Sunday, 29 November 2009
Out of the Theologlical closet: I am an Annihilationist (Pt.1)
Well, we have come to our final post in the 'series'. The likelihood is that I will post more on each of the subjects in future giving a little more depth and addressing some subjects that I've skimmed over or ignored all together (e.g. Christian Perfection in Wesleyan thought). So, on to today’s confession: Annihilationism.
I often get the feeling that when people hear that one doesn't believe in the 'traditional' view of hell they are spewing some hogwash akin to this (Thanks Contemporary Calvinist). I don't disagree with Hell because I feel that it is not possible to see this as consistent with God's character (although I admit it has some problems), nor do I see it as an affront to the mind, but rather because I believe that people today understand as hell is not what the Bible teaches.
I won't bother giving a 'traditional' (I use apostrophes as I do not believe this view goes back to Christ) definition beyond the following as it is not the point of this post: A literal place of eternal torment for those who reject God. Let me also give a quick definition of Annihilationism with which you can use to manoeuvre in this post: Annihilationism is the belief that ultimately those who are not followers of Christ will be destroyed. There are various forms of this (as with the traditional view) but I hold that this involves some form of punishment before destruction too. With that said, as has become common place; let me give you a little background.
I was raised with the common evangelical view of Hell and fervently kept this through University. I was quite emphatic about it and saw it as an important part of evangelism ("turn or burn", although not that crass). Things changed however, and this may sound odd, when I was looking at what the bible said about the soul. However what I discovered lead me to look closer at what hell is and how the two concepts tie together. We will look at this together in this post and a few of the 'key' passages in relation to hell and see where we get to.
Before I go any further I want to, yet again, knock a false view that some people can hold toward Annihilationism. I take this quote from DesiringGod.org:
"Dorothy Sayers, who died in 1957, speaks a wise and faithful antidote to this kind of abandonment of truth.
There seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent references to the “cruel and abominable mediaeval doctrine of hell,” or “the childish and grotesque mediaeval imagery of physical fire and worms.”...
But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of hell is not “mediaeval”: it is Christ’s. It is not a device of “mediaeval priestcraft” for frightening people into giving money to the church: it is Christ’s deliberate judgment on sin. The imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from “mediaeval superstition,” but originally from the Prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it.... It confronts us in the oldest and least “edited” of the gospels: it is explicit in many of the most familiar parables and implicit in many more: it bulks far larger in the teaching than one realizes, until one reads the Evangelists through instead of picking out the most comfortable texts: one cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ. [emphasis mine] (A Matter of Eternity, 86)"
Now I respect my sister in Christ but I must disagree with her. I do not believe that this doctrine came from God but indeed, as she rejects, that it came from the (probably well intentioned) church later on. I wish to demonstrate that by reading the Biblical texts with an open mind, and with a fair reading, we will see that this well intentioned doctrine of Hell is found wanting in the Bible.
So what is it that led me to look here? I was challenged, although I can't remember who, to look at what the Bible says about the nature of the soul. The standard view is that souls are immortal, and by their very nature, do not die when our bodies do but live forever. It as suggested to me that this was a later idea influenced by Plato. After looking into this I discovered that this was indeed true. I will admit here that my view of what a soul is can be rather puzzled. Is it a synonym for a person, a word to describe the fullness of a person? Is it a separate entity, a 'spirit' which indwells a body (I would argue but are inseparable)? Answer is I don't know and it seems to be a rather confusing mix. I'm quite open to being enlightened on the matter. However, what seems quite clear is that it is not ontologically immortal. Here are a few texts which address the subject:
Gen 3 ~ Eat the fruit and die. Seeing as they are only alive as God breathed (soul-same word) into Adam that may infer that his soul will die.
Ezek 18 ~ The soul who sins will dies. (Here soul seems to mean person)
This however, as I'm sure you're shouting now, is at best loose.
It also came to me that the Bible speaks of Immortality being granted to the believer as a gift granted to the believer? If that was the case then how can the soul (of an unbeliever) be ontologically immortal? Here are a few texts:
Rom 2:7 ~ Eternal life given to those who by doing good seek glory and immortality.
1 Cor 15:53-54 ~ Mortal clothed with (given) immortality showing that death has been swallowed up.
1 Tim 6:15-16 ~ Only God is immortal.
2 Tim 1:10 ~ Jesus has destroyed death and brought immortality through the gospel.
So here immortality is of God and is granted to those who accept the gospel. I think this makes clear then that the soul isn't immortal in itself but rather has immortality granted (redeemed?) through the gospel.
This obviously lead me to ask what this means for the concept of Hell. Either the 'traditional' view is incorrect or God must make people immortal so that he can punish them forever, which seems inconsistent with what the Bible teaches about immortality. What we will do in a moment then is look at the 'key' passages which relate to this debate. Before we do that we are going to address where the word Hell comes from. As with many concepts we use English words to translate Biblical concepts. E.g. Evangeline=Gospel, Ekklisia= Church. The same is true with Hell. It is a Pagan word, of Norse background and related languages and traditions (so Wiki tells me), to refer to the after life, the hidden place. Nothing wrong with that in itself as Jesus does it (Hades= place of the dead in Greek mythology) but what I am concerned with is that this one word is used to translate various works which signify different things. They are: Sheol (Hb)/ Hades (Gk), Gehenna (Gk) and Tartarus (Gk).
Sheol/Hades: Hades is the word that is used to translate Sheol in the NT (E.g. Acts 2:27 quoting Psalm 16:10). It is the place where all the dead go once they die, believer and unbeliever alike, till 'the day' when they will be resurrected and judged. A debate can be made for a separation of Hades (as in Greek mythology) for the good and the wicked, E.g. Luke 23:43 "Today you will be with me in Paradise") although its difficult at this word is only used 3 times and the other two are used to talk of Heaven/New Earth. I think there is a case for separating them however as 2 Pet 2:9 seems to suggest that the ungodly will be punished whilst being held: "if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment". I must say I'm not set on this, but it is a possibility. Anyway, here are the words used:
Gehenna: Properly 'Valley of Hinnom'. A valley outside Jerusalem, which by Jesus' time was a rubbish pit used to burn rubbish in. In the OT it was a place where people sacrificed their children to Molech, built [temples] for Baal, and used fortune-telling, omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and necromancers. (2 Chron 28:3; 33:6; Jer 7:31; 7:32; 19:2; 19:4; 19:6; 32:35) Of particular note for out study now is Jer 7:32-33, "So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away." It is also worth noting that it was here that criminals were thrown after crucifixion and probably where Jesus would have ended up if it weren't for Joseph asking for the body to bury.
Tartarus: The lower region of Hades where the Titans were kept in Greek mythology. It is only mentioned once in the Bible, 2 Pet 2:4, "...God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment..." In Greek mythology the Titans, the sons of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Heaven) [N.B. Uranus was Gaia's husband and son!] were held here. (Anyone noticing a similarity with I Enoch?) Anyway, this is the place where the [fallen] angels were locked ready for judgement, and I do not feel if actually relevant to this debate so we shall not address this any further in this post.