Bible Question: When is the concept of heaven and hell come up?

I’m reading the Bible from the start, I’ve gotten to 1 Samuel and I realize that I don’t remember any discussion of heaven or hell to this point. God rewards his faithful followers with longevity, many children and land, but no mention of eternal life. At what point does this concept get introduced?

Don’t have much time for a detailed answer. Are you interested in learning where in the bible or when in the timeline of the Jewish religion?

Anyway, in Genesis, heaven is talked about. It says that the stars are in heaven and there is water above them.

The first mention of people going up to heaven AFAIK is <a href=“”>Deuteronomy 30</a>

Hell is not mentioned AFIAK again, until the new testament.

Totally messed that up.

Deuteronomy 30

And I ment to say, the word ‘hell’ doesn’t appear until the New Testament. The concept of hell that most people have isn’t in the New Testament.

Here is a link to Religious Tolerance’s information on the issue.

Hell isn’t mentioned very often in the Bible. There are a few examples in the Gospels, which are mostly in the context of how to avoid going there. (For example, Matthew 5:29 and Mark 9:43-47 both say that if your eye or hand cause you to sin, you should cut them off because it is better to go to Heaven without an eye or hand than to go to Hell intact.) The term ‘Lake of Fire’ appears only in Revelation, and there are very few explicit descriptions of what Hell is like other than that. Descriptions of Hell, even, are mostly things like ‘a place where people are separated from God’, and not mostly things like ‘a place where demons torture the damned in creative, often ironic ways’.

The Danteseque idea of Hell, with the aforementioned creative and ironic punishments, is probably inspired more by Greek myth (where the condemned are tortured in fitting ways) than by Christian tradition.

There is one non-canonical Christian work dating from roughly 100-125 AD that does describe Hell in detail. It is called the Apocalypse of Peter, and fragments can be found with a Web search. The Apocalypse of Peter is one of several apocalyptic books that didn’t make it into the Bible. It was popular and widely read in the early Christian era, though, and it may well have influenced early Christians who found that the fear of hellfire was an excellent method of converting the lost. (Remember, there was no Biblical canon at this time, so early Christians had to decide which books to use out of a much larger selection than we have today.) The books which eventually made it into the Bible didn’t have a whole lot about Hell.

Incidentally, there is a Hebrew word, sheol which does appear often in the OT. It is translated in the KJV as ‘grave’ but IIRC also can refer to Hell. OT views of the realm of the dead shape theories of the bad afterlife in Judaism, and are rather different than the Christian Hell. You can find this word in Number 16:30 and Deuteronomy 32:22.

Heaven in the OT is first mentioned as simply the sky (near the beginning of Genesis) and is mentioned throughout the OT as the place where God lives. It is not usually mentioned as a place of eternal reward. Hopefully someone more qualified than I am will come along to discuss the idea of the afterlife in Judaism – it’s not nearly as biblically clear-cut as it is in Christianity.

Heaven and Hell, as places of afterlife reward and punishment, are not specifically mentioned in the Old Testament. What the Old Testament mentions is reward and punsihment in general, and it mentions an afterlife as well (most explicitly in I Samuel 28), so there’s no reason to limit reward and punishment to the Earthly realm.

That’s not QUITE what it says:

It’s actually about people NOT going to heaven. (And has nothing to do with them staying there–it’s like saying “the answer you seek is not on the moon, or on Mars, it’s right in your heart.”)

First of all, let me apologize for the poorly worded subject head. It is a cross between “When **is ** the concept of heaven and hell first introduced?” and “When **does ** the concept of heaven and hell come up?” I just changed where I was going with it somewhere in the middle.


The relative insignificance of heaven and hell comes as quite a surpise to me. Most religions as practiced today seem to be all about salvation. At least that’s the way they are presented to me. From the Christian’s Jesus-is-the-only-way to the Muslim’s 76 virgins for the martyrs to the Native American’s happy hunting grounds to the Jew’s - uh, hmmm - the Jews really don’t talk about it all that much, do they? Well, for the most part getting to heaven seems to be what religions are selling.

Indeed, it has always seemed to me that the belief in heaven is one of the great benefits of having a religion, otherwise the death of loved ones would feel so hopeless. Given that, I’m having a hard time reconciling the importance that heaven is given in most religions with it’s relative unimportance in the OT.

Yeah, the afterlife is not a concept mentioned often in the OT. (C.S. Lewis mentions this in an essay. His view is that the people of God had to learn trust and obedience in this life first, and after that got hammered into their heads, then you could start talking about what happens after you kick the bucket.)

A few examples I can think of off the top of my head…

King David commits adultery, and then murder, and as punishment the baby falls ill and dies. (This is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 Samuel, IIRC.) David, after finding out, takes it in stride says something to the effect of, “I’ll end up where he is eventually.” (This doesn’t mean that David believes in an afterlife, of course, but it’s there.)

A few of the psalms mentions “Sheol” (the Hebrew land of the dead), but it’s not clear what that’s a reference to.

Ecclesiastes deals with the meaninglessness of life without a concept of eternity. If all we have is what we can get this time around, then we might as well “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. (A somewhat depressing read.)

The book of Job especially attacks the idea that all your punishments and rewards happen while you’re still alive. Job is a righteous man who inexplicably* loses his possessions, his family, and even his health. His friends are all convinced that Job is suffering horribly for some sin, but Job is equally sure that he is being cheated. There’s a few phrases in there that get quoted in church services a lot.

(*We find out that it’s part of a bet between Satan and God, but poor Job has no idea.)

In the New Testament, the term “hell” isn’t used often; instead, what you see more the euphamism “ghenna” (a trash heap outside the city that is constantly burning and used as a metaphor for eternal torment). The New Testament as a whole is much more interested in a physical resurrection than the idea of going to heaven. (In fact, in Revelation, the New Jerusalem descends from heaven, and the golden age of God’s reign begins over a renewed creation.)

I’ve read that Heaven and Hell were the result of Persian influence on Judaism and Christianity thru Zoroastrianism.

In medieval Europe, some of the Christian concepts of Heaven and Hell were incorporated into Judaism.

Maybe I’m wrong about this, but aren’t the concepts of heaven and hell - or at least heaven - found throught almost all religions, even the most primitive ones?

Nope. Afterlife, though probably not universal, is quite usual , but doesn’t necessarily include punishments or rewards (actually, I think that hell is a more common myth than heavens. The gods and the humans who believe in them are vindicative. But it’s just an overall feeling).
It’s/ was often assumed to be a ghostly life, not particularily rewarding or pleasant. The “souls” could roam free like in some animist religions (and sometimes only temporarily, until another more definitive death), or could live some aimless ghostly life in an unpleasant sojourn, regardless of their merits (like the ancient Greeks, and apparently also ancient Hebrews believed).
The individuality or personnality wasn’t necessarily preserved, either. The ghost could be an entity that didn’t bore ressemblance with the person he used to be during his earthly life. These souls could be systematically envious of the livings and as a consequence malevolent, for instance.
And of course, there are the beliefs in reincarnation, in which case heavens and hell aren’t necessary (though they might exist. The “soul” can spend some time in bliss or torment before being reincarnated).

Since salvation is such a key concept for Christianity, I would guess that Christianity has devoted rather more time and effort to concepts like heaven and hell than many other religions. It wouldn’t surprise me if they borrowed, and developed, ideas about heaven and hell from pre-Christian religions.

And the view which many Westerners – even non-Christians - have of other religions is seen through a lens formed by Christian cultural influences. So we understand them, at least in part, in terms of what they have to say about an afterlife. That’s important in our thinking about religion, so (we assume) it must be in theirs. So heaven and hell may well loom larger in our thinking about, say, Islam than it does in the thinking of Muslims.

And, ironically, the more secular and post-Christian Westerners become, the bigger the distortion. Peoples understanding of religion is formed by misconceptions about Christianity, so their understandings of other faiths can be doubly distorted. Which is why the one thing that many Westerners know, or think they know, about Islam is the seventy virgins.

If I understand correctly, the ultimate goal in reincarnation is to learn whatever lessons you need to learn so that you do not have to be reincarnated again, but reach nirvana which is sort of a state of non-existance.

I’m certain this is greatly over-simplified and poorly expressed. I hope someone will explain. At any rate, I don’t think eternal life is the goal in Buddhism.

You don’t see any discussion of hell in the OT because the Hebrews didn’t believe in hell as we commonly think of it.


kind of related article by the Master:
Who invented paradise?
He puts the blame on the Zoroastrians:

Exactly how it was integrated in the Chrsistian dogma, however, is another question. (And maybe what the OP is asking.)