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Proponents of an intermediate state typically regard the story of Lazarus & the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) to be informative on the realities of the underworld. According to the story, Hades / Sheol would have at least two compartments -- one of comfort for the righteous and one of torment for the wicked.

22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’
[Luke 16:22-26 ESV]

Some even see a connection with Luke 23:43 "And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”", arguing that Jesus likely meant that He and the repentant criminal would meet again in Abraham's bosom that day (today in paradise). See Is there room for interpreting "paradise" in Luke 23:43 as a reference to "Abraham's Bosom" (Luke 16:19-31)?

But if Sheol / Hades has always had a compartment for the righteous, and if said compartment is of comfort and joy, a paradise where the righteous wait in comfort and bliss for the advent of the Messiah, then how do advocates of an intermediate state explain the fact that OT authors such as David, Isaiah, Job, Ecclesiastes and others seemed to be oblivious to this compartment when they spoke about death in their writings? It is as if they were completely unaware of its existence.

I will cite some passages in a second, but as a summary, I'll share a quote from Rajesh's answer here:

Here's The #1 Point

Here is, by far, the most significant point: While God might have allowed the Israelites to believe that the dead were conscious(even allowing some such as Saul and his contemporaries to believe that they were capable of being contacted), you know what's one thing God never once allowed them to believe? That the righteous go to heaven and the unrighteous go to hell; more accurately, that the righteous go to one compartment of Sheol to be in bliss and the unrighteous go to another compartment of Sheol to be in torment. In fact, quite the opposite! Whatever the Israelites did believe about the dead, it utterly opposes any notions of heaven and hell(or individual compartments of Sheol, one dedicated for the righteous who live there in bliss, and another dedicated for the unrighteous who live there in torment).

I want you, for one moment, to completely forget everything you've ever thought, believed, or assumed about the state of the dead. If you were to then read each of the following passages, would you ever in a billion years come out with the notion that the dead are either being tormented in hell(compartment of Sheol for the unrighteous) or experiencing bliss in heaven(compartment of Sheol for the righteous, i.e. paradise/Abraham's bosom)? We will see that such notions are thoroughly foreign to the Bible.

He then proceeds to quote a number of passages from multiple OT authors in support of these assertions. And to be honest, I have to admit that he has a good point. Passages such as Psalm 30:9, 6:4-5, 115:17, 88:10-12, Isaiah 14:9-11, 26:14, 38:17-19, Job 10:21-22, 14:10-12, 17:13-16, Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 strongly suggest that people in Old Testament times referred to the state of the dead in terms that reveal no knowledge about a blissful paradise in Sheol where they would meet Abraham and other saints.

Question: According to proponents of an intermediate state, why does the Old Testament seem to be oblivious to the existence of the Bosom of Abraham?

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    Hey, thanks for referring to my answer. The scriptures I listed there aren't even all of them(there are at least 20 more). +1 :-)
    – Rajesh
    Feb 16 at 19:27
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    I would suggest that a reading of the Psalms written by David show an understanding of the intermediate state.
    – Joshua
    Feb 17 at 2:00

3 Answers 3

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Much was not fully revealed in Old Testament times - and how could it be ? For Christ was not yet come.

Justification by faith was hinted at in Abraham but not fully expressed until after Christ suffered and died and the gospel was fully conveyed : the righteousness of God himself unto all and upon all that believe, through faith of Jesus Christ.

Reconciliation was not fully revealed, a new headship under Jesus Christ in a new humanity.

Remission of sins was not known in its full experience, sins were not utterly eradicated until Christ came and suffered and bore them, himself, in his body on the tree.

Nor, until Jesus Christ himself told us of the rich man and Lazarus in hades could we ever know of such a place, such a great gulf, such torments of the wicked and such a place of bliss as the bosom of Abraham.

No wonder is it that such things were as yet unrevealed - until Christ came.


But some had remarkable insight, granted to them, individually :

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: [Job 19: 25-26 KJV]

Job saw even beyond the state of hades, beyond the corruptions of the grave, beyond a resurrection and saw into another state altogether : he and his Redeemer, upon an earth, risen past death.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. [Psalm 16:9 KJV]

And David sees, in the Spirit, that his own flesh shall rest in hope and he will not be left in hades. For God's Holy One shall not see coruption.


The hope is not a division of hades, with a gulf to separate, the protection of Abraham's bosom and the torment of disembodiment and flame. The hope that is hoped is for new heavens and a new earth and for glory yet to be revealed : in final resurrection and a new creation.

We may not fully understand (nor can we) the disembodied state of death, but we are given sure and certain promises regarding the resurrection and eternal glory in the world to come.

That is the hope of those who follow Jesus Christ out of this world and into another yet to come.

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This is going to be an answer in outline, since I don't have time to research the supporting materials (which I know exist):

  1. A lot development in beliefs about the intermediate state as well as the spiritual realm happened during the 400 years after Malachi (written around 445 BC). This becomes the contextual background of NT writers including Jesus himself.

  2. Assertion from NT weighs more, part of the scripture interprets scripture principle and the progressive revelation principle. So Christians give greater weight to what Jesus, Paul, and John said. Hence we are not troubled by the lack of mention in pre-450 BC OT.

  3. But OT+NT combined was never very explicit about it in the first place, giving us only hints. sola scriptura believers say it's enough and God (and Jesus) didn't want to reveal more. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers place more currency on the early church tradition that continued the trajectory of the pre-Jesus development, resulting in greater refinement of the intermediate state.

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  • "the progressive revelation principle" One problem. Progressive revelation does NOT allow inspired writers to contradict each other. You should read the answer SpiritRealmInvestigator linked in his question; I have a whole section of progressive revelation. I have no problem accepting that OT saints were in the dark about many subjects. They most certainly were. But when they wrote inspired scripture, that was GOD inspiring them, and God is not in the dark about anything. Hence, God would make sure that what they write wouldn't contradict anything in later revelations.
    – Rajesh
    Feb 16 at 19:31
  • @Rajesh That all depends upon how one defines inspired. If one thinks God dictated every word of Scripture via a fax machine to King James in 1611, then there are a lot of problems to overcome reconciling some parts of the Bible with others. If, on the other hand, one sees the inspiration of scripture as a proper (though perhaps incomplete) theological understanding by the witnesses of the mighty acts of God in history (such as John Bright suggested in 'The Authority of the Old Testament'), then there is much more room for progressive revelation.
    – Michael C
    Feb 17 at 2:13
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    @RajeshI'm not arguing for the legitimacy of an intermediate state. Personally, I think there is no intermediate state. I think those who are dead in Christ are completely dead, not only physically but also mentally and spiritually, until the final resurrection. What I am arguing is that Biblical writers used widely accepted cosmologies from the cultures in which they were immersed, mostly without even questioning them, and that their inspiration was their proper theological explanation. They weren't concerned with "what", "how", or "when". They were concerned with "who" and "why".
    – Michael C
    Feb 17 at 2:29
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    The writers of the creation accounts, for example, accepted the cosmology of contemporary Babylonian and Persians. The difference between the Hebrew accounts and the others was "who created this cosmology" and "why this cosmology was created, not "how this cosmology came to be". The OT writers accepted the commonly held beliefs about the underworld within the wider cultures around them at the time they wrote. The NT writers were immersed in a culture that held different beliefs about the underworld. The entire point of Lazarus and the rich man isn't about how the underworld is structured.
    – Michael C
    Feb 17 at 2:33
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    The entire point Jesus is making is that the Jewish leaders who were still living would not believe the truth about how they treated the poor was at odds with the covenant YHWH had made with their ancestors, even from one who had risen from the dead! Remember, parables are single point narratives. Don't try to take the analogy too far.
    – Michael C
    Feb 17 at 2:34
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How was an intermediate state, like the bosom of Abraham, not understood at the time, but was later on?

But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine.

Something in hindsight can be so clear once someone explains it.

To answer the OP, the doctrine is there and clear, but not revealed until Christ.

This is similar to other doctrines. For example, here is another.

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. Heb 11:17-19

Or this that speaks spiritually to the same:

And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even. Num 19:19

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