Heaven can wait: Three Views of Heaven.
If you’re good, then when you die, you’ll go to heaven. This seems to be the traditional Christian view. In fact, Jesus never said any such thing.
The ideas of a glorious hereafter for some souls and torment for others, to come at the point of death, cannot be found either in the Old Testament or in the teachings of the historical Jesus. To put it succinctly: the founder of Christianity did not believe that the soul of a person who died would go to heaven or hell. (Ehrman, p 16)
Ehrman is correct, but he is making some implicit distinctions that are not obvious. Jesus believed in the resurrection of the body, not the soul. Jesus also believed that the Kingdom of Heaven would be established on earth, not somewhere in the sky. So, one could just as well say that Jesus believed in a glorious life after death for some, and death for others. Hell plays a relatively small role in Jesus’ teaching.
Three views of the afterlife
Three views of the afterlife are present in the Bible. The third is implicit, and probably the most important. The three are:
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It’s mostly good that the gnostic gospels didn’t make it into the Bible.
Several decades ago, the gnostic gospels seemed to be making a comeback after a couple of thousand years of loss and neglect. Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels was published in 1979, and for the first time in a long time people outside the schools of theology began to talk about them. Often favorably, as if the gnostic gospels contained a purer, less institutionalized form of Christianity.
I bought into this in a vague way (most of what I thought about religion then was pretty vague), but recently I read The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, a collection of forty-six texts that are generally referred to as gnostic, though not all are. One is a selection from Plato’s Republic. Most seem to date from the second and third centuries CE, but the Gospel of Thomas, the most well known gnostic gospel, may have been written around the same time as the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). To make things complicated, the Gospel of Thomas contains both orthodox and gnostic elements.
After some more reading, I decided that on the whole I’m glad the gnostic gospels didn’t make it into the New Testament, or a new canon.
Continue reading It’s mostly good that the gnostic gospels didn’t make it into the Bible