Maxey - Thrasher Debate

Eternal Destiny of the Wicked
Perpetual Torment or Ultimate Extinction
(An In-Depth Biblical Discussion)

Thursday, May 2, 2002

Comments by Al Maxey on
Thrasher's Last Response,
Parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus,
The Thief on the Cross


I must admit that I was somewhat surprised to discover the weight of importance Thomas has apparently placed on the number of words I use in my responses. I was even more amazed that he should use such words as "fair and equitable," with the obvious implication that I was perhaps neither. In a private email to me (to which Thomas alluded) he even spoke of "honor." Thomas wrote, "I thought that you would be honorable and fair without our having stated word limits." Again, the implication is rather obvious, and rather troubling.

As I tried to explain to Thomas in my response to his email, and as I now explain to the readers of this debate (since Thomas has chosen to air his concern publicly), this is not a matter of "honor" or "fairness." These terms do not apply here. Just because one person uses more words than the other to convey his thoughts does not suggest the former is less honorable or fair than the latter. It merely indicates they are both unique individuals with differing communication styles and abilities.

This is not a contest. This is not a competition. I am not out to defeat my brother in Christ, or humiliate him in "mortal combat." We are two leaders in the Body of Christ who have undertaken to discuss with one another (with the public looking on) a vital concept within God's Word: the nature of man and the ultimate fate of the unredeemed. It is a journey of discovery through God's inspired Word, not a race to the finish line with a gold medal to the victor!

I firmly believe we must never, ever seek to restrict or regulate any disciple's quest to better perceive, or to profess, his/her understanding of Truth. There must be no man-made boundaries when it comes to delving into the richness of God's inspired Word. Drink of it deeply, and share it fully and freely.

"Fairness" is evidenced in the fact that Thomas is just as unrestricted as I in what he may say and how he may choose to say it. No one has placed any limitations upon him at all with respect to length of articles, or any other aspect of style (as seen in my acceptance of his use of charts, which I personally have chosen not to use). If he had chosen to write 60 pages in his last post, I would not have said a word. If that is what it would have taken for him to express his position, then so be it. I have no problem with that, and feel no compulsion to "catch up." If he feels he can present his case in less space, then that too is his choice. There is nothing "unfair" or "inequitable" or "dishonorable" about allowing each person in this discussion the freedom to express himself fully and freely, and to delve as deeply into the Word as his ability and desire might allow. It would be difficult to be any more "fair" than that!!

Neither of us is the standard by which the other should be measured, or to which the other must conform in literary style. We are unique, and we should rejoice in that fact. That is how God has made us. Being different does not equate to some negative character trait (such as dishonesty); it simply signifies diversity. I, by nature, am extremely thorough in both research and presentation. That is just me. When I examine something I examine it "inside, outside, upside-down!" Someone once said of me, "Ask Al Maxey what time it is and he'll tell you how to build a clock." Yup! That's me! Some appreciate that depth, some do not. I can't please everyone, so I'll simply seek to please the Lord. And I grant the same freedom to Thomas.

Thomas noted that I "refused to accept pre-defined limits." That is correct. When it comes to the study of something as important as God's holy Word I simply refuse to submit to some regulation that might serve to restrict the depth of my research or limit the extent of my presentation of Truth. I will never accept limitations on the proclaiming of the Word. Never! Truth should not be cheapened by reducing it to convenient, popularly palatable "sound bytes." The apostle Paul stated, "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God" (Acts 20:27). Just a few verses earlier he told these same Ephesian elders, "I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable" (vs. 20). Neither shall I.

If my brother Thomas should decide to do a word count on the writings of Paul, so as to do a comparative analysis with some of the other NT authors, he would discover that the contribution of this man dwarfs that of the other writers. Yes, Paul was a bit "wordy" at times, wasn't he? In Troas "he prolonged his message until midnight" (Acts 20:7). One of the "youth group" (who was perhaps engaged in counting Paul's words instead of listening) fell asleep and plummeted from a window to his death. Again, not everyone appreciates prolonged discussions of the Word. I, on the other hand, would have been enthralled to have been present that evening, and certainly would not have taken Paul aside later and urged him to abbreviate his discourse lest some become distracted or bored!!

Thomas did a word count on several of my written, published debates and came to this conclusion: "I found it interesting that this has been true in ALL of Al's debates posted at his web site!" That's right. And what does that tell you, Thomas? It simply confirms that this indeed is my style, brother! I am consistent, if nothing else. I am not trying to be dishonest or unfair; I am not trying to "best" you or "beat" you; I am merely being ME ... "warts and all," as brother Reuel Lemmons might have phrased it. I also have to wonder (somewhat tongue in cheek) if perhaps Thomas' most recent response time of 32 days could have been lessened somewhat if he had been typing his own response instead of counting the words in mine!

Thomas wrote, "I will not attempt to compete with him by continuing to increase lengths of articles." Again, my brother, I pray that you can come to perceive the fact that this is not a contest. You don't have to "compete" with me in any way, shape or form. You don't have to "catch up" or "stay abreast" of me. Just proclaim and defend your position to the best of your own abilities, and in your own unique style, and I shall do the same. This is not a competition; this is a quest for Truth. Let's lay aside this "competitive" mindset and simply study the Word together as mature disciples of Jesus Christ!!

Thomas believes shorter articles contribute to the audience maintaining its "attention span" and to better following the process and staying focused on the differences. This may well be true for some readers, but not necessarily for all. Others could just as easily come back on Thomas and decry the "shallowness" of short articles, as indeed some have done with such debates in the past. Again, "different strokes for different folk."

One could also, by the way, make the same arguments Thomas has made above with regard to response time. Since Thomas likes to play the "numbers game," perhaps that factor should be examined as well. Thomas declared he would not "follow Al down this path" of lengthy posts because he does not want to "extend this debate indefinitely." However, extended delays in responses will lead to exactly the same result. It also may well cause the readers to lose focus, have difficulty following the discussion, and fail to maintain their "attention span." Indeed, I would think lengthy delays in response would be far more detrimental than lengthy posts by respondents. Thus, the knife can cut both ways, Thomas.

Since Thomas was quick to focus on the disparity in length of posts, let's look at the disparity in length of response time (through the first five posts of each of us). The number under each of our names represents the number of days it took that person to respond to the post of the other. Thomas sent the first post, so the first "0" under Maxey represents the number of days it took me to respond (I responded the same day). The "2" under Thrasher indicates it took him two days to respond to my post. The second "0" under Maxey indicates I again responded to his response on the same day I received it. He then took nine days to respond to my second post. And so forth and so forth.

..... 0 .................... 2 ..........
..... 0 .................... 9 ..........
..... 3 .................. 19 ..........
..... 1 .................. 20 ..........
..... 2 .................. 32 ..........

I have a total response time of SIX days in this discussion, whereas Thomas has a total response time of EIGHTY-TWO days, with each response time growing larger and larger. Indeed, his response time is almost fourteen times greater than mine. Should I now begin to publicly speculate to the readers as to the honesty and fairness of Thomas? Should the reader begin to speculate that Thomas is somehow fourteen times less intellectually capable of defending his views than Al Maxey? Or maybe fourteen times busier than Al Maxey? Of course not. Such assumptions would be ridiculous, and are completely unfounded.

Just as an aside, I took a class dealing with the psychology of statistical analysis while in graduate school at the university. It probably would have been better categorized as "Creative Documentation." In other words, a clever analyst can make statistics say just about anything he wants them to say. Thus, we should all be somewhat careful in the conclusions we attempt to draw from numbers.

When this discussion began, I asked that we make an attempt to maintain a 7-10 day response time between posts. Thomas agreed, but cautioned me that there would be occasions when he might need additional time due to pressing concerns in his schedule. I agreed to that provision, knowing that such conflicts can occur in the lives of two men who are as busy and involved as we both are. It appears, unfortunately, that there have been many such pressing concerns in the life of Thomas of late. I pray they will lessen for him very quickly.

Thomas has further acknowledged to me in private emails that this current discussion is simply not a "top priority" with him, which may also explain part of the reason for the delays. That is fine, however. We all determine our own priorities, and neither of us is the standard for the other. I will assure the readers, however, that I will continue to abide by the 7-10 day response time to which I made a personal commitment, and that there will have to be something extremely pressing to cause me to vary from that. I believe this is simply a matter of courtesy to our readers, and courtesy to one another. Believing that to be the honorable course, I will pursue it. I will not speak for Thomas on this, however, and instead will simply thank him yet again, and genuinely, for the opportunity to engage him in this vital discussion of God's Word on a most important, and often misunderstood, topic. He is a good Christian debater, and I appreciate his spirit.

But, enough time and space devoted to such matters. I only address the issue at all because Thomas chose to introduce it here in the context of our discussion. I will not address it further. Onward and upward toward more important matters!


My brother-in-Christ made a few comments in his most recent response that I would like to address. It is apparent that the "puzzlement" of Thomas continues with regard to the distinction between spiritual and eternal death. I believe he and I agree on the nature of physical death. I think we are perhaps somewhat in agreement on the nature of spiritual death (maybe it's just semantics that separates us). However, we are in total "head-knocking" disagreement over the concept of "eternal death."

Thomas wrote, "Al knows that the PERSON has NOT ceased to be when he is said to be 'spiritually dead.' Similarly, the PERSON does not cease to be when he experiences the SECOND DEATH either!" As Thomas will no doubt agree, spiritual death does not affect the person physically (at least, not directly); functional animation of the body here on earth continues even when a person is severed from Christ or separated from God by sin. Such a person, rather, has been cut off from the saving relationship necessary for ultimate salvation on the Day of Judgment. Thus, that person can be characterized as "dead" even while still physically alive. The "death" in view is not the actual, literal, physical death of the person himself, but a severing of relationship that is depicted figuratively as "death."

Thomas seems to have difficulty grasping this, and has referred me to Eph. 2:1-2 where Paul says of these brethren, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked..." Thomas emphasizes the word YOU in this passage, and apparently seems to think this signifies something other than one's personal relationship with the Lord. He declares that I "contradict Paul" by suggesting this is depicting severed relationship and fellowship in the figure of "death."

This leaves me wondering, however, just what it is that Thomas thinks DIED here. Obviously, the persons in view were not physically dead. Does Thomas, therefore, believe their "immortal spirit or soul" was dead? Can an "immortal soul" DIE? Isn't that a contradiction of terms?! What exactly do you think DIES in "spiritual death," Thomas? I think it is pretty obvious that what is "dead" is the relationship and fellowship we were meant to enjoy with the Father. It has died (thus you are regarded as though dead) because of the "trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked." Thus, with regard to that intimate, saving relationship, YOU were dead to your God!!!

By way of example, I heard a woman say to a man on a TV show recently (who had severed his relationship with her in a rather brutal way), "You are dead to me!!" Yes, Thomas, she said, "YOU are dead to me!" Does that mean the man himself was literally dead? Of course not. It is a figure of speech. She considered him DEAD because of the severed relationship, and because of the hurt he had inflicted upon her. In like manner, the apostle Paul says we have "died to sin" (Rom. 6:2). Yes, Thomas, you and I are dead to sin when we refuse to live in relationship & fellowship with darkness. Paul says, "WE have died with Christ" (Rom. 6:8) and "consider YOURSELVES to be dead to sin" (Rom. 6:11). What "death" is being spoken of here, Thomas? It is the "death" we experience TO a worldly perspective, relationship, and lifestyle that had separated us from our God. In other words, we DIE to a relationship with the world in order to embrace a relationship with the Father. YOU are thus dead to the world, but alive to a new relationship with the Giver of Life!!

In like manner, YOU are dead to God if you sever yourself from that saving relationship in order to pursue a relationship with the world of darkness. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" (1 John 1:6-7). Whether you are dead or alive in your relationship with the Lord is determined in large part by the nature of your walk. Thus, "I entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Eph. 4:1).

Thomas, in speaking of the "second death" suggests, "Similarly, the PERSON does not cease to be." I assume therefore that Thomas sees the "second death" and "spiritual death" similarly. The death experienced in the lake of fire, however, is one that involves the physical body. "Spiritual death" involves it only indirectly, at best. With spiritual death the physical body is not destroyed, but in the lake of fire the Lord will "destroy both soul and body" (Matthew 10:28). The Day of Judgment will be a judgment of those raised from the dust of the ground. These raised physical bodies will be judged, and those deemed unworthy of life will be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. There they will be destroyed. As Jesus declares, both body and "being" (soul) will be destroyed. Thomas, however, seemingly denies this. He declares that the person will be preserved in the fire, not destroyed, that they will continue to live, not die.

Thomas wrote, "What Al seems not to understand is that the same thing is true regarding 'eternal death' -- the individual still EXISTS, but the 'relationship (with God) NO LONGER EXISTS.'" I believe Thomas is wrong about that. It is true that God will have no relationship with the wicked when they are cast into the lake of fire (indeed, He had no relationship with them prior to that) because these wicked ones will be destroyed. You can't maintain a relationship with someone who has been destroyed. And that is exactly what will happen to "body and soul/being/life" in the lake of fire. They will cease to live; cease to be!

When we get to the final phase of this discussion, where we actually look at the eternal destiny of the wicked, I will seek to demonstrate just how wrong Thomas is in his views of the nature of man and the nature of death.

Thomas takes me to task with regard to my conviction about the eternal destiny of the unredeemed, saying, "However, AL HAS NOT MADE ANY REAL ATTEMPT TO PROVE THAT ASSERTION!!!" (caps his). What Thomas seems to have overlooked is that we have not yet arrived at that point in our discussion. We are laying foundation, and beginning to build upon it. It would be impossible, for example, to truly formulate a clear doctrine on the nature of the punishment of the wicked if one did not first have an understanding of the nature of man himself. The former will be greatly affected by the latter. Thus, I am attempting to approach this study with an element of logical progression. And this is a biblical concept, by the way:

Thomas, as a mathematician, knows that you don't take a college freshman and place him in a graduate level mathematics course. Even Jesus told His disciples on occasion that there were some things they were not yet ready to receive. This is no reflection on intelligence or devotion; merely sound educational theory, to which Thomas, as an educator, will surely attest. "A little here, a little there" and we shall in due time arrive at the point to which our study is leading us.

Thomas claims that I have "mischaracterized" something he said with regard to immortality for man. Thomas had previously written, "I do not believe that immortality is 'something inherently ours,' as Al implies that I do .... It is not inherent, but DERIVED." I had commended Thomas for this view, as it seemed to suggest to me that Thomas did not embrace the notion that man is created inherently immortal by nature. I personally believe that man must "seek for ... immortality" (Romans 2:7) and that it will be found IN CHRIST JESUS and conferred after the resurrection! Thus, when Thomas acknowledged that immortality is "derived," I assumed he accepted the biblical view as well. However, Thomas informs me that "This is not so, and I did not say so!" Thus, I apologize for misrepresenting his beliefs. I suppose I misunderstood his use of the terms "inherent" and "derived."

Thomas apparently believes the physical body is not inherently immortal, and thus must have immortality conferred upon it after the resurrection. I agree. However, he apparently believes the "soul" or "spirit" is a separate living entity and IS inherently immortal, and thus can never be deprived of life ... not even by God. Therefore, (correct me if I'm wrong, Thomas) you believe there is a separate immortal creature living inside of us that survives the death of our bodies. Is that correct? If so, then you and Plato are in agreement, rather than you and I. I believe both of you are woefully misinformed as to biblical teaching on this matter. But, this is ground we've already covered, so I won't attempt to cover it again. I would merely refer the readers to the previous post dealing with the nature of man.

With regard to my request for clarification on Jude 7, Thomas writes, "I am sorry if I did not make my point clear enough for my brother. I do NOT believe that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah LITERALLY received 'eternal fire,' but that the punishment by fire which they received was so utterly complete that it served as a SYMBOL (figure, type) of the eternal fire to be experienced by the ungodly at the judgment." Thomas further wrote, "The physical destruction of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah was a symbol of 'eternal fire,' although it was not literally so."

Yes, this action by God against these cities serves as an example, and thus a warning, for those who would live wickedly thereafter. It is a testimony of God's destructive power against wickedness. Indeed it was a punishment by fire that Thomas characterized as "utterly complete." I couldn't agree more, Thomas. Those cities ceased to be; that is just how "utterly complete" this punishment by fire was! The wicked should heed this warning, as the same fate awaits them unless they repent.

I see nothing in the text or context that even remotely suggests this "undergoing the punishment of eternal fire" did not literally occur as stated. The text clearly declares that "the punishment of eternal fire" is exactly what they experienced. I can easily understand why Thomas would want, and even need, for it to be otherwise, but he has no grammatical or exegetical basis for that contention. "Eternal fire" is what these cities and persons experienced. The problem Thomas has here, and I pointed this out previously, is that he still does not truly perceive that the Greek term aionios (which is here translated "eternal") can have either a quantitative or qualitative meaning or application. I would refer the readers back to my earlier post in which I discussed this aspect of this Greek word. Thomas didn't accept this reality then, and he obviously doesn't now. Thus, believing that aionios refers only to endless duration or time without end, he is left with a difficult exegetical problem in Jude 7 in that this "eternal fire" obviously went out after fulfilling its purpose. Therefore, to preserve a false theology, he must deny that these cities and their inhabitants actually underwent the punishment of "eternal fire," even though this is exactly what the biblical text declares! There is absolutely nothing within the text or context that suggests some other fire was employed in the destruction of these wicked ones, and that this other fire was a symbol or figure or type of the "eternal fire" which would be reserved for some future punishment of the wicked. This whole interpretation is a fabrication to avoid a difficulty with one's theology.

With regard to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Thomas wrote, "If you accept Al's position in this debate, then you must be willing to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ BECAME EXTINCT (CEASED TO EXIST) when He died upon the cross! Let me make this very clear: I DON'T believe Jesus CEASED TO EXIST when He died." Did Jesus cease to exist? Well, physically the answer is NO! His body was in Hades (the GRAVE). If by "cease to exist" one means He "totally, completely, utterly forfeited LIFE," then the answer is YES. His "beingness" (how's that for coining a word?), His "personhood," ceased to be. It no longer was. In a word: He was dead.

But God did not abandon Him to that condition (a condition to which the unredeemed will be abandoned in the lake of fire). He could have, but He didn't, because a promise had been made to Him (Acts 2:27-31). Thus, on the third day, HE AROSE. In so doing He became the guarantee of our own resurrection one day (1 Cor. 15), and yet in His death He also demonstrated the "wages of sin."

Thomas stated, "I have quoted Bible verses that plainly deny Al's heretical view (e.g., Luke 23:43; Acts 2:27-31)." I have already dealt with the latter passage more than once in the course of this debate, and will deal in-depth with the former passage at the end of this current post. I think careful analysis of these passages show that Thomas doesn't have a leg to stand on. Neither of these texts "plainly deny" what Thomas would like for them to.

Thomas made the following statement:

Fabulous statement, Thomas. I agree 100% with everything you said. I take the same position.

With regard to the question of being created in the "image of God," Thomas indicated that he personally believes "it is the spirit of man that is 'in the image of God.'" He then asserts that he "did not find a direct answer" in my article to his question about the image of God and what specifically is created in that image. Actually, I gave a very direct answer in my previous post, to which I again refer my opponent in this debate.

I deny that it is the "spirit" that is created in God's image. I deal with that in some depth in that post, and won't bother to repeat it here. I simply urge Thomas to go back and examine the information more carefully. I discuss exactly what I believe that "something else" to be.

Thomas again alludes to the "proof text" (the "crown jewel" of Traditionalism) -- Luke 16:19-31. He writes, "The truth is that David was in Hades, just as I have shown that the former rich man was when he died (Luke 16), even though his physical body had been buried." First, I agree with Thomas that David was in Hades. But, I disagree with Thomas and his fellow Neo-Platonists on the nature of Hades. For this discussion of Hades I would refer the readers back to my earlier post in which this was discussed in some depth.

Thomas further asks, "Was Abraham (Luke 16) a fictional character as well? Were the angels in Luke 16 also fictional characters?" I will present my views of the Parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus later in this current post. Again, the reader will quickly see that this "proof text" of Traditionalism is anything but. Indeed, if interpreted as literal, factual history, the view Thomas apparently takes, it will lead to some tremendous problems and absurdities. We shall note some of these in just a few moments.

Switching gears somewhat, Thomas wrote, "I don't doubt at all that atheists are often turned off by what God says. Baptists, Methodists, and many other denominationalists are 'turned off' by Bible teaching on the necessity of water baptism (does Al still believe that?)." Here is a perfect example of ambiguity! What specifically is the antecedent of "that" in the parenthetical query? Do I still believe in the necessity of water baptism? The answer is yes. Or, were you asking if I believe that many in the religious world are "turned off" by this doctrine? Well, yes, I believe many probably are! There are many within our own religious heritage "turned off" by Truth, as well. I also know of Baptists and Methodists (as well as others) who DO proclaim the necessity of water baptism, and practice the same. I sincerely hope you are not suggesting that ONLY "Church of Christers" will be going to heaven, Thomas!! That would be sectarianism gone to seed, brother!! But, that's another topic for another debate!

Thomas also suggested near the end of his last article that "unity in diversity" is an expression never found in the Bible. He is probably correct in that statement. However, the concept permeates the Scriptures. What other kind of genuine unity is there? The Body of Christ is a diverse grouping of disciples, who are nevertheless unified in the common bond of Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches unity of the Spirit, not uniformity of sectarian preferences and practices. If the whole body were an eye, it would be a freak! Thank God we are diverse, but a unified whole in Him. Decrying "unity in diversity" is about as ludicrous as characterizing someone as a "brother in error" -- what other kind is there?

With regard to my quotes from brother John Clayton, Thomas asks, "Isn't this the same man who contended that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, that man 'is a very recent newcomer to this planet,' and that the belief 'that the entire creation took place within six days' is 'a very shallow conclusion'?" I don't know if John made those specific statements you attributed to him, but that sounds about like his beliefs as I understand them, although the one about man being a "newcomer" is speaking relatively (compared to 4.5 billion years ... mankind has likely been around for only several million years). I might point out to you, Thomas, that these are MY beliefs as well. My YEC brother then wrote, "I don't have much confidence in someone who is no better Bible student than that!" Hmmmm. I think I see the makings of another debate here!!!

Seriously, Thomas, you might want to consider the possibility, remote though it may be, that one can differ with you and still be a good Bible scholar, and possibly even a Christian!! Unless you have personally cornered the market on Truth, not all who differ with you are guilty of "heretical views" (a charge you leveled against me in your most recent post). Another "brother" recently accused me of being an "implicit atheist" because I would not accept his theories about the flood and the age of the earth. What arrogance! But, that's another story!

Thomas wrote, "ALL (both just and unjust) will be raised from the dead (John 5:28-29)." I agree with you on this, Thomas.

With regard to my Dennis the Menace cartoon, Thomas wondered, "I'm not really sure what Al's point was in providing the cartoon; perhaps it was just intended as a little bit of humor." Bingo!! Nothing wrong with a smile or two on occasion!!

Thomas wrote, "His idea that the 'spirit' is just the 'breath' is so obviously false as to require little refutation." Again, Thomas obviously needs to go back and really read my study of body, soul and spirit. I do not teach what he declares. I have never declared that the "spirit," when applied to man, is just the 'breath.' Both terms, "soul" and "spirit," refer to several aspects of man, including personality, emotions, and the like. Here is a direct quote from my previous post:

Thus, the readers can quickly see that Thomas has misrepresented my position by saying that my "idea" is that the spirit "is just the 'breath.'" That is not what I said at all, as I have just demonstrated above.

Well, there is more in his post upon which I could readily comment, and with which I could easily take exception, but Thomas is probably already counting my words, and I have much ground yet to cover. As promised, I need to address some of the key passages from the Scriptures that Thomas has raised in defense of his theology. I will begin that effort by examining two of the central ones in the remainder of this present post: The Parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus and The Thief on the Cross. In my next post, after responding to whatever comments Thomas makes that may need to be addressed, I will examine several other key texts used (or should I say misused) by the Traditionalists in their quest to substantiate their false doctrine.


Luke 16:19-31 contains a story told by Jesus to a group of scribes and Pharisees who were grumbling and scoffing at Him (Luke 15:1-3; 16:14-15a) because He dared to show concern for tax-gatherers and sinners who were "coming near Him to listen to Him." These religious elitists regarded themselves as superior to other men, and had little to no concern for those less fortunate, nor for those they considered beneath contempt (which was most people, even many of their own fellow religionists who were not of their particular faction or sect).

The story Jesus conveyed to these rigid religionists and sectarian separatists has come to be known as The Rich Man and Lazarus. It was obviously given that day to impress an eternal truth upon the hearts and minds of these troubled scribes and Pharisees. The basic message, in my view, is that our eternal destiny is determined this side of physical death, and once we breathe our last and return to the dust of the ground our fate is forever fixed. Thus, if we expect to receive mercy and compassion at the judgment, we had better display it to others during our sojourn here on earth. "For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy" (James 2:13). This was a moral Truth the scribes and Pharisees desperately needed to hear, and Jesus conveyed it to them that day in the form of this story. After all, it was His common practice to convey eternal Truths in the form of common stories (Matthew 13:34 -- "...and He did not speak to them without a parable").

Most people have little problem with the major message of this passage of Scripture. The problem arises when seeking to determine the nature of the account itself. Is this a literal, historical account, or is this a parable? This has been hotly debated for many centuries, with reputable scholars and devoted disciples taking stands on both sides of the issue. My personal belief is that this is a parable, and therefore the figures employed should not be pressed into service to formulate a literal picture of disembodied souls or spirits in some Hadean holding place prior to the resurrection and judgment of the Last Day. Jesus simply told a parable to convey a spiritual truth to those still living, not to give us a peek into "the afterlife" to satisfy mankind's morbid curiosity. "Many have supposed that our Lord here refers to a 'real history,' and gives an account of some man who had lived in this manner; but of this there is no evidence. The probability is that this narrative is to be considered as a parable" (Albert Barnes, Barnes' Notes on the New Testament).

Brother Dillard Thurman, the late editor of Gospel Minutes, wrote, "After having studied this matter for over fifty years, I still firmly believe this is a parable. It begins with the identical introduction as that in Luke 16:1 -- 'There was a certain rich man...'" (Gospel Minutes, August 13, 1982). The parable just before the one in Luke 16:1 begins "A certain man..." (Luke 15:11). Thus, there seems to be a string of parables here each beginning similarly: "A certain man" (Luke 15:11) .... "A certain rich man" (Luke 16:1) .... "A certain rich man" (Luke 16:19). The context also clearly reveals that each of these stories was told to the same group of people: the grumbling, scoffing scribes and Pharisees. "This parable is addressed to the Pharisees, to whom Christ would scarcely have communicated details about the other world, on which He was so reticent in His teaching to the disciples" (Dr. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, p. 278).

The problem we are faced with regarding our present topical discussion/debate is that most of those in the traditional camp appeal to Luke 16:19-31 as a literal, historical account of the current disposition of disembodied spirit-beings. It has become the "crown jewel" in the apologetics of those who advocate an immortal soul and the perpetual torture of the unredeemed. "Many times over the years, I have observed that when all else fails, believers in the immortality of the soul will turn to the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This scripture, they apparently believe, is indisputable evidence that men, at death, go to a spirit world" (Sidney Hatch, Daring To Differ: Adventures in Conditional Immortality, p. 88).

"The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is often cited as the chief cornerstone in support of the postulate of man's inherent immortality and the endless duration of the incorrigibly wicked in sin and misery. It is frequently invoked to silence all dissent or question as to Immortal-Soulism. It is persistently set forth as proving beyond all peradventure that the souls of both the godly and the ungodly continue to live on uninterruptedly after death, separate from the body -- but which is simply Plato's contention that death is identical with life, only in another sphere" (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, p. 234).

When dealing with a parable, as the reader will discover most reputable scholars believe this account to be, one must be very cautious not to assume literal meaning and application for the figures employed. The figures of a parable convey a message or truth, or embellish that message or truth in some way, but they themselves do not constitute that message or truth itself. Thus, one must never seek to base doctrine upon mere figures and symbols employed in figurative language. Dr. Edersheim stressed, "it will be necessary in the interpretation of this parable to keep in mind that its parabolic details must not be exploited, nor doctrines of any kind derived from them, either as to the character of the other world, the question of the duration of future punishments, or possible moral improvement of those in Gehinnom. All such things are foreign to the parable" (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, p. 277). "We must not look in this parabolic language for Christ's teaching about the 'after death'" (ibid, p. 279). "Doctrinal statements should not be drawn from parabolic illustrations" (ibid, p. 282).

Professor D. R. Dungan, in his classic book Hermeneutics: The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures, observed, "The parable in Luke 16:19-31, of the rich man and the poor man, has been made to mean almost everything within the range of theological speculation" (p. 234). Parables were not intended to be interpreted literally (as is, for example, historical narrative), something legitimate biblical hermeneutists clearly recognize. Parables are a distinct literary form. "The very reason we do not feel compelled to interpret the parables historically is that they are presented in a somewhat stylized fashion -- the reader or hearer is immediately aware that they belong to a different genre (literary type)" (Walter Kaiser and Moises Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning, p. 106).

"Strictly speaking, the parable belongs to a style of figurative speech which constitutes a class of its own" (Dr. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, p. 276). "The general design of parables, as of all other kinds of figurative language, is to embellish and set forth ideas and moral truths in attractive and impressive forms" (ibid, p. 277).

The ancient Jews (as well as the pagans) were very fond of such stories, and there is a body of evidence, and thus some legitimate, scholarly speculation, that Jesus may well have employed a rather well-known contemporary story as He spoke to these scribes and Pharisees, a story with which these religious leaders would have been very familiar. This has led to much documentation of such accounts, many of which predate the Lord's story and are most striking in their similarity. "It seems appropriate to reopen this question and ask: Where should the origin of this parable be placed?" (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 4, p. 267). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible informs us that "much of the study of the parable of Lazarus and Dives (Latin: 'rich man') in the 20th century has focused on possible literary antecedents" (p. 796-797).

"This parable is not theology. It is a vivid story, not a Baedeker's guide to the next world. Such stories as this were current in Jesus' day. They are found in rabbinical sources, and even in Egyptian papyri" (The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 8, p. 290). "Similar stories existed in Egypt and among the rabbis; Jesus could easily have adapted this tradition to his own purpose" (The Jerome Biblical Commentary). "This parable follows a story common in Egyptian and Jewish thought. .... This parable does not intend to give a topographical study of the abode of the dead, it is built upon and thus confirms common Jewish thought" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 94). The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 (online version) states that the imagery of this parable "is plainly drawn from the popular representations of the unseen world of the dead which were current in our Lord's time." "Jesus told this story to reinforce the fact that the riches of the Pharisees were not necessarily a sign of God's approval. Some interpreters suggest that the kernel of the story was a popular story of those times and possibly derived from an Egyptian source" (New Commentary on the Whole Bible, based on the classic commentary of Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown).

Josephus (a Jewish historian, c. 37-100 A.D.), in his work Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades (in which he notes that the concept of a soul being created immortal by God is "according to the doctrine of Plato"), presents a very similar story to that of our Lord's, including many of the same figures Jesus employed. Yes, he may have borrowed from the Lord's parable, but it is equally possible both were aware of such stories current in their culture. Several good reference works document and describe in some detail a good number of these stories that our Lord may have adapted to His own needs (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 797 .... Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, Vol. 2, p. 18 .... The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 8, p. 289 .... The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 4, p. 267 .... Edersheim's The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book IV, p. 280-281 .... Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 174-176).

My own personal conviction is that Jesus used or adapted a popular folktale well-known to His hearers for the purpose of conveying, by a means they would best comprehend and most easily remember, an eternal truth. "Jesus was accustomed to speak the language of His hearers in order to reach their understandings and hearts. And it is noteworthy how, when He employed Jewish imagery, He was wont to invest it with new significance" (Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, Vol. 2, p. 18).

"In the story, then, of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus has put them down with one of their own superstitions. ... He used their own ideas to condemn them. ... It is simply a case of taking what others believe, practice, or say, and using it to condemn them" (Sidney Hatch, Daring To Differ: Adventures in Conditional Immortality, p. 91). "Since the elements of the story are taken from the Pharisees' own traditions, they are judged out of their own mouths" (ibid, p. 92).

A far more important reason for regarding the story of the rich man and Lazarus as figurative rather than literal/historical, however, is the obvious conflict with the inspired Scriptures that occurs when it is regarded as an actual account of real people and real events. These, in my estimation, are extremely serious contradictions with revealed Truth. Notice the following problems associated with a literal, historical interpretation of Luke 16:19-31.

#1 --- It would teach that judgment and punishment of the dead has occurred prior to the resurrection and judgment on that great and final day! The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly teach that judgment and punishment (as well as reward) occur following the resurrection, NOT prior to it. The "blessed" Theophylact (perhaps the most learned exegete of the Greek Church during the 11th-12th century A.D.) observed, "This is a parable and not, as some have foolishly imagined, something which actually occurred. For good things have not yet been allotted to the righteous, nor punishments to the sinners" (The Explanation of the New Testament).

Until a decision has been rendered in judgment before the Great Throne, is it really reasonable and biblical to proclaim that men are cast into torment or carried off to a state of bliss? This would constitute judgment, sentencing and execution prior to the judgment, sentencing and execution on that Great Day following resurrection. "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done" (Revelation 22:12). See also Matthew 25:31-46.

Judgment will occur "when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him" (Matt. 25:31). THEN the dead, who have been raised from the dust of the ground, will undergo judgment, and a great separation will occur, and some will "go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:46). This judging and punishing does not occur prior to the resurrection on that last day! And yet if this parable is taken literally, it clearly contradicts the remainder of biblical teaching on this matter.

William Tyndale (1484 - 1536), in responding to Sir Thomas More, wrote -- "And ye, in putting them (the departed souls) in heaven, hell and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection." Tyndale argued that if souls were already in either bliss or misery, "then what cause is there of the resurrection?" And what cause is there even of judgment?! In another part of this same writing, Tyndale said -- "The true faith putteth forth the resurrection, which we be warned to look for every hour. The heathen philosophers, denying that, did put that the soul did ever live. And the Pope joineth the spiritual doctrine of Christ and the fleshly doctrine of philosophers together; things so contrary that they cannot agree. And because the fleshly-minded Pope consenteth unto heathen doctrine, therefore he corrupteth the Scripture to stablish it. If the soul be in heaven, tell me what cause is there for the resurrection?"

With regard to such prior rewards or punishments, brother Dillard Thurman wrote, "There is never a hint in God's word that this takes place before the general resurrection at the coming of Christ, our Savior!" (Gospel Minutes, Feb. 1, 1985). "You will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age" (Daniel 12:13). "The day is coming ... the day which I am preparing," says the Lord of hosts; a day "burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze ... and they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet" (Malachi 4:1-3). This is not the day of one's death, but that Final Day when "those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake" to judgment and punishment (Daniel 12:2). This parable of the rich man and Lazarus, however, if taken literally, stands in direct and dramatic opposition to these divine Truths conveyed repeatedly in both OT and NT writings.

"A literal interpretation of the parable contradicts some fundamental biblical truths. If the narrative is literal, then Lazarus received his reward and the rich man his punishment, immediately after death and before the judgment day. But the Bible clearly teaches that the rewards and punishments, as well as the separation between the saved and the unsaved, will take place on the day of Christ's coming" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 174).

"To use this parable as proof that men receive their rewards at death is squarely to contradict Christ Himself, who explicitly states that the righteous and the wicked receive their reward 'when the Son of man shall come in his glory.' He definitely placed the recompense at the resurrection, the time of harvest, and end of the world" (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, p. 261). "Furthermore, if the narrative is literal, then the beggar received his reward and the rich man his punishment immediately upon death, in the interim before the judgment day and the consequent separation of the good and evil. But such a procedure is repugnant to all justice. Paul said that God 'hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness' (Acts 17:31). That was still future in apostolic times" (ibid, p. 262).

"The Pharisees had made God's Word void, as concerns the condition of the dead, by their 'traditions' derived from pagan Platonic philosophy, which in turn had been borrowed from Egypt, Babylon, and Persia. So it was that Dives is here pictured as in a place of torment, living in insufferable flames. It was simply Hebraized Platonism, and was in no way condoned or endorsed by Christ" (ibid, p. 262-263). Thus, on this one point alone we must completely reject the notion that this account is either literal or historical. To accept it as such places it in direct conflict with the remainder of Scripture on the subject of final punishment. Thus, for this reason alone the particulars of the parable must be regarded as figurative.

#2 --- To embrace this parable as literal, historical narrative would also make one guilty of promoting the view of a mortal man inherently possessing an immortal soul or spirit. Such is simply not taught in Scripture, and constitutes pagan dualism. The Lord "alone possesses immortality" (1 Tim. 6:16), and immortality for man (the whole man) is entirely derived, and will not be "put on" until after the resurrection, "at the last trumpet," and only then by the redeemed (1 Cor. 15:50f).

In point of fact, this parable doesn't even mention "souls" or disembodied "spirits." That is an assumption of biased interpreters. If this account is of disembodied spirits (ethereal beings devoid of bodies and bodily organs), then is it not strange that the account speaks of eyes, a tongue and a finger? --- real physical body parts! And what relief would a drop of water on a tongue serve to a spirit? Would it provide any relief? Would it not vaporize in the flame?! Or is all of this figurative also, just like the rest of the parable? I believe that is exactly the case!

"Contenders for literalism suppose that the rich man and Lazarus were disembodied spirits, destitute of bodies," yet "they are portrayed as existing physically, despite the fact that the rich man's body was duly buried in the grave. Was his body carried away into Hades together with his soul by mistake?" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 173). Brother Dillard Thurman declared that this "fanciful notion" of some bodily presence in a Hadean holding area "won't hold any more water than the rich man could dip his finger in! If fingers and tongues were still in the grave, or if they were figurative, then this must be accepted as a parable, and treated as such!" (Gospel Minutes, June 22, 1984). "The passage says nothing about souls or spirit-beings. Furthermore, this would contradict the entire teaching of Scripture, from Genesis 2:7 on, regarding the nature of man. A soul is a living breathing creature, not a ghost" (Sidney Hatch, Daring To Differ: Adventures in Conditional Immortality, p. 90).

Again, nothing is said whatsoever in this parable about either "souls" or "spirits." There is absolutely no indication at all that Jesus is talking about some "immortal something" trapped in our physical bodies that flies off to some Hadean holding area at the moment of physical death. To promote such a view is contrary to the teaching of Scripture on the nature of man. Jesus simply made use of a common story, which reflected current Jewish/pagan thinking, to convey a moral message to His hearers.

#3 --- Scripture also makes it abundantly clear that the GRAVE (Hades, Sheol) is not a place of conscious activity for the dead. The dead "sleep" in the dust of the ground, they are not holding conversations with other departed, disembodied spirits across vast chasms. "The Scriptures teach that the death state is one of quiet, silent, unconscious sleep. How much more evidence is necessary to convince any reasonable person that this is simply a story which Jesus told in order to make a point with His adversaries?" (ibid). "The resurrection from the grave will be the time for happiness and bliss for God's saints. It is not when they are yet asleep in Jesus" (Dillard Thurman, Gospel Minutes, Feb. 1, 1985).

"A literal interpretation of the parable also contradicts the uniform testimony of the Old and New Testaments that the dead, both righteous and ungodly, lie silent and unconscious in death until the resurrection day" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 174).

#4 --- "Jesus was also not teaching that lost souls have the privilege of praying to patriarchs long dead, who will answer from another realm!" (Dillard Thurman, Gospel Minutes, Aug. 13, 1982). If this parable is to be taken literally, however, we have lost souls praying to people like Abraham, and Abraham answering! There is apparently (if taken literally) a "vast gulf" between the two "compartments of Hades," and yet are we to suppose they can freely converse among each other? I guess sound carries well in the spirit realm!!

"Since we deride the Catholics for praying to 'the Virgin Mary,' a host of saints, etc., how can we keep a straight face and advocate that folk offer their prayers to Abraham after death? But not only did the rich man pray, his prayer was answered!" (Dillard Thurman, Gospel Minutes, June 22, 1984). "But there is also a flaw in Abraham! He acts as judge and jury, by-passing both God and His Son with his decree. He even accepts the term 'father,' though Jesus taught 'And call no man your father upon the earth; for one is your Father, which is in heaven' (Matt. 23:9). If this be a factual, historical report, it opens up Pandora's Box .... and raises more devils than we can cast out!" (ibid).

As Leroy Edwin Froom points out in his massive two volume work (over 2000 pages of extensive research), "a literal application breaks down under the weight of its own absurdities and contradictions" (The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers: The Conflict of the Ages Over the Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, p. 260). "Pagan Platonism, polluting the Jewish faith, which Jesus cited but did not endorse in this legendary fable-parable, should never be allowed to corrupt sound Christian doctrine" (ibid, p. 269). "The story of Dives and Lazarus was never designed to teach conditions on the other side of death. That is an extraneous contention that has been introduced without warrant. It is fallacious as an argument and is unworthy of the name of sound exegesis" (ibid).

"Parables were used by the Lord to teach truths; and after the primary truths are gleaned, the parable should not be distended and distorted to cover that which the Lord did not intend!" (Dillard Thurman, Gospel Minutes, Aug. 13, 1982). This is exactly what many have done with this particular parable of our Lord. They have forced literalism upon the figures of this story, and in so doing they actually perpetuate the pagan perceptions which found their way into the doctrines of ancient Judaism and Christendom. Any passage of Scripture taken out of context becomes a pretext! In this case, a pretext for the continued promotion of false teaching with regard to the nature of man and his eternal destiny.

For many reasons, therefore, I completely and unequivocally reject Luke 16:19-31 as anything other than a parable, likely based on common lore, representing the eternal truth that our eternal destinies are determined by our actions and attitudes in this life, and that one's fate is forever fixed at death. To fabricate a theology of disembodied spirits and Hadean holding cells and everlasting torture of the wicked from this passage is an unconscionable abuse of biblical interpretation and should be rejected by all disciples intent upon discerning and declaring Truth rather than perpetuating the tedious tenets of paganistic Tradition.


Another passage often appealed to by those who advocate the immediate conscious existence of some "immortal spirit-being" that survives the death of the physical body is Luke 23:43. Here Jesus makes a statement to one of two criminals, as that man was dying on an adjacent cross, who had previously said to Him, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" (vs. 42). To this man Jesus replied, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (NASB).

The argument by the traditionalists is that this verse assures us the penitent thief would be "in Paradise" with Jesus THAT SAME DAY! Since the body of the thief was likely placed in the grave that same day, and since it was not resurrected, they conclude it must be his soul/spirit that went to Paradise that day. This, they declare, proves the conscious existence of some spirit-being trapped within one's physical body that is freed to greater existence by one's physical death.

It's interesting to note (and most seem to overlook this point) that the thief asked to be remembered when Jesus came in/into His kingdom! When exactly would that have been? Was this on the day of His death and burial? Most scholars would argue that it was not. Most state the victory was not truly won until at least the third day when Jesus Christ arose from the dead. Others will declare it was not until the ascension several weeks after that. Still others will point to the day of Pentecost, or even to the Parousia, as the ultimate coming of the kingdom. But almost nobody suggests our Lord came in or into His kingdom on the day of His death. Thus, some scholars see a problem early on in the traditional interpretation of this statement by Jesus: how did it accurately address the request of the dying thief on the cross with respect to the coming of the kingdom?

On the night of His betrayal and arrest, just hours before the statement to the thief on the cross, and during the establishment of the Lord's Supper, Jesus declared to His disciples, "I shall never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25). Was Jesus expecting that kingdom to arrive in just a matter of hours? During the many days following the resurrection, our Lord was continuing to speak to the disciples about this kingdom, and the disciples even then were unclear as to when all of this was to occur (Acts 1:3-7). Thus, not even they were under the impression that this kingdom "came" on the day of Jesus' death. Indeed, how was Jesus to "come into" His kingdom that day when He was dead?! Thus, there is much to suggest that the day of our Lord's death was not the day when He came into His kingdom. Some even interpret Paul's statement in 2 Tim. 4:1 about the kingdom of Christ (written decades later) to be an as yet unrealized (thus future) experience.

But the above is only a minor difficulty with the traditionalist's position on this passage. There are far greater problems associated with their interpretation. However, before one can truly perceive the significance of our Lord's statement to this thief, one must first come to an understanding of the biblical concept of Paradise, which those who believe as Thomas does have definitely failed to do.

The word Paradise is of Persian origin. It was incorporated into the Hebrew language during the time of Persian influence, and passed into the Greek language through its extensive use by Xenophon. The Hebrew word "pardes" occurs three times in the pages of the OT writings:

  1. Nehemiah 2:8 where it is translated "forest."

  2. Ecclesiastes 2:5 with reference to "gardens and parks."

  3. Song of Solomon 4:13 where the author refers to his bride as "an orchard of pomegranates."

The word literally means "a park; a garden." In time it came to signify "a place of exquisite pleasure and delight." The Septuagint uses the Greek word "paradeisos" (transliteration: paradise) consistently in Genesis 2-3 for the "Garden of Eden." It is also used in reference to the Jordan Valley (Genesis 13:10) and again of the Garden of Eden in Joel 2:3.

In the NT writings the Greek word "paradeisos" appears only three times:

  1. 2 Corinthians 12:4 where Paul says he was "caught up into Paradise;" probably equivalent to the "third heaven" of vs. 2, which many biblical scholars suggest signifies being in the very presence of God in heaven (although this event may have been more vision than literal journey, as Paul himself acknowledges).

  2. Revelation 2:7 where Christ promises those who overcome -- "I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God." This tree is in the very presence of God in heaven, positioned on either side of the river of the water of life which flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1-5). Thus, the tree is said to be right before the throne of God in Heaven, which is identified as being "the Paradise of God."

  3. Luke 23:43 where we find the statement of Jesus to the thief on the cross.

"Later Jewish tradition locates 'Paradise' as an abode of the righteous dead in Hades, however the apocryphal books do not!" (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 4). Notice that it is according to later Jewish tradition that Paradise is said to be located in the Hadean realm. This is not the teaching of inspired Scripture. Not even the Apocrypha locates Paradise in Hades. Nowhere in the Bible is Paradise ever associated with some so-called "intermediate state or realm" for the dead. This doctrine originated with men, and is not taught in Scripture.

The word "Paradise," as it is used in the New Testament writings, obviously refers to the eternal abode of God (what we generally term as "Heaven"). "In the NT 'paradise' means heaven in 2 Cor. 12:4 and Rev. 2:7. Accordingly it naturally denotes heaven in the remaining instance: Luke 23:43" (Davis Dictionary of the Bible, p. 569). "It is evident that Luke 23:43 speaks of a heavenly Paradise" (New International Commentary on the NT). "There can, therefore, be no doubt that paradise is heaven! The Fathers made a distinction between paradise and heaven which is not found in the Scriptures" (Charles Hodge). "Paradise is not a shadowy waiting-room, but a blissful abode within the very courts of heaven itself" (New International Commentary on the NT).

The Jews "have a multitude of fables on the subject" (Adam Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 5, p. 497), and their literature is "full of fancies and discrepancies" (New International Commentary on the NT). The Gospel of Nicodemus even maintains that this thief on the cross is still alive today in the original Garden of Eden somewhere on the earth's surface! According to the Narrative of Joseph, the penitent thief is the only resident of Paradise!

"Jesus, however, did not endorse the later Jewish tradition that paradise was at any time a compartment of Hades!" (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 4). Brother Curtis Dickinson wrote, "In the days of Jesus, the Jews held many widely diverse views regarding 'Paradise,' but none of them were based upon Divine revelation, so no weight should be attached to such opinions. We will stick to what is revealed in the Bible" (The Witness, Vol. 30, No. 8, August, 1990).

Thus, the first major point that needs to be made, and stressed, at this juncture is that Jesus was not speaking of some compartment in Hades or Sheol, but was rather referring to Heaven itself -- the abode of the Father.

The biggest problem associated with Luke 23:43, however, is in connection with the word "today." What did Jesus mean when He stated that this dying thief would be with Him in Paradise "today?" Was this really what Jesus was suggesting here, or have we perhaps misunderstood and thus misapplied this entire verse?

There are several significant problems associated with the assumption that the "soul" or "spirit" of this thief left his physical body at death to enter Paradise that day. First, it assumes the inherent immortality of some "spirit-being" trapped inside the physical body which is freed by the death of that body. This is simply not taught in Scripture. The dead "sleep" in the dust of the ground awaiting the resurrection, they are not conscious spirits cavorting in some Hadean realm.

Another major problem, however, is that it seems clear from Scripture that Jesus Himself did not enter Paradise that day. Thus, how could the thief have been "with Him" that day if Jesus Himself was not there?!! It was not until about 43 days later (He arose the 3rd day and spent 40 days more with the disciples before ascending to the Father) that Jesus returned to the abode of God. At the empty tomb, on the day of His resurrection, He told Mary, who was clinging to Him, "I have not yet ascended to the Father!" (John 20:17). This was three days after His statement to the thief on the cross, and Jesus says He has not been there yet. Where was He? He was dead ... buried in the tomb. "So shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12:40). Jesus was not in Heaven, He was in the grave. The promise to Jesus was that He would not be abandoned to the grave, nor would He "undergo decay" (Acts 2:27). He would be raised. If Jesus was not raised, but abandoned to the grave, all is lost (1 Cor. 15:12-19). No, Jesus was not in Paradise that day with the thief. They were both DEAD and BURIED.

Brother H. Leo Boles, in his Commentary on Luke, correctly observed, "Evidently Jesus did not mean that this robber would go with him to heaven that day, as it seems clear from other statements that Jesus did not go to heaven that day. His day of ascension came about forty days after that time" (p. 454). The thief on the cross was not with Jesus "that day" in Paradise for the very simple reason that Jesus Himself was not there!!

Indeed, the raising of the dead and their entrance into God's presence "in Heaven" is a future event, not one that occurs at the instant of death. "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven -- the Son of Man" (John 3:13). "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. .... For David did not ascend to heaven..." (Acts 2:29, 34). Thus, it is unlikely the thief made it into the very presence of God before the throne on the day of his death. If David wasn't there, and Jesus wasn't there, and "no one" was there, then neither was the thief!!

So, how do we deal with the apparent "problem" raised by the traditionalists when they quote Luke 23:43? "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (NASB). The very simple solution is to be found in an obvious error of punctuation. It is important to keep in mind that the early Greek manuscripts of the NT text did not contain punctuation, nor even spaces between the words (which was the space saving device known as "scriptio continua"). Even question marks were not used commonly in Greek manuscripts until the 9th century A.D. (Dr. Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, p. 27). It would be many hundreds of years before punctuation would be added to the text of the New Testament, and this would be done by uninspired men with theological biases. It was not until 1205 A.D. that Stephen Langton (a professor in Paris and later the Archbishop of Canterbury) divided the Bible into chapters. Thus, it is important to note that the sectional and grammatical separations in Scripture are the devices of men and not of God!!

The whole meaning of Luke 23:43 literally hinges on the placement of a single comma (a comma placed by fallible men)!! In the Luke 23:43 passage, the comma is traditionally placed prior to the word "today" ("Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise"). However, consider the following alternative:

"Truly I say to you today,
you shall be with Me in Paradise."

By moving the comma to a position after the word "today" one alters the meaning of the sentence so that it is now no longer in conflict with the remainder of biblical doctrine on the nature of man and his eternal destiny. Grammatically, either placement of the comma is technically correct in the Greek language. Thus, there is just as much grammatical justification for the placement of the comma after "today" as there is for placing it before that word. The theological biases of the early translators (influenced as they were by the heathen doctrines of immortal soulism and subterranean realms of bliss and torment) prompted them to select a placement of the comma that seemed to substantiate their own perceptions of the nature of man and his ultimate destiny. The problem with that selection of comma placement, however, is that it contradicted the remainder of God's Word on the subject!! A simple matter of repunctuation (as this procedure has come to be characterized) solves the problem and brings this verse back into harmony with biblical teaching.

"Translators have placed the comma before the adverb 'today,' not for grammatical reasons, but for the theological conviction that the dead receive their reward at death. One would wish that translators would limit themselves to translating the text and leave the task of interpretation to the reader" (Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? -- A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny, p. 176).

Actually, the phrase "I say unto you this day" (or "") is "a common Hebrew idiom which is constantly used for very solemn emphasis" (E. W. Bullinger, Appendix 173, from The Companion Bible). Thus, it would not have been that unusual for Jesus to have said, "Truly I say to you today..." instead of applying the word "today" to the phrase which followed. His statement to the dying thief would certainly constitute a declaration with "solemn emphasis." Brother Curtis Dickinson wrote, "The Greek adverb here rendered 'today' appears in the Septuagint and the New Testament 221 times. In 170 of these places the adverb follows the verb it modifies. For example: 'I declare to you this day, that ye shall surely perish' (Deut. 30:18). Therefore, it would be natural to punctuate Luke 23:43 as follows: 'Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.' Paul uses a similar turn of phrase in Acts 20:26 -- 'I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men'" (The Witness, Vol. 30, No. 8, August, 1990).

"In suggesting that the words of our Lord to the thief can only be understood by re-arranging the punctuation we are often accused of tampering with the text. This is a false accusation because any punctuation is an addition to the text. The correct punctuation can only be determined by comparing Scripture with Scripture" (A. W. Fowler, "Jesus' Promise to the Dying Thief," an article in Resurrection Magazine, Autumn, 1991). Of course, when we compare Scripture with Scripture we discover that there is no way Jesus was with this thief in Paradise that day, nor do the Scriptures teach immortal soulism, or Hadean holding areas for disembodied spirits, or judgment and reward prior to the resurrection on the Last Day. Thus, the placement of the comma that best harmonizes with the teaching of Scripture is to place it after "today." "Thus, Jesus is not teaching conscious existence in paradise immediately after death in an intermediate state!" (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 4).

"This emphatic use of 'today' is a common idiom in both Hebrew and Aramaic which are the two Semitic languages in which the Old Testament was written. The idiom is used to introduce a solemn statement. 'I ... to you today' when the verb is one of declaration, testification, command or oath. Some seventy occurrences of this formula are found in the Bible and forty-two are found in the Book of Deuteronomy (for example, Deut. 4:26)" (A. W. Fowler, "Jesus' Promise to the Dying Thief," an article in Resurrection Magazine, Autumn, 1991). "The earliest translation of the Greek New Testament was into the language of Palestine's nearest neighbour, Syria. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic. It is therefore not surprising that in one of the oldest Syriac manuscripts of the Gospels (5th century Curetonianus) the translator recognized the idiom and translated the passage, 'Amen say I to you today that with me you will be in the garden of Eden.' By introducing the word 'that' the translator removed the need for any punctuation to determine the sense. We therefore have a very ancient precedent for our interpretation which ante-dates all the English versions by hundreds of years" (ibid).

Is there any evidence among Bible translators, and Bible translations, for this repunctuation? Actually, there is more than some realize. Consider the following:

Brother Curtis Dickinson wrote, "It may be asked why translators of most modern versions do not place the comma after the 'today' so that the verse will harmonize with other scriptural teaching on death and resurrection. We might as well ask why they do not translate the Greek baptizo as 'immerse' or diakonos as 'servant' instead of merely spelling them with English letters. To do so would put the translation at odds with most denominational doctrine and almost insure its failure to be accepted. When the translators put Luke 23:43 into English, they punctuated it arbitrarily according to preconceived notions. An honest translator, when faced with more than one choice of translation, will choose the one that is in harmony with the rest of God's word" (The Witness, Vol. 30, No. 8, August, 1990).

Thus, I must conclude that the traditional teaching based on Luke 23:43 is entirely false, and that it is due to a false rendering of the passage (a misplaced comma). This passage in no way teaches the thief went to be with the Lord in Paradise that day. Instead, the Lord merely assured this thief that he would indeed be with Him in Paradise. When will this happen? -- When the thief is resurrected on that last great day!!


I am thoroughly enjoying this intense and extensive study of God's Word. How can one not be personally enriched by long periods of intimate association with God's inspired revelation? "My heart stands in awe of Thy words. I rejoice at Thy word, as one who finds great spoil. I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Thy law" (Psalm 119:161-163). "O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). May none of us ever tire of delving deeply into the words of our Creator, and may He guide us into greater understanding of His Truths and greater concern for those who misapply them.

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