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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 …

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



  1. Avatar
    Ophiuchus  September 19, 2019

    Isn’t it true though, that the non-canonical Apocalypse of Peter explicitly condemns abortion?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 20, 2019

      Well, it does not say “thou shalt not abort,” but it does show that the women who did so are suffering horrible torments forever in hell for it, so I suppose that’s as clost to an explicit condemnation as one can find! (Of course people who loan money at interest are also tormented eternally in horrible ways, as are women who lost their virginity before marriage and anyone who is disobedient to their parents!)

  2. Avatar
    longdistancerunner  January 11, 2020

    Couldn’t the word “ everlasting” in the book of Daniel suggest “ hell” and torture ?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 12, 2020

      I’ll be dealing wit that in my book! It says they will be “despised” forever, not that they will be tortured (let alone forever).

  3. Avatar
    Osuaggiefan  April 12, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman, you make a powerful case that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who believed in an earthly and immanent kingdom. In the final form of the canonical gospels we have, do you feel that the authors intended their readers to feel understand him that way as well? I’m mildly disappointed that the heaven and hell book did not address jesus’ statement in John 18:36 about his kingdom is not of this world. Also Matt. 16:28, some wouldn’t taste death until they see the kingdom. Is it possible that both of these writers saw the kingdom as the church?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 13, 2020

      Matthew, Mark, and Luke, yes. I didn’t deal with every passage in the NT because of space restrictions, but what I said about the rest of John applies to this verse: now, for this Gospel, Jesus does not preach an apocalyptic message, but one that is set *against* an apocalyptic view (on heaven and hell)

      • Avatar
        Osuaggiefan  April 13, 2020

        As for Paul, in the book you call the readers attention to 1 thess 4:17, “meet him (Jesus) in the clouds and remain there with him.” Mildly disappointed that you allowed years of Christian interpretation to read into that text that the risen and transformed Christians would then accompany Jesus back to earth for his millennial reign. Dr E, as you are so fond of saying, but that’s not what the text says 😊 even though in this early Pauline letter, the writer does expect Jesus’ return to be just around the corner, he doesn’t suggest anywhere that he is coming to earth to set up a kingdom here. The writer of the John gospel even explicitly states that his followers would be where Jesus was going. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself so that where I am you may be also,” John 14:3 nrsv. I challenge that nowhere in the N/T does any author state that Jesus will ever again set foot on the earth. What do you think? 😊 I value your opinion 😊

        • Bart
          Bart  April 14, 2020

          I’m not sure what you’re saying the text does say. It doesn’t say, for example, that everyone is going up to meet Jesus in the air and they are going to live there, up in the air (but below heaven) forever. The reason for thinking that it means they are going to escort him into his kingdom is because the language used reflects the familiar procedure of city’s leaders going out to meet visiting dignitaries to bring them into their realm; i.e., this would be a familiar image to readers at the time. But I”m open to a different interpretation. I don’t think John’s Gospel can be used to interpret 1 Thessalonians, since it was written 40 years later by someone who didn’t know Paul or 1 Thessalonians and who had very different views from Paul in many signficant ways (*especailly* eschatology!)

          • Avatar
            Osuaggiefan  April 14, 2020

            Well, seriously, since I never finished my MDiv I hesitate about postulating an opinion on anybody in the scholarly realm lol! But… back in the day, a greek influenced person “heaven” woulda been up and “hell” woulda been down. Is Paul using kinda up imagery? Air, clouds etc to refer to spiritual realm?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 15, 2020

            Hey, *starting* an MDiv is a major step! Yes, heaven was the realm of the gods and Tartarus was usually (though not always) placed in the underworld. But the “air” was neither — it was the space between us down here and the realm of the gods above. Does that answer your question?

      • Avatar
        Osuaggiefan  April 13, 2020

        It may well be debated by the Jesus Seminar that John 18:36 my kingdom is not of this world is of doubtful origin? What do you think?😊

        • Bart
          Bart  April 14, 2020

          I think it would have been a short debate! The seminar certainly would not have seen the saying as authentic. I don’t either. It runs contrary to what Jesus says in the earliest sources, consistently.

  4. Avatar
    Osuaggiefan  April 14, 2020

    I’ve seen in more than one of your books, including the book heretofore known as h&h, that to Paul, baptism was the point in which a person was united with Christ, saved, if you will. I fully agree! Question, back when you were an evangelical, did you teach people to be baptized for the remission of their sins? Why do you think so many Christians today say that baptism is unnecessary?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2020

      No, my view at the time was that baptism showed outwardly what had already happened inwardly (being cleansed of sins)

      • Avatar
        Osuaggiefan  April 15, 2020

        Wow!!!!!!!!! Although I’m not surprised now that I think about it. You, like all of us, were greatly influenced by what we’ve always been taught. We are forced to revisit a great many things when we actually critically read closely 😊 me too of course! I appreciate your honesty

  5. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  April 23, 2020

    I understand that they believed in a continuity, and a spiritual world. I am positive that they even believed in reincarnation (like many today) on this world and other realms (some jewish references) beside the esoteric interpretation of the Torah ,,,,,,

    * Job 33: 29-30
    * Jeremiah 1: 5 (NKJV)
    * Wisdom of Solomon 8: 19-20
    * Flavius ​​Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, Chapter 1, Nos. 2-5
    * Josephus, The War of the Jews, Book III, Chapter 8, No. 5
    * Josephus, The War of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 8, No. 11
    * Philo Judaeus, De Somniis 1:22
    * Rabbit Moses Gaster: “Transmigration” in lexicon of religion and ethics
    * Bahir, 195
    * Zohar
    * Gershom Scholem

    Some of the references are before Jesus (Zohar) but these mystical thoughts (which also include reincarnation) refer to much earlier ideas and also scriptures.

    Today, so many even mainstream rabbis embraze those thought in those more esoteric thoughts that the first man in the state of Adam Kadmon where man first was created in a spiritual form and descended through four worlds (level of consiousnesses) until the physical,,,and would again ascend back to unity with the creator.

    For many of those ideas, a surviving soul and spirit are fundamentals /nessecary in this cosmology.

  6. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  April 24, 2020

    Vangelis and Jon Anderson – I’ll Find My Way Home Lyrics

    You ask me where to begin
    Am I so lost in my sin
    You ask me where did I fall
    I’ll say I can’t tell you when
    But if my spirit is lost
    How will I find what is near
    Don’t question I’m not alone
    Somehow I’ll find my way home

    My sun shall rise in the east
    So shall my heart be at peace
    And if you’re asking me when
    I’ll say it starts at the end
    You know your will to be free
    Is matched with love secretly
    And talk will alter your prayer
    Somehow you’ll find you are there.

    Your friend is close by your side
    And speaks in far ancient tongue
    A seasons wish will come true
    All seasons begin with you
    One world we all come from
    One world we melt into one

    Just hold my hand and we’re there
    Somehow we’re going somewhere
    Somehow we’re going somewhere

    You ask me where to begin
    Am I so lost in my sin
    You ask me where did I fall
    I’ll say I can’t tell you when
    But if my spirit is strong
    I know it can’t be long
    No questions I’m not alone
    Somehow I’ll find my way home


    Somtime things can be said beautifully in a song or poetry as above.

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