Letter to a pastor who insists the Rich Man and Lazarus Luke 16:19-31 must be taken literally.
I was truly pleased with your last letter. For the first time you have identified for me the basis of your exegesis of Luke 16:19-31 namely that one must take it literally.
Having applied this rule to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus Luke 16:19-31 (by which you condemn ‘soul-sleep’ as heresy!), honesty demands that you apply the same rule to at least a score of passages, OT and NT, that bear on the same theme.
In doing so, I submit you will find it “hard to kick against the pricks” of Holy Scripture that lead irresistibly to further Biblical truth on the matter. Indeed, I am confident you will then look back and wonder how you came to your present views on this subject.
Let me therefore suggest a sequence of exegetical steps:
Step 1: If Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is to be taken as a literal description of the Intermediate State (despite obvious problems that presents), it follows that:
Step 2: Acts 2:34 a categorical statement,”David is not ascended into the heavens” must also be taken literally proving that David was still in Hades at Pentecost;
Step 3: 2 Sam.7:12 (with Acts 2:29) must also be taken literally, that David was both asleep and dead when God raised Christ from among the dead to sit on his (present) throne;
Step 4: Job 14:10-12 must be literal where Job declares that man (not man’s body, as some teach) “dies …and rises not, nor wakes, nor is raised out of sleep till the heavens be no more”, i.e. Judgment Day, per Rev.20:11;
Step 5: Job 14:13-15 must likewise be literal, where Job speaks to God of his state in death, “Oh that Thou would hide me in Sheol;…all the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come (cf.. 1Cor.15:51-52); Thou shalt call and I will answer Thee”;
Step 6: Jn.5:28, the NT passage parallel to Job 14:15, must also be taken literally, where Jesus portrays Resurrection Day by “the hour is coming in which all the ones (Note the Gk means persons, not mere bodies) in the graves shall hear His voice and come forth, the ones that have done good to a resurrection of life…” etc.;
Step 7: 1Cor.15:17-18 must be literal, “If Christ be not raised …the ones having fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (again the Gk means persons,not mere bodies);
Step 8: 1Cor.15:51-54, the glorious Resurrection Day promise, must be literal, “We shall not all sleep”- again meaning persons, not bodies- “but we shall all be changed (cf.Job.14:14) …at the last trump, and the dead (persons) shall be raised incorruptible …for this mortal (person) shall put on immortality…Then shall be brought to pass the written word ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ …”
Step 9: In Jn.6:39, 40, 44, 54, we must take literally our Lord’s repeal phrase” And I will raise him up at last day” (Note again that the Gk means persons, not mere bodies!);
Step 10: In 1 Cor.15:22-23, we must take literally “As in Adam all die, also in Christ all will be made alive …Christ the first fruit, afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming; then comes the end … ” (the literal meaning surely being that no person once dead, lives again anywhere until the general resurrection Jesus plainly described in Jn.5:28);
Step 11: 1 Th.4:13-17, we must take literally “…concerning those sleeping …we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also those having slept in Jesus will God bring with him…the ones living and remaining unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede the ones having slept …for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout…and the dead ones (Gk. nekroi) in Christ shall rise first…and so shall we ever be with the Lord’ (Note that in all cases italicized, the Gk means persons, not mere bodies!);
Step 12: 1 Pe.1:3-7 is likewise literal in saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who …has regenerated us to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead (Gk. ek nekron) … kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last time …in order that the trial of your faith…might be found to praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ”;
Step 13: 1 Pe.1:13 is also literal in telling us, “Wherefore …hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”;
Step 14: Co 1.3:4 is also literal in saying,”When Christ our life shall appear, then (Gk. tote, meaning at that time and not before) shall ye also appear with him in glory”;
Step 15: Phil.3:20-21 is also literal when it says, “For our citizenship is in the heavens from whence we await the Lord Jesus Christ who will change our body of humiliation, conforming it to his glorious body…”;
Step 16: In 2 Cor.5:2-10,Paul literally yearns “to put on our house from heaven …for being in this tabernacle we do not wish to put off, but to put on, in order that mortal (life) may be swallowed up by the life (to come) …therefore we are ever confident, knowing that being at home int he body we are away from the home (to come) from the Lord; confident and willing, rather, to leave the home of the body and to come home to the Lord; wherefore we labor, whether being at home (of this body) or leaving it, to be well-pleasing to him, for we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, each one to receive (reward) for the things done in the (present) body …” (Here I suggest that you compare Rom.14:10-11, 15.45:23, and notice that the focus of Paul’s entire argument is Resurrection/JudgmentDay, rather than rapture-to-heaven at-death, a notion derived from Gnosticism).
Step 17: All Biblical statements and synonyms regarding the State of Death must now be reconciled,ie. the 51 times it is called “sleep”; 10 times “returningt o dust”; no soul-life (Ps.22:29); 7 times “no breath or spirit”; twice “no memory”; thrice “no knowledge or thought”; thrice “no strength or work”; twice “no speech”: thrice called “destruction”; and no hope of resurrection to life except by God’s power.
Step 18: Finally, it is surely agreed that if a literal reading of the passage in any Step is in conflict with that of another, Scripture cannot be made to contradict Scripture, so that they must be brought into harmony with the whole counsel of Scripture, on the principle of 1 Cor.2:13, 2Pe.1:21, at al. The above is an exercise in which you are surely skilled. It is worth your taking some time out of your busy schedule. When you have finished it, I am confident you will find that we are in much greater harmony on these matters than you now think.