortality,21 He will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. … on the day when, according to the gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.” To the Jews Paul wrote: “It is determined that humans die once, but after this death a judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27 NCMM)
To the Athenian philosophers who believed in the immortality of the soul Paul spoke: “(The God) has appointed a day on which He will righteously judge the inhabited earth by a Man He appointed, having furnished proof to all by having him raised from the dead.” (Acts 17:31 NCMM) So, it seems clear that all will be resurrected. But, in what order, or when, will mankind’s masses rise, or be made alive again, or be resurrected?
1 Corinthians 15:23-28 THE ORDER OR RANK OF THE RESURRECTION. Paul continues to answer the next obvious question: “But, each one in his own order [rank, division]: (1) Christ the first-fruits, (2) afterward [then, next] those of the Christ at his Arrival [coming, presence]; (3) then The End when (the Son) hands over the kingdom [realm, domain] to his God and Father – when [after] (the Son) has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For it is a necessity for ‘(the Son) to reign [rule as king] until (The God) places his enemies under his feet.’” (Psalm 110:1) The last enemy to be abolished [destroyed, stopped, done away with, made ineffective] is Death. For (the God) ‘subjected everything under (the Son’s) feet.’ (Psalm 8:6) “But, when (the God) says that everything has been subjected, it is clear that (the God) who subjected (everything) to (the Son) is excepted [not included]. But, when everything is subjected to (the Son), then also the Son will subject himself to the One who subjected (everything) to (the Son), so that The God will be everything to everyone.” (RSV; NCMM)
Though there is much of interest in these verses, here our main focus is the resurrection itself. Does it seem fair to conclude that after the Son as the first-fruit of those made alive from the dead there are two orders or ranks? Is it fair to conclude that these two are a first and a last? Is it fair to conclude that none rise, come to life, or are resurrected between the resurrection of the First-fruits until the Arrival (PAROUSIA = Presence or Coming) of Christ. Is it fair to conclude that between these two events the King “reigns” alone? Is it fair to conclude that upon the Arrival (PAROUSIA) of the King “those of Christ” rise first?
The phrase “those of Christ” (OI TOU CHRISTOU) is generally rendered “those who belong to Christ.” Who may these be? Judging from similar phrases in Paul’s letters is it fair to conclude these are Christians, that is disciples of Jesus, the Friends of the Nazarene? (Romans 1:6; 14:8; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:21; Galatians 3:29; 5:24) So, the first rank or order of mankind to be made alive, raised, or resurrected are only those who have identified themselves with the Christ.
Paul must know that his Lord Jesus Christ the Nazarene taught that upon the King’s Arrival “the Elect” (or, chosen ones) would be gathered. (Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27) In the context of the Parousia (Arrival) Paul uses a similar term in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 showing the “Gathering” is so connected. Paul had written his two epistles to the Thessalonians before those verses dealing with the resurrection in First Corinthians. At 1 Thessalonians 4:16 Paul had already written that “those dead in Christ will be resurrected first” (OI VEKROI EN CHRISTO ANASTESONTAI), “the dead in Christ will rise first.” (RSV)
So, how do we conclude and summarize Paul’s teaching thus far on the subject of the resurrection? Out of all mankind, Jesus Christ was the first to be made alive, raised or resurrected. Christ reigns alone until that moment of his Return or Arrival (Presence). Then the first to be made alive, raised, or resurrected are those claiming to be Christians. Next in order will be the rest of dead mankind at the moment Paul calls “the End.” (HO TELOS) Paul does not reveal how long it will be between Christ’s own resurrection as the Firstfruits and the awakening, making alive, raising, or resurrecting of all the Christian believers throughout time. Nor does Paul make known how long a time it is between the raising of the Christian body of believers and “the End” when the last awakening or resurrection of humankind occurs.
However, the Beloved Apostle John does reveal this matter in complete harmony with Paul. Revelation22 20:4, 5 reads: “Then I saw thrones and those seated on them were given authority to judge. … They came to life and reigned with the Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended [TELESTHE].)”
This explains that there is at least a thousand years between the resurrection of Christian believers and “the rest of the dead.” This point agrees with Paul’s “order” and what occurs at “the End” (1 Corinthians 15:24 HO TELOS). Interestingly a form of this word occurs in Revelation 20:3, 5, 7 (TELESTHE) which refers to the end of the Thousand Years.
What does this mean today? Since Christ has not returned in his foretold Arrival or Presence – with the accompanying visible signs (including celestial darkness) observable to “all the tribes of the earth” (Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:25, 26) – ONLY ONE PERSON HAS GONE TO HEAVEN TO BE WITH GOD! Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the Firstfruits of those who sleep in death. All the rest of mankind, including all Christian believers throughout almost twenty centuries, still lie asleep in the dust of death awaiting the “first” or “early resurrection.” (Revelation 20:6; Philippians 3:11) NO ONE HAS YET GONE TO HEAVEN! ALL OUR DEAD LOVED ONES WHO HAD BEEN CHRISTIANS ARE ASLEEP IN THE GRAVE. All may be described in the words of Job 14:13, 14 (LXX Bagster): “For, O that Thou hadst kept me in (Hades) and hast hidden me until Thy wrath should cease, and Thou shouldest set me a time in which Thou wouldest remember me! For if a man should die, shall he live again, having accomplished the days of his life? I will wait till I exist again.”
Where do our dead Christian loved ones “sleep”? Job catches the idea in his word “remember.” All the Christian dead wait in the Divine Memory and so in this sense “they are ‘living’ to Him” (Luke 20:38) and must await the resurrection. It is comforting to us that the dead are in the peace of sleep and “know nothing” of the passage of any time for “their thoughts perished.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Psalm 146:3, 4; Ecclesiastes 3:19-21) To them, upon their resurrection, it will seem instantaneous, just as when a person undergoes surgery and suddenly awakens in the recovery room though many hours may have passed.