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Paul believed that after leaving his body he would be at home/present with the Lord:

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. [2 Corinthians 5:8 ESV]

Similarly, Paul said:

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. [Philippians 1:21-24 ESV]

However, Luke 16:19-31 sheds some light on what happens to those who depart from the body. Specifically, the passage talks about the righteous being consoled in what is commonly known as the Bosom of Abraham:

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 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.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” [Luke 16:19-31 ESV]

Question: When Paul expressed his desire to depart from the body and be at home with the Lord, was he picturing himself being carried by angels to the Bosom of Abraham? Did Paul believe that Abraham's Bosom was a real place that he would immediately visit upon death (an intermediate state between death and the resurrection)?

Another way to phrase the question: what was Paul hoping would happen to him as soon as he died? What was Paul's theology on the afterlife?


Related questions:

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jesse Steele
    Jan 13 at 13:23
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    The answer to the question is moot because the phrase "Abraham's bosom" only occurs in this parable and no where else. It cannot be fully identified and it does not matter. It is clearly a mythical place.
    – Dottard
    Jan 16 at 10:18
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    Jesus is much more likely to be referring to His phrase in John 1:1 - "beside the Father". Further, Jesus clearly said that no one has entered heaven except the one who came from heaven (John 3:13, 31) so Abraham is not in heaven.
    – Dottard
    Jan 16 at 10:39
  • This question is still vague - how could "at home with the Lord" refer to an intermediate state?? It appears to be asking about the general theology of death rather than analyzing a specific passage.
    – Dottard
    Jan 17 at 10:47
  • @Dottard - see HoldToTheRod's answer for one way in which this could be the case. Jan 17 at 14:36
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+100

Paul's statement is insufficiently precise to distinguish between 2 possible answers to the question in the header.

Background

Paul was a devout second-temple Pharisaic Jew (see Philippians 3:5) who considered the message of Christ not a destruction of the Tanakh, but a fulfillment of its promised blessings (see Galatians 3:24).

As such, Paul would have believed that the spirits of the dead go to Sheol. Contemporary/near-contemporary texts (e.g. here) describe Sheol as a place where the dead meet, await the resurrection, and are separated into divisions (as typified in Luke 16:26).

The risk of cherry-picking

A common apologetic is that if the New Testament is shown to be reliable, the authority of the Old Testament is thereby guaranteed as well. While there is merit to this line of argumentation (especially when applied to the Torah & Isaiah), it's also easy to play a little fast and loose with the data here. The New Testament does not in fact quote every book of the Old Testament, nor does it ever define a canon. The New Testament also quotes non-canonical Jewish writings and pagan writers as well.

The more careful form of this argument takes the following form:

  • P1: The texts considered authoritative by Jesus are reliable
  • P2: The books of the OT were considered authoritative by 1st century Jews
  • P3: Jesus was a 1st century Jew
  • C1: The books of the OT were considered authoritative by Jesus
  • C2: The books of the OT are reliable

This argument is valid, but premises 1 & 2 present some interesting difficulties.

Premise 2 is extensively debated between, for example, Catholics & Protestants, who treat different sets of texts as Jewish scripture. Judaism also had 4 major sects (and various smaller ones) in the first century, who didn't always see eye to eye.

Premise 1 is even more interesting for purposes of this question -- if believers in the New Testament are willing to grandfather in contemporary Jewish beliefs with respect to the Old Testament, an identical argument could grandfather in all manner of Jewish beliefs that were also widespread in the first century, some of which are not explicitly expounded in the Old Testament: including the nature of Sheol.

Applying the same argument used to defend the authority of the Old Testament, then, I suggest that in the absence of a defeater we are justified in concluding that the views of the NT authors--on subjects discussed but never defined in the Bible--can be best understood by referring to contemporary Jewish beliefs. (John, Jesus, Paul and others certainly had no difficulty explaining the points on which they disagreed with Jewish leaders when they needed to)

The New Testament discusses Sheol ("Hades" in Greek) repeatedly, acknowledging its existence, but without providing the level of detail we might wish to extract from it. Since the New Testament speakers/writers appear quite comfortable talking about Sheol--apparently without ever feeling the need to explain how their audience's views about Sheol are grossly in error--we can infer that the New Testament speakers/writers don't find their audience's views on Sheol particularly problematic.

Ergo, Paul's beliefs on the afterlife should be expected to be quite compatible with widespread Jewish beliefs about Sheol.

Possibility 1--Immediate reunion

Paul could be interpreted to mean that he believes he will see Jesus soon after he dies. On this view, Paul expects that while his spirit is in Sheol there will be a means for him to see/interact with/associate with Jesus (Paul did believe it was possible for a person to be conscious without a body--see 2 Cor. 12:2).

Nothing stated by Paul contradicts this possibility, but he doesn't define it explicitly, leaving open a second possibility.

Possibility 2--Eventual & assured reunion

Paul could be interpreted to mean that he believes he is progressing on the path towards seeing Jesus...but that reunion won't actually happen until the resurrection.

That going to Sheol implied "returning to God" in some manner is evident from Ecclesiastes 12:7. The precise details of timing--or even how exactly time is understood in the afterlife--are not specified in the Bible.

Summary

When Paul said that he would like to be "at home with the Lord", was he referring to Abraham's bosom? Paul believed in Sheol (Abraham's bosom being a euphemism for a portion of Sheol) and Paul believed he would be with Jesus in the afterlife, but he does not say whether he has in mind simultaneous or sequential events.

When Paul expressed his desire to depart from the body and be at home with the Lord, was he picturing himself being carried by angels to the Bosom of Abraham? The bit about being carried by angels is at best speculative, but Paul as a devout first-century Pharisaic Jew would have believed he was going to the part of Sheol reserved for the righteous (aka the Bosom of Abraham).

Did Paul believe that Abraham's Bosom was a real place that he would immediately visit upon death (an intermediate state between death and the resurrection)? Yes. Paul believed in Sheol and he believed in the resurrection (e.g. see 1 Cor. 15), and he did not believe the resurrection occurred immediately following death (see 1 Thess. 4:14). An interval between death and the resurrection is also required by Paul's statement about sequence of resurrection in 1 Thess. 4:16.

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Without getting into whether or not the dead are conscious, or if Paul really was expecting to go to be with Jesus at the moment of his death, or whether or not the story of the rich man and Lazarus is an actual, real-life event, just notice that Abraham's bosom is within Hades(at least, that the reasonable conclusion to draw based solely on the given text), on the other hand, Jesus is currently in Heaven. Hades and Heaven are not the same, so Paul could not have expected to go to Abraham's bosom upon his death. But how do I know that Abraham's bosom is in Hades?

Luke 16:22-31 “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.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Was Abraham in Hades or somewhere else?

(1.) Abraham and Lazarus were close enough for the rich man to see both of them.

(2.) Abraham was close enough to the rich man such that they could converse with each other. The text never says they "shouted to each other from a distance" or anything of the like. It clearly shows that they had a simple conversation with no fuss at all.

(3.) Being "far off" doesn't indicate being somewhere else entirely than Hades itself, where the rich man clearly was. All this notwithstanding what I said in the two previous points; that they could see and speak with each other very easily.

So, I don't see any valid reason to conclude that Abraham was anywhere other than Hades where he could see and talk with the rich man so easily.

But guess what? But even if you were to prove that Abraham wasn't in Hades, you'd still have to prove that he was in Heaven. Remember, Jesus was raised to Heaven at the right hand of God, and so, at this moment, Jesus lives in Heaven(e.g. Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9-11, Acts 7:55, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22).

Thus, if in Paul's words at Philippians 1:21-24 and 2 Corinthians 5:8 he was suggesting that he anticipated to go and be with Christ right upon his death, knowing that Jesus was taken up to Heaven, he would have in mind only Heaven itself and nowhere else. Hence Abraham's bosom would have to be located in Heaven.

Hence, not only do you have to prove, using the given text about the rich man and Abraham's bosom(Luke 16:19-31), that Abraham is, in fact, somewhere else other than Hades itself, but you'd have to prove that the "somewhere else" is Heaven with Jesus. I don't see any way you can do that using solely what is found in Luke 16:19-31. Anything more than that is speculation.

But I hope this helps! Have a great day.

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  • Do you believe that Abraham's bosom is an intermediate stage between life on Earth and afterlife in Heaven? If so, was Paul expecting to go through this intermediate stage upon his death? Jan 13 at 1:30
  • The text does not say that Abraham's bosom, though "far off" was still in Hades. The "far off" is across a great, uncrossable chasm and that is the salient point...no way to get from one place to another. Not the same realm. Jesus is telling this story to those under the law who rely on lineage rather than promise. Sarah and Hagar are two covenants therefore Abraham's bosom is the bosom of promise, the Gospel. When Paul talks about being with the Lord, post resurrection, he is not meaning Abraham's bosom in that old, unfulfilled sense. Jan 13 at 1:30
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator "Do you believe that Abraham's bosom is an intermediate stage between life on Earth and afterlife in Heaven?" What reason do I have to believe that? Nothing of the such is suggested anywhere in scripture. Once again, all this is nothing more than speculation.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 13 at 1:34
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    Hades is the NT Greek term for Sheol, traditionally understood as divided into two sectors. Seems most straightforward to conclude that - to a first century Jew - the rich man is in one part of Sheol & the righteous are in the other. Jan 13 at 3:48
  • 2
    @HoldToTheRod I don't agree with you because I do not think the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was intended to reveal anything regarding eschatological matters, mainly because it was not grounded in reality but instead parabolic in nature so as to illustrate an important point to the Pharisees about their callous greed and hypocrisy, but thank you for making that point; if Abraham's bosom was real, it would have been only in Hades/Sheol, and not in Heaven, thus Paul could not have been talking about Abraham's bosom when he said what he said in 2 Corinthians 5:8. Thank you.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 13 at 4:15
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No. Sequence of events:

  1. Christ prayed that His disciples would be where He was (John 17:24).

  2. Jesus' death on the cross, and promised the thief will be with Him that same day in Paradise (Abraham's Bosom) (Luke 23:43)

  3. Jesus raised on the 3rd day, first fruits (Matt. 28, Mark 16, Luke 24)

  4. Jesus shows Himself to His disciples at various times until just before Pentecost, approx. 40 days until His ascension (Acts 1) (1)

  5. The apostles / disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and the church / assembly of Christ begins to grow (Acts 2)

  6. The gospel is spread and preached throughout the known world (the Roman empire, Luke 2:1) for the next 40 years, mirror of Exodus wilderness, in that 40 year generation span. (Col. 1:5-6, 23: Rom. 10:16-18; 16:25-26)

  7. Martyrs, those killed because of Christ, those who had died in the Lord were taken to be with Christ so they could see His glory (John 17:24), therefore Paul knew that when he died he would be taken to heaven where Christ already was to be with Him (Rev. 20:4), as they were reigning with Christ in heaven, not on earth.

  8. The rest of the dead (Rev. 20:5) had to wait. Those dead that were still in the grave of Hades, either in Paradise or Tartarus (Luke 16) were still there until the temple was destroyed. They were separated out as Christ had prophesied in Matt. 25, when He came in His glory to destroy Jerusalem and those who had crucified Him (Rev. 1:7) and established His kingdom. The sheep from the section of Paradise to the right; the goats from the section of Tartarus to the left. The first resurrection (Rev. 20:5)

  9. Then Hades was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).

  10. From that time, after the destruction of the temple, all who die in the Lord are truly blessed (Rev. 14:13) as judgment passes over us (Christ's passover), we are changed in a twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:51-52) and gathered home into heaven to be with all who have already died and passed before us (1 Thess. 4:17).

There is no more Hades. Every one has to die and face their own judgment (Heb. 9:27). That is always the process God implemented, as even before the first resurrection in AD 70 all the faithful were gathered to their people (Gen. 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:29, 33; Num. 20:24; 27:13, etc).

They always faced judgment at their deaths, otherwise there would not have been a righteous section (Paradise, Abraham's Bosom) in the grave (Hades). That there was a distinction between the righteous dead and the unrighteous dead in the grave meant their judgment had already occurred. The timing of their release from that prison (Rev. 1:18) was the separation out of Hades, and was what Christ was telling the disciples in Matt. 24-25 linked to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which was the end of the Mosaic age (world).

So, Paul knew he would be in heaven with Christ reigning with Him, and witnessing His glory and His coming in judgment of Jerusalem. Every one who has died in the Lord since that animal sacrificial temple was destroyed in AD 70 has been gathered into heaven. Hades is no more. (2) (3) (4) (5)

Notes:

  1. The Sequence of Christ's Post-Resurrection Appearances here

  2. The Burning of Jerusalem and the Hadean Death ShreddingTheVeil

  3. The Gathering of The Elect ShreddingTheVeil

  4. The Resurrection in Three Parts ShreddingTheVeil

  5. The Lake of Fire ShreddingTheVeil

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No, Paul was not referring to Abraham's Bosom when he wrote of desiring being absent from the body but present with the Lord.

First, no one is quite certain what Abraham's Bosom is or implies, whatever arguments to the contrary, since it's not mentioned anywhere else until the 3rd century in Kiddishun 72b, meaning it was not a common concept, teaching, or phrase.

Secondly, Paul was not present when the Lord Jesus must have uttered those words, since he did not convert until some long while after Pentecost and the Stoning of Stephen (See Acts 9:1-9).

Third, Paul wrote his statements long before Luke wrote His Gospel account, which required a lot of eye-witness testimony, and therefore, research.

And lastly, and related to the third point, Paul died before Luke wrote His Gospel, and likely before Luke even conducted his extensive research, and so, would never had had the chance to hear about Abraham's Bosom before his decease.

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  • Luke mentions Abraham's Bosom centuries before Kiddishun 72b. Luke-Acts probably was written in Paul's lifetime--for the most exhaustive work on Acts, see Colin Hemer's The book of Acts in the setting of Hellenistic history, making the case that Acts was written about AD 62. Even Adolf Harnack admitted this after his extensive study on the subject (post-70 dates for Acts virtually always presuppose naturalism). Luke's argument about the temple doesn't work post 70, and his extensive survey of Roman legal precedent loses its efficacy after the Neronian persecution, which began in 64 or 65. Jan 21 at 16:22

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