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Just finished the 5 part series on the History channel "The Bible"

They did a fantastic job with it.

What I noticed is that Jesus did not appear to condemn those who did not believe in Him and I never really thought about that before.

Did Jesus actually ever say, "if you don't believe in me you go to Hell"?

I understand when His disciples asked what is the way He says no one comes to the father but through Me. However there is context here that does not really appear as a blanket statement. Like He obviously didn't mean it for some kid living in Ireland that same exact night of the supper. Jesus also says blessed are those who Believe in me but He did not say you are damned in Hell if you don't.

So did the TV series leave something out or where did fallen man come up with this?

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Mark 16:16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned. –  Seek forgiveness Apr 1 '13 at 8:03
@jayyeshu: is that from Jesus mouth or Mark's? or a Holy Spirit inspired phrase in general? –  Greg McNulty Apr 3 '13 at 0:05
Oh! Do I need to say that? Jesus told this to His disciples when He appeared to them after His resurrection. –  Seek forgiveness Apr 3 '13 at 5:02
@GregMcNulty you may also like to know that the ending of Mark was probably added a long time after the gospel was written and is not considered by scholars to be authentic, which would include Mark 16:16. –  Dan Sep 15 '13 at 20:28
I wouldn't trust the History Channel too much. They're only good at telling us how evil the Nazis were and how aliens built the pyramids. –  Juann Strauss Sep 16 '13 at 7:57

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I'll certainly unpack this for you. Although I would not trust that internet reading alone would give anybody a comprehensive understanding of the Jewish religion (or any other religion, for that matter), you can read about Jewish conceptions of the afterlife here, for example: http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm. There is no single doctrine to which Jews adhere regarding the afterlife (in fact, many Jews do not have any defined concept of an afterlife at all). What I would like to propose is that Jesus' words that do seem to reference a state of exile or suffering may not be doctrinal, but rather metaphorical in nature. Whether this state is an external, otherworldly one or an internal state of mind / soul in this life is a matter of debate. I should mention here that the "traditional" Christian doctrine of an otherworldly heaven and hell has been linked by scholars to Zoroastrianism--a religion which strongly influenced some types of early Christianity as well as Judaism. Therefore, a question: how do we know that orthodox Christian doctrines are not the outgrowth of historical misunderstandings / misinterpretations of Jesus' words? To further complicate things, you have the entirety of the Gnostic scriptures to deal with (which include some of the earliest known Christian writings), and if, after reading them, you do not find your traditional understanding of Christian doctrines disturbed, you probably aren't reading closely enough.

You can read about Gehenna, Zoroastrianism, and Gnosticism on Wikipedia or do some scholarly / historical research on your own, and thus come to your own conclusions. There is a gigantic body of research already done regarding these matters, and I would not consider any list of books that I could provide comprehensive enough to do this body of work justice. In addition, please do not simply accept my, or anybody's, answers to these questions without thinking for yourself and doing some investigation into them on your own.

I'm glad that Matthew 7: 17-23 was brought up. Here are the verses:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'"

So, AffableGeek, is it possible to say that, for those Jesus is speaking about here, simple belief in Jesus/God does not suffice to allow entrance into the "kingdom of heaven"? They did all kinds of miracles in Jesus' name and called upon him as their "Lord," but still, they did not actively "do the will of [Jesus'] Father in heaven" and so they do not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

What might it mean to enter into the kingdom of heaven? Let's look at another passage. Here is Luke 17:20:

"Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he [Jesus] said in reply, 'The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, 'Look, here it is,' or 'There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you."

Jesus does not say that the kingdom of God is external to you or that it is a destination that one reaches only after physical death, but that it is within you--present in this very life at this very moment. Perhaps, then, it would be wise to consider that both "heaven" and "hell" as they are traditionally conceived (as eternal, external states of being) are, in actuality, inner states of mind or soul that are generated by actions in this life. In short, perhaps these notions are only metaphors, as I stated above.

In this light, let’s consider the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas:

“Jesus said, If your leaders say to you, ‘Behold, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds in the sky will get there before you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will get there before you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and embody poverty” (Saying 3).

Jesus is never clear about the existential ontology of a physical “heaven” or “hell,” but he is clear about other more important issues. He is clear about the fact that love is that which is most central to his message, not judgment. In answer to a scholar of the law who asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The scholar (not Jesus himself) answers,

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replies to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live” (Luke 10: 25-28).

To answer to AffableGeek's question regarding John 3:18--please note that these are not Jesus' words, but the words of whomever it was who wrote the Gospel of John (and whoever that person was, it was certainly not the apostle John himself. Contemporary scholars know that none of the four traditional Gospels were written by those whose name they bear.)

The initial question was whether or not Jesus actually ever said "If you don't believe in me you go to hell." Did he say these words exactly, ever? If I am missing something, please let me know. Yes, the author of the Gospel of John says something approximate to this (depending on how you interpret his words), and yet Jesus never did himself. And yes, Jesus is said to have spoken the following words after the resurrection, according to Mark 16:16:

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

However, as I have already shown above, Matthew 7:17-21 refutes the notion that mere faith suffices for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Another question: how do we know that the passage from Mark’s Gospel (or any other passages in the bible, Gnostic scriptures, etc. for that matter) quotes Jesus directly? Like most other accounts of episodes in Jesus’ life, resurrection accounts greatly contradict one another.

If the Official Doctrine of Hell was so important to Jesus himself (like it is to so many fundamentalists), why didn't Jesus explicitly say that one must believe in him and accept him as one’s “personal savior” to get to “heaven” while he was alive over and over again? Also, if we are to take everything written in the bible as absolute truth, we should also, for example, wholeheartedly support slavery, since Paul tells us that slavery is a natural state of being (Ephesians 6:5). There are a great number of other horrible, violent, and/or nonsensical “dogmas” that the writers of the books of the bible advance as well. Must we accept all of them unquestioningly, and return to a medieval state of existence in which—for example—our “women” are considered untouchable during their menstrual cycles, as Leviticus 15: 19-30 dictates?

There is much more to say about all these matters, and much more evidence to be considered that I cannot speak of here due to space and time issues. Please do reading on your own, and don't expect the internet or other people to answer such important questions. If you're serious about an intellectual foray into questions of this nature, sign up for some university courses about religion or do reading on your own, as I said. It may be that you'll be surprised at what you can discover.

Peace to all of you.

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Um, I had forgotten all about this :) From looking at my own comments, I think I was actually staying as clear of this question as I could. Jesus may not have said, "If you don't believe in me, you're going to Hell," but I also am 100% behind Jesus' statement that he is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh to Father, but by me." Check out other things I've written - you'll see I can be pretty academic and entertain all sorts of heresy. Doesn't mean I accept it. –  Affable Geek Sep 16 '13 at 0:58
That said, I don't consider Gnostic Scripture (or Zorastrianism) compatible with modern Christianity. –  Affable Geek Sep 16 '13 at 1:00
@AffableGeek: I realized I'd left a few issues hanging that you brought up. 1) You mention that you don't accept "heresy" (and I'm assuming you mean to call the Gospel of Thomas heretical).Of course, you know that the Gnostics constituted one of the earliest sects of Christians, and their writings do exist and must be dealt with, regardless of what label has been slapped on them by church authorities. "Heretical" is a designation that the early Roman Church (not Jesus himself) used, often to accuse and then put to death those who did not agree with orthodox dogma. –  orpheus_sings Sep 17 '13 at 3:31
Contemporary bibles (like those used by Protestants) do not and cannot include Gnostic scriptures because, well, the Council of Trent (a Catholic council in the middle of the 1500s) decided what was and was not orthodox as far as biblical books go. (You can read about the Council of Trent here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Trent#Canons_and_decrees) Orthodox or not, the Gnostic scriptures are authentic and must be dealt with if we are to consider what the historical words of Jesus might have been. –  orpheus_sings Sep 17 '13 at 3:35
2) Re Zoroastrianism: I was arguing the fact that scholars believe Zoroastrianism influenced what has become contemporary orthodox Christianity, not whether or not it is compatible with modern Christianity. People might not like that, but that does not mean that this is not factual. Likewise, the apostle Paul himself was heavily influenced by Platonic philosophy. –  orpheus_sings Sep 17 '13 at 3:37

Did Jesus actually ever say if you don't believe in me you go to Hell?

Yes, He did say this directly, without mincing words. Bolded in the passage below.

John, Chapter 3 (KJV)

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Note that it doesn't say "the punishment for not believing in me is an eternity in Hell.". It says that everyone is condemned already, and that only through faith in Him can we escape. It's a subtle, but doctrinally important difference.

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In the KJV, it's possible to misunderstand this passage based on verse 19 and assume that having the Light shone on one's deeds is the punishment. "This is the condemnation" in verse 19 should really be "This is the verdict", or more so "This is the reason/evidence for the verdict". –  Eclipse Apr 1 '13 at 16:33
@DavidStratton: are these John's words inspired by the Holy Spirit or Jesus'? –  Greg McNulty Apr 3 '13 at 0:09
That's all good and well. You can choose to believe what you wish, but the question I thought I was posting was "did He say it"? not "Is it possible that He meant something other than what He said." Many people don't believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, and as this isn't a site that is about Truth, I'm not going to argue it. All I'm saying is that I thought I answered the question that was asked. Whether this passage means what established Doctrine says it means might make fair game for another question. –  David Apr 3 '13 at 1:16
I'm not using a "Red Letter Bible", but Bible Gateway clearly shows these as not the words of Jesus in NIV, while showing they are the words of Jesus for NKJV. –  Flimzy Jun 30 '13 at 2:23
I have asked about this on Biblical Hermeneutics. –  Flimzy Jun 30 '13 at 2:29

I cannot comment on that particular series, but I can assuredly say the following:

It seems quite clear to me that you need to intimately know Jesus to be accepted by Him.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matt. 7:21

We are left with this picture: The last day is upon us, and some are allowed into the Kingdom and some are not. You must know Jesus to be allowed into the Kingdom. Not being in the Kingdom is hell (whatever that may be) to the very large majority of Christian denominations.

Concerning your context for the heathen who never had the chance to hear the Good News, well, that is a very big and different topic.

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I also believe that this passage is a warning for those that follow their own will and call it God's will. It is true that to know his will you need to know him. –  dcreight Apr 1 '13 at 16:24
That is the very same passage I was about to quote. Very good +1 –  Neil Meyer Apr 1 '13 at 16:31
@fredsbend: "but only the one who does the will of my Father" geez, that seems like it excludes most Christians.... –  Greg McNulty Apr 3 '13 at 0:12

Short Answer

The Bible talks about people who reject/don't believe in Jesus as condemned, judged by the Spirit (in John 16) and by God at the end of this age (Revelation). In terms of "Hell", that's a word we made up later, but in Revelation there is a lake of fire, where Satan is cast. I think those who follow Satan are also cast there.

Hell as a noun has many meanings all mashed up together. To make things clearer, it is designed to be a place of suffering for Satan, who rebelled against God. All thoughts of Satan or demons ruling the place or torturing people is completely wrong.

Longer Answer

John 16

8 And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and concerning righteousness and concerning judgment:

9 Concerning sin, because they do not believe into Me;

10 And concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you no longer behold Me;

11 And concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

"He" in verse 8 is the Spirit. So from this, the "ruler of this world" (Satan) has been judged, and because he has been judged, his kingdom has been judged, which sadly is the earth, especially the people on the earth.

However, these verses don't refer to "hell" explicitly.

Revelation 20

10 And the devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where also the beast and the false prophet were; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened; and another scroll was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by the things which were written in the scrolls, according to their works.

14 And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

15 And if anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.

What qualifies us to be written in the book of life, I don't know.

Matthew 25 41 Then He will say also to those on the left, Go away from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

So this confirms that the lake of fire, a.k.a hell, is specifically prepared for "the devil and his angels", but people who are rejected by God will also go into this "eternal fire".

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I'm betting if you did have time, you could edit this into a better/more complete answer... Please do come back and fill it out when you get a chance, and see What makes a good supported answer? –  David Sep 16 '13 at 0:15
Noted and updated! –  Mirror318 Sep 17 '13 at 1:40

There are obviously more ways to salvation than through specifically knowing the person of Jesus Christ through His 1st century incarnation, and the books written about His incarnation. There are many people in the Old Testament that the bible indicates were considered righteous - Abel, Enoch, Noah, Melchizidech, Abraham, and so on.

For example, Genesis 15:5-6 talks about Abraham's faith:

And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

These people had faith in God, without the benefit of the incarnate Jesus as an intermediary, and the bible suggests that was sufficient. Whether this route became closed to all after Christ, or whether it becomes closed to someone after they have the chance to hear the Gospel, or whether it always remains open, it's clear that at the very least it was once possible to have your faith reckoned as righteousness without knowing the name of "Jesus". I personally would hold that your Irish child would have a chance at salvation, but that's never really covered in the Bible.

I'm not at all trying to say that they weren't saved through Christ's later atonement, but rather that they were covered by Christ's atonement without believing in His human incarnation, and without access to the Bible.

You are also right in that Jesus doesn't ever mention hell as a punishment for not believing. Condemnation is always mentioned as a punishment for being wicked, or for doing evil. Salvation is based on belief, but condemnation is based on deed. But the Bible also asserts that everyone is guilty enough for condemnation.

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What recognized denomination claims "there are obviously more way to salvation than through specifically knowing the person of Jesus Christ?" Answers need to attributed to specific denominations or else need to be representative of all Nicene Christianity. Grant you, Unitarians do believe what you write - but they are hardly representative of all Nicene Christianity. –  Affable Geek Apr 2 '13 at 11:26
@Affable: There are at least a helf dozen references to Abraham's faith being "counted to him as righhteousness". I can't think of any denomination that doesn't claim that Abraham is (or will be) in heaven. Yes, it was his faith in God that saved him, but it wasn't his belief in the incarnated Jesus. I'm NOT saying that you can be saved without Christ - I'm saying that people were saved before Jesus was born as a human and died and rose. The atonement was applied to some who had never heard the name Jesus. –  Eclipse Apr 2 '13 at 14:35
I realize the Irish kid example is not a commonly held view, and there isn't any way to back it up. John Piper would say no. C.S. Lewis surprisingly suggests yes in the Chronicles of Narnia. –  Eclipse Apr 2 '13 at 14:49
John 3:18 says he the unbeliever "condemned already". David also mentioned this - the sin that leads to condemnation isn't "not believing", the sin is "their deeds were evil". –  Eclipse Apr 2 '13 at 14:54
@caseyr547 There are a number of people on this site that hold Lewis and his creations in very high regard. –  fredsbend Nov 2 '13 at 15:44

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