Introduction and Examination of the Beliefs of the Patriarchs and Moses
This commentary of a scriptural examination of the subject “What is Mankind’s hope for the future?” arose from the desire to re-examine from the very beginning without preconceptions what the Bible really teaches about this question. After much research into the hope of the Resurrection, (the subject of another series of articles) which initially led to the resurrection of the ‘anointed ones’ being put to one side because it didn’t make sense, it became clear that the ‘little flock’ and the ‘great crowd’ were one group, one flock under Jesus and hence had the same hope. This in turn led to the need to examine what that hope really is. Hence the following re-examination from the very beginning of the Bible, after setting aside all previous beliefs.
For centuries, the belief of the vast majority of Christian denominations has been that they will go to heaven when they die. In the 1930’s Jehovah’s Witnesses began to teach that the majority [termed a Great Crowd] would live on earth with a limited number [144,000 Anointed Ones] being taken to heaven to rule with Jesus Christ. Muslims believe mainly in an earthly paradise. Other religious views such as re-incarnation are not discussed, as they do not arise from interpretation of the Holy Bible.
The differing views noted above raise the following questions with regard to the subject of Mankind’s hope for the future according to the Bible record:
(1) What were the beliefs of the Patriarchs and Moses?
(2) What were the beliefs of The Psalmists, Solomon, and the Prophets?
(3) What were the beliefs of the majority of the first century CE (AD) Jews?
(4) Did Jesus teachings as recorded in the Gospels clearly teach a different hope?
(5) Did the writings by the Apostles alter the hope held by early Christians from what Jesus taught?
(6) What does the Bible teach about the subject of Resurrection?
(7) What understanding does a brief review of relevant Biblical parallels and other relevant scriptures show?
Additionally, how should we understand such words or phrases as the following?
- ‘everlasting life’;
- the ‘Chosen ones’;
- the ‘Holy ones’ ;
- the ‘Kingdom of the Heavens\God’;
In addition, we need to try to understand their usage, by the Bible writers and speakers of Bible times, taking into account the prevailing background understood from the answers to questions 1 thru 7. All relevant scriptures containing these phrases will be provided in an appendix for reference and completeness.
Questions to be Answered
The answers to the above questions should assist in answering:
(a) Was a heavenly hope ever taught in the scriptures?
(b) Will all people go to heaven?
(c) Will some people go to heaven and the rest stay on earth?
(d) Will all people stay on earth? or
(e) Does the Bible teach something else?
The study approach taken is as follows:
- Pray for Holy Spirit for help to understand God’s Word before any session of research.
- Always read the context to each scripture.
- This may include one or more chapters before and after the particular verses of scripture being researched.
- Allow the Bible to answer itself wherever possible.
- (Exegesis) This can be achieved by a combination of a number of methods including for example the following methods.
- To look up related scriptures cited in a good Cross-Referenced Bible,
- Search for the same phrase, or synonymic phrases using a good literal translation (not a paraphrase translation).
- Reason on the Scriptures without prior bias of understanding.
- This can be achieved by trying to put oneself in the mind of the Bible writer, or speakers or listeners recorded in the Bible, to try and understand what they meant or would have understood, rather than what we might currently understand today.
- Do our best to ensure that any reasoning is clearly corroborated elsewhere in the Bible and in agreement with the overall message.
- For example, one scripture in isolation is not a corroboration.
- Check Interlinear Translations and meanings of key words in original languages for key scriptures.
- The origins and meanings of words helps get the full flavour of the word, which can inevitably be lost when trying to translate from one language to another. This is often due to trying to get the balance between a literal translation, which may be difficult to understand, and a paraphrase translation, which can be more open to translation bias.
- In addition, what does the key word actually mean in our language, and how was it used, rather than attempting to interpret or read something into it.
- Avoid or minimise use of any Bible Study aids, particularly those that interpret or give opinions.
- Only use those that provide verifiable facts and common sense reasoning and are clearly free of obvious bias to any particular understanding.
- Provide references to all quotations.
- This means others can verify the research, and acts as a reminder to oneself as to how a particular conclusion was reached.
- (Exegesis) This can be achieved by a combination of a number of methods including for example the following methods.
How well this series of articles achieves these aims is for the reader to evaluate for him or herself.
To set the scene, let us first examine the original language words used, which are translated as “heaven” and “heavens”.
Comment: An examination of the Greek Interlinear texts reveals that there appear to be three main groups of Greek words translated as ‘heaven(s)’. By examining the context, the following patterns emerge all based on the same root ‘ouranos’ [Strong’s Greek 3772].[i]
- ‘Ouranois’: meaning ‘Jehovah’s Presence’
This form only seems to ever be used when the context is referring to Jehovah or of being in or coming from his presence.
(‘ois’ ending – Dative case indicating location, In Strong’s included in No. 2 meaning.)
- ‘Ourano’ (singular) &
- ‘Ouranou’ (plural): meaning ‘Outer Space’
These forms in context are used to refer to the spirit realm, outer space beyond the atmospheric heavens, but not Jehovah’s presence.
(Strong’s No. 2 meaning: Region above the sidereal heavens (vaulted expanse of the sky around the earth))
- ‘Ouranos’ (singular) &
- ‘Ouranon’ (plural): meaning ‘Sky’
These forms are translated many times as ‘heaven(s)’ and refer in context to the atmospheric heavens or sky, especially as a contrast to the earth.
(Strongs No. 1 meaning. Vaulted expanse of the Sky with all the things visible in it)
In Hebrew the word is ‘sa*may*yim’ [Strong’s Hebrew 8064] which usually refers to the sky, or visible heavens.
There is also the phrase ‘u*se*me’ ‘(has)*sa*ma*yim’ which is ‘the heaven of the heavens’.
See also ‘sha*may*yin’, ‘bis*may*ya’ – [Strong’s].
Why is context so very important? It is because context helps us understand how those hearing or writing about the subject later would have likely understood about the subject.
A large part of context is the historical context, not just the written context. With that in mind, we start our examination with the Belief of the Patriarchs and those who lived up to and including the time of Moses. We will then move forward in time in chronological sections of time, which would highlight any gradual or sudden changes in understanding and beliefs.
(Author’s Note: The writing style will be to quote most of the scripture cited and then comment on it. This is to assist readers to see some of the context of the verses and understand the conclusions drawn, by having both source and comment in one place. Also because of the number of scripture quotations and complete absence of quotations from Watchtower literature, other than the New World Translation Reference 1984 Edition Bible (NWT), all scripture quotations have been put in italics to help differentiate the comments from the scriptures and make the article text clearer to follow.)
Belief of the Patriarchs and Early Israelites
We will initially examine key scriptures in the writings of Moses which cover the patriarchal period.
“and to say: ‘By myself I do swear,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘that by reason of the fact that you have done this thing and you have not withheld your son, your only one, 17I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore; and your seed will take possession of the gate of his enemies. 18 And by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice.’” [ii](NWT)
In these verses, Jehovah promised to Abraham that he would bless him and his descendants and by means of them, all nations would be blessed. As there is no mention of a heavenly destination, the natural understanding of this passage would be that Abraham would have understood this promise to be referring to the earth where his descendants would be living. There can be no suggestion that “your seed will take possession of the gate of his enemies” means anything other than here on earth. Abraham’s seed was of course referring to those that became part of the Nation of Israel [at least until the time of Jesus death].
Job 14:1, 13-15
“Man, born of woman, Is short-lived and glutted with agitation.”, ”O that in Sheol you would conceal me, . . . that you would set a time limit for me and remember me! If an able-bodied man dies can he live again? . . . You will call, and I myself shall answer you. For the work of your hands you will have a yearning.”
In Job’s suffering, he asked to die and be resurrected at God’s appointed time. He was confident that would happen. The resurrection (living on earth again, Jehovah’s call and Job’s answer) would be back to the earth at a later time.
Did Jesus have Job 14:1 in mind when he spoke of John the Baptist that there was no greater “Man, born of woman”, as he was imperfect and certain to die, but those even the least ones, (resurrected) in the Kingdom of God\Heavens would be perfect with everlasting life? (See Matthew 11:11-14)
“And YOU yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”(NWT)
“5Now, if you will listen to what I say and keep My Sacred Agreement, you will be a special people to Me that will be higher than all other nations. And because the whole earth is Mine, 6 you will become My holy nation and a Kingdom of Priests.” (2001 Translation).
The nation of Israel was intended to be the kingdom of priests and a holy nation on earth. The promise was that if they kept to the terms of God’s covenant, then it would be through them whom humankind would be blessed, following on from the promise to Abraham. There is no mention of, or implication here or elsewhere, that they would be taken to heaven to accomplish this.
Sadly, as a nation they rejected Jesus as the Messiah, the primary seed through which this was to happen. (see Luke 17:25, Acts 7:37-42, Romans 10 & 11) This meant that those who rejected Jesus would in turn be rejected by Jehovah God and would be replaced by others “grafted in among them”, evidently referring to Gentiles creating a mixed new Israel or ‘Israel of God’. This was the Christian congregation which contained those few faithful Israelites [little flock taken from flock of Israel] and Gentiles [other sheep, strangers to original flock] who would become “one flock under one shepherd”; both groups abandoning formerly held ways of worship and merging into one flock under the one shepherd Jesus.[iv]
Question for thought: Would it make sense and was it required for Jehovah to change the location for the rule of the new Israel from the earth? Additionally, if it was so required, then why?
The Patriarchs believed in resurrection back to life on earth. There was no concept of being resurrected to heaven as a spirit creature. The Hebrew word used ‘chayah’ is used to describe returning to life again as a human, continuing to live as before. In one instance, Judges 15:19 the word ‘chayah’ is used as ‘revived’ from near death.
In the second article of our series, we will examine the beliefs of the Psalmists, Solomon, and the Prophets.
IMPORTANT REQUEST: It is requested that any comments (which are very welcome) be confined to the Bible books and period covered by this article. The whole of the Bible will be covered in sections so later Bible writers and periods will be covered by later articles and would be the best place for relevant comments to those sections.
[i] Please note: The author does not claim or purport to be a biblical Greek nor Hebrew scholar. The conclusions and understandings about the meaning and use of biblical Greek and Hebrew words are those drawn from freely available lexicons such as Strong’s and others. These are the author’s findings based on close examination of the relevant verses in freely available Hebrew and Greek Interlinear Bible translations. Please kindly notify the author of any errors.
[ii] All Bible verses are quoted from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures 1984 Reference Edition (NWT) unless otherwise stated. One commonly used alternative bible is www.2001Translation.com Bible (2001T). Greek words are taken from the Kingdom Interlinear Translation and www.BibleHub.com using Greek INT(erlinear), referencing Strong’s Concordance and Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as primary sources.
[iii] Discussed in Part 2