Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When Everlasting Means Ever Lasting: Aion and Aionios in the New Testament

“Petavel points out that Scripture frequently uses aion, aionios, and their Hebrew counterparts (olam in various forms) of things that have come to an end. The sprinkling of blood at the Passover was an ‘everlasting’ ordinance (Exod. 12:24). So were the Aaronic priesthood (Exod. 29:9; 40:15; Lev. 3:17), Caleb’s inheritance (Josh 14:9), Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs 8:12-13), the period of a slave’s life (Deut 15:17), Gehazi’s leprosy (2 Kgs 5:27)---and practically every other ordinance, rite, or institution of the Old Testament system. These things did not last ‘forever’ in the sense of ‘time extended without limitation.’ They did last beyond the vision of those who first heard them called ‘everlasting,’ and no time limit was then set at all. According to this view, held by Petavel, Froom, and others, this is the meaning of ‘eternal’ in the Bible. It speaks of unlimited time within the limits determined by the thing it modifies” (Edward Fudge, “Everlasting Things that Last Forever, And Some That Do Not,” from The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011).

In my last post, I tackled immortality as a universal thing. What makes it so is that, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, because Adam was the father of the human race (and the human race came from Adam’s loins), death spread not only to Adam but to all men (Romans 5:12). If death was the universal punishment, immortality must have been the universal God-given gift. This is a self-evident biblical inference.

In this post, though, Fudge attempts to press forward the annihilationist view by showing how the word “eternal” within Scripture can illustrate a limited amount of time, not time without end. What I will demonstrate is that the word “eternal,” as does the word “destroy” (and all words included) must be determined by the context. Without context, anyone can make certain words mean anything they want to.

Let’s start with the items above that Fudge notes use the word “eternal” but do not last forever: priesthood, the life of a slave, Caleb’s inheritance, the sprinkling of the blood at Passover, etc. The word “eternal” is used with these things, but context dictates that the word here does not mean “without end of time.” Why? Because the Aaronic priesthood was done away with in Jesus (see Hebrews). The life of a slave ends, for the slave will die like everyone else. This seems to make sense to most individuals.
But Fudge then discusses the idea of the eternal sin:

“To be guilty of an ‘eternal’ sin (Mark 3:29) is to be guilty of one that will not be forgiven even in the age to come” (Fudge, The Fire That Consumes).

Here with Mark 3:29, the word “eternal” used in this context means “without end.” For the person that blasphemes against the Holy Spirit (the context of Mark 3:29), there will be no forgiveness for this sin in this age or the one to come. In other words, there is no time at which the said individual will be forgiven.

Fudge argues that the word “eternal” does not mean forever because he hopes that readers will agree with his annihilationist view. If one can argue that it is the results of an action that are eternal and not the action itself, he can say, “Consider eternal death; the dying is not eternal but the consequences are.” Annihilationism then seems to be a credible view when lined up against this train of thought.

The problem with this, however, is that there is scriptural evidence that testifies against this view. There is Mark 9 and Jesus’ words about hell:

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, WHERE THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, WHERE THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED. If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, WHERE THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED” (Mark 9:43-48, NASB).

Three times in these six verses of Mark 9, we find Jesus saying that “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” What Jesus tells us in this passage is that the fires of hell continue to burn eternally. The fire is never put out, “the fire is not quenched.” In addition, the worms never stop eating flesh: “their worm does not die.”

Now, let’s think: in order for the worms to live forever, they must have flesh to eat. This means that they will eat the flesh of the ungodly forever and ever. The fire will burn the flesh of the ungodly forever and ever. Revelation 20:14 describes this as “the torment” of the ungodly, which will happen “day and night, forever and ever.”

How does Mark 9 relate to Fudge’s comment regarding the word “eternal”? The word “eternal,” contra Fudge, does not just relate to the result of the action but the action itself. In the case of Mark 9, the death is “eternal” not only because the results of death will be forever (Fudge’s view), but also because the dying process itself is eternal: “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” The ungodly will continually die, and the effects of that death will be forever. Both the action and the result are characterized by the word “eternal.”

Fudge presents the reader with an interesting take on the word “eternal” in this post. Nevertheless, the context itself works against Fudge and confirms the traditional view. Whenever the word “eternal” is used, context must always be considered...however, the word “eternal” can refer to the action as well as the result; and here, “eternal” refers to both. God bless.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Given By God At Creation: Immortality as Presupposition

“Most if not all traditionalists throughout Christian history have rejected the doctrine of innate or natural immortality of the soul as taught by Plato, for a God-given immortality (a biblical idea) which they presumed to be bestowed on humans universally, either by creation or by resurrection (an idea found nowhere in the Bible). Because these traditionalists believe that every human will be immortal in the age to come, they approach the Scriptures with a presupposition that those who go to hell cannot literally be destroyed and pass out of existence. Understandably and inevitably, the traditionalists’ presupposition of universal human immortality entices them to interpret Scripture so that they always arrive at the traditionalist conclusion” (Edward Fudge, “Peterson’s Fourth Reason,” from The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011. Kindle Edition).

In my last post, I talked about Tertullian and his view that the word “destroy” does not mean annihilate. I went into great detail about the philosophy and language and used the example of Jesus and the temple in John 2, where the Jews meant one thing with the use of the word “temple,” while Jesus meant another. I think this is the error committed by the Doctrine of Annihilationism (Conditional Immortality).

In this post, I intend to respond to Fudge’s attack on traditionalists. While I have aimed to rebut the annihilationist view here, I also have a responsibility to respond to the attacks made by those with whom I disagree. A great apologetic not only involves a good offense, but also a good defense...not just a good defense, but a good offense. Teams can’t win games without both, and the church of Jesus Christ cannot, either.

In the quote, Fudge states that the idea of universal immortality is “an idea found nowhere in the Bible.” I want to point out this phrase because, what I am about to show you in this post is that Fudge’s words are quite erroneous indeed.

If Fudge is true, what do we do with the Fall of Genesis 3? Was the fall tragic or not? Indeed, I think it was. Have you ever taken time to read through the “Graveyard Chapter” of Genesis 5? It is full of people who lived, had sons and daughters and wives, and then died. “Adam lived...nine hundred and thirty years, and he died” (Genesis 5:5, NASB); “so all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died” (Gen. 5:8); “So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years, and he died” (v.9); “so all the days of Kenan were nine hundred and ten years, and he died” (v.14); “so all the days of Mahalalel were eight hundred and ninety-five years, and he died” (v.17); “So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years, and he died” (v.18), etc. Genesis chapter 5 is full of individuals who lived many years and then died. The question we should ask ourselves is, “Why is chapter 5 placed where it is in “Geneseos,” the book of beginnings (LXX)? Because it is placed in the historical record of Scripture chronologically after the fall for a reason.

Death is listed in Genesis 5 as the overarching theme for a reason. What is this reason, one may ask? It is because of the harsh sentence given by God to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. The fall, the temptation and its succumbing led to death for all the human race. As Paul states in Romans 5,

 “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned...nevertheless, death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come” (Romans 5:12-13).

But why is this so tragic? Because death was the consequence of sin, not a natural part of the intended human existence. In other words, death is the result of sin, not God’s decision in originally creating man. Death shows us that the creation is stained, polluted, tainted, full of sin and sin’s consequences. Death shows us that things are not the way they are supposed to be. As Cornelius Plantinga has written in his book, “It’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be” (See Cornelius Plantinga Jr.’s It’s Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin for more details).

Does it make sense for God to “punish” man with an end to his life if God intended man to have a number to his days before He created him? Does it make sense for God to punish mankind for something that He had already intended to decree to them? No, not at all. A parent punishes a child when he or she does wrong to show that child what it means to lose privileges when parents are not obeyed. How serious is the punishment if all the parent ever wanted to do was torture the child anyway?

As Cornelius Plantinga Jr. shows us in his book (mentioned above), life is not the way it’s supposed to be! Life was originally meant to be forever, in the presence of God, surrounded by the glory of God at every turn. Our world, however, is far from what God originally meant it to be. And death shows us that the God of the Scriptures always intended for man to live forever. Immortality was always the plan of God. And this intention of God’s was not removed when sin entered, but it was delayed. Because God always desired man to live forever with His Creator, God never gave up on man...but He did allow His plan to be delayed. Because man sinned against God in the garden, God would allow humanity to die tragic deaths.

But there is hope to the story, and there was hope that day in the garden of Eden in Genesis 3. Even in that text we find that the Lord already prepared to remedy the situation created in the garden of Eden (Eden is Hebrew, meaning delight):

“And I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).

By the time we get to Paul’s concluding words of his sixteenth chapter to the Romans, we see that this revelation was given to Paul of the Old Testament verse in Genesis 3:

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20, NASB).

I didn’t understand the Genesis reference until I read the apostle Paul. Praise the Lord for His patience with those of us who study the Scriptures, who often miss many important things that He often tries to explain to us.

I think it is safe at this point to see this Scriptural inference up close. First, let’s remember that according to the apostle Paul, death spread to all men (Romans 5:12); if death was a consequence of sin, then the original decree was one of blessing, one of universal immortality. Death could not have been a part of the original decree (otherwise, death was never a consequence to begin with). If death spread to all men, and all men were intended for immortality (death was due to sin), then universal immortality was given by God to humanity in creation. In addition, if the life of mankind did not matter to God, why would He decree that murderers would lose their lives if they murdered other human beings (Gen. 9:6)?

If human death was always a part of the original plan, how could it be a result of the fall? In this scenario, if human death existed before the fall of Genesis 3, how serious was the consequence of the fall? I could agree with Edward Fudge about annihilationism if he could show me that universal immortality cannot be defended scripturally. However, I do disagree with the annihilationist camp on this one...because everything we know scripturally points to this immortality inference as a biblical one, indeed. God bless.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Christianity's Platonic Origin: Tertullian and the Philosophy of Language

“‘I may use, therefore, the opinion of Plato,’ writes the ancient apologist from Carthage, ‘when he declares, ‘Every soul is immortal.’ But what of Jesus’ warning to fear God who can destroy both soul and body in hell? How is that possible, if the soul is immortal?

In light of Tertullian’s presupposition, the answer is obvious. ‘Destroy’ does not mean ‘destroy.’ When Jesus says that God can destroy the soul, explains Tertullian, he really means that God will torment the soul forever. ‘We, however, so understand the soul’s immortality as to believe it ‘lost,’” Tertullian concludes, ‘not in the sense of destruction, but of punishment, that is, in hell’” (Tertullian, quoted by Edward William Fudge, “Interaction: No Platonic Influence?”, from The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011).

I am back once more to tackle conditional immortality and make the case for the traditional view of the immortality of the soul and the traditional view of hell. In this post, I desire to spend some significant time on the philosophy of language and the role it plays in this debate. Often, believers can naively think that debates over Scripture are just matters of interpretation...but do they realize that such “interpretations” consist of philosophical reasoning? Very few seem to know this; and yet, there are so many debates in the world that are conducted over philosophical discussion. I think that if we intend to have a philosophical theology, a “queen” that is aided by the “handmaiden” of philosophy, then we must begin to see that philosophy and theology are closely intertwined. It will prove to be key in debates such as this (annihilationism vs. immortalism).

I for one agree with Tertullian when he says that “destroy” does not take on the literal meaning when Jesus refers to humans. Why? I am convinced that the philosophy of man is distinguished from the philosophy of objects. The Scriptures indicate rather heavily in Revelation (not to mention other places) that man will be “tormented” in the lake of fire and brimstone. Therefore, if one places words like “destroy both soul and body in hell” against the rest of Scripture, which claims conscious torment, one cannot come out with an annihilationist definition of “destroy.” Man is created distinct from things. Man has consciousness, while objects do not. Man can talk, while objects cannot. Man can build and plant, while objects cannot. Man cannot be subjected to objects; objects are always subjected to man. The objects that are on the earth have been given by God for man’s disposal, so that man would benevolently exercise the dominion over the earth that God has given (Genesis 1:26-28).

Country music singer Steve Wariner once performed a song called “Two Teardrops.” The song is all about a conversation between two teardrops about the reason why they are falling from the faces of certain individuals. One of the teardrops falls from the face of a woman who just got married. “She was so happy she just got married/I was on her cheek when she wiped me away with her glove/ I could tell by the look on her face, she didn’t need me/so I drifted on down and caught me a ride to the sea,” the tear responded. “The other tear said, ‘We’ve got a connection/I’m a tear of sorrow, born of rejection/I’m from the sad brown eyes of her old flame,’” the song goes. The chorus begins with, “Oh the ocean’s a little bit bigger tonight/two more teardrops somebody cried/ one of them happy and one of them bluer than blue...” It’s obvious that people often cry tears of joy or tears of sorrow, and this song capitalizes on both “tearful” emotions.

I didn’t use the country song “Two Teardrops” just to introduce country music or make most of my readership feel uncomfortable (since very few individuals likely know of my affinity for some of the genre), but to demonstrate that when it comes to inanimate objects such as tears, humans often use personification. With inanimate objects, we tend to give them human characteristics or human traits---speaking, crying, screaming, walked, danced, etc. For instance, someone in a poetic mood could write, “the sun danced across my window this morning.” In such a scenario, we wouldn’t assume that the sun literally danced across the window. If the sun started grooving outside my window, I would throw myself in my bed and hide in fear! By using personification, we are consciously aware that the sun, moon, stars, and other parts of creation (and inanimate objects) are not human. Otherwise, ascribing human language to them would be like saying “I talked.” One has a visual image of me talking but there’s nothing deeper than conversation indicated by such a statement. Saying “I talked” certainly isn’t as poetic as saying “the sun danced” or “the waves roared,” etc.

And this type of language brings me to the discussion of the philosophy of language. One of the things I think Fudge fails to understand is that, according to the philosophy of language, words have context. That is, a word can mean two different things in two different contexts. Take the word “bad” for example: in the sentence “Hurricane Irene will be a bad storm,” one would not believe that I am saying “Hurricane Irene will be cool.” I don’t think most individuals with common sense would make such a statement. There is certainly nothing cool about a storm that has 65 million Americans in its path, destined to wipe out a great deal of the peaceful life of the North Carolina coast and produce massive amounts of sand erosion. When I say, “Hurricane Irene will be a bad storm,” I am saying that the hurricane will be terrible, that it will be destructive, that it will uproot homes, wipe out sand on beaches, hide highways, etc. All of the destruction just described does not sound “cool” to me.

The need to place words within their literary context was also a concern of Jesus. The Lord often utilized various meanings of words to show the Jews how little they really understood. For example, in his overturning the tables in the temple (because of the moneychangers polluting the house of God), the Jews asked Him about His authority to overturn tables. Jesus then replies,

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19, NASB).

The Jews respond, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and You will raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20)

Notice that Jesus uses the word “temple” and the Jews use the word “temple,” but both parties mean totally different things. This is why John says in Jn. 2:21, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” John 2:21 clarifies for us what Jesus was saying. The temple was not the physical building structure, but His flesh, the same flesh He took on to come into the world as a man. The Jews, however, do not understand this...and end up deeming Jesus as foolish. In reality, they were the ones that did not understand what Jesus was saying.

Perhaps the problem the Jews had with Jesus was over the philosophy of language; and perhaps annihilationists err in the philosophy of language when interpreting the word “destroy” in Jesus’ statement that He could “destroy both body and soul in Hell.” Even the word “destroy” has different meanings in different contexts. To destroy a piano is not the same as destroying sand on a beach; to destroy sand on a beach is not the same as destroying a human, etc. To destroy an object is not the same as destroying a human, and vice versa.

Last but not least, let’s hypothetically assume that the word “destroy” does mean “annihilate.” If it does, this still does not destroy the traditional view of hell because God is “able” to do many things that He does not choose to do. For example, the Lord could make $125,000 pop into my hand in this very instant...but He will likely not do this (although, if He did, I would truly rejoice!). So God can annihilate body and soul, but Scripture does not teach that He does annihilate anywhere else...which leads me to believe it is only a possibility, not a probability. It is only potentiality and not actuality.

As we’ve seen in this post, not only do verses mean what they mean in their correct contexts, but words have significantly different meanings in their correct contexts as well. When words are misplaced or misunderstood, it can lead to much difficulty. I think this is why “destroy” as “annihilate” cannot hold as a sufficient definition for the word in the biblical text. God bless.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Resurrection or Immortality? Annihilationism's False Dilemma

“Jesus’ quotation of the declaration, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ (Matt. 22:32), has often been used in support of man’s immortality. Staunch conservatives have noted, however, that Jesus uses the quotation to prove, not immortality, but the resurrection. The Lukan parallel (Luke 20:37-38) says that ‘to him all are alive,’ but both the context and the argument point to the resurrection of those who belong to God, not the immortality of every person” (Edward William Fudge, “Humankind in Biblical Perspective,” from The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011. Kindle edition).

This post will continue from the discussion given in the last post on “Humankind in Biblical Perspective” (a chapter in Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes). This post will continue to place both theology and apologetics side-by-side. Fudge tackles common biblical evidences used to argue immortality and attempts to refute them. I think that annihilationists must rebut these evidences if their doctrine is to be taken seriously. At the same time, I have a bias: I am an evangelical Christian committed to the study of God’s Word, and there are just certain things that a plain reading of Scripture provides for me that it would take major reconstruction of the text to undo. One of those concerns the doctrine of soul immortality.

In this post, I intend to tackle another passage that argues for the immortality of the soul---that is, Matthew 22:32. Let’s read this verse in its context:

“But Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:29-32, NASB).

The context of these verses regards the Pharisees, who pose a question to Jesus (possibly a hypothetical one) about a woman who marries one husband (who then dies) and his brothers, subsequently. All of the seven brothers die before the woman. In the resurrection, whose wife would she be? Which of the seven brothers could legitimately claim the woman as his wife? The Pharisees likely pose this question to Jesus in order to stump Him...but, as we know, Jesus always has an answer for their clever questions.

Now, back to Fudge. In Fudge’s response to this, he separates immortality and resurrection:

“Jesus uses the quotation to prove, not immortality, but the resurrection.”

Is it not the case, however, that immortality is connected to resurrection? What else will humanity be resurrected to except immortality? Is this not the point that Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 15 when he said that “this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53b)? If resurrection and immortality are tied together, I don’t think Fudge can make them as absolutely distinct as he is trying to do.

Next, let’s tackle Matthew 22 itself. In Matthew 22:31, Jesus refers to the “resurrection of the dead,” which could easily seem to prove Fudge’s point. The problem with this is that Fudge overlooks verb tenses, which plays a huge role in the theology developed from these verses. Jesus states that the Lord’s words, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” refer not to the dead but the living. What does this mean? Did not Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all die? Yes they did. So then, if they are dead, how then can they live? Well, one could easily take one part of the interpretation (as did the Pharisees) and conclude that the dead will (future tense) live again. There is, however, another part of the interpretation, a part that the Pharisees overlooked...and a part that Edward Fudge overlooks. What is the missing part? The missing part is Jesus’ words that the dead are living.

How does the idea of living tie to the resurrection? Notice that in Matthew 22:28, the Pharisees say that the woman “will live”---this is why they ask the question, “Whose wife will she be?”. Jesus, however, wanted to demonstrate to them the problem with their thinking: not only would there be no marriage in heaven (the Pharisees were wrong about marriage)...there would also be no spiritual “coming to life” in the resurrection. Those who died in Christ would not just start to live in the resurrection...they are living now! Even though they are physically dead and their soul is absent from the body, they are present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8; Phil. 1:23; John 12:26). In Philippians 1:23, Paul contrasts “remaining in the flesh” with “departing to be with Christ,” which Paul labels as “much better.” I would have to agree: it is better to depart and be with Christ...but what a blessing it is to live on in the flesh for the sole purpose of abounding to God’s glory!!

I am thankful that Fudge attacks this passage; he has to in order to make the case for annihilationism. The problem with his critique, though, is that I just don’t think the annihilationist view can withstand this strong text. If those who have died (past tense) are called “living” (present tense) by the Lord Jesus, and the resurrection is a future event, does this not demonstrate the truth that the dead live on because of an immortal soul? Does this not show us that believers live on, apart from the resurrection? Does this not show us that, body or no body, believers live on---not because of a body, but because of the soul? What this shows us is that what makes a person a living soul is not the body, but the soul of the individual. It is this enduring life (in the absence of the flesh) that makes the strongest case for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. God bless.