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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



  1. Avatar
    JerryO  May 15, 2015

    Greetings Bart,

    I have read most all your books and as far as I can recall I have never seen you explain the definition of the Greek word “aion” and it’s derivatives. That Greek word has been mistranslated to mean “eternal” or “forever” instead of simply “age” or “age-abiding.” The whole concept of eternal torment has been based on the mistranslation of that Greek word “aion.” Many translations have corrected this error, i.e. Rotherham Emphasised Bible, 1888 Young’s Literal Translation, Concordant Literal Version.

    Below are excellent links within the Tentmaker website (http://tentmaker.org/ScholarsCorner.html)
    which is devoted to the debunking of the concept of eternal torment.

    The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment

    “The Greek Word Aion–Aionios Translated Everlasting–Eternal in the Holy Bible”
    by Dr. John Wesley Hanson

    Analytical Study of Words

    Hope to see some of this material appearing in another book of yours.

    Love never fails and mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

    Jerry O

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      Nope, I’ve never dealt with it. Good idea.

    • Avatar
      BrotherofJared  November 24, 2016

      Wouldn’t the problem of a mistranslated word such as this beg the question: “When will it be over?”. If eternal isn’t eternal, how long is it?

  2. Avatar
    Adam0685  May 15, 2015

    Unrelated question, but a blog post idea: The NT manuscript tradition is fairly sparse before the fourth century. It is often observed we can nonetheless see earlier traditions of the text from early church father quotations of the NT. Some have noted that most of the NT can be reconstructed from the early church fathers. If one compares the earlier quotations of the church fathers from before the third century with the earliest manuscript tradition of the third and fourth centures, how do they compare, generally?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      Good idea. This happens to be the area that I wrote my dissertation on. So maybe I will post on it (if I haven’t already!)

  3. Avatar
    justjudy6  May 15, 2015

    Good job! I just have problems understanding why you have to put so much energy into these kinds of thoughts. I like better, by far, your discourse on Second Thesseloians. Or your understandings about how the canon was selected (by man). But, if you have to go through this–Well, it is interesting. Hope you feel better soon.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      Thanks! But I’m feelin’ just fine!

      • talitakum
        talitakum  May 16, 2015

        I tend to agree with justjudy6’s impression. More than that, talking about theological aspects trying to show how irrational, illogical and ultimately stupid Christian beliefs are, it has nothing to deal with Christianity in Antiquity and doesn’t provide any positive contribute to anybody. You can see it from reactions here. If I want to read bad polemics, upset people and ill-informed discussions I have Facebook and tons of websites.
        I obviously don’t want to defend your old buddies, not at all. If you think that the best answer is a theological discussion about Heaven, Hell, God and Satan, let it be. I’m just concerned by the poor (oversimplified?) theological approach adopted, just to show how illogical, silly and ultimately stupid Christian belief is. I think this goes beyond a straight critique to your old buddies, in a bad way. Some may even think that your convictions about such “stupidity” could influence your scholar books, exactly how it happens to conservative scholars with their theological agenda.

  4. Avatar
    Matt7  May 15, 2015

    If God wants us to love our enemies, wouldn’t it be just a little bit hypocritical of Him to have His enemies tortured forever? And would having people tortured be an example of treating them the way He would want to be treated? If He really will be watching people being tormented forever, then the words “His mercy endures forever” have no meaning.

    • Avatar
      BrotherofJared  November 24, 2016

      And my I point out that in addition to doing this to “enemies” who probably deserve such punishment, this punishment is also given to those who are completely ignorant of any of these beliefs.

  5. Avatar
    Steefen  May 15, 2015

    Bart Ehrman: My view, of course, is that there is not going to *be* a judgment day

    Steefen: Some human beings are reincarnated. People who explore their subconscious give accounts of their life between incarnations. Yes, those people were judged about their life before death.

    Can you sincerely walk over to the Psychology Department, talk with professors about:

    reincarnation cases,
    – Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives by Jim Tucker
    – Old Souls: Compelling Evidence from Children Who Remember Past Lives by Tom Schroder
    – Patton: Many Lives, Many Battles: General Patton and Reincarnation by Karl Hollenbach
    – Kundun: A Biography of the Family of the Dalai Lama by Mary Craig

    then Michael Newton’s books and foundation? They are
    – Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life between Lives;
    – Destiny of Souls: New Case Studies of Life between Lives;
    – Memories of the Afterlife: Life between Lives, Stories of Personal Transformation; newtoninstitute.org

    and get back to us?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      My sense is that most professional psychologists do not believe in reincarnation.

    • Avatar
      achase79  May 20, 2015

      Back when I considered this more seriously, I read several books by the most scholarly person I could find who believed in reincarnation – Ian Stevenson. The stories seemed plausible enough for me, well documented, etc. But eventually I eventually read Mary Roach’s “Spook.” In one chapter she follows one of Dr. Stevenson’s workers on a trip through India, and shows how it’s easy for humans to conform to social pressures and how there’s often a bigger story behind the reincarnation stories. I recommend “Spook” for anyone who’s interested in the phenomena of reincarnation stories. It certainly does not disprove them all, but for me personally, there was a kind of click – “Oh, *that’s* how there could be incredible reincarnation stories with good documentation, but they still might not be true.”

      • Avatar
        Steefen  May 21, 2015

        A 2 out of 5 Star Review of Spook found helpful by 28/35 people.
        “Let me begin by saying that Mary Roach is an excellent researcher and a deft writer. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she is immature and there is way too much Mary in this book. Reading this book is like spending an afternoon with a precocious 12 year old boy. At first she is somewhat amusing, but quickly becomes ill-mannered, whiny, and rude. By the end of the afternoon, you are quite eager to return the boorish, annoying little brat to her parents. She has a mean streak, and when I say mean I’m talking Ann Coulter-mean. She makes fun of people’s names, looks, dress, and how they talk. (As a researcher, this shows terribly bad form–you do not insult those who have been kind enough to help you write the book). She also an unsettling and frequent habit of including something gross every chance she gets. I lost count of the number of times she digressed into some tangent involving bodily functions. Then she has the nerve to write something like, “It’s always underpants with these guys.” No, Mary, it’s always underpants with YOU. The title of the book is meant to mislead, by the way (I’m sure Mary snickered when the publisher informed her about the chosen subtitle as she knew it would pull in the “suckers.”) The title should actually be “A Skeptic’s Cynical Guide to Wackos who Believe in the Afterlife.” Mary should not be allowed out of her room until she becomes a grown-up.”

        The conclusion of skeptics and ridiculers are not reliable. The skeptic and ridiculer is not more scientific than the non-skeptic and non-ridiculer.

  6. Avatar
    dmondeel  May 15, 2015

    You sound sure of your rationalizations and I totally agree with them, with some thanks to your efforts. I hope you feel at peace with your positions.

  7. Avatar
    doug  May 15, 2015

    If you get to hell before I do, please save me a good seat!

  8. Avatar
    Whipplebob  May 15, 2015

    Om. He who is rich in the knowledge of Self does not covet external power or possession. Om.

    Amen. May the peace of God keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God. Amen.

    I have faith in God but do not define her. I have love for God but call her by no single name. I have faith in you Bart. I have love for you Bart. I can call you by the name Bart but the Atman that you are I call no single name. We will not burn in hell nor walk on streets of gold when we depart this body. My faith is that we have always been Atman always will be Brahman, Allah, God, Atman, ……. I hold faith in God and seek her daily in myself and creation. God bless you Bart. And keep up your good work.

  9. ZekePiestrup
    ZekePiestrup  May 15, 2015

    Game of Thrones, tribalism. Other is evil. Perhaps.

  10. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  May 15, 2015

    I went through a similar thought process while leaving my former religion. Fundamentalists have a faulty moral hierarchy. Jesus laid things out pretty clearly, as you point out. Sorting out morality in the real world is difficult at best and getting the priorities wrong makes it impossible.

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 15, 2015

    I admire your courage in trying to discuss these issues. I have always seen you as one who thinks it is extremely important to critically examine crucial questions and has a passion about helping others do the same: nothing more, nothing less.

    I also think it doesn’t makes sense to think that God would condemn so many of us to Hell forever just because we don’t have the correct beliefs about something that happened 2,000 years ago described, by just four authors who were not eyewitnesses writing four or so decades after the described events, in ways that often contradict one another.

    I think all of this stirs up so much because people really care about these issues of “ultimate concern.”

    Please keep going with blogs on this subject because many of us have encountered similar reactions from those, including spouses, relatives, and friends we care about.

  12. Avatar
    godspell  May 15, 2015

    Bart, what this brings to my mind is two very different sayings of Jesus in the gospels. In Mark, Jesus says “Whoever is not against us is for us.” In Matthew, it has become “Whoever is not for me is against me.”

    Would the same man really have said both those things? And we know which saying was written down first. We also know that the author Matthew was writing under different circumstances. Circumstances that were more adversarial in their nature.

    To me, the true Christian attitude–that I see in many Christians–is the former. All men and women of good will are to be welcomed as allies, treated as brothers and sisters, and perhaps even learned from. This is certainly something I saw in many of the Catholics I grew up with, even though many also showed that other attitude–that those who were not good Catholics were, by definition, against Jesus (that would, of course, include your former classmates at Moody, shocked as they might be to hear it, but then who cares what Papist scum think?). Thomas Merton and others looked for the common threads of belief that united all people–they didn’t try to say they were the only possessors of truth. They wanted to know what others had learned.

    We see the true Christian attitude now in Pope Francis, who is doing his best to channel his namesake, who was doing his best to live the gospel message as he read it–which was that all humans–and animals–were connected. St. Francis even went to preach the gospel to a Sultan–at enormous risk to his life–and when the man responded with grace and generosity (while some of his courtiers said kill the blaspheming infidel), Francis was moved–and puzzled. He could not believe such a man was damned to hellfire. And yet he remained true to his own beliefs–which weren’t so very different from what Francis believed.

    I don’t believe in God either, I suppose–but I believe in good people. Isn’t it really the same thing? Wasn’t that was Jesus was really saying? That God is inside us? Waiting for us to let Him out?

  13. Avatar
    Colin P  May 15, 2015

    Good series of posts Bart.

    Of course, your ex-Moody class mates would say that it is God that will judge you. They are not judging you. They are just concerned for your welfare!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      Yup, I agree!

    • Avatar
      godspell  May 15, 2015

      Yeah, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who ring my bell in the early morning are concerned for my welfare.

      I think they believe that, but I also think that prostelyzing is a way of trying to affirm the validity of one’s own beliefs. People with very deep faith are not concerned that much with whether everyone else believes as they do. People whose faith is not so deep can become very insecure–even angry–when faced with people who don’t share their beliefs.

      And worst of all is the backslider. The one who fell from grace.

      What’s really baffling is that you see the same thing from many atheists, as Bart has experienced in his attempts to persuade them that yes, Jesus was a real person. I think they’re ‘concerned’ for him in much the same way as his Moody classmates. He bothers them much more than an avowed Christian defending the historical Jesus ever would.

      This is what comes of not picking a dogma and sticking with it. This is what comes of wanting to actually think.

  14. Avatar
    Lawyerskeptic  May 15, 2015

    As a lawyer, a make legal analogies. I agree with you that hell is “cruel and unusual punishment,” but I worry more about ambiguity. I could believe in an angry God, but not an incoherent God. Under the U.S. Constitution, a law is “void for vagueness” if it does not (1) give actual notice of its meaning and (2) provide sufficiently definite guidelines to prevent arbitrary enforcement.

    Fundamentalists talk about God’s plan of salvation, but the devil is in the details. The Bible has no clear guidance on whether babies go to hell (Google “salvation of infants”). If babies do not go to hell, exactly how does God draw the line when a baby raised in a Muslim family? Does God cut him any slack for honoring his father and mother? I can think of the following gray areas.

    justification by works or faith
    before Christ/after Christ
    competent/mentally impaired
    one saved, always saved/apostates damned

    What about a Jewish preteen who believed after hearing Jesus speak the Sermon on the Mount, lost faith after the crucifixion and died before the resurrection? What about Kunta Kinte? Does he go to hell for refusing to believe in the white master’s God?

    If, during your fundamentalist days, I had asked you for a clear plan of salvation that covers all these issues, what would you have told me?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2015

      I would have said that there are lots of cases that I don’t know about, but some that I do — including modern skeptics who reject the gospel message! They are condemned. (!)

    • Avatar
      Steefen  May 16, 2015

      “Debate about Man-Made and Defeated Gods vs Gods Still Standing”

      Globally, there is more than the God of Moses and Israel despite the attempts to make a claim that the God of Moses/Israel is the greatest notion of God. The God of Moses/Israel/Temple Judaism was defeated. We are obligated to consider the immediate greater God/s, Jupiter for one, the God/s of Emperor Vespasian and Emperor Titus, both generals that brought down Galilee, Jerusalem, the Temple, its Holy of Holies for the God of Moses/Israel and Jesus who, according to tradition, called the Temple of Temple Judaism, his father’s house of prayer, his God who he thought he knew so well that that notion was his Father.

      The Planet Jupiter was the God of the Romans at that time. We ask if the God of Moses/Israel/Jesus is still acting in world affairs. We must also ask if Jupiter is still acting in world affairs. The answer is yes. All you have to do is read

      Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas

      and you come across gods not made by man. Sure, people can keep the god of a people alive (God of Moses/Israel); but, Jupiter was made by the Sun and the Sun was made by a nebula within the galaxy–all not made by a species which by a long shot was not the first species on Earth, also, a planet not made by this late-coming species, Homo sapiens sapiens.

      Free yourself to move forward in truth.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  May 17, 2015

      Lawyer Skeptic: Fundamentalists talk about God’s plan of salvation, but the devil is in the details. The Bible has no clear guidance on whether babies go to hell (Google “salvation of infants”). If babies do not go to hell, exactly how does God draw the line when a baby is raised in a Muslim family?

      Steefen: The God of Israel, Moses, and Jesus is somebody’s Heavenly Father, even if not the Heavenly Father of those outside the Children of Abraham (Jews, Christians, and Muslims).

      Muslims (with their 99 Names of Allah) and Christians recognize God as Compassionate, God as Merciful. The Grace of God is coupled with the details of salvation that you see lacking.

  15. Avatar
    qaelith2112  May 15, 2015

    Even those of us who aren’t so much in the public eye have had similar experiences with people who are affiliated with Fundamentalism. I’ve come to the conclusion that the mere existence of people who have different beliefs is offensive and/or troubling to people who have fundamentalist leanings, and that merely expressing an opinion which is in disagreement with a fundamentalist worldview, no matter how that expression is packaged, is sometimes (perhaps often?) taken as an assault and as an all-out deliberate effort to lead people astray. It really is a shame. This makes it difficult to even have an outwardly stated opinion, or to engage in an honestly friendly conversation with no intent to offend or attack without being treated as a hostile opponent.

    You’re a magnet for all of that to a greater degree than most of us because of your greater visibility and wider audience. A typical person such as me posts a viewpoint in a forum somewhere and I’m read by maybe a dozen people, whereas everything you might say outside your home has a potential of being read by tens of thousands. Some proportion of those are going to have views which inevitably take anything and everything you say as offensive and hostile, no matter how polite and pleasant it might be, and worse that some of those have crossed paths with you at some point in the past and might also see you as a traitor of sorts. I guess I’d see similar reactions if I were to ever run across any of my old church associates from decades ago (former Southern Baptist).

  16. Avatar
    MikeDavis  May 15, 2015

    Hi Bart,

    Since your post was about “judgment,” it reminded me that I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to do a post at some point on the meaning of the historical Jesus’ teachings about judging others.

    One often hears Christians and others accusing people of being “judgmental.” Or, they say things like “we shouldn’t judge…,” etc. etc. I get the impression that people think that Jesus meant that we have no right to think or say anything about another’s behavior, whatever it may be. To criticize someone for lying, for example, would be judging that person, and that would be wrong.

    Yet it seems to me that Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as being at times harshly “judgmental” of the scribes and pharisees. Was he disobeying his own teachings? It occurs to me that if one says that someone else is being judgmental, is that in itself being judgmental of the person he or she is calling judgmental? And is not our whole judicial system based on passing judgment?

    And then of course, there is the whole notion of judging “righteous judgment.”

    It would be interesting to see a post that discusses these things.



  17. Avatar
    Judith  May 15, 2015

    …glad none of your classmates has been appointed judge was funny. Being not particularly amused by profanity, obscenity, vulgarity, it’s good to laugh when finding something funny in one of your posts. And most days I do!

    Just as Tolstoy’s Kitty (Anna Karenina) never felt concern that Levin was not a believer and Kitty’s sister even thought of him as a kind of warm saint, I have no doubt your family and friends see you the same way. One of your bloggers said you are more Christ-like than any Christian he knew. You are going to be fine come Judgment Day.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 16, 2015

      Ha, I’m just finishing Anna Karenina now! (for the third time)

  18. Avatar
    Judith  May 15, 2015

    I should have added IMHO.

  19. Rick
    Rick  May 17, 2015

    Don’t worry about leading me astray…. George Carlin got there first!

  20. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  May 17, 2015

    “I’m glad none of my classmates has been appointed to be the judge!”. Ha! You’re funny!
    What do you think of Spinoza’s view of God?
    Thanks, as always.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 18, 2015

      To my shame I have to admit that I’ve never studied Spinoza. But pantheistic views have never, as a rule, held much attraction for me.

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