Sunday, September 12, 2010

State of the Dead Bible Study: Part III

In part two of our study we took a systematic approach to some scriptures that support the orthodox Christian view of what happens to the spirits of post-cross believers at death.  At death the spirit departs the body.  The spirit returns to God. The spirit is consciously with the Lord.  At the second coming, God will bring those departed saints with Him when He comes.  He will then raise up for them imperishable bodies in the resurrection. 

We systematically looked at several texts to get a general overview, a big picture view if you will.  However, I noted that I would not necessarily consider each of the texts I presented to be conclusive in and of themselves, merely supportive of a larger picture presented in scripture. 

To formulate sound doctrine we need to do more extensive inductive Bible study in didactic passages meant to teach the Church about this very topic.  In part three I would like to spend our entire time looking at just such a passage, 2 Corinthians 5:1-9.

2 Corinthians 5:1 (NASB)
1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Paul here uses the symbolism of a tent to represent our current perishable bodies.  A tent is not a permanent dwelling.  It’s easily torn down, just like these bodies.  But the good news is that we can look forward to one day, at the resurrection, having an imperishable body from Heaven that is permanent and will never be torn down.
2 Corinthians 5:2-4 (NASB)  
2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven,
3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.
4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.
Paul has already compared our current bodies to temporary tents.  We groan in these bodies that grow older every day.  We experience aches, pains, sickness and frailty, and yet few of us really look forward to the unnatural intermediate state of death when these bodies will be torn down like a tent.  To be unclothed spirit without body is not a natural state, nor is it the final state.  The Christian worldview is not a platonic view that seeks to be set free from the body.  The Christian world view is very physical. What we truly look forward to is the final state when our spirits will be clothed with imperishable eternal bodies. It is worth noting that the idea that we can be “unclothed” or “naked” strongly suggests that there is something real there to unclothe, namely our spirit. 
2 Corinthians 5:5-9 (NASB)  
5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—
7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—
8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
This passage is the source of the oft repeated Christian refrain, “Absent from the body, present with Lord”.  This seems pretty clear. In fact, I don’t know how Paul could be anymore clear. When we are in these bodies we are absent from the Lord.  When we are absent from these bodies we are at home with the Lord.  Now if we don’t have spirits, only breath as SDA doctrine teaches, how could we possibly be absent from our body and at home with the Lord?  The only way Paul’s teaching makes any sense at all is if we have a real spirit that can be absent from the body and be with Christ awaiting the resurrection. 

Also please note two other very important things:

  1. Paul says he would actually “prefer…to be absent from the body”!  Now this can only make sense if he is consciously with Christ.  Think about it, who in their right mind would prefer to be non-existent over being here with loved ones and doing the work the Lord has given us to do?  Paul can’t possibly be saying he would prefer to be non-existent or unconscious.  It also doesn’t work to say that Paul is merely looking forward to the second coming and the resurrection because he specifically says that he is talking about a time when he is “absent from the body” and “at home with the Lord”.  This can’t be the resurrection because he is “absent from the body”.  Paul is describing a conscious existence, absent from the body, present with the Lord, which he sees as a preferable state.

  1. Paul indicates that it is possible to be actively pleasing to the Lord when in the body *OR* when ABSENT from the body!!! The Greek verb used here is in the present tense and active voice. The only way we could possibly be actively pleasing to the Lord when absent from the body is if we are conscious and active in some way.  To say that Paul is talking about a non-existent or unconscious state makes his teaching nonsense.  And again, it simply does NOT work to claim that Paul is only looking forward to the resurrection because he specifically refers to being “absent from the body”. There’s just no viable way to get around this although some try.

I just don’t see how we can get an unconscious or non-existent state out of this didactic passage without doing incredible mental and verbal gymnastics.  This is as clear as it could possibly be.  If you were Paul and wanted to state that to be “absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord”, how could you state it anymore clearly? Paul has made his point abundantly clear to anyone willing and able to hear it. 

A final word before closing this installment, remember this most basic rule of hermeneutics (the science and art of proper biblical interpretation). The strongest most dogmatic Christian doctrine should be based on New Testament didactic (teaching) passages.  Starting from the solid foundation of very clear teaching that is given to the New Testament Church we are then able to rightly interpret the Old Testament as well as other forms of biblical literature such as wisdom literature.  Be very suspicious of dogmatic doctrine that seems to flip flop this most basic hermeneutical principle.  When a doctrine has been based largely on Old Testament wisdom literature, it deserves careful scrutiny. 

The New Testament didactic passage we looked at in this part gives us an excellent basis for the Christian doctrine of “absent from the body, present with the Lord”.  Next time we will examine another New Testament didactic passage that is equally strong and convicting.

No comments:

Post a Comment