Sunday, July 6, 2014
What Does the Bible Teach about Hell (Pt. 3)
So far, in dealing with the subject of hell, I have pointed out a couple of very basic issues that are foundational. By way of reminder, these posts are a response to some of the information being promulgated over at Patheos by folks like Ben Corey and Rebecca Trotter. I have attempted to show that Trotter enters the conversation with presuppositions about the Bible that are clearly outside the Christian camp. Part of what it means to be a Christian is that we take God at His word. Christians do not challenge that Sacred Writings we call Scripture, aka, the Bible. Trotter has a very serious problem with the historical records of the Old Testament and unwittingly reveals her bias from the very start. This means that Trotter, like many others at Patheos, will take the parts of the Bible they like and reject the parts they despise. If Scripture is our sole authority for what is right and what is true, and this includes information regarding hell, then it only follows that Trotter’s views are unavoidbly suspect. After all, she has displayed a disdain for the only trustfowrthy source we have on the subject of hell.
You may place your confidence in Trotter’s argument, but you should realize that by doing so, you are placing your confidence in a modern woman, untrained in the languages of Scripture and biblical exegesis, and with a personal axe to grind against certain presentations of God in the Bible. In other words, her idea of God, man, sin, judgment, hell, etc. are informed by some other source than Scripture.
I have also attempted to demonstrated very briefly that the traditional view of hell has existed long before Christ in ancient Jewish culture. Moreover, I have also shown that this view is reinforced by the prophet Daniel in 12:2. In that specific text, I have shown that one cannot eradicate the idea of eternal torment without also eradicating eternal life. Trotter and other’s cannot have it both ways. The conclusion of their lexicographical method not only challenges eternal punishment, it challenges eternal life with God. That is what happens when someone who is clearly untrained in the langauges and handling the text sets out to argue against a view that has stood the test of time for centuries and for good reason. Before moving to the New Testament teachings regarding hell, I think you should look at least one more text in the Old Testament.
“Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.” (Isa. 66:24) This is clearly a reference to the future state of wicked men and their lot in the coming eschatological judgment. “This final verse has the rhetorical effect of causing the readers, who may be enthralled with the glorious thoughts of being in the new earth where God will dwell among his servants, to focus their attention on the diametrically opposite destinies that God has prepared for the evil people on this earth.”
“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. “And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.” (Ezek. 37:26-27)
Ezekiel sounds very similar to John’s apocalypse: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying,
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4)
My point in drawing your attention to these two verses is really simple. However one understands the duration of hell, that must also be how they understand the duration of heaven, the new earth and the new city in which we are to said occupy in the future coming kingdom. That is to say that if you wish to destroy eternal punishment and eternal torment from your theology, the only way you can do so and remain consistent and honest is to destroy eternal life in heaven as well. After all, these new teachers claim that they want to be transparent, honest, and authentic. But one has to wonder if that is really the case since, as far I know, not one of them has challenged the existence of eternal life in heaven even though the ground of their objection to hell must also apply to heaven, or does it.
What does the New Testament say about the final judgment and eternal disposition of the wicked? After all, any theologian worth his salt understands that Scripture is a progressive revelation moving along a timeline with God disclosing more and more of Himself and His activities to His people.
Jesus spoke about a future judgment often: Matt. 10:15; 11:22; 12:36 and 12:41. These are just a few places where Christ spoke about a coming judgment. Paul spoke of a coming judgment often in his writings to the churches (1 Cor. 5:13; Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). Indeed, it is impossible to take the Bible seriously if one dismisses the concept that a coming judgment awaits us and that the results of this judgment will be a perpetual state depending on the spiritual condition of the person being judged.
I now want to turn your attention to a text in Hebrews that speaks to the issue concerning this series before moving on to the word study fallacies that Rebecca Trotter has engaged in over on her blog in her attempt to not only destroy the Bible’s teachings on hell, but to apparently embrace and espouse the non-Christian worldview known as universalism.
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)
There are at least two points that we should examine in this text as it relates to our discussion on hell. First, we observe that the author of Hebrews classifies these doctrines as elementary teaching about Christ. The idea here is that these are uncontroversial, basic components universally received by the Church. In our time we might call them the basics or the fundamentals. The sense is that these are the first in the order of things and then we move on to more mature instruction. One of the items listed among the very first and most fundamental of Christian doctrines is the doctrine of eternal judgment.
Now, if the traditional Christian teaching on eternal judgment is anywhere near as complicated as Trotter, Corey, and Bell argue, one has to wonder why was it listed as a very basic teaching in the ancient Church? It is clear that the modern attempt to dispense with hell and eternal judgment is any but simple when one reads the arguments of its proponents.
Before closing this discussion, we want to look at the construction of this text to determine how it should be interpreted. What does the author mean to communicate when he uses the construction κρίματος αἰωνίου? The construction is in the fourth attributive position (anarthrous). Aioniou (eternal) is modifying krimatos (judgment). This means that whatever kind of judgment we are discussing, it is defined by the adjective aioniou. This is a common construction in the GNT. In fact, we have the very same construction in John 3:16 when John uses this same adjective with life: ζωὴν αἰώνιον. Here John tells us that the ones believing in God’s only begotten Son will have eternal life. I want to focus on how this construction is used elsewhere in the NT so that you might recognize that the objection to the traiditonal teaching on hell is far more philosophical than it is exegetical or even historical. Moreover, it seems much more likely the product of personal bias than it is an objective exegetical investigation of Scripture in search of truth. After all, if one disregards the authority of the Bible, they are now free to disregard it when it teaches things that they find offensive or contradictory to the Christianity they prefer to believe.
The construction of mentioned above appears in John 6:68 where Peter responds to Christ saying, “you have the words of eternal life.” Paul uses it in Acts 13:46 of eternal life in his rebuke of the Jews for rejecting Christ. It is used in Mark 3:29 to describe the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, a permanent and unforgivable sin. In is used by Paul in Rom. 16:26 to describe God as the eternal God. Again in 1 Tim. 6:12 it is translated eternal life. It is used of eternal glory in 2 Tim. 2:10 where it refers to the obtaining of Salvation in Jesus Christ and with it, eternal glory. It is used in Tit. 1:2 of the eternal life that God promised long ago. In Heb. 5:9 it is used of eternal salvation. In Heb. 9:14 it refers to the eternal Spirit, and in 9:15 our eternal inheritance. In Heb. 13:20 it refers to the eternal covenant. Finally Jude uses the word to refer to eternal fire. In this construction, the word always refers to permanence, or an unending period.
As I mentioned previously, it is a serious error to transfer word meanings in the NT from one use to another without looking at the thinks like syntax and especially the context of the passage in question. One can read the 15 texts mentioned above and realize immediately that they are being used in an eternal, permanent future sense. God is eternal. The Holy Spirit is eternal. The life that Christ gives is eternal. In the same way, so too is the judgment mentioned in Hebrews and the fire referenced by Jude. Now, these are by far not the whole story. In my next post we will continue to look at specific texts that deal with subject directly to see if there is any way possible to understand them as anything other than teaching eternal, unending, permanent torment in the fire of hell.