Street preacher Dale McAlpine was busy regaling the shoppers of my home town yesterday with the good news that they’re all sinners destined for hell. The God who created them will, Dale assured them, face an eternity of torture unless they turn to Jesus.
Dale didn’t have many (any) takers for this wonderful good news. One brave person, a young woman, asked him why, if people are resurrected, the cemeteries remain resolutely full. Good point! Dale, armed with his megaphone and hectoring ignorance, responded that it is the soul that survives death and is taken up to Heaven to live eternally with God. For those without Jesus, their souls will be consigned to hell where they will burn for eternity.
How unbiblical is that? The Bible does not teach that believers will go to live forever with God in heaven. Eternity in Heaven is not on offer. The New Testament writers anticipated the arrival of Heaven – God’s new Kingdom – on Earth. When it did, they believed, the dead would be resurrected: the saints to everlasting life in new spiritual bodies on a regenerated Earth (Revelation 21:1-4), the rest to eternal damnation.
Paul has some vague ideas about what will happen to those who die before the general resurrection – he thinks their souls will be kept safe ‘in Christ’ (whatever that mean but doesn’t suggest they will be living it up in Heaven. Rather, he describes them in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15 and 1 Corinthians 15:20 as being ‘asleep’. Many Christian ‘thinkers’ really take exception to this idea, though Paul says this intermediate state won’t last for long; the Kingdom on Earth was imminent. He believed it would arrive while most of those he was writing to were still alive (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15: 51-52).
It’s all tosh, of course. Paul had absolutely no idea what happens to people after death. He invented everything he said about it, from the independent existence of sleeping souls to Jesus arriving on the clouds to resurrect the dead in new spiritual bodies. These bizarre ideas come from a fevered brain convinced it had seen a dead person alive again and thought it had once taken a trip to the third heaven (whatever that is).
How do we know Paul invented it all? Because of the aspects of his teaching that should by now be history: the arrival of God’s Kingdom on Earth, the resurrection of the dead and Christians being supplied with new spiritual bodies ( while the rest of us roast in hell.) None of these things happened when he said they would, or indeed at all. We know it too because we are aware both instinctively and empirically that there is no continuation after death. When the body ceases to function so too does the ‘self’, which can be generated only by a living brain. We have no ‘soul’ that goes on alone after death and which will one day be clothed in a new sparkly body.
Here’s my challenge then to those who believe and propagate such nonsense; the Dales, the evangelicals, the fundies and the oxymoronic intellectual Christians of this world: provide evidence of one individual who has survived death in the way Paul said they would. Show us one believer who has been resurrected or whose soul is currently sleeps in Christ or who now lives in Heaven. The only proviso is that this must be a real person who is 100% human; not a mythical demi-God, not a character in a story, not someone for whom the evidence of a resurrection is extremely poor. Not, in short, Jesus. Where is the evidence anyone else has experienced a resurrection or embarked on their eternal life in heaven? Billions of believers have died since Paul created his fantasy. Surely there must be someone…
Your blog posts are so practical! You talk about scripture but without all the rhetoric of this apologist or that apologist (e.g., Gary’s visitors … I think you know who I mean).
IMO, the scriptures are what they are. The fact that so many spend YEARS trying to “decipher” them speaks volumes.
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Thanks, Nan. I’m not really interested in discussing theology, Christology and faith in any intellectual way. What’s the point in analysing the Bible as revelation or even as literature? The point is surely: is it true, does it deliver what it claims and does it ‘work’? Time and again, the answer to these questions, I find, is a resounding and demonstrable no!
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Paul’s “genius” was taking greco-roman cosmology and philosophy and marrying it to judaism. In greco-roman cosmology, Earth was surrounded by concentric heavens, each more perfect than the last. Generally there are 7 such heavens, though sometimes there are only 3. Earth is a pale imitation of the first heaven which in turn is a pale imitation of the second, and so on until the seventh (or third) which is the perfect world all the lower worlds are based on.
This is reflected in Revelation as well when a New Jerusalem descends from a higher heaven to Earth. This is a more perfect Jerusalem by virtue of being from a higher heaven.
Anyway, Paul travels to the third heaven. Was this the highest in his borrowed cosmology? There’s no way of knowing since he doesn’t tell us. I think it was James Tabor who said Paul was magically transported from the third heaven to the seventh (Paradise) to save him from having to answer the sentinels that guard each level.
Gnostic Christians seemed to have adopted this cosmology more closely than the Paulines – with angelic sentinels at several levels that had to be passed while ascending to heaven.
That’s one of the magical things about Christians. There are many conflicting cosmologies and theologies in their holy book, but they don’t see them as they’ve been trained to harmonize everything. Every Christian I know “knows” from Revelation that they will be resurrected to live on a New Earth. But they also “know” they will be going to live with Jesus in Heaven. And when they talk about it, unless they are specifically talking about Revelation, they ALWAYS talk about being taken up to Heaven.
Yes, absolutely, and it’s this kind of thinking that underpins much of the New Testament. Jesus descends from and ascends to one of these higher heavens beyond the clouds, Paul visits the third heaven (in his head) and as you say, John claims he’s seen these fantasy places. Today’s Christians, if they’re even aware of these layers of heaven, generally ignore them; the lunacy shows through too much.
Exactly! I daresay most believers never read their bible and instead rely on what their priest/preacher tells them in their Sunday (or Saturday) morning service. And “God forbid” these leaders would share anything that might upset the apple cart (and their paycheck)!