Monthly Archives: March 2007

The REALLY Good News

Universalism is the doctrine that eventually, all humanity will be saved and united with God. Since I've argued elsewhere that the infinite punishment of an everlasting hell is incompatible with the love, justice and mercy of God, it follows that eventually, all punishment must end, and all humanity united with God. While I find this doctrine obvious simply by what I know of God's love, as I've studied it, I find it has amazingly strong support even from a literal interpretation of the Bible. I'd like to present several scriptures which I don't believe can be properly understood or explained except by a universalist interpretation.

"and through him [Jesus] to reconcile ALL THINGS to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross. You, being in past times alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and blameless before him" (Colossians 1:20-22 WEB)

Can anyone suppose that a soul tormented in hell is "reconciled" unto God? According to this verse, ALL THINGS will be reconciled, and presented holy and without blemish to God. No exceptions are mentioned. In fact, it was verses such as this one which led the early Church father Origen to speculate that eventually even Satan would be reconciled to God. But I'll be satisfied for this writing to concentrate on humanity. At the least, it's very hard to see how all things can be reconciled to God while a significant portion of humanity are suffering in hell, eternally separated from his presence. Here's another scripture

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ ALL will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christs, at his coming. Then the end comes, when he will deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father; when he will have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For, He put all things in subjection under his feet.[1] But when he says, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who subjected all things to him. When all things have been subjected to him, then the Son will also himself be subjected to him who subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all.
(1 Corinthians 15:22-28 WEB)

This one is quite shocking also. ALL will be made alive by Christ. The same "ALL" who die in Adam, which is to say, all humanity.  This does not refer only to the resurrection, where death will be abolished, for it says that death is the LAST enemy that will be abolished. All other enemies will be in subjection and (per the scripture before) reconciliation to Christ BEFORE the resurrection. And then God will be "all in all". God will be FULLY united, through and through, with all humanity – a difficult thing to reconcile with the idea of millions screaming in hell.
Origen put it this way: So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him "all," and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is "all in all." And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be "all in all" –Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3.

I quote the next one from Youngs Literal, because there is an important nuance in the Greek that Young's captures.

"So, then, as through one offence to all men it is to condemnation, so also through one declaration of `Righteous' it is to ALL men to justification of life; for as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners: so also through the obedience of the one, shall the many be constituted righteous. "
(Romans 5:18-19 YLT)
Who will are condemned because of Adam? Absolutely everyone. Who will be made righteous in Christ? The same group – absolutely everyone. Who became sinners because of Adam? "the many". Some Bibles simply translated it "many" – but it actually implies "THE many". Which many? The group specified before – ALL mankind. In any event, the many who became sinners in Adam are the same many who are constituted righteous – that is, absolutely everyone.

Next, in Romans 11…

"For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on ALL."  (Romans 11:32 WEB)

Paul has used several examples to show that even disobedience doesn't disqualify us from the mercy of God. ALL will be shown the same mercy, and Paul concludes with this profound scripture:

"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen."  (Romans 11:36 WEB)

Everything came from God (of). Everything is sustained by God (through) AND…. everything will RETURN TO God (to). There will be no eternal separation.

But isn't it an absolute requirement that everyone confess the name of Jesus to be saved? That is the position of some. They would point to this scripture:

"that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. " (Romans 10:9 WEB)

You'll notice it doesn't say "ONLY if you confess…" simply that this is one route. But even if we want to say it is an absolute requirement… it's clear from scripture that absolutely everyone will meet that requirement!

"that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that EVERY TONGUE should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. " (Philippians 2:10-11 WEB)

Even those who are dead ( "under" the earth ) will ALL (EVERY tongue) confess that Jesus is Lord – and at that point, will obviously believe with certainty that God raised him from the dead, and hence will be saved! But wait, you exclaim. Isn't it too late to confess Jesus after one is dead? Says who? There is no such limitation in the text of Romans 10:9. Certainly it takes more courage to confess Jesus in the here-and-now. But does God save by courage, or by grace? Is there some "merit" in confessing before death? Does God save by merit, or by grace? There is nothing in scripture to forbid the idea of that the dead may confess and receive salvation.

"For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with iteself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body". –Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

"We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life" –Clement of Alexandria

There is much, much more to say on this topic. Perhaps a 30 part series would work 😉

The Bible Doesn’t Teach an Everlasting Hell

A hell of infinite suffering and duration makes the God of the Bible into the archetype of all sadists. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that we MUST believe in this doctrine. Why? Because the Bible teaches it, Jesus teaches it, and therefore we have no option but to believe it. Of course, our atheist friends would happily point out that if the Bible really teaches that God is infinitely unjust – so much the worse for the Bible. Yet another reason to confine the Bible to the flames as one of the most evil books in history. And if Jesus endorsed such a doctrine – all the more reason to ignore his claims of love and mercy.

But the Bible doesn’t teach the doctrine at all. The Bible has, in fact, been aggressively mistranslated in an attempt to make it support such a doctrine. Rather than ticking off every single scripture that has been misapplied to this doctrine, I’ll try to give a few general principles that should allow the reader to properly understand what the original text is saying.

Sheol

First of all, the doctrine of a hell of infinite suffering is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. God did not warn disobedient Adam and Eve about perpetual flames. Moses didn’t threaten the children of Israel with everlasting damnation. The prophets didn’t promise demonic tortures. The punishments threatened were entirely here-and-now. If you sin, you might die. Every time the word “hell” appears in the Old Testament, it is a translation of “Sheol” – which has the character of a shadowy underworld. “Sheol” is simply “the grave”, and no rewards or punishments seem to be associated with it. A hell of torments doesn’t begin to appear until the inter-testamental apocrypha, as I mentioned in my post on Satan and evil.

Gehenna

When Jesus speaks warns of a “hell”, where the “worm doesn’t die, and the fire isn’t quenched”, the word he uses is “gehenna”, the name for a valley behind Jerusalem where garbage was burned, and which was associated with the abominations of sacrifice to Molech. And his phrase makes clear that he is quoting from Isaiah 66:24. If we read Isaiah 66, we see that it refers to the burning and decay of the DEAD BODIES of evil doers who are destroyed in an apocalyptic judgment. It is not referring to the torture of souls in the underworld.

They shall go forth, and look on the DEAD BODIES of the men who have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Isaiah 66:24 WEB)

It’s almost certainly NOT a coincidence that Jesus is speaking to a group of people who are about to undergo a devastating national destruction in which huge numbers will be killed by the Romans. Jesus warning is about physical destructions and judgments.


“Aionios”

 

The word “aionios” is very often translated in many Bibles as “eternal” or “everlasting” – for example:

But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal [aionios] damnation:” (Mark 3:29 KJV)

This is derived from the word “aion” from which we get our English “eon”. In ancient usage – in translating the Old Testament into Greek, and in classical usage – this word doesn’t mean “eternal” or “everlasting”. It means “eon-long” or “age-long”. Here, for example, is how Young’s Literal Translation treats Mark 3:29:

but whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness — to the age, but is in danger of age-during judgment;” (Mark 3:29 YLT)

This is particularly true of the words of Jesus, where “aionios” is probably a translation of “olam” from Hebrew or Aramaic. Olam may also refer to periods of time with definite ending – such as:

“then his master shall bring him to God, and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him for ever [olam].” (Exodus 21:6 WEB) Obviously this doesn’t mean for all eternity – only for the period of his life.

The choice of “aionios” is even more significant when we consider that there are other words that could have been chosen which would have been completely unambiguous. For example, when Josephus describes the doctrines of the Pharasees, he says they believed in eirgmos aidios (eternal imprisonment) and timorion adialeipton (endless torment). It’s rather significant, then, that Jesus is described as only preaching aionion kolasin (age-long chastisement). While it may possible that the “age” to come, or God’s “age” are regarded as everlasting or eternal, there is no need to suppose this applies to the punishments of hell.

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t appear to mention hell or eternal punishment at ALL. There is one scripture in 2 Th 1:9 which suggests eternal DESTRUCTION (an entirely different doctrine). But of course, 2 Thessalonians wasn’t written by Paul in the first place. It’s also interesting that the doctrine of eternal suffering doesn’t appear in any of the earliest church councils and creeds, even Nicea, until about 553 – and several prominent early church fathers and teachers were universalists and were not condemned.

If eternal suffering were a doctrine God wanted taught as a fundamental of faith – is it likely that the Old Testament wouldn’t have mentioned it at all – that Jesus would have apparently taken pains to use words to differentiate his doctrine from that of eternal suffering, and that the greatest of the New Testament authors didn’t bother to mention it at all?

The Infinite Injustice of an Infinite Hell

While the infinite tortures of hell have been a popular motivational device for centuries, the time has come when this doctrine is far more of a liability than a help – if it ever was a help. It is a liability because modern people, unlike their ancestors, don’t shirk at the audacity of evaluating and judging the God of the Bible, and by any reasonable evaluation, a God who subjects anyone to infinite punishment is infinitely unjust.

Justice demands equality of crime and punishment. “An eye for an eye”. “Let the punishment fit the crime”. A finite human, by very nature, cannot commit an infinite offense, therefore, infinite punishment is unjust. Let’s take an example. Imagine the worst person who ever lived. Nominations vary, but Hitler is always a popular choice, so let’s use him as an example. Because of Hitler’s evil, millions of innocent people suffered horribly and died. So, let’s suppose that after death, Hitler is thrown into a hell of unimaginable suffering and torment. Let’s leave him there a while.

We check back on Hitler after 20 million years. For 20 million years, he has been in unimaginable agony, screaming in incoherent torment day and night. Doing some calculation, we find that he has suffered more than the combined total suffering of all the people who suffered because of him. Adding up the suffering of everyone who was tortured, everyone who starved, everyone who was gassed, everyone who was shot – or everyone who died in the war… Hitler’s agony has now exceeded them. Justice is presumably satisfied. But let’s be thorough. Let’s also add up the suffering of everyone who was effected peripherally. We’ll calculate the suffering of all the people who lost loved ones. We’ll add in all the people who suffered grief, anxiety – heck, even annoyance. We come up with another suffering quotient – and we send Hitler back to the flames.

200 million years later, we come back. Once again, for all this time – for a time longer than recorded human history, Hitler has been screaming in agony. He has now suffered all the sufferings of everyone remotely affected by his evil and then some. But we want to be very sure about this. After all, it’s Hitler, and early parole will be frowned upon. So we send him back to hell, and this time we take a really long vacation.

We come back in a billion, trillion years. Hitler, all this time, has been in excruciating agony – worse than any pain anyone can imagine. He has suffered more than the combined pain of everyone who ever lived – not only on earth, but (if there is life on other worlds) every inhabitable planet. His life on earth, during which his misdeeds occurred, is less than a microscopic dot in the long, long tale of his unimaginable suffering. The whole history of human suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of this one man.

Can ANYONE presume that at this point – justice has not been satisfied – even for Hitler? He has paid completely out of proportion to his crimes. He has suffered so horribly that all other human suffering is a drop in the bucket. And yet, the doctrine of an infinite hell suggests that at this point, his suffering hasn’t even begun. He will continue to scream in guttural anguish – on into eternity, until there is nothing to remember of his entire existence but an infinity of suffering. Is this justice? No, it is infinite injustice. I venture that there isn’t a normal human being who would not have pulled even Hitler out of this kind of torment aeons before this point. Are we more merciful than God?

The idea of infinite suffering is infinitely unjust. The God of the Bible, if he insisted on such a thing, would sink below the most bloodthirsty God of the Aztecs in his cruelty. He would be so cruel and malicious that it would be a mark of the highest possible virtue to oppose him.

 

Just as a pre-emptive rebuttal – it has been suggested that we ARE guilty of infinite sin, because our sins are against an infinite God. Just as I receive a worse punishment for spitting at a judge in a courtroom than for spitting at a passerby on the street (because of the more exalted status of the judge)  it is said by some that ANY sin against God is an infinite sin, because God is infinite.

But the analogy leaves out an important detail. We can only commit sin to the limit of our own capacity to understand sin. A monkey wouldn’t be found in contempt of court for making faces at a judge. Neither would a small child. They don’t sufficiently understand their offense (although a child might understand enough to be at least scolded). To commit a great offense requires greater understanding. To commit an INFINITE offense requires INFINITE understanding, and no human being is capable of infinite understanding. No human being can even comprehend the nature of an infinite offense, far less commit it.

 

 

Evidence for Evolution

First a disclaimer. I’m an example of a “Theistic Evolutionist”. I think this actually makes me a good candidate to evaluate the evidence for evolution. If the evidence tended to show that God created each species independently, I’d be happy to accept it. I’m not an atheist, so I have no anti-God axe to grind. On the other hand, I don’t believe that the opening chapters of Genesis require me to believe any scientific particulars about the origin of species. So if the evidence tends to show that all life descended from a common source with modification, I’m equally happy to accept THAT. I was originally a zoology major in college, so I have enough of a science background to at least have a basic understanding of most of the ideas presented in favor of evolution. My purpose in this article or articles will be to try to explain these issues to Christians and other theists simply enough that they can evaluate them.

Let’s begin by setting some boundaries.  People mean a lot of different things when they say “evolution”. All I’ll be talking about here is the idea that all life has descended with modification from common ancestors. This is one formulation of the FACT of evolution. Evidence for the truth of this idea is overwhelming. In fact, evidence of the same strength and kind regularly sends people to death row for murder. And I’ll hope to show that if the FACT of evolution is false, then God has gone out of his way to deceive us – to the extent that he could not be trusted.

As to the mechanism of HOW life descended with modification from a common source – that is more open to discussion. We know a great deal about some of the mechanisms, but certainly not everything. As to how life originated in the first place – that is even MORE open to discussion. Scientific theories about this currently rely on substantial amounts of conjecture. What we DO know is that somehow, life descended from a common source with modification. It was not created in the form of distinct individual “kinds” or species, as creationism would have it.

DNA and Genetics

It’s interesting to remember that Charles Darwin knew nothing about DNA. The workings of the inside of the cell were, to use Michael Behe’s term, a “Black Box” to Darwin and other scientists of the day. In Darwin’s day, it was well known that parents (human, animal or plant) passed on their characteristics to their offspring. People with black hair would tend to have children with black hair. Birds with larger beaks would tend to have offspring with larger beaks, etc. Although genetics was studied, no one knew exactly HOW these characteristics were passed on.

Now we know that DNA and RNA molecules control these traits and others by controlling the structure of the proteins that make up the bodies of all living things. The genes on the DNA molecule are blueprints for building the complicated building blocks that make up life. These DNA molecules, and the traits they contain, are passed down from one generation to the next. Enormous effort has gone into studying and cataloguing gene sequences of the DNA molecule, especially in humans. We have also studied the intricate and fascinating workings of living cells down at the level of biochemical reactions.

The Commonality of Life

The first fascinating thing about DNA is that all life on earth uses it. Not only does all life use DNA, but there are other surprising similarities. All life uses the same basic three types of polymers out of hundreds of possibilities. Many molecules that make up life come in “right-handed” and “left-handed” varieties. Overwhelmingly, all life on earth uses molecules of the same “handedness”. All DNA in all life uses only four nucleoside building blocks out of at least 102 possibilities. All proteins in all living things use only the same 22 amino acids out of 309 amino acids available in nature. All life uses the same basic “code” for translating DNA into proteins. All life uses a very similar cycle of complex chemicals to process energy. For example, virtually every form of life from yeast to man uses a protein called “cytochrome c” as part of the process of providing the body cells with energy. When Darwin proposed that all life descended from a common source, he had no idea that at the molecular level, all life would turn out to be so very similar.

Why this similarity? If God were creating each species separately, why would he make a rose and a whale look so completely different on the OUTSIDE – but function so similarly on the INSIDE, at the level of molecules? Why limit himself to so few chemical choices out of the huge number available? Why be so beautifully creative with the outward forms and so boringly repetitive with the inner workings? Did he take shortcuts with the biochemistry because he thought no one would be looking at it?

Of course, it all life descended from a common ancestor, then everything becomes plain. All life has inherited the basic chemistry of life from its original ancestor. If only God had made a few species that use different amino acids, or a different polymer or a different nucleoside – the theory of evolution would be in serious trouble. But he didn’t.

DNA Variation and Mutation

Although normally DNA is passed from parent to offspring as a perfect copy, occasionally there are problems. Minor changes can happen, for various reasons. DNA can be damaged during copying due to such things as radiation, environmental toxins, certain viruses or just a random “hiccup” in the chemical machines that do the copying. There are many sections of the DNA molecule that are inactive. Changes to those parts of the DNA molecule will be passed on to the offspring, but will have no noticeable effect on the offspring. On the other hand, if the mutation happens to a part of the DNA that is used for making proteins, then the protein can be changed. This can cause major or minor differences in the traits of the offspring. Mutations and the rates of mutation have been extensively studied, especially in humans. This is an important part of some cancer research, for example.

Take, for example, the protein “cytochrome c” I mentioned above. This protein is made up of about 100 amino acids and is vital to all life on earth. Because it is so vital, any mutation that seriously changes the way DNA produces cytochrome c tends to be fatal. And for that reason, very few changes in cytochrome c are passed on to offspring. But there are some parts of the cytochrome c protein that are only “structure”. They can be changed to a different amino acid without changing the function of the molecule.

Think of it as a toy dump truck made of legos. The toy truck has to have wheels, and a certain cargo capacity. But it really doesn’t matter, for most of the truck, if you build it out of green legos or black legos, or a mix of all sorts of colors. As long as the structure is there and it rolls and carries cargo – it will work. And so the cytochrome c molecules in humans are slightly different than the ones in horses, or corn, or yeast. They have accumulated some mutations. But they all work. In fact, you can take human cytochrome c and put it into yeast and it will work just fine.

But here’s the interesting part. If any life form has a mutation in its DNA causing a change in cytochrome c, it will pass that change in cytochrome c on to its offspring. If all life is descended from a common source, then, we should be able to map out the family tree of all life on earth by comparing cytochrome c molecules. If we start with humans, then any form of life with very similar cytochrome c should be on a branch of the tree very near us, and any form with more differences in cytochrome c should be farther away. So what do we find? We start with:

Chimpanzee: 100%. That is to say, chimp cytochrome c is absolutely identical to human cytochrome c. This would tend to indicate that chimps are very close to us on the family tree of life.

Here are other species and how similar they are to humans in their cytochrome c:

Mouse: 91.3%
Donkey: 89.4%
Horse: 88.5%
Lamprey: 80.8%
Carp: 78.6%
Maize: 66.7%
S. pombe (a yeast) 67.3%
Neurospora (another yeast) 63.7%
Euglena (a single celled organism) 56.6%

It’s not hard to see that the tree of life we actually find by molecular testing is very similar to the tree that evolutionary biologists had put together decades earlier by examining common characteristics. But Darwin had never heard of cytochrome c. He and other biologists created their classifications based on various shared traits. Darwin did not know that mapping the development of a molecular protein would turn out to show the exact same pattern as his theory predicted.

But how does this fit with special creation? WHY would God deliberately create humans and chimps to have EXACTLY the same cytochrome c out of more than billions of possibilities? Is it because the cytochrome c in humans and chimps functions slightly differently, somehow “tailored” for primates? No. The cytochrome c of virtually all life is basically interchangeable in terms of function. This is because it is basic to the energy cycle of all life. As I said above, human cytochrome c works in yeast without a hitch. Why would God perfectly match his “custom” created cytochrome c to the evolutionary chain of life? Why provide virtually certain forensic evidence that all life evolved from a common ancestor? All God would have had to do would be to give chimps significantly different cytochrome c than humans and evolution would have been dealt a devastating blow.

And cytochrome c sequences basically ARE at the level of importance that DNA evidence is in a courtroom. Cytochrome c differences are caused by DNA differences, and are only passed on by ONE mechanism that we know of in the whole world – one that we observe every single day. Heredity.

Endogenous Retroviruses

If the previous example were not enough, the phenomena of endogenous retroviruses should seal the deal. Retroviruses insert themselves into the DNA of their host. Very occasionally, they will insert themselves into a sperm or ova and will be passed on to the next generation as part of the DNA. Provided that the virus has inserted itself into a portion of the DNA that is not critical, it can and will continue to be passed on for generation after generation. It is estimated that about 1 to 8% of human DNA are these fragments of viruses passed down from our ancestors. These fragments are, in effect, tiny “scars” of ancient viruses infections found on our DNA, in every cell.

Now for the interesting part. Several of these same virus fragments, in the same locations, are found in chimps, gorillas, orangutan, gibbons, and other apes and monkeys. The closer we get to humans, the more fragments are shared. The odds against this being by chance are astronomical. The only known mechanism for having exactly the save virus fragments in exactly the same places is… heredity. It is inescapable that we share ancestors with chimpanzees and other apes and monkeys. We know how the viruses get there. Viral infection. We know how they are passed down – genetically to offspring. These are observable mechanisms that we have studied extensively. Humans and chimps have clear and unmistakable genetic fingerprints of a common ancestor – fingerprints left by an ancient viral infection.

This phenomena is nearly impossible to explain reasonably through special creation. Why on earth would God create both chimps and humans so that their DNA was scared by several virus fragments in the same locations?? What possible purpose could this serve? Why place older and fewer infection markers in more distant evolutionary ancestors – exactly as evolution would lead us to expect? Did God create each of these species so that it APPEARED they had been infected in the past by viruses? Or did he manipulate the odds (and it would have required drastic manipulation) so that they were infected in the same places in their DNA? Either way, God would be going out of his way to LIE to us – to deliberately mislead us with the evidence. And once again, if it had turned out that we shared virus scars with organisms who were very different from us, but didn’t’ share them with apes – evolution would have absolutely no explanation.

If you shared enough very specific gene markers with another person, it would be proof positive in a court of law that you and that person share common ancestry. This is exactly how most paternity cases are resolved. Exactly that same sort of evidence proves conclusively that we share ancestors with the other primates. The only alternative is that God is a liar and a trickster.

The Life and Times of Satan

In the collection of sources that went into the Bible, there were several different perspectives regarding Satan and the role of evil in the world. In fact, the book of Job is an all-out argument right in the pages of scripture between several of these competing views. Israel was in a unique position to experience and ponder the problem of evil because they lived in a land that was a crossroads between Egypt on one side and Asia and Mesopotamia on the other. During much of their history they were constantly conquered or invaded by one ambitious empire after another.

Before this period, God’s attitude toward Abraham and his descendents is one of unqualified benevolence:

Now Yahweh said to Abram, Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your fathers house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you. (Genesis 12:1-3 WEB)

God continues to bless Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in spite of their personal failings and problems.

The “Prophetic” View

As Israel began to experience repeated conquests by their neighbors, a religious question arose. If God promised to bless Israel and give them their land as a possession forever (see Gen 13:15), why were they often conquered and subjugated by their neighbors? The answer that developed has been called the “Prophetic” view of good and evil. God blesses Israel when they obey him, but he is prepared to punish them when they do NOT obey him.

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you shall listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I command you this day; and the curse, if you shall not listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28 WEB)

Remember that Deuteronomy was written long after the fact. The Deuteronomist (possibly Jeremiah) was looking back at Israel’s history from the perspective of repeated periods of suffering. Also notice that the blessings and curses are entirely physical, in there here-and-now. For example:

“I command you this day to love Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, that you may live and multiply, and that Yahweh your God may bless you in the land where you go in to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 30:16 WEB)

The reward for obedience to God was not heavenly happiness. It was life, possessions, and posterity. Physical prosperity and happiness was the sign of God’s favor. Physical misfortune was the sign of God’s displeasure.

Also at this time, the concept of “Satan” began to occur in scripture. We are used to thinking of the serpent in the garden of Eden as the first appearance of Satan, but this is a later association. In the primitive original story, the serpent is only a serpent. “Satan” originally meant simply “adversary”. For example, in 1 Samuel 29:4, The Philistines are worried that if they take David into battle with them against Israel (David is serving the Philistines at that time) he will turn on them in battle and become a “satan” (an adversary).

God sends angels as “satans” to either oppose or test various individuals. In Numbers 22, for example, God sends an angel as a “satan” against Balaam, to prevent him from cursing Israel.

Gods anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of Yahweh placed himself in the way for an adversary [Hebrew = “satan”] against him. Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. (Numbers 22:22 WEB)

In one case, God himself acts as the “satan”. We read:

Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1 WEB)

But in a parallel version of the text, we read:

Again the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, Go, number Israel and Judah. (2 Samuel 24:1 WEB)

Was it Satan, or Yahweh, who moved David to number Israel? It was God, acting as an adversary (satan) against David. He was, in other words, testing David.

Satan as God’s Prosecutor.

By the time the book of Job is written, the view is beginning to shift again. There have been various religious reforms in Judah and Israel, and even during periods of religious righteousness, the people continue to suffer from invading armies on several sides. Physical misfortunes don’t seem to be confined only to the wicked. The good suffer also. The book of Job addresses this issue.

Job, whom we are told is an entirely righteous man, suffers horrible calamities. He looses his children, his livestock, his health. His friends, echoing the prophets and the book of Deuteronomy, insist that if Job is suffering, he must have done something to anger God.

Is it for your piety that he reproves you, that he enters with you into judgment?
Isnt your wickedness great? Neither is there any end to your iniquities. (Job 22:4-5 WEB)

What Job’s friends don’t know, of course, is that Job is suffering at the hand of “Satan”. Instead of being just an occasional role filled by whatever angel is convenient, however, the role of “Satan” now seems to be a full-time position. Satan is seen as the chief prosecutor of the court of heaven. He is still an honored member of the “sons of God”, the highest angels. But his role is now to seek out unrighteousness and bring it to God’s attention for punishment, and to test even the righteous with trials.

Now it happened on the day when God’s sons came to present themselves before Yahweh, that Satan also came among them. Yahweh said to Satan, Where have you come from? Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, From going back and forth in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. Yahweh said to Satan, Have you considered my servant, Job? For there is none like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil. Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t you made a hedge around him, and around his house, and around all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will renounce you to your face. Yahweh said to Satan, Behold, all that he has is in your power. Only on himself don’t put forth your hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of Yahweh.
(Job 1:6-12 WEB)

We see here the beginnings of what will come to be called the “Apocalyptic” worldview. The good can expect to suffer in this life as a test of their faith. God will eventually make things right. In Job God shows up personally in the last chapter in a “personal” apocalypse, and makes everything right. But Job also begins to hint at the fact that not everything may end up justly resolved in this life. The unwarranted suffering of the righteous may require rewards AFTER this life.

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: (Job 19:25-26 KJV)

These rewards are still seen in terms of a physical resurrection. They are still physical rewards – but postponed until the resurrection.

The Apocalyptic View

After the Babylonian captivity, the returning exiles rebuilt Jerusalem in a spirit of religious purification and reform. The Torah was codified and followed rigorously. And yet in spite of unprecedented religious purity and righteousness, Judea soon experienced some of the worst persecution of its history at the hands of the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus, ruler of the Empire, prohibited Jewish religious practices, and punished any demonstrations of Jewish piety with unprecedented cruelty. Jewish scriptures were burned and even women and children tortured and killed for refusing to sacrifice to pagan idols.

During this period, the “Apocalyptic” worldview came to full flower. It seemed obvious that a righteous God would not willingly order such atrocities toward the pious simply as a test. Borrowing perhaps from the Zoroastrian dualism to which they had been exposed by the Persians, the Jews began to see Satan not as the prosecuting attorney of heaven – but a fallen angel in total rebellion against God. This idea of fallen angels begins to appear in Daniel, which was written at the time of the persecutions of Antiochus. An angel is sent to Daniel, but is delayed due to having to fight off the “prince” (a fallen angelic governor) of Persia.

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but, behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me: and I remained there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 WEB)

This is also one of the first mentions of Michael the Archangel. The introduction of angelic names and hierarchies – also a favorite topic of the Persians, would proliferate in later years.

Daniel is also filled with apocalyptic visions. God would eventually destroy the kingdoms of the world and set up his own. Until then, the righteous could expect persecution, because of the evil angelic powers – but God would reward them in the resurrection. For example, in 2nd Maccabees, an inter-testamental writing from this period, we read of seven brothers who were tortured to death for refusing to violate religious law. He says to his tormenters:

So when he was ready to die he said thus, It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by him: as for thee, thou shalt have no resurrection to life. (2 Maccabees 7:14 KJVA)

We begin to see that God will not only reward the righteous in the resurrection, but punish the wicked. This theme is amplified in another intertestamental writing, 1 Enoch.
Then I looked and turned myself to another part of the earth, where I beheld a deep valley burning with fire. To this valley they brought monarchs and the mighty. And there my eyes beheld the instruments which they were making, fetters of iron without weight (or of immeasurable weight) Then I inquired of the angel of peace, who proceeded with me, saying, For whom are these fetters and instruments prepared? He replied, These are prepared for the host of Azazeel, that they may be delivered over and adjudged to the lowest condemnation; and that their angels may be overwhelmed with hurled stones, as the Lord of spirits has commanded. Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and Phanuel shall be strengthened in that day, and shall then cast them into a furnace of blazing fire, that the Lord of spirits may be avenged of them for their crimes; because they became ministers of Satan, and seduced those who dwell upon earth. ( 1 Enoch 53: 1-6)
Here we have the concept of a hell of burning fire. Satan also has been “promoted” to the head of the fallen angels.

 

The Gnostic View

Things continued to be difficult for the Jews under the Roman Empire, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. This event crushed the hopes of the most pious Jews. In a world that at times seemed utterly evil, some of the Jews began to question the wisdom of God in permitting such a situation. Combining influences of earlier philosophies, Jewish and Christian Gnostics took the next step past the apocalyptic viewpoint. The righteous suffered, said the Gnostics, not because evil was a test permitted by a good God, and not because a powerful fallen angel was on the loose opposing a good God. The righteous suffered because the God who had created the material world itself and all the powers that controlled it was an EVIL God (or at best, an incompetent one). This “Demiurge” had been created by a cosmic accident. He had incompetently created the world and ruled over it, demanding worship and obedience. To a number of these Gnostics – Satan basically WAS the God of the Old Testament. Satan had created the world and given the Old Testament law – demanding worship as the one and only God.

But above him was a TRUE God, of complete goodness and pure light. The true God, taking pity on the tortured creation of the Demiurge, had sent messengers into the world to show the way to escape from the clutches of the evil God of the material world.

The Apocryphon of John describes this incompetent creator:

"Now the archon who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas, and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said, 'I am God and there is no other God beside me,' for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come.”

The Gnostic equating of Satan with the Demiurge or god of this world has it’s echos even in the New Testament writings

I will no more speak much with you, for the prince of the world comes, and he has nothing in me. (John 14:30 WEB)

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the worlds rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:12 WEB)

in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them. (2 Corinthians 4:4 WEB)

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
(1 John 5:19 WEB)

 

The Gnostic view also regarded the next life as entirely spiritual. The physical world was evil, and so a physical resurrection made no sense.

Summary

To review, then, the conception of Satan has undergone considerable change in Biblical and extra-biblical writings, going hand in hand with a change in worldview and the perception of Evil. These changes can be summarized as follows:

The conception of Satan:

Primitive: An occasional role of God or his angels.
Prophetic: God’s official prosecutor.
Apocalyptic: A cosmic rebel against God.
Gnostic: The evil or incompetent creator of the world.

Conception of evil:

Primitive: An occasional fact of life.
Prophetic: God’s punishment.
Apocalyptic: Part of Satan’s civil war.
Gnostic: The primary nature of the material world.

Conception of rewards/punishments

Primitive: Earthly – unconditional
Prophetic: Earthly – conditional
Apocalyptic: Future earthly – conditional
Gnostic: Future spiritual – conditional
 

 

 

The Body of Jesus?

Just to jump on the bandwagon, let me chime in with my opinion on the supposed discovery of Jesus’ body in a tomb in the holy land (as documented by James Cameron.)

 

There are three basic scenarios that have been put forward regarding Jesus.

 

1. That he was what the New Testament claims.

 

In this case, he was resurrected and there is no body to find.

 

2. That he never existed at all.

 

In this case – again – there’s no body to find.

 

3. That he was basically an ordinary human being in nature.

 

This is a bit more complex. This would mean that there WAS a dead body somewhere, at some time. However, within a generation of his death, many of his followers are loudly proclaiming he rose from the dead. This is inconsistent with a carefully preserved and marked crypt as Cameron reports to have found. Even the Ebionites, who lived in the very place this crypt was found, and who believed Jesus to have been merely human – believed God raised him from the dead. Why would they believe this if his crypt and remains were well-preserved? If the resurrection was a hoax, it would make little sense to identify the tomb and ossuary with easily identifiable markings. Surely if the disciples wanted to perpetrate a hoax, they would have either destroyed the body or hidden it without overt identification.

 

In any of the usual scenarios, then, it seems unlikely that an easily-identifiable ossuary with the remains of Jesus Christ is going to suddenly turn up.

 

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