Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology Scholarship: Mission Practice as Moral Craft

Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology Scholarship: Mission Practice as Moral Craft


Following Aristotle (Nichomachian Ethics), ethics might be thought of in terms of a craft (te,cnh) practised by a guild.  This notion highlights the roles of ends, virtues, tradition, community, friendship, apprenticeship, and practices in ethics.  To this idea of moral craft has been added (particularly starting in the 1970s through Stanley Hauerwas’s work) the important notion in ethics of ‘narrative’—the story-formed identity of a community.  This brief essay offers an application of these ideas to mission practice in an outline form for further discussion and reflection.  By seeing mission practice through the lenses of ‘moral craft’, the hope is that the field of ethics will contribute something to mission studies.  Some suggestions for discussion are offered for each of the points briefly introduced in the following essay.

1. Ends.  We need ends or goals (te,loj) to guide our actions.  (Craftsmen need to remember that, e.g., they are making cheese, not yoghurt.)  For ethics, the end needs to be the highest good, for it must give meaning to all other ends.  Aristotle spoke of this highest good as 'pleasure'; the Westminster Catechism as 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever'.  A narrative ethic might phrase the chief end in terms of 'faithful living within the narrative by which we live' (as opposed to effectiveness, e.g.).  Jesus' answer to the question of the highest good was in terms of 'love of God and neighbour' (Mt. 22.37-40).  One way of expanding the idea of 'end' in ethics is to speak of 'moral vision' (so Richard Hays)--the way we see the world through our unique, story-formed community and tradition.

*If development work has the end of 'caring', or 'self-empowerment to meet basic needs', how will this relate to an ethic for development work?  Will a 'highest end' (to glorify God?) guide these ends as well, or will development work not include spiritual life?
*What assumed moral ends operate in development work?  (Often Western development work assumes these are human rights, freedom, self-determination, equality.)

2. Virtues.  A craft involves certain virtues.  'avreth,' (virtue) means 'that quality of a thing which helps it accomplish its purpose (end) well.'  If we are making knives, the virtues of the knife might be: sharpness, a good weight, good grip, the right blade for the right task (serrated or not), price.  Aristotle defines a virtue as the mean between two extremes (deficiency and excess, which are vices).  These virtues define a thing's character (h;qoj).  The practice of the craft also involves certain virtues: virtues associated with a business ethic and work ethic.

*How do our Christian stories and overall narrative define the virtues of our mission practice (e.g., the cross of Jesus Christ defines Paul’s understanding of his own suffering and service).
*What 'common virtues' apply to all involved in a certain practice?  (E.g., Communication practice: accuracy, truthfulness, clarity, conciseness, balance, relevance, interesting, etc.)  What about Development practices?  Evangelistic practices?
*What 'specific virtues' apply to Christian mission practice?  Development work?
*How will ethics understood as development of character within a given tradition and community be different from ethics understood in terms of making decisions?  (Decisionism: Deontological, Teleological/ Consequentialist, Situationist ethics)
*What individual virtues apply to Christians?  Paul speaks of 'gifts' rather than virtues, implying (a) human fallenness requires God's grace and (b) human virtue requires God's grace.
*How should we rank the virtues (which are primary and which secondary; e.g., in 1 Corinthians, Paul explains what a difference it makes if we prioritize freedom over love)?

3. Tradition.  Different crafts have different ends, values, virtues, obligations, rules, actions, etc.  There are even secrets kept by craftsmen for how they make their craft (hence the title 'mister' [mystery] for a craftsman).  Similarly, many ethicists argue, ethics is not universal but from within a certain tradition (cf. Alisdair MacIntyre).  Ethics is not first a question of what we should do but of who we should be as members of this community, with these determinative stories and authorities, practices, etc.  This different way of doing ethics opens up new ways to speak about the use of Biblical authority for Christian tradition: emphasis is placed not simply on rules for what we should do but on how Scripture defines our tradition and community (uses of Scripture: rules, principles, paradigms and narratives, and worldview).  E.g., narrative ethics emphasises the relation between the story-formed tradition and the ethic that derives from within that tradition.  E.g., debates about 'abortion' in America involve women's rights, since the American narrative is one about freedom and equality.  In communist countries, individual rights were eclipsed by community needs, and so abortion has to do with what will contribute to the work force, the community, the country.  In China, abortion also has to do with concerns about over population and the desire to have male children.  Each of these examples leads to a defense of abortion, but for very different reasons based on very different traditions within history and society.  Christian tradition defended the life of the unborn because it viewed life as God-given, and the early Church opposed all forms of killing (soldiering, serving as magistrates who could sentence people to death, abortion, infanticide).

So, e.g., we might ask if the Christian tradition informs Christian practices in communication:
* Reporting is not only reporting news; it is uncovering a tradition's assumed narrative and understanding how its virtues operate within that narrative and tradition.  Christian reporting will uncover the assumed tradition of society and challenge this with Christian tradition.
*How will being a member of a Christian community guide one to pursue certain stories/information and not others?  Tradition establishes agenda for inquiry.
*How will being a member of a Christian community guide one to communicate material a certain way?

What about Christian development practice?

4. Community. Even the same craft might be practised differently by different guilds.  'This is how we do things here.'  Ethics involves being shaped by and for a given community.  Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics (cf. Plato's Republic) prepares people to live within the Greek city state; his virtues are those befitting such a society (they are not ‘absolute’ virtues fit for every society on earth).

*What does it mean to practice Christian development work within a Christian community, and how does development work with its virtues play a role in larger society?
*What does it mean to practice development work as a member of a Christian community while living in larger society?  H. Richard Niebuhr (Christ and Culture) spoke of five models for the relation of Church and culture: Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ and culture in paradox, Christ over culture, and Christ transforming culture.  What socio-political and theological factors come into play to direct our Christian involvement in society?
*What does it mean to practice one's craft within a guild/community?  Paul speaks of different gifts within the community, and seeking the good of the church community in practising one's gifts (1 Cor. 12-14).  Stanley Hauerwas says that the Church does not have a social ethic, it is a social ethic.  Many Christian ethicists like to speak of Kingdom ethics to capture the socio-political nature of Christian ethics (over against simply a personal ethic).  In such ways, the conversation about the relationship between community and ethics (including our practices, such as missions) has developed.

5. Friendship.  Aristotle discusses ethics primarily in terms of 'virtues' (books 2 - 7) and 'friendship' (books 8 - 9).  (Friendship is another aspect of life in community, and so it is mentioned here.  As an approach to ethics, it overlaps with a virtue ethic.)  Aristotle discusses three types of friendship: friendship for utility, pleasure, and of good people.  Virtue and friendship are related in the last instance of friendship: 'complete friendship is the friendship of good people similar in virtue' (NE, 9.35).  Aristotle also discusses friendship in families (cf. the NT's household codes).  Obligation derives from the friendships (relationships) we have.
Components of friendship (Aristotle): (1) doing things for the other's good (goodwill, concord, active and unselfish benevolence, self-love [loving a friend who is most a friend, a basis for making costly sacrifices for others]; (2) wishing the friend to be and live for his/her own sake; (3) spending time together; (4) making the same choices; (5) sharing in each other's distress and enjoyment (NE, 11.11).  Cf. Rom. 12.1-18; John 13-17.

*Some cultures emphasise friendship as a basis for relationships of all sorts: political leaders are 'benefactors' and parent figures; contracts are more oral than written and friendship is the basis of the relationship more than legal documents; tipping and bribery are aspects of relationships (gone wrong!) rather than legality.
*How does mission practice relate to 'friendship' and 'community' with respect to the church and society as a whole?
*What significance did Paul’s team approach to missions play in early Christian missions—and what role should it play today (often individuals are sent out as missionaries on their own; often the focus is on a task or project—what difference would it make to focus the emphasis on developing Christian friendship in the practice of missions and as the result of missions (=planting healthy church communities)?

6. Apprenticeship.  Those being initiated into a craft undergo an apprenticeship.  There is a need for a teacher or mentor.  Apprentices need models of good craftsmen and crafstmenship.  Apprentices learn to order their desires, develop the character befitting the task, practices that lead to high quality, etc.  The shaping of one's character (h;qoj) entails developing the right virtues for this guild (community) doing these particular things (practices).  Character is shaped by a certain collection of virtues, hierarchically arranged, and virtues are gained through habits ((e;qoj), which, in turn, are acquired through repeated actions (Aristotle, NE, 2.1).  In addition, there is also an artistic feel, gained over time, for a given trade.  So, there is a difference between mere practices and good performances of those practices.  Virtues of character are acquired through early habituation of one's desires, feelings, pleasures and pains (NE, 1104b11, 1179b24).  To a large extent, ethics is like a craft in requiring these features of an apprenticeship.  So, too, mission practices can be discussed with these same categories (in italics).

The NT barely uses the word 'virtue'.  Paul speaks of 'righteousness' or the 'fruit of the Spirit'.  Perhaps 'virtues' that one gains by oneself take too much emphasis off of what God accomplishes by his grace in us through Christ and the Spirit.  Jonathan Edwards spoke of this work of God in terms of an 'awakening'.  And yet 'righteousness' is not immediate: there is progressive sanctification as well as an 'already/not yet' aspect to Christian living between the first and second coming of Christ (cf. Phl. 3.12ff).  So, how do Christians 'train in godliness' (1 Tim. 4.7--here: teaching, example, Scripture reading, use of a gift for the church; cf. the 'theological virtues' of faith, love, and hope--e.g., 1 Th. 5.8)?  How do they develop 'holy or religious affections' (Jonathan Edwards: 'If we take the Scriptures for our rule, then the greater and higher our exercises of love to God, delight and complacency in him, desires and longings after him, delight in his children, love to mankind, brokenness of heart, abhorrence of sin, and self-abhorrence for it; the more we have of the peace of God which passeth all understanding, and joy in the Holy Ghost, unspeakable and full of glory; the higher our admiring thoughts of God, exulting and glorying in him; so much the higher is Christ’s religion, or that virtue which he and his apostles taught, raised in the soul' (Thoughts on the Revival I.II.I))?
Narrative ethics emphasises the importance of living in community to be able to visualise the embodiment of that narrative.  Role morality notes the importance of taking on a role within a community in order to learn, improve, and be shaped by the community's expectations and needs from one in that role.  Paul struggles with misunderstandings by others about how to define his apostolic role, preferring to understand this not in terms of 'leadership' but 'service', because the model for his ethic is the crucified Lord, Jesus Christ.

            *What sort of apprenticeship is required for mission practice?
*What sort of education in virtue is needed for our children so that they develop as apprentices in mission?  What action steps will we need to take to train children and youth in Christian virtues over against an increasingly hostile world to Christians that also entices us its own attractions?
*How do we learn to practice (as in craftsmanship) love, forgiveness, reconciliation?  How does mission practice place us in the role of apprenticeship in these virtues (or put us at odds with them!)?

7. Practices.  Craftsmanship is about the practice of a trade, with the understanding that there is an art to each trade.  When speaking of a Christian interest in 'reconciliation,' e.g., we may be concerned about troubled spots on the globe or broken marriages and relationships.  Yet there is more than an interest in the same product at stake in ethics: much of ethics is about the way in which this particular people practices what occupies them.  Narrative ethicists such as Stanley Hauerwas are concerned to describe the practices of those in the peaceable kingdom of God.  As Christians concern themselves with reconciliation, how will Christian practice of this differ from what others mean by the same term?  One example, whether lauded or derided today, is that of the medieval Catholic penitentials laying out a way to practice reconciliation to God and the church.  This involved sorrow and repentance, acts of contrition, forgiveness, absolution, restoration--more than just saying 'sorry.'  A Pauline understanding of reconciliation involves one's relationship with God: he did not expect those outside Christ to practice it (e.g., Tit. 3.3-7; Eph. 2.1-10).  Ethics has to do with understanding not only how a community's narrative outlines a unique virtue ethic but also how a community's practices help develop and demonstrate these virtues (e.g., love and the practice of forgiveness, reconciliation, hospitality, humility).

*Mission practice is an ethic: what sort of people are we becoming in the practice of our mission?  (An extreme example might be the workaholic missionary who has little time for his family!)  How does this practice relate to the narrative and virtues of our Christian community?


Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologica.
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics.
Birch, Bruce and Larry Rasmussen.  Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life. Rev. ed.
Grenz, Stanley, J.  The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics.
Hays, Richard.  The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics.
Hauerwas, Stanley.  A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic.
Hauerwas, Stanley.  The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics.
MacIntyre, Alisdair.  Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry.

Wilson, Jonathan R. Wilson.  Gospel Virtues: Practicing Faith, Hope and Love in Uncertain Times.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why Foreign Missions? 22b Heaven

Why Foreign Missions? 22b Heaven


We speak of ‘heaven’ as the place where the righteous/believers go after death.  The previous study focused on the terms ‘sheol’ and ‘paradise’ as the place of the departed.  The present study will expand this with a focus on ‘heaven.’  Under investigation here is to what extent should our proclamation of the Gospel offer a personal hope beyond this life.  Holistic ministries that help the poor are rightly grounded in Scripture.  Yet we need to recognize that there is a potential (not necessary) tension between mission that is focussed on addressing human need here and now and mission that involves pointing people to the hope we have after death and in the future.  Also, the Prosperity Gospel, so wide-spread and so unbiblical, is a false teaching that has infected many Evangelical and charismatic fellowships in recent decades.  It offers health and wealth to believers here and now and has no answer to suffering and death apart from the indictment of people’s levels of faith: ‘If you only had more faith, you would not have these struggles.’  Thus we rightly continue our study of a Biblical view of life after death as part of our larger study on the Gospel that we proclaim as part of the mission of the Church.

I would add one further comment on the relevance of this study of heaven for missionary proclamation by way of introduction.  The distinction in Scripture between ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ provides a division between our own, personal life before God and our corporate, earthly relationships.  As we saw in the previous study of ‘Sheol,’ there is an Old Testament notion of being gathered together with the ancestors—meaning the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in particular and others in general—the notion of ‘heaven’ in the New Testament is both more individualistic and more universal.  It is more individualistic in that one might go to heaven upon death as a believer but not be gathered to be with dead relatives who were not believers.  It is more universal in the sense that there will be believers from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5.9; 13.7; 14.6).  This teaching eclipses animistic ties to the tribe’s ancestors or a spouse’s unwillingness to become a believer because his or her deceased wife or husband had not come to faith.  The hope of heaven also eclipses unduly nationalistic or ethnic foci in the faith.  And it directly challenges the notion that mission that has to do with our separating the wheat from the chaff in this life (as in the medieval Christian crusades, Afrikaner settlement in South Africa, or American ‘manifest destiny’ settlement of native American tribal lands—or as in many Muslim practices towards non-Muslims).  Rather, the notion of heaven stands as a conclusion to a mission on this earth during which invitation to repent and believe remains open until death (e.g., For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil,’ 2 Cor. 5.10).   In such ways, a study of life after death is highly significant for our larger study of Christian missions.

We speak of ‘heaven’ as the place where the righteous/believers go after death.  The previous study focused on the terms ‘sheol’ and ‘paradise’ as the place of the departed.  The present study will expand this with a focus on ‘heaven.’  The notion of ‘heaven’ as the place of the departed righteous developed over time, and yet the idea of a heavenly realm is found throughout the Bible.  The Hebrew term for ‘heaven’ is plural—shamayim.  It can mean the sky above (e.g., Gen. 6.17, the first occurrence of the term: ‘I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die’; cf. Gen. 15.5, where God tells Abraham to look toward heaven to count the stars) or the place where God and his angels live (‘And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is,’ Gen. 21.17; cf. 22.11, 15).  In Gen. 28.12, Jacob sees a ladder extending from the earth to heaven and angels ascending and descending upon it.  Jacob’s response to this vision is, ‘And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen. 28.17).  The term appears in the NRSV 836 times in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Jewish Apocrypha, and it is found in most Biblical authors—it is a thoroughgoing concept essential to a Biblical worldview.  The following study investigates the Biblical texts (not the other Jewish texts) on ‘heaven’.

A Three-Story Universe

As to a Biblical worldview, Ex. 20.4 offers a basic understanding of a three-story world of heaven, earth, and the (watery) region under the earth: ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth’ (cf. Dt. 5.8).  Yet this basic notion can be expanded: Dt. 10.14 speaks of heaven and the ‘heaven of heaven.’  Paul spoke of three levels of heaven itself (2 Cor. 12.2).  The early (2nd c. AD?) Christian apocryphal book, the Ascension of Isaiah, has Isaiah pass through seven levels of heaven.  Thus there is some flexibility in the literature in speaking of a three-story universe and of levels of heaven itself.

Heaven is Where God Dwells

Heaven is the place where God dwells: ‘The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD's throne is in heaven. His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind’ (Ps. 11.4; cf. Dt. 26.14; 1 Kgs 8.30; cf. 1 Kgs 8 and 2 Chr. 6; Ps. 123.1).  The ‘place where God dwells’ is also the temple, and so there are two related ideas as God dwelling in his temple in heaven or in his temple on earth.  Even so, a place such as a temple cannot contain the God of heaven and earth ('But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him? (2 Chr. 2.6; cf. 6.18).  Paul, too, says that Jesus ascended ‘far above all the heavens’ (Eph. 4.10).  Thus, every creature in the three-part universe, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, will bow before him (Phl. 2.10).  The author of Hebrews, too, says that Jesus ascended through the heavens (4.14) and is exalted ‘above the heavens’ (7.26).  He contrasts the earthly with the heavenly—the heavenly country (11.16), the heavenly Jerusalem (12.22), and a heavenly sanctuary (8.5; 9.24).  Peter speaks of a heavenly inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Pt. 1.4).  Already, believers are oriented heavenward.  They are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2.6).  They have died, and their life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3.3).  Their citizenship is in heaven (Phl. 3.20).  Especially significant, the future heavenly things are brought into the present because the Holy Spirit has been sent from heaven (1 Pt. 1.12).  The overlap of the notions of heaven as the place where God dwells and his angels reside and as the skies above allows for the notion that a tall building (Gen. 11.4—the tower of Babel; cf. Is. 14.13) or mountain (cf. Dt. 4.11) approaches God’s place or that rain is something God pours out from his heavenly treasure (Dt. 28.12).  Also, since flames go upwards, an offering on an altar pictorially represents sending a gift to the heavens: ‘When the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground’ (Jdg. 13.20).

God and the Beings in Heaven

There are beings in heaven: ‘One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them’ (Job 1.6; cf. 2.1). Since heaven and the skies overlap, worship of the sun, moon, and stars can be understood as worshiping heavenly beings: ‘They rejected all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves cast images of two calves; they made a sacred pole, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal’ (2 Kgs 17.16; cf. 21.3, 5; 23.4-5).  The Biblical perspective is that these other beings and objects in heaven are part of creation and not to be worshiped alongside God (Gen. 1.14-19; Ps. 19.1-6; 33.6); they are to worship God (Ps. 29.1; 69.34; 89.5-6).  As with other Near Eastern religions, God is said to ride through the heavens and thunder from above (Dt. 33.16; 2 Sam. 22; Ps. 18; 68.33).  Yet he both made heaven and earth (Ps. 89.11; 96.5; 104.2-3; 124.8; 134.3) and rules both (Josh. 2.11; Ps. 103.19; 115.3).  God is not one among other heavenly beings to be worshiped (Israel was enticed into Canaanite worship of heavenly beings, cf. Jer. 7.18; 8.2; 19.13; 44.17-19, 25).  He is the God in heaven, as writings during the exile attest by speaking of him as ‘the God of heaven’ (Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel; cf. Jonah 1.9).  Indeed, God is above heaven (Ps. 113.4, 6), and there is no place in heaven, on earth, or in Sheol where one can go away from God (Ps. 139.8).  To emphasise that he alone is God, Isaiah says that the heavens will be destroyed (Is. 34.4-5) and God will create new heavens and a new earth (65.17; 66.22).  Peter restates this in 2 Pt. 3.5-13).  The earthly and heavenly dualism is fully present in the book of Revelation.  The souls of ‘dead who from now on die in the Lord’ will rest from their labours (Rev. 14.13), and the blood of the martyrs call out from under the heavenly altar (for their death as a sacrifice unto God), ‘How long?’ (Rev. 6.10).  The two martyred witnesses are called up to heaven (Rev. 11.12).  Indeed, the saints turn out to be the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21.1-4) and temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb (Rev. 21.22).

God and the Earth

The Biblical perspective is that, because of sinful humanity, the earth is in need of God’s rule.  God is bringing earth under the control of his rule just as heaven is already under his control (cf. the Lord’s Prayer, Mt. 6.11; Lk. 11.2; Revelation).  Ps. 115.16 says that ‘The heavens are the LORD's heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings.’ Satan, too, is a cause of the chaos on the earth to be overcome: ‘Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God’ (Rev. 12.10; cf. Mt. 4.8-9; Eph. 2.1).

Places of the Dead

As already seen in the discussion of Sheol in the Old Testament, so too the New Testament has the notion that there are two different places for the dead, one good and the other a place of torment.  The clearest description of this comes in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, told in Luke 16.  Upon his death, Lazarus, the poor man, goes to where Abraham is and finds comfort (Lk. 16.22, 25).  Being with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is equivalent to being in the kingdom of God in Lk. 13.28).  The rich man goes to Hades and is in agony and tormented in flames (16.23-24).  Elsewhere, Jesus speaks of the wicked being thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 8.12; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30; Lk. 13.28), a furnace of fire (Mt. 13.42, 50), Gehenna (Mt. 5.22, 29, 30; 10.28; 18.19; 23.15; 23.33; cf. Mk. 9.43, 45, 47; Lk. 12.5; James 3.6), Hades (Mt.11.23; 16.28; Lk. 10.15; 16.23; Acts 2.27, 31; Rev. 1.18).  Revelation distinguished Death and Hades, the place of the dead, from the lake of fire (Rev. 20.13)—the latter is the second death and so a final state.  In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, a chasm separates the two places, which are visible to one another (Lk. 16.23, 26).  Jesus speaks of a resurrection of life and a resurrection of condemnation (Jn. 5.29).  Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats also depicts the righteous entering the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world and the wicked going to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25.34, 41).  This future judgement and resurrection is brought into the present in a passage such as Lk. 16’s story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the state of those departed from this life is depicted prior to the future resurrection.

Heaven is the place where the righteous go after life on earth.  We find this idea already in the Old Testament: ‘Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind…. (2 Kgs 2.1; cf. v. 11).  The notions of ‘kingdom’ and ‘heaven’ overlap, as also ‘paradise.’  This is clearly seen in the exchange between the criminal and Jesus on the cross: ‘Then he [the criminal] said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  43 He [Jesus] replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk. 23.42-43).  The distinction between heaven and earth becomes blurred because God reigns over both and because believers already experience a heavenly existence and will in the future partake of one.  Also, Jesus has already entered heaven. While the ultimate hope of believers is a resurrection body, heavenly existence characterizes such a body.  Thus, there is some similarity between heavenly existence upon death and the future heavenly existence in the resurrection body.

Heaven and Heavenly Existence in the New Testament

The Greek term for ‘heaven’ is ‘ouranos’ and is found in both the singular and plural.  In the New Testament, Matthew in particular likes to use the plural in the phrase ‘Kingdom of heavens’ (regularly translated in the singular in English).  The differences between heaven and earth are overcome through Jesus’ ministry.  The Kingdom of God or ‘the Kingdom of the heavens’ (Mt.) draws near through Jesus’ coming and ministry (Mt. 4.17; 10.7).  Even as it grows on the earth like a mustard seed (Mt. 13.31-32), it is also a heavenly goal.  One should store up wealth in heaven (Mt. 6.20; 19.21), and heaven has to do with ‘eternal life’ (Mt. 19.16, 23).

The difference between heaven and earth also applies to the body that dies and the resurrection body.  As Paul says in reference to the physical body in this life and the spiritual body in the life to come, ‘There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another’ (1 Cor. 15.40), and, ‘So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.  43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15.42-44).  Paul concludes, ‘Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven’ (1Cor. 15.49).

These words apply to the resurrection body, the ultimate hope of the believer.  Yet Paul applies the distinction of earthly versus heavenly to the intermediate state as well in his next letter to the same church. He says, ‘For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  2 For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling--  3 if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked.  4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life’ (2 Cor. 5.1-4).  Being ‘naked’ or ‘unclothed’ appears to mean existence between death and the resurrection.  Believers hope to be ‘further clothed,’ transition directly to the resurrection body.  Still, Paul can say, ‘Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5.8).  Paul can conceive of being out of the body—he does not suppose that existence requires a material body (2 Cor. 12.2).

Jesus’ ministry entailed bringing the kingdom of heaven to this earth—something for which the disciples were to pray (Mt. 6.11).  John’s Gospel, in particular, emphasises that Jesus is the Son sent by the Father from heaven.  The Gospels understand the descent of the Spirit of God upon Jesus at his baptism as a rending of the heavens such that any difference between God’s kingdom rule in heaven and God’s reign upon the earth is overcome (Mk. 1.10).  Through his death and resurrection, Jesus received all authority in both heaven and earth (Mt. 28.18; Acts 7.55-56).  And yet, the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven that will entail a final judgement is still future (Mt. 24.36-42).  Jesus will remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration (Acts 3.21).  Jesus’ ascension to heaven (Acts 1.2, 10) does not mean his absence in the interim but his reception of power and authority to direct the Church’s mission before the final judgement.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that those who believe in Him will do greater works because Jesus has gone to the Father (Jn. 14.12).


Thus, we might say that heaven is already and not yet.  Heavenly existence is part of the resurrection hope sometime in the future, but the righteous dead have gone to heaven already (before the resurrection).  The vertical cosmology of heaven and earth can be stretched out temporally in terms of this age and the age to come.  Just as there is an overlap of the ages between the first and second coming of Jesus, so too there is an overlap of the heavenly and earthly realms.  Heavenly existence is already a feature of life for believers in this life.  Jesus has brought the kingdom, the Spirit has been given from heaven, and Jesus already reigns in power from the heavenlies.  Believers who have died are already in heaven, and yet a future resurrection will entail heavenly bodies. Thus, while we hope for a restoration of creation in the future and an end to all evil on this earth, we know that the righteous who have died have already begun to experience this ultimate state because they are in heaven.

The notion of ‘Paradise’ brings to mind the original garden of Adam and Eve.  Christian life can be told with respect to this story.  Yet, when ‘heaven’ is in view, the Christian life is told in terms of God’s rule, His Kingdom, Jesus’ exaltation, and the place where God dwells.  The former idea involves looking to the past, whereas the latter involves looking to the future and is expressed in the New Testament in terms of Jesus’ identity with God, who rules from heaven.  Paradise and heaven are brought together, though, as in Rev. 21 (heaven) and Rev. 22 (Paradise).  Temporally, they already exist, and yet will in the future be revealed on earth.  Thus, those who die in Christ go to heaven, where God dwells and rules, and they experience heaven or Paradise already even though, temporally, Paradise will one day be revealed on this earth.

Jesus’ teaching involved warning people about the future, challenging them to prepare for heaven instead of hell.  A Biblical missiology must include such a warning as much as it includes a hope for the righteous.  Those in Christ can hope to depart upon death and go to be with Jesus.  They will go to heaven and be comforted from this world’s chaotic evil, sin, and suffering.  The judgement for what one has done in the body may be future, but that judgement is already known upon death.  The resurrection may be future, but heavenly existence upon death anticipates the existence to come on the day of resurrection.  Paradise can already be entered upon death even if it will be restored in the new heavens and the new earth in the age to come.  Biblical missionary proclamation may involve offering people this personal hope to righteous believers.  We might ask people, ‘If you were to die tonight, would you like to go to heaven and be with Jesus?’  We learn from the Old Testament that heaven is where God dwells; we learn from the New Testament that heaven is also a place to which God gathers those who die in Christ.  Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to the Father, where he will prepare a place for them, for the Father’s house has many places to stay (Jn. 14.2).  Jesus tells the repentant thief on the cross, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Lk. 23.43).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Why Foreign Missions? 22a The Good News: A Personal Hope of Life in Heaven?

Why Foreign Missions? 22a The Good News: A Personal Hope of Life in Heaven?


Much of the present focus in New Testament studies is on understanding the Gospel message in terms of prophetic passages in the Old Testament that speak of Israel restored from captivity and entering God’s rule.  Well and good—this has been a needed correction to our understanding of many New Testament passages.  Also, much of the present focus in mission studies has been on the social dimension of missions—not simply ‘pie in the sky’ but also and emphatically ‘steak on the plate.’  Thus we speak now of a ‘holistic Gospel,’ one that is not only about spiritual matters but also about making a difference in people’s lives and communities here and now.  Both the focus on Israel’s story and the focus on a holistic Gospel emphasise the social, corporate, and community focus of the Gospel—and this is Scriptural.

However, one result of these emphases in Biblical studies and mission studies is that a question arises: is the Good News, the Gospel, really about a personal (not simply social) hope of life after death in heaven?  Were the personal call to give my life to Jesus and the personal hope of life in heaven when I die off base?

What follows are texts that highlight the first century context and New Testament texts that direct our faith to a personal hope that those faithful to God—those in Christ—will not die but will go to heaven to be with Jesus.  The focus in these texts is not the resurrection hope per se. Indeed, it is very important to state that the Christian hope is not simply to go to heaven after we die but to be resurrected from the dead.  Christians have taught both that there is a final day of resurrection in the future and that, in the interim, those who die in Christ will go to heaven until that day of resurrection.  Most of the New Testament focus is on the future resurrection, but the New Testament also gives us a firm hope that, until that day, we will not cease to exist upon death or enter a soul sleep but, in fact, find a more wonderful life in heaven.  Here, in what follows, is the evidence for this hope, a hope that develops from the Old Testament to Intertestamental Judaism and is fully represented in the New Testament.  If so, then part of our mission proclamation must remain offering individuals in Christ Jesus the hope of life after death and, ultimately, of resurrection from the dead.  The next post will focus on Biblical texts mentioning 'heaven'; this post examines what is said of 'Sheol' and 'Paradise.'

The Evidence for Life After Death Before the Resurrection

1.       In the Old Testament, ‘Sheol’ is the place of the dead:

a. ‘Sheol’ often implies a place where existence continues after one dies.

A mistaken perspective in some scholarship on this issue states that ancient Judaism did not have a notion of life after death.  The idea that is presented is that, for Jews, a person did not consist of parts—a body and soul, e.g.—but was a whole being.  Thus, the reasoning goes, ancient Judaism could not entertain the notion of disembodied existence. 

Yet this neither fits expectations in surrounding cultures (think of the pyramids in Egypt, e.g., or the burial practices of the Canaanites and Israelites that showed care for the dead) nor texts that speak of going somewhere after death.  To be sure, ‘Sheol’ can be a way of speaking of death:

2 Samuel 22:5-6  For the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of perdition assailed me;  6 the cords of Sheol entangled me, the snares of death confronted me.

Yet, while the following texts do not represent the place of the dead as ‘paradise,’ most of them do show a belief that there is life after death—disembodied existence.  Not all do: some simply equate ‘Sheol’ with death.  Some suggest Sheol as a place of punishment for sin (e.g., Prov. 9.16-18; 15.24).  Some speak of deliverance from Sheol in the sense of deliverance from death.  Yet those passages, when read with a belief in the resurrection, can take on added hope in deliverance from death even after one dies.  Thus they can be understood as a hope beyond the grave.  The New Testament, of course, brings much more hope that is based not only on a theological development in Judaism about Paradise and the resurrection from the death but also on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and conquered death. The fact of the resurrection—our future resurrection assured because of Jesus’ past resurrection—gives us assurance that upon the death of our bodies we are in some sense still alive between this life and the resurrection life to come.  As we shall see, there is much more to this belief by the time of the New Testament, but a study of ‘Sheol’ in the Old Testament alone does offer some belief in life after death, no matter how shadowy.  (Thus, there is not a discontinuity between the OT and the NT in the belief in life after death, only a development that, for the godly or those in Christ, this life after death is positive and not merely a shadowy existence apart from God.)

Genesis 37:35  All his sons and all his daughters sought 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 bewailed him.
Genesis 42:38  But he said, "My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should come to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol." [So also Gen. 44.29, 31.]
Numbers 16:30  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." [Here, Sheol is pictured as below the earth.  Also v. 33.  Hence the expression, ‘the depths of Sheol,’ Dt. 32.22.]
Psalm 139:7-8   7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?  8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
1 Kings 2:6  Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace.
1 Kings 2:9-10  9 Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol."  10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. [‘Sleep’ is a euphemism for death from the perspective of what the living see when a person dies; it is not a statement of what happens to the person who dies—who has descended to Sheol.]
Job 11:7-8  Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?  8 It is higher than heaven-- what can you do? Deeper than Sheol-- what can you know?
Job 14:10-22   10 But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they?  11 As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up,  12 so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep.  13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!  14 If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.  15 You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands.  16 For then you would not number my steps, you would not keep watch over my sin;  17 my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity.  18 "But the mountain falls and crumbles away, and the rock is removed from its place;  19 the waters wear away the stones; the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of mortals.  20 You prevail forever against them, and they pass away; you change their countenance, and send them away.  21 Their children come to honor, and they do not know it; they are brought low, and it goes unnoticed.  22 They feel only the pain of their own bodies, and mourn only for themselves."
Job 17:13-16  13 If I look for Sheol as my house, if I spread my couch in darkness,  14 if I say to the Pit, 'You are my father,' and to the worm, 'My mother,' or 'My sister,'  15 where then is my hope? Who will see my hope?  16 Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?"
Job 21:13  They [the wicked who live on into old age] spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. [Yet ‘Sheol’ is said to ‘snatch away’ sinners, Job 24.19.]
Job 26:6  Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering. [Here is hope because God is greater than Sheol, death.]
Psalm 6:5  For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? [Here, the place of death is separation from God—a different notion from Ps. 139.  The focus in Ps. 6 is on death, whereas Ps. 139 or Job 26.6 express a hope about Sheol that is based rather on God’s greatness.]
Psalm 9:17  The wicked shall depart to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.
Psalm 31:17  Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
Psalm 55:15 Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.
Psalm 86:13  For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Psalm 88:1-7, 10-12  O LORD, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence,  2 let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.  3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.  4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help,  5 like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.  6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep.  7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah…. 10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah  11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?  12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
Psalm 89:48 Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of Sheol? Selah
Psalm 116:3  The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
Psalm 141:7  Like a rock that one breaks apart and shatters on the land, so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.
Proverbs 1:10-12   10 My child, if sinners entice you, do not consent.  11 If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent;  12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit.
Proverbs 5:3-5   3 For the lips of a loose woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil;  4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.  5 Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.
Proverbs 7:27  Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
Proverbs 9:16-18   16 "You who are simple, turn in here!" And to those without sense she says,  17 "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant."  18 But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
Proverbs 15:24  24 For the wise the path of life leads upward, in order to avoid Sheol below.
Proverbs 23:14   If you beat them with the rod, you will save their lives from Sheol.
Ecclesiastes 9:10  Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. [Unlike Prov. 15.24 and 23.14, here ‘Sheol’ is unavoidable.]
Isaiah 5:14  Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure; the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude go down, her throng and all who exult in her.
Isaiah 7:11  Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. [Here is an interesting contrast between heaven and Sheol.]
Isaiah 14:15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit.  [See Is. 14.9-15.  The ruler is brought low, down to Sheol.]
Isaiah 28:18  Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through you will be beaten down by it. [See Is. 28.15-18.]
Isaiah 38:10  I said: In the noontide of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years. [This appears to offer a belief that there is life after death, not annihilation.]
Isaiah 38:18  For Sheol cannot thank you, death cannot praise you; those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.  [Cf. Pss. 6 and 88.]
Isaiah 57:9  You journeyed to Molech with oil, and multiplied your perfumes; you sent your envoys far away, and sent down even to Sheol.  [Note communication with the dead implies a belief in life after death.  Cf. 1 Sam. 28.7’s medium at Endor.]
Ezekiel 31:14-18   14 All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to lofty height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For all of them are handed over to death, to the world below; along with all mortals, with those who go down to the Pit.  15 Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day it went down to Sheol I closed the deep over it and covered it; I restrained its rivers, and its mighty waters were checked. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it.  16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the Pit; and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that were well watered, were consoled in the world below.  17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those killed by the sword, along with its allies, those who lived in its shade among the nations.  18 Which among the trees of Eden was like you in glory and in greatness? Now you shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below; you shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are killed by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his horde, says the Lord GOD.  [Note: ‘the world below,’ Sheol (vv. 14, 18).  Cf. Ez. 32.21, 27.
Hosea 13:14  Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol [LXX: Hades, death]? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction [LXX: kentron, sting]? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.  [The text refers to being saved from death, but read in light of the resurrection, the passage is applied to a doctrine of life after death—so Paul in 1 Cor. 15.55-56.]
Amos 9:2 Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.
Jonah 2:2 saying, "I called to the LORD out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.  [The belly of the fish that swallowed Jonah is called ‘Sheol,’ death.  Jesus applies this to his own death—and resurrection: Mt. 12.39-41, par. Lk. 11.29-32; Mt. 16.4.]
Habakkuk 2:5 Moreover, wealth is treacherous; the arrogant do not endure. They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough. They gather all nations for themselves, and collect all peoples as their own.

b. Two Places of the Dead:
‘Abaddon’ is mentioned with ‘Sheol’ as a place of the dead.  Abaddon can simply be a reference to the place of the dead—or a place of the dead—and so function as a reference to death (as can ‘Sheol’).  Yet it more specifically appears to be the place of sinners, as Rev. 9.11 states explicitly.  Of course, a separation of places means continued existence for those who have died.

Job 26:6  Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering.
Job 28:22 Abaddon and Death say, 'We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.'
Job 31:12 for that would be a fire consuming down to Abaddon, and it would burn to the root all my harvest.
Psalm 88:11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddo
Proverbs 15:11  Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD, how much more human hearts!
Proverbs 27:20   20 Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied….
Revelation 9:11  They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

c. Life after ‘Sheol’:

Job 7:9-10  As the cloud fades and vanishes, so those who go down to Sheol do not come up;  10 they return no more to their houses, nor do their places know them any more.
1 Samuel 2:6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. [Unlike Job, 1 Samuel offers hope beyond Sheol.]
Psalm 16:10  For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. [What is an expression of deliverance from death in this life in this psalm becomes a hope of life beyond death as this Psalm is read in the light of Jesus’ resurrection—Peter quotes this psalm in Acts 2.25-28.]
Psalm 30:3   O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. [Again, being saved from death is expressed in a way that could be applied differently when the hope of resurrection is in view.]
Psalm 49:14-15  Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home.  15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah.

2.       The Septuagint (LXX) uses ‘Paradise’ (paradei,soj) to refer to a garden and, at times, to the Garden in Eden = Garden of God. The ‘Garden of God’ becomes a notion that is, in time, applied to a heavenly place.

a. Garden: For example:

Ecc 2:5 I made myself gardens (paradei,souj) and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.

b. The Garden of God:

Gen 2:8 And the Lord God planted a garden (para,deison) in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
Isaiah 51:3 For the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Eze 31:8 The cedars in the garden (paradei,sw) of God could not rival it, nor the fir trees equal its boughs; the plane trees were as nothing compared with its branches; no tree in the garden (paradei,sw) of God was like it in beauty [also v. 9].
Ezekiel 28:13  13 [To the king of Tyre] You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering….

3.    Late Judaism (the Second Temple period in particular) uses the term or idea of the Garden of Eden to refer to where the righteous dead go:

a. Paradise Regained:

Eze 36:35And they will say, `This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now inhabited and fortified.' [Jeremias, "Paradei,soj", Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Vol. V, p. 767: Ezek. is the first "explicitly to compare the expected time of salvation with the Paradise of the first age".]

Song of Solomon 14.1-5 (LXX addition): ‘The Lord is faithful to those who love him in truth, to those who endure his discipline, to those who proceed in the righteousness of his commandments in the Law which give direction to us for our life.  The Lord’s devout ones will live in it forever; the paradise of the Lord, the trees of life, his devoted ones, their planting is rooted in eternity, they will not be uprooted all the days of heaven, for Israel is a portion, an inheritance of God [my translation].

TLevi 18.2, 3c, 6-12: Then will the Lord raise up a new priest, To whom all the words of the Lord will be revealed; And he will execute true judgement on earth for many days...And he will rank as great in the world until he is taken up....The heavens will be opened, And from the temple of glory will come his call to his sacred office With the Father's voice, as from Abraham Isaac's father.  And the glory of the Most High will be uttered over him, And the spirit of understanding and holiness will rest upon him in the water.  He will declare the majesty of the Lord to his sons in truth for evermore, And there will be no successor to him from generation to generation for ever.  And in his priesthood the Gentiles will increase in knowledge on the earth, And be enlightened through the grace of the Lord; But Israel will be weakened through ignorance, And plunged into darkness by sorrow.  In his priesthood will all sin come to an end, And the lawless cease to do evil; And the righteous will rest in him.  And he will open the gates of Paradise, And destroy the power of the sword that threatened Adam.  And he will give the saints the right to eat from the tree of life, And the spirit of holiness will be on them.  And Beliar will be bound by him, And he will give power to his children to tread the evil spirits underfoot.  (Trans. M. DeJonge, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)

1Enoch 51.3-5: And in those days the Chosen One will sit on his throne, and all the secrets of wisdom will flow out from the counsel of his mouth...the mountains will leap like rams, and the hills will skip like lambs satisfied with milk, and all will become angels in heaven.  Their faces will shine with joy, for in those days the Chosen One will have risen; and the earth will rejoice, and the righteous will dwell upon it, and the chosen will go and walk upon it.  (Trans. M. A. Knibb, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)

2 Baruch 4.1-7: And the Lord said to me, This city [Zion] shall be given up for a time, and for a time the people shall be chastened; yet the world will not be consigned to oblivion....This building [the Temple], which now stands in your midst, is not the one that is to be revealed, that is with me now, that was prepared beforehand here at the time when I determined to make Paradise, and showed it to Adam before he sinned (though when he disobeyed my  commandment it was taken away from him, as was also Paradise).  And after this I showed it to my servant Abraham by night among the divided pieces of the victims.  And again I showed it also to Moses on mount Sinai when I showed him the pattern of the tabernacle and all its vessels.  And now it is preserved with me, as is also Paradise.  Go, then, and do as I command you.  (Trans. R. H. Charles, rev. trans. by L. H. Brockington, The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)

b. Paradise Hidden:

1. Where the souls of the departed patriarchs are:

1 Enoch 70.1-4: And it happened after this that his living name was raised up before that Son of Man and to the Lord from among those who dwell upon the earth; it was lifted up in a wind chariot and it disappeared from among them.  From that day on, I was not counted among them.  But he placed me between two winds, between the northeast and the west, where the angels took a cord to measure for me the place for the elect and righteous ones.  And there I saw the first (human) ancestors and the righteous ones of old, dwelling in that place.  (Trans. E. Isaac, "1 (Ethiopic) Enoch", The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)

Apc. Mos. 37.3-5: When the angels had shouted out these things, one of the six-winged seraphim came and carried Adam off to the Lake of Acheron and washed him three times in the presence of God.  He lay three hours, and so the LORD of all, sitting on his holy throne, stretched out his hands and took Adam and handed him over to the archangel Michael, saying to him, 'Take him up into Paradise, to the third heaven, and leave (him) there until that great and fearful day which I am about to establish for the world.'  (Trans. M. D. Johnson, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)

T.Abr. 20A:9-15: For Death deceived Abraham.  And he kissed his hand and immediately his soul cleaved to the hand of Death.  And immediately Michael the archangel stood beside him with multitudes of angels, and they bore his precious soul in their hands in divinely woven linen...while the angels escorted his precious soul and ascended into heaven singing the thrice-holy hymn to God, the master of all, and they set it (down) for the worship of the God and Father.  And after great praise in song and glorification had been offered to the Lord, and when Abraham had worshiped, the undefiled voice of the God and Father came speaking thus: 'Take, then, my friend Abraham into Paradise, where there are the tents of my righteous ones and (where) the mansions of my holy ones, Isaac and Jacob, are in his bosom, where there is no toil, no grief, no moaning, but peace and exultation and endless life.  Let us, too, my beloved brothers, imitate the hospitality of the patriarch Abraham and let us attain to his virtuous behaviour, so that we may be worthy of eternal life, glorifying the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; to whom be the glory and the power forever.  Amen.'  (E. P. Sanders, "Testament of Abraham", in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)

2. Where the souls of the righteous are:

1 Enoch 60.7f, 23: On that day, two monsters will be parted--one monster, a female named Leviathan, in order to dwell in the abyss of the ocean over the fountains of water, and (the other), a male called Behemoth, which holds his chest in an invisible desert whose name is Dundayin, east of the garden of Eden, wherein the elect and the righteous ones dwell, wherein my grandfather was taken, the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of the Spirits created....All these things I saw as far as the garden of the righteous ones.  (Trans. E. Isaac, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)

1 Enoch 61.12: All the vigilant ones in heaven above shall bless him; all the holy ones who are in heaven shall bless him [the Lord of the Spirits]; all the elect ones who dwell in the garden of life (shall bless him (every spirit of light that is capable of blessing, glorifying, extolling, and sanctifying your blessed name (shall bless him)....  (Trans. E. Isaac, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)

2 Enoch 9.1: "This place, Enoch, has been prepared for the righteous, who suffer every kind of calamity in their life and who afflict their souls, and who avert their eyes from injustice, and who carry out righteous judgment....  10.4: "...This place, Enoch, has been prepared for those who do not glorify God, who practice on the earth the sin which is against nature, which is child corruption in the anus in the manner of Sodom, of witchcraft, enchantments, divinations, trafficking with demons, who boast about their evil deeds....  (Trans. F. I. Andersen, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)

2 Enoch 42.3A: And from there I went up into the paradise, even of the righteous, and there I saw a blessed place, and every creature is blessed, and all live there in joy and in gladness and in an immeasurable light and in eternal life.  (Trans. F. I. Andersen, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, Vol. 1, ed. J. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983).)

2 Enoch 42.3J: And I ascended to the east, into the paradise of Edem, where rest is prepared for the righteous.  And it is open as far as the 3rd heaven; but it is closed off from this world.  And the guards are appointed at the very large gates to the east of the sun, angels of flame, singing victory songs, never silent, rejoicing at the arrival of the righteous. 

Apocalypse of Abraham 21.6f: And I saw there the garden of Eden and its fruits, and the source and the river flowing from it, and its trees and their flowering, making fruits, and I saw men doing justice in it, their food and their rest.

[Talmud] bTem. 16a: "When Moses departed [this world] for the Garden of Eden he said to Joshua...." (Trans. L. Miller, "Temurah", Babylonian Talmud, Ed. I. Epstein [London: Soncino Press, 1948].)

Apocalypse of Sedrach 16.3-6: "...and whoever remembers your name will not see the place of punishment but he will be with the just ones in a place of refreshment and rest, and the sin of him who copies this admirable sermon will not be reckoned for ever and ever..."  And God took him [Sedrach] and put him in Paradise with all the saints.

c. Multiple Layers of Heaven, including Paradise

TLevi 3.1-10: Hear, then, about the seven heavens.  The lowest is the gloomiest because it witnesses all the unrighteous deeds of men.  The second holds fire, snow, ice, ready for the day which the Lord has decreed in the righteous judgement of God: in it are all the spirits of retribution for vengeance on the wicked.  In the third are the warrior hosts appointed to wreak vengeance on the spirits of error and of Beliar at the day of judgement.  But the heavens down to the fourth above these are holy.  For in the highest of all the Great Glory dwells, in the holy of holies, far above all holiness.  And in the heaven next to it are the angels of the Lord's presence, who minister and make expiation to the Lord for all the sins committed unwittingly by the righteous; and they offer to the Lord a soothing odour, a spiritual and bloodless offering.  And in the heaven below it are the angels who bear the answers to the angels of the Lord's presence.  And in the heaven  next to it are thrones and powers, in which praises, are offered to God continually.  And when the Lord looks upon us, all of us are shaken; and the heavens and the earth and the abysses are shaken at the presence of his majesty.  Yet men do not perceive these things, and they sin and provoke the Most High.  (Trans. M. DeJonge, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)

TLevi 5.1: And the angel opened to me the gates of heaven, and I saw the holy temple, and the Most High sitting  on a throne of glory.  (Trans. M. DeJonge, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Apocryphal Old Testament, Ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).)

b.Sanh. 110a: A Tanna taught: It has been said on the authority of Moses our Master: A place was set apart for them in the Gehenna, where they sat and sang praises [to God].  (Sanhedrin, trans. ed. I. Epstein, Babylonian Talmud, vol. 12 (London: Soncino Press, 1935).)

d. New Testament References

1. Places using the actual term:

Luke 23:43 He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

2 Corinthians 12:2-4  2 I know a person 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.  3 And I know that such a person-- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows--  4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.
[There is some connection between the "third heaven"--v. 2--and Paradise--v.4-- in Slav. En. 42.3A: "the intervening Paradise is in the East, but is opened to the third heaven" (Jeremias, "Paradeisoj", TDNT, Vol. 5, p. 768 n.31--but cf. Jeremias' uncertainty on p. 770 about whether v. 2 and v. 4 of 2 Cor. refer to the same thing.]

Revelation 2:7  Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.

2. Other references to Paradise without term used in the NT:

The notion that at death the believer goes to be with Jesus is elsewhere taught in the NT:
(It is not a new teaching, since in Eth. En. 39.4ff; 70.1-4 the Son of Man is with the righteous dead.)

Luke 16:22-26   22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.  23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.  24 He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.'  25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.  26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'

Jn. 14.2-3:   In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Acts 7.59: Stephen says "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

2 Cor. 5.8: the intermediate state is one in which the believer is with Jesus: "We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."

Phl. 1.23: "I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better."

Jn. 12.25-6:  25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
 26 If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.

2 Tim. 4.18: The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 12:22-24 [comparing the covenant of Moses to the covenant of Christ] 22 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,  23 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,  24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Rev. 22.1: Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; 4 they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. 5 And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.


This study has presented evidence in the Old Testament, Intertestamental Judaism, and the New Testament for a belief in life after death—before the day of resurrection.  This is a developing notion—the New Testament presents a much clearer and more positive view than the shadowy existence in Sheol of the Old Testament.  The positive view of life after death is described in terms of ‘Paradise,’ which is described in terms of the Garden of Eden.  It entailed in Judaism being in the bosom of Abraham, and in Christianity being in the presence of Jesus.  While we lack a literal description of this after-death existence, we are assured by Paul that it is a better existence than the present one.

My purpose in exploring this theology is to suggest that this hope is an important part of the hope to be offered believers.  It is not the full hope that those who die in Christ will be raised from the dead in the future.  But this positive, intermediate state between death and resurrection is a part of the hope that Christians have regarding what it means to be Christians.