What Happens between Death and Resurrection? A Symposium on the Intermediate State

This post was updated April 2019.

On January 17, 2019 I participated in a Symposium on the “intermediate state.” This Symposium explored the question of how best to think about what happens to a Christian between death and resurrection.

Symposium on the Intermediate State: J. P. Moreland and J. Richard Middleton

The Symposium was sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in Deerfield, IL.

My dialogue partner was philosopher J. P. Moreland, a famous supporter of “substance dualism” (the view that a person is composed of an immaterial soul and a body). He argued for the traditional view that our souls go to be with God (in heaven), awaiting the resurrection.

As a biblical scholar, I presented my position that the Bible doesn’t teach substance dualism, but rather a holistic view of the person, and that Scripture doesn’t clearly explain what happens between death and resurrection. I am therefore agnostic about the intermediate state.

My presentation focused on biblical exposition of these themes, with attention to 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 (absent from the body, present with the Lord) and Luke 23:39–43 (the thief on the cross). These two biblical texts are often taken as teaching an intermediate state. My exegesis of these texts attempted to show that they both address the final resurrection, not an intermediate state.

In the end, I don’t believe that we need to have an explanation of what happens between death and resurrection. It is sufficient to trust that God, who is faithful, will bring those who are in Christ to the resurrection.

The raw video feed of the Symposium is found here.

  • Tom McCall (head of the Henry Center) opens the event at around the 16 minute mark.
  • Steve Matthewson (a local pastor) introduces the topic and the speakers at about the 17 ½ minute mark.
  • J. P. Moreland begins to speak just before the 21 minute mark.
  • My presentation begins at the 43 ½ minute mark. I had slides with some visuals and lots of biblical texts. However, you will see that the projection system wasn’t working properly.
  • The Q&A begins at the 1 hour and 11 ½ minute mark.

Our Focus Should be on the New Creation

My main point was that the intermediate state shouldn’t be the focus of our faith at all. Rather, biblical hope is for embodied resurrection life in the new heavens and new earth.

This is a point I made in my book on eschatology, A new Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014). In one of the chapters I included an excursus on the intermediate state (it was not central to the book’s argument), and I intended it merely as an exploration of the biblical evidence, not as an argument for a particular viewpoint.

Yet it is interesting that some reviews of my book brought up this excursus, often claiming to disagree with my position, even though my point was simply that there isn’t enough clear biblical evidence for me to affirm an intermediate state. Sometimes I wish  hadn’t put that excursus in at all, since it seemed to sidetrack some readers. But other readers have told me it was important for them.

The Henry Center’s Exploration of Theological Anthropology

I was invited to participate in this Symposium on the intermediate state not primarily because of my work on eschatology, but due to my prior involvement in the Henry Center’s three-year Creation Project.

Each summer the Center has had a conference (the Dabar Conference) on some aspect of the theme of Creation, and I have been involved every year.

In the first two years I was a paper respondent, in 2016 to Old Testament scholar C. John (“Jack”) Collins and in 2017 to philosopher-theologian William (“Billy”) Abraham, two very wonderful scholars, both of whom I was delighted to get to know.

This year I wrote a keynote paper for the Dabar Conference (June 2018), entitled “Death, Immortality, and the Curse: Interpreting Genesis 2–3 in the Context of the Biblical Worldview,” with two respondents (one a biblical scholar, the other a theologian).

The theme of the Creation Project (and thus of the Dabar Conference) this year (2018-19) is Reclaiming Theological Anthropology in an Age of Science.  But the Project extends beyond the Dabar conferences, and involves numerous other events.

It was because of my analysis of human mortality expressed in the Dabar paper (and a shorter version called “Humans Created Mortal, with the Possibility of Eternal Life,” which was published on the Henry Center website) that I was invited to present my views at the upcoming Symposium.

This is the description of the Symposium (along with presenter bios) on the Henry Center website:

The resurrection of the body is one of the central doctrinal claims of the Christian faith. It is also the source of Christian hope when faced with the death of a loved one.

But what happens between now and then? When a child asks their parent where a departed loved one is “now,” how should Christians respond?

Do the souls of those who have died in faith go to be with the Lord now, awaiting to be reunited with their resurrected bodies?

Or are traditional Christian beliefs in an immaterial soul that is separable from the body misplaced—an unscriptural incursion of Platonic metaphysics that has misshaped our expectations of the afterlife?

The discussion will be followed by a pastoral response and extended audience Q&A on the theological and pastoral implications of the different views.

J. P. Moreland (PhD University of Southern California) is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books, including The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It MattersThe Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism, and Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.

J. Richard Middleton (PhD Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam) is Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary. He is the author of A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, and The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1.

Date Thursday, January 17, 2019
Time 11am — 12:30pm CST
Location Main Campus

Hinkson Hall

This event was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton Religion Trust

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What Happens between Death and Resurrection? A Symposium on the Intermediate State

This post was updated April 2019.

On January 17, 2019 I participated in a Symposium on the “intermediate state.” This Symposium explored the question of how best to think about what happens to a Christian between death and resurrection.

Symposium on the Intermediate State: J. P. Moreland and J. Richard Middleton

The Symposium was sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, in Deerfield, IL.

My dialogue partner was philosopher J. P. Moreland, a famous supporter of “substance dualism” (the view that a person is composed of an immaterial soul and a body). He argued for the traditional view that our souls go to be with God (in heaven), awaiting the resurrection.

As a biblical scholar, I presented my position that the Bible doesn’t teach substance dualism, but rather a holistic view of the person, and that Scripture doesn’t clearly explain what happens between death and resurrection. I am therefore agnostic about the intermediate state.

My presentation focused on biblical exposition of these themes, with attention to 2 Corinthians 5:6–8 (absent from the body, present with the Lord) and Luke 23:39–43 (the thief on the cross). These two biblical texts are often taken as teaching an intermediate state. My exegesis of these texts attempted to show that they both address the final resurrection, not an intermediate state.

In the end, I don’t believe that we need to have an explanation of what happens between death and resurrection. It is sufficient to trust that God, who is faithful, will bring those who are in Christ to the resurrection.

The raw video feed of the Symposium is found here.

  • Tom McCall (head of the Henry Center) opens the event at around the 16 minute mark.
  • Steve Matthewson (a local pastor) introduces the topic and the speakers at about the 17 ½ minute mark.
  • J. P. Moreland begins to speak just before the 21 minute mark.
  • My presentation begins at the 43 ½ minute mark. I had slides with some visuals and lots of biblical texts. However, you will see that the projection system wasn’t working properly.
  • The Q&A begins at the 1 hour and 11 ½ minute mark.

Our Focus Should be on the New Creation

My main point was that the intermediate state shouldn’t be the focus of our faith at all. Rather, biblical hope is for embodied resurrection life in the new heavens and new earth.

This is a point I made in my book on eschatology, A new Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014). In one of the chapters I included an excursus on the intermediate state (it was not central to the book’s argument), and I intended it merely as an exploration of the biblical evidence, not as an argument for a particular viewpoint.

Yet it is interesting that some reviews of my book brought up this excursus, often claiming to disagree with my position, even though my point was simply that there isn’t enough clear biblical evidence for me to affirm an intermediate state. Sometimes I wish  hadn’t put that excursus in at all, since it seemed to sidetrack some readers. But other readers have told me it was important for them.

The Henry Center’s Exploration of Theological Anthropology

I was invited to participate in this Symposium on the intermediate state not primarily because of my work on eschatology, but due to my prior involvement in the Henry Center’s three-year Creation Project.

Each summer the Center has had a conference (the Dabar Conference) on some aspect of the theme of Creation, and I have been involved every year.

In the first two years I was a paper respondent, in 2016 to Old Testament scholar C. John (“Jack”) Collins and in 2017 to philosopher-theologian William (“Billy”) Abraham, two very wonderful scholars, both of whom I was delighted to get to know.

This year I wrote a keynote paper for the Dabar Conference (June 2018), entitled “Death, Immortality, and the Curse: Interpreting Genesis 2–3 in the Context of the Biblical Worldview,” with two respondents (one a biblical scholar, the other a theologian).

The theme of the Creation Project (and thus of the Dabar Conference) this year (2018-19) is Reclaiming Theological Anthropology in an Age of Science.  But the Project extends beyond the Dabar conferences, and involves numerous other events.

It was because of my analysis of human mortality expressed in the Dabar paper (and a shorter version called “Humans Created Mortal, with the Possibility of Eternal Life,” which was published on the Henry Center website) that I was invited to present my views at the upcoming Symposium.

This is the description of the Symposium (along with presenter bios) on the Henry Center website:

The resurrection of the body is one of the central doctrinal claims of the Christian faith. It is also the source of Christian hope when faced with the death of a loved one.

But what happens between now and then? When a child asks their parent where a departed loved one is “now,” how should Christians respond?

Do the souls of those who have died in faith go to be with the Lord now, awaiting to be reunited with their resurrected bodies?

Or are traditional Christian beliefs in an immaterial soul that is separable from the body misplaced—an unscriptural incursion of Platonic metaphysics that has misshaped our expectations of the afterlife?

The discussion will be followed by a pastoral response and extended audience Q&A on the theological and pastoral implications of the different views.

J. P. Moreland (PhD University of Southern California) is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books, including The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It MattersThe Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism, and Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.

J. Richard Middleton (PhD Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam) is Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis at Northeastern Seminary. He is the author of A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, and The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1.

Date Thursday, January 17, 2019
Time 11am — 12:30pm CST
Location Main Campus

Hinkson Hall

This event was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton Religion Trust

Origins, Self, & the Soul (Cornell University, September 21, 2018)

I’ll be joining with biology professor Dr. Praveen Sethupathy to give a public lecture at Cornell University on Friday, September 21, 2018.

Having done joint-presentations on similar topics in the past, we have found that our perspectives are helpfully complementary.

The lecture, entitled “Origins, Self, & the Soul,”  is sponsored by Chesterton House, a Christian study center near the Cornell campus, and is part of their Friday Conversation series.

The event is co-sponsored by the Cornell Graduate Christian Fellowship and by BioLogos, an organization of orthodox Christians who take seriously both the biblical revelation of God as Creator and the science of evolution. Both Praveen and I are members of BioLogos Voices, and often write and speak on behalf of the organization.

Here is the Chesterton House summary of the September 21 event:

Join us for a Friday Conversation with Dr. Praveen Sethupathy and Dr. Richard Middleton. What better way to engage the historic conversation between science and faith than to feature thoughtful, renowned scholarsone a scientist and the other a theologian. Listen and join in as they discuss and examine the study of genetics and human origins from scientific and theological perspectives, exploring the implications for human identity as the image of God.

The event will be held in the Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium in Klarman Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, at 5:00 pm on Friday, September 21, 2018.

Focus of the Joint-Lecture

Having presented with Praveen Sethupathy before, I expect that he will recount in a wonderful way his own journey of faith in relation to science and will explore ways in which scientists have attempted (and failed) to isolate what is distinctively humans about us. His suggestion is that we need to attend to what the Bible says about human distinctiveness, namely, that we are made in God’s image (imago Dei).

For my part, I will focus first on what the Bible says about the similarity or kinship of humans with the non-human and then explore the meaning of the imago Dei as the distinctive human vocation or calling, concluding with some (tentative) thoughts on how this might relate to the current scientific picture of human origins.

Both Praveen and I are committed, orthodox Christians, who take seriously the biblical teaching about what it means to be human and what science is telling us about our evolutionary history. We don’t think there is a necessary conflict between them.

Our presentation (sure to be controversial) will be followed by at least half-an-hour for open discussion, accompanied by free pizza for all.

If you are in the area, please join us on the evening of September 21 for this important discussion.

Praveen Sethupathy Bio

Praveen Sethupathy is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Cornell University. He received his BA degree from Cornell and his PhD in Genomics from the University of Pennsylvania.

After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Human Genome Research Institute under the mentorship of Dr. Francis Collins, he moved in 2011 to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics. In 2017, he returned to Cornell University as an Associate Professor.

Praveen has authored over 70 publications, and has served as a reviewer for over 30 different journals. Recent honors include a faculty merit award for outstanding teaching and mentoring. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his wife and three children.

If You Need Directions

For directions to Cornell, including a campus map, click here.

For more information, including directions to the location of the lecture (the Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium in Klarman Hall), you can email Chesterton House.

Chesterton House link for the event.

BioLogos link for the event.