Are Heaven and Hell Mentioned in the Old Testament? (How Does Heaven and Earth Appear in the Old Testament?)

In my Sunday school days, we were taught the need to do good over evil. Our teachers explained how good people will end up in Heaven while sinners will be damned to hell. It was not until years later, when I joined theology school, that I became fascinated with the idea of Heaven and hell. I decided to research the subject thoroughly. I interviewed our lecturers and the local clergy, which helped me gain significant insights about Heaven and hell. Last Sunday evening, during a young Christians meeting I attended, there was a heated debate about Heaven and hell and whether they exist, especially in the Old Testament. The questions were directed at me since the group members knew I was a theology professor. Being well-versed in the topic, I gave a detailed insight into the topic. So, are Heaven and Hell Mentioned in the Old Testament?

The Old Testament mentions a place of joy, Heaven, and a place of sorrow and suffering, hell. These are the destinations for all people, which will be decided depending on their deeds on Earth. In Psalms 16:11, David expects joy and pleasure when he awakes (resurrects). In Isaiah 66:24, there is a place for the wicked (interpreted as hell) where the fires will not end.

Join me in this article as I discuss what the Old Testament says about Heaven and hell, the teachings we can learn, and whether Heaven and hell exist in the Old Testament.

How Does the Old Testament Describe the Afterlife?

The Old Testament says there is life after death. The righteous will rejoice forever, while the wicked will live in suffering. Daniel 12:2 says that those who have died will rise again, either to eternal life or eternal suffering. In Daniel 12:13, we learn that after the resurrection, each person shall have their rewards or inheritance, which will depend on their deeds before death. These two Bible verses indicate that the Old Testament people expected to live again after death.

What Does the Old Testament Say About Hell?

How Does Heaven and Earth Appear in the Old Testament?
What Does the Old Testament Say About Hell? Image source: Pixabay

The teachings about hell in the Old Testament remain a subject of debate. Theologians suggest that the best interpretation should depend on the text’s context. According to the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, there are several instances where Sheol has been translated to mean hell, while other times, it has been translated to mean a place for the dead or purgatory. For example, 2 Samuel 22:6-7 teaches that you can only call on God while in hell. Still, In Isaiah 14:15, the wicked will be brought into hell. These two verses imply that there is a hell according to the teachings of the Old Testament.

Why is Heaven and Hell Not Mentioned in the Old Testament?

Heaven and hell are not directly mentioned in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament. The widely accepted reason is that the people in the Old Testament believed more in physical life than the eternal life emphasized in the New Testament.

As earlier stated, many translations in the Old Testament can be understood as implying Heaven or hell. In Psalms, 16:9-11 David expects that God will not abandon his soul in hell to suffer but will keep him close to His presence (in Heaven) to rejoice forever. The verse indicates that the Old Testament mentions Heaven and hell, although not in very clear terms.

Where Does Heaven and Hell First Appear in the Bible?

As we have seen earlier, Heaven and Hell in the Old Testament should be translated depending on the context of the text. By this premise, Heaven first appears in Psalm 16:11, where David expects to live in joy in the presence of God after he resurrects.

Hell can be said to appear first in Genesis 37:35, where, after Jacob receives news of his son’s death, he says he will go into Sheol (translated as grave) to mourn and weep for the loss of his son. The grave is taken to mean hell, a place of suffering and great torment.

What is the eternal destination of people that died in the Old Testament?

Are Heaven and Hell Mentioned in the Old Testament? 
Eternal destination of people that died in the Old Testament. Image source: Pixabay

The people of the Old Testament had two destinations after death. For those who were righteous, they would go to Abraham’s bosom. Those who were sinners would go to Sheol, sometimes translated as hell and other times as simply the place of the dead.

Abraham’s bosom, in this case, does not mean Heaven. It means a place where those who believed waited for the Messiah, Jesus, to pay for their sins fully before proceeding to Heaven.

In Psalms 17:15, David says he will be happy to awaken (resurrect) in the likeness of God. It means David is sure to resurrect in the presence and likeness of God since he has been righteous. Resurrecting in the image of God (who is without sin) is the reward David will get for living righteously.

The teachings of the Old Testament emphasized living a life without sin and obeying God’s teachings as the only way to Heaven.

When Did the Concept of Heaven and Hell Begin?

The idea of Heaven and hell, or reward and punishment, depends on whether you are a believer or not, a Christian or a pagan. For pagans, there is no heaven or hell. But it is different for Christians.

Sheol, for the early Jews, was translated to mean a place for the dead. They believed that this place was divided into two; one side for those who had led a righteous life and another for the sinners and the wicked. The side for the wicked and those who did not obey the laws of God (Covenant) was called hell. So, the concept of hell began with the early Jews.

It was not until much later that Sheol was deemed unfit for those who had lived righteously. At this time, the Jews were suffering from oppression by other nations. The idea of a separate place of proper reward, Heaven, for those who kept the covenant, became more acceptable during this time.

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