This chapter is written by Robert W. Yarbrough. The chapter has subheadings as follows:
Does Anyone Really Know What Jesus Taught
What Jesus Said (with 9 headings within this subheading)
Jesus’ Teaching: A Different Understanding
The Prima Facie Meaning of Jesus’ Statements on Hell
Jesus’ Teaching: Did It Come From Plato?
Conditionalist Scruples, Post 9/11 Belief, and Jesus’ Teaching
In the three paragraphs that open this chapter, Yarbrough asks, “Does the historic view (of hell, my clarification) find support in his teaching? Or, as many are now insisting, did Christ rather say that the wicked will at some point after death simply cease to exist rather than undergo eternal conscious suffering? So far, my initial impression is that this book focuses mostly on refuting annihilationism, the belief that the wicked dead will one day cease to exist in any form. As I continue to read through this book, we shall see if that is in fact the case.
Does Anyone Really Know What Jesus Taught?
Yarbrough begins by explaining that since the Enlightenment of the late 1700’s, belief in the truth of the Gospels has decreased. One group cited is The Jesus Seminar (www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/unmasking-the-jesus-seminar/), which has evaluated all of the texts claimed to be Jesus’ word and rated them on the probability of Jesus actually saying them. This group has laid waste to most of Jesus’ sayings and caused an untold amount of people to question the reliability of the Bible. Along with the Jesus Seminar, he credits recent writings that soften or outright question the inspiration and full authority of the Bible. He adds, “popular evangelicalism…in North America likes to dwell on feelings and blessings but not on unpleasant doctrines like hell.”
Yarbrough makes the following statement regarding the dissolving of the doctrine of hell in current evangelicalism saying, “The problem is that if Jesus spoke as frequently and directly about hell as Gospel writers claim, then it may not be the Christian message that we end up proclaiming if we modify his doctrine of posthumous existence…In sum, we should be wary of the temptation of our era to dilute the Bible’s message about hell because it is currently acceptable, not only in society but increasingly even in the church, to pick and chose what one wishes to believe. We should be skeptical of arguments that overturn age-old understandings of Scripture on ultimately speculative grounds.” He finishes this section saying that if hell is to be done away with, one has to do away with what Jesus said about hell.
Before we get into the proof-texting of the next section, What Jesus Said, I want to make a couple of brief comments. First, I agree with Yarbrough that there has been a swing in recent years to elevate feelings over written truth, on-going revelation of God apart from the Bible versus those who believe God’s revelation was completed when the canon of Scripture was closed (the collection of the current 69 books of the Bible was finished). When feelings are used as THE basis for understanding God today, how does the Christian separate his beliefs from any other world religious beliefs, especially those of groups like Mormons, whose testimony about Jesus is summed up and solidified in having “a burning in the bosom to know that Mormonism is true, that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. If two Christians can have contradictory feelings about God and both be right, then we truly make God in our own image!
Second, I take slight offense to the hubris of Yarbrough when he says that to do away with hell we have to do away with Jesus’ words on hell and that the only way to do so would be ultimately speculative. Could it not be that we have misunderstood what Jesus has taught on hell, and what He said is accurate and true (I believe this with my whole being!)? Could it be that lies told early on (circa AD 300-600) have now been told enough that they have become the truth? Could it be that some of the leaders of the church that became “The Western Church of Rome” actually had to use secular ways of “persuading” their church members to give money so they could have power and influence and big, beautiful buildings? I am sure that Yarbrough does not throw out Jesus’ words, but neither would a Christian believer in ultimate salvation seek to throw out Jesus words. And, as I hope to show the reader, there is nothing speculative about denying the concept of hell as eternal conscious torment. I, like my fellow believers, seek to fully understand what Jesus taught without relying on church interpretation passed on by popes and those influenced by popes (and power). Finally, sin is still an offense to a holy and righteous God and should not be promoted by Christians in any way just to satisfy their own desires for possibly escaping judgment in this life or the next.
Since this section is getting long, I have decided to break this chapter up into several sections of my own. I believe it is important to not gloss over the text of Scripture, and since this section is full of what Jesus said about hell, we should spend some time looking into each claim. I pray that the length of this will not cause you to run off in search of something quicker and more in tune with your own theology. I hope you will, with an open-mind, hear why I believe hell is not eternal conscious torment and why I believe that God will eventually have all people to be saved. My gauge will be the comments (mainly the lack thereof!) and the Stats page on this blog.
Next episode (section, posting) I will begin tackling what Jesus said in The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ Teaching When Commissioning His Disciples, and hopefully, Jesus’ Teaching about the Destiny of His Opponents. These are the first of nine sub-sections under the major heading of What Jesus Said. Until next time, God’s blessings to you.