Category Archives: Hell

The Day of the LORD and the Decisiveness of the Present Life

What we do in this current life has an eternal impact. The New Testament insists on the decisiveness of this life.[1] In the early church, the “idea that the coming judgment will be based on deeds done in this life was widespread.”[2] For example, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

All through Scripture it talks about the Day of the LORD (sg.).[3] The Bible does not talk about judgments starting at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11ff) and going from there on into eternity where people have multiple chances to repent. That’s why it says, “Behold [ἰδοὺ], now [νῦν] is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2; cf. Ps. 32:6; Is. 55:6). Acts 17:31 says God “has fixed a day [sg.] on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him [i.e. Jesus] from the dead.” Hebrews says, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment [sg.]” (9:27). Thus in Scripture, we do not see that people can repent after the Judgment. Actually to get the idea of repentance after the Judgment you would have to add to Scripture. Yet, listen to Revelation: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (22:18-19).

Also recall that it is those who “conquer” in space and time who can eat from the tree of life and who will not be touched by the second death (Rev. 2:7, 11). It’s the one who conquers on earth before the Final Judgment that has a “white stone” as admission to heaven (2:17). So we see in Revelation that there is a clear and decisive end to the chance that people have to repent. The one who conquers is the one “who keeps my works until the end” (v. 26). It is those who conquer on earth before the coming of the Lord Jesus that will be dressed in white garments and have their names in the book of life (3:5).

Jesus warns of the “thief that comes in the night” (e.g. Lk. 12:39-40; cf. 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Jesus is mercifully warning people to turn to Him now, before it is too late. We are exhorted to be ready and live a certain way because the way we live has, in a very real sense, an infinite impact. Many of the moral imperatives in Scripture show us the importance of our decisions here because what we do and don’t do has an eternal impact.

What we do in space and time (cf. Eccl. 12:13-14; Matt. 11:20-24; Lk. 12:48; 20:47; Rom. 2:6) and whether we believe the gospel and turn to the Lord in repentance has eternal significance. We see this truth attested throughout Scripture. For instance, Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4). “Death is coming, which will be the setting of the sun, and the end of this day; after which no work will remain, nothing to be done of any significance in order to the obtaining of the recompence of eternal significance.”[4]

We see the decisiveness of this life through Matthew 25. In the words of Augustus Hopkins Strong, Matthew 25 shows us that

All nations—all the Gentiles—are gathered before the King; and their destiny is determined, not by their conscious acceptance or rejection of the historical Savior, but by their unconscious acceptance or rejection of him in the persons of those who needed services of love… This does not square with the idea of a future probation. It rather tells us plainly that men may do things of final and decisive import in this life, even if Christ is unknown to them… The real argument against future probation is that it depreciates the present life, and denies the infinite significance that, under all conditions, essentially and inevitably belongs to the actions of a self-conscious moral being.[5]

Strong goes on to say:

In reference to man and his existence, the Scriptures speak of two and only two aiones or ages: one finite and one infinite, one limited and one endless, the latter succeeding the former…

The two aeons, or ages, known in Scripture, are mentioned together in Matt. 12:32, ‘It shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world (aion), nor in the world (aion) to come;’ in Mark 10:30, ‘He shall receive an hundredfold now in this time (kairos), and in the world (aion) to come, eternal life;’ in Luke 18:30, ‘He shall receive manifold more in this present time (kairos), and in the world (aion) to come, life everlasting;’ in Eph. 1:21, ‘Above every name that is named, not only in this world (aion), but also in that which is to come.’ The ‘things present and the ‘things to come,’ mentioned in Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 3:22, refer to the same two ages. These two aeons, or ages, correspond to the two durations of ‘time’ and ‘eternity,’ in the common use of these terms. The present age, or aeon, is ‘time;’ the future age, or aeon, is ‘eternity.’[6]

What we do matters. Indeed it matters forever. The Bible insists on the decisiveness of this life. 

_____________________

[1] Packer, Celebrating the Saving Work of God, 178.

[2] Allison, Historical Theology, 703.

[3] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says the Day of the LORD

“in the OT, the future consummation of the kingdom of God and the absolute cessation of all attacks upon it (Isa. 2:12; 13:6, 9; 34:8; Ezk. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:11; Am. 5:18; Zeph. 1:14; Zec. 14:1). It is a ‘day of visitation’ (Isa. 10:3), a day ‘of the wrath of the Lord’ (Ezk. 7:19), a ‘great day of the Lord’ (Zeph. 1:14). The entire conception in the OT is dark and foreboding.

On the other hand the NT idea is pervaded with the elements of hope and joy and victory. In the NT it is eminently the day of Christ, the day of His coming in the glory of His Father. The very conception of Him as the “Son of man” points to this day; e.g., Jn. 5:27 says that the Father ‘has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man’ (cf. Mt. 24:27, 30; Lk. 12:8). In the NT also, however, there is a dark background to the bright picture, for it still remains a ‘day of wrath’ (Rom. 2:5f.), a ‘great day’ (Rev. 6:17; Jude 6), a ‘day of God’ (2 Pet. 3:12), a ‘day of judgment’ (Mt. 10:15; 2 Pet. 3:7; Rom. 2:16)…

To the unbeliever, the NT depicts it [i.e. the day of the LORD] as a day of terror; to the believer, as a day of joy” (H.E. Dosker, “Day of the LORD,” 879).

[4] Edwards, 517.

[5] http://ref.ly/o/strongst/4779254?length=813.

[6] http://ref.ly/o/strongst/4779254?length=813.


Texts Espoused to Teach Universalism

The goal here is not to give an exhaustive commentary on each passage but merely to show that there are very viable interpretations that are faithful to the whole of Scripture and do not lead to universalism.

Is. 45:22-23

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. [23] By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’”

In the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) απιστραϕητε is an imperative and means “turn around.” It has to do with changing ones beliefs and ways. It translates the Hebrew word (פָּנָה) meaning “turn” which is also in the imperative. So God here is not asking people to turn to Him, He’s commanding it. And it says that all people (from the farthest stretches of the earth) who turn to Him will be saved. But it implies that all who don’t turn to Him (in space in time before the Judgment) will not be saved. So we see precedence for “all” being saved here, that is, if any turn to the Lord from all over the earth they will be saved. Whosoever believes will be saved, Jew or Gentile. It was (in the OT and NT) an amazing thing for Paul for example that Gentiles can now be welcomed in (he called it a mystery). All the uncircumcised, the Egyptians that enslaved Israel, the Babylonians, all people that turn to the Lord (in space in time before the Judgment) will be saved. They will be saved from the terror of the Messiah’s Second Coming and the Final Destruction.

In the context, this passage would strike fear into the hearers, not comfort. This passage is saying, “repent and turn or else!” Further, v. 25 says “all the offspring of Israel shall be justified,” i.e. all those who have faith (see e.g. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:1-16; 9:6), not all without exception. “Yahweh’s speech ends with a prediction of destructive fire for those who do not submit to his reality and reign (Isa 47:14-15)… There is voluntary submission for some and involuntary submission for others.”[1]

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The Eternality of Hell

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When we interpret “forever” in English, as well as in Greek, context is king. For example, when someone gets back from the DMV and says to us, “that took forever,” what do we interpret that phrase to mean? We take a number of things into account in our interpretation. We understand that it takes a relatively long time at the DMV and we understand that people very often joke about how long it takes at the DMV. We also take into account that the person is standing in front of us saying, “that took forever” which clearly demonstrates that it did not in fact literally take forever.

The person that said “forever” was using it as an expression for “a long time.” However, if that same person said, “God is forever” we would understand that we need to interpret that “forever” differently. Why? Because context is king. And context is telling us that the referent in this case is “God,” not the DMV, and that fact changes the meaning of the word “forever.”

The Bible tells us that certain things are eternal/everlasting. For instance, God is eternal (Rev. 4:9-10), Jesus is alive forevermore (Rev. 1:18), heaven is eternal (Jn. 3:16), and judgment in hell is eternal. If we say judgment in hell is not eternal then we lose grounds for saying that God, Jesus, and heaven are eternal since the same words are explicitly and very intentionally used to express the eternity of each subject under question (and the eternality of hell and heaven are even paralleled in Matthew 25:46).

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Two Humanities

All throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we see two distinct groups.[1] God has called particular people from all nations. As James Hamilton has said, “People are either seed of the serpent, on the side of the snake in the garden, or seed of the woman, on the side of God and trusting in his promises.”[2]

The careful reader of Scripture can see the enmity between the two seeds in Genesis[3] and in fact through the whole Old Testament. There are physical decedents of Eve that are spiritually seed of the serpent.[4] This is not just something we see in the Old Testament though. We see it through the whole of Scripture (cf. e.g. Matt. 13:38; Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8). We see two distinct seeds with two distinct ends from the beginning of Genesis (cf. esp. Gen. 3:15) to the end of Revelation (cf. e.g. Rev. 21).

Notice that in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 there are two groups: 1) those who did not believe and thus receive judgment and 2) those who do believe and thus enjoy the presence of God and marvel at Him. And notice Jesus separates the goats from the sheep based on what they did in their earthly lives (Matt. 25:32ff). People are gravely either goat or sheep, wise or fool, darkness or light, faithful or faithless, in Christ or damned.

As I have said, the Bible shows to different humanities, one lost and the other saved, one in heaven and one in hell. This is what we see throughout the story of Scripture and this is what we see reflected in other places in the early church’s teaching. For instance, the Didache (50-120AD) says, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways” (1:1).[5]

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Universalism and Historical Confessional Christianity

As a protestant who believes in sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), I believe that tradition and confessional Christianity does not hold a place above Scripture. However, I do believe it is important and helpful to consider what church history has to say on theological issues. So let’s look briefly at the question of whether or not universalism has been accepted in historical confessional Christianity.

Harold J. Brown makes an interesting point that we should consider. He says,

“curiously enough, it is heresy that offers us some of the best evidence for orthodoxy, for while heresy is often very explicit in the first centuries of Christianity, orthodoxy is often only implicit. If we hope, today, that the orthodoxy we believe is the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ (Jude v. 3), then it is necessary to assume that it is older than heresy. But heresy appears on the historical record earlier, and is better documented, than most of what the church came to call orthodoxy. How then can heresy be younger, orthodoxy more original? The answer is that orthodoxy was there from the beginning and heresy reflected it. Sometimes one catches a glimpse of another person or object in a mirror or a lake before seeing the original. But the original preceded the reflection, and our perception of it. The same, we could argue, is true of orthodoxy—the original—and heresy—the reflection. The heresy we frequently see first, but orthodoxy preceded it.”[1]

False teachings call into question the pillars of Christianity and so teachers and creeds rise up in protection of the church’s foundational teaching. The doctrine of the Trinity has always been orthodox but there has not always been a creed stating such. The reason for this is because false teaching gives rise to defensive of orthodox teaching. Thus, in history we often see heresy argued before we see orthodoxy defended. Greg A. Allison says that the “issue of the continuation of punishment for the wicked became a point of debate with the theology of Origen”[2] (c. 185-254) so it makes sense that universalism was not formally acknowledged as heresy until later on.

Everett Ferguson says that

“apart from Origen, who entertained the possibility of universal salvation after a period of purification and education of souls in the afterlife, those who spoke to the subject understood an ultimate division of humanity in heaven or hell. The expectation of eternal reward sustained Christian endurance in the face of persecution and other hardships.”[3]

W. G. T. Shedd wrote:

“The common opinion in the Ancient church was, that the future punishment of the impenitent wicked is endless. This was the catholic faith; as much so as belief in the trinity. But as there were some church fathers who deviated from the creed of the church respecting the doctrine of the trinity, so there were some who dissented from it in respect to that of eternal retribution. The deviation in eschatology, however, was far less extensive than in trinitarianism.”[4]

Allison demonstrates in his book Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine that

“from its inception, the church has believed that there will be a final judgment of both believers and unbelievers… On the one hand, this judgment will usher believers into the presence of Christ and the blessedness of heavenly reward forever. On the other hand, following the judgment of condemnation, unbelievers will experience eternal conscious punishment in hell. Only a few Christians deviated from this understanding of the last judgment and eternal punishment.”[5]

A few more examples:

“As regards the fate of the wicked… the general view was that their punishment would be eternal, without any possibility of remission.”[6]

“Everlasting punishment of the wicked always was, and always will be the orthodox theory.”[7]

“The punishment inflicted upon the lost was regarded by the Fathers of the Ancient Church, with very few exceptions, as endless.”[8]

“Church creeds from the early Middle Ages through the Reformation and into the modern era regularly affirmed the eternal punishment of the wicked… The reality of hell and eternal punishment was thought to be as basic to Christian belief as the Trinity and incarnation.”[9]

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Is Punishment in Hell Restorative?

Universalists sometimes claim that punishment in hell is restorative. They use Matthew 25:46 as a proof-text and translate kolasin aiōnion (κόλασιν αἰώνιον) as agelong chastening or correction. Below I list four reasons why I do not believe in restorative punishment in hell.

First, the noun kolasis (κόλασις) only occurs two times in the NT (Matt. 25:46; 1 Jn. 4:18)[1] and the verb kolazó (κολάζω)[2] also only occurs two times in the NT (Acts 4:21; 2 Pet. 2:9). The majority of English translations translate Kolasis and kolazó as “punish,” “punishment,” or “torment,” (see KJV, NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NET Bible). In fact, Francis Chan “checked ten commentators from different theological backgrounds and fifteen Bible translations in five different languages on the word kolasis… they all translate kolasis with the word ‘punishment.’”[3]

Second, the term kolasis is used by other literature of the period to mean (non-restorative) punishment. For example, Josephus talks about Herod being on trial and in danger of being sentenced to death, but through the intervention of the high priest, he was delivered from that danger, and all punishment (kolaseōs) (Josephus, Antiquities XV, 16). “Punishment” in the case above does not seem to be used in the “pruning” sense because he is being saved from death[4] (cf. e.g. 2 Macc. 4:38; 4 Macc. 8:9-11). Further, BDAG,[5] one of the most respected dictionaries of Koine Greek, lists all sorts of examples where kolazó and kolasis means “punish” or “punishment” in the non-restorative sense. TDNT[6] also a widely respected dictionary says that the meaning of kolasis is “punishment” and the meaning of kolazó is “punish.”[7]

Third, there are other terms that the NT uses to refer to the concept of punishment. Apollumi (ἀπόλλυμι) occurs ninety-two times and means to “destroy” (e.g. Matt. 10:28; 21:41). Olethros (ὄλεθρος) occurs four times and it means “destruction” (see 2 Thess. 1:9). Timória (τιμωρία[8]) occurs just one time and means “punishment” or “vengeance” (see Heb. 10:29). Ekdikésis (ἐκδίκησις) occurs nine times and means “vengeance” (see 2 Thess. 1:8). Orgé (ὀργή) means “wrath” (see Rom. 2:5; Rev. 14:10) and occurs 36 times.[9] William V. Crockett, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and University of Glasgow, has said, “when we examine orge in Paul we find no reason to assume that it has reformative elements.”[10] He goes on to say, “orge in Paul excludes any notion of divine love.”[11]

Fourth, there is a lot of imagery in Scripture of God’s wrath being poured out that does not look like restorative punishment. This is the type of imagery we see: “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia [i.e. about 184 miles]” (Rev. 14:19-20 see also Ps. 110:5-6; Is. 66:24; Ezek. 39:17ff; Matt. 24:51; Rev. 6:15-17; 19:11ff; 20:11ff; 21:27). Continue reading


Antithesis 23

I have no provider, I shall be in want
I will not lie down in green pastures
I will not rest beside waters of rest
My soul will not be restored
I will continue in my wickedness

I walk through the valley of death
And I fear evil
for God is not with me
I have not God’s rod or staff
to comfort me
 
God has prepared no table before me
I am consumed by my enemies
Instead of goodness wrath will follow me
All the days of my perpetual death
and I shall dwell in the pit of hell forever


A Brief Exploration of Paul’s Use of “All”

The Apostle Paul

There are some things in Paul’s writing that can be hard to understand, as Peter said (2 Pet. 3:16). Here we’re looking at how Paul’s use of “all” can be hard to understand (esp. when it seems like Scripture teaches particular atonement see e.g. Jn. 6:37-39; 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Rom. 5:8, 10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 1: 3-5, 7; 5:25). Does Paul’s use of “all” have universal implications?[1]

A.A. Hodge’s words are instructive,

“Particular and definite expressions must limit the interpretation of the general ones, rather than the reverse. It is plainly far easier to assign plausible reasons why, if Christ died particularly for his elect, they being as yet scattered among all nations and generations, and indistinguishable by us from the mass of fallen humanity to whom the gospel is indiscriminately offered, he should be said in certain connections to have died for the world or for all, than it can be to assign any plausible reason why, if he died to make the salvation of all possible, he should nevertheless be said in any connection to have died for the purpose of certainly saving the elect.”[2]

It’s important to understand that to Jews all the rest of the world, the whole world, were basically just Gentiles. There were two sets up people in their mind, God’s people and everyone else. So as we think of the use of the words “all” and “world” we must be conscious of how Jews thought about the world and other people groups. Remember, the Jews are the people of promise. No other people in the whole world were. So Thomas R. Schreiner says, “We are apt to forget how shocking the inclusion of the Gentiles was to many in the first century because of our historical distance from the text.”[3]

Notice that Galatians 3:8 says that the OT Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles (τα εϑνη). When Paul uses Gentiles here he means not all Gentiles without exception but rather all Gentiles without distinction. That is, Paul is saying that it’s not just Jews that can be justified. It’s not just one other group that can be justified. It’s not just Samaritans and Romans that can be justified but Babylonians, Egyptians, and everyone (i.e. “all,” “world”) can be justified. So, all people (παντα τα εϑνη), that is, all types of people can be justified. That is how Paul is using “all” (παντα).

Also, notice that Greek does not function the same way as English. Greek, for instance, has a different grammatical case system as well as word order. There is also different ways to say “all.” However, I am not saying that Paul did not say all in the passages in question. He did, in fact, say “all.” I only mean that for Paul to say “all” meaning one group in one place and “all” to mean another group in another place (even in very close proximity) may have been completely normal.

“Interpreters commonly assume that a word must have the same meaning it is used within the same context… However, this is not always true. A work in ancient Greek (as well as in modern languages) may very well have different meaning whether uttered in one breath or not.”[4]

Context is king in any language, but especially when written in all-caps with no punctuation.

So although Universalists frequently appeal to “Paul’s use of the word ‘all’ (e.g. in Rom. 5 and 11, and in 2 Cor. 5),” N.T. Wright points out that there is apparently no “realization of the different shades of meaning that must be understood in the particular contexts… The word ‘all’ has several clearly distinct biblical uses (e.g. ‘all of some sorts,’ ‘some of all sorts,’ etc.), and to ignore this frequently-noted fact is no aid to clear thinking.”[5] The word must be understood in context.[6] We must understand not only the immediate context at the sentence level but also how the word is being used at the next level of context (e.g. paragraph, chapter, book, etc.). That is, we need to understand what is being communicated or the argument that is being made (see Figure 1 below).

Context.png

Figure 1: Understanding Words in Context

In reference to Romans 5:15-19, Schreiner says,

“Paul deliberately used the word all to describe the work of Christ as the second Adam. Our task as readers is to ferret out the significance of this decision. Two reasons for the terminology are possible. First, Paul did not want to use a less-inclusive term because he wanted to emphasize that Christ was as great as Adam. The use of the word all reminds the reader that the grace of Christ is so powerful that it supersedes what Adam did.

Second, one of the prominent themes of Paul’s theology, and of Romans in particular, is the inclusion of the Gentiles. We have seen that the folding of the Gentiles into God’s saving purposes was the distinctive element in Paul’s call to the apostleship. He often emphasizes in Romans that God has called the Gentiles, not just the Jews, to be his people (Rom 1:5, 7, 13-14, 16; 2:11, 26-29; 3:23, 29-30; 4:9-12, 16-17; 9:24-26, 30; 10:11-13, 20; 11:12, 15, 17, 19-20, 30; 15:9-12; 16:26). Recognizing this assists us in comprehending Romans 11:32, “God has enclosed all under disobedience, so that he should show mercy to all.” The first all must include all people without exception, for Paul leaves no room for the idea that some people are obedient and hence need no room for the idea that some people are obedient and hence need no mercy from God! But if the second all is of the same breadth as the first, then Paul is a universalist, teaching that God’s saving mercy will be poured out on every single human being. The interpretation is doubtless attractive, but the context reveals its improbability. Romans 9-11 often speaks of the future punishment of those who are unsaved (Rom 9:3, 6-7, 13, 18, 21-22, 31-33; 10:2-4; 11:7-10, 20-23, 28). These chapters oscillate between the salvation promised for the Gentiles and the salvation pledged to the Jews. Any attentive reader of Romans 11 is aware that it features God’s saving plan relative to both Gentiles and Jews. When Paul says, therefore, that God shows mercy on ‘all,’ the idea is that God’s mercy extends to both Jews and Gentiles, Thus, we need not conclude that ‘all’ refers to all people without exception. More likely, when Paul considers Christ’s work, the referent is all people without distinction. Both Jews and Gentiles are recipients of Christ’s gracious work.”[7]

Schreiner goes on to say,

“Such an interpretation is also a sensible reading of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. The love of Christ controls Paul, and he concludes that ‘one died for all, therefore, all died’ (2 Cor 5:14). The ‘all’ for whom Christ died are not all without exception but all without distinction, including both Jews and Gentiles… All those for whom Christ died ‘actually’ died—they died in the death of Christ to the power of sin… those living refers to those who are spiritually alive. Those who are spiritually alive are the ‘all’ for whom Christ died in 2 Corinthians 5:14”[8] (cf. Rom. 6).

John Piper helpfully adds to our conversation,

“It would be an incorrect, superficial reading of this text [i.e. 1 Corinthians 15:21-23], as well as Romans 5:17-19, to assume that it is teaching universalism in the sense that all human beings will be saved. The ‘all’ who are acquitted in Romans 5 are defined in Romans 5:17 as ‘those who received the abundance of grace.’ And the ‘all’ who are made alive in 1 Corinthians 15:22 are defined as ‘those who belong to Christ.’ Moreover the other texts cited in this chapter [here are some of them: Dan. 12:2; Matt. 3:12; 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mk. 9:43-48; Rev. 14:11; 19:3; 20:10] make it highly unlikely that Paul means to teach here that all humans are saved.”[9]

Mark Rapinchuk demonstrates

“It seems reasonable to conclude that a major emphasis of Paul’s through­ out Romans is the universal nature of sin and salvation. But this universal nature is defined as without ethnic distinction rather than without excep­tion. When Paul speaks of “all men” he speaks in the sense of both Jews and Gentiles, not in the sense of every individual. This understanding of “all men” is not only consistent with the use of πάς and άνθρωπος in Biblical Greek, it is entirely consistent with the flow of Paul’s argument and emphasis in Romans.”[10]

We can also look at other examples where it doesn’t make sense to use “all” with the sense of “all without exception.” For instance, did Paul really preach to “all creation” and to the “whole world” (see Col. 1:6, 23)? No. We know that he did not. So “all” does not always mean all without exception. Also when Paul in Acts 22:15 “speaks of being a witness to all people” (πρὸς πάντας ἀνθρὼους), he clearly does not mean all people with exception; ‘all’ refers to the inclusion of the Gentiles in his mission (Acts 22:21).”[11]

Ephesians 5:20 says we are to give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Does “always” (παντων) here mean all times without exception? It doesn’t seem like it. For instance, when Lazarus died we see “Jesus wept,” not “Jesus gave thanks.”

Klyne Snodgrass says this in his commentary on Ephesians,

“When the Bible uses “all” or “every,” we must ask whether it is meant with or without qualification. Paul’s intent is not that we are to be thankful for evil or tragedy. John Stott is correct in saying “everything” in verse 20 is hyperbole. We are not asked to thank God for evil. Rather, we are asked to live out our awareness that all of life, even the “bad,” is lived out under his control and in relation to him.”[12]

Thus we see that “all” does not always (or very often) mean all without exception. The extent of what “all” is meant to convey must be understood through an understanding of the context and the intention of the author.

Thus, Schreiner looking at the context concludes that “the reason Paul can speak of the Christ’s death in expansive, all-inclusive terms in 1 Timothy 2:6 is because he sees his ministry as worldwide (2:7; cf. Acts 22:15), his soteriology is universal in the right sense (2:5; cf. Rom. 3:28-30), and he is confronting an elitist heresy that was excluding certain kinds of people from God’s salvation (1 Tim. 1:4). Paul wants to make it clear: Christ died for all kinds of people, not just some elite group.”[13]

Titus 2:11 says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (᾿Επεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτηριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρπὼοις). Some believe that “all people” (πᾶσιν ἀνθρπὼοις) refers to all people without exception, however, it more likely refers to all people without distinction.[14] Schreiner goes on to explain that “a good case can be made for such a judgment, because Paul refers to people from various groups earlier in chapter 2: older men (v. 2), older women (vv. 3-4), younger women, younger men (v. 6), and slaves (vv. 9-10).”[15] We also see in verse 12 and 14 that it talks about “us” and not all without exception. It says Jesus “gave Himself for us [not all without exception] to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” (v. 14). This verse reminds us of 1 Peter 2:8-9 where it talks about two different groups of people. The first group stumbles and disobeys the word because that is what they were destined to do (v.8). The second group is a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession (v. 9).

What about Romans 11? Some people use Romans 11 to support their views on universalism. However, as has been said and as John Piper demonstrates, context is king.

“In [Romans] 11:30–31 the two groups in view (Israel and Gentiles) do not have reference to every individual Jew and Gentile that exist. The same corporate groups are in view that have been in view since 11:7. The stumbling (11:11), failure (11:12), rejection (11:15), hardening (11:7, 25), and disobedience (11:30–31) of corporate ethnic Israel lead to the mercy (11:31), salvation (11:11), riches (11:12), reconciliation (11:15), and coming in (11:25) of a “full number” of Gentiles. This in turn leads to the mercy (11:31), acceptance (11:15), and salvation (11:26) of “all Israel,” the same corporate entity that had to be temporarily hardened (11:7, 25) and rejected (11:15)… There is no exegetical warrant for construing the two “all’s” of 11:32 to refer to anything other than the complete number of Jews and Gentiles in the corporate entities referred to throughout the chapter. A universalistic reading of Romans 11:32 is not exegetically defensible.”[16]

Romans 9 should also be looked at. Paul anticipates that God’s righteousness will be called into question. He asks, “Is there injustice on God’s part?” Paul answers, “By no means!” (v.14). God elects and has mercy on whoever He choses (9:11, 15-16). Who are we to tell God what He can and cannot do?! (v. 20). “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (v. 21 cf. 22-23).

Also, remember the way the Jewish community would have understood “all.” For example, let’s briefly look at the last part of Isaiah 66. I would argue that Isaiah has the most eschatology in it of the OT books. Isaiah 66:22:23 says,

“For as the new heavens and the new earth
that I make
shall remain before me, says the LORD,
so shall your offspring and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the LORD.”

It says, “all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.” And it says they shall “remain before me.” Wow! It seems these verses teach universalism! However, remember our phrase: Context is king!

Look at verse 24: “And they [referring to ‘all flesh’ v. 23] shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against Me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” It’s clear here that “all,” even “all flesh,” does not mean all without exception. The Jews reading Romans would have been familiar with this passage and the theology behind it. Also, notice how emphatic verse 24 is and notice how the NT authors picked up on this same language.

On the topic of universal salvation 2 Peter 3:9 is often a favorite verse. It says God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Yet, we must note the context. The immediate context tells us what God does in response to His desire. It does not say that because He desires that all should reach repentance He will one day mysteriously (and against all the Bible seems to say) pull people out of the hell (into which He cast them) so that they won’t finally perish. Instead, we see, in light of God’s desire, He is patient and does not bring judgment right away (cf. v. 15; Rom. 2:4-11). Yet nevertheless, heaven and earth are waiting for the “day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 3:7).

So this text is saying God is patient and does not wish that any should perish so God has refrained His judgment for a time so that all types of people can repent. However, it also reminds people to repent while they still can. It says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…” (v. 10) when it will be too late to repent. “Therefore,” it says, “since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and a peace” (v. 14).

The second thing to consider with this verse is the two different senses in God’s will. Theologians helpfully and accurately discuss the two different senses in God’s will as the decretive will of God and the permissive (or perceptive) will of God. I suggest John Frame’s treatment in The Doctrine of God.[17]

It seems true in one sense that God desires that none should perish but that all should come to repentance but it is also true that God desires to pour out His wrath on the wicked. See 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12:

“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. [9] The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, [10] and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. [11] Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, [12] in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Notice also that Romans 9 tells us that God is glorified through vessels of wrath (ὀργή[18]) prepared for destruction (Rom. 9:22). God has set His affections on some and not on others. And that is His prerogative alone and He is just in all His judgments.[19]

________________________

[1] While the “all” texts do need to be explained “the onus lies with proponents of a universal atonement to explain why Paul would employ limited or definite language, if there really was no limitation in the intended object of the atonement” (Jonathan Gibson, “For Whom Did Christ Die?: Particularism and Universalism in the Pauline Epistles” 293 in From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective [Wheaton: Crossway, 2013). Further, “Paul has the linguistic arsenal to state unambiguously that there was no one for whom Christ did not die, he chose not to use it. The terms ‘many,’ ‘all,’ and ‘world’ remain undefined and ambiguous, dependent on context for their meaning” (Ibid., 329).

[2] A.A Hodge, The Atonement (1867; repr., London: Evangelical Press, 1974), 425.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory: A Pauline Theology, 185. Hedrick explains Paul’s use of “all” in Romans 5:18 by saying that “among other things Paul is combating the ever-present tendency of Jews to regard themselves as being better than Gentiles” (Romans, 183).

[4] S. M. Baugh, A First John Reader: Intermediate Greek Reading Notes and Grammar, 19.

[5] N.T. Wright, “Universalism and the World-Wide Community,” Churchman 89 (July-September 1975), 200.

[6] In understanding the context it is important to understand the Pauline context; that “in the whole of Paul’s preaching it is unthinkable to refer to justification to all men without distinction” (Ridderbos, Paul, 341n32).

[7] Schreiner, Pau l, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, 184. See also Schreiner, Romans, 292.

[8] Ibid., 186.

[9] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 129n20.

[10] Mark Rapinchuk, “Universal Sin and Salvation in Romans 5:12-21” 441 in JETS 42/3 (September 1999) 427-41.

[11] Thomas R. Schreiner, “’Problematic Texts’ for Definite Atonement in the Pastoral and General Epistles.”

[12] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians, 311.

[13] Schreiner, “’Problematic Texts’ for Definite Atonement.”

[14] Ibid., 8.

[15] Ibid.

[16] John Piper, “Universalism in Romans 9-11?” (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/universalism-in-romans-9-11).

[17] See 528-42; he even has a section titled “Does God Desire the Salvation of All?”

[18] See William V. Crockett, “Wrath that Endures Forever” in JETS 34/2 (June 1991) 195-202. E.g. “When we examine orgê in Paul we find no reason to assume that it has reformative elements” (198). And on page 199 he says, “orgê in Paul excludes any notion of divine love” (199).

[19] See John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993).


Is Love God’s Main Attribute?

“Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord,” Proverbs tells us (20:10, 23). And this is no less true when it comes to theology. When we give more weight to God’s love then to His other attributes we are not correctly representing who He is. We are being deceiving. Deceit when it comes to earthly treasure is an abomination. How much greater an abomination when He that is infinitely worthy is falsely treated?!

God’s attributes must not be incorrectly understood. The Bible does clearly teach that God is a God of love (e.g. 1 Jn. 4:8) and continued faithfulness or covenant loyalty (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 86:15; 119:90; Lam. 3:22-23; Nahum 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Thess. 3:3; Heb. 10:23). However, the Bible also clearly and repeatedly teaches that God is a God of righteous jealousy (Ex. 20:4-6; 34:14; Num. 25:11; Deut. 4:24; 5:8-10; 6:15; 29:20; 32:16, 21; Josh. 24:19-20; 1 Kings 14:22; Is. 42:8; 48:11; Ezek. 8:3-5; 16:38, 42; 23:25; 36:5-7; 38:19; 39:25; Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Zech. 1:14: 8:2; Ps. 78:58; 79:5; 1 Cor. 10:22; James 4:5) and unrestrained wrath (cf. e.g. Is. 13:6-11; Jer. 7:20; Nahum 1:2-8; Matt. 3:12; Rom. 2:5). The Bible clearly shows that God will not clear the guilty that spurn His grace and patience (cf. e.g. Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:9-11; Lam. 3:22-23, 64-66; Nahum 1:3). Further, the Bible never says that love is God’s main attribute or that God has a main attribute. Rather, God is; and He is perfect in all ways. “Attributes,” such as love, wisdom, etc. are anthropological, they are given so that we can understand God. Thus, these attributes should not and cannot be understood when striped from their connection to the whole of who God is.

Also, though God’s attribute of love is clearly and very much on display through the whole of Scripture other attributes, such as God’s holiness (cf. the emphatic “holy, holy, holy” Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8), could be agued to be God’s central attribute. We also see in different places in Scripture that God pours out judgment on people, clearly not to show His love, but to be glorified (cf. e.g. Ex. 9:13-16, 34-10:2;14:4; 8:13-18; 2 Sam. 24:1, 10-11; 1 Chron. 21:1, 7-8; Is. 6:9-13; Ps. 92:7 [NASB]; Rom. 9:22-24). Actually, we see various times in Scripture that God’s motivation for salvation is His glory (cf. e.g. Ps. 23:3; 25:11; 31:3; Ezek. 36:16-32 [esp. v. 21, 22, 32]; Rom. 9:22-24). James M. Hamilton Jr. persuasively argues that the story of redemption history and the Bible is not about God loving all people without exception but about “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment” (the title of his book).[1]

The Universalist extrapolation that since God is love He will not finally allow people to be damned eternally in hell is unfounded. Some Universalists have extrapolated that God’s glory is seen in that He has mercy and compassion and thus will display His glory more when He repeals His judgment on sinners in hell (some wrongly cite Ex. 33:19). However, these Universalists incorrectly understand the Exodus passage. Instead, through a closer look at the text we see that “God’s glory and his name consist fundamentally in his propensity to show mercy and his sovereign freedom in its distribution. Or to put it more precisely, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex 34:7) on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God. This is his name”[2] (cf. Rom. 9:6-24).

God does not bow to any of His “attributes” but He is continually perfect in a unison of perfection. Wrath does not hold a place over love or love over wrath, the Son does not fight with the Father nor the Spirit with the Son, God’s Name and ways are always and forever perfect. His Name, who He is, His character, is holy (cf. Lk. 1:49). He is I AM. We do not determine who He is or what He should do. He is. And He is perfect in all His ways.

So, no. I don’t think love is God’s main attribute. 

____________________

[1] See Hamilton’s book length treatment God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology where he goes from Genesis to Revelation to argue his case or see his much smaller article “The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment: The Centre of Biblical Theology?” in Tyndale Bulletin 57.1 (2006), 57-84. Also Jonathan Edwards argues the same point in The End for Which God Created the World (see John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory).

[2] John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993), 88-89. Italics his.


Sin is Not Good #3

Brokenheart#2

Sin is Humanities Death Wish

I was always told growing up that it’s not good to do bad things. And for a time I was content with that. It didn’t need to be explained to me. However, as time has gone on and temptations have increased, or at least my perception of them, I find it helpful to understand and remind myself of why “it’s not good to do bad things.”

Obviously, “it’s not good to do bad things” because it doesn’t please God but why doesn’t it please God? Why are bad things bad? We see from reflection on Scripture that bad things are bad because they are not in accord with God’s character and thus apart from being bad they do not finally work with the way things are. In short, they are against the universe. Against existence. Against the way things are. Against the way things work. This is because God is good, supremely good. And creation is thus to operate in a certain way. Sin, evil, and bad are not innate within God’s good creation. They don’t “work” and will one day soon be expelled from the whole system. Then, and only then, will all things be put right and made new.

Thus, “The consequence of human sin is not to be seen as an arbitrarily imposed penalty, like a judge imposing a fine for drunk driving, but rather as an inevitable outworking of the implications of sin.”[i] “Death is not an arbitrary punishment for sin; it is its necessary consequence,” because “the turning away from the living God which constitutes idolatry is the spiritual equivalent of a diver cutting off his own breathing tube.”[ii]

To turn from God, to sin, is not only wrong but also foolish. Why? Because “God is our final good, or maker and savior, the one in whom alone our restless hearts come to rest. To rebel against God is to saw of the branch that supports us.”[iii]

Sin is humanities death wish in everyway.[iv] To be separated from God is to die, physically and spiritually. Human flourishing, true shalom, is bond up with God.[v] Apart from union with God we can seek but we won’t find.

The world is a dichotomy. It’s two paths. The wise and the fool. New creation and de-creation. Damnation and liberation. Life and death. Hell and heaven. Where, in a very real sense, are you going?

Sin is thus not good because it is innately against true human flourishing.[vi] Sin is not good because it is humanities death wish in every sense.

_____________________________

[i] Anthony N. S. Lane, “Lust: the human person as affected by disordered desires” 35 in EQ 78.1 [2006], 21-35.

[ii] N. T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 109.

[iii] Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 123. “Sin dissipates us in futile—and self-destructive—projects. Sin hurts other people and grieves God, but it also corrodes us. Sin is a form of self-abuse” (Ibid., 124). “Sin against God is therefore outrageous folly: it’s like pulling the plug on your own resuscitator” (Ibid., 125-26). Thus “because it is futile, because it is vain, because it is unrealistic, because it spoils good things, sin is a prime form of folly” (Ibid., 126). Proverbs 8:35-36 says, “For whoever finds me [i.e. “wisdom” which is the fear of the LORD] finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” 

[iv] “The association of sin with physical and spiritual death runs like a spine through Scripture and Christian tradition” (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 47).

[v] “The biblical vision of human flourishing implicit in worship means that we are only properly free when our desires are rightly ordered, when they are bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good” (Desiring the Kingdom, 176). Likewise John Frame, God’s “law is not arbitrary, but is based on his own nature… His moral standard is simply himself, his person, his nature” (Frame, The Doctrine of God, 448 see also Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 133-35). G. K. Chesterton said, “God is not a symbol of goodness. Goodness is a symbol of God” (Chesterton, William Blake [London: House of Stratus, 2000], 40).

[vi] “Human flourishing” rather is “the same thing as glorifying God and enjoying him forever” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 37-38).


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