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Old 11-05-2006, 03:32 PM   #1
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A Question About Christianity and the Old Testament

Hi, I'm in my late teens and this is something that has been bothering me for quite a while, and I would appreciate some help or clarification on my question. I am asking this question from a Christian/Biblical perspective, so for the sake of discussion we will assume the only true "God" is the "Christian God."

I am wondering how people got into Heaven before Jesus came along. The Old Testament is filled with laws that the Israelites had to follow, so to get into heaven did they have to follow these laws to the tee? And if they sinned, they would sacrifice a lamb to regain forgiveness? Was that God's "method" of getting into Heaven before Jesus came?

If that is true, I think it presents some interesting questions. If God disclosed the "path" to get to Heaven to only the Israelites, how could anyone else (say the inhabitants of North America, Australia, etc) have any idea how to get to Heaven? They would have had zero communication with the Israelites, so they would have no knowledge of the only "true way" to get into Heaven. Why would God have chosen to give only the Israelites the "instructions" on how to get to Heaven? If He loves everyone equally, shouldn't He have also disclosed His plans to every race of people on Earth? That way everyone would have an equal "chance" at eternal life. Since God chose only to tell the Israelites how to get into Heaven, didn't He basically sentence every other group of people on Earth to Hell (at least from a Christian viewpoint), since they would have no knowledge of the "true path" to Heaven?

Maybe I am missing something here, but this question has been nagging me for a long time. Maybe there is a simple answer that I am missing, but I would appreciate your help.
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Old 11-05-2006, 04:29 PM   #2
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Christian tradition states that there was no "heaven" before Christ. This is precisely why there are no canonized saints of those living before the New Testament.

As far as those who died beforehand, there's no definitive answer as to what their fate was to be. The Sadducees, who echo the beliefs of "Old Judaism," did not believe in heaven or hell. Rather, they believed in a rather depressing place called "Sheol," where everyone, good and bad, spent their eternity in "nothingness." Such beliefs were also common amongst the ancient Greeks.

The Pharisees, as far as I know, didn't believe in the Christian form of heaven either, although they did believe in an eventual afterlife that we would then see as "heaven." The main difference is that their beliefs focused on the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead, basically meaning that "heaven" would be created at the coming of the apocalypse. The Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, has almost identical beliefs, regarding the end of the world, and the book of Revelation is a collection of the apocalyptic beliefs of both religions, more or less. The most curious difference between Christianity and the Pharisees/Zoroastrians is the fact that Christianity introduced the idea of a "Second Coming" to usher in the end of the world, whereas the others see it as a one time occurrence. As such, since the world didn't end with Jesus' arrival, that would be evidence that He was not the Messiah that was prophesied.

But back to Christian beliefs for a moment, the New Testament does hint that the most holy of Jewish figures are in heaven, such as Abraham. As such, it opens the door to the idea that those Jews who died before the advent of Jesus could also have entered heaven. As for non-Judeo-Christians, there's absolutely no discussion of what their fate could be. For the most part, however, Christian tradition is mostly silent on the issue of non-Christians entering heaven--perhaps seen as a paradox that no one can answer but God.

Hope this helps.
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Old 11-05-2006, 04:43 PM   #3
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Personally, I've never felt comfortable with the concept of people dying and then immediately ascending to heaven (or descending to hell). I think that when you die, you are dead. There is no judgment, no ascension or descension until the second coming, until Christ returns and brings the Kingdom to earth. If I were to die today, I go to the same "place" as everyone who died before Jesus existed, and everyone who's died since. When Christ returns, he will bring heaven to earth and those who are part of this kingdom will be resurrected with Christ. The Kindgom/Heaven exists outside of our understanding of time and space, so we don't need to assume that death and passage into heaven follow some logical order.

I really have no clue if this is supported with Scripture, it's just always made the most sense to me. It answers your question and is consistent with what I've come to understand regarding existence of Christ, his Kingdom/Heaven, etc.
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Old 11-05-2006, 05:02 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by Ormus
Christian tradition states that there was no "heaven" before Christ. This is precisely why there are no canonized saints of those living before the New Testament.

Where did you hear this?
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Old 11-05-2006, 05:30 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar


Where did you hear this?
I'm not sure, but the way I've always understood what he said is that saving Grace did not exist as it does now until Christ himself was saved. Essentially, heaven = the acceptance of God's Grace, which is only available through the Christ. Therefore, "heaven" in this sense could not have existed before the death and resurrection of Christ. Heaven isn't really a place or some kind of reward, it's a state of being, a state of having accepted the Grace through Christ.
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Old 11-05-2006, 05:50 PM   #6
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I used to wonder about this.

Now I don't care about heaven and hell anymore. Let's do the best we can here, be good to each other while we are here, and God can sort the rest out later (for those who believe there is one).
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Old 11-05-2006, 06:11 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar
Where did you hear this?
12 years of religious education.

Like I said, though, that's the tradition. Tradition also stated that babies who died before they were baptized wouldn't enter heaven either; but times change.
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Old 11-05-2006, 06:44 PM   #8
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbo

This article should answer all your questions. Granted, it is mostly Catholic, but most of these traditions predate the Protestant Reformation anyway.

Modern Christians tend to reject the notion of this, for what it's worth, but haven't really offered up a definitive theological alternative.
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Old 11-05-2006, 08:59 PM   #9
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Thank you for the link Ormus, that does help clarify a lot of what I was asking about.

So according to the Catholic Church, the souls of good people who died before Jesus' ressurection went to Limbo. Is there any idea as to how "good" a person had to be before going there? Could people of different faiths go to Limbo if they lived good lives?

And Protestants' (who don't believe in Limbo) have no other theory describing what happened to the souls that died before Jesus' ressurection? Shouldn't that be something of concern to Protestants?
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Old 11-05-2006, 09:53 PM   #10
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Just to clarify, "limbo" isn't a specific place. It's a theological concept meaning that the church don't know where God puts them. In other words, they're the people who fall through the cracks of inflexible theology.
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Old 11-05-2006, 10:23 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by Ormus
Just to clarify, "limbo" isn't a specific place. It's a theological concept meaning that the church don't know where God puts them. In other words, they're the people who fall through the cracks of inflexible theology.
Didn't the Catholic Church officially dispense of the notion of Limbo (i think only in the last few years or so)? Though Purgatory is still around, non?
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Old 11-05-2006, 10:31 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by Judah
Didn't the Catholic Church officially dispense of the notion of Limbo (i think only in the last few years or so)?
Not yet. It's expected that the Vatican will do so within the next few months. It's still writing.

Regardless, I was referring to Christian tradition, rather than present-day beliefs.

Quote:
Though Purgatory is still around, non?
Yes, but purgatory has always been meant for "the elect who just aren't good enough to go to Heaven yet." It doesn't deal with the issue of non-believers, per se.

And I believe that even the Vatican's formal abolition of limbo will still leave open the question of what happens to non-believers.
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Old 11-05-2006, 10:33 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by bobert16

And Protestants' (who don't believe in Limbo) have no other theory describing what happened to the souls that died before Jesus' ressurection? Shouldn't that be something of concern to Protestants?
I'm a Protestant (a Calvinist) and I've offered my opinion above. I know others who feel the same way I do. In our denomination, most people either feel like I do, or simply believe that when you die you go to Heaven or hell. It doesn't matter which line of thought you choose because either way, there is no in between - either you accept God's Grace or you don't. We believe that works are not what get people into Heaven b/c for one, like I said earlier Heaven is not really viewed as a physical place or some sort of reward, it's what happens when you accept that through Christ alone you are saved. We don't believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, so we don't believe that every single Old Testament narrative is factual and a part of history that actually occurred. The concept of God's Grace is illustrated in the New Testament, through the life and works of Christ. The OT serves other theological and spiritual purposes. Whether or not mythical people physically exist in a heaven or a hell is not much of a concern because it kind of lies outside of the scope of what the OT is for. It's like looking into the OT for answers about how to carve a pumpkin.
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Old 11-05-2006, 11:33 PM   #14
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How can God just ignore 80%+ of the worlds population when it comes to salvation, after all he's the all powerful one who made billions of people devoid of his word. Christianity must have an answer for what happens to those who don't know his name, just saying 'Only God knows what will happen to those people' is a copout. This is a topic I am very unsure of aswell. Anyone?
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Old 11-05-2006, 11:52 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by AussieU2fanman
Christianity must have an answer for what happens to those who don't know his name, just saying 'Only God knows what will happen to those people' is a copout.
The non-PC, traditional response is that they all go to hell. Christian tradition is kind only to those Jews who died before Jesus lived and those babies who died before they could be baptized. Everyone else goes to hell for not accepting Jesus Christ.

Modern Christianity is seemingly less accepting of such medieval cruelty, and, as such, extends the concept of "limbo" to all good non-believers or ignores the subject entirely. Of course, there's still quite a few Christian denominations that openly believe that all non-believers will rot in hell too.
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