Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hoover Hermeneutic 1: The Gospel to the Dead

Representative Passages

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water…

…For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. (1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:3-6)

Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25-29)


This topic is a great place for us to begin this series, because it illustrates many of the problems associated with passages like these. For one thing, there is a heretical application for these verses that Joseph Smith has thrown into the mix. One might be nervous about raising the topic at all, worried about what the heterodox might do with it, or worried that people will raise their eyebrows, thinking that you don't know what you believe about some cultish doctrine, etc. A related concern is the fact that these verses have possible implications toward central tenets of the gospel.

Actually, I do know for certain what these verses do not say. They do not say that I can don my holy underwear and get saved for Grandma in her stead. They do not say that, no matter what you do with Jesus here on earth, you'll get to play in the postmortem bonus round and wind up in Heaven after all.

Now, here's where I wish to avoid the Hoover Hermeneutic. Having said what these passages do not say, I believe that I am under some obligation (whether I am capable of meeting the obligation satisfactorily or not) to assert something substantive that these verses do say. They all appear to be planks of an argument—to say something that God considered profound enough to include not merely as a parenthetical aside (which would be authoritative enough by itself) but as a fact to buttress some doctrinal or ethical argument.

The problem is, although I've considered several interpretive arguments by a wide spectrum of orthodox interpreters, I have not gained confidence in any particular approach to these passages. I'm inviting you to change that sad state of affairs. Tell me what these passages teach us about the relationship between the gospel and the dead. If I've already heard your approach and have questions about it, I'll shoot them back at you. We'll see what ensues.


Gary said...

I would start by saying "one of these is not like the other." John 5 doesn't appear to be on the same difficult subject. Here, I think Jesus is talking about the spiritually dead in verse 25, "those who hear" are those who receive Jesus in faith.

In verse 28-29 I believe he's talking about the physical resurrection and assignment to ultimate reward and punishment.

Rather than sucking out the meaning of the passages, I'm cutting off the passage I think I can understand. Maybe this is the Ginzu Hermeneutic.

Bart Barber said...


A man after my own heart. I've considered that explanation. I like that explanation.

In general, my most comfortable solution for the entire package is to look at the way that the Bible switches back and forth between spiritual and material concepts of "death" without any real warning.

I suppose I included the John 5 passage because it is something of a "key" for me to the way I handle the others, because it so obviously switches between one kind of death and the other in such a short span. What becomes a challenge for me is then explaining how the "spiritually dead" concept makes any good rhetorical sense in 1 Corinthians and 1 Peter..

Mike said...

Maybe Joseph Smith was on to something?

volfan007 said...


like what? loco weed? pcp? heroine? rot gut whiskey?


Malcolm Yarnell said...

Joseph Smith was on to something, but it wasn't scriptural truth.

Bart, perhaps the Apostles' Creed and many of the early church fathers actually had this one correct?

In Christ,

Mike said...

Apparently their was a practice of Baptism for the Dead. Christ set the standard that the Gospel should be preached to everyone including those that have passed away. How fitting that the only church to practice such a teaching as Baptism for the Dead would be a Church Established by a 14 year old boy who claimed to see God the father and his son Jesus Christ in a vision (for which he was mocked and ridiculed) they then instructed him on how to restore the true church of Jesus Christ to the earth. Many claim him to be a criminal but after all wasn't Christ put into that same box. Both were murdered for their heretic teachings.

So once again. Maybe theirs more to Joseph Smith than what the Ney sayers have taught you.

Strider said...

When an angel shows up and tells you his name is Moron take him at his word.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

First, Why am I helping you do your sermon preparation? I know that you went to SWBTS and all that, but didn't they have good Prof's that taught you how to do inductive-deductive Bible analysis?


Seriously, would you not say that there are two themes covered by these verses? I will leave the Hoover Hermeneutic approach for my more erudite Brothers. However, it appears that within the context of these verses there is a double theme of suffering and resurrection. One could argue that the John 5 passage does not deal with suffering. However, Jesus was answering those that wanted to kill him because he just told them he was God.

Thus, I would take an approach that the suffering of this world does not compare to the glory of the world of the resurrected body.

As to dealing with each passage that you have given us, I believe that I would expose them to the hearer in the following ways.

1 Peter--First we see the most concise timeline of the Purpose of Jesus Christ in V.18. Next we have to ask a question. Who are the spirits? I would suggest a study of the word spirits and I believe you will find that this word is used in the scripture to describe the angels and demons. This description works well as we know that the Bible teaches that Satan led a revolt in heaven and 1/3 of the angels when with him. So, I would see this verse as Jesus declaring the victory of Satan, death, and the grave. Which expresses a resurrection and suffering theme.

1 Corinthians 15:29--I would see this passage, within the context of this scripture, also describing suffering and resurrection. Paul is discussing the hardships of the Christian life and how he dies daily to Jesus Christ. He is not affirming Baptism of the dead but mocking it. His reference to this non-orthodox practice is a reference to their lack of faith in the resurrection, not their understanding of the resurrection. They suffered in this life and since they were baptizing for the dead then they were saying they did not believe in a great gett'n up morning.

Now, take this fodder and fill your sermon prep grist mill with it to churn out at least an illustration or introduction.


Malcolm Yarnell said...

Joseph Smith is the creator of a new religion and Mormonism is not Christianity. Please see the recent articles on Mormonism in Baptist Press if you would like to learn more.

Anonymous said...


Thanks alot. You guys just destroyed two years of my preaching. I guess I will have to quit using the "Book of Mormon" to buttress all of my arguments.

Actually, I think the 1 Peter passage refers to the preaching of Christ in the OT. That is, the gospel was not preached to them AFTER they were dead... but before they were dead. Yet they are dead now. In other words, Peter is talking in "real time." Kind of like me saying, "My dead ancestors went to the store on a horse."

Oh well, I just wanted to wish you and your lovely wife a wonderful Christmas. I look forward to an opportunity to visit with you soon, my brother.

In the Love of Christ,
John Mann

Ben Macklin said...

Bart -

Now you're attracting mormons. I'm glad they're reading you; maybe mike will see some gospel truth.

Mike -

To equate Joseph Smith's death and Jesus' death just because they were both accused of heresy is ludicrous at best. The apostolic preaching of the cross was centered on the fact that Jesus' death was the "predetermined plan of God" to be the salvation of the world (Acts 2:23-24). Joe Smith was killed for being a polygamist, breaking up printing presses of those who opposed him, and raising a private army, among other things. Mormonism was, and still is, a money / power machine with only occultic spiritual power.

If there was baptism for the dead, it was most likely a practice brought in from one of the other cults, erroneously practiced by the ignorant who were being syncretistic. The early church, outside of this one obscure reference, never practiced it, and neither Paul nor Jesus taught it. Only the Divine Son of God, only begotten of the Father, Emmanuel, the human face of God, is able to grant the power to be the children of God to those who believe in Him (John 1:1-14). There is no second chance through proxy, without personal faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and it is appointed for man once to die, and then the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Joe Smith’s contrived interpretation of baptism for the dead is nothing more than a psychological ploy to convince people that they can secure their dead ancestor's salvation if they remain loyal to the cult.

Whatever visited Joe Smith in the woods of New York was demonic and meant to mislead people from the truth.

Blessings Bart (my 9 year old son thinks you look like Dr. Octopus from Spider Man, which is a good thing).

Blessings Malcolm (again, great book).

Ben Macklin

Bart Barber said...

To all,

I am on my way out of town very soon. One of the great blessings of the Ozark farms where I'll spend Christmas with my in-laws is the utter absence of Internet, cell phone coverage, etc.

Plenty of time to take it all up when I get back.

Bart Barber said...


How'd that fourteen-year-old boy do with his translation of the "Book of Abraham"?

How's the field of Mormon Archeology coming along?

If only every other man-made deception were as easily debunked as Mormonism.

Mike said...

I didn't mean disrespect for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in any way. But he was treated as a Criminal and Murdered. As was Joseph Smith.

You can chastize me in any way you want. Truth is Truth. Over 1900 years ago Books were writen then copied and copied and copied. None of the original books still existe. Only copies of copies of copies. Some estimates bring the Discrepancies between the existing copies and documented fragments of the bible at over 100,000. Why don't you blaim the Preaching to the dead and baptism for the Dead on the scribes screwing things up? Seams resonable to me.

I read a great book the other day on this subject, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. by Bart D. Ehrman. Facinating book (he's a Born again Scholar).

Or you can just take the scripture on it's own and under stand that they were clearly teaching about the Resurection (which the people couldn't quite understand for some reason) and to reiterate the point he says Why are you baptising for the Dead if the dead arn't going to rise. No chastisement for the act but a simple confirmation that it was a practice amongst them.

Merry Christmas Hope you have a great time with all your loved ones.


Ben Macklin said...

Mike -

Please read "Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus," by Timothy Jones. I don't think even Ehrman considers himself a "Born again" Christian. I hear him interviewed on NPR and found him to be in line with those who think we "born again" believers follow a quaint folk religious myth of the church's creation.

As for the discrepancies of copying ancient manuscripts, virtually none of the variations is substantive. The controversial end of Mark, whether Mark 16:9-20 should be included, is about the only real controversial text.

Ben Macklin

Chris Johnson said...


"I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet" (History of the Church, Vol. 6, pp. 408, 409).....words of Joseph Smith.

Your and my only hope is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Not this imagined Jesus of Joseph Smith. My best advise to you is to run from the imposter, Joseph Smith, and run to the Savior, Jesus Christ.

• Accept the Bible as the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God.
• Believe and trust that God became flesh in the physical man Jesus.
• Believe and trust that Christ atoned for man's sin through his death on the cross.
• Believe and trust that Christ arose in bodily form from the grave, conquering death and proving he is God.

Joseph Smith, argued against and did not believe these things. So his understanding of the above referenced passages of Dr. Barber above would be a guess at best. Joseph’s opportunity to believe and trust in Christ the incarnate God is long past. Joseph does not have a planet and will never be a god. The truth is that Joseph has already been judged in his sin. But yours is in front of you.

This could be your best Christmas season ever! Repent, Believe and Trust on Jesus Christ and He will save you.


Michael Howes said...

Dear friend-

Hope you guys had a good Christmas and New Year. My mom and dad are here with me from CrawfishLand and are grumbling about how cold it is :)

I'll associate myself with what Dr. Yarnell said: the Apostles' Creed (“he [Jesus] descended into hell”) and the Fathers really help us with these texts.

With issues like this, it helps me to remember that the view of the afterlife most people in church have today (heaven and hell as post-mortem destinations, where we experience a dis-embodied existence of either blessing or punishment) owes more to Dante and Milton than it does to Scripture.

It also helps me to understand that the Scripture records for us a developing understanding of the afterlife on the part of the Hebrew people. The only immortality pictured in the Old Testament until the Davidic dynasty is that provided by one's descendants - a collective rather than individual continuation of life. Job is the exception. Alone among the patriarchs, he hopes to see God after his body has been destroyed (19:25). David, mourning his son's death in 2 Samuel 12 and rejoicing in God's ubiquity in Psalm 139, conceives the afterlife as a place where God is, and where the dead dwell, but advances no idea of a post-mortem life with God. In Psalm 6 he makes his understanding that the dead do not praise God his argument for God’s deliverance of him in the here and now. Only in Daniel - whether you consider him genuinely exilic, or a post-exilic meditation on exile - do we find, after exposure to Babylonian and Persian theology, a concept of the afterlife the average American Christian would recognize. Daniel, in a passage (12:2, 3) Jesus in Matthew 25 and John in Revelation 1 riff on, prophesies a general resurrection, followed by a judgment.

And when Jesus in the gospels speaks of Satan, angels and demons, he is making use of the theological Flannelgraph figures developed in the intertestamental period, under the influence of the same Zoroastrianism that impelled the Magi to travel to worship him.

With that too-lengthy preamble, here’s my take on the texts: After his crucifixion, while his physical body was dead, Christ preached to the disembodied spirits of those who had died before his coming. They were being held in what the Old Testament calls "the grave” and Peter describes as prison. The Old Testament conception of the afterlife has much in common with the Greek conception of Hades – a dreary place where the dead live out a shadowy existence, some relatively blessed in the fields of Elysium, some like Sisyphus or Prometheus, tortured for offenses against the gods. Those who respond to Christ’s self-proclamation are brought by him to the same paradise he promised to the dying thief. There they remain, in conscious communion with Christ, their numbers swelled daily by those who die in Christ, with them awaiting the general resurrection spoken of in Daniel and 1 Corinthians 15, when all are raised and all are judged, after which they will inhabit the “new earth” spoken of in Revelation.

Perhaps in John 5, Jesus is looking ahead to this post-mortem preaching mission. He might also be referring to what is recorded as happening in Matthew 27 at the moment of his death – the resurrection of holy people who appeared in Jerusalem after Jesus’ resurrection, although some people think this is proleptic – pointing ahead to the general resurrection.

Bart, if you had taken Patterson’s systematic class at dear old BU instead of, if I remember correctly, Harvey, he would have spelled all this out for you :)

Although I find Joseph Smith to be an unattractive person personally, and his doctrines an ignorant distortion of the Scriptures and historic Christianity, it makes me sad to see fellow Christians and fellow pastors treat Mike, and his obviously sincerely held views, with derision. How does that move any of us toward Christ? Maybe if we loved Jesus more and our own cleverness and verbal acuity less, we would all, myself included, be more useful to the Master.

A useful thing for we who are pastors to ponder would be why Mormonism and the distortions of historic Christianity peddled by Dan Brown, Bart Ehrman and others are so attractive to the people in the communities where we pastor. Might it be because people are drawn, as Acts 2 says they are, by the Holy Spirit poured out on all humanity to Jesus, but are put off by what they see in the church in America and by the people they know who profess Christ and yet live lives which are usually morally indistinguishable and often ethically inferior to those who do not say they follow Jesus? To quote an atheist, commenting on the religion of the professing Christian who inhabited the cubicle next to him: “Your fish stinks.” And what of Ghandi, inspired by Jesus, who said he would have followed Christ, except for the Afrikaaner Christians, good Calvinists all, who called him a kaffir (nigger) and beat him?

I’m just sayin’

Bart Barber said...

Malcolm and Mike,

I don't think that any of these references apply well to the idea of Christ preaching to "the disembodied spirits of those who had died before his coming." Here's why:

1. In the 1 Peter passage the reference is quite specifically to a group of people from the epoch of Noah, not from all Old Testament history.

2. In the 1 Corinthians passage, the practice in view is explicitly the baptism of people still alive.

3. In the passage from John, the hearing of the voice of Christ is explicitly tied to the universal resurrection.

Bart Barber said...

Mike (Howes, that is, as in the previous comment),

Isaiah seemed to believe the mocking of blatantly false religion to be a useful tool in genuinely spiritual discourse (and did so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). Paul's encouragement for Judaizing moiles to get carried away with their knife, that too seems to indicate some Holy Spirit role for harsh treatment against heretical thought. And then there's Paul's instruction to Titus to "silence" and "reprove severely" those upsetting families with unsound doctrine in the church.

If Patterson (or anyone else down there) had taught a little more Bible... :-)