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Jesus and Hell

The second of my two boxes today from the new edition of my textbook.  This one of even more pressing importance: what did Jesus think of hell? ************************************************************* Another Glimpse Into the Past Box 15.8  Hell in the Teaching of Jesus Jesus sometimes indicates that on the Day of Judgment sinners will be cast, unburied, into the most unholy, repulsive, God-forsaken place that anyone in Israel could imagine, the valley known as “Gehenna.” He says, for example that it is better to gouge out your eye that sins or amputate your hand and enter the kingdom maimed than to be tossed into Gehenna with eye and hand intact (Matthew 5:29, 30) Gehenna is obviously serious.  But what is it?   The word is often mistranslated in English Bibles as “hell” (e.g., in the NIV and the NRSV; see Matthew 5:22, 29, 30).  But, Gehenna is not “hell” in the modern sense of a place (inside the earth) where sinners are tormented forever.  Then what is it? To find out, you will need to belong to the [...]

By |2020-04-03T00:53:35-04:00October 31st, 2018|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|35 Comments

Did Paul Belief in that the Fleshly Body Would be Resurrected

Browsing through posts I made (exactly) six years ago, I came across this one (which deals with a subject I'll be addressing in my new book) about Paul's view of the future resurrection.  What I thought I thought about that issue *before* I started doing the hard core research for my book on the afterlife is very similar to how I still think now.  I hope that doesn't just mean I'm stubborn!  Here is the perceptive question and my response: ************************************************************************ QUESTION: What is a BODILY resurrection without the flesh?  Don't teh early Christians (and Paul) think the flesh (the corpse) didn’t matter anymore and could be left behind, rotting and decomposing? Isn’t it all about the spirit finally getting this new, better, perfect, divine ‘body’? Addendum: The Greek for ‘spiritual’ (like in spiritual body) is pneumatikos, right? According to Strong’s that means: pertaining to wind or breath, windy, exposed to the wind, blowing. Now those wouldn’t be obvious words to describe something physical or made out of matter, would it? They seems to rather [...]

By |2018-10-14T11:55:23-04:00October 14th, 2018|Afterlife, Paul and His Letters|164 Comments

What’s the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man All About?

In my previous post I summarized an Egyptian story about a rich man and a poor man who both die, with the poor man having a fantastic afterlife and the rich man suffering horrible torture.  The poor man was righteous and so was rewarded, the rich man was a sinner and so was punished.  Is that what the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 is also all about – rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked?  So that it’s a story that tries to stress that you need to live a good life or you’ll pay the consequences later? It is indeed possible that this biblical story also contains an implicit teaching about righteous living.   But since, unlike the Egyptian tale, this parable says nothing about sin and righteousness, some interpreters have suggested different ways of understanding it. Maybe the problem with the rich man in Luke’s parable is not that he is generally wicked, but that, more specifically, he hasn’t used his wealth in order to help those [...]

By |2020-04-03T00:58:49-04:00October 11th, 2018|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels|67 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-04-03T00:58:56-04:00October 8th, 2018|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels|31 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-04-03T00:59:04-04:00October 8th, 2018|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels|22 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-04-03T00:59:27-04:00October 2nd, 2018|Afterlife, Revelation of John|88 Comments

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 [...]

By |2020-04-03T00:59:38-04:00October 1st, 2018|Afterlife, Revelation of John|37 Comments

Did Jesus Believe Sinners Would Be Annihilated? The Sheep and the Goats

The most difficult passage that I will need to deal with in my discussion of Jesus’ view of the afterlife is the famous teaching about the last judgment of the “Sheep and the Goats,” found only in the Gospel of Matthew, there are reasons for thinking it is something Jesus actually said.   Doesn’t it teach eternal torment for the wicked, instead of annihilation?  I’ve concluded that the answer is no.  See if you find my reasoning persuasive. The passage comes at the tail end of Jesus “apocalyptic discourse” (Matthew 24-25), two chapters of Jesus’ discussion of what will happen at the end of time and of how people need to prepare for it.  To conclude the discourse, Jesus describes the coming Day of Judgment, when the great cosmic judge, the Son of Man, sits on his throne, judging all the nations of the world gathered before him (Matthew 25:31-46).   This is not merely the judgment of the righteous and wicked in Israel, but of all the pagans as well.  The Son of Man separates all [...]

By |2020-04-03T01:03:54-04:00September 12th, 2018|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|112 Comments

Gehenna: Where You Do Not Want to Go

This is the second of my two posts on Gehenna.  My ultimate point in this discussion is that when Jesus talked about people ending up there, he did not mean they would roast forever in the first of hell, but that they would end up very badly indeed because (a) they would not receive burial and (b) even worse, their corpses would be thrown into the most hideous literally-god-forsaken place a Jew could imagine. The earliest evidence from outside the Hebrew Bible for Gehenna as a place of divine punishment comes in 1 Enoch 27, written, as we have seen, at least two centuries before the days of Jesus.   In one of his encounters with the angel Uriel, Enoch asks why such an “accursed valley” lies in the midst of Israel’s “blessed land.”  The angel tell him: The accursed valley is for those accursed forever; here will gather together all those accursed ones, those who speak with their mouth unbecoming words against the Lord….  Here shall they be gathered together, and here shall be their [...]

By |2020-04-03T01:04:06-04:00September 10th, 2018|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|74 Comments

Jesus on Gehenna

I will give three more posts on what I take to be Jesus’ understanding of the afterlife.  The first two have to do with his understanding of Gehenna.    What I have to say about it is too much for a single post.  So here’s the first of the two. Again, feedback is welcome. Often Jesus expresses the image of “destruction” in highly repugnant terms, indicating that sinners who are excluded from God’s kingdom will not only killed but will be refused decent burial – which, as you will recall, is the worst fate one could have in the ancient world.  Even worse than that, Jesus indicates that sinners will be cast, unburied, into the most unholy, repulsive, God-forsaken place that anyone in Israel could imagine, the valley of known as “Gehenna.”  Thus,  for example, Jesus says that anyone who calls someone “a fool” will be liable to be cast into Gehenna (Matthew 5:22); later he says that it is better to gouge out your eye that sins or amputate your hand and thereby enter the [...]

By |2020-04-03T01:04:13-04:00September 9th, 2018|Afterlife, Historical Jesus|36 Comments
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