Quite a few Christians are now following this blog and I’d like to issue them with a challenge: show me where Jesus or the gospel writers or St Paul or any of the New Testament authors promise you that you’ll go to Heaven when you die.
Because, you see, the Bible doesn’t make any such promise.
Jesus was adamant that ‘the righteous’ (he’s not even talking about Christians!) would soon transfer into God’s new Kingdom on Earth. When you say the Lord’s prayer, Christians, this is exactly what you’re asking for: ‘Thy Kingdom come – on Earth as it is Heaven.’ As the former bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, puts it, ‘at no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation’… in the first century, we might add.
Paul, with a version of Christianity that bears little resemblance to Jesus’ own, doesn’t teach that the believer will go to heaven either. In attempting to explain why the Kingdom is late in arriving – so late, in fact, that Christians were dying without seeing it – he invents the idea that the deceased will be woken up by Jesus when he returns to Earth (1 Thessalonians 4.14-16. And yes, he really did make up as he went along).
And after Paul? It was becoming increasingly apparent to later Christians that Jesus really wasn’t coming back any time soon. So they invented the idea that they would go to be with him. As Bart Ehrman puts it ‘with the passage of time, the apocalyptic notion of the resurrection of the body becomes transformed into the doctrine of the immortality of the soul’. But this is not what Jesus himself promised – and you’d think as ‘the Son of God’ he’d have known how it all worked – it’s not what St Paul taught and it’s not even what the trippy writer of Revelation claims. He too insists that everything is going to happen here on a recreated Earth (Revelation 21).
So the choice for you today, Christians, is whether you believe ‘God’s Word’ where, for once, Jesus and Paul say much the same thing, or you go along with those later, post-biblical believers with their altogether different idea of what happens when we die.
Of course, you opt for the latter – even you have doubts that the Kingdom will come at this late stage – instead of facing the fact that when we die, we are just that: dead.
Ehrman D. Bart (2009) Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions of the Bible. Harper Collins: New York, page 266.
Unfortunately, a lot of your assertions don’t seem to be much more than your opinion. Jesus and Paul don’t represent different “versions” of Christianity. They preached the same gospel. I don’t believe N. T. Wright has said that there is no heaven apart from the restoration of the earth to its original glory, but, notwithstanding, I believe you miss his point entirely. You’re arguing that there is no heaven whereas Wright is talking about the nature of heaven–what it will be like.
Both Jesus and Paul talked about heaven. Jesus says so in John 14 and Paul also in 2 Cor. 5, just to name a couple of references. Heaven is real, and I’m not too concerned with the details because whatever it will be like will be more than satisfactory for me. If you’re really curious there’s only one way to find out.
Thanks for writing Bereketblog. I’ll address your points one-by-one:
Bereketblog wrote: Unfortunately, a lot of your assertions don’t seem to be much more than your opinion.
Me: They’re not assertions they’re taken from your holy book. What it actually says is not what you might want it to say.
Bereketblog wrote: Jesus and Paul don’t represent different “versions” of Christianity. They preached the same gospel.
Me: Really? Have you read the Bible?
Here’s Paul’s ‘gospel’ from Romans 3. 23-24: ‘since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.’
Now where in any the gospel accounts does Jesus preach this or anything like it? The gospel Jesus preaches says that one becomes right with God by a) keeping the commandments [Matthew 19:16-24]; b) serving others [Matt 7.21-27/Luke 6.46-49, Matt 25.31-46 etc] and c) working for the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth [Luke 9.23].
This is not the same as Paul’s magic formula gospel. I don’t have the time or space to elaborate on this here, but I do spend a chapter on it in my book which I recommend to you (Amazon link under ‘about the author’.)
Bereketblog wrote: I don’t believe N. T. Wright has said that there is no heaven apart from the restoration of the earth to its original glory…
Me: No, nor do I claim he does. If you followed the link in my original post you would have reached the article in which Wright makes the point, which is the same one I make, that Heaven is not promised to Christians after they die. He says the same thing in ‘Surprised by Hope’ and others of his books.
Bereketblog wrote: I believe you miss his point entirely.
Me: You mean his point, which I quoted verbatim, that ‘at no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation’. Nope, I didn’t miss this point, though it looks like you missed reading his article.
Bereketblog wrote: You’re arguing that there is no heaven…
Me: I don’t believe there is, no. There’s no evidence that it exists – primitive belief systems are not evidence.
Bereketblog wrote: whereas Wright is talking about the nature of heaven–what it will be like.
Me: Perhaps – but he still insists you won’t be going, because according to the Bible, Heaven is God’s exclusive domain. Mere mortals do not go there. Wright believes Heaven will come to Earth because that’s what the Bible says. My post said the same (even though I don’t believe it will ever happen.)
Bereketblog wrote: Both Jesus and Paul talked about heaven. Jesus says so in John 14 and Paul also in 2 Cor. 5, just to name a couple of references.
Me: But they don’t say you are going.
Bereketblog wrote: Heaven is real…
Bereketblog wrote: I’m not too concerned with the details.
Me: Clearly not. Is that because they don’t support your cherished beliefs?
Bereketblog wrote: because whatever it will be like will be more than satisfactory for me.
Me: But it won’t – you won’t be going! Neither Paul nor Jesus promise that you will, not even in the chapters you reference.
Bereketblog wrote: If you’re really curious there’s only one way to find out.
Me: Believing in a magic formula, even assuming it’s the right one, will not get me – or you – to Heaven. Nowhere does the Bible say it will. Which was the point of my post.
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Neil, you argue that John 14: does not promise that his followers will go to heave. But the second verse reads, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” Since other verses in the Bible indicate that the Father’s house is in Heaven, isn’t the most straightforward way to read this that Jesus is preparing a place in Heaven for his followers? And if he is preparing a place for them there, does not that imply that they will go there? Thanks in advance for your reply.
A reasonable question, Greg. The answer is slightly complex but essentially hinges on the lateness of John’s gospel. Some scholars place it as late as a century after Jesus lived. Additionally (or as a result) it is so unlike the synoptic gospels in terms of:
* its focus – Jesus himself instead of the Kingdom, which is mentioned only once when it is the main theme of the synoptics;
* its timetable – for example Jesus cleanses the temple at the start of his ministry in John but at the end of it in the synpotics; the crucifixion takes place on a Thursday in John… etc;
* its view of who Jesus was – he is becoming divine in John’s gospel whereas he emphatically denies this in the others;
* what it has Jesus say – so many of his sayings in John are to do with his semi-divine nature (for example, all those ‘I Am’ pronouncements) while the synpotics fail to record any of these: why? If he really said them, wouldn’t the earlier gospels have recorded at least some of them?
In short, we just can’t trust John’s gospel as an accurate record of what Jesus said. If in the synoptics he preaches long and hard about the Kingdom coming to the Earth (and he does) why does John have him hint instead at a home in Heaven? This is emphatically not what he’s about in Matthew, Mark and Luke, nor in Paul’s letters. It’s probably because, so many decades later, the Kingdom that was promised in the lifetime of the original disciples had failed to materialise, and believers needed some other promise to keep them going; hence the suggestion they might go and live in Heaven.
Even so, and as you’re aware of yourself when you use the word ‘imply’, Heaven is only hinted at in this problematic statement. What does it mean, for example, that Jesus is going to ‘prepare a place’? Is he going to make the beds and put the coffee on? Why would Heaven need ‘preparing’? How can a ‘house’ have many ‘mansions’? Since when is Heaven a ‘house’ anyway? Why should any of this mean all Christians will go to Heaven when he’s talking only to the disciples? Maybe it means just they will go. Alternatively, couldn’t Jesus be being made to say (because whoever wrote the gospel knew how the story ended) that his death was going to be a necessary part of the ‘preparation’ for the Kingdom’s arrival on Earth?
Ultimately there are no clear, direct, unambiguous statements in the Bible telling believers they will go to Heaven when they die; not one. There are, however, many which predict and promise the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth in the here-and-now of the first century. (I’ve not referenced any of these here – they’re in my posts on the subject – but will do if you’d like me to.)
I guess, Greg, that faith can wring out of isolated lines in the Bible just about anything it wants – including the idea that we survive death and go to live with God in Heaven – but if you take the Bible at face-value, if you read what it actually says, you’ll find it’s not saying this.