Were the fathers in limbo?

Were the fathers (Old Testament saints) admitted into eternal joy upon death, or did they rest in some limbonic waiting place? The former we affirm; the latter we deny.  Following Turretin (vol. 2: 257) we note: It should be borne in mind that limbo is actually a dimension of hell, not heaven.

  1. The covenant of grace under which the fathers lived does not allow for a limbo.  God promised to be their God eternally, not temporally.
  2. Christ says all live unto him (Luke 20:38)
  3. Christ does say that the ancients went immediately to the bosom of Abraham.  While I agree, since Christ is using this as a parable, I am cautious against putting too much weight on it literally.  Be that as it may, it cannot be argued that the bosom of Abraham is limbo, for Christ says that Lazarus received good things there.
  4. The prison in 1 Peter 3:19 cannot be limbo, for the grammar and syntax of the passage insist that it is the spirit of Christ preaching through Noah, indicating that it is during Noah’s time before the flood (cf Wayne Grudem’s exegesis, which I find convincing).

These arguments do not equally apply to the Eastern Orthodox as they do to Rome.  Orthodoxy does not have the same concept of limbo.  However, there are some similarities.  Orthodoxy does hold to a form of “spirits in prison,” which fits in with their Christus Victor motif (as evidenced in the icon of Christ leading Adam out of hades or prison or whatever).   Further, it seems to be a warrantable inference (on their gloss) that what is true of Adam, mutatis mutandus, is true of other Old Testament saints.  Yet, we have established that this cannot be true of other Old Testament saints; therefore, it is not true of Adam (if p, then q.  ~q; therefore, ~P).

An interesting project would be to apply the above reasoning to arguments about purgatory.


4 comments on “Were the fathers in limbo?

  1. Kind of related, and something I have been thinking about recently. What is the historical Christian position on Christ ascended? Do we just affirm that he is “at the right-hand of the Father” (which I am not sure is to be taken literally, maybe just refers to Christ’s authority or something) without any further detail? The reason I ask is that the resurrected Christ now has a corporeal body (hypostatic union), and God is a Spirit (Jn 4:24). So can we really say anything else besides repeat the scriptures that Christ has returned to the Father – but not explain what that actually entails?

  2. Muller has a good discussion of that and it is something I think about often. I state two propositions: 1) The right hand of God is not literal, but denotes authority, etc. 2) However, Christ’s body is in heaven. Contrary to Lutherans, I do not see the two propositions as contradictory.

  3. Clark Carlton has explained the Eastern Orthodox understanding of heaven and hell (and purgatory): http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/heaven_and_hell_the_view_of_the_early_church

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