Archive for the 'Hell' Category

Growing weary of constantly correcting false teaching

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

 Image result for clipart grave

By Spencer D Gear PhD

What should I say to a person who claimed this?

“Hades” which is the Greek term used to translate the Hebrew term Sheol, basically refers to the grave or the abode of the dead and clearly the parable of the rich man and Lazarus describes this intermediate state as being a place of consciousness. But sheol during the Old Testament period also describes a place devoid of consciousness, for example Ecclesiastes 9:5, Ecclesiastes 9:10; Psalms 88:12 (NIV). In other words the intermediate state proceeding (sic)[1] the resurrection has more than one meaning.[2]

1. Hades, the place of departed souls

Those who know Hebrew and Greek disagree with him. [3]

According to OT Hebrew commentators, Keil & Delitzsch, ‘Sheol denotes the place where departed souls are gathered after death’ (n d:338). As a general description, this is not referring to the grave.

Image result for hell clipart public domain One of the leading exegetical Greek word studies edited by Colin Brown states:

In the LXX [Septuagint] hades occurs more than 100 times, in the majority of instances to translate Heb sheol, the underworld which receives all the dead. It is a land of darkness, in which God is not remembered (Job 10:21f; 26:5; Ps. 6:5; 30:9 [LXX 29:9]; 115:17 [LXX 113:25]; Prov. 1:12; 27:20; Isa. 5:14) (Brown 1976:206).

So in the Septuagint (OT Greek), hades is a Greek translation of the Hebrew, sheol.

There are further explanations of hades and sheol in my articles,

On this Christian forum (online), the regular rejection of the orthodox doctrine of life-after-death and the immortality of the soul has become such a drone that a person expressed dismay over what was happening. I understand and sympathise with his perspective.

However, a biblical response is needed to this disillusionment.

2. Growing weary of correction

Jim Parker wrote:

There is truly nothing new under the sun.
Here, we seem to be on a wheel which periodically brings around OSAS,[4] faith alone without works, no eternal punishment in hell, baptism’s just for show, and a few other favorites which don’t come to mind at the moment.

I have attempted to show where people’s comments have been illogical or taken totally out of context only to find that logic and context are concepts with which many, not only do not know anything about the subject, but, often, don’t even suspect there is something to be known. I have attempted, in response to “proof-texts” to show the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey used to say) only to have them either dismissed out of hand or completely ignored and then be assailed with another barrage of “proof-texts.”
I grow weary.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace from day to day and all our yesterdays light fools the way to dusty death.

or

Proof-text after proof-text after proof-text drip like a leaky faucet from day to day and all the light of logic and learning offered is snuffed out by fools in darkness on their way to the next pop-theology Bible study.[5]

I encouraged him not to become weary in doing good through correcting those who proof-text out of context to modify or change what the Bible says about life-after-death issues.

3. Do good to everyone – correct false teaching in the family of faith

Doing good to everyone sounds more like good works in the community (food hampers, meeting human need) and to believers at church. However, could it have a broader application?

Let’s look at a few verses in context:

Image result for false doctrine clipart public domain6 One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:6-10 ESV).?

We will use this section of Gal 6 to apply to the title of this thread, ‘Contradictions and the soul of man’,[6]

  • Those taught the word (about the immortal soul) should teach this good word (immortal soul) to the teacher.
  • It is possible to be deceived in this teaching – hence the term ‘contradictions’;
  • God is not mocked because what is sown in eisegesis will reap its reward (loss, penalty or punishment) in confusion over the nature of what happens at death for believers and unbelievers.
  • The one who sows to his own fleshly understanding of what happens at death – no hell for unbelievers and no soul/spirit to enter the Intermediate State for believers – will reap corruption. In this post title, this is called ‘contradiction’.
  • The one sowing to the Spirit by obedience to Scripture regarding eternal damnation and eternal salvation will not reap corruption of understanding but will be enlightened by the Spirit’s understanding.
  • Refuting and challenging such fleshly understanding can cause some to grow weary in the good action of challenging incorrect exegesis. Those who remain true to Scripture will reap truth if they don’t give up.
  • On this Christian forum, we have the opportunity to do good to everyone by agreeing, challenging, correcting and defending the truth of what the Scriptures say about the immortal soul. There are no contradictions in Scripture, only ‘apparent human contradictions in understanding’. Instead of promoting feel-good Christianity (no eternal damnation), we have the opportunity of doing good by correction. It doesn’t feel good at the time of giving correction over and over as it can become wearying. But it is important to continue to be faithful exegetes and not base our responses on being politically correct and following Rob Bell’s view of no eternal punishment in hell.
  • Let us continue to do good on this forum and in other situations (whether in a church setting or the general community) by challenging and correcting views that are contrary to Scripture in regard to eternal life and eternal damnation (Matt 25:46 ESV).

Yes, it can be wearying but we are exhorted by Paul to the Galatians to ‘not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up’ (Gal 6:9 ESV).

Jim’s response was: ‘It still feels like trying to teach a pig to sing. All it does is annoy the pig’.[7]

I understand that it is tough going on many occasions, even on this forum. However, this is our biblical responsibility before God (see 1 John 4:1-3 ESV).[8]

The challenge to Bible teachers is that they will endure a ‘stricter judgment’ (James 3:1-2 ESV) because of the requirements placed on God’s teachers of testing the spirits to discern false prophets (and false profits) and those who do not confess Jesus as being from God. This means weeding out those who proclaim a human Jesus without the deity of Christ or a divine Jesus without the humanity of Christ (the latter being a form of Docetic Gnosticism). It applies to all other departures from biblically orthodox doctrines.

3.1 Docetic Gnosticism explained

One error that invaded the church in its first few centuries was Docetic Gnosticism. What is it? Church Historian, Earl Cairns, explained the Docetic Gnosticism threat:

Image result for clipart gnosticismGnosticism, the greatest of the philosophical threats, was at its peak of power about 150. Its roots reached back into the New Testament times. Paul seemed to have been fighting an incipient form of Gnosticism in his letter to the Colossians. Christian tradition related the origin of Gnosticism to Simon Magus [Acts 8:9-24], whom Peter had to rebuke so severely. Gnosticism sprang from the natural human desire to create a theodicy, an explanation to the origin of evil. The Gnostics, because they associated matter with evil, sought a way to create a philosophical system in which God as spirit could be freed from association with evil and in which man could be related on the spiritual side of his nature to Deity….

To explain Christ, they adopted a doctrine known as Docetism. Because matter was evil, Christ could not be associated with a human body despite the Bible’s teaching to the contrary. Christ as absolute spiritual good could not unite with matter. Either the man Jesus was a phantom with the seeming appearance of a material body (Docetism), or Christ came upon the human body of Jesus only for a short time between the baptism of the man Jesus and the beginning of His suffering on the cross. Then Christ left the man Jesus to die on the cross. It was the task of Christ to teach a special gnosis or knowledge that would help man save himself by an intellectual process (Cairns 1981:98-99)

With the advent of the Internet there are more opportunities to sow seeds of false doctrine and water the seed into full-blown false teaching. This is happening in droves on Christian forums.

Keep watch, brother in Christ. Don’t grow weary in doing good in correcting false doctrine and proclaiming orthodox teaching.

3.2 Correctly explaining Scripture

Is it doing good to correct false teaching? In the context of exhorting Timothy to be a worker approved by God (2 Tim 2:14-26 ESV), Paul wrote, ‘Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth’ (2 Tim 2:15 ESV). The New Living Translation translates this as, ‘Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth’ (emphasis added).

What is the danger of false teaching, whether it be on life-after-death theology or any other teaching? Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is clear that he, the pastor, should be one who is ‘rightly handling the word of truth’. What is the meaning of ‘rightly handling’?

‘Rightly handling’ is the Greek, orthotomounia, present tense, active voice, infinitive. Being present tense, it refers to continual action by pastor-teachers to correctly explain God’s word of truth (the Scripture). Explaining truth means the teachers also correct errors. The Greek is a late and rare compound word (orthos and themnw) that means ‘cutting straight’ and is the only time it is used in the NT. The LXX uses it in Prov. 3:6 and 11:5 for constructing straight paths. There is a parallel verse in Heb 12:13 (ESV), ‘Make straight paths for your feet’ (Robertson 1931:619).

Theodoret explains it to mean ploughing a straight furrow. Parry argues that the metaphor is the stone mason cutting the stones straight since themnw and orthos are so used. Since Paul was a tent-maker and knew how to cut straight the rough camel-hair cloth, why not let that be the metaphor? Certainly plenty of exegesis is crooked enough (crazy-quilt patterns) to call for careful cutting to set it straight (Robertson 1931:619-620).

In dealing with the false teaching of soul sleep, annihilation of the wicked at death, and no eternal punishment for unbelievers, there is need for correctly explaining the word of truth. This involves constructing straight paths of the true meaning of Scripture. To do this, often one has to cut out foreign, false teaching and provide correct exegesis by cutting straight to the heart of the text. This involves historical, grammatical, contextual understanding of all sentences in Scripture.

4. Be warned: True prophets acknowledge the truth about Jesus

John warned us in 1 John 4:1-3 (NLT):

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

While this addresses a threat in the early church of Gnosticism, it has broader application. Gnostics did not and do not believe Jesus had a real body of flesh. Second John 1:7 (NLT) addresses the same issue: ‘I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist’. Today there is similar opposition from people who do not believe that Jesus is God (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, Oneness Pentecostals, Christian Science, Armstrongism,[9] etc).

The anti-Christian website of Religious Tolerance (Ontario, Canada) claimed this as a Gnostic belief about Christ: ‘Some Gnostic groups promoted Docetism, the belief that Christ was pure spirit and only had a phantom body; Jesus just appeared to be human to his followers. They reasoned that a true emissary from the Supreme God could not have been overcome by the evil of the world, and to have suffered and died’ (Robinson 1996-2007).

4.1 Application of 1 John 4:1-3

Visit Christian forums such as Christian forums.net, Christianity Board, and Christian forums.com and you’ll get some views of how people allegedly listen to the voice of God for preaching, teaching and direction in their lives.

They will claim to speak by the Holy Spirit. John warns us that:

  • We must test what these people say to discern if it comes from God. Here you need the Scriptures and spiritual insight by the Spirit to bring discernment.
  • You know they speak by the Spirit if the following happens:

clip_image002 (a) They acknowledge that Jesus had a real human body while on earth. That demonstrates the person has the Spirit of God.

clip_image002[1] (b) If they don’t acknowledge the truth about Jesus (from Scripture), they are not from God. Therefore, a person who does not view Jesus as God cannot be a true prophet or teacher of God.

clip_image002[2] (c) That person has the spirit of Antichrist, which means he/she is proclaiming teaching that is anti-Christian.

clip_image002[3] (d) Antichrist is coming into the world and already is here.

This is a serious biblical exhortation to determine how to discern false teaching in the body of Christ. Pastors and teachers in the Christian churches must not be slack with these responsibilities. I note in passing that Bible teaching has a low level of priority in the seeker-sensitive model that dominates the contemporary church.

4.1.1 Pop-psychologizing church

Dorothy Greco addressed some of this problem in her article for Christianity Today, How the seeker-sensitive, consumer Church is failing a generation (Greco 2016). Greco makes this pointed analysis:

Many churches gradually, and perhaps unwittingly, transitioned from being appropriately sensitive to the needs of their congregants to becoming – if you’ll permit some pop-psychologizing – co-dependent with them.

What does co-dependence look like within a church? Avoiding sections of Scripture out of fear that certain power pockets will be offended. Believing that repeat attendance depends primarily upon the staff’s seamless execution of Sunday morning – rather than the manifest presence of God. Eliminating doleful songs from the worship repertoire because they might contradict the through line that “following Jesus is all gain.”

Jesus was neither a co-dependent nor a businessman. He unashamedly loved those on the margins and revealed himself to all who were searching. He seemed quite indifferent about whether or not he disappointed the power brokers. Additionally, Jesus understood that the irreducible gospel message—that we are all sinners in need of being saved—was, and always will be, offensive. No brilliant marketing campaign could ever repackage it.

4.1.2 Bill Hybels’ shocking confession

Related image

Bill Hybels

In 2007, Bob Burney provided this assessment of the seeker-sensitive movement, with quotes from Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Church’s research:

Willow Creek has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study’s findings are in a new book titled Reveal: Where Are You? co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking” and “mind blowing.” And no wonder: it seems that the “experts” were wrong.

The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.

If you simply want a crowd, the “seeker sensitive” model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it’s a bust. In a shocking confession, Hybels states:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

Incredibly, the guru of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth (Burney 2007).

What a shocker of a confession that they ‘made a mistake’, got it wrong and invested millions of dollars into promoting something worldwide that does not make disciples of Christ but promotes a way to get crowds into the church.

4.1.3 Promoting nonsense, the work of Satan and of pure evil

This is the kind of response that could lead Jim Parker (cited above) to despair over what is taught on this Christian forum and want to give up participating there:

You are free to believe what you want to believe.
If a man can believe that all men were born with immortal souls and that our … senses and our awareness and our ability to reason and perceive will live forever, and at the same time also believes 1 Timothy 6:15-16 (NIV) tells us God alone is immortal, then the question I have to ask myself is what other nonsense does he believe in?
He can philosophise all he wants to reconcile these differing views to his concept of reality so that he can continue promoting and maintaining the grotesque and vile idea that God will condemn the least knowledgeable and least offensive of souls who die without Christ to be tortured, screaming in agony forever, but in the end he will see what he believes is in fact nothing other than the work of Satan… or to put it another way, it is a work of pure evil.[10]

I couldn’t let him get away with this kind of assault on orthodox Christian belief of eternal damnation.

(a) Believe whatever you want

Am I free to believe what I want to believe about what happens at death for believers and unbelievers?

No I’m not![11]clip_image003

I’m only free to believe the truth about Jesus and the whole of revealed truth. 1 John 4:1-3 (NLT) provides my teaching responsibility of testing the spirits:

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

(b) Supporters of torment in hell: The work of Satan and of pure evil

This was the accusation promoted on this Christian forum that those who philosophise and promote the grotesque and vile idea of God’s condemning ‘the least knowledgeable and least offensive of souls who die without Christ to be tortured, screaming in agony forever’, are promoting ‘the work of Satan’ and ‘it is a work of pure evil’.

I responded:[12]

Are you accusing others on this forum and me who believe in eternal life and eternal damnation that we are promoting ‘the work of Satan’ and that what we teach ‘is a work of pure evil’?

Is that what you are declaring on this forum about these people and their teaching?

He came back with a copy and paste of his post to which I had responded.[13]

I pressed him further: ‘So is what I write on this forum in support of eternal damnation for unbelievers “a work of pure evil”?’[14]

5. God alone is immortal

Justice emblemIn spite of this person’s opposition to the immortal soul, he does raise a good point. First Timothy 6:15b-16 (NIV) states: ‘God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might for ever. Amen’. This also is affirmed in 1 Tim 1:17 (ESV) where God is described as ‘the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God’.

Since God alone is immortal, how can we speak of immortal souls of human beings? Although 2 Timothy 1:10 speaks of another dimension of immortality besides that of God, here’s the context:

8 So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. 9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. 10 And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News (2 Tim 1:8-10 NLT).

God’s plan was to show us his grace through Jesus Christ and an important dimension of that grace is that the power of death has been broken and the way of life, which brings immortality to human beings, has been illuminated through the Gospel.

What does this ‘immortality’ mean in v. 10? It comes through the Gospel, so applies to Christian believers.

It transcends by far mere endless existence or even endless conscious existence. The gospel of our Savior Christ Jesus is far better than anything Plato ever excogitated.[15]

It is clear … that though even here and now the believer receives this great blessing in principle, and in heaven in further development, he does not fully receive it until the day of Christ’s re-appearance. Until that day arrives, the bodies of all believers will still be subject to the laws of decay and death. Incorruptible life, imperishable salvation, in the full sense, belongs to the new heaven and earth. It is an inheritance stored away for us (Hendriksen 1957:234)

Jim Parker stated it well on the Christian forum:

When scripture speaks of God as immortal, (1 Tim 6) the meaning is that God has no beginning or end. That is the more precise meaning of the word “immortal” in Christian theology.

When scripture speaks of man as immortal, (1 Cor 15) the meaning is that man, as a created being, does have a beginning but that, after the resurrection, he will have no end. So, in Christian theology, the word “immortal” when applied to man, is not the same as when referring to God.

That’s why 1 Co 15:53 (RSV) says: For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.

Our nature, as created by God and damaged by sin, is now perishable and mortal. At the resurrection, our nature will “put on”, as something unnatural to it, imperishability and immortality. It will put on those attributes because Jesus, by His death and resurrection, has destroyed death and perishability.[16]

The dynamic equivalence of the New Living Translation translates 1 Cor 15:53 (NLT) as, ‘For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies‘. So, Christian believers will receive their immortal bodies at the resurrection according to 1 Corinthians 15:53.

This principle should not be difficult to understand. God alone is the only one with immortality, which means he has no beginning or end. For human beings, it is a derived immortality through the Gospel. Human beings had a beginning but their eternal life will never end, thus meaning it is immortal.

Therefore, there is another meaning of immortal. Our immortality of the soul is in a derived sense and applies to all people, believers and unbelievers. Second Timothy 1:10 (ESV) speaks of God’s purpose and grace ‘which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’.

5.1 Secular immortality through biology

The scientific community and secular media enjoy speaking of immortality on earth. Here is but one example from the Daily Mail,

‘Scientists say humans really could become IMMORTAL like the characters in new film Self/Less, but only if they’re wealthy’,

While the technology remains in the realm of science fiction, experts have claimed that the ability to create immortal humans may not be all that far-fetched.

I would see immortality coming from the biological sector,’ said University of Arizona researcher Wolfgang Fink, during a recent panel discussion in California.

‘If you manage somehow to prevent cell death from happening or if you extend the life span of cells beyond their natural life span’ (Zolfagharifard 2015).

5.2 What a shock is coming!

What astonishment they have coming! The Scriptures as the God-breathed word of God could not be clearer: ‘Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’ (Heb 9:27 NIV). There is not a chance of immortality on this earth. ALL will die or face the Lord alive if they are alive on earth when he returns to the earth.

This is what happened 2,000 years ago with Jesus:

After saying this, he [Jesus] was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (Acts 1:9-11 NLT).

6. Conclusion

There is a torrent of false teaching surrounding life-after-death issues, particularly from those who oppose eternal torment for unbelievers. Correcting this false theology often becomes laborious for the astute Bible teacher. This issue of growing weary from false teaching was raised by an orthodox Bible teacher on a Christian forum.

An examination of sheol in the OT and its translation as hades in the LXX and the NT, denotes the place where departed souls of all people are gathered after death.

I suggested that doing good to everyone (Gal 6:6-10) included correcting false doctrine. One example that caused the early church a lot of strife was Docetic Gnosticism – Jesus only seemed to have a physical body but it was not so. Orthodoxy promotes that Jesus is God but at his incarnation he became a fleshly human being. True prophets acknowledge the truth about Jesus – he has always been God but at the first Christmas he became a human being of flesh (but did not cease to be God).

First John 4:1-3 demonstrates the responsibility of the church in correcting false prophets. Seeker-sensitive Christianity is not creating disciples according to a survey conducted at Willow Creek Community Church, the creator of seeker-sensitive services. Instead, it is generating a pop-psychologised church for the contemporary marketing generation.

A person chimed in with the statement that I can believe whatever I want to regarding life after death. No I can’t! I must conform to what the Scriptures state. This person claimed that those who promoted eternal damnation for the wicked were doing the work of Satan and my belief about damnation of the wicked is a work of pure evil.

This article affirms that what the Bible teaches is that God alone is immortal – having no beginning or end – and that human beings have a derived immortality. This means that they have a beginning at conception but have an existence that is eternal – eternal life or eternal damnation.

The secular community wants to invent immortality through biology. What a shock they have coming. Immortality is God’s provision for the damned and the saved: ‘Just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment’ (Heb 9:27 NLT).

To my dying day, I will engage in the task of correcting false doctrine in the church and on the streets and Internet. I ask the same of godly teachers who check my teaching and the teaching of others (whether in a formal church setting or on the Internet) by comparing what is taught with Scripture. We need to become and function as ‘Bereans’ (see Acts 17:11).

What will you do about false teaching in the

church, even YOUR church?

‘Now the Berean Jews were of more noble

character than those in Thessalonica, for they

received the message with great eagerness and

examined the Scriptures every day to see if what

Paul said was true’ (Acts 17:11 NIV).

7. Works consulted

Brown, C (ed) 1976. The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Burney, B 2007. A shocking “confession” from Willow Creek Community Church. Townhall.com, (online) 30 October. Available at: http://www.townhall.com/columnists/BobBurney/2007/10/30/a_shocking_%e2%80%9cconfession%e2%80%9d_from_willow_creek_community_church?page=full&comments=true (Accessed 2 November 2007). This is no longer available at Townhall, but I located it at Crosswalk. Available at: http://www.crosswalk.com/news/a-shocking-confession-from-willow-creek-community-church-11558438.html (Accessed 29 October 2016).

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church, rev & enl ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Greco, D 2016. How the seeker-sensitive, consumer Church is failing a generation. Christianity Today (online). Available at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/august/how-seeker-sensitive-consumer-church-is-failing-generation.html (Accessed 29 October 2016).

Hendriksen, W 1957.[17] New Testament commentary: Exposition of Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.
Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d. Tr by J Martin (from the German). Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Robertson, A T 1931. Word pictures in the New Testament: The epistles of Paul, vol 4. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Robinson, B A 1996-2007. Gnosticism: Beliefs and practices (beliefs and practices). Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (online). Available at: http://www.religioustolerance.org/gnostic2.htm (Accessed 29 October 2016).

Zolfagharifard, E 2015. Scientists say humans really could become IMMORTAL like the characters in new film Self/Less, but only if they’re wealthy. Daily Mail (online), 23 July. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3171283/Could-Self-reality-Scientists-say-humans-someday-IMMORTAL-wealthy.html (Accessed 22 December 2016).

8.  Notes


[1] I think he means ‘preceding’.

[2] Christian Forums.net 2016. Contradictions and the soul of man (online), freewill#57. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/contradictions-and-the-soul-of-man.66925/page-4#post-1258832 (Accessed 29 October 2016).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#64.

[4] OSAS = Once-saved-always-saved.

[5] Contradictions and the soul of man, Jim Parker#68.

[6] This is my response in ibid., OzSpen#71.

[7] Ibid., Jim Parker#72.

[8] This is my post at ibid., OzSpen#74.

[9] This was when this cult was led by Herbert W Armstrong.

[10] Ibid., freewill#75.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#76.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#77.

[13] Ibid., freewill#75. The copy & paste is at freewill#78.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#79. At this point I reported him to the moderators for his flaming and goading.

[15] Oxford dictionaries online (2016. s v excogitate) gives the meaning of excogitate as to ‘think out, plan, or devise’.

[16] Ibid., Jim Parker#97.

[17] Hendriksen previously published The Pastorals as a single volume. It is now incorporated in this combined volume.

 

Copyright © 2017 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 January 2017.

No torment forever and ever (Revelation 14:11)??

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Image result for clip art flames public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The destiny of unbelievers at death continues to bother some Christians. Some believe that the Bible confirms eternal punishment (meaning punishing with torment forever after death) for unbelievers. Others consider that this eternal damnation is false teaching.

There was a back and forth between people who believe in eternal damnation of unbelievers and those who reject this doctrine on an Internet Christian forum.

One fellow said:

Those verses [Mat 25:46 and Rev 14:11] say that their punishment/torment goes on, continues, for ever.

In order for the punishment/torment to continue forever the person being punished/tormented also must "go on forever."

A person who is reduced to a pile of ashes can no longer be punished or tormented.

I don’t understand why that is so hard for you to grasp.[1]

This person supported the eternal torment for unrepentant unbelievers after death.

1. Torment of unbelievers does not continue forever

Another had been defending no eternal punishment for the wicked on a Christian forum. He wrote:

Rev 14:11 doesn’t say their torment continues forever. It clearly says the smoke of their (Beast worshippers) torment rises forever. And furthermore this occurs in the presence of the Lamb, not in Hell or the Lake of Fire. Is it your view that the Lamb will be in Hell tormenting the lost forever?

Revelation 14:10 he himself also will drink of the wine of the anger of God that has been mixed full strength in the cup of his wrath, and will be tortured with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. ?

The Bible doesn’t say that the lost’s eternal punishment is torment forever. It clearly teaches that death (a second death) is the punishment called for.[2]

2. Proof-texts lead to wrong conclusions

Image result for proof-texts clip art

My response was:[3]

This is what happens when you pluck one verse (Rev 14:11 ESV) out of context and make it a proof-text. Let’s look at the context:

6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!” (Rev 14:6-13 ESV).

3. The teaching of Rev 14:6-13 (ESV) is that

clip_image002 John in his revelation saw angels who had an eternal gospel to proclaim to people on the earth from every nation, tribe, language and people (v. 6).

clip_image002[1] That message was to fear God and give him glory because …

clip_image002[2] An hour of judgment has come (v. 7).

clip_image002[3] Another angel proclaimed that message of the fallen Babylon the great who made nations drink the wine of the passion of sexual immorality (v. 8)

clip_image002[4] Another angel, with others following, announced in a loud voice that anyone who worships the beast and its image and receives the mark of the beast will drink of the wine of God’s wrath and will experience the full strength of the cup of God’s anger, being tormented with fire and sulphur (vv. 9-10).

clip_image002[5] This experience of God’s wrath and anger will be in the presence of holy angels and the Lamb (v. 10).

clip_image002[6] smoke%20clipartThe smoke of this torment goes up for eis aiwnas aiwnwn, i.e. for aeons of aeons. The meaning is that ‘smoke’ (a symbol) of this torment is for ‘many eons, each of vast duration, are multiplied by many more, which we imitate by "forever and ever." Human language is able to use only temporal terms to express what is altogether beyond time and is timeless. The Greek takes its greatest term for time, the eon, pluralizes this, and then multiplies it by its own plural’ (Lenski 1943/1963:48, 438).

clip_image002[7] ‘Smoke’ is parallel to ‘fire and brimstone’ and is human language to convey what is experienced in the place where the worshippers of the Beast experience torment that continues for multiplied aeons. This is hell with eternal torment, using symbolic language (v. 11).

clip_image002[8] If one wants to water down the ‘aeons’ to make it less than forever and ever, John makes that impossible in v. 11 because he adds, ‘they have no rest, day or night’. There is no rest 24/7 for the unbelieving worshippers of the Beast.

clip_image002[9] It is not surprising, therefore, that John – in light of the horrific eternal experiences of the unbelievers – calls on the saints to endure and keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (v. 12).

clip_image002[10] In contrast to those serving the Beast, those who die in the Lord are blessed from now on. They rest from their labours (again this contrasts with the horrible experience of those drinking God’s wrath and the cup of his anger) – v. 13.

3.1 The damned experience torment forever after death

There are excellent, contextual reasons to demonstrate that Rev 14:11 (ESV) refers to the damned who experience torment for aeons multiplied by aeons – forever and ever. The verse reads, ‘And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name’.

They receive no rest day and night from this. It’s in the presence of the Lord because it is the Lord’s wrath they experience.

Coffman’s Commentary on Revelation 14:11 is:

Verse 11

and the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, they that worship the beast and his image, and whoso receiveth the mark of his name.

The doctrine of the New Testament is so strong and emphatic with regard to the eternal punishment of the wicked, that we are simply not allowed to set it aside as, "sub-Christian, or to interpret it in such a way as to remove the abrasive truth of eternal punishment."[Mounce’s commentary, p. 277] Jesus spoke of this at greater length than did any of his apostles. After we have made every allowance for the figurative nature of the apocalyptic language, there still remains, "the terrifying reality of divine wrath,"[Mounce’s commentary, p. 277] to be poured out upon those who persist in following the devil. It is no light matter to abandon the holy teachings of the sacred New Testament, and to substitute the easy rules of man-made, man-controlled, and man-centered religion.

3.2 The torment of God’s wrath in the presence of the Lamb

Therefore, the context of Rev 14:11 (ESV) demonstrates that those who are serving the Beast, the unbelieving damned, will experience the torment of God’s wrath in the presence of the Lamb for aeons upon aeons – forever and ever Amen!
That’s clear Bible teaching and one has to do a lot of squirming to make it say that unbelievers do not experience eternal torment. It’s called eisegesis to impose another reading on it.

See my other articles on this topic:

clip_image003Is there literal fire in hell?

clip_image003[1]Is hell fair?

clip_image003[2]Are there degrees of punishment in hell?

clip_image003[3]2 Thessalonians 1:9: Eternal destruction

clip_image003[4]Hell in the Bible

clip_image003[5]Paul on eternal punishment

clip_image003[6]Hell and judgment

clip_image003[7]Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die

4. Works consulted

Lenski, R C H 1943/1963. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. John’s Revelation. Minneapolis MN: Augsburg Publishing House (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. edn.).

 

5.  Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net 2016. Apologetics & Theology, ‘The soul of man’, Jim Parker#117. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/the-soul-of-man.66737/page-6#post-1252053 (Accessed 13 October 2016).

[2] Ibid., chessman#119.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#120.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 October 2016.

Abraham’s bosom and heaven

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

Image result for clipart heaven public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

What happens at death for Christian believers?

I was in discussion online with a few people on the meaning of paradise, the third heaven, heaven, and Abraham’s bosom. To one person I said:

There is enough evidence that at death the body returns to dust (whether in the grave or cremated) and the spirit returns to God. I’m indeed pleased about that as I get older and move towards the time of my elevation to Paradise, heaven, Abraham’s bosom, my Father’s house – whatever one wants to call it. All of these words are in Scripture and they apply to where believers went at death.[1]

This is confirmed in Ecclesiastes 12:7 (ESV), ‘And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it’.

No reconciliation with God in Old Testament?

A fellow replied to me:

I am wondering how Abraham’s bosom can be the third heaven if it existed at a time before Jesus died?

I can agree that all there were en route to being with God. But only after Jesus died could any man be reconciled with God. That is why it was called Abraham’s bosom and not heaven. A place on the other side of a divide in Hades.[2]

I cannot agree[3] with his statement that ‘only after Jesus died could any man be reconciled with God’. We know that Abraham was justified by faith. This is confirmed in several NT places. Rom 4:1-3 (NASB) states:

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

This last statement is found in Gen 15:6 (ESV), ‘And he [Abram] believed the LORD, and he [the Lord] counted it to him as righteousness’. See also Zechariah 4:6ff and Melchizadek (Gen 14; Heb 7). In addition:[4]

clip_image002 Abraham was called ‘the friend of God’ (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; James 2:23);

clip_image002[1] Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ‘saw the God of Israel’ (Ex 24:9-11).

What could be a more powerful example of the relationship Moses had with God than in the details of what is written of Moses in the closing verses of Deut 34:9-12 (ESV)?

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

So, there was not a prophet like Moses in Israel, ‘whom the Lord knew face to face’. Now that’s a powerful example of a relationship, knowing someone face to face! The Lord worked signs and wonders through Moses and there was mighty power and great deeds of terror demonstrated by Moses in the sight of all Israel. Why was he able to do these miraculous deeds? The Lord worked through him in his relationship with God.

clip_image002[2] David, in spite of his many failings, was a ‘man after God’s own heart’ (see the David and Goliath episode, 1 Sam 17:1-58; David’s relationship with God is seen especially in Psalm 119:47-48; Acts 13:22). Since the Lord was David’s shepherd – Psalm 23 – that speaks of a solid relationship of the sheep with the shepherd.

Jim George pursues this theme in A Man After God’s Own Heart (Harvest House 2008).

Abraham’s bosom and the third heaven

Image result for public domain clipart on heaven

This person responding to me asked a penetrating and good question. How can ‘Abraham’s bosom’ refer to the third heaven if it existed before Jesus’ death? That is a presumption he made. The story is recorded before Jesus’ death in Luke 16, but was the story told by Jesus before his death? Was it historical narrative or parable? That has been the discussion by Bible scholars and teachers for many years.

What is the third heaven? Three heavens are identified in Scripture:

clip_image003 The first heaven is associated with the firmament, which refers to the sky and is called ‘the heavens’ – the earth’s atmosphere (examples are in Genesis 2:19; 7:3, 23; Psalm 8:8).

clip_image003[1] The second heaven is a reference to outer space, the starry heavens (Deuteronomy 17:3; Jeremiah 8:2; Matthew 24:29).

clip_image003[2] The third heaven is the language Paul used in 2 Corinthians 12:2 (ESV), ‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows’. Then in the next verse (2 Cor 12:3 ESV), this ‘third heaven’ was associated with paradise: ‘And I know that this man was caught up into paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows’. So, paradise seems to a part of the third heaven.

Therefore, the third heaven is the place where God and the angels (and human beings) live. In the Old Testament it is called ‘the heaven of heavens’ (see Deut 10:14) and ‘the highest heaven(s)’ (1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 148:4). The language of Psalm 2:4 explains another dimension of the third heaven, ‘He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision’. Here location of God is called ‘the heavens’. The context of Psalm 2:4 in Psalm 2:1-3 is the nations raging, the people plotting and the kings and rulers opposing the Anointed God.

There is an excellent article explaining these three uses of heaven on the Let Us Reason Ministries website, ‘How many heavens are there and what is the third heaven Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 12?

The ESV translates Luke 16:22 for ‘Abraham’s bosom’ as meaning ‘the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side’.

There is a long-standing debate over whether this is an actual incident from Jesus or a parable told by Jesus. I accept it as a parable (some contest that a real name, Lazarus, cannot mean a parable and makes it an incident) which means there was only one primary point to be made. I accept it as an illustration of what happens at death for the believer and the unbeliever. I will not discuss further the parable, non-parable views as they are detailed and not easy to resolve. The place to resolve that is to go to commentaries for detailed discussions on such.

In the Talmud, ‘Abraham’s bosom’ was used as a synonym for heaven. See the explanation of ‘Abraham’s bosom’ in the Jewish Encyclopedia. In Judaism, the Talmud includes discussions and commentary on various aspects of Jewish history, law, customs and culture. It has two parts, the Gemara and the Mishnah. The Talmud moved from oral to written form, starting about the second century AD and was completed about the fifth century AD.

There are actually two works known as “Gemara”–the Babylonian Gemara (referred to as “Bavli” in Hebrew) and the Palestinian (or Jerusalem) Gemara (referred to as “Yerushalmi“). The term “Gemara” itself comes from the Aramaic root g.m.r (equivalent to l.m.d, in Hebrew), giving it the meaning “teaching” (Gemara: The essence of the Talmud).

This article in GotQuestions? gives a helpful summary of the meaning of Abraham’s bosom:

Abraham’s bosom is referred to only once in the Bible—in the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). It was used in the Talmud as a synonym for heaven. The image in the story is of Lazarus reclining at a table leaning on Abraham’s breast—as John leaned on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper—at the heavenly banquet. There are differences of opinion about what exactly Abraham’s bosom represents. Those who believe the setting of the story is a period after the Messiah’s death and resurrection see Abraham’s bosom as synonymous with heaven. Those who believe the setting to be prior to the crucifixion see Abraham’s bosom as another term for paradise. The setting is really irrelevant to the point of the story, which is that wicked men will see the righteous in happiness, and themselves in torment, and that a “great gulf” exists between them (Luke 16:26) which will never be spanned.[5]

Therefore, the expression ‘Abraham’s bosom’ could refer to something similar to the OT, ‘As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace’ (Gen 15:15 NASB), i.e. gathered to his people. It could refer to the expectation to be received by Abraham (Apocrypha 4 Macc 13:17 NRSV; Talmud and Hebraica, ch 16.20). Some have even suggested it is a picture of the messianic banquet (Lk 13:28-30) [suggestions by Earle Ellis (1981:206)].

Conclusion

I consider the story about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) relates to what happens at death and whether it is an actual story or parable, it tells us about it. It is not a story designed to explain Abraham’s bosom versus third heaven, paradise or heaven. It deals with what happens at death and where believer and unbeliever go and what they experience. I accept that this story is a parable, as do Earle Ellis (1981:201, 205); Norval Geldenhuys (1979:424); A T Robertson (1930:224); William Hendriksen (1978:782), and Walter Liefeld (1984:991). However, I do not consider that any damage is done to the teaching on life after death if the story is historical or parable.

In spite of an online person’s objections, I find biblical evidence that there were prominent OT people who had a relationship with God. These included Abraham, Moses, and David.

The issue in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is to differentiate between the nature of the place where the righteous person was – in paradise and experiencing comfort, compared with where the wicked person was at death – in torment in Hades. Between these two places a ‘great gulf’ is fixed that cannot be bridged (Luke 16:26).

 

Works consulted

Ellis, E E 1981. New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co./London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott Publ. Ltd.[6]

Geldenhuys, N 1979. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hendriksen, W 1978. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Liefeld, W L 1984. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke, vol 8, 795-1059. F E Gaebelein (gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Robertson, A T 1930. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Gospel According to Luke, vol 2. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Notes


[1] Christianity Board, ‘When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be’, 15 February 2016, OzSpen#57. Available at: www.christianityboard.com/topic/22356-when-we-all-get-to-heaven-what-a-day-of-rejoicing-that-will-be/page-3 (Accessed 19 February 2016).

[2] Ibid., KingJ#99.

[3] The following is my response at ibid., OzSpen#101.

[4] I have added these extra examples of OT persons with a relationship with God after I made the online response. My wife brought these to my attention.

[5] GotQuestions? 2002-2016. What is the difference between Sheol, Hades, Hell, the lake of fire, Paradise, and Abraham’s bosom? (Accessed 23 February 2016).

[6] The original edition was published in 1966 by Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd. This copy is based on the 1981 softback edition.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 23 October 2016.

Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Heaven or Hell

(courtesy ChristArt.com)

By Spencer D Gear

How would you respond to these kinds of claims?

6pointShinny-small God ‘chooses to have mercy on some, and chooses to let the others go down their own rebellious path and get the justice that is owed them’.

6pointShinny-small ‘God views all humanity as sinful and guilty and deserving of hell’.

6pointShinny-small ‘Nobody receives injustice at God’s hands’.

6pointShinny-small ‘Why does God decree through TULIP that a large section of humanity will be forced into hell because they cannot believe? Would you treat anyone that way?’

6pointShinny-small ‘If God had not chosen to save some, nobody would be saved’.

6pointShinny-small ‘Why does God choose to save some and damn the rest, according to Calvinism?’

6pointShinny-small ‘Reformed Calvinistic theology does not teach that anyone is forced to do anything. But rather, it teaches that people always do what they desire to do’.

6pointShinny-small ‘It’s not the injustice of the God revealed in Scripture, it’s the injustice (as I see it) in the ULI of TULIP’.

For a summary of the Reformed Calvinistic view of TULIP, see R C Sproul’s explanation:

Total Depravity

Unconditional Election

Limited Atonement

Irresistible Grace

Perseverance of the Saints

On a Christian forum, a Calvinist asked: ‘Perhaps you’d like to answer why God throws anyone in Hell for eternity simply because they don’t believe in Him? Would you treat anyone that way?’[1]

My response was: ‘Or would it be better to ask as a Calvinist: ‘Why does God decree through TULIP that a large section of humanity will be forced into hell because they cannot believe? Would you treat anyone that way?’[2]

His reply was: ‘I guess that’s a good question if you like building straw men [fallacies]’.[3] It was no logical fallacy and it seemed to be his way of backing off from the consequences of the TULIP theology, and I told him.[4]

He continued his straw man allegation:

Since your question doesn’t reflect anything about what I, or any Calvinist I know, believes, it’s a straw man. So, it’s not the consequence of my position. But if you think that’s what Calvinism teaches, then I think I know why you dislike it so much.

If you’d like, I can link you to some resources.[5]

He proceeded to make the allegation to others of my creating a straw man fallacy in my question re TULIP implications, so I book him up on it after he stated, ‘If you want to know what Calvinism teaches, read the Canons of Dort. If you do so, you will know that Oz’s question was a straw man’.[6] I replied:[7]

Since you are quoting my statement to others, it seems as though I need to make a clarification or further explanation. This was my interaction at #179:
coil-gold-sm A Calvinist:

Perhaps you’d like to answer why God throws anyone in Hell for eternity simply because they don’t believe in Him? Would you treat anyone that way?

coil-gold-sm I, as a Reformed (Classical) Arminian:[8]

Or would it be better to ask as a Calvinist: ‘Why does God decree through TULIP that a large section of humanity will be forced into hell because they cannot believe? Would you treat anyone that way?’

You are claiming my response is a straw man. It is NOT, for the following reasons:

  • Unconditional election means that SOME people are forced (decreed) into the kingdom of God by God’s immutable choice.
  • Limited atonement (LA) means that Jesus died for SOME people, but not for the rest. They have no possibility of entering eternal life because of God’s unchanging determination of limited atonement (others call it particular redemption).
  • Irresistible grace means that SOME people are forced (decreed) into the kingdom because there is no possibility of saying ‘No’ to salvation.

But what about the rest of humanity? They are forced (decreed) to endure damnation by God, not for a lifetime, but for eternity. Double predestination is a logical conclusion of such theology.

Would you or I treat anyone that way? I wouldn’t. It seems to be a theology of injustice and I would never choose to treat people that way.
Therefore, I am not creating a straw man logical fallacy. I am providing an example of the meaning and implications for eternal damnation for a large section of humanity by Calvinistic theology.

H

(courtesy ChristArt.com)

Starting point: All humanity deserves hell

Another person, not the person to whom I responded, replied:

Reformed theology does not believe God pre-damns innocent people. It believes that God views all humanity as sinful and guilty and deserving of hell, and from that starting point, chooses to have mercy on some, and chooses to let the others go down their own rebellious path and get the justice that is owed them.

Thus, the first group gets mercy, unto the praise of God’s glorious grace.

The second group gets justice, for the display of God’s power and wrath (Rom 9).

As you can see, nobody receives injustice at God’s hands.

We believe that because of fallen man’s sinful nature and hostile attitude towards God, if God had not chosen to save some, nobody would be saved.
Thus, I hope you can see why we (the reformed) feel that God’s choosing of people for salvation is necessary if anyone at all is going to be saved.

Further, reformed theology does not teach that anyone is forced to do anything. But rather, it teaches that people always do what they desire to do. But because of the fall, nobody desires God, thus chooses accordingly. Thus, out of grace, God enters the scene and takes off our blindfold and changes our hearts, so that we are now willing to do what previously we were unwilling to do (submit to the gospel). This is why the Bible describes salvation as being “by grace”.[9]

One of the difficulties with responding to posts on Internet forums is that many do not deal with the exact points raised and that was the case here. I tried to pick up some of his issues in this reply:[10]

The injustice promoted by Calvinism

Vice Clamp

(courtesy ChristArt.com)

I asked him: Why do you choose not to deal with the matters as I raised? You did not choose to deal with my objections to TULIP. You gave me another round of your Calvinism, instead of interacting with me on the issues I raised.

Nowhere did I suggest that God pre-damns innocent people.

By the way, your view of ‘Reformed’ is limited. I, as a Reformed Arminian, am Reformed in my theology. To his dying day, Jacob Arminius was a Reformed minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. Why do you continue to use Reformed in a restricted way?

I agree with you that God views all humanity as sinful and guilty and deserving of hell, as you stated. But this is where you miss a dynamic that seems to elude you: Since ALL are deserving of hell, why are not ALL sent to hell by God? That would be justice. Why does God choose to save some and damn the rest, according to Calvinism?

Your language is that God ‘chooses to let the others go down their own rebellious path and get the justice that is owed them’. But that’s not what TULIP teaches.

It teaches that God chooses some unconditionally and leaves the rest to damnation – sounds like injustice to me. Also God chooses to allow Jesus to provide atonement for some and let the rest be damned – sounds like injustice to me. And, God chooses to irresistible draw some reprobates and let the rest be damned – sounds like injustice to me.

However, this is not the injustice of God. He is absolutely just / righteous. The problem is with ULI of TULIP – as I see it.

You say: ‘As you can see, nobody receives injustice at God’s hands’. That’s absolutely true, from God’s perspective. But from ULI theology, the damned who go to hell get injustice because they could NEVER, EVER BE SAVED because of ULI theology.

You want me to believe, ‘Thus, I hope you can see why we (the reformed) feel that God’s choosing of people for salvation is necessary if anyone at all is going to be saved’, and that Reformed refers to Calvinists. I, as a Reformed Arminian, understand that God’s choosing of people for salvation is not according to the ULI of Calvinism.

You want me to believe that ‘reformed theology does not teach that anyone is forced to do anything. But rather, it teaches that people always do what they desire to do’. ULI teaches that people have no say in responding to the offer of salvation; human responsibility in salvation is not part of the equation when God offers salvation and initiates salvation.

That sure sounds like forcing to me.

Maybe I’ve missed something here about ULI theology. Where in ULI theology is there any statement of the need for human responsibility in salvation, i.e. ‘You believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’ where the ‘you believe’ really does include ‘you’?

How would a Calvinist reply?

This was his comeback:[11]

I’m having trouble reconciling these two statements, perhaps you can help me [and he gave these 2 quotes allegedly from me]:

‘I agree with you that God views all humanity as sinful and guilty and deserving of hell’

‘God chooses to irresistibly draw some reprobates and let the rest be damned – sounds like injustice to me’ [quoting OzSpen]

As you can see, I am confused, because on the one hand, you agree that all men deserve hell, but on the other hand, you express that if some men are left to perish, that is injustice.

You say: ‘As you can see, nobody receives injustice at God’s hands’. That’s absolutely true, from God’s perspective. But from ULI theology, the damned who go to hell get injustice because they could NEVER, EVER BE SAVED because of ULI theology’ [quoting OzSpen].

Again, here you express that if God lets people go to hell, that is injustice. Even though above, you affirmed that men deserve hell. Are you suggesting that if God saves some people, that somehow means that the rest, suddenly, are not deserving of hell any longer?

‘That sure sounds like forcing to me’ [quoting OzSpen]

Oz if you are unconscious and dying, and I give you CPR and resuscitate you, would you say that I “forced” you survive, as if somehow, I was doing something against your will? A better way of wording this would be, would I be overcoming some kind of resistance on your part, thus doing something “against” your will?
As you can see, an unconscious person is not putting up any resistance. He is simply the recipient of the life-saving technique being applied to him. In the same way, a dead person is not putting up a resistence [sic] against being resurrected. In fact since he is dead, his volition is not involved at all, regarding whether or not he is resurrected. In spiritual matters, the analogy works the same way. This is why the Holy Spirit described regeneration, in John chapter 3, as being His work alone, like the “wind”, it “blows wherever it wishes”.

‘Maybe I’ve missed something here about ULI theology. Where in ULI theology is there any statement of the need for human responsibility in salvation, i.e. “You believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” where the ‘you believe’ really does include ‘you’?’ [Quoting OzSpen]

In the Bible, the only thing a person contributes to his/her salvation is the sin that makes it necessary.

Yes, faith in Christ is mandatory for salvation, but praise God, He provided me what is necessary for salvation. (ie, I didn’t bring it to the table.) Thus, all praise and glory goes to Him. Salvation truly is, “all of grace”.

Over and over again

Round And Round Clip Art

(courtesy clker.com)

 

I replied:[12]

You are having trouble reconciling the two statements because you are quoting:

Flower18 My Reformed Arminian view: ‘God views all humanity as sinful and guilty and deserving of hell Calvinistic view: God chooses to irresistible draw some reprobates. I added: ‘and let the rest be damned – sounds like injustice to me’. AND….

Flower18 Your Calvinistic view: ‘As you can see, I am confused, because on the one hand, you agree that all men deserve hell, but on the other hand, you express that if some men are left to perish, that is injustice’.

The issue I’m raising is that Irresistible Grace, guaranteeing grace for salvation to some reprobates and no grace for salvation to the rest of the reprobates (as in TULIP), sure sounds like injustice to me. Grace for some and no grace for the rest for salvation. The problem is with TULIP and not with God.

Let’s agree: You and I are not going to agree on this one. You believe in irresistible grace and I don’t. [See my understanding in, ‘Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?’]

Flower18 Reformed Arminian: ‘You say: “As you can see, nobody receives injustice at God’s hands”. That’s absolutely true, from God’s perspective. But from ULI theology, the damned who go to hell get injustice because they could NEVER, EVER BE SAVED because of ULI theology’.

Flower18 Calvinistic view: ‘Again, here you express that if God lets people go to hell, that is injustice. Even though above, you affirmed that men deserve hell. Are you suggesting that if God saves some people, that somehow means that the rest, suddenly, are not deserving of hell any longer?’

That is your false understanding of what I stated. My view, as I stated, was that from God’s perspective, NOBODY gets injustice from Him. But ULI promotes injustice – in my view – as it promotes partiality. God is gracious to some but ungracious to the rest – he damns the rest. That’s not a problem with my theology of God; it’s an issue with TULIP theology.

‘Oz if you are unconscious and dying, and I give you CPR and resuscitate you, would you say that I “forced” you survive, as if somehow, I was doing something against your will? A better way of wording this would be, would I be overcoming some kind of resistance on your part, thus doing something “against” your will?’

That’s an invalid illustration as I’m talking of the ULI of Calvinistic theology and its unfairness to a large chunk of humanity as it excludes salvation from them by ULI decree.

You stated: ‘In the Bible, the only thing a person contributes to his/her salvation is the sin that makes it necessary’. That is not what the Bible states. This is biblical: ‘[You] believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household’ (Acts 16:31 ESV). There is no salvation unless there is co-operation by an individual person and he/she believes. That’s Bible.

‘Yes, faith in Christ is mandatory for salvation, but praise God, He provided me what is necessary for salvation. (ie, I didn’t bring it to the table.) Thus, all praise and glory goes to Him. Salvation truly is, “all of grace”’.

But he did not make that faith available to a large chunk of humanity because of the ULI of TULIP theology. That’s the injustice about which I write. It’s not the injustice of the God revealed in Scripture, it’s the injustice (as I see it) in the ULI of TULIP. The problem is not with God but with that brand of theology (Calvinism).

Calvinists on the merry-go-round

(courtesy Google public domain)

When Calvinists don’t want to deal with the consequences of their TULIP theology in relation to God sending some people to heaven and others to hell, what do they do? On this forum, I received these kinds of answers when they wouldn’t respond to my challenges:

  • ‘Your explanation was just a bigger straw man’.[13]
  • ‘I am still confused, because if all men deserve hell, how is it injustice to save some of them while letting the rest perish into hell? Don’t they deserve hell?’[14]
  • ‘The only way that could be a problem is if the damned don’t deserve to be damned’.[15]
  • ‘the only way it could be “problematic” or “unjust” is if those that are damned don’t deserve to be damned. But you’ve already admitted that they deserve to be damned, therefore, I do not see how you can call it injustice for God to damn them. Can you clarify this please?’[16]
  • ‘But now you’re dodging this issue I raising’.[17]
  • ‘There’s no injustice in the ULI [of TULIP]’.[18]
  • ‘There’s no injustice in ULI, because in ULI, all men deserve hell, and God saves some, but lets the perish [sic] go to hell. Since they deserve hell in the first place (something you affirm), it cannot be injustice for God to let them go to hell’.[19]
  • ‘Partiality is not necessarily unjust…
    Ex. 4:11: Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (ESV).
    Mankind is guilty or a Saviour was needless cruelty’.[20]

Consequences of Calvinistic theology

Speak good words and you will enjoy the consequences

(courtesy  ChristArt.com)

 

When a group does not want to see the consequences of TULIP theology, we are supplied with the excuses or rationalisations of what is summarised in ‘Calvinists on the merry-go-round’.

So is TULIP theology partial? Does it discriminate against the reprobate? It most definitely does when it only promotes salvation by Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace for those who are elected to salvation. The discrimination takes place when a large chunk of humanity does not get an opportunity to respond to Christ because they are excluded by ULI theology of TULIP.

My claim is that in regard to eternal salvation, TULIP promotes partiality, i.e. injustice. It promotes a view that, even though all people deserve damnation because of their sin, God only elects a certain group to eternal salvation and the rest to eternal damnation. Double predestination (some elected / predestined to salvation and the rest predestined to damnation) does not sit well with some Calvinists, as this interaction demonstrated.

1. Scriptures: God is not partial

God's Love and Justice are brought together by the Cross(courtesy ChristArt.com)

Acts 10:34-35 states, ‘So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him’ (ESV).

Romans 2:11, ‘For God shows no partiality’.

2. Scriptures: Salvation available for all

Free Gift(courtesy ChristArt.com)

This topic is NOT promoting universalism – that all people will be saved – but that God has made salvation AVAILABLE to everyone. There is no partiality with the elect.

One Calvinist made this accusation: ‘I accept that God chooses to show mercy to some. You seem to have an issue with that’.[21] My response is basic and fundamental.[22] I DO NOT have an issue with God showing mercy to some. You have misinterpreted me. The issue is with HOW God shows mercy to some.
It’s the EDICT of ULI of TULIP vs the Scriptures which state that

‘The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance‘ (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).

ULI of TULIP shows favourites to SOME (the elect) while 2 Peter 3:9 demonstrates that God is not willing that any should perish. There is no partiality with God, but there are favourites / there is partiality with ULI in Calvinistic theology.

Even in the Old Testament, indicates that God does not show partiality against the wicked: ‘Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?’ (Ezek 18:23). And this theme continues in Ezekiel 18:32, ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live’, and Ezekiel 33:11, ‘ Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?’

I know that this applied to Israel, but the OT is clear that God does not want any of Israel to die in their sins (‘the death of the wicked’).

The New Testament continues with this theme in 1 Timothy 2:3-4, ‘This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’.

God desires ALL to be saved. There is no partiality with God and special treatment of the elect of God. The truth is that God desires salvation for all people. He does not provide unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace for some and let the rest – either actively or passively – go to eternal damnation. God does not send people to hell because of ULI Calvinistic theology. Some Calvinists don’t like the implications of double predestination, but John Piper is not afraid to state such – as indicated below.

So I’ve stated on this Forum that TULIP Calvinism:

  • ‘promotes injustice through partiality’.[23] A Calvinistic reply was:
  • ‘That would only be true if God’s choice of election caused someone to be punished in hell’.[24]

My response was:[25]

And that is exactly what John Piper, a Calvinist, believes.

Matt Perman, of Desiring God Ministries (John Piper), explains: ‘What does Piper mean when he says he’s a seven-point Calvinist?‘. As to double predestination, Perman explains what this means for the Calvinist, John Piper:

The “sixth” point, double predestination, is simply the flip side of unconditional election. Just as God chooses whom He will save without regard to any distinctives in the person (Ephesians 1:5-6; Acts 13:48; Revelation 17:8), so also he decides whom He will not save without regard to any distinctives in the individual (John 10:26; 12:37-40; Romans 9:11-18; 1 Peter 2:7-8). By definition, the decision to elect some individuals to salvation necessarily implies the decision not to save those that were not chosen. God ordains not only that some will be rescued from his judgment, but that others will undergo that judgment.

So I’m creating no straw man. This is what a leading Calvinist, John Piper, teaches in his support of double predestination. God ordains judgment for the non-elect. In other words, God sends people to hell with no possibility of access to salvation. That is the teaching of Calvinism by statement (John Piper and other double predestination supporters) or implication.

But another leading Calvinist and double predestination supporter, R C Sproul, does not like this John Piper kind of emphasis that ‘God ordains not only that some will be rescued from his judgment, but that others will undergo that judgment’. So Sproul tries to get around it this way by use of the label of ‘distortion’:

The distortion of double predestination looks like this: There is a symmetry that exists between election and reprobation. God WORKS in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. That is to say, from all eternity God decreed some to election and by divine initiative works faith in their hearts and brings them actively to salvation. By the same token, from all eternity God decrees some to sin and damnation (destinare ad peccatum) and actively intervenes to work sin in their lives, bringing them to damnation by divine initiative. In the case of the elect, regeneration is the monergistic work of God. In the case of the reprobate, sin and degeneration are the monergistic work of God.[26]

So Sproul calls it a ‘distortion’ to state that ‘God WORKS in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate’. So what does he believe is the Reformed Calvinistic emphasis of double predestination? He claims that this is

the classic position of Reformed theology on predestination. In this view predestination is double in that it involves both election and reprobation but is not symmetrical with respect to the mode of divine activity. A strict parallelism of operation is denied. Rather we view predestination in terms of a positive-negative relationship.
In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. He does not monergistically work sin or unbelief in their lives….

Thus, the mode of operation in the lives of the elect is not parallel with that operation in the lives of the reprobate. God works regeneration monergistically but never sin. Sin falls within the category of providential concurrence.

Another significant difference between the activity of God with respect to the elect and the reprobate concerns God’s justice. The decree and fulfillment of election provide mercy for the elect while the efficacy of reprobation provides justice for the reprobate. God shows mercy sovereignly and unconditionally to some, and gives justice to those passed over in election. That is to say, God grants the mercy of election to some and justice to others. No one is the victim of injustice. To fail to receive mercy is not to be treated unjustly. God is under no obligation to grant mercy to all — in fact He is under no obligation to grant mercy to any. He says, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Rom. 9).[27]

This sounds awfully like rationalisation to try to cover the charge against Calvinism of injustice in its view of election. Sproul explains:

If God foreordains reprobation does this not mean that God forces, compels, or coerces the reprobate to sin? Again the answer must be negative.
If God, when He is decreeing reprobation, does so in consideration of the reprobate’s being already fallen, then He does not coerce him to sin. To be reprobate is to be left in sin, not pushed or forced to sin. If the decree of reprobation were made without a view to the fall, then the objection to double predestination would be valid and God would be properly charged with being the author of sin.[28]

But it still does not avoid the promotion of God showing partiality to the elect and not offering the same treatment to the non-elect. Thus, Calvinism demonstrates that it promotes something that is contrary to Scripture – God’s partiality (see Acts 10:34-35; Rom 2:11). God’s mercy and justice will never be in conflict with God’s actions that are alleged to show partiality or favouritism. I find TULIP Calvinism, while promoting God’s mercy and justice (according to Sproul), to be promoting a view of salvation that is in conflict with God stating that God acts in an impartial way.

Calvinistic preterition

Man's Way

 

 

 

 

 

(courtesy ChristArt.com)

 

For a Calvinistic Reformed view of God sending the damned to hell, see Edwin Palmer, ‘Twelve theses on reprobation’. He stated here:

Romans 9 is clear in asserting that both election and preterition [reprobation, damnation] are unconditional. Their ultimate foundation is in God: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Reprobation as condemnation is conditional in the sense that once someone is passed by, then he is condemned by God for his sins and unbelief. Although all things, unbelief and sin included, proceed from God’s eternal decree, man is still to blame for his sins. He is guilty. It is his fault and not God’s.

So, according to Palmer, God condemns unbelievers to damnation, but it is the sinner’s fault and not God’s. What gobbledygook! God does it but human beings are responsible.

According to Calvinism, Preterition is the act by which a person is left out of the will of God, or more specifically, left out of the saving will of God, and has been passed by’ (‘Preterition’, Examining Calvinism).

A better alternative to TULIP

Since there are holes in the TULIP argument that are so large one could drive a theological truck through them, I have found the Arminian alternative to represent a more consistent understanding of the biblical data. I refer you to the FACTS (acronym) of salvation (an Arminian response to Calvinism):

Freed by Grace (to Believe)
Atonement for All
Conditional Election
Total Depravity
Security in Christ[29]

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Society of Evangelical Arminians).

Some further reading

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Does God hate anyone?’ Hammster#165, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-17/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[2] OzSpen#179, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-18/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[3] Ibid., Hammster#180.

[4] OzSpen#181, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-19/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[5] Ibid., Hammster#180.

[6] Hammster#207, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-21/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#208.

[8] This link is to an article by Stephen Ashby, ‘A Reformed Arminian View’, available at: http://www.onthewing.org/user/Arm_Reformed%20Arminianism%20-%20Ashby.pdf (Accessed 23 January 2014).

[9] Ibid., Skala#209. All Hammster could say to my post of explanation was to give me another round of his spin – a false allegation, ‘Skala has give an excellent reply to your straw man logical fallacy’ (Hammster#213,

[10] OzSpen#215, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-22/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[11] Ibid., Skala#219.

[12] OzSpen#221, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-23/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[13] Hammster#220, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-22/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[14] Skala#222, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-23/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[15] Ibid., Hammster#224.

[16] Ibid., Skala#225.

[17] Ibid., Hammster#228.

[18] Hammster#242, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-25/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[19] Skala#250, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-25/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

[20] drsteveJ#255, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-26/#post64885524 (Accessed 22 January 2014). My response to this comment was: ‘I’m discussing partiality regarding eternal salvation or eternal damnation. Why are you changing the topic?’ (OzSpen#258).

[21] Hammster#283, http://www.christianforums.com/t7792201-29/#post64888221 (Accessed 23 January 2014).

[22] Some of this response is at ibid., OzSpen#284.

[23] Ibid., OzSpen#251.

[24] Ibid., Hammster#253.

[25] Ibid., OzSpen#256.

[26] This is from the R C Sproul article, ‘Double predestination’, available at: http://www.the-highway.com/DoublePredestination_Sproul.html (Accessed 23 January 2014).

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] ‘An outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. the TULIP of Calvinism’, Brian Abasciano and Martin Glynn, February 28, 2013, Society of Evangelical Arminians, available at: http://evangelicalarminians.org/an-outline-of-the-facts-of-arminianism-vs-the-tulip-of-calvinism/ (Accessed 22 January 2014).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.

Is hell fair?

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Hell is Real

(image courtesy ClipArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Bertrand Russell, the atheistic British philosopher, was no friend of the biblical doctrine of hell. His provocative, penetrating, and blasphemous words were:

There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching — an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates….

You will find that in the Gospels Christ said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of Hell”…. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world….

I must say that I think all this doctrine, that hell-fire is a punishment for sin, is a doctrine of cruelty. It is a doctrine that put cruelty into the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture; and the Christ of the Gospels, if you could take Him as His chroniclers represent Him, would certainly have to be considered partly responsible for that (Russell 1996)

The Bertrand Russell Society gives these details about Russell: ‘Bertrand Arthur William Russell [3rd Earl] (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970).[1] Russell lived to be 97 years of age. It was he who said, ‘When I die, I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive’ (Russell 1967:47).

A.  Eternal punishment for temporal sin is unfair?

However, it is not unusual in conversation with Christian believers to hear some object to eternal punishment in hell for the wicked. I encountered this on a Christian forum with a fellow who wrote:

The ultimate sin, it is said, is to reject a relationship with Christ. But hell punishes a bad choice made over a finite lifetime for eternity, for no chance of parole.

Yes, I understand that God “cannot tolerate sin” and that God’s love also requires judgment. Isn’t it a contradiction, however, to speak of God’s infinite, unchanging love while simultaneously talking about casting sinners into the pits of hell for all eternity?

Sorry…that doesn’t make much sense to me.[2]

My initial response was,[3]

I don’t find any inconsistency in God’s treatment of sinners. Why? It’s because God is the absolutely fair, absolutely just/righteous, absolutely good, absolutely holy God. When we stand before him, we will not be able to announce to him, “God you were unfair in your treatment of me, the sinner. You don’t have a clue about doing what is right for the sinner”. Those kinds of thoughts will not enter my mind because they are based on my puny, limited, finite thinking.

I ask: Are there degrees of punishment in hell? I am convinced the answer to that question is, ‘Yes’.

This fellow’s comeback was, ‘If He’s “absolutely fair” (and I believe He is), then why plunge people into oblivion for all eternity for sins committed during a finite lifetime?’[4]

The following is my reply to him:[5]

I’m of the view that this matter rises or falls on (1) our understanding of the eternal attribute of God, (2) the nature of human beings, and (3) whether or not we think the human soul lives forever. If our souls are not eternal, then sins do not have eternal consequences. They are temporary. But that is not the case.

The reality is that we are beings who live forever. We are made for an eternal relationship with God, who is the eternal Being. Therefore to sin against the eternal God, reject his overtures to us, has eternal consequences.

My understanding is that when we think of sins as being temporal and not having eternal consequences, then we begin to think that eternal hell is unfair.

When I understand the eternal nature of sins, and the eternal attribute of the One against whom I sin, I understand why Jesus’ sacrifice for sin was the necessary sacrifice. Is it fair that the eternal Son of God had to be sacrificed for temporal sins? That’s the wrong question. The eternal Son of God was sacrificed on the cross because sin has eternal consequences.

Hebrew 7:27 states, ‘He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself’ (ESV).

B.  Eternal punishment in hell is fair

So the reason why eternal punishment in hell is fair is because:

(1) Of the nature of God,

(2) The nature of human beings, and

(3) The eternal consequences for human sin against the eternal God.

God is absolutely just and always does what is fair and righteous. That’s why the consequence for sin for the unregenerate is eternal.

See Michael Houdmann’s article, How is eternity in hell a fair punishment for sin?

Another wrote, ‘That’s [i.e. eternal hell] something they invented that it was eternal to scare the people. It’s more like a washing machine, like the Jews taught before this was invented’.[6]

How should one reply to this kind of serious allegation?[7]

I asked, ‘Are you saying that Jesus invented eternal punishment to scare people?’ It was he who stated:

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46 ESV).

The word aiwnios (eternal) is the very same word associated with punishment as with eternal life. Therefore, eternal punishment is as long as eternal life will be. What’s the meaning of aiwnios?

This fellow made a serious allegation when he said that ‘that’s something they invented … to scare people’ because he was accusing Jesus of doing that.

Why doesn’t he accept what the Scriptures state? He seems to be inventing his own theology that avoids eternal punishment. Eternal punishment is the teaching of Jesus.

Somebody had the audacity to state,

No Augustine, before him they didn’t preach eternal damnation.

Did it ever occur to you that the reason people don’t believe this is that they reach out to atheists, who fell off their faith primarily because of eternal hell preaching and people doubting their faith because of the concept of eternal hell which isn’t even Biblical?

Plain reading of the mistranslated text leads to it, not plain reading of the original.[8]

I responded:[9]

My, oh my!! I do wish that you would read the Church Fathers and accurately report what they believed about hell. Before Augustine there were definitely church fathers who believed in the hell of eternal punishment.

Please take a read of this summary of material in the article, The Early Church Fathers on Hell.

I pray that you will report accurately what the Church Fathers BEFORE Augustine truly believed, instead of providing us with this misrepresentation.

The response was rather disjointed and called on some rather controversial resources:

Sorry, could be, but I don’t care what church fathers say, most of them were antisemites anyway, I care about what the jews before that taught and what the Bible teaches.

I read this:

Matthew 25:46 In the original Greek it says kolasin aionion, which is the opposite of eternal torture. The pharisees taught eternal torture and used timorion aidion.

Greek used timoria for a revenge punishment and kolasis for a correction punishment.

If Jesus meant eternal torture He would have used timorion aidion or timorion ateleutelon, just like the Pharisees who did believe in eternal torture. aionios comes from the Hebrew olam, which is an undefined period.

Augustine wrote that most christians in his time believed in universalism, which he rejected.

Justinianus (482 – 565) forced the church to teach eternal damnation, which lead to translators in the Middle Ages translating aionos with eternal, which wasn’t so in the time of Justinianos.[10]

How should I counter?[11]

You actually do care what the church fathers believed. Your writing on this forum confirms your view when you stated: ‘No Augustine, before him they didn’t preach eternal damnation’.

I was responding to what you wrote about those who were ‘before him’, i.e. the church fathers who were before Augustine.

The facts are that there were church fathers before Justinianus who believed in eternal damnation. Thus, I seriously question your statement that Justinianus ‘forced the church to teach eternal damnation’. That is not the case. You seem to be creating your own view of things – perhaps fed by some others of like persuasion.

Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon studied aiwnios from the time of the Septuagint and concluded that it means ‘eternal’ and in many passages, including Matt. 25:46, it means ‘without end … eternal life’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:28).

Seems as though you are trying to promote another agenda.

This person replied:

No I read this and believe it now, well, not 100% sure when I read this comment. I don’t know much about church history and not enough about this theory, just read this what I translated here and more on forums and also from a theologian and Sadhu Sundhar Singh saw it.

There are texts like with the Pharisees that will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come and others will, for Sodom judgement would be more bearable (sic), he who knew not what his Master wanted will be punished less. Doesn’t sound like one eternal hell for everyone.[12]

It is pleasing to see that a person will admit his lack of knowledge in this area. But this didn’t stop her from spruiking her lack of knowledge in the area.[13]

1.  St Augustine on eternal punishment

Eminent early church father, St Augustine, in his prominent production, City of God, wrote:

“But eternal punishment seems hard and unjust to human perceptions, because in the weakness of our mortal condition there is wanting that highest and purest wisdom by which it can be perceived how great a wickedness was committed in that first transgression” (The City of God, Book 21, chapter 12).

St Augustine continues concerning eternal life and eternal punishment and one of the passages we are discussing, Matt 25:46 (ESV):

They who desire to be rid of eternal punishment ought to abstain from arguing against God, and rather, while yet there is opportunity, obey the divine commands. Then what a fond fancy is it to suppose that eternal punishment means long continued punishment, while eternal life means life without end, since Christ in the very same passage spoke of both in similar terms in one and the same sentence, These shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal! Matthew 25:46 If both destinies are “eternal”, then we must either understand both as long-continued but at last terminating, or both as endless. For they are correlative—on the one hand, punishment eternal, on the other hand, life eternal. And to say in one and the same sense, life eternal shall be endless, punishment eternal shall come to an end, is the height of absurdity. Wherefore, as the eternal life of the saints shall be endless, so too the eternal punishment of those who are doomed to it shall have no end (The City of God, Book 21, Chapter 23).

Human perceptions are hard to take in light of the reality proclaimed by Jesus himself in Matt 25:46 (NLT), ‘And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life’.

2.  Norman Geisler on everlasting punishment

Systematic theologian and apologist, Dr Norman Geisler, further confirms this position:

If destruction did mean “annihilation” when used of the unbeliever’s post-death state, it would not be “everlasting” destruction, for annihilation is instantaneous; annihilation does not stretch over a long period of time, let alone forever, but only takes an instant and then is over. If someone undergoes everlasting everlasting destruction, then they must have an everlasting existence. (Analogously, just as the cars in a junkyard have been destroyed but are not annihilated – they are beyond repair or irredeemable – so the people in hell are not extinguished but are simply irredeemable and irreparable) [Geisler 2005:396, emphasis in original].

I’m sticking with Jesus’ firm word on Matt 25:46 (ESV) – with sound support from St Augustine of Hippo and Norman Geisler – that eternal punishment for unbelievers is as long as eternal life for the believers. Trying to interpret from a contemporary Western perspective or using an emotional response doesn’t stack up with the biblical evidence.

C.  What’s the meaning of aiwnios in Greek?

Mountains

(image courtesy ChristArt)

My response was rather pointed![14] And you trust a link to a website that is titled ‘Evangelical Universalist’.[15] Anyone who tries to defend universalism is not promoting biblical Christianity. It is an oxymoron to use the language of ‘evangelical universalist’.

Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon studied aiwnios from the time of the Septuagint and concluded that it means ‘eternal’ and in many passages, including Matt. 25:46, it means ‘without end … eternal life’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:28). This is an authoritative Greek dictionary (lexicon), yet you seek your definition from one who claims to be an ‘evangelical universalist’. Why, oh why do you do this?

If you wanted to understand an English word, would you go to a strange unrelated source, or would you go to an English dictionary for an accurate definition? I urge you to go to an authoritative Greek dictionary like Arndt & Gingrich to determine the meaning of aiwnios (eternal, without end).

I made a further response:[16]

However, you stated at #96, ‘I don’t know much about church history and not enough about this theory’.

I suggest that you are digging yourself into a theological hole for which you don’t have an exegetical ladder to get out – based on your own statement about your lack of knowledge in this area.

This person replied to my question, ‘Why, oh why do you do this?’ with this content that revealed her ignorance, ‘‘Euhm, when I have a question I ask google. Thanks for the tip to not trust anything.’[17] My reply should be predictable to her and others:[18]

Do you know what that means? Since when was Google an authoritative source for the Greek language? It may lead you to an authoritative source if you know the source you look for AND it is available on Google.

Would you please direct me to a website that contains the entire Arndt & Gingrich Greek lexicon that is available free to all Internet users? However, to read Arndt & Gingrich, you’ll need to be able to read the Greek words. I recommend that you be more discerning about the sources that you quote when trying to understand the meaning of a Greek word in the Greek New Testament. Using a search engine such as Google or Bing will not help you do that automatically.

Google is a wonderful and powerful search engine. It is the primary search engine I use for surfing the Internet. But its work is to search for sites. Its job is not to be an authoritative source for what it finds. What it finds is only as accurate as the information fed into it by a user. It is the user’s responsibility to assess the credibility of the content of what Google finds.

This is a sad situation where a woman is replying to topics on an Internet forum and she is right out of her depth.

Also recommended

See my other articles on hell:

clip_image001What is the nature of death according to the Bible?

clip_image001[1]2 Thessalonians 1:9: Eternal destruction;

clip_image001[2]Hell & Judgment;

clip_image001[3]Hell in the Bible;

clip_image001[4]Should we be punished for our sins?

clip_image001[5]Paul on eternal punishment;

clip_image001[6]Where will unbelievers go at death?

clip_image001[7]Torment in Old Testament hell? The meaning of Sheol in the OT;

clip_image001[8]Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die;

clip_image001[9]Will you be ready when your death comes?

clip_image001[10]What happens at death for believer and unbeliever?

clip_image001[11]Does eternal destruction mean annihilation for unbelievers at death?

clip_image001[12]Refutation of Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine of what happens at death;

clip_image001[13]Near-death experiences are not all light: What about the dark experiences?

Works consulted

Geisler, N 2005. Systematic theology: Church, Last things, vol 4. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Russell, B 1967. Why I Am Not a Christian. London: Unwin Books.

Russell, B 1996. J R Lenz (ed), Why I am not a Christian (online).[19] Madison NJ: Drew University, available at: http://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/whynot.html (Accessed 20 October 2013).

Notes


[1] The Bertrand Russell Society, available at: http://bertrandrussellsociety.com/ (Accessed 20 October 2013).

[2] Ringo84, #82, Christian Forums, General Theology, Hamartiology, ‘Is hell fair?’, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7495958-9/#post64284416 (Accessed 11 October 2013).

[3] OzSpen#83, ibid.

[4] Ringo84, #84, ibid.

[5] OzSpen#88, ibid.

[6] Messy#85, ibid.

[7] With the following, I responded as OzSpen#89, ibid.

[8] Messy#90, ibid.

[9] OzSpen#91, http://www.christianforums.com/t7495958-10/.

[10] Messy#92, ibid.

[11] OzSpen#93, ibid.

[12] Messy#96, ibid.

[13] See Messy #97, #99, ibid.

[14] OzSpen#100, ibid.

[15] This was in response to a link provided at Messy#99, ibid, to: http://evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=4089 (Accessed 11 October 2013).

[16] OzSpen#103, ibid.

[17] Messy#101, http://www.christianforums.com/t7495958-11/.

[18] OzSpen#104, ibid.

[19] At the beginning of this article, it was stated: ‘Introductory note: Russell delivered this lecture on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall. Published in pamphlet form in that same year, the essay subsequently achieved new fame with Paul Edwards’ edition of Russell’s book, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays … (1957)’.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 23 October 2016.