Part Two of “Abraham’s Bosom; The ‘Holding Place’ for Old Testament Believers?”

In this second installment I want to address two of three remaining questions. My next post, the third and final, will cover thoroughly the last question which was raised by Dejan in a comment to part one “Abraham’s Bosom; The ‘Holding Place’ for Old Testament Believers?”. Because his question will require some word studies in the Greek and biblical exegesis of the entire passage of Ephesians 4, I felt it was best to isolate it. This post would  become too large otherwise. If you’re curious, Dejan’s question has to do with the typical Scriptural references used to support the teaching of Abraham’s bosom as a place of captivity until Christ’s death and resurrection (Ephesians 4:8-10; Luke 16:22).

The transfiguration of Christ is the next point I want to put on the table in this discussion, for it presents a serious logical and theological problem for the doctrine of Abraham’s bosom. If, as many suggest, all believers were held captive there prior to Christ “setting them free”, then what were Moses and Elijah doing on the mountain, talking with Jesus, Peter, James and John (Matthew 17:3)? Apparently they both were free to appear and not at all in “captivity” waiting for release. And remember, Jesus hadn’t yet died nor resurrected.

What was the physical state of Moses and Elijah as we can tell from Scripture?  Elijah, as mentioned in part one, was taken away alive by a whirlwind into heaven (2 King 2:11). This is very likely an Old Testament type of the rapture to come (1 Thess 4:17). Now the text says he was taken to heaven, and I believe that to mean not the sky itself but the spiritual realm of God’s throne as described in Revelation, and, which is the destiny of every believer (Col 1:5). This is reasonable because Elijah, as Abraham and every other Old Testament saint, was justified by faith in God’s promise, looking forward in belief though the messiah hadn’t yet come (Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6). I explained this point more in “Abraham’s Bosom; The ‘Holding Place’ for Old Testament Believers?”.

Notice that Elijah’s rapture was before the cross of Christ, yet he was taken away into heaven. If Elijah was not taken to heaven, the only other option would be Abraham’s bosom or hell. We can rule out hell pretty easily. Now we’re left with Abraham’s bosom. Why sweep away a prophet to put him in a holding place? The entire picture of his rapture points to a glorious climax, not to a halfway point in the spiritual domain. The whole event becomes senseless if he wasn’t taken to heaven as the text says, and it certainly is not a picture of the rapture at that point. If he was taken to heaven, but other men and women of faith had to wait for Calvary, we have inconsistency with God’s standard, and that is not like his character.

As for Moses, we know he went the way of all men and died a physical death. God buried him but we don’t know where (Deuteronomy 34:5-7). The next we know of Moses he appears on the mount of transfiguration.

Last, but not least, consider the discussion between Jesus and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39–43). Jesus tells him that he will be with him that very day in paradise. This statement alone declares:

1. The thief to be justified at that very moment on the basis of faith in Christ prior to his death.

2. Jesus was about to enter paradise that day, not hell (as some teach without biblical merit) nor Abraham’s bosom (Luke 23:43). Although, we should recall that in part one we noted Abraham’s bosom was simply a synonym for heaven according to the Jews.

In part three, we’ll take a detailed look at the Scripture references often cited to support the doctrine of Abraham’s bosom.

Thanks for keeping up with us on uThinkology. And remember, you are what uThink!

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6 responses to “Part Two of “Abraham’s Bosom; The ‘Holding Place’ for Old Testament Believers?”

  1. Great article Mark! I was eagerly waiting for your post and now I have to wait more for the next one :) That’s fine. Good points thou.

  2. Thank you Dejan! Sorry I’m so slow these days. Lots going on here, but I do look forward to the next post because it is an important text to consider in addition to the points we’ve seen so far. Be blessed brother!

  3. I believe, (not dogmatically of course), that Abraham’s bosom is simply a metaphor for the afterlife which, for those of faith, was a place of peace and bliss. Those OT believers had no knowledge of the cross only that the Messiah would come and set things in order. The fact that they would be with Father Abraham would be blissful to all those patriarchs, probably millions of them as they awaited the Promise. This is also exhibited in 1Samuel 28, where Samuel is brought up out of the realm of the dead by the woman of Endor. He is not brought down from Heaven. I don’t accept that Luke 16 is simply a parable for several reasons, such as the naming of a particular Lazarus. The graphic language Jesus used to describe the condition of the rich man, that He is not likening the story to anything, it doesn’t fit the profile of any of the actual parables Jesus used. The parables were just that, parabolic, Luke 16 is spoken plainly., etc…
    But, we can all have fun trying to discover these things that are not essential to the faith but certainly have their purpose somewhere. God bless!
    Mike Richardson
    Tylertown, MS

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I appreciate that you took the time and especially that you hold a healthy view on the essentials versus the non-essentials. Clearly, the doctrine of Abraham’s bosom falls into the latter category.

      You do point out a popular view regarding the Parable in Luke 16, although I am not among those who share that position, as you can tell from the post here on uThinkology. Even if I were to concede that view, we still have the other problems that I have presented which, I believe are important to warrant an answer even if they are not essential to salvation. In particular, the theological inconsistency that we would have in other parts of Scripture if we accept that Abraham’s bosom is anything other than a synonym for heaven.

      Regarding 1 Samuel 28, this is another interesting point. I must admit that the passage itself is rather difficult to master for several reasons. Since the days of Origen until now the best Scholars young and old struggle to plumb its depths and return with a clear consensus as to what exactly happened. The only thing I might say with a pinch of cautious assurance is that the “bringing up” from the dead vs. “going down” to the dead was typically how people referred to the directional difference between the land of the living vs. the habitat of the dead, seeing how the dead are buried “down” in the earth.

      Those who use the preposition “up” in 1 Sam 28 to describe this were Saul, who in sin had turned to a medium and whose perspective and spiritual reasoning was less than desirable, and the witch herself, for whom we can make little defense in her credibility since she apparently saw a real “spirit” for the first time in her shady work. This appears to be the case from her reaction to the sight of Samuel, the shock of actually perceiving a spirit seemed to be something new.

      The book of Samuel I believe accurately reports the account of “what” happened, that she saw Samuel. And the reported dialogue between Saul and the witch. But that a man in sinful rebellion such as Saul, and a witch practicing necromancy, gave a trustworthy perspective out of an ungodly experience is questionable to me, and probably not something I’m willing at this time to base a doctrine on. Nonetheless, God does seem to have allowed Samuel to appear for the sake of pronouncing the message to Saul. That he literally was resurrected in an upward direction and only in spirit form, remains to be determined…probably not this side of eternity.

      Thanks for sharing what uThink, Mike, and God bless you!

      Mark

      • As you said Mark, it is simply what I think. I don’t know, therefore it is my understanding of the scriptures. There are a couple of other points of interest in the Samuel story. I will still hold to the directional emphasis because that is clearly stated. Here is a thought. You said this could have been her first real spirit to summon. It may be actually her first soul to summon from paradise. This is why it is possible. When she saw Samuel she knew that it was Saul that made this request. Possibly because Samuel revealed this to her. She said she “saw gods ascending out of the earth.” Pretty specific, one would have to have a solid preconceived opinion to try and dismiss her statement. What is interesting is her use of the word “gods”. It is “Elohim”. The same Elohim in Genesis 1:1. Could she have seen what she thought was God but turned out to be the righteous spirit of Samuel? Thinking she was seeing God come from within the earth would certainly have frightened her.

        Another “me-thinks”, Samuel told Saul, “and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me:” Now seeing that Samuel told also Saul, “1Sa 28:16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?”
        I am just guessing here, but Saul being the “enemy of God” would cause Saul to be sent to the other place rather than paradise. YET, Samuel says he will be with him. In the land of the dead, but a different compartment? Or, does God let his enemies go to Heaven? Well, there is an answer I’m sure… Interesting discussion… More later…

      • Definitely interesting feedback and food for thought, Mike!

        Two considerations I’d have off the top of my head, and this is not necessarily my definite position but my initial thoughts:

        1.) Assuming that Abraham’s bosom is a place of paradise and Saul is God’s enemy in the sense that you infer, it seems odd that God would send him there. In such a case I’d have to ask why the death of the righteous and the unrighteous would bring about the same consequences in the end? Unless the reference to joining Samuel only referred to joining him in death, or (and this is just one of the possibilities) Saul was not an enemy of God in the sense of a God-hater who opposed Yahweh, but in the sense as one against whom God was working. Saul was after all trying to hold onto his kingdom in his own way and for his own purposes, while God was working to take it away from him and give it to David. He was an enemy in the sense of one who opposed God’s efforts and did so blinded by his own pride and jealousy. But we might want to acknowledge that he was in fact a believer who feared Yahweh yet lacked the discernment to understand he was actually ‘fighting’ against his God. Saul did in fact live much of his later years of service in carnality as a king in Israel. But was he a true enemy of God? If he were, he should be eternally separated from God rather than sent to Abraham’s bosom.

        2.) Regarding the depths of the earth as the place of the dead from which Samuel appears to rise up, I’d suggest that this is a euphamism for the actual spiritual realm of another dimension and to which Saul would go. Surely the body goes in the ground but where does the spirit go? That’s another discussion altogether and would be a good subtopic to add in this discussion. In any case, throughout Scripture we find references about Sheol, Hades, Gehenna etc., which on the surface refer to the permanent “laying down” of a body in the grave, but contain the inference to the place of the dead beyond a physical location underground. Probably we shouldn’t take the underground as the actual terrestrial coordinates, but a metaphor to describe what still remains a very mysterious reality.

        Anyway, good stuff Mike and I look forward to hearing more from you. There’s so much for us to search out and discover in the depths of Scripture. As the Word says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Prov. 25:2).

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