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Does Your Soul Go To Heaven?

In my previous post I discussed the beginnings of the Jewish idea of the “resurrection of the dead.”  This view is a pretty much commonplace today: in every Christian church that recites a creed today, and in many conservative churches that do not use creeds, it is believed that at the end of time there will be some kind of judgment and people will be raised from the dead.

At the same time, I have to be frank and say that it seems to me that most Christians – at least the ones I know (not just scholars, but most Christians) – don’t actually *believe* in a future resurrection.  They think they die and go to heaven in their souls.  Their souls may have some kind of physical attributes: they have all their sense of hearing, seeing, etc., and they can be recognized as who they were so you’ll be able to see your grandmother there.  It’s true, even this has always caused problems for people who hold the idea.  Which of my many bodies will I have in heaven?  The one I had when I was at my prime?  The one I died with?  What about wounds, injuries?  What about birth defects and disabilities?   I don’t even know what my grandmother *looked* like when she was 23; how will I recognize her?  People who have thought about such things have solutions of course – the solutions go way back to the early centuries of the church.  But they are problems.

Even so, my point is that most people, even (especially?) deeply committed Christians who think they are standing within the traditional Christian tradition,  think you die and your soul goes one place or the other, and your body just rots away (or is cremated, etc.), even if the soul retains the bodily attributes of the now disintegrated body.  And that is NOT, let me reiterate, it is NOT, the understanding of the “resurrection of the dead.”

That is to say, it is not the view that Jesus …

Only members of the blog can see what I say next.  Including a massively controversial tangent that is not meant to be controversial.  (Involving abortion.)  If you don’t belong to the blog, now would be a good time to join.

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Does Isaiah 53 Predict Jesus’ Suffering and Death?
An Alternative View of Suffering and the Idea of Resurrection

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Comments

  1. JMJ
    JMJ  August 21, 2019

    Wow. Fascinating. So Jesus’ Resurrection in a physical body was an example of a belief that came out of thin air just two centuries before?! Supposedly Mary was assumed into heaven bodily as well, but I think only Catholics believe in the Assumption of Mary. Elijah and Enoch will come again as the “two witnesses” in Revelation and then die in the Apocalypse.

  2. Avatar
    Brand3000  August 21, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Why did Paul (and presumably others) have such a strong feeling that Jesus was going to return soon? But moreover,
    In 1 Thess. 4:13-18, 1 Cor. 15:20ff, and elsewhere as he instructs about the afterlife/future resurrections of believers; Do you think that Paul obtained (or was convinced he obtained) these teachings directly from Jesus himself, or do you think Paul is extrapolating?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 22, 2019

      Because this was the standard view among Jewish apocalypticists: the world has gotten so awful that God won’t let it go on for much longer. Many still feel that way, and I completely sympathize!

  3. Avatar
    Brand3000  August 22, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I agree with you on this. However, everytime I express this view to certain scholars they haughtily cite 2 verses in rebuttal: 1 Cor. 15:44ff and 1 Cor. 15:50 to say that we are wrong. Is there any compelling evidence, perhaps from among Paul’s own letters that can refute their notion that Paul did not believe in a bodily resurrection, but merely, as they say, a “spiritual” one? Please let me know how you would argue this one, because this has long been a frustrating issue for me.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 22, 2019

      Looks like I need to deal with this again on the blog. Paul is arguing *against* the idea that the resurrection will be not be bodily, but his exposition is difficult, and people gloss over precisely his main point by not paying attention to what he actually says.

  4. Avatar
    Bernice Templeman  August 22, 2019

    Does your soul go to heaven?
    I think all are born in heaven and have free will. We can change our beliefs and actions to go to heaven or not. Best to do it while alive on earth.
    Some people thought you could pray for dead sinners to help them get into heaven. I don’t know if that works. It was their choice. I don’t know though. SO say the prayers for them if it helps.

    We have to give everyone the choice. Educate people so they can choose to make better decisions, choices, actions, work, etc.
    Praying does help people alive on earth. It may help you forgive sinners (in your view) that have died. You will change your own heart by praying for forgiveness for others.
    I also think people in heaven can help you when you connect through prayer.

    We really don’t know, although living our best lives helps all. Help people to triumph over sin and evil while they are alive. Help future generations to triumph also.

    Best to focus on the good (positive) parts to create good in our lives. Using gender-neutral words for all people since God is with all at birth.

    ” May he give splendour, and power, and triumph, and a coming-forth [i.e., resurrection] as a living soul to see Horus of the two horizons 8  to the ka of Osiris, the scribe Ani, triumphant before Osiris, who saith:

    Hail all ye gods of the Temple of the Soul, who weigh heaven and earth in the balance, and who provide food and abundance of meat. Hail Tatunen, 

    One, creator of mankind and of the substance of the gods of the south and of the north, of the west and of the east. Ascribe [ye] praise unto Ra, the lord of heaven, the Prince, Life, Health, and Strength, the Creator of the gods, and adore ye him in his beautiful Presence as he riseth in the atet boat.

    They who dwell in the heights and they who dwell in the depths worship thee. Thoth  and Maat both are thy recorders. Thine enemy  is given to the fire, the evil one hath fallen; his arms are bound, and his legs hath Ra taken from him. The children of impotent revolt shall never rise up again.”

    E. A. Wallis Budge. The Egyptian Book of the Dead

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 22, 2019

    Wow! Quite a thought provoking post!

  6. Avatar
    Joel Smith  August 22, 2019

    Both Peter & Paul refer to the putting off of their bodies.
    1Cor 15 says that the resurrected body is a spirit body.
    2 Cor 5 says that you have to leave your body behind before you can go to heaven (presumably in your spirit body) to be with Jesus. Flesh, blood & bone can’t go to heaven.

  7. Avatar
    nbraith1975  August 24, 2019

    Here is a great piece on the subject by Anthony F. Buzzard M.A. (Oxon.), M.A.Th.

    What Happens When We Die?
    A Biblical View of Death and Resurrection

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=2ahUKEwiRoovc8ZvkAhVMmeAKHYEYCQoQFjADegQIBRAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Ffocusonthekingdom.org%2FWHWWD.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2GFRdyi_-1x0TorZfEg1dj

  8. Avatar
    Rita Gomes  August 25, 2019

    In my view, the idea of the resurrection must have come with the awareness of what death itself is.
    And in Genesis 1:27: God created man in his own image and likeness, why are we not eternal like him?
    I think this is the point of the question. Why do we die when God is eternal? Aren’t we your image and likeness?

  9. tompicard
    tompicard  August 25, 2019

    I disagree that Jesus believed eternal life was physical/bodily

    I know you have commented on Matthew 10:28 before.

    Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

    there is NOT the slightest indication in this verse that Jesus meant the ‘killed body’ / ‘unkilled soul’ pair could be transformed into resurrected body & unkilled soul, why does he even mention ‘hell’ ?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2019

      Yes, what Jesus is saying is that humans can kill your body (even if it is to be raised later) God can destroy your whole being (so there will be no future resurrection for you)

  10. Avatar
    Brand3000  August 25, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    A scholar once mentioned this to me, and I’d like to know what you think. Do you take Galatians 2-3 as strong evidence for how Paul writes about “spiritual” in a way that still indicates bodily/having a body (since the Galatians apparently obtained “the Spirit” and are still alive)? I take it these were the verses of interest: “…Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?…After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?…does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” Yet Paul gives this the capital “S” while in 1 Cor. 15 it’s “s” spiritual, some may think that’s important.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2019

      I”m afraid I’m not following your question. For one thing, ancient Greek didn’t use upper-case and lower-case letters; it’s the English translators that are making the “S” a capital.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  August 26, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman,

        I guess the best way to put it is as a search for weighty evidence that: 1 Cor. 15:44 and 1 Cor. 15:50 do NOT, as some critics contend, mean that the body rots away forever and that the “resurrection” is only tantamount to something like a phantom spirit, perhaps something wispy and transparent/translucent that persists after death. In other words, what verse(s) from Paul can we quote to indicate that he holds to a bona fide grave-evacuating resurrection?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 27, 2019

          Read 1 Corinthians 15 as a whole. The whole point is that the body is to be *transformed*; when Paul says resurrection, that’s what it means: the body is brought back to life. For Paul, and for most Jews, there simply was no other meaning: to be “resurrected” meant to have a body conme back to life. What’s different for Paul is that he didn’t think it means just the reanimation of a corpse. It meant a transformed body made immortal, like Jesus’ body. I’ll explain at length in my book.

  11. tompicard
    tompicard  August 26, 2019

    I believe you accept that Jesus and Paul thought that we humans are composed of 2 aspects – body and soul
    see Matt 10:28, and Rom 8:10
    and that the body may be dead or killed but the spirit alive. That is fine.

    But, in my opinion, you make a couple of assumptions that are not well warranted

    ————-
    1. if the spirit is dead/killed the body is also (i.e a dead spirit implies a dead body)
    that does not appear to be the case, see
    Jesus words : Matt 8:22
    Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.
    (ie a “dead” person can still (using his “live” body) perform the activity of burying corpses )

    Paul’s words Eph 2:1. . .
    As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to walk when you conformed to the ways of this world . . .
    (i.e a “dead” person can walk (“live” body) in ways of the world

    See also Rev 3:1 – you have a name that you are alive(body), but you are dead (spirit).

    —————–
    2. THE RESURRECTION refers to resurrection of the “body”
    However most of the NT verses that can be used to demonstrate a belief in “resurrection” can be better understood as referring to resurrection of the spirt or soul rather than the body

    Jesus parable of prodigal son Lk15:24
    this son of mine was dead and has come to life again – certainly does not mean bodily resurrection
    (can’t think of any other examples from Jesus right now)

    Paul Eph 2:4,5
    even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ

    see also 1 Jn 3:14
    We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2019

      I actually don’t think they imagined body and soul in the two ways we post-Cartesians do. The human was a unity, not two separate things combined.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  August 27, 2019

        then how do you make sense when the pre-Cartesians use the terms “life” and “death” that do not at all correspond to life and death of the physical body – as above quotes demonstrate

        it is perfectly ok to say those word “life” and “death” don’t correspond to the spirt/soul if that is how you choose, but in that case can you explain what the words do refer to ?

        Are you going to tell me that when he said “dead” people who do the burying means really Jesus is saying
        Let the [people who are to be resurrected but then annihilated] bury the [physically] dead.

        and like wise all other references to “dead” in like fashion???? and contrary when speaking of “life” in a way not corresponding to the body

        certainly seems a stretch just to maintain the view, if that’s what you think

        • Bart
          Bart  August 28, 2019

          It depends which culture you’re referring to. In some Greek circles, the soul was immortal and did survive the body (thus Plato); in Jewish cultures, the soul was more like “breath” — without it the body can’t live, but it doesn’t exist apart from the body. The living human is the body with “breath.”

          • tompicard
            tompicard  August 28, 2019

            it adds nothing in explanation
            to say “a corpse is a body lacking breath” and/or “a live person is a body containing breath”

            Now if you explain the difference in 1st century Jewish concept of “breath” and 21st century concept of “soul”, maybe that adds some value.

            and it doesn’t answer in terms of “soul” or “breath” what Jesus meant that that the “dead” should be buriers

  12. tompicard
    tompicard  August 27, 2019

    regarding bodily resurrection;

    It does not appear to me that “bodily resurrection in the last days” is a dominant theme/teaching/preaching of the NT, tho you claim it to be a dominant ‘view’ at Jesus time

    Even though the very large Hebrew Bible mentions it EXPLICITLY only ONCE, it does mention it once (Daniel 12:1-3).

    Where in the NT his it mentioned, as explicitly as it is mentioned by Daniel? (like rising from dust?) (Matt 27?)
    I think Jesus really only explicitly discussed “resurrection” when he was posed a kind of trick question by his opponents the Saduccees. Even here it is far from clear that Jesus is speaking of bodies arising from graves (as Danile probably)

    • Bart
      Bart  September 1, 2019

      If he’s opposing Sadducees who reject the doctrine of resurrection, what would he be supporting other than the doctrine of resurrection?

  13. Avatar
    L_C_Nielsen  August 27, 2019

    The Zoroastrian view of bodily resurrection is particularly curious – the flesh isn’t thought to live forever, but the _bones_ will (eventually). This is of course connected to the practice of sky burial (attested archaeologically from about the 5th century BCE), with the unclean and corruptible flesh being picked off by scavengers and the bones being stored in ossuaries. It seems that the idea was a personal eschatology where the soul (urvan) goes in to live in the afterlife, and a universal eschatology, where the bones are resurrected and reunited wtih the soul after good is once again separated from evil. Ultimately, death is an aberration and corruption, the natural state of all living things created by Ahura Mazda to embody “ameretat”, literally immortality.

  14. Avatar
    Brand3000  August 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    If I read you correctly, you do NOT think that Paul believed in an intermediate state for the soul between one’s death and the universal bodily resurrection, but that the soul and the body are one. But what do you make of these verses?
    2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Philippians 1:23, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2019

      Nope, you’re not reading me correctly! I think Paul *did* come to believe in an intermediate state (which, of course, he did not think would last long since he end was coming soon)

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  August 29, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman,

        So Paul did believe that the soul still continues to exist separated from the body at death and has consciousness in an intermediate state, and although this state is better than this life, it is not as illustrious as the resurrected state will be, is all of this correct?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 1, 2019

          It’s not clear if he thinks the soul lives on in the intermediate state without the body or if it is given a temporary body in the intermediate state because it *can’t* live without the body. It all has to do with how one interprets the opening of 2 Cor. 5. I tend to think the former is probably what he has in mind (as I explain in my book), but it’s not at all obvious or clear.

  15. tompicard
    tompicard  August 28, 2019

    apologies for my repetition

    you said
    > If these two (Enoch, Elijah) live forever, why not others?
    you are conflating, at least, 2 ideas

    living forever, and
    living for ever on earth, and
    corpses being reanimated

    Ok Enoch and Elijah, I suppose, live forver, according to scripture, but there is no indication they continued to live on earth and there is no indication that they were reanimated corpses

    and regarding the comment

    > If God brings living creatures into being, and God is eternal,
    > then isn’t life eternal? Even for those who die?

    of course that makes perfect sense, however it is not an argument for “bodily resurrection of the dead” as opposed to souls going to heaven

  16. tompicard
    tompicard  August 30, 2019

    >let me reiterate, it is NOT, the understanding of the “resurrection of the dead.”
    > That is to say, it is not the view that Jesus … had.

    Ok then why not reference verses ascribed to Jesus that indicate his understanding of “resurrection of the dead”. (not interested in quotes of Paul or others)
    Nothing I can remember where he preaches or even discusses bodies rising from graves.

  17. tompicard
    tompicard  September 1, 2019

    >>Nothing I can remember where [Jesus] preaches or even
    >>discusses bodies rising from graves.

    >Bart September 1, 2019
    >Mark 12:14-27?

    there is no mention of graves (or even bodies)

    your argument is circular
    if “dead” always and ONLY in Jesus lexicon refers to physical bodies and bodies are put in graves, then you are correct

    • Bart
      Bart  September 2, 2019

      No, he doesn’t. Just as most people who talk about resurrection don’t mention graves or bodies. But apart from that: what do you think Jesus’ view was about what would happen at the end?

  18. tompicard
    tompicard  September 2, 2019

    >Bart September 2, 2019
    >. . . what do you think Jesus’ view was about what would happen at the end?

    It is far from clear, but
    1) Jesus only addresses it here, and only at the insistence of his opponents, so I guess it (afterlife and/or resurrection) is not a focus of his ministry/mission (as he sees his mission)(.ie his mission was God’s Kingdom on Earth)
    2) I see enough references in Gospels that Jesus uses the terms “life” and “death” to refer often to something other than life and death of physical self.
    If he uses “life” and “death” symbolically, he could also potentially understand and preach “resurrection” symbolically, if he were so required on occasion to use that term as above. “Resurrection” meaning going/transitioning from “death” to “life”, all 3 terms used metaphorically.

    I can only commit to the idea that he probably equated “death” to “being distant from God” and then “life” to “being loved by God” (best way to understand Matt 8:21, L 9:60) And so “ressurection” could mean going form a state of being distant form God to a state where one realizes he or she is loved by God.

    How that correlates to ideas such immortality and or afterlife is not perfectly decidable.
    However I don’t think the idea of immortal “soul” as understood by 21st Christians is out of the question

    • Bart
      Bart  September 3, 2019

      That sounds very modern to me. I’d have to see some evidence that first-century Jews who talked about life and death did not think about it in terms of the body. That’s almost always what ancient people *did* mean by it.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  September 3, 2019

        Don’t these 3 first-century Jews

        Jesus Matt 8:22

        Paul’s words Eph 2:1. . .

        author of Revelation 3:1 – he is/was Jewish, right??

        count as some evidence of their thinking their about “life” and “death” in terms other than the body

        • Bart
          Bart  September 4, 2019

          Yes indeed, like all words, “life” and “death” can be used metaphorically. Every time we see a word, every single noun, e.g., that we ever read, we have to ask ourselves — we almost never do this consciously — whether it is meant literally or figuratively. The reason we don’t do it consciously every time we hit a noun, apart from the fact it would be a waste of time and take way too much brain space — is that we do it only when osmething in the context jumps out at us to make us think, “she *can’t* mean that *literally*. And so when I say — as I’ve been saying a lot lately, in fact — that I’m up over my eyeballs in work, a literal sense makes no sense, and so the reader goes to a metaphorical meaning. If the literal sense makes perfect sense, given the context and assumptions of the speaker, then we don’t make the leap, and in 99.99% of the time, realize it would be wrong to make the leap. Of course, we’re not really leaping….

          • tompicard
            tompicard  September 5, 2019

            Not sure I agree with your probability estimation
            since we see clear precedents in Jesus ministry of his using these terms metaphorically (I will accept your “in 99.99% of the time” as hyperbole, whether meant that way or not),

            But dont you think that your hypothesis suffers the identical weakness
            “If the literal sense makes perfect sense,”

            Jesus said Abraham Isaac and Jacob are ALIVE, – that isn’t literally true even in your theory however you reword it (well at least not in unity with their bodies) And you wrote below
            “these patriarchs still are (IN SOME SENSE he doesn’t explain) alive,”

            Though I guess it hinges on “given the context and assumptions of the speaker,”

          • tompicard
            tompicard  September 5, 2019

            “If the literal sense makes perfect sense,”

            Jesus answer to Sadducees regarding resurrection doesn’t make perfect sense

  19. tompicard
    tompicard  September 2, 2019

    also I dont know if this is accurate

    but here it is does seem to leave open other possibilities at Jesus time such as immortality of “soul” maybe in “heaven/hell”, or maybe reincarnation – points of view which are certainly distinct from that of resurrected bodies out of graves,

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resurrection_of_the_dead#Rabbinic_and_Samaritan_Judaism

    During the Second Temple period, Judaism developed a diversity of beliefs concerning the resurrection. The concept of resurrection of the physical body is found in 2 Maccabees, according to which it will happen through recreation of the flesh. Resurrection of the dead also appears in detail in the extra-canonical books of Enoch, in Apocalypse of Baruch, and 2 Esdras. According to the British scholar in ancient Judaism Philip R. Davies, there is “little or no clear reference … either to immortality or to resurrection from the dead” in the Dead Sea scrolls texts. Both Josephus and the New Testament record that the Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife, but the sources vary on the beliefs of the Pharisees. The New Testament claims that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection, but does not specify whether this included the flesh or not. According to Josephus, who himself was a Pharisee, the Pharisees held that only the soul was immortal and the souls of good people will be reincarnated and “pass into other bodies,” while “the souls of the wicked will suffer eternal punishment.” Paul the Apostle, who also was a Pharisee, said that at the resurrection what is “sown as a natural body is raised a spiritual body.” Jubilees refers only to the resurrection of the soul, or to a more general idea of an immortal soul.

  20. tompicard
    tompicard  September 2, 2019

    and since you allow 3 comments per day

    doesn’t

    Mark 12:14-27?

    actually imply Abraham Isaac and Jacob are ALIVE today (or at least at the time of Moses)
    no indication their graves are empty or that they are walking around with physical bodies

    However I am not certain that is what Jesus meant. ( as above maybe he only meant they were greatly loved by God)

    Yet if I were ONLY to consider whether Jesus meant Abraham Isaac and Jacob were in “a” “heaven” or were walking around in their reanimated dead bodies I guess I would think he meant the former . ..

    • Bart
      Bart  September 3, 2019

      If nothing else, it means that for Jesus, death is not the end of existence. Apart from deeply Hellenized Jews, most Jews at the time did not subscribe to the immorality of the soul, but to the resurrection of the body. My sense is that Jesus, a rural uneducated Jew in the hinterlands, was not deeply hellenized. And since he’s arguing *about* the resurrection of the body, he seems to be indicating that death is not hte end of the story, these patriarchs still are (in some sense he doesn’t explain) alive, and that, therefore, they will be resurrected.

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