Archive for June, 2012

Does eternal destruction mean annihilation for unbelievers at death?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Spencer D Gear

Hell is Real

(image courtesy ChristArt)

It is not unusual to hear these kinds of explanations of the meaning of ‘destruction’ when it is applied to unbelievers after death:

  • ’The fire of the final punishment is “eternal” not because it lasts forever, but because, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorra, it causes the complete and permanent destruction of the wicked, a condition which lasts forever’ (Samuele Bacchiocchi);
  • ‘Morally, the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is incompatible with the Biblical revelation of divine love and justice. The moral intuition God has implanted within our consciences cannot justify the insatiable cruelty of a God who subjects sinners to unending torments. Such a God is like a bloodthirsty monster and not like the loving Father revealed to us by Jesus Christ’ (Samuele Bacchiocchi).
  • ‘the only consistent way to interpret God’s Word on this subject is to believe in the ultimate annihilation of unbelievers in the Lake of Fire’ (Jeremy Moritz).

When I presented an exposition of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 on Christian Forums, I got this response:

Could hardly mean eternal annihilation? How about eternal destruction? Tell me again why destruction cannot possibly mean destruction. How is something eternally destroyed if it is NOT destroyed but kept around to be tortured for the tormentor’s apparent amusement?[1]

This person’s problem is that he engages in eisegesis. He imposes his personal meaning on the text.

This is what 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV) states:

They [those who do not know God, v8] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

We are told the nature of this ‘destruction’ in context. Second Thess 1:7-8 says of unbelievers (those inflicting punishment on the believers at Thessalonica) that ‘God considers it just to repay with affliction…. inflicting vengeance’. That’s the language of God and he says that this is what happens when ‘they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’ (1:9).

Let’s summarise what the Scriptures state in the context of 2 Thess. 1:7-9.

  • unbelievers will be repaid with affliction;
  • In this affliction, God is inflicting vengeance;
  • This vengeance is called ‘eternal destruction’’;
  • And it means being ‘away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’.

This is the justice that all unbelievers will receive from the absolutely just Almighty God of the universe. ‘Destruction’ in 2 Thess 1:9 is a descriptive term and it tells us its content. Those who want to find destruction to mean something that is destroyed and that’s the end (as this person seem to be inferring) are found to be wrong  because of the Greek word, aiwnios (eternal). There is no time frame here. It is timeless eternity and this destruction goes on to the aeon to come. This is what the adjective, aiwnios, means. It is true that the eternal life of the believers is as long at the eternal destruction of unbelievers.

Second Thess 1:9 says that this will be happening ‘away from the presence of the Lord’ and from ‘the glory of his might’. Please don’t minimise the seriousness of this destruction. The saints are surrounded by the glory of the Lord God’s presence. The unbelievers are excluded from the presence of the Lord and are experiencing God’s vengeance by means of eternal destruction. You and I don’t invent the meaning of ‘destruction’. It is explained in context.

Elsewhere the experience of unbelievers after death is described as being sent to the place where it is ‘outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 22:13).

In 2 Thess. 1:9, the fact that destruction is eternal, never ending (see also 1 Thess 5:3; 1 Cor 5:5: 1 Tim 6:9) means that it does not mean this person’s understanding of destruction. It cannot mean annihilation or going out of existence. Instead, it means to be away from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

Everlasting destruction is the manifestation of God’s vengeance and is the very opposite of everlasting life to be experienced by the believers.

When he imposes his personal and contemporary understanding of destruction on 2 Thess 1:9, he engages in eisegesis (imposing his meaning on the text). That view cannot be supported by this Scripture.

See my articles:

Also, see Robert A. Peterson, “The Hermeneutics of Annihilationism“.

Notes

[1] Timothew #159, 27 June 2012, Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘the debate on eternal hell fire’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7618877-16/ (Accessed 27 June 2012).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.

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What happens at death for believer and unbeliever?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Tombstone

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D. Gear

It is not unusual to hear or read comments like this in person or in an online Forum or blog, ‘There is no Hell, Hell was devised to scare people into believing in God. Believe or spend eternity in horrible pain, the choice is yours. God doesn’t send people to hell people send themselves to hell’ (Valdarama; this was formerly in the thread, ‘The debate on eternal hell fire’, Christian Forums, but it is now deleted).

The garbage of hell

In person, I have received the comment when the subject of hell was raised and I gave Jesus’ view, ‘You don’t believe in that garbage do you? That’s the stuff of fantasy land’

How do we respond? This is only a brief overview of what happens at death for all people.

1. If we start in the Bible with Romans 3:23 and the wages of sin being death, we have to ask the question, What is the nature of death? If we go way back to the beginning of the world and the fall into sin, we read that God said:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Gen. 2:17 ESV).

When Adam and Eve sinned did they die, with their life ceasing? No! What happened?

‘Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked…. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him….’ (Gen. 2:8-9 ESV).

So, physical death did not come. Therefore, death was not meant to indicate the cessation of physical existence with the last breath breathed. When death came to our first parents, guilt came so that Adam hid from the presence of God. With this kind of death came guilt. In other words, it meant separation from God because of sin.

2. But what happens at physical death for people? In Ecclesiastes 12:7 we learn that at death, ‘the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it’ (ESV). Concerning the body, this is something like what is emphasised in Gen. 3:19, ‘….for you are dust, and to dust you shall return’.

So this confirms that human beings have something (body/flesh) that returns to dust but the ‘spirit returns to God’. So this is a clear statement that human beings are more than flesh, but they have an inner being that the ESV translates as ‘spirit’. Old Testament commentator, H. C. Leupold, states,

This verse refers to a coming into judgment, and the very thought of judgment denotes a personal responsibility of the spirit that returns to God. Why should that spirit have lost its personality? We shall not on the basis of this passage attempt to build up a full doctrine of the Old Testament concerning life eternal. This doctrine was simply not yet revealed in all its fullness to the Old Testament saints…. It tells every attentive reader: You personally will at your death appear before the judgment seat of God, therefore get ready.[1]

3. But if that spirit returns to God, does that mean that all people are in God’s holy and blessed presence and are experiencing bliss at death? If that were so, that would be the false teaching of universalism – all being saved. We know from Scripture that,

But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

4. Verses such as Matt. 25:41, Matt. 3:12 and Luke 16:23-24 speak of the wicked experiencing punishment in eternal fire. And that the punishment of the wicked was as long – eternal – as the length of life for the Christians. But isn’t there language in the Bible that talks about ‘destruction’ for the wicked? How do you align eternal punishment (meaning punishing) with destruction? I’m thinking of verses like Matt. 7:13,

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many’ (ESV).

Possible conflict: fire vs. annihilation

Is there a possible conflict here between eternal fire and destruction? Those who support annihilation believe that ‘destruction’ means extinction or annihilation. However, even in English, destruction does not mean extinction. When I backed my car over my son’s toy, it was destroyed, but not annihilated.

If we took some isolated Scriptures, it may be possible to take these passages to mean annihilation. I’m thinking of the word, “destroy”, in Matt. 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell [Greek: Gehenna]” (ESV). Even with passages such as Matt. 7:13-14 where the broad road leads to destruction and John 3:16, “Whoever believes in him shall not perish” could be pressed to try to get the meaning of annihilation. Even if we took the following passages alone without consideration of other passages, there is a possibility that extermination/extinction of the wicked could be an interpretation: John 10:28; 17:12; Romans 2:12; 9:22; Philippians 1:28; 3:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; Hebrews 10:39; James 4:12 and 2 Peter 3:7, 9. However, there’s a big barrier to this kind of interpretation.

There are verses that are impossible to square with destruction meaning annihilation. Second Thessalonians 1:9 is one of those barriers. It reads, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (ESV). Who are “they”? They are “those who do not know God” and “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:8). This is referring to unbelievers. The words from 2 Thess. 1:9, “everlasting destruction”, could hardly mean “everlasting annihilation”. This verse creates the added problem against annihilation that the ungodly will be “away from the presence of the Lord”, which indicates that their existence is continuing but they will be shut out from being in God’s presence. If one were to speak of being “destroyed” from the presence of the Lord, it would imply non-existence. Scot McKnight put it this way:

“Paul has in mind an irreversible verdict of eternal nonfellowship with God. A person exists but remains excluded from God’s good presence”.[2]

5. The story in Luke 16:19-31 about the rich man and Lazarus may be a true story as the name of Lazarus is used and names are not used in parables. It provides accurate information of what happens at death if one regards it as a parable. It does give an indication of what happens at death prior to Christ’s death and resurrection:

  • Clearly death is not the end of existence as….
  • Lazarus, the poor man, was by Abraham’s side in life after death (16:22);
  • The rich man was in Hades in torment (Luke 16:23).

6. There’s a third aspect to death that is described in the Bible. This is known as the ‘second death’ or eternal death and is expressed in Scriptures such as, Revelation 21:8,

‘But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars —they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death’ (NIV).

This ‘second death’, also known as eternal death, is the final state of unbelievers. ‘The second death is an endless period of punishment and of separation from the presence of God, the finalization of the lost state of the individual who is spiritually dead at the time of physical death’ (Erickson 1985:1170).

We know from Revelation 20:6 that Christian believers will not experience the second death.

However, as from the beginning of the universe, death does not mean extinction of existence, but separation from God.

That’s my quick overview of what happens at death for believer and non-believer.

For further information on life after death, see my articles:

Notes

[1] H. C. Leupold 1969. Exposition of Ecclesiastes. London: Evangelical Press, p. 297. This is a reprint of the original publication in 1942 by The Wartburg Press.

[2] In Robert A. Peterson 1995. Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, p. 163.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.

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‘All Scripture’ in 2 Timothy 3:16

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Bible Globe

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

I used to understand that 2 Tim. 3:16 and the reference to “all Scripture” was referring back to the OT. Gleason Archer wrote in his consideration of 2 Tim 3:16:

‘It would never have occurred to the Greek-speaking recipients of 2 Timothy to suppose that Paul could be referring to any other writings but the inspired and authoritative books of the Hebrew canon. Nor is there the slightest suggestion in any of the recorded utterances of Jesus Christ or His apostles – or indeed in any of the writings of the New Testament authors – that there were any portions of the Hebrew Scriptures that were not authoritative and inspire’ (Archer 1982:417, emphasis in original).

In recent times I’ve been asking some further questions of 2 Tim. 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21. The following is some tentative thinking (I have not reached a conclusion yet).

1. Let’s look at 2 Tim. 3:15-17[1], including the verse before the two that are mentioned, (vv. 16-17):

Second Tim. 3:15-17 (ESV),

“and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Here we have two groups of writings distinguished: “the sacred writings” of v. 15 and “all Scripture” of v. 16.

“All Scripture” (v. 16) seems to indicate everything that the Holy Spirit gave to the church as canonical and authoritative, OT and NT. When Paul wrote these words, was he referring to a body of literature that was more than the OT. We know this from:

1 Tim. 5:18 (ESV), “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

These two sayings are clearly co-ordinated. If the first is Scripture, than so is the second. Here we have a word spoken by Jesus that is on the same level of authority as a saying from the OT canon.

1. “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain” comes from Deut. 25:4 (You’ll find a similar use by Paul in I Cor. 9:8-12).

2. Where do we find the saying, “The laborer deserves his wages”? Its precise wording is in Luke 10:7 (ESV), “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.” There is a slightly different form in Matthew 10:10 (ESV), “No bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.”

It is not an impossibility that Luke’s Gospel had been completed at the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy. My ESV Bible gives the date for 2 Timothy as “the final letter written by Paul (A.D. 64-68). The ESV states that ‘Luke, a physician and colleague of Paul, probably wrote this account in the early 60s A.D.”. If that is true, then the apostle Paul could have been quoting from Luke’s Gospel. But there is another possibility that Paul was quoting from a collection of sayings or oral tradition that was in circulation and used as a source for Luke (see Luke 1:1-4).

3. So, when we combine these two quotes in I Tim. 5:18 we are beginning to see that “Scripture” may refer to both OT and NT. So “all Scripture” (2 Tim. 3:16) also could refer to all that is breathed out by God — OT and NT.

We should not find this surprising, based on John 14:26 (ESV), “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

There’s further information in 2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV),

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”

Peter, the apostle, confirms that Paul’s writings are of the SAME class as “the other Scriptures” (OT and NT).

I have not come to firm conclusions, but the above considerations do cause me to think again on the meaning of “all Scripture” in 2 Tim. 3:16.

These are just some thoughts from a fellow traveller.

Notes:


[1] I received the basic information for the following content, from William Hendriksen, I & II Timothy & Titus (New Testament Commentary). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1957, pp. 182, 301.

Works consulted

Archer, Gleason L 1982. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.

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Christianity in free fall: the Toronto blessing

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

(courtesy thepocketscroll.com)

By Spencer D Gear

I urge you to view what happens when the Scriptures are abandoned and chaos sets in. Take a read of My Experiences with the Toronto Vineyard (Rick Friedrich of Michigan)

Why wasn’t there pastoral leadership that stopped this lunacy and called it for what it was – an erroneous view of Christianity. Correcting false doctrine seems to be low on the agenda of many in the church today. What Toronto (and Pensacola) descended into was something abhorrent.

I pray for God’s leaders to become just that – men and women who are not afraid to correct and stop false doctrine. As a result, in some of these churches there is still a movement of existential nonsense when some churches gather. Sound doctrine goes out the window!

What is existentialism in religion?

clip_image001

Rudolf Bultmann (courtesy Wikipedia)

I use the term ‘religion’ because it is a far cry from the self-denial and commitment of Jesus Christ. Existentialist religion happens when experience is given a prominent place. We saw an example with German liberal, Rudolf Bultmann (AD 1884-1976), when he de-mythologised the Bible in the 20th century. In his chapter on ‘modern biblical interpretation and existential philosophy’, he wrote:

Over and over again I hear the objection that de-mythologizing transforms Christian faith into philosophy. This objection arises from the fact that I call de-mythologizing an interpretation, an existentialist interpretation, and that I make use of conceptions developed especially by Martin Heidegger in existentialist philosophy (1958:45).

See, ‘Rudolf Bultmann: A critique’, for an assessment of Bultmann’s theology.

But what is existentialism?

(courtesy www.wrs.vcu. edu)

 

Wikipedia has a lay-level article on existentialism that tries to help our understanding of what is happening in philosophy, psychology and counselling, and in the Christian churches. This philosophy, which is alive and well in many evangelical and Pentecostal churches around the world, is defined thus:

Existentialism is generally considered to be the philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual, that moral thinking and scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human existence, and, therefore, that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence. (Authenticity, in the context of existentialism, is being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.)…. Existentialists generally regard traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.

When applied to the church, this means that your experience of Jesus is given primary importance. Where do biblical teaching and theology fit into existentialist Christianity? Existentialism is alive and well thanks to liberal Christianity and the Pentecostal-charismatic movement.

However, there is a supposed difference. Liberal Christianity denigrates the Scriptures and has a different view of God. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

1. One assessment of Bultmann’s view was, ‘One could not know much about God, only what God did for one. (When Macquarrie urged him to follow Tillich in using the philosophy of Being to reconstruct a purified theism, Bultmann could only confess: “I myself cannot conceive of an ontological basis.”) One could not do much for God, only gamble one’s life on his reality and on his power to uphold one. One could not say much to God, only give thanks and surrender’ (Edwards 1976). Bultmann himself wrote, ‘The invisibility of God excludes every myth which tries to make God and His action visible; God holds Himself from view and observation. We can believe in God only in spite of experience, just as we can accept justification [by faith] only in spite of conscience’ (Bultmann 1958:83-84). That description automatically excludes Jesus, the second person of the Trinity as God, and his visible actions in our world.

2. How about the Episcopalian, John Shelby Spong’s, view of God? He wrote, ‘I refer here to a deity who is “a being,” not even if we claim for God the status of the highest being. I speak rather of the God I experience as the Ground and Source of All Being and therefore the presence that calls me to step beyond every boundary…. I intend to demonstrate that probing this new God-possibility begins with a search for clues in our religious past…. The limits on the theistic definition of God have been present for centuries…. The theistic God of the past was created by us and in our own image? As I have suggested in a previous book, “If horses had gods would they not look like horses?’ (Spong 2001:60-61). See my analysis of this publication by Spong in, ‘Spong’s swan song – at last!

3. Listen to Paul Tillich! ‘If God is called the living, if he is the ground of the creative processes of life, if history has significance for him, if there is no negative principle in addition to him which could account for evil and sin, how can one avoid positing a dialectical negativity in God himself?… The anticipation of nothingness at death gives human existence its existential character (Tillich 1968:I 210).

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, at least in theory, confirms the authority of Scripture and of the Lord God Almighty as revealed in the Bible. However, I have my questions after visiting the website of this leading Pentecostal church on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Kings Christian Church (Buderim) and the outreach church that is now known as Noosa Hillsong. A friend of mine who visited this Buderim church called it an ‘ex-church’. The Brisbane Courier-Mail (April 22, 2007) described Kings Christian Church as ‘a new brand of church’ in which this could happen on women’s day:

IN A new building in the Sunshine Coast hinterland a woman spoons froth off a cappuccino. On her left, a teenager has her nails buffed while a silver-haired grandmother deliberates between shades of pearl and puce.

“I’ll take the pearl polish this week,” says the elderly woman. “And I’d love another coffee.”

It’s ladies’ day at the Kings Christian Church, west of Maroochydore, and groups of women are seated around “pampering stations”.

As Pastor Steve Penny dons a headset and prepares to take the stage, the women receive free manicures and premium coffee in the church’s new $4.5 million Champions Centre.

In this article, Pastor Penny ‘says young people expect the latest equipment’. The Courier-Mail goes on to report,

Officials expect to turn heads at the Champions Centre official opening and six-car giveaway next Sunday. The cars, which have been advertised on TV, will be handed out before free pizza and ice cream.

There will be jumping castles, buggy rides and fireworks at the “Event Spectacular”.

Pastor Penny said the giveaways were a means of expressing the church’s interest in the community. He said money spent on cars was donated by members and would ultimately come back to the church.

That sounds awfully like the advertising I wrote in my former days as a radio/TV announcer and copywriter. It is worldly thinking. How would it stack up against the emphases of Jesus’ instructions on being a Christian disciple?

There is some further information about Kings Christian Church, Buderim. The Sunshine Coast Daily reported problems with this church in 2010: ‘Residents fed up with church noise’ (20 January 2010). Part of the article read:

A MAJOR youth conference at a Tanawha church designed to instil community values in the young has instead led to a community backlash over the “deafening” live music at the event.

Unresolved, long-standing issues over the regular live music that blares from the massive Kings Christian Church, which has a congregation of about 1500 and hosts numerous events, reached flashpoint on Monday when the inaugural four-day Queensland Youth Alive Conference opened.

Fed-up nearby residents said years of complaints to the church, Sunshine Coast council and police over the “pounding bass” emanating from the church had landed on deaf ears.

Up to 600 people are attending this week’s youth conference, although it is believed the church’s huge hall can accommodate 1000 people.

“The music started at nine this morning,” one resident said yesterday.

“I feel traumatised. I’m tired … very traumatised.”

Police have been called to the Crosby Hill Road address an astonishing 17 times since 2007 – mainly because of excessive noise and traffic complaints – but said its hands were tied because council had issued the venue with a permit to stage church meetings.

Therefore, the provisions of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act did not apply, a police spokeswoman said.

Police were last called to the church on Monday night, but once again residents were left frustrated.

“I would prefer a brothel over there,” another resident said.

“A legalised brothel that was quiet would be better than this. You don’t behave like this under normal Christianity.”

James Macpherson, who recently took over as the church’s senior pastor but is currently based in Townsville, plans to meet with residents when he arrives on the Coast soon.

Mr Macpherson said the church should be a “blessing to the community”.

“So I’m happy to sit down with people and talk things through,” he said.

Jesus gave this solemn warning about the cost of discipleship. This is not the cost of emotionalism and falling over at a meeting. It is more than Christianity in free fall. Discipleship involves a serious commitment:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV).

Related image(courtesy watchman4wales)

So existentialism and materialism are alive and well in this kind of Pentecostal-charismatic church. But also could it be catching on at Lifepointe Baptist Church, North Buderim?

Both the liberals and many Pentecostals emphasise an experience of God, but the experiences are radically different. Both can degenerate into existential encounters, one like Paul Tillich’s view and the other like the Toronto Blessing or Kings Christian Church.

Liberal Christianity and existentialism

Existentialists, in contrast to determinism and set rules or boundaries, want radical human freedom. German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, called any sort of determinism, ‘inauthenticity’. So, when human beings act freely rather than conforming to any church, conventional opinion, or the Scriptures, there is an unquestioned commitment to experience.

Erickson (1997:92) considers that experience is a presupposition, an unquestioned starting point. Erickson gave the example of Jean-Paul Sartre’s atheism: ‘There cannot be a god, for if there were, he would be a major encroachment on my freedom. I know, however, that I am free. Therefore, there is no God’.

Liberal theologian, Paul Tillich (AD 1886-1965), has tried to synthesise Protestant Christian theology with existentialist philosophy. See his Systematic Theology (1968) in which he stated:

The personal encounter with God and the reunion with him are the heart of all genuine religion. It presupposes the presence of a transforming power and the turn toward the ultimate from all preliminary concerns. Yet, in its distorted form, “piety” becomes a tool with which to achieve a transformation within one’s self (1968:II 99).

But who is his God/god? He stated that ‘”God has become man” is not a paradoxical but a nonsensical statement. It is a combination of words which makes sense only if it is not meant to mean what the words say’ (1968:II 109). He explains further,

Ground of Being http://www.doxa.ws/Being/Ground_Being.html

What liberalism does to missions

Take a read of this assessment of liberalism and missionary activities:

The relativistic scientific world view which underlies mainline liberalism finds it hard to be completely comfortable with the exclusiveness of the evangelical claim. Because of its respect for other religions, it is at best ambivalent about evangelization of non-Christians. Its witness is necessarily unaggressive witness, and it is far more comfortable with social witness (Hutcheson 1981).

Now look at the impact on missions when theological liberals are compared with conservative, evangelical organisations (in Erickson 1997:13):[1]

Number of foreign missionaries under appointment 1972 1988
Group A: Liberal in theology

1. American Baptist Churches

2. Episcopal Church

3. United Church of Christ

4. United Methodist Church

5. United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

 

262

165

244

951

604

 

179

72

214

416

435

Group B: Conservative Christian organisations

1. Evangelical Foreign Missions Association

2. Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association

3. Wycliffe Bible Translators

4. Southern Baptist Convention

 

 

7,074

6,130

2,220

2,507

 

 

9,000+

8,000+

2,269

3,839

Where are the sound doctrine and discernment promoted by these church leaders?

I’m saddened to speak like this, but we are called upon to uphold sound doctrine which comes from Scripture itself and not some existential experience. It is certainly true that those who repent of their sins and turn in faith to Jesus Christ alone for salvation, experience new life in Christ. See, ‘The content of the Gospel’.

The promotion of sound doctrine means that false teaching and ungodly manifestations will be stopped by church leaders.

What happened in that video above (Toronto ‘Blessing’) and what is happening in liberal and Pentecostal churches causes me to be ashamed to identify with a Christianity that will allow that kind of manifestation.

Related image(courtesy www.liveleak.com)

 

Where are the people of discernment in these ‘churches’? This is biblical Christianity:

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound [healthy] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV)

AND

“Teach what accords with sound [healthy] doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV).

In the midst of Paul’s teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, he stated:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2 ESV).

Then in 1 Corinthians we have this need when the gifts are manifested:

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12 ESV)

AND

Let the others weigh what is said (1 Cor 14:29 ESV)…. For God is not a God of confusion but peace (14:33)…. But all things should be done decently and in order (14:40).

When Toronto descended into what we saw on the video, we have the Word of God being violated because the people (especially the leaders) refused to implement what was taught in 1 Corinthians 14 and Romans 12.

Are we seeing here the fulfilment of 2 Timothy 4:3 and the movement away from sound or healthy teaching to accommodate people with itching ears? Could ‘itching ears’ include hair cuts, nail manicures, swimming pools and gyms?

I pray that Christian leaders will take the Scriptures seriously and stop this chaotic existentialism that happens in far too many churches. It is still going on around the world. I am a supporter of the continuing gifts of the Spirit, but I cannot promote this unbiblical chaos and movement away from sound teaching to existentialism and/or materialism – all in the name of the church.

Works consulted

Bultmann, R 1958. Jesus Christ and Mythology. London: SCM Press Ltd.

Edwards, D L 1976. Rudolf Bultmann: Scholar of faith (online). Christian Century, September 1-8, 728-730. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1827 (Accessed 13 June 2012).

Erickson, M J 1997. The evangelical left: Encountering postconservative evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hutcheson Jr., R G 1981. Crisis in overseas mission: Shall we leave it to the independents? (online) Christian Century, March 18, 290-296. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1740 (Accessed 12 June 2012).

Spong, J S 2001. A new Christianity for a new world: Why traditional faith is dying and how a new faith is being born. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology (combined volume of 3 vols). Digswell Place, Welwyn, Herts [UK]: James Nisbet & Co Ltd.

Notes:


[1] Erickson (1997:13, n. 1) gained this information from two mission handbooks: Missions Handbook: North American Protestant Ministries Overseas (1973) and Missions Handbook: USA/Canada Protestant Ministries Overseas (1989).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 November 2015.

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Are there two creation stories in Genesis?

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

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ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

It is a common view promoted by liberal theology and sceptics that there are two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. Here are a few examples:

  • In the Skeptics Annotated Bible, they outline, ‘The two contradictory creation accounts’;
  • Arthur Weiser: ‘It is evident that the Pentateuch cannot be the continuous work of a single author. This is shown by the existence of two differing accounts (doublets) of the same event: thus e.g. the story of the creation in Gen. 1 and 2:4ff’,,[1]
  • The Wikipedia article on the ‘Genesis creation narrative’ states that ‘The opening of [Genesis] verse 2:4 provides a “bridge” connecting the two accounts of the creation narrative’.

At the popular level, I encountered this view on a www forum, Christian Fellowship Forum. Jim Parker replied to me:

You seem to be rejecting out of hand, without consideration, the possibility that there could be more than one version of the creation and flood stories among these ancient people. That flies in the face of the existence of a variety of creation and flood stories among the ancient Mesopotamian people.[2]

I replied: Noah’s flood and the Gilgamesh epic have been answered over and over, but you trot it out again.[3]

Kermit: << There is only one creation story >>[4]
Jim: My Bible has two. One begins with: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1)
The other one begins with:  This [is] the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and [there was] no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground. (Gen 2:4 -6)
Kermit: <<There is …only 1 flood story.>>
Jim: There are two. I already posted the facts. If you don’t want to know then that is your choice.

Spencer:[5] Can’t you see what you did? You confused your view that there are two creation stories with two flood stories.
Genesis 2 does not present a different creation account to the one in Genesis 1. Genesis 2 presupposes God’s completed work of creation from Genesis 1. What we have in Gen. 2:1-3 is the logical conclusion of carrying on the information from Genesis 1, using the same vocabulary and style as was used in chapter 1.

What Genesis 2 does is lay out the completion of God’s primary work done in Genesis 1 with the sanctity of the 7th day conferred as a memorial of what God had created.

Then Genesis 2:4 sums up the sequence of what had been surveyed previously with the words, “These are the generations of heaven and earth when they were created, in the day that Yahweh God made heaven and earth”.

Since Moses (yes, author Moses) had now finished the overall survey of the subject, what does the author do? He then develops in detail one important feature, the creation of human beings.

It is Kenneth Kitchen who writes in Ancient Orient (p. 117):

“Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series, and without any details, whereas in Genesis 2 man is the center of interest and more specific details are given about him and his setting. Failure to recognize the complementary nature of the subject-distinction between a skeleton outline of all creation on the one hand and the immediate environment on the other, borders on obscurantism”.[6]

How do you like that description of what you have tried to do with trying to convince us of two creation accounts – obscurantism?

You have provided the argumentation of the historical-critical method and your presupposition comes gushing forth.

Conclusion

There is a reasonable contextual explanation for affirming that Genesis 1 and 2 form the fabric of one creation account and not two.

I recommend the article by Wayne Jackson, Apologetics Press, “Are there two creation accounts in Genesis?’ The straightforward biblical answer to the question, if one follows the Genesis text, is, NO! There is only ONE creation account in the Book of Genesis.

Notes:


[1] In Wayne Jackson, ‘Are there two creation accounts in Genesis?’, Apologetics Press, available at: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=1131 (Accessed 9 June 2012).

[2] Christian Fellowship Forum, Contentious Brethren, ‘Dawkins won’t debate creationists’, #41, 5 June 12, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=40&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=121081 (Accessed 6 June 2012).

[3] Ibid., ozspen, #49.

[4] Ibid., FatherJimParker, #45.

[5] Ibid., ozspen #51. The following information is from Gleason L. Archer 1982. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House), pp. 68-69.

[6] Ibid., p. 69.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 October 2015.

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What is God’s understanding of human government?

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

Upright Rulers

ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

I was engaged in discussion with 2 know him on Christian Forums. His original topic was his refusal to accept the teaching of both Paul and Peter on God’s instruction on human government. He wrote:

This is what Romans 13:1-4 states:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (NIV).

This was 2 know him’s response:

Not only was Paul wrong in his statements listed above, but they contradict Jesus’ precepts.

You cannot serve 2 masters and yet Jesus’ authority is constantly disobeyed by those in power and you and Paul claim they are somehow servants of God while they contradict Jesus’ teachings which he claimed are the commandments of God. I guess God is schizophrenic.

Paul was not only wrong but he was never taught by Jesus. It is unfortunate that you cannot see what is clearly before you, about the err of Paul’s philosophies, but you will never know Jesus, as you aught to, as long as you accept the ignorance of Paul’s beliefs.[1]

I (OzSpen) responded to him as follows (I have used the first person in addressing him):[2]

Governments are ministers of God

We ARE taught that governments are ministers of God, or as the NLT translates, they are “God’s servants”:

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. 6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority (Rom. 13:1-7 NLT)

The exception: When we should disobey government

The Scriptures do give us the exception when we must not obey governments or other human authorities:

But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority (Acts 5:29 NLT).

People may not like God’s teaching from Paul, but we are responsible for obeying governing authorities. They are placed there by God. But we must not obey ungodly laws.

Those who disagree with what Paul has taught under theopneustos (God-breathed) authority – see 2 Tim. 3:16-17 – are in a dangerous zone when they try to supercede God’s authority.

There is another portion of Scripture that affirms the authority given by God to government. It is in 1 Peter 2:13-17:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor (NIV).

What about the authority of 2 Peter?

In responding to another person about this Scripture, 2knowhim took the opportunity to denigrate 2 Peter and its authority:

Anarchy is self rule. It is much preferred that you rule yourself then have another rule you unless you can be assured their rule is right and you accept their authority by choice NOT FORCE. All earthly governments rule BY FORCE.

As for Peter, he did not write 2 Peter and most Greek scholars affirm this. For many reasons I can know for sure that Peter could not have affirmed earthly governments, but the fundamental reason for my absolute surety of this, is because Peter saw Jesus as his King and to affirm another man as as co-ruler with Christ who make Him to have 2 masters.

Paul’s statements about those in power not being a terror to good works, mean that Jesus, Paul and the Apostles that were killed by the Rulers of Rome as well as those who were thrown to the lions were doing evil works: OR PAUL WAS WRONG. And his statements that those who bear the sword are ministers/servants of God go against Jesus’ teachings so how are they his servants?

In the Old Covenant it is never meant that the children of Israel should have a King and all the enforcement of the laws were to be carried out by those who were transgressed against. To enforce punishment yourself, or have law-enforcement punnish a violator of your rights, is to not make you a follower of Christ: as he taught against this behavior. If you judge others GOD will also JUDGE YOU.[3]

I responded: ‘Please present your evidence that 2 Peter was not written by Peter. “Most Greek scholars affirm this” is an awful way to present non-evidence’.[4]

This was his reply: Originally posted by 2 know him:

As I have stated once before, in order for Peter to affirm the authority of any man other then the Christ would be to accept the rule of men as being from God. Let’s say you are in power, would you say that your rule would be the rule of God? How ignorant and self deluded you must be to truly be: to believe such garbage. God allows you to sit in judgment of others just as he allows men to sin but to think he accepts your judging others as okay? Total nonsense. You might do well to remember that God never intended for the children of Israel to have a king and he gave them one and stated: “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

Your rule against the teachings of Christ, being God’s judgments, when God says the children of Israels kings would not be His Rule: how arrogant are you.

Peter knew Jesus was the King of Israel and only a disciple of Paul would have fallen into the same err that Paul made himself, for accepting earthly kings as God’s servants.[5]

How should I respond?[6] I stated that this kind of statement demonstrates your ignorance of the totality of Scripture. According to Proverbs 8:12-16, wisdom [the Lord] makes kings to reign, rulers to decree, princes to rule, nobles to govern justly:

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
14 I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
15 By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
16 by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly (ESV).

It is 2knowhim who is out of touch with biblical reality. The Trinitarian God cannot rule against the judgments of Christ. They are one and the same ONE God. That’s the teaching of Scripture.
His presuppositions have dominated his post. They include:

  1. To say that ‘for Peter to affirm the authority of any man other then the Christ would be to accept the rule of men as being from God’. This is your presupposition. The infallible word of God has told us that God uses governments (and human beings) as SERVANTS under God. You impose on the text your own humanistic views and thus get eisegesis.
  2. “How ignorant and self deluded you must be to truly be: to believe such garbage…. Total nonsense.” When you use an ad hominem logical fallacy against me, you not only demonstrate the illogic of what you state, but we can’t have a logical discussion when you violate a fundamental of the logical mind the Lord has given us. Please quit your ad hominem personal attacks on me!
  3. “Your rule against the teachings of Christ”…. No, it is your imposed teaching on Scripture that the rest of the NT does not agree with the teachings of Christ. The NT is a totality. You can pick and choose what you want to believe, but that is humanism and not Christ-centred godliness.
  4. “only a disciple of Paul would have fallen into the same err that Paul made himself, for accepting earthly kings as God’s servants.” Here you have stated your opinion as a human being. I would rather listen to the theopneustos (God-breathed) Scriptures. They have more authority than any of your and my writings. Those God-breathed Scriptures state that “governing authorities” are “from God and those that exist have been instituted by God”. More than that, “Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom. 13:2). When you resist this biblical teaching, as you are doing in this thread, God’s warning is that you “will incur judgment”. That’s not what I said. It is from the Lord God and what he has given us in the God-breathed Scripture.

You have some very dangerous presuppositions that have severe divine ramifications, based on Romans 13:2.
You engage in avoidance and it will not do in honest discussion. This is what I asked of you:

Please present your evidence that 2 Peter was not written by Peter. “Most Greek scholars affirm this” is an awful way to present non-evidence.

But in your post, there was not a word of evidence to support your view of the authorship of 2 Peter. ZERO evidence. That is not the way to engage in honest discussion.

Conclusion

We obey the laws of human government, except when they conflict with the law of God. So when governments promote euthanasia, abortion, taking mind-altering illicit drugs, homosexual marriage, and refusing to allow freedom of religion, I will disobey government.

See my articles:

‘We must obey God rather than human beings’

(Acts 5:29 NIV).

 


Notes:

[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Can you be a Christian and support unchristian actions?’, 8 May 2012, #37, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7654555-4/ (Accessed 11 May 2012).

[2] Ibid., #46.

[3] Ibid., #47.

[4] OzSpen, ibid., #48.

[5] Ibid., #50.

[6] OzSpen, ibid., #52

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 October 2015.

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Hazardous waste put in our water as fluoride

Friday, June 8th, 2012

By Spencer D Gear

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How is it possible that something that is labelled as ‘hazardous waste’ for a rubbish tip is placed in our water supply for the populace to drink?

I was provoked to consider more on this issue when I read this article. Please take a read of this news item from the central western town of Cowra in NSW (Australia), ‘Council counts high cost of unlawful waste disposal[1] (Cowra Community Times, 7 June 2012). Here it reports how the Bourke Shire Council has been fined $10,000 and ordered to pay court costs of $14,000 for ‘unlawfully transporting and disposing of hazardous waste at its own waste depot’. In addition, it has been ordered to pay ‘clean-up costs and risk-assessment reports totalling more than $30,000’.

The Council admitted it was guilty.

What was this “hazardous waste”? What was it that was dumped by the Bourke Council for which it was fined? It was the very chemical that the Blyth Labor Government forced into Queensland’s water supplies –sodium fluoride. Yes, the fluoride that is in our water supply is a toxic poison. I have had to install a reverse osmosis machine under my kitchen sink to remove fluoride from my household water because of what the Blyth government did in forcing this toxin, hazardous waste, fluoride into our water supply.

By the way, not all in the Queensland Labor Party agreed with this decision. See, ‘Labor branch opposes fluoridation’.

It will save the new Newman LNP government millions of dollars if it is removed.

If you don’t believe me on the dangers of fluoride in our water supply, check out Dr. Hardy Limeback, BSc, PhD, DDS. He is no dummy when it comes to dentistry and understanding the effects of fluoride.  He is a practicing dentist, has two doctorates (biochemistry and dentistry) and is Associate Professor and Head of Preventive Dentistry at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.  Since April of 1999, he has “publicly decried the addition of fluoride, especially hydrofluosilicic acid, to drinking water for the purpose of preventing tooth decay”.

He summarises his reasons in his article, “Why I am now officially opposed to adding fluoride to drinking water”.

Why is it that about 98% of Europe does not put fluoride in the water supply?

Dr. Limeback has stated that there is now a better understanding of how fluoride prevents dental decay. What little benefit fluoridated water may still provide is derived primarily through application to the teeth orally, through brushing. Fluoride does not need to be swallowed to be effective. It is not an essential nutrient.

See the interview with Dr. William Hirzy of the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA about the bone cancer and rare liver cancer associated with fluoride digestion by rats and mice.

Dr Limeback noted in 2002, “Here in Toronto we’ve been fluoridating for 36 years. Yet Vancouver – which has never fluoridated – has a cavity rate lower than Toronto’s”.

Bourke Council has been fined for dumping the poisonous waste that we put into fluoridated water. What a paradox that we swallow it in water, but it is too toxic for the local waste dump.

To discover the dangers of sodium fluoride, you can Google ‘sodium fluoride + material safety data sheet‘ to find lots of information on the hazardous nature of sodium fluoride.

We should all spare a thought for the people of the Murrumba electorate and the rest of Queensland, whose water supplies have been dosed with Fluorodose: this is sodium fluoride that is put into public water-treatment tanks in 5 kg bags. The bags dissolve and the ‘lucky’ people of Queensland get to drink the dissolved bag as well as the poisonous fluoride – sodium fluoride that in the dump at Bourke NSW is considered hazardous waste.

This was an undemocratic decision forced on the people of Queensland by the Blyth government.

Appendix

Since articles come and go from newspapers on the www, here is the article as it appeared in the Cowra Community News:

Council counts high cost of unlawful waste disposal[2]

BOURKE Shire Council has been convicted and fined $10,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of $14,000 after pleading guilty to unlawfully transporting and disposing of hazardous waste at its own waste depot.

It’s also been ordered to foot clean-up costs and risk-assessment reports totalling more than $30,000.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) brought the prosecution in Bourke Local Court after it became aware that council staff transported between 400 and 600kg of sodium fluoride, a hazardous waste, to the Bourke waste depot from its water treatment plant.

The court was told the incident occurred in October 2010 and that the waste depot was not licensed to accept hazardous waste.

The court found that while no environmental harm occurred on this occasion, there was potential for environmental harm and the actions of council employees had been careless.

EPA acting chief environmental regulator, Mark Gifford, says the case highlights the need for councils, in particular, to be aware of their legal obligations.

“In this case the evidence showed that council staff had considered the hazardous nature of sodium fluoride, but ultimately reached incorrect conclusions about how it should be disposed of,” Mr Gifford says in a statement.

“Sodium fluoride is classified as hazardous waste under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act.

“As such, the Bourke Shire Waste Depot is not able to accept this product.

“The fact that council’s staff were directed to transport the waste to council’s own waste depot is most concerning.

“The EPA received information that council had disposed of the sodium fluoride in the waste depot, launched an investigation and issued (the) council with a Clean-Up Notice.

“The Clean-Up Notice required (the) council to arrange for the sodium fluoride to be excavated and removed from the waste depot and transported to a hazardous waste facility.

“On top of the fine and costs order, (the) council has had to pay for clean-up costs and risk assessment reports totalling more than $30,000.” Mr Gifford says.

Notes:


[1] See the Appendix for a copy of the full article.

[2] Available at: http://cowracommunitynews.com/viewnews.php?log=succ&newsid=672&id=3 (Accessed 7 June 2012).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 October 2015.

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What is the nature of death according to the Bible?

Monday, June 4th, 2012

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(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D. Gear

Monday, 4 June 2012

Two days ago, Chris, my friend of 35 years, died suddenly of a stroke in a nearby hospital. It was only last Thursday, 9.15am, that he was sitting in the lounge room at home when he started making what his wife thought were funny faces. However, something far more serious was going on.

An ambulance was called. It arrived within 10 minutes and he was taken to the stroke unit at a local hospital. He had suffered a massive stroke and the right side of his body was paralysed. He was still conscious. His wife’s email stated that the drugs that were used in the hope of dispersing the clot did not work. He was stable, resting, but exhausted. All he could speak was a vague ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because of the paralysis.

Within 2.5 days, Chris, a committed Christian, had died and was present with his Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul stated it this way, ‘We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:8 NIV). That is the Christian hope and understanding of what happens at death for believers.

However, what is the nature of his death according to Scriptures for all people?

Before we get to the Bible, we note the words of leading scientist, Stephen Hawking, who has suffered from a disability for the majority of his adult life and has stated some disparaging perspective on life after death. Here is one report:

SCIENTIST Stephen Hawking has dismissed heaven as a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark”.

And he insisted that, rather than advance to an afterlife, people’s brains switch off like “broken-down computers” when they die.

Renowned physicist Hawking, 69, admitted his views were partly influenced by his long battle with motor neurone disease, which has left him wheelchair-bound.[1]

He has stated that,

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he said.

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” he added.[2]

Is British astrophysicist (cosmologist), Stephen Hawking, correct about death and life after death? Read the tribute to Stephen Hawking by Christian leader, Albert Mohler Jr., ‘Professor Stephen Hawking at 70’. Stephen Hawking has been suffering motor neurone disease from about age 21. He was born in 1942.[3]

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Hawking on 5 May 2006, during the press conference at the Bibliothèque nationale de France to inaugurate the Laboratory of Astronomy and Particles in Paris and the French release of his work God Created the Integers. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Another motor neurone disease (ALS) sufferer, Michael Wenham, has a completely different perspective to Hawking. He said: ‘I’d stake my life that Stephen Hawking is wrong about heaven. Hawking says some admirable things, but the idea that I believe in life after death because I’m afraid of the dark is insulting’.[4] As indicated above, Hawking has compared death to computers: ‘There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers — that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark’.[5]

Stephen Hawking is one famous scientist who opposes any view of life after death as he approaches his own death.

When it comes to discuss the nature of what happens to a person at death, Christian or non-Christian, there are those who bring these kinds of accusations:

  • ‘The debate on eternal hell fire is an interesting one because both sides of the debate quote scripture. What’s the solution, or what’s the problem.
    It seems illogical to form a conclusion based on some scripture and not all. That’s the problem?’[6]
  • Timothew responded to this post ‘You are asking “How does immortality put on mortality?” Assuming we are all naturally immortal. Let me ask you, How does mortality put on immortality? I’ll answer it, by putting our faith in Jesus Christ. The bible says that death entered the world through sin. The wages of sin is death. Don’t let yourself be deceived by those who say that death is not really death. Death is death, but we can receive eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ. We can become immortal by receiving immortality from God, who alone is immortal. (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

The question is really ‘Will you receive eternal life from Christ or reject Christ and therefore reject eternal life?’ [7]

  • Timothew responded again, ‘I wonder why so many are offended that there is no eternal torture, only death? Why are so many offended that the wages of sin is death? The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved’.[8]
  • Then came this correction of Timothew: ‘Why do so many people refuse to let their minds be a little bit bigger so as to accept that fact that the fate of unbelievers is both? Clearly Scripture says both death and torment are eternal. Could it be you need to redefine “death” in your minds?[9]
  • Timothew’s retort was, ‘Yes, I think that if a person believes that someone can be both “dead” and “living forever in torment” they probably do need to redefine the word “death” in their mind’.[10]

How do we respond? We turn to the Scriptures to determine the definitions of death. Yes, ‘definitions’. However, before we get to an understanding of the nature of death, we need to understand the nature of human beings.

Are we just blobs of flesh with breath and when death comes and the last breath is taken, the body is left in the grave to rot and there is no such thing as life after death? Is it as Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and logician, stated, ‘I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive’? (Russell 1957:43).[11] He now knows the truth of what happens at death, as he died of influenza on 2 February 1970 at the age of 97.

If human beings are simply flesh that rots, then death means the cessation of existence. That’s the end for each one of us. But if human beings are more than flesh and bone, then death presents a different situation. Let’s go to the Scriptures for an understanding of human nature.

I hope that I do not have to convince you that human beings have flesh, blood and bone. However, it is the other dimension that can become more contentious. What is the true nature of a human being?

1. A human being is more than flesh, blood and bone

We know from the Christian Scriptures that human beings are more than flesh, blood and bone. Why turn to the Bible for an understanding of human nature? The internal evidence from the Bible is that all Scripture is ‘breathed out by God’ (2 Tim. 3:16 ESV). In this context it is referring primarily to the Scriptures from before the time of the apostle Paul, which is referring to the Old Testament. However, the apostle Peter, compared the writings of Paul with the ‘other Scriptures’ (2 Peter 3:16). Therefore, Peter placed the Paul’s epistles on the same level as the Old Testament Scriptures, which originate from God Himself.

Therefore, if I want to know the true nature of human beings, I don’t go to Confucius , Aristotle, Tertullian, St. Augustine, Descartes, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, D A Carson, or another other leading thinker. I would be foolish to go to any other than God Himself to determine your and my nature. However, this is built on the presupposition that the one and only true God of the Judeo-Christian faith exists and that the Bible is a trustworthy document. For further discussion of these points of theology and apologetics, see:

1.1 The soul [12]

A human being has an inner, immaterial dimension and an outer, material dimension. The inner dimension is often called “soul” or “spirit” and the outer dimension is usually called body.

Often in the Bible, the term, “soul,” is used to refer to more than the spiritual dimension of a human being and sometimes even includes the body (e.g. Gen. 2:7; Psalm 16:10).

However, the Bible presents examples of the soul being distinguished from the body as in Gen. 35:18: “And as her [Rachel’s] soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin” (ESV).

In I Thess. 5:23 the soul is noted as different from the body: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV).

Rev. 6:9 indicates that souls are totally separated from the bodies for the saints: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (ESV).

So, the “soul” means “life” as the principle of life in a human being. It is what animates the body of a human being. In fact, the word “soul” can sometimes refer to a dead body as in Lev. 19:28; 21:1; 23:4 in a way similar to the contemporary expression, “that poor soul.” However, the primary meaning of “soul” is probably best stated as meaning “person” which is usually in a body but is sometimes in a disembodied state.

Therefore, with this kind of understanding, it makes sense to state: “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4 ESV). It fits in with the biblical data, so long as we understand that this fits with “under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God” (Rev. 6:9). “Souls” are not extinguished at physical death.

1.2 What about the spirit?

In both Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma), spirit normally refers to the immaterial dimension of human beings. Often “spirit” and “soul” are interchangeable, as in a verses such as Luke 1:46-47, “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .” (ESV).

James 2:26 speaks of the body without the “soul” as dead, while Jesus said at his death, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).

So, “spirit” is the immaterial dimension of human beings, as Jesus emphasised with his disciples: “And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have’” (Luke 24:38-39).

According to John 4:24, the invisible God “is spirit” and whose who worship him must worship “in spirit and in truth”.

1.3 The heart

In both the Hebrew (leb) and the Greek (kardia), the heart has a meaning so broad that at times it includes the “mind.”

In Prov. 23:7, the NASB translates, “For as he thinks within himself . . .”, where “himself” is leb = heart. The NET Bible captures this meaning, “For he is like someone calculating the cost in his mind.”

The heart, biblically, refers to the whole inner person. It is the place from which true faith in God springs, as we see from Rom. 10:9, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (ESV).

It is the heart which we use to worship and love God: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5 ESV).

But the heart can be the set of evil also: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34 ESV). Jeremiah 17:9 confirms that the heart can be the seat of evil: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (ESV).

So, the heart seems to reflect the whole inner being of a person.

1.4 The mind

The mind refers to that immaterial dimension of a person by which he/she thinks or imagines. It is included in the commandment given by Jesus: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

It is the mind that also needs God’s sanctifying renewal power: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind….” (Rom. 12:2). Why is this needed? Rom. 8:6-7 explains: “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”

Therefore there is this kind of need for ever believer: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

1.5 There is another dimension: the inner nature

Sometimes, the spiritual dimension of human beings is called “the inward man” (KJV), which is spoken of in 2 Cor. 4:16: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (ESV). Here the “inner nature” is what the KJV translates as: “the inward man,” which is related to “the things that are unseen,” which “are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

These are my biblical understandings of soul, spirit, heart, mind and the “inward man.”

Therefore, a human being, in addition to being flesh, blood and bone, has a soul/spirit/heart/mind/inward being.

When a human being dies, we know that the flesh and bone go into the ground to rot or to be consumed by a crematorium fire to become ash. But what happens to the ‘inner being’ at death? Before we get there, we have to examine the meaning of death from God’s perspective, as summarised in the Bible.

2. What is the nature of death from God’s point of view

When the first human beings committed the original sin, one of the consequences of that sin is:

  • Physical death is part of the penalty of original sin from Genesis 3 (see Gen 3:19; Job 4:18-19; 14:1-4; Rom 5:12; 6:23; 1 Cor 15:21f; 15:56; 2 Cor 5:2, 4; 2 Tim 1:10). Paul stated it clearly in 1 Cor 15:22, ‘As in Adam all die’. But there is another dimension to death,
  • Spiritual and eternal death. This is what theologian Charles Hodge calls, ‘all penal evil, death spiritual and eternal, as well as the disillusion of the body’ (Hodge:1972:147).[13] This explanation is based on: (a) This is the consequence of sin from Gen. 3; (b) It is the common term used by writers throughout Scripture for the penal consequences of sin (e.g. Gen. 2:17; Ezek 18:4; Rom. 1:32; 6:23; 7:5; James 1:15 Rev. 20:14; etc.); (c) Throughout Scripture we have the constant interchange of ‘life’ with ‘death’. In ‘life’ there are rewards of the righteous; in ‘death’ there is punishment for disobedience (e.g. Deut 30:15; Jer 21:8; Prov. 11:19; Ps. 36:9; Matt 25:46; John 3:15; 2 Cor 2:16; etc.); (d) In Romans 5 there is a contrast of life by Christ and death by Adam (5:15, 17, 21). As Rom. 5:13-14 makes clear, death ‘means the evil, and any evil which is inflicted in punishment of sin’ (Hodge 1972:148). Rom. 5:12 is clear that this view of death ‘came to all people’ (NIV).

2.1 Biblical indications that death is more than physical dying of the body

2.1.1 An overview of verses from Old and New Testaments

Genesis 35:18: “And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin” (ESV).

Ecclesiastes 12:6-7: “Before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”.

James 2:26: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead”

From these 3 verses, we cannot conclude that death is a state of annihilation or non-existence. As a person is dying, the soul or spirit, which is unseen by human eyes, is departing and returning to God who gave this soul/spirit to a human being. Also, the body that no longer has the spirit is dead. So, to speak of death as being non-existence of the person is meaningless. That’s not what these verses teach.

2.1.2 Further support from the Old Testament

Genesis 2:17: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”.

Genesis 3:3: “but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’”.

Genesis 3:8: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden”.

Genesis 3:23: “therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken”.

In these 4 verses we see that “death” happened, from the moment that Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, but they did not die physically at that point. The fellowship with God ceased, but though they were still living and could hear the voice/sound of God. So “death” here could not mean non-existence or extinction. It meant separation.

2.1.3 Further New Testament support for death being more than physical dying

Ephesians 2:1: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins”.

Ephesians 2:12-13: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ”.

1 Timothy 5:6: “But she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives”.

Eph. 2:1 describes the nature of a human being’s physical death to demonstrate spiritual death as human beings are “dead” in sin. Then in Eph. 2:12-13, this spiritual death is explained as being separated from Christ. For 1 Tim 5:6, a widow is described as being “dead” even though she is alive. So, death in here described as other than non-existence or annihilation.

What could Jesus mean when he stated, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60)? It is blatantly obvious that he was not saying, “Let the non-existent, annihilated, unconscious or soul-sleep ones bury the non-existent, annihilated, unconscious, soul-sleeping ones”.

Jesus is making it clear that those who are separated from God are “dead” even they are still living.

Then we read:

1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death”.

1 Corinthians 15:54-56: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law”

Hebrews 2:14-18:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted”.

Philippians 1:21-24:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account”.

Here in 1 Cor. 15:26, death is spoken about as “the last enemy”. Could we call it the huge enemy? 1 Cor. 15:54-56 speaks of death as a blend of the good and the bad and of the perishable (human body) putting on the imperishable, the immortal. How about that? Death involves immortality! Because of Christ’s death on the cross, death will eventually be destroyed – but not yet (Heb. 2:14-18).

Then Jesus’ death dealt with the one who has the power of death, the devil. For the believer, to “die” is “gain”, which means to be in relationship with Christ: “My desire is to depart [die] and be with Christ”.

In these latter verses, we see death as the last huge enemy which will be destroyed when Jesus returns, but there is no hint in any of the verses above that death means extinction, annihilation, non-existence.

This should get us thinking about the biblical nature of death, but this is only a start. There are many other verses that demonstrate that the biblical view of ‘death’ is more than the end of physical breath and life.

2.1.4 The second death

There’s a third aspect to death that is described in the Bible. This is known as the ‘second death’ or eternal death and is expressed in Scriptures such as, Revelation 21:8, ‘But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars —they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death’ (NIV).

This ‘second death’, also known as eternal death, is the final state of unbelievers. ‘The second death is an endless period of punishment and of separation from the presence of God, the finalization of the lost state of the individual who is spiritually dead at the time of physical death’ (Erickson 1985:1170).

We know from Revelation 20:6 that Christian believers will not experience the second death.

3. Where will you be one second after your last breath?

What happens at death for all people? Richard Dawkins claims that for him there will be ‘no death bed conversion’. He wants a tape recorder at his bedside when he dies so that nobody will be able to say he had a death bed conversion. He sees ‘death as terminal’ (2006:400), which is not unlike Bertrand Russell’s, ‘When I die I shall rot’ (1957:43).

What do the Scriptures state will happen to those who die, whether believer or unbeliever?

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (1994) provides an exposition of “What happens when people die?” (Grudem 1994:816ff).

3.1 Death for the Christian believer

Wayne Grudem explains:

a. The souls of believers go immediately into God’s presence.

Death is a temporary cessation of bodily life and a separation of the soul from the body. Once a believer has died, though his or her physical body remains on the earth and is buried, at the moment of death the soul (or spirit) of that believer goes immediately into the presence of God with rejoicing. When Paul thinks about death he says, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. He also says that his desire is “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1.23). And Jesus said to the thief who was dying on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43), The author of Hebrews says that when Christians come together to worship they come not only into the presence of God in heaven, but also into the presence of “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12:23). However, as we shall see in more detail in the next chapter, God will not leave our dead bodies in the earth forever, for when Christ returns the souls of believers will be reunited with their bodies, their bodies will be raised from the dead, and they will live with Christ eternally…. (Grudem 1994:816-817).

b. The Bible does not teach the doctrine of purgatory Here is what Grudem states (1994:817-819):

 

The fact that the souls of believers go immediately into God’s presence means that there is no such thing as purgatory. In Roman Catholic teaching, purgatory is the place where the souls of believers go to be further purified from sin until they are ready to be admitted into heaven. According to this view, the sufferings of purgatory are given to God in substitute for the punishment for sins that believers should have received in time, but did not.

Speaking of purgatory, Ott says:

Suffrages operate in such a manner that the satisfactory value of the good works is offered to God in substitution for the temporal punishment for sins which the poor souls still have to render. It operates by way of remission of temporal punishments due to sins [Ott 1955:322].

But this doctrine is not taught in Scripture, and it is in fact contrary to the verses quoted immediately above. The Roman Catholic Church has found support for this doctrine, not in the pages of canonical Scripture as we defined it in chapter 3 above, and as Protestants have accepted it since the Reformation, but in the writings of the Apocrypha, particularly in 2 Maccabees 12:42–45 (RSV):

[Judas Maccabeus, the leader of the Jewish forces] also took a collection, man by man, to the amount of 2,000 drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking into account the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

Here it is clear that prayer for the dead is approved, and also making an offering to God to deliver the dead from their sin. But in response it must be said that this literature is not equal to Scripture in authority, and should not be taken as an authoritative source of doctrine. Moreover, it contradicts the clear statements about departing and being with Christ quoted above, and thereby opposes the clear teaching of New Testament Scripture. Furthermore, when it talks about the offering of Judas making “atonement for the dead” it contradicts the explicit teaching of the New Testament that Christ alone made atonement for us. Finally, this passage in 2 Maccabees is difficult to square even with Roman Catholic teaching, because it teaches that soldiers who had died in the mortal sin of idolatry (which cannot be forgiven, according to Catholic teaching) should have prayers and sacrifices offered for them with the possibility that they will be delivered from their suffering.

Roman Catholic theology finds support for the doctrine of purgatory primarily in the passage from 2 Maccabees quoted above, and in the teaching of the tradition of the church. Other passages cited by Ott in support of the doctrine of purgatory are 2 Timothy 1:18; Matthew 5:26; 1 Corinthians 3:15; and Matthew 12:32. In 2 Timothy 1:18, Paul says, concerning Onesiphorus, “When he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me—may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus” (2 Tim. 1:17–18). The claim of those who find support for the doctrine of purgatory is that “Onesiphorus … apparently was no longer among the living at the time of the Second Epistle to Timothy.” This seems to be based on the fact that Paul refers not to Onesiphorus himself but “the household of Onesiphorus” (2 Tim. 1:16); however, that phrase does not prove that Onesiphorus had died, but only that Paul was wishing blessings not only on him but on his entire household. This would not be unusual since Onesiphorus had served in Ephesus where Paul had worked for three years (2 Tim. 1:18; cf. 4:19). To build support for purgatory on the idea that Onesiphorus had already died is simply to build it on an assumption that cannot be supported with clear evidence. (It is not unusual for Paul to express a wish that some Christians would be blessed in the Day of Judgment—see 1 Thess. 5:23.)

In Matthew 12:32, Jesus says, “Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Ott says that this sentence “leaves open the possibility that sins are forgiven not only in this world but in the world to come.” However, this is simply an error in reasoning: to say that something will not happen in the age to come does not imply that it might happen in the age to come! What is needed to prove the doctrine of purgatory is not a negative statement such as this but a positive statement that says that people suffer for the purpose of continuing purification after they die. But Scripture nowhere says this.

In 1 Corinthians 3:15 Paul says that on the Day of Judgment, the work that everyone has done will be judged and tested by fire, and then says, “If any man’s work is burned up he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” But this does not speak of a person being burned or suffering punishment, but simply of his work as being tested by fire—that which is good will be like gold, silver, and precious stones that will last forever (v. 12). Moreover, Ott himself admits that this is something that occurs not during this age but during the day of “the general judgment,” and this further indicates that it can hardly be used as a convincing argument for purgatory. Finally, in Matthew 5:26, after warning people to make friends quickly with their accusers while they are going to the court, lest the accuser hand them to the judge and the judge to the guard and they be put in prison, Jesus then says, “You will never get out till you have paid the last penny.” Ott understands this as a parable teaching a “time-limited condition of punishment in the other world.” But surely there is no indication in context that this is a parable—Jesus is giving practical teaching about reconciliation of human conflicts and the avoidance of situations that naturally lead to anger and personal injury (see Matt. 5:21–26). Other passages of Scripture that have sometimes been referred to in support of the doctrine of purgatory simply do not speak directly about this idea at all, and can all easily be understood in terms of punishment and deliverance from distress in this life, or of a life of eternal blessing with God in heaven in the life to come.

An even more serious problem with this doctrine is that it teaches that we must add something to the redemptive work of Christ, and that his redemptive work for us was not enough to pay the penalty for all our sins. But this is certainly contrary to the teaching of Scripture. Moreover, in a pastoral sense, the doctrine of purgatory robs believers of the great comfort that should be theirs in knowing that those who have died have immediately gone into the presence of the Lord, and knowing that they also, when they die, will “depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil. 1:23).

You can listen to Dr. Francis Beckwith’s support of purgatory. He is a convert from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism.

b.  The Bible does not teach the doctrine of “soul sleep”

(Grudem 1994:816-821). For a rebuttal of the false doctrine of soul sleep, see my article, ‘Soul sleep: A refutation’.

3.2 Death for unbelievers

Death for the non-Christian is in stark contrast with those who do not trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Grudem explains:

The Souls of Unbelievers Go Immediately to Eternal Punishment. Scripture never encourages us to think that people will have a second chance to trust in Christ after death. In fact, the situation is quite the contrary. Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus gives no hope that people can cross from hell to heaven after they have died: though the rich man in hell called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame,” Abraham replied to him, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:24-26).

The book of Hebrews connects death with the consequence of judgment in dose sequence: “just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment….” (Heb. 9:27). Moreover, Scripture never represents the final judgment as depending on anything done after we die, but only on what has happened in this life (Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-10; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). Some have argued for a second chance to believe in the gospel on the basis of Christ’s preaching to the spirits in prison in 1 Peter 3:18—20 and the preaching of the gospel “even to the dead” in 1 Peter 4:6, but those are inadequate interpretations of die verses in question, and, on closer inspection, do not support such a view.

We should also realize that the idea that there will be a second chance to accept Christ after death is based on the assumption that everyone deserves a chance to accept Christ and that eternal punishment only comes to those who consciously decide to reject him. But certainly that idea is not supported by Scripture: we all are sinners by nature and choice, and no one actually deserves any of God’s grace or deserves any opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ—those come only because of God’s unmerited favor. Condemnation comes not only because of a willful rejection of Christ, but also because of the sins that we have committed and the rebellion against God that those sins represent (see John 3:18).

The idea that people have a second chance to accept Christ after death would also destroy most motivation for evangelism and missionary activity today, and is not consistent with the intense missionary zeal that was felt by the New Testament church as a whole, and that was especially exemplified in the missionary travels of the apostle Paul.

The fact that there is conscious punishment for unbelievers after they die and that this punishment goes on forever is certainly a difficult doctrine for us to contemplate. But the passages teaching it appear so clear that it seems that we must affirm it if we are to affirm what Scripture teaches. Jesus says that at the day of final judgment he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” and he says that “they will go away into eternal punishment, but die righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:41, 46).

These passages show that we cannot accept as faithful to Scripture the doctrine annihilationism. This is a doctrine that says that unbelievers, either immediately upon death, or else after suffering for a period of time, will simply cease to exist— God will “annihilate” them and they will no longer be. Although the idea initially sounds attractive to us, and it avoids the emotional difficulty connected with ‘firming eternal conscious punishment for the wicked, such an idea is not explicitly affirmed in any passages of Scripture, and seems so clearly to be contradicted by those passages that connect the eternal blessing of the righteous with the eternal punishment of the wicked (Matt. 25:46) and that talk about punishment extending to the wicked day and night forever (Rev. 14:11; 20:10). Although unbelievers pass into a state of eternal punishment immediately upon death, their bodies will not be raised until the day of final judgment. On that day, their bodies will be raised and reunited with their souls, and they will stand before God’s throne for final judgment to be pronounced upon them in the body (see Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; and Rev. 20:12, 15).[Grudem 1994:822-824].

4. Summary

Death does not mean extinction. There is more to death than ‘When I die I rot’. Grudem’s statement is a sound basic understanding of what happens when the last breath ceases, ‘Death is the temporary cessation of bodily life and a separation of the soul from the body’ (1994:816). Millard Erickson put is this way, ‘Life and death, according to Scripture, are not to be thought of as existence and nonexistence, but as two different states of existence. Death is simply a transition to a different mode of existence; it is not as some tend to think, extinction’ (1985:1169).

We learn from the Scriptures that there are three aspects to death (based on Theissen 1949:271-272). These are:

  • Physical death. This is the separation of the soul from the body and this is the penalty of sin (see Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Num 16:29; 27:3; John 8:44; Rom 5:12, 14, 16, 17; 1 Peter 4:6).
  • Spiritual death. This is the separation of the soul from God which is a penalty from the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden (see Gen 2:17; Rom 5:21; Eph 2:1, 5; Luke 15:32; John 5:24; 8:51).
  • Eternal death (the second death). This is the completion of spiritual death, the eternal separation of the soul from God which is accompanied by eternal punishment (see Matt 10:28; 25:41; 2 Thess 1:9; Heb 10:31; Rev 14:11).

5. How to avoid eternal death and experience eternal life

It would be remiss of me not to give a way out of this eternal death. However, the decision to avoid eternal death is made in this life. To put it simply, we live in the church age when salvation through Christ is made available to all people (yes, I believe in unlimited atonement).

Second Peter 3:9 is abundantly clear on what God makes available to all people NOW: ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (NIV).

By Christ’s death, He has made atonement for the sins of all Old Testament believers and for all those since Christ’s death as well (see Romans 3:21-26). All that is required is:

  • You must understand God’s holiness;
  • You must understand the seriousness of your sin before this holy God;
  • Confess your sin to God, seeking his forgiveness;
  • Repent of your sin (as in 2 Pet 3:9). Repentance means a turn around – a u-turn from sinful behaviour;
  • Receive Jesus Christ by faith as your Lord and Saviour;
  • You will be regenerated from the inside of your being;
  • Then, join with other Christians for fellowship and growth in your faith;
  • Become a disciple of Jesus Christ and grow in your faith (Matt. 28:18-20).

For more biblical details of these points on how to become a Christian, see this summary, ‘Content of the gospel & some discipleship’.

Recommended

Patrick Zukeran, ‘What happens after death?‘ (Probe Ministries). It has a section on different perspectives on death.

References

Dawkins, R 2006. The God delusion. London: Black Swan (Transworld Publishers).

Erickson, M 1985. Christian theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Geisler, N L 2004, Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol. 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse, Minneapolis.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hodge, C 1972. Romans (Geneva Series Commentary). London: The Banner of Truth Trust.

Ott, L 1955. Fundamentals of Catholic dogma. Ed by J C Bastible. Tr by P Lynch. St Louis: Herder.[14]

Russell, B 1957. Why I am not a Christian. New York: Simon & Shuster.


Notes:

[1] Alex Peake 2011. ‘Hawking: Heaven is a fairy story’, The Sun [UK], 17 May. Available at: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3583956/Stephen-Hawking-on-death.html (Accessed 31 May 2012).

[2] Ian Sample 2011. ‘Stephen Hawking: There is no heaven, it’s a fairy story’, The Guardian [UK], 15 May. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/may/15/stephen-hawking-interview-there-is-no-heaven (Accessed 4 June 2012).

[3] See ‘Stephen Hawking’ in Wikipedia, available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hawking (Accessed 31 May 2011).

[4] Headlines from Michael Wenham’s article, The Guardian, 17 May 2011. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/may/17/stephen-hawking-heaven (Accessed 31 May 2012).

[5] Alex Peake op cit (as in endnote #1).

[6] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘The debate on eternal hell fire’, Precepts #1, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7618877/ (Accessed 31 May 2012).

[7]Timothew, ibid., #3.

[8] Ibid., #8.

[9] WinbySurrender, ibid., #18.

[10] Ibid., #19.

[11] This was originally from Bertrand Russell’s booklet, ‘What I believe’, first published in 1925 that has been incorporated into Russell (1957). This quote is also cited in Richard Dawkins (2006:397).

[12] The following exposition of the nature of human beings is based on Geisler (2004:46-48).

[13] It was first published in 1835.

[14] This was ‘first published in German in 1952. A standard textbook of traditional Roman Catholic theology’ (Grudem 1994:1228).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.

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