Thursday, March 06, 2008
I'm always reluctant to post Christian doctrine that is not mainstream, and I suppose for the most part I believe in mainstream fundamental theology. But there are things about God that at my level of growth I do not understand and some things I am content to let remain a mystery. My faith is based on the calling of Christ in me, the keeping power of His Spirit, and the mercy he has shown me throughout the last 39 years. My faith is not moved by difficult passages. Some things are too high for me, I'm not to proud to say it.
In the last ten years I have been more and more concerned about the doctrine of Eternal Punishing. I see no contradiction in scripture about judgment for the unbeliever, and for suffering for their sins. That is justice and it is taught all through the Bible. But continual punishment for eternity contradicts all of what Christ has taught me. So, I ask God about it and I read things that teach a different opinion. The following piece addresses a question I have been studying; why, if the Old Testament never once mentions Eternal Punishing, would not Christ and the Apostles sound the alarm in a clear and concise fashion, in the same way they do about all other important teachings. Certainly the suffering of mankind for eternity is the most important issue to the unbelieving world, and to be nearly silent on it makes absolutely no sense to me.
So, this little piece addresses that very point and if you have not heard an opinion like it I'm sure it will be interesting to you.
"So, in Matt. xxiiI 15, 27, Gehenna or hell, and the whited sepulcher, "full of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness," are fearful symbols of the moral foulness of the "Scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites," whom the Savior was addressing. "Two-fold more the child of hell," signifying that they made their converts two-fold more corrupt than themselves.
The word Gehenna, or hell, then, in the New Testament is used as a symbol of anything that was foul and repulsive; but especially as a figure of dreadful and destructive judgments.
And, now, let us consider some of the facts connected with this word Gehenna. They are the more important because this word is specially relied upon as teaching the doctrine of endless torments, the doctrine of hell, as popularly believed. Whatever other forms of speech may be employed to express the thought, this is surely one of the terms clearly declarative of future endless punishment.
Admitting this statement for a moment, let us see what follows. If this is the word by which the tremendous fact is to be revealed, we shall have it notified to us in a fitting manner. We know with what solemn preparations, and awful accompaniments, the Law was introduced at Sinai; and we may certainly expect this doctrine will be announced with a solemnity and awfulness corresponding to its infinitely greater importance, and which shall concentrate upon it the attention of all the world. Neither the patriarchs, nor Moses, nor the prophets, have uttered a word on the subject; but now a new teacher is come from God, and he is to make known the dreadful doctrine; and the words he selects for this purpose will be employed with a power of emphasis, with a marked distinction, which will shut out all possibility of mistake.
Let us see if it be so. The first time Christ uses the word Gehenna is in Matt. V 22, 29, 30. But not a word of preparation or notice that now, for the first time, the terrible dogma is announced on divine authority. He speaks as calmly as if He were wholly unconscious of the burthen of such a revelation; and the people seem equally unmoved under the awful declaration. And what is singular, it is not presented by itself, in a positive form, unmixed with anything else, as its importance most surely demanded; but is slipped in merely as a comparative illustration, among other judgments, of the greater moral demands of the Gospel, and the strictness with which it enforced obedience.
They, the Jews, had said, "Whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment;" but Christ says, whosoever is angry with his brother without cause, is in danger of a punishment equal to that of the judgment (the inferior court of seven judges); and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca (a term of contempt, shallow-brain or blockhead), shall be in danger of a punishment equal to that inflicted by the council (the superior court of seventy judges, which took cognizance of capital crimes); but whosoever shall say, "Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire," or of a punishment equal in severity to the fire of Gehenna.
Now, if Christ used the term Gehenna to reveal endless woe, and that for the first time, would He not have said this, and fixed forever the meaning of the word? And yet not the slightest intimation do we have of any such new and awful meaning. The Jews were familiar with it, and used it constantly to symbolize any great punishment or judgment coming on the earth; and they must of course suppose He used it as they did, since He gave them no notice to the contrary. If, therefore, He did give it the new signification of endless punishment after death, they could not understand Him, and He failed of His purpose for want of such explanation as they, and we, had a right to expect.
But there is another consideration deserving notice. The difference between the sinfulness of saying Raca or Blockhead, and Fool, is hardly great enough to warrant such a difference in punishment as is involved in the supposition. Townsend justly says, to imagine that Christ, for such a slight distinction as Raca and Thou fool, "would instantly pass from such a sentence as the Jewish Sanhedrim would pronounce, to the awful doom of eternal punishment in hell-fire, is what cannot be reconciled to any rational rule of faith, or known measure of justice." There is no proportion between the slight difference in guilt and the tremendous, infinite difference in punishment. But if the comparison is between penalties symbolized by stoning to death, inflicted by the Sanhedrim council, and burning alive in Gehenna, then there is proportion, some relation of parts; because the difference between death by stoning and death by burning is not certainly very great; but the difference between death by stoning and endless torment is infinite.
It is impossible, therefore, to believe that Christ, in this first use of Gehenna, intended to reveal the doctrine, without an accusation against His fidelity and justice.
But let us note other facts equally pertinent.
1. Though Gehenna occurs twelve times, the Savior actually used it only on four or five different occasions, the rest being only repetitions. If this is the word, and the revelation of this terrible doctrine is in it, how is it possible that Christ, in a ministry of three years, should use it only four times? Was He faithful to the souls committed to His charge?
2. The Savior and James are the only persons in all the New Testament who use the word. John Baptist, who preached to the most wicked of men, did not use it once. Paul wrote fourteen epistles, and yet never once mentions it. Peter does not name it, nor Jude; and John, who wrote the gospel, three epistles, and the Book of Revelations, never employs it in a single instance. Now if Gehenna or hell really reveals the terrible fact of endless woe, how can we account for this strange silence? How is it possible, if they knew its meaning, and believed it a part of Christ's teaching, that they should not have used it a hundred or a thousand times, instead of never using it at all; especially when we consider the infinite interests involved?
3. The Book of Acts contains the record of the apostolic preaching, and the history of the first planting of the Church among the Jews and Gentiles, and embraces a period of thirty years from the ascension of Christ. In all this history, in all this preaching of the disciples and apostles of Jesus, there is no mention of Gehenna. In thirty years of missionary effort, these men of God, addressing people of all characters and nations, never, under any circumstances, threaten them with the torments of Gehenna, or allude to it in the most distant manner! In the face of such a fact as this, can any man believe that Gehenna signifies endless punishment, and that this is a part of divine revelation, a part of the Gospel message to the world?
These considerations show how impossible it is to establish the doctrine in review on the word Gehenna. All the facts are against the supposition that the term was used by Christ or His disciples in the sense of future endless punishment. There is not the least hint of any such meaning attached to it, nor the slightest preparatory notice that any such new revelation was to be looked for in this old familiar word.
We have now passed in review, as far as our limits will permit, the New Testament doctrine of Hell, and we have not, surely, found it to be the doctrine of endless punishment, but something very wide from this. Let us now turn to other phraseology supposed to embody this thought, and to establish it as a doctrine of divine revelation."
I did a study on Eternal Destruction and found that an easy topic to find. It is mentioned many times all through the New Testament.