When contending for the faith, it is important to understand that there are various ways people interpret Scripture. The correct method, called the grammatical-historical approach, seeks to use the grammar of the text to indicate what the original author intended for us to know. In other words, the author used actual words with meaning to indicate a message to us. The authors didn’t write the words of Scripture simply to put ideas on paper, but they were trying to tell us about God.
Coming to Scripture, the first thing we must do is to believe, at face value, what the writer intended us to know. For example, when Moses penned the first few words of the Bible, he chose specific words in order to convey a message: In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Moses wasn’t trying to tell us about a random god at some odd point in history. He was using words to tell us exactly who he was writing about and when. Moses was writing about the God of Creation, telling his readers that God was the one who created all things.
This statement stood in contrast to the gods that surrounded the people of Israel, and the gods put forth in our day. Moses wasn’t speaking metaphorically, or in the sense that the story was a myth. He wanted the Israelites to understand that their God, was the living and true God. There was no other god to be worshipped besides the Creator God, Elohim.
People can come to those words and reject them, and many do. But if one is honest with the reading, there can be no doubt as to what Moses was trying to tell us. We also see the writing of Moses supported by other authors of Scripture, like the Apostle John, who writes words very similar in nature to Genesis 1. He writes: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.
Again, we need to take the words at face value. John was not using words that did not convey meaning. He chose the words he did for a reason. He chose words that can provide understanding and knowledge about the God who is our Creator. He is not contradicting Moses, but clarifying the God who was in the beginning. Not only was the Father in the beginning, but so was the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
What we can infer from both writers is that they wanted us to know about the God who is. Moses was primarily telling us about the God who created, and John shows us that He is also the God who redeems. The same God. The same story. The same ultimate author since the Bible is also authored by God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16).
I write all this to demonstrate how it is that we are to interpret Scripture. There are many ways that people interpret Scripture, one of them being the Pietistic Interpretation which is contrary to the historical-grammatical approach. In this mode, a person sits down with the Bible and reads the passage and gets a feeling about what it should mean, thinking that since a true believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, they are being led by the “still small voice” of the Spirit. This kind of interpretation is quite common in our day. Many falsely believe that since they have come to the conclusion about the meaning of a text, then they must be right about it. Never mind what the original author intended us to know about what he was writing.
The sad reality is that if we were to use such interpretive methods with the ones we loved as we do with Scripture, we would inflict all kinds of suffering upon them. Yet, when it comes to God’s word, we think that we can offer up any type of interpretation that we please, as long as the pseudo spirit of a god leads us in that direction.
Case in point: I had a recent dialogue with a man on Facebook that took the position that since God was a loving God, then there could be no eternal hell. I will call him Bob for clarity. Bob had done a word study on Gehenna and come to the conclusion that thousands of years of understanding about hell are all wrong. O the danger of the self-appointed studiers of words. He also did a word study on eternal and came to the conclusion that it didn’t have to do with time. Yet, words studies are useless if you don’t determine the meaning of the word in context.
Bob kept insisting that the passages that point to God’s redeeming love prevent God from sending someone to eternal hell. Never mind the fact that Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that those who are on His left will be sent to eternal punishment. The man tried to say that the Greek didn’t actually mean “eternal punishment.” But alas, the same word for “eternal” in the Greek is also used by Matthew to show that those on the right-hand side of Jesus will inherit “eternal life.” He failed to let the context determine the meaning. He just couldn’t stomach such an interpretation, so he felt that the commonly held view of eternal hell had to be wrong.
Let’s look at some of his words below. I can’t possibly look at all his words. He is one of those writers that makes a vague point, and then backs it up with passage after passage that have nothing to do with his point.
Realize, the quotes from this point are from this man who sees hell as a temporary place.
I think this is a good article with a lot of great points. However, the God who allows people to burn in hell for all eternity which is depicted by the majority of Christianity from the New Testament is not biblical (In my understanding). For the wages of sin is DEATH; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Notice he says that a majority of Christians have understood that hell is for all eternity. What a way to start out. Yes, a majority of Christians have understood hell that way. This is because the depiction given to us by our LORD is that it is a place of eternal torment and fire. Jesus tells us: And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’ (Mark 9:47-48).
Just some observations about what Christ is telling us. First, He is warning us against sinning because sin has dire consequences. Second, according to Christ, if you sin, then you will thrown into hell. Being thrown into hell is a result of sin. So, we can conclude that sinners are thrown into hell because they sin. Third, hell here is described as a place where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” This gives us a time frame for hell’s duration. It never ends.
So we are beginning to see that what Christ says about hell is really important and does shed light on what we know about hell. Who better to listen to than the One who created hell, since He is also the creator of all things (John 1:3), than Jesus. In fact, most of what we know about hell comes from Him.
Right now, I’m just dealing with the eternality of hell as found in Scripture. The second passage that is telling is when Jesus describes judgment day in Matthew 25. Bob tries to give a preemptive strike on Matthew 25 by saying that translators are not giving us a true picture of what Matthew is writing. Here is Bob’s explanation:
Many evangelicals use the scripture from Matthew 25:46 and highlight the phrase “eternal punishment” which alone doesn’t warrant a conclusion of eternal torture even in the English translation. But especially when looking at the Greek form “kolasin aionion”, the theory of eternal torture is not supported. Kolasin is “punishment, chastening, correction, to cut-off as in pruning a tree to bare more fruit” and “aionion”(the adjective of aion) is pertaining to an eon or age, an indeterminate period of time. Notice that when translated in many versions it is everlasting punishment, when the more literal translation is punishment everlasting.
Bob is claiming the the Greek doesn’t warrant “eternal punishment” based on the following:
- Kolasin is “punishment, chastening, correction, to cut-off as in pruning a tree to bare more fruit.” This really is a weak argument given that part of the purpose of hell is punishment. The first word in Bob’s definition is the word “punishment.” Seems to me the translators might have felt that using the word “punishment” is a good translation, and Bob’s definition supports this.
- Bob also defines “aionion” as “pertaining to an eon or age, and indeterminate period of time.” Notice again, that his reasoning seems to debunk his claim. An “indeterminate period of time” would fit the bill quite nicely.
- Finally, Bob claims that the translators should have written “punishment everlasting” instead of “everlasting punishment.” Really? This shows Bob’s lack of understanding of the Greek language and translation. In Greek word order doesn’t matter as much as it does in the English. And when translating, no one translates literally. A translation that did so would be unreadable.
But as I have said above, let’s look at the context of “eternal punishment” in Matthew 25:46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Jesus has had the sheep and goats separated, and He has pronounced judgement on them. He gives two results: goats go away into eternal punishment, sheep go into eternal life. Here is where the context helps us determine the meaning. The goats are going away to some place eternal, or, as Bob would say, an “indeterminate period of time.” Now, if we take his understanding of it, that these people will be destroyed “and he understands being destroyed as being annihilated” then there is a limit to the punishment which they will endure. But there is a real problem with this view. The problem is that the same adjective used to describe “punishment” is the same adjective used to describe “life.” So does Bob mean that eternal punishment is not eternal, but eternal life is eternal?
Well, Bob has done a word study and come to the conclusion himself.
The point is that both eternal punishment and eternal life have the same adjective for a reason: both are eternal, without an ending. Those who are “in Christ” will live forever with Christ in heaven and in His presence, while those who are evil doers, will suffer God’s wrath for all of eternity.
Now, for more of Bob’s thoughts with my thoughts afterwards:
I believe that Christians have preached for many years a doctrine of fear and a place of eternal torture to promote conversion.
Now he begins to make some generalizations. Christians have preached a doctrine of fear to promote conversion. First off, where? When has the preaching occurred? Please, help me find a pastor that actually preaches on hell, the eternal nature of it, and the need to fear God so that we avoid such a place. After all, Jesus preached on hell all the time.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us against the dangers of hell three time. That was one sermon. How many times do we hear hell mentioned in the typical sermon of our day?
We need the reminder that hell awaits us because we have offended a holy God. Without Christ, then there is no help of escape of what we truly deserve. The point here is that this man makes the claim that preachers are always preaching about hell, yet, I find just the opposite in our day.
And for the sake of argument, wouldn’t it be wonderful if pastors did preach on the doctrine of hell more often and more people actually came to know the LORD? But regardless, Jesus preached on hell and not many came to know Him in His day. That does mean we should ignore the doctrine, but be faithful to the text and preach what He has given us to preach.
Many Christians have been taught this all their life and never questioned it.
But have they truly evaluated the word of God. I do believe in hell, but I do not believe it is a place where people will be tortured eternally.
Here is a big assumption on his part. Have Christians really gone through life and never questioned the doctrine? And if they haven’t, could it be because they were reading the Bible, evaluating it, and doing so properly? Bob assumes that since most of Christendom has believed in a proper, orthodox view of hell, and that he disagrees with that position, that we have held to this position out of ignorance.
I believe hell is eternal separation from God through death. One of the most quoted verses in the Bible John 3:16 clearly states the contrast, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not PERISH, but have everlasting life.” It doesn’t say burn in hell for all eternity, it says PERISH. God’s word does not contradict itself.
He says that he believes hell is eternal separation from God, contradicting his main point that hell is not eternal. But where does it say that hell is separation from God? He doesn’t support this with viable scripture, but goes off on another subject all together.
Well, I would share more of Bob’s thoughts. But you get the idea. He has done a word study, therefore, we should listen to Bob.
Seriously though, hell is a topic that needs to be preached and understood. I was discussing this with a friend who entertained the idea that hell was limited in scope and he immediately pointed out that even if hell were for a day, it would seem eternal to those who suffered through it. My friend made the point: hell is to be avoided at all costs. This is what Jesus said in the verse I quoted above. If our eye causes us to sin… cut it out, so that we don’t spend even a day in hell. Even a moment, will be an eternity, but the truth is, that it will be an eternity, filled with eternal moments of suffering, pain and having the wrath of God poured out on those who are there.