Did first century Christians and Jews believe that wicked people and infidels will have a worst afterlife or a worst life in the world to come?

Posted: September 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

Rather than engage in any argument over the use of the words Hell, Sheol, Hades, etc., or termes like “eternal torment”, let’s just address the question:

First, the Christians. Yes, several of the early 1st-2nd century Christians (which appellation, according to Acts, was first applied to the disciples around 37–40 CE) taught an “afterlife” both for the wicked and the righteous:

From “The Epistle of Barnabas” (70-130AD)
The author of the Epistle of Barnabas is unknown, but many consider him to simply be who he said he was, Barnabas, the associate of Paul who is mentioned in the Book of Acts. The letter was written to new converts to Christianity:

The way of darkness is crooked, and it is full of cursing. It is the way of eternal death with punishment. (“Epistle of Barnabas”)

From Ignatius of Antioch (110AD)
Ignatius was a student of the Apostle John, and succeeded the Apostle Peter as the Bishop of Antioch. He wrote a number of important letters to believers in churches in the area:

Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death. how much more if a man corrupt by evil reaching the faith of God. for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him. (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1-2)Image result for ignatius of antioch

From Clement of Rome (150AD)
Clement was Bishop of Rome from 88 to 98AD, and his teaching reflects the early traditions of the Church. “Second Clement” reportedly a recorded sermon, and Clement discusses the nature of Hell:

If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment (“Second Clement” 5:5)

But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, ‘There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!’ (“Second Clement” 17:7)Image result for clement of rome

From “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” (155AD)
This work was written by an Early Church Father (unknown author) and is dated very early in the history of Christianity. It describes the death of Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, and also describes early teachings of the church:

Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire (“Martyrdom of Polycarp” 2:3)Image result for polycarp

What Did Early Christians Believe About Hell? | Cold Case Christianity

Other writers were not so inclined and even some of the writings of the above are not as clear. Hell, annihilation, eternal torment…whatever, to paraphrase “When the Saints Go Marching In”, I do NOT want to be in that number. I have a friend who is an avowed atheist. His views on the “afterdeath” are not mere beliefs, to him they are absolute knowledge, and He KNOWS that when he dies, he will simply cease to exist. I asked him how he felt about it, and he said, “It scares the sh*t out of me.”


Judaism is similar, actually, to teachings all throughout Christendom:

Traditional Judaism firmly believes that death is not the end of human existence. However, because Judaism is primarily focused on life here and now rather than on the afterlife, Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion. It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the messiah, when they will be resurrected. Likewise, Orthodox Jews can believe that the souls of the wicked are tormented by demons of their own creation, or that wicked souls are simply destroyed at death, ceasing to exist.

Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife

While the Mishnah doesn’t elaborate on the afterlife, the Talmud (redacted in 500 CE) gives us a glimpse into the rabbis’ view of life after death.

In Eruvin 19b, we are told that all but the most wicked are sent to Gehenom (a fiery place, according to Berakhot 57b), but their stay in the flames is temporary. After being purged of their sins, they are ushered to Heaven by Abraham.

Elsewhere (Rosh Hashanah 17a), the torments of Hell are said to be temporary for most sinners – but instead of ending in Heaven, they end in nonexistence.

Some references to the World to Come in the Talmud seem to refer to Gan Eden; others clearly refer to a time after the dead come back to life, such as this section in Berakhot 17a: “In the World to Come there is no eating, or drinking nor procreation or commerce, nor jealousy, or enmity, or rivalry – but the righteous sit with crowns on their head and enjoy the radiance of the Divine Presence.”

What is the Jewish afterlife like? This article briefly introduces the notion that 1st century Jewish concepts of the afterlife influenced the budding Christian teachings.

Jewish conceptions of heaven and hell — Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) and Gehinnom — are associated with the belief in immortality and/or the World to Come, and were also developed independent of these concepts.

Most Jewish ideas about the afterlife developed in post-biblical times.

What the Bible Says

The Bible itself has very few references to life after death. Sheol, the bowels of the earth, is portrayed as the place of the dead, but in most instances Sheol seems to be more a metaphor for oblivion than an actual place where the dead “live” and retain consciousness.

The notion of resurrection appears in two late biblical sources, Daniel 12 and Isaiah 25-26.

Daniel 12:2 — “Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence” — implies that resurrection will be followed by a day of judgment. Those judged favorably will live forever and those judged to be wicked will be punished.

Is There a Jewish Afterlife? | My Jewish Learning

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