In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk about what the Bible has to say about the afterlife as they explore the following questions:
- How did the biblical authors understand the afterlife?
- Is the New Testament’s main focus on the afterlife?
- What does the Old Testament say about Sheol?
- What is salvation in the Old Testament?
- What was considered a life well lived in ancient times?
- How does the idea of the afterlife justify God?
- Where is a firm concept of the afterlife first mentioned in the Bible?
- How is apocalyptic literature related to the afterlife?
- What can ancient history tell us about the development and understanding of the afterlife?
- What is the apocalypse according to the New Testament?
- Did Paul believe what other Jews at the time believed or were his ideas original?
- What is the difference between resurrection and the afterlife?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete and Jared you can share.
- “For a lot of the Old Testament, it’s kind of silent on what happens when you die. It’s more interested… in your legacy living on in the life of your kids.” @jbyas
- “Resurrection and afterlife are related but they’re not the same thing.” @peteenns
- “Anything about eternal conscious torment when you die is by nature speculative and you’re outside the realm of biblical studies at that point.” @jbyas
- “There’s no real clear notion of afterlife, at least nothing that we want to be a part of in the Old Testament.” @peteenns
- “The Bible doesn’t get to constrain the questions we ask.” @jbyas
- “It’s legitimate and it’s appropriate and it’s healthy and important, actually, to ask questions that the Bible isn’t equipped to even ask.” @jbyas
Mentioned in This Episode
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Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty Intro Music]
Jared: Welcome everyone to this episode of The Bible for Normal People. Today we’re gonna talk about the afterlife.
Pete: Hmm, death.
Jared: What happens when we die?
Jared: Yeah. But, you know…
Pete: This is the Bible for Normal People and normal people die.
Jared: Because when you get up on a Monday morning, you really need that pick me up –
Jared: That real smile on your face. What better to do that than to talk about your death?
Pete: Yeah. Actually, this is my request. Jared’s gonna talk me off a ledge here, case I’m like, 59, and every joint in my body is rebelling at this moment, and I’ve been trying to, I’ve been trying, I think I can avoid death if I try hard enough.
Pete: I think I have a plan. It involves the gym, and a juicer, and I think I can probably make it.
Jared: Man, every infomercial producer in the world is loving you right now.
Pete: [In typical announcer voice]
This episode brought to you by…
Pete: No death fruit juice.
Jared: Oh man.
Pete: Oh gosh, alright. Well, ya know, it is a topic though.
Jared: Well, I hate to break it to you, cause you are gonna die.
Pete: We’re all gonna die.
Jared: So it does affect us all, and we want to just look at –
Pete: Ugghhhh. Gosh.
Jared: What does the Bible have to say about it? And I think we might be surprised –
Pete: About dying or about the afterlife?
Jared: About the afterlife.
Pete: Yeah, that’s okay.
Jared: But we might be surprised by what is says and doesn’t say.
Jared: I think.
Pete: Yeah, I think so. Once you start looking for it, it’s like, wait a minute….
Jared: Yeah! Well, I can just, I can share. Maybe we can test our, how we grew up, and you can tell me if this is similar for you. But for me, growing up, it was a pretty much a foregone conclusion that Christianity, that the Bible taught that when you die, you become this soul. Your body stays in the ground, your soul is sent up to heaven, and then you’re just with God. I think, when I was really young, I pretty much just assumed I was singing hymns, I guess?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: Forever? In this like, looked eerily like the church I grew up in.
Jared: And that’s just pretty much what happened when you died. That was the afterlife.
Pete: It wasn’t a big blue background with fluffy clouds?
Jared: No, it was like red scratchy cushions and –
Pete: It is interesting. What do we think of, right –
Pete: With afterlife and I wonder what ancient people thought of, you know? We do have some clues in the Bible, I guess. But yeah, it’s like, I mean, it is afterlife we’re talking about, so it’s basically, I guess postmortem something, right?
Pete: So after life and you know, things like resurrection come into that, into play with that, but I think we’re really not talking about whether any of that is something that is real or true, right? We’re just thinking out loud here really, about how the Bible presents it, and then thoughts that a lot of people today have about this issue, which, you know, cause your point I guess, the Bible doesn’t really nail it.
Pete: It’s almost like it’s not even the main point, which is ironic, right? Because we’re raised to think the whole point of this is to “go to heaven when you die.”
Pete: And I’m not so sure, in fact, I am sure that that’s not really the central issue in the New Testament at least. And certainly not in the Old Testament.
Jared: Right, well let’s start with the Old Testament because we have various notions here of what happens when we die. And again, I think it’s, I think there’s something I can sense hesitancy in your voice and in mine to even talk about this because it’s not that central –
Pete: No, it’s cause I’m dying.
Jared: In the Bible.
Jared: It’s not that central in the Bible, so even, it is a little strange because it was so central for my, for me, thinking, growing up of –
Jared: What Christianity is all about, but the more you read the Bible, you realize, oh, it’s not really, it’s not really a thing.
Pete: Yeah, and my students are shocked when we just talk about it. I say matter of factly:
There’s no real clear notion of afterlife, at least nothing that we want to be a part of in the Old Testament.
What?? It’s not there?
Yeah, it sort of developed.
It developed?! What do you mean it developed?? Isn’t the Bible all supposed to be the same thing cause it’s God’s word?
Well, yeah, I guess, whatever. But, the fact remains, right? That we don’t have much to go on. We have that place Sheol –
Jared: Yeah, so let’s talk about Sheol.
Pete: Yeah. Sheol, which is like, the afterlife word in the Old Testament.
Jared: Mm hmm, right. Where does it show up?
Pete: All over the place. Yeah, I mean, it’s common, but the thing is that it seems to not have one clear notion of what it is, you know? It’s just the place, it’s sort of like Hades in Greek. It’s the abode of the dead, it’s just where you go. So, there’s some sort of postmortem something.
Jared: Mm hmm. But it’s like a neutral zone, right?
Pete: Yes. It’s not hell.
Pete: It’s not heaven. That notion is essentially foreign to the Old Testament, which is sort of a wakeup call right there, you know? It’s like, whatever is happening in our Bible, if there are any shifts in the New Testament, and I think there are, but they’re also shifts in Judaism later on. It’s a developing notion, but back in the old days, it’s –
Jared: Where do we, do you know where the phrase Sheol comes from? Like, what does it represent, or what, you know, cause we call it Hades, but Hades is a Greek term, so that kind of developed within Greek culture. What’s Sheol?
Pete: I mean, in terms of where it comes from, to be frank, I don’t know and I’m not sure if anybody knows. You see foot notes in study Bibles that say things like, yeah, this is the place where dead people go, and that’s about it. But, you know, you catch glimpses of it in various places, like Psalms for example. Or hey, you know, you don’t want me to die do you, oh Lord, cause in Sheol no one praises you. So, it’s a place where, you know, it’s not singing harps. You know, singing with harps and clouds or something.
Pete: It’s a place where, it’s like you don’t have your normal existence. You know, it’s like –
Jared: Yeah, you don’t have a lot of agency or –
Pete: No, exactly.
Jared: Yeah. Right, right.
Pete: You’re just floating somewhere.
Jared: Yeah, you’re just floating. I guess is what I always pictured it as.
Pete: Right, right.
Jared: Hmm. Well, and then, so we have Sheol, which we see in various parts of the Old Testament. And it’s often in more, wouldn’t it be more in poetic things I think of, like in the Psalms I think of Sheol quite a bit, like Psalm 139.
Jared: Even if I go down to, I think it’s one of those verses in 139. Even if I go down to Sheol, you know, God is still there.
Jared: So, we have that as a notion.
Pete: Which is already a diversity in Sheol, someplace, it’s almost like God is absent form you completely and yet other places, right –
Jared: God isn’t.
Pete: God isn’t, so again, it’s like, maybe they’re working it out themselves.
Pete: Maybe they’re thinking about it. Like, what happens to, no seriously, what happens to us when we die?
Pete: I’m not kidding now, you know?
Jared: [Continued laughter]
Pete: And you read stuff in narratives, you know, you said poetic stuff, like, to be gathered with your fathers, or to be buried with your fathers. Which is a way of saying you’re dying –
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: Or you’re dead, but it’s a good kind of death and it’s a sign of a blessedness in death and then your life continues in your offspring, which is why offspring are so important.
Jared: Yeah, so, maybe let’s even backtrack before Sheol, because Sheol was the idea of an afterlife, but for a lot of the Old Testament, it’s kind of silent on what happens when you die. It’s more interested – which I think is an important thing to say – I think it’s more interested in your legacy living on in the life of your kids.
Pete: Mm hmm, right.
Jared: That’s sort of how you know you lived a good life and that’s how you live on into the future, is through your kids.
Pete: Yeah! Which is not, I mean, I don’t know, I know people today who think a lot like that.
Pete: Even if they think of afterlife in some other way, you just, you wanna, like, how do you wanna die? In a bed, with your family around you, and your kids.
Jared: Mm hmm, when you’re old.
Pete: When you’re old, right!
You forgot that important part.
Pete: Not like, right away.
Pete: Oh, we’re laughing about death.
Jared: Ah, yes.
Pete: Yeah, so, I mean, it’s something that is, it indicates a, like, you’ve died well, blessed by God and you’re gathered with your fathers, which, well, doesn’t that mean afterlife consciousness? I mean, frankly, there’s no indication of that. It could, or it could just mean you can be buried in the same country as your fathers.
Jared: I was gonna say, you literally be gathered with your fathers.
Pete: Yeah, right. And you’re all there together, and maybe, I mean, I’d like to think there’s some speculation there on the part of the ancient Israelites thinking, well, maybe if we keep ‘em all together, right?
Yeah, then in the afterlife they’re not gonna get lost.
Pete: Yeah, so they’re all buried, I mean Abraham and Sarah buried in the same place, you know, stuff like that. So –
Jared: Well, I think I emphasize that because growing up where the emphasis was so much on the other-worldliness of faith, and I always appreciated learning and reading authors like Jon Levenson and others where they really emphasized that it’s, there is a way to die well without necessarily a belief in eternally living on forever. And I think that’s important, especially because there are people of other faiths and there are people of no faith who I want to respect and honor their way of kind of living long lives and dying well, and it doesn’t always have to include this anxiety of getting people saved so they have this long, eternal life –
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: Which, I mean, for me, I appreciate that. It kind of calmed my anxiety to say hey, a lot of the Old Testament doesn’t seem concerned about that. It’s concerned about, life is tragic if it’s cut short, life is good if it’s long and you have children who can carry your name.
Pete: And if it’s cut short because you’re righteous, or good, I mean, that’s tragic but it’s also something to be honored, especially later on in Judaism.
Jared: Mm hmm, yeah.
Pete: So, you mentioned salvation, which is a good thing to, maybe just, to tie into this because, you know, what salvation means in the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament is not, you’re on safe ground when you die and that’s exactly the assumption that I think Christians have made. It’s not an assumption. They’ve highlighted maybe some few things in the New Testament that might indicate that, although I’m not very sure about that, but salvation, like in Luke’s gospel at the beginning when Jesus is born to salvation is to save the people from their enemies – that’s salvation. And salvation, redemption, deliverance – words like that in the Old Testament – it is a “this life” thing. There’s simply no question about that.
Pete: You can’t really debate that, it’s God shows God’s presence by delivering people from enemies, and that’s the preoccupation in some of the Psalms and elsewhere.
Jared: Yeah. So, we have, kind of thinking about the afterlife we have this idea of one notion that says, well, in a lot of places maybe the assumption is they didn’t really know what to do with the afterlife, but it was really more about long life, having posterity, legacy. Then we have this idea of Sheol, which is kind of this neutral, it’s always gray in my head for some reason, it’s like the neutral zone.
Pete: Yeah. I feel like some scene in some Disney movie, which one is it, where, I forget which one.
It might be Hercules or something, you know what I mean?
Jared: Oh, yeah yeah. Mm hmm.
Pete: What, it’s like, the River Styx!
Jared: Yeah, it is Hercules.
Pete: Like, they’re floating in there like, uuughhhrhhhh, but –
That’s right! Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.
Pete: It’s just not a place you want to go, but it’s a place you’re inevitably going to go, and –
Jared: Right, but you’re not tortured actively.
Jared: It’s not hell.
Pete: There’s no devil down there. There might be, not in the Bible, but elsewhere there is somebody who’s in charge. There’s a deity in charge of this place to not let you out because you want to get out.
Jared: Right, right.
Pete: But you’re just sort of there in the Old Testament, that’s it.
Jared: Well, and then I want to point out Ecclesiastes, because in chapter three, that old doubter –
Jared: Talks about, you know, who knows whether the soul goes up or the spirit goes up.
Jared: I don’t know what the Hebrew there is, is it ruah, breath?
Pete: I don’t remember. Yeah, there’s yeah, nephesh maybe, but probably not.
Pete: Yeah, we need to look up, we need to prepare for these podcasts, don’t we?
It’s in the Bible for heaven’s sake!
Jared: Well, I figured you had the whole Bible memorized in Hebrew, Pete!
Pete: Our listeners can look this stuff up. They’re fine. We’re not gonna tax them with too much information, but…
Jared: But anyway, in Ecclesies… Ecclesies? Clesies.
Jared: Gee wiz.
Pete: Who knows if the spirit of man goes up and the animal goes down?
Pete: Which is interesting they’d already assumed some things.
Jared: That’s right.
Jared: Yeah, there seems to be something in the air, right, already.
Pete: And this is a post-exilic second temple text. And that’s important, I mean, people disagree on when it was written, but very few people say earlier than the fifth century, and some say even a little bit later. So, you already have developments there of a different way of conceiving of the afterlife, and it’s just sort of thrown at you here in chapter three. It’s like you’re just supposed to know what to do with this, right. Now, he’s doubting it entirely, right?
Pete: But the thing is, he’s doubting it. What the it? The it came from somewhere and it didn’t come from the rest of the Old Testament. It didn’t come from pre-exilic Old Testament texts.
Pete: It came from somewhere, and that’s the interesting thing.
Jared: Right, well, let’s maybe go into that, because I think that ties into, there’s definitely a phase, right? So, if we’re talking older, you know, talk about pre-exilic. So, we’re talking, you know, sixth century and before –
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: Israelite kind of belief and practice, as we, at least as we have it kind of recorded in the Bible. That’s where we have, kind of, not a lot to go on.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: There’s just not a lot there. We have this Sheol, but then as we get closer and we start getting to post-exilic, which is important because now we’ve got all these other people groups starting to intermingle with the Jewish people, and we start getting Hellenistic influences and other things that starts to shape. It’s interesting, you talked about development earlier, how the afterlife concept kind of develops and it develops, coincidentally or not, obviously not, with these people groups that are now bringing their own ideas about the afterlife into it. So, can you talk a little bit about that around when this would be and kind of what those influences would be?
Pete: Yeah, I mean, in the context of other cultures who maybe have their own views on things, and also theologically in response to things that stop making sense to them. So, I mean, with Ecclesiastes, that’s a good question where he’s getting this from and I’m not sure if we can say with any certainty, but there’s something in the air and is it the result of Babylonian influence, or is it maybe Persian influence? Some people say that.
Jared: Well, let’s make that explicit. So, what we’re saying is, there is a belief in the culture in which Ecclesiastes is written, where the spirit, there’s a belief that the spirit of people goes up, presumably to heaven to be with God –
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: And the spirit of animals go down into the ground to be, who knows?
Pete: Yeah. What are they doing down there?
Jared: Annihilated, whatever.
Pete: Is this a conscious spirit goes down with animals?
Pete: Do animals go to heaven? No Billy, they all go to hell. They go down there, so, ya know.
But, so there’s this, that’s kind of the, it seems like that’s the belief that Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, is assuming.
Pete: He’s calling into question a lot of stuff.
Pete: That we would consider to be, you know, fairly straightforward, like, orthodox Biblical teaching, and he’s skeptical.
Pete: He’s skeptical because he’s somewhat of an evidentialist –
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: Like, he doesn’t see the effects of things and so he says, who knows? We don’t actually, I mean, it’s actually, it’s sort of refreshing.
Jared: Yeah! I mean, he’s kind of right. We don’t know!
Pete: He goes, hey pal, we don’t actually know anything. So, like, in other words, you can’t, I’ve heard people sort of try to correct the negativity of this guy, Qoheleth as you called him in Ecclesiastes, and say well, he doesn’t have, you know, an understanding of like, when you die you go to heaven and everything is going to be okay. He’s saying, I’ve thought through that one, and I don’t know that it’s there, do you know that it’s there? I just, I don’t know, I find it a little bit refreshing.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: But he doesn’t dwell on that, you know, it’s really just a little bit there in chapter three and that’s it. So, we catch a glimpse –
Jared: Mm hmm, but, you know, again, like you said – there’s definitely an influence, and it’s not coming from the rest of the Old Testament that this influence is coming. You said it could be Babylonian influence, it could be –
Jared: Could it be Greek influence at this point?
Pete: Maybe, if it’s that late.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: And if it’s that late, it would have to be –
Jared: It’d be real late, like second century.
Pete: It might even be the third century at the earliest. And there are some people who think Ecclesiastes is that late, it’s possible, it’s hard to tell. But it’s coming from, I mean, I think it’s enough to say it’s coming from some type of reasoning process or influence that is after the tragedy of exile, which maybe is something that got people thinking about a whole lot of stuff.
Pete: This could come to an end any minute, ya know? And so, I mean, that’s, apart from that what else? We have Daniel, right? I mean, Daniel 12?
Jared: Yeah, ‘til we get to the New Testament.
Pete: Yeah. Until we get to the New Testament, and there’s stuff in between too, but, ya know, Daniel is another one where, there we have what seems to be a clearer notion of something postmortem and it’s a context of judgement, but what do we have here? Daniel 12, starting in verse 2, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” So now we’re dealing with coming back to life. It’s not like what happens to you after you die. It’s sort of like, I mean, Tom Wright calls talks about life after, life after death, and that’s sort of what’s happening here in Daniel. But “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” So, this is a notion that actually you find elsewhere in Judaism at the time. Daniel was probably written in the second century. At least the final form of it, it may have earlier traditions –
Jared: Which is way, way late.
Pete: It’s pretty darn late.
Pete: Yeah, it’s written in the context of Greek influence, and a response to the persecutions that were happening early in the second century and Daniel sort of alludes to that throughout the places in his book, but –
Jared: But is this one of the first notions? So, so far we’ve been talking, we’ve kind of been walking through the Old Testament in terms of ideas of the afterlife. Is this one of the first references that we have to this idea of what we might call bodily pre end of the world resurrection?
Pete: Something. Yeah, this is it, in my opinion. There is a passage in Isaiah that some people pick on, and honestly, I’ve read this so many times, I think it’s in chapter 28, again, I don’t have the Bible memorized. But, I mean, you have national resurrection and, but again, resurrection and afterlife are not, they’re related. They’re connected. They’re not the same thing.
Jared: So, like in Ezekiel, right? With the dry bones and that’s clearly a picture of Israel resurrecting as a people.
Pete: Yeah, after the exile.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: Exile is a place of death, coming back to the land is resurrection, and it’s the valley of the dry bones where they come back to life. And it’s not mysterious at all what that means, because Ezekiel says I’m talking about the return from exile, right? So, you have a national resurrection, but the resurrection business is all post-postmortem, right? So, I mean, on one level, if we just try to stick with what happens to you when you die, not one day in some distant future moment, but when you die, there isn’t much to go on. Here it’s just, you know, you’re in the dust, right, and then you raise to everlasting life. Now, the nature of that life is basically like the stars in the sky and that’s a notion of Judaism. That’s one of several ways people talk about like that state of immortality, right? So, we have to make the distinction between the afterlife, what happens to you when you die, and at what point do you talk about, well, the immortality of somebody and is it the immortality of the soul or of the body? And Jews had very different opinions on that sort of thing. But what happens after you die, even Daniel is not helpful really. It’s not after you die, it’s raised one day in the context of judgement, and I think that’s a really, really important development in Judaism, that God raises the dead for the purpose of judgement. That’s not an Old Testament notion other than Daniel, but Daniel is already participating in a way of thinking that’s very much influenced by that Greek context.
[Producers group endorsement]
Pete: Is this where we get the idea of, like, apocalyptic literature where it starts to be, we’re now a persecuted people and we have, we have to find a way to honor and to make sense of these noble people who die for just cause. This can’t just be the end for them, there’s resurrection is a way to sort of, I don’t know what the right word is, validate that? To –
Pete: Actually, it’s to justify God. It’s a defense of God, really.
Jared: Right, yeah. Cause otherwise, these innocent people are just dying.
Pete: Why be Jewish if you die before you see the return of the glorious kingdom? You know, the Davidic reign reinvigorated, which many Jews thought would be happening at some point. And if you are faithful in keeping the covenant, you would be rewarded for that by participating in the kingdom, but if you die, tough beans for you. So, in order for God to be just to these martyrs, or just people who just died, not even martyrs, just people who died – the reasoning was, you know, well God must raise the dead. What else can God do? And I think it’s fair to say, I mean, these things, folks, the myriad of issues that interweave when you start talking about some of this stuff, it gets really a lot and there are different angles to take, but at least for me, Jared, what I think is that this is the development during this period of time after the destruction of the temple, after they came back from exile, of thinking through basically, what is God like? And how can death be the end if God is going to be just to those who have been faithful to him? It’s basically a matter of fairness and justice, and even to say God’s righteousness, right? For God to be righteous, God must raise the dead because otherwise, they’re just dead and all that’s like, why bother being Jewish? Especially in the sense and people say the same thing about why bother being Christian? You know, this life is all there is. Well, yeah. Eat, drink, and be merry, and all that kind of stuff, right?
Jared: Right, yeah. Which again, Ecclesiastes addresses quite a bit.
Pete: Right, yeah.
Jared: His answer is, yeah, well, I understand it’s all vanity, but, praise God anyway.
Jared: That’s it! Not a lot else going on, but I wanted to mention one other passage. We were talking about a little bit earlier before we started recording, because I think it’s important here because it ties together the, you know, between the Old and the New Testaments, there’s a lot happening in terms of the identity of the Jewish people, and these different people who are coming in and taking over, and they have many different rulers, and it’s just a lot. And then there’s other things being written, and so one of the things that you mentioned was the Wisdom of Solomon. And in chapter three, it talks about “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish, they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.” So, it ties in really well with what, I’m just gonna put a little teeth to what you were saying, I think it’s a great example of this apology for God. It seems like they were destroyed, but really, they are at peace. And this is the kind of stuff that’s happening and going on during this time between the Old and the New Testament.
Pete: Yeah, and there was some diversity too, in Judaism, whether, you know, being raised and judged and passing the judgment, is it a physical thing, or is it more the soul continues? So, really the issue is between resurrection and immortality, and those are two different things, and what you just read in the Wisdom of Solomon is immortality.
Pete: It’s the soul continues, and there are strains of Judaism, not the least of which is Paul, who felt that it was, well, the body is very, very important because the body has to be raised. See, this is the thing, the body has to be raised in order to participate in the kingdom. Why? Because the kingdom’s here.
Jared: The physical reality, yes.
Pete: Yes! It’s not up there someplace, the kingdom is here. So, you participate in that. I think, you know, that’s sometimes missed. You know, like, we go up to heaven and we’re sort of a spirit. Okay, well, you know, at the end, as you know, typical Christian thinking – in the end what happens when Jesus returns? Well, the dead are raised. Now what? Like, do we go back up again? No, not really, I mean, or are we up to begin with? Like, where are we?
Yeah, right. We need one of those maps – “you are here.”
Pete: But you see, you start plotting this stuff out, and it’s like, I’m not exactly sure. And you start looking for passages starting in the Old Testament to help you map it out, it’s like, my GPS is broken, because I’m not finding it here.
Jared: Mm hmm. Well I appreciate that, because I think that can be, that can be a helpful way to categorize what can be confusing, which is resurrection and immortality, because I don’t think people often think clearly about the distinction between that. That for Paul in much of the New Testament, there is a bodily resurrection. Would you say there’s not a lot said about what happens between when you die and when Christ returns, there’s not a lot said about what’s going on there. The real important moment is when Christ comes back, the dead are all raised and then there’s a physical reality of living in this reinvigorated kingdom.
Pete: Yeah, this new heaven and new earth so to speak. But it is a physicality, it’s not just an ephemeral thing. You know, I think what ties into this is, again, the notion of, well, use the word apocalyptic. The apocalypse, which isn’t the end of the world, it’s the end of the age and the beginning of the new one and the hope is for the new age. The new age is marked by resurrection and the rule of God and things are at peace and this was a major hope, but the thing is, and I think this, to me, has helped me make a lot of sense of this stuff. The notion was, this is gonna happen pretty soon. We’re not thinking like, in thousands of years, Jesus will come back, and then everything will be set straight. It’s happening very soon. Hold on, don’t get married. You know, just stay the pace. Don’t falter, don’t disbelieve, don’t doubt, because it’s an urgent moment. And so, there are many people, loved ones that Paul writes to, you know. In 1 Corinthians it’s a topic, like, what about them, and Paul says, yeah, they’ll be raised. I don’t know if Paul, I mean, I’m certain in my mind that Paul’s not thinking like, this could go on for centuries upon centuries upon centuries. So, it’s, let me say it’s easier to think of this reconstituted physical kingdom where the Messiah, Jesus, is on the throne, he returns to reclaim his territory. And those who have died, who are all, in their minds fairly recent deaths, or maybe going back to, you know, all this stuff that happened since the exile, it could be a lot of people, but it’s not several billion more, right? So, I think it’s easier to conceive of it, but for us, we have to, it’s just, it’s been a long time and are all these people physically, I mean, I’m just thinking out loud here. Are all these people physically gonna be raised? Where are we gonna put them? How does that work? And –
Jared: And then do they die again? Or is it just a forever kingdom on earth now where we don’t die?
Pete: You keep going with your body, I guess. And, you know, it’s a glorious body, this and that, and Paul talks about that in 1 Corinthians 15 too, so, you know, but it’s a spiritual body. You know, and people have, like, debated. To get into that, it’s like three podcasts, but what is that mean, a spiritual body, you know? But that what I’m saying. Paul is like, he says a few things –
Jared: Yeah. You have a corruptible body then you get an incorruptible body.
Pete: Yes, exactly. Right. That’s what I meant.
Pete: Okay, could you expand that, Paul, for another paragraph. Help us understand what that means. We have these little indications that don’t, forgive me, explain much.
Pete: That’s the thing. And some of us want explanations, and we want to know and understand, and I’m not so sure how much help the New Testament is in actually with that. I mean Paul, in Philippians 1 –
Pete: It’s, you know, to be with Christ is better by far. I could live, I could die, but, you know, when I die, I’m gonna be with Jesus. Okay, in what sense does that mean?
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: Like, you’re gonna stand there talking to him, is there like a spiritual connection, what happens?
Jared: And to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
Pete: Yes, right.
Jared: So, there’s a sense of immediacy in that kind of more, maybe not immortality, but what happens when you die.
Jared: There’s a sense of, well, you get to be present with the Lord in that sense.
Pete: And that seems to be a holding pattern –
Jared: Until, and then you get to come back with Jesus, I guess?
Pete: I wonder if it’s sort of a Sheol kind of thing…
Jared: Like a waiting room?
Pete: Yeah, and I’m sort of tying things together here a little bit just as I’m riffing, but, the whole issue of Jesus that is resurrection, the harrowing of hell as we say, you know, it’s reclaiming the dead as his, and sort of putting an end to that. Maybe that’s going on with Paul. But again, my point is I have no idea really. I’m just sort of riffing here, so –
Pete: And we talk about, you know, practically speaking afterlife today, just other issues come to mind that probably didn’t have to come to mind with them. Like, the universe was smaller back then, it was like, okay, God is going to set up shop in Jerusalem again, but we have this infinite space that we live in, and what does it mean for God to show up, and is physicality really everything, or, you know, when you die is there consciousness? What does consciousness mean? People, philosophers, and neuroscientists talk about consciousness, and I don’t understand half of it, but it’s really interesting. And some say consciousness is something that is a product of material existence, namely your brain.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: Other say, nah, it seems to be like, that doesn’t account for this. It seems to be outside of it. I’m hoping the outside ones are right, but who knows?
Jared: But who knows? Like Qoheleth said, who knows?
Pete: I don’t know.
Jared: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah, yeah. Well I just want to go back to one thing you said was in the New Testament, the idea that people will be resurrected and that might just be local. I just want to point out in Luke 13, Jesus mentions in this great kind of role reversal, he said, well, I’m basically gonna grab Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They’re gonna be with me in the kingdom with all these other random people, and there’s gonna be a lot of Jewish people who aren’t gonna make it –
Jared: Because of this, so, and all the people are pissed off –
Jared: And, ya know, upset. But in that sense, like, he’s going all the way back to the patriarchs –
Pete: Right, right.
Jared: To a resurrect for this kingdom, so –
Pete: Right, and it’s not they’re going to heaven and the others are going to hell. It’s the constitution of a kingdom, and the question, okay, what happens to those who don’t pass the bar, right?
Pete: Well, there are differences of opinion. Some just –
Jared: We just know there will be crying and gnashing of teeth.
Jared: We don’t know what that means.
Pete: They just stayed dead?
Pete: Or they ceased to exist? The notion of being tormented for eternity, I mean, we’ll leave this for other people, but that is a notion that is utterly foreign to the New Testament. I reject it completely.
Jared: Well, I think what happens is once we get out of kind of what we’re talking about today, like, this fuzzy, doesn’t seem to be that important to the biblical writers to get really clear on what happens when you die. Even if it was that important, I’m with Qoheleth. How could you really know? And so, anything about eternal conscious torment when you die, all that is by nature, speculative, and it’s, you’re outside the realm of biblical studies at that point.
Pete: Yeah, I guess even, you know, for people who are Christian, still to ask the question, was Paul speculating or was Paul also a part of his Jewish apocalyptic matrix, so to speak, where there were certain assumptions made, if that’s the right way to put it. They’re beliefs, certain beliefs about what the end means. And again, the end seems to not be shaped in, well, you go to heaven when you die. It’s the kingdom will be set up. What about all those people who died? Hey, good question. Let’s think about this. Hey, I know! God will raise the dead, and in the meantime, there is a holding place to go to, and that’s what Paul seems to be talking about. There must be something like that, right? And he believes that, he fervently believes that. That may come from his Jewish context, where he’s putting pieces together, and it is, you know, whether, and I know this is not the easiest thing for everyone to sort of think through, and I totally respect that, but, we think through this outside of the Jewish apocalyptic matrix. We do.
Jared: That’s not the water we swim in.
Pete: It’s not. And you look to the Bible, and say, well, the Bible says this, but what if the Bible’s talk about afterlife is encultured?
Jared: Shaped by and conditioned by this certain environment.
Pete: Right. And like, other things in the Bible, once the environment changes, we have to, if I can use the word, Jared, reimagine things, and ask different sets of questions, right?
Jared: Mm hmm, yeah.
Jared: Well, I want to come back, cause I think we kinda come back full circle here as we wrap up this episode, and that is, you know, we talked about the emphasis here on, at the beginning of our Bible’s in the Old Testament, there is more of a physical emphasis. There is an emphasis on the physicality of our lives. From the patriarchs on, it’s about living a long and full life, obedient to God. And then, here, just what you were saying when the New Testament rings a similar sound, which is, we’re talking about a physical kingdom. And so kind of, from beginning to end, this question, it just helps me think about the question isn’t really in the Bible. How do we figure out what happens when we die? But how do we either prepare for, be ready for, this kingdom of God, how do we live a long and full life here and now? It’s a very earth-centered narrative. Kind of beginning to end. There isn’t a lot of outer space, after life talk.
Pete: No, cause resurrection is, it assumes that the centrality of the physicality of it all.
Pete: And I’m like, what about in between? I don’t know.
Pete: You have ideas, right? But again, other strains of Judaism, it’s not the physicality of it all, like with Daniel or with the Wisdom of Solomon, there is another dimension, which is a –
Jared: There is a soul, kind of.
Pete: Immortality –
Pete: And you know, I know a lot of Christians have been criticized for having more sense of like, the immortality of the soul, not the physicality of it, because the Bible says physicality. But there are reasons for thinking about immortality of what we might call consciousness and not the soul, but –
Jared: Mm hmm. The Bible is diverse.
Pete: The Bible is diverse, and also our context is different. So, ya know, I think it’s okay to talk about these things you know, and not to say, well here, the teaching is clear. Well heavens, it’s not clear! There are things that are said, but even what Paul says, it raises other sorts of questions that I think are really good things to be talking about.
Jared: Right. Well what I hear you saying, which I think is a larger point that we can maybe explore in another episode sometime –
Pete: We can call it after afterlife, another episode.
Another episode. Uh, is that we don’t need to let, the Bible doesn’t get to constrain the questions we ask, does that make sense? That it’s legitimate and it’s appropriate and it’s healthy and important, actually, to ask questions that the Bible isn’t equipped to even ask because of the context in which it was written in.
Pete: Questions that never entered into the minds of the writers –
Pete: Are in our face all the time.
Jared: Because it almost seems like sometimes in certain traditions or in certain communities of faith, those are like, out of bounds or off limits. Like, you can’t even talk about these, like you can’t talk about neuroscience in relation to consciousness because that language isn’t in the Bible. And so, since the language isn’t in the Bible, we don’t really even know what to do with these categories of thought that have given us things like artificial intelligence and all of these other things that really need to be a part of the conversation, but a lot of times we cut them off at the knees. We don’t allow for it because, well, what would Paul have to say about it. It’s like, our minds can’t even compute because, well, obviously, Paul wasn’t thinking about that.
Pete: And that’s part of the reality of having a faith today that is always in conversation with, even rooted in an ancient story and text, but that still doesn’t, almost by definition, address all the questions that we have. And that’s, this is just a microcosm Jared, of the entire history of Christian thought, because that’s what’s been happening. The contexts have changed, situations have changes, and people have had to ask fresh sets of questions that, yeah, are fresh, that were not asked before.
Pete: Well folks, I guess we could be talking about the afterlife for an eternity –
[Drum sting and laugh track]
Pete: Wasn’t that really funny there, folks? Anyway. But no, that’s all the time we have today. We’ve had a good time talking about this, and as we sign out, we want to thank the people who make this possible, like for example Megan Cammack, who is our podcast producer.
Jared: Yes, and Shay Bocks, who is our creative director. She makes everything look so pretty.
Pete: Yes, I know. And Reed Lively, who is our community champion, who connects with all the people out there and makes that flow.
Jared: And last, but certainly not least, Dave Gerhart, who is our audio engineer extraordinaire.
Pete: Who doesn’t like, cut in bad words, you know, when he’s doing these podcasts.
Jared: But he does cut out our bad words –
Jared: And so, we are [beeeeeeeeeeeep] grateful.
Pete: Yours Jared, maybe not mine, but yours. So anyway.
Jared: Alright, well thanks everybody. We’ll see ya next time.
Pete: See ya.
[End of recorded material]