Thursday, October 30, 2008

The bible vs. the traditional conception of hell

With respect to the interpretation of the bible, the term "literal" is often used more or less interchangeably with "traditional". (Or, sometimes, maybe "extreme", or something like that--the "literal" account of the "end times", for example, is (a) not in the bible and (b) a very recent invention.) So people talk about a "literal hell", by which they seem to suggest that they're talking about a doctrine of hell which is right there in the bible, in black and white, and anyone who doesn't think it's in there must be reading the text in some terribly loose and metaphorical way.

But, as it turns out, it's awful hard to find traditional notions about hell in the bible. In fact, I'd say that the more literally you interpret it, the harder it is to support the traditional conception of hell.

A nice friendly run-through is provided by RLP in a new series of videos (plus a nifty .pdf). I agree with the vast majority of what he says.

The traditional doctrine of hell is a problem. It strikes a good many people as morally repulsive. It has caused Christians to leave the faith. But it's not to be found in the bible.

32 comments:

dukygurl said...

I have been looking into this on line and have found what you are saying to be the case. I have friends who hold the belief that hell is not eternal nor a place to be tortured this does not easily reconcille with "a just and loving Creator"

www.homeschoolblogger.com/dukygurl

voter said...

*The traditional doctrine of hell is a problem. It strikes a good many people as morally repulsive. It has caused Christians to leave the faith.*

I'd say the problem is people who have the nerve to judge God.

*But it's not to be found in the bible.*

Matt 25
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Eternal fire and punishment is the traditional view of hell, no? And if you want to argue that "eternal" is incorrect translation, then the righteous don't get eternal life.

Toby said...

voter:

The traditional view of hell says (a) that hell is eternal punishment AND (b) that the criterion which decides who goes there or not is whether or not you're a Christian believer.

Matthew 25 does not verify (b). Christian belief is not mentioned. What is mentioned is how you treat the hungry, the sick, etc.

As for "eternal punishment": you're right, if the translation "eternal" isn't the right way to describe the punishment, then the same would probably go for the life. But I wouldn't take that as a refutation.

voter said...

*The traditional view of hell says (a) that hell is eternal punishment AND (b) that the criterion which decides who goes there or not is whether or not you're a Christian believer.

Matthew 25 does not verify (b). Christian belief is not mentioned. What is mentioned is how you treat the hungry, the sick, etc.*

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.

*As for "eternal punishment": you're right, if the translation "eternal" isn't the right way to describe the punishment, then the same would probably go for the life. But I wouldn't take that as a refutation.*

Do you think the rich man of Matthew 19 was asking about life for a finite age, followed by death? That tortures the context.

Dawn said...

Have you listened to Real Live Preacher's videos, Voter? They give a more compelling and careful argument than can really be done in comments. And they're not too long, either. I really recommend them.

The trouble with the John 3:36 verse you mention is that it says nothing about hell. It says that a person who rejects God will not "see life", but that doesn't mean they're going to be tormented. As RLP points out, all the images of torment in the New Testament are associated with religious people who failed to do things like help the poor - not the non-religious.

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

In addition to John 3:36 not saying anything about punishment (eternal or otherwise), I think there is also a question about whether it's talking about having Christian belief, or doing stuff ("believe" and "reject" could also be translated "obey" and "disobey").

As for the meaning of "aion"/"aionios" (in Matt 19 and elsewhere), I guess you've heard the basic meaning is "age", "age-long", etc., and you're wondering if this is a finite time rather than infinite. Well, even in English, if I say, "this story is one for the ages", I'm not saying it has eternal significance, but I'm also not saying it's going to be significant for a certain finite amount of time, after which it will be worthless. I'm just using "ages" to make a superlative statement about the story; the word "ages" can't really be spelled out as "X amount of years".

voter said...

Dawn - I made it through 2-1/2 of the 4. Unless he changes his tune after that, RLP is taking a less drastic position than "it's not to be found in the bible."

*The trouble with the John 3:36 verse you mention is that it says nothing about hell. It says that a person who rejects God will not "see life", but that doesn't mean they're going to be tormented.*

John 3:18 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

Those who don't believe will not have eternal life, stand condemned, and God's wrath remains on them. What do you think they're condemned to? Jesus elsewhere mentions being condemned to hell - does he speak of being condemned to something else? RLP to his credit acknowledges that not every reference to hell necessarily contains the word itself.

*As RLP points out, all the images of torment in the New Testament are associated with religious people who failed to do things like help the poor - not the non-religious.*

DId he mention the rich man of Luke 16, or Revelation 20? Or how about Jude:

7In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

14Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: "See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him."

These are a few examples of the NT speaking of torment of the non-religious.

voter said...

Toby, yes I'm familiar with the aion position. As I already pointed out, context indicates that eternal is a proper translation in some verses, such as those on eternal life. It seems unlikely that someone said, 'Teacher, what must I do to get life for a finite period?' People concerned about death tend to want eternal life.

voter said...

Personally, I can make an argument for or against universalism. I don't have a problem with those who think it's the best interpretation. The problem really is with absolute statements like, "it's not to be found in the Bible." It is found in the Bible, and it's unproductive to insist that we find a summary of the doctrine nice and neat all in one verse. Universalism is also "found in the Bible," but not nice and neat in one authoritative verse.

Second real issue here: What difference does it make if some action or attribute of God makes you uncomfortable? Are you trying to come to know God as he revealed himself, or trying to create a God of your own liking? If the latter, why bother pretending at Christianity?

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

1. You might want to look at this.

2. I guess I wasn't explicit enough, but I'm not saying "aionios" means "lasting a certain finite expanse of time". I suspect that asking "how long exactly?" is beside the point. But I don't really know.

3. The traditional conception of hell is not in the bible because nowhere are all of the elements of that conception put together. You do find pieces here and there, but in order to fit them together in the way you want, I think you need to bring theological preconceptions to the text. You assume that eternal torment must be read into the "condemnation" of John 3:18. But I don't see an argument for that (you suggest it has something to do with hell--but maybe hell is a separate issue, and anyways the conception of hell is exactly what's at issue here). And in Jude, you assume that the OT story of Sodom and Gomorrah must signify endless torment--although in Genesis you'd think the inhabitants were killed, not endlessly tormented.

4. Why are you bringing up universalism? Someone can reject a theological idea without knowing what alternative to put in its place.

5. If I were you I wouldn't be so quick to accuse the other of tailoring theology to make him/herself feel comfortable. As RLP points out (and as Dawn repeated above), Jesus' explicit references to hell / the "eternal" fire suggest that hell is for those who profess to be religious believers--and them most of all. Compared to the traditional conception of hell, which picture is more comforting for one who claims to follow Christ?

voter said...

*The traditional conception of hell is not in the bible because nowhere are all of the elements of that conception put together.*

I disagree that the elements of a doctrine must be explicitly put together one place in order for it to be considered found in the Bible. That's not a Biblical view. Neither was it your view. You spoke of finding "traditional notions about hell in the Bible." You're now adding the condition that the notions or elements be put together in one place.

Acts 17
10As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

The elements of Paul's gospel can be found in the OT, but there's no single place where they're all put together. The Bereans, though, were able to determine from the OT that what Paul said was true. So, your method for determining what doctrines should be considered as "in the Bible" is not Biblical.

*Why are you bringing up universalism? Someone can reject a theological idea without knowing what alternative to put in its place.*

The basic alternatives to eternal hell are universalism and annihilation, and in my experience most people who reject an eternal hell these days lean towards universalism. Like an eternal hell, the elements of those doctrines can be found in the Bible, but not all in one place.

*If I were you I wouldn't be so quick to accuse the other of tailoring theology to make him/herself feel comfortable.*

I'm not quick to do so, but it certainly seems reasonable considering that you said, "The traditional doctrine of hell is a problem. It strikes a good many people as morally repulsive. It has caused Christians to leave the faith." Maybe you don't personally find it morally repulsive, but you mentioned those who do, as if their discomfort should carry some weight.

Again, the big issue is, should our personal views, opinions, and discomforts determine our interpretation of Scripture; or, should we try our best to objectively interpret Scripture, then adjust our views, opinions, and discomforts according to our conclusions? I obviously support the latter.

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

I expressed myself poorly. Let me try again.

It would be great for you if the traditional doctrine of hell were laid out explicitly all in one place. But it isn't. So, OK, that doesn't rule out your position. But what it does force you to do, is to find scattered bits of the bible, and argue that the traditional doctrine of hell is the best way to interpret those bits. You need to do this in a way that's going to make sense to someone who doesn't already share your theological preconceptions.

You've brought up various passages which you think support the notion of 'endless torment for the non-Christian'. Except that's not in those texts explicitly, so now you have to show why you're right to read it into the text. And this task is complicated by the presence of contrary ideas in some passages: Matt 25 sure sounds like it's talking about how you treat the needy, and not about whether you have Christian faith; Jude's reference to Sodom and Gomorrah sounds like 'eternal fire' means annihilation. So while you argue for your own interpretation, you also need to explain away more obvious readings of the texts.

You haven't managed to do that yet (and that's no special flaw on your part--I don't think anyone's ever managed it). But that's what you need to do if you're going to back up your claim that 'hell' is in those passages.

You think we should interpret the text without worrying about people's squishy feelings, and I agree. So let's just focus on the text.

voter said...

*It would be great for you if the traditional doctrine of hell were laid out explicitly all in one place.*

No, that wouldn't be great for me, as I don't like the thought that certain friends and relatives who have passed will suffer eternal torment. It would be great for me if universalism were laid out explicitly all in one place. After that I'd prefer annihilation. But, my preferences don't matter a bit.

*But what it does force you to do*

I'm not forced to do anything, as you've backed off on what I consider to be the crucial issues - claiming that a doctrine isn't in the Bible, when you really mean that you reject a particular interpretation; and interpreting the Bible according to people's squishy feelings.

I don't have a problem with differing opinions on the fate of various types of people, if a person honestly believes his opinion is the best interpretation and accepts that others have a foundation for their beliefs, too. I'm not 100% sure of my own beliefs on many issues of Christianity.

But, if you want to continue on this topic, let's consider whether this suffering is eternal, and leave the matter of who will suffer and why for later.

First, almost all English translations use "eternal." I presume that Bible publishers choose people with good credentials in Biblical Greek and Hebrew - at least better than yours, mine, or RLP's. So, I would need a very strong argument to believe that "eternal" is not acceptable in these passages, and I haven't seen that argument.

Second is context. I've noted that people asked for life using the same word that is applied to torment and flame. I doubt that they were asking for some finite period of life, followed by death. This indicates that eternal is an acceptable translation.

Third, in the OT, e.g. Daniel 12, we see some getting everlasting life, others getting everlasting contempt. I believe the word used here for everlasting is also used in reference to God, whom I presume you accept to be everlasting.

Toby said...

Voter,

You wrote: "claiming that a doctrine isn't in the Bible, when you really mean that you reject a particular interpretation"

I don't see the distinction. If the interpretation which reads the traditional conception of hell into the bible is wrong, then that conception ain't in the bible.

And I think you've repeatedly misunderstood what I've said about 'aionios'. I'm not asserting that it means a certain finite period of time. Please reread what I've said above.

Setting that aside, let's turn to your latest piece of textual evidence. Daniel 12:2 reads, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." Let's set aside the translation of 'everlasting'; I'll grant it for now for the sake of argument. If this passage is about hell, then hell is apparently "shame and everlasting contempt". But, first, that's a far cry from the traditional conception of hell. How do we get fire and torture and all that good stuff in there? And, second, who is it that's going to meet with which fate? Is the sole criterion Christian belief? How could we arrive at that conclusion?

voter said...

*If the interpretation which reads the traditional conception of hell into the bible is wrong, then that conception ain't in the bible.*

Replace "a dcotrine" with "the elements or notions of a doctrine," as previously discussed. I'm trying to be brief due to the format of the discussion.

*And I think you've repeatedly misunderstood what I've said about 'aionios'.*
*Well, even in English, if I say, "this story is one for the ages", I'm not saying it has eternal significance, but I'm also not saying it's going to be significant for a certain finite amount of time, after which it will be worthless.*

You mean that it's intended as a superlative, and does not refer to a period of time? 1. Please consider my first point of the last post, and tell me why I should value that position over that of so many Bible translators who apparently do believe it refers to time, specifically eternity.
2. If you believe this means that some people will be punished in some superlative way, but the punishment will not be eternal, then the reasonable conclusion is that the punishment lasts a finite period of time.

*Setting that aside, let's turn to your latest piece of textual evidence.*

That's my third of three points. Let's also discuss the first. Most translators of English Bibles use "eternal" in the passages I've used. Do you doubt their understanding of NT Greek?

*But, first, that's a far cry from the traditional conception of hell. How do we get fire and torture and all that good stuff in there? And, second, who is it that's going to meet with which fate? Is the sole criterion Christian belief? How could we arrive at that conclusion?*

Now you've slipped back to your unbiblical requirement that the doctrine be laid out explicitly all in one place. I thought we had moved past that.

New point, or question really: if hell is not eternal, but eventually ends (presumably in salvation or annihilation), what is the purpose of the suffering, and does this suffering avoid the alleged conflict with God's attributes that an eternal hell poses?

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

Two remarks on 'aionios'.

First: you point to bible translators. I think bible translation labours under the burden of a heavy tradition of theological presuppositions. So that doesn't show anything one way or another.

And as far as knowledge of Greek goes, let's refer to some people who actually used it: say, the early Christian fathers. A number of them were universalists (or annihilationists) -- even while using the word 'aion' or 'aionios' in their own writings. See e.g. here and here (search for the section entitled "the christian fathers" in that second link).

Second: you claim that if 'aionios' does not mean forever, then "the reasonable conclusion is that the punishment lasts a finite period of time". But do you think that annihilation "lasts a finite period of time"?

Now, back to Daniel 12:2. You tell me I'm demanding that "the doctrine be laid out explicitly all in one place". But I didn't make any such demand. Feel free to use other passages to argue that we ought to interpret Daniel 12:2 as talking about hell.

Finally, you ask: "[a] if hell is not eternal, but eventually ends (presumably in salvation or annihilation), [b] what is the purpose of the suffering, and [c] does this suffering avoid the alleged conflict with God's attributes that an eternal hell poses?"

[a] I don't know anything about any postmortem suffering, finite or otherwise.

[b] I don't know.

[c] This isn't part of my argument at all. I'm not worried about a conflict between torment and God's goodness or anything like that. I just want to look at the scriptural text, without theological presuppositions, and see what it means.

voter said...

First: you point to bible translators. I think bible translation labours under the burden of a heavy tradition of theological presuppositions. So that doesn't show anything one way or another.

At the very least it shows us that translators don't have strong enough reason to overturn what you interestingly refer to as both tradition and presupposition.

Can you support that this traditional doctrine was initially the product of presupposition, or are you presupposing that yourself?

And as far as knowledge of Greek goes, let's refer to some people who actually used it: say, the early Christian fathers. A number of them were universalists (or annihilationists)
Sure, and a number of them weren't, but held that there was eternal punishment for some men. As I've noted before, reasonable people can disagree on the issue.

Second: you claim that if 'aionios' does not mean forever, then "the reasonable conclusion is that the punishment lasts a finite period of time". But do you think that annihilation "lasts a finite period of time"?

No, I think annihilation lasts forever.

Now, back to Daniel 12:2. You tell me I'm demanding that "the doctrine be laid out explicitly all in one place". But I didn't make any such demand.

In my opinion you did, but if not:
How do we get fire and torture and all that good stuff in there? And, second, who is it that's going to meet with which fate? Is the sole criterion Christian belief? How could we arrive at that conclusion?

By looking at other passages, like those already presented, regarding eternal life.

I don't know anything about any postmortem suffering, finite or otherwise.

Then you're either ignorant or disingenuous. Most opponents of eternal punishment doctrine are honest enough, and know the Bible well enough, to admit there are passages that apparently indicate judgment and punishment after death, and try to reasonably deal with them.

Toby said...

Hi Voter.

"Can you support that this traditional doctrine was initially the product of presupposition"

Originally it was the product of argument. But nowadays it's just presupposed: everyone gets taught that the bible contains the notion of endless suffering for the non-Christian; this is something they're told before they ever try to read the bible for themselves.

Now, more on "aionios": I don't think you quite got the point I was making with the early Christian fathers. You were worried that people who argue over the meaning of "aion" / "aionios" might be relying on a shaky understanding of Greek. But this presumably isn't true of the early Christian fathers who actually wrote in Greek (one might even think they understood the Greek better than your average modern bible translator). So your worry is misplaced.

Now, on "eternal suffering": you asked me about suffering; I shrugged; and then you accused me of ignoring scriptural references to "punishment". But is punishment the same as suffering? You've granted that annihilation could constitute "eternal punishment"--but presumably it does not constitute "eternal suffering". (As best as I can tell, there is precisely one place where Jesus refers to suffering in the afterlife: the "torment" of the rich man of Luke 16. Along with Matthew 25, this is a pretty bad passage for those who think God's only criterion is Christian belief.)

Finally, your latest word on Daniel 12:2 is unclear to me. I guess you want to combine it with John 3:36, or something like that. As best as I can tell, the most this could get you is: if you "reject" Jesus, then you get "shame and everlasting contempt". But now where's the torment? If we assume that hell involves fire and torment, how could Daniel 12:2 be talking about hell? (Is Daniel understating how bad hell is? That seems out of character, given the sort of language he uses in the rest of the book.)

voter said...

As best as I can tell, there is precisely one place where Jesus refers to suffering in the afterlife: the "torment" of the rich man of Luke 16.

Luke 13
28 There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.

People who are weeping and gnashing their teeth are obviously suffering in some manner, and the reference to dead people indicates this suffering takes place in the afterlife.

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

I should have been more specific, but by "suffering" I meant the sort of suffering one would expect to experience in 'hell' -- never-ending "torment". Now, you are right that "weeping and gnashing of teeth" expresses suffering. But it expresses the suffering of sadness and anger, not the suffering of hellish torment.

Apart from that, the scripture you bring up is actually yet another obstacle to the traditional conception of hell. Consider the context of your quote (vv.24-27). The people who will be "weeping" and "gnashing" are doing so because they've been thrown out of
"the house". But first they tried to enter the house, but were not able to make it through the "narrow door". They then claim to know "the owner of the house", who says he does not know them.

As I pointed out with respect to Matthew 25 and Luke 16, it would take quite a bit of work to make this refer to the non-believer. Presumably, the "house" is heaven, and the "owner" is God. But the atheist is not trying to get into heaven, and does not claim to know God. On the other hand, someone who professes to believe in God is trying to get into heaven, and does claim to know God. So it looks like the weepers and gnashers profess to be religious believers. But they also seem to fail to live up to their professed ideals (they did not make it through the "narrow door"; so God does not recognize them as His followers). So this passage seems to match RLP's interpretation of Christ's explicit discussions of hell: hell is primarily for religious hypocrites.

voter said...

I should have been more specific, but by "suffering" I meant the sort of suffering one would expect to experience in 'hell' -- never-ending "torment".

Torment is found in the Luke 16 account. I didn't mention it because you already had. Some are in torment, some are suffering to the extent of weeping and gnashing of teeth. There are a number of passages that show degrees of suffering in hell. Do you need some?

As I pointed out with respect to Matthew 25 and Luke 16, it would take quite a bit of work to make this refer to the non-believer.

This isn't intended to apply to atheists, as Jesus generally addressed Jews who were at least nominal believers. With that post I was showing you another example of "postmortem suffering" in the gospels, since you weren't aware of them.

So this passage seems to match RLP's interpretation of Christ's explicit discussions of hell: hell is primarily for religious hypocrites.

I'm confused - does this hell not involve postmortem suffering, or do you disagree with RLP on this point?

Regarding early church belief:

And as far as knowledge of Greek goes, let's refer to some people who actually used it: say, the early Christian fathers. A number of them were universalists (or annihilationists) -- even while using the word 'aion' or 'aionios' in their own writings.
...
Originally it was the product of argument. But nowadays it's just presupposed:


So, early on, different theories emerged regarding man's fate after death. Proponents of each made their arguments. People examined the arguments. Over time, more and more people agreed with the position of eternal hell, until the doctrine became so generally accepted that nowadays it's just presupposed, despite the fact that it's competitors are more emotionally appealing to most people.

To me, that obviously indicates that eternal hell has stronger support than the others. You seem to think the opposite, or at least try to spin it that way.

voter said...

Support that the argument from the gospels can be expanded to those who do not know God:

2 Thes 1
6God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

"Everlasting destruction" is often cited by annihilationaists, while the following "shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power" puts them in the same situation as those in the Luke 13 passage. Again, it's not all in one place, but it comes together if you keep on reading.

Jesus also mentions unbelievers in passing:
Luke 12
46The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

He goes on to state that punishment is not one-size-fits-all:

47"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

More from Paul:
2 Cor 4
3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

I reckon you'll argue that "perishing" has nothing to do with hell, and maybe that wasn't his intent. But most people, seeing the evidence piling up, find it reasonable to make that connection.

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

Let me begin by commenting on those latest bits of scripture.

2 Thess is talking about the Second Coming. Is the judgment at the Second Coming identical to the judgment that condemns people to hell? I thought people headed to hell as soon as they died (as in the rich man of Luke 16), without waiting for the Second Coming.

Plus I'm inclined to think that 2 Thess is spurious, and so I'm skeptical that it belongs in the canon.

For both of those reasons, I'm not ready to use 2 Thess as telling us anything about hell.

As for 2 Cor 4, as you say, I'm not convinced this has anything to do with hell. I would need an argument to convince me that Paul is talking about hell there.

Now, Luke 12:46 does mention unbelievers in passing, but I'm not sure it says that anything in particular is happening to them. You might think that v.48 addresses that issue, but that could also be talking about another "servant", corresponding to the one in the preceding verse.

In addition, I'm not convinced that this parable, like the parable of the narrow door, and others like these, is talking about hell at all. Hell supposedly happens right after death (as in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man), and death comes to different people at different times. Meanwhile these other parables talk about a single moment, an event which happens to different people at the same time: when the owner of the house shuts the door on everyone trying to get in; the master returns to all his servants, and so on. Now, maybe we should interpret this aspect of the parables more metaphorically, and suppose that they are talking about death, but I'm not so sure. What do you think?

"I'm confused - does this hell not involve postmortem suffering, or do you disagree with RLP on this point?"

I don't recall RLP addressing this point in particular. But, for my own part, I don't really know. Luke 16 is explicitly talking about hell, but in the context of a parable -- what aspects are to be taken literally?

"Over time, more and more people agreed with the position of eternal hell, until the doctrine became so generally accepted..."

That's not how it worked. The doctrine came up for a vote by some bigwigs at some councils in the 6th century, and at that time alternative views of hell were declared anathema. And at that moment of time, debate over the issue was shut down. It didn't really matter if you had a good argument against the official doctrine of hell, you'd best shut up about it, because it sure did suck to get declared a heretic.

Much, much later, once it became easier to pursue theological questions which might undermine traditional church doctrine, debate about the issue started to be more common, and the debate continues to grow in strength today.

voter said...

2 Thess is talking about the Second Coming. Is the judgment at the Second Coming identical to the judgment that condemns people to hell?
That would be another discussion. For my purpose, it's sufficient to note that the passage has "those who do not know God" being "shut out from the presence of the Lord," which is quite similar to the Luke 13 passage.

I'm not convinced...
In addition, I'm not convinced...


I'm not trying to convince you of a particular position. I've noted several times that reasonable people can disagree on this issue, which implies that I understand that no one side has foolproof support. My main purpose has been to show the error in your blanket dismissals of certain positions, such as "it's awful hard to find traditional notions about hell in the bible," or "I don't know anything about any postmortem suffering, finite or otherwise." (I took the latter to be a claim that such was not in the Bible. If it was an acknowledgment of ignorance, then you don't have the background to be discussing this topic.)

God apparently wants study and discussion. He could have given his revelation in the format of a textbook, but he didn't (FYI Romans is the closest thing to a textbook presentation). I recognize that certain passages support, alone or in conjunction with others, universalism or annihilation. The body isn't served if I make false claims that such passages don't exist.

I agree with you that some people start reading the Bible with certain preconceptions, and tend to interpret accordingly. I further suggest that some people start reading the Bible with certain desires, and tend to interpret accordingly.

I suggest that at this stage, you should spend less time considering specific doctrines, and more time just reading the bible.

The doctrine came up for a vote by some bigwigs at some councils in the 6th century, and at that time alternative views of hell were declared anathema.

Yes, over the years the majority came to accept eternal punishment, otherwise eternal punishment would have been declared anathema.

And at that moment of time, debate over the issue was shut down.

Which is a very bad thing. As I explained above, I think some of your statements subtly shut down discussion, and my main purpose has been to show the error in those statements.

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

I think it's kind of funny to think that I've made claims which serve to "shut down discussion", given this big long conversation we've been having right here.

I of course agree that reasonable people can disagree on issues of biblical interpretation, and I would also tend to agree that no theological doctrine of the afterlife is going to have foolproof scriptural support.

But my claim was that the traditional conception of hell doesn't just lack foolproof support, it just plain lacks support. In order to find it in the bible, you have to cobble together a bunch of different passages, ignore the evidence that they're not talking about the same thing, and interpret key terms in dubious ways. I think this is the case with the scriptural evidence you've brought up in this conversation. My claim is that there is no decent argument (let alone a foolproof one) for mashing those passages together in the way one would need to in order to come up with the traditional conception of hell.

And maybe the same charge could be made against universalism and / or annihilationism. I dunno, I haven't really thought about them much.

I agree that studying and discussing the bible is a good thing. And it is indeed notable that no single doctrine of hell is laid out in textbook format anywhere in the bible. But I think that perhaps the right message to take away from this is that it's a mistake to try to come up with these theological constructs, such as this or that doctrine of hell.

You say: "I suggest that at this stage, you should spend less time considering specific doctrines, and more time just reading the bible."

You're probably right. In fact, if we all stopped worrying about coming up with the right theological system, and spent more time reading the bible, and then actually living likewise, we'd all be happier, and I bet God would be, too.

voter said...

We’re having this discussion in spite of your claims which serve to shut down discussion. I’ve read the Bible enough to know that it contains the notions of the traditional hell. Someone with less knowledge might just take your word that they’re not to be found and not go any further with it.

My claim is that there is no decent argument (let alone a foolproof one) for mashing those passages together in the way one would need to in order to come up with the traditional conception of hell.

That’s a different claim than that the notions just aren’t there. What constitutes a decent Biblical argument? Do Biblical writers/figures ever cobble together bits from seemingly unrelated passages to make a point?

I was just reading Romans 10. Consider verses 16-20. Paul jumps from Isaiah to Psalms to Deuteronomy and back to Isaiah to make a point. The contexts that the verses are taken from differ. There are other Scriptural examples of this method of support. Have you considered that you may not know what a decent Biblical argument is?

But I think that perhaps the right message to take away from this is that it's a mistake to try to come up with these theological constructs, such as this or that doctrine of hell.

There are passages that portray some people consciously suffering for some reason(s) in the afterlife. People read those passages and understandably want to know who, if anyone, these passages apply to and how to avoid it. I need to go to various passages (i.e. build a theological construct) to give them an answer. When it comes to flame, torment, gnashing of teeth or whatever, eternally or for an age, most people want an answer.

You're probably right. In fact, if we all stopped worrying about coming up with the right theological system, and spent more time reading the bible, and then actually living likewise, we'd all be happier, and I bet God would be, too.

Incorrect, as the Bible plainly tells us that God gave us teachers, and that doctrine is important. I'm saying that you specifically should focus on reading, so that you will develop the foundation necessary for evaluating doctrine.

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

It doesn't really matter that the contexts of the quotes in Romans 10:16-20 do differ. That's not the question. The question is, are the quotes taken out of context? When you put the quotes back into context, does it look like they're talking about something entirely different from the point the author was trying to make with them? This is what happens when people use "eternal fire" in Matthew 25 to explain what's going to happen to nonbelievers after death.

In the case of Romans 10:16-20, I don't think Paul is taking the quotes out of context. On the other hand, I think that sometimes he does do that. I'm not sure if I should find this problematic or not. But, assuming it's not at all problematic when Paul does it, it hardly follows that it is a legitimate practice if the rest of us do it: he presumably speaks with apostolic authority, the rest of us are presumably just schmucks.

You say I should read more scripture, and you're right. You've graciously given me lots of passages to ponder over, and I'm hoping you'll continue to do so for a bit longer. So, back to where we left off: you were in the process of explaining why it makes sense to suppose that "hell" is for nonbelievers. You quoted some scripture, then I raised some objections; and now I'd still like to know what you think of those objections, since you didn't address them explicitly.

voter said...

When you put the quotes back into context, does it look like they're talking about something entirely different from the point the author was trying to make with them? This is what happens when people use "eternal fire" in Matthew 25 to explain what's going to happen to nonbelievers after death.

If you also show in Jude that Sodom and Gomorrah are in eternal fire, and show in Revelations that those not found in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire, then most people find it reasonable to make the connection.

You've graciously given me lots of passages to ponder over, and I'm hoping you'll continue to do so for a bit longer. So, back to where we left off: you were in the process of explaining why it makes sense to suppose that "hell" is for nonbelievers.

You’ve got Paul, Jude and now Revelation. However, since you toss out entire books as spurious, I’m not going to continue making a Biblical argument. Again, you’re at the milk stage and should probably avoid the meat until you increase in faith. Considering your educational background this may be difficult for you to accept. Highly intelligent people can be very useful to the body, but they usually need some humbling to reach that usefulness. Hopefully you can willingly humble yourself. If you don’t, God probably will do it for you, and that might not be pleasant.

I hope you have a great Christmas!

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

Your last comment sounded a bit like a farewell, but I hope it wasn't. I think I'll go ahead and assume it wasn't, and respond.

First of all, you shouldn't worry that you can't make a biblical argument just because I'm not willing to rely on books which you accept fully. A Catholic can make a biblical argument with a Protestant, even though the Protestant "tosses out" the "deuterocanonical" books.

Setting that aside, your latest comment mention Paul, Jude, and Revelation. It would have been more helpful if you'd been more explicit as to what sort of argument we can get out of that. At any rate, I've already commented on what you've brought up from Paul. As for the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah in Jude, again, it makes "eternal fire" sound more like a thing that annihilates, rather than a thing that infinitely tortures.

As for Revelation, we would have to assume (a) that the "lake of fire" is referring to hell and (b) that the criterion for getting into the "book of life" is Christian faith. On the face of it, neither (a) nor (b) are true. Regarding (a): "Hades" gets thrown into the "lake of fire" (20:14); this implies they aren't the same thing, and yet "Hades" is one of the terms Jesus uses to refer to this thing we call "hell". Regarding (b): vv.12-13 suggest that judgment according to the book of life is based on what you do in life, not religious belief.

So it doesn't look like the "book of life" and "lake of fire" stuff in Revelation is going get anyone any closer to finding the traditional conception of hell in the bible.

Well, so much for that. I hope you had a good Christmas, too.

voter said...

Your last comment sounded a bit like a farewell, but I hope it wasn't. I think I'll go ahead and assume it wasn't, and respond.

It wasn't an overall farewell, but as I noted, I don't think this line of analysis is beneficial to you at this point.

Since you persist, and do so farely politely, I'll try a different approach.

Do you consider yourself to be saved?

Toby said...

Hi Voter,

This question of yours, what is it "a different approach" to, exactly?

At any rate, I don't think I can answer your question. But imagine I say yes.

voter said...

This question of yours, what is it "a different approach" to, exactly?

Examination of the traditional concept of hell.

At any rate, I don't think I can answer your question. But imagine I say yes.

No thanks. When you can answer the question maybe we can discuss futher.