how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

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Aaron, I think that’s probably a fair analysis. I wouldn’t say that the Bible says nothing that might be construed in terms of a “soulish, after death reality”. The place of the dead in the Old Testament appears sometimes to be inhabited by the ghostly spirits of the dead. I think this is, in effect, figurative language. The witch of Endor seemingly conjured up the spirit of Samuel from the dead, but I doubt that this should be taken as evidence of soul-survival.

But the basic idea, I think, is that when we die, we are dead, we decay, we return to the dust, the breath of our life returns to the God who gave it, and we remain dead and gone unless or until God raises us from the dead. So nothing becomes of the dead “beside physical death and destruction”. There is no disembodied existence. We exist only bodily. The only distinction to be made is between a natural or physical or “soulish” (psychikonbody now and a spiritual (pneumatikon) body in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:44). Jesus was raised bodily. I think that the New Testament holds out the same promise to the martyrs—they will be raised bodily and will reign with Christ throughout the coming ages of human history. The rest of us will have to wait until the final resurrection of the all the dead.

The discourse of “hell” (psychosocially speaking, anyway) is not so much trying to query into the exegetical and historical doctrine of hell, but rather an attempt to probe the metaphysical question of “what happens after you die?”

But this “discourse” is not what the Bible is interested in. It resolutely does not speculate about the metaphysics of a disembodied after-life. Biblical Jewish thought is actually rather anti-metaphysical. Those questions come from elsewhere—from Hellenistic dualism, from animism, from folk religion, from the pseudo-scientific investigations of the 19th century, from natural human superstition, and so on.