Today a friend of mine randomly asked me “What do you think happened to all of the Old Testament people after they died? Did they go to heaven even though Jesus had not died for their sins yet?”
Now this was far from the subjects that we were discussing, but this was something that was bugging them for quite some time and they wanted my opinion on the matter as someone who is currently studying theology.
So, I gave her the accepted bible school answer. Basically that all of the “righteous dead” who died before Jesus went to some kind of limbo or purgatory. Although now scholars generally refer to it as the Bosom of Abraham.
And [there was] a poor man, by name Lazarus, [who] was laid at his gateway full of sores, and desiring to be filled with the crumbs which fell from the table of the rich man; but the dogs also coming licked his sores. And it came to pass that the poor man died, and that he was carried away by the angels into the bosom of Abraham. And the rich man also died and was buried. And in hades lifting up his eyes, being in torments, he sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
They also teach that this is the place that Jesus was referring to when on the cross when he said:
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Especially since according to their theology it was not the appropriate time yet for man to be able to be in heaven.
(However, please note that in Luke 16:20-23 Jesus is telling a parable. He was not discussing theology or telling an actual story. A parable is a simple story illustrating a moral or religious lesson – it is not fact, and should never be taken as one. The fact that a parable somehow made its way into Christian “facts” on the afterlife is beyond me.)
I also explained to her the church teaches that after Jesus died he went to this limbo and preached the gospel to the dead. Those who chose to believe in him were then able to enter heaven.
As a child I also remember being told this in church and asked lwhat happend to any Old Testiment figures that did not acccept Jesus while in limbo? I was just told “That didn’t happen, they all accepted him. Stop asking questions!”
This is the scripture to justify the rationale that Christ went to limbo to convert the dead:
1 Peter 4:6
For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
At this point my friend laughed at me, and stated that I was making all this up. They said that maybe old school Catholics think something like this, but there is no way that people in our modern churches think such things. I then stated and showed that this is the popular belief among most Christian scholars and church denominations to this day. Yes, even your non-denominational, Baptist, Pentecostal… whatever church most-likely still adheres to this teaching.
“But that’s crazy!” they said. Well let us think about it then – if this is crazy then what is rational? Is the flood rational? The ark? Talking snakes, and women being created out of rib-bones? Elijah riding up to heaven on a fiery chariot?
So if you do not want to believe in this theory, then what is option number 2? Option number 2 comes from the Apostle Paul’s teachings in Romans. Paul states that even without hearing the gospel of Christ, God is still known by all men in their hearts.
since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
He then states:
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.
It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
So the basic concept of option 2 is that people who die without having the chance to know Jesus will simply be judged as good or evil based on how obedient they were to their own consciences or their own religions.
My friend liked this option a lot better, and said that it made much more sense to her.
But we need to look deeper at this theory. Let us examine it a bit further before we say that this is the answer that is “logical”.
Maybe it sounds nice to us that to all the Old Testament peoples, they got judged by a different standard and got to heaven or hell based on this standard. However, if it were possible to even get into heaven without Jesus then why did we even need a Christ at all in the first place?
Seriously, the whole point of Christ was that all of mankind is sinful and unable to please God or enter into heaven without the Christ. Our bible even states that even someone who obeyed ever letter of the Law was still not good enough and was going to hell.
We even preach a doctrine of original sin which states that at conception/birth we are sinful and are not worthy to enter heaven since no sin can be in heaven/the presence of God.
As a side-note if this is true ask yourself why the heck Satan is chilling out in heaven talking to God in the book of Job.
We also have to take into consideration that what Paul is writing was referring to all people groups and time periods, and not just pre-Christ. So what does this actually mean if it is true? Does it mean that everyone is going to heaven or hell based on how they acted according to their own hearts, laws, or religions? No, we say that it says that if someone does not hear the gospel then they are judged by this other standard.
So let me get this straight… If someone was a devout Hindu, a kind and good person who lived a good life, and who loved their God – and they did not hear the gospel of Jesus they would die and go to heaven.
Conversely, if the same person right before they died was presented with the gospel of Jesus and did not accept it – then would then die and go to hell.
Are you kidding me? If that is the case then what is the point of evengelism anyway? Would not people be better off if they did not know the gospel of Jesus? Heck, if this was the case then all Jesus did was make it harder to get into heaven then it was before he came along.
My friend then chimed in and said – “If we are born sinful then and are born unworthy to get into heaven then what about babies that die?”
Well for that we created something called the “age of accountability“. This basically is us saying that God would be a real jerk if he sent babies and handicapped people to hell, so there must be a way around it. So we preach that God will let beings into heaven that died before being able to rationally accept or reject the gospel.
This is a cute theory, but it is not scriptural and goes against Romans 5:12, many other scriptures, and the churches stance on original sin. In fact the church went as far as to declare the idea that to not believe in original sin to be heresy. This notion championed by Saint Augustine was a primary catalyst for the whole invention of Purgatory in the first place. Since we started teaching that dead babies can not get into heaven – we had to create some kind of place for them to go to that was not hell and some kind of way to then pray them into heaven.
So what is the right answer? I do not know but, I’d like to point out how all of our accepted answers are a bit crazy, and offer up the idea that maybe we are making it a lot harder to get to God than we were supposed to in the first place.
For more heresy please join me on my new blog at www.evolitionist.com
Read Full Post »