I just read an essay published by Time titled, “What Jesus Really Said About Heaven and Hell.” It was adapted from a book by Bart D. Ehrman, once a self-professed born-gain, fundamentalist Christian, now turned agnostic atheist. The book is titled, “Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.”
Ehrman posits the Hebrew Bible, i.e. the Old Testament, does not teach that the soul of man survives physical death, but perishes with it. This unbeliever also says neither Jesus nor ancient Hebrews believed “departed souls go to paradise or everlasting pain.”
When we talk about things like resurrection, heaven, hell, etcetera; we are basically talking about things that have to do with the afterlife. What the Scriptures mean are dependent on the subtle interplay of semantics and syntax. That is to say, what words mean, and what they mean when they are put together with other words in a sentence.
Another way of saying this is what words mean in context. Ehrman delves into the etymology, the history of what a word means, and shapes the meaning of a passage of Scripture around that word rather than trying to understand how that word contributes to the context of the passage in which it is found.
Ehrman delves into the etymology, the history of what a word means, and shapes the meaning of a passage of Scripture around that word rather than trying to understand how that word contributes to the context of the passage in which it is found.
Take the term used in the Psalms, Sheol. The Psalms describe it as a person’s new location after death, but Ehrman says, “Sheol is simply a synonym for ‘tomb’ or ‘grave,’ It’s not a place where someone actually goes,” and “Jesus did not say souls would be tortured there. They simply would no longer exist.” Is that what Jesus said?
Jesus tells a story about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. They both die and Jesus relates their story in the Gospel of Luke 16:19-31. The rich man ends up in Hades, a word borrowed from Greek mythology and is the equivalent of the Hebrew word Sheol in the Old Testament.
Jesus said, “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, … And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’” That is what Jesus really said.
Ehrman says Jesus did not say Sheol or Hades is a place “where someone actually goes,” but according to Jesus the rich man went there. Ehrman says, “Jesus did not say souls would be tortured there.,” but Jesus said the rich man was “in torment” and the rich man says he is “in agony in this flame.”
Ehrman says people are consumed by the flames and “simply no longer exist.” Jesus did not say the rich man was consumed by the flames but was “in agony” in the flames. Never trust an atheist to tell you what Jesus really said.
If you want to know what Jesus or the Bible really says about the afterlife then read it for yourself.