The Quick and the Dead

I was at a church recently that was working its way through the Heidelberg Catechism as a means of confession of faith. This particular Sunday, they were on question number 46:

Q. What do you mean by saying,
“He ascended to heaven”?

A. That Christ, while his disciples watched, was taken up from the earth into heaven and remains there on our behalf until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.

This is obviously a newer translation because the older renditions refer to the living and the dead as the quick and the dead. You will also find the same references in new adaptations of the Apostles’ Creed.

I would like to argue for the earlier renditions for the sake of clarity. I say this because when I was first introduced to the Apostles’ Creed, I can remember asking one of my mentors, Paul Settle, what it meant by “the quick.” He replied, and I’m hoping I remember this correctly, that it meant those who were “quickened by the Spirit.” In other words, the term had theological implications to its meaning. I have looked at some online dictionaries, and for the most part, they say that the quick merely means alive. But remember, that dictionaries are not the final authority on how a word is used. Words are defined by how they are used and I would like us to remain with the usage of the word “quick” based on the meaning that was given to me by Paul Settle.

It is true, that the the LORD will come to judge the living and the dead. He is coming one day and all those who are physically alive, and all those who are physically dead will be judged. But referring to those judged in spiritual terms is much better for our understanding. Jesus will come to judge those who are spiritually alive and spiritually dead. By using the word “quick” meaning that He will be judging those who are “quickened by the Spirit” shows the true and more lasting dichotomy among those being judged.

Given the new rendition, Christ’s judgment focuses merely on all people. And if that is what we are saying, that’s fine. But given the older rendition, and my understanding of it, we know that He will be judging between those who are born again and those who are spiritually dead. The spiritually dead can actually be among those who are living, and those born again can actually be among those who are dead. By using this understanding and phraseology, we are helping people understand the great dichotomy that exists among all men. You are either in Christ, quickened by the Spirit, or you are dead spiritually. We are, by using the older term, pointing to the gospel, even in our confessions of faith.

For this reason, I prefer to use the Apostles’ Creed, and the confessions of faith, that refer to those being judged by Christ as the “quick and the dead.”

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8 thoughts on “The Quick and the Dead

  1. We often lose impact and depth of meaning when we try to modernize ancient writings. I am thinking of several hymns that have suffered much from “updated” language. “New” does not necessarily mean “better.”

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  2. I don’t know, Tim. Are you saying that Peter’s reference to “They will give account to Him who is ready to judge the quick and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5) is a reference to judging the spiritually alive or spiritually dead? The distinctive in view is whether or not they are “quickened by the Spirit” or “dead in sin”? It cannot simply refer to “Everybody, whether alive or dead, will be judged”? Does this carry forward to, say, Rev 20–the Great White Throne Judgment–where it refers to the judgment of “the dead” and should be understood to refer to the dead in sin and not those who had been quickened by the Spirit?

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    1. Well, not sure what you are asking. I would say that this refers to judgment, which is the Great White Throne Judgment. This judging will be between the quick and the dead, like in Matthew 25. Goats on one side, representing the dead spiritually, sheep on the other, representing those who have been made alive in Christ. The quickening is something done to the person, whereas nothing has been done to those who spiritually dead.

      Does that help?

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  3. libby

    Hi , Tim, not debating your thoughts, just wanted to say that in old country talk we say “She has quickened ” when a lady can feel the movement of a child inside her.

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    1. Yes, I’ve heard that too. But I think my understanding of it would be more limited to a theological reference found in our confessions, implying a quickening by the Spirit.

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