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Looking for Feedback on My Views about Jesus and the Afterlife

I am now editing my book on the afterlife, and there are a few controversial theses in it.  One of them involves the views of Jesus.   I’d like to know what you think of my argument, and to see if you find it convincing or not.  If not, I’d like to know why.   Here is a rough idea of what I’m planning to say (until you instruct  me otherwise!)

First, Jesus did not think the coming kingdom of God (soon to arrive with the coming of the Son of Man in judgment on the earth)  was for faithful Jews only.  It was for all those who did God’s will.  Many Jews, in fact, would not be allowed to enter.   As Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “many will come from east and west” to enjoy the heavenly banquet with the Jewish patriarchs in “the kingdom of heaven” but many of those from Israel “will be cast into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12).  It is important to note that he does not say that those excluded from the kingdom will be tormented, and he says nothing here about eternal fires.  Instead it is a realm of darkness.  This is surely a figurative statement: outside the kingdom lies the world of the unenlightened (who are “in the dark”).   There is such grief there – weeping and teeth-grinding – because those on the outside have realized, too late, the eternal joys they have missed out on.   What will happen to them?  Jesus doesn’t say.  Do they simply end up dying, and that is the end of their story?

One of my theses is that a close reading of Jesus’ words shows that in fact he had no idea of torment for sinners after death.  Death, for them, is …

If you don’t belong to the blog, you won’t be able to see what I have to say next.  It’s controversial.  Why not join and see?  It won’t cost much, you’ll get tons for your money, and every dime goes to charity!

Death, for them, is irreversible, the end of the story.  Their punishment is that they are annihilated, never to be allowed to exist again, unlike the saved, who will live forever in God’s glorious kingdom.

For example, earlier in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says there are two gates through which a person can pass.  One is “narrow” and leads to a difficult path.  That is the way of life and there are few people who take it.  The other gate is “broad,” leading to an “easy path.”   Most people take that route, but it is the road that leads “to destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14).  Note: Jesus does not say it leads to eternal torture.  Those who take it will be destroyed, annihilated.  But even so: you don’t want to go that way.

Most of Jesus’ teachings about the coming judgment focus on this idea of ultimate and complete destruction.  In this he was very much like his predecessor, John the Baptist, who urged people to live lives pleasing to God, bearing “good fruit” (see Matthew 3:10).  Those who failed to do so, John declared, would be like bad trees that, when judgment comes, would be “cut down and thrown into the fire.”   What happens to trees that are felled and burned?  They are consumed out of existence.  They don’t keep burning forever.

Jesus himself thought something similar– the end of sinners will be destruction.   As he says in the “Parable of the Weeds” in Matthew 13:36-43, at the end of the age, God will send a mighty angelic power, whom Jesus calls “the Son of Man” (see Daniel 7:13-14 for this figure), to judge the earth; this one will send out his angels to gather up all who sin and do evil and “throw them into the furnace of fire.” There they will weep and gnash their teeth.   But presumably not forever – those who are burned to death die.   That stands in contrast to the righteous, who will “shine like the sun in the kingdom.”  As in Daniel 12, at the end the faithful who side with God become like a shining heavenly bodies, whose light will never be extinguished.

In another image in the same chapter of Matthew, Jesus compares the coming judgment to a fisherman who brings in his haul of fish and separates the good fish from the bad (Matthew 13:47-50).   What does he do with the bad ones he doesn’t want?  He throws them away.  He obviously doesn’t torture them.  They simply die.   So too, Jesus says, at the final judgment angels will separate the righteous from the wicked and toss the latter into the furnace.  They will go up in flames.  For first-century hearers this “destruction by fire” would not conjure up images of eternal hellfire but rather house fire —  or rather the execution of criminals by burning.  Someone burned at the stake weeps and screams in anguish while dying.  But they don’t weep and scream ten days or ten millennia or ten billion years later.  They are dead.

In subsequent posts I will explain why I don’t think the passages that *could* be used to argue that Jesus believed in eternal torment – the famous parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 and the story of Lazarus and the rich man – do not in fact indicate that Jesus believed in conscious eternal torment for the wicked.   This is a view that I came to while writing my book, and I’ll explain why anon.  (I will also talk about what “Gehenna” really is).[/private]

Jesus on Gehenna
Jesus’ Twin Brother, Thomas



  1. Avatar
    godspell  September 7, 2018

    I find nothing exceptionable in this interpretation–I actually find it quite revelatory, and would call it the primary insight into Jesus’ thought that I’ve come to here. I await the book’s publication impatiently.

    The main problem I see is that Jesus may not have been 100% consistent in his conception of the Kingdom–and how could be be? How could anyone who is not a hidebound dogmatist, as Jesus clearly wasn’t?

    He wants to save as many as possible, but wouldn’t God know who deserves to be in the Kingdom? If you don’t need to even believe in the Jewish vision of God to be in the Kingdom–if it’s based entirely on how you treat others in this life–then what’s the point?

    The point is, he feels that having had this revelation, he is morally obliged to try and warn whoever he can, whoever comes within the range of his voice, so they can at least have the chance to mend their ways. Otherwise, he would just form a small community of like-minded people, and await the end calmly. (As many subsequent religious sects have done, in vain).

    Jesus is more evangelical than his original inspiration, John–more inclined to go out and look for sinners to convert. More proactive, and more creative in his teaching methods (John mainly just seems to preach and baptize–people can come to him if they want to be saved. Jesus goes out to look for sinners–the more sinful, the better).

    And I still think one of his methods was to perform what he considered miracles, which he could only perform by faith, and so could anyone else. As a visual demonstration of his teachings. Because this will bring more people around to the right way of thought and behavior before it’s too late. Because Jesus believes many who could be saved still won’t be. He must realize many will never come around–the goats (unfair to the actual animals, never mind, it’s a metaphor). There are many lost sheep, led astray by the goats, who need to be gathered back into the fold.

    • Avatar
      godspell  September 7, 2018

      There are two principal questions–what did Jesus think the Kingdom would be? And what did he think the Outer Darkness would be? The ancillary question is what exactly decides which realm you end up in?

      The fisherman metaphor is highly problematic, and God knows whether that’s from Jesus or those who transliterated him later. You’re a fish. You get caught in a net. The fisherman pulls you into a boat. You are suffocating outside of the water. He starts sorting through you and the other fish, to decide which of you will make good eating. If you were (let’s say) a Pixar fish, with the ability to know what’s happening to you, do you want to be the one chosen to go back to dry land, be sold at market, cooked, and eaten? No, you want to be the fish that gets thrown back. That’s the fish who lives. Who goes back into the world of survival and reproduction. The sea is your world, and you want nothing of dry land. Dry land means death, not life. Though of course you will eventually die, and be eaten. Like all living things. You will probably also be killing and eating other things to survive. In nature, there is no right or wrong. There is just alive or dead.

      So how to explain this? Jesus thinks that the Kingdom will be outside the world of nature. Outside the world of life and death, eat or be eaten. Anti-Darwinian (he doesn’t know from Darwin, obviously, but people knew what nature was a long time ago, and all of human culture and civilization is an attempt to escape/transcend its inexorable laws).

      So did he think the Outer Darkness would be some outre hellscape? Or just the world people already lived in, without no hope of anything better, ever?

      And the Kingdom would be a place where those who tried to live as if the Kingdom was already there would finally be freed of the responsibility of trying to make this world something it could never be? But then why is he doing what he’s doing? Which will only lead to his own premature death, and that of many of his followers–who he loves.

      • Avatar
        godspell  September 7, 2018

        “Without no hope.” I need to edit more.

        In his story of The Grand Inquisitor, Dostoevsky talked about the contradiction in religious belief–do you seek your own personal path, focusing on individual spiritual development, or do you save others, which is going to necessitate some kind of religious institution–with rules, and in some cases real authority, which can be greatly abused?

        Power corrupts, always. Religions start with the best of intentions and then go through endless cycles of decadence and revival. But without some kind of institution, you’re never going to reach many people. Without Peter and Paul and those who came after them, nobody would know Jesus ever lived.

        Jesus knew full well that if he founded his own religion, even if it succeeded, it would end up stocked with people like the worst of the Jewish religious authorities he clashed with (I suspect he also knew some very good ones, but the gospels don’t talk much about those). Too much about rules and dogma, not enough about faith and compassion. The goats will always come in and take over when there’s power in it.

        Jesus’ solution to this dilemma is The Son of Man coming to sort things out. To remove the goats from the equation. He can’t see any other way. There are always good people, you can find them in every walk of life, every group (even Samaritans!) but they are disadvantaged simply by virtue of their own virtue. So he has to believe it. It has to be true.

        I guess we’ll have to think of something else. I do believe he gave us some helpful advice. He asked the right questions, even if his answer didn’t pan out.

        I love the man. I don’t care whose son he was.

  2. Avatar
    Naifeh  September 7, 2018

    This is an Interesting theory and your argument makes sense. I would think that the strongest support for eternal suffering in the Gospels is Matthew 25:46. So, I am looking forward to your next post. You might also want to address Mark 9:48. I agree that Mark 9:48 may just refer to an eternal fire, not eternal suffering. At least in the English translations, the passage seems to imply eternal suffering – but that view might be my preconceived view.

    So, do you believe that the first century Christians developed the idea of internal damnation or was it developed even later? I am looking forward to reading where or how they got the idea.

  3. Robert
    Robert  September 7, 2018

    I’ve even seen debates among evangelical /fundamentalist Christians taking very seriously this annihilationist view as opposed to eternal torment.

    What I find much more interesting (and also agree with) is the open attitude of Jesus to the gentiles that you describe here:

    “Jesus did not think the coming kingdom of God (soon to arrive with the coming of the Son of Man in judgment on the earth) was for faithful Jews only.  It was for all those who did God’s will.  Many Jews, in fact, would not be allowed to enter.   As Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “many will come from east and west” to enjoy the heavenly banquet with the Jewish patriarchs in “the kingdom of heaven” but many of those from Israel “will be cast into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12).”

    We occasionally agree. What was controversial about Paul’s mission to the gentiles was not really the mission itself but (later on) how fully Jewish believers and authority figures could commune with gentile converts and consequently whether or not male gentile converts should be circumcised and be fully compliant with kashrut, etc. I believe Paul is telling the truth about Titus not being compelled to be circumcised and Cephas originally living as a gentile while visiting Antioch prior to the coming of the men from James. These dumb fishermen from Galilee had already been told to eat whatever was set before them when on mission. I wonder if perhaps James was overly zealous to convince the Judean authorities in Jerusalem how this Jesus movement was producing good, observant followers.

    There are, to be sure, some Jesus traditions urging a strict observance but these may be more of a backlash on the part of some pious Jewish Christians being scandalized and who had always understood Jesus’ teachings from a more rigorous perspective, which Jesus also engaged sometimes, eg, regarding divorce and avoiding sin by self-mutilation.

    What do you think?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2018

      I’m not sure the instruction to eat whatever was put before them goes back to Jesus. More likely, I should think, put on his lips later

      • Robert
        Robert  September 9, 2018

        “I’m not sure the instruction to eat whatever was put before them goes back to Jesus. More likely, I should think, put on his lips later.”

        Indeed, but if Luke put it on the lips of Jesus (Lk 10,8), it contradicts his later story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts (cf 10,14) and it is found (independently according to you) in the same context in the gospel of Thomas (14): when people take you in, eat what they serve you and heal the sick among them.

        More importantly, one finds this already very early in Paul:

        ἐσθίετε τπαρατιθέμενα ὑμῖν (Lk 10,8)
        πᾶν τπαρατιθέμενον ὑμῖν ἐσθίετε (1 Cor 10,27)

        How do you account for Titus not being compelled to be circumcised and Cephas originally living as a gentile while visiting Antioch prior to the coming of the men from James?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 10, 2018

          I would say it’s perfectly consistent with the teaching of Acts 10. Or do you mean it contradicts it in the sense that Peter should have known it already?
          The similarities between the two passags were there, I would assume, because it was a common Xn idea/teaching. Not sure what you’re asking about Paul and Cephas. They thought (Paul forever and Cephas at one time) that gentiles could be admitted into the Xn community without becoming Jewish.

          • Robert
            Robert  September 10, 2018

            “Not sure what you’re asking about Paul and Cephas. They thought (Paul forever and Cephas at one time) that gentiles could be admitted into the Xn community without becoming Jewish.”

            Do you agree that Paul is probably telling the truth in Galatians 2,12-14 about Cephas originally eating with and living as a gentile when first visiting Antioch prior to the coming of the men from James?

          • Bart
            Bart  September 12, 2018


    • Avatar
      godspell  September 9, 2018

      Jesus never suggested self-mutilation as a means of avoiding sin. Matthew 19:12 refers to voluntary celibacy (if you have actually castrated yourself you are not living AS a eunuch, you ARE one).

      We don’t know these are Jesus’ words, but in either event, they are not to be taken literally (leave that to the fundamentalists). Origen was said to have taken Matthew literally, but he never said so himself in any of his surviving writings, and that was probably just a story somebody told about him.

      • Robert
        Robert  September 10, 2018

        I was not thinking of voluntary celibacy, but rather other rigorist sayings of Jesus, which were of course never intended to be taken literally, eg, Mark 9,44-48:

        “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.”

        • Avatar
          godspell  September 12, 2018

          Which is interesting, because Mark is telling a completely different story, using some of the same phrasings Matthew uses later. Which again makes me suspect that Matthew often repurposed phrases from Mark that he liked, but he didn’t like the story Mark was telling.

          In Mark, this follows upon Jesus admonishing his disciples for asking if they should stop a man healing people in Jesus’ name. After saying “Whoever is not for us is against us” (please note the ‘us’–Mark’s Jesus is a lot less self-obsessed), he says they shouldn’t turn those who believe in his message away from the truth in search of some elusive purity. If others (by ‘little ones’ he doesn’t mean children but those who have heard him but are nto his disciples) are going in the same general direction by a different path, that is enough, because it’s the destination that matters, not the road itself. The Kingdom is near, and the more who make it there, the better.

          And I think what he’s talking about when he says cut off the hand, pluck out the eye, is for them to put aside their foolish pride. It’s not about them, it’s not about who is first, since the first will be last anyway. Better to humble themselves than to enter hell, experience the unquenchable fire, and of course he may not have meant that literally either.

          To be among the goats is to enter hell. The unquenchable fire could be ego–the obsession with self. Yeah, that’s pretty new-agey, I know. But Jesus so often speaks in metaphor, allegory, it’s very hard to know what he means sometimes. It’s better to focus on the deeper meanings of his words, which aren’t about fires and worms.

          I don’t think he believed in hell as later Christians envisioned it. I’m not 100% convinced that the goats are just going to be destroyed. Jesus himself may have had more than one opinion on this subject, because he was torn about the goats–and who they are. What happens to all the well-meaning people the goats lead astray?

          He suggests even his disciples might enter hell, and the man they were rebuking for performing unsanctioned miracles might see the Kingdom. One might conclude he didn’t assume HE would be in the Kingdom!

  4. Avatar
    Lopaka  September 7, 2018

    I agree that “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is just painting a picture of people in the first moment of realizing they’re not allowed in. After that the impression I get is that the outside ones are just forgotten. Who cares what happened to them?

  5. Avatar
    Radar  September 7, 2018

    Your proposal seems similar to Edward Fudge’s “The Fire That Consumes,” which is gaining some popularity in evangelicalism in recent years. You might get several interested podcast interview requests upon publication!

  6. Avatar
    John Murphy  September 7, 2018


    Re. Matthew 8:10-12…. I thought I heard you say before that Jesus probably never had contact with centurions, much less conversations with them, no?

    Is Paul’s reporting of the attitude of James and Peter, who both knew Jesus, towards Gentiles not stronger evidence of Jesus’ true feelings towards that group than Matthew’s story?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2018

      That’s right — I don’t think Jesus ever encountered a centurion until his last week in Jerusalem.

      • Avatar
        John Murphy  September 10, 2018

        My point is that I wonder whether adducing a fictitious account is useful in trying to work out what Jesus actually believed in this case.

        Isn’t that account indicative of the belief of Matthew’s community rather than those who actually knew Jesus?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 12, 2018

          The prose narrative framework for the saying is not historical; I’m arguing that hte saying itself is something Jesus said.

      • Rick
        Rick  September 17, 2018

        Having a Centurion fawning over a Galilean peasant to make a point about faith being the key to the kingdom sounds:
        1. like a literary device for those who already believed Jesus divine
        2. like a strong Pauline influence.

  7. Avatar
    NTDeist  September 7, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,
    What do you think Jesus’ view was of the Jewish concept of Sheol? Would he think that the coming Kingdom would replace Sheol?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2018

      I assume those in Sheol would be raised from the dead.

  8. Avatar
    alexius105  September 7, 2018

    I don’t think the historical Jesus preached gentiles will come into heavenly kingdom. jesus was sent to the jews, Israelites. The others were like dogs and pigs.

    • Avatar
      Ephraimlad  September 21, 2018

      Remember, “Gentiles” simply means “nations.” How it is used – in context – matters. It is probable that vast majority of the Israelites had been scattered among the nations, for at least seven centuries, before the term “Jew” was even coined. The terms “Gentile” and “non-Jew” are not interchangeable as you seem to presuppose.

  9. Avatar
    crucker  September 7, 2018

    Would Jesus have believed that those who already died were in Sheol and would have been resurrected and also judged, and likewise either be annihilated or join in the new Kingdom? Or something else?

  10. Avatar
    Pattylt  September 7, 2018

    Quick side question: Did the early Christians think that fire was a purifier in any way? I guess in their day the most efficient way to extinguish someone was by fire instead of of numerous other ways they could have invisioned God killing someone but just curious if fire had additional properties they liked?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2018

      Yes, many times they did. But not when it was said to “destroy” a person.

  11. Avatar
    fishician  September 7, 2018

    To me the imagery of throwing weeds into a fire is very clear: nobody expects weeds to burn forever; in fact, they burn up rather quickly, leaving nothing but ashes. If Jesus meant to portray eternal torment his parables are very misleading. If you throw me in the fire I will weep and gnash my teeth, but not for long. What I find interesting is how many people who say they are preaching love, and that “God is love,” seem to go out of their way to make Jesus and the writers of the New Testament portray the most terrible punishment imaginable for those who simply don’t believe the way they do. Another example of how religion makes good people think bad things.

  12. Avatar
    Adam0685  September 7, 2018

    1. “There is such grief there – weeping and teeth-grinding – because those on the outside have realized, too late, the eternal joys they have missed out on. What will happen to them? *Jesus doesn’t say.*” – this statement seems to weaken your argument that Jesus *did* say they would be annihilated.

    2. “Darkness,” “fire,” “furnace of fire,” etc. clearly seem to be metaphors, but I think some of your readers might have trouble accepting that because *we* typically do not communicate the way Jesus did…with strong and exaggerated metaphors, or if we do, we also clearly state what we mean (why couldn’t Jesus also simply say “they will cease to exist”?!).

    3. Will you also discuss Matthew 18:8-9: “8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into *eternal fire.* 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the *fire of hell.*

    4. Are the sayings you discuss widely considered authentic sayings?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2018

      3. Yup. 4. Yes, I will be discussing in the book how we can know.

  13. tompicard
    tompicard  September 7, 2018

    “those who “will be cast into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12). . . . This is surely a figurative statement: ”

    I think you are perfectly correct
    I would put it more simply
    those in “darkness” are “distant from God”. (you may prefer ‘unenlightened’ but to Jesus ‘distant from God’ was probably a more scary thing than merely being ‘unenlightened’ ) and
    their “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is their extreme regret that they had an opportunity to work with, learn from and support God’s chosen one/representative/messiah and they had other things they thought more important (like marrying a wife or buying a cow). Even worse that is if they had contributed to God’s chosen one/son being murdered, (like Judas among others) {and similarly I think you could argue, that to Jesus, this “regret” is just as painful as being physically burned]

    • Avatar
      godspell  September 9, 2018

      I understand this concept, but there is a problem–we’re all distant from God, in a sense. God is not appearing to most people, not speaking to them. That’s the normal state of being. To say hell is the absence of God is to neglect the reality that for those who are not of a deeply spiritual bent (which is most of us) God is absent most if not all of the time. We think about God, we wonder about God, we pray to God, we get angry at God–we don’t see God. And we’re still happy sometimes.

      Even saints feel distant from God a lot of the time–many reported feeling God’s absence as a great trial–but for ordinary people, who don’t expect to experience visions, revelations, divine ecstasies–that’s normal. Not everybody wants to be in the divine presence all the damn time. That would be intimidating, wouldn’t you say? How would you watch your shows? Suppose you wanted to have sex?

      I don’t mean to be irreverent (much), and I feel a deep respect for the true mystics, but most of us aren’t. So this is a mystic’s vision of hell, and many mystics actually experience this hell–Mother Teresa did, and wrote a great deal about it in her diaries.

      But goats–what do they care? They’re shallow, self-seeking. God, to them, is their appetites, their egos. I mean, we all know who the Head Goat is at this moment in time. Do you think he gives a damn if God is absent? He sees God in the bathroom mirror every morning.

      So no, I don’t think this is what Jesus meant, precisely. He means the goats will be in a hell of their own making–no longer able to exploit or harm anyone but themselves. Their aggression and avarice turned inwards. Without good people to oppress, or fence-sitters (the half-way there sheep Jesus was trying to reach) they can lead astray, what is there for them? That’s their hell. The punishment fits the crime. To quote Saint Gilbert.

  14. cheito
    cheito  September 7, 2018


    The feedback I offer, considering the DISPUTABLE SOURCES from which we derive what Jesus taught about the afterlife, is that, in my estimation, the only RELIABLE information about what JESUS ‘TAUGHT’ about the afterlife, is implicated in the indisputable letters of Paul…

    At least we know, that it was Paul the apostle who really wrote ‘Philippians’, and we also know why he wrote Philippians.

    Paul believed that it was very much better to DEPART from this life and be with Christ. Paul doesn’t say that he’s going to DIE…I think Paul received this assurance and insight into the afterlife, from Jesus Himself.

    So who am I going to believe about the afterlife? Will I believe an INDISPUTABLE source, written by Paul the apostle, who claims that his message is from Jesus himself, or am I going to believe in a DISPUTABLE source, the book of Matthew, which was anonymously written, and the author does not claim to have seen Jesus?

    Paul wrote his letters BECAUSE Jesus Himself appeared to him and gave him a Gospel to preach and teach.

    I DON’T KNOW who really wrote Matthew, nor why the book was written, and Jesus did not appear to the author of Matthew, nor does the author of Matthew claim that Jesus appeared to him.

    My point is, that it’s pointless and misleading, to assert that the words attributed to Jesus in Matthew, are in FACT the WORDS of Jesus.

    If Paul is telling the truth about Jesus literally APPEARING to him, the I choose to believe Paul rather than some stories invented by Matthew and others, regarding what Jesus SUPPOSEDLY said about the afterlife!

    Paul in my estimation, is a more RELIABLE source and witness, from whom we can derive insights into the the questions concerning what most likely happens when our last day on earth ENDS.

  15. talmoore
    talmoore  September 7, 2018

    (Part 1 of 2)

    Dr. Ehrman, since you ask, let me say that I think you’re partially correct. Before I say where I think your theory falls short, let me say where I think you’re right on the money.

    “Jesus did not think the coming kingdom of God…was for faithful Jews only. It was for all those who did God’s will.”

    This is not only true based on what Jesus says, but by the internal logic of the Kingdom concept itself this must be true. For just imagine a “Kingdom of God” that consists of only a few thousand righteous Jews. Doesn’t sound like much of a “kingdom”! For the concept to even make sense, one would have to assume that at least a million or more people (both currently living and already dead) would be “saved” to populate such a “kingdom”. And, naturally, not all of those saved people could be Jews (since during Jesus’ day there were, maybe, 3 million Jews in the world?) so some of the saved would have to be non-Jews — or at the very least would be gentiles who had converted to Judaism.

    “One of my theses is that a close reading of Jesus’ words shows that in fact he had no idea of torment for sinners after death.”

    I think this depends on what we mean by “torment”. Do I think Jesus meant eternal torment? No. Do I think that the historical Jesus warned of some torment for sinners after death? Absolutely. After all, what would you call burning people to death? I would call that torment. And keep in mind, Jesus is not just talking about the people who were still alive while he was preaching. He was also talking about those people who were already dead and would be resurrected for the final judgment before the ‘Olam ha-Ba (hence all the harvesting analogies he uses)! Those people would go from being dead, to being “alive” again, and if judged wicked, would be burned to die again. In other words, their ultimate punishment would be to die twice! So I would say you’re partially correct here.

    Now let me devote a second comment to where I think you’re missing Jesus’ actually views. It has to do with probably the most important parable in the gospels. The parable where we really see what Jesus preached. The Parable of the Sower.

  16. Avatar
    James Chalmers  September 7, 2018

    Annihilationism I think is plausible enough, and as I recall some of the Fathers discerned it in Jesus’s teaching too. But what about exclusivism?
    Jesus grew up and was educated in a cultural backwater. He appears to have known only Aramaic, and we can be pretty sure he seldom engaged in conversation with anyone who spoke Greek, the language of the wider world. He evidently preached only to small-town rural Palestinian Jews, except for maybe only one big trip to Jerusalem. Hence Matthew 15:24, perhaps Matthew 7:6 and Thomas 93, and Mark 7:24f. I see that the story of the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s child can be read more than one way, as being more or less exclusivist. But it’s recounted by Mark two generations after the fact, and one might suspect that the inclusiveness is attributable to Mark and not Jesus. Anyway, Vermes makes the case Jesus, as one might expect, had a message directed chiefly to those in his social world, the northern and western shores of of the Sea of Galilee, and that his imagination didn’t reach much beyond. Unsurprisingly “he ministered only to the lost sheep of Israel and instructed his disciples to the same.”
    A case I’d guess you consider or mention in a footnote.

  17. Avatar
    joncopeland  September 7, 2018

    Does your idea carry over into the Lake of Fire motif in Revelation? That is, the notion of complete and ultimate destruction as opposed to eternal torment. Does the author of Revelation envision a terminal end, and if so, are they getting that idea from gospel sources?

  18. Avatar
    mkahn1977  September 7, 2018

    I was wondering when you were going to reference Matthew 25 and the sheep and the goats– if I follow your teaching correctly, these passages would fall under the criterion of dissimilarity because in them Jesus talks about the the good that people do, rather than what they believe, getting them to heaven, the kingdom of god.

    On another note- Matthew 18:18- what you bind or loose on earth etc.- I would think this was not spoken by the historical Jesus as this seems too be making Peter (and his successors) the mediators and dictators as to what gets someone to heaven.

    I like your theses so far- carry on sir!

  19. Avatar
    jwesenbe  September 7, 2018

    I often find interesting that we quote the Bible saying “Jesus said…”. I would stipulate the author (Mathew) said that Jesus said. This may or may not have been a saying of or by Jesus, but my guess is that this is what early Christians believed and not necessarily what Jesus said.

    • Avatar
      godspell  September 12, 2018

      I fervently agree, but “Matthew said Jesus said” is kind of clunky. And suppose Matthew got rewritten too?

  20. talmoore
    talmoore  September 7, 2018

    (Part 2 of 2)

    Now let me say where I think you’re missing the mark. I think you’re failing to take into account the Parable of the Sower, which I believe comes the closest to laying out before us the preaching of the historical Jesus. Notice that in this parable, Jesus doesn’t say that there are two types of seeds: those that grow and those that don’t grow. No, Jesus says, specifically, that there are four types of seeds! — those that fail to grow, those that grow but die quickly, those that grow but fail to ripen, and those that grow and ripen, even to abundance. (In Mark and Matthew, Jesus also divides that last category into three groups, who yield thirty, sixty and a hundred times — but that’s a separate issue.)

    Now, what are we to make of Jesus’ four categories? If we set aside the last category of those who are saved, to me, it’s pretty clear that Jesus is outlining three distinct degrees of damnation. The first degree (what Jesus is portraying as the worst lot) are those who completely ignore the prophetic admonitions. They are like seeds scattered on a road, who are eaten by birds. Those people are simply annihilated — possibly by being swallowed up by the earth, just like Korah and his rebels — before they even have a chance to be saved.

    The second degree are those who heed the prophetic admonitions, so they should at least know better. But their heart is seemingly too weak (“because the soil was shallow”) so they drift away from the righteous path. Jesus appears to be referring to those with heterodox views, such as how the Pharisees are portrayed in the gospels. They know scripture, so they should know better, but still they are damned. They will be “scorched” (burned) by the “sun” (God).

    The last of the damned are those who do take root (i.e. they’re what we might call nascent Christians) but they are corrupted by worldly concerns. Instead of becoming righteous by the Spirit, they are tainted by the material world. So they are “choked”. That is, they are strangled, literally or metaphorically. They may be hanged. Or they may become the slaves of those who are saved (i.e. they are “choked” by the yoke of bondage). Either way, of all the damned, they have the easiest go of it. Though some may disagree.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 9, 2018

      I take it to be a parable about the success of missionary preaching, not about the afterlife.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  September 9, 2018

        Ah, well, that’s where we disagree then. I don’t think the historical Jesus preached about missionary activity. I think the actual Jesus was all about admonitions and doom. Notice that if you ignore the “interpretation” that’s tacked onto the Sower Parable — which does interpret the parable in terms of the Great Commission — then the parable itself makes no immediate mention of, or even allusion to, missionary activity. The “seed” sown by the “farmer” is not necessarily the gospel message that would later come to be preached by the apostles.

        If you must insist that they represent the gospel and the apostles, then you must first answer for me the question of why Jesus would have to return to his disciples after the fact (Mark 16:14-18; Matt. 28:16-20) to essentially re-issue a missionary commission if Jesus spent so much of his living ministry telling them to do the very same thing. This is similar to the problem we see, for example, in Peter’s vision in Acts, which he uses to justify breaking the Jewish dietary laws. If Jesus spent his ministry telling his disciples that they should ignore the kashrut, why would Peter need a vision to instruct him to do something that Jesus had already told all of his disciples?

        The post-resurrection commission has the very same problem. If Jesus was telling his disciples that they needed to “go out to the nations” and preach the gospel, while he was still alive, then why would he need to instruct them to do that exact thing after he had already died and returned? For me, the obvious answer is that the real historical Jesus, while he was alive, never actually taught his disciples to ignore the kashrut — let alone the Mosaic Laws as a whole — and he did not instruct his disciples to go out to all the nations to preach the gospel message. The historical Jesus most likely preached about one thing and one thing only: The Kingdom was coming soon, and those who are right by God will be saved, and those who are not right by God are doomed. And that’s it.

        In light of this notion the Parable of the Sower suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. The “farmer” is the prophet of God, and the “seed” are prophetic admonitions, especially Jesus’s own preaching, and the plants are the people who hear him.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 10, 2018

          I think he’s referring to his own words/preaching. Some people receive it and most don’t.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  September 10, 2018

            “I think he’s referring to his own words/preaching. Some people receive it and most don’t.”

            In that we agree, though I think Jesus is including his own preaching/prophesy in with the long tradition of prophets of Israel. That is, he’s referring to the entire tradition leading up to his contribution to it (cf. Muhammad’s views of his own career).

            But notice that he then lists the consequences for those who don’t heed his prophesy/preaching. They are “swallowed up”. They are “burned”. They are “choked”. He’s not just saying that there are those who will heed him and those who won’t. He’s expressing the ramifications of failing to heed him. And that, I am arguing, is a representation of Jesus’s eschatological views. That is, they adumbrate his actual views of the afterlife.

          • Avatar
            godspell  September 12, 2018

            First of all, we have to distinguish between what Jesus said, and words Matthew and others may have put in his mouth, out of anger at the opposition (and in some cases persecution) they were coming up against decades later. Legitimate sayings of Jesus almost certainly have been placed next to words relating to beliefs Jesus himself never professed

            Matthew recycles sayings from Mark that were used in a different context in Mark. That could be him drawing on a different version, from Q–but I doubt it. Matthew and Mark are incompatible in many ways, and Matthew feels free to revise Mark where he feels Mark got it wrong.

            Obviously Jesus sees himself as being part of a long Jewish prophetic tradition, but he’s come to add to it, not merely restate it. He feels free to revise as well. All visionaries do. Not just religious visionaries.

            It’s not the ramifications of failing to heed him, because that makes no sense. Most will never hear him. He believes all humanity will be judged, and that many who never knew he existed will be saved, simply for having behaved well. Otherwise, the Kingdom is going to be really really small. He’s not so conceited as you think.

            His role is to proclaim the Kingdom, but he knows most will never hear that proclamation, and yet they still can make the right choices, and the Son of Man will let them in–Jews and gentiles alike.

            Perhaps there is a greater impetus on those who do hear him to follow the right path. Reminds me of the old story of the missionary in Africa, who told a man he was trying to convert that up to now, having lived a good life, he would have simply gone to the place for the virtuous unbaptized after death–but now, having been told of the gospel message, his choices were restricted to either accepting Christ and going to heaven, or refusing Him and going to hell. To which the startled man replied “Then why did you tell me?”

            However, this joke only works if Jesus did believe in Hell, and I agree with Bart–he never did. What precisely he did believe would happen at the end–that is the question. The Undiscovered Country, one might say. From which bourne no traveler returns. Ay, there’s the rub.

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