Early Christian Evidences for Mormonism

This is a paper I wrote for a class a couple of years ago entitled “Hades, the Intermediate State, and Postmortem Salvation: A Comparison of Early and Modern Christian Views.” You will discover that this is strong evidence for the restoration of the everlasting gospel through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I am the original author and do claim copyright. Please do not distribute it without my permission.

Please enjoy!


This paper will identify the early Christian beliefs about the nature of Hades or the intermediate state, the nature and duration of punishment among the wicked, Christ’s descent into Hades, and the concept of postmortem salvation of non-Christians. These doctrines will then be compared to the current Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and Latter-day Saint (Mormon) views.[1]

Hades versus Hell

In the New Testament, the Greek word Hades denotes “the place (state) of departed souls.”[2] The word has been translated as “hell” in the King James Version of the Bible.[3] Although “hell” originally denoted the dwelling place of the dead, it has come to commonly refer to a place of never-ending punishment in modern language.[4] Since Hades has been translated as “hell,” some have wrongly interpreted Hades to refer to a place of never-ending torment.[5] In reality, the New Testament never uses Hades to solely denote a place of punishment, and, as shall be demonstrated, early Christians believed it to be an intermediate state or dwelling place of all departed spirits.

There are two other words used in the New Testament that have been translated as “hell.” Gehenna is Jesus’ word of choice to refer to the place of punishment.[6] Gehenna means “the valley of Hinnom.” It is a deep glen of Jerusalem where idolatrous Jews had sacrificed their children to Moloch. The valley was later used as a place for burning the city’s refuse.[7] It was “used (fig.) as a name for the place (or state) of everlasting punishment.”[8] The second word, found only in 2 Peter 2:4, is Tartarus.[9] It refers to the deepest abyss in Hades, a place of incarceration, where the wicked were punished.[10] “Chains of darkness” bind those in Tartarus.[11] Tartarus might best be translated as “prison.” By implication, not all of those in Hades are in punishment, only those consigned to the prison of Tartarus or the fire of Gehenna. Gehenna and Tartarus, unlike Hades, clearly denote places or states of punishment.

Problematic Hades Passages

Of the ten occurrences of Hades in the New Testament, only three could vaguely be construed as indicating a place of punishment.[12] The first occurrence is Christ’s denunciation of Capernaum as found in Matt. 11:23 and Luke 10:15. Jesus here derides Capernaum for its faithlessness and contrasts the city’s present glory with its future gloom. “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades.”[13] “Hades” is the antithesis of “heaven.” If by heaven Jesus meant the place of bliss and reward for the righteous, by contrast Hades becomes the place of punishment and torment for the wicked. Upon closer examination of the Greek, however, this interpretation is clearly flawed.

The Greek word translated as “heaven” most literally means “the sky” and denotes elevation. It figuratively means “heaven,” the dwelling place of God.[14] Hades, refers to death and the grave, the dwelling place of the dead, and is often considered to be a subterraneous region of the earth.[15] The contrast is not between eternal bliss and eternal torment but rather between height and depth. The verse more accurately translates, “And you, Capernaum, who is lifted up to the skies, shall be brought down low.” The New International Version translates it in a similar manner. “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.”

The next occurrence of Hades, in Matthew 16:18, is immediately after Peter’s confession of faith. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”[16] This is often interpreted to mean that the powers of evil will not overcome the church established through Peter. However, there are other interpretations that would be consistent with the concept of Hades being the place of all the departed dead. Since Hades is closely associated with death and the grave, the first interpretation could simply be that the church would not be overcome by death. The translators of Today’s New International Version prefer to translate it as “the gates of death.”[17]

Another interpretation is that the gates or entrance to Hades, the place of departed souls, would not be able to keep the church from entering therein. In other words, Christ’s disciples would preach the gospel not only among the living, but also among the dead—not even the gates of Hades could keep them out.[18] As extreme as this interpretation may seem, this was not a foreign concept to early Christians. Clement of Alexandria (AD 160-215), among others, believed that the apostles of Christ preached the gospel to the departed spirits in Hades. “And it has been shown also…that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades. For it was requisite, in my opinion, that as here, so also there, the best of the disciples should be imitators of the master…”[19] This will be discussed in greater death below.

The last problematic passage is Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In this parable, the rich man is said to be “in torments in Hades.”[20] This has been interpreted to mean Hades is solely a place of punishment. This, however, is an interpretation not warranted by the text because it commits the fallacy of composition (i.e. what’s true of one of a group must be true of the group as a whole). The rich man being in torments in Hades does not imply that all who are in Hades are in torment. There is nothing in the text to exclude the possibility of “Abraham’s bosom” being in Hades as well. In fact, many church fathers taught that Abraham’s bosom was one of two places found in Hades.[21] J. R. Dummelow’s commentary states:

Abraham’s bosom] A Jewish name, not of heaven, but of the intermediate state of bliss in which the souls of the just await the resurrection. E.g. ‘Ada bar Ahavah sits to-day in Abraham’s bosom’: cp. 4 Mac13. ‘When we have thus suffered, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will receive us.’ Other equivalent names are ‘Paradise,’ ‘the garden of Eden,’ and ‘under the throne of glory.’ 23. In hell] RV ‘in Hades.’ Hades is here used in a wide sense for the intermediate state of all souls, just and unjust, between death and judgment. In this sense both Dives and Lazarus were in ‘Hades,’ though the one was comforted and the other tormented. This usage of the word is quite common. ‘Hades, in which the souls of both just and unjust are detained’ (Hippolytus). ‘in the lower world are both torment and refreshment. There a soul is either punished or tenderly cherished, as a foretaste or rehearsal of the final judgment’ (Tertullian). The rich man was not in ‘hell’ (Gehenna), because no one is sent there until after the Last Judgment.[22]

Early Christians on Hades

As has been shown, the New Testament does not define Hades as solely a place of punishment. The early Church fathers followed in the same thought as the New Testament.[23] For them, Hades was an intermediate state where the spirits of all the dead awaited resurrection. Perhaps the most complete doctrinal exposition of any church father on the nature of Hades is from Hippolytus (ca. AD 170-236).

But now we must speak of Hades, in which the souls both of the righteous and the unrighteous are detained. Hades is a place in the created system, rude, a locality beneath the earth, in which the light of the world does not shine; and as the sun does not shine in this locality, there must necessarily be perpetual darkness there. This locality has been destined to be as it were a guard-house for souls, at which the angels are stationed as guards, distributing according to each one’s deeds the temporary punishments for different characters. And in this locality there is a certain place set apart by itself, a lake of unquenchable fire, into which we suppose no one has yet been cast….

But the righteous (who will obtain the incorruptible and unfading kingdom) are indeed presently detained in Hades, but not in the same place with the unrighteous. For to this locality there is one descent, at the gate of which we believe an archangel is stationed with an army. And when those who are conducted by the angels who are appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not all proceed down one and the same path. Further, the righteous are conducted in the light toward the right. And being hymned by the angels stationed at the place, they are brought to a locality full of light. And there all the righteous persons from the beginning dwell…. And that place brings no labors for them. In that locale, there are neither fierce heat, cold, nor thorns. But the faces of the fathers and the righteous are seen to be always smiling, as they wait for the rest and eternal revival in heaven that follow this location. And we call this place by the name of “Abraham’s bosom.”

However, the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels who are ministers of punishment. These souls no longer go of their own accord. Rather, they are dragged as prisoners by force. And the angels appointed over them hurry them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts [of Hades]….And again, when they see the place of the fathers and the righteous, they also suffer punishment merely from seeing this….I think I have said enough on the subject of Hades, in which all souls are detained until the time that God has determined. And then He will accomplish a resurrection of all—not by transferring souls into other bodies—but by raising the bodies themselves.[24]

Hippolytus teaches, in no uncertain terms, that

1. Hades is an intermediate state where the souls of both the wicked and righteous are detained until the resurrection.

2. There is a gate at the entrance to Hades.

3. There are two separate localities in Hades.

4. The first locality is called “Abraham’s bosom” where the righteous rest. It is a place of light found within Hades.

5. Abraham’s bosom is a temporary location where the righteous are in a state of waiting for “the rest and eternal revival in heaven that follow this location.”

6. The second locality is in the lower parts of Hades wherein the souls are prisoners and are temporarily punished for their deeds. It is a place of darkness.[25]

7. The wicked are miserable because they recognize the blessed state of the righteous and that they too could have been with them in Abraham’s bosom.

8. There will be a universal bodily resurrection at which point the souls will leave Hades.

As shall be noted, Justin Martyr, Ignatius, Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and others all held remarkably similar beliefs concerning Hades or the intermediate state.

In fighting certain heresies that had slipped into the early Church, Tertullian (ca. AD 155-225) warned Christians to “keep at arm’s length those who are too proud to believe that the souls of the faithful deserve a place in Hades.” He then rhetorically asked, “How, indeed, will the soul mount up to heaven, where Christ is already sitting at the Father’s right hand? For the archangel’s trumpet has not yet been heard by the command of God.” He answered his own inquiry by stating that “to no one [of us] is heaven opened.” Only “when the world, indeed, will pass away, then the kingdom of heaven will be opened.” Ultimately, “every soul is detained in safe keeping in Hades until the day of the Lord.”[26]

All souls, therefore, are shut up within Hades: do you admit this? (It is true, whether) you say yes or no: moreover, there are already experienced there punishments and consolations…Why, then, cannot you suppose that the soul undergoes punishment and consolation in Hades in the interval, while it awaits its alternative of judgment, in a certain anticipation either of gloom or of glory?[27]

Any doctrines that deny this reality are to be shunned and those who teach otherwise are to be “kept at arms length.”

Defending the Intermediate State against Heresy

Early Christians were constantly battling heresy on every side. Much of what is known about early Christianity is a direct result of their contra haereses expositions. In one such exposition, Irenaeus (ca. AD 115-202) accused certain Gnostics of being “in all points inconsistent with themselves, when they decide that all souls do no enter into the intermediate place, but those of the righteous only.”[28] Like Tertullian, Irenaeus made clear that the intermediate place is for all, both saint and sinner, and that any ideas to the contrary are heretical and should be denounced.

Origen (ca. AD 185-251) believed that even the most righteous dead have to go through schooling and training in order to be prepared for their final destiny. This university for the dead, or paradise, is located somewhere on the earth.

I think, therefore, that all the saints who depart from this life will remain in some place situated on the earth, which holy Scripture calls paradise, as in some place of instruction, and, so to speak, class-room or school of souls, in which they are to be instructed regarding all the things which they have seen on earth, and are to receive also some information respecting things that are to follow in the future…[29]

Justin Martyr (d. ca. AD 163) was emphatic when he declared that those who deny the intermediate state or who believe that they are taken directly to Heaven when they die could not really be considered Christian.

You may have fallen in with some [Gnostics] who are called Christians. However, they do not admit this [intermediate state], and they venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham…. They say there is no resurrection of the dead. Rather, they say that when they die, their souls are taken to heaven. Do not imagine that they are Christians.[30]

Irenaeus further denounced the heretical doctrine that souls pass immediately to heaven upon death by proclaiming that there is an “invisible place” of waiting for all souls between death and resurrection. Jesus Christ went into Hades upon his death to await his resurrection, therefore his imitators or disciples should likewise expect to wait for the resurrection in Hades.

For the heretics…affirm that immediately upon their death they shall pass above the heavens…For as the Lord “went away in the midst of the shadow of death,” where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up [into heaven], it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event, then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come thus unto the presence of God. “For no disciple is above the Master, but every one that is perfect shall be as his Master.” As our Master, therefore, did not at once depart, taking flight [to heaven], but awaited the time of His resurrection prescribed by the Father…so ought we also to await the time of our resurrection prescribed by God and foretold by the prophets…[31]

These denunciations of the early Fathers suggests that there were already some who called themselves Christian who wanted to reserve Hades for the wicked only. This, however, was not the doctrine taught since the beginning.

Two Localities in Hades

All in Hades did not dwell in the same place, however. There were two localities in Hades—one for the righteous called Abraham’s bosom or paradise and the other for the wicked called prison or the fire. Tertullian said that “whatever amount of punishment or refreshment the souls taste in Hades, in its prison or lodging, in the fire or in Abraham’s bosom, it gives proof thereby of its own corporeality.”[32] Also, “Thus, too, Eleazar (Lazarus) in Hades, (attaining refreshment in Abraham’s bosom) and the rich man, (on the other hand, set in the torment of fire) compensate, by an answerable retribution, their alternate vicissitudes of evil and good.”[33] On another occasion he mentioned that Hades has “two regions, the region of the good” and “the region of the bad.” According to Tertullian “infants” are consigned to the good region because they are “pure and innocent.”[34]

Justin Martyr also mentioned two localities where souls dwell while awaiting the final judgment. “The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment.”[35] Victorinus believed that Hades is “a place of repose for the saints.”[36] The righteous rest, but they are not in a state of sleep.[37]

What, then, is to take place in that interval? Shall we sleep? But souls do not sleep even when men are alive: it is indeed the business of bodies to sleep, to which also belongs death itself…Full well, then, does the soul even in Hades know how to joy and to sorrow even without the body.[38]

Nature of Punishment in Hades

Since Hades is only a temporary state, any punishments administered there will have an end at the final judgment. The punishments are real, however, and according to Tertullian, the sinner must pay “the uttermost farthing” for his actions before he can expect to be resurrected.

In short, inasmuch as we understand “the prison” pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades, and as we also interpret “the uttermost farthing” to mean the very smallest offence which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection, when the recompense will be administered through the flesh bodies.[39]

Clement of Alexandria says the punishments there will “cease in the course of the completion and of the expiation and purification of each one.” Yet those who are thus purified continue to “have very great and permanent grief…on account of not being along with those that have been glorified through righteousness.”[40] J.N.D. Kelly wrote that Origen believed there would be an end to the torments and suffering of the wicked. The wicked person’s suffering is a direct result of his own sense of anguish and remorse.

‘Each sinner’, he states, ‘kindles his own fire…and our own vices form its fuel,’ In other words, the real punishment of the wicked consists in their own interior anguish, their sense of separation from the God Who should be their supreme good. Further, all such punishment, even the pains of hell, must have an end.[41]

It was Basil of Caesarea (AD 330-379) and John Chrysostom (ca. AD 347-407) who later introduced the idea of endless suffering and punishment. Even then, Gregory of Nazianus (ca. AD 329-390) and Gregory of Nyssa (ca. AD 331-395) rejected the idea. Basil was forced to confess that most ordinary Christians of his day continued to foolishly believe that the sufferings in hell would have an end.[42] Ultimately, Augustine (AD 354-430) permanently settled the question, arguing for the doctrine of a never-ending hell while adopting the concept of Purgatory.

Nevertheless he is led by certain texts of Scripture (1 Cor. 3, 13-15; Matt. 12, 32) to allow that certain sinners may attain pardon in the world to come. These are people who, although Christians at heart, have remained entangled in earthly loves, and it is natural that after this life they should undergo purification by ‘purgatorial fire’.[43]

Christ’s Descent into Hades and Preaching to the Dead

As mentioned previously, Christ descended into Hades while he awaited the resurrection. While in Hades, he preached to the dead, broke down the great partition that separated the wicked and the righteous, saved those who made a profession of belief on his name, and ascended from Hades with a host of resurrected saints. This is a reoccurring theme in many of the early Church fathers’ teachings, and is mentioned briefly in the New Testament. Peter wrote of Christ’s descent in his first general epistle.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah…

For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.[44]

This same theme appears in the early Christian document entitled The Gospel of Peter.

When the solders saw these things, they woke up the centurion and the elders—for they were also there on guard. As they were explaining what they had seen, they saw three men emerge from the tomb, two of them supporting the other, with a cross following behind them. The heads of the two reached up to the sky, but the head of the one they were leading went up above the skies. And they heard a voice from the skies, “Have you preached to those who are asleep?” And a reply came from the cross, “Yes.”[45]

Irenaeus believed that Ephesians 4:9 referred to Christ’s Descent into Hades.[46] Tertullian, insisted that Christ descended into Hades, that Hades is located in the earth, and, like Irenaeus, thought Ephesians 4:9 refers to Christ’s Descent.

Hades is not supposed by us to be a bare cavity, nor some subterranean sewer of the world. Rather it is a vast deep space in the interior of the earth…. For we read that Christ in His death spent three days in the heart of the earth…. He did not ascend into the heights of heaven before descending into the lower parts of the earth (Ephesians 4:9). This was so that He might there make the patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself. You must believe Hades is a subterranean region. [47]

Justin Martyr accused the Jews of having completely removed a prophecy from the book of Jeremiah wherein he announced the coming of a Messiah who would preach his salvation to the dead.

Here Trypho remarked, “We ask you first of all to tell us some of the Scriptures which you allege have been completely canceled.” And I said, “I shall do as you please….And again from the sayings of the same Jeremiah these have been cut out: ‘The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.’ ” [48]

In response to the anti-Christian writings of the pagan Celsus, Origen boastfully responded,

But whether he like it or not, we assert that not only while Jesus was in the body did He win over not a few persons merely, but so great a number, that a conspiracy was formed against Him on account of the multitude of His followers; but also, that when He became a soul, without the covering of the body, He dwelt among those souls which were without bodily covering, converting such of them as were willing to Himself…[49]

Jesus not only had converts before he was crucified, but he converted those who were willing while he was “without bodily covering.”

Part II of The Gospel of Nicodemus is entirely devoted to the descent of Christ into Hades. Many early Christians accepted this gospel as being authentic and it received wide circulation in some churches during the third century.[50] The second part of the gospel tells the story of Christ’s Descent as told by two recently resurrected Christians. The account opens with the entrance of John the Baptist into Hades. John introduces himself to the dead prophets and patriarchs and announces the coming of Christ into Hades. “When the patriarchs and the prophets heard these words, they rejoiced greatly.”[51] They then in turn quote their own prophecies about Christ and his descent into Hades. Isaiah quoted one of his own prophecies of that important event. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”[52] Hades then derided Satan for killing Christ. “All that thou hast gained through the tree of knowledge, all hast thou lost through the tree of the cross.”[53] Christ then enters in, breaks down the gates of brass and iron bars, and rescues the righteous dead from Hades.[54]

As has been shown before, many early Church fathers believed Abraham’s bosom and the prison or fire to be two distinct localities in Hades. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham said to the rich man, “between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”[55] Early Christians believed that Christ bridged that gulf and broke down the partition that divided the wicked from the righteous. In the words of Ignatius (d. ca. AD 110),

“Many bodies of the saints that slept arose,” their graves being opened. He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude and rent asunder that means [lit. “fence” or “hedge”] or separation which has existed from the beginning of the world, and cast down its partition wall. [56]

After the partition was removed and the separation ended, the disciples and apostles of Christ were able to preach the gospel to the dead in prison as He had done. They were to preach the gospel not only to the Israelites, but also to the Gentiles who never knew the Judeo-Christian God. The dead who made a profession of faith would be saved. Clement of Alexandria expounded upon this subject.

Do not [the scriptures] show that the Lord preached the Gospel to those that perished in the flood, or rather had been chained, and to those kept “in ward and guard”? And it has been shown also, in the second book of the Stromata, that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades. For it was requisite, in my opinion, that as here, so also there, the best of the disciples should be imitators of the master; so that He should bring to repentance those belonging to the Hebrews, and they the Gentiles; that is, those who lived in righteousness according to the Law and Philosophy, who had ended life not perfectly, but sinfully. For it was suitable to the divine administration, that those possessed of greater worth in righteousness, and whose life had been pre-eminent, on repenting of their transgression, though found in another place, yet being confessedly of the number of the people of God Almighty, should be saved, each one according to his individual knowledge…. If, then, the Lord descended to Hades for no other end but to preach the Gospel, as He did descend; it was either to preach the Gospel to all or to the Hebrew only. If, accordingly, to all, then all who believe shall be saved, although they may be of the Gentiles, on making their profession there; since God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of a sinner…[57]

He further argues that it would be unjust for God to condemn a soul for not having been privileged to hear the Gospel.

So I think it is demonstrated that God (being good) and the Lord (being powerful) both save with a righteousness and equality that extends to all who turn to God, whether here or else where. For it is not right that these [who had departed before the advent of the Lord not having the Gospel preached to them] should be condemned without trial, and that those alone who lived after the advent should have the advantage of the divine righteousness. But to all rational souls it was said from above, “Whatever one of you has done in ignorance, without clearly knowing God, if, on becoming conscious, he repent, all his sins will be forgiven him.”[58]

An early Christian work entitled The Shepherd of Hermas also makes reference to the apostles’ preaching to the dead. It falls into three books—Visions, Commandments, and Similitudes.[59] There are varying opinions as to the origins of the work.

(a) The author was the friend of Paul to whom he sends greetings in Rom. 16:14, in the year 58. This is the oldest opinion and accounts best for its high authority. (b) A contemporary of Clement, presbyter-bishop of Rome, AD 92—101. Based upon this testimony of the book itself. (c) A brother of Bishop Pius of Rome (140). So asserts an unknown author of 170 in the Muratorian fragment of the canon….(d) The book is the work of two or three authors, was begun under Trajan before 112 and completed by the brother of Pius in 140. (e) Hermas is a fictitious name to lend apostolic authority to the Shepherd. (f) …[T]he apostle Paul wrote the Shepherd under the name of Hermas which was given to him by the inhabitants of Lystra.[60]

In his vision, Hermas saw the building of a stone tower. Upon his inquiry, an angel explained that the tower represented the Church and the stones represented individual persons in the Church. Before a stone could become part of the tower, it had to receive “the seal of the Son of God” which is baptism.[61] The base of the tower was made up of forty perfectly fitted stones representing the apostles and teachers of the early Church. At some point, the forty stones left the tower, descended into “the pit” where stones that had “fallen asleep” were located, and administered the seal (baptism) to them. The forty stones received the seal of baptism a second time while administering it to the stones that had fallen asleep. Afterward, the forty stones together with the newly sealed stones ascended from the deep and became part of the tower (Church).

“Why, sir,” I asked, “did the forty stones also ascend with them out of the pit, having already received the seal?” “Because,” he said, “these apostles and teachers who preached the name of the Son of God, after falling asleep in the power and faith of the Son of God, preached it not only to those who were asleep, but themselves also gave them the seal of the preaching. Accordingly they descended with them into the water, and again ascended. But these descended alive and rose up again alive; whereas they who had previously fallen asleep descended dead, but rose up again alive. By these, then, were they quickened and made to know the name of the Son of God. For this reason also did they ascend with them, and were fitted along with them into the building of the tower, and, untouched by the chisel, were built in along with them. For they slept in righteousness and in great purity, but only they had not this seal. [62]

This vision undoubtedly has reference to the apostles’ postmortem preaching to non-Christians as well as an enigmatic reference to vicarious or postmortem baptism, a concept not foreign to Paul.[63] That this passage has reference to postmortem preaching is evident by Clement of Alexandria’s usage and interpretation of the passage.

If, then, He preached only to the Jews, who wanted the knowledge and faith of the Saviour, it is plain that, since God is no respecter of persons, the apostles also, as here, so there [in Hades], preached the Gospel to those of the heathen who were ready for conversion. And it is well said by the Shepherd, “They went down with them therefore into the water, and again ascended. But these descended alive, and again ascended alive. But those who had fallen asleep, descended dead, but ascended alive.”[64]

Only two hundred years after Clement of Alexandria, Augustine had no real answer when confronted with the question of what happens to the dead who die without knowledge of Jesus Christ who were otherwise innocent.[65] The early Christian doctrines were quickly being lost or corrupted. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of modern Christianity has forgotten or disregarded the doctrines on the nature of Hades, Christ’s descent, the postmortem preaching of the gospel by Christ’s disciples, and the postmortem salvation of non-Christians.[66]

Roman Catholicism

Modern Roman Catholic doctrine states that Hades (or limbus patrum) was the abode of the dead prior to the death of Christ.[67] Upon his death, Christ descended into Hades to rescue the just and take them to heaven and to banish the wicked to Gehenna. Hades was thus “emptied” by Christ and has been replaced by Purgatory. Purgatory is “where God purifies the saved sinner so that he can live in heaven with the trinity.”[68] “[P]ersons who die in a state of moral perfection or mortal sin go directly to heaven or hell, respectively.”[69]

For centuries, the destiny of non-baptized infants was limbus infantum or limbus puerorum, a place without “either punishment or heavenly bliss,” since infants are neither degenerate nor justified.[70] “Christ’s descent into Hades did not help the unbaptized children. After this life it is too late to acquire grace.”[71] The doctrine of limbus infantum has been questioned in recent years. The state and destiny of non-baptized children is no longer known.[72] Those who do not know Christ or his church through no fault of their own may also be saved, but how or when this happens is not specified.[73]

Most of these views are contradictory to early Christian teaching. As has been shown previously, early Christians taught that all, both the righteous and the wicked, go to Hades and will continue to do so until the final judgment,[74] that the belief of an immediate ascension to heaven is un-Christian and originated with heretics,[75] that the punishments administered to the wicked end upon full expiation,[76] that infants go to paradise,[77] and that provision is made for the non-Christian dead to accept Christ and be released from prison while in the intermediate state.[78]

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that “death is a mystery.”[79] There are no definitive doctrines on the afterlife. Some Eastern Orthodox Christians continue to believe the early Christian doctrine that the souls of both the righteous and wicked are consigned to Hades until the resurrection.[80] However, the idea of postmortem salvation is fully rejected. “Any moral progress of the soul is excluded after its separation from the body and there is no hope of repentance or betterment after death.” Since there is no chance for purging of sins after death, the Church is also opposed to the Roman Catholic idea of Purgatory.[81]

At the moment of death the soul receives its permanent destiny in heaven or in hell. The non-Christian dead cannot accept Christ after death and are therefore doomed to receive never-ending punishment in hell.

Protestantism

Due to the large variety of protestant denominations, there is no uniform protestant doctrine concerning the intermediate state. One Baptist minister wrote, “Whatever we can derive from the Word of God concerning the topic of death and the intermediate state cannot be anything more than reasonably intelligent speculation.” Therefore, “we cannot hold any opinion dogmatically for it is only at death that we will know for certain what happens.”[82] Protestants are not even all in agreement about the nature of man. Is man composed of only a body (monism) or does he have both a soul and body (dichotomism)?[83] These, and similar questions, divide Protestants and ultimately play an important role in their interpretations of the afterlife.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and some Anabaptists are monistic. Monists generally accept one of four views of the afterlife—conditional immortality, annihilationism proper, soul sleep, or instantaneous resurrection.[84] All of these views reject the concept of an intermediate state since man is a composite unified entity lacking a distinct soul. Since the early Church fathers accepted a dualistic nature of man and believed in an intermediate state, none of these monistic views can be reconciled with the early Christian view.

Those who believe in conditional immortality believe that God created humans mortal and subject to death. Only the righteous receive immortality at the final judgment. Conditionalists reject the concept of endless torment in hell. The wicked are not subject to suffering, but are annihilated. This view is becoming more popular among conservative evangelicals.

In contrast to the adherents to conditional immortality, those who accept annihilationism proper claim that God created all persons immortal. Everyone will be resurrected. The wicked, however, will cease to exist after the final judgment. Like conditionalists, those who adhere to this belief reject the concept of endless suffering as being contrary to God’s nature and love. “The fire of hell does not torment the unrepentant dead eternally; it consumes them.”[85]

Soul sleep (psychopannychy) states that when a believer dies his soul is in a state of sleep or unconsciousness until the resurrection. At the resurrection, the body awakes. The unsaved dead are not physically resurrected and never awake from their state of sleep. Tertullian specifically denounced the idea.[86]

Advocates of instantaneous resurrection “claim that believers receive the resurrection body immediately at death.”[87] The new body is a spiritual body, however. The body of flesh is abandoned permanently at death. Christ’s resurrection was not a fleshy resurrection but a spiritual one, despite the clear witness of Luke.[88]

Most Protestants are dichotomists. There are two prevalent views among the dichotomist Protestants. Some theologians completely reject the physical resurrection. At death the immortal spirit lives on while the physical body is forever dead. The spirit is consigned directly and eternally to heaven or hell. W. N. Clarke, a Baptist theologian, and H. E. Fosdick, a Baptist preacher, both hold to this view. Clarke denied that Jesus or Paul ever taught the resurrection of the physical body. Fosdick believed that “the truth about human destiny was accurately grasped by Greek philosophy and was faithfully mediated to the church by Origen.”[89] The dichotomists who hold this view strongly reject the intermediate state.

Disembodied existence is the classical view among dichotomist Christians. At death, the believer lives with Christ in heaven until the time of physical resurrection. The sinner or non-Christian lives in a place of punishment until the time of physical resurrection. After the resurrection, the wicked are punished eternally and the righteous live with Christ in heaven eternally.[90] It is clear that Tertullian opposed the concept of the righteous dead dwelling with Christ in the intermediate state,[91] but Polycarp (d. ca. AD 156) thought the faithful dead are immediately brought to “their due place in the presence of the Lord.”[92] This view is nearly identical with the Eastern Orthodox view.

One great doctrinal battleground in Protestantism is that of the problem of evil, or the soteriological problem of evil. Since all must accept Christ to be saved, what happens to those who die without ever having heard the gospel of Christ? If God is all-knowing, all-good, and all-powerful, can He condemn the non-Christian “heathen” to be lost eternally? There are varied responses to this problem.

One answer is universalism. All religions are good and have saving power, even outside of Christianity. Those who follow the teachings of Buddha, Mohammad or any other spiritual leader or religion are often following Christ without ever knowing so. All who are transformed to live good and descent lives, no matter what their religious belief, are ultimately saved. Salvation is defined not by dogma, but by individual merit.

Some have concluded that all will have the opportunity to reject or accept the gospel prior to or at the time of death. This is the idea of universal evangelization. All will have a chance to accept Christ before judgment either by regular preaching, a dream, or some sort of revelation.

Another response, the view most like that of early Christianity, is postmortem evangelism. Stephen T. Davis of Claremont College advances this view.

Suppose there was a woman named Oohku who lived from 370-320 B.C. in the interior of Borneo.Obviously, she would never have heard of Jesus Christ or the Judeo-Christian God; she would never have been baptized, nor would she ever have made any institutional or psychological commitment to Christ or to the Christian church.nShe couldn’t have done these things; she was simply born in the wrong place and at the wrong time.Could it be right for God to condemn this woman to eternal hell just because she was never able to come to God through Christ? Of course not.[93]

He then suggests that someone like Oohku could be saved by “post-mortem evangelism.”[94] After referring to the idea of the intermediate state and citing such biblical passages as Ephesians 4:8-10, 1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6, and 1 Corinthians 15:29 as evidence that the gospel was once preached to the dead, he then concludes,

If the gospel was once preached to the dead, perhaps this practice continues. If so, perhaps the ignorant are preached to after death and receive then the chance they never had before to receive Christ and turn to God.[95]

Other scholars and theologians have held similar views. According to L. Harold DeWolf,

Punishment after death must be regarded as administered in the hope and with the purpose of stirring the sinner from his complacent pride and preparing him for the redeeming work of God’s love.[96]

In other words, hell is a place of redemption and expiation where the dead will be prepared for salvation. According to Brian Hebblewaite, we ought to “envisage further opportunities beyond the grave for men and women denied such opportunities on earth, to respond to God’s love and realize their potential as creatures destined for eternity.”[97] Dale Moody, writing about 1 Peter 4:6, said,

There is no suggestion that they [the dead] had a “second chance,” but it is possible that they were given a “first chance” even after death…. It is difficult to believe that God would leave men forever in Hades (hell) simply because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.[98]

While the concept of postmortem evangelism is nearly identical to early Christianity, most Protestants reject it. Most Protestants embrace exclusivism. That is, only those are saved who accept Christ in this life, here and now. This view makes no provision for those who have no information concerning Christ. Hank Hanegraaff, head of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answerman radio program, represents this view. When responding specifically to the soteriological problem of evil, he wrote,

Although God is sovereign and he can deal with individuals in extraordinary ways, He tells us in the Bible that there’s no other way to reach Him except through His one provision—the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6). From this, we can only conclude that those who have never heard of Christ are indeed lost.[99]

When combined with the idea of a never-ending torment in hell, the condition of the ignorant non-Christian dead is very gloomy indeed. The real question, according to exclusivists, is not why the ignorant of Christ receive condemnation and punishment in hell eternally, but why so many people are saved who really did nothing to merit salvation.

The NIV translation of 1 Peter 4:6 clearly demonstrates an exclusivist slant. The translators of the NIV Bible were exclusively Protestant “from many denominations—including Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren, Christian Reformed, Church of Christ, Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Wesleyan and other churches.” This was done in an attempted to “safeguard the translation from sectarian bias.”[100] The translation clearly represents mainstream Protestant thought. Interestingly, the translators reject the idea of postmortem salvation. This is evident from their erroneous translation of 1 Peter 4:6.

For this reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The authors of the NIV Study Bible note, “the word ‘now’ does not occur in the Greek.” Notwithstanding the volumes of information from early Christianity about posthumous preaching and salvation, the NIV study Bible note asserts that this edition to the text was made because “it is necessary to make it clear that the preaching was done not after these people had died, but while they were still alive.” The note then dogmatically asserts, “There will be no opportunity for people to be saved after death.”[101]

Contrary to their desire to avoid sectarian bias, the translators have interpreted this scripture out of its historical and doctrinal context and have purposefully distorted its meaning to promote the exclusivist view.[102] This implies that most protestant sects embrace the exclusivist view that there is no opportunity for postmortem salvation. Accordingly, for most Protestants, the non-Christian dead are condemned to receive a never-ending punishment, not for what they have done, but for what they never knew.

The Latter-day Saint View

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) is generally not accepted as being inside mainstream Christianity, often because of the Church’s views concerning the afterlife. Latter-day Saints, however, fully accept the idea of the intermediate state as well as postmortem salvation. The intermediate state has several different names, according to Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith.

There has been much said about the word hell, and the sectarian world have preached much about it, describing it to be a burning lake of fire and brimstone. But what is hell? It is another modern term, and is taken from Hades…. Hades, the Greek, or Shaole, the Hebrew: these two significations mean a world of spirits. Hades, Shaole, paradise, spirits in prison, are all one: it is a world of spirits. The righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection.[103]

Brigham Young, the second Church President and prophet, similarly taught that all “the good and bad, the righteous and the unrighteous must go to the house of prison, or Paradise”[104] and that “the righteous and the wicked are together in Hades.”[105] “No spirit of Saint or sinner…is prepared for their final state” upon death. Accordingly, “all pass through the veil from this state and go into the world of spirits; and there they dwell, waiting for their final destiny.” This world of spirits is right here on earth.[106]

Perhaps the clearest exposition of the Latter-day Saint view of the intermediate state is found in the Book of Mormon.

Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil…shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil. Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection…There is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.[107]

When individuals die, they are brought before God to receive a preliminary judgment. The dead are then assigned to one of two localities. The first locality is called “paradise” and is a place of rest, peace, and happiness for the righteous. The other is called “outer darkness”[108] and is a place of torment where the wicked are miserable “because of their own iniquity.” All spirits remain in this state until the resurrection.

Those who are in “outer darkness” are in “a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them” because they see their future doom. Smith defined the misery of the wicked in outer darkness as being a direct result of what they have lost.

The great misery of departed spirits in the world of spirits, where they go after death, is to know that they come short of the glory that others enjoy and that they might have enjoyed themselves, and they are their own accusers.[109]

The real punishment is a result of their guilt.

Therefore if [a] man repenteth not and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth…fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.[110]

Like Tertullian, Latter-day Saints believe that all of those found in torment, except the sons of perdition, will eventually pay the “utmost farthing” and be released from prison.[111]

Jesus will bring forth, by his own redemption, every son and daughter of Adam, except the sons of perdition, who will be cast into hell. Others will suffer the wrath of God—will suffer all the Lord can demand at their hands, or justice can require of them; and when they have suffered the wrath of God till the utmost farthing is paid, they will be brought out of prison.[112]

Everlasting or eternal punishment does not denote the length of the punishment, but rather the source of the punishment. “Everlasting” and “eternal” are names for God. Everlasting or eternal punishment denotes punishment that proceeds from God and does not necessarily imply that there shall be no end to the torment.[113]

According to the Prophet, the idea that a non-Christian would suffer forever in hell for not having known Christ “is too foolish for an intelligent man to think of.” God is not so unjust, “nor the plan of salvation for the human family so incompatible with common sense.” He then paraphrased a passage from Romans, “how can they believe on him of whom they have not heard, and how can they hear without a preacher, and how can he preach except he be sent?” A man “cannot be condemned for what he has not heard, and being without law, will have to be judged without law.”[114] The Book of Mormon states “where there is no law given there is no punishment” and “the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.”[115] Accordingly Joseph Smith taught “all children are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and the moment that children leave this world, they are taken to the bosom of Abraham.”[116]

Since all must believe in Christ to be saved, like early Christians, Joseph Smith taught that Christ descended into Hades and preached his gospel to the dead.

Peter, also, in speaking concerning our Savior, says, that “He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometimes were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah,” (I Peter iii:19,20). Here then we have an account of our Savior preaching to the spirits in prison, to spirits that had been imprisoned from the days of Noah; and what did He preach to them? That they were to stay there? Certainly not! Let His own declaration testify. “He hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” (Luke iv:18.) Isaiah has it—“To bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness from the prison house.” (Isaiah xlii: 7.) It is very evident from this that He not only went to preach to them, but to deliver, or bring them out of the prison house.[117]

The Prophet greatly expanded Luke 3:4 in his inspired revision of the New Testament, incorporating language clearly reminiscent of the early Christian understanding of Hades and Christ’s Descent. Christ would “be a light unto all who sit in darkness, unto the uttermost parts of the earth; to bring to pass the resurrection from the dead, and to ascend up on high, to dwell on the right hand of the Father.”[118]

Previous to Christ’s advent in the spirit world, the wicked and righteous were separated from each other. While Christ was there, however, He made it possible for the righteous in paradise to preach among the wicked.

But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead. And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel. Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.[119]

This postmortem preaching continues today by “the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life.”[120] Those who “would have accepted the gospel in this life had they been permitted to hear it, will have the chance to accept it in the spirit world, and will then be entitled to all the blessings which passed them by in mortality.”[121]

Since baptism is essential for salvation, faithful Latter-day Saints can be baptized vicariously for the dead. The dead are then permitted to accept or reject these vicarious baptisms according to their own volition. Like many early Christians, Mormons believe that the non-Christian dead can accept Christ, receive baptism postmortem, and still be saved.

For Latter-day Saints the word “bind” in Matthew 16:19 is synonymous with “seal.” This passage has reference to priesthood authority to perform ordinances or sacraments, such as baptism, echoing the Shepherd of Hermas’ usage of the word “seal.”[122] When a baptism (seal) is performed vicariously for the dead by proper priesthood authority, the seal (baptism) is recognized in heaven.[123] Thus, Joseph Smith explained, “there is a way to release the spirit of the dead; that is, by the power and authority of the Priesthood—by binding and loosing on earth.”[124] As explained by Mormon Scholar Hugh Nibley,

The seal was what the early Christians called baptism in this connection. It was the seal of baptism that was put on the acceptance of the preaching on the other side. If it was accepted, the seal was effective, and what was sealed on earth was sealed in heaven.[125]

Latter-day Saints believe that their doctrines came by revelation from God to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Although there is strong support for these particular Mormon doctrines discussed in this paper among the writings of the ante-Nicene Fathers, the Latter-day Saints did not derive their beliefs from those writings. In fact, most of the writings of the early Church Fathers were not available to the general public when Joseph Smith first advanced his ideas on the subject.

Conclusion

When Peter was confronted with the heresies of his arch-antagonist, Simon Magus, he satirically mocked the injustice of Simon’s god.

He saves adulterers and men-slayers, if they know him; but good, and sober, and merciful persons, if they do not know him, in consequence of their having no information concerning him, he does not save! Great and good truly is he whom you proclaim, who is not so much the saviour of the evil, as he is one who shows no mercy to the good.[126]

Sadly, the modern mainstream Christian God is not unlike Simon’s god who fails to save good people only because they “have no information concerning him.” The God of early Christianity made ample provision to save all of mankind, even after death. He made such salvation possible through his intermediate state called Hades, Christ’s Descent thereto, and postmortem preaching.

These doctrines as taught by the early Christians are essential in understanding their merciful Creator and His just plan. In stark contrast, nearly all of modern Christianity has exchanged these ideas for a different plan of salvation that makes no provision for those who die in ignorance of Jesus Christ. The only significant exception in modern Christianity is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[127] Ironically, the Latter-day Saints are often ridiculed as “non-Christian” for fully embracing such bizarre concepts of the intermediate state, the nature and duration of punishment for the wicked, and postmortem evangelism and salvation, although such things were taught in abundance by such noted theologians as Tertullian, Irenaeus, Origen, Clement of Alexandria and by such celebrated apostles as Peter and Paul.

Notes


[1] It is natural to divide Christianity into the subgroups of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism and ignorantly place the Latter-day Saint (LDS) movement within Protestantism. However, many basic Mormon doctrines are recognizably distinct from those of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy or Protestantism, and LDS do not consider themselves to be part of the Christian Reformation. LDS assert that true Christianity did not continue through Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy and that Protestantism only reformed certain portions of the already existent Christianity while God restored true Christianity to a prophet, Joseph Smith. Further, scholars are now debating whether Mormonism could be considered a new world religion.

[2] James Strong, New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 2. Greek word 86.

[3] KJV Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke. 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27; 2:31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13; 10:14.

[4] “Hell” denotes “a nether world in which the dead continue to exist.” However, the most common definition of the word in modern society is “the realm of the devil in which the damned suffer everlasting punishment.” See The Merriam Webster Dictionary, 10th Edition.

>[5] See Michael Vogel, “The Intermediate State of Souls in the Old Testament,” http://www.wls.wels.net/publications/theologia/vol5no1/VogelSoul/VogelSoul.rtf. He asserts that some interpret the word Hades to mean hell. In most instances in the New Testament, Hades means hell.

[6] “Gehenna” appears eleven times and “Hades” only appears four times in the Gospels.

[7] See 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:2-6; and 2 Kings 23:10.

[8] Strong, New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament, 19. Greek word 1067.

[9] Hippolytus also uses Tartarus to denote the place of punishment in Hades. (Fragments from Commentaries in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante- Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. [1885; reprint, Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004], 5:174. [Hereafter ANF])

[10] Kenneth Barker ed., The NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), footnote for 2 Peter 2:4. Strong, New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words of the Greek Testament, 89. Greek word 5020.

[11] 2 Peter 2:4.

[12] The other references to Hades found in Acts 2:27; 2:31, Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14 are all clearly referring to a place where the dead dwell and not of a place of eternal punishment. Rev. 20:13-14 specifically states that Hades will have a permanent end.

[13] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982, Hereafter NKJV), Matt. 11:23.

[14] Strong, New Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament, 65. Greek word 3772

[15] See, for example, Hippolytus, Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe 1 in ANF 5:221-222 and Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul LV. in Ibid., 3:231. There may also be some hint of this concept in the New Testament. See, for example, Revelation 5:3,13; Ephesians 4:9; and Philippians 2:10.

[16] NKJV Matt. 16:18.

[17] Matt. 16:18. Today’s New International Version (Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 2005)

[18] By comparison, in The Gospel of Nicodemus the “gates” mentioned in Psalm 24 refer to the gates of Hades and the attempt made there to keep out the “King of Glory.” See The Gospel of Nicodemus, Part II, 6 in ANF 8:436-437.

[19] Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, or Miscellanies VI. in Ibid., 2:490.

[20] NKJV Luke 16:23.

[21] This will be discussed later in the paper. See also Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, New Updated Edition. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 669.

[22] Dummelow, J. R. ed., The One Volume Bible Commentary. (New York:Macmillan, 1978), 761.

[23] This paper uses “Early Church Fathers” to specifically refer to the ante-Nicene Church leaders, including the Apostolic Fathers.

[24] Hippolytus, Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe in ANF., 5:221-222; William Whiston attributes this same exposition to Josephus. It seems much more likely to have been Hippolytus’ teaching, however, due to the many references to Christ, the Word, the Son, the Father, etc. (William Whiston ed., Josephus: The Complete Works. [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998], 974.) It is clear, however, that the concept of Hades was not foreign to Josephus (See Whiston, ed., Josephus: The Complete Works, 786).

Some of the quotes from the early Christian fathers used in this paper may come from sources that are disputed. However, all of the documents are clearly of early Christian origin and reflect early Christian thought, whether the supposed author wrote them or not. They are therefore pertinent to the discussion. With more time and discoveries it is probable that scholars will know more concerning the origin of many of these documents, and even bring some documents into dispute that are currently undisputed.

[25] Darkness is consistently implied to describe the place or state of the wicked in the intermediate state.

[26] Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul LV in ANF 3:231.

[27] Ibid., LVIII in Ibid., 3:234-235.

[28] Irenaeus, Against Heresies XXIX.3 in Ibid., 1:403.

[29] Origen, De Principiis XI.6 in Ibid., 4:299.

[30] Justin Martyr in David W. Bercot, ed. Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998), 191.

[31] Irenaeus, Against Heresies XXXI.2 in ANF 1:560-561.

[32] Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul VIII in Ibid., 3:187. As an interesting side note, Tertullian uses the punishment and consolation given in Hades as proof for the unusual view that spirits are material or corporal. While this view is definitely not a part of modern Catholic or Protestant doctrine, Joseph Smith also taught that spirits are material in nature. “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by pure eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” (Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8) “In tracing the thing to the foundation, and looking at it philosophically, we shall find a very material difference between the body and the spirit; the body is supposed to be organized matter, and the spirit, by many, is thought to be immaterial, without substance. With this latter statement we should beg leave to differ, and state the spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body; that it existed before the body, can exist in the body; and will exist separate from the body, when the body will be mouldering in the dust; and will in the resurrection, be again united with it.” (Joseph Smith in Joseph Fielding Smith, ed. The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976], 207.)

[33] Tertullian, On Idolatry XIII in ANF 3:69. Tertullian was not consistent in his views, however. On another occasion he seemed to differentiate between Hades and Abraham’s bosom. See Ibid., 3:406.

[34] Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul LVI in Ibid., 3:233.

[35] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho V in Ibid., 1:197.

[36] Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse in Ibid., 7:351.

[37] Tatian is the only possible exception, although his teachings on the idea are extremely vague. See Ibid., 2:70-71.

[38] Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul LVIII in Ibid., 3:235.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata XIX in Ibid., 2:505.

[41] John Norman Davidson Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, revised edition. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004), 473.

[42] Ibid., 483.

[43] J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 485. The idea of Purgatory would later grow out of Augustine’s doctrine as here stated.

[44] NKJV 1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6. “The whole passage [1 Peter 3:18-19] clearly means that Christ, as a spirit, preached to certain spirits, who had been disobedient to the end of their earthly life. This preaching took place between His death and resurrection, and its purpose was that, by hearing the gospel, these men might have an opportunity of repentance” (Dummelow, J. R. ed., The One Volume Bible Commentary. [New York:Macmillan, 1978], 1046). “[1 Peter 4:6] refers back to 3:19. The dead are the same persons in each place. Judgment does not mean punishment, but separation, and man, by choosing His side, cooperates with God’s judgment. This choice and separation could not, St. Peter considers, be made until the gospel had been heard. Thus the judgment of these dead men did not take place till Christ preached in the spirit to them. Then they could choose their side, for or against Him. St. Peter, however, does not claim to penetrate the depths of the mystery of judgment, and leaves the subject with a statement containing […] two parts which we cannot reconcile, but which he assures us will be reconciled—they must be judged as all men must, in the flesh, i.e. by what they did in their earthly life, and yet they may live, as God lives, in the spirit, i.e. by the choice they make in their disembodied state” (Ibid., 1046).

[45] The Gospel of Peter in Bart D. Ehrman, ed., Lost Scriptures. (New York: Oxford, 2003), 33.

[46] Irenaeus, Against Heresies XXXI in ANF 1:560.

[47] Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul LV in Ibid., 3:231.

[48] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho LXXII in ANF 1:234-235. Irenaeus quoted the same scripture in Ibid., 1:560. “And the Lord remembered His dead saints who slept formerly in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them, to rescue and saved them.”

[49] Origen, Against Celsus XLIII in Ibid., 4:448.

[50] The Lost Books of the Bible (New York: Alpha House, 1927), 63.

[51] The Gospel of Nicodemus Part II, 3 in ANF 8:436.

[52] KJV Isaiah 9:2.

[53] The Gospel of Nicodemus Part II, 7 in ANF 8:437.

[54] The language concerning the gates of brass and the iron bars is clearly reminiscent of Psalm 107:10-19.

[55] NKJV Luke 16:26.

[56] Ignatius, Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians IX in ANF 1:70.

[57] Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata VI in Ibid., 2:490

[58] Ibid., 2:491.

[59] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 8 vols. (1883; reprint, Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006), 2:680-681

[60] Ibid., 2:688-689.

[61] “The seal” was often used to denote baptism in early Christian writings. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 194-195.

[62] The Pastor of Hermas, Similitude XVI in ANF 2:49. For an excellent discussion of this passage, see Richard L. Anderson, Understanding Paul (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 408-410.

[63] “Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead?” (NKJV 1 Corinthians 15:29)

[64] Clement of Alexandria The Stromata VI in ANF 2:491.

[65] He posed the question often asked of him in this way, “‘If Christ,’ they say, ‘declares himself to be the Way of salvation, the Grace and the Truth, and affirms that in Him alone, and only to souls believing in Him, is the way of return to God, what has become of men who lived in the many centuries before Christ came?…What, then, has become of such an innumerable multitude of souls, who were in no wise blameworthy, seeing that He in whom alone saving faith can be exercised had not yet favoured men with His advent?’” After a lengthy response, he summed up the matter in one sentence. “Let them, therefore, desist from bringing against us objections which are of equal force against every sect, and against religion of every name.” That is, Augustine had no answer, but he felt justified by the fact that no other religion or sect had an answer at that time either. (Letters of St. Augustine CII.8 in Schaff, Philip, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, 14 vols. [1885; reprint, Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004.], 1:416-417.)

[66] While it might be argued that not all early Christians believed in the concept of postmortem salvation, it is clear that the doctrine was generally accepted and considered to be within the mainstream. Among their writings, there are a few statements that seem to imply there is no postmortem salvation. However, many times the context of their statements can significantly alter their meaning. Christians did not generally believe that they would have an opportunity to repent after death, since they already had that opportunity. Postmortem salvation was generally for those who hadn’t heard of Christianity. For example, “After we have departed from the world, no further power of confessing or repenting will belong to us.” (Clement, The Homily Ascribed to Clement VII in ANF., 7:519, emphasis not in original)

[67] Bruce A. Demarest, Gordon R. Lewis. Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 3:447-448.

[68] “Christ’s Descent into ‘Hell,’” http://www.cuf.org/FileDownloads/hellhades.pdf.

[69] Ibid., 3:447.

[70] Integrative Theology, 3:448; Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 5:760.

[71] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 5:760.

[72] Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Doubleday: New York, 1995), 353, paragraph 1261.

[73] Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Doubleday: New York, 1995), 244, paragraphs 847-848.

[74] Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul LV in ANF 3:231. Irenaeus, Against Heresies XXXI in ANF 1:560-561.

[75] Justin Martyr in Bercot, Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, 191.

[76] Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata XIV in ANF 2:505; Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul LVIII in ANF 3:235.

[77] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho V in Ibid., 1:197.

[78] Origen, Against Celsus XLIII in Ibid., 4:448.

[79] “Death, the Threshold to Eternal Life,” http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article7076.asp.


[81]
“Death, the Threshold to Eternal Life,” http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article7076.asp.

[82] Robert C. Mills, “Death and the Intermediate State?” http://mywebpages.comcast.net/pastorbob/theologicalpapers/intermediatestate.htm.

[83] Ibid.

[84] The following brief discussion on the different protestant views is largely drawn from Integrative Theology, 3:449-500.

[85] Ibid., 3:451.

[86] Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul LVIII in ANF 3:234-235.

[87] Integrative Theology, 3:453.

[88] “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (NIV Luke 24:38-39)

[89] Integrative Theology, 3:447

[90] See “Of the State of Men After Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead” in The Westminster Confession, Chapter XXXII.

[91] Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul LV in ANF 3:231.

[92] Polycarp, The Epistle of Polycarp IX in Ibid., 1:35.

[93] Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 151.

[94] Ibid., 162

[95] Ibid., 164

[96] L. Harold DeWolf, The Case for Theology in Liberal Perspective (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959), 174.

[97] Brian Hebblethwait, The Christian Hope (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 218-219.

[98] Clark H. Pinnock as quoted in Integrative Theology, 3:452

[99] Hank Hanegraaff, “What Happens to People Who Have Never Heard the Gospel?,” http://www.equip.org/free/CP0207.htm.

[100] Preface, NIV Study Bible.

[101] Ibid., footnote for 1 Peter 4:6.

[102] Frederic W. Farrar recognized that modern Christianity has largely been neglectful of the concept of postmortem salvation, “a much-disregarded, and indeed, till recent times half-forgotten, article of the Christian creed—I mean the object of Christ’s descent into Hades.” He then continued, “In this truth is involved nothing less than the extension of Christ’s redeeming work to the dead….I allude of course to the famous passage…that ‘Christ…went and preached to the spirits in prison.’… Few words of Scripture have been so tortured and emptied of their significance as these…Every effort has been made to explain away the plain meaning of this passage. It is one of the most precious passages of Scripture, and it involves no ambiguity, except as is created by the scholasticism of a prejudiced theology…For if language have any meaning, this language means that Christ, when His Spirit descended into the lower world, proclaimed the message of salvation to the once impenitent dead. No honest man who goes to Holy Scripture to seek for truth, instead of going to try and find whatever errors he may bring to it as part of his theological belief, can possibly deny that there is ground here to mitigate that element of the popular teaching of Christendom against which many of the greatest Saints and theologians have raised their voices [that is, the exclusivist view]….We thus rescue the work of redemption from the appearance of having failed to achieve its end for the vast majority of those for whom Christ died. By accepting the light thus thrown upon ‘the descent into Hell’ we extend to those of the dead who have not finally hardened themselves against it the blessedness of Christ’s atoning work. We thus complete the divine, all-comprehending circuit of God’s universal grace” (Farrar, Frederic W. The Early Days of Christianity, 2 Vols. [New York: Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Company, 1882] 1:139-143)! The translators of the NIV have shown their own theological bias by their unfounded addition to the Bible, notwithstanding the warning of John (Revelation 21:19).

[103] Joseph Smith. B.H. Roberts ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1951), 5:425. (Hereafter HC)

[104] Brigham Young. Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-1886), 4:285.

[105] Ibid., 3:94-95.

[106] Ibid., 3:369.

[107] Alma 40:11-14, 21

[108] “Darkness” is used in a few other Latter-day Saint scriptures to denote the place or state of the wicked in the spirit world. See Doctrine and Covenants 38:5; 138:30,57.

[109] Joseph Smith. HC 5:425.

[110] Mosiah 2:38.

[111] Many Latter-day Saints have used the word “prison” to refer specifically to the place or state of the wicked in the intermediate state. However, the term is ambiguous and has also been used by Latter-day Saints to denote the entire intermediate state. See Bruce R. McConkie. Mormon Doctrine, second edition. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 755.

[112] Brigham Young. Journal of Discourses 8:154.

[113] Doctrine and Covenants 19:4-8.

[114] Joseph Smith. HC 4:597-598.

[115] 2 Nephi 9:25.

[116] Joseph Smith. The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 197.

[117] Ibid., 4:596.

[118] Thomas A. Wayment, ed. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament. (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2005), 152-153.

[119] Doctrine and Covenants 138:30-32.

[120] Ibid., 138:57.

[121] McConkie. Mormon Doctrine, 673.

[122] See Ibid., 615-616; Doctrine and Covenants 128; The Pastor of Hermas, ANF 2:49.

[123] As a side note, this concept is especially interesting when compared with the interpretation of Matt. 16:18 advanced previously in the paper. The “gates of Hades” will not keep the church from preaching the gospel to the dead, and the Church would have the authority to vicariously “seal” (baptize) on earth and have it “sealed” in heaven (i.e. the vicarious baptisms would be recognized by God).

[124] Joseph Smith in The Essential Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995), 151-152.

[125] Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1987), 170.

[126] Peter in Recognitions of Clement LVIII, ANF 8:113.

[127] Latter-day Saints, of course, have some doctrines concerning the spirit world or the intermediate state that are not clearly spelled out in early Christian thought (such as vicarious ordinances). These doctrines, however, unlike those of most of current thought in mainstream Christianity, are not contradictory but supplementary in nature to the early Christian views.

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