Is the Bible Consistent on Death?

Elynna asks:

Is the Bible consistent on the subject of death? Does the O.T. say the same thing as the N.T. Reading my Bible it Jesus seems to imply that if you believe in Him you may die physically but spiritually you live on. What are the facts.

5 Responses to Is the Bible Consistent on Death?

  1. The Atheist says:

    The Hebrew Bible (the “Old Testament”) was written over a period of 1000 years, from around 1500 bce to around 400 bce; it represents a Judaism that evolved over time. The New Testament was written from around 50 ce to around 160 ce (at the outside) and represents a Christianity that evolved over time. As one would expect in a library of documents written over such a long span of time, beliefs about many issues, including death, have changed. It would be fair to say that the Bible is “inconsistent” about the subject of death, but it might be more interesting to trace how the concept of death evolved. We might start by looking at the various words in the Bible that are often translated into English as “hell” to see how common-place concepts about death in the Hebrew Bible became more spiritualized concepts by the time of the New Testament writers.

    “Sheol” means the “grave” or “pit” in Hebrew. According to Job, Genesis, Psalms, and Isaiah, all dead spent their eternity in Sheol (the grave). Both the wicked went there (Psa 9:17; 31:17; 49:14; Isa 5:14), and the righteous went there (Gen 37:35; Job 14:13; Psa 6:5; 16:10; 88:3; Isa 38:10). The origin of the word, “Sheol” is uncertain, but it may be derived from a root word meaning “to ask” or “to demand”, hence ‘never enough’ and ‘never satisfied’ in Pro 30:15,16. Sheol in the Hebrew Bible can be understood as a physical place that could also be symbolic of an unknown place. There are no definitive claims of an afterlife of any sort in Sheol.

    Sheol is equated with Hades in the New Testament. Compare Psa 16:10 with Act 2:27, and compare 1Co 15:54,55 with Isa 25:8 and Hos 13:14. Luke divided Hades into two distinct places: where the rich man was (Luk 16:19-31) and where Lazarus was (Luk 23:43). A “great gulf” divides the two regions of Hades (Luk 16:26). Jesus descended into Hades after His death (Act 2:27,31; Eph 4:9). By the time of the New Testament writers, the concept of Hades had evolved into a spiritual place where the conscious spirit dwells.

    The word Gehenna comes from the Hebrew “ga ben Hinnom” – “ga” means valley, “ben” means son, and “Hinnom” is a name. Gehenna was a physical place around Jerusalem – the valley of Hinnom was one of the two large valleys surrounding the “Old City” (Jos 15:8, 18:16).
    Idolatrous Jews allegedly sacrificed their children to Molech in Gehenna (2Ch 28:3, 33:6; Jer 7:31, 19:2-6). Gehenna later came to mean the common garbage dump for Jerusalem where trash, animal carcasses, and the dead bodies of criminals were burned in Gehenna by a perpetual fire.

    Gehenna is mentioned in Matthiew (5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33), in Mark (9:43,45,47), Luke (12:5) and James (3:6). As many other concepts in the New Testament, the idea of Gehenna is more spiritualized than it’s original idea in the Hebrew Bible.

    2 Peter 2:4 mentions Tartarus, a “hell” of Greek mythology. Tartarus means “shivering cold” and was a dungeon of torment and suffering beneath the underworld. The Greek notion of Hell is more inline with the New Testament concept than the Hebrew Bible concept.

    An explicit afterlife in the Bible seems to be a more recent concept that may be rooted more in Greek thought than in early Jewish thought. For early Jews, people die and spend eternity in the grave. For Christians, people die and have an eternal afterlife in either Heaven or Hell.

  2. humanitarikim says:

    I just had the strangest (?) thing happen to me. Usually when I read other people’s blogs the voice I hear in my head reading the words is my own, unless I know them personally in which case the voice I hear reading the words is my interpretation of their actual voice. As I was reading this particular post, your words were being read in my mind by the voice of Ben Stein! I just found that kind of funny and thought I would share. I know if has absolutely NOTHING to do with your particular post, but…

    I did enjoy this one. I have been delving into how the Bible has changed throughout time and has been re-written by many so this seemed to be right on topic with what I’ve been reading about lately.

    • The Atheist says:

      Ha! That’s hilarious! I really love Ben Stein – really sharp guy with a great over-the-top deadpan presentation. I assure you, I don’t sound or look anything like him though :)

  3. PhoenixGray says:

    My understanding of the concept of Sheol in the Old Testament is a word that is used in different places to mean different things. The idea of death through the New and Old Testament is used sometimes in the sense of spiritual death, and sometimes in the sense of physical death.

    This is a question I don’t have a comprehensive answer to, but I wouldn’t mind exploring it with you. First, I would point out that in every example of the “righteous going to Sheol” that you pointed out, the reference to death in those passages are clearly metaphorical or hypothetical. In fact, in one it even says “because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful[a] one see decay.” which is certainly not a statement that the righteous go there. Of course, according to the Acts passage, this was a prophetic word, not a direct statement about the author himself.

    Also, we should clear up the understanding of “righteous”. In the Bible, no person is righteous of their own accord except Christ himself.

    Thirdly, there were Jews that agreed with you! There is a passage in Mark 12:24-27 where Jesus responds to this very question.

    In Job 14:14, there is a clear expectation of a resurrection to come.

    The biblical standpoint is that the Old Testament speaks of resurrection, but not of the final destination. That was left for the final stage of revelation through Christ. There is a passage that states that God withheld judgment on those that died before Christ so that if they had faith they would have their sins paid for by Christ as well, but I can’t find it at the moment. I’ll have to ask around and get back to you.

  4. The Atheist says:

    Hi, PhoenixGray. I would be very interested in exploring the concept of Sheol. Do you have a particular method you like to use for categorizing a statement as metaphorical or hypothetical? If not, might that a good place to start the discussion?

    I’m not sure if your comment about the meaning of Righteous is key to understanding the concept of Sheol. If not, maybe we can talk about that in a different thread. On the other hand, if it is a correlated concept, let me point out that Righteousness in the Hebrew Bible seems to be a different concept than Righteousness in the New Testament.

    Job 14:14 is likely a reference to “The World To Come” which some schools of Judaism believed in (and still do). It is important to note that the Hebrew Bible per se doesn’t speak of a resurrection, rather some of the books that represent some of the branches of Judaism speak of The World To Come.

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