Abraham's bosom


I have a question.

I know that no one could enter heaven until Jesus ascended and that before that the good people that died were in Abraham’s bosom. Is there any teaching on where the people that died and in today’s time might/would go to hell where these people went?

Is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man the answer? That there was always a hell?

How can I answer a JW who will tell me that the above is JUST a parable?

And who says the the dead know nothing at all but in the above parable the rich man certainly knows where he is? And that the dead know nothing at all when it says above that the rich man knew he was suffering?


This is a good explanation of the Jewish understanding of the Bosom of Abraham:


That the Lord employs the term within a parable hardly detracts from the Jewish understanding of the place for the just who have died (pre-Resurrection of the Lord) and actually shows that those who have died remain aware (are not “asleep” as the JW’s would have it).

In the time of Jesus the Jewish concept of the intermidiate state was called, ‘Sheol.’ Translated into Greek it is Hades, translated into English it is hell. Before Christ death, not ascension, people couldn’t go to heaven, only hell. But there was a place in hell where the righteous would be comforted.The Jews call this place paradise, Jesus called it that to the theif on the cross, and Jesus also calls this place, the Bosom of Abraham. These two areas where both in hell yet also seperated. We can see this in Luke 16:26. Think of it like a house. Two people can be in the same house, but different rooms. Now when Christ died he went to Sheol, A.K.A hell. That is why in the apostles creed it says he went to hell, all those in the Bosom of Abraham went to heaven. The ones in Gehanna, the Jewish concept of purgatory, went to heaven too. Those in the bad part of hell Christ preached to. Those in the bad part of hell who listened went to heaven, those who did not listen stayed in that bad part. The Bosom of Abraham is basically no longer in use, the bad part of hell is still in use for the wicked, and Gehanna is too for those who need purification before entry into heaven, and heaven replaces the Bosom of Abraham. But this is just the intermidiate state before we are all judged when we are all ressurected.

The Roman Catholic Church does NOT teach that “no one could enter heaven until Jesus ascended and that before that the good people that died were in Abraham’s bosom.”

For example, Catholics accept that Enoch and Elijah went to heaven before Christ. Catholic theology leaves open the possibility that this might not be exactly the same experience as what awaits Christians today but ONLY because the Church acknowledges that life after death in heaven cannot be fully understood from our current place in history. But this is only a possibility as the Church accepts that the entry of Enoch and Elijah to heaven could have been exactly the type of entry we hope for today. (See “Was Elijah assumed into heaven before Mary?” here on CA at catholic.com/quickquestions/was-elijah-assumed-into-heaven-before-mary.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” The same section states that this is but a “parable.”–CCC 633.

The “bosom of Abraham” is but symbolic of a sacred truth that might be too hard for the Witnesses to comprehend right off hand for the following reason.

Not Literal Descriptions, Not Limited to Time and Space

One of the problems the Jehovah’s Witnesses make about issues like these is that God is experiencing history exactly as we are. This is not so. God transcends time and is not subject to it. But Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even have the slightest suggestion of this in their theology. This is important to what you’ve raised because it is what causes the differences both our religions have regarding subjects of eschatology.

When time came into existence both Adam’s sin and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the end of time were all present before God. The future is not future to God and neither is the past gone from before God’s face (compare Luke 20:37-38). It was due to this fact that Mary could be conceived without a trace of sin since Christ’s ransom was an established reality from God’s view.

St. Paul explains this in Romans 3:25 that God was always righteous even when passing over sins that happened before the crucifixion, because God could use the event of the Passion and Cross as a legal basis to demonstrate forbearance for events that occurred even before Christ was born as a babe in Bethlehem.

This means that the experience of “Abraham’s bosom” is basically an explanation that is designed for the sake of our inability to grasp experience without the passage of time or being confined to a certain location or space. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t a real thing that our Lord was describing–on the contrary, heaven and hell are very real experiences. It’s just that life after death embraces far more than the limitations of our mundane and three dimensional life in time and space.

“Abraham’s bosom” is part of the “forbearance” of God mentioned in Romans 3:25. On the basis of what Christ would do for us through the Cross, God could in effect save those who died in history before that event. The truths of the gospel and other mysteries we could only guess at became part of the enlightenment these souls of the faithful departed experienced after their passing off the scene of history, but it didn’t happen in a place or was an event in locked time as we understand them.

So when people die today they also leave the confines of space and time. Being with God means experiencing life the way God does. Eternity is not a linear experience with a beginning or end because eternity is defined by what God is. And God has no beginning nor an end.

"Everlasting" or Eternal?

“Everlasting” often implies a beginning and a linear passage of time. Jehovah’s Witnesses often speak of living “forever” or gaining “everlasting” life–both terms which describe the experience of linear time that begins but doesn’t end.

This is not the same with Catholicism. That is why we speak of “eternal” life and entering “eternity.” To be with God means experiencing something that isn’t linear.

The JWs even translated John 3:16 differently from us and other Christians. Whereas the New American Bible reads: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have **eternal life **,” the JW’s New World Translation has “everlasting life.”

Heaven and hell are facets of eternity. Though very real, they aren’t “places” or “locations.” They don’t “last” as certain amount of time, and the experiences of those in them are not “events” that take place in linear time and space.

This parable can only be a “parable” because we can’t conceive of eternity in its fullest sense. And it should be noted that Jesus was likely only using the features of eschatology in the parable to drive home a totally unrelated point. The “reversal” of the states of the Rich Man and Lazarus are meant to teach us to reverse our views of things.–Compare Romans 6:3-4 with Matthew 5:1-20.

As for how one explains that Ecclesiastes chapter 9 is not meant to be taken as the final word on death and the Grave, one needs only use the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own New World Translation, 2013 Revision to show them the following:

According to the Bible, when Jonah was swallowed by the big fish he prayed the following:

Out of my distress I called out to Jehovah, and he answered me.
Out of the depths of the Grave I cried for help.
You heard my voice*.–Jonah 2:2*.

Of the word “Grave” in this verse, the footnote to the 2013 revision of the NWT states:

Or “Sheol,” that is, the common grave of mankind. See Glossary.

When one looks up the “Glossary Term,” the New World Translation, 2013 eevised edition states:


When lowercased, referring to an individual grave; when capitalized, the common grave of mankind.

Jonah was not in “an individual grave,” but as the New World Translation points out by using a capital “G” in the word “Grave,” Jonah was conscious in the “common grave of mankind.”

This is obviously further revelation that adds to what we read in Ecclesiastes 9:10:

There is no work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the Grave.

According to ancient tradition that was written in the time of Solomon who reigned circa 970 to 931 BCE. But Jonah lived during the reign of Jeroboam II, circa 786-746 BCE. Accordingly we must surmise that the Jews understanding of what could and could not happen in the Grave had increased to include the activity of consciousness and prayer by the time the words of Jonah were penned.

This would make sense since Proverbs 4:18 states: “The path of the righteous is like the bright morning light that grows brighter and brighter until full daylight.” So it should not surprise us that while in Solomon’s day it was taught that there was no consciousness in the Grave, some 184 years later this had changed to state that prayer from the Grave could and did indeed occur. This is not a contradiction but a demonstration of how God revealed the truth to his people step-by-step, century by century even in Bible times.

While the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is not to be taken literally, Jesus did not invent the scenario of a conversation among the dead. Jesus always used symbols in his parables that the Jews of his time were familiar with, and the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is not any different. At least to some of the Jews a “discussion” in the Grave wasn’t anymore far-fetched than Jonah’s prayer from the Grave.

During the time of Jesus the Jews had various opinions on life after death. The Pharisees believed in the physical resurrection of the body at the end of time, the Essenes believed in the immortality of the soul, while the Sadducees believed in neither of these concepts. Only the Sadducees held a view in line with the words of Ecclesiastes chapter 9, but they were condemned by Jesus who told them about their view of death: “You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God.”–Matthew 22:29, NABRE.

Consciousness can indeed occur in the “common grave of mankind” because people can even be living upon entering the Grave. Why Number 16:33 states: “So they and all who belonged to them went down alive into the Grave.” People who are alive can think, pray, talk, etc.

What Ecclesiastes is speaking about is not a contradiction because when one takes the book as a whole it speaks about life from an earthly perspective. The author repeatedly states that “Everything is futile!” Of course he is speaking only figuratively because life and its experiences are not truly futile. Without God to intervene, however, life that leads to the Grave is futile indeed–and this is what it looked like for humankind prior to the arrival of Jesus Christ. Once Christ came this changed, and even death was transformed.–See Colossians 3:3.

Will we be like the Sadducees who hung on to a view that got condemned by Jesus? Or will we accept the words of a prophet like Jonah and the text of the New World Translation that shows that conscious prayer does occur in the “common grave of mankind”?

So Jesus was not inventing something new when he described the Rich Man and Lazarus as “conscious” after death. It was totally in line with what God revealed through the experience of Jonah the prophet.

Thank you all for your responses.
I never cease learning here on CA.

Thank you Delson for the bible study. You gave us all a lot to meditate on. Speaking for myself I plan on printing this out so I can read and check out the bible verses you quoted, study them and pray that I remember something.

God Bless you

Hi Waynec,

You make a great point here. Good job!

Your point shows their doctrine of soul sleep is false. For more see


To clarify, the “hell” in the creed, that Christ went to, is “Hades” not the place of the damned.

Purgatory was referred to by the following words in these languages:
**Hebrew **… Sheol - place of the dead
GreekHades -Where Christ descended to. Not Tartaroo or Gehenna.
**Latin **… Purgatorio
In Greek, the word for Hell, the place of damnation, is not Hades, but Tartaroo which is the equivalent to the Aramaic of Gehinnom or the English Gehenna.
**Mark 9:47-48
“Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ ” **Cf. Matthew 25:41, 46
See more on Purgatory


According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 633, the Greek word often translated “hell” is indeed “Hades.”

Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom*”:–CCC, 633*.

So the word “hell” in the Creed is indeed the same, but as the CCC states regarding Jesus and the righteous who were once there, this “does not mean that their lot is identical” to those condemned there for eternity.

Sometimes the Hebrew expression “Valley of Hinnom” is rendered as “hell” or “hell fire” or something of the like. It is transliterated as “Gehenna” in the NABRE at Matthew 5:22. It represents the “finality” of eternal judgment to hell as the Valley of Hinnom was the place where trash was burned–according to some the bodies of those thought unworthy of a proper burial and resurrection were disposed of there. This trash dump/valley was located on the southwest of Jerusalem’s city in the first century and once the spot of idolatrous worship where children were offered as burnt offerings to false gods.

“Tartarus” on the other hand does NOT occur in Scripture. A verb based on the word, however, does occur but only once at 2 Peter 2:4.

The Greek word, again a verb, is “tartaroo” and means to “toss” or “throw to Tartarus.” Since the author of 2 Peter was writing in Greek, the only expression to use to properly express the confining of rebellious spirit beings into darkness that they could not escape from was this word. It has no reference to the actual mythology of the Greeks, but it seems it was the only linguistic convention that vernacular koine Greek allowed.

The NABRE renders “tartaroo” as “condemned them to the chains of Tartarus.” While “Tartarus” in Greek mythology figured as a type of “Hades” or even its great depths, it was originally used to describe a place where only spirits like the Titans were kept. This might explain why this word appears as a verb in reference to “angels” in 2 Peter and not to humans.


I find that it is impossible to talk to them. Their ears are closed to the truth.

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