Errors Regarding the Intermediate State

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14. What are some of the errors about the intermediate state?

Some errors are purgatory, limbo, soul-sleep, and annihilationism.
No further notes for this question.


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15. What is purgatory?

Roman Catholics teach that purgatory is the temporary place where Roman Catholics guilty of unpunished venial sins go for punishment and purification by fire to prepare them for and hasten them to heaven.

Lecture notes:
Roman Catholics teach that purgatory is the temporary place…
The Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory developed from a misconception that the Bible was rather ambiguous about the intermediate state. Bible verses have been used to support the doctrine (Isa. 4:4; Zech. 9:11; Mal. 3:2-3; Matt. 12:32; 1 Cor. 3:13-15).  They also appeal to 2 Maccabees 12:42-45.
Purgatory will cease to exist on the Judgment day, after which there will only be heaven and hell.
…where Roman Catholics guilty of unpunished venial sins…
All non-Roman Catholics go straight to hell. The pure and those who have satisfied for their sins go to heaven immediately (Mat. 25:46; Phil. 1:23).  All other Roman Catholics must first go to purgatory.  Roman Catholics make a distinction between two types of sin:

First, there is mortal sin, which is a grave violation of God’s law and if not repented of leads to hell.

Second, venial (meaning “forgiveable”) sin is not about anything really serious, and is usually committed in ignorance or without full consent.  While contrary to God’s will, it does not disrupt the sinner’s friendship with God and his title to heaven.

…go for punishment and purification by fire…
The unpunished and the imperfectly cleansed must be punished and purged before entering heaven.  Although Christ took eternal punishment, we must satisfy for post-baptismal venial sins. That can be done in this life via the sacraments of baptism, penance, etc. But if the purification is incomplete upon death, they must go to purgatory to be purged. The punishment involves exclusion from blessing and also pains inflicted according to the duration and intensity of sin. It may be short or may last until the final judgment.
…to prepare them for and hasten them to heaven.
Loved ones left on earth can hasten a person’s passage through purgatory by alms, gifts, prayers, indulgences, canonization, etc.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, first published in 2005, is a summary in dialog form of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It deals with purgatory in the following exchange:

210. What is purgatory?

Purgatory is the state of those who die in God’s friendship; assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness of heaven.

211. How can we help the souls being purified in purgatory?

Because of the communion of saints, the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers in suffrage for them, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice. They also help them by almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance.


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16. What is wrong with the doctrine of purgatory?

The doctrine of purgatory is without scriptural support, causes unnecessary anxiety, corrupts the church and undermines the finished work of Christ.

Lecture notes:
The doctrine of purgatory is without scriptural support…

And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Matt. 12:32) καὶ ὃς ἂν εἴπῃ λόγον κατὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ἁγίου οὐκ ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ οὔτε ἐν τούτῳ τῷ αἰῶνι οὔτε ἐν τῷ μέλλοντι. (Matt. 12:32)

Roman Catholics say that this verse teaches that sins not forgiven in this life may be forgiven in the life hereafter, as long as it was not the sin against the Holy Spirit.
However, the Lord is ruling out any “second chance” for those who sin against the Holy Spirit. He says nothing about the possibility of other sins being forgiven. As “the world to come” begins with the return of Christ, Jesus is teaching that the sin against the Holy Spirit will never, ever be forgiven.

And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21:27) καὶ οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτὴν πᾶν κοινοῦν, καὶ ποιοῦν βδέλυγμα καὶ ψεῦδος εἰ μὴ οἱ γεγραμμένοι ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τῆς ζωῆς τοῦ ἀρνίου. (Rev 21:27)

Roman Catholics point to this verse and say, “See, even the saints to whom sin still cleaves after death cannot enter into heaven without further cleansing.” However, the text speaks not of the intermediate state but of the final fixed state. It is true that nothing defiled can enter heaven. That is why the believer is cleansed from all sin at death.

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (1 Cor. 3:15) εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον κατακαήσεται ζημιωθήσεται αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός  (1 Cor. 3:15)

This might appear to support purgatory. However it is referring to the worthless works of ministers.  It does not speak of a person being burned or suffering punishment, but simply of his work as being tested by fire to find out what will last forever. He will be saved but with some loss of reward. Paul is not teaching that anyone is saved by being purified by fire. “So as by fire” means simply that it will be a difficult process.
Roman Catholics also appeal to 2 Maccabees 12:42-45, which teaches that soldiers who had died in the mortal sin of idolatry should have prayers and sacrifices offered for them to shorten their suffering in the fire. This contradicts Roman Catholic teaching that mortal sins can never be forgiven.
…causes unnecessary anxiety…
The Bible uniformly teaches the immediate peace and rest of those who die in Christ (Isa. 57:2; Rev. 14:13; Rev. 21:4).  This has been a great comfort to believers and their families through the years.  Purgatory drains all comfort from the believer’s deathbed and causes terrible anxiety both for the dying and the mourning.
…corrupts the church…
In Luther’s time, the church sold “indulgences” to Roman Catholics.  Indulgences allowed the church to shorten someone’s time in purgatory.  Luther once heard Tetzel, an “indulgence salesman” say, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”  To this day the teaching of purgatory has been a huge moneymaker for the Roman Catholic Church.
…and undermines the finished work of Christ.
Christ’s satisfaction is perfect and cleanses from all sin (1 Jn. 1:7; Rom. 3:24).  We can add nothing to that work either for ourselves or others.


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17. What is limbus infantum?

Roman Catholics teach that the souls of all unbaptized children go to limbus infantum, a neutral place, forever.

Lecture notes:
Roman Catholics teach that the souls of all unbaptized children…

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5) ἀπεκρίθη ὁ Ἰησοῦς Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος οὐ δύναται εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. (John 3:5)

Roman Catholics take water here as a reference to baptism, and teach that baptism is the only way to be delivered from original sin and corruption.
…go to limbus infantum, a neutral place, forever.
Limbus infantum is not in heaven, but rather in the best place in hell, where the fires do not reach.  There is no hope of deliverance, no vision of God and no happiness. But neither is there any pain of sense or sorrow. It is a “neutral place.”

18. What is wrong with the doctrine of limbus infantum?

Limbus infantum is based on a false view of baptismal regeneration in John 3:5 and a desire to avoid saying unbaptized infants are in hell.

Lecture notes:
Limbus infantum is based on a false view of baptismal regeneration in John 3:5.  
Jesus here is teaching that Nicodemus needed to be born again. Some commentators take water and the Spirit to be an Old Testament way of saying the same thing – you need a new heart, you must be born again (Ezekiel 36:25-27).  Others see this as a common way of expressing the work of the Spirit: the Spirit cleanses. John the Baptist speaks of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt 3:11).  Others see the water as being explained by the Holy Spirit: Except a man be born of water, that is the Spirit…” Either of these three ways are better explanations of this text, fit the immediate context, and are consistent with the rest of the Bible’s teaching.
…and a desire to avoid saying unbaptized infants are in hell.
The doctrine of baptismal regeneration leaves Roman Catholics with a problem: what happens to unbaptized babies? They cannot say that they go to heaven. And, obviously, they do not want to say they are in hell, and so they invent another place somewhere in between heaven and hell.

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19. What is limbus patrum?

Roman Catholics teach that Old Testament saints went to limbus patrum, a shadowy place, until the resurrection of Christ.

Lecture notes:
Roman Catholics teach that Old Testament saints went to limbus patrum…
Limbus patrum is meant to be a place on the limbus (fringe, outskirts) of hell. For example, the rich man and Lazarus were near enough to each other to converse.  Roman Catholics do not believe that Old Testament believers went to heaven, but rather to limbus patrum, which they also describe as “Abraham’s bosom” or “fellowship with Abraham.”
…a shadowy place…
Roman Catholics provide very little detail about this place.
…until the resurrection of Christ.
After Christ’s death, He allegedly descended into limbus patrum, released the Old Testament saints and carried them in triumph to heaven. Heaven was not open to anyone until Christ’s death.  Abraham Kuyper held to a modified view of this, teaching that Old Testament believers did not go to heaven until Christ’s ascension.

20. What is wrong with the doctrine of limbus patrum?

Limbus patrum misinterprets Luke 16, ignores Psalm 17 & 73, and minimizes Christ’s work in the Old Testament.

Lecture notes:
Limbus patrum misinterprets Luke 16…
Abraham is in the place of comfort, as is Lazarus immediately upon death, and that before the resurrection of Christ (Lk. 16:25).  The thief was taken up immediately into heaven without going anywhere else (Lk. 23:43).
…ignores Psalm 17 & 73…
The Old Testament saints expected immediate enjoyment of God when they died. They had it in this world (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:15) and after death (2 Ki. 2:11; Matt. 17:3; 22:32).  Their language also showed this expectancy (Ps. 17:15; 73:24-25; 115:17-18).  That is not to deny the possibility that their experience of heaven was enhanced even more by the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.
…and minimizes Christ’s work in the Old Testament.
It is true that in the Old Testament there was the hope of an earthly Promised Land and Kingdom.  And it is true that some in Israel focused on this exclusively.  However, Hebrews 11 makes clear that there were some who saw the physical as merely symbolic of the heavenly, the spiritual, and the eternal.  Christ worked faith and hope in Old Testament hearts as well as New Testament hearts.

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21. What is Sheolism?

Sheolism teaches that Old Testament saints believed that at death all souls went to Sheol, a temporary and unattractive place, until the final judgment.

Lecture notes:
Sheolism teaches that Old Testament saints believed…
This is what Old Testament saints believed, but not what was true.
…that at death all souls…
No moral distinctions between souls and no exceptions.
…went to Sheol, a temporary and unattractive place…
Sheol is a Hebrew word which is translated in various ways: grave, hell, place of the dead. Some theologians teach that the Old Testament writers borrowed the idea from Gentile views of the underworld. In Gentile literature, all the dead enter Sheol, a dreary, dreamy, semi-conscious state where life has lost all interest and joy. It is somewhere beneath the earth, shadowy and obscure.  Sometimes Old Testament believers do seem to speak of life after death in this pessimistic way (Gen. 37:35; Ps. 6:5).
…until the final judgment.
This was not a permanent state.

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22. What is wrong with Sheolism?

Sheolism undermines the inspiration of Scripture, mistakes appearance for reality, weakens divine warnings, and fails to explain hope-filled expressions of Old Testament faith.

Lecture notes:
Sheolism undermines the inspiration of Scripture…
It is saying that Old Testament writers sanctioned error. But God’s revelation does not progress from error to truth, but rather from limited truth to greater knowledge of the truth.
…mistakes appearance for reality…
When Old Testament saints speak of the spirit world, of the world hereafter, of life after death, they sometimes describe it as it appears to those left on earth.
…weakens divine warnings…
If Sheol is non-judgmental and does not discriminate between the godly or ungodly, how can it be used to warn the wicked (Ps. 9:17; Prov. 7:27)?  How can the Bible speak of God’s anger burning there (Deut. 32:22)?  How can it be used as a synonym for abbadon, the Hebrew for destruction (Job 26:6; Prov. 15:11)?  If hades is the New Testament description of Sheol, and all go there, what about the special doom of Capernaum (Matt.11:23) and the place of torment (Luke 16:23)?
…and fails to explain hope-filled expressions of Old Testament faith.
If Sheol is the gloomy end of all, how do we explain the joy of believers as they faced death (Num. 23:10; Ps. 16:9,11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24-26; Isa. 25:8; cf. 1 Cor. 15:54)?  Elijah and Enoch were taken up to heaven, not down to an underworld.  It is better to understand that as Sheol and hades are not always used in the same sense, they cannot always be translated with the same word.

  1. They are used for the state of death (the separation of body and soul). And as both believers and unbelievers enter into the state of death, they may be said to be both in Sheol or hades (1 Sam. 2:6; Job 14:13,14; 17:13,14).
  2. They are used for the grave (Gen.37:25; 42:38; 44:29; 29:31; 1 Ki. 2:6,9; Job 14:13; Ps. 6:5).
  3. They are used for hell. Unless, at times, Sheol is the place of awful and eternal punishment, the biblical threats to the wicked are empty (Ps. 9:17; 49:14; 55:15; Prov. 15:11; 15:24; Lk. 16:23).

In the Old Testament, Sheol is used more often for the grave and less often for hell whereas in the NT the opposite is the case (for Hades).


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23. What is second probation?

Second probation teaches that in the mercy of God the gospel continues to be preached and salvation through Christ continues to be offered to certain groups between death and the final judgment.

Lecture notes:
Second probation teaches that in the mercy of God…
Proponents of this view emphasize the love and mercy of God and say, that it is only to be expected that such a loving God should offer a second chance.
…the gospel continues to be preached and salvation through Christ continues to be offered…
Appeal is made to these verses:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. (1 Pet. 3:18-20)
ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἅπαξ περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἔπαθεν δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων ἵνα ἡμᾶς προσαγάγῃ τῷ θεῷ θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ τῷ πνεύματι·
ἐν ᾧ καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν
ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε ὅτε ἅπαξ ἐξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε κατασκευαζομένης κιβωτοῦ εἰς ἣν ὀλίγαι, τοῦτ’ ἔστιν ὀκτὼ ψυχαί διεσώθησαν δι’ ὕδατος (1 Pet. 3:18-20)
For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (1 Pet. 4:6) εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη ἵνα κριθῶσιν μὲν κατὰ ἀνθρώπους σαρκὶ ζῶσιν δὲ κατὰ θεὸν πνεύματι. (1 Pet. 4:6)

…to certain groups…
Those groups are dead infants, those who never heard the Gospel, and those who heard but did not consciously reject it.
…between death and the final judgment.
If they continue to reject the Gospel, they will be sentenced to Hell at the Final judgment.

24. What is wrong with the doctrine of second probation?

Second probation denies that our eternal destiny is irreversibly determined by our earthly life, misinterprets 1 Peter 3 & 4, and also fails to explain the missionary zeal of the early church.

Lecture notes:
Second probation denies that our eternal destiny is irreversibly determined by our earthly life…
The final judgment has to do with the things done in the flesh, not in the intermediate state (2 Cor. 5:10-11).  The state of unbelievers after death is a fixed state (Lk. 16:19-31; Eccl. 11:3; Jn. 8:21,24).  The Gentiles without the Word of God perish (Rom. 2:12).
…misinterprets 1 Peter 3 & 4…
1 Pet. 3:18-20 The spirits in prison are those who were alive in Noah’s day but who are now in hell.  Christ preached to them in Noah’s day, by His Spirit working in and through Noah.  1 Peter 4:6 “Them that are dead” may refer to those who were alive and heard the Gospel but are now dead, or it may refer to those who were spiritually dead.
…and also fails to explain the missionary zeal of the early church.
If this is what the apostles and early church believed, what explains their passion for the lost? If this teaching is true, then we would be better not to send missionaries as they are only increasing the number of the condemned. This false doctrine is partly explained by a misconception that everyone deserves the chance to hear the Gospel and be saved.

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25. What is soul sleep?

Soul sleep teaches that at death the soul is no longer conscious until the resurrection.

Lecture notes:
Soul sleep teaches that at death the soul is no longer conscious…
This view teaches that at death we go into a state of unconscious existence. The Bible speaks of death as “falling asleep” and as this cannot refer to the body which perishes, it must refer to the soul (1 Thess. 4:13-15; Dan.12:2; Matt. 9:24; 27:52; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18,20,51;).  Some think that as the soul cannot function apart from the body, so all spiritual functions must cease until the body is reconstructed. It is also pointed out that as it is the final judgment that determines eternal destinies, and as some are surprised on the day of judgment, the soul cannot enter it’s eternal state after death. Also, as those who were raised from the dead did not give any account of what they experienced, they must have been unconscious.
…until the resurrection.
After death, the next thing we are conscious of is of being resurrected at Christ’s return.

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26. What is wrong with the doctrine of soul sleep?

Soul sleep misinterprets Psalms 16 and 17, ignores Hebrews 12 and Revelation 7, and misunderstands figurative sleep-language, while at the same time robbing the believer of great comfort.

Lecture notes:
Soul sleep misinterprets Psalms 16 and 17…
Advocates of soul sleep say that David believed his soul would be in Sheol until the day of the resurrection. This cannot mean that David after death will be in a state of suffering in hell, and therefore must mean that the soul will be in a state of unconsciousness until the hour of the resurrection.
However, in Acts 2: 25-28 Peter says that in Psalm 16 David spoke principally of Christ.  We know that after his death, Christ was in paradise in a state of conscious bliss and happiness.  As we said before, Sheol can mean the grave or the state of death.  Here it most likely means grave and refers to his the location of his body, while his soul was in conscious paradise.
In Psalm 17:15, the Psalmist speaks of the time when he will awake, which presupposes a state of sleep, that is the state of death before resurrection.
However, David is speaking of his complete satisfaction when his body shall also experience the eternal bliss his soul already enjoyed.
…ignores Hebrews 12:1 and Revelation 7:9…
Both these verses represent dead believers as very much alive and active.
…and misunderstands figurative sleep-language…
The language of sleep for death is metaphorical and is used for various reasons:

  1. It simply indicates that like sleep, death is only temporary for the Christian.
  2. It is based on a similarity between a dead body and a body asleep. It is not a description of a psychological condition, but rather of what appears to be so.
  3. It stresses that man can no longer take part in this world’s activities.
  4. It emphasizes that death has released us from the labors of this world.

The fact that some verses do seem to teach that our trial will be on the day of judgment, need not undermine this teaching. Everyone is sentenced at death. The day of judgment simply has public pronouncement of that sentence to vindicate the justice of God before all. The “surprise” is more about the grounds of the judgment than upon the judgment itself (Matt. 25).


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27. What is annihilationism?

Annihilationism, sometimes called conditional immortality, teaches that unbelievers will cease to exist at death or after a period of some suffering.

Lecture notes:
Advocates of annihilationism say that none of us have immortality. Rather, God gifts it when we fulfill the condition of believing. Therefore, God will simply end the existence of the ungodly. They will have no conscious existence after death. Some annihilationists believe that the wicked will be punished for a short time, before being put out of existence.
Some early church fathers implied that immortality was a divine gift to believers.  They based it on verses such as 1 Timothy 6:16 which describes God alone as immortal. Immortality is also portrayed as a gift of God to believers (Jn. 10:27,28; 17:3; Rom. 2:7; 6:22,23; Gal. 6:8).  Some reason that as the Bible threatens sinners with death, destruction and perishing, that therefore unbelievers will be reduced to non-existence (Matt. 7:13; 10:28; Jn. 3:16; Rom. 6:23; 8:13; 2 Thess. 1:9).

28. What is wrong with annihilationism?

Annihilationism misunderstands immortality, undermines God’s justice, and destroys the contrasting destinies of the righteous and the wicked, and so while comforting unbelievers it removes comfort from believers.

Lecture notes:
Annihilationism misunderstands immortality…
God’s immortality is indeed essential to Him, while ours is derived from God. However, that does not mean that we do not have it from the time of our creation.
…undermines God’s justice…
Annihilation can hardly be called a punishment since that implies a consciousness of pain and ill-desert.  Annihilation means that the punishment would not fit the crime. As there will be degrees of punishment (Luke 12:47-48; Rom. 2:12), that must mean consciousness.
…and destroys the contrasting destinies of the righteous and the wicked…
Many passages contrast the eternal blessing of the righteous with the eternal punishment of the wicked (Matt. 25:46).  Others talk about punishment extending day and night forever (Rev. 14:11; Rev. 20:10).
…and so while comforting unbelievers it removes comfort from believers.
It sounds attractive and gets round the emotional difficulty of eternal punishment for the wicked. But it ends up giving false comfort to the wicked and removes true comfort from the godly.