Monday, June 30, 2014

A word from F.F. Bruce

Taken from the foreword to the first edition of "The Fire That Consumes" by Edward W. Fudge

"While the subject of this study by Mr. Fudge is one on which there is no unanimity among evangelical Christians, it is at the same time one on which they have often engaged in fierce polemic with one another.

If there is no unanimity here among people who are agreed in accepting the Bible as their rule of faith, it may be inferred that the biblical evidence is not unambiguous. In such a situation polemic should have no place. What is called for, rather, is the fellowship of patient Bible study. It is the fruit of such study that Mr. Fudge presents here.

All immortality except God's is derived. The Father, who has life in himself, has shared with the Son this privilege of having life in himself. All others receive life in the Son. This is true in a measure even of natural life. "In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind." But it is of spiritual and eternal life that we are now thinking.

Nor are biblical writers alone in insisting that God only has inherent immortality. Plato in the Timaeus points out that, if there is a morally good creator of the world, then all souls apart from himself exist by his will, even if his will decrees their immortality. It is a truism that Plato's teaching has profoundly influenced Christian anthropology."

"Christian theologians chiefly disagree over the destiny in the Age to Come of those who live and die without God. The New Testament answer to this question is much less explicit than is frequently supposed. Paul is reported in Acts as declaring before Felix that he looked for "a resurrection of both the just and the unjust." But the only resurrection on which he enlarges in his letters is the resurrection of believers viewed as their participation in the resurrection of Christ. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again" provides a far more secure basis for the Christian hope than any theory of the innate immortality of the soul. but it throws little light on the destiny of unbelievers.

It gives me pleasure to commend Mr. Fudge's exposition of this subject. All that he has to say is worthy of careful consideration, but there is special value in those chapters where he examines the testimony of successive sections of the Holy Scriptures."

F.F. Bruce
Manchester, England, 1982

"Annihilation is certainly an acceptable interpretation of the relevant New Testament passages ... Eternal conscious torment is incompatible with the revealed character of God." - F.F. Bruce

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The parable about hell - or not

Luke 16: 19-31 - Is this a picture of heaven and hell?

“And in hell [Hades] he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” - Luke 16:23

So, I’d like to look at the rich man and Lazarus… no conversation on hell is complete without discussing this famous parable! I suspect it to be the main source of Christianity’s classic view of heaven and hell. The question is, does this parable really represent eternal life and eternal punishment after Judgment?

When I studied this parable I did so without commentaries or others’ research, so these are just my observations. (Note: Since then I have read the book “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle at the suggestion of a fellow believer. Although the authors are traditionalists, they do come to the same conclusions as I have about this parable with all their degrees and scholarly peers behind them - the conclusion being that this is not a picture of final punishment - or 'hell'.)

"The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) says that the rich man goes to 'Hades' while Lazarus goes to 'Abraham's bosom' (NASB). Hades here should not be confused with hell. Hades is where the wicked go to await judgment, after which they are thrown into hell... Lazarus is also in some sort of intermediate state where is waiting resurrection... Now, it's true that this is a parable, and so we shouldn't press the details too far. Jesus uses the parable in this context of Luke to confront the social structures of the day, not to teach us about the afterlife." - Francis Chan, Erasing Hell, p. 89

I consider this parable to be like Jesus’ other parables; He uses an example of some reality to teach a deeper lesson. I believe at some point this is or was a representation of a real place. As to the reality of the setting, the first clue that this couldn’t possibly be a picture of eternity is that those being tormented can apparently see and talk to those being comforted. Heaven and hell communicating with each other through eternity! I don’t think so! God continually says the wicked will be no more (Psalm 37:10. Prov. 24:20). Also, Lazarus is in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ and I’m pretty sure that in heaven the Big Man will be Jesus. Also, it says the rich man was in Hades and we know that Hades is temporary as it will be thrown into the lake of fire one day (Rev. 20:14).

I wonder if this parable is only significant to a Jewish audience, as both men were apparently Jewish and the audience was Jewish (disciples and the Pharisees - Luke 16:1,14). It makes me think of Luke 13:28 - "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.” And also “... his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:34-35) He also said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets…” This sounds like a uniquely Jewish story lesson. I don’t imagine a Gentile in that situation would have related to being comforted by Abraham. Do you think this parable even applies to Gentiles at all?

In John 5:29 Jesus explains that there is an hour coming where those who did good deeds will experience ‘a resurrection of life’, while those who committed evil, ‘a resurrection of judgment’. Notice the ones who committed evil are facing judgment on a future Day – not this idea of dropping straight into hell once you die. It seems that the Second Death (lake of fire) does not come into the picture until this great Judgment occurs.

Had the rich man been through judgment? It sounds as though he was just beginning to get the idea of what situation he was in, and he being a Jew. Obviously, life on earth was continuing as he begged for someone to be sent to warn his brothers. In the final Judgment the old heavens and earth will pass away (Luke 21:33, 2 Peter 3:10, Rev. 21:1) – there will be no one left on earth to try to ‘warn’.

Are you more like Lazarus - or the rich man?

What about Lazarus? I wish we had more information about him. Was he a righteous man? Did he know the Law? What did he do - besides suffer sickness, homelessness and hunger - that made him deserving of all that comfort?

Jesus was directing this parable at the Pharisees (Luke 16:14). What was his point for them? They were smugly believing that Hades was reserved for those unlike themselves: clean-cut, religious, better than others, "blessed" with prosperity. Oh, how Jesus offended them! Perhaps we here in the abundance of America should be a bit afraid as we reflect on Jesus’ words: “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep." (Luke 6:24-25) I, for one, know that I have always been well-fed. Compared to 95% of the world, we are all very rich in the U.S., isn’t that right? Who do we identify with more: Lazarus or the rich man? 

I think that was Jesus' point all along.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The lake of fire

After years of study on final punishment and so-called hell, my biblical journey brought me to the shores of the lake of fire. So this was it. Final punishment - the end of the line for a variety of people, spiritual beings, a spiritual 'place' and a 'state of being'. You may recognize the last two references as descriptions of Hades and death which are thrown into the lake of fire:

"Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:14)

Maybe you have wondered about that scripture. One time I read that verse and it really hit me - death? Hades? Those are not physical things. How can the lake of fire be a literal place if inanimate concepts are 'thrown' there? Obviously, we are not being taught about a physical place.

Continuing in Rev. 20 we read: "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." So, this is where God throws not only death and Hades but the unredeemed (those who will not attain eternal life). Later we will see that the beast, the false prophet and the devil are also thrown there. All of God's enemies.

Next question: What happens to death and Hades when they are thrown into the lake of fire? It is quite clear that they are destroyed - gone forever from existence. Also, the lake of fire is called the second death, so it is surely pointing in that direction. Since we don't want to assume anything, let's look to Scripture to see if it backs up that conclusion.

We discover the fate of death in 1 Corinthians 15 where it mentions Christ's coming, "… then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death." (1 Cor. 15:24-26) So, we see that, yes, death is rendered idle and is put to an end - it ceases to exist. This corresponds perfectly with Revelation 21:4 which states, "there will no longer be any death".

Hades is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word Sheol (See Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:27 in the NKJV or NASB to see this connection plainly).

We do know some things about Hades. It is temporary. At some point, the dead will be taken out of Hades: "…and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them…" (Rev. 20:13) Whenever we see Hades in Revelation, it is always accompanied by its sidekick, death (Rev. 1:18, 6:8, 20:13, 14). These mysterious and morbid partners are both quite unwanted to the human soul. Truly enemies.
"What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?"  (Psalm 89:48)

So, if the lake of fire causes powerful enemies such as Hades and death to cease to exist, to be done away with, to be abolished - then what will become of people that are thrown there? And why is it defined as the second death? Is it called the second death because God will actually keep people alive there to torment them for eternity? Or is it the second death because death is "the wages of sin"? (Rom. 6:21,23) Malachi 4:1 states it like this: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”

Consider what 2 Thess. 2:8 describes as the end of the beast (anti-christ): "Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming…" and Daniel 7:11: "…I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire." We know that the beast and false prophet were thrown alive into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20), so the conclusion is that this slaying and destruction will occur in the lake of fire. The duration is unknown, but they along with the devil will undergo torment (Rev. 20:10).

The devil (Satan) also seems to have an end. The lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41) and they will undergo punishment. We also read that Satan will be crushed - a term of destruction (Gen. 3:15, Rom. 16:20) Remember 1 Cor. 15:24-26 where Jesus will abolish 'all rule and all authority and power" - it is also written in this way: "…He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet." Indeed, there is "a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries." (Is. 26:11, Heb. 10:27) "For God is a consuming fire" (Deut. 4:24, Heb. 12:29).

So, we find ourselves back on the shore of the lake of fire. May this be the closest we ever get to this instrument of judgment that will burn up and destroy all God's enemies and all evil and sin. The second death is the final end of all that goes into it and the results are eternal.

WHAT IF we are wrong?

So, our traditional doctrine of hell may be in error. *yawn*

What's the big deal? The good guys win, the bad guys lose. Why worry about the details? No one can really know for sure what will happen. We've been going with our popular doctrine of eternal conscious torment for centuries and all the smart guys endorse it, so what's the problem?

Besides, I don't want to talk about it. That subject makes me uncomfortable. I already have a view about that. It's not the main thing. Everyone knows that the "smoke of their torment rises forever and ever" so get over it. What do you mean, we should look at the whole rest of the Bible? I've read the Bible and it seems clear that the rich man was tormented in the flame and that is just what happens to the lost.

Or is it?

I am not going to tear down the hell tradition here; I've been posting studies and arguments with that goal in mind elsewhere. If you read them, you may start to see my concern.

I am not saying that I have the answer. I have not formulated my own doctrine. What I am saying is that there is SO MUCH material that should cause us to pause, ponder and doubt our traditional view that I just have to say something about it!

For me, it is this gargantuan elephant in the room with chartreuse and hot pink stripes wrapped in Christmas lights, the flashing kind. Is it just me or do we need to talk about this?

Consider for a moment (just humor me) that the Christian Church is wrong about this hell doctrine. [Remember, the Protestant Reformation was based on the principle that the church was wrong about the most central doctrine of Christianity - the atonement and justification - for a thousand years. So unfortunately, the church can go astray.]  And here we are teaching these ideas - the glaring one being eternal conscious torment - to unbelievers and children and the world!

Our Father in Heaven, who describes Himself as "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth" (Deut. 4:31, 2 Chr. 30:9, Neh. 9:17, 31, Ps. 78:38, 103:8, 111:4, 112:4, 116:5, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2)  may not be pleased with His people as they proclaim Him as the Torturer of the universe. If it is NOT true, imagine the damage we (His own children) are causing His character and the Gospel. 

Yes, there is a flip-side to eternal life. There is a Book of life and if your name is not found there, then you will face Judgment. Condemnation results in punishment, separation from God and death. Yes, the Lord is loving and compassionate, but as Traditionalists never fail to point out, He is also just. So there are very real and very severe consequences for those the Bible calls "the wicked".

The question is: When the Bible speaks of eternal destruction (2 Thess. 1:9) or eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46), does it refer to never-ending torture or a final death/destruction that will never be reversed (lasts forever)?

I am convinced that if we presented the evidence in a court of law, that there would be serious reasonable doubt as to the conclusion of hell being eternal conscious torment. The fact is, as we consider the whole counsel of the Word of God, the weight of evidence falls heavily to the side of final punishment as it mirrors our harshest earthly punishment: corporal punishment or death.

We must stop and consider this!

If there is even a doubt, we ought to stop in our tracks in holy fear and hold our tongue. Speak only where the Bible speaks.

For example, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the well-known verse "for the wages of sin is death" accompanied by an add-on which is usually something like, "which is separation from God in hell". Excuse me?! That is NOT what the verse says. Never in Scripture is the word death accompanied by a disclaimer that states it actually means 'kept alive forever to be tormented in fire'. Why would God use the illustration of death to represent the opposite: being kept alive for the purpose of experiencing punishment without end? (See my post "There's water and there is The Living Water") Father forgive us if we have believed and taught a lie.

Can you tell I get a bit worked up by this? I know, I know, it makes people uncomfortable.

PLEASE, be uncomfortable . Be shocked. Be horrified that we could be a part of slandering God and speaking untruth in His name. Be concerned. Give some thought and then take some action. If it is all too disturbing or boring or time-consuming, then just stay quiet about hell. When people ask about final punishment you can give them two Bible verses: John 3:16 and Romans 6:23. You either have eternal life in Jesus or you will perish/die. Period.

My God, what if we are wrong.

Bible quiz!

Do you know your New Testament?

Can you fill in the blanks? (If memory fails, please feel free to use your Bible)

Bonus riddle: After filling in all the blanks, you should be able to determine what happens to a person who does not attain eternal life through Jesus. In other words, what is the opposite of Life (in Jesus)?

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not _________________, but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to ______________, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life...”  Matt. 7:13-14 

“But we are not of those who shrink back to _________________, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”  (Heb. 10:39)

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to _______________ but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) 

“For the wages of sin is ______________; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Rom. 6:23

He who believes Him who sent Me has eternal life, and… has passed out of __________ into life.”   John 5:24

“These will pay the penalty of eternal _____________, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  2 Thess. 1:9

“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from ________________ through Him.”  Rom. 5:9

"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but _________________________________."   John 3:36

“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who ______________, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.“  2 Thess. 2:9-10

“And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may ____________________ who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”  2 Thess. 2:11-12

“Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of _________________, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”  Rom. 1:32

This is the second ______________, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  (Rev. 20:14-15)

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will __________________ the adversaries.  Heb. 10:26-27.

Your answer:

Those who do not attain eternal life through Jesus will... _________________________________________________ .

If the doctrine of hell in the Christian tradition is true, then we should expect that each blank, according to our doctrine, could be filled with ‘hell’ or ‘spend eternity in hell’ or ‘going to hell’. What did you find?

**Look soon for a post on the lake of fire. What is the lake of fire and what is its purpose?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

There's water - and then there is The Living Water

"Jesus answered and said to her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.'" - John 4:10
Living Water, the Woman at the Well"
by Judith Fritchman
Water is universal. Life is not possible without water. We know what it feels like to be thirsty - and to have our thirst quenched by a clean, cool glass of water.  What a powerful way for Jesus to teach us about spiritual truths. He takes something we know so well - life-giving water - and applies it masterfully to give us understanding and insight into the mysteries of eternal life and God's Spirit.

Isn't it so clever and considerate of the Lord to use familiar life realities to illustrate spiritual realities to us? As I've thought about these illustrations, it seems even more likely that these earthly creations were designed specifically to teach us about Him and our eternal life to come. After all, Jesus spoke in parables for a reason.

For example, the Father-Son relationship - definitely tailor-made to help us grasp our Heavenly Father's heart (Heb. 12:7-9). He gave us marriage - the most intimate union - to paint a picture of Jesus' love for the Church (Eph. 5:25-27). There is the shepherd with his sheep (John 10:11-16); food itself (bread, manna) (John 6:51); the birth of a baby (John 3-7):; the death and growth of a seed (John 12:24); the gold, silver and precious stones of the earth (1 Cor. 3:12-13); and one of the most poignant… the Passover lamb (John 1:36, 1 Cor. 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19)… the physical illustrations from life go on and on - all pointing us to God, His Son and the spiritual realities of God's Kingdom.

How wonderful.

There are earthly things that reflect eternal things. There are things now that foreshadow things to come. The tabernacle was patterned after the one in heaven (Heb. 8:4-5). Jerusalem will be replaced by the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2). There will be new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13).

So, let me spin this thing around and relate it to our topic at hand: final punishment. Let's take a look at two illustrations that give us insight into Judgment and the fate of the wicked: 1) earthly judgments by God and 2) physical death

In the same way that the images above demonstrate spiritual truth, please consider these sobering examples and shadows of things to come.

Judgments by God are examples of the wrath to come

The Passover

The Passover Lamb was mentioned above, but what about the Passover event itself? The Lord passed judgment on Egypt: "For I will go through the land of Egypt…and will strike down all the firstborn…and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the LORD." (Exodus 12:12, 1 Cor. 5:7)

For Christians, this event is packed with symbolic meaning as Jesus, the ultimate sacrificial lamb, was killed - His blood our covering and protection from Death.  ‘The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13) Those who were 'covered' by the blood were saved from the judgment of death.

The flood

Genesis 6 describes the awful scene of wickedness and evil that was on the earth. God's judgment brought destruction: "The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart…Then God said to Noah, 'The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.'"

In the same way, God's final judgment will also be a complete destruction. Just as those who survived the flood were preserved on the arc, those who survive Judgment Day will be found in Jesus (1 Pet. 3:20-21, 2 Pet. 2:5). The New Testament makes it very clear that the flood is a picture of future judgment - and that judgement is destruction (not everlasting torment as Traditionalists teach):

“…by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” (See 2 Peter 3) 

“And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all." (Luke 17:27)

Sodom and Gomorrah

The famous destruction of Sodom and the surrounding cities is mentioned throughout Scripture. Images from that historical event are used to illustrate spiritual truths. Lot's wife and smoke rising are two examples. The majority of references to that horrific event point to a future judgment of the ungodly, that being destruction, not lingering torture:

"… in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.”  (Luke 17:26-30) 

“...the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe... just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, ... are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire." (See Jude) 

“He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter.”  2 Peter 2:6


Physical death (the first death) is an earthly illustration of eternal death (the second death).

This is really the point that I wanted to make from this whole study. I have turned it over and over in my mind. God has given us all these earthly representations of spiritual realities. The temporal reality corresponds to the spiritual one. The examples are endless!  Eyesight/spiritual vision; earthly riches/spiritual riches; earthly anchors/Jesus our anchor; heirs and heritage/spiritual heritage; the wind and fire/the Holy Spirit; physical refiner's pot/God's refining fire; etc, etc!

So, death. Why should death, which is as universal and revered as any earthly reality, be any different? There is physical life, there is eternal life. There is physical birth, there is a spiritual birth. There is physical death, and then there is eternal conscious torment… …. hmmm. Doesn't really correspond, does it? 

Have you wondered why the lake of fire is called the second death? "…This is the second death, the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:14)  "….the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Rev. 21:8)

You may ask, "what about Revelation 20:10?" That is a valid and relevant question and I will dedicate a post to that verse alone. But for now ask yourself - should an entire doctrine have for its cornerstone one verse from an allegory? The beast, the brimstone, the smoke, the lake… these symbols all represent a truth. The book of Revelation is given to us for a purpose, not to completely dumbfound us, but to illustrate realities that exist and are to come. 

I will also focus a post on Revelation 20:14, which was the beginning of my study on final punishment. I read that verse over and over and wondered, "what does it mean?". Well, the Bible answers that question very clearly. Basically, we see that physical death is temporary (1 Cor. 15:26, Rev. 20:14) the second death is permanent (eternal, forever, never to be reversed).

For this study, as we consider the ways God reveals truth, we are able to see clearly that there is a day of Judgment coming. That judgment will result in salvation or condemnation. The condemnation results in destruction in the lake of fire, the second death.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  (Rom. 6:23)

Oh, the shame of the punishment of death! May we instead all come and drink freely from the Living Water! As I drink my clean glass of water this morning, I will ponder all the ways God teaches us from His word and His creation.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The worm that doesn't die

Here is a question I used to have in my mind as I would listen to folks preach on Jesus' teaching from the Gospels concerning "the worm that doesn't die and the unquenchable fire" (maybe you have wondered the same thing):

Why do we teach that an undying worm represents a human soul being tormented forever in hell? I mean, really, where does that come from?

We know what Jesus said: "If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For everyone will be salted with fire."  (Mark 9:47-49)

I included verse 49 because that part always seems to be left out. It is something for you to ponder as we explore these verses.

Most Bible versions also have the worm and fire quote in verses 44 and 46. You will notice they have brackets around the phrase and a footnote that states, "Vv 44 and 46, which are identical to v 48, are not found in the early mss". That means that they are not found in early manuscripts and mostly likely added later.

You will also notice that the worm and fire phrase is in all caps. That does not mean Jesus was shouting at His audience. Okay, that was just a joke - you know the capitalized words mean it is a direct quote from the Old Testament. Super! That is a huge lead to understanding what Jesus is actually trying to say here. The only problem is, I've never heard preachers actually go back and read the OT passage and relate its meaning to Jesus' teaching. Is that your experience? I find that VERY odd.

The good news is that we, in our modern age, have access to myriads of resources! We can just reach for our Bible and look up that OT passage (made easier by a Bible with cross references).  It is found in Isaiah 66:24, which happens to be the very last verse in that book. It is written in poetic form:

"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."

So, it is plain that we are talking about dead people - men who have transgressed against the Lord. There are also other people, apparently spared from death, who will go and look at them and be disgusted. So, what do we know about worms and dead bodies? The worms consume the dead flesh - the worms will not die so they'll just keep eating. There are also fires that are burning up the dead bodies and no one is able to quench, or put out, the fires. This description in its poetic format leads me understand that these dead people are undergoing a complete destruction.

If you would like more information about these enemies of God, just read all of Isaiah 66. Some highlights include: "For behold, the LORD will come in fire…To render His anger with fury…For the LORD will execute judgment by fire…And those slain by the LORD will be many…those…will come to an end altogether, declares the LORD."

This 'garbage dump' where dead things were burned was originally called the valley of Hinnom (or Gehenna). It was the valley of Ben-hinnom where wicked people made their sons and daughters pass through the fire in worship to Molech (Jer. 7:31, 19:6, 32:35). The Gehenna that Jesus referenced was found south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned. 

When Jesus talked about people being cast into Gehenna, I am confident he was not speaking literally (your body being thrown into a burning garbage dump). However, looking at all the information we have from the Old Testament (and the whole counsel of the Word) we can come to some reasonable conclusions.

It seems clear to me that Jesus was using pictures and symbols to warn of the judgment to come and final punishment (which Traditionalists would agree). His graphic language paints a picture of total destruction, not everlasting torment. This conclusion is confirmed by Jesus' words in Matthew 10:28:

"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna."

And repeated over and over throughout the Scriptures. If you ask I will compile a list and post it. Here is an example from Psalm 73:

"For, behold, whose who are far from You will perishYou have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You."

So the next time you hear about the worm that will not die, hopefully you'll have less confusion - and maybe even some insight to share with others.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hell and the character of God

Interviewer: "Is it important for the average Christian to know what happens in hell, or is this more for theologians?"

Edward Fudge: "It matters for the following reason. I’ll give you two, maybe three reasons.

First of all, it matters because when we say we are teaching the word of God, it is important for us to say what the word of God says. So just like any other subject that we teach on, if we purport to speak for God, we need to be careful and be accurate in what we are representing God as saying.

And the second place, this is particularly important for everybody because this has to do very much with the character of God, and the way people view God’s character. The big question here is that we have to ask ourselves are we supposed to think that the God who loves the world so much that he gave his only son so believers would not perish but have eternal life is going to then turn around and throw billions of them into something resembling a lake of volcanic lava and make it so they cannot die, so they will have to endure this forever. That doesn’t sound like the God that I know and see in Jesus Christ. So I believe the traditional view is a horrible scandal against the character of God himself."

This excerpt comes from a great interview with Mr. Fudge on his views about hell and conditional immortality. I will be posting the transcript under the "Edward William Fudge" column to the right in the future. He is an intellectual man that loves the Lord. He is able to make years of in-depth Bible study understandable and concise.

As for why Christians should know what the BIble says about final punishment, I'd like to add a couple ideas to the ones I heartily agree with above.

Atheists, evangelism and a rant

I have had many conversations with agnostics and atheists alike. The one argument they never fail to bring up is this idea of forever torment in hell for those who decide not to believe in God. Way back when, before I studied the subject in the Bible, I would do my best to defend the doctrine and water it down like everyone does these days. I would say, "God doesn't send anyone to hell - they choose to go there themselves." You know, those kind of cop-out statements.

Another example of this soft-pedaling arrived in my inbox from "Focus on the Family". They wrote: "At its core, hell is about being in a wrong relationship to the Source of all Love, Goodness and Life... As the writer of Hebrews puts it, "Our God is a consuming fire". We can be warmed and comforted, or we can be scorched and burned." Lord Jesus forgive me, but that is the one of the most stupid things I have ever read! I can't tell you how that makes my blood pressure rise.

What you mean is your loving Father will throw multitudes of people into a torturous lake of fire and keep them alive - without end - so that they can suffer and be conscious of their suffering for eternity - while the folks at Focus on the Family live in the eternal comfort and joy of heaven! Warmed and comforted... Scorched and burned! What a joke. They believe in this fiery torment and they can't even say it. They are embarrassed and ashamed of the traditional doctrine of hell - and they should be.

The truth is if they just look at the Bible verses they use to teach others, they will learn the nature of God's wrath and final punishment. "God is a consuming fire." Consuming. He is not a tormenting fire - His Judgment will either refine or consume.
"...Your enemies...Your foes... You will burn them up as in a blazing furnace. The LORD will swallow them up in His wrath, and His fire will consume them..." - Psalm 21:8-9
"His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."  - Matt. 3:12, Luke 3:17 (remember that 'unquenchable' means that no one can put out or resist the fire, it does not mean that the chaff will be burning forever.)
 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned." - Jesus (John 15:6)
"... a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God's enemies."  - Hebrews 10:27
Still, the wrath of God is not a pretty picture. It is heart-breaking and frightening and final. Final = eternal. However, in my opinion it is a far cry from painting our Creator as an everlasting tormentor. Complete destruction of evil and God's enemies lines up with a righteous and just Judge who will not dwell with sin.

I would venture that even the atheists could recognize the justice of the Owner cleaning His own house.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Erasing hell - what a good idea

You may have read the book "Erasing Hell" by Francis Chan and friends. (It had some relevant and basic teaching, but lacked in the most important part of the book: the conclusion. I hope to give a bit of a review on that book in the future). When I talk about erasing hell, however, I mean literally. Erase that misleading, myth-laden word out of every Bible - and the sooner the better. That may sound a bit radical to you but please take some time to explore this English word 'hell' with me - I am convinced you will see my point.

So, after erasing 'hell' from all of our Bibles, what would we put in its place? Well, for starters, how about what the original manuscripts have written?  Hell is shockingly translated (in various Bible versions) from five different words! Transliterated, they are the Hebrew words Sheol and Abaddon, plus the Greek words Hades, Gehenna (from Hebrew origins) and Tartarus. No wonder the confusion over the meaning of hell is so prevalent! I submit that ‘hell’ is an erroneous and distracting translation in any Bible! 

What is hell? The word hell certainly conjures up images and ideas in most of us in western culture. Just think in your own mind what you would answer to the question: "What is hell?" But where did this word come from? Why not just transliterate the Hebrew and Greek words? Using the word ‘hell’ then, becomes very misleading. From the Encyclopedia Britannica, please consider the following:

“The Old English hel belongs to a family of Germanic words meaning “to cover” or “to conceal.” Hel is also the name, in Old Norse, of the Scandinavian queen of the underworld. Many English translations of the Bible use hell as an English equivalent of the Hebrew terms Sheʾōl (or Sheol) and Gehinnom, or Gehenna (Hebrew: gê-hinnōm). The term Hell is also used for the Greek Hades and Tartarus, which have markedly different connotations. As this confusion of terms suggests, the idea of hell has a complex history, reflecting changing attitudes toward death and judgment, sin and salvation, and crime and punishment.”

I don’t see the word or idea of the classic idea of hell in the Old Testament (nor do I see it in any of Paul’s writings, but that is a subject for later). ‘Sheol’ may be written as ‘hell’ in some translations, but the meaning is closer to ‘the grave’, not a place of never-ending torment. In the King James version Sheol is translated 31 times as ‘grave’ and 31 times as ‘hell’. Why the inconsistent translation? What do they hope to stir in people using the word ‘hell’ in selected verses? 

Hades appears 11 times in the New Testament. In the KJV it is printed as ‘hell’ ten of those times. It seems very misleading to translate ‘Hades’ as ‘hell’. When we hear ‘hell’ we think of a place of fiery punishment for the wicked. In the following verse we see it was not meant in that context, “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell [Hades], neither his flesh did see corruption.” (Acts 2:31, KJV) Jesus did not get sent to a place of fiery torture prepared for Satan where His soul could be ‘left’. If I understand, it is saying He was not left in ‘the grave’ – He was not left in death. The first death (physical death) seems to be a state of being that the righteous and wicked alike experience. It can be agony (Psalm 116:3, Acts 2:24, Luke 16:23) or like sleep (John 11:11, 1 Cor. 11:30, 15:51). It is all the more clear when we remember the poignant psalm of David (prophetically applied to Jesus in Acts 2:27): "You will not abandon my soul to Sheol [Hades], nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay." - Psalm 16:10 (see also Ps. 49:15, 89:48. (Yes, this subject needs its own study! We'll address it further in another post.) 

Another example among many from Rev. 20:13 - “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [Hades] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” This is clearly a reference to some temporary state or place of the dead ('the grave') not the fiery final destination of the wicked. And what should be the most confusing verse on hell, Rev. 20:14 – “And death and hell [Hades] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” So, hell was cast into hell? This illustrates how misleading these various translations are. I am citing KJV because it is well-known, but the point is we should know the original word for each translated ‘hell’ wherever we find it. Certainly our understanding of final punishment has been shaped by its haphazard and inconsistent use. (By the way, all the ‘hells’ mentioned in Revelation are the word “Hades” and they are always accompanied by the word ‘death’.)

Is Hades a place of eternal punishment as we look at the whole counsel of God’s word? Clearly it is not. Why is it translated ‘hell’ so often? What does the average person think of when they hear ‘hell’? Should this be considered misleading? At the least, it should be considered. 

Another word in the New Testament that is usually translated ‘hell’ is Gehenna. Jesus and James are the only ones in all the New Testament who use the word Gehenna, and that only twelve times, some being repetitions. It is noteworthy that Paul in all his teaching did not use the word – a word that I believe has come to represent the classic hell that most Christians believe exists. However, James uses it this way, “the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell [Gehenna]”  (James 3:6). The tongue being set on fire by hell does not make sense if this ‘hell’ is a literal place – he certainly doesn’t mean the historic, literal, garbage-burning dump outside Jerusalem! Gehenna seems to be representing something, but I don’t believe that it is our traditional hellfire.

Tartarus (found only once in Scripture, usually translated ‘hell’ in various Bibles) – Greek: tartaroo –‘ the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds. (Thayer’s Lexicon) The verse reads “…God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell [Tartarus] and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…”  (2 Pet. 2:4) For this and every verse, I hope time is taken to read the context. What I understand here is that angels that sinned are being held for a future day of judgment. This place sounds temporary, like Hades (Rev. 20:14).

One thing we do know from Scripture: there is a lake of fire (the second death). From my studies through Scripture, I believe that Gehenna represents the lake of fire. It is also clear that Sheol and Hades are synonymous.  As we move towards a biblical understanding of final punishment, it is crucial to understand these very basic names and what they represent in God's truth. To begin with mistranslation and confusion (imagine - this is our heritage!) is no way to study the Word. Please join me in my boycott of the word 'hell' and take the time to find out what word should actually be used in Bible verses using that translation.  For example, we would state Matthew 16:18 as: "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." and Psalm 86:13: "For Your lovingkindness toward me is great, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol."

Thank you for considering these things, discomforting as they may be. If we stick close to God's word and its plain meaning, we will not be in such danger of straying down the wrong road.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Pondering the unpleasant

Hmmm. A study on hell...  "Friend," you say, "everyone knows about hell - it's in the Bible (and you can't argue with God's word) and the idea has been the same for centuries. Why question our doctrine?" That is certainly a fair question.

Rather than start with how I personally came to question traditional hell (since it is rather offensive and emotional) I will start with some facts. If you would like to read my so-called emotional reasons against the traditional doctrine of hell, read the post under "About me and hell" called "Confession...".

I say 'facts' but I suppose you'll have to take my word for it until you study things out for yourself. I would state the following with confidence:

  • The weight of Scripture does not fall on the side of everlasting torment as a doctrine.
  • The words death, perish, and destruction are not code-words but are actually meant to be used in their plain meanings.
  • Biblical examples of final punishment are always about total destruction.
  • Jesus took our place and paid our price - and that price was punishment and death.
  • Sheol, Abaddon, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus are at some point in various versions translated as 'hell' and that is extremely misleading and confusing (personally, I would add malicious).
  • The idea of the immortal soul (outside of God's gift of eternal life) is not in the Bible.

I could go on, but hopefully you see a pattern of valid biblical reasons to take a second look at our traditional doctrine of hell that purports our Father in heaven chooses to keep millions of human souls 'alive' for the purpose of tormenting them (supposedly in a fiery kind of pain although some modern traditionalists have backed away from that) - and tormenting them forever and ever. And ever.

Another thing to consider is the almost limitless access we (the masses who live among modern conveniences) have to the Holy Scriptures - the Bible. I am directing this blog towards American Christians. When the doctrine of hell was being formed, its birth was directed by the elite religious few - and to me that means accountability was lacking. The 'sheep' were (for quite some time) unable to read the Bible for themselves, even forbidden. So, they trusted their religious leaders to teach them about God. Obviously, there is much to explore concerning the histories of the Scripture and the doctrine of hell and they will be explored in another post. You may be alarmed (you should be alarmed) to discover the origins of the idea of the immortal soul - and therefore eternal suffering.

My point is: We can check out these doctrines ourselves! It is possible to look up the Hebrew and Greek words. It is irresponsible (in my opinion) to put our trust in tradition and the great thinking of men in the past when we can search these things out for ourselves. We also have the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps you have studied - read some books - noticed the verses that support traditional hell, and you're convinced. I still hope you will take another look. Right now you may be looking through a filter that colors how you read Scripture. I think it happens to all of us who have received and trusted Bible teaching through the years - once we swallow the teaching it becomes a part of us. Sadly, there is the danger of false teaching. We do, after all, see through a glass darkly. We need a bright light to illuminate the truth for us - and that light is God's word.

No one wants to realize they've believed the wrong thing - there is pain involved in that. Quite unpleasant and costly.  However, I trust you are like me - we want to walk in the truth. So, no matter how far we've traveled down the wrong road, we must turn back for our sake, the sake of others and the sake of the Gospel.

Please leave a comment. I value any feedback - critical, supportive,
or interrogative (questions)!