Category Archives: Life after Death

Is God in hell?

If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

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(Image courtesy PublicDomainPictures.net)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

While blogging on a Christian forum, I met a person who wrote: ‘I don’t believe God dwells in Hell. That’s what Jews believe’.[1]

Is that true or false?

1. Hades and God’s omnipresence

God’s omnipresence means

God is everywhere present at once (omni=everywhere = present). Negatively stated, there is nowhere that God is absent [from]…. It is helpful to see what omnipresence does not mean. It does not mean that God is creation; this is pantheism…. In theism God made the world; in pantheism God is the world. Nor does omnipresence mean that God is in creat6ion, which is panentheism (Geisler 2003:169-170).

The Bible teaches God is omnipresent (Prov 15:3; 1 Kings 8:27; Jer 23:23-24; Matt 18:20; Ps 139:7-12). He is everywhere all the time and that means he will be present forever in hell as the Judge and perpetrator of punishment.

Proverbs 15:3 (NIV) supports this view: ‘The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good’. The wicked are on earth and also in Hades/Hell. The Lord is active in watching them.

2. What is Hades?

It is ‘the place of the dead’ (Eccl 9:10; Ps 55:23; Acts 2:27) or ‘the place of departed souls/spirits’ (Eccl 12:7; Isa 14:9-10, 19).

There does seem to be a contradiction in Scripture regarding God’s presence in Hades or not. Paul speaks of being ‘shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’ (2 Thess 1:9 NIV).

However, Scripture also teaches in Revelation 14:20 (NIV) that anyone who receives the beast’s image

will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.

How can the damned be shut out from God’s presence and still experience fury from God, in the presence of the Lamb? They seem to be conflicting statements.

These verses are best reconciled, in my view, by recognizing that judgment consists in being excluded from God’s presence as the source of all blessedness, but not from God’s omnipresent lordship (Michael Horton, Hell is not separation from God).

Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV) destroys the view that God is not in Sheol/Hades:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.


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3. Works consulted

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

4.  Notes

[1] Brian100 #587. Christianity Board, ‘Atheist objections to evidence for God’s existence’, 8 July 2020 (Accessed 10 July 2020).

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 July 2020.

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Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection

(image courtesy Wikipedia, Resurrection by Luca Giordano)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Many scholars and laity have attempted to debunk Jesus’ bodily resurrection. These are a few examples:

(a) John Shelby Spong: ‘Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history’ (1998).

(b) John Dominic Crossan, fellow of the infamous Jesus Seminar, wrote: ‘Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical.  He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals’ (1994:160) and Jesus’ resurrection was an apparition – a ghost (Crossan 1994:160).

(c) Rudolf Bultmann asked: “But what of the resurrection? Is it not a mythical event pure and simple? Obviously it is not an event of past history” (Bultmann 1984, Kerygma and Myth, online version).

(d) An antagonist: ‘If, as you say you believe, Jesus, resurrected with a physical body about 2,000 years ago, the probability that he is still alive and well is so infinitesimal that it may be considered non-existent.

Are they correct, based on the texts of the Bible?

1. The Greek word, soma, always means physical body.

When used of an individual human being, the word body (soma) always means a physical body in the New Testament. There are no exceptions to this usage in the New Testament. Paul uses soma of the resurrection body of Christ [and of the resurrected bodies of people – yet to come] (I Cor 15:42-44), thus indicating his belief that it was a physical body (Geisler 1999:668).

In that magnificent passage of I Corinthians 15 about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people in the last days, why is Paul insisting that the soma must be a physical body? It is because the physical body is central in Paul’s teaching on salvation (Gundry in Geisler 1999:668).

Check out these Scriptures:

The doctrine of the bodily resurrection is affirmed abundantly in the New Testament (see Jn. 5:28-29; 6:39-40; Mk. 12:18-27; Acts 17:32; 26:8; Rom. 8:23; 1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; Phil. 3:21).

2. Jesus’ body came out from among the dead

There’s a prepositional phrase that is used in the NT to describe resurrection “from (ek) the dead” (cf. Mark 9:9; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; Acts 3:15; Rom. 4:24; I Cor. 15:12). That sounds like a ho-hum kind of phrase in English, ‘from the dead’. Not so in the Greek.

This Greek preposition, ek, means Jesus was resurrected ‘out from among’ the dead bodies, that is, from the grave where corpses are buried (Acts 13:29-30).  These same words are used to describe Lazarus being raised ‘from (ek) the dead’ (John 12:1). In this case there was no doubt that he came out of the grave in the same body in which he was buried. Thus, resurrection was of a physical corpse out of a tomb or graveyard (Geisler 1999:668).

This confirms the physical nature of the resurrection body.

3. He appeared to over 500 people at the one time.

Paul to the Corinthians wrote that Christ

appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born (I Cor. 15:5-8).

You could not believe the discussion and controversy one little verb has caused among Bible teachers. Christ ‘appeared’ to whom?  Here, Paul says, Peter, the twelve disciples, over 500 other Christians, James, all the apostles, and to Paul ‘as to one abnormally born’.

The main controversy has been over whether this was some supernatural revelation called an ‘appearance’ or was it actually ‘seeing’ his physical being. These are the objective facts:

  •  Christ became flesh;
  •  He died in the flesh;
  •  He was raised in the flesh, and
  •  He appeared to these hundreds of people in the flesh.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not a form of ‘spiritual’ existence. Just as he was truly dead and buried, so he was truly raised from the dead bodily and seen by a large number of witnesses on a variety of occasions (Fee 1987:728).

No wonder the Book of Acts can begin with: ‘After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3 NIV).

4. Why is the bodily resurrection of Jesus important?

[Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Kinnaird Resurrection) by Raphael, 1502, courtesy Wikipedia]

We must understand how serious it is to deny the resurrection, the bodily resurrection, of Jesus. Paul told the Corinthians: ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’ (I Cor. 15:13-14).

The updated World Christian Encyclopedia, just published by Oxford University Press, says that by mid-century there will be 3 billion Christians, constituting 34.3% of the world´s population, up from the current 33%.

Christians now number 2 billion and are divided into 33,820 denominations and churches, in 238 countries, and use 7,100 languages, the encyclopedia says (Zenit 2001).

If there is no bodily resurrection, we might as well announce it to the world and tell all Christians they are living a lie and ought to go practise some other religion or whoop it up in a carefree way of eating, drinking and being merry.

British evangelist and apologist, Michael Green (1930-2019), summarised the main issues about the bodily resurrection of Christ:

The supreme miracle of Christianity is the resurrection…. [In the New Testament] assurance of the resurrection shines out from every page.  It is the crux of Christianity, the heart of the matter. If it is true, then there is a future for mankind; and death and suffering have to be viewed in a totally new light. If it is not true, Christianity collapses into mythology. In that case we are, as Saul of Tarsus conceded, of all men most to be pitied (Green 1990:184).

5. The bodily resurrection is absolutely essential for these reasons:

These are not minor reasons; they are essential to core Christianity.

5.1 Belief in the resurrection of Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation

Romans 10:9 states: ‘If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’. Salvation means that you are saved from God’s wrath because of the resurrection of Christ. You are saved from hell.

Your new birth, regeneration is guaranteed by the resurrection. First Peter 1:3 states that ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’.

The spiritual power within every Christian happens because of the resurrection. Paul assured the Ephesians of Christ’s ‘incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms’ (Eph 1:19-20).  You can’t have spiritual power in your life without the resurrected Christ.

In one passage, Paul links your justification through faith to the resurrection; he associates directly your being declared righteous, your being not guilty before God, with Christ’s resurrection.  Romans 4:25 states that Jesus ‘was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’.

Your salvation, being born again, justification, having spiritual power in the Christian life depends on your faith in the raising of Jesus from the dead.  Not any old resurrection will do. Jesus’ body after the resurrection was not a spirit or phantom. It was a real, physical body. If you don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ, on the basis of this verse, you can’t be saved.

Also,

5.2 Christ’s resurrection proves that he is God

From very early in his ministry, Jesus’ predicted his resurrection.  The Jews asked him for a sign. According to John 2:19-21, ‘Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”… But the temple he had spoken of was his body’.  Did you get that?  Jesus predicted that he, being God, would have his body – of the man Jesus – destroyed and three days later, he would raise this body.

Jesus continued to predict his resurrection: ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matt. 12:40).  See also Mark 8:31; 14:59; and Matt. 27:63.

The third reason Christ’s bodily resurrection is core Christianity is:

5.3 Life after death is guaranteed!

Remember what Jesus taught his disciples in John 14:19, ‘Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live’. If you truly have saving faith in Christ, his resurrection makes life after death a certainty.

Another piece of evidence to support the resurrection as a central part of Christianity is:

5.4 Christ’s bodily resurrection guarantees that believers will receive perfect resurrection bodies as well.

After you die and Christ comes again, the New Testament connects Christ’s resurrection with our final bodily resurrection. First Cor. 6:14 states, ‘By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also’.

In the most extensive discussion on the connection between Christ’s resurrection and the Christian’s own bodily resurrection, Paul states that Christ is ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Cor. 15:20).

(image courtesy of Heartlight)

What are ‘firstfruits’? It’s an agricultural metaphor indicating the first taste of the ripening crop, showing that the full harvest is coming.  This shows what believers’ resurrection bodies, the full harvest, will be like.

The New Living Translation translation of 1 Cor. 15:20 explains it in down to earth terms, ‘But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died’.

Do you see how critically important it is to have a biblical understanding of the nature of Christ’s resurrection – his bodily resurrection?

In spite of so many in the liberal church establishment denying the bodily resurrection of Christ or dismissing it totally, there are those who stand firm on the bodily resurrection. Among those is Dr Albert Mohler Jr who provides a summary of the essential need for Jesus’ resurrection:

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead separates Christianity from all mere religion–whatever its form. Christianity without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is merely one religion among many. “And if Christ is not risen,” said the Apostle Paul, “then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]. Furthermore, “You are still in your sins!” [v. 17b]. Paul could not have chosen stronger language. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” [v. 19].

Yet, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been under persistent attacks since the Apostolic age. Why? Because it is the central confirmation of Jesus’ identity as the incarnate Son of God, and the ultimate sign of Christ’s completed work of atonement, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation. Those who oppose Christ, whether first century religious leaders or twentieth century secularists, recognise the Resurrection as the vindication of Christ against His enemies (Mohler 2016).

6. Conclusion

In spite of attacks from the cynics, sceptics and liberal church, the bodily (soma) resurrection of Jesus demonstrates he rose in a real body that could be touched. Those around him communicated with him; he ate with them (see John 20:20, 26-28; Luke 24:39-43).

It was a soma (bodily) resurrection when Jesus came ek (out from) among the dead. If there is no bodily resurrection, there is no Christianity. He appeared to over 500 people, many of whom were still alive (inferring doubters could go to check with them).

Belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection are necessary for salvation (Romans 10:9). His resurrection demonstrates he is God and resurrection of believers in the future is guaranteed.

Christianity without the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is merely one religion among many. “And if Christ is not risen,” said the Apostle Paul, “then our preaching is empty and your faith is in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14] (Albert Mohler Jr.)

7. Works consulted

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco.

Fee, G. D. 1987, The first epistle to the Corinthians (gen. ed. F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Geisler, N. L. 1999. Resurrection, Evidence for, in N L Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Green, M. 1990. Evangelism through the local Church. London: Hodder & Stoughton

Mohler, A 2016. The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the reality of the Gospel (online), March 25. Available at: http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/03/25/the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ-and-the-reality-of-the-gospel/ (Accessed 28 March 2016).

Zenit 2001. World Christianity on the rise in 21st century (online. Available at: https://zenit.org/articles/christianity-on-the-rise-in-21st-century/ Accessed 29 March 2016.)

 

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 February 2020.

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Evidence for the afterlife

Can you trust the Bible to give accurate information on life-after-death?

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Cemetery with flowers

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article was published in On Line Opinion, 24 March 2020, as ‘Evidence for the afterlife‘. There are some additions in this article, when compared with this one.

Where will you be one minute after your last breath? How can we demonstrate if there is life after death?

In this brief article, I’ll use some of the tests ancient historians use to check on whether an old document can be trusted.

Captain James Cook vs the Bible

How do we know Capt. Cook sailed up the east coast of Australia in 1770? How do we know Cook

set sail on the first of three voyages to the South Seas, he carried with him secret orders from the British Admiralty to seek ‘a Continent or Land of great extent’ and to take possession of that country ‘in the Name of the King of Great Britain’….

The maps, journals, log books and paintings from Cook’s travels are just some of the State Library’s incredible records of this exciting time’.[1]

Captain James Cook. N. Dance Pinxt. T. K. Sherwin Sculp. (courtesy State Library New South Wales)

snowflake-light-green-small How do we know those maps, journals, log books and paintings are accurate?

snowflake-light-green-small We read his documents and other historical writings, presuming they convey correct information. Are our assumptions naive?

snowflake-light-green-small How do we know those writings are reliable in content?

snowflake-light-green-small We apply the same tests (criteria) to Cook’s journals as we do to the Bible.

Tests for historical documents

John P Meier (1991:167-182) summarised these tests:

FlowerEmbarrassment: A fact or event that appears to cause embarrassment to the theology of the gospel authors is less likely to have been invented by them than a fact or event that bolsters their theology.

FlowerDiscontinuity: A fact or event that does not appear to have had any basis in earlier tradition is less likely to have been invented by the gospel authors than an event that may have been predicated in an earlier tradition.

FlowerMultiple Attestation: A fact or event that appears to have been preserved down multiple lines of independent tradition is more likely to be true than one that is only preserved down a single line.

FlowerCoherence: A fact or event that appears to be consistent with our present understanding of the historical context is more likely to be true than one which appears to be at odds with it.

FlowerRejection and Execution: A fact or event that looks as though it might provide a realistic explanation for the rejection or execution of Jesus is more likely to be true than the more tendentious explanations offered consciously by the gospel authors (e.g. divine providence, the Jews being in league with the devil etc.). (This criterion is less strong as it presumes historicity of the execution to begin with, but given that the execution of Jesus appears to satisfy each of the four previous criteria, it’s based on a fairly solid foundation so far as second-order criteria go.) [courtesy Gary, Eschaton Now 2010].

Meier gave this warning:

Our survey indicates that five suggested criteria of historicity or authenticity are really valuable and deserve to be ranked as primary criteria….

The use of the valid criteria is more an art than a science, requiring sensitivity to the individual case rather than mechanical implementation. It can never be said too many times that such an art usually yields only varying degrees of probability and not absolute certitude. But … such judgments of probability are common in any investigation of ancient history, and the quest for the historical Jesus cannot apply for a special exemption’ (Meier 1991:184).

Apply these tests to what the Bible says about the afterlife

Now we’ll apply these tests to where believers in Christ and non-believers will be one minute after their last breath. Historically, does the Bible confirm life-after-death or do we agree with many Aussies. The National Church Life Survey of 2009 of people across the community found that ‘in 1993, the proportion of people affirming a belief in heaven and in life after death was just over half. In 2009 these figures had declined by only several percent’.[2]

‘A national Essential poll shows 40% of all Australians believe in heaven.  But the crucial figure is that a staggering 51% of those aged 18-34 hold such a belief!  This compares to just 29% of the public who are over 55 years old’.[3]

matte-red-arrow-small Embarrassment: Who witnessed the empty tomb of Jesus? Two women! Women were unreliable witnesses in Jewish culture. See: Josephus: Women unacceptable witnesses. Matt 25:46 states: ‘And they [unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life’. ‘Eternal punishment (damnation)’ would be an embarrassment to the Jews.

matte-red-arrow-small Discontinuity is a test that depends on knowing details of Judaism and the early church after Jesus in the first century. Our information is limited so it must be applied with caution. However, 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 (NLT) states our preaching is useless unless Jesus is raised and if there is no resurrection of the dead. Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus where, after death, Lazarus was in Abraham’s bosom [heaven] while the rich, ungodly man was in torment in Hades (Luke 16:22-23).

matte-red-arrow-small Multiple Attestation: A similar passage to Matt 25:46 is in Matt 7:13-14; Mark 9:44-48; John 5:29, and Acts 24:15.

matte-red-arrow-smallCoherence: What is the coherence or consistency of Matt 25:46 with John 14:1-4 and 1 Cor 15:53? The John passage confirms that for believers Jesus has prepared a place of ‘many mansions’. For believers, our mortal bodies will be transformed to be immortal at his Second Coming  (1 Cor 15:53). For unbelievers, what will happen after death and at Christ’s return? Revelation 20 explains the Great White Throne judgement of unbelievers. Rev 20:12-13 (NLT) states: ‘I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds’. No unbeliever can run and hide from God’s judgement. There is an afterlife for the godly and ungodly – with two different destinies.

matte-red-arrow-small Rejection and Execution: Matthew 26 records the Jewish plot to kill Jesus, Peter’s denial of Jesus, the high priest and others spat in Jesus’ face, and Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Him. According to Matthew 27, Judas Iscariot hanged himself. Jesus was on trial before Pilate, was mocked by the soldiers, spat on, and a crown of thorns placed on his head. Rejection is written all over this trial and execution, thus affirming one of the historical criteria to demonstrate the New Testament is a reliable set of documents – including on the afterlife. This information would not be expected to be provided if it were not historically reliable.

Method used

In this short article I have attempted to show:

  1. The New Testament is a reliable document, using the 5 tests of historicity.
  2. In this reliable document it is demonstrated there is life beyond the grave for believers in Jesus and for unbelievers.
  3. Therefore, I conclude there is strong evidence to support an afterlife. It is not a leap of faith to accept life-after-death.

For further reading I recommend:

1.  Old Testament:

  • Kaiser Jr., W C 2001. The Old Testament documents: Are they reliable & relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
  • Kitchen, K A 2003. On the reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

2.  New Testament:

  • Barnett, P 2009. Finding the historical Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
  • Barnett, P W 1997. Jesus and the logic of history. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.
  • Blomberg, C 1987. The historical reliability of the Gospels. Leicester, England/Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press.
  • Blomberg, C 2016. The historical reliability of the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  • Bruce, F F 1959. The New Testament documents: Are they reliable? Available at: http://minnehahachurch.org/Library/06Writing/NTDocuments-Reliable-Bruce.pdf.

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Works consulted

Meier, J P 1991. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: Volume 1. New York: Doubleday.

 Notes

[1] State Library New South Wales 2020. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0. Available at: https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/captain-cooks-voyages-discovery (Accessed 5 January 2020).

[2] NCLS Research: News 2011. A picture of the religious beliefs of the Australian community (online). Available at: http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=6817 (Accessed 5 January 2020).

[3] AIM: The Australian Independent Media Network 2018. What is it with Heaven and Millennials? (online) Available at: https://theaimn.com/what-is-it-with-heaven-and-millennials/ (Accessed 5 January 2020).

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 06 January 2020.

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1 Peter 3:19: Proclamation to spirits in prison

(image courtesy Himandus.net)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

1 Peter 3:18-20 reads:

18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water (ESV).

1.  Difficult to interpret

Martin Luther (AD 483 – 1546)[1] made a profound statement about his text in his commentary on 1 Peter:

This is a strange text, and a more obscure passage, perhaps, than any other in the New Testament, for I do not certainly know what St. Peter means. At first sight, the words import as though Christ had preached to the spirits — that is, the souls which were formerly unbelieving at the time Noah was building the ark; but that I cannot understand, I cannot even explain it. There has been no one hitherto who has explained it. Yet if any one is disposed to maintain that Christ, after that He had suffered on the Cross, descended to these souls and preached to them, I will not dispute it. It might bear such a rendering. But I am not confident that St. Peter would say this (Luther 2009, of 1 Peter 3:18-21, emphasis added).

These are among the most difficult verses in the New Testament to interpret. Commentator, D. Edmond Hiebert, observed, ‘Each of the nine words in the original has been differently understood’.[2] They are difficult because of these three questions that need answers:[3]

(a) About whom was Peter speaking when he wrote of the ‘spirits’ to whom Christ made this proclamation (v. 19)?

(b) When did this proclamation happen (v. 19)?

(c) What was the content of the proclamation? Was it a Gospel announcement or something else?

(d) When did these ‘spirits’ fall through disobedience?

Let’s examine some possibilities:

1.1 Christ preached to the dead

Those who interpret ‘the spirits in prison’ this way maintain that during the time between Christ’s death and resurrection he went to the realm of the dead and preached to Noah’s contemporaries:

This group is subdivided by various opinions on the nature of this proclamation. (1) Christ’s soul ministers an offer of salvation to the spirits. (2) He announces condemnation to the unbelievers of Noah’s time. (3) He announces good tidings [good news] to those who had already been saved (Blum 1981:241).

Briefly, let’s look at these 3 views. Firstly,

1.1.1 Christ offers salvation to those in the realm of the dead

This would possibly harmonise with that statement in the Apostles’ Creed:

… He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell….
[4]

In 1 Peter 3:19 it states that Christ ‘went and preached to the spirits in prison’. Does this refer to Jesus’ descent into hell, as in the Apostles’ Creed? Not at all. I haven’t found any biblical evidence for that conclusion. There is no biblical support for Christ between his death and resurrection or between his resurrection and ascension going down to Hades/hell.

Some suggest that Christ in his spirit preached to Noah’s contemporaries. Let’s wait to see what the biblical evidence demonstrates.

1.1.2 Pre-existent Christ and Noah’s generation

The second interpretation maintains that Christ, before he came in the flesh at the Incarnation, ‘preached in the time of Noah to Noah’s sinful generation’ (Blum 1981:241).

1.1.3 Christ proclaimed to the ‘disobedient spirits’

This third interpretation identifies the ‘spirits’ as the fallen angels to whom Christ proclaimed his victory on the cross. When did this proclamation take place? There are two options: (1) During the three days when Jesus descended into Hades, or (2) During his ascension.

This third position seems to be the option that Peter teaches in 1 Peter 3:18-4:6. ‘After Christ’s death, he made a victorious proclamation to the fallen angels’. This is defended and developed in this passage that goes through to 4:6 (Blum 1981:241).

Kistemaker agrees:

Recent commentators teach that the resurrected Christ, during his ascension to heaven, proclaimed to imprisoned spirits his victory over death. The exalted Christ passed through the realm where the fallen angels are kept and proclaimed his triumph over them (Eph 6:12; Col 2:15). This interpretation has met favorable response in Protestant and Roman Catholic circles and is in harmony with the teaching of the Petrine passage and the rest of Scripture (1986:147-148).

See also Barnes’ Notes on 1 Peter 3 for a detailed discussion of v. 19.

2. Take note of these facts

screneRed-small The main purpose of vv 18-22 is stated in v. 18? What is it? ‘For Christ also suffered’ (NIV). This is further emphasised by the preceding verses (vv. 13-17).

screneRed-small  This is the teaching in v. 18 that provides the reason for patient endurance (vv. 13-17).

screneRed-small According to v. 18, ‘to bring you to God’ was the reason for Christ’s death.

2.1 Problems with NIV translation[5]

The NIV translates v. 18 as, ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit’.

screneRed-small The NIV translates Spirit with a capital ‘S’. So, was Jesus’ body crucified and he was made alive ‘in the spirit’, small ‘s’? The ESV, Geneva Bible, LEB, NABRE, NASB, NRSV, and RSV translated as ‘spirit’ with a small ‘s’. Literally the Greek means, ‘Put to death in flesh, made alive in spirit’. Therefore, Blum (1981:242) gives this technical reason for rejecting the NIV translation

To translate one member of the antithesis [body vs spirit] as a dative of sphere or reference and the other as a dative of cause is inconsistent. It is best to take both as datives of reference (or “adverbial” or even “of sphere”) and to translate both “in the sphere of” (Blum (1981:242).

Thus the better translation of v. 18 would be one such as the NRSV, ‘He was put to death in [with reference to] the flesh, but made alive in [with reference to] the spirit’. Thus, grammatically, the small ‘s’ spirit is more consistent than capital ‘S’ Spirit.

3. When was the proclamation made?

Verse 18 says Jesus had been ‘made alive’, so this proclamation took place after his resurrection. I can’t find biblical evidence to support Christ’s ‘descent into hell’ between death and resurrection.

So Jesus must have gone to where these were located. We are not told where it was so we should not speculate. We can’t walk into a room of some confined space and discover these fallen, disembodied spirits.

The same verb, ‘went’, is used in verse 19 as verse 22.

4. What was the content of the proclamation?

Simon Kistemaker quoted Dalton:

What is meant by the word preached? The verb stands by itself, so that we are unable to determine the content of preaching. In brief, only the fact of preaching, not the message, is important. That is, we understand the verb preached to mean that Christ proclaimed victory over his adversaries. In his brevity, Peter refrains from telling us the context of Christ’s proclamation. We would be adding to the text if we should interpret the word preached to signify the preaching of the gospel. “Hence we may suppose with reason that it is the victory of Christ over His adversaries which is emphasized in 3:19, not the conversion or evangelization of the disobedient spirits.”[6]

4.1 The verb used tells something

The usual Greek word ‘to evangelise’ (euangelizw) is not used here but keryssw, which means ‘I proclaim/herald’. So the choice of the latter verb means that Christ came, not to preach the Gospel to spirits. What could that proclamation be?

There are no thoughts of salvation for lost angels in the NT (see Heb 2:16 and 1 Peter 1:12).

4.2 Who are the spirits (in prison)?

This is one of the easier parts to interpret. Verse 20 states ‘they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared’ (ESV). So at the time of Noah, these beings were disobedient and the Flood judgment came.

This judgment of the Flood is a warning to human beings that there is going to be a judgment of the disobedient, unrighteous world at Jesus’ second coming. This is stated in verses such as Matt 24:37-41 (ESV) and 2 Peter 3:3-7 (ESV). Noah’s ark that saved 8 people from the flood waters is a symbol of the salvation available in Christ right now.

First Peter 3:20 states who the ‘spirits’ are. They are those people who ‘formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water’ (ESV).

They were not angelic spirits but the spirits of the disobedient people who died at the time of Noah’s flood.

5. The nature of the prison

Eminent evangelical Lutheran scholar, R C H Lenski wrote of 1 Pet 3:19,

The Scriptures know of only one ‘prison,’ that confines ‘spirits,’ namely, hell, ‘hades,’ ‘the gehenna of the fire’ (Matt. 5:22; 18:9). To call this [prison] the realm of the dead; is to give a strange meaning to the word, ‘prison’ for all the dead are supposed to go into this fictitious place, the realm of the dead. Note 2 Pet. 2:9, 10, in fact all of 2 Pet 3:4-10 (Lenski 1966/2001:163).

(image courtesy Storming the Gates of Hell)

Another commentator wrote: ‘The prison confining the unbelieving spirits is not a reform school, but a penitentiary for life’ (Engelder 1945:381).

It is not clear whether Jesus did the preaching to spirits in prison at the time of Noah or at the time of his Incarnation.[7]

However, the prison refers to Hades and Gehenna/hell. See Prov 27:20; Matt 5:25; Luke 12:58 where ‘prison’ is a type for hell.

In hell, so this is taken, in Proverbs 27:20; compare with Matthew 5:25 Luke 12:58, where prison is mentioned as a type or representation of hell. There are similar expressions in 2 Peter 2:4-5; Jude 1:6.

6. Two main understandings

From the time of the early church fathers until the twenty-first century, there have been two main interpretations of 1 Peter 3:19:[8]

6.1 Firstly, Jesus preached to the departed spirits NOW in prison.

Our Lord, through Noah, preached repentance to the people of Noah’s time. There is no association with the doctrine of ‘descent into hell’ in this interpretation.

6.2 Secondly, what Jesus did when his body was in the grave.

This is the most popular interpretation from the Fathers to Luther and a large number of contemporary interpreters. It is claimed that ‘this is the most natural construction to put on the words “in which also” (i.e. in spirit)’. It is associated with Jesus’ being ‘quickened in spirit’.

So, he went from his death and the spirits were alive when Christ preached to them. His spirit, ‘disengaged from the body’, went to the place of other disembodied spirits and proclaimed certain news. The content of this proclamation was not stated but 1 Peter 4:6 (ESV) points to Gospel preaching:

For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

The prison is not ‘a place of safe keeping’ for both good and bad spirits. Although ‘prison’ is used 28 times in the NT, not once is it a place of protection but twice (Rev 18:2) it is used as ‘a cage’.

7. Conclusion

Verses 18-19 demonstrate that Jesus was put to death with reference to the body/flesh and was made alive with reference to his spirit, thus pointing to Christ’s death and resurrection.

The proclamation made is not of the Gospel because of the verb used kerussw (not euangelizw). It is an announcement – maybe of the victory by Jesus – to those unbelievers who did not obey with repentance in the time of Noah. However, the exact content of the proclamation is not stated in the text.

Congolese town crier

Jesus did not descend into Hades and make a Gospel proclamation to the fallen angels. However, he went to the ‘prison’ where deceased spirits were and made an announcement like a town crier would do in the first century.

‘The spirits in prison’ refers to the people who had died and were now in hell/Hades, awaiting judgment. The prison is a representation of hell. However, the people in the ‘prison’ are those who did not repent in Noah’s day and died. Their spirits went Hades.

8. Works consulted

Blum, E. A. 1981, ‘1 Peter’ in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12), Frank E. Gaebelein (gen. ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Engelder, T 1945. The Hades Gospel, Part 2. Concordia Theological Monthly, June, 374-396. Available at: http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/EngelderHadesGospel2.pdf (Accessed 30 October 2019).

Hiebert, D E 1984. First Peter: An Expositional Commentary. Chicago: Moody.

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude.[9] Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1966/2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (© 1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

Luther, 2009. The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude Preached and Explained (Tr. E H Gillett). The Project Gutenberg EBook (online). Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/29678/29678-h/29678-h.htm (Accessed 10 September 2019).

9.  Notes

[1] Dates from Encyclopaedia Britannica (2019. s.v. Martin Luther).

[2] Hiebert (1984:226) (in Kistemaker1986:141 n 54).

[3] The first 3 questions were suggested by Blum (1981:341).

[4] Christian Reformed Church 2019. Apostles’ Creed (online). Available at: https://www.crcna.org/welcome/beliefs/creeds/apostles-creed (Accessed 9 September 2019).

[5] These details are from Blum (1981:242).

[6] Dalton (1964:155) (in Kistemaker1986:142 n 59).

[7] A T Robertson. Available at: https://www.studylight.org/commentary/1-peter/3-19.html (Accessed 30 October 2019).

[8] These 2 points are based on Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. Available at: ibid.

[9] Note that this commentary does not present continuous numbering but reverts to new numbers with each Bible book. The numbers for Jude are continuous with 1 & 2 Peter.

Lazarus and the Rich Man (illumination from the Codex Aureus of Echternach).

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 October 2019.

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Growing weary of constantly correcting false teaching

 Headstone free tombstone clipart clipart image

By Spencer D Gear PhD

What should I say to a person who claimed this?

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

1. Hades, the place of departed souls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, a biblical response is needed to this disillusionment.

2. Growing weary of correction

Jim Parker wrote:

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

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

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

or

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

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

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

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

Let’s look at a few verses in context:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.1 Docetic Gnosticism explained

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

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

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

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

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

3.2 Correctly explaining Scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.1 Application of 1 John 4:1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.1.1 Pop-psychologizing church

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

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

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

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

4.1.2 Bill Hybels’ shocking confession

Related image

Bill Hybels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a) Believe whatever you want

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

No I’m not![11]clip_image003

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

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

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

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

I responded:[12]

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

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

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

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

Image result for justice emblem australia public domain

5. God alone is immortal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Parker stated it well on the Christian forum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.1 Secular immortality through biology

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

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

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

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

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

5.2 What a shock is coming!

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

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

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

6. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will you do about false teaching in the church, even YOUR church?

‘Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true’ (Acts 17:11 NIV).7.

7.  Works consulted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.  Notes


[1] I think he means ‘preceding’.

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

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#64.

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

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

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

[7] Ibid., Jim Parker#72.

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

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

[10] Ibid., freewill#75.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#76.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#77.

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

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

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

[16] Ibid., Jim Parker#97.

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

Copyright © 2017 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 May 2020.

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

Image result for clip art flames public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

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

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

One fellow said:

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

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

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

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

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

1. Torment of unbelievers does not continue forever

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

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

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

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

2. Proof-texts lead to wrong conclusions

Image result for proof-texts clip art

My response was:[3]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.1 The damned experience torment forever after death

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

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

Coffman’s Commentary on Revelation 14:11 is:

Verse 11

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

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

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

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

See my other articles on this topic:

clip_image003Is there literal fire in hell?

clip_image003[1]Is hell fair?

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

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

clip_image003[4]Hell in the Bible

clip_image003[5]Paul on eternal punishment

clip_image003[6]Hell and judgment

clip_image003[7]Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die

4. Works consulted

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

 

5.  Notes


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

[2] Ibid., chessman#119.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#120.

 

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

Jesus as the one way, except ….

Jesus Is The Way

By Spencer D Gear PhD

A skeptic about Jesus as the only way to salvation showed up on Christian Forums.net. He wrote:

I was born again in 1970, worked with Campus Crusade for Christ, attended Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and have been waist-deep in theology for many, many years. So, yeah, I’ll match “Christian credentials” with other posters, if that’s important to you.
Do I believe my statement, “Pretty soon the category of people ….”?

Yes, I do. The exceptions pretty much reduce the doctrine to “the only way, except when …,” which is quite different from “the only way.” It strikes me as slightly bizarre that the hardline “only way” folks are willing to consign all Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, not to mention Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, to Hell, while carving out exceptions for those who have not reached the fictional age of accountability or are mentally disabled. (True hardliners, of course, permit no exceptions – so at least their theology is consistent, albeit repulsive).??[1]

My reply was:[2]

Key with Jesus name on itGod does not talk of exceptions; that is human language to try to explain what seems unreasonable to us when we deal with God’s kingdom and who should enter. God’s language is that he has made provision for the salvation of certain people in His ways. I have addressed this as it relates to children in, Children and heaven.
Now to your view that Jesus as the ‘only way’ consigns Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Mormons & JWs to hell. So did God mean it when he said,

‘You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them’ (Ex 20:3-5 ESV)?

Yes, he did mean it and if the nation violated God’s laws they suffered the consequences. This is because God is a jealous and holy God who will not tolerate other gods of worship. He’s the same God in OT and NT – in spite of what some higher critics want to say about the alleged differences.
Those who do not submit to the Trinitarian Lord God are serving ‘other gods’ and such worship is forbidden if one wants to get into God’s kingdom. You’ll probably label me as a hardliner. The fact is that I want to remain faithful to Scripture and the one who said his people are to have no other gods, is the same one who said that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6 ESV) and that there is salvation in no other person than through Jesus (Acts 4:12 ESV).

A.  The ‘only way’ is a fabrication

He stated:

Do I consider that Jesus as the only way to salvation to be “hollow” and/or a fabrication?

No, I suspect that the conventional doctrine is probably fundamentally misguided, meaning that we are not fully grasping what Jesus meant. (I am admittedly troubled by how many of the really puzzling and divisive doctrines have their roots in John and Revelation, but I realize that concerns about inerrancy are not permitted at this site.) I will not be surprised at all to meet hordes of people in Heaven whom the hardline “only way” folks would not now recognize as Christians at all. On the other hand, I will not be shocked if the most hardline “only way” folks are entirely correct and even infants are consigned to Hell – nothing requires God to be the sort of God we might like Him to be. On all of these potentially repulsive doctrines, my position is simply that we will eventually see that the end result is worthy of the Creator of the Universe.?[3]

Knock KnockThe fundamental doctrine of Jesus as the only way to salvation is not misguided, as you suggest, but is based on God’s holiness and perfection in determining who should be saved and how they should be saved and enter His presence.

Seems to me that your Jesus is one of syncretism who allows anyone into his kingdom because the hardline ‘only way’ Jesus is too narrow minded for a syncretistic view.
You claim that you are ‘troubled by how many of the really puzzling and divisive doctrines have their roots in John and Revelation”. Acts 4:12 (ESV) is not in John’s writings. Neither is Acts 13:26 (NIV), which provides this insight, ‘Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent’. God-fearing people have received the message of salvation.

Acts 10:43 (NIV) confirms: ‘All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name’. They believe in Jesus for salvation. Then they become Christians and are no longer Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Shintoists, pagans, New Agers, JWs, Mormons, secularists, atheists, agnostics, etc. They become born-again Christians who have received Jesus as the only way to salvation.

B.  An area of agreement

However, there is one area in which I would agree with you: ‘Nothing requires God to be the sort of God we might like Him to be’. There will be God-fearers who make it into God’s kingdom whom we would never know how they came to fear God. However, I dare not make ‘one way’ Christians into hardliners who are unreasonable. Those who believe Jesus is the ‘only way’ to salvation are following what Scripture teaches.
God doesn’t dance to your or my tune. He sets the boundaries for who is in and who is out of the kingdom. From the teaching available to us, salvation through Jesus Christ alone is the only way to become a Christian (John 14:6 ESV; Acts 4:12 ESV).

C.  One way in other religions

It is a fallacy to think that evangelical Christianity is for hardliners who require Jesus as the one and only way to salvation.

Have you checked out these other religions and what they consider as the way to enlightenment and Paradise? See my articles:

bronze-arrow-small  Is Islam a religion of peace at its core?

bronze-arrow-small  Visualization and Affirmation

bronze-arrow-small The dangers of Eastern meditation

Take a read of these other articles that demonstrate that Christianity is not the only faith that promotes a narrow way:

designRed-small  Why Hinduism is the “Eternal way”, the true religion (Western Hindu);

designRed-small Buddhism, The ‘only’ way to enlightenment.

designRed-small Islam, ‘This is Islam – The Only Way for This Life and The Hereafter’ (The Islamic Bulletin).

DirectiondesignRed-small What about atheism? Its one way must exclude belief in God. See Atheist Foundation of Australia where it states that membership is open to ‘any natural person, who subscribes to the Objects of the Foundation and agrees to be bound by its Rules, may be admitted to membership by the Committee’. What are the objects of the foundation?

    i. To encourage and to provide a means of expression for informed free-thought on philosophical and social issues.

ii. To safeguard the rights of all non-religious people.

iii. To serve as a focal point for the community of non-religious people.

iv. To offer verifiable information in place of superstition and to promote logic and reason.

v. To promote atheism.

So even atheism has a one-way to membership through your acceptance of its 5 objects.

I wish you good fortune in trying to find the secret to the Google, Bing or Yahoo one-way formulas they use to search the Internet for your words.

D.  The Jesus’ one-way difference

What makes Jesus as the only way different to other world religions and philosophies? Briefly, these are fundamentals you will not find in other religions:

clip_image002 Forgiveness of all your sins (Matthew 6:14-15; 1 John 1:9).

clip_image002[1] Freedom from the guilt of sin (Psalm 103:8-12; Romans 8:1);

clip_image002[2] Eternal life that begins now and extends into eternity (Matthew 7:13-14; John 3:16; 1 John 5:13-14);

clip_image002[3] Ultimately this eternal life means life after death and ultimate Paradise in the presence of God (Luke 23:43; John 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Revelation 21:1-27).

E.  Conclusion

Because other ways state they are the only way to various ultimate realities, which ones forgive sins and guarantee eternal life? This is the one that means changed lives in the present as well? It changes drunkard abusers into loving husbands whose life focuses on serving others.

Only one! That’s the Christ of Christianity who saves people from sin, cleanses the guilt, offers peace within and peace eternally, and an eternal relationship with God.

F.  Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net 2016. Apologetics & Theology, 24 June. ‘It’s so simple’, Runner#17. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/its-so-simple.65197/ (Accessed 25 June 2016).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[3] Ibid., Runner#17.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 August 2016.

Abraham’s bosom and heaven

Image result for clipart heaven public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

What happens at death for Christian believers?

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

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

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

No reconciliation with God in Old Testament?

A fellow replied to me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abraham’s bosom and the third heaven

Image result for public domain clipart on heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

 

Works consulted

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

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

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

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

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

Notes


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

[2] Ibid., KingJ#99.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Do Christians go to heaven immediately when they die?

Heaven or Hell

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

What do you think Christians believe about this critical topic? I found a sampling on a Christian forum on the Internet that may give some insights into what the evangelical Christian community believes. There are a few grabs from that thread. A person started the thread with:

cubed-iron-sm ‘Many old hymns of the church, and some new ones, talk about going to heaven when we die. Crossing over. Pearly gates etc…. Why is that, when clearly heaven is NOT the Christian’s destination? Jesus said no one has seen the father, so why do a lot of Christians espouse this?’[1]

cubed-iron-sm ‘I would say that since heaven is “My Father’s house”, and since Jesus Himself said “I will come back and take you to be with that you also may be where I am”, that pretty much tells me that the saved will indeed one day cross over and see the pearly gates. That is… heaven.  So clearly heaven is our destination’[2]

cubed-iron-sm ‘People don’t go to heaven when they die.  They must already be there before they die’.[3]

cubed-iron-sm ‘The Father’s house [John 14:1-10] is the NEW Jerusalem, not heaven’.[4]

cubed-iron-sm ‘Just because no one accended (sic) to Heaven except Jesus doesn’t mean no one ever will’.[5]

A. What about Stephen at death?

I’m not convinced by that last statement.[6]

Stephen was proclaiming the Gospel and was being stoned to death. What did he see as he was dying? This is what we read in Acts 7:55-60 (ESV):

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Stephen saw the Lord – the Son of Man – in the heavens, at the right hand of God. This is where Stephen was going at death. There is no soul sleep here or Abraham’s bosom (rich man and Lazarus) or Paradise (thief on the cross). When Stephen was dying, he ‘gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God’ (Acts 7:55). Stephen saw ‘the heavens opened’ and the Son of Man was there with God himself.

Concerning death and heaven, here we have Stephen dying and he knew he was going into the presence of the Lord and Stephen said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’. Stephen saw Jesus in heaven and asked Him to receive Stephen’s spirit.
This sounds very much like what Paul wrote in 2 Cor 5:6-8 (ESV):

‘So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord‘.

There seems to be evidence here that Stephen went to heaven, where Jesus was, at death. Therefore, we should not be adamant about no heaven at death for Christian believers.

The person who started this thread challenged what I wrote here:

Jesus received Stephen’s spirit in the same place that He did the thief’s spirit, in paradise. I’d be careful to not take literally the wording used in Acts 7, otherwise you will have a tough time dealing with v 60 where it says Stephen “fell asleep”.

As far as what Paul writes in 2 Cor 5, this is often taken out of context, as Paul states he would “prefer” to be with the Lord, it does not indicate ones death accomplishes that, otherwise who is Jesus coming back for?
The best indication we have of where believers go when they die, is in Luke 16, formerly called Paradise.[7]

B. What happens at death?

Image result for coffin public domain(courtesy www.publicdomainpictures.net)

I replied to this person’s objection:[8]

Jesus received Stephen’s spirit into heaven as Acts 7:55-56 indicates.

I have covered the meaning of ‘sleep’ at death in my article, ‘Soul sleep – a refutation‘. ‘Sleep’ is a metaphor for death. It does not refer to sleeping after death, instead of going into the Lord’s presence, as seen in my exposition. There is no ‘tough time’ as an exegete in dealing with Stephen who ‘fell asleep’ at death (Acts 7:60) when one knows the meaning of why OT and NT used ‘sleep’ for death.

I have not taken 2 Cor 5:8 out of context as 2 Cor 5:1-10 is dealing with the heavenly dwelling. Some of Paul’s emphases here are that ‘we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord’ (2 Cor 5:6:ESV). AND, ‘we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord‘ (2 Cor 5:8 ESV). When will we be away from the body and at home with the Lord? That happens at the Christian’s death. The topic is leaving this body to be home with the Lord. When does that happen? At death. That is what verse 6 states, which I’ve quoted.

This objector stated, ‘Jesus received Stephen’s spirit in the same place that He did the thief’s spirit, in paradise’. He was imposing ‘paradise’ on the text in Acts as that word is never mentioned in Acts 7:55-60.

Who is Jesus coming back for at his second coming? The body that is turned to dust after death is not at home with the Lord. It will be the time of union of spirit and body. The resurrection body is described in 1 Cor 15:35-49 (ESV).

Ecclesiastes 12:7 (NLT) tells us what happens at death, ‘For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it’. So, at death our spirit returns to God and the body becomes dust in the grave.

What, then, is the meaning of 1 Thess 4:16-17 when it states that ‘the dead in Christ shall rise first’?

As indicated with Stephen, when he died from stoning (Acts 7:55-60) and looked into heaven, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God in heaven and Stephen’s spirit was received there (Acts 7:59). Whether one calls it paradise, heaven, ‘my father’s house’, at death, the spirit of Christians goes to that place and the body goes to the grave to become dust. At the last day when Christ returns, the body as dust will be raised and there will be a union of the resurrected body and the glorified spirit. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

C. Heaven and eisegesis

What is eisegesis? See Exegesis v. Eisegesis. Here is a quote from Dr. James White’s forth-coming book “Pulpit Crimes” on eisegesis, which indicates that it means:

The reading into a text, in this case, an ancient text of the Bible, of a meaning that is not supported by the grammar, syntax, lexical meanings, and over-all context, of the original. It is the opposite of exegesis, where you read out of the text its original meaning by careful attention to the same things, grammar, syntax, the lexical meanings of the words used by the author (as they were used in his day and in his area), and the over-all context of the document. As common as it is, it should be something the Christian minister finds abhorrent, for when you stop and think about it, eisegesis muffles the voice of God. If the text of Scripture is in fact God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) and if God speaks in the entirety of the Bible (Matt. 22:31) then eisegesis would involve silencing that divine voice and replacing it with the thoughts, intents, and most often, traditions, of the one doing the interpretation. In fact, in my experience, eisegetical mishandling of the inspired text is the single most common source of heresy, division, disunity, and a lack of clarity in the proclamation of the gospel. The man of God is commended when he handles God’s truth aright (2 Tim. 2:15), and it should be his highest honor to be privileged to do so. Exegesis, then, apart from being a skill honed over years of practice, is an absolutely necessary means of honoring the Lord a minister claims to serve. For some today, exegesis and all the attendant study that goes into it robs one of the Spirit. The fact is, there is no greater spiritual service the minister can render to the Lord and to the flock entrusted to his care than to allow God’s voice to speak with the clarity that only sound exegetical practice can provide (in Reformation Theology, emphasis added).

The person who started the thread did not like what I wrote above so he interjected:

It doesn’t say that, you’re inferring it.

Jesus had already established the pattern, which was consistent with the thief on the cross. Nothing changed between those two events. Paradise is NOT the same as heaven, otherwise Jesus lied. Stephen had a vision, he did not actually SEE God.

My point is the whole thing needs to be interpreted from within scripture, NOT on it’s (sic) own. Heaven has NEVER been the believers destination, Eternal Life is.[9]

This is a false accusation against what I wrote. He has invented here my views. He is an expert in building a straw man logical fallacy, which is a false view of a person’s position.

From that person’s statements, this is the false information:

blue-satin-arrow-small His view was that nothing changed after the thief on the cross. This is false because the thief on the cross died under the Old Covenant and before Jesus’ resurrection.

blue-satin-arrow-small I never said Paradise was the same as heaven. The fact remains that Paradise was the term Jesus’ used under the Old Covenant with the thief on the cross. Heaven is the term used of Stephen when he was dying and he ‘gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God’ (Acts 7:55 ESV). Jesus didn’t lie. Paradise was an Old Covenant term while heaven is that used under the New Covenant.

blue-satin-arrow-small This person’s claim that Stephen had a vision is false as Act 7:54-60 doesn’t describe it as a vision. Stan invented what I did not say in his response to me.

blue-satin-arrow-small Stan’s claim is that Stephen ‘did not actually SEE God’. What does Acts 7:55 (ESV) state, ‘ But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God’? How can one see the glory of God if God is not there? Acts 7:56 (ESV) states, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at he right hand of God’. So he saw the Son of Man and God. Otherwise how could he know that the Son of Man was at God’s right hand?

blue-satin-arrow-small I agree with this person that it needs to be interpreted ‘within Scripture’ if that means comparing Scriptures, but his claim is false that ‘heaven has NEVER been the believers destination, Eternal Life is’. Heaven was Stephen’s destination. Being present with the Lord at death was Paul’s goal (2 Cor 5:8).

This fellow engaged in eisegesis when he pushed his view that believers do not go to heaven at death and tried to gloss over the biblical evidence provided.

Robert Morey’s summary of the view espoused in Scripture is:

That the Epistles would further develop what happens to the soul after death and go beyond the gospel material is also expected. The apostles were conscious of the fact that their understanding was clouded during their sojourn with Christ (John  12:16). It was only after Pentecost and the final revelations given to the apostles that they could, at last, speak of death and the afterlife with clarity. It was only after the last pieces of the cosmic puzzle of revelation were given that they could see the whole picture.

Before Christ’s ascension, believers as well as unbelievers were said to enter Sheol or Hades. After Christ’s resurrection, the New Testament pictures believers after death as entering heaven to be with Christ (Phil.  1:23), which is far better than Hades. They are present with the Lord (2  Cor 5:6-8), worshiping with the angelic hosts of heaven (Heb.  12:22, 23) at the altar of God (Rev.  6:9-11). Thus believers do not now enter Hades but ascend immediately to the throne of God.

In the New Testament, there is, therefore, a development of understanding which took place after Christ’s resurrection. Before Jesus was raised from the dead, the apostles assumed that everyone went to Sheol or Hades. This Hades had two sections, one for the righteous and one for the wicked. But Christ’s resurrection changed this picture. Thus Paul uses the language of transition when he speaks of Christ taking the righteous out of Hades and bringing them into heaven (Eph.  4:8, 9).

That Christ went to Hades, i.e., the world beyond death, is clear from Acts  2:31, While in Hades, Peter pictures Christ as proclaiming to “the spirits now in prison” the completion of His atonement (1 Pet. 3:18-22). Whereas “paradise” in the gospel account (Luke 23:43) referred to the section of Hades reserved for the righteous, by the time Paul wrote 2 Cor. 12:2-4, it was assumed that paradise had been taken out of Hades and was now placed in the third heaven.

According to the post-resurrection teaching in the New Testament, the believer now goes to heaven at death to await the coming resurrection and the eternal state. But, what of the wicked? The wicked at death descend into Hades which is a place of temporary torment while they await the coming resurrection and their eternal punishment (Robert Morey, Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna, Faith Defenders, based on Morey 1984, ch 3).

D. Ecclesiastes 12:7, death and the spirit[10]

(image courtesy 1millionfreepictures.com)

 

There is an interesting OT verse that speaks of what happens at death: Ecclesiastes 12:7 (ESV), “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”. Other translations are:  “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (KJV); “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (NIV).

Some who support annihilation for the unbeliever at death want to translate ‘spirit’ as ‘breath’. None of these translations uses “breath” instead of “spirit”. Why? Because that is not what the word means in context. See the support for “spirit” translated as “breath” by the Seventh-Day Adventists HERE.

How do we know that “spirit” in Eccl. 12:7 does not mean “breath”?

If we look at the context in Eccl. 12:5, it states what is happening at death, “Man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets” (ESV). What happens at death as breath ceases is not what is stated in Eccl. 12. It is referring to human beings going to their “eternal home”, which means at death, “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (ESV). How do we know?

Eccl. 3:21 asks, “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” (KJV). The implication is that the spirit of beasts perishes with the body (goeth downward to the earth), but the human spirit survives death (as in Eccl. 12:5-7). It is inaccurate contextually to say that “the breath of man goeth upward”. Why? Because at death, the breath ceases but the person lives on.

Psalm 104:29 also emphasises that the breath ceases at death: “Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust” (KJV). Cf. Gen. 3:19; Job 10:9; Ps. 90:3; 103:14; and Eccl. 3:20.

The person pushing his view that a person does not go to heaven and meet with God did not like this emphasis.

E. Solomon no longer believed in the God he once knew

Therefore, this fellow on the Christian form imposed this meaning on what I wrote:

I think it’s important to keep Ecclesiastes in context, it was written by Solomon as an old man in a depressed, back slidden state. His perceptions were not those of the wisest man in the world, but of a man who had lost hope. It is one of a very negative and lonely King who no longer believed in the God he knew in his glory days. His wisdom had turned to fatalism. NOT an accurate depiction of the reality of ETERNAL LIFE, as Jesus promised us.[11]

Note his emphases regarding Solomon who was the human author of the book of Ecclesiastes:

design-blue-small Keep Ecclesiastes in context;

design-blue-small Solomon was an old, depressed, back-slidden man;

design-blue-small He had lost hope;

design-blue-small This very negative and lonely King no longer believed in the God he used to know.

design-blue-small His wisdom was fatalism;

design-blue-small So, Eccl 12:7 is not an accurate depiction of eternal life that Jesus promised.

My immediate response was:[12]

From where did you gain that information? You did not refer to the content of what I wrote.

The fact that this book of Ecclesiastes is contained in the OT indicates that it is God-breathed Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17). Even though it is a view from ‘under the sun’ (Eccl. 1:3), it comes with the stamp of God’s authority on it.

The fact remains that this is what happens at death: ‘the dust returns to the earth as it was [the human body], and the spirit returns to God’ (Eccl 12:7). This is confirmed by Paul, ‘away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor 5:8 ESV). To the Philippians he wrote: ‘My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better’ (Phil 1:23 ESV).

The response was:

F. Did you read Ecclesiastes 1:1-4?

(King Solomon & the Ark of the Covenant, image courtesy www.gracetraversecity.org)

 

His reply to the above was that he had gained his information,

From years of study … just like you.

So you’re advocating /asserting that there is NO negative content in scripture? Did you read the first four verses of Ecclesiastes 1? Do you agree that life is meaningless and that the earth remains forever? Do you accept that the sun hurries around the earth to rise everyday?
Come on Oz….I expected far more proper exegesis from you then you evidence here.

As far as 2 COR 5:8 is concerned, what Paul states as a desire does in no way imply what you assert. He knew full well we would only see Jesus when He returned, as he states throughout his letters. Inferring what you do into this verse is NOT supportable. Both verses refer to Paul’s desire, NOT what will happen when He dies. The same holds true for Heb 9:27… because we do not get judged immediately after we die, anymore than we see Jesus or God after we die.
http://www.truthabou…t-with-the-lord [13]

Note the link. He obtained his information from this Bible teacher online.

G. What happens when another invents your or my views about life after death theology?

This applies to all attempts to give a false view of a person’s statements or perspectives on any topic.

My reply was to tackle him head on as he had invented claims against my view that were false.[14]

You are inventing a straw man fallacy again. You state: ‘So you’re advocating /asserting that there is NO negative content in scripture?’ At no place in my post did I state that. You’re engaged in eisegesis of my post. If you continue to do this to me, I’ll not reply again.

When we use logical fallacies, we need to understand that

a fallacious argument can make productive conversation impossible. Logical fallacies are often used by politicians and the media to fool people because they have the deceptive appearance of being reasonable—despite their exploitation of our emotional, intellectual, and psychological weaknesses (Lumen Learning: Writing Skills Lab).

Why is it impossible to have a logical discussion when logical fallacies are used? It is based on the person’s use of fallacious (erroneous, faulty, distorted) reasoning. When illogic is used, reasonable conversation, debate and writing cannot be pursued in a logical manner.

Eccl 1:1-4 (NIV) reads:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

‘Everything is meaningless’ is the view from the perspective of those who ‘toil under the sun’ (1:3). The RSV translates v. 2 as, ‘Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity’. That seems like a fair estimate of the world if one is looking at it from a secular point of view, i.e. ‘under the sun’. However, this is also the view expressed in Ps 90:3-10; 102:24-26; 35:5ff; Gen 5:29; 47:9. Solomon is affirming what is stated elsewhere in the OT.

The word translated as ‘vanity’ or ‘meaningless’ is hebhel. What does it mean? Hebrew exegete H C Leupold explained:

The exact force of the word “vanity” (used thirty-one times in the book – BDB) must be ascertained most carefully. We have retained the traditional rendering “vanity of vanities,” but this was done because it is the least objectionable of the available translations. The word “vanity,” hebhel, really means a “vapor” or “breath,” something like the breath that condenses as we exhale into the cold winter air, condenses and disappears at once. Now the point is, shall hebhel be translated “transitoriness” or “vanity”? Does it refer to that which is fleeting or to that which is utterly futile? That latter connotation is the one usually associated with the English term “vanity” in connections such as these.

It is our conviction that hebhel connotes primarily that which is fleeting and transitory and also suggests the partial futility of human effort. Certainly, to construe that the verse in such a way as to make it mean practically that life is futile and utterly empty would mean to put a pessimistic meaning into the term that is not warranted by facts. The word emphasizes rather how evanescent earthly things are, how swiftly they pass away, and how little they offer while one has them (Leupold 1969:40-41)

So, Stan, the exegesis of the term ‘meaningless’ or ‘vanity’ is not what you want to make it. More than that, I was dealing with Eccl 12:7 and not with Eccl 1:1-4. When I do the hard yakka with accurate exegesis of Eccl 1:1-4, I do not conclude as you do. I urge you not to accuse me about information that has no basis in fact when compared with what you posted. Your straw man included imposing on me the need to exegete Eccl 1;1-4 when I did not mention it.

You have demonstrated what happens when you try to exegete the OT from an English translation with your statement from Eccl 1:4 (NIV), ‘the earth remains forever’. The earth remaining forever means nothing more than

the earth is the permanent ground on which this coming and this going of generations actually takes place.

The connection being what it is, there cannot be an assertion here about the eternal duration of the earth, for the expression “forever” (le’olam) is frequently very relative in its meaning and here signifies little more than “a good long while.” One need not, therefore, fear that this verse contradicts Ps. 102:25f. – “Generation” (dor) being the new and important issue in the thought development, though a noun here stands first in the sentence (Leupold 1969:45).

You state, ‘Do you accept that the sun hurries around the earth to rise everyday?’ You are referring to Eccl 1:5 (NIV) that states, ‘The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises’. That is a perspectival observation for any human being and when Solomon gives his human view of life ‘under the sun’, that is an accurate view of what human beings see. It is not meant to be a scientific explanation that would satisfy the demands of cosmologists. Ecclesiastes is referring to ‘the ceaseless round of rising, setting, and hastening back to the starting point’ (Leupold 1969:46).

Stan, I think you ought to quit bragging about your exegetical prowess. You have failed in your examination of these passages from Eccl 1:1-4.

As for 2 Cor 5:8 (NIV), the souls of believers go immediately into God’s presence. What Paul asserts as a desire would make no sense in the God-breathed Scriptures if that is not what happens at death. Your view lacks biblical exegesis. Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, explains:

Death is a temporary cessation of bodily life and a separation of the soul from the body. Once a believer has died, though his or her physical body remains on the earth and is buried, at the moment of death the soul (or spirit) of that believer goes immediately into the presence of God with rejoicing. When Paul thinks about death he says, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. He also says that his desire is “to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1.23). And Jesus said to the thief who was dying on the cross next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43), The author of Hebrews says that when Christians come together to worship they come not only into the presence of God in heaven, but also into the presence of “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12:23)…. God will not leave our dead bodies in the earth forever, for when Christ returns the souls of believers will be reunited with their bodies, their bodies will be raised from the dead, and they will live with Christ eternally…. (Grudem 1994:816-817).

As for Heb 9:27 (NIV), it states, ‘Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’. What do you want that to mean? You state: ‘we do not get judged immediately after we die, anymore than we see Jesus or God after we die’. This plainly is a false statement. Nowhere in Heb 9:27 (NIV) does it state that people will be be ‘judged immediately after we die’. That is your invention. It’s eisegesis with your imposing your beliefs on the text. Heb 9:27 (NIV) does state that people will die once and after that face judgment but nowhere does this verse state when that judgment will happen after death. Nowhere! That really is very poor exegesis by you, Stan.

This is another false statement by you: We will not ‘see Jesus or God after we die’. Jesus proved you wrong when he said to the thief beside him,  “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NIV). At death, the thief ‘saw’ Jesus because he was with Jesus. We know from 2 Cor 5:8 that Paul would be ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord’. In Phil 1:23 (ESV) Paul affirms his desire to ‘depart and be with Christ, that is better by far’ rather than remain on earth. His desire would be pointless if such a reality of dying and being with Christ was not possible. When Stephen was being stoned, he ‘gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God…. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ (Acts 7:55, 59 ESV). Where was the Lord Jesus? He was standing at the right hand of God, so Stephen at death had his spirit received by the Lord Jesus.

The exegetical evidence from OT and NT overwhelms your false position that believers do not go directly into the Lord’s presence at death. At death believers go to be with the Lord and their bodies rot in the grave (returning to dust) only to be resurrected at Christ’s second coming when the resurrected body will be joined with the spirit (1 Cor 15 NIV).

Before Christ’s resurrection, both believers and unbelievers went to Sheol/Hades – two separate places in that location (see Isa 14:9-20; 44:23; Ezek 32:21; Lk 16:22-23). After the resurrection, believers go to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23) which is better than Hades. According to 2 Cor 5:6-9, believers are present with the Lord and are worshipping with the angelic hosts in heaven (Heb. 12:22-23).

Dumbing down my exegesis doesn’t work. This fellow erected a straw man fallacy. I have sound biblical grounds for the position I maintain. What he created was a false view of my theology on life after death.

If you want to read this fellow’s response to me, see StanJ#63. There are way too many red herring logical fallacies in his posts for me to address them. A red herring fallacy happens when a person doesn’t deal with the specific issues I raise but is off and running with what he/she wants to talk about. In this case, this fellow was pushing his own agenda of no heaven at death for the believer and that Solomon was not an inspired author when he wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes. His view denigrates the authority of the Old Testament and makes him the superior judge of what is authoritative.

H.  How red herring fallacies work

My assertions about Stan’s using a red herring fallacy are not fallacious but are truthful. I find the following explanation of a red herring fallacy to be helpful in what this fellow does. Let’s examine what he does, based on this explanation of the red herring by The Nizkor Project.

Fallacy: Red Herring

Also Known as: Smoke Screen, Wild Goose Chase.

Description of Red Herring

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

  1. Topic A is under discussion.
  2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).
  3. Topic A is abandoned.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim.

This is what Stan does over and over with others and me on this forum. This is an example of Stan’s red herring with me, using this Nizkor Project explanation:

  1. I (Oz) was discussing topic A: “The fact remains that this is what happens at death: ‘the dust returns to the earth as it was [the human body], and the spirit returns to God” (Eccl 12:7). This is confirmed by Paul, “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8 ESV). To the Philippians he wrote: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:23 ESV)’ (OzSpen#56).
  2. Topic B was introduced by Stan in the guise of being relevant to what Oz said about Heb 9:27 when Stan said: ‘The same holds true for Heb 9:27…because we do not get judged immediately after we die, anymore than we see Jesus or God after we die’ (StanJ#61). I showed Stan that ‘As for Heb 9:27 (NIV), it states, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”. What do you want that to mean? You state: “we do not get judged immediately after we die, anymore than we see Jesus or God after we die”. This plainly is a false statement. Nowhere in Heb 9:27 (NIV) does it state that people will be “judged immediately after we die”. That is your invention. It’s eisegesis with your imposing your beliefs on the text. Heb 9:27 (NIV) does state that people will die once and after that face judgment but nowhere does this verse state when that judgment will happen after death. Nowhere. That really is very poor exegesis by you, Stan’ (OzSpen#62). I demonstrated to Stan that his interpretation of Heb 9:27 – that ‘we do not get judged immediately’ is adding to what Heb 9:27 states. That’s because the text does not state when that judgment will take place.
  3. Thus StanJ abandoned Oz’s Topic A.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for this fellow to admit that he used a red herring logical fallacy in this instance or to get him to admit that he used  this tactic with others. I’ll let others expose what he does in inventing his kind of reply, that often does not relate directly to what the other poster stated. Is this how he operates in normal conversation in a church situation?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, are you prepared to sing with and endorse ‘When we all get to heaven (Terry Blackwood, Karen Peck & friends)?

Have I presented enough evidence in this thread to demonstrate that heaven is the Christian believer’s destiny at death?

I’m ready. Are you?

I. Conclusion

Whether in Old or New Testaments, the Bible is clear on where believers go at death. They go into the presence of the Lord God that is called variously paradise, heaven, the Father’s house and Abraham’s bosom.

Some low views of Scripture were expressed in this thread. I understand[15] that this questioning of the authority or denigration of the OT seems to me to be associated with a low view of the attributes of God, especially his truthfulness. If God’s words are not true, he will be treated as a liar or person who can’t be trusted with instructions in the OT. Yet, Scripture affirms that ‘God is not man, that he should lie (Num 23:19 ESV) and ‘it is impossible for God to lie’ (Heb 6:18 ESV).

I consider that a person’s view of Scripture revolves around  his or her view of God. See my series, ‘Can you trust the Bible? Part 1‘.

Works consulted

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Leupold, H C 1969. Exposition of Ecclesiastes. London: Evangelical Press/Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House (copyright 1952, The Wartburg Press).

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

Notes


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

[2] Ibid., IAM4JESUS#2.

[3] Ibid., lforrest#3.

[4] Ibid., StanJ#4.

[5] Ibid., Iforrest#12.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#17. This is my response to Iforrest#12.

[7] Ibid., StanJ#18.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[9] Ibid., StanJ#21.

[10] I raised this issue in ibid., OzSpen #53.

[11] Ibid., StanJ#54.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#56.

[13] Ibid., StanJ#61.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#62.

[15] Ibid., OzSpen#59, responding to justaname.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 26 April 2018.

Sheol is translated as Hades

Heaven or Hell

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Where did people go at death prior to Christ’s coming? How do the Scriptures describe what happens at death in the OT?

On a Christian forum on the Internet, a person wrote: ‘Hades is a different creature then (sic) sheol’.[1] Those who know Hebrew and Greek disagree with him.

My response was:[2]
According to OT commentators Keil & Delitzsch, ‘Sheol denotes the place where departed souls are gathered after death’ (n d:338).

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

There is a further explanation of hades and sheol in my articles,

Works consulted

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

Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d.[3] Tr by J Martin (from the German). Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes


[1] Jasonc#114. Christian forums.net. Apologetics & Theology, SOUL SLEEP – TRUE/FALSE (online). Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/soul-sleep-true-false.55660/page-6#post-987598 (Accessed 19 September 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#115.

[3] This is from a 1980 printing by Eerdmans.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.