What If We Have It All Wrong?
This article has been sitting in my head waiting to be written for a long time. Whatever the reason for the delay, it has now chosen to appear. To a great degree this article is a continuation of a series that I started some time ago on hell and eternal punishment and yet, in another way, this article is ultimately not about hell and eternal punishment at all.
Initially, I wasn’t happy with how this article was emerging on paper. In fact, my dissatisfaction reached the point where I was tempted to trash it altogether. While debating what to do with it, I began to read some new e-mails that had recently arrived. With all the synchronous events that have happened over the past year or two, I shouldn’t have been surprised that another moment of synchronicity was about to occur. As I read one of my e-mails from a new friend in the Netherlands, I realized that I was reading the conclusion to my article so I resumed my writing. However, it soon became clear that this article was going to go a very different direction from what I initially thought.
I hope that most of you can put up with my long-windedness and can make it to the end of my meanderings. I am hopeful that this will all come together in the “end.” If it does, I have my friend in the Netherlands to thank for that. That said, I certainly believe that the rest of the article is important if for no other reason than many people may need to read it in order to be open to its ending.
To begin, let me ask you a rather vague question. What if “A” meant one thing but you thought it meant something else? What if the proper understanding of “A” could radically change your life? Would you be interested in learning what “A” really means, even if it meant you would have to change some of your current beliefs, some of which you may consider to be essential and virtually untouchable?
The topic of this article, the “A” that I mentioned above is “salvation,” a word that comes with a lot of preconceived ideas, baggage and energy, both positive and negative.
Before we actually get into our discussion involving “salvation,” I would like to share a quote with you from a book published in 1909. In The Magical Message According to Ioannes (John) written by James M. Pryse we read the following in the Preface.
“It was not till long after the time of Iesous (Jesus) that the dogmas of Theology were formulated; and so far from these dogmas being based on the teachings contained in the New Testament, it is only too apparent that in the translation and interpretation of the New Testament every effort has been made to torture it into a confession of such doctrines as eternal damnation, imputed righteousness, and vicarious atonement. This could only be done by maintaining the theory that many of the Greek words in the New Testament were used in a new and peculiar sense by its writers. Now, there is no evidence whatever that any such new sense was intended by them; on the contrary, their use of philosophical and other technical terms is very exact, and in strict accord with the meanings found in Greek literature generally.”
Mr. Pryse is suggesting that many of the doctrines that we think originated with Jesus or at the time the New Testament was written, were, in fact, created long after both took place. I believe it would be accurate to say that some people, like biblical scholar Marcus Borg, would suggest that as time passed, Jesus came to be viewed in particular ways by certain groups of his followers and doctrines were created based on those views. Those doctrines were then superimposed upon Jesus’ teachings and in some cases were inserted into the record of his teachings. In essence, words were put into Jesus’ mouth that he did not actually say and attributes etc. were ascribed to Jesus that simply weren’t considered when he was alive.
I appreciate very much that this may fly in the face of an inerrant, infallible, divinely inspired Bible and as a result may be impossible to accept for some. For nearly 25 years I would have instantly rejected any notion that the Bible wasn’t everything that current fundamentalism claims it to be but what if I had it all wrong? ( A change of view regarding the Bible does not necessarily diminish it and in fact, may enhance it.)
As contentious as this may sound, I really believe that we have suffered enormously because of the following – we have turned our focus away from the “living Word of God” and put it instead on the “written word of God.” I am sure that many of you are aware that in Greek the term “anti-Christ” can be interpreted as the “instead of Christ.” I would suggest that the “written word of God” to a great degree has become an “instead-of word of God” used to replace the “living Word of God.”
I realize how radical that sounds and you may think that Mr. Pryse’s suggestion regarding doctrines being added after the fact is ridiculous. I had absolutely no idea when I began this article that we would head down this path but I want you to take a look at the following and see if it doesn’t confirm what Mr. Pryse was saying.
Many believe that the earliest creed in Christendom may be the Apostles’ Creed. Here it is. Please note that Catholic with a small “c” in the following creeds means universal and not Roman Catholic.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell.
The Apostles’ Creed is short and to the point. The next major creed would be the Nicene Creed written about 325 A.D. It reads as follows.
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
It is interesting to see how the creed is expanding. Those in power are defining God and Jesus more and more. With this expanded definition they can more easily identify heretics. Heretics, by the way, will be defined as anyone and everyone who does not agree with the expanded definitions. You are probably aware that a huge debate at the Council of Nicea centered on whether Jesus was fully God, fully man, or both in some way, shape or fashion. In Christianity you could find every variation. The Nicean creed emerged out of that debate. Those Christian leaders who were able to garner the support of Constantine and the Roman Empire were now in control and could establish their version of orthodoxy and its accompanying doctrines. All others would be deemed heretics and suffer the consequences.
In response to more views that were deemed to be heretical, in or around 451 A.D. the Chalcedonian Creed came into being.
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
Things are getting more and more complicated as those in power try to define God and particularly Jesus more and more in this creed. To be honest, I am not even sure I understand some of it. I have a few comments to make but they can wait until we look at one more creed, the Athanasian Creed from about 500 A.D.
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one Eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one Uncreated, and one Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three lords, but one Lord.
For as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge each Person by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are also forbidden by the catholic religion to say that there are three gods or three lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Spirit is of the Father, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.
And in the Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another, but all three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching His godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood; who, although He is God and man, yet he is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the godhead into flesh but by taking of the manhood into God; one altogether; not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, He sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the quick and the dead. At His coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
That is just plain scary! From the simplicity of the Apostles’ Creed to this is utterly amazing. Take a moment and compare what you just read to the words in red in the Bible, to Jesus’ teachings. Actually there is no way to compare them. To see Jesus uttering this “mess” is virtually impossible. To see Jesus focused on any of this is incomprehensible. This is so far removed from what he said that it is inconceivable this would come from his lips.
What I find absolutely stunning are the following statements.
He therefore that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity.
This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
If I don’t believe in the “Trinity” I CAN’T BE SAVED! Apparently I could love God, love Jesus and love others but because I may not believe in the Trinitarian concept of God as expressed in this creed, I am on my way to hell! I don’t think I am the only one who would see this as borderline insanity.
If you are willing, go back and read every one of those creeds one more time but this time look for the following. Look for one place in any of those creeds where loving God and loving others is even mentioned, let alone made the priority. Look for one place where personal transformation is a focus. Look for one place where extending mercy and compassion to others is part of “salvation.”
Do you find any of that or do you find the following? Salvation, according to these creeds, is 100% about an intellectual assent and belief in certain facts about God and Jesus. I have no problem admitting that those creeds seem to line up with fundamental Christianity’s current version and definition of salvation virtually 100%. I also have no problem stating that I “know” that definition of salvation is wrong. I “know” 100% that salvation defined in that way has absolutely nothing to do with the “salvation” that Jesus taught and lived. Go and read the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 when he speaks about the separation of sheep and goats and then tell me that salvation is a belief in a set of facts about Jesus. Read Matthew 7 and tell me that Jesus didn’t tell us that it was by its fruit that a good tree could be identified. If you think the good fruit that Jesus was talking about was acceptance of a doctrinal statement made up about facts about God and Jesus, you and I have a very different view of Jesus’ teachings.
As heretical as it may sound, tell me if Jesus, when asked about inheriting or experiencing eternal life in Matthew 19 and Luke 18, said that we had to believe certain things about him or God, or did he say that we had to do certain things, i.e. the right things defined at the time as following the commandments of God which could be summarized in 5 words, Love God and love others! “Follow me!” wasn’t an injunction demanding adherence to Jesus’ personal doctrinal statement. It was a call to live life as Jesus lived it, to follow his teachings every day, every moment.
Show me one place in the words in red where Jesus defined salvation as believing certain facts about him or God or the Trinity. I do not think those words exist. On the other hand, I can show you over and over where Jesus emphasized being loving, forgiving, compassionate, etc.
I am convinced that if we can turn off the fundamental voice inside our heads for a moment or two and listen to our hearts and spirits, we will know that Jesus is far more interested in how well we love God, others and ourselves compared to how many facts about him or even God, we may believe. However, turning off the guilt and condemnation that fundamentalism has implanted in us should we ever decide to walk away from its doctrinal imprisonment is not always an easy thing to do.
On an everyday 24/7 basis, I could care less what you think about the Trinity and as sacrilegious as it may sound, I don’t think God cares two hoots about what you or I think about it either except when it gets turned into a weapon and is used to divide people. Being blunt, a Buddhist who loves others is a lot more “Godly” and a lot more “saved” than a Christian Trinitarian who doesn’t.
I would like to share something else with you that I think is relevant to the idea that we traded in the “living Word of God” for the “written word of God” and the idea that concepts emerge and then get passed off as universal doctrines that have existed for ages and ages, if not forever.
The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicean Creed began as follows:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell.
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
However, look at how the Southern Baptist doctrinal statement begins. Once we get past the Preamble it reads:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
The Assemblies of God doctrinal statement begins with:
1. The Scriptures Inspired
The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct.
The Church of God doctrinal statement begins:
We Believe: In the verbal inspiration of the Bible.
Finally, Dallas Theological Seminary’s doctrinal statement starts with:
Article I — THE SCRIPTURES
We believe that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” by which we understand the whole Bible is inspired in the sense that holy men of God “were moved by the Holy Spirit” to write the very words of Scripture. We believe that this divine inspiration extends equally and fully to all parts of the writings — historical, poetical, doctrinal, and prophetical — as appeared in the original manuscripts. We believe that the whole Bible in the originals is therefore without error. We believe that all the Scriptures center about the Lord Jesus Christ in His person and work in His first and second coming, and hence that no portion, even of the Old Testament, is properly read, or understood, until it leads to Him. We also believe that all the Scriptures were designed for our practical instruction
Did you notice the difference between the old creeds and the new doctrinal statements? There isn’t a single mention of the Bible in any of the old creeds yet these current doctrinal statements begin, not with a belief in God, but a belief in the Bible as the word of God. I would suggest to you that this is not a small change. It is also seems to be a very recent change. In her book, The Bible, A Biography, Karen Armstrong, one of the world’s most respected writers on religion, suggests that the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy actually didn’t emerge until.... the 1880s!
I found in fascinating that the Southern Baptist doctrinal statement would include the following: It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.
I underlined and hi-lighted the part I wanted to focus on. Should “it,” meaning the Bible, be the true center of Christian union? Shouldn’t that be God and/or love and if it was the Bible, what do we do with the millions and millions of Christians over the past 2000 years who never had a Bible? Were they void of any center of Christian union? We need to remember that it is only in the past few hundred years that having a Bible has become feasible for most people. Can you see how the “external written word of God” has replaced the “internal living Word of God” within us?
We have come, I believe, to the place where we believe that having the written word of God is better than and more reliable than trusting the “living word of God” inside of each of us. Intellectually that may seem logical. After all, rather than run the risk that we could all come up with different views of what God was saying or what God wanted if we were relying on an internal guidance, we have the black and white, clear as can be, inspired, infallible, inerrant, written word of God to guide us.
There is just one problem. 99% of the time Christianity can’t agree as to what the Bible says and there are just as many divisions within Christianity now that we have the printed Bible as there were before. In fact, there may be more. Remember the Athanasian Creed and its insistence on the Trinity. Well, don’t look now but there are large number of Christians who don’t believe in the Trinity. And the differences certainly don’t end there. We have Christians who believe that the Bible teaches baptism as an absolute essential to be “saved.” There are others who don’t believe that baptism is necessary and in fact some don’t baptize at all. There are Christians who think women can be pastors and those who don’t. There are Christians who believe in speaking in tongues and those who don’t. There are Christians who believe in a rapture and those who don’t. There are Christians who believe that the Great Tribulation is still to come and there are those who believe it took place in and around 70 A.D. In fact, there are divisions over almost every doctrine within Christianity and regardless of what side of an issue a person sits on, everyone says that their doctrine is the true biblical one. They all quote verses from the Bible and amazingly, sometimes quote the same verse to prove opposing doctrines. It is bizarre how much division is created within Christianity by a book that is viewed to be unifying and harmonious from start to finish and according to the Southern Baptist doctrinal statement is supposedly “the true center of Christian union.”
Actually there is a second problem as well. When you study tribes and groups of people who have passed down their spiritual teachings orally, they often have fewer problems and divisions than those who have a “book.” Maybe there is a lesson there to be learned.
Perhaps it is time to consider a radical approach. I wonder how much division there would be if we threw out every doctrinal statement and let the Bible just be a wonderful and amazing book and simply asked everyone to love God as best they could, to love others as themselves and as a major part of the expression and manifestation of that love for others to do their best not to harm anyone in any way. To put it another way, don’t cause or create any suffering for anyone else.
Is it possible that salvation isn’t about escaping from the wrath of an angry God but is all about becoming people who love others and do not bring suffering to any other sentient being.
I would like to return to the words of Mr. Pryse. According to him, we must understand the Greek words of the New Testament and their meanings as they were understood at the time of Jesus. We should not interpret them as they may have come to be understood some time after. We cannot go back and superimpose a meaning onto a word if that meaning is one that developed much later. I believe that we can apply that reasoning to not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well.
Let’s look at the current fundamental Christian definition of salvation and then return to the principle contained in the words of Mr. Pryse.
For most within fundamentalism, salvation is the main priority. Nothing is more important. “Are you saved?” is the ultimate question. To better understand salvation as it is understood today, let’s turn to a web site that majors in Christian apologetics. On that site we read the following:
A lot of people think that salvation means being saved from yourself or the devil. But that is not accurate. All who have sinned against God are under the judgment of God. This judgment is known as damnation where God condemns to eternal hell all those who have offended Him by breaking His Law.
This site is stating that ultimately we need to be saved from the judgment of God, a judgment labelled as damnation which consists of eternity in hell being punished, not by the devil, but by God.
Ironically, I think a lot of people have the right idea about salvation while this site has missed it completely. Salvation is all about a) being “saved” from our “self,” (small “s”) and b) the revealing of our true “Self” (capital “S”), i.e. the Christ within each of us. I do think we need to be saved from the “devil” but not the “devil” of fundamentalism. Instead it is the “devil” that can be found in all of us, i.e. the ego, the carnal mind, the flesh.
This web site actually defines salvation in the following way. (I have removed the Scripture references from the definition.)
Salvation is the "saving" of a sinner from the righteous judgment of God. When someone appeals to God and seeks forgiveness in Jesus, his sins are forgiven. He is cleansed. His relationship with God is restored, and he is made a new creature. All of this is the work of God, not man. Salvation is a free gift.
In essence, this site states that salvation occurs when a person confesses their sins and accepts Jesus as their personal Saviour, believing that God has accepted Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for their sins. The site makes it clear that this is the ONLY way to “saved.” This site is simply expressing what virtually every fundamental Christian person and denomination believes to be true. Every time we read the word “salvation” in the Bible, that meaning consciously or unconsciously impacts our thinking because we have been told over and over again that this is the true meaning of the word AS IT IS USED IN THE BIBLE!
This is certainly the accepted view within fundamental Christianity. However, let’s return to the concept presented by Mr. Pryse. When Jesus talked about salvation, he certainly didn’t use the English word salvation, nor the Greek word soteria. Any reference he made to salvation as it related to the Scriptures would have to be a reference to salvation in the Old Testament since the New Testament didn’t exist. So, let’s look at the concept of salvation in the Old Testament. Fundamentalism will tell you that the Old Testament is God’s Word covering about 4000 years of human history, from the time of Adam and Eve up to the time of Malachi, a period that ends about 400 to 500 years prior to the birth of Jesus. If from the “fall of Adam and Eve” humanity needed to be saved from hell and eternal punishment, if that is what salvation consists of, then we should expect to find that view of salvation expressed in the Old Testament. It is incomprehensible that God wouldn’t mention this over and over during these 4000 years of human history.
Using our Bibles and a Strong’s Concordance or a Bible software program such as E-Sword, we can search for the word salvation in the Old Testament.
E-Sword confirms that there are 115 verses in the Old Testament in which the word salvation appears. If we open a Strong’s Concordance and look up salvation we will discover that there are 5 Hebrew words translated as salvation. They are yeshooaw, yasha, yesha, moshawaw and teshooaw. They are Strong’s numbers 3444, 3467, 3468, 4190 and 8668 respectively. Though there are 5 different words, 3 of them come from the same root word, yasha #3467 and the fifth word, teshooaw is said to be very similar to yasha. As you can see from the Strong’s listings below, yeshooaw, yesha and moshawaw all come from the root word, yasha, and teshooaw carries the same sense or meaning as yasha.
H3444 h[wfy yeshû‛âh yesh-oo'-aw
Feminine passive participle of H3467; something saved, that is, (abstractly) deliverance; hence aid, victory, prosperity: - deliverance, health, help (-ing), salvation, save, saving (health), welfare.
H3467 [fy yâsha‛ yaw-shah'
A primitive root; properly to be open, wide or free, that is, (by implication) to be safe; causatively to free or succor: - X at all, avenging, defend, deliver (-er), help, preserve, rescue, be safe, bring (having) salvation, save (-iour), get victory.
H3468 [fy yesha‛ yêsha‛ yeh'-shah, yay'-shah
From H3467; liberty, deliverance, prosperity: - safety, salvation, saving.
H4190 h[fwm môshâ‛âh mo-shaw-aw'
From H3467; deliverance: - salvation.
H8668 h[wft teshû‛âh teshû‛âh tesh-oo-aw', tesh-oo-aw'
From H7768 in the sense of H3467; rescue (literally or figuratively, personal, national or spiritual): - deliverance, help, safety, salvation, victory.
All five words are very similar in meaning, i.e. deliverance, salvation, victory, prosperity, freedom, liberty, and rescue. The question we need to ask is this – What were those in the Old Testament being set free from? From what were they rescued or delivered? If this is a deliverance from hell and eternal punishment, then we should be able to find it described clearly in some of the 115 verses.
At this point I am going to deviate from my normal writing style. Normally we would look at a lot of verses in order to verify the following. Rather than doing that I am simply going to make a statement and then tell you that you can confirm it by checking it using your Bible and Strong’s Concordance or your Bible software program.
The FACT is that there is not even one mention in any of these 115 verses of hell and or eternal punishment. Not one verse suggests that Israel or anyone else needs to be “saved” from hell or eternal punishment. If you look at these 115 verses you will see that salvation is applied to David defeating Goliath. It is used to describe Israel returning from exile. Israel experiences a salvation from the Egyptians when the army of Egypt perishes in the Red Sea. God is described as a tower of salvation and a rock of salvation. There are lots of ways that salvation is described and experienced but NONE of them involve hell and eternal punishment.
Allow me to repeat myself. You can look at all 115 verses in the Old Testament and NOT ONE of them has anything to do with an escape from an eternal prison called hell and everlasting punishment. I will offer the following “proof” though it comes from perhaps the least likely of sources, fundamental Christian web sites.
Regarding hell and eternal punishment, here is what we find on the Assemblies of God web site.
15. The Final Judgment
There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
Notice how many “proof verses” come from the Old Testament - ZERO!
Dallas Theological Seminary offers the following proof for hell and eternal punishment.
Article XXI—THE ETERNAL STATE
We believe that at death the spirits and souls of those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation pass immediately into His presence and there remain in conscious bliss until the resurrection of the glorified body when Christ comes for His own, whereupon soul and body reunited shall be associated with Him forever in glory; but the spirits and souls of the unbelieving remain after death conscious of condemnation and in misery until the final judgment of the great white throne at the close of the millennium, when soul and body reunited shall be cast into the lake of fire, not to be annihilated, but to be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power (Luke 16:19-26; Luke 23:42; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Phil. 1:23; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Jude 6-7; Rev. 20:11-15).
Notice how many “proof texts” come from the Old Testament – ZERO!
To support its view of eternal punishment and hell the Church of God offers the following.
Eternal punishment for the wicked. No liberation nor annihilation. Matthew 25:41-46; Mark 3:29; 2 Thessalonians 1: 8, 9; Revelation 20:10-15; 21:8
Again, notice how many “proof texts” come from the Old Testament – ZERO!
Finally here is what you find on the Southern Baptist web site.
X. Last Things
God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.
Isaiah 2:4; 11:9; Matthew 16:27; 18:8-9; 19:28; 24:27,30,36,44; 25:31-46; 26:64; Mark 8:38; 9:43-48; Luke 12:40,48; 16:19-26; 17:22-37; 21:27-28; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 17:31; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 15:24-28,35-58; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 1:5; 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 5:1ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:7ff.; 2; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1,8; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:27-28; James 5:8; 2 Peter 3:7ff.; 1 John 2:28; 3:2; Jude 14; Revelation 1:18; 3:11; 20:1-22:13.
In this case we actually have two verses from the Old Testament listed as proof texts, Isaiah 2:4 and 11:9. However, our excitement diminishes drastically when we look at the two verses.
Isaiah 2:4 “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Isaiah 11:9 “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”
Isaiah 11:9 is totally irrelevant to our discussion. As to Isaiah 2:4, it is a huge leap based on an enormous amount of presumption and assumption to suggest that God “judging the nations” and “rebuking many people” means most of humanity is going to spend eternity in prison experiencing everlasting punishment. Bluntly, the attempt to make that kind of leap is ludicrous. I would suggest to you that when you look at the verses that are listed as proof for certain doctrines on many fundamental Christian web sites, you may find yourself scratching your head when it comes to many of them. The “proof” may be rather hard to find.
In our case, the fact is 3 major fundamental Christian denominations and one of the most prominent fundamental Christian seminaries in the world don’t include a shred of evidence supporting hell and eternal punishment based on the Old Testament. Within some 23,000 verses they can’t produce a single verse supporting the concept that salvation includes an escape from hell and eternal punishment.
Please note that I am not ignoring the New Testament verses that they use to support their views. They need to be addressed and will be in the future. However, to overlook the glaring absence of verses in the Old Testament is a serious mistake. Far too often, fundamental Christianity wants to work backward when it comes to its theology. It takes a belief and then attempts to superimpose it upon the Bible instead of letting the Bible produce its own theology. For example, we come up with the doctrine, impose it on the epistles in the New Testament which of course then proves that it must be in the teachings of Jesus which proves that it must be in the Old Testament and so we find a verse or two, here and there and suddenly we have a doctrine supported by the Bible. Why don’t we do things the way that would make sense. Start at the beginning of the Bible and work through it, letting the Bible develop its own doctrines as we go.
This mindset and approach actually carries right through to reading the Bible. Rarely is anyone encouraged to read the Bible by starting at the beginning of Genesis. We start people off in Matthew or more often, John, which is really ironic in that John is one of the most mystical books in the Bible. Most people, including many Christians, really haven’t the foggiest clue as to what the first verse in John is really all about – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word as with God and the Word was God.” (I would suggest that if you really want to understand that verse you are going to have to delve into areas fundamental Christianity would not normally go, i.e. Greek philosophy and Jewish mysticism, a.k.a. kabbalism.)
Getting back on track, think about the following. Covering a span of some 4000 years, God never once includes today’s definition of salvation in the Old Testament, which according to fundamentalism is His Word as much as the New Testament. For 4000 years God leaves humanity in the dark when it comes to salvation. Do you really believe that God waited for Jesus to show up, or perhaps even those who came after Jesus, to drop the bombshell and redefine salvation? If we actually believe that Jesus redefined salvation, how is it possible that we have no record of anyone challenging his definition? The religious leaders of his time certainly had no problem confronting him on numerous occasions and yet nothing is said about the sudden redefining of the Hebrew understanding of “yasha,” i.e. salvation.
I said that I would address the New Testament verses in the future but I think now might be a good time to address one aspect of one passage. It is a passage that appears in the Assemblies of God and Dallas Theological Seminary doctrinal statements. It is Mark 9:43-48. Here it is.
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched: And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
Why would Jesus talk about a worm that doesn’t die or a fire that isn’t quenched? Did he come with these analogies out of the blue? Clearly he didn’t. In fact, his words were chosen carefully. He wanted his hearers to think about a passage from the Old Testament. If you know your Old Testament you know that worms that don’t die and a fire that isn’t quenched are references to the very last verse in the book of Isaiah, Isaiah 66:24. You cannot superimpose whatever meaning you want onto Jesus’ words and disregard Isaiah 66:24. Well, actually you can but it is absolutely wrong to do so. You must go back and understand the passage that includes Isaiah 66:24 in order to understand what Jesus was saying and that is exactly what those who heard him would have done. The same is true regarding “hell fire” or the fire of Gehenna. (We have dealt with Gehenna in other articles.)
We won’t spend a lot of time on this but if fundamental Christianity wants to take worms that never die and a fire that is never quenched as literal and see it is a description of eternal punishment, then it also must accept the rest of the passage surrounding Isaiah 66:24 as literal as well and that would mean that fundamental Christians better familiarize themselves with Jewish worship practices involving the new moon and Jewish Sabbaths because that is what they are going to be celebrating. Christians better get used to the 7th day Sabbath as well as all the Sabbaths associated with Passover, Tabernacles and other Jewish feasts. Sunday worship is destined to disappear. Further , part of your worship service will be the observance of immortal worms and unquenchable fire burning immortal carcasses of dead people. I can’t say that I would be looking forward to “church” very much if that were the case. If that sounds ridiculous, please turn to Isaiah 66 and read it for yourself.
By the way, if you believe that “unquenchable fire” cannot go out, then you need to consider Jeremiah 7:20 and Isaiah 34:5-10. Jeremiah 7:20 speaks of men, beasts, trees and fruit burning in some kind of unquenchable fire. Setting aside humanity, I wonder what animals, trees and fruit did to warrant being burnt forever. In Isaiah 34 we read the following regarding Edom: “For it is the day of the LORD'S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.”
Where, today, in Edom is the burning pitch that is not quenched day or night? Where is the smoke that ascends forever? Why are there people passing through the area that was Edom today?
So what is salvation if it isn’t an escape from an eternal prison called hell and never ending fire?
In one way, it’s all of the things that the Old Testament talks about. It is deliverance from our enemies, most of which lay within us. It is freedom from the incessant, repetitive thinking that plagues so many of us. It is victory over the giants in the Promised Land but again those giants are all within each of us because each of us is our own Promised Land. It is a rescue from an exile that has been self-inflicted to a great degree though aided and abetted a great deal by a religious system that really does not want you to be “free” and has created a theology that is intended to keep you in bondage all of your life. We have been convinced by religious dogma that God is so angry with us that he can’t stand to be in our presence and we are so evil that the only fitting fate for us is everlasting punishment. We have been exiled by God out of His presence according to a lot of religious teaching. We bought what they were selling, never realizing that it was their way of keeping us in bondage. How many have been told over the aeons that if they left their religious group, they would burn in hell forever? Salvation is the escape from that false exile. Salvation is also prosperity in body, soul, mind and spirit.
I do happen to agree with fundamental Christianity regarding one thing when it comes to salvation. I believe that “salvation” is the most important thing there is. It is so important that I would like to quote or perhaps more accurately paraphrase Jesus.
It would be better for you and I to enter this life maimed, minus a hand or an eye if either were going to impede our progress in the process of salvation, i.e. becoming the image of God, becoming fully human, becoming and experiencing the unveiling of the Christ within us. We should not let anything in this physical world get in the way of our “salvation journey.”
I would be content if every one who reads this forgets everything up to now and only remembers the following. It is part of an e-mail discussion that I am having concerning the spiritual symbolism and meaning contained in the Harry Potter series of books. I know that some will find it hard to believe that you could have an in-depth discussion about spirituality and salvation and so on when it comes to Harry Potter. I will simply say that you may be greatly and pleasantly surprised if you are willing to spend some time exploring the themes and symbolism in the series.
My friend in the Netherlands responded to an e-mail in which I had quoted Romans 8:19 which speaks about the manifestation of the sons of God with the following:
True! I love that quote; it's one of my favourites… For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
Incredible as it may seem to many people, Harry Potter is a handbook in code for achieving that very objective. Turning the biological human being, subject to so much suffering through disease, disasters, attacks and other causes, into an eternal and indestructible Child of God, created in God's image, is, on the one hand, the purpose of life, yet, on the other hand it is such a radical thing; it is so completely contrary to the ideas of the world and it is so different to what we are used to thinking and doing in this world, that it never ceases to fill me with amazement, wonder and bewilderment. Whenever I think of Harry Potter I almost have to pinch myself that it's true, that this ancient message for the Liberation of humanity is contained in the world's No. 1 bestseller.
The message itself, as I say, is very ancient, and has been brought to humanity countless times, but it's either been totally misinterpreted, as in the case of the Bible and other scriptures, or it's been incomprehensible and ignored, as in the case of The Chymical Wedding.
The process of turning lead into gold is so abstract, and life in the Kingdom of Heaven is so totally different to life on earth, that it can be explained only in symbols. And that presents the danger of both deliberate misinterpretation, and misinterpretation through ignorance and stupidity.
I want to finish this short message with the presentation of a clear cut and sharp choice to you all. This is the choice Harry Potter (and the Bible and the Chymical Wedding) are bringing to unconscious humanity.
You can believe if you wish that among all the billions of stars in the billions of galaxies in the universe (to which telescopes have revealed no boundaries so far) there is only one little planet that contains human life. The whole universe exists just for that little planet, because God sent Himself in the form of His Son at one particular point of time (we call it 2000 years ago, but in relation to the time of the universe it's a split second) to redeem a very small number of the residents of that little planet who can accept this Son as being God Incarnate. This small number of people will be taken up to live forever with God, eternally waving palm leaves and singing the praise of God. The rest of the universe will go to hell for ever.
Or you can accept (by experiencing it) that you have in your heart a complete set of (spiritual) chromosomes that can be brought into action to change your whole being into an eternally young, only begotten Son of God, Who can develop from a Living Soul into a Life-giving Spirit. To the development of this Life-giving Spirit there is no conceivable end, for it is his task to become conscious in all the seven times seven cosmic planes of the universe. Such a true, eternal human being radiates Love to all life forms, giving him a selfless joy which is so intense we cannot imagine it. This human being feels himself one with God and one with the whole of Creation, and he will work feverishly for the redemption of those human beings in the fallen universe to wake them up form their sleep and bring them Home. I want to emphasise especially, that in this second choice there is no idea of being given eternal joy in preference to others, who lose out. No, this is a joy which has to be earned every bit of the way, but the harder the struggle, the more worthwhile the prize!
That's what I think Harry Potter is presenting to you!
I want to thank Hans for his words. You could create a wonderful definition of salvation from those words. It would include eternally young, only begotten son of God, Life-giving Spirit, radiating love, selfless joy, one with God and one with the whole of Creation, working feverishly for the redemption of humanity and to bring them home. That is salvation. It is the salvation that Jesus lived and offers to each and every one of us. It has nothing to do with an angry God planning to cast his children into some fiery pit and punish them there forever. What a horrendous picture of God that is!
It is time for us to totally and completely reject that “instead of” God, that anti-Christ and wake up and embrace a God who says you cannot imagine what lays ahead as you pursue “salvation” with all of your heart. It is time that salvation is no longer viewed as an escape from an eternal prison but is instead presented as the raising, elevation and ascension of humanity to become all that we are destined to be.
As my friend put it, there will be eternal joy and no one will lose out. As John Shelby Spong has put it, it is time we find out what it means to be fully human.
Blessings, shalom, namaste
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