Friday, December 11, 2009

Humorous Reformed Baptist Take on the Twelve Days of Christmas

I saw this over at the RBS Tabletalk blog and thought I would share it with this blog's readers as well. It is called "The twelve Doctrines of Christmas."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Final Reminder: The Journey Book Giveaway Drawing is Tomorrow!

This is the final reminder to the blog's readers that, as I announced on September 1, I am going to offer a free copy of two of the Journey books for Christmas this year to one of the blog's email subscribers. They will include the recent book, A Journey in Heresy, and the first book in the Journey series, A Journey in Grace. If you already have the first book, then I will allow the substitution of another from the series. Tomorrow, December 11, at 11:00 PM Central Standard Time, I will draw from the addresses included in the email subscriber list from FeedBurner. So, if you want to have a chance to receive these books, then make sure you sign up as an email subscriber to the blog using the Subscribe in a reader link on the right panel of this page. And make sure you click the "Get Reformed Baptist Blog delivered by email" option. When you receive a verification email, make sure you respond in order to verify your email address, because only verified email addresses will be eligible.

Current email subscribers are already in the running. I will send the two books to the first email subscriber drawn and that I can contact, so make sure that your email address is valid.

I suspect that once you have read a couple of the books, you will want to read more of them and will recommend them to others as well. As a pastor, I have found that folks have really been helped by them and have found them enjoyable reading as well.

And by the way, Dr. Belcher's latest book, A Journey in Dispensationalism, is in the works, and I will let the blog's readers know as soon as I hear that it is available.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Sermons by Dr. Belcher

I have been searching for online sermons by Dr. Belcher for my own edification and also to share with the blog's readers. I have come up with a list that I would like to share with you here. My goal is to collect as many links to his online sermons and teachings as I can all in one place. If you know of other sermons by Dr. Belcher online, I would ask you to please post a link in the comments here.

If you would like to hear some of his sermons, you can start by checking the Sermons page of Covenant Baptist Church in West Columbia, South Carolina (where he currently serves as pastor).

You may also want to check out Dr. Belcher's description of the way the Doctrines of Grace have impacted his own life and ministry in a series entitled "My Journey in Grace." This four part series is included on the Sermons page at the website of Southside Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado (just scroll down the page).

You can find a number of his sermons at here. These messages include "Defining and Defending Sovereign Grace," a "Biography of Adonirum Judson" (in narration and song), a two part series on "Sovereign Grace in the Book of Romans," a two part series on "Prayer, the Holy Spirit and Revival," and a ten part "Study of Job."

You can find a four part series on Jude at the website of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Rio Rico, Arizona.

Again, if you know of other sermons by Dr. Belcher online, I would ask you to please post a link in the comments here. As you may have guessed, given previous posts on this blog and my joy at his joining the blog, my interest is also quite personal, since Dr. Belcher has been perhaps the one person God has most used to help shape my own theology and ministry.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Continuing Debate Over Baptist Usage of the Word "Reformed"

Back on June 26 R. Scott Clark wrote A Gentle Rebuke to Brother John criticizing John Piper for inviting Doug Wilson to the September Desiring God Conference. Although I agreed with Scott in his confrontation of John on this point, I did not agree with everything he said in that post. I especially did not agree with his criticism of Reformed Baptists for their use of the term Reformed as a a description of themselves. Here are the specific comments with which I took exception:

Calling a Baptist “Reformed” is like calling Presbyterians “Baptist” because they believe in believer’s baptism. The Reformed churches do practice the baptism of unbaptized believers but they also baptize the infants of believers. No self-respecting, confessional Baptist should accept me as “Baptist” and Reformed folk should resist labeling anyone who rejects most of Reformed theology as “Reformed.”
You can read my response to Clark's argument in the July 2 post entitled Why I Call Myself a Reformed Baptist. But I also wanted to point out some other reading that may be profitable, at least if you don't mind wading through a lot of interaction and debate in the "comments" sections of a couple of blogs.

To begin with, R. Scott Clark has written a couple of other Heidelblog articles in which he takes exception to Reformed Baptists using the term Reformed to describe themselves. The first was posted back on July 3 and is entitled A Baptist Reads RCC and Benefits From It. And the second was posted on November 27 and is entitled Post-Thanksgiving Cartoons: A Reply to James White. The reason I suggest both articles, by the way, is not because either of them is particularly good, but because in the "comments" section of each one there are some very good arguments offered by Reformed Baptists in their exchange with Scott and other Presbyterians. Most notable among the Reformed Baptist contributors to this discussion is Robert Gonzales, who ably defends our point of view. In addition, Gonzales has posted his own article updating the status of the debate over at the RBS Tabletalk blog. That article was posted on November 28 and is entitled May Baptist Churches Use the Adjective "Reformed"? The Ongoing Debate. It is well worth reading if you have any interest at all in the discussion/debate. But I would still recommend wading through all of those comments over at the Heidelblog!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Concerns About the Manhattan Declaration

I have been hearing about the Manhattan Declaration since I first saw the coverage about it on Fox News on November 20. Here is the video of that coverage:

The main concern of this news story was whether or not the Manhattan Declaration calls for civil disobedience, and it would seem to me that it certainly does call for civil disobedience if such should be required. But my own concerns about the declaration lie in another area. To be sure, there is much in the seven page document with which I and most other Evangelical Christians may wholeheartedly agree, and this is no doubt why a number of men I respect have signed it. For example, the List of Religious & Organizational Leaders Signatories includes men such as Bryan Chapell, J. Ligon Duncan, Wayne Grudem, and R. Albert Mohler.

So with men like that willing to sign it, why do I have concerns about it? Well, my misgivings have to do with the way the term Christian is used in the document, which is subtitled "A Call of Christian Conscience." Here are some examples of what I mean:
After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the 16th and 17th centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines. (p.1)
Notice the way in which the document speaks of medieval monasteries and Papal edicts as Christian along with Evangelicals like Wesley and Wilberforce.
We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. (p.1)
Again notice the way in which the Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelicals are jointly spoken of as Christians. And it speaks just as broadly of them all as believers. Such language continues on page 2 of the document:
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.
Here is where I begin to get a bit more nervous. For not only are terms like Christian and fellow believers used indiscriminately of the Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelicals mentioned previously, but the document also speaks of their joint duty to "proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness." But here is where things get very problematic, since these groups do not agree on the nature and meaning of the Gospel. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church, for example, has anathematized all those who hold to an Evangelical understanding of salvation by grace through faith alone and justification by faith alone. Consider, for instance, these statements from the sixth session of the counter-Reformation Council of Trent in 1547:
CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
CANON XXIV.-If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.
CANON XXX.-If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.
I hope the readers of this blog are beginning to see why I have concerns about this document. Although I agree strongly with the stances taken in the Manhattan Declaration on the issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty, I cannot agree that those who believe the things formally taught by the Roman Catholic Church about the Gospel should be called Christians, at least not in the same sense that we use the term of those who believe the true Gospel as taught in Scripture. In fact, the above citations from the Council of Trent indicate that the Roman Catholic Church does not think we should all be called Christians either, for when it pronounces an anathema upon those of us who believe in justification by faith alone, it places us outside what they believe to be the true Church.
Now, I could go on to cite a number of other examples of this sort of ecumenical ambiguity in the language of the Manhattan Declaration, but I think the point has been made sufficiently. I will just say in closing that this is a "call of Christian conscience" that my conscience will not permit me to sign. For in doing so, I might publicly clarify my stand on some important moral issues, but I would do so while at the same time helping to foster a lack of clarity about the Gospel. This I could never do. As a true Protestant, I must instead say, "I protest."

Update 1 December 2009

You may also want to read Al Mohler's Why I Signed The Manhattan Declaration and Alistair Begg's article simply titled The Manhattan Declaration, in which he explains why he chose not to sign the declaration (from the standpoint of one who was present when the initial draft was presented). Obviously, I agree with Begg on this one.

Update 8 December 2009

Today R.C. Sproul weighed in on the issue with a blog post entitled The Manhattan Declaration: Why didn’t you sign it, R.C.? Here is an excerpt:
In answer to the question, “R.C., why didn’t you sign the Manhattan Declaration?” I offer the following answer: The Manhattan Declaration confuses common grace and special grace by combining them. While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel.
The framers of the Manhattan Declaration seem to have calculated this objection into the language of the document itself. Likewise, some signers have stated that this is not a theological document. However, to make that statement accurate requires a redefinition of “theology” and serious equivocation on the biblical meaning of “the gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).
I am grateful for his input.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving

Given that tomorrow is the national celebration of Thanksgiving Day, I though it appropriate to share the October 3, 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving issued by President Abraham Lincoln. So here it is:
By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State
(For those interested in learning something about the Christian faith -- or lack thereof -- of Abraham Lincoln, Mark Noll wrote an intriguing article on the subject back in 2001. It is entitled The Puzzling Faith of Abraham Lincoln.)

I hope all of you have a very happy Thanksgiving holiday and that you do not forget to thank God for all His many blessings. As a much more important reminder to that end, I offer you a thanksgiving proclamation from Scripture:
A Psalm of Thanksgiving. Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.

Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations. (Psalm 100)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tithing – A Good Place to Start

As a pastor I have often been asked over the years whether or not I think Christians should tithe, and my response is usually, “I think it is a good place to start.” I hope in this article to offer a Scriptural explanation for why I think this is so, especially since the practice appears to have fallen on hard times. There are probably a number of reasons for this, and I have little doubt that a lack of commitment to Christ and His Church, the idolatrous grip of materialism, and plain old selfishness have played some part. But I think the primary reason among thoughtful Evangelicals has to do with their understanding of Scripture. They simply see tithing as a practice that is no longer required of God's people and therefore just don't bother with it. For example, many Christians today rightly observe that we are no longer under the Mosaic law (Rom. 6:14-15; Gal. 3:10-23) and that, since tithing was a part of this Mosaic Law (Lev. 27:30-34; Num. 18:20-21; Deut. 14:22-29), we are therefore no longer required to continue the practice. In addition, it is observed that since tithing is not explicitly taught as a requirement in the New Testament, we have another reason that it is not a necessary practice for Christians.

I agree that there is no clear New Testament teaching commanding Christians to tithe, and this is why the elders at Immanuel Baptist Church (among whom I serve) do not demand that anyone tithe. But that doesn't mean that we would not encourage tithing as a good and godly practice or, as I stated earlier, as a good place to start with one's giving.

At any rate, there seems to be a growing sentiment among Evangelicals to adopt the oppositional stance that asks, “Why should we tithe?” And that is a good question. But today I would rather ask not, “Why should we tithe?” but rather 1) “Why shouldn't we tithe?” and 2) “Why shouldn't we do more than tithe?”

I. Why Shouldn't We Tithe?

In seeking to answer this question, I would like to draw your attention to several lines of argument in Scripture that show that tithing is a good idea.

First, tithing was the example of godly men before the giving of the Mosaic law. For example:
NKJ Genesis 14:18-20 “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said: 'Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.' And he gave him a tithe of all.”
NKJ Genesis 28:20-22 “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, 'If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.'”
Both of these texts are historical narrative passages which tell us about what Abram and Jacob did, but they do not give a command to others to tithe. These passages are descriptive, not prescriptive. However, what they describe is a good response to God that has been recorded for our benefit. And we know that God approved of their tithing, for He later incorporated tithing into the Mosaic law as we have already seen. In fact, I think it may be best to assume that Abraham and Jacob got the idea from God in the first place. But wherever they got the idea, the fact is that the practice was around and found to be good in God's sight before its incorporation into the Mosaic law, which should at least give us some pause about being so quick to dismiss it as simply a part of the Mosaic law that has passed away.

Second, tithing was affirmed by Jesus as a good thing. For example:
NKJ Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
Jesus clearly says that tithing is something they “ought to have done,” even if He sees the kind of tithing spoken of here as not being among the “weightier matters” of the law. But we must also remember that Jesus warned against the legalistic practice of tithing that does not come from the heart:
NKJ Luke 18:10-14 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It is this kind of legalism that so many Christians fear today with respect to the practice of tithing, and they are right to seek to avoid such legalism. But I would hasten to add that just because something may be done in a legalistic way does not mean that it cannot be practiced in a proper way that recognizes that all that we have is by the grace of God. I would also warn against using the charge of legalism as an excuse to be stingy with what God has given us.

Now, as for Matthew 23:23, Jesus is dealing with those who were still under the law, and thus we cannot say that He intended here to enjoin the practice of tithing upon the New Covenant Church. But we can say that He approved of and encouraged tithing as a godly practice if done with the right motives.

Third, the means of supporting the Levites under the Old Covenant is affirmed by Paul as a good example for Christians to follow in support of their ministers under the New Covenant. For example:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we have no right to eat and drink? 5 Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? 7 Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? 8 Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about? 10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.”
Paul does not explicitly mention the tithes that were given to the Lord for the sustaining of the Levitical priesthood, but the tithe was definitely a primary means of their support. And Paul clearly does see the concept of their sharing in what is given by the people as a model for the support of pastors today. Thus we certainly could say that tithing is a good idea, even if not something that can be demanded (for to demand it when Scripture does not would be the very kind of legalism Jesus despised).

But there is another passage to take note of in 1 Corinthians before moving on:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.”
To be sure, Paul is dealing here with a special offering that is being taken to support the church in Jerusalem, and he does not explicitly mention tithing or giving any fixed percentage of one's income, but he does clearly see the importance of giving in proportion to what one has. And tithing surely would be a good way of putting this principle into practice.

Fourth, tithing is a good way to honor Christ as our High Priest and King. For example:
NKJ Hebrews 7:1-8 “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated 'king of righteousness,' and then also king of Salem, meaning 'king of peace,' 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. 4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5 And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6 but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8 Here mortal men receive [present tense] tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives [present tense].”
Some Christians see in this passage clear evidence of the practice of Christian tithing. They would argue that just as Abraham gave a “tenth” to Melchizedek – who is at the very least shown to be a type of Christ in this passage – so we too give “tithes” to Jesus, who is our Great High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews, it is argued, assumes that the believers to whom he was writing did tithe, and he obviously thinks this is right.

I am not certain that this way of reading Hebrews 7:8 is correct, and thus I do not see it as an ample basis for saying that Christians should be required to tithe. However, I would observe that, if Abraham honored Melchizedek as a “priest of the Most High God” by giving a tithe to him, why shouldn't we see it as a good way to honor Christ as our Great High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us? If Abraham honored Melchizedek as the King of Salem by giving a tithe to him, why shouldn't we see it as a good way to honor Christ as our King of kings and Lord of lords? Shouldn't we want to honor Christ at least as much as Abraham honored Melchizedek? I can think of few better ways to acknowledge that Jesus truly is our supreme Lord than to demonstrate that He is more important to us than our money and to do this by giving regularly. And I can hardly think of a more Biblical place to start such giving than with tithing.

I think John Piper communicates my own attitude toward tithing quite well in a sermon entitled Toward the Tithe and Beyond:
One objection to thinking of a tenth of our income as especially belonging to God is that ALL our money belongs to God. Psalm 24:1,
The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.
That is absolutely true. It's why my main way of talking about money year in and year out at Bethlehem is not to focus on tithing, but to focus on lifestyle. What you do with every cent says something about your view of God and what he means to you. And what your values are in this age. And what you think your few years on earth should be spent for. That's true. But God is wise and knows us deeply. He knows that there is something wrong with the husband who answers his wife's complaint that he doesn't give her any time by saying, "What do you mean, I don't give you my time? ALL my time is yours. I work all day long for you and the children." That has a very hollow ring to it if he doesn't give her any "especially time." Giving her some evenings together and some dates does not deny that all his time is for her, it proves it. This is why God declares one day in seven especially God's. They are all his, and making one special proves it.
And this is the way it is with our money and God. Giving God a tenth of our income does not deny that all our money is God's, it proves that we believe it. Tithing is like a constant offering of the first fruits of the whole thing. The tenth is yours, O, Lord, in a special way, because all of it is yours in an ordinary way.
I believe the tithe should be the first check we write after the income deposit is made in the bank. And when you write it, you put a seal over what's left: GOD'S. The tithe reminds us of that, and proves that we really believe it.
So, in summary, can I say that Christians are commanded in Scripture to tithe? No, and to try to demand tithing as though it is commanded of Christians in Scripture would be legalism, which I abhor. However, I do think that I can encourage tithing as a godly practice for Christians to follow in their giving, at least as a good place to start, which leads me to my next question.

II. Why Shouldn't We Do More Than Tithe?

When he came to prepare the way for Christ and to call God's people to repentance, John the Baptist taught, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11, NKJ). This is a kind of giving that goes beyond simply a tithe! It is giving away half of what you have!

But Jesus went even farther when He taught about what we should be willing to give up for Him. For example:
NKJ Luke 14:33 “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
So, although the Christian is nowhere commanded to tithe, he is called upon to at least be willing to give up everything for Jesus! And a tenth is a small thing in comparison!

Perhaps the primary text dealing with giving in the Church, however, is found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. Let us consider a couple of key passages in these chapters:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: 2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. 3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, 4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5 And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. 7 But as you abound in everything -- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us -- see that you abound in this grace also. 8 I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Although Paul clearly asserts that he doesn't command such sacrificial giving as that of the Macedonians, he nevertheless does see it as a good example for all to follow, and this is essentially the same approach I am taking here with regard to tithing. I am not saying we should command it, but I am saying that we should encourage it as a good place to start to learn to give sacrificially, so long as we can do so with a joyful heart, which is the matter to which we shall turn next:
NKJ 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. 9 As it is written: "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever." 10 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, 11 while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.”
Paul makes it plain that we should only give what we can give cheerfully and not grudgingly, and he gives us some help in doing this by reminding us of the principle of reaping and sowing. Basically, Paul assures us that, if we want to be able to give a lot, then God will make sure we have enough with which to do it! His teaching is similar to the Lord's instruction in Malachi and Jesus' admonition in Luke:
NKJ Malachi 3:10 “'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,' says the LORD of hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.'”
NKJ Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Simply put, our willingness to give is directly proportional to our trust in God to take care of us and to keep His promise that He will provide for us to give more than we ever thought possible. This strong encouragement certainly makes me want to venture far beyond the tithe in my giving! But I have had to begin somewhere, and for me the tithe was a good place to start. I hope it will be so for you as well.


Although Christians are not commanded to tithe in the New Testament, we are certainly encouraged to give in proportion to what we have, to give self-sacrificially so long as we can do so with a cheerful heart, and to be encouraged to give by remembering that we cannot out-give God, who will always provide for us. But perhaps it would be best to end with another quote from John Piper, who again states my own view better than I probably could. In a sermon entitled I Seek Not What Is Yours But You he observes:
I think God took the focus off giving a tithe in the early church because he wants his people to ask themselves a new question. The question that Jesus drives us to ask again and again is not, "How much should I give?" but rather, "How much dare I keep?" One of the differences between the Old Testament and New Testament is the Great Commission. By and large the Old Testament people of God were not a missionary people. But the New Testament Church is fundamentally a missionary people. The spiritual hope and the physical and emotional sustenance that Jesus brought to earth is to be extended by his church to the whole world. The task he gave us is so immense and requires such a stupendous investment of commitment and money that the thought of settling the issue of what we give by a fixed percentage (like a tenth) is simply out of the question. My own conviction is that most middle and upper class Americans who merely tithe are robbing God. In a world where 10,000 people a day starve to death and many more than that are perishing in unbelief the question is not, what percentage must I give?, but how much dare I spend on myself?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FICM Response to Reformed Baptist Critics

Back on October 16 I posted an entry entitled Reformed Baptists Address the Family-Integrated Church Movement. In it I gathered responses by Andy Dunkerton (one of the elders at Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Mebane, North Carolina), Sam Waldron (one of the elders at Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky, and Professor of Systematic Theology at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies), and Jason Webb (a graduate of the Reformed Theological Seminary and a member of Grace Fellowship Church in Bremen, Indiana).

Since these articles were written there have been a number of reactions to them posted by Scott Brown on the blog of the National Center for Family Integrated Churches. So far Brown has written three parts of a planned four part series:

The Church is a "Family of Families" -- A History, Part 1

The Church is a "Family of Families" -- Part 2

In this post, Brown claims that his position is actually consistent with the Baptist Confession of 1689. For example:
It is a falsehood to say that the National Center for Family Integrated Churches advocates a “family of families” ecclesiology. In fact, our understanding of the nature of the church is consistent with the historic doctrinal statements of the faith including the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, and many other orthodox statements on the church. It is the same understanding I received as a young man when I was in seminary. We do not advocate a “family of families” ecclesiology. Rather, our ecclesiology is as rich and clear as the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Westminster confession.
The Church is a "Family of Families" -- Part 3

In a post entitled "Family of Families" in the News, Brown indicates the fourth part of the series will offer "some insight on what we have learned from this experience."

Brown also responds to one of Jason Webb's assertions regarding the the Puritan approach in a post entitled Did the Puritans have a "Family of Families" Ecclesiology.

Somehow I do not think that this debate will be over any time soon, and it is clear to me that some of the key FICM advocates think that they are being badly misunderstood and misrepresented. But, while I think this may be happening to some extent, it also appears to me that they are responsible for much of the confusion themselves, most particularly due to their use of problematic language and an imbalance in emphasis on the importance of one's biological family versus the spiritual family that is the Church.

At any rate, I thought it only fair that I inform the blog's readers about what those on the other side of the issue have to say. I hope that FICM advocates continue to refine their position and the language used to describe their position, and I hope the writings of my Reformed Baptist brethren may be of assistance to them in this regard.

Update 13 November 2009

Scott Brown has posted The Church Family is a "Family of Families" -- Part 4, in which he gets into more depth about the relationship of the Church family to the biological family.

I still can't shake the feeling that what is in part a proper reaction to the destruction of family life in our culture has become an overreaction.

Update 17 November 2009

Scott Brown has posted yet another article in his series responding to Reformed Baptists objections. It is entitled The Church is a "Family of Families" -- Part 5 and is subtitled "What have we learned from this controversy over 'Family of Families'?" In this article Brown speaks to the way he believes FICM advocates have often been misunderstood and of the way NCFIC will make use of the phrase "family of families" in the future. Although he says that it no longer appears in current NCFIC literature and has been removed from their core document "A Biblical Confession for Uniting Church and Family," he also states that "We have no intention to abandon the use of the phrase or the concept behind it. It is a very important principle that undergirds a biblical understanding of church and family life."

So, while Brown obviously sees that the phrase "family of families" has been problematic when used as a descriptive term for the Church, so much so that it has been removed from all of the NCFIC literature, he nevertheless thinks that there is no need to abandon use of the phrase among FICM advocates.

Update 19 May 2011

I juts ran across yet another article by Scott Brown which seeks to clarify what he and Voddie Baucham mean by the assertion that "the church is a family of families." The article is entitled Is the church a "family of families?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jim Domm on the Regulative Principle of Worship

Earlier today an excellent article on the regulative principle of worship was posted on the RBS Tabletalk blog. The article was written by Jim Domm, who is Pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Englewood, New Jersey, and an M.Div. Student at the Reformed Baptist Seminary.

The article is entitled The Regulative Principle of Worship in Historical Perspective, and it is well worth reading. In it Jim does a terrific job of giving a brief historical and theological overview of the doctrine, as well as a description of the many issues of debate that surround it. For those who may not be familiar with the regulative principle and would like to learn more about it, this article is a good introduction, with footnotes that will lead you into the primary books and articles if you want to go deeper. Nice job, Jim!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Reminder: The Journey Book Giveaway is Coming!

This is just a reminder to the blog's readers that, as I announced on September 1, I am going to offer a free copy of two of the Journey books for Christmas this year to one of the blog's email subscribers. They will include the recent book, A Journey in Heresy, and the first book in the Journey series, A Journey in Grace. If you already have the first book, then I will allow the substitution of another from the series. On December 11 I will draw from the addresses included in the email subscriber list from FeedBurner. So, if you want to have a chance to receive these books, then make sure you sign up as an email subscriber to the blog using the Subscribe in a reader link on the right panel of this page. And make sure you click the "Get Reformed Baptist Blog delivered by email" option.
Current email subscribers are already in the running. I will send the two books to the first email subscriber drawn or that I can contact, so make sure that your email address is valid.

I suspect that once you have read a couple of the books, you will want to read more of them and will recommend them to others as well. As a pastor, I have found that folks have really been helped by them and have found them enjoyable reading as well.

Friday, October 30, 2009

e-Sword: The Best Free Bible Study Software Better Than Ever

I have been a long time user of e-Sword (alongside BibleWorks) and cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a free Bible study software program that rivals many that you would have to pay for and is better that most. And the latest version (9.5.1) is even better, with a fully dockable user interface that enables you to completely customize the layout and "display what you want, where you want it by dragging the views into position with their titlebar." This program also makes basic word studies a breeze and has been of great use to those in my congregation to whom I have recommended it. In fact, they often tell me that they love the layout and how user-friendly the program is. There is not a very steep learning curve with this program, so most anyone can catch on to it quickly.

For those interested, here is the rest of the list of updates in the latest version:
The Bible Search feature now allows the ability to perform case-sensitive searches.

The multi-row tabs are now locked in place, so no more moving targets!

A new Bible book browser has been implemented and is no longer docked to the side of the program. Press the F2 key to display the Lookup Scripture Reference dialog next to the mouse pointer wherever it is located, or access it from the main toolbar with the button next to the "Lookup" combobox.

Study Notes can be made on any verse in the Bible, now including the Orthodox Apocrypha and the Catholic Deuterocanon.

You can now Export the Study Notes and Topic Notes in HTML, Word DOC and Adobe PDF file formats, in addition to the previous plain text and Rich Text formats.

You can now Import both HTML and Word DOC files directly into the Study Notes and Topic Notes.
The Print Preview feature has been updated, and now all printing is performed through it.

Highlighting custom colors are now saved for use between sessions.

Localization of the e-Sword user interface continues with the implementation of fully Unicode compliant controls.
And here is a more complete list of basic features:
All available Bibles, commentaries and dictionaries are readily viewed without having to "tile windows".

Create your own "parallel Bible" with up to any four translations. Studying the Word of God and comparing passages have never been easier!

Integrated editor for creating your own commentaries or study notes, complete with Spell Checking and a Thesaurus! Notes are "linked" to the Bible for easy viewing and can also be exported for portability.

Comprehensive print capabilities, including print preview, allow you to create impressive Bible study handouts from the Study Notes Editor.

Strong's definitions are displayed as ToolTips! Just place the mouse pointer over a Strong's number and the definition will then be displayed.

Scripture references in the Commentary and Dictionary views are displayed as ToolTips! Just place the mouse pointer over the reference and the passage will then be displayed. To go to the passage, just click it!

Easily compare the various translations to see how they rendered the Greek or Hebrew manuscripts.

Powerful search capabilities, yet simple to use. Enter as many words you want to search for and select the search style and range. You can even search on Strong numbers and exclude words from the search!

Use the Verse List to create your own topical lists of Scripture, or cataloging your discoveries!

Copy and print Scripture in a variety of formatting styles. This is also available for search results and verse lists.

Graphics Viewer for studying maps, charts, and other images.

STEP Reader for viewing the various resources you may have invested in from QuickVerse, Bible Companion, and WORDsearch.
Although a number of modules have been developed for purchase by eStudySource, the list of free modules grows daily. There are quite a few free modules already offered at the e-Sword downloads page, such as John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, the Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, or A.T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament. This list has grown steadily over the years.
But one of the great things about e-Sword is the ability that users have to create and share their own modules. This means that there are many free user-created resources available at sites like the e-Sword Users site. One user at this site has even created several lists of resources of special interest to Baptists. For example:

For those who are interested,  I have also made a number of resources of special interest to Reformed Baptists available at my own website here (all the resources with a .top extension are e-Sword Topic Notes files).

If you are looking for a free, user-friendly Bible study program that you can recommend to others in your church, e-Sword is hard to beat!

Friday, October 23, 2009

What is Evangelism?

In the above recorded class, John White talks about what evangelism is as is not. I hope the blog's readers find it as edifying as I did. No doubt my fellow Reformed Baptists will agree with Dr. White's perspective.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reformed Baptists Address the Family-Integrated Church Movement

Note: One of the blog's readers has informed me that the links to the articles by Jason Webb are broken and no longer working. I went to the blog where the articles were originally posted and discovered that they appear to have been taken down from the site. Perhaps this is because Jason has since published a master's thesis covering the same material. The thesis is entitled "The Family-Integrated Church Movement: An Exploration in Ecclesiology" and may be read in PDF form here. 19 May 2011

Recently there have been some good blog articles written by Reformed Baptists in response to the growing Family-Integrated Church Movement (FICM), and I would like to inform this blog's readers of some of them.

First, I would suggest beginning with the wise counsel of Andy Dunkerton, one of the elders at Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Mebane, North Carolina. He has written an excellent article entitled What Should We Think of the Family-Integrated Church Movement? In it he offers sound advice about the proper attitude and care we should take in evaluating the FICM, along with a solid frame work within which to evaluate such movements. Well done, brother!

Second, I would recommend reading Sam Waldron's article entitled The Relation of Church and Family, in which Dr. Waldron focuses on a primary issue I have often seen in the FICM, the issue of the relationship of the authority of the Church to that of the family. For example, after listing some "praiseworthy features" of the movement, Dr. Waldron warns:
All this being said, there are significant philosophical and practical issues raised by this movement that contradict a biblical ecclesiology and infringe on the rights and authority of the church ....

The church is not a collection of families, but a collection of believers. It is not an extension of the family, but a completely different and sovereign institution. The family was instituted at creation and is a creation institution, while the church in its present and final form was instituted after the work of redemption accomplished by Christ and is a redemptive institution. This means that the head of the household in virtue of his being the head of the household has no authority in the church. His rights and liberties as to church membership and as a church member are no different than those of his 20 year old son who lives at home but is also a member of the church. The family-based church idea makes some sense from a paedobaptist and Presbyterian standpoint. They often have held that only heads of households should vote in the church. They have always held that the membership in the church is family-based and composed of families. But family-based churches are a specific contradiction of a Baptist view of the church and make no sense within a Baptist viewpoint ....

When the church is seen as a distinct and sovereign institution under God, then its right and duty to fulfill the Great Commission in many ways beside the meeting of the church becomes clear. The elders of the church and their appointed delegates have the right to instruct the men, the children, and the women of the church in age-segregated situations. The Great Commission gives the church the right to evangelize and instruct the entire world and so certainly the children and wives of believers. It does not limit this instruction to church services. Only a specific, scriptural prohibition would warrant a man in refusing as a matter of principle to cooperate with the church in such attempts to evangelize and edify all those to whom the church is sent by the Great Commission. No such prohibition exists. In principle the choice to join a church is a choice to subject one’s wife and one’s children to its instruction. This is what church membership means—subjection to the authority of a specific, local church to fulfill its commission with regard to one’s children and one’s wife. In principle refusal to allow this in one’s absence represents a misconception of the nature of the church and her authority.

To sum up the church does not exercise authority over its members through the mediation of heads of household or as families, but as individual believers. Its authority over the women of the church is not exercised, for instance, through the head of the family. Its authority is direct. While children are under the care and authority of the family, parents of children who are members ought to be grateful for and recognize the right of the church to evangelize their children with their consent.
Again, I think Dr. Waldron has identified what I have found to be a primary issue in discussions I have had with FICM advocates in my own ministry, and he has offered a sound, Scriptural response.

Third, I would recommend reading a series of articles at the Reformed Baptist Fellowship Blog written by Jason Webb, who is a graduate of the Reformed Theological Seminary and member of Grace Fellowship Church in Bremen, Indiana. Here are the links:

In these articles Webb focuses on the nature of the Church and aims his critique at the common and misguided "family of families" understanding of the Church among FICM advocates. He deals primarily with the nature of the Church as a New Covenant community over against an inappropriate application of Old Covenant concepts to the Church by many FICM advocates.

To be fair, one prominent FICM advocate, Voddie Baucham, has sought to distance himself from some of the errors associated with the "family of families" concept, here and here. But he admits that this terminology – terminology which he and his church have helped to promote – is "enigmatic," and I think he fails to see how much the terminology has been taken by many common FICM advocates as descriptive of the nature of the Church. This is why I think Webb's critique is necessary and appropriate, Baucham's protestations notwithstanding.

Here Webb discusses the use of Biblical metaphors describing the Church (e.g. that of a family) and the need for care in understanding these metaphors. He also offers a good, brief description of the distinctive roles of the Church and the family.

Update 19 October 2009

I have added the fourth article in the series by Jason Webb ("The Family-Integrated Church Movement – Part 3" linked above) and corrected the personal information concerning him. Thanks to Steve Clevenger, pastor at Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, for the correction. (I hope I got his information right!)

Update 21 October 2009

Here is the fifth article in the series by Jason Webb:

Here Webb offers an historical critique from the standpoint of Puritan theology. He especially highlights the theology of Richard Baxter, John Owen, and the early Particular Baptists.

Update 29 October 2009
Here is the sixth article in the series by Jason Webb:
Here Webb offers a number of practical considerations, highlighting where those in the FICM have been right but primarily where they have been wrong. He also writes a conclusion to the series, ending with the following sobering words:
The only conclusion that can be drawn from the research is that the Family-Integrated Church Movement needs to rework their ecclesiology. They need to clarify their positions and their priorities in light of Scripture. Their ecclesiology does not bear up to the scrutiny of the Word of God; neither does their elevation of the family as a guiding structure for the Church. Christ is building His Church. The FICM needs to make sure they are not building with wood, hay, and straw.
After having read the entire series by Webb, I highly recommend it as a well-reasoned and Biblical approach. I cannot help but agree with his conclusions.

Update 5 August 2010

Somehow I missed this followup blog entry by Sam Waldron (posted back in January):

In this open letter Dr. Waldron clarifies some misunderstandings about what he had previously written, recognizes that the FICM is not monolithic and that there are more moderate branches, and offers some additional thoughts on why Reformed Baptists oppose the FICM.

Update 19 May 2011

Dr. Waldron has been writing a whole series of blog articles responding to the FICM here.
Update 2 May 2014
I just realized that I never added my own articles to this list, so here they are:

Friday, October 09, 2009

Welcoming a New Reformed Baptist Church to Central Illinois

As the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Bloomington, Illinois, which has been the only Reformed Baptist church in our part of central Illinois, I was very excited (to say the least) to discover that a new Reformed Baptist church has been planted in Germantown Hills (just east of Peoria), which is only about 40 minutes away.

This new church is called Christ Bible Church, and the pastor is Kerry Miller. Here is a description of the church from the website:

Christ Bible Church was founded on June 2, 2008 as an organized church of Jesus Christ in the State of Illinois, city of Germantown Hills.

On May 18, 2008 Pastor Kerry and about 17 members and regular attendees of a local church he pastored, broke fellowship with them when it became obvious the church rejected the Word of God as plainly taught by Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the reformers, choosing rather to hold to their traditions.

With much Joy in the Lord and in answer to prayer we met later that evening and by God's grace, began to lay the foundations for Christ Bible Church.

Currently, (October 2009) we are approximately 17 in number and growing. We are looking for a new location to worship and hope to be in a new location by the beginning of 2010.

Christ Bible Church in an Independent REFORMED Baptist Church which affirms and proclaims the doctrines of Grace and the 5 Solas of the Reformation.

We are unashamedly Calvinist in our Theology and believe the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith best articulates the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

Our musical worship is a mix of traditional and contemporary and our preaching is expositional through books of the Bible, one book at a time for both Sunday School and Morning worship.

Our weekday evening worship service is either teaching through a book of the Bible or other teaching series. Currently, we are learning the overview of the Bible through RC Sproul's DVD Series "Dust to Glory." This will be followed by RC's teaching of Reformed Systematic Theology through his "Foundations" DVD Series.

Our atmosphere is informal and relaxed and we hold to the regulative principle of worship.

We stand against the Biblical errors of:


Purpose drive life

Seeker sensitive church growth

Prosperity gospel

Emergent Church
If you are looking for a strong, Bible-believing church in the Peoria area, a church that is faithful to the Gospel, check out Christ Bible Church!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Defense of a Conscious Intermediate State


I have begun to notice a trend in many evangelical circles today toward acceptance of the idea that has been known historically as "soul sleep." This is the idea that, after death, a person is in an unconscious state while awaiting the resurrection, after which the person will experience the final judgment. This idea has been rejected by Reformed theologians over the centuries. They have commonly held, instead, to a doctrine of a conscious intermediate state. That is, they have held that, after death, a person consciously exists as a disembodied spirit. The wicked experience torment in the intermediate state, but the righteous experience joy in the presence of the Lord while they await the resurrection.

This brief article is my attempt to gather together the passages commonly cited by both the opponents and the advocates of the traditional doctrine of a conscious intermediate state and to offer a defense of the traditional view. It is my hope that this will provide a helpful resource for God's people in understanding and defending this doctrine.

Passages Used in the Debate Between Those Who Hold to Soul Sleep and Those Who Hold to the Traditional View of the Intermediate State

Following is a list of many of the passages that are often used by those who argue for and against the doctrine of “soul sleep.” Brief comments are offered from the standpoint of the traditional Reformed understanding of a conscious intermediate state. Unless otherwise noted, all passages cited are from the New King James Version.

Passages Frequently Cited by the Proponents of Soul Sleep:

Psalm 6:5, “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?”

This passage is said to teach that we are in an unconscious state when we die. However, there is no indication in the context that David intended to teach about the state of the dead at all, whether conscious or unconscious. Instead, his focus is on the fact that, if he dies, there will be no one alive to praise the Lord before men for His great mercies. Note the focus in the context on his desire to be delivered so that his enemies will be put to shame (vss. 7-8). What David is really saying is that, if he dies, there will be no remembrance of God before his godless enemies, and there will be no one to give God thanks in the presence of his enemies, in order to bring them to shame.

Psalm 115:17, “The dead do not praise the LORD, nor any who go down into silence.”

Again the context helps to explain the Psalmist's point. He begins the psalm by focusing on how God deserves the glory for His mercy and truth (vs. 1) and by asking rhetorically, “Why should the Gentiles say, 'So where is their God?'” (vs. 2). So, the theme of the psalm is the way the glory of God should be manifested before unbelieving Gentiles, who trust in idols rather than the true God. The Psalmist carries this forward by comparing faith in God to the futility of trusting in idols (vss. 3-8), and then by reminding the people of Israel to continue to trust in the LORD in the midst of such idolatry (vss. 9-13). This is followed by an expression of blessing upon true believers and their children (vss. 14-15). Thus, the Psalmist has in mind the need for believers to prosper with God's help and by trusting in Him as sovereign over all creation, not only because it is the truth and brings blessing to themselves, but also as a witness to the Gentiles. The dead cannot give such praise to God before the Gentiles. This is the point. The Psalmist is viewing the grave from the standpoint of this life and the opportunities for witness that this life provides, over against which the grave is a place of silence. If any doubt remains as to the correctness of this interpretation, all one has to do is read on to verse 18, “But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the LORD!” The writer clearly believes that those who praise the LORD now will continue to do so after death.

Psalm 146:4, “His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish.”

Generally, those who cite this verse do so from the KJV or the NASB, which says, “His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” However, the Hebrew word translated as “thoughts” in this verse is eshtonah, which The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament defines as “plan” (#7406 [BibleWorks]). This is the translation that is found in the ESV, the NET, and the NKJV. It is the translation that I will follow.

In verse 3 the Psalmist has admonished the reader, “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.” Thus, when he goes on to say that “his spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his plans perish,” he clearly means that, even though such men may look successful and powerful, they will die just like the rest of us. Where will their plans for conquest or riches - or whatever else they may seek in this life - be in the day of their deaths? The answer is that those plans will perish with them. So we should instead trust in the Lord, whose plans never perish.

Ecclesiastes 9:5, “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.”

First, we must remember to use caution when building doctrine from the book of Ecclesiastes, for there has been continuous disagreement over whether the author is always stating his own views, or whether he is stating opposing views from the culture in which he lives in order to respond to them. This form of dialog is not uncommon in ancient wisdom literature, and may be the best explanation for how to properly read Ecclesiastes.

Second, assuming the passage cited does contain the view of the author, it still does not give aid to the proponents of soul sleep, for the author is referring to the dead from the standpoint of this life and is therefore not necessarily trying to go into a description of the state of the dead beyond this life. Rather, he is saying that, once a man is dead, he knows nothing of this life and the opportunities it may (seem to) offer. That this is the focus is clear when one considers the last part of the verse, which declares that the dead “have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.” Here the author must be referring to rewards among the living, for it is the living among whom the memory of the dead person is said to be forgotten. The correctness of this interpretation is further seen when one reads verse 5 in conjunction with the whole context, especially verse 6, which carries the point of verse 5 further when it says, “Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.” So, when the author says that “the dead know nothing,” he clearly means that they no longer know the experience of the rewards, love, hatred, or envy of this life “under the sun.”

Note: The phrase “under the sun” occurs some twenty-nine times in Ecclesiastes, highlighting an important theme of the book, which is the apparent futility of life in this world (but see 12:13-14).

Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”

See above on Ecclesiastes 9:5 and observe that this verse is bracketed by an emphasis upon life “under the sun” (vss. 9, 11). Thus, again, the author refers to a lack of opportunity in the grave to accomplish anything more in this life, i.e. in this world. I would also observe that later in the book, the author refers to an “eternal home” for man, when his “spirit will return to God who gave it” (see 12:5-7). This indicates the idea of the spirit departing the body at death to be with the Lord, an idea frequently denied by proponents of soul sleep, many of whom hold to a monistic view of man that does not allow for the separation of the spirit from the body at death.

Ezekiel 18:4, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.”

Some who advocate soul sleep refer to this verse as describing the death not only of the body, but also of the soul. If the soul dies as well as the body, they argue, then it must be in some unconscious state. However, this misunderstands the way in which the term for soul (Hebrew nephesh) is frequently used. For example, the word may also often be used to mean either “person” or “life” (see, for example, BDB #6250, TWOT #1395a, HALOT #6283 [BibleWorks]), usages which may better fit this passage.

However, even if this is referring to the death of the “soul” as distinct from the body, it is speaking of the spiritual death of sinners and does not necessitate the idea that the person is unconscious after death. For example, doesn't the Bible teach that the second death entails conscious torment of unbelievers in Hell (Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:6, 10, 14-15; 21:8)? How, then, can it be argued that the idea of the death of the “soul” requires the idea of unconsciousness?

At this point it behooves us to give special attention to those passages which refer to death as sleep, since so many of the proponents of soul sleep refer to such passages (for obvious reasons). Following is a brief, representative list of such texts, followed by my own observations:

Matthew 27:50-53 “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

John 11:11-14, “These things He said, and after that He said to them, 'Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.' 12 Then His disciples said, 'Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.' 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead.'”

Acts 7:59-60 “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.'”

Acts 13:35-37 “Therefore He also says in another Psalm: 'You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.' 36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37 but He whom God raised up saw no corruption.'”
1 Corinthians 15:20, 51 “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.... Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed....”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.”

2 Peter 3:3-4 “... knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.'”

Those who argue for the doctrine of soul sleep and advocate an unconscious state of the dead claim that such passages clearly demonstrate this contention. Without attempting to be exhaustive, I would suggest several points in response.

First, none of these passages actually says that the soul sleeps when a person dies. They simply refer to dead people as sleeping, and this apparently from the perspective of what we can see, namely the body.

Second, the reference to death as “sleep” in these passages is intended metaphorically, as a euphemism for death. “When Scripture represents death as 'sleep' it is simply a metaphorical expression used to indicate that death is only temporary for Christians, just as sleep is temporary” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 819). It is especially interesting that the primary New Testament texts which refer to death as “sleep” also teach the doctrine of the resurrection. This reinforces the understanding of the metaphor as referring to death as merely temporary.

Third, it is unclear what the proponents of soul sleep really mean when asserting the unconscious state of the dead from the metaphor of death as sleep. For example, when we sleep, are we really unconscious? Aren't there examples in Scripture of God communicating to believers through dreams and visions while they sleep? And don't we often dream when we sleep? If this is our experience of sleep now, how can anyone say that a soul's "sleeping" after death (if the metaphor be taken literally) would require that it be unconscious?

Fourth, although the proponents of soul sleep seem to be trying to read these passages literally, it is not really possible to do so. For example, sleep is very much a process of the living, not the dead. People who are asleep still breath, for example, and they still move around. But do the dead do these things? Now, it may be argued at this point that they are asserting only that the soul sleeps at death, but then we come back to the fact that no text explicitly states this. And we again encounter the difficulty of saying what sleep would even mean in such a case, and whether or not it is really possible to exclude consciousness by definition as a part of what it means to sleep.

Thus, it really isn't possible to take the references to death as “sleep” as anything more than metaphorical references describing death as a temporary state, and that from the standpoint of what we can see of the physical body, which may at first appear to be sleeping.

Excursus Concerning Proper Principles of Interpretation:

The approach of those who accept the doctrine of soul sleep fails to observe several very important principles of interpretation:

1) Interpret according to context – As demonstrated above (particularly with respect to the use of texts from the Psalms and Ecclesiastes) those who argue for soul sleep often ignore the context of the passages they cite.

2) Do not press metaphors too far – Metaphors generally intend one point of comparison between that which is being used as a metaphor and that which is being described metaphorically. For example, when Jesus says, “I am the door” (John 10:9), He certainly does not mean that He is like a door in every respect. Rather, the context indicates that He is like the door of a sheepfold in that He is the only way through which we may find safety and rest. In my opinion, the proponents of soul sleep either take the metaphor of sleep too literally, or they press the metaphor further than the individual texts in which it is used will allow.

3) Interpret ambiguous passages in the light of clearer ones – As demonstrated above, the proponents of soul sleep tend to rely on too many ambiguous texts (such as those in Ecclesiastes). They take such texts too literally, or wrench them from their contexts, or read into them, and then try to understand clearer texts in the light of these faulty readings. In reality, a proper method of interpretation will do the opposite.

4) Interpret earlier, less detailed passages in the light of later and more detailed ones, appropriately recognizing the principle of progressive revelation – This is probably one of the most disturbing errors of those who advocate soul sleep. They seem to ignore the concept of progressive revelation and to read the Old Testament as though it intends to speak as clearly to the issue of the state of the dead as does the New Testament. They thus read more into the Old Testament texts than those texts warrant, and then try to make the New Testament texts conform to their questionable understanding of the Old Testament texts. A better approach is to allow the New Testament texts that actually deal with the subject to interpret the Old Testament texts that usually refer to the state of the dead merely from the standpoint of this life and with little or no interest in asserting anything specific or detailed about the state of the dead.

Questions for further study:

1) Is the term sleep ever used in the New Testament to describe the death of the wicked? So far as I can tell after a brief examination, it appears as though this metaphor is used only of believers when New Testament authors are describing or teaching about death. What significance – if any – might this have? Could it be that Jesus and the Apostles used this metaphor only of believers because it expresses the temporary nature of the death of the body and the hope of the life to come in the resurrection? To be sure, the wicked will also be resurrected, but they will then experience the second death, not the hope of everlasting life.

2) Is the soul/spirit ever said to be resurrected? After a brief examination, it appears as though resurrection is consistently asserted with regard to the body only. But if the doctrine of soul sleep is correct, and the body and spirit are never parted, then wouldn't we expect to see this indicated with respect to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead?

Passages that Support the Traditional View of the Intermediate State:

Genesis 35:18, “And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin.”

Death is described as the departure of the soul (nephesh) from the body. This supports the traditional understanding that the soul/spirit is separated from the body at death.

Isaiah 14:9-11, “Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. 10 All of them will answer and say to you: 'You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!' 11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers.” (ESV)

Although too much weight should not be given to what may be intended as allegorical language, if taken literally this passage supports a conscious state of the dead in Sheol.

Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Jesus clearly assumes that the death of the body does not include the death of the soul. And He sees the death of the soul of the wicked as ultimately in hell (gehenna), which refers to the place of final judgment.

Matthew 17: 1-8, The Transfiguration.

Both Elijah and Moses appear to Jesus (even though Moses had died and was buried, Deut. 34: 5-6). See also the parallel passage in Luke 9: 27-36. The point here is that Moses is clearly experiencing a conscious intermediate state. Of course, a proponent of soul sleep might argue that this is an exceptional case, but I think the number of other passages listed here belie such a contention.

Matthew 22:31-32, “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

Jesus is here citing Exodus 3:6. But how does this passage necessitate the doctrine of the resurrection? It is important to see Jesus' answer in the context of both the beliefs held by the Sadducees and the common Biblical understanding of the nature of humans as a unity of body and soul.

First, the Sadducees did not believe in any existence for humans beyond the grave. They taught that when the body died the soul/spirit died right along with it. Thus when we die, they thought, we simply cease to exist. So, when Jesus cites Exodus 3:6, in which God tells Moses that He is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” and asserts that God is “not the God of the dead, but the God of the living,” His point is clear. It is absurd to think that God would claim to be the God of non-existent beings, as would be the case if the Sadducees were, in fact, correct. So, when God says to Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – many years after they had all died and were buried – He is also asserting that they are still alive. And this must mean that they are alive as disembodied spirits – which the Sadducees also denied.

Second, if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive as spirits, then doesn't this also demand that they will be resurrected? For they have not been saved as whole beings unless their bodies are saved as well. Jesus clearly assumes the truth of this view of the unity of humans as body/soul beings, which is why He can see Exodus 3:6 as necessitating the resurrection.

Thus, Jesus' arguments clearly assume the correctness of the common view among the Pharisees in His day, namely that human beings are a unity of body and soul/spirit, but that their spirits are separated from their bodies at death to be re-united with them in the resurrection. Jesus' argument from Exodus 3:6 makes sense only if He is assuming the correctness of these ideas.

Luke 16:19-31 The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

It has often been debated whether this is only a parable or whether it is an actual account of the death of two people and their following existence in Hades. Those who advocate soul sleep often argue that this story is only a parable used by Jesus to illustrate a point and is not, therefore, to be taken as a literal description of a conscious intermediate state. They also sometimes argue that there are other similar stories that were told by the Jews and that Jesus was not, therefore, referring to something that was true, but was simply using the kind of story they would be familiar with in order to make a point. In my opinion, they are correct to see this story as a parable and to observe that such a story was not altogether unique. As Klyne Snodgrass argues in his recent work Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus:
Preachers and certain people throughout church history sometimes have asserted that this story is not a parable but depicts real people and the consequences of their lives. I am not aware of any modern scholar who would agree. Certainly Luke viewed this as a parable. It appears in a collection of parables, possibly stands chiastically parallel to the parable of the Rich Fool, and uses the exact same introductory words (anthrōpos tis) which Luke uses to introduce several other parables [e.g. 10:30; 14:16; 15:11; 16:1; 19:12]. This is without question a parable. (p.426)
As for the contention that this story was not entirely unique in first century Palestine, Snodgrass, in the aforementioned work, is again helpful:
Such usage of preexisting materials is evident in other parables and would not be surprising. In this case, though, such a theory is unlikely and unnecessary, especially when the Gospel story is so different from the Egyptian [story of Setme] and Jewish [1 Enoch] accounts. The Gospel story uses common folkloric motifs shared by several cultures: descent to the underworld, reversal of circumstances, and denunciation of the rich for their neglect of the poor. Lucian's use of these themes in a variety of works, although from the second century A.D., shows how futile it is to think of even indirect dependence of the Gospel parable on some other account. (p.427)
But, even though dependence upon some particular work or even some specific stock story is highly unlikely, let us assume that the advocates of soul sleep are correct in saying that as a parable it would have been recognized by the Jews as a fictional account intended to make a point. I still cannot agree in such a case that the Jews would have thought Jesus intended to affirm nothing concrete about the intermediate state. On the contrary, Jesus clearly does assume the kind of view of the intermediate state that appeared to be commonly held by the Pharisees and many Jews in the first century. He certainly doesn't seem to expect them to take issue with the basic features of the story. But I wonder, then, how Jesus could tell such a story without at the same time affirming the validity of such ideas. If, in fact, there is no conscious intermediate state, then how could Jesus tell such a story without leading many people astray? In my opinion, it really doesn't matter with respect to the issue under discussion whether the story is a parable or not. I see no way that Jesus could have told it in any case without at the same time affirming the concept of a conscious intermediate state such as the story describes. At any rate, this passage is hardly the primary or only text to which advocates of a conscious intermediate state appeal.

Luke 23:39-43 “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, 'If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.' 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.' 42 Then he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.' 43 And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'”

It is hard to imagine how the promise that the thief would be with Jesus that day in Paradise could be thought of in any other way than as an affirmation of a conscious intermediate state. After all, why promise that someone will be with you if, in fact, the person would be in an unconscious state in which he would be unaware of being with you? The common view of the advocates of soul sleep is that this verse is being misunderstood by those who hold the traditional view. They often claim that Jesus' statement in verse 43 should be punctuated differently. Instead of placing the comma after the words, “I say to you,” they argue that the comma should be placed after the word “today.” Thus, instead of saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus was really declaring, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise." Thus, it is argued, Jesus was not indicating the time when the thief would be with Him in Paradise, but was emphasizing that He was making the promise “today.” In other words, Jesus was intending to assert something like, “today, even this day that I hang upon this cross, I promise you that you will be with me in Paradise.” I would make several observations in response to this line of argumentation:

1) It is hard to imagine why Jesus would find it necessary to point out to the thief that He was making the promise “today.” Wouldn't this have been so obvious to the thief that it would not need to be pointed out to him?

2) The punctuation proposed by the advocates of soul sleep ignores the usual way that Jesus employs the introductory formula, “Truly [amen], I say to you,” or “Truly, truly, I say to you.” I have searched for every other case in which Jesus uses this introductory formula, and I have discovered that He always begins the important statement He wishes to make immediately following the phrase, “Truly, I say to you,” or “Truly, truly, I say to you,” with no intervening words or emphases upon the time at which He is speaking. The passages I checked include Matthew 5:18, 26; 6:2, 5, 16; 8:10; 10:15, 23, 42; 11:11; 13:17; 16:28; 17:20; 18: 3, 13, 18, 19 [variant]; Matthew 19:23, 28; 21:21, 31; 23:36; 24:2, 24, 47; 25:12, 40, 45; 26:13, 21, 34; Mark 3:28; 8:12; 9:1, 41; 10:15, 29; 11:23; 12:43; 13:30; 14:9, 18, 25, 30; Luke 4:24; 12:37; 18:17, 29; 21:32; John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19, 24, 25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20, 21, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23; 21:18. In no instance did I find that Jesus varied from this pattern. Yet, the advocates of soul sleep would have us believe that in this one particular case Jesus parted from His habitual manner of speaking, and that He did so in order to point out something that would have been obvious to the thief anyway. Such an argument is truly incredible.

3) It is also important to remember that Jesus is making the promise to the thief in order to comfort Him by responding to his request. But the thief's request includes a time element. He has requested that Jesus will remember him when He comes into His kingdom (verse 42). Isn't it likely that, when Jesus responds to the thief and says, “today you will be with me in Paradise,” He is actually answering the thief's request? Isn't He encouraging him that he will have to wait no longer than that very day to be with Him?

4) When Jesus says that the thief would be with Him in “Paradise,” He appears to be referring to Heaven. The only other uses of the Greek word paradeisos are in 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7, both of which refer to Heaven. Again, it is hard to imagine how this could be a promise that the thief would be with Jesus in Heaven in an unconscious state. There are those, however, who have argued that Jesus could not have been referring to Heaven here because He told Mary after His resurrection, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father" (John 20:17). But this later statement of Jesus, having been made after the resurrection, refers to His ascension in His resurrection body. There is no reason to assume that Jesus is referring to His post-death/pre-resurrection (i.e. intermediate) state at all.

John 11:25-26, “Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?'”

This statement, along with the other statements of Jesus which refer to everlasting life as a present possession, does not promise that the body will never die, but rather must mean that we will never die spiritually. But how can He say that the believer will never die, unless He is referring to the soul as living on beyond the death of the body?

Now, I suppose that Jesus' promise here does not demand that we have a conscious life beyond the grave, but it is hard to imagine why Jesus made such a promise that we will never die if, in fact, He thought we would not be aware of being alive while existing in some unconscious state. At any rate, Jesus' promise certainly does appear to contradict the assertion of many soul sleep advocates that the body and soul die together and are then raised together unto new life in the resurrection.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Paul is teaching here that it is only the outward man that is perishing, not the inward man. In the context it would appear that the outward man (apparently referring to the body) is of the “things which are seen” and that are temporary, whereas the inward man that is being renewed day by day is of the “things which are not seen” and are eternal. Isn't this a reference to the spirit? If so, how can it be credibly argued – as is often attempted by proponenets of soul sleep – that the spirit dies along with physical the body?

2 Corinthians 5:1-9, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always confident, 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 confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.”

Paul refers to an intermediate state here when he envisions the possibility of being out of the body and at home with the Lord, without saying that we are in a new body yet. But why would being in the presence of the Lord while out of the body be something to look forward to if, in fact, we will be unconscious in such a state?

2 Corinthians 12:1-4, “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago -- whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows -- such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man -- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -- 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

Paul clearly believes that a man can be conscious while “out of the body,” which must be a reference to one's spirit leaving the body. This contradicts the idea of many soul sleep advocates that the body and the soul/spirit form an inseparable unity and that consciousness outside the body is not possible.

Philippians 1:19-26, “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.”

Paul clearly contrasts departing to be with Christ (dying, vss. 20-21) with living on in the flesh. Thus death will mean being with Christ outside the flesh (the body), which is considered by Paul as “gain” (vs. 21) and as “far better” than the current state (vs. 23). I fail to see how looking forward to being with Christ can be thought of as the anticipation of an unconscious state in which one will be unaware of being with Christ, as the proponents of soul sleep envision the intermediate state.

Hebrews 12:22-24, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”

The author of Hebrews clearly thinks of those who have died before us in the faith (“so great a cloud of witnesses,” vs. 1) as spirits who are now alive with the angels in Heaven, having been made perfect. They must, therefore, be experiencing a conscious intermediate state.

James 2:26 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

In describing death as the body's being “without the spirit,” isn't James assuming that the spirit leaves the body at death? This again contradicts the common notion among advocates of soul sleep that the body and soul/spirit are inseparable.

2 Peter 1:13-14, “Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, 14 knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.”

As Paul had done in 2 Corinthians 5, so Peter also uses the metaphor of a tent to describe the earthly body as a temporary dwelling. Observe that death is referred to as putting off this tent, which implies the continuance of that which puts off the tent, i.e. the soul/spirit.

Revelation 6:9-11, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”

It is hard to imagine how John's vision of the souls under the alter cannot be seen as teaching a conscious intermediate state for those who have died in the Lord. Of course, I suppose one could argue that this is a highly symbolic passage, and that we must not take it as a literal reference to actual disembodied souls. But I would respond by asking what this reference then symbolizes, if not the existence of conscious spirits in the intermediate state?


Although there seems to be a growing number of evangelicals who are beginning to question the traditional understanding of the intermediate state, a fair examination of the relevant passages – taken in context – confirms that the traditional Reformed view of a conscious intermediate state is correct. It is my hope that this brief examination has demonstrated this clearly for any who may question this doctrine.

© 2004 Keith Throop