I just finished reading the book 10 Mistakes People Make About Heaven, Hell, and the Afterlife by Mike Fabarez. Fabarez holds the popular view that hell is eternal conscious torment. He referenced Revelation 20:14 (“Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire”), saying that the last term the Bible uses for hell is “the lake of fire.” I was sorry that he didn’t continue to the rest of the verse, which truly contains the last term the Bible uses for hell: “This is the second death.”

Fabarez went on to say that “the lost will be consigned permanently, physically, and consciously to experience a kind of living that is described as death.” I had to read it again: “A kind of living that is described as death.” That is mighty strange.

This is why it’s important to understand what the Bible teaches about death if we are to understand what it teaches about hell. Hell is “the second death.” In fact, the Hebrew and Greek words that are sometimes translated as “hell” are sometimes translated as “grave.” According to the Bible, hell is the grave.

Just as the first death is nonexistence, the second death is nonexistence. It’s not “a kind of living.” That’s what the devil wants us to believe. As he told Eve, “You surely will not die! … Your eyes will be opened.” Only in that deceitful paradigm is death “a kind of living.”

Two Vastly Different Paradigms

It’s critical to understand the differences between the two worldviews. Let’s look at the distinctions in two important areas that relate to death and hell.

Spirit vs. Soul

  • Pagan paradigm: “You have a soul that is immortal.”
  • Biblical paradigm: “You are a soul that depends on the immortal spirit (breath) of God because God alone has immortality.” (See Genesis 2:7, and notice the Hebrew words.)

Eternal Status

  • Pagan paradigm: “What matters is where you spend eternity — hell or heaven.”
  • Biblical paradigm: “What matters is how you spend eternity — dead or alive.” (See John 3:16.)

Wrapping Up

All of that being said, I appreciate Fabarez’s sincere effort to understand and share what the Bible teaches. A love of truth is paramount, and I think he has that. None of us gets it all right. But, if we love truth more than we love our current beliefs, we’ll be fine.

You might want to read 10 Mistakes People Make About Heaven, Hell, and the Afterlife and decide for yourself. I’d like to hear your observations.

Most of us have wondered what hell is like. One of the best clues we have about the nature of hell is what happened with Jesus on the cross and in the grave.

Jesus laid down His life to atone for sin. He died to atone for sin. He went to the grave to atone for sin. With His death, He fully paid the wages of sin for those who trust Him with their salvation.

Those who do not trust Jesus with their salvation will pay the wages themselves. They will atone for their own sins. How? The same way Jesus did—by dying the second death. This is the death from which there’s no resurrection (unless you’re God—unless you are the life force yourself).

Jesus is not suffering eternal torment to atone for sin. Those who trust themselves for their own salvation will not suffer eternal torment to atone for their sin. They will go to the grave, as Jesus did. It’s no surprise, then, that the word usually translated as “hell” in English Bible translations means “grave.”

Hell Is the Grave

So, when we ask what hell is like, we ask what the grave is like—basically, what it’s like to be dead. After Jesus’ resurrection, He had no experience to report. After Lazarus’s resurrection, He had no experience to report. In the Bible, people whom God raised from the dead had nothing to report. God resurrected them from nothingness: “The dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).

Just as God brought Adam into existence from nonexistence (Genesis 2:7), we return to nonexistence when we die (Ecclesiastes 12:7). That’s why the word usually translated as “hell” in English Bible translations means “grave.” That’s why the Bible refers to the destruction of the lost as “the second death” (Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 20:14, 21:8).

When we seek to understand what hell is like, we can take clues from Dante’s Inferno (still good for literary value), Far Side cartoons (still good for a laugh), or the Bible. (If you’re thinking that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is the model, please read this).

“It Is Finished”

It comes down to this: Why would the lost receive a different consequence for sin than Jesus did? Why would Jesus pay a different price for sin than the lost will? The old covenant atonement system required the death—not the eternal suffering—of an innocent lamb. The wages of sin is death.

Regarding Jesus’ atonement act, “it is finished” and complete. Regarding the atonement for the lost, it will be finished and complete. There will be an end to suffering. “’There shall be no more death.’ Neither shall there be any more sorrow nor crying nor pain” (Revelation 21:4).

The debate about what happens when we die essentially comes down to two opposing views: non-existence vs. a new form and/or place of existence. Either death is the cessation of life (and therefore existence), or death involves a journey to “the other side” or “a better place” where life goes on. Which is it? How can we know?

How Do We Know What’s True?

We can consult three sources as we seek to understand what happens when we die: scripture, experience, and observation. Let’s take a look at each.

The best source of information about what happens when we die is the Bible. That’s because it’s the Creator’s word that has been well-validated over the millennia. No other scripture passes the tests that the Bible passes when it comes to trustworthiness.

Experience and observation are helpful sources of information about what happens when we die only in this sense: They provide nothing substantive. Althought it records a few resurrections from the dead, the Bible records zero accounts of experiences people had while they were dead. Lazarus had no stories to tell (John 11-12). Jesus said only that He had not yet ascended to the Father (John 20:17).

(By the way, you might wonder about the Lazarus who features in the story Jesus told in Luke 16. Rather than a literal account, it’s a parable that Jesus told to teach the concept that your economic status doesn’t determine your salvation. Learn more about that story.)

To follow is a bit more on what the Bible says about the two schools of thought about what happens when we die.

What Happens When We Die: View #1

View #1 is non-existence—that death is the cessation of life. Here are just a couple of representative Bible texts that support this position:

  • “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
  • “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence” (Psalm 115:17).

According to the Bible, death is non-existence. Just as a body infused with God’s spirit (breath) comes into existence (Genesis 2:7), a person ceases to exist when God’s spirit (breath) leaves the body (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

The Bible uses the term “soul” to denote a living person (Genesis 2:7, 1 Peter 3:20, etc.). The concept of “soul” is completely distinct from “spirit,” which is the immortal breath of God or the life force (Genesis 2:7, Job 33:4, etc.). A person does not have a soul; a person is a soul. A soul is a combination of body and spirit; it depends on both to exist.

What Happens When We Die: View #2

View #2 about what happens when we die is a new form and/or place of existence—that death involves a journey to “the other side” or “a better place” where life goes on. Here’s what the Bible has to say on the matter:

“The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that, on the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God’“ (Genesis 3:4-5).

God had told Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate from the tree of knowledge (Genesis 2:17). In direct opposition to God’s word, the devil told Eve that she wouldn’t die. Instead, she would be elevated to a higher plane of existence.

View #2 is a lie perpetrated by the devil. In the third and fourth centuries, the lie entered mainstream Christian theology by way of Greek philosophers who adopted the idea from Egyptian pagans. Here’s what a few historians have to say on the matter:

  • “The notion of the soul going to heaven when you die and the body being left behind on earth: That’s a notion that is widespread in the Christian tradition nowadays. It comes from Plato, and I worry that there’s a spirituality attached to that, which is specifically Platonic and not Christian” (Phillip Cary, Philosophy and Religion in the West).
  • “Many early Christians had a deep respect for Pythagoras. … Jerome (c. 347 – 420) praises Pythagoras … and credits Pythagoras for his belief in the immortality of the soul, which he suggests Christians inherited from him. … Pythagoras studied with the Egyptian priests at Thebes” (”Pythagoras,” Wikipedia).
  • Some ancient writers claimed that Pythagoras learned the doctrine of metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls) from the Egyptians (see Pythagoras: His Life, Teachings, and Influence by Christoph Riedweg and Life of Pythagoras by Porphyry).

Historians know that the concept of an immortal soul (life after life) isn’t biblical; many theologians do not. Most Christians aren’t aware of the concept’s origin and geneology.

Good News for the Redeemed

On the surface, without its origin revealed, it might seem that View #2 about what happens when we die is preferable. Life on a higher plane or in a better place certainly sounds better than non-existence. But, as always, God knows what He’s doing. Just as He created human beings to begin with, He can revive people who died.

The Bible tells about a few of these instances and promises mass resurrections in the future. The dead will live again. When the redeemed are resurrected, they will be raised to eternal life. Eternal life for the saved will begin, not one at a time, but all together (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Hebrews 11:39-40, etc.).

We don’t have to worry about our deceased loved ones building new lives in eternity without us. Those who have lost a child will get to pick up right where they left off and raise that child themselves. Eternity will begin when we all can experience it together. We can content ourselves about our loved ones who rest in peace—those who are asleep in Jesus (Daniel 12:2, 1 Corinthians 15:51, etc.). The next thing they know, they will join the Lord in the air with all of the redeemed (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We will put on God’s immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53), and we all will gather together for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

Good News for the Lost (and the Universe)

After God resurrects the lost and reveals His judgments, the lost will experience the second death (Revelation 20:11-15, etc.). The second death is like the first death in this way: it is non-existence. The second death is unlike the first death in this way: it’s not followed by a resurrection. The lost, along with the devil, will cease to exist forever (Ezekiel 28:19, Malachi 4:1,3, etc.).

After the second death, “‘There shall be no more death.’ Neither shall there be any more sorrow nor crying nor pain, for the former things have passed away ” (Revelation 21:4). This promise isn’t just for the redeemed; it’s for the universe. The lost will not suffer forever; they will cease to exist forever. The loving God will mercifully put them out of their misery. The redeemed will not be enjoying eternity while the lost suffer in torment in some corner of the world. The lost will be ashes under our feet (Malachi 4:3).

Non-existence is preferable to eternal suffering. This concept is biblical, reasonable, and fair. And, it’s consistent with a loving God.

Wrapping Up

What I’ve shared here is what the Bible has to say in a teeny-tiny nutshell. It says much, much more about what happens when we die. Be sure to subscribe to the blog and YouTube channel to learn more. Also, check out my course on Death & Hell: What Does the Bible Say? If you have questions or comments, please drop me a line or use the comments below.

The mind vs. brain debate fascinates me. It raises quite a few intriguing questions. Are the mind and the brain the same thing? If not, what’s the difference? Can the mind and brain exist independently of each other? Can we experience consciousness without a brain? Are out-of-body experiences possible?

3 Mind vs. Brain Theories

I’m aware of three different theories in the mind vs. brain debate. Here’s a synopsis of each.

Theory #1

Matter is all there is. We have a material brain but not an immaterial mind. Things such as thoughts, memories, hopes, and personality are simply brain chemicals and electrical signals.

Theory #2

We have a material brain and an immaterial mind. The mind accounts for things such as thoughts, memories, hopes, and personality. The mind and the brain are independent of each other.

Theory #3

We have a material brain and an immaterial mind. The mind accounts for things such as thoughts, memories, hopes, and personality. The mind is dependent on the brain to function.

Comparing Theories #2 & #3

The mind vs. brain question is an intriguing one. But, I find the difference between Theories #2 and #3 most interesting. While each one states that we have both a material brain and an immaterial mind, they diverge at a critical point.

Theory 2 states that the mind and the brain are independent of each other. So, if this theory were true, we could have consciousness without a brain or a body. This would make out-of-body experiences and disembodied souls possible. When the body dies, the mind (consciousness) could go on living without it.

Theory 3 states that the mind is dependent on the brain to function. So, if this theory were true, we couldn’t have consciousness without a body. When the body dies, the mind (consciousness) dies with it.

Which Theory Is Likely to Be True?

How do we figure out which mind vs. brain theory is true? Some people claim to have experienced consciousness without a body (out-of-body experiences and many “near death” experiences), suggesting that Theory #2 is valid. But, at least so far, science doesn’t seem to back this up. Reason tells us that there’s reasonable doubt; several other possible explanations exist. Sometimes people make the stories up. Sometimes they’ve simply experienced natural phenomena such as dreams, memories, vivid brain activity, or misperceptions of sensory input.

That leaves us with the possibilities of Theory 1 and Theory 3. Science has yet to provide a definitive answer. It’s worth considering what the Bible has to say. It says quite a bit, and good evidence points to its validity as a source. So, let’s look at a few passages that provide insight into the mind vs. brain debate.

  • “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [Hebrew nᵊšāmâ = spirit], and man became a living being [Hebrew nep̄eš = soul].” (Genesis 2:7)
  • “The dust returns to the earth where it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
  • “He, who is the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, will reveal at the proper time. He alone has immortality.” (1 Timothy 6:15-16)
  • “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5)

These passages are quick representations of what the Bible, as a whole, teaches about life and death, our material and immaterial components, and how those components relate to each other. (If you’d like to see more passages to be sure these are representative, hang around my blog, my Facebook page, my Twitter profile, and my YouTube channel, because I talk about this stuff a lot. I also encourage you to study for yourself with the help of Bible Gateway and Blue Letter Bible or whatever tools you find helpful.)

Let’s bring together what these four passages tell us. A living person (a soul) is a combination of a material body made from dust and an immaterial spirit that is the breath of life from God. In other words, Body + Spirit = Soul. At death, the material separates from the immaterial (the dust and the spirit/breath return). It is indeed the spirit (God’s breath) and not the soul (a living person) that returns to God and continues to exist because God alone has immortality. (People will not “put on immortality” until the resurrection that happens when Jesus returns. See 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.) When a person dies, their consciousness also ceases (“the dead know nothing”).

God loves to create interdependent systems. A human being is a remarkable system of matter and spirit dependent on each other in order for the human being to exist, to be alive. Beautifully, earth and heaven come together to form a soul, a living person. God wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mind vs. brain Theory #3 is the only one of these three theories that’s consistent with what the Bible teaches. The notions of out-of-body experiences and disembodied souls aren’t biblical. Any such experiences that people believe they have are better explained otherwise.

There’s much more to say on these matters, so stick around. This simply serves as an introduction to stimulate our minds—those marvelous combinations of matter and spirit.

I’m famous (not at all) for pointing out that the Bible teaches that people don’t have immortal souls. That, when we die, our souls don’t just live on and go to heaven. It helps if we first understand the simple formulas for life and death that the Bible provides:

life = body + spirit

death = body – spirit

The formula for life first appears in Genesis 2:7, which says that “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” The breath of life is spirit. A living being is a soul. You can see this in the original language and the ways those words are used elsewhere. Body + Spirit = Soul (a living being).

The formula for death is easy to see in Ecclesiastes 12:7, which says that “the dust returns to the earth where it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Body – Spirit = Nothing. The death process is the reverse of the life process.

According to the Bible, “spirit” does not equal “soul”; Genesis 2:7 makes a clear distinction between them. The soul does not return to God upon death; the spirit does (because it’s God’s breath, the life force). The soul (living being) ceases to exist until the resurrection—when the spirit (life force) reenters a body.

I posted something about this on my Facebook page recently. Someone asked a really good question in response: “What do we do with the imagery in Revelation 6 that depicts a bowl of souls, which are crying out for God’s justice?”

The referenced passage is Revelation 6:9-10. “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony they had held. They cried out with a loud voice … .”

Here’s my answer.

3 Possible Interpretations

When the meaning of a passage isn’t immediately and obviously understood, we must first identify the possible interpretations. I can think of three for this passage:

  1. This is literal language referring to disembodied souls of dead martyrs.
  2. This is literal language referring to martyrs who died and were resurrected.
  3. This is symbolic language.

Next, we must consider each possibile interpretation.

Possibility #1

Possibility #1 is that this is literal language referring to disembodied souls of dead martyrs.

This isn’t consistent with what the Bible teaches about life (a soul is a living person that is a combination of body and spirit) or death (death is like sleep, the dead know nothing, and the dead are silent).

This possibility doesn’t make sense considering that the souls were given robes (verse 11). What would a disembodied soul do with a robe?

Similarly, it doesn’t make sense that disembodied souls would be in a certain location. There’s no matter to occupy space. Even if they were embodied, being under an altar—literally rather than symbolically—is mighty strange. But, then, the rest of the passage is mighty strange if it’s literal.

That leads to the last point for Possibility #1. The rest of the passage is replete with elements that make more sense as symbols than they do as literal things (e.g., animals of symbolic colors, a pair of scales, and a rider named Death who is followed by Hades). Why would this one part be literal when it’s surrounded by symbols?

Possibility #2

Possibility #2 is that this is literal language referring to martyrs who died and were resurrected.

The Bible certainly teaches that the dead will be resurrected, so we’re okay there; it’s more a question of timing. After martyrs died in Bible times, they “did not receive the promise. For God provided something better for us, so that with us they would be made perfect” (see Hebrews 11:35,37,39-40). It’s fair to say that this references the resurrection of the dead in Christ at the second coming. It certainly indicates that, at the time of the writing of Hebrews, they had not been resurrected. Were they resurrected between the writing of Hebrews and the writing of Revelation? It’s highly unlikely, and there’s nothing to indicate that.

That being said, it’s possible that this is a representative selection of martyrs who were resurrected and ascended to heaven. But, I’m not aware of any mention in the Bible of a special ascension other than Moses, Elijah, and Enoch. Plus, this would leave us with that mighty strange notion of people literally being under an altar.

Possibility #3

Possibility #3 is that this is symbolic language.

As I’ve mentioned, a literal interpretation doesn’t make sense in a few ways. The entire passage makes more sense if it’s taken as symbolism.

What’s happening in the Revelation 6 passage is strongly reminiscent of what the Bible says about Abel, the first martyr (who happened to be murdered in relation to a sacrifice on an altar). After his murder, God said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel “still speaks through his faith, though he is dead.” Hebrews 12:24 references “the sprinkled blood that speaks better than that of Abel.”

These references to Abel indicate that, metaphorically, he communicates. The symbolism is a good match for Revelation 6:9-10. The same thing is being communicated: martyrs must be avenged. The next seal (the sixth, beginning in verse 12) introduces that vengeance (God’s justice).

The passage also connects to something Jesus says in Luke 18:6—“‘Shall not God avenge His own elect and be patient with them, who cry day and night to Him?’”

Conclusion

Possibility #3—that this is symbolic language—makes the most sense of the three possibilities, and it’s the only one that’s consistent with the rest of scripture. As always, the Bible provides a coherent message.

Mainstream Christian theology teaches that hell is eternal conscious torment. I contend that the Bible doesn’t teach that. A few passages in the Bible do seem to refer to eternal conscious torment. One of them is the story about the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus told this story, and it’s recorded in Luke 16:19-31. A beggar named Lazarus and a rich man died. The beggar “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s presence.” The rich man was in torment in Hades. He saw Abraham and Lazarus from afar, and he begged for Abraham to “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool [his] tongue.” Abraham told the rich man that he got all of his good stuff during his lifetime. Besides, people can’t go from paradise to Hades.

As was the case with other parables, this is a story that Jesus told to make a point. It’s important to understand, from the context, what point He was making. The context is not the afterlife and eternal destiny; it’s how we treat people and live our lives. Also, because it’s presented as a parable and not typical biblical narrative, it’s likely a metaphor rather than a literal happening. Still, let’s put each point to the test:

  • Do the saved go to be with Abraham? The Bible says this nowhere. It says something else.
  • Are people conscious after they die? The Bible says this nowhere, unless it’s in the context of resurrected people.
  • Can people in hell see people in heaven? The Bible says this nowhere.
  • Can people in hell talk with people in heaven? The Bible says this nowhere.
  • If you were suffering in hell and had the chance to ask something of heaven, what would you ask for? Common sense tells us that we would ask to be rescued — certainly more than a drop of water.
  • Would God send a dead person to talk to the living? The Bible says this nowhere, nor does it make sense. (Some might think this happened with Samuel and Saul after Samuel’s death, but that interpretation isn’t consistent within the story or with the Bible as a whole.)
  • Is hell a place where people are hanging out? The Bible says this nowhere.

The afterlife elements of this story are so inconsistent with the rest of the Bible, it seems pretty clear that it was simply a fable Jesus used to make a point about how we should treat people and live our lives. It certainly doesn’t seem that He was explaining heaven and hell, because it’s a complete disconnect from the rest of the Bible’s teaching on death and the final destiny of the lost.

“Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

How would you put this into your own words? Would you say, “Faith without works goes to heaven“? Might you say, “Faith without works returns to God“? Surely you wouldn’t say, “Faith without works will burn in hell forever.” Surely.

It’s more likely that you would say something such as, “Faith without works is nothing.” That makes more sense, right? That seems to be the point that James is making in James 2:14-26.

James understood that death was nothingness. Afterall, that’s what the whole of scripture tells us. So, how did death come to mean “going to heaven” or “returning to God” or “eternal torment”?

The Spirit versus the Soul

Some interpret the spirit returning to God as the person returning to God. However, the creation account tells us that the spirit is the breath of God, the animating life force that makes a body a living person, or soul (Genesis 2:7). At death, the spirit (breath) returns to God who gave it. But the breath is not the person; it is what animates a body, resulting in a living person (soul). On the cross, Jesus said to the Father, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). At that point, He stopped breathing and died; He didn’t go to heaven (John 20:17). He went to heaven later, after His resurrection (Acts 1:9-11).

The Notion of an Immortal Soul

Another explanation is that the notion of an immortal soul entered mainstream Christian theology by way of Greek philosophy. The philosophers got it from pagans, not scripture. The Bible teaches that God alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:16).

The Good News about Death

James tells us that works animate faith. Just as the spirit (God’s breath) brings a body to life, works bring faith to life. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

James makes a fantastic point with a brilliant analogy. Usually, we pay attention only to the point. But, it’s also worth noting what he understood about death. He did not see it the same way most Christians do today.

According to the Bible, death is nothingness. It implies a lifeless body that returns to dust, resting in peace. It is good news that, for those who trust God, there will be a resurrection to eternal life when Jesus comes again (1 Thessalonians 4:16). But, there is also good news in the fact that death is nothingness. It means that those who do not trust God will be sentenced to eternal nothingness rather than eternal suffering. Not only is that good news, it is consistent with the Bible and its broadest theme—that God is love.

Today I was about 10 feet away from three bald eagles. My camera was within reach, but I chose not to take a photo.

I was driving through the Northwoods of Wisconsin when I saw an eagle swoop down and land alongside the road just ahead. As I got closer, I could see three eagles on the roadside. I pulled over.

At once, I was thrilled and disgusted. Thrilled, because I was so close to three magnificent bald eagles. Disgusted, because they were feeding on a deer carcass.

Eagles gotta eat, y’all.

As an animal lover, I hate to see this sort of thing. But I know it’s a matter of survival. I also know that it’s a matter of time before it won’t be this way anymore.

In the Bible, Revelation 21:4 tells us about the future:

“There will be no more death.”

Death will be a thing of the past. No one and nothing will die ever again. I’ll get that bald eagle close-up shot—and a million more.

Is the Bible true?

“All the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.”

“All the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died.“

“All the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years, and he died.“

“All the days of Kenan were nine hundred and ten years, and he died.“

“All the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred and ninety-five years, and he died.“

“All the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years, and he died.“

“All the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more because God took him.“

“All the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.“

“All the days of Lamech were seven hundred and seventy-seven years, and he died.“

What’s so special about Enoch?

These verses are from Genesis 5. While it’s easy to get distracted by the whopping lifespans of these guys, I hope you notice something else. One of these things is not like the others — and it’s not just the bold type. It doesn’t say that Enoch died; it says that God took him.

Hebrews 11:5 sheds some light on what happened: “By faith Enoch was taken to heaven so that he would not see death.”

Out of all of these people, only Enoch went to heaven at the end of his life on earth. Enoch’s case was clearly an exception, not the rule.

What’s the point?

The point is this: Many people — and most Christians believe that people go to heaven when they die. This belief is not supported by scripture. Instead, it came into mainstream Christian theology by way of mythology and philosophy.

Particularly, it is the notion of the immortal soul that was popularized by Plato. This philosophy purports that a disembodied soul originates in heaven, comes down to earth to inhabit a body for a time, and eventually escapes from the body and returns to heaven.

It is important to know where our beliefs come from and what the Bible actually says. This isn’t the only passage that tells us about death and heaven. Read the Bible from beginning to end, and you will see a clear, consistent, coherent message.

Wondering why the Bible should be trusted?

Good news

Those eight men who died might go to heaven and receive eternal life at some point in the future. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, and He offers Himself to everyone. What can we look forward to?

“The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we shall be forever with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

I hope you do find comfort in these words. The Lord knows we need it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas in the comments below. Also, if you don’t already subscribe, I invite you to stay connected and stay tuned for more stuff ‘n’ things where theology, science, and philosophy intersect.

When it was announced that President Trump had COVID-19, some people responded with glee. Some even hoped that he would die.

In my last post, I wrote about people on Facebook responding to tragic news stories by clicking on the laugh reaction emoji under the headline. Many people were laughing that a marriage is over, that relationships are strained, that a man is struggling with addiction, that people are sick, and that people are dying. Laughing.

When it comes to the pleasure and ill-wishes regarding President Trump’s illness, some people offer what they consider to be justification for their attitudes:

  • Trump deserves it because he didn’t take COVID-19 seriously and take necessary precautions.
  • Trump deserves it because his policies cause other people to suffer and die.

Let’s give them the complete benefit of the doubt and assume that their “justifications” are valid. Would it then be appropriate for them to take pleasure in Trump’s illness and even hope that he dies?

To answer that question, let me offer a contrast.

“I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, says the Lord God.”
Ezekiel 18:32

The death of anyone? Even a person who causes his own death because of his recklessness? Even a person who is responsible for the deaths of others? Are you telling me that God didn’t smile — even a little bit — when Hitler died?

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why will you die?”
Ezekiel 33:11

Not only does God find no pleasure in death, He pleads with us to choose life instead. This is in particular reference to the second death. The first death is the end of a lifetime on earth. The second death is a future event — after resurrection — that we typically refer to as hell (see Revelation 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8).

The second death is a natural consequence for those who choose to disconnect from the source of life. The second death is for those who rebel against God — against goodness, light, and life. Do they deserve death? Would their death be justified? When all is revealed, I believe that we will find the answer to be yes. Still, God will have no pleasure.

That is the spirit that we desperately need. We each need a heart that sorrows when others are hurting, a heart that seeks to bless rather than curse, a heart so full of love that there is no room for hate. We need the heart of God.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Matthew 5:43-44

When I read the first pages of the Bible, I notice that the word “good” comes up frequently. The first use of the word “good” in the Bible is in Genesis 1:4, when “God saw that the light was good.” The word is used seven times in Genesis 1, culminating in this: “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”

The first use of the word “evil” in the Bible is in Genesis 2:9: “The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, along with the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” It is used a second time in Genesis 2:15-17: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.’”

Here we see the introduction of the twin dichotomies of good and evil and life and death, which is a theme repeated throughout the Bible. Notice that the classical philosophical dichotomy of heaven and hell is not present here, nor is it present anywhere in the Bible as a dichotomy related to eternal destiny.

Eve and Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil once they believed that God could not be trusted. The human knowledge of evil began when the first humans chose not to trust God. (Similarly, the universe’s knowledge of evil began when Lucifer chose not to trust God. See Isaiah 14:12-14.)

The knowledge of good and evil has been growing since its inception. Someday, when the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature, the question of whether God can be trusted will be settled for all time. Can God be trusted? Just how good is good? Just how evil is evil? These are the questions that will be answered when the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature.

At that time, eternal destinies can be realized. The life-and-death dichotomy that was established in the garden of Eden will come to fruition. Those who choose to trust God will receive eternal life, and those who choose not to trust God will receive eternal death.

  • God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
  • The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
  • He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)

I mentioned that the classical philosophical dichotomy of heaven-and-hell as eternal destiny is not found in the Bible. Notice, too, that the classical philosophical idea of eternal suffering cannot be concluded upon consideration of all of the Bible passages regarding the final destruction of those who do not trust God. Ashes do not suffer (see Ezekiel 28:18, Malachi 4:1-3, 2 Peter 2:6, and Revelation 20:9,15). Good news!

Suffering is a result of evil. Once the knowledge of good and evil is fully mature, it stands to reason that no one will choose evil again. That will be the end of evil, which will mean the end of suffering. More good news!

There was a time when there was only good. Then evil entered the picture. But evil is a companion of good for a limited time only. One of these days, if we choose to trust God, our knowledge of evil will be only a memory. We will spend eternity steeped in a fully-mature knowledge of good. That is the best news.

The image above is a depiction of souls burning in the flames of Purgatory as displayed on the facade of the Church of Ánimas (Capilla de Ánimas) in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Source/License

“The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory. … We often want to pray for those we love who die. It’s actually fairly hard in certain Protestant services I’ve been at … where you don’t pray for the dead. My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love. That means that I’m one of those Protestants who thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory.”

This was said by Phillip S. Cary, an American philosopher who serves as a professor at Eastern University. I heard it in a course he teaches: The History of Christian Theology.

Purgatory is said to be a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are atoning for their sins before going to heaven.

Let me provide the context for the first sentence in the quote by Dr. Cary: “The practice of praying for the dead is, I think, the fundamental origin of the doctrine of purgatory.” Earlier in the lecture, Dr. Cary mentioned that Augustine of Hippo, in his autobigraphical narrative, asked readers to pray for his mother, who was dead. Dr. Cary believes that the doctrine of purgatory developed from this request. The reasoning goes like this: It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in hell, because it won’t do any good. It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone in heaven, because they don’t need it. Therefore, there must be a third place where the soul of a dead person can be, where prayers could be beneficial.

The reasons for believing

Dr. Cary teaches that the doctrine of purgatory is not from the Bible but that it was developed during the Middle Ages, likely based on a personal request made by Augustine — a theologian of the fourth and fifth centuries. The doctrine of purgatory relies on the soul being eternal (or, at least, existing after death). Dr. Cary’s course contains a lecture about the state of the soul after death, and he makes it clear that the idea of an eternal soul is from Plato, not the Bible. He contends that the Bible teaches that, after death, the soul sleeps until resurrection. (I, too, find this in my own study of the Bible.) It is relevant here to note that Augustine was greatly influenced by Plato.

Despite all of this, Dr. Cary “thinks that there might be something to the doctrine of purgatory”. Why? His own words: “My heart wants to pray for the dead that I love.”

What was the reason that the medieval mainstream church created the doctrine of purgatory? According to Dr. Cary, it seems that they wanted to provide an explanation for Augustine’s request for prayers for his dead mother.

These are self-described Christian scholars and theologians. Their reason for believing (or wanting to believe) is not “because it is what the Bible teaches” or “because it is consistent with Bible teaching”. This particular belief is not in the Bible, nor is it consistent with Bible teaching about death or salvation. That does not seem to be a concern of these scholars and theologians.

The source of authority

I understand that not everyone shares my view of sola scriptura, that the Bible is the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice. I believe that because I believe this:

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. It contains falsifiable claims that would have shut down the Christian movement at its start if the claims had been untrue. Although the documents were written by about 40 authors over a period of about 2,000 years, they are coherent in message. The Bible reports events that were the fulfillment of specific prophecies, and it contains prophecies that have been fulfilled in post-biblical times. Much of the Bible is confirmed by the writings of contemporaries and by archaeological findings. The Bible is by far the best attested writing from antiquity.

In other words, I trust the Bible as sole authority because I believe there is strong evidence that supports it as the word of God.

The basis for belief

Many doctrines of the mainstream church come, not from the Bible, but from pagan philosophy or non-biblical, non-apostolic tradition. Do you know which ones? This post isn’t really about the specific doctrine of purgatory. It’s about ideas and where they come from. It’s about our reasons for believing. The doctrine of purgatory is just one example.

It is important that we know where ideas come from, especially the ideas we embrace or reject. It matters why we believe what we believe. We would be wise to base our beliefs — not on desires or hopes or an attempted explanation of one person’s notion — but on evidence. Only then can we build a thoughtful faith that is less likely to be shaken — and more likely to be true.