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The Threat of Judgment

Since I’ve been making these posts about my experience at Moody Bible Institute, I’ve been getting some reactions from former classmates there.  Some of these are in a public forum I’m on.  Others have been private communications.    A few of these have been kind and heartening.  Others … not.

Among the latter, some have told me that they pity me because of where I will end up on the day of judgment.   Others have suggested that I changed my theological beliefs because that would help me become famous.  Some have expressed both sadness and outrage that I have “led so many people astray.”

So, dealing with these kinds of comments one-by-one, in one post at a time.   First, the day of judgment.  Well, none of us knows what will happen on the day of judgment, but I think I’m glad none of my classmates has been appointed to be the judge!    That hasn’t stopped them from judging in the present, of course, and one would think they would be a bit wary of that, given what Jesus says about such things (Judge not lest you be judged).

My view, of course, is that there is not going to *be* a judgment day, any more than there is going to be a second coming and a rapture and a future millennial kingdom   But if there is a God and there is a judgment, I really don’t think that it’s going to involve a Final Exam on theology, with those who get a failing grade being cast into the eternal lake of fire.

Moreover, if there is a God, he….

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Writing to Become Famous?
Education at Moody

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    ALIHAYMEG  May 14, 2015

    The legalistic argument for god being bound by some moral or legal obligation to punish humanity for a transgression fails miserably. If the “price” for failure to believe is eternal torment…then why is Jesus of Nazareth not being tormented FOREVER in Hell? Only that would satisfy the legalistic conceptualization of fair compensation to cover the designated cost of an action. Otherwise the “price” has not been paid and the cost not covered in full. Or…the price is not eternal damnation but simply death…which price WAS covered by his death. Or…it’s all just a bunch of primitive superstition that fails to have any meaning outside of the realm of human understanding. Obviously an all-powerful being would not have such petty emotions as jealousy or anger. Only a god imagined by jealous and angry human beings.

  2. Avatar
    asahagian  May 14, 2015

    As I once told someone recently who seemed concerned about my afterlife:

    “If one day I find myself standing before an unanticipated ‘judgement throne’ with the requirement that I explain my lack of faith, I will in all humility say that I have lived my life being honest with myself (as well as others). If there had been a shred of evidence for the god who was insisting on my faith, I would happily have believed in him/her….but I was not willing to believe in somebody’s fantasy or made up imaginary friend.”

    • Avatar
      Charmaine  May 24, 2015

      Actor Stephen Fry, an atheist, was asked what he would say if, in the afterlife, he found himself standing before God. He said, in that case, he, himself, would be asking the questions. “Bone cancer in children, what’s that all about? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? Why should I respect a God…that creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain”

      • Avatar
        BrotherofJared  November 24, 2016

        Just a thought…

        I wonder what Stephen would say if he discovered that it was the child with bone cancer that was judging him.

        It’s not what happens to others that anyone will be judged for. It’s about what happens to you and what you did in those circumstances.

        People can make it about God and the way He ran things if they want. If there is an afterlife, I will want to be with people who think and behave like I do. I think that will happen automatically (birds of a feather), but I would hope to be separated from those who don’t. If there are a group of people who judge God as it appears that Stephen Fry wants to do, then that will be fine with me and I’m sure it’ll be fine with him too. Though, being stuck for eternity having to listen to people complain about God and the way He ran things, would be Hell for me.

  3. Avatar
    Mariana  May 14, 2015

    Love your answers.
    Wy these people care.if I’m going burn in hell is none of they business .They don’t care if I’m hungry .so stop worry about my dead body.
    They should use they
    morality
    To do good .,not judge and be more like the Christ that they preach all the time.
    Glad if I go to hell least I’ll be in the company of people like me,and not like them.
    Hell , heaven is all bull………..

  4. Avatar
    tonysdca  May 14, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman – as usual you put your ideas forth in a clear and concise way, and I identify closely with your position I remain a deist, but believe in a rational ordered higher power. So much of evangelical theology just doesn’t stand up to reason. God has to make sense to me for me to believe in that concept. I am grateful your work has encouraged me to study scriptures in their historical, linguistic, and cultural context so that I can form my own understanding of their meaning and influence in my life. God has given me a good mind, so I use it to make sense of Judeo/Christian teaching as it applies or does not apply to me. Thanks as always for your work.

  5. Avatar
    Sharon  May 14, 2015

    When I read your first book. I knew I found a home for my beliefs. I’m not as brave about them as you, I pretty much keep them to myself, but they bring me comfort. I think they are too logical for the masses, however!

  6. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  May 14, 2015

    SINNERS! BEWARE! AWAKE, THE VOICES CALL US! Want to know what Hell is like? A small taste, from James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”: “But this stench is not, horrible though it is, the greatest physical torment to which the damned are subjected.”

    But that’s not all. How long will you be there? Forever! Eternally! What is eternity? Don’t ask. But if you must know, Joyce provides the answer in the same book:
    “What must it be, then, to bear the manifold tortures of hell forever? Forever! For all eternity! Not for a year or an age but forever. Try to imagine the awful meaning of this. You have often seen the sand on the seashore. How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those tiny grains go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad, extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness, and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on animals, atoms in the vast expanse of air. And imagine that at the end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages before it had carried away all. Yet at the end of that immense stretch time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended. At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been carried all away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals – at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not even one single instant of eternity could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time, there mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would have scarcely begun.”

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      I had heard that analogy in high school — but it was unattributed! Thanks.

    • Avatar
      samkho  May 16, 2015

      Nobody knows what hell is like. Nobody! If you believe another person’s description of hell, I have a bridge to sell to you.

  7. Avatar
    cchen326  May 14, 2015

    I use to break down thinking my dad who was born into buddhism would go to hell for eternity and would pray and have his name in the sunday prayer requests for god to find him. This was including the notion that living in the US the message of Jesus is everywhere so that means he heard of the good news which in some circles means he rejected it. No longer a christian this view seems absurd.

    Once I walked away from christianity and looking back at how much mental gymnastics I had to do to make gods judgement make any sense I can only imagine how you felt after becoming an agnostic.

    I think Sam Harris in his debate with William lane craig sums it up in a broad way.

    Ok, so God created the cultural isolation of the Hindus, ok. He engineered the circumstance of their deaths in ignorance of revelation, and then he created the penalty for this ignorance, which is an eternity of conscious torment in fire. Ok, on the other hand, on Dr. Craig’s account, your run-of-the-mill serial killer in America, ok, who spent his life raping and torturing children, need only come to God, come to Jesus, on Death Row, and after a final meal of fried chicken, he’s going to spend an eternity in Heaven after death, ok. One thing should be crystal clear to you: This vision of life has absolutely nothing to do with moral accountability.

    • Avatar
      godspell  May 15, 2015

      Sam Harris also said that we might have to nuke the middle east proactively, so I don’t pay much attention to what he says. Oh yes, I know, that was just a philosophical exercise. I know.

      Fools are fools, no matter what ‘ism’ they hide behind.

      • Avatar
        cchen326  May 18, 2015

        I don’t agree with everything Sam Harris says. I think he is a good debater with many strong points. He has written articles on airport security on who to profile that I don’t agree with. I quoted that 1 part because it relates to the topic which is the threat of judgement and how we view moral accountability in a broad sense.

        In a nutshell I would assume most christian’s agree that almost anyone can find forgiveness if they accept Christ’s gift of atonement and salvation when true repentance and contrition are involved. I was just showing how moral accountability loses its meaning on human terms viewed through this lens.

  8. Avatar
    Brian  May 14, 2015

    The bit I don’t understand is how you can choose to believe. I can pretend to believe, but that’s obviously different. I just find it baffling.

  9. Avatar
    Todd  May 14, 2015

    It seems to me that the fundamentalist evangelical form of Christianity is growing, or at least becoming more vocal, and strongly getting involved in politics. In my 73 years I have never heard so much talk about amending the Constitution to make the United States a “Christian Nation” governed by “Christian Law,” whatever that is. It seems that the progressive churches are not growing as fast as the evangelical groups, yet there is a much greater interest in serious science.

    My experience with fundamentalist Christians is that there is no way to have an open serious discussion. Either I hear memorized Bible texts thrown at me or they are not interested in an actual discussion.

    It’s very frustrating.

    • Avatar
      godspell  May 18, 2015

      Statistics show that fundamentalist Christianity is shrinking, just at a slower rate than the less extreme forms–which is a problem, to be sure. I’d rather see that trend reversed. I think religion is going to be with us until the last days of our species. You can’t get rid of an idea.

      Fundamentalism, Christian, Muslim, or whatever, is an overreaction to modernity. The world around us is changing rapidly–too rapidly in some respects. We’re losing everything that anchored us, and atheism offers little to replace it. It works for people who are educated and relatively prosperous. But even many atheists seem to be in the process of forming the equivalent of a new religion, based on denying the old ones, and even denying Jesus as a historical figure, no matter what heights of irrationality they have to climb to do so.

      What other people believe should be sacred to you, as long as they are willing to accept your right to believe differently.

      People need to believe in things they can’t prove. We can’t seem to live without doing that. So we have to find a way to have that without using it as a club to hit other people with.

  10. Avatar
    walstrom  May 14, 2015

    Author Simon Wiesenthal wrote the book THE SUNFLOWER: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness
    In this work, he ponders the question of forgiveness. While he was in a Nazi concentration camp, he is asked by a Nazi who repents of his crimes for forgiveness. And the question the book asks is whether such forgiveness should be given. It seems to me the answer to this question is given by something which Wiesenthal himself wrote. He wrote that while it might be possible to forgive someone for an injury done to oneself, one has no right to forgive for others. It is those who have been murdered who need to be requested forgiveness of. But one and one-half – million Jewish children were not given the chance to answer.
    From the above, I extract upon that premise this question: What injury has each one of us inflicted upon God that we should need to ask–like a dying Nazi torturer–God’s pardon? Did each of us put Jesus to death? No, the Romans did.
    Isn’t the death of Jesus a red herring which skirts the actual problem of Christianity itself?
    Isn’t religion simply a scheme to ESCAPE ALL MORAL PUNISHMENT by simply making a verbal profession?
    _____________________
    QUESTION:
    Bart, doesn’t THE THREAT OF JUDGMENT by God upon mankind seems more like a monster from the ID which deflects us from the harm we inflict upon ourselves and others in the collateral damage of living life on planet Earth.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      I’m probably not as negative toward Christianity as you; I think it is also a force of real good in the world, and that serious Christian thinkers need to be taken seriously. But yes, with respect to Christianity in its simpler forms, I agree!!

  11. Avatar
    JeffinFairfax  May 14, 2015

    All of which makes perfect sense to rational, good-hearted people.

  12. Avatar
    swede  May 14, 2015

    Hi Bart,
    Rightly you shared how God must handle our confessed sin, but how that Christian oppose it.

    Quote— “My response is that if I’m supposed to forgive sins, he would probably do that too. They would reply that he will forgive sins, if we believe in his Son. My response is to ask why that’s the rule? Why can’t he just forgive us? I myself don’t require a friend to sacrifice a child before I agree to forgive her!” —End of quote

    Dear Bart, I have met exactly the same kind of reactions from Christians. I have for some years been lifting up different traditional stones (to look what´s underneath) and started reviewing and rethinking certain Christian ideas. I am not myself a Jew, but I agree with a Jewish Rabbi I have learned so much from. Zechariah 8:23 says the Jew has something a man from among the nations need. Jesus according to the author of Johns Gospel says “salvation is of the Jews”.
    Anyway, I thought I wanted to share my newfound discovery of how to look at the Bible, and what the Bible say about the so called Godhead, and what then could be an optional message, but more often than seldom especially Christian fundamentalists get very terrified, like I had just stepped on their toes, and was then on a mined land. As they have no more arguments, they get personal and very aggressive and sometimes angry, ready to stone me and send me to hell. Often they go on and on, trying to convince me on how wrong I am, and so confused and so far from the truth, .. bl bl bl. Sometimes the contact just abruptly stops and there is no further communication. =o)

    So, this is my story just briefly. As I a few years back started researching the Christian faith, to look for right beliefs (if possible), in my search for truth I really began to discover new things. But as I traveled, I also noticed the countryside changed and the background left behind me. I felt like I for each new step came to a new territory. And as I did not know where this would lead me, I seemed to travel backwards, first to the fourth Cent. Then I went back to the very first Cent. I have now gone even further, way back into the Jewish soil. And what I have found really gives me personally a more credible standpoint. Let me give you some credit. Your books has also helped me a lot in my research.

    As Christians say you need atonement, with a sacrifice of blood, to be forgiven, I agree with what you said, why not just go directly to God and ask him to forgive (without any mediator)? For the Jew, the sin is not a problem, and there is no need for some kind of atonement. It was not the blood of the animals that was offered, so the idea of a human sacrifice with blood was absolutely forbidden. That is a heathen idea. It´s a no-no for a Jew and is absolutely out of the question.
    Some ones conscious sin, can just be confessed from a repenting heart and God both forgives and forgets. The oblivious sins are covered in the deal, and was as a symbolic act before the temple was destroyed, seen in the different kinds of burnt offerings. But, in fact no blood was needed, as it before it was burnt was washed away and only the meat was left.

    The Jewish reaction on the Christian hell and there being forever “roasted”, is also very interesting. It´s not something they agree on. Neither is putting Satan on the same level as God. One can just notice so very few times Satan is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, compared to how many times he is mentioned in the NT.

    My Best,
    Ulf Malmström, Uppsala Sweden

  13. Avatar
    Paul  May 14, 2015

    WOW… Great post Bart, you nailed it!!!

  14. Avatar
    Joshua  May 14, 2015

    My condolences. I have experienced what you are going through. Your decency and kindness to answer though 95% sure to not be heard shows what ‘love’ and ‘truth’ is. IMO.

  15. Avatar
    JSTMaria  May 14, 2015

    Hello!

    I read somewhere recently that the early Christians were thought to be atheists. Have you come across this notion anywhere? I was curious as to why that belief existed. It seems to me that the very words of Jesus that you shared above are exactly what the Christian message is supposed to be–perhaps with the addition of “get over yourself” like the early monastics seemed to be teaching. I get why they liked their caves in that they got to avoid all the “worldly” bickering about the Final Exam in theology. Sign me up! And I couldn’t agree more that it is not *simple* to just say “I do” when humankind’s ego seems to be steering the great ship through a sea of denominations and interpretations… Frustrating!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      Yes, in pagan antiquity Christians were labeled “atheists” because they rejected the “gods” and so they were literally a-theist — apart from the gods.

      • Avatar
        JSTMaria  May 16, 2015

        Hi! Real quick…would the Jews have been considered “atheists” as well then? Or were these particular Christians the gentile converts?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 16, 2015

          Interesting question. I don’t know if Jews were or not. When Xns were called atheists, most of them were non-Jewish.

          • Avatar
            JSTMaria  May 18, 2015

            Hello again!–totally unrelated question here… I am currently reading your book about the Orthodox corruption of Scripture. I was wondering if the concept of the “real presence” of God in the Eucharist was also a hotly debated concept between the proto-Orthodox and those deemed heretics that would have resulted in any Orthodox massaging of Scripture. It seems to me that it would be fitting that such a massage would occur to ensure an interpretation of real as opposed to “symbolic” body and blood. I’m only halfway through the book, but I’m in a chapter discussing the Gospel of John…a book that in chapter 6 makes a pretty hard case for the “real presence.” I was curious if that chapter has been tampered with over time. ??? Theologically speaking, it would seem that the real presence would line up well with the salvation of Passover (i.e., the Jews were not instructed to eat a “symbol” of the flesh of the lamb), but people clearly argue about this today and I’m assuming they did back then as well?? I’m not sure this book will speak to it, but it’s making me think about the concept. What are your insights? Thanks!

          • Bart
            Bart  May 18, 2015

            No, I’m afraid that was a much later debate.

  16. Avatar
    cchen326  May 14, 2015

    Prof Ehrman,
    what do you mean when you say *who made the “rule” that if you sin you have to die for ever*?
    Isn’t the general view of a christian that God is the one who set the rules of what happens when you sin against him?
    I’m not quite sure how you got to the question asking if another being than God setup that rule.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      That’s precisely my point. There’s no real option. If there is such a rule, then God must have made it.

  17. cheito
    cheito  May 14, 2015

    DR Ehrman:

    God is Love and He is fair…
    I see His Love in the creation.
    Who has the patent for seeds that sprout into fruit trees and vegetables?
    How was water devised?
    Who invented the rain clouds?
    Who produces the air we breathe?
    Who holds the universe together?
    Do you believe these things made themselves?

    The righteous shall live by faith. I don’t have to see God to understand that He exists.

    God will end evil. To God death doesn’t exist. No one dies to him and we are not just a body. Our body is where our spirit dwells and it is not for immorality. All individuals who choose evil and delight themselves in it we’ll have to answer to God. God is the ultimate authority and the head of all authority. God will separate the evil ones from those who by faith have chosen God’s gift of righteousness in Christ.

    If anyone chooses not to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead because they think that Jesus said something he didn’t say, then that person will get a chance to meet Jesus in person, and on that day that person may ask the Lord, whether he said such thing…

    I believe you’ll meet Jesus one day DR Ehrman, and He will answer all your questions.
    We are all going to meet him face to face.
    Those of us who have erred in mind will then accept instruction.
    You need to see Him to believe in Him.
    Blessed is the person who believes yet does not see.
    Yes there is a special blessing for the person who does not need to see God to understand that He is Love.

    As for the words of God and Jesus, they have been altered and we must extract the precious from the worthless.

    As for the matter of sin we will be held accountable with or without the law.

    God is merciful and He know all things.

  18. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  May 14, 2015

    I’ve experienced too many extraordinary things in my life to say there isn’t something more beyond this physical world. In December of last year, an atheist I met through Facebook complained that Christians won’t read anything that is contrary to their beliefs. I took that as a challenge and read every link he sent me, and there were a lot! None of them affected me. He then asked me to read Misquoting Jesus, and I refused. I read everything else he asked me to, but I did not want to read a book by an angry atheist slandering Jesus. He said I wasn’t being fair and the book was not what I imagined, so I gave in. I read it, had mini freak-out over it, and searched for a tc site on FB. I found the New Testament Textual Criticism group and asked them about your book. They had plenty to say about it.
    So, you are influential in leading people places.

  19. Avatar
    Jason  May 14, 2015

    Sorry they’re giving you the business. Maybe this would be a fun time to go deeper into how limited what the bible says about heaven and hell really is, and how an apocalyptic message about magic warriors living in a city above Jerusalem and traditions of Gehenna became cloud-dwelling harpists and a pit of fire. You touched on it a couple years back (Jan.13,2013)

    My favorite part about the evangelical critique of the rest of us is the “Spiritual Marriage” language-if any woman was married to a man as abusive, violent and threatening as Yaweh is presented to be in the Bible, even most of those making the critique would say “you have to get out of that marriage.”

  20. Avatar
    Tom  May 15, 2015

    Bravo!

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