Saturday, January 07, 2012

Jesus and Gehenna (7)

... continued series on Jesus and judgment.
So Jesus preached that judgment was coming for those living on the earth, including the wicked within Israel.  My hunch is that Jesus did not emphasize this judgment in his teaching, even though it was always there in the background.  It makes sense that it may have featured more prominently in Jesus' final days on earth than it did in the bulk of his ministry. In this last section, I want to discuss another element in Jesus' equation of judgment, namely, resurrection and hell.

Again, Jesus probably didn't speak very much on either topic.  For example, we don't have too many statements by Jesus in the gospels about the resurrection. There is his well known debate with some Sadducees in Mark 12:18-27.  The Sadducees were "conservative" when it came to the subject and sided with the silence of the bulk of the Old Testament. They rejected the fairly new idea of resurrection and its sometimes revolutionary implications. [1]

Jesus disagreed. The gospels remember him teaching that there would be a resurrection involving Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g., Matt. 8:11; Luke 13:28).  Certainly he also speaks of his own resurrection at points in the gospels.  Interestingly, this is surprisingly little from Jesus on a subject that is a core item of our faith. But of course the resurrection had not begun yet at that point.  Jesus was the beginning of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20), and so the resurrection has now started.

The gospels have more to say about hell, especially Matthew. We saw a couple passages earlier in the chapter where Jesus talked about those who die in the judgment being cast, body and soul, into Gehenna (e.g., Matt. 10:28; Mark 9:47). It is tempting for some to see Jesus only referring to the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem. [2] It is where they burned trash so that its fire never went out and its worms always he something to fee on (Mark 9:48).

The word ge-hinnom in Aramaic originally meant "Valley of Hinnom"--this is where the word "Gehenna" originally came from. At first, some time before Jesus came to earth, the word perhaps was used of the place where the bodies of those who died in the final conflict between good and evil would be burned. However, words usually do not stand still in their meanings, and this word went on to refer to a place of eternal torment for the wicked beneath the surface of the earth...

[1] The only place in the Old Testament that all agree refers to resurrection is Daniel 12:2-3, although there are other possibilities (e.g., Isa. 26:19).  Other passages explicitly deny a meaningful afterlife (e.g., Job 3:16-19; 7:9-10; 14:14, 21; Ps. 6:4-5; 30:9; 88:3-6; and Eccl. 3:19; 9:4-5). The idea of resurrection probably did not really gain force within Judaism until the 100's BC.  There it was perhaps first associated with those who die a martyr's death out of faithfulness to the Law (e.g., 2 Maccabees 7).  It meant that those who stand up to foreign powers out of devotion to God will come back and see the judgment of their adversaries.  Cf. J. H. Charlesworth, ed. Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Biblical Doctrine (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2006).

[2] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (San Francisco: HarperOne), 67-68.


John C. Gardner said...

A query: Is it acceptable for a Wesleyan Christian to pray that no one will go to hell while believing that some people do go to hell?

Ken Schenck said...

I have a Wesleyan leader friend who hopes God turns out to be a universalist, while not finding the biblical evidence to really conclude that. He calls himself a "hopeful universalist." There's apparently a false quote by Karl Barth on this topic as well, "I am not a universalist, but perhaps God is."

The Articles of Religion require us to affirm the existence of hell, but nothing stops us from praying that as few people will be there as possible.