The Bible

Hell? No!

Back in October of last year, I made waves among my Christian friends when I announced that I no longer believed in Hell. I was still a believer at that time, but stopped believing sometime between the end of that month and early November. I announced it with a nearly-exhaustive 13,000 word article, which dissected every aspect of the topic, and addressed every single verse used to support the doctrine. I shared the article on Facebook and Twitter; much to the dismay of some family members and friends. The article got the attention of one of my pastors, who even indirectly addressed me during a sermon (most people probably didn’t catch what we going on.) I didn’t have a problem with that (it was good natured;) it was just a weird time for me as I had never been controversial before. One of my two writers left the Christian website I was running immediately after learning of my change in beliefs. I was suddenly labeled as a heretic by some. I think I got more negative reaction from that change in opinion than I got when I announced I was leaving the faith.

Desite the negative reactions, there were a few people who actually changed their mind on the issue after reading the article; including the other writer for my website. Many people weren’t afraid to tell me I was wrong, but no one actually tried to disprove my reasoning. At most people would quote verses to me; all of which I covered in-depth in the article. I think it ended up getting around 600 views (I haven’t checked in a while) and a lot of shares on social media. I was pretty happy about that. I felt it was my calling to get the word out that God was truly good and would simply burn people to death instead of burn them forever (yeah, I know, still sounds evil.)

You can read it here: Why I No Longer Believe The Bible Teaches Hell

I came to this view after following my gut and discovering what the Bible reallys says. I was watching a television show; a sketch comedy called Studio C (the best show on television btw,) and for some reason that night I was trying to reconcile the idea that all of these wonderfully funny and seemingly nice people were most likely on their way to eternal torment in Hell. So after the show I decided to look up different views on Hell and stumbled across some great articles on a view called annihilationism, which I described in my article. I researched the topic for over a month, devoting nearly all of my free time to the study of it. I researched all of the arguments against the view, as well as the Greek and Hebrew words used by the biblical writers. I studied the history of the doctrine, and the views of surrounding religions at the time the Bible was being written.

I’ll go ahead and list the fifteen core points, each of which I explore in detail in the article itself. If you are interested in my reasoning and the evidence, it’s all there. The numbers all correspond in the article so you can examine individual parts of the argument if you choose to. Keep in mind that I had written this from a Christian perspective, not a secular one.

15 Reasons I Stopped Believing In Hell

1. Scripture never once warned people of eternal torment, but always warned of destruction.

2. The English word translated “hell” does not occur in the original manuscripts.

3. The Old Testament contains no teachings on or allusions to eternal misery in the afterlife.

4. The NASB and ESV bibles (the two most popular translations among conservative Christians) both contain a mere 13 occurrences of the word hell; all in the New Testament, translating not one, but three different Greek words.

5. There is no evidence that the apostles ever preached or taught about hell or alluded to a place of eternal misery; and Jesus only spoke of it twice to unbelievers.

6. The doctrine of eternal torment is based on the idea that man possesses an immortal soul; which is never taught in the Bible.

7. Not only is hell built on man’s presumed immortality, but it is also built on the assumption that the soul is always conscious (important when discussing the period of time between death and the final judgment.)

8. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (used to support hell) cannot be taken literally without creating conflict with the rest of Scripture.

9. Metaphors such as “unquenchable fire” and “worms that never die” clearly refer to the shame of death and destruction as seen in Isaiah 66:15-24; which Jesus alluded to.

10. By the time the lake of fire is introduced in Revelation 20, it is far too late for it to have had any direct influence on the prior meanings of words.

11. The eternal fire is said to have been prepared for Satan and his angels.

12. The lake of fire is to be viewed figuratively.

13. The phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” can only be understood as figurative language, and therefore does not contradict annihilation.

14. When the Bible refers to things as being eternal, it is referring to effect, rather than process.

15. The lack of common knowledge about even basic aspects of the doctrine of hell lead me to believe that it is not a commonly scrutinized doctrine; nor one that is taught in detail to churchgoers.

Here are a few other articles I had written about this topic, including other aspects of the argument against ECT which you may find interesting as well:

Defining Death

Proportional Punishment

50 Questions For Those Who Believe In Eternal Torment


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Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Inerrancy

How 1 Enoch Destroyed My View of Biblical Infallibility

The issue that ultimately tipped me over the edge and caused me to change my beliefs a few months ago was the relationship between a collection of pseudepigraphical Jewish intertestamental writings called the Book of Enoch and the Bible. Some of the biblical writers (Jude and 1-2 Peter in particular) based their theology off of traditions paralleled in it. If anyone doubts the connection, read this article:  http://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/the-book-of-enoch-as-the-background-to-1-peter-2-peter-and-jude/

Example A is 1 Peter 3:18-20, which cannot be adequately explained without the story chronicled in the Book of Watchers (earliest section of 1 Enoch). Trust me, I tried very hard. Yet I knew enough about the story of the Watchers to know what was clearly being alluded to.

The writer of 1 Peter says that Jesus was:

“…put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” (1 Pet. 3:18-20 NRSV)

The Greek word here for “spirits” (pneuma) is never used anywhere else in the Bible to refer to humans in all 383 occurrences. So this obviously could not be referring to Jesus preaching to men in Hell as is often thought, or even to wicked men before the flood (as some suggest this passage means that Jesus went back in time to preach to them). It must refer to either angels or demons based on the biblical usage of the word.

In short, the Book of Enoch contains the story of angels who left the heavenly realm, came down and had sex with women on earth, which led to the birth of the nephilim (described as giants as tall as trees), the offspring of humans and angels. The wickedness of the angels and nephilim led to the flood, in which the nephilim were wiped out and the disobedient angels were imprisoned. The nephilim were believed to have survived as demons upon death due to being part-angel.

So either an angel or nephilim-turned-demon could be described as a pneuma and both were disobedient before the flood when Noah was building an ark. And Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 both mention angels being bound and imprisoned as they are in the Book of Enoch. So we have “spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah” in the Book of Enoch. Seems the only logical conclusion is that the writer of 1 Peter based his theology off of Enochic traditions. This troubled me deeply as a Christian. How could I trust anything written in the books if they are pulling from sources such as these?

Then Jude 14-15 directly quotes 1 Enoch 1:9:

It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.””

Now we have a dilemma. From this quotation we could conclude that either:

a) This was a real prophecy of Enoch recorded in the Book of Enoch, and the Book of Enoch contains prophecy. This is a problem because the Book of Enoch is incredibly strange (not to mention containing a differing view of how sin entered the world). The evangelical community would just as soon accept the Book of Mormon as they would the Book of Enoch. It would also mean that for 2000 years or so the church has neglected an inspired book of Scripture.

b) This was not a real prophecy of Enoch and the writer of Jude was in error. This would mean that the Bible is fallible.

I chose b. And there is a significant reason why I chose it. We know that the Book of Watchers (the section of 1 Enoch that was quoted) was written sometime around 200 BCE, far removed from the antediluvian patriarch Enoch. So it is impossible for the Book of Enoch to have been written by Enoch himself. Therefore, when the writer of Jude claimed that it was a prophecy of Enoch, he was wrong.

Some have tried to argue that Jude was not quoting The Book of Enoch, but rather a prophecy of his that just happened to be included in the book. I find this explanation highly improbable. Could an oral or written quote from Enoch really have survived by transmission through Noah’s family and on through their descendants for 1700 years or so until 200 BCE, get written down in Enoch, then written down a couple centuries later in Jude with Jude having no intention of referencing the Book of Enoch? And why would God make such a theory look so improbable if that is the case? Another reason to doubt this is because the entire book of Jude is filled with allusions to the Book of Enoch, which means that he probably was quoting directly from it. Also, Jude alludes to the Assumption of Moses as well, which shows that he had no problem referencing extra-biblical sources, and thus there is no reason to assume he wasn’t quoting 1 Enoch here.


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Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

The Bible

The Law and Sin

As shown in my previous article, morality must come from God in order to maintain a Christian worldview; and divine command theory states that God’s commands establish morality. It is a Christian’s moral duty to obey God’s commands. Whenever a human breaks one of God’s commands, it is called sin.

We must recognize that the concept of sin in Judaism was any violation of the Mosaic Law, since it was believed to have been established by God himself. Sin was not an abstract moral concept, but a matter of disregarding religious imperatives.

When Christianity emerged in the first century, there was often confusion regarding what constituted sin. Some believed that the Mosaic Law was still in effect, while others said it was null and void. This was an especially important issue as Christianity largely became a Gentile (non-Jewish) movement. Many had questions about whether Gentiles should observe the Law, or whether they should observe parts of it , or even whether Jews should observe it at all. In the Bible we can observe evidence of these disputes (Gal. 2; Acts 15:1-29; Gal. 5:1-12; Rom. 2:12-29; 1 Co. 7:17-20).

The question of how much of the Law was to be observed was an important one. After all, if Christianity’s moral system is based upon the commands of God, it is of paramount importance to determine what commands are to be observed. Despite the insistence that God’s commands are found in the Bible, not all of them are considered binding for Christians. This is due to a view called supersessionism; which teaches that since the Mosaic Law (contained in the Old Testament) was established under the old covenant (for pre-Christian Jews only), it is now no longer binding for those under the new covenant (Christians). The writings of Paul and the book of Hebrews teach this to some degree.

However, this cut-and-dry approach is not without serious flaws. For example, if the entire Mosaic Law is now void, what constitutes sin?

The early church grappled with this, and Paul even addressed those who would claim that Paul was teaching lawlessness:

“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:15-16 NRSV)

Paul upheld the view that sin was still to be avoided. Yet the question obviously still remains: what constitutes sin? How much of the Law is void, and how much of it is still valid? Many would be surprised to learn that in one passage Jesus taught that all of the Mosaic Law would always be binding:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:17-20 NRSV)

What is often missed when examining this passage is the fact that Jesus was affirming the continuity of the Mosaic Law. He claimed that he did not come to abolish the Law, which conflicts with Paul’s assertion that he “has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances” (Eph. 2:15). Also, in the context, the “commands” Jesus mentioned could not have been any other moral commands than those contained within the Law. The significance of this is that Paul actually did teach others to break commands of the law (circumcision and the Sabbath in particular); precisely what Jesus warned not to do.

The Mosiac Law could be divided into two basic categories: 1) purification requirements and 2) behavioral prohibitions. After the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE, it became impossible to fulfill all of the purification requirements of Judaism. Many sacrifices and ceremonies could no longer be practiced in the way prescribed in the Mosaic Law. Christianity was no doubt affected by this, as questions regarding observance of the Law could no longer include most of the purification rites.

In contrast, some of the behavioral prohibitions were adopted by Christianity (such as those against sexual immorality and idol worship). But now, with a supersessionist view of the Mosaic Law, how can one establish these moral commands as binding? The church obviously needed to have it’s own set of authoritative rules to establish morality.

I believe this eventually led to the formation of the New Testament. Churches began to accept the writings of certain Christian authors as authoritative, and inspired by God. With this view, the Christian church could now have it’s own binding moral commands apart from the Jewish scriptures.

The church eventually accepted both the Jewish and Christian scriptures as authoritative, although the Jewish writings held considerably less weight. The Christian writers of the first century, such as Paul had become the voices of Christian morality, as Jewish heritage faded into the background. Sin became what Paul and Jesus, Peter, John and James said was sin. They and the early church determined what Christians would retain of the Mosaic Law and what they would disregard.

Although the ten commandments are often used as the foundation for Christian morality, they were a part of the now-defunct Mosaic Law. And the fourth command regarding the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-10) was specifically made void by Paul (Col. 2:16-17). To this day Christians do not observe the Sabbath in the way prescribed in the Mosaic Law; thus violating the command. Obviously even the ten commandments are no longer binding for Christians. So why does the church still act as if they are? And how did Paul, a mere human, nullify a previous divine command?

As mentioned before, the writings of the early church eventually superseded the Jewish scriptures and the morality prescribed by the apostles and Jesus became the new law per se. Whatever Paul, Peter and Jesus deemed no longer applicable, became void. An amalgamation of Mosaic commands and Hellenistic ideals became the new morality of Christianity.

However, until the rise of protestantism in the early 16th century, the church was governed primarily by the teachings of their leaders, as opposed to a fully authoritative book; although the writings of the Bible were seen as the foundation for beliefs. This transition to biblical infallibility as opposed to church infallibility heightened the emphasis on early apostolic authority.

As I have argued in a previous article, the belief in biblical infallibility and divine inspiration is incredibly circular. There is no compelling reason to believe that Paul and the apostles were infallible when they wrote the New Testament. They were human, not divine. But I believe that for most Christians, the need for an authoritative collection of writings prevails. And that is how religious morality is developed. You choose a book or collection of writings, believe it to be infallible, and hold people accountable to what is written. Even if there is no evidence that the writings of Paul for example, were direct commands from God, the desire for black-and-white morality is stronger. This circularity is no longer desirable or necessary for the shaping of morals in a post-enlightenment world.


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Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Inerrancy

So…The Bible Is Infallible, But Not The Church That Formed It?

Protestant Christianity relies not only on the belief in divine inspiration, but also the exclusivity of the biblical canon as infallible revelation from God. Not many pastors could hope to keep their job if they were to state that the Bible is not infallible or that divine inspiration might not be limited to the Bible. The irony of this view is that it closely mirrors the Catholic church’s view of church infallibility. The difference between the Catholic view of infallibility and the Protestant view is that Protestants unconsciously affirm the infallibility of the early church only in regard to the composition, formation, and preservation of the canon, while the Catholic church believes it’s infallibility applied in all areas and continues to this day.

Protestants believe that the writings of the early church as preserved and assembled by the early church are infallible. If the early church was fallible in this regard, the Bible we have today could also be fallible. Therefore, logic leads us to conclude that by necessity, the church must have been infallible to some degree if the Bible is also infallible.

New Testament scholar Lee M. McDonald wrote:

“Those who would argue for the infallibility or the inerrancy of scripture logically should also claim the same infallibility for the churches in the fourth and fifth centuries, whose decisions and historical circumstances left us with our present canon. This is apparently what would be required if we were to only acknowledge the twenty-seven NT books that were set forth by the church in that context. Was the church in the Nicene and post-Nicene eras infallible in its decisions or not?” [1]

The New Testament was not a singular work, but a collection of writings by the early church. I must stress that although many of these various books were previously listed together at times (often with other non-canonical writings), our first recorded exclusive listing of the entirety of what now comprises the NT canon comes from a letter written by the Alexandrian bishop Athanasius in 367 CE. This means that the earliest recorded discussion of a canon that included all of the NT books did not even begin until roughly 300 years after the books were written. To put this in perspective, the United States has only existed for 238 years.

It is generally asserted that the deliberations over the NT canon centered around methodological principles. However, this is an assumption based around various statements from early church fathers unrelated to any one council or deliberation. There is no clear evidence that a strict methodology was adhered to in determining the final canon we use today.

Athanasius said this before listing the Old Testament books:

“There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews;” [2]

We can see that Athanasius was simply passing on hearsay in this regard. “for as I have heard, it is handed down”. In other words: ‘church tradition says’. By the end of the 4th century there were two regional councils that affirmed the 27 books as NT canon. However, no original text survived the first council (the council of Hippo). We only know of it from the council of Carthage (397 CE). It should also be noted that Carthage’s list differs from our Bible since they included non-canonical Old Testament books such as Tobit, Judith, and 1-2 Maccabees. While this does not effect the NT canon, it does cast doubt on a council that would affirm what the church considers ‘uninspired’ books as canonical.

Many church rules were established at the council of Carthage (138 to be exact, including the canon list), rules that the Protestant church arbitrarily does not accept; despite accepting their list of holy books as ordained by God. The church that assembled the canon far more resembled the Catholic church than Protestantism. Athanasius also listed the noncanonical book of Baruch in his version of the OT canon. This shows that neither him nor the other two 4th century councils were able to correctly distinguish between ‘inspired’ and ‘non-inspired’ books in the entirety of their lists. They also list the book of Hebrews as being written by Paul, a claim that even conservative scholars doubt. It’s authorship was debated in the early church as well. Several reasons lead to doubt: 1) it lacks Paul’s usual opening salutation, 2) it differs from Paul’s writing style, and 3) in Hebrews 2:3-4, the writer fails to include himself as one of the original witnesses to the Lord, indicating that he was a second generation Christian.

While apostolic authority was probably a factor, the distance from the composition dates would suggest that the decisions of canonicity were made based on the church’s main source of information: tradition. If the church believed a book to be written by an apostle or someone close to one, that would’ve most likely been enough to nominate it for inclusion in the canon. And in the case of Hebrews, they may have been wrong. But since tradition attributed it to Paul, he was listed as the author. If these councils were in error with regard to some of the books included in their OT canon, and probably mistaken in attributing authorship of Hebrews to Paul, how can we believe they were 100% accurate in their choice of books for the NT canon? It is clear that within a couple of centuries authorship could be mistakenly attributed, given the fact that the biblical writer of Jude quoted the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch as if it was authored by Enoch himself. We now know it was written sometime around 200 BCE; far removed from the antediluvian patriarch.

The debate was still ongoing considering some of the books during and after the decisions of the councils. I’ll quote McDonald again:

“When Churches began recognizing the sacred status of Christian writings, they did not always recognize the same books. By the fourth and fifth centuries, there was widespread agreement on the canonical gospels, Acts, and most of the letters attributed to Paul, but there was no unanimity on the Catholic epistles, Revelation, or several so-called noncanonical writings such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas, or in regard to several of the OT apocryphal or pseudepigraphal books. Earlier, Enoch, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, and other texts also circulated among the Christians as sacred texts in various locations.” [3]

The problem for Christianity is that either way you slice it, humans must have been infallible in all aspects related to the Bible in order to produce it, if it is also to be held as infallible. It can be argued that the copyists as well must have been infallible, despite the fact that their manuscripts often differ or contain errors to some degree. And why not add the linguists who have developed our understanding of the Greek and Hebrew lexicon? If they were not infallible, we could be reading inaccurate English meanings that did not exist in the original language.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that God never actually gave such infallibility to humans according to the Bible. And if He did, when did it stop, and how far did it apply? Infallible in all matters, or only that which is related to the holy book? Does the church still have this infallibility as Catholicism claims? This all goes to show that the assumptions required to uphold biblical inerrancy are too tendentious to be accepted.


References:

1. The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, Lee M.McDonald

2. NPNF2-04. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, Philip Schaff via ccel.org

3. The Pseudepigrapha and Christian Origins: Essays from the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (Jewish and Christian Text), James H. Charlesworth, p. 208


Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


10721328_278062212388486_378808137_nMy name is Zach Van Houten and I am a secular Humanist with progressive values who enjoys good discussions about complex issues. I was a passionate conservative Christian from childhood until I found intellectual freedom in November of 2014. I take an interest in Humanism, general philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, eastern religious philosophy, atheism, politics, Biblical studies, and most importantly, the life cycle of sea turtles. Email me at meinperspective@gmail.com if you’d like to offer tips on how I can make myself less boring or start up a convo about the weather.


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