Bad juju…

When did the church go crazy? I mean, seriously: what happened to teaching from the Bible, and just using God’s word to guide us in our walk with Christ?

 

I have spoken to several people in the last week, who have absolutely no idea how convoluted their theology is. In more than one case, these people were actually claiming the authority to teach the Word. Here are a couple of examples of the kind of statements I heard from these “Christians”:

 

  • –       In a discussion about art and censorship—whether it is appropriate to hang “artwork” with nudity or sexual themes in public buildings (specifically, libraries and city hall)—one person claimed—on “biblical authority”—that Jesus would have condemned censorship, because the Bible doesn’t teach that nudity is sinful, or that sex is something that should be kept private… or, in fact, that sex should even be between a husband and wife exclusively
  • –       A woman who claimed that Jesus changed the Law, and as a result homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle (I guess someone forgot to tell Paul and Peter)
  • –       A woman who claimed that everyone goes to heaven, regardless of their belief system, because the Bible says that God wants that “none shall perish, but that all shall be saved” (in which case, Jesus would have to feel pretty foolish about that whole “scourged and crucified” bit)
  • –       More than one person who claimed that the entire Christian religion is based on ancient pagan religions (based on the “factual” evidence provided by the History Channel)
  • –       A guy in a discussion forum who claimed that the traditional methods of reading the Bible are outdated and dangerous, because the Scripture doesn’t apply to modern issues; instead, we should take a “broader approach” in interpreting Scripture (or, in other words, we should read the entire Bible as a series of parables and morality plays, and if they don’t “fit” modern circumstances, God expects us to jettison them)

 

Disturbing. I have also—in my constant reading—come across denominations that condone—and in some cases, support—abortion, homosexuality (as opposed to homosexuals; these churches actually condone the lifestyle), sex outside the bonds of marriage, and other clearly non-Christian activities. All in the name of inclusiveness, it would seem.

 

Now, I get it, to a point, I really do. We want that everybody should be saved (the alternative is that we just want everybody to get through the doors of the church long enough to wag the offering plate under their noses, but I’m trying to think the best of people). But are we actually saving people, if we water down the Gospel of Christ and the commands of the Lord just to avoid offending someone’s sensibilities? I gotta say, “no.” Jesus wasn’t one to water down His message; I really don’t think we should be doing Him the disservice of watering it down for Him!

 

No, hard as it can be (and I know that it can be very difficult), the Good News is sometimes—usually—Bad News for people that want to embrace Christ in one arm, and the world in the other. Sometimes, we just want to avoid the “sticky bits;” we can’t do that! Now, when we’re evangelizing, the most important thing is that we present the Gospel: Jesus Christ was born; He lived a perfect and sinless life; He taught that the Kingdom of God could be reached only through faith in the Son; He was tortured, crucified, and died on the cross as propitiation for the sins of all people; and that He rose from the grave on the third day. That is the central message: Jesus died for us, you can have faith in Him, and here’s why.

 

Sometimes questions come up, though. And when those questions do arise, we need to be prepared to answer them with love and compassion, but we need also to answer them honestly and directly. Or, if you’re a complete coward, you can just tell people to read the Gospel of John, and then read 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians is a painful wake-up—I know from experience!

 

But to get back to my point: the people I mentioned above actually, wholeheartedly believed what they were saying. I have no doubt that a considerable part of that belief comes from the fact that there are elements of their old, “fleshly” life that are just really, really hard to give up. But somewhere along the line, these folks were just given bad instruction in the faith.

 

This raises a question that has bothered me for a long time, though; instead of trying so hard to get people into church once we have witnessed to them, would it be a better idea to give them some instruction on how to discover more on their own? I was half-joking about John and 1 Corinthians, but the truth is that those two books are probably clearer on the subject of salvation and right living than any other—at least from the point-of-view of a new believer. True, Corinthians might scare off a seeker; there are some pretty tough guidelines in there, and Paul is sometimes not the easiest guy to follow—but is it better for us to have faith in the Spirit to guide that person’s understanding, or to try to get that person into a church right away? Certainly, the ideal would be to do both, but how many times have you invited someone to church, only to have them say, “Um, I’m gonna think about it. No, really, I will! I just need time to figure out if that’s really my thing…”

 

I don’t know; it’s an open question, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. In the meantime, have a blessed (and safe!) weekend, and a very happy New Year. God bless all the brothers and sisters, and to Him be the Glory!

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Response to Glenn (annihilationist)

Ah, see, now I’m having fun. Nothing like spending 6 hours manually fact-checking an ancient language. Then again, some folks have accused me of having wayyyyy too much time on my hands.

Sorry I’m late again, though. All this research is time-consuming.

Before I get started: I’ve had some very kind and encouraging comments come in since I closed the “Annihilationism and Universalism” thread to further discussion. I’ve also had some pretty snarky ones. I greatly appreciate the former, and I thank those responsible for the latter (I needed a good giggle– it’s been a long week).

Now, on to the grist…

Glenn

Consider that the verb for “destroy” in Matthew 10:28 is apollumi. That’s what God will do to body and soul in gehenna. Now, consider the fact that every other time the synoptic authors use that word to describe the actions of one person or agent against another, it always refers to literal killing.

Take care of the fallacy of trying to crack open a word’s widest possible semantic range so that you can select a meaning that conforms to your theology. What you need to ask is not “What is this word capable of meaning,” but rather “given the evidence that we have from this author, what is this word’s likely meaning here?” Hope this helps.

This was addressed obliquely in my responses to Tom McLean, but since the question here takes a slightly different tack, I’d like to address it again. McLean’s first mistake was to ignore the word, “death,” as used in ancient Hebrew, until he able to find a use of the word that supported his view of what he argued was “meaning derived from ‘first use’.” He claimed that the “first use” was in Genesis 21:16, whereas the actual “first use” is in Genesis 2:17! As I said of Matthew 10:28 to Mr. McLean:

However, in the original text, Christ uses two different words for “death” within the same verse:  And do not fear those who kill (apokteino) the body, but are unable to kill (apokteino) the soul; but rather fear Him who has the power to destroy (apollumi) both body and soul in hell.” It doesn’t stand that Christ would use the separate words—each of which carries its own connotations—unless He meant to make the distinction.

So while your advice on, “trying to crack open a word’s widest possible meaning,” is spot-on, you fail to take your own advice by either ignoring the context, or by taking it for granted that what someone else told you is correct. In Matthew 10:28, the context mitigates against the annihilationist argument—not for it.

You’re also making a very large mistake by saying that the word, “apollumi,” is only used in reference to literal killing in the synoptics.

The word, “apollumi,” more properly rendered, “perish,” is the middle voice of the Greek “apolo,” which is variously rendered as “destroy (the most frequent usage), “abolish” (as in Matthew 5:17), and “to kill” (Matthew 21:41). The synoptic authors use it to describe amputation (Matthew 5:29, 30), dying (Matthew 8:25, Mark 4:38 Luke 8:24) [metaphorically] of hunger (Luke 15:17); broken wineskins (Matthew 9:17); being lost (Matthew 18:14); being damaged (Luke 21:18) and being killed (Matthew 26:52).

Greek words used in the New Testament to render “destroy” or synonyms of “destroy” include:

–       apolo: destroy, destroyed, destroyeth, destroyest (29 times)

–       apoleia: destruction (4 times)

–       thanatos: death (44 times)

–       nekros (noun) or necroo (verb form): dead (65 times)

–       variations of “die” (13 times):

o      thnesko (to die, be dead)

o      apothnesko (to die off, die out)

o      sunapothnesko (to die with, die together)

o      teleutao (to end [as in one’s life])

o      koimao (to fall asleep)

o      apoginomai (to be away from)

–       Variations on the word, “kill” (55 times):

o      apokteino (to kill)

o      anaireo (to kill, not used metaphorically)

o      thuo (offer firstfruits, sacrifice by slaying a victim)

o      phoreuo (to murder)

o      thanatoo (to put to death)

o      diacheirizo (to lay hands on with intent to kill)

o      sphazo (to slay, slaughter, esp. for sacrificial purposes)

–       variations on “perish” (18 times)

o      apollumi: perish (middle voice of “to destroy”)

o      sunapollumi: to perish together

o      apothnesko: perished

o      aphanizo: make unseen

–       chorizo: to put asunder

–       phoneus: murder (6 times)

–       anthropoktonos: murderer (5 times)

(counts apply only to the Synoptic Gospels, and Acts)

So you see, it isn’t as easy as picking up your handy NIV and counting how many times a word appears, and then applying the same meaning to the word every time it appears in English. Unless you go back and check it in the original Greek (as I did, for every one of these examples), you have no idea what you’re really arguing. So when you say, “What you need to ask is not ‘What is this word capable of meaning,’ but rather ‘given the evidence that we have from this author, what is this word’s likely meaning here?’” it might be a help if (paraphrasing a certain amazing and omniscient Teacher I know) you get the log out of your own eye, before you try to take the speck out of mine.

Be blessed, everyone! See you Monday (ish)!

 

EDIT: I knew there was something I was forgetting to add… in the process of checking all of these various words and phrases, I thought that– in the interest of fairness– I would see how many times the Bible uses the words, “annihilate,” and/or, “annihilation.”

In both the Old and New Testaments, the number was: 0.

 

That is all. See you Monday!

Response to Tom McLean (Annihilationist)

My earlier post about Annihilationism and Universalism apparently ruffled some feathers. The discussion thread was spammed by responses from an annihilationist group that was begging responses to their arguments; since it was the weekend and I’m the sole moderator on this site, (I have help with content, but at present I am the only author and admin) I was unable to answer all of the posts (at one point there were 12 comments from these guys awaiting moderation, most over 1000 words and all of them begging responses to multiple objections).

Because I wasn’t responding fast enough for them (and their real intent wasn’t actually discussion, but rather to direct people to their website, where they hoped to promote this heresy), one of the annihilationists who had been responded to decided it would be a good idea to do an end-run around me by copying his comrades’ responses into his own.

As a result, I was forced to lock the thread and delete the discussion. I don’t have a problem with discussion, but there is a certain amount of etiquette that one can expect in a real debate, even on the internet.

As a matter of courtesy, and because I believe that this is an important issue that should be addressed, I have taken the time to respond to the most pressing of the annihilationist arguments; the responses will be posted as individual posts to each of the people involved.

These threads will not be open for discussion, as a result of what happened with the Annihilationism and Universalism article. 

 

Tom McLean- “If you were to insert the word separation or transition into the vast majority of the places the word death is found in the bible, they simply would not make sense. The word “separation” is found in the bible 26 times and it has nothing to do with death. The word transitioned is not found in the bible.”

If you were to exchange the words in the English translation, this would most often be true. However, we aren’t talking about the English translation’s meaning; we are talking about what the text means in its original form. What might be nonsensical in English could very well have made perfect sense when used in the original language. One of the reasons that various translations disagree in the particular use of certain words and phrases is that the people doing the translation are trying to find what their idea of the best way to phrase the passage would be. For instance, the word “dog” may mean an animal, “to relentlessly pursue,” or “an unscrupulous or immoral man.” It all depends on the context; however, the same word, “dog,” is likely to have completely different connotations in Russian, aside from the original meaning of a four-legged animal of the canine species.

Attempting to force modern English context onto ancient Hebrew or Greek words in order to make them fit a desired meaning is just poor exegesis.

T.M.- “…in the New Testament the word death is found 124 times and again I found nowhere that it was called “separation”. The majority of the time the Greek word that is used is as follows:
άνατος
thanatos
than’-at-os
From G2348; (properly an adjective used as a noun) death (literally or figuratively): – X deadly, (be . . .) death.

“First mention is important in the Bible;
Gen 21:16; Here we see the first mention in the Bible of the word death and following is the meaning in Hebrew –
mâveth
maw’-veth
From H4191; death (natural or violent); concretely the dead, their place or state (Hades); figuratively pestilence, ruin: – (be) dead ([-ly]), death, die (-d)

“As one can see there is no mention of the word separation in the Bible’s first mention. 
Additionally, the majority of the time when death is used in the Old Testament it uses this word “maw’-veth”

Actually, the first use of the word “death” (mahwet) is in Genesis 2:17, in which God warns Adam not to eat from the Tree of Life; in this passage “death” is almost universally accepted to mean “spiritual death, separation from God,” as well as its standard meaning of man’s natural death on earth. In this case, “first use” actually illustrates that the word is used in both respects. Dependence on “first use” as an argument here fails to support the annihilationist argument.

T.M.- “Sometimes the word for death in Hebrew is
mûth
mooth
A primitive root; to die (literally or figuratively); causatively to kill: – X at all, X crying, (be) dead (body, man, one), (put to, worthy of) death, destroy (-er), (cause to, be like to, must) die, kill, necro [-mancer], X must needs, slay, X surely, X very suddenly, X in [no] wise. An example verse for this is Ex 21:12 Again we see no word “separation”.

This is a red herring. The use of the word in this context is clearly in reference to the physical, temporal death of humans in this life—the murder victim (murdered) and the murderer (executed by other men).

T.M.- “Maybe I was not clear when I listed Rom 2:7 etc, but five times God used the word “immortality” in scripture.”

Three of those five times in the New Testament (1 Timothy 1:17; 2 Timothy 1:10 and Romans 2:7), the word “aphthartos/aphthasia” is rendered in the KJV as “immortal;” in more modern translations it has been correctly rendered “incorruptible.”

T.M.- “I simply wanted to show that when God uses the word immortality in his holy word he never says the unsaved receive immortality… you will see I referenced all of chap 15, That is because the context of I Cor 15 clearly shows God is talking to Christians, and the context I Cor 15 in no way teaches that all men will receive immortality.”

This argument is specious; in the same way that annihilationists would claim that this chapter provides no evidence of immortality for all of the risen dead, there is absolutely nothing in the chapter that indicates that the risen wicked are annihilated—it’s an argument from silence. Taken as a whole, the text (in context with both Paul’s discussion, and the rest of Scripture) supports the orthodox view of the wicked being raised to immortal, ever-lasting shame and contempt.

T.M.- “Destroy – Strongs – apollumi
ap-ol’-loo-mee
From G575 and the base of G3639; to destroy fully (reflexively to perish, or lose), literally or figuratively: – destroy, die, lose, mar, perish. The complete Word Study Dictionary – Spiros Zodhiates Th.D.
Spoken of eternal death, i.e., future punishment, exclusion from the Messiah’s kingdom. In this sense it has the same meaning as apothnesko (599), to die (Matt 10:28)
Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible – Matt 10:28 Destroy = to lose off or away, destroy

“Here we have 3 different Greek renderings, and in addition to Vine’s we have 4 that do not completely agree on everything. The point is, as it is with various Bible translations and Bible scholars so it is with the Greek, there are various translations and various scholars and they don’t always agree.”

However, all 4 also have points of agreement, which annihilationists would appear to have ignored.

T.M.- “Vine has one view, but there are also Greek scholars who support the Conditionalist view.” 

As well as secular Greek scholars that define the word as: “leave behind, abandon; leave over; lose a possession; kill (a man); destroy; be killed (of an animal); perish; ruin, undo a person” (Enoch, “Lexicon to Herodotus;” emphasis mine). Here you can see that “separation” is in fact a very plausible meaning to extract from the word.

T.M- “The context of Matthew 10:28 indicates a soul can be killed by God and destroyed in hell.”

However, in the original text, Christ uses two different words for “death” within the same verse:  “And do not fear those who kill (apokteino) the body, but are unable to kill (apokteino) the soul; but rather fear Him who has the power to destroy (apollumi) both body and soul in hell.” It doesn’t stand that Christ would use the separate words—each of which carries its own connotations—unless He meant to make the distinction.

T.M.- “See also Ezek 18:4 & 20,”

As I pointed out in the “first use” argument: either meaning of the word “death” (physical or spiritual [in the sense of separation from God]) can be applied.

T.M.- “…James 5:20″

And again, the implied meaning is open to interpretation, although on balance the similarities in various translations (in regards to their points of agreement, and the overall context of Scripture) lean heavily in favor of the traditionalist view.

Of course, if one is unwilling to deal with the semantics of arguing over which translation should be more authoritative, we can always go back to the original church fathers; until Arnobius, 200 years after the Crucifixion, they were in complete agreement with an eternal hell.

T.M.- “Souls are not inherently immortal and not all souls live forever, some die the 2nd death. Rom 6:23”

Again, this doesn’t support the annihilationist claims based on both the translations and the “first use” argument, and the nearly universal recognition that the “second death” refers to eternal separation of the soul from God. “Separation” requires “being;” annihilation posits that souls are not separated, but cease to be. Something cannot be separated from nothing.

T.M- “…Rev 21:8”

This verse fails the annihilationist test because it specifically references the lake of fire, in which the condemned will be tormented “forever and ever.”

T.M.- “Yes it [the crucifixion of Christ] was horrid and terrible, beatings, whippings, humiliation, and excruciating crucifixion. The worst death one could die, however the actual duration of his suffering was but a very short time compared to say – eternity.”

This is a category mistake. It isn’t the duration of suffering; it’s the quality of the person doing the suffering. In the Old Testament, we see God refuse the sacrifices of the Israelites because they have stopped offering Him the best of what they have– lame lambs, sickly oxen, etc.  (Mal. 1:6-14). Jesus, being perfect in every respect, shed His blood for the redemption of all sinners. It is an individual decision to accept or reject this gift of forgiveness, but it is through this sacrifice that Death and Sin have both been defeated; and both will be cast into the lake of fire before the White Throne judgment. This being the case, the annihilationist argument that “death” refers to “annihilation” at the Second Ressurrection ignores the fact that there will be no more physical death— it will be consigned to the lake of fire, where it no longer has any power over men.

This argument also misses the point of the sacrifice by substituting the duration of the suffering for its magnitude. Jesus bore the penalty for every sin ever committed and ever to be committed until the end of the current earth in one single act, and was forsaken by the Father (“ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?”) in retributive justice, which Jesus bore in Himself all at once as a substitution on our behalf. It was through the quality of the sacrifice and the magnitude of the penalty borne that we are saved. Trying to tie salvation and punishment to the duration of the sacrificial act is degrading to the sacrifice made and denigrates Christ’s love and actions for us.

Annihilationism and Universalism

Today we’re going to run through annihilationism and universalism. I had previously intended to do a full evaluation of each of these doctrines, but they are both heretical doctrines that have no founding in Scripture. I think we are all better served as long as I can inform as to what to be on the lookout for.

Annihilationism: Annihilationism (sometimes also called conditional immortality) is the idea that when a non-believer dies, their soul, rather than suffering an eternity of torment in Hell, is simply snuffed out of existence. Most annihilationists believe that there is an actual Hell, but they deny that its punishments are eternal; rather, they say that Hell is a giant incinerator, where the souls of the wicked are consumed and utterly destroyed. Others hold that there is no intermediate state (that of a disembodied soul) after death; the souls of the wicked simply cease to exist when the body dies (similar to the view of death held by atheists).

The annihilationist view has been embraced by such evangelical leaders as John Wenham, John Stott, Basil F.C. Atkinson, and Edward Fudge. (It is also noteworthy that annihilationism is a doctrinal teaching of the Jehovah’s Witness, the Socinian heretics, and materialists.)

Annihilationists use various biblical verses to justify their claims. Rather than list them here, I will simply comment that in reading through the annihilationist’s claims it becomes increasingly clear that their arguments boil down to theological hair-splitting. Even those passages that can be seen as somewhat ambiguous—and therefore supportive of annihilationist views (and they are precious few)– cannot be held up in light of the rest of Scripture as supportive of the doctrine of conditional immortality.

The biggest problem with the annihilationist view, however, is that it attempts to elevate itself to a moral high ground above that upon which sits the Word of God. Take the following quote, from annihilationist supporter Clark Pinnock:

Everlasting torment is intolerable from a moral point of view because it makes God into a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom he does not even allow to die. How is one to worship such a cruel and merciless God?

In response to this comment, Millard J. Erickson said, “… he had better be very certain he is correct. For if he is wrong, he is guilty of blasphemy.”

Universalism: Universalism is the belief that all people—saved and un-saved alike—will be redeemed at some point. The un-saved will spend their intermediate state in Hell, where God will essentially “turn the screws” on them until they finally get the message, repent, and accept Christ. There are other flavors of this doctrine—including one espoused by John Hick—maintaining that “all roads lead to God” (a theology known as religious pluralism).

The foundational belief of universalism is that God’s plan of salvation cannot be completed until all men are saved; as a result, temporal death does not represent the end of a person’s chances to repent. In other words, Hell (if it exists at all) is really nothing more than a dungeon of God’s Divine Inquisition, into which the unrepentant are thrown and tortured (!) until they recant. Again, this belief stems from non-biblical sources and pre-conceived notions of the nature of God, which are then read into the texts, rather than read out of them. Pluralism even goes so far as to incorporate teachings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. These ideas, again, presuppose that the human idea of mercy, love, and God’s Divine Nature are more moral than the clear teachings of Scripture.

The dangers of these teachings (annihilationism and universalism) are many, but it could be argued that the greatest of these dangers (to the human spirit) is that by teaching these false doctrines, many theologians are giving people a “get out of jail free” card to commit sin. In the case of annihilationism, the concept is, ”Well, if I sin too much, and I don’t accept Jesus before I die, then I’ll just take a forever dirt nap.” For universalism, the argument is, “If I sin too much, and I don’t accept Jesus before I die, the Big Guy will give me another chance. I’ll just recant before they get the oven doors opened!”

If we were to ignore all other teachings of the Scripture, Hebrews 9:27 defeats both views: “And inasmuch as it was appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” (NASB, emphasis mine).

Those interested in further reading on this subject can find excellent information in the following:

–       Norman Giesler, Systematic Theology, Chapter 81: Annihilationism

–       Cristopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (editors), Hell Under Fire (this is a collection of essays written by leading fundamentalists theologians, defending the orthodox Christian view of Hell)

–       Robert A. Peterson, Hell On Trial

 

And that’s it for today’s post! See you Monday, folks! Have a blessed weekend!