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The Fate of the Rich and the Poor: Another Story

In trying to unpack the understanding of the afterlife found in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, it is important to realize that Luke presents the story as a parable – a simple, imaginative story meant to illustrate a deeper spiritual lesson.   It is not a literal description of reality. It is true that Luke does not actually call it a parable, but that’s true of most of the parables Jesus tells in this Gospel.  This section of Luke’s narrative is chock-full of parables – twenty two of them, in close proximity.  A number of them begin with the words “a certain man” did such and such.  That is the case of two immediately preceding passages: the parable of the prodigal son in 15:11 and of the parable of the dishonest steward in 16:1.  And it is true of this very story in 16:19. Since the account is a parable, an imaginative tale meant to emphasize a point, it would be wrong to press its details for literal descriptions of what awaits people [...]

2020-04-03T00:58:56-04:00October 8th, 2018|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels|

Heaven, Hell, and the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

In my new book I will be arguing that the Gospel of Luke is distinctive in the New Testament for promoting the idea that a person is given postmortem rewards and punishments (that is, immediately after death), and that this is unlike anything found in the words of the historical Jesus himself.  Luke’s view is most emphatically and intriguingly conveyed in one of his most famous passages, and possibly the best known account of the afterlife in the entire New Testament, his story of “Lazarus and the Rich Man.”  I will be arguing that this is not a story that Jesus himself told.  A later storyteller (or Luke himself?) placed it on Jesus lips. The story appears in Luke 16:19-31 in the context of a number of parables and other sayings of Jesus.   In it, Jesus contrasts two lives.  There is an unnamed rich man dressed in fine clothes who enjoys sumptuous meals every day; at the gate of his home lies a beggar named Lazarus, starving, desperate even to get the scraps off the [...]

2020-04-03T00:59:04-04:00October 8th, 2018|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels|

A Bit of Fun with 666!

As I hope you know, I try to keep my personal politics out of the blog.  I also hope I succeed, but some of you may think not…  But I do try.    It’s not that I do not have strong political convictions.  On the contrary, I am passionately political and will go to the mat for my views.   BUT, I want the blog to be open and welcoming to all people, whatever their political views (or religious views or any other kinds of views).  We can all be interested in early Christianity, and our politics don’t need to enter into it. And unlike most of the people I know who have strong political views, I really do try to see “the other side,” and to realize that there are very, very good people with views different from mine.   Also unlike most people, I often appreciate and get a very good laugh out of jokes poked at views that I actually take very seriously.  But it’s always good to laugh, even at ourselves. I say that [...]

2019-03-20T17:48:37-04:00October 6th, 2018|Revelation of John|

If Jesus Wasn’t Really Raised from the Dead, What Happened?

I'm celebrating my birthday today, a sparkling young 63.  No cards or happy wishes necessary.  Just send cash.   But it occurred to me to look through old posts done on my birthday, and there was this interesting one from six years ago, on a very hot topic indeed!   Very provocative.   So here you are -- be provoked on my happy day! ******************************************************************* One of the first books that I have re-read in thinking about how it is the man Jesus came to be thought of as God is Gerd Lüdemann’s, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry (2004). Lüdemann is an important and interesting scholar. He was professor of New Testament at Göttingen in Germany, and for a number of years split his time between there and Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. He is a major figure in scholarship, and is noteworthy for not being a Christian. He does not believe Jesus was literally, physically, raised from the dead, and he thinks that apart from belief in Jesus’ physical resurrection, it is not possible for [...]

2020-04-03T00:59:15-04:00October 5th, 2018|Historical Jesus|

Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?

I've been asked about who wrote the book of Revelation.  Here are some musings on it, the first part taken from my textbook on the New Testament. Even though the book of Revelation was finally included in the New Testament canon because Christian leaders came to think it had been written by Jesus’ disciple, John the son of Zebedee, there were outspoken dissenters against its inclusion. Perhaps the most famous was Dionysius, a bishop of the city of Alexandria (Egypt) in the mid-third century, whose remarks about the book have a surprisingly modern feel to them. Dionysius used the author’s self-presentation and his Greek writing style to show that he was not the writer of the Fourth Gospel (whom Dionysius assumed was the disciple John). His conclusion? There must have been two different early Christian leaders named John, both of whom were active in Asia Minor, whence both the Gospel and Revelation derived. The following quotations are drawn from Dionysius’s writings, as quoted by the fourth-century church historian Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 7.25). The one who [...]

2019-03-20T17:48:46-04:00October 4th, 2018|Revelation of John|

The Lake of Fire in Revelation

OK, you’ve waited a while for me finally to get to the Lake of Fire in the book of Revelation.  But just think of it as the Final Judgment: you know it’s coming soon, but you don’t know when. Here is what I think about it (both the final judgment and the lake of fire) (clarification: this is not what *I* think of these things; this is what I think *Revelation* is saying about these things).  As previously indicated, I do not think Revelation teaches that sinners will be tormented forever.  They will be annihilated out of existence. The horrifying “lake of fire” makes its first appearance in Revelation 19.  Christ, along with his heavenly armies, appears from heaven for the “Last Battle.”  In a flash their arch-enemies on earth are soundly defeated and punished.  The supernatural opponents of Christ – the Beast and his prophet – are thrown, living, into the “lake of fire that burns with sulfur.”   Their human allies, on the other hand, are “slain with a sword,” and all the birds [...]

2020-04-03T00:59:27-04:00October 2nd, 2018|Afterlife, Revelation of John|

The Afterlife in Revelation

  The first reference to the afterlife in Revelation occurs in ch. 6, with the breaking of the fifth seal (6:9-11).   Nothing happens on earth, but the prophet sees the souls of those who had been “slaughtered for the word of God” and the “witness they gave” under an altar in heaven, as they cry out to God: “How long before you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth?”   An altar, of course, is the point of contact between God and humans, so these martyrs for Christ have a special access to the divine presence.  They want to be vindicated for their faithfulness.  But they are deferred in their wishes: each is given a white robe and told they need to “rest a little while longer,” until all their fellow Christians also destined for martyrdom have met their fates. These other martyrs are described in chapter seven, after the breaking of the sixth seal.  There are two groups: 144,000 Jews, twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes, and “an enormous [...]

2020-04-03T00:59:38-04:00October 1st, 2018|Afterlife, Revelation of John|
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