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Hell by Technicality

Written by Ryan.Wiksell : November 15, 2007

Long ago there lived two Israelite men in the great city of Babylon. They were twins, named Zadok and Zebulun, although the Babylonians gave them strange, dishonorable names that we will not mention here.

Zadok and Zebulun were good men, righteous and blameless. And although they were not priests or rabbis, they wielded an impressive grasp of scriptural interpretation and application. Their natural hero was Daniel, who died hundreds of years ago, but left behind a legacy and respectability for the descendants of Abraham that continued firmly to the present day. In all their studies, and whenever they lied down and got up, whenever they worked or ate or walked from place to place, they struggled to follow the ways of God, in the footsteps of the prophet Daniel.

Occasionally they would hear news from Israel, where they longed to return within their lifetimes. It grieved them to learn that the priests and teachers of the law, and virtually the entire class of Pharisees, had become obsessed with legalities and judgment. Their very own tribe, it appeared, had lost their sense of direction… their sense of God’s heart, who desires mercy, not sacrifice.

And although mercy and humility were their highest aim, they knew that sacrifices must continue until their Messiah arrived.

They were also aware of the state of bondage in Israel–that Rome had overrun their homeland, and that many Israelites were desperate for a Messiah to come at last to free them. And though their hearts beat as one with the people of their own blood, Zadok and Zebulun knew deeply that a Messiah was to come, not to rescue their people from invasion, but from their sins. It was the prophet Isaiah who said of the coming Messiah, “He was pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities.” They could only pray that when the Messiah did come, the people would see him for who he was.

If only they had known that at that very time the Messiah was, indeed, present in Israel. He was born about the time Zadok and Zebulun were getting married… 18, 19 years old. And now the Messiah was 33 years old, at the height of his earthly ministry.

It was during this year, nearing the feast of Passover, that Zadok became deathly ill. He was in such great pain that the 22nd Psalm became his mantra–a Psalm of deep suffering, but earth-shattering hope. As the family gathered around in an attempt to include him in their Passover meal, he quoted it again, gathering strength at the climax, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.” And finally, with his last breath he whispered hoarsely, “Next year in Jerusalem.” And each member of his family echoed, “Next year in Jerusalem.” And Zadok went to the bosom of Abraham.

After a few days spent in utter grief, Zebulun became determined to fulfill his brother’s wish, to be in Jerusalem, on his behalf. He gathered his servants, camels, and supplies and set out for the City of David.

As he embarked from Babylon, unbelievable things were happening in Jerusalem. Those who once followed the Messiah had now turned on him, and demanded that he be crucified at the hand of Pontius Pilate. The greatest man ever to walk the earth became a humiliating spectacle, and died harshly and grimly in the full sight of passers-by. He was wrapped up and buried in a rich man’s tomb. But on the third day he conquered that grave, and rose to proclaim God’s victory and resurrection to all mankind. The Messiah, Jesus, had ushered in a new covenant where all who claim him would be saved.

Zebulun was on his way there–on his way, unkowingly, to take part in this celebration of new life. But then tragedy struck, as a band of thieves ambushed his traveling party, made off with his belongings, and killed him and all his servants in cold blood.

Zadok died under the old covenant, and went to be with his God. Zebulun died under the new covenant, not knowing or accepting the name of Jesus, and went instead to eternal punishment.

My question for you… Did Zebulun go to hell by technicality?

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Comments

31 Responses to “Hell by Technicality”

  1. Beyond Words on November 15th, 2007 2:27 am

    I don’t believe Zebulun went to hell. He was saved by grace through faith in the Messiah God had promised. Like Abraham, he was still looking forward to God’s fulfillment of his promises. It doesn’t matter if Zeb was in the wrong place and time meet Jesus or learn his earthly name. If he had met Jesus and rejected him, that would have been different.

    I ‘m glad you’re bringing up questions like this–we really must be prepared to think critically of the implications of our doctrine.

  2. Mike on November 15th, 2007 2:44 am

    Wonderful story because it challenges our dogmas! However it seems built around a disputable presupposition (which may well have been your intention).

    Faith does not save a man. Christ does. The Messiah who “came at last to free them” did so at that time, both retroactively and into the future. All men are ultimatley reconciled to God, in this life or the next, or Christ is not the Savior of the world.

    In the end, when the consuming fire of God burns away our dross, we will all know and believe the truth for what it is. Christ fully accomplished the complete rescue of all men at one point in history.

    Fret not for the Z-man!

    Peace,
    Mike

  3. Ryan Wiksell on November 15th, 2007 4:15 am

    I’m gonna let the cat out of the bag and say that I don’t believe the fictional Zebulun would have gone to hell. But I’m also struggling with the implications of that. If a person can die after the establishment of the New Covenant, without knowledge of the literal, historical person of Christ, does that change everything? Maybe so, maybe not.

  4. Mike Knott on November 15th, 2007 5:07 am

    I agree wholeheartedly with the first post. Also, great work, compelling story. I was totally drawn in. Thanks!

  5. Matt Stephens on November 15th, 2007 11:34 am

    If Zebulun escaped hell, then so do all people from that point on who have neither heard of nor believed in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, but continue to worship Yahweh in light of only Old Testament revelation.

    I wonder how many people will choose to ignore the universalist comment above? I guess it’s worth staying tuned for… ;-)

  6. Ryan Wiksell on November 15th, 2007 11:40 am

    So what’s the verdict, Matt? Hell or no hell for the Z-man?

  7. Matt Stephens on November 15th, 2007 11:46 am

    I’m just a young, ignorant theologian. Even if my mind was made up, it’s not like my opinion would hold any weight. If I had to wing an answer, I’d say hell. God is no respecter of persons. But I neither want to or am able to competently debate this, so I won’t. Sorry if that makes me sound like a bigot. I love Z, if that makes you feel any better. :)

  8. Mark Van Steenwyk on November 15th, 2007 12:15 pm

    I’m not sure. That is my best answer. I’m not at all convinced that hell is the destination for all who die apart from Christ, since I’m not sure what “apart from Christ” functionally means. I don’t believe it is like flipping a switch.

    At the same time, I do believe in hell. Hell is biblical. But I’m not sure it is a place of eternal conscious torment for human beings.

    I’m in process on this. And I hate the fact that for many many of my evangelical kin, the idea that I’m unsure about this somehow makes me a liberal or unorthodox.

    My favorite notion about the nature of hell is the idea that heaven and hell are the same: the are both the unvarnished presence of God…the full weight of God’s glory. For those in Christ, this presence is a delight, for those not in Christ, it is a terror. But even in this, there is some hope, I think, that terror may turn to delight.

    So, is Z going to hell? I hope not, but don’t know. I think there is more to it than a logical affirmation of particular truths. I know that there is no hope apart from Christ, but I can’t see things that are hidden to me.

  9. forrest on November 15th, 2007 12:32 pm

    George Fox took “Christ enlightens every [person] who comes into the world” as far as it would go: BC, AD without ever having heard of Jesus–every human being whatsoever. Fox still thought there were bad ones who wouldn’t make it–but generally those people he thought of in this connection were persecuting him and others of similar beliefs, in a time when that meant harsh physical punishments and jail time in conditions that killed many of his friends, so I try not to fault him overmuch. [Once, after the last period of persecutions, London Meeting sent out a letter asking meetings in other parts of England if they’d noticed evidence of divine judgment against their persecutors. One meeting replied that they hadn’t witnessed any, except for a certain hardening of some people’s hearts…]

    A common early Quaker interpretation was that every person would have one ‘day of visitation’ in which Christ would be available, but if he missed that, tough luck. Hence much of the fervent concern behind their preaching missions, to prepare everyone for that judgement, that they would be spiritually awake and not lose their chance through carelessness. It’s kind of a shame that we’ve lost that fanatic edge, but I dunno that I’d altogether miss it!

    I myself, like many previous Christians, find the very notion of Hell so utterly unChristian that I can’t take it seriously except as a metaphor for life as experienced in a state of sin. & following from Fox’s idea of Christ enlightening everyone from within, I have to see Christ’s influence at work inspiring the good insights of other religions (distorted as it sometimes comes through, in some interpretations of Christianity as well.) This isn’t just theoretical for me; there was a long time when I found most available Christian texts repulsive and was finding most of my understanding of God through other religions.

    [A Buddhist student asks his teacher, What do you expect to happen when you die?

    “I expect I shall go straight to Hell.”

    “What? A good man like you?”

    “Someone has to be there to teach you!” (used by Stephen Mitchell, somewhere in the _Gospel According to Jesus_ ]

  10. Quinn on November 15th, 2007 1:08 pm

    Here’s an idea we came up with in one of our Bible studies.

    One thing we humans often forget, is that while there are dispensations of time, God is above time, outside of our time frame. In Revelation 13:8 it says “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

    Before Adam and Eve had sinned, before the earth had formed, God had ordained their Redemption. In God’s eyes, the Lamb was already slain. Look in Hebrews at the Hall of Faith. These men and women of faith were justified only because they believed God. The sacrifices of the old covenant were a type, a reminder, but they never saved anyone . (Heb10:1-4)

    I think Z was saved the same way as Abraham, Noah and Job. The same way as all of us: faith in the Son of God and His precious atonement for us.

  11. Jason Barr on November 15th, 2007 1:41 pm

    I don’t want to make too much out of just one passage at the expense of considering the rest of scripture, but I’ve always found it intriguing that in Revelation 21 the gates of the city are left open for people to freely enter and leave.

    I also find it extremely interesting that the Bible can at the same time consistently speak of the redemption of all of the creation and yet also contain passages that imply there are people who will not enter into the fullness of the New Creation.

    I don’t, at present, really have a way to reconcile the tension between those two different tendencies in the scripture, but I do hope fervently that redemptive love wins out in the end, in all circumstances. Right now I suppose the best I can say is that I believe in the possibility of, and hope for, universal salvation - but I do not believe that salvation can take place unless a person be transformed by love and purified.

    Jerry Walls of Asbury Seminary (hardly a “liberal” stronghold!) has written a very interesting article on the subject called “Purgatory for Everyone” that is worth checking out.

  12. Matt Stephens on November 15th, 2007 3:11 pm

    Jason,

    The “all” vs. “some” paradox is resolved under two conditions:

    1. “All” is hyperbolic, referring to all elements of creation, not every soul. When it is used in reference to humanity, it is referring specifically to “people of every nation, tribe, and tongue”–again, not to all souls.

    2. The “reconciliation of all things to Himself” (as we see in Colossians) does not mean “the redemption of all things.” It’s an accounting metaphor, denoting “setting things right, as they should be.” Accordingly, the unregenerate soul is “set right” through eternal damnation. All creation is rightly reconciled in view of both God’s wrath and His mercy.

  13. Jason Barr on November 15th, 2007 9:14 pm

    Matt,

    I am not convinced either by the hyperbole or the accounting metaphor arguments. The short version is that if God’s status as king of all creation is predicated on his having created the entire cosmos and all that is in it (as it was in ancient Jewish thought, which formed the backdrop for the early church and the New Testament - see Richard Bauckham’s God Crucified for an excellent introduction to God’s identity in ancient Judaism), then I have a hard time seeing how the language regarding God’s/Christ’s identity as Lord of all things in the New Creation could have its basis on anything other than the recreation of all things in the redeemed cosmos.

    It seems to me that when (for example) Isaiah speaks of “all flesh” seeing the Glory of the Lord together it means exactly that - all flesh. In Revelation it says “from” every tribe and nation, etc. There’s no reason to argue that the “all” language is hyperbolic (unless you want to try and make the argument that when John 3:16 says “for God so love the world” that it’s only hyperbole). The fact that this tension exists also in Isaiah who speaks of both the salvation of the nations and also the destruction of God’s enemies to me only heightens the tension of the whole narrative of Creation, Fall, and New Creation.

    Regarding the accounting language, I’m not convinced this is an accounting metaphor, and if it is it doesn’t solve anything. I don’t think the language in 2 Corinthians 5 allows for “all things reconciled” to really mean “only some things reconciled”.

    In short, “all things reconciled” seems to me to have the force of “all things reconciled”. I see no reason to call the language hyperbole, especially when you consider that Paul (for only one example) is presenting Jesus as the perfection of that to which Caesar can only pretend. Caesar claimed to be lord of the whole cosmos, but he demonstrably wasn’t. So I can’t believe that Paul would say Jesus is Lord of all the cosmos… if he isn’t. And the language related to such seems to me to imply reconciliation… of all things.

  14. Ryan Wiksell on November 16th, 2007 3:47 am

    Jason,

    I believe you are twisting the meaning of words in favor of your position.

    1) God is indeed King of all creation, and that designation is not undermined by the condemnation of some. In fact, God’s sovereign right to save some and condemn others actually reveals his authority over the entire universe.

    2) God’s “re-creation” of all things involves, in part, a clearing away of the chaff. This metaphor is used numerous times throughout scripture to show us that he doesn’t take every rotten plant and redeem it willy-nilly. He removes the weeds first, and burns them before his redeeming work begins.

    3) You imply that “all flesh seeing the Glory of the Lord” is equivalent to universal salvation… but ignore the fact that God’s glory will be rapturous for some (the redeemed) and torturous for others (the condemned). “Seeing the Glory of the Lord” is never expressed in the Scriptures as being necessarily pleasant, or equated to heaven. This seems to be Mark’s current thinking, as expressed in his comment above.

    4) I don’t believe Matt was using an irresponsible metaphor with the word “reconciled”. Keep in mind, all talk of salvation and condemnation are metaphors. Everything God communicates to us must be spoken in some sort of comparison to our current life experience. As it is now, things are not reconciled because many godly people suffer, and many godless people go unpunished. We are in a state of injustice… a holding pattern. The “reconciling of all things” will involved a “settling of accounts”, as Matt expressed. You are stretching the word “reconcile” far more to equate it with salvation than Matt is to equate it with justice. When a business reconciles its books, some people get paid, and others get their debts called in.

    P.S. In response to the debate about John 3:16, God certainly does love the entire world, and everyone in it. And that is why his saving blood is made available to every single person. The gift is offered without favoritism. The fact that it is rejected by some does not diminish or undermine the love behind the gift.

  15. Matt Stephens on November 16th, 2007 4:00 am

    Ryan,

    You’ve clarified my case at least as well as I could have. It’s all in the definition of reconcile.

    I think the concept of God loving the world, and yet condemning much of that world to hell (whatever that is), begs exploration… not deconstruction, but significant effort to grasp and embrace. The way I have always understood it is that the concept of God’s love would be meaningless except contrasted with wrath. Love isn’t some neutral force–it’s one side of a dichotomy. So in order for God’s love to be available to all, all must also be faced with the consequence of His wrath if they do not embrace that love. Romans 9:22-23 nearly explicates this.

  16. Mark Van Steenwyk on November 16th, 2007 4:29 am

    On a related, but different note: why is “deconstruction” a bad word for so many people? Deconstruction is a healthy and helpful thing, if understood the right way. You could say Jesus deconstructed the Law on the Sermon on the Mount.

  17. Matt Stephens on November 16th, 2007 4:37 am

    I see deconstruction and critical inquiry as separated by motive. Deconstruction is, I believe, helpful and indeed necessary when its object is worthy (or at least potentially worthy) of being dismantled. I believe the concept I proposed is worthy of critical analysis, but my assertion is that it is true and that we ought to seek to understand how it might be true rather than automatically attack it as if it weren’t.

    BTW, in my understanding, Jesus was deconstructing not Torah, but Torachic interpretation which had (wrongly) come to be synonymous with Torah. He does this throughout the Gospels when he says, “You have heard it said…”–by the religious teachers, that is, not the word of God.

  18. Mark Van Steenwyk on November 16th, 2007 10:07 am

    Matt,

    Deconstruction isn’t something that one does to false things and not true things. It is something we should do to all ideas. It doesn’t need to be understood destructively. It is a way of taking things apart to look at the inner workings. So, hell is definitely worth deconstructing: to understand my own assumption, to understand the biblical assumptions, to peel back the layers of the doctrine to get at the dynamic truth of what hell is…and is not.

    Jesus’ treatment of the Torah goes way deeper than simply challenging the popular ways of reading the Torah…he changes everything without destroying the Torah…he deconstructs the Torah. He does away with violence, he does away with eye-for-eye. This is more than just “you don’t understand the words of the Torah.” Jesus is reclaiming the Torah and reinterpreting it in new and frightening ways. Because the Torah was written to those that are hard of haearts and now, Jesus will write the Law on those hearts and there is no longer any need to bow to stipulations. That is deconstruction at its most profound.

  19. Ryan Wiksell on November 16th, 2007 10:14 am

    de·con·struc·tion (d?’k?n-str?k’sh?n) Pronunciation Key
    n. A philosophical movement and theory of literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth; asserts that words can only refer to other words; and attempts to demonstrate how statements about any text subvert their own meanings (from dictionary.com)

    So the idea of deconstruction is borrowed from literary theory. How has it been applied to Christianity and the Bible?

    I think the key verb in this definition is “questions”. Some people claim we have no right to question the Bible, but look at how gracious Jesus was to “doubting” Thomas. I think God honors those who humbly approach him with questions, or even doubts, prepared to forsake the comfortable answers, and to accept troubling answers, mysterious answers, or no answers, so long as they come from God.

    The reason I named our church plant “The Core” is because I believe each generation is called to deconstruct the work of its forebears, and understand the heart of the gospel for themselves. But Matt is right, it’s all about motives. If your goal is to deconstruct what man has made, to get closer to God, and the re-construct on his own foundation, then you are pleasing him. However, if your goal is to deconstruct God’s own message, and build your own foundation in place of his, then you are guilty of pride and idolatry.

  20. Mark Van Steenwyk on November 16th, 2007 10:21 am

    This is a great conversation that has gone off the tracks of the original post. I’m going to move it to a new post and continue it there, if it is ok with y’all. I want others to get into the discussion…I think it’s important.

  21. Jason Barr on November 16th, 2007 4:13 pm

    Matt,

    I did not twist the meanings of words to fit my interpretation - I am not exactly sure what my interpretation is so how could I be twisting the meanings of words? I am trying to apply different heuristics in order to try and get a fuller picture of what the scriptures say. If you think that means I am twisting the meanings of words then I ask that you take what I’m saying in good faith, as I am primarily trying to clarify my own thoughts - not trying to convince anyone of a doctrine.

    I do not see the concept of God as king of all creation as discontinuous with the idea of God judging creation and judging it to be corrupt and unworthy of entering the kingdom. That he has the right to do so is attested in various passages, perhaps most notably the “wheat and chaff” example you cite.

    What I see as discontinuous is the notion that if God is king of all creation, and God is the redeemer of all creation, then arguing that all of creation is not redeemed. I have a problem, in other words, with the kind of word games that assume “all” language is meant in its full sense in one place and only in a hyperbolic sense in another when there aren’t strong literary cues to indicate the difference from one passage to the next. I’m afraid that what drives us to make the assumption that it’s used in one way in one passage and another in another often has more to do with our own theological preconceptions than the actual text itself.

    Bill Clinton once famously said “It all depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” I think he was more right than people gave him credit for - but probably chose the wrong forum to make a philosophical point. In this case, it all depends on what ‘all’ is.

    I did not use “all flesh shall see [the glory of the Lord] together” as an equivalent of universal salvation. I used it as an illustration of “all” language being used to mean exactly what it says.

    I also don’t see how, from the scriptures, the term “reconciled” (especially as in “in Christ God was reconciling all things to himself”) can be used to refer to anything other than all of creation being restored to right relationship with God, nor do I think your (rightly) pointing out the fact that salvation and condemnation are metaphors that connect an out-of-this-world truth to our experience in this world. I do think it would be useful to explore the meanings of the word “justice” in scripture (particularly the Hebrew mishpat, which is the word most often translated “justice”). I think the word “justice” itself in scripture implies a paradigm of restorative, not punitive, justice (one of my professors used to say it more fully means “all things made right between God and people”) and so we should seriously consider at least the possibility that the language of reconciliation in the New Testament legitimately refers to all of creation being restored to right relation, to what it was originally intended to be.

    I also think the idea of God’s wrath as expressed over the course of the whole of scripture best fits into the restorative paradigm. I don’t think wrath can be construed as the opposite side of the coin from God’s love, but that the two work together synergistically.

    Theologically speaking, I also have a hard time seeing how God’s image can be obliterated to the point where a person who is created in it can be reduced to 100% chaff, with no wheat remaining - but I will allow for the possibility, while also allowing that possibility to stand in tension with Paul’s statement that “God is the savior of all people, but especially of those who believe” (and no, there’s no hint in that passage that Paul really means God is the POTENTIAL savior of all people).

    I like a couple of comments that have been made in the thread to the effect of “God’s presence would be heaven to some and hell to others”. I think there’s wisdom there, but I have a hard time pinning it down into a formula. ;-)
    I also think that the vast majority (if not all) the references to reward and punishment and life and afterlife have more to do with encouraging people to live according to a certain paradigm in this life than with communicating doctrinal truths about the next life.

    Regarding John 3:16, that’s all good and well for those who reject the gift (though I am honestly unable to understand how anyone who really has the capacity to understand the gift could reject it) - but what about those who are not able to reject the gift? There’s a slippery slope that runs between “you have to consciously accept Christ to be saved” and “everyone will be saved regardless of what they believe or accept”, and I don’t feel adequate to stake out a hard-and-fast position - I really think the evidence from scripture requires us to live in the tension of not knowing the exact destination of people in the afterlife, but praying and working for the kingdom to advance to its fullest in this life - and letting God be God as creator, Lord, judge, and redeemer.

    So I’m still at the stage of “I believe in believing in the possibility of universal salvation, and of hoping for its eventuality, but in allowing God the freedom to do as he will, trusting that it will be right.”

  22. Jason Barr on November 16th, 2007 4:39 pm

    Perhaps, in light of the thread on deconstruction, it would be easier to say that I think the tension between images of all creation being positively restored (which is probably a better way to express what I see in the “all” language) and the “wheat and chaff” language deconstructs our theological conceptions of heaven and hell, salvation and condemnation, and while I would not dare presume to invalidate God’s rightness to judge who and how as he sees fit, I desire to remove any pretensions to my own fitness to make that judgment. I think that may be a better way of expressing what I’ve been trying to say - I believe God is judge, and I desire to take the language of universal salvation (which is not necessarily the same thing as a development of doctrinal universalism) I see in key parts of scripture AND the language of judgment and destruction equally seriously, not privileging one over the other , especially not based on constructed theological baggage I have inherited from the traditions with which I have intersected.

    And so I believe in the possibility of universal salvation and hope for its eventuality, and at the same time believe God has the freedom to do what he will do as an expression of his righteousness and justice, trusting God to complete the New Creation in the way that fulfills his purpose for all time and space.

    And I hope I’m not just hedging my bets. ;-)

  23. Jason Barr on November 16th, 2007 4:42 pm

    I addressed the post above the one above this one to Matt, when I meant to address it to Ryan. My mistake, and apologies!

  24. Matt Stephens on November 16th, 2007 5:06 pm

    Thanks for that last clarification, Jason.

    You are building a very large structure on a weak assumption–that “savior” necessarily means “one who places souls into the eternal kingdom of heaven”. In some contexts it does, and in others it doesn’t. This is true of all language, including both English and Koine Greek. People use the same words to communicate radically different messages.

    If we take Scripture to be coherent and entirely uncontradictory (despite being paradoxical), then it follows that we can’t accept interpretations that do injustice to some statements in Scripture. Universal salvation does astronomical injustice to massive swaths of Scripture. At the very least, there are multiple passages that preclude it.

    Venture out of the New Testament if you want a vivid picture of God’s wrath. Repeatedly mandating mass slaughter is a good place to start.

    [This will be my final comment related to universalism, because I do not have the time to fully develop the case against it. Suffice it to say that throughout the 2000+ years of the Christian Church’s existence, this view has come nowhere close to being seriously entertained, much less adopted. It is not orthodox by any measure of history or imagination. It is not Christianity. Call it universalism, but don’t call it Christianity.]

  25. Jason Barr on November 16th, 2007 5:37 pm

    Where did I ever say “savior” means “one who places souls into the kingdom of heaven”? I don’t think that at all, and I doubt there are many (if any) parts of scripture that can be read that way. And if I really thought mass swarths of scripture, as you put it, preclude the idea of universal salvation, I wouldn’t entertain it as a possibility. And, for that matter, I resent your implication that I am illiterate regarding large portions of the scriptures.

    Would you say that the doctrine of the damnation of those who do not accept Christ is an intrinsic part of what can be called Christian doctrine? There have been an awful lot of people within the church over the past 2000 years who disagree with that statement - so don’t tell me what can and can’t be called Christian.

    I am done with this topic. Feel free to rebut everything I just said, knowing that I will not reply.

  26. Maria Kirby on November 18th, 2007 10:03 pm

    Ryan,
    Great story! It really got readers engaged. Maybe we need a little of Daniel’s grace here to cool things down a bit? I thought it was interesting that the question of whether or not someone was going to hell became a discussion of whether or not there was a hell. I liked Mark’s idea of everyone’s in the presence of God, but some people hate it, while other’s loved it. Maybe this hell topic could become a forum?

    I guess in answer to the question of going to hell, it seems to me that most people base their afterlife judgments on Jesus statement of being the way, the truth, and the life and no one can go to the Father (or heaven) except through him. I interpret Jesus as being a graphic, living symbol of a larger concept of love and forgiveness. That way to God is only through living in the truth of love and forgiveness. Those truths didn’t start 2000 years ago. And they’re true for any culture, even if they haven’t heard of Christ. And yes we still need the symbol, just like we still need words. Without the Word, the concept is kind of fuzzy like, and can be easily misinterpreted.

  27. Matt Stephens on November 19th, 2007 8:38 am

    I certainly don’t mean to be argumentative, buuut…

    It would take some pretty elaborate hermeneutical gymnastics to explain John 3 in any terms but exclusive. I’ll let God’s word speak for itself…

    “16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

    Some would extract verse 17 from its context and say, “See, Jesus didn’t come to condemn. In fact, he came to save the world… the whole thing!” But context won’t allow this interpretation. Verse 16 makes reference to perishing, stating the means by which one avoids perishing. And verse 18 makes explicit that everyone who does not believe in the name of Jesus will be condemned… to hell, that is. The contextual evidence conclusively points to the equation of condemnation with hell, contrasting as it does “eternal life” with “perishing” and “condemn”.

    It’s important to note that we can extract a verse or two from the Bible in order to argue whatever we want. Good hermeneutics works from the standpoint of “the verse within its passage within its book in its place in the Canon”. So we ought to analyze each verse within its contexts progressively in this manner. Otherwise we are guilty of prooftexting.

  28. Ryan Wiksell on November 19th, 2007 9:18 am

    Well said, beloved. I like your tone much better in this comment than in your previous one. I don’t blame Jason for feeling put off by it.

    All I was respond to is actually something very minor. You said good hermeneutics considers a verse in its place in the passage, in the book, in its place in the Canon. However, I don’t consider a book’s place within the Canon as inspired in the same way the actual text is. We are definitely to take the entire Canon into account when we interpret scripture, as well as the chronology of events. But the order of the books, I believe is merely helpful, not authoritative.

  29. forrest on November 19th, 2007 3:58 pm

    “But what I tell you is this: “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly Father, who makes his sun rise on good and bad alike, and sends the rain [a good thing, either in the Middle East or here in Southern California!] on the honest and the dishonest. If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect? Surely the tax gatherers do as much as that. And if you greet only your brothers, what is there extraordinary about that? Even the goyim do as much. You must therefore be all goodness, just as your heavenly Father is all good.”

    Let’s see now… God changes his ways at The Judgement, suddenly tired of being Mr Nice Guy? Or he doesn’t really love everybody? Or he doesn’t have the power to save everyone he loves from the hell he allegedly created to harm some of us?

    Or does this passage simply tell us a truth about God that generations of theological bookkeepers have labored in vain to obscure?

  30. Matt Stephens on November 19th, 2007 4:32 pm

    You make an excellent point, Forrest. Throughout Scripture we hear the resounding confession, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). What tremendous news–God grants mercy to sinners! But then we have this same exact confession juxtaposed with another: “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Num. 14:8).

    So the loving, merciful Jesus we see in the New Testament is not at all at odds with the God of the Old, who acts with great patience toward those who have spurned Him. But his mercy does not last forever for those who refuse to repent of their sin, and it is limited. All people receive the love of God with every breath of air they breathe, with every ray of sunshine, every drop of rain. It is called common grace. But common grace is not saving grace.

  31. Maria Kirby on November 19th, 2007 5:28 pm

    I’m not sure how you interpret “believing in the name of Jesus”, but the fact that name is emphasized seems to reinforce the idea of Jesus being a symbol of God’s forgiveness and love.

    I would like to point out that in Luke and Matthew Jesus claims that eternal life is rewarded to those who follow the two most important commandments. And I don’t think he was giving some sort of affirmative nod to the pharasies’ rules. Nor do I think he was just setting us up for failure. But I do think following those commands is only possible through the power of His love and forgiveness. I don’t think God limits his love and forgiveness only to those who have some sort of head knowledge of who Jesus was/is. Otherwise why would he let it rain on the just and the unjust or why would he call people into account that had never heard of him?

    The exclusive claims bother me for another reason. I don’t think God wins against evil just because he can cause those who don’t repent more pain. It seems to me that part of good winning over evil is that there is more good in the end than evil. So if we are so exclusive in our claims about who is eligible to go to heaven, then we are imaging a situation in which the number who go to heaven is smaller than the number who go to hell. That doesn’t seem like a situation where God wins.

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