The Evangelical Universalist Forum

where did first century Jews learn about eternal punishment?

Where does Jesus uphold their view of eternal punishment? As I understand correctly, there was a fairly diverse belief in the first century. Some believed in the resurrection and some did not. Some Jews believed in reincarnation and some did not. Some believed in ECT and some did not. However, what is interesting is even though many supposedly believed in ECT, where did they get this? It’s not from the Old Testament because the OT is almost completely silent on it. My point for this thread was that, based on the scriptures, they would have had to have gotten most of their post mortem beliefs from non biblical sources since the OT is pretty quiet on such things.

i agree with this.
also Jesus, in the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, could almost be seen to be satirising their views as He tells them they would understand if they but listened to Moses and the Prophets, none of whom taught these strange doctrines. they taught Sheol as death: a place of unconscious nonbeing.

That’s an interesting question. I think that Aaron has some challenges for Sherman to answer. Chris, even if the OT would be the authority on such issues (is it, or is Christ?), Jesus is speaking of Gehenna (not spoken of as post mortem suffering place in OT) which is “non biblical” in the sense that it isn’t in the OT.

not sure how to answer that totally, but i would think that the OT, being inspired, wouldn’t be contradicted by Christ…only fulfilled.
so i personally take what David and Solomon both wrote about Sheol as a Scriptural view. i’ve heard many Christians try to say “oh, their knowledge was imperfect” to dismiss it as it threatened their view that you go instantly whereever you deserve to go right after death. i don’t personally believe the Bible teaches that view, and so i go with the OT view.
also, God didn’t say the wages of sin was ECT, He says “death”. anything Jesus said after would shine light on that, and perhaps dismiss a few assumptions people had made, but i don’t believe that His words would contradict.
also, i’ve found that some of His words made sense in an OT context, as technically (in my view) the new covenant doesn’t begin until He dies and rises again.

You don’t think that anything Jesus uttered was new revelation that could not be found in the OT? Certainly, He used Gehenna in a way that the OT did not.

Hey Roof,
Jesus definitely brought all kinds of new things to the table. Some things that were very difficult (if you even look with lust…), and some which were astoundingly wonderful (you are my friends…). The strange thing is that these modern authors are defending hell by saying that Jesus was addressing that which they were already completely familiar with - ECT. The problem is that they couldn’t have gotten any elaborate ideas from the Old Testament and therefore they were not getting it from what we conservatives understand as authoritative revelation. The truth is, they were drawing many ideas from the Greek culture they were immersed in. The Greeks had an elaborate ECT. They were also getting it from apocryphal literature. Unless we want to open an enormous can of worms by saying that the apocryphal literature was authoritative as revelation from God, we should stick with accepted revelation. If you were to walk away from the old testament after several reads for over arching themes on God, sin, punishment, etc, you would never walk away saying, “well it would be obvious, when God punishes sin he would torment unrepentant sinners for eternity.” This theme simply does not exist in the scriptures anywhere. You see a God who relents, who says “enough”, who is filled with mercy and compassion, even at those who are sinning against Him. His wrath builds up, pours out, and finishes its purpose.

I’m not really sure about “as a whole.” But it does seem as if the doctrine was general among the Pharisees and Essenes - and the Pharisees most likely had the greatest influence on the Jewish people as a whole than any other sect.

What I find interesting is how Jesus reserved his strongest rebukes of the wickedness of the Jews of his generation for the scribes and Pharisees (e.g., Mt. 5:20; 23:1-36) rather than the Sadducees. While he warns his disciples to beware of the doctrine of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees and tells the Sadducees they were mistaken for not believing that those who died would be restored to a living existence, it doesn’t seem as if Jesus generally viewed them as “hypocrites” or as great a threat to the moral/spiritual health of the nation.

It’s something worth pondering.

I can see where the assertion could be made that the theme of ECT couldn’t be found in the OT, but couldn’t the Pharisees have inferred it from the end times prophecy of Daniel 12:2 and then read it into their Gehenna tradition? I’m also interested to hear if anyone can provide a non-ECT view of that verse as well, since that seems to be the first mention of anything like that.

That is the reason why I said that they could not have formed any **elaborate belief **on ECT. There are 2 verses that I am aware of with the Daniel verse being the most specific. But this verse is in Daniel which is really late in the Old Testament in terms of date of authorship from the earlier books of Moses. In other words there were several thousand years before there was a scriptural mention of possible ECT. They would not have been able to develop a complex theology that was scriptural since there was virtually no scripture to draw off of. Furthermore, the beliefs that they did hold come from other sources, such as the book of Enoch, the Greeks and their well developed view of the afterlife, and perhaps, their imaginations. Whatever the source, the old testament offered very little and all the extra details outside of the simple idea of eternal punishment and reward were not from the bible and are therefore, inadmissible according to what conservatives traditionally accept. Therefore, when Chan and company claim that their early belief in hell was proof of its veracity, they are simply out of line. I kind of remember Jesus being quite critical of the pharisees and sadducees. It would seem that following their lead would make you “twice the son of hell that they were”, according to Jesus, if you followed their proselytizing. It seems to me that they weren’t too spiritually keen at the time of Christ.

Regarding the Daniel passage, there is another thread in this forum discussing that passage.

So Aaron, if I understand you correctly, you do not believe that the references to what the school of Shammai taught in the Talmud and Misnah reflect what they taught during the time of Christ, but what they taught some time after that, and that what the school of Shammai taught does not necessarily reflect what Shammai himself taught.

That’s possible, but I think otherwise. I think that the school of Shammai expouned upon what Shammai believed and taught, similar to Calvinistic schools teach and expound upon what Calvin believed and taught, though 100’s, even 1000’s of years could separate the two. The beliefs and concepts of various teachers were handed down from generation to generation pretty legalistically by word of mouth, and was actually called the Oral Law. It’s an interesting study. And to me, Shammai being the president of the Sanhedrin during the life of Christ is significant to me and would have been a major factor in Jesus’ rebuke and rebuttal of the Pharisees.

So, does Jesus use of Gehenna in some way endorse the teachings on this from the school of Shammai? I don’t think so. Rather, it was a term loaded with theological meaning to the Pharisee that Jesus used to rebuke the Pharisees, to warn them of judgment to come. The purgative sence of Gehenna can be seen in the Mark 9 passage. And then the Pharisees’ debate concerning the especially wicked suffering indefinitely long or annihilated in Gehenna can possibly be alluded to when Jesus says to not fear man who can only kill the body, but to fear God who “can destroy” both body and soul in Gehenna. Which could indicate that the worst possible punishment that God would consider would be annihilation, though it doesn’t actually affirm that such will happen to anyone, only that such is possible for God is the one who gives and sustains existance.

Of course with Gehenna being a physical place, if it’s true that it was a trash dump with no shortage of maggots and a continuous fire, then when Jesus warns of progressive wrong attitudes/actions (anger, calling someone a fool (raca), and being a rebel (morah)) in Mt.5.22, and the progressive punishments of local civil judgment, the Sanhedrin judgment, and ultimately being cast into Gehenna, which could speak of Roman judgment of Rebels (crucifixion and cast unburied in the trash). And this understanding also seems to fit James where it says that one speaks from Gehenna, having a Trash-mouth syndrome.

And then of course, the passages that allude to Gehenna and weeping and gnashing of teeth in regard to Israel could pull in the OT use of Gehenna speaking of the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem. This perspective is powerful and each passage could be interpreted from this perspective, not necessarily as predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, but as the most painful example to the Jew of the judgment of God, destruction of evil, shame and reproach of a life for generations to come!

So it seems to me that Gehenna was a term filled with various meanings and Jesus used them to call people to repentance, warning of punishment in this life and possibly even the world to come. What I don’t see is any significant evidence in support of ECT, especially when one considers that Olam does not imply “endless” but that which is beyond, and Olam Haba seems to reference the world/age to come, and often the age of the Messiah. Sadly though it’s translated as “forever” or “eternal”. I think any punishment we might face will be solely for remedial purposes, to cleanse and heal our soul, meant for our good though it might be terrible. Mainly though I think that just facing the fire of truth will be bad enough, burning the hell/evil from us. Weeping and grinding of teeth both speak to me of repentance and remorse.

I believe that the concept of ECT and relating that to Gehenna was a much later development, one that came from Greco-Roman mythology, reading Tartarus into Gehenna, Greek mythology into Jewish terminology.

Im following this from InChristalone’s introduction and it’s very interesting.

My sympathies lie with Dirtboy. I don’t see how any elaborate and articulated belief in the afterlife could have been held since they did not even know if a ressurection (from Daniel) was literal or not. Sure the pharisees believe in a literal ressurection in contrast to the sad. But even if they did, does that conclude that ALL pharisees agreed on the nature of punishment in the afterlife. I hardly doubt anyone could prove it.


The other point I would make is that Francis Chan seems to place all his chips on the weight of jewish belief. So what if they believed in ECT. What does that prove? It proves it’s a possibility? Logically? None of us would say ECT makes no sense in it’s definition. Of course it could be true on a possible level. But we disagree with it because it conflicts with Cor 13 and many other passages.

But what if some believed in Annihilation? Would Francis Chan then say that Ann. is true? What if some believed in universal redepmtion? The Jews were wrong about many things like worrying about eating yeast. And why? Because the OT said don’t eat yeast. It’s as if people don’t get the depth of scripture. It appears to me the subtext trumps the context and that is something everyone fears (esp. exegetes).

I suppose we are just going to ignore that Jeremiah went into GREAT detail about Gehenna? That Gehenna is prophesied as one day being called the Valley of Slaughter? I think we sometimes give outside sources to much credit, sure we must place scripture in its cultural understanding, but shouldn’t we allow scripture to interpret scripture and not man? Jesus made it plain not to pay attention to the Pharisees teachings, the 1st century reader would have interpreted this as saying that maybe their teachings on Gehenna (as well as many other things) were off. Francis Chan seems to ignore this little bit of simple yet strong evidence. By the inference that the Pharisees doctrines are wrong we can safely say anything they believed was false, and they believed a whole lotta unscriptural non-sense.

The Pharisees were confused because they were trying to combine two ideas, one that was biblical (Gehenna) and one that was not (ECT). Gehenna was a place where the ‘wicked’ offered their ‘children’ as human sacrifice to appease the gods, this was abominable in Yahweh’s sight. He said that it never even entered his mind to do such a thing. Yet here come the Pharisees saying that the ‘Father of all’ would cast his ‘offspring’ into Gehenna to burn, not until death, but forever!( I’m not sure if the modern day teaching that hell is to appease God’s wrath was a Pharisaical idea or not).

However, Jeremiah( you know the Prophet? Not the scholarly Pharisee that carries no weight) makes a sober prophecy that, when taken in context, explains everything that Jesus says in the New Testament about Gehenna,

They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. (Jeremiah 7:31-33)

This prophecy is confirmed by Isaiah 66: 24,

And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

Jesus quoted Isaiah 66 in direct connection with Gehenna (Mark 9), this begs the question, was Jesus really warning about a place where God would burn his offspring (no matter how evil someone is there are still offspring of God), or about the exact thing that Jeremiah prophesied about?

If not then I find it quite incidental that Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. and Josephus records in his book, War of the Jews,

Now the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. (War 5.12.3).

Here we see the prophecy of Jeremiah and Jesus being fulfilled to the word. Are the dead, in this case, will be picked apart by animals. Like everything else that Jesus said, people thought that he was saying one thing (ECT) and instead he was speaking about another (an earthly judgment of Gehenna).

Yet, praise God, Jeremiah’s prophecy about Gehenna does not end there he says at the end of chapter 31,

"The whole valley (Hinnom) of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the LORD. It shall not be uprooted or overthrown anymore to the age."

Gehenna, the place where Israel was judged severely, where dead bodies and ashes (the wicked) were left unburied, will be holy to the Lord or as the Septuagint puts it, purified to the Lord.

***Jesus made it plain not to pay attention to the Pharisees teachings, to the 1st century reader would have interpreted this as saying that maybe their teachings on Gehenna (as well as many other things) were off. Francis Chan seems to ignore this little bit of simple yet strong evidence. By the inference that the Pharisees doctrines are wrong we can safely say anything they believed was false, and they believe a whole lotta unscriptural non-sense. ***

This is such an absolutely FANTASTIC point!! Here we have the pharisees and other religious leaders of the day and they are so dead wrong on just about everything that they actually KILL GOD IN THE FLESH!! Yet somehow we are going to say that their insight about the afterlife was right-on?!? Please!! Weren’t these the whitewashed tombs? Weren’t these the whitened supulchers full of dead men’s bones? Weren’t these the “sons of hell” according to Jesus by which if you followed them they made you “twice the son of hell” that they were? Somehow I don’t think their testimony is that reliable. :exclamation:

I think all the semitic peoples, e.g. the Babylonians had a similar belief about the afterlife (sheol the netherworld as a realm merely of shadows i.e. the dead) and hadn’t had developed the idea of eternity yet

I think they got it from the Greeks as the Greeks developed the idea of eternity (Aristotle, Plato?), it might even have been Plato that taught eternal damnation at first, though only for a few (tartarus)

actually, i believe the Jews picked up ECT from the Zoroastrians, who they spent much time among while in Captivity in Babylon and Persia, though most cultures at the time of the Canaanite invasion (from what i understand) had a concept of eternal life. the Jews were very different in that they believed in an unconscious state in the grave (Sheol).

even the ancient Egyptians had a concept of eternal life. it was a pretty widespread belief (to my knowledge)…one the Jews didn’t share. God didn’t waste any time setting them straight on that, either, so i believe they were correct for their time, with some believing that God would eventually resurrect them, which is different.

This. Alethia made some very excellent points as well!
It is very clear to me that eternal punishment was a pagan import, which I’m sure is one of the reasons the Israelites were instructed to stay well away from pagan stuff. We all know how well they listened…

Lawrence said:
“These commentators’ understanding of kolasin aionion as involving endless punishment is confirmed by the writings of the inter-testamental period.”

Origen replies:
How can writings that are errant & not Scripture confirm anything about the inerrant Scriptures? The noble look to the Scriptures, not to Jewish horror tales:

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11).

“Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.” (Titus 1:14)

The Pharisees are thought to have believed in endless torments, yet “Jesus warned His disciples to “watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees,” which was their false teaching (Matt. 16:6,12).” “Jesus said the Pharisees’ father was Satan the devil, they were children of Hades, and they taught false doctrines and the commandments of men”. Jesus said re the Pharisees:

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mt.15:8-9). “I well know that you do not have the Love of God in you…” (Jn. 5:42). So what would they know of a God Who - is - love - & the Saviour of the whole world, not just the lucky few? The Pharisees had their oral traditions, which were not Scripture. Jesus rebuked them regarding their traditions. OTOH:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2 Tim.3:16)

Lawrence said:
“These three passages (more could be cited) reveal how those who first heard Christ speak of the punishment of the wicked in the age to come would have understood Him.”

Origen replies:
That everyone who heard the parable (Mt.25:31-46) would have reached the same conclusion as you describe is quite a stretch. What are the chances that every single Jew had exactly the same view, even among a single group like the Pharisees? What are the odds that all three views - endless torments, annihilation & universalism - did not have a following amongst the Israelites?

Likewise re those 1st century people to whom this gospel was addressed in the Greek language.

Matthew’s gospel doesn’t quote from those “passages”, but it does quote often from the Scriptures, so that would be the best place to search to speculate about what the Jews may have thought about what He was saying in Mt.25:31-46. Clearly Matthew turns his readers attention to the sacred Srciptures, not to Jewish myths.

Can we assume that unending torments was the only view of all Jews of Jesus’ time (c.30 A.D.)? No, it is generally thought that the Sadducees did not believe in any afterlife at all. Did none of those living at that time believe in annihilation or universal reconciliation? How would one know, being 2000 years removed from the scene. Even if you were living then, you’ld have to be omniscient to know what everyone thought, including the view of the Lord Jesus Himself. Philo (c. 20 BC-50AD) is considered to have advocated the annihilationist viewpoint. Soon after his time are the Sybylline Oracles & other writings that include a Christian belief in universalism, which probably did not just originate out of nowhere or without previous advocates at the time of Jesus & before. Furthermore, who can say how many writings have been destroyed by those who conquered & ruled with the sword, e.g. zealous pro endless hell advocates.

“The Sadducees disappeared around 70 A.D., after the destruction of the Second Temple. None of the writings of the Sadducees has survived, so the little we know about them comes from their Pharisaic opponents.” … nd-essenes

Lawrence said:
“The concept of a punishment of limited duration functioning only to correct the wicked prior to their ultimate restoration is alien to the mindset of this inter-testamental Judaism.”

Origen replies:
Those writings are generations & centuries before Christ, so they don’t tell us what the various beliefs were at the time of Christ (c. 30 AD) anymore than the beliefs two centuries after Christ tell us what Jews believed in 30 AD.

Those Jewish writings are not inspired of God’s Spirit. So what kind of spirit inspired them - good or evil?

“…a passage of the Enochic “Book of Parables” (30 BCE - 70 CE ca) which, at least on Chiala’s interpretation, points to the salvation of all humans…4Ezra is not an overtly universalistic text. However in it Uriel announces, there will come a time when a good seed instead of a bad will be sown, and hell will be forced to release its prisoners…(4,40-43)…In Chapter 5 God says to Ezra that he will be unable to discover God’s hidden ways, but assures that God’s intention is salvific…5,40. Thus, in Ch6, the eschatological time of salvation is described, when evil will be eliminated…(6,25-28). Evil will disappear because human hearts will be changed by God.” (p.36-7)

Ilaria Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Brill, 2013. 890 pp.) … unishment/

Lawrence said:
I said that the Jews listening to Christ’s words about punishments in the afterlife would have heard and understood Him when He spoke about kolasin aionion through the lens of the inter-testamental writings–i.e. as referring to endless punishment.

Origen replies:
That’s a generalization. In truth they could have understood Him (1) through His own words during His entire ministry before His death to that time when He spoke the parable of Mt.25:31-46, (2) through their own free thinking minds, (3) through the lens of the Old Testament/Jewish Scriptures which teach universal salvation and (4) through numerous other influences upon their lives.

“whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all, whereof God spake by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since the world began.” (Acts 3:21)

Philo (c 20 BC-50 AD) the Jew, a contemporary with Christ, used the words you refer to, kolasin aionion (Mt.25:46), of finite duration. Which gives some light on how the Jews at that time may have understood the words Jesus spoke at Mt.25:46:

“It is better absolutely never to make any promise at all than not to assist another willingly, for no blame attaches to the one, but great dislike on the part of those who are less powerful, and intense hatred and long enduring punishment [kolasis aiónios] from those who are more powerful, is the result of the other line of conduct.”

For all we know many people thought the Jewish myths you quoted were just horror tales created by men who wanted to rule over & control others by fear. We can’t asuume everyone had knowledge of these writings, believed their every word as if Scripture, & would have been thinking of them when hearing Christ’s words of Mt.25:31-46. That’s one huge assumption after another. Pure speculation with no evidence or proof to back it up.

Jesus Himself refers to & quotes Scripture often, but where does He ever quote from those Jewish myths?

Lawrence said:
No apocalyptic work in this period spoke of universalism or annihilationism;

Origen replies:
(1) The Jews did not accept any of the 3 books you quoted or the Apocryphal books as Scripture.
(2) Annihilationists, unlike eternal tormentists, often refer to many passages of the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) in support of their view.
(3) The school of Shammai (1st C BC to 30 AD) doctrine said many who go to Gehenna come out of it later.
(4) Jesus warns His disciples against the teachings of the Pharisees. They taught endless punishment.
(5) Paul warns against Jewish myths/fables (Tit.1:14) & says the Scriptures are authoritative (2 Tim.3:16).
(6) Jesus often refers to the Jewish Scriptures, but never quotes the books you refer to.
(7) one of your 3 quotes from (2 Esdras) speaks of “many created, but few shall be saved” (8:1-3). OTOH the inspired Apostle, Paul, spoke of “many” being saved in parallel to the “many” who were lost (Rom.5:18-19).
(8) The second Esdras quote speaks of “extermination”, not endless sufferings.

Lawrence said:
the punishments for the wicked in the age to come were conceived of as eternal in duration.

Origen replies:
(1)Paul, the former Pharisee, speaks of more than one age to come (Eph.1:21; 2:7), as do many other passages of Scripture (Rev.11:15, etc).
(2) BTW, since the penalty for blaspheming the Spirit is limited to this age & the age to come (Mt.12:31-32), the passage does not address what occurs to such blasphemers after that age, or their final destiny.
(3) The Jews had a belief in an intermediary age of Messianic rule before the final age, e.g. in 2 Esdras it is 400 years long with Messiah & the saved, with everyone dying at the end of 400 years, including the Messiah.

Lawrence said:
And these works were not written “centuries before Christ”, but many date from around His time: the Assumption of Moses has been dated to the
first century AD, as has 2 Baruch.

Origen replies:
I said generations & centuries. Likewise you yourself dated one writing as 2 century BC & another 1st or 2nd century BC. And your third of three quotes you dated the end of the first century (A.D. evidently). The third would not have been in the minds of those hearing Christ. As for the Assumption of Moses and 2 Baruch, they were not named in your article. So no evidence was given as to their time of writing or what they say re the afterlife.
2 Baruch was written long after Jesus resurrection so would not have been in the thoughts of those who heard Him. It is written around the timeof the Sibylline Oracles which teach universalism.

Lawrence said:
“The Book of Enoch is not a series of “Jewish horror tales” but is quoted by Jude in his epistle.”

(1) Enoch isn’t quoted by Jesus.
(2) The Book of Enoch was & is] not considered Scripture by the Jews.
(3) Paul quoted a Greek poet. That didn’t put the stamp of approval on everything this poet or Greek poets say. “The Apostle Paul quotes Epimenides in Titus 1:12 but that does not mean we should give any additional authority to Epimenides’ writings. The same is true with Jude, verses 14-15. Jude quoting from the book of Enoch does not indicate the entire Book of Enoch is inspired, or even true. All it means is that particular verse is true.”
(4) The Jewish writing called the Book of Enoch is generally not considered Scripture by Christians.
(5) Paul warned about Jewish myths or fables (Tit.1:14)
(6) Jesus warned His disciples re the teachings of the Pharisees. They taught eternal torments. He said they didn’t have the love of God in them & were of the devil.

P.S. Your book on is only available in kindle. Otherwise i would have bought it. For refutation purposes. … unishment/

Yes, the Book of Enoch was quoted by Jude, who believed it to have been written by the historic Enoch, the seventh from Adam. Other early Christians also thought the author was the historic Enoch. But it wasn’t. The book was written around 300 B.C.