Presbyterians of the Past

A. A. Hodge on the Intermediate State

During the latter half of the nineteenth century many immigrants entering the United States from Europe were Roman Catholics. Included with Catholicism’s doctrines of seven sacraments, the Mass, and papal/episcopal governance were other points of theology differing from the Westminster Standards. Two in particular are Catholicism’s tripartite (trichotomist) view of the makeup of man as body, soul, and spirit, while the Westminster Confession affirms the bipartite (dichotomist) view of  body and soul (spirit, interchangeable). Another difference is the subject of Hodge’s article in this post, the intermediate state, which is also addressed in Hodge’s commentary on the Westminster Confession, chapter 32, “Of the State of Man after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead.” You might want to read the brief biography, “A. A. Hodge, 1823-1886,” before the article. Also available on Presbyterians of the Past are his, “Religion in the Public Schools,” and “Presbyterian Doctrine, Briefly Stated.”

Hodge is different from the average Princeton Seminary professor of the nineteenth century because he was a missionary in India for 3 years; was pastor for 13 years in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania; taught theology at Western Seminary in Pittsburgh for 13 years; and then ended his ministry at Princeton Seminary serving 9 years. He is known for the Princeton years but served there only a quarter of his ministerial life. Hodge and B. B. Warfield were friends and collaborated on the booklet, Inspiration.

The article is 2500 words long and was originally published in The Sunday School Times, vol. 28, no. 27, July 3, 1886. The Times was published in Philadelphia from 1859 to 1966, for Sunday School teachers to provide theological lessons and teaching techniques.

The header shows Pittsburgh in 1902. Hodge was Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology at Western Seminary, 1864-1877. Banner of Truth sells Hodge’s book on the Confession, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. A lengthy list of his publications is available on the Log College Press site at “Archibald Alexander Hodge (1823-1886).”

Barry Waugh




Man consists essentially of soul and body. If either of these is absent, the integrity of the human nature is destroyed. The center of the personality is the spirit, but the body is a part essential to its integrity. A rational moral being, which thinks and wills, is called a spirit. A spirit united to a body as its organ is called a soul. A soul separated from its body is called a ghost. A body separated from its soul is called a corpse. Neither a ghost nor a corpse is a complete man.

All men die; that is, the personal union between their bodies and their souls is dissolved. What ultimately becomes either of their ghosts or of their corpses can be known to us only by revelation. Both depart out of the sight of living men, as far as experience goes, forever. Whether a human soul shall continue to exist forever disembodied, or be given a different body, or be rejoined by its own body renewed; and whether the soul sleeps in an inactive and unconscious condition until it is rejoined by the body—are questions which can be solved only by the Word of God.

The resurrection of our Lord Jesus, the most certainly established fact of past time, demonstrates the future immortality of the redeemed and the resurrection of their identical bodies, and their modification in conformity to the likeness of His glorified body at the right hand of God. But what is to be the destination and condition of our disembodied souls during the time that they still are under the power of death before the resurrection? Before presenting the answer to this momentous question as it is successively presented in the Old and in the New Testaments, the explanation of a few terms in common use will greatly promote clearness of thought and a common understanding between this writer and his readers.

I. The English word “heaven” and its Hebrew and Greek equivalents have three applications: (1) To the region of the clouds; (2) To the region of the stars; (3) To the invisible and transcendent seats of God’s glory and power. It is never used in the Old Testament to express the place or condition into which believers are introduced at death. The single apparent exception (2 Kings 2:1) proves the rule, because it is asserted only of the visible heavens of the clouds and stars, and only of Enoch, who was translated in the body and never died. The word “heaven” in the Old Testament, when referring to the invisible region beyond the clouds and stars, always designates the dwelling-place of God. He is always represented as reigning, looking, hearing, answering, acting, or coming, from heaven. On the contrary, when they die, the disembodied spirits of all men, good and bad alike, go to “sheōl,”—translated in the Septuagint [Greek Old Testament], “hades.” In the New Testament, the term “heaven,” or “heavens,” or “the third heaven,” is used in a general sense, as the central seat of the divine majesty, the present home of Christ and his people. Nevertheless, it is rather from heaven than in heaven that the future habitation of the saints is revealed. “The great city, the holy Jerusalem,” descends out of heaven from God. After the judgment, and the destruction of death, and of sheōl or hades, and the conflagration of the earth and of the visible heavens, a new earth and a new heaven shall appear and abide forever (2 Pet. 8:5-18; Rev. 21: 1).

A. The English word “hell” is of Saxon origin and originally meant “a concealed place,” and hence either “the grave” where the body goes at death, or “the invisible world,” “the spirit world,” where the disembodied soul goes. But it has come now to have the fixed sense of “the place of perdition,” where the Devil and his angels, and the lost souls of men are in torment, and where the whole person, body and soul, of the lost will suffer forever after the resurrection. In the Scriptures this condition, and the scene of it, is connoted by the terms “Gehenna,” the “lake of fire,” “eternal chains under darkness,” “bottomless pit,” etc. (Mat. 5:29, 30; Jude 6; Rev. 20:1, 3, 10).

B. [Sheōl is] The representation made in the Old Testament of the condition and place of the disembodied souls of dead men during the period between death and the resurrection of their bodies.

The word “sheōl” occurs sixty-five times in the Old Testament, and with two or three exceptions, is translated in the Septuagint by the Greek equivalent, and throughout both Testaments has one plain, uniform meaning. The old English version translated these terms sometimes by the word “grave,” and sometimes by the word “hell,” meaning thereby the place of torment. These two senses are incongruous, and this principle of translation leads to irreconcilable confusion. Thus, in Psalm 16, David, speaking consciously for himself and typically for the Messiah, says, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheōl.” This cannot be rationally rendered either by the equivalents “the grave” or “hell,” because David’s soul never was in the place of torment, and his soul never was buried in the grave. It is, therefore, the unanimous judgment of all modern Hebrew scholars that the term “ sheōl” and its acknowledged equivalent “hades” never once mean either hell or the grave, but always bear the single uniform sense of the spirit or ghost world, where the disembodied souls of all men are gathered while they remain under the power of death awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. This does not, of course, imply that the disembodied spirits of both good and wicked men were indifferently treated in the same way, and herded together promiscuously in one place. European immigrants come to one [place,] America, and are nevertheless, quickly distributed into incomparably different places and conditions. All, both good and bad alike, went into sheōl, or hades; that is, went out as disembodied spirits into the spirit or ghost world precisely as alike died in consequence of sin, and all alike continued under the power of death in the disembodied state until the resurrection of their bodies. But the good were made perfect in holiness, and gathered in seats of bliss called “Paradise,” or “Abraham’s bosom,” while the wicked, abandoned by the Spirit of grace, and sealed unto the day of perdition, were shut up in Gehenna, the place of torment. And between these two there was a great and utterly impassable gulf fixed (Psa. 16:11; Luke 16:19-31).

The Old Testament saints experienced regeneration, justification, sanctification, and adoption through faith in Christ as we do. Redemption is presupposed in religious experience, and the religious experience of David recorded in his Psalms has been regulative to the Christian Church in all subsequent ages. Nevertheless, although they were surely and fully redeemed, the certainty and completeness of salvation had not been brought fully to light. Even believers now shrink from death, and how much more might those who lived before the amazing revelation of God’s love and saving power in Christ shrink from the continuance of death in sheōl or hades, and look forward with longing desire to the completeness of their salvation in the resurrection, which was the ultimate goal of their hope? The Psalmist exultingly exclaims: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades.” Martha, the sister of Lazarus, represents all her class of believing Jews in seeking comfort by looking forward to the resurrection of her brother rather than to his condition immediately after death in hades. Hence in the Old Testament the disembodied state is uniformly represented as death, of which it is the continuance, as dark and gloomy, the penal consequence of sin, as low, downward, beneath the surface of the earth. This language, of course, is purely metaphorical, and represents the gloomy aspect of death and hades to the natural man. In the absence of redemption, it is the natural prelude to the lake of eternal fire. But in the light of the redemption of Christ it is the portal to heaven; that is, to the ultimate seats of eternal bliss. During this period the Scriptures represent men as dead. Their souls are conscious and active, but the men themselves “continue in the state of the dead” because their souls are separate from their bodies. They are always called “dead.” The resurrection takes place from among “the dead” (Acts 23:6; Eph. 4:30; Phil. 8:11; 1 Thess. 4:16). Christ was not called “living” until after his resurrection (Luke 24:5). And so, Christ proves the future resurrection of men because God calls himself the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; and he is not the God of the dead (of men left permanently in a dead or disembodied state), but of those who are now spiritually alive, and are destined to be hereafter truly alive in the union of soul and body forever. Hence the day of resurrection is pointed forward to as the “day of redemption” (Eph. 4: 30); that is, as the day in which redemption, not in its purchase but in its application, is consummated. And hence also the complete redemption of the Church requires not only the resurrection of individuals, but also the final and entire destruction of “death” and of “hades,” the disembodied state, or death continued. So, it is provided—“the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hades delivered up the dead which “were cast into the lake of fire.’ Then the redeemed, complete in soul and body, and in both bearing the glorious image of Christ, shall be delivered from all the power and influence of death forevermore.

II. The representation made of the condition of the disembodied spirits of the redeemed during the intermediate state in the New Testament.

The New Testament builds on the Old, presupposing its ideas and using its language. The chief difference in the aspect it presents of the condition of the soul when intermediate between death and the resurrection is due (1) to the clearer and more complete views it presents of the holy and loving nature of God in Christ and of the method of salvation in him; (2) of the spirituality and divine capacities of man in Christ; (3) of the certainty and nature of the resurrection of the body; and (4) of the person and character of Christ, of his relation to the redeemed, and of his presence and association with them in their disembodied state immediately after death.

The Old Testament saint, when dead and in hades, was holy and happy; but his chief joy was in looking forward, just as his living brother on earth did, to the coming of the Messiah. They had God, for Enoch “walked with God” even on earth; but they had no God-man, Brother, and Redeemer. Hence it follows that the darkest hour which ever oppressed the earth was the brightest hour which ever visited the world of the disembodied spirits of the redeemed. On Friday evening, when the disembodied spirit of Christ, still united to the divine Word entered Paradise, he must have irradiated it with a sudden light never seen there, nor in all the universe of God, before. That moment consummated heaven and revolutionized the condition of the redeemed forever. This great crisis of such far-reaching importance is expressed in our Creed by the archaic language, “he descended into hell.” The Church never believed nor said that the blessed Christ went to the place of torment inhabited by the lost. But the words in the original Greek mean simply that the disembodied spirit of Christ went directly where the disembodied spirits of all the redeemed dead were gathered before him. Since that crisis, the presence and association of Christ defines paradise. The place named heaven is where Christ is. The state of heaven is that state which grows out of his loving presence. To die now is to “sleep in Jesus.” To be absent from the body now, in the beautiful words of our new version, “is to be at home with the Lord.” The “Lamb as it had been slain” is the midst of the throne, and “he shall feed them, and shall lead them unto fountains of living water” (Rev. 5:6; 7:17). This is so perfect that, in comparison with the life of the believer on earth, Paul declares that “it is far better” (Phil. 1:28), and our excellent Shorter Catechism (Ques. 37) describes it as “immediately entering into glory.” Nevertheless, in this state redemption is not consummated; there is something greatly better beyond which the blessed dead as well as the living believer on earth looks forward with longing and confident anticipation. The New Testament everywhere holds up the resurrection of the body as the goal of hope. Paul declares it to be his great object of desire and effort, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 8:11). Christians are all pointed forward to the second coming of Christ, which will be synchronous with the general resurrection, and exhorted to love, watch, wait for, look for, hasten unto, “the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13; Luke 12:35, 37; 1 Cor. 1:7, 8; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:9, 10; 2 Tim. 4:8; 2 Pet. 2:12; Rev. 22:20). Christ was dead for parts of three days. Abraham has been dead nearly four thousand years. Afterwards all shall be alive. “These vile bodies shall be made like Christ’s glorious body.” Souls and bodies united; the redeemed will be perfect living men. The great change will involve (1) a change in the more fully developed souls themselves; (2) in their union to their glorified bodies and re-establishment of the complete integrity of their redeemed humanity, death and all the penal consequences of sin being now finally surmounted; (3) in the environment of the redeemed, a new and glorified physical universe to correspond with the new and glorified material bodies (2 Pet. 3: 13); the consummation of the whole “body of Christ,” the “whole family,” which is now divided in various states, as one transcendently perfect spiritual society, “the kingdom” lifted from its militant to its glorified form, and the gathering together “in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; even in him (Eph. 1:10).

III. The representation made as to the condition, during the intermediate state, of those who die out of Christ.

Our Lord teaches us that the disembodied spirits suffer full torment, and there is an utterly impassable gulf placed between them and their redeemed fellowmen (Luke 16:19-81). There is not one word in the Bible which gives even a hint of a possible probation for any of the dead after death. On the contrary, it everywhere limits the provisions and promises of the gospel to this gospel dispensation on earth. And it declares that the present life is “the day of salvation,” and that the future judgment is to be issued upon the “things done in the body,” the conduct of our probation in this life (Matt. 28:19, 20; 2 Cor. 6:1,2; Rom. 10:18, 14; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Princeton Theological Seminary

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