Question from a reader:
On page 46 of your book Heaven, it talks about the martyrs in Heaven, crying out to God for justice on Earth (Revelation 6:9-11). In the King James Version, Revelation 6:9 says their souls (not bodies) were crying to God. On page 64 of Heaven, #2 says “righteous men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). Again, in the King James Version, Hebrews 12:23 says “the spirits of just men made perfect.” According to the KJV, it seems that we will be souls or spirits in the present Heaven, but not have bodies. Is this correct?
Answer from Karen Coleman, EPM Ministry Assistant:
You are correct in saying that Revelation 6:9-10 says, “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
With our finite understanding, it’s a logical conclusion that if the souls of the martyrs can be seen, in a certain location–under the altar—and they can cry out with a loud voice, then they have bodies to make those things possible. God may have a different way to make those things possible, but we have no particular reason to think so.
According to BibleHub.com, here are the definitions for that Greek word which the King James translates “souls”:
the soul, life, self; the vital breath, breath of life; the human soul; the soul as the seat of affections and will; a human person, an individual; the breath of life; the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing; that in which there is life; a living being
So John could have used the Greek word for “body,” but was led by God to use the word “soul.” It may have sounded strange for John to say he saw the bodies of the martyrs, whereas it seems straightforward in English to say, “I saw under the altar the individuals that were slain for the word of God…” or “I saw under the altar the living beings that were slain for the word of God…” thus using the common understanding of the word to the Greek hearers and readers.
You are also correct in your reading of Hebrews 12:23: “…and to the spirits of just men made perfect…”
As Randy noted in the book, he was making “brief observations,” and brought up the points that were pertinent to the discussion of that section. The Hebrews passage is not the main point, so he quotes it only in part. Randy cites it as supporting evidence to his point that those in the present Heaven are those who have been relocated after death. He is pointing out that the list of those in Heaven in Hebrews includes these spirits of just men made perfect, demonstrating continuity of identity between Earth and the present Heaven.
I commend your serious study of God’s Word. I hope these clarifications have been helpful. And I pray God would continually guide you as you open and search the Bible for truth and understanding. May you be like the noble Bereans in Acts 17:11, who were noted for receiving God’s Word with all readiness of mind and searching the Scriptures daily.
Karen Coleman served as a ministry assistant at Eternal Perspective Ministries for three and a half years. She spent 23 years in Cameroon, West Africa involved in Bible translation and missionary care. Before going to Africa and before EPM began, she served as Randy’s assistant when he was a pastor. In June 2018, Karen went to be with Jesus.