Afterlife Diversity

A friend shared this screenshot from the movie Hellbound? on Facebook.

I would dispute whether some of these texts clearly belong in the particular category in which they are placed (although if I recall correctly, in the movie the point of the chart was not to say that these prooftext support these views but simply to indicate that each view has prooftexts which seem at first glance to support it). I would also point out that the diversity of the Bible encompasses more than these three views – most of the Hebrew Bible doesn't envisage an afterlife at all. But it is still a useful image as a starting point for discussion.

And even for those inclined to harmonize them, “interpreting Scripture in light of Scripture,” the question must be asked as to why you start with the particular set of texts you do and harmonize the others to them, rather than harmonizing the texts you chose to start with to others that seem to mean something else.


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  • Lothar Lorraine

    Hi James.
    It is entirely true that quite a few Biblical authors explicitly deny the existence of an afterlife and I like to point this out to fundamentalists as a strong argument against Biblical inerrancy.
    Unfortunately they are very gifted in finding very unlikely interpretations to avoid this conclusion.
    And in many contexts, if other Christians take 1% of the liberty they take with the interpretation of the OT views on afterlife they’ll inevitably call them heretics.

    That said, do we really know that all the first Biblical writers believed that everything is over with death?
    Could there not have been a minority voice believing in some form of afterlife?

    Since we know that in biology we have to do with evolutionary bushes instead of evolutionary trees, could we not assume that the evolution of religious ideas might be much bushier than commonly accepted?

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe
    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • James F. McGrath

      It is always hard to know, and there is certainly evidence for belief in sheol as a shadowy place to which the dead go, and from which one might potentially be called back by magic.

  • James Pate

    That was my favorite point in Hellbound?