A few months ago, Dave preached a series on hell and eternal conscious punishment in general. In that three-part series, he mentioned his recent change of thought on Sheol, stating he no longer holds to an idea of it being some kind of place for the departed souls of men, but that it is instead, simply synonymous with death.
Connected to this, is a rejection now of the idea of man even having something to be separated from at death. In other words, rejected is the idea of man having a separable body and soul, or spirit, or whatever you wish to call it.
That separation concept is declared to be an adopted Greek or Egypt concept, and not a Hebrew one. Therefore, if it is true that the ancient Hebrews did not believe in a separate body and soul, then they obviously do not believe in a place that souls go after death.
For me, my current position is still a belief that the Hebrews did in fact believe in a separation of body from some spiritual form, and that they did believe in a place or realm where that departed portion goes to be contained prior to the resurrection, a place of the dead known as Sheol.
In briefly voicing my opinions on this topic at times since that series, David asked me to present my side of things in a message today, as he is, as usual, always open to considering other directions when it comes to the non-essentials of theology.
Now, a few things to be clear on from the start. There are quite a few topics that were dealt with during that series on hell, and I am not dealing with or responding to anything but the section dealing with the Hebrew concept of a place called Sheol, and related to that, something leaving the physical body at death to go there.
Now, let’s establish some terminology. All through the English translation of Hebrew scriptures, we find the word soul, but, I admit, the literal meaning and usage of the word is not to be understood as the spirit-type portion that it may immediately bring to our modern mind.
A possibly better term used in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to those dead in the state of Sheol is shades or rephaim. As H. Wheeler Robinson’s classic work, The Religious Idea of the Old Testament states:
The dead are thus supposed to go on existing in some sense or other, even by the early thought of Israel. But it is an existence which has no attraction for the Israelites… It is not his soul that survives at all; the dead are called “shades” (rephaim), not “souls” in the Old Testament. The subterranean place of their abiding is called Sheol, and in many particulars it is like the Greek Hades. (H. Wheeler Robinson, The Religious Idea of the Old Testament, 1913)
So, let it be understood that while I am not referring to the soul in the way it is used in the English translation of the Old Testament, I will try to consistently use the term “soul” today to represent that part of the person that exists after bodily death, since it more easily aligns and is palatable with our traditional thoughts.
Now, I cannot believe it has been this long, but in this very month, back in 2013, I did a lengthy sermon on this topic, called “He Descended into Hell.” I’m sure everyone here recalls all of the points I made back then, right? It was probably one of my longest messages, and I explained the Hebrew and early church concept of Sheol.
While I will obviously touch on small pieces from that same message, I encourage you to go back and listen to it for details I will not be covering in this message. Again, this is my current position being presented, and I am open to correction, but I did not find Dave’s messages convincing enough to sway my present view.
For the record, this is not a new discussion. Scholars have debated back and forth for at least a century about whether man is an anthropological dualism, made up of flesh and a separable portion, or is man more of a monistic entity, a single unit as is now Dave’s position. In my 2013 message, I did have this to say on this topic:
[T]here is much debate over whether the Hebrews had any understanding of a dual nature of man, of a possible separation of body and spirit. Did they believe that Sheol was just the laying of the body — which contained the whole man — into the grave? Many would say yes, and proclaim that the idea of the spirit leaving the flesh to exist in some way outside of it is foreign to Hebrew understanding. I admit, I have done little study on this topic, but believe the idea is somewhat evident in the Scriptures.
I believe we find infant stages of this belief in early Scripture, and it progressively becomes more clearly explained into the second Temple period and up into and through the New testament Scriptures and beyond. That is not to say there are not times where some writers use it as a synonym for just death and the grave, but it is understood to mean more at times.
Here is just one of many books on the topic, by John Cooper, called Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting. It was published 30 years ago, and documents this almost century long debate between monism and dualism. In it, he presents both sides of the argument, examining the key scriptures each side uses for their defense.
Here is the point — this is a deep scholarly debate, with both sides making strong cases. So, while Dave gave a bunch of quotes and remarks in defense of his position, let it be known, he presented just the monism side of the debate. My goal is not to now simply present the dualism quotes from scholars, I just want to lay out what I see at present.
I will share a little of the intro from this book, to give some background on the debate details. Cooper tells how anthropological dualism is the historically held position for most of church history, and it has only come under dispute in the past century.
The attack has been made by philosophers who wish to argue against the soul being able to exist apart from the body. He points out this about philosophers:
They have proposed alternative theories of human nature according to which the soul is really an aspect of the body or essentially correlated with the body. In neither case could the soul survive the death of the body. Scientists have undermined belief in the soul’s separability by uncovering numerous ways in which consciousness is dependent on and influenced by the brain.
In addition, computerized robots which read, think, speak, and answer questions seem to suggest that the existence of a spiritual substance is wholly unnecessary for such higher mental functions to be carried out. The word “soul” may still refer to such capacities, but human souls are then the mental capabilities of the computer-like human brain, not separable entities. (John Cooper, Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting, pg 2)
Now this is not to say that the attack on the historic view is just from atheistic scientists and philosophers, but you can see how this can play into the argument. The attack has also been made from philosophers and scientists who are sincere Christians.
As it moves into the scholarly world, they started to espouse the view that:
Biblical scholars have argued that ancient Hebrew and even New testament writers did not operate with a dualistic view of human nature, but with a monistic or holistic one.
Historians of theology supported these contentions by claiming that both dualistic anthropology and belief in disembodied souls are tenets of Plato’s philosophy which were brought into Christian theology by the church fathers after the completion of the New testament. (John Cooper, Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting, pg 3)
Most every quote Dave gave was from that monistic side of the argument, and he quoted many references to make this point exactly, pointing to Plato and his ilk for influencing early church fathers like Augustine.
As I review some of the arguments presented, it feels many times that in dealing with some passages, someone pretty much has to be already convinced of the monistic view, in order to then interpret some sections in a strictly monistic manner.
When dealing with seemingly plain descriptions of a dualistic nature, it often comes across as if it requires some in-depth word studies and gymnastic applications to then apply wooden word definitions to things in order to keep it from being dualistic in nature.
However, when read more plainly, I believe we can easily see a dualistic belief constantly from the start to finish, in Scripture, in extra biblical writings of the times, and as I said, throughout most of church history.
The main thrust of Dave’s discussion was more specifically focused on the views of hell, by showing how it developed later in church history due to the teachings of the early church fathers, who were influenced by the Greeks regarding the immortality of the soul.
In tracing that point out, he and others also say that it is wrong because prior to these Greek ideas, the Hebrews had no concept or belief in a separation of a soul after death. One quote he provided was:
We are influenced always more or less by the Greek, Platonic idea that the body dies, yet soul is immortal. Such an idea is utterly contrary to the Israelite consciousness and is nowhere found in the Old Testament." (International Bible Encyclopedia, Page 812, 1960.)
Of course, I am prone to agree with this quote, the immortality of the soul is not taught there. But the problem is, there are two topics being discussed as one, yet they are intertwined as inseparable by most, but we’ll touch on that in a moment.
To dismiss a body/soul separation means that all people dying before the resurrection just simply ceased to exist, period. This of course means the doctrine of the resurrection is affected, but we’ll get to that in a bit too.
For me, I maintain that the soul was in existence, but held captive by and in a place called death — Sheol, the place of the dead. And that they were expecting to eventually be rescued and removed from that captivity by death — being resurrected from out of the dead ones as 1 Cor. 15 speaks about — and restored to union with Yahweh.
Then, as we are told in Revelation, that place of the dead — death itself - was thrown into the lake of fire so as to never be a hindrance between man and Yahweh again. I see it as tying directly in with the promise from Christ in John:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Joh 11:25-26 ESV)
To me, this is a promise of continued life after physical death. Though they die physically, they never die spiritually in the same manner as they did prior to Christ when their spiritual death took them and held them captive to Sheol.
They never “see death” as it is put in John 8, so they never see or experience the place — the captivity of death. For those who are not part of this group that believe, they do not take part in that resurrection, but do still continue on in existence to see death.
In Christ, death is defeated, done away with as a captive. Christ descended and defeated that place. Those in Christ have put on immortality then, and at physical death they bypass that spiritual place of existence called death.
The way I see it, without this scenario, if you take a monistic view of man, we have a whole man dying and simply ceasing to exist in any form. If that were the case, then wouldn’t that mean that in order for there to be a resurrection, the whole man physically must be raised and restored fully to his former fleshly self, right?
Dave states near the end of part three of his series, that in AD 70 at the spiritual judgment of both the gods and men, the just and the unjust were resurrected. He doesn’t stop to explain how that would look like in the monistic point of view, but would it make sense to assume it means that the whole single-part man was resurrected in the flesh, and then somehow stood judgment while in the flesh in the spiritual realm?
It makes sense if their spiritual existence was raised to stand judgment, but are we to understand that their physical bodies were reconstituted in AD 70 during a mass resurrection out of the graves, and they stood judgment in the spiritual realm?
So if there is no part of man that separates at bodily death, and if death is not a place of captivity in a spiritual realm, and death is simply the physical life ending and being placed in the grave, then contrary to what John says, Christians do see death, because everyone dies that death.
And if that is the scenario, then it seems the only solution to a monistic Christian dying, would be to have the physical body resurrected in fleshly form, and then changed to put on immortality, right? Of course, only the just would put on immortality, the unjust would not. So again, does that mean their regular physical bodies stand judgment in the spiritual realm?
And if man is this monistic one-part unit, an inseparable entity, then at what point in time do we Christians today put on immortality and get to heaven? Since we know currently, that we shall all, in our flesh, go down to the grave and see death, when is our fleshly resurrection to take place so we can go to heaven?
It seems this view inevitably leads us back to a belief in a yet future physical resurrection of bodies out of graves in some manner in the future, does it not? There is then one comment Dave says near the end of message three, that I think is the crux of the whole struggle causing this attempt to embrace this different view. He says this:
The understanding of man being mortal, apart from faith in Christ, is where I get my view of Sheol being death. (Dave Curtis, Eternal Punishment Pt 3, given 10/14/18 — approx. 58-minute mark of video)
This is what I think all of the issues and confusion hinges upon; the mortality/immortality thing. Maybe it is me seeing things way too simple, and it is causing me to be way off the mark on this. But I have no issue saying man is mortal yet dualistic, as man’s soul is likewise mortal, because it can end.
The majority of Dave’s argument was focused against eternal conscious torment and a place called hell as is traditionally held, none of which I take issue with. But, directly connected to this view of hell and eternal torture is this traditional belief in the immortality of the soul.
In looking back, this is really the main thrust of what Dave and others argue against. See, there is a direct connection, because a soul that is immortal is a soul that can never cease to be. So, if it will never cease, then there has to be a place for it to go, and bang — a hell-fire-burning-forever theology is needed.
You see, belief in an eternal place of torment is required if there is a belief in an eternal, never ending soul. But just because there is a separation of body and soul, that does not, in my opinion at least, require a belief in the soul being immortal. Maybe I am being too technical with the terminology on this point. I believe the Bible clearly teaches the soul can cease, thus it is not immortal.
But, I do not think that we are forced to believe that just because the soul is mortal, then at physical death it immediately has to cease. We are told God is the God of the living, not the dead, in reference to saints who had physically died long ago. So ever after physical death, they exist in some fashion.
While it may be able to survive outside of the physical body, that does not require it to be deemed immortal. If it has an eventual end point, it is not immortal, right? Or is this just a terminology confusion? I think the biblical testimony is of a continuing soul, but not a never ending, immortal one.
Is it beyond the scope and power of Yahweh to be able to sustain the soul’s existence after physical death, causing it to be given under the captivity of death, until such a time as He raises or judges it, and either makes it immortal, or makes it perish?
Man was created by God to be with him. In his sin, he spiritually died that exact day he ate of the tree. He was cast out of Yahweh’s presence in the garden, and so even after death, his soul would not be allowed to go back into God’s presence.
Instead, he would be held captive by and in the place of death for his disobedience. Being restored to Yahweh was the desire, but the captivity of death was the reality due to sin. Christ came to redeem man from that consequence of sin, which was not physical death. He came to restore man back from his spiritual death and into fellowship with Yahweh.
The Platonist view was more along the lines of the soul being a more important part, and thus separating and being immortal was an advantage. That was not really the Hebrew concept. Plato lays it out like this:
"The soul, whose inseparable attitude is life, will never admit of life's opposite, death. Thus the soul is shown to be immortal, and since immortal, indestructible…
See, the crux of the argument is based on a belief in the immortality and ever-living nature of the soul, but again, that is not required for our discussion. For them, the soul was considered eternal, therefore it has to separate at death. To me, the soul separates at death, but not because it is immortal.
Plato went on to say that the separation of the soul from the body is what they call death.
…we believe there is such a thing as death? To be sure. And is this anything but the separation of the soul and body? Being dead is the attainment of this separation, when the soul exists in herself and separate from the body, and the body is parted from the soul. This is death…death is merely the separation of the soul from the body." Plato, 428-347 BC.
So, while to the Greeks death was simply the separation of body and soul, usually leading to a better, higher existence for the soul, it was not exactly that for the Hebrews. To the Hebrews death more appears to be the state of existence after this separation.
They do not seem to imply it as immortal, but they do expect it to exist outside the body. While the immortality of the soul did take a foothold in the early church, it is not the same Hebrew concept of existence after death.
Now, let’s move on with the task at hand, which will be simply to look for Scriptural evidence that would confirm a dualistic viewpoint, whether by finding an expectation of existence after physical death, or the description of a place of existence after physical death.
I will skip over making the possible quote after quote from early church fathers of the first few hundred years of Christendom, since that is already acknowledge as part of the problem. Instead, I will kind of work backwards, and go straight to the New testament Scripture.
If Christ and the Apostles taught on these subjects, it has to be authoritative, plus it will reveal a general understanding of the Hebrew doctrines in general. We hinted to one already:
And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (Rev 20:13-14 ESV)
Here we see death and hades being emptied of the dead “who were in it.” While it may be some kind of symbolism for just death in general, it seems an unnecessary way to say it if it were. It would rather appear that the concept is of a place containing dead ones, and they are being emptied, and then that container is being destroyed.
This can’t just be the grave, since the graves were not thrown in the lake of fire. Nor can it be simply physical death, since that continues to this day. There is more here than simply physical death.
And then there is the Luke 16 story of Lazarus and the rich man. After death, one goes to Abraham’s bosom, one goes to an opposite side in torment. A chasm is mentioned as being between them, and water is mentioned. What do we make of it? It is true or parable? Is it revealing a real life after death scenario? Don’t know, don’t care. But here is what I think we can get from it.
Doubtfully anyone would deny that the place described here is lifted right from the Book of Enoch. I expounded it in greater detail, again in my message from six years ago. The separate chambers, the torment of one, the blessing of the other, the chasm between them, and the water in the midst of them, all come right from Enoch 22.
Sure, Enoch is not canon Scripture, but I, in one of my previous conference lectures, and Dave in numerous sermons, have made the case for the importance and influence of this and other 2nd Temple writings on New testament writings and theology.
The point being, these books were considered highly enough at the time that they were used and quoted as if to contain some truth that made its way into the canon Scriptures teaching on topics, terms and conditions regarding many things.
Here Christ tells a story, while using details from the Book of Enoch’s description of Sheol. Dave says he was quoting this, not sanctioning it as true, and was using it against the Pharisees as an incorrect belief held by them.
I don’t find that to be the case at all. While some of the descriptive details mentioned may not have come directly from Old Covenant writers, I believe the general belief of such a realm can be found in canon, and just additional details came from later non-canonical writings that expounded upon already established understandings, and were probably well accepted by the people at the time.
While it may be true that the Book of Enoch is not considered canon, that does not require us to believe that it is void of any spiritual truth. That being the case, who is to say that the descriptions of Sheol are not some of the truths the book holds?
After all, it does not conflict with descriptions of the place found throughout the Hebrew scriptures, it just gives additional clarity. And then the fact that Christ quotes those descriptions in His story, while nowhere saying they are false, that just provides additional weight to the argument for them being truths.
Time and time again when Christ ran across Pharisaical false teaching of his time, he used language like “you have heard it said…but I say…” and other such corrective and condemning terminology. Yet here we get absolutely no indication that the geographical backdrop to his story borrowed from Enoch is portraying a false view of Sheol and death.
So, I believe that Christ’s use of it in his story, without in anyway condemning it as erroneous, does in fact show he sanctions in many ways at least some of the descriptive details of Sheol, but for sure he sanctions the traditional Hebrew concept of an afterlife existence in Sheol.
What he was using against the Pharisees, is the idea of their favored position versus where they will actually end up in judgment. And so, while the focus of the story may not be about the afterlife itself, the story is that much more powerful when told over a backdrop of commonly held truth that is never denounced as error by Christ or anyone anywhere in Scripture.
A real quick thought I want to bring up here. Even if this was a view with origins being from Egypt, is that supposed to be a reason to automatically reject it as if nothing true can come out of Egypt? We hold that all of these other nations were under a spiritual leader appointed by Yahweh to be their god, but are we to assume every single thing these others gods taught the nations was purely error?
If the separation of body and soul at death was a heavenly truth, we should expect many nations to hold to some form of it since it all came from the one Lord of them all, right? Along with that, there were a lot of Yahweh’s covenant people associated with Egypt in the early days, as far back as Joseph and his clan at least.
And with a long history of interaction between the people of Yahweh and the Egyptians, this concept of a dualistic man may have been the common view for both people groups. So, saying the concept is from Egypt may not make it necessarily a thoroughly rejected concept.
So back to the story now, what does Christ say about these men in his story? We have a mean ol’ rich man, and a poor abused suffering Lazarus. The what happens? We are told:
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. (Luk 16:22-23 ESV)
We can actually stop right there, that is all we need, and we’ve never even touched upon anything relevant out of the book of Enoch. This is as far as we have to go. Here we have Christ saying that after death, the person’s existence goes somewhere; that’s all we need for our case. He is simply stating that after physical death there is still activity for the person.
I hold this to be the historic view of the ancient Hebrews, and still was so in this usage by Christ. In speaking on the topic of resurrection, modern scholar NT Wright states this about the ancient Hebrew thought on the matter:
Those who believed in resurrection believed also that the dead, who would be raised in the future but had not been yet, were alive somewhere, somehow, in an interim state. (Wright, N.T., The Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003, 130)
Again, many scholars still hold to the traditional view that the ancients Hebrews, not just more modern Jews, believed in an afterlife situation. And they believe so because of what we find in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Okay, so Christ tells us of a scenario of men whose soul left their body after death. Is that an isolated discussion? No, as we see in Matthew 10, that Dave kind of touched on it, but only by assuming it was wrong to read into it a dualistic view. The dualistic view is there, because it was the common view from Scripture. He says:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 ESV
We have two things to take note of; the dualistic view defined, and the mortality of the soul established. Again, I think almost every argument given in Dave’s messages about and from the pagan sources, were striking out at the Egyptian and Greek interpretation of the soul as being immortal, and because of that, requiring an everlasting place of existence.
I stand behind what I said earlier, the soul doesn’t have to be immortal to be sustained to exist for a length of time. Yahweh established the soul to go on until such time as it could be judged. That is not the pagan teaching of immortality at all, so we have to get past that, immortality is not involved in the Hebrew concept of dualism.
As mentioned before, it is acknowledged by most, that the modern Jews believed a dualistic view, but we’re still looking for Christ to condemn the view or correct them. Instead we find that the view of a separation yet possible again, and again not condemned as error by Christ.
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luk 24:36-39 ESV)
How could they think he was a spirit, if they had no concept of a spirit living outside of the body? If there is not spirit or soul that separates, then Christ simply could have said “Hey stupid-head, of course I am not a spirit, what were you thinking, there are no such things, man is a single, monistic being.” Another one worth briefly considering is from James:
For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (Jas 2:26 ESV)
Okay, sure, I can hear some saying now, “but spirit here is the word for breath, and he is imply saying that the body without breathing will die.” Every time I hear this discussion, I wonder just how sure someone is that while the word has a wooden literal meaning, it was literally understood as simply breath every time by the ancients.
What if breath was just the same word they at points in their history fully understood as what we’d call soul? Do we know with one hundred percent certainty that such a concept is impossible? I admit, I am not a scholar who has done extensive research, but still can’t help but wonder how sure we are of how they understood what was being said.
It is used again to speak of a miracle Jesus did for the daughter of Jairus the ruler of the synagogue:
And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. (Luk 8:53-55 ESV)
Even if spirit is simply breath, the breath was gone and it returned in a miraculous way. Did he simply perform CPR and mouth to mouth to get things going again so she could breath, or was the breath of life — her personal spirit - gone and he brought it back? Elijah did something similar in 1 Kings:
And he cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child's life (nephesh) come into him again.” And the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. (1Ki 17:20-22 ESV)
The nephesh had left the boy, and the prophet called it back. I know nephesh is just essentially descriptive of life or the life force. It is also descriptive of living creatures. But as in all languages, words can have nuances and usage that stray from the strict literal meaning, and that is what I think we may see at times like this.
It seems from the language here, that the life previously belonging to the child, that same life returned. It existed outside the body and was able to be called back into the body, that appears to be the plain understanding being presented here as in the other verses. Just like Jesus brought the little girl’s spirit back, the spirit of the boy was brought back into his body.
Do we find other examples of where this spirit — pneuma — breath of life — is used to be understood as something other than the whole man? What about Hebrews 12:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect… (Heb 12:22-23 ESV)
Are we to understand this use of spirits in the heavenly realm with the other spiritual creatures with Yahweh to simply be fleshly men, or just his breath somehow? This same breath that was brought back to the girl, that James said causes the body to die if it leaves, and that the Apostles somehow thought Jesus was, is now a separate entity standing in a heavenly council.
I don’t get it, everywhere we are looking, we’re finding a spirit or soul that is more than just some life energy that cannot be exist separated from the body. And while most of these have been New Testament passage, none of them have been stated to be a false position of understanding. And what of Paul who declares:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— (2Co 12:2-3 ESV)
If man is a single inseparable entity, then how can Paul declare these people to have been taken to a heavenly realm and may have been out of their body? Was Paul just confused and offering false views in the Scriptures? And then there is the testimony of Christ in 1 Peter:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, (1Pe 3:18-19 ESV)
I guess Peter is under the same false understanding as Paul. Actually, I guess you could claim Jesus is a totally different type of entity than us, since we know He pre-existed before becoming man. I guess that would mean he is not quite like normal man at all then, since he has a spirit that obviously can, did and does exist outside His body.
Or does that instead mean he is made up just like us, with a body and soul that can separate. He died in the flesh and was made alive in the spirit in order to go down to where other spirits are. Could the spirits he went to be other formerly fleshly human spirits? Maybe. We sure have seen other spirits of man spoken of it seems.
The belief in a body and soul separation is more clearly the understood theology of the New Testament, nowhere are we instructed that it is a wrong line of thinking, not even by Jesus. Let’s look quickly at what the ancient Hebrews thought of life after death and the land of Sheol as a destination for the souls of men.
First let’s examine the usages and descriptions given for Sheol. Sheol is derived from the Saxon helan, to cover; hence the covered or the invisible place. Phillip Johnston, in his work entitled Shades of Sheol, states this about the word:
The most important Hebrew term for the underworld if clearly [Sheol] for several reasons:
A. It is the most frequent, occurring sixty-six times
B. It always occurs without the definite article (‘the’), which implies that it is a proper name
C. It always means the realm of the dead located deep in the earth, unlike other terms which can mean both ‘pit’ and ‘underworld.’
Obviously, the Hebrew term Sheol has different nuances in different contexts, but these are nuances of the single basic concept of the underworld. Views to the contrary cannot be sustained. (Johnston, Philip, Shades of Sheol: Death & Afterlife in the Old Testament, 70-71, 74-75)
So, in its use, it is always a reference to the underworld realm of the dead. Let’s look at a few. Per the monist view Dave was espousing, every time this word is used, it is simply to be understood as the grave, being dead, with no idea of any place or existence in mind.
King David asks the Lord to save his life, for it is of no use to the Lord for him to be dead, for no praise can come out of that place:
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? (Psa 6:5 ESV)
What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah (Psa 89:48 ESV)
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! (Psa 139:8 ESV)
Now, keep in mind, there is a word they had for the grave. By grave, meaning the literal tomb of place their body was laid to rest. In those instances, it is not Sheol being spoken of. For instance:
and Jacob set up a pillar over her grave. It is the pillar of Rachel's grave, which is there to this day. (Gen 35:20)
So here we have someone dead and buried in a tomb, and it is not called Sheol. Yet just a could chapters later, we have someone speaking of death, but the grave they go to is not the same.
Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. (Gen 37:34-35 ESV)
He is not just going to a tomb, a grave. He speaks in language of an expectation. He expects to first off, go down, Sheol is referred to as a place down under the ground. He is going down, and he expects to go down to be with his son. If he is simply saying he is going to be in death just like his son, it sure is an elaborate, unnecessary way of saying it.
So, for me it begs the question, why would they come up with a word that is not literal, but is used supposedly in such an over dramatic, metaphoric or symbolically expressed way, when they simply could use grave or death as a literal place?
Why such an elaborate description, as we shall see, for a place which some say is equivalent to just being buried in a grave? Let’s look at what they said and understood about this place they expected to go. They describe it as:
The place of the wicked and the good: Num. 16:33; Job 24:19; Ps 9:17; 31:17 etc. — and Ps. 16:10; 30:3; 49:15; 86:13 etc. We won’t slow down to examine those verses, but will continue on to look at their descriptions of Sheol. It is described as deep, which seems an odd description for just being dead and in the grave:
“Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? (Job 11:7-8 ESV)
Sheol is dark, which seems an odd attribute if it is for a place no one even experiences to begin with:
before I go—and I shall not return— to the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness.” (Job 10:21-22 ESV)
Sheol has bars and gates:
Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?” (Job 17:16 ESV)
The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. (Jon 2:5-6 ESV)
I said, In the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years. (Isa 38:10 ESV)
And as mentioned before, it is in a downward direction, under the earth.
But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.” (Num 16:30 ESV)
“Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day the cedar went down to Sheol… I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol… They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword (Eze 31:15-17 ESV)
It is understood as a place where other dead congregate or assemble together:
One who wanders from the way of good sense will rest in the assembly of the dead. (Pro 21:16 ESV)
But we also get the impression that those there are not totally inactive or in a total sleep-like existence, for they, the shades, as they are called, are said to at times be alert or stirred up. We are told in Isaiah and Ezekiel:
Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. All of them will answer and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!’ Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers. (Isa 14:9-11 ESV)
The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of Sheol: ‘They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’ (Eze 32:21 ESV)
And we find when we get to the New Testament, the idea is continued in the word Hades, and we find little to no changes from how it was described in the Old. It is a prison with bars and locks:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison (1Pe 3:18-19 ESV)
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of [hades] shall not prevail against it. (Mat 16:18 ESV)
I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Rev 1:18 ESV)
It is still considered going down, beneath the earth:
And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades (Mat 11:23 ESV & Luke 10:15)
For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Mat 12:40 ESV)
And of course, as mentioned, the Luke 16 parable lines up nicely with the view of Sheol too. And then we understand that the Hebrew concept of the light areas of Sheol are known also as paradise, so that lines up perfectly with what Christ told the thief on the cross:
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luk 23:42-43 ESV)
This one is clearly a troubled passage for the monist view. For how could Jesus promise the thief anything to happen that day, if both of them were to simply cease existing on that day? Oh, but the monist has an answer for this. Since there is no punctuation in the original language, they simply move the comma, so then the verse says:
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luk 23:42-43 ESV)
That way, Jesus is simply saying those words to the thief on that day, and not promising something to happen actually on that day. I checked pretty much every translation in my Bible software, and not one of them placed the comma in that fashion though.
Is it just an interpreter’s decision where to place it, or is there something in the text grammar that leads all translators to do so at a certain point? Well, the way it is in most translations, it makes sense in light of all that we have seen to be the Hebrew concept of Sheol throughout the Bible.
As we are coming to a close, I want to look at two key things that I feel make a clear case for some sort of dualistic existence from the Hebrew Scriptures. To me, these reveal the ancient Hebrews understanding of a separation of something after death and it’s surviving in a place called Sheol. The first, is that the Hebrews had strict laws against contacting the dead and departed.
There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. (Deu 18:10-12 ESV)
This type of prohibition really makes absolutely no sense if they had no concept of the dead continuing to exist in some form somewhere. After all, if the dead were just dead and gone, then doesn’t having a law against seeking to make contact with them just make no sense logically? If it isn’t possible, why forbid it?
This should reveal to us that the act is indeed possible to be accomplished, but it is forbidden. And if it is possible, then that means there has to be something that exists after death, that can indeed be contacted. Leviticus likewise forbids it, saying:
“Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:31 ESV)
Old Testament commentators Keil & Delitzsch say of this verse, that:
This thought prepares the way for the warning against turning to familiar spirits, or seeking after wizards. אֹוב denotes a departed spiri, who was called up to make disclosures with regard to the future, hence a familiar spirit. This is the meaning in Is 29:4, as well as here and in Lev 20:6, as is evident from Lev 20:2 (Keil & Delitzsch Commentary)
And in looking at those verses he references, the last two Leviticus ones give us the strict laws against the practice, requiring stoning of the offenders. But the reference from Isaiah 29, which he states is essentially the backdrop for how these familiar spirits work, says this:
And you will be brought low; from the earth you shall speak, and from the dust your speech will be bowed down; your voice shall come from the ground like the voice of a ghost, and from the dust your speech shall whisper. (Isa 29:4 ESV)
So, the judgment presented here against Jerusalem again speaks of them going down, yet hints at being able to speak like a ghost from the ground. This is the idea of a familiar spirit, and the medium is able to make contact with those in such a state.
And with all of that evidence we’ve discussed, this of course leads us to what I consider the most revealing of stories. To me, this is the most clear and positive proof that reveal both of my points as to the beliefs of the ancient Hebrews. They believed that some part existed after death, and that it was contained somewhere downward, known as Sheol.
If you haven’t guessed it already, I am speaking of Samuel, Saul and the medium at Endor. It was against the law to contact the dead. Saul knew this, yet was desperate and secretly sought to reach out to Samuel the prophet, so he went to the medium to contact the dead.
His actions show that he believed what he was doing, while against the law, was still indeed possible. This clearly reveals that at the time, the Hebrews would have likewise believed in the possibility, because they believed in an after-death existence. He set out to have it done, knowing it could be done, and not just taking a chance or unsure it would succeed.
Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.”
The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.”
And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (1Sa 28:11-15 ESV)
If Samuel was simply dead and turned to dust, and if the Hebrews had no concept of an existence after death, then this is the most out of place anti-Scriptural story in the Scriptures. Some commentators try to escape it by saying it wasn’t Samuel, it was a demon impersonating him.
That is just a desperate attempt to go against hat is plainly the case, plus nowhere in the body of Scripture ae ever given even a hint that this was not in fact a true contact with Samuel.
We could also throw in there the fact that at the Transfiguration of Jesus, we have the existence and appearance of Moses and Elijah, showing them to still be in existence in the spirit realm in some fashion at least.
You cannot have Elijah, Moses and Samuel all making guest appearance from the spiritual realm, and still deny the existence after death of some pieces of the person within the spiritual realm.
So, in summary, I am seeing that from Old to New Testaments, and even including the intertestamental second temple period writings, that we find a consistent line of thought. While it does grow and expand in clarity through the times, it is nonetheless an existent thought from start to finish.
That line of thought is, that they believed in this continued existence after physical death, where they were separated from God and in darkness, trapped forever, it seemed, by the place called and under the power of a personified death.
And while the words may not be as clearly stated or perceived in the Hebrew scriptures when it comes to nephesh and such things regarding a clear dualistic terminology, the concept is clearly identified as understood by their afterlife language elsewhere.
In the early parts of Scripture, Sheol was a place of hopelessness where no one returned from. But as time went on, that hopelessness began to change, and they began to have a glimmer of hope, the blessed hope of a future resurrection from out of this state of death. That resurrection hope then began to grow and morph in its understanding of how it would look, which we find more clearly pronounced in Christ.
So, like many things, these doctrines began as a small light and the grow in clarity over time as more and more details were revealed to God’s people. But it seems clear that the ancients believed, and Christ believed and confirmed, that there was an existence after death, in a place somewhere in the spiritual realm.