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Did Jesus Mean that Literally? Rewards and Punishments in the Afterlife

I return now to my thread dealing with the teachings about the afterlife in the New Testament.  One question that can naturally be asked is whether what is said about the afterlife in this, that, or the other passage is meant to be taken literally.    For example, I have discussed the famous passage of the “Sheep and the Goats” in Matthew 25, where the Son of Man at the end of history sits on his throne and divides the nations (or gentiles?) into two groups as a shepherd would separate his sheep and goats.  The sheep are given eternal life and the goats are forced to go to eternal punishment.

But isn’t this all symbolic?  After all, people are said to be farm animals, when in fact people are human.  So isn’t the whole thing symbolic?  Isn’t it, for example, a kind of parable?

I may change my mind on the matter, but my sense at this stage of my thinking is that the passage is not a parable.  Here I’ll give several reasons.

First …

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Were All Textual Changes Made by Scribes by 300 CE? Readers’ Mailbag November 5, 2017
Another Translation Project: The Apocryphal Gospels



  1. anthonygale  November 3, 2017

    Where will the sheep be rewarded and the goats punished? I see the distinction, particularly regarding a resurrected/made immortal body versus a soul. But the distinction between heaven/hell and eternal reward/punishment on/in (where?) seems less clear. And, however it is conceived, still allows the idea of heaven and hell to be rooted in what Jesus taught even if the idea evolved.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      The sheep are rewarded by going into the Kingdom of God — we’re not told in this parable where that is, but it doesn’t specify “heaven”; we’re also not told where the “eternal fire” actually is. My sense is that neither the sheep nor the goats are overly concerned about the geographies of the places they end up in!

      • godspell  November 5, 2017

        Even by the time Matthew was written, it was going to be increasingly evident the Kingdom wasn’t coming soon, if ever.

        ‘Mark’ might leave the sheep and goats thing out (assuming he knew it) because it doesn’t fit the story he’s telling.

        Matthew might have adapted it to a reality in which the Son of Man’s coming did not seem to be imminent.

        I’m skeptical Jesus ever said anything about eternal fires or ‘the devil and his angels.’ Matthew is beginning the process of misunderstanding Jesus, making the Kingdom heaven, and sending the goats to hell, because to understand him correctly would be to admit he was wrong, at the very least about the timeline.

        The goal is to have a realm on the material earth where the righteous will no longer have to fear the unrighteous. Because that’s what a good shepherd does–protects the flock. Goats may be a menace to sheep–and some people are more like predators than overly rambunctious herbivores.

        As the Latin saying goes “Homo homini lupus.” Not in the Kingdom.

      • anthonygale  November 5, 2017

        The reason I ask is because, if you will argue that Jesus didn’t believe in heaven or hell but thought there would be eternal reward and punishment, the ideas are still similar. I get the distinction between resurrected bodies versus souls, and it being a future event rather than what happens for everyone after death. But the idea of eternal reward for the sheep and eternal punishment/separation from God for the goats is very similar to the idea of heaven and hell, certainly enough to say that heaven and hell had root in what Jesus thought. I think the location is important because the ideas are similar and it would say something about how distinct they are and how one might have evolved into the other.

        And here’s a thought I find disturbing…Does God raise people from the dead so that they may be tormented forever, rather than keeping them dead or leaving them in Sheol?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 6, 2017

          Yes, they are similar. And also very different. In your last question — are you asking what Jesus thought? It’s hard to know, but I’m trying to figure out my best educated guess.

          • anthonygale  November 6, 2017

            The last question was more of a comment. As unpalatable the idea of hell is to some people, the idea of resurrecting the goats only to torment them forever seems even harsher. Resurrecting the sheep to enjoy the kingdom, and leaving the goats dead, wouldn’t seem so vindictive. But I can see how the idea would appeal to the oppressed. At least there is nothing in the story about bashing kids against a rock.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 7, 2017

            Yes, I guess there is *that*….

      • DestinationReign
        DestinationReign  November 5, 2017

        Most likely, the “kingdom” and the “fire” are approximately 30% places, and 70% states of being. That is, regarding emphasis on what those terms actually mean. The sheep/goats teaching guides us toward lessening emphasis on literality and tangibility. After 2,000 years of a Sunday School mindset, we are now transcending.

  2. The Agnostic Christian
    The Agnostic Christian  November 3, 2017

    I have over 30 books on the sayings of Jesus. They all disagree in one way or another on what Jesus meant. One thing they all taught me though is that no one actually knows for certain what Jesus meant by what he said. That should trouble Christians.

    Apart from the self-delusion that each individual is being led by the Spirit, which does nothing to solve the actual problem of interpretation, we don’t actually have any firm way to know what Jesus, the founder of Christianity, was actually teaching in regards to salvation. Yet Christians are damn sure they’re holding the correct soteriological view and understand correctly the ultimate nature of reality…

    • Gabe_Grinstead  November 6, 2017

      Great post! Totally agreed.

  3. godspell  November 3, 2017

    Perhaps reward and punishment isn’t quite the right terminology. It’s not that you’re punished for all eternity because you had a wet dream and didn’t go to confession right afterwards. Jesus is actually quite forgiving of such things, pays them little mind.

    It’s that Jesus sees the world around him. It could be a paradise. And that is needed has been provided. Yet the world of humans is much more often a hell we’ve made for ourselves. Why? Because some people are just inherently self-centered, narcissistic, selfish, cruel. So what’s the answer. Those people must be removed. Sent to coventry. No hellfire, no demons piercing your flesh. You just spend eternity with other people like you.

    Sartre was an atheist, I’m pretty sure, and he wrote a play about that kind of hell. No Exit. Hell is eternity in a badly decorated drawing room, with other people just as unpleasant as you.

    The people who are capable of making the world a heaven will get to be with other people like that. Those who can’t are perpetually separated from those they once preyed upon, and forced to confront the hell they themselves have inflicted upon the world.

    It has nothing to do with sinful desires–there’s no virtue in doing the right thing if that’s all you want to do. It has everything to do with how you treat others. As you would have them treat yourself.

    • godspell  November 3, 2017

      To summarize, not so much punishment as banishment. That really is how he refers to it. If your nature is not compatible with the Kingdom, you are banished from the Kingdom, and prevented from oppressing the meek. And that, for some personalities, would be in itself a reason for wailing and gnashing of teeth. No need for hellfire. In some cases, hell really is other people.

      • DestinationReign
        DestinationReign  November 5, 2017

        These are interesting points. The Kingdom is reserved for those who have an ultimate desire for cosmic camaraderie, and have worked towards that in their earthly lives. For those who haven’t, they will draw to themselves what is appropriate. Sowing and reaping is an inescapable principle. Again, from the Aquarian Gospel, chapter 158:

        35. And every one can read the records he has written for himself, and he will know his doom before the judge shall speak, and this will be the sifting time.
        36. According to their records men will find their own.

        • godspell  November 6, 2017

          I think pretty much everyone would like to believe that you reap what you sow, though they may make exceptions for themselves in this regard. It is not a religious so much as a philosophical belief–we wish to make the universe just, but justice is a human concept, and humans must enforce it. That being said, those who live evil lives can be highly self-destructive. If only they confined their destructiveness to their own persons.

  4. fishician  November 3, 2017

    The story is parable-like in that he uses sheep and goats, but clearly talking about the actual end of the age. Sheep are useful in that they provide wool each year and so are best kept alive, but goats are best slaughtered for their meat and hides. So, the useful people of the world will be kept alive in the new kingdom, while those who do not prove useful to others are to be slaughtered? Interesting analogy.

    • godspell  November 5, 2017

      I don’t think that’s the point. Sheep are slaughtered as often as goats, if not more so. “A lamb to the slaughter.” As Jesus himself was slaughtered.

      Yes, the point is separation, and I don’t think it’s about who’s useful. Destructive people can have useful skills. It’s about separating the people who follow Jesus’ dictates for right behavior–how can such people possibly survive? They are defenseless against others. So the Kingdom is a place they will be protected, and the goats can fend for themselves.

  5. Gabe_Grinstead  November 3, 2017

    What I find difficult with your works is separating what you think the text means vs what you believe. What I mean, is that you are agnostic, as am I, so in many ways, whatever Jesus meant is largely irrelevant to me. That doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting, but that I would not care whether it was a parable or not, because I don’t believe it and as such it doesn’t cause me to modify my existing behavior. Don’t mistake me, I love some good conjecture and think this most definitely is a worthy blog post, just that it seems like it is highly debatable. I myself am convinced that “if” Jesus did indeed say this, then it was a parable. But that just brings me back to my agnostic position… I don’t even know that Jesus did say this!

    • godspell  November 5, 2017

      I would say an agnostic’s position would be that knowledge is impossible.

      And in the field of history, even ancient history, this is a foolish and cowardly position to take. We can’t know everything, but we can know some things. There is a lot of information about Jesus, and he was, as anyone with a grain of sense must acknowledge, someone who has had an incalculable influence on the course of history. You are influenced by him–if not, what the hell you doing here? I’m sure there must still be some hunter-gatherers somewhere in the rainforests who aren’t (none of whom are atheists or agnostics), but pretty much everyone else is.

      I’m very anti-Marxist, even though I consider myself to be on the left. I’ve still devoted some time and effort to understanding what Marx thought and believed. He was an important figure in history, whose ideas have led to both good and evil developments, and we should understand him better. And incidentally, there have been some things falsely attributed to him as well, even though he lived in the 19th century!

      If you don’t want to learn, nobody can make you. But is that really something to brag about? What are you doing on a site (that you presumably are paying to have access to), meant for people who want to learn about early Christianity, if you yourself don’t believe it’s possible to achieve knowledge, however painfully and haltingly?

      Anyone who studies history has to be able to put him or herself in the minds of others, to see things from their points of view. Without necessarily sharing them. And this is a skill that will stand you in good stead in many other things besides the study of history.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  November 7, 2017

      This is a tough one because the passage explains what will literally happen when the Son of Man comes based on their everyday actions while still including some figurative language. I think what sets it apart from a parable is that Jesus does not appear to be teaching a spiritual lesson by telling a story. There’s no metaphorical language–a widow rejoices with friends when finding her coin/angels rejoice in the presence of God when a sinner repents. Whereas, literally, my friend owes me $50, but instead of giving me cash, I ask her to buy my poor neighbor $50 worth of groceries. She paid me back when she did what I asked her to do. When we feed our brothers and sisters who are hungry, we literally do the same for the Lord because we did what was asked.

      Was the passage spoken by Jesus himself? I don’t see how we can know for certain, but it is what it is, so I just go with it.

  6. talmoore
    talmoore  November 3, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I divided Jesus’ purported “parables” into categories (the Three Cs): Commission, Commandment, and Catastrophe.

    Commission parables are those parables in which Jesus is telling his listeners about how and why the “gospel” must be spread. These parables are meant to justify and exhort his followers traveling throughout the world, preaching ha-B’sorot ha-Tovot (The Good News) of Jesus as Christ, repentence and the imminent arrival of ha-Malkhut ha-Shamayyim (The Kingdom of Heaven). These parables are exemplified by the Parables of the Sower, The Lost Sheep, The Banquet, The Lamp, etc. Early Christians passed around these parables to explain why they must spread the “good news” throughout the world before Jesus can return to judge the living the dead.

    Commandment parables are those parables in which Jesus is telling his followers how to treat each other, and, often, how to treat those outside the movement. These are essentially codes of ethics, meant to establish harmony and community within the movement. Parables that exemplify this are the Good Samaritan and the Unforgiving Servant. These parables are combined within more straight forward commandments, such the Love Your Neighbor, Mote in Your Eye and Turn the Other Cheek passages.

    Catastrophe parables are those parables in which Jesus appears to be predicting his own death, resurrection and/or return. Parables that exemplify these are the parable of the Vinyard Workers or the Evil Tenants.

    I think all parables, to some extent, can be placed within one of these categories, with the exception of those several parables that fall within a fourth category that I’ll define below. As for these Three Cs parables, I think they are all post-Jesus. That is, I think — while some of them may have had a kernel original to Jesus — that all of them, none-the-less, are generally far removed from anything the historical Jesus actually said or meant. The reason I think this is that they all, for the most part, assume Jesus’ death. Why would Jesus need to tell his followers to spread the good news throughout the world unless he knew that he was going to die? I mean, the whole point of spreading the good news was so that all of mankind can repent and accept Jesus as their savior…so that Jesus could return to judge the living and the dead! It already assumes the parousia! The same goes for the Commandment parables. Why would Jesus need to tell his followers how to behave unless he already knew his movement would continue to grow after his death? These commandments assume that A) the church would grow and last long enough that ground rules would need to be established, and B) Jesus wouldn’t be around to oversee the movement and keep the peace and harmony within it. As for the Catastrophe commandments, they speak for themselves. Hence, this is why I don’t think these parables go back to the actual historical Jesus, but, rather, they were created by the early Christians to resolve the issues that they, in essence, resolve: What do we do now that Jesus is gone? How do we remedy conflict and disagreements within the movement without its founder? If Jesus was a prophet, did he know he was going to die? And, if so, did he tells us why he died, and if and when he will return? These are all questions the first Christian needed serious answers to, and these parables were their way of answering them.

    Now, as to the last category of parables, don’t think they were actually parables but, instead, were Jesus’ own prophetic utterances (whether or not they orginated with Jesus himself) that eventually found their way into the Gospels. Sometimes they were attached to the parables, giving the reader the sense that they are part of the parable or are parabolic themselves. I think the Sheep and Goats is an example of this type of parable-esque passage. For the most part, these prophecies are about the Kingdom of Heaven and the end times. (I call them prophecies, but not to suggest that they are actual prophecies, but only to express that Jesus and his followers believed that they were prophecies not unlike the prophecies of the Nevi’im). We only see glimpses of these original prophecies within various parables, such as the parable of the Fig Tree (“Most certainly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things are accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.” This is a very, very Semitic way for Jesus to say that he’s prophesying via the holy spirit of God), the parable of the Tares (“Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I [he] will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my [his] barn.”) I think these are expressions that go back to Jesus, maybe not verbatim, but more or less in sentiment.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017


    • Kirktrumb59  November 7, 2017

      Recommend: Crossan, John Dominic: “The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus became Fiction about Jesus” 2012

      • talmoore
        talmoore  November 9, 2017

        I stole some of this theory from JD Crossan.

  7. sladesg  November 3, 2017

    Your last paragraph here is very similar to something I just finished reading in E.P. Sanders’ “The Historical Figure of Jesus.” It seems he had the same opinion (as I’m sure so many scholars do) that Jesus seemed to prefer a bodily resurrection at the “end time,” of course in which Jesus thought he was a part. I would highly recommend Sanders’ book by the way, especially for readers who enjoy your books. His is easy to read for non-scholars, and it is clear that you both share a lot of the same opinions on several topics.

  8. Candlestickone  November 3, 2017

    The apostles asked ” why” do you speak to us in parables, He said, so “they” will think they heard but not really get it but YOU will. There is a dual message going on ,what separates the two is cannabis, the ” renewing of your mind” ” the oil of gladness” that the persona received a greater measure of” ” the symbol- parable of the MENOWRAH heb. 9:1-10, ” the mystery of the gospel”

    • nbraith1975  November 6, 2017

      10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: Matthew 13

      Seriously? The god who said he loved everyone equally and wanted everyone to be saved made it virtually impossible for some people to even understand what he was saying and what he truly meant? And his teaching style even confused the 12 disciples sometimes and often they still didn’t understand what he meant even when he explained the teaching further.

      Jesus came to earth with the most important message in history and spoke it in confusing riddles? I would expect a clear and concise message from an all knowing and loving god – especially when it’s a message of literal eternal life and death.

  9. HenriettePeterson  November 3, 2017

    can you please explain the original greek word that is translated as ‘eternal’?

    46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

    Could it possibly be translated in any other way?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      It is the word AIONAS, that literally means something like “for the aeons/ages”. I’m out of town and away from my books, but offhand I’m not aware of a controversy over it’s meaning in this kind of context.

      • Wilusa  November 5, 2017

        Just a thought suggested by this… There’s a Catholic prayer that always concludes, in English, as “world without end.” But the original Latin reads “centuries of centuries” – not quite the same thing!

      • talmoore
        talmoore  November 5, 2017

        The Semitic root ‘Alam has a similar meaning: age or aeon. It’s found in the Hebrew Bible, the Aramaic Gemara and the Arabic Quran with, essentially, the same meaning.

      • HenriettePeterson  November 6, 2017

        “for the ages” sounds very finite to me. If the word age/eon usually refers to a finite time frame, then “for a finite number of finite time frames” could possibly mean “for a very very very very long time”. On the other hand eternal means infinite, something that will never ever come to an end. That seems like a (huge) difference to me. Could AIONIAS be possibly translated as “”for a very very very very long time”?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 6, 2017

          Yes, it can be used that way, though from what I can tell from the Greek lexica, that usage is rather rare.

  10. jmmarine1  November 3, 2017

    Do you have a sense as to who the target audience originally was for this saying? The use of the sheep/goats analogy seems to imply a rural setting and audience, yet the embedded eschatology is very lofty, indeed. This appears to be a very sophisticated and comprehensive saying to begin by noting that the Son of Man will separate the nations ‘as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…’

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      Most of Jesus’ parables seem to presuppose a rural setting; but rural folk can have lofty ideas!

  11. caesar  November 3, 2017

    I have always understood this to mean: this is the final judgment, after all of humanity has died, and it refers to everyone who has ever lived. Is it possible, by using other sayings of Jesus, that this is the case?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      I’m not sure. Since it says “PANTA” or ALL the nations, I suppose that could mean “all that ever have been.”

  12. Petter Häggholm  November 3, 2017

    Sometimes I wonder how much the mode of transmission may affect the remembered story and potentially distort the picture of the historical Jesus.

    For instance, suppose that Jesus actually talked more like the Gospel of John, in lengthy discourses. In the early years of Christianity, with few literate converts and most transmission happening by word of mouth, it would be virtually impossible to pass these on accurately, and tedious to try. Perhaps the re-telling would tend to simplify as people wanted to convey the important parts of the message more succinctly. The stories, then, could tend to become shorter and pithier. Perhaps they might even evolve into parables, which after all serve a very useful purpose in being simple (thus easy to remember) and ‘encoding’ a message that can be ‘re-extracted’ when interpreting them…

    Now, I don’t think that the above is in fact how it happened—I think it’s much more likely that you’re right (both because you’re the expert and because it sounds more plausible!), and that Jesus did use parables rather than Johannine discourses. But I wonder if, in a weaker sense, something a bit like that may have distorted stories and tempt even critical readers to overestimate how much really goes back to Jesus: it seems to my amateur mind that parables are very suitable to oral transmission, and that would work just as well for parables entering the tradition after Jesus died as for parables he may actually have said.

    I wonder if there’s anything particular in the bibliography of Jesus Before the Gospels that would either support or refute my speculation?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      E. P. Sanders in his first book on the Synoptic tradition argued that sayings did NOT necessarily always go from simple and straightforward to longer and more complex — they could go in *either* direction.

  13. Pegill7  November 3, 2017

    It’s interesting that Jesus has to explain his parables to his own disciples who often appear dimwitted. If so, could he have expected the common people among his hearers to have understood them? And, if not, what was the point of speaking in parables, anyway?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      No one seems to “get it” especially in Mark’s Gospel, and strikingly, in Mark 4:11-12 Mark tells us explicitly that Jesus spoke in parables precisely SO THAT outsiders would not understand what he was talking about, since otherwise they would repent! It’s one of the most intriguing verses of the New Testament. In fact, I think I’ll add your question to my Readers mailbag.

      • HenriettePeterson  November 6, 2017

        Couldn’t the SO THAT be a later anti-Jewish scribal addition? The scribe knows the end of the Jesus story, knows about the destruction of the temple and is utterly convinced Jews are the Godkillers. He thinks Jesus knew from the beginning that Jews would kill him so he adds SO THAT, so that everything would be more known, even orchestrated by Jesus himself. Now after this modification Jesus doesn’t want the outsiders to know, he explains stuff only to his little group. Or maybe a gnostic modification? Only the few who are in the KNOW know, the outsiders are to be confused. In most cases Jesus seems to be accepting everybody – lepers, whores, sinners. With this SO THAT he is suddenly radically exclusive. If m y information is correct the earliest manuscript that contains the verses you mentions is P45 which dates to year 250 thus giving plenty of room for some mods. So could the SO THAT be a scribe alteration?

    • talmoore
      talmoore  November 5, 2017

      Imagine a scenario like that portrayed in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue With Trypho: a Christian in disputation with a Jew. The Jew asks the Christian, quite rightly, “If Jesus was the Messiah, then why, while he was alive, weren’t his disciples going around Galilee proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah? I mean, I’m from Galilee, and I’ve never heard of a Messiah named Jesus.” The Christian could answer, “His disciples didn’t know for sure he was the Messiah until after he died and he appeared to them.” Basically, it’s a rationalization. The reason Jesus isn’t as well-known as one would expect the Messiah to be is that his disciples didn’t realize he was the Messiah soon enough. We see this sort of rationalization process so often there’s actually a term for it: hindsight bias. Before Jesus died, it never even occured to his disciples that he might actually be the Son of Man figure, who was to arrive on a cloud with the heavenly host to judge the living and the dead. But AFTER Jesus died, well, obviously Jesus is going to return as the Son of Man figure, who was to arrive on a cloud with the heavenly host to judge the living and the dead. I mean, duh, right?

  14. ardeare  November 3, 2017

    A couple of points come to mind as I am wrestling with this. First, if we take v.31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory” and make that location heaven instead of earth, the entire passage changes. He has left the earth and come to sit on his throne in heaven. Under this scenario, all the nations gathered before him would most likely be in spirit form and not bodies.
    Additionally, it seems odd that he would refer to *eternal* rewards or punishment for embodied people knowing that humans are not capable of experiencing eternal life or eternal punishment.

  15. nbraith1975  November 3, 2017

    It seems to be a literal analogy of something an apocalyptic prophet would say. I.e., Jesus was saying this is it folks, the time has come – choose where you want to go before it’s too late.

    Be that as it may; the main thing to understand about the NT is that every word attributed to Jesus comes from a source other than Jesus. And this fact adds to the evidence of his being an apocalyptic preacher.

    Had Jesus “come’ to establish a new religion, he would have probably written down the doctrine so there would be less chance for someone to change it in the future. As things stood then, Jesus had no reason to write anything down because the end was as near as that generation.

  16. jhague  November 3, 2017

    1. It appears that Jesus thought the eternal reward was participating in God’s earthly kingdom, correct?
    2. If so, did Jesus think it would be eternal due to people not dying?
    3. What was the external punishment? Complete destruction of the body?
    4. Did Jesus believe in people having souls?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      1. Yup; 2. Yup; 3. It appears to involve suffering torment; 4. Not as distinct from their bodies. That’s one of the most insteresting and important points to note!

  17. tompicard
    tompicard  November 3, 2017

    Appreciate your listing the various references to ‘son of man’.

    I do agree that Jesus held an apocalyptic view that there would be some kind of Kingdom of Heaven on the earth and that there would be a judge and some kind of judgement preceding it. All those verses appear good evidence that Jesus preached at least that much as ‘heavenly truths’. If that was his primary point in speaking these passages then ancillary details may not have been meant to have the same literal significance.

    That is, I don’t think that we should infer too much beyond the above.
    Would the judge be a human or an angel?
    Would the judgement occur in an instant or take longer?
    and would the Kingdom of Heaven entail physical immortality?
    Yes, if the passages in their entirety are taken literally then we would understand the judge is an angel who makes his decision instantaneously and the sentences are physical immortality or eternal torment. But we know the passages are not literal in their entirety simply because of the reference to sheep and goats.

    Now a couple of points regarding your criteria to determine whether the entirety of a passage should be understood literally or figuratively. [I am just making this because you will definitely have people smarter than me asking same questions]

    1. I dont understand the significance of the presence of the word ‘like’ when Jesus said nations are separated ‘like’ sheep and goats. So yeah i know he didn’t mean sheep were going to live immortally wonderful lives and goats were going the be eternally damned. When Jesus said ‘you brood of vipers, how can you say anything good?” (Mt 12:34) rather than ”you [who are like] a brood of vipers . .” he wasn’t pondering how snakes could speak nice words. the presence or absence of “like” has minimal bearing on whether the portion of the passage is literal or not.

    2. parables which entail ordinary everyday events marriage ceremonies, bad children, seeds are to be understood as probably figurative, but passages with very extraordinary or one time events are meant to be literal.
    I don’t understand that logic. I could probably make the claim that passages entailing extraordinary events SHOULD be taken as MORE SYMBOLIC than stories about day to day stuff.

    In a way claiming that some of the very apocalyptic sayings of Jesus are literal is easy. You just have to ascribe to Jesus a belief very silly ideas, such as human being’s physical bodies can exist immortally, and/or that humans can float on clouds (or only slightly less silly) that God Kingdom can come into existence via a magic angel appearing simultaneously worldwide.

    To the person claiming Jesus was speaking figuratively it is harder cause you have to provide reasonable meanings for the proposed symbols Jesus was supposedly using.
    I can speculate on a couple of the symbols, and would have to admit I have no ideas on some others if anyone is interested

    [sorry for the length of the post, probably my longest]

  18. DestinationReign
    DestinationReign  November 3, 2017

    It isn’t feasible to literalize the teaching in too concrete of a sense, primarily due to the sheer amount of subjects of judgment. To literalize this (as we understand “literality”), we would be talking about 6 billion, 7 billion or more people being individually judged in a physical setting, carried out by one man in the center. Physically, it is impossible. Also, the amount of TIME it would take to carry this out would be astronomical. (How boring it would be waiting for your number to be called!) All of this creates a huge problem in the literal regard.

    However, when we keep in mind that the coming of the Kingdom/Son of Man entails a cosmic shift into HIGHER-DIMENSIONALITY, then issues such as physical practicality or time constraints become NON-issues. This returns us to the understanding that the coming of the “Son of Man,” or the coming of Christ, regards the revelation of a UNIVERSAL PRESENCE, as opposed to some fellow in a robe flying down from the sky to pound his gavel.

    The “Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ” is an early 20th century work, claimed to have been channeled from the Akashic Records by Levi Dowling. Historically, it generally aligns with the canonical Gospels, but with many added details. In it is a very interesting and insightful take on the coming judgment. From chapter 158:

    34. Behold, when he will come with all his messengers of light, the Book of Life, and that of Records, shall be opened up–the books in which the thought and words and deeds are written down.
    35. And every one can read the records he has written for himself, and he will know his doom before the judge shall speak, and this will be the sifting time.
    36. According to their records men will find their own.
    37. The judge is Righteousness, the king of all the earth, and he will separate the multitudes as shepherds separate the sheep and goats.
    38. The sheep will find their places on the right, the goats upon the left, and every man will know his place.

    Statements such as “he will know his doom before the judge shall speak,” and “every man will know his place” indicate an INTERNAL knowingness (even the “conscience”) as the ultimate judge, as opposed to a guy with a beard issuing a decree. As verse 37 declares, the judge is Righteousness – an intangible characteristic, not the “surfer Jesus” of Christianity.

  19. darren  November 3, 2017

    Speaking of parables, I haven’t been able to find anything on the blog about the missing verse in Mark 7. I watched an explanation from Daniel Boyarin on it, that the missing verse indicated the story was a parable backing up the validity of the Torah over the oral traditions of the pharisees, rather than making all foods clean. Is that your take?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      I’m not sure which verse you’re referring to.

      • darren  November 5, 2017

        Mark 7, v16. Boyarin says it was omitted because it signified the preceding verses were a parable that explained why the written Torah is superior to the oral traditions of the pharisees.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 6, 2017

          I don’t understand the logic of that. All the “missing” verse says is “Let the one with ears listen!” THat is a saying found elsewhere on the lips of Jesus — it just means “listen up!”

  20. Matt7  November 3, 2017

    I guess Paul didn’t have much time to talk to Jesus about soteriology on his way to Damascus.

  21. Tony  November 3, 2017

    Norman Petersen in the “The Composition of Mark” identifies the use of complex ring compositions in chapters 4 to 8. That makes Mark’s section look more like a fabricated myth – and not history. Others have identified Mark’s 4:35 – 41 as based on Moses’ exploits as in Exodus 13-17.

    Bart, do you have any thoughts on those interpretations?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      I think it’s very important to separate the question of whether an author has presented his material in a creative way and the question of whether he has created the material. That is to say, I could present the life of a modern millionaire in a “rags to riches” kind of tale that I made up; but that doesn’t mean that I made the millionaire up.

      • Tony  November 5, 2017

        Good example! That’s why Horatio Alger’s novels are myths. Completely made up! Alger’s novels have no basis in reality. Yet many young Americans wanted desperately to believe.

        If we really need proof of Jesus’ historicity we’d have to look at other sources. Paul for example. No luck with him, he only talks about visions of a Jesus who has never been on earth.

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  November 7, 2017

          I think Paul gives this false impression for knowing very little about Jesus. His writing style is one of the issues.

          I was stuck on “rulers of this age” for the longest time. I was so focused on that isolated phrase, I missed everything else surrounding it. The chapter starts out talking about wise people, teachers of the law, philosophers of this age, and wisdom of the world. He goes on to compare God’s power and wisdom with human strength and human wisdom. Wisdom is set by human standards and he repeats human wisdom several times before he says, “We…speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing…we declare God’s wisdom…None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

          Under the section of “Scribes” on Bible.org, “scribes were also philosophers, sophists, councilors, and teachers.” In Josephus and rabbinic literature, some scribes held positions of authority and were rulers. Basically, when Paul describes rulers, he’s lumping them in with teachers of the law, philosophers of this age, and people who were considered wise. He said God’s wisdom was a mystery, but the rulers didn’t get it, so they ended up killing Jesus. The rulers, in this age he’s living in, are perishing and coming to nothing.

          There’s no hint of anything happening in a heavenly realm with demons. It’s all about human wisdom that is contrary to God’s wisdom. When Paul describes demons in 1 Corinthians, he uses the word for demons–daimoniois. Unless the Jewish leaders found Jacob’s ladder, Jesus was crucified on earth.

          • Tony  November 7, 2017

            I’ve never heard Paul’s “rulers of this age” explained that way. But I’m not surprised. That phrase is a bombshell. It destroys all religious and historicists arguments that Paul writes about the Jesus of Nazareth of the gospels. Religious and historical scholars will turn themselves into pretzels explaining it away.

            The term means spiritual demonic – and not human powers.
            The context of Paul’s letters support it as well:
            -Paul’s Jesus has never been on earth. His Jesus is to come only – he never comes again or returns;
            -Paul knows nothing about an earthly Jesus ministry and disciples;
            -On his visit to Jerusalem Paul visits Cephas (Peter) and others and says about his Lord Christ Jesus – presumably crucified there a couple of decades ago …. absolutely nothing;
            -Paul writes about real earthly rulers in Romans 13. According to Paul earthly rulers are God’s agents on earth, and have no relation to the ignorant entities who are doomed to perish in 1Cor 2:8;
            -We have the smoking gun in the Ascension of Isaiah. It describes the source of Paul’s mystery religion, including the killing and crucifixion of the Son of God by ignorant demons in the firmament, who will perish.

  22. Telling
    Telling  November 3, 2017


    The great divide between historical study and Church dogma overlaps in an area called “metaphysics”, a discipline encapsulating the physical world and what lies beyond. Unlike theology, metaphysics is not rooted in shared beliefs and interpretations, it has to do with reality at deeper than physical levels, and is a good tool for understanding theology without need for religious “faith”.

    Metaphysics requires a starting point different than historians. All that exists is “mind”. The physical world is every bit as much a mass hallucination as is any other experience. The world is made of consciousness.

    As to the Son of man and the sheep and goats story that happens at the end of times, there are surely numerous ways to interpret it. In metaphysics, the story is not important, for stories are creations of the mind, whether true or fiction, and whether played out in the imagination, in dreams, or in full-blown physical space.

    I interpret the sheep and goats story as Jesus (who I agree probably said it) saying that the world itself (the Son of man) will judge us. Those who treasured life will be put with the sheep, those seeking personal enrichment at expense of others will be judged by the world, which is “us”. Eternal paradise and eternal damnation are eternal states that we ourselves enter and leave at various times, never actually stuck or exalted in one place for eternity. We do get a taste of this, entering and exiting such states in this life, sometimes feeling really great, other times great mental agony, depending on our personal and collective thoughts and actions, but consciously seeming to be without cause. With a metaphysical grounding, Luke 17:21 has a more vibrant meaning: “… the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

    When we try to decipher spiritual information from a root belief that physical matter creates the mind, we’ll not find our answer.

    I hope this information — I’ve studied metaphysics over more than 40 years — may be of some use to you in your dealings with both theologians and atheists.

    • DestinationReign
      DestinationReign  November 6, 2017

      Very nice post! People tend to impulsively and hastily object when hearing the term metaphysics/metaphysical, but in fact it basically just entails the notion that tangibility and concreteness REPRESENT a higher form of existence. To acknowledge that Jesus’ parables convey deeper spiritual Truth is to acknowledge the reality of metaphysics; this, regardless of whether or not one accepts the “metaphysics/metaphysical” terminology.

      Astounding insights are opened up when de-emphasizing the literality and historicity of Scripture. “Literality”and “historicity” (both ultimately UNPROVABLE) keeps Scripture dead and buried in the “past.” But to see and embrace what Scripture is revealing in a living and active way, NOW, is to bring it to life!

      • Telling
        Telling  November 6, 2017

        Destination Reign,

        Very true, and long forgotten is, the Bible is a metaphysical book. Little wonder of the difficulty trying to figure out a metaphysical book while declaring metaphysics to be demonic and kooky.

        • DestinationReign
          DestinationReign  November 7, 2017

          Yes, and a helpful “aspect ratio” of metaphysics and historicity regarding the Bible is 70/30. (Of course this isn’t scientific, but generally helpful.) There is some benefit (30) to putting forth a historical application of Scripture, but more emphasis (70) should be placed on its symbolisms and higher meanings. It can also be conveyed as applying a “quasi-historical” approach to the Bible. It’s narratives MAY be based on true historical events, but they CERTAINLY contain higher truths beyond the literal that transcend time.

          • Telling
            Telling  November 12, 2017


            Metaphysics is not just symbolism, it suggests a different root, the physical world IS symbolism. As in dreams, our minds convert internal reality into images and sounds and others of the five physical senses to a recognizable and coherent form. Philosophers of old have suggested this, evidence being the sameness between lucid dreaming and our waking world. There is no sun, moon, stars, and light inside our heads, yet we may experience all this in a very real way when we dream.

            Without considering this basic premise, that all the world is a mental construct, mankind stays hopelessly lost.

            From a metaphysical viewpoint, there are no miracles. Anything that can happen in a dream can happen in the waking world. What we call miracles are things that don’t ordinarily happen in waking. Can a man lose his teeth and grow in a new set? This would be a miracle. But every child does just that, replacing his “baby teeth” for his adult teeth. If when we cut our finger we could expect that it would never heal or would take a long time to heal, then seeing it heal in a week or two would be a miracle.

            Bart has stripped out the purported miracles of Jesus, and Jesus can only become an ordinary man. But the “Master” traditionally holds the finer energy that transcends our lower energy. This is not unusual in Eastern religions, it is something serious practitioners know; the higher energies coming available to those who responsibly seek such.

            If the Church taught that every word of the Bible is the unerring word of God, we can equally credit the Church for warning the flock to stay away from mysticism and destroy every supporting manuscript.

            As to what is true, and what isn’t true, the answer is: wisdom-knowledge is true, all else is myth.

        • DestinationReign
          DestinationReign  November 13, 2017

          The points you make remind me greatly of a passage from the Gospel of Thomas:

          Jesus said, “If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels. Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty.”

          When you consider that our truest essence is divine, from the Divine Source, it is a remarkable bit of cosmic trickery (SELF-trickery?) that we are presently confined to this state of solidity and “time.” And “death.” And suffering, and doing without, and so on.

          The symbolism of Christ resurrecting from the tomb pertains to us awakening to our own divine essence and escaping this matrix. The etymological relations between “tomb” and “womb” are obvious, and the most accurate definition for “matrix” is “womb.” The Christ story (overcoming death), whether literal or not, is the blueprint for us to return to our divine state of being. It cannot be done apart from the awakening of Christ within. And in order for THAT to happen, the idea of an external Jesus must be put to death.

          So, we can see that a major aspect of this illusion is the unnecessary emphasis on the historicity and literality of Scripture. Such a focus deprives a higher understanding of what it is truly saying. The 3D construct must first be transcended in our own understanding.

  23. Tony  November 3, 2017

    There are other explanations for Q, M and L:

    Q; the source shared by Matthew and Luke for their material not found in Mark is called Matthew.

    The sources for M and L are the fertile imaginations of Matthew and Luke respectively.

    Maybe I should write a book….

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      I’m afraid that book’s been written. 🙂

      • Telling
        Telling  November 5, 2017

        I’m wondering how historians determine that Mark was written before Luke and Matthew.

        I’ve learned that historians place the Daniel Old Testament prophesies at precisely 164 BC because it is at that exact year in history where the prophesies change from 100% accurate to wildly wrong.

        I’ve also heard that the synoptic gospels were similarly decided in the same way, based on destruction of the Temple. I think Mark didn’t prophesize of the temple’s destruction and the others did.

        Would this be the only criteria or is there supporting evidence?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 6, 2017

          It is because Matthew and Luke are almost certainly dependent on Mark — that is, Mark was one of the sources for the stories in Matthew and Luke.

      • Tony  November 5, 2017

        Mine will be much shorter and gets to the point quicker.

  24. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  November 3, 2017

    I agree, Matthew 25: 31-33 reads as though it should be taken literally. It’s interesting that Matthew chose to switch from Son of Man to King to Lord in verses 34-46.

    If Jesus believed in two Powers/two Yahwehs, then maybe he did say that the Son of Man had the power to forgive sins on earth.

    Have you heard of or read the monograph by David Mitchell called Messiah ben Joseph?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      I’ve heard of it; the thesis sounds easily disprovable, and I don’t know any scholars who buy it, but I haven’t read the book.

  25. HawksJ  November 3, 2017

    Why would/did Jesus talk about separating gentiles into sheep and goats? Do you think he was preaching to gentiles too? I thought his message (historically) was to the chosen people of Israel, but was later adapted (mostly by Paul) to a message for all.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      It would mean that his preaching had a universalist strain — he wasn’t just talking about the fate of Israel itself.

      • HawksJ  November 5, 2017

        Yes, but the question is, does that seem authentic to you?

        How common was such an a ‘universalist’ message for Jews from his time?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 6, 2017

          It was one of the striking features of Jewish apocalypticism; it can be found also in Paul, e.g.

  26. mikezamjara  November 4, 2017

    Hi Dr Ehrman, In your post you say that many scholars have argued that the explanation of the sewer parable was added? could you tell me any reference to check it, thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      I think you mean the sower parable :-). Any standard critical commentary will deal with the issue. You might try the one by Joel Marcus or the one by Adela Yarbro Collins.

  27. RonaldTaska  November 4, 2017

    I am afraid that discovering the real historical Jesus is quite a challenge.

  28. DavidNeale  November 4, 2017

    A really interesting series of posts! Thank you. And the post about pericopes was so helpful.

    I have a (somewhat off-topic) question which might be suitable for the mailbag. In a couple of your posts about Matthew and the virgin birth, you’ve mentioned the mystery of Matthew 2:23: “He shall be called a Nazarene”. As I understand it, this passage doesn’t appear anywhere in the Hebrew Bible, unlike the other prophecies Matthew quotes, and no one is quite sure what he was quoting. Perhaps at some point (when you’ve finished this thread? or nearer Christmas since it’s a Christmas-related question?) you could summarise the major scholarly theories about this, and tell us which ones you find plausible/implausible.

  29. Actual_Wolfman  November 4, 2017


    A thought came to me after finishing this post: Would Jesus, if he were to hear how (evangelical) Christians describe the end of time, heaven and hell, etc., fall in line with that way of thinking or have those conceptions become sensationalized?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      My sense is that most Christians think that when you die your soul goes to heaven or hell (if they believe in hell). They are a bit fuzzier on what it means that there will be a resurrection of the dead: they seem to affirm it in a vague way, but it’s not clear what htey actually think will happen.

  30. Wcooke  November 4, 2017

    So, why did the sheep get eternal life and the goats get eternal punishment? As best I can tell, back in the day sheep and goats looked much alike and were hard to distinguish based on physical appearance. With regard to behavior, however, sheep and goats were easily distinguished. Sheep were docile and submissive while goats were ornery and independent. So, does that mean Jesus thought that docile and submissive humans would get the goods, while the independent cusses would get the shaft?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      It’s simply that the sheep behave compassionately toward those in need and the goats do not. Why that makes one group specifically sheep and the others specifically goats is not at all clear!

      • SidDhartha1953  November 5, 2017

        Maybe he’s just saying the Son of Man will be able to tell them apart as easily as a shepherd can tell sheep from goats. Also, thinking with my thumbs again, when sheep are out grazing, some goats may wander into the herd (like false believers) and have to be sorted out so they don’t gore the sheep at night.

    • godspell  November 6, 2017

      Sheep aren’t all that docile, since we need specially trained dogs to keep them from straying. And I’m guessing you never saw a Puck Ram? 🙂

      It’s not independence. Jesus knew people aren’t actually sheep and goats. He does believe, of course, that obedience to God’s will is key, but what is God’s will? That we treat others as we ourselves would be treated. Sheep make the better metaphor for that in this instance, but he could, as in the story of the Good Shepherd, change the metaphor up, say we’re all sheep, and the one God most rejoices over is the one that is lost and then found.

      Don’t go just by what you know about the animals in question. If it was sheep and wolves, you’d know, from more recent scientific studies that wolves are loyal to their packmates, loving parents (and of course the progenitors of the dogs who protect flocks). That doesn’t mean you’d interpret Jesus as saying loving parents and loyal friends go to hell. He’s not talking about hell here, anyway.

      The sheep, in this metaphor, are people who are not violent. Who are not greedy. Who don’t steal, cheat, murder, oppress. Who go out of their way to do kindnesses to others, even those who are not close friends and family members. Who give to the poor, shelter the oppressed, tend to the sick, visit prisoners. The people we all wish to be, and too rarely are.

      Such people obviously do have great independence of mind and spirit, much more than the average person–but they are also uniquely vulnerable in a world where the normal rules apply. They behave better, and are treated worse. Jesus sees this as injustice. Isn’t it?

      The point is not “Sheep are good and goats are bad.” That part is metaphor, don’t take it literally. Maybe he had a bad opinion of real goats, but he’s talking about humans–using the imagery to get the real lesson across, since everybody would know goats are more aggressive, on average, than sheep–and tend to be kept on poor land, whereas sheep get the best pastures.

      ‘Sheep’ need protection. ‘Goats’ can look out for themselves, and they always do. At the expense of those around them. Separate the sheep from the goats. Then the sheep will live as they’ve always lived, doing good to others, making a better world out of what is given them, under the protection of the Son of Man–a good shepherd, working for God the farmer.

      Obviously he thinks the sheep will be happier, live a better existence. But I think Matthew is imposing ideas of hellfire and torment on the goats (he knows Greek, so he knows the Greek myth of Hades). By the time Matthew is writing, many years have passed since the crucifixion, and there’s no sign of the Kingdom. So he’s reinterpreting what Jesus said, making it about the afterlife.

      Here’s what I think Jesus meant. They’ll still be alive, the goats. Still living as they’ve always lived, but no longer able to oppress and torment the sheep. In the outer darkness. Without protection. With only other goats to oppress.

      It’s a bit like those silly “Left Behind” novels except there’s no rapture. There’s a rich abundant place on earth for the good people, and those who failed to be good get the bad pasture. They will look and see what their evil behavior has gotten them, and how well those fools they once laughed at are living, and of course they’ll wail and gnash their teeth. But it’s only their behavior that has led to this. Not their race or religious beliefs.

      As to whether he believed there’d still be reproduction going on, whether everybody just lived forever in an immortal body (immortality is only a blessing if life is good, which it mainly would not be for the goats), who knows?

      It was, of course, a delusion. Jesus was wrong. God doesn’t intervene that way. It’s up to us to create the Kingdom. And sometimes we do have to separate the sheep from the goats, but since there’s some sheep and goat in most of us, that’s not so simple either.

  31. Apocryphile  November 5, 2017

    It’s sort of apparent to me that if Jesus was talking about an eternal reward or punishment meted out to physical bodies, this Kingdom of God at the “end of time” must be something with radically different laws of physics (i.e. a suspension of the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy – and/or a suspension of time itself) in order that no one ever dies in this new world. That is quite sufficient to make this new order of creation, well, a new order of creation, and quite unlike the material world Jesus or any of us would recognize. So to say that Jesus believed in an eternal, corporeal reward or punishment of people in this new “Kingdom of God” is no less incredible than saying he believed in an incorporeal afterlife – though he apparently wasn’t able to make that imaginative leap within his cultural context(?)

    Or am I simply too conditioned by my own modern, rational culture and Greek philosophical inheritance?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      Yes, I’d say we need to be careful not to imagine that Jesus was thinking about the second law of thermodynamics!

      • godspell  November 5, 2017

        We also can’t assume he knew he was living on a spheroid with limited space and resources.

        Could be plenty of room out there for the goats to make what they could of life. While the sheep were safe inside the fold.

  32. madmargie  November 5, 2017

    I believe, if we put the very human Jesus into his own culture, we find that he often believed things (like an afterlife and a judgment ) that were common beliefs of his culture. Personally I don’t believe in an afterlife.

    • godspell  November 5, 2017

      Actually, many Jews of that time did not believe in an afterlife. As Bart has mentioned many times.

      Jesus was innovating within the confines of the Judaism of his era. We can’t assume that because he was raised with certain beliefs, he could not change those beliefs, adapt them to personal visions and ideas he had, from coming into contact with the Essenes, and others. Beliefs always change over time. Not always gradually. There can be periods of very rapid change.

      He certainly did believe in judgment, but judgment on the basis of what?

      On the basis of how you treat other people.

    • dankoh  November 6, 2017

      They may have been common beliefs but they were by no means universal. Jesus was one more participant in the ongoing and very lively debates of late Second Temple Judaism(s).

  33. tompicard
    tompicard  November 5, 2017

    Do you think Paul’s use of ‘eternal life’ to the Romans in 6:23 was meant literally?
    As both Paul and Jesus were devout first century Jews, if Paul used the term ‘eternal life’ symbolically, then wouldn’t it be a clue that Jesus (Matt 5:46) might have also?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2017

      Yes, I think he literally means eternal life.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  November 5, 2017

      Paul was specifically talking about the resurrected bodies of the righteous being incorruptible. To understand what a 1st century thinker meant by “incorruptible” you have to understand the popular cosmology of that time and place. The “heavens” (i.e. everything “up there”) were considered incorruptible, because no matter how much time passed, it always stayed the same (i.e. the look and the motion of the heavens never, ever changed [though modern astronomy has proven this to be not true]). On the other hand, everything on earth (i.e. everything “down here”) is constantly changing, with seasons, with cycles of birth and death, with uplift and erosion, with disease, aging, decay and destruction. While a building can go from brand new to decrepit within a generation, the heavens appear to always look the same. This is what the ancients meant by “corruptible” versus “incorruptible”. When Paul refered to the resurrected bodies of the righteous as “incorruptible” he was basically saying that they were not subject to the decay we normally see of earthly, mortal bodies. So, in essence, those new bodies are immortal. I know, it’s a weird concept to wrap your mind around, but once you’ve fully understood how ancient men like Paul thought, it all starts to make perfect sense (at least within their context).

      • tompicard
        tompicard  November 7, 2017

        its in I Corinthians where Paul discusses corruptible/incorruptible stuff. In Romans maybe the point he was trying to make was a little different. I am certainly not sure, cause Paul is very confusing to me. [ and I am not sure how well he actually knew Jesus message] So I am always hesitant about quoting (or studying) Paul when trying to understand Jesus’ message.

        Sure there are births, aging, deaths on earth and probably not in heaven, but I don’t see that Jesus or other OT writers as equating that to mean the earthly existence is inherently corrupt.

        The question is whether ‘life’ in the context in Romans 6 ( and possibly in certain contexts of Jesus words recorded in the Gospels) mean exclusively ‘physical life’. looking just a few verses earlier in Rom 6:13
        > Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an
        > instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves
        > to God as those who have been brought from death to life;

        Paul is saying the Roman Christians have already gone from ‘death’ to ‘life’.
        I am not as confident as Bart, then that in just a few verses later v23 that Paul means physical life when he wrote
        > . . gift of God is eternal life. .

        As I read Paul’s teaching, without inferring as Dr Ehrman does that life here exactly means physical life, then i have no reason to assume the Roman christians won’t age, will no longer beget children, nor will ever die physically.

        additionally if the word ‘resurrection’ is meant ‘going form death to life’ then the Romans have ALREADY experienced resurrection. is that THE resurrection that 1st century Jews were looking forward to? Yeah i know you’d have to strip their common understanding of resurrection with its correlation to zombies. I do not know, but i don’t see why not.

        So is there a reasonable meaning for the word ‘life’ other than ‘physical life’, that makes sense in more contexts?
        I think ‘life’ (when not obviously physical life) means ‘being loved by God’. . .
        but whether ‘being loved by God’ implies living forever in heaven or in sheol, or living forever on earth or merely returning to dust at physical death I will leave to you for speculation.

        • talmoore
          talmoore  November 9, 2017

          “The question is whether ‘life’ in the context in Romans 6 ( and possibly in certain contexts of Jesus words recorded in the Gospels) mean exclusively ‘physical life’.”

          The idea of an incorporeal ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ being ‘alive’ would have been nonsensical to a Jew like Paul. Hence why he, and most of his Jewish contemporaries, were stressing the need for a renewed body in order to have a renewed (and eternal) life. I don’t know how better to get the notion across. I guess you have to try to put yourself into the mindset of a 1st century Jew rather than a 21st century Christian to really “get it”.

          When Paul talks about someone going from “death” to “life,” what he appears to mean is that that person has gone from being a person who will eventually die (because their corruptible body will die) to a person who will never die (because they have won an incorruptible body that will never die). I think it’s really just that simple.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  November 13, 2017

            thanks for the response.

            what/who can I study to confirm your contention that referring to ‘life’ or ‘death’ of the soul (independent of the body) was nonsense to 1st century Jews like Jesus and Paul? – preferably a web link.

            However I did not exactly make that claim above. although i might have prior reading posts from you and Bart.

            Rather, I speculated that ‘life’ used here (and often in other contexts by Jesus) could be better understood as meaning ‘being loved by God’.

            and its interesting, i consider it nonsense that people even in 1st century Judea could actually believe in living immortally in their bodies. so it is really hard to figure out.

  34. tompicard
    tompicard  November 6, 2017

    are there any references in the New Testament where by ‘life’ the author meant something other than ‘life of the physical body’ ?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 6, 2017

      It’s hard to say. “Eternal life” could mean different things to different people.

  35. ddorner
    ddorner  November 6, 2017

    I’m curious if you think the sayings in Mark 9:42-48 go back to Jesus? They seem in line with the idea of a physical judgement.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 6, 2017

      I think probably the heart of it does. (Note: “Hell” as it is sometimes translated is “Gehenna” in this passage)

  36. therileyoffice  November 9, 2017

    Utter layman here. A little late to this post as well.
    I understand the sheep and goats in this section simply as two distinct categories of familiar animals which require herding. Makes for an easy to understand illustration. Thinking it’s not really much more than that.

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