Book Review: Heaven, Hell, and Hades: A Historical and Theological Survey of Personal Eschatology by Freeman Barton
About the Author:
The books back cover explains that Freeman Barton is the director of the Library at Oakland City (Ind.) College and associate professor in its Graduate School of Theology. He is the editor of an Adventist journal and the author of several other books.
Barton explains in his introduction to the book that he is writing from an Adventist perspective.
He then goes on to explain that he hopes that those outside of the denomination will be blessed by his work as well. Barton begins by asking three related questions and proposes that the answer to all three of these questions should be, and is, the same. The first question is, what is the penalty for sin? Here we are reminded of God’s words in the Garden that humanity is made from dust and as a result of sin, returns to dust. We might also think of familiar passages such as Romans 6:23, which states “the wages of sin is death.” Next, he asks, what penalty did Christ pay as the saviour of humanity? The orthodox answer to this question is that ‘Christ died for us.’ Again, we might be reminded of Paul’s words that ‘while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. Finally, he asks, what is the final judgement for those that don’t accept Christ as their saviour? The third answer is the same as the previous two; the eternal destiny of the unrepentant is the second death described in the book of Revelation. Barton shows how the Biblical narrative is amazingly consistent in this answer.
The Unity of Man
In the first section of the book, Barton explores the three approaches to the constitution of humanity. The three stances historically taken have been monism, dichotomism and trichotomism. Monism is the view that humankind may consist of parts but does not survive the death of the body. Whatever a ‘soul’ is believed to be, it does not survive biological death. The second view, dichotomism, is the understanding that man consists of both material and immaterial parts and the immaterial parts can survive the death of the material parts. The third position held is trichotomism. This view is similar to dichotomism in that humans consist of both material and immaterial parts. Still, it also believes that the immaterial parts can be divided into two distinct parts.
Barton next briefly reviews the Greek history of Platonism and the dualist idea of death as understood as the desired escape from the body. He says that the Bible generally speaks of humanity as a whole, not as parts. Barton then goes on to spend the remainder of the chapter discussing the Biblical language, including the Greek words; sarx, soma, pneuma, and psyche. This first chapter gives the reader an excellent foundation for understanding the historically held positions as well as some of the pertinent vocabulary involved.
The Intermediate State
Barton’s critique of the teaching on the intermediate state involves the problem that it devalues the teaching of the resurrection. He says, “if however, no difference between the intermediate state and the final state is recognized except the incidental addition of the body, then resurrection receives little attention.” Barton examines three different views in regards to the intermediate state. He says that the materialist view believes that when people die, they are entirely dead. The traditional (dualist) view held by the Roman Catholic church involves ideas such as purgatory, limbo, heaven and hell. The modern view presents the belief that souls go to heaven or hell when they die and remain there for eternity. Barton spends a few pages giving a brief historical outline of some of the important theologians in history and the views that they held. He then moves on to discuss the Biblical picture of the intermediate state. He does this first by discussing and reviewing the use of the Hebrew word Sheol. In the Appendices, he provides a very useful reference list of all the appearances of word Sheol in the Old Testament. Barton does an excellent job showing that the term Sheol is synonymous with words like death, grave and destruction. The word was not used to support an understanding of an intermediate state between death and resurrection by the Israelites. He then moves to discuss the Greek word Hades showing that it is only used ten times in the Greek New Testament. Finally, Barton reviews these ten references and addresses them.
More on The Intermediate State
Barton continues the study of the Intermediate state by discussing the fact that the Bible speaks of death as an enemy rather than a friend or something to be welcomed. He then gives an overview of the Biblical metaphor of death as sleep. He goes on to show that this metaphor is used in the Old Testament as well as by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament. Barton argues that the New Testament places the significance of the resurrection as the primary hope for humanities salvation. Barton argues that the timing of judgement is also crucial to the understanding of life and death. If there is such a thing as an intermediate state, then judgement takes place at death and not at the resurrection as scripture describes.
Barton moves to discuss three interpretive passages which he feels are crucial to his argument
First, he discusses 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and suggests that Jesus is our example in death and resurrection. Paul’s reassurance to the church is that the resurrection is crucial, not the idea of going to heaven when we die. Second, he discusses Matthew 22:31-33, where Jesus says that God is the God of the living and not the dead in contrast to many Ancient Near Eastern religions that had gods of the dead. He suggests that Jesus is proving to the Sadducees the necessity of the resurrection. Third, he investigates Acts 2:22-36, as well as Acts 13, were both Peter and Paul draw a comparison between King David and Jesus in regards to death and resurrection. Both disciples proclaim that Jesus has been resurrected, but David still remains in the grave.
In the closing section of this chapter, Barton engages with commonly held objections to the materialist view. Barton addresses several of the proof texts used to point toward the teaching of an intermediate state and the immortality of the soul. He discusses Jesus’ parable of the Rich man and Lazarus, as well as Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross. Barton also addresses Pauline texts that have been used against the materialist view. With each text, he explains how it has been used against the materialist’s view and then exegetes the passage from a materialist perspective. What he doesn’t provide is much of the overwhelming evidence for the positive affirmation of his position. This is not uncommon. Many books that address these issues seem to feel the need to address the texts used against their view more than the texts that provide support for their view.
The Final State
Barton begins the fourth chapter by referencing several historical figures that have held to the teaching of conditional immortality. He credits much of the current growth in the belief of this view to Froom, the writer of the two-volume set “The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers.” Barton shows that dualist’s need to redefine the common lexical meaning of the word death to make their view work. He further explains that the dualist most likely creates the following interpretive grid to understand the term.
- Physical Life: the union of soul and body;
Physical Death: the separation of soul and body;
- Spiritual Life: the union of the soul with God;
Spiritual Death: the separation of the soul from God;
- Eternal Life: the permanent union of the soul with God
Eternal Death: the permanent separation of the soul from God.
Here we see that the term ‘death’ has been redefined to mean separation rather than the absence of life altogether. Barton shows the necessity of the dualist to redefine terms to support their view. While the materialist and dualist may use the same vocabulary, they are not using the same dictionary. Also, the dualist will apply the standard definition of death, the absence of all life, to non-human animals, trees and inanimate objects. Still, when it is used to refer to people, it is alternatively defined as separation.
Barton then explains that scripture speaks of life and death as opposites. Life is spoken of in both a negative and positive fashion. Eternal life is a positive way to speak of life while immortality is the negative form, referring to the inability to die. The remaining of the chapter looks at several important statements that scripture affirms which all lead toward a positive case for conditional immortality. First, he reviews that scripture repeatedly states that humanity is mortal. Second, he looks at the scriptures that indicate that life is a gift that is given by God. Third, he looks at the numerous scriptures that speak of the death and destruction of the wicked.
Barton provides two useful lists in his appendices that are worthy of note.
- A list of appearances of “Sheol” in the Old Testament
This list is very useful for the reader to review and examine how the word Sheol is used in the Old Testament. A brief examination of this list reveals that Sheol and death are used numerous times as synonyms. In other places, death is described as the verb or action and Sheol is described as the noun or place the dead go. When this is the case, the word is also paralleled with similar words like the grave, or the pit. Also, life and Sheol/death are presented as opposites, and Sheol is also partnered with the Hebrew word Abaddon or destruction.
- A list of appearances of “Hades” in the New Testament
Hades is surprisingly only used ten times in the Greek New Testament. In the book of Revelation, Hades is partnered with death multiple times in the same way that Sheol is used synonymously with death in the Old Testament.
This book is short, succinct, and very easily digestible for the reader. Barton writes with a clarity that provides a compelling argument for his position. This book reads well both as an introduction on the topic for a new reader, as well as for someone who has read and understands the topic at hand in more depth. As someone that has read a multitude of books on this topic, I greatly appreciated Barton’s paragraph on the materialistic view in the second chapter on the intermediate state. Here he shows a historical thread of conditional immortality which connects Eusebius’s comment on an Arabian heresy with Calvin who seems to comment on the same Arabian heresy. Interestingly, Barton credits the Anabaptist with keeping the belief in conditional immortality alive through the sixteenth century