Eternal Hope – Part 31

Eternal Hope – Part 31

January, 2009

Dear Co-Laborer,

Eternal Hope
Part 31


Assuming that the Pseudepigrapha is not God-inspired, I am struck by how the writers, having embraced an eternal hope for the just (and eternal damnation for the unjust), embellish with fantastic imagination what eternity for the two groups will be like. These writers do not differ all that much from believers today. The Bible says very little about the details of what heaven and hell will be like, and we can easily “fill in the blanks” with vivid imaginations, quickly making indistinguishable in our minds what is biblical and what is fiction. Most of what the average Christian knows about heaven comes, not from the Bible, but from his own imagination.

Reflections on 4 Maccabees

Written, according to Charles, before 70 AD, it is heavily influenced by Greek thought. As noted in an earlier issue dealing with Maccabees, these books are not sequential. They have in common their commenting on the tumultuous times in the years preceding the New Testament when the Maccabees family played an influential role in Jewish history. The author seeks to show that the proper objective of Stoicism[1] is meeting the expectations of God. As an orthodox Jew, he seeks to motivate the faithful to stand steadfast to the last as they meet persecution.

The author manifests a strong belief in an afterlife, with blessings for the godly and the opposite for sinners: “Therefore, tyrant, put us to the test; and if you take our lives because of our religion, do not suppose that you can injure us by torturing us. For we, through this severe suffering and endurance, shall have the prize of virtue and shall be with God, on whose account we suffer; but you, because of your bloodthirstiness toward us, will deservedly undergo from the divine justice eternal torment by fire.”[2]

Speaking of the mother of the Maccabees sons, he says: “Take courage, therefore, O holy-minded mother, maintaining firm an enduring hope in God. The moon in heaven, with the stars, does not stand so august as you, who, after lighting the way of your star-like seven sons to piety, stand in honor before God and are firmly set in heaven with them. For your children were true descendants of father Abraham.”[3]

Admonishing the faithful to a life of piety, he says: “Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God.”[4] The author makes no mention of grace; people relate to God on the basis of their works-righteousness.

This concludes my analysis of the Pseudepigrapha. During the Intertestamental period, other men influenced both Judaism and Christianity. We will briefly look at Josephus, the Sayings of the Fathers, the Targums, Philo, and the Talmud.

Comments on Flavius Josephus

The works of Flavius Josephus deal with the history of the Jews at the time of the demise of Israel and the rise of Christianity. Commenting on the various Jewish sects, he says, “… the Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of their laws, and introduce the first sect. These ascribe all to fate [or providence], and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does co-operate in every action. They say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, — but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment. But the Sadducees are those that compose the second order, and take away fate entirely, and suppose that God is not concerned in our doing or not doing what is evil; and they say, that to act what is good, or what is evil, is at men’s own choice, and that the one or the other belongs so to every one, that they may act as they please. They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades…”[5]

Comments on The Sayings of the Fathers

A collection of maxims by Jewish teachers, its compilation took place from the third century BC to the third century AD. Probably compiled by the same Rabbi who collected the teaching of the Mishnah, it came into high regard in Judaism and was included in the liturgy of the synagogue. As already noted, Pharisaism passed through a significant change during these years: when Christianity incorporated Jewish eschatology into the theology of the church, Pharisaism dropped its emphasis on eschatology, majoring on the Law. Thus, I can find no teaching on an eternal hope in the Sayings. Interestingly, you find familiar phrases, as the one attributed to Rabbi Hillel: “…and judge not thine associate until thou comest to his place.”[6]

Reflections on The Intertestamental Targums

During the period between the close of the OT and the beginning of the NT (probably about 100 BC), Targums appeared in Hebrew literature. The word Targum means, “translate, interpret.” “In Hebrew the term can mean translation into any language, and in early rabbinic texts is also used to refer to the Greek Septuagint translation. In modern biblical and Jewish studies its usage is restricted to Jewish and Samaritan translations of the Tanak (Hebrew OT Bible) into Aramaic.”[7]

The scholars that wrote the Targums expanded upon the Old Testament text, adding an eternal dimension not found in faithful Old Testament translations. I will give a couple of illustrations: After Genesis 3:22-24: “For the wicked he prepared Gehenna, which is comparable to a sharp sword devouring with both edges. He prepared within it darts of fire and burning coals for the wicked to be avenged of them in the world to come because they did not observe the precepts of the Law in this world. For the Law is a tree of life for everyone who toils in it and keeps the commandments; he lives and endures like the tree of life in the world to come. The Law is good for all who labour in it in this world like the fruit of the tree of life.”[8]

In Genesis 4:6-8, where Cain’s rejected sacrifice results in his killing his brother Abel: “And the Lord said to Cain… if you make your work in this world to be good, you will be remitted and pardoned in the world to come… Cain answered and said to Abel: There is no judgement, and there is no judge and there is no other world. There is no giving of good reward to the just nor is vengeance exacted of the wicked.”[9] These, and other additions, are not found in the Hebrew Scriptures or in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture, the Septuagint.

Comments on Philo

Philo lived and wrote from 25 BC to 50 AD, his work deals more with philosophy than the genre found in the Pseudepigrapha. Living in Alexandria, Egypt, he sought to make Judaism compatible with Greek thought. He evidently believed in the restoration of the tribes of Israel lost after the Assyrian Captivity: “If filled with shame they change their ways with all their soul, and avow and confess with cleansed minds all the sins that they have committed against themselves… then, though they be at the very ends of the earth, slaves of the foes that took them captive, nevertheless as at a given signal, they shall all be set free in one day, because their sudden change to virtue will strike their masters with amazement; for they will let them go, because ashamed to govern those who are better than themselves. But when this unlooked-for freedom has been bestowed, those, who but a short time before were scattered in Hellas and in barbarous countries, or island, and continents, will arise with one impulse and hasten from all quarters to the place pointed out to them, led on their way by a divine superhuman appearance, which though unseen by all others, is visible only to the delivered.”[10]

Following the Greek teaching that the body imprisons the soul, Philo nevertheless believed in judgment for the unrighteous: “But he who is cast out by God must endure a never-ending banishment; for though the man who has not yet become the complete captive of wickedness man on repentance return to virtue as to his native country from which he had gone into exile, he, on the other hand, who is in the grip and power of a violent and incurable disease must bear his sufferings for evermore, and be flung into the place of the godless to endure unmixed and unremitting misery.”[11]

Philo makes no reference to people relating to God based on grace; they relate to Him solely on the basis of their ability to keep the Law.


We can see, as we come to the close of Intertestamental period, that the Jews had already embraced an eternal hope, paving the way for the ministry of our Lord Jesus. Whether this emphasis on the eschatology of the individual originated among the Essenes, we cannot say for sure, but in any event, it was widely propagated and believed. For example, when Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount,[12] he talked about heaven and hell as though their existence could be assumed. People might ask Him how to get to heaven, but I know of no one who challenged Him on the existence of the after-life.

We will briefly look at the Essenes in the next issue.

In Christ,


[1] A Greek philosophy teaching that because the body is evil it should be disciplined and controlled.
[2] 4 Maccabees 9:7-9
[3] 4 Maccabees 17:4-6
[4] 4 Maccabees 13:14-15
[5] Cornfeld, Gaalya, general editor, Josephus, Flavius, The Jewish War, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1982, Book 2, Chapter 8, Verse 14, pp. 153-154
[6] Sayings of the Fathers 2:5
[7] McNamara, Martin, Justification and Variegated Nomism, D.A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, Mark A. Seifrid, editors, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Vol. 1 “The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism,” page 303.
[8] Ibid, page 312. Italics mine.
[9] Ibid, page 333. Italics mine.
[10] Philo, De Execrat, 8-9, quoted from Charles, R.H., A critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life in Israel, in Judaism, and in Christianity, page 259
[11] Ibid, page 260
[12] Matthew 5-7