Jacob Arminius – Part 1

The Life and Teachings of Jacob Arminius (1559-1609)

Jacob Arminius was a sixteenth-century theologian who name lives on in history through the theological system that bears his name.  My interest in Arminius stems from the fact that I am personally an Arminian.  As a student of the theological systems of Calvinism (named after John Calvin) and Arminianism, I am the lesser known of those two theologians.  Mark Galli and Ted Olsen give Arminius the title “Irenic Anti-Calvinist” (in 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, p. 41).  That perspective is interesting because they choose to identity Arminius with what he was against, rather than what he was for, although they do try to make him sound peaceful in the process.  The systems of Arminianism and Calvinism are historic rivals in soteriological debates, and some interesting observations can be made as we travel back to the sixteenth century.

The Intermediate State

A Consideration of The Intermediate State

            An examination of this subject immediately encounters a number of difficulties, with one of the most significant being that the term “intermediate state” is non-existent in the Bible.  Therefore, a study of this topic is at best a discussion of what can be inferred from a handful of key passages.  The term “intermediate state” has come to refer to the state of the believer after death but before the return of Christ.  The intermediate state is a sort of “in-between place,” as it is often thought that at the return of Christ a new bodily existence will begin.  The intermediate state is therefore where the believing dead will go to await that new existence.  It should be clarified that a belief in the intermediate state assumes that there will be a future bodily resurrection.  Belief in a bodily resurrection has led to an interest in the state and status of the dead before the resurrection occurs (Kreitzer, 438).  This study will briefly interact with the Biblical evidence and theological conclusions that pertain to discussions about the intermediate state.

The Biblical teaching about the state of the dead after death and before the resurrection is more fully developed in the New Testament than in the Old Testament.  However, the idea of an intermediate state is not completely absent from the Old Testament.  For example, Job seems to have some awareness of a future resurrection in Job 19:25.  Jesus seems to be thinking of an intermediate state in Matthew 22:32.  In that passage he quoted Exodus 3:6 and stated (after referencing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) that God is not the God of the dead but of the living.  In the New Testament two important passages that discuss physical death and resurrection are Matthew 22:30-32 and 1 Corinthians 15.  The Bible also teaches that there is a unity between soul and body and that both are important in understanding what it means to be human (Gen. 2:7).  The account of Saul and the witch at Endor (1 Sam. 28:7) has been appealed to for information about the intermediate state, but the many interpretative issues surrounding this passage make it unwise to press it for details (Helm, 1043).

One of the most popular passages in this discussion is Christ’s story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.  Paul Helm believes that this story is a parable, although Jesus never directly says that.  This account is also thought to have symbolic character (v. 22) and is recognized as being primarily focused on teaching about how the present life impacts a person’s eternal destiny.  For these reasons Helm maintains that care must be exercised in extracting information about the intermediate state from this story (Helm, 1043).  In contrast to Helm’s reluctance to admit that the account of the rich man and Lazarus is of much value in this discussion, Murray J. Harris thinks it deserves consideration. Harris acknowledges that this story was primarily told for the purpose of illustrating the dangers of wealth and the importance of repentance.  However, he also believes that it is reasonable to look at this account for some basic details about the intermediate state (Harris, 47-48).

Of special interest to Harris is that the final destinies of both the rich man and Lazarus were fixed; neither could be changed (Lk. 16:23, 25-26).  This story is clearly depicting the intermediate (not the final) state, as life on earth was continuing (vv. 27–29) and the resurrection and judgment were in the future (vv. 27–31).  According to this account both the rich man and Lazarus were aware of their surroundings.  Lazarus was comforted in Abraham’s bosom (vv. 22–23, 25) and the rich man was tormented in Hades (vv. 23–25, 28).  The rich man also demonstrated a memory of the past, as Abraham instructed him to remember his lifetime (v. 25) and as he was able to remember that his family had rejected the Scriptures (vv. 27–30).  The rich man’s dialogue with Abraham suggests the dead have a sense of perception (vv. 27–28) and the ability to reason (v. 30) (Harris, 47-48).

Those three characteristics of consciousness, memory, and rationality are also suggested as being visible in the martyr’s plea for vindication in Revelation 6:9-10.  In that account the martyrs ask God how long it will be until their deaths are avenged.  Additionally, Paul preferred (2 Cor. 5:8) and desired (Phil. 1:23) to leave this earth and be with the Lord, which would not make sense unless fellowship with Christ is more profound after death than during this life.  We can learn from the New Testament that deceased believers are secure in God’s care (Lk. 23:46; cf. Acts 7:59), are at rest from their labors (Heb. 4:10; Rev. 14:13), and are experiencing spiritual life (1 Pet. 4:6).  The idea of a conscious intermediate state can be countered by a consideration of the  verb ‘sleep’ (koimasthai), which is used fifteen times to refer to dead people.  This verb was a common euphemism for death and is sometimes thought to suggest a time of “suspended animation” between death and resurrection.  Harris considers the evidence and concludes that the dead “fall asleep” in the sense that they no longer participate in this world, yet they are fully conscious in their new environment.  Paul only uses this verb of Christians, not of men in general, suggesting the peaceful passing that should characterize Christians (Harris, 47-48).

Whether or not the intermediate state is one of disembodiment is an issue that this study is not able to address.  However, we can seek to summarize by stating two conclusions often drawn from the Biblical evidence.  The first conclusion is that even after physical death the person lives on as a distinct individual personality.  In the case of believers that existence is understood as being in the presence of God (e.g., Phil. 1:23).  Both believers and unbelievers are thought to be conscious and aware of their location after death.  The second conclusion is that the existence in the intermediate state is not a fully human existence because the souls does not possess a body.  The body is understood as an essential part of being human and is somehow connected with what is means to be made in the image of God.  The dead believer awaits the resurrection of the body, at which point he will experience complete freedom from sin and be in the presence of Christ (1 Cor 15:50–58).  It is much less clear from the Bible what exactly will immediately happen to those who die outside of Christ.  Even in light of the scarcity of Biblical material on this topic, it can be stated with certainty that dead believers will experience a resurrection to life and dead unbelievers will experience a resurrection to judgment (Jn. 5:29) (Helm, 1043).

The primary issue in discussions about the intermediate state seems to be the degree of consciousness that is experienced by the dead.  The story of the rich man and Lazarus is the classic text in these discussions.  We have already looked at this passage, but it has not yet been emphasized that there is a “great chasm” that has been fixed between the blessed and the damned.  This story is subject to many interpretations, ranging from some taking the details to extremes to others saying that the details are meaningless.  However, this story does not seem to be completely meaningless, especially if consideration is given to Jesus’ statement to the criminal that they would be together in Paradise (Lk. 23:43), and apparently aware of their location (Smith, 609).

The three major views in Christian theology on the intermediate state are “soul sleep” (dead persons are completely unconscious), “restful bliss or conscious torment” (dead believers are conscious in the blissful presence of Christ and dead unbelievers are consciously in torment apart from God), and purgatory (the Roman Catholic belief that dead persons undergo various levels of sufferings in order to receive purification from their sins).  There are also some theologians who completely deny the existence of the intermediate state, concluding that the dead immediately enter their eternal abode (Grenz, 67).  In light of the Biblical evidence we have looked at I believe that the second option (conscious bliss or conscious torment) is the one that makes the most sense.  It could be objected that in the story of the rich man and Lazarus Jesus was not seeking to teach about the intermediate state.  Perhaps not, but he was no doubt aware of what he was saying.  In light of my conviction that Jesus is the Son of God, I am willing to accept his statements about the intermediate state.

Works Cited

Grenz, Stanley, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Harris, Murray J. “The New Testament View of Life After Death.” Themelios: Volume 11, No. 2, January 1986 (1986).

Helm, Paul.  “Intermediate State.”  In Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, eds. Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.

Kreitzer, L.J.  “Intermediate State.”  In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. Gerald F.     Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity    Press, 1993.

Smith, S.M.  “Intermediate State.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition.  Ed. Walter A. Elwell.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

God’s Wisdom

The Apostle Paul once exclaimed: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33, ESV)

God’s wisdom is an attribute of his that may not receive much attention.  Wisdom could be defined as knowing the best possible end and the best possible means of achieving that end.

How does an understanding of God’s wisdom impact our lives?  At the very least, we should remember that God’s wisdom means that his plans cannot be improved.  What he has planned is the best, even though we often do not understand his plans.

Draw Daggers?

I have previously written about some of my frustrations with theology, particularly the theological disunity that can often be found among Christians.  This account offers a unique perspective on this issue.  It comes from Handley Carr Glyn Moule’s 1892 biography, Charles Simeon, p. 79ff.  It records a conversation between Calvinist Charles Simeon (1759-1836) and Arminian John Wesley (1703-1791) about their commonality amidst the controversy:

[Simeon] Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers.  But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions.  Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

[Wesley] Yes, I do indeed.

[Simeon] And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

[Wesley] Yes, solely through Christ.

[Simeon] But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

[Wesley] No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

[Simeon] Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

[Wesley] No.

[Simeon] What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

[Wesley] Yes, altogether.

[Simeon] And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

[Wesley] Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

[Simeon] Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.


The Need For Theology

James Arminius had this to say about the necessity of theology:

This derives its origin from the comparison of our contagion and vicious depravity, with the sanctity of God that is incapable of defilement, and with the inflexible rigor of his justice, which completely separates us from him by a gulf so great as to render it impossible for us to be united together while at such a vast distance, or for a passage to be made from us to him—unless Christ had trodden the wine press of the wrath of God, and by the streams of his most precious blood, plentifully flowing from the pressed, broken, and disparted veins of his body, had filled up that otherwise impassable gulf, “and had purged our consciences, sprinkled with this his own blood, from all dead works;” (Heb. 9:14, 22,) that, being thus sanctified, we might approach to “the living God and might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:75.)


The Athanasian Creed

The Athanasian creed was developed in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.

1. Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith:
2. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
3. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
4. Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.
5. For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Spirit.
6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.
7. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Spirit.
8. The Father uncreated: the Son uncreated: and the Holy Spirit uncreated.
9. The Father incomprehensible: the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.
10. The Father eternal: the Son eternal: and the Holy Spirit eternal.
11. And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.
12. And also there are not three uncreated: nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated: and one incomprehensible.
13. So likewise the Father is Almighty: the Son Almighty: and the Holy Spirit Almighty.
14. And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty.
15. So the Father is God: the Son is God: and the Holy Spirit is God.
16. And yet they are not three Gods: but one God.
17. So likewise the Father is Lord: the Son Lord: and the Holy Spirit Lord.
18. And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.
19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord:
20. So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion: to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
21. The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.
22. The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created: but begotten.
23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten: but proceeding.
24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers: one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.
25. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after another: none is greater, or less than another.
26. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.
27. So that in all things, as aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped.
28. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.
29. Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
31. God, of the Substance of the Father; begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world.
32. Perfect God: and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
33. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood.
34. Who although he be God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ.
35. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God.
36. One altogether; not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person.
37. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ;
38. Who suffered for our salvation: descended into hell: rose again the third day from the dead.
39. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father God Almighty.
40. From whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
41. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies;
42. And shall give account for their own works.
43. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
44. This is the Catholic Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he can not be saved.