Louis Berkhof

Systematic Theology:

III. The Intermediate State


1. THE SCRIPTURAL REPRESENTATION OF BELIEVERS BETWEEN DEATH AND THE RESURRECTION. The usual position of the Reformed Churches is that the souls of believers immediately after death enter upon the glories of heaven. In answer to the question, "What comfort does the resurrection of the body afford thee?" the Heidelberg Catechism says: "That not only my soul, after this life, shall be immediately taken up to Christ its Head, but also that this my body, raised by the power of Christ, shall again be united with my soul, and made like the glorious body of Christ."6 The Westminster Confession speaks in the same spirit, when it says that, at death, "The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies."7 Similarly, the Second Helvetic Confession declares: "We believe that the faithful, after bodily death, go directly unto Christ."8 This view would seem to find ample justification in Scripture, and it is well to take note of this, since during the last quarter of a century some Reformed theologians have taken the position that believers at death enter an intermediate place, and remain there until the day of the resurrection. The Bible teaches, however, that the soul of the believer when separated from the body, enters the presence of Christ. Paul says that he is "willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord." 2Co_5:8. To the Philippians he writes that he has a "desire to depart and to be with Christ," Php_1:23. And Jesus gave the penitent malefactor the joyous assurance, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise,"

Luk_23:43. And to be with Christ is also to be in heaven. In the light of 2Co_12:3-4 "paradise" can only be a designation of heaven. Moreover, Paul says that, "if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," 2Co_5:1. And the writer of Hebrews cheers the hearts of his readers with this thought among others that they "are come to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven," Heb_12:23. That the future state of believers after death is greatly to be preferred to the present appears clearly from the assertions of Paul in 2Co_5:8 and Php_1:23, quoted above. It is a state in which believers are truly alive and fully conscious, Luk_16:19-31; 1Th_5:10; a state of rest and endless bliss, Rev_14:13.

2. THE SCRIPTURAL REPRESENTATION OF THE STATE OF THE WICKED BETWEEN DEATH AND THE RESURRECTION. The Westminster Catechism says that the souls of the wicked after death "are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day." Moreover, it adds: "Besides these two places (heaven and hell) for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none."9 And the Second Helvetic Confession continues after the quotation cited above: "In like manner, we believe that the unbelievers are cast headlong into hell, from whence there is no return opened to the wicked by any offices of those who live."10 The Bible sheds very little direct light on this subject. The only passage that can really come into consideration here is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luk_16:1-31, where hades denotes hell, the place of eternal torment. The rich man found himself in the place of torment; his condition was fixed forever; and he was conscious of his miserable plight, sought mitigation of the pain he was suffering, and desired to have his brethren warned, in order that they might avoid a similar doom. In addition to this direct proof there is also an inferential proof. If the righteous enter upon their eternal state at once, the presumption is that this is true of the wicked as well. We leave out of consideration here a couple of passages, which are of uncertain interpretation, namely, 1Pe_3:19; 2Pe_2:9.


In the earliest years of the Christian Church there was little thought of an intermediate state. The idea that Jesus would soon return as Judge made the interval seem to be of little consequence. The problem of the intermediate state arose when it became apparent that Jesus would not at once return. The real problem that vexed the early Fathers, was how to reconcile individual judgment and retribution at death with the general judgment and retribution after the resurrection. To ascribe too much importance to the former would seem to rob the other of its significance, and vice versa. There was no unanimity among the early Church Fathers, but the majority of them sought to solve the difficulty by assuming a distinct intermediate state between death and the resurrection. Says Addison: "For many centuries the general conclusion was widely accepted that in a subterranean Hades the righteous enjoy a measure of reward not equal to their future heaven and the wicked suffer a degree of punishment not equal to their future hell. The intermediate state was thus a slightly reduced version of ultimate retribution."11 This view was held, though with some variations, by such men as Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Tertullian, Novatian, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, and Augustine. In the Alexandrian School the idea of the intermediate state passed into that of a gradual purification of the soul, and this in course of time paved the way for the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. There were some, however, who favored the idea that at death the souls of the righteous immediately entered heaven, namely, Gregory of Nazianze, Eusebius, and Gregory the Great. In the Middle Ages the doctrine of an intermediate state was retained, and in connection with it the Roman Catholic Church developed the doctrine of purgatory. The prevailing opinion was that hell received at once the souls of the wicked, but that only those of the righteous who were free from every stain of sin, were admitted at once into the blessedness of heaven, to enjoy the visio Dei. The martyrs were usually reckoned among the favored few. Those who were in need of further purification were, according to the prevalent view, detained in purgatory for a shorter or longer period of time, as the degree of remaining sin might require, and were there purged from sin by a purifying fire. Another idea, that was also developed in connection with the thought of the intermediate state, was that of the Limbus Patrum, where the Old Testament saints were detained until the resurrection of Christ. The Reformers, one and all, rejected the doctrine of purgatory, and also the whole idea of a real intermediate state, which carried with it the idea of an intermediate place. They held that those who died in the Lord at once entered the bliss of heaven, while those who died in their sins at once descended into hell. However, some theologians of the Reformation period assumed a difference in degree between the bliss of the former and the judgment of the latter before the final judgment, and their final bliss and punishment after the great assize. Among the Socinians and the Anabaptists there were some who revived the old doctrine held by some in the early Church, that the soul of man sleeps from the time of death until the resurrection. Calvin wrote a treatise to combat this view. Anathema maranatha. The same notion is advocated by some Adventist sects and by the Millennial Dawnists. During the nineteenth century several theologians, especially in England, Switzerland, and Germany, embraced the idea that the intermediate state is a state of further probation for those who have not accepted Christ in this life. This view is maintained by some up to the present time and is a favorite tenet of the Universalists.


1. STATEMENT OF THE DOCTRINE. There are several representations of the Biblical conception of sheol-hades in present day theology, and it is quite impossible to consider each one of them separately. The idea is quite prevalent at present that the Old Testament conception of sheol to which that of hades in the New Testament is supposed to correspond, was borrowed from the Gentile notion of the underworld. It is held that according to the Old Testament and the New, both the pious and the wicked at death enter the dreary abode of the shades, the land of forgetfulness, where they are doomed to an existence that is merely a dreamy reflection of life on earth. The underworld is in itself neither a place of rewards nor a place of punishment. It is not divided into different compartments for the good and the bad, but is a region without moral distinctions. It is a place of weakened consciousness and of slumbrous inactivity, where life has lost its interests and the joy of life is turned into sadness. Some are of the opinion that the Old Testament represents sheol as the permanent abode of all men, while others find that it holds out a hope of escape for the pious. Occasionally we meet with a somewhat different representation of the Old Testament conception, in which sheol is represented as divided into two compartments, namely, paradise and gehenna, the former containing either all the Jews or only those who faithfully observed the law, and the latter embracing the Gentiles. The Jews will be delivered from sheol at the coming of the Messiah, while the Gentiles will remain forever in the abode of darkness. The New Testament counterpart of this conception of sheol is found in its representation of hades. It is not merely held that the Hebrews entertained the notion of such an underworld, nor that the Biblical writers occasionally accommodated themselves formally in their representations to the views of the Gentiles of whom they were speaking; but that this is the Scriptural view of the intermediate state.

2. CRITICISM OF THIS MODERN REPRESENTATION. In the abstract it is, of course, possible that the idea of such a separate locality, which is neither heaven nor hell, in which all the dead are gathered and where they remain, either permanently or until some communal resurrection, was more or less current in popular Hebrew thought and may have given rise to some figurative descriptions of the state of the dead; but it can hardly be regarded by those who believe in the plenary inspiration of the Bible as an element of the positive teachings of Scripture, since it plainly contradicts the Scriptural representation that the righteous at once enter glory and the wicked at once descend into the place of eternal punishment. Moreover, the following considerations can be urged against this view:

a. The question arises, whether the view of sheol-hades, now so widely regarded as Scriptural, is true to fact or not. If it was true to fact at the time, when the books of the Bible were written, but is no more true to fact to-day, the question naturally rises, What brought about the change? And if it was not true to fact, but was a decidedly false view —and this is the prevalent opinion —, then the problem at once arises, how this erroneous view could be countenanced and sanctioned and even taught positively by the inspired writers of Scripture. The problem is not relieved by the consideration, urged by some, that the inspiration of Scripture does not carry with it the assurance that the Old Testament saints were correct when they spoke of men entering some subterranean place at death, because not only these saints but also the inspired writers of Scripture employed language which, in itself and irrespective of other clear teachings of Scripture, might be so interpreted, Num_16:30; Psa_49:15-16; Psa_88:3; Psa_89:48; Ecc_9:10; Isa_5:14; Hos_13:14. Were these inspired writers in error, when they spoke of both the righteous and the wicked as descending into sheol? It may be said that there was development in the revelation respecting the future destiny of man, and we have no reason to doubt that on this point, as on many others, that which was first obscure gradually gained in definiteness and clearness; but this certainly does not mean that the true developed out of the false. How could this be? Did the Holy Spirit deem it expedient for man that he first receive false impressions and obtain erroneous views, and then exchange these in course of time for a correct insight into the condition of the dead?

b. If in the Scriptural representation sheol-hades is really a neutral place, without moral distinctions, without blessedness on the one hand, but also without positive pain on the other, a place to which all alike descend, how can the Old Testament hold up the descent of the wicked into sheol as a warning, as it does in several places, Job_21:13; Psa_9:17; Pro_5:5; Pro_7:27; Pro_9:18; Pro_15:24; Pro_23:14? How can the Bible speak of God's anger burning there, Deu_32:22, and how can it use the term sheol as synonymous with abaddon that is, destruction, Job_26:6; Pro_15:11; Pro_27:20? This is a strong term, which is applied to the angel of the abyss in Rev_19:11. Some seek escape from this difficulty by surrendering the neutral character of sheol and by assuming that it was conceived of as an underworld with two divisions, called in the New Testament paradise and gehenna, the former the destined abode of the righteous, and the latter that of the wicked; but this attempt can only result in disappointment, for the Old Testament contains no trace of such a division, though it does speak of sheol as a place of punishment for the wicked. Moreover, the New Testament clearly identifies paradise with heaven in 2Co_12:2; 2Co_12:4. And, finally, if hades is the New Testament designation of sheol and all alike go there, what becomes of the special doom of Capernaum, Mat_11:23, and how can it be pictured as a place of torment, Luk_16:23? Someone might be inclined to say that the threatenings contained in some of the passages mentioned refer to a speedy descent into sheol, but there is no indication of this in the text whatsoever, except in Job_21:13, where this is explicitly stated.

c. If a descent into sheol was the gloomy outlook upon the future, not only of the wicked but also of the righteous, how can we explain the expressions of gladsome expectation, or joy in the face of death, such as we find in Num_23:10; Psa_16:9; Psa_16:11; Psa_17:15; Psa_49:15; Psa_73:24.; Psa_73:26; Isa_25:8 (comp. 1Co_15:54)? The expression in Psa_49:15 may be interpreted to mean that God will deliver the poet out of sheol or from the power of sheol. Notice also what the writer of Hebrews says of the Old Testament heroes of faith in Heb_11:13-16. The New Testament, of course, speaks abundantly of the joyous outlook of believers on the future, and teaches their conscious happiness in the disembodied state, Luk_16:23; Luk_16:25; Luk_23:43; Act_7:59; 2Co_5:1; 2Co_5:6; 2Co_5:8; Php_1:21; Php_1:23; 1Th_5:10; Eph_3:14-15 ("family in heaven," not in " hades"); Rev_6:9; Rev_6:11; Rev_14:13. In 2Co_12:2; 2Co_12:4 "paradise" is used synonymously with "the third heaven." In connection with this clear representation of the New Testament, it has been suggested that the New Testament believers were privileged above those of the Old Testament by receiving immediate access to the bliss of heaven. But the question may well be asked, What basis is there for assuming such a distinction?

d. If the word sheol always denotes the shadowy region to which the dead descend, and never has any other meaning, then the Old Testament, while it does have a word for heaven as the blessed abode of God and of the holy angels, has no word for hell, the place of destruction and of eternal punishment. But it is only on the assumption that in some passages sheol designates a place of punishment whither the wicked go in distinction from the righteous, that the warnings referred to under (b) have any point. Sheol is actually sometimes contrasted with shamayim (heavens) as in Job_11:8; Psa_139:8; Amo_9:2. Scripture also speaks of the deepest or lowest sheol in Deu_32:22. The same expression is also found in Psa_86:13, but in that passage is evidently used figuratively.

e. Finally, it should be noticed that there was a difference of opinion among scholars as to the exact subject of the descent into sheol. The prevailing opinion is that man as a whole is the subject. Man descends into sheol and in some obscure fashion continues his existence in a world of shadows, where the relations of life still reflect those on earth. This representation would seem to be most in harmony with the statements of Scripture, Gen_37:35; Job_7:9; Job_14:13; Job_21:13; Psa_139:8; Ecc_9:10. There are some which point to the fact that the body is included. There is danger that Jacob's "gray hairs" will be brought down to sheol Gen_42:38; Gen_44:29; Gen_44:31; Samuel comes up as an old man covered with a robe, 1Sa_28:14; and Shimei's "hoar head" must be brought down to sheol, 1Ki_2:6; 1Ki_2:9. But if sheol is a place whither all the dead go, body and soul, what then is laid in the grave, which is supposed to be another place? This difficulty is obviated by those scholars who maintain that only the souls descend into sheol, but this can hardly be said to be in harmony with the Old Testament representation. It is true that there are a few passages which speak of souls as going down into, or as being in, sheol, Psa_16:10; Psa_30:3; Psa_86:13; Psa_89:48; Pro_23:14, but it is a well known fact that in Hebrew the word nephesh (soul) with the pronominal suffix is often, especially in poetical language, equivalent to the personal pronoun. Some conservative theologians adopted this construction of the Old Testament representation, and found in it support for their idea that the souls of men are in some intermediate place (a place with moral distinctions and separate divisions, however) until the day of the resurrection.

3. SUGGESTED INTERPRETATION OF SHEOL-HADES. The interpretation of these terms is by no means easy, and in suggesting an interpretation we do not desire to give the impression that we are speaking with absolute assurance. An inductive study of the passages in which the terms are found soon dissipates the notion that the terms sheol and hades are always used in the same sense, and can in all cases be rendered by the same word, whether it be underworld, state of death, grave, or hell. This is also clearly reflected in the various translations of the Bible. The Holland Version renders the term sheol by grave in some passages, and by hell in others. The St. James or Authorized Version employs three words in its translation, namely, grave, hell, and pit. The English Revisers rather inconsistently retained grave or pit in the text of the historical books, putting sheol in the margin. They retained hell only in Isa_14:1-32. The American Revisers avoid the difficulty by simply retaining the original words sheol and hades in their translation. Though the opinion has gained wide currency that sheol is simply the underworld to which all men descend, this view is by no means unanimous. Some of the earlier scholars simply identified sheol and the grave; others regard it as the place where the souls of the dead are retained; and still others, of whom Shedd, Vos, Aalders, and De Bondt may be mentioned, maintain that the word sheol does not always have the same meaning. It would seem that the last opinion deserves preference, and that the following can be said respecting its different meanings:

a. The words sheol and hades do not always denote a locality in Scripture, but are often used in an abstract sense to designate the state of death, the state of the separation of body and soul. This state is frequently locally conceived as constituting the realm of death, and is sometimes represented as a stronghold with gates, which only he who has the keys can lock and unlock, Mat_16:18; Rev_1:18. This local representation is in all probability based on a generalization of the idea of the grave, into which man descends when he enters the state of death. Since both believers and unbelievers at the termination of their life enter into the state of death, it can very well be said figuratively that they are without distinction in sheol or hades. They are all alike in the state of death. The parallelism clearly shows what is meant in a passage like 1Sa_2:6 : "Jehovah killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to sheol, and bringeth up." Cf. also Job_14:13-14; Job_17:13; Job_14:1-22; Psa_89:48; Hos_13:14, and several other passages. The word hades is evidently used more than once in the nonlocal sense of the state of the dead in the New Testament, Act_2:27; Act_2:31; Rev_6:8; Rev_20:2-8. In the last two passages we have a personification. Since the terms may denote the state of death, it is not necessary to prove that they never refer to anything that concerns the righteous and the wicked alike, but only that they do not denote a place where the souls of both are gathered. De Bondt calls attention to the fact that in many passages the term sheol is used in the abstract sense of death, of the power of death, and of the danger of death.

b. When sheol and hades designate a locality in the literal sense of the word, they either refer to what we usually call hell, or to the grave. Descent into sheol is threatened as a danger and as a punishment for the wicked, Psa_9:17; Psa_49:14; Psa_55:15; Pro_15:11; Pro_15:24; Luk_16:23 (hades). The warning and threatening contained in these passages is lost altogether, if sheol is conceived of as a neutral place whither all go. From these passages it also follows that it cannot be regarded as a place with two divisions. The idea of such a divided sheol is borrowed from the Gentile conception of the underworld, and finds no support in Scripture. It is only of sheol as the state of death that we can speak as having two divisions, but then we are speaking figuratively. Even the Old Testament testifies to it that they who die in the Lord enter upon a fuller enjoyment of the blessings of salvation, and therefore do not descend into any underworld in the literal sense of the word, Num_23:5; Num_23:10; Psa_16:11; Psa_17:15; Psa_73:24; Pro_14:32. Enoch and Elijah were taken up, and did not descend into an underworld, Heb_11:5 ff. Moreover, sheol, not merely as a state, but also as a place, is regarded as in the closest connection with death. If the Biblical conception of death is understood in its deep significance, in its spiritual meaning, it will readily be seen that sheol cannot be the abode of the souls of those who die in the Lord, Pro_5:5; Pro_15:11; Pro_27:20.

There are also several passages in which sheol and hades seem to designate the grave. It is not always easy to determine, however, whether the words refer to the grave or to the state of the dead. The following are some of the passages that come into consideration here: Gen_37:25; Gen_42:38; Gen_44:29; Gen_29:31; 1Ki_2:6; 1Ki_2:9; Job_14:13; Job_17:13; Job_21:13; Psa_6:5; Psa_88:3; Ecc_9:10. But though the name sheol is also used for the grave, it does not necessarily follow that this is the original use of the word, from which its use to designate hell is borrowed. In all probability the opposite is true. The grave is called sheol, because it symbolizes the going down, which is connected with the idea of destruction. For believers the Biblical symbolism is changed by Scripture itself. Paul says that they go down in death as a grain is sown in the earth, from which springs a new, a more abundant, a more glorious life. In the Old Testament the word sheol is used more often for grave and less often for hell, while in the corresponding use of hades in the New Testament the contrary holds.


1. PURGATORY. According to the Church of Rome the souls of those who are perfectly pure at death are forthwith admitted to heaven or the beatific vision of God, Mat_25:46; Php_1:23; but those who are not perfectly cleansed, who are still burdened with the guilt of venial sins and have not borne the temporal punishment due to their sins — and this is the condition of most of the faithful at death — must undergo a process of cleansing before they can enter into the supreme blessedness and joys of heaven. Instead of entering heaven at once, they enter purgatory. Purgatory is not a place of probation, but a place of purification and of preparation for the souls of believers who are sure of an ultimate entrance into heaven, but are not yet fit to enter upon the bliss of the beatific vision. During the stay of these souls in purgatory they suffer the pain of loss, that is, the anguish resulting from the fact that they are excluded from the blessed sight of God, and also endure "the punishment of sense," that is, suffer positive pains, which afflict the soul. The length of their stay in purgatory cannot be determined beforehand. The duration as well as the intensity of their sufferings varies according to the degree of purification still needed. They can be shortened and alleviated by the prayers and the good works of the faithful on earth, and especially by the sacrifice of the mass. It is possible that one must remain in purgatory until the time of the last judgment. The Pope is supposed to have jurisdiction over purgatory. It is his peculiar prerogative to grant indulgences, lightening the purgatorial sufferings or even terminating them. The main support for this doctrine is found in 2Ma_12:42-45, and therefore in a book that is not recognized as canonical by the Protestants. But this passage proves too much, that is, more than the Roman Catholics themselves can consistently admit, namely, the possible deliverance of soldiers from purgatory who had died in the mortal sin of idolatry. Certain passages of Scripture are also supposed to favor this doctrine, such as Isa_4:4; Mic_7:8; Zec_9:11; Mal_3:2-3; Mat_12:32; 1Co_3:13-15; 1Co_15:29. It is perfectly evident, however, that these passages can be made to support the doctrine of purgatory only by a very forced exegesis. The doctrine finds absolutely no support in Scripture, and moreover, rests on several false premises, such as (a) that we must add something to the work of Christ; (b) that our good works are meritorious in the strict sense of the word; (c) that we can perform works of supererogation, works in excess of the commands of duty; and (d) that the Church's power of the keys is absolute in a judicial sense. According to it the Church can shorten, alleviate, and even terminate the sufferings of purgatory.

2. THE LIMBUS PATRUM. The Latin word limbus (fringe) was used in the Middle Ages to denote two places on the fringe or outskirts of hell, namely, the Limbus Patrum and the Limbus Infantum. The former is the place where, according to the teachings of Rome, the souls of the Old Testament saints were detained in a state of expectation until the Lord's resurrection from the dead. After His death on the cross Christ is supposed to have descended into the abode of the fathers, to release them from their temporary confinement and to carry them in triumph to heaven. This is the Roman Catholic interpretation of Christ's descent into hades. Hades is regarded as the dwelling place of the departed spirits, having two divisions, one for the righteous and one for the wicked. The division inhabited by the spirits of the righteous was the Limbus Patrum, known to the Jews as Abraham's bosom, Luk_16:23, and paradise, Luk_23:43. It is maintained that heaven was not open to any man until Christ had actually made propitiation for the sin of the world.

3. THE LIMBUS INFANTUM. This is the abode of the souls of all unbaptized children, irrespective of their descent from heathen or from Christian parents. According to the Roman Catholic Church unbaptized children cannot be admitted to heaven, cannot enter the Kingdom of God, Joh_3:5. There was always a natural repugnance, however, to the idea that these children should be tortured in hell, and Roman Catholic theologians sought a way of escape from the difficulty. Some thought that such children might perhaps be saved by the faith of their parents, and others, that God might commission the angels to baptize them. But the prevailing opinion is that, while they are excluded from heaven, they are consigned to a place on the outskirts of hell, where its terrible fires do not reach. They remain in this place forever without any hope of deliverance. The Church has never defined the doctrine of the Limbus Infantum, and the opinions of the theologians vary as to the exact condition of the children confined in it. The prevailing opinion is, however, that they suffer no positive punishment, no "pain of sense," but are simply excluded from the blessings of heaven. They know and love God by the use of their natural powers, and have full natural happiness.


1. THE TEACHING OF SCRIPTURE ON THIS POINT. The question has been raised, whether the soul after death remains actively conscious and is capable of rational and religious action. This has sometimes been denied on the general ground that the soul in its conscious activity is dependent on the brain, and therefore cannot continue to function when the brain is destroyed. But, as already pointed out in the preceding (pp. 677 f.), the cogency of this argument may well be doubted. "It is," to use the words of Dahle, "based on the error of confusing the worker with his machine." From the fact that the human consciousness in the present life transmits its effects through the brain, it does not necessarily follow that it can work in no other way. In arguing for the conscious existence of the soul after death, we place no reliance on the phenomena of present day spiritualism, and do not even depend on philosophical arguments, though these are not without force. We seek our evidence in the Word of God, and particularly in the New Testament. The rich man and Lazarus converse together, Luk_16:19-31. Paul speaks of the disembodied state as a "being at home with the Lord," and as something to be desired above the present life, 2Co_5:6-9; Php_1:23. Surely, he would hardly speak after that fashion about an unconscious existence, which is a virtual non-existence. In Heb_12:23 believers are said to have come to... "the spirits of just men made perfect," which certainly implies their conscious existence. Moreover, the spirits under the altar are crying out for vengeance on the persecutors of the Church, Rev_6:9, and the souls of the martyrs are said to reign with Christ, Rev_20:4. This truth of the conscious existence of the soul after death has been denied in more than one form.


a. Statement of the doctrine. This is one of the forms in which the conscious existence of the soul after death is denied. It maintains that, after death, the soul continues to exist as an individual spiritual being, but in a state of unconscious repose. Eusebius makes mention of a small sect in Arabia that held this view. During the Middle Ages there were quite a few so-called Psychopannychians, and at the time of the Reformation this error was advocated by some of the Anabaptists. Calvin even wrote a treatise against them under the title Psychopannychia. In the nineteenth century this doctrine was held by some of the Irvingites in England, and in our day it is one of the favorite doctrines of the Russellites or Millennial Dawnists of our own country. According to the latter body and soul descend into the grave, the soul in a state of sleep, which really amounts to a state of non-existence. What is called the resurrection is in reality a new creation. During the millennium the wicked will have a second chance, but if they show no marked improvement during the first hundred years, they will be annihilated. If in that period they give evidence of some amendment of life, their probation will continue, but only to end in annihilation, if they remain impenitent. There is no hell, no place of eternal torment. The doctrine of the sleep of soul seems to have a peculiar fascination for those who find it hard to believe in a continuance of consciousness apart from the corporeal organism.

b. Supposed Scriptural warrant for this doctrine. Scripture proof for this doctrine is found especially in the following: (1) Scripture often represents death as a sleep, Mat_9:24; Act_7:60; 1Co_15:51; 1Th_4:13. This sleep, it is said, cannot be a sleep of the body, and therefore must be a sleep of the soul. (2) Certain passages of Scripture teach that the dead are unconscious, Psa_6:5; Psa_30:9; Psa_115:17; Psa_146:4; Ecc_9:10; Isa_38:18-19. This is contrary to the idea that the soul continues its conscious existence. (3) The Bible teaches that the destinies of men will be determined by a final judgment and will be a surprise to some. Consequently, it is impossible to assume that the soul enters upon its destiny immediately after death, Mat_7:22-23; Mat_25:37-39; Mat_25:44; Joh_5:29; Rev_20:12 f. (4) None of those who were raised from the dead have ever given any account of their experiences. This can best be understood on the assumption that their souls were unconscious in their disembodied state.

c. Consideration of the arguments presented. The preceding arguments may be answered as follows in the order in which they were stated: (1) It should be noted that the Bible never says that the soul falls asleep, nor that the body does so, but only the dying person. And this Scriptural representation is simply based on the similarity between a dead body and a body asleep. It is not unlikely that Scripture uses this euphemistic expression, in order to suggest to believers the comforting hope of the resurrection. Moreover, death is a break with the life of the world round about us, and in so far is a sleep, a rest. Finally, it should not be forgotten that the Bible represents believers as enjoying a conscious life in communion with God and with Jesus Christ immediately after death, Luk_16:19-31; Luk_23:43; Act_7:59; 2Co_5:8; Php_1:23; Rev_6:9; Rev_7:9; Rev_20:4. (2) The passages which seem to teach that the dead are unconscious are clearly intended to stress the fact that in the state of death man can no more take part in the activities of this present world. Says Hovey: "The work of the artisan is arrested, the voice of the singer is hushed, the scepter of the king falls. The body returns to the dust, and the praise of God in this world ceases forever." (3) It is sometimes represented as if man's eternal destiny depends upon a trial at the last day, but this is evidently a mistake. The day of judgment is not necessary to reach a decision respecting the reward or punishment of each man, but only for the solemn announcement of the sentence, and for the revelation of the justice of God in the presence of men and angels. The surprise of which some of the passages give evidence pertains to the ground on which the judgment rests rather than to the judgment itself. (4) It is true that we do not read that any of those who were raised from the dead ever told anything about their experiences between their death and resurrection. But this is a mere argument from silence, which is quite worthless in this case, since the Bible clearly teaches the conscious existence of the dead. It may well be, however, that those persons were silent about their experiences, but this can readily be explained on the assumption that they were not permitted to tell about them, or that they could not give an account of them in human language. Cf. 2Co_12:4.


a.Statement of these doctrines. According to these doctrines there is no conscious existence, if any existence at all, of the wicked after death. The two are one in their conception of the state of the wicked after death, but differ in a couple of fundamental points. Annihilationism teaches that man was created immortal, but that the soul, which continues in sin, is by a positive act of God deprived of the gift of immortality, and ultimately destroyed, or (according to some) forever bereaved of consciousness, which is practically equivalent to being reduced to non-existence. According to the doctrine of conditional immortality, on the other hand, immortality was not a natural endowment of the soul, but is a gift of God in Christ to those who believe. The soul that does not accept Christ ultimately ceases to exist, or loses all consciousness. Some of the advocates of these doctrines teach a limited duration of conscious suffering for the wicked in the future life, and thus retain something of the idea of positive punishment.

b.These doctrines in history. The doctrine of annihilationism was taught by Arnobius and the early Socinians, and by the philosophers Locke and Hobbes, but was not popular in its original form. In the previous century, however, the old idea of annihilation was revived with some modifications under the name of conditional immortality, and in its new form found considerable favor. It was advocated by E. White, J. B. Heard, and the Prebendaries Constable and Row in England, by Richard Rothe in Germany, by A. Sabatier in France, by E. Petavel and Ch. Secretan in Switzerland, and by C. F. Hudson, W. R. Huntington, L. C. Baker, and L. W. Bacon in our own country, and therefore deserves special notice. They do not all put the doctrine in the same form, but agree in the fundamental position that man is not immortal in virtue of his original constitution, but is made immortal by a special act or gift of grace. As far as the wicked are concerned some maintain that these retain a bare existence, though with an utter loss of consciousness, while others assert that they perish utterly like the beasts, though it may be after longer or shorter periods of suffering.

c. Arguments adduced in favor of this doctrine. Support for this doctrine is found partly in the language of some of the early Church Fathers, which seems to imply at least that only believers receive the gift of immortality, and partly also in some of the most recent theories of science, which deny that there is any scientific proof for the immortality of the soul. The main support for it, however, is sought in Scripture. It is said that the Bible: (1) teaches that God only is inherently immortal, 1Ti_6:16; (2) never speaks of the immortality of the soul in general, but represents immortality as a gift of God to those who are in Christ Jesus, Joh_10:27-28; Joh_17:3; Rom_2:7; Rom_6:22-23; Gal_6:8; and (3) threatens sinners with "death" and "destruction," asserting that they will "perish," terms which are to be taken to mean that unbelievers will be reduced to non-existence, Mat_7:13; Mat_10:28; Joh_3:16; Rom_6:23; Rom_8:13; 2Th_1:9.

d. Consideration of these arguments. It cannot be said that the arguments in favor of this doctrine are conclusive. The language of the early Church Fathers is not always exact and self-consistent, and admits of another interpretation. And the speculative thought of the ages has, on the whole, been favorable to the doctrine of immortality, while science has not succeeded in disproving it. The Scriptural arguments may be answered in order as follows: (1) God is indeed the only one that has inherent immortality. Man's immortality is derived, but this is not equivalent to saying that he does not possess it in virtue of his creation. (2) In the second argument the bare immortality or continued existence of the soul is confused with eternal life, while the latter is a far richer concept. Eternal life is indeed the gift of God in Jesus Christ, a gift which the wicked do not receive, but this does not mean that they will not continue to exist. (3) The last argument arbitrarily assumes that the terms "death," "destruction," and "perish" denote a reduction to non-existence. It is only the baldest literalism that can maintain this, and then only in connection with some of the passages quoted by the advocates of this theory.

e. Arguments against this doctrine. The doctrine of conditional immortality is plainly contradicted by Scripture where it teaches: (1) that sinners as well as saints will continue to exist forever, Ecc_12:7; Mat_25:46; Rom_2:8-10; Rev_14:11; Rev_20:10; (2) that the wicked will suffer eternal punishment, which means that they will be forever conscious of a pain which they will recognize as their just desert, and therefore will not be annihilated, cf. the passages just mentioned; and (3) that there will be degrees in the punishment of the wicked, while extinction of being or consciousness admits of no degrees, but constitutes a punishment that is alike for all, Luk_12:47-48; Rom_2:12.

The following considerations are also decidedly opposed to this particular doctrine: (1) Annihilation would be contrary to all analogy. God does not annihilate His work, however much He may change its form. The Biblical idea of death has nothing in common with annihilation. Life and death are exact opposites in Scripture. If death means simply the cessation of being or consciousness, life must mean only the continuation of these; but as a matter of fact it means much more than that, cf. Rom_8:6; 1Ti_4:8; 1Jn_3:14. The term has a spiritual connotation, and so has the word death. Man is spiritually dead before he falls a prey to physical death, but this does not involve a loss of being or consciousness, Eph_2:1-2; 1Ti_5:6; Col_2:13; Rev_3:1. (2) Annihilation can hardly be called a punishment, since this implies a consciousness of pain and ill- desert, while, when existence terminates, consciousness also ceases. It might at most be said that the dread of annihilation would be a punishment, but this punishment would not be commensurate with the transgression. And naturally the dread of a man who never had within him the spark of immortality, will never equal that of him who has eternity in his heart, Ecc_3:11. (3) It often happens that people consider the extinction of being and of consciousness a very desirable thing, when they grow tired of life. For these such a punishment would be in reality a blessing.


1. STATEMENT OF THE DOCTRINE. The theory of the so-called "second probation" found considerable favor in the theological world of the nineteenth century. It is advocated, among others, by Mueller, Dorner, and Nitzsch in Germany, by Godet and Gretillat in Switzerland, by Maurice, Farrar, and Plumptre in England, and by Newman Smythe, Munger, Cox, Jukes and several Andover theologians in our own country. This theory is to the effect that salvation through Christ is still possible in the intermediate state for certain classes or, perhaps, for all; and that this is offered on substantially the same terms as at present, namely, faith in Christ as Saviour. Christ is made known to all who still need Him unto salvation, and acceptance of Him is urged on all. No one is condemned to hell without being subjected to this test, and only they are condemned who resist this offer of grace. The eternal state of man will not be irrevocably fixed until the day of judgment. The decision made between death and the resurrection will decide, whether one will be saved or not. The fundamental principle on which this theory rests, is that no man will perish without having been offered a favorable opportunity to know and accept Jesus. Man is condemned only for the obstinate refusal to accept the salvation that is offered in Christ Jesus. Opinions differ, however, as to the persons to whom the gracious opportunity to accept Christ will be offered in the intermediate state. The general opinion is that it will certainly be extended to all children who die in infancy, and to the adult heathen who in this life have not heard of Christ. The majority hold that it will even be granted to those who lived in Christian lands, but in this present life never properly considered the claims of Christ. Again, there is great diversity of opinion as to the agency and the methods by which this saving work will be carried on in the future. Moreover, while some entertain the largest hope as to the outcome of the work, others are less sanguine in their expectations.

2. THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH THIS DOCTRINE RESTS. This theory is founded in part on general considerations of what might be expected of the love and justice of God, and on an easily understood desire to make the gracious work of Christ as inclusive as possible, rather than on any solid Scriptural foundation. The main Scriptural basis for it is found in 1Pe_3:19; 1Pe_4:6, which are understood to teach that Christ in the period between His death and resurrection preached to the spirits in hades. But these passages furnish but a precarious foundation, since they are capable of quite a different interpretation.12 And even if these passages did teach that Christ actually went into the underworld to preach, His offer of salvation would extend only to those who died before His crucifixion. They also refer to passages which, in their estimation, represent unbelief as the only ground of condemnation, such as Joh_3:18; Joh_3:36; Mar_16:15-16; Rom_10:9-12; Eph_4:18; 2Pe_2:3-4; 1Jn_4:3. But these passages only prove that faith in Christ is the way of salvation, which is by no means the same as proving that a conscious rejection of Christ is the only ground of condemnation. Unbelief is undoubtedly a great sin, and one that stands out prominently in the lives of those to whom Christ is preached, but it is not the only form of revolt against God, nor the only ground of condemnation. Men are already under condemnation when Christ is offered to them. Other passages, such as Mat_13:31-32; 1Co_15:24-28; and Php_2:9-11 are equally inconclusive. Some of them prove too much and therefore prove nothing.

3. ARGUMENTS AGAINST THIS DOCTRINE. The following considerations can be urged against this theory: (a) Scripture represents the state of unbelievers after death as a fixed state. The most important passage that comes into consideration here is Luk_16:19-31. Other passages are Ecc_11:3 (of uncertain interpretation); Joh_8:21; Joh_8:24; 2Pe_2:4; 2Pe_2:9; Jud_1:7-13 (comp. 1Pe_3:19). (b) It also invariably represents the coming final judgment as determined by the things that were done in the flesh, and never speaks of this as dependent in any way on what occurred in the intermediate state, Mat_7:22-24; Mat_7:22-23; Mat_25:34-46; Luk_12:47-48; 2Co_5:9-10; Gal_6:7-8; 2Th_1:8; Heb_9:27. (c) The fundamental principle of this theory, that only the conscious rejection of Christ and His gospel, causes men to perish, is un-Scriptural. Man is lost by nature, and even original sin, as well as all actual sins, makes him worthy of condemnation. The rejection of Christ is undoubtedly a great sin, but is never represented as the only sin that leads to destruction. (d) Scripture teaches us that the Gentiles perish, Rom_1:32; Rev_21:8; Rev_21:8. There is no Scripture evidence on which we can base the hope that adult Gentiles, or even Gentile children that have not yet come to years of discretion, will be saved. (e) The theory of a future probation is also calculated to extinguish all missionary zeal. If the Gentiles can decide as to the acceptance of Christ in the future, it can only bring a speedier and increased judgment upon many, if they are placed before the choice now. Why not leave them in ignorance as long as possible?

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: Is the position tenable that sheol-hades always designates an underworld whither all the dead go? Why is it objectionable to believe that the Bible in its statements respecting sheol and hades simply reflects the popular notions of the day? Must we assume that the righteous and the wicked at death enter some temporary and provisional abode, and do not at once enter upon their eternal destiny? In what sense is the intermediate state only transitional? How did the notion of purgatory arise? How do Catholics conceive of the purgatorial fire? Is this fire merely purifying or also penal? What sound element do some Lutherans recognize in the doctrine of purgatory? What mixture of heresies do we meet with in Millennial Dawnism? Does the intermediate state, according to Scripture, represent a third aion between the aion houtos and the aion ho mellon? Is the Scriptural emphasis on the present as "the day of salvation" in harmony with the doctrine of a future probation?

LITERATURE: Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. IV., pp. 655-711; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Consummatione Saeculi, pp. 25-116; Vos, Geref. Dogm. V, Eschatologie, pp. 3-14; Hodge, Syst. Theol. III, pp. 713-770; Shedd, Dogm. Theol. II, pp. 591-640; Dabney, Syst. and Polem. Theol. pp. 823-829; Litton, Introd. to Dogm. Theol., pp. 548-569; Valentine, Chr. Theol. II, pp. 392-407; Pieper, Christl. Dogm. III, pp. 574-578; Miley, Syst. Theol. II, pp. 430-439; Wilmers, Handbook of the Chr. Rel., pp. 385-391; Schaff, Our Fathers' Faith and Ours, pp. 412-431; Row, Future Retribution, pp. 348-404; Shedd, Doctrine of Endless Punishment, pp. 19-117; King, Future Retribution; Morris, Is There Salvation After Death? Hovey, Eschatology, pp. 79-144; Dahle, Life After Death, pp. 118-227; Salmond, Chr. Doct. of Immortality, cf. Index; Mackintosh, Immortality and the Future, pp. 195-228; Addison, Life Beyond Death, pp. 200-214; De Bondt, Wat Leert Het Oude Testament Aangaande Her Leven Na Dit Leven? pp. 40-129; Kliefoth, Christl. Eschatologie, pp. 32-126.