Words of a Fether

I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father except through me. ~Jesus

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Universally Illogical

At Rethinking Faith there has been a series of posts offering rebuttals to a video by one Gary Amirault. I participated in the comments through part of the series, but see no point in continuing. However, there is a list of points in this particular installment which serve as a good illustration of how errors in reasoning (logical fallacies) can lead to inaccurate interpretations of scripture.

1. Gehenna was a well-known locality near Jerusalem, and ought no more to be translated Hell, than should Sodom or Gomorrah. See Josh. 15: 8; II Kings 17: 10; II Chron. 28: 3; Jer. 7: 31, 32; 19: 2.
By this reasoning, then Jesus was a literal lamb, a literal vine, and a literal hen. This point ignores Jesus’ use of metaphors and similes, as he was in the habit of using everyday things the people could relate to in order to convey spiritual truths. If, for example, Jesus was looking around for something that could give an idea of the unquenchable fires of hell, what better object lesson than the place where garbage was burned? And if at another time a similar topic arose, why not refer to an event in history that served as an object lesson of the wrath of God for many generations before there was a literal Gehenna? The important point here is the context in which it was used.

2. Gehenna is never employed in the Old Testament to mean anything else than the place with which every Jew was familiar.
So if something didn’t get used as an object lesson in the OT, then it could never be used as an object lesson? How many times did the OT use Sarah and Hagar as an object lesson? Yet in Gal. 4:21-31 (esp. v. 24) we see that this is exactly what Paul did. While some thereby conclude that these women never really existed (!!), it is equally fallacious to think that real people cannot be used as object lessons on a completely unrelated topic in the future.

3. The word should have been left untranslated as it is in some versions, and it would not be misunderstood. It was not misunderstood by the Jews to whom Jesus addressed it. [4-9 are various examples meant to show that Gehenna was a literal place]
Transliteration is when a word is not translated but simply rendered in similar-sounding letters in the receptor language. An example is baptizo being rendered as baptize; if translated, it is immerse or dip. Proper names are transliterated, and of course Gehenna is a proper place name. But aside from the preceding point about figures of speech and object lessons, we could try applying this rule to other words as well... such as “sin”. In my previous post I listed some of the Greek words which are typically all rendered as “sin”, yet I’m not aware of any Universalist complaining that we should only transliterate the various words. But perhaps a better example would be God, since the Greek word is theos, or Jesus (Iesous). Clearly, the problem is not whether a word or name is translated or transliterated, but whether it’s serving as an object lesson or metaphor.

10. Neither Christ nor his apostles ever named it to Gentiles, but only to Jews which proves it a locality only known to Jews, whereas, if it were a place of punishment after death for sinners, it would have been preached to Gentiles as well as Jews.
Jesus was sent primarily and only to the Jews (Mt. 10:6, 15:24), but that hardly means salvation was not meant for the Gentiles. Again, Jesus used whatever people were familiar with to convey spiritual truths, and Gehenna was not the only “local” object lesson that would not port well into other cultures or cities. When Paul said that past events in Israel’s history were to serve as examples (1 Cor. 10:1-11), he said it to the Corinthians-- could they not learn from Israel’s history? Were they unable to avoid “setting our hearts on evil things” because they had no such history of their own? This point ignores such passages.

11. It was only referred to twelve times on eight occasions in all the ministry of Christ (actually even less) and the apostles, and in the Gospels and Epistles. Were they faithful to their mission to say no more than this on so vital a theme as an endless Hell, if they intended to teach it?
The concept of eternal life and death is clearly taught throughout the NT, and does not require the particular object lesson of Gehenna to do so. We should also remember that Paul told the Greek philosophers that the One they called the “unknown god” had overlooked such ignorance in the past but now required everyone to repent (Acts 17:30). His emphasis was on identifying the one true God and the Savior of all mankind, Jesus. But this begs the question: Why did God now require repentance? What would happen if someone didn’t repent? The Greeks understood the need to appease one’s gods, and that failure to do so would result in some sort of punishment in the next life. So what need was there to spell it out? Just as the writers of scripture saw no need to spell out the details of the Trinity, it is quite reasonable to deduce from what we know of the first century that there was no need to tell everyone about hell.

12. Only Jesus and James ever named it. Neither Paul, John, Peter nor Jude ever employ it. Would they not have warned sinners concerning it, if there were a Gehenna of torment after death?
John did in fact say something very clear about eternal torment in the Revelation (Rev. 20:14-15); Paul talked about “everlasting destruction” in 2 Thes. 1:9, and in 1 Thes. 4:13 he said that when believers die, those who are still alive “do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope”. Clearly the lost who die are without hope. But once again, there is no point in the emphasis on the need to be saved and reconciled with God (2 Cor. 5:18-20) if there is no consequence for failing to do so. If Uni is true, then there is no reason to spread the gospel at all. (Calvinism is actually a more restrictive version of this same teaching: God will absolutely save those He chose from eternity past, so there is no point in spreading the gospel to anyone.)

13. Paul says he “shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God,” and yet though he was the great preacher of the Gospel to the Gentiles he never told them that Gehenna is a place of after-death punishment. Would he not have repeatedly warned sinners against it were there such a place?
As before, the actual word Gehenna is irrelevant. To take “the whole counsel of God” to mean that Paul had to verbally repeat every word to every believer is absurd.

[skipping 14-15 as repetitive]

16. If Gehenna is the name of Hell then men’s bodies are burned there as well as their souls. Matt. 5: 29; 18: 9.
Jesus said “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28).

17. If it be the name of endless torment, then literal fire is the sinner’s punishment. Mark 9: 43-48.
Here again Jesus uses figures of speech and local object lessons to convey spiritual truths.

18. Salvation is never said to be from Gehenna.
Yet again, eternal separation from God is taught regardless of whether the particular object lesson of Gehenna or Sodom and Gomorrah is used.

19. Gehenna is never said to be of endless duration nor spoken of as destined to last forever, so that even admitting the popular ideas of its existence after death it gives no support to the idea of endless torment.
Of course the literal Gehenna is not eternal and does not exist in the next life. But the torment of the lost is clearly eternal (see Hell? Yes! and Temporary Eternity). In addition, to call the teaching of hell “popular” insinuates that those who believe it only care about popularity and not the teachings of scripture.

20. Clement, a Universalist, used Gehenna to describe his ideas of punishment. He was one of the earliest of the Christian Fathers. The word did not then denote endless punishment.
So a Uni “Christian father” says it doesn’t mean endless punishment. This is an appeal to authority that presumes ALL such “fathers” believed Uni. But the point of debate is what scripture teaches, not what cited Universalists teach.

21. A shameful death or severe punishment in this life was at the time of Christ denominated Gehenna (Schleusner, Canon Farrar and others), and there is no evidence that Gehenna meant anything else at the time of Christ.
Meant it to whom? Jesus used the word as an object lesson; were others at the time supposed to use it that way too? Can’t Jesus make up His own object lessons?

In the comments, an emotional appeal is made concerning the pain a belief in an eternal hell can be to those who have lost unbelieving loved ones. Yet if God’s love prevents Him from allowing eternal suffering, then why doesn’t it prevent Him from allowing temporary suffering? Many innocent people have suffered terribly in this life, and some turn away from God for allowing even that. But as I’ve written about in blog articles before, we have to remember that justice will be finally realized at the Judgment; the victim will be comforted and the perpetrator will be punished at last.

Ironically, the Universalist in this case takes a Calvinistic view of Jesus forcefully “dragging” all to Himself as a support for believing everyone will be saved. But love never forces or “drags” its beloved. Then all the Uni can do is try the Calvinistic shell game of saying free will is not violated if God changes your “nature” which then “freely” chooses to accept the gospel.

If we want to label a teaching as appealing to popularity, Universalism is no less guilty than any other, and certainly more so than the teaching that those who reject the gospel will go to eternal hell. Any religion that promises utopia for everyone is bound to be popular. But Jesus said that the road to life is narrow and few find it (Mt. 7:14), and that He came not to unite but to divide between those who follow Him and those who don’t (Mt. 10:34). And against the charge that God is thereby cruel, we can ask what it is that people find so difficult and unfair about salvation by faith. God has made the Way incredibly easy to find, yet few do so because they want to take the path of their choosing instead of the one God decreed. So in the end, it is pride that sends people to hell.

Posted 2011-02-09 under salvation, Bible, evangelism, universalism