Category Archives: Wrath of God

Prop it for what?

Waves of Affliction


By Spencer D Gear

Who’s propping it up?

This is a pointer to a theological term that is not on the top of the seeker-sensitive theological hit parade. It’s out of favour even among some evangelicals. It has caused considerable controversy in theological circles.

Dr Gary Long introduced the controversy reasonably well:

 In discussing the design or extent of the atonement, there are three key doctrinal terms which are related to the priestly sacrifice of Christ on earth, that is, to the finished work of Christ. These terms are redemption, propitiation and reconciliation. Evangelical Arminians and Calvinistic “four point” universalists or modified Calvinists hold that there is a universal design of the atonement which provides salvation for all mankind without exception or which places all of Adam’s posterity in a savable state. They contend that there is a twofold application of these three doctrinal terms — an actual application for those who believe, a provisional application for those who die in unbelief. The historic “five point” or consistent Calvinist2 asserts that these terms have no substitutionary reference with respect to the non-elect. In contrast to the former who hold to an indefinite atonement, the consistent Calvinist, who holds to a definite atonement, sees no purpose, benefit or comfort in a redemption that does not redeem, a propitiation that does not propitiate or a reconciliation that does not reconcile, which would be the case if these terms were applicable to the non-elect (Propitiation in 1 John 2:2’).

First John 2:1-2 reads in the ESV,

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

In 1 John 2:2, the Greek noun used that the ESV translates as ‘propitiation’ is hilasmos, which the NIV translates as ‘atoning sacrifice’. There has been much debate among Greek scholars as to the meaning of the noun form which is found in one other place in the NT and that’s in 1 John 4:10. The verbal form is in a few other verses.

What’s the meaning of ‘propitiation’ in 1 John 2:2?

I’m relying on I Howard Marshall’s commentary summary of the controversy (Marshall 1978:117-120).
Here are some of the issues with this word:
1.  When it is used outside of the Bible, it conveys the meaning of ‘an offering made by a man in order to placate the wrath of a god whom he has offended. It was a means of turning the god from wrath to favorable attitude’ (Marshall 1978:117).
2.  However, in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT) – the LXX – the meaning has been debated. Westcott and Dodd argued that in the OT, ‘the scriptural conception … is not that of appeasing one who is angry, with a personal feeling, against the offender; but of altering the character of that which from without occasions a necessary alienation, and interposes an inevitable obstacle to fellowship’ (in Marshall 1978:117). Therefore, they concluded that
3.  In secular sources, the word means ‘propitiation’ (placating an offended person), but in the Bible it means ‘expiation’ (a means of neutralising and cancelling sin (Marshall 1978:117). However, neither of these words is in common use in the English language so modern translations offer a paraphrase. The NIV and NRSV use, ‘atoning sacrifice’, which tries to combine two ideas: an atonement for sin and an offering to God (a sacrifice). The TEV used ‘the means by which our sins are forgiven’ while the NEB used ‘the remedy for the defilement of our sins’, the latter seeming to be closer to the meaning of expiation (Marshall 1978:117-118). The ESV, NKJV and NASB retain ‘propitiation’.
4.  L Morris and D Hill objected to the Westcott and Dodd interpretation and showed that in the OT ‘the idea of placating the wrath of God or some other injured party is often present when the word-group in question is used…. The meaning in the present passage would then be that Jesus propitiates God with respect to our sins [the Greek preposition peri]. There can be no real doubt that this is the meaning’ (Marshall 1978:118).
5.  In 1 John 2:1, the thought of Jesus as our advocate [NIV: ‘One who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One’] is of one who is pleading the cause of the guilty sinners before a judge in order to obtain pardon for ‘acknowledged guilt’. ‘In order that forgiveness may be granted, there is an action in respect of the sins which has the effect of rendering God favorable to the sinner. We may, if we wish, say that the sins are cancelled out by the action in question. This means that the one action has the double effect of expiating the sin and thereby propitiating God. These two aspects of the action belong together, and a good translation will attempt to convey them both’ (Marshall 1978:118).
6.  How does one find an English word that combines expiation and propitiation? ‘Atoning sacrifice’ is an attempt but I find that it de-emphasises the propitiation too much. I can’t see a way around this except for a preacher to make sure he/she explains 1 John 2:1-2 together and that needs to include both the advocate and the propitiation. A ‘propitiatory advocate’ could be a way around that, but the English language is too clumsy to put it that way as many people don’t understand the meaning of ‘propitiatory’ as it is not used in contemporary English in my part of the world.

Some other views on the meaning of propitiation

clip_image002 1. Leon Morris refers to hilasmos related words in Rom 3:25, Heb 2:17 and 1 John 2:2; 4:10. His exegesis of the word indicates that it means,

the turning away of wrath by an offering…. Outside the Bible the word group to which the Greek words belong unquestionably has the significance of averting wrath…. Neither [C H] Dodd nor others who argue for “expiation” seem to give sufficient attention to the biblical teaching….

The words of the hilaskomai group do not denote simple forgiveness or cancellation of sin which includes the turning away of God’s wrath (e.g. Lam. 3:42-43)….

The whole of the argument of the opening part of Romans is that all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, are sinners, and that they come under the wrath and condemnation of God. When Paul turns to salvation, he thinks of Christ’s death as hilasterion (Rom 3:25), a means of removing the divine wrath. The paradox of the OT is repeated in the NT that God himself provides the means of removing his own wrath. The love of the Father is shown in that he “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10)….

The consistent Bible view is that the sin of man has incurred the wrath of God. That wrath is averted only by Christ’s atoning offering. From this standpoint his saving work is properly called propitiation (Morris 1984:888).

clip_image002[1] 2. Henry Thiessen wrote that

the New Testament represents Christ’s death as appeasing God’s wrath. Paul says, God set Him forth as a “propitiatory” (sacrifice) (Rom. 3:25); and Hebrews represents the mercy seat in the tabernacle and temple of the “propitiatory (place) (9:5). John declared that Christ is the “propitiation” for our sins (1 John 2:2:4:10); and Hebrews declares that Christ “propitiates” the sins of the people (2:17) (Thiessen 1949:326)

Thiessen quotes W G T Shedd in support of this view – based on the Old Testament:

The connection of ideas in the Greek translation appears therefore to be this: By the suffering of the sinner’s atoning substitute, the divine wrath at sin is propitiated, and as a consequence of this propitiation the punishment due to sin is released, or not inflicted upon the transgressor. This release or non-infliction of penalty is ‘forgiveness’ in the biblical representation (Shedd II:391, in Thiessen 1949:326).

clip_image002[2] 3. Wayne Grudem:

Romans 3:23 tells us that God put forward Christ as a “propitiation” (NASB) a word that means “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath to favor.” Paul tells us that “That this was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25-26). God had not simply forgiven sin and forgotten about the punishment in generations past. He had forgiven sins and stored up his righteous anger against those sins. But at the cross the fury of all that stored-up wrath against sin was unleashed against God’s own Son.

Many theologians outside the evangelical world have strongly objected to the idea that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin.[1] Their basic assumption is that since God is a God of love, it would be inconsistent with his character to show wrath against the human beings he has created and for whom he is a loving Father. But evangelical scholars have convincingly argued that the idea of the wrath of God is solidly rooted in both the Old and New Testaments: “the whole of the argument of the opening part of Romans is that all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, are sinners, and that they come under the wrath and the condemnation of God.”

Three other crucial passages in the New Testament refer to Jesus’ death as a “propitiation”: Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; and 4:10. The Greek terms (the verb hilaskomai, “to make propitiation” and the noun hilasmos, “a sacrifice of propitiation”) used in these passages have the sense of “a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God – and thereby makes God propitious (or favorable) toward us.” This is the consistent meaning of these words outside of the Bible where they were well understood in reference to pagan Greek religions. These verses simply mean that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin.

It is important to insist on this fact, because it is the heart of the doctrine of the atonement. It means that there is an eternal, unchangeable requirement in the holiness and justice of God that sin be paid for. Furthermore, before the atonement ever could have an effect on our subjective consciousness, it first had an effect on God and his relation to the sinners he planned to redeem. Apart from this central truth, the death of Christ really cannot be adequately understood (Grudem 1994:575).

I hope this helps to clarify the fact that both Old and New Testaments affirm the necessity of a blood sacrifice to appease the wrath of God. Jesus’ death was that propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). However, that propitiation is only potential until a person chooses to believe in Jesus to receive God’s propitiation.

This free will choice (human responsibility) in salvation is only possible because God provides prevenient grace to all people, enable them to respond in faith when the Gospel is proclaimed to them. Salvation (repentance and faith) is available only because God takes the initiative.

Works consulted

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

Marshall, I H 1978. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Epistles of John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Morris, L 1984. Propitiation. In W A Elwell (ed), Evangelical dictionary of theology, 88. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


[1] Grudem’s footnote was: ‘See the detailed linguistic argument of C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1935), pp. 82-95. Dodd argues that the idea of propitiation was common in pagan religions but foreign to the thought of Old Testament and New Testament writers (Grudem 1994:575, n. 11).
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

God’s hate: Isn’t that obnoxious?

Hate Pride     God is Love

    ChristArt                                                 ChristArt

By Spencer D Gear

Surely the God of love would not be so loathsome that he would demonstrate hate towards anyone?

Yet we have these statements about God:

checkerboard-arrow-small  ‘And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory”’ (Isaiah 6:3 NIV).

checkerboard-arrow-small ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8 NIV, emphasis added).

checkerboard-arrow-small ‘But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts’ (Isaiah 5:16 NIV).

But there is another side to God’s actions:

snowflake-red-smallThere are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him’ (Proverbs 6:16 NIV, emphasis added).

snowflake-red-small ‘Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”’ (Rom 9:13 NIV).[1]

snowflake-red-small ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (Romans 1:18 NIV).

snowflake-red-small ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life’ (Matthew 25:46 NIV).

How is it that the God, whose essence is holiness, love and righteousness/justice, can hate, be angry, and send people to eternal punishment? Norman Geisler provides this helpful insight:

God is not only merciful to the repentant, but He is also wrathful upon the unrepentant. These actions are not incompatible, since they are exercised on different objects.

The definition of God’s wrath

A number of Hebrew words are translated as ‘wrath.’ Charown (Ex. 15:7) means ‘burning anger,’ ‘fury.’ Aph (Ex. 22:24) means ‘ire,’ ‘wrath.’ Ebrah (Num. 11:33) depicts outbursts of passion, anger, or rage. Chemah (Ps. 59:13) literally means ‘heat’ and, figuratively, ‘anger.’ Qetreph (2 Chron. 19:2) speaks of a rage.

The New Testament word for ‘wrath’ is orge. It carries the meaning of ‘strong desire,’ ‘violent passion,’ and ‘ire’ (see Eph. 2:3; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 5:9; Rev. 6:16). As applied to God, wrath means His anger at and hatred of sin, His righteous indignation at all evil, and His jealous execution of judgment on unrighteousness. However, wrath, while rooted in God’s essential nature as just, is not an attribute, but an act that flows from His unchanging righteousness (Geisler2003:396-397).

The answer is fundamental: The God whose essential essence is holiness, love and righteousness, cannot tolerate sin in his presence. To those who repent, God demonstrates his mercy. But for those who are unrepentant, they can expect God’s wrath as a manifestation of his hatred of sin.

God’s wrath is a manifestation of his essence of holiness and righteousness/justice. ‘Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you’ (Psalm 89:14 NIV).

God’s wrath against evil has its foundation in His essence/nature of unchanging righteousness. So the wrath or hatred of God against sin is not God’s essential nature but flows from God’s immutable (unchanging) righteousness.

C S Lewis put it well:

‘God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we must need a nd the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger -according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way’ (Mere Christianity, chapter 5,We have cause to be uneasy‘).

What a sad day it will be for those who reject the One who makes imputed righteousness possible through Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice!

Works consulted

Geisler, N 2003. Systematic theology: God, creation, vol 2. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.


[1] This is citing Malachi 1:2-3.

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

This was a false charge against Arminians: ‘God does not hate’

God Hates Lies

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

If you want to read misrepresentation of a person’s theological position, take a read of the Calvinist vs Arminian debates on Christian forums on the Internet. I picked up one that stated (discussed below): ‘So much of synergistic, Arminian theology is predicated on the (false) foundation that God can’t possibly hate anyone and instead, actually loves every single person’.[1]

Here is the fuller example from Christian Forums, a forum I frequent regularly as OzSpen for some iron-sharpening-iron experiences (Proverbs 27:17 NIV).

A Calvinist started a thread, ‘Does God hate anyone?’ with this comment:[2]

Psalm 5:5, “The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity,”
Psalm 11:5, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates.”
Lev. 20:23, “Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.”
Prov. 6:16-19, “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”
Hosea 9:15, “All their evil is at Gilgal; indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels.”
Rom 9:13 “As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

So much of synergistic, Arminian theology is predicated on the (false) foundation that God can’t possibly hate anyone and instead, actually loves every single person.

It’s a presupposition that isn’t true (see below), yet their entire theology is built on it. What they seemingly fail to realize is that hate is not always a wicked thing. There is such a thing as righteous hate. For example, I hate abortion. In such a situation my hate is justified and is not an evil, but a good. I hate what is evil.

God, in the same way, hates what is evil. His hatred is free from the stain of pride or sin. He hates what is evil, and mankind is evil. It is not wrong of God to hate someone. Yet for some reason, the idea that God could hate someone is taboo in the typical Arminian discussions.

That being said, it’s ironic that some of the attacks of the synergists on these forums have against Calvinism is “Calvinism is wrong, cuz in Calvininism (sic), God hates people!!! RAWR!” When in actuality, as you can see above, all they’re doing is saying Calvinists are guilty of believing what the Bible teaches.

Hardly an accusation!

1. God can’t possibly hate??

Hate Argue

(image courtesy ChristArt)

This was part of his statement above to which I responded:

‘So much of synergistic, Arminian theology is predicated on the (false) foundation that God can’t possibly hate anyone and instead, actually loves every single person…. Yet for some reason, the idea that God could hate someone is taboo in the typical Arminian discussions.

That being said, it’s ironic that some of the attacks of the synergists on these forums have against Calvinism is “Calvinism is wrong, cuz in Calvininism (sic), God hates people!!!’.

I wrote that he provided not one shred of evidence to support this accusation. There was not one quote from an Arminian to state that the Arminian does not believe that God hates. Zero examples were provided. This makes it nothing more than his assertion – his bias against Arminians.

When he makes a denunciation against a theological position with which he disagrees with this kind of assertion, the folks who read his post need his evidence. Without evidence, his posts sound awfully like hot air to me.[3]

1.1 My poor definition

When I challenged him on his, he referred back to my statement in another thread in which I asked, ‘What about the other half of the Calvinistic story? God hated the rest of humanity and sends them to damnation – guaranteed!’[4] I must admit that I did not state this very well when I was referring to the Calvinistic doctrine of double predestination. Therefore, that type of response was expected from a Calvinist (and I deserved it): ‘Here’s evidence that Arminians can’t stand the idea that God would hate anyone. As you can see from this evidence, clearly Oz is showing that he abhors the idea that God hates someone. That’s the only reason he said what he said. Why else would he?’[5]

The issue that he was making a big deal about was what he thought was the meaning of my statement. The facts are that it was my poorly worded statement of the ‘other half of Calvinism’ that was the issue. It was this statement of mine that he took to mean that Arminians do not believe that God hates: ‘What about the other half of the Calvinistic story? God hated the rest of humanity and sends them to damnation – guaranteed!’

This is how I should have said it: ‘What about Calvinism’s double-predestination that makes God the one who foreordains damnation for a large chunk of humanity? The reprobate don’t have an opportunity to get out of that eternal damnation because of the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional reprobation’.

It is NOT a bad tactic that God, in his holiness, righteousness/justice, hates evildoers. I find it to be a bad tactic that a large chunk of humanity is not given the opportunity – according to Calvinistic theology – to respond to the Gospel and receive eternal life. Why? Because they are unconditionally, eternally damned from before the foundation of the world by God himself. I’m talking of the Calvinist’s promotion of double predestination – predestination to salvation and predestination to reprobation.[6]

2. Double predestination

This is an example of a trumped up charge by this fellow against me, a Reformed/Classical Arminian. It is his straw man fallacy against me. He has created a theology which he THINKS I believe but I DON’T. That makes it a straw man fallacy. I urged him to quit this illogical thinking against me.

I agree with James Arminius when he wrote:

Love is an affection of union in God, the objects of which are God himself and the good of justice or righteousness, the creature and its felicity [Prov. 16:4; Ps 9:7; John 3:16; Wisdom 11:24-26]….

Hatred is an affection of separation in God, whose primary object is injustice or unrighteousness [Ps 5:5; Ezek 25:11; Deut 25:15-16; Isa 1:24]; and the secondary, the misery of the creature. The former is from “the love of complacency;” the latter, from “the love of friendship.” But since God properly loves himself and the good of justice, and by the same impulse holds iniquity in detestation; and since he secondarily loves the creature and his blessedness, and in that impulse hates the misery of the creature [Ps 9:5; Deut 28:63], that is, he wills it to be taken away from the creature; hence, it comes to pass, that he hates the creature who perseveres in unrighteousness, and he loves his misery [Isa 66:4].

Hatred, however, is not collateral to love, but necessarily flowing from it; since love neither does nor can tend towards all those things which become objects to the understanding of God. It belongs to him, therefore, in the first act, and must be placed in him prior to any existence of a thing worthy of hatred, which existence being laid down, the act of hatred arises from it by a natural necessity, not by liberty of the will (Arminius 1977a:45; 1977b:456, emphasis in original).

I asked: ‘When will you quit using a false representation of my theology?’

The Scriptures are abundantly clear and he had already provided a limited list of such Scriptures, that God abhors sin. Psalm 5:5 is very clear when David, addressing God, stated, ‘You hate all evil doers’ (ESV). As Arminius has stated, ‘Hatred, however, is not collateral to love, but necessarily flowing from it’.

I agree with W S Plumer, in his commentary on the Psalms, when he wrote of Psalm 5:5,

Those do greatly slander God, who teach that he will punish sin only because it is opposed to his law or his will, and not because it is opposed to his infinite, eternal, unchangeable rectitude. So repugnant to God’s nature is iniquity, that he would not save even his elect, except in a way that should fully and forever put away both the guilt and stain of sin, and bring all conceivable odium on transgression. God would not even spare his Son, when he stood in the place of sinners, lest he might seem to spare sin. Could he cease to hate it, he would cease to be worthy of love and confidence. Nor is it merely some forms of sin that God abhors, but he hates all workers of iniquity (Plumer 1967/1975:81, emphasis in original).

That is what I believe.

When will he quit building straw men about my theology? When will he renounce inventing my theology and making false charges against my biblical thinking?

2.1 How is double predestination defined?

According to a Calvinistic website, double predestination is:

the view that God sovereignly and freely chose to predestine some to heaven (the elect) and some to hell (the reprobate).  This predestination is not based on anything in the person nor is it based on what the foreseen actions and/or beliefs of that person would have been (CARM).

Another explanation was put more bluntly: ‘Double predestination is the belief that God creates some people whose purpose in existence is to be sent to hell’ (Houdmann 2013).

Calvinist theologian, Loraine Boettner, explained unconditional reprobation this way:

The condemnation of the non-elect is designed primarily to furnish an eternal exhibition, before men and angels, of God’s hatred for sin, or, in other words, it is to be an eternal manifestation of the justice of God…. This decree displays one of the divine attributes which apart from it could never have been adequately appreciated. The salvation of some through a redeemer is designed to display the attributes of love, mercy, and holiness (Boettner 1932:121-122).

       John Calvin by Holbein.png

John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion

(image courtesy Wikipedia)

John Calvin’s version was:

In actual fact, the covenant of life is not preached equally among all men, and among those to whom it is preached, it does not gain the same acceptance either constantly or in equal degree. In this diversity the wonderful depth of God’s judgment is made known. For there is no doubt that this variety also serves the decision of God’s eternal election. If it is plain that it comes to pass by God’s bidding that salvation is freely offered to some while others are barred from access to it…. A baffling question this seems to many. For they think nothing more inconsistent than that out of the common multitude of men some should be predestined to salvation, others to destruction (Calvin 1960:920-921; 3.21.1).

Whoever, then, heaps odium upon the doctrine of predestination openly reproaches God, as if he had unadvisedly let slip something hurtful to the church….

No one who wishes to be thought religious dares simply deny predestination, by which God adopts some to hope of life, and sentences others to eternal death. But our opponents, especially those who make foreknowledge its cause, envelop it in numerous petty objections. We indeed, place both doctrines in God, but we say that subjecting one to the other is absurd….

We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is fore-ordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death (Calvin 1960:926; 3.21.4-5).

Indeed many, as if they wished to avert a reproach from God, accept election in such terms as to deny that anyone is condemned. But they do this very ignorantly and childishly, since election itself could not stand except as set over against reprobation…. Those whom God passes over, he condemns; and this he does for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his own children….

Paul ascribes to, and claims for, God the credit for salvation, while he casts the blame for their perdition upon those who of their own will bring it upon themselves. But thought I should admit to them that Paul, using a different expression, softens the harshness of the former clause, it is utterly inconsistent to transfer the preparation for destruction to any earlier context: God aroused Pharaoh [Rom 9:17]; then, “he hardens whom he pleases” [Rom. 9:18]. From this it follows that God’s secret plan is the cause of hardening (Calvin 1960:947-949; 3.23.1).

3. A Calvinist continues to niggle

The Calvinist with whom I am interacting wrote: ‘Ok, so your problem is not with the fact that God hates them (coulda fooled me since you included it as part of the statement), but rather, your problem is with the fact that God throws guilty people into hell? How is that a problem exactly? They’re guilty, aren’t they?’[7]

My response was:[8] When you continue niggling me like this – after I have corrected my statement – I will not continue to communicate with you on this topic as you are here indicating that you do not want to accept the change of language that I gave. ‘Coulda fooled me’ is your rejection of what I wrote.

My issue is not with God sending guilty people to hell (Hades and then Gehenna) as that is what the Bible teaches.

My issue is with Calvinism and its requirement that God eternally damns a large chunk of humanity from before the foundation of the world. They will never, ever be given the opportunity to respond to the Gospel and repent because of Calvinism’s theology of double-predestination. That is a theology I do not find in Scripture. It is a promotion of God’s injustice.

That is not the Gospel that I read in John 3:16; 3:26; Acts 16:30-31; 1 Tim 2:3-4; 1 John 2:2 and 2 Peter 3:9.

See also this assessment of John Piper’s views on double predestination:Double talk by a double predestinarian‘.

The Calvinist continued on the forum:

If God condemns them on judgement day, and God is eternal and has always known that would be what happens, it makes sense that God considered those people as condemned from eternity past. You can’t separate God’s knowledge from what actually happens. In fact, this charge of yours works equally against Arminianism, too, because even in Arminiansm, God elected the elect before the foundation of the world, which means that he didn’t elect everyone else, effectually condemning them from eternity past. The only way you, as an Arminian, can escape this dilemma is if you embrace Open Theism, and say that somehow God didn’t know who the elect or the condemned/non-elect would be.

The Arminian view is very different from Calvinistic double-predestination. Deterministic foreordination from before the foundation of the world is radically different from the scriptural position:

To those who are elect exiles in the dispersion … according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood (1 Peter 1:1-2 ESV).

We know from both Romans 8:29-30 and 1 Peter 1:1-2 that God chose people in Christ for salvation whom he foreknew would accept Jesus as Saviour. These Scriptures leave no doubt that election is based on God’s foreknowledge.

Because Scripture repeatedly teaches that human beings are responsible for accepting or rejecting salvation, we know that this affirms the theology of election based on foreknowledge in Rom 8:29-30; 1 Pt 1:1-2.

I urged this fellow: Please don’t give me the line that because all human beings are hopelessly dead in sin that they cannot respond to God’s offer of salvation. I know that that is an incorrect perspective because Titus 2:11 tells us so: ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people (ESV, emphasis added).

In God’s foreknowledge, He knows what every human being will do with this restored ability and what does God do? He elects to salvation these people and this is in harmony with His knowledge (foreknowledge) of the choice these people will make.

Hebrew Bible (image courtesy Wikipedia)

3.1 A wrong understanding of Arminianism – again!

This Calvinist wrote:

In Arminianism, God elects the elect before the foundation of the world. That means even in Arminianism, some people are born into this world as non-elect and are therefore headed to hell from the moment of their birth. Do you agree? If you disagree, then that means you don’t truly believe that God elected the elect (even conditionally) from before the foundation of the world. How do you escape this dilemma?[9]

My reply was:[10]

This is your misrepresentation of Arminian soteriology. It is what you THINK this Arminian’s theology is. But you are wrong about my view.

The facts are that all human beings are damned (Rom 6:23). God has provided his grace unto salvation to all human beings (Tit 2:11). Salvation of every human being was made available to all human beings (1 John 2:2), i.e. salvation has been purchased all human beings have been made able to be saved.

However, there cannot be any automatic system by which all are saved through Christ’s death. That would lead to the unbiblical doctrine of universalism.

The gift of salvation is only possible for those who hear the Gospel of the Saviour and receive Him by faith (Eph 2:8-9).

I find that Norm Geisler summarises God’s position nicely as it has been revealed in Scripture as to what Jesus did for all human beings through his blood sacrifice on the cross:

The salvation of everyone was not immediately applied; it was simply purchased. All persons were made savable, but not all persons were automatically saved. The gift was made possible by the Savior, but it must be received by the sinner (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. John 1:12). In short, the salvation of all sinners from God’s eternal wrath is possible, but only those who accept Christ’s payment for their sins will actually be saved from it (Geisler 2003:405, emphasis in original).

The Calvinistic opponent online misunderstood the Arminian perspective. His claim was that Arminians do not like the God who hates. I hope I’ve demonstrated in this article that the God who hates is one with the God who loves and it was my poor writing content that led the Calvinist to pick up one of my wrong wordings of the God who hates sin and the wrongdoer.

‘By election we mean that sovereign act of God in grace, whereby from all eternity he chose in Christ Jesus for Himself and for salvation, all those whom he foreknew would respond positively to prevenient grace’ (Thiessen 1949:156). God in his foreknowledge (before the foundation of the world) knows who these elect people are. But their election is effected when they believe in Jesus in space and time as a response to the Gospel proclamation.

I suggested that my online Calvinistic opponent gain a better understanding of Arminianism. But I’m not holding my breath.
He stated: ‘If you disagree, then that means you don’t truly believe that God elected the elect (even conditionally) from before the foundation of the world. How do you escape this dilemma?’

I don’t have to escape a dilemma. The Calvinist does because he was promoting an incorrect view of Arminianism. His view could be overcome quite easily by becoming an accurate student of Arminianism, instead of inventing what he did in his post – a straw man fallacy. Again!

However, I need to be fair. My statement about God’s hate was not as accurate as it should have been and he was responding to that incorrect exposition. I have corrected that in my response to him online and in this article.

4. How a discussion ends

When a Calvinist doesn’t understand Arminian theology (but thinks he does), this is how this conversation petered out.

He asked:

‘Did election happen before the foundation of the world? Yes or no?…
In other words, why do you Arminians quote verses about God electing based on “foreknowledge”, if you don’t believe election happened “before” a person believed? [11]

My reply was predictable:[12] Straw man fallacy again.

When will you quit using your illogical fallacies? It’s time that you read the works of James Arminius so that you understood the content of his theology.

You have here again demonstrated that your understanding of Arminian election is false.

If you continue with false views of Arminian theology, I’ll simply reply: straw man fallacy because that’s what you are regularly doing in your responses to me.

If I understood Calvinism as poorly as you understand Arminianism, you’d be complaining big time about my views. It’s time for you to have accurate knowledge of Arminianism by studying Arminius himself.

A good starter for you could be Roger E Olson 2006. Arminian theology: Myths and realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.
You have been loading up with lots of Arminian myths that you are feeding to me. It doesn’t work with me.

He asked: ‘However, by these new words, you seem to have changed beliefs, and now believe that election actually happens in time. You seem to no longer believe that God, before the foundation of the world, elected all who He foresees will believe, to instead believing that God elects those who believe at the moment of their belief’.[13]

My response should have been expected: Don’t you understand the timelessness of God?[14]

Calvo response to me again: ‘It’s because I can’t pin down your beliefs, you are always saying two different things and contradicting yourself’.[15] Surely this was an expected response?[16]

You don’t seem to get it that its because your beliefs about Arminianism are false – your presenting straw man fallacies – that leads to your seeing my statements as contradictions. They don’t agree with your understanding of Arminianism.
Seems to me that you don’t know Arminian theology very well at all and there is no point in continuing the discussion any further.

Why? When he has a contorted understanding of Arminianism, there is no point in discussing Arminian theology as he continues to impose his Calvinism on it. We are a country mile from agreeing on election.

How does God set about saving people from sin?

5. Steps to save people from sin

One of the finest, brief theological summaries I have read to determine how God saves people from sin is by Henry Thiessen (the 1949 edition). His is an Arminian perspective with sound exposition.


Henry C Thiessen (image courtesy Wheaton College)

Thiessen admitted that Christians agree that God has decreed to save human beings but they are not agreed on how God does that. While he does not mention this clash, he is particularly referring to the Arminian vs Calvinistic controversy over the how of receiving eternal salvation.

These steps to salvation, according to Thiessen (1949:154-158), include:

  • The freedom of human beings;
  • Prevenient grace;
  • God’s foreknowledge;
  • God’s gracious election;
  • Special or saving grace.

Let’s examine these briefly:

5.1 Freedom of human beings[17]

James Arminius 2.jpg

Jacobus Arminius (image courtesy Wikipedia)

The Works of James Arminius (

1. All Christians agree that God decreed to save human beings but the difference comes in HOW he does this.

2. God takes the initiative in salvation and this is not based on His arbitrary will but on His wise and holy counsel. We see this through God’s dealing with Adam and Eve after the fall (Gen. 3:8-9). See Scriptures general teaching in Rom. 2:4; Titus 2:11. The free will in salvation is implied in exhortations to turn to God (See Prov. 1:23; Isa. 31:6; Ezek. 14:6; 18:32; Joel 2:13-14; Matt. 18:3; Acts 3:19) and repent (1 Kings 8:47; Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 17:30), and to believe (2 Chron. 20:20; Isa. 43:10; John 6:29.; 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil. 1:29; 1 John 3:23).

3. God has a very high regard for freedom and He has made human beings capable of choosing whether or not to obey and serve God.

4. Freedom has two forms in Scripture:

  1. The ability to carry out the dictates of one’s nature;
  2. The ability to act contrary to one’s nature.

5. Before they sinned, men and angels had freedom in both of these senses.

6. Following the fall, the human beings lost the ability not to sin (see Gen. 5:5; Job 13:10; Jer. 13:23; 17:9; Rom. 3:10-18; 8:5-8). They are now free only in the sense that they can do as their fallen nature suggests.

7. Then there’s the classic from the OT in two different versions with a similar compelling message, ‘Choose this day whom you will serve’. So human beings have the God-given ability to choose which God or gods they will serve:

Joshua 24:14-16 (ESV):

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. [15] And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, CHOOSE THIS DAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [16] Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods,

Joshua 24:15-16 (KJV):

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, CHOOSE YOU THIS DAY WHOM YE WILL SERVE; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. [16] And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods;

Notice the options (choices) given in this Scripture:

  • Serve the Lord;
  • Choose whom you will serve;
  • You can choose the gods which your fathers chose,
  • The gods of the Amorites;
  • Joshua and his house will serve the Lord;
  • The people could forsake the Lord to serve other gods.

Paul Cornford, minister of North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie, Qld., Australia, preached on 11 September 2016 on ‘Joshua 24: The Covenant at Shechem’. He stated of Joshua 24:15 that this verse does not teach there is a choice to serve God or the gods. Instead, ‘choose this day is a choice between false gods. It is not a choice to serve God. It is not a case of coming to the best God. Presbyterians are not into decisionism’.

I was in the service when he preached this sermon and this quote is based on the notes I took of the sermon. I take notes from every sermon I hear. From my dot points above, Paul Cornford has not preached a message consistent with the content of Josh 24:15-16. I conveyed this to him after the service. His Calvinism is so ingrained in his thinking that he cannot allow human choice anywhere in the process of responding in faith to God or other gods.

8. There are texts that presuppose a genuine human freedom, even a freedom to say yes or no to God. Even a Calvinist such as Don (D A) Carson admits this under 9 headings:

  1. People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands;
  2. People are said to obey, believe, and choose God;
  3. People sin and rebel against God;
  4. Their sins are judged by God;
  5. People are tested by God;
  6. People receive divine rewards;
  7. The elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative;
  8. Prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and
  9. God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Carson 1981: 18-22).

These headings by a Calvinist in trying to understand the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation provide a measure of human freedom in our communication with and response to God.
Simply stated, free will is theologically defined as the God-given ability for human beings to make a contrary choice.

BUT how can human beings become saved, redeemed, and cleansed from sin? Is it dependent on God’s unconditional election and irresistible grace of Calvinism or is there a better biblical alternative?

I am convinced there is a better explanation and part of that explanation involved God’s prevenient grace.

5.2 Prevenient grace has been provided.[18]

1. Prevenient grace means that God must take the initiative if human beings are to be saved. That God takes the initiative in salvation is seen as far back as how He dealt with Adam and Eve after the Fall into sin (see Gen 3:8-9). We see it also in other passages such as Isa 59:15-16; John 15:16.

a. Note Rom 2:4, ‘Not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance’ (ESV).

b. Titus 2:11, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’.

2. We have, through this grace, ‘the blessings of life, health, friends, fruitful seasons, prosperity, the delay of punishment, the presence and influence of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the Church, manifestations of the common grace of God’ (Thiessen 1949:155).

3. This common grace of God is not adequate for salvation, but it does reveal the goodness of God to sinful creatures.

4. The ‘common grace of God also restores to the sinner the ability to make a favorable response to God. . . God, in His grace, makes it possible for all men to be saved’ (Thiessen 1949:155).

5. The freeing of the human will in relation to salvation doesn’t mean that prevenient grace enables a person to change his bent of the will in favor of God. It doesn’t mean that he can finish with his sin and make himself acceptable to God.

6. ‘It does mean that he can make an initial response to God, as a result of which God can give him repentance and faith. He can say, ‘Turn thou me, and I shall be turned'” (Jer. 31:18-19; See also Lam. 5:21; Ps. 80:3, 19; 85:4) [Thiessen 1949:156].

7. Thiessen believed the biblical material says that a person ‘has had a measure of freedom restored to him…. He can in some measure act contrary to his fallen nature … if he will say this much, then God will turn him, grant him repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25) and faith (Rom. 12:3; 2 Pt. 1:1). The common grace of God is now seen to be intended to induce man to make this response’ (Thiessen 1949:156).

Brian Abasciano explained the nature of prevenient grace:

God calls all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, enabling those who hear the gospel to respond to it positively in faith as he draws all people toward faith in Jesus, pierces the darkness of their hearts and minds with the shining of his light, enlightens their minds, communicates his awesome power with the gospel that incites faith, woos them with his kindness, convicts them by his Spirit, opens their hearts to heed his gospel, and positions them to seek him as he is near to each one.

All of this is what is known in traditional theological language as God’s prevenient grace. The term “prevenient” simply means “preceding.” Thus, “prevenient grace” refers to God’s grace that precedes salvation, including that part of salvation known as regeneration, which is the beginning of eternal spiritual life granted to all who trust in Christ (John 1:12-13). Prevenient grace is also sometimes called enabling grace or pre-regenerating grace. This is God’s unmerited favor toward totally depraved people, who are unworthy of God’s blessing and unable to seek God or trust in him in and of themselves. Accordingly, Acts 18:27 indicates that we believe through grace, placing grace preveniently (i.e. logically prior) to faith as the means by which we believe. It is the grace that, among other things, frees our wills to believe in Christ and his gospel. As Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Abasciano 2013).

5.3 God’s foreknowledge

How do God’s foreknowledge and election work in providing salvation? Henry Thiessen’s helpful summary of God’s foreknowledge is:

If God could foreknow that man would sin without causing him to sin;  if he foreknew that the inhabitants of Keilah would betray David into the hands of Saul before they had had the chance to do so (1 Samuel 23:11-12);  if Jesus could know that the fate of Tyre and Sidon, and of Sodom and Gomorrah, would have been different had they had the manifestations of His works which were granted to Chorazin and Bethsaida and to Capernaum (Matthew 11:21-24);  if God could foreknow that the Jews would kill Christ without causing them to do so and before he had created man (Luke 22:22;  Acts 2:23;  4:27-28);  then He can also foreknow what man will do in response to prevenient grace, whether or not they will receive “the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).  The Scriptures teach that election is based on foreknowledge (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:1-2) (Thiessen 1949:156).

Another way of putting this is summarised by Robert Picirilli (2000) in his article on foreknowledge, freedom and the future:

If God could foreknow that man would sin without causing him to sin;  if he foreknew that the inhabitants of Keilah would betray David into the hands of Saul before they had had the chance to do so (1 Samuel 23:11-12);  if Jesus could know that the fate of Tyre and Sidon, and of Sodom and Gomorrah, would have been different had they had the manifestations of His works which were granted to Chorazin and Bethsaida and to Capernaum (Matthew 11:21-24);  if God could foreknow that the Jews would kill Christ without causing them to do so and before he had created man (Luke 22:22;  Acts 2:23;  4:27-28);  then He can also foreknow what man will do in response to prevenient grace, whether or not they will receive “the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).  The Scriptures teach that election is based on foreknowledge (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:1-2) (Thiessen 1949:156).

The Reformation Arminian (together with the classic Arminian, for that matter) affirms that the future is perfectly foreknown by God and yet

is, in both theory and practice, open and undetermined. That is, future free decisions, though certain, are not necessary. In other words, the person who makes a moral choice is free to make that choice or a different one.

This is a form of indeterminism—better, “self-determinism”—as compared to determinism or compatibilism. For his part, the Arminian is satisfied that this is required if one is to affirm the reality of both God’s omniscience (all-encompassing foreknowledge) and human freedom.[19]

It seems to me that two things need mentioning as potential obstacles to understanding the position I have set forth here. One is that some who discuss the issues often introduce unnecessary matters into the discussion. Among these are discussions of God’s relationship to time and of “possible worlds.”[20] I am quick to acknowledge the intellectual stimulation involved in speculation about such matters. But “speculation” is precisely the right word. The fact is that we cannot finally be sure enough about such matters to use them definitively in this discussion. Furthermore, we do not need to, as I have attempted to demonstrate. The issue discussed in this paper is much simpler than that: God’s knowledge of the future in no way determines the future.

The other “problem” is that people simply tell themselves, as though having grasped some great secret, that if God knows the future it cannot be any other way. This, I believe, is not intuition but the “sophism” that Watson spoke about (in the quotation cited above). One erects, perhaps unintentionally, the mental block that keeps him from seeing otherwise. No doubt such thinking is easy to fall into, and equally difficult to overcome. As I have attempted to show, the way out of this difficulty lies first in the simple realization that when we speak of “what will be” or that “God knows what will be,” we have already affirmed “what will be.” One needs only to follow that with a forthright and confident statement—repeated, if need be, until he “sees” it is so—that though God knows the way I will choose, I will be free to choose that way or another when the time comes. God also knows that.

For the Reformation Arminian, then, the final set of facts to hold is: (1) the future is certain and foreknown certainly by God; (2) this is in full harmony with the fact that human beings make free, moral choices for which they are held justly responsible. In short, certainty is not necessity and precludes neither freedom nor ability to act in more than one way. In the end, this view has the advantage of fully explaining both Scripture and human experience (Piricilli 2000:270-271)

How does this view of foreknowledge fit with God’s election of people to salvation?

5.4 Concerning gracious election:

Thiessen provided this concise understanding:

By election we mean that sovereign act of God in grace, whereby from all eternity He chose in Christ Jesus for Himself and for salvation, all those whom He foreknew would respond positively to prevenient grace. Notice that it is a sovereign act in grace (Rom. 11:5): God was under no necessity or obligation to elect anyone. It took place in eternity (Eph 1:4), and is not something that occurs as human history develops. It is based on the merits of Christ (Eph. 1:4); we are accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6). It was a choice of men for Himself (Ex. 19:4-6; Num. 8:17; Isa. 43:21; Rom. 11:4) and for salvation (2 Thess 2:13); and it is based on His foreknowledge of what men would do in response to His prevenient grace (2 Cor. 6:1, 2; Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:1, 2) (Thiessen 1949:156).

Keith Schooley explained a unique aspect of the Arminian perspective on election of people to salvation:

The Reformed view sees God essentially as electing individuals (say, Peter, Paul, and Mary) who together become corporately the people of God. Those who hold this view incorrectly assume that Arminians also focus on the individual, but merely get around God’s election by basing it on foreknowledge of the individual’s exercise of faith. Arminians, however, do not start with the individual. They start with the plan of salvation, centered on the sacrifice of Christ. The point of the election passages, says the Arminian, is the sovereignly and unconditionally determined criterion of election: faith in Christ for the atonement of one’s sins. That criterion becomes the defining characteristic of the people of God. God’s people are not the wealthy, or the intellectual, or the noble, or the strong, or even those physically descended from Abraham or those who strive the hardest to follow the Law. They are those who trust in Christ for their salvation. Period. Through the power of the Gospel we are enabled to believe; those who choose to do so become a part of that chosen people (which is what elektoi means). But God’s eternal decree is that He has chosen to choose those who believe, as opposed to any other group. That is unconditional and unchangeable (Schooley 2013).

Since I am an active advocate of the doctrines of Arminianism in relation to salvation – as promoting a more consistently biblical view of salvation than the Calvinistic alternative – I have found the following acronym to be an accurate outline of FACTS, the 5 major doctrines of Arminianism, in contrast with Calvinism’s TULIP.

6. An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism

by Brian Abasciano and Martin Glynn

Arminianism may be represented by the acronym FACTS:

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

This is the TULIP of Calvinism:

What is Calvinism and is it biblical? What are the five points of Calvinism?

Total depravity

Unconditional election

Limited atonement

Irresistible grace

Perseverance of the saints

7.   Recommended

See my further articles on election and predestination:

I recommend these other articles:

8.   Works consulted

Abasciano, B 2013. The FACTS of salvation, F: Freed to believe by God’s grace (online), November 6. Society of Evangelical Arminians. Available at: (Accessed 13 December 2013).

Arminius, J 1977a The writings of James Arminius, vol 1 (online). Tr by J Nichols & W R Bagnall. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL). Available at: Works of James Arminius, Vol. 1 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Accessed 11 December 2013).

Arminius, J 1977b The writings of James Arminius, vol 2 (online). Tr by J Nichols & W R Bagnall. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL). Available at: Works of James Arminius, Vol. 2 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Accessed 11 December 2013).

Boettner, L 1932. The reformed doctrine of predestination. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

Calvin, J 1960. Calvin: Institutes of the Christian religion, in two volumes, Tr by F L Battles, J T McNeill (ed). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Carson, D A 1981. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility: Biblical perspectives in tension. Atlanta: John Knox (New Foundations Theological Library).

Geisler, N 2003. Systematic theology: God, creation, vol 2. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Houdmann, S M 2013. What is double predestination? (online) Available at: (Accessed 12 December 2013).

Picirilli, R E 2000. Foreknowledge, freedom, and the future (online). Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 43/2, June. Available at:,%20Freedom,%20and%20the%20Future.pdf (Accessed 13 December 2013).

Plumer, W S 1867/1975. Psalms: A critical and expository commentary with doctrinal and practical remarks. Edinburgh/ Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust.

Schooley, K 2013. One Arminian’s perspective on election, God’s foreknowledge, and free will (online), Society of Evangelical Arminians, 13 February. Available at: (Accessed 13 December 2013).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.[21]


[1] Christian Forums, Soteriology, ‘Does God hate anyone?’ Skala#1, available at: (Accessed 12 December 2013)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen #5.

[4] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘The effects of limited atonement’, OzSpen #21, available at: (Accessed 12 December 2013).

[5] ‘Does God hate anyone?’ Skala #7, available at: (Accessed 12 December 2013).

[6] Ibid., OzSpen #25.

[7] Ibid., Skala #27.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen #28.

[9] Ibid., Skala #30, emphasis in original.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen #31.

[11] Ibid., Skala #32.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen #33.

[13] Ibid., Skala #32.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen #33.

[15] Ibid., Skala #32.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen #33.

[17] This section is based on Thiessen (1949:155).

[18] This is based on Thiessen (1949:155-156).

[19] Almost any introductory philosophy text will provide a discussion of the difference between determinism, indeterminism, and compatibilism. See Emmett Barcalow, Open Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1992), chapter 5, for example. For “self-determinism” as the preferable term, see Richard Taylor, “Freedom and Determinism,” in Philosophy: The Basic Issues (ed. Klemke, Kline, and Hollinger; 2d ed.; New York: St. Martin’s, 1986) 115–125.

[20] For a recent example, see Brian Leftow, Time and Eternity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).

[21] This is in a revised edition (2006) by Eerdmans, but its Arminian emphasis has been Calvinised. I do not recommend the later edition is one wants Thiessen’s lucid exposition. Thiessen died on July 25, 1947, before the original publication of h is lectures, at the age of 64. See Thiessen and Determinism’s cold and chilling effects (Accessed 12 December 2013).


Copyright (c)  2013 Spencer D. Gear.   This document last updated at Date: 27 September 2016.

‘I will beat the hell out of God’

By Spencer D Gear



It is not unusual to read of or hear about someone who turns off or away from God after a traumatic experience.

A fellow who was hurting deeply started a new thread on Christian Forums that he called, ‘lost all faith in a god’. He wrote:

My world has crashed down like a ton of bricks these last few weeks after watching my 16 year old son die a slow painful death of cancer, he suffered so much and as i am a single parent dad i was the only one to be with him and i never left his side. my faith is smashed now as i think if there is an all loving god who saves people then why not save my son ? my son was the kindest kid in the world always thinking of others and even to the end was thinking about me.

there is just no sence (sic) to this and my feeling of anger is such that if there is a god then when its my turn to die i will beat the hell out of him and make him or her or it suffer like my son did i grew up to belive (sic) in being good kind and help others in this cruel world as it is today my son was so loved and yet this kind of thing happens to many people its just all so unfair to watch others live a good happy life never knowning (sic) what its like to suffer why on earth does this go on why carnt (sic) we just leave in a peaceful world without the suffering ? and when we die then just let us die of old age without suffering ? if god is all powerful and loving and kind then surely he would have to the power to grant that to us all ? hence my faith now is smashed as i dont have the answers and never will have.[1]

How does one respond to a hurting individual, especially when he is blaming God for his teenager’s painful death from cancer? I replied:[2]

I know you are hurting deeply and nothing I can say will ease that pain.

You say that you don’t mean to anger or upset anyone, but what did you say about my Lord God?

Please consider three points:

  1. When the Lord Almighty made the universe (see Genesis 1), did he consult with you and me as to how the world is to be run? And,
  2. When Adam and Eve fell into sin (Genesis 3), they did it for you and me. They were our representatives. If we had been there, we would have disobeyed God just as they did. And what happened?
  3. What was unleashed on your son were the consequences of sin entering into the world. I have lived with a rheumatic heart condition all of my life and have had 5 open-heart, mitral and aortic valve replacement surgeries, along with a tricuspid valve repair. I know the pain of 3 bouts of rheumatic fever as a child that left me with heart problems. I cannot begin to tell you about the excruciating pain I experienced with attacks of rheumatic fever at ages 6, 10 and 12. The pain was so bad that a hoop had to be placed over my knees and ankles to prevent a sheet from resting on them. My father dropped dead of a heart attack at age 57. My dear friend suffered a massive stroke recently and entered the presence of the Lord through death. I am not immune to pain in my life, but I am not blaspheming God like you did.

Why? It is my view of God that is based on biblical revelation. God has told us why your son could experience cancer and why I suffered attacks of rheumatic fever. It is a direct consequence of Adamic sin.

Besides, you and I spend so little time during our earthly journey when compared with eternity. Where will you be spending eternity with your current view of God? Why are you blaspheming him? Do you know God personally and do you have a relationship with him?

I then encouraged him to send me a private message on the Forum and asked if he had had any grief counselling to deal with his son’s death.

Sadly, he did not respond to what I wrote and did not engage much further with others on that Forum.

How do we explain evil in our world?

See my articles:

blue-arrow-small  Did God create evil?

blue-arrow-small Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?

blue-arrow-small Isaiah 45:7: Who or what is the origin of evil?

blue-arrow-small September 11 & other tragedies: Why doesn’t God stop it?

blue-arrow-small Sinful nature or sinful environment?


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘lost all faith in a god’, desypete #1, 3 June 2012, available at: (Accessed 4 June 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #11.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

Hell in the Bible

Read the Bible

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Spencer D Gear

In this book by Christopher Morgan & Robert Peterson (gen eds) 2007. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Zondervan), you will read how people within the church, some of whom know Greek, are reinventing the doctrine of hell with alternatives such as universalism and annihilationism. I found it to be a commentary on how presuppositions impose on the Greek text (I read and have taught NT Greek) and the text is not allowed to speak for itself.

Morgan & Peterson begin with this story:

A business was opening a new store, and a friend of the owner sent flowers for the occasion. The flowers arrived at the new business site, and the owner read the card, inscribed, “Rest in Peace.”
The angry owner called the florist to complain. After he told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist said, “Sir, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry, you should imagine this: Somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note that reads, “Congratulations on your new location” (Introduction)

We are in a time when there are major attempts at scholarly and lay levels to redefine hell. Here are a few examples:

clip_image002[1] John Dominic Crossan, historical Jesus’ scholar of the Jesus Seminar: ‘‘What about heaven and hell, what about terminal rewards and punishments, what about eternity and the afterlife?… Let me be very blunt: I refuse to accept heaven from a God who could invent hell’. He continues, ‘The God of hell is a divinity to fear but not to love, to dread but not to worship, and it is morally necessary to say that loudly and clearly’. He is emphatic: ‘Hell is an obscenity…. For such a Supreme Being, Mrs Job had the only proper answer: Curse God, and die’ (Crossan 2000:201).

clip_image002[1] Layman: ‘I don’t believe God has condemned the majority of man to hell. Hell in the bible is described as eternal fire, bottomless pit, outer darkness, but for the most part simply as death’.[1]

clip_image002[1] John Stott, the late evangelical scholar, ‘In Evangelical Essentials, I described as “tentative” my suggestion that “eternal punishment” may mean the ultimate annihilation of the wicked rather than their eternal conscious torment. I would prefer to call myself agnostic on this issue, as are a number of New Testament scholars I know. In my view, the biblical teaching is not plain enough to warrant dogmatism. There are awkward texts on both sides of the debate’ (McCloughry 2006).

clip_image002[3] Mormon view: ‘LDS[2] do not believe in Hell as a place. The reason why is that revelation through Latter-Day prophets have revealed that there exists three levels of glory and then Outer Darkness. Hope that helps’.[3]

clip_image002[4] Layman: ‘Personally, I don’t believe in traditional concepts of either heaven or hell. I believe God is in all and all are in God. We are from God, and to God we will return. What this means, whether we are conscious of it, and what it is like, I don’t know. I honestly think that how we live here and now is more important than how we will live in an afterlife. My philosophy is “God has that covered, so I’m gonna focus on being the best me I can be here and now”’.[4]

clip_image002[4] Liberal theologian, the late Paul Tillich: ‘”Heaven” and “hell” are symbols of ultimate meaning and unconditional significance’ (1968 III:327).

So there are samples of doubt about hell among liberal and evangelical people with some association with the Christian perspective on life.

We run into a problem when it comes to understanding ‘hell’, especially if we have been raised on the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

The KJV translation of hell

We have a major problem with the King James Version and its translation of various Greek words with the same English word. I was preparing to provide teaching on this to expose the KJV translation weaknesses on this topic when I came across this article by J. Gibbons.

Gibbons has summarised this problem:

ALTHOUGH MANY translations of the Bible have been made into English (some good and some not as good), the King James Version (initially translated in 1611) is still widely used by many people (among them being this writer). When there are possible question marks about words that seem archaic, we try to supply parallel words that would be helpful in getting the meaning across. This term “hell” is one that needs our attention. The KJV scholars used the one word “hell” to represent several different words in the original Scriptures. This can be confusing unless one makes a background study as to which word is behind the word “hell” appearing in our KJV (or check out other translations). Consequently, some have misrepresented the Scriptures and have tried to teach that the grave is the only hell (and that there is no place of fire). What about this? What are the words in the original Scriptures, what do they mean, and why did the KJV translators represent these words by only one word in English? Following are gleanings, impressions and conclusions from our study on this.[5]

Greek words for the KJV’s ‘hell’ in the New Testament

Again, Gibbons provides the summary:

Three Words as “Hell”.

In the New Testament, the KJV translators used the word “hell” somewhat generically to represent three different Greek words. The Greek words are (1) gehenna, (2) hades and (3) tartaros (sic). Gehenna is found 12 times in the New Testament (Matthew 5:22,29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6). Hades is found 11 times (Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13,14) and tartaros (sic) 1 time (2 Peter 2:4).

Gehenna, Hell Proper.

(1) Gehenna had its origin in association with the valley of Hinnom, actually meaning this. In the Old Testament times, when Israel went into idolatry, human sacrifices took place in this valley next to Jerusalem in the worship of Molech as they would “burn their sons and daughters in the fire” (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:31). The valley was looked upon as being polluted and unclean, and in New Testament times was used somewhat as a city dump with continual burning, we understand. It was with that backdrop the term gehenna was adopted and applied to the place of eternal punishment. Such is its coinage and use. This is hell in what the modern usage of the term “hell” conveys.

Hades, The Unseen World.

(2) We are told that Hades, in its etymology, properly means unseen. The basic stem of the word means seen, but it has the little a privative before it, thus making it signify unseen. All behind and beyond the veil of death is unseen. Thus, it is fittingly called Hades. At death the spirit enters into the unseen world of the dead. The word itself does not necessarily specify whether this state is bad or good. By itself it is generic, but it can be more specific, according to the context and other Scripture. Interestingly, in the account of the rich man and Lazarus, it is said that in “hell” (Hades, KJV) the rich man lifted up his eyes being in torment. With his death, Jesus is said to have gone to Hades (Acts 2:27,31). (This is the word behind the KJV’s translation of “hell” here). Jesus had earlier said to the thief on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Evidently, the story of the rich man and Lazarus unveils the situation as it was (and perhaps is). The good and the bad are partitioned by a great gulf, it would seem, one being in comfort and the other in discomfort. All of this anticipates the Day of Judgment when eternal heaven and hell will begin.

Tartarus, The Abyss.

(3) Tartarus is only referred to in one place in the New Testament, 2 Peter 2:4. It is found in the words “cast them down to hell” (to send into Tartarus). It is the bottomless abyss, the confinement place of the wicked, fallen angels.

The English Word “Hell”

But what is the actual and literal meaning of the English word “hell” used repeatedly in the KJV of the Bible? This may come as a surprise to many, but the English word “hell” back in 1611 meant about the same as hades, that being covered or unseen. The Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (John McClintock and James Strong) that first came out in 1867, says this of the term, “Hell, a term which originally corresponded more exactly to Hades, being derived from the Saxon helan, to cover, and signifying merely the covered, or invisible place—the habitation of those who have gone from the visible terrestrial region to the world of spirits. But it has been so long appropriated in common usage to the place of future punishment for the wicked, that its earlier meaning has been lost sight of.” This does not negate the teaching of a place of future punishment and fire as seen in the word Gehenna and the umbrella word, Hades. It just throws more light on the use of the word “hell” in the King James Version.[6]

I’m grateful for this excellent summary and refer you to Gibbons’ article.

These brief definitions

Here is a brief summary of the meaning of these Greek words.

  • Sheol. OT believers knew that Sheol was visible to God (Job 26:6) and that they were in the presence and protection of God at death (Psalm 139:8).
  • Hades (Morey 1984:81-87). It is the Greek equivalent of Sheol, although it translates other Hebrew words as well. We run into problems with the mistranslation by the KJV of Hades and Sheol. The post-resurrection teaching in the NT is that the believer goes to heaven at death (present with the Lord) to await the resurrection and the final eternal state. But for unbelievers they go to Hades, a temporary place of torment, awaiting their resurrection and the eternal punishment. Regarding 2 Peter 2:9, ‘the grammar of the text irrefutably establishes that the wicked are in torment while they await their final judgment. When the day of judgment arrives, Hades will be emptied of its inhabitants, and the wicked will stand before God for their final sentence (Rev. 20:13-15). Thus, we conclude that Hades will be emptied at the resurrection, and then the wicked will be cast into “hell” (Gehenna)’ (Morey 1984:87).
  • Valley of Hinnom. It is mentioned in Josh 15:8; 18:16 and Neh. 11:30. It was the place where idolatrous Jews gave human sacrifices to pagan deities. In Christ’s day it became Jerusalem’s garbage dump. So, this garbage dump became a Jewish picture of the ultimate fate of idol worshippers (Morey 1984:87).
  • Tartarus. This is used in 2 Peter 2:4 to refer to angels and where they were cast. He was using a word that in Greek literature meant a place of conscious torment in the netherworld. It did not mean non-existence, but referred to their being reserved in the place of mental anguish and terror until the day of judgment (Morey 1984:135).
  • Gehenna. It’s the Greek equivalent of the Valley of Hinnom, so Gehenna is an appropriate description of the final, eternal garbage dump where idolators go after the resurrection. The wicked would suffer there forever. Even Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon concluded that it means ‘the place of eternal punishment’. Coon and Mills define Gehenna as ‘the place of  eternal punishment’. So Gehenna is the final place of punishment, the ultimate place of torment for the wicked. It will be eternal, conscious torment (Morey 1984:87-90).


The Christian believers go to be with the Lord at death, ‘Away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:8 ESV). They await the resurrection and the final state in heaven.

By contrast, all unbelievers at death go to Hades, a temporary place of torment, and await the resurrection, at which time they will be cast by God permanently into Gehenna, the place of eternal, conscious torment.

This is the biblical teaching on hell, in spite of others wanting to change it.

Other articles

See my other articles on this topic:

clip_image004[1] Are there degrees of punishment in hell?

clip_image004[1] What is the nature of death according to the Bible?

clip_image004[1] Hell & Judgment;

clip_image004[2] Should we be punished for our sins?

clip_image004[1] Paul on eternal punishment;

clip_image004[1] Where will unbelievers go at death?

clip_image004[5]Torment in Old Testament hell? The meaning of Sheol in the OT;

clip_image004[6]Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die;

clip_image004[7]Will you be ready when your death comes?

clip_image004[1] What happens at death for believer and unbeliever?

clip_image004[1] Does eternal destruction mean annihilation for unbelievers at death?

clip_image004[10] Refutation of Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine of what happens at death;

clip_image004[11] Near-death experiences are not all light: What about the dark experiences?


Crossan, J D 2000. A long way from Tipperary: A memoir. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

McCloughry, R. 2006, ‘Basic Stott as a precursor to my piece’, Kenyananalyst, 2 May, available at: (Accessed 10 June 2007).

Morey, R A 1984. Death and the afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Morgan, C & Peterson, R (gen eds) 2007. Hell under fire: Modern scholarship reinvents eternal punishment. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology, 3 vols in 1 vol. Welwyn, Herts: James Nisbet & Co Ltd.


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Why is hell designed with fire?’ elman #18. Available at: (Accessed 11 October 2012).

[2] LDS = The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints = The Mormon Church.

[3] Christian Forums, Unorthodox Theology, ‘Why do some people think Hell isn’t real? Ran77#2. Available at: (Accessed 11 October 2012).

[4] Christian Forums, Faith groups, Whosoever will may come – liberal, ‘Liberal Hell’, Episcoboi#2. Available at: (Accessed 11 October 2012).

[5] J. Gibbons, ‘”Hell” in the King James Version’, available at: (Accessed 11 October 2012).

[6] Ibid.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 25 January 2017.

Shouldn’t we be punished for our own sins?



By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon to get this kind of interaction in person or on a Christian forum on the Internet:

Question is simple and I will use the Amalekite infants as an example [1 Sam 15:1-35 ESV]. Did they truely (sic) deserve to die considering they were only guilty by association? Granted some of the Amalekites deserved to die, but it seems rather cruel to kill off even the infants who were not responsible for anything. With that in mind, if infants are born with a sinful nature like all humans are, do they deserve to be thrown into hell like the rest of us according to the bible?[1]

Another replied:

The bible is not consistent. Ezekiel 18 indicates we are not responsible for our father’s sin or anyone’s sin but our own. No. Infants are not born guilty of anything and no body is thown (sic) into a place of torture by a loving God. The wages or consequences of sin is death–not life everlasting being tortured.[2]

My response was as follows:[3]

This is nothing more than your opinion. The Bible is very consistent, but our interpretations represent our major problems and your statement here is representative.
Yours is a rather short-sighted view.

Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch address this matter in Hard Sayings of the Bible (1996. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, pp. 177-179). I highly recommend this source as one of the finest in dealing with tough verses in Scripture. They address this issue when responding to,


InterVarsity Press

Deuteronomy 24:16: Should Children Be Punished for Their Parents’ Sins?

The principle governing Israelite courts was that human governments must not impute to children or grandchildren the guilt that their fathers or forebears accumulated. In Scripture each person stands before God as accountable for his or her own sin.

While this principle is acknowledged in Deuteronomy 24:16, there seem to be cases where it was not put in practice. For example, the child born to David and Bathsheba died because of their sin (2 Sam 12:14-18). And Saul’s seven grandchildren were put to death because of Saul’s sin (2 Sam 21:5-9). How are we to reconcile these contradictory sets of facts?

Some will also bring up the fact that the sins of the fathers have an ill effect on the children to the third and fourth generations (Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9). Surely this is a direct contradiction of the principle in Deuteronomy 24:16.

But Deuteronomy 24:16 is dealing with normal criminal law. It explicitly forbids blaming the children for the sin and guilt earned by the parent. If the son deserves the death penalty, the father must not be put to death in his place, or vice versa. This point is repeated in a number of texts, such as 2 Kings 14:6, 2 Chronicles 25:4, Jeremiah 31:30 and Ezekiel 18:20.

The legal principle of dealing with each individual according to individual guilt is one side of the equation. The other side is that God has reserved for himself the right to render all final decisions. Not all situations can, or are, resolved in human courts. Some must await the verdict that God will give.

There is a third element that must be accounted for as well. This notion is difficult for Westerners to appreciate, since we place such a high premium on the individual. But Scripture warns us that there is such a thing as corporate responsibility. None of us functions in complete isolation from the society and neighborhood to which we are attached. Lines of affinity reach beyond our home and church groups to whole communities and eventually to our nation and the world in which we live.

There are three factors involved in communal responsibility in the Old Testament. First is unity. Often the whole group is treated as a single unit. In 1 Samuel 5:10-11, for example, the ark of God came to Ekron of the Philistines. Because the bubonic plague had broken out in the previous Philistine cities where the ark had been taken, the Ekronites cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” The whole group sensed that they would share in the guilt of what their leaders had done in capturing the ark of God.

Second, sometimes a single figure represents the whole group. Rather than someone who embodies the psychology of the group, this is a case of one, such as the suffering Servant of the Lord, standing in for many others.

The third factor is oscillation from the individual to the group, and vice versa. The classic example appears in Joshua 7:11, where the Lord affirms, “Israel has sinned,” even though Achan confesses, “I have sinned” (Josh 7:20).

Each situation must be evaluated to see whether it is a principle of a human court that is involved, a divine prerogative of final judgment or a case of corporate solidarity. We in the West still understand that one traitor can imperil a whole army, but we do not always understand how individual actions carry over into the divine arena or have widespread implications. Scripture works with all three simultaneously.

In the case of David and Bathsheba, it is clear that the loss of the baby was linked to the fact that David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, though Uriah remained determined to serve David faithfully in battle. This did not involve a human court but was a matter of divine prerogative.

The story about Saul’s seven grandchildren takes us into the area of national guilt. Saul violated a treaty made with the Gibeonites in the name of the Lord (Josh 9:3-15). The whole nation was bound by this treaty made in Joshua’s day. Thus when Saul, as head of the nation, committed this atrocity against the Gibeonites, it was an act against God and an act that involved the whole nation. A divinely initiated famine devastated the land until the demands of justice were met. When David inquired into the reason for the famine, God answered, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death” (2 Sam 21:1).

Saul and his sons had already fallen in the battle at Mount Gilboa, but his household shared in the stigma. Only God knew why the seven grandchildren shared in the guilt; it is not spelled out in the text. Apparently they had had some degree of complicity in the matter. Because only God knew, it was up to God, not a human court, to settle such cases.

As for the commandment that has the sins of the fathers visiting the children to the third and fourth generations, we can only observe that the text clearly teaches that this happens when the children repeat the motivating cause of their parents’ sin—that is, they too hate God. But when the children love God, the effect is lovingkindness for thousands of generations!

Both individual responsibility and group or communal responsibility are taught in Scripture. We must carefully define and distinguish these types of responsibility. But in no case should the principle of courts be to blame children for the wrongful deeds of their forebears. And if God demanded that principle as a basis for fairness in human governments, should we think he would do any less in the running of his own government?

No one will ever be denied eternal life because of what his or her forebears did or did not do. Each will live eternally or suffer everlasting judgment for his or her own actions (Ezek 18). Our standard of what constitutes fairness and justice, after all, is rooted in the character of God himself.

The graciousness of God and his swift move to forgive and to forget every sin that we call upon him to cleanse is seen in Exodus 34:6?7. The theme of these verses is essentially repeated in Numbers 14:18, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 111:4, 116:5, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2 and Nahum 1:3.

But God’s grace is balanced by the last part of Exodus 34:7, which warns that “[God] does not leave the guilty unpunished.” The reverse side of the same coin that declares God’s mercy and his love speaks of his justice and righteousness. For the wicked persons who by their actions tend to second their father’s previous motions by continuing to sin boldly against God as their fathers did, with no repentance, this text again warns that the chastisement of God will be felt down to the “third and fourth generation.” However, note carefully that the full formula includes the important qualifier “of those who hate me.” But wherever there is love, the effect is extended to thousands of generations!

In this connection, it is important to note that 2 Samuel 12:14 likewise declares about David’s sin with Bathsheba, “But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” While it true that David was thoroughly forgiven of his sin of adultery and complicity in murder (see Psalms 32 and 51), there were consequences to his sin that could not be halted, for they followed as inexorably as day follows night. To put it in another way, just because God knows that a mugger will accept him as Savior a number of years after a mugging, God does not, thereby, turn the molecular structure of the bat used in the mugging, and which is now descending on the head of an innocent victim, into limp spaghetti; it leaves permanent damage on the skull of its poor unsuspecting target. The case of David and Bathsheba is similar: the consequences of sin are as real as the creation of a new life that comes out of a sexual affair. This in turn gave occasion for the enemies of God to vaunt themselves and demonstrate even further contempt for God, his people, and their alleged different style of life. It was for this reason that God brought immediate judgment on David: “the son born to [him would] die.”


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Do infants deserve hell since they are born in a sinful nature?’ Ultima4257 #1, available at: (accessed 22 September 2012).

[2] Ibid., Elman #2.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen #14.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.


Whytehouse designs

Paul on eternal punishment



By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon to hear statements from uninformed or agenda—promoting ‘Christians’ that the apostle Paul did not preach on eternal punishment or hell? Here are a few examples:

  • ‘It’s an overstatement to say that the christian church has been preaching the doctrine of hell for two millennia. Paul, for one, did not preach it’ (holo).[1]
  • ‘Why not enjoy the true freedom of believing the Scriptures over traditional teaching? Why not follow Paul in a pure Grace Gospel that has no place for, nor need of a religious hell?’[2]
  • ‘This is a very curious thing. Paul, the man specifically commissioned to carry the gospel to the Gentiles, who is universally credited as the most important figure ever to interpret and expound on the gospel, never says a thing about Ghenna or Hades’.[3]

My response to ‘holo’[4]

There is little need for Paul to write on hell as he has given us enough on the “wrath of God’”. The message on hell comes from others, including Jesus. However, what Paul did write on this topic agrees with the Gospels and the Book of Revelation. Pauline verses that demonstrate the wrath of God against unbelievers include:

Romans 1:18;

Ephesians 5:6;

Colossians 3:6.

James Rosscup wrote in ‘Paul’s Concept of Eternal Punishment’,

James E. Rosscup
Professor of Bible Exposition

Paul did not deal in as much detail with eternal punishment as did Jesus in the gospels and John in Revelation, but what he did write matches with their fuller descriptions in many points. This is to be expected because of Paul’s strong commitment to Jesus Christ. In Rom 2:6-10 he wrote about God’s anger in punishing the lost and the anguish they will suffer as a result. In Rom 9:22-23 he spoke of vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, a destruction that consists of an ongoing grief brought on as a consequence of God’s wrath. Second Thess 1:8-9 is a third passage that reflects his teaching on eternal punishment. There eternal destruction represents a different Greek expression, one that depicts a ruin that lost people continue to suffer forever as they are denied opportunity to be with Christ. Paul’s failure to use a number of other words in expressions that could have expressed annihilation of the unsaved is further indication of his harmony with Jesus and John in teaching an unending punishment that the unsaved will consciously experience.

Holo has a presuppositional agenda and he doesn’t want the teaching on eternal punishment to be in the NT. It is there and that’s an embarrassment to him. So what does he do? He attempts to deny that Paul taught it. But he is wrong. Paul supports Jesus in the teaching on eternal punishment.

Holo has four major issues that come out in some of his posts, including these:

(1) He does not know his Bible very well, including the Pauline epistles;

(2) He has a low view of the Scripture when he uses his improper interpretation of the Pauline epistles to arrive at a false conclusion about Paul not teaching on hell.

(3) He engages in a hermeneutic of eisegesis. He imposes his will on the texts instead of letting the texts speak for themselves (exegesis).

(4) We gain a meaning of what happens at death for believers and unbelievers from the totality of Scripture, not only from the Pauline epistles. Even if Paul’s epistles said nothing about eternal punishment or destruction, we don’t need it as it is taught throughout OT and NT, although more specifically in the NT.

Paul on hell

For an excellent chapter on the biblical basis for hell from the Pauline epistles, see Douglas J. Moo, ‘Paul on Hell[5]. His conclusion is:

As we noted at the outset of this essay, Paul never uses the Greek words that are normally translated as “hell,” nor does he teach as explicitly about the concept of hell as do some other New Testament writers. To some extent, then, our purpose has been a negative one: to show that Paul teaches nothing to contradict the picture of hell that emerges more clearly from other portions of the New Testament. But the evidence we do have from Paul suggests that he agrees with that larger New Testament witness in portraying hell as an unending state of punishment and exclusion from the presence of the Lord. Such a fate is entirely “just,” Paul repeatedly stresses (e.g., Rom. 1:18-2:11; 2 Thess. 1:8-9), because human beings have spurned God and merited his wrath and condemnation.

Paul, therefore, presents the judgment that comes on the wicked as the necessary response of a holy and entirely just God. For Paul, the doctrine of hell is a necessary corollary of the divine nature. Negatively, Paul never in his letters explicitly uses hell as a means of stimulating unbelievers to repent. But he does—a sobering consideration!—use it as a warning to believers to stimulate us to respond to the grace of God manifested in our lives (e.g., Rom. 8:12-13).[6]

Other articles

For more of my articles on hell and eternal punishment, see:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Philosophy & Ethics, ‘Why an eternal hell?’, holo #914, 23 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[2] Clyde L. Pilkington Jr 2004-2007, ‘Paul’s teaching on hell’. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[3] ‘Paul, Hell & Universalism’, Running with the Lion, available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[4] OzSpen, #922, 23 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[5] This is an updated reference, accessed 15 December 2014. Originally, the reference was, Douglas J Moo, ‘Paul on hell’, in C W Morgan & R A Peterson, R A (eds) 2007. Hell under Fire. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, ch 4. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012). Portions of this book are also available through Google Books.

[6] Moo 2007:109.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 April 2018.


God-shrinkers in the pulpit lead to God-shrinkers in the pew

Courtesy Google

If you want to get a picture of what is happening to God’s truth in our churches, take a read of the “Christian-only” section of threads on the largest Christian forum on the www – Christian Forums. Here is one example and the subject is, ‘What an eternal hell?’

And a god, or anybody else, acting 239486709485209873245 times worse than Hitler, for 209348759287358972304587 millennia, and then another 204587032985703485 millennia just to get you warmed up, burning you forever and ever, isn’t what I’d call a “holy” god, not in any positive, non-evil sense of the word anyway.[1]

This was my response to this person:

You are a God inventor. You are presenting your obscure, humanly depraved understanding of God. You are a God-shrinker.

Who are you to decide what eternal damnation looks like. That is the domain of the absolutely pure, holy, infinite God of love. When you begin to understand God’s almighty, holy, perfect and absolutely truthful nature, you might not run off at the mouth like this.

Not one person in this world, including you and me, will get more or less than they deserve from the absolutely pure Lord God Almighty. His justice is absolute and we ALL will get it.

“It is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18 ESV).[2]

Jim Packer summed it up in 1996:[3]

For more than three hundred years God-shrinkers have been at work in the churches of the Reformation, scaling down our Maker to the measure of man’s mind and dissolving the biblical view of him as the Lord who reigns and speaks (1996:127, emphasis added).

Packer has hit the theological nail on the head. When there are God-shrinkers in theological colleges, in the pulpits and on the printed and electronic pages, we’ll get them in the pew and in the public, and they’ll flow through to places like Christian Forums.

I’m about to give up on Christian Forums as the God-shrinkers are seen in too many threads here (including this thread). Those who take God at His word and want to listen to what the Scriptures say, instead of making the Scriptures mean what a human mind invents, are decreasing.


Packer, J I 1996. Truth & power: The place of Scripture in the Christian life. Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers.


[1] holo, Christian Forums, Christian Philosophy & Ethics, ‘Why an eternal hell?’, #712, 21 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 21 August 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #740, available at: (Accessed 21 August 2012).

[3] What follows is my reply to Blessedj01 #738, ibid.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.

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Hell and judgment[1]

ACTS 17: 22-31

Flame 11 Clip Art

By Spencer D Gear

“When I die, I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive,” said the late British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who died in 1970. [2] We can hardly argue with his statement.  It is obviously true concerning the physical body. Three years after he published that statement, Russell died. But is it the whole truth? Does the real “me” disappear? Epicurus, the Greek pleasure-loving philosopher, said long ago, “What men fear is not that death is annihilation (complete destruction), but that it is not.” [3] Bertrand Russell said more than when he dies he rots. He sailed into Jesus when he said: “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.” [4]

I read a fascinating poem by John Betjeman where he described his thoughts before a surgical procedure in the operating theatre. He was lying in a hospital in Oxford, England, listening to the tolling of St Giles’ bells. A few lines of the poem are:

    Intolerably sad, and profound
    St Giles’ bells are ringing round…
    Swing up! and give me hope of life,
    Swing down! and plunge the surgeon’s knife.
    I, breathing for a moment, see
    Death wing himself away from me
    And think, as on this bed I lie,
    Is it extinction when I die?…
    St Giles’ bells are asking now
    `And hast thou known the Lord, hast thou?’
    St Giles bells, they richly ring
    `And was that Lord our Christ the King?’
    St Giles’ bells they hear me call
    `I never knew the Lord at all…’

In the poem he goes on to speak of a vague belief in God that he had because he went to church:

    Now, lying in the gathering mist
    I know that Lord did not exist;
    Now, lest this ‘I’ should cease to be,
    Come, real Lord, come quick to me…
    Almighty Saviour, had I faith,
    There’d be no fight with kindly Death…
    The poem is called,

Before the Anaesthetic or A Real Fight [5]

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:13,14)

Christ made many statements that there is such a thing as judgment to come. Hebrews 9:27 gets right to the point: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”


It is important that we approach this matter of judgment with the right attitude of mind.


When Paul, the apostle, was in Athens, he spoke about the judgment in the intellectual atmosphere of Mars Hill (Acts 17). These people “spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (v.21). They just loved sitting down over the equivalent of a cup of tea or coffee, and toss ideas to & fro, debating them furiously, discussing them into the night, and then throw them all away. It was fun, an intellectual exercise.

The safest way to approach any subject that threatens to be serious and personally challenging is to laugh at it.  I guess people laughed at and mocked Noah as he preached about God’s impending judgment.

What did others think of Christ when he wept over Jerusalem because they were blind to their need of him and to the judgment to come. Rather emotional! Trying to frighten us into faith, hey? It was no idle speculation.  Jerusalem was besieged and utterly destroyed in AD 70.

Christ also said this about judgment, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28).

Judgment is not a matter for idle speculations.


I’ve heard of parents say things like, “If you don’t stop doing that, I’ll scratch your eyes out.” Vicious words, but an empty threat. But when a mother says, Don’t go near that fire — you may get burnt.” An empty threat?? Certainly not! It’s a realistic warning.

And when Christ repeatedly warns us of the extremely serious consequences of rejecting him, or of neglecting his offer of salvation, because of the judgment to come, is that an empty threat?  It’s a realistic warning; it could happen.


Fire Ball Clip Art

For some reason, death and judgment are two forbidden themes in conversation today. The fashion is to live life to the full, concentrate on what you can see and touch — get all the thrills you can. And make Ray Price’s song our theme song for life: “For the good times!” Why be morbid and think about death and judgment?

Many dismiss the Christian faith because they say they want to be rational and realistic about life. Yet, at the same time, they are being utterly irrational and unrealistic about the only fact of life we can be sure of: One day we must die.  (There will be some exceptions: those who are alive at the second coming of Jesus Christ.)

What will happen at death?  When I die do I rot, or does life continue?

I can never understand why people find the subject of judgment difficult. The idea of accountability is built into all of life. Society would collapse without it. Everywhere, we must give account of our work, time, or money to someone.

Why should it then be unreasonable that a created being must give an account of his/her life to his or her Creator. It is plain common sense.

Paul, the apostle, when he was preaching on Mars Hill, Athens, was speaking to intelligent people. He noticed an inscription on one of their altars, “To an unknown god.”  Those people believed in the probable existence of some god, although they didn’t know him from experience.

So, to this intelligent, sincere audience, Paul spoke about Christ, the Judge (Acts 17:22-31).

We must have the right approach to judgment. It is:

  • not a matter for idle speculation;
  • it is not an empty threat;
  • it is not a subject that can be ignored.



God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.” (Acts 17:31)

Judgment is inescapable because it is universal. This idea of judgment is not very popular today. However, our gospel is deficient if we miss it out. Usually, there are a number of objections. Let’s consider a few of them briefly:



This is a common objection. The Bible gives two general answers:

    a.    Judgment is according to opportunity,

so that those with little or no opportunity of learning about Christ will be judged accordingly. At Athens, Paul said, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance” (Acts 17:31).

    b.    In the words of Abraham, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).

We can leave the matter with absolute confidence in God’s hands.

If a person has a Bible, has access to a Bible, then he/she has heard or could find out. And the Bible is very clear, then, about his/her position. The discussion of the destiny of those who have never heard, by those who have heard, is academic.

Each of us has to give an account of his/her own life according to his/her own opportunities.

Another objection against hell and judgment is:



It’s a common protest, ” I don’t go to church, but I reckon I’ve got a pretty good chance of heaven, because I live a decent, honest and generous life. I’m a pretty good bloke. My life is just as good as many Christians; maybe even better.”

We can’t dispute that. By human standards, it is no doubt true that some unbelievers outshine believers by the thoughtfulness and kindness of their lives. The only basic difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that the Christian knows that he needs a Saviour, and has asked Christ personally to be the Saviour that he needs.

The basic sin is that we usurp — take over — God’s place at the centre of our lives.

Most people, by being the centre of reference of their own lives, are saying in effect to Christ: “Depart from me.  I want you to leave me alone.  I do not want you God, to interfere with my life.  I want to be king of my own castle.  Therefore, depart from me.”

If a person says that now, and goes on saying that, surely it is fair that Christ should say to that person on the Day of Judgment, “Depart from Me.”  It was surely the person’s own decision.

Another objection is:


Some who give this objection are thinking of those grotesque pictures from the middle ages, that show tortured bodies writhing in the furnace. Pictures like this obscure the real teaching of Christ and don’t even begin to convey the true severity of hell. It is far greater and more serious than that of a furnace.

J.I. Packer explains some of the terms which Jesus used when he taught, soberly and deliberately, about hell:

  • the ‘worm does not die'(Mark 9:48), an image, it seems, for the endless dissolution of the personality by a condemning conscience;
  • ‘fire’ for the agonising awareness of God’s displeasure;
  • ‘outer darkness’ for knowledge of the loss, not merely of God, but of all good, and everything that made life seem worth living;
  • `gnashing of teeth’ for self-condemnation and self-loathing. [6]

These things are dreadful. But they are not arbitrary things inflicted on us by a God who loves to hand out punishment. Nobody stands under the wrath of God unless he/she has chosen to do so.  By hell, God’s action in wrath is to give people what they chose in all its implications.  God is doing no more than confirming the judgment people have placed on themselves.  Many Calvinists would disagree, proclaiming that God predestines people to heaven and to hell.  That is not the view here espoused.

This partly answers the next (and last) objection:



At face value, this seems to be a powerful, irrefutable objection. However, how can we explain the fact that Christ (who more than anyone, showed us the love of God) also spoke to us more than anyone about the judgment of God?

What is possibly the greatest ‘love’ verse in the whole Bible, John 3:16, clearly implies the possibility of appalling judgment: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The astonishing measure of God’s love is seen only when we admit that we all deserve to perish and to be excluded from his presence.  The depth of God’s love is such that we need not, but can know forgiveness.

Repeatedly we are told:

  • God desires all people to be saved;
  • God knows our inclinations lead us down the broad road to destruction;
  • Therefore, in his love, God puts obstacles in our path: the Bible, churches, Christian friends, Christian books, radio & TV programs, trials and difficulties in our lives,
  • and above all the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross.

If a person rushes past all of these, who is to blame?

Most of us disapprove of deceit, lies, theft, bribery, murder, and so on. What would you think of an absolute power in the universe who always turned a blind eye to corruption — moral corruption?  There would be complete and utter chaos. Unless God detests sin and evil with a great loathing, he cannot be a God of love.

Australian doctor, John Hercus [7] put it very shrewdly:

The truth is that men never really have any problem, never any real problem, in understanding the strong, awesome judgment of God. They may complain about it, but they have no difficulty at all in understanding the ruthless judgment that declares that black is black because only the purest white is white. True, we hear from right, left and centre, from ignorant pagans and even highly-trained theologians, the ignorant prattle about ‘All this hell-fire and brimstone talk isn’t my idea of God. I think God is a God of love and I don’t think He’d hurt a fly.’ But it is easy to know why they talk like that; it’s because they are terrified of the alternative.”


If this doctrine of hell is not true, then heaven itself is meaningless. How could heaven be heaven if it were full of people who had no time for God? The apostle Paul wrote:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Cor. 6:9,10)The widely accepted theory of universalism sounds attractive. The idea is that everyone will one day be in heaven, regardless of his or her attitudes towards God in this life. This view makes nonsense of heaven itself.

Somebody put it this way:

The effects of universalism at a funeral service will be startling. Whether you are conducting a funeral service of a Nero or St Paul, or Eichman or Schweitzer, of Hitler or Niemoller, of an agnostic or Augustine, or an atheist or Athanasius, of Judas or James, you will be able to commit them all equally `in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ [8]

The astonishing point is that this is quite possible if all have repented and put their trust in Christ. Otherwise, it makes sheer mockery of the justice and holiness of Almighty God.

If the doctrines of judgment and hell are not true, then sin pays. We can be as selfish as we like, do whatever we like, steal, lie, sleep around, murder…There is no reason to have any standards at all. Why bother to consider other people if there is no day of reckoning?

Richard Wurmbrand, the Romanian pastor who spent 14 years in a communist prison, 3 of them in solitary confinement, put it this way:

“The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I have heard one torturer even say, ‘I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.” [9]


Perhaps the most sobering truth which comes from Christ, concerning the Day of the Lord (the Day of Judgment), is that it will take people by surprise. Paul told the people at Athens: “God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world.” Christ said, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40). We do not know when that time will come. It is unexpected; therefore, be ready. It will come “like a thief in the night.”

The great Scots preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, was once preaching on the coming of Christ and the judgment to follow. He asked his elders, one by one, before the service, “Do you think that Christ will come again tonight? One by one they all replied, “No, I don’t think so.” Then McCheyne announced his text: “The Son of Man cometh at an hour that ye think not.” [10]

Those of us who know of the suddenness of death should surely understand the suddenness of the final day of judgment. Some people with a terminal illness linger on for months and years before death arrives. Others, like my own father, kissed his wife goodbye to go off to work and he never returned. At the age of 57, he dropped dead of a fatal heart attack. Death was very sudden and unexpected for him. Because of God’s grace to him through Christ, I have the assurance that I will meet him again in God’s heaven.

Christ expressed the urgency and seriousness of this matter in a dramatic story: about two men, one rich and the other poor. One lived a wonderfully free and independent life, free of all those narrow restrictions of religion, free of God himself.

The other, Lazarus, was a poor, pathetic creature in comparison, but he knew and loved the Lord. Both men died: death was almost the only experience, apart from birth, which they had in common. Suddenly there was a great separation. One found himself in heaven, the other in hell.

This is how Christ described the feelings of that rich man:

“In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:23,24)If it were like our day, there would be an obituary in the Jerusalem Times,and I could imagine that he had a magnificent funeral. But in hell he simply cried out, “I am in agony in this fire.”

Here it was at last — the agonising awareness of God’s displeasure. He, at last, saw himself as he really was. He knew how empty his life had been — full of worldly things that he had to leave behind, but empty of God.

Christ makes it very clear that hell is a place of eternal separation from everything good, a place where a person will see that God is right and that he is wrong, and will know at last the glory of God — but he can never experience it.

In this story in Luke 16, Christ talks of “a great chasm fixed.” There is no second chance after death!

Where will you be one minute after you die? [11]

I understand that in a cemetery in Indiana, USA, there is an old tombstone with the epitaph:

Pause, stranger, when you pass me by
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you will be
So prepare for death and follow me.

Somebody who walked past the tombstone read the words and scratched his response:

To follow you I’m not content
Until I know which way you went. [12]

Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, NIV)

For a more comprehensive challenge to consider your eternal destiny, I enthusiastically recommend, Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife [13], John Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell? [14] and Eryl Davies, Condemned For Ever! [15]


[1] I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness for most of the content of this message to the late, David Watson. See David Watson, chapter 3, “Hell: and a God of love,” My God is Real. Westchester, Illinois: Good News Publishers (Crossway Books), 1970. As of 15th May 2002, the book was out of print according to the web site of Koorong Books, Australia.

[2] Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian. London: Unwin Books, 1967, 47. I am indebted to Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1995, p. 3, for directing me to the exact reference for this quote. It is in David Watson, but without bibliographical reference.

[3] In Watson, ibid.

[4] Russell, pp. 22-23, in Peterson, p. 4.

[5] In Watson.

[6] Ibid., pp. 35-36.

[7] David, IVP, 1969, in ibid., p. 37.

[8] In Watson, p. 38.

[9] Tortured for Christ. Hodder & Stoughton, 1967, in Watson, p. 38.

[10] In Watson, p. 39.

[11] See Erwin W. Lutzer, One Minute After You Die. Chicago: Moody Press, 1997.

[12] In ibid., pp. 10-11

[13] Robert A. Morey, Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1984.

[14] John Blanchard, Whatever Happened to Hell? Darlington, Co. Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1993.

[15] Eryl Davies, Condemned For Ever! Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press, 1987.

Hell is as real as heaven. 

There will be no second chance!

Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.   This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.

The wrath of God and Muammar Gaddafi’s death


Gaddafi in death, courtesy of

By Spencer D Gear

Is the death of Muammar Gaddafi an example of the wrath of God in action? In the brief article from Nigeria, ‘Muammar Gaddafi is dead??‘, there was a comment, ‘Any tongue dat shall rise against Nigeria shall be destroyed in Jesus name. So I advise our politicians to beware bcos d wrath of God can fall on any one who does not want PEACE for Nigeria’. There was a Nigerian news item from Information Nigeria, ‘Fleeing Gaddafi forces, officials stray into Northern Nigeria’.[1]

The exact date of Gaddafi’s murder is not known, but the British Guardian newspaper reported, ‘Muammar Gaddafi is dead says Libyan PM‘, on Thursday, 20 October 2011. This is an example of some of the horror that happens in our human world. But is it the wrath of God in action?

As we shall see, this is a dangerous view to state that the wrath of God can be experienced by those who do not want peace with Nigeria. The wrath of God contains much more substance than this fleeting comment by a letter-to-the editor, following the death of this dictator, even though he was known for his violence and injustice. We need to get it clear that God’s wrath is serious and not associated with peace for Nigeria. It is associated with peace between rebel human beings and God. Why would I call all people rebels? A rebel is ‘one who refuses allegiance to , resists, or rises in arms against the established government or ruler’ (The Macquarie Dictionary 1997:1776). All human beings are rebels against the law of God.

It’s a biblical fact:

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practise homosexuality, enslavers,[2] liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound[3] doctrine (1 Tim. 1:8-10)

Jeremiah 17:9 affirms that ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ Remember Jonathan Edwards famous sermon preached in 1741 , ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God‘?

What is the wrath of God?

Do we have a description of the wrath of God and have we seen it in action historically? It is important to understand that the wrath of God is as essential an attribute of God’s nature as his love and justice.

We know from 1 John 4:8 that ‘God is love’. ‘God’s love means that God eternally gives of himself to others’ (Grudem 1994:198).

What about God’s justice?

In English, there are two different words for righteousness and justice, but in the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament there is only one word group to cover the meaning of ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’ (Grudem 1994:203). Remember how Moses described God’s actions? God, ‘the Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he’ (Deut. 32:4). Abraham made a successful petition to God’s character (attribute) of justice: ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ (Gen. 18:25). God himself stated, ‘The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart’ (Psalm 19:8a) and ‘I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right’ (Isa. 45:19b).

The wrath of God is as much an outworking of the nature of God as God’s righteousness/justice.

When I speak of the anger/wrath of God, I mean that God ‘intensely hates all sin’ (Grudem 1994:206) and acts towards such sin in his own unique way. We see evidence of the outworking of God’s wrath in the Scriptures when God’s people sinned against God. When God saw the idolatry of the Israelites in Moses’ day, the Lord God said to Moses,

“I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Ex. 32:9-10).

Another example is in Deut. 9:7-8,

Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. Even at Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you.

The wrath of God is not only an attribute of God that is demonstrated by OT actions, but we have this warning from the NT, ‘ Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him’ (John 3:36) and ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth’ (Rom. 1:18).

Therefore, all who do not experience eternal life through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will experience the wrath of God. Therefore, since Gaddafi, who to my knowledge did not experience salvation through Jesus Christ alone, he will now be experiencing the wrath of God. However, we do not know what Gaddafi decided to do in the last minutes and seconds of his life. Only God knows that.

This experience of the wrath of God applies to ALL who have not committed their lives to Jesus Christ for salvation. John 3:36 is definite: Eternal life (Christian salvation) is experienced only by those who continue to believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Acts 4:11-12 could not be clearer:

This Jesus[4] is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

What’s the difference between the essence of God and the attributes of God?

How do we determine what is an ‘attribute’ of God? The attributes of God have a foundation, and that is the nature of God. Formerly, this was called the ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ of God. Essence and substance are used synonymously here. I prefer to use the term ‘nature’ of God as synonymous with essence/substance. Thiessen defines God’s essence as ‘that which underlies all outward manifestation; the reality itself, whether material or immaterial’ and the attributes are an outworking of this essence (1949:119). So, an attribute is an action that is a manifestation of the essence of some thing or person.

However, there are times when attributes look like essence. H. B. Smith noted this when he recognised that some things that are labelled as attributes, could be, ‘strictly speaking’, a different aspect of the divine substance (in Thiessen 1949:119).

In this aspect of the essence of God that some see as not referring to attributes but essence, we are speaking of God’s spirituality, his being immaterial and incorporeal (without a body), invisible, alive and a person. Other aspects of God’s essence are his self-existence, immensity, and eternity (Thiessen 1949:119-123).

It is important to note that God’s attributes are a permanent outworking from His nature. ‘The attributes are permanent qualities. They cannot be gained or lost. They are intrinsic…. God’s attributes are essential and inherent dimensions of his very nature’ (Millard Erickson 1985:265).

While this differentiation is helpful, there is a fundamental aspect of the essence of God that needs to be clarified as a foundation. This is the fact that ‘God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God’ (Wayne Grudem 1994:226). Grudem summarises this aspect of the essence of the nature of God as a Trinity:

  • God is three persons.
  • Each person is fully God.
  • There is one God (Grudem 1994:230).

Since God’s wrath will be experienced by all who live in unrighteousness and die without experiencing Christ’s salvation, there is no way to know whether Gaddafi did not repent and turn to Christ in the closing days, hours and minutes of his life. Only God knows this. However, we do know that all who do not repent of their sins and turn to Christ alone for eternal salvation, will experience the wrath of God.

How can the wrath of God be appeased before death for any individual? To appease means to be brought to a state of peace with God so that the wrath of God will not be experienced?

I’m glad you asked! clip_image004

God’s wrath & Jesus Christ’s propitiation

There are frequent Bible verses that speak of the wrath of God against sin. See Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; 13:3-5; Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:16; 5:9. So when Paul speaks of Christ’s hilasterion, he can’t be only referring to the covering for sin and cleaning the corruption of human beings (an idea conveyed by expiation), but Christ’s sacrifice needed to appease the God who stated:

There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).

This word, ‘propitiation’, is not one that we hear very much from the evangelical pulpits in my part of Australia. Why? Propitiation is not a common word in the Australian English language. My observation is that not much doctrine of this nature is preached from our pulpits.

The Macquarie Dictionary (1997:1712) defines the verb, ‘propitiate’, as ‘to make favourably inclined; appease; conciliate’.[5] We would most often use conciliation rather than propitiation or appeasement in everyday conversation. How can there be conciliation between sinful, rebellious human beings and the absolutely pure and just God Almighty, ruler of heaven and earth who states of Himself, ‘The Lord has established his throne in the heavens and his kingdom rules over all’ (Psalm 103:19).

However, for anyone to enter God’s presence, it cannot be done without God’s appeasing all unrighteous thoughts and actions towards Him. How can this occur? The NT is very clear:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:23-26).

Since the wrath of God is one of the attributes that is an outworking of the nature of God, it is God also who should decided how the wrath towards all human beings can be conciliated, appeased, propitiated so that we can enter God’s presence. God has been very clear about this. It is only through belief in, acceptance of salvation through Christ’s shed blood.

That is why the doctrine of propitiation is so important to the believer. Christ’s blood sacrifice on the cross appeased the wrath of God as indicated in Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10. This propitiation is being weakened by some theologians today who want it to mean expiation. For example, the NIV translates Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; and 4:10 as sacrifice of atonement, atonement or atoning sacrifice.

Many evangelical Christians have not accepted the idea that propitiation = expiation. It was back in 1935 that C. H. Dodd (1935:82-95) opposed the doctrine that Jesus bore God’s wrath against sin. The basic idea of theological liberals is that propitiation may have been common with the pagans but it is foreign to the teaching of OT and NT writers. They assume that because God is love, it would be contradictory for God to love the human beings he created but then inflict His wrath on them. Therefore, they denied propitiation as consistent with the nature of God and used the replacement term, expiation, which means ‘an action that cleanses from sin’ that does not include the teaching on appeasing God’s wrath (Grudem 1994:575 n13).

Dodd’s argument was that the Greek verb, hilaskomai, and its cognates from the LXX could not be applied to Rom. 3:25. Instead, according to Dodd, the meaning in Rom. 3:25 is that of expiation and is contrary to the view of most translators and commentators who are wrong (Dodd 1935:94). Instead of God’s wrath being appeased by the death of Christ, Christ’s sacrifice was to cleanse or cover a person’s sins and uncleanness.[6] One of Dodd’s arguments is that God is almost never the object of the verbs that describe the atonement in the LXX. His view was that ‘the LXX translators did not regard kipper (when used as a religious term) as conveying the sense of propitiating the Deity, but the sense of performing an act whereby guilt or defilement is removed’ (1935:93).

A. G. Hebert supported Dodd’s view:

It cannot be right to think of God’s wrath as being “appeased” by the sacrifice of Christ, as some “transactional” theories of the atonement have done … because it is God who in Christ reconciles the world to himself…. It cannot be right to make any opposition between the wrath of the Father and the love of the Son (in Erickson 1985:810).

George Eldon Ladd (1974:429-430) has refuted Dodd’s views on hilaskomai, demonstrating that it does refer to propitiation and not expiation. Ladd provides this rejoinder (Ladd 1974:429-430):[7]

If we check Hellenistic Greek writers such as Josephus and Philo, uniformly the OT word means ‘to propitiate’. This is also true if we check the Apostolic Fathers of the NT era.[8] Leon Morris is pointed in showing that the ‘expiation’ translation is a recent invention: ‘If the LXX translators and the New Testament writers evolved an entirely new meaning of the word group, it perished with them, and was not resurrected until our own day’ (Morris 1950-51:233).

There are actually three places in the LXX where the word, exhilaskesthai, is used in the sense of appeasing the wrath of God, as propitiation. These are in Zech. 7:2; 8:22 and Mal. 1:9. Dodd’s (1935:233) promotion of the view that there is something exceptional about this view of these three references failed to convince Ladd.

While it is true that the verb, exhilaskesthai, is used in the OT with God as its object, ‘it is equally true that the verb is never followed by an accusative of sin in the canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament’ (Ladd 1974:430).

This is the most significant emphasis: While it is true that the OT does not speak of appeasing the wrath of God, it is true that the context for the thought, where the word is used, is appeasing the wrath of God. ‘In many places atonement is necessary to save life that otherwise would be forfeited—apparently because of the wrath of God’ (Ladd 1974:430).

Therefore, I agree with Erickson (1985:811) that C. H. Dodd’s conclusions, although they have been prominent, are inaccurate because Dodd may have had an inaccurate view of the Trinity, as seen by his failure to present the opposition to his expiation view in relation to Zech. 7:2; 8:22; and Mal. 1:9. Dodd’s kind of emphasis is shown in Bible translations such as the RSV, NRSV, NIV, NEB, REB[9], NET, Wycliffe, CEV, God’s Word translation, Good News Bible, Darby, and Young’s Literal where ‘expiation’ or ‘sacrifice of atonement’ is favoured over ‘propitiation’ in critical verses such as Rom. 3:25-26. For a ‘propitiation’ view of these two verses, see the ESV, NASB, English RV, ASV, KJV, NKJV, Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Amplified Bible, and J. B. Phillips.

There are passages in Paul’s letters, such as Romans 3:25-26, which cannot provide a satisfactory interpretation outside of this understanding of propitiation – appeasing the wrath of God. When Jesus is the hilasterion (propitiation, not expiation), ‘this proves both that God is just (his wrath required the sacrifice) and that he is the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (his love provided the sacrifice for them)’ (Erickson 1985:811).

Harold O. J. Brown has rightly stated that ‘the history of the church is the history of heresies’ (1969:165). We need to understand the unorthodox theology of people like C. H. Dodd in relation to the doctrine of propitiation (appeasing God’s wrath against sin). See especially Roger Nicole’s (1955) refutation of Dodd’s view.[10]

God’s communicable attributes

The Hebrew word, kaphar, is rendered as exilaskomai, meaning to propitiate or appease, in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the OT. However, the word, exilaskomai, does not appear in the NT. Instead, verb, hilaskomai, is in Luke 18:13 and Heb. 2:17. The noun hilasmos is in 1 John 2:1; 4:10, and the adjective hilasterion is used twice in Rom. 3:25 & Heb. 9:5. The wrath of God is a teaching in John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5; 5:9; Eph. 5:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 3:11 and Rev. 19:15.

The Greek words for ‘propitiation’ signify what Christ’s death does to conciliate / appease the wrath of God. Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, defines propitiation as ‘a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor’ (1994:575). He places the wrath of God in ‘the communicable attributes of God’.

In an earlier generation, William G. T. Shedd, wrote,

‘By the suffering of the sinner’s atoning substitute, the divine wrath at sin is propitiated, and as a consequence of this propitiation, the punishment dur to sin is released, or not inflicted upon the transgressor. This release or non-infliction of penalty is “forgiveness” in the Biblical representation’ (in Thiessen 1949:326).

There is abundant biblical evidence that the wrath of God is an essential attribute of our Almighty God. We praise God that his wrath is in his nature as much as his love, patience and forgiveness.


A good exegetical case can be made for the doctrine of Christ’s propitiation, appeasing the wrath of God. The wrath of God is experienced by all who do not believe in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. The wrath of God is not limited to tyrants like Gaddafi and despots like Hitler, Idi Amin and others who authorised genocide. ‘But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’ (Rom. 1:18 NLT). The apostle Paul understood that the death of Christ was propitiatory – Christ died to appease the wrath of God against sin. This is stated beautifully in 1 John 2:1-2:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

For more of my articles, see ‘Truth Challenge’.

Works consulted

Brown, H O J 1969. The protest of a troubled Protestant. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Dodd, C H 1935. The Bible and the Greeks. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

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

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Ladd, G L 1972. A Commentary on the revelation of John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

The Macquarie dictionary 1997. NSW Australia: Macquarie University.

Morris, L 1950-51. The use of hilaskenesthai in biblical Greek. Expository Times 62, 227-233.

Nicole, R 1955. C. H. Dodd and the doctrine of propitiation. Westminster Theological Journal, 117-157. May, Vol. XVII.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


[1] Dated 10 September 2011 (Accessed 22 October 2011).

[2] The ‘enslavers’ are those who take someone captive in order to sell them into slavery (based on the ESV footnote). All biblical quotes in this article are from the English Standard Version.

[3] Or ‘healthy’ (ESV footnote).

[4] The original said, “This one”, but the context indicates that this one is “Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:10).

[5] The same definition is at (Accessed 22 October 2011).

[6] I was alerted to this information from Dodd by Erickson (1985:820).

[7] Erickson (1985:810-811) drew my attention to these 4 points.

[8] See First Clement (end of the first century) and the Shepard of Hermas (beginning of the second century), where hilaskomai means ‘propitiating God’.

[9] This is the Revised English Bible, an update of the NEB, but an online edition could not be found. I expect that it would follow the NEB.

[10] Unfortunately Nicole’s article is not available for free access online.


Copyright © 2011 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 June 2018.