Life after Death and Christianity

Early Christian Thought

Jesus and the New Testament writers of the Bible books mention notions of an afterlife and resurrection that involve ideas like heaven and hell. The author of Luke recounts the story of Lazarus and the rich man, which shows people in Hades awaiting the resurrection either in comfort or torment. The author of the Book of Revelation writes about God and the angels versus Satan and demons in an epic battle at the end of times when all souls are judged. There is mention of ghostly bodies of past prophets, and the transfiguration.




The non-canonical Acts of Paul and Thecla speak of the efficacy of prayer for the dead, so that they might be "translated to a state of happiness." Hippolytus of Rome pictures Hades as a place where the righteous dead, awaiting in the bosom of Abraham their resurrection, rejoice at their future prospect, while the unrighteous are tormented at the sight of the "lake of unquenchable fire" into which they are destined to be cast. Saint Augustine counters Pelagius, arguing that original sin means that the unbaptized go to hell, including infants, albeit with less suffering than is experienced by those guilty of actual sins.

Medieval Christian Thought

Pope Gregory I repeats the concept, articulated over a century earlier by Gregory of Nyssa that the saved suffer purification after death, in connection with which he wrote of "purgatorial flames". The noun "purgatorium" from the Latin: place of cleansing, is used for the first time to describe a state of painful purification of the saved after death. The same word in adjectival form (purgatorius -a -um, cleansing), which appears also in non-religious writing, was already used by Christians such as Augustine of Hippo and Pope Gregory I to refer to an after-death cleansing.

The Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther denounced the doctrine of particular judgment as contrary to the Bible, professing instead the belief that the soul sleeps until Judgment Day. John Calvin denounced Luther's doctrine, writing instead that the souls of the elect rest in blessedness while awaiting the resurrection of the dead.

Current Popular Christian Views

Most Christians deny that entry into Heaven can be properly earned, rather it is a gift that is solely God's to give through his unmerited grace. This belief follows the theology of St. Paul: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast." The Augustinian, Thomist, Lutheran, and Calvinist theological traditions all emphasize the necessity of God's undeserved grace for salvation, and reject so-called Pelagianism, which would make man earn salvation through good works. Not all Christian sects accept this doctrine, leading to many controversies and discussions over grace and free will, and the idea of predestination. In particular, the belief that heaven is a reward for good behavior is a common folk belief in Christian societies, even among members of churches which reject that belief.

Christian theologians Thomas Aquinas and Jonathan Edwards wrote that the saved in heaven will delight in the suffering of the damned. Hell, however, doesn't fit modern, humanitarian concepts of punishment because it can't deter the unbeliever nor rehabilitate the damned. Many Christian believers have come to downplay the punishment of hell. Universalists teach that salvation is for all. Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, though they have among the strictest rules on how to conduct their lives, teach that sinners are destroyed rather than tortured forever.

In the informal folk beliefs of many Christians, the souls of virtuous people ascend to Heaven and are converted into angels. More formal Christian theology makes a sharp distinction between angels, who were created by God before the creation of humanity, and saints, who are people who have received immortality from the grace of God through faith in the Son of God Jesus (John 3:16).

World-Class Religions and their views:

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