Thursday, September 8, 2011

"A Greater Degree": The Second Death in the Epistle to the Hebrews

“This is the word’s meaning throughout the Scriptures. Because Paul refers to a punishment of the age to come, we need not automatically assign anathema a meaning it has never had before. The method of God’s punishment will surely be different, but the meaning of it will be the same. If even an angel from heaven preaches a different gospel, Paul says he comes under this sentence. He is anathema---herem---devoted to utter destruction” (Edward Fudge, “Septuagint/Old Testament Background,” 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 examined Fudge’s words regarding the stoning and burning of Achan and his family in Joshua 7:25. I stated the point then (and I will now) that the stoning and burning of Achan and his family (it was only just, according to the Law of the Lord) was nothing less or more than cremation. The burning of Achan and his family’s bodies are what happens to individuals today when they are cremated. This same thing happened to a cousin of mine, Douglas, when he died in a car accident. His death was due to an unexpected accident back some 20 years ago this year.

At the time Douglas died (we called him “Doug” for short), I was about 7 years old with chicken pox during the trek from home to Washington, D.C. (some four hours away). Doug fell asleep at the wheel one night while out traveling; his Jeep wrangler hit a bridge, went over the side, and then rolled down a hill of grass until stopping at the bottom. Doug’s face was so disfigured from the accident that it was horrifying to look on him in the casket. My family (Doug’s father, my uncle Alvin) decided to have him cremated. That day at the grave, I didn’t go out to see the cremation (my mother wouldn’t allow me and my sister to; she stayed in the van with us). This took place on an old-school level. Today’s cremation practices are more formal than they were twenty years ago.

All of this is to say that cremation and annihilation are not synonymous. Cremation refers to the act of burning someone’s skin, while annihilation refers to both the body and the soul of the individual. In annihilation, the person is not only burned, but ceases to be. Even in cremation, the person still has ashes that are collected and placed in a vase for the family. In annihilation, there is nothing left of the person at all. I think these two concepts could be similar but not equivalent.

Today’s post then, will tackle the problem of Fudge’s claim that Achan and his family were “annihilated,” rather than cremated. There are problems with Fudge’s claim of Achan and his family in Joshua 7 (this is problematic enough), but there are even bigger problems with Fudge’s claim if annihilation is the “final punishment.”

Regarding Achan and his family’s demise, I’ll repeat Fudge’s words:

“No Israelite doubted that Achan was destroyed because there were physical remains. No one chortled that Achan was not literally annihilated. Nor did they think that ‘destruction’ meant he should be fastened in a cage and tortured endlessly. They knew what it meant to be herem/anathema, and they carried that out” (Fudge, “Septuagint/Old Testament Background,” from The Fire That Consumes).

The underlined words from Fudge’s quote demonstrate both Fudge’s view of Achan and his family’s death as well as his disdain for the traditionalist view of hell. Notice that, according to Fudge, no one assumed that Achan and his family should be “tortured endlessly.” It’s no secret that Fudge despises the traditionalist view.

But there is a problem with Fudge’s statement: that is, Fudge discusses the concept of annihilationism where it does not belong. When a traditionalist discusses the idea of conscious eternal torment, he or she is not discussing a concept that has already happened. In other words, conscious eternal torment is unlike anything experienced here. Why is it unlike the torment experienced here? Because it is final and it is administered as wrath from an angry God. Death on earth is a lot more of a relief than final punishment, so the traditionalist would say. In Fudge’s view, however, annihilation is just like what happened to Achan and his family in Joshua 7.

Do you see the problem I’m seeing? It is that, if one can point to annihilationism as having happened at mortal death, then how can annihilationism be the nature of both physical death and eternal death? Is the final punishment not greater than the first punishment?

It is at this point that Scripture will be employed to provide the answer to the question. Is the final death the same as the first death, or worse? To answer this question, let’s turn to Hebrews chapter 10. There in Hebrews 10 we find an important excerpt that demonstrates the problem with Fudge’s claim:

26 For if we go on (AZ)sinning willfully after receiving (BA)the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of (BB)judgment and (BC)the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 (BD)Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 (BE)How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve (BF)who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean (BG)the blood of the covenant (BH)by which he was sanctified, and has (BI)insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “(BJ)vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “(BK)the Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a (BL)terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the (BM)living God” (Hebrews 10:26-31, New American Standard).

Verses 28 and 29 of the excerpt concern the subject of annihilationism. The writer(s) first discusses the Law of Moses in verse 28, and notes that one who disobeyed the Law of Moses in the Old Testament “dies without mercy.” What death was this? Physical death. Fudge would call this physical death “annihilation,” though he would agree that this death was a physical one. However, what do we do with the words of verse 29? Verse 29 says that there is a “much severer punishment” for the person who insults the Spirit of Grace and tramples over the blood of Christ. What is the nature of this “much severer punishment?”

Fudge would say that the Old Testament stonings and killings were annihilation; however, if annihilation was a common practice in the Old Testament, how can it be the “more severer punishment” that the writers of the Epistle to the Hebrews talk about?

Fudge cannot have the text say it both ways. If annihilation is the final punishment, it cannot be the first punishment. A good question to ask Mr. Fudge is, “What is the nature of the first punishment? And if you think the first punishment is annihilation, and the second death is worse, how then, can the second death also be annihilation?”

Let’s set up a syllogism to see this:

Premise #1: the second death is worse than the first.
Premise #2: the first death is annihilation (Fudge’s view).
Premise #3: the second death must be worse than annihilation.

If the second death must be worse than the first death, and the first death is annihilation, then the second death must be worse than annihilation. But, if the second death is worse than annihilation, Fudge’s view is problematic indeed. Both the first and second deaths cannot be annihilation.

The goal of this post was to look at Fudge’s view of physical death (annihilation), his view of the second death (annihilation), and see if the text allows for it. The biblical text disagrees with Fudge and states that the second death and final punishment is worse than the first death. If this is the case, then it looks as if Fudge’s interpretation of Joshua 7 (not to mention the entire Old Testament) is quite erroneous and troubling. Traditionalists who can call annihilationists on this irreconcilable notion in their theology place annihilationists in a corner that they cannot get out of. God bless.

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