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November 26, 2008

Comments

Greg

All I can say is, I hope he is right. We have talked about this before. Either the bible is true or a lie. If there is more than than one way to heaven then that means the bible is a lie.

chris corwin

as i've spoken of before, the "hell" topic was one of the main bones of contention i ended up having with what most evangelical christians consider "orthodox".


i did a big study on it in 2004, and abandoned the idea of hell once i actually got my mind around what the bible actually does and does not say about it.


as i recall from my studies, hell as a concept is virtually absent from the old testament, and there are three greek words used in the new testament that were translated as "hell" in the NIV (the evangelical's translation of choice).

together these three words are used a grand total of fourteen (14) times in the new testament.

all but two of these uses are by jesus himself.

paul never mentions it.

"hell" as christians today think of it didn't really come to be a common christian teaching until nearly 200 AD — no one in jesus audience would have ever thought that you went there forever simply for having the misfortune of being born.


"gehenna" is the most commonly used word for "hell" in the NT, and while it is never "defined" explicitly, what jesus probably meant when he used it what was everyone else at that time meant by it: a place, under the ground, where there was lots of fire, and where the sun got its heat and light from as it traveled under the ground on its trip back to the east, after it had set in the west.

if jesus believed (perhaps because he had some special knowledge from the Father) that hell was not an actual, physical, place which was literally under the ground, he didn't seem to clue his listeners in, and they certainly would have thought this was what he meant when he used the word.

at the time, it was generally believed (jewish or not) that when a person died they went into the afterlife, or hades (hebrew: sheol), where they might face some sort of judgment.

jesus' particularly jewish audience at the time were likely to believe that the pious would get to exchange their ticket to hell for a ticket to paradise, which meant they now had TWO tickets to paradise (every one was born with one of each) and could go there, immediately.

people who had committed adultry or had led their neighbors into wrongdoing had their one paradise ticket taken away and got another ticket to sheol handed to them: no escape.

a common phrase in jewish teaching was that it would have been better to not have been born than to be one of these people.

(christians familiar with their bibles will recognize that phrasing: jesus borrowed it.)


people who had themselves sinned, but had not lead other people to sin had to spend about only about one (1) year in gehenna, and then got to go up to paradise.

note: this is not a biblical teaching, as the bible doesn't actually ever say anything on the subject. i'm just relaying what most people who happened to grow up the descendants of nomadic desert tribes in mesopotamia happen to believe on the subject.


so, that was the belief of MOST of the people who heard jesus say:

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire."


this was RADICAL teaching on this subject.

but did he mean it, literally?

to the people who believed that gehenna was under their ground, and supplied the sun with fire, jesus said that if they are angry with their brother, they are going to go there.

surely he didn't actually mean it, literally, right?


what about when he said: "And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire."

did he mean this literally?

so, then, in which of the three times where we have jesus quoted as talking about gehenna is he speaking literally?

if it isn't those two, it must be this one:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. ... You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?"

other times the NIV says "hell" are:

2 Peter 2:4 — "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;"

here, the word peter uses is "tartarus" — and is generally thought to be a big, dark, essentially bottomless hole.

James 3:6 — "And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell."

the word used here is "gehenna"

Matthew 16:18 — "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

here, the word jesus uses is "hades", rather than "gehenna".

hades was believed in jesus' time to be "the afterlife" — and did not necessarily imply someplace horrible, though it was believed to be rather gloomy, unless you happened to get to some sort of paradise.


so, there you have it: the entire new testament's teaching on "hell" all summed up, with some history on what jesus' contemporaries believed on the subject.


not one time does jesus ever mention being a christian.

not once does jesus lay out specific things one must believe in order to NOT go to hell.

not once does any other new testament writer.


the bible is more or less quiet on the entire matter of hell and who goes there or does not.

of course, this is NOT a view that is embraced 21st century evangelical christian culture, with its particular version of orthodoxy, where the text must be accepted as a whole: either all true or all a lie, right?

so, then, what about anyone who doesn't poke out their own eyeball for enjoying checking out a hot chick?

anyway, when obama says:

"I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and prostelytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell...I find it hard that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell...I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity...That's just not part of my religious make-up."


...i think you'll find its actually a very biblical view.

its almost certainly the one jesus himself held, if we are to go by what we know of history combined with his teachings on the subject.


i liked this one, so i double-posted it:

http://flickerbulb.com/2008/11/26/obama-and-hell-and-christianity-today/

Abby

Fascinating Chris-
Thank you- I plan to study this further as the issue of hell in my mind has never been resolved....

John

Chris, I'd be interested to know what sources you used to come to your definitive conclusions about what the Bible has to say about hell?

chris corwin

the source i used in order to figure out what the bible has to say about hell is: the bible.

i favor the ESV translation for such studies.

if you read it you'll see what it has to say about hell, in english.

you can, then, lookup the greek and hebrew words and trace what those words have meant throughout history.


once you move beyond those sources, you've moved into extra-biblical information, which is not what you've asked about -- but i suspect is what you're really getting at?


early christian writings are pretty widely available.

there are many non-canonical gospels and epistles, as well as writings of people such as polycarp, tertullian, felix and the like.

traditional mesopotanian beliefs are fascinating, and any discussion about what jesus meant by what he said MUST consider that he was a 1st century jew speaking to other 1st century jews — people leaving the bronze age — who were struggling to maintain their "jewishness" under roman occupation.

i especially like the part about the sun and how it goes underground to get re-filled from the fires of gehenna.

if you were interested in looking into such things, i'd start at:

http://letmegooglethatforyou.com/?q=sun+gehenna+fire

chris corwin

also note: it is tempting to try and force-fit many verses that are not about hell into this discussion.

that should not happen, as, those verses are not about hell.

when one already believes such verses ARE about hell, it is nearly impossible to break out of that mindset and come at them fresh.

but if you can divorce yourself from what you THINK the bible says on this subject, and honestly approach the text seeking what it ACTUALLY says, you'll discover that verses about "judgment" and "shall not perish" and "justice" — while certainly important to anyone interested in living according to the bible — do not apply to a discussion of what the bible says about *hell*.

again, because, they don't actually ever mention hell.

at all.

the bible is very loud in its complete silence when it comes to discussing eternal damnation of those who haven't accepted christ.

there's no "there" there.

Eric Page

Gehenna was actually a place. In fact, it still is a place. http://tinyurl.com/6jqd3o It was basically a burning trash facility that was used to dispose of the waste from Jerusalem, which sometimes included bodies. It was also used it ritualistic human sacrifices. Jesus was using this place as a metaphor...the same way that "a fiery furnace" was used other places in the Bible.

I think that the eye-plucking was also a metaphor. And I think there might be a better was of reading it as well. Instead of thinking of it as meaning that if your eye causes you to sin one time that you should pluck it out, think of it as meaning that if your eye causes you to sin...over and over...and you can't get it under control, it's better to only have one eye than to be damned by having two. Makes sense, really. Better to cut off a diseased foot than to let it infect and kill your whole body.

Another reason I think the eye-plucking is a metaphor is kind of obvious. What good would plucking one eye out do if you can still see with the other one? I think Jesus was trying to illustrate how big of a deal that this eternal damnation was going to be. Like losing an eye is small potatoes in comparison.

Maybe I don't need to address this because it might have been hyperbole, but I also don't think that enjoying looking at a hot woman is a sin. No more than enjoying looking at a sculpture or a sunset. It's where that leads that becomes a problem.

As far as Jesus' contemporaries go, these are the same ones that didn't think he was the Son of God and crucified him. Keeping that in mind, it's possible that they weren't on the same page as him with regard to the things he said.

Nate

Chris-

Good comments. I never did much in-depth study of hell. Once it was clear to me that there was no God, it was just as clear that there was no hell.

It makes complete sense to me that the fundamentalist evangelical notions of hell are not found in the words of Jesus of Nazareth. As I’ve said before, Christians are not just followers of Jesus. They are followers of a whole host of teachers, philosophers, and “prophets,” many of whom are not mentioned in the Bible. My most vivid notions of hell are from Dante, which evangelicals would be quick to label as “un-Biblical.” But as you’ve pointed out, Chris, it seems that if we are to restrict ourselves to the words of Jesus and how he would have been understood in the 1st century, the fundamentalist idea of hell evaporates. Dante is a much more interesting source in the history of the Christian imagination when it comes to the eternal damnation of human souls. (Galileo even took Dante seriously. He first made his name in the “scientific” community by giving two lectures on the topography of the Inferno, based on textual evidence and mathematical analysis.)

John

Chris, I didn't actually ask you to elaborate on your sources because I don't know what the sources are on this subject or where to find them. I asked in order to confirm my suspicion about your approach to biblical scholarship and study. Your version of what the Bible says is "the Gospel according to Chris", projected as the true interpretation of Scripture.

The fact is, a serious study of any issue (particularly an issue with as much salvific significance as "hell") requires a depth of inquiry that extends far beyond one's personal opinion and interpretation.

A few years ago, I remember having a conversation with you in Starbucks when this issue came up. You explained that you believed all references to hell in the Bible were simply metaphorical statements by Christ (and others), meant to reveal the supposed power trip being projected over the masses by the religious authories. You did admit that certain parts of the Bible were literal, while others were metaphorical. But when I asked you how you determined the difference between what in the Bible is to be taken literally and what is to be taken metaphorically, you candidly admitted that you didn't know. (Perhaps you have determined that distinction now, I don't know.) But that conversation has always struck me because of the profound implications associated with it, not only as it affected your approach to Bible study, but also how it determined your eventual understanding of key biblical issues.

Your references to issues like "gouging out your eye" over lust, the shellfish issue, and the host of other biblical passages that skeptics quickly latch on to, seem to reveal your approach to "scholarship". The fact is, there are some very difficult passages that Christians have to contend with, but the proper interpretation of what Jesus meant concerning gouging out one's eye is not one of them, IF one is willing to actually do a proper exegesis of such passages.

I say all of this because if your approach to biblical scholarship and interpretation merely concerned minor issues (like whether or not Paul's admonition for women to wear head coverings in church actually applies today, for example), then it could be more readily overlooked. However, when it comes to issues with the eternal gravity of "hell", your approach borders on being irresponsible, in my opinion (and especially when it is presented as fact in a public forum like this where others read it and are affected by it). If, for example, I applied that same approach to issues like natural selection, or made a similarly casual statements like "all atheists are liberal", or "Homosexuals are just sodomites" (statements which I have heard certain ill-informed Christians make), you'd be up in arms over my approach--and rightfully so. (How would the skeptic respond, for example, if my evaluation of evolution only included sources and study from the "Answers in Genesis" folks?)

Obviously, the issue of whether or not hell is real is extremely important. Because if you're right that the reality of hell does not exist, then we all can breathe ALOT easier. But if you're wrong, the consequences are eternally irrevocable (and that matters to those of us, your friends and family, who love and care about you). That's why a responsible approach to studying such issues is a necessity for all of those who genuinely seek an answer to this critical question.

Just as there are proper methods of scientitific study, there are likewise proper methods of biblical study. And such methods are not beyond the capability of the average person, if that person is willing to learn how to do it. It is incumbent then upon anyone who is seeking answers to difficult biblical issues to apply such methods. And I would encourage you (or anyone else) to do so.

Abby

So John what do you recommend? How do we really study the Bible and not people's interpratations of it throughout the years. I feel like some of the smaller issues I have studied are basically twisted by what fundamentalists have wanted them to say. I know there is a right and wrong-it's just hard to find it.....

Eric Page

Hey Abby...what questions do you have about Hell? I'm not really sure that we're all talking about the same thing here. Chris is saying (I think) that Christ never talked about a place called Hell as being a burning, fiery wasteland. Obama seems to be saying that there is no Hell period. When I refer to "Hell" I'm talking about the afterlife judgement for those that reject God. You seems to be intrigued by Chris' analysis on Hell, but I'm just curious if it's an exercise in acedamia or if it's more. There are alot of particulars that I think we all wonder about. Things like will our pets be in Heaven? What will our appearance be? And it's great to be curious. I just know that for me the particulars of Hell aren't all that important. I know that the Bible teaches of an afterlife judgement and that I don't want to be any part of it...regardless of the name. So I guess my question is are you just curious about the specifics of Hell? Or are you wondering if there even is a Hell according to the Bible? I hope you don't mind me putting you on the spot. :)

Resident Atheist

John,

It seems to me that any time someone has done research on their own and come to conclusions you disagree with, then you label them as 'inappropriate' studies / results / findings. I think that is hogwash. It is quite obvious to me that Chris has done his homework on this issue and come to some definitive conclusions (for Chris). If god has set up a system that requires some elaborate study method to interpret things correctly, then he is obviously fallible and not worthy of our reverence.

If someone has done that much research and honestly allowed the opposing viewpoint an opportunity to make its case, then I think those results are always valid. They may not be right, but they are certainly valid.

What's more, I don't think Chris' comments were irresponsible either. Being that they were the results of his personal study made in good faith, I think they were completely appropriate. It is the responsibility of someone else who disagrees with those conclusions to refute them and provide better evidence. He makes a compelling case. Argue the points of the case. Chris has done everything you asked...cordial, thorough, provided references...and you label him irresponsible. I thought you wanted a blog that appreciates comment from other viewpoints?

Abby

Eric-
I don't mind being put on the spot. My biggest questions are does hell really exist like we think it does (like how I was taught growing up- eternal damnation, fiery pit, weeping and nashing of teeth) and are people who aren't "saved" all going there? Like what about my wonderful friends who are mislead by growing up in other faiths, like good people who don't know any better, etc. etc.

John

Abby, I appreciate your question about how one can study the Bible. That's a very important issue and one that I'll offer some further thoughts on in an upcoming post. Stay tuned...

John

RA, I do want a blog that appreciates opposing viewpoints. That has never changed.

My only problem with "big studies" like the one Chris claims to have done is the approach he seems to take with such issues. I'm not saying that Chris hasn't done a "big study" of this issue. He said he has, so I believe him. It just doesn't seem to me (based on personal conversations he's had with me, and the evidence he has presented in certain blog posts here at TDD) that he has thoroughly evaluated the issues in question.

For example, to imply that we are to take literally Christ's admonition in Matthew 5:29 and 18:9 about gouging out the eye that causes you to sin indicates a lack depth in one's study on the issue. Not only does a look at any decent Bible commentary provide the context for the idea in those those verses, but common sense would even lead us to a more reasonable conclusion, as Eric Page alluded to above.

Additionally, the assumption that because one can look through the whole Bible and not see the actual word "trinity" anywhere in its pages means, therefore, that the idea of the trinity is nowhere in the Bible, is simply not true. (There are multiple references to the idea of the trinity throughout Scripture, including when Jesus is baptized in Luke 3:21-22, among others) If one is willing to evaluate this issue thoroughly, it can be done without any back-breaking effort for the average person.

As I said in my comment, it would be a similar situation if I were coming to certain conclusions about evolution after only looking at "Christian" sources on the subject. Yes, I may have done some big study on the subject, but it's incomplete if I've only looked at one side of the subject.

Or, likewise, if I wanted to do a big study on the issue of evolution, for example, I should certainly read Darwin's, Origin of Species. But it would be irresponsible, in my opinion, if my study of evolution were only limited to that one book, irrespective of all of the other scholarship that has been done on the subject.

When studying the Bible, it is imperative that one be able to determine which parts are intended literally and which parts may be metaphorical. And the significant concern about this is when we decide that some part of Scripture is metaphorical, simply because we don't like the conclusions that would result if it were actually literal. Many people do this with the idea of "hell".

Can we use the Bible to understand the Bible? We'd better do that. But first of all, we have to be responsible in how we approach Bible study--taking all related Scripture passages into account as we glean a better understanding of the issue. And secondly, studying a theological issue should not be limited only to study of the Bible itself. There are a number of very competent Bible scholars (from across the theological spectrum) who have spent a lifetime of study on different aspects of the Bible--providing historical context, an indepth study of the original languages, cultural implications, etc.... They have provided the results of their study in the form of books, commentaries, and other resources that the average person can use to get a more well-rounded understanding of any issue. We would do well to evaluate the issue from all sides and determine which representations make the most sense logically and theologically.

My concern here is not that Chris (or anyone) presents issues that I disagree with. If that were the case, this blog would have been shut down a long time ago. It's that simply because someone says they've done a big study on a subject, the others in this community may assume that they've done a thorough study of the subject (and there's a difference between those two kinds of study). And for those who haven't done a similar study, that's an understandable assumption to make.

RA, you have concluded, "It is quite obvious to me that Chris has done his homework on this issue..." And that is why this whole comment thread matters to me. Because (and I'm presuming here, so please correct me if I'm wrong) it's quite possible that you haven't done a study yourself on this critical issue, and I would be very hesitant for you to come to the wrong the conclusion. Not that Chris' assessment is necessarily the wrong one. But it's certainly possible that it could be. Either hell is a reality, or it isn't. Logic does not allow for other alternatives. But I can tell you from my time getting my master's at a top theological graduate school (studying under very competent professors who actually were a part of the group of scholars who put together some of the modern translations of the Bible) that there is much more to the idea of "hell" than what Chris has presented here.

You're right, I may have overstated my criticism of Chris in the sense that if he has determined the answer as being definitive for him, than his conclusions are justified, for him. (And if so, I do apologize here for that overstatement.) But when those conclusions are presented in a definitive manner which is attempting to influence those of this TDD community who haven't done similar studies, that is of real concern to me--particularly because of the implications of this particular topic. Chris wrote, "i abandoned the idea of hell...once i actually got my mind around what the bible actually does and does not say about it." When someone personally admits to me that they haven't determined how to distinguish between what the Bible intends to be taken literally and what it intends to be taken figuratively, this would seem to challenge the validity of their conclusions concerning certain theological issues.

Clearly, this issue needs further attention on the blog, I will be putting something together for us all to consider (though I can't guarantee how soon I can post it given the chaos of the holiday travel coming up). I just hope that, no matter the issue, we all attempt to do the kind of study which provides a comprehensive evaluation of whatever issue is under our consideration.

Nate

John-

I have to tell ya, I have the same impression that RA has. It seems to me that Chris has represented his study well enough, and your response has not been to address the substance but to undermine his credibility for putting his comment on your blog. Like RA said, he provided plenty of examples and well reasoned conclusions, and I don’t think we’ve seen a serious attempt by anyone to defend the fundamentalist idea of hell.

It also seems to me that, although you have created this great forum for people from all perspectives to express their knowledge and opinions, there are some issues where fear becomes the overriding concern. You appear to be saying that it’s too dangerous for someone like Chris to say what he’s saying because…what if he’s wrong. What if he’s wrong and what if one of your Christian readers is actually swayed by him. Well, I sympathize with the concern (being a former Christian), but it undermines any claim of objectivity you are aspiring to. The truth is no longer what you’re shooting for. You’re trying to shield your fundamentalist readers from the danger of “liberal” ideas rather than presenting your position in a way that makes its verity clear to us.

Also, I fail to see how Chris’s trouble with determining how and when to take the Bible literally and when to take it figuratively disqualifies him from presenting his views. It’s a difficult question and requires *careful study and thought* to do it responsibly. What you seem to be suggesting to your Christian readers is that one should find the right fundamentalist commentator and trust him or her because…they tell us what you’re already expecting? As RA said, that’s hogwash. Your condemnation of the Jesus Seminar people (sight unseen?) undercuts your concern about historical context, because if you want a first class understanding of the Jews in the ancient world then those are the scholars to read. In my mind, your dismissal of “liberal” or “secular” scholarship makes it less likely that I will take what you say about the Bible seriously. [Of course, that’s what I accused you of doing with Chris in my first paragraph. It would be hypocritical of me if I allowed that to dominate my perspective.] From what’s been written so far, Chris offers your readers a much broader and more credible view precisely because he’s read the Jesus Seminar folks as well as the fundamentalists.

John, I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with Christians who are up in arms about *The God Delusion* and haven’t even read the book! I hope that you would count it as a success if one or more of your Christian readers would be inspired by these conversations to actually go out and *read* Dawkins or John Dominic Crossan. Isn’t that something you think is positive, a more intellectually informed Christian community?

John

Nate, your comment at the end is precisely my point. I agree with you concerning "The God Delusion" or any other "anti-Christian" book. Too many Christians are quick to draw conclusions about such books without ever having really looked into them. And that is a good example of the kind of irresponsible approach that many Christians take where the non-Christian perspectives are concerned. (That needs to change.)

But the same can be said concerning those on other side as well. I've had a number of conversations with skeptics, for example, who are quick to dismiss various aspects of the Bible without ever having actually taken a deeper look into the issue for themselves. And that's where my concern comes in. Where Chris' scholarship is concerned, I asked for sources that he has used to draw his conclusions, but I haven't heard him acknowledge any sources other than those which confirm his naturally liberal inclination on issues like hell. There is very sound scholarship out there that provides an alternative evaluation of this critical subject, and as I attempted to articulate to RA (though not successfully it seems), I'm simply suggesting that such scholarship is worth one's thoughtful consideration if one is going to try to determine some kind of conclusion on an issue.

For people, even as you admitted above, who haven't done serious study of this issue of "hell", we would all do well to weigh both sides of the issues under the same microscope of scrutiny. That's my basic point.

Where the issue of literal versus metaphorical understanding of the Bible is concerned, I think you are reading more into my assessment than is there. You wrote, "What you seem to be suggesting to your Christian readers is that one should find the right fundamentalist commentator and trust him or her..." That is an assumption that I never made, Nate. I simply pointed out, as you did, that while determining what is figurative and what is literal is "a difficult question and requires *careful study and thought* to do it responsibly", it is a *very* significant question to answer if one is going to study and understand the Bible's message. And this is especially true if someone is suggesting that he/she has effectively determined "what the bible actually does and does not say" about a particular subject. That Chris has acknowledged his struggle to determine that distinction in no way "disqualifies him from presenting his views". But if I were he, I'd certainly be presenting those views with more qualification and without the assumption that I had determined what the Bible actually has to say or not say about the subject. And in that sense, I was simply saying that not being able to determine the difference between the two would present some very significant challenges to concluding that all references to hell are metaphorical.

For the record, I don't dismiss liberal or secular scholarship. But I do have a problem if that is the only scholarship this is used to make one's case (as I tried to analogize concerning a one-sided study of evolution). As I explained above, a person should evaluate theological issues by considering the scholarship of people from across the theological spectrum. For example, if someone is looking into a better understanding of Jews in the first century, then they should certainly see what the Jesus Seminar folks have to say on the subject. But those are not the only scholars to read. I would also encourage a reading of what F.F. Bruce has to say, along with a whole host of other respected scholars who provide alternative perspectives on such subjects. That way, when a theological topic is presented on an open forum like this, there is the option of being able to evaluate the issue from all sides, rather than simply the one side presented. I would assume, like you have suggested, that that is the approach we all would value where controversial issues are concerned.

My concerns about this whole idea do not stem from a fear that somehow Christians will be swayed by what Chris or other skeptics have to say. Maybe they will, but as I and others tried to explain to the administration during my time in graduate school, we should always be willing to present and debate with the opposing sides of any argument. I believe, and have always believed, that at the end of the day, Christianity will either rise or fall on its own merits. (And though you and the other skeptics here would presumably disagree with me, I believe it will stand in the end. I tend to agree with G.K. Chesterton's assessment, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.") My concern is the natural inclination to lean too heavily on the study of others (myself included) without properly evaluating the subject ourselves.

Finally, I have never claimed to be completely unbiased in the promotion of this blog. If I were, I would have written my "About" section much differently. But then again, who among us is completely unbiased? And that's why the presentation and evaluation of both sides to an issue is so important, in order to attempt to compensate for that understood bias.

Those of you who don't share my theological perspective are certainly invited to criticize me. That's the nature of any spirited blog conversation. And I would welcome it, because, first of all, I have room to learn and grow myself in so many areas. And secondly, because such discussions are ultimately helpful to all of us I believe (as long as we don't allow them to descend into the kind of uncivil exchanges which define so many other blogs). I would simply challenge you who disagree with me to apply the same level of thoughtful criticism to all parties presenting their case, including those who may present a case toward which you may be more naturally inclined.

Tim

One of the challenges I've found in studying subjects contained in the Bible is that there are often a variety of expressions/words used to refer to the same subject. Hell is a great example. As Chris points out, there are several Greek words in the New Testament translated "hell" in some translations. However, some of them, like Hades, simply refer to the place of the unbelieving dead and not to their final destination. The final destination, hell, is referred to in Revelation 20 as the place where those in Hades will be cast at the time of the great white throne judgment at the end of human history. Verse 11ff., "Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it... And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened...death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them... then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire...If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

But there are also references to hell as the place of "eternal punishment", "condemnation", "eternal death", "weeping and gnashing of teeth" [common idom for extreme personal inner pain and regret], "darkness", and others that also give us a picture of the nature of hell. Many Biblical scholars have pointed out that Jesus said more about hell than heaven.

In the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, church historian Dr. James Orr, professor at the University of Edinburg, Scotland, wrote these words:
"Jesus says more about hell than any other biblical figure. His warnings of the eschatological judgment are liberally colored with the imagery of hell (Matt 5:22; 7:19; 8:12; par. Luke 13:28-30; Matt 10:15, 28; 11:22, 24; 18:8-9; par. Mark 9:43-49; Luke 17:26-29; John 15:6). He portrays this future judgment through pictures of Sodom's destruction (Luke 17:29-30): fire, burning sulfur, and a fiery furnace (Gen 19:24-25). These images of God's judgment were well established in the Old Testament and intertestamental literature. Important portrayals of hell are also present in Jesus' parables, including the tares (Matt 13:40-42), the net (Matt 13:50); the great supper (Matt 22:13), the good servant and the wicked servant (Matt 24:51; par. Luke 12:46-47), the talents (Matt 25:30), and the last judgment (Matt 25:46). Here "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 13:50; 24:51; 25:30) and "darkness" (Matt 22:13; 25:30) are key descriptive phrases."

So, Chris, I'm puzzled by your conclusion - "the bible is more or less quiet on the entire matter of hell and who goes there or does not."

Regarding the unrighteous unbelievers who have died, the account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is instructive- "there was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table... The time came when the beggar died... the rich man also died... In hell [hades- the place of the unbelieving dead], where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham, with Lazarus by his side... I beg you, father [Abraham], send Lazarus to my ... five brothers, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." Is that not clear?

Also, the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:41 are illustrative of what He said, "Depart from me; you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. etc. [referring in the broader context to that fact that they had not served Jesus Christ specifically by serving His people]...then they will go away to eternal punishment [= hell]."

So, I have to still hold that the Bible is clear about hell in spite of human reservations about it. President-elect Obama's unbelief on this matter reveals either a serious deficiency in his spiritual training or is evidence that he has bought into the common tendency today to construct his own version of theology. In doing so, his beliefs have become Obama-ology [= word from Obama] rather than Theo[greek word for God]logy [words from God].

Abby

Thank you Tim- I am going to print this out and read those verses and study this issue as I think if it is true it is very important.

Eric Page

I don't think there's anything wrong with John's questions about Chris' research. If he is being accused of simply dismissing research that draws conclusions that are different from his, the same criteria would have to be applied to those that accepted Chris' view simply because they agree with it.

Nate, you said in a previous post that you didn't do much research on Hell, yet you accept and praise Chris' post.

RA, you encouraged John to "argue the point", yet you go against your own advice by not arguing the point! Also, you decry a god that would require "elaborate study methods", and in the same post praise Chris for his.

I'm still unclear if Chris was really saying that there is no afterlife judgement, or if he's just saying that the real thing is physically different than what most people envision. If he's saying that the Bible is clear that there is no afterlife judgement, I think that Tim's post cleared that up. If he's saying that it's not going to be like most people think, I'm not even sure if that makes a difference. Eternal damnation isn't good regardless of the specifics.

Resident Atheist

Eric,

I'm not sure what other points you would like me to address. John argued that Chris' opinions were invalid due to his study method rather than providing refuting evidence as Tim did (which is what I expected from John, by the way). I countered his point, as that was the purpose of my post. I intentionally made no mention of biblical references to hell, as I have little opinion, knowledge, or interest in that topic. I found John’s argument unfair and wanted to address it.

As for study, I'm a firm believer in it. However, you miss a key distinction between what I said about a god and about Chris. To my knowledge, Chris has made no claims to be omnipotent or determine the outcome of our souls. I suggest that a diety who has set up an elaborate game of Three Card Monte to determine our immortal fates is not particularly high on my list of favorite beings. I think a good bible would look something like IKEA instructions - all pictures, color coded, numbered and ordered steps with a list of requisite tools – understandable to a retarded chimp.

My point is that I appreciate study when it is required, but that it should not be required here. I see no discontinuity between those opinions.

Nate

John-

I see what you’re getting at and I agree with most of what you wrote. Your overall point is that we should use various and sundry sources in our study of any subject. Fine. What RA and I are trying to help you realize is a pattern of directing your criticism at a person (a sort of *ad hominem* argument) who draws a different conclusion than you instead of directing your criticism at the substance of the issue.

Of course, when someone is asked what sources they are using to back up a statement they are going to give you the sources *that actually contain the statement in contention*! You are assuming that the absence of any author or text in Chris’s list of sources is proof that Chris has never read any of the sources that you would like him to read. Things are going to get pretty tedious around here if we have to list every book we’ve read on any subject in order to satisfy some quota of ‘responsible scholarship’ before saying our piece. If Chris provides his sources, one of them being the Bible itself, it is incumbent upon anyone who disagrees with his conclusions to provide a different analysis of the texts. Tim has done an excellent job of this.

I don’t mean to go back and forth with you about this, John. Like I said, I agree with your ideal of how we should approach our investigations of any subject. I look forward to what you have to say about the idea of hell and the Bible.

Tim-

I was waiting for someone to bring up Revelation. As I see it, that is probably the dividing line between the Jewish ideas of hell and the Christian. The problem I have with Christian scholarship that supports dogmatic classical theology is the assumption that the Bible is a monolith. The Bible is presented to believers as if God was the final editor who placed every chapter and verse in the order he intended, with no more and no less than what is ‘necessary’.

The reason I can still read the words of Jesus and still feel a sort of reverence and awe is that I believe he was a historical figure whose doctrines are an ideal of humanity which we have yet to achieve. Revelation, I would suggest, has very little to do with what Jesus said, thought, or did.

I will say that ‘liberal’ scholars of the New Testament have a problem of their own, and it’s similar to the Socratic problem. Socrates was another ancient teacher who never wrote anything down. Most of what we know about his life comes from the dialogues of Plato (and Xenophon). The problem is that scholars have tried for centuries to distinguish what Socrates thought from what Plato thought, since the only texts of Plato’s philosophy we have today are dialogues in which Socrates is usually the protagonist. This is impossible to do, in my opinion. We have to make too many assumptions about what Socrates would have said if he were writing for himself and what Plato is making him say as a surrogate for Platonic philosophy.

The New Testament scholars who think that we can decide which words in the New Testament were spoken by Jesus and which were added by others are relying on assumptions that are at least questionable.

Eric-

I hope my response to John helps you understand why I’ve taken issue with his approach. Like I said, Tim has done an excellent job of addressing the issue. *Ad substantia* (I just made that up) and not *ad hominem*.

chris corwin

> For example, to imply that we are to take literally
> Christ's admonition in Matthew 5:29 and 18:9
> about gouging out the eye that causes you to sin
> indicates a lack depth in one's study on the issue.


not only did i not imply that you are to take it litterally, i explicitly said the opposite, and will do so again: it is not to be taken literally.

jesus did not mean it literally and it would be folly to think so.

a more reasonable conclusion is that he did not mean it literally, and so he must have meant it in some other way.

as you mentioned, i believe that way is hyperbolically.

the pharisees had been using "hell talk" to inspire the people to be more pious, and thus god would finally throw off the yolk of roman oppression.

jesus took their words and turned it back at them.

sort of like when we say: "oh, go jump in a lake", or "go to hell"

we don't mean to go jump in an actual lake, and we don't mean to die and go to a hell.

we use it hyperbolically, and that's what jesus was doing.


> Not only does a look at any decent Bible commentary
> provide the context for the idea in those those verses

you are aware that i know this, and studied many as i looked into this.

in fact, i said as much.

i think you have ignored the fact that i *really do* know what i'm talking about on this issue because you dislike my conclusions by dismissing my *method* of study, which was sound.

i am also not alone in this, as you are no doubt aware.

there are evangelical thinkers of note who have gone on record as arriving at similar conclusions to what i did.

why does this frighten you so much?

chris corwin

> So, Chris, I'm puzzled by your conclusion - "the
> bible is more or less quiet on the entire matter
> of hell and who goes there or does not."

i mentioned these types of verses earlier up, pointing out that it is tempting to draw them into a discussion of hell, but ultimately inappropriate.

these types of verses are not about hell — they are about whatever it is they mention, unless there is a compelling reason to believe they are about a fiery eternal punishment for those who do not accept jesus christ as their personal saviour.

i welcome anyone to show such a verse.

if one approaches the text already believing such verses are about such a "place", then it is hard to see how they could not be: i know, this is exactly where i was theologically when i started my study on hell.

but if one comes to the text with a "blank slate", with no such assumption of "hell" in mind....

well, they simply don't fit the puzzle.


@john

as to sources: unfortunately, i lost all of my notes on this subject (and every other subject) when i had a catastrophic hard drive crash in 2006

i no longer have a list of the books, bibles, magazine articles, essays, websites, commentaries, encyclopedia articles, podcasts, sermons or conversations that lead to my conclusions.


one thing i did was go through the new testament (yes, all of it) and make a spreadsheet of every verse that talks about punishment, hell, god's anger, or any punishment, heaven, paradise or any reward and make a note of five things:

passage
context
behavior in question
consequence of behavior
"the point"

i was startled at my findings.

for anyone who wants to do this, there are, as i recall, about sixty-ish verses in question here.

John

RA, I'm not entirely sure where you've picked up the idea that studying the Bible is so difficult. If I've perpetuated that somehow, than I retract that implication. (Of course, nothing compares to studying for any of Mr. Lind's physics classes, which you seemed to handle pretty well--much, much better than I did, as I recall. :) The key to Bible study is actually related to Nate's observations about "The God Delusion". One must actually read the Bible in its entirety and evaluate various passages in light of the whole, rather than the hunt-and-peck proof-texting that many people tend to do (including Christians).

Nate, thanks for continuing to try to understand where I was coming from there. After much further reflection, I can see how my approach toward Chris' study on this issue of hell has an "ad hominem" flavor to it. That certainly is not my intent, and if it appears that I have somehow attacked Chris' character, I apologize to him, you, and RA (and any others who may have been adversely affected by that approach).

That was not my intent. My intent simply was to challenge some of the sources he has relied on (including the Jesus Seminar folks--whose approach to biblical scholarship essentially marginalized them within reputed scholarly circles some time ago). Also, it is the presumptive, prescriptive quality of the stated conclusions which is of some concern, particularly if the issue of metaphorical vs. literal interpretation of Bible passages has not been resolved. For example, as he wrote above, "so, there you have it: the entire new testament's teaching on "hell" all summed up, with some history on what jesus' contemporaries believed on the subject." As I've tried to articulate above, my concern has to do with those many TDD readers who haven't done a similar study (both the Christians and you skeptics), but have become more reliant on the study of others for issues like "hell" in order to draw your own conclusions. Given that concern, frankly, I am also somewhat reluctant to present my own study of the issue, because it has the tendency to foster this very thing that I am speaking out against--the tendency we all have to rely too heavily on the ideas of others, rather than doing the grunt work ourselves. Aaah well, I'll get 'er done anyway (once I can unpack my study materials from the wall of boxes still sitting in my garage from when I packed up my office at the church before Oxford).

Chris, I still stand by what I've said, though as I said above, if you feel like somehow my critique of your scholarship has bled over into a comment on your character, I sincerely do apologize.

After reading your most recent comments I recognize that there are some things which perhaps need further clarification. In reflecting on the "eye gouging" portion, I can see where I have misinterpreted your interpretation of that passage. Sorry about that. I would challenge your assumption, however, that because the first part of what Jesus said may be metaphorical, everything else included in the statement then is also metaphorical. For example, you wrote out the following verse, "And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire." You implied that essentially because Jesus was using the "eye gouging" idea metaphorically, then that likewise, made His statements about "the hell of fire" equally metaphorical. That is not necessarily be the case.

Further, you wrote, "not one time does jesus ever mention being a christian...not once does jesus lay out specific things one must believe in order to NOT go to hell." This line of reasoning is like suggesting that because Jesus never said anything specifically about whether a Christian should indulge in internet pornography, then there are no principles which would help apply biblical truth to a modern context. (In another realm, it's almost like suggesting that because Charles Darwin never mentioned the implications of evolution on modern jurisprudence, then those who promote evolutionary theory today have no means of determining how the theory of evolution might effect the law today.) The fact is, Jesus does make some pretty clear statements about the criteria necessary for going to heaven, and therefore, not going to hell. As you know, Matthew 25:31-46 spells out some of those parameters in terms how how we are to treat the less fortunate, combined with His very clear statements in John 14:6 that He is the only way to heaven (a statement further confirmed by the apostles Peter and John in Acts 4:12, as well as, from the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 5:9). As you suggested to me, it might be possible that you would come to such a conclusion not because the answers aren't there, but for other reasons perhaps.

In general, I've struggled with your presentation of how you approach your study. You have reiterated repeatedly here and on other posts this underlying assumption you have that the the biases of those of us in the "21st century evangelical Christian circles" prevent us from being able to evaluate the issues properly. Given your conclusion, then apparently, any information which comes from such sources (or from what others here have termed "fundamentalist" sources) is worthy of being discredited. Further, you implied that unlike those on the other side of the issue, you apparently were/are able to approach this issue with a "blank slate". That may be true, but I find it highly unlikely that your own biases are not having an impact on how you would approach a subject, any more than my obvious biases would approach how I might approach a subject. You seem quick to point out the biases of those with whom you disagree on a number of subjects (theological, political, etc.) while simultaneously projecting a confident assumption that you are not afflicted with the same predisposition. As I've stated above, none of us is without bias. The important thing is that we acknowledge our bias and attempt to counter for it when we try to get to the truth on any subject.

Finally, you asked me, "why does this [your interpretation of hell] frighten you so much?" If I may be candid, what "frightens" me is not that you may be right; it's that it is quite possible that you may actually be wrong about the reality of hell. The truth is, none of us reading this blog knows with absolute certainty one way or the other. But it's also true that I have nothing to lose if you're right--no hell, life's good, right? But if you're wrong, there are irrevocable consequences. The fact is, we may get sideways from time to time on this blog, but I care about you too much as a friend to react with less zeal.

That is, after all, the ultimate reason I even started this blog. It wasn't just to blow hot air or hear myself think aloud (though some of you might think so--shame on you :). It was to try to raise issues of worldview and faith, because of the profound implications associated with such issues. It is that underlying motivation which is why this issue of hell (and the related issues in this conversation) will not go quietly into the night.

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