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About firstthekingdom

Truth seeker, religion debunker, Jesus follower...regular guy.

Why I Don’t Believe in “Eternal Hell,” Pt 2: Hell Itself

Before I get into the meat of this post, I’d like to say a few things.  First, that I truly regret using the term “universalist” in my initial post, the chief reason being that I am not really a universalist!  I still believe Jesus Christ alone was and is THE savior – I just believe that this salvation will eventually encompass everyone.   If a title or label is needed for what I believe about the ultimate destiny of mankind, a better and more accurate one is probably something like “ultimate reconciliationism.”  I also regret using “universalist” because it seems that all labels and titles, whatever they may be, almost always do more harm than good; stifling humble, helpful dialogue and fostering knee-jerk reactions, polarization, defensiveness, hostility, etc.   Therefore, I feel my use of the universalist “label” was a significant (and stupid) mistake on my part, and I have edited it out of my original post.

I also want to say that I underestimated just how daunting a task it is to refute the idea of “eternal conscious torment.”  For one thing, it isn’t a single idea at all, but a compilation of several ideas, which include: this torment takes place in what the Bible calls hell, people who die “unsaved” go to hell instead of to heaven, one’s eternal destiny is immediately and permanently determined at the time of physical death, torment in hell is conscious and never-ending, this torment is due to God’s wrath against sin, Jesus’ purpose was to save us from hell, and the Bible is quite clear in affirming all of these things.  

Refuting ECT is also difficult because it has become an integral part of the belief system of millions, and a major driving force of the entire system of Christianity.  Because “eternal conscious torment” is such an inconceivably absurd and terrifying thing, it seems to have come to permeate and underlie nearly everything Christianity understands about the nature and character of both God and man, the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion, the meaning and message of the Kingdom of God, and the “good news” itself.   

Now, if it’s true that eternal conscious torment is a man-made idea which is out of line with the Spirit of love and the heart of God (which I firmly believe to be the case), then it is both inevitable and necessary that it not only be removed, but also replaced.  I am greatly in favor of this, actually.  HOWEVER, I do think this should be done carefully and with a desire to avoid harm or division whenever possible.  For this reason, I am taking pains in these blogs to explain and support what I believe to be true, rather than only exposing and tearing down what is false.  This will require some time and work, but I feel this topic, and whoever reads this, deserves it.  I will do my best.

The Biblical Words for Hell:

Maybe a good place to start is by looking at the word “hell” itself.  In the original languages the Bible was written in, the words which have been translated into English as “hell” mean nothing like “an eternal destination of torment.”  Even in English, “hell” didn’t originally mean that, originating with a root word simply meaning “a concealed place.  In my research, it seems the earliest uses of “hell” in the English language simply referred to the invisible place where everyone, good and bad, went to reside after death.  The association of “hell” with torment seems to have come later, likely due to the influence of pagan ideas and religions (which have had a far greater effect on Christianity than most realize).   

You may not know that a total of FOUR very different words are translated “hell” in the KJV Bible (twice that of most other modern translations such as the ESV and NASB, which only translate two words as “hell”).  Understanding that the KJV translated hell far more liberally than other translations is worth knowing,  because the KJV, by a very large margin, was the most commonly used Bible translation in America well into the 20th Century.  Thus, it has been hugely influential in the formation of Christian doctrine and practice in the western world, and thus into the rest of the world where American and European missionaries traveled and evangelized.

If you use a bit of common sense, the way “hell” has been translated should bother you – why take four (or even two) different words, with different meanings and contexts, from very different languages, locations, and time-periods, then translate them all with a single English word as if they all mean exactly the same, THEN insist “thus saith the Lord”!?  I honestly think such a scenario is nothing less than a tragedy, as there is almost no way NOT to “muddy the waters” and cause confusion and error on a large scale, which is exactly what has happened.  Translation issues aren’t that big of a deal if, for example, you’re trying to insist that unicorns are real (yes, unicorns are mentioned in the KJV), but when you are talking about insisting that God’s word declares that billions of people will end up in eternal torment for wrong beliefs, you are talking about an idea with the power to create great fear and control over people.  

In the KJV, three of the root words translated “hell” are Greek, found in the New Testament: these are hades, gehenna, and tartaroo.  The fourth is the Old Testament Hebrew word sheolAs I indicated earlier, among all translations in common modern use, ONLY the KJV translated either sheol OR hades as “hell,” (though the New King James Version (NKJV) translates sheol, but not hades, as “hell”).

Regarding the Hebrew sheol, I feel that “grave” is probably the best English translation, because it means “place of the dead,” with no extra meaning of what this place is or isn’t like.  The KJV actually does translate sheol as “grave,” but only about half the time.   It seems the translators used “hell” whenever they could, but were forced to use “grave” in the instances where “hell” was too obviously a bad translation.  Could this one word really mean “grave” and “hell?”  Those are extremely different!  Interestingly, the Old Testament contains zero mention of torment after death, and in some cases even says there is no consciousness after death at all! (see Ecclesiastes 9:10 below, for example).  My point is, sheol cannot and does not mean what we think of as “hell,” in part because there was and is no such concept as “eternal conscious torment” in ancient Israel, or even in Judaism today.  

  • Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”  -Not exactly the “eternal conscious torment” of “hell.”

As for hades, a Greek word used in the New Testament, it seems that all modern Bible versions chose to leave this word untranslated because, as with sheol, the translators recognized that it clearly does not refer to a place of eternal torment, but simply to the invisible residence of those who have physically died.  The use of hades in the Bible itself, as well as in other Greek writings from the same time-period, show this to be the case quite clearly.  Even the KJV translates hades as grave, but only in a single instance, where “hell” simply wouldn’t fit.  Giving further support to the notion that hades is not a place of eternal torment is the fact that the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament used widely in Jesus’ day, translates the Hebrew word sheol with the Greek word hades, indicating the two were understood to be synonymous.  The New Testament itself also shows this: Acts 2:27 records Peter quoting from Psalm 16:10, and uses the word hades to translate sheol

Another very interesting point about hades is that it is not a Christian word or concept at all, but originates in Greek mythology, hundreds of years before Christ.  It seems to me that the Biblical writers used such a word and idea from Greek mythology NOT because it is a literal place created by God, but very simply because it was the commonly-used word in that time and place to refer generally to the “place of the dead.”  That’s it.  Again, it seems the authors of the Bible were simply using the primary word in their language to convey “the place of the dead” to their readers.  They didn’t intend to mean “a place of eternal torment after death,” as “hell” has come to mean, because that’s not what hades meant!  It is the modern religion of Christianity, not Christ and the first apostles, which is fascinated with the afterlife, to the detriment of life NOW.

Gehenna:

Seeing that sheol and hades are usually (and ideally) NOT translated “hell,” this leaves us with two words which ARE consistently translated as “hell” in nearly all modern translations: Gehenna (about 12 times) and tartaroo (once).  You may have heard of hades and sheol, since many Bibles leave them untranslated, but Gehenna seems to be less known – since it’s almost always translated “hell,” the only way to have heard of it is to look at the Greek language, which few care to do.  Whenever Jesus speaks of “hell,” the word is always Gehenna.  Excuse the pun, but what the hell is Gehenna?  Before I explain what it is, allow me to show you a fairly recent picture of it:

Gehenna (“hell”) Today

 

This is not a joke – that is truly a picture of Gehenna, i.e. “hell”!   I am capitalizing Gehenna because it is the proper name of a physical place, pictured above.  Gehenna is one of those physical locations which is named after a person or family; very much like how the state of Pennsylvania is named after William Penn, or how America is named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.  A simple biblical dictionary reveals that the Greek word Gehenna is a shortened word, adapted from two Hebrew words: ge (valley) and Hinnom (the proper name of some ancient person or family).  Gehenna, which is translated “hell” in virtually all Bibles, literally means “the valley of Hinnom,” or “the valley of the sons of Hinnom.”  That’s right, Gehenna was, and still is, a literal geographical place; a valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem very near where Jesus lived and ministered, which you can visit today, and which those alive when the Bible was written (especially in and around Israel, where Jesus ministered), would have been very familiar with.  No doubt many who heard Jesus speak of Gehenna had personally seen it with their own eyes.  Not only that, but the Old Testament, the only “Bible” the first believers had,  mentions Gehenna (the valley of Hinnom) multiple times, which would have made it even more familiar to them.    

I don’t want to be redundant, but feel it’s important to stress is that whenever Jesus mentioned Gehenna (“hell”), those whom he was actually talking to, and those who read his words not long after he lived, would absolutely NOT have thought about some after-death destination of eternal torment – not at all!  They would have simply thought of the familiar nearby valley (we will look at some of Jesus’ words below).  What comes to mind for a 21st Century American when they read of “hell” in the Bible is MUCH different from what Jesus had in mind, and what he intended for his hearers to have in mind.  This is no small matter!!!  Again, what we think of as “hell” is NOT what Jesus meant!  In warning about  the fires of hell, Jesus clearly wasn’t saying anyone was going to consciously burn in the small Valley of Hinnom, much less be eternally tormented there after they die.  Those are ideas which are entirely fabricated in the darkened mind and imagination of man – carnal in origin and spiritually damaging in effect. 

Here is one more picture of Gehenna/hell, taken in 1948:

Gehenna (“hell”) in 1948

At this point in my first draft of this post, I began to explain that Gehenna is connected with fire in the New Testament writings because it was used in Jesus’ day as a dump for trash and dead bodies, which was kept perpetually burning to dispose of its contents.  I have heard this for years, and read it myself in more than one “authoritative” source.  However, upon further research, it appears this is only a theory, and that the most ancient source that describes Gehenna in Jesus’ time as a perpetually burning dump was a Jewish Rabbi named Kimhi who wrote around 1,200 AD.  Not exactly a first-hand account.   So while the theory of Gehenna being a perpetually burning dump may well be true, it’s not a certainty, and I don’t want to present it as such. 

IF the “burning dump” theory is false, it seems plausible that the connection between Gehenna and fire has to do with the fact that the Valley of Hinnom was the location of pagan sacrifices, including human sacrifices, committed in and by ancient Israel.  This would likely have been known by nearly all Jews in Jesus’ time, and it seems they would have easily, even automatically, connected Gehenna with abomination,  idolatry, and death.  It is mentioned in such a capacity many times in the Old Testament.  A couple examples are:

  • 2 Chronicles 28:3 (NASB): “Moreover, (King Ahaz) burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom (literally “the sons of Hinnom, or Gehenna) and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel.”
  • Jeremiah 7:31 (ESV): “And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom (Gehenna), to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.” 

This is a very important thing to realize: unless we truly think that millions or billions of people are going to be eternally tormented in this small valley in Jerusalem, which is obviously ridiculous, then we have to recognize that, at least on some level, Jesus’ warnings about the fires of Gehenna (hell) are not literal, but (like many things in the Bible) used as a spiritual metaphor or representation.  That’s just a fact.

All this said, it’s worth noting that the Bible is actually shockingly silent about Gehenna.  For instance, Paul, who single-handedly wrote 2/3 of the New Testament and whose letters are preached from constantly in churches all across the world, NEVER used either Gehenna OR hades – the two primary words translated hell in the Bible!  Read any of his letters, in any translation, and you will not find the word “hell” even once.  You can even read his speeches and teachings that are recorded in the book of Acts – hell is completely absent.  Even for those who choose to insist: “Paul taught about hell, he just never named it,” it has to be admitted that this strange.  Similarly, the entire gospel of John has ZERO mentions of it, and the gospel of Luke has just one.  These things, especially the total absence of Gehenna in any of Paul’s writings, seems almost inconceivable to me if Gehenna/hell is THE place of eternal, conscious torment (the worst thing imaginable) which Jesus personally came to deliver all mankind from, and if the Bible is the only place where we can reliably learn this. 

In fact, besides one use of Gehenna by James (which we will look at and which clearly has nothing to do with eternal torment), Jesus is the only one who used this word in the entirety of the Bible!  Again, this is almost impossible to believe if hell is truly a destination of eternal torment that awaits all unbelievers, and which believers are specifically called to rescue men from by preaching and warning?  The answer to this conundrum is that hell isn’t a place of eternal conscious torment that awaits unbelievers – we have simply been misled!  There’s no shame in that, though.  In fact, it’s great!  If we realize we’ve been misled, we are then enabled to receive the truth!  The real shame, if there is any, isn’t in changing, but in realizing we were stubbornly wrong for so long.

Jesus’ Warnings About Gehenna/Hell:

It’s sometimes said that Jesus spoke about hell more than heaven, but this seems to me to be absolutely false.   In fact, in the ESV version of the Bible, the word “hell” appears in the four gospels a total of 12 times, while the word “heaven” appears 132 times!!!  Other translations have similar numbers.  I don’t want to get into the idea of “heaven” too much here (maybe in the future), but I do want to mention that the Greek word translated “heaven” is ouranos, which literally means “the expanse of the sky,” and is used numerous times in scripture to refer simply to the physical sky.  Most of the time, ouranos/heaven is used a spiritual sense, referring to the “higher” rule and way of God/Spirit, as opposed to the more base, corrupt “lower” kingdoms and ways of the world.  Most of Jesus’ parables were directly about the “Kingdom of Heaven” which he indicated was both present and future.  It seems to me that Jesus was describing how believers should act as CURRENT citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and declaring that in doing so, we will literally be bringing heaven to earth.  In that sense, Jesus famous statement “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” makes more sense: Jesus was literally embodying what spiritual citizens of heaven live like, and then called those who would listen to him to likewise love one-another and and walk in the Spirit.  

More on that later, perhaps.  My point is that in a similar way, I am increasingly convinced that when Jesus spoke of Gehenna (hell), he absolutely did not mean a physical place we go forever when we die, but was using a familiar physical place, which was associated with corruption and fire, as a spiritual metaphor to illustrate the destructive, consuming fire that will burn ALL MEN.  Yes, I said ALL people will undergo the fires of Gehenna/hell – Jesus clearly said so himself, as you’ll see below I am also reminded of John the Baptist saying that Jesus will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  That fire isn’t for “unbelievers,” but everyone!   The fire Jesus baptizes with, I believe, is the same fire represented by Gehenna.  The fire of Jesus is a fire of love.  Love NEVER torments as a means of justice, and never causes pain without purpose or end.  Perfect love consumes, without fail.  

In looking at the Biblical writings, it seems Jesus mentioned hell/Gehenna on four unique occasions (sometimes more than once per occasion): the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 and Mark 9, when speaking of the persecution his disciples would face in Matthew 10, when warning about avoiding stumbling-blocks in Matthew 18, and when proclaiming woe to the Pharisees in Matthew 23.  I would again point out that those who Jesus was speaking to, being familiar with the nearby Valley of Hinnom, would have clearly understood Jesus was not speaking literally, but using a familiar place of corruption and pagan fire-sacrifices to make a spiritual point about the “fiery destruction” that awaits their own inward corruption.

I also noticed that only once, in Mark 9:43, did Jesus connect Gehenna with anything resembling “eternal.”   It’s not surprising that this one occasion is most often used by those who want to say that Jesus taught eternal conscious torment.  When this verse is looked at by itself, it’s easy to see how it came to be understood as something like: “avoid sin at all costs or you risk being eternally burned in hell.”  I don’t think that’s what it means at all, however (not to mention, doesn’t that contradict traditional gospel message of “saved by grace through faith, not of works?).  Here is the verse:

  • Mark 9:43-44 (NASB): “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

As a general rule, it is unwise to make a point using a verse separated from its context.  Allow me to quote the larger context of this verse, because there are some fascinating, shocking and very illuminating things that can be seen:

  • Mark 9:42-50 (NASB): “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,44[where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 45 If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46 [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 47 If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.  49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. (Did you catch that???)  50 Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” 

There are some really important points I’d like to make here. First of all, when Jesus mentions “unquenchable fire,” he’s not describing a physical place, but is actually quoting from Isaiah 66:24, using the words of Israel’s prophets to make a point, as he did many times when speaking to Israelites.  But more importantly, notice what Jesus says in verse 49: EVERYONE will be “salted” with this fire!  What this means, if you can accept it, is that the ”unquenchable”  fire of hell will burn EVERYONE.  This is what Jesus said, quite clearly in fact.  Does this mean everyone is going to be eternally tormented?  Of course not!  What it means is that this fire is spiritual, not physical, and serves to purify, not to eternally torment.   One might ask: how could “unquenchable” fire mean anything other than “never-ending” fire?   Unquenchable seems to simply mean that this fire cannot be avoided and cannot be snuffed out until it entirely consumes whatever it is burning. In that sense, it is very much “unquenchable.”  In Greek, the word translated “eternal” means “lasting an age” or “an undefined, long period of time,” not “never-ending into all eternity.” In a future post, I intend to look at the meaning and original words and true meaning behind “unquenchable,” “eternal,” and “everlasting.”

So if Jesus isn’t speaking of literal fire, then what IS he talking about? In the New Testament, fire is often used to represent purification and refining.  In actuality, I believe this Fire is the presence of God/perfect love Himself.  Here are a few examples:

  • Hebrews 12:28-29 (NASB): “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service (not composed of wood, hay, or stubble) with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
  • James 5:2-3 (NASB): “Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire.”
  • Jude 22-23 (NASB): “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
  • Matthew 3:11 (NASB): “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The fire of God, which according to Jesus ALL will be “salted” with, most certainly DOES unquenchably burn and consume, BUT, it only burns and consumes what is of the flesh, what is impure.  I believe flesh burns away in this fire in a similar way that darkness is dispelled in the presence of light, and lies vaporize in the presence of truth.  A primary message of Jesus (and the apostles) was to call men to repent of law-mindedness, embracing their identity as Sons of God, walking in the Spirit rather than by their traditions and darkened natural minds.  In other words, it seems to me that Jesus and the apostles were calling men to embrace the reconciliation which was already accomplished – not to “attain” it somehow.  The issue seems to be for us to let go of carnal ways of thought and action (which include a lot of our religious thinking and ways)!   Think about this: how many of us have any way of understanding and living that isn’t totally pure and spiritual?  Maybe it’s “good,” but still man-made?   How many of us also have been hypocritical or selfish?  How about misled, yet stubborn?  All of us!  Therefore, either in this age or in the ages to come, how many of us must and will undergo the “fire” of purification?  All of us – just as Jesus said!  Scripture teaches that the Kingdom of God is present and destined to increase, and we know that ultimately there will be no wickedness in it.  The unquenchable fire, I believe, if for this purpose.  It’s not about our personal destiny, it’s about the Kingdom of God!!!  

A common reaction to this line of thinking is: “if everyone goes to heaven, why even follow God at all?”  There are many reasons I don’t like that logic, and I won’t get into them all here.  One obvious answer is that even if the fire of God is ultimately purifying, that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant, right?  Having one’s entire life and identity revealed to have been based on a lie and without substance, then burned away is no trivial matter.  I also tend to agree that some people, who have greatly resisted the Spirit of God and been a source of stumbling and harm to others, will have to undergo more “burning” than others – there is more flammable “wood, hay and stubble” there – again, no trivial matter!

Another point is that scripture teaches that through Christ ALL men have ALREADY been reconciled.  This can’t change, because Jesus died and rose for all, AS all.  The fire of Gehenna and the lake of Fire in revelation can’t prevent this, and you don’t torture someone you are reconciled with.  Instead, it seems to me these fires serve to burn away what isn’t in line with that reconciliation.  In fact, everything that opposes God isn’t “real” anyway, if you define “real” as: “part of the New Creation.”  The old isn’t going to be tortured, it’s destined for destruction by fire.

This seems to be what Paul was speaking of in this passage:

  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (NASB): “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Getting back to the passage from Mark 9 about being cast into hell, I also noticed that Jesus seems to be making one overall point using several metaphoric examples.  His basic point seems to be this: “it would be better” to undergo physical drowning, amputation or even death rather than to cause or experience spiritual “stumbling.”  Without question, this is a very sobering point!  HOWEVER, I think we all realize Jesus isn’t saying anyone who is a source of stumbling is going to be drowned in the ocean with a huge rock around their neck, or that the way to avoid hell is to literally amputate your extremities or rip out your eyes – both of those are clearly figures of speech to emphasize his point.  Therefore, we have no more reason from this passage to say that people who “stumble” will be literally cast into Gehenna to burn forever than we do to say that anyone who causes stumbling will or should be thrown into the ocean with a huge rock around their neck.   Both of these things, which Jesus mentioned together, are metaphors: physical examples used to make a spiritual point.   

Other Uses of Hell in the New Testament:

Outside of Jesus’ occasional mentions of Gehenna in the gospels, the word appears precisely ONCE in the rest of the New Testament.  I have to point out once again, if Gehenna/hell is THE place of eternal torment that Jesus came to save us from, couldn’t we expect at least Paul, Peter, or John to tell us about it by name at least once?  Anyway, here is the single non-Jesus use of Gehenna in the rest of the New Testament (notice how it is clearly metaphoric):

  • James 3:6 (NASB): “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell (Gehenna).”

Of course, the valley near Jerusalem is not actively inflaming anyone’s physical tongue.  Once again, Gehenna is chosen as a metaphor because it was a familiar and connected with fire and corruption.   What James seems to be saying is that our “tongue” (our thoughts put to speech) is, similar to fire, very powerful and destructive, being capable of quick and pervasive misery, both to ourselves and others.  To avoid being agents of such destruction, we must be sure that our speech is kept in check by and is in accordance with the Holy Spirit.  Our minds must be renewed to see the greatness and fullness of the Reconciliation, Love and Truth that has been at hand for at least the last 2,000 years.  

Finally, the last and only other use of the word “hell” in the New Testament (outside of the KJV’s poor translation of hades), is found in 2 Peter 2:4, which reads:

  • 2 Peter 2:4 NASB: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment…”

In this verse, the word translated hell is the Greek word tartaroo, a form of tartarus.  This is the only use of this word in the entire Bible.  Like hades, tartarus is not a Christian word or idea, but originates in Greek mythology, long before Christ.  In Greek mythology, tartarus was considered to be the lowest level of hades, serving as a prison for divine beings such as the Titans.  Once again, it seems to me that Peter was not trying to make a literal “doctrine” about tartarusa place that is thoroughly pagan in origin and meaning.  Instead, it seems most likely that, exactly as with hades, he was simply using a word and idea which would have been very familiar to his audience in order to make a larger point about the chastisement of the wicked. 

I will end with that!  I hope this was helpful and enlightening.  Do some more research yourself if you want, but please take these things seriously.  As I said last time, what is at stake is the way we understand and represent God’s nature and character, and those tend to permeate into our emotions and relationships.  I intend for much more to come on this overall subject!  Bless you all. 

 

Footnotes:

    1. 2 Corinthians 5:14 ESV: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;”
    2. Hebrews 2:9 ESV:  “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
    3. Hebrews 10:2,10,12-18 ESV:  (2) “Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? (10) And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (12) But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, (13) waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (14) For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (15) And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, (16) “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” (17) then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (18) Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
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Posted by on November 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I Don’t Believe In “Eternal Hell,” Pt. 1: Introduction

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For several years now I have been convinced that no one will end up in “eternal, conscious torment” (ECT), and lately I tend to believe that everyone will be reconciled to God through Christ someday, in some fashion.  Any view similar to this is sadly considered heretical and dangerous today, although it seems to me that, in comparison with “eternal torment,” to believe that all will be reconciled, or at least that the wicked will be destroyed, is far more God-exalting, scripturally honest, and consistent with the belief of the majority of early Christianity, prior to the heavy influx of pagan ideas and practices beginning in the 300’s AD. 

Many who read this might say: “the Bible teaches plainly about eternal torment, hell, and the lake of fire, so anything like universal reconciliation is clearly wrong.”  I am well aware that the Bible mentions these things, and I intend to look in depth at scripture in posts to come.  The truth is, the Bible is not as plain, literal, and clear-cut as people like to think.  If it is, how can you explain the vast differences in belief and doctrine among good, intelligent, Biblically-devoted people?!  All I’m saying here is that while the Bible does mention hell, torment, gnashing of teeth, the lake of fire, etc., a closer look reveals there is no solid basis to teach that all “unbelievers” who die end up permanently and unendingly in what amounts to sadistic eternal torture.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences, by the way.

I don’t ask or expect you to believe something just because I do.  All I ask is that you keep an open mind and heart to the possibility that the particular way you now believe is misguided.  After all, hasn’t that been true of all of us more times than we would like to admit?!  Isn’t refusing to even consider a reasonable alternative view an unhealthy, cultish trait?  Keeping a pliable mind and heart, which seeks truth above comfort, familiarity, sentiment, and tradition is the only way true repentance can take place.  And repentance is necessary to progress in one’s salvation.

Like many my age, I grew up reluctantly believing that eternal torment in hell is the fate of millions. I accepted this mind-bogglingly terrible idea primarily because I trusted those who taught it to me, I was familiar with a few scriptures which seemed to support it, and I was almost never exposed to other viewpoints.  A few things contributed to changing my belief about hell: first, I began to read scripture on my own, with a desire to learn rather than to support my current beliefs, and I began to read and talk with those who saw differently (and deeper) than me.  I saw scriptures that actually contradicted eternal torment, and supported the idea of universal reconciliation, which in my experience no pastor or teacher had ever mentioned.   Also, as I got older, I had some personal experiences and met others with personal experiences of the all-encompassing love and mercy and compassion of God.  The biggest factor, perhaps, was that I continued taking seriously the Biblical account of the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, who in Hebrews 1:3 (MLV) is said to be: “…the brightness of (the Father’s) glory and the exact representation of his essence…”  Jesus even said of himself: “he who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

I think most would agree, it is no minor detail that the words and the actions of Jesus (again, the exact representation of God as a human) are completely contrary to the idea of any sort of eternal torment or punishment (not to mention, the idea of “eternal punishment” doesn’t even make sense, considering men are extremely fallible and vulnerable and live such short lives).   It’s certainly true that in Jesus’ zeal for God’s Kingdom, he was sometimes harsh (though always correct) when speaking to the Jewish religious leaders, who like many religious leaders still today, continually misrepresented, hindered, and opposed the truth of his Father, thereby keeping his precious brothers and sisters under needless bondage and prevented from receiving their inheritance as sons of God. 

Despite these stubborn, prideful and greedy hypocrites opposing all he and his Father stood for and did, continually resisting the truth and ultimately torturing and murdering him, Jesus never once retaliated with violence or harm – in fact, he consistently taught and lived out that we are to love our enemies and persecutors.  When one of Jesus’ closest followers cut off the ear of someone arresting him, Jesus rebuked his friend but healed his enemy.  Some of his very last, painful breaths were used to plead for the forgiveness of those actively torturing and killing him. 

Sure, we can explain this away, as many have, by saying that Jesus was only showing God’s mercy while on earth, but that later he will show His wrath.  But that’s not what Jesus himself said.  He said if you have seen him, you have seen the Father – that the two were one.  He said that he spoke and acted from what he heard and saw from his Father.  The Bible DOES mention wrath in a few cases – but this wrath was tied to the breaking of the law, and we are not under the law!  This wrath also does not necessitate eternal torture!  I see no genuine, honest way of reconciling the plain accounts of God in the flesh teaching and living out truth and mercy with the idea that this same God has designed a world in which eternal torture waits for those who don’t “accept” His son, or who fail to meet some other standard.

Another issue I have with eternal conscious torment (apart from scripture, which I promise I will get to in posts to come) is that it is thoroughly toxic to human beings. At best, I feel it hinders intimacy with God and encourages the development and presentation of a false identity as fearful servant, which greatly hinders intimacy and freedom, rather than our true identity as sons and daughters, with intimacy and joy and freedom.  The false identity of “fearful servant” often leads to apathy, confusion, frustration, powerlessness, spiritual blindness, and devotion to traditions.  More specifically, the idea of eternal torment fuels many negative mental states, including anxiety, doubt, religious foolishness, fanatacism and even psychosis.

Maybe you have heard of Andrea Yates, the mother from Houston, Texas who in 2001 drowned her 5 young children in their bathtub while her husband was at work. Now, apart from any religious beliefs she did or did not have, there is no question that she was very mentally ill and had been for at least two years.  No sane person, regardless of their belief about hell, would do what she did.  It was inexcusable and terrible beyond words. HOWEVER, one reason she gave to police for killing her children was that they had been acting badly and she didn’t want them to end up in hell. She is on record saying her children were being “unrighteous” and that “they didn’t do things God likes.” Therefore, she said, she believed that if they died as children: “in their innocence, they’d go to heaven.” The sickening reality is that the (false) idea of eternal torment, if you are brave (or mentally compromised) enough to truly and fully consider it, is so terrible it can create a twisted logic that can actually justify killing children, which in Mrs. Yates’ mentally diseased state she was actually able to carry out.

This twisted logic is actually quite simple and quite sound, but it requires the addition of one other mainstream Christian idea, known as the “age of accountability.”  This idea  basically says that children under a certain, undefined age will go to heaven when they die even if they do not “believe in Jesus.”  This popular idea has even less scriptural basis than eternal torment, but was made up and is adhered to by those who cannot let go of the idea of eternal torment but also cannot stomach the thought of children going there (a good question is why it’s so much easier to accept teenagers or adults going there).  So, with that in mind, the logic goes like this: If it’s true that those who die as children are guaranteed to go to heaven – a place of eternal peace and comfort and happiness with God – but those who die after childhood have a very real chance of going to hell – a place of eternal torture without hope – then it is far better to die as a child then run that risk.

By this logic, a strong case could be made that Mrs. Yates actually acted in a very “sane” and even “loving” manner by sacrificing her reputation and freedom to make SURE that none of her children ended up in eternal torment by killing them as children.  HOW SICK AND PATHETIC IS THAT???!!! Here’s one terrible outcome of eternal, conscious torment: if this truly is the immediate and permanent fate of all “unbelievers” who die, then the best options are to either never exist at all, or, if you have the misfortune of being born, to die a quick and painless death as a young child.  I’m sorry, but IF the premises of eternal hell and the age of accountability are true (thankfully I’m convinced they aren’t), then Mrs. Yates’ logic was sound. 

I have personally known people who, though they would never harm their children themselves, actually prayed that God would kill their children, because they saw them making choices or choosing a lifestyle they felt would end up landing them in hell, to suffer eternal torment.  That line of thinking is madness.  Is the best that the Body of Christ and ministers of God can offer that death as a child is ultimately “safest?” Of course not!  Especially not on this side of the victory of Christ on the cross, which the Bible says “reconciled the world,” was a victorious sacrifice offered “once for all,” and which “took away the sin of the world”?  Again, is eternal torture in line with the love and healing and compassion of Jesus, or the revelation of the Father given by the apostles in the Bible, who is said to be kind and merciful even to the unrighteous, and who scripture plainly says will be All in all?  No!  Not at all!

The walk of a believer is spiritual, and based on one’s identity as a son, with freedom and joy.  It’s time we join this inevitable progression out from following the ideas of flesh conceived in fear and ignorance, as familiar and comfortable as many of them have become to us, and into the truths revealed by the inward Spirit of divine love and demonstrated in Jesus and the apostles.  This will mean change.  It takes some courage, but the one who leads us is the best guide there is, and there is ultimately nothing to fear!  Will you join me? I could use your help. Bless you.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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The Suffering Servant

Sometimes, I will send a text to myself when I have a thought I don’t want to forget.  The following quote is an expanded version of one such text I sent myself while thinking about the nature of love:

Love is “unfair,”  in favor of the beloved.  Love looks like a suffering servant – it’s the strong bearing with the weak, it’s putting others above oneself, it’s choosing mercy instead of judgment, it’s speaking grace and life in the face of death.  Because love doesn’t “know after the flesh,”1 it cannot and does not react or respond; certainly not with evil.  Love, being founded in the nature of God Himself, CANNOT be changed or overcome.2   Love isn’t painful in and of itself, but until the world is matured and perfected, love must and will take the form of suffering servanthood.  We must know this: if the Kingdom/Reign of God (the expression of the nature and will of the Spirit) is ever to be manifested on earth, it must do so through the body of Christ on earth!  As such, those who are Christ’s cannot repay evil with evil – not even a slight evil with an even slighter evil.  As should be obvious, repaying evil with evil, violence with violence, anger with anger, selfishness with selfishness, insult with insult, etc. simply perpetuates evil.  To end this cycle, someone has to absorb blows and insults, without returning them.  Someone has to walk in a higher plane than reasonings and reactions based on ego and fear; demonstrating the nature of God by showing KINDNESS to those who are undeserving, by speaking truth and life in spite of persecution, by both proclaiming and demonstrating God’s nature and mind.  This, by the way, does not mean pointing out “sin” any time you see it.  Doing that is actually administering DEATH.  It means showing and offering Life.

As I’ve said many times before, I am optimistic for the future.  I am confident that death will be swallowed up by life, light will banish darkness, truth will prevail over lies, Christ will replace Adam, and love will overcome fear.  In fact, I am certain of these things, because I am certain that in Christ, from the foundation of the world, they have already been accomplished!  Time and space place inescapable constraints on flesh and blood, but they have no such constraint on Spirit, where the end is known from the beginning and both past and future are merely parts of one whole.  In the Spirit, death IS swallowed up by life, and love IS the foundation of all things.  Just how and when these things will manifest in time and space, I don’t know. But I am confident they will.  Now, I am very aware that there is much I don’t know!  I am just increasingly confident that Christ has fully prevailed, so therefore NOTHING can stop the manifestation of love and truth and Life!

It bears repeating: true love often involves suffering.  Love suffers because it absorbs the various abuses that stem from fear, ignorance, and unbelief, but never returns them.  Paul wrote that Christ’s body is to “overcome evil with good.”  Love overcomes evil in the same way that light overcomes darkness, and truth overcomes lies.  Love suffers yet overcomes, because it doesn’t change or cease when things are difficult or when opposition is strong.  Jesus, the greatest man to ever live, allowed himself to be abused, beaten to shreds and crucified by prideful religious fanatics and a callous military and political system – in order to save them all!

I’ll end with this: what if the “salvation” Paul wrote of has more to do with aligning ourselves with and then bringing the “Kingdom of God/Heaven” to earth than it does with going to “heaven” when we die!?  What if, as the body of Christ, WE are the only ministers of salvation this world has – a world that still remains in darkness and needs it!  What if love is the necessary foundation, without which any preaching is useless?  What if the way we minister this salvation is no longer primarily by “preaching,” but by sacrificial LOVING, even if that means physical death!  Are we willing, or willing to be willing?  Our Spirit is.

Be blessed my friends, thanks for reading.

 

 

  1. 2 Corinthians 5:16
  2. 1 John 4:7, 1 Corinthians 13:8
 
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Posted by on August 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Speech and The Two Truths

John 21:25 ESV: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

1 John 3:18 ESV: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Ephesians 4:29 ASV: “Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear.”

In recent years, I have increasingly begun to value the practical instruction Paul gives in his Biblical letters; instruction about how those who are Christ’s are to live and relate to others.  While I still value and enjoy the deep spiritual revelations Paul shared, I think it is wise to be wary of intellectual assent without real-life application.  Let’s not forget that the same Paul who proclaimed profoundly deep revelation also said things like: “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing,”1 and “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”2 . It is easy to over-value knowledge and under-value applied love, because knowledge in itself demands no change, while love is always accompanied by humility and sacrifice (and glory)!  A question I’m asking myself is this: do I really “know” a Truth if it is not being expressed in the way I conduct myself in the world and relate to others?  

Ephesians 4:29, quoted above, is an example of one such practical instruction.  While it sounds like an ancient version of the modern saying: “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” it is actually much deeper than that.  To understand more fully what Paul was saying, let’s start by looking at the definition of some of the Greek words that this verse was translated from:

Corrupt:”

 Greek transliteration: “sapros.”

Definition:
1. rotten, putrefied
2. corrupted by one and no longer fit for use, worn out
3. of poor quality, bad, unfit for use, worthless

-Sapros seems to roughly mean: “worn out, unfit, useless.”

Edifying“:

– Greek transliteration: “oikodome.”

– Definition:
1. (the act of) building, building up
2. metaph. edifying, edification
a. the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness
3. a building (i.e. the thing built, edifice)

“Edifying” seems to be a good translation of oikodome, which seems to mean “to build up, to strengthen.”

Grace:”

-Greek transliteration: “charis.”

– Definition:
1. grace
a. that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech
2. good will, loving-kindness, favour
a. of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues
3. what is due to grace
a. the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace
b. the token or proof of grace, benefit
1. a gift of grace
2. benefit, bounty
4. thanks, (for benefits, services, favours), recompense, reward

Charis is a harder word to pin down, as it describes something divine.  If I had to define grace, I would say it is “the influence of the divine.”  When a human heart is influenced by grace/the divine, it will always, at least in some way, change the way one lives and relates to others.

With these things in mind, here is what I think Paul essentially meant in Ephesians 4:29: 

Be very careful not to say anything that is spiritually or otherwise useless or harmful to the hearer.  Instead, as a child of God, what comes out of your mouth should be only things which give Life – things which are of the Truth and are helpful and useful in building up the hearer into a realization and manifestation of their identity as a son of God and a member of Christ’s body.  In so doing, you are literally acting as Christ – as a minister of God’s divine grace and Life and peace to that person – instead of a minister of self-awareness, death and condemnation.  

A friend of mine once pointed out that there is a difference between things that are true, and Truth itself.  Things that are true, also known as “facts,” are things which deal with the natural realm.  Statements like “I feel sad,” or “the sky is blue” are in the realm of the “true.”  However, Truth, with a capital T, is deeper, being exclusively reserved for the realm of the divine.  Truth cannot be changed by what is “true” or by “facts.”   Truth has to do with that which is part of the fabric of creation, of God’s nature Himself.  Statements such as “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God,”3 like “one died for all, therefore all died,” like “(Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world,” are in the realm of Truth.  Truth has to do with the heart and will of God for mankind, which was most clearly demonstrated in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.  We don’t need to ignore facts, but we cannot let facts (truth) become more real to us than Truth.

What I’m saying, and I believe much of what Paul was saying, is that those who are Christ’s MUST speak and call to the divine within each person, speaking the Truth of their identity and being as sons.  This is what it means to speak things that edify, instead of things that corrupt.  Pointing out sin, as many Christians have erroneously taken it upon themselves to do, only INCREASES guilt, shame, and condemnation in the world – it is literally anti-christ to act as a law-giver and bring guilt.  It may be “true” that men are sinners, but it’s NOT Truth.  

Finally, the member’s of Christ’s body cannot just “proclaim” Truth, we must embody it.  IF and when we “see” Christ as our life, as the life of the world, we must let this truth permeate all of our being.  While this is certainly a lot deeper than merely “say nice things,” it includes that!  A better way of thinking about it is not to “be nice,” but to be Truthful and Edifying, building our world and it’s people into their identity as sons, rather than reinforcing a false identity as sinners, which just creates more sin and death (which scripture clearly says was the whole purpose of the law)!  Amen.  

 

  1. 1 Corinthians 13:2 WEB
  2. 1 Corinthians 8:1 WEB
  3. Colossians 3:3
  4. 2 Corinthians 5:14
  5. 1 John 2:2
 
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Posted by on August 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Meekness and Life in Knowing Christ Crucified

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As recorded in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, the apostle Paul said this about his visit to a group of believers in Corinth:  “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

That’s a bit dense, but it seems the essence of what Paul was saying is something like this: “Because I wanted you to encounter God the Father rather than a human ego known as “Paul,” I chose to conduct myself among you in meekness and simplicity, rather than with severity and grandiosity.”  It seems that many times, Paul took pains to be humble and meek.  2 Corinthians 10:10, to give another example, shows that many people found Paul to be less “impressive” in person than in writing.  He intended it that way.

Somehow, Paul makes a connection between the exclusive “knowing” of Christ crucified and a conduct of meekness, sincerity, and simplicity. What does that mean? Here is a suggestion: “knowing Christ crucified” = recognizing Christ AS one’s life(!) and therefore walking in humility and sacrificial love. Scripture says clearly: all men (all of Adam) died in Christ, and Christ is their true life and identity. The recognition of Christ AS one’s life is a natural product of knowing the truth that in Christ ALL were crucified and risen anew. It’s not a matter of changing or doing, it’s a matter of seeing and integrating. Consider the following verses:

  • Colossians 3:3-4: “For you (self/ego) have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When (literally: “whenever”) Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died…”
  • Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I (Paul/ego) who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
  • Romans 6:6,11: “We know that our old self (old man) was crucified with him…” “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
  • Colossians 3:1: “If (since) then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…”

The knowing of Christ crucified caused Paul’s meekness because “knowing” has nothing to do with a mental agreement of fact, but everything to do with integration with revealed truth, which then naturally leads to the expression of that truth outwardly.  If that truth is that “Paul” the ego has died and Christ lives in him, then to know/integrate with that truth will mean the suppression of that (in this case brash) ego and the manifestation of the Life of Christ – a Life of love and truth and grace.  This is especially important when teaching others.  You don’t want them seeing YOU or receiving from YOU the ego; you want them seeing and receiving Christ the Life!  I’m not saying we are all identical robots.  We are all unique and amazing expressions and functions of the body of Christ on earth, and for that very reason, we must be sure we are not presenting the dead ego/self, but Christ the Life!

So, can one really “know” a spiritual truth while ignorantly living in a contrary manner? Does one truly “know” Christ crucified if one still sees the ego/self/flesh as one’s life, and relates to others as that self/ego?  I think the answer to those questions is “no.” That answer concerns me, it inspires me to go deeper. Again, if Paul himself – the one who was able to truthfully claim to be a flawless Jew and later a gifted, revelation-endowed, miracle-working, fanatical evangelist of Jesus – if such a man took pains to ensure the ego/self known as “Paul” wasn’t seen, but Christ the Life was seen in him, how much more should you and I do the same? Let’s give this some serious thought, brothers and sisters. Bless you!

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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The Sting of Death (Root of Slavery Pt. 2)

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, (Jesus) himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, (15) and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (bondage).  -Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV

In my last post, found here, I made the case that the “devil” in Hebrews 2 is not an evil spiritual being.  “Devil” is translated from the Greek word diabolos; an adjective which means something like “an accuser.”  In this post I want to look at what this “accuser” actually is.  

The primary thing Hebrews 2 says about this devil/accuser is that it had the “power of death.”  To make sense of this, we have to understand that “death” is often used in scripture in a spiritual sense, referring to a state of separation from God (who is Life).  Here are a few examples:

  • Romans 8:6: “For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace…”  Just like darkness has no existence in itself, simply being the absence of light, so death has no existence itself, being the absence of Life.  The idea that the mind of the flesh IS death means is that there is nothing divine to be found in or given from the natural mind/imagination of man, which has not been refined by the Fire of God’s presence.

  • 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.”  Abides in death = dwells/lives in death.  This is clearly not speaking of physical death (or life), but of a state of separation from from God, who is Life.  Note also: love is THE sign of Life.

  • 1 Timothy 5:6: “…She who is self-indulgent is (spiritually) dead even while she (physically) lives.”

 

  • The devil having the “power of death” means it somehow facilitated a separation from God, and it creating a “fear of death” means it also reinforced the awareness of this separation.

 

Now, how did the devil create a separation from God?  To answer that, let’s look at a few other scriptures which mention death and its power. My comments are in blue.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:56 ESV:  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  -In other words, law empowers sin, and sin gives death it’s “sting.”  So the foundation of sin and “stinging” death is law.  Law—> sin —>death.

  • Romans 5:12-13 ESV:  “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.”  Again, crazy as it may sound, we see that law —> sin —> death.  

  • Romans 3:20 ESV:  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  -Justification NEVER comes by law, only knowledge of sin/violation does!  

  • Romans 7:5-6:  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  This is the same basic thing as said in the verses above: law—> sin —> death.  But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”  There are many parallels here with Hebrews 2.  Here in Romans, we are told law and the “written code” held men “captive.”  Hebrews 2 mentions a “life-long bondage” empowered by a “devil” which was destroyed through Jesus’ death.  It’s clear in this passage that “that which held us captive” is the law, also referred to as “the written code.”  So, the “captivity” of Romans 7 is the same thing as the “life-long bondage” of Hebrews 2. All this captivity and bondage stems from the law, aka “the written code,” which created sin and death.

Think of a speed limit: does the law give a reward to those who drive within the limit?  No!  Law doesn’t work like that!  Law’s ONLY function is to accuse; to identify and prescribe penalties to those who step outside it’s boundaries.  In this way, law creates both sin and “sinners.”   When we become self-aware and conscious of sin, then spiritually speaking, we “die.”  This is what took place when Adam and Eve at from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  They immediately saw their “nakedness,” BECAME AFRAID, and hid from God.   But, remember this: when Adam and Eve “sinned,” THEY hid from God, but HE went looking for them!   So here it is:

 

  • LAW is the “devil” of Hebrews 2.  Law accuses and thus gives rise to sin.  Sin then gives rise to death – an awareness of separation from God – through self-awareness and fear.  This also gives death a “sting,” causing people to be aware of and pained by it.  

To summarize: we know that the devil had the “power of death.”  By the same token, it is LAW which gives rise to sin, which then gives rise to death. The devil also facilitated a “fear of death.”  Again, law, by way of sin, gives death a fearful “sting.”  Third, the devil caused “life-long bondage.” Again, it is LAW which creates “captivity,” or bondage!  Here is one final scripture to support this idea:

In part 3 to come, I am going to look at how Jesus broke the cycle of “sin and death” and placed ALL men into a position of grace and life, though many remain ignorant of it.  Thanks for reading.  I know this may be a bit “dense,” but I hope it makes sense and you glean what you can.  Bless you!

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Women Are The Devil!? (The Root of Slavery Pt. 1)

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, (Jesus) himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, (15) and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (bondage).  -Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV

These verses contain a lot of big ideas, stating “the devil” imparted a “fear of death,” which then made one “subject to” (meaning “put under the authority of”) “lifelong slavery” (or bondage).  Put another way, this says: “the devil’s power created a fear of death, causing life-long bondage to those under his rule.”  Although (thank God!) Jesus broke this bondage once for all, I think it’s worth understanding what the devil and this bondage are or were, so we don’t somehow go back under it.  

To understand what all this means, we have to be open to the possibility that our current understanding is wrong, and that this is ok!  It also greatly helps to keep in mind that while the New Testament contains much truth and enlightenment we can benefit from, was not written TO us, in 2017 A.D. (possibly except for the gospels).  Certainly the book of Hebrews, which was written nearly 2,000 years ago to Jews living while the temple in Jerusalem was still standing, was not written TO us!  I could elaborate a lot more about this, but my point is that our understanding of scripture derails very quickly when we don’t keep the original audience and time-frame in mind.

So, looking again at Hebrews 2:15, the Greek word translated “slavery” or “bondage” is douleia.  This word, used four other places in the Bible, always refers to a “state of being” which was undesirable, immature, inferior, and temporary.  In fact, it is said to have already passed away in Christ!  Notice its use in these four scriptures: 

  • “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery (douleia) to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Romans 8:15 ESV)

  • “…that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage (douleia) to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21 ESV)

  • “Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery (douleia); she is Hagar.” (Galatians 4:24 ESV)

  • “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (douleia).” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

So, douleia is associated with death, the devil, fear, corruption, an old covenant, and a yoke of slavery!  Aren’t you glad Jesus defeated the devil and delivered us?!  

That leads me to the main issue I want to explore: who or what does “the devil” refer to?  You might be surprised, as I was at first, to learn that this term does not necessarily refer to an evil spiritual being.  The Greek word translated “devil” is diabolos, which is not a name and does not refer to a specific being.  Diabolos is an adjective, a descriptive term, literally meaning “an accuser, a slanderer.”  Anyone or anything which slanders and accuses a child of God is a/the devil!  Consider these scriptures:

  • 2 Timothy 3:2-3 ESV:  “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous (diabolos), without self-control, brutal, not loving good…”   –Here, we clearly see Paul writing that PEOPLE will be diabolos (devils)…

  • Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers (diabolos) or slaves to much wine.”  (Titus 2:3 ESV)

  • Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers (diabolos), but sober-minded, faithful in all things. (1 Timothy 3:11 ESV)

Again, very literally, people who slander others are “devils,” and judging strictly by scripture’s use of this term, it seems women were particularly prone to being devils (kidding)!

Now, I’m not arguing for or against the idea that there is a spiritual being or force known as “the devil.”  My point is simply to show that the term “devil” in the Bible doesn’t necessarily or always refer to such a being, and, as you are probably gathering, I strongly believe Hebrews 2 is such a case where “devil” isn’t referring to an evil spiritual being.  In my next post, I hope to show why I believe this, what the “devil” refers to in this passage, and look at how he/it empowered the “fear of death” and what “life-long slavery” referred to.  I hope this has made you think!  Stay tuned.  

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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