Saturday, October 15, 2016

There is No Escape for the Wicked by Annihilation

As is commonly known, the Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists both deny the doctrine of a conscious, eternal punishment in Hell. Rather, they advocate a doctrine commonly known as "annihilationism," the belief that the wicked will be destroyed at the judgment. Thus, the punishment would be instantaneous, rather than eternal. There are other groups that also teach this doctrine, but the Witnesses and the Adventists are the best known.

The proper question is, Is their claim biblical? They would agree with me that this is the proper issue. They would say "yes," but I would definitely say "no." Why do I hold my opinion? One reason is Isaiah 48:22: "'There is no peace,' says the Lord, 'for the wicked.'" This isn't my only reason; for more, use the "annihilationism" tag at the bottom of the this article.

"There is no peace," say the prophet. They will have no respite from their judgment. And this isn't what some people claim, an eternal punishment for a limited time of sin. I agree, that would be unjust. Rather, those in Hell have all their restraints of culture and upbringing removed, and give free vent to their hatred of God. Just as they continue to curse Him for eternity, they continue to suffer the consequences for eternity. "There is no peace." Is that not the moral of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)? notice that the Rich Man never asks to be released from Hell. Rather, he asks for a modicum of relief, just a drop of cooling water (verse 24). And even that he doesn't want from Jesus - because he despises Him - but rather from Lazarus! Yet, he is denied even this minuscule respite, for "there is no peace for the wicked."

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Is a Literal Hermeneutic Appropriate to Biblical Prophecy?

There is an interesting verse in Hosea, that is, written by a prophet, which gives direction on how prophecy is to be interpreted:

"I [God] spoke to the prophets;
It was I who multiplied visions,
And, through the prophets, gave parables."
- Hosea 12:10

It is on that last line that I wish to focus: "Through the prophets, I gave parables." What is a parable? we have all heard that popular definition: "A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." A more-technical definition might be, "short stories that teach a moral or spiritual lesson by analogy or similarity." I think the point is the same either way. They are stories told to make a point, not as a narrative of a (necessarily) historical person or event.

In this verse, the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Prophet Hosea (II Peter 1:21), tells us that the prophecies of the Bible, at least in part, are parables. Just as one cannot take the parables of Jesus as literal, neither can you approach the parables of the prophets as literal.Of course, this is a generalization, and some discernment is necessary. Sometimes prophecies are literal, such as the prophecy of the coming of Cyrus, God's means of delivering Israel from her captivity in Babylon (Isaiah 44:28). But this verse from Hosea cuts down the date-setting and charts that are so popular among certain types of evangelical Christians. How does one discern which prophecies are, and which are not to be taken literally? Not by searching the newspaper for some obscure, incidental parallels, but by the analogy of faith, that is, by comparing scripture to scripture. Is the passage quoted in the New Testament? If so, how did Jesus and/or the Apostles interpret it? Is the image in it used in other Scriptures? How was it used? These latter two questions are especially important is understanding the Revelation of John. And, please, don't pull out the old canard of "double fulfillments" That dodge is never used by the Apostles! Rather, it is a fallback claim by someone who understands that a text doesn't teach his "system," but he wants to use it anyway. It is not a legitimate principle of hermeneutics.

Monday, October 3, 2016

What the Bible Says About Its Own Inspiration: Old Testament

I understand that an atheist, for example, won't be convinced by the Bible's description of itself as the Word of God. However, I'm not addressing that question here. Rather, I am presenting the Bible's testimony about itself as a first step. After all, if the Bible makes no claims of inspiration and inerrancy, then there is nothing to defend.

I want to look at three Old Testament passages.

First, Numbers 1:1: "The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt." This is a very simple profession. The Bible says of itself that it is a record, not of men's words about God, but of God's words to men about Himself. That is the essential starting point, and what separates the Bible from traditional myths of, for example, Greece and Rome. Those myths come from plays or poems written by professionals, and make no claim or pretense of supernatural origin. They are men's stories about their ideas of the spiritual reality, not even claiming to be from that reality. In contrast, the Bible sets forth an unequivocal claim to be the words of God, though recorded by men.

Second, turn to Deuteronomy 18:18-19: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put My words in his mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And whoever will not listen to My words that He shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him." This is a prophecy to Moses, predicting the coming of Christ, in His prophetic office (applied to Him in Acts 3:22). But that isn't my point in mentioning it here. the reason I cite it is because of its description of the inspirational process. What is the source of Moses's words (as he is the prophet to whom the words are given)? They are from the mouth of God. That is, as in Numbers 1:1 above, they do not have their origin in the mind of the prophet, but are rather given him by God to be recorded. So, again, the Bible claims for itself to have a divine origin (compare II Peter 1:21).

And third, turn to II Samuel 23:2-3: "The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; His word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me." So we see for a third time that an Old Testament figure, in this case King David, claims that the words that are recorded are not from his mind, or his imagination, but rather are from God.

This is far from an exhaustive list. Rather, I chose three examples to represent the consistent testimony of the Old Testament. The testimony to what? To its own divine inspiration. The implication of that is, first, that the professing Christian who denies the inerrancy of Scripture is denying the basis of the faith that he professes. It is a self-refuting profession, and proof that he is either ignorant of his faith, or that he is irrational. Furthermore, it puts the professing unbeliever on notice. There is no such thing as agnosticism, some vague profession that one is noncommittal. We must be flexible, our culture says! But Scripture says, "This is what God says. Believe it, or accept the consequences." There is no in-between, neutral position (Matthew 12:30). To the professing unbeliever, the Bible doesn't congratulate you on your sophisticated scepticism. Rather, it says that you are commanded to believe (Acts 17:30). If you refuse, then you are saying that you accept the consequences. Don't deceive yourself: unbelief is not a form of immunity, as if refusing makes you free of the requirements of God.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Sola Scriptura: Did God Give Us Secret Instructions through the Pope?

One of the claims of the Roman Catholic Church is the the Bible is not sufficient for the conversion and sanctification of the Christian. Rather, she says, the Apostles left a Sacred Tradition which has been passed from bishop to bishop, down through history, a process called "apostolic succession." As the Catholic apologetics site linked here says, "Isn't the Bible Alone [sic] sufficient for us without all of the 'Tradition' that pollutes the Word of God with man-made stuff?  The answer is absolutely not."

Against this teaching, the Reformers taught one of the five solas, "sola scriptura," Latin for "Scripture alone."

In support of the Protestant view, I want to look at one of the things that Scripture says about itself in II Peter 1:3-4 (emphasis mine): "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and
godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire."

First, I want to point out that these verses are from the Apostle Peter, the supposed first pope and founder of the apostolic succession of one pope to another. Second, I want the reader to notice the pronouns that Peter uses: "us" three times, and "you"  once. While he refers to "He" or "Him" several times, he never once says "I" or "me." "He," that is, God, has granted "us" "all things that pertain to [eternal] life and godliness." We whom? Peter and his readers, the same ones he addresses as "you"! His emphasis is on the sufficiency of the truth that he share already with his fellow Christians, not a secret that will be kept by the pope until some time that serves his purpose.

Peter, the very man claimed by Rome as the beginning of their apostolic superiority, says that all Christians have what we need for eternal life and sanctification. There is no secret tradition, whether sacred or otherwise, of information for which we are accountable.

If the claims of Rome are contrary to the words of the man they claim as their founder, why do they make them? To my mind the answer is obvious: if the hierarchy of Rome has information that is essential for our salvation, and that we can get in no other way, then she has an absolute control over our salvation. And that is the exact spiritual bondage against which John Hus, John Wyclif, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cramner, John Knox, and all of the other Reformers rebelled in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, and against which biblical Christian must battle even in our present day.

Monday, September 26, 2016

What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?

This question gets asked by all sorts of people: atheists, universalists (both the liberal and the supposedly-evangelical varieties), annihilationists. Anyone who opposes the justice of God eventually pops out this question as a final trump card. It really isn't so much.

Consider the Psalms.

In Psalm 19:1-4, David wrote:
"The heavens declare the glory of God,
     and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
     and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
     whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
     and their words to the end of the world."

In a poetic fashion, David here describes God's revelation of Himself in the creation. The inanimate creation doesn't use literal speech, obviously. However, the beauty, order, and balance of the universe tells us that it came from the hands of a God who provides both beauty and sustenance for His creatures. This is also described in Psalm 104:10-16, where various creatures are described looking to the hand of God to provide for their daily needs. Poetry, true, but does it not eloquently reveal that dumb animals have more spiritual sense that do most people?

An anonymous Psalmist made a similar point in Psalm 98:2: "The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations." This time it isn't physical sustenance that is the topic, but rather the holy nature of God and the salvation that He has provided His people. That is, if dumb animals can depend on God for their daily bread, then men should know to look to Him, not just for bread, but for our spiritual welfare, too.

It is this latter revelation that the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 1:18: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." But Paul looks at the other side of the equation. Where the Psalmists had described God's providential benefits to animals and to His people, Paul focuses on God's revelation of His wrath against unbelief. That is to say that there is no such thing as someone who has is ignorant of God, righteousness, and salvation or wrath. Rather, every man, woman, and child in the world has that information in every sensation coming to him from the world around him. However, the unbeliever hates that knowledge and suppresses it, puts it out of his consciousness, thinking thereby to avoid accountability for it.

So, in response to the question asked in the headline above, I ask a different question: should ignoring the truth exempt a person from accountability for that truth?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Our Need for a Mediator with God: the Gospel According to Job

"For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him,
that we should come to trial together.
There is no arbiter between us,
who might lay his hand on us both.
Let Him take his rod away from me,
and let not dread of Him terrify me.
Then I would speak without fear of Him,

for I am not so in myself."
- Job 9:32-35 

Scripture tells us that all men are sinners (Romans 3:23): "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That is a condition with eternal consequences, because sin kills us spiritually (Romans 6:23): "The wages of sin is death," and "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). Our sinful condition separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2): "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear." Why is that? Because He is a holy God, and sin is rebellion against Him, and insults Him (Habakkuk 1:13): "You [God] are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong."

This is the spiritual situation addressed by Job in the verses above. He saw the condition of his heart and the affront this was to God. He despaired, because he could see no solution to his separation from God. "How can I be reconciled to my God?" was the cry of his heart. "Who will arbitrate between a guilty sinner and an offended God?" Who will bridge the separation between them?

Did he cry out without hope? No, for he gives the answer a little later (Job 19:25-27): "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another." This is one of the earliest expressions of the Gospel in the Bible. Job expressed his hope without knowing that Redeemer by name. But we know Him, because He is revealed in the New Testament (I Timothy 2:5-6): "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time." That mediator, the arbitrator between sinful men and an offended God is the only God-man, Jesus Christ! "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved, for with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Romans 10:9-10).

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Psalmic Prophecy of the Calling of the Gentiles

In Psalm 66:1-4, we find these wonderful words: "Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise! Say to God, 'How awesome are Your deeds! So great is Your power that Your enemies come cringing to You. All the earth worships You and sings praises to You; they sing praises to Your name.'" The anonymous Psalmist makes a joyful call to the nations of the world to praise the God of Israel, the only true and living God. Then he makes a call equally joyous to God to take the Gentiles into His favor.

Let's consider, first, what it is not saying. Classical dispensationalism taught that the church was unknown in the Old Testament. Folks holding that system of doctrine claim that Jesus intended to create a political kingdom at His first coming, but was prevented by the unbelief of the Jews. As a result, He was forced to turn to the Gentiles, to build an unplanned church, until He returns to his plan for Israel during the millennium.

However, in this Psalm, we see that God had had a plan for bringing the Gentiles into His church long before Jesus's earthly ministry, and His Old Testament people knew about that plan (even if they lost sight of it by New Testament times). 

It is prophecies such as this one that are the basis of Paul's joyous hope for the Gentiles. That prospect was so valuable to him that he named himself the Apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13)! He understood the Hebrew prophecies to describe a turning of the Gentiles to the Jewish God, as those who "who were not My people" and "not loved" were instead to be called "sons of the living God" (Hosea 1:6, 8, 10; Romans 9:24-27). This is not "replacement theology" (as meaningless as that phrase is). While the Gentiles have benefited from the hardening of Israel, "Through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous" (Romans 11:11), and there is greater benefit yet to come, "if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean?" (verse 12), the benefit will also pass the other way, "a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved" (verses 25-26). When the number of Gentiles is complete, then ethnic Israel will again be revived, and the joining of the two groups will be so joyous as to be as if they had risen from the dead!