Hell Under Fire Book Review – Jesus On Hell Chapter 3 Part 3
(FYI – This is a 7 page article! Take your time and read sections at a time if it is too much all at once)
In this part I will take on what Yarbrough says about eternal, how Jesus used it or what Jesus meant when He used the term in relation to hell. Again, by hell, Yarbrough uses the term unending torment or punishment and I have previously defined it as a place of ECT, eternal conscious torment. These terms are all synonymous.
Let me reiterate a point that Yarbrough brings up toward the beginning of the chapter. He states, “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…If the historic doctrine of hell is to be set aside, it is most of all Jesus’ teachings that must be neutralized.”
Let me say a few things about this. First, Yarbrough sounds like the Roman Catholic Church of the early 1500’s in this statement. Johann Eck challenged Martin Luther when he asked, “Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than they all? (Here I Stand, by Roland Bainton, Abingdon Press, pg. 185) If the majority position had continued, we all would be a part of the Roman Catholic Church today! Luther was part of the minority of his time. I am seeking to bring reform to the church, a church which clings to its traditions so tightly that, I believe, it has lost touch with the true teachings of the Word. In that same book, page 185, Luther is quoted as saying, “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
Just as Bob Evely, former pastor of a Free Methodist Church in Kentucky and author has said above in the previous quote on Luther, he also said, “We need to understand that “orthodoxy” is not truth as compared with falsehood…it is simply the majority opinion, and it can be wrong. We cannot cling to a set of beliefs or interpretations simply because the majority that preceded us has worked thru these issues and developed what they have passed down to us as orthodoxy…the “majority opinion.”
In a recent writing, I basically addressed this issue: When in Scripture was the majority opinion correct? Were the Jewish leaders correct concerning God’s prophets (the minority view for sure!)? Were the Jewish leaders correct concerning the message Jesus and His followers were proclaiming? Or did they seek to kill them? Were the Jewish leaders correct when they clung to legalism and Paul was teaching freedom in Christ?
So I ask you the reader, don’t cast me off to the side just because I offend your long-held beliefs. Don’t write me off because, according to your theology, I am a universalist heretic. Come and reason with me, honestly, openly, and humbly. Don’t come trying to prove your point, but come trying to understand why I now believe what I believe, and I will do the same for you.
Well, let’s look at Chapter 3.
I have already discussed most of the passages Yarbrough cites as Jesus’ view on what “eternal” is. Yarbrough basically says that Jesus taught that hell is eternal, meaning without end. He also states that, “virtually everyone agrees that “eternal life” refers to unending blessedness in God’s presence…The blessed state of eternal life is logically opposite to the condemned state of eternal destruction. If salvation and conscious bliss are everlasting, so are perdition and conscious torment.”
In the subsection called “The Meaning of “Eternal” in Jesus’ Teaching,” Yarbrough gives a quote from Moses Stuart, who he claims as one of North America’s earliest Bible scholars, in 1830 put forth this understanding of the term “endless”: “There can, in the very nature of antithesis, be no room for rational doubt here, in what manner we should interpret the declarations of the sacred writers. WE MUST EITHER ADMIT THE ENDLESS MISERY OF HELL, OR GIVE UP THE ENDLESS HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN.” Yarbrough says, “In the debate over whether the punishment of hell will be everlasting, “this argument is often seen as conclusive,” referring to Stuart’s statement just quoted.
There are so many subsections in this chapter, but unfortunately they shed little light on the subject, from my perspective. I will make a couple comments about these sections and then move into a biblical understanding of the biblical terms that get translated into our English words “eternal, everlasting, forever and ever,” and others.
Echoes of Jesus’ Teaching Elsewhere in the NT – this is, from my perspective, a useless section that proves nothing. He quotes a bunch of verses showing that the apostles, Paul in particular taught the things Jesus taught. (1 Cor 11:23; Rom 15:19, 30; 1 Cor 2:10-14, 7:40; Eph 3:5; 1 Thes 1:5; 1 Tim 4:1) Then he makes the comment that other writers prove what Jesus taught, supposedly about hell, in the other writings of the NT. He says Jesus’ early followers teach nothing essentially different on this subject from their Master. I see no proof of this claim, that Paul taught eternal conscious torment in hell as Jesus supposedly did.
Foundations of Jesus’ Teaching – this section is useless as well. He claims that Jesus’ teaching concerning the afterlife continues from the OT. First off, Jesus is still teaching IN THE OT ERA. So, Jesus would have agreed with the OT writers on what they believed “olam” was (the Hebrew word that got mistranslated as eternal) and would have used the term in a way consistent with what His Jewish hearers would have understood. See my section on OLAM below. Second, he lists another bunch of verses claiming they prove that Jesus’ view of eternal life and death agrees with the OT, but none of these passages he offers has any support for these claims. (Matt 22:31; John 8:56, 5:46, 12:41; 5:39, 4:13, 14:2-3) Then he makes more statements saying “Christ’s teaching on hell, therefore, draws a persuasive force from its basis in the OT witness and not only from the scattered references to the actual word “hell” discussed above.”
So, not having gotten too far with his writing and proof of what Jesus taught, other than assumption that the party line is correct (a.k.a. The traditional/denominational understanding of the texts in question), I will move into what the Scriptures ACTUALLY say Jesus said or believed.
This text is one that Yarbrough uses to prove that Jesus taught eternal conscious torment in a place called hell.
Matt 25:46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Though I will be discussing the biblical terms for eternal or everlasting in the next section, this text is probably the premier text that people gravitate towards to prove that Jesus taught hell is everlasting or eternal punishment or ECT. Since I have spent an inordinate amount of time studying and researching the three main terms rendered falsely “eternal, everlasting, forever, forever and ever, etc” I decided two things this week. One, I decided to post my search in the Hebrew Bible for “olam, olamim” from my Logos Bible software as a separate page on this blog entitled “Olam Passages.” There are many and as I go through them in more detail, I will add my understandings and findings. But, even now, you can read these verses, all with the exact same Hebrew word “olam” and see how differently this word has been translated. I challenge you to read these verses and find all the verses that show “olam” as a period of time with a beginning, or an ending, or both, and then decide whether the modern translations render this word properly. How often is the idea of endlessness (eternity) seen and does it truly fit in those verses or does the term age(s) fit better?
I did the same thing for the Greek Septuagint (LXX – The Seventy, which I will post soon as a separate page) which is the Greek Old Testament from around 250 BC and the Greek New Testament. You can see the Greek New Testament page of verses at the top of this page at Aion/Aionios Passages. The comparison with the ESV, which I used in the search for the Hebrew and Greek, is shown side-by-side.
I have been struggling with what to include and what would be TMI (too much information) for the reader. So, I ran across this synopsis from an article by Gary Amirault and I pasted it here as an insert. This proof nullifies Moses Stuarts’ quote from above that Yarbrough included in this chapter. It also condenses the information on the Greek word aion/aionios that Jesus used.
Matthew 25:46 Commentary – By Gary Amirault
Does Eternal Punishment have to be as long as Eternal life because the adjective “aionios” is used to describe both punishment and life?
(A short synopsis of this article: The following article proves that “everlasting punishment” in Matthew 25:46 is a MIStranslation in many of the current leading selling English Bible translations including the King James Version, New International Standard Version, New American Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, the Amplified Bible, The Net Bible, New Century Version, New Living Translation, International Standard Version, English Standard Version as well as many others. There are several translations, however, some of which are listed at the end of this article, which do NOT make this mistake. This correction is crucial in regards to having a proper understanding of the nature and character of God and His role as judge. Just because “aionios” is used to describe life and punishment, does not mean they have to be of the same length and quality any more than a “small” house has to be the same size as a “small” ring because the same adjective is used to describe both. Often adjectives take on some of the value of the word they describe. Therefore, “kolasin aionion” (mistranslated “everlasting punishment”) does not have to be the same length as “zoen aionion” (mistranslated “eternal life”). Aionion should not have been translated “everlasting” because aion and its adjective are clearly time words that have beginnings and endings. And “punishment” for the Greek “kolasin” is too strong a word. Kolasin means “to prune a tree to make it more fruitful.” There is nothing fruitful about eternal damnation in burning flames. If Jesus wanted to imply vindictive punishment, the author of Matthew could have chosen the Greek word “timoria,” but he didn’t – he used a much softer word. Furthermore, Matthew 25:46 does not speak of individual salvation based upon faith in Christ, it speaks of separation of nations based upon how they treated Jesus. And lastly, the context seems to indicate the judgments would be upon the religious leadership of Israel and those who considered themselves righteous, not street sinners, low-life Jews and/or adherents to other religious systems, that is, the Gentiles.)
The whole article can be read here: http://www.tentmaker.org/articles/Matthew-25-46-Commentary-Amirault.html
I am including this section for this reason: Yarbrough brings up the fact that what Jesus taught was what the OT authors taught and He used the term for eternal in the same way. I was only going to include Gospel information since this is really what the chapter covered (Jesus on Hell). This information will either support or refute Yarbrough’s claim. I’ll let you judge for yourself and keep my opinion, for now, to myself.
OLAM – Hebrew Old Testament word translated eternal, etc.
And, concerning the Hebrew word “olam” I offer this excerpt from GT Stevens’ book, Time and Eternity. After reading this book three times, and digesting what he says, I decided to include this information. He gives a very technical reasoning that may be laborious for many. I know I had to read this information slowly and carefully. However, the value of what he writes is invaluable. Please pardon the length and hang in there. It is worth the read!
(Begin GT Stevens’ excerpt)
Biblical Terms Translated Into English as Eternal, Everlasting, Forever and Ever, etc.
Actually there is no scriptural example of eternity and no direct reference to the concept in terms such as ‘I shall tell you about eternity’ or ‘Eternity is like this or that’. This does not mean that the idea of future duration unending is absent; but just as in English it appears to be impossible unequivocally to express the notion of ‘eternal’ and ‘eternity’ (Latin terms for which Greek does not seem to have had exact equivalents), except by negatives, not end (Luke 1:33), immortality and incorruption (I Cor.15:53,54), indissoluble (Heb.7:16).
Whether the adjective ‘aionios’, derived from ‘aion’ an age or period of time, may ever rightly be rendered ‘eternal’ will be discussed in relation to its usage and contexts. A century ago, in the study of words, great importance was attached to etymology, that is to accounts of their origins. It seems obvious that, while this may be a useful staring point, it is not at all decisive for determining meaning in later contexts, and in fact one may gain a thoroughly sound grasp of the significance of a word without any knowledge at all of its origin or history, provided it is examined in enough meaningful occurrences and contexts, hence the emphasis on concordance and context in these studies.
Using the concordance of all the 448 occurrences of the Hebrew words OLAM (sing) and OLAMIM (plur.) and paying careful attention to the context in each case, the writer classified these examples into three groups:-
(a) cases where by context the period indicated by olam was limited at both its beginning and its end.
(b) passages where the periods have a known beginning but obscure end.
(c) those examples were olam, its repetition (from olam and to olam), or the plural olamim, have been regarded by some writers as indicating duration without beginning or ending and hence thought to mean ‘eternal’.
Some attention must now be given to the matter of terminology and precise definitions. Much confusion has arisen from the common practice of treating ‘eternal’ and ‘everlasting’ as synonyms, no indication being given as to whether everlasting is meant to cover duration without beginning or end, or a period having a beginning in time but no ending, or one whose ending, if any, is so remote as to be lost in obscurity. When people speak of a believer in Christ having everlasting life, do they mean life without beginning or end, or having a beginning but no ending, or a quality or mode of life to which beginning and ending or even time itself have no application?
However a few remarks respecting the derivation of the Hebrew word ‘olam’ are included here. This noun is derived from the verb ‘alam’, universally accepted as meaning ‘to hide’, ‘keep secret’, or ‘obscure’. Included in each occurrence of the verb is the idea of hidden-ness of inability or unwillingness to perceive or disclose something. This underlying idea is probably best expressed in English by the term ‘obscurity’.
In keeping with this basic concept there occurs in Hebrew the noun ‘almah’, (derived from alam) a young woman or virgin (Gen.24:43, Ex:2:8, Psa.68:25, Pro.30:19, Song.1:3, 6:8, Isa. 7:14) for whom Jewish modesty enjoined concealment of her feminine charms.
Bearing these facts in mind, we may readily anticipate that when olam is applied to time, some element of concealment, obscurity, or indefiniteness will be present. One need read only a few of the four hundred plus occurrences to realize that this is so.
The first time we meet the term is in Genesis 3:22 ‘Lest they take of thee the tree of life and live le-olam’.
Commonly, uncritical thinking employs the English phrase ‘for ever’, but this cannot mean ‘eternal life’, since (a) it had (or would have had) a beginning in time, either at the creation, or hypothetically at the eating of the fruit (whatever we may take that to mean); and (b) its duration is unspecified. The most one can assuredly draw from the text is that the life would last for some indefinite period, no specific end being stated. Both its nature and duration are hidden in obscurity, hence ‘olam’ seems as appropriate word to use in such a context.
Jonah’s case is important. In Jonah 2:6 olam is used to denote the time of his sojourn in the interior of the great fish. Shut away in complete darkness, he would have no means of judging the passing of time, which along with most other percepts, would be quite ‘obscure’. In his case olam represents but thee days, but the idea of obscurity is obvious.
Olam Limited In Time
Gen 6:4; Gen 13:15; Gen 49:26
Exo 21:6; Deut 15:17; Lev 25:46; Num 10:8; Deut 32:7; Josh 4:7; : Josh 8:28; 1 Sam 1:22; 1 Chr 23:25; Ezra 4:15, 19; Neh 13:1; Deu 23:3; Job 22:15; Job 41:4; Psa 21:4; Psa 24; 2 Sam 6:12-19; Prov 22:28; Prov 23:10; Ecc 1:10; Ecc 2:16; Isa 42:14; Isa 58:12; Jer 5:15; Jer 6:6; Lam 3:6; Eze 25:15; Eze 35:5; Eze 36:2; Joel 2:2; Amos 9:11; Mic 5:2; Mic 7:14; Mal 3:4; Dan 9:24
Grouped by “for all one’s lifetime”
Psa 78:66, 79:13, 86:12, 89:1, 110:4, 112:6, 115:18
While the occasion or need exists
Psa 89:2, 100:5, 106:1, 107:1, 118:1-4
The question may now be asked, ‘What do the above passages, covering all the O.T. writings, suggest about the most common meaning of olam?’ In the case quoted, and these are representative of the great majority of occurrences, olam certainly refers to periods of time, which when considered contextually cannot possibly be rightly rendered ‘for ever’, or ‘everlasting’, much less ‘eternal’; and these words should be eliminated from English translations of all the passages in which olam is bounded by contexts.
Olam, Olamim (singular, plural)
should we use ‘for ever’, ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal’ to translate ‘olamim’?
Are there better alternatives?
Some texts: 1 Kings 8:13; 2 Chr 6:2; Psa 61:4; Psa 77:5, 7; Psa 145:13; Isa 26:4; Isa 45:17; Isa 51:9; Ecc 1:10; Dan 9:24
It can now be claimed, with considerable assurance, that the above examination of all the ‘olamim’ passages indicates that the questions posed earlier should be answered thus.
(a) All the texts containing ‘olamim’ can be logically translated and interpreted without any reference to eternity at all.
(b) The introduction of concepts of endless time or timelessness leads to incongruities in almost every case.
(c) The view that ‘olamim’ is a normal plural signifying extensive periods of time, often obscure as to dating either of inauguration, or ending, or both, provides meaningful renderings consistently throughout, and consonant with the context, in every case.
Some texts: Jer 7:7; Jer 25:5; Dan 7:18Psa 90:2
The very use of ‘min’, (from) and ‘ad’ (to) demands a distinguishable difference between two entities. In respect to time (as of course to space) one may speak of passing ‘to’ and ‘from’ a single entity (to-X-from); but to go ‘from’ one point or period ‘to’ another logically requires two entities (from X to Y). Of course if we are talking about eternity itself then ‘from’ and ‘to’ can have no meaning at all.
Therefore the form of the phrase ‘from the olam and to the olam’ demands the concepts of separate periods and proves that the idea of periods of some sort expressed by olam had developed.
In Jer.7:7 and in 25:5, the Jews are urged to mend their ways that ‘I may cause you to dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers ‘from olam to olam’. One Jer.7:7 Rotherham comments,
‘From times long past even unto times long to come. Scarcely from everlasting to everlasting’.
We might add, certainly not ‘from all eternity to all eternity’. Both the promise of the land and its occupancy had a beginning in history, so cannot be eternal, but are terrestrial in location and scope. There must be an element of devious eisegesis in introducing either ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternal’ into these two passages.
The form of this composite phrase is unique in the O.T. There are no other identical formulae for comparison. the following comments are offered as likely pointers to its original meaning.
(a) The repetition of ‘olam’ suggests that this term did not of itself represent unlimited duration, otherwise the first ‘olam’ would have covered all time.
(b) The whole context is oriented to a future period, which had then not even begun.
(c) In the one phrase we have both singular (olam) and plural (olamim). A plural eternity is by definition an impossibility, so the terms must refer to some periods of time.
(d) ‘Remotest time’ is more plausible; but ‘remotest time and remotest time of remotest times is self contradictory.
(e) To a remote time even a remote time of remote times would conform to Hebrew idiom making the second phrase a normal Hebraic polytotonic superlative. (Compare King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Holy of holies, Song of songs, etc.)
(f) Presently evidence will be advanced to show that at least by the time of the writing of the book of Daniel, late by any theory of dating, the concept of an age, and of ‘periods’ of time had developed. If this be accepted, the text may then be translated ‘to (or for?) an age, even an age of ages’. By treating ‘an age of ages’ as a normal Hebraic superlative we get, “the saints…shall possess the kingdom unto (perhaps, for) an age even (the best) age of ages’.
Definite Article Used With Olam and Olamim
The synoptic lists above suggest that the development of the use of ‘olam’ in the sense of a period of time similar to that covered by ‘aion’ and accompanied by the use of the plural ‘olamim’ arose during the existence of Israel as a united nation somewhere about 1000 B.C.
Olam as Eternal
The following passages have been chosen for examination in this chapter because at first glance it may appear that in them ‘olam’ could represent a concept of eternity in the mind of the biblical author. The question to be asked is, ‘Do these verses demonstrate that their writers had that concept, and expressed it by ‘olam’?
Gen 21:33; Exo 3:13-15; Deut 32:40; Deut 33:27; Psa 45:6; Isa 40:27-28; Isa 41:4; Isa 48:12
The dozen or so litugic repetitions of ‘His mercy endureth le olam’. (I Chron.16:34,36.41; II Chron. 5:13, 7:3,6; 20:21) and in the psalms provide little support for using ‘eternal’ to translate olam. Mercy relates to sinful humans. No one supposes such folk to have existed eternally. God’s mercy operates in human need. The liturgy would recognize its availability at all times – perhaps conditioned by repentance and faith.
It is fitting now to set out the conclusions which may be drawn from the material in the preceding pages.
(a) Eternity, without beginning or ending is never mentioned as such in the ‘olam’ passages of the O.T., nor so far as we can discover, is there any statement from which convincing evidence can be obtained in relation to ‘olam’, to show that the concept of infinite future duration existed among Hebrew writers in O.T. times. Hence the words ‘eternal’ and ‘everlasting’ should not be used to translate the ‘olam’ terms.
(b) In books now usually regarded as late (I Chronicles, Nehemiah, Ecclesiastes and possibly late Psalms 41,48,106,133) the occurrence of ‘the olam’ suggests the emergence of some idea of an ‘age’. This is supported by the use of the plural in books of the same period (II Chron., Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Daniel, Psalms 61,77,145, and in I Kings 8:13). But there is no indication of any view of boundaries of any sort pertaining to age or period such as say, form creation to the flood, or the like. This of course corresponds to our usage also; the stone age, the age of steam, the dark ages, and other such expressions are never precisely dated.
(c) The element of hidden-ness, indefiniteness as to duration, and of obscurity pervades the whole range of ‘olam’ terms throughout. Even in cases where the meaning is clearly for the rest of one’s life, ‘a slave olam’, or a limited period such as Jonah’s three days, because of the imprecision respecting the length of the period (in Jonah’s case the impossibility of his assessing the time), the sense of obscurity is still present. This highlights the difficulty of transferring nuances from one language to another particularly from Oriental to Western. The contexts require the use of terms such as – ‘any more’, ‘always’, ‘remote or obscure times’, ‘long past’, and ‘far future’. Sometimes ‘everlasting’, if understood as futuristic only, may be considered, but only if the ‘ever’ is regarded as equivalent to ‘long time future to the point of obscurity’, and even then ‘remote or obscure future’ would be more accurate as a rendering for ‘olam’.
‘Age abiding’ (Rotherham) and ‘age-during’ (Young), while more appropriate than ‘eternal’, or ‘for ever’ are too suggestive of a concept of time composed of , or divided into recognized ‘ages’, an idea which probably was merging in post exilic Hebrew thought but of which there is no sure evidence (elsewhere) in the O.T. However by N.T. times the idea of several ages had become explicit in Rabbinic thought (see Chapter 10) and formed an important element in the doctrines taught by our Lord and the apostolic writers.
(End of GT Stevenson excerpt)
My down and dirty assessment of Yarbrough’s chapter: He follows the traditional teachings to a tee and gives the usual arguments but adds little understanding to “why” anyone should believe what he writes about what Jesus believed and taught about hell. The terms olam (Hebrew) and aion/aionios (Greek) all relate to an age, a period of time and therefore cannot refer to eternal as we know it (without beginning or ending). It is unfortunate that he did not address the definition of these terms nor meaningfully address the opposition view.
Thanks for bearing with me in this long post. I will put together a conclusion to the chapter and summarize what was said and my contrasts/beliefs about what the Bible states. I hope the conclusion will clarify what was said here and take some of the scattered-ness away (pull it together cohesively!). I will also begin posting some links to information that you can begin checking out for yourself. Godspeed to you!