Has the Christian religion always taught there is life after death?
Some say that the people in the Old Testament didn’t really believe in it like we do. Is that true?
Why does it matter?
We’ll answer these questions and more in today’s lesson.
Below is the podcast and below that the text of it.
Life after Death?
What does the Bible really teach about it?
Teacher: Yvon Prehn
This isn’t a minor issue
• Life is challenging and contrary to what some say, becoming a Christian does not mean life will be easy, prosperous, and free from troubles.
• Quite the contrary, we may have more testing, trials, and challenges than ever before because we are a Christian.
• You have chosen a side in spiritual warfare and you have an enemy that wants to defeat you.
• And for reasons we do not understand God allows trials in this life, to test us and grow us and for his purposes that may not make sense in this life.
• In response to this reality, the Apostle Paul, who experienced many trials, said:
• If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable 1 Corinthians 15:19
• He went on to share that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, this life is not all there is and that those who have trusted Christ for salvation are assured of a fulfilling, meaningful eternity with Him.
But the question comes up….
• How do we know that’s true? Does Christianity really teach the assurance of life after death?
• Did people always believe that?
• We’ve been studying the Old Testament and we need to deal with the challenge that some people, including some Biblical scholars and church leaders say that people in the Old Testament didn’t believe in a real life after death.
• They say those who lived in the Old Testament times only had a vague view of a shadowy existence in Sheol after death
• And that the idea of life after death was man’s invention over time starting with various vague ideas borrowed from other cults and developing through the Old Testament.
• This is more than a minor intellectual proposition because we then must ask….
When does a what we hold as a foundational truth of our faith become true?
• As I shared in an earlier lesson, in my personal pilgrimage to an assurance of my belief in Jesus as Savior and the truth of the Bible to tell me about it, I studied history because I thought if something is true, it should be true for all time.
• What I learned about the Bible and history answered my questions on that topic and assured me that the Bible is true, that it is historical and evidential and its claims trustworthy for all time.
• So, when I heard the claim: “People in the Old Testament really didn’t believe in life after death”
That greatly upset me because
• And though much Biblical revelation is progressive, in that we understand basic teachings more and more as we go through Biblical history, (for example the Old Testament prophesied about the Messiah, but we don’t meet the Messiah, Jesus, personally until the New Testament) regarding the core beliefs of our faith including the foundational belief of something as important as bodily resurrection, it seemed to me it ought to be clearly taught from the first to the last in the Bible.
• If it wasn’t, if a belief of the Christian faith as foundational as life after death was not a consistent teaching of the Bible, my personal faith was in deep trouble.
• With that as a concern, I did what I attempt to do whenever I have a question about Biblical truth.
• I took a step back and as objectively as I could as a historian, looked at what the Bible as a historical book that clearly recorded, what the writers of the Bible taught and when they taught it.
• Based on that I could then evaluate whether the teachings of Biblical writers were consistent through time.
• Finally, I also consulted what respected commentors also said about the topic I was researching.
• From the earliest pages of Genesis and Job, our oldest books through the Old Testament and to the closing of the book of Revelation, the Bible clearly and unequivocally teaches the reality of bodily resurrection.
• As with many areas of so called biblical controversies, the answer is obvious when one simply looks at the primary documents and dates them correctly.
• I’ll share the many passages from the Bible itself that verify this shortly, but first it is useful to ask—
• Where did the incorrect views come from if not from the primary document, the Bible?
• …..let’s find out…..
The source of error for this and many other false beliefs hasn’t changed
• When Jesus was on earth and he was arguing with the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection, in the midst of that exchange, he challenged them by saying, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Matt. 22:29-32
• In summary he said they were in error in this specific instance because they didn’t read the scriptures because if they did the scriptures clearly state that God identifies Himself as the God of an eternally existing people.
• We have the same scriptures and more following the resurrection of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament authors that all underscore consistency of the teaching of life after death and bodily resurrection.
Since you can’t get the idea that there is no bodily resurrection or life after death from reading the Bible, where does it come from?
As I’ve studied those who hold to what I consider non-biblical views of a belief in life after death and the timing of the development of that belief in Christian theology, their views seem to come seem to come from these 3 sources:
• An unexamined acceptance of scholarly (and I believe faulty) views based on non-canonical texts (not the Bible) or simply unproven, but often repeated assumptions. I’ll share some representative quotes in a minute.
• Not reading the original, declarative and definitive documents about this issue in the Old Testament itself. The scholars who say the Old Testament does not clearly teach life after death simply did not do their homework on the primary texts.
• Not reading the views of well-respected Biblical scholars who support the view of extensive Biblical documentation of an OT view of life after death. In all scholarly work, there exist separate echo chambers of people who believe the same way, but though we might hold to a certain belief, we ought to at least be familiar with opposing ones and interact with them.
Summary of the false viewpoint
• To quote a representative example of what I consider the opposing view (this is all false thinking as I’ll demonstrate):
• “Most of the scholarly world agrees that there is no concept of immortality of life after death in the Old Testament.”With these words, George Mendenhall summarizes the consensus of critical academics regarding the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible. Even many Jewish thinkers deny an afterlife.
• For instance in a 1991 interview, Jewish professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz said, ‘Death has no significance… only life matters… In the entire Torah there is not the slightest suggestion that anything happens after death. All the ideas and theories articulated on the subject of a world to come and the resurrection of the dead have no relationship to religious faith. It is sheer folklore. After you die, you simply do not exist.’
• Critics of the Bible argue that the concept of the afterlife was an evolutionary development: God didn’t slowly reveal the subject of Heaven; instead, the Jewish people slowly invented it over time.
My comments on this quote:
• The views expressed in the previous quotes misleading. To say “most of the scholarly world (hold to the false view of no teaching of life after death in the OT)” is simply not true—some secular scholars yes, most of the scholarly world, NO.
• As you’ll see the OT has far more than “not the slightest” suggestion—the problem is the critics didn’t read it.
• And Jewish people did not invent the idea—God revealed it—and not slowly, it is there from the earliest book in the Bible as I’ll demonstrate.
Another representative false view
• Professor Meghan Henning, assistant professor of Christian origins at the University of Dayton puts it this way (BOLD mine to emphasize sources)
• Prior to the Second Temple period, both Jewish and Greek thought were dominated by the idea that people went to the same space after death and lived a shadowy existence. In the Hebrew Bible this space is called Sheol, and in Greek texts like The Odyssey it is called Hades…..
• By the Second Temple period, apocalyptic literature had configured separate spaces for persons both before and after the final judgment, based upon different types of earthly behavior. The final judgment, or day of judgment, refers to a future date on which all of the dead will be raised, souls will be reunited with bodies, and all people and nations will be judged by God. 1 Enoch 22 for instance, describes four containers that souls inhabit while they await judgment, each with amenities that befit a person’s behavior on earth. This pre-sorting of souls was not random but prefigured one’s ultimate destination after the last judgment.
Problems with this quote and similar statements
• Using Greek thought as a proof of what Jewish thought is as clearly described in the OT commits a basic error in historical research—that is of dating. The Odyssey was written about 750 BC, over 700 years LATER than the dating by conservative Biblical scholars of the writings of Moses including the Pentateuch and Job, which clearly teach life after death. (I’ll be quoting specifics shortly)
• Apocalyptic literature, written even later, much of it in intertestamental times, after the entire canon of the Old Testament was finished, is not representative of historical, Biblical thought. And you can’t say something written almost 1,000 years later influences something written 1,000 years earlier.
• The book of Enoch (written around 200BC) is not canonical, historical, or accurate in any way other than as a source of fanciful stories (for example the story of the “Watchers” that formed the basis for the largely inaccurate movie about Noah) and has nothing to do with the Biblical view of the afterlife, which was clearly taught in numerous writings PRIOR to 400 BC (when the last books of the Old Testament were written).
Let’s go back to the original source had to say on the topic
• The best way to determine what the Old Testament said and what Old Testament people believed about the afterlife is to simply READ the BOOK.
• To determine this, you can set aside believing that the Bible is divinely inspired, simply look at what the writers had to say and when they said it.
• In some instances, it helps to look up words in the original language, and I will give an example of that from Job, but any study of original languages is not essential—the clear sense of the beliefs recorded does not require detailed study.
• A plain reading of the Bible will make their views clear.
• I’ll now share some quotes along with their approximate dates of composition on this topic from the Old Testament.
• Following the verses, I’ll then quote an excellent commentary on this issue.
Begin with Job
• May consider the book of Job as the first recorded content (obviously not of what happened as that is in Genesis, but recorded content that Moses had access to during his time in Midian before he led the children of Israel out of Egypt and that he is the editor who wrote it down in its final form.
• Please see the lessons on Genesis and Job for a more detailed discussion of this.
• Considering this as our earliest recorded Biblical content, we find this (Job is speaking):
• I’ll read these passages then go back and make some additional comments, though the basic belief expressed is clear:
• Job 14:14 If someone dies, will they live again?
All the days of my hard service
I will wait for my renewal to come. (“renewal” is the Hebrew chaliyphah—a change of garments, a renewal and it reminds me of Apostle Paul’s comment, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands 2 Cor 5:1, NLT)
15 You will call and I will answer you;
you will long for the creature your hands have made.
• Job: 19: 25 I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin (basar) has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh (basar) I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! Job 14:14-15
Another translation makes the meaning even more clear
• Job 19:25-27 Living Bible (TLB) puts it this way:
• “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last. And I know that after this body has decayed, this body shall see God! Then he will be on my side! Yes, I shall see him, not as a stranger, but as a friend! What a glorious hope!”
• Not only does Job talk about a life after death, but a physical, tangible “this body shall see God” resurrection.
• This tangible, touchable quality of Christian resurrection calls to mind when Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39).
• By simply reading the texts we see that from the earliest written book in the Bible until the resurrection of Jesus himself the reality of physical, tangible resurrection is affirmed.
• It’s important to take a minute to note that this belief is unique from many world religions who view the afterlife as a total loss of individual personality and personhood into an amorphous nirvana of nothingness.
• The Biblical belief of the afterlife is in total contrast to that. Before we start continue with specific Bible passages, following the content in Job is an interesting comment from Hard Sayings of the Bible, a commentary that deals with this topic of life after death in the Old Testament in depth, and I encourage you to check out if you get a chance
A note on forbidding necromancy from Mosaic times
• Other evidences of the belief of a real life after death are afforded by the stern warnings from Mosaic times about any dabbling in necromancy, the cult of contacting the dead. What harm would there have been in fooling around with something that had no reality? Already in the middle of the second millennium B.C., the Israelites knew the afterlife was real, and thus they were warned not to be involved in any contacting of individuals who had passed beyond this world.
Kaiser Jr., Walter C., Hard Sayings of the Bible (p. 129). Society of Biblical Literature. Kindle Edition.
Moving along to passages about Saul, the first king of Israel and
then King David
(both approx. 1035BC on)
• Saul, just before his death, in 1 Samuel 28, has one of the more odd affirmations of the afterlife.
• Saul sins by having a witch call up Samuel from the dead. God allows this and when Samuel appears, Samuel tells Saul that he, Saul and his sons would be with him the next day—affirming they would die in battle and go to where Samuel was in the presence of God. Saul’s sons do die by the enemy, Saul takes his life and dies by suicide, but Samuel makes no distinction of where they all will go following death.
• An important side note is worth mentioning here—this passage is significant for those who die by suicide—they are not abandoned by God even if they died in sin and sadness. Once a child of God, always a child of God, even if, as C.S. Lewis says, we arrive home quite messy and muddy. We will be welcomed with love and with the Lord forever.
• The story of David’s and Bathsheba’s child who died and what it teaches us
• They had a child as a result of their adulterous relationship and as part of the judgement for that, God told David the child would die. After the child’s death, the narrative continues:
• 2 Sam 12:21 His attendants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”
• 22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
• David affirmed that he would see his son again and in addition an affirmation of life after death, this passage is a comfort to those who lose infants, who die long before they can make a personal decision to trust Jesus as Savior. Those children are in heaven.
In Psalms—many passages that affirm life after death—here are some representative ones
• In contrast to the death of the wicked:
• Ps. 49:15 But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.
• Again, in contrast to the wicked who often seem to do so well in life
Ps 73 reminds us:
• Ps. 73 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
More in Psalms (most from the time of King David on)
• Ps. 15: 5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
• 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
• Ps 23 The Lord is my shepherd…..though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil……and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
(written 739 and 681 B.C. approx. 300 years after David)
• Isa: 25:7-8 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
• Isa. 26:19 But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.
Daniel (wrote approx. 100 years after Isaiah)
• Daniel 12:2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
• The true path to “stardom”
Conclusion and concluding commentary
• Beyond the obvious messages of the text if you read the Old Testament, from early on throughout the Old Testament, the writers clearly teaches a belief in life after death, there is another observation that is important and that is…
• It only makes sense……
• God created eternal people—and in paradise walked with them—this was supposed to last forever.
• Sin broke that created close relationship.
• But not God’s love.
• And that love is often described as “an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3)
• You’ll see that love demonstrated again and again as we go through the Bible—in the Old Testament as well as the New.
• We must note one more misconception about the OT—that the Old Testament God is an angry God—that statement can only be said by people who have not read the stories of God’s love and grace and continual saving of his people, as you will discover when you read it.
• Continuing on, the entire story of the Bible is about God’s mission to rescue his creation that they might once more walk together on a tangible, redeemed earth.
In the end of humanity’s story, we are promised
• “A new heaven and a new earth,” . . . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:3,4).
• Once again, our God will walk among and with his people.
• The story hasn’t changed from the Old Testament stories of Job, David, Daniel and many others to the New Testament thief on the cross who Jesus promised, “today” would be with him in Paradise.
• John 3:16 sums it up: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
• Our conclusion to the question, Is there Life after Death?
• Is an emphatic YES!
• Eternal, real, physical and bodily resurrected LIFE is the teaching and promise taught in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and for all who trust Jesus as their personal Savior.
A final and important application:
If you aren’t sure of where you stand with Jesus and need assurance of life after death, of eternal life for you personally, please go to Bible805, and click on the image that says Christian Salvation & Discipleship.
It will take you to a series of podcasts and blogs that explain what it means to become a Christian and grow as a disciple.
Please take time to do that and be assured that you have life after death as gift from trusting Jesus.