02 September 2008

Descended into hell? (Pt 6): John Lightfoot on Abraham's Bosom

John Lightfoot
As a continuation of the series I have previously been discussing on the early Hebrew understanding of the intermediate state that leads to the inclusion of the "descended into hades" clause of the Apostles' Creed, I share with you this interesting reference from the writings of John Lightfoot in reference to the meaning of "In Abraham's bosom" as understood historically by the Hebrews of Jesus' time:

...if you would know what it is, you need seek no further than the Rhemists, our countrymen...for they upon this place have this passage: "The bosom of Abraham is the restingplace of all them that died in perfect state of grace before Christ's time; heaven, before, being shut from men. It is called in Zachary a lake without water, and sometimes a prison, but most commonly of the divines Limbus patrum; for that it is thought to have been the higher part or brim of hell"

If our Saviour had been the first author of this phrase, then might it have been tolerable to have looked for the meaning of it amongst Christian expositors; but seeing it is a scheme of speech so familiar amongst the Jews, and our Saviour spoke no other than in the known and vulgar dialect of that nation, the meaning must be fetched thence, not from any Greek or Roman lexicon. That which we are to inquire after is, how it was understood by the auditory then present: and I may lay any wager that the Jews, when they heard Abraham's bosom mentioned, did think of nothing less than that kind of limbo which we have here described. (Lightfoot, John - Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. 3, Pgs. 168-169, 2003, Hendrickson Publishers)
While Lightfoot might not agree with this understanding of the term, the point is that he clearly points out that this was the common understanding of the Hebrew people during the days of Jesus, and He neither corrects the thought, nor condemns them for it, but in fact uses the very same terminology in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, as well as to the thief on the cross, appearing to give further proof for the truth behind the belief.

View the other parts of the topic

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10