Andrew Naffin, Theology, church, scripture, N.T. Wright, Karl Barth
 
What is the view of the afterlife in the Old Testament?  It seems there is little to no talk about the afterlife at all!  And what about resurrection, a topic on which the New Testament has so much to say and around which the New Testament pivots?

The Old Testament when it talks about life after death primarily talks about a place called Sheol in Hebrew and is often translated the “grave” or the “pit”.  Reading through the Old Testament it seems rather straightforward that for the Israelites death was the end of all that was good - it is the end of the line.  People did not look forward to being freed from their bodies and going to paradise, but rather saw that to die was to enter the darkness from which no one returned.   If there could be said to be any activity it was not pleasant and at best could be compared to a fitful sleep.  This was the position of the righteous and the unrighteous after passing into death.  People often mistakenly interpret passages that deal with God saving people from going down to Sheol in the Old Testament to mean that God is saving their immortal souls from ever touching this darkness.  Instead These passages deal with God temporarily saving them from death until a later time, down the road, when they would still enter Sheol.  The effects of the curse on mankind given in Genesis 3:19 continue to hold sway.  Death remains the ultimate statistic – 1 out of 1 dies - and the Israelites were as well aware of this as we are today.  All across the pages of the Old Testament this view of death is held (cf Genesis 3:19, 88:3-7, 2 Samuel 14:14, and much of Isaiah 38).

This does not mean that the OT is in contradiction with the view of the N.T. with its heavy emphasis on resurrection however.  The N.T. doesn’t talk much about Sheol or a dark after life, but it definitely deals a lot with death.  Though the terminology is in part different, both Testaments comment on the afterlife.  In the OT we begin to see glimpses that death will not be the final end after all.  We begin to hear whispers that God will not abandon his people to the final exile of death, but will lead them even out of the bondage of death itself.  Death is not a gateway to paradise, but God himself will overturn death and lead his people out of death into paradise.  This is not life after death, as if when we die we go to a disembodied and otherworldly heaven, but life AFTER life after death if you will.  It is what happens when we are released from death.  We are looking forward to the resurrection after death – death being overturned!  The Old Testament doesn’t talk about this much, but there are places where this is clearly and succinctly being said.  Isaiah is perhaps the most bold in its talk of resurrection (Isa. 24-27), as well as the end of the book of Daniel.  Isaiah 26:19 says:

 But your dead will live;
       their bodies will rise.
       You who dwell in the dust,
       wake up and shout for joy.
       Your dew is like the dew of the morning;
       the earth will give birth to her dead.
In the Old Testament we begin to see dawn a hope in a new reality, one in which God in his faithfulness will save his people even from the clutches of death. 


I believe there is continuity between the two Testaments views on the afterlife, but the second part of the story, that of resurrection, comes as a surprising continuation to what was already known in early Israelite thought. 

 

Baff
6/6/2010

For some reason, I only recently noticed how quiet (I do not say silent) the O.T. is on the afterlife. It seems hard to grasp just what the Hebrews believed about it. Did even Moses or David believe in resurrection?

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If you wish to be the best man, you must suffer the bitterest of the bitter.

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Tim
1/15/2013

Thank you for this insight. God bless your studies.

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9/20/2013

I hope it's true, with weak faith and loved ones dying it makes life difficult. Just got to believe.

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Mike Johnson
1/14/2014

Stupid

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Richard
5/25/2014

I noticed that too...
when the reason and foundation of Christianity
is leading a good life ....for your soul. ..in the afterlife...
the OT...seems so disconnect ed..
yet we say we believe in the Bible

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Andrew Naffin, Theology, Church, Scripture, N.T. Wright, Karl Barth