This is the latest in a series of posts about hell. the other posts lay the foundation for this post, especially posts 1 and 2.
Question: Hell is not mentioned in the Old Testament, or heaven either. It seems that if a teaching was as important as hell, it would have been clearly taught to all people at all times.
Answering this involves several related concepts. First, we must realize that the logic of this argument appears to rest on a couple of opinions, namely that God should have made the teachings clear to all people in all times, and that it is not clear enough in the OT. Being opinions, they do not form a logical proof of anything. They are certainly not a logical disproof of the existence of hell.
Second, several important teachings are not taught in earlier time periods, but taught in later ones.
- The law of Moses was not revealed until after the Exodus, leaving people to live and die for centuries prior to this point without this key teaching. Many acts were legal prior to Moses but made capital offenses when the Mosaic law was given. Capital offenses are arguably equally important to hell.
- Many years prior to Abraham, there was no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Starting with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God set apart a distinct people. Gentiles were kept separate and outside of Israel under much of the OT, then brought into fellowship with God in the NT (Ephesians 3:4-11). Paul calls this a mystery which was not revealed in former times, but a “mystery hidden for ages in God.” (v.9). Something as important as whether it is possible to be in a right relationship with God is not a trivial matter.
- God changed his dispensations with mankind several times. In the beginning, man was to only eat vegetables (Gen. 2:16), then was allowed to eat all kinds of meat also (Gen. 9:3), then is allowed to only eat certain kinds of meat (Lev. 11), then is allowed to eat all kinds of meat again (Mark 7:18-19). There is some indication that animal death might cease in the future (Rev. 21:4).
- Jesus the Messiah and the age of grace that He brought was only partially revealed to OT prophets, and the details were not revealed to them. (1 Peter 1:10-12). Some of the details of future events are not revealed yet (1 John 3:2).
These are but examples of things that God has kept hidden in former times, then revealed in later times. So God is under no obligation to reveal all teachings to everyone at all times, and progressive revelation is somewhat common in the Bible.
Third, as was mentioned earlier, the OT is not totally silent about the future state of mankind. While details of hell may not have been revealed as much in former times as in later times, the OT is not silent. Daniel 12:2 clearly tells us the grave will not be the final end of man, but there will be a future resurrection, some to good and some to unpleasantness; Isaiah 66:24 clearly suggests an eternal torment of some sort; several times the OT speaks of the ‘great and terrible’ day of the Lord, a later time which should be feared by those who do not follow God (Joel 2:31; Mal.4:5)
In conclusion, because it does not seem to me that God should reveal things the way He does, I have no logical reason to believe that hell does not exist.
Question: Since hell is not mentioned much in the Old Testament, but many times in the New Testament, the NT writers must have gotten the teaching from other religious stories, such as the Egyptian Osiris religion and others.
First, this is again an opinion given without a proof.
Second, when comparing multiple things, such as religious teachings, we must not merely compare the things which are similar, but also compare the things which are different. It is not fair to only compare such obvious and general things as that a religious figure was born, lived, taught a moral code, taught about an afterlife, then died and went somewhere after death. These things are so universal as to fit many religions in some sense. We must also compare the things which are different. Some of the distinctions with the Christian heaven and hell are that we accept salvation as a free gift by faith, not by works; heaven is a state of worshiping Jesus; hell is a state of eternal separation; and heaven and hell are physical, not merely spiritual.
Third, the story of the Bible would appear to support that first century Jews were stringently trying to not imitate pagan religions. Starting in Joshua, Israel was to drive out and destroy all pagan nations. Israel did not do so, and for most of the rest of the OT were plagued with adapting pagan religious practices, such as sacrificing to Molech and Baal. The result was God’s judgment as described at the end of the books of Kings and Jeremiah. By the time we get to the New Testament, the Jewish people were stridently against being influenced by pagan peoples. The Jews were so fanatical about not being influenced by outside nations that that they would not even have contact with the Samaritans (John 4:9), a half-Jewish group. Paul, when he was with the Jewish leaders, was persecuting Christians to the point of death, even helping to stone Stephen to death (Acts 7:57-58). The Jews were so intent on keeping their ways without compromise that they were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. So if anything, the story of the Jews is that by the first century, they were stridently trying to not be influenced by other religions.
Fourth, the Osiris story is often used to compare to Jesus, but the comparision is mis-informed. There is actually very little comparison between Osiris, Horus, and Jesus or any New Testament teaching. See more details here and here.
Question: The New Testament uses Greek terms to speak of the afterlife, so it must have been influenced by Greek culture.
After Alexander the Great, the language of common communication throughout the known world was Greek. The New Testament was written in the common Greek of the day, so it used Greek words. This does not prove that the Greek myths were copied into Christianity. Jesus and the NT writers often used terms with which their audience would be familiar.
Question: If hell and heaven are so important, why doesn’t God make it more clear?
Good question. If it were up to me, I would have written it in the sky with fire. But the Bible deals with this issue: the account in Luke 16 has the man in torment, wishing to tell his family of the horribleness of hell. He asks to go and tell them, but is refused, being told “if they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should return from the dead.”(v.31). This is exactly what happened, for Jesus did fantastic sign miracles and even rose from the dead, yet some people who saw these did not believe. So some people will not believe no matter what evidence they see. More evidence will not convince anyone who is determined to not believe.
For some good statements about hell, see here.