So Why Didn't They Tell Me That In Church by Steven Michael Owens. The section he asked me to comment on is a defense of conditional immortality. The author makes a number of claims about how various words should be translated but from his writing it's pretty obvious that he has no training in the Biblical languages. At one point, he cites Liddell and Scott's lexicon but refers to it as a concordance and the actual quotation is not from Liddell and Scott but from Cruden's Concordance. You're not going to find people who actually knows the Biblical languages using Cruden's Concordance as an authority for how a word should be translated. If someone is going to make a statement about how a word should be translated they should at least take the time to study the language. I will not make any claims about how a particular Russian word should be translated into English since I have no knowledge of Russian. I could continue pointing out the particular problems with this particular book but all I would prove is that Steven Michael Owens doesn't do a very good job defending conditional immortality. Instead I'm going to look at the major arguments for conditional immortality as I found them in a variety of sources. I read the arguments from people on both sides of the debate and often found that they were talking past one another.
There's a tendency among those defending conditional immortality to use the Old Testament as the lens through which to understand the New Testament rather than the other way around. They will bring up passages like Isaiah 66:24 and point out the fact that although it says that "their worm shall not die," the passages is speaking of "the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled" and state that these people are not suffering conscious torment. However, I would point out that both the rewards of the righteous and the punishments of the wicked as they are portrayed in the Old Testament are but shadows of the reality revealed in the New Testament. Canaan is a picture of heaven but not heaven in its fullness. In Isaiah 65:20, the reward of righteous in the new creation is depicted in such a way that involves extended life but not eternal life. Even the extended life that it prophecies is actually shorter than the lives of some of the Old Testament patriarchs.
Matthew 25:46 speaks of eternal life for the righteous and eternal punishment for the wicked. It would seem that if we are going to read the "eternal life" through the lens of the Old Testament then we would have to conclude that it really just means very long life. Those promoting conditional immortality understand the punishment to be eternal in the sense that the person is eternally unconscious and I when I listened to some of the podcasts from the Rethinking Hell website it often seemed like they were searching through lexicons to find the meaning they wanted. Thayer's was outdated when it was published but I heard them quoting from it in support of their views. However, when you look at a standard lexicon such as BDAG and start working your way through the literature cited that uses this word it's pretty clear that some kind of torture is usually involved not just some judicial verdict with eternal consequences. 4 Maccabees 8:9 speaks of punishing someone through tortures and I think that the fear in 1 John 4:18 is the result of the fear of conscious torture rather than the fear of some judicial verdict. The same word is used in the LXX in Ezekiel 14 and 18 and seems to have the idea of conscious torment associated with it. The verb form of this Greek noun is found in other passages of Scripture and always seems to have the idea of conscious torture.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 is also commonly brought up in the debates and we find those who appeal to conditional immortality appealing to the Old Testament once again. I don't think it's entirely clear whether the eternal destruction is placing the person away from the presence of the Lord or if in fact the unbeliever is experiencing God's destruction in his presence but I do think it's pretty clear that the destruction is ongoing. The destruction is not annihilation. In 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul hands someone over to Satan to be destroyed in hopes that the person will come to repentance and be saved. The person pretty clearly was not annihilated.
One of the biggest problems in the debate is the use of the word "immortality." "Immortality" literally means to never die. In philosophy, immortality expresses the idea of continual conscious existence. However, in the Scriptures "immortality" is found only in Christ (1 Timothy 6:16, 1 Corinthians 15:53-54). Immortality is not mere conscious existence in Scripture but union with Christ. Also, death in Scripture does not necessarily mean a loss of consciousness. When Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he died. Paul says that in the unregenerate state we were dead in our trespasses and sins. From a scientific perspective we were alive and we maintained conscious existence but we were alienated from God. The Scriptures give the promise that the believer who dies will live but also says that he will never die. Medieval scholastics seem to have imbibed to heavily from Greek philosophy and developed all kinds of ideas about the inherent immortality of the soul but that does not seem to be the case among the early church fathers even though some adopted philosophical language while others did not.
In the following sections I provide quotes and summaries of the teachings of the various church fathers. You can click on the links to read these writings in their totality.
You can find different uses of the word "immortality" among the early church fathers. Some will follow the more Biblical way of speaking and say that only the believer possesses immortality and yet still speak of the unbelievers in eternal conscious suffering. Others will say that both the believer and unbeliever are immortal. Still others, alternate between the two ways of speaking. In seeking to understand what is meant by eternal punishment, I think it is important to consult the early church fathers. The Apostles taught others and I think it's foolish to not take the writings of the early church fathers into account when we interpret these verses. Some simply repeat the language of Scripture, but among those who give further explanation there's a very strong consensus that the unrighteous will suffer eternally and consciously. The only clear exception I could find was Arnobius writings in 305 who spoke of the annihilation of the wicked.
Arnobius was an outspoken critic of Christianity who then converted to Christianity. The local bishop demanded proof that Arnobius and so Arnobius wrote an apologetic work against the pagans. Throughout his work he seems to intend to be orthodox in what he says but lacks a grasp of true Christian doctrine. In this work you can also find him arguing as if the pagan gods are real gods but subordinate to the Biblical God. It's somewhat ironic that those embracing conditional mortality will claim that belief in eternal conscious torment is result of Greek philosophy when Arnobius says that God did not create souls but they were the work of an inermediate being. It seems like Arnobius was pretty heavily influenced by gnosticism.
On the other hand there are host of writings and church fathers that teach eternal conscious torment. The Epistle of Barnabas written between 70-130 speaks of "the way of eternal death with punishment." Justin Martyr writing around 160 says that "Sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up." Justin Martyr tends to only speak of the righteous as immortal but speaks of the unending torment of the wicked. Tatian writes in 160 and speaks of both the righteous and the wicked as immortal. Athenagoras writing in 175 says that those who fall will endure a life in fire and not be annihilated like animals. Theophilus writing in 180 speaks of people daily burning in fire forever. Clement of Alexandria writing in 195 says that all souls are immortal and says that there is no end to their misery. Tertullian writing in 197 speaks of the "secret fire" of God's judgment and says that it "repairs while it burns" and this is how it is eternal. Tertullian is the first instance I've seen of someone trying to provide some explanation of who the fire burns without annihilating and Tertullian's basic explanation is stated by later writers. Mark Minucius Felix writing in 200 makes very similar statements and speaks of the fire being nourished by the eating away of the bodies and also restoring as it burns. Hippolytus writing in 205 speaks of an unquenchable fire and a fiery worm that "continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain." Origen writing in 225 speaks of the resurrected bodies of the damned as being unable to be dissolved. Origen is known for his speculations that the damned would eventually be reconciled but he never stated this dogmatically. Commodianus writing in 240 speaks of people being tormented in Gehenna for all time. Cyprian does not engage in some of the speculations of others but simply speaks of the eternal punishments of Gehenna when he writes in 250. Lactantius writes some time between 304-313 and specifically says that the souls of the unrighteous are not annihilated but receive everlasting punishment.
This post is not exhaustive in dealing with the issue. Instead it addresses some core issues that don't seem to be addressed in the current debate. The idea of eternal suffering in hell even for your worst enemies isn't a pleasant one. It's hard to imagine being happy while you know that loved ones are suffering eternally. Of course, it's hard to imagine being happy knowing that loved ones were annihilated as well. It's disturbing to contemplate the idea of being born in a completely different location and never hearing the Gospel and then being sent to hell. The Scriptures are clear that we all deserve hell and on a certain level we can confess that to be true but I doubt there's anyone who fully grasps the concept this side of heaven. Scripture is pretty brief on the topic of hell and we don't find anything like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in Scripture." Scripture does not answer all the questions we might have about hell and it's for our own good. There are many secret things of God that are best left unknown to us. Instead, we must not look to the hidden things of God but to God as He has revealed Himself in Christ-crucified where God has revealed Himself in incomprehensible love towards us.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Unfortunately, there's a bit of a Catch-22 here. I prefer simply to say that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ and wish we could just simply leave it at that. Since others have adopted positions that say more and/or less than Scripture says, it becomes necessary to explain what you are saying when you say that the bread is the body and the wine is the blood.
"In" indicates that the body and blood of Christ are in the bread and wine of the sacrament. Christ did not say that this is bread is no longer bread. Christ, holding the bread, said, "This is my body." "With" indicates that we receive body, blood, bread, and wine. When Paul speaks of the consecrated elements he goes back and forth between speaking of the bread and speaking of the body of Christ. "Under" indicates that the body and blood are there but they are there in a hidden way. We cannot detect them through scientific tests or visibly see them. I think may understand "under" to mean that if you look underneath the bread you're going to find Jesus there. However, that's not what the language intends to communicate in its original context.
"In, with, and under" is often understood to be teaching consubstantiation, local co-existence, or impanation. However, our confessions deny all of these things. The eating of Christ's body is not a physical eating but mystical and sacramental. This does not mean that it's some mere figurative eating. But we recognize that Christ's body is not locally and physically present. Christ's body and blood are supernaturally, mysteriously, and incomprehensibly present. There is a real sacramental union. The bread and the body and the wine and the blood exist together. We confess this to be the case because this is what the Scriptures say and refuse to go beyond this. Unlike consubstantiation and transubstantiation we hold to no theory about the coexistence of two substances.
As Luther says:
Therefore, it is entirely correct to say, if one points to the bread, “This is Christ’s body,” and whoever sees the bread sees Christ’s body, as John says that he saw the Holy Spirit when he saw the dove, as we have heard. Thus also it is correct to say, “He who takes hold of this bread, takes hold of Christ’s body; and he who eats this bread, eats Christ’s body; he who crushes this bread with teeth or tongue, crushes with teeth or tongue the body of Christ.” And yet it remains absolutely true that no one sees or grasps or eats or chews Christ’s body in the way he visibly sees and chews any other flesh. What one does to the bread is rightly and properly attributed to the body of Christ by virtue of the sacramental union.
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 7:34 PM
Monday, September 30, 2013
Luther's Small Catechism has been referred to as the "layman's Bible." For those familiar with confessional statements in general but unfamiliar with Luther's Small Catechism, this statement can sound rather blasphemous. However, when you read it you realize how full of Scripture it really is. It covers all the major doctrines in a very concise way. Orthodox Catechisms, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the various Baptist catechisms, all make references to Scripture or have footnotes citing Scriptural passages, but they don't quote Scripture directly in the way that Luther's Small Catechism does. To memorize Luther's Small Catechism is to memorize Scripture itself. Just compare these various catechisms in the way they deal with the Lord's Supper or baptism. Luther is able to plainly state a summary of what Scripture says and then provide a Bible verse or passage that says the exact same thing. None of these other catechisms are able to do that. Some would argue that Luther is taking these verses out of context and that the totality of Scripture testifies against what he says. However, they cannot come up with a single Bible verse to support their position. If the totality of Scripture teaches something you should be able to find a passage that teaches it otherwise the appeal to the totality is really just an excuse to perpetuate a man-made tradition. Many of these churches that came out of the Reformation teach the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture. However, if it's difficult to take many of these churches seriously when they interpret "Baptism now saves you" to mean that baptism doesn't save you or interpret "This is my body" to mean that this is not Christ's body. Luther teaches us in his catechism to cling tightly to the Words of Christ and to ignore the words of the devil who is always asking, "Did God really say...?" Christ died and rose again for you. It is only in His Word that you can have confidence in a theological marketplace with so many competing inferences that are supposed to give us what Jesus and the Apostles "really" meant but apparently said so poorly. Faith clings to the Word of Christ and ignores all the rationalizations of man.
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 8:54 PM
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Tractatus Logico-Theologicus by John Warwick Montgomery. He's one of my favorite guests on Issues Etc. but this is the first book I've read by him. The book is an evidentialist apologetic for the Christian faith and organized around seven major propositions. These propositions are defended by subsidiary propositions which in turn are defended by subsidiary propositions and so on with numbers and decimal points to guide you along the way. The format was a little difficult to get used to but very effective. Some of the propositions seemed better defended than others but I thought the overall argument for Christianity was laid out very well. There's an occasional untranslated French or Latin sentence but the reader who does not know these languages can skip over these and still understand the point he's making. I thought his arguments against post-modernism and for the resurrection were the best sections of the book. The section dealing with the canon didn't seem very convincing to me. Dr. Montgomery seems to adopt the modern Protestant flat view of the canon and his statements about what books should be included and which shouldn't had very little evidence to back them up. Dr. Montgomery claims that the early church accepted Hebrews even though they knew it wasn't written by Paul because they believed it was written by one of Paul's disciples. But the writings of the early church fathers show that the debate over its canonicity centered upon whether or not it was written by Paul. Those who believed Hebrews was written by Paul accepted its canonicity while those who did not denied its canonicity. The typical modern Protestant position is to say that Hebrews was not written by Paul but is part of the canon but this was not the position of the early church. I didn't think the section on inerrancy was very convincing either. Many of the quotes he provided seemed to really be defending infallibility rather than inerrancy. The problem with the shift of authority from the infallible apographa to the inerrant autographa is that nobody has the autographa. However, this book is well worth the read and I've really never read anything like it.
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 7:11 PM
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 2:05 PM
Monday, July 22, 2013
The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul by Jordan Cooper
Wipf and Stock sent me a review copy of The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul by Jordan Cooper. There are already a number of books that critique the New Perspective on Paul but most of them do so from an exegetical perspective. For those looking for an exegetical treatment as well as very thorough explanation of the various views of the New Perspective guys, I would highly recommend Westerholm's book.There are also some some critiques that deal primarily with the religious beliefs within second temple Judaism. But Jordan Cooper's book is unique because it deals primarily with the way that the early church fathers understood Paul's writings. This is important because much of the New Perspective advocates say that Protestants have misunderstood justification because they have wrongly understood justification in terms of personal salvation by following the interpretations of Augustine and Luther. The NPP folks have referred to this as "the introspective conscience of the West." They argue that prior to Augustine the church understood Paul correctly. So Jordan Cooper provides us with a very helpful and honest look at the Apostolic and other pre-Augustine church fathers. He doesn't try to shoehorn the fathers into a particular theology that matches his own but honestly represents them and points out similarities and differences between the church fathers, confessional Lutherans, and the NPP. The evidence he presents shows diversity among the church fathers on soteriology but none of them speak of justification as the NPP folks do. Some of them sound like proto-Lutherans while others do not.
This is an extraordinarily important book that those who have been influenced by the NPP should definitely read. The book does have some problems that could hopefully be addressed in a second edition. The first third of the book is plagued by numerous typos and formatting errors as are the last few pages. Fortunately, these errors are less frequent in the most important sections of the book dealing with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. But I could imagine someone getting 40 or so pages in and just being frustrated with the errors. Also, I think the book could be better organized. The chapters are listed as follows:
1. The New Perspective on Paul
3. Previous Research on Patristic Theology
4. Which Luther
5. The Apostolic Fathers
6. Justin Martyr
In my opinion, the overall argument would flow better if it were written as follows:
1. The New Perspective on Paul
2. Which Luther
3. Previous Research on Patristic Theology
4. The Apostolic Fathers
5. Justin Martyr
I don't think the chapter on methodology is necessary as an individual chapter. Some of what it contains could be completely eliminated while other parts of it could be incorporated into the other chapters.
In addition to the other issues, I think a fresh translation of some of the patristic quotations would be helpful but this is a minor complaint. The author could also have incorporated some material from modern Lutherans such as a Michael Middendorf who agree with the NPP folks that nomos refers to the Torah but take it in a different direction than the NPP does. But regardless of my criticisms, this book is still very helpful and fills a gap in the NPP debate.
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 2:13 PM
Monday, June 24, 2013
The passage clearly speaks of homosexual acts as being acts of unrighteousness but that's not Paul's point. Paul assumes that his readers would agree that these acts are unrighteous. Paul's point is found in the chapters that follow. Remember, Romans was written as one sermon. One of the problems with some types of preaching that go verse by verse through the Scriptures is that the point can be completely lost. What Paul is doing here is similar to what Nathan does with the sins of David. Nathan gets David outraged at the sins of this man who turns out to be David. You can almost picture the Jewish Christians in the congregation that heard Romans being read nodding their heads in agreement and thanking God that they are not like these horrible Gentile sinners. But in chapter 2, Paul shows that they are just as guilty of unrighteousness as these sodomites. All men are guilty before the law. It is only through the blood of Christ that we can stand righteous before God. No one is righteous. No one seeks after God. But we receive an alien righteous through faith. We are justified through faith apart from the works of the Torah because of Christ's work.
Posted by Chuck Wiese at 2:16 PM