Sunday, June 16, 2013

Imagine There's No Heaven

This post does not address the intermediate state of Paradise, only the final destination of Christians.

It is paramount to understand the difference between our 21st century concept of Heaven and the first century (Jewish) concept of Heaven.

The first century Jews believed that "Heaven" was the Messianic Banquet--not a "place where we go after the Earth is gone."

I believe that the Lord's Supper is that banquet.

Luke records,

"... When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, 'Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God...'" (Luke 14:15). 


"... People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God..." (Luke 13:29).

Examining the key passages of 2 Peter 3:10-13 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, used to support the belief that the Earth will be annihilated, reveals that annihilation of the earth is not the proper conclusion when we read the Bible with first century glasses.

2nd Peter 3:10-13 states:

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells" (NIV 2011).

In his book, The New Testament and The People of God, N. T. Wright says,
"The 'kingdom of god' has nothing to do with the world itself coming to an end. That makes no sense either of the basic Jewish worldview or of the texts in which the Jewish hope is expressed. It was after all the Stoics, not the first-century Jews, who characteristically believed that the world would be dissolved in fire…."
But doesn't the Bible teach that the Earth will be "destroyed" and that "we will meet the Lord in the air?"

Yes. But not in the way we have been taught.

1st Thessalonians 4:13-17 reads:

For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Assuming the first century concept of "Heaven" is the Messianic Banquet which is something a 21st century non Jewish Christian would not naturally assume, what did Paul's metaphor of this 'return of the king' in 1 Thes. 4:13-17 mean in first century context to a first century hearer or reader?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dualism Explained

In The New Testament And The People of God, Tom Wright gives an excellent summary of dualism. He writes:

“It is often said that some types of Judaism are characterized by ‘dualism’….The problem with this is that the word ‘dualism’ is used in several quite different senses, by no means always differentiated. Furthermore, the word ‘dualism’ itself is heavily loaded in some circles, often indicating disapproval; but several of the things which are asserted to be ‘dualistic’ are perfectly normal features of most if not all biblical theology, and we must make a careful distinction between that which the great majority of Jews accepted as normal and that with which some, exceptionally, flirted.”

“I propose therefore that, to begin with, we refer to ‘dualities’, rather than ‘dualisms’, and save the latter term for certain specific dualities."

"There are at least ten types of duality, as follows:”

“1. Theological/ ontological duality. The postulation of heavenly beings other than the one God, even if these beings exist at his behest and to do his will [angels, sp]. This belief is called ‘dualism’ in some recent scholarship.”

“2. Theological/ cosmological duality. If pantheism is a classic form of monism [one god consisting of all creation, sp], the differentiation between the creator God and the created order is often seen as itself a sort of ‘dualism.’”

“3. Moral duality. The positing of a firm distinction between good and evil, e.g. in the realm of human behavior. Most religions maintain some such distinction, but some forms of pantheism have tried to remove it, not least by labelling it ‘dualism’ and associating it with other dualisms that are deemed to be unwelcome.”

“4. Eschatological duality. The distinction between the present age and the age to come, usually reckoning the present age as evil and the age to come as good.”

“5. Theological/ moral duality. Expressed classically in Zoroastrianism and some forms of Gnosticism, this view postulates that there are two ultimate sources of all that is: a good god and a bad god. In ‘hard’ versions, the two are locked in struggle for ever; in ‘soft’ versions, the good one will eventually win.”

 “6. Cosmological duality. The classic position of Plato: the world of material things is the secondary copy or shadow of the ‘real’ world of the Forms, which are perceived by the enlightened mind. In many different versions, this view filtered down as a mainline belief of the Greco-Roman (and the modern Western) world: that which can be observed in the physical world is secondary and shabby compared with that which can be experienced by the mind or spirit. (In some modern versions the order is reversed, putting the material first and the spiritual second).”

“7. Anthropological duality. The human-centred version of cosmological dualism. Humans are bipartite creatures, a combination of body and soul, which are arranged in a hierarchy:  soul ahead of body in many religions and philosophies, body ahead of soul in many political agendas.”