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Tim Challies' final arguments for the existence of hell

Tim Challies’ final post on “The Holiness of God and the Existence of Hell” is a bit of a let-down. I was rather hoping that he would examine the biblical evidence for his doctrine of eternal conscious torment. I thought he might have considered how words like “wrath” and “Gehenna” and “Hades” are actually used in scripture—rather than in his particular modern-Reformed tradition. I was looking forward to seeing how he would account for the supposed shift from temporal punishment in the Old Testament to eternal punishment in the New Testament. Instead he defends the doctrine by way of another piece of non-biblical rationalist metaphysics.

We began this series by asking, “Does hell exist? Is it a place of eternal, conscious torment?” To ask whether hell exists is to ask if God is truly holy, if he will truly be holy in the face of sin. We find that God will be holy, which means he will be just, which means he will punish sin, which means there is a hell and it is a place of his wrath. It must be.

God is holy, therefore hell must exist. God is holy, therefore he must punish unbelievers consciously for eternity. That is a gross, theologically motivated distortion of scripture, which trivializes human experience and exposes God to mockery and contempt. That the argument can be put forward almost entirely without biblical support by an articulate and much respected Reformed pastor is at best disappointing and at worst irresponsible.

1. The first thing to say in response is that God is holy, therefore the wages of sin is death, which is quite bad enough. The punishment for transgression all the way through the Bible, from the curse pronounced on Adam and Eve to the lake of fire, which is God’s final verdict on sin, is death, destruction. Individuals are punished by death, communities and cultures are punished by destruction, often at one and the same time. It’s as simple as that. I recommend my little Kindle book Heaven and Hell in Narrative Perspective for the details.

2. I appreciate Tim’s passion for the cross—genuinely, I do. But, frankly, his account of Jesus’ death borders on fantasy. The belief that Jesus died both physically and spiritually cannot be found in the New Testament. Jesus simply died and then was raised from the dead. Nothing is said to the effect that he faced “an eternal measure of wrath for sins against an eternal being”. The New Testament just doesn’t attempt this sort of quantitative metaphysics. The extent and nature of God’s wrath against Israel is to be found entirely in the physical suffering of crucifixion. Thousands of Jews would later suffer in this fashion at the hands of the Romans when the full wrath of God fell upon his people.

3. If Jesus indeed faced “an eternal measure of wrath for sins against an eternal being”, why in the name of all that is merciful does hell still exist? Why do people still need to be punished eternally when Jesus suffered an eternal measure of wrath? If the wrath of God was “absorbed and exhausted, until every bit of justice was satisfied”, how is it that there is still sufficient wrath left over to punish vast swathes of humanity for ever? I don’t place much weight on this line of reasoning—either on Tim’s proposition or on my retort—because it seems alien to the biblical worldview. But I want at least to express my frustration that misbeliefs get perpetuated in this way.

4. One passage of scripture that does get quoted is Revelation 16:5-7. The passage refers to God’s wrath against Rome, which has persecuted the prophets and saints. This is an act of temporal judgment against an enemy of God’s people, exactly of the kind that we find in the Old Testament. It has nothing to do with hell.

5. Tim argues that in the Old Testament narratives “we see display after display of God’s patient mercy and occasional displays of his just wrath”, but at the cross we see “each in its fullness”.

We see heaven and hell—the heaven of mercy and the hell of wrath, the heaven of righteousness, the hell of unrighteousness, the heaven of Christ’s gracious substitution, the hell of facing justice without an advocate, without a substitute.

Well, that’s sort of right. But what we see is a man dying. Yes, there is no advocate or substitute. But there is also no punishment after death, there is no eternal conscious torment. There is no hell.

Comments

Hi Andrew,

I echo many of our comments.

But if, as you say, there is no punishment after death, why did Jesus say it would have been better if Judas Iscariot had never been born? If he was annihilated at death, then overall his existence wasn’t so terribly unpleasant.

Phil

Phil -

Not that we can fully evade such a practice, but your conclusion about “hell” being eternal conscious punishment from Jesus’ words to Judas is not actually there in the text. It is a kind of jumping from point A to point H. You have to connect dots. Again, speculation is not bad. But what of the overwhelming testimony in Scripture of what God’s judgment/wrath is about, what is really meant by the words sheol/hades, gehenna, etc. That’s what we need to first deal with, and then ponder if Jesus’ statement to Judas is trying to teach us about a doctrine of “hell”.

Having said that, let’s say Jesus is suggesting something about the afterlife - it would have been better that Judas not be born than to receive the due punishment. Is it not bad enough that the due punishment of that person is death and destruction, annhilation of the whole person never to exist again? Seems pretty terrible compared with new life and new creation in Christ.

Scott,

OK, thanks. Just to pre-empt a wrong inference from my first comment, I don’t think “hell” is eternal conscious punishment merely from the one isolated proof text about Judas being better off not to have been born. The accumulated testimony from the bible as a whole tips me towards eternal conscious punishment, though I ‘m not dogmatic because at least one of the alternative views can make a strong case. However, in my opinion there are some big flaws in the classical evangelical arguments for eternal conscious punishment.

Although I agree with you that annihilation is a huge disappointment compared to the prospect of new life in Christ, I would say many people on earth now are very happy with their shallow, selfish, materialistic lives, despite believing they will be annihilated in a few years/decades - they don’t wish they were never born just because they can’t enjoy paradise for ever.

The accumulated testimony from the bible as a whole tips me towards eternal conscious punishment…

Phil, would you mind explaining what testimony you are thinking of?

Scott,

It seems to me the reasoning expressed by the commenter above is sound– if death brings nothing but annihilation why would Jesus state that it would have been better for Judas not to have been born? Isn’t not being born more or less the equivalent of living a short time and then being blotted out of existence? But if Judas was at death to face punishment for his unrepented of sin, then He would be facing the wrath of God without the cover of Jesus’ blood, which a position to be absolutely dreaded.

You write, “is it not bad enough that the due punishment… is death and destruction”? Bad enough? We humans are not in a position to determine the fitting and proper punishment for sin. God alone knows this and reveals this. When Jesus warns about hell, Christians understood it for hundreds of years as a warning about punishment that will be consciously experienced and punitive, and apparently continuous. I don’t think Christians believe this simply because they want to beleve it, or because of tradition, but because it is so forthrightly implied in Jesus’ mulitple warnings.

For example, why did Jesus in Luke 16 tell a parable about the afterlife in which He describes the period right after death as one in which individuals immediately experience two distinct fates, the one good and the other bad, and both conscious? Yes, it is a parable, but why would Jesus tell a parable about what happens immediately after death that so strongly suggests that people have consciousness of their destiny, good or bad, if indeed there is, or will be, no consciousness? Here was an opportunity for Jesus to teach important lessons about the afterlife– to show people the definite connection between how they live now and their fate in the next world. And His parable does show the connection, and is in line with His continual warnings about heaven and hell as the places of God’s reckoning, the means by which His justice is done. In those warnings He uses language and phrases about hell that strongly suggest both consciousness and ongoing punishment, even saying those who kill the body cannot harm us as much as God, who is to be feared because He can destroy both body and soul in hell.

In the OP, Mr. Perriman writes, “the extent and nature of God’s wrath against Israel is to be found entirely in the physical suffering of crucifixion. Thousands of Jews would later suffer in this fashion at the hands of the Romans when the full wrath of God fell upon his people.”

You seem to make Jesus’ unique death on the cross equivalent to the deaths of all other human beings. But biblically is is not. How would a merely physical crucifixion take away the sins of His people, which was Jesus’ express purpose for dying on the Cross? Unless His suffering is something far, far greater than mere physical suffering, unless He died as the representative and substitue for sinners, then His death is nothing more than a tragedy.

You asked, ” If Jesus indeed faced “an eternal measure of wrath for sins against an eternal being”, why in the name of all that is merciful does hell still exist? Why do people still need to be punished eternally when Jesus suffered an eternal measure of wrath? If the wrath of God was “absorbed and exhausted, until every bit of justice was satisfied”, how is it that there is still sufficient wrath left over to punish vast swathes of humanity for ever? “

Jesus suffered the wrath of God for sinners who embrace by faith what He did for them– who put their trust in His death to atone for their sins, and thereby escape the wrath of God. The sinner who does not embrace Christ dies in their sins, and thus is still under the wrath of God, which is hell.

Alex -

You said: if death brings nothing but annihilation why would Jesus state that it would have been better for Judas not to have been born?

Again, are you theo-philosophically inferring something into the passage? Or is the passage actually teaching “eternal conscious punishment”?

You said: We humans are not in a position to determine the fitting and proper punishment for sin.

I agree. So let’s see what the testimony of Scripture teaches overall. I don’t believe it overwhelmingly teaches that humanity who reject God’s work in Christ will be an eternal conscious punishment. The wages of sin is what Paul said - death. The lake of fire consumes, completes judgment upon sin and its products.

You can point to Luke 16. But a parable typically has one major point, and the major point of that parable is not about “heaven” and “hell”. Perhaps you will have time to read Andrew’s post on Luke 16 here at his blog.

Scott,

I just read the article. Why can’t a parable have more than one point? The truth of Jesus has many shades of meaning, doesn’t it? Mr. Perriman thinks that Luke 16 ought not to be read as a “more or less” literal account of post-mortem realities. While I concede that as a parable its depiction of post-mortem realities shouldn’t be pressed too far, I nonetheless don’t find the argument compelling that this parable is simply “evoking traditional stories” (completely speculative) and is only a warning to the Pharisees about their greed.

First, Jesus is the Son of God come down from heaven so He is actually in a position to give accurate details about what happens after death. Why would He here give a misleading picture of the afterlife, knowing that future generations would be reading and analyzing His words? Second, Jesus’ warnings on hell elsewhere include that the wicked will be told ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, and, ‘It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire,’ and telling us that the fire of hell will be an “unquenchable” fire. These descriptions of hell are perfectly consistent with what Jesus depicts in this parable, in which He describes a wicked man dying and being tormented in the flames. So while the parable likely is partly directed to the Pharisees’ wicked love of wealth and power, the story also illustrates the wider truth that good and evil receive their just rewards after death. Since the pubishment He describes here is consistent with the punishment of hell He describes elsewhere, I see the parable describing the essential, if not exact, reality of what happens after death: we receive our just rewards, good is rewarded, evil is punished.

Reagrding Judas, I am using reason to analyze what Jesus could have meant by stating that it would have been better for Judas had he not been born. Such a statement is not consistent with annihiliationilism, but is consistent with Jesus’ teaching on hell. It would have been better that Judas had not been born than to have lived so close to Jesus, have the opportunity to know and fellowship with Him forever, but then sinfully reject Him and now face eternal torment. If Judas’ punishment is annihilation, Jesus’ statement does not make sense.

Alex -

You commented: First, Jesus is the Son of God come down from heaven so He is actually in a position to give accurate details about what happens after death. Why would He here give a misleading picture of the afterlife, knowing that future generations would be reading and analyzing His words?

Not that we have time to get into a large christological discussion here, but I’m gonna bank on Christ in the flesh didn’t function as omniscient, just as he did not function in omnipresence. (I’m not arguing anything against his divine ontology, but what it meant for him to be fully human, like you and I). So I’m thinking your comments I quoted above don’t help the discussion here in Jesus’ teaching. Luke told us he had to grow in wisdom (Luke 2:52) and everything wasn’t simply sitting “up there” in a bank of knowledge in his head. Anything he taught he had to learn from the Father, just like he had to learn obedience (Hebrews). Thus, he is not giving misleading info on anything. He is not even trying to tell us the metaphysics of the afterlife. He is getting at something more pertinent in the story. Is the parable of the seed sown (i.e. Mark 4) teaching us about how to plant seed?

I might posit that the “unquenchable” fire speaks not of its continued role of “burning” or “conscioulsy torturing” each individual, but that it is irresistable, can’t be put out by the judged, can’t be stopped.

You remarked: I see the parable describing the essential, if not exact, reality of what happens after death: we receive our just rewards, good is rewarded, evil is punished.

Are you suggesting God judging based upon how we lived?! I don’t disagree. Just careful sharing that with reformed folks. ;)

Finally, you stated: Reagrding Judas, I am using reason to analyze what Jesus could have meant by stating that it would have been better for Judas had he not been born. Such a statement is not consistent with annihiliationilism, but is consistent with Jesus’ teaching on hell. It would have been better that Judas had not been born than to have lived so close to Jesus, have the opportunity to know and fellowship with Him forever, but then sinfully reject Him and now face eternal torment. If Judas’ punishment is annihilation, Jesus’ statement does not make sense.

This is complete conjecture. Jesus’ normative teaching on gehenna (or “hell”) has nothing to do with an abstract future conscious burning. It makes complete sense in whatever paradigm one chooses. It’s just that you are convinced of what I believe might be a more mythical of “hell” and, so, it “does not make sense”. Makes very good sense to me.

Could Jesus not be speaking of the reputation Judas earned. This sort of legacy seemed to hold more weight then than it does now.

Andrew, I am glad you challenged Tim Challies on this issue.

I hope he will be willing to engage you further on it.

The traditional evangelical teaching on hell is, unbeknownst to most evangelicals, rooted in theology rather than the Bible.

”.. there is also no punishment after death, there is no eternal conscious torment. There is no hell.”

And if you are wrong about all the scholars over the centuries who have studied with fear the holy Word of our Lord, and have come to the truth that there is a hell, then, wow, that will be a day of great sorrow indeed when you see many of the souls you told there was no hell, and they have departed as our lord tells them into the hell of the Scriptures.

This is very, very serious. And even if you see it different my friend, you may want to step back and consider the scholars who have taught different than you.

Tim is a good Christian man, and he has shared a good teaching, but he surely relies on the Luthers and Calvins and Sprouls and so many more lovers of Christ and truth; and even John Stott, who differs, but he does so with fear and grace.

Have a great Lord’s Day in your salvation from being told “Depart from me, you wicked soul.”

Scary words from Jesus to say the least.

Don, I absolutely appreciate your consistent graciousness here when clearly much that is said goes so sharply against the grain of what you believe. But I think that the exegetical argument against eternal conscious torment is too strong to dismiss out of fear of contradicting some famous theologians.

If people like Tim Challies, who I’ve no doubt is a good bible-believing Christian man, would take the trouble to respond to the exegetical questions and put forward solid, historically convincing arguments in defence of the traditional view, then I would be very happy to reconsider. But for now, I am much more inclined to think that Jesus’ “scary words” make reference to the final alienation of national Israel from YHWH that would be marked by the judgment of AD 70.

Hey Andrew,

you talked about exegetical argument and I see your point and I think, this argument makes sense to me. But there is some truth to Dons statement as well: If Jesus was refering to the Jeremiah tradition of gehenna and if this tradition was reinterpreted by Jesus, why didn’t the first christians view it like this? Or did they and I did not have heard about it jet? Exegetical Argument is one thing, but the History of dogmatics can’t be ignored. At least there should be an explenation why former scolars in church history did not come up with this narrative exegesis on hell.

…and there is another point: We know from rabbinic literature that the gehenna motif developed. In Jesus time gehenna was usually seen as a postmortem place of Judgement. Hillel and Schammai discussed about how long people have to burn in gehenna, they where talking about something that looks like a purgatory. If this narrative Perspektive is true, was Jesus stepping back from the cultural connotation of gehenna as a postmortem Place of Judgement? How do we know?

“But for now, I am much more inclined to think that Jesus’ “scary words” make reference to the final alienation of national Israel from YHWH that would be marked by the judgment of AD 70.”-Peter

I shall consider your thinking of the Word. I truly long to know God’s heart, which is here in His Word.

Nevertheless, I am His, and the blood of my Savior and Lord is not only precous to me, it is indisputable and nothing can mortify the blood of Christ that has cleansed me.
What a Cross he died on for me personally. Gal. 6:14
What a Friend!

Why did I put Peter’s name there for your name Andrew? I don’t know.

Of course Andrew was Peter’s brother, and maybe in my wacky mind I was thinking too much about too many things.

  1. Did Jesus’ death cover the sin of the world or just the elect? My understanding was that His death did indeed cover all the world’s sin, but the effect only is realised through faith, which is a gift from God. God’s ultimate purpose must still stand in bringing a new heaven and a new earth with his new creation people.
  2. Why are there no warnings of hell (as being used in this discussion as a place of everlasting torment) in the Old Testament? The nations were to run to Isael for healing. There seems no warning to run to Israel or God for eternal life to avoid eternal destruction-torment.
  3. To hold to Reformed Theology would mean that one would not dispare of the fate of the non-elect lost because God who is Sovereign does all things well. None of the elect will be lost, all of the non-elect will suffer whatever God has in stall for them, whether one death or eternal death and torment. Why should that concern those holding to Reformed Theology?
  4. I would have hoped that Tim Challies would have commented on some or all of the charges made against his teaching by AP.

I won’t hold my breath for Challies to “respond”. I am actually far more interested in what the neo-Calvinist intellectual and, yes, philosophical* godfather, John Piper has to say.

God, please make Piper vs. Perriman happen. I know you have your hands full with Mayweather vs Pacuiao, but the stakes are kinda higher on this one, don’t you think ?

Yours in Eternal Conscious Questionmarks,

Y.

I would pay for tickets to watch a discussion between John Piper and Andrew Perriman on the issue. As wonderful as cage-fighting is, I think Perriman and Piper are both clear-headed and articulate enough that is would be more of an illuminating discussion.

At some point, I think, the neo-reformed will either have to persuasively show that the historical option for Gehenna fails, or else concede that the eternal conscious torment option is construction on theological/metaphysical, rather than biblical grounds.

Either way, I look forward to it. Christianity needs to resolve this issue. Somebody’s teaching some harmful stuff, one way or another.

Amen !

In Jesus’ teaching, Gehenna is always presented as the alternative to the kingdom of God. This fits with the imagery of its lying outside Jerusalem, which, in its holy state, symbolizes the kingdom of God.

Thus the destruction of physical Jerusalem in 70 AD can demonstrate the kind of wrath implied by Gehenna. However, it cannot exhaust that meaning because Matthew 24 makes clear that the kingdom comes subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem - not concurrent with it.

None of this, however, is support for the Tim Challies’ position. Hell is on this earth, in this life - just as is the kingdom of God. Everyone goes to heaven.

Hi Scott,
1) I guess you hold to the Arminian position that Jesus died to make salvation possible, rather than actually accomplishing salvation for many at the Cross, when He declared “it is finished”. If Jesus died to make salvation available to all, the implication is either that all will eventually be saved, since Jesus has atoned for their sins, or, that there are some who someday will be in hell yet for whom Jesus Christ died and paid the penalty for their sins. The first option can’t be true since Jesus consistently states some will not believe and will be condemned for their unbelief (e.g., Luke 13:24, John 3:18, Matt 25:45-46). But the second option, that some will be punished in hell even though Jesus died for their sins, is a conclusion just as flawed and more importantly, biblically unsupportable.

Jesus testified, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again (John 10:14-17). ” Jesus says He knows His own and that it is they for whom He lays down His life. In another place He says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37)”.

So according to Jesus’ testimony, all will not be saved, for many will not come to Him. At the same time, all of those for whom He laid down His life, these being same as those whom were given Him by the Father, will come to Him and not ever be cast out by Him.

2) I believe there are warnings about hell in the Old Testament. Sheol is not a neutral place, but the place where the wicked are sent. The warnings about Sheol would not be warnings if Sheol was simply a neutral place where all dead souls go.

“The wicked in a moment go down to sheol” (Job 21:13).
“The wicked shall be turned into sheol, and all the nations that, forget God” (Psalm 9:17).
“Her steps take hold on sheol” (Proverbs 5:5).
“Her guests are in the depths of sheol” (Proverbs 9:18).
“Thou shalt beat thy child with a rod, and shalt deliver his soul from sheol” (Proverbs 23:14).
“If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in sheol, behold thou art there” (Psalm 139:8).
“The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from sheol beneath” (Proverbs 15:24:).
“Sheol is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering” (Job 26:6).
“Sheol and destruction are before the Lord” (Proverbs 15:11).
“Sheol and destruction are never full” (Proverbs 27:20)

I admit I have not done as much examination of these texts dealing with hell in the Old Testament as those in the New Testament, but like other teachings of our Lord there is continuity between Old and New Testament doctrine. The Lord’s teaching on hell is not completely new, nor detached from what has been taught before.

3) You wrote, “To hold to Reformed Theology would mean that one would not dispare of the fate of the non-elect lost because God who is Sovereign does all things well.” This is absurd. God is sovereign whether or not one holds to reformed theology. It is true that Christians ought not to “despair”, knowing that a sovereign, all-powerful God is in control of all things– this does not mean Christians should lack compassion for the lost. Moreover, all believers are commanded to preach salvation to the lost via the gospel. Those who hold to a reformed theology don’t pat themselves on the back because they believe themselves to be elect, and not caring whether the non-elect are going to hell. Your comment betrays a misunderstanding of reformed theology and is an inaccurate characterization of reformed saints, many of whom have been the foremost evangelists the world has known.

Scottl,

1) Jesus spoke as no man ever did because He was God. I’m not sure we can know precisely what knowledge of His on earth was limited in the sense you speak of. I do not think in Luke 16 Christ gave us misleading information about what happens after death. Only if one understands the parable according to your take on it, that His words are not touching on metaphysical realities at all, does the parable become “misleading”. But I think it is not misleading in the slightest because Jesus more than anyone else warned about hell, and what He says in this parable lines up with His teaching elsewhere on hell.

“I might posit that the “unquenchable” fire speaks not of its continued role of “burning” or “conscioulsy torturing” each individual, but that it is irresistable, can’t be put out by the judged, can’t be stopped.” OK, you might posit that, and you would be going against the understanding of Christians over the centuries who see in Jesus’ words the implication of painful punishment.

You wrote, “Are you suggesting God judging based upon how we lived?! I don’t disagree. Just careful sharing that with reformed folks. ;)”

The Bible teaches that what we believe is to be reflected in our lifestyles. Reformed people have always believed this. Of course we are not saved by works or by our record which is always far from perfect, but if our Christian testimony has no fruit, then it is not genuine.

You say “Jesus’ normative teaching on gehenna (or “hell”) has nothing to do with an abstract future conscious burning.” You haven’t proven this, just asserted it. I’m not sure why I should take your word for it.

“It makes complete sense in whatever paradigm one chooses.” Yes, I suppose people have completely different paradigms within which what they believe makes sense. But not all paradigms are equally biblical or correct. You haven’t shown how your interpretation makes sense of Jesus’ statement. What exactly did Jesus mean when He said it would have been better if Judas had never been born?

If the penalty for sin is eternal torment, and Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, why is he not in eternal torment at this moment?

It was God’s plan to make Christ Jesus the source of eternal salvation for His children, the One who would perfectly and completely bear all His people’s sins at the Cross. Christ took upon Himself the full wrath of God. Accordingly, He paid the eternal penalty for the sins of His people at the cross and accomplished what He set out to do– the eternal salvation of His people. This free gift of salvation is to be received by faith alone, because we can do nothing to merit or earn it. He suffered once for all (all of His followers, and once for all time), in accordance with God’s plan. Thus according to Scripture, it is not needed for Christ to continue to suffer for sins since He has already done so.

See, among many other passages: Hebrews 5:9, 9: 11-28, Romans 5:1, 8-9, John 10:14-18.

Alex,

If I may be permitted to interject, I found your response to Corcoran’s question to be wholly inadequate. Certainly, the answer you gave was a standard reformed/evangelical response, but that just shows how inadequate theology can sometimes be. It is the kind of catechismal formulation that comes across as if it never even heard the question.

Did you even read what you wrote? That is, you said that “Christ took upon Himself the full wrath of God” but then imply that there’s more than enough of God’s wrath left over to stoke a fiery furnace of eternal conscious torment (ECT) for a significant number of people. Simple logic requires that you either give up the “full” or give up the ECT.

Please either make another attempt to answer Corcoran’s question or else appeal for help from someone who shares your view about ECT. I thought it was a pretty good question, and it deserves a pretty good answer.

Mike,

Perhaps you did not read my answer carefully. I pointed out that “all” does not mean that Jesus died for every single person indiscriminately but rather Christ’s genuine followers, and pointed to at least a couple of Scriptures I think support this. So the logic behind my answer is a biblical logic– Jesus died for His sheep in such a way as to remove the eternal penalty they were facing, and in its place, give them eternal salvation. It was a death sufficient to this purpose, so there is no reason that Christ should eternally suffer. How does Christ’s death accomplish such an eternal purpose? This is something beyond human ability to grasp, yet at least in part the answer is that only He, as the eternal God-Man, could accomplish such a feat.

Alex,

As I don’t seem to be making any headway with you, I’ll leave matters with you and Corcoran.

Mike,

“Did you even read what you wrote?” is rather presumptuous and insulting. Nevertheless I responded to your comment. But you can’t even be bothered to respond. The way to “make headway” is to present arguments. And if you don’t feel my answer to Corcoran is adequate, I suggest you provide your own.

Alex,

If you took my comment as an insult to you, then you misunderstood it. I was trying to get your attention because my previous comment had apparently fallen on deaf ears.

As for responding to you further, I’ll probably do that on your blog as I have time - per your invitation.

I don’t, however, want to raise your hopes too high. You seem to revel in Reformed Theology and have found that to be a rather self-contained world. That is, it’s a school of thought which believes that all the important questions have already been answered adequately. Such an attitude doesn’t provide much motivation for open-mindedness, and so its adherents seldom display that character trait.

Mike,

So you were trying to get my “attention” by using wording that implies that I am not even thinking about what I write. And if I’m offended by that statement, which was designed to provoke (i.e., get my attention), then I have misunderstood you, and should not be insulted. Ha! And you say my logic is lacking. Anyway, I don’t think I’ll remain overly offended but want to point out that if you say insulting things, people just might get the insult, and thus take offense.

Open-mindedness is not a bad quality, though I’m not sure exactly what you mean by it. I’m not so “open-minded” that I am willing to deny what the Bible teaches plainly. Yes, I adhere to reformed theology and yes, I think many of the questions under discussion here have been adequately answered.

I know time is limited and we’re are coming from very different vantage points, so I don’t have high expectations that our conversation would end up with either of us swayed from our respective positions. But thanks for being willing to comment on my blog anyway.

So all isn’t everyone – we wouldn’t be wanting “indiscriminate” grace. But isn’t indiscriminate part of the whole definition of grace?

Because if grace isn’t indiscriminate, it has to be earned. But you say it isn’t earned. That means that God is indiscriminately graceful only to people he chooses. Of course that means that if people do not receive grace, it isn’t their fault and punishing them is indiscriminate.

But that’s another topic. To get back to my point, you say the answer to my question is unfathomable, but only “god-man” could accomplish it. But how can you be so sure about the god-man part if in fact the question is beyond human ability to grasp? It has to be one or the other. Either it is unfathomable or you know the answer.

Corcoran,

It is not what I want that is important. It is what Scripture declares that is relevant and needs to be understood properly. I know the dictionary definition of grace as well as anyone but I’m more interested in what Scripture says about how God Has demonstrated His grace. Scripture shows that a loving God nevertheless chooses some but not others to be recipients of His saving grace.

In John 10, did not Jesus say He lays His life down for His sheep?(John 10:7) This is discriminating isn’t it? It does not say He lays down his life for all, but only for His sheep, and Jesus defines His sheep as those whom He knows and who know His voice and follow Him (John 10:3-4). So we can conclude: all are not His sheep; only those whom Jesus knows and who follow His voice are His sheep (i.e., His people)

Similarly, Jesus distinguishes between those who believe, and those who don’t believe. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)… And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:65). According to Jesus’ teaching here in John 6 and elsewhere in the gospels, do all believe? Will all receive God’s offer of grace through Jesus Christ? Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.(Matthew 7:13-14) So many did not believe in Jesus then, many do not and will not believe today.

Yet Jesus explains unbelief in John 6 by saying it is only those to whom it has been granted by the Father that come to Jesus; that the Father must draw people to Jesus. In John 8 He says something similar, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47). Jesus explains the source of belief in someone in terms of God’s action in or upon that person, describing those who hear and believe His words as those who are “of God”. But people are not naturally of God. Scripture states of all believers before they came to Christ: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul says that all were by nature children of wrath, following after Satan, dead in sins and walking in disobedience. Yet the grace of God comes to such people, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.(Ephesians 2:4-9)”

Here again we see the thought that it is God who must act upon sinners by His grace—yet that He does not do this for all people is patently clear in Scfripture and from observation.

Going back to Jesus’ analogy of “sheep”, Jesus elsewhere says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left (Matthew 25:31-33). This apparently describes a time of judgment in which Jesus separates His sheep from goats. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”(Matthew 25:41-46). Now is this passage teaching that it’s only those who do good works who will be saved? This passage does point to good works as evidence that one will be saved by Jesus at the judgment. But as Jesus says elsewhere, “But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:21). The Bible teaches that good works are produced in us by God. We may not boast before God, but only humbly point to His grace upon and in us. Yes, grace is not something we can earn, yet as I have shown from Scripture, God’s love and grace are discriminating.

You wrote, “Of course that means that if people do not receive grace, it isn’t their fault and punishing them is indiscriminate”. I give you Paul’s answer, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?(Romans 9:19-24).”

So we have Scripture telling us that God must act in us so that we can hear His voice and bear good fruits and come to Him and live for Him, and says that if this doesn’t happen we will not come to Him and we will be condemned for our sins. I find Scripture saying that we have a moral responsibility to obey the God who created us, and at the same time I see Scripture describing us-apart from God– as without hope and by nature sons of wrath. These truths and many others are, according to Scriptural testimony, are “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”(Romans 11:33-35). We can know what God has revealed, for example, He revealed Himself as the God-Man. This is altogether different than being able to explain or fully understand His ways.

Alex -

I think you are approaching it a bit too much with a post-Augustinian, post-Reformation, post-Enlightment mindset, Amercain evangelical context. That’s not all terrible, as we cannot remove ourselves from the context we find ourselves. God puts each one in their context that they might ‘seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him’.

But, I think we shall start off on a better note by trying to approach things more as a first century Jew, at least as best we can. That’s what Andrew is trying to do with his articles.

Alex:

You must be getting paid by the word. :) Still, in all that, you didn’t answer my initial question or even my follow-up question.

As far as your citation of Matthew, you ask: “Now is this passage teaching that it’s only those who do good works who will be saved?”

In fact if you take the passage seriously, and respect what the author is trying to convey, yes it is teaching that. But since that goes against Protestant teaching, the literal words have to be made figurative.

Most people look at the bible as a collection of snippets that can be interchangeably moved around to support the argument of the day or week or century. I think a more respectful approach, one that is used by Andrew, is to look at the bigger picture and consider what the author was trying to convey. When you look at that, you are closer to the truth than by picking out collections of random verses.







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Corcoran,

“You must be getting paid by the word. :)

Ha, if only.

Anyway, your response to me is what is “inadequate” (to use Mr. Gantt’s word). You merely assert I haven’t answered your questions, and I’m supposedly using the Bible wrongly to make my case. But I presented not merely snippets of the Bible strewn together, but actual arguments based on Scripture. Where’s your argument?

In addition your comprehension of my answer is faulty since you didn’t get the fact that I agreed that Matthew does in fact teach we’re judged by our good works, but pointed to the equally biblical teaching that our good works are given to us by God.

ScottL,

I think you are approaching it a bit too much with a post-Augustinian, post-Reformation, post-Enlightment mindset, Amercain evangelical context. That’s not all terrible, as we cannot remove ourselves from the context we find ourselves.

If we “cannot remove ourselves from the context we find ourselves”, then why assert that the context I am using to approach the Bible is a “bit too much” anything?

But, I think we shall start off on a better note by trying to approach things more as a first century Jew, at least as best we can. That’s what Andrew is trying to do with his articles.

Again, you said we cannot remove ourselves from the context we find ourselves, but at the same time, I’m supposed to “approach things more as a first century Jew.” Huh? Anyway, I’m pretty sure what you’re getting at is that the Bible has to be approached in its historical, grammatical context, not just transposed over to 21st Century America or Europe. Agreed. But where is the proof I have done this, rather than assertions. Where’s your arguments, in other words?

By the way, I turned my long comment here from yesterday into a blog post on my own blog. I am happy to further engaged comments over there.

I’m not too bright, complexities confuse me. So tell me in one sentence, why isn’t Jesus paying the penalty for sin (eternal torment)?

The penalty for sin is eternal torment only for those who don’t place their trust in Jesus, who by His shed blood on the Cross paid in full the penalty for all sin and secured eternal redemption for those who put their faith in Him and trust in His provision for them (see Hebrews 9:11-28; Hebrews 7:22-29; Romans 5:9, 18-20; Eph 2:8-9; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 5:11-12; John 3:18, 36; Luke 16:22-26, among others).

As a follow-up to my last reply, it occurs to me that what you may be really asking by your question is, “How is it that Jesus’ death on the cross could accomplish, in a finite period of time, satisfaction for the penalty of sin, which some say, is eternal torment? If that is the intent behind your question, I would still point to the same Scriptures and how they point to various characteristics of God’s design of salvation for His people through Christ. Jesus fulfills, perfects and completes the sacrificial system God had always required for sin, i.e., the sheeding of blood. Jesus fulfills it in that the Scriptures show that His one-time sacrifice as the Lamb of God was in line with and connected to what had gone before, yet also, the pattern of animal sacrifices was a copy of the heavenly pattern that Jesus was now bering to Earth. Thus Jesus was/is the perfect, heavenly sacrifrice whose death perfectly fulfilled God’s requirements in a way that animal sacrifices could never do. Being fully God and fully man, Jesus’ actions were able to accomplish an eternal redemption for all sin, one that satisfies God, as Jesus fully takes on the sin of His people by becoming like them in every way, fully representing them at the Cross. So how does Jesus one-time sacrificial act in time accomplish an eternal redemption? It does so because God invested Christ’s death with that authority, scope and power.

A couple of typos above– I meant to write that in His sacrifice at the Cross Jesus was bringing, or brought, the heavenly pattern down to Earth.

Thanks for trying to answer, but you don’t see the logical inconsistency in your answer?

The penalty for sin is by definition paid by those who don’t repent – after all, those who repent have their penalty pardoned. So if Jesus was pardoned, he paid the penalty equivalent to those who repent, which is no penalty at all.

That means that Jesus didn’t pay the full penalty for sin that is and will be paid by sinners. In other words, he didn’t pay the price for sin, because if he did, he would still be in hell.

Corcoran, I will respond to what you wrote, point-by-point:

The penalty for sin is by definition paid by those who don’t repent

Do you mean by this that people who don’t have their sins atoned for by Christ must pay the penalty for their sins themselves? If that’s what you mean, I agree.

… after all, those who repent have their penalty pardoned.

Yes, their penalty is pardoned through repentance, but only if by “repent” you mean that they place their trust and faith in what Jesus did for them at the Cross. The repentance God requires is perfect obedience to His law, but no one except Jesus Christ ever achieved this. Repentance that saves is repentance that receives Jesus’ perfect record as one’s own, by faith.

So if Jesus was pardoned, he paid the penalty equivalent to those who repent, which is no penalty at all.

To say Jesus was “pardoned” is incorrect. The Cross is the opposite of pardon— Jesus was punished there, for the sins of others, so that they might be pardoned through Him. He achieved a pardon for sinners by paying their penalty. Contrary to what you seem to be saying, Jesus paid a penalty that was required because mere human repentance is imperfect and would never satisfy the demands of a perfectly righteous, holy God against sin and sinners.

That means that Jesus didn’t pay the full penalty for sin that is and will be paid by sinners. In other words, he didn’t pay the price for sin, because if he did, he would still be in hell.

No, the Bible teaches that He indeed pays the full penalty of sin for sinners who by faith appropriate what He did for them, but sinners who spurn and despise that salvation obviously won’t get the benefits of it, instead they will be punished by God for their disobedience.

Again the full price for all the sins of the elect (thereby giving the sinner eternal heaven in place of the eternal hell he deserved) was paid at the cross, for God chose to invest the action of Jesus Christ on the Cross with eternal authority, scope and power. Therefore Jess does not need to “still be in hell”– I’m not even sure He went to hell at all in the sense you’re saying. Certainly Scripture teaches that Jesus overcame the power of death and hell on behalf of many sinners, but whether He did this by actually going to hell is a matter of debate. If He did go to hell as part of this process, it was obviously for a few days only and Jesus did not have to remain there since He successfully accomplished the salvation of the sinners whom the Father gave Him and for whom He laid down His life.

You may find the above “logic” unsatisfying, but I think it’s what Scripture teaches.

Jesus pays the penalty for those who cannot repent in a satisfactory and complete way, because they are too sinful (Romans 3: 20, 23, 28; 4:13-14) to keep the law. If anyone could have been justified with God by keeping the Law, there would have been no need for Jesus to sacrifice Himself on the Cross. There is only one way for one’s sins to be paid for fully -to place one’s trust/faith in what Jesus did, seeing His death as something done for one’s personal sins. According to Scripture, not everyone will believe in this way, and those who do not will be condemned for not believing in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18). That condemnation is hell, where sinners will have to face the wrath of God apart from the covering or forgiveness of sins offered through Jesus Christ.

It’s my aim not to win the argument here but to give God glory because He is the One who purposed to use the death of Christ to save many, and I think it is dangerous and irresponsible to deny Jesus’ urgent warnings about the hell to come. I hope then that you and everyone who reads these comments will be persuaded, if you do not already believe, to trust in Christ Jesus’ death alone as the death that saves sinners, since as Scripture testifies whosoever believes in Him will be saved from the wrath to come, and will receive eternal life.

Alex -

I think we simply need to be aware of the 2 - our own contextual prejudices that do get in the way and the difficulty of trying to understand a cultural context of 2000 (or more) years ago.

For example, I believe our normative concepts of the gospel are seen more through Reformation-Lutheran eyes (the man, not the denomination). You’ll notice this by a simple read of something like NT Wright’s How God Became King and Simply Jesus. Or even reading more articles here.

I don’t want to discount what happened in Luther’s day. We are in debt to it today. But what took place in the Reformation was very personal to Luther and others. They probably ended up first reading Paul, their creme de la creme, through the lens of their own experience rather than first through Paul’s experience. We will miss things if we approach it this way.

Scott,

I don’t agree with your premise and think it is incorrect– that contextual prejudices must necessarily get in the way of understanding the Bible. What is the Bible– the Word of God or the word of men? If it’s God’s word then what it says has timeless relevance and application. Moreover God who wrote it through men intended it to speak to future generations, including our own. Did He not anticipate the fantastic number of cultural changes that would happen throughout the centuries? And yet Paul could write that there was “a faith” we need to know, pass on and defend. Obviously he thought that what the content of the Christian faith– its essential message– could be defined and understood, both in his day and into the future.

Your response is polite but patronizing. You think I need to be educated in the ways of Wright and Perriman, that the Reformers day has come and gone. Well, in what do you agree or not agree with the Reformers? Where is your alternate intepretation of the many passages and arguments I’ve made above?

Alex,

I must tell you that when I read what Scott wrote to you I was impressed with his gentleness of spirit. I don’t think he was being patronizing at all.

Andrew and folks here have a refreshing perspective. I have voiced disagreement on some issues, and there has been vigorous debate, but it is one of the more open and respectful conversations you will find online - especially about issues that are so important to all of us.

If I may be so bold, I’d encourage you to read more of of the posts and comments on this blog. Should you take a week or a month of doing so? I don’t know - it depends on how much time you can devote to it. In any case, try to get a sense of the focus and flow of the discussion. Then you can choose your battles perhaps more strategically. At the very least you’ll be able to zero in on something specific as opposed to having to mount a multi-front war.

On the other hand, if you think traditional Reformed Theology has already answered all the important questions you will never be happy with what you find here. Nor are you likely to get any of the adherents here to become “thoroughly reformed.” The common thread has to be a hope for discovery - discovery of new and better understanding.

Sorry to go on so long. My main point was to say that Scott respected you and cared about your best interests. It would have been much easier for him to blast you, but he did not take the easy road.

Mike,

Why should he “blast me”? I have tried to be respectful here (though on a few occasions was a bit sharp, I admit). But I wonder whether it would be considered respectful and not patronizing if I was advising folks here to go and re-read the Reformers in order to get their own perspective straightened out.

So I appreciate the good intentions, but prefer engagement with actual arguments I have taken the time to put forward. That in my mind would signal respect. I’ve appealed to Scripture in making the arguments, since as a Christian I believe that the Word of God is our common authoirty. But I’m told that my Reformed lens is supposedly blinding me to correct interpretation of passages and doctrines. Yet few offer their alternative interpretations of Scripture to show exactly how this is so, if indeed it is.

Alex,

You may be right so I don’t want to belabor the point. You should proceed as your conscience dictates.

Allow me to leave you on this point: Christ (Messiah) is the great mystery being revealed to the ages. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. To say that any system of theology has fully captured Him is to deny the promise of God for an eternal unveiling. Therefore, all of us who love Him are on a path of discovery. His truth is too much for any single one of us to contain it. Therefore, let us each resolve to make Him our teacher, let us each contribute to others from what He gives us, and let us truly each and every one enjoy Him forever.

Alex -

I don’t agree with your premise and think it is incorrect– that contextual prejudices must necessarily get in the way of understanding the Bible.

I feel this comes out of way too much a modernist, post-Enlightenment approach. I’m just not there. I’m not saying we cannot grasp truth. But to say that our contextual prejudices do not get in the way is, I believe, somewhat naive. I am convinced the Reformation understanding of Romans, Paul overall and the Gospels is not quite in line with the original historical narrative. I am not negating what God did in Luther’s day. And I would say it this way - Scripture was not written to us, with us in mind. But it was written and we now benefit from it.

So, when I read Scripture, my question is not always - What did they do and if we emulate it, then we know we will be doing the objective and absolute will of God. I want to read Scripture with a 1st century lens and secondly ask 21st century questions.

I suppose we have very different presuppositions on the nature of Scripture. I don’t believe ‘God wrote it through men.’ I believe men wrote it, compiled it, gathered it and God-breathed upon it. God-breathed (theopneustos) is much more organic than what I read in something like a Grudem’s systematic text. Or with prophecy, as Peter says, these people were ‘carried along by the Spirit’. Much more organic than a very ‘direct’ way. Nevertheless, this is a much bigger conversation than could be addressed in comment boxes here.

I’m not trying to be patronising. And I was once and very strong, died-in-the-wool adherent of reformed theology. My theology has shifted. For me, it has been semper reformanda. I think if you read something like Wright’s texts on the Gospels and Christ (How God Became King and Simply Jesus) as well as the ones on Paul & justification (Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision and What Saint Paul Really Said), I think you will be getting more into the minds of a Jewish, first century people, rather than a 16th century people. And Perriman’s book on Romans will really challenge the typical evangelical worldview, but one that tries to remain better committed to a historical-grammatical hermeneutic.

Where is your alternate intepretation of the many passages and arguments I’ve made above?

With the original conversation about sheol, I feel Andrew has done well in his article.