Witherington on Heaven

‘Notice how very little the New Testament says about dying and going to heaven, and that when the matter is discussed, for instance in 2 Cor. 5:1-10, Paul makes clear that life without a body in heaven is by no means his own hope or expectation in regard to how he will spend eternity. Indeed, Paul refers to life in heaven without a body as nakedness, which to an early Jew was hardly the most desirable state of affairs. While it is true that under the influence of Greek thought medieval Christianity often substituted the discussion of immortality of the soul for the New Testament doctrine of the resurrection of the body, this is not what the majority of New Testament passages are speaking of when they refer to the afterlife. Indeed, it could be said that in the new Testament life in heaven is seen only as an interim condition. Resurrection is something that happens in the earthly realm to real people who have died, It is not an event in some other real (for instance, heaven) and is not immune to historical scrutiny and evaluation. It is interesting that J. Murphy-O’Connor has suggested in a recent book, Paul: A Critical Life, that the whole reason that Christians believed in the everlasting existence of the human personality beyond death at all was precisely because they believed that there had to be a person there for God in Christ to raise up on the last day. How very different this is from what one usually hears today about dying and going to heaven.'(Ben Witherington III, ‘New Testament History: A Narrative Account’ pp. 166-167)


6 thoughts on “Witherington on Heaven

  1. directorb December 26, 2013 / 9:29 pm

    Good thought provoking post.


  2. Ian Thompson (@theisticscience) December 26, 2013 / 10:22 pm

    Where did “dying and going to heaven” come from?


    • whitefrozen December 26, 2013 / 10:24 pm

      I suspect it came from a very gradual screening out of the Jewish element of the NT, over the centuries, until basically today the gospel is that ‘Jesus died so when you die you can go to heaven for forever.’ N.T. Wright has plenty to say about views like this.


  3. Chris Falter December 31, 2013 / 12:38 am

    I would agree that we have almost completely lost the notion of a physical resurrection at the end of time. And we need to regain it.


    • Ian Thompson (@theisticscience) December 31, 2013 / 1:42 am

      Paul talks of the “eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” with which we are “clothed .. with our heavenly dwelling”.
      Does this not imply that the heavenly state has a body? We need a body in order to be clothed.

      My question to you is whether the ‘modern tradition’ of ‘going to live in heaven’ involves ‘heavenly states’ that are necessarily without body? Could not we have ‘heavenly’ or ‘incorruptible’ bodies?

      The question, then, is whether there can exist nonphysical bodies?
      Or is ‘physical resurrection’ the only way of obtaining bodies?


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