God’s Not Dead 2 Review

To read my review of God’s Not Dead 2, check out my new blog on Blogger.

http://bechallengedandchanged.blogspot.com/2016/03/gods-not-dead-2-review.html?m=1

Thanks!

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A New Blog

To those of you who enjoyed reading my blog posts, I apologize that it has been so long. I have started a new blog with the same title on Blogger. Here is the link: http://bechallengedandchanged.blogspot.com/

Please take a second to check it out and be encouraged. If you enjoy, please subscribe and check back weekly for new posts.

The first actual post will be Monday, March 28: A review of the new movie God’s Not Dead 2.

Thanks!

Christmas Hymnology

Christmas bells and music

Well the Christmas season is upon us! You now have less than 20 days to complete your shopping and planning and cooking.

In the midst of all your busyness, hopefully you find yourself at church a time or two singing some good ole Christmas hymns. At the least, you may catch yourself singing along with them on the radio.

That being the case, I reached back into my archives and pulled out something I wrote back in December of 2011. It is about the theology we can find in the Christmas hymns. I call it “Christmas Hymnology.”

Christmas Hymnology

The Christmas season is without a doubt one of my favorite times of the year. As most children, I was never able to sleep well on Christmas eve, my mind tossing and turning with anticipation for the day that was ahead. Now that I’m a bit older, I have learned to appreciate giving more than receiving, and what a blessing that is!

Besides the spirit of giving that everyone seems to have around Christmas time, I have always been a fan of Christmas hymns. I always look forward to the month of December so we can start singing the songs that recall the birth of our Savior. To be honest, Bible College has made me a more critical person; not skeptical, just critical. In light of this, I have taken the time to carefully read some of my favorite Christmas hymns in search of the biblical truth I hope they present.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” is a great place to start, for it was in this small town just outside Jerusalem where the life of Christ began. I believe that the first verse does a good job of depicting the Christmas scene. There were neither wreaths hanging nor homes lit, “Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.” What a great way to depict our Savior, an everlasting light who makes darkness flee. This line brings to mind 1 Peter 2:9, which says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” Describing His light as “everlasting” also reminds me of a passage in Revelation which tells us of the New Jerusalem. Revelation 22:5 reads, “Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light.” It is incredible to realize how the light of Christ has been shining since the very beginning, and even better to know that its glow will never be darkened. It is because of this fact that we can still sing, “O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel!”

“Away in a Manger”

Just for fun, I think you might be interested to know that the wooden manger we usually picture in our minds and in our nativity scenes is probably nothing like the one baby Jesus laid in. Archaeological findings tell us that feeding troughs were not wooden, rather they were made of cement. This means that the Lord Jesus wasn’t placed in a warm, cozy manger, but a cold, hard trough. This is not to say the hymn is faulty, it is simply some food for thought.

What this hymn does is portray for us very accurately the welcoming of the Lord Jesus. The King of Kings was not welcomed by friends, family, and other royalty, but by shepherds and their smelly sheep. He didn’t enter this world in a palace suited for a king, but in a stable used to house cattle. Talk about humility! Consider what Paul wrote about Christ in Philippians 2:6-7, “Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.” This lowliness began at His birth and continued all the way until the point of His death. What an amazing life! And just think…it all began “Away in a Manger.”

“O Come, All Ye Faithful”

It often occurs to me during the Christmas season that some of these hymns should be sung year round. Why can we only sing “O come, let us adore Him” in the weeks leading up to our celebration of His birth? Should we not adore Him all the year long? There is no better praise to give Him than to sing, “Glory to God, all glory in the highest!” That is, after all, the meaning of another popular Christmas hymn, which goes something like “Glo…….ria, in excelsis Deo!”

This hymn also offers us some of the best Christology there is. The last line of the third verse says, “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!” This is almost a direct quote from John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” What a great truth this hymn teaches about the nature of Jesus. As the Son of God, He was fully divine. But as the son of Mary, He was also fully human. Jesus Christ was the God-man, sent by His Father to reconcile sinful mankind to Himself (Col. 1:19-20). This is why we should forever sing, “O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”

“Joy to the World! The Lord is Come”

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King.” To see Jesus as a king is to see Him as a political figure. For the Romans, under whose rule Christ was born, life was about politics, and Caesar was lord. So for first century Christians, to say, “Jesus is Lord,” was to deny that Caesar was lord. Sounds pretty political to me!

Unlike Caesar and his highest ranking senators, who ruled unfairly to say the least, Christ “rules the world with truth and grace.” It is interesting to note that Caesar no longer rules, but Christ still does. No longer is anyone singing their praises to Caesar, yet for Christ “heaven and nature” still sing, we continue to “repeat the sounding joy,” and we constantly know the “wonders of His love.” How amazing is it that the joy of Christmas still resounds year after year? Jesus was not an earthly king who was born to serve His time, He was and still is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This song was taken from Psalm 98, which reads in verse 4, “Shout to the Lord, all the earth; be jubilant, shout for joy, and sing.” May the joy of Christmas be something we always sing about!

Conclusion

After reading this insight into some Christmas hymns, I hope you will forever sing them in a new way. Not with different music or a different voice, but with a new perspective in mind. These Christmas hymns and others do not only portray the birth of Christ, they also teach biblical truth that is useful for every man, woman, boy, and girl. “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel!”

Bible Translations

Bibles

Who ever thought that buying a Bible would be an overwhelming experience? You just go to the store and grab one, right? Well…no. You go to the store and you have to choose between this translation and that translation, between this study Bible and that study Bible. It’s more difficult than it should be.

So if you are looking for a new Bible, which translation should you choose? I thought that if I shared with you about the translation process and the differing methods used, it would help you make a more informed decision.

Some Translation Difficulties
As you know, the sixty-six books of the Bible were not written in English. The original authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote in three languages: Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. With the exception of a few words, the entire New Testament was written in Greek. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but small sections, such as Daniel 2-7, were written in Aramaic. And, to make things even more complicated, there is a Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (symbolized LXX).

What we are dealing with today entails the translation of these original texts into other languages, such as English. On a surface level, it sounds like a somewhat simple task as long as someone knows both Greek/Hebrew and English. But, for several reasons, it’s more difficult than you may think. First of all, we do not have any original autographs of the biblical books. What we do have, though, are thousands of copies. But, secondly, what arises when these books are copied are variants (scribal errors). The original Greek documents were written in all capital letters with no spaces in-between words. The original Hebrew documents were written with consonants only, no vowels. Both of these things made it difficult on the scribe to produce perfect copies. Besides making errors, some scribes even added short notes to give later readers clarity.

All this being said, when a translator sits down to work, he/she doesn’t do so with the original/perfect text produced by someone such as Moses or Paul. Instead, they may sit down with twenty differing copies of a certain book. I should mention that the variants only compose a small percentage of the text, but nevertheless, they do present translators with a difficult task.

Another thing that should be mentioned concerning translation difficulties is the evolution of language. Not only were the biblical documents written in other languages, they were also written thousands of years ago. Over that span of time the Greek and Hebrew languages have evolved and changed. So it’s not enough to know modern Greek or Hebrew, you have to know the ancient languages.

There are other issues that could be mentioned, such as differing cultural idioms and the technological advances we have experienced, but the point is clear: there are many difficulties when it comes to translating the Bible.

The Translation Process
Anyone who is bilingual knows that translating a phrase or sentence is challenging, much less an entire letter or book. Why? Because each language has its own rules of grammar. Each language uses a different sentence structure. And, maybe the most difficult part of translating (and the reason we have so many versions of the Bible) is that each word in a given language does not have a one-to-one correspondence in another language. For example, the simple Greek conjunction καί (kai) is usually translated “and,” but can also mean “also/even/but/indeed.” So when a translation is to be produced, a method has to be determined.

Some translators prefer a word-for-word (formal equivalence) method, while others opt for what they call a phrase-for-phrase or thought-for-thought (dynamic equivalence) method. In all reality, most English translations available today combine these two methods. Take for example the explanation in the introduction to the Holman Christian Standard Bible, which uses what is called the “Optimal Equivalence Method”:

“Optimal equivalence starts with an exhaustive analysis of the text at every level (word, phrase, clause, sentence, discourse) in the original language to determine its original meaning and intention (or purpose). Then relying on the latest and best language tools and experts, the nearest corresponding semantic and linguistic equivalents are used to convey as much of the information and intention of the original text with as much clarity and readability as possible. This process assures the maximum transfer of both the words and thoughts contained in the original” (HCSB, Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2004, vii.).

A good example of a thought-for-thought translation is the New International Version (NIV). The translation committee for this project stated that they have “striven for more than a word-for-word translation.” Furthermore, they explain, “Because thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the Bible demands frequent modifications in sentence structure and constant regard for the contextual meanings of words” (NIV, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, xii.).

On the other hand, what is regarded among scholars as the most literal translation of the Bible in the English language is the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The translators of this project worked hard to maintain the Greek and Hebrew sentence structure when bringing the text into English. Yet even they admit that, “When it was felt that the word-for-word literalness was unacceptable to the modern reader, a change was made in the direction of a more current English idiom.” But, “In the instances where this has been done, the more literal rendering has been indicated in the notes” (NASB, Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1995, iii.). This is why it is so important to look at the footnotes.

Whenever you get a chance, look at the introduction or foreword to your Bible, whatever version it may be, and see which method of translation was used. This is also something to pay attention to when purchasing a new Bible.

A Word About Paraphrases
Besides English translations, there are also English paraphrases of the Bible. A couple you have probably heard of are The Message Bible (MSG) and the New Living Translation (NLT). The main goal of a paraphrased Bible is to make it easy to read. Although the publishers of the NLT call it a “translation,” it is, in my estimation, a paraphrase. While they understand that “The goal of any Bible translation is to convey the meaning and content of the ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts as accurately as possible to contemporary readers,” they also admit that their translation is “easy to read and understand” and good for “devotional reading” (NLT, Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, 2004, A15.). These paraphrases are basically thought-for-thought translations on a grand scale. They are more focused on conveying the original meaning to a contemporary English audience than getting all the grammar correct.

There is nothing wrong with reading a paraphrased Bible, especially if the language in an NASB or KJV Bible is difficult for you. A paraphrase is great to use if you are setting out to read through the Bible in a year. At the same time, you need to be careful when studying a specific verse or word. Because paraphrases are geared toward contemporary understanding, we shouldn’t develop any theological stances from them. But, truth be told, we shouldn’t develop a theology based on an English word from any translation. Theology and doctrine should be derived solely from the original languages and sentence structures. Paraphrases are useful, but I wouldn’t advise teaching or preaching from one.

Translation vs. Interpretation
Because of all the aforementioned challenges and difficulties that come with the translation process, it is almost impossible to translate a text without also interpreting it in some way. What do I mean? On a word-for-word level, since not every Hebrew or Greek word has a perfect English equivalent, translators have to make a choice. What English word or words do I use to convey the meaning of this Hebrew word? A good example is the Hebrew word חֶסֶד (chesed). English Bibles translate it in various ways, including “faithful love” (HCSB), “love” (NIV), “steadfast love” (ESV), “loving kindness” (NASB), “faithful deeds” (NET), and “unfailing love” (NLT). Obviously the general meaning can be determined, but you can still see the number of ways it has been translated. In fact, in the KJV alone this word is translated twelve different ways (https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H2617&t=KJV)!

On a thought-for-thought level the same issue arises. How do I convey this ancient Greek phrase into English and not influence how a reader will understand it? In making these decisions, not only is the Bible translated, but it is also interpreted.

Chapters, Verses, and Subtitles
Even though I think this is pretty common knowledge, I want to take a second to touch on it. The chapter and verse divisions in our English Bibles, or any Bible for that matter, are not original. The biblical authors did not subdivide their work. Chapter and verse divisions were added much later to help congregations find a certain phrase or sentence within a given book.

The subtitles and paragraph divisions that almost all Bibles have are also later additions. In order to save space on their papyri, biblical authors did not put spaces between their words, sentences, or paragraphs. Neither did they use subtitles within their books.

Although the subtitles and chapter divisions in our English Bibles are mostly accurate, they can be misleading at times. Sometimes it is hard to determine whether a certain phrase or sentence should be connected with what comes before it or after it. An example is the paragraph comprised of 2 Peter 1:12-15. Commentators debate whether it concludes vv3-11 or if it introduces vv16-21. When Peter says in v12 that he will always remind his readers “about these things,” do “these things” refer to what he has just said or what he is about to say? Can you see the difficulty?

There are also a few strange situations with chapter divisions. In the HCSB, chapters such as Galatians 4 and 1 John 3 begin in the middle of a paragraph. This suggests that those who added the chapter division felt there was a break in thought, but the newer translators disagreed.

In order to avoid these issues, try to pay minimal attention to these divisions and subtitles and remember that they are not original to the text. If you just can’t ignore them, they do print Bibles with no verse divisions and no subtitles and you might look into purchasing one.

Concluding Thoughts
Let me be clear: I have not written this to discourage you. I don’t want you to go away from this thinking, “Man, is what I’ve been reading even a Bible? Is it even anywhere close to what Paul or King David or any of the other biblical authors wrote?” Though each translation differs from its counterparts in certain ways, and though none are perfect, all have had a great amount of scholarly thought and effort put into them.

Instead, I have written this to inform you. I want you to understand how the Bible you read every day came about. I want you to be amazed that we can read biblical texts that were written so long ago. I want you to have a good working knowledge of Bible translation the next time you go to purchase a new one.

And in the end, no matter which translation of the Bible you use, I pray that every time you read it you are challenged and you are changed!

Eschatological Confusion Part 6: Review and Conclusion

Eschatology

Well, now that we’ve looked at several end-time issues, it’s time to wrap up our study of eschatology. Let’s take a second to remember all we’ve discussed and then tie it all together.

In Part 1 we introduced the series with an overview of the issues.

In Part 2 we focused on the rapture. The three options for the timing of the rapture are pretribulation, midtribulation, and posttribulation. After examining the biblical evidence, we determined the rapture will most likely occur after the tribulation.

In Part 3 we discussed the millennial reign of Christ. The three positions for this event are premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial. As we saw, choosing between these options is tough.

Hell and eternal punishment were dealt with in Part 4. The Scriptures, and especially Jesus, seem to describe hell as a place of literal and eternal punishment, opposed to those who see it as metaphorical or believe in annihilationism.

Finally, in Part 5 we turned our attention to the Book of Revelation. It’s prophecies can be interpreted according to one of three views: (1) Preterist; (2) Futurist; or (3) Idealist. Because Revelation is apocalyptic literature, the best way to interpret it is according to the futurist and idealist approaches.

Having identified and studied the main issues surrounding the end of times and eternity, the question is, “Now what?” What do we do about it? What do we take from it?

No matter where you stand on any of the issues, the main point of it all is this: Jesus Christ will return. And, as the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 4:7a, “The end of all things is near.” Not only is He coming, but He’s coming soon. Peter followed up that statement with a “therefore,” meaning, “Here is what you do since the end is near…”

“Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and disciplined for prayer. Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7-11; HCSB)

In light of Christ’s imminent return, Peter gives his readers four exhortations:

1. Be serious/clear-headed and disciplined for prayer.
Peter calls believers to be sober and alert and to devote themselves to prayer. This is in line with what Jesus said concerning His return in Luke 21:36, “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.”

2. Maintain an intense love for each other.
A previous HCSB translation reads “keep your love for one another at full strength.” Believers need to be constantly stretching their love far and wide. Why? Because love covers a multitude of sins. If we love one another, we will overlook one another’s faults.

3. Be hospitable…without complaining.
Believers have always been called to take care of and meet the needs of others. But this is especially true in light of the end. And whatever we do for others, we better do it with a smile on our faces.

4. Use your spiritual gift(s) to serve others.
As believers, we receive gifts by the grace of God. The key here is to USE your gift(s). Think about it: if you give someone a birthday or Christmas gift, you don’t want them to sit it on their shelf and forget about it, you want them to use it. The same is true with God. He wants to see us using the gifts He has graciously given us. So having these gifts is not a privilege, it is a responsibility.

You might have noticed that each of these four things has to do with our relationship with God and with others. We need to pray to God and we need to use the gifts He has given us to love, serve, and be hospitable to others. And remember, all of this is prefaced by the fact that “The end of all things is near.”

So as believers, what do we do with all we know about eschatology? We don’t need to worry about it. We don’t need to argue about it. Instead, we need to be focused on praying and on serving others.

In conclusion, my prayer is that through this series your thoughts surrounding the end of time have been enlightened and enhanced. And as always, even if you disagree with my eschatological stance, my hope is that you have been challenged and changed by it all!

Eschatological Confusion Part 5: The Book of Revelation

Revelation

I think it goes without saying that no book in the Bible has been subject to a more varied interpretation than the sixty-sixth one: Revelation. Those in Christian circles either love it or fear it. They either read it all the time or not at all. But those who have read it (including myself), or have at least tried to, most likely lack a complete understanding. Therefore in Part 5 of this blog series entitled “Eschatological Confusion” we will turn our attention to this mysterious book.

Background
The name of the book is taken from its opening verse: “The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Him to show His slaves what must quickly take place…” The word translated “revelation” is the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις (apocalypsis), from which we derive the English word apocalypse. According to BLB, the word means to disclose previously unknown truth, or literally to lay bare or make naked (click on this link to see the lexicon: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G602&t=HCSB). So right from the start we know that in this book God is going to reveal truth to those who read it about events that will soon take place.

We can gather more important information from the rest of 1:1 and into v2: “He (Jesus) sent it and signified it through His angel to His slave John, who testified to God’s word and to the testimony about Jesus Christ, in all he saw.” A man named John was used to record this revelation, a revelation which he “saw.” This means he had a vision, or several visions, of these events. In fact, the book of Revelation states fifty-four times that John “saw” something. But who was this John? Was he the same John who authored the gospel and the three short epistles? Some say it was a different John, yet the bulk of recent scholarship suggests that it was indeed John the apostle, who had already penned four other New Testament books. The second century church father Irenaeus considered John the apostle to be the author of Revelation. This is important because Irenaeus was a student of Polycarp, who was a contemporary and a friend of John the apostle.

Interpretation
When it comes to the interpretation of this book, several things must be kept in mind. First of all, these visions were seen and this book was written at the end of the first century AD (ca. 95). Secondly, this book was addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor, which were located within the powerful Roman Empire. When we combine these two facts, we understand thirdly that these people were under the reign of the emperor Domitian, who advocated and practiced the persecution of believers. John references this persecution in 1:9, where he states, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation…” It is referenced again in 2:9 in the letter to Smyrna, “I know your tribulation and your poverty…” As with any other book of the Bible, we must always keep the situation of the original audience at the forefront of our minds when interpreting it.

Though not an exhaustive list, the fourth and final thing to keep in mind when interpreting Revelation is its genre. The sixty-six books of the Bible are composed of several different genres, such as narrative, poetry, prophecy, and epistle. The book of Revelation is a combination of three different genres. First of all, it is an apocalyptic book (remember, the word revelation comes from the Greek word meaning apocalypse). Apocalyptic literature, both inside and outside the Bible, uses numbers, symbols, and figurative language to convey its message. For this reason, it cannot and should not be interpreted literally. And though these symbols and figures may be frightening, it should be understood that apocalyptic literature was actually written to give hope. This book is not attempting to terrorize its readers with nightmares. Instead, it was written to give hope to those experiencing trials and tribulations (then and now).

This book also falls under the genre of prophecy. As we already saw in 1:1, the book was written to disclose things that will soon take place. Also, in 1:3 we read, “Blessed is the one who reads and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy…”

Thirdly, Revelation also contains epistolary features. 1:4-8 introduces the author and audience and includes a standard greeting, such as the letters of Paul. Also, the entirety of chapters 2 and 3 contain seven letters, one to each of the churches of Asia Minor (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea).

All of this information (including the author, audience, date, genres, and purpose of the book) should be plenty to get anyone on the right track when it comes to interpreting Revelation. Now, with all of this in mind, let’s look at three ways this book has been understood historically.

A Preterist View
A preterist interpretation of prophecy suggests that the events prophesied have already been fulfilled. So those who hold to a preterist view of Revelation believe that every single prophecy in the book has already occurred. But with all the events that still seem futuristic to most, how do they see them as already fulfilled? First of all, they date the writing of the book earlier than 95 AD. This allows them to say that all the prophecies were fulfilled within the first century and experienced by the original audience. Secondly, they look to the Jewish historians Josephus and Suetonius and see several events they recorded as the fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies. Even when it comes to the new creation of chapters 21 and 22, those holding to a preterist view say we are already experiencing it.

In favor of this view is the statement in 1:1 that these events must quickly or soon take place.

A Futurist View
It should be mentioned from the start that there are differing degrees of this approach. Some futurists say that none of the events spoken of in Revelation have been fulfilled, while others say some have and some have not. Understanding that this book was addressed to first century Roman residents, it would be difficult to see everything in the book as future. At the same time it is hard to deny that most of the events do seem still in the future, especially the events of chapters 19-22 concerning the return of the Lord, the judgment, and the new creation.

An Idealist View
This view takes to heart the fact that Revelation is apocalyptic literature. Interpreting it as such, those who adhere to this view see the events as mostly symbolic and as an attempt to lift the spirits of persecuted believers. Instead of looking for the fulfillment of each and every prophecy, the idealist steps back and takes a very wide-angled view. When this happens, Revelation can be summed up in one statement: Christ, and therefore believers, have secured the victory!

Where Do I Stand?
I am a huge advocate of interpreting biblical texts the way the original audience would have understood them, always taking the genre into consideration. When it comes to Revelation, this leads me to believe that a combination of the futurist and idealist approaches are the best way to go. I have no doubt that, even though 1:1 does mention things happening quickly, some of the events prophesied have yet to be fulfilled. At the same time, I don’t look for the fulfillment of every single stroke of every single letter. Revelation is best understood when a broad approach is taken. We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. We don’t want to get bogged down in the details and miss the main point of the book. And what is that? The fact that Christ has triumphed over Satan, evil, and death and that believers will one day share in that victory for all eternity. According to 22:5 the saints will reign with Him “forever and ever.”

Conclusion
Revelation teaches us what the rest of the Bible has already taught us: God is a God of love and justice; He saves those who are His and sends His wrath upon those who are not. Only in the end, these things will happen on a grand scale and will last for all eternity. Those who are His will live with Him in the new creation, while those who are not will be in anguish.

My prayer is that with this information and guidance, you will no longer be afraid to open up the book of Revelation. And when you do, may you be challenged and may you be changed!

Eschatological Confusion Part 4: Hell and Eternal Punishment

Heaven_Hell sign

Welcome to Part 4 of this blog series entitled “Eschatological Confusion.” So far we have had an introductory post (Part 1) and have dealt with the topics of the rapture (Part 2) and the millennium (Part 3). Today we will turn our attention to hell and eternal punishment.

Who knew there was more than one view concerning hell? Haven’t you seen the imaginative pictures? Haven’t you read Dante’s Inferno? Isn’t hell that fiery place where Satan is and where all the non-believers will go after the judgment? How could anyone believe anything different?

No scholar denies that the Scriptures speak of hell. Finding hell in the Old Testament can be confusing, because the meaning of the word sheol, variously translated as “grave,” “pit,” or “hell,” is hard to ascertain. It possibly refers to a place of punishment for the unfaithful, but could simply be the place of the dead. Whatever the case may be, the concept is undeniably present. When we come to the New Testament, however, there is no such confusion. New Testament authors use three different words to describe the afterlife of the unsaved: hades (11x), gehenna (12x), and tartaros (1x). Here is an example of each:

In Matt. 11:23 Jesus used the word hades when He said, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today.”

In Matt. 5:29 Jesus used the word gehenna (translated “hell”) when He said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for the whole body to be thrown into hell.”

The word tartaros is only used once in the NT, in 2 Peter 2:4, which reads, “For if God didn’t spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartaros…”

Even though the scriptural mentions of hell are clear and are not debated, their meanings are. Let’s take a second to sort through the issues…

Literal vs. Metaphorical
This first point of debate centers around what we might call the “furnishings” of hell. When using the terms “literal” and “metaphorical,” I am not referring to the reality of the place (for that is not in question), but rather what that place looks like and will be like. The overarching question goes like this: Should the New Testament descriptions of a fiery hell be understood literally or figuratively?

Let’s see how the New Testament describes hell. The very first mention of hell in the New Testament is found on the lips of Jesus in Matthew 5:22, “…But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.” Another way to translate that final phrase is “the fire of hell.” In this instance, there is no reason to take Jesus’ statement as anything but literal. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, of which this is a part, He did use several metaphors, but this does not seem to be one of them. Here Jesus speaks of hell as a place of fire.

Jesus again refers to a fiery hell in Matthew 18:9, when He said, “And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire.” And in the previous verse, though hell is not mentioned, Jesus speaks of one being thrown into the “eternal fire.”

Within the gospels, hell and fire are also mentioned together in Mark 9:43, 45, and 47. Outside the gospels, James mentions that the tongue is “set on fire by hell” (3:6). The combination is found one final time on Revelation 20:14, where “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.”

There are also places where, even though hell is not specifically mentioned, the concepts of fire and punishment are present. Take, for instance, Matthew 7:19, “Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Also, in the parable of the wheat and weeds, Jesus declares (through the mouth of the landowner), “Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them” (Matthew 13:30).

In each of these instances, as well as a few others, hell is described as a place of fiery judgment. This begs the question, Why would anyone believe it to be anything less?

The answer, in short, has to do with the interpretation of the word gehenna. The term is derived from the Valley of Hinnom, a valley located south of Jerusalem where criminals were buried and trash was burned. Since most of the New Testament references to hell and fire occur when the word gehenna is used, some argue that the word was only used as a metaphorical way to describe the place of eternal punishment. If this is the case, then we shouldn’t understand hell to be a place of literal fire.

So what do you think? Is hell literally a fiery place of punishment? Or are the references to fire only metaphorical?

Eternality vs. Annihilationism
The second point of debate asks this question: How long will unbelievers suffer in hell? Will it be an eternal punishment or will it come to an end at some point?

First of all, it should the pointed out that both the Old and New Testaments speak of an eternity. Psalm 10:16 states that “The LORD is King forever and ever.” One of the prophesied names given to Jesus in Isaiah 9:6 is “Eternal Father.” In Romans 9:5 God is the one who is “blessed forever.” Yet all of these mentions of eternity speak of God’s eternal nature. What about the eternal life of mankind?

John 3:14-16 reads, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Romans 6:22-23 states, “But now, since you have been liberated from sin and become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the end is eternal life! For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

These verses, as well as a myriad of others, speak of believers spending eternity with Christ. But does this concept of eternality carry over to hell?

Some, who believe in annihilationism, argue that it does not. They argue that in John 3:16 Jesus does not contrast eternal life with eternal punishment, but rather with perishing. Also, in Romans 6:23 the wages of sin is not eternal punishment, but death. Understanding hell this way suggests that the fiery flames will not eternally torment unbelievers, but instead consume them to the point of death and basically extinction (Clark Pinnock’s view in Four Views on Hell, Zondervan, 1996).

But what about the words of Jesus? Three consecutive times in Mark 9:43-48 He described hell (gehenna) as “the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

In Luke 3:17 (cf. Matt. 3:12) John the Baptist said concerning Jesus, “His winnowing shovel is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn up with a fire that never goes out.”

Though these words make it pretty clear that the punishment of hell will be eternal, Revelation 20:10-15 makes the best case. 20:10 states that, “The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Then, in vv14-15, Death, Hades, and “anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” If the Devil will be tormented “forever and ever” in this lake, then why wouldn’t all the others thrown into the very same lake?

A final argument I will present against annihilationism is this: If believers will spend eternity with God, then why wouldn’t non-believers spend eternity separated from God? It only makes sense.

Purgatory
One final point of discussion is that of purgatory. The concept of purgatory is not necessarily a view of heaven and hell, but rather an explanation of what happens to a person between their death and the final judgment. This understanding of purgatory, held solely by the Catholic church, states that at death most believers are not yet ready for heaven, yet neither do they deserve hell, so they go to a place known as purgatory, where living relatives and friends can pray (and pay) them out of purgatory and into heaven (for further explanation, see Zachary Hayes’ view in Four Views on Hell).

Now have you ever read that in the New Testament??? No you haven’t, because it’s not there.

So where do the Catholics find this doctrine in Scripture. It needs to be understood that the Catholic church has adopted extra books into their canon (on top of the 66 books in the protestant canon). One of these books, 2 Maccabees, is where they find the doctrine of purgatory.

Yet contra Catholic teaching, the New Testament indicates that to be absent from the body is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). There is nothing that keeps a believer from entering the presence of Christ immediately after their passing, meaning there is no reason to believe in a place called purgatory.

Where Do I Stand?
As you can probably tell, I can quickly and easily toss purgatory out the window. I cannot find any mention of it in Scripture and therefore it does not fit into my theology. I also have to do away with the thought of annihilationism. Though the New Testament does, in a few places, contrast a heavenly eternity with death and perishing, it also describes hell as a place of eternal punishment. In my mind, this only makes sense. If the reward for believers is eternal, then the punishment for non-believers should be as well. But how could a loving God punish people for all eternity, you ask? Because that same God is also holy and just, and cannot let sin go unpunished. So for those who never placed their faith in the cross of Christ for the forgiveness of their sin, their punishment will be eternal.

So now the only question I am faced with is the literalness of hell. I grew up, as most children do, understanding hell to be a place of literal fire. Even though I can see and understand the metaphorical view, I remain unconvinced. There are too many statements in the New Testament, specifically from the lips of Jesus, for me to believe that hell is anything other than a place of fiery and eternal torment.

So what does all this mean for you and I? It means that one day we will face eternity. And our eternity will be spent in one of two places: heaven or hell. We will either be with Christ for all eternity, or separated from Him for all eternity.

And what determines that? Faith does. Ephesians 2:8 tells us that “By grace you are saved through faith…” And what exactly are we saved from? From hell. From eternal punishment. From being separated from Christ for all eternity.

If you have never placed your faith in the death and resurrection of Christ, I encourage you to do that right now. It is as simple as confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). Why is it so important to believe? Because your eternity is on the line!

May these thoughts challenge you and may they change you.